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
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.
“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.
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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