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 31
“How did things go with Sarah?”
I went into the office for a long overdue department head meeting this morning and learned that Sarah’s background check had come back clear, not that we had any doubt that it would. Upon hearing that, Sarah had to interview for the position just like any other candidate would. I was leaving the office when they were setting up the interview.
“She agreed to come in and interview this afternoon and I have to admit, she was stellar,” Christian says. “The interview took place in the first-floor conference room, so I watched from my office. I wanted to know if she was going to be a true asset to the company or if I was just going to be taking care of her… because I would if that was the case.”
I can’t argue with that. If he hadn’t, I would.
“I had nothing to worry about,” he says. “Sarah’s skills were being wasted at that parking structure. She has excellent leadership skills. She’s very quick on the pickup. She was answering questions and solving scenarios faster than they could throw them at her. I’d love to know where that Marsha bitch is now so that she can see what a goldmine I have in her place.”
“That’s a term that you seldom use,” I point out, surprised.
“I seldom have cause,” he replies. “This woman was really a bitch.”
“Please, explain,” I say, entwining my fingers over my laptop keyboard. “The only Marcia I can think of is Marlow’s mother and I know you couldn’t be speaking of her.”
“No,” he says, shaking his head. “Do you remember that incompetent security company that was assigned to your condo when David vandalized your car?” I twist my lips.
“I remember the car being vandalized and I vaguely remember something about the security company.” Even now, all this time after the accident, I still have problems with my short-term memory—at list with incidents that occurred a few years before that fateful day.
“Well, David vandalized your car and that security company—which I owned—was completely clueless even though the entire thing was caught on closed circuit TV. When I went about the business of finding out where the weak link was in the company, I discovered it was the director, Marsha Sims, who spent our entire meeting trying to illuminate that I was a chauvinistic man afraid of women trying to usurp her authority. Keep in mind that the entire time, the security company was going through an internal audit.”
“Hmm, and where is she working now?” I ask.
“Hell if I know, but not for me,” Christian replies, “hopefully for one of my competitors. I’ve got a real professional in the seat now. After that internal audit a few years back, I condensed the four companies into one and had them headquartered at GEH. With Sarah’s in-depth knowledge of security protocol, she’ll have the commercial security department in tiptop shape in no time.”
“I have to say that they weren’t one of the sore spots that we had been keeping an eye on… not that I know of anyway,” I point out.
“That’s because they weren’t that bad off,” he says. “They were fair to midland, but not slacking as badly as everyone else was. As fate would have it, that supervisor fell ill just after Christmas and took early retirement. Unfortunate for him, of course, but serendipitous for Sarah.”
“Is he okay?” I ask. “I hadn’t heard of any of the department heads falling ill.” Christian’s face turns solemn.
“Stage IV cancer unfortunately,” he says, “and he wasn’t the department head, Alex is. He would be just under Alex in the organizational chart as one of the subdivisions of security.” I twist my lips.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I say. “That leaves Sarah with quite the shoes to fill.”
“I have a feeling there’s a lot more fire to that woman than we think. She was just… meek to her husband, for lack of a better word.”
“Meek like… submissive?” I ask. He shakes his head.
“I think it was more than that,” he says. “I know there can be some assholes out there that try to use BDSM as an excuse to abuse women, but I don’t think that’s what this was. I think this was a powerless man—or a bully—who just took his frustrations out on a woman who didn’t have anybody else and he knew it. We find most of our strength from within and that’s understandable, but a lot of our strength derives from the fact that we’re not standing alone. It’s easy to victimize somebody who’s all alone. If I’m on my very last leg, I would draw more strength from the fact that you and the twins depend on me, so I can’t give up on whatever it is that I’m trying to do. If there’s no one standing behind me, I may not be so gung-ho to fight if the ship is sinking.” I shiver.
“That’s depressing,” I say. He shrugs.
“Be that as it may, a man standing on his own doesn’t have as much to fight for as a man who clearly has something to lose.” I shake my head.
“When does she start?” I ask, turning my attention back to my computer.
“Tomorrow,” he replies. “She wanted to get going as soon as possible. She feels like an imposition, staying at the Fairmont on our dime and all. She’s more than ready to stand on her own.”
“Well, it won’t be long now. All she has to do is find a place and she’ll be all set.”
“Yeah, she’s right, though—she’s not accustomed to handouts.” He walks over to my desk and looks over my shoulder. “What are you working on?”
“Answering emails and seeing what decorating ideas have… Oooohh!”
“What?” he asks.
“Aaron has sent me an email.” I click on the email and there’s no body to it, just a subject line that says, “Villa” and an attachment named, “Play me.”
“Play me?” I say, looking at the file.
“Huh?” Christian asks bemused.
“Aaron’s email has nothing in the body, but there’s an attachment.” I click on the attachment. “It’s an mp4.”
“Oh hell,” he says. “I’m going to let you watch it. “If he’s sending you a video, either it’s great news or terrible news. Either way, I see dollar signs. Let me know how that goes.”
He kisses me on the cheek and quickly leaves my study. I download the attachment and see that the video is 27 minutes long. Good grief. I settle in and prepare myself for him to hit me with the bad news.
He’s front and center when the video comes to life and I can tell that someone else is holding the camera.
“Hello, Ms. Anastasia,” he says, and he appears to be standing outside. “So, I know you looked at the virtual tour, but it really didn’t do this place justice. Also, it was furnished with all that other shit, so you really can’t see the beautiful bones you have to work with here. Forgive me if I start to sound a little effeminate, but this is what I live for.
“Look at this. Have you seen this?” He flourishes like Vanna White as the camera follows him to the front doors. “Look at this. Distress wood oversized double doors with iron hinges. That’s not metal, baby. That’s iron. Come on… come inside…”
He gestures to the camera operator to follow him into the house. He dramatically opens both doors with another large flourish.
“Look at this!” he declares. “Look. At. This!” He twirls with his arms held out to demonstrate the space. “Listen… lead glass windows, travertine stone floors, mahogany floors, 100-year-old pine floors, stone walls and fireplaces, antiqued walls…”
He’s rattling off the attributes of the house as he parades through it pointing at various amenities. His poor cameraperson doesn’t have an opportunity to get shots of the house. They’re just filming Aaron as he points in different directions.
“Designer plasterwork—look at these walls, girl… Are you getting all this?”
“No, I’m not, Aaron, you’re going too fast,” I hear a female voice say. Aaron waves her off.
“You just gone have to keep up,” he says as he keeps walking. “Get that! Do you see that?”
The camera pans up to a sight the totally warms my heart—low ceilings and large wood beams.
“That’s in this part of the house. Another part of the house has high ceilings and stone floors. Ana Baby, this house is three houses in one. Looka here! Looka here!”
He gestures to his right and the camera pans to a beautiful wood staircase.
“Solid wood staircase going up to the second floor, and there’s a wrought iron staircase on the other end going down to the wine cellar, which still has wine in it, by the way.”
Aaron spends several minutes telling me about the structure and attributes of the house, including the fabulous and luxurious indoor pool area.
“The bones are amazing!” he says. “You don’t need to paint or resurface anything the floors are fabulous no walls need to be knocked out it’s a decorator’s dream I’m never leaving!”
I laugh to myself as he says the entire last sentence in one breath.
He walks us through the parlors and bars and bathrooms and a stunning kitchen with medium two-toned oak wood, mullioned glass, brunette marble countertops, and deluxe appliances and fixtures that create the perfect mixture of traditional Italian and modern convenience. Not only does it not need any renovations, but also… it’s fucking gorgeous!
“These walls are a classic sandstone finish. Magnifique, my dear, magnifique! I’d bet anything that those beams are walnut,” he says of the beams we see on the ceilings throughout the house.
“The ceilings in this room are straw and plaster. I haven’t seen this technique before, but it works for the old-world look….
“You’ve got a door in here that looks like it’s carved from cedar—Bolivian, I think. Hold on, look at this hallway floor.”
He gestures the camera to a small area where the walls look a bit like a stonewash Tuscan in the colors of a sunset and directs the camera to the floor.
Oh. My. God.
“Girl! Tapestry! Marble tapestry! I’ve never seen anything this beautiful!”
To be honest, neither have I!
“You’ve got a lot of wrought iron in the back and some of it is aged—distressed with a rusted look. I say you leave it that way, but that’s just my opinion. You got red sun onyx in one of the bathrooms back there. It’s like whoever had this house didn’t know what they wanted to do with it, so they did everything with it and sold it once they ran out of ideas.”
After running around on the first floor for at least 20 minutes, we finally make it to the second floor.
“The good thing about Italian villas—small bedrooms. The concept of the bedroom to the Italian—sleep and sex, that’s it.”
He quickly dashes in and out of several small bedrooms only big enough for a bed, an armoire, and a bench… maybe, and a few others that were a little larger, but not by much. There are more rooms on the second floor including areas that he called the “Mr. Darcy” rooms. I don’t know how he made that connection since Darcy was English and we’re in Italy, but c’est la vie.
“I know I’ve put you to work on ideas for the house but trust me on this one. You’re going to want a mix of Baroque/Rococo with a touch of the modern. You’ve got areas in this house that are screaming muted, neutral colors and old Italian flair. Then your areas that take advantage of the natural light need a bit of a modern touch without going overboard. Even still, you have other areas with rustic and organic textures and architecture that can be Tuscan or Old-World. And then you have the Mr. Darcy areas that require a more finished look that’s not Beverly Hills or Manhattan 5th Avenue. No one style is going to work in this house, Love, and I’ve got to get to work toot sweet calling my vendors and locking down some European connections. I’m so excited! I’ll be in touch. I’ll have some sketches for you tomorrow and I’ll add some ideas to the Pinterest page. TTYL!”
My head is spinning from all the information that he just gave me in the video, and I’m just as excited seeing the house without all that crap in it—what I could see, that is. I’ve got a wonderful feel of what it should look like and contrary to what I originally thought, the mix of modern and old world is just eclectic enough to work.
And what the hell is TTYL?
We have a 15-hour time difference between us. I have no idea how we’re going to do this in two different world zones! I shoot him an email back suggesting that we find a time to talk that’s not too early or late for either of us and directing him to the ideas that I’ve already included on Pinterest. I express my glee with his findings and excitement to see what we’re going to do with the place, and finish by asking him what the fuck TTYL is.
It was a full day at Helping Hands today. I took a look at the information that Liam Westwick was looking for while he was here, and nothing seems out of place. Hopefully, that means that he won’t be back. I didn’t tell Christian about his visit. I felt that there was no need to open that can of worms since I wasn’t here anyway, but if he shows up again for any reason—whether I’m here or not—Christian will be the first to know. Once is a coincidence. Twice is a mission.
I settle in to my study when I get home and open my email to see that Aaron has sent me several stills of the rooms and layout of the villa. This is good considering the fact that he was so animated in the video that although I got a very good idea of the “bones” of the place, I had no visual feel for the actual size and shape of the rooms. I’m getting more excited to get started on choosing the décor now that I pretty much know what I’m working with.
I think I’m going to want a bit of oasis décor in the room with the indoor pool. It’s not just a room with a pool. The large pool is off to one side and the other side is a large mosaic tile floor with natural light coming in from a wall of windows that leads to a patio. Yes, I have plans for that space.
After dinner, I invite Sophie down to the study to go over some ideas for the villa. Having gotten a smart aleck response from Aaron to “ask a teenager” for the answer to my question, I decided to pose it to Sophie. I’ll have an answer for him for that one.
“Sophie, do you know what TTYL means?” I ask.
“Talk to you later.” Um…okay, was it something I said?
“Oh… you have to go so soon?” Sophie frowns.
“No,” she says bemused, then she laughs. “No, TTYL means ‘talk to you later.’”
TTYL… talk to you…
“Oooooohh,” I say in realization. “Well don’t I feel dense… and old!” Sophie giggles.
“Who was talking to you in text speech?” she asks.
“My designer,” I reply. “He was so excited about the ‘bones’ of the house, I think he just forgot.”
“Okay, I speak text and food. I don’t speak designer. What are ‘bones?’” she asks.
“So, as creepy as it sounds, it’s just what it sounds like. Bones are the frame of the house—the walls, the floors, the ceiling, the stairs. He sent me some great pictures and I can pretty much go in any direction I want and not go wrong.”
I start by showing her the pictures that Aaron finally got around to sending me of the various spaces as well as the blueprints.
“Wow, there are a lot of bedrooms!” she says.
“Tell me about it!” I concur. “He must have meant for us to invite family because there’s only four of us. Even if each of us brought our own security, that’s only eight. At the most, that’s six, maybe seven bedrooms. This place has 14 bedrooms!”
“Geez! Fourteen?” she says.
“My sentiments exactly. Luckily, they’re small, so we can just toss a bed and some accoutrements in there and call it a day!”
“Ooo! Like a doll house!” she says.
“Yes!” I nod, “exactly like a doll house.” I secretly decide that this will be her primary job since she’s showing the most enthusiasm about it, and of course she’ll be able to help with the rest of the house.
“Look at the kitchen,” I say, showing her a picture of the kitchen. She does a slow gasp.
“Wow,” she says dreamily. “Oh, wow, Aunt Ana, that’s beautiful…” She gazes at the picture and almost drifts dreamily off into it. At this moment, I hate Shalane to my very core and hope beyond hope that one way or another, she finds a heart and signs the documents to allow Sophie to come to Italy with us.
“What do you think?” I ask her.
“That I hope I get to cook in it,” she says, her voice cracking slightly at the end. I reach over and squeeze her hand.
“I hope you do, too,” I say. “Not that I’m trying to change the subject, but I’m trying to change the subject. I knew you were interested and even knew that you had a little background knowledge, but I had no idea you would be so talented. When did you find time to hone your cooking skills so well?”
“I practiced a little before Dad bought me la kitchen extraordinaire. Now, I’ve been doing lunches for my friends at school. They’re my guinea pigs and they love it.”
“Really?” I ask. She nods.
“It’s only two or three of them, and I don’t do it every day. I change up some of the ingredients of traditional meals and see how it works. I’ve had some successes… and some flaming failures. Those don’t make it to school,” she laughs.
“Well, you never know until you try,” I say, “and I’m sure that some of the greatest chefs found their best recipes from what you’re doing right now.”
“I ultimately want to get Gordon Ramsay’s beef wellington exactly right. I’m too nervous to try, though,” she admits.
“I am absolutely positive that you can do it,” I confirm.
“It was so good, though… remember?” she says, dreamily, and I’m glad that I was able to be a part of a memory that she will no doubt cherish for life.
“Yes, it was,” I agree, “and he’s only human, so you can do it.” She smiles sincerely.
“Thanks, Aunt Ana,” she says. “I will, someday.” I squeeze her hand again and turn back to the computer.
“Now,” I say. “I don’t want to keep you up too late on a school night, but I’ve decided that to start with, I’m going to put you on chamber duty and see what you come up with…”
“Chamber duty?” she asks bemused.
“The bedrooms,” I clarify. Her face lights up.
“Oh, cool!” she says, turning her focus back to the computer.
We exchange emails and I send Sophie pictures of the blueprints and of the bedrooms. My only requirement is that one of the rooms closest to the master bedroom has to be for the twins. We go through a few pictures of baroque and rococo designs and I don’t expect her to remember them, but I’m just trying to put some ideas in her head. She heads off to her apartment not too late in the evening, promising to send some ideas to my email.
I sit back in my office chair and ponder my life and Sophie’s after she has gone to bed. She’s got quite the harrowing tale to only be 14 years old. Granted, it’s nothing like mine and if Jason has anything to say about it, it never will be—but harrowing, nonetheless. So many times in just the last few years, her story could have had such a different and more tragic outcome.
What if that burn had been deeper? The scar shows that it was a really bad burn and it was so close to her wrist.
What if one of those times Shalane was on her drug binge, that creep had taken Sophie? Where would she be now?
For that matter, what if it hadn’t been a drug bust that night and she was successful in handing Sophie over to that guy? What did Shalane think he was going to do with her? Did she even care? The thought of someone even attempting to hurt Mackenzie makes my blood curdle and I feel bile bubbling in the back of my throat.
And what if Jason’s contact hadn’t told him that Sophie was at the police station that night? She would definitely be in the system now, and that would be a tragedy in and of itself.
My story could have turned out much differently, too, but everything that happened to me—good or bad—led to the person that I am today. While I am a firm believer of the saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” I can’t help but wonder what hardships that I—or Sophie—could have bypassed on our journey and still came out on the winning side of the equation. I can only hope that her experiences will ultimately lead to a happy outcome. Despite her mother’s interference, it seems like she’s going to be okay.
I close my laptop and head towards the elevator.
“You seem a bit reserved today,” I say to Marilyn during lunch on Wednesday. She shakes her head.
“Introspective,” she says. “I’m thinking about me and Gary.” I raise my brow.
“Oh?” I ask. “Anything you care to share?”
“We had that talk,” she confesses to me and she sips her iced tea. Uh oh… that talk?
“You did?” I ask. She nods.
“Yeah,” she says. “It was pretty brutal. There was a lot of crying, some accusations… we got our feelings out.” She looks at her drink. “I could use something stronger… but it’s not part of my regimen.” That doesn’t sound good.
“How did it work out?” I ask.
“We were both hurt by some of the revelations,” she admits. “We still are. We’re letting things simmer for a while. Emotions are very high… and they need to settle.”
“You’re taking a break?” I ask, my hope diminishing.
“Something like that,” she says calmly, a little too calmly.
“Is it something like that, Mare, or is that it?” I ask.
“It’s something like that,” she repeats. “We agree that we want to be together, that we want to fight for our relationship, but emotions were extremely high, and a lot of things came out—things that were hard to say and to hear. I’m going to have quite the session with Dora tomorrow.” She sips more of her tea.
“We’ve decided that it’s better if we sort things out in our own space. Living together affects the energy when you’re trying to work things out. So, he’s going to stay in his apartment and I’m going to stay here… unless you guys are ready for me to go.”
“You can stay here as long as you like, Mare. We’ve already had this discussion.” She nods.
“Good, because I don’t have any prospects right now… We’ve also decided to take a couple of days to marinate over everything we’ve discussed so as not to have a heated conversation about our latest discoveries. We’ve agreed not to dismiss them and to have calm debates about our differences, but it’s just not possible right now. We’re way too emotional.” And you’re way too logical at the moment.
“So, you guys called a time out,” I say. She nods.
“Yep… until Saturday.” She drops her gaze into her tea. “I really hurt him,” she adds. “I knew I did, or at least my decision did. I just didn’t realize how much. I really love him, and while I understand and accept that he didn’t deserve to go through what he went through, I didn’t deserve to go through what I went through, either. And this relationship counselor is not helping.” I frown.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“I feel like she’s tiptoeing around us and she doesn’t know what to say,” she says.
“Maybe she’s taking it slow,” I defend.
“Maybe she is,” Marilyn concurs, “but that’s not what we need. We’re beyond the goal-setting ‘where would you like to be in five years’ state. I’m all for setting goals and breaking them down into tasks, but we have definitive, volatile issues that we need to deal with right now and she’s not helping us to address them.” I twist my lips.
“Maybe you need a couple’s perspective,” I say. “That’s what me and Christian needed—not that sterile ‘how does that make you feel’ bullshit, but that get-your-hands-dirty, no-nonsense, no-hiding, ‘why the fuck did you do that’ kind of therapy.” She raises her gaze to me.
“Where did you find that kind of therapy?” she asks.
“We didn’t, it found us,” I reveal. “Jason and Gail. That was brutal, but it was what we needed. We had referees to tell us when the conversation was over, because when it stops being productive, it’s over. But they also helped us face the hard truths about our relationship because they approached us as friends—no fear of getting fired, just getting in and getting the hands dirty. I believe it’s part of what saved our marriage because there’s so many steps in getting back.” She shakes her head.
“We don’t know Gail and Jason well enough to do that. I wouldn’t be comfortable with that.”
“But you know me and Christian,” I retort.
“I don’t think Gary would be comfortable with that!” she says.
“Marilyn, from what I’m hearing from you, Gary’s been talking to Christian more than you think,” Her brow furrows.
“You think so?” she asks surprised. I scoff.,
“Ask him,” I say. “See how he feels about having couples therapy with us instead of this loser that you’re seeing on Monday nights.” She shrugs.
“Well, it couldn’t hurt. I’ll see what he says.”
“Jesus, man, where have you been hiding her?” Alex asks when he comes into my office on Wednesday. “She’s incredible. First day on the job and she could spot issues that have been issues for years with just one look. I better stay on my toes!”
“I haven’t been hiding her,” I say. “I just didn’t know she was out of work.”
“She’s got a case if she wants to sue the company that fired her,” Allen chimes in. “There’s every bit of a reason to argue mitigating circumstances in her actions. Time was of the essence—we knew that then, and we know it now. That asshole was planning to move Jewel…”
“I don’t think we’ll be pursuing that,” I cut him off. “What’s done is done. Let’s just let sleeping dogs lie.” Allen raises a brow at me.
“Mr. I-Want-Blood Christian Grey wants to let sleeping dogs lie?” he says, nonplussed.
“Oh, no, I’d sue them all the way down to their toenails, but I really don’t think that’s what Sarah wants. I think she just wants peace and to be independent again.” Allen twists his lips.
“You may be right about that,” he says. “I asked if she and her estranged husband had any community property that she wanted to attach, and she just shook her head. When I talked about his shop, she stopped me in the middle of the conversation and told me that she didn’t want anything from that man but his absence. It’s probable that if she doesn’t want to pursue anything from him, she most likely won’t want to drag anything out with her old employer either.”
“Exactly,” I reply. “It’s like pulling teeth just to get her to take what I think is due to her. She truly doesn’t want anything more, especially not something that may cause her trouble.”
“Well, I have work to do, so I’m going back to my office. I’ll talk to you guys later.” Allen dismisses himself and leaves the office. Alex watches as he gets on the elevator and stands and closes the door. I watch as he walks over to my desk and activates my scrambler.
“So, the governor was right about one thing,” he begins. “The heat is on with that particular ‘missing person’ because it has the whole ‘Hollywood Madam’ smell to it.”
“I figured as much. Any additional information?” I ask.
“In fact, there is. Her… most recent male companion is the one under the most scrutiny now. If you remember, he liked to watch, so Little Red Riding Hood had a favorite toy that used to come around and participate in the show. She’s the one that put out the APB on her missing girlfriend. She knew about Daddy, for lack of a better word, but when there was no word from Red for a couple of weeks, she rightfully became concerned.”
“So, where does it stand now?” I ask.
“Same place,” he replies. “Those closest to you are the usual suspects, so that’s why the spotlight is mostly on him as her plaything filed the missing persons’ report. The only reason the police are really sniffing this hard is because they’re hoping to find that big conspiracy buried under the disappearance, but all evidence leads to her packing up and leaving town—that maybe she got spooked when her source suddenly fell ill, but her car is gone, her ID, most of her personal belongings, and her bank accounts have been cleaned out.”
“So, what if this phantom manuscript they’re hoping to find pops up somewhere?” I ask.
“Sources say that they’re probably going to leak that they did find a manuscript to try to shake some loose fruit from the trees, so be ready. Even if there was a manuscript remaining out there, it would be like The Help—great reading, but still conjecture without the support of the characters or the author. Not only that, but anyone who tried to publish that book right now would have to have the physical backing of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and balls the size of Jupiter. The ghostwriter with all the information has come up missing and the source is suddenly drastically indisposed. And who are their prime suspects? Some of the most powerful men in the state—and if they look close enough, it’ll probably go further than that. Who wants that kind of uncertainty to publish a book? And even if it turns out to be a New York Times best seller, how much would you pay for a good night’s sleep?”
“Won’t you following the tracks and digging into the case shine the light back on me?” I ask.
“Not at all,” he replies, “for several reasons, the very smallest of which is that they pulled you into this. They questioned you first. You not wanting to know what the meaning of this was or wanting to get some answers is much more suspicious than you digging around in it.”
“Good point,” I say. “Does it look like they’re going to drop it anytime soon?”
“We won’t know until and if they say they’ve found a manuscript. Anybody who could possibly be in that book is going to be tearing their hair out trying to get more information on what’s in it. And I can tell you now that the word will be that forensic psychologists and profilers are deciphering the ‘Fleiss Code’ in the book to determine who all the big names are. So, when and if this drops, it’s important that you remain calm and undisturbed.”
“That won’t be a problem,” I reply. “It’s like I told Charlotte, anybody who thinks they could possibly publish anything about me would be looking at years and years of injunctions and lawsuits. Imagine what would happen if the boys in blue tried to build a case like this on me based on conjecture.”
Grateful for the update from Alex about the situation that I would have hoped would long ago be part of my past, I get back to work on the business of mergers and acquisitions. Lorenz and Ros primed two deals while I was in Vegas as I opened the floor for new prospects once the company started looking like what GEH should and the executive and administrative staff got their asses in gear. These two new prospects look deliciously ripe for the picking, and one of the companies is begging for a white knight, and with just a little direction, they can be totally stable again. A third looks like they’re going to need some work even if we do acquire them.
Speaking of acquisitions, I’m signing the papers for the sale of the final division of Fairlane LTD. I had to do a little clean-up to make them presentable, but I made a fortune on selling the company off bit by bit. Junior did everything he could to stop me—press releases, sabotage… He didn’t get that his father’s poison pill was the very worst that could be done and it didn’t make a dent in the situation. He hands over a soiled bride and then becomes angry when the groom chooses to take action.
What’s more, there hasn’t been a word from Fairlane, Sr. It’s like he took his payout and ran, leaving all the mess in Junior’s hands to deal with. With the way that his son behaves, I have a feeling that this was an expensive lesson that Sr. wanted to teach him. And what an expensive lesson to learn. He didn’t leave him broke—he still had his job and his position. He just had to play nice with the new boss, which he didn’t do.
I wouldn’t fire him, because that meant I would have to give him a severance package. He could only quit, and that meant leaving with nothing. So, he tried to make his presence unbearable for me. Little Boy, Fairlane was a subsidiary—a fast-fading subsidiary that was quickly being parceled and sold to the highest bidder, no string attached. Just show me the money and take it. What he thought was a bargaining chip quickly became a rotting potato rind, and all he did was kick and scream and have a temper tantrum, complaining to the press about an acquisitions king making an acquisition and selling the acquisition for a profit… Ooooo, hot news.
Now, with the sale of the last division of the company, his future is uncertain at best. Maybe he’ll play nice with the next owners, assuming they decide to keep him on.
While continuing through my emails for whatever other pieces of information may be vital, I see a communication from Mrs. Riddick in Nevada. It appears that the sensitivity training has begun for the staff at Summerlin Hospital. I would think that in this kind of environment, these professionals would already know how to treat someone going through something like this. Really, Carla could have died. Then, what would they have said to my wife after treating her so horribly?
Mrs. Riddick made it a point to tell me that the Stoic Sisters—the two shrews from the hospital board—were among the first to be required to take the training, along with the catty nurses who have been reprimanded for their treatment of my wife. I forward the email to Butterfly as I’m sure it’ll be a welcome bright spot to her day.
The rest of the week proceeds without incident, unless you count the surprise that my wife sprung on me on Thursday about being relationship counselors to Marilyn and Garrett.
“Are you serious?” I ask. “I hardly think they would want to break down the intimate details of their relationship to me.”
“And why not?” Butterfly retorts. “I came home that night of the party to find you two chatting it up on the balcony. Oh, and I guess Gary came up with all these ideas to win Marilyn back all by himself—flowers and poems and, oh, the self-made serenade playlist of songs. You certainly had nothing to do with that, right?” I thrust my hands into my hair.
“We just kind of happened upon those conversations,” I protest. She twists her lips.
“Um-hmm,” she says. “I suppose Gary was just skipping through the house and you said, ‘Hey, Gare, let’s have a chat,’ right?”
Now she’s being sarcastic.
“Men are different than women,” I say. “They feel strange about… spilling their guts to someone else with all the dirty little details about their relationship.”
“Did you feel that way talking to Jason?” she asks.
“Jason was different. He knows everything there is to know about me… my lifestyle, my childhood, my business, everything.”
“Well, I’m that person to Gary,” she says, “but he needs a man’s point of view, and you’ve been the one giving that to him. I think they really need this, just like we needed Gail and Jason, but if you’d rather not…”
“No, no, you’re right,” I say, thrusting my hand in my hair again. “I’ve just… never been in this position before—counseling someone else on a relationship? It just seems like delicate territory and I don’t want to fuck up. What do I say to them? How do I do this?”
“You listen to what they have to say, and you respond with how you feel just like you have been with Gary on his own… except don’t reem him out like you did at the party. That would be counterproductive.”
“No, I know that,” I lament. She pauses.
“I’ll be there to help you,” she says, pushing the fallen strands of my hair out of my face. “We’ve learned a lot in the course of our relationship, and you’ve grown so much. We’ve grown. I see a couple who looks just like we did only a few months ago, desperately wanting to be together, but they don’t know how. I think they can benefit from what we’ve learned about relationships—about each other and about ourselves.”
“I’ve never had to deal with an abortion, though, baby,” I tell her. “I don’t know how to empathize with losing a child.”
“But you know how betrayal feels,” she interjects, “or at least your interpretation of it. That’s what we’re dealing with.” I sigh heavily.
“I’ll try,” I say. “I certainly don’t want to leave them out in the cold, so I’ll try.”
Monday and our first “session” with Marilyn and Garrett come only too quickly for my liking. My wife is right, though. If anyone is going to be able to help them get back on track with their relationship, it’s going to be someone that knows them well and won’t pull any punches. Both of those are true with me and Butterfly. I don’t know Garrett as well as Jason knows me, but I know him well enough… and he already knows that I won’t pull any punches with him. I’ll give it to him straight whether he likes it or not.
The four of us have gathered in my den after work, the same place where Jason and Gail counseled me and Butterfly. Butterfly and I are each sitting in one of the wingback chairs while Garrett and Marilyn are both sitting on the sofa across from us.
“So, we all know why we’re here,” Butterfly begins. “I’m glad that you guys decided to do this. I know it’s not an easy process, but it is necessary if you hope to move forward.”
“We’re going to start by setting a few expectations,” she says. “First, this is going to be a difficult process. It’s not going to happen overnight. Second, but should be first, we are going to respect each other’s feelings in this process. That doesn’t mean that you should bite your tongue and not express your feelings, but it does mean that you shouldn’t be disrespectful to anyone in this room. I expect for emotions to run rampant, but I still expect for respect and consideration to be the primary focus or there won’t be any progress.
“Third, Christian and I are not here to take sides. We won’t be arbitrators. At the most, we’re here to help you and to help interpret your feelings. We need you both to be receptive, because we know that some of what you hear is going to be tough to take.”
Those expectations help me to breathe easier. The last thing I want for them to think is that this is going to be a fix-all or that we’re here to solve their problems. Just like me and Butterfly, they’re going to have to work through what they’re feeling and come up with a solution. It wasn’t easy for us; it won’t be easy for them.
“The easiest place to begin is where you left off with your couples’ counseling,” she says, and Garrett scoffs an impatient sigh.
“Gary?” she says.
“It was a waste of time,” he says, frustrated. “She had us setting relationship goals like we had never met before. We’ve got real issues—real problems, and she acted like she wanted us to tell her what color our kitchen would be.” Butterfly frowns and we both look at Marilyn. She nods.
“Considering where we are and where we’ve been, her methods were just that ineffectual,” Marilyn confirms.
“Wow,” Butterfly says. “Well, she may have been on the right track to have you set goals for your relationship, but she clearly wasn’t going about it the right way. What was she telling you to do?”
“’Gary, I don’t like it when you’ and ‘Gary, it hurts me when you…’” Marilyn’s voice is syrupy and pretentious as she mimics the process of her previous couples’ therapy sessions. I squint and grimace so hard in confusion that Gary gestures at me as if to say, “Exactly.”
“Yeah… yeah, you’re way beyond that,” Butterfly confirms. “Did you tell her that you guys had just come off of a three-month break-up brought on by the termination?”
“We did,” Garrett says. Butterfly clears her throat.
“During your sessions with her, have you talked about the termination and how it has effected your relationship?” she presses.
“Briefly,” Marilyn replies.
“Briefly?” Butterfly mimics my previous grimace and looks at me.
“Where did this woman get her license?” she wonders out loud.
“You’re asking me?” I retort.
“No, I’m verbally expressing my horror,” she says before she turns back to Marilyn and Garrett.
“Eventually, we are going to talk about goals. It’s important to outline where you want to be when this is all over… but let’s back up a bit, shall we?”
“Fine by me,” Garrett says.
“Ditto,” Marilyn concurs.
“Marilyn confided in me that the two of you had a talk,” Butterfly says. “She didn’t give me the details, but she did tell me that the two of you were very hurt when the conversation ended—so hurt in fact that you decided to take a few days off.”
I didn’t know that.
“We need to talk about that—about that discussion and the revelations that were uncovered. You need to decipher how much of it was reality and how much was just painful outburst; what specifically brought it on and what you need to address to move forward.”
They’re both quiet for a moment.
“You have to talk to us,” I tell them. “We have to know where to start to be able to help you.”
“I told her how I felt,” Garrett begins. “I told her exactly how I felt the day she came back to the apartment after the termination. I wasn’t politically correct. I wasn’t polite or respectful, I called her out of her name…” he trails off.
“What did you call her?” Butterfly asks.
“A murderous bitch,” Marilyn says when Garrett doesn’t reply. I try not to visibly flinch at the description. I don’t know how successful I am.
“Do you really think that?” I ask Garrett. His head is down as he answers.
“I did,” he says honestly. “That day when I saw her and she had killed my baby, that’s exactly how I felt.” Marilyn turns her head away from the group as she listens to Garrett.
“But do you still feel that way?” I ask, my voice even. He slowly shakes his head.
“I know… that it’s so much more than that… that there’s so much more to all of this… so, no… I don’t.” His words are slow and controlled. Not practiced, but controlled.
“Then I need you both to look at me,” I say. All three heads turn or raise in my direction. Butterfly is praying that I don’t say the wrong thing. Garrett is expectant and Marilyn is crying again. I sigh before I speak.
“Your tongue is the most powerful muscle on your body,” I say. “The tongue can heal and kill with a word, so remember this. If you don’t really feel that way, never say that again. There are things that you can say to someone that you can’t take back, and I can guarantee you, that’s one of them. Those two words on their own have connotations that dig deeper than a backhoe. How much more powerful do you think they are when you put them together and say them to the woman that you claim to love?”
Garrett sighs heavily and covers his face with both hands, dropping his head in dismay.
“I know you’re hurt,” I say. “You both are,” I add, turning to Marilyn, “but please remember that what you say—now and later—will have long and far reaching consequences. Don’t hold your feelings back, but don’t say anything that you don’t mean or that you don’t want to stick, because whatever you say, especially right now. Will. Stick.”
Garrett nods under his hands and Marilyn tries to wipe away her tears. I hand her my handkerchief and she nods her thanks.
“Gary,” Butterfly says, “it’s okay that you felt that way. It’s even okay that you said that you felt that way, but it’s not okay if you still feel that way. Do you?” He sighs and moves his hands from his face, now covered in tears.
“I don’t,” he says. “It still hurts that my baby is gone, but I don’t feel like it was murder… and I don’t think she’s a bitch. I’m going to therapy myself to deal with the loss… but no, I don’t feel like that.”
“What were you thinking when you called her that?” she asks.
“I felt like… I was very emotional,” he says. “I felt like the therapist wasn’t addressing what we needed to address, so I had to address it…”
“You said this at therapy?” Butterfly asks.
“No,” he says, shaking his head, “I said it the next day.”
“How did you feel when you heard that, Marilyn?” Butterfly asks.
“Like I didn’t want to see him again,” she says.
“I sensed that,” Butterfly says. Marilyn and Garrett both turn their gaze to her. “Forgive me, but I have to say this. When you were talking to me, even though you didn’t give me any details—you just said that you guys cried and things were said—I saw it. I saw it and I heard it. I’ve paid close attention to you for these last few months. I’ve been worried about you. I knew when nothing was working. But I saw something last Wednesday when you talked to me that I hadn’t seen the entire time you’ve been going through this. I saw the end.”
Marilyn doesn’t respond.
“You were a bit withdrawn like you had been, but not forlorn. When we talked, I could tell that your whole relationship was up in the air, hanging in the balance and totally dependent on what happened when you saw Gary on Saturday.” Garrett looks over at her.
“We were supposed to go out,” he says, “but you didn’t want to. We spent a little time together. We talked, and then you told me that you were tired.” Marilyn rolls her eyes.
“Did you hear what he said to me?” she asks, her voice incredulous. “Did you hear what he called me? Is that something that he’s going to throw up to my face when he’s angry? I’ve seen couples do that. I’ve seen them reach into the past and find a hurtful statement or a painful moment and throw it in the other one’s face to win a fight, or because they’re emotional!” She tearfully spits the word out with disdain, the word that Garrett used not five minutes ago to describe his mental state when he said those words to her.
“Is that what he’s going to do to me? Is that what I have to look forward to? Because I can’t do that. I can’t live like that—I won’t! I had my reasons for what I did—real, valid reasons. Women make this decision every day, and my reasons have consistently been dismissed by those who claimed to love me the most. I’m not even speaking to my parents right now because they blindly threw me in judgment. After being without you for months, feeling like I wanted to die every second of every day, enduring some of the most tortuous pain that I’ve ever felt in my life, then to have you come back and lodge those horrible insults at me… I’ll take being without you. It’s more than I can bear, and I won’t tolerate it… ever!”
Go, Marilyn! The inner me is doing a fist pump right now that no matter what happened between them, she will not accept his abuse.
“What do you say to that, Gary?” Butterfly asks.
“She’s right,” he replies. “I’m hurt… I’m getting better, but I’m still hurt. No matter how much I hurt, she didn’t deserve that.” Marilyn sighs heavily, then uses my handkerchief to dry her face.
“So, what happens when you feel that way again—when you’re angry and you can’t control your tongue?” I ask.
“I’ll remember the things that she said that night… the things that she said tonight. I’ll remember her face,” he says looking over at Marilyn, “and I’ll remember that you can’t speak to people that way, that I can’t talk to her that way.”
He fucking better remember, because he’s seriously about to lose his woman.
“Can you love her after feeling this way about her?” Butterfly asks.
“I do love her,” he replies. “I love her so much. I just want to get past this and heal.”
“But you may never heal from this,” I interject. “Your feelings are raw, and they’re real. What do you do if you can’t heal?”
“I’m already healing, Christian,” he says, his eyes still full of tears. “It’s a slow process, but I am.” He turns to Marilyn. “I know you didn’t just kill my baby,” he says, “even though my baby is gone. You made a decision, a decision that you felt you needed to make. I need you to understand that decision hurt me, ripped me to my core. For months, I would venture to say that my pain was just as unbearable as yours. I cried and I cried, and there seemed to be no end in sight. I thought that pain would never go away. And then I saw you…”
He drops his head again.
“I was still hurting when I saw you, but it was like the world just stopped. You looked haggard and broken and sick. You really looked like you were dying and I couldn’t even think clearly. At first, I felt like your parents—like your sin had caught up with you and you were paying for it. God forgive me, seeing your pain soothed a bit of mine. I’m sorry, but it’s true. But seeing the effect that this was having on you…” He shakes his head.
“When you ran outside to the golf course and you fell on the grass, I thought you were going to die. I thought this was the last straw and you were just going to keel over and I had to get to you before you died. You screamed and I swear the heavens cracked open in anguish. I just wanted it to stop. I wanted it all to stop… all of it.”
He drops his head into his hands again. This is hard for him to talk about, and I feel like a first-class heel for all those times that I called him an asshole.
“I don’t know how to deal with these feelings,” he admits. “They’re all-consuming. It was bliss when the love was all-consuming, but the pain… I’m getting help, but this is really unfamiliar territory to me.” Butterfly sighs.
“You two are remarkably like Christian and me,” she says. “Mare, you have some guidelines on what a relationship should and shouldn’t look like and this is Gary’s first real relationship.”
I look incredulously over at Butterfly. Is she having one of her moments? Did she forget that disaster that Garrett brought to Escala at our first F&L? What was her name—Britany?
“You didn’t have any relationships before Ana?” Garrett asks incredulously, breaking my train of thought. I turn my gaze quickly to him.
“I had relations, but not relationships,” I clarify as I look back to Butterfly. “Aren’t you forgetting someone?” She raises a brow at me.
“Am I?” she asks, expecting.
“He’s talking about Bethany,” Garrett says. Bethany! That was her name.
“No, I didn’t forget Bethany,” Butterfly replies, matter-of-factly. “He met Bethany right around the time that I met you, and he broke up with her in our presence. Do you call that a relationship?” I twist my lips. No… no I would not. I’ve had submissives who lasted longer.
“That’s where you’re similar,” Butterfly says. “You had both had encounters, but they were very short—or meaningless—and never went anywhere. Christian was emotionally closed off with all of his females and you never sealed the deal before Marilyn.”
Okay, there’s a news flash! Never sealed the deal before Marilyn? Garrett was a virgin? I fail to hide my surprise.
“Yes, Christian, I was still a virgin when I met Marilyn, even though I had previously fallen for an obvious thot and brazen hoochie,” Garrett informs, adequately reading my thoughts. Whew! Yeah, they need us. This guy has absolutely no direction and I totally know how that feels. Had there been any real relationships in his past, he wouldn’t have dared let those words escape his lips about Marilyn.
“Marilyn?” Butterfly coaxes. “You look like…”
“He was hurt!” she spits, interrupting Butterfly. “His baby is gone. He was emotional. This was my body… is my body! My health and nine months of my life—and then some!
“I’m 25 years old!” she declares. “I haven’t traveled. I haven’t done anything with my life yet. I’m going day by day, saving some money, but I haven’t made any concrete plans for my future. I don’t own a house; I’m not financially well-off. Nobody could understand why I didn’t want a baby right now? Were you ready to have a baby when you were 25?” she shoots at Gary. His face blanches and he doesn’t answer.
“Motherhood and childcare and medical expenses,” she continues, her voice rising with her emotions. “My whole life would change! My future was being written for me and nobody felt like I had a say in that. I can still have children! When I’m ready! But nobody felt like I had the right to say that I wasn’t ready right now!
“We were using protection. I don’t know what happened. All of our behavior and actions said that we weren’t ready right now. But when it happened, suddenly all bets were off and all of our precautions meant nothing! I had the right to choose, all right—the right to choose to have this baby or lose everything important to me in my life… the man I love, my parents respect, my damn appetite and sense of self-preservation, everything!” She leaps from her seat and walks over to the window, sobbing fervently.
“You gave me the world and then you took it away!” she sobs. “I’m not just hurt—I’m angry! I’m completely undone! You showed me paradise and with no warning whatsoever you kicked me into hell! How could you?” she wails.
We’re all stunned for a moment. I’m not sure any of us have seen this level of fever and emotion from her in months. It’s been quiet disintegration or silent mourning, but not shouting from the rooftops hurt and angry.
“You wonder why I can’t be touched?” she wails. “You wonder why I can’t let you in? Why I can’t trust you… or anybody? My mother and my father—the two most important people in my life—turned their backs on me; shunned, disgraced, and condemned me—for the same reason you did!”
She’s screaming now. Gary stands to go over to her, but Butterfly catches his arm and shakes her head. He wants this to stop, but Marilyn needs to get this out.
“There was no right decision,” she cedes tearfully, “not for me, anyway. The decision wasn’t mine to make. It was everybody else’s. I had no say in the matter. I may never be able to speak to my parents again unless I want to hear about this each time that I talk to them, and now I have to worry about hearing it with you? No! No! I won’t do it! I’ll be alone. I’ll never let anyone touch me again. I’ll never let anyone near me again before I endure that! Any of that! Ever again!”
She buries her face in her hand and sobs and wails mournfully, the same hopeless crying that she was doing on the putting green a few weeks ago. Gary wrenches from Butterfly’s grasp and goes over to Marilyn, wrapping his arms around her shaking body from behind.
“Baby, I’m sorry,” Garrett says, his voice thick with tears. “I’m so, so sorry. I was hurt… I am hurt, but I didn’t think of you at all during this whole thing and that was so selfish of me. We could’ve gotten through this, but I didn’t care. I was only thinking about my own pain. It was hard, and this could’ve been a bump in our relationship—a big bump, but a bump nonetheless—and I’ve turned it into a cavern. I want to fix this… with my whole heart, I want to fix this. I don’t want to be without you, and if I haven’t completely destroyed everything, when and if you’re ever ready to have children, I want to be that guy. I know it’s going to take time and work to get past this, but we can do it, I know we can. Please, baby. Please, give us another chance, I’m begging you…”
Marilyn quickly turns in his arms and wraps her arms tightly around his neck, weeping on his shoulder. He holds her close and lets her cry. Yes, there’s a ton of work to be done here, jointly and severally, but I’d say tonight’s session is over. Butterfly leans over to me.
“The tongue is an organ,” she whispers to me.
“It’s a muscular organ,” I say, and I know of what I speak.
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-misadventuresseason-v/
Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/
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