Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 29

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

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

Season 5 Episode 29

CHRISTIAN

“Nope, they got nothing,” Alex told me when I called him from security central on my burner on Tuesday night. “The missing person’s report came from a friend of hers who normally sees her a couple of times a week and hasn’t heard from her. They can’t prove anything with Lincoln’s strokes. They just happen. Sometimes, very young people have strokes—they don’t know why. They linked the ghost writer through the warden because he thought the information would help his case—it didn’t. So, now they’re going to start sniffing up the asses of Seattle’s movers and shakers, ruffling all kinds of feathers on a hunch hoping something falls out. I can guarantee you have nothing to worry about.”

“What about Ellison?” I ask.

“Have you seen Dodd?” he asks.

“No,” I reply.

“Then I can guarantee that you won’t see Ellison either.” That’s enough for me. “And call the governor. You need to show some outrage.”

“Will do.”

That was Tuesday after Cagney and Baretta left my home. I figure I’d wait a couple of days before I called Charlotte to see if anybody else called her.

“Always a pleasure when you call me, Christian,” she says when she answers the phone. “Let me guess, Detective Burns and Detective Groomer.”

“Tell me they’re not going through with this,” I say, mocking disbelief. “What is this all about? Was this girl somebody’s long lost niece or something?” I immediately think of the Pedophile’s great-aunt showing up to tell me to call off the dogs.

“No, just another missing persons’ report. Unfortunately, this one smells of the whole Hollywood Madam thing. So, somebody’s trying to make a name for themselves. I haven’t gotten to the bottom of who, yet, but I need to know. What is your connection to this girl?”

“I’m going to tell you the same thing that I told them. I planned on fucking her before I married my wife, so I ran a background check on her,” I say.

“Christian, must you be so crude?” she asks.

“It’s the truth, Charlotte,” I reply. “I don’t have casual affairs and I don’t sleep with just anybody. You know the sordid details of my relationship with Elena Lincoln, but at the time, she was someone that I trusted. Knowing my need for discretion—and my type—I relied on her judgement when she introduced me to someone. That was around the same time that I met my wife. One came with a relationship which you know I didn’t want. One was no strings attached, only I realized later that there were strings attached.”

“Elaborate,” she says. I sigh.

“Let me start by saying that I fell head over heels in love with my wife before I even knew I was in love with her. As such, Gretchen didn’t even have a chance…”

“I think her name is Greta,” Charlotte corrects me. I laugh inwardly.

“And that’s the whole thing!” I say, mocking frustration. “The same thing happened when the cops were here. I kept messing up her name. That’s just how little an impact she left on me. I loved Ana. I wanted Ana. Even if she didn’t want me, I wanted her. So, when Gret-ta showed up, as perfect as she was, I couldn’t slide her into the slot because it wasn’t her slot. I wanted this other woman. I would have done anything I had to do to get this other woman. She was like no other woman that I ever met, and the same shit that I was doing before was not going to work on her. She wasn’t impressed with my money, my power, my looks, nothing. She fucking hated me, and I was already worshipping the ground she walked on.

“Gret-ta would have been perfect for a no-strings-attached steady fuck, which was exactly what I was looking for before I met my wife. The closer I got to winning my wife, the further I got from Gret-ta. Then, I found out that there was a large transfer of funds from Lincoln’s account to her account, and I felt like a damn John. I called the whole thing off and pursued my wife with gusto until I got her. That woman’s not even an ex, Charlotte. She was a hopeful, a wannabe that never made the mark. She doesn’t pose a threat to me because she doesn’t know anything about me. Anything that she could know about me—even from Lincoln—she can’t print or say, because before she would have even been able to be considered to be in my company, she would have had to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

“There’s nothing that she can gain from saying anything about me even if she knows anything about me. She was just somebody I thought about fucking and if she tells somebody that, that wouldn’t hurt. I thought about fucking Haley Berry, too, but that never happened and this just as relevant, if not less. She can’t hurt me. She poses no threat to me. So, why are they bothering me?”

“I believe you, Christian,” Charlotte says. “I’m glad you told me the whole story so that I have something to go on. Other reputable people haven’t been as forthcoming as you. Granted, I have several other people who say that they have no idea who she is, and others who I’m certain know who she is but they won’t tell me. I know they have something to hide. I’m beginning to wonder if this girl really is a high-class hooker.”

“She might be,” I say. “I was soliciting sex, I admit that, but I was doing it in a ‘meet you, see if we click, let’s do this’ type of way. Once I saw that money had exchanged hands and I had no explanation why, I was out, and if she says anything different, she’s a liar.”

“Well, unfortunately, right now, she’s not saying anything,” Charlotte replies. I sigh.

“How many people have they questioned so far?” I ask.

“I don’t know, but you’re the 16th person who called me.”

Sixteen! They’re chasing dust particles. They’re never going to get an answer.

“Charlotte, you and I both know that if this girl hit the right person at the wrong time, they’re never going to find her. All they’re doing is ruffling the feathers of a lot of high-powered people. They came to my home and interrogated me like a criminal with no grounds whatsoever. They disrupted my day; they upset my wife; they frightened my children… all on a hunch! They have no evidence, no probable cause—they wouldn’t even tell me why they were here until Jason threatened to call the chief of police!

“What do they think happened to this girl? Who do they think is responsible for her disappearance? Do they have any real leads besides hearsay and bits from the gossip columns, because that’s all they gave me?”

“From what I understand, yes, that’s all they have.” I sigh, actually from relief, but I don’t want her to know that.

“Charlotte, if they come at me again, I’m going to the press,” I say.

“Christian, please, don’t do that,” she pleads. “That could destroy their whole investigation.”

“Then, they need to have something more concrete,” I say. “A man who has something to hide is not going to stick his face in front of a camera. I will. I’m tired of cops treating me like shit just because they feel like they can. They treated me this way when Anastasia was kidnapped. They treated me this way when she was involved in that accident. Hell, they treated me this way when that crazy blonde bitch tried to kill me. I’m tired of this! And I’m as tired of calling you to fix it as you are of me calling you.”

They’ve got nothing on me. I know they don’t even though I know what happened to that bitch. This is a fishing exhibition with no bait, and I was their first target. I’m always their first target, so my frustration is real.

“I hear you, Christian, loud and clear… and I’m on it,” she replies.

“I’m sorry, Charlotte,” I say, for you getting involved in this and having to cover for me, even though I’m guilty.

“Don’t be,” she says. “We’ve had this conversation more than once, and you’re right. Each time you’ve called me, someone has stepped out of line in just this way, so I can’t be upset.”

Yes, you can, Charlotte. They’re sniffing up the right tree with me. They just don’t have any proof, and until they do…

“They just need to leave me the hell alone,” I say.

“Just don’t call the press, please,” she says. “Let me handle this.”

“Okay,” I reply. “I’ll keep my mouth shut, for now.” For always.

I wish her family well and end the call.

I feel badly for lying to Charlotte, but I did what needed to be done to that predatorial bitch and I don’t regret it… and I need for them to stop sniffing in this direction—not now, but right now!

I take several deep breaths then count for a while to get this crazy bitch off my mind. As much as I hate to admit it, I wish I had told Alex to get rid of her, burn the body, and dump it in the ocean somewhere.

It’s time to redirect my thoughts.

“Hello, handsome.”

“Hey, are you busy?” I ask.

“I’ll be meeting with a new intake in a moment, but nothing unusual,” she says.

“Can I invade on your day and bring you some lunch? I need a little sunshine in my life.”

“Mmm, that would be divine,” Butterfly replies.

“Any requests?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says. “I’d love a gyro and some fries.”

“I’ll be there shortly,” I promise.

“See you then.”

I stop by a Mediterranean restaurant and pick up a gyro and fries for my wife along with some chicken Shawarma, falafel, and baklava. I just want to be with my girl and forget about all this other shit.

Jason hangs out at the guard’s desk while I head back to my wife’s office. She said she had to meet with a recent intake, and I’m hoping she has finished the meeting by now. Her office door is open, so I walk in, but I discover that she’s talking to an older woman when I enter.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “The door was open…”

“It’s okay,” Butterfly says, “I’ll only be another minute or two.” I nod and turn to leave just as the woman turns her head and looks at me. I… think I know her. I don’t forget a face; I just can’t call a name. My mental Rolodex spins out of control as I feel as though it’s imperative that I know this woman’s name. Just as my wife calls my name to get my attention…

“Sarah!” I exclaim. Realization slapping me hard in the face. The woman nearly leaps out of her skin at the sound of my voice, almost appearing to cower in her chair.

“Christian!” Butterfly chastens. “You can’t do that!” I know what she’s talking about. I probably scared the poor woman to death and she’s here for some kind of safe haven.

“I’m sorry,” I say, softening my voice and turning my gaze to Sarah. “Sarah… Burnett, right? Do you remember me?” Sarah is still scared shitless and won’t say anything. “You helped me,” I add, softly. “You helped me at one of the worst moments of my life.”

Sarah’s gaze softens, and I can see that she’s trying to place my face. I rarely meet anybody who doesn’t know who I am. Then again, she didn’t know who I was then, either. Why is she here at Helping Hands?

“Sarah,” I say, softly, crouching next to her so that we’re at eye-level, “Please… look carefully. Tell me you remember who I am.”

“I’m… I’m sorry… I don’t,” she says, still frightened.

“That’s okay,” I tell her. “It’s actually refreshing that someone doesn’t know who I am. Tell me, do you still work at the parking structure on Alaskan Way?” Her brow rises.

“No…” she says tentatively, “not for a while.”

“Christian…” Butterfly protests, “you’re scaring her.”

“Baby,” I interrupt her, “I don’t mean to scare her and I’m not trying to prevent you from doing your job, but this is personal. This is Marlow-Marcia-Maggie personal.” She quickly throws her hands up in surrender and rolls her eyes.

“Sarah,” she says softly, “this is my husband.” Sarah’s shoulders fall immediately, and relief is evident in her eyes and her sigh. “Whatever insanity he may be suffering right now, I promise he won’t hurt you.” Sarah raises questioning eyes to me.

“How… did I help you?” she asks timidly.

“Three years ago, you let me sit in your booth and watch security tapes of the aquarium across the street,” I say. She pauses for a moment, then she gasps loudly and points to me, then to Butterfly, and I nod. Butterfly is bemused when I turn to her.

“If it hadn’t been for her,” I say pointing to Sarah, “when David kidnapped you, I’m certain I never would have found you.”    

Now, it’s Butterfly’s turn to gasp. Her fingers gently touch her lips as realization dawns and the pieces start falling into place.

“Oh, my God,” Butterfly breathes. “She… saved me, too.” I nod and turn back to Sarah, whose eyes are filling with tears.

“It’s a happy ending, Sarah,” I say, smiling and taking her hands in mine. “I found my princess—my Butterfly—I got her back, and it’s all because of you.”

“Oh! Oh!” Sarah reaches out to Ana. “I’m so happy!” she says, cherubically. “I never would have known that was you.” Ana takes her hand and crouches down to her.

“It looks like I owe you a huge debt of gratitude as well,” Butterfly says, fighting tears of her own.

“You don’t,” Sarah says. “Any good person would have done the same.”

“There were places on that dock that wouldn’t help me, Sarah,” I inform her. “So, no, they wouldn’t have.” She smiles softly.

“Then, they weren’t good people,” she says, and that’s the person I met in that parking garage, not the frightened woman cowering on the sofa in my wife’s office when I arrived.

“You have no idea, Sarah,” my wife says, unable to fight her tears anymore. “I was in a horrible situation and there was no hope… I can’t begin to thank you enough…”

“Well, I can,” I say, squeezing her hands. “Tell me why you’re here. Tell me what you need… anything you need!” I implore her. Her eyes grow large and Butterfly touches my hand.

“Christian…” Okay, Christian’s being intense. Bring it back a notch. I drop my head and take a deep breath, bringing beseeching eyes back to hers.

“Please…” I say softly. “You helped build my faith in people, in the kindness that people can show to strangers with absolutely nothing to gain for it.” I drop my head and keep talking. “You’re one of the very few people I’ve ever met who put herself on the line and did a hugely kind thing for someone with nothing to gain.” I raise my eyes back to hers.

“You’re in trouble now,” I say, “or something bad is happening and I won’t sit still. You were an angel from God for me that day, and you rescued me. Please, let me help you now. Anything,” I reinforce. “Tell me what’s going on. Tell me why you’re here. What can I do?”

She looks at me then at my wife. Then she closes her eyes and nods.

“I’m not accustomed to taking handouts,” she says softly.

“Believe me when I tell you, this is not a handout. You paid this forward… way forward. My wife could have died, Sarah. She was in a horrible way when we found her, and it took a long time for her to heal from those physical and emotional scars. She wouldn’t be here, be with me, if it weren’t for you. We owe you big time. Please, let us help you… please.” She sighs and shakes her head.

“It’s a big mess,” she says, breaking down into sobs.

I remove my coat, give Butterfly her lunch and give my lunch to Sarah as she explains to me how she ended up where she is now. She lost her job after she helped me because she broke the rules in letting me see the videos and sending them to my team before the subpoena had been secured. Ever since then, she had been working whatever odd jobs she could find to try to make ends meet. All she knows is security because it’s all she’s ever done, so she didn’t keep the odd jobs for long. She faced age discrimination, even though she’s not old—she’s just older, and she’s very healthy and smart.

Her husband became abusive because she couldn’t pull her weight. She’s horribly in debt and she has no children or family to turn to. She’s been evicted from her home just today and when her husband finds out, he’s going to beat her. What’s left of her stuff that hasn’t been taken is still sitting on the curb in front of her house and she’s afraid to go back and even look through it because her husband will probably be waiting for her there.

I drop my head. It physically hurts that someone who showed such kindness to me at her own detriment is now facing this kind of problem. If that asshole that she married would kick her when she’s down, maybe this had to happen so that she can get away from him.

“May I ask you some personal questions?” I say.

“You can ask me anything,” she says. “I’m so glad everything worked out for you two. It made all this worth it.”

“And I’m about to make it even more worth it if you let me. You sacrificed so much for us. It would be my honor if you let me help you… and the very least I can do,” I say.

“Mine, too, Sarah,” Butterfly says. “I really owe you my life. I was in a really bad way, and if it weren’t for you…” Butterfly holds her head down to fight her tears. Sarah takes her hand.

“Don’t cry, child,” she says, “it all worked out in the end.”

“Except for you,” Butterfly chokes. “Please… you have to accept what we give you as gifts… in gratitude… endless gratitude… for my life!” she sobs. Sarah squeezes her hand and looks at me, smiling, with tears filling her eyes.

“Who am I to turn down such a wonderful gesture… when I’m in need?” she says sweetly. “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

“That He does, Sarah,” I concur. “That He does.”

The afternoon is now full of my mission of mercy. I put in a call to Alex to begin a standard employment background check on Sarah Burnett. I can tell that she may take initial gifts from me, but she won’t take endless handouts. She has to feel useful. Butterfly sets her up on her computer to complete a job application for GEH and I call ahead to Human Resources.

“Yes. Mr. Grey, what can I do for you?”

“I have a candidate here who is completing the online application as we speak, and her background check is in progress. She has…” I look at Sarah. “How many years of security experience do you have?”

“Twenty-five years,” she says. I raise my brow and nod in approval.

“She has 25 years of security experience. Are there any positions in our security sector that can use her?”

“Corporate or commercial?”

“Commercial,” I reply. Corporate is too dangerous. I hear typing on the other end.

“Yes,” she says. “Ever since we absorbed Vansteen into the corporate offices, there’s been a lot of attrition. With stricter guidelines, the slackers have mostly fallen off and we need some more people. With her experience, I suggest she replace the supervisor we just lost.”

“That’s perfect,” I say. “As soon as she’s finished with her application, I want you to pull it. Then wait for her background check to come from security…”

“Um, Christian?” Sarah calls me. I turn to her. “I don’t have a phone.”

Wow, really?

“Her application doesn’t have a phone number on it,” I say. “I’ll be updating that later.”

“What’s her name?”

“Sarah Burnett,” I say.

“Got it. I’ll keep an eye out for the application, sir.”

“Thank you.” I end the call and turn to Sarah.

“Tell me honestly,” I say to her. “Do you want to go back to your husband? Nobody’s going to blame you if you do…”

“No,” she says without hesitation. “I spent too many years being his punching bag. I’m better off alone.”

“Well, you certainly won’t be alone, Sarah, because you’ve got us now.”

And, of course, the Greys have a new family member.

*-*

We leave Helping Hands and go back to Sarah’s house. All of her things have been taken and what’s left isn’t worth scavenging through. Luckily, her husband never showed up while we were there, and she’s content to start over—a new life without him.

I put her up at the Fairlane Olympic for the next few days as I’m certain she needed some privacy—more than she would have gotten at Helping Hands. It’s a nice place for what it is, but she needs to lament her circumstances for the last time before she lets it go. I also set her up with a new cell phone so that she can get the call when HR gets her background check and security clearances.

I asked her to make a list of her debts so that we could get them squared away. She drew the line at me paying her debts, stating that once she was gainfully employed, she could pay them on her own. So, I made her a deal. I would pay her accumulating debt in one lump sum, and once she was stable and getting regular checks, she could pay me back in a no-interest loan. She agreed to those conditions. What she doesn’t know is that the money that she’s paying me back is going to go into her GEH retirement fund.

I give her a prepaid debit card with $1000 on it so that she can get toiletries, clothes, and have some meals over the next couple of days. I’ll be getting her a GEH expense card in the next couple of days to float her until she starts working and she gets her first check. She vows to pay that back as well, and I just nod.

Her last order of business is to find a place—a nice place—in the city close to the job, preferably in the Pike Place area. Her eyes widen when I mention the area.

“With what I pay my staff, you’ll be making enough to live wherever you want,” I say. “Pike Place is safe, it’s closer to the job, and your husband is not likely to find you there… but we’ll handle it if he does. I’ll pay your first and last month’s rent and security deposit so that you don’t have to worry about saving to move.” She drops her head.

“I want to get divorce proceedings started as soon as possible,” she says, sadly. Butterfly takes her hand.

“You don’t have to do that now if you don’t want to,” she tells Sarah. Sarah sniffs and wipes her eyes.

“Fifteen years, child,” she says, raising tear-filled eyes to Butterfly. “It’s time to break the shackles.”

“I’ll have our lawyer call you tomorrow,” I say. She nods.

“He’s also my best friend,” Butterfly says.

“You might even recognize him,” I add. “He was with us when we came to the parking garage that day.” She nods again and I realize the day has probably been too much for her.

“We’re going to let you get some rest now,” I say, rising to leave. “It’s been a very eventful day.” Without warning, Sarah jumps up and throws her arms around me. Butterfly’s eyes widen and she knows I’m prone to panic in this situation, but not this time. I gently wrap my arms around her as she cries softly on my shoulder.

“Just when you think things won’t get any better… God sends angels into your life,” she says.

Don’t I know it! I pull her back and look at her face.

“And you. Were ours,” I say definitely. “Thank you… from the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

“You’re most welcome,” she says. “And thank you.”

“Likewise,” I reply. She kisses me softly on the cheek.

Butterfly embraces her and tells her that we’ll check on her tomorrow, and we leave to allow her to get some sleep.

“Did you ever tell me about her?” Butterfly asks as Jason drives us home.

“I don’t know,” I admit. “I thought I did, but I don’t know.”

“What is the likelihood that she would show up at Helping Hands… in her time of need… right when you were coming to bring me lunch?” I sigh.

“Like she says, the Lord works in mysterious ways.” It occurs to me that her husband may somehow get wind of what’s going on and how well she’s doing and try to muscle in on her gig. I type a text to Alex to find out who he is and as much as he can about him.                                   

When we arrive at the Crossing, all I want to do is get out of these clothes. After stopping to coo at her children who made it home before we did since we took a detour to get Sarah squared away, Butterfly joins me in the bedroom. I’m pulling my T-shirt from my pants when she comes into the room, removes her suit jacket, and tosses it across a chair. I watch her as she’s unbuttoning her shirt.

“I have a question,” I ask.

“What is it?” she says, tossing her shirt onto the chair with her jacket.

“When is the last time we fucked?” She freezes, staring at me with both hands behind her back, no doubt about to unclasp her bra.

“Too damn long if you have to ask,” she says, squirming out of her bra and tossing it to parts unknown.

*-*

I think we both needed that. We fucked straight through dinner and just had something brought up to the suite. It was a very emotional day, seeing Sarah and the situation that she was in after what she did to help us. There’s nothing she can’t ask me for. I’ll never see her hungry, or homeless, or hurt, or in any financial trouble ever again. Had I known they fired her for helping me find my Butterfly, I would have jumped into action long before now.

Butterfly was a bit overwhelmed when she discovered Sarah’s role in her rescue as well. I was sure that I told her about Sarah. Maybe I did, but it was a while ago and she had no way of putting two and two together without me.

Sarah is matronly—not quite old enough to be my grandmother, but older than my mom. She didn’t need to be working at that place anymore anyway. With her experience, she could probably offer some great training and organization to the private commercial security sector of my company. She doesn’t need to be walking a beat or patrolling. She needs to be in charge, offering her expertise to a failing division.

My wife is fast asleep when I finally take the elevator downstairs to the ground floor to try to get some of the work done that I missed today while tending to Sarah. Once again, as I’m going through the entertainment room, I see Garrett out on the patio. Even from behind, he looks a bit forlorn. Part of me wants to just leave him to his thoughts. Then another part of me doesn’t want to just leave him out there. I twist my lips and roll my eyes, retrieve a couple of beers from the wet bar and go out the French doors.

“You spend a lot of time out here,” I say, but as I approach, I see that he’s wiping tears from his eyes. Um… okay.

“Would you rather I leave you alone?” I ask. He takes a shuddering breath as another tear falls from his eyes.

“I fucked up, man,” he says, dropping his head and leaning his elbows on his knees clasping his hands between them. “I fucked up really bad.”

“Okay,” I say, moving to the side of the sofa. “Elaborate.” He throws a tearstained glare at me and twists his lips as if to say, “seriously?” I shrug.

“I’m just wondering what brought you to this conclusion now,” I clarify, still standing there with the beers.

“She’s destroyed, man,” he says, dropping his gaze again. “I broke her. I really broke her. Serves me right that she doesn’t want me back.” Now, that’s a shocker.

“Did she say that?” I ask surprised.

“She doesn’t have to. I can’t get close to her. I mean, she’ll let me near her, but she won’t let me in.”

“Aaahh, that,” I say, remembering as I sit down next to him and put the beers on the ground. He turns a nearly hateful glare at me.

“What do you mean, ‘ah, that?’” he barks. “She’s not playing a game!”

“No, she’s not playing a game. And yes, you did fuck up. What, do you think you’re the only person who’s ever been through this?” I glare right back at him and wait for his response. He deflates and drops his head. He doesn’t want to fight with me. He doesn’t even want to fight.

“When you do something that knocks the wind out of someone, it takes a while for them to recoil. But when you suck all the air out of the room after you’ve knocked all the wind out of them, they may never recover. Which one do you think you did?”

“I know which one I did. That’s why I don’t think she wants me back,” he replies.

“So… now what?” I ask. “You sit here and wallow in self-pity? Because that’s what I think this is.”

He rolls his eyes.

“So, I was wrong for mourning the loss of my baby and now I’m not allowed to mourn the loss of my girl?” he challenges. I scoff.

“You didn’t lose her. You threw her away!” I retort. “She didn’t do anything wrong, Garrett. She made a choice—a choice about her body, but it turned out not to be the right choice for you. No one is discounting the pain, hurt, and disappointment that you felt, but you two should have worked this out together.”

“I thought we did,” he interjects.

“No, you didn’t,” I accuse. “You took her choice away. You made it such that either she have that baby or you leave. I don’t know if you considered the consequences of your decision—how it would affect her, how it would affect you, but it nearly killed her. It did kill her emotionally, and you can see for yourself what it did physically. Did you tell her that you would leave if she terminated the pregnancy?”

“No, but I didn’t tell her that I was going to stay.” That is a juvenile response.

Mmmm… kay,” I say, skeptically. “And you’re surprised that she’s feeling the way she’s feeling right now.”

“I’m not surprised,” he retorts.

“But you expected her to welcome you back into her life just because you showed up again?”

“I don’t know what I expected!” he shoots. “I didn’t even expect to see her, let alone wonder if she even wants me back, but is it too much for me to expect her to at least let me in? She won’t even come to my place. If I want to spend time with her, I gotta come here. And when I do, she’s… formal at best.” Is he serious?

“It’s been less than a week! What do you expect?” I declare. “You’re lucky she even agreed to see you.”

“Look, I really don’t need you to rub my face in this. I know I’m screwed.” My turn to roll my eyes.

“Garrett, I left my wife for three weeks and she nearly leapt off a cliff.” He turns a surprised tear-stained gaze to me.

“What?” he asks, in shock.

“Do you remember that random sprained ankle around her birthday?” He pauses, then nods uncertainly. “Yeah, I had a big kneejerk reaction to a big thing that happened between us and all I knew was that I couldn’t be around her. I took the clothes on my back, my telephone, my laptop, and my security, and I got outta Dodge without a word. She didn’t know where I was; she didn’t know if I was coming back; and I never spoke to her once. After trying a hundred times to get in touch with me to no avail, she had a drunken moment at a lookout point and if Chuck hadn’t been there to catch her, she wouldn’t be here right now.”

Garrett sits there looking wide-eyed and gaped mouth at me.

“No, I didn’t lose a baby. I don’t know how that feels, but I do know how it feels to feel like you’ve been so betrayed that you run away… and fuck up. So, no, you’re not the only person who has been through this. She had moved out of our bedroom and when I came back home, she didn’t move back in for a week.”

“Shit,” he says slowly in disbelief. “I can’t see that happening to you two.”

“None of us could see it happening to you and Marilyn either, but it did,” I reply.

“But you’re back, now. You’re fine,” he protests.

“It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t immediate. She had to understand what role she played in the situation and I had to understand what role I played. Figuring that out nearly ripped us apart. As much as we wanted it, we literally had to discuss if we felt like we could be together anymore or if we should just walk away—be co-parents and nothing else. That was one of the hardest things I think I’ve ever done in my life.” He raises a brow.

“You’ve had something harder than that?” he asks. I cock my head at him.

“Having to sit still and wonder where she was for four days while she was kidnapped,” I say. “Coming to grips with the fact that I may have to let her go after that accident that left her in a coma because she had a 60-day advanced directive. Fighting almost all of you when Maxine wanted to commit her when she was catatonic…”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” he says. “I never really thought about all the things you guys have been through. So… how did you get back to here?” he asks. I shrug.

“Butterfly had to get over her fear,” I tell him. “I could only help her so much, then she had to do the rest herself. We had severe trust issues that we had to overcome. Neither of us are perfect and we had to understand and accept that. We had to accept that there would be more problems, more issues, more mistakes, but we also knew that being without each other was impossible. Our relationship is not conditional—I’ll love you as long as you don’t hurt me anymore—but in the beginning, right after a really big hurt, it is. It’s like… loving to swim and sail and jet ski and surf but being afraid of the water after you nearly drown.

“The water can’t guarantee that you’re not going to drown if you’re not careful, but the only way to stay completely safe is to stay away from it and all the things that you love about it. Marilyn’s afraid of the water right now. You’re going to have to help her to love watersports again.”

“How do I do that?” he asks. “I fucked up so bad, I don’t know how to fix this.”

“It won’t be easy,” I confess. “You abandoned her when she needed you, and even though you needed the time to yourself as well, this just wasn’t the way to do it. Do you think that she, too, wasn’t ripped apart emotionally before she terminated that pregnancy?”

“The therapist said the same thing,” he admits, now looking at the ground.

“Mm-hmm, and you left her to carry all of this alone,” I say without apology. “She felt the confusion that came along with the termination, the pain of suddenly losing you without warning, the fear of uncertainty of what would happen next, the weight of all of her own insecurities…”

I’m drawing on everything I knew that my wife felt because even though there was no terminated pregnancy involved, I know from our talks that she was feeling the exact same things when I left.

“You wanted her to hurt, and she did… tremendously. Now, you want to come back and fix it—make it all better, and it’s not as easy as you thought it would be.”

“Okay, Christian, I accept that it’s not going to be easy. Just please, tell me what to do. Point me in the right direction.”

I sigh in frustration. I know what he’s feeling, but he’s got a long road ahead of him.

“You’ve got a painful conversation to have,” I tell him. “We all know that she wants the pain to stop, but does she really want you back? Does she really want a relationship with you? Does she trust you enough—or is she willing to trust you enough—to move forward from here? You’re not going to get back what you had, but is it possible for you to come together and build something else… hopefully something stronger and better than what you had before? Only time will tell if that’s going to happen, but is she… and are you really willing to try knowing that what you had before is gone?

“Experience makes it such that you can’t unwalk the road that you’ve already traveled. This is now part of your story. Will it be a milestone, or will it be the end? That’s the painful and brutally honest conversation that you must have. Depending on the outcome of that conversation, you’re going to have several moments where you will have to continuously show her how much you love her and that you understand what you lost. That sounds easy and fun, and sometimes it will be. Other times, not so much.”

“Okay,” he says with a heavy sigh. “So, where do I start? What do I do?”

I reach into my pocket and hand him a handkerchief. This wet face is killing me. Then, I retrieve the beers from the floor and give him one.

“Well, everything won’t work for everybody, but here’s what I did…”


ANASTASIA

“You are never going to believe this.”

It’s just before lunchtime on Friday morning and I’m in my study. Christian and I are planning to pay a visit to his travel agent this afternoon to get the ball rolling on our trip to Italy, so I worked from home today instead of the short day that I normally work on Fridays at Helping Hands. I’m signing off on some expense forms and calculating the latest distribution from the profit sharing from Miana’s that comes to Helping Hands when Marilyn comes strolling into the room with a goofy smile on her face. It’s a very welcome sight and I’m quite curious to see what’s brought this on.

“What?” I ask, my interest piqued.

“Are you ready for this?” she baits. “Gary made me a mixtape—well, a mix mp3,” she says, smiling giddily.

“Really?” I say, surprised. “How many songs?”

“Five,” she says, her voice full of mirth. “My Love is Your Love by Whitney Houston, Lost Without You by Robin Thicke, Can’t Let go by Anthony Hamilton, I Can’t Stop Loving You by Kem, and Have You Ever Loved Somebody by Brandy.” She’s giggling so hard. I can’t believe that these five songs have her so tickled.

“Five songs, huh?” I reply. He couldn’t find any more? She nods, laughter still lacing her voice.

“No, you don’t get it. He made me a mix tape. He sang all the songs himself,” she confesses. My eyes widen. He must’ve talked to Christian.

“He did?” I inquire, shocked. “I didn’t know Gary could sing.”

“He can’t!” she declares, laughter taking her over, tears now falling from her eyes. “He knows his music! He has all those synthesizers at work. He even played his acoustic guitar. The music is beautiful, but he can’t hold a tune to save his life! It’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever heard!”

I raise a brow in slight confusion as she’s reduced to uncontrollable laughter, unable to contain a chuckle or two of my own. When she composes herself, she finally tells me the meaning of her last statement.

“Do you have any idea the guts it takes for somebody who can’t sing if the world depended on it to make a mixtape of five live songs against professional music—runs and all? He’s under absolutely no misconception about his lack of vocal ability! He has the ear—he just don’t have the pipes!”

She lets that statement hang in the air for a while before she breaks out in uncontrollable laughter again. This time I join her. Her laughter is infectious, and I haven’t heard it like this in months. It’s a wonderful sound.

We had talked earlier about her meeting with her shrink. It’s like she sees her doctors, then she comes to me for a second opinion, which I don’t mind. I’m a professional, and we are friends. She had shared with her shrink—I think her name is Dora—about her fear of getting close and letting her guard down, and how ridiculous it seemed to her since all she really wanted was for him to come back. Now he’s back, and she doesn’t know how to get comfortable.

Her doctor expounded on the dangers of jumping back into a relationship with Gary before she could clearly see where her own life was going—what direction she wants to take as an individual before she starts to plot her path as part of a couple.

“She told me that it was dangerous to see myself as Gary’s girlfriend before I had put myself back together and figured out who I really was,” she had said. I couldn’t agree more, but being on the inside of all of this, I have to admit that all I wanted was for her and Gary to get back together and for her to stop killing herself. As hurt as she was, she always seemed to have a brutally realistic grasp of the truth of her situation with her…

… Boyfriend? Ex-boyfriend? Whatever. She was under no misconception of the damage her decision had done to their relationship, and even if she had hope in the beginning, she was never delusional about the possibility—or lack of possibility—of him coming back. She was lost and forsaken without him. Granted, it was like horrible withdrawal symptoms from a drug, but Gary was the dose she needed to come back from the brink of hell.

But alas, ultimately drugs are no good for you, and even though the analogy is kind of harsh, Gary’s return is just a fix. Dora’s right. She’s got to repair the damage she did to herself on her own before she can let him in that way.

So, seeing her giddy as a schoolgirl over a mixtape is both refreshing and disturbing—disturbing because she’s getting that “quick fix” again, but refreshing because I haven’t seen her this vibrant in months… at least!

“Those are some very powerful songs,” I tell her.

“I know,” she says, taking a seat in front of my desk with her iPod Touch. “I know he wants me to hear the words, and I’m trying, but…” She’s still smiling but she trails off.

“What?” I ask.

“I’m just thinking a lot,” she says. “I was so independent before Gary. I had my own place. I had friends. I went out whenever I wanted to. Now, his friends are my friends and some of my friends that aren’t couple friends fell off. Without him, it was like I had no direction, no purpose, no life… and I can’t let that happen again. I’ll never go back to the person that I was before, but I need to find some small piece of me still here so that I can build on that.”

“How’s that going?” I ask. She does that kind of so-so ­gesture with her head.

“It’s a slow process,” she says, “and I have to thank you tremendously for meditation and yoga. They were helping me find my center even before he came back. Even with the shock of his return, I think I still took it better than I would have had I not had some kind of coping techniques.” I frown.

“I don’t know, Mare. You took it pretty hard. You ran out on the golf green in the middle of the night with no coat on in high heel shoes and fell to your knees in the wet grass.”

“Well, yeah, at first,” she concurs. “I agree that the initial shock and the immediate fear of getting hurt again was more than I could take. I had to—have to heal twice… once from him leaving and once from him coming back.”

“Okay, I’m the shrink and you lost me,” I say. She sighs.

“I know. I was lost when Dora explained it, but she hit the nail right on the head.” She adjusts in her seat. “Imagine some kind of trauma that causes you to stop breathing. Whatever the trauma, it has damaged your body immensely quite possibly beyond recovery. Now, someone around you performs CPR—chest compressions. If you do chest compressions correctly, you’re going to break some ribs, but the heart and the breath will probably start again.

“Whatever the trauma that caused you to stop breathing has to heal or you may stop breathing again, but that CPR caused damage, too… and that has to heal. Gary leaving was the trauma that caused me to stop breathing. Gary returning was the CPR. I can see now that the world isn’t ending, but both of those things have shaken me to my core. Both of those occurrences happened completely without warning, and I wasn’t prepared. And now I have to regroup before I can give myself to anybody.”

“Did you tell Gary this?” I ask. She shrugs.

“In so many words,” she says. “I didn’t tell him that I don’t want him, but I did tell him that after meeting with Dora, I realize that I have to get myself together. I made a life decision for my life. Whatever else it was, whoever else it affected, it affected me the most, and I feel like he made me pay for my decision. What if it happens again? Let’s not even talk about if I get pregnant again. What if I make a decision that could affect my life just as significantly and he doesn’t agree with it? Just for one moment, I need him to stop seeing ‘she killed my baby’ and start seeing that I had a reason for making the decision about my body that I did. And I don’t think he can. Can I live with him constantly feeling like I betrayed him, like I’m a murderer, instead of understanding even for a moment why I made the decision that I did?”

I don’t know who this Dora shrink is, but she’s damn good.

“I totally get it, Mare… and I get that Gary sees you slipping away.” She nods.

“I know he does, but I’m not slipping away from him. I just gotta find me, first.”

“That’s a massive undertaking you’re embarking upon right now. Would you be able to cope with it if you came out of it… single?” Her shoulders fall.

“I really hope that doesn’t happen,” she says sadly, “but the truth is… I feel like I went to the brink of hell and looked Satan right in his mouth, and I didn’t die. It may seem dramatic to someone else, but that’s how I felt. Even though my decision affected him, it affected me more… because it’s my body. So, now, I have to make another life decision—to concentrate on trying to heal myself before I can even think about healing us. I love Gary, but if he can’t understand that, then I don’t know where that leaves us.”

“Did he give you the impression that he wouldn’t understand?” I ask. She twists her lips and holds up her iPod Touch.

“Okay, let me rephrase,” I say with a chuckle. “When you two had this conversation, did you leave him feeling like you would completely step aside from you two as a couple to find you as a person?” She ponders the thought for a while.

“I don’t think I did,” she replies, “but I don’t know how he may have interpreted our conversation. I didn’t break up with him because that’s not what I want to do, but are we technically together? We never really did break-up, he just left…”

“Sweetheart, you broke up,” I say. “He didn’t say the words, but you broke up.”

“Okay, yeah, you’re right,” she says, “but that further proves my point. Where does that leave us now? We’re around each other, which is a hell of a lot more than what we were a month ago, but are we together?” She shakes her head. “If I don’t know where this puts us, I’m sure he doesn’t.”

“You two are floating around in limbo and you definitely need to put a label on what you’re doing,” I tell her. “If you’re going to work on your relationship while you work on yourself, tell him that. If you’re going to set him aside while you work on yourself, tell him that. But right now, Mare, you don’t even know.” She shrugs and shakes her head.

“No, I don’t,” she admits.

“Well, you’ve got a homework assignment, because this isn’t fair to either of you. Make a clear and concise decision about what you want to do, and then make sure that he knows what your decision is. It’s only right.”

“I know,” she says. “I know you’re right, but right now… I’m going to listen to my mixtape.” She smiles at me and waves her iPod at me. I return her smile as she leaves my office. Might as well let her have some enjoyment. She’s been miserable long enough.

*-*

It appears that my husband only deals with the very beautiful. After stopping by the Fairlane Olympic to check on Sarah, I meet my husband at an agency downtown called Glittering Adventures. When I arrive, he’s already inside, and his agent is hanging on his every word.

This woman is stunning.

She has a gorgeous mane of cherry blonde hair cascading over her shoulders in full, billowing curls. I can tell by her blended dark roots and dark brown eyebrows that this is not her natural color, but it’s the best bottle job I’ve ever seen! Beautiful, large brown eyes and perfect olive skin makes me think that either she’s Mediterranean, or she spent just the right amount of time in the tanning salon.

She’s sitting across from my husband wearing a pink blouse that’s unbuttoned just low enough not to be indecent. She coyly toys with a pendant hanging from a silver or platinum necklace, gazing at my husband as he speaks. I almost want to leave… I feel like I’m intruding.

“Here she is,” he says sweetly when he sees that I’ve entered the building. He stands from his seat as I walk over to the desk to join him.

“I stopped to check on Sarah,” I say after he kisses my cheek.

“How is she?” he asks.

“A little lonely, I think,” I reply.

“Maybe we should invite her to dinner at the Crossing?” It’s a question, not a statement. I shrug.

“It’s worth a shot,” I say, unbuttoning my coat. He removes it for me and hangs it on a coat tree with his as I take a quick moment to make eye-contact with Cherry Blonde over here. She doesn’t linger on my gaze for a second. She turns right to her computer.

Oh, okay. Can’t even introduce yourself, huh? I see.

“Butterfly,” Christian says, coming back to the desk. “This is Audrey Law. She handles all of my travel arrangements. Ms. Law, this is my wife, Anastasia Grey.” She smiles widely at me… now.

“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Grey,” she says.

“Audrey,” I say with a knowing smirk. For a nanosecond, I can see the defense in her eyes, but it’s gone as quickly as it presents.

“So… Italy,” she says, now turning back to Christian.

“Yes,” he says. “We’re going this summer.”

“How long do you plan to stay?” she asks, still fluttering her eyelashes at my husband. I sigh inwardly. Must you be so fucking obvious?

“I’m thinking six weeks,” Christian replies. “The last two weeks will be spent in Sala Comacina on Lake Como.”

“Excellent choice,” she says, her voice suggestive. “Were you looking to rent a villa there?”

“No,” I interject, my voice a little too syrupy sweet. “I own one there already. Christian gave it to me as a push gift when I gave birth to our twins.” I smile a full 32-teeth fake smile at her, which she returns before turning her gaze back to Christian. I hear him scoff slightly in his chest as I move closer to him.

Yes, I’m pissing on my territory, dear.

“That was very sweet,” she says to Christian, still ignoring me. “Do you have any other specific plans for your trip? Any other destinations you particularly want to see?”

“Yes,” Christian replies. “We’d like to begin our trip in Rome. Then, at some point, we’ll get to Milan. I’ll be flying my wife’s stylist out with us during that week to take advantage of authentic Italian fashion for her fall and winter wardrobe.”

Audrey’s brow rises when he says that, and my smile becomes more genuine as I realize what he’s doing.

“Very well, I’ll be sure to arrange that,” she says, the warmth in her voice slipping slightly.

“Florence is a given,” he continues. “I’d definitely like to introduce my Butterfly to the birthplace of the Renaissance. Although I’ve seen it in person, she has yet to experience the magnificence of the David up close.” It’s Audrey’s turn to scoff.

“You haven’t seen the David?” she says, mimicking shock but relaying a bit of disgust. Oh, I know what you’re doing, bitch.

“No, I haven’t,” I say, regretfully. “I’ve always wanted to see many places and things, but unfortunately, my early life didn’t afford me that luxury. As fate would have it, though, I fell in love with a man who is determined to show me the world and loves to take me away to places on a moment’s notice. In just the last three years, I’ve been to Greece, Paris, Anguilla, Australia—even some of the best places right here in the United States. I barely get a chance to store away my memories of the last exotic destination before he’s whisking me off again.”

“Oh,” she replies, a bit deflated. “That must be quite the ordeal trying to be a good mother to infant twins,” she digs.

“Oh, not at all,” I retort. “My husband and I make every accommodation for our babies, including assuring that they have plenty of time with Mommy and Daddy. We just spent several weeks in Las Vegas taking care of some very trying events and even then, my husband had our twins sent to us for the last two weeks of the trip. The situation was very hard for me but having my babies with me made it so much easier to bear. I don’t know if you have children, but if you do, you know how hard it is for a mother to be without her children even for a day without suffering from separation anxiety.” She tries not to twist her lips.

“No,” she says, flatly, “I don’t.”

“Oh, well let me tell you,” I continue. “They’re not infants anymore. They’re actually toddlers now, but I still can’t stand being away from them. Even with two full-time, live-in nannies, it’s imperative that I be a part of their everyday life. That does mean that traveling can be a bit of a task. If I don’t Facetime with them every day, I can’t sleep…”

“Ditto,” Christian interjects, and I look lovingly over at him.

“That’s why the last leg of our trip has to be at my villa,” I add, “so that our children can come and join us.”

“Oh,” she says, deflating again. “Well, okay. Um, I’m not sure what activities to plan in Lake Como that can include two toddlers…”

“Don’t worry about that,” Christian says. “My wife and I will handle our children’s entertainment. I’m more concerned about having a clean itinerary for the rest of our trip that involves as little hassle and is virtually seamless so that my wife can see as much of Italy as possible. I’m sure you understand.”

The tone of the last sentence has a bit of a warning in it that I hope she heard, especially since her fees and commissions are going to be included in the excursions and trips that she plans for us. If she fucks this up, one-upping me is going to be the least of her problems. She’s going to have one angry bull on her hands.

I raise my brow at my husband acknowledging that I heard that tone, before turning a knowing look back to Audrey. He never takes his eyes off her, and she straightens in her seat and swallows.

Yeah, she heard it.

“Of course, Mr. Grey,” she says, her voice crisper and more professional, but still warm—to my husband at least. “Have I ever let you down?”

“No, you haven’t, Ms. Law. That’s why I keep coming back.” And if you want him to continue coming back, you’ll turn that simpering shit off and do your damn job. One word from me and we’ve got a new travel agent.

“Of course, of course, Mr. Grey. Any other specifics you have in mind?”

“Yes,” he says. “we must be in Venice no later than June 29 and we don’t want to leave before July 2.”

“Any particular activity or event for Venice?” she asks.

“Yes,” he says, looking over at me. “It’s our wedding anniversary. We must be in Venice.”

A shy blush reddens my cheeks and a girlish giggle that I can’t fake escapes in my chest as I consider what decadent and sexy plans my husband has for us in the most romantic city in the world.

Audrey can’t fake it either. The same thought is making her ill.

“Ah, yes,” she says, now turning to her computer and typing feverishly. “Gondola rides, I presume?” Her tone is condescending, but Christian either ignores it or misses it entirely.

Endless gondola rides,” he says, still looking into my eyes and now taking my hand. “A kiss under the Bridge of Sighs at sunset, hot chocolate at Café Florian, strolling the beautiful stone streets of the quaint back alleys, eating gelato in the shadow of the Palazzo Papadopoli…”

I’m now gazing into my husband’s eyes and imagining this wonderful scene that he’s painting for me… the cliché kiss under the famed Bridge of Sighs that’s making my heart race as we speak. I’m actually seeing scenes of Lady and the Tramp sharing the same piece of spaghetti and accidently kissing in the middle, if you can believe it. Once again, I look into this man’s eyes and see my future, full of love and passion, memories to be made, challenges to overcome…

“Yes, fine, okay, I can have an itinerary ready for your review by tomorrow morning.”

Unable to stand the electricity coursing between my husband and me, Audrey rudely and abruptly interrupts my lustful and longing thought processes. I fucking forgot she was even here.

“No waiting for tickets to attractions. All intercountry travel arranged in advance. I trust you can handle this in a satisfactory manner?” he says, turning his attention back to Audrey.

“Yes, of course, Mr. Grey. You won’t be disappointed.” She stands and extends her hand to my husband. He shakes it courteously and releases it. Then, he looks at me and back at Audrey. She plasters a phony smile on her face.

“Mrs. Grey,” she says, proffering her hand to me. Um, no.

“Audrey,” I say, turning to the exit and leaving without shaking her hand.

“That wasn’t very nice,” my husband says once we’re out of the office, failing to hide the mirth in his voice.

“No more than she deserved,” I reply. “Much less, in fact. I should have scratched her smartastic, condescending, whorish little eyes out… but I didn’t.”


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

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~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 28

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

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

Season 5 Episode 28

ANASTASIA

“Hey, Baby Boo, if you make me a batch of those chocolate truffles, I’ll do the dishes for you.” Sophie’s eyes light up.

“Deal, Dad!” she says. She opens the refrigerator and produces a healthy bowl of truffles, handing them to her father. Jason’s mouth falls open.

“You little sneaky mouse,” he says, and Sophie giggles.

“Are there any more leftovers, Sophie?” Christian asks from the counter. “I’d love more of the coq au vin.”

“Yes, Uncle Christian, there’s leftovers of everything.”

“May I have a doggy bag?” he asks.

“Me, too,” I chime in. “The tart is basically a memory, now, but I’d love servings of whatever you’ve got left.”

“C’est un sac gastronomique, Oncle Christian,” Sophie corrects. Christian and I both raise a brow at her.

“Tu peux parler Français?” I ask in awe. Sophie puts her finger and thumb together.

“Un peu,” she admits. “I’m learning at school; some on my own on the internet.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don’t take all my food, you gluttons!” Jason warns.

“Pipe down, you blow hard,” Christian says. “Besides, it’s not your food, it’s Sophie’s food. Don’t worry, we’ll leave some for you. And while you’re balking, give up some of those truffles!”

“Not a chance!” Jason retorts. “I bartered for these! I earned them! Get your own, you loafer!”

“You haven’t washed a single dish, yet!” Christian protests. “Who’s the glutton now?”

“But I will, so stay away from my chocolates!”

Sophie giggles at two grown men fighting over her food as she artfully crafts foil swans just like they do in the fancy restaurants and fills them with servings of what’s left of dinner while Christian and Jason bicker about the chocolates. I have to tear Christian away from the brawl and scoot him out of the apartment, bidding Gail goodnight and offering my apologies to a giggling Sophie for her Uncle Christian’s immature behavior.

When we get to the elevator, Christian pushes the button for the second floor. My brow furrows.

“You don’t want to put the food away?” I ask.

“Oh, I intend to,” he says with a nod. Catching his meaning, I laugh.

“And here I was wondering how I was going to maneuver a midnight kitchen run.”

*-*

“She was very happy with the outcome last night,” Gail says as we sit at the breakfast bar the next morning.

“Well, the food was really good,” I reply. “It’s not like we had to lie about it. Those foil swans went right up to the suite last night. We ate our leftovers and watched TV.” Gail and I laugh.

“I thought Jason was going to get downright violent over those chocolate truffles,” she laughs.

“Tell me about it!” I say with mirth, “Two grown men fighting over chocolate.”

“That’s okay,” Christian says coming into the kitchen. “I know he’s bringing some of those chocolate goodies to work today and if he doesn’t share them, he can’t have any more Christmas cookies.”

“Are you serious?” I gasp a laugh. “Christmas is nine months away! How are you even going to remember that?”

“Oh, I’ll remember,” he says. “The minute I smell that goodness baking in the air, I’ll remember.”

“Oh, this is ridiculous,” I say. “I guess we’re going to have to bribe Sophie into making a batch of those truffles every week or we’re going to have civil war here!”

“That works for me,” Christian chimes in shamelessly. I smile to myself, then shake my head.

“Shalane is really doing a huge disservice by keeping Sophie from going to Italy!” I hiss. “She’s a natural talent, and now she wants to go to the motherland of Italian cooking where she can learn the background behind the food and take advantage of the culture and her mom is trying to hinder her. She can’t do much else for the girl while she’s locked away. Why wouldn’t she do this?”

“I don’t think she’s concerned about all that,” Christian says. “I think she’s concerned about her own selfish things and hurting Jason. Maybe she wants to make Sophie beg some more.”

“That’s just ridiculous!” I snap. “That girl could turn out to be magnificent and this is her chance to help her and she won’t do it. What a despicable human being.”

“Talking about my mom?” Sophie says, surprising us all and coming around the corner from the family room and into the kitchen. We’re all in stunned and ashamed silence because none of us expected her to still be here.

“Pumpkin, what are you still doing here?” Gail asks.

“We’re running a little late,” she says. “I think Dad was in a sugar coma.”

“He ate ‘em all?” Christian exclaims, dismayed, and Sophie shrugs. “No Christmas cookies! Not one!” he declares finitely. I sigh.

“Sophie, I will pay you to make those truffles once a week,” I declare. Her eyes widen.

“Once a week? Really?” she asks.

“Yes, because if you don’t, these two are going to kill each other over those chocolates!”

“Sure,” she says. “They’re so easy to make. And, yeah, my mother’s a… word that I can’t use.” Sophie puts her bookbag on the counter and goes to the refrigerator. She opens the Subzero and stops.

“You didn’t… like the food?” she asks me and Christian. I frown.

“Why would you think that?” I ask.

“The swans aren’t in here,” she says sadly. Christian and I laugh immediately.

“No, Sophie, we loved that food… so much, in fact, that it never made it to the refrigerator.” Sophie’s brow furrows.

“You ate it for breakfast?” she asks.

“We ate it for an after-dinner snack,” Christian clarifies. “Boy, that would have been a sight to see… two grown billionaires in their pajamas eating mashed potatoes in bed with their fingers!” Sophie bursts out laughing.

“You ate with your fingers?” she giggles.

“I didn’t feel like coming back downstairs for utensils,” he explains. Satisfied, and still giggling, Sophie removes the orange juice from the refrigerator.

“Sophie,” I say tentatively, “since you already know what we were talking about, I want to ask you a question. I know that I asked if you wanted to help decorate the villa, but… I don’t want to make you feel badly about… you know, helping to decorate it and then not getting to see it.” Sophie’s eyes widen.

“Please, let me help you decorate the villa, Aunt Ana,” she beseeches. “It may be the closest I get to Italy this year. Please?” I sigh. I hate that she’s going through this.

“Of course, you can, Sophie,” I say. “I just didn’t know if you would still want to.”

“I still want to,” she says, “even if I don’t get to see it in person.” I try not to shake my head.

“You’re such a grown-up girl,” I say. “You surprise me every day.”

She giggles into her orange juice and I catch a glimpse of Jason out of the corner of my eye. He is fuming, and I’m not really sure why. I inconspicuously elbow Christian, but he has the tact of a goat sometimes and rubbernecks his head right over to Jason.

Fuck.

Jason sees the possible problem brewing and comes out of his hiding place. What the hell was he doing eavesdropping back there anyway?

“Ready to go, Baby Boo?” he says in his normal voice. “I’m sorry we’re going to be late. I told Jeff I would take you to school and then I dropped the ball. Too many chocolates, I guess.”

“Stingy hog,” Christian says under his breath before finishing his coffee. He stands and kisses me on the cheek. “Love you.”

“Love you, too,” I reply. “Drop the word to those loafers not to get too comfortable. I’ll be back to bring some hell next week. I just need to make sure the center is running okay.”

“Will do,” he says, walking past Jason.

“I’m ready, Dad,” Sophie says. She finishes her orange juice and puts her glass in the sink.

“Bye, Momma Gail,” she says, kissing Gail on the cheek.

“See you after school, Pumpkin,” Gail replies.

“Bye, Aunt Ana!” she says, dashing past her Dad.

“Bye. Sophie,” I say to her retreating back. Jason falls in step behind her, and I suppose Christian will find out why he’s fuming.

*-*

It’s business as usual at the Center. Courtney informs me that things are still touch and go with her grandfather, and she’s not hopeful that it’ll change any time soon, but that he has agreed not to harass her as long as she doesn’t do anything to hurt Addie. She had already written off the relationship, so nothing that he said to her had any merit as far as she was concerned. So, in her own words, she’s no better off than she was before and no worse.

Ebony didn’t come in today. She hasn’t missed a day since I hired her, so this gives me cause for concern. She’s not answering her cell phone, and I don’t want to send someone to her address on file simply because she missed a day of work. I’ll just have to wait and see how things pan out.

Marilyn didn’t come in today either. She and Gary went back to her doctor to see if her condition needs any further intervention since she’s unable to keep food down.

There were a couple of residents who needed to chat today and work through some fears and problems, but besides that, like I said, business as usual.

I left the Center a couple of hours early to go to my annual checkup with Dr. Culley, my OB/GYN. After the usual pap smear and the regular barrage of tests, she informs me that since I’ve stopped breastfeeding, my normal periods should begin again in about a month or so.

Christian has made it home by the time I get there and he’s down in his study working on God only knows what. I’m hoping that I don’t have to roll through GEH again and rattle some cages, because I don’t have a problem doing just that if my husband turns into a bear again. However, it looks like the same old thing for him—business as usual.

I go to my study to get a look at the blueprints for the villa. Pop’s death last year put everything on hold and to be honest, so much has occurred in the nine months since that date that I haven’t given any thought whatsoever to the place. Who’s been taking care of it? Has it just laid vacant all this time? I would imagine that someone is looking after it just like they are his other properties when he’s away—which, by the way, I’m still not sure of all of them after the years we’ve been together. I think there’s one in New York, one in Hawaii, and a ski resort somewhere, but I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask him one day.

I never even got to look at the Villa last year. I don’t even know if the link to the virtual tour is still available. I know I have the floor plan and blueprints though. That’s somewhere to start. I open the file where I saved the basic floor plan.

Holy cow, Batman.

Is this right? This can’t be right!

“Christian!” I bellow.

“What?” My husband comes barreling into my office a few moments after I call him. He looks anxious. Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you, but…

“The villa, Christian,” I say. “This place is bigger than my house!”

He glares at me for a moment. Then he puts his hands on his hips.

“Woman, you just screamed like you were being attacked and it’s about the villa?” he asks incredulously.

“It’s got 14 bedrooms, Christian! What the fuck am I supposed to do with 14 bedrooms?”

“Rent ’em out!” he snaps. “Invite the homeless to stay! Open a museum and charge admission for all I care!” he adds, throwing his hands in the air. “Woman screaming bloody murder. Scared the shit outta me!” He leaves the room mumbling and fussing at no one.

I didn’t mean to startle him, but fuck. Fourteen fucking bedrooms? What a colossal waste of space! Fourteen bedrooms for two people. It’s going to cost a fortune to decorate this place and then we’re only going to stay there for two weeks out of the year… and not every year! Damn straight, the family’s coming. I thought this was going to be fun. I’m going to have to move fast—real fast. And I have to find someone to decorate this damn place overseas! For fuck’s sake. I would have started this last year had I known. I get up and stomp into Christian’s study.

“Is this place at least empty?” I ask.

“For the most part, yes, Anastasia it is,” he says without raising his head.

“Don’t Anastasia me!” I bark. “I’ve got to find a decorator overseas—or one that we plan to fly overseas—that can decorate a 14-bedroom villa in two and a half months. Don’t you think you should have told me?” Now, he raises his gaze to me.

“We’ve owned that villa for longer than our children have been alive,” he retorts coolly. “Forgive me if I thought you already knew by now.”

Probably a hundred snappy comebacks attack me at once about the crazy couple of years we’ve had and how the last thing on my mind would be the floor plan of a villa a million miles away. As soon as the comebacks pop to mind, my thoughts get all jumbled like they often do with a three-second funnel…

I should be grateful; he bought me a villa.
This asshole could’ve told me it was 14 bedrooms.
I’m being petty I should have fun with this.
How the hell am I supposed to decorate all this space in three months!
We’ll have our own space to relax in while we’re in Italy. It’ll be so romantic.
I’m not even going to be there! Who the fuck is going to oversee this shit?

I know I do the bobble head and at the end of the three-second funnel, all I get is, “Get the fuck outta this room.”

So, I do.

I march my confused ass back to my office and slam the door. I drop back down in my seat and look at the blueprints on my laptop screen… forlorn. I hope the virtual walk-through still works, because if it doesn’t, I’m completely screwed. I have to find a decorator that’s willing to decorate the home… overseas… without me being there… and it has to be someone that somebody in the family knows or else they have to be vetted and that could take a fucking month.

I drop my head in dismay on the laptop and groan my displeasure. After I lament for a moment or two, I realize that I have no time to waste if I want to get this damn thing decorated before June. I really can’t be mad at Christian, but I can… but I can’t… but I am. Had I known what I was dealing with, I would have chosen paint colors, textiles, and flooring long ago. Now, my only option is to choose a style and run with it. I click the link for the virtual tour and, thank God, it still works.

I can get a feel of what the villa looks like, but not what I’m really working with since the rooms are all full of this Metro-Euro-Contemporary-Americano-Modern whatever this crap is so I can’t even get a good look at the walls or the floors, only the layout. This whole first-person tour thing is not really working for me. It’s the whole 3D, virtual reality thing instead of watching a movie, which gives you a better feel for the space. It just looks like a big ass house that I need to decorate.

So, yeah, I’m screwed. I groan again, retrieve my cell and call Elliot.

“Montana, what’s the word?” he answers.

“Help me,” I groan.

“Well, you sound sorrowful,” he says. “What’s up?”

“Did Christian tell you that he bought me a villa in Italy?” I say.

“He may have mentioned it, yeah,” Elliot says.

“We’re taking a Roman vacation in June,” I tell him. “I don’t know when we’ll end up in the villa, maybe July. I have to decorate it before that!”

“Okay, well, three months, that’s good time,” he soothes.

“Elliot, the damn thing has 14 bedrooms.” The line is quiet for a moment.

“Fourteen?” he nearly shrieks. “What the fuck are you going to do with 14 bedrooms?”

“My sentiments exactly!” I concur. “You know Christian’s motto—go big or go bigger!” I can almost see Elliot rubbing the back of his neck.

“What are you gonna do?” he asks.

“I was hoping you could help me with that part,” I admit. “Know any designers—good and discreet designers—who are willing to take on this overseas job with a bottomless budget and decorate my villa for me?”

He’s quiet again.

“Come on, Elliot, you gotta know somebody,” I reply.

“I know a few that might be able to do it. Getting them is going to be the problem. Spring is right around the corner and they’re in high demand right now.”

“Elliot, when I say bottomless, I mean bottomless,” I tell him. He sighs.

“Will there be any blasting, demo, and rebuilds?” he asks.

“Not that I know of, but even if there was, we wouldn’t do it now. We don’t have time,” I reply.

“There’s always time. Why don’t you know?”

“When’s the last time I’ve been to Italy, Elliot?” I ask. “I haven’t seen this place. I’ve only seen virtual tours and blueprints and you know how helpful those are.”

“So, you’re actually going to need someone to go over there and do a walkthrough—probably a designer and an architect…”

“Not an architect,” I tell him. “Whatever we can’t hide is just going to have to wait.” He’s silent again.

“There’s always Gia,” he says. “Where I or Christian are involved, she’ll jump at the chance.”

“Gia who? Oh, wait… Gia Mateo? The Mrs-Grey-Hopeful that decorated his boat? How about, ‘no?’ How about, ‘hell, no?’”

“Your pickings are kind of slim, Montana,” he says. “Short notice and they’ve got to drop everything they’re doing to fly overseas and check out your villa in one of the busiest decorating seasons of the year. Do you realize what you’re asking?” I groan inwardly. Of course, I realize what I’m asking… the impossible.

“What about the guy that helped decorate the crossing?” I ask. “What was his name?”

“Aaron,” Elliot says. “He was going to be one of my suggestions, but he’s a hot commodity.”

“Bottomless…”

“Be that as it may,” he interrupts, “he may still be unavailable, and you’d have to go with Gia.”

“I thought you said you had some others,” I quip.

“Those are two of the best and I trust them,” he counters.

“You trust Gia?” I accuse.

“Yes, Montana, I trust Gia. We used to fuck, but that’s not why. She’s good at what she does; she’s a consummate professional; and she dare not cross the Greys—any of us.” I think that last part was for me.

“She’ll be a last resort,” I say.

“She may be an only resort,” he replies.

“Call Aaron first,” I say. “Let him know that I have a huge, profitable job for him, but let me explain what it is.”

“Okay,” Elliot says with skepticism, “but you might want me to put in a call to Gia, too.”

“Aaron, first,” I insist. “I have to go now. I’ve got to lament over blueprints and textiles some more.”

“Talk to you later, Montana.” I end the call.

Gia Mateo. I’ve never met her, but in my head, I’m seeing a busty blonde or redhead with way too much makeup and really tight clothes. A woman you would definitely want to keep your husband away from… and who won’t be decorating my villa if I have to pay Aaron three times his normal fee!

I don’t even know what to look for in terms of style for my villa, so I begin to shut everything down. No use in beating myself over the head. I haven’t talked to Marilyn all day and she promised to give me an update on her doctor’s appointment today. Did she get bad news? Is she hiding? Only one way to find out.

**Hey Mare, come see me in my office when you get a chance. **

Either she’ll come immediately, or she won’t come at all. So, I continue getting things together, clearing my desk, and shutting down. Maybe she’s not home, yet. Maybe she decided to spend the night at Gary’s. Maybe…

“Hey,” Marilyn says as she enters my office.

“Hey,” I say, after shutting down my laptop. “How goes things?”

“Okay, I guess,” she says, noncommittal. Hmm, not sure how to interpret that.

“I was expecting you to tell me how the doctor’s appointment went,” I say. “Mine went fine. I’m not pregnant,” I jest. Marilyn laughs weakly.

“I’m sorry. I just forgot,” she says, coming further into the room. She seems a little depressed, not as bad as before, but not particularly happy.

“Is everything okay?” I ask. Maybe the doctor gave her some bad news.

“Not great, but as well as can be expected,” she begins. “As it turns out, the meal replacement shakes and smoothies kind of helped to get me back to where I needed to be. I’m not there, yet, but I’m coming out of the danger zone since I haven’t lost any more weight. Since I’ve gotten over the possible risk of just wasting away, the doctor says that now is a good time to get a structured dietary plan. So, I’m now seeing a nutritionist to whom I have to report every week. She will report to my doctor every week, and if we don’t see some significant improvement, then I may have to be hospitalized before my vital organs start shutting down.”

“Are you still at risk for that?” I ask.

“Not that we can tell, but we’ll have to see.” She replies. I nod.

“Where’s Gary?”

“He’s back at his place for the night,” she says.

“He’s not running, is he?”

“No,” she says with uncertainty.

“You don’t know,” I say.

“No, I don’t think he’s running.” I examine her.

You’re not running, are you?” I ask. She raises her gaze to me but doesn’t answer. “I thought this was what you wanted.” She sits on the chest in front of my desk.

“Have you ever felt a pain that was so bad and so deep that you would do anything not to feel it again?” she asks.

“I have,” I say. It made me afraid to love for half a decade. “You’re afraid.”

She turns her gaze from me, sighs heavily, and nods.

“Mare, what you were doing to your body—starving yourself and not eating—that wasn’t healthy, and that wasn’t normal. But this, what you’re feeling right now, this is totally normal. I felt this way when Christian returned after he left me and went to Madrid. I love him endlessly, but when he came back, I sat waiting for several days for the other shoe to drop… for something horrible to happen and he leaves me again. I couldn’t get comfortable. I couldn’t let him touch me. I couldn’t let him love me… I couldn’t trust him with my heart anymore. Things were perfect and then… they weren’t.”

It hurts just thinking about that time of our lives let alone talking about it.

“How long did it last?” she asks. I sigh.

“It’s hard to say,” I reply. “I was still uncertain when we went on our Australian cruise. We had to talk to people… therapists, friends… we had to learn to trust each other again.”

“That’s exactly what this is,” she says, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around her legs. She looks like she’s shrinking, but I can’t say for sure that she is.

“I love him so much,” she says, looking off into the distance. “I want to be with him, but I’m so afraid that it I get comfortable again, it’s all going to crumble and I’m going to back where I started from. I’d be better off alone than to let that happen.” There’s a revelation.

“Would you rather be alone?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No,” she replies, “I want Gary.” I stand and walk over to the front of my desk.

“Then it’s a chance you have to take, Mare,” I tell her. “Nothing lasts forever, you know that, but we live our best lives and we glean what happiness we can from it while we’re here. A wise woman once told me that as long as we’re alive, the fear of something going wrong—the monsters—will always be there. We have to decide if we’re going to let the monsters run our lives.” I sigh.

“Mare, the foundation of my entire world was shaken… shattered when Christian left. Hell, I damn near leapt off a cliff, for God’s sake. When he came back, I was scared frozen. I didn’t know how to let him in. It took a while for things to get back to normal and took a while for me to understand exactly what I wanted. I knew that we were never going to get that perfect, untarnished love back because it was now stained with reality. So, did I want to build from where we were or did I want to let go?

“That’s the first question that you have to answer for yourself. Do you want to start from where you are right now and build on love from there, or are you too hurt and too afraid and you want to let go? And Mare, there’s nothing wrong with needing to be with yourself, by yourself, to find yourself again if that’s what you need to do. But you’re going to have to ask yourself if you want to do that without Gary, because honestly, you weren’t doing so well without him.”

“I already know that I don’t want to be without him,” she confesses. “I know it.”

“Well, then you’re going to have to face up to your fears and fight the monsters,” I reply. “Yes, it’s scary, and it won’t be easy. Anything we have can change in the blink of an eye. Do you sit and wait for the monsters to gobble you up, or do you grab those sons of bitches by the throat and you show them who’s boss?” I ask, using the same words Laura used with me about the Boogeyman. Mare takes a shuddering breath.

“I’m going to bed,” she says as she stands. “This entire thing is exhausting.”

“Have you been sleeping?” I ask.

“With him, yes. Tonight will be by myself. We’ll see,” she confesses.

“Did you eat?” I press.

“Yes, Bosslady,” she says. “I’m on a strict ‘or else’ regimen with my doctor and I really don’t want to end up in the hospital.” That’s a healthy attitude.

“Have you decided if you’re going to talk to someone?” I continue.

“Gary and I have an appointment with a counselor tomorrow,” she says. “I have an appointment of my own on Thursday. And before you ask, I’m going to meditate now before I go to sleep.” I laugh.

“Okay, okay, I’m pushing too hard. I just worry about you, Mare,” I admit.

“I understand, and I appreciate that. One way or another, I’ll be fine,” she says with a weak smile before leaving my office.

One way or another.

She hasn’t fully decided to take Gary back… or at least she hasn’t fully settled into the idea. I can’t blame her. As much as I love him, it took me months to settle back into “happily ever after” with Christian.

*-*

“I’m sorry I didn’t call yesterday,” Ebony says when I get to Helping Hands in the morning. “I was hiding. I had a little scare this weekend. It was a false alarm—very silly on my part but it sent me into hiding for a moment. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“If you’re ever frightened or whatever might be going on, please let me know. I’m sure we could help you, Ebony.”

“I believe you,” she says. “It’s just… old habits are hard to break. I saw someone that I thought I knew, and I thought they saw me and… It was all just a silly misunderstanding. I’m very embarrassed about it.”

“Well, we don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but again, if you need me…”

“I know,” she says. “Thanks.”

I’m tying up a few loose ends in the afternoon when a number comes across my cell that I don’t recognize.

“Dr. Anastasia Grey,” I answer.

“Ana! Hey, it’s Aaron,” he replies.

“Aaron, hi! Thank you for calling me back,” I say.

“You sounded a little desperate on my voicemail. What’s up?”

“I am,” I admit. “Aaron, I have a huge project that you probably won’t even want to do, but I have to ask you first before I go somewhere else, and since you did such a great job on the mansion…”

“Okay, way to scare me off before I even hear about the job,” he jests. “What’s the job?”

“My husband has purchased an Italian villa on Lake Como,” I say. He whistles.

“Abroad!” he says. “Near George Clooney?”

“I don’t think so,” I say. “Christian doesn’t like attention and being near George Clooney would definitely draw attention.”

“Well, exactly where is your villa located?” he asks. I pull up the email with the blueprints.

“Sala Comacina?” I say, a question instead of a statement.

“Hmm, you’re not that far from him… about seven miles,” he says. Well, I hope he keeps the paps on his end of the lake.

“So, can you do it?” I ask.

“I can do it, I just have to figure out how,” he says.

“Well, at this point, it’s either you or Gia Mateo…”

“That bitch?” Aaron nearly squeals. “No. She’s mediocre at best, she steals ideas from other designers, and she gets most of her jobs through her pussy. No. Hell, no. Italian villa for the Greys? The fuck if I’m letting her get that prestige piece.”

“I don’t know, Aaron. This is a big job in a little bit of time.”

“How big and how little?” he asks.

“Fourteen bedrooms, 1210 square meters, two months, two and a half tops,” I reply.

“Shit!” he exclaims. “Any blasting?”

“You and Elliot asked the same question,” I say.

“That’s because it’s going to be exponentially longer if we have to take out walls.”

“Well, no. I won’t approve knocking out walls. I haven’t seen the place and you have to tell me what you can do with the bones.” There’s silence.

“You haven’t seen the place?” he says.

“No,” I reply. “It’s in Italy, so I’ll be totally dependent on you!” I hear him scoff.

“Make no mistake. You know I’m going to charge you out the ass for this, right?” he says.

“Yep,” I reply without hesitation. “Mr. Grey will pay for it all.” Serves him right. I hope this is what he expected buying a 14-bedroom Italian villa sight unseen. I sure hope he trusts the real estate agent that oversaw the purchase and we haven’t bought a money pit.

“Ah, to have money to burn,” he says. “I’ll see who I can delegate my current projects to and I’ll be looking for a flight out this weekend. Should I go commercial or will Mr. Grey be flying me out on his private jet?”

“It’ll have to be commercial,” I tell him. “I’ll have my assistant make arrangements for a Saturday flight. I don’t know what the villa looks like, so I’ll have her make nearby accommodations as well.”

“Sounds like a plan, and don’t call that bitch, Gia—not even for suggestions!” he reinforces.

“Jesus, Aaron, did she steal a boyfriend from you or something?” I ask. Aaron laughs.

“I can see why you would assume that,” he says. “I’m straight as an arrow, baby, but I will turn into Elsie de Wolfe at the flip of a coin when it comes to decorating and I can get catty with the best of them. Ask anybody in the industry. She got to where she is on her back and off other people’s ideas.”

“That wreaks of bitterness,” I point out. “Has she ever stolen anything from you?”

“She tried,” he says. “When I saw her using the design, I didn’t even confront her. I filed an immediate cease and desist and prepared for a civil battle. When she discovered that I wasn’t going to negotiate, she paid me off and stopped using my design. Now, she’ll take a design, tweak it a bit and put her own spin on it, then say it was hers. Since she’ll have all the design work for her design, you can’t nab her on it. They could smell her coming a mile away at NeoCon and the AD Design Show. She’s gonna cross a real cutthroat one day and they’re going to give her what for. We work too hard to get here for some thieving, whorish infringer to come and steal our designs.”

He’s pretty passionate about this.

“Well, I’ll take your word for it. I’m forwarding the email with the blueprints and a walk-through and I’ll have travel plans for you by the end of the day. Would you prefer to fly morning or afternoon?”

“Morning,” he says. “I’ll lose a day and a half flying to Europe. Oh, and tell Mr. Grey that I’m not after your ass, just your money.”

“What?” I ask in horror.

“Tell him,” he reinforces. “He’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. Talk to you soon!” And he ends the call.

What the hell was that about?


CHRISTIAN

“Sir, Ben informs me that the police are at the front gate.”

Jason has called me on my cell. I’m in my office looking over the final details of a merger that we’re planning on completing this week when I get this unwelcome interruption.

The police?

“Did they state their business?” I ask.

“No, sir. They won’t do it until they speak to you.” Without knowing why they’re here, I can’t turn them away. I just hate it when they’re all secretive. I don’t like cops anyway and they don’t like me.

“Let them in,” I reply.

“Would you like for me to accompany you, sir?”

“No,” I say, “not yet, but keep an eye on things.”

“Yes, sir.” I end the call and ponder the situation. I have no idea why they’re here… asking for me. I don’t want to alarm my wife, so the best thing to do would be to just go and see what they want. I stand from my desk just in time to hear the two-way communication system come to life.

“Christian.”

“Windsor here, sir. Detective Burns and Groomer here to see you.”

“Show them to the living room and stay with them there. I’m on my way up.”

“Yes, sir.”

I take the south staircase that leads to the front of the house and immerge near the formal living room. I see two detectives—one guy in that stereotypical trench coat and a woman in a dark designer pants suit—standing in the living room and looking around at their surroundings.

“May I help you?” I ask when I enter the room.

“Christian Grey?” the guy says.

“Yes?”

“We have some questions for you about Greta Ellison.” Oh, shit. Showtime.

“Who?” I say, my brow furrowed.

“Gre-ta El-lis-on,” he repeats slowly and sarcastically. I’m already pissed that the guy didn’t reintroduce himself. He told Windsor who he was. He didn’t tell me. So, he’s already starting this meeting off with hostility. I chuckle-scoff in his face.

“I heard you the first time, Skippy,” I say with mirth and equal sarcasm. “I just don’t know who you’re talking about.”

“That’s odd, because we have evidence of a background check you did on her a little while back.” He shows me a picture of Ellison. I study it for a moment.

“Oh, her,” I say in fake surprise. “A little while back?” I frown. “You mean like three years!”

“Oh, now you remember,” he comments.

“You showed me a picture,” I reply. “I don’t keep every girl’s name on the tip of my tongue that I planned to fuck.” I turn to Windsor. “Did you see a badge?” I ask.

“Yes, sir,” he says.

“Thank you,” I say. Windsor nods once and leaves the room. The guy raises his brow at me.

“Is that what it was, Mr. Grey?” he asks. “You planned to fuck her.”

“That’s exactly what it was,” I reply, unoffended.

“You do background checks on all the women you plan to fuck?” he probes.

“Considering the fact that I don’t plan to fuck anybody else but my wife, the answer to your question would be ‘no,’” I say matter-of-factly.

“Let’s try this another way,” he says.

“Yeah, let’s,” I counter, folding my arms. You set the tone. I’m just following your lead. He glares at me.

“Those were your words, Mr. Grey, not mine,” he defends.

“No, they were not,” I retort. “I said planned to fuck—planned… past tense. You said plan. Those were your words, Detective, not mine.” Seeing that I’ve thrown his words back at him, he regroups.

“Were you in the practice of doing background checks on women with which you had planned…” he stresses the word, “… to engage in a sexual relationship?”

“I certainly was,” I reply. “I’m a very important man, Detective. I can’t blindly interact with just anybody, especially on a sexual level. Women are very unscrupulous…”

“As are men,” the female detective retorts. I turn my gaze to her.

“Well, I wouldn’t know. I don’t fuck men,” I reply calmly. Her cheeks redden a bit.

“Women are unscrupulous,” I repeat. “When it comes to men like me, there’s always somebody looking for a payoff or a lawsuit. I had to be very careful with whom I interacted.”

“Doesn’t sound very romantic,” she shoots.

“It wasn’t,” I inform her, “and I didn’t care. I wasn’t offering romance and I wasn’t looking for love. I was looking for a clean, stable, steady fuck, because I may be an asshole, but I’m a monogamous asshole.”

“What happened with Ms. Ellison?” the guy asks.

“She obviously didn’t work out,” I reply.

“Why not?”

“Because I found a better fuck,” I reply. He raises his brow.

“You do background checks on all your women? Did you do one on your wife?” he asks.

“Yes, I did.”

“Does she know that?” the female asks.

“Yes, she does. She was the better fuck.” I stare at her while that answer sinks in.

“Better?” the guy asks.

“The best!” I stress, still staring at the female, who purses her lips and rolls her eyes. “Why are you asking me all these questions?”

“We’ll be asking the questions here, sir…”

“Well, you won’t get any more answers until you tell me what this is about. All I know is that you’re asking about Greta Ellis, and I have no idea what this has to do with me,” I say firmly.

“Ellison,” he corrects.

“Ellis, Ellison, Bueller, I don’t care! What does this have to do with me?” I shout.

“Christian!”

I look over the detectives’ shoulders and my wife is descending into the living room.

“You’re scaring the children! What’s going on?” she demands.

“Well, I have two of Seattle’s finest standing here interrogating me about my personal life and I have no idea why. They’re asking me about background checks, including the one I did on you.” She does a mini-head-bobble and turns to the officers.

“Are background checks illegal?” she asks surprised.

“I hope the hell not! I run at least a hundred background checks a year! I run a multibillion-dollar, multi-national company!” I bark.

“Christian!” Butterfly scolds again. “Keep it down… the twins!” she adds firmly.

“It depends on what you do with the information,” the guy replies to my statement.

“He married me!” Butterfly counters. “I had one done on him, too.” The guy appears impatient and a bit perturbed.

“Mrs. Grey, if you’ll excuse us…” he says. Butterfly’s glare sharpens and her brow furrows deeply.

“I beg your pardon!” she retorts, putting her hands on her hips, clearly affronted. “Are you trying to dismiss me from a room in my own home?”

The tone of her voice catches us all off guard and now, she has forgotten about frightening the children.

“I most certainly will not!” she says, folding her arms and rolling her neck angrily. “You’re asking my husband personal questions about our life in our home you’re scaring my children and you haven’t told him why,” she says all in one breath. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Making her leave right now would make it appear that I have something to hide from her, so I let her stay and hope that she doesn’t react when she finally hears that this is about Greta Ellison.

“We were just talking to your husband about his ex-lovers. You may find this conversation uncomfortable,” the female cop says. Butterfly chuckles.

“Ex-lovers?” she says with mirth. “You want some coffee? You may be here a while.”

She-cop is taken aback by my wife’s candor.

“You know how many lovers your husband has had?” she asks.

“Yeeeeaaaahhh,” my wife answers as if it’s obvious, which it is.

“And you’re okay knowing that?” Butterfly’s head bobbles a bit again.

“Are you a virgin?” she asks the female cop.

“No,” she replies, somewhat offended.

“Neither was my husband when we met, Cagney,” she replies, pointing her thumb at me. I have to hide my smile at the nickname. Again, neither of them introduced themselves to us, so they get whatever nickname we call them. Cagney rolls her eyes again.

“We can always finish this conversation at the station, Grey…” and now I’m Grey, “you would just have to come with us,” the guy informs me.

“Uh, no I don’t,” I reply. “You don’t have a warrant, I’m not under arrest, and you don’t have probable cause. So, either you tell me what this is about, or you can leave the premises… now.” He closes his notebook.

“You’ve been prepped,” he accuses.

“No, I haven’t,” I reply. “I’m a billionaire with a misdemeanor charge. Look me up. I know the drill.” I fold my arms. “So, do you tell me what this is about, or do you leave?”

“I don’t understand why you’re being so hostile, Mr. Grey, if you have nothing to hide.”

And now I exercise my right to remain silent.

“Oh, pleading the fifth, now, huh?” he taunts.

“Activate two-way communications,” my wife says into the air. I look down at her as the intercom comes alive. “Locate Jason Taylor.” There’s silence for a moment.

“Taylor.”

“Jason, will you please come to the formal living room? We’re having a bit of a problem with two detectives here.”

“On my way. End two-way communications.”

“Who’s Jason?” the guy asks and now, neither of us are speaking. “Oh, now they’re both silent.” A few moments later, Jason enters the room.

“Ma’am? Sir?” he says, “what seems to be the problem?”

Cagney and Baretta here are asking me personal questions and they haven’t told me why,” I begin. “They say it’s about one of the girls I did a background check on three years ago before I met my wife, but they won’t tell me what it has to do with me. For all I know the girl is laid-up somewhere fat and out of shape with two kids in a loveless marriage. Since they won’t tell me what this is about and they don’t have a warrant for my arrest, I asked them to leave, which they refuse to do.” Jason’s face looks distastefully at the detectives, then at me.

“Cagney and Baretta?” he asks. I shrug.

“They didn’t think I deserved to know their names,” I inform him.

“We told your butler…”

“You didn’t tell me!” I interrupt him. He glares at me.

“I’m Burns, she’s…”

“I’m no longer interested, Baretta!” I cut him off again before turning back to Jason. “I told them to leave,” I repeat.

“Detectives, I’m Jason Taylor. I’m head of security here at Grey Crossing. I’m sure you know the protocol. If you don’t have a warrant, I’ll see you out.” He gestures to the grand entry.

“We’re not leaving until we get some answers… Mr. Taylor,” Baretta says in a condescending tone.

“That’s fine,” Jason says, unfazed. He pulls out his phone and swipes the screen. “I’ll just make a quick call to the chief at headquarters and tell him that two of his detectives are on private property without a warrant harassing one of Seattle’s most prominent citizens and refusing to leave after you’ve been asked at least twice, subjecting yourselves to criminal trespassing charges and the department to a possible lawsuit…”

“For scaring my babies!” Butterfly chimes in. Cagney suddenly looks a bit uncomfortable.

“You have the number directly to the chief of police,” Baretta says skeptically. It’s a statement, not a question. Jason turns his phone around for the detective to see.

“On. Speed. Dial,” he says, his voice low and firm. “And in the interest of full disclosure, detectives, nearly every inch of this property is under audio and video surveillance.”

He points to the chandelier in the ceiling, indicating that there’s a camera inside. Baretta looks at Cagney and then back at Jason, who has now taken the stance and is waiting for the detectives to make a decision.

“A missing person’s report has been filed on Greta Ellison,” he says finally. “No one close to her has seen her since just after the new year.” I look at him expecting, then gesture my hand for him to continue when he doesn’t.

“Did you hear me, Mr. Grey?” he asks.

“Yes, I heard you,” I reply. “I’m still waiting for you to tell me what this has to do with me.” He narrows his eyes at me.

“We’re questioning every person of interest in this matter,” he replies. My eyes widen.

“Person of…?” I look over at Jason who doesn’t react. “Person of interest?” I ask, turning back to Baretta. “I did a background check on that woman three years ago. That makes me a person of interest?” I ask incredulously.

“No, the fact that she was authoring a book—an exposé—about Seattle’s elite makes you a person of interest,” he says. I furrow my brow in perfect pretend confusion.

“She was writing a book?” I ask. “What could she possibly say about me? I met with her for maybe 30 minutes sometime in… 2012. She doesn’t know enough about me to write a book.”

“She wasn’t the source—she was the writer,” Cagney says. I look at her expecting, the same way I looked at Baretta early.

“Waiting for the punchline here,” I say when I get no further information.

“Someone with a great personal knowledge of you was feeding her information, Mr. Grey,” Baretta says. “She was a ghost writer.”

“Was,” I say. “Is she dead?” I ask.

“I don’t know… is she?” Baretta retorts.

“You’re the one who’s talking about her in the past tense, Detective,” I shoot back calmly. “If you haven’t confirmed that she’s no longer with us, then you may not want to talk about her in the past tense. And while you’re standing here wasting time on me, why don’t you talk to her source? Wouldn’t they have more information? Maybe she’s gone into seclusion or something to finish this so-called book.”

“Her source is currently indisposed,” he replies. I frown again.

“What?” I say incredulously. “Who is it?”

Nothing.

“Okay, so since you want to play cat-and-mouse to try to find out what I know without telling me what you know, let me answer all your questions.” I begin counting on my fingers. “I don’t know where Greta Ellis is, who she was talking to, what she was doing, or what she was supposedly writing. Nobody has any permission to write anything about me—biographical or autobiographical. If I see anything with my name or any characters that even resemble me, there’ll be court orders and injunctions, and someone will be buried so deep in litigation that there’ll be nothing left to do but read the eulogy. Now, since I have nothing else for you and you have nothing else for me, get out of my house!”

“Mr. Grey, the source is Elena Lincoln. I’m sure you remember her! And the girl’s name is Ellison,” Baretta says perturbed.

“Haven’t you figured out yet that I don’t give a fuck what the girl’s name is?” I reply, gesturing for emphasis. “I don’t know where she is. I haven’t spoken to her in years. And Elena Lincoln? For fuck’s sake, are you serious? I saw that in the tabloids! I thought that was a bunch of hearsay. No reputable publication printed it. The places where I saw any mention of it was right next to, ‘I’m having Michael Jackson’s post-mortem love child.’ Why would I think that held any salt?

“And isn’t there a law somewhere that she can’t profit from her crimes? Doesn’t that fall under this category? She can’t write about anything but her crimes! That book would never get off the ground. No publisher in their right mind would touch it. That’s real? She’s really going to try to do that? So, what did she say about me that has you on my doorstep right now?”

“That’s classified, sir,” Cagney says.

“Is it?” I ask. “Well, then we’re back to the cat-and-mouse-game, aren’t we?” I say folding my arms.

“Wait a minute,” Butterfly says. “Ellison… I remember that name.” My head snaps over to my wife. Where are you going with this, Butterfly?

“You do?” Cagney asks, her interest piqued, and now Butterfly has everyone’s attention.

“Yeah,” she says, turning to me. “Wasn’t that the girl who accosted us in the Market?”

I try not to let the detectives see me breathe a huge sigh of relief.

“Oh… yeah…” I say in honest recollection. “I forgot all about that.”

“Accosted you?” Cagney asks.

“Yeah,” Butterfly replies. “We were at Pike’s Market—it used to be a weekend haunt of mine before the Paparazzi started following me everywhere…”

Butterfly tells the story casually like she’s talking to a couple of old friends, complete with a couple of tangents about what she thinks we bought that day. I couldn’t be prouder of her performance.

“Anyway, we’re walking to the car with our goods and there she is with all her wares on display.” She laughs and gestures to her breasts in a way that imitates triple-G cups.

“She’s telling my then-boyfriend…” she gestures to me, “… how much better than me she could be for him and various other sexual propositions, and he pretty much blew her off, told her to get lost, and we went on to the car. I was a bit miffed because I didn’t like the fact that random girls… well, girl… was walking up to us in the Market basically offering herself like she was some of the fruit there on the stands! I remember saying something like she’d fuck him right there on top of the oranges if he let her. She had this gross underboob thing going on where her shirt was really short, so you could see the bottom of her breasts. That is so tacky! Who does that in public…?”

And the Oscar goes to…

“Mrs. Grey, Mrs. Grey,” Cagney says, an attempt to break her tangent, “had you seen Ms. Ellison any time after that?” Butterfly gets a confused look on her face, then shrugs and shakes her head uncertainly.

“I don’t know,” she replies. “I could’ve. I mean, I couldn’t pick her out of a crowd. All I remember was her tits!”

Cagney has rolled her eyes so many times listening to my wife that I swear they’re going to get stuck that way.

“You need to talk to Lincoln,” I interject. “If this girl is writing her story, then Lincoln knows where she is.”

“Unfortunately, Mrs. Lincoln suffered a stroke… around the same time that Greta Ellison is reported to have come up missing.” My mouth falls open, mocking disbelief.

“Well, isn’t that convenient!” I exclaim. “I don’t believe that for a second,” I say. “That woman has balls bigger than mine. She has a heart of stone and I‘ll bet my fortune that she’s faking. You better keep an eye on her.”

“Well, as you can see, we can’t really talk to her,” he says. “It was all over the news.”

“Well, I have a multibillion-dollar company to run, so I’ve got bigger fish to fry than to be concerned about a woman who’s spending the rest of her natural life behind bars and deserves to be there. But you can best believe I’ll be keeping my eye on the news, now, because I don’t believe this stroke shit for a second! If she could figure out how to get somebody on the outside to write this story for her, she’s up to something. Like I said, you better keep an eye on her.” I certainly am.

After several moments of silence, something else suddenly dawns on me.

“Wait a minute,” I say, pondering parts of the conversation. “You said that she’s writing a book about Seattle’s elite and that makes me a person of interest?”

“That’s what I said,” Baretta says.

“Seattle’s elite,” I repeat. “Are you also going to be questioning Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Paul Allen, Gabe Newell?” I ask. “Any judges or senators on that list or am I the only lucky bastard you get to harass today?”

“We have several people that are going to be questioned,” he replies.

“All members of Seattle’s elite?” he doesn’t answer. “You guys really drew the short straw, didn’t you? Who the hell did you piss off to pull this detail?” I laugh out loud. “I mean seriously,” I say around my laughter, “this is your plan of action? You’re going to walk into affluent homes in the greater Seattle area with absolutely no evidence, throw out conjecture and suggestion, and hope somebody trips over their tongue and tells you something about this girl? You have nothing else but that she disappeared supposedly sometime after her meal ticket became ‘indisposed…’” I use the finger quote around the word while saying it mockingly, “and now, you’re going to go to the private homes of the most influential people in the state, trying to bully them, upsetting their wives and scaring their children—and you have absolutely nothing concrete to go on?“

I’m laughing hysterically now, my laughter partially in relief, but mostly because it’s really very funny that they have absolutely nothing to go on and they’re knocking on my door. I thought they may have found some substantial piece of evidence that pointed them to me besides a three-year-old background check.

“I hope you guys have a really good retirement plan that doesn’t involve the police department,” I say, my voice mirthfully mocking. “The governor’s office is about to be flooded with calls on you two, one of which will most likely come from me. She was a guest at my wedding, for Christ’s sake!

“How many people do you intend to send over the edge today? My advice is that if you want to find any substantial evidence or leads, or if any of the people you’re questioning had anything to do with this girl’s disappearance, you had better rethink your strategy, because you’re headed down the wrong road… backwards!

“I want you out of my house now. I have nothing else to say to you. If you want to talk to me in the future, get a warrant or contact my attorney, Allen Forsythe. He’s in the GEH directory. Jason?” I gesture to Jason to show the detectives out and put my hand in the small of my wife’s back to lead her out of the room.

“Mrs. Grey?” Cagney calls as we’re walking away. “Do you really feel safe with this man knowing that he could possibly have something to do with this girl’s disappearance?”

Oh, dear God. If they only knew. Butterfly stops in the grand entry and turns around to face the detectives.

“You know, you guys may get a little further with this investigation if one of you pretends to be the good cop,” she says, matter-of-factly, before turning around and walking out of the room with me. When we bend the corner and are out of sight of the detectives, I turn around to face my wife, still walking backwards. I hold my hand up in front of her. She smirks at me and we clap hands in a victorious high five before joining our children in the den.


A/N: I think I made a reference to Cagney and Lacey before in reference to female cops where we don’t know their names. Baretta was another cop from a cop show back in the 70’s.

I don’t think underboob really became a thing until 2016 and for my story, Greta had underboob going on around 2012 or 2013. Again, creative license.

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

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

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

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

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 27

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

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

Season 5 Episode 27

ANASTASIA

I’m sitting on the loveseat in the sitting room in our bedroom, patiently waiting for my husband to finish his lunch and join me. I should have had a drink or something while I wait. I’m not nervous or anything. I’m just trying to find the best way to say what I have to say without disregarding his feelings or completely capitulating to his behavior. I want to explain his error while recognizing his counterpoint about his concerns as valid.

We’re at a precipice with this conversation though. Christian Grey can be, and usually is, very passionate about his convictions. I could actually see that passion beginning to surface earlier today while we were talking, but almost as soon as it had risen, it was gone. It was like he was resolved to be the bad guy as evidenced by his comment about me taking Gary’s side and the subsequent question about why we were still having the conversation if that was the case.

He admitted that he felt he was in a lose-lose situation. Anyone constantly in that position wouldn’t bother fighting anymore. It’s not that I think he’s immature or anything, but I totally feel that if I don’t say the right thing, he’s going to shut down and that’s the last thing I want.

While I’m still pondering the best approach to the conversation, he casually strolls into the room with a spritzer in his hand and takes a seat in the chair opposite me on the other side of the fireplace.

Geez, this is going to be fun.

“I’m going to ask that you listen to what I say with an objective ear and not a defensive ear,” I begin. “I was forced to look at both sides of the coin and I ask that you please do the same thing.” He ponders the thought for a moment then nods.

I sigh and think about the best way to say what I want to say without setting off a disagreement. I guess I ponder a little too long.

“Is what you have to say that harsh?” he asks. “Do I need a real drink?” I roll my eyes, more at myself than anything.

“I’m trying to find a way to tell you that your feelings do matter; that I’m sorry that I discounted them, but that you still have to measure your reactions and your temper and that you can’t pop off and expect for it to be okay. You can’t just have an emotional response and not expect to get any fallout from it. None of us are afforded that luxury.” He pauses and furrows his brow.

“You just did,” he says.

“I just did what?” I ask, bemused.

“You just said what you needed to say,” he says calmly. “I know that my actions and my words have consequences. I wasn’t born yesterday. I don’t expect for people to be pleased when I have something harsh or unpleasant to say. They don’t even have to accept it. My problem is when my feelings are pushed aside or stomped on and not even considered. More times than I can count, people are more concerned about my actions towards other people and nobody’s concerned about how I’m affected. Yeah, I can do and say some pretty shitty things sometimes, but I need the people in my life to start putting themselves in my shoes and start saying to themselves, ‘Hmm, what might he have been thinking’ instead of ‘What the hell was he thinking?’”

He says both questions with the emphasis and the lack thereof needed to make his point.

“Garrett was hurting. He didn’t know what the hell he was going to do. He had an opportunity ripped from him that he wanted just like Elliot and Val. The only difference is that Elliot and Val didn’t have a choice in the matter.

“Marilyn had a choice and she made it. She made the choice that she felt was best for her and the people closest to her made her pay for it… repeatedly! She was beat down and ripped up by her parents and left for dead by Garrett. She finished the job by punishing her body—hopefully not beyond repair—and I have no doubt that she’s punished herself mentally more than once as well.”

He hit that nail on the head.

“Enter you and me. We do everything short of giving that girl one of our vital organs in an attempt to bring her back from the brink of destruction. Now, I don’t know if you’ve heard from Gary throughout the course of this exercise, but I sure as hell didn’t. All I saw was this poor girl suffering, and don’t think for one minute that I wasn’t concerned about suicide.”

I hadn’t even thought of that. Speaking to Marilyn, I know that she doesn’t have any suicidal tendencies, but it’s not impossible.

“So, now we have four people, just these four people—me, you, Marilyn, and Garrett. Marilyn’s feelings were all out on display for everyone to see. The remaining three of us made our feelings known last night. Being stuck between the two of them, you had to split your feelings because you were concerned about both of them. I was only concerned about one—the one I saw.

“Both Garrett and I said some things to each other that probably shouldn’t have been announced in a public forum, but they were. Marilyn had taken her feelings and was off somewhere waiting to leave the premises. Garrett took his feelings with him to go to Marilyn. You made your feelings very clear and all parties present were concerned about yours. Where did that leave me? Everybody avoided me like the plague, including you, and I’m sitting there wishing I had kept my mouth shut and knowing the entire time that I was entitled to what I felt.”

“I understand that, and you’re absolutely right,” I say sincerely. “I promise to be more mindful of your feelings in the future and not to shut you down that way. But you have to promise to try to be more mindful of what you’re saying and not to pop off so quickly even when your emotions are running wild. I guess we both seriously have some habits we have to work on.” He’s quiet for a moment.

“I can go with that, but I need you to take something away from this conversation. I’m not trying to get my way with this situation. I say what I mean, and I won’t apologize for it. I didn’t apologize to Garrett and I’m not going to apologize to you, because I meant what I said. The takeaway that I want from this conversation is that—depending on the situation—I’m going to do my best to dial it back a bit and think before I speak. However, right or wrong, whether the hearer likes what I’m saying or not, I’m entitled to how I feel, and people are going to have to respect if they except the same from me.” I nod.

“I get it,” I say. “I really do.” He nods, then runs his hands through his hair.

“So, how are they?” he asks. “I know that you saw them this morning.”

“Solemnly in love,” I respond. “That’s the best description for it. Gary went back to his place to get some clothes. They’ve been locked in her room all day after that, so I think they may be making up for lost time.” He purses his lips.

“Somehow, I doubt that,” he says. My brow furrows.

“Why do you say that?” I ask.

“I ignored women’s feelings for a long time, Anastasia, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t recognize what they were feeling. She’s too fragile for sex right now. She may get past that in a day or a week or so, once her heart can accept that he’s back, but right now—after one night, nothing sexual is happening in that room.”

“How can you be so sure?” I ask incredulously.

“I’ve broken the heart of more than one submissive,” he says, “and more than once, they didn’t show up on the ‘scene’ for a week or more. And have you forgotten that I broke your heart, too? I couldn’t touch you for days, let alone have sex. The first time I touched you, you nearly begged me not to. The next few times, you allowed me to touch or help you, but you went limp like a dead fish. Sex was utterly out of the question.”

I clear my throat. I had nearly forgotten that he couldn’t touch me. I didn’t forget the helplessness that I felt, but the sting of his touch… yes, I recognized that only too well in Marilyn’s reactions.

“Well,” I say, “I can’t imagine what they’ve been doing in that room all day since she won’t allow him to touch her.” I try to hide my discomfort.

“Maybe they’re talking,” he says. “They’ve got quite the road ahead of them if they expect to get back together. They may want to be together, but they still have the same problems they had when they broke up.” I look at him skeptically.

“Since when did you become so insightful?” I ask.

“Years and years of therapy,” he replies. “Just because I thought it wouldn’t do me any good doesn’t me that I didn’t listen.”

Well, sometimes, you coulda fooled me.
Shut the hell up.

“So,” I say, nervous and a but rudderless.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I was serious about vegging out for the day.” He stands, retrieves his spritzers and heads back towards the bedroom. “You’re free to join me if you want.”

I get up and follow him to the bedroom wondering what’s good on television.


CHRISTIAN

“I take it by your expression that the visit did not go well,” I say. It’s early evening and Jason has joined me in my study, having returned from taking Sophie to visit her mother in prison.

“It did not,” he says emphatically. “I couldn’t hear the entire conversation since it’s the whole receiver-screen thing, but I heard Sophie’s side, begging her mother to sign the papers and telling her how crazy her arguments sound, and I don’t even know what her arguments were. She talked to her for a few more minutes and I could tell the exact moment she gave up. Her entire posture changed, and she just said, ‘Fine.’ She didn’t say anything else for a long time. After several minutes of silence and waiting for her to say something, I heard her say, ‘This is what you want.’

“She told Shalane that even being in jail hasn’t meant anything to her; that she’s still the most selfish person that Sophie has ever met, and it’ll never change, and that Sophie has given up on hope that it ever will. Sophie didn’t say anything else for the entire visit and it lasted like 45 more minutes.

“When we left, I asked her if she was okay. She said that she didn’t want to talk about it, and she cried the whole way home, and that’s a pretty long ass drive.”

I can tell he’s very pissed about this. Shalane is being a spiteful bitch just because she can, but she doesn’t seem to realize that she’s only destroying any hope that she has of repairing her relationship with her daughter.

“So, what now?” I ask. He sighs.

“I’ll try to get a court order,” he says. “Sophie would be an adult before the custody permission part of it would ever be sorted out. I guess until then, vacations are just going to have to be the US and its territories,” he laments.

“We can still do things that can be fun for her in the US,” I say, trying to ease the blow.

“It’s not just her, Boss,” he says. “Sophie not being able to go overseas means that Gail can’t go either. She’s taken on quite the responsibility raising a child that’s not hers. I know she helps to raise the twins, but their mother is here. If the sky falls, Sophie is all her. She’s a wonderful woman, and I would have loved to show her Lake Como, and I would have loved for Sophie to have authentic Italian food, but it looks like that’s not going to happen for another four years.”

Try though I might, I know that there’s nothing I can do to get that passport for Sophie. This has to be completely on the up and up—no strings—or he could lose custody of his daughter.

“I’m sorry about this, Jason,” I tell him. “I wish there was something I could do.”

“This is one time that I wish there was, too.” He scrubs his hands over his face. “Do I want to know how things are going in this house?” I know he’s desperate to change the subject.

“I know that Garrett and Marilyn are still here, but no one has seen them since breakfast.”

“Making up for lost time?” he asks, his brow raised. I shake my head.

“We don’t think so,” I say, dispelling his thoughts. “Marilyn’s pretty fragile. I would venture to say that he’s having a hard time just holding her right now let alone trying to get some ass… not that I even think he’s trying.” Jason twists his lips.

“What about you and Her Highness?” he asks. “Still radio silence or should I even ask?”

“No, we talked,” I say. He examines me. “We talked. It was a good talk. Then we watched TV. Then I came down here. I slept most of the day.” His neck jerks.

You slept most of the day?” he asks.

“I did,” I reply, typing into my laptop. “I wanted to go to sleep last night, but I couldn’t. I finally went for a run this morning, came back, took a shower, had part of a conversation with Anastasia, then I fell asleep. By the time I woke up, it was well after lunch. I was tired, man, just… tired.”

“I see,” he says. “So, you said you had part of a conversation…”

“Yeah,” I say. “I said my piece this morning and then when I awoke, she said hers. Then, we said ours and that was it.”

“And you guys are speaking now?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “I was quite aware of her feelings, but I needed her to understand mine. I’m tired of taking the rap all the time and she needed to know that.”

“You were pretty passionate last night, Boss… and verbose,” he points out.

“But I wasn’t alone,” I say. “Emotions were high for more than one of us, and yet, I was the one singled out.” He twists his lips and nods.

“Yeah,” he replies, “I see where you’re coming from.”

“I didn’t want to be ostracized anymore and that’s why I left. I didn’t want to fight anymore, and I believe that’s why my body wouldn’t let me go to sleep. The only reason we talked is because she caught me coming out the shower and she had to initiate the conversation. I just didn’t want to fight… I’m tired.”

“And that, no doubt, came out in the conversation,” he says. I shrug.

“Most likely,” I reply. “I didn’t have to be right, but I needed her to hear me. If she didn’t, I wasn’t going to talk anymore and I made that clear. I wasn’t angry or… anything. I was just tired.”

“I can honestly say I’ve never seen that in you,” he says. “You were resolved. Either she heard you or she didn’t. Every other time, either they heard you or they were fired… or blackballed… or their contracts were terminated, and I was carrying them kicking and screaming out of the penthouse. Never this resolved, ‘that’s it, that’s all,’ and move on.”

“Well, I guess I’m a different guy,” I say, tapping away at my laptop. Even I know that. “I’m looking at puppy farms, for Christ’s sake.”

“You guys are really going to do that?” he asks.

“Yes, we are,” I reply.

“You’re going to get some flak for not getting a rescue,” he says.

“Well, it’s just like I told my brother. My wife wants a pit. Somebody else can rescue a pit. I’m not having a rescue pit around my children and I don’t care who doesn’t like it,” I inform him.

“You’ll get no argument from me,” he says. “My kid lives here, too.”

“We’ve got appointments to visit a couple of places tomorrow,” I tell him.

“Whereabout?” he asks. I type into my laptop.

“Rochester and Rainier,” I say.

“Geez, you couldn’t get any further?” he complains.

“Actually, I could,” I say. “Butterfly wanted to have puppies shipped in!”

“Shipped?” he asks. I nod.

“There are places around the country that breed the puppies, get their shots and papers and ship them to you when they’re old enough.”

“That doesn’t sound to… legit,” Jason says.

“Some are, some aren’t. I did my homework on the ones that she was eyeing and one of them is definitely out. Total scam, pulling pictures from reputable sites to build their own. That made me dig a little deeper to find local breeders that we could actually visit and see the facilities before we make a purchase. However, Rainier is the closest we’re going to get.”

“Road trip… who’s driving?” I look over my glasses at him.

“You are,” I say, “or you can arrange for someone else to do it since you drove all the way to Prisonville today.” He shakes his head.

“No, I’ll do it, but you get to tell Chuck that we have a Sunday road trip,” he adds.

“Jesus, you act like we’re leaving town. The furthest distance is 80 miles away. We’ll be back before dinner.”

“I’m just saying, you get to tell Chuck,” he says, rising to his feet. “I’m going to go check on Baby Boo.” He leaves my study and I text the information about the breeders and our appointment times to Butterfly. What’s the big fucking deal?

*-*

I soon find out that the big deal was that Chuck had plans on spending his Sunday with Keri, knowing that Butterfly had no plans, and my last-minute appointments quickly put the kibosh on that. We’re traveling down the I-5 south towards Rochester and he’s as sour-faced as I have ever seen him and silent as a rock. Butterfly spent the first half-hour journaling and has now fallen asleep with her legs curled underneath her. I, of course, am on my laptop examining possible mergers on the fire and reading emails. Jason begs to put some music on to cut through the silence and opts for Rachmaninoff’s angry concerto, perfect for Chuck’s mood.

Ironically, I found the two local breeders on Facebook. I had to do some digging after seeing how many backyard breeders and puppy mills there are out there, and I didn’t want anything to do with those places. With Alex’s help, I even discovered that one of the places that looked quite reputable was actually a huge scam—dogs kept in bad conditions and not correctly pedigreed, and a basic Google reverse search showed that they pictures they used were actually copied from other sites.

That’s how I found the Facebook sites.

I had to create a dummy email and a fake Facebook ID to get to the Facebook pages. These two local Facebook pages led to websites that checked out okay and offered appointments to tour the facilities, see the conditions, and meet the puppies and parent dogs. The pups you meet may already be promised to someone else as puppies aren’t given sent to their permanent homes until they are 9 to 11 weeks old. So, they try to get the puppies adopted out as soon as possible. The litter is often already promised when the mother is still pregnant.

I didn’t want them to know who I was before I got there, so I gave them a fake name and had Jason secure nondisclosure agreements before we made the trip. They will have to sign them before we do any type of business.

Fifteen minutes outside of Rainier, I wake my wife so that she can “put her face on” if need be. She really doesn’t need makeup. She’s absolutely gorgeous without it. Nonetheless, she smooths her hair a bit, checks her face, and adds some lip gloss. We’re both casual in jeans and sneakers, and she has opted for the Raybans instead of the Jackie-O’s today, her hair pulled back in a large clip.

We arrive at our first appointment and we’re not that impressed. It’s a pretty large operation, but it looks more like a puppy mill. There are rows of cages stacked three and four high with several dogs inside them. The dogs don’t look abused or mistreated. In fact, they look pretty healthy and well kept. I just don’t have the best feeling about this place. I tell them that we have another appointment, but we’ll keep them in mind. After all, the dogs do look healthy, but the place looks like an assembly line.

We drive on to Rochester, and Butterfly’s a bit disheartened as she leaves Rainier. She comments about wanting to take one of the puppies just to get them out of there. I tell her that’s the very reason we don’t want the puppy, because if it hasn’t been bred well, there’s no telling what we’re going to get.

We arrive at the breeder in Rochester about half an hour later. We pull up to what looks like a farm with several animals. There are some chickens and pigs and a goat or two from what we can see. When we get to the house, there’s an older couple standing on the porch. They look fit and well-preserved, but quite rustic. They meet us in the walk after we exit the car. The woman greets us first.

“I’m Agatha,” she says with a big smile, proffering her hand to me. “You must be Trevor.” I shake her hand.

“Yes, ma’am, nice to meet you, Agatha,” I respond. “This is my wife, Roseanne.”

Butterfly looks at me like I just hit her. I failed to tell her about the whole assumed names thing.

“Call me Aggie,” she says, then extends her hand to Butterfly. “Roseanne.”

“Call me Ana,” she says, shooting a look over at me as she shakes Aggie’s hand. “It’s very nice to meet you, Aggie.”

“This old coot is my husband, Lee.” Aggie gestures to her husband who shakes Butterfly’s hand first since she’s closest, and then mine.

“Welcome to our little neck o’ the woods, ma’am, sir…” As he takes my hand, he pauses and examines me. “Do I know you?” he asks.

“I’m not sure,” I say. I know their full names even though they only gave me first names. “Do you ever get to Seattle?” He shakes his head.

“No, can’t say I do. Most of the dogs we deliver are out this way or headed towards Spokane you know, farmland where they can run. Some in Idaho, a few in Montana, Oregon… We don’t get many orders from the city. Most of those folks want toy breeds or something else. They’re scared o’ pits, but that’s all we do—bullies and nothing else. They’re wonderful dogs…”

Lee goes off on what great dogs pit bulls and bulldogs are for a moment, and I can see that he’s passionate about his pups.

“You with the government or something?” he prods. “I swear I know you from somewhere.” I laugh.

“No, just a businessman from Seattle,” I say, glad that he can’t quite place me behind my Raybans.

“Let’s go on out to the kennels,” Aggie says.

We follow Aggie and Lee to the back of the house and the first thing we see is what looks like a pasture. There are about five adult dogs running around with horses.

“I take it you don’t just breed dogs,” I ask.

“Oh, no,” Aggie says. “We’re a fully operational farm. We’re just one of the smaller ones. We supplement our income with the breeding.” She lets us into the pasture and the dogs are all jumping on her looking for affection.

“At any given time, I have 10 bitches and four studs on the farm, sometimes five. All of my breeding dogs have come from the same line.” She pets the dogs as we cross the pasture and head to one of four large outbuildings. Inside looks like a dog hotel. There’s a section where the dogs sleep, where they play, where they’re fed, and what looks like a clinic.

There are cages in the boarding area, but they’re extremely large—like 5×5—and they look more like fancy dog houses with picket-fence-type walls. The floor of each cage is insulated with what looks like turf and there are dog beds and toys inside. The play area is full of pups, about 10, and they’re running around playing with each other and nipping at one another’s ears. My wife turns into a cooing fool when she sees them.

“These are all that remains from two litters about six weeks ago,” Lee says. “We lost two, they don’t always make it, but these are all promised to a new home. We keep ‘em until they’re at least nine weeks old, usually 11. Get the ones spayed or neutered that ain’t gonna breed, get all their shots and health certificates. We keep the vet here pretty busy,” he laughs.

“I bet,” I comment.

“These are all blue nose and moo moos. We’re expectin’ a couple of litters in a month or so—red nose, gottis, and brindles.”

“Are they already adopted, too?” Butterfly asks.

“We’ve got a couple of folks interested, but we have to see how many pups we get.” Lee leads us into the boarding area and down towards the end where the pregnant bitches are. He shows us the moms of the red nose, gottis, and brindles. There’s a fourth dog who appears to be quite miserable, though she’s in a very comfortable kennel. She’s panting and she looks up at us with sad eyes.

“What’s happening with this one?” I ask, pointing to the anguished dog.

“That’s Charmaine,” Aggie says, squatting down to the dog and gently stroking her head. “She’s a blue fawn and this is her first litter. She’ll only have about five pups max, maybe two or three.”

“Are her dogs for sale?” Butterfly asks. Aggie shakes her head.

“We always keep the first litter,” she says. “They become breeders in a couple of years. Charlie here is ready to pop. Hey girl,” she says stroking her head once. Charlie’s tail wags once and she licks Aggie’s hand. “Ronnie!”

“Yes, ma’am!” What looks like a skinny young boy comes running from around the wall from the play area.

“How’s Charlie lookin’?” she asks.

“I’d say tonight. Tomorrow morning at the latest,” he says. “Indigo and Jessup won’t be too far behind.”

“Keep an eye on Charlie,” she says. “She looks like she’s having a harder time than usual.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Ronnie says, and he’s back off to whatever he was doing.

“There are a lot of dogs pregnant at the same time,” Butterfly says. “How does this work?”

“Females can do three litters a year,” she says, “but we don’t breed them that often. I prefer to do one, maybe two depending on the dog’s health. I really like to let them rest for about a year before they breed again, but sometimes the dogs have other plans,” she laughs. “That’s why I keep so many bitches around, because the males can breed repeatedly for their entire life span.”

“Really?” Butterfly says. “How many litters do you hope to get out of each dog in a lifetime?”

“Three or four, but no more,” Lee says. “We spay ‘em shortly after that. We feel like they’ve done their duty.” He laughs. “The studs can go indefinitely, so they may get studded to private owners who want puppies.”

“Do you stud them out to other breeders?” I ask. Lee shrugs.

“Once in a while,” he says, “only if I like how the dogs are being kept.” He moves further into the kennel. “As for the adults, we keep some of ‘em. Some of ‘em, we sell. Not everybody wants a puppy.” He winks at me.

“How many have you kept?” Butterfly prods.

“Hmm,” Aggie ponders the thought. “We’ve been breedin’ about 30 years. I got about four spayed girls runnin’ ‘round right now. I got 11… no, 12 girls laid to rest in the Road to Rainbow Bridge in the back. I’ve given away a couple to good homes. Sold a lot. I’ve got nine breedin’ right now. The boys we keep until the end because they can just keep breeding. I’ve laid maybe… six to rest; I got three as farm dogs, five as breeders, and one old boy that just don’t leave the house.”

“The other sheds there are for farmin’,” Aggie says as we leave the kennel. “Stables in there, food and supplies and such in the other two. Not real interesting, but you can go see ‘em if you want, make sure we’re not harmin’ any animals.” I look over at the outbuilding that she identified as a stable and I see another woman—probably our age—brushing a horse just outside the open door.

“Your operation is very thorough,” I say. “You get a lot of flak for what you do?”

“PETA, ASPCA,” Aggie says, “they tend to lump all breeders into one category, especially the ones that breed in bulk. You see my operation. I have a manageable number of dogs and pups at any given time, and if the dogs don’t find homes, they stay here with us. It’s a lucrative business, yes, but not that lucrative if it gets out that you’re mistreating the animals or that your product is substandard—mutts, diseased dogs, and the like.

“The humane society has come more than once to buy up my pups for fear that they’re being mistreated, and I grill ‘em—what are you going to do with ‘em; do you have homes for ‘em already; what happens if they don’t get adopted? They still come around once in a while, but not as often, because I refuse to sell them my dogs unless they tell me definitively where my dogs are going. I don’t mind ‘em using my services for placement—you know someone that wants a bully pup and you come to me to find one, but you’re not going to come in here and just buy a slew a pups and I don’t know what’s going to happen to ‘em.”

Aggie becomes a bit passionate when she discusses the possibility of her puppies having uncertain futures. I think I’ve heard enough. I look over at Butterfly.

“What do you think?” I ask. She looks up at me and nods.

“Well, Aggie, Lee, let’s talk puppies,” I say.

“I thought that’s what we were doin’,” Lee laughs and leads us to the house.

It’s what you would expect from a large farmhouse—lots of natural wood, décor that’s the right mixture of modern, country, and rustic. We go into the country kitchen—white and wood—with a large island in the middle with a marble countertop and wood and wicker stools around it. This is where they do business—not the dining room, not an office, right here on the kitchen island.

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There’s a laptop in the middle of the island and Aggie positions herself in front of it, gesturing for me and Butterfly to take the stools across from her. As we take our seats, a pudgy—for lack of a better word—pit bull comes meandering into the kitchen and literally flops down at Lee’s feet.

“And who is this?” Butterfly asks.

“This here ‘s Nails,” Lee says, bending down to give the dog a healthy scratch on the head. “Nails has been with us now goin’ on 18 years. He’s outlived all his brothers and sisters, and the old boy just keeps holdin’ on.”

“What’s the usual lifespan?” I ask, curious.

“Eight to 15 years depending on their health and livin’ conditions,” he replies. “Nails is a real old timer, so we just let him live out his golden years here in the house. He’s studded many a litter, so he’s done his duty. Time for ‘im to relax now.” I nod and take off my glasses.

“Is that the normal size for them as well?” I ask.

“No,” he says. “Grey lines can get to be 60 pounds. They average 35-45 like most bully breeds. Nails here is about 80—big for his frame.”

“Are there any larger breeds?” Butterfly asks.

“Gottis,” Lee says. “They can easily get to a hunnerd.”

I look over at Butterfly and she shakes her head. She has the same thought I do—a hundred-pound dog… I don’t think so.

Aggie looks up from her laptop and immediately does a double take at me once I’ve removed my glasses. Then she looks at Butterfly and back at me. Then, she gasps.

We’ve been made.

“You’re…” she pauses. “You’re Christian Grey!” she says in realization. Lee looks at me, then at Butterfly, just like Aggie did, then back at me.

“I knew that face was familiar!” he says. “I just couldn’t place it!”

“Yes, sir,” I reply. “I apologize for deceiving you, but I hope you understand why. Our privacy is very important to us.”

“Oh, no, I get it,” Lee says. “It’s gettin’ to where folks can’t go to the store without gettin’ mobbed these days. I can’t even imagine what you too have ta go through.” He looks over at my wife. “May I say you’re just as pretty in person as ya are on the pictures.” My wife blushes.

“Thank you, sir,” she says bashfully.

“She kinda looks like Millie, dudn’t she, Aggie?” Aggie examines my wife.

“Yeah,” she says, “a bit around the eyes.” Butterfly looks at her curiously. “Millie’s our niece, my sister’s girl. She’s off in college back east right now. I hope we didn’t make you uncomfortable.”

“Oh, no, not at all,” Butterfly says.

“Well, if you’d like, we can talk about gettin’ you folks a dog,” Lee says.

“If you don’t mind…” I gesture to Jason and he reaches into his jacket. “I require a nondisclosure agreement to do business.”

“Oh, yeah, the ‘keep your mouth shut’ paper. No problem,” Lee says, reaching into his own jacket pocket and pulling out a pen. I raise my brow.

“You’re familiar with them,” I say, a statement, not a question.

“We use ‘em,” Aggie says. “There are more puppy mills around than you think—horrible places, just horrible. Unsanitary, the bitches and studs are sickly, no tellin’ what kinds of illnesses those pups are carrying once they’re born. My advertisin’ is mostly word of mouth. Those folks on the Facebook page are all satisfied customers. We don’t want the press pokin’ ‘round here trying ta find a story, and believe me, knowin’ that you got a dog from here would probably bring us more attention than we’d like, so where do we sign?”

“Just so we’re clear, by you signing, this means that none of your staff will disclose you’re doing business with us?” I ask.

“Not if they want to keep their job,” Lee confirms. “Like I said, we use ‘em, too. If you want, you can leave six more of ‘em, and I’ll have ‘em signed and faxed back to you by Monday afternoon.”

This is easier than I thought.

“That sounds good to me, Lee,” I respond. Lee and Aggie each sign and NDA and Jason gives them six more, tucking their signed copies back into his jacket.

“Okay, so let’s get down to business…”

We talk about how soon the newest litters are expected, how long they stay with the mother and littermates before they can be sold, and just how formal the whole process is. There are birth announcements once the puppies are born, and you get pictures of the new litter and more pictures every couple of weeks. You pick the sex of your pup and they try to match it when the pups are born.

Once they reach eight weeks old, you get to see which puppy will be yours. From there, you make arrangements for delivery or to pick the pup up when they’re 10 to 11 weeks old. By the time you pick them up, they’ve been dewormed, microchipped, spayed or neutered if that’s what you want, and they had their first round of vaccinations. They come complete with the generational pedigree, registration with the American Kennel Club, a health guarantee and lots of doggie goodies to get them started.

Aggie and Lee make themselves available after you get your pup in case you have any problems or questions, and even have references for trainers in your area. I’m feeling a lot more solid about this place than I did about the place in Rainier. That other place seemed a whole lot more like, “When do you want your dog? Where do we ship ‘em? Will that be cash, check, or charge?”

Now comes the hard part—picking a breed.

“Well, we know the gotti’s out, so it’s between the red nose and the brindle, and I can’t choose because they’re both so beautiful,” Butterfly points out.

“I have to tell you, Ana, that each dog is different,” Aggie warns. “There’s no guarantee that they’re going to come out looking like their moms.”

“That’s not necessarily true, Peach,” Lee interjects before turning to us. “The brindles can come out to be just about any color, but the red noses near about guaranteed to come out that golden brown,” he corrects her. Aggie nods.

“He’s right… have you ever seen a calico kitty?” Aggie asks.

“Once or twice,” Butterfly replies. I’ve never seen one.

“You ever seen two together?” she asks.

“I don’t think I have,” my wife responds.

“Google ‘em,” she says. “Even online, I can guarantee you won’t find any two exactly alike. It’s the same with the brindles. They kinda like the calico of the pit bull.”

“Can we get one of each?” Butterfly asks. Immediately, everyone in the room glares at her, including Chuck and Jason. She jerks under our stare.

“Sorry,” she says, more chastised than she should be and shrinking a bit. “It was just a suggestion.”

“Don’t misunderstand, Ana,” Aggie says, “you can have as many pups as you want. It’s just that two new pups are a big responsibility.”

“Yeah, sure, okay,” she says, and she’s quickly shutting down. “I only raised two live human beings for more than a year,” she mumbles, and I think I’m the only one who heard her.

“So, um, we’ll need complete contact information—emails included—and a deposit of $250 per dog…” Aggie just gets right down to brass tacks without missing a beat. She doesn’t even reference the conversation that we just had regarding how many pups Butterfly wanted. She just gets right down to business without finding out how many pups we’re going to get. I complete all the paperwork as Butterfly appears to have no interest in the transaction at all.

What the fuck? She’s the one who said she wanted the pit puppies!

“So, which do you want?” I ask when I get to the section about breeds, gauging to see if she’s still interested in two puppies or if she’s just going to pick one.

“You pick,” she says, noncommittal… and now, she’s pouting. Very mature, Anastasia.

I’m certain there’s going to be a volcanic eruption down the line if I don’t reserve two puppies, so I silently do that without letting her know. I mark that I’m looking for one of the brindles and one of the red noses, a boy and a girl—sex of the breed to be determined by the litters—and I hand her my Amex.

I’m not bowing down to Butterfly. I truly believe that if she wants two puppies, she should have two puppies. Besides, she’s right about one thing. We have managed to keep two tiny humans alive for more than a year. I’m sure we can manage two dogs. We will, however, have a discussion about this childish behavior.

Once the transaction is complete and I’ve secured our two dogs, we thank Aggie and Lee, get in the car and head back to Mercer. Anastasia is silently staring out the window, still behaving petulantly, and I’ve had just about enough.

“Okay, Anastasia, what exactly is the problem?” I ask.

“I raised two children. Why the hell would any of you think I can’t raise two dogs?” she blurts out. “And I don’t plan on leaving the dogs with anybody for months at a time, but I’m certain that I won’t be the only one caring for them… or will I? Did I miss something?” Whoa, back up, Grey. Those guns are loaded.

“No, baby, you didn’t miss anything,” I say, trying to soothe her, “It’s just that it’s like Aggie said, two dogs are a big responsibility, and this is the first time we’ve had pets.”

“Just like we had no children… before our twins, that is,” she retorts, “and I don’t have to breastfeed the dogs!”

Oh, dear God, I didn’t need that visual!

“I was shocked,” I defend. “There was no indication before now that you were even interested in getting two dogs. I’m not allowed to have a reaction to that being sprung on me right when we’re about to sign the papers?”

“You all glared at me like I cursed in church, like I had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. It was humiliating!” she counters emphatically.

So, she’s not really upset about thinking she’s not going to be able to have two dogs. She’s more upset about being made to look like a fool in front of everyone.

“You’re overreacting, Anastasia,” I begin. “No one glared at you that way. We were just caught off guard by your request.”

“Yeah, okay, sure. I imagined the whole thing,” she says, taking out her phone and swiping the screen.

“I didn’t say that,” I reply. “I wasn’t prepared for you to ask for two dogs.”

“Yeah, um-hmm,” she says, typing into her phone without making eye-contact with me. And there she goes. She’s shutting down again and it’s really starting to piss me off.

“You really need to stop this,” I retort. “You’re behaving like a child.” I hear Chuck in the front react like someone gave him a swift gut punch. Anastasia, on the other hand, narrows her eyes at me.

Uh-oh…

“A word of advice, Mr. Grey,” she seethes. Oh, geez, now I’m Mr. Grey. “When you treat someone like a tweener, don’t be surprised when they behave like one!”

She stares at me for a while, then turns her attention back to her phone… and that’s the last bit of conversation that we have for the entire ride.

*-*

“Anah!”

Keri’s voice catches us just as we’re stepping out of the mudroom. We turn around to look at her and she has what looks like an invitation in her hand.

“Ah hav sumtim foh yoh,” she says with a smile and hands Butterfly the invitation. “Ahn foh yoh,” she adds, turning to me and handing me an invitation as well before skirting off happily in the direction she just came from. I sigh inwardly and unfold the invitation.

Sophia Taylor cordially invites you to her
Freshman Dinner
You are among the distinguished guests
To enjoy culinary delights at
Sophie’s first four-course meal
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Cocktails 6:00pm – 6:30pm
Jason and Gail’s Apartment
Grey Crossing
Mercer Island, WA
Formal Attire

I look over at Butterfly suspiciously and she returns the gaze, twisting her lips and looking back down at the invitation.

“Freshman Dinner,” I say, “that’s cute.”

“It’s her first dinner. Get it… freshman?”

“Yeah, I get it.”

I look at the invitation again. A 13-year-old is going to cooking her first dinner, and we’re going to be her guinea pigs. I’m trying to find some enthusiasm here. I scratch my neck and look over at my wife again. Are we headed to the gallows?

The look on her face says that she’s thinking the same thing that I’m thinking. She listed the things that she could cook in Las Vegas, but if this is a freshman dinner, I doubt that any of those things are going to be on the menu. I scratch the back of my neck in contemplation. Whatever it is, it won’t kill us. My wife looks over at me, and we appear to have come to the same conclusion at the same time.

We’re being ridiculous.

We both chuckle slightly and look at the invitations again, printed on heavy invitation card stock.

“What do you think?” I ask.

“I watched this girl taste a pasta dish at an Italian restaurant, ask if the pasta was imported or domestic, and tell us what kind of cheese they used. I think she’ll do fine… more than fine, in fact.”

“Look,” I say with a sigh, putting my hands gently on her hips, “let’s not do this. I’m sorry that you felt embarrassed or humiliated. That certainly was not my intention, and I’d venture to say that wasn’t the intention of anyone present. We were just surprised, all of us. We both know—all know that you’re completely capable of caring for two dogs, and everything you said was totally correct. You’ve kept two tiny humans alive—you’re not going to have the slightest problem with dogs, and we have quite a bit of help here when we need it. If you want two pups, you should have two pups. That’s why I put a $500 deposit down for a red nose and a brindle.”

Her eyes light up like the light from a full moon, and she throws her arms around me.

“I was being sensitive,” she says, still embracing me. “It was… shocking having everyone glare at me simultaneously that way, but I should have handled it better.”

“I totally understand why you felt that way,” I reinforce. She pulls back from me.

“Wait a minute,” she says, looking at me with her hands still on my shoulders. “You didn’t cave in because I was behaving like a brat, did you?” she asks. To be honest…

“Partially, yes,” I admit, “but mostly, no. It’s like I said, I didn’t appreciate the childish behavior at all. That’s why I didn’t tell you at first that I ordered two pups. I know that would have put the fire out immediately, but I had no intention of cosigning your behavior.”

“I get that,” she says, expectantly.

“However, also like I said, you can have two pups if you want them. I decided that immediately. We have more than enough room for them to run and play, though there’s going to be quite a bit of Scotchgarding in our future…”

She bursts out laughing.

“The partial yes part is because I knew once the puppy got here that you would revisit in your head the fact that you said you wanted two puppies, and a new addition to our family would be overshadowed by a disagreement or whatever you want to call it when we ordered the puppy. I didn’t want that.”

“You’re a wonderful man,” she says. “Sometimes I wonder how you put up with me.” I look at my watch. Plenty of time. I scoop her up in my arms.

“You can make it up to me by showing me just how wonderful I am,” I say as I carry her bridal style to our bedroom.


ANASTASIA

I had no intention of wearing an evening gown to dinner, but the invitation did say formal. I pick a comfortable creation from the Ruby collection—a black cotton Fit and Flare halter dress with a champagne lace illusion bodice that has a sweetheart neckline. It’s a simple dress—no fancy material or anything, but I’m jazzing it up with shoes and jewelry. My necklace is a cute black and pearl costume piece with crystals on a silver-toned chain. My earrings are Cristina Sabatini dripstone pearls with intricately woven black rhodium plating accented with cubic zirconia stones and smaller pearls—also costume.

My three, layered bracelets, however, are Chanel. Although they have some pieces that I think are gaudy and unattractive, Chanel is still my favorite designer for jewelry. Cartier is a close second, however. My three completely non-related bracelets, except by brand, are the black pearl embellished logo cuff, the rhodium tone black and white bracelet with faux pearls, and the Coco Crush white gold diamond bracelet.

And, of course, we can’t forget the black Louboutin stilettos.

As for my husband, he would make a paper bag look good, but he has opted for a black suit and turtleneck.

“So, my dear,” he says as I exit my dressing room, “are you ready for a culinary masterpiece.”

“I am,” I chuckle. “She actually did very well at our class at Sur La Table. Maybe she’s making the brick chicken. I’m actually looking forward to this.”

“Well, let’s go see what’s in store for us.” He puts his hand in the small of my back and leads me out of the bedroom. Before we pass the staircase, we spot Marilyn coming towards us.

Holy cow, Batman.

Marilyn finally decided to take us up on going to Miana’s and having a spa day, which is the equivalent of “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” in my book. Anyway, she’s in full make-up and a really cute new dress, and what once was a full head of brown and blonde hair is now an extremely short pixie cut. I didn’t even know who she was for a minute.

“Marilyn!” I say trying to hide my shock.

“Hey, she says shyly.”

“Hi,” I respond, still somewhat in awe. “You cut your hair.” Cut may not be the right word. She went from having a full head of hair—stringy though it may have been—to nearly nothing at all.

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“Yeah, I know. We tried to save it,” she says shyly. “It was dead and unrevivable—dry, split ends… I’m lucky they didn’t shave me bald and start all over.”

Dear God, no! That was shocking enough with Harmony! What is it with women and cutting their hair after a tragedy? Harmony went GI Jane, Marilyn pulled a 1960’s Mia Farrow, and even I wacked off a foot of my hair after “Escape to Madrid.” Granted, I had a few feet to work with but still. It’s shocking, but…

“It’s cute,” I say.

“You really think so?” she says, gently stroking her nape. I nod.

“Yeah,” I say honestly. “It’s fun and flirty, and it’ll be a whole lot easier to manage than this!” I say dramatically pointing at my hair. She chuckles.

“Gary hasn’t seen it yet,” she says. “I don’t know how he’s going to react when he does.”

“Do you like it?” I ask. She smiles softly.

“I do,” she replies. “I won’t keep it short like this forever, but for right now… it’s perfect.”

“Whoa!”

Moment of truth.

Gary walks down the hall staring at Marilyn’s hair. She’s so nervous that I hear her swallow.

“You look… great!” he says, after a pause. Marilyn almost looks like she’s going to collapse from relief.

“You like it?” she asks, begging for approval.

“It looks really good… like I can play in it,” he says a bit seductively. Marilyn blushes. Gary looks down at her dress and frowns a bit.

“Have you eaten yet?” he asks, no doubt examining her small frame, which is draped in a pretty dress, but still way too small. She raises disappointed eyes to him. Nice going, Gary.

“You wanna go out?” he asks, his voice sounding like he’s asking his teenage crush on their first date. Marilyn’s eyes sparkle and she’s beaming again.

“Yeah,” she says, her smile wide. He holds his arm out and she takes his elbow. They’ve completely forgotten that we were standing there as the descend the stairs to embark upon their “date.” I look over at Christian, and he holds his arm out to me.

“Shall we?” he asks. I smile and take his arm, and we head towards the elevator.

*-*

“Welcome to our humble abode,” Jason says as he opens the door to let us in.

“Cut the crap,” I say. “I haven’t decided if I’ve forgiven you for this afternoon.”

“Forgiven you?” Gail asks, looking from me to Jason. “For what?”

“Butterfly…” Christian cautions. I roll my eyes.

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“Forget it,” I say. “It’s not worth repeating.” I stick my tongue out at Jason as I pass him and he does the perfect “Spock” eyebrow at me.

“Whatever,” Gail says leading me to the table. It’s beautifully set for four complete with linens, flatware and stemware… and two bottles of wine, one of them open.

“Started cocktail hour without us?” Christian asks.

“This one was open when I got here,” Jason says. “This one my daughter asked me to pick. She specifically asked for a pinot noir… whose kid is this?”

“I opened that one and poured a portion for her to cook with,” Gail says, gesturing to the open bottle of wine. Jason’s eyes widen.

“You didn’t tell me that,” he says.

“Trust the cook, dear,” she says, rubbing his arms. “She even asked me if anyone had any food allergies.” He raises his brow.

“I guess I should trust the cook, then,” he says, his voice a bit lamenting.

“By the way, Jason. You bought your daughter a serving cart today,” Gail adds. Jason raises his brow.

“Do I want to know what it cost me?” he asks. Gail scoffs.

“What happened to Mr. Spare-No-Expense Taylor?” she teases. “Don’t worry, it was reasonable… and necessary. You told me to get her whatever she wanted.”

“You’re right. I don’t even know why I asked that question,” he says, kissing Gail on the cheek.

We can see into the kitchen and Keri is there with Sophie, but she’s not doing anything. She’s just standing there and every so often, Sophie gives her a direction or instruction and she complies.

“Bonsoir, mesdames et messieurs,” Sophie says coming out of the kitchen. Okay, I’m impressed. “I am your chef, Sophia Taylor, and I thank you for accepting the invitation to my freshman dinner. Sit down, relax, have some hors d’oeuvres, and the first course will be served in about twenty minutes.”

She bows and heads back off to the kitchen. The four of us look at each other like, “Who just left the room?” Little Sophie was wearing the full chef’s outfit—double breasted white jacket, checkered pants and the slotted hat. From the stains on her jacket, I put together that we’re having something with a rich sauce, and I can smell food cooking although I have no idea what it is.

“Well, I guess we should be seated and have some wine,” Christian says.

“Yes and no,” Jason says. “You can have wine if you drink from the open bottle. The unopened bottle is to be served with dinner. Or Chef says we can always get a drink from the bar.”

“Oh, excuse me,” Christian says, mocking a snooty voice. “I’ll just wait for dinner then. What’s this?” Christian retrieves something from one of the place settings and begins to read it.

“Oh, this is clever,” he says. To satisfy my curiosity, I go over to the table. There’s a 5×7 card at each table setting and I retrieve one.

It’s our menu.

“Very good!” I say as I review what’s in store for the evening:

 

Truffes au chocolat maison

Crostini—Brie et Figue, Boursin et Steak, Rillette, Servi avec salami dur et olives tricolores

Gratinee de soupe à l’oignon Français garnie de pain Français grillé et de fromage gruyère.

Coq Au Vin, pommes de terre à l’ail, petite laitue gemme avec vinaigrette à la moutarde

Tarte aux pommes Tatin avec de la crème fraîche et café

 

“Can you tell me what I’m eating here?” Jason says, and I laugh.

“Your daughter wants us to have a French experience tonight,” I say with mirth.

“Oh, I gathered as much,” he says. “I recognize French when I see it. I just can’t read it.”

“Hav a set, evyone,” Keri says. “Yoh stahtahs ah hehr.”

Christian pulls my seat out for me and Jason does for Gail.

“Well, I’m going to have wine with my hors d’oeuvres,” I say as I reach for the wine. Christian beats me to it and pours a glass for me.

“Mrs. Taylor?” he says, gesturing towards her with the bottle.

“Yes, thank you,” she says, and he fills her glass.

“The chef wud lek foh me to tell yoh tat evyting is homemed,” Keri says as she places a large cutting board on the table and leaves.

“Here are your starters, Jason,” I tell him. “The first thing on the menu is homemade chocolate truffles. That’s the confection you see there in the glass bowl covered in Swiss chocolate. The second thing you see is crostini. This one is brie and fig. This one is boursin cheese and steak. This one is rillette. It’s like a confit or a patte, for lack of a better word, but this one is pulled pork. And if she did that on her own, it took forever. You already know that’s hard salami and olives.”

Jason nods and goes for the crostini and olives, now that he knows what he’s eating. I go for the truffles.

I’m nearly shocked out of my senses.

“These are homemade?” I ask no one in particular. “She made these?”

“That’s what Keri said,” Christian says. “Are they good?”

“You have to try these!” I tell him like I just struck gold. Everyone takes a truffle and bites into it as I sip my wine.

“Wow,” Christian says, equally surprised. “These are delicious.”

“Yes, they are!” Gail says, finishing her chocolate while Jason reaches for a second.

“Don’t eat ‘em all up, you Neanderthal!” Christian scolds.

“There’s plenty!” Jason retorts, popping the second one in his mouth and reaching for a third. Gail slaps his hand.

“Ow!” he complains.

“You’ve already had two, Jason!” she scolds. “Let everyone else get a second one before you grab a third. Try the crostini.”

“I have tried the crostini and it’s delicious. You guys should try the crostini and let me have some more chocolate.” I quickly load my hors d’oeuvres plate with one of each crostino, some olives and salami and another truffle, because there’s going to be a riot in a minute. Christian does the same while Gail scolds Jason.

“Don’t fill up on chocolates before you get the main course, you toddler,” Gail teases.

“That’s okay,” he says, defiantly. “I’m going to get Baby Boo to make me my own batch of truffles.” He sticks his tongue out at his wife and Christian and I chuckle. We also here Keri and Sophie giggling in the kitchen as they, no doubt, heard the truffle exchange. Compliments to the chef.

A few minutes later, the chocolates and the crostini are all gone. Keri rolls out the serving tray—lovely gold and glass with wood—and serves the next course. It smells like home, a fire in the fireplace, and a warm sweater all rolled into one.

“So, this is the next item on your menu, Jason. It’s French onion soup gratinee topped with toasted French bread and gruyere cheese.”

“Wow,” he says. “This looks just like it does in a restaurant,” he adds, amazement in his voice.

“And it feels like a hug from the inside,” Christian chimes in.

“Tastes like one, too,” Gail says. I stop observing and letting everyone else have the fun and taste my soup. They’re right. It’s delicious. I know that you really can’t go wrong with a French onion soup, but when it’s right, it’s really right.

We refrain from licking our bowls clean when Keri comes to clear away the soup bowls and Sophie brings out the coq au vin.

“Alright, my French translator. I don’t need you to tell me what this is,” Jason says, opening the pinot noir and pouring us each a glass.

“Bon appetit,” Sophie says once she has placed the plates on the table, then leaves the room with her serving cart.

Okay, now here’s the real test. Coq au vin isn’t that hard for someone who already knows how to cook, but it can be a disaster if it’s not done right, especially if someone has a heavy salt hand.

I take a forkful and put it in my mouth. I look at everyone else, trying to gauge their reactions. We all look around at each other, and I’m the first to speak.

“This is really good!” I whisper.

“You didn’t help her?” Jason says to Gail, his voice low. Gail shakes her head in awe.

“I had given her some basic lessons before, but nothing like this!” she says. “She told me that she was making French onion soup and coq au vin, so I open and measured the red wine for her, but that was all, and that reduces when you cook it, so…” She takes another forkful of the chicken and potatoes.

“This is divine!” she exclaims quietly. I look over at Christian and he’s shoving forkfuls of chicken and potatoes in his mouth, nodding the entire time. When he raises his gaze to us, his expression screams, “Can’t talk… eating.”

I’m trying not to gobble down my dinner, but it’s kind of hard when the food is so damn good!

My dinner has settled well on my stomach and I know that we still have dessert. Keri clears the table and brings the dessert plates out to us along with the coffee service. She pours us each a steaming cup of coffee and goes back to the kitchen. Sophie comes out with a beautiful apple Tarte Tatin where the first slice has already been cut. She gives the first slice to her father and tops it with a dollop of crème fraiche before moving around the table to serve the rest of us.

“Oh,” Jason moans before we even get served. “This is so good.”

Sophie beams with pride as she serves the rest of us.

“Leave the tart, dear,” Gail says. “Your father’s almost finish with his first piece and I don’t want to have to hose him down because he wants another one.” Sophie laughs and Jason gives a good healthy “harrumph” behind his tart-filled mouth.

Dessert has been eaten and bellies are full all around the table. We drink our coffee and quietly converse about the upcoming week. Sophie comes shyly out of the kitchen and stands at the table near her father.

“So…” she says tentatively, “how did you like it?”

Each of us looks at someone else for a moment, then we break out in applause.

“Superbe!”
“Très magnifique!”
“That was outstanding!”
“Magnífica!”
“Delicioso!”

We stand to our feet and compliment Sophie’s meal in three different languages. She beams with pride as she shyly takes a small bow for a job well done.


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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 26

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

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

Season 5 Episode 26

CHRISTIAN

My wife dances herself into an exhausted frenzy. She looks stunning out there in that gorgeous blue dress, gracefully hugging her body and flowing beautifully with every move, and $100,000 worth of custom jewelry. I don’t know where Victoria found that treasure of a garment, but more, please.

She doesn’t speak to me for the rest of the evening. In fact, not many people have too much to say to me after the evening’s dramatic disaster. I sit sipping a single malt, double Scotch when Victoria makes her way over to me.

“Not quite the celebration you had in mind, huh?” she says, sipping her own drink.

“No, I would say not,” I reply.

“I think we’re all a bit protective of Marilyn under the circumstances, but Christian…” She looks at me and just shakes her head. Hindsight being 20/20, part of me knows that I went too far, but the biggest part of me doesn’t give a fuck.

“I know more details about this than I should, Victoria, and I didn’t reveal them all,” I defend. “That woman has been suffering… horribly. We were even more concerned about her physical well-being than I even let be known.”

“I know,” she says. “She had an abortion.” I turn my gaze to her and neither confirm nor deny her suspicions.

“I have my ways,” she says. “Somewhere around Thanksgiving. I know,” she adds. Well, no use in hiding it now.

“Who else knows?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I don’t know who else knows,” she says. Who the fuck else knows that Marilyn had a pregnancy terminated? Or was it mine and Gary’s outburst that let the cat out of the bag. No matter. It’s not the prevalent issue right now.

“I don’t know what she expected with him coming at me like that,” I say, looking out at the dancefloor and at my wife dancing with her gay boyfriend like she doesn’t have a care in the world.

“Like what, Christian?” she says. “I saw the whole exchange. Who really swung first?”

I’m trying to replay the conversation in my head, but all I can see is anger and resentment. All I can see is this poor, tormented girl wasting away for months and him walking in looking fit as a fiddle, even in that department store suit that he was wearing.

“He had to choose this forum to make his appearance. He was going for shock value.”

“He didn’t choose this forum, Christian, it just happened here.” I turn a disbelieving gaze to her.

“The fuck he didn’t!” I retort. “He knew she would be here. Why wouldn’t she be here? She’s one of the closest people to my wife and has been that way for years, even before they got together.”

“Did she come to personal functions before they got together?” Victoria points out, “because it’s my understanding that Gary certainly did.”

Hell, I really don’t know the answer to that question. I know they met at Escala when Butterfly was released from the hospital after the kidnapping. I know Marilyn was her assistant long before that and Garrett—well, hell, he’s part of the Scooby Gang, so that goes without saying. If Marilyn had been a part of the social circle before then, he would have met her before then.

“I know your feelings are personal,” Victoria says. “I know you’re very protective of her because of what you’ve seen and what you know. It’s hard not to be, but Christian? You’ve got to learn when to dial it back.”

I look over at her and back to my wife, taking another sip of my Scotch.

“Where did you find that creation?” I ask. “It’s exquisite.”

“I had nothing to do with that but the jewelry,” she says, taking a swallow of her drink. “My guess is that you’re responsible for the shoes, but that dress? Grandma.” I glare at her.

“That’s one of my grandmother’s dresses?” I ask, my eyes wide. She shrugs.

“What can I say. The women in your family have great taste.” She takes another drink and stands to her feet. “I’m going to go dance with my girl,” she says, patting me on the shoulder before walking away. I look at my wife again.

Grandma Ruby’s dress. Christ, she looks so beautiful.

Allen finally tuckers out after I don’t know how many dances and he and Butterfly return to the table. She’s careful to take any extra seat at the table except the one near me, and she keeps her revelry going. She has eaten several servings of the marble nut halvah either not knowing or not caring that I have one of the most intricate German chocolate cakes known to man waiting for her.

Not to be left alone or to interrupt Butterfly’s therapy dancing, James has a dance or three with Val and Maxie and boogies a bit with Keri.

Shit, this is just like her father’s wedding where I had to sit there and watch her congregate with everyone else and ignore me for the entire night. I sat still for it then, but hell if I’m going to sit still for it now. I shoot a text over to Jason and he raises a questioning gaze at me.

You saw what I sent you. Do what I said.

He purses his lips and dials his phone. A few minutes later, my brother’s voice interrupts my thoughts.

“Montana’s really pissed at you, Bro,” Elliot says, leaving the group and coming over to me.

“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” I say flatly. He chuckles.

“Well, you’d be the only one who didn’t,” he replies.

“How’s Val doing?” I ask, trying to take the conversation to another place.

“As well as can be expected,” he says. “I don’t think she’ll ever be over losing the baby, but she’s not against trying again. I won’t rush her, though. I’ll let her let me know when she’s ready.”

Never be over losing the baby…

“How are you?” I ask. He examines me for a moment.

“It’s hard for me, too, Bro,” he says. “I know it’s not as hard for me as it is for her, but it’s hard for me.” I twist my lips as Garrett’s words come back to me.

“Lose a baby, Christian! Then you can come and talk to me!”

“You’re a good man,” I tell him. “I wish there were more like you.”

“He left her because she lost his baby?” he questions. I look at him. “He said something about losing a baby.” I shake my head.

“It… wasn’t the same,” is all I can say. All the dimes are falling for everybody now and it’s not wholly because of what I said. I’m still wondering how Victoria knew, though.

“Oooh,” Elliot says knowingly. “Well… I can’t speak to that. Val and I both wanted the baby so badly… you know the story.”

“Yeah, I know,” I tell him. “She just looked so bad. Do you see how bad she looked? Even all cleaned up in chiffon and diamonds, she was just a shell of a woman in a pretty dress. There’s just some things I won’t be able to wrap my mind around.”

“I get it, Bro, but… a little less fire next time?” he says, holding his thumb and forefinger together in that way. My phone buzzes and Jason has texted me.

**Your chariot awaits. **

“Yeah,” I say, standing. “I’ve been working on ‘less fire’ for years. I don’t think I’ll get there anytime soon.” Elliot stands with me and frowns.

“Where’re you going?” he asks.

“I think I’ve had enough fun for one night,” I say, putting my phone in my pocket.

“You sure you wanna leave?” he asks. “That might piss her off even more.” I scoff.

“You’re kidding, right?” I ask. “She’s actively engaging the 10-foot-pole rule with me right now, as is just about everybody else in this room, and you’re actually concerned that she’s going to be more pissed that I left?” I put my hand on his shoulder.

“She won’t be concerned that I left,” I say. “She’s having a great time without me, and this is her night. I won’t spoil it any more for her, but I’m not going to sit here and be ostracized because I spoke my true feelings. Give Val my best.” I squeeze his shoulder, then turn and leave the ballroom.

*-*

It’s drizzling a bit when I get back to the Crossing. I’m glad that it hadn’t rained when Marilyn collapsed in the grass at the club. I only hope he got her inside before she caught a cold.

I take the stairs down to the lower level intent to go to my study and settle in for the night, maybe check to see if any of the breeders have contacted me back about puppies. When I look out onto the lower patio, I see the back of Garrett’s head sitting on the sofa out there and looking out at the lake. I’m still really angry about what happened with Marilyn, but Elliot’s words are playing in my head, too.

I go over to the bar and retrieve two beers, popping them both open and taking them out to the patio. He’s so lost in thought that he doesn’t hear me come outside. I walk around to the front of the sofa and hand him a beer. He looks up at me with venom in his eyes, but then he takes the beer and fixes his gaze back onto the lake. I take a seat next to him and take a swig of my beer.

“You’re right. I haven’t lost a baby, but I have watched Marilyn, and these past weeks have been brutal.”

“I don’t need you to tell me that,” he interrupts.

“But I am,” I reply. “I’m sure you two have had the first of what will be several long, deep, meaningful, and probing conversations and she’s told you all about how she felt without you. But no matter what she’s told you, you haven’t seen it all. The staff at Helping Hands thought she had cancer, because she was gone for a month, and she came back looking like that. As if it was possible, she lost even more weight in the months she’s been staying here. I’ve never seen someone suffer from a broken heart like that… ever.”

You did,” he says. I look at him like he’s crazy.

“When?” I ask.

“When Butterfly got pissed at you and didn’t speak to you for a week.”

Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.

“Well, let me rephrase,” I say. “I’ve never seen someone else suffer from a broken heart like that. And my suffering only lasted for a week. She’s been going through this for, what… three months?”

“Three months, two weeks, three days…” he says, his voice trailing off. I look at him again and he turns his gaze to me. “Even though you may not think so, I’ve been going through it, too.”

“Why didn’t you talk to her, then?” I ask. If they were both suffering, why didn’t he try to reach out to her.

“Why didn’t you talk to Ana?” he retorts.

“I tried! She wouldn’t listen to me!” I shoot back.

“I couldn’t. I was in too much pain,” he replies.

“Well, that makes two of you, then, because she was dying,” I interject.

“She still is,” he says. What does he mean? They didn’t patch things up? She’s still hurting? “I don’t know if she’s at the point of no return. She’s not refusing food because she doesn’t want to eat. She’s not eating because she can’t eat. Everything makes her sick, and now she won’t even do the shakes because she can’t stand the taste of them anymore.”

I stare at him in disbelief. I didn’t know that. I’ve been trying to shove food down her throat all this time. All week long, she’s been choking down food to satisfy us and now she’s mentally and physically miserable. Jesus H. Christ, when will the poor girl catch a break? I sigh heavily and run my hand through my hair. I’m at a loss, now, too. I don’t know what to do for her. Even if she and Garrett get back together and her broken heart begins to mend, what about her broken body?

“You really care about her, don’t you?”

His voice startles me. For a brief moment, I forgot he was still here. I look over at him and he’s examining me. It’s no use trying to hide it. Even Ray could see that it’s more than just a professional relationship.

“When my wife told me what was happening, I was angry… and a bit torn,” I admit. “She asked me how I would react under the same circumstances if I were you. I couldn’t answer her. Part of me totally supports her right to choose what she wants to do with her body. The father in me couldn’t imagine life without my children. So, I was torn.

“When she disappeared for a month and my wife was pulling her hair out—over you both, I might add—I began to take the situation more seriously. Not that I didn’t before, it’s just that it didn’t directly affect me, so I didn’t internalize it. I started wondering how if you claim to love someone, you could just leave them cold that way. I realized I was being a hypocrite, so I let it drop.”

“You were being a hypocrite?” he asks. “You left Ana?” I look over at him.

“I’m surprised she didn’t tell you,” I say. “She’ll have to give you the details if she hasn’t already, but yeah, I took a little hiatus. It devastated her. She didn’t stop eating, but I’m certain that it’s only because she had to feed our babies. Nonetheless, I was the pot calling the kettle black, so I just… dropped it.

“When Marilyn came back to Seattle and I saw her, all bets were off. My wife was broken when I returned, but she was nothing like this—and we weren’t incommunicado for as long as you two were. It was serious, don’t get me wrong, but…” I trail off.

“In all the time I’ve known of her, I’d never seen her like this. She was always healthy and vibrant and sassy. Once, I tried to run that ‘I am Christian Grey, Master of the Universe’ bullshit on her and she let me have it with both barrels and subsequently told my wife that if she had to take that shit from me that she was tendering her resignation.”

“I remember that,” he says. I just nod.

“She was a force to be reckoned with and we both know that, but when she came back from her parents’ place, I was certain that she had one foot in the grave. I hadn’t seen her yet when Butterfly told me that she was going to be staying with us. When I saw her, I was livid. I was angry with her; I was angry with you; I couldn’t understand for the life of me how anyone could let another person suffer like this. Even the hearts that I’ve left in my wake before Ana, I’ve never led any of those women to believe that I loved them. I have felt and seen love rip the heart out of someone. Before this, I had never seen it rip the soul out.”

Garrett swallows hard at the analogy and sighs deeply.

“Yes, Garrett, I care for her—as a person and a human being, as someone who’s important to my wife… so, yes, she’s important to me, and probably for more than just that reason at this point. I watched her firsthand slipping deeper and deeper into darkness and there was nothing that I could do about it. It’s not an easy thing for a man with my kind of power to feel helpless.

“All I could think was, ‘What the fuck is on Garrett’s mind? How could he let her suffer like this?’ But you probably didn’t know she was suffering like this. She was in Las Vegas for over a month and never left her room unless we told her to. Correction—she left once and stood at the Bellagio fountains, but that was it. I couldn’t even tempt her with the spa, I tried. So, you’ll just have to excuse me if when I finally saw you, I wanted to rip your throat out, because this is what I’ve been seeing constantly for the last two months.”

“I guess I should thank you for caring about her when I couldn’t,” he says. “I was really angry. I felt hurt and betrayed… but I never stopped loving her, not once. You may not believe that, but it’s true.”

I look over at him and he’s looking back out at the lake. I immediately think about how I felt when I ran off to Madrid—totally betrayed… and fucking pissed!

“I can believe it,” I say, realizing now why my mother tore into my ass when she finally got me to answer the phone. I mean, I knew then, but it’s even more clear now. I didn’t stop loving my wife; I just felt betrayed and pissed.

“I don’t want to intrude on your personal life because it’s kind of none of my business, but I’m gonna, because we’re vested in that girl now and I need to know what we’re going to be facing when she wakes up in the morning.” He sighs.

“I don’t really know, Christian,” he says honestly. “We both really fucked up and there are some serious trust issues going on. Yes, she has the right to choose, but I feel like she took my choice away, and I have the right to feel that way. It doesn’t matter if no one else thinks so. Then, I left her after she made an impossible decision before her body even had a chance to heal.

“She had an abortion that morning; that night, she was on a plane. I didn’t even know until I talked to her tonight. I didn’t know that she had left and gone to Spokane; I thought she was still at the apartment until the day that Ana told me she left. I never went back to see until I knew that she was gone. When I went back to the apartment and all her stuff was gone, I felt like hell. She didn’t even take the furniture we bought together. There were little trinkets that I bought for her that are still sitting on my dresser—she didn’t take those either.

“I never once thought all those hang-ups on my voice mail were her, not once. I kept wondering who in the hell was calling me in the middle of the night and wouldn’t leave a message. I wasn’t concerned about how she was feeling at all; I was only trying not to be angry anymore. Thing is, I was only angry for about a week, then I started mourning my loss—my woman and my baby.

“She stopped eating when she was grieving. I was eating everything in sight and working out like a madman to burn it off. Besides that, all I’ve done for three months is work, sleep, and watch Game of Thrones.”

He falls silent for a moment and I’m watching him examine his nearly empty beer bottle. He’s pondering something. What is he pondering? What’s there to think about? They were miserable without each other and now they’re back.

“I know what you must be thinking,” he says. “They’ll get back together and everything will be fine now.” That’s exactly what I was thinking. “But that’s not true. There’s so much unfinished business—so much that we have to settle and talk about. The fact that she hurt me, the fact that I hurt her, the fact that she nearly killed herself immediately after having an outpatient procedure because we broke up.

“I love her dearly, but her survival can’t be dependent on whether I’m there or not. Having a broken heart and grieving, that’s one thing. She wouldn’t have lasted much longer had she kept this up, and we are going to have to go back to the doctor soon to find out how to undo this. We’re going to have to take some drastic steps beyond Ensure and Pedialyte.

“I’m still mourning the loss of my baby. Will that affect our intimacy? Will she ever be able to truly open up to me again? Do we have a future, and will it ever involve children after this? Is love enough to fix us? Can we forgive each other for the pain we’ve caused? What if too much damage has been done and we can’t recover? We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, a whole lot of it!”

He finishes his beer and puts it on the patio floor. I pause for a few moments before I speak.

“Those are very valid questions that only you two can answer. Having previously been quite the outspoken tyrant against love I can tell you this. Love is able to accomplish anything. I’m not talking about the lustful, hearts and flowers, smoochie-huggy-kissy stuff that you feel when you begin a relationship and it keeps you on cloud nine. I’m talking about that ‘this cow is getting on my fucking nerves,’ panic because you haven’t heard from her and wonder if she’s okay, turn the world upside down to make her happy, can’t see your future without her, love her even when you hate her kind of love. If Marilyn was just infatuated, this whole thing would have passed in a few weeks. She definitely wouldn’t be in the state she is now, so I think it’s safe to say that she feels that kind of love for you. If you love her, and you really want this, you’ll find a way to make it work.” I finish my beer and stand.

“You guys can stay as long as you want. I’m sure my wife would feel better if she could at least see some progress with Marilyn’s health before she moves out, but let us know if you decide to leave.” He looks up at me, then nods and looks back at the lake. I walk back into the entertainment room and find my wife standing by her aquarium, looking out the doors at us. I look at her for a few moments, and when she says nothing, I go to the bar and dispose of my empty beer bottle in the trash. I pull out a snifter and pour myself a brandy. I look over at her once more, and she’s still silent. Deciding that I don’t want to defend my opinions or fight for amends at the moment, I head down the hall to my study.

*-*

I didn’t sleep at all last night. Still wound from the events of the party and the conversation with Garrett last night, I tried to work for a while, worked out a bit, even played my piano. Nothing. Not even a hint of sluggishness. This morning, I decide to go for a run. I don’t wake Jason to go with me. I foolishly run on my own, but I pretty much just lap the street and the area around the house. I discover when I get back to the Crossing that the run and the fresh air has done wonders for me, and after a shower and some breakfast, I may be able to settle into a nap.

The bedroom is unoccupied when I step in and after fetching a fresh pair of sweats from my dressing room, I’m actually relieved to just be able to get in the shower and let the hot water run over me. I do my best to rinse away my frustration from last night. So many people’s thoughts and feelings were on display and under consideration… except one. Granted, this isn’t my dilemma, but I’m very much involved. Emotions were running high all around last night and the only person who got scolded was me.

I’m not going to pout; I won’t sulk. I talked to Garrett because I felt I needed to, but I’m not willing to swallow the idea that my feelings, thoughts, and concerns don’t count. This was a very trying time for Marilyn and as I discovered last night, for Garrett as well, but they weren’t the only people involved. Their issue and breakup reached out like fingers and touched several other people. I’m one of those people, and I won’t be dismissed.

Feeling refreshed and relaxed after my shower, I step out and dry my hair vigorously. I brush my teeth and decide to leave the shave for Monday. I don’t have plans for the weekend as we don’t resume with our mentoring sessions with Artemis and Savvina until next weekend. In fact, for the first time in a long time, I plan to veg out today.

I find my wife standing next to the bed when I exit my en suite. Just like last night, she just stands there looking at me. I don’t know what she expects, but if she has no words, neither do I.

I don’t stand there and wait for a greeting. I go to my chest of drawers in the changing room and grab a fresh T-shirt. I pull it over my head as I leave my changing room.

“Don’t you think this situation requires some discussion?” she asks, her voice frank. I shrug.

“Sure,” I say, non-committal. Her head jerks a bit and she frowns.

“Not as passionate about it as you were last night, Christian?” she asks. I laugh inwardly. She’s picking a fight.

“If you wanted passion, you should have talked to me last night,” I say coldly. “That fuse is burned now.”

“That fuse,” she says, noting my emphasis. “Is that to denote that there’s another fuse alight?”

“It could be,” I say after pondering the question for a moment. “I’m just tired of everyone else’s feelings mattering more than mine,” I add matter-of-factly. She frowns.

“What do you mean?” she asks affronted. Okay, Butterfly, you asked for it…

“I mean that he just showed up out of nowhere after three months of letting this girl suffer and nearly die, and we’re all supposed to bow to his feelings, but he’s not supposed to be considerate of anybody else’s. I watched you worry about her for more than a month when she went to her parents. Then she came back, and I watched her deteriorate, so I worried with you. As much as I deplore anything to do with hunger and starvation, I watched it first hand for more than two months.

“I tried to temp that girl with anything available—‘Hey, we’re in hell for a few weeks, but it’s still the land of a million foods. Eat, drink, be merry! Hey, go take advantage of that free spa package! You can use it three times a day if you want.’ We went to buffets; we had food delivered; five-star, 24-hour room service; you took food tours and cooking classes; we went to world-renowned restaurants… She couldn’t even sit the whole night through Karaoke! She had me on such tender hooks worrying about her that for a fleeting moment, Ray suspected that something was going on between us. Did he ever tell you that?” My voice is rising and sharpening. Her eyes widen at the most recent revelation, but then she recovers.

“No,” she says, her voice low. “No, he didn’t tell me that.”

“Yeah, that happened,” I confirm. “I’ve spent all this time being concerned that she was going to collapse from malnutrition and organ failure and then out of the blue, he shows up like he’s coming to save the day… after three fucking months. If you hadn’t threatened her, she still wouldn’t be eating right now!

“Then you want to punish me for the rest of the night because I announced that you were about to have her committed. News flash, Anastasia—that’s not the big secret! Everybody within the visual radius of her could see that she became dangerously thin over a very short period of time. Some people even thought she had a fatal disease!

“No, the secret? The secret was exposed by your boy when he announced the he had lost a baby. That declaration had inquiring minds wondering if it was miscarriage or a termination. Logic leaned to termination as no one could fathom the thought of Gary leaving Marilyn because of a miscarriage. So, even though I may have let the cat out of the bag about something that really wasn’t so secret, the one who really broke a confidence here was Gary, but has anybody beheaded him and shit down his throat for that?”

My wife is silent, and I’m louder than I intend, but I don’t care. I may never get another chance to make this point, so I’m making it now.

“If you don’t expect me to become passionate about the people that you bring to this house who are in need, don’t bring them around me! We have plenty of resources and I have no problem helping someone in need, but if helping them means that I’m supposed to let them in my house, nurture them and bring them back to mental and physical health, but then turn my back and act like I don’t give a fuck when they’re hurting, then you’ve got the wrong guy.

“I’ve always been able to go from zero to 100 in 2.3 seconds and you knew that when you married me, but this empathetic fucker? This guy with all these feelings and concern for other people? This is the guy you created, and although I may become angry—I may get pissed off and say or do stupid shit, I can’t just turn that guy off at will!

“We had Harmony and Tina to worry about and I went gung-ho on that fucker Kenneth, that crook Roger, and Tina’s ungrateful children—at Tina’s fucking funeral, no less! Val was a total bitch, but when we found out that it was because she was sick, we gave her doctor a bulldozer full of what-for, and how… and brought her here to live with us! Even James was the center of my wrath when you were trying to save Thelma and Little Jimmy from starvation and a long, slow death in that condemned, mold and bacteria-infested house and what happened? After I gave him a huge piece of my mind and he lost his fucking family and his health deteriorated, I ended up helping him in the end. And let’s not forget that I almost fucking got arrested over Marlow’s father!

“If I care about you enough to get involved, then yes, I’m going to be passionate about you. I didn’t hold my tongue when any of those people were being hurt and I didn’t hold my tongue this time. The only difference this time was that both of the parties on both sides of the battlefield were your friends. So, when I did speak my mind against the party that I felt was wrong, I became the bad guy… again! So, in the future, should I distance myself from these situations so that I don’t make this mistake? Because from my standpoint, I wasn’t going to win either way.

“I care for her. She’s a good person; she’s important to you; and she’s grown on me. So, watching her suffer and not being able to do anything about it is not an easy thing to do. In fact, it was downright painful. Having him stroll in and announce that his suffering trumped everybody else’s was almost unbearable and enough to make my blood boil. But having you ostracize me for the rest of the night because I felt like what I felt and what I saw was just as important as what he was feeling, that is completely, utterly, and totally unacceptable. So, like I said, I’m tired of everyone else’s feelings mattering more than mine!”

Is that enough of an explanation for you, Dr. Grey?

“It’s not that your feelings don’t matter, Christian,” she says, her voice softening… and shaking a bit. “It’s just that certain situations have to be handled delicately. You can’t just charge into delicate scenarios like a bull in a China shop.”

“Well, once again, excuse me if I had no patience for the guy who I felt allowed Marilyn to suffer for three months, especially after he comes at me with that sarcastic, smug ass attitude. ‘What do you suggest I do, Christian?’” I say, mocking his tone.

“You snapped at him first,” she points out.

“And again, you’re taking his side. So, we’re having this conversation because…?” I trail off calmly, holding my hand out expectantly and waiting for her to finish the sentence. I’m under no misconception about her feelings—she made them quite clear. However, if she didn’t hear anything that I just said, then I have nothing else to say. She sighs and drops her head.

“This is a very worthy conversation,” she says, “and you are right. I did and I am seeing things from Gary’s point of view. If it’s okay with you, may I have a little time to consider your argument before I address it further?” She stands there silent, waiting for my response.

“I think that’s a very good idea,” I say calmly. She nods and leaves the room.

That’s the first time we’ve been passionate about anything and had a civil conversation. I don’t know if it’s because I stood my ground and refused to be sucked into any other discussion or argument, or if she really sees that I had a point and she wants to consider both sides of the coin. Either way, I’m not angry or aggravated and I’m still as relaxed as I was when I returned from my run… more, even.

I climb on the bed and grab the remote. I turn the television on and begin scrolling through the channels. I should really go and get some breakfast, but I’m truly beat. Maybe I’ll just close my eyes for a quick minute or two, then go down to breakfast…


ANASTASIA

Even when Christian is angry, it’s not like him to miss a meal, at least not deliberately. He didn’t seem angry after our talk this morning, but he didn’t come down to breakfast. His conversation was a bit deliberate, somewhat subdued in the end, but not angry. Why didn’t he come to breakfast?

“Is everyone avoiding us?” Marilyn asks, having come down and eaten a bit of eggs and drank some orange juice. Gary sits silently next to her, wearing his suit pants and a T-shirt. There’s no one else at the table, but us.

“I think they may be trying to avoid Christian,” I say, sipping my coffee.

“And who’s he trying to avoid?” Gary asks.

“Could be me,” I say with a shrug. Marilyn sighs.

“This is the very last thing I wanted,” she says, pushing her hair behind her ear. There’s silence at the table for a while.

“You’re not going to try to eat a little more?” Gary coaxes, noting that she only ate a forkful or two of eggs. Marilyn shakes her head.

“I can’t tolerate any more,” she says without looking at him. “My stomach just can’t take it.” Gary sighs and says nothing else. I look at them both staring at dishes, beverages, walls, anything but each other.

“So, what now?” I ask. I’m feeling a bit like Christian right now. After everything I’ve witnessed and the worry I’ve been through, I deserve some answers… something in the way of closure, or at least headed towards it.

“I don’t know,” they say simultaneously, then look sadly at one another. Well, enough of this shit. I’m not a relationship counselor, but I bet I’ll fucking be one right now.

“What do you want?” I ask the open-ended question to them both. Neither answers.

“Okay, that’s not a rhetorical question,” I say. “What. Do you want?”

Marilyn is still looking down at the uneaten portion of her eggs and Gary looks over at her.

“I want her to eat,” he says, examining the side of her head. Nope, too easy, Pope.

“And then what?” I ask. He turns his gaze to me.

“I don’t know,” he says, his voice a bit frustrated. “I don’t know where we’re going to go from here.”

“That’s not what I asked you,” I retort, “and dancing around the question isn’t going to make the answer any easier, nor is it going to make me stop asking it. I love you both; you’re very important to me, and this is destructive behavior. You stopped eating and you barely sleep; and you cut yourself off from people that you’ve interacted with nearly every damn weekend for years! Half the time, we didn’t know if you were dead or alive. I and everybody who care about you two who had to sit and witness that train wreck that was last night deserve to know. What. Now?”

I leave the floor open. They’re going to fucking answer me, or nobody’s leaving this table.

“I want my life back,” Gary says after several moments of silence, “and I want my girl back, but I don’t know if we can do it.”

“Why don’t you think so?” I ask.

“Look at us,” he replies. “I hurt her; she hurt me; we fucked up big. I know the fact that we hurt each other doesn’t make it even, but how do we recover from this? I still feel the same way that I feel and I’m sure she still feels the same way she does…” Marilyn is shaking her head while he’s talking. I hold up my hand to halt him.

“Why are you shaking your head?” I ask. She raises her gaze and there are those endless, silent tears that she’s been crying for weeks. Gary gazes at her with regret in his eyes.

“Everything I thought I knew has changed,” she says, her voice even. You would think she was sitting here having a normal old conversation, but her tears betray her heart. “I had never loved anybody else like this and I didn’t think anything could ever go wrong with this love, but when it did, I completely fell apart. I totally lost myself and I couldn’t find me for anything. Every day, I felt like I was just walking through a tunnel, and I knew it was a tunnel, but there was no light at the end.

“For three months, I just kind of wandered around. I second-guessed everything. For three months, every decision I made, I second-guessed it. I second-guessed being a mom, being ready, the termination, giving the baby up for adoption, going to my parents, coming back, waking up in the morning, everything! I never thought of suicide, but I can’t tell you how many times I just wanted to curl up and die.

“And now, he’s back,” she says, her voice cracking on the last word, “and I still don’t know how to find me. I still don’t have any faith in anything that I thought I knew. He says he still feels the same. Does that mean that he still hates me? He’s still hurt and angry that I aborted his baby? He wants his girl back, but he still can’t be in the same room with me? What does that mean?

“You want to know why I was shaking my head? Because nothing is like it was before—nothing. I don’t feel anything I felt before. He says he wants his girl back, but the girl I was before he left and I found myself all alone, I don’t even know where that girl is anymore.

“All of my realities have been completely shattered. This is my reality now—clawing and scratching and starving and trying to find out who I really am. If I knew then what I know now, if I had thought for one second that this is where I would end up, I’d be sitting here looking at you swollen right now. We’d be planning a baby shower and looking for a bigger place and sharing ultrasound pictures on Facebook!”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Gary says. “You would have made the same decision because you weren’t ready. Nothing, not even my broken heart, can make you ready if you’re not ready.”

“How can you understand that now if you didn’t understand that before?” Marilyn shoots through her tears. “I was healthy and fit and there would have been plenty of time for us to have children later. I just wasn’t ready now. Neither of us were ready. That’s why we were using protection and birth control. Now, you understand that I wasn’t ready and all it took was for me to go to the brink of hell!”

Gary sits silently, shamefaced, while Marilyn’s tears don’t cease. I hand her a napkin, but she shakes her head again.

“There has to be something wrong with not being able to function without another person,” she says, “with being unable to find a place of peace when I find myself on my own. I couldn’t eat; I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t laugh or relax. All the things that are supposed to rejuvenate the body and mind, I couldn’t do.” I sigh.

“It’s called love, Mare,” I tell her, “and it’s heartbreak. You don’t get to dictate the terms of your sorrow. It is what it is.”

“What if he dies, heaven forbid?” she says. “What if something happens and he’s just not here anymore? Does that mean I’ll never be able to function on my own again?”

“These are all very valid questions, Mare, that only you have the answers to,” I tell her. “Keep in mind that the circumstances of your breakup were… quite rough. You terminated a pregnancy; you came home, and he was packed. Just like that, this relationship that you cultivated for the last couple of years was over—and it wasn’t a sudden, tragic event that ripped him away from you. This was a conscious decision to leave the relationship—a man that was still very much alive, leaving you in a situation of anguish, despair, loneliness, uncertainty… and hope. There was always hope until you finally let it go. That’s one of the worst parts of a separation—hoping for a reconciliation.

“It’s good that you realize that your life, existence, and happiness can’t be totally dependent on another person. Granted, all of the people in our lives contribute to those things in some way, but I wholeheartedly agree that you completely fell apart very much to your detriment without Gary around you. It concerns me because you’ve always been a very independent person. It also concerns me because it says a lot about how you feel about yourself—your worth and who you are on your own.

“I would be completely devastated if something happened to Christian, or if heaven forbid our relationship fell apart and we had nothing left. However, I’d like to think that I have enough of a sense of self-preservation or even the knowledge that other people need me that I would be able to overcome the worst part of my grief to have my survival instincts kick in.”

Marilyn looks at me knowingly. She didn’t have all of the details when Christian ran away to Madrid, but she knew the gist of it. I did, however, get up and take care of my babies and go to work and eat and try to remain as normal as possible, with the exception of a drunken slip off a cliff.

But this isn’t about me.

“You two are going to have to find ways to reconnect again,” I say. “It’s the only way, and it’s going to be hard. We’ve been where you are, and it’s going to be all about rebuilding the trust that you lost, leaning on the love that you have, and forging a new relationship. You can’t go back to where you were. There’s an innocence and blissful ignorance that was attached to that relationship that you no longer have. You need to take the seed that is your love—right now—and plant it in fresh ground. You’re going to need some help and it’s not going to be easy or fast. I can give you advice, but I think you should both see a marriage counselor.” Gary raises his brow at me.

“Why can’t you do it?” Gary asks. I shake my head.

“If it comes to that, I will,” I tell him, “but I think you should first talk to someone with a fresh eye on things… someone that’s not so close. My therapist was of no use to me when Christian left. I don’t know what he was aiming at, but he kept hitting the rim of the target without hitting the bullseye. I’m thinking it’s because he knows me, and he knows that I’m a doctor and he expected me to heal myself. I wasn’t in a position where I could. Our friends tried to help us and they kind of shed some light on some things, but we were in so deep that it took strangers to help us—two different sets in two different specialties. So, you should talk to someone who’s not so close first and see what happens.

“I can point you in the right direction, but you two need a game plan, and you’re going to have to take the steps on your own. The first thing you need to do is figure out what you want to do. You know that you want your girl back.” I turn to Marilyn. “You don’t know which way is up and not quite sure which direction to go. That’s where you have to start. If you’re going to be stuck in ‘I don’t know,’ then you might as well go back to your corners and forget this semi-reconciliation ever happened.”

Gary raises his gaze to me, then looks over at Marilyn who’s still crying a waterfall. He puts his arm around her chair, and she jumps like she’s startled, but he doesn’t pull away. Instead, he leans in to her.

“I know what I want, baby, and that’s not it,” he says to her like she’s the only person in the room. “I want you back. I love you. I want what we had and if we can’t have that, then I want what we can become. Do you want me?”

Marilyn never raises her head. The tears are still flowing when she takes a huge stuttering breath and nods.

“I do want you, Gary,” she says, “but I want me, first.”

Gary pauses, not quite sure—I’m certain—what to make of that answer.

“Is that something that we can work on together, or do you need time to work on that alone?” he asks cautiously. She swallows.

“Both,” she says, her voice cracking again. “I know that I have to find me again and I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to do that or what it’s going to involve and you’re going to have to allow me to do that… but I don’t want to be without you anymore.”

Gary purses his lips, then embraces her gently.

“I’m scared to hug you,” he says honestly. “You’re so thin.” She shrugs.

“Battle scars,” she says sadly. I wish she hadn’t used that terminology. Christian and I use that same phrase for our kink bruises. Scratches and bites and whelps and hickeys and… Is it getting hot in here? What was I talking about?

“I broke the lease on the old place,” Gary confesses, “and all my things are in storage.”

Oh, yeah… Marilyn and Gary.

“Just as well,” Marilyn says, her face still wet with now partially dry tears. “I couldn’t go back there anyway.”

“Well, your current address is here anyway,” I interject. “No offense, Gary, but I have to see a significant improvement in her health before I‘m willing to let her out of my sight. I’ll have to talk to Christian about you coming and going…”

“Christian already offered us to stay for as long as we needed last night,” he says, bemused. “I thought he would have told you.” My brow rises.

“Well, I guess that’s that,” I say with a shrug, “although…”

“Although what?” Gary asks.

“You two are going to need time together to rebuild your relationship… and time apart.” Marilyn raises a questioning gaze to me. “Being apart and not thinking you would ever be together again is one thing. Being apart and building yourself knowing exactly when you’re going to see each other again is another. Once you set your plan in motion, each of you is going to need some ‘me’ time to rebuild and rejuvenate to help make the ‘us’ better.” I point to them both when stressing the word us.

“Gary, why don’t you go home and get some clean clothes. Plan to spend at least the weekend here. You guys have a lot to discuss.” He nods and stands.

“I won’t be long, I promise,” he says, kissing Marilyn’s hand. She nods and watches him as he leaves the dining room.

“How do you feel?” I ask once Gary leaves the room.

“I thought you said you were too close,” she says.

“No,” I say, “I said you should start by talking to someone who’s not so close, and I can still be a sounding board.” Her head drops back, and I see the tears begin again.

“Confused,” she says. “Scared… happy, sick, tired, cautious, anxious, elated, relieved, weak, restless, you name it, I feel it.”

“That’s a good place to start.” I cover her hand with mine. “You’re absolutely right. You need to find ‘you.’ Start working on that right now.” She closes her eyes and nods.

“I think I need to go meditate,” she says. She stands from the table and heads towards the family room.

“Marilyn?” she stops in the kitchen and turns around. “I want to ask you something. Your shirt is drenched. Why don’t you dry your tears when they’re falling?”

“I did at first,” she says, “but now, my skin is too tender from the tissue. So, I just let them fall until they’re done and then wash my face.” When I don’t answer, she turns and heads to the family room.

I don’t even know how to respond to that. I’ve never heard of anybody who cried so much that they wiped their face until their skin hurt. I have to say that I’m very glad that she and Gary have decided to start to put their relationship back together. I don’t know how she would have lasted without him.

*-*

I don’t think he’s sulking, but I haven’t seen Christian all day.

I spent the first part of the morning with Gary and Marilyn. He has retrieved enough clothes for at least a week and now, he and Marilyn have been holed up in her room for the last couple of hours. I have no problem with making up for lost time, but I hope they don’t think that sex is going to solve their problems.

Speaking of problems, I take this moment of solace to consider the conversation that I had with my husband this morning. I need to get him to understand how his actions were inappropriate without discounting his feelings. He’s raw from watching Marilyn suffer and waste away these past months and before this morning, I didn’t know just how raw he was. I’m constantly seeing the CEO Neanderthal who wants the world to bow to his will and yield to his omnipotence when that wasn’t what was happening here at all. If anything, the protector was baring his teeth and that’s who we were dealing with last night.

Daddy suspected an affair—that’s a news flash. I wonder what was said to dispel that suspicion.

Yes, I was feeling extremely protective of them both last night. I still am. That could very well have clouded my judgment when it came to seeing him attacking Gary. As is stands, he wasn’t really attacking Gary so much as he was defending Marilyn.

What’s sticking with me the most, however, is the statement that he made about being the bad guy again. Do I always make him out to be the bad guy? That’s certainly not my intention. And if after all this time, he truly thinks that he’s always under attack for voicing his feelings, something’s definitely wrong with the machinery here.

But I won’t approach him while he’s sulking. So, this worthy conversation will just have to wait.

I spend the early part of the afternoon with my babies on the floor of the family room. Mikey is thoroughly entertained by watching his sister bounce around like a madman, and Minnie has taken to forming full sentences with one or maybe two decipherable words. Mikey is verbose as well, but he sticks to his one word and makes his point.

I’ve finished a late lunch with the children and Gail and I have put them to sleep when we’re greeted with a groggy, bed-haired Christian Grey walking into the kitchen still in the jogging pants and T-shirt I left him in when I left the bedroom this morning.

He’s been asleep all this time?

“No coffee?” he asks, scanning the kitchen and noting the clean and empty coffee pot.

“We… usually don’t have it in the afternoon,” I point out. His expression is a mixture of horror, surprise, and disbelief.

“What time is it?” he asks, looking around the room, no doubt, for a timepiece. I push the display on the remote.

“Almost three,” I say, just as he spots the time on the microwave.

“Jesus!” he says. “That was one hell of a power nap!”

“That was supposed to be a power nap?” I ask. “I left you at nine. I thought you were coming to breakfast.”

“I thought I was, too!” he replies. “I planned on vegging out today. I didn’t know that I was going to sleep the day away.” Vegging out? Christian Grey doesn’t veg out!

“That’s new,” I say, nonplussed. “Since when do you veg out?” His face becomes impassive.

“I guess everybody needs to relax, relate, and release sometimes, huh?” he replies. He turns to the refrigerator and begins to remove the trimmings for a sandwich.

“Here, let me,” I say, coming over to the refrigerator and gesturing for him to move. I continue to remove items from the refrigerator and stack them onto the counter. I know my husband. He doesn’t want a sandwich. He wants a meal, but he wants it fast.

I slice a hero roll in half and cover the bottom half with mozzarella cheese and let it toast in the toaster oven. Once the cheese has melted, I remove the roll and stack it with hard salami, black forest ham, peppered turkey, sopressata, and bresaola. I take some shredded lettuce and whisk it in a bowl with red wine vinegar, avocado oil, oregano, and a touch of salt and pepper.

“Soda? Tea? Water? Beer?” I ask, going back to the refrigerator to retrieve a red onion.

“Spritzer,” he says matter-of-factly. I remove a tall glass from the cabinet and mix crushed ice, sparkling water and cranberry juice with a mint leaf and give it to my husband.

I return to the chopping board and slice tomatoes, red onions, and banana peppers. I place the top half of the hero bun in the toaster oven and finish the sandwich with provolone cheese, tomatoes, banana peppers, and the coated lettuce. I remove the other half of the bun with an oven glove and coat it with a nice helping of mayonnaise. Placing the freshly toasted bun on top, I put the sandwich on a plate, cut it in half and give it to him.

“Thank you,” he says, looking at the large sandwich and trying to figure out how to attack it. He finally gets a bite into his mouth and groans his satisfaction. I nod, put the ingredients away and clean up my mess.

“I’d like to continue our conversation,” I tell him, but I’ll wait until you’ve finished your lunch. When you’re ready, I’ll be in our sitting room… unless you’d rather have the conversation somewhere else.” He pauses.

“No, the sitting room is fine,” he says. I nod and head towards the stairway.


A/N: In case you didn’t see it, there is a short one-shot of Gary and Marilyn’s point of view… mostly Gary’s. You can find it here: https://butterflysaga.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/gary-returns-after-the-breakup/ 

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

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

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

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

 

 

Gary Returns After the Breakup

This is a small bit of the story from Gary and Marilyn’s POV. I did this because many people said that they wanted to know what Gary was thinking throughout all this, and I thought it was a good idea to show how I felt Gary was feeling about the termination and the breakup.

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…

Gary Returns

GARY (Still too soon)

It’s been three months, one week, five days, and 13 hours since I last saw her. When I knew what she was going to do, I sat in the apartment and prayed that it wasn’t true—that she would change her mind and she wouldn’t go through with it. It didn’t do any good, though. I felt it the moment my baby died. I felt it as if someone was stabbing me in the chest and ripping my soul from me piece by piece. I reached for her to comfort me, but she wasn’t there. She was at that clinic, killing my child.

When she returned and told me that she had gone through with it and my baby was gone, I knew I couldn’t stay. I was so filled with hatred and rage. My baby was ripped away from me before I had the chance to stop her. It was like I didn’t have a say in the matter at all. She completely ignored my wishes and protests and just terminated my child like you would pop a pimple. I was furious.

That first week after I left, all I did was cry. I cried and cried for the loss of my child, the fact that I would never get to meet him, never get to hold him, never even knew if it was a “him.” I felt like she robbed me—like she made the decision and that was it. I felt betrayed and nauseated and angry and hateful. I wanted her to die, too—to see what it felt like… what she did to my baby…

By day eight, that all changed.

I had been horrible. I was so hurt for so long that I wouldn’t speak to her when she tried to call. I wouldn’t speak to any of my friends, least of all, Ana. I knew she was just going to try to convince me to talk to Mare and that was the last thing I wanted for several reasons. I moved into a studio a few blocks from my job and cut communication with everyone. It was the easiest thing to do at the moment.

I ate a lot… worked out even more; cried; tore shit up; hid from my feelings as much as possible. When I saw her number show up on the phone, it sickened me. It pissed me off that she would even try to get in touch with me.

On day eight, the calls stopped.

I was relieved and dismayed at the same time. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted her to stop calling me so that I could think straight, but if I’m honest, knowing that she was still there was strangely comforting, even though I didn’t want to admit it.

More crying, more eating, more working and working out, more avoiding the calls and attempts of contact from my friends. The calls from Ana start—about two a week for three weeks. At first, she would leave a message. By the second week with no response, she stopped leaving messages. She would just call and hang up if the call went to voice mail. By the third week, her calls stopped, too. I could see them all in my mind’s eye at Food and Libations talking about how tragic the whole thing is.

I’m coming out of my baby funk a bit when I get a text from Ana.

**She’s moved out of your apartment. You can go back now. **

Why would I want to go back? Why would I want to live in the place that I shared with the woman who killed my child? Then the words hit me:

She’s moved out…

Where did she go? Shit, why would I care?

Days turned to weeks, then to months, and I did everything I could not to think about her—who she was with, where she was living, what she was doing to get over me, if she even needed to get over me. Did she ever really love me at all? If she did, how could she just kill my baby? Just like that?

Some days, I was able to push her out of my mind—throw myself into my work or work out until my muscles burned so badly that I couldn’t think of anything else. I’d eat like a bear then I’d exercise like crazy to burn off the carbs. And that was the extent of my life.

When Allen ambushed me, I was kind of pissed. I wanted to know how he found me, then I remembered that he worked for Mr. I-Can-Find-Jimmy-Hoffa-If-I-Want. I felt like it was a horrible invasion of my privacy, but only because I was pissed about the baby. Had this been any other situation and no one could get in touch with me, I wouldn’t expect anything less. I knew they had activated the contingency because everybody tried to get in touch with me, even though nobody let on that they knew exactly what was going on… if they knew exactly what was going on.

There were times when I thought I might have been overreacting. Yes, it hurt that she killed the baby, but we could always have another one in the future when she was ready, right? But what if she was never ready? What if she got pregnant again and killed my baby again? Could I even look her in the face again after this?

More than once, I weakened and tried to call her, but I couldn’t bring myself to dial the numbers. More than once, I wanted to hear her voice, but didn’t know what to say. Many nights, I tried to sleep and couldn’t, because she wasn’t there. I’d be exhausted but sleep just wouldn’t come to me. It took her seven weeks to move out of my apartment—probably seven weeks of wondering if I was going to come back. I didn’t think it was over between us. I didn’t accept that it was over between us even though I was the one who left.

When I got back to that apartment, I knew it was over.

I couldn’t feel her presence at all. It was like she never existed. She scrubbed the place down like Single White Female. If I didn’t know for sure that she had been there, I would have thought I dreamed the whole thing. The refrigerator was completely empty. There were dry goods and food in the cupboards, but nothing that she would normally eat that I wouldn’t. I went to the closet, the bedroom, the en suite, looking for anything that she may have left behind—cosmetics, underwear, an earring back…

She left the trinkets… the special things I had bought for her, except the promise ring. I knew what that meant. It represented my promise to love her. She doesn’t need the money, so I know she’s not going to pawn it. So, if for no other reason, she’s keeping it to remind herself… of what we used to have.

She was gone. Completely gone. I left her… and then she left me.

I cried again.

After a month or so more, I had worked myself into a routine—work, eat, work out, watch Netflix reruns, go to sleep, wake up, repeat. There was nothing for me to look forward to and I didn’t torture myself by expecting anything. This was my life now and I didn’t want to be bothered.

And then, today happened.

I don’t know what made me order lunch from here today, but here I was. It was subconscious, I think. I hadn’t even considered that café across the street where she always got those muffins. I had just picked up my usual monstrous lunch, when something drew me to look at that door. It was nothing new. It wasn’t like I was really looking for her… was I?

There she is, standing in the doorway—at least I think that’s her. I blink a few times. It’s not impossible that I could be seeing things. That woman looks like her… a little bit… but…

Are my eyes playing tricks on me? That can’t be her. She’s… so thin… and her hair. It’s dull and it almost looks gray. She looks awful. What happened to her? She looks like she’s ill… like she’s dying. Is she on drugs?

Isn’t that what you wanted? You wanted her to die for killing your baby. It looks like you’re getting your wish.

She steps away from the coffee shop, takes a bite of the muffin or cupcake, then frowns. She looks like she’s going to hurl. She stops and removes the bite from her mouth with a napkin, tossing it and the entire confection into a nearby garbage can. She doesn’t go back into the coffee shop to complain or replace the sweet. She just turns away and begins to walk down the sidewalk.

Are you kidding? What the hell—is she sick? Did the abortion do something to her health? She should have eaten the damn pastry! She’s wasting away!

I begin walking behind her on the opposite side of the street. Her stride isn’t that of the beautiful, confident young woman that I walked away from three months ago. No, this is someone else. Her head is down, and she looks like death. She doesn’t notice that people veer away from her as she proceeds down the sidewalk, simply to avoid the gray cloud of doom that’s enveloping her, afraid that her dismay might rub off on them. If I were to guess, I would expect that this stranger is barely functioning and having to concentrate on every task just to get through the day.

I’m still not convinced that it’s her until after a few more steps, and she reaches a car that I recognize. I watch her unlock the door, get inside, start the car and drive off down Cherry street.

For the love of Pete! She looks terrible. And it’s not until this moment that my heart sinks and my chest begins to ache.

I still love her… so much. I hate the situation. I hate what she did, but I never stopped loving her. God, it hurt so much seeing her like that. I could pretend that it was all about me when I didn’t see her. That’s why I had to leave that day. Seeing her made everything so fucking real, so fucking in-my-face. Truthfully, it’s still about me. It still hurts. I lost a child and I couldn’t be with the woman who was the direct cause of my loss.

But seeing her today… shit.

I’m standing here in the middle of the sidewalk, looking at the empty spot that her car vacated moments ago. I don’t know what to do. I knew there was a possibility that we would run into each other, but not this soon.

It’s been three months. How do you figure that’s “soon?”

It’s still too soon for me.


MARILYN (Father, can You hear me?)

God, that muffin tasted like lead.

I tried. I really tried, but I just couldn’t eat it. Ana’s not going to get off me if I don’t start eating better. She’s worse than my mom… well, I’ll take that back. Nobody’s worse than my mom.

One minute, it’s, “Lyn, baby, you have to eat or you’re gonna die,” and the next minute, it’s, “I hope you’re praying and asking forgiveness for your eternal soul for what you did.”

I haven’t spoken to my parents since sometime in January and my visits will become even more few and far between if they can’t stop tossing me into hell every time I talk to them. It’s bad enough that I’ve lost the man I love over this. I’m not going to be subjected to the fire and brimstone talk every time I want to see my mom and dad.

And I told them as much the last time I spoke to them.

“Mom, Dad, you have made it perfectly clear how you feel about me terminating my pregnancy. I wish I had never told you what I did. I love you both dearly, but if you continue to psychotically condemn me to eternal damnation every time I talk to you, I’m going to stop calling and I’m going to stop coming home so that you no longer have to deal with the horrible sinner you created!”

I ended the call and haven’t spoken to either of them since.

That was two weeks ago. Mom calls incessantly, leaving messages that she loves me, and she’s only concerned about me. She doesn’t reference the abortion—directly—but I can still hear it in the tone of her conversations. So, I just avoid them altogether.

I haven’t really been able to eat solid food since this whole thing happened. It’s like my mouth and stomach are revolting and refuses to allow anything in since I ceremoniously kicked the baby out. It turned out to be the worst decision I ever made. I stand by my conviction that I wasn’t ready for a baby at all and putting my body through nine months of hell to hand the kid off to someone else was certainly not in the cards for me either. However, the emotional and physical turmoil that I’ve experienced wasn’t worth whatever benefit I’ve gotten from the termination.

I couldn’t wrap my head around carrying a baby, being a mother—I’m young and I’m just not ready for it. Now, I’ve given up my baby and I’ve lost Gary, too. It also appears that I’ve lost the ability to eat. I thought it was just emotional at first and it would pass when the grief passed. The grief hasn’t really passed, but I do have the desire to eat, just not the ability. I’ve been to the doctor a few times and she certain it’s a nervous stomach from all the stress. They’ve run so many tests on me—even tests to be sure everything was okay with the termination.

Nothing. My body just doesn’t want food.

I can only tolerate consommé, fruit juices, meal replacement shakes, and the occasional smoothie. I was already thin, but according to the doctor, I’ve lost over 20 pounds since the procedure. She has prescribed me things like Ensure and Pedialyte to make sure that I’m getting all of my nutrients and has threatened to put me in the hospital more than once. I’ve gone from an athletic 139 pounds to a waif-like 114 in just a few months.

I’m going to have to find a place soon before Christian adopts me! I’ve discovered that he has this thing with food and people going hungry. The first time I turned away a meal, I thought he was going to have a conniption! I opted to take meals—or the lack of them—in my room to keep from having to fall under that scrutiny, but then he sent Ana to be my food guard, so they knew that I still wasn’t eating.

She later told me about his childhood and how he was poor and starving before his mom and dad adopted him. Now, wasted food and people going hungry are two things that he completely abhors. They’ve been so kind to me that I didn’t want to offend them in any way, so I started coming down to dinner, asking for small portions and choking down what I could. Dinner is usually followed by going straight to bed because my stomach would feel like I’ve eaten the head of a sledgehammer and I just couldn’t tolerate it. I eventually had a talk with Christian about my hopefully temporary eating disorder, and he lightened up a bit—especially after he saw me drinking Ensure and Pedialyte or having a healthy spinach or fresh strawberry smoothie. I got points for trying.

But it was he who coerced me—to put it nicely—to go to the doctor and make sure nothing was wrong. Now that I have, he and Ana are keeping an eye on me like Mother Hen and Father Goose. It’s nice, though, that someone cares for me without trying to throw me into Dante’s Hell.

For the first week of our separation, I just wanted him to listen to me, to try to understand why I made the decision that I did, even though he all but begged me not to. After that, and several unanswered calls, I decided to leave him to his thoughts, incorrectly hoping that he would come around after he had some time to himself. After over a month of Mom and Dad’s “dance with the devil” lectures, I decided that it was time to get on with my life… without Gary.

It was the hardest decision I had ever made. Deciding on the termination wasn’t hard. It’s what I wanted. Living with that decision is an entirely different matter.

Letting go of Gary was… is impossible. I love him too much and I don’t think I’ll ever get over him, at least no time soon. The thought of someone else touching me sickens me about as much as eating does. So, as it stands, I’m doomed to be alone, haunted by the memories of the incredible love that I lost.

I spent one night in the apartment; tried to sleep in our bed, but that was impossible. After spending the night wide awake on the sofa, I knew I would have to leave. After asking Boss Lady not to make me work that weekend, I found myself agreeing to move into Grey Crossing immediately. I truly didn’t want to impose, but I was able to get some sleep that night not having to endure another damnation sermon or having to smell the sheets where Gary’s aroma still lingers in our bed—even after all that time.

So, as my body continues to revolt on me, I drink the Pedialyte on my way back to Helping Hands after picking up Ana’s lunch, trying to chase away the metal taste of my beloved blueberry muffin on my tongue. I contemplate what I could have done differently, short of not terminating the pregnancy. I do this often, and I guess it’s my way of punishing myself—repeatedly—for my ghastly mistake. How someone can be of two minds about this is a mystery to me, but I am. I still feel like I wasn’t ready for a baby, and no, I wasn’t willing to carry it to term to give it to someone else. Yet, when I think about the mystery with my health, disappointing my parents…

Losing Gary completely…

… I often wonder if I would have been okay having the baby and being a mom. I would be about six months pregnant right now, and I didn’t bother getting a due date. That’s a reminder I certainly don’t need. What kind of father would Gary have made? Would we have gotten married?

That familiar ache in my chest and the longing in my soul have become constant companions as I once again lament losing the greatest love of my life. As usual, the questions are too painful and after I swipe a tear from my cheek, I push them to the back of my head and continue my ride back to the Center before the proverbial water under the bridge reaches up to drown me.

*-*

“I can tell by your face you didn’t eat anything. Does the smell of food make you sick?” No, just the taste of it… most of it, anyway.

“I tried, Bosslady,” I excuse. “I got one of my favorite blueberry muffins from the coffee shop on Cherry St, and when I bit into it, it tasted like garbage.”

“You’ve been here for hours! What have you eaten?”

“Pedialyte,” I say, my voice low.

“That’s not eating,” she scolds, her voice crisp. “I know the doctor said that was okay as a meal replacement, but you can’t do that forever. You’re wasting away, Marilyn. Where are you now?” I drop my gaze.

“One-fourteen,” I reply. When I raise my eyes to her, her lips are forming a thin line.

“You’ve got five more pounds,” she says. “Five more pounds, Marilyn, and I’m checking you in. You can go willingly, or I’ll call your parents, and I have no problems with an ambush.”

“Okay, okay,” I cede. I guess it’ll be nights of choking down food and going to bed with an upset stomach in hopes of keeping it down.

“You are going to the victory celebration on Friday, right?” It’s a question, but I know it’s more like a demand from a parent. I have to say that I really don’t want to be around people these days, especially since they assume they know what’s going on in my life. That whole bulimia/anorexic conversation in Vegas still smarts.

“Who else is going to be there?” I ask cautiously.

“All my friends and family are invited,” she answers, “but to answer your unasked question, I don’t think Gary will be there. I haven’t heard from him in months.” My lips tighten. I hate that our failed relationship is obviously affecting her friendship with Gary, but if there’s anybody I can’t stand to see right now, it’s the man that makes my heart race so fast that it feels like it’s going to beat right out of my chest.

“Fine, I’ll go.” They’ll have to serve soup of some kind, and I can probably choke down a salad, and when no one is watching, I’ll excuse myself to the restroom and go walk around the putting greens. More time to reflect and torment myself.

For the next three days, I do exactly what I said I would—choke down my small helpings of dinner, then go straight to bed with the hopes of not regurgitating the entire meal. By the third day, Ana is on to me, but I tell her to take it or leave it. After I thoroughly convince her that I don’t barf-chow, I tell her frankly that it’s the only way food will stay down and the only way that I don’t lose those five pounds that she threatened me with.

On Friday morning, Victoria comes to the Crossing and drapes Ana in one of her magnificent Ana-Grey-only originals for the dinner tonight. She says that she happens to have this cute, white number for me as she noticed my frame is a bit petite and thought that maybe the things that I have might not fit for tonight.

Um-hmm, really subtle, ladies.

Nonetheless, the dress is really cute and fits me perfectly. It’s a beautiful white high-low formal and it’s every bit of a size two or zero. I can’t be angry, though. I know that everyone is concerned about me and she’s right. Nothing I have that’s appropriate for tonight fits. I sigh and thank her for the dress.

When Ana suggests going to the spa for treatments, however, that’s where I draw the line. When I say that I can’t stand for anybody to touch me, I mean anybody! I’ll wash my own damn hair, put it up in a messy chignon, and do my own damn make-up.

The wretched evening arrives, and I ride with Ana and Christian to Broadmoor to celebrate. I feel a little guilty being the wet blanket, but I’ll do the best that I can under the circumstances. I really want everyone to just leave me alone, but I know that left to my own devices, I’ll certainly just shrivel up and die. Ana and Christian know that, too, and I can’t be angry with them for being concerned. If anything, I’m angry and irritated with myself for not being able to pull out of this.

Even now, in this beautiful room with all of Ana’s family and friends, all I can do is think of him… wishing he was here so that we could dance together or make jokes about people. Various ones at the table try to engage me in whatever small talk they can think of, but it’s no use. I’m too busy thinking about Gary.

The last social “outing” I went to was karaoke in Vegas and as I gaze into my lemon-lime soda, I can’t help but wonder how many quiet conversations are going on right now about my bulimic appearance.

“Marilyn…”

I’m startled to hear my name and I look up to see Christian standing over me.

“Yeah?” I reply.

“I hate to put you to work, but Butterfly says there’s something going on with the cake. Would you mind popping back to the kitchen and making sure everything’s okay? If it’s not too much trouble…”

“Oh! Sure, no problem,” I say. Before I can move, I see something over his shoulder that snatches the breath out of my body.

Gary.

Am I seeing things? Am I wishing he was here so much that I’m seeing things?

“Marilyn?” My eyes are drawn to Christian’s. I can see the sympathy in his eyes, and I know immediately. There’s nothing wrong with the cake. He was trying to get me out of the room. He was trying to keep me from seeing Gary.

He’s here! Dammit, he’s here! I only came because I thought he wasn’t going to be here. Our eyes meet simultaneously, and I can’t take it. I can’t stand seeing him, not even for a second. My heart bursts into the most terrible inferno of molten hot lava and suddenly, the room is 150 degrees.

This is hell. This is really hell.

No…
No…
I can’t do this…

I spring from the table and dash out of the room as fast as my feet can take me. I need air. I need it now. I can’t breathe.

Jesus! Help me, please…

I’ve officially lost it. After all the hell and brimstone talk, now I’m praying. I’m on fire, I’m in hell, and I’m praying. As if in answer to my prayers, the door appears before me as if it wasn’t there the entire time. I burst through it and run, headed for the greens like I planned to in the first place. The sky is clear, and I can see just fine in the dark, but a clear night in March in Seattle means that it’s cold, and I forgot my coat.

It doesn’t matter—the burning in my chest will keep me warm and wild dogs couldn’t drag me back into that place right now. Maybe I’ll catch pneumonia and die, and this will all finally be over.

I run until the painful heat in my chest is replaced with painful cold, the cool air stabbing at my lungs as I heave and sob. I fall on my knees on the cold grass, welcoming any other feeling but these sharp pains of anguish and longing for the man that I love who can’t stand the sight of me. Somewhere during the run, I’ve lost the combs that held my chignon together, and strings of dull, listless blonde hair fall into my face and stick to my wet cheeks. I throw my head back a release a loud mournful cry, one that I hope would shake the foundations of the earth and crack through the heavens. My mother was right. God is punishing me.

“Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease!” I cry with all the breath I have. “God, Pleeeeease, forgive me! I’m sorry! Please, God, please…”

The only thing I know to do is pray. Nothing I’ve done to this point has helped. I can’t see my way clear to anything or anyone, not even the cold stabbing at my chest and knees…

… And now my soul.

“God, pleeeease,” I cry. “I can’t take it back. I would if I could, but I can’t. Please, make it stop! Please! I’ll do anything! I’ll do anything, God, just please make it stop! I can’t stand it! Please, God…”

I drop my face in my hands and weep, begging God to please take this pain away from me. I hear a song in my head that my mother played almost every day. I resented it then, but now, I’m just praying for Him to hear me. Send a bolt of lightning; put me out of my misery; give me amnesia; anything, just take this away… please, take this away…

Father! Can You hear me now?
Father! Can You hear me now?
Father! Can You hear me now?
Father! Can You hear me now?

I’m numb from the pain. It seems like it just won’t end. I’m stuck in it and I can’t get out. This is my punishment. This is my hell. This is what Mom and Dad were trying to tell me, what I was trying to ignore. Oh, dear God, please forgive me. I’ll do anything, just please forgive me…

The bolt of lightning that I was hoping for strikes through my arm, but it’s not enough. I jerk violently from the shock. It’s just a jolt—it doesn’t end me. Not the arm, aim for my head or my heart. That’s when I realize that it’s not a bolt of lightning. It’s something much worse.

Somebody’s touching me.


GARY

I said I wasn’t going, but I felt convicted in my heart. I haven’t been a very good friend to Ana throughout this trial. She’s always been there for me when I needed her… always. Now, at one of the most pivotal moments of her life, I can’t put my feelings aside and at least make an appearance?

She won’t be there. I know she won’t. She didn’t come to events before we got together, and she never went to anything that wasn’t work-related unless she was with me. She won’t be with me and this isn’t work-related, so she won’t be there. I quickly change into a formal black suit and head off to the Broadmoor Country Club.

There’s no way to see all the cars in the lot, but I can see most of them, and I don’t see her Sonata. I think I’m safe in my assumption that she didn’t come. I drive up to the door and give my keys to the valet. I enter the ballroom, packed full of Ana’s family and friends. I feel better being here, coming to support my friend and just not being in those four walls anymore, even though my heart still aches from the obvious. I scan the room and find Ana on the dancefloor with Christian. I make my way over to them just as the song that’s playing is ending.

“Hey… Ana,” I say softly. She turns around to see who’s talking and her face goes pale.

“Gary!” she says, in shock. “H… hi. I… didn’t know you were coming.” She embraces me hard and whispers in my ear. “It’s good to see you.” I wrap my arms around her.

“It’s good to see you, too,” I say. I’m looking at Christian over her shoulder and he’s glaring at me like I stole money from him. Ana releases me and immediately looks over her shoulder at Christian. I guess he’s possessive of his wife and I should let her go.

“Christian,” I say, by means of a greeting.

“Garrett,” he says, his voice crisp. He glares at me for a moment. “Excuse me,” he says before walking off the dancefloor. I look at Ana, who can barely make eye-contact with me herself.

“We didn’t think you were coming. I hadn’t heard from you…”

“I know,” I interrupt. “I’ve been a terrible friend, and I’m sorry. I’m glad at least some of those bastards are finally getting their just deserts.”

“Um, yeah… me, too.” She’s distracted. She keeps looking around the room. I frown.

“Ana… what’s wrong?” I ask. “Would you rather I not be here?” Have I completely destroyed our friendship along with my relationship? She sighs.

“It’s not that,” she says, finally. “Marilyn is here.”

My eyes sharpen. What the fuck? She never went to anything without me, and now she’s here? I whip around and the moment I turn, I see her eyes—blue and way too large for her face; horrified and staring back at me. Good God, she’s as skinny as a child. She’s even thinner than she looked on Monday!

“What the hell…?” Before I finish my thought, she’s out of her seat and out the door. I move to follow her, but Ana grabs my arm.

“Gary…” she cautions, “she’s not doing well.” I gesture wildly to the area Marilyn just vacated.

“Ya think?” I say louder than I intended. “Look at her! She’s wasting away to nothing! She looks like she’s dying!” I examine the door she just exited, and I see Christian walking purposefully towards us. I don’t have time for this. I head to the door.

“Gary…!” I hear Ana’s voice behind me, but I keep moving. Christian steps in front of me as if to block my path and before I know it, I push him out of my way with all the force in my body and dash out the door behind Marilyn.

When I get to the corridor, I can’t see her. Did she go to the ladies’ room? Just as I’m headed in that direction, completely intent on bursting in if I have to, I see her through the large paneled glass wall. She’s outside, running across the grass in the dark in a strapless dress and no coat!

“Shit!” I say, bursting out the doors behind her. She’s got such a head start and I don’t know if I’ll catch her. If I call her, she might run faster. She is hauling ass across this grass in those heels and it’s everything I can do just to keep pace with her. Suddenly, she stops like she hit the wall.

Thank God, I think to myself. But no, she falls into the cold, wet grass in this flimsy white dress that she’s wearing.

“Shit!” I find the strength to run faster. As soon as I’m within a few feet of her, she releases a blood-curdling noise that causes my stomach to do flip-flops. I look around to see who’s watching. Somebody might think I’m out here trying to murder the girl. I think I see a small crowd in front of the country club, so they know that I’m not killing her. I approach with caution…

And she’s praying.

Loud and hard and mournfully, praying for it to stop. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what it is. She’s lost so much weight that it looks like her health is failing. Her hair is thin and sticking to her tear-streaked face and I would guess that she’s shed a lot of it, too. She’s rocking back and forth like the old ladies in church, crying to the sky almost incoherently until she drops her face in her hands.

Jesus! This is awful.

I get on my knees in front of her, almost afraid to touch her as she continues to pray and cry for relief. I remove my jacket and move to put it around her bare shoulders, and she jerks like I burned her. What the hell?

“Mare?” I say, and she doesn’t stop her crying and praying. I put my arms around her, and she fights me like she’s fighting for her life.

“No! No! No!” she whimpers with every swing. What the hell is this? This is not Marilyn. I struggle through her clawing and swinging at me until I get her wrapped in my arms. Moments later, she hits that wall again and her fighting stops. Her head drops onto my shoulder and she continues to weep and rock, inconsolable. I let her weep for a few more moments, but I know we can’t stay here. We’ll both catch our death. I retrieve my jacket from the ground and wrap it around her shoulders again. Knowing that I have one hell of a walk ahead of me, I lift her into my arms and prepare to carry her across the long putting green.

She. Weighs. Nothing.

I kiss her forehead and start my walk.

I get about 100 feet and see salvation coming from the side of the country club—a golf cart driven by what looks like one of the service staff. I walk towards him, very happy to see him headed in our direction.

“Is she okay?” the guy asks, concerned.

“She’s cold,” I reply. “I need to get her inside. Do you have some private area anywhere that I can take her?” He nods.

“Yeah. Get in, let’s get her out of here.”

I climb into the golf cart and sit Mare on my lap. I’m so glad to be holding her, but not under these circumstances and not this light.

He leads me to a small changing room, and I lay Marilyn on a sofa. She’s laying there like a ragdoll and she hasn’t stopped sobbing. He goes to the linen closet and retrieves what looks like a bed sheet. He hands it to me and I drape it over her, removing her shoes and wrapping it around her feet.

“Can I get her anything?” he asks.

“A glass of water,” I tell him. “A cool compress and some hot tea with lemon.”

“There’s a bathroom through there with clean washcloths and some glasses for water. I’ll go get some tea.”

I nod as he leaves the room and I go to the restroom. When I return with the compress and water, she’s still shaking with sobs. I kneel next to her, set the water on the floor, and dab her face gently with the wet cloth moving her wet hair from her face. Her cheeks are fire-red, her eyes swollen, and she looks like she’s physically in pain.

“Please stop crying,” I say, trying to dry her tears as quickly as they fall. She’s like a faucet. She can’t turn off. I sigh and stand from the floor. I bend down and lift her from the sofa before taking a seat with her on my lap. She’s still sobbing, and I doubt that she’ll stop.

I put my arm around her and push her stringy, wet hair behind her ear. I kiss her head and cup her cheek, trying to soothe her, but she’s truly inconsolable. My heart broke—shattered when I knew what happened to my baby. But seeing her like this, knowing how long she’s been like this, what she had to be going through to be this thin, this frail, this unhealthy, this quickly, and watching her sob in my arms right now to the degree that she can’t hear anything? This is ripping my soul out.

She didn’t grab her coat and go hide in a car. She didn’t lock herself in the ladies’ room and refuse to come out. She ran outside and took off across the putting green in nothing but a strapless dress and high heels on a cold Seattle night where she fell into the grass and started screaming to God to make her pain stop.

This is worse than I ever could have imagined. Mare’s not an atheist, but it takes a lot for her to pray after growing up with fanatically Christian parents. To see her screaming to God for relief in the cold, wet grass… and to see her now, unable to stop crying…

“I love you,” I say softly. “I still love you so much… please stop crying…”

Her crying doesn’t cease, and it doesn’t falter. I realize that I just have to let her cry until she stops. So, I just hold her there close to me, rocking her, cupping her cheek and kissing her forehead, willing her to stop…

*-*

I don’t know how long we sit there. I know that the guy that brought us in here brought tea, and it has long since gone cold. She has finally stopped crying, though she still has that shuddering breath thing going on.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper when it seems that she’s coherent enough to hear me.

“I’m sorry, too,” she squeaks, and I know she’s talking about the baby. I hold her closer to me.

“We’re going to have to talk to someone,” I tell her. “This is big.” She nods but says nothing. I lift her chin so that I can look into her eyes.

“This hurt,” I tell her. “I hurt every day that my baby’s not here, but I love you and I need you, and not having you with me makes this worse.”

“I can’t take it back,” she weeps, her body shaking violently. She’s so fucking frail… “I’m sorry. I would if I could… I’m sorry…”

“Ssshhh,” I say, tucking her head under my chin. “It’s done now, we just have to figure out how to get through it.” She takes a deep breath and shivers.

“Still cold?” I ask. She nods. “What do you want to do?”

“I can’t go back out there,” she says. “Half of them already think I’m bulimic. Now the other half thinks I’m crazy.”

“Stay here. I’ll get your coat…”

Christian’s eyes are full of judgement when I come back to the ballroom. Quite frankly, I don’t care. He and Ana stand when they see me, and I walk over to them.

“How’s Mare?” Ana asks, concerned.

“She’s cold and exhausted and she wants to leave… and we need to talk,” I say to Ana.

“She’s staying with us now,” Christian points out, challenging. Who the fuck do you think you are?

“So, what do you suggest I do, Christian?” I say, squaring my shoulders. “Do I take her back to my place, or do we spend the night at yours?” Your choice, asshole. He narrows his eyes at me and just as he’s about to say something, Ana puts her hand on his chest.

“Whatever makes Marilyn more comfortable,” she says. I look at her, then at Christian who’s still seething, then back at Ana.

“Thank you,” I say before turning to leave.

“You and I will have words later,” Christian shoots.

“No, we won’t!” I retort turning back to him. “The intricacies of this situation are between me and Marilyn, and no one else!”

“That’s just it, Garrett, it’s not between you and Marilyn. We took care of her and watched her fall apart while you took off!” Ana is trying to calm him, but he’s already on a rant—and trust me, my friend, I can go right there with you.

“And while I appreciate that you took care of her, you have no idea what I was going through, and I have no inclination to explain it to you. So, you can’t put me in judgment.”

“The hell I can’t!” he roars. “Look at her! She’s deteriorating before our very eyes while you’re off hiding somewhere! My wife was a few days away from having her committed!”

“And what was I going through, Christian?” I yell. “Do you have any idea?”

“What the fuck does it matter?” he retorts, coldly. “You don’t look like you’ve lost 25 pounds!”

You arrogant son-of-a-bitch. How fucking dare you dismiss my suffering just because you weren’t there to witness it. I am so through with you, you rich, pompous, puffed-up, self-important asshole. I close the space between us and look right up into his cold, gray eyes.

“Lose a baby, Christian!” I retort, furious. “Then you can come and talk to me!” I don’t blink. I stare his ass down. My eyes are piercing, my heart is racing, and I swear to God, if he says another word, I’ll knock his teeth loose again.

An unknown emotion flashes over his face, but he doesn’t say anything. What—no smart-ass response, Uncle Moneybags?

I’m so angry that I’m shaking, so I think the best course of action is for me to get my girl the hell out of here before I end up spending the night in jail. Fuck his security, I’ll beat his pretty ass right now. I do a sharp about-face and walk the hell out the room, leaving all the inquiring minds behind.

“I need my girlfriend’s coat,” I say to the coat check attendant.

“Do you have a ticket?” she asks.

“Shit!” I say. I’m thinking quickly. She ran outside, she didn’t have her purse. The coat check ticket is probably in her purse, which is most likely in the ballroom. If I go back in there, I’m going to get arrested…

“Gary?”

I look up to see Val coming out the ballroom walking towards me. At first, I think she’s going to let me have it, but she opens her arms and closes the space between us. I return her embrace.

“It’s so good to see you,” she says. I close my eyes and sink into the hug.

“I’m sorry it wasn’t better circumstances,” I say. She pulls back and looks at me.

“None of us knew what happened,” she says. “Even now, it’s just speculation. But Gary, we’ve missed you. Don’t do that again.”

“Val…” I begin to protest.

“Elliot and I lost a baby in January,” she blurts out. I can’t stop my gasp. “I don’t know and I don’t care if it was the same for you or if it was different, but if you lost a baby, it was the same.” She pauses. “You need your friends.”

I hold my head down and nod, fighting back the tears. She embraces me again.

“We love you,” she says. “Don’t run from us again.” I clear my throat.

“I won’t,” I say, just above a whisper. She hands me a purse that I assume is Mare’s and kisses me on the cheek. She heads back to the door of the ballroom and I take a deep breath and wipe away a stray tear before I raise my gaze to her. Elliot is standing in the doorway when I raise my head. He puts his hand in the small of his wife’s back then makes eye-contact with me. He nods twice… and I return his nod. He walks back into the ballroom and my shoulders fall. This night has been way too much for me.

I open the small clutch which doesn’t have much in it and easily locate the coat check ticket. Once I retrieve Marilyn’s coat, I go back to the dressing room to retrieve my girl. She slowly rises from the sofa when I enter. She has removed the sheet and put her shoes back on. She hands me my jacket and I help her into her coat.

“Here.” We turn to see the guy who came out to the putting green standing there with something in his hand. “I only saw two. If there were more, I didn’t see them.” Mare smiles faintly and takes what looks like two blinged-out hair-combs from his hand.

“Thank you,” she says softly. “I thought they were gone forever.” He smiles and leaves, and I take her hand.

“Your ring is gone,” I observe, thinking it may have fallen out there in the green as well.

“It didn’t really make a lot of sense to keep wearing it,” she says sadly. “Besides, it doesn’t fit anymore anyway.” I purse my lips—happy that it’s not lost in the putting green, but not so happy that she stopped wearing it. What can I expect, though?

Getting into Ana’s house without Ana being present is a bit of a task. Whenever I showed up, Mare was with me, but security expected me—some gathering of some kind. Now, Mare’s in my car, she looks like hell, and the guy at the gate didn’t recognize her at first. I thought we would have to call Ana for clearance, but somehow, that crisis is avoided, and we’re able to get past the gate. I park on the far end of the circular driveway so as not to block the portico or the garages, and Mare and I go inside.

She’s sitting on the bed in one of the guest rooms, looking out the window and saying nothing. I’ve turned on one of the lamps by the nightstand and I’m waiting for her to speak. When she doesn’t, I walk over to her. She’s just sitting there, looking out of the window like she doesn’t know what to do with herself. Jesus, I barely recognize her. She jumps when I touch her, like it burns.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m not used to anyone touching me anymore.” I frown.

“Nobody touches you?” I ask. “Not even a hug?” She shrugs.

“Bossla… Ana,” she says. “Nobody else really knows what to do with me.”

Hell, I don’t know what to do with you, either. I sit down next to her and stare out of the window.

“I… didn’t want to be without you… I just couldn’t…”

“I know,” she interrupts me. I touch her arm and she jerks again, but I don’t move my hand.

“Let me finish,” I tell her. “I couldn’t handle what I was feeling… am feeling. I loved that kid and never even saw him. And then… he was gone.”

She doesn’t look at me. She only looks out the window.

“Did you know… if it was a boy or a girl?” I ask. She shakes her head, but says nothing. “I think it was a boy.”

Tears begin to fall from her eyes. I mean they’re running like a faucet and her expression doesn’t even change. It’s like she’s hemorrhaging water inside, but on the outside, she’s dead. All we need is the casket.

“I don’t know how to move on,” she says. She’s not even blinking. “I don’t know what to do next. I haven’t known for months. I’ve just been… here.” I can tell.

“I saw you on Monday.”

That gets her attention.

“Where?” she asks, turning flooded eyes to me.

“At Sugar’s on Cherry,” I reply. “I wasn’t following you. We just happened to be on the same street at the same time. Maybe I was following you,” I shrug. “It’s not like I don’t know you like their blueberry muffins.” She turns back to the window, her eyes still gushing water.

“It’s not like I could eat it,” she says, still not blinking.

“I know. I saw you when you threw it away. I wanted to chase you down the street and force feed you, but…” I try to wipe her cheeks, but more water falls as quickly as I try to wipe it away.

“It won’t help,” she says. “They’ll just keep falling.” I gaze at her.

“Why don’t you stop?” I ask.

“I don’t know how,” she replies. “The first month, my parents berated me for killing a child and taking a life and stealing one of God’s souls. They threw me in hell daily, for several hours every day. We don’t even speak anymore. I went to them for comfort and they tormented me the entire time. The crying had already started, but it became wailing by then.

“The second month, when I came back to Seattle, I spent one night in the apartment and realized that I couldn’t live there… so I left, and Ana brought me here. I took this room because it was the farthest from everyone else… and I could cry in peace.

“The third month, I was in Vegas. I expected it to be a geographical cure—get away from Seattle without the hell and damnation from my parents… it was not. The ladies that went with us—Ana’s stepmother and Christian’s PR lady—both thought I was anorexic or bulimic. Bosslady had to stand up for me.” She mentioned that earlier, but I thought she was being dramatic.

“They said that?” I ask frowning.

“I was away from the table. They didn’t think I heard them. I didn’t go out with them anymore after that.”

“You went out?” I ask, feeling an immediate twang of jealousy. I didn’t go out… not once. She nodded.

“We all went to Karaoke in Vegas. I was the only one there without a date… well, unless you count security.” Well, that must’ve sucked.

“Did you sing?” I ask. I’ve heard her singing around the apartment and in the shower when she thinks I’m not paying attention. She has an incredible voice.

She nods.

“What did you sing?”

She begins to sing. I can barely hear her. Even with her voice this low, she sounds amazing.

There’s a fire starting in my heart, reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out the dark…

I sit there and let her sing the song. Rolling in the Deep… that’s an angry song.

“The scars of your love remind me of us, they keep me thinkin’ that we almost had it all…”

She still doesn’t look at me as she’s singing. It’s like she’s having a conversation with the tree outside and it’s quite riveting.

“You had my heart inside of your hand, and you played it to the beat…”

She stops singing. I know it’s not the end of the song, but she stops anyway.

“Did you hate me?” I ask. She shakes her head unfazed by my question.

“I hated myself,” she answers, “for what I did, for what I lost, for what I felt, for who I was, for everything. I can’t undo what I did. I can’t bring the baby back, but if I had the chance to do it again…”

“You’d do the same thing,” I say. She looks at me in horror.

“Look at me,” she says, the first time since her breakdown on the green that I’ve heard any emotion in her voice. “I’m dying, here. I know I’m dying, and I can’t do anything about it. Ana said she would take me to the hospital if I got any thinner, and I would have let her. I drank so many of those damn shakes that I can’t stand the taste of them anymore, so I haven’t been drinking them anymore. I knew I would lose more weight, so I forced myself to eat what food I could at dinner to keep Christian from calling a state of emergency. I’ve never been sicker in my whole life… and I can’t do anything about it. Hindsight being 20/20, there’s no way in the world I’d want to go through this again. So, no, I wouldn’t do the same thing.”

“Well, then, you’d be trading this for a whole new set of problems,” I tell her. “You weren’t ready for a baby, clearly… and neither was I. We weren’t prepared. The next thing I knew, the baby was there, and I was all in. And then, the baby wasn’t there anymore… and I was crushed. So, what… you would have had the baby when neither of us were ready. At some point, you would have felt like you were forced into making that decision. You eventually would have resented me, or worse yet, the baby—at the very least, the situation. Yes, there were some wrong decisions made here, but I’m not so sure that was one of them.” She drops her head and sighs.

“I’m so tired,” she laments. “I’ve never been so tired in my life.”

I crawl off the bed to the floor and remove her shoes. I unzip her dress and help her step out of it. I pull the covers back and she climbs into the bed. I tuck her in and sit next to her.

“Go to sleep,” I tell her, pushing her hair out of her face. “I’ll still be here when you wake.”

She’s asleep in no time. I watch her there for a moment, missing being next to her and not knowing who this frail frame of a woman is lying next to me all at the same time. I lay behind her and look out the window, wondering what she was thinking, what she must have been going through all this time.

Was Christian exaggerating? Was it really 25 pounds? She wasn’t that big to begin with. She was 130… maybe. Now, she’s about 105? For Pete’s sake, a healthy teenager weighs more than that. She really is no bigger than a child. What the fuck have I done to this woman?

I don’t know how long she slept—maybe an hour, tops—but she sits up silently like she wasn’t sleeping at all. I know that she was, but she rises to a sitting position effortlessly. She scrubs her face and sighs deeply, mournfully, her bony shoulders falling so far that they nearly disappear.

“Do you need something?” I ask, simultaneously putting my hand on her shoulder. She gasps and moves away from me so far… She’s grasping her chest and staring at me like she’s seeing a ghost. Quite frankly, she scared the shit out of me, so I jumped back a few miles, too.

“What?” I ask, a bit horrified, waiting for her to tell me my latest transgression.

“I… I…” She’s panting like she’s out of breath. “I thought it was a dream.” Okay, now I’m horrified.

“You thought all that was a dream?” I ask incredulously. This was a very detailed, very traumatizing evening in and of itself, and she thought it was a dream? She takes two deep, seemingly painful breaths.

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” she says, her voice low.

Fuuuuuuck me. How many dreams as horrifying as tonight has she had over the last three months? I can tell she was genuinely startled by seeing me here and not in a good way.

“Oh, God,” I say, quickly gathering her in my arms and holding her close to me, leaning hard into her back. What have I done? Dear God, what have I done?

“Please…” she whimpers, “not so hard… you’re hurting me.” For the love of…

“I’m sorry,” I say as I release her a bit and gently kiss her shoulder. “Lay back down. You didn’t sleep long at all.”

“I never do,” she says, allowing me to pull her back to the bed. No food… no sleep… it’s truly a puzzle that she’s not a lot sicker than this. Maybe she is and we just can’t see it. It’s a wonder she’s alive.

“Do you want something to eat?” I ask as I rub her thin arms. She’s shakes her head.

“I’m suddenly really tired,” she confesses.

“You said that before and now you’re awake,” I reply. She nods. Without another word, she’s back off to sleep in moments.

Several minutes later, she appears to be in deep slumber, but my mind is going miles and miles per second, and I know that I’m not going to sleep. I slide out of bed easily, intent on going to get some fresh air, but I realize that she’s probably going to be traumatized if she wakes up again and I’m not here, doubly disappointed that she thought it wasn’t a dream only to think that it was again. I remove my wallet from my pocket and place it on the nightstand next to her bed.

Too subtle.

I remove my driver’s license and prop it up on the wallet and the lamp so that it’s the first thing she sees when she opens her eyes. It’s not a dream, baby. I was here, and I’ll be back.

I quietly slip out of the room and head downstairs. I want to go somewhere and think for a minute, just a moment or two to myself. I wander around this huge, never-ending house until I find my way back to the stairs. Getting to the dining room isn’t hard from here. There’s a patio just beyond the kitchen, but if Ana returns and sees me there, she’s going to want to have that deep, meaningful talk that I’m not ready for. I wander around a little more and find the stairs to the lower level.

A bar! No, no… the last thing I need to be right now is inebriated. There’s another patio, though. Yeah, this’ll do.

I sit on the sofa and look out at the moon and the lake, taking the first deep breath that I’ve taken all night since I walked into that ballroom. For the love of Pete, why didn’t I expect to see her there? What the fuck was I thinking?

I know exactly what I was thinking; that she killed my baby and that she’s out there living up the single life. Even though I saw how skinny she was at that donut shop, it still didn’t occur to me that she was suffering. I mean, it did, but it didn’t sink in. She was the woman who murdered my child, not the woman that I loved pining away for me for three months and hasn’t eaten or slept in just as long.

She looks horrible. She’s frail and sickly; her hair is thin and dull; her skin is ashy and hanging from her bones in certain places; her face is sunken in and she’s got bags under her eyes. She’s walking dead. She’s literally walking dead… and she’s a sight for sore eyes.

I never thought she would be reduced to this. I don’t know what I thought—I didn’t care. For the love of Pete, this is horrible. I drop my face in my hands and sit there forever, lamenting my situation.


A/N: Single White Female is a movie from 1992 where Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character was so obsessed with Bridgette Fonda’s character that she actually went crazy. At the point of the movie where Jennifer’s character knew it was time to make her getaway, she scrubbed the entire apartment so that none of her fingerprints were there.

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

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

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

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Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 25

The quarantine continues, and it’s starting to take a bit of a toll on me. How is everyone else doing?

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

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

Season 5 Episode 25

CHRISTIAN

For the first time in a long time, things are quiet at GEH. I almost don’t know what to do with myself. I’m of two minds with the serenity.

One, I can finally take a breath and relax for a moment. Everyone is doing what they should be doing, and my business looks exactly as it should. Time to zero in on some new acquisitions.

Two, it’s too damn quiet. Either someone is plotting something from the inside or there’s an attack brewing from the outside. Either way, I should be preparing myself for friendly or hostile fire, for some kind of Apocalypse—foreign or domestic.

Instead, I decide to use the downtime to do some research on the family dog.

I’m diligent in my study about pit bulls. Just because my wife wants one doesn’t mean that I’m blindly going to buy one if I find that it’s a bad idea, and I don’t care what she says. I have to be mindful of my children and anyone who comes to visit us for that matter.

I may have delved further than I needed, but I don’t care. I find myself sitting in my office on Wednesday morning reading an in-depth study on pit bull temperament from 2006. When given a series of test to determine general temperament and aggressiveness, pits were shown to have a better temperament and less aggressive tendencies than hound dogs, herdings, terriers, beagles, some mixed breeds, and even many toy breeds like Chihuahuas.

Pit bulls are loyal because they love humans. They’re eager to please, which makes them great family dogs. I would imagine that most dogs like humans, though, unless they’re feral, stray, or taught to be aggressive to humans. Nonetheless, it appears that they like working with humans and they make good police dogs because they’re pretty easy to train. That is a definite plus!

They’re affectionate and they’re snugglers. My wife and kids will love that.

They’re very athletic. I like that, because I can take him on a run with me.

They’re a very healthy breed and they don’t shed a lot. That’s good, too, because it’s going to be our responsibility to care for this dog and the lower the maintenance, the better. I’m glad she didn’t decide she wanted a husky or a retriever. I see that they’re great dogs, too, but my research shows they shed a whole fucking lot! And I don’t think I could deal with Shih Tzus or yorkies or Pomeranians—safe, maybe, but too damn small.

The more I read about pit bulls and the different breeds of dogs compared to them, I realize that my wife was right. Pit bulls are a good choice for a family dog and can even be protectors if trained correctly.

Once I’m satisfied that this decision won’t bite us in the butt—literally, I send out the all-points bulletin that our family will soon be adopting a pit bull puppy so that close family and friends who come to visit won’t be shocked when they see him. I plan to give the cleaning staff a raise for having to clean possible accidents.

I don’t know anything about adopting a puppy and I’ve decided not to delegate this task to either of our PAs. If we want a dog, we’ll have to find one ourselves. I begin a search for puppies in the area. I am having absolutely no luck. I’m finding dogs for sale, but they’re older dogs. There are backyard breeders everywhere, but I don’t trust them. They just take their dog and they breed it with someone else’s dog who says it’s pure bred and it’s a crap shoot. There’s even a pit pull puppy rescue here, but they don’t have any puppies. And even with the rescue, you’re still likely to get the puppies from those backyard breeders. It’s time to send a text to my wife.

**Where in the hell do you find pit bull puppies in Seattle? **

I’m scrolling through the internet still trying to find what I need when my phone rings. It’s Butterfly.

“Hey,” I answer.

“Are you looking for pit bull puppies right this second?” she asks. Duh, didn’t I just send you a text.

“Um, yeah,” I reply.

“That’s so strange because so am I,” she says, her voice full of mirth. Oh… okay.

“This seems like an impossible task, baby. Have you found anything in the Seattle area?”

“No, but I didn’t expect to,” she replies. “Breeders are most likely going to be in more rural areas. We may even have to look out of state.” I frown.

“How do you get a puppy from out of state?” I ask. “We have to go pick it up?”

“Yes, or have it shipped,” she replies.

“Shipped? You mean like Amazon?” I ask, horrified. She laughs.

“Something like that, yeah,” she replies, “but there are humane and professional methods to ship an animal, Christian. Don’t worry.”

I’m sure there are, I’m just not familiar with them.

“So, what do you suggest?” I ask.

“I’ve seen a couple of breeders so far that look promising. One is in California and one, I can’t see where they’re located from the site. They have great testimonials and genetic and health guarantees. They look like they care about their dogs because their warranty is void if you take the dogs to one of two major vet hospitals because they’ve seen overmedication, misdiagnosis, and overcharging. I figure we could do some research and see where this second one is located and see which one would best suit our needs.”

“How did you find them?” I ask.

“Probably doing the same thing you did. I searched for ‘pit bull puppies in Seattle’ and ‘pit bull breeders Seattle.’ I know people have a lot of things to say about puppy farms, but I can’t take any chances. I want to find a reputable breeder with traceable references that can get us a quality pedigreed dog.”

“Oh, you’ll get no argument from me,” I tell her. “Elliot was telling me about his dog and that he’s a rescue. He asked if we were planning to get a rescue, and that’s an unequivocal ‘no.’”

“Elliot has a dog?” she asks.

“Yeah. I can’t remember if he told me the breed—I think it’s a mix. It’s a therapy dog for him and Valerie. She hasn’t told you? He says she loves that dog.”

“It’s not her fault. It’s been wild since Vegas and we haven’t had a chance to talk. I’m going to call her. I’d like to meet the little guy.”

“I don’t know if he’s a ‘little guy,’ baby. I can’t remember the breed.”

“He’s smaller than me,” she says. I remain quiet. My woman is short and very petite.

“Watch it,” she says, noting my silence.

“I didn’t say anything!” I defend.

“Your silence speaks volumes,” she rightfully accuses.

“Well, maybe I should’ve just said the dog could be bigger than you,” I tease.

“Asshole,” she replies.

“I love you, too,” I laugh. She disconnects the call. I would normally scold her for hanging up on me, but I’ll give her this one. I chuckle and put the phone on my desk.

*-*

Various conversations are going on at dinner. Butterfly and I are further discussing our choices for a dog breeder. Gail chimes in with mirth about how Ms. Solomon thought all of Sophie’s kitchen wares were for her and was highly disappointed to find out that they weren’t. She subsequently performed an inventory of the kitchen with Ms. Solomon and realized that there was a utensil or three that could use replacing.

Marilyn sits quietly at the table as she has for the last three nights. She takes very small portions of food, then eats as much as she can. To say that I’m elated to see her eating at all is an understatement, but I must admit that it looks like quite the task for her. On the two previous nights, she ate about half her food, then excused herself from the table looking rather ill. Tonight is no exception, only this time, after she and Keri have finished feeding the children, Butterfly follows Marilyn to her room.

Sophie is visibly absent from the dinner table, and when everyone has left except me and Chuck, Jason tells us why.

“I had to tell Sophie that she may not be able to go to Italy this summer. She’s crushed,” he says. I frown.

“Why?” Chuck asks. “What did she do?”

She didn’t do anything,” Jason replies. “Both parents have to be present to sign for a minor to get a passport. If they’re not able to get to the passport office, then the absent parent has to sign a document that says it’s okay for Sophie to get a passport…”

“Let me guess,” I say, “Shalane won’t sign.”

“You got it,” he laments. I sigh, frustrated.

“But she’s in jail and you’ve got sole custody of Sophie,” I argue. “Doesn’t that mean something?”

“I have sole physical custody of Sophie,” Jason says. “We still have joint legal custody of her. Shalane being in jail doesn’t mean she gave up her parental rights.”            

“Jason, how did you ever fall in love with that woman?” Chuck asks. Jason shrugs.

“She wasn’t always that woman,” he says. “She used to be fun and vibrant and caring. I think my job changed all that. I don’t know what she was doing when I was overseas, but she seemed so supportive and loving. When I got back home from doing my tours, it was like a second honeymoon.

“When I started doing security, she started getting restless. I was floored, man. I had done years overseas for much less money and she never behaved like this. Now, she was complaining that I was never home and that she and Sophie never saw me. They saw me a hell of a lot more than they did when I was active duty!” He shrugs.

“Well, then the other guys started showing up and… the rest is history. She became a flaming bitch after our divorce. I don’t know when the drugs and the pure and utter resentment set in but, yeah, that’s our life now.” 

“Is there anything else we can do?” I ask. “We’re just taking her on a trip. We’re asking for a valid passport. We’re not smuggling her out of the country!”

“I can file for sole custody—you know how long that takes. I can ask for a court order to get a passport without her permission, but it’ll most likely be too late for Italy by the time I get it.”

“You should file for it anyway,” I tell him. “It’s worth a shot and I’m willing to plan another trip just to spite the bitch.” Jason scoffs.

“Maybe I will,” he says. “For now, Sophie’s angry and hurt, and I hate that. She’s a good girl. She doesn’t give us any trouble, and she deserves this trip. She doesn’t deserve for her mother to continue to try to use her as a pawn every chance she gets. Shalane doesn’t care or understand that all this is going to do is hurt her daughter and alienate Sophie from her. Nonetheless, Sophie wants to talk to her to see if she can convince her to sign the papers.”

“Do you really want to do that?” I ask. Jason looks down into his coffee cup.

“She has to see her twice a month anyway,” he replies. “They can talk about whatever they want. If she wants to talk to the bitch about her passport, there’s nothing I can do to stop her. Quite frankly, if Sophie can’t convince her to sign the papers, nobody can.” I shake my head.

“This is utterly ridiculous,” I declare. “When is the next visit?”

“Saturday, as luck would have it… good luck or bad luck, well, that remains to be seen.”

“Dude, I’ve heard that there’s a thin line between love and hate, but I’ve never understood it. I’ve seen people who have vowed to spend their lives together ‘til death do us part’ throw more venom and rocks at each other than the Capulets and the Montagues. I could never, ever imagine building a family with Keri and then behaving this way,” Chuck says.

“It’s hard work,” I tell him. “My wife and I have only been married for a couple of years—not even that yet—and we’ve already run the gauntlet. I know there are things that we haven’t experienced yet, but we’ve been through a lot. Hell, I left my whole family and ran away from home for nearly three weeks.” I thrust my hand into my hair. “All I can say is that you have to find that place of respect and stay there. No matter what happens, you always have to get back to that place of respect.”

“I thought it was love,” Chuck says. I raise my brow.

“Let’s ask the one gentleman among us who’s been through a divorce,” I say, turning to Jason. “Did you still love Shalane when you were going through your divorce?” I ask, already knowing the answer.

“I certainly did,” he says. “I loved the woman that she once was, the one that I married who wanted to build a family together… but she wasn’t that woman anymore.”

“Did you still respect her?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“Nope,” he says. “She had cheated on me and lied to me and all kinds of things.”

“Even though you still loved her, would you had taken her back if she decided that she didn’t want to get the divorce?” I ask. He has to think about that one. Love is very powerful.

“Knowing what I know now, hell no, but back then, it would have been more of a reluctant ‘no.’ I couldn’t trust her anymore, and she would have had to go through a hell of a lot to get my trust back. I wasn’t willing to go through all of that—wondering if she was partaking in midday rendezvous when I was working; being suspicious of every little thing she did; afraid to take assignments for fear that she’d be throwing orgies when I was away. I wouldn’t have been able to take the good jobs for the good pay because I wouldn’t be able to concentrate. You know we can’t have that with what we do. I would have ended up a mall cop,” he says to Chuck, who nods in agreement.

“Honestly, I think it’s a little more detailed than just ‘get back to that place of respect.’ I think it’s more than that, but I can say that if you can’t respect them, you can’t move on with them,” he concludes.

“So, here I am looking at three phases of a relationship—the beginning with me and Keri, in progress with Christian and Ana, and the crash-and-burn end with you and Shalane. What’s to make me feel like if I marry Keri, I won’t end up where you are?” Chuck asks.

“You don’t know that,” Jason says, “but if you’re planning to get married because you’re expecting everything to be perfect, don’t get married. I present exhibit A.” He gestures to me, and I purse my lips and raise my hand. He’s right.

“Everything is certainly not perfect in our relationship,” I tell him, “and I expect more obstacles in the decades to come, but I wouldn’t trade my wife for anything.”

“And then, you have to remember that there are success stories. Look at Grace and Carrick,” Jason points out. “You’re rolling the dice no matter what you do, Chuck, but you have to remember that while your feelings are very important and deserve to be recognized, there are two people in the relationship, and you must be ever mindful of that other person’s feelings, too.

“I think that’s where Shalane and I dropped the ball. I didn’t understand or get the fact that she resented me working all the time. I couldn’t reconcile the fact that if I was away on active duty for years and she was okay with that, what was the problem with me working long hours as long as I came home at night? She complained, but she never answered the question, and the next thing I knew, she was sleeping with other guys.

“I was doing what I felt I needed to do with no real consideration for her feelings because I didn’t know what they were, and she happily went gallivanting out in the street into the arms of other men with no consideration at all for mine. The only marriage that can survive that is one of convenience, and even then, it may not survive.”

“Well, no offense, but this is depressing. I’m going to find out if my woman is done with her duties. Then I’m going to do my best to forget this conversation,” Chuck says, finishing his coffee and standing up. “Goodnight, guys.”

We say Goodnight simultaneously and Chuck goes off in search of Keri.

“I’m going to go check on Soph,” he says. “She might be hungry now… unless she’s cried herself to sleep.”

I pat him on the arm and send him to go comfort his daughter. I climb the stairs, once again pondering the time I ran away from home. Get back to that place of respect. I’d like to think we’ve gotten there. Even though curiosity is killing me, I won’t dredge it up. She has enough to push out of her mind without having to worry about that.

I ascend the stairs and decide to go to my children’s room. My wife is in there with Keri, and the children appear to have just slipped off to sleep.

“Your boyfriend is looking for you,” I tell Keri just above a whisper.

“Ah knoh,” she says, placing a blanket over a sleeping Mikey. “Gudnight.”

“Goodnight,” I say as she leaves the room and closes the door behind her. I go over to my wife who’s sitting in the window seat, rubbing Minnie on the back.

“I try to give them equal time,” she says, kissing Minnie on the forehead. “I can’t keep up with who I held last. I love them both so much.”

“Who says you have to keep up?” I ask, sitting in the window seat next to her.

“I don’t want either of them to feel neglected,” she laments. I chuckle.

“Trust me, the last thing our children could ever feel is neglected,” I say. She rolls her eyes.

“I’m not talking about material things, Christian,” she says.

“Neither am I,” I reply. She shakes her head.

“You don’t understand,” she says. “You’re not a mom.”

The average person would be offended by that statement, but I know exactly what she’s saying.

“You’re right,” I say. “I’ll never know how it feels to be a mother, to feel life growing inside of you and then push it out of you and have two living little beings in your arms that you baked from scratch for nine months. But I know how it feels to be a father. I know how it feels to watch your body swell with our children inside, and to worry about you 24 hours a day the entire time that you were carrying them. I know how it feels to see those babies enter this world and take their first breaths. I know how it feels to look at my family—the three of you—in utter awe, knowing that love created this entire conglomerate and that nothing I ever do in my entire life will ever be as magnificent and glorious as this.

“Most of all, I know how it feels to look at you with our children and watch how you melt with love and compassion whenever they’re around, wishing that I had a mom like that when I was their age—one that was able to chase away my monsters. And when I see you with our children, I know for sure that one thing that they will never feel… is neglected.” She looks up at me with those guileless blue eyes.

“Thank you, Christian,” she says, softly. “That’s so sweet.”

I kiss her gently on her temple. It may have been sweet, but I meant every word.

“How’s Marilyn?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“Still not doing very well, I’m afraid,” she says. “She eats because she knows that she has to… and she’s kind of being forced to… and then she goes to bed because her stomach is in knots.”

“That can’t be good for her digestion,” I say.

“It’s the only way she can keep any food down,” she says. “She confessed to me that she tried to eat one of her favorite muffins on Monday and she couldn’t even choke it down. She’s trying, but I’m convinced that she’s going to need some more help.” I shake my head.

“How do you let somebody suffer like this that you once claimed to love?” I ask in disgust.

“If you’re talking about Gary, Christian, he probably doesn’t know she’s feeling this way,” Butterfly excuses.

“Of course, he doesn’t know!” I shoot. “He left her out to dry and didn’t look back. She’s falling apart and her friends have to pick up the pieces!”

“Sssh!” she scolds as Minnie stirs a bit but goes back to sleep. Apparently, my voice was louder than I intended. She puts Minnie in her crib and rubs her back a little to help her get back to sleep.

“Where’s Gail?” I ask, my voice soft again.

“Down with Sophie,” she says. “I can’t very well justify her taking care of my kids when her kid is having a crisis. Did you hear that spiteful cow won’t sign the papers for Sophie to get a passport?”

“I heard,” I say. “I wish there was something I could do to speed this process up, but this is federal. You can’t fu… mess with it.”

She looks up at me, then checks Minnie again before gesturing for us to leave. We exit the nursery and close the door behind us.

“There are some people in this world that I wish would just go straight to hell, and she’s one of them,” my wife says as we walk to our bedroom.

“Not before she signs the papers,” I say, closing the door behind us.

“Christian!” she scolds. I scoff at her.

“How is what I said any harsher than what you said?” I inquire honestly. She twists her lips.

“It’s not,” she cedes before pulling her shirt over her head. “I should have taken the high road before I said anything. It just pisses me off so much!”

“I know,” I say, unbuttoning my shirt and pulling it off my shoulders. “This is just one of those times where we’re going to have to hope that good prevails.”  

“Sometimes, you just want to be more proactive,” she says, stepping out of her pants and her panties and walking to her bathroom. Damn, that ass!

“I know how you feel,” I say, stripping out of the rest of my clothes and leaving my boxer briefs. “You know how helpless I feel right now.”

She’s quiet, so I know she must be brushing her teeth. I duck into my bathroom and quickly brush mine, managing to make it back to the bedroom before she does and sit on the side of the bed. A few minutes after I get back to the room, she comes out of her bathroom in a nightshirt brushing her extremely long hair.

“You would think she would want to do everything in her power right now to get into Sophie’s good graces, not piss her off,” Butterfly says as she vigorously brushes her hair over her shoulders and in front of her face.

“It’s never been about being in Sophie’s good graces,” I correct my wife. “Anything she ever did was never out of any consideration for Sophia. Even that Thanksgiving she allowed Sophie to spend here with Jason was because she was hoping to be invited, too. Sophie has always been a pawn, a tool, or a means to an end. I’m surprised that girl is as well-rounded as she is with the mother that she had to contend with all these years.”

“She’s about to be 14,” Butterfly says, still tackling her hair. “She’s coming up on a very delicate time in her life and her mother is not here. This is the time that her mother should influence her the most and she’s not here. She’s not going to be in there forever. She has no concern whatsoever what her relationship with Sophie is going to be like once she’s free?”

“Apparently not. The entire time I’ve known of her, it’s been ‘how could she hurt Jason?’ Sophie’s feelings never came into play—ever. I just didn’t know how bad it was until Sophie almost went to Spruce Street,” I tell her. She shakes her head and stops brushing her hair.

“She’s there for rehabilitation—to repay her debt to society—and she has no interest in rebuilding her relationship with her daughter… the daughter she tried to trade for drugs, I might add. That’s sad. That’s really fucking sad.”

“Well, that’s Shalane,” I tell her, “I really don’t expect her to change anytime soon. Now, at the risk of sounding extremely insensitive, I really don’t want to talk about Sophie anymore. I don’t know if you’re trying to be comfortable in that little night shirt, or if you’re trying to torment me, but I need you to bring that hot little ass over here right now before I combust.”

A coy smile creeps onto my wife’s face as she slowly walks over to me, places the brush on the nightstand, and crawls onto the bed and on top of me.

ANASTASIA

The guest list for my party is perfect. It’s all the usual suspects—the Scooby Gang, the Thanksgiving crowd, Courtney and Vicky, Harmony, Jason and Gail, Chuck and Keri. We decided to keep the crowd adult only, so there will be a sleepover at the Greys tonight with Luma’s girls and Sophie along with the twins and Marlow’s sister Maggie. Ms. Solomon and the staff have graciously agreed to oversee the slumber party festivities so that our nannies could join their significant others at the soiree.

In all honesty, as much as I love being around Sophie, it’s better if I don’t see her hissing at Marlow and his date all night. In the interest of fairness, he won’t be at the party either, since he’s not quite 18 for another few months.  

Friday morning, Vicky comes by to bring me a dress for the evening. I didn’t really need another dress, but Christian insisted. When I show her the dress that I planned on wearing to the celebration, she agrees that my choice is better.

She brought a striking blue high-low dress with a lace bodice and chiffon skirt. I agreed to keep it because it’s beautiful, but the dress that I present is more formal and, to be quite honest, much classier. It’s from Grandma Ruby’s collection and as luck would have it, also a high-low. It’s a weighted-matte satin with a sweetheart neckline. The bodice has a lace overlay that comes up in a scooping neckline over the sweetheart and creates a sleeveless top with matching lace appliques on the top of the skirt. I only needed to accessorize this masterpiece.

“I have the perfect accessory for that,” Vickie says, opening her accessory case. “I was going to go with a classic Chanel with the dress that I brought along, but something told me to pack this set, too. Now, I’m glad I did.”

Vickie removes a black velvet box from her accessory kit and opens it to reveal the most unique set of jewelry I’ve ever seen.

“Oh, Vickie… that’s breathtaking!” I exclaim.

“It’s the Brilldoor ‘Flirt’ jewelry set,” she says. “It’s not your husband’s precious platinum, but it’s polished white gold and it’s handmade. It’s very soft, so it’s delicate. It won’t bend with the wind, but if you treat it too roughly, it will lose its shape.”

That would be a true tragedy. The set is a necklace, bracelet, earrings and rings made of akoya pearls and diamonds precariously placed in narrow, delicate, swirling treks of decorated white gold. The pieces are almost indescribable… and exquisite.

“Where on earth did you find these?” I coo, fawning over the beautiful pieces that almost look like filigree.

“It was one of those ‘invitation only’ show that I attended once. You could watch step-by-step as the pieces are being created. Of course, they were creating more than one piece at a time so that you could see a different piece at each step of the process. But watching them sketch the design and then bring each piece to life… and the stuff that they make, I’ve never seen anything like it,” she admits.

“And you’ve been holding out on me?” I accuse.

“Ana, this is only the third set of this jewelry that I’ve acquired, and I probably should have given you the price of this before I showed it to you.” My brow furrows.

“Why?” I ask. “How much is it?” She raises her brow and pulls her earlobe.

“Ana,” she sighs, “this set is 73,400 euros.” I’m taken aback.

“Okay,” I say, “now, I don’t know the conversion rate, but even I know that the euro is worth more than the dollar…”

“It’s a little over 80 grand,” she says. “If you don’t want to buy it, I can let you borrow it. It’s good advertising for you to be seen in it, but Ana, you break it, you bought it.”

Eighty grand. Christian just put his Amex Black on file for my mother. I can’t ask him to be responsible for something like this.

“You need to ask Daddy Warbucks first?” she says.

“Yeah,” I sigh. “He just committed to taking care of my newly-handicapped mother, and I feel awful asking him for something so frivolous so soon after he has agreed to such a commitment.” My heart is broken. I know in the big scheme of things, $80,000 isn’t much when it comes down to our fortune, but for one set of jewelry…

As I’m lamenting saying goodbye to a custom set more timeless than Chanel as far as I’m concerned, Vickie takes a picture of it with her phone and begins typing away. I give no thought whatsoever to what she’s doing until her voice breaks my concentration.

“He said get the set,” she says, still typing on her phone.

What? What did she just say?

“Who… what?” I say, taken aback. She raises her gaze to me.

“He said get the set,” she says. “I sent him a picture; I told him you wanted it; I told him what it cost; he said get the set.” My eyes nearly bulge out of my head.

“He knows this single set is $80,000 and he told you to get it?” I ask horrified.

“Eighty-one-five, to be exact, and yes, he told me to get it.” She seems completely unfazed by this.

“Why did you do that?” I’m a mixture of horrified and elated. She raises her gaze to me.

“You weren’t going to ask him,” she replies. “You were looking at that set like you had just found buried treasure and you weren’t going to ask him. Besides, how do you think I dress you most of the time?” she adds, as if it’s obvious. “Most of the things that I put you in go past his eyes before they go past yours—except for the things you produce from ‘Grandma’s Hope Chest.’ I just don’t think he understands how clothes fit you and how I could buy something from the thrift store if I want and you would make it look like a million bucks.”

“Don’t knock the thrift store,” I say, “I’ve found some treasures in my day going junk shopping.”

“Hence, my point.” She types into her phone again. “He just cleared the purchase. The set is yours.”

“You’re kidding!” I whisper wistfully. I finger the pearls and diamonds on the necklace as if I’ve just been presented with the Hope Diamond. “Fucking Santa Claus,” I say under my breath, recalling the title I gave him when he presented me with the Holly Golightly tiara when we first started dating.

“What did you say?” Vickie asks.

“Nothing,” I say, closing the box and placing it on top of Grandma Ruby’s blue dress. I’ll match this ensemble with a pair of navy blue sky-high Louboutins and we have an outfit. As I admire my accessories, Vickie pulls me to the side to whisper in my ear.

“At the risk of overstepping my bounds, I watch women’s bodies,” she says, “and I’ve been watching hers. At best she’s a size 2, and maybe even smaller. I would venture to say that she doesn’t have a single dress in her wardrobe that’s country club ready that fits. So, I brought something for her, too.”

I look over at Marilyn, who is admiring the blingy hair combs in Vickie’s collection of accessories. I purse my lips on the best way to handle this. I know Vickie’s right, but I don’t want to offend Marilyn. I’ve already basically forced her to go, even though I later discovered that she helped to plan the whole thing.

“She has to agree to accept the dress,” I tell Vickie.

“Oh, of course,” she says. “That’s why I asked first. I don’t want to come off as pushy—or be offensive.” Good, we’re on the same page.

“Okay. Follow my lead.” I walk over to Marilyn admiring the hair combs.

“Those are pretty,” I say, touching the hair combs. Marilyn deflates a bit.

“Do you think they’ll work with your dress?” she asks, trying to hide her disappointment.

“I was talking about for you,” she says. “Consider it a gift for all the work that I know you did planning this party.” Her eyes light up.

“Really?” she asks, the first excitement that I’ve seen in her in months.

“Oh, for that reaction—Vickie!” I call Vickie over to us.

“I’ll take these, too,” I tell her. “Marilyn likes them.” Vickie examines the combs and nods.

“You got it,” she says. “If I may…” She goes over to her garment bag and takes out a beautiful white dress—also a high-low dress, more like a mini with an attached skirt. The thing is so small, it looks like a child can fit it.

“I brought this for you. I knew you were going to the party, but I didn’t know if you would need one, too, since you’re a bit petite. If you like it, you can have it.”

Marilyn looks from Vickie to me and then back at the dress. She smiles a soft, knowing smile and sighs as she examines the dress, running her hands over the delicate chiffon.

“It’s very pretty,” she says, “and it goes very well with the combs. Thank you.” Vickie smiles.

“Why don’t you try it on?” she says. “If it needs any altering, we can get that done quickly.”

“I doubt that it will, but I’ll try it on,” Marilyn says. The dress has a built-in bra, thank God. I don’t think we would have found something strapless on such short notice. It only takes her a moment to change into the dress, and once she does, it’s stunning. Even Marilyn herself couldn’t deny it.

“My work here is done,” Vickie says, zipping her garment bag and closing her accessory case. “We’ll see you for dinner at six.” We thank her again as she leaves.

“Okay, now,” I tell Marilyn. “It’s time for some pampering, trimming, waxing, and threading. What say you?”

“I say that I’ll call Miana’s and set it up for whatever time you like, but I’m going to pass,” she says.

“Maaaaaare,” I whine, “it’s gonna be a girlie day. When was the last time you’ve had a girlie day?”

“Bosslady,” she says, “I appreciate the combs, and I love the dress, but the laying on of hands I can’t do right now. I’m just now working my way into trying to eat. Baby steps, please.” I sigh and purse my lips.

“Okay,” I pout, “but what about your hair? I know you’re going to want it to look good.”

“I still know how to style my hair, Boss,” she says, “and I have two gorgeous new combs to help me.”

Knowing that I’m not going to convince her to partake in the spa afternoon, I don’t harass her further. She sets up the spa day for 1pm, and I send out the APB for anyone who wants to come over and get pampered. Val and Maxie quickly take me up on the offer. Mandy shows up later, and Gail and Keri were both front and center. Courtney and Harmony both have class, so they couldn’t make it. Marilyn opted for a peaceful soak at home and to pluck and shave herself. She’s going to need a spa day soon—if nothing else, a massage to release all the toxins that are her life… and a trim. I love her, but her hair looks hideous.

It’s showtime, and we all head to the Broadmoor Country Club for dinner. Promptly at 6:00pm, all of the partygoers from Grey Crossing arrive at the country club and our private room reserved for the occasion. It’s only now that I feel like I can breathe—that the trial is behind me, my mother’s drama is behind me, Las Vegas is behind me. The first thing I ask for the moment I take my seat is a Cosmo from the bar. Val takes the cue and asks for one, too, causing Christian’s and Elliot’s eyes to widen.

What’s with them? It’s not like we’ve never drank Cosmos before. In fact, Christian made perfect—and endless—Cosmos for us when we were on his bo…

Oooooooooh.

I pay no mind to my mental wandering and gleefully sip my Cosmo when it arrives.

Christian and Marilyn went right after my heart and chose a menu with Indian cuisine. Oh, heavenly Father, the food is divine, and there’s live music playing from the band all throughout dinner—maybe a little too chamber-musicish for me, but still nice. The meal starts with Mughlai tomato soup, falafel, baba ghanouj, tabbouleh, and hummus all with fresh pita bread. I don’t want Marilyn to get sick, but she seems to take the soup and the tabbouleh pretty well in small portions. That makes me happy.

Once we’ve munched happily on the appetizers, the main courses begin—Samosa, chicken and paneer pakora, chicken tikki, stuffed grape leaves, and cilantro and tamarind chutney. The food is paired with a fruity rosé that compliments the flavor nicely. At this point, my tummy is happy and I’m comfortable discussing the details of the trial with those who weren’t present to see the carnage. There’s only so much that’s being shown on television since there are still other defendants involved.

I tell my captive audience about my mother’s surprise testimony, followed by her Evel Knievel rocket launch off the freeway overpass and my subsequent experience with the catty nurses at the hospital. Then, of course, I let them in on George Sullivan throwing himself under the bus for his brother, which didn’t help the case at all. Whitmore’s sister’s testimony was a bit of a lowlight of the trial, and I’m saving the best—or worst—for last.

Conversation is moving along, and I brush over Whitshit’s useless testimony to focus on Vincent Sullivan and is entourage. Needless to say, there’s the same shock and awe when my listeners hear that Vincent was gay and that his involvement was most likely to win the affections of Whitshit.

Dinner is over and before I attempt any dessert, I have to dance off some of this food. I take my husband’s hand and drag him to the dancefloor.

“Marilyn didn’t eat much, but she did okay,” he says while we’re dancing. “She had a little soup and salad and a few bites of meat, and she doesn’t look like she’s headed for the bathroom to vomit.”

“You were watching her, too, huh?” I say as we move instinctively across the floor. “I think she’s probably on her way to doing better. She just had to introduce some food into her system. As long as she takes it slow, she may be moving in the right direction.”

“I hope so,” he adds and we both look over at her. She’s beautiful tonight, but frail… and sad… and lonely… and it’s written all over her. I just shake my head.

“I really hope things look up for her soon,” he says, falling back into step with me. “I don’t imagine that she can… shit!” He says the word so hard that it shocks me.

“What?” I ask, looking up at him.

“Hey… Ana,” I hear behind me. I know that voice. I turn around and I’m horrified by who’s standing there.

“Gary!” I breathe. Dear God, Gary’s here. “H… hi. I… didn’t know you were coming.” My thoughts are all jumbled for a moment and when they clear, all I can think is that I haven’t seen or heard from my friend for months, and I’m so glad that he’s here. I throw my arms around him and hug him firmly, relaxing a bit when he returns my embrace.

“It’s good to see you,” I say sincerely, trying not to cry. It’s been hard not knowing if he was okay.

“It’s good to see you, too,” he replies, softly, laying his head on my shoulder like a lost little brother… which to me, he was. However, I have to snap out of my own relief at his return to face an extremely stark reality.

I release him and look over at Christian who is glaring at Gary like he might pounce on him any minute. I quickly look over at Marilyn, who is unhappily lost in her own world and unaware that it may be about to come shattering down around her again.

Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck!

“Christian,” Gary says to my glaring husband.

“Garrett,” Christian responds coldly. There’s a brief standoff before Christian excuses himself and leaves. I don’t know if he’s aiming to do damage control with Marilyn, but it’s my job to do it with Gary.

“We didn’t think you were coming,” I say, trying to draw his attention away from the dinner table… and Marilyn. “I hadn’t heard from you…”

“I know,” he says, cutting me off. “I’ve been a terrible friend, and I’m sorry. I’m glad at least some of those bastards are finally getting their just deserts.”

“Um, yeah… me, too,” I reply occasionally looking back at the table. Christian has made it over to Marilyn, and whatever he’s saying to her, she’s standing and nodding. It looks like he’s given her a task, hopefully something to get her the hell out of the room. She’s too fragile to face him right now.

“Ana… what’s wrong? Would you rather I not be here?” Gary says, his voice cracking. Shit, I can’t let him feel that way. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Marilyn just spotted him, and I can see it in her eyes even from way across the room. She’s about to bolt.

“It’s not that,” I sigh. “Marilyn is here.”

At first, he looks like he’s angry. Then he pans the room and finds her immediately. His head jerks back in obvious surprise.

“What the hell…?” he begins. As soon as he says the words, Marilyn takes off out of the ballroom. He’s ready to be hot on her heels, but I think it’ll be too much for her and I catch his arm.

“Gary… she’s not doing well,” I warn. He points to the door.

“Ya think?” he yells, his voice reverberating through the ballroom and gaining everyone’s attention that wasn’t looking at him before.

“Look at her!” he shrieks. “She’s wasting away to nothing! She looks like she’s dying!”

He brushes me off his arm like a fly and sprints towards the door behind Marilyn.

“Gary!” I call after him, but he’s clearly a man on a mission. Christian is headed towards us and I think he was intent on stopping Gary. However, my small friend who’s easily half a foot shorter than my husband plows through Christian like a bulldozer and takes off behind Marilyn. Not to be outdone, Christian moves to follow him.

“Christian, stop!” My husband turns around and glares at me. I close the space between us quickly. I’ve seen that look; I know that look; nothing’s going to stop him from getting to Marilyn.

“If that were you, would anybody be able to stop you from getting to me?” I ask. Christian’s anger deflates immediately. My mostly timid friend just pushed my tree of a husband at least two feet out of his way to get to his woman. Anybody that gets in that man’s way right now is going to be crushed and left for dead.

“She’s not ready,” he says intently to me, ever the protector ready to shield her from whatever harm he can. “You and I both know that she’s not ready for this. You know how fragile she is. She’s not going to be able to handle this right now.”

She may not have a choice. The situation is right here in her face now and try though she might, she’s not going to be able to run from it. But he’s right, she is very fragile right now.

“Come on,” I say, taking my husband’s hand and walking out the door behind Marilyn and Gary. I scan the area quickly and see nothing, but when I look outside the glass walls, I see Marilyn running across the putting green coatless with Gary several feet behind her trying to catch her.

“Shit! She’s going to die out there!” I say and I dash out the door behind them. I stop on the putting green a few feet from the parking lot and watch Marilyn running with all her might like somebody’s trying to kill her. It’s now that I realize that I’ve left without my coat, and I’m extremely relieved when my husband steps behind me and drapes it over my shoulders.

“You’re going to die out here too,” he says.

“Oh, dear God, thank you,” I say to him as I close the coat around me. Knowing that we’ll never catch her right now, I stand helplessly in place, praying that in her weakened condition she doesn’t literally catch her death of cold. It’s not freezing out here tonight, but it’s too cold to be running around with a strapless dress and no jacket.

At this point, nearly everyone has abandoned the party and has joined us on the immaculately manicured lawn to watch the drama unfold. I wish will all my might that this didn’t have to take place in such a public forum, but under the circumstances, it couldn’t be avoided.

After covering as much territory as a track star in the first leg of a marathon, Marilyn collapses to the ground on her knees, releasing a cry so heart-wrenching that it causes me to shiver and induces Christian to wrap his arms around me from behind. I think he’s doing it as much for his comfort as he is for mine.

Marilyn is screaming something, but she’s too far away and I can’t hear what she’s saying. Gary drops to his knees in front of her. Dear Lord, this isn’t good.

“Get her off the fucking ground, man,” Christian hisses from behind me. I feel the same way, but I know Mare is raw, and it’s going to take some not so gentle coaxing to get her to cooperate. Gary reaches for her and it looks like they’re fighting. More than one man moves to assist including mine, but a few moments later, the fight has left her, and they sit rocking on the cold grass.

Now, I want him to get her off the fucking ground.

As if he heard me, he wraps his jacket around her shoulders, lifts her off the ground like a piece of paper and begins to walk towards us.

For the love of God, if that woman doesn’t eat…

He’s headed off by a golf cart heading across the green towards them. He speaks briefly to the occupant before getting on with Marilyn still in his arms. The golf cart heads back to the side of the club and disappears.

There’s nothing more here to see.

I look up at Christian and sigh before heading back into the club and what’s left of my party.

I’ve polished off two more Cosmos before there’s any word on Marilyn. After some time, I see Gary coming back into the ballroom in just his shirt sleeves. Christian stands as he approaches, so I stand as well, moving in front of Christian as a barrier between him and Gary.

“How’s Mare?” I ask as he closes the space between us.

“She’s cold and exhausted and she wants to leave… and we need to talk,” he replies. He sounds exhausted himself.

“She’s staying with us now,” Christian snaps. Oh, for the love of God…

“So, what do you suggest I do, Christian? Do I take her back to my place, or do we spend the night at yours?” Gary isn’t backing down from my husband in the slightest. If Christian wants a fight, he’s going to get it tonight, and his narrowing eyes say he’s looking for one.

“Whatever makes Marilyn more comfortable,” I reply, putting my hand on Christian’s chest. Back off, Killer. You’re overstepping your bounds, here. Gary examines us both.

“Thank you.” He turns and heads for the door. With the unending need to have the last word, my husband shoots to Gary’s retreating back, “You and I will have words later.”

“No, we won’t!” Gary replies. “The intricacies of this situation are between me and Marilyn, and no one else!”

Oh, shit. Fucking shit balls from hell. Christian, for God’s sake, leave it.

“That’s just it, Garrett, it’s not between you and Marilyn. We took care of her and watched her fall apart while you took off!”

“Christian, stop,” I say, trying to get his attention, but he’s looking right past me. His fuse is lit, but he doesn’t understand, so is Gary’s. And they’re having this fight right here in the middle of the ballroom in front of the whole fucking world… or with the sensitivity of the subject matter, it might as well be!

“And while I appreciate that you took care of her, you have no idea what I was going through, and I have no inclination to explain it to you. So, you can’t put me in judgment,” Gary rejoinders.

“Christian, please!” I say once more, trying to defuse the situation.

“The hell I can’t!” Christian roars. “Look at her! She’s deteriorating before our very eyes while you’re off hiding somewhere! My wife was a few days away from having her committed!”

That’s it. He’s gone. He just announced to a room full of people that I was about to forcibly put my assistant in the hospital. I walk away from them and take my seat, pick up my glass and bottom out my Cosmo.

“And what was I going through, Christian? Do you have any idea?” Gary retorts, his voice and temper rising.

“What the fuck does it matter? You don’t look like you’ve lost 25 pounds!” That’s it. My little friend is about to try to pummel my husband.

“Jason?” I say calmly, subsequently pointing behind me to indicate that there’s going to be a fight soon because my husband can’t keep his fucking mouth shut. Jason rises and walks over to Christian and I wave down a server.

“May I have a vodka rocks, please?” I ask while I await Gary’s response. If he ends up in jail, our money is going to bail him out and my lawyer is going to represent him in court. I hear Gary’s cool, angry voice just as my speedy vodka rocks makes it back to the table.

“Lose a baby, Christian! Then you can come and talk to me!” That was pretty harsh, but Christian drew first blood. I take a good gulp of my drink and await the flying fists.

Nothing.

My angry friend diffused the entire situation with that one statement.

I watch Gary whizz past me and out the door, no doubt to retrieve Marilyn and take her to whatever home she chooses. Christian returns to the table and I just shake my head.

“What?” he asks.

“Too far, Christian. Way too far,” I say, finishing my drink.

“What?” he repeats, and he has the nerve to look surprised.

“You always have to have the last word that you’re so busy shooting off your mouth without thinking. How does that feel right now?” He frowns deeply.

“What the fuck did I do?” Are you serious? Are you fucking serious?

“You mean besides the fact that you just outed Marilyn and all her personal business in front of a ballroom full of people? You just totally disrespected one of my best friends and completely trivialized his suffering because you only saw one half of the story! Thank you! Thank you very much!” I stand from my seat and storm over to the band.

“Hey!” I say to the guy who looks like the leader. He turns around and looks down at me. “This is my party and I need something I can dance to.” He raises his brow.

“What do you want?” he asks.

“Motown, old school hip hop, R&B, whatever you got.” He looks at me like I’ve just given him his big break.

“Your wish is my command,” he says, turning around to his band mates. I head back to the main table.

“Ana…” Christian says, trying to get my attention. I walk right past him and over to Al. Without a word, I grab his hand and begin to drag him from the table and his conversation with his husband and Val and Elliot towards the dancefloor. Just as we get to the edge of the dancefloor, the music starts playing for Michael Jackson, “Do You Remember.”

“Uh oh,” Al says. He removes his jacket and tosses it to a gaped-mouth Christian before joining me on the dance floor.

A/N:  So, apparently, my fonts are going batshit again, but I’m too tired to try to figure out what the hell is going on with them. Hopefully, it doesn’t bother you guys too much.

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

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

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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 24

In honor of my beloved Falala who had the courage to put her safety and well-being above others’ opinions. I would have worried about you the whole time, my friend. Thank you for your strength. ❤ 

The picture has nothing to do with the chapter. I just couldn’t find what I was looking for.

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

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

Season 5 Episode 24

ANASTASIA

I’m looking out the window of our Las Vegas suite trying to mentally formulate a plan of action concerning what’s next for my mother. Wendy is on her way over to help with that since she knows more of the ins and outs of this kind of thing. The sun is setting on the Strip and we’re trying to decide what the travel plans are going to be for the next couple of days. Everyone that’s here now came down in about two or three trips, and Christian has informed me that since he basically furnished the Romper Room suite that all that stuff is coming back with us minus the cribs and the bedding. He was going to leave the highchairs, too, but I told him to send those to Seattle so that we could have them on one of the other floors of the house.

On that note, Keri and Marilyn are getting the babies prepared to fly back in the morning with all the baby equipment and the extra security detail that has been here for the trial. The only people staying are me and Christian, Jason, Chuck, Marilyn, and two of the guards on rotation at my mother’s hospital room. They’ll remain here on rotating twelve-hour shifts with weekend relief until my mother is released from the hospital. She has agreed to that, but refuses to have 24/7 security once she leaves the hospital.

“I know how to tell reporters to leave me alone,” she had declared. “I’ve been doing it for quite some time now.”

I’m going to respect her wishes since she’s an adult and the only reason she had covert surveillance in the first place is because Christian thought she was trying to get to me.

Her psychiatrist was much more professional to me than all the doctors and nurses I’ve come in contact with since this entire ordeal began. Maybe he didn’t know the backstory…

A few hours earlier

“I’m going to be candid with you since I know that you’re a psychiatrist, too, Dr. Grey,” Dr. Hamlin says. “Your mother is suffering from severe depression. Of course, before knowing if she really did or didn’t attempt suicide when her car went off the overpass, I had to treat her like she’s a risk to herself and others. For that reason, she had to be restrained.”

I look over at my mother, who hasn’t raised her gaze the entire time I’ve been here.

“She’s clearly not restrained now, so…” I say, my voice trailing off.

“Your mother isn’t a constant threat to anyone. She’s just very unhappy,” he admits. “She’s had quite a few things happen, and she hasn’t sought any professional help for any of it.” He looks over to my mother. “She’s harboring a lot of guilt for quite a few things from her past, including her treatment of you…” he looks briefly over at me when he says that, then looks back to my mother. “She hasn’t healed from the loss of her husband, even though she’s trying to move on. She’s self-medicating, for lack of a better word, with her good deeds and giving back to the community, but it’s not fixing the problem.” He turns back to me.

“She’s borderline clinically depressed,” he continues. “She’s not suffering from major or manic-depressive disorder, but she is solidly dysthymic with occasional manic episodes. The occasional episodes are what give me cause for concern. It’s those moments that can be the most dangerous…

“Because it only takes a moment of desperation or hopelessness during one of those occasional episodes to do something drastic or harmful… or fatal,” I finish. He pauses.

“Exactly,” he says. I take the seat next to my mother’s bed and continue to listen to Dr. Hamlin. “As a professional, you know we have to get to the bottom of this. So, our first order of business was to find out what happened during that accident. I have to tell you that I’m still not sure, not because Mrs. Morton won’t tell me, but because I honestly think she doesn’t quite know.” I frown.

“Are you talking about, like, a blackout, or dissociative amnesia?” I ask.

“Right now, it could be either,” he says. “She had a head injury from the trauma, so there’s no way to tell if there was any pre-existing condition before the accident, something that could have caused a blackout, for example. She had a toxicology test done when she arrived to make sure she wouldn’t have an adverse reaction to the anesthesia—nothing, not even alcohol. If she had some sort of natural blackout, she just didn’t have control of the car anymore.  

“However, if she was overwhelmed by despair or depression, it could have been a moment of desperation and the immediate reaction was to turn the wheel to the guardrail—no thought or premeditation…”

“Just opportunity,” I say, looking at my mother.

“You’re a good psychiatrist, aren’t you?” he says after a beat. I turn to him.

“I had therapy after I left home and went to college,” I tell him. “After my therapy, this was my way of self-medicating.”

“Face the beast head-on,” he says.

“Exactly,” I reply. “That’s how I knew she sounded suicidal.” He sighs.

“She doesn’t want to die,” he says, turning back to my mother. “She’s just in despair, and she needs to come out of it. I truly believe this can be managed without institutionalizing her, but she’s going to be here for a while—mending from her physical wounds. I suggest we begin intensive therapy and a regimen of anti-depressants.

“She has some serious monsters that she needs to deal with, and she hasn’t done it. We covered a lot of ground in our sessions, but not nearly enough. Her ‘come to Jesus’ moment with you and the loss of her husband both happened within the last two years. She loved Stephen and now he’s gone. She never talked to anyone about that—never grieved properly. No one even came to his funeral except you, and even that experience was unpleasant. Once you left, she fell apart. Yes, her behavior to you even on that day was deplorable, but she was still grieving.

“She’s vicariously watching your life bloom through the press and she can’t be a part of it. She can’t see her grandchildren. She can’t celebrate your triumphs. It’s adding salt to her wounds. By no means am I telling you that it’s your responsibility to forgive your mother for how she behaved towards you, but it is her responsibility to forgive herself or if she doesn’t succeed in killing herself by opportunity, she’ll succeed by stress.”

I look over at my mother. I get everything he’s saying, and while I appreciate his attempt to remove the responsibility from me for my mother’s mental recovery, he’s still pointing to me as the source of her depression.

“What do you think of this, Mother?” I ask. He’s right about one thing. I’m not going to take responsibility for her. If she’s beating herself for the person that she was—or wasn’t—when I needed her, well then, she just has to deal with that. She shrugs in response to me.

“I’ve never really thought about dying,” she admits. “I told you how I feel about the so-called afterlife. I’m just tired of feeling this way. I’m tired of all the darkness and I’m tired of feeling like there’s no hope. Even the things that I do that make me happy only last for a moment and then they’re gone. And I really feel like no one would miss me if I were gone…”

I stand up and leave the room. I retrieve the sign-in logbook from the podium next to her door and re-enter the room.

“Well, I can tell you that’s not true,” I say, tossing the sign-in logbook onto her bed. Her brow furrows as she takes the book and opens it.

“What is this?” she asks.

“That’s the logbook of every visitor that has come to see you since you’ve been in the hospital,” I reply. “I’ve had to have flowers removed from your room three times to make room for fresh ones. I had the others delivered to other rooms that didn’t have any flowers because there were so many in this room that people couldn’t get in here.”

She turns the page and scans it, then covers her mouth, tears pushing through her tightly squeezed eyes. She shakes with sobs for a few moments, before she composes herself.

“I don’t like feeling this way, Dr. Hamlin,” she says between her tears. “What do I need to do to make it stop?”

Present

Of course, when we get to the root of her problem, I would be there. I fucking hate that. She didn’t take responsibility for my pain and I’m supposed to take responsibility for hers? I was a kid, and I did want to die. I wanted to die for nearly four years to get away from the hatred and the scrutiny and the ostracization—to feel safe walking to and from the bus stop and not like somebody was going to jump out at me, crack me upside the head again and finish the damn brand! She never felt that. She never felt the anguish, shame, and fear that I felt. No matter how badly she feels right now, she never felt that, and she never will!

And yet, I still feel shitty.

“Hey, God,” I say, looking out the window and over at the Aria Hotel. “It’s me again. I know You’re all perfect and everything, but I’m not. I don’t even want to be perfect; it’s too big a responsibility. I hate what she did to me. I hate how she made me feel. It was easy to let that go as long as I didn’t have to deal with her. Now, I feel like I’m succumbing to peer pressure—like I’m supposed to let her off the hook because she’s suffering so much now.

“The thing is that when I suffered, she wasn’t there for me. I didn’t have the knowledge that I have now and getting to the next day was pure hell. I couldn’t see the horizon or over the rainbow. I didn’t know what was waiting for me when I left home, I just knew that I had to get out of there. I was willing to run off into total uncertainty and the black abyss just to get away from her. I was afraid to turn to the one person that I knew still loved me for fear that she would find me, and now I’m supposed to feel guilty for her plight?”

I sigh heavily and drop my head.

“Forgive me, Lord, but I don’t,” I say, a single tear falling from my eye. “I feel somewhat guilty for not feeling guilty, for not feeling any kind of conviction for her human suffering. What kind of cold-hearted human being does that make me for not feeling guilty for what my mother is going through? I just want to get everything set up and get out of here.”

I know what’s going to happen to her now, and I know what needs to be done. I figure taking care of all of the preliminary things that need to be done can be done in the next 24 hours. Everything else can be coordinated through telephone and email and whatever other means, but on Friday morning, I’m flying out of this joint. I’ve had enough of this place.

“Give me strength to get everything done here that needs to be done and to get back to my peace,” I say finally and end my prayer.

A few minutes later, Marilyn comes to the suite to help me set up for my meeting with Wendy. She’ll be coming to help start getting things set up for my mother and to be listed as the primary contact wherever I need her. That conversation with my mother after Dr. Hamlin left was one to remember…

“Do you trust Wendy?” I ask her pointedly. She sharpens her gaze.

“With my life,” she says emphatically, as if the answer should be obvious to me.

“Good,” I reply, looking down at my phone, “because she’s going to be responsible for making decisions for you on my behalf when I’m not here,” I add as I compose a text to Wendy to come to my suite this evening. “I just want to be sure that you’re not in the hands of someone who would take advantage of you or abuse you.” My mother scoffs lightly.

“Anastasia, I trust Wendy more than I trust you,” she replies. I raise my gaze to her and she’s looking directly at me, unapologetic. I can’t say that I blame her. It should smart a bit after everything I’ve done for her in spite of the circumstances, but it doesn’t. I’d have to care for it to hurt. That’s Wendy’s department.

I’m not sure if she said that just to get under my skin, but just in case, I return with a shot of my own.

“As well you should,” I reply unfazed, returning her unapologetic glare. She deflates infinitesimally, and I see that I’ve sent her a message that I haven’t sent before. Any other time that we’ve talked before this incident, I’ve been at the disadvantage as a child, or I’ve been emotional or chasing her out of my life. This time, she gets to see that not only am I not the same child that she took advantage of, but that I can be as cold, callous, and unfeeling as she was during my time of suffering and that she really can’t do or say anything to hurt me anymore. The fact that she seems to have everyone falling at her feet and worshipping the ground that she walks on when she treated me like such shit… yeah, that hurt. But her direct actions and words… nah!

I know who you were, they don’t. If they know who you are now and they love you, all well, fine, and good, but they didn’t have to deal with what I dealt with and who I knew. I don’t know this person, and when I needed you, you weren’t this person to me. So, yes, you should trust one of them more than you trust me.

*-*

“This is the best bed for when she comes home,” Wendy says, showing me an adjustable queen-sized bed with rails and a pillow-top mattress. “If you were looking for something not so costly, there’s this one. It’s a full and the mattress isn’t a pillow-top, but it’ll still serve the purpose.”

“Why the queen instead of the full?” I ask.

“It’s easier for me to change her position in a queen,” she says. “She can roll all the way over without having to scoot. It’ll help prevent bed sores, and I expect for her to be in bed a lot… at least for the first few weeks or so, until she comes to grips with her situation. That’s why I suggested the pillow-top.”

“Get that one, then,” I say, looking at all the equipment my mother is going to need to keep from going to a nursing home—shower chairs and catheters and bowel assistance kits, a wheelchair… the house is going to have to be retrofitted for accessibility. We’ve already looked into purchasing a van and having it fitted with a lift. The list goes on and on and on, but I count it a blessing that Wendy is already familiar with all of this.

There’s going to be a huge outlay of money to get everything prepared for my mother in the time before she goes home. We’re expecting her to be headed to rehab in about a month when her broken bones heal, but we already know there’s not much they’ll be able to do with her legs. This will be to help her deal with the abilities that she has lost and to function without the full use of her legs.

I’ve already spoken to Christian about issuing a credit card to Wendy since we’re not going to be here, and that’s one hell of a step. In light of that, I let Wendy know that the spending will be monitored closely by our accountant, just in case there’s any temptation to spend on something frivolous or unnecessary.

“I don’t know how to say this in a way that doesn’t sound like I’m threatening you, so please don’t take it that way,” I say to Wendy. Her pupils constrict and I have her full attention.

“I think this was what my husband was trying to say to Abe, but it didn’t go well, so please let me get everything out.

“You already know that my relationship with my mother is estranged at best. I never intended to see or talk to her again until it was time to bury her. When my security informed me that her car went off an overpass, quite frankly, that’s what I was prepared to do—bury her. The only thing is that when I heard the news and I came face to face with possibly having to bury my mother, I didn’t know how to feel. At first, I just wanted to be near my children, but I was leaving them at the time to come here. Then, I was just numb. For hours, I was numb.

“When I got to the hospital, I saw myself lying in that bed, hopeless and helpless. I didn’t know that she had a support system. I thought it was just me. When all her friends started coming around, I started to feel like the intruder. I still do.

“I don’t know any of you people, but my mother does… and she trusts you, so I’m leaving her in your hands because I don’t have a choice short of moving down here or moving her to Seattle. Both of those options are impossible for me and at least one of them is impossible for her.

“What my husband was trying to tell Abe is that I can’t be worried if my mother is being taken care of or taken advantage of. I have way too much on my plate to add that stress to my life. It’s clear to see that you and Abe care for my mother, but with all the unknown variables, I cannot stand by and allow her to deliberately be misused or mistreated. I don’t have that in me. She may not be my favorite person, but I don’t wish her any harm. I never have.” I drop my gaze a bit.

“Having said that, I have to say that I’m expecting you to be my eyes and ears, and I will say without hesitation that if I discover that my mother is being misused, mistreated, or taken advantage of in any way, there will be hell to pay by whomever is doing that to her. I’ll admit that for my own reasons, she’s not my favorite person, but she is my responsibility, and I will not stand by and allow her to be deliberately hurt. That’s the very least I can do for any human being.”

I raise my gaze back to Wendy’s face, and she’s gazing at me—somewhat softly with a slight curl at the corners of her lips.

“Understood,” she replies, and that’s all she says. I raise my brow at her.

“May I ask why you’re smiling?” I question, a bit perturbed.

“Carla thinks you hate her,” she says. “She’s clearly not your favorite person. I don’t expect any open-armed reunions and neither does she, but it’s clear to see that you don’t hate her. Even those immature, unprofessional, uninformed, nosey nurses know that you don’t hate her.” My eyes widen when she brings up the nurses.

“Yes, I know,” she says. “So does Carla. She’s too busy wallowing in her sorrow to say anything about it, but she knows. I felt it wasn’t my place…”

“My husband took care of it,” I say. “He’s very sensitive when it comes to me.”

“I can tell,” Wendy replies. “I can’t convince you that we only have Carla’s best interest at heart. You’ll just have to see for yourself.”

“I never doubted it,” I admit, “either of you. It’s just, these days, you just can’t be too sure. I can tell that Abe loves her. I know love when I see it.”

“I imagine you do,” she says. “You and that young man have passion written all over you.”

I try not to blush when she says that, then turn my attention back to the task at hand.

CHRISTIAN

Butterfly spends the rest of the evening and all-day Thursday making sure that everything is prepared for Carla when she’s discharged from the hospital. We know everything there is to know about Wendy and Abramio all the way down to the color of the socks donned on this morning and the security detail is still going to keep a covert eye on everything down here until further notice.

Butterfly is giving Wendy the golden ticket in the form of a corporate Amex Black strictly for Carla’s care. I was against it at first, insistent that all purchases should go through us first. However, Butterfly illuminated a good point, that if all purchases needed to go through her that she would never get any peace and she might as well stay here. It’s pretty much going to be the same anyway, since every purchase on that card is going to be pinged to the accountant.

Our children were on the jet first thing Thursday morning along with all the extra staff and the equipment from the Romper Room suite. Gail has assured me that the staff will be able to arrange the play area so that Butterfly can still have some space for her yoga and dancing. It’s a pretty big room, after all. She was pleased to hear that.

She went to the hospital Thursday morning so that she and her mother could give Wendy whatever authority was needed when it’s time for Carla to be discharged. She’s very serious about not coming back to Vegas. Finally, with as many loose ends tied up as could be, Friday morning, March 6, the Greys and the rest of their staff leave Vegas once and for all. Good riddance.

My wife falls dramatically onto the marble floor in the grand entry, thanking Grey Crossing for being “home sweet home” and declaring that she’s not leaving the house for three days. I won’t argue with that. I have no plans whatsoever of going anywhere either. I won’t even call Grey House.

But Grey House is intent on calling me.

“Chris, is Jewel with you?”

“No, and if you were looking for her, why didn’t you call Jewel?” I scold.

“Well, wherever she is, you two might want to get in the same room so that I only have to say this once,” he says.

“Why don’t you call her and tell her, and she’ll tell me? I’m right in the middle of something.” I’m actually trying to plan a party for Jewel to celebrate the verdict and sentence and getting the hell out of Las Vegas and you’re holding up my line.

“Trust me, whatever it is, it can wait. Find Jewel.” Son of a bitch.

“Activate two-way communications,” I say between my teeth. When the system comes alive, “Locate Anastasia Grey.” After a beep or two…

“Ana… okay, I’m with my babies, so who is this?” she says, and she sounds irritated.

“Your presence is requested in my study,” I reply.

“What?” she protests. I don’t repeat myself. She heard me. “This better be good.”

“Trust me, I’m saying the same damn thing, End two-way communications.” The system deactivates.

“I didn’t say she had to come to your study. I said, ‘find her.’”

“And I did, now you deal with her attitude when she gets here,” I reply.

“Like I’m dealing with yours?” he inquires.

“Damn straight,” I confirm.

“I’ll be waiting for your apology before this call is over.”

“Don’t hold your breath.” I retort.

“You can really be a pain in the ass sometimes, Chris,” he says.

“And so can you, like right now. You’re holding up progress. So, like my wife said, this better be good.”

“Who are you fussing at?” Butterfly scolds when she enters my study.

“Your gay boyfriend,” I reply. “Okay, she’s here, Forsythe, and you’re on speaker. Out with it.”

“That’s Forsythe-Fleming…”

“Out with it!” Butterfly and I demand simultaneously.

“Jesus, alright! Don’t get your hair in a bun! You were in different rooms, so I know I didn’t interrupt you fucking! Why so uptight?”

“Forsythe-Fleming, I’m two seconds from disconnecting this call,” I threaten.

“And I’m leaving,” Butterfly cosigns.

“Alright, alright! You may want to sit down…”

“Goddammit, Allen!” Butterfly yells.

“Okay! Geez! Larson’s been blowing up my email all day! Plea requests are coming in faster than he can process them.” Butterfly’s brow furrows.  

“Pleas?” she says. “Seriously?”

“Yes, seriously!” Allen confirms. “Those people saw Sullivan’s verdict and they’re like, ’65 years? And he didn’t even get convicted of all seven charges? Fuck that!’  He’s getting people willing to turn state’s evidence on folks who haven’t even been charged yet. There hasn’t been a case this big since the Manson killings! You’re gonna make fucking history, Jewel.” She twists her lips.

“What a way to go into the history books,” she says, unenthusiastically.

“Yes, what a way!” he cheers. “You’ve set a precedent. You’re going to change bullying laws. What happened to you was horrible, but it’s going to be a catalyst for some serious reform. You just watch and see.”

“Well, I guess that’s something,” she says.

“I’m waiting for that apology, Chris,” he presses.

“Hold your breath,” I reply. “This is great news, but my wife still could have told me.” I can almost see him rolling his eyes through the phone.

“What’s more, this will give you ammo for your lawsuits.” I had forgotten about that. Butterfly visibly ponders the thought.

“Yeah… no.”  She says. My eyes widen.

“What?” Allen says

“No,” she repeats, “I want this to be over. This was enough. I don’t want anymore. Tell Larson that I’m fine with him taking whatever pleas he sees necessary. I’m not going back down there. And I’m not suing anybody.”

“Jewel, you’ve got a better case for compensatory and punitive damages than the Goldmans and the Browns and they won. Are you sure you want to do this?” Allen asks incredulously.

“And how long is it going to take?” she asks. “How long is this going to follow me around? I was in Vegas for over a month and it was one of the most miserable times of my life. I don’t want to go back there. I don’t want anything else to do with that place. Tell Larson to keep it quiet but to take whatever pleas he can get and shut this shit down. And yes, I’m sure. Karma will have to follow everyone else because yes, I’m done with this.” I hear him sigh.

“What about the cases that you have against George Sullivan, the Henderson Police Department, the Clark County District Attorney’s office, and the sitting DA in 2001? You want to squash those, too?” he asks.

“Especially those!” she declares. “Those are going to take longer than the others. I don’t have the strength for it, Al, I really don’t.” He pauses.

“Okay, if you’re sure that’s what you want,” he relents.

“Absolutely sure. Close this chapter as quickly and cleanly as you possibly can.”

“Okay, I’ll keep you posted on the pleas.”

“Can he please correlate that information with you?” she asks me. My brow rises.

“You really are done with this, aren’t you?” I ask.

“Completely,” she says. “I proved my point. They were wrong. They know it and now the world knows it. I don’t have anything else to prove. I’m washing my hands of this whole thing.”

“Okay, baby. I got you. Did you hear that Allen?”

“I heard it,” he says. “I’ll let you know information as soon as I do.”

“Thank you.” I end the call and turn to Butterfly.

“I think he’s disappointed that he won’t be able to go after the Green Valley gang,” she says, “but I’ve truly had enough of this, Christian. I don’t need their money and I don’t need to prove anything. I just want to get on with my life.”

“The only thing is—and I’m remiss to bring it up—is that you said that you were going to donate any proceeds from the lawsuit to Helping Hands. Now, they won’t get that donation,” I point out.

“Well, this is one time where Grace is just going to have to accept a donation directly from me to make amends… if you don’t mind,” she replies.

“Of course, I don’t mind,” I say, pulling her over to me with one arm and kissing her on the forehead. “Whatever you want, baby. This has really been a horrendous ordeal and I, like you, would definitely like for it to just be over.”

“Good,” she sighs. “I’m going back to be with my babies, and you can get back to… whatever you were doing.” I kiss her on the lips.

“I won’t be long,” I promise. She nods and leaves my study, and I get back to what I was doing before Allen called.

“Marilyn, did you have any luck?” I ask when I get my wife’s PA on the phone.

“I was able to get the Bennion Room next Friday from 5pm – 10pm. It was short notice and the best I could do, even with the name drop. You’ve got a live band and it seats 50. They can cater if you get them a menu by tomorrow noon. Otherwise, you’ll have to cater it yourself.”

“You are a fucking miracle worker,” I tell her. “No wonder my wife can’t live without you. I’ll put a menu together before I go to bed. Did they give you any options?”

“Check your email,” she says. I quickly open my email and see a list of the available options for a formal dinner at the Broadmoor Country Club.

“Fucking miracle worker,” I repeat. “Thank you, Marilyn.”

“Anytime,” she says and ends the call.

*-*

“I’ve just landed at SeaTac, sir. I really need to talk to you, and it needs to be face to face.”

Alex has called me on my cell phone Sunday morning just after I finish my workout. He’s got my antennae up since he’s calling me directly from the airport. I want to question, but I know he wouldn’t be calling me if it wasn’t important, and he definitely wouldn’t be requesting a face-to-face if it wasn’t imperative.

“I can meet you at Grey House if you’d rather not alarm Ana,” he adds.

“My going into Grey House on a Sunday would alarm her anyway. Let Jason know that you’re on your way. I need to shower.”

“Will do, sir.” I end the call and take the elevator to the main floor. As I suspected, my wife is at the breakfast bar drinking coffee and eating a bagel.

“It’s Sunday,” I say, kissing her on the cheek. “That’s not breakfast.” I fill a glass with ice and water from the dispenser.

“I just wanted something quick to keep from gnawing my arm off,” she says. “I plan to eat a real breakfast.”

“Speaking of eating… Marilyn,” I say, broaching the topic carefully. Butterfly sighs.

“I know. She’s not gaining any weight or looking much healthier at all. She nibbles, but she’s not eating. She hasn’t done anything recreational besides karaoke, which turned out to be a disaster. I still don’t think she’s sleeping, and when she does, she’s plagued by nightmares. I see her making emotional strides to try to get better, but as a professional, I’m afraid it’s not moving fast enough. It’s been a month and I would venture to say that she’s lost more weight rather than gained any.”

“You’re right, she has,” I say, finishing my water and filling my glass again. “This is not good at all and there needs to be some type of intervention or she’s going to do herself some serious damage.”

“She’s bordering on an eating disorder,” Butterfly says. “She’s been meditating and trying to find her center and get her mind back in the right place, but I don’t know that it’s doing any good. I don’t know that she can be committed or at least admitted like my mother was, but she really needs to be talking to someone, and something has to change soon.”

“What do you suggest?” I ask, taking another healthy sip of my water. She twists her lips.

“Let’s give it another week,” she says. “Let me do some gentle chiding and see if I can get some results. If not, I’m going to insist that she goes back to the doctor. I’m going with her, and I’m going to give it to her doctor straight about my fears.” I nod.

“I think that’s a good idea,” I reply. I unlock my phone and pull up a copy of the options that I chose for Friday’s dinner menu.

“What do you think of this?” I ask, sitting down on the stool next to her and showing her the menu.

“It looks like a gourmet feast,” she says, scrolling through the menu. “What’s it for?”

“It’s for Friday,” I say. “We’re having a gathering of friends at the country club—good food, drinks, and dancing—to celebrate the huge victory you had in Green Valley with the case. I was going to surprise you, but I kind of get the feeling that an ambush may not be the best thing.” She smiles and nods.

“I think you’re right, and I love you.” She kisses me quickly on the lips. “This is wonderful. Thank you.” She smiles at the menu again.

“Oh, so that you’re not stunned into thoughts of the Apocalypse, Alex is on his way over here to talk to me about something.” Her brow furrows.

“About what, may I ask?” she inquires, concerned.

“I don’t know,” I say, finishing my water. “He’s been in DC for the last couple of days. I’m assuming it’s something to do with that, especially since he’s coming straight from the airport.”

“The airport?” she says. “This doesn’t sound like good news, Christian.”

“Well, good or bad, I won’t know until he gets here, but I’m assuming that it’s pretty delicate.” She sighs.

“I hope it’s nothing else that we have to be concerned about,” she says. “It always appears that when it rains, it pours with us.” I nod.

“Hear, hear, but let’s keep positive thoughts about this until we know otherwise, okay? The only reason I mentioned it is because I’m going to get in the shower, and I didn’t want him to show up while I was still in there and you panic.” She nods.

“I appreciate that,” she says. “I’ll keep my head on until we find out what’s going on.”

“Good girl,” I say, and head up to the bedroom to shower.

Once I’m all clean, shaved, and trimmed, I come back down to the dining room to find a full breakfast spread on the dining table along with all the usual suspects… and Alex.

“I’m so glad you were able to make yourself at home,” I say to Alex as I take my seat and fill my coffee cup.

“She insisted,” he says, gesturing to my wife who is feeding Minnie a spoonful of apple-cinnamon oatmeal. “Have you ever tried to say, ‘no’ to this woman?”

She turns a gaze to me, and I raise a brow.

“Pass the eggs,” I say.

“I was trying to get him to tell me what brought him here straight from the airport, but he insists that it’s not breakfast conversation. So, since he came here directly after he landed, I’m certain he hasn’t eaten,” Butterfly says.

“I’m curious as to why you flew out so early,” I ask. “To get to SeaTac by eight, that means that you had to leave the east coast by, what, six?”

“Five,” he says, loading his fork. “There was no reason to stay.”

“It had nothing to do with the news you’re going to give me… like Washington wants you to come back to work for them and you had to fly back here early so you’d have enough time to get back to punch in tomorrow?” I load my plate with sausage, toast, hash browns, eggs, and pancakes. I raise my gaze to see Alex twisting his lips at me.

“No offense, sir, but in my line of work, you’re always working for Washington. Nice tactic, but no, I’m not going back to DC.”  

“Well, in that case, somebody pass me the syrup.”

We spend breakfast talking about the case—only a little—and more about Carla’s condition and what’s going to be done now. Butterfly is planning to go into Helping Hands tomorrow to get back into the swing of things and to get caught up on what’s going on. I’m chomping at the bit to know why he had to come here straight from the airport, so once breakfast is done, I dismiss everyone from the table that doesn’t need to be present and get down to brass tacks. Butterfly doesn’t leave.

“If it’s about GEH, I deserve to know what’s going on. If it’s about us, I deserve to know what’s going on.” She’s got me there. I shrug. Alex nods.

“Well, obviously there’s something you need to know,” he begins.

“And that is?” I ask.

“Robin Myrick is dead.”

I have to let the words sink in for a moment before I react, then I twist my lips.

“He’s been dead before. Why should I believe he’s dead now?” I ask.

“Because that little trip I had to take to renew my ‘clearances’ was only partially to renew my clearances. They were still good until August, but I got a little tip earlier this week. That trip was mainly to identify the damn body. They didn’t need me to identify it, but I wanted to make sure that fucker was dead.” He drops a picture of a blue-faced Robin Myrick with what looks like ligature marks around his throat, eyes partially open and blank with the mask of death. “Trust me, I touched that cold dead body. He’s gone.”

“Still fucking Ginger Creepy Guy even in death,” Butterfly says, looking at the picture on the table. I forgot that’s what she called him.

“Another suicide?” I ask in disbelief, looking more closely at the picture.

“It looks like it,” Alex says.

“It seems so fucking easy for somebody to kill themselves in jail,” I point out. “I don’t buy it, though. He was too fucking cocky. He didn’t want to die.”

“Well, either he did it, or somebody did it for him, he’s dead. I touched that body—cold as ice. Robin Myrick/Louis Millfeld is now a memory. You may want to know that Myrick, Jr., was paying for his protection in the federal penitentiary with money that he had squirreled away that the authorities hasn’t attached while he’s awaiting his extortion trials. However, his well ran dry and he was starting to be treated badly in the pen. When you’ve got money and protection, you start throwing weight around that you don’t have, and you make a lot of enemies that way. He thinks that the feds have found his money when in truth, Anton Myrick drained his accounts and put the money in his personal stockpile.”

Anton. Fuck, there’s that name again.

“When Robin contacts his dear old Dad and tells him about his situation, Myrick informs him that he can’t send any money to Robin because Sunset will trace him and find him. He tells Robin that he has to tough it out in prison until the trial is over, and the trial date is coming up soon. It appears that young Robin is a pussy and he can’t take it, especially since he’s made quite a few enemies with his big mouth and now he can’t pay for protection. So, either he did himself or somebody did it for him. Either way, he’s dead.”

“When did this happen?”

“About a month ago,” he says. “Nobody’s claiming the body, not even his mother.”

“A month?” I say. “This man and his father orchestrated a hacking plan that could have wiped me out and nobody thought we should know?”

“Witness protection…” Alex begins.

“And yet his father is still moving money!” I accuse.

“We’re not sure of that, but that’s the theory.”

“So, if that’s the theory, why can’t we fucking put our hands on Anton Myrick? Myrick Jr’s trial was coming up soon, but they can’t put Sunset’s trials on a docket so that they can bring this fucker out and somebody can snipe his ass. What the fuck does he have to do, kill somebody himself?”

“I hate to tell you this, sir, but you know that Sunset is using you as bait, right?” Alex says.

“Do I look stupid?” I ask. “Of course, I know. Haven’t we had this conversation before?”

“I think we did,” Jason says. “I’m not sure if we all did.” Jason throws an inconspicuous glance at Butterfly. I thought I told him that she knows about Sunset… but it doesn’t matter.

“Well, you should also know that the Feds are most likely using Myrick as bait for Sunset,” he says. “Whatever Myrick has on him, it’s not going to change, and there’s no reason for them to wait to start the case against him. They want him to get antsy—to come out and find Myrick—and that’s when they plan to pinch him. What they don’t understand is that Sunset is patient. He’s got nothing but time and money. Just like you, he can wait ‘em out.

“We’ve got four players here, each with their own level of clout—you, Sunset, Myrick, and the Feds. Somebody’s going to slip. We’re all just waiting to see who.”

“So, basically, what you’re telling me is that I just have to wait until this sucker strikes again before I can get to him,” I lament.

“Pretty much, unless he screws up sometime before he strikes.” I sigh.

“I’m in the public eye,” I seethe. “He knows where I am. He can get to me. They know he’s after me, yet they won’t tell me where he is.”

“That’s not how it works, Christian,” he says. “The government feels that they have control over Myrick while they’re protecting him, so that if he does try to make a move on you, they’ll get him before he gets to do it.”

“Like they did with Myrick, Jr., right?” I say sarcastically. “I had to lead those fuckers right to him before they even had a clue what was going on! I fucking had to save myself and now, I’m fucking supposed to trust them with my life with this maniac? I don’t think so!” Alex just shakes his head.

“This is a real bang-up fucking guy,” I say in disgust. “He created this monster. Then when the monster presents himself in his image, he deserts him! He fills the kid’s head with lies and horror stories about who I am, making the kid come at me and then he leaves him to rot after the kid does exactly what he wanted him to do!”

I’ve never felt this way before in my life, let alone verbalized it inwardly or outwardly, but I’ll be glad when this motherfucker is dead.

“Well, in all honesty, Myrick is bound to have some kind of reaction to this,” Alex says. “If he’s as unstable as you say he is, he’s most likely blaming you for Robin’s death as we speak.”

“Then, he’s most likely blaming me because he’s as unstable as a two-legged chair,” I confirm.

“Should we increase security?” Jason asks. My wife’s head shoots up from the picture on the table. I ponder the idea for a moment.

“We actually have extra security in Sunset’s men,” I say. “They want his neck as much as I do and if he shows his face…” I do the beheading gesture with my hand.

“Yeah, they want his neck, which means they’ll take it at any cost, even if it means collateral damage. We’re here to protect you, they’re not. They just want the kill,” Jason points out.

“Well, isn’t this lovely after-breakfast conversation,” my wife says. I throw a glare at her. You were the one who decided to stay and listen—nobody forced you. Alex came straight from the airport saying that he had news. What did you expect him to say, that he’s getting married?

“I know, I know,” she replies, as if I just had the conversation with her aloud. I turn back to Jason and Alex.

“Covert,” I say. “Let’s not make it too obvious. The world doesn’t know what we know.”

We tie up some loose ends and Alex thanks us for breakfast before leaving to return to the city.

“Do you really think he would come after us?” Butterfly asks. “Wouldn’t it be better for him to just lay low since this Sunset guy is after him? Seriously, we’re right in the spotlight and that’s exactly the opposite of what he wants, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know what he wants,” I tell my wife. “He convinced his son that I was Robin’s long, lost brother. That asshole knew he wasn’t my father. He knew I was a kid when the crack whore killed herself, but he convinced that man that I was the root of all his problems. So, here I am, a billionaire living in mansions and penthouses in the Pacific northwest while they’re toughing it out in the ghettos of Detroit… when they’re not hiding out in witness protection. I’d think I was the root of all evil, too, if I was in their shoes and didn’t know any better.”

“Thank you so much… I feel so much better,” she says sarcastically.

“I’m sorry, Butterfly, but this is not to make you feel better. This is a dose of reality.”

ANASTASIA

I’m beginning to look over my shoulders and in the rearview mirrors constantly as I’m heading in to Helping Hands on Monday morning. I almost expect for Myrick to swoop down from the sky on a rope like Batman and land on the hood of my damn car. I know that’s not likely and I’m being super paranoid, but I can’t help it after yesterday’s conversation with Christian.

This crazy ass fucker makes me nervous. He burned cigarette burns into the chest and back of a four-year-old for sport. He’s cocky enough to believe that he can outrun a gangster with a bounty on his head—which he has been doing for several years now, so I’m told. And now, his son is dead, and he likely blames my husband for that—the same four-year-old that he burned with cigarettes against whom he’s had a personal crusade for the last 25 years.

Yeah, this crazy ass fucker makes me nervous.

“Ana! Welcome back!” Ebony hugs me as soon as I hit the door.

“Thank you, Ebony,” I reply, trying to hide my anxiety.

We’re fine, everybody’s fine, I keep repeating to myself. Ebony and Keri get the twins situated and I head to my office.

Dear God, there’s a mountain of stuff that needs to be done. There’s no time to lament over or worry about Myrick because there’s too damn much to do. Requisition orders for books and supplies; the housekeeping and janitorial logs that need review; Grace has been knee-deep in the grant proposals and the compliance documentation since I’ve been gone, and the licensing board has been out here again, just to make sure that everything was running like it should be. She didn’t tell me that they had come out here.

“They didn’t send Liam Westwick again, did they?” I ask.

“As a matter of fact, they did,” she says. “He knows the lay of the land here, so to speak, so they sent him in the interest of saving time.” I twist my lips.

“How did things go?” I ask.

“It went well,” she says. “Everything went fine.”

“It’s a good thing I wasn’t here, then,” I remark, and I say nothing else about it.

It’s about 11:30 when I get a visitor to my office. I’m knee-deep in paperwork and it’s probably the last person that I expected to see. He knocks on my door to get my attention.

“Do you have a moment?” he asks as I raise my head.

“Fred! Sure, come on in,” I say, standing to welcome Fred Wilson into my office.

“I’m sure you heard what happened with my granddaughter,” he says as he enters my office. I sigh and gesture for him to take a seat.

“Yes, Fred, I have heard,” I reply after we take a seat. “The newsflash got to me all the way in Vegas.”

“I heard about that. Are you okay?” he asks. I shrug.

“I’m as well as can be expected,” I reply. “The whole ordeal took a lot out of me. I’m just glad to be home.” He nods.

“I’m sure you are,” he says. “You know, things happen that you really wished would have happened years ago and you have a hard time accepting that it finally happened.” I raise a brow at him.

“Are we talking about my trial or your granddaughter?” I ask.

“Both, I guess,” he says, entwining his fingers. “Addie tried for years to try to get that girl to see what she could become. She was conniving and sneaky and selfish. We gave her everything and it still wasn’t enough. By the time Addie had sent her back to her mother, she was at the end of her rope and heartbroken—totally disillusioned. I just didn’t want to see that happen to her again.”

“I understand,” I say. “I can even see why it’s hard to give people the benefit of the doubt. Trusting someone after they’ve broken your trust is an extremely hard thing to do—sometime impossible. However, I’m of the firm belief that if you can’t forgive someone, you should just move on. If you can’t contribute positively to their journey, you should just leave them alone.” Fred chuckles.

“This doesn’t sound like the same woman who was accosted by my granddaughter a year and a half ago,” he remarks. I smile.

“It’s the same woman,” I assure him. “It’s just not the same granddaughter. I gave up on her, too, Fred. I don’t know if she told you, but I pulled my gun on her once when she showed up asking for help.” His brow furrows.

“No, she didn’t,” he says. I nod.

“I was still pregnant with the twins, and she had threatened me. I didn’t feel safe and I didn’t trust her, so when she showed up, I was ready. She’s not that girl anymore. She’s found direction and focus… and love. She’s found a purpose now when she didn’t have one before. I know better than most people who she used to be, but everybody deserves at least one chance for redemption. I’d say she’s utilizing hers pretty well.”

“I’ll be honest,” Fred says. “I really didn’t think she could change. I thought this was another one of her tricks, but she obviously has… considerably!”

“Yes, Fred, she has,” I say, “and she’s already been ambushed once into an unexpected meeting with her grandmother. I won’t be a part of having that happen to her again.”

“Thank you, Ana. I appreciate that.”

I look to the door and see Courtney standing there. My immediate reaction is to apologize and explain, but she waves her hand to indicate that she knows what’s going on.

“What is it, Grandfather?” she says firmly, folding her arms. She’s a bit perturbed. “Grandmother won’t speak to you until we’ve patched things up? Tell her that we’ve patched things up. She can call me to confirm it if she wants. You can go home now.”

She’s take no prisoners this morning.

“You’d lie to your grandmother?” he says. She scoffs.

“Contrary to what you think of me, Grandfather, I have no desire to cause problems in your marriage. That’s why you’re here, right?” He raises a brow.

“No,” he says. “My marriage is just fine. I just… I came because I wanted to talk to you.” She sighs.

“You said quite enough when you tried to buy me out of your life. You got your wish—I’m out of your life, and it didn’t cost you a penny. I’m not ditching Grandmother unless she says that she doesn’t want to speak to me anymore. What else could you possibly have to say?”

“I just want to talk,” he says. “Let’s have lunch…”

“We tried that, remember?” she retorts. “You stared at me the entire time like I was a jungle cat ready to pounce on Grandmother’s jugular. I don’t need that. I don’t need your money, and quite frankly, I don’t need you if that’s how you think you’re going to treat me. I understand that you don’t trust me, and I know why. I’ll give you that, but I’m not that person anymore and I’m not going to let you treat me that way!”

I feel a twang listening to her and thinking about my mother… not that person anymore…

“I believe you, Courtney,” Fred says. “I really want to sit down and talk to you, just you and me… please.”

“I really don’t think…” I gently touch her arm and she looks at me. I mouth, “Give him a chance.” She sighs heavily and petulantly and rolls her eyes.

“Fiiine!” she nearly growls, stretching the word. “I need to get my coat.”

“Courtney, wait.” I turn to Fred. “Fred, can you give us a moment?” He examines me for a moment, then nods and leaves the room. I turn to Courtney.

“Breathe in,” I say. She looks at me incredulously. “Courtney. Wilson. Breathe in.” She rolls her eyes again and breathes in. “Hold it… now breathe out.”

We repeat the process a few times until I see that she’s not as combative.

“If you go to this lunch with your armor up, you’re wasting your time.” Her gaze softens. “Talk to him. Listen to him. Try to understand what he’s feeling and try to make him understand what you’re feeling. If it doesn’t work, you tried.” She stares at me for a moment, then closes her eyes, sighs—not so petulantly—and nods. I give her arm a squeeze, then send her out into the battlefield.

Since I’m playing a massive game of catch-up, I ask Marilyn to pick up some of those kabobs that I like from the Mediterranean restaurant. When she returns, she looks peaked as usual and even a little green in the face, and I already know.

“I can tell by your face you didn’t eat anything,” I confront. “Does the smell of food make you sick?”

“I tried, Bosslady,” she excuses. “I got one of my favorite blueberry muffins from the coffee shop on Cherry St, and when I bit into it, it tasted like garbage.”

“You’ve been here for hours! What have you eaten?” She shrinks infinitesimally.

“Pedialyte,” she replies, her voice timid. I don’t let up. This has to stop.

“That’s not eating,” I say. “I know the doctor said that was okay as a meal replacement, but you can’t do that forever. You’re wasting away, Marilyn. Where are you now?” She drops her gaze.

“One-fourteen,” she says. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me! You’re killing yourself here. I understand grieving, but this is becoming reckless.

“You’ve got five more pounds,” I say, and I’m being generous as hell. “Five more pounds, Marilyn, and I’m checking you in. You can go willingly, or I’ll call your parents, and I have no problems with an ambush.”

“Okay, okay,” she relents. Her eyes roll and I see the wheels turning. Could she really be progressing into an eating disorder and she just hasn’t recognized it yet? She’s giving herself an excuse not to eat because of her grief, but she’s really fucking hurting herself and this has to stop.

“You are going to the victory celebration on Friday, right?” I ask. If she doesn’t come, I’m taking her to the hospital kicking and screaming and I mean it. This hermit, starving herself shit ends right now! She looks at me as if I’ve just invited her on a lovely trip to the gallows.

“Who else is going to be there?” she asks, and I know what she’s asking, but she’s still going, whether he shows up or not.

“All my friends and family are invited, but to answer your unasked question, I don’t think Gary will be there. I haven’t heard from him in months.” Her expression is mixed with relief, regret, and a pinch of pain… well, maybe more than a pinch.

“Fine, I’ll go.” I would have done better to put her on punishment, but I can’t stand by anymore and watch this. We’ve tried it your way, Caldwell, and it didn’t work. Now, we’re doing it my way. It’s at this moment that I thank God that she decided to stay with me instead of getting her own apartment. I put my arm around her shoulder.

“You’re going to hate me, Caldwell,” I say, “because I’m your friend and I’m not going to let up on you. You had a social life before all of this and now, you don’t. You have other friends and I know that you haven’t spoken to them. If you have, you’ve done it in secret. This is not you. It never has been. Everything about you has changed, and I understand that grief can do that to you, but you can’t curl up and die, and it seems like that’s what you’re trying to do.” Her shoulders fall.

“That’s not what I want to do,” she admits, tears flowing freely from her eyes. Jesus, she can cry on a dime these days. Things are extremely hard for her, and I know it. That’s why I can’t let up. She’s gotten it down to an art to cry without sound or movement, just an unending flow of tears. I know that stifling sadness, so I just let her cry. 


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

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

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~~love and handcuffs