Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 20

So, I’ve been a bit incommunicado because my birthday was this week. It was super hard without my mom, but I made it through and was able to do some celebrating this weekend.

As a result, the Muse has taken a bit of a hiatus. It happens sometimes, and I have some chapters that just need editing, so hopefully there won’t be any breaks from posting. Nonetheless, here’s the next chapter.

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…

Season 5 Episode 20

CHRISTIAN

I sit at the desk in the office portion of the suite trying to process the information that was just relayed to me a few seconds ago by a member of my security team. I don’t know if this is good news or bad news.

“How long?” I ask.

“About twenty minutes,” Lawrence says. “I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t just looked in the room.”

“What’s going on now?” I ask.

“Well, right now, she’s freaking out because she can’t walk,” he replies. “I don’t know if anybody called Her Highness yet or not, because nobody bothered to stop and tell me, knowing that I’m here for her safety.”

I don’t know what the atmosphere is at the hospital because I don’t go up there to see Carla. As many times as Butterfly has come home in tears, I imagine that it’s somewhat hostile. I run my hands through my hair. I have to make an executive decision here.

“Anastasia is on a field trip right now with Sophia Taylor,” I tell Lawrence. “She’s been looking forward to it and I’m not inclined to disturb her with this right now. I would say that if the hospital doesn’t contact her immediately to wait until they’re finished.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll keep you posted as much as I can,” he says, and we end the call.

Fuck. Carla’s awake.

Will Butterfly think this is good news or bad news? How will she take it? Should I tell Ray and Allen, or should I wait until she knows first? Fuck it, I think I’m going to need backup. I text Allen.

**Can you please grab Ray and come to my suite? I’m in need of your assistance. **

When they get to the door, I’m pacing around the suite trying to figure out what to do. I open the door and I must look a fright. Ray frowns deeply.

“What’s wrong, son?” he asks before he even enters. “Is Annie okay?”

“Yes, yes, sir, she’s fine. Please come in,” I reply, walking away from the door and allowing them to let themselves in. “Sit… or stand, whatever you prefer, but I’m going to stand.”

“What’s this about, Chris?” Allen asks, impatiently.

“Carla’s awake,” I blurt out. Both gentlemen’s brows rise.

“Oh,” Allen says ominously.

“Yeah,” I reply.

“Ooo,” Ray remarks just as ominously.

“Mm-hmm,” I counter.

“Does Annie know?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I don’t think so. The guard outside of Carla’s door told me that she was awake. He didn’t even call Jason. He said he wouldn’t have even known had he not looked in the room and seen Carla freaking out about not being able to walk. We don’t even know if they’ve called Butterfly yet.”

“Well, don’t you think we should?” Ray asks.

“Actually, no,” I reply, and he frowns at me. “She’s on a field trip with Sophie that she’s really been looking forward to. Waiting until they’re done is not going to change Carla’s condition, but it will definitely interrupt her day.” Ray twists his lips but says nothing. I look at Allen.

“You want us to know first in case she flips her lid when she gets back here,” he deduces.

“You are correct,” I admit. “I also want to know your honest opinion about not telling her yet.” Ray clears his throat.

“She stayed all this time to see what was going on with her mother. I think she should know,” he says.

“I don’t know, Ray,” Allen says. “I think Christian’s right with this one. Jewel’s been walking on the points of needles ever since she’s been here. She needs to decompress in the worst way every chance that she gets. I say let her have the day before she has to deal with this.”

“Too late.”

We all turn to see Jason coming into the suite.

“What happened?” I ask.

“Dr. Whatever His Name Is called her while she was in the cooking class. She knows.”

“Shit!” I hiss, thrusting my hands in my hair again. “Is she on her way to the hospital?”

“No,” Jason replies. I raise a puzzled gaze to him.

“No?” I ask. Jason shakes his head.

“No,” he confirms. “The way I understand it, she got the call, looked at her phone, and immediately looked at Chuck, who did this…” He puts his hands next to his eyes and opens them wide. “She gathered that not only that her mother was awake, but also that Chuck knew before she did, which means that the doctor took his time calling her. Bearing that in mind, she’s now continuing her class with Sophie and my wife on Florentine chicken.” I look over at Ray.

“I guess the decision was made for me,” I say.

“Why did it take so long for the doctor to call her?” Ray asks.

“I have no doubt that she’s going to ask when she sees him,” I say. “I get the feeling that she’s not a favorite at the hospital.”

“Not a favorite?” Ray says. “What the hell?”

“We all know how Butterfly feels about Carla,” I tell him. “If she shows that same compassion at the hospital and they have no idea why, she’s actually the bad guy. That’s why she comes in here crying a lot of the time. Carla has built up a support system in her time of need that Butterfly never had in hers, and she’s very bitter about that. What’s more is that I don’t think the hospital staff is warm to her at all.”

“Well, why the hell don’t they pick up a newspaper or watch the news?” he asks angrily. “They would totally know why she’s behaving the way that she is.” I shake my head.

“I don’t think it would matter,” I tell him. “If you’ve had your mother with you all the time, you can’t imagine her being in this kind of state and you not caring about it. I certainly can’t imagine that with Grace.”

Ray must have had a fleeting thought of his own mother, because he deflates immediately. I’ve never heard either of them speak of his mother, so I’m assuming that she has passed on.

“Well, they’re all assholes, then,” he says dismissively. “Making assumptions is one of the worst things you can do when you’re dealing with a situation like this. It’s already hard for all parties involved. Annie doesn’t need to have to deal with their judgmental attitudes on top of everything else!” He’s becoming angry.

“I’m right there with you, Ray,” I say, “but cooler heads must prevail in this setting. We’ve been here waiting for the outcome of this saga and here it is. What’s important now is being here for Butterfly during the difficult decisions she has to make in the coming weeks and months.”

“What’s difficult?” Allen says. “Put her ass in a nursing home.”

“Those are our feelings, Allen,” I reply. “They may not be Butterfly’s.” Ray cracks his neck and shakes his head.

“Now I know why my Sunflower hates this place,” he says. “No matter how I try to relax, get comfortable, or let loose here, I haven’t been able to do it. I’ve heard about people who move here with big dreams, gamble it all away and end up homeless. I’ve heard about people who come here on vacation and leave not even having enough money to get a taxi back to the airport. Even though it’s not my money, everything here is still expensive as hell. How can you possibly raise a family in this environment or hold down a job unless you’re a stripper or a blackjack dealer? I shudder to think what the housing market looks like.

“Everything here is brown. There’re no trees except those blasted palm trees, and they look phony. Their downtown is in the middle of a slum, their police look like they’re wearing boy scout uniforms, and my first and most significant encounter with this God-forsaken place was finding out that my daughter was damn near dead. I can’t wait to get out of here!”

I should explain to Ray how he’s only half-right about the many observations he has illustrated about Las Vegas, but why bother? I had a similar reaction during my first visit to this desert cesspool.

Arid, barren, lonely, dusty…

“We don’t have much longer to wait to wrap things up, Ray,” I tell him.

“I hate to tell you this, son, but there’s less time than even you think where I’m concerned.” He does a near-military about-face and leaves the suite. Allen rolls his eyes.

“It’s too much, Chris,” he says. “I don’t know how Jewel is doing it. This place is physically and emotionally draining. We come from a place where it rains or snows 90% of the time, and here we are in a city where there’s no precipitation and the humidity is minus twelve. It’s a wonder we’re not face down in our bed 16 hours a day. With all the crying poor Marilyn does, she should have just dried up by now.

“Then, the only moral support we get is from our group! Jewel is accosted in the lobby before she even gets to her room; she’s attacked in court; bombshell after bombshell falls in that damn trial. While she may have brought the Karaoke Confrontation on herself, she goes to a Japanese restaurant and is splashed with Haterade in the bathroom. The hospital is obviously treating her like shit. And poor Sophie goes on a food tour and gets hated on by the guide. A 13-year-old girl—who does that?

“Ray is right—this place is worse than Egypt for the slaves in the time of the Pharaohs. It’s fucking time to go!”

He turns around and storms out of the room the way Ray did. I thrust my hands into my hair again and sigh a huge frustrated sigh.

“Boss?” Jason says. I shake my head.

“Get the jet down here,” I tell him. “Make sure the pilot knows that he’s here for the duration and needs to be ready to fly at as short a notice as possible. We’re coming apart here; a few more days and we’ll be clawing at each other.”

“Will do, sir.”


ANASTASIA

We’ve entered Sur La Table and as far as Sophie is concerned, we might as well be in Wonderland! Her eyes are sparkling and she’s more than ready to peruse the wares of the store. We’ve intentionally come very early before our cooking class is to start so that Sophie can outfit her beginner’s chef kitchen. I’ve asked for the manager and requested one of his best kitchen techs to help Sophie choose what she wants.

“While we’re looking for quality items,” I tell him, “we don’t want to be sold on the most expensive items in the store that are going to draw the highest commission and be completely useless to our little aspiring chef or we will swiftly be returning them to the store in Kirkland, WA.” The manager nods.

“We only want your experience to be pleasant and memorable. Let me get Anaé for you. I believe she will be best suited to assist you today.”

Off he goes to retrieve Anaé and Gail also looks longingly at some of the kitchen utensils.

“You’re also going to be making some purchases for yourself, Mrs. Taylor?” I tease. Gail sighs and turns back to me.

“No,” she says firmly. “This is Sophie’s experience. I want her to get the most of it, especially after that cow we had to deal with yesterday.”

“Ladies, this is Anaé. She’s going to assist you with your purchases today.” The manager smiles and bows before leaving Anaé with us.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms…” She extends her hand to me. She’s young, like Justine. Let’s see if she’s just as stupid.

“Grey,” I say. “Mrs. Grey.” I take her proffered hand and she smiles widely, then turns to Gail.

“And Mrs.?” she says, proffering her hand to Gail.

“Taylor,” Gail says, flatly, taking her hand. Anaé pauses for a moment.

“You have chef’s hands,” Anaé observes. “You cook?” Gail raises her brow.

“I do,” she replies, a bit taken aback.

“Good. Then, you’ll be able to help with our choices,” Anaé replies and turns to Sophie. “So, you must be our aspiring chef. What’s your name?”

“Sophia,” she responds.

“Is it okay if I call you Chef Sophia?” Anaé asks. “If I’m honest, it makes me feel important while I’m doing my job.” A sincere smile spreads across Anaé’s face and is matched by Sophie’s.

“Sure,” Sophie says, fighting to retain her glee.

This is what I was looking for. Chef Sophia, I like the sound of that.

“If it’s okay, sometimes I’ll call you ‘Chef’ for short. Is that cool with you?” Sophie’s smile grows wider.

“That would be awesome!” Sophie exclaims in an excited whisper.

“Excellent! So, let’s get started. The first tool you should look for when you’re ready to build your kitchen is a chef’s knife.” Anaé tilts her head. “May I see your hands, Chef?”

Sophie gives both hands to Anaé and she examines them carefully.

“For an adult, I would say an 8-inch knife would be best. Your hands are smaller, so I think a 6-inch would be better for you to start with. We’ll have you hold a couple of them and see how you like the weight. I recommend the Wüsthof classic.” She looks over at Gail for approval and Gail nods. So, it’s off to the chef’s knives we go.

Anaé is really good at her job. She tells Sophie about the weight of the knife and how it should feel in her hand. She also shows her the proper way to hold a chef’s knife and, watching her, I realize I’ve been holding it wrong for years. When she shows Sophie how to follow through and cut with the knife, I’m actually glad I decided to come along to see everything I’ve been doing wrong.

Next, we move to the All-Clad stainless steel 3-quart sauté pan and saucepan, both with lids, and the 10-inch skillet. Sophie immediately begins to balk about things sticking to the stainless steel and wanting to lean more to the non-stick options. Anaé assures her that non-stick has its place and that we’ll be moving to the T-Fal non-stick pans next, but that any kitchen would be incomplete without stainless steel, which is ideal for glazing to make sauces and gravies. Gail also suggests the stainless-steel stock pot and the Dutch oven, confirming Anaé’s information.

“We normally don’t carry T-Fal,” Anaé says, “but we just started stocking the T-Fal professional frying pans. This is really a great pan because you can use it in the oven up to 400 degrees. It’s a wonderful non-stick option, Chef, as I’m certain Mrs. Taylor can attest to. It has one of the most slippery cook surfaces on the market. You can probably cook eggs in it without oil.

“It also has this thermal spot indicator in the center that turns solid red when it’s preheated properly. Since stoves are different, this is a great tool for beginners to know when to adjust settings based on what you’re cooking. You don’t have a 12-inch in your arsenal yet, so I suggest that size in the T-Fal.”

Gail watches carefully and makes notes as Anaé suggests different items for Sophie’s kitchen, including a top-of-the-line meat thermometer, dishwasher-safe mixing bowls with pouring spouts, and a utility board.

Now, the utility board really got my attention. I can’t say how many times I’ve been unwaveringly frustrated with my cute little cutting boards that match my kitchen and are only big enough to cut a damn onion—and only barely! Anaé recommends a large cutting surface—15×21, to be exact. It’s an OXO Cool Grips utility and cutting board. Now, that’s a cutting board!

We’ll go shopping for spices and a proper spice rack when we get back to Seattle. Anaé recommends a proper pepper grinder and a pinch bowl for kosher salt. To be sure that she has her needed kitchen utensils—whisk, grater, spatulas, tongs, slotted spoons and the like—we’ve also secured the OXO kitchen utensils and essentials sets. Gail also picks out a set of bakeware, casserole dishes, and a roaster for when Sophie is ready to graduate to those items.

I personally think no kitchen is complete without a blender and a mixer—even a small one of each—and this leads Gail to also add a simple food processor. Sophie’s sole special request at this point is a waffle maker. Who are we to deny her that? And let’s not forget good potholders, cooling mats, and oven mitts.

Two hours and one extremely happy Chef Sophie later, we go to the rear of the store to the communal kitchen and our cooking class. Today’s lesson is homemade pasta, Florentine chicken under a brick, butternut squash ravioli with hazelnut and pecorino, and Modena flourless balsamic chocolate cake. The three of us and a fourth person who took the class alone break off into a group and begin to mix the pasta as instructed—sifted all-purpose flour and a pinch of salt on a butcher block counter. We make a well in the middle of the stack of dry ingredients, then pour six eggs and some olive oil into the well. We begin to whisk the eggs and olive oil together, mixing in the dry ingredients a little at a time until it’s time to knead the dough with our hands.

I’m elbow-deep in sticky pasta dough when my phone rings. I decide to ignore it, knowing that if it was anything important, like my children, my husband or Jason would call Chuck or even Gail. Neither of them reacts to a phone ringing, so I continue kneading my pasta dough. We get to the part where we’re pressing the dough to the thinness that we want before we cut it into pasta when my phone rings again.

“Dammit,” I say under my breath. No longer elbow deep in pasta dough, I dry my hands a bit with a nearby hand-towel and I look over at Chuck.

He’s on his phone. Shit.

I reach into my pocket and check Gail and Sophie. Neither has been alarmed, so I fish my phone out of my pocket.

702-233… Summerlin Hospital.

I raise my gaze to Chuck, who’s looking dead at me now, his expression unreadable. The phone is still ringing in my hand, and I know he knows something.

What the fuck is going on, Davenport?

His phone is now back in his pocket and I can’t read his expression. Next, he puts his fists on either side of his face and opens his hands and is eyes wide…

My mother is awake.

I look at the phone in my hand which has now started to ring a third time, send the call to voice mail, and go back to my pasta.

I never knew that chicken under a brick is actually cooked under a brick…

*-*

My mother looks like shit when I walk into the room. At first, her gaze is down and she’s still in the neck brace. She looks like she’s been crying for a month. When she raises her gaze to see me walk into the room, there’s no emotion in her face—nothing like glee or relief that the daughter you kicked by the wayside when she needed you stayed here and endured massive bullshit to stay near you when you needed her.

“I didn’t mean for this to happen,” she says the moment she raises her gaze to the door and sees me.

“Obviously,” I say, allowing the door to close behind me.

“I have health insurance,” she says, “and I’m awake now, so you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.”

I glare at her. Is she trying to be the fucking martyr? For Christ’s sake, cut it out! Apparently, everyone loves you except me, so I plan on getting you squared away and turning you over to the hands of your fan club as soon as I possibly can.

“Well, Mother, unlike you, I am a human being with a human heart, and I’m not going to leave you here to rot. Although I would be completely within my rights to do so, I won’t do to you what you did to me. So, let’s cut the crap, okay?”

She falls silent.

“You’re right about one thing. You’re awake, so you can tell me what happened.” She raises a questioning eye to me then turns her gaze away.

“Isn’t it obvious?” she replies. “My car went over a damn overpass and I didn’t die!”

She sounds angry.

“Are you angry about the overpass or angry that you didn’t die?” I ask sarcastically. She scoffs tragically and rolls her eyes.

“I know I was horrible to you,” she says, her voice low. “There’s obviously nothing I can do to fix that. It hurts, I hate it, but I’ve accepted it. Now, I’m awake, and I’m going to make the point to you that I tried to make to your husband before the accident. If you’re only here to hurt me back, I’ve got that covered for us both. You can go now, and you can take that sentinel at the door with you.”

I’m actually appalled. How dare she talk to me that way! She should be thanking God that I’m here seeing to her care. What are you going to do, kick me out? You can’t even walk!

“And in case I’m reading your expression correctly,” she says, “I’ll call the nurse and tell her to tell the doctor that you’re not allowed to come back here. I’ll have them call Wendy and I’ll manage, one way or another!” My eyes widen.

“Well,” I say matter-of-factly, “I see you’ve found a reason to grow a backbone.” I fold my arms.

“Listen to me carefully, Mother. I have no will or desire to listen to your grandstanding or your ‘I’ve paid my debt to society’ type of conversation. I am not my husband. I’m the girl who sat there for years–part of that time in much of the same situation that you’re in right now—while you fucked me over… big time! I’ve been back and forth to this hospital waiting for you to wake up, making sure that you have the best care, following your prognosis, and finding out that you have an advanced directive, which is a whole lot more than you did for me by your own admission. So, cut. The fucking. Crap!”

She finally gets that appalled expression on her face that I’m accustomed to seeing.

“As a human being and your last living relative, I’m going to make sure that you have everything you need before I leave this God-forsaken place and make no mistake. This is not going to be a warm reunion where I suddenly have some epiphany that life is short and we have to cherish one another…” I mock a sympathetic voice on the last part. “I realized life was short nearly 15 years ago when I saw mine flash before my eyes, and you turned your back on me.

“This is no more than a transaction for which I am responsible, and I’m going to see it through like any of my other responsibilities. And unlike when I was laying in that bed, you know why I feel this way. And let me make something else clear. You don’t have to tell the doctors, the nurses, or anyone else that you don’t want me to be here. You don’t want my help? Fine. You just say the word and I will walk out that door, take my damn sentinel with me, and never look back!”

She’s hurt and shocked. I can see the tears forming in her eyes… and I really don’t care. When she takes too long to answer, I turn to the door to leave. I need this like I need another hole in my head.

“Ana!” she says, her voice cracking and I halt my exit without turning around.

“I would…” She clears her throat as her words are barely coming out. “I would really like your help, please,” she says. “I would appreciate it more than you know.”

I don’t respond to her sentiment. I simply come back into the room.

“You should call Wendy anyway,” I tell her. “She was here. She would want to know that you’re awake.”

“I will,” she says. “I’m just… not ready.” I raise my brow.

“You’re not ready to talk to your best friend?” I question. She shakes her head.

“No,” she says, “not yet.” I take a deep breath and remember what I just said… nothing more than a transaction for which I am responsible.

“What has the doctor told you?” I ask.

“About what?” Oh, dear God, give me strength.

“About your condition,” I say, my voice choppy.

“What? That I can’t walk? I didn’t need him to tell me that,” she retorts. “Something about a spinal injury, of course, and that the situation may or may not be permanent—there’s no way to tell. This lovely neck gear is due to the broken neck, which is probably going to take another month or so to heal completely. The remaining bruising on my body should be gone in a couple of weeks. I have a skull fracture, so I probably shouldn’t operate any heavy machinery.

“I’ve had a surgery on my pelvis that’s basically the same as a hip replacement, which is a bit of a waste since I can’t walk, but hey…” She trails off and shrugs.

“The slight discomfort I feel while I’m breathing is because of the collapsed lungs, but they should be back to normal in a day or two. That’s the least of my worries. I think I’ve covered it all now.”

She’s being extremely sarcastic, and I’m trying to find sympathy for her, but I can’t. I feel even more resentful with her being awake than I did when she was in a coma.

“Are you in any pain?” I ask in a purely professional tone.

“No,” she says, “not that I can tell.”

“Are you hungry at all?” I prod.

“No,” she says, flatly. I roll my eyes and leave the room, headed to the nurses’ station.

“I’m out of my element here,” I say to the nurse. The last time I had someone wake from a coma, it was Val, and Elliot took care of absolutely everything. “She’s not very forthcoming right now with her needs or feelings, so please provide her with whatever she needs to be comfortable.”

It’s obvious to anyone that we’re not the best of friends, but I’m not trying to see her suffer. The nurse stares at me for a moment.

“Yes, Mrs. Grey,” she says in a professional tone. I’ve never bothered to try to correct her that I’m Dr. Grey. In this setting, I don’t think it would matter.

I take a moment to get some coffee and check my emails. As quickly as I’ve been thrust into the Mother’s awake situation, I want to be snatched right back out of it. Waiting for sentencing for this asshole is the last thing I must do in Las Vegas and whatever my mother is going to need will be done from a distance. I’ll have her beloved Wendy be my liaison and she can bump me out of it completely if she wants to. I have too much animosity to give her the emotional care that she needs, so I might as well be removed from making any lifelong decisions for her if she can find someone that she trusts to do it for her—especially since she has such a fucking fan club here that hasn’t heard nor do they care about my suffering or my side of the story.

As I’m coming around the corner from the family pantry, I can just hear the nurses at the station talking about my mother’s condition. While everything else appears to be progressing quite nicely, her prognosis isn’t promising in terms of her being able to walk again. They’re talking about the physical therapy she’ll still have to endure to make sure that her bones heal correctly, but that it looks like she’s not going to be able to walk on her own.

And then the conversation swings over to me.

“She’s the perfect example of ‘money can’t buy happiness,’” one of the nurses says. “She’s always here alone—I don’t think I’ve seen her husband once. She’s cold and unfeeling to her mother. She’s so stylish, but she looks like she’s utterly miserable. God, if that’s what money does to you, I’ll work ‘til I’m dead.”

“Didn’t Dr. Lee say that she’s a doctor, too?” another one asks. “Shouldn’t she know how serious her mother’s condition is?”

“I don’t know, I think it must be honorary or something,” the first one says. “I’ve called her Mrs. Grey every time I’ve seen her, and real doctors correct you on that fast!

“Well, I think we should call the patient advocate or something for Mrs. Morton,” the second one says. “I can’t see that cold broad doing what’s in her best interest no matter how much money she’s throwing around.”

Why do I put up with this? Why should I have to put on the happy face and pretend that I’m okay with all of this in order for people to treat me with some modicum of respect? If it’s not the nurses, it’s the doctor. If it’s not the doctor, it’s my mother’s fan club. What the fuck do these people want from me?

The tears are flowing—quietly but hard—while I stand behind the wall and listen to the continuing conversation about how horrible I am to my now-crippled mother. It goes on for a while, but for some reason, I’m unable to move. As if the Star Trek teleportation gods heard what they were saying, their conversation halts to the sound of approaching footsteps and a honey-smooth voice.

“Hello,” I hear one of the nurses say sweetly. “How can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m looking for room 2117. I’m going in circles.”

It’s Christian! That’s Christian’s voice!

I come barreling from behind the wall full speed as if I were already in motion instead of standing there and listening to these bitches talk about me, and nearly run smack into my husband.

“Whoa! Where’s the fire?” he says almost in jest before noticing that I’m sobbing.

“Butterfly!” he exclaims in concern as I take a step back. “What’s wrong?”

“I… I’m trying…” I stutter, “I’m trying…”

“Baby, c’mere, what is it?” He has that floundering tone in his voice as he moves to close the distance between us. I nearly run to his arms and he envelops me completely, squeezing my arms between our bodies as I cover my face and sob.

“Butterfly… what is it? Is she…?” I shake my head as much as I can.

“No… no…” I say from under my hands. I raise my gaze to him, and I know I look a fright.

“I want to… leave this place,” I tell him. “I want to… leave this place… and never come back… Nobody understands… what I went through… Nobody knows… what she put me through… and they don’t care!” I sob on his shoulder.

“You don’t have anything to prove to anybody, Butterfly,” he says, soothing. “Everyone who counts knows what you went through. We know she left you to die and we’ve all told you that you’re a very big person for even bothering to come here and see about her. You’ve got to stop breaking down like this, Baby. You’re going to frustrate yourself into an early grave and I won’t have it. I’ll set her up with the best home care money can buy and whisk you out of this place so fast, it’ll make your head spin! Is that what you want? Because I’ll get on it right now.”

This couldn’t have gone better if I had planned it. This entire conversation is transpiring not three feet from the nurses’ station with those same gossipy nurses listening in.

“Your Highness!”

I look up and Jason is walking quickly towards us. I roll my eyes.

“I thought… we agreed… that you weren’t going to call me that,” I say in a stuttering, whining voice. He sighs and cocks his head at me.

“Ana,” he corrects himself. “What’s wrong? Is she…?”

“No, she’s not dead,” Christian says, “My wife is just having another one of her ‘why-do-I-have-to-be-nice-to-mommy-when-mommy-wasn’t-nice-to-me’ breakdowns. I’m ready to get her out of here.”

“No… no…” I say, my voice still stuttering. “I’m going… to see this through… I’m going… to make sure… that she’s okay… and then… we’ll get her… the best care money can buy… and we’ll get out of here.”

“Good… okay. Come on, now, stop this,” he says, taking his handkerchief from inside his coat and dabbing my face while still holding me around my waist. “You know I hate to see this.”

I’m sniffling like a blubbering baby, trying to compose myself.

“Haven’t you shed enough tears over this, baby?” he says. “Fifteen years…”

I look up at him and throw my arms around his neck.

“I love you more than you’ll ever know,” I sob. He embraces me warmly.

“I love you, too, Butterfly. You know that…” He pulls me back, looks me in the eyes, and takes my face in his hands. “And I do know.”

I close my eyes and he presses his forehead to mine. His words and gestures calm me right down, and I’m able to take a deep breath. He kisses my tearstained cheek gently, and then my lips just as softly.

“Come on, now,” he says. “Let’s go see about Carla.”

He tucks me protectively under his arm and we walk towards my mother’s room. I can see the nurses in my mind’s eye staring at us as he guides me, sniffling, down the hallway, and choking on the words that made me cry.


CHRISTIAN

I don’t recall how bad Carla looked when I last saw her in this hospital room, but she looks horrendous now. Except for the places that still bear a bit of the bruising from the accident, her face is pale and peaked. Her torso is elevated, but both legs are in traction—why, I’m not sure. It’s not like she’s tempted to move them. She’s wearing a neck brace and she looks completely helpless.

Butterfly has pulled her hair back in a ponytail and washed the runny makeup from her face, so she looks a bit of a fright when she enters the room as evidenced by the obvious concern on Carla’s face when she first sees her—concern that immediately morphs into irritation when she sees me enter behind her. She sighs heavily and audibly and rolls her eyes as she can’t do much else.

“Carla,” I say as a means of greeting. She doesn’t respond. I raise a brow at her, and her expression doesn’t change. This is definitely not the same woman I encountered in Seattle a few years ago.

“We’d like to get to the bottom of the situation,” I say, moving to the foot of her bed.

“What situation?” she says, with her brow furrowed.

“Of the accident,” I reply in a professional tone, “of what happened.”

“What do you mean, ‘what happened?’” she asks confused. “Car, bridge, boom. What am I missing?” I resist the urge to roll my eyes this time. “If you think I did this to get my daughter’s attention, I’ve already told her that while I appreciate what she’s doing for me that she can leave whenever she wants.”

That possibility never occurred to me, but there’s no way she could have expected to survive a crash like that, so it’s highly unlikely… and I’m sure that Butterfly doesn’t need her permission to leave.

“That’s not what I meant,” I retort coolly. “We were just trying to find out if anything suspicious happened that you can remember. Did your brakes go out when you were heading towards the guardrail? Did you feel a bump or anything like someone hit you? What were you doing immediately before you got behind the wheel of the car? Did you feel woozy or dizzy?”

Carla looks even more confused than she did before. It’s like everything I’m saying is completely Greek to her. After a few moments, her brow rises as if she finally gets it.

“Does every event in your life involve a conspiracy theory?” she inquires with a frown.

“Most often, yes,” I reply. “Conspiracies are everywhere. I wouldn’t be alive without a healthy dose of skepticism and mistrust, and I certainly wouldn’t be a billionaire.” Carla twists her lips.

“That explains why you’re so paranoid,” she says. “That must be a terrible way to live.”

“So far, I haven’t been wrong. And if it keeps me alive, then it’s the only way to live,” I retort. She shakes her head.

“Well, I can assure you that there’s no conspiracy this time, Christian. Nobody hit me, nobody forced me off the road, nobody drugged me, and that I know of, my brakes didn’t malfunction. Unfortunately for your conspiracy theories, it was just me and the damn car, okay?”

“We’re not your enemies, here, Carla,” I chastise. “We’re only trying to get to the bottom of what happened and make sure that you’re not in any danger.”

“That’s not the impression you gave me,” she counters. “You made me feel like nothing would make you happier than if I just disappeared… died, even. I think your exact words were that you’ll bury my ass right next to my husband. I know how you feel about me and I know why. I’m not making any excuses for it anymore, but I didn’t seek you out. I didn’t present myself to you like, ‘Look what I did.’ I gave my testimony and I went home. You came to my house, shoving your money in my face and treating me like shit. So, you’ll just have to excuse me while I exercise my right to ‘a healthy dose of skepticism and mistrust!’”

Well, she hit that nail on the head, but fuck if I’m going to apologize to her. I meant what I said on her porch that day, every word of it. Any modicum of civility or kindness that I extend to her at this point is only to accommodate my wife.

She rolls her eyes and turns her gaze back to the tissue in her hand that she has now worried to sodden and crumpled shreds of useless tatters. I’m fighting to subdue the urge to present her with my handkerchief, but she relieves me of the responsibility by tossing the shredded mass into a small plastic bag on the tray table next to her and retrieving another handful of tissue to blow her nose.

“Okay, so you’re saying that no one sabotaged you or forced you off the road. You just somehow lost control of the car,” Butterfly concludes. “It’s not like we could find any evidence anyway. Your car was totaled. You’re lucky you’re alive.”

“Yeah, well,” Carla responds without lifting her head. “It’s not like I could drive it anyway. I’m perfectly fucking useless.” She says the last sentence under her breath, more to herself than anybody else. I can’t help but think about that old saying… how does it go?

The toes you step on today could be connected to the ass you will have to kiss tomorrow…

Or something like that.

“So, what’s the next step? What do you want to do?” Butterfly asks.

“Oh, I get a vote in this?” Carla retorts.

“Please cut it out with that ‘woe-me-my-life-is-over-and-I-don’t-have-anything-left-to-live-for’ shit. I don’t have time for it,” Butterfly chastises. “You have a long road of recovery and rehabilitation ahead of you whether you learn to walk again or not. You’re going to need to be strong and determined to overcome your limitations, but this doesn’t have to be the end for you.” Carla shakes her head and laughs tragically.

“You know what?” she says. “I think I want you to leave.” Butterfly’s brow rises as does mine.

“Oh?” Butterfly says.

“Yes, oh,” Carla retorts sarcastically. “Are you surprised? You asked what I wanted and I’m telling you. You can come back tomorrow… or don’t, but right now, I want you to leave.”

Butterfly is stunned into silence for a moment, but quickly recovers. She gathers her things and wordlessly walks out of the room. I don’t say a word. I simply stand and leave the room behind her. We head toward the elevator and we stop just as she gets to the nurses’ station.

“Do your homework!” she hisses to the two nurses behind the counter. “Google Anastasia Steele Green Valley. Find out why I’m so cold towards that woman before you attempt to judge me!”

She storms away from the counter and off towards the elevator. I watch her push the call button before I turn back to the nurses.

“I can only assume that you said or did something you probably shouldn’t have,” I say coolly. They both look at me gape-mouthed, eyes wide open like deer caught in headlights as I leave the station and join my wife.

*-*

I’m caressing her arm and she’s lying against me on the sofa as we sit in silence and watch the fire. I got the feeling that she just needed to sit and do nothing when we got back to the suite, so that’s what we’ve been doing for the last half hour. I’m sure that she’ll want to get up and go to the Romper Room suite soon to sit with the children, but right now, it’s just me, her, and the fire.

“Did you know that you can sing 99 Bottles of Beer from beginning to end almost 22 times from midnight to 6am if you repeat the last number without running right into the next one?” I frown. Where did that come from.

“What do you mean if you repeat the last number without running right into the next one?” I ask. She begins to sing.

“Some people say, ’99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer; you take one down and pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall, 98 bottles of beer; you take one down and pass it around, 97 bottles of beer on the wall, 97 bottles of beer…’ That way, the numbers just run right into the next one. I sing it where you start the verse over again when you get to the next number…

“99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer, you take one down and pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall…

“98 bottles of beer on the wall, 98 bottles of beer, you take one down and pass it around, 97 bottles of beer on the wall…

“97 bottles of beer on the wall, 97 bottles of beer…”

Where is she going with this?

“Okay,” I say, “I get it. How did you know that?”

“That’s what I used to do instead of counting sheep when I lived in Green Valley with my mother and Stephen,” she says flatly. I freeze for a moment, but then catch myself and continue to caress her arm.

“It never worked,” she continues. “That’s how I know how many times you can sing it in six hours. Some nights, I was afraid to close my eyes. Other nights, I wanted to close my eyes and not wake up. There were times when I would close my eyes and Cody was raping me, or that gang was beating me. Then there were times when I couldn’t wait to close my eyes to get rid of the day.

“You can sing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt 1,440 times,” she says. “You can sing the original version of Shortenin’ Bread with all the verses 144 times. You can sing When You Wish Upon a Star 230 times…”

I sit there and listen to my wife recount the songs that she had to sing to help her get through the night those years that she lived with her mother and her stepfather. She was 15… and 16… and even 17 for a few months, and she survived by singing childhood songs over and over again until she could get out…

Somewhere Over the Rainbow—166 times…
My Favorite Things—360 times…
Under the Sea—117 times…
Bare Necessities—149 times…
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious—120 times…

By the time my wife got through about 17 songs, I had heard enough. It’s no wonder she knows everything about Disney that there is to know.

“I want to know how you planned your escape,” I interrupt her. “You were only 17.” She closes her eyes and sighs.

“I was the only girl who wore jeans to graduation,” she said. “We had a dress code for graduation and at first, they weren’t going to let me walk across the stage. I convinced them that I was too poor to buy clothes, even told them that my parents weren’t there, but that I had a pair of dress shoes and I could hide my jeans, and no one would know. They felt sorry for me.

“I had taken some of my savings and bought a pair of stilettos. It was the first pair I had ever worn. I had never walked in high heels before and these were four inches. I rolled up my pant legs and walked in those heels like I had been wearing them my whole life. I walked up on that stage, got my diploma ledger, and walked back to my seat. I would have left then, but there was protocol and all.

“When we got back to the assembly room after the ceremony, I grabbed my duffel bag from its hiding place, changed back into my sneakers, stashed my cap and shoes into it and walked out of the auditorium. I took the Tropicana bus to Las Vegas Blvd and jumped on the Deuce one last time down the strip to the Greyhound bus station.

“There wasn’t a single bus that day going straight to Seattle. I had to catch the bus to L.A. first and connect from there to Seattle. The whole trip was 35 hours long, and I had never felt freer in my whole life. I had one of those pay-by-the-minute cell phones. I didn’t use it, but I only had one number in it—Daddy’s, and only in case of extreme emergency. Luckily, there were no extreme emergencies.

“I did my homework and started out at Sacred Heart. I told them my story, that I was abused in Las Vegas and couldn’t go back. I showed them my brands and they helped me apply for financial aid and… you know the rest.” I sigh and continue to caress her arm.

“They just took your word for who you were?” I ask.

“No, they took the word of my brands,” she replies. “They spoke for themselves and they were even more gruesome than they are now before they fully calloused over, which took about three years.”

“I can only imagine,” I reply.

“And then those catty bitches at the nurses station had the nerve to be talking about me,” she hisses softly.

“I knew it,” I say. “I knew that’s what it was. What did they say?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she replies. “I’m going to report them to their superiors if they say anything else about me, but God, do I get tired of being Mrs. I-Want-to-Speak-to-Your-Manager. It’s fucking exhausting! Why is it so hard for people to treat you with respect and common courtesy? It doesn’t matter that they don’t know my story! It’s none of their goddamn business! They have no right whatsoever to play judge and jury over my life.”

“I completely agree,” I tell her. “What would you like to do?”

“Oh, Christian, fucking nothing,” she says. “Get this wrapped up and go. Home. That’s what I’d like to do.”

We sit in silence for several more minutes until we’re interrupted by the doorbell of the suite.

“Hey, Jewel, how are you feeling?” Allen says, coming into the living area of the suite. Butterfly walks into his arms and sinks into his embrace. Ray is right behind him.

“I’m as well as can be expected,” she says, “trying to get things wrapped up as fast as I can and get the hell outta here.”

“That’s kinda why I’m here, Annie,” Ray interjects. “I’m heading on back to Seattle. I stayed to help you deal with things in case she died. She didn’t die, so I’m going home to my wife and son. I’m losing my mind without them and this place isn’t helping. I hope you understand.”

“Of course, I do, Daddy,” she says, moving from Allen’s arms to her father, standing on her toes and hugging him. “Thank you for staying this long. You really didn’t have to, but I’m so glad you did. I’ll tell Christian to get the jet ready.”

“I’m already ahead of you,” I tell her, “but the jet won’t be ready until tomorrow morning. The pilot just got in and he needs some rest.”

“That’s fine,” Ray says. “I can wait another night. This place is just so draining. I have no idea how anybody lives here.”

“I think I’m going to have to hop that plane, too, Jewel,” Allen says. “We’re all in a bit of a holding pattern right now waiting for the sentencing and I, like Ray, wanted to be here for you in case your mother kicked the bucket… or in case you asked me if you should pull the plug.” She gasps and Ray raises a brow at him.

“It’s true,” he says unrepentant. “Ask Christian. Had you asked me from a legal standpoint about pulling the plug on that woman, I would have told you to do it. I offer no apologies. I have no love lost for that woman and I’m not evolved enough to be a bigger person when it comes to her. Hope you’ll forgive me.”

“I love you to pieces,” Butterfly says, giving him the same big hug that she gave her father. “I’ve got my babies here now to help me hold myself together. I have Mare and my husband and our wonderful staff who are more family than staff, but I couldn’t have made it this far without you guys, so thank you.”

They share a three-way hug and I watch my wife relax into the arms of her father and her best friend. I only hope I can hold her together this next week without them.

*-*

We spent the rest of the evening eating finger foods that, quite frankly, adults should not be eating, and if I had to hear Ilsa singing Let It Go one more time, I would have committed hari-kari. Thank God somewhere around the 150th time—yes, I’m exaggerating—my wife fell asleep on the floor with the twins. I left Gail and Keri to contend with our children and I carried my wife back to our suite and put her to bed.

It’s about 2am as I’m reading emails and working, and I see the email from Alex regarding Stoney Blake, Esquire… Vincent Sullivan’s attorney.

Jason’s words come to mind and I think about what he said about Blake only doing his job. As a businessman, I understand completely. However, as a loving and protective husband, I don’t give a fuck. He came after my wife with his claws bared and this is what happened.

He made Anastasia look like a 15-year-old harlot who deserved what those monsters did to her. And while Jason is correct and he did his job to the best of his ability, he didn’t put his effort into defending a young man whom he thought was in fear for his life, or in pointing the finger at the culprits of whom he was supposed to be afraid. Cody Whitmore came out spotless in his defense while my wife had to defend why she was vomiting. He needed reasonable doubt by any means necessary, and he got it on two of seven charges.

Now, he has to deal with the consequences of the means.

I begin combing through the information that Alex sent me. Typical lawyer information at first glance until I look at his financials. He has more than one offshore account with his name on it. That’s nothing suspicious for anyone who has more than a few coins to rub together, except that the sources of the funds to these accounts appear questionable, though not to the naked eye.

Money going into an offshore account, or any account for that matter, can come from anywhere. However, after a couple of hours of working my way backwards through the information Alex provided, I’ve discovered that the cash streams into these accounts are all coming from various other accounts all under three different holding companies of some Blakestone variety—Blakestone Holdings, Blakestone LTD, and Blakestone LLC.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with an attorney having holding companies as an umbrella for his money, but he’s moving some significant amounts. Is he the attorney to the rich and famous? Does he charge obscene amounts for his retainers? If it’s that innocent, why move the money through 10 separate banks for three different holding companies into three larger offshore accounts?

Because small amounts moving through random bank accounts don’t raise suspicion.

“For the love of God, must the crooked and wicked be so fucking obvious?” I ask aloud to no one.

Think about it… Robin Myrick played with me like a cat plays with a mouse, moving money around from account to account just to prove that he could before he started syphoning it out of my company. I nabbed his ass at the airport.

Holstein ends up getting pinned for cocaine and meth and all we were trying to get him for was the gun, and all because he was helping the Pedophile with that fucking book.

We won’t even discuss the Pedophile.

And Greta Ellison. For fuck’s sake, BD Simmons? Seriously? Could you be any more obvious? I let you go after I discovered that you were the one who stole the gun that could’ve killed me and my best friend and you decide to cross me again? Jesus H. Christ!

And now Blake. Unless my corporate, finance, billionaire mind is mistaken, this stinks of either money laundering or gross misappropriation of funds. The further back I go, I find no beginning trail for these funds. They just show up, and then they get split up, and then they come together again. Doesn’t he know that money in offshore accounts is not protected from the IRS or the feds? He’s an attorney—he has to know that.

“Do you ever sleep?” I ask Alex when he answers the phone.

“Apparently not when you need me,” he replies.

“I’m looking at Blake’s financials here,” I tell him. “Am I mistaken, or did you just give me a late Christmas gift?”

“You’re not mistaken,” he says. “Our young attorney is moving lots and lots of money from unknown sources. Either he’s creating a rainy-day fund for a whole lot of rich folks, or I’d say he’s washing some dollars. And if he’s laundering for the rich, they’re not going to own up to it. If I were to estimate, out of every 100 transactions, 80 – 95 of them are cash deposits. Nobody carries that type of cash around… nobody, not even you and your pocket full of C-notes.”

“So, how do we shine light on this little operation?” I ask.

“You have to ask? The IRS,” he replies, “with a little help from the feds. All I need from you is the word…”

“The word,” I say, before he even finishes his sentence.


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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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, or 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

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 19

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…

Season 5 Episode 19

ANASTASIA

It’s kind of hard to maneuver a field trip when one of the occupants of your party is all about gourmet food while another is barely eating.

Sophie is excited to go to the gourmet restaurants and food sites and even just to taste whatever local fares that Vegas has to offer, while Marilyn only sits at various tables picking at the smallest servings of the simplest foods, if she ventures to eat anything at all. She doesn’t look as sickly as she did when the trip began. Her coloring isn’t so pale, but her hair still looks very brittle and she hasn’t gained a pound. She hasn’t lost anymore that I can tell, thank God, but she’s downright skinny now, and she’s never been that way.

I don’t want to send her back to Seattle because the last thing I want is for her to be alone and that far away. However, whenever we go on some kind of food excursion, she escapes to her room anyway. I wonder what she does in there all alone for hours. I know that she’s been meditating and doing some yoga, but that doesn’t take up an entire day. Does she just sit around and mope about Gary day in and day out?

“Have you checked on Gary at all?” I discreetly ask Al at brunch on Sunday. He shakes his head.

“I’ve been a bit distracted, Jewel,” he admits.

“I’m sorry,” I reply, “it’s just that since he responded to you faster than he spoke to anyone else, I thought…” I trail off. “If he’s doing half as badly as Marilyn, I’d be concerned.” Al looks across the room at Marilyn typing away on her phone.

“She’s still not eating?” he asks. I shake my head.

“Her shakes and supplements are packed full of nutrients,” I tell him. “She’s worked herself up to maybe a course per day, but it’s nowhere near enough. She supposed to be slowly introducing food back into her system, but I think she’s going too slowly.” Al shakes his head.

“I think you’re right. You might want to have one of your Jewel talks with her,” he says.

“I have been,” I say. “I’ve been keeping an eye on her as much as I can, but I know as well as anybody that when you’re in love with someone, it can take years to get over them.”

“She’s not going to survive for years at the rate that she’s going,” he says, pointing discretely at Marilyn.

“I know,” I lament. “I’ll call Philip and see if he can check in on Gary. I’d hate to know that he’s suffering a similar fate.”

“He looked fine when I saw him at Christmas, Jewel,” Al says, “just heartbroken.” I shrug.

“Heartbreak hits different people in different ways, I suppose,” I reply.

*-*

Dinner this evening is at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant, Hell’s Kitchen, in Caesar’s Palace, where you’re greeted with Satan’s flaming pitchforks at the door… I mean literally in flames! Burning! Unfortunately, Gordon’s not here, but there’s a video of him right at the door chastising someone for posting a picture of some unpalatable dish online. Further inside the restaurant, there is Gordon Ramsey and Hell’s Kitchen merchandise—cookbooks, mugs, T-shirts, etc.—and then there’s the restaurant consisting of a large bar and a huge dining room.

The chefs all cook in an open kitchen behind a large bar that’s marked red on one side and blue on the other. I don’t watch the cooking show itself, but Sophie tells me that this looks just like the set where the teams compete, and she is absolutely mesmerized. There are several screens around the restaurant displaying active flames. It’s different, but kind of exotic. The sun has gone down and the view out of the window is spectacular. We’re looking at the three lighted fountains in the courtyard and it’s absolutely gorgeous.

Needless to say, my husband has ordered everything on the menu, and with the size of our party—minus Mare, unfortunately—there won’t be a problem with the volume of food. Knowing that Sophie is our little aspiring chef, he wants to make sure she gets to taste everything that the restaurant has to offer and give her critique.

Sophie shies away from the raw seafood dishes and leaves them for the adults—mainly the adult men as Christian and Jason decimated the oysters on a half-shell while Daddy, Al, James, and Chuck all tear into the Hell’s Kitchen grand shellfish tower, shrimp cocktail, and caviar. I manage to snag some of the tuna tartare before they destroyed it.

Sophie is more attuned to the hot appetizers when they arrive and even more enthralled with the entrees. I scold the gentlemen, reminding them that this is Sophie’s experience as they can have it at any time, and they need to stop being barbarians and allow her to taste the food first. True, she didn’t want the raw fish, but of course, she’s going to want the other dishes. Christian raises his brow at me, and I raise my brow right back, while Jason puts his fork down and Daddy, James, and Al all snicker at the other end of the joined tables.

I take each dish and present it to Sophie. She smiles and takes a small serving of each, tasting each one like a seasoned professional food critic. She identifies the various flavors in each dish, mostly by watching the shows on the various food channels and paying attention to each texture as she allows the food to tantalize her tongue. The way that she describes the food, she has a table full of adults hanging on her every word the way that she did at the wedding…

“I didn’t expect for that combination of flavors to work so well together. The scallops aren’t seared too hard—just enough of a crust to compliment the puree and the apples…”

“I didn’t expect to like pumpkin soup, but the texture is so creamy, and the flavor coats your tongue…”

“I have to admit that I expected more from the Wagyu meatballs, but the polenta is delicious…”

Gail watches proudly as the adults wait for Sophie’s critique, then taste each dish, searching for the flavors and textures that she highlighted. Jason beams, showing all 32 of his pearly whites, his chest sticking out like a prized stallion, boasting that his Baby Boo is one day going to be a 5-star chef.

I have no idea why, but I can never say “no” to a Quinoa salad. However, it can be a bit filling, so I only eat a small bit of it and share with anyone at the table who wants some. When it came to the table, I almost didn’t share it. It’s red quinoa mixed with honeycrisp apples, dried apricots, goat cheese, toasted hazelnuts, and a honey vinaigrette dressing. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a quinoa salad this delicious, and Sophie concurs.

We had to order four of Gordon Ramsay’s famous Beef Wellingtons. The adults, again, allow Sophie to taste the signature dish first, and upon reading the food orgasm on her face before she praises the tenderness of the beef filet and the flakiness of the pastry, they tear into the dish leaving nearly clean plates behind in the melee.

The desserts are utterly divine. The salted caramel apple sponge cake and ice cream creation is delicious—smooth and creamy and indulgent. I’m not a fan of the peanut butter cheesecake, but Keri loves it! James and Daddy think it’s the bee’s knees, too. However, Sophie’s favorite—and mine—is the pineapple carpaccio… shaved pineapple, citrus foam, coconut sorbet, coriander, and passion fruit. It’s served in a large, clear-glass bowl with a plate-like rim and the server comes to your table and pours liquid nitrogen into the bowl in the center. If you’ve ever seen liquid nitrogen, it causes this smokiness to rise from the bowl and swirl in between the little pineapple and sorbet mountains and across the table. It makes the dessert not only delicious, but also visually aesthetically pleasing… and fun!

It’s still early when we leave Hell’s Kitchen and begin to head back to the Waldorf, but once we get to the valet at the hotel, Jason pulls me aside from the rest of the group.

“I thought you should know that Carol just left me a message,” he says. Carol… that’s Marilyn’s security detail. “She’s at the fountains at the Bellagio with Marilyn. She decided to take a walk and now she’s just sitting there by the water. She figured you might want to know.”

“She figured correctly,” I say, looking over at Christian. “I’m going to the Bellagio. Marilyn is there at the fountains. I just want to go check on her.” Christian’s brow furrows.

“You don’t think…” He trails off.

“I don’t think,” I say firmly, “but I don’t want her to be alone either.” I look at Chuck. “We’re going for a walk.”

“You’re walking?” Christian says, aghast.

“Yes, Christian, we’re walking,” I tell him. “Trust me, I’ll be more camouflaged in the crowd on the strip than I was with the entourage surrounding me on the courthouse steps.” He shakes his head.

“Chuck, take the car,” he says. Chuck gets into the driver’s seat of the car and waits for me.

“Christian, can you see the mall right there?” I ask, pointing to the Shops at Crystals. “The Bellagio is literally on the other side.”

“That’s great, and this is Vegas. There’s a whole fucking lot of people on the street and a whole lot of shit can happen. There’s the car. Take it or leave it. I mean it, Anastasia!”

I want to be mad, but Christian never really orders me to do anything. I’ll get a chiding, a gentle warning, his Dom voice… or something, but he never outright orders me to do anything. If he’s doing it now, he’s extremely concerned… and he’ll have Metro block the street off in five minutes.

I glare at him for a moment, kiss him on the cheek, and dutifully get in the car.

Chuck has to track Marilyn’s phone for us to find her by the fountain. She’s just standing there by the balustrade staring out at the water. Carol is nearby, but not too close—an attempt to give her some privacy, no doubt. I walk behind her and announce my presence so as not to startle her.

“Hey,” I say softly.

“Hey,” she responds without turning around. “Don’t worry, Bosslady, I’m not going to jump.”

“I didn’t think you would,” I say. She looks over at me.

“You didn’t?” she says with a mirthless smile. I shake my head.

“No,” I say. “I know you’re smarter than that. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” She turns back to the water.

“No,” she says with a heavy sigh, “I’m definitely not okay.” Her voice cracks with sadness and the hint of unshed tears. “I can’t see or feel anything but darkness and sadness and gloom and despair, and while I don’t want to die, I definitely want this to end.” And now she begins to cry.

“I miss him, Ana,” she says, looking out at the water, a steady stream of tears running down her cheeks. “I miss him so much that I can’t even breathe sometimes. It’s the worst at night. I still haven’t learned how to sleep without him. I’m lucky if I get an hour or two of sleep at a time and even when I do, I just dream about him. Then, I wake up alone and cry because he’s not there or because I’ve dreamed about him leaving me again.

“I got one of those weighted blankets to help with sleeping and when I wake up under the blanket, it’s painful—emotionally and physically. I think it’s too heavy for my body, because the part of my body that it’s laying on hurts like I’ve been working out all night… but even more so, it feels like he’s holding me. So, I turn around to hold him back and it’s this damn blanket, so it hurts even more.

“I can’t eat oatmeal,” she continues. “I can’t even see oatmeal. He ate it every day without fail except Sunday. We ate anything else for breakfast on Sunday—eggs benedict was his breakfast of choice on that day, but we ate whatever… but every other day, it was oatmeal. I would put butter and sugar and cinnamon in mine; he would put syrup in his.

“I can’t eat Chinese,” she says, “orange chicken to be exact. My Gary is a creature of habit. Every Wednesday, it was orange chicken…” She pauses. “Is… was… is… I don’t know anymore.

“That’s why it’s hard for me to eat, Ana,” she confesses. “Food makes me sick. Particular foods make me think of him, and then they turn my stomach, and no matter how hard I try to keep them down, I can’t. I want to vomit now just talking about food. You, of all people, should know that the mind is a powerful thing, and right now, mind over matter is working in his favor.” I frown.

“Why would you say this is in his favor?” I ask. “Do you think he would really want to see you this way?” She scoffs weakly.

“Ana, do you even think he cares?” she asks with disdain. “I know he doesn’t wish me dead—he’s not a horrible person, but I’d bet everything I have that he wouldn’t care that I’m going through this. He’d probably wish I’d suffer more for killing his baby.”

That statement makes her weep. She briefly cries into her hands a soulful, mournful sob, and then she stops just as quickly as she started. A few people stop to look at her and her horribly tear-stained face, but she just blankly stares in front of her and they eventually just move on.

“I wake up every morning filled with dread,” she says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just putter along during the day—second by second. I don’t see any relief. Yoga and meditation fill some of the many seconds of the day, and then somewhat help me get to the next second, but I can’t see beyond the next second.

“I can’t see my future. I don’t know where I’m going. Everything I saw had him in it. Even though I didn’t see kids immediately, I still saw him. I’ve never loved anybody in my life the way that I love him. I know women—and men—have often said that they’ll never love again, but I can truly say that I can’t see ever loving anybody else in my life the way that I love him. I can’t fathom how I’ll ever love anybody ever again. And I can truly say that had I known I would end up like this, I would have kept the baby.” I look over at her.

“That is so unhealthy, Mare,” I tell her. “Whatever you do, never have a child just to save your relationship. It’ll never work…”

“Tell it to my heart, Ana,” she says, turning her gaze to me, “I can’t hear you.” She turns back to the water. “Having a baby and loving and caring for Gary’s child would be worlds better than what I’m feeling right now, even if I had to care for it alone. I would have a purpose, a reason for living, for waking up every morning. Hindsight is 20/20 and I would have loved that baby with my whole soul had I known that this was the abyss I would be plunged into by giving it up.

“I know what I look like, I’m not blind or stupid—and I know what people think, but I don’t care. If they can’t help me get to the next second, I don’t care what they think. It doesn’t even bother me; it doesn’t hurt. Nothing hurts more than what I’m feeling right now.”

I want to say something so badly to make her feel better, to tell her that this pain won’t last forever, to convince her not to regret her decision because it cost her relationship, but I know that I can’t. I know that losing Edward made me want to curl up in a ball and die many nights; had me shying away from men and relationships for a long time; had me sobbing in the parking lot of my condo years after we were history because the rest of my friends had significant others and I didn’t—I was too afraid to step out and give someone else a chance because losing Edward hurt too much.

I link my arm in hers in a show of solidarity, just so that she knows that she’s not alone. We stand there for several minutes, leaning against the balustrade and saying nothing. After a while, we hear music, and the water comes alive. I had forgotten about the water shows at the Bellagio fountains. It’s some medley of some upbeat rock or pop song, and we watch the water and lights respond to the music and the beat, Marilyn silently wishing for “her Gary,” and me silently wishing I could somehow stop her pain.

*-*

I’m back at the hospital on Monday morning, being subjected to the cold, but professional demeanors of the nurses. My aloofness towards my possibly dying mother is now known among all of the nursing staff and they treat me with enough professionalism to grant all of my requests and make sure that my mother’s needs are tended to, but they don’t show me any warmth or concern that you would normally show to the family member of a patient.

I put on my armor and try not to let it bother me, but it does. It does bother me. I could do what she did and just not show up, just not come at all. I could hire someone to come in here and make sure that she’s okay, not even come back in here until the thirtieth day of her fucking directive to pull the plug, or just wait until she kicks the damn bucket to claim the body.

But no, I come in here nearly every day, asking about her condition and if there’s been any change, having the dying flowers cleared from her room and making sure that the fresh ones stay, even talking to some of her visitors and hearing from them about how much she loves me and how she regrets what she did to me as a teenager and what a wonderful person she is now.

Today, when I get here, she’s in a cozy tartan nightgown. Someone has washed and combed her hair and she actually looks a bit more content. I know the staff is waiting for me to storm out of the room, demanding to know who changed my mother’s clothes, but I’m not. Someone—maybe Wendy—brought her something that they felt she would be more comfortable in. I can’t deny her that.

I sit silently next to her bed and text Laura about how I’m feeling; about how unfair I think it is that she’s being looked upon as the poor little victim and I’m basically being pegged as the bad guy because I’m not all broken up about her condition. Laura gives it to me straight.

She tells me that as long as I’m on my mother’s turf, that’s how it’s going to be, and I just have to deal with it. She’s made a life for herself where she is and those who know her love her because of what they know about her. Those who don’t know can only go by what they see, and what they see is a stand-offish daughter who only does what’s necessary to keep her mother alive.

“They don’t care about your story,” she tells me in a chat. “Your details are not what’s important to them—hers are. Her well-being and waking up, her friends and those who love her, that’s what’s important. You need to get her squared away, whatever that means—physical therapy, the best home care, burying her, whatever it is—and then you need to go home! You’re not going to find any peace until you get out of that place. Some of our monsters, we don’t need to face. We just need to leave them buried. Get the sentencing, get your mom squared away, and get the hell out of Vegas. That’s it and that’s all.”

She’s right and I know she is. It’s just that getting to that point is hell. Most people here treat me like vermin, and I have to stay here until I get everything squared away. How do deal with that? How does anybody deal with that?

I’ve taken a little time to look at Sophie’s Facebook page. It’s highly monitored, so she’s very careful about what she posts, but she did post the meals that we ate at Hell’s Kitchen and that she’s having fun in Vegas. I know for certain that the Adventure Dome is Saturday, but Jason and Gail took her to the Shark’s Reef at the Mandalay Bay today and lunch at Border’s Grill. Her friends have commented on and liked her photos of the Beef Wellington and pineapple carpaccio, and I smile remembering how much we enjoyed the dessert.

I’ve lost track of time quietly surfing through Facebook videos and feeds and I hear someone enter the room.

“Oh! I’m sorry,” Wendy says. “I didn’t know you were visiting. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

I look at my watch. It’s much later than I intended to stay. I might as well let someone keep watch that wants to be here.

“No,” I say, rising from the seat.  “I really need to get going. I need to check on my children.” She raises a brow but says nothing.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Wendy says, removing some things from her bag and placing them around my mother’s room. “I brought some of her things from her home. I’m hoping the familiar might help to bring her out of this. I… was the one who brought her the gown.”

“I thought it might have been you,” I reply. “I’m sure that if she could speak right now, she would say ‘thank you.’ Those hospital gowns are awful.” I speak from experience.

“I’m sure she would,” Wendy replies, her voice cracking. She turns away from me and goes to the restroom. I think she’s going to compose herself, but she returns quickly with a small cup of water. She pours the water into a diffuser and adds a little oil to it—eucalyptus, I think. It’s not overbearing, so I think it should be fine. She looks adoringly, but sadly, at her best friend.

“I’m going to go and let you visit,” I tell her. “Thank you again for the gown.” She smiles softly at me.

“It was my pleasure,” Wendy says and turns back to my mother. “Hey there, old girl,” she says, taking the seat that I vacated next to my mother. “Shall we continue book three of Gideon Cross?” She pulls a book out of her purse and begins to read to my mother. I quietly leave the room and close the door behind me.

There’s no way to get to the elevators without passing the nurses’ station. I nod at Chuck, don my Jackie O’s, and walk past the judgmental cows at the station without looking left or right, headed for the elevator.

*-*

I spend the rest of the evening with my young friend Sophie and my babies. Christian is happily left to tend to all matters GEH while I tend to my mother, then he later joins us in the Romper Room/Disney suite where I completely escape from reality and play childish games and watch cartoons and Disney movies and eat finger foods with my babies… until I have to get up in the morning and adult again.

But not today.

It’s Tuesday, and the boys are on baby duty while Gail, Keri, and I take Sophie on the food tour. I couldn’t convince Marilyn to go, so she’s staying behind to help the guys with the twins. I beg Al to try to get in touch with Gary again. Marilyn has her good days and her bad days, and I can only imagine what Gary’s going through.

We decide to do a small group tour with just the four of us since the tour is mainly for Sophie and we want her to be the center of attention and not have to worry about what others are thinking about her as she proceeds through the various restaurants and sites.

We start at Mercato Della Pescheria, an Italian restaurant located in the Grand Canal Shoppes in the Venetian and Palazzo hotels in a portion of the combined locations called St. Mark’s Square. The tour includes a chef’s choice tasting of House-made Italian specialties. It’s set up like an outdoor Italian restaurant with the wrought iron tables and red and white tablecloths, and the ceiling of the Grand Canal Shoppes is painted to look like the sky while the hallways look like the streets of Italy complete with building-façade storefronts.

“This is good practice,” I say. “We’ll be going to Italy this summer for a few weeks.”

“You will?” Sophie asks. “You guys go a lot of places.” I nod.

“Christian bought me a house there,” I tell her. “I have to decorate it before we get there. Maybe you can help me.” Her brows rise.

“Really?” she asks, her excitement palpable. “I have no idea what to choose.”

“Really,” I reply with a laugh. “We’ll be learning together, because I have no idea what to choose, either.”

“I’d like to go to Italy one day,” she says. “I want to learn to make authentic Italian cuisine.”

“Well, I don’t know what the plan is for the summer, but maybe with your Dad and Gail’s permission, we may be able to work something out.” Her eyes widen further, but then drop.

“Now, you’re teasing,” she says.

“No, I’m not,” I reply. “You know I can’t make any promises because there’s a lot involved in being able to travel overseas, but it’s not impossible and I can at least see if it’s something that we can do. So, keep realistic expectations and since we can’t do spring break, we’ll see what we can do for summer vacation. Deal?” She makes the pondering face and nods.

“Sounds reasonable,” she says. “The idea that you’d like for me to go is really cool… even if it doesn’t get to happen.”

I keep forgetting that Sophie is so young sometimes with the things that come out of her mouth. She’s had quite the life to just barely be a teenager—she’s seen way too much in her young little life.

Let’s not forget the things you saw in your young little life.
This is nothing like that and we’re not going to compare them. So, if you don’t have anything constructive to say, shut the hell up!

The last person I need to hear from right now in this place in my fragile state of mind is the Bitch. She can only do more harm than good at this point.

Our tasting at Mercato Della Pescheria includes a Burrata board with aged balsamic, grilled bread and marinated vegetables, along with gnocchi pomodoro with fresh mozzarella and cacio e pepe alla ruota. I usually have a very scrutinizing tongue, but Sophie had me beat this time. All I tasted was spaghetti with Parmesan cheese, but not our little aspiring chef.

Let’s start with the fact that she had to explain to us how it was going to be served. They roll this huge wheel of cheese over to you on a cart where they’ve cut a bowl into the center of it. Then they place the hot pasta right from the pan into the “bowl.” They scrape the cheese from the inside of the bowl and mix it into the pasta, which Sophie informs me has already been tossed with olive oil and fresh cracked pepper. When they plate it for us, Sophie has a bit more pepper ground over her serving.

She tastes the pasta with every bit of the attitude of a food critic. She takes a small serving of the dish and puts it in her mouth. She chews purposefully, like she’s weighing the textures and flavors in her mouth. You can see her rolling the mixture around on her tongue and everyone at the table—including the server—is silent.

“Is the Bucatini domestic or imported?” she asks the server. He’s rightfully a bit taken aback.

“Imported, miss,” he says. “How did you know?”

“I didn’t,” she says. “I just want to be able to tell the difference.” Gail and I look at each other, obviously impressed. Our guide, Justine, not so much. She actually looks like she’s tasting something bad.

“Do you know the cheese, miss?” the server asks.

“Hmm,” she says, taking another forkful. “It’s either Parmesan or pecorino. I’ve never tasted pecorino before, but I know it’s close to Parmesan and this is close to Parmesan, not quite Parmesan.” He smiles.

“Very good, miss,” he says, almost proudly. “It’s pecorino.” Sophie smiles and claps her fingers together quickly, also proud that she identified the cheese. I had already said Parmesan.

“What’s Bucatini?” I ask anyone who’s listening. Sophie begins to answer.

“It’s…”

“It’s a heavy pasta like thick spaghetti, but it has a hole in the center,” Justine interrupts. I assume that she didn’t hear Sophie begin to explain the pasta to us. Sophie doesn’t pay her any attention. She just shrugs and finishes her pasta. I nod at Justine and wait for her to get distracted.

“What does she mean by ‘holes?’” I lean over and ask Sophie. “It just looks like spaghetti. I don’t see any ‘holes.’”

“Regular spaghetti is a solid noodle,” Sophie says conspiratorially, “Bucatini’s a long tube. Think ziti noodle, but long and skinny.” I open my mouth in realization, then look closer at the noodle and see exactly what she’s talking about.

“I don’t know why I was expecting to see holes straight down the noodle.” I shake my head at my ignorance and take a forkful of the pasta. Sophie giggles and continues with her tasting.

Our next stop is Royce Chocolates for truffles. As it turns out, Sophie’s no stranger to Royce’s Chocolates even though Justine tries to make it appear that these are the most exclusive chocolates in the world. The store looks a bit like a confectioner’s booth that just popped up and snagged the last little corner spot in the Canal Shoppes. No offense to Royce’s; the truffles are divine, but our tour guide is just droning on and on and on about the chocolates, and while the adults in the group are trying not to take the wind out of the poor girl’s sails, Sophie’s young truth filter is in full effect.

“They’re delicious,” she says, enjoying a chocolate and creamed caramel truffle, “I just expected them to be different, I guess.”

“Different than what?” Justine inquires.

“Than the ones at the store in Seattle,” she says. “It’s the same manufacturer, so I guess they would be the same.”

“There’s a store in Seattle?” Justine asks, and Sophie’s brow furrows.

“Bellevue,” the clerk says, nodding as we turn to look at her. Feeling a bit sheepish about her lack of knowledge, our tour guide quickly gestures us out of the chocolatier. I don’t mind that she likes her job; I just think she needs to be a bit more informed about the stops on the tour, or at the very least, curb her enthusiasm a bit.

We wander through St. Mark’s Square a little more, and we stop to watch as another server in another area makes a tiramisu tableside. Sophie watches in awe as the espresso-soaked ladyfingers are layered into the pan. I don’t know if the people at the table can actually eat the confection when it’s complete as the cream portion usually needs to chill overnight.

“She can’t have any of that on this tour,” Justine says haughtily. “The espresso mixture contains alcohol.” I just glare at her.

“And if the mascarpone cream mixture is done correctly, it has rum in it,” Sophie interjects like it’s obvious. “I know that!”

Sophie is clearly becoming irritated with Justine’s behavior, but she’s refined enough not to respond in kind. Although upon leaving the impromptu tiramisu presentation, she did ask, “What’s wrong with that lady?”

Our next stop is Cañonita, a location that prides itself on Mexico City soul food. Sophie is a bit reserved as the tour continues and I don’t like that. The foodie tour is for her enjoyment and I’m rather enjoying the benefit of her knowledge of the different ingredients even though I was well aware of the inclusion of Grand Marnier in the espresso mixture and rum in the mascarpone cream.

“Sophie, are you okay?” Gail asks, noticing her reservation.

“Am I allowed to say anything?” she asks matter-of-factly. I frown.

“Of course, you are,” I reply. “You can say whatever you like.” She rolls her eyes and sighs.

“Well, I was born on Cinco de Mayo,” she begins, “so every year that I can remember since I’ve been alive, I’ve had a Mexican meal on my birthday. Since we’re on this tour, I was wondering are we just going to eat the standard Mexican foods, or can I taste something different?”

“You can have what you like,” Gail says. “If you want something different, we’ll pay for it.” Sophie twists her lips.

“I’d really like to try the Pátzcuaro Duck Relleno,” she says. “I’ve never had it and I think it would be good.”

“We don’t have time for that,” Justine interjects.

“Wee’ll. Mek. Tyme!” Keri says slowly and deliberately, waiting for Justine to respond. I think her irritation is rubbing off on Keri. When Justine says nothing, Keri turns to Sophie.

“Come, Miss Sopheh,” she says, putting her arm around Sophie’s shoulder, “tell uhs aboht de duck.”

The corners of Sophie’s mouth rise in a small smile and she begins to tell us about Pátzcuaro Duck Relleno while it’s being prepared in the back. Justine sits at a separate table close by with her arms folded and her legs crossed. I have no idea what her problem is.

“The menu says that the Pátzcuaro Duck Relleno begins with duck confit, which is a French dish,” Sophie continues. “So, I wanted to see how a French dish could become a Mexican dish. I know the manchamantel sauce is clearly Mexican. I think the combined flavors would be very interesting.”

Sophie always amazes me talking about food, because the 13-year-old girl disappears, and we have this connoisseur in front of us.

“Hah do yah knoh so much abot fuud, Sopheh?” Keri asks. Sophie shrugs.

“I just really like learning about food,” she says, “where different dishes come from, what they mean, what spices they use, how it’s supposed to taste. I’m going to be a chef one day. I don’t know what my specialty will be, but I want to know about foods from all over the world.”

“Well, you’re off to a very good start,” I tell her. “Did she tell you that Ms. Solomon showed her how to make that delightful ham and pineapple sandwich and she got it right on the first try?” Gail turns to Sophie in honest surprise.

“No, she didn’t!” Gail says, with pride. “You should have told me. I’m proud of you.”

“It’s just a sandwich,” Justine says under her breath. No one else heard her, but I did. I’m trying not to feed into it. It’s beyond me why she feels threatened by this 13-year-old girl.

“Okay, what’s next?” I ask once we finished the delightful duck dish while Justine deliberately and slowly ate the crab cakes, enchiladas, and ceviche that was intended for the tour. She took more time to eat her food than we took to eat ours, but she said that we didn’t have time for the duck. Then she haughtily tells us…

“Well, we’ve only got an hour left and there are four more stops on the food tour, so we won’t make them all.” I try not to let loose on this woman, because I’m always letting loose on someone, and it could just be me being sensitive. Instead, I just ask, “What are the four remaining stops?”

“Well, first, there’s the Honolulu Cookie Company, where they have the exotic Hawaiian goodie bag that most likely has the best shortbread cookies you’ve ever tasted in your life. Then, there’s the William Carr Photo Gallery—he’s a well-known artist acclaimed for his ability to capture the beauty and perfection of creation…”

She sounds like she’s reading from a pamphlet. I look over at Sophie.

“I had truffles,” she says. “I don’t really have a taste for cookies.”

“These aren’t just any cookies,” Justine retorts. “These are Hawaiian shortbread…”

“No, thank you,” Sophie says calmly. “You said there’s an art gallery. Are there pictures of food or something?” Justine’s brow furrows.

“Why would you ask that?” she says.

“I’m just wondering what an art gallery has to do with a foodie tour,” Sophie replies. “I can understand if it was a museum tour, but…” Sophie shrugs.

“I was thinking that myself,” I say, my voice low.

“Well, generally, the more mature patrons appreciate the art, but if you don’t want to go…” Her tone is condescending.

“Well, you clearly said that we don’t have time for the other four stops, so what are the last two?” I shoot, trying not to bite this bitch’s head off. Noting my irritation, she quickly tells us that the last two stops are a bookstore and a Peruvian restaurant called Once, pronounced On-seh. We opt to skip to Once and see what Peru has to offer.

I’m so frustrated when we get to Once that I ask for a table for five. Justine proceeds to tell the host that we’re with the foodie tour. I quickly correct her.

She’s the foodie tour,” I tell the host. “We want a table for five.” I gesture at Gail, Sophie, Keri, Chuck, and myself. When the host nods, I turn to Justine. “You said we have an hour—we’re going to order.”

Justine’s eyes narrow at me, but I don’t watch her long enough to formulate a response. When we are seated, I ask Sophie which appetizers she thinks we should try and if she’s familiar with the cuisine.

“Some of it,” she says. “Ceviche is universal, but if you are going to get it, I would get it here since the dish is originally Peruvian. I think the braised fennel would be good, and I’d definitely like to try the Chicharron Karaage and the scallop and shrimp dumplings.” I nod.

“I’m going to eat whatever she’s eating,” Gail laughs, and I concur. Keri orders the oxtail Bibimbap and Chuck orders the prime New York Steak Anticucho. Justine is seething that no one is talking to her or paying any attention to her as we enjoy the last meal on the tour—not a tasting, a meal. She keeps looking at her watch and sighing impatiently.

When we finish our meal, I charge it separately to my Amex and we leave the restaurant. Justine is trying to wrap up the tour. I don’t know what she’s expecting—it was a bad experience for me. Sophie seems unmoved. She finally announces that the tour is at its end and turns to Sophie.

“How old are you, may I ask?” Justine asks Sophie.

“Thirteen,” she replies. “I’ll be 14 in June.”

“Mm,” Justine remarks unimpressed before turning to me. “You may want to introduce the concept of humility into her life a little more,” Justine says, then turns to walk away. I gasp, at a complete loss for words. Sophie is looking aghast, and Gail is furious.

“You hold it right there!” Gail announces in a voice that makes us all freeze. “How old are you?” Justine folds her arms again.

“I’m 26,” she says, matter-of-factly.

“Well, you have a lot of growing up to do!” Gail retorts. “That young lady is the picture of decorum. She was never rude to you once and you’re just upset that she knows more about your tour than you do! I saw your face when she told us about the tableside service at Mercato, and it’s not her fault that she knows that Royce has several locations and you didn’t.

“You announced that she couldn’t have the tiramisu when all she was doing was watching. I thought you were going to have a stroke over the duck. Then you tell us that we don’t have enough time to finish the tour, but you have a coronary when we ask to skip to the end! Is this your first day? Because you’re utterly terrible at this!”

Justine gasps, but doesn’t have a comeback for Gail’s chastisement.

“You remember that name, young lady—Sophia Taylor—because if you stay in the food industry at all and even if you don’t, I guarantee you’ll hear it again. Now, you get your act together or I’ll have your neck and your job, and that’s a guarantee!” Gail shoots.

Justine’s hand shoots to her chest in that clutches pearls way. She’s shocked that after no one really checked her on her attitude, she thought that she could take liberties with us and Gail let her have it.

“I… I’m sorry!” Justine says, aghast.

“Don’t apologize to me!” Gail says. “Apologize to her! You nearly ruined her day!” Justine turns to Sophie, but Sophie turns to Gail.

“She didn’t ruin my day, Momma Gail,” Sophie says succinctly. “The guy at Mercato was nice to me; I got to eat French duck made Mexican, and really good chicken, scallops, and shrimp. And we still have Sur La Table tomorrow. I’m fine, she doesn’t have to apologize. Can we please go now?”

Chuck stands a few feet away like he has all day, smiling widely as Sophie delivers her speech.

“Are you sure, Pumpkin?” Gail says. “She owes you an apology.”

“I’m sure, Momma Gail,” she says. “Let’s just go and find some gelato. I’d like that.” Gail smiles.

“I’d like that, too,” she says, turning to Justine. “You could learn a thing or two from that little girl, but I’m sure that you won’t.” She turns back to Sophie. “I love gelato,” she says. “Let’s go find some.”

I didn’t have to lift a finger.

I fall in step with Gail and Sophie. We walk all the way back to the other end of the Grand Canal Shoppes to a gelato stand called Cocolino. We each order our flavor, then take a seat and enjoy our treat. While we’re eating the gelato, I must ask the question that’s burning in my head.

“Sophie,” I ask, “she did owe you an apology. It’s not okay for anybody to treat someone that way, especially when she was being paid. Why didn’t you want her apology?”

“Because she didn’t want to apologize,” she says, matter-of-factly. “Do you remember when Marlow snitched on me at Christmas?” I glance over at Gail quickly. She raises her gaze to me, but turns back to her ice cream.

“Yes,” I say.

“If I had apologized to them, it would have been because they made me do it, not because I wanted to or because I was sorry, because I wasn’t… and that’s why I didn’t do it. This was kinda the same thing. She wasn’t sorry, and to be honest, what she was doing didn’t hurt me. She just looked kinda dumb. And Momma Gail was right. She was just mad ‘cuz I knew more than she did. They don’t pay me to know this stuff; I just like food channels. That makes her look real bad.”

I just had a 13-year-old girl explain a very adult philosophy in the most simplified terms I’ve ever seen.

If your apology is not sincere, I don’t want it—that’s one of my biggest mantras.
If my apology is not sincere, I’m not going to give it—see the first mantra.
I’m not going to let the fact that you don’t know what you’re saying or doing ruin my good time—in other words, “Sucks to be you… I’m bigger than this.”

I can’t remember the last time I was prouder to be Aunt Ana.

CHRISTIAN

“Dude, she left that woman’s face cracked and on the ground.”

Chuck is telling us about the ladies’ day out on the foodie tour. I was sure that it would be something harmless and fun, but it appears that the tour guide had a bug up her butt.

“Are you telling me that the person in charge of the tour got into it with Sophie?” I ask.

“No, Prince Gallant with your flaming sword, that’s not what I’m saying,” Chuck says. “Sophie knows a lot about food, more than I even think we know she knows…”

“That’s because Food Network and the Cooking Channel were her companions while her mother was binging,” Jason says. “She still watches them now. If we stocked her kitchen, she could make her own meals.”

“That might be a good idea, so that she can get some practice… but I digress,” Chuck says, getting himself back on track. “She knew what kind of cheese they were putting in the pasta. She knew the origin of a Mexican dish that really came from France. She knows the alcoholic content of tiramisu. She could have done a better job as a tour guide than the tour guide. Little Miss Raven Hair didn’t like that very much.”

“Did she insult my daughter?” Jason asks. Chuck twists his lips. “What did she say?” Chuck clears his throat.

“At first, she was just making little cracks about the food,” Chuck says, “talking over Sophie when she was trying to talk. In the end, the tour ended at Once, and the women all ignored her completely. That pissed her off. I think she thought Ana was Sophie’s mother, so she tells Ana that she needs to teach Sophie some humility. I could see the hairs rise on Gail’s neck from across the room.”

Jason immediately scoffs a laugh. I can imagine that he’s seen the hairs rise on Gail’s neck from across the room, too.

“Have you seen the Karate Kid?” he asks, doing the pose that Daniel does before his finishing move.

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“I have,” Jason says, still laughing.

“The minute her mouth opened, I could see Gail doing it in my mind’s eye. I thought that would be the end for that girl, but the finishing move came from Sophie. Gail demanded that the lady apologize to Sophie, but Sophie told Gail that she didn’t want the lady’s apology, that the lady didn’t ruin her day, and asked to go get gelato. Imagine having a 13-year-old girl tell you that your apology is beneath her.”

I hiss at the implication. That had to be painful. I’m convinced that Sophia Taylor is not of this world. Second only to my wife, she’s one of the most rounded people I’ve met for what her mother has put her through.

“Classic,” Jason says, “fucking classic. When you guys go to Sur La Table tomorrow, make sure she gets everything she wants.” Chuck laughs.

“Make sure you tell her that,” he says.

“No matter where we go, there’s always one,” I hear Butterfly say as she enters the Romper Room suite.

“Hello, dear,” I call out to her. She stops in her tracks and examines me for a moment.

“He already told you,” she says, coming further into the room.

“He did,” I say. She shakes her head.

“Well, for once I wasn’t the object of ire… but a child? Seriously?” she says, taking a seat among all the playthings.

“There’s just no accounting for taste, I guess,” I comment.

“Indeed!” Gail says, nearly storming into the suite. “The nerve of that child! Twenty-six indeed! She behaved like a toddler. Teach her some humility… teach yourself, you wretched little heathen! How dare she insult my stepdaughter that way! She doesn’t even know her. She’s guiding the tour and didn’t even know there was a Royce Chocolates in Seattle! She’s guiding the tour! Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?”

“We heard,” I reply. Why did I do that? Right at that moment, Sophie enters the room with an expression I can’t quite read.

“You okay, Baby Boo?” Jason asks.

“Mm-hmm,” she says in a manner that indicates that she’s not saying another word.

“I’m calling her boss!” Gail continues to rant. “We paid for that tour! We paid for Sophie to be treated that way. A grown woman—angry with a child on her tour. The very nerve! I’m going to go and call that place right now!” and out of the room she goes, off to make some tour guide’s life a little more difficult. Keri looks cautiously around the room before speaking.

“Wheh ah da tweens?” she says.

“They’re napping,” I reply. “They should probably wake soon.”

“Ah’ll goh chek on dem.” She kisses Chuck on the cheek and heads off towards the bedroom. We all look at Sophie, who purses her lips, then finally speaks.

“Momma Gail is mad!” she says, her eyes a little large and her face full of ill-suppressed mirth. “I thought she was going to rip that lady’s throat out!”

“What did she say?” Jason inquires.

“She didn’t say anything bad, it’s just how she said it,” Sophie says. “It was like… she wasn’t Momma Gail—she was somebody else.”

“Daniel-san,” Chuck says under his breath, and Butterfly looks at him bemused.

“She told the lady that she was terrible at her job and not to forget my name because she was going to hear it again someday. We were in the middle of the mall! People were staring at her; the lady was really embarrassed… it was awesome!”

Normally, I would advise a youngster that it’s not necessarily a good thing to take joy in someone else’s calamity, but I think the young lady had this one coming.

“Here’s the best part,” Butterfly says, turning to Sophie. “Why didn’t you want her to apologize to you?”

“Because she didn’t mean it,” Sophie replies. “She wasn’t sorry for what she said to me. She was sorry because Momma Gail got in her butt about it. If we had just huffed and puffed and left, she would have been fine. She reminds me of my mom… mad because Daddy did something for me or gave me something.” She scoffs in that irritated teenage way, rolls her eyes, and waves the situation off. “I just wanted to go have ice cream.”

Jason is quiet for a moment, but Butterfly correctly thinks to fill the dead air.

“Well, they had better not behave that way at Sur La Table tomorrow or that franchise is going to be Sophie La Table by the time we leave,” she says. Sophie giggles.

“That reminds me,” Jason says. “You have your own kitchen, and I think you’re old enough and responsible enough to start practicing your own dishes. So, when you go to Sur La Table tomorrow, you can get anything you want to outfit your kitchen.” Sophie’s eyes widen.

“Really?” she says in a high whisper. “Dad, are you serious?”

“I’m completely serious,” he says. “You can have whatever you want, and if it needs to be shipped, just have them ship it… and we’ll get a couple of extra fire extinguishers, too.”

“Daa-aa-aad,” Sophie whines, “I used to cook when I lived with Mom, just not gourmet stuff.” Jason’s face hardens.

“You did?” he asks. Sophie shrugs.

“Yeah,” she says. “If I didn’t, I’d starve… or I’d have to eat Pop-Tarts for life.”

“How long have you been cooking?” Jason asks. Sophie ponders her answers as Gail and Keri re-enter the room with the twins.

“About…” she ponders a moment more, “three or four years.”

That would fucking make her nine years old.

“What do you know how to cook, Sophie?” Butterfly asks, trying to get information and diffuse the situation at the same time.

“A lot of stuff,” she says. “I haven’t cooked all the stuff, but watching the TV shows and things on YouTube, I can probably follow any recipe you give me.”

“What have you already cooked?” Butterfly probes.

“I can cook breakfast,” she says. “I can make hamburgers and fried chicken. I tried to bake a chicken once, but it came out kinda dry. Then I learned I needed to take the innards out and turn the temperature down… and baste, so…” She ponders a little more. “I can do lots of Asian food—stir fry, pepper steak, shrimp fried rice… I know how to make sweet and sour sauce, too.”

“What’s the first thing you remember cooking by yourself?” Jason asks.

“Oh, that’s easy. Grilled cheese… I burned my hand,” she replies matter-of-factly.

“You burned your hand?” Butterfly interjects. “Badly?”

“Real bad,” she says. “I still got the scar. See?” She turns her hand over and shows us a straight scar from the bottom of her palm across the top of her wrist. It almost looks like the scar tissue from a knife slash. Jason frowns deeply.

“Shalane told me you fell off your bike and cut yourself on a piece of glass,” Jason counters. Sophie shakes her head.

“Nope. Grilled cheese,” she says, looking at her hand again and shrugging like it’s no big deal. I can see the steam rising from Jason’s head. “Don’t worry, Dad, I know how to make a great sandwich now. Ms. Solomon taught me.” Jason smiles tightly.

“She did?” he asks, trying to control his voice.

“Yeah, it’s ham and cheese and pineapple and it’s really good,” she boasts.

“Will you make one for me when we get home?” he asks. Sophie beams.

“Sure, Dad,” she says, proudly. “I’ll make you anything you want.”

“Pumpkin?” Gail says. “Will you please take Mikey for me and help Keri get them ready for snack time? I want to talk to your dad for a minute.”

“Sure, Momma Gail. C’mon Mikey, let’s go get treats.” Gail puts Mikey on the floor and he immediately takes Sophie’s hand and allows her to lead him to parts unknown.

“Jason, are you okay?” Gail asks once Sophie has left the room.

“Anything she wants,” he says to his wife. “I mean it. Anything that will allow her to create anything she wants…” He trails off.

“You’ll get no argument from me,” Gail says. “If anybody’s worth it, she is. And I really think we’ll be cultivating her dream, so why not get her started as soon as possible with the best utensils money can buy?”

“I don’t mean to get giddy over what is apparently a serious and very solemn moment, but this is going to be so much fun!!!” Butterfly declares gleefully while shaking her fists, adding the needed levity to the situation and causing Gail and Jason to snicker.

And just like that, crisis averted.

*-*

“Does Sophie have a passport?” Butterfly asks as we’re getting ready for bed.

“I don’t know,” I reply, nonplussed. “I don’t think there was ever a reason for her to have one before now, but I would have to ask Jason. Why do you ask?”

“I think it would be great if our trip to Italy was a family vacation,” she suggests, climbing into bed. “Not the entire trip, but maybe the last leg or so of it. I’d like for my babies to be there for a bit, and that would mean Keri and Gail, which would also mean Sophie. What do you think?” He shrugs.

“I don’t see why not,” he says. “It would definitely be a really good experience for her, and I’m certain that having the twins there for part of the trip would help you to relax. I’ll talk to Jason and see how he feels. This wouldn’t have anything to do with the whole Bad Taste Italian experience, would it?”

“It has everything to do with it,” she says shamelessly. “While we were at one of the restaurants, Sophie mentioned that she would like to go to Italy one day and taste authentic Italian cuisine. I told her that we would be going this summer and said that I would run it past you, Gail, and Jason to see how you all felt about it. I didn’t make any promises, though, because I don’t know if there’s any bureaucracy involved with her being able to leave the country or even if Jason would want that.” I chuckle.

“At this point, Jason would gift her the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and if there’s any bureaucracy involved with her being able to leave the country, he’ll get past that, too,” I say climbing into bed next to her. I turn the light off as she snuggles under the cover. I wrap my arm around her waist and pull her against me, pressing two kisses on her shoulder.

“You’re a really good Aunt Ana,” I say, as she snuggles into me and falls off to sleep.

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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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.

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 18

@Sweet Peach75, I have no idea why, but I happened to go to my website spam folder and there were like three posts in there from you! I’ve put them back on the site, but you guys, if you post a comment and you don’t see it after a day or so, hit me on that “contact me” link so I can check my spam. I’m going to check it more often just in case. I’m so sorry about that, Peach!!!

Thanks to all of you who like and retweet my links. Twitter and I just don’t seem to agree with one another. I get on there as often as I can and I try to follow it. If it weren’t for the sites (this one included) that automatically tweet my shit, I wouldn’t be there. So, again, I thank you! 

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…

Season 5 Episode 18

CHRISTIAN

“I haven’t eaten anything yet, and I’m starving. Can you please order something from room service?”

“Of course, baby. How far away are you?” I hear her ask Chuck.

“About twenty minutes,” she says, her voice defeated.

“Will you need a drink?” I ask. She sighs.

“Just wine… and a cranberry spritzer.”

“I’m on it,” I tell her. “Come on back to the hotel and everything will be right as rain.”

“Yeah, sure,” she remarks. “Love you.”

“Love you, too,” I reply, and end the call. I dial Keri’s number.

“Yes, Chtistian?”

“Are the twins still asleep?” I ask.

“Noh, dey jess weke up,” she replies.

“Good. Butterfly is on her way. She’ll be here in twenty minutes. I’m having room service delivered down there for her.”

“Okeh, wee’ll be wehtin,” she says, and ends the call.

I order room service to the “baby suite,” then sit impatiently, waiting for my wife to return. I’m concerned about how she’ll feel about the babies being in Las Vegas. Will she be happy they’re here, like Allen said, or will she be pissed that I brought her children to this forbidden place—and without asking her first? Maybe she’ll be both—happy at first and then pissed, or vice-versa.

Well, I wanted to see them, too, and we probably won’t be going back to Seattle until her mother wakes or kicks the bucket—whichever comes first. So, there.

I get that nervous sinking feeling in my stomach when I hear her enter the suite. It turns to concern when I see her face.

“I thought Chuck was with you,” I say.

“He nearly bolted from the elevator saying he had to pee and took off in the other direction,” she says. No, he’s trying to get a few moments with his girl before we descend.

“You look like it’s been a rough day,” I say. She tosses her coat onto the big chair and sighs.

“Not so much,” she says. “I just… I don’t know how you can see someone in such a vulnerable position and not be concerned. I look at her and right, now, she’s completely at my mercy. I want to make sure that she’s taken care of, that she gets everything that she needs, but any time I think of feeling any emotion for her, it’s nothing but anger. I think about me being in that bed—no one caring about me—and her room is full of flowers. I think about no one coming into that room to see me, not even her, but her best friend came today and just sat with her for a long time. She even knew who I was.

“It seems so petty to compare her situation now with mine back then. It seems childish to say, ‘Well, you didn’t care about me, so I shouldn’t care about you.’ It seems so ridiculous to be jealous of her flowers and envious of her visitors and hateful that so many people appear to care for her, but I couldn’t get that! Not even from her!”

She puts one hand on her forehead and one on her hip, turning away from me and taking several deep breaths. I move in closer to her and gently grasp her arms.

“This hate is heavy,” she says, her voice thick and low. “I can’t keep carrying it, but I don’t know what else to feel. I feel like she doesn’t deserve the kindness that she’s getting, but that’s crazy.” She shakes her head. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“You’re human, Butterfly,” I tell her. “She hurt you. She left you all alone. You were just a kid. You can no sooner get over those feelings of helplessness and desertion than I can get over these burns on my chest and where they came from.”

She stiffens, but it’s true. We were both traumatized in our childhood, and the scars are a lot deeper than the ones left on our skin.

“My mother is dead,” I tell her. “I don’t have to worry about forgiving her or wondering why she did what she did, because she’s gone. Your mother is alive—she’s still able to account for her sins against you and deep down, that’s what you want. You want her to feel the loneliness and the seclusion that you felt at your weakest moment, but whether she wakes up or not, she’s not going to feel that. She has accumulated a support system here, and they’re concerned about her, and you have the right to feel the way that you feel, because you didn’t have that support system when you needed it the most. We’ve both healed the best we can from those scars, but they still run deep.”  She shakes her head.

“I have to deal with this somehow,” she says. “I can’t shed any more tears over this. I can’t let it take over my life. In a couple of weeks, one way or the other, this ordeal is going to be over for me. I’ll have some therapy with Ace or Laura in the meantime and deal with it however I must.”

“Laura?” I ask. “You’ve been having therapy with Laura?”

“The few conversations I’ve had with Laura have been more fruitful than the two years I’ve spent with Ace. Her conversations are not really therapy, they’re more organic. They’re geared more to helping you get well and deal with your issues than to keep you coming back for more sessions. I think I like her methods better. I’m going to have a talk with her about studying her methods and incorporating them into my practice with the families at Helping Hands.” I twist my lips and nod.

“That’s probably a good idea, Butterfly,” I say, “especially if you see the good in what they’re doing for you. I just don’t want you to discount the good that Ace did, too. His methods really helped you out in some of your hardest times.”

“Yes, he was very helpful in a lot of ways,” she says. “I think I’m just put off by the fact that he couldn’t seem to actively help me with the Boogeyman, and that seemed pretty important to me.” I nod. I understand where she’s coming from. However…

“Well, for now, I want you to put all of this stuff in a little box and come with me. I have a surprise for you.” I take her hand and lead her to the door.

“Christian, I really don’t feel like being around people right now,” she protests, “and where’s my food?”

“Humor me,” I say, retrieving the key from the sofa table as we head out the door.

 “Where are we going?” she asks as we pass the elevator.

“A few more steps, my love,” I tell her, and she sighs impatiently. When I knock on the door of the suite, Chuck opens it with a smile.

“I smell food,” she says. “The food is in here…?”

When Chuck clears the doorway, it looks like we’ve walked right into Romper Room. The entire suite has been transformed into a toddler-friendly play area, complete with wall decals, oversized blocks, playhouses, floor tiles with letters and numbers, the whole nine yards. Percy really went over the top making a home away from home for my children.

“What in the world?” Butterfly says as we step into the suite. “What is this? You want to play with toys?”

“No, but I figure you might want to play with those,” I say, pointing to the living room area. There Keri sits with a fidgety Minnie and Mikey standing next to her. Butterfly’s hands fly to her mouth and she gasps loudly, tears immediately springing to her eyes.

Keri says something to the twins, no doubt along the lines of “Go to Mommy” or something like that. Having gotten his land legs sooner than his sister, Mikey darts to his mother and she drops to her knees in just enough time to scoop him into her arms. A few moments later, Minnie joins the hugfest, and my wife is on her knees, holding her babies and sobbing. It’s a sight that would bring the toughest of us to tears.

Allen, Ray, and Marilyn have come to the suite while my wife is blubbering in the middle of the floor to her babies. When she pulls them back to say something to them that I can’t decipher through her tears, Minnie replies with something equally indecipherable while patting both hands on Butterfly’s cheeks and Mikey makes a vain attempt to wipe her tears from her eyes.

A protector even at one year old.

I kneel down next to her and rub her back, trying to calm her crying a bit. She releases the children and they immediately head to the colorful little table and the toys it carries.

“How could you bring my babies to this horrible place?” she sobs, turning to me while still on the floor.

Uh oh.

I turn to Allen, whose eyes have widened, his mouth falling open. She rises up on her knees and catches me in a fierce embrace.

“Thank you,” she sobs in my neck. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you…”

I slowly wrap my arms around her, still stunned by her earlier chastisement, but happy that we’ve averted a crisis. While we’re wrapped in our embrace, I catch my daughter out the corner of my eye standing next to her mother. When I look down, I see her patting Butterfly on the leg.

“Methinks the Lady Mackenzie wants your attention,” I say. She releases my neck and tries to compose herself. I hand her my handkerchief, and she wipes away what tears she can manage before turning her attention to Minnie.

“Yes, Minnie Mouse?” she says, her voice still shaking. Minnie points to something on the other side of the room and uses her usual indecipherable speech, to which my wife answers, “Show me.”

Minnie takes her hand and Butterfly doesn’t rise from her knees. She crawls behind Minnie in white slacks and Louboutin red-bottoms to whatever thing has captured my daughter’s attention. I sigh heavily and look over at Allen, who stretches his lips in that way that confirms, “Yes, we dodged a bullet!”

Butterfly spends the rest of the afternoon playing games with her children and completely forgetting about the late lunch I had ordered. After a couple of hours, we order dinner to the twins’ suite and everyone comes down again to have a family meal, which consists of cold smoked ahi tuna poke, lamb chops, beef tenderloin, rotisserie chicken, cedar plank salmon, day boat scallops, whipped mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, steamed broccoli, and foraged mushrooms with red velvet cake, vanilla bean crème brûlée, and lemon mousse cheesecake for dessert. Unfortunately, tiramisu is not on the menu, so my beloved wife settles for red velvet cake.

Our children enjoy chicken fingers and French fries with finger fruit for dessert. My picky daughter bypasses the finger fruit and opts for the broccoli instead… strange kid.

The children have had a very big day with their first trip in an airplane, walking into a toddler wonderland, and the excitement of seeing their parents again. The adrenaline of the day crashes down on them very quickly after they’ve had dinner and they both fall into a food-induced slumber, Minnie in her mother’s arms and Mikey in the highchair next to me. Allen and Ray have gone back to their rooms for the night and Marilyn is sitting next to Butterfly. They’re chatting about… whatever. Marilyn is sipping on her smoothie as usual, but I didn’t see her eat anything today at dinner.

I look at her carefully, and her hair is dull and stringy. She keeps it in a small bun most of the time, but right now, it’s in a ponytail. There’s no bounce to it. It looks like hair when it’s oily and limp, but it’s dry and visibly brittle. Her skin looks pale and her face is unhealthily narrow. Her clothes are hanging from her frame and even her eyes look dull. I remember clearly when her face was fuller and her skin had a glow, when she looked healthy and athletic instead of frail and sickly. It’s not that I watched her, but I saw her nearly every day. I wish I could say that she’s looking better, but she’s not.

“Did you invite Marilyn to the spa with you yesterday?” I ask discreetly.

“Yes, but she didn’t want to go,” Butterfly replies. Maybe a massage and a treatment will help Marilyn begin to feel like herself again.

“What’s the plan for tomorrow?” I ask, loud enough for the room to hear me.

“Well, I’m not going to see my mother tomorrow because I’ll be spending the entire day with my babies.” She kisses a sleeping Minnie on the forehead. “When I was carrying them in my belly, they gave me strength when I felt like I couldn’t make it. Now, I barely know how to function when I’m away from them. Isn’t that a sad state of affairs?”

“What about you, Marilyn?” I say. “Why don’t you and Keri kick back and take advantage of the free spa packages that come with these rooms?”

“Thank you, Christian,” Marilyn says. “Maybe I will some other time, but Keri, you and Gail can go, and I’ll stay here with Bosslady.” I nod and drop it, allowing Keri and Gail to coo over going to the spa. I really wish Marilyn would go. This situation actually appears to be aging her.

“Ana, I don’t mean to talk business with you, but I haven’t gotten a chance to see you alone all day. Carl sent the figures for the proceeds from Tina’s jewelry auction. It was quite the haul.”

“Really?” Butterfly asks with interest. “Did you see how much?”

“After auctioneer’s fees, 1.7 million,” she replies.

“Whoa! Really?” Butterfly exclaims. “Have you told Grace?”

“Not yet. I just saw the email before dinner,” Marilyn says.

“Do me a favor and forward it to Grace. She’s going to be thrilled. She was just telling me about the grant proposals that she and Courtney are working on.”

“Oh, yeah, speaking of Courtney,” Marilyn says, sitting back in her seat, “I talked to her today, too. Things seem to be going well overall. Her and Vick are doing great. She got her grades and she’s ecstatic…” She trails off.

“There’s a but in there, I hear it,” Butterfly says. I hear it, too. Marilyn sighs.

“She’s a bit depressed… and pissed,” Marilyn continues. “It appears that even though her relationship with Addie is flourishing, her grandfather committed a major faux pas. Just after we came to Nevada for the trial, he offered her $1 million in cash. He wasn’t convinced that she had turned her life around and he wanted her out of Addie’s life to spare Addie the heartbreak of discovering that her granddaughter was still the conniving little brat that she had previously proven to be.

“Courtney. Was. Livid. She told him that if her grandmother did give her something at this point, she would give it to Helping Hands because you guys were the only ones who gave her a chance and believed in her when she really was worthless. She told him that she completely understands how he feels and why he feels that way, but that she’s not going to allow him to torment her anymore, that she didn’t want his money, and that she never wants to see him again.”

Whoa! That’s severe.

“She really shouldn’t cut her grandfather off,” I interject. “He has a lot of contacts—in the business world, in society… He could really be helpful to her in the future.”

“He’s already cut her off, Christian,” Butterfly says. “Courtney’s right. I totally get why Fred feels the way that he does. Courtney was insufferable and incorrigible, but she didn’t come to them asking for forgiveness, to be accepted into the family, or for any money or support from them. In fact, she shunned it. She avoided all contact with them. Addie came to her. Even then, she had the condition that if they felt the same way that they felt when they sent her back to Hukatucky or whatever the name of that place was that she didn’t want to be bothered—she was fine without them.

“I don’t know what Fred is expecting from her, but if he feels that she’s still irredeemable, then he needs to separate himself from her. Stop being around her and stop antagonizing the girl.”

“He’s only doing the same thing I did with Carla, Butterfly,” I say. “I tried to hand her money to get out of your life and leave you alone if she was coming back into your life to cause you grief and she turned it down, too.”

“It’s completely different, Christian,” Butterfly says. “Courtney was a self-centered, irresponsible little brat and that hurt Addie and Fred a lot. My mother watched me be tormented—physically and emotionally—and then she contributed to that torment. Addie and Fred discovered over the course of a few months that Courtney was a seemingly unsalvageable bad apple. I suffered for years at the hands of my mother.

“Courtney turned her life around on her own terms and decided that what she did, she would do it while no one was looking. My mother gave a moving performance about how horrible she and Green Valley were to me, about how she wishes she could take it all back and that the money I gave her is in a trust fund for the children, but she had an audience—a very large one at that. She cut her own deal to give her testimony, and even if she was totally sincere about her change of heart, I am nearly 30 fucking years old. The pain that she put me through is completely immeasurable and its effects spanned decades. One courtroom testimony—though quite stirring—won’t make up for what she put me through.

“Courtney did nothing like that to Addie and Fred, nor has she tried to come back and get in their good graces. They came to her.”

I can’t argue with her. She’s right about all of it. I just can’t help but feel like…

“I wish there was some way that everybody could come out of this not so hurt,” I admit. “We all know that Courtney was a real piece of work, but she appears to have turned her life around. And Adelaide and Fred are old and dear friends of our family. I just wish it could be easier for everybody.”

“You’re sweet,” my wife says softly, “but sometimes, this is just the way it is, baby.”

“Yeah, I know. I just don’t like it.”

*-*

My wife is happily spending the entire day in Romper Room watching various Disney movies and playing with toys like she’s a toddler herself. She awoke this morning, took the fastest shower known to man, donned a pair of yoga pants and a sweatshirt, scoffed down her breakfast way too quickly to digest, and announced that she will be spending the day in the babies suite if I wanted to find her. With her permission, I take a few hours to catch up on all things GEH.

I’ve discovered that with the new system of employee reviews, we’ve had a few resignations—some of the workers in the trenches and a couple of people in middle management, nothing to be concerned about. When asked why they were resigning, many of them gave some form of the same answer—they felt like they shouldn’t have to justify why they deserved their raises.

My company is scraping its ass on the ground like an ailing dog, being dragged down by incompetent assholes, some of whom don’t have the leadership skills of a gerbil, and I’ve got people who feel they shouldn’t have to tell me that they deserve their raises simply because they’ve done everything they were told to do… no initiative, no latent leadership skills, no problem-solving, no nothing, not even speaking up to say, “I had an idea, but my opinion wasn’t respected.”

Well, if that’s how you feel, then goodbye—and good luck on your next STAR behavioral-based interview where you’ll have to explain why you quit your last job with a very lucrative company with endless opportunities for advancement and when and if you proved at any point that you could be a valuable member of the team.

My status report has come in on the Pedophile as well. I look over the pictures that were forwarded to Alex. They’re glorious! She’s sitting in a wheelchair and her skin is hanging off of what you can see of her face. Her blonde hair is once again growing out to its brown and gray roots, and she truly looks like she’s got one foot in the grave. It truly warms my heart.

After an email or twelve to various departments and my executive team, I head down to the Romper Room suite to see my babies… all of them.

*-*

“They’re playing all your songs tonight, Al,” Butterfly laughs.

“Looks that way,” Allen concurs.

James flew down to be with Allen for the weekend and a few of us take a chance again to get out of the hotel. Butterfly found a place online called Oddfellows. It’s north, just on the outside of the Freemont Street Experience near the courthouse. It’s an alternative-type dance club where I would suspect no one would know who we are or at least they wouldn’t expect us to be here. Each night has a theme, and tonight is 80’s night, apparently right up Butterfly’s and Al’s alley.

The order of the day is jeans and casual clothes, so I didn’t have to worry about my girl wearing some skimpy dress that would be the envy of all the women and the desire of all the men. There’s a skimpy dress here and there on the dancefloor—which has a small stage and a huge, wall-sized video screen as its backdrop—but not Butterfly. No, she wants to dance and gyrate, and that silk shirt, black jeans, and Louboutin stilettos are still enough to showcase that beautiful body and cause a few women to sneer and more than a few men to salivate.

My girl has had a Cosmo or two and is bouncing happily in her seat to the music, an eclectic mix of artists from what sounds like the 80’s and maybe a touch of the early 90’s.

“So, how do you distinguish between Allen’s songs and your songs?” I ask. “You’re both singing them all.”

“Well, Al was the quintessential white boy, so he introduced me to Billy Joel, Duran Duran, the B-52’s, A-ha, and Wham, to name a few. I was the reverse Oreo, so to speak, so I introduced him to Motown, Kool and the Gang, Bobby Brown, and Salt-n-Pepa. It appears that they are tapping into the 80’s white boy tonight.”

Just as she finishes that statement, the familiar twang of the beginning of Take On Me fills the air and my girl deliberately begins to wildly bob her head like a hand-banger, after which she leaps to her feet and begins to do that dance where the girls bounce back and forth on their toes from one foot to the other, her hands doing a calmer version of the swim, and all I can think to myself as she and Al pipe out the lyrics is, “Who is this girl?”

She went to the hospital briefly this afternoon and when she returned, I was informed that we were going out tonight. She disappeared into the bedroom for an hour or two and when she emerged, she was wearing the ensemble that she’s wearing now, quickly putting the kibosh on my more formal garb and instructing me to go and change. We’ve had a seafood dinner and my wife and her gay boyfriend are feasting on a dessert of Cosmos and 80’s music.

Once A-Ha has finished singing the last bars of the song and the lead singer bursts out of the cartoon world and into live color on the life-sized screen, Allen and Butterfly return to the table with me and James to quench their parched throats with a swallow or three of their Cosmos. Just as they’re catching their breath and reminiscing over yet another 80’s tune, an unfamiliar intro of horns begins to play. Butterfly looks up at Allen in acknowledgement and Allen raises a brow at her.

“Do you remember it?” Allen asks her.

“Of course, I remember it!” Butterfly replies.

“Well, what’re we waitin’ for?” Allen says, sliding out of the booth. Butterfly giggles as he takes her hand and they head off to the dancefloor. I look at Jason, who just shrugs. A few moments later, we watch as Allen and Butterfly break into a perfectly choreographed routine of what looks like a mixture between a foxtrot and a jive, and with all the spins and perfect steps they’re doing, you can’t really tell who’s leading. I look over at James, who’s as stunned as I am to see them dancing together like that. They actually look like they can compete professionally.

What’s more, I don’t think I’ve seen my wife smile this widely in weeks.

“Do you ever feel left out of their little club?” I ask James honestly. He shakes his head as he swallows his beer.

“No,” he says, “Allie makes sure that doesn’t happen. We have our own little club and everybody can’t be a part of that one.” He raises his brow and takes another drink of his beer. I remember Butterfly mentioning to me once that they dabbled a bit in the lifestyle. I don’t know if they’re still in it or how deeply they’ve gone, and I dare not ask without invitation, but he’s right—no one should be privy to the “marriage” club relationship unless you’re practicing Polyamory, and that’s a huge no-no for me and Butterfly. I don’t want anyone else’s hands—male or female—on my woman!

“I’ve never seen a friendship like theirs,” James continues. “Never. If I wasn’t certain of Allie’s love for me, I’d feel threatened. I’m a little jealous that I never had a friendship like that in my entire life.”

“I think we’re both lucky to have found them,” I tell him. “They’re in love with each other as much as two people can be in love and not share a sexual relationship. For her to have the capacity to love him unconditionally and then love me, too… yeah, I’m the luckiest man alive.”

“I might have to dispute you on that one, Chris,” he says, watching his husband finish a flawless dance with my wife. They were clearly in their own world and appear a bit surprised to discover that the dancers cleared a small hole in the dance floor for them to finish their routines while the spectators looked on, and they’re a bit taken aback when the room erupts into applause for them.

I discover later that the song that gave them dancing feet is called Mambo #5.

My girl returns to her seat and a Cosmo and a bottle of water later, she’s back on the dance floor, perfectly mimicking the steps—and adding a few of her own—to the Salt-n-Pepa, Push It and Janet Jackson Control videos.  

And now I know how my girl learned to dance. She probably spent quite a bit of time mimicking music videos.

I have to admit that concept behind the Tainted Love video, I can’t get with that. It looks too creepy to me. I’m surprised that I’ve never seen it before now. He’s singing to a little girl—he looks like a fucking pedophile. Jason notices my expression and leans over to me.

“You okay, Boss?” he asks.

“This song was popular back in the day, I remember it,” I tell him. “This was the concept behind it the whole time?” He looks at the video, then looks back at me.

“I… I don’t know,” he says. “But you know the eighties, Boss. There was a lot of artistic expression that didn’t necessarily make sense.”

“There’s nothing confusing about that,” I retort. “He’s singing to a child about tainted love. That’s disgusting! Who approved this message?”

“I wouldn’t get too upset about it, Boss,” Jason says. “The song is 35 years old and the guy singing it is probably twice as old…” and probably out molesting children if his video is any indication!

I purse my lips and shake my head. How jaded must my mind be to get this angry over a 35-year-old video whose director obviously adopted a very fucked up sense of creative license?

“You’re not off the mark on this one, Chris,” James says, bringing my attention back to him. “I think it’s weird, too, and that’s putting it nicely. It’s making me pretty fucking uncomfortable. That song was originally done in the 60’s by an artist named Gloria Jones—this is a cover. She made it very clear that it’s about a relationship gone sour and she’s singing to her lover about how she feels their love is one-sided and now putrid. Where the concept falls that he’s singing to a little girl is beyond me.”

“Thank you!” I say, throwing my hand in the air. “I’m not crazy! I still like the song, but that video sucks!” I bottom out my bear and search for the waitress to get another one. While I’m searching the room, my eyes land on Butterfly and her lifetime dance partner now dominating the floor to Paula Abdul’s Straight Up.

I’m mesmerized once again watching her mimic the moves in the music video with Allen as the perfectly in-sync backup dancer. I completely forget what I was bitching about watching her flawlessly execute that Butterfly thing that Paula Abdul does with her legs. She’s graceful and beautiful and if there’s conversation going on around me, I can’t even hear it anymore. I could watch her all day.

Next, another Paula Abdul song comes on accompanied by a video that would disturb me as much as the Tainted Love video… if it wasn’t so cute. It’s the video for Opposites Attract, and Paula’s love interest is—of all things—a cartoon cat. The entire video is a dance video and she and Allen never miss a step. They use whatever room the other dancers give them, whether it’s a few feet or the entire stage area of the dance floor. After watching her execute some of the rubber-band moves of Paula Abdul, many people usually just move out of the way. I’m totally blown away when she and Allen mimic the tap dancing scene near the end of the video.

Fuck, is there anything this woman can’t do?

They stroll back to the table like Paula and ScatCat strolls off the screen at the end of the video, smiling so hard that their faces should break. Amidst the thunderous applause and cheers, they’re cut off by one of the women that was dancing just before they get to the table.

“Are you guys a couple?” she asks. “You look great together!”

“Thank you,” Butterfly says sincerely. “No, we’re not. Actually, we’re both married. He’s my gay boyfriend.” She squeezes his hand and lays her head on his shoulder.

“And she’s my fag hag,” Allen replies, laying his head on hers.

“Wow, really?” the girl says, somewhat wistfully. “You’re kind of hot.” James reaches up and takes his husband’s free hand, guiding him to the seat next to him.

“I think so, too,” James says protectively.

“Wow,” she says, looking at Allen and his husband, “two hot guys. You can’t go anywhere in public, can you?”

James chuckles loudly and Allen laughs as the young lady’s eyes travel around the table and land—widely—on me. Butterfly slides into the booth next to me and latches onto my arm, smiling at the girl.

“Please tell me that’s another one of your gay boyfriends cuz I’ll turn him straight,” she says without taking her eyes off me. Butterfly shakes her head and flashes her rings.

“Nope. Husband,” she says with a smile.

“Shit!” she says. “Sorry,” she says to Butterfly, repentant and with pouty lips, then she rolls her eyes. “Three hot guys.” Her eyes wander to a lone Jason sitting on the opposite side of the table in a chair he commandeered and brought to the table. Before she can question, he holds up his finger and flashes his ring.

“Fuck!” she exclaims. “Four hot pieces of man-candy and they’re all taken! Figures!” She throws her hands up and marches, frustrated, away from the table, causing us to burst out in laughter while Jason just shakes his head.

“I had no idea you guys could tap dance!” I point out once our admirer has left.

“She can’t, I can,” Allen says, proudly.

“Well, she was doing a pretty good job up there,” James says.

“Only because he taught me that routine,” Butterfly says before taking a healthy chug of what must be room-temperature water.

“And she scares the shit outta me doing it in stilettos!” Allen chimes in. “The entire time, I was afraid that she would tweak her damn ankle!”

“But I didn’t, so keep your shirt on,” she says, waving down a waitress.

“My girl can do anything in stilettos,” I say, remembering what she said to me after our first night together. James’ brow furrows.

“Anything?” he asks, puzzled.

“Anything,” Butterfly confirms.

“Can you rock climb?” Jason asks, with a smirk.

“If it’s me or the rock, I’ll figure it out,” she replies.

The waitress has made her way to the table and Butterfly gets another round of drinks, lots of water, and soda for Jason. Once the waitress returns, I hand her a $100 bill and thank her for the drinks.

“I’m hungry again,” Butterfly announces after chugging an entire bottle of water.

“I can see why,” I say. “You’ve done a workout up there that would put Zumba to shame.”

“And I’m sweating like a pig,” she says, pulling the material of her shirt from her body repeatedly, using it to fan herself. “Give me your blazer,” she says.

“Why? Are you cold?” I ask.

“I will be in a minute if you don’t give me your blazer,” she says, and snatches her drenched silk shirt right over her head… in the middle of the damn club. I’m stunned just looking at those beautiful mounds held up by a stylish black sports bra.

“Shit!” Jason says, ripping off his suit jacket to cover Butterfly while she uses her 100% silk shirt to dry her sweat to a background of whooping onlookers.

“Your Highness!” Jason scolds over the music.

“Heeeeey! We agreed!” Butterfly protests.

“Your. Highness!” Jason reinforces, saying the second word so hard that Butterfly jumps in her seat. “Please! Don’t ever do that again!”

She stares at him like a child being scolded by her father. His words are a request. His tone is, “If you pull that shit again, you’re grounded for a month.”

“Okay, okay, sorry,” she says in a whiny, petulant, teenager voice. She buttons the suit jacket which is at least three sizes too big for her, her sports bra still peeking out from the neckline. She rolls the sleeves up to accommodate her hands, never raising her gaze to any of us while she’s doing it. I’m certain that she’s feeling chastised and a bit embarrassed. She had better be glad I was hypnotized by her tits or my reaction may have been a bit more… animated.

“Okay,” I say when she has fiddled with the sleeves a bit too long. “Back to the dancefloor.”

I push her out of the booth and slide out behind her. I’m dragging her to the dancefloor by her hand and she’s somewhat stomping behind me with her head down like I just told her to go to her room.

Geez, Butterfly, spoiled much?

I dance a little with her and she’s not into it at all, doing the obligatory two-step with minimal movements of her arms.

Well, this will never do.

“Okay. Fine. You don’t want to dance with me? I’ll dance by myself.”

I turn away from my wife and begin a series of crazy gyrations reminiscent of the final scene of Footloose. It’s not really bad, except if you take away the weird dresses and prom decorations, you’ve got one guy on the floor looking like he’s having a seizure.

When I turn back to my wife, she’s got one arm crossed over her chest and one hand covering her mouth, stifling a smile that she’s trying not to let show.

“No?” I say, shaking my head. “Okay, how about this?” For my next rendition, ladies and gentlemen…

I begin a really bad… and I do mean really bad rendition of Austin Powers’ fembots dance. Seriously, the dance was already bad on its own, but I made it worse. Now, both my wife’s hands are covering her mouth. And for my finale, folks…

I break into a flawless rendition of Napoleon Dynamite’s “Vote for Pedro” dance to Canned Heat… only I’m dancing to Break My Stride. And, well, flawless may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I must admit that Napoleon Dynamite was one of my guilty pleasures, so I know that routine very well. If it’s not flawless, it’s pretty damn close.

“Okay, okay, you’re making a fool of yourself!” my wife says, halting my exquisite execution through her laughter by putting her arms around my waist.

“Yeah, but I made you laugh, didn’t I?” I say victoriously.

“Heartily,” she says as I pull her against me and kiss her quickly.

“And he’s right,” I say, holding her over Jason’s way too big suit jacket. “What you did was worthy of a punishment. If you ever do it again, you’re going to get one, and you’re not going to like it. Understand?”

My voice is sober, but not harsh. It’s matter-of-fact. If you’re a bad little Pussycat, you’re going to get spanked. She nods and drops her head like a good little soumise.

“Yes, Sir,” she replies softly, and I hear it loud and clear as if she were speaking through a bullhorn. I put my finger under her chin and lift her head.

“Good girl,” I say, kissing her softly again on the lips. “Now, let’s go find something to eat.” I take her by the hand and lead her from the dancefloor.


ANASTASIA

Last night’s workout has turned out to be murder on my joints. I’m exhausted and sore, but not too tired to have breakfast with my children. I’m able to convince Marilyn to have a few pieces of fruit, but I’m certain that we’re going to have to graduate to more real food for her very soon. While Pedialyte, Ensure, and smoothies offer sufficient nutrition for her, she can’t survive off of those things indefinitely.

“Daddy, why do you call me ‘Sunflower?’” I ask when we are the last two people at the table. He raises his brow.

“I’ve… called you that almost since you were born,” he says. “Why do you ask?” I drop my gaze.

“My mother’s favorite flower is a sunflower,” I say. “It took me nearly 30 years to find that out and I found out from a stranger.” Daddy gasps.

“Oh,” he says, sadly. “I forgot all about that. Yeah, that might have been where it came from, come to think of it. I did love that woman once upon a time… very much. It wouldn’t have been too far fetched. I’ll stop if it bothers you…”

“Absolutely not!” I scold. “’Sunflower’ is something special between us that just happens to be her favorite flower.” Daddy nods and drops his head.

“I know why you didn’t tell me everything, but it hurts that you didn’t tell me everything.” I sigh heavily.

“I didn’t have the heart, Daddy,” I reply. “Those details are even hard for me to watch right now, and I remember everything vividly, like it happened yesterday. It was selfish of me not to prepare you guys for what was coming, but what could I do?”

“Nothing, Sunflower,” he says, his eyes filling with tears. “You couldn’t do anything. You couldn’t do anything then and you couldn’t do anything now.” He throws his gaze to the ceiling, trying to fight his tears.

“The only times I’ve ever cried was over you,” he admits. “I was broken when I lost Carla. I was destroyed when I lost you. It was the worst pain I had ever felt when you left me.” I cover my mouth and choke back a sob.

“I know, Daddy,” I say once I’m able to speak. “I felt the same way about you. All those horrible things she made me say to you…”

“I knew it wasn’t you, Annie,” he says. “The words weren’t yours and I could tell right away…” He trails off. “When I showed up at that hospital and you were all frail and weak, dear God, I wanted to burn this city down to find out what had happened to you. I was so angry with Carla. She couldn’t even tell me what was going on! She didn’t have any answers. She blamed you the entire time I talked to her, saying that she had no idea what you had gotten into. Your bruises were mostly healed, but you still looked broken. The pictures that I saw… I had seen men tortured in POW camps that didn’t look that bad.

“All these years, she just walked around like, ‘Shit happens,’” he says, his voice cracking. “Then, she had the nerve to show up at the hospital after you were kidnapped; all that shit she said in the press… Who the hell does she think she is?”

Daddy is getting angry and he’s crying freely now. Daddy’s right—I don’t remember ever seeing him cry. Marines don’t cry, but he’s crying now.

“How could she birth someone into the world and then treat her that way?” he sobs. “I wouldn’t treat a dog the way she treated you. And dear God in heaven, when she called me and told me that you were missing again…!”

Daddy is weeping now. His body is shaking violently with his sobs. I hold his hands tightly as he cries, my own dam bursting along with his. He’s been holding this in for a lot of years. He needs to get it out.

“I did everything I could to keep you,” he sobs. “This never would have happened if she had just let me keep you. I would have protected you… spared you all this agony…”

“I know, Daddy,” I weep. “I know you would.”

“Your capacity for kindness never ceases to amaze me, Annie,” my father says with tears streaming down his cheeks. “I’m not ashamed to say that after hearing her version of what happened, and what she felt, and knowing what you went through, I would have immediately pulled the plug on that woman!” He says the last part through gritted teeth.

“I’m angry and hurt for everything that she did to me,” I admit, “everything that she allowed to happen to me—from ripping me away from you to allowing her monster of a husband to mistreat me to the entire ordeal with Green Valley. I’m hurt and disappointed and enraged down to my very soul… but if I just let her die, then I’m no better than she is.

“At the end of the day, I have to live with my decision. That’s why I’m making sure that she’s getting the best care, but it’s not out of love or devotion. It’s out of human obligation. I’m her next of kin, and I will see her through to the end of her advanced directive or until she awakes, whichever comes first. Then, I’ll put her in a nursing home or the grave, whichever is necessary.”

“That’s still more kindness than she deserves as far as I’m concerned,” Daddy says, wiping his eyes. “I would either be donating her body to science or walking away and leaving her right where she lay! I guess the Man Upstairs has to work on my heart. I don’t think I’ve ever forgiven her for what she put you through.” I squeeze his hands.

“Forgive her, Daddy,” I say, through my sniffles. “I have. I can’t hold onto it anymore. I forgave her years ago when I gave her that money and told her to get out of my life. It still frustrates me that she did the things that she did, and that she was so heartless and cruel, hence my recent meltdown. That’s what happens when I dwell on it. That’s why I don’t dwell on it. You shouldn’t either.” He sighs heavily.

“You’re so wise, Annie, that it scares me sometimes,” he admits.

“Trust me, it can be a very heavy cross to bear,” I lament, wrapping my arms around my Daddy and hugging him with all my might.

Later that afternoon, I stop in at the hospital to collect more cards from more flowers and have some of the older arrangements removed. I told the nurse that she could decide what to do with them since some of them look like they may have been dying. I can still see the disapproval in her eyes when I give her instructions even though she doesn’t say anything to me about how she feels. It’s none of her business anyway. Henry, my mother’s guard today, shows me her visitors’ log.

Fourteen people have been here to see her since I said she could have visitors. What was that, like a couple of days ago?

I push down the anger, envy, and resentment that I feel each time I think about the number of visitors that this selfish adult grandmother has received in just the past few days that a 15-year-old girl wasn’t afforded in several weeks.

“Neti, neti,” I repeat to myself, standing in my mother’s room. “Neti, neti…”

Studying with Marilyn about meditation and restorative yoga, I came upon this simple Sanskrit chant. Neti, neti which simply means not this, not this. It’s used to push away bad omens, bad thoughts, bad situations. I use it to try to cleanse myself of the hateful feelings and energy that consume me when it comes to dealing with this woman. My negative energy can’t be conducive to her healing, and it’s certainly not conducive to mine.

“Neti, neti… neti, neti… neti, neti…”

I recite the damn thing all the way back to the hotel.

*-*

“Aunt Ana!”

Sophie gives me a big hug once she and Gail get to the hotel Saturday evening. She appears to be very happy to be here.

“Sophie!” I say, returning her embrace. “So… Vegas. How many of your friends can say this is where they’re spending their semester break?”

“None,” she giggles. “Most of them are talking about going to some exotic place for spring break, but I’m in Vegas now!” I laugh with her. There’s no use in spreading my hatred for this place. A lot of people like it here; I just don’t.

“I know that Gail and Jason have some things planned, but I’ve got a thing or two planned as well,” I tell her.

“It’s not all kiddie things, is it?” she laments. “I want to do some kiddie things, like I want to go to the Adventure Dome, but I don’t want to do all kiddie things. I want to do some grown-up things, too.”

“Like a Las Vegas food tour?” I ask, “Or dinner at one of the world-renowned chef’s restaurants?”

“Yeah!” she replies, starry-eyed.

“Well, that’s what I’ve got planned,” I tell her, and she hops in place and claps.

“Oh, yay!” she says. “When do we go?”

“The restaurant is tomorrow night, and the food tour is Tuesday. Is there anything else besides Adventure Dome that you want to do while we’re here?”

“I want to go to Sur La Table,” she says. “I’ve been to the one in Pike’s Place and I wasn’t really impressed. I want to see what the one here looks like.” I nod.

“Your wish is my command,” I tell her. “I’ll talk to Gail and Jason and see what they’ve got planned and we’ll fit it in among their plans, okay?” Sophie nods happily.

“Okay,” she says. I type into my phone memos to check out Sur La Table. The moment Google sees the name, it suggests the cooking classes that they have at the store in Summerlin. That would be fantastic! I’m glad my phone is on silent or Google would have blown my entire plan!

“Aunt Ana… I know why you’re here,” she says solemnly. I raise my gaze to her. I don’t really know how to respond. “It’s all over the news at home.”

I swallow hard. How do you explain something like this to a 13-year-old girl?

“I know about your mom, too,” she says, looking at her hands. “I just wanted to get that out.”

“Okay,” I reply.

“I don’t really understand this whole thing,” she says, her brow furrowed. “I really thought the police were supposed to help you.” I sigh heavily.

“Most of the time, they are,” I reply. “This guy… had a brother he wanted to protect more than me.”

“Well, that’s just… crappy,” she says. I know what she really wants to say, and crappy wasn’t it. “Everybody has somebody they want to protect. Does that mean that I have to worry about if the police are going to put somebody else’s well-being before me?”

I shake my head. I can’t tell her that this won’t happen. They very well might put someone else’s well-being before her for many reasons, including but not limited to protecting their own family.

“Let’s hope that’s not the case, Sophie,” I tell her. “I would think that overall, the police would want to do the right thing, which is to protect and serve the public. I feel that even though there may be a few bad apples, overall, the police are good people.”

“I hope you’re right,” she says, “but I still think I want Daddy to teach me how to shoot when I’m old enough.”

“Well, it’s not a bad skill to have,” I concur. She’s quiet for a moment.

“What they did to you,” she says, looking down at her hands, “it was horrible. It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever heard… even more horrible than my mom doing drugs… even more horrible than here trying to sell me to that guy…”

“That was pretty horrible,” I interrupt her with a furrowed brow.

“This was worse,” she said. “Somebody saved me… the police saved me. Nobody saved you… and I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

I’m doing my best not to get choked up. I know what she means, but that’s a huge responsibility for a little girl to take on about something that happened before she was even born.

“There’s nothing for you to be sorry about, baby,” I tell her, taking her hands. “These were horrible people and they did a horrible thing, and now they’re being punished.”

“I’m still sorry,” she says, now looking in my eyes, “I’m sorry that someone came to save me, and no one came to save you.” Oh, dear God.

I know what she’s feeling, and I can’t explain it away. I just take her in my arms and give her a really big hug.

“Thank you, Sophie,” I say, trying to keep my voice from cracking. “I think that’s the nicest thing anybody has ever said to me.”

*-*

Dinner tonight is at the Buffet at Aria, and poor Sophie wants to try everything on the menu. The food is spectacular, the dessert divine, and my honorary niece is eating herself into a stupor. Even my normally picky eater Mackenzie is shoveling different fruits and vegetables into her mouth.

Marilyn didn’t even bother to succumb to the pressure of a buffet, so she’s sitting this one out.

“We’re in Vegas,” Christian says to Chuck while Keri and Gail are off at the food stations. “Have you asked her?”

“Of course, I have,” Chuck replies. “I didn’t expect her to be here, so I left the ring at home, but I was prepared to buy another one if she had said, ‘yes.’”

“So, I take it that it was a ‘no,’” Christian replies. Chuck sighs.

“She’s afraid of something, but I don’t know what it is,” Chuck replies. “I adore her, and I’m certain that she loves me. I just don’t know why she won’t marry me.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want to be beholden to you,” I say. “I love Christian very much, but I wouldn’t want that either.”

“Well, first of all, I wouldn’t do that to her,” Chuck says, slightly affronted. “And second of all, she wouldn’t be. She’s here on her own visa and her job is with you, just like mine is. Granted, she got it because of her affiliation to me, but let’s face it. As much as I love her, if she was shit, you guys wouldn’t let her tend to your children. And now, she’s got her teaching certification, so she really doesn’t need me that way. I don’t think that’s it.”

I think it is. I think she doesn’t want to lose her independence and that she’s afraid that if she marries an American and she’s Anguillan, that’s just what might happen.

“I see those wheels spinning,” Chuck accuses. “You know something I don’t.”

“You’re right,” I confess. “I know how it feels as a woman making my own way and not wanting to lose that feeling. As much as I’ve become accustomed to the lifestyle that I enjoy with my husband, if something happened and I lost it all tomorrow…”

“Which is impossible,” Christian interjects.

“But if it did,” I retort, “I could still go out into the big, wide world and fend for myself. I’m just saying. I don’t know if that’s the problem, but maybe you should ask her what she needs in order to make that step. It may not be that she doesn’t want to spend her life with you. It may just be that you’re asking the wrong question.” He rolls his eyes.

“No offense, Ana, but I can’t hear the shrink right now. I love that girl, and if asking her to marry me is not the right question, then I don’t know what is. Excuse me.”

He stands and heads for the door, and I think he’s going to the restroom. I watch him leave, then crack my neck and finish my wine.

“I’m sorry I asked,” Christian says. I shake my head.

“It’s not your fault,” I reply. “I’m always trying to shrink someone else and I can’t even shrink myself. I’m all tied in knots in this place. I’m barely hanging on from day to day. You all had to bring my children down here to keep me grounded. Who am I to try to give someone advice on how to live?”

“A licensed psychiatrist and a damn good one,” he says, putting his arm around the back of my chair. “You do know what you’re talking about, and you’re right. He just doesn’t want to hear it. He’s raw from another let-down. And baby? When a doctor is ill, she doesn’t diagnose herself without tests. Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t have all the answers for all this crazy shit that’s going on in your life.”

I will not cry…
I will not cry…

“I thought I was supposed to be the shrink,” I say, laughing to fight my tears. He smiles widely and kisses me on the cheek.

“We both know I’m no shrink,” he replies. “I just love you and I want you to be happy.”

I smile and lean on his shoulder. I love Chuck and Keri, too, and I want them to be happy. I just wish I knew what was really holding up Keri’s decision


A/N: Freeds opened in Vegas—Henderson to be exact—in 2017, not 2015. Creative license.

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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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~~love and handcuffs