Raising Grey: Chapter 73—Heading Down Undah

Once again, February 19th was GODDESS DAY and I have officially turned the big “5-0.” I am extremely overjoyed to have made it thus far. Praying for many more years to come!

Had quite a few things happen this week. Along with the celebrating all last weekend, which was really great, my furbaby Meeko had to be hospitalized the night before my birthday. He hurt himself and had to have a minor surgical procedure, but of course, I ugly-cried the whole night and now my little snookums is wearing the cone of shame until he heals. I’m really broken up about it.

Then, one of my coworkers passed away suddenly the day after my birthday. We’re not sure what happened to her. She was a very young woman and I must admit that I’m still a bit shell-shocked from it. She was a sweet and wonderful person, loving wife and daughter, and I ask that you keep Miracle’s family in your prayers (yes, that was her real name).

So, on to the story. To begin, I would like to thank the following people for their input and suggestions on the trip to Australia:

From Facebook (in no particular order)—Bridget Walker, Jaimini Dave, Catherine Parr, Kath Imlach, Kelly Peisley, Kayhla Rae Toia, Belinda Narbey, Stargazer Ninety-Three, Rebekkah Benjamin, Linda McWilliams, Jac Monaco, Racheal Antoinette, Alexis Rae, Heather Ellesley, Kath Imlach, Jeanette Emerson.

From Twitter (in no particular order)—TV Obsessed‏ and Contrite Shadow

If I didn’t mention your name and you gave me a suggestion in any format, please charge it to my head and not to my heart. I tried to mention everyone.

I will also say that this was a somewhat difficult storyline for me to write. I may still be writing it as you read this. It has taken and is taking me weeks and weeks to get it done. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t very pleased with this trip for a few reasons. I had an entire dissertation written about my experience and once I read it back, I was like, “Nobody wants to hear that crap!” So, I scrapped it—or should say that I just kept it for myself, like a bitch journal.

I will say that I’ve taken some creative license here. While some of it is very true to fact, some of it is fictional—i.e. the places that they visit are real while the boat that they sail on is made up of three different ships. Anywho, here it begins. I hope you don’t feel that the next few chapters are a colossal waste of your time.

In addition, I know I had about four French translators looking over my translations. However, I haven’t used any extensive French lately, and I forgot who they were. SPOILER: there will be some French in a few of the next chapters, including this one. If I’ve translated incorrectly, please shoot me an email in the “contact me” link or hit me on Facebook DM’s and let me know what the mistakes are. It’ll be much appreciated. I apologize for the long author’s note.

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 73—Heading Down Undah

ANASTASIA

One half hour after leaving LAX, we arrive at a luxury hotel in Beverly Hills called the Hotel Montage. We follow our cousins through this outrageously posh establishment to the elevators and straight up to the rooftop. There we find an elegant restaurant with a spectacular view appropriately called the Rooftop Grill where Leo is apparently very well-known and was quickly able to have the restaurant rearranged at a moment’s notice to change a reservation for six to a reservation for eight for brunch as he forgot that we were bringing our security staff along.

“I wasn’t trying to leave anybody out, Christian,” Leo says as we’re seated. “I’m just not that cozy with my staff,” he adds matter-of-factly with no malice.

“Oh, I’m not that friendly with my staff either,” Christian says. “And this is no offense to Lawrence—he’s a consummate professional and I’m glad to have him around, but that man…” All eyes follow Christian’s pointing finger to Jason. “He’s been with me for many years. He probably knows some things about me that no one else knows…”

Ouch!

“Sorry, Butterfly. I love you dearly, but Jason has known me longer.”

“Hmph,” I huff as Christian continues his explanation.

“Anyway,” he continues, “he’s saved my life more times than I even know. He’s gone so far as to take a bullet for me when I was sure to be a goner. So, even though he may be my staff, he doubles as my best friend.”

“No shit?” Leo says, looking down the table at Jason, who just looks back at him. “I’ve got some good guys on my team, but I don’t think any of them are that loyal.”

“Jason’s the best,” he reinforces. “I trust him blindly with my life, and he knows that. If it hadn’t been for him, I may not have made it to the altar.” Okay, now you’ve got my fucking attention.

“What?” I say in horror and he just looks at me.

“It was a bad night and you know it. Do you want to rehash it?” he asks flatly. I raise my hands in surrender and pick up my menu. Everything looks delicious and I’m fucking ravenous.

“Maybe we should find something else to talk about,” Lanie says leaning over to me.

“Yes, I think we should,” I agree, still examining my menu.

“Everything on the menu here is divine. So, just close your eyes and point. Wherever your finger lands, you’ll be happy.”

“Leo seems a lot like Christian,” I say, “eats in the best places, people at his beck and call…”

“Yep, that’s Leo,” she says. “Women throwing themselves at him even though he’s married… It takes some getting used to.”

“Tell me about it,” I lament. “They’re so certain that I’m just the bracelet or the flavor of the month—the trophy wife—that they completely disregard me. Well, they used to, anyway”

“I’ll bet they used to,” Lanie scoffs a laugh. “After that interview you guys did—you’re blowing shit up with a gun that’s bigger than you! I expected you to pull the trigger on that shotgun and at any second, go flying backwards like they do in the cartoons.” I can’t suppress my laughter.

“Yeah, that was a general consensus. People always underestimate my size, except for those who know me,” I point out. “My dad was really big on me being able to defend myself once I became an adult. He started teaching me different things when I was younger, but then we were separated for a while. We reconnected when I became an adult, and now, I’m G. I. Jane. He taught Christian how to shoot, too.” Her eyes widen.

“Your father? He did?” she asks. I nod.

“After that incident he’s talking about where Jason took a bullet for him, he didn’t want to be caught off-guard. He used to be extremely anti-gun, but that crazy woman pointed my gun at him…”

“Wait a minute,” Lanie interrupts me. “Your gun?”

I sigh deeply and give Lanie the short version of the incident that ultimately led to Christian learning how to shoot—the entire ugly ordeal of Jason jumping from whatever secret door was in the room and launching himself between Christian and a bullet hurling at him from a Beretta registered to me. Placing myself back there where the Pedophile nearly destroyed my reason for living at the time, I actually get a little choked up and light-headed for a moment.

“Butterfly!” Christian is nearly holding me up in moments. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m fine,” I try to brush him off.

“You’re not fine,” he demands. “You damn near fell out of the chair. What’s wrong?” I don’t want to tell him that I’m thinking of that wretched blonde bitch when we’re supposed to be on vacation, but Lanie does it for me.

“It’s my fault, Christian,” she says. “She was telling me about… the incident that caused you to go learn how to shoot.” He and Jason share a look, then he turns back to me.

“It’s not your fault, Lanie, it’s mine,” he says. “I’m the one who brought it up.”

“Oh, gosh, please, everybody, I’m fine,” I protest. “I was slightly overwhelmed for a moment. I’ll be fine after a glass of red.”

“Or a bottle,” Lanie corrects and waves over a server. “While we’re making our brunch selections, we’ll have two bottles of the Napa Valley Mascot 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, one Domaines Ott Château de Selle Côtes de Provence Coeur de Grain Rosé, one Perrier-Jouët, Belle Époque Épernay—2008, if you have it, and… white or red, Christian?” she asks during a pause. My husband is momentarily taken aback.

“Um… white… dry,” he says. Lanie turns back to the server.

“Um… the Napa Accendo Cellars Sauvignon Blanc,” she says.

“Excellent choices, ma’am,” he says as he retrieves the wine menus and leaves the table. Christian and I are stunned into silence while Leo just smiles.

“My sister was a wine connoisseur before she left Detroit,” Burtie says. “We just discovered it.” He smiles a crooked smile and turns his attention back to the menu.

“Babe, have you tried lobster benedict?” Bernie asks Burtie.

“No, I haven’t, but I was just looking at that. Great minds think alike,” Burtie says and Bernie blushes.

“Okay, so I’ll order the lobster and you order something else and we can share, okay?” Bernie replies sweetly and Burnie nods with a smile and examines the menu again. In moments, Burtie is leaning over to Bernie and they’re agreeing on their menu choices.

“My brother used to be a different person,” Lanie says with a bit of melancholy. “He used to be very vibrant and really full of life—before all this happened. When I went to get him in Detroit, it was like his light went out. You could have led him off a bridge and he would have blindly followed. When he’s with Bertie, he’s like his old self again. It’s like none of this happened, and the Golden Child is back.” She wipes a tear from her eye. “I should have gone back,” she says. “I should have fought my own battle instead of leaving Burtie to fight it. I sent him into the lion’s den and look what happened.”

“Then he would have beaten you,” I point out to her.

“It should’ve been me!” she hisses quietly. “I never should’ve sent Burtie back to face that man alone! He wasn’t prepared. There’s no way he could’ve seen that coming. I knew Freeman was a monster. I knew all along! I saw it firsthand. Burtie didn’t. Burtie never saw it. He was ambushed. It should have been me…”

“No, sis,” Burtie says, his voice strong and unwavering. “It shouldn’t have been you, and it shouldn’t have been me either. It shouldn’t have been either one of us and it shouldn’t have been Mom. He’s the monster, yet we’re the ones left to suffer. He stole our lives and our happiness and he’s sitting back there about to inherit Grandpa’s money and his house… I’m done. He’s stolen enough from me. I’m not letting him steal another minute. Where’s my wine?”

“Right here, handsome,” the waiter says, returning to the table with several bottles of wine on a rolling serving tray and another server to assist.

“Uh, no, darlin’,” Bernie speaks up. “That one’s taken.”

“Ah!” the server gasps, covering his heart with both hands. “Quel tragique.” He drops his head in mock mourning before raising his gaze to Bernie. “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur.” Bernie smiles.

“Tu es pardonné. Il est délicieux, n’est-ce pas?” Bernie replies.

“Oui, très délicieux! Vous êtes un gars chanceux. Pardonnez mon impolitesse,” the server replies.

“I have no idea what they’re saying,” Burtie says.

“Trust me, it’s very flattering,” I say with a chuckle. Lanie turns a gaze to me.

“Parlez vous français?” she asks.

“Oui, madame,” I respond.

“Oh, cut it out,” Leo interjects before turning to Christian. “Doesn’t this get on your nerves?” Christian smirks and I immediately know that he’s thinking about sex.

“Um, no, not really,” he says, and Leo raises a brow. “Je parle français aussi.”

“Oh, dear God,” Leo laments. “Can we please speak English for the rest of the morning?”

The occupants of the table laugh, and the servers uncork our wines and champagnes as we make our brunch choices. I quickly learn that you can easily expect too much by going to brunch in a high-end luxury hotel in Beverly Hills. I’m not sure what I expected, but I’m a bit disappointed with the menu.

The breakfast portion of the brunch menu is outstanding—buttermilk pancakes; fresh, homemade pastries; fresh fruits and berries; a large variety of breakfast meats; roasted potatoes; avocado toast; eggs cooked to order, including cast iron huevos rancheros and lobster benedict—but if you want lunch instead of breakfast, it’s a little lean. They pretty much have mussels, crudité, guacamole, and shrimp cocktail.

Seriously? I plan on drinking at least half of one of those bottles of Cabernet that was just uncorked, and if I want lunch instead of breakfast, my choices are celery and chips and dip?

I do see that if you want something from the grill, you could order that separately—which is what Jason and Ben did. Your choices are basically burgers and fries, patty melts, and fish tacos. And if you’re really adventurous, you can opt for the quinoa salad or the no-meat burger options.

I order an impossible breakfast and do my best to hide my discontent. I won’t disparage my lovely cousins, but we didn’t need to rent a limo and drive all the way to Beverly Hills for this. We could have gotten something like this in the VIP lounge at the airport.

When the food arrives, I dig right in like a starving man having ordered extra helpings of breakfast meat to make up for the lunch I would have rather ordered. Luckily, I don’t look like a barbarian tearing into the meat as Christian had pretty much the same idea. Jason’s and Ben’s burgers look delectable, but only because he must be acquainted with the whole “gourmet burger” thing and ordered “extra meat” in his and Ben’s patties. Shit, that’s what I should have ordered.

The buttermilk pancakes and fresh pastries make up for the fact that I ordered breakfast when I really wanted lunch. Even the lobster benedict looks like a child’s serving.

Our waiter makes sure the glasses remain full and the table is clean. He’s very attentive to us and I’m only too sure that it’s because he wants to get a few extra glimpses at Burtie, until…

“Excuse me,” he says to my husband as we’re finishing our meal, “but did she call you ‘Christian?’” Christian frowns.

“Yes,” he says sharply.

“As in ‘Christian Grey?’” he continues, unmoved by Christian’s ire.

“Yes,” he replies just as sharply. The server turns to me.

“That means you’re Anastasia!” he exclaims. “I thought I recognized you, but I didn’t want to believe it!”

Okay, so now, the wind just got snatched out of me and I have to quickly find my words without looking like a total idiot.

“Um… y… yeah,” I say, more than a bit taken aback.

“Oh my God I never ask this but if I don’t I’m gonna die may I please have your autograph.” He says it all in one sentence, and I’m totally blown away. Christian is sitting next to me, his ire now replaced with badly stifled snickering.

“You’re not serious!” I say in disbelief.

“Oh my God yes I am!” he says in that one breath again. “I have a gaggle of catty females who are just going to die when they see this oh God am I bothering you I’ll go away!” He starts to scamper away from our table.

“No!” I catch him before he leaves. “Breathe, for God’s sake.”

“I’m sorry I talk this way when I’m really excited!” he informs me.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“Spencer,” he replies.

“Okay, Spencer, will a picture be better for your catty friends?” His eyes widen.

“Dear God yes!” he nearly growls while taking out his phone. I hold my hand out, and he puts the phone in my hand. I hand it to Christian.

“Here, dear, take a picture of me and Spencer,” I say with a wide smile. He raises a brow at me, and I walk over to Spencer without giving him time to protest. Spencer and I strike a pose together and stand there for several seconds while Christian fiddles with the phone.

“Christian, what are you doing?” I protest with a frown breaking the pose.

“I’m trying to take a picture, but I think it’s recording instead,” he says.

“Oh! Oh! Lemme see!” Spencer turns the phone around and looks at it, capturing Christian briefly on the screen. “Oh my God that’s even better!” He scurries back over to me after handing the phone back to my husband.

“Okay, Christian, Spencer says that’s even better,” I tease.

“I heard him, dear,” he replies, turning the camera back to us. Spencer and I talk very briefly to the camera about nothing, just long enough to get enough footage for his catty friends to know that it’s really me, after which I give him a kiss on the cheek, and he declares that he’s never washing his cheek again.

“Now, I only ask one favor,” I tell him.

“Anything!” he says.

“Wait until after noon to post that on your social media,” I tell him. “That way, we’ll be on our jet and out of California, and we won’t have to worry about being swarmed by the Paparazzi, okay?”

“Absolutely,” Spencer replies. “I wouldn’t want them to ruin my golden moment anyway. Thank you so much, Anastasia,” he adds. “I told them all that you seemed so down to earth and they said I was wrong. Now, I have proof!” He happily twists his phone back and forth.

“If you don’t mind me asking, who’s ‘they?’

“It’s just a group of my college mates,” he says, waving me off. “They’re my friends, and they’re cool, but they’re celebrity chasers—you know, they follow celebrities through the news and stuff and sometimes they make assumptions. I think a lot of times they get it wrong. They said John Legend was gay! I’m gay… I think I’d know if John Legend was gay!” he says with a touch of sarcasm. I chuckle.

“Well, thank you for making our brunch fun,” I say giving him a hug.

“You just made my month, Anastasia,” he replies with a sweet smile before leaving. I sigh.

“Okay, let’s get out of here. We’ve been made,” I say.

“We’ve been more than made, dear,” Christian teases. “Don’t you want to stick around and take a selfie or two with the cook?”

“Stop teasing me or this is going to be the longest, loneliest vacation you’ve ever had.”

“Couldn’t be worse than Greece,” he says, finishing his wine and rising from his seat.

*-*

“I could never live here,” I say after we board the plane again to head to Sydney.

“Why do you say that?” Christian asks as he buckles his seat belt.

“Celebrity chasers? Groups of college girls who follow the news and think they know me? We’d never get any peace! At least they leave us alone sometimes in Seattle! Out here, it’s like collecting bonuses in a video game!” Christian smiles.

“I was pleasantly surprised that he only knew of me because of you,” he chuckles. “It was somewhat refreshing.”

“I was pleasantly surprised that he called Burtie ‘handsome,’” I reply. “I could see exactly what Lanie was saying when she said that he’s changed. He clearly feels that the scars affect his appearance, which they do honestly. They’re the first thing that you see when you look at him, but he’s not disfigured. He’s just… scarred.”

“Well, his fiancé certainly seems very fond of him. That has to help a bit,” he says.

“I’m sure it does. I think hearing his sister wish his fate on herself may have helped to snap him out of his melancholy a bit as well. Burtie’s having a terrible time with what his father did to him. I’m certain he wouldn’t have wanted that to happen to Lanie.” Christian shakes his head.

“It’s beyond me how one person can ruin so many people’s lives in one fell swoop,” he says. “That man is like a plague. I’ve watched so many of my family cry over him—my father, my uncle, his own wife and children… I shudder to think how many tears Pops and Grandma Ruby shed over his worthless ass!”

“Some people are narcissistic to the point of no return,” I tell him. “Look at Chuck and his mom and his brother, Joe. At least at some point, Joe was justified in the anger he felt for the pain Chuck had caused, but the basis is the same. They were both unforgiving of the wrongs they felt were imposed on them—whether real or imagined—and they set out to cause immeasurable harm, misery, and pain, which they did. The difference is that Joseph’s anger is centered directly on Chuck and the results of his drinking, whereas it seems that Freeman just doesn’t care about anybody.

“He doesn’t,” Christian hisses, then sighs heavily. “I hate feeling like the world would be a better place without some people, but I swear to God, as bad as it sounds, he’s one of those people.”

“You don’t really mean that,” I scold.

“I don’t know if I mean it or not,” he says, running his hand across his forehead and then through his hair. “I don’t really wish anybody dead, not really—gone, maybe, but not dead.”

“Well, what’s the difference?” I ask.

“Gone is like that fucker Rossiter,” he says. “I kept meaning to tell you, but right before we left, I learned that he’s out of our lives forever. He accepted a settlement…”

“You paid him?” I interrupt, horrified.

“Fuck, no! Do I look crazy?” he says. Well, then, what does he mean by a settlement? “The gag order is so tight that anytime he talks to anybody in the Seattle area about anything, they only want to talk about me and you and, of course, he can’t. So, he can’t get work. He can’t even get gigs—he can’t get anything. We met with him and his attorney and I swore to drag this thing out to Armageddon.

“He can’t offer a settlement because he doesn’t have anything I want. He’s broke. He has no influence in any market anywhere. The only thing I want from him is to go the fuck away. So, those were my terms… go the fuck away—all the way away. Don’t talk about us, don’t approach us, nothing—go the fuck away. I even suggested that he might want to start over in a new area since everybody here already knows who he is.”

“And he accepted that?” I ask, surprised.

“Not immediately,” he admits. “He asked what was in it for him. Of course, he expected me to pay him off to make him leave. I let him know in no uncertain terms that I would drag him and his little ambulance chaser through court for the next 15 years and wouldn’t give him shit—and he would end up paying my court costs.

“Needless to say, his attorney correctly read that I wasn’t coming off of one thin red dime for this fucker, suddenly became irreparably insulted by something in the conversation that I said—God only knows what—and ceremoniously marched out of the talks. I told the Pussy DJ to give his attorney a call and I would guarantee that he wouldn’t answer or return any of his calls. Seriously, who in their right mind would take a case that wouldn’t pay off?”

“So… no more Rossiter?” I inquire.

“No more Rossiter,” he confirms. “It’s my understanding that he’s leaving the state. He’ll be on the normal watch list with a few tweaks to make sure that his ass isn’t doing interviews or writing books or anything. Speaking of writing books…” He runs his hands through his hair and holds his head down.

“Still nothing on the Pedophile huh?” He shakes his head with both hands on the back of his neck.

“Her,” he says, “I wish she’d die.”

Now, we can’t have that negative energy floating around the universe, especially while in a pressurized tube for the next 14 hours. I stand and move over to him, climbing in his lap and forcing him to raise his head.

“We’re not going to talk about her or even think about her for this entire trip,” I say, snaking my arms around his neck. “She, and anything else that’s going to cause us to feel sour, is off limits unless we absolutely must discuss it. We just met with Burtie and the family, so we discussed that. We don’t need to discuss the rest of this crap.”

I cover his lips with mine and plant a deep kiss on his mouth. He moans into mine and I almost forget that we’re not alone in the plane… almost.

“Fourteen hours until we reach the Land Down Under. Any idea what we can do with that kind of time?” he asks waggling his brow.

“Did you bring the cards?” I ask, waggling my own. He bursts out laughing.

“No, Mrs. Grey, I didn’t, but I’m sure we can find some other ways to amuse ourselves.”

“Amusing,” I say, feigning hurt. “You find it amusing, do you?”

“It… has its moments,” he admits. I punch him playfully in the shoulder.

“Asshole.” I stand from his lap and walk back to the bedroom. “Your ass won’t be laughing when I’m done with you,” I add under my voice.


CHRISTIAN

I watch her walk to the back of the plane, gray and black tweed wrapped tight around her ass and caressing her mid thigh. Bernard made a statement about her looking like Jackie O. I don’t remember any fucking pictures of Jackie O looking like that! The only thing that stands out to me about Jackie O are those pillbox hats and those gigantic sunglasses. I think Butterfly has a hundred pairs of those oversized glasses, and while I’m pondering the thought, that ass switches its way through the bedroom door before she closes it behind her.

I swear to God, if she locked me out of that room, I’m going to break that damn door down.

To my delight, the door slides open when I try it. I make sure to lock it behind me, however. I have to walk all the way into the room to see her. She’s at the foot of the bed getting undressed. She has already removed the short tweed jacket and is unzipping her skirt as I make my way into the room. The skirt drops to the floor, showcasing a beautiful pair of black thigh high stockings held up by suspenders either by Agent Provocateur or Victoria’s Secret. I can’t tell which right now because I’m too busy watching the ass framed under the suspenders to care about the brand.

I watch her shimmy out of the black shirt that was under the tweed suit with her back to me and… what’s this? She wasn’t wearing a bra? How did she pull that off? I continue to observe from my perch against the wall near the door, and I can see her release something that almost looks like pasties from where I’m standing. Whatever they are, she pushes some button and pulls a couple of strings and her breasts release.

Jesus, do they release! I’m drooling over here!

“What are you waiting for? Christmas?” she says, her voice low and husky as she undoes the belts holding her stockings and rolls them off her legs.

Good fucking question. What am I waiting for?

I quickly remove my blazer and pull my black T-shirt over my head, dropping them to the floor before she even gets to the second stocking. I toe out of my shoes and undo my jeans as she rolls the second stocking down her leg and places it on the chair near the wall along with the rest of her clothes. I’m leaving a garment trail behind me and she’s stacking her shit neatly on the chair. Well, she got a head start—I’m trying to catch up.

I drop my jeans and my boxer briefs freeing my aching cock while she undoes the hooks holding the suspenders around her waist. Fucking hell, she’s wearing a thong and her ass looks glorious. I’m going to have some of that ass. I need a good, hard… sleep.

When she turns around to face me in nothing but that sexy ass thong, I’m stepping on each sock to pull my feet from them, leaving a mass of unkempt clothes from the door to the bed. Ask me if I care. She does that finger beckoning thing to call me to her and I’m there so fast that I don’t even feel my legs move.

When I get over to her, I reach for her waist to pull her to me and she pushes me backwards onto the bed… hard! Well, goddamn! I fall so hard onto the bed that I bounce a couple of times. She drops to her knees and before I know what’s going on, she’s locked onto my dick.

“Ssssssss!” I hiss as she sucks my cock deep and hard into her mouth. “Goddammit, Ana!”

She nearly swallows the damn thing, bobbing madly as if I need to be fluffed! Trust me, baby, this dick is very ready and if you keep that up, I ain’t gonna last!

She puts that theory to the test, though, for several minutes. She’s grippin’ and suckin’ and squeezin’ and slurpin’ like a pro on a porno, complete with all the grunting and groaning and wet, sloppy noises! My dick is screaming like, “What did I do to deserve this??”

She slurps and sucks on my dick, saliva coating the shaft and oozing from her mouth, adding lubrication to her skillful stroking hands. Each time her hot mouth releases my head, I feel my balls lift and separate, begging her to continue so they can release. I groan loudly and grab the sheets underneath me, my thighs tightening in anticipation of those velvety lips wrapping around my shaft again.

Her tongue and mouth gently lick and caress the head of my dick, so fucking hot and hard from her feverish blowjob moments before. This teasing is torturous, over and around my frenulum, and I’m literally crawling backwards to get away from the torment, but she just follows me up the bed and continues her rhythm, licking and tasting that tender patch of skin with her whole mouth, the entire time gently stroking the taut skin of my hot, aching balls with her freshly manicured nails. Dear God, I’m going to lose my mind.

She crawls up on the bed and turns around so that her ass is facing me, though she doesn’t straddle me. Her head dips between my legs again and I can no longer see my cock or my pelvis—but I can feel the shaft in her throat.

“Fuuuuuuck…” I groan mournfully, throwing my head back and preparing for the onslaught. She slides her mouth up and down mercilessly on my cock, my head, rim, and frenulum rubbing against her throat with each pass. I can’t keep still, and I can’t control myself. I put one hand on her head and wrap the other partially around her body, matching her stroke on my cock with my hips and mumbling incoherent chants of pleasure with each thrust, but with unusual control, she puts her hand flat on my pelvis and halts my motion and push after about five thrusts. I fucking want to cry.

“Ana…” I breathe mournfully, “God, Ana, please…”

She quickly wiggles from my grasp and straddles me facing away from me. My cock is standing straight up, pink and hard and ready, and she slowly lowers herself onto me. Fuck, she’s so hot and tight. I gasp when she takes all of me inside her. She sits there for a moment and I’m panting like a fucking puppy, feeling the inside of her walls wrapped around me. My hands grasp her hips and I want to thrust…

“No!” she demands, her voice soft, but forceful. I swallow hard and try to prepare for what she has planned. She lays down on my body, her back to my chest, and slowly begins to move.

“Slow,” she coaches as her hips roll sensually over mine, pushing and pulling on my shaft and massaging the head and walls in a slow, hot fuck. I open my mouth to let air in as she fucks me, and I can feel her begin to get wetter, her breathing and sounds changing. Fuck, I’m not going to make it.

She’s writhing against my body and tormenting my dick slowly, pushing down onto it and pulling off of it—I’m afraid to move my hips for fear that I’m going to nut any second, until…

She moves one of my hands from her hip and guides it over to her clit. At first, I’m sure I’m a goner, because my hand can feel my dick going inside of her now. Then suddenly, my brain kicks in…

She’s given me a task!

I reach down to my dick and gather a bit of the moisture that I know I’ll find there, then I press my hand firmly over her Mons and plant my middle finger just under her clit—at the most sensitive point. Now, I’ll match her stroke and let her hips push her Mons against my hand and her clit against my finger. Her response is immediate. Her writhing becomes more sensual and her hands stretch above both our heads. Her tits are sticking straight up with her hands stretched above us that way, so I move my other hand over her breast and hold her against me—just a bit. She’s so feral, there’s no holding her still.

I feel her clit getting stiff under my finger and I dare not move it, but fuck if it’s not making me harder. God, this shit is so hot—a handful of tit, a handful of pussy, and my dick sinking deep into that hot core. We’re moving as one, achingly slowly chasing an imminent orgasm, and just when I think it can’t get any hotter, she places her hand flat against the headboard for leverage and pushes down on my dick.

I cry out from the unexpected onslaught of pleasure as she once again dominates my cock. I keep my hands in place, but she’s running this ride—I’m just the lucky passenger.

She starts to heave and convulse, squeaking pants and wheezing coming from her throat as her control pumps and thrusts become wild flails. It takes me a moment to realize that she’s coming and trying not to let her screams be heard over the Pacific. So, I place my hands between her legs and spread both thighs, intent on giving her maximum pleasure through her orgasm… and not prepared for the effect it would have on me.

I must open my legs to keep up with her stroke. Not only does the air hit my testicles and tightens the skin, but also each stroke is hitting her balls deep.

It’s. A fucking. Wrap.

We are madly thumping in this bed and I’m fucking her like a wild dog. She’s still writhing and wheezing, and I don’t know if she’s coming or if she’s just hanging in there for me, but my balls pop so hard that I start squirming on the bed. I’m squeezing the meat of her thighs like I’m squeezing juice from an orange as I pump and empty hard into her. The throbbing and vibrations are so intense that my dick pops out of her pussy. On cue, she sits up and grabs my cock, jerking the rest of the orgasm out of me.

I cry out like a bitch.

When the ride is over and we’re lying there sweaty and spent, I’m silently thankful for breastfeeding and her IUD. Without them, we would be recounting this story as the day our third child was conceived.

*-*

“Are you awake?” I ask, when I think my wife is stirring a bit.

“Mmm, just barely,” she says as she stretches. “What time is it?”

“I don’t know,” I admit. “We’re not going to know until we land anyway.” She yawns. “That was hot, baby.”

“Mmm-hmm,” she says. “So, why do I feel your cock against my thigh?”

“Because I want that ass,” I admit. “I wanted it before we fell asleep, but you wore me out.”

“And you didn’t wear me out,” she accuses.

“One good turn deserves another,” I croon, placing open-mouthed kisses on her shoulder.

“Um… if we don’t know what time it is, how do we know how much time we have left?”

“Because I don’t know what time it is, but I know how long we’ve been in the sky,” I tell her. “We’ve got several hours left.”

“Shouldn’t we eat first?” she asks. I think she’s stalling, but she’s right. We’ve been in the air for hours. It’s past dinner time. I throw my legs over the edge of the bed and reach for my pants.

“I’ll go see if dinner has already been served,” I say. I pull my jeans on, but I don’t fasten them. I pull my T-shirt over my head as I walk to the restroom. After I relieve myself, I walk out into the main cabin area and see that Jason and Lawrence are finishing their meal. The flight attendant comes from the galley area and flushes bright red when she sees me. This is her first flight with me, so I assume that she hasn’t been apprised of the fact that I’ll fuck my wife whenever I want, wherever I want that won’t get us arrested.

“Good… evening, Mr. Grey,” she says, barely able to get her words out and looking past me instead of at me—an elementary evasion tactic. “Would you and Mrs. Grey like dinner now?”

“Yes,” I reply. “What’s on the menu?”

“Chicken Cacciatore over roasted potatoes and sautéed spinach,” she replies, still avoiding eye contact. I nod.

“Mrs. Grey is a bit indisposed, so we’ll be taking our dinner in our room. Just knock when it’s ready.”

“Yes, sir,” she says before making a speedy getaway. I look over at Jason, who is quite unsuccessful at hiding his mirth and Lawrence, who keeps his head down and his gazed fixed on the last potato on his plate as if it may run away. I shake my head and head back to the bedroom. Butterfly is in the bathroom and I hear water running. I walk back into the room and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror over the dresser.

From my head to my toes, I look totally JBF and I have no doubt that I’m sex funky. I shake my head and remove my T-shirt before climbing back into bed and waiting for my wife and my dinner.

About five minutes later, Butterfly emerges from the restroom in a simple sheath dress and smelling like springtime and heaven.

“Why are you dressed?” I ask.

“I thought we were going to eat,” she replies, replacing and overnight bag near the nightstand.

“We are, but we’re going to eat in here. I thought you would be more comfortable…” and I can fuck you faster when we’re finished with our meal.

“Well, you think of everything, don’t you, Mr. Grey?” she asks, putting her hands on her hips and thoroughly reading my ulterior motives.

“That I do,” I reply, “so you can get rid of the cute little cover-up because it’s obstructing my view.” She giggles and pulls the dress over her head, laying it out with the rest of the day’s wardrobe on the chair.

“You can lose those, too,” I say, gesturing to the sexy lace underwear she’s wearing.

“Only because I don’t have another pair on board,” she says. “I learned my lesson with Anguilla, but I still may feel the need to wash my undies so that I’ll have the other pair available in case of emergency.” She slides out of the sexy white scrap of material and they join the clothes on the chair as well.

“So… what do I do now?” she asks

“Don’t fuck with me, Anastasia,” I warn. “We won’t eat until we land in Australia.” She doesn’t flinch standing there naked in front of me, but I think she doesn’t realize that I will make good on my threat. While I’m pondering the situation carefully, there’s a knock at the door. I don’t move at first, examining her and waiting to see who’ll crack first. There’s another knock at the door.

“It’s me, sir,” Jason says through the door. “Should I return later?”

I still don’t move, then my wife folds her arms, hoisting her breasts up a bit.

“Do you want to open the door?” she inquires, “Or should I?”

Now, I’m not sure who’s the winner of this particular game of stare, because although she spoke first, the idea of Jason seeing that juicy body in all its sensual glory has me damn near scrambling to get the door, a little disappointed that I don’t get to unnerve our poor flight attendant with the view of me in nothing but my jeans coupled with the undeniable scent of sex that’s going to rush from this room the moment I open the door. I make quick work of pulling in the food cart and shooing Jason away so that I can drop these jeans as quickly as possible.

I uncover two succulent servings of Chicken Cacciatore with spinach and crescent rolls along with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon breathing next to two wine glasses. Under another cover and packed on ice is two servings of tiramisu and on the bottom of the cart is an ice cooler that contains four large bottles of water.

Jason—or the poor verklempt flight attendant—was thinking ahead not to disturb us again.

“God, I’m famished!” she says, plopping down onto the bed next to me and retrieving a fork. I calculate the time based on my watch that still set to Seattle time, and it’s been nearly eight hours since we had brunch. Couple that with hot, sweat-inducing, mind-blowing sex and, yes, it’s time to eat!

The Chicken Cacciatore is delicious. Even though the meal is chef-prepared for the trip, the servings are small because you don’t want to eat too much on an airplane, particularly a 14-hour flight. Butterfly savors the meal and we have a little fun with the tiramisu eating it off of each other—which invariably leads to getting caught in that gaze and… well you know the rest.

I got that valium-sleep-inducing ass that I was craving, and we’re both out cold until 90 minutes before we’re scheduled to land in Australia. We’ve got just enough time to get showered, dressed, and in our seats just in time for the descent into Sydney.

You can see the lights of the city at night and the traffic traveling on the opposite side of the road. I always wondered who decided which side was the correct side to drive or to place the steering wheel.

The city is stunning. Butterfly is photographing our arrival over the Harbor and the unbelievable view. You can easily make out the form of the Sydney Opera House even from way up here appearing to float majestically on the water in the dark. I’m already glad that we’re in Sydney and we haven’t even landed yet.

Once we’ve proceeded through customs and finished with inspection, our bags are loaded into a waiting limousine. The last thing I felt like doing the moment I step off a 14-hour flight is scrambling to get luggage inside of a taxi or on a train. That stuff might be okay to get around and see the sights, but getting from the airport to our hotel? Somebody get this luggage and get us where we need to be.

The strangest thing to get used to once we land in Sydney—besides the complete opposite seasons—is the loss of time. We left LAX at about noon on Saturday. However, by the time we check into our hotel in Sydney, it’s about 11:30pm on Sunday night. We lost nearly two days flying to Australia, but we’ll get those two days back when we fly back home.

Now, it may seem like all we’ve done is eat, sleep, and fuck on our trip—which is pretty much the truth—but that light dinner throughout the 14-hour flight was just enough to keep us from starving and, once again, we are famished! Even though we’ll have at least one good meal is Sydney tomorrow, it won’t be dinner. So, once we check into the Westin Sydney, we take a stroll down Elizabeth St. to Martin Place to see what food the nightlife has for us. We decide to head through Hyde Park and see the fountain since there doesn’t seem to be many people in the park this late at night.

Mistake! Big mistake!

We’re all cuddled up walking along being romantic—as romantic as you can be with two security guards walking behind you. The night is beautiful, and the weather is warm. I say something witty to my wife that causes her to throw her head back in genuine laughter that warms my heart.

And then she freezes.

That same beautiful voice that just warmed my heart with a melodic laugh chills my soul with a blood-curdling scream.

She shrinks back into my arms as if she would push herself into my body if she could, staring in terror at the sky. Three grown men all duck in alarm, waiting to see what monster is headed in our direction.

Bats. Lots and lots of bats.

Okay, I could see how that could be scary. I’m a bit alarmed at the sight myself at first, especially since my wife is screaming like someone’s eating her alive. Even I have to admit the sight is pretty fucking creepy. I wrap my arms around my wife and look at Jason.

“Get us a taxi now!” I order him before I turn my attention to my screaming wife.

“Okay, baby, I’ve got you. They’re not going to bother you,” I comfort. Truth is, she’s not okay because I’ve got her. She’s okay because the bats in this part of the world are mostly herbivores. Being as well-traveled as I am, I’ve picked up quite a few tidbits of not-so-useless information. Generally, these bats are harmless to people, but that doesn’t mean you want to pet them.

Jason makes quick work of hailing a taxi, and I hurriedly get my wife inside of it. She’s crying now, sitting between me and Lawrence while Jason sits in the front seat.

“Whehre to, mate…?” The cabbie pauses when he sees my distraught wife. “Is she alroight?”

My wife has taken to shivering and whimpering now, clutching my jacket for dear life and obviously—but unsuccessfully—trying to compose herself.

“Not really,” I say, examining her closely. “The local wildlife just scared the shit out of her.”

“Aah,” he says, “the foxes. Don’t worry, Sheila. Thy only eat berries an’ stuff.” Butterfly is beginning to calm a bit but is still quite shaken up.

“Do you want to go back to the hotel?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“I’m hungry,” she whimpers.

“We can get room service,” I offer.

“We’ve only got one day in Sydney,” she complains. “I don’t want room service!” She sounds like a petulant child. I look to the cabbie.

“Any suggestions?” I ask. “We’re taking a cruise tomorrow afternoon, so tonight and tomorrow will be our only chance to see Sydney.”

“It’s lyte, mate, but thehre’s a few places. Looks like she could use a little fun. Gimme a minute.” He pulls out his phone and swipes at the screen a few times. I had better stick close to my wife because she suddenly looks stricken by the authentic Australian accent, and it doesn’t help that the guy is a good-looking fucker who just rescued her from vicious fruit-eating bats.

“Big Poppas,” the Australian female answers through the taxi’s Bluetooth. It sounds like there’s a party going on in the background.

“Can I speak ta Carla, please?” he asks, although Carla sounds more like Cahlah.

“One minute.” A few moments later, “This is Cahlah.” And the party is back.

“Cahly, it’s ya fyv’rite Aussie, babe. Listen, got a fayhr hehr—Americans—a mate and his sheila and theih bodyguahds…”

How did he know all that?

“… Says they’re only here for one noight and they catchin’ a boat out the hahbah tomarrah arvo. The guhl’s got a bit of a froight from the ole foxes, heh heh.  I’m sure they’ll be etuhnally grayteful if you can get ‘em a table an’ a meal tanoight. Whadya think theh, Cahly?”

Aye, it’s Sunday! Send ‘em on in, mah tips been dreadful! I need ev’rythin’ I can get! What’s the nehm?” The cabby looks back at me.

“Jason Taylor,” Jason says before I can say anything.

“Jyson Tylor, pahty of fouh, three blokes and a sheila. Be theh in a minute, we’he not fah.”

“Thaynks, mate,” and he ends the call.

“It sounds… lively,” I say, cautiously. The cabbie laughs.

“Don’t worry, mate. Just good music. The food’s really good an’ yah sheila’ll get a chance to relax.”

We arrive at a non-intimidating structure about five minutes later—clean, and full! It makes me wonder why Carla’s tips aren’t so good tonight. You can hear the music outside—old school hip hop, it sounds like. I have a feeling my wife is going to like this place.

“Is that… Usher?” she asks, identifying the song playing from inside the bar.

“Yeh,” the cabbie says. “The nehm’s Big Poppa’s, nehmed ahftah Biggie Smalls himself. Ahsk foh Cahlah, she’ll tyke good cah’of yah!” I shake his hand.

“Thanks, man, I really appreciate it.” I slip him $100. “I’m sorry, I haven’t had time to exchange yet…”

“That’s quoite alroight, mate!” he says jovially and hands me a card. “I’m Noah. Heh’s my numbah. If ya need a roide to tha hahbah tomarrah, give me a ring. Wheheveh I am, I’m at cha sehvice!”

“I’ll do that,” I say, tucking his card into my pocket. “We’ll need transport to a few places tomorrow.”

“I’ll sty in the areah, then, mate,” he says.

“By the way, my name’s Christian, and the lovely, frightened girl is my beautiful wife Ana.”

“Lovely to meet ya… who’s Jyson?” he asks bemused. I point to Jason. “Oh, okay. Noice to meet you, too, mate.” Jason nods once.

“How late are you working tonight, Noah?” I ask.

“I knock off at three,” he says.

“Well, I’d appreciate it if you could be here at 2:30. I don’t think my wife wants to stroll at night anymore.”

“Shuh thing, mate. Ah’ll see yah then.” I get out first and examine the building. I assume nothing too crazy can be going on inside of a bar with full glass windows in front. When I reach for Butterfly’s hand to help her out of the taxi…

“Uh oh…” She takes my hand and steps out.

“What?” she says, frowning at me as she steps out of the taxi. I remove my blazer.

“I… think the foxes scared you a little more than usual.” I gesture my head to her dress. She looks down to see what I’m referring to… huge wet spots on her dress that have leaked down the front a bit.

“Oh, shit,” she exclaims quietly. I put my jacket over her shoulders, and she slides her arms in, rolling up the sleeves and buttoning all the buttons. The thing damn near covers her entire dress.

“You still want to go inside, or do you want to go back to the hotel?” I ask.

“Hell, no!” she replies. No to which one? “I’m starving, and Carla’s tips have been dreadful. I’ll go to the bathroom and shove some paper towel in my bra. Let’s go.” She walks ahead of me to get to the bar and I have to quickstep to catch up with her. I still don’t know how and will never understand how this little woman can move so quickly and easily in sky-high stilettos!

We step in the lively establishment and ask for Carla. When I say this place is full, I mean it’s really full—at midnight on a Sunday. A tall blonde walks over to us.

“Ah’m Cahlah. Ya the Amehricans?” she asks.

“We are,” I reply. “Noah told us to ask for you.”

“OI don have any tehbles left in the restaurant, but we’ve got some seats in the bah downstehs. Is that okeh?”

“Can I get food down there?” Butterfly asks. “I mean real food like real people eat?” Carla laughs.

“Shuh, sheila, follow me.”

We fall in step behind Carla, who leads us through the restaurant and down a flight of stairs. We walk through the bar—not as crowded as the restaurant, but the source of the music—and right over a picture of the one and only Big Poppa made from mosaic tiles in the floor.

“That’s kinda cool,” Butterfly says as Carla leads us to the table—a large booth with leather seats.

“OI’ll bring you a treh of stahtehs, and what can OI get ya ta drink?” she asks.

“I’ll have a beer. The lady will have a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon…” I look at Butterfly to get her approval, and she nods. “And the gentlemen will have two sodas.”

“Two sodas, a frothy, and a cab sav for the sheila,” she says, writing on her pad. She places menus on the table. “I’ll be back with your stahtehs and drinks.”

“Um, Carla, where’s the ladies’ room?” Butterfly asks. Carla points to the back.

“Dunny’s roight bahk theh through those doohs and to the left,” she says and Butterfly nods. When she leaves, Butterfly bends down to me.

“Why do they keep calling me ‘Sheila?’” she asks. I shrug.

“I’m not sure, baby, but in context, I think it means ‘woman’ or ‘girl,’” I reply.

“It does,” Jason says with a nod.

“Okay,” Butterfly says. “I just want to know what I’m being called. I had a feeling if it was bad, they wouldn’t all call me that, but still…” She heads off towards the restroom and Jason jerks his head for Lawrence to follow. He stands from the chair and scurries behind her.

“He doesn’t know to follow her?” I ask.

“I’m not making excuses for him. I don’t know why he didn’t get up.” I twist my lips.

“No slip-ups on this trip, Jason,” I say sternly. “He’s been a good egg up to now.”

“I’ll debrief him—make sure he doesn’t drop the ball.” Yeah, you do that, because if he fucks up, he’ll have to find another way back to the states and then he’ll have to hide from me when he gets there.

I find myself bopping to Outkast while waiting for my sheila to return from the restroom. She’s in there longer than I’m comfortable with, so I try to occupy myself with taking in the sights. The locals—at least I think they’re locals—don’t look or behave particularly differently than we do in the states. Everybody’s just drinking, chatting, eating and having a good time. I don’t know what I expect to see, but I guess I just expected to see something different. This is just your usual weekend hangout playing old-school hip-hop and serving food at a later hour.

My attention is drawn to the classic art on the walls in beautiful onyx frames, not because of the art itself, but because of the big white block words printed over the pictures that have nothing to do with the pictures themselves…

The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice…

Bitch don’t kill my vibe…

What the fuck is that supposed to mean? I mean, I’ve heard the berry quote, but the picture has nothing to do with it. Maybe the vibe picture can be explained by the ancient Grecian woman lying on the daybed looking a bit perturbed…

As I’m trying to decipher the meaning of the pictures, Carla comes back to the table with our drinks and some food we hadn’t ordered yet. Maybe these were the “starters” she was talking about.

“Heh’s yah drinks,” she says, handing each of the drinks to me as I place them on the table. “These ah yah stahtahs. Yah guhl seems like she’s stahvin’ so I brought cha the three plattah meat and cheese.”

The three-platter-meat-and cheese is just what it sounds like—three large platters of various wedges of cheese, breads, crackers, meats… it’s basically a very large gourmet antipasto. Although I’m certain that my wife will be satisfied with the layout, I go about the business of ordering one of just about everything on the menu. I’m looking at the other tables and although the food looks fantastic, the servings look kind of small. If my wife gets another airplane-sized meal, she just might go postal.

After a stunned Carla leaves the table to prepare our veritable buffet, I take note of the fact that my wife still hasn’t returned from the bathroom. By now, Beyoncé has played and ended and now Get Low is playing. Did she fall in? I don’t know what gives away my thoughts, but Jason gets my attention by putting his hand on my forearm.

“I’ll go check,” he says, and begins to rise from his seat. His butt has barely left the chair when we see this tiny figure in a giant Tom Ford blazer dancing her way through the crowd. She stops at one group of raucous women and they all bop there for a moment with their hands in the air pointing “to the window, to the wall.” My wife rolls her hips and shows off her moves to the hip hop music, and I’ve never been so thrilled to see a big man following her than I am at this moment to see Lawrence not three feet away from her as she gyrates in this group of women. She revels there for a few more moments to the unedited lyrics of Li’l John’s music before she high fives one of the women and dances her way back over to the table.

She hasn’t even had a drink yet.

“I was worried,” I say when she sits. “What took so long?”

“I was drenched,” she exclaims, a little breathless. “They had a hand dryer in there, thank God. I had to do something. The dress is pretty much ruined. It might as well be dry.” She throws her hands in the air again to take advantage of the “window” chorus once more, then downs her entire glass of Cabernet.

“I want something stronger,” she says. “Ooo, that looks yummy.” She takes a small piece of bread and stacks it with a piece of the gourmet meat and cheese and takes a bite, popping an olive in her mouth as well. “Mmm, that’s delicious.”

“Don’t fill up on it. We’ve got food coming—and don’t forget we’re going on a cruise tomorrow. I don’t think a ‘hangover’ would mix well with a boat ride.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll only have one or two drinks. What did you order?”

“Um… a whole lot,” I say, knowing that I pretty much pointed at what was on the menu and took some suggestions from Carla. “I wanted to make sure that no one left hungry.”

“Good plan, Mr. Grey,” she declares as she loads a cracker with spreadable cheese and more meat. “They have a lot of cheese varieties here, huh?” she says, uncharacteristically talking with her mouth full.

“Looks that way,” I chuckle watching her shovel gourmet antipasto into her mouth. I’m glad to see that she has apparently shaken the experience with the bats and the milky-dress incident hasn’t left her embarrassed and devastated.

And she really does look quite cute in my jacket.


A/N: 

“Quel tragique.”—”What a tragedy.”
“Pardonnez-moi, monsieur.”—”Forgive me, sir.”
“Tu es pardonné. Il est délicieux, n’est-ce pas?”—”You are forgiven. He’s delicious, isn’t he?”
“Oui, très délicieux! Vous êtes un gars chanceux. Pardonnez mon impolitesse”—”Yes, very delicious! You are a lucky guy. Forgive my rudeness ”
“Parlez vous français?”—”Do you speak French?”
“Oui, madame,”—”Yes, ma’am”
“Je parle français aussi.”—”I speak French too.”

Please do not beat me over the head too badly for my bad imitation of an Australian accent. I’m doing the best I can.

I’ve taken some liberties with Big Poppa’s because they weren’t open yet at the time this story was set and Sunday is actually “bring your own wine” day, but they couldn’t expect a couple of Americans running from bats to have a bottle of wine shoved in their inside pocket.

I also know that taxi drivers and restaurant servers don’t expect to be tipped, but it adds to the story and the “Christian Grey always gets what he wants when he wants it” aspect of the story, so I did it anyway.

MUSIC:
Outkast—
Hey Ya
Beyoncé—
Jumpin’, Jumpin’
Li’l John—
Get Low

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 on the menu or 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

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Raising Grey: Chapter 72—Searching for Blue Skies

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 72—Searching for Blue Skies

ANASTASIA

I haven’t been at the Center all week. It may be a bit selfish of me, but I just can’t reconcile myself to making executive decisions or putting in a year’s worth—or more—of work on a project just to have my work, expertise, decisions, and opinions dismissed and disregarded because I’m not the number-one-head-honcho. I don’t have a problem relenting when my idea may not be the best one or with taking orders, being a team player, or taking one for the team. Hell, trying not to rock the boat with Liam caused me to keep my guard down and not cut him off at the knees like I would have done anybody else who came on to me, and look what the hell happened there!

Courtney hasn’t called me either and that makes me feel like she’s certain that I betrayed her trust and set up a meeting between her and Addie. That pisses me off to no end considering all the time and effort she and I both put into building the relationship that we had.

I feel crappy getting Ebony into the Center and just disappearing like a specter in the night, but every time I think about going into the Center, I see Grace’s cocky smirk looking back at me outside of my office door. I don’t think anything felt more like a betrayal than her standing there with that smug expression on her face like she was right all along, and I was supposed to bow to her knowledge and wisdom. I’ve decided that if she can preserve herself from having one of her “episodes,” I need to exercise a little self-preservation as well and avoid any attacks of PTSD—or just the desire to punch my all-knowing-all-seeing mother-in-law and boss in the nose.

I know that I can’t avoid my responsibilities and commitments. However, when I awake in the morning, I go straight to the empty play area and do my yoga. Then I shower and dress in yet another pair of yoga pants and a comfy shirt before going down to get some breakfast. I know that Christian wants to say something about it, but he just examines my attire and proceeds to discuss what’s happening at Grey House… and with the Pedo-bitch.

“I’ve been trying all week to get in touch with the warden,” he says while sipping his coffee. “I’m fairly certain that he’s just avoiding my calls altogether. He has no reason to do that… unless he’s involved in some way.”

“Could that be the case?” I ask. “Think about it—how could she get manuscripts, excerpts, recordings, phone calls out to a ghost writer without help or permission? She can’t just do that. She’s got to have help.” Christian’s brow furrows.

“Shit, I never even considered that,” he says. It’s safe to say that this is one of the people that Christian may have had in his pocket. I remember that before I even left the building after visiting Edward, the warden knew I was there and was greeting me at the door. It looks like this one may have gotten away.

“So,” I begin, “looks like this problem may be a bit bigger than we anticipated.” I can see the contemplation lines forming in his forehead.

“Yeah,” he says, distracted, “I think you’re right. This may take a different touch.” He finishes his coffee and stands from the breakfast bar. “You’re going to be home today?” I nod.

“Between my office and the babies,” I tell him, finishing my eggs and bacon. “I need to fill in where my two employees aren’t today. Have you heard anything from Chuck?”

“The testimony was over yesterday. From what he said, it was pretty brutal. He’s going to stick around to see if he gets a verdict today, then he and Keri will most likely be on their way home this weekend either way.” He pauses for a moment. “Have you heard from Marilyn?” I twist my lips and shake my head.

“No, and I’m worried,” I say. “She and Gary are both avoiding my calls and I have no idea what kind of condition either of them is in. It’s starting to wear on me.”

“Well, don’t let it stress you out too much,” he says, kissing me on the forehead. “I gotta go, I need to put some things in motion.”

“Love you,” I say to his retreating back and he waves at me. I take my coffee and head down to my office. I need to go through my calendar for the next month and figure out Marilyn’s notes and reminders in case my P.A. decides Seattle just isn’t for her anymore.

The calendar is a bit of a mess to decipher. I can’t figure out what all of these reminders are. I guess when they pop up, I’ll see them and note what they are at the time. I see some interviews scheduled for next week. Right now, I don’t see myself returning next week, and I don’t see Marilyn coming back in that time frame to notify the Center that these people are expected. So, I forward appointment emails to Grace with “no reply requested.” I’m not trying to spark a dialog. I just think it’s only fair that she knows what’s on the agenda if I don’t plan to be there.

I call in and check my voicemails. One of them is one of the aforementioned interviewees requesting a reschedule due to an emergency. I make a note to call her and have her reschedule with Grace. Two are from fellow doctors who saw my interview and want to discuss their experiences with the licensing board. I’ll definitely be giving them a call back today. No time like the present.

Dr. Daisy Sharwin is a dentist who was also accused of sexual misconduct. According to her accuser, Dr. Daisy was touching her inappropriately. Once the findings were reviewed, it was determined that the patient was suffering from a mental illness and had wrongly accused the doctor during a psychotic episode. Dr. Daisy describes the same experience I had, being closed in a room for several hours with a guard who never spoke and no clock before being called before a panel of high-nosed superior officials who treated her with an unbelievable lack of respect. Although she was cleared of the accusations, she felt that she had no recourse for the way she was treated by the board—until I went public with my experience. Now, two voices are better than one.

Make that three.

Dr. Emma Falstaff, a local chiropractor, is accused by the wife of one of her patients of sexual advances. While her case is still pending, she described an experience very similar to mine and Daisy’s, the only difference being that she was able to keep her watch. I’ve instructed her to keep me updated on the outcome of her case. Whether she wins or loses, her treatment during the process is what I’m focused on. However, I don’t want her involvement in this action to compromise her case in any way.

Two more people to add to my contacts and track information. God, do I need Marilyn.

The only other voicemails I had at work were two hang-ups from unknown numbers. Having cleaned out all the voicemails, I turn my attention to my emails. One of Marilyn’s reminders pops up that I have a 3:00 with Lordes Avery. I click the link to follow the reminder and discover how to read the coding on my PA’s calendar without having to take an entire class on the nuances of Outlook, thank God! It’s not that I didn’t know how to use it before now. It’s just that her system of organization is so far advanced beyond us mere mortals that I never would have been able to figure it out without some kind of hint.

Three O’clock with Lordes Avery… hmm…

Should I call him? I didn’t make last Friday’s appointment, but I’m almost certain he didn’t expect to see me. I still get charged if I don’t cancel within 24 hours, so why bother fucking calling at this point? Should I return his oh-so-considerate gesture and send him a text? Naaaahhhh!

I go back to my emails and one pops up that nearly makes my heart stop. After trying to get a response all this time…

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: MIA
Date: Thursday, December 4, 2014, 23:21
From: Marilyn Caldwell

Dear Ana,

I’m sorry that I haven’t returned your calls. This whole thing has been more of a nightmare than I can even describe.

I had to tell my parents why I needed to stay with them for a while and as I told you, they’re staunch fundamentalists. The moment I confessed, they threw me in Hell. I came to try to get a break from the hurt and the pain and I just swapped one torment for another. My mother plays these wailing songs of repentance every day that drive me up the damn wall! I’m spending most of every day being preached to and cautioned to ask forgiveness for my sin and thrown into the “lake of fire.”

I haven’t been ignoring you, but not looking at my phone is easier than staring at it and waiting or hoping for a call from Gary that never comes. I’m an emotional wreck, Ana. Some days, I wake up so depressed that I just want to jump off a bridge somewhere. Other days, I realize that’s not the answer and I have to live with my decision and move on. Hindsight is always 20/20 and I know that no man—or woman—is an island, but the feelings that are plaguing me right now simply because I chose this path for an unplanned pregnancy is making me never want to touch anyone ever again. I certainly can’t tolerate anybody touching me right now. Being an island doesn’t seem like such a bad idea at the moment.

I’m sorry I can’t tell you when I’ll be back. Being here with my parents is nerve-wrecking as fuck, but it still beats the memories that I face in Seattle and all the things that Gary and I shared. It’s a geographical cure of sorts that’s like putting a bandage over a stab wound but having someone poking at it all the time. The alternative would just be having the wound gaping and seeping and bleeding and having someone just jab that knife in again every day. I’m sure you can see why the former torture is preferable to the latter.

I just can’t stand being in that apartment right now or doing any of the things that I used to do. This hurts so much. I’ve been hurt before, but never like this. There are some times when I truly want to just curl up in a little ball and die—which is different from being suicidal, so don’t worry, doctor. As much as I would like for the pain to stop, I’m not brave enough or stupid enough to end it myself. My parents would probably come into the room and try to exorcise my lifeless body (yes, it is that bad).

If you feel like you can’t hold my job for me, I’ll completely understand, but my mind is so fucked up right now that I would do more harm than good if I tried to work. I would be completely useless right now. I’m not going to read my email anytime soon, because I just realized that this would be another way for Gary to reach me, and I don’t want the disappointment of not seeing a letter from him. I’ll check it at some point, so if you do intend to fire me, it’s okay if you send me an email. I’ll see it eventually.

I’m sorry if I let you down, too.

Marilyn

Jesus, she sounds absolutely hopeless. I’m not so certain that she won’t attempt suicide with the despair I hear in her words. I have to trust her, though. Getting in touch with her parents would only make a bad matter worse, but her suffering all alone and enduring the religious bullying of her mother and father is not a good combination, either. I sigh and begin typing out my reply.

To: Marilyn Caldwell
Re: MIA
Date: Friday, December 5, 2014, 13:45
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Dear Marilyn,

Only because I had a hateful, cheating, worthless boyfriend can I say that I can empathize with your pain and the loss you feel. I know it’s not the same and the circumstances are quite different, but I know that feeling of emptiness and the constant inner bleeding that feels like it’ll never end. I’m here if you need to ramble about it.

I don’t feel like you’ve let me down. More than anything, I just want you to be okay. You’ve always been a strong woman and you’ve always known what you want. Looking into a future of pure uncertainty is undoubtedly one of if not the scariest thing that can ever happen to someone. I completely understand that you need time to take self-inventory and regroup. I won’t preach to you as it appears that you have quite enough of that going on in your life. I will say, however, that you may want to reconsider your escape plan as the current one appears to be just another prison. Let me know if you need any help.

I will offer what advice I can as a doctor and as a friend. Get out of that house. If that’s where you choose to stay, okay—but don’t stay there every day all day. If your parents are playing “repentance music” all day, it’s psychological warfare and it’s adding to your misery. Didn’t you grow up in Spokane? Are any of your old friends still there? Maybe catch up with some of them. Go for a walk. Go to the park, the library, anything, but get out of the house and away from the weepin’ and moanin’ music. I can guarantee it’s not good for you.

I want to say more, but I think I’ve said enough. I don’t want you to feel like I’m going to chew your ear off or beat a dead horse. Keep me posted on how you’re doing. I may need to find a temporary replacement while you’re gone as I feel so damn helpless right now without you. I’m home today—not only because I don’t have my trusty assistant, but also because Keri is gone to South Dakota with Chuck for the case against his brother, Joe. Also, there’s been a bit of a development at Helping Hands.

Long story short, Grace engineered a meeting between Courtney and her grandmother without anyone’s knowledge or permission. When I tried to explain to her how wrong she was for what she had done, she basically snubbed me and ignored my concerns. I feel like she doesn’t respect me and any authority that I thought I had as her second in command is imagined. She acted the same way when we found out that she was perimenopausal, but that was understandable. She was reacting to a hormonal imbalance that had her doing things totally out of character. This was done with full consciousness and purpose, and her dismissing all my concerns and authority was equally purposeful.

So, I’m at home. I was trying to decipher what my calendar looks like for the next month and, as soon as I started to think like you, I figured it out. Except for Wednesday when we went to the reading of Tina’s will, I’ve spent most of the days with my babies, which turns out to be a welcome change. You know I already spend as much time with them as I can but spending day in and day out with them has been heaven. Once I’m done with the calendar today, I’ll be with them again for the rest of the afternoon. I’m thinking Mickey Mouse Clubhouse marathons or maybe Bubble Guppies. I haven’t decided yet.

Anyway, you keep me posted on what you’re doing and please call me or write me if you start to feel completely hopeless. I wouldn’t consider you weak, stupid, or cowardly, but grief can be a powerful thing.

Your Friend,
Ana

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

I click “send” to transmit the email and immediately begin thinking about Gary. This radio silence is bullshit and I’m not having it anymore. He may not want to talk to me, but he’s fucking well going to talk to someone.

“I’m activating the contingency,” I say.

“What?” Val says over the phone. “Why?”

“He and Marilyn broke up,” I explain. “It was ugly, and I can’t elaborate, but apparently, he’s not speaking to me.”

“Good God, Steele, when did you last speak to him?” she asks.

“Last Monday,” I admit. “I’ve been calling him nearly every day and he’s not responding. I need somebody just to verify that the man is still alive.”

“How’s Marilyn through all of this? Weren’t they living together?”

“Not well. I haven’t heard from her in a week and I just got an email from her last night…”

“An email?she interrupts.

“Yes, Val, an email.”

“Did she quit?” Val asks surprised.

“I don’t know,” I admit. “I know that she’s taking a hiatus right now and I’ve already told you more than I should have.”

“Alright, alright. I’ll call the others. We’ll track him down.” I end the call with Val and decide that I’ve done enough “work” for the day. It’s baby time.

*-*

Line up, everybody. It’s time to go outside!
Outside! Outside! Outside, everybody, outside!
Line up everybody line up line up line up my gup-gup-gup-gup-guppies!
Everybody get out! Get, get, get up, get out, get everybody go outside!!
Line ‘em up, here we go, here we go, here we go,
Everybody line up! Here we go outside!
Everybody let’s go, g-go-go-ga-get out-out-out-out-out-out-out-out-outside!
Bubble Guppieees!

My children are bouncing madly on the floor trying to say something that vaguely sounds like “outside” while I’m clapping along like a toddler singing the words with Mr. Grouper. I’m probably one of the few adults that knows every syllable of the Bubble Guppies Outside Song. The entire thing is only about 20 seconds long, but it’s such a good beat that it’ll probably never get old.

“Are we interrupting?”

I whirl around shocked out of my fucking mind at the sound of my husband’s voice. I’m so caught off guard that I feel like I’ve just been caught masturbating.

“Godda…” I catch myself knowing that our children are beginning to form words.

“Frag-nabbit, Christian, you scared the… ding-dang outta me!”

He and his unexpected guest are both standing there laughing at me and I want to hit them both.

“It’s early!” I scold. “What’re you doing home so soon?” and then I realize who’s with him.

“Vickie?” I ask, in confusion, scrambling to get off the floor. “Is Courtney okay?”

Vickie’s laughter fades and her brow furrows.

“Y… Yeah, Court’s fine,” she says, bemused. “She told me to give her a report on you, though. She said you hadn’t been to the Center all week… now, I’m confused.” I shake my head.

“Well, you can tell her I’m fine and I hope all is well with her. She’s still at the condo? She’s not moving?”

“Why would she move?” Vickie asks. “What am I missing?… Oh, you mean that thing with her grandmother? They’re talking, but she’s not moving back in with her as far as I know.”

“No… that’s… Never mind,” I say, waving her off. “If it’s not Courtney, why are you here?” She looks at Christian.

“She’s here to bring your summer wardrobe early,” Christian says, removing his suit jacket and tossing it over the sofa.

“Okay… why?” I ask.

“Because you need to decompress,” he says, sitting on the floor with the twins. “We both do. We’re blowing this popsicle stand and we’re taking our Australian cruise. We’re flying out of here first thing tomorrow morning and we’re leaving the country for a week.”

Well, I’m in shock.

“A… what?” Speechless.

“We’re getting the hell out of here,” he says. “It’s an emergency matter of extreme importance and detrimental to our sanity.”

“But… we… You’ve already told everyone that we’re going?” I inquire.

“I’ve told no one and neither will you,” he orders. “Only our staff knows that we’re going.”

Good Lord. I know we have that jet-setting kind of money and ability, but this still seems so sudden. At the moment, things seem so… undone.

“Baby,” he takes my hand, “we’ve been wound tight ever since Madrid—you more than me—we need to decompress or we’re going to self-destruct. The world will be here when we get back. It probably won’t even miss us while we’re gone.”

“My babies…” I protest.

“There’s enough breast milk stored to feed our children for a month and they have the best hand-picked nannies in the world. Keri should be back this weekend, and Harmony is here to help out. We’ll call them every day if you like.” I take a deep breath and hold it. Even though I hate leaving my babies for the slightest bit of time, he’s right. I need a severe change of scenery or I’m going to implode. I release my breath.

“Okay, Vick, show me what ya got…”


CHRISTIAN

“May I ask, is the warden in at all today?” I question. I’ve called Holstein every day this week. I’ve left messages on his voicemail and with this sow of a secretary of his who is now behaving like I’m taking up her precious time, and he doesn’t even have the decency to return my calls.

“Yes, sir. He’s here, he’s just not available,” she says, her voice a little impatient.

“Has the warden been in the office all week?” I further inquire.

“Mr. Holstein is a very busy man!” she says, her tone now scolding.

“That’s not what I asked!” I say, dropping decorum, my voice sharp. “I asked if the warden has been in the office all week. If you can’t answer the question, simply say, ‘I can’t answer the question!’” I’m calling on a business matter, you disagreeable cunt, so you can save that smart-ass attitude for someone else.

The line is silent for a moment or two. I completely expect her to hang up in my ear, but she surprises me by answering the question.

“Yes,” she replies, “the warden has been in the office this week.” That informs me that the fucker is simply ignoring me.

“I see,” I say, understanding that this asshole is going to evade my calls until I give up. You don’t want that, Ronnie, but since reason won’t prevail…

“Thank you,” I say roughly. “I know what I need to do now.”

“Wha…?” I don’t allow her to finish her statement—or question—before I end the call.

“Andrea, get Josh Shaler down here, please,” I say into the intercom. I’m already online planning my week before she acknowledges that she heard what I said.

My wife turned her entire life upside down to be available to my mother and Helping Hands, and now, she doesn’t even know if she’s going to stay there.

Her assistant exercised her right to choose, and now, she’s hiding out in eastern Washington somewhere—which is also putting a strain on my wife.

One of our nannies is in South Dakota with my wife’s trusted security detail dealing with a case against his brother that I can’t even describe.

And now, a woman who shouldn’t be able to reach us in any way whatsoever because she’s locked away for the rest of her miserable life is yet finding another way to reach out and cause us grief from inside prison walls and her fucking zookeeper won’t answer my goddamn calls.

It’s time for a vacation… a real one… now!

Before Josh even arrives in my office, I arrange for the jet to be fueled and ready to get us to Sydney, Australia. Take off will be 5:30am tomorrow morning and we’ll have a layover in L.A. to refuel and pick up a second pilot for the flight to Australia. I send off a text to Lanie to tell her that we’ll be in L.A. for a few hours in the morning, suggesting that we get together for breakfast. I’ve just requested that we activate our contingent cruise seating with the cruise line when Josh knocks on my office door.

“You wanted to see me?” he says, sticking his head in the door. I gesture for him to come inside.

“Are you still freelance?” Josh laughs as he takes a seat.

“No offense, sir, but when I leave here, I’m in disguise. So, yes, I’m still freelance.”

“Good. I’m sure you’ve heard about Elena Lincoln’s book,” I tell him, trying to keep my ire in check.

“I have,” he says. “I thought you were going to talk to the warden about that.”

“He’s avoiding my calls,” I declare. Josh raises one brow.

“Really?” he says. “I thought he was on our side”

“I thought he was, too. Apparently, he’s had a change of heart. Now, I’m completely in the dark and I want to know what the fuck is going on.” I punch out a text to Alex that I have a situation and he needs to come to my office.

“Okay, so I’m assuming that you want me to put my ear to the ground…” he begins.

“All the way to the ground,” I tell him. “I don’t like to be on the outside of critical information, and this is as critical as it gets. I don’t understand why this witch can’t just shut up and let people get over what she’s done to them. Does she really believe that crock of shit she said in court?”

“So, how badly do you need this information?” Josh asks. I raise my eyes to him. What the fuck is he asking me?

“What do you mean by that?” I ask him.

“I mean how low do you want me to go?” I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that.

“As low as you can go without getting caught,” I tell him. “I’m ready to pull some down-in-the-valley switches on this shit. I’ve had enough of running behind the eight ball on this woman…” Alex sticks his head in the door as I’m releasing to Josh. I gesture him inside. “She has caused immeasurable harm to more people and families than just me and mine and she won’t stop. I’ve had enough of this.”

“I take it we’re talking about Lincoln,” Alex says, taking the seat next to Josh. “No luck with the warden?”

“Yes, we are and none at all. He won’t take my calls and his smarmy ass secretary had the nerve to get a little salty with me on the phone today.” Alex purses his lips.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” he says. “The story is sensational. If she promises him just a couple of points or something off the publishing rights, let alone any possibility of screenplays and such, that’s enough palm oiling to buy her protection.” I ponder it.

Future palm oiling,” I point out. “The book has to be written first.” I look over at Josh. He raises a brow to me.

“I need as much information as you can get,” I tell him. “If you can find out who she might be talking to—even if it’s just family and friends. And I know they’re called ghost writers for a reason, but I’ll be forever in your debt if I can somehow get a name.”

“I’ll do what I can.” He stands to leave. “And Alex?” Alex turns to Josh. “Whatever you’re about to do, can you give me a couple of days before you do it? I’m just a reporter looking for a story. Your type of looking attracts attention.” He nods.

“I got you,” Alex replies, “but I can’t give you long.”

“If I can’t get what I need in a couple of days, I won’t get it,” Josh says. If I need more time than that, I’ll let you know.”

“Fair enough,” Alex says, and Josh leaves the room.

“So, I take it that I don’t need to explain anything,” I say to Alex.

“Nope,” he confirms. “Now, how low do you want me to go?”

“To hell,” I tell him, “and get me something on that high-nosed-ass secretary, too. I’m done fucking playing nice. I’m out of the country for the next week, but I’ll have my cell. Try not to use it if you don’t need to and get Jason in here for me.” I dial Victoria’s number as Alex leaves the room.

“This is Victoria.”

“Vickie, it’s Christian.”

“Christian, hi. Courtney was just asking me about you guys. Is everything okay?” I frown.

“Yes, why wouldn’t it be?” I ask.

“She hasn’t seen Ana in a week,” she says. “She wants to know if everything is okay.” Oh, that.

“Well, you’ll be able to ask her yourself shortly. I need you to meet me at the Crossing. I have one of those impossible tasks for you.”

“Oh, dear, what is it now?”

“My wife needs a summer wardrobe—casual, formal, and swimwear—a week’s worth in twelve hours or less.” The line is silent.

“You’re fucking kidding, right?” she says.

“No, I’m not. We’re on a plane tomorrow morning to an Australian cruise and excursion and we’ll be gone for a week. Can you do it or should I call a personal shopper?”

“Can I do some shopping?” she demands. “There’s no way that’s going to get done unless I can get some shit off the rack—and I gotta hit my best consignment shops.”

“Do what you must, just get it done. I’m going to be home at four and I prefer that you are there with me,” I inform her.

I’m going to charge you out the ass for this, Grey,” she says.

“What else is new?” I say.

“If I still liked men, I would make you fuck me till my hair curled!” Okay, she’s pissed.

“Your girlfriend wouldn’t like that, and my wife already gave me one pass when it comes to you. I doubt she’d do it again.” The line is quiet again.

“You told her?” Vickie asks horrified, “about us?

“Yeah,” I reply casually. “Months ago.” She scoffs.

“You’re fucking insane, you know that?” she says before hanging up on me. I look at my phone.

“See you at four.”

*-*

“I’m sorry, son. I’m not trying to pull you into this, I promise. I was just hoping that you could tell me what’s going on.”

“Nope, Mom, I’m sorry, I can’t,” I say. I came home from the Family Affair and heard my wife pretty much tell my daughter that she doesn’t like being married to me. I’m out of this shit.

“I haven’t seen or heard from her all week. I haven’t seen Marilyn for two weeks. When I hear from Ana, she forwards me the appointments that she’s scheduled for next week. So, it’s safe to assume that she’s not coming back?”

“It’s never safe to assume anything, Mom. You need to talk to my wife.”

“I—” She stops abruptly. “She doesn’t want to talk to me.” Well, that’s obvious.

“Well, I’m really sorry, but I don’t have any answers for you, Mom. You have to talk to Butterfly.” She sighs.

“Can you tell me… if she’s alright? Does she seem hurt… or angry?” Nope, Mom, not giving you that either. I can hear it now… Christian told me you were mad…

“She seems like herself,” I reply. “She gets up in the morning, gets dressed, exercises, eats her breakfast, and goes to her office—and I go to work. When I come home, she’s watching television or playing with the children… she’s being herself, like she normally does.” She sighs again.

“Okay,” she says. “Can you at least relay a message that I called, and I would like to know what’s going on please?”

“I can let her know that I spoke to you and that you’d like for her to call you.” She scoffs into the phone.

“You’re not crossing that line at all, are you?” she accuses.

“Not in the slightest, Mother,” I confirm, “not on your life.” She chuckles aloud.

“Smart man,” she says. “Love you, son.”

“Love you, too, Mom.”

Vickie’s driving up just as I’m getting out of the car. I hope she didn’t get too much shit off the rack. I don’t want my wife walking down the streets of Sydney or strolling down the halls of a luxury cruise ship looking like a dime-store tourist.

“If she swings at me, I’m going to kick you square in the balls,” she says, dragging a roller bag behind her while her assistant is carrying several shopping bags and a garment bag.

“Are your choices that bad?” I ask with a raised brow.

“You know what I’m talking about,” she says. Oh, the college fuck.

“I can guarantee you that she doesn’t care. Let’s go.”

The family room is strewn with bathing suits, summer clothes and evening wear, and my wife goes about the tedious task of trying to pick her wardrobe for the next week while Gail scurries to get her packed as she chooses certain pieces and vetoes others. Jason comes in with some packages that I need, and I’ve set up shop on the pool table nearby to make sure that all necessary arrangements are being made while my wife is giving instructions to her personal stylist and to Gail for pieces to commandeer from her dressing room. Two hours later, she’s packed and ready and I’m finishing up the necessary changes to our itinerary and accommodations while Jason makes plans for our security and moving to and fro in Australia.

“Tell Courtney for me that I’m fine and we’ll definitely talk in detail when I’m back from my trip,” she says to Vickie.

“Good,” Vickie says. “She’ll be glad to hear that.”

“Tell her that I may need her help on a task, too. And let her know that Harmony will be staying here with us indefinitely. I won’t be here, so she’s going to have double duty.”

“Will do,” Vickie says closing her bags and cases. “I’ll send you my bill,” she says to me. “I’d give it to you now, but I hate to see a grown man cry.”

“Just charge it to the Black,” I tell her. “You’ve got the number.” She shakes her head.

“Men like you with that kind of play money make me happy and irritate me at the same time.” She waves to Butterfly. “Have a wonderful trip.”

“Thanks, Vickie!” My wife calls as she leaves, then turns to me. “What is it with you and these crack-of-dawn flights?”

“You know where we’re flying, right?” I ask. She shrugs.

“Australian cruise—somewhere in Australia, I presume,” she says.

“Exactly,” I say. “That’s about a 20-hour flight without a layover, and we have one. Not only that, but we’re going to lose a day traveling to Australia. We’re going to leave Saturday morning, but we’re not going to get there until Sunday night.” She frowns.

“Well, that sucks,” she complains. “We’re going to lose a day of our vacation.”

“No, we’re not,” I inform her. “We’re going to get it back at the end of the week. That reminds me…” I reach into my pocket and pull out Jason’s latest acquisition for me. “Phones age in dog years. What do you have—like the iPhone 4?” She nearly growls at me.

“Four S,” she hisses. I reach into the bag and pull out an iPhone 6 Plus.

“Still dog years,” I tell her, handing her the 6 Plus.

“Ooo, pretty,” she says, examining the gold-toned phone.

“I’m glad you approve,” I say. “I couldn’t commandeer your number because it’s not my phone, but this one has been updated with all the usual apps that I know you use and the tracking software. Any apps that I don’t know you use, you’ll have to update yourself. You can forward your calls to this number or put a message on your old phone that your number has changed, but this is an international cell. You never know when I want to whisk my bride away to some exotic foreign country—like today.”

“Good point. I’ll just notify the necessary parties that my number has changed… maybe I’ll do it when I get back. I’ll forward the calls until then.” I nod.

“I can help you transfer all of your contacts and app information when you’re ready.”

“Naw,” she shakes her head. “That won’t be necessary. I’ll get Maril…” She trails off. Force of habit was about to cause her to say that Marilyn would do it. “On… second thought, yeah, when we’re back, I’d appreciate your help.” I nod.

“No worries,” I say, walking past her and proceeding to the stairs.

“I know you have a lot of power, Mr. Grey,” she says, falling in step behind me, “but can you please tell me how you decided on Friday morning that we were going to Australia and on Friday night, we’ve got travel arrangements? That’s a lot, even for you, sir.”

I pick her up and playfully throw her over my shoulder. She yelps as I take the staircase, two at a time with her over my shoulder. I place her back on her feet when we get to the top of the stairs.

“I had open tickets for the cruise, so I exercised my option,” I say walking to the bedroom. She falls in step behind me again. “I own a jet, so I had Jason arrange my pilots this morning. We’re making a bit of a change to our cruise. It was a seven day—we’re only doing five because I have plans for the weekend, so we’ll be disembarking at our last port of call.” I walk into my dressing room and try to figure out what I need to pack.

“Doesn’t that cost extra?” she asks, quickly selecting suits and a tux from my closet area. “Isn’t there a fee for disembarking early or something?”

“Yes, there is,” I say, watching her gather my wardrobe like a pro, complete with underwear, while it took her two hours to organize hers. “But this is what I wanted, and I have money, so…” I trail off.

“Do I get to know where this special destination is that requires us to disembark from a luxury cruise to get there?” she asks as she lays out my clothes. “Where are your garment bags?”

“They’re in storage,” I tell her, “and maybe I’ll tell you, maybe I won’t. I haven’t decided yet.”

“Will I like it?” she asks as I head for my en suite.

“You’ll love it,” I call behind me. “Activate two-way communications… Locate Windsor.”

“Windsor,” he responds.

“Windsor, I need you to bring my Alfred Dunhill luggage to the owner’s suite. I need the black rolling suitcase, the duffle, the toiletries bag and the garment bag.”

“Yes, sir,” he replies.

“End two-way communications,” I say.Alfred Dunhill Luggage--Chapter 72

“Hmmm, Alfred Dunhill,” she says, coming out of my dressing room. “And I’m carrying the Louis Vuitton. We’re going to look so pretentious.”

“And you care?” I ask. She shrugs.

“Not really,” she remarks, laying out more clothes on the bed… and I’m perfectly outfitted without lifting a finger—except to choose my toiletries from the en suite. I shake my head and scoff a laugh. “What?” she asks, bemused.

“How do you do that?” I ask. She looks at my cruise wardrobe and smiles.

“You have your special gifts and I have mine.”

*-*

“Are you sure you don’t mind us leaving you like this?” Butterfly asks Harmony as we’re about to leave the Crossing. “I know this can be a delicate time for you.”

“I’ll be fine,” Harmony replies. “Courtney and I are going to the mansion today so that I can start going through my things and Mom’s things that aren’t going to be confiscated and donated to charity. I really want to get the house cleaned out as soon as possible. I’ve got so much to do and lots to keep me occupied. I know I need to mourn Momma, but right now, I just want to keep busy.” Butterfly hugs her.

“Call if you need us. I have a new international phone now.” Harmony looks over Butterfly’s shoulder at me and I raise my brow.

“I won’t be calling you, Ana,” Harmony says. “Now, get out of here and have a great time.”

Butterfly says goodbye again to everyone and we get into the Audis with our luggage and head to the airport.

She sleeps for the entire flight to Los Angeles. It’s only three hours, but she’s dead in her seat the moment the seat belt light is off. I’m going through and responding to emails, giving instructions for the next week in my absence and putting out feelers on who might be Lincoln’s ghost writer. I may be sinister in my thinking, but she’s one of only two people that I can think of at the moment that I wish would just die.

I’ll also have to remember to tell Butterfly about Rossiter’s “settlement”—him agreeing to get the fuck out of our lives and stay the fuck out of our lives from now on. It’s my understanding that he’s actually going to lay down roots somewhere else, but not without the assurance that we’re going to be watching him wherever he goes. The very idea that he thought he would flash a raw, naked pussy painted on his arm at my wife and somehow get a payoff for it—the fucking nerve of this guy.

“I didn’t know if you would make it,” I say to Lanie and Leo when we disembark at LAX to refuel. “It was such short notice I thought we may have to just wait until next time.”

“I’m trying to be like you, man,” Leo says, grasping my hand and shaking. “I’m flirting with a couple of options for a private jet, but the right number of zeroes can get you a charter anytime. It’s only an hour flight for us from San Fran.” My wife and Lanie greet each other with a hug. That’s when I see Burtie.

He seems… shy and small for the lack of a better description. There’s a guy walking with him as he approaches us. He’s a little taller than Burtie—a nice looking guy with stylishly cut black hair and a medium to stocky build. He takes Burtie’s hand as they get closer and I note that this must be Leo’s cousin.

“How was your flight so far?” Lanie asks.

“I wouldn’t know,” Butterfly admits. “I was up most of the night preparing for the trip, so the minute we took off, it was ‘Goodnight, Nurse’ for me.”

“I couldn’t tell you either,” I say. “I assume that it was pretty smooth since I was able to work uninterrupted the entire way.” Butterfly glares at me.

“Yeah, that’s the only time he’s going to be able to work,” she declares, “when I’m asleep. This vacation is going to be a damn vacation, so I will definitely have a problem with him working during any of the time that I’m conscious!”

“Hear, hear!” Lanie says. Butterfly smiles widely at Burtie and opens her arms.

“Don’t I get a hug, cousin?” she says sweetly. He coyly returns her smile and walks into her open arms.

“It’s so good to see you,” I hear him say softly. She embraces him warmly.

“It’s good to see you, too, Burtie,” Butterfly says. I lean over and kiss Lanie on the cheek.

“And who is this?” Butterfly asks when she and Burtie release their embrace.

“This is Bernard,” Burtie says, taking the young man’s hand again and pulling him into the fold. Bernard waves like a shy little girl and smiles.

“Hi,” he says sweetly.

“Bernie, these are my cousins, Ana and Christian. Bernie is my fiancé.” Butterfly raises her brow.

“Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Bernie,” Butterfly says extending her hand to him.

“A pleasure,” he responds. “I know this is going to sound so stereotypically gay, but I saw you the moment you stepped onto the tarmac and that outfit is to die for!” Butterfly beams at the compliment.

“Thank you!” she says.

“I so love Jackie O!” he gushes.

“That’s exactly what I was going for!” Butterfly exclaims.

“Oh God she was like only one of the most elegant women that ever lived!” he says all in one breath.

“Absolutely! She was unbelievably iconic. You can’t go wrong matching any of her fashions…”

And this conversation is going to go on forever,” Leo says. “I should mention that my cousin is one of the most sought-after designers and personal stylists in the San Francisco Bay area. Right this way, please… we have a car.”

“To fit eight people?” I ask, thinking of Jason and Ben.

“Yes,” Lanie replies. “We procured a limo for just such an emergency.”

As Butterfly and Bernard continue to discuss the polished grace and timeless, easy elegance of Jackie Kennedy, we all make our way through the airport to the taxi stand where our limo awaits us. On our way to brunch in Beverly Hills, Leo and I talk about the strides we’ve made in identifying the variations in the XRC90 transmitter. The ink on the Waymark deal should be dry just after the new year.

“How’s Aunt Nellie? Why didn’t she join us?” I ask. Lanie looks over at Burtie who’s in an animated conversation with Butterfly and his fiancé.

“She’s better than she has been, but still not great,” Lanie says in a low voice. “She didn’t feel like coming out so early on a Saturday morning, but she sends her regards. She’s had a small setback though. She got word that my father is moving towards signing the divorce papers soon. Their lawyers are just hammering out the terms. It should be final any day now.”

“I thought that’s what she wanted,” I say bemused, “to put this thing to rest. You know how these things can drag on forever.” Lanie sighs and checks to see that her brother is occupied.

“Mom explained it to me like this. Imagine one of your children comes up missing. You search for them for months or even years, but you never find them. You finally give up hope and resolve yourself to the fact that if they were alive, they would have found a way to get in touch with you by now. You go about the business of living your life, putting yourself back together again and sometime later, the police show up. They inform you that they’ve found your child’s body.

“Now, even though you knew the child was dead because there was just no way that they could still be alive, the body makes it final. It makes the loss tangible and real. This is the equivalent of hearing that my father is going to sign the divorce papers. She now has the body, and it’s tearing her up all over again. He’s a horrible, wretched person, but that doesn’t negate the fact that she loved him for thirty-some-odd years.” Lanie finishes with a sigh.

“Does she know about the life insurance policy?” I ask. “And what about the house?”

“She knows about the life insurance policy and she knows that he’s protesting Carrick’s share of it. She’s sure that he’s just protesting it until the divorce is final, and she’s not waiting for that. As for the house, she’s never going back to Michigan, so he can have that, too, but his other assets are going to have to be split.” I shake my head.

“He got Pops’ house,” I tell her. “That’s what he wanted. He’s going to sell his house and pump the money into rebuilding Pops’ house.” Lanie’s eyes widen.

“What??” she exclaims, garnering the attention of everyone in the car, which is exactly what she was trying not to do.

“Sorry,” she says, trying to play the situation down. “Don’t pay me any attention, you know how I can get.” She waits for Bernie and Ana to attract Burtie’s attention again before she turns back to me.

“That dilapidated old hole?” she hisses just above a whisper. “That stack of sticks is worthless! I don’t even know how Grandpa and Herman stayed in it for so long. That place should have been condemned years ago!” I shrug.

“That’s my understanding, too,” I tell her. “But he’s going to put his house on the market and use the money to rebuild that ‘stack of sticks.’” She shakes her head.

“Well, it doesn’t matter. Mom’s ready for the ‘funeral.’ She’s had enough. There’s no way she can possibly move on with this divorce still in progress, and she’s not really sure how she’s going to move on when it’s over. Hell, my father has a girlfriend—it was over a long time ago. Mom just didn’t know it.”

“Why didn’t he just let her go instead of dragging her through all this hell?” Leo asks. “It’s cruel and unusual punishment to put someone through this.”

“Freeman’s so cocky, he thought it would never come to this,” I reply.

“I think it was just cheaper to keep her,” Lanie says. “Once he reached the 10-year mark, half his shit was hers.” I twist my lips.

“Yeah, I guess there’s that, too,” I cede. I look down the row at Burtie.

“How about Burtie?” I ask not much above a whisper. Lanie shakes her head.

“Bernie’s good for him, but he’s having a really hard time with this situation, too,” she says. “I don’t know which of these are harder to swallow, so I’m just going to toss them at you.

“His parents are getting divorced. That sucks for anybody under any circumstances. Now, before you say, ‘Hey, Lanie, they’re your parents, too,’ you need to see the difference. That’s his mom and his dad. That’s my mom… and my father. All these years, he’s just been my father, just the man who nutted and brought about my creation. All these years, before this shit, that’s been his dad. So, his mom and his dad are getting a divorce, and he has to contend with that.

“Also, just like Mom, he loves Freeman. All he has ever wanted was for Freeman to be proud of him, and this is what he gets to take with him—the fact that for whatever reason, he wasn’t good enough; that his beloved dad battered him so badly that his face is slightly deformed and some of his teeth were knocked out or had to be removed. And that’s number three.

“Burtie was always an attractive young man, but now he keeps his face down and he tries to fade away and not be seen. He’s got several teeth missing and that makes him feel subconscious, and then he has those two horrible scars on his face. He’s getting his implants this week and the surgery for the scars will be in the next two weeks, but that’ll take care of the physical damage. What about the emotional damage?”

I look down the row in the limo again and Butterfly has moved next to Burtie. She’s holding his hand and his head is down. Bernie is leaning forward very close to Burtie, holding his hand as well.

That looks like a session.

“Has anybody pointed out the name thing?” I ask, “Burtie and Bernie?”

“Several times,” Leo says, looking at his cousin and brother-in-law. “They appear to be really in love. I wondered how it could happen so soon. Burtie’s only been here for a few months, but Bernie says he’s been stricken ever since he first met Burtie in Michigan. According to them, ‘When you know, you know.’”

“Yes, I can attest to that,” I say, looking over at Butterfly.

“Was it love at first site for you, Christian?” Lanie asks.

“Oh, I know this story,” Leo interrupts. “So do you, babe. Remember the interview?”

“Oh, yeah,” Lanie says, looking at her husband and then back at me. “She hated you at first, but you were quite taken with her.”

“Bingo,” I confirm, “So, I can understand being stricken very early on. At the risk of being Devil’s Advocate, however, just be mindful that Burtie’s in a vulnerable and compromised position at the moment…”

I don’t know how to say what I’m trying to say without making Bernie sound like he’s trying to take advantage of Burtie’s predicament or without making Burtie appear to be a weakling looking for someone to hold him up. Luckily, I learn that I wasn’t alone in my concern.

“I’ve had the same conversation with my brother,” Lanie says softly. “His response assured me that he realizes his position and he’s aware of his feelings. He even admits that he’s susceptible to the smallest act of kindness right now, but that he’s certain that with Bernie is where he wants to be.”

“And I’ve spoken to Bernie,” Leo continues, “both because he’s my cousin, I love him, and I don’t want to see him hurt and because if he hurts Burtie, he’ll hurt my Lanie, and then I’d have to kill him. I’m certain that he’s going into this with both eyes open, but in all honesty, they’re both grown men and will make their own decisions. Only time will tell.”

I nod. I know that he’s right, but that poor guy is fighting some serious demons and some of them are written right on his face.

“At least pretty soon he won’t have the visible reminders of what happened,” I say with a sigh.

“At least there is that,” Lanie says. “He’s been seeing a therapist. He’s been working through some of his issues, but I’m afraid that the emotional betrayal is probably going to be there forever. He’s heartbroken. All he has ever wanted was for his father to be proud of him and now, the betrayal he feels from that unprovoked attack…” Lanie trails off and shakes her head. We’ve had this entire conversation in hushed tones, trying not to let it appear that we’re keeping a secret.

“So, we’re planning a spring wedding as Burtie is certain that all of his scars will have healed by then, and Bernie is willing to give that man anything he wants. Bernie does very well financially and Burtie has a very promising future in engineering. Neither of them is in a particularly destitute situation,” Leo says.

“Burtie just has a long way to go,” Lanie adds. “His self-esteem has taken a hit with the scars and the missing teeth, and he’s fighting depression and rejection from the man who, like Mom, he still really loves.”

“What about you, Lanie?” I ask. “You don’t feel anything, honestly? Nothing at all.” Even I feel a bit of a tug when discussing the crack whore every now and then. Lanie shrugs.

“I feel bad that my family was torn apart—that my mom and my little brother are struggling to find balance,” she says, matter-of-factly. “But I was abandoned a long time ago, cousin. You can’t miss what you never had.”

And there you have it.


A/N: I originally had Christian carrying a different brand of luggage, but changed it when that whole “black face” shirt came out. I’m sure can figure out which one he had before.

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

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 71—Chain Reactions

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 71—Chain Reactions 

CHRISTIAN

We put Chuck and Keri on a plane to South Dakota yesterday to be present for the case today. Butterfly was not happy to see either of them go as Chuck is her detail and Keri is her nanny.

“I feel like my limbs are being cut off one by one,” she says. “My detail, my nanny, my PA…” I had forgotten that Marilyn had taken some time off as well in light of recent developments. I can imagine Butterfly feels a bit rudderless. Thank God Harmony’s here and has agreed to help Gail with the twins.

We haven’t discussed anything that happened Saturday night. I’m not sure how to approach the topic or even what needs to be discussed at this point. After talking to Jason, I somewhat understand the “Cinderella” concept, but how do I voice my displeasure with the way she spoke to my mother? Is this one of those situations where I should just “butt out” since it really had to do with the Center and wasn’t anything personal? It became personal, though—the comments that she made. However, had she said these things at Helping Hands in the course of her job, would I feel the same way? Am I only feeling this way because these things were said in my presence?

She was talking about her professional stance, and the position that my mother put her in by revealing to Adelaide that Courtney was still in town. To Mom, she was trying to help a friend, but to Butterfly, this was a professional betrayal.

I should have stayed out of this.

“You going in this morning?” I ask my wife who has been silent at the breakfast bar.

“Yes,” she says coolly. “I have new employees starting today and I should be there. And I have to figure out what’s going on with my calendar because I’m like a fish out of water without Marilyn.”

“Do you want to meet for lunch?” I say, attempting to offer an olive branch. She looks over at me.

“I’ll… let you know,” she replies uncertainly. “The morning is kind of heavy…”

“I’ll wait,” I interrupt. “You say what time.” She pauses for a moment, still gazing at me.

“Okay,” she says softly. “I’ll call you, then.” I give her hand a squeeze and kiss her on the forehead.

“I’ll see you later, then,” I say, and she nods.

*-*

“Kavanaugh wants nothing to do with you,” Lorenz says at the executive meeting that morning. “He’s shutting down any attempts from this camp to contact him.”

“Well, there’s always a hostile takeover… buy him out,” I suggest.

“Yeah, he thought of that, too,” Ros says, “so he’s not selling.” I nod. My lips form a thin line.

“Fine,” I say. “We’ve got plenty of Kavanaugh’s stock. Start dumping it.” Lorenz frowns deeply.

“Are you crazy?” he asks. I turn to him.

“Do you remember my interview, Lorenz?” I ask. “You’ve seen my portfolio—controlling interests or substantial participation percentages in 28 industries comprised of 419 subindustries in 165 countries on all seven continents. Kavanaugh is one subindustry in one industry in one country on one continent. This is only one of my holdings. It’s his entire life. He doesn’t want a financial and industrial powerhouse to bail him out when he’s on a proverbial dingy with a hole in it about to sink simply because the bailout is coming from me, well then let his ass sink. Start dumping stock 2% at a time. Once the NYSE and the NASDAQ reports that information, he’ll be lucky if he can still be considered penny stock.”

“Christian, this sounds dangerously close to insider trading,” Ros warns.

“Far from it, Ros,” I tell her. “It’s only insider trading if I use inside information not available to anyone else to further my position or unload a disadvantage. This is not inside information. It’s public knowledge that he’s on the skids. ‘Pump-and-dumps’ do it all the time. They buy low, drive up the price, watch the trends, and when it looks like it’s about as high as it’s going to go, they drop it. I’m an investor, and I see an opportunity to save my investment that’s very crappy right now and getting crappier by the second. I’m throwing him a life preserver and he’s kicking it back to me. He’s only looking at one side of that investment coin and that’s the fact that I don’t have enough to do a hostile. And he’s right, I don’t. However, I do have enough to make other investors sit up and take notice if I start dumping my shares.”

“There’s going to be no coming back from this,” Lorenz warns.

“There’s already no coming back from it,” I tell him. “He’s made it clear that he wants no part of my golden parachute. So be it. If I were so shrewd as to drive the price down, make him open sales again and gobble up the market before anybody else, guaranteeing at the very least a hostile takeover, he’d poison pill the company before I got my hands on it. I can tell when a company is on that final spiral down the drain, and Kavanaugh already has his feet in the grates—he just doesn’t think anybody knows it.”

I raise an eyebrow at Lorenz whose expression confirms that he agrees with me.

“Someone can still reach in and save him, and it doesn’t have to be me, but when and if they do, they’re going to be dealing with a company that’s worth at least one-third less than it is right now if not even less than that. Start dumping the stock. If I’m wrong and it turns around for him and the investors are making money, by dumping 2% at a time, I’ll still have a portion of my investment left. So… let the market decide.”

I wave the whole thing off. Buying Kavanaugh Media would have been a personal coup, but nothing more. I’ve got enough money to use C-notes to wipe my ass for the rest of my life. I don’t need this shit.

“And what’s going on with Kate Kavanaugh?” I ask. It makes me nervous when people just disappear.

“It appears that the Kavanaugh Princess is hiding out in the Hamptons with young Kevin… at least we think Kevin’s with her. You know her career is tied up in Kavanaugh Media and shortly, there’ll be no Kavanaugh Media. So, unless she has an endless money pot stashed somewhere, she’ll be looking for a job soon.” Ros replies.

“Make sure we keep our eye on her… just in case.” Lorenz nods.

“Excuse me, sir. Mr. Welch is in the lobby and says he needs to talk to you immediately.” Andrea’s voice surprises me as she never interrupts when I’m in a meeting. “He has Ms. McIntyre with him.”

Oh shit. Mac. What the hell is going on?

“I’m going to have to take this meeting,” I say to Lorenz and Ros. “Alex and Mac usually isn’t good news. Have we covered everything?” Lorenz looks at Ros, who nods.

“For now, it seems,” he says. “I’ll keep you posted.”

“Good man,” I say. “Send them in on your way out.”

I pop my neck as Ros and Lorenz leaves preparing myself for whatever the Gruesome Twosome have to tell me. I know it’s bad when I see their faces. Alex is serious, and Mac is a bit somber.

“Okay, out with it,” I say. Don’t beat around the bush, just give it to me. Alex closes the door and Mac drops a gossip rag on my desk.

“Tell me what I’m looking for here,” I say. “I really don’t feel like combing through stories of back woods women having babies by Elvis, aliens, and Michael Jackson.”

“Bottom left hand corner,” Mac says taking a seat. Alex stands behind her. I look at the bottom left corner of the tabloid.

Incarcerated Socialite to Write Tell-All Book of her Ordeal

“What?” I ask horrified. “I thought the law was written as such that she couldn’t exploit her crime for profit!”

“If she writes it as a fiction novel and changes all the names, she can,” Mac informs me.

“She’d have to change the events, too,” I nearly screech. “That woman molested children! It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who she’s talking about in her story—just a really good critical thinker, and I’m not just talking about my experience. One of those kids killed himself!” I suddenly want this woman to just disappear from the face of the earth.

“You’ve confirmed that this is true?” I ask them both. “This isn’t just some nasty rumor?”

“It’s confirmed, sir,” Alex says. “She’s been corresponding with ghost writers, publishers… even attorneys to make sure that she’s following the rules to get the book published.”

“And they’re going to publish this garbage.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Are you kidding?” Mac says. “Like you said, it won’t take a rocket scientist to tell who the characters are, even if she changes the names and events. A tell-all about Christian Grey and other possible prominent members of Seattle society? Right after you do an exposé of you and your lovely wife and your lovely life? Her timing is perfect—for her, that is. Depending on what she puts in that book, she can blow your image of your happy home right out of the water. But there’s so much more at stake here…”

“You don’t have to tell me,” I say. The damage that can be caused by the implications of this book are nearly fucking endless.

“So many pictures,” Alex laments. “So many boys…”

“Exactly,” I sigh. “We don’t even know if we found them all. Decades and decades of that shit—the embarrassment, humiliation, and pain this could cause is endless.”

Hasn’t she caused enough fucking heartache? What the fuck is she after? Before she died, Aunt Tina told me that Elena was corresponding with people, trying to get responses. What is she really doing? She can’t possibly hope to profit from this. Her only chance of release is escape. What’s really going on?

“Why is she trying to get attention?” It’s a rhetorical question.

“How did this story hit the mainstream?” I ask.

“There’s no telling,” Mac says. “She could have done it, it could be a publicity leak—nobody’s paying attention right now, but they’ve got their breach. All they need from this point is momentum.”

“And me visiting the prison would be momentum,” I observe.

“I’m so glad you figured that out on your own,” Mac exclaims. “I could just see you in my mind’s eye flying to the prison to ruffle some feathers and all you end up getting is a front-page spot.”

“Okay, so,” I stand from my desk and clasp my hands, “I’m open for suggestions on how to proceed with this because you know me—I’m ready to run in like a bull in a China shop.”

“We could get an injunction,” Mac says, “but we’d have to know what was in the book before we could do that.”

“So, an injunction’s out. Next plan?”

“Get in touch with the warden,” Alex offers. “He knows you, if I recall.”

“Yes, we’re acquainted,” I remark, remembering the very uncomfortable circumstances I arranged for Mrs. Lincoln after I discovered that she was responsible for the false accusations of sexual misconduct against my wife. “Anything we can do about her possible publishers and ghost writers? Make this endeavor look unattractive?”

“Here’s the thing about writing, Christian,” Mac says. “Once something is out there—articles, print, pictures, books—it’s out there. It’s so much easier to undo something someone said, even on television, than it is to undo the backlash of the written word. Any attempts to make something like this look unattractive would only have the opposite effect because believe me, no one is more aware that the pen is mightier than the sword than the person holding the pen.”

“So, I basically have no recourse now outside of talking to the warden?” I ask appalled. “He can’t possibly be ignorant to this, and he hasn’t done anything yet!”

“It’s very likely that he’s not,” Mac replies. “Why he’s not doing anything is yet to be determined.”

I scroll through the contacts on my computer and locate the information for Ronald Holstein. After going through a million transfers, I’m finally connected to his receptionist who, upon hearing my name, informs me that he’s unavailable but that she could take a message or patch me through to his voicemail. Since I’m not really sure if he’s aware of what’s going on, I leave a professional message on his voicemail to contact me as soon as possible no matter what time.

“So, now we wait,” I say.

I just got the damn Pussy DJ off our backs and now this? Jesus, it never ends!

*-*

I’m irritated when I get home as Holstein didn’t return my call, and surprised that Butterfly is already there since I’m home a little earlier than usual.

“Hey,” I say. “You’re here early.”

“So are you,” she says matter-of-factly. She’s sitting in the family room with a bowl of popcorn watching old movies like she’s been kicked back for the entire day.

“Is everything okay?” I ask, sitting next to her.

“I would really rather not talk about it,” she says. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you for lunch, but I was terribly distracted.” I nod.

“I have some news,” I say. She picks up the remote and silences the television. Placing the popcorn on the seat next to her, she brushes off her hands and sits up straight, like she’s preparing herself to go into battle.

This must have really been a pretty fucked-up day.

“Elena’s trying to write a book,” I spit out. She rubbernecks to me, her expression horrified.

“What?” she gasps. “I thought… I thought criminals weren’t allowed to profit from their crimes. I mean that’s the only thing she could possibly be writing about.”

“There are ways around it,” I tell her. “There’s no law against her writing a book. If she changes the names and events and it becomes a work of fiction, she’s in the clear assuming that no one can determine that she’s talking about real people—but everyone will know that she’s talking about real people. Conspiracy theorists and bloggers and motherfuckers with too much time on their hands may even be able to match her story with timelines and events and point a compass to specific people…”

“Like us,” she says.

“More than us, Butterfly, we were all over the trial. We’ll just be her anchor. Think of all those boys and their families. Some of them are adults and have families of their own, and if you remember, at least one that we know of didn’t make it. This woman has no fucking scruples!”

“And apparently absolutely nothing to lose,” Butterfly says flatly. I thought I proved that she did have something to lose in our last conversation, but maybe I wasn’t firm enough. We’re silent for a moment, and then my wife drops a bombshell on me.

“I’m considering leaving Helping Hands,” she says calmly. My turn to rubberneck.

“You’re what?” So much for not wanting to talk about it.


ANASTASIA

I can barely decipher what’s going on with my calendar. Marilyn has a lot of shorthand going on here and several reminders for her to do certain things. I really should have taken a better look at this thing last week when I wasn’t all a-flustered from the weekend’s events, but c’est la vie. I may have to draft someone somewhere to help me with this mess, but we’ll have to see.

I shoot a text off to Marilyn simply saying that I hope she had a nice Thanksgiving and I hope she’s taking care of herself. Every call I’ve tried to put in to Gary has gone straight to voicemail. I’ve left a few messages for him but stopped after the third one. After having that treatment from my father when he didn’t want to speak to me and then from Christian when he escaped to Madrid, instant defer to voicemail calls leave me with a very icky feeling to the degree of stirring up remnants of the Boogeyman. How about I choose not to do that to myself.

In an attempt to make sure that my friend hasn’t fallen to an ill fate, I recruit the assistance of the rest of the Scooby Gang to try to contact Gary. I only tell them that it appears that there has been a break-up and Marilyn is with her parents right now. None of us have had any luck contacting him.

Marilyn hasn’t returned my text either and I deduce that they’re both still radio silent. I just hope that she has me listed somewhere as an emergency contact so that someone will know to inform me if something really bad happens.

Ebony is doing well in the day care center and I’m hoping that we can convince her to put some of her other skills to use in the Center. God knows we need them in the worse way. We have a few new employees on the cleaning staff as well. We’re planning to end the contract with Sherwood and Clean It Up for You in January. So, we want to have a core team in place by that time and hire additional staff as needed.

Another development we’ve had since the interview is the outpouring of support from the community as well as the influx of donations right in time for the holiday season—clothing, non-perishable food items, cash and pledges, even additional volunteers. I’ve been able to get some applications from various sources for people who may be able to fill the many positions we’ll be needing to fill since we finally received our accreditation. I wasn’t kidding when I told Christian that my morning would be full—even fuller than I thought with me having to do my own administrative work. That must be why I was totally bowled over by the voice that greets me in the middle of the morning.

“Ana?”

I raise my head to see Addie standing in my office door. Oh, dear God.

“Addie!” I say, standing quickly from my seat and nearly knocking it over. “Please, c… come in.” Come all the way in and close the door behind you!

“I…” She timidly walks into my office. “Your office… it looks really different.”

“Yes,” I say, gesturing her further into the office and closing the door behind her. Sweet Jesus, this is a disaster. “I was able to make some changes with… all the different things that have been going on. We’ve finally gotten our accreditation, you know. There’s a lot that needs to be done in such a short time.”

“I’d…” She takes a seat in the Zen sitting area. “I’d like to make a donation… if I could.”

“Addie… that’s so kind of you.” She reaches into her purse and hands me a check. I don’t really focus in on the amount, but I see a whole lotta zeroes. “Addie, this is so generous.”

“It’s the very least I can do,” she says, lowering her head. “I turned that child away—ready to feed her back to the dogs that she came from. You’ve worked miracles with her.” I sigh.

“I didn’t do anything, really, Addie,” I tell her. “Courtney did all the work on her own…” and if she sees you here, the work may all be undone.

As if the fates heard my lamentations, my door flies open and in marches a distraught Courtney. She never enters my office without knocking when the door is closed. I know why she’s coincidentally here now.

“G… Grandmother!” she says, her voice more horrified than anything. Oh, shit. Addie stands and turns to her.

“Courtney!” she breathes. “Yo… you’re so… beautiful.” Courtney never takes her eyes off her grandmother but begins to frantically wring her hands. Addie takes a step towards her, but Courtney takes a step back, the dams bursting immediately and causing massive waterfalls down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” Courtney says, her voice full of tears, “I’m sorry, Grandmother, for the horrible person that I was and the terrible things that I did…”

“Oh, Courtney…”

“I’m sorry… that I hurt you… and that I hurt Grandfather… but you hurt me, too.” She weeps. Addie looks a bit horrified.

“You said I was worthless… nothing… you said I was better off dead…”

“Courtney!” Addie exclaims. “I did not say that! I would never say that!”

“Spare parts!” Courtney cries accusingly. “You said I was worth nothing but spare parts!”

Addie stands guiltily looking at her granddaughter.

“I felt like the world would be a better place without me. I was horrible and awful and even my spare parts were worthless. Maybe that’s how I made you feel… maybe I made you feel like you’d be better off dead and that’s why you made me feel that way. It’s a horrible, awful, wretched feeling and if I did that, I swear to God that I’ll never do that to anybody else as long as I live!” Courtney cries.

“Court…”

“I didn’t change my ways because of that,” she sobs, cutting off her grandmother. “I changed because I didn’t want to go back to Chuktapaw. I didn’t want to end up in a dead-end life like my mom! She has no hope! No future! And she doesn’t want to change! She wants to stay in that rat-infested lean-to that she’s lived in with that low-life man that she’s been with for years and she’s going to die there, and I don’t want that to be me!

“Somebody showed me that I was worth something even when I thought I wasn’t… even when you thought I wasn’t. Ana could have let me rot in that shelter, answer ads to be a stripper, but she and Ms. Grace took pity on me—after how I treated her, the things I said to her! She took pity on me… somebody thought I was worth something…

She weeps harder and Addie doesn’t speak. She must know that Courtney is just reloading.

“But I don’t care how horrible someone is to me. I’ll never in my life ever make them feel like they don’t deserve to be alive. I’ll walk away forever and never speak to them again before I ever make them feel like the earth would be a better place without them!”

“Courtney…” Addie says finally, “your mom is gone.” Courtney’s eyes pierce.

“What?” she asks incredulously. “When?”

“June,” she says.

“How?”

“Some rare virus,” Addie says. “I didn’t get the details. I didn’t even know she was sick.” Courtney purses her lips and clears her throat.

“Hence, my point,” she says nodding through her tears. “My mom’s gone, and nobody cared. Nobody knew. Nobody felt anything, not even me. Not even now, I don’t feel anything. I didn’t wish her dead and it’s tragic that she’s gone, but I knew,” she says, her voice still cracking, “I knew that’s how she would die. That’s how I would have died, and you were okay with that.”

“I was not okay with that, Courtney, I was hurt…”

“But that’s not what you said!” she wails. “I hurt you! I accept that and I’m sorry. I knew I would get money when you died, but I didn’t wish you dead! I never wished you dead!” she sobs. “I didn’t expect for you to account for what you said or how you felt. I just couldn’t deal with it. I couldn’t look at you and know that you felt that I was nothing more than an organ donor. I can’t change the things that I did and the way that I treated people, but there’s enough bad crap going on in the world and enough bad memories in my head to not subject myself to any new agonies.”

She straightens her back even though the tears continue to fall.

“Things have changed for me, Grandmother,” she says. “I found a life that I didn’t know I could have—a real life, with real people and purpose! I see a future beyond dollar signs. All I could see before was money and what I could do with it, and now I see so much more…

“I found somebody who loves me, who doesn’t care that I’m broke, who’s not looking for the next big trust fund. I had to find me first, but once I did, she saw what I couldn’t see. She helped me see that there’s so much more to me. I’m in school now. I want to help kids—troubled kids, kids who don’t think anybody understands them. She helped me see that I could do that. I didn’t think I could, but she wouldn’t let me give up… and now, I’m on my way. And I love it, and I love her, and she loves me!

“I have friends and people like me, and I can be myself—not what I think people want me to be. I don’t hang out with any of the ‘cool kids’ anymore, because just like I was a bad influence on them, they were a bad influence on me.

“Mrs. Franklin died. Did you know that?” she asks but continues talking before Addie can answer. “I didn’t go to her funeral. I didn’t know who would be there, but her daughter—Harmony—we’re friends. I’ve been talking to her and helping her through this time as much as I can. Mrs. Franklin’s children… they’re horrible. They’re worse than I ever was and old enough to know better, and now Harmony has to deal with them. I’ll never be like them again, but Harmony is good people, and I’ll be there for her…”

Courtney is rambling on and on and on about the person that she has become, and I realize that this is something that she needs to do. We let her talk and talk through her tears for a solid twenty more minutes until she’s physically exhausted. I catch her before she collapses on the floor in tears and help her to the seating area where she crumples onto the sofa and continues to weep.

Addie tentatively moves next to her and takes Courtney’s shuddering body in her arms. Her own tears flowing from her eyes, she expels a string of apologies, telling Courtney how much she loves her and never stopped.

Now is my cue to leave. I’m emotionally exhausted myself.

I leave my office and close the door behind me. When I raise my head, Grace is standing there with her arms folded, a triumphant smirk on her face.

“Don’t give me that look,” I say, firmly. “You were still out of place and you still meddled where you shouldn’t have. You got lucky. This could have been disastrous.” She still smirks at me.

“But it wasn’t, was it?” she says haughtily and turns away, beginning her victory stroll down the hall.

“Grace!” I call, my blood boiling. She turns to face me, ready for battle.

I’m not.

“I love this place,” I say closing the space between us, “but you know that I don’t have to do this. You know I’ve worked hard with Courtney and I respected her wishes because just like Addie, she was traumatized. You threw that out the window like it was nothing because you felt like it. I’ve built up her trust and you could have destroyed that because you thought the outcome should be different. You could have undone everything I did, everything she did, and you walk around haughtily flexing your plume because the situation happened to work out this time without any consideration for the damage you could have caused. I know that I’m only second in command, but if you ever undermine my authority like that again, you can find yourself another second.” She folds her arms, frowning.

“Is that a threat, Anastasia?” she confronts. Oh, dear God. She does want a fight. She can’t see for the life of her that she could have undone all of my hard work, and nor does it matter to her. I sigh a scoffing sigh and cover my face with my hands shaking my head. That’s it. I give up. I can’t put in this kind of work to have someone look at it like it’s nothing.

Nothing. That’s what it is.

“Absolutely nothing.”

I didn’t know I verbalized the words until I hear myself say them. I shake my head and walk away. I can’t even go to the nursery to see my babies because I didn’t bring them with me. I need alone time and my office is occupied. I walk to the other side of the building to the empty rooms that will soon be classrooms and activity rooms. I sit at one of the tables with the lights out and focus on my breathing…

In with the good air, out with the bad…
In with the good air, out with the bad…
In with the good air, out with the bad…

I don’t know how long I sit in that room meditating, but when I emerge and go to my office, the coast is clear. I go inside, closing the door behind me. I don’t think about anything. I just move, closing my laptop and putting it in its bag, packing small personal items into my messenger bag—nothing dramatic. I take a little time to scribble a note on my notepad. I know she’ll come back looking for me.

Dear Courtney,

I’m sorry if this situation caused you any grief. However it turns out, please know that I didn’t engineer this meeting. I hope you don’t feel like I’ve betrayed your trust and that we can still be friends. Please continue to stay in the condo for as long as you need to, and if you choose to leave, just let me know.

Anastasia

I fold the letter, seal it in an envelope, and write Courtney’s name on it in large letters. I put on my coat, pull my purse out of my desk drawer, and put my laptop bag and messenger bag over my shoulder. I snap off a piece of tape and tape the letter to Courtney on my office door. I retrieve my briefcase, walk to the door and turn out the lights without looking back, closing the door behind me.

I look carefully up and down the hallway and, spotting no one, I leave the office and quietly make my way to the service door and the parking lot behind the Center. I type a text to Chuck, then I remember that he’s not here with me. He’s in South Dakota in court with his family. I copy the text to Ben’s number and inform him that I’m in the parking lot and ready to go. Moments later, he comes out to join me.

“Is everything okay?” he asks when he gets into the driver’s seat of the Audi.

“Yes,” I lie. “I’m just ready to go home.”

*-*

“Why are you thinking of leaving Helping Hands?” Christian questions.

“Because my opinion is no longer respected or valued,” I reply.

“Baby, don’t you think that may be a bit dramatic?” he asks.

“I certainly do not!” I retort. “Do you see the progress Courtney has made in the last year? Even you have to say that’s remarkable. Do you know what kind of work it took to get her there? Do you know how hard I had to work to gain her trust—to get her to confide in me? She was living in squalor and I had to convince her to move into my condo. You can look at her face and see that she’s a completely different person than the girl we met. Even her showdown with Mia—it was extremely emotional, and it showed just how much she had grown, evolved. It took forever to earn her trust and she only asked one thing of me—not to tell her Grandmother that she was still in Seattle. I tried everything I could to convince her to talk to her Grandmother and she. Was not. Ready, and Grace just dismissed her wishes, my promises, all the work she had done, everything.”

“You guys are still fighting about that?” he asks.

“No, were not,” I say finitely. “We’re not fighting about it because one, she dismisses anything I say about the situation and two, she engineered a meeting between them.”

“Really?” he asks, his eyes wide. “How did that go?”

“I don’t really know!” I reply perturbed. “Courtney flipped the fuck out, sobbing and rambling for about half an hour, telling her grandmother how worthless and awful she made her feel. Things that Courtney was feeling that I didn’t even know came out in this meeting. She was devastated. She talked and wept until she collapsed in exhaustion.”

“Then what?” he questions, his mouth hanging open in awe.

“Addie hugged her, they were crying, and I left the room,” I finish. My husband’s head snapped back.

“Okay, what happened after you left?”

“Grace is standing outside with this smug I told you so look on her face, and I’m trying to explain to her that situations don’t always turn out that way. They could end up disastrous if you don’t handle them carefully.” My mind immediately goes to Stoley and to Ace’s shark tooth. “I tried to get her to understand that things could have gone astronomically wrong and she totally dismissed me—smugly, too!”

“But baby, can’t you just count this one as a win? I mean, all’s well that ends well, right?”

“NO!” I yell. “How can you two not see this? This was a four-way stop where the traffic lights don’t work, and everybody went forward at the same time! They were just lucky they didn’t crash and end up splattered all over the street! Somebody has to be out there to direct that traffic and that’s what I was trying to do, and she totally disregarded me. She disregarded everything and she’s proud of it. She told everybody to just drive, and the accident did happen. I’m just waiting to see if there are any survivors.”

“Baby, don’t kill me… but… could it be that you’re angry because my mother was right?” he asks.

“No, I’m angry because your mother was wrong!” I correct him. “What she did was the equivalent of playing Russian Roulette and the gun just didn’t go off. Instead of breathing a sigh of relief that her brains didn’t end up splattered all over the wall, she’s doing a taunting victory dance that the bullet happened to be in a different cartridge.

“But here’s the thing,” I say, moving the pillow from my lap and putting it back on the sofa, “I don’t have to be right. I’m just not going to be in a place where someone doesn’t respect my authority or wishes. She hired me because I’m a doctor—a professional, licensed psychiatrist. Then she completely ignored my professional recommendations on a case that was mine—a case that I had cultivated and groomed personally for a year—and then she gloated about it and she taunted me, and she disparaged everything I said. I can’t work like that. I can deal with being wrong, but I can’t… and won’t… work like that.”

I stand up and walk out of the family room, not because he doesn’t agree with me but because he and I shouldn’t be fighting about this. I won’t argue with him anymore about things that happen between me and his mother at the Center, assuming I go back to the Center.

“I’m not walking away angry,” I call back to him through the kitchen. “I’m just walking away… okay?”

“Fair enough,” he says after a pause.

I don’t even change out of my pajamas on Tuesday. I deliberately spend the entire day playing with my children, eating junk food, and watching romance movies with Harmony while deliberately ignoring my phone. Harmony plays hooky from school, too, because tomorrow, she has to go to Carl’s office and face off with her mother’s children for the reading of the will. She asks if Christian and I will come with her. I promise to be there and told her that we would have to approach Christian when he gets home. As it turns out, he knew about it before I did and had already planned to attend.

So, D-Day comes, and we put our war clothes on and head to Carl’s office. Harmony wears a turban so that her shaved head won’t be the topic of discussion. I’m not looking forward to this meeting, but Harmony admits that she’ll be glad when this is over so that the vultures can get their money and go away forever. She’s certain that she’ll never see them again unless they try to get her out of the house. In fact…

“I’ve decided to put the house up for sale,” Harmony says as Jason parks the Audi and we exit


CHRISTIAN

“Are you sure about that?” I ask her.

“I’m positive,” Harmony replies. “Not only are there just too many memories for me to stay, but it’s just too big. I know Momma only put the place in my name so that they wouldn’t put me out the moment that she passed away and to give me some time to figure out what I would do next. I’m certain she won’t mind. I like having space, but it’s way too much space. With the money from my trust alone, I’m sure that I could find a really nice place—maybe even downtown somewhere not so set apart from the rest of the world.”

“What are you going to do with the money from the sale,” I ask, “if you’re going to use your trust to buy a new place?” She shrugs.

“Replace the money from my trust,” she says. “I’m not going to spend the whole trust on a place. Maybe I’ll just rent something in town until I sell the mansion. Let’s face it, I’m a twenty-something girl in a big ass mansion out in the suburbs all by myself. I have all the makings of a recluse while I’m fighting off my brothers and sisters. The sooner I get away from the house, the better. I’m going to hold on to it long enough for Momma’s estate to be properly disposed of and then as soon as it’s done, I’m finding a real estate agent.”

“Would you be interested in a downtown penthouse?” Butterfly and Harmony both snap their heads over to me.

“Would I!” Harmony says, her interest piqued. “You know of one available?”

“I do,” I say, and my eyes shift to Butterfly’s.

“You’re selling Escala?” she asks in disbelief. I sigh softly.

“You love your condo,” I begin. “It had great memories for you, and I don’t have a problem with that. Escala… not so much.”

“Escala? Are you serious?” Harmony says. “You have a penthouse in Escala?”

“Yes, I do,” I say. “I’m having a few renovations done to it, and if you can wait until they’re done and I’ve gone through it to make sure that there’s nothing remaining that I want, we can negotiate a fair price and you can take it with all the furnishings.”

“That would be perfect,” Harmony says. “How long do you think the renovations will take?”

“Everything should be ready by the new year,” I inform her. The playroom will have been converted back to a regular bedroom by then and all of the BDSM paraphernalia removed. “You can stay with us until then if you don’t want to go back to the mansion.”

“Yes, please,” she says. “I’m thinking that I’ll just have to go on and dismiss the staff,” she adds as she steps onto the elevator. “I’ll give them some kind of severance once I hear what Mom has done and decide who I’d want to come with me… and who would want to come with me.”

“You can’t have Windsor,” I tell her.

“I figured as much,” she laughs as the elevator rises.

When we enter the office, all of the siblings have already arrived. They look at Harmony in distaste and with narrowed eyes and all I can think is that Paige and Theo sure don’t look like they’ve recently spent time in jail.

The receptionist leads us to the conference room and we all take a seat at the large conference table—the siblings on one side and Harmony, myself, and my wife on the other.

“Why are there strangers at the reading of my mother’s will?” Ilsa says haughtily.

“They’re only strangers to you and I want them here, so they’re staying!” Harmony claps back, her voice so sharp that no one else dare question our presence. There’s a fierce stare-off between Harmony and Ilsa, but Harmony doesn’t stand down. I’m a little entranced waiting to see which of them is going to blink first when I’m jolted from the spectacle by someone calling my name.

“Christian!” Carl greets me, surprised. He enters the room and shakes my hand. “I’m sorry, I didn’t expect to see you. I’m glad someone could be here for Harmony.”

“Thank you, Carl. This is my wife, Anastasia.” He smiles at Butterfly.

“Mrs. Grey,” he extends his hand. “A pleasure to meet you. Thank you for being here.”

“Ana, please,” she says. “So, it’s okay that we’re here?”

“It’s absolutely okay,” Carl confirms. “In fact, it’s welcomed. Please, have a seat.” He moves to the head of the conference table. “Everyone, please sit. Let’s get started.”

“So, all he saw was the guy and the tart sitting at the end of the table?” Ilsa hisses to Paige. What the fuck!

“Watch it, you bitter, cantankerous, old bat!” Butterfly shoots across the table, and all eyes turn to her. Ilsa gasps and literally clutches her pearls.

“How dare you!” she exclaims, appalled.

“How did you know that I was talking about you?” Butterfly asks matter-of-factly. “Was it the bitter part, the cantankerous part, or the old bat?” As if they could, Ilsa’s eyes widen further and she gasps again. “If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out,” Butterfly adds and Paige scoffs.

“Young people these days have no respect for their elders!” Paige hisses.

“Says the woman who waited for her mother to die, then showed up and asked for her diamond earrings back!” Butterfly barks. Now it’s Paige’s turn to gasp. “You don’t think I saw you examining your mother’s body jewelry—for your precious earrings, you grave-robbing, greedy ass vulture? You don’t know the meaning of the word respect, so you certainly won’t get it from me!”

Paige’s gasping is audible, like she’s having an asthma attack.

“Are you gonna die, Paige?” Harmony asks. “You might want to hold off until you at least find out what you’re getting.” Paige’s performance ceases and her evil glare is now turned to Harmony.

“I want them removed!” Ilsa barks at Carl. “I will not be treated this way at the reading of my mother’s will!” Them? Who is this them of whom you speak? I haven’t said anything to you yet, Ms. Daisy!

“It’s like she said, Ilsa,” Carl says, “If you don’t want anybody throwing adverse comments about you, don’t throw adverse comments about them. It’s a simple concept—a variation of The Golden Rule, you remember that? We learned it in Sunday School.”

Ilsa is even more appalled than she was before.

“Now, can we get started, or would you rather throw more insults across the table?”

“I didn’t insult anyone. I simply spoke the truth.”

“That woman,” Carl says, pointing at my wife, “is a highly-regarded member of the community, just like your mother was. She’s a doctor, a respected businesswoman, and a philanthropist well known in many social, business, and professional circles—more well-known than you are if for nothing else but her philanthropic work alone. So—Ms. Ilsa—calling her a twat simply because you don’t like the fact that she’s young, rich, and beautiful is the furthest thing from the truth! Now, shall we get started?”

Ilsa’s already prune-like face shrivels up even more as she absorbs Carl’s words, but she says nothing else.

“I have here Tina’s last will and testament. It’s quite detailed as to the disbursement and disposition of her estate and reading it will most likely take all afternoon. To that effect, I have a video that I will present before we proceed.”

Carl pushes a button on a remote and a screen descends from the ceiling against the wall behind him, much like the hidden screen in my office. Everyone in the room sits silently as we await whatever presentation we are about to see. The lights dim only slightly and after several seconds, the screen comes alive.

The setting is the second-floor library at the Franklin mansion, and Tina sits comfortably in a large chair in her shawl with her afghan over her lap.

All of the women gasp, including my wife.

“My name is Ernestina Eloise Franklin. I am of sound mind and not-so-sound body, and this is my last will and testament, recorded September 14, 2014. A written, signed, detailed, and notarized version of my will is currently in the possession of my attorney, Carl Richardson. This informal recording is for my family.

“I don’t know how many of you have gathered for the reading, but I assume that at least the immediate children will want to know what my will contains. Unless one or more of you have preceded me to the afterlife and nobody bothered to tell me, I know you’re all here, so let’s get right to it, shall we?

“My written will is solidly eighteen pages of very small print. I won’t put Carl through the tedious process of having to read the whole damn thing as I’m certain that each of you would much rather I just get to the point. So, without the hitherto’s, whitherto’s, therefores, and whatnots, this is what my will says.

“Let me start by saying that none of you get to contest it—none of you! I’m fully aware that the only person that I’m not allowed to disown is my husband, and he preceded me in death. Don’t make me disown any of you post-mortem. Trust me, I found a way to do it.”

The siblings all look at each other while Harmony never takes her eyes off the screen. I don’t even think she’s paying attention to her mother’s words; she just gazes lovingly at her mother’s image and barely takes a breath.

“You all have houses—sprawling mansions on huge estates afforded to you by the fortunes you acquired from me, Daddy, or your profit sharing from Franklin Steel. Some of you even have vacation homes and timeshares in exotic locations. To that end, you don’t need another house, but Harmony does as she doesn’t have one. On that note, Franklin House and the contents therein are to be passed down to Harmony.”

She must have made this tape before she did the quit deed. This, however, is no surprise to anyone in attendance.

“I have various other investment, ventures, stock options, mutual funds, CD’s, and the like in my portfolio. Carl has compiled individual portfolios for each of you to indicate how these investments will be divided among you. The particular numbers and dollar amounts are in my written will, but I guarantee you that the amounts in your portfolios are accurate. You may consult with Carl—or your own private attorney—concerning the disposition of these various assets. They can be transferred, or they can be liquidated—the choice is yours.

“My current liquid assets including all bank accounts, CD’s, the family trust and cash on hand total approximately $62 million. This does not include Harmony’s trust fund, which she has not yet received. The amounts will be divided as follows:

“All of my estate expenses are to be settled first—funeral costs, hospital bills, any outstanding debts or claims against the estate. The remaining members of my house staff are to receive $200,000 each. This will be considered severance pay should they decide they do not wish to continue under the employ of Franklin House upon my passing.

“Each child will receive $500,000 to distribute among their families—children, grand-children, etc.—as they see fit. Those funds will be disbursed to whichever of your descendants that you indicate. My grandson Damien’s share will be given directly to him as well, as his mother preceded me in death. Harmony, as you have no children, your $500,000 will be put into a separate trust for your future descendants. I hope you don’t think me cruel or think that I’m trying to force you to have children. I just want to be sure that, in that eventuality, your children have something as well. I think 40 is a good age to decide if you’re going to procreate. So, if by that age, you haven’t decided to have any children, the $500,000 is yours to use as you see fit.

“Once all expenses have been settled and the disbursements executed as requested, the remainder of my liquid assets are to be divided evenly among my five surviving children, the disposition thereof to be overseen directly by my attorney, Carl Richardson.

“As for the distribution of the family business, each of you will retain your voting shares in Franklin Steel. My shares will be divided as follows:

“Harmony, since you don’t have any shares yet, you will get 60% of my shares. Ilsa, Theodore, Jonah, and Paige, the remaining 40% will be split among you. If my calculations are correct, that means that the five of you will now have equal voting shares each. If you have sold any of your previous shares, that’s not my problem.”

There’s a whole lot of scoffing and gagging on the other side of the table as had Tina’s voting shares been split evenly among the children, each of the siblings would have had much more than Harmony—significantly more, in fact.

Each sibling currently holds approximately one-sixth, or just over 16%, of the Franklin family voting shares… every sibling except for Harmony, that is. Tina held the other one-third. Had she split her one-third five ways, each sibling—Harmony included—would have gotten 20% of her shares. With the shares that the current siblings should already have in their portfolios, that would have put each of them at over 23% of the voting shares each, leaving Harmony with less than 7% for herself. I can imagine that Tina spent quite some time calculating the value of her shares and comparing them to what each of her biological children had to arrive at the calculations she reached. If each of them held on to their voting shares, they will now each have 20% of the Franklin Family voting shares.

It’s obvious that several of them are displeased with this outcome. Jesus, they’re worse than Freeman.

“If you pay attention to my body, I shouldn’t have had a single piece of jewelry on me—not a diamond, not a piece of platinum, not even my wedding ring. Why? Because you can’t take it with you… right, Paige?”

Everyone looks over at Paige, who doesn’t seem surprised that her mother singled her out.

“Yes, Paige, I remember what you said. Each time you asked me for those diamond earrings back—12 times over the last several years to be exact—and I told you that I loved them so much that I wanted to be buried in them. Well, Paige, I lied.

“You bought those earrings and gave them to me for my 50th birthday. I wore them at that party and I never wore them again. They’re huge, they’re gaudy, they’re highly overstated and unattractive and you bought them for yourself! You made this big production of giving them to me in front of all my friends only to ask for them back six months later. Well, here’s what’s going to happen now.

“Christian, I’m assuming that you or your lovely wife has accompanied my Harmony to this reading…”

Okay, I’m a bit in shock, as are each of Tina’s children… including Harmony.

“If you haven’t, not to worry. Carl will apprise you of this portion of the will. All of my jewelry—all of it—is to be sold at auction and the proceeds donated to charity. That means every. Single. Piece of it, and I’ve already had it inventoried. I’d like for you to oversee the disposition of the jewelry and assure that the final donation be forwarded to Grace or Anastasia at Helping Hands.”

Paige gasps when she hears the fate of her beloved earrings… or so she thinks.

“Paige, your earrings aren’t part of that inventory… because they’re already gone. I donated those gaudy things to Habitat for Humanity four years ago. I have no idea what sum they rendered, but you can rest easy knowing that some poor family now has a home because of your generosity.”

So, this is priceless. She’s had her heart set on getting those earrings back for years, to the degree that she examined her mother’s body in the casket to see if they were there. She even has a charge of breaking and entering against her to get those earrings back, and they weren’t even in the house. They’ve been long since gone. I can’t help but laugh out loud when I hear this. She throws a look of death at me when she hears me chuckling and I give a sinister look right back, the one that I give cocky CEO’s or opposing board members when they think they want to challenge me. I can see her get a chill right down to the bone.

“I have various other knick-knacks and small items that will be distributed according to that multipage document I had to sign to keep you vultures from picking my estate apart like a rotting carcass. You’ll each get a copy of it to read at your leisure, but unless you are that interested in what’s going to happen to the damn fountain on the front lawn or the rubber ducky I used to play with as a child, I think you’ve pretty much heard what you we’re primarily interested in.

“So, there you have it. My fortune is yours now, you greedy, heartless leeches! You’ve got what you wanted—except for your precious earrings, Paige. Now, go away and leave my Harmony alone! I know that none of you have had a single kind word to say to her! Be gone with you all and leave her in peace.”

The screen goes black, and Harmony releases a held breath. I’m sure she had no idea that her mother had recorded her will, and this was more than a bit of a surprise to her.

“Carl’s going to see to the distribution of the will. Carl has the inventory of the jewelry. Carl is going to tell us what we get from the portfolio. Whose side are you on?” Jonah accuses. “You two are in cahoots to get the biggest chunk of the estate?”

“I’m on Tina Franklin’s side, sir,” Carl hisses, “as you have well known for decades. I’m the executor of her will and that’s what I’m doing—executing it! Now, you’re free to contest Mrs. Franklin’s will if you like. Just know that Ms. Harmony’s trust is untouchable as is the house. So, Harmony will have her fortune and the home, and you’ll simply be jeopardizing your and everyone else’s share of Ms. Tina’s fortune. Now, what would you like to do… sir?”

“A video will… indeed! I don’t think my mother did that without coercion for a moment! You’re not fooling anybody! Either of you!” Jonah barks. “I’ll have you disbarred for gross misconduct…”

“Oh, cut the shit!” Carl exclaims, causing the entire room to glare at him.

“You can’t speak to me that way…”

“You’re in my office—I can speak to you any way I damn well please!” he hisses, and the room falls silent. “I’ve been your parents’ attorney nearly since the day I passed the bar. Ever since the moment I met you—all of you—you’ve all been a bunch of insufferable brats! Uncontrollable, never satisfied, entitled little vermin who have run around the entire time I’ve known you asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ‘Where’s my share?’ You’re like those goddamn seagulls in that cartoon, running around screaming, ‘Mine! Mine! Mine!’

“Your. Mother. Was dying. For months! And none of you—not one of you—could be bothered to even come and say goodbye. This woman sat on the floor at her feet and wept in her lap, more times than I care to count! She’s had to battle crooked house staff, a greedy ex-husband, you—all while watching her mother deteriorate day after day. And you have the audacity—the unmitigated gall—to harass and besmirch the one person who stayed by her side and cared for her until she took her last breath when you didn’t even make the effort to show up? How dare you!” He growls the last words, and four stunned siblings continue to stare at him in awe and silence.

“Thurgood Franklin was my friend,” Carl continues. “And when he passed away, I made sure that his affairs were in order and that his wife taken care of, and you all know that because you were there. Now, Ms. Tina has passed away—also my friend—and because her spoken will is not to your liking, not only do you attack the one person who lovingly and painstakingly took care of her, but you also have the audacity to sit in my office and try to accuse me of misconduct? I’ve been your parents’ attorney for so many years that I’ve lost count! Your selfishness and greed have taken over your senses, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. I’m sure that Thurgood and Tina are thoroughly ashamed of you!”

For the first time since I’ve seen any of them, Tina’s children all look a bit contrite.

“Your mother. Is gone,” he continues. “She’s dead. She’s not coming back, and I think I shed more tears at her funeral than all of you combined. And I’ll tell you one thing that’s really going to piss you off. If I had my way, none of you would have gotten a goddamn dime! I told her more than once not to leave any of you anything, but she didn’t listen to me. You are her children, and she felt that you were entitled to it, but she made it clear that she was going to have her last say before any of you got a nickel.

“So, if you want… please, go ahead and contest the will. You’ll hold it up, but when it’s done, your proceeds will be divvied up between all of the remaining siblings… all of them!” Including Harmony, you assholes.

“You’ve heard your mother’s verbal rendition of the will. The printed rendition is exactly the same, with a little legal jargon thrown in. Do what you choose with that information. I have all of your contact information and you’ve heard what you’re getting. I swear to have the will executed and have the proceeds disbursed as soon as humanly possible just so that I never have to see any of you again. Now, get the fuck out of my office.”

He turns away to try to compose himself. Four siblings sit stunned, staring between each other and back at Carl—waiting for the punchline, I guess. After several moments and no one moving, Carl glances back over his shoulder to see the siblings still sitting there stunned.

“Are you all deaf?” he yells as he whirls around to face off with them. “Do you need a map? Or should I arrange for an escort for you? Get the fuck out!” He points to the door and stares at Theodore. It’s a standoff. One of them had better move.

Theodore stands, straightens and buttons his jacket, and with a last glare at Carl, turns and leaves the room.

Without moving his pointing arm, Carl turns his glare to Jonah, who repeats all of the gestures of his brother and leaves. Ilsa and Paige are out of their seats before Carl can turn their glares to them. I see them hovering outside the office waiting for Harmony when Carl puts his arm down, drops his head and sighs mournfully. Harmony stands, and I stand with her.

“My friend is dead,” he says, his voice low. “Over forty years of camaraderie and memories reduced to this. She and Thurgood are the main reasons I went into law in the first place. She’s the reason I stayed. I’m too old for this.” He raises glassy eyes to Harmony.

“I’m going to carry out my friend’s wishes and get this will executed as soon as humanly possible. I’m going to have her liquid assets divvied up and have millions of dollars distributed to four ungrateful, greedy, hateful ass children who don’t deserve a fucking dime!” he barks loud enough for the vultures in the hallway to hear him. “And then I’m out. I’ll be available if you ever need a consult or advice, but I’m not doing this anymore.”

“Carl!” Harmony says, her voice heavy with concern. “Don’t do this! Don’t leave your profession—what you worked so hard to achieve—because of them.”

“It’s not just them!” Carl retorts. “Do you think this is the first time this has happened? It certainly won’t be the last. People don’t have hearts anymore! They’re just walking, talking shells filled with evil and greed. People have come into this office for will readings and gotten into fist fights. Your loved one is dead! You’ve lost a part of your family! These people lost the woman who carried them for nine months, went through incredible hell, pain, and suffering to bring them into the earth. Paige was breech—she ripped your mother’s body apart so that she couldn’t have any more children. Tina nearly died trying to get her here and they couldn’t even say ‘goodbye?’ Did you know that, Paige?” he yells out into the hallway, and Paige moves away from the doorway and out of visibility.

“None of them have any conviction! Hell, they’re not even mourning. They’re sitting here more upset that she left you the house than they are that she’s gone and she’s never coming back! Who does that?” He falls into his chair.

“My last moments with your mom… she cried, and she asked me what she did wrong. She asked me what she did to cause her children to hate her so much. She talked about how she did her best to raise them and to make sure that they had everything that they needed their entire lives, and that they deserted her and left her to die alone. She thanked God for you, though,” he adds. “She knew that as long as you were around, she wouldn’t die alone.

“She was tired, Harmony. She was bone tired, and she waited until that deed was filed, and she let go. She didn’t take her last breath that night when she went to sleep and didn’t wake up. She took her last real breath when I told her the house was yours. She smiled and sighed deeply. Then she closed her eyes and said, ‘thank you.’ She was still alive after that, but it was all mechanical. She was already gone—already content to go home.

“She loved you so much, Harmony,” he says, his voice cracking. “She never regretted one minute of having you in her life. She understood what you were going through as a teenager, but she was immensely proud of how you turned out. If you take nothing else from this horrible experience, please take that.”

Tears are flowing from Carl’s eyes and Harmony, along with my wife, is openly crying.

“Thank you, Carl,” she whispers through her tears. “That’s the most precious gift I could ever receive.” Carl nods and composes himself.

“I hate to dismiss you this way, child, but I need to hurry and perform my last act as an estate attorney. My friend is gone, and I have no reason to do this anymore.” Harmony nods and takes his hand, giving it a firm squeeze. “If you need me…” he adds. She nods again and turns to leave. Butterfly puts an arm around her and Harmony returns the gesture. I think, at this moment, they’re holding each other up. I shake Carl’s hand.

“You’re a good man,” I say. He nods and purses his lips—his form of “thank you,” I think, as he fights to keep from completely breaking down. I quickly fall in step behind Butterfly and Harmony as they both watch the floor to avoid bumping into anything. They don’t make eye-contact with any of the siblings as they exit the office. Jonah moves to speak, and I throw a look of death at him.

Say something and I’ll knock your fucking dentures out!

I see a visible chill run through him as he takes a step back and clams the fuck up. As we’re waiting for the elevator, I hear Carl’s disembodied voice speaking through the intercom to his assistant—the siblings still hovering around her desk.

“Mrs. Andreini, please get the ball rolling on the Franklin file immediately. I want it executed and closed as soon as inhumanly possible. Also, close my door and get those people out of my office. Call the police if you have to.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Richardson.”

The elevator comes, and we don’t wait to see the outcome. I usher the ladies inside and push the button for the first floor, leaving the siblings behind us as the elevator doors close.


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

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