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
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
Date: Thursday, December 4, 2014, 23:21
From: Marilyn Caldwell
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.
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
Date: Friday, December 5, 2014, 13:45
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey
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.
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!
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…”
“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.
“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.
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