Raising Grey: RunTellAna!

RunTellAna!

I actually had to do a post about this because there was just no addressing it any other way. I really love when people get into conversations about what they think is going to happen and what direction the story is going in, but this is one that I had to address really quick. Now, don’t think I’m mad at anybody! This is informational purposes only. 😉

John and Christian—John is Christian’s friend. Christian had a conversation with his friend about his situation. John joked about “not starting the clock,” but John stopped being Christian’s psychiatrist two stories ago. When I have a conversation with my friends, I don’t run and tell my husband every time I have a conversation with my friends, nor am I required to, just like he doesn’t do that for me.

“But Lynn, John’s interference caused them a whole lot of problems back in Paging and Mending. Should Christian be talking to him at all? And shouldn’t he tell Ana before she finds out some other way?”

How? Who’s going to tell her? John’s in England for at least a year and Ana and John don’t talk. How is she going to find out? Also, if it was that big a problem, don’t you think it would have been an even bigger problem at their wedding? Ana doesn’t hate the man or else she never would have told Christian to call him. She would have left that to Grace.

“But Lynn, you didn’t answer the first question—interference? Problems? Ana going nuts?

Ana never told Christian to fire John. Christian came at Ana with what he interpreted John said. That’s what pissed her off (Granted, John left a lot to the interpretation). Their vastly varying methods of psychiatric practice left a hugely bitter taste in her mouth, but Christian fired John because he didn’t like how John left the conversation open for a wide interpretation, not because Ana said that he had to. If Christian had decided to continue to see John as his psychiatrist, Ana couldn’t do anything about that. That was his choice.

I’m going to answer a question that I see often. Every time Christian talks to someone that makes people think, “Hmm, should he be talking to that person?” I see, “Is he going to tell Ana? He better tell Ana! Is he going to tell her?”

The answer is, “No.”

Christian is not going to “runtellAna” every little thing that happens, because the success of their marriage is not dependent on her knowing every single solitary detail of his life. If I knew every single tiny detail of my husband’s life, who he talks to, about what, yada yada yada, I wouldn’t have enough time to live my own life! Who has that kind of mental real estate? I’d lose my marbles!

When things are important and Ana needs to know, Christian makes sure that she knows—in his own time. Anybody remember the hacker situation? She was clueless—and pissed—and what did he tell her? “You just have to trust me.” He didn’t tell her a thing until he was ready, and even then, he still didn’t tell her everything.

I’m kind of going on a tangent, but what I’m trying to say is that everything that happens in the story is not a “Secrets and Lies” plot and everything that happens to them doesn’t originate from a “Secrets and Lies” plot, because it always seems to come back to that. Some things, they need to communicate and tell each other (i.e. Liam). Everything? NO! They don’t need to tell each other everything unless something is going to be detrimental to their life, health, family, relationship, etc. “I had a two-hour conversation with my friend about his life and my life” is not detrimental unless John told him to leave his wife and we’re assuming that he didn’t do that.

My husband and I have been together for nearly 20 years. He knows what to keep to himself, as do I. Every little thing, every little conversation does not need to be discussed. Couples who have been together for years and years know that I’m right.

And please, don’t post comments that tell that universal lie:

“My husband (wife/significant other) and I have absolutely no secrets! We tell each everything!” (Yes, I’m making the “snooty face” and “snooty voice” while I type that)

Yeah… no.

No matter how hard you try to convince me of that, know in advance that I’m not going to respond—but I am going to sit here laughing at you while secretly judging you and calling you a liar, or I’m just going to assume that you don’t have enough life/relationship experience yet to know that sometimes, unless it’s detrimental, you keep your mouth shut to keep the peace. I do, however, reserve the right to post a hilariously laughing gif as a response if I feel the need to do so.

Every time some little bug gets up my butt, I don’t need to “runtellDaddy.” It’ll crawl out eventually and I usually discover that it’s not worth the effort.

My husband’s an attractive man. Every time somebody gets a little flirty with him, as long as he puts them in their place, he doesn’t have to “runtellme.” I don’t “runtellDaddy” every time somebody says something or shows interest in me. I tell them that I’m married and send them on their way.

So, just to answer the question—no, Christian ain’t gonna “runtellAna” and Ana ain’t gonna “runtellChristian” every time something happens.

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Raising Grey: Chapter 50—Unexpected Guests

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

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

Chapter 50—Unexpected Guests

ANASTASIA

Sakes alive, she looks just like me. I think she’s even younger than I am! Same haircut, blueish-greenish-gray eyes, similar build—before I had my babies, that is… what the fuck?

“Whoa,” Daddy says, under his breath. I’m sure he’s having the same thought I am. This shit is creeping me out and I really don’t know how to handle it. I don’t really care who Brian fucks, but did he have to go get my twin? She looks even more like me than I look like Shannon… and I really look like Shannon.

“I know,” I hear Maxie’s voice say from behind me. I turn around to look at her. “It’s uncanny. I started talking to her when I got here, thinking she was you.”

“And how did she take that?” I ask.

“She laughed it off and just went on about her day. I’m sure he’s told her that she looks like you and who you are.” I twist my lips.

“It takes some getting used to, that there’s someone else in the world that looks so much like me.”

“No, she looks like you used to look,” Maxie corrects.

“You said yourself that you struck up a conversation with her thinking she was me,” I protest.

“That’s because I know how you used to look and I could have mistaken her for the old you, but anybody who knows you now knows that’s not you. You’re a mother, you’ve got some wisdom and it shows. She seems nice and all, but she doesn’t have that sophistication that oozes off of you, and it’s not the money, Honey. You’ve been that way since I’ve known you. So, from a distance, she might pass for college Ana, but up close, nope. When I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around, I knew it was mistaken identity.” I laugh.

“Often imitated, never duplicated,” I murmur.

“Indeed,” Maxie says, giving me a high-five. We share a few moments of our private joke before Christian joins us again.

“So, what’s the joke?” he says. “I want to laugh, too.” I turn around to look at him and see Brian over his shoulder. He was making his way over to me but pauses and decides on a detour when he sees that Christian gets to me first.

“We were talking about possessive husbands who like to cockblock ex-wannabe-suitors midstride,” I tease.

“He’s got to get through me if he wants to get anywhere near you,” Christian says. “The last time we spoke, he said he was happy with that Ana Lookalike that he brought to your father’s house and to leave him alone. And I have, so now, he can leave you alone.” I raise my brow.

“It’s not that serious, Christian. I really don’t care.”

“I do,” he says. “I have no doubt that he wakes up and when he rolls over and looks into her face, he sees you. One day, he’s going to look at that woman and not see you, and I don’t know what he’s going to do when that happens. In the meantime…” He puts both arms possessively around my waist, “… My girl said she wanted a party. I couldn’t think of a better reason to celebrate.”

I look around the room at the wonderful “baby shower” set-up that’s going on—the only babies in attendance being mine, passed from person to person and testing the whole stranger theory. So far, so good—no fires, floods, hurricanes or baby sirens. Christian even brought our staff, who are preparing what looks like a fabulous steak lunch—exactly what Daddy wanted after the proceedings—and awesome hors d’oeuvres for before lunch.

“You did this all in a few hours?” I ask. He nods. “In the middle of a Monday afternoon, you got everybody to skip work and come here?”

“Are you kidding?” Maxie says. “We wouldn’t miss this.”

“Yeah,” Phil says joining the conversation behind his wife. “This has been such a long time coming. When Christian called, I suddenly got a stomach thing and had to leave work,” he laughs.

“Christian called?” I say, looking at my husband and back to Phil, who nods.

“He activated the contingency,” he adds.

“Without me?” Al says, also coming over and joining in the conversation.

“You were a bit detained, Mr. Forsythe-Fleming,” Christian excuses.

“I don’t want to hear it!” Al says flippantly. “God, I hate not being part of the conspiracy.”

“Steele,” Val chimes in with Elliot following her. “You got a little sister you never told me about?”

“Yeah, what’s up with Ana, Jr.?” Phil asks. “I thought I was seeing double for a minute… until I got a good look at her.” Maxie throws a knowing look at me and I wave her off.

“I certainly hope not,” I say with a shrug. It’s so damn unnerving to see so many people that look like me. Hell, my mother doesn’t even look like me—or I should say I don’t look like her. All I got was her hair… and her eyes, I think. God, I can’t even remember what color my mother’s eyes are. The siren wail of my son crying snaps me from my introspection.

“Don’t look now, but…” Phil points to Ana, Jr. and a screaming squirming Mikey in her arms, with her futilely attempting to calm him.

“Christian…” I say, my voice beseeching.

“Don’t worry, I got it,” he says. I watch as Christian makes his way over to Brian and… his girl. Mikey is feverishly reaching for his father on sight. Christian coos at Mikey, trying to calm him before rescuing him from the imposter—or maybe before rescuing the imposter from him—but Mikey can’t be calmed until he’s in Christian’s arms. Even while lying on Christian’s chest, he quietly babble-cries his protest of being handed to that woman. Good God, what the hell? It’s not that bad, Mikey.

“What is with all that performing?” I say to my son as Christian joins us, rubbing Mikey’s back and causing him to calm a bit. I see Brian out of my peripheral and, surprisingly, he’s not looking at me. He’s looking at Christian.

That’s a first.

Ana Jr., on the other hand, is looking a bit slighted.

“What is her name?” I whisper. He pauses.

“Sha…” he pauses again. “Shawna.”

“You had to think about it?” I ask, rubbing Mikey’s hair as he continues to whimper a bit.

“I don’t think about her much,” he says matter-of-factly. “Why would I let her name occupy mental real estate?” I nod. “Why did you want to know?”

“Because I keep calling her Ana, Jr., and it’s creeping me out. Her boyfriend didn’t bother introducing her to anybody. Who does that? And why are they even here? Did you invite them?” Christian shakes his head.

“My guess is that he heard about it from Ray,” Christian says. “I can understand him wanting to be here, but I have no idea why he brought her.” I raise my brow.

“She makes you uncomfortable,” I say.

 

“She makes me very uncomfortable,” he cedes.

“Why? Because she looks like me?”

“No, because of the implications of her looking like you. She looks so much like you that the Paparazzi could get a picture of her from a distance and think it’s you. So, here’s hoping that she’s as clean cut as she appears, because she could be trouble. She lives in the same state, for God’s sake.”

And suddenly, I’m wet.

“Oh, no,” I squeak. Christian looks over Mikey’s mop of hair and back at me.

“Crying baby,” I say, pointing to my leaking breasts. I hear Mandy laugh.

“I see you pointing at the food factory,” she says. “You need a shirt?”

“Yes, please, but duty calls first,” I say, pointing at my leaky jugs.

“Um, I don’t think…” Mandy does a circular gesture around her boobs, signaling that I’m probably going to be out of luck in the bra department.

“You got a sweatshirt?” I ask, and she nods. “I’ll be fine.”

We’re having this entire conversation in a room full of people. Ah, motherhood.

“I’ll take him,” I say, reaching for Mikey. Christian whines a bit at the thought of releasing him to me.

“Do you have milk in those?” I chastise, pointing at his pecks. He pouts and gently lifts Mikey off his shoulder. Mikey protests a bit but reaches out his grubby little hands when he sees that he’s being handed to me.

Then he quiets right down.

“I feel a bit slighted,” Christian complains.

“Oh, hush. He came to you first, and I have an advantage. Like I said, you don’t have milk in those things.” I stand on my tippy-toes and plant a quick kiss on his lips.

“Be right back after I feed our children,” I say.

“Okay, Butterfly.” I look around for Minnie and see that Gail has her and one of the diaper bags and she’s waiting for me.

“I’ll come with you,” Maxie says.

“Me, too,” Val chirps in, and I know they want to talk shit about Shawna. We all follow Mandy.

“I’ll have to set you up in our bedroom,” she says. “Harry’s asleep and not due to wake for another hour, but the commotion in the living room will wake him soon enough.” I nod. She has a small sitting area set up in their bedroom and I take a seat in one of the chairs while Gail settles into the other one and gets a bottle ready for Minnie. No sooner I open my shirt and Mikey is greedily pulling at my bra. He knows what’s under there.

“Settle down, you little monster,” I jest, quickly situating my nipple in his mouth. He hungrily slurps his lunch and I know that even though my boobs are full, they’ll both be empty in no time. “Geez, you’re worse than your father.”

“Too much information, Steele,” Val says. “Are you saying that he still indulges in the nipple even though you’re breastfeeding? I mean… does he drink it?” I now have the attention of every woman in the room.

“Like you said, Val, too much information,” I say, diverting the conversation from my boobs. Mandy laughs and hands me a large, clean sweatshirt.

“I’ll see you out there,” she says as she leaves the room. I turn back to Mikey who looks up at me with large, grateful gray eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I say as I sit back in the seat.

“So, how long have you known about Ana, Jr.?” Val says. I shrug.

“Her name is Shawna—please stop calling her Ana, Jr. That shit is creeping me out,” I beseech them. “I seem to remember Christian saying something about her a while back, but you know my memory sucks and I only hold on to what’s important, so unfortunately, I don’t remember anything if he did tell me about her. But damn—this is some creepy Twilight Zone shit.”

“I’ll say,” Gail mumbles, and I think we weren’t supposed to hear her.

“Mikey sure as hell knew the difference,” I say looking down at my son. “He was having none of that shit when someone put him in her arms.”

“Didn’t that guy used to have a thing for you?” Maxie asks. “I seem to remember discussion about a terrible fight between him and Christian that landed them both in the hospital. Is this the same guy?”

“Same guy,” I say with a nod, trying not to show my discomfort.

“Don’t you think it’s a little… unsettling that he found someone that looks just like you? Not unsettling because she looks like you, but the fact that he found someone that looks just like you…”

“They’re both unsettling,” I reply. “Christian’s right. If he’s trying to recreate me in her, he’s in for a rude awakening because no two people are that much alike naturally. And I’ve already been through this with one psycho. I was chosen because I looked like someone else, so if she’s chosen because she looks like me…” I trail off.

“I take it nobody’s tried to talk to her,” Val asks.

“Nobody from my camp that I know of,” I respond. “If I know Christian, he’s said something to Brian and he’s just watching from afar. Why would he bring her here? To my father’s house? We’re celebrating my adoption. I barely want him here. Why would he think to bring her?”

“For moral support?” Maxie says.

“To show you that’s he’s moved on?” Val adds.

“Has he?” I squeak. “The girl is my goddamn twin! Is it really moving on if the person that you’re with looks just like the one that you left behind… supposedly?”

“Well,” Val interjects, “look at me. El’s my type. Most of the guys that I’ve dated pretty much look like him. All hot blondes, all pretty well-to-do and none owned sport cars. Maybe I’m not the best authority on this.”

“Yeah, same features, but none of the guys you’ve dated looked exactly alike, at least not while I’ve known you.” She shrugs.

“Yeah, there is that,” she concedes. I shake my head.

“He and Ray don’t see each other much. He probably just wanted his friend to meet his girl,” Maxie says, still playing devil’s advocate.

“This is my adoption,” I say, breaking Mikey’s suction on my now empty breast. Gail rises on cue. “He had to know I would be here. What did he expect—for me to say, ‘Hey, Dad, thanks for signing the papers. Bye now?’”

Gail swaps babies with me while I’m talking and begins to pat Mikey to get him to give up a burp while Minnie latches onto my other bulging tit.

“I know Christian didn’t tell him,” I continue, “so Daddy had to. It would have been awkward enough with just him showing up, but he brought a damn doppelganger to my adoption celebration!”

“Okay, so, just so I’m clear, are you upset that he’s here, that he brought a girl, or that the girl looks like you?” Val asks, bemused.

“The fact that he’s here and that he brought a girl that looks like me,” I answer. “The last time I saw that man, he thought it was a good idea to beat my husband until he literally couldn’t see and had to have his teeth fused. Believe me when I tell you that I couldn’t care less what that man does with his dick or who he does it with, but I do want to know what he’s trying to prove by bring that girl to my adoption.”

“I’m still not sure why you’re so upset,” Val says. “I can understand being perturbed by the whole thing, but you’re really pissed.”

“That’s because you’re missing two key words here. I keep saying them, but you keep missing them. My. Adoption. If it seems like I’m taking this personally, goddammit, I am! This is my celebration with my daddy. I can begrudgingly accept him showing up because he’s Daddy’s friend. I can’t and won’t condone him bringing an Ana-lookalike-doppelganger here during this time. The moment he discovered that this was going to be a party and not an intimate setting for him to introduce Daddy to his girlfriend, he should have excused himself and set a time for them to get together. He stayed because he knew it would unnerve me and it would unnerve Christian. I can shake my head and disapprove and judge how healthy or unhealthy his choice of woman is from afar. But when you invite yourself and her to my celebration and throw her in our faces knowing how we would react—yes, I’m pissed about that!”

Everyone in the room falls silent for a moment.

“Well, when you put it like that…” Val says and trails off. Finally! She gets it! This was a calculated move on that jerk’s part and nothing she can say can convince me otherwise.

“So, what now?” Maxie asks.

“I don’t know,” I reply. “I have nothing to say to either of them. I don’t believe for one second that she walked into this blind, so she’s just as guilty as he is as far as I’m concerned. Then she has the nerve to try to hold my damn baby…” I trail off angrily. I don’t know what’s irritating me so badly about the situation. All I know is that I wish they would both just leave.

It’s time to change the subject.

“Are you getting settled into the office okay?” I ask Maxie. She raises her brow at me.

“I had never been to your office,” she says. “I had no idea how ‘pimped out’ it was!” I laugh.

“It’s not pimped out. You’re just accustomed to the offices at the family center,” I tell her.

“Well, it’s pimped out to me. We never decided on rent.” I shrug.

“I don’t know what to charge a friend. Make me an offer.” She twists her lips.

“A beautiful office near downtown and you don’t know what to charge?” she asks.

“ A wonderful friend and mentor who was my therapist for many years and several times kept me from leaping off the proverbial cliff? No, I don’t,” I reply matter-of-factly. She makes that face where you tighten your chin.

“Well, since you put it that way,” she says, “I do some research on the rents in the area.”

“Good, then cut it in half.” She twists her lips at me. “Family and friends discount,” I add.

“Fine,” she says begrudgingly.

*-*

Once Minnie and Mikey have been fed, burped, changed and put down for a nap, the girls rejoin the party as I sneak off to the laundry room to wash my blouse and bra. God, my tits feel so much better now that they’re empty! Jesus, these jugs are getting out of hand!

As I’m about to step out of the laundry room, I hear voices and peak out to see who’s there. Brian and Shawna are having a not-so-pleasant conversation in the hallway that leads from the kitchen to the laundry room.

Shit. Trapped.

“They hate me!” Shawna says, her voice low and sharp. “They all hate me. Even the baby hates me! Did you see how he screamed? Babies love me, and he screamed!”

“They don’t hate you, Sha,” Brian says. “They just don’t know you…”

“I don’t want to know any of them!” she retorts. “They’re all ‘one big happy,’ and I’m some intruder that comes in looking like their diamond child. Most of them started talking to me thinking I was her. One guy turned fifty shades of pale when he discovered that he was talking to the wrong person! Why did you bring me here?”

“Because you’re an important part of my life and I wanted you to meet Ray, who’s also an important part of my life.”

“Why did we have to come today?” she whines. “Why couldn’t we come up on the weekend or something?”

“Believe it or not, I was trying to avoid running into the family!” he defends. “Who the hell would expect the whole damn clan to be here on a goddamn Monday morning?”

I can tell that he was talking more to himself than to Shawna when he asked the question.

“It’s an adoption, Bri,” Shawna says, pointing out the obvious. “It’s a family affair.”

“Yeah, but I know Ray. I know they probably had lunch or something planned just for him and his daughter. Then he would come back here, or even go to work, and Mandy would have called him and told him that we were here. Then he would have come back and we all would have relaxed and chewed the fat. But of course, Grey…”

He trails off. Oh, no. Don’t act like it’s my husband’s fault that you brought the Counterfeit Contessa here and we didn’t welcome her with open arms.

“When can we leave?” she pouts. “Ray and Amanda are the only ones who have been nice to me. Everybody else is looking at me like an alien—when they’re not mistaking me for her. Unlike the rest of the female population of Washington, I have no desire to be Anastasia Grey!”

Well! Don’t get all hissy about it. You’re in my father’s house, and nobody’s stopping you from leaving.

“I don’t want to be rude,” Brian says, matter-of-factly. “We’ll leave right after lunch. Can you tolerate that?” I hear her sigh loudly.

“When we get home, I’m cutting my hair and dyeing it red!” Shawna declares.

“Baby, you could shave it bald. I wouldn’t care. I’d still love you,” Brian says. I roll my eyes. Oh, good grief. It would be cute… if it were anybody else.

“Stop being sweet,” she pouts. “I’m still not comfortable here at all.”

“I know, baby. I’m sorry,” and he sounds sincere. I wait for a minute or two after there’s silence in the hallway to poke my head out.

The coast is clear. Thank God!

I go into the kitchen with Ms. Solomon and the staff, doing the final preparations on the meal.

“Can I help?” I ask. The room falls silent for a moment, then Ms. Solomon engages.

“Mrs. Grey, this is your lunch… you and your father…”

“I’d be eternally grateful if you would allow me to help with something—anything, instead of going through that door right now.” She raises her eyes.

“She’s unnerving, isn’t she?” Ms. Solomon asks, and I don’t even try to deny it.

“More than you can imagine,” I say, commandeering Mandy’s apron and waiting for instructions. Ms. Solomon hands me a knife.

“There’s nothing left to do but the salad,” she says, pointing to a huge mountain of vegetables.

“Thank you,” I reply, “Leave it to me…”

By the time I’m done, I’ve created three beautiful salads in about fifteen minutes… one Greek, one Caesar, and one antipasto.

“You’ve been holding out on me!” Ms. Solomon says. “I had no idea you had this kind of skill. And that knife! The staff was afraid to come near you!” I laugh.

“Before we had a staff, I had that gourmet kitchen built for me,” I confess.

“Nothing left to do but serve,” she says. I sigh.

“I’ll take the salads out and go sit down,” I say. I take two of the large salads and one of the other servers grabs the third. When we enter the dining room, Christian immediately spots me.

“Lunch is ready,” I announce, placing the two large salads in the middle of Mandy’s formal dining table.

“That’s where you got off to,” Christian says, leading the charge into the dining room. “I didn’t even see you go in there.”

“Nobody did,” I say, keeping my eyes on the salad while arranging them on the table. “I just wanted to help out.” Christian looks knowingly at me. “I hope you don’t mind, Mandy. I borrowed your apron.”

“Not at all, whatever makes you feel happy,” she replies. The staff begins to fill the table with the hot food and sets everything up buffet style since there’s really no formal seating. Everyone begins to dig in and I, for some reason, am still organizing things on the table—removing dishes as they’re emptied and helping the staff refill platters with more food, helping with drinks…

“You really should sit. This is your celebration after all.”

I turn to see that nearly everyone has left the table and is sitting somewhere with a plate of food—everyone except me, that is, and the voice that’s telling me to sit is Brian’s.

“I will,” I say, even more feverishly cleaning and adjusting things on the table. “In the meantime, go, eat.” Shoo, for Christ’s sake. You’re making this awkward enough just being here.

“I didn’t get a chance to congratulate you,” he says, still trying to make small talk. “Ray is very happy. He was like a kid at Christmas when you suggested it.” Oh, dear Lord.

“Yeah, I’m happy, too. It should’ve happened years ago,” I reply, trying not to be rude.

“Has your mother called?” he continues. “How does she feel about it?” Just as I’m about to respond…

“Wrong woman,” Christian says, appearing behind me. Brian raises his eyes.

“You’re awfully paranoid, aren’t you, Christian?” Brian says.

“No, I’m not,” Christian replies. “You told me to stay out of your business, and I have. This…” He puts his hand on my shoulder, “… is not your business. This is mine. Yours is over there.” He points to Shawna, tucked away in a corner talking to Mandy. “I just thought you might have gotten them confused.”

“You’re still stuck on that?” Brian taunts.

“Is everything okay, guys?” Daddy asks, noting the tension between Brian and Christian even though there are no raised voices.

“Oh, yeah, everything’s fine,” Christian says. “We were just discussing the uncanny resemblance between our significant others.”

Oh, shit. There’s the fucking gauntlet. The room falls silent, and there’s that mouse pissing on cotton.

“You really want to do this now, Grey?” Brian threatens.

“I’m not doing anything, Brian,” Christian says. “We struck a deal, and you’re breaking it right now. You said stay away from you and stay out of your business and I am. The same goes for you… she’s over there,” he repeats pointing to Shawna.

You can see the fury rising in Brian’s face. Christian hasn’t really done anything wrong, but you can clearly see that Brian feels violated by the announcement.

“You did that deliberately to make my girlfriend uncomfortable,” Brian accuses.

“Are you blind?” Christian asks. “That poor girl was uncomfortable when Mikey started screaming in her arms. I simply thought you just may have mistaken my wife for her since you have absolutely no business with my wife, so I was just pointing you in the right direction.” Brian’s face is getting redder and redder by the second and his ears look like they’re just going to melt off his head. That’s when Elliot steps into the conversation.

“Look, dude,” Elliot says, “I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you and I don’t mean you any offense, but it’s the elephant in the room, man. Ask her, half of us started talking to her thinking she was Montana. She’s a beautiful girl, but she looks like Montana.”

Brian frowns at Elliot, probably because he doesn’t know who the hell Montana is, but you can tell that he’s still furious and wants his pint of flesh. So, he turns around and looks at my father.

“Do you know about his lifestyle?” Brian says aloud to my father. “Do you know what they do—what he does to your daughter?”

What the fuck?? This is the same shit that happened that day years ago at the Greys—the same fucking shit! It’s Elena Lincoln all back over again. I’m horrified.

“Yes, Brian, I do know,” my father says, stone-faced. “My daughter told me awhile back. She tells me everything.” Well, maybe not everything, but he knows about this. Brian’s eyes widen and Daddy sighs.

“You’re my friend, Brian, and I miss you terribly, but it wasn’t your place to make that announcement in front of a room full of people. Christian didn’t do anything foul. He didn’t reveal any of your secrets or expose you in any way. He made a statement of fact… she looks like my daughter.”

Brian deflates immediately, and Shawna looks completely mortified.

“You’re right,” Brian says, his voice somber. “I’m sorry.” He looks over at me and Christian. “Really, I’m sorry.”

Christian squeezes my arms and I just drop my gaze.

“I knew about your feelings for my daughter long before you told me about them, but I thought it was just a crush. The fact that you know this much about her private life tells me that it’s much more than that,” Daddy accuses.

“It was,” Brian admits. “I wanted to be sure that she was safe, that she wasn’t doing anything against her will… that she was happy… and yes, at one point, I wanted her for myself, but that’s not the case anymore.”

“Isn’t it?” Daddy accuses, gesturing to Shawna, who shrinks a bit. I can see her in my mind’s eye making an appointment with a hairdresser before they even leave Seattle. She’ll be a ginger in no time.

“No, Ray, it’s not, I swear,” Brian says. “I’ll admit that I was initially drawn to Shawna because of her physical appearance, but that’s because she’s my type. And she already knows that she reminded me of Ana when I first met her—I was completely open and honest with her about that. But these two women are only physically similar. They couldn’t be more different. I love Shawna because of the woman that she is, not because of how much like Ana she looks. Believe me, Ray, had I known that it was going to be a big family party, I would have planned my visit differently—showed up later maybe…”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Daddy says, and Brian freezes. “I want to catch up with you. I want to get to know Shawna better, but now isn’t the time. Whatever the current situation is between you and my daughter and her husband, you all don’t mix well together. It’s bad news when you’re all in the same room. Why don’t you go back to your hotel and we can all meet for dinner—just like old times, just… with our ladies, okay?” Brian smiles.

“That’s sounds great,” he says to my father. They shake hands and hug. Shawna has abandoned her conversation and her lunch and joined Brian. When Daddy and Brian release, Daddy leans down and kisses Shawna chastely on the cheek while holding her forearms, causing her to sink a bit in relief, and Brian turns to me and Christian, his lips forming a thin line.

I feel like Christian now. I just want him to leave us alone, forever. If you’re happy with Shawna, be happy with Shawna, and just leave us alone.

Instead, he makes his way over to us. Christian immediately grasps my arms with both hands.

“I really am sorry,” Brian says to me as he approaches us. I turn my head. Jesus, I don’t even know what to say to this man. “Really, man, I am,” he adds.

“We heard you,” Christian says, his voice crisp. Brian lingers for a few moments more before walking back over to Shawna and Daddy. They exchange words that I can’t hear. Then he kisses Mandy on the cheek, exchanging words with her as well before taking Shawna’s hand and leading her to the door. I turn around and face Christian.

“He’s going to retaliate,” I say, dismally.

“I don’t think so,” he replies. “He knows that if he hurts me, he’ll hurt you, Ray, our children… He’s a selfish bastard, but I really don’t think he wants to do that.” I sigh and lay my head on his chest as he wraps his arms around me.

“I hope you’re right,” I respond.

Time stands still for a moment or two, or five, or ninety, as I contemplate what could be in store for my family at the hands of a slighted Brian Cholometes. I watch in somewhat suspended animation as Christian makes his way over to Daddy and they have a conversation, no doubt about what just transpired. I wrap my arms around my body, using my hands to try to warm myself from the chill that has come over me. I don’t even see Maxie when she comes over to me.

“Jesus, Ana, what was that all about?” I turn an uncertain gaze to her. I don’t know what to tell her, but I know what I’m not telling her. Her brown furrows.

“What was Brian talking about?” she asks, her voice serious. “What did he mean by what he does to your daughter?

And there’s the Maxine that showed up at my house with the court order to have me committed when I was catatonic. Oh, hell no—no time for weakness now. I pull myself up to my full height, ready to face off with my friend if I must.

“I’m. Not. Talking about it,” I say, my voice controlled. “It’s my personal business, and the fact that he blurted it out without my permission doesn’t mean that I have to disclose it to anybody.” Maxie examines me for a moment.

“Duly noted,” she says coolly. “Can I please just ask you one question?”

“I can’t guarantee I’m going to answer it,” I reply.

“You’re not being hurt or abused, are you?” she asks. “You’re not doing anything against your will?”

“That’s two questions, and I’ll answer them both. Absolutely not. Father of my children, husband, money, good looks—none of that matters. I would never stay in a position like that. I work at a battered women’s shelter, for God’s sake!” Maxie nods quickly.

“I know. I know. I know Christian wouldn’t hurt you like that. He loves you too much. It’s just… you’re my friend and I get kind of blind to logic when… you know what I mean.” My defense mechanism releases and my guard drops back to normal. I touch her arm.

“Yes, Maxie, I know what you mean,” I reply, softly.

“Besides,” she adds, “your Marine dad would have killed him by now. If it’s okay with Ray, I guess it should be okay with me.”

And just like that, the mood lightens.

I try to enjoy the rest of the celebration, playing silly games with my father and family, eating the good food prepared by my staff. Grace excuses herself and goes back to Helping Hands right after lunch and the rest of the party starts to dwindle as the afternoon moves on. I wanted to see what kind of progress there was on my office but decide against it.

When it’s time to go, Gail and Keri go to gather the twins and I get a little bit of playtime with my little brother who finally decided to join us. When he grows weary of his big sister, I go to retrieve my bra and shirt from the laundry. Once I’ve changed and dropped Mandy’s sweatshirt into the hamper, I swipe the screen on my phone. I know his number is the same, so I text him.

**We won’t bother you. We’ll leave you alone, I promise. Please, leave us alone. **

I press my phone to my chest, sending up a silent prayer that nothing befalls me and my family because Brian feels slighted. I never wanted him. I never even led him on. I feel that I shouldn’t have come to him when I needed help. I never should have let him in or given him any opportunity to be a part of my life at all. While I’m lost in my lamenting, I get a text that puts my fears to rest.

**Okay. Be happy. **


CHRISTIAN

Hearing that Cholometes intends to leave my family alone last night was music to my fucking ears. I don’t have to be in the guy’s business; he’s not that important to me. My only concern is that he doesn’t sneak in when I’m not looking and launch an attack on my wife. Because he doesn’t matter, I’ll stay out of his business. Because I don’t trust him, I’m still keeping an eye on him.

My wife was remiss to tell me that she had texted him after the “Seeing Double Scandal” at her father’s house, and I could see why. There are just too many ways that situation could have played out, especially after that semi-threatening email he sent to her after his last visit. That fell dead in the water, thank God, but I still can’t help but feel like there was an ulterior motive for him bringing that Ana Twin to Ray’s house.

So, I’m keeping an eye on him.

The time difference in England made it impossible to know what time was good to call John. So, I decided to forego my morning run to get in touch with him.

“I loved it there. Now, not so much. It’s not like my son is Typhoid Mary. They know what this is… America just didn’t know what it was at first, and now, they do.”

“I understand how you feel, John, but leaving the country completely? Is that smart? What about your citizenship and that of your family?”

“It’s a bit of a mess with the visas unless we want to relinquish our U.S. citizenship. I’m sure that Rhian doesn’t want that. I could honestly go either way. England is my home, so I don’t have the same trouble with immigration that they do, and I was never naturalized, so I didn’t give up my English citizenship.” I frown.

“You’ve been here all this time on a visa?” I ask.

“They wanted me to denounce my English citizenship. I wouldn’t do it,” he replies.

“So, what you’re saying is that your family would live indefinitely on visas there in England like you did here.”

“It depends on what we decide to do, but yes. As long as Rhian can prove that she won’t be a financial burden, they can all stay here indefinitely as long as we renew their visas. And to be honest, the school system here is looking better than the US. The children get more physical activity during the day. They look forward to going to school… I’m just quite disenchanted with the States at the moment, Christian. I’ve decided that we’re going to stay here right now for at least a year. I hate to leave Grace and my patients in such a bad position, but as you know, family comes first.”

“You don’t have to explain that to me, John,” I assure him. “You’ve just given me and my family a reason to visit England.” He chuckles.

“How’s married life treating you?” he probes. “You’re not my patient anymore, so I’m no longer privy to these little intimate details.” I sigh.

“It’s an experience,” I admit. “Some days, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world. Other days, I sit back and wonder what the hell I’ve gotten myself into. And the twins…!” I trail off.

“Oh, yes! Marriage and fatherhood all in the same year! I forgot about that,” he declares.

“I certainly didn’t!” I exclaim. “I watched my wife scold my daughter for the first time this weekend and it was fucking torture! She literally threatened my life if I interfered!”

“She threatened your life?” John laughs shamelessly. “Tell me that’s a joke!”

“It’s not!” I confirm. “I tried to comfort my child and she told me to leave her alone or she would kill me!” John laughs loudly and freely into the phone. “I’m so glad you’re enjoying this.”

“In my professional opinion,” he chuckles, “you and Ana sound like you’re right on track with this marriage/parenthood thing.” I sigh.

“I don’t know,” I admit. “We’ve had some pretty big bumps as of late.” John’s laughter fades.

“Anything you wish to discuss?” John asks. “Not as your shrink—as your friend who happens to be a shrink.” I sigh again. How would Butterfly feel about this? The truth is that I need all the help I can get, and he is my friend. Differing viewpoints may actually help, and if I can’t get a handle on my role in Butterfly’s mood changes and developments, I’m going to consult Ace for some additional guidance.

“You don’t mind?” I ask, cautiously. I did fire the man after all.

“Like I said, we’re friends. I won’t even start the clock on you…”

I talk to John for two full hours, spilling my guts about every little thing that’s bothering me, every little kink in the armor that is our marriage—my massive fuck-ups; the whole broken trust issue between me and Butterfly; my wife’s bipolar-type reactions to bad situations… one moment she’s all Zen and the next moment it’s the apocalypse. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m coming or going. We switch roles at the drop of a dime where she has to hold everything together and I’m falling apart—like Detroit—or I have to be the pillar and she’s falling off into the pit of oblivion—like Sunday and the viewing session.

Luckily for me, John wore the friend hat more than he wore the shrink hat, although he did wear the shrink hat. I needed them both. Jason fills one of those roles while Dr. Baker fills the other, but I really needed them both to help me get back on track with what I need to do to constructively and effectively deal with the varying situations involving my wife and myself. It’s ironic that I called to check on John trying to help him and he ended up helping me.

I send my beautiful wife and our adorable children off to Helping Hands while I head into the office to catch up on whatever I may have missed on this super-long weekend. Capito is trying to discredit me among businesses in Madrid, so I assume that the government or someone higher up may be getting a cut of his human trafficking operation since nothing has been done about it yet. Maybe a different approach is needed…

“What has come from the Capito situation?” I ask Alex. “He’s spreading false propaganda about me abroad and I need it nipped. I have some business deals in the works in Madrid and I don’t need him pissing on them if it can be avoided.”

“It can be avoided. Let me make some calls and see what progress there is. These things take time, unfortunately, but I’m sure there are some fires I can light,” Alex responds.

“Good, the sooner, the better.” I end the call and proceed through the massive amount of emails that have accumulated over the last few days. It’s amazing to me that one person can accumulate hundreds of emails per day. Even with my sorting function, I still have to try to review each email to see if there’s something that went to junk mail that shouldn’t have.

“Sir…” Andrea’s disembodied voice from the intercom interrupts my review just after noon.

“Yes?’

“I have Terry Smalls on line three. He’s in charge of organizing the items in your grandfather’s storage facility in Detroit. He insists on speaking to you now. He says it’s urgent.” Oh, fuck. What’s in the goddamn storage facility?

“Thanks, Andrea.” I pick up the call on three. “Grey.”

“Mr. Grey, this is Terry Smalls, sir. I’m managing the team that’s organizing the contents of your grandfather’s storage unit.”

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

“I just want to apprise you of a couple of developments, the first of which is that each box has a label that indicates its contents can be identified by a log on file in the management office. None of us are authorized to access any records in the management office, so I was wondering if you could make a call and tell them that I can take a look at that log. It would cut our work time loading, unloading, and at the warehouse more than in half and it will also alert us ahead of time if there’s anything particularly fragile in any of the boxes.” I nod.

“Excellent news. I’ll have my uncle call the storage facility as soon as possible. We may be spared from opening many of those boxes before we ship them back to Seattle.” Some of them may not have to be shipped at all if Uncle Herman decides to allow Uncle Stan to keep some of it, which I know that he will.

“You said a couple of developments. Are there more?”

“One more, sir. As we started to remove the higher levels of boxes, we realized that they’re stacked to the ceiling, but they’re only three layers deep. The storage facility isn’t full of boxes.”

“Well, that’s good news,” I say. “It wasn’t as full as we thought it was.”

“No, it’s full, it’s just not full of boxes.” I frown.

“What do you mean?” I press.

“Well, after the boxes, there’s some furniture—real antique valuable stuff… and a car.” Huh?

“You mean, model cars, right?” He must be talking about the model set that Pops was giving to Dad.

“Um, no sir, I mean a car—an automobile, a classic Mustang from what I can see.”

“What?” I exclaim. “What kind of condition is it in?”

“Well, it’s under a tarp, but if the tires and the part of the bumper that I can see is any indication, it’s been restored.” Fuck me.

“A classic Mustang. Fuck…” I hear someone call Terry’s name in the background.

“I’m on the phone with the boss!” he shouts back to whomever is calling him.

“Then you might want to tell him to hold on and come look at this. We might have some more news for him.” Shit, what the hell now?

I hear rustling and jingling, like the clatter of keys.

“You’re shitting me,” I hear Smalls say.

“Smalls?” I call out, but he doesn’t answer. I hear wind and movement, like he’s walking. “Smalls?” Still no answer. Guess I’ll just have to wait. A few moments later, he comes back on the line.

“We may have another… Oh, hell.”

“Um, that’s not a good sound, Smalls,” I warn.

“Sir, if your Uncle has the authority to speak to the management here, please tell him to find out exactly how many storage bins your grandfather has. We found at least two more.” Oh, dear God.

“Two… are they full?” I ask. I listen as I hear the sound of a rolling door opening.

“More antique furniture, sir, really high-end stuff from what I can tell… and yes, this one is full. We have to figure out where the third one is, but it would help if we had authority to speak in detail to management.” I sigh.

“I’m on it. Tell your guys to take a break or something and let me call my uncle. Give me your direct number.” I end the call with Smalls and immediately call Uncle Herman.

“Christian, hey. How’s the move going?” he answers.

“That’s why I’m calling you, Uncle,” I begin. “It appears that there’s more than one storage bin down there…”

“I knew it!” he interrupts. “I knew it! Unless he got rid of a whole lot, I knew all of Dad’s stuff couldn’t fit in that one storage bin.”

“Well, there are two more that we know of, and my people have only found one… and Uncle Herman, there’s a car in the first one.” Silence.

“A car?!” he exclaims. “You mean like a real life, living, breathing automobile?” Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but…

“According to my staff, we were looking at a few rows of stacked boxes hiding a restored classic Mustang.”

“Shit… he did it. I didn’t think he would do it, but he did,” Uncle Herman says.

“Who did what?” I ask.

“My dad wanted a classic Mustang,” he says. “I knew he had been looking at one that was in the process of being restored years ago, but I didn’t know that he bought it.” I nod as if he could see me.

“Well, he bought it, and it’s in that storage facility. My people found a second—lots of antique furniture—and mentioned that there’s a third. I don’t know how they located keys, I didn’t get that far. My guy also says that there’s some kind of itemized list filed with management, but that he doesn’t have access to it, so he needs you to call them and see if he can get a copy of it.”

“Well, they already have my authority on file down there. I faxed them my documents yesterday. I’ll give them a call. What’s your guy’s name?”

“Terry Smalls.” Once I give him Terry’s number, I call Terry back.

“Terry Smalls here,” he answers.

“Smalls, my uncle is calling the management office now, so you may want to go on over there. I’ve given him your number as well in case he needs to talk to you. His name is Herman Grey. Keep me abreast of any further developments.” And speaking of developments…

“Sir…” Andrea’s voice interrupts me again.

“Smalls, I have to go. Keep me informed.”

“Yes, sir.” We end the call. “Yes, Andrea?”

“Sir, I have Antamonides Capito on the line. He’s quite perturbed and he’s being very insistent and belligerent.” That was fast.

“Is he now?” I say, showing little interest. “What line is he on?”

“Line one, sir.” She sounds exasperated.

“Thank you. Leave him there.”

“Sir?” Now, she’s bemused.

“Leave him there. See how long he holds. Let me know when he disconnects and if he calls back, put him on hold the moment you hear his voice.” There’s a pause.

“Yes, sir.”

I’ll talk to him… when I’m ready. This immediate call at nearly 11pm Madrid time means that Alex has hit a soft spot hard proving once again just how valuable he is. So, I’m going to let the asshole squirm for a bit. I hope he was fucking when he got the call.

I take my time reviewing two more acquisitions that we have on the table. I even have a meeting with Ros and Lorenz about our other Spanish deals while the fucker calls me five more times this afternoon. Ros questions what’s going on.

“Capito is trying to spread venom on my name with other companies in Madrid. I can’t just come out and say that he’s into illegal activities without endless repercussion… possible slander suits, dangerous consequences for myself and others—including quickly eliminating inventory, if you know what I mean…” Ros shivers.

“So, what has him calling like a desperate housewife searching for a wayward husband?” Lorenz asks.

“Our head of security has amazing connections,” I inform him. “Sometimes, you have to pluck a few cock feathers to show him that he’s still nothing more than a chicken.” Lorenz stifles a laugh and Ros just shakes her head.

And Capito calls again.

*-*

Ch 50 Capito

Antamonides Capito

“It’s the end of my day and I’m leaving my office to join my family. What do you want?”

Around five thirty when I’m ready to go home, I finally take Capito’s call, nearly four hours—and nine attempts—after his first call.

“You Americans think you are so smart, so invincible—your so-called power means nothing to Madrid!” he hisses into the line.

“Then why are you calling me?” I taunt. “It appears that we have nothing to discuss.”

“You know people in high places,” he replies. “I know people in high places, too.”

“And apparently, some of those people have been talking to you, haven’t they, Capito?”

“Do not push me, Mr. Grey. You do not know how far my reach is.”

“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong,” I correct him, having gotten updated intelligence from Alex earlier this afternoon. I’ve got this fucker by the balls and he doesn’t even know it, but he’s about to.

“I know about your extracurricular activities, Mr. Capito, and I now know who your associates are. I know why you didn’t want to release and why you didn’t want me to visit Albien Textiles, and now you know why I chose not to do business with you. I tried to walk away quietly, but you threw down the gauntlet. My wealth is my reputation, and I refuse to let some small-time, wannabe thug dabbling in illegal activities of which he has no full comprehension start badmouthing me in the Madrid market because I wouldn’t play in his little sandbox!”

Capito is silent. I can almost hear the shock and awe on his face through the phone.

“I may not know who all you’re dancing with, Capito, but trust me—I’m familiar with your most prevalent bedfellows. And I know that a few extra dollars means nothing to them in comparison to the risk of exposure. Am I right?” More silence.

“Name your price,” he says flatly. Foolish little Spanish man…

“I don’t have a price, Capito, only a demand. Stay. The Fuck. Out of my affairs. And keep my name out of your mouth or you will find out just how powerful this American really is.”

“Sí, señor,” he says, after a pause.

“And in case you get any ideas, if anything befalls me or my family, I’m holding you personally responsible. I’ve already got documents and contingency plans in place in the event of my disappearance or sudden demise. If they’re implemented, there’s nowhere in the world that you would be able to hide from the authorities or your associates, including your panic cave in the Congo.” I hear him gasp.

“How did…?” He catches himself before he finishes his question. “Sí, señor.”

“You and I have no business, Capito. Walk away. Don’t speak of me again and don’t contact me again, unless you’re declaring war. And believe me, I’m prepared for it.” I end the call before he’s able to give me another “Sí, señor.”

I’m exhausted. Smalls informed me that they’re cataloguing all the antique furniture and he’ll contact me tomorrow with a detailed list to find out what we want to do with it. I’ll ask Butterfly if she wants anything, but I doubt it. I’m sure Uncle Herman will want to split it between the family members that want it—except Freeman. I close my laptop and rub my eyes. I don’t want to go to bed early tonight, but it may be in the cards for me. I’m beat.

Jason meets me in the lobby and as we’re heading to the parking garage, an official-looking gentleman standing by a black Mercedes parked in front of my building catches my attention. My brow furrows and I get Jason’s attention.

“What’s this?” I say gesturing to the front door. Jason looks, then speaks into his earpiece.

“Vic, J.R., come with me,” he says, and two of the security staff behind the desk rise. The three of them walk out the front door and Jason approaches the guard standing near the car. He doesn’t appear to be engaging Jason at all… which means that Jason isn’t who he’s looking for.

He’s looking for someone else… at this hour, probably me.

“Oh, dear God,” I say, stepping behind the wall near the information desk. I press a code into the wall and duck into a door there. Having practiced this many times, I’ve got this routine down to less than a minute. I remove my coat and jacket and quickly don a bullet-proof vest with a built-in holster. Since my Glock is in the locked glovebox, I retrieve one of the M9 Berettas from the security arsenal and quickly load a magazine in it. After putting it in the holster, I put my coat back on and walk out the front door.

“Sir!” Jason says in surprise when he hears the doors open. The guard at the car moves towards the door and every person on my staff reaches inside their coats. I stand still waiting to see who’s in the car. I’m stunned nearly to silence by who steps out the back seat.

“Mr. Grey,” he says, gesturing to the door. “Join me.” You have got to be fucking kidding me! Will this goddamn day never fucking end?

“Oh, hell, no!” I declare. “Shoot me now!”


A/N: Now, the question is… who the hell did Christian see?

I’m aware that the person that I chose to represent Capito is not Spanish, but that’s my choice—because I hated that guy in John Wick 2.

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

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 in the menu our you can click 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

 

 

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 49—Finding Anastasia

My twelfth wedding anniversary was this past weekend, so posting was kind of the furthest thing from my mind.

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

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

Chapter 49—Finding Anastasia

CHRISTIAN

My wife is walking to the theater room like a man walking to the gallows. I know that it’s going to take some time for her to overcome this whole impending doom thing, and she’s doing a great job of grabbing the bull by the horns with her meditation, yoga, dancing, and whatever else she’s doing to take control of it. But when that insecurity rears its ugly head, it’s really ugly… not in the sense that it’s unattractive, but in the sense that it makes my larger-than-life Butterfly appear weak, helpless, and powerless, and I don’t like that at all.

Gail and Ms. Solomon arrange refreshments while Maria attempts to explain what we’re going to see. She’s even gone so far as to have a program that outlines the order of the interview and what we can expect. She’s gone all out with full disclosure, even insuring that we’ll be left with a copy of what we see today, which is what the network plans to air—notwithstanding any changes that we request after the viewing.

Butterfly sits quietly in one of the luxury reclining theater seats, sipping a glass of cabernet sauvignon and daintily munching on popcorn, finger sandwiches, and crudité. She’s paying attention to everything that Maria is saying; she’s just not responding.

“So, things aren’t necessarily in chronological order,” Maria explains. “If you remember, the footage at the gun range was one of the last things we recorded, but it won’t be the very last thing in the segment, although it’s pretty close to chronological. I feel that I’ve put the segment together in a manner that represents both of you and presents you in the light that you wanted to be presented. In spite of what has occurred up to this point, I hope I haven’t let you down.”

Butterfly acknowledges her with an almost indistinct nod and turns her attention to the large screen. I can feel it emanating from her skin.

Shut up and let’s get on with it already.

The lights go down and the segment starts.

“By the way…” Oh, for Christ’s sake, lady, will you shut up before my wife bites your head off? “… We were approved for two hours.”

We both rubberneck over to her.

“We were?” I ask. “But I thought you said nobody got two hours… not even Obama or Bono.” She shrugs.

“The station manager loved the material. He couldn’t decide what to keep and what to cut, so… we got two hours.”

I’m impressed. Butterfly, not so much. I can’t imagine what’s going through her head right now.

The introduction starts with the gates opening at Grey Crossing, like some episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and I already don’t like it, but the interview quickly recovers by moving almost instantly away from the mansion to an upward pan of Grey House followed by a shot of my wife strolling through the halls like the boss that she is.

GEH looks magnificent on film. The headquarters has never gotten much airtime. Press conferences or news releases were always carefully planned and released on our terms, leaving most of the whole of the company out of the proverbial limelight—except for the numbers part of it all. People have often wondered why, with all my success, I haven’t gone public. This is why. I have total control of my company. Why would I hand that control over to someone else for money that I don’t need?

My beautiful wife looks just like a female mogul, roaming the halls, offices, and departments of our company. I’ve never seen her as majestic as she looks with the power of the House behind her. No wonder women are so jealous of her—and men are intimidated by her.

I’m extremely impressed with how the one-on-one interview with me and Maria turned out. It’s just what I was hoping for—the ruthless, but shrew businessman coupled with the papa-bear that would stop at nothing to protect his family.

I watch my wife’s expressions through various parts of the interview, especially when she describes who she was before me, how she changed when we got together, me being her ultimate protector. I feel pretty shitty having dropped the ball on that duty, leaving her in the uncertainty that she feels now.

I’m quite pleased with where they placed that asshole’s footage of my wife breastfeeding our children. She’s talking about the mothering instinct that’s not so natural to some women and how her main priority is and was to protect our children inside and outside the womb. You would have thought the filming was intentional just for this moment, instead of some grip boy pervert trying to get a shot of a nip-slip.

We both look pretty bad ass on the shooting range, and we all got a little chuckle out of Maria’s obvious inexperience with a firearm…

We all, that is, except Butterfly.

Her face is stone throughout most of the segment. Even portions that brought small chuckles and reactions from Mac. She’s watching this entire thing with a highly critical eye, and she’s not even enjoying it.

When the segment is over, I feel a collective sigh release in the theater room. I don’t hear it, but I feel it.

“I secured releases from everyone who was filmed when we were last here except from your nanny… Keri, I think is her name. Forgive me if I got that wrong,” Maria informs us.

“No, you got it right,” I say. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”

“So, what did you think?” Maria asks nervously. I turn to my wife; whose face still looks like marble.

“Butterfly?” I urge.

“The segment was good,” she says, her face stoic. “Concise, honest, thought-provoking. The placement of that idiot’s footage was quite timely. I was afraid of how that would be incorporated into the segment, but I’m satisfied. Nothing was overdone, which is something that I was afraid of. I would have liked to see more of the children, but I guess there’s only so much you can fit into a two-hour segment, and that was a lot of material. Overall, I’m satisfied with the ultimate outcome.”

Timely… concise… satisfied. My wife is choosing her words carefully, not at all saying that she liked or disliked anything in the interview apart from the fact that Minnie and Mikey didn’t get more screen time. This point doesn’t get by Maria, and her uncertainty is transparent.

“Is there anything that you didn’t like, Ana?” she asks. “Anything you want to remove or change? I can get some more footage of the children added if you want. I just didn’t want to overdo it…”

“No, it’s fine,” my wife interrupts. “The overall focus was Christian and me and that’s how it should be. Too much information about the children could be dangerous.” Maria nods in resignation.

“What about you, Christian?” she says, slightly crestfallen but trying not to show it, and for once, I have to be the diplomat in the situation. I’m not sure that I can do it, but here goes.

“I liked it,” I begin. “I think it portrays just what we wanted—Christian and Anastasia Grey as a whole and not just the crap that the press or the gossip rags want to show. It had that ‘here’s what it is, take it or leave it’ vibe, and I like that. I was afraid that it was going to be some plastered-over, painted and spit-shined depiction of us and I wouldn’t have liked that at all. When the segment started with the gates opening, I was worried, but you recovered very quickly…”

“I did that intentionally,” Maria interjects. “I know that people are expecting some ‘Robin Leach, Ana descending the stairs in a diamond-encrusted robe’ presentation. So, I had a little fun and let them think that’s what they’re getting.”

Of course, they did get some of that, but it was appropriately placed and not overused, so, I can’t complain.

“I had a feeling,” I say. “I’m just glad that wasn’t the entire focus of the interview. Yes, we have a beautiful home and yes, we have money, but the hope was to focus on the people and not necessarily the situation. I think you did that well. I particularly loved the parenting segment and where you put the forbidden footage.” Maria sighs.

“I was hoping that you would be happy with that… both of you,” she says. We look over at Butterfly who simply takes another sip of her Cabernet. Maria deflates a little. “When you gave me permission to use it, I had no idea where to put it at first. My questions were, ‘where do you insert a woman breastfeeding?’ Then I thought about it being the original natural process, second only to sex, and realized that it could have fit just about anywhere that we were talking about the woman that Ana is, but best fit when we were discussing motherhood.”

“Well good for you. It looks good,” I encourage. “I’ll have to admit that I see quite a bit of me but more of Ana.”

“That’s also intentional,” Maria says. “The camera loves Ana and the press and the public gobble up every little tidbit of her that they can get. It’s been that way ever since she’s been in the limelight. That’s not to say that the camera doesn’t love you, too, but public Christian Grey is a new flavor. The viewing audience has a delicate palate. If you dump it on them all at once, they quickly lose the taste for it. Even in what appears to be a relaxed setting, you’re a force of dominance…”

Quite the appropriate description.

“You can’t push that in somebody’s face too much. It comes off like an arrogant pissing dog. So, instead, I gave you that one power segment, then introduced a segment of Ana before bringing you both together again. From there, you were still very present, but she did most of the talking. Finally, you came in as the anchor. So, I started and ended with you, but Ana was the cream filling, so to speak. As a result, hopefully, a little more Ana and a little less Christian actually gives the segment just the right amount of balance.”

Mac is nodding introspectively, and I can see that she agrees with what Maria is saying.

“Well, I agree with my wife; it’s very precise, and I feel that it’s a good representation of us—a bit of a bite at some moments as well as the softer, human side of the Greys. I’m quite satisfied.” I look over at Butterfly who finally succumbs to compliment.

“Yes, Maria, it’s a good presentation. I like it,” she says. Maria’s face finally lifts a bit and she signals for the film operator—whoever is up there with Jason—to play the promos. If this is what Mrs. Miller saw, it truly wasn’t much. There are two separate promos and in either of them, you only see a fraction of the house—pieces of the grand entry, dining room, family room, and backyard. I guess that was enough for her to call Elliot… or call Gia who called Elliot. Anyway, the promos weren’t revealing at all—some pictures of Grey House and the two of us showing Maria around, no pictures of our children at all, and that was it. I can still understand why my wife wasn’t happy that the footage was shown before we consented, though. It could have been much worse.

Maria indicates that she has to get back to New York for shooting of portions of her show that will be this week and that she will call ahead to approve the immediate airing of the promos we approved. This was the warning that if we watch television, we’ll most likely see some of our promos as soon as today as the program will air in primetime a week from tomorrow. Butterfly rises from her chair, shakes Maria’s hand and thanks her for coming and for her good work before sitting back in her seat and drinking her Cabernet. I walk a bit with Maria and Mac to the theater room door.

“Don’t take it personally,” I tell Maria in a low voice. “My wife has recently been through something and it’s taking a bit of a toll on her. Hearing about the promos before we had approved the segment didn’t help.”

“Again, I am so sorry about that,” Maria grovels. “I have no excuse for it, but I hope it didn’t completely ruin the experience.”

“If she could find her words right now, she would tell you how much she liked it. I know that because I liked it and I’m very hard to please.” I finally get the wide smile from Maria that she’s been holding back.

“Thank you, Christian. I appreciate that. The last thing I want is for the two of you to be disappointed.”

“Come on, Maria. We’ll find Keri and get that last release signed for you,” Mac says. I gesture to Chuck sitting in the back of the theater and when he meets us in the middle of the aisle, I explain that the ladies need to find Keri and that Mac will most likely want to come back here when all is said and done.

“You’re feeling better?” I ask my wife when I take my seat next to her.

“A little,” she says. “The sky didn’t fall.” I know that’s a reference to her constant feeling of impending doom as well as the theory of Chicken Little that nothing’s really wrong, but she still expected the end of the world. I simply put my arm around her and sigh.

“When I found out that I was pregnant,” she begins, “I was afraid that I was carrying two little lives inside of me—two little blessings from God—that I would nurture inside of my body and bring into this realm just so that the world could gobble them up and destroy them. As time went on, I managed to fight those demons back even though it was hard, and things were still happening to prove my point rather than dispel it. Now, they’re here—they’ve made it into the world and they’re okay. And as time goes on, I see more and more that I was right the first time.

“People are untrustworthy and as a result, horrible things happen to other people. Even when you think you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do, somehow you slip up and do something wrong—you make the wrong decision, or you don’t take an action you should have or you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time and because of it, hell falls down on you like burning hot lava and sears your very soul.

“You go to one of your favorite places in the world to calm down and think things through and just as you’re leaving, your psycho ex-boyfriend shoots you full of drugs that should only be available to doctors and handcuffs you to a bed for four days.

“You take a left turn instead of a right which takes you a different route than you normally take, and a neurotically delusional ex-submissive T-bones your car most likely gunning for the Dom whom she felt scorned her… or maybe she was gunning for me, who knows?

“And instead of running to my husband and telling him about a situation that I erroneously thought I had under control or simply avoiding the situation altogether, he walks in and sees a man that I don’t want at all about to kiss me, and he leaves me for three weeks with no word—put an ocean, a few seas, and a continent between us.”

Shit… that hurt.

“And this,” she says, gesturing to the screen. “Grip boy records me without my permission hoping to see some tits, and then we hear through word of mouth that the promos were released before we approved them. I couldn’t even enjoy the premier because I sat here the entire time waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Jesus, I don’t know what to say. I want to come up with something that will make this all better, but I can’t. I see a single tear fall down her cheek, quickly followed by another.

“Butterfly…”

“You were my safe place,” she says, her voice squeaking. “Everything was okay in your arms, under your protection, and suddenly…” She trails off. What’s more alarming is that she’s speaking in past tense. I am your safe place, Butterfly.

“You’re only human,” she continues, her tears dictating her voice. “You’re not perfect, immortal, or impervious to pain or mistakes, but somehow… somehow…” Her voice trails off again. She raises her eyes to the ceiling and sighs heavily before quickly wiping her face with both her whole hands to remove as many tears as possible.

“It’s an uphill battle,” she says, “fighting the Boogeyman and trying not to let fear overtake me and become a complete recluse, but I’m fighting it. I see things more differently than I’ve ever seen them before in my life, and I just have to incorporate this new knowledge into my life without crumbling to the hand of doom. That’s the hard part. Wisdom is a terrible burden to bear.”

That sounds horrible. She’s slipping into the doom again. This is exactly what we don’t want. She’s moving backwards, away from progress.

“Baby, what can I do?” I ask, feeling completely rudderless. She shakes her head.

“I’ll be alright,” she says in that flat voice that I hate. It’s that quiet acceptance of hell. “I just… need a few moments to regroup. I’ll do some yoga and meditate.” She stands from the seat and heads to the door.

“Do you want me to come and meditate with you?” I ask. We haven’t meditated together in a couple of days. It might help. She turns sad eyes to me.

“Sometimes, you have to face your demons alone,” she replies. She looks at me for a moment, then walks out of the theater room.

Jesus, I feel like a stone has been tied around my neck and I just have to carry it around until she comes out of this. If that’s how I feel, I can only imagine what she’s feeling.

“I just saw Ana.” Mac’s voice startles the shit out of me. “She’s not doing very well.” I shake my head.

“My impromptu trip to Madrid did more damage that I ever thought possible,” I say, scrubbing my hands over my face. “I’ll be honest, even looking back on my anger, had I ever thought it would cause this much injury, I would have made a different decision.” Mac frowns.

“I thought you went to Madrid on a hunch,” she says, “that you got a bad feeling about something and had to go immediately. There’s more?”

“Yes, there’s more, but I’m not going to tell you about it because it’s irrelevant and won’t do any good. I will tell you that you’re right, though. I did get a bad feeling about something and I did go on a hunch—and I was right, which is why I pulled out of the deal. But I didn’t need to go as suddenly as I went, and that’s all I’ll say about that.”

I straighten in my seat, raising to my full height and changing the subject, indicating to Mac that this topic of conversation is closed.

“What about what Stanton said?” I ask. “Did I give enough to prove that she missed a golden opportunity?”

“Oh, dear God, do you have to ask?” Mac replies. “You gave just enough of the interview that she was looking for not to bore the audience, plus you gave crisp and valuable insight into your personal life that wasn’t syrupy sweet, overly ostentatious, or Desperate Housewives. She’s going to be sick when she sees this.”

“How do you know she’ll watch it?” I ask.

“It’s primetime Monday night Sweeps Week—of course, she’s going to watch it. She’s hoping to see it flop, so she’s going to watch it the entire way through, looking for exactly what she’s expecting to see, and trust me. You guys nailed it. Maria asked the tough questions and you two came back without flinching. You got the point across that you wanted to relay as well as giving a good, solid 10-15 minutes as to exactly why you are the brilliant entrepreneur, businessman, mastermind, savant, and guru that she claimed you were. Those statistics that you threw out there in a moment’s notice—28 industries, 419 subindustries, 165 countries… that shit was brilliant. Raynell fucked up and when she sees this interview, she’s going to know it. You got the grit that she was looking for plus the fantastic human-interest piece that you wanted… Stories like this—and on Sweeps Week—are the stuff that Barbara Walters is made of. She’s going to shit herself when this airs. She pissed on the golden ticket and she’s going to know it!”

Well, I take some small amount of comfort in that. Mac and I talk for a few minutes longer about the publicity that will be generated over the next week and how to handle it, including a “no comment” press release until after the segment airs. Jason and Chuck return to the theater room after showing Maria and her reel operator to the door.

“I have the copies of the interview and the promos, sir,” Jason says, handing me a very fancy looking silver flash drive. “It really was a good segment.” I nod, hardly pacified from my angst about my wife.

“Well, I’ll be going now,” Mac says, rising from her seat. “Thanks for the great grub and… call me if you guys need me.”

“Thanks, Mac,” I say without raising my head.

“I’ll show you out,” Chuck says as he escorts Mac from the theater room. I run my fingers through my hair and drop my head. There’s that stone around my neck again.

“Do you want to be left alone?” I forgot that Jason was still here. Now, he’s standing in front of me.

“I don’t know what to do,” I admit. “It’s like she’s bipolar. Just about anything could set her off. She was my rock in Detroit, Jason,” I say, turning my gaze to him as he takes a seat next to me. “She never complained about that cold room. She was right there when I needed her. She held me together when I thought I was going to fall apart. She was everything I needed and then some. She was supportive, passionate, even playful… but the moment the slightest bit of adversity comes her way, she loses her footing. True, she did everything throughout this viewing to hold it together, so she didn’t fall apart completely, but she was so withdrawn and detached… so aloof. If was hard to watch. It was a good segment…”

“Very good, boss,” Jason says. “She depicted you guys extremely well. She even turned a bad situation into a good one.” I nod.

“Exactly, but my wife was sitting there waiting for some horrible thing to come across the screen and never absorbed how great we looked—as a couple and a family… as a team. It was just what I wanted, and she still looks like the world is ending.” I drop my head into my hands.

“God, why didn’t I see this before?” I say, still holding my head while I’m shaking it. “My wife is and always has been mostly emotion and I… I, who can’t identify what I’m feeling half the time without help from my shrink or from her or from you… had to go all mega-Dom on her and disappear for three weeks without telling her where I was. This damage may be irreparable.” Jason sighs.

“Well, you got one thing right,” he says. “You did go mega-Dom on her.” I raise my eyes to him. “I may not be in the lifestyle, boss, but I had to learn something about it working for you, and that trip to Madrid wasn’t about you at all. It was about her. Somewhere during the course of that trip, you may have gotten all caught up in your feelings and decided that you felt betrayed or hurt or used or whatever feeling you want to put in there. But the entire time that you were downing shots at the bar, vomiting on the plane, wearing a toga during the descent, and running around Madrid in sweatpants, you were pissed. You convinced yourself that she was a villain and she deserved to be punished—and that’s what you did. You went mega-Dom and gave her the biggest punishment that you’ve ever given her. Emotional warfare is far more damaging than physical, and you punished her so badly that she punished herself.

“I’m not saying that she’s blameless in this. I know that’s not true and so does she. I’m just saying that this could have definitely been handled in a better way and now, she’s paying for it. What you did was the equivalent of ‘two wrongs don’t make a right;’ they only result in an even bigger wrong and in this case, it’s astronomical. She’s suffering a form of PTSD…”

“Oh, she’s not going to like the sound of that,” I protest. “She won’t even talk to Dr. Baker without coaxing because she said the same thing.”

“Well, she may not have been suffering it at that time, but this time, she is. She emotionally or physically separates herself from any situation that may cause her discomfort; then she sits in the corner and waits for Armageddon. That’s the same as a combat soldier who can’t tolerate fireworks, who’s set off by a ceiling fan thinking it’s a chopper blade; who wakes up in the middle of the night screaming and fighting ghosts who aren’t there; a victim of a serious accident who’s afraid to drive a car; a victim of sexual abuse who doesn’t trust the opposite sex. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. She can deny it all she wants, but that’s what she’s suffering.

“Is it irreparable? I don’t know. I’ve seen some victims of PTSD that never come out of it. I’ve seen some that just learn to live with it—that can function and control their triggers. Her behavior in Detroit gives me the idea that she has hope. It just depends on how deep her despair is and if she can control those feelings of doom. She’s going to have to find out exactly what triggers it and control those triggers. That’s the hard part, but you have to be patient and give her time… and space, when she needs it.” Did he hear her tell me that there was nothing I could do for her right now?

“Are you a part-time shrink, too?” I try to jest.

“No,” Jason says, “I’m a combat veteran. I suffer a bit of the old post-trauma myself. I just… know how to handle it.”  I gaze at him.

“I never knew that,” I reply soberly.

“I don’t publicize it,” he retorts. “If Her Highness denies that she’s suffering from the effects of post-traumatic stress, she’s never going to be able to find an effective treatment plan. She knows that.”

“Well, Jason, I can’t tell her. When I tell you that it was disastrous the last time we approached that topic with Dr. Baker, I’m saying that the silent passive-aggressive blows in that room could have caused physical carnage in a different setting.” He sighs.

“I’ll try to find a decent time to talk to her about it, but it won’t be today. She’s already triggered, so she can’t hear me right now.” I twist my lips.

“You did some shrinking somewhere, Jason. Admit it.”

“Nope,” he denies, shaking his head. “Any intelligent person will learn everything they can about their illness, particularly mental illnesses. They can be deadlier than any physical illness around. I educated myself on triggers, coping techniques, symptoms, medications, things like that. I’m not a shrink, Christian. I’m just informed.”

“Quite,” I cede. “I’ll let you decide when the best time is to broach this topic with Her Highness. In the meantime, I need your help with another situation.”


ANASTASIA

I’ve lost it. I’ve completely lost hold on everything that I’ve been working on—all my Zen, all my chi, all my fucking self-control… right out the goddamn window.

Get it together, Grey. Get it the fuck together.

For the first time in my life, the Bitch sounds like me. I shudder and try to compose myself. I can’t lose it. I have to maintain control and balance.

I’m walking around the house aimlessly, not sure where I’m headed or what I’m trying to do. The meditation room won’t do it right now. I need more than meditation to shake this feeling. I need meditation on steroids!

Nothing happened. Nothing even happened. It was just the fact that Maria Sanchez seemed a bit careless with our footage and suddenly, the sky is falling again. I can’t function like this. I can’t constantly walk around being afraid to think or move or breathe.

Nothing actually went wrong. It just took the hint of something possibly not being quite right for me to slip into the anticipation of Armageddon.

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Who is this wimpy bitch before me and what has she done with the fearless Anastasia Steele?

Anastasia Steele… why did I go all the way back to her?

I know why… because I’m trying to find that independence that I once had, that ability to call my own shots and tell it like it is without pulling punches or holding back. That same woman who told David the he would never have a chance and subsequently pulled a gun on him in the parking lot. Yeah, he kidnapped me, but when I was free, I kicked his motherfucking ass with the last bit of strength I had left.

That’s the girl I’m looking for—the same girl that faced off with the Pedophile and won every time, even after she stole my gun. Yeah, she shot Jason with it, but I beat her within an inch of her life after that.

And then there’s the girl who really let Grey have it—showed him just how displeased I was with his staring and his fucking, “Google me.” Yeah, I’d love for her to make an appearance.

How did I become so weak? How did I become so dependent that I couldn’t define myself without him? Made him everything in my life so that once he was gone, I was rudderless and had no identity?

It’s my fault. I made him “perfect.” I made him the answer to all my questions, prayers, and problems. I made him invincible and incapable of disappointment, so that when it happened, I nearly crumbled.

It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.

Michel’s words come back to me…

“You two are going to be together for 100 years and sometime during that hundred years, you’re going to have a big breakup. It won’t be the end of the world. It’ll just feel like it. Don’t let it destroy you.” 

God, I hope this was the big breakup. I don’t think I can survive anything bigger than this.

All my wandering finds me in the spa room. I don’t know how I got here, but yes, this is the perfect place for me at the moment. I turn the lights on and the room looks like a haven, a nice, quiet haven. I immediately start the water running in the sunken spa. I sit on the bench in front of the wall aquarium, which easily holds twenty to thirty fish… or more. The only thing my mind can conjure right now is… who’s responsible for feeding these fish? I immediately think of that aquarium I bought with Edward… and how I couldn’t wait to get rid of that fucker once he was gone.

That of course leads me to my visit to the aquarium where he and his ex-security flunky kidnapped me.

“You’re a dirty fucking bastard, Edward,” I say aloud. “You were a wretched excuse for a human being. I’m glad you’re dead and I hope you burn in hell.”

The honesty of those statements is incredibly liberating. Fuck political correctness. For much of the time that I knew that man, he made my life a living hell even through the moments where I foolishly loved him. Now, when I find myself in my darkest moments, he comes back to taunt me—make me feel like I’m nothing or worse yet, make me feel afraid of the future. How the hell do you give a dead man that kind of power over you?

I stand from the bench and move to the shelf of bath salts. Sandalwood—yes. Evocative and soothing at the same time.

“Fuck you, Edward David,” I say as I sprinkle bath salts into the slightly steaming water, “and your little dog, too.”

That fucking keystone cop… No, not a keystone cop. I won’t insult keystone cops by comparing them to him. He was even more worthless than Edward—pissed off because he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do his job and then blames his termination on me. And manhandling me while I was cuffed and helpless—that was really fucking macho. Your plans for success were based on Edward needing to get me alone and when that didn’t pan out for you, you raid my credit cards. Brilliant, fucking brilliant.

And you have the nerve to haunt me, too.

“Fuck you, too, you miserable asshole,” I say aloud. “I hope Satan is fucking you in the ass with a red, hot dick every night.”

Jesus! That sounds horrible.

But I don’t care. It serves him right.

I swirl my hands around in the hot, aromatic water. It’s perfect. I strip, dropping my clothes on the floor next to the spa and descend the stairs into the hot water. It feels heavenly. As I settle into the water, I practice a meditation technique I saw in one of my studies.

I wiggle my toes, stretching them wide and feeling the tension release in each knuckle as the hot water caresses them. Once my toes feel loose and light, I stretch my feet like I’m doing one of my interpretive dances. I feel the release all the way to my ankles. I close my eyes and stretch further, flexing my calf muscles—first the right and then the left. It’s like tiny fingers working the stress out of my muscles, releasing all the tension and darkness into the water and washing it away from me.

Next, I flex my feet hard, causing my thigh and hamstring muscles to stretch. I imagine all the fear and anxiety rising to the top and dissipating in the continuous bubbles, floating off in the air to somehow return to the depths of hell from whence they came. My body is beginning to feel physically lighter. I tighten and flex my glutes, feeling the release all the way in my lower back.

I control my breathing the entire time, bringing good, healthy air in and releasing the bad, burdened air that had previously invaded my lungs. Fuck this silent reservation. If the Boogeyman wants me, come at me! I got something for you, and I’m not going out without a fight.

I roll my abs, flexing and tightening, imagining more of the darkness sliding out of my soul and off my body, imagining the fear releasing its death grip on my heart and mind, clearly seeing a shiny newness that leaves no room for doubt, anguish, painful uncertainty.

The pop of each vertebra is a celebration of the releasing of the weight of doom and when the final vertebra pops and I end the dance with a long roll of my shoulders, I feel the final monkey jump off my back. I stretch my arms and wiggle my fingers, basking in the feeling of being able to roll my neck around and from side to side without the hinderance of, “What the hell is coming at me now” following me or lurking on my left or my right, making me afraid to turn my head and look around me, to walk confidently into my future whatever it may hold.

The bubbles massage my sensitive breasts and I reach up to my nipples to protect them from the flow of the jets. Good God, they’re taut! I cover them, allowing them to still feel the heat of the water without the constant pressure and stimulation of the jets. Jesus, I can’t remember the last time they felt like this—dark pink and hard like little pebbles. I’m so fascinated by how they look that I start to massage them. No wonder Christian likes them so much… they’re beautiful.

Before I know it, the stimulation sends jolts of pleasure right down to my core. I’m suddenly very aroused by my own nipple play and the water is caressing me into comfort and seduction like you wouldn’t believe. I want to find Christian, but this caress… this massive release of trouble and anguish… the embrace of the warm, aromatic water…

Do you need him to come, too?

My hand slides from my breast and locates that sensitive bundle of nerves between my legs and I stroke… again… and again… and again. I pinch my nipple to remind myself of the sensation the brought me to this point.

“Ah,” I purr as pleasure shoots back and forth between the two manipulated points. I stroke myself harder, deeper, spreading my legs wider, the warm water adding to the sensation of my building orgasm.

“Ah… ah…” I croon, pinching my nipple and stroking my clit, over and over until…

I bite my lip and groan through my climax, feeling the final weight of uncertainty fall from my body. I take more deep, cleansing breaths as my body trembles through aftershocks and slowly melts into the comfort of satiation.

Why did I do that? I don’t regret it, but I can’t remember the last time I touched myself just for the sake of touching myself. At my condo? After Christian’s first kiss… or sometime around there. I touched myself after I had the babies, then Christian interrupted me and made me feel like shit without saying a word. True, he made me come so hard that night that I could barely say my name, but the way he looked at me… I remember never wanting to touch myself again.

So, I didn’t.

But this is my body. Yes, it’s his, too, but it’s mine first. Why do I need an excuse to make myself feel good? Why should I be ashamed? It’s not like I’m letting someone else touch me—I’m doing it myself. Jesus, have I completely lost all definition of Anastasia in the definition of AnaChris?

No matter. I’m on my way to finding myself again, to finding that tiger that he fell in love with and that I admired so much. She’s not gone, she’s just suppressed, and she needs to come back. I can still be Christian’s wife without totally losing myself and who I was in the process. No wonder I’m a fucking basket case. Yes, bad things are going to happen. They happen all the time. They’ve happened to me since I was a child… but I didn’t die. Shit, somebody tried to kill me—killed the baby that I was carrying—and I still didn’t die.

I still carry my guns in my purse and in my glovebox, and I walk around afraid that someone from Green Valley is going to sneak up behind me again. Please, walk up on me… please! I will take great joy in filling their asses full of lead.

David did some horrible shit to me and to other women, and he ultimately paid with his life. Why the hell am I still holding onto that one?

And Christian, my lover and my tormentor. One day—heaven forbid—he may just decide that I’m not enough for him anymore. Am I going to roll over and die if that happens? At the rate I’m going now, yes, I will. I’m going to curl up and shrivel away into nothingness without him.

No, I don’t want to lose him. Yes, I’ll be crushed if he leaves me. But right here, right now in this space and time, who am I? Who is Anastasia besides being Mrs. Christian Grey?

The question floats around in my head as I allow the comfort of afterglow, release, and liberation to soothe me as the warm water continues to caress my body.

*-*

“Baby wake up.”

Christian’s voice is cutting through my solace. Maybe cutting is the wrong word, but I was visioning… dreaming maybe… about clouds and flying and dancing, flowers and soft spring dresses… and twirling…

“Hmm?” I say groggily. He pushes the wet hair from my face.

“How long have you been in here?” he asks, his voice concerned. I shrug. I’m still in the spa… with the warm water.

“Uhuhuh,” I make the I don’t know sound while shrugging my shoulders, because I really don’t know how long I’ve been in the water, but long enough for the heat and massage to coax milk from my breast. Sure enough, when I sit up, they’re empty and light…

Just like the rest of me.

“Are you okay?” he asks, reaching his hand out to me to help me out of the spa. I take his hand and drag myself from the comfort of the warm bath. My body is a little heavier now, but it’s no doubt from the loss of that weightless feeling from the water, and from the fact that I’m totally pruney, which means…

“I’m fine, just a little waterlogged apparently.” I step out of the spa and walk over to the closet. Retrieving one of the terrycloth robes, I wrap myself in its warmth.

“You seem to be feeling a little better,” Christian says, handing me a towel. I take it and begin to dry my hair.

“I’m working on it,” I say, wrapping the towel around my head turban-style. “I’m working through some things. I guess we’ll see how it goes.”

“Is there anything I can do?” Oh, Christian. I love you so much, but therein lies the problem. Ace has been right all along. I have to start over from the beginning… finding me. And now that I have an idea what I’m looking for, the journey doesn’t seem so scary anymore… but it’s my journey. And no, he can’t be there every step of the way because he can’t take this journey for me. What’s more is that I need to know who I am outside of him. I need to exist in my own space and my own skin… and learn to coexist with him as well, not just exist because of him or for him.

None of this gloom and doom would have befallen me had I not fallen completely apart when he went to Madrid. Yes, it was tragic, and it was going to be painful no matter how balanced or together I was, but it wasn’t the end of the world and I fell completely apart. Just like we have to find our way back to us together, I have to find my way back to me on my own.

“Just be supportive and love me. That’s all I ask.” That’s all I really can ask.

“Now, why does that sound like a massive blow-off to me?” he laments.

“Well, because when the person you’re talking to doesn’t have a cut-and-dried answer for you, they can only give you what they know, and that’s what I know. I need you to love me and be supportive. Can you do that?”

“You know I can,” he says, closing the space between us and pulling me into his arms. “You know I do.”

“I feel like having a party,” I say later that evening as I lie on my back on the sofa in the family room. Minnie is lying on my chest, breathing evenly in her slumber and occasionally suckling her binky while I play in her copper curls. Christian’s brow furrows.

“What kind of party?” he asks while rubbing Mikey’s back and attempting to gently coax him to sleep. “Food and Libations?”

“I don’t know,” I say, because I really don’t know. “I’m just in the mood for a party.” I know it’s a ridiculous thing to blurt out of nowhere. In fact, I don’t even know where that came from.

“I… guess we’ll have to see what we can do, then,” he says, squeezing my foot and smiling.

*-*

“Rosie…”

I don’t know where I am. It’s gray, not necessarily gloomy, but maybe a bit maudlin… and I hear his voice.

“Rosie…”

I focus a bit and out of the rolling gray midst comes Edward… young and beautiful, like he was when I first met him. His expression is sad—nothing like the young, confident man with the GQ model looks that I met back in college. My heart leaps and a myriad of emotions run through me, some good and some bad. They all flow into the three second funnel and produce a single thought, as always. I pull myself up to my full height, square my shoulders and ask…

“Why are you here now? What do you want?”

As if it could, his face falls even more and he appears to get shorter—shorter than me, even.

“I’m sorry, Rosie,” he says, without making eye-contact with me. “I’m so sorry for the horrible way that I treated you…”

Why the hell is he coming to me now? Is it because I thought of him today? That has to be it. I fold my arms and twist my lips.

“You’re dead. There’s nothing you can do about it now. And I know that I’m dreaming, so why don’t you go back to wherever the hell you came from.” He sighs, and his clothes become more and more tattered by the second. Is that evil bastard that confronted me while Christian was gone about to present himself to me? Well, I’m ready for you, asshole. Bring it on!

“Hell is right,” he says, sadly. “I know it’s not you, but I see you every day. You torment me every day. You and Camilla and…” He trails off. “Mostly you. I don’t know why it’s mostly you. I didn’t do to you what I did to the others.

“It was worse,” I reply. I’m not minimizing the fact that he brutally beat those women, but I get the feeling that they got the beatings because they didn’t stay around for the emotional and mental warfare that he put me through for years. And even after we broke up, there was more warfare when he kidnapped me.

“You tormented me, mentally and emotionally, but Harris took care of the beating for you.”

Edward winces, the shirt and pants he was wearing now disintegrating from his body leaving something that looks somewhat like a tattered loincloth… more like a diaper.

“I don’t expect you to forgive me…”

“Ha!” I scoff. “Forgiveness! That’s a laugh! You’re a monster, Edward. I’m glad your dead. I once said I don’t know how I ever loved you, but I do. You tricked me. You tricked me just like you tried to trick me a minute ago, walking in here all beautiful and seemingly untarnished. You did your song and dance and you sold me this performance and this lie, and when the monster came out, it was too late. I was already in love—helpless and fooled into believing that this horrible creature had taken over my man and praying that one day, he would go away and bring my ‘Eddie’ back to me. But that was never going to happen, because my ‘Eddie’ was the façade and the monster was the real you all along. You did a bait and switch on me, only the version of you that you were offering was nothing like the version of you that you originally presented—nowhere near it. You sold me swampland and passed it off as resort property, and I didn’t know it until I was sinking and dying. No, I don’t forgive you. I’m glad you’re dead and you’re obviously rotting in hell, so I know that karma really does exist. Now, go back to eternal damnation and never darken my mind again. I bind you or I cast you out or whatever it is that I have to do or say to let you know that you are not welcome! Do not come back!”

Edward’s face becomes pale… no, not pale, blue… death blue. His skin sags on his bones and the sadness he emits is nearly unbearable. That sheet is around his neck again, the one he foolishly thought would end his suffering, and darkness begins to swallow him. I hear a horrible rumbling, like a growl, but I can’t make out any words.

“Yes, Master,” Edward’s voice says, now gravelly, like he’s drowning, and the darkness envelops him. Moments later, a vision appears like a movie floating inside the black clouds. It’s a room—like the Red Room, but morbid and dark, very uninviting. Edward appears before me, on his knees, not facing me, Thank God. His hands are bound behind him and his cuffs look like hot lava circulating around his wrists. His head is down and his ‘Master’ is nothing more that a darker-than-black midst in front of him. The horrible, rumbling, growling sound comes from the midst and it chills my very soul.

“Yes, Master,” Edward’s voice says again, and I see a long, narrow flame whip out and across his back. He cries out in pain as another flame reaches out and lifts his chin. He’s weeping like a child as he looks up at the past-midnight black midst, and I look around the room that he’s in…

What looks like a spanking bench is in the corner, but there are spikes all over the portion where you’re supposed to sit…

Another device looks like a helmet inside of a vice, no doubt meant to crush your skull…

Yet another gruesome looking device consists of two large chunks of wood with large spikes on the inside and an apparatus made to squeeze them together. I shudder to think what’s supposed to go in between them…

The more I examine the room, the more horrible torture devices I see.

Some kind of rolling device with a long handle fashioned with nails or barbs or something—it looks like a homemade gardening tool. There’s even a medieval rack and an iron maiden. This is a fucking torture chamber!

Another lick of fire down his back causes Edward to scream and brings my attention back to him. The rumbling grumble that comes from the horrible mist this time is clearly a laugh, and Edward crumbles to the ground in tormented tears.

Torture chamber… Red Room… licks of fire, like a whip… could it be?

Edward is Satan’s submissive!

As the meaning of this ghostly vision dawns on me, a horrible dog with snarling, bloody fangs comes from the black mist and starts viciously biting the bound and helpless Edward. Just as I’m about to turn away from the grisly display, the dog turns to me…

And I see Harris’s face.

He growls at me, then falls to the ground, gnawing angrily at his own paws, mangling them and yowling in pain the entire time. Jesus, what was I watching before I fell asleep? What kind of craziness is this?

“Forgive me, Rosie! Please, forgive me!”

And somehow, I get the feeling that my forgiveness is directly linked to the level of torment this asshole is suffering. I don’t know how, but I think I’m right. The very thought of it rips a cackling laughter from my chest.

The sound of my laughter is still echoing in my ears when I open my eyes. Apparently, the sound wasn’t enough to wake my husband. Thank God for that—I don’t even want to begin to try to explain that dream to him. I roll over and snuggle under the covers.

“I forgive you, Edward,” I say softly with a chuckle. “You can’t do anything else to me anymore, so I really don’t care what happens to you, but I’m not holding onto this shit anymore. Now, stay the fuck out of my dreams or I’ll come in there and get you myself, and Satan’s red-hot dick will be the least of your worries.”

Within moments, I’m asleep again, dreaming about clouds and music and flying…

*-*

“I have to say that this is a pretty remarkable case. I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never had one.”

Judge Purdy looks over our petition as she reviews our case. Al is as calm as ever, as am I, but Daddy looks like he’s about to burst.

“You seem nervous, Mr. Steele,” the judge says. Daddy shrugs.

“Maybe… just a bit. I’m… excited I guess. I’ve been waiting for this for a while. It’s just… way past time we did this, that’s all.” Daddy’s words tumble out completely unrehearsed, like he’s going through the supermarket and picking the words off the shelf as he sees them. I reach over and squeeze his hand, trying to calm him.

“Better late than never, right?” the judge says with a smile and Daddy calms right down. “Tell me, because it’s not part of the petition. Why did you wait so long? It won’t affect the decision. I’m just curious.” I look at Daddy and he nods, ceding to me to answer the judge’s question.

“My mother,” I say without hesitation. “It was a rocky and unstable relationship, to say the very least. My mother legally changed my name to Steele very shortly after I was born, but never gave my Daddy parental rights. Once she decided that she didn’t want to be married to him anymore, she went about the business of ripping away from him the daughter that she gave him and had built a relationship with him for over ten years. The decade that followed was torturous—for both of us. We kept in touch as we could, saw each other whenever we could, kept our relationship going the best we could. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I was able to come to him and fully rebuild our relationship. Even though we have the love and don’t really need the piece of paper to define our relationship, different things that have happened to me over the past few years have led to the conclusion that Daddy and I do need legal documentation to solidify our relationship to the rest of the world. It’s not about what people think; it’s just what’s necessary.” The judge nods.

“Very astute explanation, Mrs. Grey,” she says. You’ve answered my question and any follow-up I was thinking of. So, if no one objects, let’s get on with it.”

“In the Superior Court of the State of Washington and in the County of King; in the matter of the adoption of Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey by the petitioner, Raymond Steele, this cause coming on to be heard and being heard before myself, the Court, and from all the evidence presented in this proceeding, makes the following findings of fact and law:

“That all necessary parties are properly before the court and that notice of the adoption petition has been served on any person entitled to receive notice of this proceeding.

“That the adoptee is eighteen years of age or older and proper consent to the adoption has been given by her in writing and has been filed with this proceeding.

“That any other necessary consent has been obtained and any other necessary documents or judicial orders have been obtained and filed with the Court.

“That the adoptee was born in the State of Washington on the 18th day of October 1986.

“That this adoption is entered into freely and without duress or undue influence for the purpose of creating the relation of parent and child between the petitioner and the adoptee, and that the petitioner and the adoptee understand the consequences of the adoption.

“That the Decree of Adoption establishes the relationship of parent and child between the petitioner and the person being adopted. From the date of the signing of the Decree, the adoptee is entitled to inherit real and personal property by, through, and from the adoptive parent in accordance with the statutes on interstate succession and has the same legal status, including all legal rights and obligations of any kind whatsoever, as a child born the legitimate child of the adoptive parent.

“Please note that this Decree for Adoption does not terminate the parental rights of any living biological parents or sever the relationship of parent and child between the individual and the individual’s biological mother as you have requested not to do so.

“Now therefore, upon the foregoing finding as a matter of law, it is hereby ordered, adjudged and decreed: that from the date of entry of this Decree, the adult is declared adopted for life by the petitioner and that said adult will continue to be known by the name of Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey in accordance with the provisions of the General Statutes.”

I think Daddy and I both hold our breath until she gets to the bottom of that document. She’s still reading, and I don’t hear a thing except “adopted for life.”

Daddy is officially my daddy!

“Congratulations to you both,” the judge adds. Daddy beams with immeasurable pride when Judge Purdy hands him the final adoption order.

“Thank you,” he exclaims. “Thank you, Your Honor. Thank you so much.” Daddy gathers me in his arms and I can feel him shaking. He’s not an emotional man, so I know he’s a bit overwhelmed right now. I squeeze him hard and sink into his chest, that strong man who has always been there for me—when circumstances allowed. No matter what came between us, my daddy never turned his back on me. We may have been kept apart by circumstances beyond our control, but he never deserted me. He came to get me after I was attacked and was prepared to finish raising me on his own until that woman and her walking moonshine still came and got me and ripped us apart again.

“I love you, Daddy,” I whisper, my voice cracking.

“I love you, too, Sunflower,” Daddy says, his voice thick with unshed tears.

“Okay, happy smiles, happy smiles. It’s picture time,” Judge Purdy says. It’s customary for new families to take a picture with the judge, so Daddy and I buck up and put on our best smiles for the camera. Al snaps a few pictures with his phone and with the judge’s phone as she wanted one for her wall. When he’s done, he’s thumbing through his phone and frowning again. I thank the judge for her services and we proceed to leave the courtroom.

“Is everything okay?” I ask. He twists his lips.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Check your phone, did you get a text from Christian?” I reach in my pocket and swipe my screen. Sure enough…

**Don’t be alarmed. I need you to come to your father’s house with Ray when the adoption is complete. **

And nothing else.

“Annie, I know we were supposed to do lunch, but Mandy just texted me. She’s says there’s nothing wrong, but that I need to come home,” Daddy says.

“I got a similar text, and I’m thinking Al did, too,” I respond and Al nods. “Meet at Dad’s?”

“Pretty much,” Al says, and I sigh.

“Let’s go see what’s going on.” Another catastrophe, no doubt… today of all days! I stiffen my back and prepare to face whatever it is.

I will not let this bring me down.
I will not let this bring me down.

I spend the time in the car meditating and trying to steel myself for whatever is about to happen at Daddy’s house. When Chuck turns the corner to my father’s street, I quickly realize that my fears are unfounded.

“He didn’t!” I laugh as we approach the house.

“Is that what I think it is?” Daddy exclaims while Chuck hides his chuckles and Al breaks out in shameless laughter.

“You should know,” I tease, a reference to an earlier time.

It's a girlOn my father’s lawn is the biggest pink stork announcement I’ve ever seen, even bigger than Harry’s! It has to be at least eight feet tall, wearing a pink cape with a pink Superman symbol on his chest. The sign simply says “Anastasia Rose” and it has today’s date on it.

“My husband is insane!” I declare. “When did he order that damn thing and how did he get it here so quickly?” Daddy is now laughing as we pull into the driveway behind Christian’s Audi—one of them, anyway. Mandy is in the door waving when we arrive, and I wonder just how long she’s been standing there. The porch is decorated with pink balloons and a banner that reads, “It’s a girl.”

“You guys are too much,” I say as I exit the car. I walk into Mandy’s arms and return her embrace

“I love you, dearly,” she says, “but still don’t call me ‘Mom.’” We laugh at the throwback to our first meeting.

“Maybe just once or twice,” I tease, pinching my fingers together in front of my eye. Mandy twists her lips in a half-smirk.

“Maybe… we’ll see,” she retorts. She releases me to kiss Daddy and I go to Christian’s arms.

“You’re too much,” I say to him, greeting him with a gentle kiss.

“What my girl wants, my girl gets,” he says. I furrow my brow. I didn’t want a pink stork. I like it and it’s cute, but I didn’t request it. He just smiles and ushers me into the house behind Mandy and Daddy.

“Surprise!”

The house is full. The salutation startles me so badly that I actually turn to run back out the house and I’m greeted by an equally stunned Al. He catches me in his arms—and against his chest—looking over my head at the crowd of people assembled.

The Scooby Gang, Gail and Keri with my precious babies, Grace and Carrick, Mia and Ethan, Marilyn, Elliot, a person or two from Helping Hands…

And Brian.

Brian was here with Christian? For how long? The house isn’t in a state of disarray—so I guess there was no brawling, but how did that happen?

Brian moves forward and grabs my father’s hand. They embrace for a long time, and Daddy closes his eyes. He has missed his friend. I feel a little guilty. Their relationship is strained because of me and I wish that I could change things…

And then I see her.


A/N: Don’t ask me where the hell “Satan’s Playroom” came from. I don’t know what kind of dark place I was in when I came up with that one. I even researched torture devices! I think somebody pissed me off that day…

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

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 in the menu our you can click HERE.

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 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 48—’Round and ‘Round… and ‘Round

THE MUSE HAS GONE CRAZY!!!!

So, unless the layout and the flow of the story as I see it changes somehow, you can expect for “Raising” to be longer than the typical 80 chapters. I may find a place where I can break the story and start a new book, but if it’s flowing well and there’s nowhere for a cohesive time break, I’ll just keep it going.

HOWEVER…

Golden is currently on hold because Lynn is overwhelmed. I still know where I want it to go, and it’s definitely going to be a shorter story than the Butterfly Saga, but if I can’t give my best, I’m not giving anything at all, and the nuances of the story aren’t flowing as well as I would like with all that I have on my plate. So, Golden fans, I apologize for not updating as much as I should, but I can only do so much at once.

My darling Falala, you are the only one who has indicated that they’ve had that problem with having to re-follow the blog. I hope that’s not a trend and I hope you haven’t had further problems. Anybody else having any issues? I got two emails that said, “falalax is now following your blog.” I was like, “Huh? I thought she was already following my blog. Gotta love the world wide web…

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

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

Chapter 48—’Round and ‘Round

ANASTASIA

I take a quick shower and change into something more suitable for travel. When I exit the bathroom, I’m headed towards the living room area when I hear Christian’s voice.

“Hi, little man. Daddy loves you. Take care of the house until I get back, okay?”

I back away from the doorway so as not to interrupt his cooing time with the Prince of Grey Crossing.

“I miss you, Mikey. I miss you so much and I love you. Take care of your sister for me…”

I can imagine that seeing his father and brothers in such turmoil is causing his emotions to flip like crazy. I hear silence for a moment, then I hear,

“Hey Lelliot… yeah, it’s done. It was brutal, man… Listen, you know when I’m giving you shit, I’m just giving you shit, right? I don’t mean anything by it… Yeah, it’s just…” He sighs. “This place, man—this place fucks with me, and watching Freeman and Dad… Just know that I love you, man. I’ll always be there for you even when you act like a fucking jerk, but don’t act like a fucking jerk, okay?… Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s the whole married thing, I guess.”

I’d love to know what Elliot said that elicited that response.

“I’m ready to get out of here. Nothing is jogging any memories with me, but this place seems to bring out the worst in my family and I’m ready to shake it off… She didn’t go to the reading with us, which I’m glad that she didn’t. If Freeman had said anything to my wife…” He trails off. “Having her here has been a tremendous comfort for me though. She dropped everything just to be here and sit in a hotel room while the Grey brothers battled it out… Dad’s at Uncle Stanley’s with Uncle Herman. They’re going through the contents of a safe deposit box that Pops had at Chase Bank. Apparently, Uncle Herman’s name was on it, too, but he didn’t know until we went to the bank today. It was a big fucker with another big box inside, and they decided that they didn’t want to go through it in the bank in case—you know—there’s sentimental shit in there. Dad broke down in the car after the reading…”

He didn’t tell me that part.

“Well, I’m just waiting for the go-ahead from Jason that the jet is ready, and from Dad that he’s ready, and we’ll be the fuck out of here.”

I begin making noise and moving around because my entrance right when he ends the call will look very suspicious. I make sure that we haven’t left anything—toiletries in the bathroom, things in the drawers or nightstand. I wonder if Jason and Christian got everything from the first room.

“Okay, man, I’ll see you when I get back… I love you, Lelliot.” Christian ends his call when he sees me puttering around the room.

“How’s Elliot?” I ask. “Is everything okay?” I reach in my purse for pink lipstick and apply it to my lips.

“Yeah, everything’s fine,” he says, coming into the bedroom. “I just wanted to touch bases with him, you know, after our last conversation.” I put my lipstick away and raise my eyes to him.

“This has been hard for you, hasn’t it?” I ask, my brow furrowed.

“In more ways than one,” he admits, his hand pushing through his hair. “Pops is gone. He’s not coming back. Why wouldn’t the brothers pull together during this time? Bury the hatchet and kill all the ill feelings? Yeah, Uncle Stan and Dad and Uncle Herman are clinging to each other like glue, but Freeman…” He raises his head. “Freeman is a monster. On my worst days—back when I didn’t give a fuck about anything or anybody—I could never treat Elliot that way… never!” I gently touch his cheek.

“Of course, you wouldn’t,” I say softly. “Freeman is a broken man. He’s miserable inside and there’s no telling how long he’s been that way, so he makes it his business to make everyone else as miserable as he is.” Christian shakes his head.

“That sounds a lot like you’re making excuses for his behavior, baby,” he says. I twist my lips.

“No,” I reply matter-of-factly. “I’m a psychiatrist. I’m just shrinking him. All I’m saying is that hurt people hurt people, and he never got over his hurt. It just festered and festered until it made him the miserable human being that he is now.”

“Yeah, that sounds more like Freeman. Rotten ass bastard.”

Christian and I sit in the room for several more minutes. We’ve got the room reserved for two nights, just in case something happens, and we need to stay another day, even though we both—no doubt—silently hope that won’t be the case. Just after Christian gets word that the jet and pilot will be all set and on standby in the next thirty minutes he gets a call from his father. His voice is accommodating, but his facial expression shows deep displeasure.

“What is it?” I ask when he ends the call. He doesn’t respond. He just calls Jason.

“Meet us downstairs,” he says. So, we’re leaving. “There was a key to a storage facility among the things in the safe deposit box. Dad asked that we bring the truck in case there’s a lot of shit in there.”

What? It’s nearly nightfall! So… we’re not leaving.

I sigh heavily. This is not what I was hoping to hear. Not only is Maria supposed to be coming into town this weekend so that we can view the interview, but I miss my babies and I want to go home. This place is fucking with my goddamn chi!

“Come on, baby,” my husband says as he ends the call. “I don’t care what’s in that storage bin. We’ll be on that plane tonight.”

Music to my ears.

*-*

The storage facility is in a city called Oak Park, just on this side of Detroit. A code activates the large sliding gate and we drive to Burt’s storage bin.

It’s huge. We’ll be here all night.

Christian tells me to stay warm in the car, but I refuse. I want to see what’s in there, too. I get out of the car and follow my unhappy husband to the rolling door of the storage bin. Herman removes the lock and rolls the door up. We all stare at the contents in dismay.

Boxes. Lots and lots of boxes. This is going to take days to go through, not hours. Maybe even weeks. Herman sighs.

“My father’s whole life is probably in this thing,” he laments. “He probably had the monthly rents coming off a credit card or something. It’s still not closed.”

“Jesus, I forgot all about this,” Stan says. Herman and Carrick look at him. “When you guys went to Washington, Dad had the house packed up. I saw some of what was happening, but I didn’t see everything. I didn’t even stick around for most of it. I never even knew what happened to the key. When Dad died…” Stan gestures to the stuffed storage unit, “… this was the last thing on my mind. I’m sorry, guys.”

“No need for that, Stan,” Carrick says, squeezing his brother’s shoulder. “We were all a bit rudderless when Dad died. It would have come out eventually… and it did. I assume Freeman didn’t know anything about it or it would be empty by now.” Stan shrugs.

“I don’t know… I guess not. I didn’t keep it a secret from him or anything. You know how either you’re involved in the action or you’re not and if you’re not, you don’t have any information?”

Carrick and Herman nod.

“So, what do you want to do?” Stan asks. “The office is closed, so we can’t talk to anybody right now.”

“It wouldn’t matter,” Herman says. “I didn’t think to bring Dad’s death certificate with me or my executor documents. I thought we were just reading the will.” He rubs the back of his neck.

“It’s your call, Herm,” Carrick says. “Dad says you disperse the stuff as you see fit.”

“That was the safe deposit box,” Herman says.

“And the key to the storage facility was in the safe deposit box,” Carrick points out. “By extension, that means the storage facility, too.”

“We’ll support whatever you want to do, Herm,” Stan says, looking at Carrick, and Carrick nods. Herman sighs again.

“Mom’s jewelry was in the safe deposit box. Those model cars are most likely in there,” he says, pointing to the wall of boxes. Now Carrick sighs.

“What do you want to do?” he says, his voice soft, and I can tell that whatever “those model cars” are, they mean a lot to him.

“We have to go through this stuff, guys,” Herman says. “This is Dad’s stuff. We can’t just dispose of it, but I can’t do this now. I need to regroup in the worst way, and I know you guys do, too.” He looks at the boxes in front of him. “These boxes are sealed well, and I didn’t bring anything to cut them open.” He rubs his face.

“I’ll call the storage facility in the morning,” he continues, “find out what kind of arrangement my dad had with them and get them a copy of the death certificate and such,” he sighs. “But right now, I need my Luma.”

I know what that means. We’re going home.

“You go home, Herm,” Stan says, putting his hand on Herman’s shoulder. “I know exactly how you feel.”

“Yeah,” Carrick chokes, rubbing the back of his neck. “Me, too.” Christian reaches over and takes my hand in his, bringing his lips to my temple.

“Me, three,” he says against my forehead. Herman closes and locks the storage facility and we all head back to the cars. Stanley says his goodbyes and gets into his car while the rest of us get into the two rentals. Jason and Carrick have a quick conversation before we take off for the airport.

Now, I don’t know Michigan very well, but I know enough to know that we are driving back in the direction that we came from… away from the airport. My husband realizes it, too.

“Jason, where are we going?” Christian asks.

“Mr. Grey asked me to follow him. I thought he had already spoken to you,” Jason says, occasionally glancing into the rear mirror. I look over at Christian who doesn’t look pleased.

“My dad wouldn’t lead us into danger,” he says, “but next time, consult with me first.” Jason’s ears pinken.

“Yes, sir,” he says. “My apologies, sir. I, um, took the liberty of arranging for dinner options to be served on the flight, sir,” he adds. Christian nods, somewhat appeased by the gesture.

“Good man,” he says, and sits back in his seat. “I just don’t want anything to delay us getting the hell out of here,” he adds, more to himself than to anyone else.

We turn down an expressway labelled “I-696” and head west. I know we’re not headed back to Stanley’s house, because his house is further north. Christian squeezes my hand a bit as we drive down 696 for a few minutes, not comfortable at all not knowing where we’re going. After a few more minutes, we connect to another expressway called “I-275” and head south. I know that the airport is south, but we had to go through Detroit to get there. Now, I’m curious.

I gently nudge my hand from Christian’s and pull out my phone. Opening Google maps, I enter our current location—696 and 275, Michigan. It’s a spaghetti bowl of freeways, but I can make out what direction we’re headed. I’m seeing a lot of the streets on the map that I saw when we were headed to Stanley’s house, but we’re in the suburbs now where before, we clearly were not. From the scenery and my husband’s reaction, we were in Detroit.

Further satisfying my curiosity, I enter our destination—DTW.

Google maps shows me that we should be at the airport in thirty minutes. It’s a straight shot down the I-275 to the I-94 and we’re there. It also showed me the route Carrick drove before… I-94 east to the 39—Southfield Freeway—and right through Detroit.

Carrick found another way to the airport that didn’t take us through Detroit. I sigh.

“What is it?” Christian asks. I hand him my phone. He examines it carefully and his shoulders fall. The tension he was carrying moments earlier has slid off his shoulders and back and he almost looks like a totally different man.

“I’m… sorry, Jason,” he says, surprising both me and Jason.

“Sir?” he says, his eyes darting from the road to the mirror and back.

“My father…” Christian trails off. “We’re taking a detour to the airport—one that avoids Detroit.” Realization dawns on Jason’s face.

“Oh,” he says, softly. “No apology necessary, Boss. You were right, I still should have said something to you.” Christian nods and lays his head back on the seat. I take his hand and we ride in silence—and comfort—to the airport.

*-*

“After you talk to the management at the storage facility, I can arrange for the things in storage to be shipped to Seattle,” Christian says to Herman during dinner on the flight. “We can put the things in storage here and you can go through it at your leisure. I can even arrange for my shipping staff to go through the boxes and catalog everything in my warehouse if you like. It’s such a daunting task and if that storage facility is filled to the ceiling with boxes, you can be guaranteed that Pops had someone doing something like that.”

“He did,” Herman says after swallowing a mouthful of steak. “I had forgotten that right after we moved to Seattle, Dad had the house packed up. It didn’t even occur to me.” Christian frowns.

“You two stayed in that house before you moved to Seattle?” he asks. Herman nods.

“It wasn’t as bad as you think,” he says. “The house doesn’t look like much now, but Dad kept it up the best he could. Seriously, Christian, it seems like the minute we left, the house deteriorated. It was like it was holding on for Dad and when he left, it just gave up and died.”

Wow, that’s somewhat profound.

“Well, what do you say?” Christian presses. “I can have a crew in there probably as early as Tuesday. Depending on what’s in there, they can probably have that stuff cleaned up, packed up, and on its way back here by day’s end.” Herman pauses then looks at Carrick. “I would only trust staff who have seen me personally. So, I would send a crew directly from here.”  Dad nods at Herman.

“I think I may have to take you up on that, Christian,” he says. “Let me talk to Stan and see how he feels about it and I’ll let you know, okay?” Christian nods and tucks into his food. We all eat in relative silence until the meal is over, after which, the flight attendant brings us all drinks. A few minutes later, Jason is quietly reading, and Herman has reclined his seat and fallen quickly into a nap. Christian excuses himself and heads to the back of the plane. I assume he’s going to the restroom. Carrick has moved to a lone seat on the other side up the plane and is staring out the window at the black night sky. He doesn’t even notice when I take the seat across from him.

“How are you holding up?” I ask, breaking his solace. In my professional opinion, it’s not a very good idea for him to be sitting here mulling over the day’s events alone, especially since Christian said he broke down earlier.

“Isn’t it a terrible weight on your shoulders to be the ear for the entire family?” he says, his smile soft. I shrug.

“It’s what I do,” I reply, “and I’d rather do it for my family than some of the losers I’ve had to listen to over the years.”

“That’s not very professional,” he says, raising a brow at me.

“No, it’s not,” I admit, “but it’s true. I’ve had some real losers over the years.” My mind immediately goes to those attention whores at the community center who pretended to need help, but only wanted someone to whine to. “It’s why I stopped doing volunteer work at the community center. Those people didn’t need help—true, they needed therapy, but not the type that I was offering.” I shrug.

“I thought you left the community center for an entirely different reason altogether,” he confronts, and I know he’s talking about my initial battle with his son.

“That, too,” I confess, “but that wasn’t the reason. That was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.” I sigh. “So, as you can see, listening to family is not as daunting as you think.” He nods and looks out the window again.

“I feel like I’ve cremated my father again,” he says. Whoa, that serious. “I went through all these feelings and the hatred that Freeman feels for me, being back in the city where we grew up, seeing the places where my father worked—he was so proud. He was proud to be a Ford man, and he passed that down to our family, but I didn’t want to be a Ford man. I wanted to be a lawyer. More than anything, I wanted to be an attorney and throw around that word ‘Esquire.’” He laughs mirthlessly.

“Dad never gave me a hard time—not once. He paid for me to go to college. He mostly paid for law school. Then, I met Grace. She insisted on paying for the rest, telling me that she was investing in our future together. Dad had a problem with it at first, but once we were married, he understood.

“Our lives took several turns, and Dad was there the whole time. We always held each other together, all of us. Freeman wasn’t always a miserable bastard. He was always miserable and selfish, but he wasn’t always a bastard. Even he was there to help hold us together, especially when Mom died. But after that girl left him…” He shakes his head.

“Now, I’m here again. I hated going back to that place and I hated the reason I was there. If Christian hadn’t convinced me to come, I wouldn’t have. Now, I’m glad that I did, because if I hadn’t, Freeman would have gotten over again, and Herm and Stan wouldn’t have their money.”

He’s correctly assuming that Christian has told me about the life insurance. I want to keep him talking until he gets as much of this anger and pain off his shoulders as he can.

“Is it true that he can hold the money up for a long time and affect everyone’s share?” I ask. Carrick does a half-nod, half wobble of his head.

“The only thing that’s going to effect everyone’s share of the money is Dad’s final arrangements,” he says. “Once that’s dispersed, then it’s the waiting game to see how far Freeman wants to take this. But he’s not holding anybody up but himself, because my brothers got their money already… from me. Once he loses this fight, which he will, the remainder of the money after Dad’s affairs are settled will be dispersed to the sons, and Freeman will have gotten the short end of the stick.”

“How so?” I ask. “If all the sons are getting the same amount, even after Burt’s final arrangements and whatnot, that’s still going to be a hefty sum for each of you.”

“This is what that idiot doesn’t understand, and this is why I let him go ahead and do this. I’m one of my father’s four sons and all his sons got a portion of this policy. Now, if he was contesting that Herman and I were the only beneficiaries, I could get where he was coming from and halfway understand him contesting that—but we all got an equal portion of it. This was clearly Dad’s wish. Now, here he is contesting my portion knowing but not knowing that he’s actually contesting the entire policy.

“So, let’s say that he loses the contest, which I’m sure that he will. He will have spent time and money on an attorney to contest the beneficiaries of this policy. Let’s say that he only spends $200,000 in attorney, court, and probate fees and five years contesting the will…”

Only?

“He has now wasted five years of his life, done irreparable damage to the relationships that he had left with his family, and now, he gets to replace the $200,000 that he spent on a worthless fight out of his share of the money. Only, $200,000 in five years is not going to be worth what $200,000 is worth now. So, while my brothers can invest my portion of the inheritance and double their money if they choose the right investments, Freeman’s share is dwindling away to nothing… and speaking of nothing…

“If he gets his way and he wins this contest, he foolishly thinks that he’s going to walk away with a larger share and I—or Herm and I—are going to walk away with nothing. No, if he wins, he’s contesting the validity of the entire policy. He said so at the reading. He first declared that I didn’t deserve anything, then he paints a picture to Stan and tries to get the attorney to cosign that Herm and I brought Dad out to Seattle to die and got a life insurance policy in his name. I don’t know how long my father had that policy, so if he’s right and that policy popped up right about the time that Dad was about to die, it’s going to look suspect. He can’t protest me being a beneficiary because all four of us are beneficiaries, so he’s going to resort to that.

“Well, dear brother,” he says sarcastically, “if you win that fight, you’re not going to walk away with any of the money… none of us are!”

Shit, really?

“So, if he can convince a judge or whoever that you all bought the policy and waited for Burt to die, then nobody gets anything?” Carrick shakes his head.

“Not a nickel,” he confirms. “It’s fraud. The good news is that they would have to actively prove that we did that in order to press criminal charges, but I’m certain that the minute this goes before anybody with an ounce of common sense, they’re going to see right through it, and some unscrupulous attorney somewhere is going to take the case and let the fees mount up knowing that not only is this an unwinnable situation, but also that Freeman is going to get his share of that money. And when he does, he’s going to have to pay up if he hasn’t already.

“So, when I saw what he was doing, I immediately had the money transferred to my brothers’ accounts. I wanted Freeman to see what I was doing. I wanted him to see that I wasn’t going to allow him to ruin my brothers’ lives and what’s more, I don’t even need the money. One point five million dollars just flying around the room in a matter of minutes. What better way to foil your plans than with the very thing that makes your stomach turn?”

I’m making an observation that I’m not sure Carrick has made, but I can see it clearly.

“You refer to Herman and Stanley as your brothers,” I tell him, “but when you talk about Freeman, you don’t, unless you’re doing it sarcastically. You do realize that he’s still your brother, don’t you?” Carrick shakes his head sadly.

“Make no mistake, dear girl,” Carrick begins, “I know that man was born my brother, but my brother’s been gone for a really long time, and I miss him terribly. I’ve missed him ever since he left, even more so now that my father’s gone. When I cried in Seattle after our fight, it was because I knew that my brother was gone for good and he was never coming back. He came to my home and insulted my entire family—my wife, my children, you…” He trails off and shakes his head. “No, that man is truly dead to me. He was already a non-entity as far as I was concerned, but after today, after this…” He wipes away a tear. “I cremated my father again today, and I buried my brother.”

And now he’s broken again.

I sit there with Carrick for a long while as he weeps silently and mourns the loss of his family once again. When Christian finally emerges from the rear of the plane, he’s changed and freshly showered, no doubt washing the visit off him once and for all. He frowns questioning when he sees his father crying. Not willing to subject Carrick to Christian’s endless “What’s wrong” questions, I squeeze his hand to get his attention.

“Carrick, why don’t you go on into the back room and rest?” I suggest. “We’ll wake you when it’s time to land.” Carrick nods and stands from his seat. He walks to the back of the plane, nearly bumping into Christian on the way. Christian just grabs his arm to steady him, then squeezes his shoulder as he passes by.

“What’s wrong with Dad?” he asks once Carrick has left the room. “Is he okay?” I sigh heavily.

“It’s a good thing we’re leaving Detroit,” I say. “That place was taxing on all of you.”


CHRISTIAN

I spend the night buried in my wife again, so glad to be home in my own bed in my own city where I somewhat feel like myself again. I had intended on maybe getting some mile-high loving when I was finished with my shower on the plane, but Dad looked like shit and definitely needed some sleep. He didn’t wake until it was time to land.

We all seemed to have gotten back to ourselves once the jet landed at SeaTac. I didn’t expect to see the women there, but there they were. Dad wrapped himself around Mom and Uncle Herman just folded over Luma. My uncle is so in love with that woman. I don’t know why he won’t just marry her already.

I felt like I was falling asleep in the car on the way back to the Crossing. Chuck and Jason were whispering about something and I didn’t bother trying to eavesdrop. I was so relaxed being back in Seattle, back in one of my own cars, back home…

When we drove up the driveway into the Crossing, it was like someone hit me with a shot of adrenaline and all I wanted to do was fuck—not necessarily rabbit fucking or hard fucking… just fuck. So, fuck we did.

And I slept like a damn baby until noon.

When I wake, my wife is gone—well, not gone, just not in bed. It’s noon, why would she still be in bed? I sincerely stretch like a cat and lie eagle-spread on my bed—my bed. I can’t believe how content I am to be home… just to be here. My body relaxes into the mattress and I could truly just lay here all day. My solace is interrupted by one of the best interruptions ever. My wife unceremoniously enters the room with a wiggly pink bundle in her arms. They were asleep when we got home, so we didn’t wake them.

“Oh, please… give me that,” I say, sitting up and reaching for my daughter. My wife pauses.

“Are you dressed under there?” she asks.

“No, I’m totally commando, and she’s nine months old!” I protest.

“Yes, but Keri and Gail are not,” she retorts, raising her brow. I grunt and get out of bed. So much for lying in. I go to the dressing room and quickly slide into a pair of sweat pants.

“There!” I say, emerging from the dressing room. “Now give me my child!” I hold my hands out again and Minnie squirms in her mother’s arms, smiling widely and reaching for me. Butterfly laughs and places her in my hands. Good Lord, it’s like salve on a terribly stinging and painful burn.

“How’s Daddy’s girl?” I say, kissing her repeatedly and climbing back into bed. She coos and giggles as Keri enters with Mikey and Gail enters with a tray of food.

“I thought I would have to wake you, so I thought the twins might ease the ache a bit,” Butterfly says, placing Mikey on the bed next to me.

“I just woke, but you were right about the ache,” I say, adoring the smiling faces of my children.

“Let me know if you need anything else,” Gail says as she and Keri excuse themselves. I’m starving, but I don’t want to put my daughter down. I need her. I need to be close to my children. As if reading my thoughts, my wife begins feeding me the omelet and toast on my plate.

“You’ve already eaten?” I ask after swallowing, noting that there’s no food for her.

“Hours ago,” she says. “The trip sucked, but it wasn’t as taxing on me as it was on you.” I nod.

“I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t there,” I admit. She puts another large forkful of eggs in my mouth.

“Jack off?” she teases and I almost choke. She hands me a glass of orange juice and I take a couple of healthy swallows.

“Not just the sex,” I say with mirth. “Going to sleep with you and waking up with you; eating breakfast with you and just know that you were there.”

“I know what you meant. I was just teasing you.” She gives me more omelet and toast. “That place is draining—or maybe it was just seeing the effect that it had on you and Carrick and his brothers, but I’m glad we’re home.”

“Me, too,” I say, swallowing the delicious eggs. It immediately makes me think of the egg massacre incident that was my first cooking lesson. I need to get back in the kitchen soon if I want to cook something for my wife anytime soon. “What’s the plan for today?”

“Not a thing on the agenda until tomorrow,” she says. Yeah, Maria Sanchez is coming into town so that we can view the interview. For some reason, I’m not looking forward to this even though it was my idea in the first place, but what’s done is done now.

“Well, I think I want to spend time with these two today.” Minnie is laying on my chest, wide awake, but just lounging there. Mikey has pulled himself into a standing position, supporting himself on my leg. He appears to be babbling something to Minnie, no more than “ba-ba-ba” or “na-na-na” or something like that, but she is unfazed and just watching her brother’s performance. Mikey is not to be ignored. He continues his babbling, now bouncing and becoming more animated.

Minnie still doesn’t respond.

Mikey is getting louder with his babbling and bouncing even harder. His sister finally gives him the attention he’s seeking. She pulls her little grubby hand back and brings it down right on top of his head.

Smack!

“Oh!” I exclaim. “They’re doing that now.”

“No!” Butterfly scolds, pointing her finger at Minnie. Mikey is silent for three seconds, just long enough for the sensation to set in, before he falls down on his butt and releases a yowl. Minnie sticks her bottom lip out, gazing at her mother, then her yowling begins a second after Mikey’s.

“Oh, there, there, now,” I say, patting her on the back.

Don’t do that, Christian!” my wife scolds. I’m a bit stunned. Don’t do what?

“Put her down,” she says, her face stern and her voice firm.

“What? Why? She’s crying,” I point out as if it’s not obvious.

“Yes, that’s because I scolded her. Now, put her down.” Okay, fine, don’t scold me. I put my daughter on the bed and her cries become more urgent. “Do not hit your brother!” Butterfly says to a wailing Minnie before turning to me. “If you coddle her after I scold her, she’s going to run to you every time I try to punish her. She’ll be impossible, and then I have to kill you!” I put my hands up.

“Okay, okay, I get it!” I say. “But what about Mikey? Clearly he was yelling at her…”

“And clearly, she slapped the shit out of him, and now, he’s crying, too. That’s why I’m not picking him up, either.” She’s got a point there. I sit there helplessly watching my children cry as they learn a lesson, also learning a lesson myself. This is hard. I hate to see them cry. Butterfly allows them to cry for what feels like forever, but I’m certain that it’s only a couple of minutes.

“Are you two ready to behave?” she says to our children, and almost like they understood what she said, their cries subside a bit, but don’t cease. She folds her arms and looks from Minnie to Mikey.

“I can wait as long as you can,” she says. Minnie calms a bit, her plump tearstained face gazing at her mother as she begins her after-crying sniffles. Mikey calms a little thereafter, but only after he shoves his two middle fingers into his mouth. My brow furrows.

“When did he start doing that?” I say, pointing at my son.

“Since about three months,” Butterfly responds. “He just doesn’t do it all the time.” Both children have calmed now, and Butterfly turns to Minnie. “Are you going to behave now?” she asks. Minnie just looks at her. She holds her hands out and Minnie scurries to her arms, laying on her chest like she was laying on mine a moment ago.

“Get your son,” she says as she rubs Minnie’s back. I hold my arms out to Mikey and he stretches his hands out to me, trying to come to me without the aid of his arms to help him stand or roll. He’s quickly getting frustrated and I don’t want him to start crying again, so I pick him up and sit him on my leg. Using my fingers, I gently wipe the tears from his face.

“Don’t use your hands,” she says, softly, leaning over to the rolling tray and retrieving a burping cloth. She hands it to me and I begin to wipe my son’s face.

“She’s a real tyrant,” I tell him, low enough for only him to hear. “If you ever cross her, you’re on your own… but don’t cross her. I don’t like it when you cry.” I clean his face and put him on my chest where his sister was moments before. They look at each other as if challenging each other. They can’t be fighting this early. And they’re twins! I thought twins were inseparable!

“And this from the man who’s a proponent of spanking,” she says with a smirk while patting Minnie on the back. I look up at her and she raises her brow at me. Oh, yeah, I did say something like that, didn’t I?

Hmm, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do that.

“We… may have to come up with alternative methods of discipline,” I say without making eye-contact with my wife.

*-*

The thought of spanking my two little bundles had me clinging to them all day. Watching them cry and being unable to stop them was a bit more than I was willing to accept. Maybe once they’re older and ornerier, I might feel differently about the concept, but right now, I can’t even fathom it.

My clinginess doesn’t get past my wife. She even makes a papoose for me from one of her belly wraps so that one of the babies could be close to me the entire day. I think I needed it. Detroit took a lot out of me. Sure, I didn’t fall apart except for the mini-meltdown during the trip from the airport. I even did okay going to the private-eye’s office, which was in a city that was in the middle of Detroit. But the entire experience was just taxing as hell.

Seeing Dad and his brother snarling at each other like dogs…

The emotional strain of being in a city that broke me completely at an early age and could have broken me forever…

Watching my father break down all over again from the loss of his father and the total decimation of his relationship with Freeman…

No matter how much he may hate what that man is doing, he’s still Dad’s brother and this is truly taking a toll on him. How can anybody be so hateful towards their own family?

My mind immediately goes to Chuck’s brother, Joe, and a trip he has to make to his hometown for a lawsuit against his own flesh and blood merely for being an asshole.

Good God, are people really this unbelievably asinine? Was I ever this way? I may have been aloof, a bit obtuse at times, but I was never deliberately vicious to my family… never intentionally hurtful. For the love of God, who does that? I pull my phone out of my pocket and press speed dial.

“Hey, Bro, what’s up?” Elliot answers.

“Hey, what are you and Valerie doing for dinner?” I ask.

“Nothing,” he says. “We were probably going to order something in. We’ve gotten spoiled to having a cook,” he jests.

“Well, why don’t you come on over and get spoiled some more?” I say.

“You guys just got back. I thought you might have wanted to unwind and relax a bit. We didn’t want to be underfoot… I know how you feel about Detroit and all.”

How do I tell my brother that I need to see him without sounding like a pussy?

“Yeah, well, the familiar is kind of necessary right now.” That was it. Perfect. He pauses again.

“What time should we be there?” he asks. I sigh quietly.

“Six is good, and can you call Mia for me and see if she and Ethan can make it? I’ve kinda got my hands full with the babies.” He pauses again.

“Sure thing, Bro. We’ll be there.”

My brother and sister arrive promptly at 5:45, and I can’t help but wonder what Elliot said to Mia to get her to dinner on time. We sit down to a dinner of baked pork chops, Brussel sprouts and tomato-bacon linguini. I can’t bring myself to remove my papoose just yet, so Mikey sleeps comfortably on my chest throughout the meal while Minnie “purrs” nearby in her Pack-n-Play.

“Oh, everyone,” Mia begins, “our wedding website went live this morning.”

“Wedding website?” Butterfly asks. Mia nods.

“Yes. I wanted to approve everything that went onto the site, so they had to wait until we got back from the honeymoon to make it active.”

Oh, dear God.

“Mia…” I begin.

“Keep your shirt on, Big Brother,” she says. “The only media that is posted of you and Her Highness…” she says Butterfly’s nickname in a playful manner, “… are pictures and videos of you dancing, a bit of canoodling, her speech, and the two of you singing. Do you want me to take any of those down?” I look over at Butterfly who shrugs.

“Send me the link and I’ll let you know,” I say. Mia laughs.

“I sent you the link this morning,” she says. “You never go a day without checking your email. What gives?”

“I was spending time with my family,” I reply. “I’ll check it later.”

“I’m sure it’s fine, Christian,” Butterfly says. “We have an exposé airing soon. It can’t be any more intrusive than that.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. When is that supposed to be aired?” Elliot asks.

“The journalist who interviewed us is coming tomorrow morning so that we can see the final viewing, and we’re supposed to be part of Sweeps Week,” I say.

“Sweeps Week?” Valerie says. “That starts a week from Monday. Isn’t that cutting it kind of close?”

“Kind of?” Butterfly says. “Don’t get me started. If I see something that I don’t like tomorrow, they’ll have to scrap the whole damn thing!”

“You seem a bit intense about this, Steele,” Valerie says. Why does she still call her that?

“Well, that would be due to the faux pas that have already occurred, and the damn thing hasn’t even aired yet!”

Oh, hell. Butterfly isn’t very happy about this viewing, it appears. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a good idea. Should I tell Maria to send us a digital copy to review instead?

“What kind of faux pas, Montana?” Elliot asks. Butterfly begins to explain our experience with the grip boy and the “preview that got away,” when Valerie turns her attention to me.

“Elliot tells me that you convinced him to tell me about Gia,” Valerie says while Butterfly occupies Elliot with her tale.

“It… was a collaborative effort between me and my wife,” I admit.

“Well… thank you,” she says. “That would have been something terrible to hear through the society grapevine or on a gossip rag or something.” I raise a brow.

“Have you met Gia?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No,” she admits, “but I’ve heard of her. Her reputation precedes her. I don’t know what her general M-O is—there usually is one for appearing to be a scathing whore who will fuck anything with a dollar sign attached to it—but hell, she could just be mindlessly sleeping around, I don’t know. Whatever the case may be, I’m aware of Ms. Mateo’s character.” She sips whatever is in her glass.

“Are you… concerned about her?” I ask. “Because Elliot loves you more than life.”

“I know that,” she smiles. “It’s why he thought there was no need to tell me about her. I have no doubt the she’s old news as far as he’s concerned, but there are some things that you just need to hear from your man and not from some gossiping cows at the beauty shop or out in the grocery store somewhere or heaven forbid, at some social function where you have to smile and pretend it doesn’t bother you. It’s the Miller mansion, for Christ’s sake. Somebody somewhere is going to say something. Hell, they may end up in Architectural Digest or something. Then what?”

“Alright, Bro, my wife’s face is not looking too pleased over there. What are you talking about?” I raise an eyebrow at Valerie who shrugs.

Architectural Digest,” I reply. Well, we were. Elliot frowns.

Architectural Digest?” he repeats. “Your face is all frowned up about Architectural Digest?” She nods.

“I was just telling Christian that your work on the Miller mansion may end up in Architectural Digest,” she says with no malice. Elliot’s face falls and he turns to me. I hold my hands up in surrender, shaking my hands to signal that I didn’t start this conversation. He closes his eyes and nods.

“Yeah, it could,” he admits. “Does it bother you, Angel?”

“No,” Valerie replies. “It doesn’t. I think you’ll do great.” She reaches for his hand and he entwines his fingers with hers.

“I’m sorry,” Mia says, “but if I may ask, why would Val have a problem with you being in Architectural Digest? Isn’t that an esteemed honor?”

“Yes, it is,” Elliot replies, “but the designer on the project is Gia Mateo.” Mia looks at him as if she’s waiting for the punchline. Then the penny drops.

“Oh,” she says almost inaudibly. “Oh… o-okay.” And she doesn’t say anything else. Ethan leans in and no doubt, asks about the punchline, and she hushes him quickly.

“It’s fine,” Valerie says. “I’m just glad that I heard about their prior relationship from Elliot and not some third party. That’s all I was telling Christian.”

“Well, I’m glad she didn’t really get her claws into my brother,” Mia nearly hisses. “She’s an A-1 skank and she’s lucky some jealous wife hasn’t plugged her one by now!” Butterfly looks over at me and raises her brow.

“Okay, I’m all for changing the subject now,” I say. Mia looks at me and realization dawns.

“Oh!” she says, pointing at me. “Oh, yeah! That’s right!”

“What?” Valerie says. “Please tell me not you, too. That’s just trashy!” Oh, good grief.

“No, not him, too,” Butterfly interjects. “But that lovely parlor and the his and hers bathrooms and those beautiful women’s touches that you see all over the Slayer? Courtesy of one Gia Mateo.”

“Oh, I see,” says Valerie. “Well, that explains a lot. I was wondering why a floating bachelor pad had a fully pimped-out she-cave on the main deck. No offense, El, but I was wondering how she managed to bed you and not capture the attention of my billionaire brother-in-law.” Elliot puts his hand on his chest in mock insult.

“Whatever are you trying to imply?” he asks. “I’m just as good a catch as my loaded little brother.” Valerie smiles.

“Better, baby,” she says, snuggling up to his arm.

“Balderdash!” Butterfly chimes in. “She has to say that! She’s your wife!”

“And you have to disagree, because you’re his,” Elliot taunts. “Nice papoose, bro,” he teases, causing an outburst of laughter and instantly breaking the tension in the room.

Thank God!


ANASTASIA

As I’m getting ready for bed, I’m mentally cataloging all the things that I’ll have to do in the next few days when I realize that I’ve forgotten to disclose one detrimental piece of information to my husband.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” I say as I climb into bed with him. He raises his gaze from the phone to meet mine. “I found out last week, but with the Detroit trip coming up, I knew you needed to focus.”

“What is it?” he says, placing his phone on the nightstand.

“It’s about John.” Christian’s brow furrows.

“John Flynn?” he asks. I nod. “What about John?”

“He and his family are in England, and they may not be returning to the States.”

“What?” he responds, clearly displeased. “Why?”

I explain to him what Grace told me about MERS and the CDC and the government not wanting his son to return until he has a clean bill of health.

“Well, then, I’ll give him a call. We’ll get him the best doctors and get him well so that he and his family can come home.”

“I don’t think it’s the money, Christian,” I tell him. “I think it’s the principal. John may have become a citizen from marrying Rhian, but his sons are all American-born citizens and one of them is being denied re-entry. He’s quite disenchanted with that.” Christian’s expression softens, and he nods.

“I guess I would be, too,” he says. “I’ll call him anyway and see if there’s anything that I can do, but from what you’re saying, America may have lost a few citizens.” I nod.

“Yeah, it looks that way.”

Christian and I make love again a few times that night, and I know that we’re not only making up for lost time, but my husband is also trying to regain some of the control that has slipped away from him over the past couple of weeks. Pretty soon, I’m going to have to tap out. I don’t think my coochie can take much more.

“I don’t think the promo has gotten to many outlets,” Vee says on Sunday morning. We asked her to join us for breakfast so that we could be prepared for when Maria shows up with the footage of our interview. “We’re usually alerted when something airs about you guys for purposes of damage control. This thing must have truly only aired once and then it was pulled. We can’t even get a lead on where it aired.”

“And it’s not like I can go knocking on Old Lady Miller’s door and ask her where she saw it,” Christian points out.

“It’s kind of a moot point,” I add. “With sweeps being next week, whatever we approve will be splashed all over the network in promos. If there’s anyone in America who didn’t know who we were before now, they’ll know soon.” Christian finishes his eggs and bacon.

“Well,” he says, after swallowing his last bite, “how do we handle this? I already know that there’s no way that she’s going to show us a final cut that we’re going to be completely satisfied with. I almost want Allen to be present for the meeting, but I’m not trying to intimidate her to the point of pulling the segment.” Vee nods.

“No, we don’t want to do that, but we do want her to know that we mean business. We need to get a copy of what she shows us and what she plans to air. They have to be the same thing. Once something makes it to the airwaves, it’s immortalized. At one time, it wasn’t that way, but with technology being what it is today, your most embarrassing, humiliating, or painful moment could be trending on Twitter or Instagram tomorrow.” I sigh.

“Well, why trust anybody, then?” I ask. God knows I’ve had my own run-ins with reputable members of the press—the ex-submissive cable girl and the Pussy DJ, just to name a couple.

“Because you have to trust someone or remain in obscurity. That’s the name of the game,” Vee says. “Anyway, it’s like I said, I really think the leak was just somebody jumping the gun for Sweeps Week promotion and remember—she didn’t have to bring that shit to you that Roger, or whatever his name was, did. She could have swept that mess under the rug and you never would have been the wiser. It’s a testament to her integrity.”

“Or she could have been covering her ass,” I retort, skeptically. “If that footage had somehow gotten out later, she would have to account for how it was acquired.”

“She could claim ignorance,” Vee counters.

“It’s her production. Responsibility is assumed. I know that much,” I conclude. Vee twists her lips and nods her head.

“Ana, would you prefer this doesn’t air?” she asks. I turn my gaze to her.

“What?” I ask, bemused. Vee sighs.

“I understand a healthy dose of skepticism,” she begins. “In fact, when it comes to an exposé of the most intimate parts of your life—your home, your family, your children, what you do in your private time—I would be concerned if you didn’t show some level of trepidation. But you have disputed nearly every point I’ve tried to make so far when it comes to this viewing and anything that I’ve said in any possible defense of Maria and her actions. I’ve been in this business for a long time and I’d like to believe that my instincts aren’t dull or untrustworthy when it comes to people. I haven’t steered you wrong yet, but I can’t ignore your level of mistrust and discomfort the closer we get to the time to meet with Sanchez. I won’t try to force or influence you to do anything that you feel uncomfortable with no matter how good my instincts may be. So, I’m asking you honestly before this woman gets here. Would you prefer this doesn’t air?”

Christian and Vee examine me closely like they’re expecting and alien to pop out of my chest or something. I don’t want to pull the plug on the production this close to airing, but there’s something that I can’t sweep under the rug.

“I. Have had a bad time. Trusting people,” I say, looking only at Vee. “My instincts are not as sharp as I once thought they were. When I look back on all the things that I thought I was certain of that turned out to be something completely different, I have nothing left in the end but, ‘Shit, I wish I had seen that coming.’ People seem one way  when you meet them, when you deal with them, when you interact with them, and when you put your fate in their hands—on a large or a small scale—one way or another, you end up getting burned.

“I’m just trying not to get burned,” I tell her. “I’m trying to see the fire before it explodes through the forest and consumes my home. Twice, somebody has dropped the ball—grip boy and now this. We should have seen this footage weeks ago…” although that might have been a bit difficult with my husband hiding out in Madrid. My scar starts thumping a bit and I stick my hand in my hair and drop my head.

“I just don’t want to get burned again, okay?” I say without raising my gaze to anyone. “One more incident, and you can put an apple in my mouth and serve me up at a luau.”

There’s a long moment of silence.

“Ana, do you trust me?” Vee says, and now, the spotlight is on me. I sigh.

“Yes, Vee, I trust you,” I say, honestly, deflated and still not raising my head.

“Good. Then let’s see the viewing and see how we feel. I won’t pull any punches if I think something’s not right. I swear that to you.” I nod.

“Okay,” I cede. I don’t want to debate it anymore. I guess I won’t be able to shake the feeling until I see the viewing and in what light Maria has presented us. There’s another long moment of silence.

“Mac, can you excuse us for a moment? I need to talk to my wife,” Christian says softly.

“Sure,” I hear her say, and I don’t know where she goes, but I know that she leaves the dining room.

“Butterfly look at me.” I finally find the strength to raise my eyes to him though my head hurts so badly that I just want to lie down.

“Was that speech for me?” he asks. What? What is he talking about?

“Huh?” It’s the only thought I can formulate.

“You’ve been burned. You don’t trust anybody. Things you thought you were certain of; putting your fate in someone else’s hands—that’s more than just a couple of bad media experiences. Was that speech for me?”

I play the words over in my head, then review my feelings about them. Had this happened before the whole Liam/Madrid Mayhem—when the footage was recorded—I would feel differently. I was bad-ass when I discovered Grip Boy had filmed me in the nursery. I was ready to put him on the platter and serve him at the luau. Now, I’m fucking afraid of shit that goes “bump” in the night when I wasn’t before. I was able to deal with adversity and handle myself in tough situations and now, I kind of prefer to just hide in the corner until the adversity passes. That’s not me. That’s never been me… except when someone talked about or uncovered something about Green Valley.

Scary, vicious teenage mobs that attack you from behind, torture you, and leave you for dead…

Uncertainty of where in America—or the world—these bastards have landed…

The Boogeyman…
The Boogeyman…
Fuck, the Boogeyman…

I gaze at Christian and I’m unable to answer him. In all my pondering and wondering and trying to figure out an answer for him, all the fear and uncertainty and pain and anguish and the Boogeyman all go into the three-second funnel and come out with one word.

Yes.

I don’t have to say it. He reaches over to me and gathers me in his arms, holding me close to him and kissing my hair.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispers. “I’m so, so sorry…”

I want to respond that it’s not all his fault, that my actions—or lack thereof—were the catalyst for his behavior; that we’re both human and we make mistakes and that’s okay, but none of that will chase the Boogeyman away.

We sit there for several minutes with Christian kissing my hair and trying to reassure me that everything will be alright. As sweet and sincere as his gestures are, I know that I and the Boogeyman have several more rounds to spar, and I’m under no misconception that I’m not going to win them all. I’m just terrified at the concept of how many of them that I could lose.

I hear Vee clear her throat from the hallway before Christian releases me and allows me to sit upright in my seat. I drink the rest of my orange juice and try a few calming breaths as Vee enters the room with Maria close behind her.

“I’m sorry,” Vee says. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“It’s fine,” Christian excuses her. I still feel like shit. “Maria, I must inform you that my wife is quite concerned with how this matter has been handled thus far. Things have been sloppy; there has been no show of any kind of level of care when it comes down to the footage of our personal lives. We found out through word of mouth that footage of our home had already been aired. We should have heard that from you. You should have been contacting us with reassurances that this situation was a one-off and well in hand. We don’t feel that way now, and my wife is more uneasy than I can describe. I don’t like that… not one bit!”

I hear the protector coming out. I can see that he’s ready to battle for me, but I need more than that. What, I don’t know, but more.

“Ana,” Maria’s voice begins. I don’t make eye contact with her, “no amount of apology that I can offer can possibly restore your faith in me. All I can say is let me show you. Let me show you the promos and what I’ve done—even the promo that was accidentally shown last week. Even though you didn’t approve it beforehand, I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed with the presentation. We’ve gotten off to a rocky start and I and my network didn’t handle things like we should have, but please, give me a chance to make this up to you… to show you that you didn’t make the wrong choice.

“A story like this could make or break someone in this business, but I swear to you—getting a big story and shock value is not worth a lawsuit or losing my credibility or my career. I swear to you on my honor and my integrity, I won’t let anything be aired that you don’t approve. I give you my word. I’ll sleep with the reels if I need to if that will convince you.”

I almost want to demand her ass to sleep with the reels, but right now, I just need to see what’s on them.

“You need to understand that I’m not the only one that’ll be affected by what’s on that film,” I tell her, trying to steady my shaking voice. “My father, his wife, my brother… my children… our friends and family…”

I’m getting choked up by the magnitude of what could happen if this interview material is abused or misconstrued in any way.

“Ana, I know this hasn’t been the most reliable situation that you’ve dealt with so far, but I have the entire network’s attention on this one. There will be no more mistakes, I swear to you.” I hope the fuck you’re right.

“Maria,” I say, my voice shaking and unable to mask my fear and uncertainty any longer, “those are powerful words, but if you betray me, so help me…”

My sentence trails off, but that’s only because there are no words to explain the extent of hell that I would unleash on this woman if she does anything deceptive whatsoever. And these little faux pas that her network keeps doing, I will fucking own my own media outlet after this.

“Anastasia, you have my word,” she says, never breaking eye contact with me. I don’t acquiesce in any way. I don’t want her to think she has won me over other that I am even giving her the slightest chance to fuck me. It’s exactly the opposite. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the fucking enemy until this show airs.

“Let’s see what’s on these damn reels,” I say, standing up and heading for the theater room.


A/N: So that no one will be disappointed or say that I led them on, the next chapter will not reveal the interview. They will discuss what will and will not stay, but the full interview will not be posted/shared until the day it is aired, and everyone sees it at the same time.

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

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 in the menu our you can click 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

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 47—Getting to the Bottom of Things

I’m so happy that you guys liked that last chapter. I didn’t mean to cut your hearts out with the cliffhanger, but with word counts and this particular storyline, that’s the only place I could end it. Having said that, I’ll quickly address a couple of things from the last chapter.

I don’t think things are going to occur the way everyone thinks they are, but I will say that in the end, I think you guys will be satisfied. I won’t lie and say that it’ll be by the end of this chapter, but when all is said and done, I think you’ll like it.

Now, about the cold room… years ago—I can’t remember where I was—I was in a room just like that. The vent was in an area that was about 10 feet wide so that the heat would come out and hit this other wall ten feet away and it was right in front of the window. The room never got warm and I never forgot that room. I just don’t remember where that room was.

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

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

Chapter 47—Getting to the Bottom of Things

CHRISTIAN

“To my second son, Freeman…”

“About goddamn time!” Freeman hisses, almost inaudibly, but I hear him through the wall. Neither of his brothers react to his selfishness.

“Impatient as always, weren’t you, Freeman? That’s why I saved you for last.

“It’s hard for a father to realize that he’s done everything that he could and still, it wasn’t enough. In all the years I’ve been on the earth, I can honestly and fretfully say that I’ve never met another human being in my life who was as bitter as you. You’ve never taken responsibility for any of your circumstances and although I understand that life dealt you a massive emotional blow, that’s life. It does that to all of us.

“I’ve got diabetes. I need a kidney, but I’m not blaming anybody else for that. You blamed your shunning sweetheart and her rich boyfriend for your unhappiness. Although she was responsible for the original blow, she was not responsible for everything else that happened thereafter. That was all you—your unending need to be the center of attention and have everything exactly your way or else!

“When the world didn’t bow to your will, we were all wrong. Rick was a monster because he found a rich woman who loved him and wanted to marry him. Nollie was a disappointment because she wasn’t your precious firstborn son. Nellie was a failure because you, my son, did not provide the Y-chromosome, or did you forget that’s how that worked?

“So, now I’ve found my way to greener pastures and if you’re hearing this now, it means that you still haven’t changed. I can see that the people around you are slowly beginning to see you for what you are. My final wish for you is that I wish you the best, son. I hope you find whatever it is that you’re looking for, because at the rate that you’re going, you’ll end up with no one and nothing.”

Wu pauses at this moment, having read Pops’ words with the fever and fire that Pops himself would have delivered had he still been alive. Freeman says nothing. His expression is hard to read—either stoicism, impassivity, or he’s doing a really good job of hiding his pain. I completely expect him to say, “Come on, get on with it,” but he doesn’t. He sits silently waiting for Wu to continue.

“On more than one occasion,” Wu continues, “I’ve heard you bickering about that house with the rest of the boys. You win, Freeman. You get the house. If I know my sons, none of them want it anyway, and I only ask their forgiveness if I’m wrong about that, but you made it quite clear that the house meant more to you than I did. So, now that I’m gone, you get what you’ve been waiting for. It’s all yours. Let him have it, boys. It’s truly worthless—physically and emotionally.”

Dad, Uncle Herman, and Uncle Stan all look at each other and a silent conversation passes between them. Uncle Herman twists his lips, Dad does a non-committal shrug, and Uncle Stan just waves it off, each of them signaling in their own way that they don’t give a damn about the house. Uncle Herman and Dad told him before he left Seattle that they didn’t care, but he still chooses this moment to gloat.

“You got a toy car collection. I got a house,” he taunts. Dad just shakes his head.

“Enjoy,” he retorts.

It only takes a moment for the impact of that word to hit Freeman.

Whatever condition it’s in, that house is a family house, and he no longer has a family. So, he really can’t enjoy it. I know from having the house guarded for about a year that it’s in a terrible state of unrepair and is pretty worthless. It’s in an area of Detroit that’s considered a historical area, but the property values are way down because it’s Detroit. If he wants to sell it, he’s going to have to sink a mint into it to get it back to its former glory, or he’s going to have to sell it as-is and get maybe one-fifth of the value.

And let’s not forget the back property taxes.

His victory really isn’t a victory at all and just like Pops predicted, he’s losing everything. The house is a consolation prize and not even that.

“Although you have proven almost up to my last day to be a disappointment, I’m still a fair man and you’re still my son. To that end, you will still get your share of my monetary worth upon my passing,” Wu adds.

“Monetary worth?” Herman interrupts. “What is he talking about?”

“Herman, apparently, your father made preparations that he didn’t even tell you about,” Wu says as he turns his attention back to the will. “Because Burton’s medical bills and final arrangements have all been handled by you and/or your brother, Carrick, there’s no demand on the proceeds from the life insurance policy.”

“Life ins…” Dad trails off. “Dad had a life insurance policy?” Freeman perks up immediately at the thought of money.

“Who’s the beneficiary?” Freeman intercepts. Even Wu looks like he’s had enough of Freeman.

“I’m getting to that,” Wu says, impatiently, “if you would all give me a moment to do my job…”

“Just tell us who gets the money!” Freeman demands.

“Man, just shut up!” Uncle Herman declares. “By law, that will must be executed exactly as Dad wanted, and if you keep flapping that hole in your face, we won’t know, and nothing you say is going to change what’s in there.”

“You gettin’ ballsy, too, brother?” Freeman rises from his seat across from Uncle Herman. Oh, shit.

“Freeman, you have disrespected our father and our family name in every way imaginable and unimaginable. With his final words, he declared just how worthless you really are and the fact that he meant nothing to you and he knew it—that you were just waiting for him to die so that you could get his house. Now, I am a breath away from beating the hell out of you with every inanimate object in this room that’s not nailed down. So, sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.”

Uncle Herman’s voice sounds like a gentle and menacing growl coming from his chest, and it unnerves me… even from behind this glass. Freeman’s resolve cracks for a moment, and when he looks like he’s about to reload, Dad pipes in.

“Make that two of us,” he says. Freeman looks shocked to hear my dad collude with his brother to kick Freeman’s ass, but not nearly as befuddled when Stanley’s voice adds…

“I’m in.”

Just like that, like he was anteing up for poker! Freeman looks at the snarling eyes of all three of his brothers sitting across from him at the conference table, their hands all clasped in front of them in the exact same pose, glaring at him and waiting for him to make a decision. Common sense that I thought the man never possessed appears to influence his actions, and he quietly takes his seat. No doubt, the thought of a violent beatdown from his three angry brothers is enough to cool the narcissism of even this asshole.

Wu reads the remainder of the legal jargon—and there’s a lot of it—including a no-contest provision and concludes the reading of the will. Afterwards, he retrieves another document from the file and begins to describe it.

“Herman, you are the primary beneficiary of the policy. You were to handle your father’s final arrangements and present the billing to me so that I could see that the mortuary was paid. Apparently, your notification of this information, which I sent right after your father’s death was… lost or rerouted, I don’t know…” He doesn’t raise his eyes to Uncle Herman or Freeman. “As a result, you and your brother took care of all of your father’s final arrangements. There are no demands on his estate from creditors and as a result, the entire proceeds of the life insurance policy will split four ways.”

“So… how much was it?” Uncle Stanley asks.

“Two million,” Wu says. “You each get $500,000.”

“Five-hund… fuck me…” Uncle Herman whispers. Uncle Stan is stunned into silence. Dad sits there with his brow furrowed. I know exactly what he’s thinking—he doesn’t need the money.

Apparently, he’s not the only person who feels that way.

“I’m contesting,” Freeman says, matter-of-factly. Four heads in the room rubberneck towards Freeman.

“Contesting what?” Stanley nearly shrieks. I can tell by his expression that he sees his dreams going down the drain like a toilet. “Dad had four sons. He split the life-insurance evenly—we all get $500,000. You’re fucking ruining this for us all!”

“That bastard was absent for the last 25 years!” Freeman shoots, pointing at Dad. “He doesn’t deserve a goddamn thing from Dad!”

“And you do?” Herman shoots. “When Dad was dying, your suggestion was to bring him back to Detroit and put him in a goddamn nursing home! You didn’t care that he was happy in Seattle, only that he was in Seattle. Why do you have to be such a miserable bastard all the time!”

“He can’t do that!” Stanley protests, almost sounding like he wants to cry. Freeman is dug in, trying to make it appear that it’s Dad’s fault that none of them will get their money, but he’s crazy like a fox. First of all, he knows that contesting means that nobody gets any money. Not only does it hurt Dad—so he thinks—but he’s hoping to turn the other two brothers against him for holding up the life insurance payout, even though it’s not even Dad’s fault.

Second, the longer he holds up that payout, the more likely it is that the divorce will be final, and the IRS audit will be complete, meaning that Nell and the Feds won’t be able to attach the funds from the policy.

“I hate to tell you this, little brother, but yes, I can,” Freeman says, celebrating in his immediate victory. “Herman and that asshole dragged my dad all the way across the country away from the protection of the rest of his family. He was on dialysis; he was on the list for a kidney. He was holding his own for years while he was here, then they get him out there and a year later, he’s dead and there’s a mysterious two-million-dollar life insurance policy. That’s awfully convenient and I can contest the validity of the whole damn thing. Isn’t that right, Mr. Wu?”

“You can,” Wu says, “but you need to hire your own attorney. I’m the second executor of the estate, and I have no intention of going against my client’s final wishes. Know that contesting the beneficiary of the life insurance policy is very expensive and almost impossible to win.”

“You fucking piece of shit!” Uncle Herman seethes now standing from his seat. “Are you suggesting that I let my father die for a life insurance policy that I didn’t even know existed?” Uncle Herman’s tone and expression is murderous and I’m certain that Freeman’s next words are likely to determine his immediate fate on planet Earth at the hands of the oldest Grey brother.

Freeman’s expression indicates that he’s got the same feeling.

“I thought there was a no-contest clause,” Stanley interjects, trying to diffuse the situation and no doubt, keep Herman out of jail and avoid another Grey funeral. “Didn’t you say there was a no-contest clause that says if he contests the will, he loses his share?”

“That’s if he contests the will,” Dad says, “not the life insurance policy.” Stanley looks at Wu, who nods. Stanley deflates immediately.

“Son of a bitch,” he hisses uncharacteristically.

Dad and Freeman are silently facing off with each other as Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman vehemently voice their displeasure with his selfishness. As Freeman sits there with a cat-who-caught-the-canary sneer on his face, Dad’s eyes narrow and the corner of his mouth slowly begins to rise.

“Valued at about $500,000 apiece, you said, Mr. Wu?” Dad says, without breaking his glare from Freeman.

“Yes, Mr. Grey, that’s correct.” Dad pulls out his phone and presses one number. “Isabelle, yes, can you please prepare two transfers, each for $750,000?… Yes, one in the name of Stanley Grey, and one in the name of Herman Grey… Yes, I’ll contact you back with the account numbers…”

I already know that Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman are going to protest the transfer, so I get on the phone with Alex.

“I need both of my uncles’ bank account information as soon as you can get it to me—like three minutes ago. Stanley Grey and Herman Grey.”

“I’m aware of your uncles, sir. Give me fifteen.” I end the call and continue to watch the soap opera unfolding before me.

“We can’t let you do that, Rick,” Uncle Herman says. “This is all of our fight. We’ll fight it… and we’ll win.”

“And I believe you,” Dad retorts, “but as long as the money is stuck in probate and you guys aren’t using it to live, he’s winning,” he says pointing at Freeman.

“But our share is only 500… why 750?” Uncle Stanley asks.

“Because I don’t need the money, but you do,” he says. “If I took that money, it would be like taking a handful of popcorn and throwing it on top of a bucket of more popcorn. It would just sit there. You guys take it. You can use it.”

“You’re our brother,” Uncle Stanley says. “You’re entitled to it, too.”

“In a pig’s eye,” Freeman shoots.

“And I appreciate that and accept it,” Dad says to Uncle Stanley, ignoring Freeman’s comment, “and now, I’m doing what I want to do with it…”

Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman continue to protest Dad’s gesture when my phone buzzes. It’s an email from Alex and he has sent me the bank account information for my uncles. I forward it to my father. He ignores his buzzing phone, so I tap on the two-way glass. He looks in my direction even though I know he can’t see me, then he reaches in his pocket and pulls out his phone, swipes the screen a few times, and begins typing into it.

“Well. Gentleman, my son has just forwarded me your bank account information and I’ve just sent it to my assistant. You’ll have the money within twenty-four hours.” They both look at the two-way glass and Freeman now knows that he has an audience.

“Who’s in there?” he demands. “Who the fuck is in there?”

“My son is in there,” Dad says. “He’d be in here, but he has to maintain a safe distance from you,” Dad smirks.

“You mean the little bitch that has a restraining order against me?” Freeman hisses.

“Careful,” Dad says, unfazed. “Anything you say could be a violation of your court order.”

“I can say whatever the fuck I want, as long as I don’t say it to your little prick son,” Freeman shoots. Dad smiles.

“Is that true, Mr. Wu?” Dad says, folding his hands on the tabletop and flashing a knowing smile. “Can this insensitive asshole say whatever the fuck he wants in front of my son who currently has charges pending against him for harassment?” Wu clears his throat.

“No… that’s not true,” Wu says. “Anything that he says or does that can be seen or heard by the complainant can be construed as harassment. It’s part of the cyberbullying law.”

“Cyber…” Freeman begins, incredulously.

“Shut the fuck up, Freeman. You’re being recorded,” my father says, menacingly. Freeman sighs angrily resigned.

“You have ruined my entire goddamn life,” he says to Dad. “My entire fucking life! From childhood, all the way ‘til now, you’ve been nothing but a goddamn problem. You’re a fucking thorn in my side and I just wish you would disappear.”

“I didn’t ruin your life, Freeman. You ruined your own damn life. Your wife is divorcing you. Your children left the state to get away from you. None of the family will speak to you. You missed your final goodbye to your father because you were being an ass. You have charges pending against you and you could be facing jail time for beating the hell out of a perfect son in the airport! Of all places, the airport… where they detain you for sneezing! You left several threatening messages on my son’s voicemail, calling him so much that he couldn’t even conduct business to run his billion-dollar empire on his cell phone until the police told you to cease and desist and I ruined your life?” Dad laughs incredulously before continuing.

“You’re going to get your wish, Freeman. I’m going to walk out of this room and never think of you again. You will only be topic of conversation if somebody brings you up or you continue with this stupid fight. But you’ll just burn through your portion of Dad’s life insurance, because it’ll be frozen during the fight with probate. You’ll be coming out of your pocket to pay any attorney to contest this policy, and I’ve got money to burn. I won’t allow my brothers to suffer because you’re being an asshole as usual.”

Stanley reaches for his buzzing phone and I can only assume by the look on his face that he received notification of Dad’s wire transfer. He interrupts Dad and Freeman’s arguing.

“You did it…” he says incredulously. “He did it…” he says to Freeman. “Seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars was just deposited into my account.” He turns to Dad. “Rick, you can’t do this.”

“Yes, I can,” Dad says. “It’s my money and I’m rich. I’ll do with it whatever I want.” He turns his glare back to Freeman. “I won’t allow this selfish bastard to ruin Dad’s final gift to the two of you. When he finally loses his contest and you get your share of Dad’s policy, you can pay me back then… if you want to.”

“If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine, but I’ll only accept five-hundred from you, Rick,” Uncle Stanley says. “That’s my share.”

“I would have given you guys my share anyway,” Dad says, looking between Uncle Herman and Uncle Stanley. “If Freeman wasn’t such an asshole, I would have given him a share, too,” he adds as if Freeman wasn’t even in the room. “I appreciate and accept what my father did for me. Even in his last days, he remembered me and showed me that he still loved me. That’s priceless. That’s all I need. You two can do so much more with this money than I could.” He turns to Uncle Herman. “The woman you love has two little girls that are going to need college funds. You may want to take a vacation. God knows, you deserve one. And you…” He turns to Uncle Stanley. “I’m sure you can find some use for that money. Isn’t Kevin about to graduate high school?” Uncle Stanley sighs.

“Rick…” he begins to protest.

“Please, Stan… let me do this,” he beseeches his brother. “Please?” Uncle Stanley sighs again.

“You got a heart of gold, Rick,” Uncle Stanley says. Freeman scoffs, but Dad doesn’t acknowledge him. Dad smiles and squeezes his brother’s hand before standing from the table.

“Mr. Wu, please make sure that any other fees for my father including your own are all paid promptly and keep me informed of the progress of this other matter.” He takes out his business card and hands it to the attorney. “Don’t use any of the funds from the estate for this issue. As my brother Herman is my father’s executor, you can send your bill care of my brother Herman to this address. I can assure you that after today, there’ll be no more tampering with our mail. Oh, and by the way, there will be demands on my father’s life-insurance policy. Although my father’s final arrangements were covered by me and Herman, they should have been covered by the life insurance. I will be submitting certified and notarized documentation from the mortuary to be reimbursed for the cost of the services rendered before the proceeds are divided between me and my brothers.”

Freeman sneers at my father and probably at the thought that Dad is still going to be getting a share of the policy before anyone else.

“I had services, too!” Freeman barks. Dad doesn’t acknowledge him, but Wu turns his attention to Freeman.

“What services did you have?” he asks.

“We had a memorial for him here… after that asshole had him cremated against my wishes!” Freeman retorts. Wu turns to the other three brothers.

“Not that I have to explain this,” Uncle Herman said, “but Dad said that those were his final wishes. Three brothers were present and weighed in on the matter before Dad was cremated. We called Freeman and tried to include him, but he refused.” He turns to Freeman. “He’s finally learning—the hard way—that he doesn’t have the power to control everybody’s lives, and it looks like he doesn’t even have the power to control his own.” Wu sighs and turns to Freeman.

“You can submit documentation for reasonable expenses for any mortuary preparation or services that you had here in Detroit. Private memorial services are not subject to reimbursement from the life insurance policy,” Wu informs him. The magic words…

Reasonable expenses… which means don’t submit documentation for $10,000 since Pops’ remains were already cremated, and in an urn, when you received them.

Mortuary expenses… again, the remains were already prepared when you received them.

Private memorial services… that means don’t present a bill for a $20,000 rave you had to celebrate the fact that your father has finally kicked the damn bucket!

“But he gets to write off his memorial services?” Freeman nearly screeches.

“I’m only submitting documentation for mortuary services, transport of my father’s remains from home to the mortuary, to and from the church, to the crematorium, and back here to Detroit. I’m not submitting any documentation for the repast or any private memorial services.” Dad looks at the glass and I know that I need to get him an invoice from GEH for the transport of Pops’ ashes back to Detroit on the jet.

“Any more questions, Mr. Grey?” Wu says to Freeman. Freeman stands angrily mute. “Please note… reasonable mortuary services. I’m not sure what else could have been done by a mortuary once Burton Grey’s remains had been cremated and his ashes had been sealed in an urn, but you’re free to submit documentation.”

I can see Freeman’s blood boiling right before our very eyes. Wu takes Dad’s card and they shake hands before Dad leaves the room. Freeman’s ready to reload, but before he gets the chance to retort at all, Uncle Stanley turns his glare to Freeman.

“Lose my number, Freeman,” Uncle Stanley says. “I’m done with you after this.” He stands to leave after my father.

“Stan…” Freeman begins but trails off.

“You’re toxic, Freeman!” Uncle Stanley shoots, whirling back around to face him. “I don’t know how I didn’t see it before! I always thought you were just hurt and angry—like you felt deserted or somehow wronged, but you’re just spiteful, hateful, and wicked. You destroy everything you touch, and Dad was right—you’re going to die a lonely old man and it has nothing to do with Rick! It’s you! You let something that happened to you when you were a kid effect your whole goddamn life and you still won’t let it go. You blame everything and everybody for your situation and you have for years and here’s a newsflash for you, brother. There are people who have been through far worse than you have and turned out to be much better people. You have no excuse for decades of bitterness and selfishness, and I’m through with you!”

Stanley glares at his brother for only a moment more before he storms out of the room after my father. Dad enters the room with me right after Uncle Stanley leaves and watches the screen as Herman wordlessly examines Freeman before standing himself and walking out of the room.

“Let’s go, Dad,” I say, putting my hand on his shoulder. He turns without a word and we leave the room.

The ride is silent for the first several minutes as we begin to head south towards Detroit. This trip doesn’t make me happy, but I’m more concerned about the expression on my father’s face. It’s completely unreadable. It started out as stoicism, but is now morphing into something else completely… anger? Dismay? Complete and utter discontent? I have no idea.

“Dad?” I ask after the car has been silent for way too long, each brother lost in his own separate contemplation. There’s no response or reaction from my father.

“Dad? Are you okay?” I try again. My voice causes Uncle Herman to turn around in his seat and look at Dad. Uncle Stan is driving since he knows the area better than anyone, but even he glances in the rearview mirror to see what’s going on with Dad.

“You alright, Rick?” Uncle Herman asks. Dad shakes his head.

“When did he do it?” Dad asks. We all look at each other and back at Dad. We have no idea what he’s asking. Herman makes to say something, but Dad continues.

“I hadn’t seen Dad for over two decades until my son got married last year. He had no way of knowing whether I was dead or alive. He knew I had married Grace. He knew I had married money…”

What is he getting at?

“I was fine,” he continues. “I’m a successful lawyer who married a trust fund girl who ended up being a successful doctor. I’m rich. I’m very rich. When he came out to the wedding, he knew I was rich. Granted, I didn’t pay for the wedding, but it was in a goddamn castle!”

Is he angry with Pops? Uncle Herman and I exchange quizzical looks, but we all know that we have to let Dad work through whatever this is. He raises tear-filled eyes to Uncle Herman.

“Look how we were living,” he says. “My home is called ‘Grey Manor.’ My son’s home is ‘Grey Crossing.’ We have more money than we know what to do with.” His voice is starting to tremble. Uncle Herman is the first to engage.

“I… I know, Rick,” he says cautiously.

“Then why?” Dad says, his voice cracking and tears falling down his cheek. “Somewhere during the last year, he changed his will. Did you listen to the tone of it? It sounds like he was talking to us the day right before he died! He got a life insurance policy—a two-million-dollar life insurance policy, and then he made me—a rich man—one of the beneficiaries.” He’s weeping now. “He wouldn’t let me buy him a goddamn kidney! I could have bought him a kidney! I could have saved his life! He left me half a million dollars…”

I knew it! Pops alluded to it, but I knew it. I knew Dad wanted to buy him a kidney. I knew because I wanted to buy him a kidney. Now, I have to ask why, too. Why would Pops leave money to Dad knowing that Dad didn’t need it and probably wouldn’t accept it?

“A two-million-dollar life insurance policy,” he says. “For the love of God!” Dad’s weeping has become nearly hysterical.

“Dad…?”

“My father had a two-million-dollar life-insurance policy,” Dad said. “He even included that ungrateful ass bastard that he knew was just waiting for him to die. That worthless piece of shit! I never want to see his face again as long as I live!”

I don’t know how serious Dad is about not wanting to see his brother again or if he’s just feeling super emotional right now. I just know that Freeman better stay the hell away from the vast majority of Grey males at this time if he doesn’t want to breathe his last. My father drops his face in his hands and weeps bitterly.

“I love you, Dad,” he sobs. “I love you so much…”

*-*

Dad is in no condition to confront the private investigators who were following him, so Uncle Stan decides that we should have lunch first. I put a call in to Jason to have the jet on standby because we may be leaving later than anticipated. We pull up to this restaurant with a giant guy in red and white checkered overalls standing in front of it. I can’t imagine getting a decent meal at this place, but when Uncle Herman sees where Uncle Stanley has taken us, he turns around in the seat to get Dad’s attention.

“Rick… look.”

Dad raises tired bloodshot eyes and looks out the window. When he sees the giant chunky guy in the jumpsuit, he smiles a wide smile and attempts to dry his tears.

“You’re an asshole, Stan,” Dad laughs.

“I know,” Uncle Stan acknowledges. “Now, let’s go get a Big Boy.”

I discover a few things about my dad and his brothers during lunch. First, Big Boy is the name of the restaurant—hence, the giant “boy” in the front wearing the checkered overalls. Second, Big Boy is also the name of the famous burger served at the restaurant. They serve a lot of other food, but apparently, the franchise is best known for the burger. I mistakenly said that the Big Boy must have come from the Big Mac, but the Grey brothers quickly corrected me by telling me that the Big Boy came first. While McDonald’s opened in 1940, Big Boy opened the prior decade.

Most importantly, Big Boy burgers were a treat, and often used as rewards or bribes in the Grey household—like good report cards, finishing chores first and, in Dad’s case, no longer wetting the bed.

Apparently, Uncle Stan gave him a really hard time about it even though Dad stopped wetting the bed long before Uncle Stan was old enough to know that he was doing it.

The outing brought back good memories for the brothers of their childhood, but it also reinforced the fact that they don’t remember Freeman in many of those memories. He was in some of them. Apparently, he and Dad were really very close at one point, but now, they’re a perfect example of the thin line between love and hate.

With new resolve after his breakdown in the car and the subsequent lunch with his brothers, Dad is now able to face the owner and investigators at Best Shields Family Investigations. Upon realizing the severity of what his brother had done, he decided to initiate the steps to get a restraining order against him as well. He knows that Freeman won’t try to contact him, but he wants to be sure that the asshole knows that he can’t do anything else either.

The agency is in a small city called Hamtramck—which happens to be right in the middle of Detroit. It’s one of two cities surrounded on all sides by Detroit. I don’t know whose bright idea that was, but…

Uncle Stanley took a route the went straight up Dequindre, so that I didn’t know we were in Detroit until we were leaving and entering Hamtramck. Uncle Stanley really is quite sensitive to other people’s feelings.

Best Shields is housed in this unimpressive storefront-type building on Conant, right down the street from one of those jailhouse-looking schools… a junior-high school, no less. We enter, and I immediately see a receptionist that looks way too young to be a receptionist.

“Hi,” she coos at me. I immediately step forward.

“Hi…” I trail off waiting for her to fill in her name.

“Lori,” she purrs. I smile.

“Lori. We’re here to see your boss about an assignment.” I say the words like it’s a top-secret mission.

“Mr. Westcott? Sure. Why don’t you gentlemen have a seat.” While my father and uncles have a seat, I lean over the counter turn on my best flirt with Lori while she informs her boss—Brad Westcott—that he has clients in the waiting room.

I learn that Westcott owns the business.

I learn that sweet little Lori wants to be a private eye one day but doesn’t know when to stop talking.

I learn a lot of useless bits of information, including the fact that Lori has big dreams of leaving Hamtramck one day and that Brad always makes new clients wait for a few minutes because he doesn’t want to appear desperate.

Lori’s not very smart.

I drop my name and GEH more than once to see if this little chatterbox is going to do me any good. I often get what I want when people know who I am, but I get the feeling that in this state, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. She keeps mulling over the name as if she should already know who I am. I’m not the Grey that you know, Darling.

He doesn’t bother coming out to greet us. He has Lori to show us into his office. It’s something I would do, but I’m a multibillionaire businessman who runs my worldwide empire from a glass tower in downtown Seattle, not a small-time private dick in a brick, one-story storefront office in a small city hiding in the middle of the east side of Detroit.

“Gentlemen,” he says, standing to his feet. “Bradley Westcott. What can I do for you today?” He extends his hands to no one in particular. Uncle Herman raises one eyebrow and steps forward to be the mouthpiece.

“Herman,” he says, taking Westcott’s hand firmly. “This is my brother, Stanley; my nephew, Christian; and my other brother, Carrick.” Westcott nearly has to wrench his hand away from Uncle Herman.

“You look familiar,” he says, looking from Uncle Herman to Dad.

“We should,” Dad says, extending his hand to Westcott. “You may know our brother.” Just as Westcott takes his hand, Dad drops the bomb. “My surname is Grey. Carrick Grey, Esquire. This is my brother, Herman Grey. The brother that’s not here that you may recognize on sight is Freeman Grey. Ringing any bells yet?”

Dad’s grip on Westcott’s hand must be tighter than Uncle Herman’s, because it takes Westcott more jerks and extra effort to free his hand from Dad’s.

“I don’t know why you’re here, esquire,” Westcott mocks. “If you’re not looking for my services, you can walk right back out the door you walked in.

“I was hoping to appeal to your sense of reason,” Dad says, his voice menacing. “My worthless brother has become Public Enemy #1 to most of my family. He’d do better to walk around with a target on his back, but it doesn’t matter, because we’ve all disowned him. That’s one of the reasons why his payments to you stopped so abruptly.” Westcott’s lips form a thin line at the mention of losing his cash cow.

“My brother’s behavior and activities have been atrocious, and I was merely hoping that you would be willing to share the information that you gathered on me and my brother. You see, I plan on getting a restraining order against Freeman Grey for the invasion of my privacy and the fact that he attacked me in my home then tried to have me arrested, subsequently hiring a private detective to spy on my life for no reason at all. Even certified mail intended for my brother and I have been intercepted and we now have proof that those letters were signed for and received by someone other than us. I’m sure you can see our dilemma in trying to collect information for possible prosecution. And if your man was any good at all, he knows who I am, what I have, and maybe some of who I know and what I can do. So, once again I say that I was hoping to appeal to your sense of reason.”  Westcott folds his arms.

“You already know, esquire, that I don’t have to tell you a goddamn thing. And I don’t care who you are or where you come from. You’re not going to get me to openly admit to committing a federal crime,” he jeers. That’s enough for me. I may have left my suave and attitude back in Seattle, but I have no problem stating cold facts.

“Look,” I begin, matter-of-factly, stepping in front of my father, “I’m not saying this to scare you. I’m giving you information. We both know that you’re not obligated to give my father anything, but there are two things that you should know.

“First, my father is a very, very wealthy attorney from Seattle. You’ve probably dealt with wealthy clients before and they’ve probably thrown some weight and some threats around at you, and my father could most likely do the same thing. He could tie you up in litigation and it would go on forever and ever and it would be inconvenient and that would be about it. It would most likely exhaust your legal fund and put you in a bit of a bind, because my father’s very wealthy and this is personal.

“I, on the other hand, am not only an international businessman, but I’m also one of the top three most powerful entrepreneurs in the country. If you don’t believe that, ask your receptionist. I deliberately dropped my name and my business name with her when I walked in the door. I’m not sure how thorough your investigations are, but had you looked into my father’s children, you would already know who I am. Hopefully, you didn’t since I have a restraining order against your client, and you would have been an accessory in his harassment if you had.

“Nonetheless, if your receptionist—and aspiring PI—did her job, she can most likely give you a decent dossier on me right now. Having said that, I should say that if my father doesn’t get what he’s looking for by the time we leave this office today, then we’ll leave, and I’ll wish you luck getting any clients anywhere in the United States from this day forward.”

“I don’t respond kindly to threats, Mr. Grey,” Wescott says. I shrug.

“Okay,” I say with no malice, and nothing else. I’m not trying to throw my weight around. I just want Dad to get what he needs. If he doesn’t, this little speck will just be wiped off the radar and I’m just going to go about my day. Whatever he has on Dad will be useless anyway, so it won’t make a difference to me. He laughs at my response.

“That’s good. I’ve never seen that tactic. Are you trying to intimidate me, Mr. Grey?” he taunts. I shrug again. He’s so minor league that he has no idea just how minor league he is.

“See, we’re not doing this,” I say calmly. “I’m not here to prove that I’m a rottweiler and you’re a poodle. I’m here so that my father can get what he came for. If he can’t get it, we’ll leave… but you’ll certainly know that we were here. So, I’m going to leave and go into the lobby, because I’m not having a pissing contest with you. Either you’ll tell my father what he wants, or you won’t but you and I, we have no business… yet.”

I walk out of his office and back to the lobby where I comfortably take a seat right in front of the aspiring PI and slide my finger across the screen of my phone.

“Sir,” Alex answers on the second ring.

“How quickly can you blackball Best Shields Family Investigations?” I ask aloud. I can see Lori’s head pop up in my peripheral. That’s right, listen carefully, little girl.

“How quickly do you want it?” he asks.

“Good answer. Not yet, but I do need a message sent like five minutes ago. Something loud and clear, fairly harmless, but with implications that bigger things are to follow. I’m not playing with this guy. I don’t feel like doing the one-two step of who’s the bigger dog in the yard. My father has taken about all he can take right now and I’m ready to wash my hands of this whole thing.”

Lori’s fingers are typing madly on the computer. Either she’s doing the research that I accused her of before, or she’s warning her boss that I’m drawing battle lines in the sand… or both. Either way, I know that Alex is thorough, and my message will be heard loud and clear. I can also hear Alex typing on the other end.

“Brad Westcott, not too many high-profile clients, family business… consider it done, sir.”

“Thanks, Alex,” I say and end the call. I start running through my emails and before I can respond to the fifth one, Westcott’s door opens. I can hear him bitching up a storm in there, but Uncle Stanley’s head pops out.

“Christian, can you come in for a second?” he beckons me. I stand and put my phone away. I raise an eyebrow at Lori who immediately looks down at her computer screen. When I enter Westcott’s office, he immediately falls silent and turns his tirade onto me.

“Who the fuck do you think you are?” he barks. “What the hell is this shit? Is this supposed to fucking scare me?”

I did scare you, buddy—that’s why you’re screaming, but I don’t have the strength to be the usual cutthroat that I am. I’m not looking for reverence or respect. I’m looking for results. I put my hand on my father’s shoulder.

“Come on, Dad, let’s go,” I tell him. Dad looks at me, bemused. “You’re getting a restraining order against Freeman, so he can’t do anything with any of the information that he has. He’s cock-strutting and posturing and throwing weight around that he’s too dense to know that he doesn’t have, and we don’t have time for this. He’s playing a game that I refuse to play, and you should refuse to play it, too. The jet is already fueled and waiting, and my pilot is ready at any moment to take us out of this God-forsaken place. Let’s just go.”

I’m resolved. Whatever damage can possibly be done by whatever information this asshole has, I can undo it. Freeman’s reach stops here and now. I’ve had all I can take.

“He just went from being cool, calm, and cocky to going into a kindergarten tirade. What is he looking at?” Uncle Stanley asks.

“I have no idea what he’s looking at,” I say to Uncle Stanley. “I called my head of corporate security five minutes ago. Whatever he’s looking at, that’s how long it took Alex to get it.” I turn my gaze to Westcott. “Imagine what he could do with unlimited time and resources.”

For the first time since we’ve walked into the office, Westcott looks… cautiously contemplative, although some of the color has left his cheeks. I never threw a single threat at him. I only used inuendo and insinuation—not my usual style, but then again, I’m not my usual self in this place.

Westcott narrows his eyes and rises from his seat. He goes to a file cabinet behind him and pulls out a file that’s about an inch thick.

“Here,” he barks. “That’s everything.” He slams the files down on his desk. Dad moves the file over to him and begins to thumb through it.

“Take it with you,” Westcott hisses. “I don’t want anything else to do with you or your family.”

“We don’t want anything else to do with you either, Mr. Westcott, but that’s not all of it,” I respond calmly. I put my business card on the desk in front of him. “You already know how to reach my father and uncle. Here’s my information. We’ll be expecting the rest of your findings by the end of business today, including your digital documentation. Remember, sir, unlimited time and resources, and very little patience.”

I don’t wait for a response or a reaction. I’ll admit that I usually gloat in staring someone down and knowing that I’ve intimidated them. Not today… not here. I just want to get out of here. I turn around and walk out of the office without another word.


ANASTASIA

I don’t know what’s happening with Christian at this very moment, but I’m totally unable to relax. Even meditation didn’t help much. It helped, but not much.

We didn’t meditate before he left, either. We fucked, but of course, that was my idea. And the thought of feeling him inside of me calms my racing mind right down. I hope it does the same for him.

I order a few bonsai trees—some for my Zen office at work and some for home. I like the Zen gardens, too, so I order a couple of those. I didn’t get a chance to tell Dad what was going on, so I call him and let him know that Christian and I are in Detroit and why, but that I’ll be home before Monday and wouldn’t miss our court date for the world. He puts Harry on the phone and we have a conversation where he’s sprouting his usual baby jabber and I answer like I know exactly what he’s saying. It’s good practice for when I must translate what my own children are trying to say. I’m told that I’ll know, and people will constantly be asking me. We’ll have to see.

Of course, cooing at my little brother made me realize that I hadn’t spoken to my own children. Even though we’ll be home in a few hours, I miss them. So, I Facetime Gail so that I can wave at my little darlings and blow them kisses.

Mommy misses you! I’ll be home soon.

Courtney missed her calling as an organizer and coordinator. I’m glad that she’s going to school and has a direction that she wants her life to take, because she can whip any situation into shape if you set her to task for it. She has set up interviews for PRN relief staff on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. She’s collecting information for interpreters and looking into hiring bilingual and multilingual staff for obvious reasons, and she has emailed me a general format of needs for the additional counseling and support services that we want to initiate.

Keri is contacting the necessary parties in Anguilla and here in the states to make sure that she has the teaching and possible child care qualifications to be certified here. We talked briefly, and she informed me that Chuck asked her to marry him again. She declined… again. She wants to get her own footing in America and make sure that she can’t be asked or forced to leave on her own before she agrees to become Mrs. Davenport.

“Why are you waiting?” I ask her. “You love him, and he loves you. You obviously can’t live without each other. He was a basket case the minute you stepped on that plane to go back to Anguilla—the minute—and you nearly starved yourself to death. You’re not going to be without each other, so why not make it official?” Keri sighs.

“Ah con’t explen it to yah, Anah,” she says. “Et’s sometin Ah jes gottah do. Den I can marry me Choonks wit a clean conscience.”

“How does he feel about it?” I ask. She laughs.

“Yah knoh hah he feel,” she chuckles. “He tek meh today, he tek meh tomorrah, as long as I let ‘im tek me.”

I love Choonks, too, so I’m making it my business to be sure that Keri gets her certification in the states, no matter what it takes, and a permanent job is waiting for her at the Center as well as being my nanny for as long as she chooses.

I skype for an hour with Ace. Because of the time difference and the fact that I expect to be in the air on my way back to Seattle when our regular session is supposed to be, he agrees to take his lunch when he should be meeting with me and have a session with me earlier in the day. We rehash some of the things that we talked about on Monday, and he scolded me thoroughly for making Christian feel like we had to start over with our relationship and would never get back the love and the bond that we had before.

“I’ll admit that you may come out of this relationship with something totally new and different, but to make him feel like he has to start from square one? Have you met your husband?”

I try to rationalize my thinking by telling him that I felt a fresh start would be good for us, something to wash away the old ways of thinking and behaving and introduce new and more productive ways of dealing with issues and with each other… and he promptly called me on my bullshit.

“That’s all well, fine, and good if that’s what you were doing, but we both know that you weren’t. You were scared to death of the concept of having to face rebuilding yourself from the first healthy techniques that you learned for coping with problems and you wanted to drag Christian in there with you. You know that there’s nothing wrong with your relationship and the way that you love each other. What’s wrong is the way that you two handle controversy. That’s the thing that needs a revamp, not the whole damn relationship.”

It’s no fun being handed your ass twice in the same week by your therapist.

Just after lunchtime, there’s a knock at my door. I answer it and find Jason on the other side.

“I was just checking on you,” he says. “You’ve been quiet all day and I wanted to make sure that you were still alive in here.” I raise my brow at him.

“I haven’t been quiet. You just haven’t heard me. I’ve been quite busy, in fact.” I leave the door open for him to come in. He’s probably going stir crazy down there in the room by himself with nothing to do and just being on standby if I want to go somewhere. “Have you had lunch yet?”

“I was going to get something after I made sure that you were okay,” he says.

“Why don’t you order something up for room service for us both? Unless you had other plans…”

“What other plans?” he says. “We’re in this God-forsaken place with nowhere to go and I’m glad we’re only here for a day.” I twist my lips.

“It’s not that bad,” I protest. Jason scoffs.

“Anything in this area—in the general vicinity—is Detroit to Christian Grey. Detroit is hell to him and he’s a completely different person when he’s here. I hate it almost as much as he does when we have to come to this place. The spirit is suffocating, and even though the surrounding cities and even many areas in Detroit are not as bad as the slums he was born in, it’s all bad to me. There’s nothing good about it. If there is, I can’t find it.”

“That’s because you’re not looking for it, but then again, why would you?” I smile at him. “Lunch.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

*-*

“Jason, how did we end up in this room?” I ask as we’re eating. I’m having a turkey club with fruit and French fries and Jason opted for a burger large enough to feed four people. “Did Mr. Grey go down there and threaten someone’s job?”

“Not directly,” he says, after swallowing a bite of his burger. “I went down and had a chat with them.”

“With whom?” I ask. “What did you say to them?”

“I went down and asked for the manager on duty. I told him to listen to me if he wanted to and if he didn’t, don’t. I warned him that there is a self-made billionaire and international businessman on the third floor in a cold room with a cold wife on a cold night and a bedsheet on his bed posing as a blanket. He’s in the state on a very sensitive matter but has avoided this place like the plague for the last twenty-five years. He just called down to the desk to get some assistance and relief from the cold and was pretty much told, ‘tough cookies, freeze your ass off—this is Michigan.’ I warned him that said businessman has very deep pockets, a short temper, and a far reach and that his fortune was made by acquisitions and hostile takeovers and that right now, while he’s between a rock and a hard place in a cold room with a cold wife freezing her pretty little toes off that when he gets back to Seattle at the top of his beautiful, climate-controlled glass palace, he’s going to remember this trip and this cold room, and he’s going to start making calls. That may not make any difference to him because this is just another guest complaint, but he might want to see who’s complaining.”

He scrolls through his phone and shows me GEH’s LinkedIn page, maintained by the PR department. The damn thing is a testament of perseverance, money, and power. I raise my eyes to Jason.

“And that’s just the LinkedIn page,” he says. “You know that if you Google him, you’re going to get a whole lot more shit. That’s why he’s always telling people to Google him.”

“Yeah, I know,” I respond, recalling our first meeting with distaste and the day Mr. Money Man told me to Google him. Jason chuckles.

“Well, anyway, it didn’t take much after that to get you this room with the fireplace already heating so that you didn’t catch your death trying to get a good night’s sleep after taking a bath.” I nod.

“Well, thank you,” I tell him. “And you’re right, Christian is totally not himself right now.”

We talk a little more, finish our lunch, and shoot the shit about nothing and everything while I’m telling him about what I’m working on at the Center. We’re also conspiring on Chuck and Keri to try to make things easier for them to finally tie the knot when my husband comes breezing into the room looking very emotionally heavy-laden.

Shit, what kind of day was this?

“Call Metro,” he says to Jason. “Notify me the moment the jet is ready for takeoff.”

“Yes, sir,” Jason says. He nods to me and leaves the room without another word. I turn to my husband, afraid to ask how things went.

“It was a bit of a disaster,” he says, removing his coat and tossing it into a nearby chair before falling onto the sofa. I just sit down next to him and curl my knees under me. That’s when he drops the two-million-dollar bomb on me.

“There’s no way Dad would have accepted that money. We both wanted to buy Pops a kidney, and he said “no.” I didn’t want to rob some kid of his chance at life, I just wanted more time with my grandfather. I didn’t even want a black-market kidney, just bribe a match to give up one of theirs… maybe… I don’t know. Is that the same as a black-market kidney?”

“No, but it’s unethical, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a doctor that would agree to it if you found one at all.”

“Well, it’s moot now. Pops is gone, he wouldn’t take the deal anyway, and Dad’s in shreds again because he left him $500,000… which Freeman is protesting.” My head pops up like a chicken.

“What?” I ask. “Why is Freeman protesting?”

“The same reason as always… he’s an asshole,” Christian says.

“Well, couldn’t he use that money right now?” I ask incredulously.

“Right now,” Christian says. “Yeah, that’s another thing. As long as the money is locked up and nobody gets a share, his creditors can’t attach the money—neither can the IRS or Nell’s attorneys. So, he’s got a win-win from this… sort of.” My brow furrows.

“What do you mean sort of?” I ask.

“Well, he wins because Dad won’t see the money anytime soon, but it costs a lot to contest a life-insurance policy and Wu won’t help him. So, while he’s contesting, he’s going to have to pay for those services, which means that when he does get his share of the money, it’s going to be significantly less than it was before if there’s anything left at all. Not only that, but Dad and Uncle Herman are submitting funeral costs to the attorney to be reimbursed, which means I have to give him a billing for flying Pops’ remains and at least one brother back to Detroit. I could actually charge for Uncle Herman going both ways, saying that he was the one that delivered the remains.

“Nonetheless, Dad and Herman will see some of the money first, and a portion of their reimbursement will come from Freeman’s share. He tried to say that he had services, too, but Wu told him that the life insurance policy will only pay for verified services for the remains. That deflated him quickly. To add sprinkles to this Karmic sundae, Dad had $750,000 transferred to Uncle Herman’s and Uncle Stan’s accounts right while we were standing in the office.” My mouth falls open and my eyes widen.

“Christian, are you serious?” I ask incredulously. “I thought each son’s share was $500,000.”

“It is, but I know Dad was probably rubbing salt in Freeman’s wounds,” he says. “Dad said that his other brothers shouldn’t have to suffer because of Freeman, and split his share between the two of them, so that if Freeman keeps that money tied up for a long time, they can still do what they want with their share. And like I said, Dad wouldn’t have accepted that money. He announced that if Freeman wasn’t such an asshole, Dad would have split his share with him, too.

“But the pièce de résistance, Dad’s getting a restraining order against Freeman, too, in case he gets the bright idea to have Dad followed again and all of the brothers wrote him off at the reading of the will, including Stan. Nobody’s speaking to him now.” I shake my head.

“That won’t do anything,” I tell him. “Freeman is one of the most extreme narcissists that I’ve ever seen. All he’ll do is keep doing the same things that he’s doing and keep blaming someone else for his problems.” Christian shrugs.

“Well, he’ll be doing it alone, because no one who counts is going to be there to hear him,” he says. My husband runs his hands through his hair. “Get changed, Baby, unless you want to wear your yoga pants to the airport. I’m ready to get the hell out of this place as soon as possible.”


A/N: I miss Big Boy. It was Elias Brothers when I lived in Detroit. I don’t know if it’s still there.

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 46—Roots

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

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

 Chapter 46—Roots

ANASTASIA

Even though we left Seattle in the morning, it’s well into the evening when we get to Michigan, and after dark when we get to Stanley’s house. My husband held his breath almost the entire ride here from the airport, looking out of the window like he was examining exotic animals…

More like he was watching the apocalypse pass by before his very eyes.

We make our way to a suburb of Detroit called Farmington where Stanley lives. It’s a small town—I wouldn’t even consider it a city. The entire place is less than three square miles and again, I feel like I’m in Anguilla. Not to be confused with its neighboring—and much larger—city of Farmington Hills, Farmington is a tiny little municipality that looks as if it were cut right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Downtown Farmington is not more than three blocks total. The buildings all look like libraries and the restaurants like general stores. 5a5a714c6175252a2e3b3f07fb3bf20b

About a minute and a half from downtown, we turn down a quiet street and arrive at Stanley’s house. Unlike the sprawling estates of neighboring Farmington Hills, this small town of about 10,000 people boasts quaint, comfortable family homes. It reminds me a lot of Montesano, only I have no idea how they fit so many people in such a small place. Montesano is about four times the size with only one-third the population.

We drive up the driveway of this small house and park in front of the two-car garage. I swear I expect for Florence Henderson to greet us at the door complete with Jan in the background whining, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” Well, only if Carol Brady was married to James Bond. I’ve never told anyone, but Carrick and his brothers look a lot like James Bond!

Sure enough, the James Bond from Goldeneye opens the door and ushers us inside, and I stand firmly by my conclusion.

“God, am I glad to see you guys… I hadn’t heard anything, so I thought you just decided not to come.”

Stanley and his brothers—including Freeman—are all carbon copies of Burt at various stages of his life. They couldn’t be more different though. Carrick screams power while Herman has this contemplative reservation about him. Stanley, on the other hand, makes you want to just hug him and bake him cookies.

Freeman can eat shit and die.

“What smells so good?” I ask as Stanley welcomes us into his home and closes the door behind us.

“That would be the lovely Lana whipping up some of her magic in the kitchen. Let me take your coats.”

We each hand Stan our coats and take seats in the living room. Christian and I sit on the loveseat while Carrick and Herman take a seat on the sofa.

“The rest of the ladies decided not to come?” Stan says. Carrick shakes his head.

“Grace had to work and Luma needed to get the children off to school. It was too short notice. Christian only informed me of this on Tuesday.” Stan’s brow furrows.

“Tuesday?” he says, bemused. “I’ve known about this for weeks!”

“Have you spoken to our dear brother?” Herman asks. Stan shakes his head.

“Not since he attacked Burtie,” Stan says.

“Well, we can’t prove it just yet, but we have reason to believe that Freeman intercepted our notices for the reading,” Carrick says.

“Come on, guys,” Stan says, smacking his lips. “Don’t you think you might be a bit paranoid? That’s a bit of a stretch.”

“Well, under normal circumstances, I would agree with you,” Carrick retorts, “but we learned about a month or so ago that Freeman was having me followed.”

“Followed?!” Stan exclaims. “What the heck for?”

“I have no idea…”

Carrick and Stan talk for a moment about the agency in Detroit that had been following Carrick, which doesn’t ring any bells with Stan. I listen to the brothers chat for a while with Christian interjecting about Lanie and Burt and their progress in California. He’s vague about details, not knowing how much Lanie and Burt would want to disclose. Stan knew nothing about the divorce, the IRS audit, or the piece of ass that Freeman has had on tap for God only knows how long throughout his marriage. His distaste for the whole situation is written all over his face, and you can easily tell that he would do well not to be involved in any of Freeman’s sordid lifestyle—such as it were.

“Jesus, Lana would have my neck if I even looked at another woman… not that I would want to,” Stanley acknowledges.

Looked at another woman…

Suddenly, thoughts of Liam and the disaster that he… I caused over the last several weeks spring unwelcome to my mind and I need to move around, be useful, or simply leave the space.

“I’m… going to go see if Lana needs any help in the kitchen,” I say, rising from the loveseat. Christian squeezes my hand with a bit of urgency. You don’t need me here, baby. You’re safe here.

“We didn’t mean to exclude you, Ana,” Stan protests. I wave him off with my free hand.

“Nonsense,” I say, still trying to free myself from my husband’s near-death grip. “You gentlemen have a lot of things to talk about. I’ll go help dinner along. She’s cooking for four more people, after all. I’m sure she could use some help.” I turn my most comforting smile to Christian.

You’ll be fine. I, on the other hand, may just spontaneously combust. Let me go on out to the kitchen with the womenfolk.

He wants me as a security blanket, but he doesn’t need me in this room. His lips form a thin line and an unreadable expression flashes over his face before he brings my hand to his lips and kisses it gently.

“Don’t be long,” he says softly.

“I’ll just see if I can help. We can get dinner started faster.” I smile and escape to the kitchen, the Bitch breathing a huge sigh of relief as my feet start moving. I follow the heavenly smell to a double-swinging door. I push it gently and stick my head in. Stan’s wife is donning an apron and standing over the stove.

Again, Norman Rockwell.

norman-rockwell-freedom-from-wantShe looks over her shoulder and makes eye-contact with me.

“I hope I’m not interrupting,” I begin. “I just came to see if you could use any help.”

“Are you kidding?” she exclaims. “Yes! Please!” She puts the top on whatever pot she’s stirring and wipes her hands on her apron, then proceeds towards me with open arms.

“Ana, right?” she says before we embrace. “I remember you from Burt’s funeral. You’re kind of unforgettable… you look so much like Shannon.” She smiles at me. “I bet you’re tired of hearing that.”

“No,” I admit, “only because I’ve only heard nice things about her.”

“All true,” she says, releasing me and fetching another apron from a drawer in the island. “Are you sure you want to help in that lovely dress?” she asks. “It might get ruined with sauce or something.” I wave her off. If she only knew.

“It’s fine,” I assure her as I take the apron and tie it around my waist. “Not a family heirloom or anything.” We both laugh as she goes back to stirring the pot.

“I was just about to start chopping vegetables for the salad, but you know sauce. When it’s time to stir, it’s time to stir,” she laughs.

“Allow me,” I say, and I move to the chopping board and begin to quickly chop the vegetables for the salad. The kitchen is silent for about three minutes as Lana concentrates on her sauce and I concentrate on not losing a finger. It’s not that I can’t chop vegetables; I just chop really fast.

“Wow,” Lana says, turning around after she has turned off the fire under her sauce, “are you a cook?” I smile. Most of the vegetables are chopped and I’ve tossed a few of them in the salad while arranging a few others on top to make a gourmet-looking creation.

“No,” I chuckle, “I just have a litany of tiny skills that I’m barely ever able to utilize. There’s a lot going on in my life with my work and my twins…”

“Twins! Seriously? With that body!? God, I’m jealous.” I laugh at her envy.

“Well, thank you,” I say, arranging the last of the vegetables.

“What’s your secret?” she asks, taking fresh garlic bread from the oven and brushing butter on top.

“I try to eat right as often as I can, and I exercise—weights, yoga, dancing, sparring…”

“See, that’s too much for me,” she admits. “I can do the eating right part, if forced, but the exercising—I’m just too damn lazy.” We share a giggle again. “So, what are the boys doing? Scratching themselves and talking about sports or cars?” I chuckle again.

“No, actually they’re powwowing about how much of an asshole Freeman is,” I say. She examines me for a moment, then turns back to whatever else is warming on the stove—asparagus, I think.

“Well, that’s old news,” she says. “I didn’t like him the day I met him, and nothing’s changed. “You know how some people just have a bad spirit and you can spot it a mile away? That’s Freeman. He’s a monstrous type of man, so much so that I can just see it in his face. At the risk of sounding spacey, I’m very in-tune with inner auras and chis. His is very dark and disturbed. It’s like a demon entered the womb just as he was being born. I don’t doubt that his mother had a very hard labor with him, and the he did some questionable things as a child—not necessarily evil, just questionable…”

“Such as?” I ask, finishing the salad and wiping my hands.

“I don’t know, little things, like kicking puppies,” she says. It would be funny if I didn’t think it were true. I could see young, spoiled Freeman doing just that.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t put that past him, I say. She’s putting pasta in a bowl while I put meat on a platter just as I hear a disturbance in the corner.

“Smells good, Mom. Need some he…” A handsome teenager enters a door from the rear of the kitchen that I can only assume is the basement. “Aunt Shannon?” he asks with uncertainty. Lana and I laugh simultaneously.

“No, Deon, this is cousin Ana,” she says, walking over to me.

“Cousin?” he says. “None of my cousins look like her. She’s hot!” I blush and scoff a laugh.

“Deon!” his mother scolds. Deon shrugs.

“Sorry, Mom. It’s true.” He extends his hand to me. “Nice to meet you Ana. You’re my cousin how?”

“I’m Christian’s wife,” I say, shaking his hand. He shakes his head to tell me he doesn’t know Christian.

“She’s Rick’s daughter-in-law,” Lana clarifies. Deon’s eyes light up.

“Uncle Rick’s here?” he says. “I’ve never met him.”

“He’s in the living room with your father and Uncle Herman.”

“Cool. Can I…?” He points to the door leading to the living room.

“Go on but take this with you and put it on the dining table.” She hands him the platter of meat that I just loaded, and he heads out of the kitchen to the dining room.

“Showtime,” she says with a smile. And we each grab a dish to head to the dining room, I ask, “Lana, you make your own bread and your own sauce?” She smiles.

“No, I make Ruby’s bread and Ruby’s sauce,” she corrects me with a smile. “I found her recipes at the old house after Burt and Herman moved to Seattle. Burt was having the house packed up and we were trying to preserve some of the things since the house was vacant. We had no idea how dilapidated the place had become.” We place the dishes on the set table in the dining room and go back for more. “I thought the brothers might like having their mom’s sauce and bread during this… time.” I nod.

“It’s a beautiful gesture,” I say, taking another dish and heading to the dining room. “Question… If the house is in such bad shape, why is there such a big fight over it?” I ask.

“Nobody’s fighting over the house but Freeman,” she clarifies, placing the last dishes on the table. “Stan just wanted to get his parents’ things out of there and get them safely in storage. That’s where I found the recipes. I copied them and put them back, of course, but I’ve made some of the things for Stan a few times. All their valuables—they’re still in storage. They’ve been there for over a year. Herman and Stanley had planned to divide everything amongst the brothers, but things just got crazy and they never got to it.” We go back to the kitchen and wipe our hands once more on the aprons before taking them off and placing them on the counter.

“Ready?” she asks. I shrug.

“Ready,” I reply. We go into the living room and announce to the gentlemen that dinner is ready. They all pile into the dining room and sit down. Everyone serves themselves and conversation flows freely at the table, everyone laughing and enjoying themselves like a good old family reunion. The spirit in the room is jovial, despite the solemn reason for the visit, but the funniest part of the evening was yet to come.

In Stanley Grey’s household, Lana may do the cooking, because she’s good at it. However, in the spirit of fairness and teamwork, that’s where her evening’s duties end. The gentlemen are required to put the leftovers away and do all the cleanup.

My favorite Dom was none too pleased to hear that.

I tried to get him out of it by telling them that I only lifted two fingers to help with the meal and would be happy to assist with cleanup, but I think Herman and Carrick wanted to see my husband suffer and shooed me out of the kitchen when I tried to assist.

It was hilarious.

I heard one crash, several loud voices, and not ten minutes after they entered the kitchen, Christian was kicked out. Wearing an irritated, puppy-dog expression, he walks over to Lana and explains that he broke one of her plates and would be happy to replace it. Lana chokes back a laugh and tells him to have a seat and relax, thanking him for his effort and scolding the other men for being so intolerant. I think that makes him feel better.

Once dinner is over, Christian and I say goodbye to everyone as Herman and Carrick will be staying at Stanley’s and Christian and I will be going to the hotel. Not only did Stanley’s house not have enough room for everyone, but Christian didn’t know what kind of night he would have sleeping in Michigan for the first time since his childhood, and didn’t want to have to explain violent, audible nightmares to his extended family.

The Townsend Hotel is not what I expected from the outside—a large, rather imposing brick building that looks like it could be historic, but not very impressive. I’m extremely surprised when I get inside and the accommodations are anything but historic. Posh décor, sleek designs, marble everywhere. That’ll teach me to judge a book by its cover.

It’s extremely cold this time of year in Michigan—frigid even. The cold is different here than it is in Washington. I don’t know what it is, but this cold goes into your soul and takes up residence there. I need a fireplace, but there’s nothing in this room but a thermostat and what looks like a furnace that’s built into the wall.

That doesn’t look very cozy.

The room is cold—posh, but cold! There’s no climate control in this place? I realize that people may want their areas to be at custom levels, but the room should at least be room temperature! Christian’s face immediately says that he has drawn the same conclusion that I have.

This place is cold as fuck, what the hell?

I run my hand over the monogrammed blanket on the bed. Blanket… if you can call it that. It’s pretty, and thin. I pull the “covers” back and it’s nothing but this thin bedspread and top sheet to sleep under. Good Lord, I’m going to freeze to death!

I begin to rummage through the closets in the suite to see if there are extra blankets. There’s one… flimsy like the one on the bed. I look around in dismay, realizing that the only thing I brought to sleep in was a comfy little nightie. Christian is tinkering with the settings on the “furnace” in the corner, and I hear it come to life.

“You gotta be kidding,” he murmurs. I join him near the heat source to discover that there’s a very small vent on the thing and even at its highest setting, it’s not blowing out much heat. I walk around the suite to see if there are any other furnaces…

None. Just the one.

For this giant ass suite? One furnace?

I see the terrycloth robe at the end of the bed. It’s thicker than the goddamn blanket.

No fireplace, one furnace, and it’s cold as fuck. That’s it—bath to get the cold out of my bones, then I’ll sleep in my yoga pants, whatever warm shirt I have, and that terrycloth robe.

I go to the bathroom and turn on the water in the tub. There’s a lot of marble in here. It takes the hot water several minutes to get hot, but when it does, it’s scalding. At least something is hot in this joint. I get the water to the right temperature and plug the tub. The bathroom fills with steam and that makes me happy.

When I come back to the bedroom, Christian is typing into his phone. I can’t help but wonder who he’s trying to contact at this hour.

I go back to the bathroom, terrycloth robe in hand, and decide to strip in there. It’s warmer with the hot water running. When I take off my boots and socks…

“Shit!” I hiss.

“What?” Christian says, his voice full of alarm.

“Nothing. I’m sorry. The floor is like ice!”

Wrong thing to say.

“Goddammit!” I hear him pacing around or something while I finish stripping and climb into the tub.

Nirvana.

A few minutes into my bath, I hear my husband’s agitated voice.

“This suite is freezing,” he says. “There’s only one temperature control and it’s in the bedroom. I can’t even use the rest of the rooms at this temperature.”

There’s silence for a long time and then I hear…

“My wife is in a steaming bath trying to boil the cold out of her bones. When she gets out, her pores are going to be open and she’s going to be walking on a subzero marble floor, after which she’s going to enter an arctic bedroom to wrap herself in this bed sheet that’s passing off as a blanket and try to get a good night’s sleep in a room that’s about as cozy as the North Pole and hope she doesn’t wake with pneumonia.”

Another long silence.

“Why yes, I am from the west coast—Seattle, in fact. You know, snow advisories? Winter storms? Freezing rain?”

Uh oh… whoever is on the line with my husband just pissed him off. I don’t have to hear the other side of that conversation to know that they’re basically telling him that he doesn’t know how to handle Michigan weather.

“Never mind. This was a mistake,” and just like that, the call ends. Quiet resolution? Oh, shit. That’s worse than angry ranting.

“Jason, can you see if you can find me a duvet or a real comforter for my wife? This room is -17 degrees and she’s in the bathtub trying to warm up. Whether she decides to stay in tomorrow or go out, she’s going to be sick by the time we get on the plane.”

There’s a long pause, and then he says some other things that I can’t hear because he goes off into the living room. I add more hot water to my bath and sink into the comfort. If this is going to be the only warmth that I get, I’m going to enjoy it for as long as I can.

*-*

I stay in the tub until my skin starts to shrivel. The room is bone quiet and I actually fell asleep for a while. I finally decide to brave the arctic floor and dry off quickly, struggle into my yoga pants and t-shirt and wrap myself in the terrycloth robe. I gather my clothes and exit the bathroom to find Christian sitting on the edge of the bed still in his street clothes.

“Here, baby,” he says, dropping a pair of house slippers at my feet. “Put these on.” I slide into the slippers as he takes my clothes from my arms. He takes my hand and leads me out of the room and down the hall.

Where are we going?

We turn the corner and Jason is standing outside of another room like a good tin soldier.

“Thanks, Jason,” Christian says as Jason opens the door. “Get some rest.”

“Goodnight, sir, Your Highness.” He turns and walks down the hall. I’m glad nobody heard that. Paparazzi would be at our door just to find out who the fuck I am not knowing that’s just a private joke between Jason and me.

I walk into another suite and I’m immediately enveloped by warmth. More marble, including a beautiful black marble fireplace that’s already lit—very cozy surroundings, and a real comforter on the bed.

“Thank God,” I exclaim, pulling off the now too-hot terrycloth robe. “What happened? What was the deal with the arctic bedroom?” Christian shrugs.

“I don’t really know,” he says. “I asked Jason to go see if he could find us a real comforter. When he came back, we were here with apologies from the staff that we were booked in the wrong room.”

“Wrong room?” I ask. “Nobody should have to sleep in that icebox. What is this… three, four-hundred a night?” He nods.

“Four,” he confirms. “It was short notice, but it comes highly recommended, so…” He shrugs. My husband is a bit too reserved for my taste. I’m used to take no prisoners, get me what I want or this place will be closed by Friday Christian Grey, and right now, he seems… resolved. I don’t like it.

I go to the bathroom—heated floor bathroom this time—to finish my nighttime routine. I just want to go to bed now, since the room is all comfy and toasty. Intent on wearing my nighty now, I strip naked and put the robe back on. Once I’m done, I go back to the bedroom to find Christian sitting on the edge of the bed again, now in his boxers and T-shirt, gazing at nothing.

He’s looking rudderless like he has no idea what he should be doing right now. It’s bad enough that we’ve been going through our own turmoil for the past several weeks. Now, he’s here in this place—maybe not right in Detroit at the moment but being this close—he probably can’t even find himself right now.

Maybe we should meditate? Try to help him find his center? No, I have a feeling he needs much more than that.

I walk over to him and stand in his line of sight. His eyes slowly rise to mine, and he looks like a lost child—really, like a lost child trying to find his mother. It’s more than my heart can handle. I gently caress his hair, begging him with my eyes to tell me what he needs. He says nothing. He just keeps gazing into my eyes, his gray orbs glassy and almost clear.

I’m lost. I usually know what to do to help him, but right now, I don’t. We’ve been struggling to connect over this last week after our most recent realization. We’ve been tender, attentive, but not sexual, and to be honest, that’s usually how we decompress. I sigh heavily and reach into myself to try to find the me… the us… or some piece of it, before all this shit happened.

I climb onto the bed and straddle him, thrusting my hands into his hair and caressing his scalp. He closes his eyes and sinks into the comfort for about a minute or two. When he opens them again, his eyes are gray fire and I feel him thicken and his body harden underneath me.

He kisses me… more like he launches a sneak attack on my mouth and devours my lips, his hands roaming all over me. It’s like a goddamn stick of dynamite. His body ignites, as does mine and I can feel the inner struggle, the fight to satiate ourselves without ripping each other to shreds.

I forcefully pull his hair, trying to get as much of his mouth as I can, hungrily lapping his kisses. He groans and rises slightly off the bed with me still in his lap. When he sits again, we’re further up the bed, but he’s without his boxer briefs now. I struggle with his groping arms to get his T-shirt off and once I’m successful, he quickly undoes my belt and rids me of the terrycloth robe. My legs are now wrapped around him, my core open wide, and his thick erection rubs against my cleft, again and again.

We haven’t been intimate in what seems like forever and I’m rising quickly… very quickly! He’s grabbing at my naked body, taking as much from me as I’m taking from him. Good God, I feel like I’m going to combust!

He gasps and actually whimpers once he enters me. My body releases an involuntary tremor. My response to feeling him—thick and hard inside of me—is swift and sure, and almost immediately, I come. I rest my forehead on his and ride out a shivering orgasm, fighting the tears behind my eyelids because I don’t want him to stop, especially since he just got started. He groans in his throat and holds me incredibly close to him as he grinds sensually into me. My body is craving him, aching for him, weeping for him. I need him so much…

Oh, God, love me… love me, please…

He leans back and opens his legs further, causing my ass to drop between his thighs. I use my feet to steady myself on the bed which only causes my legs to fall open farther… and him to slide in deeper.

Oh, good God…

He grunts as he slips deeper into me, leaning back a bit to get a deeper grind. I don’t know how he’s balancing himself without putting his hands on the bed and quite frankly, I don’t fucking care. With my legs open like this, I’m getting the most delicious stimulation of my clit while he’s drilling me.

His left hand moves to my nape to hold me in place and his right hand cups my hip and ass cheek to guide me, and he’s grinding—stroking and drilling and driving me quickly to a second orgasm.

My God, what’s going on with me?

I feel the sweat building quickly on my body… our bodies. I wrap my arms around his neck—my forehead still pressed against his—and hold on, thrusting my fingers into his hair. I’m looking into his slate gray eyes and he’s watching me, closely, pushing me… pushing me…

My mouth is open and my uncontrolled breathing is almost embarrassing. He’s rocking into me with purpose, stimulating my clit each time and minutes after my first orgasm…

I whimper through my second release, unable to stop the tears from falling down my cheeks this time. I see the ends of my wet hair shaking through my tremors, and my husband never breaks our gaze. He’s still intense, still rocking and drilling into me, holding me down onto his insistent cock.  God, he’s so hard and he feels so good. How long has it been? Shit… only a week, I think. It feels like forever.

He groans deep in his chest and his stroke becomes more intense. He’s kissing me with those hungry sex kisses, slowly and intently chasing his orgasm. My body is mush—trembling, shivering mush, and he holds me tight and pushes his hard, hot cock up into me over and over and over…

“Sweet Jesus,” I whimper, and I only realize that I’ve said it out loud when his mouth latches onto my neck and sucks very hard, his stroke going deeper and deeper.

“Oh mon Dieu!” I cry out, resting my elbows on his shoulders and pulling hard on his hair. He growls again and grabs my ass cheek roughly, his long fingers slipping in to caress my rosette.

I’m so tired and weak that I’m a little loopy. I can only hold on as he guides me roughly, intently, and sensually over his thickening dick, repeatedly. His fingers are sinking into my skin to the point of pain, his left hand still holding me firmly at the nape of my neck. I almost can’t breathe when a finger the hand that’s violently grabbing and guiding my ass and hip slides between my cheeks and into my rosette.

And I’m rising again—swiftly.

I start to tremble almost immediately, his grunting sex sounds urging me on along with his rhythmic upward strokes into my core. His mouth covers mine just as his finger thrusts into my ass and before I can control it….

“Mmmmmmmmmmhmmmmmhmmhmmmmhmmmmmmmmm!”

I’m screaming into his mouth, shaking more violently than I did with the first two orgasms. He’s a fucking machine and I can’t fucking take much fucking more of this! As if his dick heard me…

“God! Fuck! God! Shit! Shit! Shit!” He’s cursing out a violent diatribe against my mouth as his cock throbs so viciously that the thickness of it is a bit uncomfortable. Thank God! I’m going to pass out here on his lap! My orgasm subsides long before his does, but he’s still pumping up into me and pushing me down on his cock, his fingers still inside my clinching ass. I close my eyes tight and wait until he resorts to the breathless, post-orgasmic gasps, not wanting to interrupt his release. Once I hear the panting begin…

“Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!” I sound like a cat. My ass tightening around his finger is very uncomfortable. He quickly removes his finger from my ass with no warning, causing me to yowl. That was the best way to do it, but it was still not pleasant. He peppers soft kisses on my lips and it feels like an apology. I melt into his lap and his arms, unable to protest in any way. As my body falls heavily on him, I can feel his erection still standing strong inside of me.

That’s impossible! He came! I felt him come! I know he did, but his cock is still as hard as steel.

At first, his kisses are tender, like he’s thanking me, worshipping me. A few minutes of that, and they become more intense, more demanding and hungry. I have no energy left and my legs fall to the sides of him. Noting my surrender, he lifts me from his lap and lays me on the bed on my side. God, I’m exhausted. I think he’s finally going to let me rest.

I think wrong.

Standing next to the bed, he leans over and sinks into me from behind. Fuck, I’m so sensitive from three orgasms that I hiss when he enters me. He leans on my right hip which pushes my left hip into the bed and presses my legs together, and he is thrusting, fucking me with long, deep, intense strokes intentionally massaging his entire dick with my tender pussy. With my legs pushed together, his dick is hitting every inner wall of my core. He wants to come again, and he’s fucking with just that specific intent.

And it’s hot.

As tired as I am, I feel myself rising again. I didn’t think that shit was possible, but here it is. My pussy lips feel hot as he’s using my body to get off, and his dick sliding into me sideways is hitting the most delicious sweet spot each time he sinks in balls deep. All I can do is lay here and enjoy the process, because if he doesn’t come first, I’m surely going to come again.

He drills and drills and thrusts and thrusts, never changing his stroke, and from the way he’s standing over me, I know that he’s watching his cock disappear into my pussy and reappear before he buries himself inside of me again. I grab the sheets as I feel his hips roll, chasing his release. My body responds involuntarily to his heightened, pre-orgasmic arousal and as his thrust quickens and his grind intensified, I grab a pillow and scream out my fourth orgasm.

Fourth! Dear God, man, arrête s’il-te-plaît!

Several punishing strokes later, Christian clenches my hip tightly with both hands and explodes violently inside of me. I’m too tired to even react. I’m exhausted and sore and I can’t keep my eyes open anymore…

*-*

Sunlight breeches my slumber and I open my eyes. I slept straight through the night without turning over once, as did my husband… I think. He’s still asleep. He’s spooning me, and I can feel his breath on my neck… and his morning wood right at my anus. Shit, I’m instantly hot, even after all that fucking last night. He’s hard as a rock and breathing that rhythmic, content breathing that indicates a deep sleep. We have about another hour before we even have to stir for breakfast and I am wet and on fire.

Should I wake him?

He had such a rough time yesterday that I just want to let him rest. He did his best not to complain, but he was definitely not a happy camper.

The Midwest morning sun seems a whole lot different to me. It’s not as comforting as the sunrise back home, although I’m biased. This place holds terrible vibes for my wing of the Grey family, and those vibes are rubbing off on me.

But right now, there’s something else rubbing off on me. It’s poking me in my ass, extremely close to a dripping wet and hot opening and try though I might, I can’t ignore it. If I just…

With my legs still together, I adjust my hips just a bit. I’m so wet that the head of his cock slips right into me. I gasp, then bury my mouth in my arm to muffle the sound.

He doesn’t move. His breathing remains even, but his cock twitches just a bit… too much for me.

I close my eyes and push back on him—slow and steady and taking him all the way to the balls. He groans deeply, then grunts, and when I pull back and push down on him again, he grabs my hip and moans, his fingers digging into my meat. I stroke him deep, riding him sideways hard and sweet, my eyes rolling back in my head as I cling to the sheets and savor each sensual, deep thrust. His hips remain still, but his cock gets harder… and harder… each breath releasing a lustful moan as I push my ass against his pelvis, taking his full shaft with each stroke. It’s fucking divine—and primal… unplanned and feral and sweet.

I’m getting wetter and hotter, and his cock is so hard that I feel him on every wall of me, his shaft rubbing perfectly against every hot spot with each entry and exit, just like last night. I roll my hips for massive stimulation and I get it, but he gets it, too. He forcibly grabs my shoulder and bends me slightly forward in the bed, causing my ass to stick out further. I oblige and use my hands to steady myself as I ride harder and faster against him. The friction is delicious and he’s filling me and filling me with every backwards thrust, bringing me higher and higher until…

“Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”

I hear a primal, chesty, throaty growl behind me and a fearfully strong grip holds my hips in place. He’s pulsing and throbbing and coming inside me… a lot! Shit! I wasn’t done yet!

I can hear his teeth grinding as he holds me still and continues to squirt inside of me. I didn’t know he had that in him after last night! I try not to be frustrated with my interrupted and shortened ecstasy and allow him to ride out what is apparently a stiffening and crippling orgasm.

After several moments of grunting, pulsing, and coming, he grabs a handful of my hair with one hand—shocking the shit out of me, by the way—and pulls my head back. His lips and teeth lock down on the tender meat between my neck and shoulder and I gasp. With his dick still pulsing inside of me, he releases my hip and brings his hand to my breast, squeezing the mound and pinching my nipple… hard!

He pushes himself further into me and pulls out, then in again, and out—our intermingled juices coating his cock as he thrusts. He hisses through his nose with each stroke, his cock still tender no doubt as he squeezes out the last few moments of his orgasm. Thankfully, the onslaught is too much for me.

My chest releases its own sensual growl as the orgasm that I had been chasing crashes down on me. Christian releases something that sounds like a whimper and immobilizes me against his body, his mouth still locked on the same spot on my neck.

That’s going to leave a mark.

I quake through my orgasm, feeling my milk squirt involuntarily onto the sheets as it often does when I’m extremely stimulated… or coming violently. When the orgasm wanes, finally, we both lay there in breathless splendor, weak and completely spent—useless.

That moment lasts for about fifteen seconds before Christian wrenches his now-flaccid dick from my very tender vagina, the motion and the friction causing my body to twitch and protest madly. He leaps from the bed and darts to the en suite without even closing the door. I hear him relieve himself with a loud groan and a hiss and a whimper or three. It’s not really funny, but I still have to stifle a giggle.

I hear the water running—a little longer than usual—but assume that he’s washing his hands. I hear the water stop and a few moments later, the bed dips behind me. I’m shocked out of my post coital bliss by a bitterly cold cloth on my genitals.

Fucking hell!

“I figure if I needed it, you probably needed it more,” he says, coolly.

“A little warning next time?” I complain. He nods.

“Sorry,” he apologizes as he gently cleans my crotch with the cold cloth. It actually feels good—once you know it’s coming, that is.

“My muscles were so weak after that session,” he explains as he cleans. “I was afraid that I was going to piss us both.” I chuckle, noting to myself that I’ll have to use the facilities soon, too. “Don’t think I didn’t hear you laughing at me.”

“Is that why you assaulted me with a cold washcloth with no warning?” I ask. There’s momentary silence behind me.

“I hadn’t thought of it, but it serves you right,” he says. He completes his cleanup and slaps my ass. I jump.

“Ow!” I protest as I leap out of bed. He sits there looking at me impishly and I roll my eyes at him as I go to the en suite.

*-*

About an hour after our morning tryst, I’m sitting at the dining table wild-haired and wearing the white terrycloth robe, chomping on pancakes, bacon, and croissants just like Julia Roberts while talking to my billionaire. giphy

“So, what are you going to do today?” Christian asks, as he sips his coffee. We decided that he would go to the reading with his father and uncles without me. Giving him a task will keep him focused and he won’t be in Detroit. I think just having me here gives him strength… and our animal sex over the past several hours certainly didn’t hurt the situation.

“I’m in Michigan,” I say. “I hadn’t considered any social activities while I was here.” He nods.

“Jason and the Navigator will stay here with you,” he says. “Dad, Uncle Stan, and Uncle Herman are coming to pick me up before we head to the attorney’s office. Wu, I think his name is. After that, we’ll head to that investigator and see what we can find out. With the four of us together, I think we’ll be alright. I would prefer it if you didn’t go to the city, though,” he says without raising his eyes from his breakfast. There are a lot of cities in the area, but I know which one he’s referring to.

“I know there’s good shopping around, but I don’t know details, so you may want to ask Lana if she’s available. I’ll touch bases with you after we’ve talked to Best Shields Family Investigations.” Shit… didn’t he tell me that Best Shields is in Detroit? I reach across and take his hand.

“I can go with you if you want,” I remind him. “It’ll only take me a minute to get dressed.” He smiles.

“It’ll take you more than a minute, and I’ll be fine. I’ll be concentrating on Dad and my two uncles and the business at hand. I won’t have time to feel sorry for myself.”

“And Freeman,” I add. He twists his lips.

“Yes, and Freeman,” he admits. His cell phone rings and I can tell by his end of the conversation that his father and uncles have arrived. He finishes his coffee and gives me a deep, searing kiss before retrieving his coat and leaving the room.

Now, I’m alone.

I have no desire to explore Michigan. The place holds no splendor for me. So, once I’ve showered and dressed, my day will consist of working virtually with Helping Hands, ordering bonsai trees and Zen gardens for my office, and skyping with Ace.


CHRISTIAN

“Have either of you met this guy before?” Uncle Stan asks as we head to the attorney’s office.

“I have,” Uncle Herman replies. “He’s been Dad’s lawyer for years. We didn’t have much cause to talk to him—or so I thought—but when we did, he seemed like a real stand-up guy.”

“So, why didn’t you get your letters about the reading?” I ask.

“That’s what I intend to find out,” Dad says. I get the feeling that he’s ready to rip his brother apart and I only hope that he doesn’t do anything that will get him arrested.

We arrive at this beautiful, tall building in Troy about fifteen minutes later. Uncle Herman seems friendly with the receptionist and asks her to summon “Nathan,” but not to tell him who’s here. The eyelash-fluttering receptionist makes a call and we wait for the attorney.

“Who’s that handsome hunk of youngness?” she asks, gesturing towards me. Oh, dear God.

“That’s my nephew, Christian,” Uncle Herman say. I want to murder him. Why the hell did he tell this woman my name?

“Mm,” she says, examining me like a piece of meat. “He single?” Uncle Herman laughs.

“No,” I reply. “Very happily married with nine-month-old twins.”

“Mm,” she says again, twisting her lips. “Too bad. Denise is still single, you know.”

I wonder if Denise knows that you’re pimping her out to strangers.

“Herman…” A dark-haired Asian gentleman greets my uncle. “It’s good to see you again.” Uncle Herman takes his extended hand.

“It’s good to see you, too, Nathan,” he says, shaking his hand. “I wish it was under better circumstances.”

“Yes, I know,” Nathan agrees, “but his last conversation with me was pretty strained. It must be better than he’s not suffering anymore.”

“Hear, hear,” my father says softly, garnering the attorney’s attention.

“Nathan, this is my brother, Rick. Rick, this is Nathan Wu, Dad’s attorney.”

“Rick,” Wu says as if testing his name. “Carrick, yes.” He proffers his hand to Dad. “Burt spoke very fondly of you.” Dad raises his eyebrows.

“He did?” he asks.

“Yes, he did,” Wu says. “You made him a happy man.” Dad twists his lips. I don’t know if it’s disbelief or if he’s trying to keep from crying.

“This is my son, Christian Grey,” Dad says, turning the attention away from himself. I extend my hand.

“It a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Wu,” I say. He accepts my hand and shakes firmly.

“The pleasure is mine, Mr. Grey,” he says with a smile.

“This is Stan,” Uncle Herman continues. “I don’t think you’ve met him.”

“No, I haven’t. Stanley?” Wu extends his hand to Uncle Stan. “A pleasure, sir.”

“Thank you, Mr. Wu. Likewise,” Uncle Stan says.

“So, gentlemen, if you’ll follow me, we’ll get to the business at hand.” We fall in line behind Wu and just as we’re stepping off the elevator on the floor were the conference room is, I remember one crucial piece of information.

“Dad,” I say, catching his arm. “Restraining order.”

“Shit!” Dad hisses, and all three men stop and look at us. “Christian has a restraining order against Freeman.

“Shit, that’s right. I forgot,” Uncle Herman says.

“Christian has a restraining order against Freeman?” Uncle Stan asks incredulously.

“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you about it later,” Dad says. “Should he go back downstairs and wait?” he asks Uncle Herman.

“You’re here on official business,” Wu says. “He can stay on the floor,

but I wouldn’t recommend that he come in the room.” Dad nods.

“Is there a waiting room up here or something?” he asks. Yes, please don’t send me back down there with the matchmaking receptionist with the 50’s hairdo and way too much blue eye shadow.

“Do you want to watch the reading?” Wu asks.

“If I could,” I respond, “without violating my own restraining order.” Wu nods.

“You have no idea how many times this happens. Follow me.” We all follow Wu down the same hallway and through a door into a small room.

“This is our deposition room, but it doubles for family members who can’t stand being in the room with one another. I think this is one of those times.”

It’s a utilitarian room, with a table and comfortable chairs, and what looks like a large screen on one wall. In the screen, I see Freeman sitting at a table with his fingers entwined, almost looking like he’s the king of the world. God, I hate that jerk.

“You can see and hear what’s going on in the room next door. We can’t see or hear you unless you push that button over there to speak through the intercom… or bang on the wall.”

I nod, then must reassure my father that I’m fine.

“Dad, go,” I tell him. “I came out here for you, not for you to worry about me.” I shoo my father and uncles away and settle in to watch the show.

Moments after they leave the room, I watch Wu walk back into the conference room. The first in the room behind him is Uncle Stan, which doesn’t seem to affect Freeman too much. However, when my father and Uncle Herman walk into the room behind him, Freeman’s ears turn red and his face turns stark white.

“What’s the matter, Freem?” Uncle Stan says. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Yeah, Freem, what’s the matter?” Dad asks. “Surprised to see us?”

“Yeah, darndest thing happened,” Uncle Herman chimes. “We almost didn’t make it.”

All three brothers stand there waiting for a response from Freeman. He just tightens his lips and turns to a slightly confused Wu.

“Let’s get this done,” he barks, like he’s the only one in the room.

“Yes, let’s,” Dad says. “I’m anxious to see what Dad has to say.” Uncle Stan, Uncle Herman, and Dad all take seats next to each other and on the opposite side of the table from Freeman. My vantage point is right at the head of the table where Wu is sitting.

“Gentlemen, I must inform you that these proceedings are being recorded for legal purposes. If any of you object to being recorded, you may leave at this time.”

No one moves to leave, so Wu continues.

“No matter what you’ve seen on television and in the movies, there is normally no open and dramatic reading of the will,” Wu begins. “It is often determined by the executor that the will is valid with its authenticity and any question thereof established by a solicitor, attorney, or other legal expert. As I was present at the creation of this document, I can and do hereby attest to its validity. In addition, any beneficiaries are normally separately notified of their entitlements so that they can raise any questions or challenges early in the process. Burton’s final wishes were that you all be present for a formal reading of his last will and testament so that each person knows what the other is getting and hopefully eliminate the need for any challenges. Before we begin, are there any questions?”

“Yes. Can you tell me how I and my brother Herman were notified of the scheduled reading of my father’s will?” Dad asks. Wu’s brow furrows.

“By… certified mail,” he says, thumbing through the file. “I have a signed return card to indicate that you received it.” He hands my father a green card and Dad examines it.

“That’s not my signature,” he says. “What about my brother, Herman?” Wu rifles through the file again and hands a card to Uncle Herman.

“Nope, not me,” Uncle Herman says. “That’s not even how I sign my name.” He hands the card back to Wu. Wu examines the card and then looks through the file in front of him.

“You’re right,” he says, comparing the signature to something in the file. “That’s not the same signature.” Wu probably has at least a dozen documents signed by Uncle Herman.

“You’re going to want to hold on to those,” Dad says, handing his card back to Wu. “They’ll most likely become part of a criminal investigation.”

“A criminal investigation,” Freeman scoffs as Wu puts the cards away. “Why, because you threw back one too many and don’t remember signing for the letters? You probably signed for Herm’s, too, and now you’re too ashamed to admit that you don’t know what you did with them. What’s the matter, Rick? You paranoid?” he taunts.

“No, but you should be, Freem,” Dad retorts. “The criminal investigation is because somebody tampered with the US mail, and I intend to do everything in my power to find out who. Does (Private Eye) ring a bell?”

Freeman turns as pale as he did when Dad and Uncle Herman walked into the room with Uncle Stan.

“Yeah, we knew about you long before Nollie’s trust stopped paying for your dick!” Dad shoots.

Good one, Dad.

“I knew you had something to do with this,” Freeman hisses.

“No, who had something to do with it was your daughter,” Dad corrects him. “From what I hear, you never gave her enough credit and now, she’s languishing in your slow demise.”

“Nollie’s not smart enough to do this on her own,” Freeman shoots. “There must have been some help from your meddling ass bastard son.” God, he’s such a Grade-A asshole.

“That’s why you’re losing your family, Freeman,” Dad says, shaking his head. “You’re a walking, talking piece of shit. You’ve underestimated Nollie for years, and when she finally shows you what she’s made of, you take it out on your son. You’ve treated your wife like garbage for as far back as she can remember, and when she stands up to you, you destroy her most precious memories. And you have the nerve to talk badly about my son. I hope that little piece of ass that you’ve got stashed away keeps you warm at night, because that’s all you’ve got left!” Dad nearly growls the last words at his brother before turning to face the attorney.

“Mr. Wu let’s get this done,” he says. “I don’t want to be in the room with this man any longer than I have to.”

For the first time since I’ve known him, Freeman is stunned into silence. I don’t know if it’s because everything that Dad said about his family was right, or if he realized that his little twat isn’t going to keep him warm at night once she discovers that her sugar daddy well has run dry. He better hurry up and sell Pops’ house and hopes he gets some money from it. Then again, the IRS is probably going to suck that money from him and when they’re done, Nell will get a nice share of anything that’s left… I think.

Wu just opens his file and starts reading, completely unfazed. I’m sure he’s probably seen a whole lot more than this during his career as an estate attorney.

“I, Burton Jefferson Grey, with a place of residence of 1452 SE Shoreland Drive, Bellevue, Washington, 98004, being of sound mind and not acting under any duress or undue influence while fully understanding the nature and extent of all my property and of this disposition thereby, do hereby make, publish, and declare this document to be my last will and testament, and hereby revoke any and all other wills and codicils heretofore made by me, hereinafter known as the ‘Testator.’”

I watch Uncle Herman’s brow furrow.

“What’s wrong, Herm?” Dad asks.

“Excuse me for interrupting, Mr. Wu,” Uncle Herman says, “but the address on that will is Bellevue? Not Detroit?” Wu nods.

“Yes, that’s correct.” Uncle Herman falls back in his seat.

“What?” Uncle Stanley says.

“Dad did this within the last year,” he says.

“So?” Freeman nearly barks. “He was dying. It’s common for a man to get his affairs in order when he knows he’s dying.”

No one turns any attention to Freeman. They all know what Uncle Herman is saying. Yes, Pops was dying, but he had something to say and he knew that his will would be the last time that he would be heard. You can see each of the brothers steel themselves for whatever is about to be revealed while Freeman still sits haughtily on his side of the table… alone.

“I am not married,” Wu continues. “I have four children: Herman Grey, Freeman Grey, Carrick Grey, Stanley Grey. My children will be included as heirs in this last will and testament.”

“Hmph!” Freeman grunts. When no one reacts, Wu continues the reading with the usual legal inclusions—Uncle Herman as his executor and Wu as his second giving them all power to dispose of and execute his estate; that all of Pops’ estate expenses, medical bills, final arrangements and such should be covered from his estate; and that all beneficiaries must survive him by 30 days. Freeman perks up when he gets to the section of special bequests.

“To my eldest son, Herman: you have been my diligent caretaker and constant companion since I fell ill after your mother passed. There is no monetary sum or physical value that I can place on the love and never-ending devotion that you have shown to me all these years, never asking for anything in return and often putting my needs before your own. My biggest comfort besides the fact that my suffering is now over, and I can finally rest is that you will be able to live a full life in your golden years and love Luma and the girls freely and without reservation.”

Uncle Herman audibly chokes back tears, his body physically jerking. Stanley puts his hand on his brother’s back in obvious concern, but Uncle Herman slightly raises his own hand to indicate that he’s okay and signals Wu to continue.

“To you, Herman, I bequeath the contents of the safe deposit box at Chase Bank to retain or distribute as you see fit.”

Uncle Herman simply nods quickly, never raising his head, and I see a tear fall on the wood of the large oak table.

“To my third son, Carrick…”

“Third son?” Freeman interrupts angrily. Wu raises his eyes impatiently to Freeman.

“To my third son, Carrick…” he repeats, his eyes piercing. He appears to have had enough of Freeman’s attitude. “You welcomed me into your home even after we abandoned you for twenty-five years…”

“We didn’t abandon him! He left!” Freeman barks.

“No matter how your older brother, Freeman, feels about it,” Wu continues, “we let you down. We followed blindly and didn’t take action when we should have and because of that, I nearly missed meeting my grandchildren and their families.”

“He should…” Freeman starts.

“Shut up!” All three brothers bark at Freeman in one voice, and the shock causes him to shrink in his seat.

“Nonetheless, you and Gracie opened your arms, your home, and your heart to me as if no time had passed and your beautiful children and their families showed me more love than my heart could hold, no questions asked. I know it hurt you and Christian not being able to use your resources to extend my life, but my time had come, and you made my last days some of the best of my life, besides my time with my Ruby. You all gave me one of the most precious and treasured gifts I could ever imagine, and know that as I take my rest, I take that love and gratitude with me to share with Ruby when I see her again. Please give my Mia the biggest hug and kiss you can when you see her again and tell her that Grandad loved every second he spent with her, even those horrible vitamin drinks, because I knew she was doing it because she loved me.”

“Oh, Dad,” my father breathes heavily, barely able to sit up in his seat. Nobody says anything. Even Freeman’s smart mouth is sealed shut.

“To you, Carrick, I bequeath my model car collection. Nobody appreciated it like you and I hope you have as many fond memories of it as I do with you.”

Dad smiles widely as Wu reads that he’s receiving the collection. A look of warm nostalgia falls over his face as he gazes off in front of him. When the brothers look at him questioning, he turns to Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman and coos, “You had to be there.” I’m dying to know the story behind these cars.

“To my youngest son, Stanley…”

“What the fuck?” Freeman hisses, and all three brothers throw a simultaneous death glare at him. He doesn’t respond, but his ire still shows on his face.

“My dear, sweet, gentle Stanley, I know I haven’t seen you much in the recent months, but I must tell you, son. It’s time to stand up and be who you need to be. You have a heart of gold and a flame of love and creativity that has the ability to burn brighter than the brightest wildfire, but you’re hiding it under a bushel. Lana adores you and you have proven time and again that you are a kind, loving, caring and doting father. Stop allowing people to turn your kindness into weakness. You deserve better and I know that you can achieve it. No matter what, my gentle prince, I’m proud of you. Know that I was proud of you them moment I breathed my last breath, and Ruby and I will be looking down on you waiting for that greatness that I know is inside you to be released. You know what I mean, son.”

“Yeah, Dad,” Stanley whispers, “I know what you mean.” After a brief moment of silence, Wu continues to read.

“To you, Stanley, I bequeath your mother’s pearl jewelry collection and her antique ring. I’ve seen the way Lana admired them when Ruby was alive, but I was unable to part with them while I was living. Now, I’m sure Ruby will be proud to see her precious pieces gracing the neck of your beautiful wife. I also bequeath you your mother’s collection of her original paintings. I’ve kept them in preserved storage all this time, also unable to part with them before I shed my earthly coil. Now that I’m with my Ruby, I know in my heart that you’ll appreciate your mom’s work. As always, hang loose, son.”

“Mom’s paintings,” Stanley says, wistfully awestruck. “Oh, dear God… he kept Mom’s paintings… for me!”

He says nothing about the antique and probably priceless jewelry that will be gifted to his wife—only the work of his mother’s hands that lived on as her legacy after she has passed away.

“To my second son, Freeman…”


A/N: “Oh mon Dieu”—”Oh, my God “

“Arrête s’il-te-plaît!”—”Stop, please!”

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

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 in the menu our you can click HERE.

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 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 45—Doing What Must Be Done

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

Chapter 45—Doing What Must Be Done

ANASTASIA

True to his word—and probably out of a sense of duty—Christian comes to the connection room with me in the morning and tries to meditate, which is probably the reason that it doesn’t work.

“It’s no use, Butterfly,” he says, interrupting me ten minutes into my meditation. “It’s not helping.” I sigh.

He’s sitting cross-legged lotus style in front of me. I move to sit in front of him in the same position.

“Are you comfortable?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says, almost sarcastically.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Work and us and the twins and…”

“That’s your problem,” I tell him. “That’s not meditating.”

“It’s so quiet!” he says, somewhat whiney. “When I try to clear my mind, a million thoughts pop up. Our trip to Detroit, having to deal with Freeman, what color is the sky…” I think he threw that last one in there to be sarcastic. “It’s the same as when I was trying to do it before. The only difference was that then, the quiet let the monsters in.” I move closer to him until our knees touch.

“Give me your hands,” I instruct him. He dutifully gives me his hands. “Now breathe with me… slowly. Slow deep breath in, fill your lungs completely…” I take in a deep breath. “Now count slowly to yourself as you exhale through your mouth.” He blows his breath out a little fast, so I have to instruct him a little more.

“Make an ‘o’ with your lips and exhale soft and slow, like you’re blowing on a dandelion. Count at least three seconds.”

“I’ve never blown a dandelion,” he protests.

“Okay, pretend like you’re blowing something else,” I say. I thought of gently blowing out a candle. I can tell by his facial expression where his mind goes.

Figures.

“In through your nose, deep breath,” I coach again. “Out through your mouth…”

Of course, it’s perfect this time, and I have to fight the visual of him blowing on my clit.

“In through your nose, out through your mouth… In… Out…” Once I see that he’s gotten the hang of the breathing, I move to the next step.

“Now, close your eyes and calm your breathing,” I tell him. “Breathe normally, but still feel the good air coming in, and the bad air going out. Concentrate on that serene feeling of cleansing and freedom.”

I can see when the serenity hits him. His face softens, and his shoulders relax. His breath becomes more and more even and a few moments later, he sinks into a complete sense of calm.

I don’t release his hands. I just sit there with him, close my eyes and finish my meditation.

Several minutes later, I stretch my neck and come out of my meditation. I open my eyes to see Christian still sitting across from me, still breathing, still relaxing. I gently stroke his hand with my thumb so as not to startle him too much. He slowly opens his lids, and cool, gray irises look back at me.

“How was that?” I ask. His eyes shift for a moment, then he breathes again and nods.

“Good, actually,” he replies. “Better than the last time. My mind still wandered every now and then, though.”

“That’s okay,” I tell him. “Meditation is about focus, but the silence tends to make you focus on the wrong things. We’ll try this a bit and see if it works for you, then we’ll try some more advanced techniques. Tell me, how do you feel?”

“More… relaxed,” he says as if searching for the word, “like thinking isn’t such a trial. Maybe ‘trial’ is the wrong word…” He trails off.

“I think you’re getting it,” I say, rewarding him with a sweet smile. His expression is soft, though he doesn’t smile. I gaze into his eyes and see a myriad of emotions there, things that I know he can’t verbalize. Last night at the lake was the first time I’ve ever seen my husband so sadly and desperately passionate about anything. If there was another time, it’s been erased by the accident. Even Montana didn’t have him this passionate or openly maudlin, that he showed me. The Elliot misunderstanding was certainly maudlin, but not this passionate. This time…

God, we’ve been through so much in such a brief period of time, and goddammit, we’re both amateurs! My only gauge is a psychopathic cheating ex who eventually hanged himself in a jail cell. Christian has no prior gauge at all. Some days, I wonder how we make it out alive.

At first, I think it’s my imagination, but I realize the space is closing between us… like in slow motion. The emotions prevalent in his eyes now are longing and, I think, hope.

Kiss me…

He doesn’t say it, but I hear it. I release his hands and take his face gently in mine. Closing the space between us, I press tender kisses on his lips, closing my eyes and feeling the softness. I slant my mouth over his and deepen the kiss only slightly, and he slides his hands around my waist. I push my hands into his hair and massage his scalp with my fingertips. He pulls me to my knees while rising to his own and envelops me in his arms, pulling me closer to his body.

We taste one another, slowly and gently, and I feel our connection—like it was before Madrid… and Liam. I feel my Christian, my lover and my protector, and I chance the moment of feeling safe and loved in his arms, like we used to be. He pulls slightly away from me and looks into my eyes.

“We… should get our day started,” he says, his voice soft, but raspy. “There’s a lot we need to do.”

“Yeah,” I say, gently brushing his uncut hair off his forehead. We share another gaze before he rubs his nose against mine and I reciprocate with another gentle kiss to his lips.

Crawling…

He lifts me effortlessly from the floor and places me gently on my feet. He takes my hand and leads me out of the connection room.

“I’m going to work from home today,” he says as he closes the secret door, “get some things settled for the trip to Detroit. Leave the twins here. I’d like to spend some time with them.” I smile. He’s been quite the doting father since his return. He was attentive before. I mean, he never neglected them except for his momentary check-out after Burt died and then this time—going off to Madrid and not seeing or speaking to them for weeks. I’m sure that he wants to make up for lost time, but he has his whole life to do that, as long as he doesn’t continue to do that check out thing when times get tough.

Try to think positive, Dr. Grey. It’s all you’ve got right now.

“I need to go to the Center, but I won’t be gone long,” I tell him. “I’d like to spend some time with them, too.” He smiles at me and releases my hand before going off to his bathroom. There’s still a small rift between us, but we’re working on it. I just want things to be the way that they were before Liam darkened our door.

Liam…

I swear to God, if I ever see that guy again, I’ll nail him square in the balls!

*-*

“No, we’re not going, dear,” Grace says to me while were sitting in my makeshift office. My office is being painted for my self-funded remodel. “Unfortunately, it’s too short notice. The Center will once again be without administration and I also have my shifts at the hospital. I couldn’t go if I tried. And Luma has a job, too, though I’m sure her generous boss would be willing to give her time off for this,” she says playfully. I often forget that Luma works for Christian. I just see her as family.

“Nonetheless,” Gail continues, “she has the girls to tend to. She needs to get them off to school in the morning and such. I do wish we could go, but to be honest, Christian is the one that’s going to need the moral support. Detroit was home to Carrick and Herman. Their worst memories are probably of Freeman, and they can handle that. Christian, on the other hand…”

She doesn’t finish her sentence, but she doesn’t have to. The monsters of Motown are often still chasing my husband during his darkest hours.

“I sincerely wonder what made him agree to go to Detroit in the first place,” she continues. “I certainly know that Carrick wouldn’t have asked him. We’re both only too aware of the horrible impact that place has had on him.”

“If I know my husband like I think I do, he just wants to be there to support his father,” I reply. “Don’t worry, Grace. He’ll be okay. I’ll keep my eye on him.” She sighs and shakes her head.

“You know how it is, dear,” she says, looking at her feet, “or at least you will. You never stop worrying about them no matter how old they get or how successful they become.” I squeeze her hand.

“Let’s go look at my office space,” I say, changing the subject. “I hear the painting is just about done and I can tell you what I’ve got planned…”

I’m delighted to find that the painting is completely finished, but unfortunately, it’s not dry yet. No matter, the furniture isn’t set to be delivered until Monday anyway as I was certain that the painting wouldn’t be done until then. Once we moved the furniture out, I realized that there was much more space in there than I thought. So, I’ve decided to make the office into two distinct spaces—a sitting area and the office area. The “office” portion is painted two tones of yellow, both muted, and the “Zen” sitting area is covered in a textured gray wallpaper. I wouldn’t have thought the two would go together, but when I looked at the furnishings that I chose, they were both the perfect choices to blend and separate the offices at the same time. Tongue and groove wood flooring will be laid over the weekend to finish things off.

“It’s going to be pretty minimalist,” I tell Grace as she’s eying the two separate colors of the room. “The need for change is prominent in my life right now… for obvious reasons.”

“Mmm,” Grace says in contemplation looking around the office. Does she not like the colors?

“What is it?” I ask.

“Oh, nothing, it just… This made me realize how long it’s been since I’ve changed my office,” she says. “It’s never been a priority. I came here, I did what I did, and I left. I’m only just realizing how much time I spend in that room.” She looks at me. “My office at the hospital is pretty cozy—warm and inviting. My space here looks like the principal’s office! I was so dead set against using any outside funds for the Center that I didn’t think about using my own funds for my personal space.” She turns to me. “Even though I’m only here on a part-time basis, it’s still something like 20 – 25% of my life.” I gesture around my empty office.

“You don’t have to convince me,” I point out. “I’m here more than you are, but then, I don’t have a full-time job either. How long has it been since you’ve updated the space?” She folds her arms and leans against the outside door jam.

“Like… never.” I just look at her. “Yes, I think it’s definitely time for a change,” and I can see the wheels turning.

“Grace, have you spoken to John?” I ask. He’s been MIA and mute for months now, even before Pops died. Exactly what’s going on with his son?

“Yes, I did,” she says, and her voice turns somber. “I’m not sure he’ll be coming back, dear.” My eyes widen.

“Why not?” I ask. “What happened?”

“His son is very sick,” she says. “I told you that he contracted something when they went home a while back. Well, the doctors here were no good in diagnosing what it was. They kept treating the flu and he kept getting worse—knocking on death’s door, in fact. So, they took him to a doctor overseas. They began treating him and he began to show improvement. What’s more is that they were able to isolate the virus. It’s a coronavirus that behaves a lot like SARS…”

“Were they treating him for SARS?” I ask.

“They weren’t treating him for anything because they thought it was the flu,” she replies. “You don’t treat the flu. You treat the symptoms and wait until it passes. When it didn’t pass, they started treating him for pneumonia. He was getting marginally better, but you’re looking at a virus, not an infection. That’s when John and Rhian decided to take him overseas. Too much time had gone by and he wasn’t showing enough improvement. Long story short, after lots and lots of brutal testing and agonizingly long nights, he’s been diagnosed with MERS.” I frown.

“What the hell is MERS?” I ask. I may need to do some continuing education for this one.

“Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome,” she says. My frown deepens. It’s sounds just like SARS.

“Is this something somebody made up?” I ask. “I swear, this sounds like somebody trying to get into a medical journal or something, and they’re using this kid to do it.”

“Well, he’s not the first case. In fact, several people have died from it over the last two years.”

“But you said he went to England,” I protest. “How can a kid who went to England contract something from the Middle East? Did they visit Iran, too? And why do they name illnesses after regions? It makes it sound like the entire area is infected.”

60662cdbb617d5bbbfb4c15950e146c6The West Nile Virus and the German Measles immediately come to mind. I’m seeing the old pictures in my head of children singing Ring Around the Rosie during the time of the Black Death. I know those origins are questionable, but the impact is just as strong as the uncertainty around this MERS thing.

“There were cases if it across parts of Britain as well,” she says. “It’s not unheard of that John’s son could have contracted it.”

“Well, what’s different about MERS? Why not just call it what it is? It’s SARS.”

“I’m not completely versed on this, dear, but the virus is a different mutation. It doesn’t spread as quickly as SARS, but it can be deadly nonetheless.” I sigh. It frustrates me when I can’t clearly understand things.

“Okay, so, that still doesn’t tell me why John’s not coming back,” I say.

“Well, the government won’t let his son back into the country until he’s well.” Now, I’m appalled.

“What?!” I nearly roar. “He’s an American citizen! Wasn’t he born here?”

“Yes, but he has a very aggressive strain of a disease that we’re not really schooled on yet, and if they have advanced knowledge and feel like he’s going to infect other ‘citizens,’ the government and the CDC can deny him re-entry. As a result, John is discontent with the United States right now and is questioning his intent to return.” I shake my head in disgust.

“I’d be discontent, too, if I were him,” I say. It’s not that John is one of my favorite people, but we’re talking about watching your son suffer, then being told that you can’t return to the land of the free and the home of the brave because someone slapped a label on what he has and they’re still discovering what’s under this label. I still think it’s SARS, but I’m not qualified enough to say.

“Have you told Christian?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“I only just found out… this morning, in fact. I was going to tell you, but you asked me first, so…” She trails off.

“I’ll tell him,” I say. “I won’t spring it on him yet with the lovely trip that we have ahead of us, but I’ll find the right time.” He considers John a friend, so he would definitely want to know.

*-*

“Help!” I hear Christian declare. “I’m being baby-mangled!”

I follow Minnie’s maniacal giggles to find my family. Christian is on the floor on his back, dramatically pretending to struggle to get free of a smiling and drooling Mikey, who’s on his hands and knees on top of Christian, pounding his flat hands on his father’s chest. Minnie is sitting up on a blanket nearby surrounded by pillows, bouncing and laughing hysterically at her brother and her father. I quietly take out my phone and begin recording.

“This looks like the end for King Christian,” my husband says in a narrating voice. “The Incredible Mikey has him subdued with no hope of escape!”

“No! No!” he continues, changing his voice to remain in character. “I’ll never yield!”

“Try though he might…” the narrator is back, “King Christian cannot defeat the Incredible Mikey. He tries one last tactic—the Terror Tickle!” Christian tickles his son and Mikey bursts into joyous laughter, his sister following suit for no particular reason whatsoever as she launches a plush toy across the pillow fort that connects with Christian’s tickle hand. Christian throws a mock-horrified look at his daughter.

“Hey!” he protests. “That’s outside interference! Whose side are you on?”

I have to cover my mouth to keep from bursting into laughter. Mikey’s hard guffaws result in a healthy amount of drool leaking onto Christian’s shirt.

“Uuuuugghh!” he exclaims. “The Toxic Droll Attack! I’m done for!”

I’m nearly choking on air over here. I can barely hold my phone straight.

“That’s it, ladies and gentlemen,” the narrator says, “King Christian is throwing in the towel, which he needs now for the toxic baby drool…”

Oh, dear Lord, help me.

My husband uses a burping cloth to clean the drool from Mikey’s mouth and as much of it as he can from his shirt before declaring the Incredible Mikey the new babyweight world champion. He stands to his feet, lifting his son in the air and presenting him as the new champion, spinning around and imitating crowd cheering sounds…

And then he sees me and stops in his tracks.

I’m finally able to release the laughter I’d been choking on ever since I started recording. My husband twists his lips.

“How long have you been standing there?” he asks, acting perturbed.

“Ever since you cried about being baby-mangled,” I tease. His expression doesn’t do anything to curb my laughter. “Do you realize how hard it is to take that stern look seriously while you have drool on your shirt and that adorable baby in your hands?”

He looks at his shirt, then at Mikey.

“She doesn’t understand how hard this Daddy thing can be,” he says to Mikey, “but that’s okay. You get me, don’t you?” I chuckle as I stop recording.

“It can’t be any harder than being the milk-producing snack bitch for two little people,” I laugh. Christian frowns.

“Oh, Butterfly, that sounds terrible,” he laments. I laugh it off.

“Well, it’s true,” I say, grabbing my swollen boobs. “Have they eaten?”

“They have, in fact,” he says, “maybe about an hour ago.”

“In that case, I have a date with a breast pump… and you might want to stop swinging the babyweight champion around or he might give you back his lunch.” Christian looks at Mikey who only laughs at his father.

“That might be a good idea,” he says, securing his son in his arms.

“Ms. Solomon is there anything ready that I can eat?” I ask as I’m passing through the kitchen. “I skipped lunch and just came home.”

“What are you in the mood for?” she asks, opening the Sub-Zero.

“Anything quick and dead,” I tell her. When I’m hungry, I’ll inhale whatever’s in that refrigerator. Ms. Solomon laughs.

“Give me fifteen minutes,” she says. “I’ll put something together for you.”

It only takes a few minutes this time to empty my pounding tits and change into some genie pants and a wrap shirt. I take a few moments to myself to meditate and re-center before I go back downstairs to join my family.

A heavenly smell greets me as I bend the corner from the hallway to the dining room, causing me to nearly sprint to the kitchen.

“My God, what did you do?” I ask when I see the spread on the breakfast bar.

“Nothing,” Ms. Solomon says, “Glorified grilled cheese and tomato soup.” She has a place set at the breakfast bar with a steaming bowl of creamy tomato soup. I sit at the breakfast bar and she sets a plate next to the bowl with the grilled cheese sandwich that she made—thick slices of bread with oregano and parsley grilled with Canadian bacon, Monterey Jack cheese… and something yellow. I bite into the heavenly creation and realize that it’s a slice of pineapple. I never would have thought to put that combination together, but it’s absolutely delicious!

“What made you think of this combination?” I say, rudely talking with my mouth full as she puts a cranberry spritzer down next to me.

“My stepmother was Samoan,” she says. “She used to make them for me and my brothers all the time.” I nod and take another healthy bite of my sandwich.

“Damn, what smells so good?” Christian comes into the kitchen and sees my sandwich. “Can I have a bite?”

“Touch my food and you’ll pull back a nub!” I exclaim, still chomping on Canadian bacon and pineapple. Holy cow, Batman, this is delicious. Christian actually looks at me in surprised horror. Ms. Solomon laughs.

“Sit down, Mr. Grey,” she chuckles. “Five minutes.” She turns around and gets to work on his sandwich.

“What happened to what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine?” he says while taking a seat next to me at the breakfast bar. I swallow the bite of heaven that I’m chewing.

“She’s fixing yours,” I say, as I take a spoonful of the creamiest tomato soup I’ve ever tasted. I groan in satisfaction and he tries to take my sandwich again. I smack his hand so fast and so hard that he snatches it back swiftly.

“Ow!” he exclaims. “Okay! I believe you!”

“You better,” I say, taking another spoonful of my soup and groaning again in satisfaction.

“Here, sir,” Ms. Solomon says, sitting a bowl of soup in front of him. “Work on that while I finish your sandwich. I don’t want to be responsible for any death or dismemberment.” I chuckle as Christian picks up his spoon and tastes the soup.

“This is delicious!” he says taking another spoonful. “Tomato bisque?” Ms. Solomon shrugs.

“I guess you could call it bisque,” she says. “I use different ingredients, though.”

“Another recipe from your stepmom?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No, from my mom, before she passed away.” I get quiet. I don’t know anything about hers or Windsor’s family, but I just didn’t think to assume that her mother was dead.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“Don’t be,” she replies, waving me off as she flips Christian’s sandwich. “It was a long time ago.” Christian tastes some more of his soup.

“This is so good,” he croons, taking spoonful after spoonful of the soup. I’m glad he likes it, so he can leave my damn sandwich alone.

“I’m glad you like it,” Ms. Solomon says, plating and slicing his sandwich before putting it in front of him. “What would you like to drink?” He looks over at my spritzer.

“I’ll have what she’s having,” he says before taking a huge bite of his sandwich. “Mmm… mm, mm, mm…” He chews the sandwich hungrily like a savage, so much so that I have to stop eating to observe the spectacle. He pays me no attention as he devours his food.

“I knew it would taste good,” he says, taking another monstrous bite that annihilates half of the half of sandwich that he had in his hand. I shake my head and tuck back into my food. It’s silent in the kitchen for about three minutes and then it dawns on me.

“Where are the twins?” I ask between bites of food.

“Still in the family room,” he says. “They’re safe in their Pack-n-Plays watching television. Keri’s in there with them.” He has already gobbled down half his sandwich—in three bites! And he wanted a piece of mine. I don’t think so, Hungry Jack!

“Is it safe to approach?”

Christian and I both stop eating and turn our heads to the voice coming from nowhere. Elliot is hiding behind one of the marble columns and all we see is his arm and a white handkerchief waving in the air.

“You tattled on me to my father, you fucking snitch,” Christian scolds. “I should kick your ass, you pussy.”

“Hey, I just wanted to make sure everything was okay,” he excuses. “You weren’t giving me any information and you looked like shit. No offense, but so did you, Montana.”

“Thanks,” I say sarcastically as I’m finishing off my soup.

“And now, you insult my wife. Don’t you have a home, now? Hell, for that matter, don’t you have a fucking job?” Christian snaps.

“I could say the same thing to you,” he says coming over to the breakfast bar and looking at what’s left of my sandwich. Without making eye-contact with him, I quickly grab what’s left of my sandwich and gobble down the last bite.

“You’re in my house,” Christian retorts. “Don’t ask me why I’m in my house. Why are you here?”

“I was in the neighborhood,” he admits, taking a seat next to Christian and now eying the other half of his sandwich.

“Elliot, so help me, if you touch my sandwich, you’ll leave this house in a body bag.” I look horrified at my husband.

“Damn,” I protest. “I only threatened to maim you.”

“Well, can I have one?” Elliot says. “I’m starving… and you know I’d never take your food.” He rolls his eyes at his brother.

“Well, then, you should have eaten before you got here…” The entire time that they’re sparring, Ms. Solomon has already put another sandwich in the frying pan and started the microwave to rewarm the tomato bisque. I shake my head and take my dishes to the sink.

“I could have done that, Mrs. Grey,” Ms. Solomon says.

“It’s alright,” I say, wiping my hands on a dishtowel.

“Go find lunch somewhere else, you moocher,” Christian says, still antagonizing his brother.

“So, Elliot, you said you were in the neighborhood,” I say, breaking the sparring match. “What were you doing in these parts?”

“Oh, the Miller place,” he says. “Mrs. Miller hasn’t changed anything since her husband died. It’s been ten years and she’s ready for a redo.” Christian finishes his lunch just as Ms. Solomon is putting the soup in front of Elliot.

“Careful, it’s hot,” she says as she takes Christian’s dishes and put them in the sink.

“You’re doing less building and more remodels now, bro?” Christian says.

“No, still doing builds,” he says, blowing a spoonful of soup to cool it. “Gia called me on this one. Said Mrs. Miller saw the pictures of your house on a preview of that show that supposed to be coming on, where you guys did the interview…” I look at Christian.

“I thought we were supposed to approve the showing before they aired it,” I say.

“We are,” he says, pulling out his phone. “Mac… call that woman, Sanchez… we’re hearing through the grapevine that people are seeing previews of our interview and we haven’t approved anything… yeah, my brother’s getting remodel requests because someone’s already seen the inside of my house… I’ll wait for your call.” He ends the call with Vee. “She hasn’t heard anything either. I hope we haven’t made a mistake letting this woman into our lives.”

“I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding,” I say, afraid to let on that I’m thinking the same thing. By now, Ms. Solomon has set yet another of her delectable sandwiches in front of Elliot. He has already dug into it and opted for apple juice. “So, Elliot, who’s Gia?” I ask, trying to change the subject until we hear from Maria.

Elliot was thoroughly enjoying his sandwich but stops mid-chew at the mention of this woman’s name. He looks over at Christian, then back at me.

“She doesn’t know about Gia?” he asks, his mouth full. What’s in this damn sandwich that makes us all forget our manners? Christian shrugs like, “No big deal.”

“Why should I know about Gia?” I ask.

“Elliot used to fuck her,” Christian blurts out before finishing his cranberry spritzer. Elliot quickly swallows his food.

“More importantly,” he retorts, “she did your boat.

Aah, the plot thickens. This is the woman’s touch that I saw all over the Slayer.

“I see,” I say, taking my husband’s glass and walking over to the sink.

“Thanks, Lelliot,” I hear him hiss. “I think I’d like for you to leave now!”

“I just started eating!” Elliot protests quietly. “Besides, you’re the one that blurted out that we used to fuck.”

“Oh, but the fact that Gia did my boat—that needed to be known, right? I don’t talk to the woman anymore, but you’re doing remodeling jobs with her…”

I know exactly what Elliot’s doing. He’s trying to take the focus off himself by casting it on Christian. I know how to deflate that agenda.

“So, Elliot,” I turn back to the bickering brothers, “Gia’s a decorator?” He nods. “And how does Val feel about you working with an ex-girlfriend?” He stops mid-chew again and raises his eyes to me.

“She doesn’t know,” he says after swallowing his food, “and she wasn’t a girlfriend.”

“Do you think it’s a good idea for you to be working with someone whom you’ve previously bedded, and your wife doesn’t know?” I press.

“I’m not screwing the woman now,” he protests. “It’s just a lead. A lead is a lead.”

“So, she’s not working on the remodel with you.” It’s a question formed as a statement.

“Well, yeah, she’s working on the design plans but… I’m not messing around with her…”

“But you used to,” I press. Elliot gets quiet. “Trust me, Elliot, secrets in a relationship can be disastrous.” I look over at Christian, who raises his gaze to me. I know only too well of what I speak. I could have lost my marriage because I didn’t come to my husband when I knew Liam was attracted to me and I still had to work with him.

“Tell her before she finds out from somebody else, like some gossip rag that may see the two of you together at the Miller mansion.”

Before he has the chance to respond, I leave the kitchen and go into the family room with my babies. The topic is a bit too much for me to stomach right now. My mood immediately turns sour and I need little bundles of pink and blue to reverse its affects.


CHRISTIAN

“Nice fucking going, Elliot!” I hiss. “Did you intentionally come over here to upset my wife or do you have a purpose?”

“You know I wasn’t trying to upset her…” His excuse is weak.

“What the fuck were you doing, then?” I counter. “More importantly, she did your boat.” I mock his voice in a very unflattering manner. “I realize that you were in the Caribbean enjoying the sun and surf, but I’m certain that Valerie told you what we just went through.” He slaps his forehead.

“Shit, man, I forgot all about that,” he laments.

“I. Haven’t!” I bark. “I’m still fucking living it! You wanna know why we looked like shit last night? It’s because we were out on the lawn crying over whether we should even continue being married or not!” Elliot’s eyes widen.

“Dude… I’m sorry. I just panicked. The spotlight shined on me and I just… panicked.”

“So, you thought you’d get the heat off you by throwing me under the bus? How’d that work out for you?” I glare at my brother.

“It was a fucked-up thing to do, man,” he admits. “I’m really sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” I twist my lip.

“Yeah, whatever.” I stand from the stool. “She’s right. Tell your wife that you used to fuck Gia and that you’re working together. Now, finish your fucking lunch and get the hell out of my house.” I brush past him.

“Christian, really, I’m sorry, man. It was a bonehead…”

“I agree,” I say, interrupting his apology. “I heard you the first time, and I accept your apology, but I can’t talk to you right now. Finish your lunch and leave.”

I turn away from my brother and walk into the family room. My wife is sitting on the floor with a baby on each shoulder. She’s humming softly while simultaneously and masterfully rocking them to sleep. I sit on the sofa next to where she’s sitting on the floor and watch my children contentedly falling asleep on her shoulder as she sings to them. I can’t make out the tune, but they’re slipping comfortably into slumber. I take out my phone and snap a few pictures of my son and daughter lying peacefully on their mother’s shoulder. When she’s certain that they’re asleep, she asks me to help her put them down. We put each of them in their Pack-n-Play. They’ve gotten too big for the nappers. We stand there for a moment, silently looking down into the Pack-n-Plays.

“I… slept with Victoria once,” I blurt out. She turns her gaze to me.

“Victoria who?” she says, and then it hits her. “Vickie?” she asks incredulously. “Courtney’s Vickie? She’s gay!”

“She… was indecisive at the time,” I say.

“Indecisive,” she says in the same incredulous voice, low enough not to wake the twins. “So, you made her realize she was gay?” I roll my eyes.

“No,” I say defensively, “I mean, she was already gay, but I was her last hurrah,” I clarify. I sigh. “I was still Elena’s submissive and I didn’t want a girlfriend, but I was away at college and I wanted to fuck. She wanted one last round. It was a means to and end for us both.” She raises her brow at me but says nothing.

“Elena beat the hell out of me when she found out,” I continue. “I think that was the last real punishment she ever gave me. I resented it. I was young and horny, and she was always there to fulfill that need when I had it. Yet, at college, she wasn’t—so what was I supposed to do?” I sit on the sofa as I recall my short stint at college. Two years. Two agonizing years, the first year I was completely celibate. It was torture.

“She wanted me to be all hot for her when I came home on vacations, and believe me, I was, but this time…”

I recall the not-so-fond memory of telling my Mistress that I had been with someone else…

“What’s going on?” she asks while were having dinner at her estate. “Something’s different.”

“No, Mistress,” I say, trying to hide the truth from her.

“Don’t lie to me, pet,” she purrs… more like growls. “What’s going on?” I sigh. I can’t keep if from her. I couldn’t if I tried.

“I’ve… been with someone… else,” I choke, unable to raise my gaze to my Mistress. There’s a long pause before she responds.

“I see,” she says, putting her wine on the table. “So, I assume you’ll be wanting to end our arrangement.”

“No!” I retort, quickly, raising my eyes to hers but dropping them just as quickly. “No, Mistress, I don’t.”

“You can’t mean that!” she barks. “You’ve been with someone else. You touched someone else without my permission, and you let her touch you! Surely, that means this is not what you want anymore.”

“That’s not true, Mistress,” I say, nearly begging. “I was counting the days to get back to you…”

“While in the arms of another woman!” she scolds viciously. “Then, I had to pull the truth out of you. Would you have even told me?” I nod.

“I would have,” I choke, “eventually. I just… didn’t know how.”

“I’m sure you didn’t!” she hisses, tossing her napkin on the table before standing. I stand as well, just like she taught me. “Go to the playroom. Strip, and wait for me there.”

I listen to her heels click angrily across the marble floor. Son of a motherfucking bitch…

I’m in for it now…

I remember some pretty bad beatings at the end of the Pedophile’s tools, but that was one of the worst. It was awful. Then while my skin was bruised and on fire—broken in some places—she made me fuck her and fuck her until she had enough, commanding me not to come. Then she sent me away, horny and in pain. She didn’t see me for the rest of spring break.

I remember coming home that summer and announcing that I wouldn’t be returning to school. It was a two-fold reason, the main one being that I could do what I needed to do without a Harvard education. The second was her. I was back at school afraid to even look at another girl for fear that Mistress had a bird on a wire somewhere that would fly back to her and tell her what I was doing. I was miserable. I wanted to be back in Seattle with my Mistress, where I could fuck. And I wanted to start my own business.

“How did she end up in Seattle?” Butterfly asks, breaking the silence between us. “Did she follow you?” I shake my head.

“No,” I tell her. “That’s how we connected. We were both from here. She finished her degree and with her business knowledge and her design savvy…” I flourish my hands to demonstrate that Victoria is now exactly where she wants to be.

“Well,” she says, walking over to where I’m sitting and stands in front of me. “You should be more worried about her with me at this point than I should be about her with you.” I shrug. “You told me because of what I said to Elliot?” I raise my eyes to her, then drop them again with a nod.

“It would have come out at one time or another,” I say. “It really didn’t mean anything… to either of us. It was just sex, but it’s better that you hear it from me than you hear it from anyone else.” There’s a short silence.

“And Gia?” she says. I raise my eyes to her. “You were a bachelor before you met me,” she says. “There was no reason for Jack and Jill bathrooms in the master suite. There was no reason for his and hers parlors/saloons when it was just you. The whole place should have been decked out like a bachelor pad, yet there were areas specifically designed with a woman in mind. You’re saying that there was no reason for Gia to think that woman was her?”

“Absolutely not!” I say definitely. “I was under no misconception that she was hopeful of wanting more, but that was by no encouragement from me. With the exception of Victoria in my college years, my only sexual relationships before you were with submissives… and one Domme.” God, I’m glad that part of my life is over.

“Fine,” she says, leaning down taking my hand. “That’s all that needs to be said about this issue. Let’s go get packed for Detroit.” She gives my hand a pull and I rise from the sofa. I look back at our children once more to make sure that they’re asleep and fall in line behind my wife.

Butterfly removes a garment bag and puts three outfits in it with lingerie, accessories, and toiletries. We’re only going to be there overnight—why is she packing so much?

“Is that, like, a rule with women or something? Pack enough clothes for a long weekend when we’re only staying for a day?” She looks at me.

“I have something casual, something business, something semi-formal. You never know what’s going to happen.”

“I know that we’re not going to be there long enough for you to need all those clothes,” I say, packing a single suit, linen shirt, shoes, and accessories in my garment bag, along with my toiletries pouch.

“Then if we don’t, no harm done,” she says as she begins to brush her hair. I don’t harp on it because I know she’s been having this doomsday mentality about everything lately. This could be another one of those things.

I’m heading to my bathroom when I hear my phone buzzing on the nightstand. I go back to the bed and pick it up. I don’t recognize the number.

“Grey,” I answer.

“Christian, I am so sorry!” I don’t recognize the voice immediately. “It’s Maria. Sanchez. I swear to God, I don’t know who dropped the ball, but those promos were not supposed to run until I spoke to you.” Indeed. I just bet.

“One minute.” I get my wife’s attention when she comes back out of her dressing room.

“It’s Maria Sanchez,” I say, waving at her and changing my phone to speaker. “You’re on speaker, and my wife is here.” She clears her throat.

“I was just telling Christian that I don’t know how the promos started without my knowledge. We’re still trying to find out who dropped the ball on this one, but I was going to call you tomorrow to see if your weekend was free. I was going to bring the footage to Seattle and we could all view it together in that beautiful theater of yours—promos and all—and you could tell me what you think.”

“Before we discuss that,” my wife interjects, “I’d like to know how footage of our interview—promo or not—made it on the air without our permission and apparently, also without your knowledge. Isn’t there some kind of order about things, some kind of clearances that have to be in place and some programming manager that has to organize what’s being shown and approve the lineup or something before it’s aired? Or is there some buffoon like grip boy grabbing things and handing them to someone and they just put it on a reel?”

Bravo, Butterfly! I couldn’t have said it better myself! I’m having flashbacks of the conversation that I had with Maria about Butterfly being the real firecracker between the two of us, and my beautiful wife is showing that it doesn’t do to fuck with her.

“Ana, I assure you, this doesn’t happen often. I’ve had all your footage placed under lock and key—the clips, the finished product, the promos, everything. The only thing that I can say as an explanation is that we’re planning for you guys to lead Sweeps Week, and this is the time that we start showing the promos for that week. Someone may have seen the schedule and pulled the promo not knowing that we didn’t get clearance from you yet. I’m so sorry about that. I know that this incident along with the incident with Reggie doesn’t really give you a feeling of security and faith in my network right now, but please, this was my fault for not being clear in my communication and handling of the promos. I take full responsibility for this and I beg your forgiveness for my carelessness.”

At least she owned the mistake. That counts for something and restores some of my faith in her. Butterfly, I’m not so sure.

“What’s next, Maria?” I ask impatiently. She sighs.

“We need you to view the footage as soon as possible,” she says. “Like I said, I can fly out to Seattle on Friday…”

“We won’t be here,” I interrupt. “We have urgent business in Detroit and we’re flying out tomorrow.”

“Will you be there all weekend?” she pries. “I can meet you in Detroit if you like…” Oh, hell, no!

“No, that won’t be necessary,” I tell her. “Plan to meet us Sunday morning back here in Seattle. We should be done with our business by Friday evening and that gives us a day to get back home and settle down.”

“Good, I’ll do that. And again, I’m really sorry.” I nod as if she could hear me and end the call. I raise my gaze to Butterfly.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” she reinforces.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say as I go back to my closet for casual wear and another suit to pack for our trip.

*-*

I hate this place.

I sincerely hate this place.

The last time I came anywhere near this hellhole, I discovered that the man who tormented me as a child and haunted my dreams for decades thereafter was indeed not tucked away in a jail cell somewhere but is somewhere wandering the world right now free as a fucking bird. Then I returned home to find that my wife was nearly killed by one of my crazy ass ex-subs. This place has absolutely no good memories for me—coming or going.

The minute we enter the airspace for DTW, my stomach starts churning and my spirit drops. My only comfort is that I’m holding the hand of my beautiful wife as we descend into Dante’s hell. My father doesn’t think I see him eyeing me out of his peripheral, and I think he’s more concerned about me than he is about the purpose of this trip. That’s exactly the opposite of what I want. I want to be moral support for him. It’s counterproductive if he must worry about me while we’re here.

“Are you okay?” my wife asks as I gaze out the window at the view beneath us while we descend into the airport. I nod.

“I’m fine,” I fib, “but I wouldn’t be lying if I said that I’ll be glad when this trip is over.” She squeezes my hand and smiles at me. She’s probably thinking the same thing that I am—It’s too late to back out now, so I might as well be useful.

We land at Detroit Metro at a little after 5:00pm local time. Jason has secured two vehicles for us while we’re here–one for Dad and Uncle Herman, and one for the three of us. Dad will be going to the private investigator’s office to see if there’s any information that he can get from them. He knows that legally, they don’t have to tell him anything, but armed with the fact that he’s an attorney and that his and Uncle Herman’s notices of the will reading mysteriously disappeared from the US Mail, he’s hoping that he can get someone to break under pressure. There’s no confidentiality between the agency and Freeman; they’re just not under any obligation to tell my father anything.

“No Audis, huh?” I ask when I see the generic SUV that my best friend has procured… maybe not generic, but generic to me. He raises his eyebrow at me.

“You’re kidding, right?” he asks. “In the land of the Big 3? You’re lucky if you find a Volkswagen.” I shake my head and help my wife into the large Lincoln Navigator. Thank God this is only for one day.

The attorney, who used to have an office in downtown Detroit, has now moved his practice to Troy. Thank God! We reserved a hotel room in Birmingham, halfway between Troy and Uncle Stan’s place in Farmington. Since Detroit Metro Airport is in the southeastern portion of the Mitten, and Farmington, Birmingham, and Troy are all in the northern metropolitan suburbs, the drawback is that unless we want to take some insanely crazy and unnecessary detour, we have to drive through the west side of Detroit.

The good news is that we don’t have to stop.

Dad drives the Navigator with me, Uncle Herman, and my wife inside to Uncle Stan’s house, while Jason takes the MKS to the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham to get me and my wife checked in. He’ll meet us later at Uncle Stan’s house to take us back to the hotel.

I’m in contemplation as we travel down the I-94 headed for the Southfield freeway that will take us to the northern suburbs. I fucking hate being here. I fucking hate it. I see nothing that rings any bells or causes any feelings of déjà vu, but I hate being here anyway. I hate what this place represents. I hate everything about it.

There’s a giant ass fucking tire on the side of the road. A giant ass fucking tire. It’s great advertising, but whose fucking idea was that? Uniroyal… yeah, while I’m driving down the fucking freeway, I’m going to remember Uniroyal.com, right? Shit, I’ll remember it if I have a blowout right there by the damn giant tire.

We turn onto Southfield Road and there are more residential areas—nice ones, and I realize that we must not be in Detroit yet. Even at night, I can tell that we’re in a nicer area.

“Remember the Glass House, Rick?” Uncle Herman’s voice breaks my train of thought and I see him pointing to a ten or twelve-story glass building to the right of the freeway.

“How can I forget?” Dad says as we pass the building. “Dad used to take us to every event that ever happened at that place,” he says to me in the mirror, “like he owned the place.” He turns his attention back to the road. “He was really proud to be a Ford employee. It meant something back then.”

“It doesn’t anymore?” I ask, turning my attention to my father. He half shrugs.

“I don’t know, son,” he says, his voice nostalgic. “Back in those days, everybody wanted to work at Ford or one of the Big Three. It meant that you made it in Motown, because even though it was hard work, it was really good money. For a lot of people, the factories made the American Dream come true. It… just doesn’t seem that way anymore.” He falls silent and that’s when I see the sign.

Joy Rd, 1 mile…

We’re in Detroit.

I take a deep breath and look around at my surroundings. Again, even in the dark, you can tell by the change of scenery that we’re in the city. It doesn’t look run-down that I can tell, except for certain patches of it, but it’s not as vibrant-looking as the neighborhoods and areas surrounding the airport. Sensing my tension, Butterfly squeezes my hand. I squeeze back but continue to look out the window at the city. Large, vacant fields can be seen by the sides of the freeway—lots where buildings once stood. The landscaping is splotchy and some of the grass that lines the inclines has died. Even the freeway itself is unkept—badly patched tar jobs that look like someone just spilled the compound over the road; brown stains dripping down the concrete of bridges and overpasses from badly rusted fences. I’m sure this is not the only city in America that looks like this, but right now, I’m only seeing Detroit.

Plymouth Rd, Schoolcraft Ave, 1 mile…

There are orange construction cones on this part of the freeway, but I swear that I can’t see any work being done—just the right lane of the freeway being blocked off and slowing our commute out of this God-forsaken city. I think Dad says something to me, but I’m not sure. I see a few more houses on the edge of the freeway, and then we pass another main street.

I feel like I’m holding my breath. I feel like my bio-mom’s decomposing body is going to jump in front of the car at any moment… or one of the fucking Myricks… or somebody—another crackhead or a john or…

96, Downtown Detroit, Lansing, 1 ¼ mile…

Trash discarded from cars or from God knows where collects in masse at the base of fences where the wind has carried it as far as it can go and the metal acts like a net gathering the debris. Graffiti lines the concrete walls and even some of the overpasses and medians. How the hell do you vandalize a median on a busy freeway?

5, Grand River, Fenkell Ave, 3/4 mile…

More small houses line the side of the freeway and even though they don’t look as bad as some of the prior houses, the neighborhood is still run down. I hold my breath as we drive under an overpass that’s so rusted and corroded that I’m afraid it’s going to collapse on our car!

McNichols Rd, 1 mile…

I can see more trees. The houses are getting larger. A church with a steeple… but still quite a bit of debris and dead shrubbery on the freeway.

More trees, more houses. The grass is greener down here, but the road and the medians and walls are still very unkempt.

7 Mile Rd, ¾ mile…

Another church. Damn, how many churches are on this road? With this many churches around, there shouldn’t be a junkie, a pimp, or a crack whore in sight, and yet…

The walls are tall in this part of the freeway. It makes me feel… trapped. I take a deep breath, but I don’t think I release it.

102, 8 Mile Rd, ¾ mile…

Eight Mile. Eight Mile Road. Eight Mile marks the end of Wayne county and the beginning of Oakland county. This far west, that means Southfield and Oak Park, three-quarters of a mile away.

As if the grass and the trees know that we’re about to leave Detroit, they begin to show beautiful autumn colors and the lush fullness of green that precedes a long winter’s sleep. There’s very little—if any—debris in the road and the overpass we just went under actually looks ornate, with fresh, black wrought iron fences lining the banister. Even the road itself looks newer.

102, 8 Mile Rd, ½ mile…

Now the signs are taunting me. None of the other signs had any ½-mile markers, just ¾ and 1 mile. Come on, Oakland county…

The walls get tall again, like prison walls, and as the road rises towards the 8-Mile exit, there are more houses—a lot more—and another ornate overpass with wrought iron fencing. And then we cross 8 Mile, and that breath that I took in a mile or so back comes rushing from my chest with so much force that I nearly choke on air.

North 10 to West 696, Lansing, ¾ mile…

39, Freeway ends, ¾ mile…

Southfield Rd…

I’m still choking on air and my wife is squeezing my hand and rubbing my back. Dad says something about pulling over and Uncle Herman is asking if I’m okay.

“I’m fine,” I gasp, “Keep going. Keep driving.” For God’s sake, please don’t stop.

Smooth roads, beautiful lush trees and grass, quaint houses and impressive businesses and office buildings… Not the crème de la crème of the area, but we’ve definitely left Detroit.

I made it.

*-*

“God, am I glad to see you guys,” Uncle Stan greets us when he opens the door. “I hadn’t heard anything, so I thought you just decided not to come.”

He gives Uncle Herman a robust hug before looking at his brother with sincere adoration in his eyes. They say a few words about missing each other and such before Uncle Stan takes Dad in his arms and hugs him just as robustly. I somewhat usher my wife in front of me to give myself more time to prepare for my hug. I’m still very uncomfortable with people hugging me, and even though Uncle Stan is family, he’s still a virtual stranger for the most part. I don’t want to offend him, though, by shunning his hug or stiffening up when he embraces me. Dad whispers in his brother’s ear, squeezes his forearms and smiles widely. Uncle Stan returns the smile and nods before turning to my wife.

“May I?” he says, opening his arms to Butterfly.

“Of course, you may,” she says sweetly, opening her arms to welcome him. “It’s so good to see you again,” she says as they embrace. I plaster a half-smile on my face and wait for their exchange to end, steeling myself for my turn. When they part, Stan’s smile widens, and he grabs my hand, shaking it vigorously and jovially with the other hand clasped on top.

“It’s wonderful to see you again, Christian,” he says cheerfully. “I don’t know if I thanked you properly but thank you… thank you for everything!”

His smile is bright like sunshine, like a naïve child. If I had to categorize the brothers, I would say that my dad is the intellectual, Herman is the caretaker, Freeman’s the asshole, and Stanley is the sensitive one.

“Anytime, Uncle Stan,” I reply, still waiting for the death grip hug.

“Welcome! Welcome to my home.” He releases my hand, but only touches my arm. “Please,” he says, flourishing his other hand in front of us to usher me inside, “come in. Make yourself comfortable.”

“What smells so delicious?” Butterfly asks, as we enter the living room. I realize that Dad must have quickly said something to Stan about my haphephobia. I try not to sigh audibly when I realize that he’s not going to hug me, but he still managed to make me feel as welcome and loved as everyone else.

A/N: DTW—the airport code for Detroit Metro Airport. It stands for Detroit/Wayne.

Christian references “the Mitten.” For those who may not already know, the lower peninsula of Michigan looks like a mitten.

~~love and handcuffs