Raising Grey: Chapter 79—Tassie Trauma

Danger—Aussie accent ahead. Turn away now.

Oh, song lyrics in here, too. So, for those who don’t like song lyrics, you might want to skip that part, too.

All other previous disclaimers still apply.

Chapter 79—Tassie Trauma

ANASTASIA

The guide tells us that locals claim that there has been some sort of paranormal activity in all the areas of Port Arthur for over 100 years. Christian frowns.

“What is it?” I ask.

“In the C block,” he says, “I could swear I heard a man coughing in one of those rooms.” I twist my lips.

“There are a lot of people on the tour. They were all around the prison. You may have heard an echo…”

“No,” he says firmly. “It wasn’t an echo. I heard a man cough in one of those rooms.”

I just look at him. I won’t debate whether or not he actually heard someone coughing in the criminally insane area. This place is already giving me the creeps, so the last thing I want to think about right now is ghosts.

And speaking of ghosts…

The tour guides talk about a ghost tour held on the grounds at night. We’ll be at sea headed to Melbourne by then, but they tell us about it anyway, since not everyone on our tour is from the cruise and may want to partake. During the tour, guides would explain the different types of ghost who haunt Port Arthur.

First, there are the ones you hear. They may be close by, they may be off in the distance somewhere—a noise or footsteps, like the cough that Christian claims he heard.

Then, there are the ones that just leave you with a horrible, bone-chilling feeling that someone’s standing right behind you.

Finally, there are the worst ones, the supposedly physical ghosts. They pinch you or shove you, or they throw you to the ground. According to the guides, all of these encounters have happened on the ghost tour.

They do creepy things like move suddenly and tell you not to look into windows, make loud noises, send someone ahead with a lantern to see if the coast is clear, shit like that to make the tour exciting

When I’ve had enough of the heebie-jeebies, we head back to the visitors center, but not before we visit one more important site.

Across from the Port Arthur Historical Site is the Memorial Garden—another open-air building. This building is the shell of the Broad Arrow Café where the worst massacre in Tasmanian history occurred in 1996.

On this final leg of our tour, the guide gives us the background and the condensed version of what happened that fateful day in April, 18 years ago…

A man named Martin Bryant devised a plan to shoot two people—David and Noelene Martin—whom he felt conspired to secure property that Bryant’s father was planning to purchase, leading to his father’s depression and ultimate suicide. After killing the Martins at that very same property, he locked up, drove to a second site claiming to want to purchase some cattle, then headed to Port Arthur.

After a back-and-forth of sorts about parking, he parked at the Broad Arrow Café—the shell of the building we’re standing in now. He took a duffle bag and a video camera from his car and ordered some food. Eating on the outside deck, he tried to make conversation with the people outside. After finishing his meal, he took his tray back inside, pulled out an AR-15 automatic rifle, and began his shooting spree. In the café were…

A group of people on an outing, taking a break from caring for sick family members with cancer…

Workers, cooks, and other staff of Port Arthur…

Families having a simple lunch in a café…

Bryant’s wake inside the café resulted in 20 people killed and 12 injured in 90 seconds.

Moving to the parking lot, he opened fire on people trying to hide in and around two buses outside. People running to the historical site and down the road and along the shore tried to escape. By the time the shooter got in his car and left the parking lot, his toll was 26 dead and 18 injured.

Although the recount of the massacre is horrifying and unsettling, the most heinous and sickening portion of the tale involves that of Alannah, Madeline, and Nanette Mikac. Fleeing the parking lot on foot, Nanette was carrying her three-year-old daughter Madeline with six-year-old Alannah just in front of her. Bryant caught up with them, made Nanette kneel and shot her in the temple and killed her while she was begging for the lives of her children. He then shot Madeline twice—in the shoulder and chest—and then chased Alannah into the woods and shot her in the neck, killing both children.

I immediately get a picture in my head of a three-year-old Minnie, falling at the hands of a brutal, heartless killer and his bullet with no name on it. I fight not to swoon right then and there at the horrendous mental image, but the helpless feeling only lasts a moment. What kind of monster chases down and murders helpless children? As the killer’s face forms in my mind’s eye coming for my babies, all I can think of is, “Not if I see you first, motherfucker!”

At the toll booth ahead, he shot four more people and injured one, then carjacked the BMW of his victims. At a service station further up the road, he kidnapped a man and shoved him in the trunk of his car, shooting and killing his girlfriend in their Toyota Corolla. The toll is now 34 dead and 19 injured.

Bryant returned to the scene of the original crime with his hostage. When he arrived, he began shooting into passing cars, injuring four more people, two of which stopped at a nearby establishment and called the police. After an 18-hour standoff where he killed his hostage and set the building on fire where he was holed-up, he was arrested and hospitalized for his injuries.

His family says that Bryant was distressed by his father’s suicide—that he felt the Martins purchased a guest house at Seascape that his father was trying to purchase, causing some hardship for the killer’s family, and setting the rampage into motion as he killed the Martins first and ended up back at that location at the end of the situation where he was arrested. Apparently, the events that set him off were well before Bryant’s inheritance, as he was apparently very well off. All accounts say that his father died three years prior… three years, he held this grudge then went on a shooting spree.

The final toll on April 28, 1996—35 people killed, 23 wounded.

There are still varying judgments about Bryant’s mental state and capacity, including one that he has no recollection of the events of the massacre. However, this horrible event was the catalyst for the gun laws in place in Australia today.

Having had enough of death, brutality, psychological torment, and murder, I’m only too thrilled to leave Port Arthur and board the shuttle to the Tasman National Park. I sit in deep contemplation of the stories that I heard today—men being driven out of their minds in solitary confinement; harsh and brutal punishments meant to break the bodies and souls of even the most hardened criminals; serial killers chasing down and murdering little girls…

There was a boys prison somewhere in the area, too—a boys prison! What could a young boy have possibly done to be shipped from England to here in the 19th Century—a trip that normally takes eight months? And at the end of the harbor, there’s a little island full of nothing but dead people, said to house the marked and unmarked graves of 800-1100 people. That’s a lot of damn dead bodies!

With all this beauty, manicured lawns, memorials, and historical importance, all I gathered from this place is death and suffering. I could feel the helplessness of the prisoners in the separate prison and the longing of those who watch the water through the bars of the main penitentiary. And now, I’m not so convinced that Christian didn’t hear one of the previous occupants coughing in one of the cells. I’m not even sure how people can live here now…

“You alright?”

I don’t know what my face is saying, but my husband is prompted to inquire about my state of mind. I look at him, then at Laura and Jaxon, and back out the window, shaking my head slightly.

“Right now, I’m having a TMI overload,” I say.

“Ah, Poht Ahthuh can do thaht to ya,” Jaxon says with a nod.

“Why do people come to hear these stories?” I ask, turning on him for answers, frantic and a bit angry. “There’s nothing here but tales of heartache and misery, death and murder. I know there’s history here and I’m supposed to see the historical value, but I’m sorry, I don’t see it. I just see despair and death with a beautiful garden that’s grown over and a memorial where dozens of people were killed for no good reason at all—there was no statement trying to be made, no protest, nothing. Just an idiot who claims that he doesn’t remember what happened. I’m not saying that it’s okay to kill somebody for those other reasons, but…” I trail off, too angry and unable to finish my point.

“TMI,” I repeat. “I could’ve gone my whole life not hearing the story about those two little girls being chased down by that murderer. We paid for this?” I say to Christian.

“OI know this is a hahd playce foh someone to swallow,” Jaxon begins, “but in tha wayke of the tragedy, Australia has some o’ tha strictest gun lahs in the wohld. Amehrica could lehn from thaht considehring the tragedies we always see on tha news.”

“You’re only partially correct, there, Jaxon,” I argue. “With the mass and school shootings, there does need to be some kind of gun control. Unfortunately, at this point, Australia’s example isn’t going to work for the United States.” Jaxon frowns.

“Whoi not?” he asks nonplussed.

“America’s too far gone, dear,” Laura interjects. “Australia had the right idea. As soon as they saw a problem, they zoomed in on it. America waited too long.” Jaxon looks from his wife to me and I nod.

“If America tried to do the sweeping gun laws that Australia has now, law-abiding citizens would turn in their guns and the criminals and gang members would still have theirs,” I say. Jaxon turns to Christian.

“Australia nipped the problem before it became an epidemic,” Christian tells him. “As harsh as this sounds, the best way I can describe it is to compare it to a person inflicted with a fatal disease, like cancer. Australia caught it and stopped it at the initial tumor. America’s in stage four. Can something be done about it? A lot of people seem to think so, but in the meantime, people still want to protect themselves.”

Jaxon looks from face to face as if he can’t believe what he’s hearing, which he probably can’t.

“OI don think OI could live loike thaht,” Jaxon says. “OI’d be in constant feah of tha Puhge!”

“A lot of people are, Jax,” Laura says for me. “A lot of people are.”

I’m able to decompress a bit during the hour or so that we spend at the National Park. We start at Pirate’s Bay, where there is a rugged coastline and rocky formations known as tessellated Pavement. This unusual and rare feature appears in flat sedimented rock formations on ocean shores. The rock has fractured into rectangular squares that look like tiles called tessellations. This is one of the natural wonders in Tasmania said to be caused by the salt water settling on the rocks and causing both concave and convex tessellations.

We then spend some time at the famed Tasman Arch and Devil’s Kitchen, two of Tasmania’s famous natural phenomena. Watching the beautiful water and studying the stratification of the rocks helped to calm my uneasiness from the tour we took earlier this morning. The nature walks also contributed to bringing me back from the edge.

Jaxon tells us about real Tasmanian devils which, by the way, look nothing like the cartoon. I’m dying to know where they got that concept from because besides the fact that Tasmanian devils are scavengers, they don’t destroy everything they touch. We don’t actually get to see any because they are in preserves in the north, but Jaxon seems to know a lot about them.

I get the idea about the incoherent noise, because when they find a carcass, they let loose this scream that attracts other devils—like a dinner bell. They have to do this because even though their jaws are strong and their teeth are sharp, they’re so small that they can’t tear a carcass apart on their own. However, with the help of a few friends, they’ll leave absolutely nothing behind.

There are a lot of “devil” preserves, but not many Tasmanian devils in the wild. The ones in the wild are dying off because they’re infected or diseased with a form of face cancer. They pass it among each other by biting each other in the face when they’re trying to tear apart a carcass. As a result, a lot of Tasmanian devils in the wild have died, and preserves are waiting for the rest of them to die off before they release the healthy ones into the wild to rejuvenate the population.

Believe it or not, I can’t wait to end this excursion and get back onto the ship. The trek through the Tasman National Park was beautiful with its nature walks and natural geological wonders, but this part of Tasmania has left a bad taste in my mouth, and I’m ready to go. I opt to forego the late lunch on the island and get back on the early water shuttle back to the ship. I tell the rest of my party that they are free to stay, but this place is really messing with me and I need to get away from it.

“Guys, why don’t you go and… do guy things? I’d like to talk to Ana for a while,” Laura says once we get back to the ship. Christian looks at me, then at Jason.

“Ben can come with me if you like,” I say, noting the concern in Christian’s face.

“Um, sir, you should be okay on the ship… remember?” Jason says.

“I… would feel better if Lawrence were with her…” because you’re not with me. “No offense, Laura…”

“None taken,” Laura says, waving him off. “I’ve seen him be invisible. I just want to have a little chat with Ana.” Christian still looks uneasy.

“I promise, I won’t run off and join any convents or rock bands,” I say, kissing him on the cheek. “C’mon, Ben.”

Laura and I leave Jason and Jaxon to tend to Christian and she and I head to a blues spot called Maderno’s for a late lunch, with Ben close behind.

“You and Christian are opposites,” she says. “Same… but different.”

“You’re right,” I say, examining the menu.

“You’ve got a big monster in your closet.” My head jerks up from my menu and I glare at her. “And I’m right about that, too.”

How could she possibly know that?

“Our monsters are strange things, Ana,” she continues. “They follow us everywhere and they manifest themselves in different forms. They pop up when we least expect them and when we least want them, and they scare the shit out of us.”

Suddenly, my guard is down. I’m immediately open and raw and I want to cry.

“It’s okay,” she says. “I consider us friends and I hope you do, too, even if we never see each other again.” I clear my throat uncomfortably.

“I consider us friends,” I choke, barely able to get my words out.

“Good,” she says. “Waiter?” She waves one of the servers over. “We’re going to need two hurricanes, the smoked mozzarella ravioli in lobster cream sauce and the New England Clam chowder.” He nods and he’s off. I didn’t even order and that sounds really good, except…

“What’s a hurricane?” I ask.

“Some delicious fruit juices, and a lot of rum,” she says. I look over at Ben, who nods at me.

“Sounds like my kind of drink,” I reply.

Two hurricanes and two appetizers later, I’m tearing into the breaded flounder fillet while Laura is chomping on shrimp and mushroom Alfredo. The hurricanes were to burn the Tassie experience out of me and help me loosen up about my monsters.

“My monsters don’t seem so big lately,” I confess. “At first, it seemed all encompassing, but over the last few weeks or so, not so much.”

“What’s been going on over the last few weeks?” she asks, taking a healthy forkful of her Alfredo.

“Well, for one thing, I’ve been focusing on everybody else’s problems but my own,” I say.

“Okay, that could mean a couple of things. What else?”

“I haven’t seen my shrink,” I confess. “He kicked me out of his office a few weeks ago and he cancelled my last two appointments.”

“How have you been dealing with the monsters since then?”

“Journaling,” I reply. “Meditating… when I get the chance. So much has happened that I don’t get the chance to meditate and my journal entries are mainly about other people.”

“Well, that concerns me,” she says. “Your monsters don’t just go away, and as soon as you’re rid of all these distractions, they’ll be back. You’re not dealing with them, Ana, you’re avoiding them.”

“How did you know I had monsters in the first place?” I ask. We’ve talked about some things, but nothing in grand detail.

“The way you reacted to Port Arthur,” she replies. “I told you I’m a spirit guide. You weren’t simply dismayed by the stories you heard and the vibes you got from that place. You were offended. You were offended for the convicts. You were offended for the children in the boys’ prison. You were offended for all those bodies on the Isle of the Dead. You were offended for all those people who were killed at the Broad Arrow Café. The dead spoke to you—they gave you their outrage and you carried it, because you have a like monster. Now, you’re drinking spirits and chasing the other spirits away. It doesn’t always work, but it doesn’t stop people from trying to make it work. That’s how alcoholics become alcoholics.”

“If you know this, why did you give me alcohol?” I ask.

“Because you needed to chase the other monsters away, and now there’s nothing left but yours. Tell me about them.”

I furrow my brow. Do I want to tell her this?

“You haven’t spoken to your shrink in weeks. Tell me about them. I don’t need to know what brought them on, I just need to know what they are.” I sigh and roll my eyes.

“I had something really bad happen to me as a kid,” I say.

“Yes, I remember the reference to the tattoo.” I finish my hurricane.

“It wasn’t until I became an adult that the monsters really came out. Things started happening—crazy shit, regular life shit, just shit. Now, I’m just afraid that the monsters are all going to eat me up.”

“Which monsters are going to eat you?” she asks. I shrug.

“The monsters that are coming to get me,” I say, and I sound like a toddler to myself. Her brow furrows and she ponders my statement for a moment.

“Oh,” she says in sudden realization. “So, you’re not afraid of present monsters. You’re afraid of the monsters that are coming.”

“Yes!” I say, my voice sounding like “Eureka!”

“So, what are you going to tell Minnie?” she asks. I frown.

“What?” I’m confused.

“What are you going to tell Minnie?” she repeats. “You’re her mother. You’re her first line of defense; her female role model. What are you going to tell her when her monsters come—to be afraid of them before they even get there? What do you tell the people seeking sanctuary at the help center? They’ve got some real monsters. What would you tell your patients? Why is any of this stuff that you would say to them—to your daughter—not good enough for you?

“Yesterday, you sat on a bus… or somewhere… and declared that you were tired of women hating on you because you’re beautiful and your husband is beautiful. You’re willing to take control of a bunch of catty bitches that you may never see again—who’ll only have an effect on you for the moment, but you can’t conquer impending monsters? The monsters are in your head. What sense does that make?

“Knowing and fearing that the monsters are coming is a very natural thing, but knowing that they’re coming gives you plenty of time to prepare for them. You don’t fall prey to them, Ana. You get ready for them and then you battle them. You’ll win some, you’ll lose some, but they. Won’t. Kill you. And guess what? That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.

“We’re all going to die one day,” she says, finishing her second hurricane. “One day, a hundred years from now, we’re not going to be here anymore. Are we going to sit right now in fear of that day? That’s the ultimate monster, when everything that we know in this life on this side ends. So, we’re going to sit every day and wait for it to end? Fear death’s arrival every day?

“I’m not! I’m going to live. I’m going to eat well, exercise, and do what I can to fend off this monster as long as possible. I’m going to live right, make good decisions, and when I see the monster coming—in dangerous situations, in bad habits, in illegal activities, in toxic people—then I’m going to avoid those things. And I’m going to do that for every monster that crosses my path. I’m going to analyze the situation, come up with a solution, then I’m going to implement a plan. If the monster gets the best of me, then I’ll implement another one. No monster—no monster—is bigger than me, but they’re always going to come. And what am I going to do… hide from them? Be afraid of them? Might as well send the big monster now if that’s what I’m going to do.

“You can’t pretend the monsters aren’t there, and you can’t run from them, but you know what? They don’t have to run your life. You grab those sons of bitches by the throat and you show them who’s boss. Only one of you can dominate the present—you or the monster. So, which one of you is it going to be? He has to go and find something else to do, someone else to terrorize, or die completely while you’re dominating the present. And what are you doing while he’s dominating the present—cowering in a corner? Crying and praying and hoping that he’ll go away? Living your entire life in fear when there’s nothing in front of you but opportunity?

“Here’s the thing, Ana,” she says, turning to face me, “you’re a spiritual being. We’re all spiritual beings, but yours is on display. It’s on your sleeve. I can see it… I can feel it. When you went to Port Arthur, you’re one of those people who connected with the troubled spirits there. At the risk of sounding hokey, do you remember the movie Ghost?”

“Who doesn’t?” Patrick Swayze at his hottest… except maybe for Dirty Dancing… What were we talking about again?

“You remember Whoopi Goldberg’s character, Oda Mae?” I look at her and twist my lips. “Okay, you know who I’m talking about. Do you remember every ghost in the city came to her house because they found out that she could hear them?”

“Yes?” I answer skeptically. Where is she going with this?

“It’s the same concept. You showed up and you caused a ripple in the continuum and all those spirits were drawn to you. You were bombarded by the spirits, and you were overwhelmed by all the death of all those people who died on that island. Whether they died in the prisons, at work in the fields, or from one of the bullets from Bryant’s gun, those spirits were drawn to you. We’re not talking about those people who lived there and lived out their long, happy lives and died with their family members surrounding them. Those people are at peace. We’re talking about the ones who died in turmoil—the souls who were tormented beings while they were alive or untimely ripped from their bodies during that massacre.

“You showed up and you picked that burden up at the prison. Then you went to the café and you picked up a few more. You carried it through the park and all the way back on the shuttle ride to the starting point. By the time you got back to the starting point, you were so angry at death—just another monster—that your day was over. Port Arthur held nothing more for you and you wanted to get as far away from it as possible. So, we came back to the boat. The problem is that the spirits are still in a state of unrest, and it’s all over you.

“But here’s the thing—that’s nothing any different than what happens to any other spiritual being. Having control over that spirituality is what makes one able to overcome those feelings. They’re able to conquer it and let it go, not live in it. They use their inner strength, their chakra, their chi—whatever it is you draw on—to overcome the anger or the overwhelming anguish, and you couldn’t. You have so many things holding onto your spirit that these spirits latched on, too. If you’re walking along with trash in your hand and you see a pile of garbage, your mind would say, ‘I need to find a garbage can,’ but human nature will throw it on the top of that pile.”

I kind of hate to admit that she’s right.

“That’s the same concept with all these spirits jumping on you,” she continues. “You’ve got the one friend who lost her mother, the other friend who just had an abortion, the other friend who was ambushed by her grandmother, and whatever else you have on your plate, and these restless spirits see this and they’re like ‘Hey, let’s hitch a ride!’ That’s why I was able to pinpoint your spirituality. Spirits know spirits, girl.

“So, here’s my question. We’re going to leave Port Arthur, and those spirits stuck here are not going to be an issue for you anymore. You’re not the first person who has had that kind of reaction to this place, and you won’t be the last. Then you’re going to go back to Washington and one way or another, all those problems and issues and monsters and spirits are all going to work themselves out, too. So, what are you going to do when theirs are gone and you’re face-to-face with your own monsters again?

“You’re in a constant state of Armageddon and you can’t survive that way—you’ll go crazy. Bad things happen. They’re going to happen again. They make us fight to overcome so that we can return to and appreciate the good times. So, are you going to let them run your life? If you do, you’re already dead. The entire concept behind living, being alive and being able to survive the bad is the reality of knowing that you can defeat the monsters. Even if you have to defeat them repeatedly, you can still beat ‘em! People can be fatally ill—they can have a death sentence and somehow come back. It’s the will to live, the will to fight, the will to win. How do you think people beat cancer?”

Cancer…
Jesus—Valerie! Shit!
The will to live, the will to fight…

I was constantly afraid of things that go bump in the night. Was afraid? Fuck, am afraid…

Suddenly, I’m seeing myself in everything that she’s saying.

He did a background check on me and I immediately went spiraling down the vortex of oh-my-God-they’re-after-me.

He came back home after a bit of soul-searching and suggested that we maybe postpone the wedding. I saw the death of all my future happiness and ran off to Montana.

The moment I found out that I was pregnant, I was afraid for the embryos to face the world.

I was frozen with fear when Christian was facing off with Robin Myrick and the hackers to the degree that I basically threatened Brian to keep him safe.

Granted, him running off to Madrid shook everything I knew, but even after he came back, I couldn’t see any horizon—nothing but gloom and fear and unhappiness, waiting for the next shoe to drop or the next boulder to fall.

And then, there’s Val… fighting that tumor and not even knowing if any of her friends would be there when she awoke… if she awoke. She named her monster, her unwelcome intruder. She named it Meg, a harmless little name for something that she planned to fight with every fiber of her being.

And she did.

She fought through surgery, through radiation and chemotherapy, through getting her head shaved and losing all of her hair, even through Kate fucking Kavanaugh tripping her at a garden party… and that ugly yellow house that she loves so much.

Meg… she calls it Meg.

What do I call mine—Boogeyman. Why? Because the Boogeyman is usually something you can’t beat. He’s the all-knowing, all-seeing manifestation of all things scary; the opposite of Santa Claus and worse than the devil; the scary blob of nothing that makes children behave for fear that he’ll “come and get me.”

I made it real. I gave it life. It may have started as a Meg, but I gave it life. I gave it the omnipotence of the Boogeyman.

Jesus.

I had the answer to my monsters all along and I’ve been sitting here… what? Hiding? Cowering? Shrinking? What? I can’t believe it was this simple all this time.

Accept the monsters. They’re going to come. It’s a part of life.
Be prepared for the monsters, but don’t live in them. Don’t sit there and let them run your life.
Do what you must to build up your armor so that you can fight when they come…

But you can’t let Meg live while you die.

Isn’t that what everybody was telling you all along?
They might have been, but I couldn’t hear them. They weren’t saying it in a way I could understand.

“I see the light,” Laura says. “I see it in your eyes. Let’s go to the spa and cleanse before it gets away…”

I’m lying on a hot thermal bench after a shampoo, condition, and scalp massage with some kind of homeopathic sacs on my eyes to help with the swelling from my crying. When did I cry? Right after a session of acupuncture. I cried like a damn baby. I felt like those tiny little needles were antennae drawing the weight of the world out of my body through those tiny holes… and through my tears. Waterlogged from my Sob-Fest, I followed the spa technicians as they guided me through a rainwater therapy shower-like hallway where seven different settings helped to release tension, wash away toxins, and aid in regaining my composure.

After a luxury facial that leaves my face as smooth as a baby’s bottom and a foot massage that pops nearly every joint in my feet, I take to an amber quartz crystal bed for the final soothing massage to release what’s left of my tension—a gentle rubdown with eucalyptus and juniper oil…

Eucalyptus…

… on the heated quartz crystal table. It’s magnificent and I totally forget where I am.

Now, I’m left to finish my cleansing on the heated thermal bench—it feels like sitting in a dry hot tub—and ponder all things Boogeyman. Why does my mind immediately go to the worst things that could possibly happen? If I were shrinking myself, what would I say about this…? What would I tell Minnie…?

“Mrs. G, you’re suffering from the worst type of phobia there is—phobophobia, the fear of fear. You’re afraid of being afraid… so afraid in fact that it has you paralyzed. You’re unable to make any solid decisions about your life or the future, afraid to step left or right because the unknown may come and gobble you up… may come. You almost stepped your drunk ass off a cliff three months ago, and what could have happened to you doesn’t scare you as much as what could happen, what’s waiting around the corner. Never mind the very clear and present danger of falling your ass off a cliff… No, you’re more concerned about the fact that Mr. G left you all alone and even though he’s back, you still can’t deal with the uncertainty. Uncertainty… there’s the worst phobia of all. You know what it’s called? Being human.”

I wasn’t always like this, at least I don’t remember always being like this. Even after Green Valley, when I came back to Seattle and slowly began to find my way, I remember finding some modicum of peace. What happened? What changed?

“Minnie, it’s a scary world out there, I know. Sometimes, it seems like things are all coming to get you at once, but I promise that it won’t always be that way. There’ll be good times and fun times, things to make you happy. When the bad times come, my little princess, you have to be strong. You have to believe in yourself and know that the bad times won’t last. You have to know that sometimes, you may have to endure some things—to wait them out—but other times, you can conquer those things. You can be your very own superhero and defeat the monsters. It won’t be easy, Minnie Mouse, but it’ll be worth it. And you won’t be alone. Even though there are some monsters that you may have to fight by yourself, there are a lot of people who love you very much, and they will never leave you alone. Remember, baby girl, you’re strong. You come from good stock, and you can conquer anything that comes your way. I love you.”

I’d like to say that I’m all better—I’m not, but at least I have a clearer and more productive perspective of what I’m dealing with… and it only took an island full of dead people, two hurricanes, and a spirit guide.


CHRISTIAN

Butterfly had a hard time with the Port Arthur tour. I’ll admit it was pretty creepy, especially that coughing that I know I heard in that cell, but she had a particularly rough time with it. I don’t think I’ve seen anything affect her quite like that. She wasn’t just affected; she was angry.

And I could almost feel the souls at that café crying for justice. That maniac that shot all those people is living and getting fat in jail. He’s not being punished for his crimes because whether he was or is mentally unstable or he doesn’t remember what happened, he couldn’t possibly care about jail if he killed all those people. The most feeling he had was running out of that burning room right before he was captured.

I’ve had enough of chewing the fat and sitting in the humidor with Jaxon. As he enjoys his cigar, he and Jason talk a bit about soccer… oh, I’m sorry… football. I’m not a smoker and while I don’t mind cigar smoke that much, we’ve been in here for the entire cigar, and it’s starting to irritate my eyes.

Cigar smoke doesn’t bother me as such. At the risk of sounding like the snob that I am, it has a more distinguished aroma than cigarette smoke—the good ones, anyway. Besides, cigarette smoke reminds me of… him.

Jaxon accommodates me once I’ve had enough of the humidor and we go in search of our women. Jason confirms with Lawrence that they’re in the spa. Good. That’s exactly what she needed. We enter the luxury spa—even grander than Miana’s—and I spot Lawrence sitting in the lounge with a magazine.

“Sir,” he says, standing and acknowledging my presence.

“Where’s my wife?” I ask.

“Inside, sir,” he says.

“Why are you out here?” I say, somewhat demanding.

“This is as far as I go, sir,” he replies. “I couldn’t very well watch them get their treatments.”

Duh!

“Of course,” I say, a bit more contrite. “How did she seem?” He twists his lips.

“Uneasy,” he says honestly. “She and the lady had an extensive conversation to which I was not privy, an impressive lunch, and two hurricanes… each.”

“Whoa,” Jaxon replies. I look over at him.

“Something I should know?” I ask. He raises his brow.

“D’ya knoh whaht a Huhricayne is?” he asks. I shake my head.

“No. Should I?” He chuckles a bit and Jason flexes his jaw and rubs his neck.

“In laymen’s tuhms,” Jaxon says, “a Huhricayne is one paht rum, one paht fruit juice, anothah paht rum, and anothah paht rum.” Jason hides his snicker at Jaxon’s description.

“So, basically, my wife is pickled… again,” I reply.

“Well, once she comes out of there, she probably won’t be,” Jason says gesturing to the spa. Jaxon nods.

“We’re fine from here, gentlemen,” I say to my security staff. I assure Jason that we won’t be needing them for the rest of the night and that I won’t let Butterfly out of my sight before dismissing him and Lawrence to try to have a little fun on our last evening on the ship. Jaxon and I enter the spa and go in search of our wives. We don’t have to look far before we see Laura sitting in a section of floating chairs over what looks like sand sipping tea and eating mango and cantaloupe slices.

“Thehre’s my possum,” Jaxon says upon seeing Laura, who raises her gaze and smiles at him.

Possum? Ew.

“Hello, pet,” she coos when she sees him.

Oh, dear God, if you only knew. That’s even worse. I look just past where she’s seated and I can see a woman in a room laying prostrate on a table with some kind of sacks over her eyes… like tea bags. Even with her hair wrapped, I know that’s my Butterfly. I’d know that body anywhere, even though she’s not moving, barely breathing. She looks serene… too serene.

“You look concerned,” Laura says, drawing my attention to her and away from Butterfly. I don’t respond. I don’t really know what to say.

“It was a rough day,” she adds, and I turn back to Butterfly. I watch her silently for a moment…

“We had a long talk.”

Laura’s voice draws my gaze back to her and I realize that it must have been more than a moment that I was gazing at Butterfly, because Jaxon is gone, and I didn’t even notice he left.

“She’s carrying a lot of demons,” Laura continues, gesturing to one of the floating chairs. I feel strange having this conversation with her. Is she about to betray a confidence by telling me the content of their conversation? Should I decline her invitation and wait for Butterfly to reveal these things to me?

Then again, how many opportunities present themselves to get an objective insight into your girl’s mind? I reluctantly, and anxiously, take a seat next to her.

Wow, these floating chairs are really comfortable.

“She’s a strange bird,” Laura says. “She’s an anomaly to most ‘regular’ folks, but I come across people like her all the time.”

People like her?” I ask. Laura nods.

“She’s intuitive. She’s more spiritual than natural, empathetic almost to a fault. She’s in the right profession—therapy and emotionally helping people who need it, but she’s got to learn to leave their demons at the door.”

I can’t argue with that.

“She’s loyal—faithful even if it’s to her own detriment. She’ll need you to guide her through that, to ground her…”

“How am I supposed to do that?” I interrupt. Hell, she grounds me. I’m the unstable one in this relationship… aren’t I?

“You are the hand that holds her, that keeps her aligned and steady. She guides the world, but you guide her.” I shake my head.

“I think you’ve got that backwards,” I confess. I’m the one with control of the world. I’m the Master of the Universe. She’s the one that keeps me in place—helps me to remember that I’m only human.

“Do I?” she asks, swinging one foot casually in the chair.

I think so,” I reinforce.

“Did you fall apart when you left?” she asks. I’m taken aback. This conversation has gone much deeper than I thought.

“So,” I begin, “she told you about our very temporary split.” Laura raises a surprised brow at me.

“Yes, but… she didn’t call it that,” she reveals. “Have you ever put a name to what happened?”

You mean like Liamgate? Liam… asshole.

“No, not really.”

“That could be one of the reasons that she’s having such a hard time with it,” she continues. “Was it a break-up or a break? How likely is it to happen again? You talked about the effects, but did you name the situation—actually tag what it really was?”

“We talked about it extensively,” I defend, “to nearly everyone that would listen—family, friends, her shrink, my shrink, she journals, we meditate… we’ve beat this horse about as much as it can be beaten…”

“And yet it lives,” Laura says.

Good grief, is this woman licensed?

“She’s already very spiritual, but she’s still an open wound,” she continues. “She’s like Velcro, and the demons and the spirits and the needy all flock to her. She’s a welcome mat and a door mat at the same time, and that’s why she was so overwhelmed by Port Arthur. It’s still open and it still leaves her vulnerable, and you may not have named it, but she did. She gave it a name. She calls it the Boogeyman.” I frown.

“I think you may have misunderstood,” I say. “The Boogeyman is her constant fear that something bad is going to happen.”

“I didn’t misunderstand,” she replies. “She’s had all kinds of bad things happen in her lifetime, and she may have retroactively related this fear to things that have happened to her before, but the Boogeyman didn’t show up until you went to Madrid.”

I fall silent, unable to dispute that most recent point of fact.

“The Boogeyman is not her fear of bad things happening—that’s just how she relates it. She felt safe and comfortable and confident and that security was unexpectedly ripped from her. All she was left with was uncertainty, complete and total uncertainty—nothing in front of her but a black hole. Nothing escapes from a black hole, Christian, not even light. And you wonder why when she slipped into hopelessness, she couldn’t get out.

“Fear is a very powerful thing, but fear doesn’t just happen. Something brings it on. She didn’t just wake up and decide the Apocalypse was around the corner. Something ripped her from her happy place, threw her into the abyss, and she’s been trying to climb out of it all this time. All of the clinical diagnoses and the opinions and points of others may have been correct—even helpful—but none of them turned that spotlight onto that darkness that’s inside her devouring her from the inside out. Then again, none of them could. Only she can do that.

“The Boogeyman is the manifestation of the fact that everything that she thought was, wasn’t. It’s the tangible reality that the security she thought she had could be ripped from her at any moment, because it was. We can try to put it into a different compartment all we want, but it is what it is.”

“We’ve taken breaks from each other before,” I protest. “It was hard, but the bottom didn’t fall out from under our lives. She took the time that she needed, then she came back, and we put our lives back together again. Why does this have to be different?”

I don’t know what I’m looking for. Maybe I’m looking for an escape from this responsibility—some other answer besides the fact that in leaving the way that I did, I totally broke my wife. She seemed to be dealing with things pretty well with the passing of time and her coping techniques, but it looks like that fucking trip to Port Arthur set her all the way back to the beginning.

“Are you talking about her trip to Montana?” Reluctantly, I nod. “Here’s the big difference between her escape to Montana and your escape to Madrid. Contrary to your belief that it lies in the commitment that you have now versus what you had then, that’s not true. It lies in what you’re not seeing and the message that each of you got when the other left.

“When Ana left, nobody but her assistant knew that she was gone, and even she didn’t know where Ana had gone. No one knew—her family, her friends, you, no one. Unless she was going to close up her practice and start a whole new life somewhere, you knew that she was coming back. You didn’t know what the circumstances would be when she returned, but you knew she was coming back.

“When you left, you took what you needed with you—you had your money and took Jason. As far as she could tell, you didn’t need to come back. You didn’t need her; you didn’t need your children; you could run your empire from anywhere, and you did. You left her the man that you were when you met her—cold, distant, a total loner—you and your security, and neither of you were forthcoming with information. All she was left with was ‘What do I do now?’

“You guys have talked about it and you hashed out your feelings, but you never made it an isolated incident. It’s a manifestation of everything bad that can happen. The bottom line, it’s the Boogeyman.”

Jesus, how long were we in that damn humidor?

“Well, then, what we really need to do is just isolate this thing, right?” She shakes her head.

“It’s too late for that,” she replies. “She has to battle that monster now, and you can’t battle it for her. She’s a strong woman, and you know that, but she’s delicate and sensitive, too. When it comes to you, you give her credit for her strength because she’s your anchor… but you don’t recognize her emotional weaknesses until she breaks down, and by then, the damage is already done. I understand that she’s your pillar, and I can see how and why, but you’re hers, too. You need each other, and when one is left with the uncertainty of not being able to have the other, the world falls apart.”

God, she’s so right. Nothing left me feeling more like a half a man than those twelve days that Butterfly was in a coma… not knowing if she would come back to me, not being able to see past the sixty days that I definitely had with her before I had to decide to unplug her or keep her alive as an incubator. I physically shiver at the thought.

“I can see that you have a story, too,” Laura says, “but we don’t have the time to hash it out. Besides, I’m all out of hurricanes.”

I chuckle.

“You would need a lifetime to hear my story,” I confess.

“No, not a lifetime, just a couple of hours and the right bits. How do you think Ana and I got so far?”

“I was just wondering that.” We both look back to the room where Butterfly is lounging just beyond the glass door.

“We’re all connected in some way, Christian,” she says. “It’s a matter of being able to let your guard down and let someone else in. She can do that easily. You, not so much.” She’s got that right.

“Where did Jaxon get off to?” I ask, feeling a bit too vulnerable. She smiles.

“The barber shop,” she says. “Through the lounge and to your right.” I rise from the chair.

“Thanks… for the talk,” I say. She nods once.

“Anytime…”

“Woild hohrses wouldn’t pull you away from thaht dohr,” Jaxson says when I ask why he didn’t invite me to the barber shop with him. “OI thought OI’d get meself a shayve n’ bockeh.” I frown and look at the barber.

“Shave and a haircut, two bits,” he says, singing the old jingle. I mouth an “oh” and nod.

“I think I’ll have the same,” I say. I had no idea what I was in for when I said that.

Sometime later, I emerge from the “barber shop” having a love/hate relationship with the staff there. My hair has been cut shorter than it ever has been before. My beard is trimmed to such precision that it almost looks drawn on my face. My nose hairs and eyebrows have been waxed… waxed! After that torture session, I was treated to an exfoliating facial scrub and steam, a five-minute jaw massage along with a neck and shoulder massage with a Sandlewood fragrance oil accompanied by a shot of fine whiskey to help ease the sting of having my skin ripped off! Jesus, women do this regularly?

I’m not so pissed when I look in the mirror and see the results. Shit. I don’t think I was this sharp on my wedding day.

When I get back to the spa, Laura and Butterfly are already gone, so Jaxon and I head back to our staterooms. Butterfly isn’t there either, but there’s a note on the table as soon as I enter the room.

Gone to Laura’s room to change for the evening. Tonight is semi-formal, so dress appropriately. We’ll meet you at Cagney’s Theater at seven.

Before I have a chance to wonder where Jaxon is changing since Butterfly has gone to their stateroom, he’s knocking at the door of my cabin with a garment bag in his hand. I can’t help but laugh when I let him in.

*-*

“So, tonight is our last night on board,” I tell Jaxon.

“Yeh. Lahrie told me. She’s feelin’ a bit bummed about it. Sez she nevah had a friend she could relayte to loike Ahnah. We’ll prob’ly nevah get tha two o’ them off the ‘Book.”

“The Book?” I ask, bemused.

“Faycebook,” Jaxon laughs. “Yoh a bit sheltahed thehre, Chris?”

“No,” I chuckle, “not at all. It’s just not feasible for me or my wife to be on social media.”

“OI’ll give it a week,” he taunts. “Get ready, Chris!”

We get to deck seven where the theater is, and I question Jaxon about what show we’re going to see. I’m certain that I hear nothing he’s saying, because as we bend the corner, I see a crowd of about five young men and in the center of them are our wives. Laura speaks to one of them while Butterfly stands demurely holding her clutch.

As usual, she’s fucking exquisite.

My heart actually begins to race when I see her. She’s wearing a beautifully modest black full-length sheath halter dress. The top looks like embroidered lace with a choker collar in the front—no splits this time, but she doesn’t need one to still look absolutely stunning. Her sunkissed skin is glowing and radiant, her mahogany mane full and shiny, cascading over her shoulders.

I know why women dislike her so. They want what she has—and I don’t mean money or even me. They want that class, sophistication, and ethereal natural beauty that she possesses… and they become angry with her because they don’t have it. Women often try to imitate her charm and elegance, but they fail miserably. They either come off overdressed, overdone, or skanky, but not my wife. Her beauty, grace, and sex appeal are effortless. No wonder men can’t control themselves around her. She’s a goddess. She leaves them powerless to behave themselves, poor suckers… and she’s mine, all mine.

My feet are frozen in their spot and I can’t stop staring at her. I’m struck dumb like the very first time I saw her. I’m afraid if I try to go to her, I might trip over my own feet and face-plant in the middle of the floor. She laughs sweetly, then her eyes lock with mine.

I’m captured.

I don’t know how the space closes between us, but in a moment, she’s standing in front of me.

“You’re beautiful,” I say.

“So are you,” she breathes. I cup her face and place a gentle kiss on her lips.

“Of couhse,” I hear someone lament. “Wy too hoht to beh hehr alone. C’mon, boys.”

Yes, run along, boys.

I admire my wife for a few moments more before I take her hand and we enter the theater.

I try to pay attention to the show—a Broadway review of hit songs from various shows. It’s actually very good, but I can’t help staring at my Butterfly. She’s glowing, like she’s shed the weight of the world and aged backwards five years or so. I just want to hold her and watch the moonlight dance off her skin. Luckily, the stage lighting has the same effect as it shines into the audience. As a result, I see more of my wife than I do of the show.

When the show is over, we’re trying to decide which restaurant we’ll visit for our last night on board. Laura and Jaxon will finish the cruise back to Sydney, but Butterfly and I will debark in Melbourne to fly to Adelaide and spend the weekend in the Barossa Valley. As we’re passing the Grand Plaza, I take note of the martini bar we visited—still open—and the fact that no one is at the piano. I stop walking and my wife looks at me strangely. I pull her over to the white baby grand and take a seat on the bench. When she takes the seat next to me, I think of the shortest song that I can play and sing for her that has the least chance of being interrupted…

She may be the face I can’t forget
A trace of pleasure or regret
Maybe my treasure or the price I have to pay
She may be the song that summer sings
May be the chill that autumn brings
May be a hundred different things
Within the measure of a day.

Jaxon and Laura join us and stand next to the piano while various patrons of the piano bar or people just sitting in the lounge turn their attention to tonight’s impromptu entertainment.

She may be the beauty or the beast
May be the famine or the feast
May turn each day into a heaven or a hell.
She may be the mirror of my dreams
A smile reflected in a stream
She may not be what she may seem
Inside her shell…

I don’t know why I picked this song to sing. It just seems right and it’s short, but as I belt the song out in as mellow a voice as I can, I realize the words are perfect for the moment and for how I feel about her, especially in light of the conversation that I had with Laura this afternoon. Can I be that pillar that she needs to find her way back to the invincible Butterfly that she once was?

She who always seems so happy in a crowd
Whose eyes can be so private and so proud
No one’s allowed to see them when they cry…
She may be the love that cannot hope to last
May come to me from shadows of the past
That I’ll remember till the day I die…

Jesus, that’s a bit depressing. Time to bring this back around.

She may be the reason I survive
The why and wherefore I’m alive
The one I’ll care for through the rough and rainy years…

Me, I’ll take her laughter and her tears
And make them all my souvenirs
For where she goes, I’ve got to be
The meaning of my life is She.
Sheeeeeeeeee, oh, She…

My wife turns her beautiful, smiling blue eyes to me and my heart is quickly filled with love. I kiss her gently, and again before I rub my nose against hers.

“I love you so much,” I whisper.

“I know,” she replies. “I love you, too.”

I cup her neck and place my forehead on hers. Do you have any idea how much I love you? That I would do anything, give anything, just to see you happy?

If that’s true, why are you so hell bent on hurting her all the time?


A/N: The song that Christian sings to Ana is She by Elvis Costello.

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. Be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last on the menu or you can click HERE.

There has been yet another development where if you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu entitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE

The Australia Picture Board can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-the-trip-to-australia/ and the pictures from today’s chapter are in the “Luxury Cruise Ship” and “Port Arthur” sections.

And of course, the regular Pinterest board is here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

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

~~love and handcuffs

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Raising Grey: Chapter 78—Traipsing to Tasmania    

I’m assuming that anyone reading my fanfic has read the entire FSOG trilogy and most likely seen all the movies. By now, I’m certain that you are fully aware that BDSM is an entire lifestyle practiced by an ENORMOUS community of people. To that end, if you do not agree with the lifestyle, I’m pretty certain that you knew that you didn’t agree with it by the time you finished reading the original trilogy. As such, why would you continue to read FSOG fanfiction knowing that it’s based on the trilogy and that the trilogy is based on a BDSM relationship if you don’t agree with the lifestyle? 

This is nearly the end of book four—BOOK FOUR! You didn’t know when you read that conversation between Christian and Ana in BOOK ONE, PAGING DR. STEELE, that this story would be about BDSM?

If you don’t agree with the practice of BDSM (not you, Falala, I know that you’re still trying to grasp it), that’s your prerogative and that’s okay, but don’t use my forum to slam it. First of all, you knew what you were reading when you started reading an FSOG fanfic and second, it’s not my responsibility to defend an entire lifestyle that was being practiced EONS before our great-grandparents were even a sperm in their great-grandparents’ DNA.

I’m certain that there are plenty of forums out there that share in your point of view about how inappropriate BDSM is in any relationship—marriage, casual, sexual, or otherwise. I Googled it came up with ten pages of forums that will welcome your anti-BDSM comments. This AIN’T one of those forums, and your comment has been deleted—no disrespect intended. Please post your anti-BDSM comments elsewhere. This is a REQUEST, not an ATTACK. Thank you. 

Danger—Aussie accent ahead. Turn away now.

All other previous disclaimers still apply.

Chapter 78—Traipsing to Tasmania    

ANASTASIA

Hobart is a beautiful city in Tasmania, built on rolling hills with Mount Wellington as its backdrop. Even though we’re on a ferry, it’s easy to see the beautiful 19th Century architecture throughout the city. The ferry driver is spouting several statistics about the location—second oldest capital after Sydney, mostly Anglo-Celtic despite the increase in immigrants from other countries, home port for Australian Antarctic operations, blah, blah, blah.

Should this interest me? I guess it should as a tourist, but sadly, it doesn’t. I’m not really sure what I should be interested in, but I know I don’t want to hear a bunch of stats.

“Some people compare the colonization of Hobart to the colonization of America,” Laura says to me when she sees that I’m completely uninterested in our tour guide’s stats and figures. “There are differing points of view concerning what wiped out Tasmania’s original inhabitants, the Aboriginal Tasmanians. Some schools of thought blame disease brought by the English when they built the convict settlement here. Others point to warfare and violence while there are still others that say that many died in what we would consider concentration camps.”

She looks out at the water for a moment.

“Being the spirit soul that I am, I tend to look at things a little differently than others.” She scoffs a laugh. “Who am I fooling? I look at things a lot differently. My ancestors are largely English. I have some Polish and a spot of German, but mostly English. Yet, I could never wrap my head around the European concept of manifest destiny. I realize the words were ‘born’ in America, but the concept was the same everywhere. No matter how they tried to explain it, what it basically meant was that the whole world was theirs and nobody else mattered. If that meant going across the land on several different continents and wiping out the natives, then so be it. Genocide was and is still justified as long as they got their piece of the land.” She turns around and leans on the railing.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get all philosophical,” she says. “I’m only one opinion. What does it mean? It just irritates me to hear someone spouting off about the depth of the harbor at the Hobart pier when there’s so much history here—so many untold stories. I can’t imagine that these people have traveled from so many different parts of the world to hear that the mountain there is 1300 meters tall. Is that why you’re here?”

“Certainly not,” I concur.

“There are barely any native Aboriginals left—Palawa, they’re called. I’m not sure that there’s any left of purely Aboriginal descent. And yet, here we are skating across the hillside like ‘This land is your land, this land is my land…’”

She seems very passionate about this and I wonder why she’s taking it so personally.

“Again, I’m just one person,” she sighs. “There’s one other heritage that I didn’t give you. I’m largely English, and some Polish, and some German… and I’m quite a bit Native American.”

My eyes widen and I purse my lips. Hence, the reason for taking things so personally.

“My ancestors know of being forced from their land, and their descendants—my grandparents and great-grandparents—talk about it a lot. They never let you forget. I’m of the Sac and Fox Nation. We were a merged tribe of the Sac and Meskwaki peoples. It didn’t help, though. We lost our land—most of it—and they tried to assimilate us completely in the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Some of us survived, though—I’m still here to tell the story.

“I didn’t mean to give you an ‘American’ history lesson. I just feel like a tourist attraction like this would be better served by hearing the history of the land—maybe even as told by one of the true natives—instead of this whole ‘Look at us, look at what we did’ spouting of statistics that I’m hearing from this guy.”

I’m not so sure that the entire gory details of colonization would be story material for tourists. However, I have to agree that a bit of true history would be a lot better than hearing about how deep the water is in the harbor.

I’m relieved when this leg of the trip has ended, and we arrive at the MONA—an underground lair full of art dug into sandstone cliffs a short ferry ride from Hobart. The ferry ride that trip sent Laura down a very morose road and I’m hoping she doesn’t travel down it again. Of course, she would empathize with the Aboriginals given her heritage, but for some reason, I get a feeling that it’s more than that.

We order a breakfast of champions at the restaurant there and Christian and I tell Jaxon and Laura about our eventful night. We leave out the buck-wild spanking-and-sex-session that resulted in all the love bites, and I conveniently skip the encounter with that horrible couple at the pub who thought it was perfectly normal and natural to ask if we wanted to wife-swap. I don’t know or care what kind of “free love” vibe we’re emitting, but I’m absolutely certain that we’re not sending out signals that we want to share.

While I recount the events of the previous night to Laura and Jaxon, Christian keeps looking at his phone, occasionally typing on the screen. I want to ask him if we’re interrupting his work, but I don’t bother. It goes with him everywhere and I’ve long since gotten used to it, except right now, I kind of feel like he should be more engaged with current company than concerned about his organization back in Seattle.

“So,” I say to Laura and Jaxon, “I wasn’t with you when you planned the excursions, so what’s on the agenda today?”

“Well,” Jaxon begins, “fuhrst, we’ll trip around tha ol’ MONA hehre for an houh or so, then we’ll tayke a droive bahk down ta Kettering an’ catch tha fehry across tha wattah. Through Nohth Bruny we go, down ta Advencha By, an’ hop tha Bruny Oiland Cruise. Thehre’s plenty ta see on an’ around the oiland behfoh we hedd bahk to the big boat. Then we’ll staht ovah in tha mornin’ on Port Ahthuh. We’ll only have a few houhs but we’ll get a lot done.”

“It should be a scenic drive,” Laura says. “It’s sounds like about two hours if the shuttle is driving slowly, which I wouldn’t count on.”

I nod and finish my coffee, trying to ignore Christian and his tap-tap-tapping on his phone.

“Great. Well, let’s get going. I’d like to see what there is to see.” I wipe my mouth and stand without looking to my husband. If he wants to sit here and work, he can. I’m going to go look at the art of the MONA.

The MONA is located on the Moorilla Estate, which is a winery and brewery on the Berriedale peninsula of Hobart. I should really say that the MONA is located under the estate, as the museum itself is a labyrinth of displays that burrow three levels into the side of the cliff. There’s a small and unassuming building on the main level that you enter to get to the good stuff. The front is totally mirrored, and the entrance makes you feel like you’re walking into a vortex. After we’ve had our breakfast, it’s now time to see the meat of things.

Upon entering the museum, we’re given these iPods called “The O.” If you want to know what the pieces are that are on display, you follow them on “The O” as there are no wall texts in the museum. “The O” offers lots of information and the ability to interact more through information, interviews, and music without affecting the aesthetics of the museum experience. Basically, as you get close to the artwork, you get content on the piece, and two people standing next to each other can get different content on the same piece. If you have an iPhone, you can download the app to your phone without having to borrow one of MONA’s iPads, and you can save and retrieve your trip at any time on either device or even when you leave the MONA.

I particularly like the feature that allows you to get your information in detailed scholarly language, lovingly referred to as “curator’s wank,” or in simpler text that speaks more to your emotional, creative side. I chose the latter. I’m always in some kind of scholarly, intellectual situation—I don’t want that shit today. I’m intrigued to see what this little device will offer, although I’m not necessarily thrilled with the idea of looking down at a mobile device the entire time, considering the fact that I’m still harboring a little resentment for Christian being buried in his blackberry during a portion of our breakfast. Nonetheless, I take my little device and head into the museum as does Jaxon. Laura and Christian decide against the iPod. I can’t help but think it’s because he wants to be able to look at his phone instead of admiring David Walsh’s multi-million-dollar art collection.

Ben and Jason appear equally as “interested.”

It’s a bit underwhelming when you get inside. You have to descend this long and winding flight of stairs to the lower level of the museum and work your way back up through the art and exhibitions—or there’s a cylindrical glass elevator to take you back up, but there’s only the stairs down.

“Great,” Christian murmurs. “More stairs.” I groan inwardly.

“They help to work off all the food we’re eating during the trip, like that magnanimous breakfast we just had.” He spent a good portion of breakfast on his phone, so even though it would be uncharacteristic of him, I don’t even know if he finished it. I’m not sure if he catches the sarcasm, but I begin my trek down the stairs without a concern for it.

It looks very ominous once you get to the bottom. The architecture is very organic, nothing like the traditional art galleries I’ve seen—a far cry from the pristine displays in Greece.

I was yet to discover just how far.

You don’t really have any idea of which direction you should go as nothing is really labelled. There are no specific sections for “expressionist art” or “abstract art.” You just have to find your way based on desire or instinct. I decide that this is going to be one of those experiences like when I go to the aquarium… or when I used to go to the aquarium—just me and the fishies.

As I begin to work my way around the museum, the GPS inside The O gives me brief descriptions of the masterpieces. I explore the mobile device and find that I can listen to interviews, Walsh’s opinions and stories about a particular piece, music, poetry, or even differing ideas to spark conversation—all in context of what I’m viewing.

Jaxon and I talk a lot about what we’re seeing since we both have The O. He explains to me the significance of a giant mural on one of the floors called Snake by Sidney Nolan. It’s a Rainbow Serpent consisting of over 1,600 individual paintings. The Rainbow Serpent has significant meaning in the various Aboriginal cultures—all largely religious. I’m just amazed by the level of dedication it took to create a work comprised of so many paintings. I discover that the museum was specifically designed around this and other pieces, like an iron bookshelf with large glass shards called Sternenfall housed in its own zinc cube back up on the surface and an illuminated sarcophagus called Mummy and Coffin of Pausiris—one of the older pieces.

I’m particularly—and morosely—drawn to a piece called Cloaca by Wim Delvoye, an artist who seems to have a lot of pieces in the museum. In simplified medical terms, the cloaca is the combined intestinal, urinary, and reproductive organ in various species, including humans. In laymen’s terms, it’s the part of the body that produces shit.

That’s what this piece does—literally! It produces shit.

It’s a contraption made of eight distinct pieces. Seven of those pieces are tanks and hoses and such attached to a steel frame hanging from the ceiling. The last piece is the “asshole,” the shit-producing apparatus. Someone stands at a table situated at the head of the machine, prepares food, and “feeds” it to this device. The food proceeds through the machine where the different tanks remove the nutrients and fluids, mimicking different stages of the digestive process and at the final stage, it produces turds. Real fucking turds! It’s fascinating and disgusting at the same time.

Who the fuck thought this was art??

I wander past another piece called Formations of Silence: Freudian Flowers and read that the work is about life and death by an artist who was fascinated by the human body. Each piece of the art could either represent a flower or a human organ.

More bodily functions… for Christ’s sake.

And yet another body metaphor—Artifact, a giant head that displays a light show inside to simulates your consciousness at work. I have to admit, that piece looks kind of cool, though.

I stop and get a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Void Bar inside the museum and continue on my expedition, invariably thinking about the “shit machine,” of all things, while I’m drinking it.

Partially through the exhibits, I ask Laura why she opted not to get The O. She explains that she likes for art to grab her. She often visits museums without looking at the wall plaques. According to her, they take away from the art. That’s most likely what Walsh had in mind when he set up the MONA—no windows, just you in this artistic dungeon of sorts being forced to commune with each piece. I look around for Christian, wondering if he’s still communing with someone at GEH or something in his email, and I can’t find him. I look around and see Jason trailing me…

Odd.

That must mean that Ben is with Christian. Since I can’t visually locate Christian immediately, I look for Ben. I find him standing outside the narrow doorway of a room, so I walk in his direction. Just inside the doorway, I spot my husband… communing.

He’s standing there gazing at a mural of… drawers, I think. He’s entranced, like he’s reading one of his spreadsheets and trying to find the pattern or the formula for his next merger.

Not a bit bitter, are we?
Well, you picked a fine time to show up.
Stop acting like a ‘tosser” and go over there and communicate with your husband. He’s “communing” with the art.

Why must this fucking cow be fucking right all the fucking time?

I begrudgingly walk over to my husband who still hasn’t taken his eyes off the piece. He’s totally transfixed. His head doesn’t move, but his gray eyes dart from one drawer to the next. The pictures on each drawer are illuminated. They’re black and white circles that look like cyclones. In the middle of each cyclone is a face… in color.

The drawers open like drawers of a morgue, and of course, the piece is invariably about sex and death. The sex part, I don’t get, unless it has to do with the wall of records on the opposite wall in the narrow room behind us—actual vinyl records that appear to be breathing. We just had a conversation about how much death we’ve been confronted with and now we’re in a museum looking at various pieces that cause introspection about what? Death.

He opens one of the drawers and it says, “I love you” in a young boy’s voice. I open another one and the same sentiment is heard in a woman’s voice. It’s one of the creepiest things that I’ve ever experienced… or so I thought.

“What do you think she felt?” he asks. I frown.

“Who?” I ask.

“Her,” he says. “The crack whore—what do you think she felt? When she slept with strange men, prostituted herself for her next fix… When she got that fix… When she let that monster burn and beat me… Do you think she ever loved me? Even once? Why didn’t she just abort me if she didn’t want me? Why didn’t she just take me to the hospital or the police station and just leave me there? She couldn’t take care of me, so why did she make me stay?”

I don’t even know how to answer his questions. Anything I say right now could set him off, and I can’t afford to let that happen in a public place—much less in the middle of the MONA.

He opens another drawer and yet another voice says, “I love you.”

“She killed herself,” he says. “She didn’t have enough money to feed me, to clothe me, to find a fucking baby sitter while she turned her tricks, but she had enough drugs to overdose. How is that possible?”

I move in closer and just stand next to him, looking at the faces staring back at us and wondering what they mean. Were each of these people in a drawer at one point—in the morgue? Are these random faces or are these people close to David Hall who passed away? Who are the voices saying, “I love you” and why?

“What do you think she felt as she was dying?” he asks as he closes a drawer. “Did she feel any pain? Did she see anything? Was there even the slightest moment of clarity… or regret… before she kicked over?”

I don’t examine the work anymore. I don’t need to know what it means. I only need to know that Christian is spiraling down each one of these little black-and-white cyclone holes with these little faces thinking about death…

And the crack whore.

It’s time to bring him back to the here and now.

I slowly slide my hand then my arm into the bend of his elbow. I then hug his arm with both of mine and wait for him to emerge from that dingy place of squalor in Detroit and come back to me… to our children.

He looks down and over at me and I give him a soft smile. It doesn’t matter what she felt. She’s not here anymore and she doesn’t have any answers for you. Stop torturing yourself.

“That little boy… he wants to know. He’s got questions that nobody can answer because she’s dead… but he still fucking wants to know.”

Yeah, you’re torturing yourself.

He sighs and looks down at me, coming back to the here and now for a moment. He moves the arm that I’m hugging, and I release it. He wraps it around my body and pulls me closer to him.

“What’s this piece called?” he asks. I touch the thumbnail on The O and pull up the information.

Well, that explains it.

“’When My Heart Stops Beating’ by Patrick Hall,” I inform him. He scoffs.

“Well, that explains it,” he says, repeating my sentiment. He turns us both to the door and we leave the tiny room.

We walk around the museum, arm in arm, hand in hand, or with me tucked under Christian’s arm—whichever makes him feel more comfortable. He confesses to me that he got a little baby time before I woke up this morning. I confessed that I, too, had some baby time yesterday while checking my emails, so we’re even. We agree to make sure that we talk to them together later if it’s not too late.

We happen upon a water piece, words made out of falling drops of water illuminated by tract lighting—a lot of work in this museum seems to be illuminated—called bit.fall by Julius Popp. We stand there in silence for several minutes reading random words as they fall and listening to the water splash at the bottom of the installation. It’s very comforting.

There are several more pieces to marvel at—or question—the room full of white books with no titles and blank pages, the bike on the rack that spews dirt on the wall, the exquisite sculptures hand-carved out of tires. But the one that invariably catches our attention was a seemingly harmless piece consisting of three white—probably plaster—casts on a black background. My mouth falls open and Christian’s head tilts to the side like he’s not completely sure he’s seeing what he’s really seeing.

Pussies. Yep, that’s what I said—pussies.

Appropriately labelled Cunts… and other conversations, the piece is three perfectly cast snatches—one in full bush, one in the typical pussy-mohawk with hair at the top and clean lips, and the one in the middle is completely Brazilian… clearly not all the same coochie.

“Are those…?” Jason begins.

“Yep, yes, that’s what they are,” Christian says, cutting him off before he finishes the question. My mind immediately goes to the Pussy DJ… and we paid to see these. I can’t help but see the humor in the irony of the situation, and I choke out a snorting laugh. Christian rolls his eyes and tries to stifle his own smirk, and thus, some much-needed levity is added to a pretty tense situation.

When we emerge from the MONA into the “bright light” once again, I take a moment to reflect on the hours we just spent in the cave. I had no idea this place was so macabre. It’s strange and awful and wonderful and fascinating all at the same time. It’s a contradiction in and of itself because it has subtle spiritual undertones and disturbingly anti-religious themes. Walsh describes the Amarna by James Turrell as “what God would do if he wanted to build a gazebo,” yet he declares himself a rabid atheist. How does one reconcile that—a reference to God mixed with a blaring belief that God does not exist?

Not to mention the parking space reserved for “GOD.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know who parks there as there’s a second one reserved for “GOD’S MISTRESS,” so… what’s the thrust here?

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This entire experience and all this crazy, beautiful, nonsensical art has revealed one fact to me. It’s not a small world. It’s a big world, a very big world, and there’s a lot of it that I haven’t seen. Tucked on this little island on the other side of the world is this museum that’s so unconventional that it truly shows you just how much of a speck you are in the universe.

Who crashed that damn car between those two walls?

What man records every single day that he spends in his studio until his death? And did he do it specifically for it to be displayed that way in that bunker?

What kind of mind thinks to burrow into the ground—deep into the ground—to build a museum that holds priceless, existential works simply to maintain the integrity of two existing structures on the land, in effect making them a part of the art exhibit?

I saw a sculpture of a dead horse; illuminated drawers of a morgue that speak when you open them; and one piece of art made from 1600… 1600!

And all this after experiencing the splendor that is the Sydney Opera House.

I am nothing!

We take some time to view the art pieces that are outside the MONA before we must take the 45-minute ride to Kettering to catch the Bruny Island Cruise. I guess living in Australia, particularly in Tasmania—you should probably get used to water travel.

There are beautiful—and strange—sculptures and pieces to see outside just like there are inside. Wim Delvoye is apparently a pretty popular “bloke” in these parts as his pieces are all over the place, but I’m extremely impressed with his Gothic Temple that sits on the grounds near the water with a backdrop of Hobart and his Flatbed Truck, Trailer and Cement Truck, which defies words and you simply must see it to believe it.

There’s an adult-sized trampoline, a tennis court, and the aforementioned car wedged between two walls with “sex, death, & bogans?” carved or written on the trunk, and I’m having another one of those “was this trip really necessary?” moments.

And a lovely platform and with a roof called the Amarna sits prominently on the ground, providing a lovely colored light show over the course of time. I’m told that the Amarna is quite beautiful and best viewed at sunrise or sunset. First, it is quite beautiful. Second, I wasn’t here at sunrise. Third, I won’t be here at sunset. So, I guess I’ll just have to take their word for it.

I truly think I’ve had about all the “art” I can take today, not to mention Christian’s brief trip down Hell Street, and I’m more than prepared to bid adieu to the MONA. It was an enlightening experience, but I’ve had enough. Jaxon and Laura were enthralled by the place and keep sharing their perspectives of the various pieces of art. I interject an opinion every now and then on the pieces I found interesting, and the rest of the boys just kind of listen until our excursion shuttle arrives. It doesn’t take long before our ride to Kettering is pulling up outside of the Moorilla Estate and we board to head to our next destination.

And Christian pulls out his phone again.

“May I ask why you keep pulling out your phone?” I ask, attempting to hide my ire. He looks over at me and raises a brow.

“Yes, you may,” he says matter-of-factly, “and there are a couple of reasons. First, it keeps vibrating and I keep getting messages from Holstein, the warden at the women’s prison who wouldn’t take or return my calls?” My turn to raise a brow. “He keeps leaving me messages apologizing for not returning my calls and asking me to call him back. He’s called me about five times in the last 12 hours. So, I can’t help but wonder what has set him off.”

“Ooookay,” I reply.

“Subsequently, Josh went up to the prison to do an interview with Lincoln to try to get some footing on the progress, purpose, and the actual author of this book. He’s gotten some solid information and he’s been corresponding with me on his findings. I’m wondering if Holstein has put two and two together, although I don’t see how since there’s no way to tie Josh to me.”

“He works for you,” I say with an unsolicited yawn. Where did that come from?

“To maintain his autonomy as well as his anonymity as a freelance journalist, he works for me under an alias. Only certain people inside the company know who he really is.” I nod, take off my glasses, and rub my tired eyes. I had to wear my glasses because they were a bit irritated from sweat running into them last night probably mixed with a little mousse.

“You’re sitting,” he says. I nod. I know what he’s referring to. I didn’t sit down on the ferry ride to MONA because my butt was still tender from the spanking and the water was a slight bit choppy. I was careful with my sitting at breakfast and didn’t sit down again after that until now.

“How do you feel?” he asks.

“I’m okay,” I say, softly.

“You brought eucalyptus lotion with you,” he points out. “Did you think something like this might happen?” I shake my head and lean over on his arm.

“I didn’t want to risk working out or swimming too vigorously and ruining my vacation,” I say with a yawn, resting my tired eyes. He lifts the arm that I’m leaning on and puts it around me. I nuzzle into his chest and absently listen to the conversations going on around me.

“Butterfly?”

My husband’s voice drifts through the fog of my brain. I open my eyes and realize that I fell asleep during our ride.

“Hmm?” I say, trying to pull myself out of the extreme comfort I feel snuggled here in his arms.

“We’re almost there, baby. You might want to get the sleepy dust out of your eyes.”

I stretch my arms over my head. Gosh, that was a really good nap, even though I missed the scenery. My eyes even feel better. I stretch both arms over the other side of my body, then bend down between my legs to stretch my back. I hear what sounds like the normal chatter of various conversations on the shuttle, so I sit up and continue my stretches.

“Mmm,” I hear someone say sitting across from me, “OI guess Americahns don know how ta keep thehr bedrooms in thehr bedrooms.”

I don’t react, but I’m sure she’s talking about me. I let her have her little comment and put my hands on Christian’s shoulders to get a good twist and stretch my lower back.

“Huh, look, moh on tha bahk,” she points out. “OI guess this koind a’thing is on display in tha Staytes.”

Geez, what a stupid cunt. Christian is looking at me and waiting for me to react, and I don’t, but when I turn around, she’s glaring at me with distaste. My eyes immediately go to Laura, who’s also sitting across from me next to the verbose bitch.

“Part of your new attitude?” Laura asks. I scoff.

“She doesn’t bother me,” I say, loud enough for the woman and the people around her—whomever she was talking to—to hear, “because the fact that I have a ginormous tattoo on most of my back to hide the brutal scars from a vicious act committed upon me as a teenager doesn’t offend or affect her or prompt her to speak on the origin of the art, but these hickeys give her cause for pause. I think she needs to get her priorities straight.” I quickly locate my Jackie-O’s and put them on, never making eye-contact with the object of my current displeasure. Say something, bitch. I will shred you.

“Butterfly,” Christian says, taking my hand.

“I’m not naked,” I say firmly without yelling. “I’m not indecently dressed and what’s more, I’m not ashamed of the fact that I’m a beautiful woman and you love my body. A good portion of my back is covered in woodland creatures and goth letters and all she saw was the hickeys?

“I’m not going to wear a turtleneck in 80-degree weather—that’s about 27 Celsius to my metric listeners—because someone who doesn’t understand the concept of passion might be a little sensitive. We just left the MONA where we saw a sculpture on the wall of three bare anatomically-correct pussies, and this offends her?” I say, pointing to myself and now turning my gaze to the woman who was glaring at me a moment ago, who’s now staring gape-mouth at me. Laura doesn’t make the situation any better. She leans over and says something to the woman that nearly makes me lose my composure.

“Close your mouth, dear. You might catch a fly.”

The woman gasps and quickly closes her mouth, turning her gaze away from us and out the window. I conspicuously hold my hand up to Laura, who victoriously gives me a high-five.


CHRISTIAN

Even on the other side of the world, we can’t seem to catch a break. They despise us for being rich and then they despise us for acting like normal people. Once the shuttle arrives on Bruny Island, I take my beautiful wife’s hand and walk away from the twat that was talking shit about her. We have a quick lunch of fish, chips, and slaw at the Bruny Island Cruises Seafood Restaurant before we head into the Adventure Bay Visitor Center to get ready for our cruise.

“’Hehr, Chris,” Jaxon says, handing me two red jackets with hoods, two beanies, and two pairs of gloves. The jackets are a nice weight and have a yellow patch that says “Bruny & Tasman Island Cruises.”

“It moight get a little chilly on tha boat. It would have been a buhden carrying jackets ‘round the MONA.”

Well, he’s right about that, but I don’t intend to wear this beanie unless I have to. I grab two more jackets and hand the lot to Jason. Butterfly’s looking at the digital cameras.

“Are you looking at those for the cruise?” I ask, she nods. “No need. I picked up a couple at the gift shop on board yesterday when I found out where we would be going today. Jason has them.” She smiles.

“You think of everything,” she says. “And when’s the last time you gave that man a raise? You would be completely helpless without him.”

That’s a good question. He lives with me. I’ve always paid for Sophia’s schooling. I’ve never thought about giving him a raise and it hasn’t come up… at least not for the last few years.

“I’ll talk to him about it,” I say, seriously. “It may be time to do that.” We pay for the jackets, leave the visitor center, and prepare to board the boat for the cruise. It has already gotten cooler, so Butterfly puts her new red jacket over her sweater. She actually likes the beanie a puts it on over her braided hair, shoving the gloves in her pocket. She turns around to model for Laura, who is donning her own red jacket when I catch a glimpse of the woman who made the comments to her on the shuttle and pray that Butterfly doesn’t see her.

Too late.

“Is this better?” Butterfly says, holding her arms out for the woman to see. “You can’t see my hickeys now. Is this less offensive for you?”

The woman does this gasping thing and walks away from us, no doubt looking for her friends. Her best bet is to stay out of our way, because Butterfly is not going to let up.

A few minutes later and it’s onto the boat we go for the Bruny Island Cruise, away from Adventure Bay and around the southeastern side of Bruny Island. There really is so much to see on this cruise. It’s not really a cruise, though. It’s actually more exciting. We’re on an open boat skimming across the water like a speedboat around the large dolerite cliffs—a stone tougher than granite.

Where the Tasman Sea meets the South Pacific Ocean, our small boat rides the swells of the water and dolphins leap out of and back into the water alongside us. Some swim and dive separately while others swim in groups of three, four, or even five leaping out of the water all at the same time. It’s a synchronized dance between them—like they’re trained to do this, although you know they’re not because they’re free. It’s like something straight out of National Geographic, and it reminds me of swimming with the dolphins in Anguilla.

Next, the tour guide informs us that we’ll be seeing what is known as The Monument. What he really meant was that we would be skating over the water at top speed through a seemingly narrow passage between a gigantic dolerite formation on the right and the ominous dolerite cliffs on the left. Now, I did mention that dolerite is tougher than granite, so had our boat hit either the cliff or the formation, it would have been smashed to smithereens. I trust no one like I trust myself to guide a boat—except the captain of the cruise ship, of course—so I’m sitting on the edge of my seat the entire five seconds it takes to get around the cliff.

I must admit, however, that the photo ops of this trip are endless. These majestic cliffs carved out of these beautiful rocks are simply awe-inspiring, and I’m not easily awed. We see this phenomenon called The Blowhole. It’s not really a phenomenon—it’s really very simple. There’s a hole in the base of one of the dolerite cliffs. As the water rises and falls—as it always does, the pressure builds inside the hole, forcefully pushing the air and water out so that it flies high up into the air like a whale’s blowhole. But the water also flies out across the surface, so we have to keep our distance to prevent being sprayed.

We discover that we really need our jackets because some parts of the cruise are colder than others. There are some parts where we could just open our jackets and let the wind blow in our faces. There were other parts where we needed our beanies and gloves and actually should have purchased scarves as well. My wife teases me incessantly as she knew that I had no intention of putting that beanie on my head… until that cold air hit me.

Watching the fur seals play was an interesting event, and there are a lot of them! Many of them were just lounging along the rocks—natural beds along the cliffs that appears to be made just for them—while others took dips in the cool water. If we get too close to the cliffs, we have to let the boat coast a bit to keep from hitting them. One seal follows us around the cliff, leaping from rock to rock to keep up with the slowly cruising boat until a wave reaches up and douses his most-recent landing pad, pulling him into the water. He emerges a few moments later and abandons the idea of keeping up with the boat.

On another cliff, we see a gaggle of nests, each occupied by an albatross or two. Watching them fly reminds me a lot of soaring… and the fact that I haven’t been in a glider in years. Shit, I’m going to lose my wings if I don’t get in the air soon.

There were a few times when the cruise slowed to a crawl to travel through natural tunnels in the cliffs, allowing for the aforementioned photo ops. The entire trip is extremely majestic, and I find myself feeling slightly more spiritual than I’m accustomed to being.

I look over at my wife, laughing and enjoying the trip with our new friends and even with our security detail, and I realize why she was crying when we left the docks in Sydney, even though I knew it then. We’re so lucky—not because we’re rich, but we have each other and this beautiful family, and opportunities, and an entire world to explore. I’m sitting here mulling over my past and the crack whore when I’ve got my entire life ahead of me and nothing but opportunities—to live, to grow, to help other people… to have experiences besides those that money affords.

I need to put some things in motion when I get back to Seattle—besides dealing with the Pedophile and her impending book, and the warden who appears to be running scared now. My mother took me from hell and from squalor and even though I remember the terror and it’s had a lifelong effect on me, I spent most of my life in a bubble and I’m still in that bubble now. It’s time for some changes.

The cruise takes us from the north end of Bruny Island from Adventure Bay and back up the coast the way that we came. We enjoy a repeat of the sites and our group is treated to the migration of a few humpback whales. The tour guide informs us that humpback whales travel north up the coast through May and June. However, they migrate back down towards Antarctica from September through December, and we were just so lucky to witness the southern trek.

We get back to Adventure Bay mid-afternoon and take the shuttle again to Inala, a conservation property, that holds nature tours, where we learn about the endangered birds and wildlife on the island. From Inala, the shuttle takes us to the Hotel Bruny Bistro, a pub where we have dinner and talk about the day. Most of the ingredients used in Tasmanian dining are grown or harvested locally. We discover that their specialties are chocolates, cheese, and wine.

Looking around both here and Sydney, I realize that I didn’t really need to book a separate trip to “Wine Country.” The whole damn continent is “Wine Country” in one way or another. Nonetheless, I’m hoping we can capture the same magic in the Barossa Valley that we did in Napa.

We start dinner with an assortment of oysters from nude to grilled with bacon and Worcestershire sauce to beer battered with lemon accompanied by pitchers of Coopers Pale Ale. For our main course, Butterfly has chicken Parma with smoked leg ham, Bruny Island cheese and house Napoli sauce, with a salad and fries… or chips, I should say. I have the Tassie beef Scotch Fillet steak with vegetables and honey brown mushroom sauce.

Once we finish dinner, our last stop is to the Bruny Island Neck Lookout for the penguin walk. Just on the other side of the Bruny Island Neck, which is the narrow isthmus that joins North Bruny Island and South Bruny Island, is the penguin lookout. There are viewing and observation platforms that can be reached by—what else—a fucking lot of steps. Butterfly looks over at me as we step off the shuttle when she sees the stairs.

“There must not be an obese person on this entire continent,” I say before she speaks. “I sure haven’t seen any, and if they are here, they’re few and far between. I haven’t visited anywhere that hasn’t been an exercise in stair-climbing.”

“There were no stairs at the Tower Eye,” Butterfly disputes, “or in our hotel, or at Big Poppa’s. Okay, there were a few at Big Poppa’s, but it wasn’t an ‘exercise in stair-climbing.’”

“There were stairs in Sydney,” I correct her, counting off on my fingers, “there were stairs in Hobart at the MONA, and now there are stairs here on Bruny.” She folds her arms.

“Would you rather wait here at the bottom for us, old man?” she teases. What the fuck? I’m not that much older than she is.

“If you can do it, I can do it, girly,” I retort. She puts her hands on her hips.

“You know I can do it, Grey,” she challenges, popping her neck from side to side.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” I taunt. “Less talking, more climbing—chop, chop!” I gesture to the stairs. She shakes her head and scoffs at me.

“Stop whining, you little crybaby, and get your ass up the stairs,” she says before turning around and beginning her climb. Part of me wishes that she had worn her heels so that she wouldn’t be talking so much shit after all the walking and climbing we’ve done. The other part of me is thanking the fates that she didn’t, because I’d have to carry her down these steps. I pause for a second at the foot of the stairs and watch her climb. She turns around to find me and stops.

“Well, these stairs won’t climb themselves, Grey,” she chastises. “You throwin’ in the towel?”

“Nope,” I say calmly. “Just enjoying the view.” She raises her brow and purses her lips.

“Get your ass up here…”

Once we get to the top of Mount Everest, the guide there gives us some instructions and information about the march of the fairy penguins, as Butterfly calls it. Fully grown, they’re only two pounds and measure about one foot long. They’re nocturnal and during the nesting season, they make their way inland to the nesting grounds and their burrows just beyond the beach after dark to protect themselves from predators.

“Finally!” Butterfly exclaims softly, “Something that I want to see at sunset or dusk that I get to see!”

In order to see the penguins, we have to use flashlights covered in red cellophane and stay on the boardwalk or the stairs. If there are any people on the beach, the penguins won’t come ashore. Once again, I’m reminded of Anguilla and the night the turtles hatch and made a mad dash to the sea. It scared the shit out of my wife, who wasn’t my wife at the time. She later told me that she had flashbacks of the movie The Mummy, where the scarabs all swarmed out of his burial site. She swore that the world was ending, and the Mummy was coming up from the great beyond to claim our souls!

The wild sex on the beach that followed calmed her nerves enough to not be concerned, however.

The march of the penguins isn’t quite the same, though. There are several of them, granted, but it’s not a swarm of them. Though they’re small, they’re much larger than the turtles we observed running to the water. They clearly don’t like the light during this trek, and an idiot or three opted to shine bright lights on one or two of them, causing them to flee to dark places under the bridge and steps, and prompting heavy chastising from the rangers and guides.

Assholes.

Our little group is able to see several of the little critters make it to their burrows with our cellophane-covered flashlights, and Butterfly is even able to get a picture or three of the journey.

The time has come to make the trip back down the stairs and, as usual, Butterfly gravitates towards Laura to discuss their adventure. She doesn’t hang out with her female friends as much since we got married. I mean, Valerie is around often enough, but she used to have Food and Libations with her friends every weekend. Then they all—we all—got married and started having kids and… it just hasn’t happened nearly as much.

I take this opportunity to have a little chat with my head of security.

“Jason, do I pay you enough?” I blurt out where only he can hear me. His brow furrows. “I mean, have you gotten a raise recently.” Now, his brow rises.

“Sir, I get a cost of living raise every year,” he says.

“Oh,” I say. “I didn’t know. Is it sufficient? Did you get a raise when…?” I trail off. I’m hoping he knows what I’m asking without me actually having to say it. Even in the dark, I can see his face soften.

“I don’t live an extravagant lifestyle, sir,” he says. “I don’t even have to pay child support anymore. You pay me quite handsomely. If there were a problem, I definitely would have let you know by now. And no, I didn’t get a raise when the blonde bimbo shot me. I got hazard pay, which is more than a raise—not to mention I got to lay up in your penthouse, eat your food, and be treated like a king without lifting a finger.” I chuckle.

“This is true, you freeloader,” I say with mirth. I’m suddenly a bit overwhelmed with emotion thinking about the day that Jason was shot. That bitch truly did almost take everything from me, including my best friend.

“Thanks, Jason,” I say, controlling my voice, “for everything.” He examines me for a moment before he answers.

“You’re welcome, Boss.”

As we’re riding in the shuttle back to Hobart, I look over at the woman who made the comments about my wife earlier. She has moved her seat and she’s not sitting across from us anymore, but she’s still facing us. I honestly attempt to decipher what her home life must be like.

Is there any passion in her marriage?
Is she even married?
Does she have a significant other at all or just this friend she’s sitting next to?

Laura is leaning on Jaxon catching a nap over what will be a nearly two-hour ride and I look over at Butterfly. She’s looking down at the digital camera, reviewing the pictures that she took throughout our day trip.

“Hey,” I say, quietly enough for only her to hear. She looks up at me and I jerk my head and add a soft, “C’mere.”

Her brow furrows at first until I jerk my neck in that “come hither” fashion again. She puts her camera in her coat pocket and zips it shut. I help her crawl into my lap, wrap my arms around her, and kiss her softly.

“Did you enjoy yourself today?” I ask softly.

“It had its moments,” she admits, “but overall, yes, I had a really good time.”

“What do you say we piss off some of our more sensitive shuttle-mates?” I ask. She smiles coyly.

“What did you have in mind?” she asks

“PG only,” I confess, “but I can’t guarantee that I won’t cop a feel or two.”

“Carry on, Mr. Grey,” she says suggestively, and I cover her lips with mine.

*-*

“Sir…”

This time, I had to be roused from sleep. The shuttle has arrived at the dock and it’s time for us to re-board the ship. I feasted on Butterfly’s lips until we had both had our fill and then… we fell asleep. She’s still asleep on my lap when Jason wakes me, and I have to rouse this angelic creature from sleep.

“Butterfly?” I say, softly giving her a shake.

“Hmm?” she responds, pulling herself from a deep sleep.

“We’re back at the ship, baby,” I say. I look across the seats and see Jaxon having the same problem with Laura. He cups her face gently and says something in her ear. She rouses a bit, but is having as much difficulty coming out of her fog as my wife. Butterfly uncurls in that way that makes me want to eat her alive, but I swear, I’m totally exhausted and can think of nothing but getting this woman to bed… to sleep! That’s odd.

When we finally wake our wives and get them to the platform to board the ship, Jason and Lawrence stay close in case either of them looks as if they may faceplant and we negotiate the gangplank. We make it safely back onto the ship and check-in before heading to the elevators. I push the button for our deck while Jaxon pushes the button for theirs. We ride in silence with two half-conscious wives unable to keep their eyes open and barely able to walk. We get to Jaxon and Laura’s deck first and he puts his arm firmly around his wife.

“Shall I walk them to their cabin, sir?” Lawrence asks, clearly concerned about Laura’s ability to walk. I’m about to answer when Jaxon speaks up.

“Thaynks, mate, but don’t trouble yaself,” he says cheerfully and sleepily at the same time. “I’ll nevah let ma Lahrie fall.”

“If you’re sure…” Lawrence presses. Jaxon smiles.

“Yoh a good egg, but no, I got ‘er,” he says. “See ya at brekky, Chris?” he adds.

“Brekky,” I say before the door closes. Jason turns to me.

Brekky?” he asks.

“Breakfast,” I tell him. “I only learned this morning—from context clues and process of elimination,” I add with a yawn.

“Oh,” he says and flattens his lip. When we get to our deck, the door opens, and I begin to walk. Butterfly doesn’t. Her feet stay right where they are, and she nearly goes down.

I’m not that damn sleepy. I’ll nevah let ma Buttahfly fall, eithah! I bend down and effortlessly scoop her up in my arms.

“I can walk,” she protests sleepily, never opening her eyes.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” I say as I carry her to our stateroom…

Butterfly is awake bright and early on Thursday morning. She didn’t pump after we left the ship yesterday, so she was pretty swollen when she got out of bed. God knows I wanted to partake, but we don’t have the time.

Similar—but in contrast—to what she wore yesterday, today she wears a hot pair of black skinny jeans and a black and white halter tops identical to the yellow one that she wore yesterday, with all black sneakers and another black sweater tied around her waist. She has taken her hair down and put it in two pigtails, the waves from my braid cascading down her breasts.

Dear God in heaven, why is she tempting me?

Dressed similarly in black jeans, a black T, and black hiking boots, I take my wife’s hand and we head to brekky to meet Jaxon and Laura.

Like yesterday—when Butterfly thought I wasn’t listening—Jaxon informs her of what we’ll be doing. Since we don’t have nearly as much time as we did in Hobart, we’re going to do a quick tour of Port Arthur, then catch a shuttle to the Tasman National Park. We have to be back on the ship early this afternoon to sail to Melbourne, so today’s port of call will begin early and end early.

Our breakfast this morning is quite sweet and starchy. Aside from the poached eggs and “bangers,” we had waffles made to order with assorted toppings, mango French toast, and apple sticky buns. Butterfly has some kind of gourmet roast frappa-latte or something with her sweet, starchy brekky.

As Butterfly loads her fork with a slice of banger and some poached eggs, I notice that same woman walks pass our table that antagonized her on the shuttle yesterday. Butterfly is looking down and doesn’t notice her. She has joined some friends already sitting at a table near ours and unless she’s just getting an early start on her day, she’s taking an excursion, too, and I can only hope it’s not ours.

Her friends are not being discreet at all by pointing out that Butterfly’s the one with the hickeys that let the woman have it yesterday. I can tell that my wife can hear them.

“Butterfly,” I warn gently.

“Yes?” she says, loading her fork again, this time with waffles and French toast.

“Don’t let it get to you,” I reply.

“What?” Laura asks, blissfully ignorant of what’s happening.

“Same shit from yesterday,” Butterfly says before stuffing her mouth with food. Laura looks around and spots the group and the woman.

“She’s glaring over here again,” Laura says. Well, damn, way to fan the fire, Laura.

“I haven’t heard her say anything and I better fucking not,” Butterfly says with a mouth full of food. “I’ll stab her with this goddamn butter knife.”

“Butterfly!” I exclaim at the same time that Laura and Jaxon exclaim, “Ana!”

“Didn’t we come on this trip to decompress?” Butterfly says, raising her voice slightly. Oh, shit.

“Yes, dear,” I reply.

“Well, on that note,” she says in the same tone, “I’m not going to let some jealous, stuck-up, insecure, puritanical, unhappy bitch ruin my trip. So, like I said, she better not say anything to or around me today, because I’m not in the fucking mood. If she wants to say anything about me today, she’d better say it outside of my earshot, because I won’t be responsible for my actions and we’ve got bail money!”

Whoa! Butterfly doesn’t bother looking at her, but I do, and she swiftly buries her face in her plate, paying attention to her brekky like it’s the most interesting thing she’s ever seen. Her friends are clearly asking if Butterfly is talking about her, but the woman doesn’t acknowledge their questions.

“Won’t that ruin your trip?” I ask my wife once she swallows her poached eggs.

“It’ll be worth it,” Butterfly says before sipping her coffee.

“Ya got a little spitfoire on ya hands thehr, Chris.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“That I do,” I reply, “and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

*-*

Apparently, the ladies must have had other plans, because they don’t debark with us nor go on our excursion. Our ship doesn’t actually dock at Port Arthur, just inside the harbor near the island. There’s this platform call the Magic Carpet that rises up and down on the outside of the ship between decks 2 and 16. It serves as a restaurant and bar hovering over the water when it’s not in use for debarkation and embarkation for various excursions if the ship doesn’t actually dock, which is what we’re doing now.

The excursion boat actually takes us to the historic site. We debark at the ferry dock and begin our tour with a guide from the visitor’s center—a young guy with a hard and heavy Aussie accent like Jaxon’s, who’s a little too friendly with the younger women in the group, my wife included. He doesn’t do anything overtly disrespectful, so he gets to keep his life.

As we walk among beautiful English trees and lush manicured gardens, the guide gives us background concerning what we’re about to see. Port Arthur is a convict settlement. It started as a timber station in 1830 and went through a transformation or three until it closed in 1877. For the most part, it’s now an open-air museum. Much of the settlement still survives. Some of it has been restored. However, most of the buildings are roofless ruins of the Port Arthur penal colony.

Although it opened in 1830 as a timber station, there were so many convicts cutting the trees down that they made it into a prison in 1833. Our first official stop is the Penitentiary building. There’s a huge gravel yard in front of the building and many of the windows still boast the iron bars that prevented prisoners from escaping. The building looks large and looming from the outside, but once you get inside, they are large scaffoldings and landings that make it appear much smaller. Though I can’t imagine what it looked like in the mid-19th century, it looks pretty gloomy right now, even with the absence of a roof and all the sunshine shining in.

According to our guide, the first two stories were maximum security and the upper level was minimum security. I guess it makes sense, because if you have less supervision on minimum security, it may be easier to escape. However, to get out of the building, you have to get through the maximum-security floors first.

The trip from England was eight months by sea for convicts. Convicts also came from Ireland and North America, but most prisoners were English. As the Alcatraz of Australia, Port Arthur was virtually an island. So even if you did escape, there was nowhere to go. Most English prisoners at the time couldn’t swim.

Political and gentlemen prisoners were housed here as well, but it was simply like exile for them as they lived in cottages somewhere in the 30+ buildings that made up the settlement.

In the first part of its existence, Port Arthur’s convicts were not only involved in timber, but also in brick making, ship building, smithing, and shoe making. Later, there was a flour mill and a granary. A hospital soon followed, and as I listened, I couldn’t help but wonder what they did with the sick before the hospital was built.

We visit several ruins, including the shells of the aforementioned hospital, a large church, officer’s quarters, the guard tower, and an insane asylum, all constructed by convict labor except the insane asylum. The hospital has a plaque inside that says, “There is not the space required for the health of inmates.”

Ironically, the insane asylum has been converted into a museum, study center and coffee shop. Not so ironically, the “separate” prison is right next door to what used to be the asylum.

The “separate” prison was started in 1848 and opened in 1853—built for the worst and most violent prisoners who were housed in the A and B wing, and the C-Wing was for the criminally insane. The criminals were all deprived of human contact.

Initially, punishments were physical—horrible corporal punishments consisting of leg irons, cat o’ nine tails, that sort of thing. The year 1849 brought the psychological punishments and the Quaker concept of solitary confinement called “separate treatment.” The idea is based on the premise that a man with no distractions would become closer to God.

To that end, prisoners in the separate prison were locked in a cell for 23 hours of the day in total silence and only released for one hour for exercise. They were taken separately to separate yards, but every so often, there were two prisoners being transported at the same time. If this happened, one of the prisoners was forced to face the wall until the other prisoner passed. To further make sure that they didn’t recognize each other, they were required to wear special uniforms with hoods and masks. In addition, the guards spoke to each other in sign language to maintain the silence of the punishment and to keep the prisoners from hearing the sound of another human voice.

It makes me think of Elena.

Solitary wasn’t harsh enough for her to keep her mouth shut and leave us the fuck alone. Neither was a few weeks with Big Bertha or whatever the hell her name was. When I get back to Seattle and get the information from Josh, I have a few ideas for her and the not-so-loyal Warden Holstein. Couldn’t accept your bird in the hand, huh, gov’na? You had to go after the two in the bush. Have it your way.

Inside the separate prison was the punishment cell. The punishment cell or the dark cell was a room with one door and no windows. Men were placed in the cell for undetermined amounts of time and were literally driven out of their minds due to the darkness. Even the most hardened criminals were broken after a few months in the separate prison and even less in the punishment cell

Between the A and B wings of the separate prisons, a staircase led to the chapel, which contained tall, upright cubicles. Prisoners were led in one by one and placed literally in a box where they could sing the hymns and look at the preacher, but they couldn’t look at each other because the box was confining and the walls between them were too tall.

“It almost seems cruel that such a beautiful place could be so brutal,” Butterfly says. “Do you think it was this beautiful when it was a prison?”

“I can’t really say,” I reply. “Even with some of the buildings restored and the shells that remain, clearly some of the buildings that were here at the time are gone, so this wasn’t all rolling green hills like it is now.”

Even without the rolling green hills, the convicts in the main penitentiary got to see the water that would never again take them home and the poor unlucky souls in the separate prison saw the sky—and only the sky—for one hour out of a 24-hour day.

And in one of the cells in the C wing, I could swear I could faintly hear a man coughing…


A/N: Part II of the Port Arthur excursion will be in the next chapter

Although all the pieces that I describe were on display at some point at the MONA, I didn’t bother trying to find out which pieces were on display at the time that Ana and Christian visited. I found myself falling down too many rabbit holes as I was trying to put the storyline together, so I’ve used creative license for this trip, too.

Ana talked about preserving two buildings on the property. There are two Roy Grounds buildings on the estate, and the entire estate and museum were built in a fashion to connect and preserve these two buildings, located on opposite sides of the peninsula.

Ana references a guy who has his whole life recorded. Christian Boltanski made a deal with David Walsh to record every day of his life as he works in his Paris studio and have it live-streamed to a bunker on the grounds of the MONA.

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. Be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last on the menu or you can click HERE.

There has been yet another development where if you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu entitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE

The Australia Picture Board can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-the-trip-to-australia/ and the pictures from today’s chapter are in the “Hobart,” “Bruny Island,” and “port Arthur” sections.

And of course, the regular Pinterest board is here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 77—Something He Can Feel

I love you all from the bottom of my heart and I thank you for rallying to support me when I was beginning to doubt. I’ve always known that I can’t satisfy everyone, but I at least try not to offend. Thank you for your bandages, salve, and love for my weary Muse. She insisted that I give you a bonus chapter for your kindness and support.

As far as the accent goes, I’m not asking for forgiveness anymore. Here’s what you get.

Danger—Aussie accent ahead. Turn away now.

That’s it.

Smoochies!!

All other previous disclaimers still apply.

Chapter 77—Something He Can Feel

CHRISTIAN

This woman is sex on a stick and these fuckers are all nutting in their pants watching her roll that beautiful ass up there on stage talking about giving me something I can feel.

Oh, I feel it, baby. Believe me, I feel it.

When she finishes her song, a crowd of these fuckers rush the stage as if she could possibly be here alone. I take my time getting to the stage, watching her taunting them with her coyness as if she’s attempting to decide which hand to take knowing that she’ll only take mine. When I announce that I’m there to retrieve my wife, the fuckers all look like someone stole their lollipop, but they move the hell out of my way so that I can get my Butterfly. We have a few more drinks and she plays with the idea of going up and doing another number.

Over my dead body.

We leave and go to another bar called The Thorn. It’s an Irish pub with a real arcade in it. We’re the best dressed people in the pub and decide to make a night of it before we go back to our stateroom. We start with a game of bowling, with the smallest balls in the world. As it turns out, Butterfly is a mediocre bowler, and I end up winning two games.

Next, we play two games of pool—or at least that’s what I think we’re playing. We spend the entire time finding ways to distract each other’s shot. We do everything short of stripping and fucking right there on the table, which at this point I would gladly do. She’s determined to make me fuck her in some inappropriate place. I’m ready to tear into her like the succulent feast that she’s threatening to be and it’s taking everything I have to control myself in this setting. At one point, I find myself yanking that ponytail back and planting a shameless kiss on her mouth, wondering how that lipstick never smeared.

Oh… it’s that lipstick.

After a tie on the billiards table, we move on to darts. Now, I don’t know what’s in these beers that we’re drinking, but whatever it is, it lures me into some false sense of superiority that because I’m good at darts, I can beat this Marine’s daughter who once threw three knives at my ex-Domme—well, only one at her, but nonetheless, she threw three knives—and they all stuck in the same spot on the door. Even slightly tipsy, she whooped my entire ass… three times… well! I have been thoroughly spanked and sent out to pasture.

She’s a mixture of haughty victor and giggly schoolgirl and I’m totally triggered by it. I want to tie her up and spank her and fuck her and make her come in 19 different ways… but I don’t want to put a pause on our fun, and I know we’ve got excursions tomorrow and I don’t want to be exhausted. So, I put Sir back in my pocket, and vow to redeem myself in this game. I’m good, dammit! I can beat a girl at least once.

“You’re very good,” I hear someone say, interrupting us just as we’re about to start another game. Butterfly and I turn simultaneously to see who’s standing behind us. The statement came from a raven-haired woman somewhere between mine and Butterfly’s age. She’s wearing a long, white, formal dress with a cape attached, her blonde companion wearing a pair of black slacks with a matching vest, white shirt, and black tie. It appears that we aren’t the only ones who went straight from the formal dinner to the ship’s night life.

The woman is standing there with her fingers clasped loosely at her abdomen with this cat-caught-the-canary half-smile on her face. Her companion is sporting the same unsettling smirk. She’s looking from Butterfly to me and back to Butterfly, so I’m not sure who she’s talking to. I plaster the CEO expression on my face so as not to give away my inner thoughts. Butterfly isn’t so successful. It’s clear that she doesn’t trust this woman.

“Thank you,” Butterfly answers reserved. It’s a safe assumption that the woman was talking to her since she’s won all the rounds. We both stand there waiting for her to get to the real point of her interruption. They stand there gazing back at us, not saying a word, so Butterfly turns her attention back to the dartboard to start a new game. I don’t take my eyes off the couple who doesn’t seem to want to leave.

“I’d like to play a game with you,” the woman says as Butterfly is about to take aim at the board. My wife turns around and examines her. “If you don’t mind,” she adds.

Butterfly looks at the woman, then looks back at me. I shrug, signaling that I don’t mind if she doesn’t. She turns back to the woman.

“Okay,” she says, non-committal. “We can play.”

“Oh,” the woman adds. “I should have said that there’s a wager involved.” What the fuck is this bitch up to? Butterfly’s brow furrows.

“I didn’t agree to a wager,” she says. The woman smirks.

“You’re backing out now?” the woman taunts.

“I’m not backing out of anything because I haven’t agreed to anything,” Butterfly clarifies.

jsl98f-l-610x610-dress-longdress-whitelongdress-capesleevedress-capesleeve-whitedress“You agreed to play,” the woman continues. She’s up to no good. It’s quite clear. Her companion is standing behind her leaning on a table, too cool for words, while she’s smoothly doing all the talking and trying to back my wife into a corner. Now, I’m observing everything—his stance; her demeanor; the fact that they’re both wearing wedding rings; the cut of his slacks to see if they’re tailored or if his suit is from the rack; the fact that her dress is tight around her hips and boobs, but so long that it bunches on the floor and you can’t see her shoes, which means it is from the rack or at the very least she doesn’t have a stylist. A mermaid dress is already restrictive, so it’s not supposed to bunch at your feet. I’ve fucked and dressed enough women to know that.

I’m trying to put a quick profile together of these two to figure out their M-O, and I’m wishing Jaxon was here.

“I didn’t agree to a wager,” my wife repeats. “No one agrees on a price if they don’t know what it is.” It’s not a price, baby. I don’t know what she wants, but she doesn’t want money…

Oh, shit.

“In high stakes, they do,” the woman purrs. “I mean, if you don’t have the balls…” She trails off and shrugs one shoulder infinitesimally. Under normal circumstances, she’d be saying everything to push my wife’s buttons, but not tonight. Tonight, my wife smells a rat and I’m glad she does.

“The answer is ‘no,’” my wife says, turning away from the woman.

“You haven’t even heard the terms yet…”

“And you won’t state them, so the answer is ‘no,’” Butterfly says firmly. “You approached me about a dart game. I couldn’t care less to play with you or not.”

“Well, here’s what I propose,” the woman says, seeing that her tactic isn’t working, and here it comes. Brace yourself, Butterfly. “If I win, we swap… just for the night.”

“Swap what?” Butterfly asks, bemused.

Yeah, swap what? I think to myself… Then I look at her husband. He’s eyeing my wife and I can swear that he’s seeing her naked. His pupils have dilated to the point that the black almost overtakes his blue irises completely, and I can just see his tongue running against the inside of his mouth. He’s so transfixed on her that it’s like I’m not even standing there. I shift my gaze down to the woman and she’s looking at me with pure lust brandishing in her gaze.

Swap.
Shit!

This is worse than I thought. They’re not looking to swing; they’re looking to totally exchange partners. What the fuck have we walked into on this damn cruise? I swear it’s like Woodstock without the drugs! No drugs that I know of anyway.

I’m about to say something, but my wife beats me to it.

“You’re out of your fucking mind!” Butterfly says, her voice low. The woman tilts her head to the side, only mocking slight surprise.

“There’s no need for us to be coy,” she says. “I know it sounds shocking when someone approaches you, but you always get past it.” She waggles her eyebrows suggestively.

“You may always get past it,” Butterfly retorts, “but you’ve got some kind of screw loose if you think I’m going to take part in something like that!”

“You’re afraid you’ll lose,” she taunts again, returning to her original tact now that her hand has been revealed.

“It’s a goddamn game of darts,” Butterfly retorts, her voice murderous. “Who gives a fuck about a goddamn game of darts? And win or lose, I wouldn’t even consider wagering my husband! What kind of sick bitch are you?”

“There’s no need to resort to name-calling,” the woman says calmly.

“Then I suggest you get the fuck out of my face, because there’s a whole lot more where that came from,” Butterfly hisses. Her fists are clenched now and I’m certain that if this conversation doesn’t end immediately, it will become physical.

I take the darts from my wife’s clenched fists and place them on a table that we were occupying nearby. I retrieve her clutch and my suit jacket from the seat where I had been watching it all night, I take my wife’s shoulders and turn her away from Proposition Pam and her trusty sidekick Swapping Sam and usher her quickly out of the pub.

She snatches her clutch from me and begins an intent march down the hallway. I give her a little room as I can see that she’s extremely irritated, but I don’t allow too much space between us. I put my jacket on and wonder if we’re going back to the stateroom now or if we’re going to try to salvage what’s left of the evening at another venue. We’ve taken several steps away from the pub in silence when my wife spins around, prepared to let loose on me.

“Why weren’t you more appalled by that?” she demands. I take a deep breath and release.

“Something that Jaxon said to me last night,” I reply calmly. This won’t be a fight between us. I’ll explain it, she’ll get it, and we’ll get the fuck out of here.

“And that was?” she asks, folding her arms. I straighten to my full height and respond.

“My Dom is showing, baby,” I say. She nearly gasps.

“And that makes that suggestion okay?” she says, damn near choking on her words. “Do you want that?”

“No, it doesn’t and no, I don’t,” I reply, my voice calm. “Last night, Jaxon asked me if we were swingers, not because that’s what he and Laura does, but because he saw something in me… and in you. He didn’t know what it is, and he still doesn’t, but he put me on notice that whatever it is, it’s showing. He told me that there may be other like-minded individuals on board—his term, not mine—that may approach us. He advised that I don’t lose my temper, but kindly tell them we’re not interested, which is what I was going to do, but you handled it quite well all on your own.”

She’s still glaring at me and even though her expression doesn’t change, I can see the thoughts and emotions running quickly through her mind and across her face. She’s trying to analyze the situation, the events of the day and the fact that she saw my Dom earlier and responded accordingly, what just happened in the pub. She’s having one of her three-second funnels but it’s taking more than three seconds.

“I should declare my win by forfeit.”

A smooth, suggestive female voice breaks our pondering, and I’m certain this cunt thinks that we’re fighting over her—which we almost were. Now, it’s my turn to douse that fucking fire.


ANASTASIA

She’s determined to get her claws into my man, even if it means sacrificing hers to me and I want absolutely nothing to do with that slimy looking motherfucker even if I was single! My husband turns around and looks at her. I don’t know what his gaze is saying, but her skin flushes all over.

I’m lying. I know exactly what his gaze is saying.

“What you fail to realize,” he begins in a honey smooth voice so close to his Dom voice that I nearly become a puddle right there on the deck, “is that even if you had played that game and won, you would have lost, because I wouldn’t have agreed to the terms.”

She’s speechless—and obviously hot under the collar—but her husband decides to speak on her behalf since Christian spoke on mine.

“Then you would have lost,” her husband says, conspicuously rubbing her hips and ass before sliding his arm around her waist. She smiles a victorious and seductive smile at my husband and he just shakes his head.

“It looks like you’ve already lost,” Christian says to the man, “because you’re willing to share.” He slides his arm around my waist. “I’m not.” He pulls me close to him and walks past them with a final sharp glare, his arm still around my waist.

And I’m seeing the proverbial “mic drop” with my mind’s eye. I know they’re watching us walk away and I simply cannot help myself.

giphy-1

I scamper in front of him to cut him off and lunge myself at him. He catches me in his arms and I wrap my legs around his waist, my dress falling open over my thighs. His hands cup my ass as he holds me up and we gaze at one another with a deep hunger in our eyes. I tilt my head and burn his lips with a kiss, my fingers thrust into his hair and my tongue lapping his, searching to taste the hunger in his kiss that I just saw in his eyes. He growls deep in his chest, squeezing my ass harder as his cock hardens enough for me to feel the head of it through his pants at the juncture of my thighs. I break the kiss and pull my face back from his. I gaze into his eyes again, still hungry… now ravenous!

“You know what’s next,” he growls in his throat. My lips are parted and even though I do know what’s next, I nod and don’t break gaze with him. He secures his hands on each of my hips and takes long strides down the hallway towards the elevator. I slide my arms around him and rest my head on his shoulder, catching the unnamed woman in my gaze. As I suspected, she and her husband are standing there watching us walk away, no longer touching, none of the make-believe pride and coveting he showed before apparent anymore. I flip her the bird moments before the elevator opens and Christian carries me inside.

He pushes me against the wall, shocking me. He sears me with another deep, hungry kiss and grinds into me for the few floors it takes to get to our deck. I want to dread someone seeing us, someone watching us on camera somewhere as I know they are, but I can’t. I don’t fucking care and I know that he doesn’t. I’m breathlessly horny when the doors open to our deck and surprisingly, no one’s outside the elevator. My husband secures me again and nearly does a sprint to our suite.

I don’t know how he got the door open with the key card. I’m sure he would have kicked it in if he could. He doesn’t bother taking me to the bedroom—the cabin was far enough away as it is.

“Get out of that dress!” he growls, nearly ripping his suit jacket from his body. His eyes are blazing! I can’t tell if he’s mad or horny. I quickly undo the hooks at the neck of my dress and allow the halter to fall taking my breast pads with it. I push it down my body to reveal a pretty pair of lace thong panties.

“Perfect!” he hisses while snatching off his tie. He walks over to the sofa and takes a seat. “Get over here.”

I walk over to him and stand in front of him, my eyes fixed on his shoes. He takes my arm and snatches me hard so that I fall over his lap onto the sofa, only wearing my thong and the patent leather nude stilettos.

“Give me your hands,” he commands. I put my hands behind me and he binds them with his tie and begins to caress my ass.

“What are your safewords?” he growls.

“Bells…” I say softly, “and whistles.”

“And the third?” he says, still caressing my ass. Oh, shit. This is going to be one of those.

“Ladybug,” I reply softly.

“Good,” he says. His hand leaves my ass and comes down hard. I almost cry out.

“You’ve been testing me all day,” he says, his voice low. Shit… I have?

“You wear this blue, thin fucking dress that makes you look delectable…” He slaps me hard on the ass and I jump. Shit, this hurts!

“You taunt me about being able to keep my dick up…” Yeah, I did do that.

SLAP!

“You wear these tight scraps of material wrapped around your body and showcasing everything that’s mine while slithering through the water like a fucking mermaid.” He rubs my ass with this description.

“I could deal with that, but then you get out of the water, glistening and slightly sunkissed, looking hotter than a lingerie model, and you enter a fucking bikini contest…”

Yep, I did that, too.

SLAP!

“Then you put on a red dress that’s screaming of sex and desire with those plump, kissable lips, that slicked-back come-hither hair, and these goddamn fuck-me pumps, and you wonder why the French women couldn’t keep their mouths shut.

Inner sigh… yep, that was me.

SLAP!

“And I won’t even bother describing that display you did on stage at karaoke! You had those fuckers nearly coming in their pants—men and women!” SLAP!

Ouch! Guilty! Fuck, guilty!

“And when it was all said and done, you’ve got motherfuckers wanting to swap partners with us just from watching you play darts…” SLAP!

Wait a minute! That wasn’t just me! She wanted to fuck you, too!

“That fucker would have fucked you right there on the pool table if you had agreed…” SLAP!

“He was salivating all over you like I wasn’t even standing there…”
SLAP!

“He was willing to hand over his hooker wife for one night alone with you. He probably put her up to it!”
SLAP! SLAP! SLAP!

Okay, now I’m confused. Some trick propositions me to switch places with me for my husband and somehow, that’s my fault? I’m so caught off guard by trying to figure out the logic of that last one that the final slap reverberates through me and ignites the pain of all the others before it. Unprepared for the intensity, I involuntarily choke out a sob.

Before I know it, he’s snatched me off his lap and I’m on my knees on the sofa next to him. He’s breathless with uncontrolled arousal and he’s fighting feverishly to unzip his pants. When he reaches inside and produces his cock, it pops out of the little opening standing harder and taller than I think I’ve ever seen it… at least harder and taller than it’s been all weekend.

He snatches the wind out of me by effortlessly flinging me back over his lap—straddled this time—moving my panties to the side with the head of his cock and thrusting so hard into me that I cry out from the initial pain, still sniffling and whimpering. He’s balls deep inside me and breathing like a bear, his hips still as his cock sits fat and wide inside my aching, tight vagina.

He’s sitting there, not moving, panting through his nose and apparently fighting for control. When he opens his eyes, the fire is there again. His arms are wrapped around me, holding me close to him like a vise, and his hot breath is cold against my tear-stained face. He examines me, unable to wipe away my tears with my hands bound behind me or hide my sniffles and stuttering breaths. He does something at that moment that creeps me out and turns me on at the same time.

He licks the tears from one of my cheeks with one gentle lap.

Yeah, it creeps me out for a moment, but hell—he’s tasted my cum, my breast milk… tears can be much stranger.

“It’s because you’re so fucking beautiful,” he hisses. “Don’t you see what you do to men? They lose their goddamn minds over you, present company included! At the passenger terminal before we even got on the damn boat; at the swimming pool; at dinner…”

I hold my head down and try to control my whimpers. He pulls me even closer to him and my head falls on his shoulder.

I will not weep harder.
I will not weep harder.

My ass hurt like hell, but the heat combined with his dick thrust deep into my pussy, him holding me this close with my bound hands clasped in his, him actually licking the tears from one of my cheeks a minute ago, and his primal jealousy right now and the need to be vindicated—it’s all making me hot as hell

“Sit up,” he commands, the Dom back in his voice. I take a deep breath and release it, pulling myself to sit up straight. He drops his arms from around me and lay them on the sofa. I don’t raise my head. I wish my hair was down so that it could hide my face right now.

“Fuck me.”

I’m almost caught off guard by the command… almost. My hands are tied. He’s going to make me use my legs to do it. Fine. I use my knees and thighs to rise and fall over his incredibly hard cock, my pussy producing the needed lubrication almost immediately.

“Faster!” he demands. “Harder!”

I pick up the pace and bounce on his cock testing my strength and stamina with every rise and drop.

“Yes!” he hisses, gazing at me like a serial killer examining his next victim. “That’s it. Just like that!”

I risk a glance at him and he quickly undoes the buttons of his shirt and releases his cuff links, staring at my wildly bouncing tits the entire time. I concentrate on my thighs and on controlling the muscles to maintain my stroke. He groans once as he finally discards his shirt and works on loosening his pants.

“Goddammit,” he hisses as he finally gets his pants open. His cock is still restrained by the pocket of his boxer briefs, but he’s still madly enjoying the ride. One hand grabs one of my bouncing tits while the other firmly clasps my hip. He’s licking and biting his lips deliciously and he looks so fucking good.

“That’s it, baby,” he growls, throwing the typical playtime decorum out the window. “Fuck that dick. Fuck it hard, baby.”

And fuck it hard, I do. I don’t need him to tell me that I can’t come without permission. He made me say my third safeword, so it’s understood. But dammit, he’s going to come like a goddamn rocket if it’s the last thing I do!

I’m fucking him like a master, but he still exhibits that amazing stamina that he does when the Dom is here. He grunts every time I drop my pussy down on him, grabbing, caressing, or tormenting some part of my body or another. He’s licking his lips and biting me and sucking me—he even violently grabs my ponytail and holds on while I ride, but still never moves his hips. The ponytail holder gives up the fight sometime during that exercise, and my hair is free now.

When he’s on the edge, he grabs my ass cheeks with both hands and throws his head back. The shock of pain from my spanking ignites me and almost shakes my concentration. I throw my head back in agony as with the constant stimulation in my pussy and the wild groping, biting, and hair-pulling, losing my concentration means that I’m going to come. Luckily, he beats me to it.

“Oh, yes, Anastasia!” he groans through his orgasm. “Fuck me! Don’t stop!”

I keep the bounce going even though my thighs are burning in torment. I concentrate on the pain to keep myself from coming from this insanely pulsing cock inside of me. Keep… going… keep… going… keep… going…

“Stop! Fuck! For God’s sake, stop…” he begs, and I stop bouncing. My thighs hurt like fuck and I’m gasping for breath, sweat pouring down my face and into my eyes, my hair now free from its ponytail and wild all over my head. He’s panting heavily, still gripping my ass, and I squeeze my eyes shut from the pain, biting my lip to keep from crying out. My thighs are burning and will probably lock in this position in a moment and I’m thoroughly exhausted, just sitting on his lap and his still very erect cock. I’m trying to give myself a pep talk because I know it’s not over.

C’mon, Grey, catch your breath, get it together.
It’s just a little sweat, it won’t kill you.
You planned to work out anyway, so here you go. Don’t be a baby.

“Get up.”

Well, that wasn’t my voice. That was my Dom.

I close my eyes and concentrate one more time on stretching my thighs to rise off his dick. When I’m successful, the damn thing pops out of me and bounces off his belly with a thud, still standing at perfect attention like he didn’t just beg me to stop fucking him. I lift my leg from over his body and throw it over my own, landing on my butt—and my hands—on the sofa.

“Stay there,” he commands. Sure thing. I’m too weak to move.

He stands with little effort and toes out of his shoes, using his feet to step on his socks and remove them as well. He drops his trousers and maneuvers his boxer briefs over his very erect dick before pushing them down as well and stepping out of them both. Now, he’s gloriously naked in front of me and I would be excited except for the fact that I’m exhausted. He takes a seat on the floor with his back against the sofa and his legs bent and spread. He gets very comfortable down there.

“Come,” he demands.

Yeah, I wish I could!

“I actually heard that thought,” he says. “Get over here!”

Whatever. You can’t punish me for what you think you heard. I push myself off the sofa and move to stand in front of him.

“Other way,” he says. “Ass to me.”

Oh, fuck. What is he going to do, make me ride him reverse cowgirl now? I do as I’m told and stand in front of him with my ass in his face. I can’t straddle him because his legs are open.

“Now, that’s a very pretty shade of pink,” he says, kissing one cheek and then the other. I’m a bit shocked by the gesture, but I don’t react. “Sit.”

Now how does he expect me to ride him with his legs open? I’m not doing that shit—my legs are too weak.

“Do I need to repeat myself?” he says, his voice a bit threatening. “Goddammit c’mere!”

Fine, but the moment he commands me to fuck him, I’m safewording.

I bend my legs to sit as commanded, and my right thigh totally gives out on me. Unable to control my stance or support my own weight, I fall in the most ungraceful way onto my Dom with a helpless yelp as I’m going down. I’m terrified that he’ll think I’m being defiant, but even more terrified that I’ve injured his extremely erect penis. I know that he won’t randomly just hit me—that’s not the nature of our relationship. Nonetheless, I’m still tense and preparing myself for whatever backlash there may be for my assumed malfeasance.

The fact that we just sit there silent for several moments heightens my anxiety. I hold my head down, fearing punishment, and it appears that I’ve landed on his abdomen and his erect dick is precariously placed between my legs and against the lips of my vagina.

Thank God for that!

Sure enough, uncharacteristic to the nature of our relationship when we’re in D/s mode, he slides both hands under my arms, places them on my shoulder, and gently pushes me back against his body. I don’t know what to expect from this unusual tenderness, so I just lay back and wait.

His hands roam my body, gently caressing my abdomen and torso before traveling up to cup my breasts. I’m trying not to be lulled into a false sense of security, only to have said security ripped from me by some sadistic command to see me suffer slowly for daring to display my sexiness, but my breasts are swollen with milk and quite sensitive, and his touch is making me hot again. It doesn’t matter that I try to hide this from him, because he knows my body too well—he can smell my slightest arousal.

Just like clockwork, a few moments after I feel that familiar burning twinge in my clit, I feel his body stiffen a bit and his touch is firmer, kneading my body back into his. He pinches one of my nipples while gently teasing the tip of the other with his finger.

Talk about being able to walk and chew gum at the same time!

I bite my lip to stifle the moan that begs to escape my chest. My legs weaken completely and fall open, and my Dom takes his cue. With one movement of his hips, his erect penis is between the lips of my vagina. I take a deep breath as he moves his pelvis back and forth, his dick stroking against my vagina.

Oh. Hell. I. Will. Not. Survive. This.

Still bound by his tie, my hands are pinned between us and I flatten them against his abs. Well, that didn’t help. I can feel his muscles undulating each time his pelvis moves. He cups my breasts firmly and sinks his teeth gently into the meat near my shoulder. He’s trying to make me come.

“No… no…”

Shit, did I say that out loud? I don’t know. I’m delirious with pleasure. My body’s on fire and I want to come… badly!

He puts his hand under my thigh and lifts me just a bit, pulling his hips back at the same time. With very little effort, his cock slides into me and I release a whimpering breath of ecstasy. God, he feels so good…

“God, yes…” he groans, “that’s it.”

He undulates his hips a few times, pushing that magnificent organ up and into its counterpart and I nearly lose my mind. I release my body to him as I can’t fight him anymore and concentrate on holding my orgasm like I did in Anguilla.

Anguilla… no, this isn’t like Anguilla. This is different—much different.

My soft body turns to mush against his firmness and my pussy is getting hotter and hotter, coming closer and closer to climax. One hand moves from my breast and an arm slides around my waist, holding me firmly in place against his stroke, now deeper than before. I whimper in my chest, the friction and penetration so delicious. Can I hold out? Just a little longer?

He torments me this way for several more moments before he puts both hands under my thighs and lifts me up. Spreading my legs wide, he thrusts repeatedly—and uninhibited—into my wide spread pussy. I have no purchase to resist and he has me helplessly spread open, pummeling repeatedly with his masterful stroke.

“Ah!” I cry out involuntarily. Silence is impossible.

“Feel it,” he taunts, “feel the pleasure, Anastasia, but don’t come…”

There’s no pain to concentrate on this time… only pleasure. Only the pleasure of his hard, pulsing cock drilling into me while he’s holding me open. Dear God, I’m going to die.


CHRISTIAN

Fuck, my dick feels so good driving into this hot pussy from base to tip. I hear her whimper and I know she’s close. She’s getting wetter and wetter. I tried to keep the Dom at bay. God knows I tried, but she kept pushing and pushing—even when she had no idea that she was doing it. I’ve been at the very edge for over 24 hours. When she leapt into my arms in front of those crazy fuckers that wanted to swap mates, I couldn’t take it anymore. All of the events of the past 36 hours just overran my primal inner urges. I had to dominate her to keep from jumping overboard. Yes, it’s that serious.

She’s drenched in sweat and whimpering with each stroke into her. It’s torture and I know it is. I’m not going to make it any easier on you, little Anastasia. You’re going to feel the burn tonight.

I move my hands from her thighs to just behind her knees, lift her body off my dick and drop her back down onto it—repeatedly—while I thrust into her. Fuck, I feel my dick getting harder and my balls tightening. I can’t see it, but I imagine that fat pussy wrapped around my dick teasing the head with every thrust and leaving a ring of cream and juices right near my balls.

“Fuuuucck!”

I succumb to the unexpected orgasm, dropping her onto my dick and gripping her around her waist, emptying hard deep inside her. The climax is so hard and we’re both completely out of breath that I’m afraid it might have been the swan song, and I’m not ready for that. But no, Dom Dick indicates that he’s not quite finished yet. My submissive must suffer a little more tonight.

I contemplate taking her to the bed for our finale, but this area rug is soft and plush. It’ll have to do. I reach behind me and retrieve one of the pillows from the sofa, placing it on the floor next to us. I don’t expect her to do anything at this point, just take what I’m giving her. I roll us over so that she’s lying on the pillow and I’m behind and on top of her, straddling her with her legs closed. My dick didn’t even come out of its happy place.

With her hand bound and nestled in the small of her back, I open her ass with both hands and admire her puckering rosette as I stroke between her legs and into her pussy. It’s tight and hot and ready to blow and now, I’ve pushed her legs together. She’s losing her mind. I lean my weight onto her pink cheeks and stroke, stroke, stroke—deep and long. She doesn’t need pressure in this position to drive her mindless. She needs friction and rhythm, and I’m giving it to her just right. She groans mournfully and I watch her rosette again, puckering and opening with each thrust. My mouth waters, and I regret not having a butt plug at the moment.

When she begins to pant, I untie her hands. I need to be close to her, to have her hear me… and feel me.

I pin her hands next to her head with both of mine, entwining my fingers into hers.

“I’m going to mark you,” I whisper harshly in her ear, “so that they know that you’re mine!”

I lean down and first sink my teeth into her neck, causing her to cry out. Then I replace my teeth with my lips and tongue, licking and sucking and bring the blood to the surface of her skin. She moans helplessly as I continue to dig into her sex while giving her a conspicuous love bite. It’s driving me fucking insane. If she doesn’t tap out soon…

When I’m satisfied with the bite on her neck, I move to her back, just below her nape sinking my teeth in first then licking and sucking, just like before. I keep my stroke hard, deep, and steady into that clenched pussy, determined to make her surrender before I do this time.

She’s whimpering so much that she almost sound like she’s crying, and I vaguely remember bringing her to tears with her spanking. My bites now become sensual, open mouthed kisses on her back. Fuck, she feels so goddamn good. I lay onto her body, thrusting hard into her and pulling down on our clasped hands for traction, losing myself in her… over and over and over…

“Lady… l… lady… ladybug…”

“Come!” I command her in a harsh whisper. “Come, baby!”

She squeezes my fingers entwined in hers and buries her face in the pillow, screaming out a violent orgasm and thrashing about underneath me. I thrust repeatedly into that tightening, pulsing pussy until a few moments later, I’m burying my face into her back and repeating her actions, grunting and growling out a fearsome climax until my back, balls, and throat hurt from the pressure and the vibration.

“Fuck,” I breathe as I fight to catch my breath. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…”

*-*

Her milk had begun to express on the rug during our session, so I run a bath for her and have her soak for several minutes, allowing the heat to soothe her aches and to help express the rest of her milk as I wash her hair before carrying her to the bedroom. She stayed on her side and I think I may have gotten carried away a bit, but I’m a Dom and I don’t apologize for being one. Besides, she didn’t safeword… until she was about to come.

I didn’t bring any Arnica cream because I didn’t have any intentions of doing a scene on this trip. I look through her toiletries, hoping to find some baby oil or the olive oil that she uses on her nipples, but I find something better.

Eucalyptus lotion.

Did she know that we might do something like this? Did she do all those things to trigger me on purpose? I’ll have to ask her about it, but not right now.

When I enter with the lotion, she’s lying on her stomach with the covers thrown off her. She’s completely shattered, but her eyes are still open—tiny slits that refuse to submit to sleep. I sit on the bed next to her and warm the lotion in my hands. Starting at her shoulders, I begin to work the tension out of her body. I knead with just enough pressure to ease the tightness in the muscles of her back.

When I get to her ass, I examine it closely. I remember a spanking that made me not want to spank her ever again—where her ass was bruised, and she put coats at every exit of the house. I check for bruising, welting, broken skin. The pinkness has faded a bit and her skin is still flushed from the bath, but there are no vicious bruises like before. I’m relieved to see that.

Coating my hands again, I gently rub the lotion into her ass cheeks. She flinches at first, then settles. I don’t linger there, just enough to get the soothing ointment into her skin before moving to her thighs. She actually whines when I begin to knead them. I know they hurt like hell from the workout she got at the very beginning. I was going to make her ride me again until she fell and I realized that her legs couldn’t hold her up anymore.

Had she decided to do this without me, she would have made a great submissive, because she can endure a lot and she doesn’t readily give in. For the same reasons, I have to learn when to pull back, because by the time she does finally tap out, she’s completely destroyed. She’s convinced herself that I need her to go the distance, so she will, but the distance may be too far for her. She showed me this that night in Anguilla and had she not safeworded in the next few minutes, I would have told her to come.

By the time I finish her feet, she’s fast asleep. I smooth a little more lotion on her bottom, a little deeper into the skin this time since she’s asleep, then go to the bathroom and retrieve a brush. I gently brush the kinks out of her long hair and braid it before it dries, securing it with a ponytail holder.

I examine her face in her sleep. Her resting face tells me much more than her conscious face. She can hide her expressions—except her anger and her intense displeasure—when she’s awake. She can’t hide anything when she’s asleep. Her face tells it all—happy, fear, anguish, distress…

Peace.
Right now, she’s completely at peace.

I turn off all the lights and climb in bed beside her, covering her with the blanket before crawling under it myself. I gently trace her sleeping face and pouty lips as I lay on the pillow facing her.

“Sometimes, I love you more than my soul can handle…”

*-*

I awake before she does in the morning. I’m mindful that we need to get going soon if we’re going to make the excursions with Jaxon and Laura. I look over at my sleeping wife. She’s asleep so hard that I hate to wake her. If she says that she doesn’t want to go on the excursions, I’ll honor that request, but I have to give her that choice.

I reach over and stroke her hair gently, and then her cheek, pushing the stray strands of hair from her face. She protests a bit, but then opens her eyes and looks at me.

“Good morning,” I say softly. She inhales deeply and releases a sigh.

“Good morning,” she says weakly.

“I need to ask you something.” She blinks a few times and tries to focus on me. “Do you remember when we had that conversation about BDSM training? Back in August or September before everything went south?” She blinks a few more times, still trying to focus and wake up.

“Do you remember?” I ask again. Maybe I should have waited until she was more conscious before I asked the question. She gently clears her throat.

“I remember some of it, yes,” she says softly.

“Why don’t you ever safeword?” I ask. Her eyes widen a bit, indicating that she’s more alert than she was a moment ago. “You safeworded last night when you were about to come, but you cried before safewording when I spanked you. Why?”

She looks like she’s about to answer, but she doesn’t, so I continue.

“I think you may have the wrong idea about being a submissive,” I tell her. “Being my submissive doesn’t mean that I break you down until you’re bare. I did that to you in Anguilla and I almost lost you. You may disagree, but I know better. It doesn’t mean being weak either; but it also doesn’t mean having to prove that you’re not weak. The D/s relationship is a give-and-take. We both have to get something out of that experience and spanking you until you cry is not something that gets me off.”

Even though she’s still lying down, her gaze drops.

“I need you to look at me because I need to know that you hear me.”

She raises her guileless blue eyes to me again.

“You set me off in so many ways—whether you were trying to or not. Yes, I wanted to regain control, but not in a way that would cause you anguish. You give yourself to me, and I take that, but I try to give you something in return…”

“You were a full-on Dom before you met me,” she says softly. “Canes and whips and paddles and handcuffs… You gave up a lot to be with me, to adapt to me and allow me into your world. You used to go all out on your submissives before me and I know it. I saw everything in the playroom at Escala—everything!”

“That’s why we don’t have that playroom now,” I say calmly, but firmly. “That’s not who I am anymore. I’m not Christian Grey, single Dom billionaire out whipping little brown-haired submissives on the weekend. I’m Christian Grey, husband to Anastasia Grey, father to Mackenzie and Michael Grey, and part-time Dominant and submissive. There’s nothing about me that’s the same as it was before. Is that why you feel like you have to take everything until your body is wracked with pain? Be spanked until you cry? Fuck until your legs don’t work? Submit until you’re too weak and exhausted to keep your eyes open…?”

“I’m not weak,” she declares softly. “I don’t know how far you need to go until you go, and when you need me to have that strength and stamina to endure, I can!”

“Yes, but to the end of your wits!” I say a bit more firmly. “I don’t want any of the Domination fiascos we’ve have before—where you’re completely shattered and not always in a good way, and I’m feeling guilty for what I’ve put you through. Is that why you take such intense scenes? Because you think I need to be the guy that I was before?”

“Apparently, you do!” she says, sitting up in the bed. “You can go for hours! You can spank or whip or flog until your arm gets tired! You can fuck like a teenager—over and over and over again and never tap out. You’ll go as far as I’ll let you and I’m not weak!”

“As far as you’ll let me!” I repeat. “Did you hear that, Anastasia? As far as you’ll let me! I’ve had meetings with every single one of my submissives to discover what their soft and hard limits are; to see what they could take; to set boundaries. Yes, I’ve tested their limits, but not beyond the point of reason. Yes, I’ve punished them, but they knew when to tell me to stop. Not once did I ever take a submissive past her limits once I figured out what I was doing! I made a few mistakes as an amateur, but not once I found my way.

“I’m a Dom. I’m a full-on Dom. I’ve been a full-on Dom for years, but our relationship is supposed to be different. I didn’t feel anything for those women. I felt care and concern, but not love. I love you. You fulfill a need for me, and I love you for that, too. But when I’m in Dom mode, I can go the distance. I can go all the way and more because I take my cues from the submissive. I never know that you’ve had enough or too much until it’s over—when you’ve been broken over the rack, bottom bruised from a shower spanking, or twitching from not being able to come. That’s not what our relationship is…”

“What am I supposed to do?” she shoots, so near tears that I can see them in her eyes waiting to fall. “Your power seeps through your pores! It’s effortless. Women see you and don’t know what to do with themselves, and if you think it’s just the face, you’re wrong! It’s the way you carry yourself, it’s everything about you. The money and the good looks are just a bonus. You lived a lifestyle for years where when you needed relief, you got it from a submissive.

“I’m under no misconception of who you were, but when you can’t get that relief, you’ll turn into someone else! I love that Dominance about you. I don’t want to see it leave, but I don’t want to lose it because I can’t satisfy it!”

Oh, dear God, is that what this is about? Is that seriously what this is about? All the time she’s pushed herself beyond limits I know she couldn’t take, the times I’ve pushed her thinking that she was reaching her limit and not knowing—until later—that she was already past it? Doesn’t she know I worship the fucking ground she walks on? That even if she never subbed for me again, I would still love her with everything I have? Everything I am? I look at her glassy eyes and remember our conversation from that morning:

“After our talk yesterday, I realized that I didn’t know nearly enough about the dynamics of the D/s relationship to handle what was going on with you. We were on a precipice, and our next move would determine the fate of our relationship. Would we come out of this okay? Would we end up in a totally vanilla relationship? Would you have determined that I was able to give you what you needed as a wife but not as a submissive? Would you resent me and turn to others for your D/s needs? Would this be the beginning of the end for us?”

I never put her mind at ease about those questions because I wanted her to keep talking. They’ve been burning in her mind all this time and probably much longer—through the Westwick thing, the Boogeyman, every fight and disagreement… Jesus, if I felt that way about her, I’d go insane. I gather her into my arms and kiss her eyes before the tears have a chance to fall.

“We’re going to need to do some more training,” I tell her, “and we’re going to start when we get back to Seattle.” I brush my lips against her temple and gently caress her hair. I’m putting the kibosh on playtime until she fully learns what it means to be a submissive—to give of herself without losing herself. All this time, she’s just been some girl taking beatings and fucking for me. I don’t think she’s seen who she really is at all in this process, and if she did, she’s lost it.

Once I’ve brought my wife back from the brink of tears, I fire off a text or two to some old friends of mine back in my training days. We’ll need some very professional training for husbands and wives once we return and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m out of my element here. She may not be fully aware of her role as a submissive, but likewise, I think I’m off the mark for being a husDom.

Right before I shut down my screen, I see that Holstein has tried to call me three times. Either he has finally decided to return my calls, or he’s got wind that something is on the cooker with Lincoln. Too little, too late, Ron, I’m taking this matter into my own hands.

My girl successfully recovers from the seriousness of our conversation and presents herself in yet another tasty ensemble—this time a pair of white skinny jeans, a yellow and white polka-dot halter… and sneakers! Butterfly never wears sneakers. These are a pair of Nikes—white with a yellow swoosh. She ties a white sweater around her waist that does nothing to cover that glorious ass.

And once again, I feel like a troll.

“I’m never calling Vickie again,” I say when I see her.

“Well, you can hold Vickie responsible for the jeans and the sneakers, but you’d have to blame Grandma Ruby for the shirt.” My eyes bulge out as she does a full turn to show me the shirt… and the love bites on her back and neck.

“Um… baby, you do remember our scene from last night, don’t you?” She looks up at me. God, I never realize how short she is until she loses the heels.

“You mean the hickeys?” she asks, unfazed.

“Yeah,” I reply, and it sounds more like a question.

“Nobody knows me on this trip except Laura and Jaxon and from what I understand, they have a pretty good idea how we get down,” she replies. “No offense, my love, but I have nothing here but a summer wardrobe. Unless you intended for me to spend the rest of the trip with a towel wrapped around my back, somebody was going to see this. Then again, you knew that.” She gives me a sarcastic smile.

Well, yeah, I did know that.

“Turn around,” I sigh. The one on her neck is clearly a love bite, but I want to see what the ones on her back look like. I don’t want anyone to think she’s a battered wife.

Uh, yeah… clearly love bites, too.

“You’ll do,” I lament, knowing that everybody’s going to look at her and then look directly at me.

“Well, thanks,” she says, picking up her backpack. I take it from her.

“I’ll carry that for you,” I say, admittedly still feeling a bit of a sting of guilt from last night. She gives it to me and reads my expression.

“It was grueling,” she admits, “And strenuous, but all’s well that ends well, right?”

I sigh inwardly and nod, just because I really don’t want to talk about it anymore. She let the cat out of the bag that she takes more than she probably would under normal circumstance because of me—because she’s concerned that I’ll be displeased or dissatisfied. Inevitably, she thinks that’ll lead to me leaving her or cheating on her. I’ve tried to impress upon her that that will never happen, but it hasn’t worked, especially considering the fact that I jumped ship when the whole Westwick thing happened—pun intended.

“We better go,” I say, taking her hand. “We don’t want to keep our tour guides waiting.”

I lead her to the door thinking about the texts I sent earlier to mentors that I hope will help us on our path.

Jason and Lawrence follow us to the conference area to meet up with Laura and Jaxon. Other passengers going to port and to excursions are waiting there as well. Laura is dressed similarly to Butterfly in a flowy strappy blouse and jeans while Jaxon looks like me—T-shirt, jeans, and a pair of sneakers. We exchange greetings and Laura gives Butterfly a hug. Just as I suspected, Laura looks at my wife, then turns a wide-eyed gaze and a knowing half-smile to me.

“Yeah, yeah,” I say dismissively.

“The breast is bettah, mate,” Jaxon says with mirth, “an’ less conspicuous.”

“Unreachable at the time,” I say with no further explanation.

“Ah,” he and Laura respond simultaneously, eliciting a giggle from Butterfly. She locks arms with Laura and they effortlessly start chatting away.

We’re out early as our outings to Hobart, Port Arthur, and surrounding areas are going to be squeezed into a day and a half and we don’t want to miss anything. We’ll most likely only be back on board to sleep, and back off tomorrow morning for the rest of our excursion.

We’ve docked in Hobart, but our excursion is yet another boat ride—a ferry from Brooke Street Pier to the Museum of Old and New Art. Twenty minutes or so later, we’re having “brekkie,” as Jaxon calls it, at the restaurant in the museum called The Source since our day started so early. We’re all having “The Big Fry Up,” which is farm fresh eggs, smoky bacon, sausage, grilled tomato and mushrooms, hash browns, and beans. I’m somewhat shocked to see my wife pull out those sexy ass Buddy Holly glasses to eat her breakfast. I try not to react, but Jaxon reacts for me.

“Chris,” he says, dragging my name out in a sing-songy type manner, “no offense, mate, but ‘ow do ya deal with thaht?”

“I need you to be more specific,” I reply.

“She maykes nuhrd glasses look sexy,” he says just above a whisper so that only I can hear him. “Ya must be beytin’ ‘em off with a stick!”

“Oh, you have no idea,” I lament, taking a drink of my black coffee. Like clockwork, Butterfly and Laura’s conversation migrates to last night.

“When you pull lipstick out of your makeup case and the first thing you think when you see it is ‘dick sucking red,’ you should probably put it back. But nooooooo, Anastasia had to wear the dick sucking red lipstick, and now she’s wondering why half the female population of the ship hates her,” Butterfly says.

“It can’t be that bad,” Laura remarks.

“Yes, it is,” we say simultaneously.

“Last night,” Butterfly continues, “two French-speaking cows at our table talked about me through the entire meal.”

“How did you know they were talking about you?” Laura asks nonplussed. Butterfly tilts her head and twists her lips.

“Oh,” Laura says knowingly. “Tu parle français.”

“Yes!” Butterfly retorts forcefully. “Fluently! And you?” Laura laughs.

“Not a word,” she says, “that is, except ‘tu parle français.’” Butterfly snorts a short laugh.

“Well, I’m telling you, I get it everywhere, and probably in more languages, too. I like to wear nice clothes, I like to keep myself fit. I’m attractive, and I know it. I’m tired of constantly getting into verbal sparring matches with women because they hate me because I’m beautiful or for the fact that I’m with a beautiful, wealthy man. I’m going to start finding another way to handle it, just like I did with those cows at dinner. And the glares that I was getting from the women in the front row…” She turns to me. “You didn’t see them—I got the last laugh with them, too, because their men all came rushing to help me off stage. What do they want—they want me to look like a toad standing next to you? Gain 25 pounds because I’ve had twins and that’s what we’re ‘supposed’ to do? Leave you or expect you to leave me because I’m not good enough for you? Fuck ‘em, I’m done.”

“Um, you skipped something,” Laura points out. “Front row? On stage?”

“Oh, my friend, do I have a story for you…”


A/N: 

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. Be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last on the menu or you can click HERE.

There has been yet another development where if you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu entitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE

The Australia Picture Board can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-the-trip-to-australia/ and the pictures from today’s chapter are in the Luxury Cruise Ship” section and the “Hobart” section.

And of course, the regular Pinterest board is here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

“All Aussies Don’t Talk Like That…”

This couldn’t wait until next week because I’m sitting here about to boil over…

Let me begin by saying that I’m not trying to offend anyone and if I offend you, feel free to leave. Nonetheless, I think I had about 12 conversations last week about how I know that all Aussies don’t talk the same. I had several extended conversations with different people about someone feeling some type of way because my written Australian accent sounds like it’s from the outback.

Does everyone from Australia sound like they’re from the outback? Of course, not!

Do people from the outback sound like they’re from the outback? Why, yes, they do! Hence, somebody in Australia sounds like my freaking Australia accent!

I didn’t just pull this shit out of the air, people. I listened to Australians that I know of  (Steve Irwin and Crocodile Dundee) and so that I wasn’t just getting a commercialized Australian accent (which I figured Crocodile Dundee was), I listened to several YouTube videos. If you go to my Pinterest page, Sam Worthington—an English-born Australian actor—is my “Jaxon.” I even listened to videos of him and Nicole Kidman talking about their latest movies. Two completely different Australian accents. Nicole barely has one at all.

I watched instructional videos—made by Aussies.
I watched travel videos—made by Aussies.

And I wrote what I heard—as an American listening to an Australian accent… not as an Australian who can’t even hear an Australian accent, let alone read one! Of course, it looks strange to them! As far as they’re concerned, they don’t talk like that, but as far as Americans can hear, some of them do! 

And let’s talk about that word “some.”

Can I please get a little back-up from my American readers? Can I please get a little backup that we know and understand that not all Aussies speak the same, but that my sorry little attempt at an Australian accent is actually how we hear some Aussies speak? I swear to God—If I get one more person to tell me, “We don’t all talk like that,” I think I’m going to fucking lose it! 

DIDN’T I FUCKING SAY THAT ALREADY? Didn’t I say that I already know that ALL AUSSIES DON’T SPEAK THE SAME? All AMERICANS don’t speak the same, dammit! How many comments, responses, and disclaimers do I have to post???

I’ve gotten mixed reviews on my Australian accents. Some Aussies like it (or at least understand what I’m trying to accomplish), some don’t. A lot of people love it and find it colorful. Hate it or love it, that’s all okay, as long as you understand that I ALREADY KNOW THAT ALL AUSSIES DON’T SPEAK LIKE THIS! Fucking hellyou would think that I was standing on the rooftop screaming repeated racial slurs! One person actually told me to stop writing it…

I could have come through the damn screen like Ghost Dad…

People have no idea how hard the Australia storyline was for me to write. You’re not going to know it by reading it, but that shit was fucking difficult. It was a toil and it was laboring trying to make everything realistic, interesting, and fall in line, and of all the things I worried about people complaining about, I’ve got people bitching about the fucking accent and one with the audacity to tell me to stop writing it. 

I’ll repeat what I told her so that it’s clear to everyone.

You have the option to stop reading my story if you don’t like something that I’m writing. You do not have the option to tell me to write or to stop writing anything ever

All the different accents, dialects, and twangs in Americasomeone in Seattle could probably attempt to write a true Nawlins accent, and folks most likely wouldn’t have a clue what they were saying if they correctly hit all of the twangs and colloquialisms of the region. Yet, both places are regions in the U.S., and most people not from Nawlins don’t even know what I’m saying now… but Nawlins does.

Falala, I know you told me to ignore it; I saw the message pop up as I was typing, but it was either I say something or I sit here and explode… and my husband already walked in the door asking me what was wrong.

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 76—Still Ship Shenanigans

ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: 

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

This is a work of creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.

I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues…

Chapter 76—Still Ship Shenanigans

CHRISTIAN

“Alright ladies, it’s time for our first day bikini contest. Let’s get some contestants up here to show us what you got. Wrap those beautiful bods in towels, ladies. We don’t want to give the fellas any sneak peeks.”

I know it. I just know it. She’s going to enter it. I know it.

She walks over to us and immediately wraps herself in a towel, confirming my suspicions. She stands there wringing the water out of her hair like she’s not about to put me through one of the worst fucking torments of my life. I don’t remove my sunglasses so that she doesn’t see me brooding underneath… because that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m brooding… or plotting. Right when I said I needed to keep the Dom at bay…

“Come on, Laura,” Butterfly says as she takes Laura by the hand.

Oh, no,” Laura says, her voice filled with mirth, “this childbirth body looks nothing like that childbirth body. I’ll be gleefully cheering you on from the sidelines.”

“Chicken!” Butterfly teases. They share a few jabs before she walks over to me, pushes my hair back, and kisses my forehead.

“Breathe,” she says softly. I raise my gaze to hers.

“Knock ‘em dead, baby,” I reply. She smiles widely and dons her Jackie-O’s before walking to the stage. I shake my head.

“I need a drink,” I say as I rise from the lounger.

“OI’ll join yah,” Jaxon says. “Lahrie, yah want anything frohm theh bah, love?”

“No, I’m fine, but I’ll take the chaise if Christian doesn’t mind,” she replies.

“Please,” I offer, “you’ll be saving our seats.” I head off to the bar. I don’t want a beer; I need something stronger.

“Yoh a protectah,” Jaxon says as he gestures the bartender over to us. “Yoh a bahsket cayse sittin’ ‘ere lettin’ ‘er do thaht.” He turns to the bartender. “OI’ll have a drahft. What’ll yah have, mate?”

“Double Scotch, single malt, neat,” I say to the bartender. He nods. Jaxon raises his brow at me.

“Yeh… bahsket cayse,” he concludes. “It’s ahll in fun, mate. She’s a beautiful guhl. Let the poor blokes have a look at ‘er. She’s comin’ bahk to yew.”

I sigh and internalize his words. It’s not that, right now, Jax. I’ve got a monster I’m trying to tame.

“Thanks, Jaxon,” I say, running my hand through my hair. The bartender comes back with a scotch and I’m sure I have no idea which it is, but honestly, it could be rot gut at this point. I need the burn. I take half the double in one gulp and it’s actually pretty good—not premium, but pretty damn close.

“Okay,” I say, turning away from the bar to face the stage. “Let’s see what barkers they have going up against my wife.”

“Thaht’s the spihrit, Chris!” he says, taking a large gulp of his beer.

I watch as women approach the stage. I try to gauge who might be competition for my wife, looking with a critical eye at measurements, natural beauty, things like that… but I don’t know these women. I know my wife—emotionally, mentally, physically, and biblically. I can’t compare any of them to her, because she does things to me that no one else can. So, I guess I’m just watching with the other blokes.

A few more minutes and a few more girls later, the competition starts. The DJ plays the song She’s a Brick House, and the first few contestants walk across the stage to applause, but little fanfare. There aren’t any real barkers up there so to speak. Of course, middle-aged grandmothers know better than to put themselves up against young college girls and twenty-somethings.

Butterfly is fifth in the competition. She steps up on stage and drops her towel, swinging her luscious hips back and forth. When she gets to the center, she turns around to showcase that glorious ass and that mystical, fabulous garden tattoo… and the catcalls officially begin. She looks coquettishly over her shoulder and blows a kiss to the onlookers, and the cheers increase. Not to be outdone, I yell a few catcalls of my own, causing Jaxon to laugh heartily and nearly spray his beer from his nose.

Three contestants later, a woman named Brigette is called. She walks up the stairs, drops her towel, and sashays across the stage in nothing—literally nothing! She’s “wearing” a one-piece white “suit,” if you can call it that. It’s a string around her neck and strings holding together a few scraps of material over her nipples and cooch. Her ass is on total display. She’s naked! Didn’t I see a kid or three on this boat? Or did I? I can’t recall right now.

Now, it’s not my way to disrespect a woman unless she disrespects me first in some way, but I have to say that the jeers, taunts, and catcalls that Brigette’s getting, she couldn’t have expected less. Even though I don’t know what “bury the bishop” means, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what a “cum junkie” is. There was a lot of “fuck a duck’s,” “fuck me dead’s,” and “fuck me sideways’” flying about, and I just assumed everybody wanted to fuck her—except, of course, for whoever called her a “cum junkie.” And I suppose “knob jockie” probably wasn’t a term of endearment, either. One guy clearly wanted to “root,” and another announced to his friend that she made him “toeier than a Roman sandal,” while a third said something about a “bearded clam.”

I am way out of my element with these colorful colloquialisms, so I turn to Jaxon for translation as the next contestant crosses the stage in a stringy bikini that still covered more than Brigette’s did.

“Theh’re pretty much sying thet she’s paupular with the boys and naut in a good wy,” he informs me, “and definitely naut paupular at ahll with theh guhls!” He lifts his glass with a “cheers” and finishes his beer, gesturing to the bartender for another one.

“Refill, Chris?” he asks, and someone else is calling me Chris.

“No, I’ll have a beer, too,” I say, the scotch having taken a bit of the edge off me and I’m now able to enjoy an ale or lager. A few more skimpy bikinis cross the stage as Jaxon and I drink our second beers and now, it’s time for the judging. Some mumbo jumbo goes on here and there and the MC announces third place goes to Janice, the woman with the black stringy bikini. She walks onto the stage and takes her small trophy, waving to the crowd like this was a real beauty pageant.

No, babe, they just wanted to see your ass.

“And second place goes to… Ana!”

What? Second place? Who the fuck are the judges?

My Butterfly walks across the stage and takes the slightly larger second place trophy, blowing a kiss to the onlookers again and inciting more catcalls and cheers as she takes her place next to Janice, sporting a flirty smile.

If my Butterfly didn’t win with that luscious ass wrapped in blue spandex, her under-cheek poking out just enough to make you drool, again it doesn’t take rocket science to know who got first place.

“And the winner is… Brigette!”

The catcalls and jeers begin again, and I decide to throw in a few of my own… only I didn’t expect for my voice to carry that well.

“Boo! Boo! I demand a recount! She’s not sexy, she’s naked!”

My voice carries over the pool and to the stage like I’m talking into a bullhorn. The crowd quiets for two seconds and everybody turns to look at me. I feel a little stupid, and two seconds feel like two hours. Nonetheless, my little savior comes to the rescue in that third second when her beautiful—and loud—Butterfly voice floats back across the pool at me and says:

“BEHAVE!

The crowd immediately bursts into laughter and the contest winner does a little bend to poke her ass out and pats it as she walks off the stage. She retrieves her large trophy from the MC and gives my wife a high five as she takes her place next to Butterfly. They pose for pictures, probably for the cruise album or something, and then they leave the stage.

“A bit cahrried away, thehre, Chris?” Jaxon teases.

“It was fixed,” I protest. “She was naked. That wasn’t even a bikini.” I take a swallow of my beer.

“It wahs a monokini,” he informs me. A what? I look at him bemused. “A one-piece mayde tah look loike a tew-piece.” I twist my lips.

“A one-piece,” I confirm. “It wasn’t a bikini.”

“Stop being a sore second-placer,” I hear my wife say from behind me. She puts her arm around my waist and kisses me on the cheek. “I won second place out of all those gorgeous women.”

“None of them are as gorgeous as you,” I say, pulling her close to me and kissing her lips gently.

“You’re my husband. You’re supposed to say that,” she teases.

“It’s true,” I confirm.

“Good answer,” she replies with a smile.

“It is true,” Laura says coming up behind us and standing next to Jaxon. “Those women were attractive, but none of them could have covered up like you did and placed at all. They had to depend on their skin to win.”

“Hehr, hehr,” Jaxon says finishing his second beer.

“Well, thank you all,” Butterfly says graciously. “I had no chance of winning against Bridgette. She has buns of steel and they’re all hanging out. I’m happy with my little souvenir.” She kisses her tiny trophy.

We have a few more drinks at the pool and listen to the reggae band play a little longer. My Butterfly shows off that beautiful prize-winning body in the pool a little longer as she and Laura laze away in the cool water while Jaxon and I keep a watchful eye on them from the in-pool loungers.

Jaxon tells me how he made his millions. He’s an affiliate marketer extraordinaire. He made his fortune based on the very simple concept that one dollar could become two, two could become four, four could become eight, and so on and so on. He took that one dollar, an idea, and a group of people and parlayed it into millions. His entire business is virtual, affording him the ability to run it from anywhere in the world. Between his business and his investments, he’s creeping up on a net worth of $80 million.

I tell him that my fortune is in mergers and acquisitions. We talk a little about what I do, how I started, and how I’m now one of the wealthiest businessmen in America. He apologizes for not knowing who I am. I assure him that it’s okay as we live on two different continents and unless our business paths crossed in some way, there’s no way that he would know who I was.

We watch our women talking and splashing their feet over the edge of the pool and I see that faraway look in his eye that I get when I think of Butterfly and our life together.

“Do you think you’ll have any children?” I ask. He turns to me and shakes his head.

“OI don’t know if it’s in theh stahs foh us,” he says. “OI gladly have a child with meh Lahrie, but losing Devon was a real troial foh ‘er. She nevah mentioned wahntin’ anymoh children, and OI won’t fohrce ‘er.”

“But is it what you want?” I ask. He shrugs.

“Honestly, OI’m foiyne eithah wy. OI love meh Lahrie. OI love ‘er with meh whole haht and soul. Whahteveh Lahrie wahnts, Lahrie gehts.” I sigh.

“I know that feeling, Jaxon,” I say, looking at my wife.

“Yah don’t sy?” Jaxon teases. “OI nevah woulda noticed!” Smart ass.

“I was living a useless existence of money and lies. It was horrendously bad, and I won’t even attempt to begin to tell you how bad it really was. I mean, I wouldn’t be dead today without her, but I definitely wouldn’t be this happy. I’d still have money, but not prosperity—the love of my family, new friends… good friends… toxic people out of my life. It was a real mess, man. I never would have believed for one second that I would have kids… twins, man. Me? A father? Not in a million years. I couldn’t even connect with my family correctly until I met Butterfly.”

“And yah only been tagethah two yeahs, yah sy?” he says. I nod.

“Two and a half, technically,” I correct him. I sigh. “She’s my whole world. I tell her every chance I get. I show her every chance I get—except for those moments when I stick my head up my ass…”

“We ahll have those, mate,” Jaxon says. I nod.

“Sometimes I feel like it’s still not enough,” I admit. He examines me.

“She mayke ya feel thaht wy?” he asks. I shake my head.

“Never,” I tell him. “She’d take me if I was broke, sick…” I look around to see if anyone is listening. “Before we got married, this crazy woman paid her off to leave me. Transferred $20 million into my wife’s bank account. My wife donated the entire thing to charity.”

“Well, fock meh soidewys, she did?” Jaxon says astonished. Okay, I’ve pinpointed one of those phrases.

“She did,” I say. “She had already turned the money down, but this batty bitch thought that actually having the money would change her mind. Instead, Butterfly contacted me immediately. She had never handled that kind of money before and didn’t know how to transfer it. So, she asked me.”

“Ya cahl ‘er Butterfloy… thaht’s beautiful.”

“She is my Butterfly,” I say. “In more ways than I can explain…”

“Okay, you two look way too serious and we’re hungry,” Laura says as she and Butterfly approach. I stand to greet my wife. I look at my watch, which I set to ship’s time—and it’s well past lunchtime.

“What do you have a taste for?” I ask the ladies.

“Let’s go to the Bluewater Café,” Laura says. “It’s the ship’s buffet. Whatever you may have a taste for will most likely be on the menu and you won’t have to change clothes.”

Everybody agrees on the café for lunch. I send Jason back to our staterooms to see to getting our dress clothes pressed for dinner tonight as this will be one of two formal nights on the ship. I’m not sure that we’ll really be needing security that much when we’re on board. I’m just so accustomed to them being around. I discreetly ask Jason to analyze the situation and get back to me. He goes off to see to the pressing of our clothes while Lawrence follows us to the café.

“So, have you made any plans for the day at Hobart?” Laura asks when we sit down to eat.

“Not really,” Butterfly answers. “We were just going to walk around and see what’s going on.”

“It’s a beautiful place,” she says, “but you’re really only going to find a little shopping and some places to eat. The city really doesn’t come alive until the weekend with the festivals and live performances at the Salamanca Arts Center and the Salamanca Market, and we’re going to be there on a Wednesday.”

“Well, that sucks,” I say, frowning. “Doesn’t the cruise line know that? Why would they make this a port of call in the middle of the week if that’s the case?” I understand that people live here, and they have lives and things that they have to do throughout the week, and they can’t stop because we’re sailing through, but why are we sailing through if there’s going to be nothing to do?

“Don’t fret,” Jaxon says. “Thehre ahre a few things ta do ‘ere and thehre on Tazzie. Leave it ta me. We’ll geht a couple of exuhrsions an’ show ya whaht thehre is ta see. Ya won’t beh disappointed.” Laura smiles at her husband.

“Even though I’ve lived here for ten years, he’s still the native. So, there are still some things he knows that I don’t,” she says.

“Lahrie’s roight though,” Jaxon defends. “The best toime ta see Tazzie would the weekend, but we’ll mayke the best of it.”

I hope he’s right. I would certainly hate to be disappointed.

After a very satisfying lunch at one of the most stocked and elegant buffets I’ve ever seen in my life, Butterfly decides to head back to the stateroom for a nap while Laura, Jaxon, and I head to the excursion desk to plan our day in Hobart. As it turns out, we’ll be in Hobart first thing in the morning and we won’t be leaving until nearly midnight. The next morning when we awake, we’ll be docked in Port Arthur for half the day and then we’ll be headed to Melbourne.

I’ll have to admit that I had no intention of coming on this trip and falling in with a couple of travel companions—one of them an Australian native—but I’m glad we did. They’re not crazy people unless you have a problem with the whole spirit thing. As troubled as my mind and soul has been in prior years and as soon as just before our trip, I feel that anyone who says that they connect with the spirit and devote their lives to bringing peace to it is alright with me—not to mention that I’ve found the connection to the very core of my being in my wife. You can’t dismiss that as hocus pocus or mumbo-jumbo when you’ve felt it yourself.

I’m glad that no one appears to know who we are, either. The spotlight is expected when you are who we are, but it can be tiring as fuck!

We get to the elevators after we’ve planned excursions for Hobart and Port Arthur, and Laura and Jaxon both decide to take a nap before dinner as well. I’m not tired in the least, so they choose the floor where their cabin is, and I decide to head to the internet café. There are no buttons inside the elevators—you choose your destination before you get on and hope you’ve chosen the right deck. Luckily, there are maps at every bank of elevators to show you where you are and help you decide where you want to be.

In the internet café, I use my phone to shoot off a text to Al and ask how things were going with cataloguing my assets, advising him to liaise with the accounting department to help with valuation.

I go into the vortex that is my email and begin to respond to those that appear to need immediate attention, forwarding many to Lorenz and Ros and deleting many more. As I’m working my way through, I see one that immediately catches my eye.

To: Christian Grey
Re: SEEKNID 1.0
Date: Monday, December 8, 2014, 9:17
From: James Fleming-Forsythe

Good Morning Christian,

I know that it’s probably Tuesday where you are, and I don’t mean to interrupt your vacation, but I figured that you would see this whenever you check your emails, so you would be working anyway. I don’t mean to be a whiner, but every time I try to talk to someone in your R&D department about SEEKNID 1.0, they have nothing for me—no updates, no “this isn’t working,” no “get this the hell out of my face,” nothing. They’ve had this project for nearly a year now, and I’m getting the feeling that I’ve been shelved. Can you please tell me what’s going on? This is my baby and I’ve been perfecting it for years. If you’ve changed your mind, please let me know.

James Fleming-Forsythe
IT Engineer, Liondew Electronics

Jesus, they’ve been sitting on this for that long? Why hasn’t he said anything to me before now?

To: James Fleming-Forsythe
Re: SEEKNID 1.0
Date: Tuesday, December 9, 2014, 16:39
From: Christian Grey

Hello James,

I really wish you had told me sooner that you had submitted the software to R&D. Hindsight being 20/20, I’m sure that I must have known that you would have done it by now, but you know that my finger is on the pulse of so much and I’m sure I don’t need to remind you about the strange cornucopia that is my life.

Nonetheless, this is how R&D works, unfortunately. If they can’t get it out in a day and see lots of zeros at the end of a project immediately, it usually gets shelved and pushed back in line unless someone makes it a priority. They don’t know you or the importance of the software, so they’ve most likely marked it as “can wait.” Let me put some fire under some asses and see what we can get rolling. Let me know immediately if you get the old “push off” when you call R&D, particularly who you spoke to and exactly what they said. Keep your phone on and your email open, my friend.

Christian Grey
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc

Research and development may not know that, but that software that they’re marking as “We’ll get to it later” saved my company and their jobs last year. We could have been making a fucking fortune off of that technology by now, but they’re dragging their asses. I send off a priority email to the R&D intake box as well as to Paul Hammock—the R&D department head, Barney, Ros and Lorenz with a CC to James and one to my wife as well for good measure, asking why a multi-million-dollar software program was being shelved. I didn’t ask if it was being shelved. I asked why it was being shelved. I didn’t go into any detail or talk about people’s heads rolling. Why? Because the silence makes them more nervous than the rant. They’re walking around asking themselves and each other:

Is that a rhetorical question?
Is he expecting an answer or is he just expecting us to get started?
Who is this James Flemings guy? Is he somebody new to the company?

If they only knew how important that James Flemings guy is to my family and how detrimental the software was and could be to my company, they wouldn’t even bother asking questions. I would have gotten error margins and project profit and loss reports long before I knew that James’ software had been shelved. Jesus, must I do everything myself? I work my way through several more emails when a familiar voice distracts me.

“Probably not a good idea to let Her Highness see you working, sir.”

My head shoots up. Shit, what time is it? I look at him in a panic. Is she here?

“Ben told me that she went back to the cabin for a nap, so we’re assuming that she’s still there.” I release the gasp that I was holding. Shit, that was close!

“How did you know I was here?” I ask. He cocks his head at me in that obvious way that indicates I’ve asked a stupid question. “Never mind,” I say, closing the email on my phone. There was really no need to come to the internet café. I could have logged into my email anywhere and I certainly wasn’t going to go into my company’s mainframe and network from a public computer on a cruise ship!

“I was thinking,” I begin, looking around to be sure there are no inquiring ears too close, “This is a pretty controlled environment, at least while we’re on the boat. It seems a bit of a waste to have security following us around everywhere we go… unless you feel it’s necessary. What say you?” He shrugs.

“Honestly, I’ve pretty much been a valet since I’ve been here. It’s not that I’m complaining, but… that’s pretty much what I’ve done.”

“So, you think it may be unnecessary to have you both on duty while we’re on the ship?” I ask. He twists his lips.

“I’ve watched the two of you,” he says. “You’re in a totally different world while you’re on this ship. You barely even know that we’re there. It’s my job—our job—to be present, but somewhat invisible. According to our conversation yesterday, Ben’s been doing a bit too good of a job of that.” I nod.

“It’s like I said, when you’re around, people aren’t so quick to approach us, but when he’s around, people say things to us like he’s not even standing there. He’s been about as useful as a scarecrow and not as effective.”

“Sir…”

“I know, I know, you’ve already said,” I interrupt, “he’ll protect us from any real danger. But I and my wife would like the comfort of knowing that some cunts at Sydney Opera House are not going to harass her for me giving her a piggy-back ride or some assholes in the line at the OPT aren’t going to blatantly disrespect her in a public place.” Jason is now uncomfortable.

“Sir, there’s a very easy explanation for that,” he says. I frown.

“You have a viable explanation for this situation.” It’s a statement, not a question. He nods. “Why am I just now about to hear it?” I confront.

“Because I couldn’t say it in front of Ben, and I thought you already knew,” he says. I fold my arms.

“I’m listening.” He sighs and sits down.

“You’ve known from the very beginning that Her Highness is very personable and approachable. When she found out that Chuck was going to be her CPO, there was the immediate ‘call me Ana’ rapport. Once that happened, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him call her Mrs. Grey, Dr. Grey, Ms. Steele, Dr. Steele, or even Her Highness—the last one only when it was utterly necessary. As a result, there’s a certain closeness—a physical proximity—that he maintains when they’re together that lets people know ‘Hey, that’s her guard.’ You and I have the same rapport, even if it’s not as cordial to the outside world because of how you carry yourself…”

“Elaborate,” I say.

“You are much less approachable than Her Highness, and you know it,” he says matter-of-factly. “It makes my job easier, but it makes Ben’s a little harder.” I furrow my brow.

“How so?” I ask.

“He can’t get that close physical rapport with you. He has it with ‘Call me Ana,’ but he doesn’t have it with you. As a result, when he’s with the two of you alone, there’s a bit of a distance because you’re there.”

“Okay, but he’s been my CPO when you were unavailable, and nobody approached me, and nobody approached Butterfly.”

“That’s because when you’re alone, you’re unapproachable by yourself, so he’s just backup—as am I. I know you can take care of yourself, but I have to have your back. When you’re with Her Highness, she’s got Chuck, so by deduction, they know who he is. Right now, in casual clothes and deck shoes, he’s just some guy standing behind you. He’s more standoffish when you’re there than he is when he’s with Her Highness by herself, because they engage more. So once again, they know he’s her guard, but with you…” He trails off and calmly flourishes his hand at me.

“Okay, so, let me get this straight. He’s been with us for a while. He’s first CPO backup for both you and Chuck, and what you’re basically telling me is that he’s ineffective on his own as an officer because I’m around?”

“Yes and no,” Jason says. “He’s not ineffective as an officer. No harm has ever come to you or Her Highness on his watch, has it?”

He waits for an answer, but he knows that I’m not going to respond.

“You’re feeling the fact that you know those people wouldn’t have said anything had Chuck or I been around. Two of us are more effective than one of us no matter who it is. However, there are two of us who can get right into your personal space to the onlooker—physically and subconsciously—and he’s not one of them.

“He doesn’t have the physical rapport with you. Even Chuck has the physical rapport with you. That rapport, no matter where we are, says, ‘Don’t fuck with them. Do not engage.’ With Ben, depending on the circumstances, his presence may say the same thing, or it may say nothing at all. In a casual situation, they may not know who he is until he’s got somebody in a chokehold. And we can’t expect him to put someone in a chokehold for talking about your wife’s ass.”

“But I should expect something,” I retort. “I should expect him to make his presence known or intimidate the guy in some kind of way. This guy was brazen and even jeered me when I pulled her in front of me, and Lawrence did absolutely nothing. You would have done something.”

“That wouldn’t have happened if I was present, boss, and you know it. That’s why we’re having this conversation,” he points out.

He’s right. That guy clammed right up when Jason appeared and told us about priority boarding. He didn’t even approach the guy—didn’t even look at him. The guy had given me lip and shut right down when Jason started talking to me.

“It’s going to take him—and anybody else—quite some time to get even close to the level of comfort that I and Chuck have with you. Some of them are never going to even scratch the surface. Ben’s trying, and he’s doing a really good job under the circumstances. He just can’t be me or Chuck, boss. Think about it—how many other guards in your employ would you allow to live in your home?”

I shiver inwardly at the thought.

“Know that I put a fucking lot of faith in him to allow you and Her Highness to run around Sydney alone with him. And he did a good job. You both came back in one piece, having only suffered a little heckling from a woman who probably wanted you and a man who definitely wanted her. I’d say that’s a win, sir.”

I sigh heavily. Yeah, it’s a win. It’s just not the “flawless victory” that I’m accustomed to.
giphy

“I really hate it when you’re so damn logical,” I say, putting my phone back in the pocket of my shorts.

“What do you expect?” he says with a shrug.

“So, in all this chitter chatter, you haven’t answered my question. Should we ixnay the security while we’re on the ship, or do you think that’s a bad idea?”

“Do you feel like we’re cramping your style, sir?” he asks.

“Maybe just a little, but not really,” I admit. “Having a security detail does take away from a bit of the spontaneity, though.” He rubs his chin.

“I suppose that as long as we can track your watch and something on Her Highness, I don’t see why you need us around all the time. At the very least, you won’t need us both.”

“I don’t think she has anything that you can track besides her phone,” I point out, “and she’s not carrying that all over the ship. She’s with me all the time. Wouldn’t my Hublot be enough?” He shakes his head.

“That’s a no-go, sir,” he says finitely.

“Why? You don’t trust me to keep my own wife safe?” I ask bemused.

“Where is she now?” he asks flatly. I frown.

“You don’t know?” I say, nearly seething.

“Yes, I do know, but is she here?” he retorts. “Will your Hublot lead me to her right now?”

I deflate immediately. That’s something like 0 for 3 in Jason’s favor and I’m not liking that.

“Never mind, forget I asked,” I say. I’d better quit while I’m behind.

“I’m not saying that letting one of us off is a bad idea,” he says, “but I have a wife. I’m not going to enjoy a cruise without her. Ben may want to see the ship, catch some sun. I’ll just stay on duty.”

“Maybe you should both just stay on duty, too.” He shrugs.

“Totally up to you, sir. I would say that you don’t need two, though. Maybe, I’ll take one evening off out of the two that remain, order room service and veg out.”

“That’s not really a bad idea. When’s the last time you ‘vegged out?’” he shrugs again.

“Sometime with my wife, I don’t know.” He seems a little off when he answers that question.

“Something on your mind, Jason?” I ask, a little concerned. He twists his lips.

“Permission to speak freely,” he says. My brow furrows.

“I thought you already were,” I reply. He sighs.

“When you were ‘the single guy,’ the guy with the fembots who showed up on the weekends, it was different. It was different for us both. Gail and I spent a little time together and we were fond of each other. Even after we grew closer, it was still different—easier. When you had to take a quick business trip, or you flew across the country—or the world—it was just like it was in Madrid. You were all business, focused. I had a job to do and I just did it—cover your ass, that was it.

“Then, Her Highness comes along and changes everything. You did a complete 180 on me and I didn’t even know who the hell you were anymore. When she got kidnapped and you fell apart, I thought I had stepped off into the fifth dimension. I didn’t know how to react or what to do except get her the fuck back. I knew then that she was your Achilles Heel and if something happened to her, you would never recover. Hell had officially frozen over and before we got that first ping on that phone, I knew I wanted to marry Gail.

“It was you… and the fact that a 5-foot-3-inch Butterfly came along and melted your icy ass heart that made me realize I wanted to spend my life with that woman. I had planned to ask her before we left for Anguilla, but then I discovered that you were taking her, too, and I changed my mind and decided to wait. I thought to myself, ‘If this icy asshole can fall in love, what the hell am I waiting for?’

“Then came the trips to Paris… and Greece… and Napa… and the babymoon—all places I went without my wife, but I got to sit and watch you and your wife snuggled up together…”

And now, we get to the meat of it.

“Having to leave town at a moment’s notice isn’t anything new—for either of us—but having to go out of town to these romantic destinations without my wife… it’s a bit torturous. She would have loved to see the Sydney Opera House. She would have adored Napa. And the Eiffel Tower, she’s wanted to see that ever since she was a kid. And speaking of kids…” He trails off and I don’t know if that comment was a reference to the twins or Sophia or both.

“I’m not complaining, sir,” he points out. “You asked what was on my mind and this is what’s on my mind. Madrid was actually a breath of fresh air for what it was, because we both had to focus. Being in a couples environment can be a bit taxing without the one you love.” I sigh.

“Why don’t you both take the night off?” I tell him. “I’ll have Her Highness put her phone in her clutch or something. We’ll see how it works. Go have a beer or something. I’m fairly certain nothing’s going to happen and even if it does, you won’t allow yourself to be three sheets to the wind anyway.” He looks at me and nods.

“Duly noted,” he says.


ANASTASIA

I’ve fallen asleep naked in bed with my hair wet and I decide that I better get up and try to tame it, or it’s going to look like hell for formal night. That swim was divine, and my skin is sunkissed just enough to give me a pretty vacation glow, but once we ate, I felt completely waterlogged and needed an immediate nap. I stripped out of my dress and swimsuit, took a quick shower and relieved my boobs a bit, then fell out on the bed face down like a sack of potatoes. Now, my mane is all stringy and horrible, and I know that it’s going to be the vamp ponytail tonight because there’s nothing else that I can do with it.

I go to the bathroom and wet it down again, this time putting some leave-in conditioner in it along with some mousse at the roots and base and I partially blow-dry it that way. I put a ponytail holder in it, then dry the rest of it, causing the mousse to stiffen and hold the hair together while the tail falls straight and lazily down my back.

Christian’s still not back when I finish, so I don one of the complimentary terrycloth robes and go out onto the balcony with my phone. I haven’t journaled since I’ve been in Australia and quite frankly, I don’t want to. Having decided that I’m going back to Helping Hands—at least for the immediate future—I send a text off to Courtney asking if she’s willing to add to her duties and be my assistant at least until I make other arrangements. This, of course, leads to her asking about Marilyn. I rightly admit that I have no idea what’s going on with her, but life goes on and I need an assistant. She responds that she would be glad to help out.

We text some more about Harmony and Courtney tells me that she has returned to school, knowing that her mother would be very disappointed if she didn’t. She also informs me that Grace is very much out of sorts trying to figure out what she should be doing without me. Although I know that I shouldn’t be doing any victory laps or feeling any happiness over Grace’s calamity, I do! I need her to realize that even though she’s the head peg on the board, she can’t discount the rest of the pegs.

My mistake was that I became complacent—comfortable in the feeling that I was her equal when I’m clearly not. I am assistant director of Helping Hands—she’s the director. And she doesn’t hesitate to make sure that I know it. I don’t have a problem with my position. But I do have a problem with her not respecting my position—or my expertise.

And I’m going to retract that statement about not being her equal. She made me her equal. She gave me the authority. She had me doing all this work and making all these plans. I was autonomous, and I was making even more decisions than she was in some instances. Hiring the cleaning staff, interviewing people and chasing down background checks on viable candidates. Putting my marriage on the line for a useless and unnecessary investigation that didn’t cost her anything.

My position wasn’t imagined. This wasn’t my self-imposed level of comfort. This is where she put me. She put me in that slot of importance and value until I bucked against her. Then she had to knock me down a few notches.

I was going to send a text back to Courtney to tell her that it’s okay to inform Grace that I would be in next week. Instead, I send a different message:

**I guess it’s tough being the boss. **

I search my many text messages and, speak of the devil, I see two from Grace:

**I would like to know if you plan on returning to work. I just think that if you have decided to resign your position, you should please inform me of such. **

“Why should I inform you?”

I hadn’t really decided until recently that I was or wasn’t returning to Helping Hands. I felt like since she has no problems making decisions regardless of my concern or input, then what do you need me for? Even now, after I’ve decided to return to Helping Hands, I’m not sure that any decisions that I make or put in place are even going to stick. Is she going to look at something that I’ve decided to do and just sweep it away with the wave of her hand? That’s what she did with Courtney and Addie. A year’s worth of building this girl up and watching her grow and she just comes along and says, “No, I think this is what we should do.” We’re only lucky that it ended semi-well—this could have been a disaster.

She’s broken my trust and she won’t acknowledge it. It’s pretty much “take it or leave it.”

**I’ve just been informed that you left for a cruise in Australia this past weekend. Please contact me as soon as you get the opportunity. We really need to talk. **

Her messages sound professional and contrite, but I’m still feeling like she’s totally disregarded me, and I just don’t want to deal with it right now. I’m in need of some baby time after mulling over the Grace situation, and even though I feel guilty for not waiting for Christian, I can’t wait.

Refreshed and revitalized after getting my Minnie and Mikey fix, I turn to my long list of emails to see if anything needs immediate attention. There’s nothing particularly pressing, but I do notice one from Christian sent to R&D—and a whole bunch of other folks—asking why James’ software hasn’t been tested and produced. I was expecting to see the usual Christian Grey Long Arm of the Law, but I didn’t see any of that—which is strange, and a bit unsettling. And his ass is working on the cruise.

And what the hell are you doing?
Point taken.

I put a little salt on the situation by responding to all that I was under the impression that the groundbreaking software that has already proven to be worth its weight in gold was well past the research and development stage and was now somewhere in production and marketing. I also asked if I was mistaken about the process and timeline of things in GEH and requested that someone please enlighten me. Just as I’m pressing “send,” I hear the door open to the cabin. I close my email and scroll through things trending on the internet to see if anything fresh or new has hit the web about me and Christian.

“You’re awake,” he says, stepping out onto the balcony.

“I have been for a little while,” I say, raising my eyes from my phone. “You’ve been working.”

“Um… yeah,” he says sheepishly. I stand from my seat.

“No sweat,” I say, kissing him on the cheek. “I’ve been working, too.” I walk back into the bedroom and open the closet. I see that Jason has had both of my formal dresses pressed, obviously not knowing which one I would choose to wear tonight. I choose the red one with the nude Louboutin stilettos—simple and sexy, and perfect since I’m doing the vamp ponytail.

“I’m considering giving security the night off,” Christian says, stepping off the balcony and into the bedroom. I turn my gaze to him.

“Really?” It’s a question, but it comes out more like a statement. “What’s brought this on?”

“Just seeing how we move about the ship,” he replies. “This is a pretty controlled environment. What can happen to us here?” I shrug. He’s right. For one thing, we left on vacation very suddenly. Anyone possibly stalking us would need as much money and freedom as we do to have followed us here. For another thing, nobody seems to know who we are, so as long as we have security when we get to ports of call, I don’t see any harm in letting the guys roam the ship until we need them… if we need them.

“The catch is that you have to carry your phone with you, though,” he adds. “They can track my watch, but they have nothing to track on you.” I look at his arm.

“Your Hublot?” I ask. “They’ve tampered with your Hublot?”

“I was surprised, too, but apparently, yes,” he says. “Besides my phone, it’s the only thing that stays with me at all times.”

He says it so matter-of-factly, but the words hit me right in the heart. He doesn’t realize that the key around his neck that I gave him in Anguilla stays with him at all times, too, because he never takes it off. When you wear something without thinking, it becomes somewhat invisible, but the fact that he only wears my Hublot when he has so many options warms me right down to my very soul.

“Sure, I’ll… carry my phone,” I say, turning away and trying to hide my emotions. He’s behind me in a moment.

“What is it, baby?” he asks, concerned. “Did I say something wrong.”

“No,” I say, swiping away a tear before I turn to face him. “It’s just me being a silly, weepy, emotional girl. You have so many beautiful watches. I didn’t realize that you only wore mine.” His gaze softens, and the corners of his mouth turn up infinitesimally.

“This is the most beautiful of them all,” he says, putting his hands on my waist. “I cried when I saw this that day. If watches didn’t irritate me so much when I sleep, I’d never take it off.”

“We don’t have time before dinner for you to get laid, Mr. Grey, but your effort is stellar,” I say coquettishly. His smile is full now.

“I’ll keep working on it then,” he says suggestively.

And work on it, he did. He growls when he sees the red silk maxi dress Vickie outfitted me with and the simple patent-leather nude Louboutin stilettos. I accent the outfit with my Chanel Cometé collection and a red satin clutch. I suit my husband in a dark charcoal suit with black shirt and textured black tie and his signature Caesar Picotti’s. I knew the suit would work if I wore the red or the black on formal night. As he admires me in the red, I admire him in the black and catch a glimpse of something shining from his other wrist. When I get a good look at it, I nearly swoon.

I packed his black onyx cuff links to go with the shirt. He packed his onyx, gold, and diamond bracelet—the one I gave him as a wedding present with the Hublot. I had forgotten all about it until he just put it on… and his key is displayed outside his shirt and tie. I take a deep breath and unsuccessfully attempt to appear unaffected. He extends his elbow to me.

“Shall we, Mrs. Grey?” he asks. I retrieve my clutch from the bureau.

“We shall,” I say softly as I take his arm.

We have dinner in the main dining room which means that we are seated with three other couples at our table. There should have been four, but the fourth “couple” would have been Jason and Ben. The dining room is stunning. We enter through a grand staircase reminiscent of Titanic grandeur. A large, elegant chandelier adorns the middle of the large, three-story ballroom-esque dining room. Large tables are dressed in exquisite linens, fine china, highly-polished silverware, and classic crystal.

Passengers are dressed in their red-carpet finest and although my neckline is plunging, mine is not the most risqué ensemble in attendance tonight.

Christian pulls a chair out for me and two of the three women already seated at the table are salivating all over themselves. Yes, ladies, I know he’s hot.

We discover that the two drooling women and their companions are French, and the older woman and her husband are Italian. They all speak English, but occasionally, each couple may break off into their native tongue.

For our entrées, we have the choice roasted duck served with mashed potatoes and caramelized onions and a warm beet salad, filet mignon served with baked potatoes and Mediterranean zucchini and chickpea salad, or lobster tails with roasted Brussels sprouts and macaroni and cheese. At the risk of sounding high-nosed, I do not want any filet mignon. I feel as though we are expected to eat it because we’re on a high-end cruise.

Unable to choose between the duck or the lobster, I choose them both with the mashed potatoes and the Mediterranean salad. When the waiter brings my meal, the two French ladies break into their native tongue talking about the amount of food that I’m eating. One of them even comments that I will most likely regurgitate my entire meal once I’m finished. Christian looks over at me and I raise a brow at him and smile, daintily eating my meal so as not to drop anything on my dress.

The Italian couple engages us in conversation about America and where we’ve traveled with my husband doing most of the talking about foreign destinations. I only pipe in when we talked about Anguilla. The catty women continue to make snide comments about me, my dress, my meal, the fact that I’m not answering any of the questions that the Califanos ask about exotic locations and that Christian is doing most of the talking. When it looks like my husband is about to respond, I put my hand on his knee to calm him and shake my head when he turns to look at me.

“Their men should teach their damn puppies some manners or put them on a leash!” he hisses, low enough for only me to hear.

“Apparently, dogs can roam freely on this ship,” I say without restraint. No one has any idea what I’m talking about, and the women all look at me like I’m a Martian. The French men haven’t said anything all night beyond introducing themselves, and I can’t help but wonder if they’re hired escorts or something.

This “banter,” for lack of a better word, goes on for several more minutes, during which time I force myself to finish my meal while Christian finishes his—with more insults from the French cunts serving as background noise. When he’s eaten his last bite, I place my fork on the plate and dab my mouth with my napkin, indicating that I’ve had enough of this meal and choosing to forgo dessert. One of the French women comments—in French, of course—that I must be getting ready to go and vomit and they both laugh. Christian puts his fork down and I toss my napkin onto my plate.

“Dames,” I say. Instinctively, their heads turn to me and their giggles cease. “Je ne vomis pas pour rester en forme, je pratique les arts martiaux, le yoga et la musculation. Vous devez faire attention à la manière dont vous parlez des autres dans des lieux publics. Vous ne savez jamais qui peut parler votre langue. Profitez de votre dessert.”

All the color leaves their faces as they realize I’ve been privy to every dirty and hateful thing they’ve said about me all night. I move to stand and Christian rushes to pull my chair back. All of the men at the table stand, even their dates, as I move from my seat and proceed to leave the table. Christian stops me from leaving and tucks my arm into his elbow before turning to our dinner companions.

“Mr. and Mrs. Califano,” he says before turning to the French diners. “Mesdames, messieurs, passez une bonne nuit.”

I would think the men were wearing earplugs because they haven’t reacted to anything all night. The women, on the other hand, look as if they could just curl up and die right at any moment. My husband effectively twisted the knife by letting them know that he was also privy to every word they were saying, after which, he leads me from the dining room and away from what should have been a pleasant experience.

“Do you want to go back to the stateroom?” he asks. I shake my head.

“I’ve been asleep all afternoon. I’m not going to let a couple of jealous Frenchies ruin my night. I’m beginning to wish we had asked Jason and Ben to come with us.”

“That wouldn’t have stopped them,” he says. “They thought we didn’t know what they were saying. So, in their eyes, they hadn’t offended us. That’s why they didn’t say it in English.” I roll my eyes.

“It seems we… or I… bring out the worst in people wherever I go, even on an entirely different continent!” I lament.

“First of all, you can’t hold yourself responsible for other people’s bad behavior. And second, all the bad behavior you’ve seen today and yesterday was because you look like a million bucks. Everyone who has had anything to say was either jealous or they wanted you. Tell me I’m wrong.”

“You think those hateful bitches at the Sydney Opera House were jealous?” I ask incredulously.

“I most certainly do!” he exclaimed. “You looked delicious in that jersey-legging thing you were wearing yesterday—fucking delicious! And nobody was carrying them on their backs!”

He’s got a good point.

We’re silent for a moment as we walk through the hallway of the ship. When we get to the bank of elevators, we look at the maps of the decks.

“Where do you want to go?” he asks. I review the maps quickly and point to my desired location.

“There,” I reply.

*-*

A few minutes later, we find ourselves in a small club called Cagney’s. I was able to order some tiramisu since I skipped dessert along with a deliciously nutty ruby port wine—not my first choice, but fabulous as a pairing with the tiramisu.

I chose this bar because it has karaoke and I’m feeling like my vacation is on the verge of being ruined by a couple of uncouth French twats. So, I deduce that Karaoke will be a nice way to loosen up. The tiramisu was a bonus.

There aren’t many people in the bar right now since it’s still fairly early, but there’s enough for a small party and cheering—or booing—section… about twenty, I would say. So, when the DJ calls my name, I’m ready for the performance of my life, and my song choice is evidence of that.

I turn away from the mic and wait for the song to begin. I don’t need the screen—I know all the words. I’m glad to hear that after the drum and base-beat intro, the track already has the backup vocals. So, I can concentrate on a mouth-watering performance. My dress isn’t tight, but I can still feel the silk gliding over my skin, so I can tell that what curves I do have are on demure display.

I have to sing in this soft falsetto voice to get the same effect as the original song, so I get the mic as close as I can without touching it so the audience can hear me.

“Many saaaaaaay that I’m too young to let you know just where I’m coming from…”

I’m bending one knee and bouncing my hips demurely to the beat of the song and flourish my arms artfully as I talk about people being uptight and the way that me and my man carry on. I mimic many of the original choreographed moves from the video from Sparkle with Irene Cara in it, including the synchronized hand movements when I talk about Giving Him Something He Can Feel, which causes the audience to come alive with a few cheers and a couple of catcalls.

Once the crowd has loosened up a bit, I borrow a few moves from the En Vogue version, rolling my hips from left to right and shifting my weight while slowly bending alternate knees, allowing my ass to caress the silk of my red dress and round out nicely on each shift. I add a bit of flare of my own when I spin that ponytail around once and pop my neck back strategically on one of the “ooo’s” in the song, poking my crimson lips out at the same time. The video is playing in my head and I’m wishing I had some elbow-length gloves to do a mini-strip tease like En Vogue did on stage.

The room is breathing, pulsing, and sweating with sexual tension as well as a bit of female animosity and envy. I can see some of the women in the crowd—particularly the ones in the front—glaring at me and whispering among themselves. More of the French whore haterade. It just spurns me on because I can easily see that the men are salivating all over themselves just like the ones in the video, and Christian is looking at me like he would come up on stage and eat me alive if he could right at this very moment.

I stick my leg out to showcase my nude stilettos. Then I bend down and drag my fingertips from my ankle up my calf and the exposed part of my thigh, up my torso, breast and neck, then pose my fingers upright next to my face as I turn my head away to showcase the diamonds and platinum on my ring finger. I know the final gesture is lost on many of the men in the audience and most likely only tends to anger the women even more, many of them stamping me a trophy wife from my performance and the size of my ring, but that’s okay. I’ll be a goddamn trophy tonight. I’m hot and I know it and I’m not up here cooing and gyrating so that these people can admire my intellect.

Once the last note of the song plays, the crowd erupts with applause from the men and some of the women who weren’t hating on me while I was performing. I move to the stairs and at least eight men rush the stage to help me down. I gaze over the faces looking for the one that should be there and waiting to see if he’ll make an appearance. Sure enough, a few seconds later, he makes his way to the stage.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” he says in his powerful baritone voice. “I’d like to retrieve my wife.”

The men simultaneously look over their shoulders at him with distain before parting and allowing him access to the stairs. He holds his hand out to me and I give him my fingertips while daintily lifting my dress with my free hand to prevent taking a spill down the stairs. We both know that this is just a display for onlookers as I have absolutely no problem negotiating the stairs on my own. The men lining the stairs all look quite crestfallen as my husband kisses my hand before tucking it into his elbow and leading me back to our table.

“You are a vixen,” he accuses as he pushes my chair in for me.

“I try,” I say, giving him a mischievous smile.


A/N: “Dames, Je ne vomis pas pour rester en forme, je pratique les arts martiaux, le yoga et la musculation. Vous devez faire attention à la manière dont vous parlez des autres dans des lieux publics. Vous ne savez jamais qui peut parler votre langue. Profitez de votre dessert.”—“Ladies, I do not vomit to stay in shape, I practice martial arts, yoga and bodybuilding. You have to be careful about how you talk about others in public places. You never know who can speak your language. Enjoy your dessert. “

“Mesdames, messieurs, passez une bonne nuit.” —”Ladies and gentlemen, have a good night.”

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. Be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last on the menu or you can click HERE.

There has been yet another development where if you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu entitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE

The Australia Picture Board can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-the-trip-to-australia/ and the pictures from today’s chapter are in the Luxury Cruise Ship” section.

And of course, the regular Pinterest board is here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

What’s In A Name?

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” or as bitter.

So, I thought I would give you guys a chance to contribute to the story a bit. People are constantly telling me that they are going back and reading the story from the beginning. If that’s true, then you’ve noticed that I’ve been making little changes and tweaks to “Paging Dr. Steele” for quite some time now–editing out as many grammatical errors as I can find and doing things to make the entire series more cohesive.

(This is what I do in my spare time when my Muse doesn’t want to cooperate.)

So, as you all know, in book four, I’ve decided to make Ana a psychiatrist for all those nitpickers who couldn’t get the message that “Ph.D” makes you a “DOCTOR” even if you don’t have your “M.D.” That would be why the degree is called a “doctorate…” but I digress. As a result, once I have edited all of PDS, I’ll be going back through to change every instance of “Psychologist” to Psychiatrist” and “Psy.D” to “M.D.” So, now for the nitpickers who want to say, “How could she become a doctor so young?” You figure it out.

And I digress again.

Here’s where I need your help. I had to agree with the vocal people who voiced opinions about Ana’s father and little brother’s name being so close to the name of her nemesis who kidnapped and brutalized her. So, I’m having a “NAME HARRIS” contest. From now until I have completed the edits for PDS (which won’t be long), I’ll be taking suggestions for what Harris’ new name will be. Once I have finished the edits, I’ll be going back through to change his name. A few things to remember.

  1. I’ll only be changing his last name. His first name will still be Robert.
  2. The BEST place to submit your suggestions would be in the comments on this blog, or on my Facebook author’s page in the thread that has this link. Submissions to my email, to Twitter, or to any instant messenger or PM may very well get lost in the shuffle.
  3. It can’t be any of the last names that I’ve already used for another character.
  4. I’m going to pick the three submissions that I like the best and have you guys vote on the choices, and that’s how we’ll rename Harris. By getting you guys involved, I figure when you see the name change, there will be less “WTF’s.”

So, what’s in a name? You tell me…

~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 75—Ship Shenanigans

Here comes some more of that horrible Australian accent, and a LOT of it, so…

ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: 

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

I’ve seen a lot of death these past two weeks—a lot of friends losing friends and family. Please be kind to one another and don’t fail to let the ones you love know that you love them. 

This is a work of creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.

I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues…

Chapter 75—Ship Shenanigans

ANASTASIA

“Do you get people lashing out at you that way when Chuck is with you?” Christian asks as we dutifully follow Jason through the terminal. I shrug.

“I don’t know. Sometimes, I guess. There’s always a smart-ass somewhere,” I point out. “Then again, you’re not that prone to carrying me on your back.”

“It’s not that,” he says, looking around before pulling me closer to him. “When I’m with Jason or Jason is with us, people don’t fuck with us. From what I understand, when you’re with Chuck, people generally don’t fuck with you.” He looks around again then leans down to me. “But with Lawrence, it’s like he’s not even here. At the Opera House when that woman heckled you and just now with those guys standing behind us…”

“So, I did miss something,” I observe aloud.

“Not much,” he continues, “just a couple of jerks talking about your ass. But that’s the thing. They shouldn’t have even felt comfortable enough to say that shit—none of them! Granted, I’m not expecting Lawrence to clothesline somebody for talking about your ass, but I can guarantee that had Chuck or Jason been standing there, those fuckers would have kept their mouth shut, as would have that ‘tosser’ at Sydney Opera House. His presence should mean something, but apparently, it doesn’t.”

“Well, that’s the key word, Christian,” I say looking around to take note of Ben’s position and making sure that he can’t hear me. “Presence. Jason and Chuck have a presence all their own—even more so when they’re around us. Jason is the boss and he knows he is. He’s been running around Australia all day exchanging your money and arranging your shit…”

“Our money,” he corrects me.

“Whatever,” I reply. “The point is that he’s a mover and a shaker and he doesn’t need anybody to tell him that. Your power is transmitted through him through association and he knows that. Chuck has a power all his own. He’s responsible for me and he knows that there’s nowhere in the world—in heaven or hell or any dimension imaginable—that he can hide if something happens to me on his watch. He makes it no secret that I am his charge.

“Whatever combat experience Ben has, he hasn’t had Grey combat experience. I’m certain that he’s good at what he does and if Jason trusts him, I trust him. But Jason took a bullet for you; Chuck took a missile for me; what combat experience has Ben had?”

Christian twists his lips and looks over at Ben, who’s examining his surroundings very carefully and keeping people out of our general area while Jason leads the way. Christian rolls his eyes.

“Well, excuse me for saying it, but I’m glad he’s just backup,” Christian points out. “I’m just going to have to be on my toes a little more during this trip.”

“You most certainly will not!” I snap, louder than I intend. Jason and Ben both look at me. “As you were,” I say calmly, and after a short pause, we proceed down the corridor. I turn my attention back to my husband. “You’re going to relax, have fun, and enjoy yourself on this cruise, and let these men do their jobs, or we can summon the jet and go home now.”

My husband doesn’t respond. I give him a few more moments to acknowledge my statement. When there’s still no response, I stop in my tracks—right there in the middle of the priority boarding terminal. I don’t care if we’re in Sydney, the outback, or Death fucking Valley. I’ll summon that goddamn plane. He turns around and looks at me with a frown on his face.

“What?” he says. Jason and Ben have both stopped walking, too. I fold my arms and purse my lips. Don’t test me, Grey. My phone is already in my hand. He rolls his eyes a takes a step back to me.

“Okay, okay, you win, fine,” he says, grabbing my hand and pulling me along the terminal.

“I’m not kidding,” I threaten, walking double-steps to keep up with his long strides. “I’ll do it.”

“I know you will,” he says without stopping.

*-*

Now, I’ve never been on a cruise ship before, but I’ve seen them on television. This ain’t your average cruise ship. I have no idea where to start.

The moment we cross the gangplank and embark the ship, we’re greeted with a glass of pink champagne. Looking at all this opulence and grandeur, I have no idea how to behave. I’m a billionairess with money to burn who owns half of a billion-dollar company and got married in a castle, and I still don’t know how to act right now. The promenade deck looks like what I would expect the inside of an exclusive, high-end, multilevel shopping mall to look like. I definitely want to get lost in the beautiful splendor of this luxury cruise ship, but first, nature calls… in more ways than one.

With the threat of another milktastrophe, Jason hurries us to our cabins. We have to go to the upper deck and aaaaaaaaaaallllllll the way to the back of the ship to get to our staterooms. We have ginormous cabins that are next to each other, each cabin able to sleep five people. Maybe cabin is the wrong word. The correct word is suite. However, this suite is bigger than my first three apartments. It’s more than 1500 square feet—living room, dining room, study, two bedrooms with king-sized beds and two full bathrooms with marble tubs and Jacuzzis, one of which has been set up as a milking station.

Jason thought of everything.

Christian goes to the suite next door to talk to Jason and Ben, and I immediately take to emptying the food factory. You never know how full they are until you start to empty them—or until they start leaking.

Unable to leave the regular world behind for too long, I open my email to see what’s happening in the life I left behind for a week. Everyone tried to find Gary, but he’s quite incommunicado. Al used GEH’s resources to ascertain that he’s at least still alive and still in Seattle, still working at City of Lights and staying in a small studio near his job. What I hate the most is not being able to talk to him and see if he’s okay. He’s going through something, too, and he’s not talking to any of his closest friends. So, he’s effectively going through it alone. I tell Al to pop up on him at that little studio he’s living in and tell me how he’s doing. I realize that it’s a terrible invasion of privacy, but you can’t just cut your closest friends—your family—off like that without a word when we know that you’re hurting.

There’s nothing else from Marilyn, either. I can’t imagine the emotional torment she’s suffering right now. I know that she’s in love with Gary and that this is tearing her apart inside, but to be forced to endure this unbearable heartache coupled with the religious bullying of her parents… that’s more than anyone should be subjected to.

Courtney and Vickie had lunch with Addie and Fred yesterday. She admitted that it was awkward as she’s getting to know her grandparents all over again… and they’re getting to know her. She points out that Addie was astounded by her dedication to her career choice and seemed very interested in what she plans on doing with the future. Fred, on the other hand, still seemed quite skeptical and Courtney couldn’t blame him. I can only imagine how Christian would react to anyone putting me through the emotional warfare that Courtney inflicted on her grandmother. For that reason, she’s not sure if the rift between her and her grandfather will ever be completely mended, but she’s resolved to deal with whatever happens.

“I just don’t have the energy for the fight anymore,” she writes. “I just want to live my life and play whatever hand I’ve been dealt, but I’m not going to allow anybody to beat me over the head for past mistakes, not even my grandfather. Forgive me or don’t, but either way, move on. I certainly am.”

Very well said, Ms. Courtney.

Harmony’s mum right now and I respond to Courtney to make sure she checks on her. I change the pump to my other breast and check the time—2:30pm. I don’t know what time it is in Seattle, but I miss my babies.

“I know why you’re calling,” Gail says when she sees my face on the screen. “You’re right on time. We’ve just finished their baths and they’re getting ready for bed.” She flips the screen, and my chubby-cheeked baby girl is smiling back at me.

“Hi, Minnie Mouse!” I squeal, my heart warming immediately. She bounces happily at the sound of my voice. “Hey, baby girl. Do you miss Mommy? Mommy misses you!” I blow several kisses into the screen and coo at my baby, my milk flowing much easier out of my breast at the sight of her. We coo for several more moments before Keri brings my little prince to the screen.

“Hey, there Mikey!” I exclaim in the same sing-songy voice. “How’s my little man? Are you taking good care of the ladies? I love you, Mikey!” I blow more kisses into the phone at my little boy, my heart swelling with love, almost to the point of bursting at the sight of my beautiful babies.

“Hey!” Christian says, bursting into the bathroom. “You’re stealing baby time without me!” He crouches down next to me and looks at the screen. “Hey, Mikey,” he says in a sing-songy voice. “How’s my big guy? Daddy misses you!”

Mikey coos and laughs at the screen, reaching for the phone and babbling something inaudible.

“I don’t know how to take that,” I say, and Christian turns a bemused look at me. “He’s seems happier to see you than he was to see me.”

“It’s a guy thing, baby,” he says before turning back to the screen… and he’s completely serious! What the hell do you mean it’s a guy thing? I’m his mother! I carried him in my body for nine months! I’m the source of his food and life! What’s this guy thing bullshit?

Then, I realize that he’s probably right, because as much as Minnie loves her Daddy, she coddles and coos when he’s on video chat with her, but she went nuts when she saw me… so that must be a girl thing.

Still… I’m the food factory. Show me some respect.

We say goodbye to our children and I feel a bit melancholy with the parting.

“I know you love our babies,” Christian says. “I love them, too, but if you’re going to go into that mood each time you talk to them, I’m going to limit your talk time to only one more time this week. So, if you want to keep your ‘every day’ privileges…” He trails off and cocks his head at me. He’s right, of course.

“I know,” I say, only a bit heart-hurt. “Just give me a minute.” He raises his brow at me, but leaves me in the restroom. It’s just the separation anxiety, that’s all. I hate being without my babies… and for a whole damn week!

I remove the breast pump from my now-empty boob. Pouring the milk down the sink doesn’t do much to help my current state of mind. I let the tears fall as I clean and sanitize the pump and leave the parts out to dry. I splash some cold water on my face, then use a cool washcloth to minimize the swollen, puffy eyes. I apply some tinted moisturizer, a tiny bit of blusher and a hint of bronzer with a fresh coat of deep pink lip gloss before I exit the bathroom. Christian raises his gaze from his phone, takes one look at me and raises a brow at me.

“Yes, I cried,” I say unapologetically. “Leave me alone.”

He sighs and twists his lips. Rising from the bed, he takes me in his arms and folds me into a warm embrace.

“What am I going to do with you?” he asks.

“This helps,” I swallow and sigh. I miss my babies so much, but I want to have a good time, too.

“We’re going to have to start calling each other ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy,’” he says. I raise my gaze to his and frown.

“What? Why?”

“The babies are recognizing words, making little sounds. If we don’t change soon, they’ll be calling us ‘Christian’ and ‘Ana…’ or ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Sir…’ or ‘Boss’ and ‘Her Highness…’”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” I interject, “but I’m not having the staff call me ‘Mommy,’ and I’m certain that you don’t want Jason to slip up and call you ‘Daddy’ in the boardroom.”

“Well, we’ll have to work something out there, but my children won’t be calling me ‘Christian,’” he reinforces.

Okay, it’s time to explore this floating resort.

We still have an hour or so before we shove off and quite frankly, I’m starving. Breakfast was quite early and has long since been burned off through the Sydney Tower Eye, the Opera House, and the walks to get to both locations. One thing I would definitely suggest before you get on a cruise ship—decide what you want to eat before you go strolling around the ship, especially one this large with this many choices.

Buffet…
Steakhouse…
Italian…
Mexican…
Thai…
Pizza…
Burgers…
Chinese…
Sandwiches and wraps…
Gluten-free…
Vegetarian…
Vegan…
Sushi…

Hmm, sushi… we have a winner.

Somewhere during our walk, we wander upon a restaurant called Do You Like What Sushi. Apparently, this little joint has collected recipes for Sushi from all over the damn world and herded them in this one little place. I start with fresh oysters and a sashimi platter of tuna, salmon, and sturgeon caviar with fresh shredded and sliced cucumber and avocado slices.

And then the sushi roll parade begins!

No rice sushi, salmon roe battleship sushi, snow crab sushi, king crab battleship sushi, salmon dreams sushi, Alaskan avocado roll sushi, yo sushi wrapped in tobiko, tiger rolls, rainbow colored tempura rolls, California rolls, various assortments of nigiri, tamagoyaki, unagi, saba… I had to tap out, because it just kept coming! Oh, but wait…

What’s a good Beluga caviar without an accompanying Stoli? Two healthy double-shots of a sharp charcoal-filtered premium vodka with some of the finest caviar in the world and I’m floating before the ship sets sail.

We begin to float around the ship and take in what will be our home away from home. It’s a really big ship with lots to see, but damn near around every corner is somewhere else to eat! I’m full of vodka and caviar, and the buffet has so many damn food choices that it’s making me want to eat again! We walk through a tunnel that I’m sure I haven’t traveled before because it looks like it’s full of golden sculptures—I shall name it the Academy Award Hall—but somehow, we end up back in a part of the ship I somewhat remember, which is good because it’s now time for the muster drill.

Our meeting place was in one of the main dining rooms. There are a lot of people in the room and we’re just sitting where we can fit—not necessarily at the tables even though there are lots of people at tables, but more people are sitting on the benches, on the floors, on stairs, wherever we can fit. We watch this corny video explaining the safety procedures, the life jackets, the do’s and don’ts of emergency evacuation, and then we have to sit through a message from the captain before we can leave.

The boat whistles are blowing by the time we’ve heard the message from the captain, which—quite frankly—we could have heard from anywhere on the ship. Now, Christian and I are scrambling to get back to the Lido deck so that we don’t miss the sail away.

When we get there, it’s already an insane party underway. There’s a live band playing and there are people lined up around the banisters of the boat waving and watching as we pull out of Sydney Harbor. So, there are a few things that I discover up here in the sunlight while at the “sail away” party…

There’s a giant butterfly sculpture at the end of the pool. I’ll have to take a picture with that before we disembark.

Apparently, it’s an insult and a cardinal sin to be walking around this floating resort and not have a drink in your hand—and our tickets have alcohol included. So, even though I’m still buzzing from vodka and champagne, I now have the Drink of the Day in my hand, which is some fruit frozen cocktail in a souvenir glass. Bottoms up to me.

The operators of the ferries and some of the smaller boats in the harbor are very confident in the mechanical abilities and maneuverability of their vessels. The cruise ship is huge and it’s backing out of the harbor. It doesn’t stop. Once that monster starts moving, it can slow down to a float if it needs to or has to turn around or something, but there’s no “hit the brakes and the boat go screech.” No, ma’am! If you get clipped or caught behind, too close to, or underneath this monster, your little boat is toothpicks.

And yet… these smaller boats on the harbor will still play chicken with this cruise ship.

They cut around the back while the ship is turning; they race the ship and jump in front of it trying to get around it while the ship is picking up speed. It’s like watching a Vespa racing to cut off a 22-wheeler tractor-trailer! That mishap would surely be the swift and speedy end of this vacation. So, instead of focusing on the idiots playing chicken with the big boat, I turn my attention to a more pleasant view.

It’s not quite sunset, but Sydney has a bit of twilight glow right now. With the Opera House and the glorious Harbor Bridge plastered on this beautiful backdrop, I find myself mesmerized by the sight while looking over the railing with my husband’s arms firmly around my waist. I’m overcome with an immense feeling of gratefulness that I get to see this view right at this time from this particular vantage point as we pull out of Sydney Harbor. It’s stunning.

I can’t help but think about my many blessings—the fact that I’m seeing a view that many people will never get to see; that I enjoy the best of everything in life simply because I fell in love with a guy who sometimes has more money than sense; that I’ve gained a beautiful family, wonderful friends, and a fabulous life from marrying this man—and that I could never see myself without him.

It could be that the alcohol has me a bit maudlin or it could be the thoughts of my beautiful babies resurfacing, but I feel tears welling up in my eyes again and one escapes down my cheek as I enjoy the final views of the harbor. Christian doesn’t scold me. I think he knows that I’m overwhelmed with the view, and he simply snuggles me closer into him and presses a gentle kiss on my neck.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

I look over at the woman a few feet away from me. Her companion has one arm around her enjoying the view and she’s looking at me with a soft smile.

“I feel silly,” I say, wiping the tears from my cheek. Those are the only words I can form.

“Don’t,” she says. “It’s enchanting. I live here, and I never tire of that view.”

I look at her and try to hide my bemusement. I’ll admit that in the small time that I’ve been here, I’ve noticed that Australian accents cover an extremely wide range—from nearly indecipherable to almost no accent at all. She’s on the no accent at all end of the spectrum.

“My name’s Laura. Not a native Sydneysider. I’m American,” she says reading my thoughts. “Found the love of my life on the internet and moved here ten years ago. I never looked back.”

“On the internet…” I say, and my words trail off. Her companion looks over her shoulder and smiles at me, waving with his free hand. He has a kind and friendly face, someone you could easily strike up a conversation with if you saw him in a crowded bar or at a party…

… Or on a cruise.

“It’s true,” he says, his accent heavily Australian. “OI found Lahra hehr on a dayting soite. OI was thehr as a joke. Mah mates put me up to it. But one dahy OI was foolin’ around with the thing and OI saw Lahra. She had such sad oyes, but she was enchanting. OI was stricken immehdiately.”

“We talked online and on the phone for a few months, but I knew,” Laura continues. “I wasn’t happy in the states. My son was killed in a car accident a few years earlier and my husband never recovered from the loss. He blamed anybody and anything for the loss including me, and we ended up getting a divorce. It was two whole years before I even considered dating, then I get on this website. There were a lot of encounters with frogs before my prince showed up.”

I sip my delicious frozen drink while Laura and her beau tell us how she became a Sydneysider.

“When she agreed to meeyt, OI was on the fihrst bihrd headed east to Saynt Louis to see my guhl. OI stayed foh two weeks and didn’t want ta leeyve. OI came back and was without her for three months before OI lost ma moind. OI ahsked her and promised to move to the Staytes if she didn’t want ta live hehr.”

“So, let’s think,” she says. “Live in the States with all the heartache and the memories of my lost life and family or move to Sydney with a man that I adore and who adores me and start a new life… hmmm. Guess which one I chose.”

“Wow,” I say, “you seem really nice…” I pause and wait for him to give his name.

“Jaxon, with an ‘ehx’,” he replies. I nod.

“I’m Ana and this is my husband, Christian,” I say. He and Christian shake hands and exchange pleasantries.

“You seem really nice, Jaxon, but with all the crazies out here, I just can’t imagine flying back and forth across the world and then eventually moving to another country to be with someone you barely know. How could you be sure? I mean, what would you have done had this been… a scam… or something worse?” I address the question to them both.

“OI don’t know,” Jaxon answers honestly. “To tell yeh the truth, OI loved her from neahrly the vehry beginning. OI loved her so much, OI just knew OI couldn’t be without her. Nothin’ else mattehred.”

“Laura, you felt the same way?” my husband asks.

“Even more so,” Laura replies. “I hadn’t felt alive in years—I mean, literally dead inside. And then, Jaxon…” she trails off and looks at him. “He came back to the States and we were married almost immediately. Then we flew back here, and we were married here, too. My friends thought I was crazy, that I was just doing it because I was lonely—that I missed Devon and I wanted my husband Tom back, but that wasn’t it. I was not happy, and I found someone who made me happy. It was that simple. Live in misery or live in happiness. Where’s the dilemma there?” I nod and look over my shoulder at Christian.

“I’m curious,” I say, “what made you tell me your story? You had no idea who I was.” She smiles.

“You were crying at a sunset, dear,” she says. “And no offense, but you’re on an exclusive cruise line where even the inner cabins are more than the average person can afford. So, unless you’re wealthy serial killers, I don’t think we have too much to worry about. Not to mention that the way he’s holding you, either you’re newlyweds or you’ve got a similar story.”

“Well, we’re not exactly newlyweds,” I say. “I guess it depends on whose calendar you’re looking at. We’ve been married for 18 months and we have a set of twins at home. We’ve been together for two and a half years and it seems like a lifetime…”

“And our story is similar,” Christian says. I turn to him, bemused.

“In what way?” I asked. They fell in love at first sight—over the internet! I hated his ass… in person!

“In that way that when you know, you know,” he says finitely… and shut me right up.

“Aaah, thehr’s a story thehr, too,” Jaxon observes, pulling his wife closer to him. We share the short version of our story—meeting and hating each other, the accidental kiss, the longing from a distance, the denial, the crashed date and eventual consummation. We leave out the parts about the kidnapping, the pedophile, the BDSM lifestyle—you know, all the stuff that makes people run away screaming.

Christian and I talk to Laura and Jaxon a little while longer, then the live band starts to sing Pink Let’s Get This Party Started.

I’d love to chat, but I must dance!

“Come, Laura,” I say, grabbing her hand. “Let’s go dance!”

“What about me?” Christian asks in mock horror.

“You can watch,” I say with a wink before dragging Laura onto the floor. I need to dance the melancholy away. I still have residual feelings of all the shit going on at home and I don’t want any of it right now…

Feeling homesick for my babies…
Grace not respecting my opinion or concerns at Helping Hands…
Harmony’s current circumstance trying to wrap things up with her mom’s estate…
Marilyn and Gary’s breakup…
Val is pregnant… Good grief, Val is pregnant!
What the hell am I going to do if Marilyn doesn’t come back?
What the hell am I going to do if I don’t go back… to Helping Hands, that is?

I dance like a wild woman for three songs until my drink is empty, then we sit down with Laura and Jaxon and shoot the shit some more while Christian gets me another drink.

“You dance like a woman trying to escape,” Laura points out as we sip our drinks in a cabana off the main pool. I shake my head.

“I’m determined to have a good time,” I tell her. “There’s a lot going on at home and I miss my babies something awful.

“You mentioned twins. How old?” she asks.

“Ten months,” I confess and her mouth falls.

“You’re kidding,” she says. “If I may be so bold, have you had any work done?” I laugh.

“Everybody thinks that,” I say. “No, just clean living and a lot of exercise… oh, and belly binding right after the twins were born… and breast feeding.”

“You’ve done belly binding?” she asks. I nod.

“I also did very moderate, low grade yoga until my doctor gave me the ‘all clear’ to go back to exercising like I normally do.” She nods.

“Natural childbirth?” she asks. I nod. “Were you off work long?” I twist my lips.

“Not so much,” I tell her. “My job isn’t that strenuous. I decided to leave my practice to focus more on my family, and my job—such as it is—is more community service than anything.” She raises a brow.

“Practice? You’re a doctor?”

“I’m a shrink,” I inform her. She’s clearly surprised.

“I never would have placed you as a shrink,” she says. “I know therapy has its place, but all the shrinks I’ve met are very self-important and judgmental.”

“I know the type,” I say. “I never understood how anybody in a field that’s based on helping people could have that high-nosed attitude. In one way or another, someone’s life is in your hands. How can you consider that and be so callous about it?

“I guess it all depends on why you got into the field,” I continue. “If you got into it for the money, well then a God complex isn’t very far behind. If you’re good at what you do and you know the craft, then that haughty attitude is sure to follow if you’re already stuck on yourself. However, if you got into it to help people, then you can’t help but to be humble. You can’t empathize without humility.”

“You’re definitely not the typical shrink,” she says, taking a sip of her drink. “By the way, you look fantastic,” she adds. “I would never know you’re the mother of twins… and breastfeeding?” I nod. “Some of my members have expressed an interest in belly binding, but I had no real knowledge of it, so I couldn’t recommend or discourage it.”

“Members?” I ask, curious.

“For lack of a better description, I’m a Wisdom Woman,” she says. “I’m something like a guru in my community. We focus on holistic healing and spiritual enlightenment. I realize that might be a bit hokey to you, but it’s what I do.” I wave her off.

“Yes, we’re champions for the validity and effectiveness of modern medicine, but any doctor who doesn’t understand and recognize the power of spiritual health and stability is a quack,” I say finitely. I’ve surprised her again.

“There are many doctors in many fields who would say that you’re wrong and that I’m the quack,” she laughs mirthlessly. “I believe that the earth, nature, and the spirit can heal anything that ails you. However, I believe that the connection that would heal or erase fatal diseases is much more than most people would ever be able to achieve. To that end, I don’t expect people to sit there and chant their way through cancer. I do, however, expect for them to utilize a combination of holistic methods and remedies, spiritual and emotional balance, and chemotherapy or radiation or whatever modern medical advances they need to fight the disease. If you leave out any one of those elements, your body will not be able to overcome the ailment and it will win.

“I don’t appreciate that my methods and those of many other practitioners, spiritual guides, medicine men and women, shaman, gurus, whatever you choose to call them, are dismissed because they’re not practiced in a hospital and you can’t put several zeros on the end of the treatment and send someone into outrageous debt just for trying to live. Seriously, what do you charge per hour for a session?” I clear my throat. I made out like a bandit when I was practicing.

“I’d rather not say,” I admit, “but these days, my sessions are all free.”

“Free?” she asks bemused. “How do you manage that?”

“I’m the assistant director of a shelter and help center for at-risk women and children,” I tell her. “I offer counseling services to the residents and donate the salary that they pay me back to the Center. I married into a lot of those aforementioned zeros, and I did get into this to help people, so it was the right thing to do.”

“Jesus,” she says, sinking into her seat a bit, “you’re completely not what I expected when I first saw you.”

“What did you expect?” I ask, as if I don’t already know.

“Gorgeous, young, tiny little woman—size four on your worst day—hanging on the arm of an equally gorgeous man with two rugged bodyguards following you… not one, two. They’re both trying to look inconspicuous and not doing a good job of it. You’re happily and carelessly bouncing around on a ship where the cheapest suite is 300 square feet and costs about $1000 a night. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re screaming trophy wife.” I laugh.

“Oh, Laura, you’re not breaking anything to me,” I tell her. “I did have zeros in my hourly rate, and I lived a very good life before I met my wealthy husband—not $1000-a-night good, but I did well enough… better than most. You have no idea the names that I’ve been called and the things I’ve been accused of since we fell in love…”

“Oh, I can imagine,” she says. “I don’t know your story, but Jaxon has more than a few pennies to rub together as you can imagine.” She gestures at the opulence around us. “He flies to America and a few months later, he brings home an American bride who has no money and practices ‘witchcraft…’” She waves her fingers in that way when she says the word.

“I met his family,” she continues. “They didn’t know anything about me. They didn’t know that I had suddenly lost my son in that horrible accident. They didn’t know that my husband had left me because he was a selfish bastard unable to face and deal with his feelings, so he blamed me. They didn’t know that damn near every day for years, it took every bit of my molecular will to get out of bed, put on my clothes, and go through my day—minute by minute—and resist the urge to swallow a little too much of one of my remedies and end it all.”

She shakes her head as if she’s said too much, but she hasn’t revealed anything more than how I was feeling right after I broke up with Edward… except that I didn’t have the horrible experience of losing a child.

“Jaxon saved me,” she continues, “not with his money, but with his love. I thought I was infatuated—just so lonely that I needed somebody, but that wasn’t it. He rescued me. He’d tell you differently. He’d tell you that I rescued him. Maybe I did, I don’t know, but I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t have made it without him. I couldn’t see… I couldn’t see anything but darkness, death, hatred and pain. At the risk of sounding cliché, he came through the darkness like a candle in the midst, and suddenly, I could see again.

“When he left the states after his visit, I tried to go on without him. I was stronger, and I knew the world wouldn’t end, but I was so much happier when I was with him. He asked me to marry him, and I thought there was a catch. I thought he wanted American citizenship or something. I didn’t care. All I knew was that being with him made me happy, and that if the whole thing turned out to be a fluke, then I would be happy with him for as long as I could—to give me a little strength to go a little further in life.”

“It wasn’t a fluke, I take it,” I say. She smiles contentedly.

“Not in the least,” she replies. “I had no idea that he was rich until after we were married. He kept that part from me. I think he wanted to know—like I did—if it was real. It was very real for us… It was really fucked up for his family. They were awful. They were horrible and awful to me. One year at Christmas, he found out that they referred to me as the ‘fat American hippy witch.’ It was a private joke that the entire family shared. We discovered it because one of the children let the cat out of the bag.” She sighs heavily as she recalls the story.

“Could it have just been the family member of that kid?” I ask, trying to smooth things over like I always do. She shakes her head.

“It was all of them,” she says. “They admitted it. They weren’t ashamed of it. We left that Christmas. We left his mum’s house and we went back to our home. We packed our things, we called movers; he put the house on the market and a week later, we moved to Sydney. He hasn’t really spoken to them since.”

“Not even his mom?” I say with a frown. She drops her gaze and shakes her head.

“She was the worst. She called me horrible names to my face and never let him hear them, but he knew. He knew for sure that last year, and he just wasn’t going to take it anymore. They’ve tried to call a few times, but…” She shakes her head again.

“Three years later, his mum died,” she says. “The family never called him. He found out from a friend. We went to her viewing when none of them were there. He kissed her, he said ‘goodbye,’ he signed the guestbook and he left. He was sad, but he had said that he knew she lived a good life and that now she was at peace. He used that knowledge to help him get through his loss. He’s become quite the spiritual guide himself.”

We turn to look at Jaxon and Christian deep in conversation at the bar. I’m dying to be a fly on the wall for that tête-à-tête.

“His friends talk about how much he’s changed over the years—how much happier he seems. They keep asking me what I’ve done to him, what’s my secret…”

I look at her and Jaxon and I see a version of me and Christian in ten years, only we’ll no doubt still have the love and concern of our families.

“What about your family?” I ask. “Your siblings?”

“I still talk to them,” she says. “They thought I had lost every bit of my marbles to pull up and leave everything I’d ever loved and move to a foreign country with a man that I barely knew. Even my ex-husband found out and dared to try to tell me how crazy I was. How the hell did he think he was trying to tell me anything? He left me. He fucking left me to die…”

That’s the first time she’s cursed since we’ve been talking.

“I’m sorry,” she says, taking a deep breath and rubbing her chest. “I don’t normally curse anymore. It interferes with the flow of prana. Apparently, talking about my ex brings out the worst in me.”

I know the feeling.

“Then maybe we should stop talking about him,” I suggest. “Do you still see your family?” She nods.

“I bring them out here once a year—my brothers and sisters and my mom. If their families want to come, they have to make their own way. But it’s always so good to see them, and they love it here when they visit.” I smile.

“Aren’t we cruising through Melbourne?” I ask. “That’s one of our ports of call.” She nods.

“He’ll put flowers on his mum’s grave and get swiftly back on the boat.”

“How do you feel about that?” I ask. “Does it ever… bother you? I mean…” I trail off.

“You mean that he doesn’t have contact with his family because of me?” she finishes.

Yeah, that’s my question—I just didn’t want to say it aloud.

“At first, it bothered me a lot,” she admits. “I could see that he was hurt, and he had to work through the pain. I knew that there was nothing that I could do to rectify it. We decided that we wanted to be together and we couldn’t force them to accept me, but he wasn’t going to sit around while they treated me worse than they treated their dogs. He wouldn’t subject me to that and I definitely wouldn’t allow myself to be subjected to it. The only other option was to remove the unwanted element, which was me. So, what now—I leave, we’re both miserable, but his family is happy? Definitely not an option.

“So, he made the difficult choice between me and his family. I didn’t want him to make that choice, but they were unyielding in their insults and prejudices. The way Jax explains it to me is that he had found true and genuine happiness, but it came at a cost, and it was a price that he was willing to pay because he wasn’t going to let it go.”

“Maybe one day they’ll come around and see how foolish they were,” I encourage.

“Maybe,” she says, “but after nearly a decade, I would say not. They’re waiting and hoping for me to become ‘part of his past,’ and that’s not going to happen.” She sighs heavily then smiles.

Although the conversation only slightly veered in that direction, talking to Laura made me realize that I can’t leave Helping Hands just yet. There are too many people there who need me—who depend on me. I can’t stay, however, as long as Grace totally doesn’t respect me professionally, but I can’t leave right now. It would be irresponsible and selfish. I’ll have to wait at least until after the school year starts and learning programs are in place, after which I’ll help find a replacement for me. This talk has helped me to see what’s important—to put my personal feelings aside for the moment and not shirk my responsibilities, but it’s also shown me that life’s too damn short to be sniffin’ somebody’s bullshit.


CHRISTIAN

Butterfly has headed to the dance floor and subsequently to one of the cabanas on the deck to talk to Laura while Jaxon and I chat at the bar. He gets extremely comfortable extremely quickly in the conversation.

“Are ya swingahs?” Jaxon asks and I glare at him with a murderous stare. Is that what his wife is doing—grooming my wife for this shit? “OI’ll tayke that ahs a ‘no,’” he says, his voice full of mirth, and I don’t find the situation the least bit funny.

“Don’t tayke it tha wrong wy, mate,” he adds. “Tha woife and OI ahrn’t swingahs. She’s jest vehry spiritual and it’s rubbed off on meh. OI sense somethin’ from yah—taboo, unconventional. OI jest thought that was it.”

“You sensed that, huh?” I say sarcastically while taking a large swallow of my beer.

“Yeh,” he replies, ignoring my sarcasm. “She’s got a bit of it in ‘er, too,” he says, gesturing to my wife before turning back to me. “This is how OI knew Lahra was fa meh. When OI fihst met ‘er in the Staytes in pehrson, she introduced meh to moy spirit goide. I realoize it’s a bunch o’ mumbo-jumbo tah someone who doesn’t practice this koinda thing, but the spiritual awykening was ahll OI needed to know that OI had been wahking aroun’ in the dahk fah yeahs!” He takes a gulp of his beer before continuing.

“When OI cayme back to Australia without ‘er, it was loike somebody had cut mah ahm off. OI couldn’t function; OI couldn’t think… OI had to have ‘er with meh. When I cahlled ‘er bahk and ahsked ‘er tah marry meh, she thought OI had lost mah mahbles! Quoite frankly, OI thought OI had lost mah mahbles. The truth wahs… OI could jest see tha wohrld moh clearly. OI could see whaht wahs missing in mah loife… ehv’rythin’! Big, gayping holes of misery and emptiness. It wahs the sceriest thing OI’ve ehveh fayced in mah loife! Yah ehveh wayke up one daye an’ yah jest strugglin’ ta mayke sense of it ahll?” he asks, his voice betraying a slight desperation.

“As a matter of fact, I have,” I respond, looking at Butterfly and remembering how she bewitched me when absolutely no one else was able to reach me.

“When it’s roight, it’s jest roight, mate. Yah don’t ahsk, yah jest fahllow—especially when yah spihrit tells yah to. My spihrit led me to mah Lahrie. It’s been ten yeahs. OI haven’t regretted a moment of it.”

“Are you trying to tell me something, Jaxon?” I ask. He swallows his beer.

“Whahteveh yah into, yah kindred spihrits already know yah thehre. Yah weahr it loike a smock. OI maye not know whaht it is, but OI know it’s thehre. Don’t be suhproised if yah foind loike-moinded individuals on the ship. Don’t get offended—jest let ‘em know yah not int’rested… if yah not int’rested. Weh’re ahll here to have a good time, aye?” He shrugs.

He’s right. I can usually pick a Dominant or a submissive out of a crowd, but I haven’t had my “BDSM eye” out lately to be able to spot them. It hasn’t been a priority for quite some time. Now, a veritable civilian who appears to just be a really good profiler has been able to call me out and let me know that he can see it in me and my wife, even though he’s not sure exactly what it is.

“Thanks, Jaxon,” I cede. “That’s good information and I’ll keep it in mind.”

“Don’t mention it, mate,” he says, drinking more of his beer and turning to where the women are sitting. “She doesn’t have many femayle friends, does she?” I raise my brow.

“She has enough,” I say. He nods. “Why would you ask that?”

“She’s an alpha femayle,” he says. “Not a bully, but she can handle ‘erself. She doesn’t bahk down frahm a foight, bot she won’t foight whehre it’s not necessary. She doesn’t tayke shite from anyone, ahnd ‘er heart is biggah than that toiny little body of ‘ers. People undahestahmayte ‘er often ahnd she suhprises the foock out of ‘em. Let me know when OI’m wrong.”

So far, he’s dead on, so I let him continue.

“The only women around ‘er ahre family, fohllowehs, neutrals, or women who’ve known ‘er for a long time. Alpha femayles or wanna-be alpha femayles—they bump heads like bulls.

“She’s afrayd of somethin’, though,” he says. “OI’m not sure whaht it is, but it’s one thing—one little thing—and it’s scerin’ the shite out of ‘er. Whahtevah it is, she’ll get hold of it soon, but she’s gonna hafta look outside of ‘erself to do it. That’s whehre the ansah is, an’ befoh yah ahsk, yah cahn’t help ‘er, mate.”

“Where the hell did you come from?” I ask, perturbed that he’s reading me… us this well. He chuckles as he finishes his beer and gestures to the bartender.

“Give us a refill,” he says to the bartender who nods and goes off to get another draft beer. “Mayke that two!” Jaxon calls out to the bartender, and I realize that when he said, “Give us a refill,” he wasn’t talking about both of us.

“I shouldn’t drink too much,” I caution. I don’t like not having control.

“Ahnd yah won’t,” he says, pushing the empty glass away from him. “Even if yah did, yah got yah two bodygahrds ovah thehre… you’ll be foine.”

And once again, I forgot we had security.

“Do they stick out like sore thumbs?” I ask.

“Not anymoh than anyone else’s,” he says. “OI’ve seen about foive couples jest ahn this deck with security. Don’t give it a second thot.”

I nod at the bartender when he brings our drinks to us and look over at Butterfly who has escaped to one of the cabanas with Laura, still in my line of sight and that of our security.

“She fohlows the rules, but noht ahll the toime,” he deduces correctly. “It’s given you and the boys a bit of a run for yah money.”

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” I concur, drinking my beer.

“OI don’t need ta know yah secret,” he says. “Yah don’t hahve tah tell meh whaht it is, mate. It’s not that impohtant. Jest know thehre’s an energy that comes from yah both—stronger when yah tagetheh. It has a lotta power. If yah use it propahley, no one’ll be able ta come against yah.”

I don’t know why, but I’ve got a feeling that we’re going to need that in the coming months.

*-*

After dinner and more drinks at a premier steakhouse on board, I find that my lady is pickled once again when I carry her to our cabin, and I take full advantage of her inebriated, playful state. She gives my dick the sucking of its life and I give her the fucking of hers before we fall off into a contented sleep.

Tuesday is a day at sea. My wife has a bit of a hangover—again, so we order breakfast in the suite with a Bloody Mary on the side for a bit of the “hair of the dog.” I warn her to pace herself, because I can see that it’s very easy to get drunk very quickly on a cruise since the drinks flow so freely.

Since you hardly see anyone without a drink of some kind in their hand, particularly on the party decks, I suggest that she keeps some of her umbrellas and drink toys and put them in the glass with a soda, spritzer, or sparkling water if she wants to look like one of the cool kids without being three sheets to the wind for the entire trip. I also have to let the cat out of the bag that we’ll be spending the weekend in wine country, which won’t be as much fun if her insides are pickled throughout the week.

Our suite has direct access to the exclusive Bliss sundeck, pool, and bar as well as to the exclusive Bliss lounge. So, we have the option to mingle with the rest of the passengers, or keep it intimate with only other suite cruisers who have access to this area. Butterfly wants to mingle with the rest of the passengers, but I can see her spending some solitary time on this ship at some point. That’s just who she is.

She does a little detox in the Jacuzzi tub for a while before emerging from the closet in a stunning royal blue maxi dress. It’s sheer with a lining only long enough to hit her mid-thigh, and I’m convinced that she and Vickie are trying to kill me with this wardrobe. Of course, she completes the outfit with a sexy pair of stiletto slides.

“Baby, we’re on a cruise. We’re going to be here for another four days. Are you going to wear heels the entire time?” She raises a brow at me.

“Have we met?” she says before donning her Jackie-O’s and heading to the door.

We have indeed.

The ship is really impressive. Our exploration yesterday was mostly to find something to eat, so today, we’re paying more attention to what’s on deck on each floor. On the main deck in the middle of the ship is the Grand Plaza. It’s decked out with an extremely large Christmas tree and a white baby grand. Across from the baby grand is a martini bar. Having had breakfast and a bit of a detox, Butterfly indulges in one of the unusual martinis on the menu—a Blue Jean Martini. It’s a combination of vanilla vodka, chocolate liqueur, blue curaçao and smooth cream—and it’s very sweet. I have the Black-Tie Martini—made with gin, vodka and white wine—and guide her to the seats in the Grand Plaza area.

“I talked to Allen about setting up a will,” I begin after we’ve settled in our seats. She frowns.

“Where did this conversation come from?” she asks bemused. I twist my lips at her.

“You really have to ask?” I reply.

“No, obviously I know where it came from, just why right at this moment?” Yeah, I guess I did spring it on her a bit out of the blue.

“I don’t really know,” I say, my brow furrowed. “It just dawned on me, I guess. If we must have a conversation like this, we should be relaxed while we’re having it.” She purses her lips.

“Well, that’s true,” she says. “So, where do we start?” I sigh.

“I don’t even know,” I admit. “Of course, you know that you and the twins are my only heirs. So, the only reason I would really need a will is if something happened to us both at the same time. Of course, we would set up trust funds for the children, no matter what.”

“Well, I’ve only been to one will reading,” she points out, “and from what I saw, you need to itemize your assets. All I have is my condo.”

“God, woman, when are you going to get it through your brain that you’ve got more than that?”

“Okay, fine, let me rephrase,” she says after taking a sip of her martini. “My condo is all that I have in my name. You didn’t press for me to put your name on my condo, so it’s still in my name alone. Is that better, Mr. Grey?” She rolls her eyes at me.

“Keep it up, Mrs. Grey,” I warn.

“I thought we already established whose job that was,” she retorts. Oh, she’s testing me.

“Do you want to see Australia?” I caution firmly. Don’t push me, woman. I’ve fucked you every day since we left Seattle—twice! I’ll throw you over my shoulder, take you to that stateroom and they won’t see us again until this boat is back in Sydney. Fuck wine country!

Her skin flushes bright pink and she looks around to see if anyone has caught on to our conversation. Personally, I could care less. I only asked one question. I didn’t tell her what I was thinking, but she knew. I raise a single brow at her when she brings her gaze back to mine. I’m doing everything I can to be a good boy on this boat while you’re wearing transparent dresses and stiletto heels. Tempt me… please!

She swallows hard before taking a large gulp of her martini.

“Remember what I said,” my voice low, but still firm. “Pace yourself.”

She places her half-finished martini on the table and folds her hands in her lap. It’s clear that she feels scolded.

“That wasn’t my intention,” I say, immediately spotting the submission.

“No… it’s fine,” she says, still looking at her folded hands. “It’s sweeter than I like. I really don’t want anymore.”

“Do you want to try mine?” I ask, offering an olive branch. She shakes her head.

“Yours is most likely stronger. I think I’ll have some water instead. Excuse me for a minute.”

She stands without making eye contact with me and walks quickly back to the bar. Jeez, what just happened? Did I let the Dom out and didn’t know it? I watch my wife crack the bottle open and down half of it, refusing the glass of ice the bartender has prepared for her. I watch her pause for a moment and I wonder if she’s coming back to the seat. She finishes the bottle and asks for another one, this time taking the glass of ice. She strolls back to her seat with the glass in one hand and the bottle in the other.

“So, you were saying?” she says. “About the assets?”

I suddenly feel a bit uncomfortable, but I keep talking.

“You don’t have to put my name on your condo,” I tell her. “That’s not necessary. Just will it to me if something happens to you. We need to decide how our assets—including your condo—will be distributed if something happens to us both.”

“I always assumed that whomever took the twins would be the benefactors of yo… our fortune.” Nice catch, Mrs. Grey.

“You assume correctly, but who would take the twins?” I ask. “My parents are up in age and would definitely be pinch hitters if needed. Your dad and Mandy may be an option if that’s what he wants, but he already has Little Harry to think about. Their godparents are both married and either would provide stable homes for the twins, but there’s also the consideration that Valerie and Elliot have a child on the way. Have we talked to any of them about this?”

“I vaguely recall having some kind of conversation with somebody about this, but I don’t totally remember how it came out, so I think we should have the conversation again,” she admits.

“I think you’re right,” I concur. “Allen is looking into cataloging my assets for me so that we can know what we’re working with.” If I had been thinking about it, I would have told him to get with my accountant. Between the two of them, I’m certain they can lock this up.

“We’ll have a meeting with the godparents first when we get home,” I tell her. “I think they’ll most likely be the best candidates since we’re all around the same age. Then, we’ll talk to our parents and let them know what the plan is so that there’s no misunderstanding.”

“Okay,” she says. “That’s fine.” She’s looking at me momentarily, then diverts her gaze to her water, concentrating on the task of filling her glass as if she’s performing surgery.

Yeah, I let the Dom out.

“Come on,” I say, standing and taking her hand after she has emptied the bottle into the glass. “Let’s walk some more.” I take my martini and she takes her bottle of water and stands. I tuck her under my arm and we walk around to explore the ship some more.

The sun is bright in the sky and glistening off the water as we stroll along the promenade. There are portholes in the floor of the deck so that you can look down and see blue water. I don’t know how sturdy that is, but it’s pretty. Butterfly avoids them. She loves the view of the water, but she says they make her nervous. She would much rather deal with the view over the railing, particularly of the “white bubbly trail” left by the boat as we cut through the ocean. She has loosened up a bit as we stroll through the ship and make a mental note of the things we plan to do and the places we intend to eat. Looking to get some uninhibited sunshine, we head up to the Lido deck to see what’s afoot.

The party has truly started up here on the Lido deck. The drinks are flowing freely at the pool bar as usual and we’re just in time to claim two of the remaining in-pool loungers. As we strip down to our swimwear, my wife nearly causes me a heart attack again with a blue and orange two-piece—a bandana-type top and boy-short-type bottoms with drawstrings down the side. The material wraps so well around her ample breasts and juicy ass that I actually lament her getting into the pool.

Calm yourself, Grey. She could wear a burlap sack and you’d get a hard-on. Get over it.

Sure enough, she steps out of her shoes, retrieves a towel, and after placing her items on the in-pool chaise, she dives into the deep end. I make myself comfortable on the lounger next to hers and wait for her to emerge. As expected, when she does, she smooths her hair down and looks like a goddamn mermaid.

Consider yourself lucky, Grey. She’s all yours.

A reggae band is playing on the stage as I watch my wife do laps in the pool. I mentally tap my feet to the beat of the music as I let my mind wander. What brought the Dom out? I’ve almost always had him under control, only allowing him to emerge when I wanted him to. However, a little while ago, there he was—not in full force, but he was there. I’m pretty certain he’s been here for at least the last day and maybe more. I’m not sure which of many events lit the initial match.

Her smart mouth yesterday at the hotel and me vowing to fuck her senseless for the entire trip?
Her calling me her billionaire lover night before last in that hip-hop bar?
The animal fucking we did for nearly the entire 14-hour flight from the States?
Could it have been sparked by events completely outside, like those fuckers salivating over her ass at the Overseas Passenger Terminal?

Or Jaxon noticing the tendency and asking me if we were swingers? No, it was alive and well and showing by then. Whatever the cause, I have to be mindful that the Dom is present and try to keep him under control. My wife and I will have to address it though. We agreed to learn more about the dynamics of the Dom/sub relationship as it applies to marriage months ago, but of course, that was before the bottom nearly fell out from under our lives…

“’Ey, Christian!”

I open my eyes to see Jaxon waving at me from across the pool in a T-shirt and a pair of black shorts. His wife is standing next to him in a paisley halter maxi-dress. They both look more tanned than I remember, but it was sunset and evening when I last saw them. I wave them over to me and they begin to walk around the pool, hand in hand. After ten years, it’s still very clear that they love each other. Jaxon is a slender man, not very tall, with his hair cut short almost to the scalp. Laura is what today’s society would consider plus sized, but knowing what I know about women’s bodies, I would say that she’s somewhere between a size 10 and a size 12, very attractive with sun-bleached blonde hair.

“Whehe’s the woife?” he asks when they reach me. I point to the pool and the blue and orange mermaid gliding through the water.

“Ah, gettin’ ‘er exehcoise in, OI see,” Jaxon says as he squints at the water. “Now’s the best toime. A few blokes an’ sheilas out, but not too crohded.”

I find myself listening very carefully to understand what he’s saying. It’s no doubt that he was born and raised in the “Land Down Undah.” Butterfly comes to the edge of the pool and sees them standing by the loungers. She waves and lifts herself out of the pool just as I hear something that makes me cringe.


A/N: 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