Raising Grey: Chapter 70—The Women

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.

Help A Family Bury A Beloved Son

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

ANASTASIA

“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…”

“Ana!”

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.

He does.

“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…”

Too graphic.

“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.

Cinderella’s room.

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.

CHRISTIAN


“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.

And wait…

And wait…

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…

Until…

“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/

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 69—Big, Huge “Guess What Happened’s”

Thanks, you guys for your encouraging words to me… and thank you more for your encouraging words to each other. It makes me happy to see us lifting each other up when we’re down. I’m so proud of you guys!

Send healing vibes, prayers, and positive thoughts out to my reader and Facebook friend Alyson. She just had a stint in the hospital and by the Grace of God, she’s home and hopefully doing better. Smoochies, Alyson!!!

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 69—Big, Huge “Guess What Happened’s”

CHRISTIAN

“She did what?” I ask my wife when she calls home to see who’s here for Girl’s Night.

“She shaved her head,” she confirms. “It really looks good on her, but Christian, she shaved her goddamn head!”

“Where is she now?” I ask. “Can she hear you?”

“No, she’s in the back getting the rest of her stuff. Oh, God, I’m so sorry, Tina,” she mumbles.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Butterfly,” I comfort.

“I want to fucking fire somebody, but she’s a grown woman! I can’t tell her not to shave her head!” she rants.

“Don’t fire anybody,” I coax. “Women do this all the time nowadays. It’s not a strange thing.”

“So, if Minnie came home with her head shaved, you wouldn’t have a problem with it,” she states matter-of-factly. My blood actually curdles when she says that.

“We’re not talking about Minnie,” I divert. “We’re talking about a grown woman who has just lost her mother, went through a nasty divorce, and has had to contend with horrible siblings who have now broken into her house.”

“Well, it feels the same to me,” Butterfly says. “I feel like Tina trusted me with her daughter and I took her out and got her scalped.”

“Believe me, my mom is laughing right now,” I hear Harmony say, and I know that she’s caught us in the middle of our conversation.

“You scared the shit out of me!” Butterfly scolds.

“You shouldn’t be talking about me,” Harmony teases, and it’s good to hear the humor in her voice. “Hi, Christian!” she yells.

“Hi, Harmony,” I reply, and Butterfly relays my sentiment. “Just so that I can prepare the staff, are we talking Bruce Willis bald or Demi-Moore-G-I-Jane cut?”

“Demi,” she says, a bit reserved. “I just… wish she had warned me.”

“You were the one talking about detoxing and cleansing. This is very cleansing. I love it. It feels clean and free and I look great. I think I’m going to leave it this way for a while.”

“It’s not like you have a choice!” Butterfly points out.

“I do have a choice,” Harmony says. “I could let it grow back. I’m thinking not.”

“Well, it’s your head,” Butterfly says.

“Yes, and let’s stop talking about it. I’m starving.”

“Good, ‘cause we’ve got Girls Night. On our way babe,” she says into the phone. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you what happened at your house…” and the line goes dead.

Harmony shaved her head. Good grief.

I don’t know what my wife meant by Girls Night, but as it turns out, only Victoria and Courtney show up. Gail and Ms. Solomon keep them well stocked with food and snacks while one of us guys plays bartender from the bar in the entertaining room. We offer to spare Chuck the trouble of transporting drinks, considering that he’s a recovering alcoholic, but he assures us that he’s not even tempted. I have no doubt, considering that we couldn’t even get him to take ibuprofen when he was suffering from broken bones.

The women retreat to the movie room and burrow in for the night, watching a plethora of movies from different genres. We’ve each been unlucky enough to walk in during some scene or conversation that has the entire group weeping like fools and are quick to make a hasty getaway. Somewhere around three or so, all four women are kicked back in the luxury chairs, calling the sandman.

In the morning, they all pile into the big SUV and head to breakfast—somewhere—with two of the guards and I’m ceremoniously summoned to my father’s house.

“Elliot finished the room on Thursday right in time for delivery,” he says as he leads me to a newly renovated room in the house. I’m by no means prepared for what I see when I open the door.

“Jesus Christ, Dad,” I breathe when I step inside, “Freeman was teasing you for getting this?”

“Remember, son, we’re clearly talking about an asshole here,” he reminds me. Oh, yeah, how could I forget.

I walk around the room completely stunned. Every wall is covered with display cases, and there are more of them lined up in the middle like library shelves. Case after case after case of model, wood, and Diecast cars—antiques, roadsters, sedans, trucks, you name it. The higher portions of the walls have been decorated with old pictures of Dad and his brothers, Pops and Granma Ruby, Mom and Dad when they were younger, and even old pictures of me, Elliot, and Mia. Atop the display cases are my old rowing trophies from the boathouse, Elliot’s judo trophies, and awards and accolades that Mia has received throughout the years. There are also some older trophies that I don’t recognize, and I assume that they’re from years gone by of Dad and his brothers.

“With real cars, Dad may have been a Ford man, but when it came to his models, he didn’t discriminate.” He leads me to one display case that’s full of Chevys and I’m amazed at how realistic they look.

“I tried to get the room as close as I could remember to how Dad kept it,” my father says, touching the display lovingly. “Look at this…” He gently opens one of the cases and pulls out one of the model cars. The doors actually open and you can see the detail inside the car.

“Dad painted those seats himself,” he says as he holds the car up to eye level. “The paint’s faded a bit over time…”

“… But I can tell,” I say, examining the car closely in my father’s hand. “Wow…” The amazement in my voice brings a warm smile to my father’s face.

“We spent hours in here,” he reminisces as he closes the doors to the model in his hand and replaces it on the shelf, “or I should say in a room that looked just like this one. The other brothers never really got into it but me…” He put his hand on my shoulder and leads me to a table in the corner, clearly built as its own showcase, and there it is. I gasp a bit when I see it.

“The Coupe!” I exclaim quietly in wonder. On the small table is a perfect replica—almost—of the classic ’32 Ford Coupe that we had shipped here for Dad. The purple isn’t as deep as the real car, and the model has racing flames on it. But other than that, this car is Dad’s Coupe.

“Uncle Herman was right,” I say, looking at the model then at Dad. “Pops meant for you to have that car. He built it damn near just like the model.” Dad nods.

“That was my dad,” he says. “He always paid attention to the small stuff, and it made all the difference in the world.” He chokes up for a moment but quickly recovers. “I hope that one day your son will be able to enjoy this room with me… or with you…”

I don’t like the ominous undertone of his suggestion.

“He’ll get to enjoy it with you first, Dad,” I say, putting my hand on his shoulder. “You’ll tell him the history of the cars and how they made it to the collection. I’m sure that you remember each one.” Dad smiles.

“That I do, son,” he says.

As predicted, Dad and I spend hours in his model car room, talking about each car and how it became part of the collection. We don’t have time to review each and every car, but each car that we talked about had its own story attached to it. Freeman is a real asshole if he can’t see how priceless a gift this really is.

“This is really incredible, Dad,” I say, trying to absorb everything he’s told me about each car. “This is a car enthusiast’s dream.”

“Or the fairytale-land of a little boy who really looked up to his dad,” he says, gazing over the room fondly.

“Where’s Uncle Herman?” I ask when I realize that I haven’t seen him since I got here.

“He and Luma have gone out of town, I think,” Dad says. I frown.

“You think?” I ask. He shrugs.

“I think seeing Mom’s things made him a bit melancholy. So, he asked me and Grace to keep an eye on the girls and he whisked his woman away for the weekend. You can’t deny they need some time to themselves. Herman’s been dealing nonstop with the disposition of Dad’s estate. Luma has the girls and although I’m sure that you’re a very nice boss, she works 40 hours a week. She and Herman don’t really get much alone time together.” I nod.

“Maybe she should consider going part-time,” I suggest.

“I didn’t tell you that so that you could cut her hours, Christian,” Dad informs me. “I get the feeling that Luma really likes her job, and she hasn’t complained about it once. Had I not told you that she was away with Herm, you wouldn’t have known. Did she ask for any time off?”

“Well, no…”

“Then leave it be,” Dad instructs. “She likes going to work and she’s not the least bit unhappy. And even though Andrea is her superior, Luma’s very fond of her. She talks about Andrea like she’s her daughter and she respects her—and you—immensely. So, if you suggest that she shorten her workweek, she’s going to do it even if she doesn’t want to. Catch my drift?” I sigh.

“Yeah, Dad, I hear you,” I say, sounding like a scolded child.

“Good. Now come and have a scotch with me and let’s celebrate my fabulous Dad and this incredible car collection.” I smile.

“You got it, Dad.”

*-*

“You’re not going to believe whose about to lose their shirt,” Lorenz says coming into my office Monday morning. He’s piqued my attention.

“Who?” I ask.

“William Kavanaugh,” I raise my brow.

“Kavanaugh?” I say in surprise. “What the hell is going on with Kavanaugh?”

“It appears that Willie Boy has another heir to the Kavanaugh fortune on the way, and Mrs. K has had enough. She’s got herself a cutthroat attorney and Kavanaugh will be lucky if he escapes with his shirt!” I whistle.

“So, the chickens have come home to roost on Kavanaugh, huh?” I say.

“Looks that way,” Lorenz confirms taking his seat.

“How much time before he’s ripe for the picking?” I ask.

“Now,” Ros says, striding into my office and joining into the conversation like she had been there the whole time. She’s got the latest Financial News in her hand and she drops it on my desk, open to the page announcing that Kavanaugh Media is officially on the block. “You heard, too?” she says to Lorenz, who nods.

“This must have been going on for quite some time,” I observe while reading the announcement.

“Their marriage has been falling at least since Kavanaugh became a grandpa.” That long! Geez, that’s back when Kate tried to pin her kid on Elliot. I wasn’t even married yet.

“And the newest heir to Kavanaugh Media?” I press.

“Due any day now,” Lorenz says. “The misses filed for divorce nearly a year ago. He’s selling Kavanaugh Media because the selling price is worth more than the company would yield in its current state and he knows he can get it.”

“That’s because he doesn’t have time to hold out,” I say, finishing skimming the article. “I’m not interested in the media but selling that bitch off piece by piece could turn quite the hefty profit no matter what we pay for it.”

“You were reading my mind,” Lorenz say. I raise my eyes to Ros.

“You think we could put a decent bid up for it?” I ask. “We all know I’m the last person that fucker wants to sell to.”

“I’ll see what we can do,” Ros says, standing. “You never know, Christian. People do strange things when they’re desperate.”

“That they do,” I concur as she leaves my office.

“Lorenz, how did you guys land on this before I did?” I ask after Ros leaves.

“It’s my job to keep my ear to the ground,” he tells me. “I know a lot of people; I go to social events. One person’s rumor is another person’s truth… That’s pretty much how. Kavanaugh’s next love child was no more than water-cooler talk at the champagne fountain of some fundraiser somewhere. It snowballed into divorce and the sale of Kavanaugh Media because the guy is about as discreet as a Tyrannosaurus Rex stomping down 4th Street. He was able to keep it out of the press for most of the year because—face it, he is the press. But once that media giant went on the block, all the rumors and speculations became leads and…” He makes an exploding sound and motion with his hands.

“So, basically, getting him to sell could be as simple as the right approach,” I reply, because Kavanaugh truly is going to be desperate after child support and alimony hits his ass, but still maybe not desperate enough to sell to GEH.

“That’s possible,” Lorenz replies. I twist my lips.

“Any word on his daughter, Kate, these days?” I ask. The last I had heard of Kate was when she crashed Mia’s bridal shower.

“She’s been under the radar,” he replies. “You smellin’ something?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe not. Just see if you can scare her up. Use Alex if you have to.”

“Will do.”

So, Kavanaugh’s in the proverbial hot seat. Jesus, he’s older than I am—old enough to be my father—and still making babies… outside of his marriage, no less. Not that I condone infidelity of any kind, but if you’re going to stray outside of your marriage, why the hell wouldn’t you at least use a condom?

And Kate—is that why she showed up at Mia’s shower? Was she hoping to get back into the family’s good graces because she knew that Dad was headed down the tubes? And where is she now? She was aching for publicity a while back—why the silence? And where, pray tell, is the not-the-father baby? That kid just disappeared into thin air!

Now I really want to know what’s going on with the Kavanaughs. As I’m pondering what might be going on with Daddy Kavanaugh and his ice-queen daughter, I get a distressing text from my wife.

**Dealing with a crisis. I may be late. **

Harmony’s at our house, so what crisis is this?

**Something at the Center? **

I wait for a moment for a response to put my fears at ease.

**More personal. It’s not me, but still important. I can’t talk about it right now. **

You can’t drop an ominous fucking text on me and then tell me that you can’t talk about it.

**You know me better than that. **

I love you, Butterfly, but you know I can track your phone. As if she’s reading my mind, she replies:

**Keep your damn shirt on! I’m fine, but I can’t talk to you right now. I was just letting you know I’ll be late. Would you rather I not in the future? **

And that’s a threat.

**Sorry. See you when you get home. **

Now, I’m fucking dying to know what’s going on.

I stay a little later at the office finishing some things up since I know that Butterfly’s going to be late. While I’m trying to wrap up the days reports and some year-end tasks, my phone buzzes. I look at the display and it’s Dad.

“Ethan called today,” he says once I answer. “Says he wants to reimburse me for some of the expenses of the wedding.”

“He did?” I ask.

“You put him up to that, didn’t you?”

“Why would I put that man up to anything?” I ask. “The only thing I put him up to was giving me the guest list to his bachelor party so that I could vet those fuckers.”

“He just knew all the right things to say,” Dad accuses. “He sounded a lot like the conversations that you and I have.”

“He talked to me, yeah, but I didn’t put him up to shit. He’s a grown man. He came to me for advice and I gave it to him. There’s a difference, Dad…”

“Okay, okay, settle down,” Dad scolds, and it’s not until now that I realize my voice is rising and I sound defensive.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to raise my voice, but when you said that, it made it sound like I was being manipulative, and I wasn’t. He wants to contribute to the expenses of the wedding, and he didn’t know how to tell you. In fact, I want to contribute, too.”

“The wedding’s all paid for, son,” he says.

“I figured as much, Dad, but did you have to cash in yours and Mom’s retirement for that shindig?” I ask. He sighs.

“Christian, a month ago, I gave each of my brothers $750,000. Do you think I would have been able to do that if I had been strapped for cash?”

“I’m quite aware that you have a dime or three to rub together, Dad, but so does Ethan and he wants to contribute to this wedding.”

“He doesn’t need to contribute,” Dad says. “There’s nothing left to pay for.”

“That may be the case, but that tens of thousands of dollar bakery bill came to his house.”

“What?” Dad exclaims into the phone.

“Yeah,” I tell him. “And you should know that right before they got in their helicopter and left for the night, Ethan cornered me and Butterfly and lamented about the largess of those cakes—just the cakes! He had a few other things to say about the over-the-topness of the entire production, but the cakes had him in dismay, much like they did for me at first, and you know what I mean.”

“Yes, I know what you mean,” he cedes.

“Well, my fears were put to rest when I discovered that the food was going to the homeless and to shelters. His concerns were multiplied exponentially when he saw that bill—paid or not. It’s going to emasculate him if you don’t allow him to give you something on that wedding.”

“What about me?” Dad asks. “What about emasculating me? That’s my only daughter and I gave her the wedding she wanted. Isn’t that a father’s responsibility?”

“Yeah, Dad. And you did it. Everything was beautiful—though a bit crazy—and Mia loved it. You did good. Now, let Ethan give you something towards your expense. I’m aware that you don’t need it, but he needs to give it to you. That may be your only daughter, and having a daughter now I get it, but that’s his wife.” Dad sighs again.

Fine,” he relents, “but I’m not taking a damn dime from you. Got it?”

“Okay,” I give in. I can deal with that if it means that he’ll allow Ethan’s pride to remain intact by contributing to what I now know had to be more than a million-dollar wedding. I got married in a damn castle. Wayne Brady sang to my wife walking down the aisle. We rode away in a classic Bentley, had a shopping spree in Paris, and were supposed to stay abroad for a month and I can still guarantee that my sister’s nuptials cost more than mine.

“How did you end things with Ethan?” I ask.

“I told him that I would give some thought to his request and get back to him,” Dad says.

“God, Dad, that sounds so formal. He’s family now, you know…”

“Yes, I know, but I had to see what his intentions were when he was suggesting helping out with the financial portion of the wedding,” he says. I frown.

“Now, I’m not catching your drift… what do you mean by that?” I ask.

“I’m old-fashioned, son,” he says. “I think a father should pay for his daughter’s wedding unless she specifically asks him not to—like with you and Ana. You wanted something specific and you got what you wanted. I’m sure there was no hard feelings with Ray on that…”

“Right,” I concur, coaxing.

“Well, with two money families, I’m ashamed to say it, but I didn’t know if Ethan was trying to make the statement that he could pay for this wedding and was just throwing money at me like, ‘I got it, old man…’”

“Dad,” I interject scolding, “did he give you that impression?”

“That’s why I asked if you had spoken to him,” he says. “I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t being handled.”

“Jesus, Dad, you have to stop being so suspicious.”

“Says the man who will vet the pizza delivery guy if he can,” Dad retorts. Touché.

“Okay, okay, I get it. But still, the man married your daughter. If we really thought he was up to anything, it’s a bit late, now, isn’t it?”

“It’s never too late,” Dad says, “but you’re right. I should have given him the benefit of the doubt.”

We talk a little longer and I feel that I’ve killed enough time in the office trying not to worry about what’s happened in Butterfly’s day that’s going to cause her to be late. Should I go to the Center and check on her? Hell, no! We know how badly that turned out the last time. It’s not that I don’t trust her, but… no. Just, no.

My eye catches one more email as I’m about to shut down for the evening. It’s from Ted Friedson informing me that he received the Apollo and that it arrived in better condition than expected. Although he admits that it’s still pretty worn, it’s in pretty awesome shape for a 100-year-old piano. He promises to have it in tip-top condition in a few weeks. I take a little comfort in that and think about where in the house I’m going to put it as I pack away my laptop and head to the elevator.


ANASTASIA

If she’s afraid of this guy, he must have been talking a really good game,” Alex informs me when I speak to him on Monday. “He’s a small-time hood—drug dealer, never more than a street runner. He’s got no connections—none. The only people he has fled a drug bust, left him to take the rap, and haven’t been in contact with him since. I still can’t tell you why she’s moving from place to place, but I’ve got a good theory.

“She’s obviously a battered ex—there’s a little proof of that… questionable injuries and hospital visits with no police report filed, leaving against medical advice and things of that sort. For whatever reason her family is non-existent, she’s on her own and he knows it. He must’ve preyed on it while they were together, I’ve seen it before, but to have her so petrified that she’s moving from place to place…? He had his own delusions of grandeur, no doubt, but he must’ve fed them to her, leading her to believe that he has power that he doesn’t have. So, in her mind, a few months, a half year or so is a safe amount of time to stay put, then it’s time to move on.

“I can’t swear to it, but in my eyes, this is one of those ‘if it looks like a duck’ situations. If she’s as spooked as you say she is, she had a co-dependent relationship with him where he filled her head with stories, threats, and the usual ‘you’re nothing without me,’ and he’s just got her scared shitless and she’s not sure what to do. Unless he’s got some power that I haven’t seen, he’s nobody—just some punk who preyed on a weak young woman.”

“Well, this is really good news,” I tell him, “not that he preyed on her and has her so afraid, but that he’s not this big bad person that she thought he was. She’s got skills and education that I really want to put to some use, and now I can… if I can just convince her that this Ge guy isn’t a threat to her.”

“I don’t know how to tell you to do that,” he says. “You can tell her that our investigation shows that he still incarcerated and that there’s actually no way that he could find out where she is unless he has the type of resources that we have—which he doesn’t. Besides, we’re swimming in security. How the hell is he going to get to her?”

“She’s not with us 24/7, Alex,” I remind him. “I think the best thing right now is for me to keep it simple—just tell her that as far as we’re concerned, everything looks good and she’s got a job, and then extend the services of the Center to her if she feels that she needs sanctuary. Fear is a powerful thing and unfortunately, other people can’t make you not be afraid.”

Ebony is thrilled to learn that we’re willing to give her a shot to see how things work out. She insists on working in the daycare to get the feel of things and maybe venture out into some of the areas that I think she’ll be a better fit for.

“Right now, I’m just really desperate for a paycheck,” she admits. “My emergency fund is nearly gone, and I need to have income soon. I’d love to see where else I can go and what else I can do, but… let’s start off small, if you don’t mind.” I nod.

“Not a problem,” I tell her, “whatever makes you comfortable. Welcome aboard.” I proffer my hand to her and she shakes it, sighing heavily.

“Thank you,” she breathes, as if the weight of the world has been lifted off her shoulder. I summon Courtney to show her around and get her started as Marilyn took the day off today.

I’m very soon to find out why.

“Hello?” I answer my phone shortly after having a late lunch.

“Yes, is this… Anastasia Grey?” the female voice asks.

“It is. To whom am I speaking?”

“This is Sylvie Cooper. I’m calling from Seattle Women’s Services and Family Planning.” Okay, maybe this is something to do with the Center.

“Yes, Ms. Cooper, what can I do for you?”

“I’m calling because one of our patients has you listed as the emergency contact. She’s had an outpatient procedure performed and… she came alone. She shouldn’t be driving, so she asked us to call you.”

This is strange. Outpatient procedure, Seattle Women’s Serv… oh, shit.

“Who is the patient?” I ask, as if I didn’t already know.

“Marilyn Caldwell.”

*-*

Marilyn looks like hell when I get to the clinic. I’m sure she’s had an abortion. I’m only hoping that she and Gary talked about this before she did it. I have a sinking suspicion that either they didn’t or that he’s vehemently against it, because he’s not here with her.

“Hey,” I say to her downcast face. “You ready to go?” She nods without saying anything and allows me to lead her out of the clinic. The ride back to the apartment that she shares with Gary is mostly silent. I simply concentrate on getting her to where she needs to be. I won’t give her the third degree and I won’t badger…

“Don’t you want to ask what happened?” she says, breaking my inner coaching.

“Only if you want to tell me,” I reply after a pause, even though I can pretty much tell.

“I was eight and a half weeks pregnant,” she says. “I terminated the pregnancy.” I nod.

“Considering the facility, I figured as much,” I reply. It’s quiet for a few more moments.

“Gary wanted to keep it,” she says. “I tried to explain to him that I wasn’t ready to have a baby right now and I wasn’t going to be forced into the decision to have one. He totally stopped speaking to me.”

“Does he know that you were terminating the pregnancy?” I ask. She doesn’t respond. Did she tell him or not? What does she plan to do—just present herself to him and say, “Hey, baby’s gone?” I pull into the parking lot of their apartment complex and put the car in park.

“Will you come up with me?” she asks. Is she serious? What does she want me to do, stand between her and Gary while she tells him that she terminated the pregnancy? Gary wouldn’t hurt her… at least I think he wouldn’t hurt her. He loves her… but she’s about to tell him that he’s not going to be a father if he doesn’t already know. I sigh heavily and turn the car off.

“Let’s go,” I say.

The apartment is bone quiet when we get there. I figured it’s because Gary’s not here, but she goes to the back where the bedroom is, and I can hear her talking.

“What are you doing?” I hear her ask. There’s a long pause.

“I…” It’s Gary’s voice. “I need some time,” he says, and I hear shuffling. Oh, shit. Should I leave?

“What do you mean?” Marilyn squeaks.

“I can’t be here,” Gary says. “I need… I just can’t.”

“So, you’re just going to leave?” she accuses.

“You had to know this would happen!” Gary shoots. “You killed my baby! You had to know I wouldn’t stay! I couldn’t! I can’t even look at you right now!”

He is pissed! I don’t know how to react to this because it’s Marilyn’s body. She would have had to carry that child for nine months. If she and Gary broke up, most often, the man has the option to walk away faster than a woman—although in this case, I have a feeling Gary would have stuck around—but he’s right. It was his baby, too, and she aborted it. I hate seeing them in this position because there’s nothing I can do. There’s no right or wrong, but it’s all bad.

They scream at each other for another minute or two, and just as I’m deciding I should leave, I hear Marilyn begging him not to go and Gary telling her that she can have the apartment since she left hers to move in with him. The bedroom door opens to an angry Gary storming out with a duffle bag and the sound of Marilyn’s weeping, still begging him not to leave. When he raises his head and sees me, he stops in his tracks and glares at me.

“Did you take her there?” he seethes. I’ve never seen him this angry in my life. I’m frozen for a moment, but then I shake my head.

“No,” I say, finally finding my words. “She… drove herself. The clinic called and asked me to pick her up. I couldn’t just leave her.” I don’t tell him that had she asked me to go with her, I would have gone. Although the thought of terminating my own pregnancy never crossed my mind, I agree with a woman’s right to choose.

His eyes soften, and I can see that he’s been crying, most likely for more than one reason. His lips form a thin line.

“Take care of her,” he chokes angrily. “She’s gonna need you.”

“Gary…”

He storms past me without another word and out the door, slamming it behind him. Marilyn hasn’t emerged from the room yet, so I approach with caution. When I breach the doorway, I see her crumpled on the ground weeping.

He left her like this?

I go over to her and kneel on the floor next to her. Her cries are so mournful, like someone cut off one of her limbs. She sounds like Luma when she was mourning the death of her son-in-law. I put my hand on her arms, and she starts to wail. She knows that my being there means that Gary is gone, and you can hear her anguish sinking all the way down to her feet. I just sit there with her, and let her wail…

I’m wrung down to my soul when I get home that night. It’s well after midnight and I’m so emotionally drained that I just go to the kitchen and sit at the breakfast bar. The house is dark, and I lay my head on my arms on the countertop. I have such an unreal headache that it feels like my brain is going to explode out of my head.

I’m not startled, nor do I raise my head when the lights in the kitchen come on. It’s tomorrow—of course, he’ll be waiting up and expecting to know where I’ve been. I don’t say anything as I feel rather than hear him cross the span of the kitchen in his bare feet.

“Do you want something to drink?” he asks, his voice controlled as he opens the refrigerator.

“Vodka,” I say from under my arms. I hear movement stop, then the cupboard open. I know he’s mad—or at least not pleased with me for coming home this late, and I don’t have the strength to justify my tardiness, for lack of a better word.

“Baby, what’s wrong?” he says, and I can feel him stroking my hair. I raise weary eyes to him wondering what I should and shouldn’t tell him. His eyes change, and he rubs my forearm.

“Tell me what’s wrong, Butterfly,” he says, his voice heavy with concern. Fuck it, I can’t carry this shit.

“I just put Marilyn on a plane to Spokane,” I tell him while worrying my horribly throbbing scar. “She’s going to spend some time with her parents, I don’t know for how long.” He raises his brow.

“You can’t be this upset about Marilyn taking a vacation,” he says.

“You’re right, I’m not… and it’s not a vacation.” He places a tumbler in front of me with a shot of vodka in it. I throw it back immediately and gesture for another. He fills it to a double-shot this time and I throw that back just as quickly.

“She’s escaping,” I say, after the double-shot burns its way down my chest. “She was pregnant.” His eyes sharpen.

“Okay, wait. I’m confused. She’s escaping because she’s pregnant?” he asks. “Is Garrett pissed? Did he threaten her?” I gesture to my glass again and he fills it with another double-shot. I just take a sip this time.

“No, yes, and no,” I reply, answering his questions as I replace the glass on the counter. “I’m telling you more than I should, but I wasn’t acting in a medical capacity today, so…” I take a deep breath. “No, she’s not escaping because she’s pregnant as she is no longer pregnant. She had a termination today. Yes, Gary is extremely pissed. He wanted this and one of the first things I heard him say when we got back to the apartment is, ‘You killed my baby.’ And no, he didn’t threaten her, but he did leave her and from the looks of it, he ain’t comin’ back.” I take another swallow of my drink.

“Oh, God,” he says, his brow furrowed, “that’s fucked up all around.”

“Tell me about it,” I lament, rubbing my forehead for the first time in forever. I have no idea what to do. Gary and Marilyn are both my friends and Marilyn’s my employee. They’ve both talked to me about how they felt about this situation and I’ve done the best that I can to give them both objective opinions without betraying the trust of the other. I can’t take sides, but I may be forced to, depending on how this plays out.

“I can only imagine what it must feel like being caught in the middle of this,” he says sympathetically.

“It was awful, Christian,” I bemoan. “Gary was so hurt, and Marilyn was devastated. I don’t know what to do. Her parents are in Spokane and with Thanksgiving coming up, she couldn’t stand to stay in that apartment alone. So, I helped her pack some things and she was on the redeye across the state.”

“So, no one’s in the apartment now?” he asks. I shake my head.

“I tried to call Gary, but he’s not answering. He probably thinks I’m going to ream him a new one for leaving Mare, but he has a right to his feelings, too.”

“So… any idea what now?” he asks. “I mean, whose apartment is it?”

“It’s Gary’s. He paid the lease for a year and near as I can tell, the only way out of it is to sublet or have someone buy out the lease. She gave up her apartment to move in with him, so he left and said she could stay. That makes me think that he might come back, because he only took a duffel bag, but…” I shrug and rub my head again, then my scar.

“Jesus Christ, what a mess,” he says as he retrieves another tumbler and fills it with ice and water from the refrigerator door.

“I can’t even fathom what to say to either of them right now. I can’t villainize either of them because they both have a right to feel what they’re feeling. What do you think?” My husband raises a brow and twist his lips before he places the tumbler of water in front of me. Yeah, I know—two double-shots and a single. Chug, chug.

“I can’t answer that question, Butterfly,” he says. “For obvious reasons, I avoid this particular topic of conversation at all costs.” I raise my eyes to his.

“What if it had been us?” I ask.

“But it wasn’t,” he says.

“But what if it had?” I press. He leans forward and takes my hands in his, then kisses both sets of knuckles before looking me in the eye.

“At all. Costs,” he repeats, letting me know that no matter how I press, we won’t be having this discussion. I sigh and drop my head.

“Dear, God, help me,” I groan. This can only get worse before it gets any better.

*-*

I receive a text from Marilyn when she lands in Spokane, then she—like Gary—falls into radio silence. Only two days without her this week and I feel as if I’m falling into oblivion. My calendar looks like hieroglyphics and when I suggested nabbing Luma again, Christian informed me that she had just returned to town herself and was needed at Grey House. No matter—Thanksgiving is here, and I plan to relax with my family for the next few days.

Harmony was not keen on coming to Thanksgiving dinner with our family, but Courtney and Vickie invited her to the condo and she gladly accepted—nothing as formal as a family gathering, but still with people she likes to be around… and she’s not alone on the first Thanksgiving without her mom.

I try to reach Marilyn and Gary on Thanksgiving, but neither of them answers or responds to my texts. I decide to leave them alone until and if they reach out to me.

Chuck reminds me that he and Keri will be going back to South Dakota for his and his mother’s case against his brother. I can’t believe he’s actually going to sue his brother. I mean, I can believe it… the bastard deserves it, but I guess I just can’t believe that it’s really happening.

Thanksgiving—a time of giving thanks, being around family, watching football and eating way too much food. Yet, all around me, I see sorrow and heartbreak and disappointment… people just trying to cope…

Harmony just buried her mother and her siblings are conspiring against her and treating her like the enemy.

Marilyn terminated her pregnancy and is now mourning the loss of the man that she loves.

Gary is mourning the loss of a baby and the dashed hopes of having a family.

No doubt, Carrick and his brothers are feeling the loss of their father right now. Even though Burt passed away months ago, going through the family heirlooms must have opened some of those old wounds, and like Harmony, they’re spending their first Thanksgiving without him.

And Freeman’s family—Lanie may feel no love lost, but Burtie and Nell loved that man and are no doubt having their own regrets today about the total breakdown of the family.

And of course, Chuck and his mom—having to sue his hateful brother for keeping the family apart with his lies.

And here I sit, journaling before I go to Val and Elliot’s for Thanksgiving, once again nothing on the pages about myself—just everyone else and their problems.

Thanksgiving… yeah.

*-*

“We’re not going to have a repeat of you two acting like children and Christian catching the plague, are we?” Val says when she opens the door.

“No,” I promise her, “we’re fine and we’re not bickering about the… sunshine yellow stucco!” I say with too much enthusiasm.

“Butterfly…” my husband scolds, coming in behind me and carrying our overnight bags.

“Yes, dear,” I say sweetly and obediently. He leans over and kisses me while Val and Elliot’s usual staff takes the bags from Christian.

“Are they permanent?” I ask, noting the same woman in the kitchen that was here for the housewarming.

“No, we just asked for them back,” she says, hooking her arm into mine. “Come sit with me in the living room.”

Val is positively giddy having the family over for Thanksgiving, much giddier than she was at her housewarming. Elliot sees to everyone getting their things settled in their various rooms before we all sit down for our various fall-spiced beverages.

Christian is dead set and determined to make sure that I don’t feel the ostracization that I experienced at the housewarming. He’s all snuggly with me and we’re playing with the babies in front of the fireplace. Val and Elliot already have their Christmas tree trimmed, so all of the babies—including my little brother Harry—are spellbound by the sparkling lights.

Sophia is playing with Mariah and Celida—more like keeping them occupied while her father and stepmother watches over them all. Herman, Grace, Carrick, and Luma all seem to be having a very interesting conversation of some sort. Val is bending Mandy’s ear about something while Mia and Ethan listen attentively, and Elliot and Daddy are probably talking shop. Just as I’m taking in my surroundings, I see Harry with Mikey, and they appear to be having a conversation. I watch them more closely and see Harry pulling Mikey’s arms. Is he…?

“Phone… phone…” I say, trying to be as calm as I can. Nobody’s listening to me, so I reach for Christian, who is cooing at his daughter, and tug on his pants. He raises his eyes to me and follows my gaze to my brother and my son.

“Son of a gun!” he says, fumbling in his pocket and finding his phone. People start looking to see what the commotion is, and before we know it, at least four phones are recording now.

Harry appears to be giving Mikey instructions in whatever gobbledygook he’s speaking, and Mikey follows instruction by grabbing both of his uncle’s arms with his grubby little hands. Harry’s unsteady little gait pulls Mikey forward until he’s standing, but Harry can’t comprehend why Mikey doesn’t start walking immediately after he stands. As a result, Harry pulls him forward again and Mikey stands only for a moment before tumbling over onto his little hands.

Harry’s getting a little frustrated with Mikey’s lack of pedestrian progress, but this entire thing is just a game to Mikey who, after each tumble, breaks into fits of baby giggles. Being on the same mental wavelength, his sister breaks into giggles as well and, let’s face it—who can’t laugh after hearing an infectious baby giggle? Soon, there’s an entire room of giggling adults and children, and the whole thing has been caught on video.

“Wow, what did we miss?”

I turn around to see Marcia and Maggie walking into the dining room from the vestibule. Maggie is getting so big. I remember when she just disappeared behind her mom.

“Hi, Marcia,” I say, rising from my seat on the floor. “It’s good to see you.” I hug her and compliment her on how good she’s looking these days while Maggie joins the other girls in the dining room. “Where’s Marlow?” I ask. I catch Sophie perk up in my peripheral vision.

“Oh, he’s here. They should be in shortly.” They? Who’s they? Did Marcia finally decide to bring her “plus-one” along? I find out shortly that there’s definitely a “plus-one,” but it’s not Marcia’s “plus-one.”

“Hi everybody,” Marlow greets as he enters the foyer. Behind him—and attached to his hand—is a tiny girl who looks a bit like a pre-teen. I try not to stare, but what’s more, I can feel Sophie glaring at them from behind me. I plaster a smile on my face and walk over to them.

“Hi, Marlow,” I say, kissing him on the cheek. “Who’s this?”

“This is Britney,” he says, pulling the girl closer so that she’s not lagging behind him. “She’s a sophomore at my school.”

Well, thanks for telling me that! The child doesn’t look more than twelve! Seriously, I’m petite, but she’s… thin, like really thin… like “Calista-Flockhart-when-everybody-thought-she-was-anorexic” thin, only thinner.

“Britney, this is Anastasia Grey. I told you about my mentor, Christian. This is his wife.” Britney smiles a smile that looks bigger than her face.

“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Grey,” she says politely.

“It’s nice to meet you, too, Britney,” I reply with a smile. “Come on in and meet everyone…”

Britney is quite affable as Marlow introduces her around, and everyone returns her warm greeting—everyone, that is, except Sophie. Sophie’s polite, but cool, and either Britney doesn’t notice it, or she ignores it. Two points for Britney…

As the day moves along, things seem to be going okay. Sophie doesn’t appear to be sneering at Marlow’s date, but she also seems careful to keep her distance. Being shunned by one of Marlow’s dates was probably enough for her.

I’ll have to remember in the future that my children have graduated to cereals, baby food, and some solid foods along with my breastmilk, which means that we may need some form of portable high chairs for them. Otherwise, we’ll be stuck with them in our laps while we try to eat… like now. Gail helps out, of course, and Val is eager to get her hands on her niece and nephew, so they allow me and Christian some time to eat.

Once we move on to dessert, the twins have eaten and have had their bottles and are on their way to sleep in their playpens when Herman stands to his feet.

“I’d like to have everyone’s attention please,” he says, and the room falls silent. Herman takes a deep breath.

“This has been a pretty eventful year for the Grey family,” he begins. “We lost our dad… effectively lost a brother…” He and Carrick exchange looks before he continues. “But we’ve grown. We’ve been blessed with a son and a daughter—in my case, a niece and a nephew—Ethan and Valerie. And even though we were already graced with Ana, we were able to add Mackenzie and Michael to village.”

We laugh at his expression, but truthfully, that’s exactly what we are.

“But in my loss, and in our flourishing, God has blessed me with those two sweet little girls right there…” He gestures to Mariah and Celida, who both smile fondly at him, “… and this loving and beautiful woman right here.” He turns to his side and takes Luma’s hand. Pulling her to her feet, he kisses her fingers softly and gives her a loving smile, which she returns.

“I don’t know where I would have been without her,” he says, still gazing into her eyes, “if I would have made it without her. Taking care of Dad’s things and going through his and Mom’s memories, it was like he was talking to me, telling me to live, telling me to grab life by the horns and live! And I realized then that I couldn’t be without this woman—that my mom and dad had a wonderful, beautiful life while they had each other and now, they have it again. I realized that I screwed up big the first time, but God is giving me a second chance… and dammit, I’m taking it.” He’s gazing into Luma’s eyes and I’m only too certain—as I’m sure the rest of us are—that he’s about to propose.

“So,” he turns back to the inquiring eyes, “I’m proud to announce that on November 22, 2014 at 3:17pm, this beautiful goddess officially became Mrs. Herman Grey.”

“Get outta here!” Carrick rises to his feet. “You sly dog! I shoulda known!” He gives his brother’s hand a vigorous shake as he claps him on the back. “Congratulations! Congratulations, man! I shoulda known you were up to something!”

Grace hugs Luma warmly and Mia follows. Warm smiles and congratulations fill the table.

“Not to fret, ladies,” Herman says once the revelry is calming a bit, “you can do your planning and parties and whatever it is that ladies do for weddings and such if my Luma says that’s what she wants. I just couldn’t wait to make her mine.”

There’s a collective swooning coo from the ladies at the table. Luma shows us pictures on their phones of Herman in a suit her in a beautiful vintage wedding dress. She looks twenty years younger.

“Is that…” Carrick looks at the picture again. “Is that… Mom’s dress?” he asks. Herman nods.

“Yeah,” he says, after a pause, “and… one of Mom’s rings,” he says. Carrick looks over at Luma who looks like she wants to hide her hand, but it’s too late.

Carrick looks at the picture again and his eyes clearly moisten. He takes Luma’s hand with the ring on it and kisses it gently before kissing Luma just as gently on the cheek.

“You made a beautiful bride,” he says, his voice cracking slightly. “I wish I could have been there.”

Luma smiles widely and Grace puts her hands on Luma’s shoulders. The cooing begins anew as Luma recounts the story of their nuptials—sweet and romantic. Elliot cuddles Valerie in his arms and she beams as the family enjoy themselves around the table. Once the conversation—and cooing—falls to a gently roar, Elliot stands to his feet.

“I’d like to say something, too,” he says. Val raises a brow and a small smile at him.

“I want to thank you all for agreeing to have Thanksgiving at my house, even though my house is the smallest of them all at the moment.” There’s a laugh following his statement. “But I’m really, really grateful for you all being here because… well, as you all know, my wife is a brain cancer survivor. For those of you who didn’t know already, she named her tumor Meg. It’s a long story but just know that she named it Meg. Well, she’s been suffering from these random dizzy spells, and even though my wife is strong, I could see it in her eyes that she was concerned that Meg was making another appearance.”

The room falls completely silent, even more quiet than when Herman asked for our attention.

“I did my best not to panic… I wasn’t very good,” he says, his voice cracking. Val takes his hand and gives it a squeeze. “But we didn’t dawdle. We went to the doctor and they proceeded to run the regular tests. I’m happy to say that Meg is definitely not making another appearance.”

The room is filled with sighs of relief and thanks to God and such, but Elliot’s not finished.

“We did learn however,” he looks down at Val, “that my angel is having a baby.”

“Get the fuck outta here!” My husband springs to his feet and reaches right across the table to his brother. “You’re going to be the goofiest dad ever!” he says, shaking Elliot’s hand.

“That’s the plan,” he says before turning to Herman. “Sorry, Uncle Herman.”

“Don’t worry about it, son,” he says, shaking Elliot’s hand as well. “There’s plenty of joy and happiness to go around.”

Most of us have forgotten our food and are clustered around either the newly-married couple or the newly-expecting couple cooing over the antique ring that Herman gave Luma or the fact that Val will be having a baby soon. Herman presented his bride with a 13.93ctw smoky-quartz ring set in 14kt yellow gold with leaf accents—another piece from his mother’s priceless collection. Elliot hasn’t presented Val with anything—besides a house, but he indicates that he plans to repurpose one of the rooms into a nursery that would rival ours.

With the attention centered on Val, Elliot, Herman, and Luma, no one sees the small commotion taking place in the corner of the living room. I inconspicuously examine Britney having a harsh word or two in hushed tones with Marlow before she ceremoniously turns away from him and proceeds towards the front door. Marlow rolls his eyes, then throws a glance at Sophie before following his date outside. They still haven’t garnered the attention of anyone else in the house, but I watch as Sophie twists her lips, rolls her eyes, then falls petulantly on the sofa, folding her arms and staring at the fire.

And here we go again.

I wait for a moment before I sneak away from the crowd and go to the foyer. I locate my coat and gloves and step outside in search of Marlow. He’s pacing on the pavement in front of the house like he’s trying to control his temper.

“Marlow?” I call out to him. He whirls around in my direction and upon spotting me, visibly tries to control his ire. “What’s wrong?” I ask as I approach.

“Forgive me for my lack of consideration,” he says in a voice that I’ve never heard before, “but is Sophia Taylor on the rag again?”

Oookay. There will be no scolding of Marlow Johnson today. He. Is. Livid.

“Um… okay, what happened?” I ask cautiously.

“She was awful to my date!” Marlow says, perturbed. “For no good damn reason, she was awful!” He sits down on the retainer wall. Oh, dear.

“In what way?” I ask, sitting down next to him.

“She said some flighty crap about her being skinny… something about needing a gravy sandwich or something like that.” I raise my eyebrows to him.

“Um… well… um… that’s not… horrible,” I try to excuse.

“My date heard her!” he snaps. I cringe.

“Ooo, that’s bad,” I retract. “Any idea why she said that?”

“Because she’s a brat!” he retorts, very angry about his seemingly ruined Thanksgiving. I try to come up with an explanation. I know she has a crush on him even though she hasn’t told me. This lashing out at his dates isn’t going to stop if he keeps bringing them around. Which reminds me…

“It could be attack as a form of defense,” I tell him. He raises a brow at me. “Have you forgotten the little twat who chased her away from Mia’s wedding? What was her name—Maya?”

“Maya didn’t chase her away!” He frowns.

“She most certainly did!” I retort. “That crack about her kid sister having Sophie’s dress; and then that whole ‘I’ll just have to take it off’ thing, as if everybody at the table didn’t know what the hell that meant. Sophie had just spent the entire dinner impressing a table full of adults with her cuisine expertise and here comes this insecure little twit acting like a jealous toddler and cutting her down in front of everybody. If Sophie acts like a brat in front of your dates, blame your first date—or at least the one that you brought to the wedding. That’s why I told you to talk to your women about how they act around us. And what happened to Maya anyway? It wasn’t two months ago, she was hanging all over you!”

“Um…” He rubs the back of his neck. “Yeah, well, she wasn’t really comfortable after the incident either.”

“Um-hmm,” I say, folding my arms. “I bet she wasn’t. I’m not trying to sabotage your dates, but I won’t stand by while they treat someone I love like crap. I’m really sorry about Britney. I’m sure she didn’t deserve what happened, but when it comes to your girls, Sophie may be lashing out before they get the chance to lash out at her. And don’t be surprised if she’s got an entire armory ready. You might want to try and talk to her, get her to understand how her actions are affecting you—and I’m not saying this happened with Britney, but make sure your dates aren’t doing anything to antagonize her. She’s only 13, for Christ’s sake. You, her, and Maggie are the only teenagers we have at family gatherings, so…” I trail off and shrug.

“I may just have to stop bringing dates around altogether,” he laments. “Jeez, at this rate, I may never get laid again,” he adds, his voice low.

I don’t think I was supposed to hear that last part, so I just ignore it.

“Well, I don’t want you to feel like your dates aren’t welcome. You’re always welcome to bring them to family gatherings… as long as they know how to behave themselves, but Maya laid the groundwork for how Sophie’s going to act around your women, so you really need to talk to her.”

She’s got a crush on you, you idiot. Are you truly that dense? Smooth things over and let her know that you at least care about her feelings, even though it can never go any further.

Of course, telling her that he knows would just humiliate her to no end. So, of course, I can’t share my theory with him, but geez… it’s as plain as the nose on my face.

“I think I’m just going to take off,” he says, “try to smooth things over with Britney…”

“But not with Sophie?” I chastise.

“She’s the one who insulted Britney!” Marlow retorts.

“And I just told you why!” I counter. “You don’t think that needs addressing?”

“If I address that with her right now, Ana, I’m going to be pissed. I don’t even know where Britney is. I need to go find her. I’ll talk to Sophia some other time.” He stands. “Tell my mom to text me when she’s ready to go if I’m not back by then.” He marches down the driveway towards his car.

That’s right, Marlow. Run away.

It’s hard to remember that he’s still a child… but not. He’s 17, so his life should be shaping into manhood now, but he disappoints me when it comes down to how he’s handling the complexities of relationships right now. I guess this is when he’s learning.

And poor Sophie. She’s acting like the stereotypical catty jealous spurned female, but at 13, she’s coming off as the bratty ass little sister. Their age difference is wide enough that they most likely will never have any romantic relationship—not to mention the fact that Marlow simply does not see her that way—but at this rate, she’ll not only destroy any hint of a chance of a romance. She’ll also destroy their friendship.


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

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

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 68—Try Jesus… Not Me!

Please send love, prayers, and positive vibes out to our beloved Falala. She lost her furry baby this week. All of us who have fur babies know how hard this is, so drop her a positive thought and encouragement in the comments if you can.

Also remember my friend, Sharrier. She’s burying her mom and it’s a trying task for her. Please keep her in your prayers as well.

Remember, you guys—sometimes, we’re all we’ve got.

Also, whoever “AnaChris Grey,” “AnaChris Dalisay,” or “Mylene Dalisay” is on Facebook, would you please identify yourself for me here in the comments? I get creepers all the time, and I got these three friend requests on Facebook. There’s no identifying information on the ID, and two of them have Dakota Johnson’s picture as a profile picture while the third has the butterflies on my cover page for this site as a profile picture. As I have seen no one anywhere else (yet) use my power couple name “AnaChris” in a fanfic and the profile picture is my cover pic, it’s kinda creeping me out. So could you please let me know who you are in the comments so that I can stop shaking in my boots. Thanks.

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 68—Try Jesus… Not Me!

CHRISTIAN

I’m sitting in my office on Wednesday morning waiting for a certain pussy DJ and whatever slimeball lawyer he’s hired to arrive for our meeting. If these fuckers are even one minute late, I’ve given instructions for them to be turned away at the door. They still have a little time, so I allow my thoughts to wander.

Butterfly was thrilled and very pleasantly surprised by our meal on Monday night. I was proud to tell her I had prepared everything, with a lot of help and a few minor catastrophes, but nothing major. I didn’t know if she was pulling my leg or it everything really tasted as good as she said, but she cleaned her plate and even asked for seconds on the shrimp.

We took the fondue to the theater room where we watched a Cary Grant marathon until she fell asleep in the reclining luxury chairs and I took her to bed and snuggled until morning. It was the best date night I’ve ever had, and that says a lot, because we’ve had some pretty good ones.

I discovered that she wasn’t pulling my chain when I saw her taking leftovers to the Center for lunch the next day.

Tuesday brought even more good news. Harmony finally came out of her room and had dinner in the dining room, and I got news that the items in the storage facility had all been packed up and were now on their way to… somewhere—either to people who said that they wanted them or out here to the Grey warehouse. Ichabod has made it safely to my restorer in Tennessee and Granma Ruby’s wardrobe has reached Grey Crossing. It’s outrageously large and has to be stored in the boathouse so that Butterfly can go through the items and organize them.

Likewise, the items that Uncle Herman wanted as well as Dad’s model car collection arrived, too. I’m waiting for him to put them on display so that I can see what all the fuss is about. But the best news of all is that Freeman never showed up at the storage facility and didn’t cause any problems. Once everything was on a plane, train, or automobile on its way to its next destination, my first order of business this morning was to bring my teams home. They’d been in that hellhole long enough. The next thing I did was authorize an additional week’s paid vacation for each of them for 2015 and arranged for every man on that team to get an all-expense-paid trip for them and one other to the destination of their choice for a week. They deserve it—they worked their asses off.

“Your 10:00 is here, sir,” Andrea’s voice informs me that Rossiter and his attorney have arrived.

“Thank you, Andrea. I’ll be one moment.” I dial up to my head of legal.

“Allen Forsythe-Fleming,” he answers.

“You should really think about shortening that,” I tell him.

“No. I’ve been Allen Forsythe my entire life. I love my name the way it is now. I take it our visitors have arrived.”

“They have,” I confirm. “Conference room in ten.”

“Okay.” I end the call with him and call Jason.

“Mr. Rossiter has arrived with his legal counsel. Will you and an associate please show him to the conference room and wait for me there?”

“Chance and I will be right up,” he says before ending the call.

“So good of you to join us,” the attorney quips as I enter the conference room at 10:20. I stop there at the door. Allen is there sitting in the seat to the right of mine and Rossiter’s attorney is across from him. Where is Rossiter sitting? In my chair at the head of the table.

This is going to be fun.

“I can always leave,” I retort. “I didn’t ask for this fucking meeting.” Do you want to start on this note? At my rash tone, the seemingly cocky attorney says no more. I stalk into the conference room, taking long, slow strides toward Rossiter and never taking my eyes off him even though he diverts his gaze from me once or twice. I position myself squarely next to him and gaze down on him.

“You’re in my seat,” I nearly growl at him, pronouncing every word with venom.

“There are several other chairs at the table, Mr. Grey,” his attorney points out.

“Then I suggest he finds one,” I command, still never taking my eyes off him. He doesn’t move at first, his hands folded on the table like he belongs at the head.

“I’m waiting… Judd!” My voice drops two more octaves when I say his name and nobody in the room moves for several moments. I can do this all day, but I won’t. I’ll just have you forcibly removed from the building—you and your pussy attorney.

After a standoff of a whole lot longer than I would like, the fucker turns my chair away from me, then stands and walks to another chair without a word. When he’s seated and still not making eye-contact with me, I stand in front of my chair, fold my arms and address Matlock over here.

“You have five minutes,” I declare. That gets Rossiter’s attention.

“That’s hardly any time for us to state our case!” Matlock retorts.

“Then you can state your case in court,” I tell him.

“You make us wait for twenty minutes and then you only afford us five? That’s the most unprofessional thing I’ve ever seen!”

“And why should I be professional with you?” I reply. “You must know that I have a restraining order against him. He’s not even supposed to be here. If I were a vindictive sonofabitch, I could have him arrested before you two made it back to your car. Now what do you want?”

“You want us to grovel!” he accuses.

“I don’t want shit,” I reply impassively. “I didn’t ask to see you. And now you have four minutes.”

“This is not the way to negotiate, Mr. Grey…”

“I have nothing to negotiate, because I have nothing to lose. Your client is severely on the backfoot and he comes in here and sits in my chair like I don’t know what he’s doing? Excellent negotiating tactic, Judd! Way to get what you want—piss of the guy who’s got your balls in his hand…” I turn back to Matlock. “… Or was that your idea?”

“It was an honest mistake,” Matlock claims.

“I’m sure it was,” I say sarcastically. “Tick tock tick tock…” He sighs heavily.

“Mr. Rossiter indicates that there may have been a slight error in his judgment about the events of his assault…”

“Why don’t you let Mr. Rossiter speak for himself?” I interrupt him.

“We’re trying to stay in line with the protection order as much as possible,” Matlock excuses.

“Cut the shit,” I say coolly. “He broke that when you asked for the meeting and blew it to hell when you came within 1000 feet of my front door.” I turn to Rossiter. “Or am I mistaken, and the police already know that you’re here?” Rossiter turns his gaze to me.

“Well, that’s progress,” I say, turning to Al. “The fucker made eye-contact.” I turn back to Rossiter. “We’ve only been in each other’s presence a whole six minutes and you haven’t had the balls to make eye contact with me once. Which reminds me…” I look at my Hublot.

“I may have been… mistaken about who attacked me in August,” Rossiter grumbles. “I was upset, and the Greys had been front and center in my displeasure. I’m not admitting to lying. I’m simply saying that I may have been mistaken in my recollection of the events.”

“Mistaken,” I say with a chuckle, “how politically correct of you.”

“Why the change of heart, Mr. Rossiter?” Al asks. He rolls his eyes.

“I’m going to be in litigation forever with this guy. I’ve lost my job; I can’t find another one and even if I could, I’m gagged on what I can say in the press. No matter how strongly I may feel about the situation, I’ll admit that I don’t have any definitive proof that it was him that attacked me.”

“Well, why did you point the finger at him in the first place?” Al asks. “What made you think it was Mr. Grey that had you attacked?”

“That’s hardly relevant,” Matlock says.

“It’s quite relevant,” I hiss at the snake, who snaps his gaze to me. “I’ve been defamed in the press. I’ve had to increase my security. My family has to move around in even more secret that we did before. My infant twins have received death threats, for God’s sake. I’d say it’s pretty fucking relevant!”

Matlock pales at my brief tirade and I turn my attention back to Rossiter.

“Mr. Rossiter?” Al says. “The reason for your conclusion?” Rossiter clears his throat.

“Like I said, the Greys were front and center…”

“You’re saying that just because your most recent squabble was with me that you verbalized your unfounded conclusions and unleashed all this hell on me and my family—my children—and you want me to accept that, show you some kind of kindness, mercy, or compassion, and withdraw my lawsuit? Is that what you’re trying to tell me right now?” I ask, finally taking my seat.

“You were very pissed at me for the attention that I was bringing to you and your family. My assumptions were not that far-fetched…”

“Oh, it wasn’t just the attention, Rossiter,” I seethe. “We can deal with attention. We’re dealing with it now. We deal with it every day, and none of the current attention originates from you. We’ll be dealing with attention long after you’re gone, so that wasn’t it. It was also the disrespect, the verbal harassment and the physical assaults. Yeah, that’s what pissed me off.”

“Thus, proving my point,” he says somewhat victoriously. “My assumptions were not so far-fetched.”

“And so, you’re telling me that you haven’t pissed off anybody else in the world but me and my family,” I accuse. “You’re such a fucking model citizen that no one else in the world could have been pissed off enough to beat your ass.” It’s a question in the form of a statement.

“Again, relevance,” Matlock says.

“I gave you relevance, so you can shove that shit up your ass!” I retort, pointing at the attorney. “You can object until your head explodes once we’re in court. Right now, I’m saying whatever the fuck I want!”

“You’re not helping!” Rossiter hisses quietly to his attorney.

“Just so we’re clear,” I turn back onto Rossiter, “you’re telling me that my babies—my twin babies—are getting public death threats simply because I was in the forefront of your disparity? You have no other foundation for these accusations? No pictures? No DNA evidence? No ‘I recognized somebody?’ Nothing?”

“Look. I admitted that I may have been mistaken. I don’t know what else the fuck you want from me.” I push away from the table and stand with enough force to knock the heavy chair over onto the floor with a hard thud.

“Tell me I’m not hearing this!” I say in a fury. “Tell me this is not what I’m hearing! Tell me I’m mistaken! This has got to be a mistake… he didn’t just say what I just heard!”

It’s not only because I have to play this part well, but also because I’m truly flabbergasted by this. I thought he had something—he recognized one of my staff; he knows my fleet is Audi and he saw an Audi drive away; someone may have said something that tipped him off, but it’s none of those. He truly reached into the air and just pulled out my name! He could have gotten into a barfight the weekend before, and he would have just reached into the air and pulled out my name! My children truly received death threats because he truly. Was. Mistaken.

“Christian, you need to calm down,” Al cautions. I slam my hands onto the table, causing all of the men to jump, even my security team at the door.

“Don’t you see?” I say, gesturing wildly at Rossiter while addressing Al. “He has no fucking idea who did this to him! He pulled my name out the air and announced to a listening audience that I attacked him! He could have had one too many, fell face-first off the curb, busted his lip, lost a tooth, and then pointed the finger at me! My children, my wife, I have all actually received death threats from this shit, and he has no fucking clue who did it! We had an active controversy and people are quick to believe shit about me and he knew that! He was counting on it! And now he comes into this room expecting me to show him some fucking compassion?”

“Mr. Grey, you really need to calm down,” Matlock says.

“Don’t tell me to calm down, Matlock!” I bark at him, having never gotten his real name since he didn’t see fit to introduce himself to me. “Don’t you fucking dare tell me to calm down. Have they threatened your fucking children, you worm?” He swallows and clears his throat. I pick my chair up and slam it back in the upright position.

“How does it feel to try to make an example out of someone that you don’t even measure up to?” I ask Rossiter. “And I’m not even talking about me. I’m talking about my wife. The only beef I ever had with you was that you showed her that vulgar tattoo on your arm and I made that known. You made it more than that. Whatever you did before or after that viewing, whatever happened had nothing to do with me or my wife. You harass her in public, you physically attack her father, you degrade and slander us on any medium that will accommodate you, and you want to sit here and pretend to be the victim? We didn’t seek you out! We never sought you out! You put yourself front and center in our lives and now you’re upset about the attention? Believe me, I want nothing more than for you to get the fuck out of our lives and stay out! I don’t want any reminders that I ever even knew who the fuck you were. I could have destroyed you long ago if that was my motive, and I didn’t need attention or an audience to do it. I never want to hear of you or see you ever again, so I will be happy to drop my lawsuit against you—but I have demands.”

“Mr. Grey, do you mean conditions?” his attorney says in a condescending tone.

“Call them what you want. I have demands!” I hiss, and he glares at me. I glare right back until he breaks his gaze, then I turn back to Rossiter.

“You’re having a hard time finding work. That would be because to accommodate you, somebody would have to piss me off and there are a lot of people in the greater Seattle area and beyond who don’t want to piss me off. To that end, it might do you well to seek employment in another sector—maybe even outside of Seattle.”

“That sounds like a threat, Mr. Grey,” the attorney says.

“I could give a fuck less what it sounds like, Matlock, it’s a suggestion. Now here are my demands:

“Don’t talk about us, don’t allude to us, don’t discuss our agreement, our situation, my family, any of my businesses, don’t even make any general characterizations that could look like us or be mistaken for us and you know well what I mean when I say that. The fact that you don’t use our names will not protect you from further legal action. Don’t write a book, don’t sign a movie deal, don’t do an interview, nothing. You are not privy to anything about us that is not public domain, and you better be careful about how you use that information, or I might take it personally.”

“Mr. Grey,” Matlock tries to chide.

“I’m not finished, and don’t interrupt me again or you and your client can get the fuck out of my face right now.” Without waiting for a response from him, I turn back to Rossiter.

“If you agree to the terms and I drop the lawsuit, we cease to exist in your life and this entire thing has been one bad dream. I don’t even want an apology; I just want you the fuck out of our lives. You don’t use any of this experience for publicity, for sympathy, for profit, for any gain or advantage whatsoever. Anything that anybody ever asks you about me, my family, my great-fucking-grandchildren, any of my businesses, anything that has to do with me henceforth and forevermore will be answered with ‘No comment.’ If I find out 50 years from now that you told some small AM radio station in the swamps of Mississippi anything whatsoever about me even in the abstract, all bets are off and I’m coming for you.” He frowns.

“And what do I get?” he asks.

“You get to not find yourself in litigation for the rest of your life,” I inform him. “You get to go offend somebody’s wife in some part of the world who doesn’t know who the hell you are. You get to go make up your story to whomever will listen as long as it doesn’t involve, allude to, or incriminate me or any member of my family—or we can walk out of this room right now and I’ll continue with my lawsuit. Your choice.”

“Is this legal?” he barks at his counsel. Before he can respond, I reply,

“You better find a way to make it legal, because I’m done playing these games with you. I and my family have been targeted long before you ever got a glint in your eye, but we can often wait it out and most of the time, it blows over—but you! You won’t go away! You made this bed! You opened this can of worms and now you want to blame us for it. I’ve got news for you, Rossiter. I’m not one of those people who will just pay a problem to go away. I’m a fighter. I’ve been a fighter since I was a kid and nothing’s changed. And before I allow some slimy, manipulating bastard and his sleezy lawyer to get a dime out of me, I’ll drag this fight out through Armageddon.” Matlock scoffs.

“I don’t have to take this kind of slanderous talk!” he announces. He closes his ledger, picks up his briefcase, and ceremoniously storms out of the room. I sit back comfortably in my seat while Rossiter stares at his retreating attorney.

“What the fuck just happened?” Rossiter inquires.

“I think your attorney just skipped out on you because he just discovered that he wasn’t getting any money out of me,” I inform him while folding my arms.

“How the hell would you know that?” he barks.

“Is this your first time at the dance?” I ask incredulously. “Because it’s certainly not mine. Maybe my wife and I are the first to stand up to you and you don’t know how this goes, so let me educate you. Some enterprising, money-hungry, ambulance-chasing attorney preys on some ambitious, attention-seeking, greedy opportunist the moment they find out there’s a dispute between them and someone who has a few zeros behind their name. He’s either going to get something from the opportunist or from the guy with the zeros. You have nothing, and I just blew all his hopes of ever getting anything from me. I have cursed you, used an obscene amount of profanity, disrespected you both, and pretty much told him to shut up, but he suddenly feels slandered when I say that he’s not getting a dime from me. I’ve been through this—many times. I know how this ends. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lawsuit and just waited and waited and waited until they realized that they weren’t getting shit from me. The money that I would give to you and anybody like you, I would spend endlessly on attorneys and appeals until you died or just went away. Your lawyer friend saw that, and that’s why he’s not here. I’ll even put a wager on it that he won’t answer any of your calls. So, I’m letting you know right here and right now that I’m giving you the chance to walk the fuck away before I unleash hell on you.”

Realization slowly creeps onto Rossiter’s face and his skin blanches a bit. For several moments, he looks like a caged rabbit trying to find an escape. Yet, I can see the moment resolution sets in and he knows that he’s whipped.

“It’s just us, Grey,” he says in a low, ominous voice. “My attorney’s gone now. Give it to me straight. Did you have me jumped?” I sit up in my chair.

“Christian…” Al cautions, but I put my hand up to silence him without breaking my gaze with Rossiter. I lean forward and clasp my hands together in front of me on the table.

“I don’t like you,” I say coolly. “In fact, I fucking hate you. I hate everything you are and everything that I’ve seen you stand for, but most of all, I hate you for how you treated my wife—my queen, and the mother of my children. I could easily see you dead for that and not bat an eyelash. I want to break your fucking legs. I want to make it so that you can’t harass or mistreat another woman for as long as you fucking live. However, I suggest that you start looking in dark corners and turning over some fucking rocks and find out who your goddamn enemies are, because the fact that you’re still walking and not being fed through a tube is a pretty safe assumption that I might not be the one that had your ass kicked. Does that answer your question, Mr. Rossiter?”

You’re out of your goddamn mind if you think I would admit to that whether your attorney is here or not. You might have a recording device or something and besides, I get more satisfaction out of seeing the uncertainty in your eyes right now and knowing that I am the one that had your ass kicked than I would in telling you that I did it.

He rolls his eyes before he shakes his head and drops his gaze.

“Well, this was a fucking great idea,” he says to himself. He pushes his chair back and stands.

“I’ll sign whatever you need. Just drop the damn lawsuit,” he says before leaving the room and closing the door behind him.

“Well, that was easy,” Al says, closing his ledger and sticking it in his briefcase.

“No, it wasn’t,” I say, watching the door. “It’s not easy until he signs the damn papers. Draw them up and get them over to him today. Let him know that he has 24 hours to sign them, get them notarized, and return them or the lawsuit stands, and all bets are off.” I stand. “And send a message to that squirrelly attorney. Let him know in whatever legal manner possible that if he tries anything, I’m coming for him, too.”

“It’ll be done by the end of business,” Al says. I nod and leave the room with Al close behind me. Pretty soon, I need to retrieve my wife for the R&D meeting that we have each quarter. Ever since she found the disparity with the XRC90 transmitter, I’ve requested that she be present at each R&D meeting as an extra set of eyes and ears for me. It’s not that I don’t trust my staff but looking at the same things every day can sometimes cause complacency when it comes down to critical details. Butterfly has the eye that I need for things like that.


ANASTASIA

“Your Ebony Carson is basically clean.”

I’m sitting in Alex’s office on Wednesday morning looking to get a final call on what’s going on with Ebony Carson. I rode in to Grey House with Christian so that I can be present for a quarterly meeting that starts at eleven. Christian has a meeting at ten, so I came to talk to Alex about Ebony. I need whatever information he has and, one way or the other, I’m pulling the trigger on this thing today.

“She has nothing adverse that shows up on her background check, but she doesn’t have a paper trail. No credit cards, no bank accounts… but that falls in line with someone who doesn’t want to be found, which validates her story. She’s got a lot of hits that just go away, trails that run dry—or it could even be another Ebony Carson altogether, because the name is common. So, here’s my take on it.

“It’s a 50/50 chance that she is who she says she is. From what she’s telling you, her story checks out, but what I don’t see always makes me nervous. She doesn’t stay put for long, so if you hire her, she’s only going to be around for a minute—six months to a year tops, and I’m stretching it at the year. If she’s running from a violent or powerful boyfriend, she’s got a stash bag somewhere with clothes and cash, probably in the trunk of her car or something like that. Her next destination has already been chosen. Without knowing his name or at least knowing his crime or what facility he’s incarcerated in, we’re never going to find him. ‘Ge’ is simply not enough.

“My final conclusion, you’re dealing with a ghost here. It’s kind of a crap shoot if you want to hire her. She could just be a scared young woman running from a bad situation, but that makes me ask where her family is, because she’s not on any missing persons’ lists. No outstanding warrants, traffic tickets that may or may not be hers due to no license being present or other mysterious circumstances. The social security number has several hits on jobs, but like I said, she doesn’t stay…”

“I think we should take the findings at face value,” I say. “She’s afraid, and she hasn’t found anywhere to lay any roots. He’s got her scared out of her wits and if she has even the slightest inkling that he’s getting close, she’s going to bolt.” I sigh. I can’t afford to introduce a bad element to the Center, but isn’t this what we do? Aren’t we here to help people in trouble who are looking for a safe haven?

“I’m going to bring her back in,” I tell Alex. “If she can’t give me anything concrete that I can work with, something that I can feel safe with, or at least semi-safe, I’ll let it go.”

“That’s pretty much all you can do,” he says. “I understand wanting to help her with all that you do, but I’m a conspiracy theorist by profession. It’s my job to look for all the bad that could happen and do my best to prevent it from happening. You have to be careful… and we will be watching her.” I nod.

“Yeah.” I look at my watch and I have a little time before I have to be in the conference room on the executive floor. “Thanks, Alex.”

I leave his office and text Marilyn to contact Ebony and have her come in for another interview on Friday morning. I’m looking at my phone and concentrating very hard on finding a restroom before I pee my pants when I bump into a wall of man that I know very well.

“You should watch where you’re going,” my husband says suggestively. I don’t even bother asking how he knew exactly where I was.

“You’re right,” I reply. “I’m distracted.” I have to pee.

“Come on,” he says, putting his arm around my waist. “Let’s go. We’ll have a boardroom full of people soon.”

“I’ll meet you in the office. I need to find a restroom, or there’s going to be an accident.” He twists his lips at me.

“I can wait,” he suggests.

“Go upstairs!” I protest. “I’m in the building. I know my way. Now, shoo, I gotta pee!” I leave him there to debate the situation and I duck around the corner and into the bathroom, luckily not ten feet away from our location. I have to look up at the ceiling to prevent leakage while I’m trying to undo my pants. I don’t know why it works but it works. The flow starts almost before I get to the toilet.

Sweet relief! Thank God… that was close.

I finish my business and just before I flush the toilet, I hear women come into the bathroom, giggling and talking.

“My God, what I could do with all that man,” one says.

“Give it up, girlfriend,” I hear another say while entering the stall next to me. “He is very happily married and from what I hear, quite pussy-whipped. Just step away from the gorgeousness. That’s nothing but a fantasy, my friend.”

“So you say,” the first one says. “Every man has a weakness that can be exploited by new pussy. She just had twins, so I can guarantee that pussy ain’t as tight as it used to be, and it certainly ain’t as tight as mine.”

I sigh silently. Of course, they’re talking about Christian… and me. The first one sounds like she’s in a stall, too, now, so I exit the stall and go around the wall to the sinks to wash my hands. I’m far enough away that they can’t really hear the water of the sink, but I can still hear the conversation.

“And look at her,” the first one continues. “She’s all prim and proper. I bet he hasn’t had a good blowjob in months!” I dry my hands and lean against the sink with my arms folded, waiting for this trick to exit the stall. I’ll show you prim and proper, bitch!

“Deanna, give it up,” I hear the second one say as she flushes the toilet. “I’m telling you, it’s a lost cause and not worth all the trouble you could get into. Leave it…” Her sentence breaks off when she bends the corner and stares wide-eyed at my face. Her mouth is gaping like a fish while her friend continues to insert her foot further down her throat.

“Please, girl, I know how to get a man, any man I want. I haven’t met a man yet who could resist me no matter what he had at home—wife, girlfriend, fiancée, boyfriend… I’ve even caused gay men to go straight with this pussy and I tell you… Fifteen minutes alone with Christian Grey and that man will be mine.” I hear the toilet flush.

“Shut up, Deanna,” the second girl says still looking at me.

“It’s true. The only reason I don’t already have him is because I’ve been focusing on my position, but trust me, once I set my sites on a man, he’s mine and I never fail. And I’ve got my sites set on that tall drink of water.”

“Deanna, you need to shut up,” her friend says again. Yeah, Deanna, you should probably shut up.

“Oh, lighten up. He probably has a billionaire friend for you, too…” Just like her friend a few moments ago, Deanna’s statement falls to nothing as she bends the corner and comes face to face with me. She’s clearly stunned and doesn’t know quite what to say right now. I wouldn’t either if I had been graphically discussing my plans to fuck the boss only to discover the boss’s wife standing a few feet away.

“Oh, don’t stop on my account. I’d love to know what techniques you plan to use to steal my husband.” I stand still leaning against the sink, waiting for all the I-can-fuck-him-like-this talk that I heard a minute ago.

“What’s the matter?” I ask after her silence. “You chokin’ on that sole food right now? I’m sure that shoe doesn’t taste as good as it did when you were sitting in that stall talking about sucking my man’s dick!” She clears her throat and looks over to her friend. Getting no support from the girl who, moments earlier, kept trying to tell her to shut up, she turns an uncertain gaze back to me. I’m unbelievably heated and angry and I don’t want to play by the rules with this tramp.

“I don’t need to say or do anything to prove to you how satisfied my man is. But even if he wasn’t, you would still never find out, because if you come within 100 feet of my husband, I’ll fuck you up!”

She gasps, completely taken off guard by my statement. Realizing my position in the company, I need to make one more thing perfectly clear.

“I’m not talking to you as someone who could cost you your job. I’m talking to you as a pissed-off woman telling you that you better keep your ass the fuck away from my man. However tight your pussy is or great your head is, you better go try your skills on somebody else, because if you touch my man, that’ll be the last time you touch anybody’s man!”

“You’re threatening me?” she asks incredulously.

“Yes, bitch, I’m threatening you!” I say, closing the space between us. “You’re surprised? You’re sitting in a public bathroom talking about fucking and sucking my man and you’re surprised? It’s taking everything in me not to put you through that wall behind you right now! But hell, you feel like you can do it? You feel like you can pull my man out of my bed, you go right ahead and try. Just remember I fuckin’ warned you.” I’m nearly growling at her.

“A real woman shouldn’t have to threaten another woman if she’s keeping her man happy,” she says, coolly.

“A real woman would know how to get a man of her own without setting her sites on a married man with a family!” I hiss. “I’m not going to debate with you as to whether or not you can pull my man. Like I said, try that shit if you feel lucky. Now you wanna keep talking so I can cash in on my urge to smash your ass through that wall?” I fold my arms again and wait for her response.

She looks over at her friend again, who says nothing, then squares off with me a bit, but never says a word as I glare at her.

“That’s what I thought,” I say before dropping my arms and turning to her friend.

“I saw nothing,” her friend says, putting her hands up and dropping her gaze to the floor. I look back at Deanna, then turn and walk out of the restroom. I should have known that the conversation didn’t just come out of the blue. Of course, Christian is still standing a few feet down the hallway in the same spot where I left him.

“You don’t follow directions well, do you?” I say as I approach him. He puts his arm around my waist and pulls me in for a peck on the cheek.

“There’s still people here who don’t know who you are,” he says. “I just feel better if someone is with you until they do. I don’t want to have to break anybody’s jaw for flirting with what’s mine.” He reaches down and squeezes my ass cheek. Oh, Mr. Grey, if you only knew.

“I don’t think you have to worry about that,” I tell him. “Even if they were foolish enough to try it, they wouldn’t get anywhere. My heart belongs to you.”

“Yeah, but this body screams pleasure and I don’t want to have to kill a man for overstepping his boundaries.” He continues to fondle my ass right in the hallway and I giggle at his possessiveness and the irony of the statement, considering the conversation I just had in the ladies’ room.

“You make a girl feel like a queen,” I jest.

“That’s because you are my queen,” he responds, guiding me towards the elevators.

*-*

The meeting was in a much larger room on the 19th floor, somewhat like a small auditorium. It was very informative for me and I was able to give some good feedback on my thoughts on a few of the projects. There are a couple of others that I tuck away into my briefcase to look at a little more closely. My husband and I are temporarily separated in the room full of people and I’m talking to one of the gentlemen spearheading one of the projects that I’d like to research a bit.

Don’t ask me how, but my bitch detector goes off and I turn to my left to see Christian talking to a group of people, two of which are the two females I encountered in the ladies room. She’s standing in a circle with her friend right next to her and she’s right in Christian’s line of vision. I conclude my conversation with the gentleman I’m speaking to and walk coolly over to the circle, weaving through the crowd so as not to draw attention to myself.

“Your presentation on the Charma plan was quite informative, Mr. Grey,” the trick coos as I approach, and her friend visibly rolls her eyes. “Are you by any chance looking for a researcher on that project?” Christian raises his brow.

“The researchers are chosen by the project leaders,” he replies, impassively.

“Oh, I just thought you may be interested in this particular project having a more… personal touch,” she says. Christian’s brow furrows this time, and I know my husband. He smells the rat.

“Should I know you?” he asks, bemused.

“No, dear, you shouldn’t,” I interject, finally closing in on the circle of about eight people and standing next to him. “You see, Dana here,” I deliberately screw up her name, “was in the bathroom earlier having a conversation about how you probably haven’t had a decent blowjob since you and I have been together. And since I told her to stay the fuck away from my husband, this is her ‘game on’ move.”

I look across the circle right into her face. Her face reddens as the circle falls silent and everyone turns to her and stares incredulously.

“You’re blatantly trying to come on to me?” Christian says, coolly, “After my wife told you to stay away from me?”

“She threatened me!” Deanna says, trying to pull some sympathy.

“You’re lucky she didn’t fucking kill you!” he retorts angrily. “You talked about giving me a goddamn blowjob in front of my wife and you lived to tell the tale? I’m amazed!”

Well, she wasn’t in front of me when she said it, but that’s beside the point. I put my hand on his chest.

“Save your breath, baby,” I say. “It’s not going to do you any good. She shamelessly offered herself to you in front of…” I quickly count, “… six other people. You can’t appeal to her sense of morals or scruples or even fear. Besides, I told her that if she thought she could pull you from me to take her best shot.” Christian snaps his head to me.

“Are you insane?” he exclaims. “You can’t extend that invitation to anyone!”

“Oh, I’ll extend it to everyone simply because I know I have nothing to worry about, especially from someone who works for me…”

“I don’t work for you. I work for him,” she says confidently. I don’t turn my gaze from my husband whose face morphs into a sinister smile at the same time the corners of my mouth rise. I turn my gaze back to Deanna.

“You work. For me,” I say, with a huge Cheshire cat smile.

“Where’ve you been, Deanna?” one of the guys in the circle says. “She owns half the company.” Deanna’s face doesn’t change.

“I still don’t work for her,” Deanna says, haughtily walking away from the group. Ooooookay, bitch.

“Please excuse us,” Christian says, pulling me away from the circle. “Can someone please tell me why they blatantly do that with absolutely no consideration for the fact that I have a wife?” he laments as we walk towards the door.

“It’s not their fault, dear,” I say. “It’s you. You do that to women. You have god-like good looks that make them forget who they are, and I’m not just saying that because you’re my husband.”

“It’s just a face,” he hisses almost resentfully. I scoff.

“You think so, huh?” I ask. “Over six feet of 180 pounds of pure muscle and about 0.03% body fat walking around in 3000-dollar suits oozing money, power, and sex, and you think it’s just the face? Okay, Grey.”

“Well… when you put it that way…” He leans down and shamelessly kisses me in front of his colleagues.

“I need to run up and see Alex, then I have to get going to the Center,” I say once he breaks the kiss.

“Everything okay?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I reply. “I think I told you about Ebony Carson—perfect candidate from New York, but hiding from her ex-boyfriend…” He nods.

“Oh, yeah, I remember the story.”

“I’ve pretty much decided to offer her the position, but I just want to make sure that I’m dotting all my I’s and crossing all my T’s before I do.” He kisses me on the forehead.

“Good girl. I’ll see you at home.” He heads back into the auditorium. I feel bad, but only a little. It was just a tiny white lie. I am going to see Alex, but not about Ebony.

“Show me a picture of every Deanna, every spelling of the name, that works in this building. I don’t know her last name. I just know that she was in the R&D meeting on the 19th floor a little while ago.” Alex types into his computer, waits for a moment, then turns the screen around to me with Deanna’s ID picture on it.

“How do you do that?” I ask. “Is there only one Deanna in the building?”

“It’s what I do, and no, there are six Deanna’s in the building—different spellings—but only one was in that meeting. That’s what you get when I get good details.” I nod.

“Duly noted. I want a detailed background check on her.” Alex’s brow rises.

“May I ask why?” Alex says. “It’ll help me to focus my search on pertinent issues.”

“She’s coming on to my husband in my presence and I’m tired of him having to rescue or defend me.” There’s a moment of silence.

“Why don’t you just fire her?” he asks flatly.

“She expects that,” I respond. “Firing her would be quick and dirty—that would be too easy. I’m feeling particularly vindictive right now. If you can find dirt, weaknesses, anything that can be exploited, I would appreciate that.”

“You’re feeling a bit spiteful, I see,” he says.

“Spiteful is not the word,” I nearly hiss. “I can understand a female forgetting herself around my husband. He has that effect on women. This bitch blatantly approached him after I told her to stay the fuck away. She has effectively said, ‘So, what are you going to do about it?’ I’m going to give her an answer.” He’s quiet again.

“I’ll see what I can find,” he says.

“Thank you.” I smile at him and leave the office. This conversation reminds me that there’s one little Myshka that I’ve allowed to slip my mind while dealing with Harmony’s dilemma. I’ll need to give that matter my special attention as well.

*-*

“I’d really like to hire you, Ebony,” I say when we meet on Friday morning. “You have exquisite qualifications, but my people are cautioning me about your background… or lack thereof. I have nothing to go on. I don’t know who this guy is that you’re running from. It could be a recipe for disaster and by the same token, we could have the resources to protect you, but we have no idea what we’re up against…”

Ebony listens attentively with her eyes to the floor while I explain to her the reasons why I’m still not wholly comfortable allowing her onto the team even though I really want to. She shakes her head and I can see the defeat in her posture and in the part of her expression that I can see. I swear she looks as if she’s going to break down and cry any second.

“Happens every time,” she mumbles before she clears her throat. She rolls her eyes and sighs heavily.

“Georgio Marcosa,” she breathes as if in prayer while shaking her head. “I should probably just leave now.” The last part was whispered under her breath.

“Wait,” I say, reaching out to her, even though she hasn’t moved to leave. “Marcosa…” I begin. “Is he Italian?” She shrugs.

“I don’t know,” she says. “He says he’s a whole lotta things, but I know he’s black.”

I can see a black Georgio, but a black Marcosa? Not so much. Maybe his father was Italian or Latin or something.

“Will you give me the weekend?” I ask. “Come back and see me on Monday?” I’m not too sure she’s not just going to bolt after giving me Ge’s full name. She nods and walks out of the office. I immediately call Alex and tell him to get on finding whatever he can about this Marcosa guy. I’m almost positive that Ebony’s going to make a run for it, but I’ll prevent it if I can.

This Friday was no different than last Friday… except that Ace has the gall to text me that our session was cancelled because Amber isn’t feeling well. He did at least apologize, but a goddamn text?

Physician, heal thyself.

I’m glad to come home and see Harmony in the family room watching reruns of Game of Thrones. It’s never really been my thing, but at least she’s not locked up in her room. She looks pale and a little thin, though.

“I can’t begin to empathize with what you’re feeling right now,” I tell her. “I won’t even try to shrink you. I’ll just tell you that a facial and a massage always makes me feel better, and I happen to have a free afternoon. Would you like to go to the spa with me? It should help release some tension and… some other things.” She raises her brow.

Other things?” she says. I nod.

“A good facial and maybe a body wrap will help refresh you, and… the right pressure points, a good detox, aroma therapy, and maybe even some slight acupuncture could lead to a good cleansing cry—not a make-everything-alright cry, but a release-some-of-the-negative-energy cry… You know, from dealing with your bio-dad and the others… It’s just a sugge…”

“Lead the way,” she says, rising from the sofa.

I take her to Miana’s and inform the staff to give her whatever she wants. We sit together for a little while, through the routine stuff, but later split up for specialized treatments. I don’t really need that much since I just got the full treatment a couple of weeks ago, so I just get a facial and a pedicure while Harmony is, no doubt, getting the works. I know she has quite a bit of mourning ahead of her, but she shouldn’t look and feel like she’s going to crawl into the grave with her mother every day.

Harmony has been in the back for quite some time while I spend some time journaling on my Journey app. It looks like I may have to start looking for a new psychiatrist, but it’s something that I really can’t do right now. There’s way too much on my plate with all my responsibilities, looking out for my friends and family—there’s quite enough to do to distract me from the PTSD that has been plaguing my life. The journaling is actually working much better than I thought it would, and my family are just going to have to pick up where Ace is apparently slacking… or quitting, who knows. I really haven’t had much time to focus on my own woes. Even now, my journal is filled with…

The funeral was this weekend. That experience was unforgettable…

Harmony agreed to come with me to Miana’s for an R&R treatment—Release and Rejuvenation, that is…

I haven’t heard a peep from Marilyn about what she plans to do about the baby. Maybe she’s going to keep it after all…

I get a notification that I have a text from Mr. Filmore, the supervising guard on duty at the Franklin mansion. I swipe my screen to see the text.

**Three in custody. **

“What?” What the fuck is he talking about. As I’m about to call him to see what he’s referring to, I get two separate attachments back to back and I open them. Two pictures of three people being led away from the manor in cuffs and put into the backseat of a police car. And who are the three people?

Paige, Theo, and Damien.

“Ooohohohooo, you’re kidding me?” I laugh. I need to show Harmony, but I call Filmore first to get the details of what happened.

“Theodore Franklin showed up on Tuesday. He didn’t believe me when I told him that Ms. Franklin wasn’t home. He came back twice on Wednesday—once by himself and once with Paige Ashton. Today, we were alerted to a silent alarm being tripped by a motion detector in the basement. As there’s no one in the house, of course, we went to check it out. We detained Theodore and Damien Franklin and contacted the authorities. While we were waiting for the police, Paige Ashton was apparently hiding and attempted to escape, once again, tripping the motion detectors. She, too, was detained while we waited for the police.

“When the authorities arrived, they informed the police that this was their deceased mother’s home and they had a right to be there. I informed the police that I and my colleagues are private security employed by Christian Grey to secure the home while Ms. Franklin—the rightful owner of the house—is away. I also informed him that the current owner of the house requested that they not be present in her home without her permission as they keep harassing her and trying to get in to get the valuables. I further informed the authorities that when they were three times not allowed entrance into the home because Ms. Franklin is away, they broke in through the basement and tripped a motion detector.

“We were unable to reach Ms. Franklin, so we took the liberty of filing a police report for trespassing and for breaking and entering, and the three of them are now in the custody of the Bellevue Police Department.”

“Oh, this is classic,” I laugh heartily. “Have you already told Jason?”

“We have, ma’am,” he says.

“That means that Christian knows, then,” I chuckle. “Harmony’s fine. She’s with me. Her ringer is probably off. In fact, I’m not really sure she has her phone with her at all. No matter, I’ll tell her what happened.” It may help a bit with her relaxation.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, and we end the call. I look at the pictures again.

Theo is hunched over, his arms cuffed behind his back. He looks to be struggling a bit and his face clearly has that “I’ll have your badge for this” look.

The red lights from the police car are shining in Damien’s face, which is sporting a pretty horrible grimace. He’s not fighting or struggling. In fact, he looks pretty comfortable in his stance—like he’s walking around examining the grounds or something. This clearly ain’t his first trip to the pokey.

Paige looks the worst. Her clothes are dirty and very crumpled from whatever method of entry they used to get into the house, or maybe even from her hiding place. Her gray hair is disheveled and looks particularly blue as it captures the reflection of the blue lights from the police car. Her face is the perfect drama sad face, only very tearstained with lots of the Tammy-Faye running mascara.

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What made them think this was a good idea? I guess the security staff is going to have to double-check whatever route or entrance they used to get into the basement. This is pretty funny, but I’ll admit, it’s pretty damn tragic, too. What were they thinking to do something like that? Were they thinking at all? The house is literally crawling with security—and if they really thought the security team was lying and that Harmony was there with all her staff, what the fuck did they expect when they got in the house? Were they going to confront her again for not letting them in? And Theo! Theo was physically thrown from the house in total sitcom fashion. What in God’s name did he expect?

I decide that a girl’s night is probably a good idea, but it should be centered around Harmony. While still pondering the prudence—or lack thereof—of Tina’s children’s and grandson’s actions, I send a text to Christian that I planned to have a few ladies over, whoever I can rustle on short notice to help Harmony out of her funk. I know Jason has probably apprised him of the goings-on at the Franklin mansion, and I want to have a little laugh at the siblings’ expense, but I can’t help but wonder where Ilsa and Jonah are. I call Filmore back.

“Just out of curiosity, have you all located Ilsa and Jonah, the other siblings?” I ask when he answers.

“Yes, ma’am,” he responds. “We’re assuming they were too feeble or otherwise unable to get into the house. They were sitting in the car at the end of the driveway—driving the getaway car, so to speak. We couldn’t really have them charged with sitting in the car or driving. They technically weren’t on the property, and they had plausible deniability concerning the intentions of the other three.”

“God,” I say shaking my head. “This is undeniably one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen three adults to in my life…” Five, if I count the two in the getaway car.

“Yeah, it’s… pretty out there, considering the youngest of them is about 45 or so,” Filmore agrees.

“Thanks, Mr. Filmore,” I say ending the call once again. I look at the pictures once more, committing Paige’s face to memory so that I can recall it later when I need a laugh. I’ve been long since done with my treatments and I’m wondering what’s taking Harmony so long. There’s only so much poking, plucking, kneading, and priming they can do to one body. Just as I’m about to go to the back to see just how many treatments this girl got, she emerges from the curtained doorway and stands just beyond the opening. My eyes widen, and I’m stunned into silence. Well, almost silence.

“Wow…”

Oh, dear God, Tina would fucking kill me.


A/N: For those who don’t know, Matlock is an attorney that Andy Griffith played in his older years a while back before he passed away. Since the attorney didn’t feel the need to introduce himself, Christian is calling him “Matlock.”

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 67—Saying Goodbye To Yesterday

Happy New Year, everyone. I’m still dealing with a bit of the winter blues, but I’m so happy to have made it whole and healthy to 2019 that I totally forgot to be depressed. 🙂

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 67—Saying Goodbye To Yesterday

ANASTASIA

We have a few more Bailey’s cocktails than I intended, but still manage not to overdo it. I have a recipe for Bailey’s smores, which is like a root beer float, only it’s made with all the ingredients for a smores with a healthy amount of Bailey’s added—something strong enough to relax her but not enough to leave her drunk or with a hangover. Courtney only had one very early in the afternoon. Harmony and I had one before dinner and after dinner. We all chewed the fat through dinner, but Courtney excused herself before the second round of smores.

“Christian’s really a great guy,” Harmony says, very relaxed and finally not crying. “Momma liked him a lot. She said that he used to crawl under her porch and drink lemonade or something. Do you know anything about that?” I nod.

“He told me about it a while ago,” I say. “He doesn’t talk about it much, but he remembers his visits fondly.”

“She said he was a bit of a troubled kid,” she adds, “but she didn’t give me details. I can’t imagine Christian being that kid.”

There’s a lot about Christian I bet you can’t imagine.

We’re silent for several moments before she finally says something.

“I can’t believe that he was a horrible guy the whole time,” she says. Huh? “Ken, I mean,” she adds. Oh! I thought she was talking about my husband. “I knew I wasn’t the only person he was seeing because we weren’t exclusive. He was older and worldlier—and he had the prettiest eyes…”

I didn’t notice that about him.

“I mean, on first glance, they just look like regular eyes,” she corrects herself, “but when the light hits them just this certain way…” She trails off. “I know he doesn’t look like much, but he was the world to me… at first. He told me I was special, and he treated me like a princess. He was the only guy to ever make me come from just having sex.”

Hmm, she’s been having sex since she was twelve and this guy is the first to make her come from sex? That’s sad.

“Yes, that can be quite powerful,” I say. She nods.

“Especially for a promiscuous, love-starved young girl with daddy issues,” she admits. “I was ripe for the picking and he took full advantage. I married him a few months after I met him, and I was totally stricken. I don’t remember when I told him about my trust, but somewhere down the line, he asked about it—and I asked Momma. That’s when she told me that she wasn’t going to give it to me. She wanted to see what Ken was going to do to take care of us. I was so mad,” she says shaking her head. “I just kept thinking, ‘What right do you have to make my husband prove his love for me to you?’ I was pissed and glad at the same time. I thought, ‘We’ll show her! We’ll make it without her damn money.’

“When I told Ken what happened, do you know what that asshole said to me? He said, ‘Go back over there and apologize. Kiss her ass and tell her whatever she needs to hear to get that trust.’ I thought I had crossed over into another dimension. Could this be my prince saying this to me? I told him, ‘no.’ I told him what her requirements were and that we could make it together and we would be fine without her money. He laughed at me… he ridiculed me, called me naïve, stopped talking to me altogether. When I tried to talk to him, he’d ask, ‘Have you talked to your mother?’ I still refused to believe that he was the monster that he was proving to be.

“Then, the women started. He wasn’t even discreet about it. I would find cancelled checks that he made out to these women, but I dare not ask him for a dime. I even found love letters written to them, and we won’t even talk about the nights he disappeared. It took four women—four—for me to realize I was a fucking joke… nothing but a big payoff and when I couldn’t deliver, he didn’t want me. So, here I am… no prince, a broken heart, and my Mom is gone. I got my trust, though,” she finishes, in a tragic tone.

I don’t know what to say to that. I knew she had to be heart-broken when she first found out what a loser her ex-husband was. I didn’t know that she still felt that way. Maybe she’s talking about her heart being broken because she’s lost Tina, I don’t know.

Is it crazy that I miss him sometimes?” she asks. I raise my brow. No, she’s not talking about Tina. I shake my head.

“Not at all,” I tell her. “You don’t know my entire story, but I used to be in love with this real psychopath. He was smooooooooth as silk, and I worshiped the ground he walked on. The problem was that he knew he could get any girl he wanted—and did. The cheating was ridiculous, let me tell you. My best friend finally forced me to see what he was doing to me and I finally broke up with him—put him out of my apartment. Do you know that for years after that, I still yearned for him? Still wanted him to come back? There were points where if he had come back, I would have welcomed him with open arms. Luckily—and unluckily—he didn’t come back until I was over him.”

“Why unluckily?” she asks. “I mean if you were over him…” she trails off.

“Because he couldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and that’s when I met the psychopath. I found out that he lied about his background and who he was. I discovered that he brutally beat this girl in his hometown for breaking up with him, and she looked just like me. I found out how schizophrenic he was because in one breath, he needed me and couldn’t live without me and in the next breath, I was a whore and a bitch because I was with Christian. Bear in mind, this was four years after our final breakup. Then, I learned just how crazy and psychopathic he was when he kidnapped me and had me chained to a bed for four days.”

“Oh, dear God!” she exclaims. “How did you possibly get out of that?”

“It was a combination of things. He was running out of time and he got desperate and gave me my phone, trying to convince me to call Christian. Instead, I made an emergency call without him knowing and kept him talking until my phone died. Jason, Christian, and the Seattle police tracked us down and rescued me.”

“Who’s Jason?” she asks.

“Christian’s head of security,” I say, and she nods.

“Oh, yeah, I know him,” she replies. “I didn’t know the police were really able to track your phone.”

“Well, I think they are, but they didn’t. Jason and Christian tracked my phone, then they picked me up in Christian’s helicopter and they had to get me to the hospital because I needed medical attention.”

“Helicopter?” she asks bemused. “What happened to just a regular old ambulance?”

“I… was on an island. Vashon Island to be exact. There’s only one way in and one way out besides air, and that was the ferry, so…” I shrug.

“Why did you need medical attention? There aren’t any hospitals on Vashon Island?” I shrug.

“I don’t know,” I admit honestly. “Christian had to get to me, so he flew his helicopter to get me and brought me inland to Seattle General…”

I tell her the whole ugly story of my desperate ex-boyfriend and his asshat ex-Keystone Cop sidekick with an axe to grind because he fucked up and lost his job. Harmony sits there in awe as I recount my horrible tale about being willing to die before I succumbed to Stockholm’s Syndrome, about Christian swooping in like Superman to save me, and about the eventual deaths of both my captors.

“Jesus, Ana,” she says when my story, “I just had a sucky husband, you had a full-on psycho… Do you think Ken could be that psychotic?”

“He doesn’t strike me as the type,” I assure her.

“Did Edward strike you as the type before he did it?” she asks.

Good point.

“Edward was obsessed,” I tell her. “Ken is looking for a quick dime. He’s not going to do anything even slightly dangerous to get it, I can guarantee you that.”

“How can you be so sure?” she asks. I wasn’t going to tell her this, but now I’ve planted a seed in her head about a crazy ex-boyfriend and now, I have to dig it out.

“The Friday before our interview aired, I went to see your ex-husband,” I tell her, “me and two of my bodyguards. We might have let him see our firearms in their holsters as we gently encouraged him to sign the damn divorce papers and to leave you the fuck alone.” And her eyeballs bulge again.

“You did what?” she asks in shock. “And when?” I recount the details of my visit to her ex-husband the week before he signed the papers. Her mouth falls open.

“He said something to Carrick about not wanting any trouble or something like that… That was you?” Before I get the chance to answer, she throws her arms around me and loses herself in a fit of sobs.

*-*

I hear a gentle knock that causes me to open my eyes and take in my unfamiliar surroundings. Harmony and I are sprawled out on her mother’s larger-than-life king-sized bed, fully dressed. I raise my head and I’m sporting a bit of a headache, but nothing too severe. Shit! I fell asleep! Did I call Christian? Did Chuck call him?

Ignoring my alarm, I slowly raise my head a bit to see a gorgeous mop of coppery-brown hair with soft gray eyes underneath peeking into the door.

“Are you ladies decent?” he says softly.

“Mmmmm,” I groan. He walks into the room looking every bit the Greek god in his jet-black suit.

Shit! The funeral! Now I pop up from the bed and get a slightly uncomfortable head rush.

“Are you ladies hung over?” he adds with a chuckle, walking over to the bed and sitting on the edge, gently massaging my scalp. I hold my thumb and index finger together to denote, “A little.” He nods and gestures to the door. Windsor comes in with a rolling tray, no doubt covered in food.

“He tells me you had Baileys last night,” my husband says softly. I nod. “So, we’ve brought you some ibuprofen, a nice and greasy breakfast, and some Baileys-laced coffee.” I nod again. “How much did you drink?”

“Maybe three or four smores,” I say. “Not enough to cause any real damage.” He frowns.

“You drank smores?” he asks bemused. I wave him off.

“It’s hard to explain,” I tell him. “I’m sorry I didn’t call.” He kisses my forehead.

“You were on a mission of mercy,” he says, “and partial self-destruction, it appears.” He looks over at Harmony. “How did she handle the drinks?” I look over at her.

“Better than me, I think,” I say. “She needed some rest. Today is going to be a rough day… and her father came yesterday.”

“Christ, they’re coming out of the woodwork,” he hisses. “So, the gambling king showed up yesterday?” I raise my brow.

“Ooh… that’s what he was talking about,” I acknowledge.

“What do you mean?”

“He asked for money,” I tell him, “says that he owes some bad men and that they’ll probably kill him if they don’t get paid.”

“Did Harmony give it to him?” he asks. I shake my head.

“She told him that he made that bed, now he has to lie in it.” Christian nods.

“Good for her.” I twist my lips.

“Maybe she should give him the money,” I say. He raises a brow.

“Why? He’s not going to pay his debt with it. He’s just going to gamble it away again,” he declares.

“Well, arrange for the guy to get the money and settle her father’s debt. The guy could come after her.

“Her father would just ring up another debt. Harmony’s right—she can’t be responsible for his actions or his consequences. Besides, his loan shark won’t come after Harmony.”

“How do you know that?” I ask. “These type of people will get their money any way they can, I’m sure of it.”

These people don’t have Alex,” he says, impassively. “She has to contend with her father, which it appears she’s doing a good job of that, but those people won’t fuck with her.” I sigh heavily.

“Thank God!” I breathe.

“My angel is gone,” Harmony says softly. We look over at her, and her eyes are still closed. Is she talking in her sleep? “But she left me two wonderful guardians to look out for me… Will you please ride in the family car with me?” She slowly opens her eyes and makes contact with mine. I fight not to cry as I gently stroke her hair.

“Of course, we will,” I say, failing to hide my emotion.

*-*

The ride to the church is silent. Harmony stares ahead of her as she clasps my hands. I can tell that she’s dreading this entire thing. She, Christian, and I are in the limo and there are three Audi SUV’s following us. One may think it’s overkill, but we don’t know what to expect. When our little caravan pulls up, we see the siblings standing outside of the church. Some of them are alone while others have an entourage of their own—significant others, children maybe, I don’t know. Christian steps out of the car first, then he helps me out while the driver opens the door for Harmony. I take one elbow and he extends his other arm to Harmony. She sighs heavily and obediently clasps his elbow as we proceed to the door of the church.

“Ms. Franklin,” the funeral director greets her. “Are you ready?” Harmony shakes her head.

“I’ll never be ready,” she admits, “but let’s get this done.” He nods.

“Um, I need your help. Those people over there indicate that they’re family. We’ve reserved two rows. Did you want them to be part of the family procession?” She closes her eyes and sighs, steeling herself.

“Four of those people are my mother’s children,” she says. He frowns.

“Your sisters and brothers?” he asks bemused.

“No!” she says, sharply. “My mother’s biological children. They’re listed in the obituary. I don’t know who those other people are. This is my family.” She gestures to Christian and me. The funeral director gives her a knowing look.

“I see,” he says. “I’ll take care of it.” He nods to Christian, who leads us into the church and down the aisle. Tina is laid out in a beautiful mahogany casket. Most often when I attend a funeral, the deceased looks like their head is sinking into the pillow, their chest is distinctly protruding forward and they look a bit unnatural. Tina looks like her neck and head have been elevated a bit, so that she really does look like she’s just sleeping. Harmony stands there gazing at her mother for several moments. Christian tries to guide her away from the casket, but she won’t move. Other mourners begin to clear their throats, an indication that she’s holding up the viewing line, but she doesn’t move. Christian throws a glare at the line and the throat clearing stops.

“Give me your coat,” he says. I remove my coat and hand it to him. He moves me over to Harmony and I take her arm. He looks at the funeral director.

“Let her stand here as long as she wants,” he says quietly. “She’ll never see her mother again.” The funeral director nods and Christian walks away. I put my arm around Harmony’s shoulder and the funeral director gestures for the other mourners to go around us.

Get in where you fit in, folks.

Ilsa and Paige make their way to the front of the line and begrudgingly stand next to Harmony. They throw a glance in our direction and I glare right back at them.

Try something you blue-haired old bitches and we’ll end up on YouTube!

As if they read my thoughts, they turn around and look at Tina.

“Mother…” Paige breathes dramatically, touching the side of the casket and tilting her head back and forth in a strange manner as she gazes at Tina. It’s everything I can do not to exclaim, “Oh, give me a fucking break.” In my head, I can see Tina’s lips twist in the same sentiment of disbelief.

Paige ends her performance and steps back to the spot she occupied next to Harmony. No one else bothered with any of the theatrics.

“The funeral home did a wonderful job,” someone behind us says. “She’s beautiful.”

“They didn’t. I did,” Harmony says gazing at her mother. Ilsa and Paige glare at her, wondering what she’s talking about. “I did my mother’s hair… and her make-up. She was white and powdery, not because she’s dead, but because they used the wrong foundation.” She touches Tina’s gloved hand.

“They had her hair in a small bouffant. My mother has never worn a bouffant—at least not while I was alive. It was always a delicate French roll or that Grace Kelly bun.”

“You’re right,” the woman behind us says. “You prepared your mom?”

“I did,” Harmony confirms. “Shisiedo very light ivory hydro-liquid compact, a hint of minimalist soft pink whipped powder blush, translucent loose powder to hold her glow, and her favorite nude lip balm. Just enough color so that she looks as peaceful and beautiful as when I found her that morning.” She looks lovingly at Tina, a sad smile gracing her face and a lone tear on her cheek.

“Oh, God, can you be any more dramatic?” Ilsa whispers, but not low enough. Harmony doesn’t hear her, but I do, and so does the woman standing behind us.

“Have a little respect for the family!” she quips at Ilsa, who gasps at her.

“I am the family!” she retorts haughtily. “That’s my mother lying in that casket!”

“Oh, I didn’t know,” the lady says unapologetically. “Have you been out of the country?”

“No, just out of touch,” Harmony answers for her before finally turning away from the casket heading towards her seat. I note that Christian asked for my coat so that he could save the first two seats in front for Harmony and me while he took the third. He received more than one dirty look from the siblings for his gesture while his glare dared any one of them to say something.

I move my coat from the first seat and allow Harmony to sit before Christian removes his coat from the second seat for me.

“You did a wonderful job, dear,” the same lady says, squeezing Harmony’s hand before proceeding to her seat. Harmony silently nods her thanks and looks ahead at her mother, mournful tears streaming down her face.

Once the procession ends and everyone takes their seats, the simple service begins. It’s only short enough for people to see her one last time, pay their respects, a short eulogy, and that’s it. Paige, who kept her theatrics going at the casket a few moments too many, missed her opportunity to get a seat on the first row and she’s sitting behind us. Every thirty seconds, she’s saying something derogatory about the service or the church or anything she can bark about.

“Dear God, this is so tacky,” Paige complains. “There’s nowhere for her children to say anything; the obituary is bare; and the casket is horrendous. Who planned this?”

My husband has had enough. He whirls around to face her.

“Tina made all her own arrangements before she passed, so if you have a problem with anything you see, you can go on up there to the casket and take it up with her. Now, please keep your discontent to a gentle roar, because people are staring at you!” He hisses the last part through his teeth.

Sure enough, she looks around and a hush has fallen over the small church, all eyes on Paige expecting. She turns indignantly in her seat away from Christian and faces the front of the church, only to find the minister glaring at her.

“I’m sorry, Momma,” Harmony whispers. I put my arm around her shoulders and turn my attention back to the service.

As intended, the service is very short and respectful, and the procession goes to the cemetery and the family tomb to have Tina interred next to her beloved husband. There are no dramatics at the cemetery. No, Tina’s family reserve that display for the repast. It’s being held at a small colonial-style hall in Bellevue—one with an open bar, which probably isn’t the best idea, but…

The attacks begin almost immediately.

“Who are all these people?” Ilsa complains. “Where are Mom’s friends?”

“You mean the ones who know who you are?” Harmony asks. “Most of them have passed on. The ones who remain are either in hospice or were too weak to come. The rest are here, but you’d know that if you kept in touch.”

“This hall is too small,” Ilsa continues. “You should have picked a better locale.”

“Where would you have had it?” Harmony asks impassively.

“Someplace grander than this,” she says distastefully, “like the Fairlane Olympic or something.”

“Oh, okay,” Harmony replies. “Maybe the machine ate your message when you called to make those arrangements.” Ilsa blindly continues voicing her discontent.

“Why didn’t you list Mom’s grandchildren in the obituary?” Ilsa accuses.

“Because I don’t know who any of them are,” Harmony responds matter-of-factly. “During the numerous times that you all called, none of you offered to help me and the last time that I’ve seen you or any of your children, I was a tween. So, how do you suppose I do that, sis?” Her final tone is a bit murderous, and Ilsa decides to drop that subject, except for one last dig.

“You’re a great-grandchild and I see you made front and center…”

“She’s. My. Mother!” Harmony says in a voice so demonic that it halts all of Ilsa’s questions. She storms away from her sister/great-aunt in a fury. I look over at Christian and shake my head. This is, no doubt, the way that Harmony has been treated her whole life.


CHRISTIAN

This circus is really getting on my damn nerves. Three of my guards have to stay in close proximity of us at all times to prevent a goddamn fight from breaking out. These people are the worst brood of assholes I’ve ever seen in my life. I may not have been paying close attention, but I don’t think I’ve seen ten tears drop between the lot of them.

“Excuse me…” I hear someone’s voice over my shoulder as I and Butterfly are literally creating a human shield around Harmony to protect her from her mother’s horrible children. “Aren’t you Christian Grey?” I frown.

“Who’s asking?” I reply, my tone none too friendly.

“I’m Tina’s oldest son,” he says with gleeful haughtiness. “I had no idea that you were acquainted with our family. It’s such an honor that you’re here. The family truly thanks you for coming.”

And suddenly, he’s the Franklin family spokesperson? I walked into the church with Harmony, sat through the entire funeral, went to the cemetery, and now—here at the repast after he’s gotten a few drinks in him, he’s brave enough to approach me? Fucking shit, fucking hell, son of a…

I stand from the barstool and face him, pulling myself up to my full height and trying not to squash him under my shoe.

“You’ll have to forgive me…” I pause and wait for his name.

“Jonah,” he says, extending his hand. “Jonah Franklin.” I look at his hand but don’t accept the shake.

“Well, Jonah, I’m very sorry for your loss, and you’ll have to forgive my candor and chilliness at this moment, but I don’t know who you are. You know me as Christian Grey, billionaire and entrepreneur. What you don’t know is that I was a scared and lonely little boy that hid under your porch when I was a kid, and Aunt Tina gave me lemonade and cookies…”

“Really?” he interrupts.

“I’m not finished, Jonah.” He’s taken aback by my sharpness, and I now have his attention and the attention of a few others around us, but I don’t care.

“What you also don’t know is that about a month or so ago, I had your mother’s house swept and a key member of her staff fired because her house was bugged; that I also had some of my own staff stay at her house to make her last days more comfortable and to make sure that no one took advantage of her; that I and my wife spent numerous hours with your mother during that time making sure that her needs were met and that her daughter wasn’t overwhelmed with her mother’s care; that through the diligence of three separate attorneys and a court order, she could relax during her final hours because she didn’t have to worry about her home and assets being stripped by long-lost family members coming to get a piece of the rock and that nothing can be touched or claimed—not even an earring—until the reading of the will.”

My eyes flash over to the daughter that began harassing Harmony for her mother’s 4-carat diamond earrings the moment she hit the door.

“What you also don’t know is that I and my wife saw Harmony cry day after day while she watched her mother slip away—all while she was continuing her education and dealing with her own dramas; that Harmony chose your mother’s clothes and styled your mother’s hair herself so that she could be presentable when you saw her today; that it was Harmony that called my wife screaming when your mother took her last breath. So, you’ll forgive me if the only family of Aunt Tina’s that I know of is Harmony, because she’s the only one who’s been here.

“I’ve basically been the right-hand man, making sure that all your mother’s loose ends were tied and all of her wishes have been carried out. As I have no stake in any of her property or belongings, I was to be the objective ears and help her make the decisions that she needed to make in her last days. These are decisions that her family should have helped her make, but an objective outsider—a close friend, but an outsider nonetheless—had to make sure that her affairs were in order, that a house manager that had been skimming from her accounts for years was finally gone before he could do any real damage. Her very adult children should have been there to handle that for her, to make sure that crooked little weasel was dealt with, but only one—only one—took on that responsibility, and that one was not you.

“So, Jonah, I say all that to say that the only family that I know of is Harmony. So, if you’re speaking to me now on behalf of the family, then I have a question for the family. Where. Were you? Where were you when your adopted sister was crying her eyes out and holding herself together by a thread while she watched her mother die? Your mother? Who are you now coming to me speaking on behalf of the family when you haven’t been here on behalf of the family? I have! Harmony has! My wife has! For the past several weeks, we’ve been here on behalf of the family! Where were you during that time?”

“Christian, please…” Harmony beseeches, but I’m sorry. I have to know.

“Where were you?” I ask the room full of shocked faces. “Where were you when your mother was dying? Where were you when she took her final trip down Memory Lane? While you’re looking at Harmony like she’s nothing, like she’s no one, angry because Aunt Tina put the house in her name, where were you when Tina took her last breath? November 11, 2014 at approximately 2am Pacific time, where were you? What was so important that not one of you could come and visit her and say goodbye? She’s not going to ask you,” I say pointing to Harmony, “so I will. Where were you? A weekend out of your oh-so-busy lives to come and see your mother and tell her that you love her and none of you did!

“Her body wasn’t even cold yet and you come banging on the door demanding entry like you own the place! The dirt isn’t even on her casket yet, and you’re trying to lay claim to her valuables! Did she mean nothing to you?”

I feel rage rising in my chest and I clench my teeth to bite the words I want to say to this useless lot of people. My chest is rising and falling like an angry bear and they all stare at me in stunned silence.

“Christian…” My wife’s voice is normally my calming agent, but not now, not today. I whirl around to face her.

“I was here,” I say, my voice low and menacing. “I was here the whole time—the whole time! I waited, we waited, and none of them showed up. She cried,” I bite out, remembering Tina’s tearstained cheeks in my mind, “she cried, and she waited for them to come and not one of them came! Not one! Not even to say goodbye! To their own mother!”

“I know, baby,” she says, her soft voice gently chiseling down the edges of my rage. I turn back to the family.

“Which one of you worms threatened to blow the house up with Harmony in it?” I demand. No one says anything, but everybody looks at the person whom I assume is Theo. “Don’t make threats you can’t cash in,” I say, glaring at him. “You’ll have to get through a whole lotta motherfuckers to get to her, and I’m one of them. So, if you’re looking to bring Armageddon down on yourself, go ahead and try something.”

“Is he fucking her?” one of the sisters says to the other, feigning an attempt to be discreet. Butterfly was right. This is a wretched bunch of human beings.

“No,” I say, turning my attention to her. “I’m fucking her!” I say pointing at my wife. “But I’ll tell you this, you uncouth old shrew! Tina’s final request of me was to take care of Harmony—to protect her from you all, and you can bet your shriveled little asses that’s exactly what I plan to do.” I turn away from her before she has the chance to react or respond and turn to my wife.

“I’m going to do everything—everything in my power to make sure that they don’t pick her estate dry.” I turn around to look at the faces still observing my rage. “Everything!” I bark at them.

“I know you will, baby. I know you will. Come on, let’s go get a drink.” She takes my hand and I blindly follow my wife to the bar.

*-*

It takes quite some time, but my rage finally settles—and none of the Franklins dared to approach me during that time. They do, however, approach Harmony several times, who has perched herself at a table with a glass of clear liquid that she never drinks. She just stares at it. One Franklin comes over to her; then another one; then two or three at a time. It’s like they powwow, and they get up from the table then they come back and come at her again. Each time they leave, she looks more and more spent.

“Go over there and sit with Harmony,” I tell Chuck. “See what the conversation is and don’t let anybody harass her.” Chuck nods and goes over to the table, heading off another Franklin just as they were walking in her direction. Chuck says a few words to her and she nods without raising her gaze. He says something else, and she nods again.

It only takes a minute or two for one of the Franklins to come back to the table. It’s a female, and she actually tries to dismiss Chuck. When he refuses to leave, she gets into a bit of a heated conversation with him and Harmony, although her conversation is one-sided as Harmony nor Chuck is responding. When he’s heard enough, he tells her to kindly leave the table because Harmony isn’t talking about this right now. I assume that it’s about property once again and just as I’m about to walk over to the table, Harmony stands swiftly, knocking her chair to the floor in the gesture.

“For God’s sake, just leave me alone!” she screams and runs to the door, bursting through it and down the stairs onto the icy ground outside. Everyone runs to the windows where we can see Harmony standing in the middle of the pathway, sobbing and screaming the same word over and over…

“Momma! Momma! Maaahahahah-maaaaaaaaahahaha!”

Before I can say anything, Butterfly is running outside in her coat with Harmony’s in her hand. She negotiates those stairs like she’s not wearing six-inch platform stilettos in the ice and snow and quickly wraps Harmony’s coat around her. Harmony stands there calling for her mother… to come back? To rescue her? Just because she can’t take it anymore? I turn to Jason standing behind me and he nods and starts talking into his wrist.

“Bring the car around,” he says, and all the guests turn to him. “Get Harmony home. The Franklin house is on lockdown effective immediately. Nobody gets in without her permission. Call in backup if you need it.”

The room is eerily silent, but I don’t look at the faces of Aunt Tina’s children. I’m disgusted and if Tina really could roll over in her grave, she’s doing it now.

An Audi drives up to the walkway and one of my many security staff get out and walk over to Ana and the weeping Harmony. He tries to help her walk, but her feet don’t move. She starts to fight, protesting that she wants her mama, but like a wrecking ball just hit her, she collapses into mournful sobs, and my guard has to catch her. He scoops her into his arms and carries her weeping body to the car with Butterfly walking behind him. She turns and looks over her shoulder. I don’t know if she sees me, but my eyes lock on hers before she turns back to follow Harmony and the guard to the Audi. I turn around and face the four remaining children that Tina has left behind.

“Well,” I begin, “she’s gone now. Plot away, and good luck to you all.” I turn to Jason. “I’m ready to get the hell out of here.”

“Right this way, sir,” he says, gesturing to Chuck who appears with my coat. “Bring the other cars around. The boss is ready to go,” he says into his wrist. It all looks so Mission Impossible, but I’m glad that it does. I want all of these leeches and moochers to know exactly what they’re dealing with. The hell if I’m going to allow them to dismantle Tina’s estate like a bunch of fucking vultures. I walk out of the hall without another word, Chuck and Jason both flanking me just behind me, knowing that everything they’re looking at screams “power.”

Fuck with me. I dare you…

*-*

“How is she?” I ask when I get to the Franklin house.

“She’s upstairs with your wife,” the guard at the door says. I make my way up the stairs, but I don’t knock on Harmony’s door. I just wait for a few minutes. My wife emerges after a while looking a bit spent.

“How is she?” I ask softly. She shakes her head.

“I wish I had some tranquilizers,” she says. “She’s inconsolable.”

“There’s nothing in the medicine cabinets?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I have no idea.” That’s when I remember that Windsor is on staff here temporarily. I call Jason’s phone.

“Yes, sir?” he answers.

“Jason, can you locate Windsor and ask him if he can scare up some tranquilizers somewhere for Harmony.”

“Yes, sir.” When I turn back to Butterfly, she’s worrying her scar.

“What is it?” I ask.

“She’s never going to get any peace,” she says, gazing at me with large sad eyes. “They’re going to keep coming, banging at the door, waiting for the will, trying to pressure her… She’s going to lose her mind… and I can’t sit here every day.” I sigh. I know I don’t need to say it, but I do.

“She can come and stay with us for a while,” I suggest.

“She may not want to,” Butterfly protests. “I think she’s spent every night this week in her mother’s bed. Hell, she can’t even mourn properly. This is cruel.”

“We’ll gently convince her that it’s the best thing to do, but not right now,” I say, putting my arm around her and pulling her close to me. She shudders, signaling me that she has been crying or that she’s about to cry. I embrace her and try to figure out how I can convince Harmony to leave her cocoon-turned-hell for a few days and come to Grey Crossing.

“Sir…” We’ve stood in the hallway for quite some time. Our embrace is interrupted by Windsor with a bottle of pills and a glass of water.

“One of the staff had some sleeping pills,” he says. I nod and gesture to Tina’s door where Harmony has been all this time.

“I’ll take them,” Butterfly says. Just as she’s about to reach for the door, it opens suddenly, and Harmony’s disheveled form is standing there with a small overnight case.

“Harmony!” Butterfly exclaims, and we’re all startled standing in the hallway. Harmony looks absolutely waterlogged, her tearstained face still drenched with fresh tears, her eyes bloodshot red and nearly swollen shut.

“I can’t… I can’t… stay… here!” she chokes through her sobs. She holds up the overnight case. “I have… some of… my mother’s… things… They can… have it… all… I can’t… stay here… I’ll go… to… a hotel…”

“You’ll do no such thing,” Butterfly says, taking the overnight case and handing it off to me. “You’ll come to Grey Crossing, and you’ll stay as long as you like. My husband insists.” Harmony looks over Butterfly’s shoulder at me, then collapses into my wife’s arms in yet more inconsolable tears.

After we’ve packed a few of Harmony’s things, we’re back in the Audi’s heading down the road to Grey Crossing. I’m driving, and Chuck is in the passenger seat, my wife and a still-weeping Harmony in the back seat. I’ve left Jason at the mansion with specific instructions.

“Give the staff some time off. Lock down the house. Arrange for whatever temporary winterizing is necessary. Absolutely nobody gets in this house. The lady of the house is away, and the instruction is to have any trespassers arrested, no matter who they are.”

Butterfly is very happy to have Windsor returning to us. As much as we care for Harmony, we want our butler back.

We get Harmony settled in one of the guest rooms and she doesn’t emerge for the rest of the night. We want to ask her if she means that she couldn’t stay in the Franklin Mansion tonight or if she means that she could never stay in the Franklin Mansion again. I know it’s no use asking her at the moment, and my wife proves to also be a closed book as she spends most of her evening in the gym after which she takes the longest bath known to man before heading straight to bed. I spend the evening with a bottle of brandy and my piano. It was a hell of a day for all of us.

The days that follow aren’t much different. Harmony doesn’t leave her room, speak to anyone, or eat all of Sunday. Butterfly spends most of her day hunched over her laptop. I’m certain that she’s journaling.

I was hoping that Monday would bring the return of a welcome routine—getting ready for work, having breakfast, talking about what our day would look like, but Butterfly seems to be grieving along with Harmony, who still hasn’t left her room. I’ve instructed Ms. Solomon to take some food to her room and not to leave until she eats it. Now, I need to try to break the Butterfly funk.

I find her in the nursery sitting in the window seat looking out of that horrid window.

Good God, not there!

She turns to me when I open the door. Our children are both asleep and she’s dressed for work. Is this where she comes now when she’s sad?

“What are you doing in here?” I say softly so as not to wake our sleeping babies.

“Being around them gives me peace,” she says quietly.

“But I know that window doesn’t,” I say, moving next to her. She sighs and turns her gaze back out the window… probably to the bridge.

“It’s a familiar place in time of turmoil,” she replies. A familiar place… like hell.

“Can’t we find you another familiar place?” I ask. “One with not so many… negative connotations?”

“It’s just geography,” she says, turning to me. “Ace cancelled our appointment.” I frown.

“What appointment?” I ask. “Last Friday’s appointment?” She nods.

“That’s partially why I drank so much,” she admits. “Baileys was my therapist.”

“Doctors cancel appointments all the time, baby,” I comfort.

“Not twice in a row,” she says. “The anniversary of my accident, he basically threw me out of his office.”

“Why?” I ask, a bit bemused and a bit angry.

“Oh, I pissed him off,” she says. “I said something to him that I definitely shouldn’t have, and he put me out to keep from exploding at me. Seems I can’t keep a shrink.” I know she’s referring to Maxine quitting on her and even though I’ve never admitted it, I know that I was largely the cause of that… not totally, but largely.

“That’s not true, baby,” I say, sitting in the window seat next to her. Since she’s turned sideways, she’s actually looking at me. “What did you say that was so bad?”

“I basically told him that he wasn’t doing his job,” she says. “I asked him why my head of security had to point out that I was suffering from PTSD and he didn’t.” I twist my lips.

“Baby, you know why,” I tell her.

“Yes, I know why,” she admits, “but I still held him responsible. So, he threw me out of his office. He told me that he could effectively service me that day and that I should find someone that I could trust to talk to.”

“And then we had our date,” I remind her. She nods.

“It helped a lot,” she says. “It was just what I needed in so many ways, and not just because of the mind-blowing sex.” She tries to chuckle.

“And then we fought—or silently fought at Valerie’s and Elliot’s house,” I recall. She shrugs.

“Shit happens,” she says, trying to look past me back at the bridge. I think this is going to be her new “shrinking.”

“And then I caught the mutant bug from hell and you took care of me,” I add, tilting my head so that I’m in her line of sight and not the bridge. Sad blue eyes meet mine and I know that her heart is heavy.

“And then Tina dies, and her overbearing inconsiderate family tries to cause Harmony to have a fucking nervous breakdown,” she hisses.

“And when you need to vent, Ace calls and cancels your appointment…”

“Actually, Amber called and cancelled it, but yes, that’s the thrust.” I twist my lips.

“You decided not to take the babies to work today? I see that you’re dressed. No one would blame you for taking the day off.”

“No,” she says shaking her head. “I’m not taking the babies in because I have way too much to do, so there’s no need in waking them when I can’t give them the attention they deserve. And I can’t take the day off for the same reason. I have to meet with the new maintenance guy to review his observations and set up interviews for maintenance and cleaning staff.”

“Can’t my mother do that?” I ask. She nods.

“She could, but she’s been very patient and understanding with me while I’ve been playing hooky to take care of Harmony. It was a necessary evil, but I have responsibilities. I can’t keep pawning all the work off onto her.” I sigh. I think about all the time I was taking off and Ros gave me what for, prompting me to hire Lorenz.

“Maybe we’ll have a special, quiet dinner when you get home,” I tell her. “I’ll give you a nice massage and we can watch some of your favorite old movies.” She smiles.

“That would be divine,” she says. I take her hand and stand, prompting her to stand with me and come away from that blasted window.

After I force her to have a real breakfast—no bagel, jelly, and cream cheese today—I send her on her way with a kiss and instructions to Chuck not to allow her to stay late today no matter what.

“Call me if you need backup,” I tell him. “I’ll take the heat.” He nods his acknowledgement and leaves. I text Ros and Lorenz and ask what’s on the burner today and if they can survive without me. I also text Andrea to find out if there are any pertinent meetings on my agenda. After about twenty minutes, everyone responds that there are no fires, floods, or hurricanes on the horizon. So, I go to my dressing room and change into something casual.

Jason is shocked when I come back to the kitchen.

“Is everything alright?” he asks, he and his wife eyeing me speculatively.

“Everything’s fine,” I say. “Did Sophie get off to school okay?” He nods.

“Yes, sir,” he says.

“What news, if any, from the Franklin Mansion?” I ask.

“None yet, sir,” he says. “No one tried to visit this weekend, but the day is young.”

“Well, we’re taking the day off, but I’m going to monopolize your wife, and you’re not allowed to watch.” He raises a brow at me.

“Wha…?” Gail says from the other side of the counter. I turn to her.

“Remember when I said I wanted you to teach me to cook?” I ask her.

“Um, yes?” She says uncertainly.

“Well, today’s the day,” I tell her. “I need a romantic dinner for my wife and I need you help me cook something. No more cracking eggs.” Jason stands from his stool.

“You’re right,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to watch this anyway.” He walks around the counter to his wife.

“Go easy on him,” he says, “and wail if you need me.” He leans over and kisses her and exits through the family room. She sighs heavily and turns her attention back to me.

“I am yours to mold today, Mrs. Taylor,” I say, putting my hands up in surrender. “Whatever your instruction, I will follow. I won’t give you any problem. Just please, understand if I get a little frustrated because I’m fucking up.” She pauses for a moment, then hands me a chef’s apron.

“Let’s get started then.”

The kitchen looks like a warzone after about four hours. I had no idea I could fuck up so much, but Gail is very patient with me—in between uncontrollable fits of laughter. After one exploding pot of sauce, one burned pot of sauce, and one completely unusable pot of sauce, we give up on the red sauce and move to something more idiot-friendly.

We’re going to have a mish-mosh type of meal, but I wanted to be able to provide courses that I prepared myself. Our appetizer will be raspberry-grilled brie with toasted baguette slices and crostini. Our main course is a simple Thai shrimp recipe with red peppers and snap peas served with Jasmine rice—easily cooked in the rice cooker. The hardest part of this course was deveining the shrimp! For dessert, I choose various chocolate fondues with fresh fruit. All very easy dishes even if a bit time consuming for a beginner. As I’m trying to complete my task, I feel my phone buzzing in my pocket and my hands are an utter mess.

“Gail, would you retrieve my phone from my pocket?” I say, thrusting my hip towards her. She looks at me like I’ve asked her to murder someone.

“Please!” I beg. “Before it stops. My company is running without me.”

“Which pocket?” she says skeptically.

“Front,” I say, thrusting my hip at her again. She hesitates, but gingerly reaches into my pocket to retrieve my phone.

And it stops.

“Shit!” I hiss as she produces my now silent phone.

“Well, don’t be mad at me!” she defends. “You’re thrusting your hips at me telling me to stick my hands in your pants—did you expect me to jump at that opportunity?” I roll my eyes at her while I examine my phone, trying to see who called before the screen goes black.

“What?” Jason’s voice growls from the family room.

“Your timing fucking sucks,” I announce, “and I thought you said you were staying out of the kitchen.”

“I stayed out for hours! I’m hungry!” he demands. “Why is my wife talking about you gyrating and telling her to stick her hands in your pants?” Just as he’s demanding answers, my phone starts buzzing again.

“That’s why!” I bark, pointing with gooey hands. “Answer my phone, please!”

Jason glares at me but walks over to the counter and looks at my phone. Picking it up, he swipes the screen and puts it to its ear.

“Grey House of Perversion,” he answers. What the fuck?

“I’m fucking going to kill you,” I say quietly, “after I fucking fire you.”

“Oh, no reason, besides the fact that your boss is telling my wife to grope him,” he says. And his ass is talking to someone who works for me. I’m really going to kill him. I go to the sink to wash my hands.

“Al says the pussy DJ wants to talk?” Jason says, his face as questioning as his statement. I frown.

“He said what?” I ask, drying my hands and looking over into the fondue pot.

“That’s what he said,” Jason confirms. What the fuck is the…? Oh! The pussy DJ! Rossiter. I hold my hand out for the phone and Jason hands it to me.

“What does he want to talk about?” I ask Al. “He can talk when we get to court. Did he forget there’s a restraining order on his ass?”

“Do I even want to know what’s going on in that house right now?” Al asks.

“Besides the fact that I’m about to fire my head of security for the 918th time, no. Now answer my question,” I demand.

“Well, you can’t get much publicity with a gag order and you can’t easily go anywhere and start over with a lawsuit hanging over your head. You can’t even really defend your position—to anybody—if you can’t talk about it. So, our obscene little attention-grabbing hothead pussy DJ had his attorney call me and ask for a meeting with hopes for a settlement.”

“He’s got to be kidding,” I say, while stirring my white chocolate fondue. “What could he possibly have that I would want that would prompt me to drop this case?”

“That’s what he’s trying to find out,” Al says. “What are we aiming for with this lawsuit, Chris?”

“How about his total ruin?” I say, turning the fire down to its lowest setting. “For him to shut the fuck up and fade into obscurity. That would be a good outcome. Is he willing to settle on that?”

“Chris…” Al says, his voice slightly scolding. I don’t have time for this right now.

“Make an appointment for him and his attorney to meet us on Wednesday,” I say flippantly.

“Why not tomorrow?” he asks.

“Wednesday, Al,” I say, my voice demanding.

“I was just curious,” he says, sounding like a petulant child.

“Because I didn’t come in to work today and I don’t want to start my week with a meeting with that asshole!” I say.

“Fine, sir,” he says, still petulant. I end the call.

“Call Chuck and have him drop Butterfly off at the front door,” I tell Jason. Under no circumstances is she to come into this kitchen!” Not only do I not want my surprise to be spoiled, but I also don’t want her to see what a mess I’ve made. “Screw this up, and I really will fire you, Jason.”

“Promises, promises,” he says as he takes out his phone and starts dialing. I turn to Gail.

“I need to go clean up and get changed. Can you make sure nothing explodes or sticks or burns or…”

“You’re fine,” she interrupts. “You did a great job. Rough start, but it all came out in the wash.” I nod and toss her the hand towel I’m holding.

Mrs. Solomon has set the table in the formal living room—the one in front of the floor to ceiling windows with a view of the lake. Ambient lighting is accented with candles and a beautiful glow from the moonbeams bouncing off the lake. That view couldn’t have been better if I planned it.

“Activate two-way communications,” I say as I walk to the bottom of the stairwell. “Locate Windsor.”

He’s the only person in the entire system known by only one name.

“Yes?” he answers.

“Can I see you in the grand entry please?” I summons. He acknowledges and is there almost before I get the chance to disengage the intercom system.

“Mrs. Grey should be home very soon,” I tell him. “If she gets here before I return, would you show her to the table in the living room?”

“Yes sir.” Whether or not I admit it aloud, it’s good to have him back.


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

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