Raising Grey: Chapter 89—Still Minding the Monsters

I passed my CE. Now, I get to keep those 44 licenses!

One and a half months…
6 classes…
31 credit hours…
3 days of testing…
My scores: 96, 96, 92, 88, 84, 82

Thank you to all of you who encouraged and prayed for me. I couldn’t have done it without you and I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.

Thanks to my mommy who, even though she was sick, was encouraging and rooting for me the whole time.

Especially thank you to my Daddy, who catered to my every need while I studied and wouldn’t allow me to doubt myself for one moment!

We did it, y’all! ❤ 

FYI—four more chapters in book four after this one and a new era begins for our couple!

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 89—Still Minding the Monsters


CHRISTIAN 

I awake in the middle of the night again and discover that Butterfly has left our bed. I go in search of her and find her in the yoga room, sitting on the floor and assembling her Lego model of the Sydney Opera House.

“Why are you awake?” I ask. She raises her gaze to me for a moment, then turns her attention back to the Lego model.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she admits. “I got up and journaled for a while, then I decided to meditate a bit, but I’m still not tired. So…” She gestures at her Lego model.

“What’s keeping you awake?” I ask. “Something on your mind?”

“The usual stuff,” she dismisses. “Nothing and everything.”

So, something’s on her mind but she doesn’t want to talk about it.

“Do you need some help?” I ask.

“No,” she says. “It’s therapeutic, but you can come and sit with me while I finish if you want to.” I graciously accept the invitation, sitting on the floor lotus-style in front of her and the Lego pieces. We had already talked about our day, so we just sit quietly—me watching while her dexterous fingers snap the little pieces into place. It’s not an exact replica, but it’s enough to remind her of our trip.

She put it on one of the shelves in the yoga room, and now I realize that she’s been quite busy in here. The shelves are neatly arranged with paraphernalia from different stages of our lives.

Seashells and souvenirs from our trip to Anguilla, including the dolphin globe…

A picture of me and Gail walking down the aisle on her wedding day…

The picture of us from our first press conference standing in front of the elevator at Grey House…

A picture of her and Marlow—I don’t know from where or when…

Many, many more pictures—Christmases, birthdays, wedding and bridal showers, weddings…

Her promise ring sealed in what looks like an acrylic box… I can’t be upset about it, considering the carats she has on her hand now.

A miniature Eiffel Tower and what looks like a map of some of the ruins from Greece…

A cork from one of the bottles of Screaming Eagle wine from Napa Valley…

A picture of her henna-ed hands over her henna-ed baby bump…

A picture of Minnie and Mikey only hours old in the bassinets in the hospital nursery…

Two dried roses and a few stray rose petals…

“What are these from?” I ask, pushing the dried rose petals around.

“Our engagement,” she says softly, and then I remember the incredible rose ceremony I engineered to propose to her. I turn to her and smile before turning back to examine the many mementos that she has assembled on the built-in shelves.

A picture of us singing at Mia’s wedding…

Her and Allen dancing at his wedding…

A captured shot of her and Valerie in the guest room, talking about God knows what right after Valerie and Elliot moved into the Crossing…

The first ultrasound pictures of our babies… the gender reveal. I take the picture off the shelf and examine it, creepily caressing the point where the technician pointed out Mikey’s penis.

“I was a real jerk when we first got this picture,” I say, looking down at the picture of the first ultrasound, when we found out the sex of our babies.

“I…” She trails off and I raise my head to look at her. “I… only vaguely remember.” I look down at the picture again.

“I hope you never remember,” I lament. “I was a real asshole, Butterfly. We were at odds and I robbed you of what should have been one of the most joyous moments of our lives because I was pissed.” I raise my gaze to her again. “When and if you do ever remember it, please also remember that I’m so, so sorry.” She takes the picture from my hand and put it back on the shelf.

“Sometimes, I feel like the accident may have been a blessing in disguise,” she says, adjusting the picture so that it’s straight. “That I know of, I haven’t lost any long-term memories, and God knows I’d love to shed some of those, but I seem to have shaken some of the short-term memories that I probably didn’t need anyway.” She turns to me.

“I remember you passing out,” she says. “I think it was when you found out that we were having twins, but… I don’t remember a bad reaction to the gender reveal.” I swallow hard and put my arms around her.

“Let’s hope it stays that way,” I pray, “but I am sorry.” She nods and ends the conversation. She smiles faintly and turns away, walking to the French doors and looking out. I don’t ask her what’s on her mind. I have a bit of a sinking feeling that she actually does remember the gender reveal. She’s just letting me off the hook. I move behind her and wrap my arms around her waist, and we watch the stars beyond the trees through the glass of the French doors.

*-*

Butterfly is still asleep when I get dressed. We were up late stargazing, so I don’t bother to wake her. I just quickly and quietly eat my breakfast and sneak out to go to Grey House.

I don’t even raise my gaze from my phone as I walk into the building with the usual “I don’t give a fuck” attitude I’ve been sporting all week. I hear the chatter cease as the crowd silences and in my peripheral, I can see it part like the Red Sea.

Yeah, that’s what I’ve been looking for.

I don’t need to be liked; I need reverence. If having these peasants like me means that my company is going to fail, they can hate me until eternity rolls as long as they respect me.

“You look like a man with his mind on his money and his money on his mind.”

I raise my head to see Josh standing at Andrea’s desk as I step off the elevator.

“Coffee, Mr. Grey?” Andrea asks.

“Black,” I say. I nod at Luma before I walk into my office. “You have information for me?”

“That smokescreen flew up faster than I ever thought it could’ve,” he says following me into the office.

“Details,” I say walking over to my desk and taking a seat while pressing the button to scramble the signals in my office. Jason enters and closes the door behind us.

“Sometimes you have to shake a cage to see what falls out,” Josh says, handing me his tablet. “Just a little bit of innuendo, you can cause a fucking avalanche.” I look at his tablet to see a Google search on Elena Lincoln autobiography. Harmless enough… but not.

“Wow! What the fuck?” I ask, scrolling down the headlines in the search. They range from thought-provoking questions like, “How far up does this go?” to the completely and utterly ludicrous… Lincoln Brings Children from Third World Countries to Staff Her Pedophile Sex Rings.

“Jesus, seriously?” I shoot. “Most of this shit is fucking nonsense.”

“Maybe so, but not to the reading audience,” Josh defends. “There hasn’t been this kind of buzz since the government wanted translation of Heidi Fleiss’ black books.” I frown. What the fuck is he talking about?

“That’s a bit before your time,” Josh says, “but let’s just say that one little woman had a whole bunch of powerful men by the balls, even though we never really found out who they all were. Nonetheless, a whole lotta twigs and berries were in a knot over the Hollywood Madam.”

There’s a knock on the door and Jason opens it to reveal Andrea standing there with my coffee. I gesture her in, and she places it on my desk in front of me.

“Careful, sir,” she says, “It’s fresh.”

“Thank you,” I say, and she turns and leaves the office. “We’re about the same age, Josh. How do you know about the Hollywood Madam?”

“It’s part of pop culture, believe it or not. It’s my job to know… just like the O.J. trial.” I shake my head.

“You wanted a smokescreen, by golly, you got one. My advice would be if you want to get to him first, you better move fast.”

“I don’t care who gets to him—or her or them—as long as this whole thing is shut the fuck down,” I say, scrolling through tagline after tagline of suggestive innuendo about Seattle’s Pedo-Madam and her rich and powerful clientele.

“This innuendo isn’t that discreet,” I say. “I can see myself and a whole bunch of other fucking people in this nonsense. Don’t you think this might be overkill?”

“Is it?” he asks. “Do you know every single person in the Seattle area that practices the BDSM lifestyle? I can guarantee they don’t all know about you. And the fact that there are so many in the smokescreen makes it even better for you, especially since so many people are already in an uproar ‘in the interest of the public good’ trying to find out what she knows.” He does the finger quotes around the public good comment, so I know that it’s a quote.

“But why shine a light on me?” I ask.

“Because not shining a light on you would be more obvious than shining a light on you,” he points out. “To be honest with you, sir, with the way this is being spun, you’re old news. You were splattered all over the headlines when she tried to kill you and Jason last year. They know your story. They want more chapters now—more players. That’s why her book can be so compelling and successful, and that’s why so many men in high places are squirming and demanding answers. Nobody knows just how deep this goes…”

“Very deep, Josh, believe me. Her pedophile activities go back more than a decade just that I know of, and the community… you’d be surprised how many people have something to lose if their involvement in that lifestyle is discovered. There’s a whole fucking lot of people that need this bitch to shut up.”

“And hence,” he says, bowing dramatically, “your smokescreen.”

“Excellent work, Josh,” I say. “Keep your ear to the ground and be as visible as possible in your freelance persona. We don’t want to give away your alter ego.” He nods and leaves my office. I look over at Jason.

“So, it begins,” he says. I nod.

“Apparently. What about Holstein and Lincoln?” I ask. “If the smokescreen is already up…” Jason nods and calls Alex on his cell.

“The boss wants an update on Alcatraz,” he says into the phone and ends the call a few seconds later.

Alcatraz?” I question. “You guys have code names for everything?”

“Yes, we do,” he says seriously, and I just shake my head.

“I guess I should expect it,” I reply. A few minutes later, Alex is in my office.

“So, now that the smokescreen is effectively in place, our friend is going to get a very expensive bottle of peroxide-laced champagne.” I frown.

“Peroxide?” I ask. “Can’t that kill him? I said start small.”

“This is small,” Alex says. “In high doses, it can be fatal. We’re not using that much—just enough to make him pretty damn uncomfortable.”

“What if he doesn’t drink it?” I ask.

“He’ll drink it because it’s odorless and tasteless,” he replies. “Since it’ll be his first… delivery, he’s not suspicious yet. He’s so cocky that he’ll probably think it comes from a secret admirer or something and down the whole damn thing. Once his stomach starts burning and his mouth starts bubbling like Alka Seltzer, he’ll take his ass to the hospital where they’ll most likely try to pump his stomach to see what the hell he ingested. He’ll put two and two together after a rough night.”

I nod. I’m accustomed to just going in and flattening shit like a steam roller. When it comes to the subtle art of revenge, yeah, I can’t do that. I’ll have to leave that to the experts.

“He’s going to receive an untraceable package at his home next week right around Christmas,” Alex continues. “It’ll be a dead fish with a rose in its mouth.” I roll my eyes.

“Oh, dear God, that is so cliché,” I lament.

“Exactly, which is why he’s not going to suspect that it came from you,” Jason says. I raise my brow.

“That’s so ridiculous that it’s genius,” I reply, shaking my head.

“During this time, he’ll get the standard phone calls, messages, little shit like tampering with his car. The real fun starts after the New Year. He’ll be tied up in a nice little bow and most likely out of commission in a month or less.”

“Sounds good. What about Lincoln?” I ask.

“Her punishments have already begun. She doesn’t know where they’re coming from, though,” Alex informs me.

“I thought she had Holstein’s protection,” I inquire. “If he hasn’t gotten any of his threats yet, isn’t he still protecting her?”

“Remember when I told you that it’s easier to get to someone in the pen than it is to get to them on the streets?” he says. “It’s easier to get to someone in the pen than it is to get to them in the streets.”

“So, humor me and tell me what’s going on,” I say, folding my arms and smiling.

“Well, yesterday, she got her hand slammed in a very large door—actually fractured a finger. This morning she took an accidental spill down a flight of stairs, clumsy thing that she is. Nothing fatal, but very uncomfortable. She’s got little mishaps, accidents, and bad luck as well as a beatdown or twelve lined up for her until you say the word that something different happens.” I chuckle deviously.

“Excellent. Let her stew in that for a while. What about Ms. Ellison?”

“Hers has to be very subtle,” Alex says. “For now, she gets to watch. She gets to enjoy her anonymity until we get all the information we need from her. Her apartment was bugged yesterday, but we didn’t get the chance to plant the trackers, keyloggers, and other hacking tools before…” He looks at his phone.

“Speak of the devil,” he says. “She just left her apartment dressed like a bald man, so no doubt, she’s on her way to see Holstein or Lincoln. She’ll find out that Lincoln’s in the infirmary when she gets there and can’t have visitors, so she may talk to Holstein. We’ll get the rest of the equipment into her apartment while she’s gone.”

“How do you know how much time you have?” I ask.

“Do you remember going to Walla Walla?” he asks. I shrug. “Do you remember how far away it is? Of course, you don’t, because we flew. She’s driving. Walla Walla is a five-hour drive. Once she hits the 90, she won’t be back until tomorrow.”

“How do we follow her that far without her catching on?” I ask.

“Drones,” he replies, typing into another phone he pulls from his pocket. “Remember, I have unlimited resources. Once we figure out her comings and goings, there’s nothing she can do to get away from us… especially after the Vashon Island disaster.”

Oh, dear God, I definitely don’t want to think about that. The rest of this situation is moving along rather nicely, however. It’s almost too easy.

“What about the receptionist?” Alex asks. “Do you want us to move on her yet?”

“No,” I say. “Not yet. Let her watch for a while, too. She’ll be wondering what the hell is going on and when her little payback comes, she’ll be pissing herself wondering just how bad it’s going to get.” There’s a light tap at the door.

“Come in,” I say. Andrea sticks her head in the door.

“Mr. Grey, I don’t mean to disturb you, but William Kavanaugh is on hold on line three. I told him that you were in a meeting, but he insists. You didn’t give me any specific instructions on what to do if he calls.”

“Thank you, Andrea,” I say. She turns to leave.

“Oh, and just FYI, Mr. Holstein’s secretary is on hold on line two.” I frown.

“His secretary?” I haven’t started anything on her yet. “Why is she calling me?”

“My guess is that Mr. Holstein has caught on to the fact that he’s going to be on hold indefinitely, so he makes her do it.” That fucker. He’s made a bed that he’s trying to make everybody else lie in but himself.

“Have fun with it,” I tell her with a shrug. “Leave her on hold and hang up at your discretion, every time she calls. He’ll get smart to it and he’ll start calling, then handing the phone off to her. You can do the same thing to him if you like.”

“Yes, sir.” She nods and leaves. I’m not sure why she didn’t use the intercom, but it’s a moot point.

“You gonna talk to Kavanaugh?” Jason asks.

“When I’m ready,” I say, leaning back in my chair. “Holstein is shitting his pants because I tried to contact him and then I went quiet. Now, the smokescreen is up and he’s slowly realizing that he’s about to make a whole lot of enemies if he hasn’t already, and he’s looking for an ally.”

“Do you seriously think he’s trying to find an ally in you?” he asks. “Hasn’t he been trying to reach you for days?”

“Yeah, but I went up there asking for a favor. I’ll bet my last dollar that he’s stupid enough to think that he gets to cash in since he did me a favor. Never mind the fact that he betrayed me, totally stabbed me in the back by siding with her and protecting her. If he were to talk to me now, his conversation would go along the lines of blowing the whistle about our little agreement. The only catch is that he can’t prove anything without throwing himself under the bus. If he’s protecting Lincoln—and anybody with half a brain knows that he is—the powers that be are going to be gunning for him very soon, so he needs a friend in the worst way.”

“Ellison just crossed the bridge headed to Mercer,” Alex says. Mercer… where I and my family live. That bitch might just drive by my house. She had better fucking not.

“You’ll make sure she’s sealed up tight?” I ask.

“As a drum,” he promises. I shake my head.

“Tighter,” I say with no mirth. “Airtight. A fucking submarine 50,000 fucking leagues under the sea tight.” His lips form a flat line.

“Do you really know what you’re asking?” Alex says.

“I know exactly what I’m asking,” I confirm. “It’s the same thing I asked for when we first started talking about this situation, and I’m asking for it again. Can you make it happen?” He looks at Jason who shrugs slightly.

“I can make anything happen that you need. I just want you to be 100% certain of what you’re asking for.”

“Have I ever asked you about those hacker fuckers?” I ask. His face immediately turns to stone.

“No, sir,” he says frostily.

“Have I ever heard from them again?” I ask matter-of-factly. He sucks his teeth.

“No, sir,” he says again, just ask frostily. I cross my arms.

“Do you still think I don’t know what I’m asking for?” I ask. “He just told me that Holstein was getting a dead fish with a rose in its mouth—cliché, but effective. I know what that means and I’m sure that he will, too. This situation needs to be handled delicately, but it needs to be airtight. All I’m asking for is untraceable creativity and I don’t give a fuck about plausible deniability.” Alex raises his brow.

“But you will still have it,” he says finitely, “for the safety of all parties involved.”

“Then once again I say make sure the situation is airtight,” I repeat.

“It will be, sir,” he says, coolly. I nod.

“Now, go on and let me talk to this asshole,” I say. “I need to deactivate the scramblers… unless there’s something else that we need to discuss.” Jason shakes his head.

“I got nothing at the moment,” he says. Alex stands.

“I don’t know if I’m concerned or if I like you better when you’re like this,” he says and heads for the door. “I’ll keep you posted.”

“Do that,” I say. He nods and leaves the office and Jason falls in step behind him. I deactivate the scrambler and push the button for line three putting Kavanaugh on speaker phone.

“Grey,” I say, infusing as much boredom into my voice as possible.

“So, first your new little flunky was chomping at the bit to get a bid in with me, and now he’s not returning my calls. You do all your business like this, Grey?” Kavanaugh barks.

“We don’t have business, Billy,” I say in a condescending tone. “You decided that you didn’t want to dance with me, and I obliged. So, why are you bugging me now?” I take a seat at my desk.

“You know why,” he says. “To be honest, I know that Grey Enterprises is going to be the best bed for this company. Yeah, I was giving you a hard time because I didn’t want to play ball, but GEH with a major media outlet? Think of the possibilities!”

“I did,” I say, leaning back in my seat, “and I’m no longer interested.”

“Come on, Grey, don’t play hard to get,” he presses. “You can name your price within reason.”

“Is that the same line you use on all these women spitting out your babies left and right?” I ask, growing weary of hearing him grovel. He’s silent for a moment. “What’s the deal, Kavanaugh, the media business not paying enough for you to pay off all these skanks you keep impregnating? I suggest you keep your business and build it back up because the way you’re laying seed all over the state, you’re going to need the income.”

“That’s none of your fucking business,” he says, his voice low, “and it has nothing to do with buying the company.” I scoff.

“I know the old saying is that men tend to think with their dicks, but did you shoot your brains outta your cock and into one of your baby mamas?” I ask incredulously. “It has every fucking thing to do with the business. You’re coming to me because everybody that you had your sights set on turned you down, and now you’re desperate. You know me well enough to know that normally I would jump on an opportunity like this. But there’s one problem, Billy.

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and GEH… well, she’s very sensitive. She doesn’t like the fact that you rejected her advances when she used her wiles on you, that you turned your back on her like she was one of those worthless whores that you fuck and make babies with… you know, those treacherous pieces of trash that don’t respect the sanctity of marriage that are now entrusted with the task of raising a child when they probably shouldn’t be trusted with a goddamn gerbil, but I digress.

“But, GEH… no, she’s not one of your whores. She’s a 20-carat diamond set in a split-shank halo thrice-polished platinum band—priceless, and you treated her like glass. So, no, Kavanaugh, she’s not just ‘playing hard to get.’ She doesn’t want to dance with you. She doesn’t want to be courted by you. She doesn’t want to fuck with you at all.

“And besides the fact that you insulted the lady, have you totally forgotten how media outlets make their money? Or did you just hope that I would be so starstruck with the acquisition that I wouldn’t remember? Your name is shit, Kavanaugh. Your company is shit. By the time I paid $1 for that sinking ship, I would have to pay the sponsors to advertise on any of your mediums before they would ever think to pay me.”

I can almost hear his temper brewing on the other end.

“You’re full of shit, Grey,” he hisses. “You say GEH is a woman, then she’s a fucking tease! She waves her little ass in your face and if you don’t bite immediately, then all of a sudden, she don’t want you, is that it?”

“Call it what you want,” I cede, “but I no longer want any part of your dying empire.”

“What’s the matter, Grey?” he taunts. “What’s the real problem here? You feeling a little inadequate because I can snag ‘em hot and young and you’re stuck with the same piece of pussy?”

He’s not serious, is he? Does he really think he’s some kind of stud dropping babies all over the state? These women are using you as a meal ticket! They don’t really want anything more to do with you once they’ve got the babies except your wallet.

Any other day, I would sit here and spar with this man about how delusional he is about his virility, but today, I don’t have time for it. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

“That’s the difference between me and you, Kavanaugh,” I say. “You’ve got big resources, but you think small. You built a legacy with your wife, and then you destroyed it with opportunistic whores. Katherine is cunning and intelligent, if she would only learn to use those resources properly. Ethan is a financial mastermind and surprisingly considerate, in spite of his bloodline. You were a corporate media giant, and you allowed the very thing that you had the reins of to destroy you—the media. Why? Because you couldn’t keep it in your pants.

“You have a slew of bastard children running around and what—you expect them to become great and somehow elevate you again? Are any of them even carrying your name or are they all living off hush money? And surprise, Kavanaugh, you’re not at your lowest point; you can still fall further, but even now, when you’re flailing and gasping for air, you’re still walking around like the king of the hill. You’re ridiculing me for being a happy and faithful husband while you’re out there being the epitome of the rolling stone, dropping your seed in any hole that’ll take it, including your daughter’s friend. You’re not even in my league anymore, Kavanaugh. At this point, I don’t think you ever were.”

“Don’t give me your high and mighty shit, Grey,” he seethes. “You’re one broken condom away from where I am right now, so don’t try to play me stupid. Do you want the company or don’t you?”

And apparently, he doesn’t know how far he can fall.

“No, Kavanaugh, I don’t want your company,” I say, honestly. “In fact, I’m dumping all your stock. I thought I was interested in the media, but I’m not. Moreover, I take failing companies and rebuild them—make them well again. I can’t do anything with a company that’s already dead in the water. Your stocks are dropping miserably, your name is being smeared over every media outlet except your own, and your business and reputation has been totally destroyed. Anybody with their eye on the market and even the slightest bit of common sense is dumping your stock as we speak. I’m sure someone can pull you out of this hole, but it won’t be me. I wish you luck.”

I end the call and shoot off an email to Lorenz, Ros, and the M&A research team that all communication with Kavanaugh Media and Kavanaugh himself will cease immediately. Then I send notice to my investment team to dump his stock as quickly as possible. He’s worse than a poison pill. He’s a festering bucket of disease and I’m certain that he’ll infect my company with an incurable ailment if I take him on. I’m already in the process of flushing out corporate cancer and suturing oozing wounds in GEH. The very last thing I need to do is introduce a new bacteria.

“Andrea, get me an appointment with Bastille…”


ANASTASIA

I didn’t mean to sleep this late. I mean, I did mean to sleep late, but not this late. I’m scrambling around trying to get dressed and trying to put my day together at the same time. We’ve decided on our new hires and the members of the cleaning crew are shadowing the maintenance supervisor as needed. Keri’s finalizing the preliminary curriculum and we’ll be presenting it to the teaching staff at the beginning of the year. She’s preparing to test for her American teaching credentials at the same time and…

God, do I miss Marilyn.

Half of the things that I’m scrambling to organize right now she would have had organized before I awoke this morning. Each day without her and without hearing from her is making me lose hope that she might be returning. No offense to Courtney—she’s a great help, but she’s no Marilyn.

No bad hair day today—I put it in a quick messy bun before I run down to the kitchen and grab a cream cheese and jelly bagel and coffee to go. Since I’m only going to be at the Center for an hour or so, I don’t bother taking the twins in with me. I usually never take them in with me on Fridays anyway since that’s the day that I go to see Ace.

Ace… hmm.

I’ve had more success texting and Facetiming with Laura than I have with standing appointments with Ace. And even when Pamela Whitmore called, I didn’t fall into the big, black abyss. She called and she scared me. I cried, it shook me up, but I didn’t fall apart. I pulled myself together and the Boogeyman didn’t show up.

There were no sightings of Chicken Little, Armageddon, or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The world didn’t end… and I don’t expect it to any time soon.

I haven’t seen Ace in six weeks. I think it’s time for a session.

“You’re not bringing the babies to the Center anymore?” Ebony asks as I pass by the day care sans Minnie and Mikey.

“I never bring them in on Friday,” I reply. “It’s a short day for me.” Her brows raise in acknowledgment.

“Oh,” she replies, walking along with me towards my office. “I just hadn’t seen them for a couple of days. They’re the only twins that come to daycare. I just like seeing how alike and different they are. I love babies at that age. I kinda wanted to have some of my own but…” I look over to her and her head is down.

“But what?” I say, she shrugs and smiles tragically.

“I have bad taste in men,” she says. “It’s kind of a blessing that I haven’t had any children. What kind of life would I give them? I’m on the run from a psycho gang member and his psycho ‘family…’” She does the finger quotes around the word family and I’m aching to do the finger quotes around the word gang member. I think he took her for a ride. We can’t even find the guy.

“When and if the time comes, Ebony,” I say, my voice softening, “you’ll meet the right guy and you’ll have babies.” She smiles weakly.

“Well, I’ve taken up enough of your time. I’ve got other munchkins to look after. I just wanted to see what happened to my two favorite Mouseketeers. I’ll see ya later.” She turns around with a wave and heads back towards the nursery. I feel so bad for her. I really think she’s running from a phantom, but when someone is that scared, you can’t un-scare them. They have to see it for themselves.

Believe me, I know.

*-*

“I thought you may have fallen prey to the shark’s tooth… or some other traumatic experience.” I narrow my eyes at Ace. Needless to say, he’s a bit surprised to see me in his office, but he sure as hell kept that appointment open and kept charging me for it.

“And yet, you never called once to see if I was okay, only to cancel our appointments. Oh, wait… you didn’t call. Amber did, that is, when I did get a call.”

“Well, you’re obviously fine, so there really was no need,” he retorts. I glare at him. “What’s wrong? Did you expect to come in here and I’d be falling over myself?”

I hired him for his straight-shooting and I stayed with him because he doesn’t pull any punches, but this is bordering on disrespect.

“I don’t need your bad attitude or your smart mouth right now,” I warn.

“Then why are you here?” he asks, matter-of-factly. I purse my lips and tilt my head.

“Good question,” I say, standing to my feet and grabbing my purse. With my latest discovery, I seriously don’t need this shit, you smug bastard, I think to myself as I head for the door.

“Ana!” he calls out forcefully, causing me to stop in my tracks without turning around. “I cancelled two appointments with you. You cancelled the rest.” Now, I turn around to face him.

“I have displeasure in enough places in my life,” I tell him. “I don’t need to experience rejection from my shrink.”

“Nobody was rejecting you,” he retorts. “Other people have things that happen in their lives, too, Ana. It’s not always about you…”

“Well, excuse me, Dr. Avery, but I couldn’t tell,” I say finitely. “You basically throw me out of your office the first week, which somewhat pissed me off, but I understood it. The second week, you have Amber call me an hour before my appointment to tell me not to come. The third one, you send me a text… a text, for Christ’s sake. Forgive me if I didn’t feel particularly welcome in your establishment!” He looks a little chastised standing in the middle of his office.

“I see your point,” he says, gesturing to the chair. “Can we try this again?”

I don’t even know if I want to try this again. I’ve had more success without you than I’ve had with you, which is kind of why I’m here.

I reluctantly move back to the chair and sit down.

“I’ve just come back from a week in Australia,” I say.

“I know. Amber showed me the picture of Christian with the snake around his body.” I twist my lips.

“Yeah, well…” I quickly change the topic. “Notwithstanding my husband’s fascination with deadly creatures, the trip was very enlightening in many ways, good and bad.”

“Elaborate,” he says, crossing his legs.

“My first night off the plane in Sydney, I was nearly attacked by bats.” I pause. “I exaggerate, they probably weren’t attacking me. They probably weren’t even concerned about me, but they were swarming around my head and I felt totally attacked. I even milked all over myself.” His brow furrows in confusion.

“I’m breastfeeding?” I say. His mouth forms and “o” and he nods. “That was a scare and kind of funny after the fact, not particularly traumatic.

“I found out that women in general don’t like me,” I continue, “at least the ones that just see the outside. I thought it was just Seattle and everyone who knew that I was one-half of AnaChris, but I’ve discovered that my looks, my shape, my face, the fact that they see my husband, something—I don’t know, but whatever it is, I bring out the bad in a lot of women. And they’re not ashamed to say so, often in public places. I could understand if I had harmed or offended them in some way, but these women just snap for no reason. I’ve decided that although I may bite back every now and then, I’m just going to take the high road, because I have other things to do than entertain petty jealousy.”

“That’s a very progressive and mature way of looking at things,” he comments.

“I’m working on it,” I admit. I’m not being mature at all about Ms. Deanna Bitch and my immediate plans for revenge, but that’s another topic. “My husband and I are taking a deeper look at our roles in our marriage as it pertains to our lifestyle…”

The lifestyle?” he asks. I nod.

“We’re meeting with trusted friends of his that have been in the lifestyle for many years to help us adapt a practice that’s more suitable to us.”

“I thought it already was suitable,” he presses. I shake my head.

“Most of the time, it’s really great, but there are times when he’s really intense and I think he needs a little more so I would push myself further—sometimes a little beyond my limits—and he noticed it on the trip.” His brows rise.

He noticed it?” he asks. “What happened? Were you hurt? If I may ask that…” he adds.

“I wasn’t hurt, per se, but I was really worn out—like if you do too much exercise, and that’s not how it’s supposed to be. There’s a certain amount of exhaustion that comes with the activity, the exertion, and the release, but it’s not supposed to be like that.”

“Help me understand,” he says, shifting in his chair, “You seem to understand so much about this, and yet you were pushed beyond your limits?”

“I pushed myself,” I tell him. “I have safewords when I’ve taken too much, but I won’t use them. My husband was a sadist when he was in the lifestyle before me. He liked to punish women and whip them and watch them squirm and fuck them hard then send them home. That’s how he was able to regain control of himself when he felt that he lost it. From the very beginning, our relationship was different—but even then, I felt like I needed to be more for him when he needed that control. I needed to give more of myself and I needed to take more, and he would give me whatever I would take. But on this trip—and one other time in Anguilla—it was too much for me. Only this time, he realized it before I did.” Ace shakes his head.

“I get the concept, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand the participation,” he says. I shrug.

“Most people don’t,” I say. “That’s why the lifestyle is so secretive, but that’s one of the many breakthroughs I had while I was away. We visited the MONA, a museum in Hobart that has some of the creepiest art exhibits that you’ve ever seen. It caused Christian to become quite reflective about his biological mother. But I think the most impactful visit was when we toured Port Arthur.” His brow furrows again.

“Port Arthur was a prison settlement and has now been turned into an open-air museum. Some of the buildings have been reconstructed. Port Arthur is also the site of a terrible massacre orchestrated by some asshole who went on a shooting spree throughout the town and killed several men, women, and children.

“The place is full of death,” I tell him. “It’s like the hundreds or thousands of people who have died there, the spirits don’t leave. They’re all still there on the island and they emotionally ambush you when you get there. Nothing but anguish and sadness and despair… I couldn’t wait to get away from that place.

“I had to cleanse myself of the demons that I took with me when I left Port Arthur, and in the process, I had to face my own head on.” I drop my head and smile a tragic smile. “It’s amazing how you sometimes don’t want to let go of your fears and sometimes, they have to be ripped from you like a favorite toy.” I shake my head before I raise my gaze back to Ace.

“I identified my Boogieman, and then I faced him. He’s a fairytale, just like he always has been, but he’s very real when he shows up. The rest of my trip was very pleasant and relaxing for the most part, and when I returned, Pamela Whitmore called me at the Center.”

“Who’s Pamela Whitmore?” he asks.

“Cody Whitmore’s fucking mother,” I reply. His eyes widen.

“Cody… why the fuck was she calling you?” he inquires.

“I found that out the next day. I’m going to Vegas at the beginning of the year. One of the fuckers who directly burned me is going on trial, and Whitshit and his girlfriend Madison-Pussy took a plea to testify against him. So, once again, his jailtime and just desserts are my fault.” I shrug.

“How did the call go?” he asks. “I’m certain it had some kind of impact on you or you wouldn’t have brought it up.” I sigh. Here goes.

“I’ve had to hold people up and help them through their crises. I’ve had to battle ghosts and monsters—old and new. I’ve cried and I’ve been afraid and uncertain. I even quit my job—temporarily, maybe, but I still quit. People and things have challenged me, and you know what? I survived. I survived without running to a shrink every week and without having to cry on somebody’s shoulder every few minutes. I still have my journals, and I have my family to talk to if I need to, and I’ve even made a new friend with amazing insight, but I’m stronger now than I have been in a very long time.

“I did what you told me to do. I took responsibility for my own mental health. I took a really hard look at what I was really afraid of, and while some of those monsters are still very real and very scary, I was able to see that bad shit happens all the time. While some pretty fucked-up shit has happened to me, it’s still not the worst that could happen and even if fucked-up shit continues to happen, all the worst of it still won’t fall on me.

“I’ve been holding my friends and family together, being there through their tragedies, fighting for ‘truth, justice, and the American way,’ and the entire time, the only time I focused on my own issues was when it was time to come and see you. Outside of that, I think I may have done it three times. And then it struck me—like a boat out of the blue. If I can be strong for everybody else, why the hell can’t I be strong for myself?

“I’ve dealt with more tragedy than I want to, and if I’ve learned nothing else, I learned that trouble is not convenient. It doesn’t make an appointment to drop into your life—it just shows the fuck up. So, I can either watch the horizon and wait for it, or I can live my best life and work through it when it shows up. Guess which one I choose?

“So… Dr. Avery, if you’ve had some misfortune over the past weeks, I truly hope it has been or will be resolved in your favor. However, the time apart has helped me understand that I really do have to stand on my own two feet. I hope I can call on you in an emergency or if I find the need to speak to a professional, but I’m requesting an end to our weekly sessions.”

He’s quiet for a long time as he examines me. I don’t know what he’s looking for, but I give him a minute or two.

“So,” he finally says with a sigh, “it looks like in trying to take some time off to handle my personal issues, I’ve cut off my nose to spite my face.” I pause for a moment.

“No,” I say, “I would more say that by cutting the apron strings for a while, you made me stand on my own. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, you removed the training wheels, and I had to ride or fall… or maybe I removed the training wheels when I came in here and accused you of not doing your job. But you can rest assured that one way or another, you did your job. I’m standing on my own… for now. And this won’t be the last time you see me. Hell, I’m about to go to trial for the Green Valley cases—I’ll have you on fucking speed dial, but I think it’s time to disconnect the machines… Ace.” He twists his lips.

“Thanks.” I raise my brow at him. “If you had called me Dr. Avery one more time, I think I would have put you out of my office again.”

“Oh, I owed you a few with all the times you called me doctor during our sessions.” I stand. “I think that’s our time, doctor.” I extend my hand to him. He rises and takes my proffered hand.

“Try not to be a stranger,” he says. “And don’t wait to call me when you’re falling completely apart. Keep me up to date, okay?” I nod.

“If I don’t see you before then, make sure I get pictures of the baby.” I smile and release his hand and we head to the door.

“Oh, one more thing,” I say with my hand on the door handle. “I have two beautiful children and a wonderful life. In the midst of all my turmoil, I have no desire to kill myself. Don’t ever refer to me as a shark’s tooth again.”

I make eye-contact with him and wait for a response.

“Deal,” he replies.

*-*

I arrive at the Crossing with plenty of time to get some baby time before Christian gets home. I don’t want to face the bear, so I sleep late on mornings when he has to prepare to be the asshole, then take my chances on an early morning rendezvous after the bear has settled. Other than that, I opt to do what he does… work later, work out when I get home, have a later dinner once he’s a bit more docile, then go to bed early or escape to my office or the twins’ room. This usually means that I do nocturnal wanderings, which is a good time for extra meditations, planning for the next day, or journaling.

I remember lamenting that I would probably have to wait until the wee hours of the morning to get any quality time with my husband without having to worry about dealing with Mr. Asshole CEO, and it looks like that’s inadvertently exactly what I’m doing.

And I’ve effectively fired my shrink.

Was that the right thing to do? I really think that the good that he was doing was barely measurable. He pissed me off more often than not, then after he kicked me out of his office—with good reason—he just started cancelling my appointments without advanced notice or without telling me why. Even though he may have been going through something of which I was not aware, he made me feel unwelcome. He forced me to look at my problems through my own eyes or seek help from someone else. Where did he think that would leave him?

He made me feel like he didn’t want to be bothered, so I said, “Okay.”

I, of all people, can completely understand when real life gets in the way of helping other people. I was kidnapped, hospitalized, and jet-setting several times when I had my own practice. However, when I returned, I reached out to my clients to apprise them of what was happening, assuming they hadn’t already seen something on the news. Not only that, but I don’t remember once ever kicking someone out of my office except Melanie when I found out that she was the videographer of my attack. With our “relationship” being on tenterhooks after that, one would think that my therapist would have handled the next few meetings with a little more tact and consideration, even if it was necessary for him to cancel for personal reasons.

It’s a moot point anyway. I’ll now be using my Friday afternoons to spend more time with my children.

Speaking of which, Minnie and Mikey have just finished their afternoon snacks, and I’ve come to discover that Mikey likes the colorful snacks like strawberry and mushed up mangoes or pineapples. My strange little girl on the other hand likes anything green like kiwi or of all things, broccoli. She prefers the broccoli—can you believe that?

We’ve now cleaned up the colossal mess that my children always seem to make when they’re eating their finger snacks and now, we’re in the family room watching the end of, of all things, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse…

Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog
Now we got ears, it’s time for cheers
Hot dog, hot dog, the problem’s solved
Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog!

Mikey’s clapping in the Pack-n-Play and Minnie has pulled herself up on the sofa and is bouncing while bending her knees. I’ve decided that I’m going to buy or download all of the songs from the various kids’ shows that we watch because my kids absolutely love them.

Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog
It’s a brand-new day, whatcha waiting for?
Get up, stretch out, stomp on the floor
Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog!

Minnie has released the sofa and is now clapping and waving her hands in the air… completely oblivious to the fact that she’s standing on her own. I quickly whip out my phone before the final choruses of the Hot Dog Song finish playing and record my daughter bouncing on her little feet and attempting to mimic the words to the song.

That’s it. The Hot Dog Song is officially my favorite song now… although it’s going to be hard to decide between that and the Outside Song from Bubble Guppies.

“Hod hod hod hod…” and that’s all she’s saying, but it’s music to my ears. Mikey turns in his Pack-n-Play and says something to his sister, and I swear that she understands him, because she bursts out laughing. Then she turns to me and reaches her arms out to me, taking a few giggly and wobbly steps before I drop the phone and she falls into my arms.

“Minnie is a big girl!” I say, praising her accomplishment. I pick up the phone and turn it to us. “Say ‘bye-bye,’ Minnie Mouse!”

“Hod hod hod hod hod hod,” she repeats trying to reach for the phone. Mikey spits out a full sentence of baby gobbledygook, and I turn the camera to him.

“Say ‘bye-bye’ Mikey.” More babbledy-wabbledy and I end the video.

Time gets away from me while I’m spending time with the babies and I hear the mudroom door open and feel the chill of the bear breeze into the house. Shit, I intended to be in my office working or hiding or something when he got home. Instead, I’m sitting here hiding on the floor with Mikey asleep on my chest and Minnie knocked out on the sofa. I had slipped into the serenity of the moment and forgot my mission.

My husband doesn’t even come into the main part of the house. He sheds his outerwear and boots and turns straight towards the elevator. I don’t know whether to feel affronted or to breathe a sigh of relief. Jason comes in right behind him, looking like he’s more than ready to shed the burdens of the day. He comes through the family room and into the kitchen and kisses his wife.

“Hello, Love,” he says sweetly, and I feel a tiny twinge of jealousy at the sentiment. “I see the car—where’s Her Highness?” I don’t hear anything for a moment, but Jason’s purposeful stride tells me that Gail most likely pointed to the family room. Sure enough, Jason peers around the sofa.

“What are you doing hiding down there?” he accuses.

“I’m not hiding anywhere,” I lie. “I was tending to my children until they fell asleep.”

“They’re asleep?” Gail says as she comes into the family room. “Would you like some help taking them to the nursery or do you want them to stay here?”

“The nursery,” I say. She takes Mikey from me, allowing me to stand,  and walks to the elevator.

“What’s up with him?” I ask Jason. He sighs.

“It’s been a day,” he replies, “a… pretty full one.” Enough said. I nod and retrieve my daughter from the sofa, then follow Gail to the elevator. I’ll put the babies down first, then go and do some yoga.

*-*

“Enjoy it while you can, because he’s going to wake up one day and realize that he misses what he had…”

I’m standing at Grey Manor in the backyard by the gazebo. She’s standing there in her usual black funeral garb with that halo of bleached blonde hair and that blood red lipstick that looks like she’s been feeding all night. I know she’s not real. I know she’s locked in that cell in Walla Walla, so why is she coming to me now?

“This is just a phase for Christian. You’ll see…”

These are the same words she said to me that night two years ago on the back lawn of Christian’s parents’ house—the same words that she used to try to scare me away, only then she was frantic and trying to make her point. Now, she’s confident, standing there in a skintight catsuit with her arms crossed and her legs in that stupid Angelina Jolie Oscar pose. 

“You’re nothing long-term or even worthwhile. He’s wasting his time on you…”

She continues to taunt me as she closes the space between us, a sinister smile marring her face. I want to say something back to her, tell her that she’s wrong as usual, but my lips won’t move. I can only stand there as she comes closer, taunting me and exploiting my fears…

My fears…

“You’ll never be enough for him. Face it. You’re just a plaything. And when he’s done with you, you’ll be no more important to him than one of his ex-subs, Number 16…”  

Of all the things that I had to remember word for word like it was yesterday, I fucking had to remember this… now…

“Give it up, little girl,” she says as she stops in front of me. “Playtime is over—literally. You’ve had your fun, now move along. You’ll never be able to give him what he really needs and the more you pretend that you can, the harder it’s going to be on all of you, including your bratty little children.”

I want to swing on her, do anything to shut her up, especially since that last part is new and it’s all a manifestation of my fears, but she just laughs a hideous laugh and walks right through me…

I open my eyes slowly, not startled by the dream, but totally unnerved. It’s about two in the morning, and Christian still isn’t in bed as usual…

As usual…
Only not…

This isn’t usual. It’s only been this way since he’s gone back to being the ballbuster at work that he used to be… before us.

I throw my legs out of the bed and put my robe on. As always, I look in the nursery to see if the children are stirring. They’re not, but I go into the nursery anyway. I look into the cribs at my sleeping babies…

“… Including your bratty little children.”

Christian would never do anything to hurt our children… but why didn’t I first think that Christian would never do anything to hurt me?

I shake my head and curl up in the window seat in the twins room. This is another attempted manifestation of the Boogeyman, I know it. It’s a manifestation of my own fears that I must deal with.

The million-dollar question is… how?


A/N: Hollywood Madame—for those who may not know, Heidi Fleiss was an upscale madame who ran a high-priced call-girl ring in California. When she was arrested, they did everything they could to find out who her clients were in her infamous black book, but to my knowledge, they never did. There was a lot of rumor that Charlie Sheen was one of her clients, but I don’t know if it was circulated by her or by him, or if there was any truth to it.

Book IV will be coming to an end soon and I will have any announcement about how the story will proceed after that. I think many of you will be pleased.

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 on the menu or you can click HERE.

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Raising Grey: Chapter 81—More Melbourne Mischief

Happy Mother’s Day!

So, I simply delete smart-ass, snarky-ass, or disrespectful comments. I was addressing them at first, but with all that has gone on in my real life and the people I’ve lost—particularly as of late—and the things that I’ve gone through, this place over here is going to be completely drama-free for me. So, if I read the first three words, the first sentence, or whatever place where your comment looks like it’s going downhill, I stop reading and delete it. So, if you want to write an insult or something horrible or harmful just to see that shit on your own screen because you’re going to be the only one who sees it, then be my guest, because it’s immediate trash to me. I don’t read them anymore. The only drama on this page will be between the characters. Have a nice day! 😀 

Falala will like this chapter. 😉

Danger—Aussie accent ahead. Turn away now.

All other previous disclaimers still apply.

Chapter 81—More Melbourne Mischief

ANASTASIA

After we spend a good two hours or more in the aquarium, my husband has the great idea to go to an indoor market for lunch and to look around. He knows that I hate shopping and if I’m aching for an indoor market, I have the Marketplace on Pike Street. Another market in Australia isn’t going to impress me.

Oh, dear God, was I wrong!

Now, I’m not besmirching my beloved Pike Place, but when you see wares from different places that aren’t what you’re accustomed to, you can’t help but get lost in the splendor.

Although I skip past the sport shops and vitamin stores, I wander into this clothing and accessory shop called Pussycat Black. They have a lot of wonderful handmade and local wares, most of it with a vintage flare. I’m not sure what the concept is in the store, but a lot of the items appear to be grossly overpriced. Now, apparently, these prices shouldn’t mean anything to me because I have money to burn. However, just because I can burn it doesn’t mean that I want to. Nonetheless, I wander around with my husband and my bodyguard in tow, seeing if there’s anything that catches my eye to entice me to part with my money.

I see this one dress on the wall that I think is really cute. When I approach to get a closer look at it, I see a picture of the dress on a model and the damn thing is horrendous.

I find a couple of pairs of handmade resin earrings and a bracelet that I like, and I decide to get them even though they’re overpriced, too. I decide that there’s nothing else in the store that I want and head for the cashier to pay for my earrings.

“That’s all you’re getting?” Christian asks. “I would have thought this would definitely be your type of store.” I shake my head.

$129 striped T-shirt“They have some very quaint items in here—things I might even be tempted to wear, but there’s no way in hell you’re going to get me to pay $129 for a striped T-shirt.” I point to the white T-shirt with horizontal stripes. “Who came up with that idea?” He raises a brow.

“Well, maybe they’re catering to a certain type of clientele, baby,” he says.

“Yes, I can see that,” I say, “the type of clientele who just spend money for the sake of spending it.” He shrugs and I turn to the cashier who’s looking at me a bit distastefully. I can’t be angry with her. I am talking about her job after all.

“That’ll be $167,” she says a bit impatiently. Christian frowns.

“I thought you just got earrings and a bracelet,” he says.

“I did,” I say, twisting my lips at him before turning back to the cashier. I pull out my Amex Black and hand it to her with a smile. Her expression is originally a bit put off… until I hand her the card. They never see the name on the card, they just see the card. Black has a name all its own.

Yeah, bitch, I can buy your entire inventory. I just don’t want it.

“Thank you, ma’am. Have a good day,” she says, handing me my card and my wares once they’ve been paid for and bagged.

“Thank you—you, too,” I reply with no malice before leaving.

A short while later, I’m in this trading post called Acanthus and it’s reminding me of that simpler time again, when I had just signed the papers on my condo and the kitchen was in the process of being redone. I only had the quirky, mismatched dishes from my college years and planned for the time when I would buy all new kitchenware, flatware, glassware, and cooking utensils and pans for my new gourmet kitchen. I see beautiful ceramic chargers and vintage glassware and hurricanes from Portugal, jewelry from Spain and Italy. However, the thing that has me spellbound with nostalgia is a set of ceramic dishes in a watermelon motif. They are the gaudiest things I’ve ever seen, and I buy the whole set—two platters, two bowls, three pitchers, everything… the entire awful thing.

As the vendor wraps my dishes and puts them in shopping bags for Ben to carry, I spot Christian coming out of a bookstore, but not just any bookstore… a cookbook store! I can’t help but wonder what the hell made him go in there. Then I remember that lovely dinner he made for me. I’m sure he had help, but all parties involved swear he did all the work. It doesn’t matter, though—the thought and the effort were delightful, and the dinner was delicious.

“What did you get?” I say, walking over to him and his shopping bag. He shamelessly reaches into his bag.

“They had a copy of the original Joy of Cooking from the 50’s. I thought Gail would get a real kick out of trying to teach me some of these,” he says with a laugh. “And I got these so that I wouldn’t be a total failure in the kitchen.” He shows me another book called Quick Easy Recipes Cookbook and a third one, Cooking Basic for Dummies. He’s really serious about this cooking thing.

“I could show you a recipe or two,” I offer coyly with a small shrug, “if you like.” He smiles.

“I think I’d like that a lot,” he says sincerely before planting a tender kiss on my forehead and taking my hand.

We walk by a shop called Lollie Lovers and I’m almost tempted to go inside—candy as far as the eye can see! Then, I suddenly have another flashback…

The Great Candy Caper of Anguilla.

Needless to say, I decide against going into Lollie Lovers.

Further into the marketplace, we stumble on a shop called Pompous Paws. It’s full of the cutest outfits for pets and I suddenly get the strangest urge.

“I want a pet, Christian,” I say, still looking inside the store, “besides the fish.”

“A pet?” he says in horror. “You want a pet? You mean something that has to be cleaned and chased and shits all over the house?” I turn and look at him.

“Yes,” I say firmly. “I want a pet. It’ll be good for the kids, too. We don’t have to decide on anything immediately, but keep it in mind—I want a pet.”

I walk ahead and look at the other shops. I’ve planted the seed, Mr. Grey, I’m not going to change my mind. The only questions to be answered here are what and when.

After I locate three lovely V-neck sweaters for Christian in The Cozy Possum, I realize that my wares will soon be more than I can carry, and I pop into a little store called By Avalon and purchase two shopping bags that serendipitously read, “Hooray!!! I remembered to bring my shopping bag.” I can’t decide if I like the black canvas with the white writing or the gray canvas with the black writing, so I buy one of each and continue with my shopping.

Hooray Bag Gray

Apparently, they tease you with the shops near the door and their “quirky” resin jewelry and $130 T-shirts when the real gold mine is clearly further inside the marketplace. Allepo Style and Fabric Fever have silk and cashmere scarves and soft and luxurious textiles that go on and on for miles and will have me in beautiful wraps, wraparounds, and custom-made genie pants for a year! I’m trying not to go overboard as I choose meter after meter of gorgeous fabric and scarves and then wonder how I’m going to get it back… to wherever we’re going to take it. Just as I’m pondering my dilemma, I see Jason walking in my direction, but no Christian.

“Where’s Christian?” I ask when he closes the space between us.

“He’s in one of the shops over there,” he says. “Do… you need me to take something?”

“Yes, but where the hell are you going to take it?” I point to the pile of fabric building up at the cash register along with the scarves, sweaters, and dishes in poor Ben’s arms.

“Whoa,” Jason says under his voice. “Wait here… and carry on.”

Carry on what? I’ve got enough fabric here to—ooo, that’s pretty…!

A few minutes… and several more meters of fabric later, Jason and Christian return, each with a piece of rolling luggage.

“Jesus, what did you buy?” I ask. Christian holds up his shopping bag from the bookstore and one other shopping bag almost the same size, but I can’t tell what’s in it. I frown.

“Why the luggage, then?” I ask.

“These are for you,” he says.

“Oh, you’re not serious!” I say, affronted. “Are you being sarcastic right now?”

“Really?” Christian says in disbelief. “Let me think.” He pretends to ponder the situation, then points to the mountain of fabrics—that has actually grown since I spoke to Jason.

“Yeah, no,” he says firmly. I twist my lips at him.

“Asshole,” I say, turning away from him.

“Have you paid for these yet?” Jason asks, looking at the stack of fabrics.

“No,” I reply petulantly.

“Give her your card,” Christian says. I glare at him. Reading my expression appropriately, he adds, “I didn’t say you had to stop shopping.  I said, ‘give her your card.’” I twist my lips again and hand the cashier my card who smiles at me accommodating. I think I’ve bought enough anyway.

“So, you’re just going to drag all this stuff around?” I ask as the cashier begins the tedious process of ringing me up and folding the fabric.

“No,” Jason says, “As soon as the boss told me where you were, I secured a car.” Okay, now I am perturbed.

“So, you were just so positive that I would go overboard?” All three men raise bemused glares to me. Jason grabs the first stack of folded fabrics.

“Was I wrong?” he asks with sarcastic blinks.

He’s got me fucking dead to rights and I hate it! I’m standing there pouting for a while until my eyes catch the most beautiful and brilliant flashes of blue. It’s almost as if the world falls away and I’m floating across the marketplace to the magnificent creations that make these really cute and expensive resin pieces that I bought earlier look like cheap pieces of plastic.

This ungodly beautiful creation called opals.

Dear God, I’ve died and gone to jewelry heaven. I don’t remember seeing anything this exquisite since I first saw the Chanel collection. How much of this will Christian let me buy?

I have no idea how long I’m in this booth talking to this vendor about the different kinds of opals—black opals, white opals, fire opals, boulder opals, crystal opals; solid opals vs doublets or triplets. Before the conversation is over, I’ve fallen in love with three sets of earrings, six pendants, four rings, and a bracelet… but I’m a bit stunned that everything is labelled “simple and classic,” yet priced upwards of $3,200 each!

Christian and Jason have taken the luggage with my latest acquisitions out to the car while Ben stands nearby as I shop. Christian most likely has my Amex and I’m going to have to justify this purchase when he gets back. The stones are all the same, but different, and I don’t know which ones I want. The thought of putting any of them back is sheer torment!

I’m trying to make my choices before the men come back to the booth, but it’s agonizing. The opal ring with the red in it is the hardest to find and most sought-after, but the cuts that have the combination deep-blue with iridescent green stones are so stunning. And the pendant with the sunshine yellow burst—I haven’t seen another piece like that in the entire booth! Then I have so many rings and earrings… one bracelet, I think, so I can probably keep that one. I’m toiling over which ones to reject when I see my husband’s arm extending over my shoulder handing a credit card to the vendor.

“Which ones, sir?” the vendor asks.

“All of them,” he says without flinching. I’m certain that I’m standing there with the deer-caught-in-headlights look right now. Christian turns his attention to me.

“You were right about the resin jewelry and the T-shirt. This?” he says, gesturing to the exquisitely beautiful array of jewelry laid out over the counter. “You want this.” He turns back to the vendor.

“Ring ‘em up. Nice boxes, too, please,” he says.

“Yes, sir, of course,” the vendor says gladly. Christian turns back to me.

“Sometimes, you remember who we are, and sometimes I think you forget,” he says. “There’s nothing that you want that you can’t have as long as we don’t have to kill someone or overthrow governments to get it… even stinky pets.”

At first, I feel very contrite, and then I feel warm all over.

“How do I say, ‘thank you’ without turning into a sappy, overexuberant pile of goo?” I ask.

“You just did,” he smiles before leaning down and placing a soft kiss on my lips. “Now, we’ve got a choice. We can go down to that last street down there and see what other things we can spend our money on, or I’ve just learned that there’s a food tour that’s about to begin. I’ve bribed one of the guides to let us slip in and tastes the sensations of the Market, or there’s probably a café or something…”

“Food tour!” I exclaim before he finishes his sentence. He laughs and leads me over to the food area… one of them anyway.

Where to begin?

The booths in the food court and meat alley are so unassuming, but dear God—so much food and the majority of it is produced locally! Let’s start with what I call the “Pesto Bar…” Every variety of olive—pitted, sliced or stuffed—in creation and “pestos” of any kind that you can imagine and even some that you can’t!

Beetroot, tzatziki, olive and eggplant, smoked salmon, something with feta, regular hummus, spinach and pine nuts…

Some of the combinations are like, “why would you do this?” But they were delicious!

We pass by a tea hut and the fragrances are divine. The tea is sold in bulk and I see apple pie tea, Eva’s organic yummy-tummy tea, velvety vanilla chai tea, sleepy slumber tea, and cold and flu tea—complete with a warning to seek medical advice for colds. I take notes as we were passing the bulk spices to see which ones may be available at the Marketplace in Seattle and which ones I may want to have imported. I’m thinking that I might want to start doing some cooking again. I’m missing F&L Ana and I need to get her back.

This of course has me looking at the various fancy cookware available, but I won’t look to that until I know exactly what we have at the Crossing first.

Over to Dianne’s Delights we wander and the apparent “queen” of the antipasto. Oh, dear Lord, the taste sensations here! More marinated olives, fresh falafel and tabouli, Tasmanian smoked salmon, marinated bocconcini, and peppers and deli meats stuffed with the creamiest and most delicious cheeses.

Next, we have a lobster ravioli tasting at the Pasta Shop, then on to the French Shop for tastings of exotic cheeses, including Saint Angel Triple Cream and Truffle Brie.

Truffle Brie… $120 per kilogram! Who the fuck are they feeding???

Nonetheless, I get to taste this heavenly cow’s milk from the gods during the tour along with divine marinated artichokes and amaretto figs before we head over to the Polish Deli for more delicious deli meats coupled with some French Ciabatta from Andrew’s Specialty Gourmet Breads. Now, I don’t know who my husband bribed, but I get the feeling that we’re getting a bit more than what’s normally on the tour because I’m getting healthy pieces of meat and large chunks of bread, and I didn’t see anybody else get any of that truffle Brie.

But who am I to complain?

Until…

We make our way down the meat and fish hall where all the fresh food is butchered. I could have gone my whole life without seeing the giant head of a raw salmon freshly butchered. While I appreciate the work that goes into providing these fresh foods from local growers and farms, I’m not that keen on seeing the preparation process in that much detail. It’s a good thing I’m not particularly squeamish, a point that was put to the test when I saw the fresh lamb brains.

Yum.

Once we get past the indoor slaughterhouse… okay, I’m being dramatic, but still… we get to chomp on some fresh fruits and nuts.

Outside, we get fresh, hot doughnuts from the doughnut truck before we all sit down to a lovely board of fresh cut cheese, exotic fruits, and delicious wine at the outdoor picnic area where the organic fruits are sold. And thus ends our tour.

“That was utterly delightful,” I say as I finish my wine. I lean in to my husband. “I’m not crazy, am I?” I say. “We got a little extra on this tour, didn’t we?” He does that back-and-forth kind of nod.

“The coordinator might have recognized me,” he admits. I frown.

“American?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“Australian, but he knows who I am.” He finishes his wine. I sit for a moment and enjoy the sunshine, doing a little people watching. When I look back at Christian, he’s staring at me… maybe through me, I’m not sure. His mind is definitely somewhere else.

“Christian?” I say his name trying to get his attention. A slight eye movement indicates that I’ve broken his daydream.

“Are you having a good time?” he asks. That’s a strange question to come out of nowhere.

“Yes,” I say. “I went a little crazy in the marketplace, but yes, I’m enjoying myself immensely.”

“A little crazy?” he chuckles. “I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do with all those fabrics.”

“Fabrics,” I say incredulously as if testing the word.

“Yes, fabrics,” he repeats. “When Jason pointed you out and I saw the stack before you were even half-done, I knew that we’d be checking some more luggage.”

“Fabrics!” I repeat. “I easily bought nearly $50,000 in opals and you’re more impressed by the fabrics?” He twists his lips.

“We spent more than that on one piece at Chanel in Paris,” he points out. “You could’ve bought the whole damn store for all I was concerned.”

“Wow,” I say, shaking my head. “More money than sense.”

“It had nothing to do with the money,” he says, moving closer to me and putting his arm around my waist so that no one can hear our conversation. “It’s your eyes.” I examine him curiously.

“My eyes?” I question. He nods.

“When you were paying for your fabrics, you completely floated over to that booth and forgot all about your current purchase and your card—don’t do that again, by the way.”

What was the harm? I knew he and Jason were still there putting the fabrics and scarves in the suitcases, and the cashier wasn’t going to let them walk away without ringing me up. It was a simultaneous process, and he would have to sign the receipt, so I knew he would see the card. Nonetheless…

“Then, I was walking over to you at the booth, you were looking at those pieces with a longing and admiration that I can’t explain, and I knew that you were trying to decide which ones you were going to put back. But most of all…”

He slides over so that our hips are touching, and I suddenly feel very warm… again.

“Those stones were stunning,” he says, his mouth so close to my face that I can feel his warm breath on my neck and the shell of my ear. “The blues in some of those pieces… they’re perfect! Like your eyes… right at that moment…”

His lips gently brush the skin of my neck before his tongue burns a trail up to my ear. I shiver as he licks around the shell of my ear, then whimper at the feeling of his mouth closing gently over my lobe. A jolt shoots through me when he sucks it into his mouth and gives it a sensual nip.

“Stop,” I whisper helplessly. I don’t have a spare pair of panties with me, Mr. Grey.

“I will,” he says, giving my earlobe one final suck and kiss, “for now, but tonight… you’re all mine!”

I take in a deep breath and release, his promise hanging in the air between us.

“Now, Mrs. Grey,” he says, putting only a little space between us. “What would you like to do next?”

“Well, I know Jaxon and the girl at the market both said something about ‘Fed Square,’ so let’s give that a shot.” He nods and stands from the table.

“Fed Square it is,” he says, taking my hand and helping me up from my seat. The parking lot isn’t very far away, and Jason leads us to a black Cadillac SRX parked there.

Well, that’s not pretentious at all.

Anyway, we climb inside and about 15 minutes later, he drops us at Federation Square. When I step out of the SUV, I’m captivated by a beautiful church literally right across the street.

“Is that St. Paul’s Cathedral?” I ask, pointing at the church.

“Yeh, sheila,” a passerby says without stopping.

“We may not have enough time to do both,” Christian warns. “Our flight to Adelaide leaves in a few hours.” Hmm…

“If we only have time for one, I think I’d rather see the cathedral,” I tell him. I can imagine just more shopping, photo ops, and site-seeing in Fed Square. I’d rather have the photo ops in St. Paul’s.

There are no services going on right now, so the photo ops are endless. There are people just chilling outside on the balustrades like college kids milling around the student center having lunch. Even though I’m about to enter what is clearly a very majestic temple, you know that you’re visiting a place that truly belongs to the citizens of the city.

The plaque just outside the door proudly boasts that the stonework of the church was restored between 1963 and 1967 and the undertaking was made possible by “gifts of the churchpeople and other citizens.” Yeah, it belongs to the people.

So, let’s start with the 15-foot-tall stained-glass doors. Honestly, I don’t know how tall they are, but the guy standing in front of the door wasn’t even half as tall as the door and he’s an easy six feet. You can easily make out the depiction of the four books of the Gospel in the beautiful stained glass, which casts a welcome light into the large sanctuary.

There are all kinds of historical bits and pieces to be seen here and heard there, but with a limited amount of time ahead of me, I’m more interested in the features and the stunning architecture.

There are amazing stained-glass windows throughout with intricate dedication plaques detailing to whom the windows are dedicated. There are numerous other plaques commemorating the lives and contributions of several other citizens, not only to the church, but to the commonwealth as well, including but not limited to the lives lost in wars throughout the years. One such plaque honors the shipmates of the H.M.A.S Australia who were killed in action during World War II, all of the plaques marked with the profound words, “Lest we forget.”

The detail in the architecture is a thing of wonder—the stories in the glass windows and the Narthex screen; the eight-point Persian tile that boasts eight titles for the Messiah; the majestic columns of the nave and the intricate carvings in the pulpit and the archbishop’s throne. The floors are made of imported granite, marble, and alabaster tiles and the lectern at the altar is an impressive brass eagle that holds a large bible on its back. Even the large baptism immersion font off to the right is a sunken pool of luxurious marble.

The Chapel of the Ascension is marked for quiet prayer and spiritual meditation. As I enter this seemingly sacred space, I can’t help but think of that scene from that movie from the 50’s with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember, when he visits his grandmother and Kerr’s character takes a moment to pray in the chapel.

I finally tire of looking at the collection of plates and cushions utilized by different Australian dignitaries and decide to take a seat in the main sanctuary to rest my feet. The pews are much more comfortable than I expected them to be.

Ben informs us that Jason has procured something for them to eat since they didn’t partake in the foodie tour with us and asked if we were going to be leaving the sanctuary anytime soon. Christian assures him that we will stay here and rest until they have finished their meal, which they will be eating just outside the door on the balustrades where I noticed others sitting when we entered. We won’t have enough time to see Federation Square before we have to go to the airport, so we just relax here in the sanctuary.

My mind wanders to the conversations that Laura and I had and the many things I want to change when I get home—my way of thinking and handling things; the press and all the horrible things they say about me and my family; all the preconceived notions which, contrary to what we had hoped, had truly not been dispelled by the exposé we did a while back.

We put our children and our lives in the spotlight for nothing as far as I’m concerned. Yes, a few people have called and requested to become part of the complaint and investigation that I hope to lodge on the licensing board, and I don’t know the extent of the donations and such that can measurably be attributed to the interview, but overall, it seems to just have brought more vermin out of the woodwork. I’ll have to do what I can to combat its effects while trying to decide what other steps I need to take in my screwed-up life. It all seems pretty clear now—the path and steps that I need to take—when just a few days before, it seemed so mottled…

“There’s a reason why Jason has to be so detached when we’re out of the country.”

Whe… wha… huh? Where did that come from?

I look over at my husband who’s gazing ahead at the altar… at least I think he’s looking at the altar.

“What?” I ask bemused.

“There’s a reason why Jason has to be so detached when we’re out of the country,” he repeats. “You never know what’s lurking around the corner, especially when you’re in a foreign country. When you start exchanging the type of money that I do, you’re either very talented or you’re corrupt. I’ve run into both—the latter more than I’d like to admit.”

I don’t say anything. It’s not like I really know how to respond to that.

“I sprung it on him last minute… going to Madrid. He had no time to prepare. I don’t even know how he was able to get the plane cleared and in the air so quickly for an overseas flight.”

I’m not sure I want to hear this right now, but for some reason, he needs to tell me.

“We didn’t know what we were walking into, and I didn’t care. I was reckless and foolhardy, feeling the old Christian Grey that didn’t need anything or anybody—at least that’s what I was trying to get myself to believe. It’s very hard to explain what was going through my mind… or wasn’t going through my mind. Thoughts of my life in Seattle, my babies, you… they were physically painful, so I just… didn’t.”

I fight the tears burning in my eyes. I’ve cried enough over this situation, and I’m resolved not to cry over it anymore.

“I was so hard and cold, I didn’t recognize myself, but I focused on that feeling, that demeanor, and it turned out that I needed it. Capito is a crook, and I may have found it out eventually, but I certainly wouldn’t have found it out had I not surprised him in Madrid.”

So… what’s the thrust—I’m supposed to be grateful that you ran out on your family, your wife and children, because it saved you from a bad business deal?

“I requested to see the factory that he was holding out on. He took us on a wild goose chase to keep us from getting to the factory. He was leading us outside of the cellular signal area and we had to think fast or possibly end up out in the fields somewhere cut off from civilization.”

Uh-oh… I’m not liking the sound of that.

“Jason’s fast thinking and incredible bluffing skills got us out of that situation, but we still weren’t out of the woods yet…”

He stares straight ahead the entire time he tells me about the trip to the tiny little sweat shop this guy Capito took him to and I’m still waiting for the reason Jason couldn’t at least let me in on where they were and that everything was okay…

And that’s because everything was not okay.

“We’re on our way back to the hotel when Jason notices that we’re being followed. Once again, he has to think quickly to keep us from ending up in a ditch somewhere…”

A ditch somewhere…?

“We had no backup, it was just me and Jason as backup was at the factory waiting for us to arrive, which we never did. It was like something out of a spy movie. We’re flying down these narrow streets, swerving and curving at breakneck speeds, coming up with an immediate plan while flying through the streets of Madrid. We didn’t know who was in that car and we didn’t know what they wanted. We only knew that they didn’t care that we were aware that they were following us. We put enough distance between ourselves and the car to dash into an alley and jump out, armed with our Glocks…”

Oh, dear God!

“We had seconds to duck into a couple of nearby doorways before they were right behind us jumping out of their car. I was trying to remember everything Ray taught me in a split second because it was coming down to this moment.”

Even though it’s in the past and he’s alright, sitting here in front of me whole and well, my heart is racing as I anxiously await the outcome of the confrontation.

“I wasn’t taking any chances,” he says. “The guy on my side the of alley saw my Glock before he saw me. I had the fu—…” He pauses, no doubt remembering that he’s in a church. “I had that thing aimed right between his eyes. He could probably look down the barrel and tell you the brand name of the bullet in the chamber. Had he sneezed wrong, his brains would have been splattered all over that alley.”

I’m trying so hard not to lose my cool as he recounts this story to me. He’s right—this is one really bad cops-and-robbers tale.

His eyes are still transfixed in front of him as he recalls that day in Madrid.

“I guess the other guy was too focused on me because Jason had time to come out of his hiding place and plant his Glock right in the guy’s skull. It turns out that they weren’t armed, thank God, or if they were, they never had time to pull their weapons.

“Jason speaks Spanish and he said something to the other guy—I have no idea what. The only word I recognized was amigo. The guy says something about Capito wanted them to make sure that we got to our hotel. Of course, he did. He didn’t want us to take any detours because we knew where the real factory was. We just didn’t know what the real factory was.”

I already know this is bad news.

“Once we ‘convinced’ our escorts that we were okay to find our way back on our own, we made plans to meet Cox and Williams at the factory that night. When we got there…”

He stops talking and I turn to him, waiting for him to continue the tale. He doesn’t.

“What, Christian?” I ask, urging him to finish the story.

“I’d like to know why nearly every major operation or successful venture that I’ve seen over the past couple of years has some kind of ties to human cargo,” he says, his voice low. Oh, dear God, what did he see?

“Human…?”

“Young girls,” he says. “They were loading young girls into trucks. The building was outfitted just for this. When we saw the plans, we thought they were barracks for sleeping between shifts. They were dorms… storage dorms…” He trails off again.

“Oh, my God,” I breathe. He swallows hard.

“There were four of us, each with a Glock. There were at least four guys on that loading dock. We’re certain there were more in the truck and definitely more inside the warehouse for the number of girls they were moving. Best case scenario, we’re outnumbered, and we get into a shoot-out with several guys who have guns just like ours and we all end up dead. Worst case scenario, they have semi-automatic assault rifles and we all end up dead along with several young girls. There was nothing we could do.”

He shakes his head and continues the story without turning left or right.

“We hauled ass out of there before we were discovered, and I helplessly turned the information over to Alex to contact the proper authorities. I thought about the families of these poor girls and just for a brief moment…”

He pauses again.

“That was the first time I thought of you, even for a second… but I was an asshole, and it was only for a second. I refocused back on the situation at hand—on Capito and the hotel and what was right in front of me right at the moment… as did Jason. Our sanctuary was that hotel suite. That’s when he could talk to his wife and his daughter, let his guard down and find out what was going on back home… back home…”

His voice trails off for a moment, then he clears his throat.

“I detached,” he admits. “I couldn’t feel or think about feeling while I was there. There was too much anger—too much rage, and even though I didn’t know it at the time, so much danger. I didn’t really feel anything else until my mother called wanting to know what was going on and told me about your fall. That’s when I demanded that Jason tell me everything.

“And he did.

“He knew every single detail from your first, teary-eyed phone call to the hours you spent in the window seat in the twins’ room to the very moment you moved to the guest room. He knew that I left, but he never knew why. He managed to compartmentalize all this information, but still stayed laser-focused to keep me safe as I went blindly chasing after danger. He knew everything that was going on with you every second from the other side of the world and when I asked for it, he gave me every detail. He’s a professional. He had to remain professional. He had to keep his mind clear, or any one of those situations could have very well ended in our demise.

“I just wanted you to know that he wasn’t ignoring you,” he continues. “He didn’t disregard your feelings or what you were going through back in Seattle. He had to protect me—really protect me, and his task required incredible focus and skill. Under the circumstances, he had to trust the staff in Seattle to take care of you and the twins. He couldn’t protect us both, or I may not have come back alive.” He turns to look at me for the first time in the entire conversation. “I just wanted you to know.”

I swallow hard at the thought that Jason had to be Christian’s veritable eyes and ears in an unknown situation that turned out to be quite dangerous and could have been worse had he stumbled into that warehouse.

“Thank you for telling me,” I say, my voice cracking. He entwines his fingers with mine and kisses the back of my hand. I quickly wipe a tear from my cheek with the other one.


CHRISTIAN

“Sir?”

Butterfly and I have been sitting in silence in the sanctuary of St. Paul’s Cathedral for quite some time now—I’m not really sure how long. She didn’t ask me any questions about the details of Madrid. She never has, really, and this time was no different. I have no idea why I told her this story, especially after Laura explained her version of the Boogeyman to me. God, I hope I haven’t inadvertently opened a proverbial can of worms.

I look over my shoulder and see Jason and Lawrence standing a few pews behind us in the middle aisle of the church—close enough for us to hear them, but far enough to give us some privacy.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, sir, but we really should be getting to the airport,” he says. I nod and look over at Butterfly, who’s staring ahead at the same altar I used to give me strength to tell her that terrible story.

“Are you okay?” I ask. She takes a shuddering breath and releases it before she nods and stands. She put her bag on her shoulder and proceeds a few steps down the aisle until she’s face-to-face with Jason. Looking up into his eyes, she stands on her toes and plants a kiss on his cheek. My friend and head of security is quite nonplussed as his brow furrows and he looks over at me.

“Just say ‘thank you,’” I instruct him. Jason touches his cheek and raises one brow.

“Thank you,” he says to Butterfly, his voice rising at the end as if he’s asking a question.

“Thank you,” she says softly, wrapping her arms around his waist and pulling him close to her. He looks at me puzzled and I simply gesture to him to return the hug. He shrugs and returns the hug.

“Whatever it is, you’re welcome, Your Highness.”

*-*

We land in Adelaide at just before 10pm. We didn’t bother eating on the plane because I have plans for us when we get to the hotel.

We check into the penthouse suites of the Peppers Waymouth Hotel with our weekend luggage and the items that I retrieved from the shops in Melbourne. Butterfly is a bit more introspective than I like and I’m hoping I haven’t completely soured her mood with my tale of the events of Madrid.

I dismiss Jason and Lawrence to their suite and head to the bathroom. It’s too late to call Seattle and talk to the twins, so I call down to the front desk to prepare the meal I ordered for our arrival and begin to set up the en suite.

I begin a bath in the large sunken tub with essential lemongrass oil and chamomile bubble bath I acquired from the Marketplace. I set various candles on the ridge of the tub and once the water begins to rise and the aroma fills the bathroom, I raise the shade that separates the bedroom from the bathtub to reveal the ambient light through the glass between the rooms. Butterfly stands frozen gazing through the glass at me as I finish the preparations in the en suite. I watch her sit on the bed facing the glass and place her hands daintily in her lap. When the steam from the bath causes the window to fog, I lean forward and wipe the condensation from the glass and smile at her. She graces me with a coy smile of her own.

I leave the bathroom and as I’m about to proceed to her, the bell rings for the door.

“Stay put,” I say. She smiles and I leave the bedroom, go through the living room and answer the front door. The bellhop brings in a chilled local champagne with strawberries and two glasses and informs me that our special meal will be ready in about twenty minutes. That’s plenty of time to bathe my Butterfly and set up the bedroom.

Leaving the champagne on the dining table, I go back to the bedroom and help my Butterfly off the bed.

“How do you feel?” I ask. She nods.

“I feel fine,” she says softly. I nod back. Hopefully, her melancholy has passed, but I’m going to do my best to make her feel good.

I unzip her dress and allow it to drop down her hips. She pushes it off and it falls to the floor. I pick it up and lay it across the chair, then turn my attention to her strapless bra. The pads are a bit moist inside when I undo it, so I know that her breasts are heavy with milk and need to be relieved. I instruct her to walk to the en suite, which she does, still clad in her blue denim wedges and a pair of white, lacy French cut panties. I watch her walk for a few steps, then follow her into the bathroom.

Butterfly Hair Clip Chapter 81Simple Twisted Bun Chapter 81“Have a seat,” I instruct, and she sits on the side of the bathtub. I crouch down and undo her shoes, removing them one by one. She doesn’t take her eyes off me and her lips part as her breath quickens and her hair falls over her shoulders. I don’t want it to get wet, so I reach into my bag of wares from the Marketplace and pull out an expandable butterfly clip. It wasn’t what I had in mind when I asked the cashier for a butterfly clip, but she assured me that with the length of Butterfly’s hair, this one would work better.

She was right.

I fashion my wife’s hair into a simple bun like the cashier told me and gently secure the teeth of one comb on each side of the bundled mass of hair, capturing the bun in the elastic bands between each comb. I’m proud of my accomplishment, especially since this is my first time doing it.

“Come,” I beckon, and she stands for me. I push her tiny panties down her legs and take her hand as she steps into the bath.

“Too hot?” I ask as she appears to flinch when her feet touch the water. She shakes her head.

“No,” she purrs, “it’s perfect.” She takes the sides of the tub and slides that luscious body down into the water, moaning the entire time, and I have to coax my cock to behave. I didn’t think to get any kind of bath pillow for her, so I roll one of the bath towels into a bolster and position it behind her head.

“Comfortable?” I ask. She nods.

“Yes, but my milk is going to start expressing on its own in a minute…”

“That’s okay,” I tell her. “It’s good for the bath and I’m sure you need relief.” Not that I’m complaining, but her breasts literally spilled from that bra when I released them. She nods.

“I do,” she concurs, sinking into the tub. I smile.

“I’ll be right back.” I leave the room and go to the dining room. I retrieve the champagne and glasses first, taking them to the en suite before going back for the strawberries. I pour a glass for my lady and proceed to feed her a few strawberries while she relaxes in the tub. With my free hand, I gently stroke each of her breasts, allowing the tender caress and the hot water to coax the milk from her heavy glands. The bubbles dissipate a little as they mix with the milk, but Butterfly doesn’t seem to mind. I know I don’t.

After a few minutes of fondling my wife’s breasts and feeding her strawberries, I refill her champagne glass and take to the task of cleaning that beautiful body. I remove my pants and shirt, but remain in my boxer briefs and sit on the edge of the tub, my feet in the water with her. I start with her feet and begin to scrub the grit of the day away with a bath sponge. I move up her legs to her calves, her knees, her thighs. I skip to her shoulders, her arms, her chest and breasts, her back…

Once she has finished her second glass of champagne, I help her stand and gently scrub the rest of her back, her beautiful ass, that luscious peach at the junction of her thighs. She’s thoroughly aroused as I use the sponge to rinse her clean, squeezing the water over her skin to rinse away the rest of the bubbles. I step out of the tub first, then help her out and wrap her in a bath blanket, pleased that I managed not to get her hair wet.

“Do you need your breast pump, or are you okay?” I ask as I dry her body. She reaches up and takes one of her breasts in her hand and gives it a gentle squeeze. A few drops of milk gather on the nipple and drip down to the floor…

And my mouth waters.

I can’t help but lean down and take the soft, pink thing in my mouth, licking the sweet nectar from her skin. She moans involuntarily and I realize that I don’t want to take her all the way to the edge just yet. I pop her nipple out of my mouth and kiss it gently before bringing my eyes to hers.

“Breast pump, I think,” she breathes, “just for a bit, they’re… kind of light… just not empty.”

Okay… I have to get this woman set up on her breast pump right this second or my plans for seduction are going to be shot down the tubes by the instant need to fuck! I instruct her to have a seat on the banquette bench and I help her get the breast pump attached before I kiss her and leave the en suite. I take a deep breath to compose myself once I’m on the other side of the door, then I proceed to the closet with the extra linens to get another bath blanket.

It’s a good thing, too, because while I’m standing there, the doorbell to the suite rings again. It’s most likely our dinner and I’m standing here in my skivvies. I reach into the linen closet to get a towel and find a terrycloth robe folded in there.

Thank God.

I retrieve another bath blanket before donning the robe and answering the door.

“Your meal, sir,” the bellhop says, standing at the door and awaiting instructions. “Where would you like it?”

“You can just bring it inside,” I say, walking away from the door and going to the bedroom to retrieve my wallet. I get a glance of my wife through the glass in the bathroom. She has switched the breast pump to the other breast.

Don’t stand here too long, Grey. There’s a hot meal waiting in the next room…

The other hot meal… in the other next room.

I pull the door shut and return to the living room.

“Thanks,” I say, handing him a bill out of my wallet.

“Thank you, sir!” he says, happily, and I assume I gave him a hundred. Once he’s gone, I put the bath blanket on the rolling table carrying the food and roll it into the bedroom.

Let’s see if we can catch lightning in a bottle twice.

I lay the bath blanket over the bed and place my other essential oils on the nightstand— muscle and joint oil for her shoulders, back, and feet; unscented body and massage oil for those delicate places; and jasmine for some aroma therapy. I go to the bathroom to retrieve her and she’s just rinsing her breast pump.

“There wasn’t much milk in them, but I just wanted to be sure not to make a mess,” she says. I take her face in my hands.

“It’s never a mess, baby,” I say. “You nourish our children with those two miracles, and when we’re alone, I think it’s very sexy.” I kiss her gently and pick up her champagne glass. “Your glass is empty,” I say filling it again.

“Are you trying to get me drunk, Mr. Grey?” she says.

“No, just relaxed,” I say, taking her hand and leading her to the bedroom. If I can get her into half the amorous state she was in when we were in Napa, I will have achieved my goal. Here’s hoping.

I sit her down on the bed and retrieve the candles from the bathroom, placing them strategically around the bedroom before lighting two sticks of lotus incense in burners. When I look over at her, she has finished what’s left of her champagne and the candlelight flickers off her face while casting yet another ambient glow around the room. She looks ethereal, but this time, I’m going to feed her before I ravish her. I remove my robe and join her on the bed.

I uncover the plates and trays for dinner and I’m very pleased with what I find—cracked lobster claws and split lobster tails with mushroom quinoa risotto, prosciutto-wrapped green beans, Brussels sprouts tossed with pomegranate, and fresh herb Italian bread with sweet cream butter, all accompanied by a local Moet. I pour her a glass of Moet and hand it to her. Then, I begin feeding us both from the healthily-stacked plates of lobster.

“Mmm,” she purrs, “That’s superb.”

“I’m very glad you like it,” I reply. I taste the lobster myself and I must agree, it’s very good. “I hope the day was enjoyable for you.”

“It was,” she agrees. “I had a wonderful time at the aquarium and tasting the food in the Marketplace was a real treat.” I feed her more of the lobster and Brussels sprouts with pomegranate. “I never would have thought to combine those two, but that’s a very tasty combination,” she declares. I taste the combination.

“Hmm,” I say, “I’m not really a pomegranate man, but the way they seasoned and combined it, it’s really delicious.”

I continue to feed her and myself from all the dishes as we talk about everything and nothing. Some of our topics are humorous while others lean to the serious side. Nothing has soured my lady’s mood, thank God. We finish dinner and the bottle of Moet and move on to dessert. I chose two local favorites each for a separate taste sensation. First, we indulge in a tipsy cake, a pudding-like scone topped with caramelized fruit and brandy sauce and accompanied by a slice of roasted pineapple. In the words of my Butterfly, it’s divine.

The second confection—or combination of confections—is called sticks and stones. It consists of a mixture of chocolate bark, charcoal passionfruit pebbles, chocolate “soil,” crunchy chocolate twigs, and hazelnut custard.

“Lie down,” I instruct once we’ve finished our desserts. I help her get comfortable on her stomach and remove the butterfly clip from her hair, fanning it over the pillow and away from her body.

To my delight, there are more adult toy stores around Queen Victoria Market than I ever would have known. I didn’t find any in the market, but there were a couple that were just a few blocks away, so I was able to procure a few items to assist with tonight’s activities. I retrieve my goody bag from its hiding place along with a couple of hand towels from the en suite and remove the blindfold inside. We really didn’t need a blindfold—we could use just about anything, but I wanted one anyway… blue, like her eyes. I slide it over her head and adjust it on her eyes, telling her to relax.

Of course, we can’t have a massage without music, but I didn’t think about that until this moment. I retrieve my phone and open Pandora and type in the words “baby making music.” Some kid starts singing about his girl going to the club and I’m not sure that’s what I want until I listen for a minute and the song slows down talking about dancing in slow motion.

New music—hmm. I need to plan better next time, but I’ll just let this station play and hope for the best. I swear to God, I’ll throw that damn phone against the wall if it fucks up our mood.

I won’t deny myself the pleasure of feeling her hot soft skin against my cock, so I quickly remove my boxer briefs before I straddle her thighs.

I rub a mixture of the joint oil and the jasmine oil between my hands and begin a deep soothing massage on her shoulders and back. She moans her approval as I work my way down her spine to the small of her back, outlining little flowers and shapes on her tattoo while gently kneading and massaging away any lingering stresses from the day.

I masterfully use my fingertips and knuckles up and down the muscles of her back until she’s putty and mush on top of the bath blanket. I re-oil my hands and bring them down to her ass cheeks, massaging and kneading and coating her glorious derrière in the lightly scented oil. My God, her ass looks heavenly. I spread the oil into the crease and between her cheeks. I stay away from her core—for now—as I don’t want the scented oil to irritate that luscious pearl, but I thoroughly anoint her inner cheeks and rosette and watch her lick her lips as I stimulate the bundle of nerves.

I move off her thighs and kneel next to her, spreading the oil over her legs and thighs moving quickly to her feet. She sounds almost orgasmic as I apply pressure to the balls and heels, then sensually run my nail up the arch. She nearly leaps off the bed with that move.

So far, the music is cooperating with me as another sultrier tune begins and I strategically travel back up her legs, kneading and massaging the oil into the front and backs of her calves, then just the backs of her knees and the backs and insides of her thighs, paying a little extra attention to that one spot behind her knee that’s attached to her pleasure center. I push her legs apart just a bit, just enough, then continue my massage up the back of her thighs, cupping the crease right under her cheeks for my own enjoyment before teasing the top of her ass crack once more.

Once I’m satisfied that the oil is massaged well enough into her skin, I retrieve more items from the goodie bag—intimate wipes to clean my hands and to clean the items I want to use. I retrieve the next surprise from my goodie bag, clean it with the wipes and dry my hands, anointing both with the unscented oil before I move back to that beautiful ass.

I open her ass cheeks and circle her rosette with my oily finger. She gasps and it clenches ever so slightly, so I massage it again in sensual circles. Her hands clench on the pillows, then release as her back arches and her ass rises only slightly toward me.

Fuck, I’m getting hard.

As her ass rises towards me, I slide my hand between her legs so that my oily fingers run across her clit. She gasps loudly and mewls as I tease her gently, long slides with my oily hand. I feel her clit hardening and I don’t want her to come yet, so I slow my strokes and soften the pressure. I move my hand to her inner thigh so that my oily fingertips gently massage the aroused skin of her clit. Her breath is heavy and so sensual. I see gooseflesh rise on her back when I press my thumb between her cheeks and breach the opening of her rosette.

She moans quick and quietly, and I know that she’s enjoying herself. I am, too… watching her beautiful body respond to my ministrations and massages. I press my oily thumb a little deeper into her asshole and move my fingertips to the opening of her core. My fingers circle at both openings, preparing them for what I have planned next, and she squirms with pleasure, trying to control herself at the same time.

No need to control yourself, baby. I’m going to make you come—several times.

When her breathing has become panting, I take the oiled butt plug lying next to us and gently begin to push it inside of her. She takes a deep breath and I pause with the entry, pushing my middle fingers deeper into her pussy while massaging her clit with my index finger.

“You okay?” I breathe, almost unable to control myself.

“Yes!” she pants. “Keep going.”

Music to my ears.

I push the butt plug in a little further, and a little further, and a little further still, until her sexy ass swallows it and the blue jewel sits out over her rosette.

Fuck, I’m going to make you come so hard.

I push my whole hand between her legs from behind so that the middle finger runs back and forth over her clit while the index and third fingers massage her lips and the sides of her clit. She’s writhing and moaning in so much pleasure and her skin begins to flush. Too soon, but I continue the stroke bringing her right to the edge before I stop the stimulation.

“Please,” she mewls.

“Ssshhh,” I soothe, rubbing her inner thighs. “Don’t worry, baby… I’ll take care of you.” She takes a deep breath and relaxes into the bed. She was so close, it was cruel to pull her back like that. I’ll give her the first orgasm.

I open her legs a little more and straddle one of her legs so that she can’t close them, and it gives me such a beautiful bird’s eye view of her oily and wet, hot pink and ready pussy. I stick my hand into that hot, delicious mess and plunge my thumb into her core.

“Ah! Oh, God!” she cries out as she nearly leaps off the bed. The fingers of that same hand focus on that hot clit, around and around, over and under, massaging ever surface and side of the sensitive skin. Her panting is feverish as she raises her ass to me, affording me full and unfettered access to her pulsing core.

Her ass… mmmm…

I turn the butt plug in her ass, and she cries out again, unable to control her screams. Fuck, that shit is hot! I continue finger-fucking her, massaging that clit, and I gently start to pull the butt plug from her ass—not all the way, just enough to apply pressure to the rosette.

“Christian!” she pants. “God!”

I know, baby. Give it to me.

I pull the butt plug a little more, continue fucking with my thumb, and massaging with my fingers, over and over…

When I see the sheen through the oil and feel her body stiffening, her clit becoming firm, and her leg starts to tremble, I push the butt plug back into her ass hard…

And she detonates.

“Christian!” she screams as her body begins to convulse and her leg shakes uncontrollably. I keep massaging until she stops shaking, stops pulsing, and begs me to stop.

“Please… pleeeeaase…” she’s beseeching me, and I pause.

Pause…


A/N: Every time Falala said, “Opals! Opals!” I was like, “Falala, wait, it’s coming!” LOL.

Trey Songz—Slow Motion
Kelly Rowland—Motivation
Trey Songz—Love Faces
August Alsina—Kissin’ On My Tattoos
Bando Jonez—Sex You
Chris Brown—Poppin
Drake—Hold On, We’re Going Home
Jeremih—I Like ft. Ludacris

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

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

The Australia Picture Board can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-the-trip-to-australia/ and the pictures from today’s chapter are in the “Melborne” sections, and there are a lot of them!!

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 79—Tassie Trauma

Danger—Aussie accent ahead. Turn away now.

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

All other previous disclaimers still apply.

Chapter 79—Tassie Trauma

ANASTASIA

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

“What is it?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

And speaking of ghosts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workers, cooks, and other staff of Port Arthur…

Families having a simple lunch in a café…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You alright?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Whoi not?” he asks nonplussed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How could she possibly know that?

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s a hurricane?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” I’m confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she did.

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

Meg… she calls it Meg.

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

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

Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eucalyptus…

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

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

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

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

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

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


CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’s my wife?” I ask.

“Inside, sir,” he says.

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

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

Duh!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possum? Ew.

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

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

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

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

“We had a long talk.”

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

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

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

Wow, these floating chairs are really comfortable.

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

People like her?” I ask. Laura nods.

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

I can’t argue with that.

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

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

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

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

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

I think so,” I reinforce.

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

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

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

You mean like Liamgate? Liam… asshole.

“No, not really.”

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

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

“And yet it lives,” Laura says.

Good grief, is this woman licensed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus, how long were we in that damn humidor?

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

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

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

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

I chuckle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anytime…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

“The Book?” I ask, bemused.

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

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

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

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

As usual, she’s fucking exquisite.

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

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

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

I’m captured.

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

“You’re beautiful,” I say.

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

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

Yes, run along, boys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you so much,” I whisper.

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

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

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


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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 70—The Women

Hello my friends,

One of my readers and Facebook friends Charlette Bishop has lost her son and is unable to properly lay him to rest. As many of us are parents, I’m certain that we can empathize with the unimaginable pain of possibly losing a child. Couple that with the distress of being unable to provide that child with a proper burial, and the situation becomes utterly unthinkable. I’m asking anyone who can to please follow the red link below and donate to the family’s efforts to bury their loved one. There’s strength in numbers, y’all, and I can guarantee you that ANY AMOUNT will be appreciated. Please help if you can.

Help A Family Bury A Beloved Son

I know every week, it seems like it’s something else, but you can’t time when these things are going to happen. Please, PLEASE help if you can. Thank you in advance.

GOLDEN—I’m getting a lot of inquiries about her. I haven’t abandoned the story, but I have to follow the Muse. I’ve been battling (and I do mean BATTLING) with a particular storyline for Raising and if I break off of it, I’m going to lose it. 

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 70—The Women

ANASTASIA

“All the Grey women have gone on shopping sprees for our weddings,” Mia begins.

“I didn’t!” Val protests.

“Well, then, we rectify that now—for you and for Luma,” Mia protests.

“But I don’t need anything, child,” Luma says sweetly. “Herman gives me everything I need and more. I don’t even have to work if I don’t want to.”

“There’s not one little thing that you can think of that you may want for yourself?” I ask. “That’s the whole idea of the Black Friday shopping spree. I can almost guarantee that none of us actually needs anything. I’ll probably be loaded down with baby gear—since Harry is quickly introducing my son to the joys of walking. Val, I know you’re going to be on the lookout for cute maternity clothes and stuff for the baby’s room. This is the time to not think about prices and do the impulse shopping thing. Hell, I hate shopping, but I look forward to this every year.”

“Don’t worry, Luma,” Grace says, hooking arms with her. “I’ll show you how it’s done.”

By the time we’re getting ready to head to Miana’s, Luma has shed her timidity of shopping and has purchased some beautiful new pieces. She admits that she could use a color and trim but won’t go overboard at the salon. As usual, Sophie sticks close to me in this setting, but doesn’t say too much. I guess it’s up to me.

“So,” I say as we’re getting our pedicures. “Thanksgiving.” She twists her lips.

“Yeah—food, fun, family, yippee,” she says with little enthusiasm.

“You’re beginning to sound like a surly teenager,” I say, raising my brow. She sighs.

“Usually, it’s just me and Mags, talking about… whatever, and Mariah and Celida and let’s face it. They’ve been through some crappy stuff losing their mom and their dad, but they’re basically the same person and they’re both… so young. At first, hanging around them was kinda fun. Now, it’s more like babysitting.” She looks down at her toes as the technician trims her nails.

“And Marlow?” I ask. She twists her lips again but doesn’t make eye-contact with me.

“What about him?” she says, trying to be impassive.

“He was pretty upset when he left yesterday,” I inform her.

“Hmmm,” she says, unmoved.

“Why do you think that was?”

“Because his girlfriend was mad,” she informs me matter-of-factly.

“So, what was her problem?” I ask.

“She can’t take a joke, I guess,” Sophie mumbles.

“Is that what happened?” I press. “You were joking?” She looks up at me and her expression says that she’s aware that I already know what happened.

“I wasn’t talking about her,” Sophie fibs. “Maggie doesn’t like her—I don’t know why. She’s says Britney’s a phony and that she’s anorexic because she so skinny.” I nod.

“I see. So… you didn’t say anything about Britney needing a gravy sandwich.” Sophie twists her lips and looks back down at her toes.

“That’s what I thought,” I say.

“That’s not what I said,” she mumbles.

“Well, what did you say?”

“I said she should have some more gravy. That’s all,” she says petulantly.

“And of course, that had nothing to do with her being skinny, right?”

Maggie said she was skinny, not me!” she defends.

“But did the gravy suggestion follow Maggie’s comment?” I accuse, and my little friend is quiet again. I’m a shrink, kid. Don’t try to pull anything past me.

“Listen, Sophie, I’m not really sure what the issue is with you and Marlow’s… dates, but this sparring really needs to stop. It’s only going to piss him off, and it’s only going to make him—and you—feel uncomfortable at family gatherings. Since we consider you both part of our family, that would certainly be a less-than-ideal development. From what I gather, what you said about Britney hurt her. Now, I know that twit Maya was a real piece of work, but did Britney do anything to bring that on?” She twists her lips again. She twists her lips a lot. I think that’s her tell.

“No,” she admits, looking back at her toes again.

“Listen,” I say turning to her, “you know that if anybody does anything unfair to you or treats you badly, I’ve got your back. But I can’t defend you when you’re deliberately mean to people for no reason. You wouldn’t want anyone to treat you that way, would you?” She nervously starts to twitch and fiddle her fingers. “Is something going on? Do you want to talk?”

She raises beseeching eyes to me as if she’s begging me to understand how she’s feeling and just as I swear she’s about to open up and talk to me, Mia and Val gleefully burst into the room to get their pedicures. She looks at them and clams up again, shaking her head that she has nothing to say.

And the moment is lost.

I reach over and take her hand, causing her to bring her eyes to mine again.

“Anytime, Sophia,” I promise her. “You can talk to me about anything, anytime.” She drops her eyes and nods again, but says nothing else. How long is this poor girl going to carry this torch and bear this burden by herself? She either needs to say something about it or get over it and move on.

When we arrive at Grey Manor after the shopping and the primping, Marlow’s car is visibly one of the vehicles in the circular drive and Sophie suddenly has the look that she would rather be anywhere but here. She looks like a caged rabbit, like if I open the door and let her out, she’s going to run into the woods and disappear.

“Chuck, Keri, can you take Minnie inside and start unloading the bags? I need to speak to Sophie.”

Chuck looks at me for an instant, then nods and exits the car. Keri quickly leans into the back where Sophie and I are sitting and removes Minnie from her car seat, leaving me and Sophie alone in the car.

“Okay, Sophie, the last time you looked that green was at Mia’s reception. Shortly thereafter, you had one of the guards take you home. There’s nowhere to run. What’s going on?”

She gives me that same look again and I’m just waiting for someone to come knocking on the window or throw the car door open to ruin the moment once again. Thank God no one does.

“You have to swear to me that you’ll never tell anybody—nobody, ever—or I’ll never speak to you again!” she vows.

“I’ll never tell anybody anything that you tell me unless I feel like you’re in danger,” I promise. She sighs and looks down at her lap.

“I like Marlow,” she says, her voice small, “a lot. I know he doesn’t like me like that. I know I don’t stand a chance. I know I’m too young. I know this will never happen, but it doesn’t make me stop liking him. I look forward to family gatherings and holidays because I’ll get to see him—and then he shows up with some twit or some scarecrow. Last year at Thanksgiving, we had a great time! We talked, and he didn’t make me feel like a kid. We could always talk. At Christmas, and New Year’s… and then at Aunt Val and Uncle Elliot’s wedding, he danced with me. It was…” She trails off, looking straight ahead out the windshield. “… Really nice. And then, the girls started coming around and… he stopped talking to me.”

Her gaze drops back to her lap as she tries to find her words.

“It was just like one day, I didn’t exist anymore,” she says, her voice cracking. “He used to ask me about school and talk to me about what he wanted to do, where he wanted to go to college. Now, he doesn’t even speak to me when he comes into the room! I’m not stupid! He’ll be graduating soon and I’m not even in high school yet. He’s way out of my league. Geez, I don’t even have a league, but did he have to start treating me like I’m nobody? Like he doesn’t even know I’m alive? What does it matter what I say about his scarecrow, vomit-dress-wearing girlfriends if he doesn’t even know that I’m alive?” she wails.

She buries her face in her hands and begins to sob. I put my arms around her and let her cry. I can’t offer her any comfort. She’s right. Crushes are painful, and she’s got a crush on someone that she can’t have. They might as well be on two different planets for the chance that she has to be with him—at all. It’s good that she understands that, but it’s bad, too. There’s no hope for them, yet she has to see him at every. Family. Outing. And he’s not going to stop bringing his girlfriends around. Now is not the time for me to tell her to buck up and get over it. It’s just going to make it worse, so I just let her cry.

Her crying doesn’t subside, and she eventually lays in my lap and continues to weep. After she’s been there for a few moments, Marlow comes out of the house. He looks left to right as if he’s looking for someone, then he quickly strides to his car. I realize that Sophie and I are the only ones who haven’t come into the house, and he’s looking for us… or at least he’s looking to avoid us.

Don’t worry, Marlow, the coast is clear. She doesn’t want to see you right now any more than you want to see her.

After belting himself into the seat, he starts the car and drives off, unknowingly leaving Sophie in a puddle of her own tears.

*-*

I didn’t realize that I had completely skipped my session with Ace until Christian asked me about it at brunch the next day. I don’t even know if Ace expected me to keep a session on Black Friday. Nonetheless, I didn’t hear from him and he didn’t hear from me, so…

It’s time for the Greater Seattle Adopt-A-Family Reunion and I’m ready to see the families that we’ve helped throughout the years. Granted, Helping Hands isn’t the only charity that takes part in this occasion, but I’m still anxious to see the families that we’ve helped thus far. Last year, I was elegant in maternity green, but this year, I’m fierce in an elegant black halter gown with a beaded back and a pair of crystal-encrusted Circonvolu Strass Christian Louboutin stiletto strappy sandals. So that I don’t freeze my ass off, but I’m still able to showcase my gown, I’m wearing a burgundy custom-made full-length maxi coat that only buttons to the waist then flares out like a cape.

The rest of the ladies are equally elegant in their jewel-toned gowns and fancy footwear—Mia in rich magenta, Val and Mandy in brilliant blues, Luma in yellow topaz, and Grace in a deep, cheery pink. Our gentlemen all accompany us in sleek Brioni, Tom Ford, and Cesare Paciotti. Even my dad dons Armani for the occasion.

The initial portion of the evening has been changed from the usual cocktail hour to a more family-friendly meet-and-greet as some of the older children of the adopted families were invited to join us tonight. This, of course, means that Marlow is in attendance. I don’t know why I was fretting him bringing a date with him, but my concerns are unfounded as he accompanies his mother instead.

I can’t help but stare in wonder at the changes I see in them both since that day that we met. He was so angry, and she was so… small. She’s still a petite woman, of course, especially next to her very tall son, but back then, she was… emotionally miniscule. Her abusive husband had beaten all the life and energy out of her, and she was just here. Today, she looks vibrant and beautiful, refreshed. She’s telling me about her new beau, Zack—well, maybe not so new, she’s been seeing him for a few months now, but she won’t allow anything to become too serious too quickly. That’s the reason we haven’t met him yet.

We talk for a moment about Maggie and Marlow and the strides they’ve made in the last two years. She mentions that Maggie sometimes asks what happened to her father. She’s gotten older and understands the world a little better, but still doesn’t know the whole story. Marcia just glosses over it when the topic arises.

“It may be time to tell her the truth,” I counsel Marcia. “She’s old enough to understand and whatever hypotheses she formulates, you want them to be based on facts.”

I shouldn’t be surprised that I have to don the Dr. Steele-Grey hat tonight. I don’t mind, though. The families have all come a long way.

We’re seated for dinner and we enjoy a delicious rack of lamb with trimmings while we congregate and share stories. As usual, a slideshow comprised of pictures of the families and various happenings with the supporting charities follows dinner, I get a kick out of hearing the various exclamations of recognition when people see their family or their organization on the screen. When the slideshow is over, I begin to make my way around the room to do the necessary networking required to make connections and keep the donations rolling in. While I’m mingling, I scan the room hoping to see the one person that I haven’t talked to in eons.

“Thelma!” I say once I finally spot her. She’s wearing a beautiful evening gown, silver with a hint of blue, lace back and crisscross scooped front with a special extra feature.

“I see congratulations are in order,” I add, taking a seat next to her once we greet one another. “When are you due?”

“This little bundle is due in March,” she says, rubbing her belly, “but if he’s anything like little Jimmy, he’ll be here by Valentine’s Day.”

“Couldn’t wait to meet Mommy and Daddy, huh?” I ask. Thelma smiles.

“No,” she laughs. “He was in quite the hurry.”

“How are things going?” I ask.

“Oh, Ana,” she says. “Things couldn’t be better. Jimmy fought to shake that infection at first, but he never took time off—that’s why it wouldn’t leave completely. I fussed a little, but you know my Jimmy… he’s hard-headed. Once he was finally well, though, he put some healthy weight back on, and he was feeling like himself again and…” She points at her stomach with both index fingers and smiles.

“I can’t remember a time we’ve been happier except when we first got married. His bosses saw how serious he is about his job and how well he works, and they made him a supervisor—a raise, better benefits… I’m able to put money away for a rainy day now. It’s been so wonderful. I’ve been meaning to call you and catch you up on things, but it’s kind of hard to do these days,” she laughs.

“I can imagine,” I say.

“It was wonderful to get the invite to the gala,” she says. “I couldn’t wait to see you and tell you turned our lives around. I can’t begin to thank you…”

“Ana!”

I’m caught off guard by a man’s voice exclaiming my name. I turn around and see a very stocky James coming towards us carrying two large glasses of what looks like orange juice.

“James, hi,” I say, rising from my seat. He places the glasses on the table.

“Oh, I was so hoping I would see you,” he says wrapping me in a warm embrace.

“I’m glad to see you, too, James,” I say, returning his embrace.

“Please, call me Jimmy,” he says, releasing me with a smile. “Bella only calls me James when she’s mad at me.” I raise my brow.

“I’m Bella,” Thelma says, raising her hand, and I nod. Jimmy turns to his wife.

“Isn’t she glorious?” he says, looking lovingly at Thelma before kneeling down to her.

“Stop it, now,” she says, playfully swatting his shoulder. He gently kisses her cheek and takes her hand.

“Do you need anything else?” he asks. “Are your feet okay?”

“My feet are fine, Jimmy,” she says cupping his cheek. “And you can have one glass of champagne if you want…”

“Oh, no,” he says. “I’m not taking any chances. It’s orange juice for us both tonight. I have to get my packages home safe and sound.” He smiles at her before turning to me. “Is Christian here?”

“Right behind you.” I turn to see Christian approaching us with a half-smile. “I saw some man wrapped around my wife and figured I better come and investigate.” Jimmy laughs heartily as he stands.

“Well, you have no worries here,” Jimmy says giving Christian’s hand a firm shake. “I only have eyes for that beauty right there,” he adds, gesturing to his wife.

“How have you been, man?” Christian asks. “Things been okay?”

“More than okay,” Jimmy emphasizes. “I can’t begin to thank you for everything you’ve done for us. You saved my life, man.”

“Think nothing of it,” Christian says. “It was the right thing to do.”

“No, really,” he says, gesturing for Christian to take a seat. Christian holds my chair out and I sit while James continues to make his point as both gentlemen take their seat.

“I was living in a death trap. I foolishly had my family there. I don’t know what would have happened if you two hadn’t come along. Ana gave my family a safe place to be while I was going through my insanity—and Christian, what you did for me…” His voice cracks a bit while he’s trying to speak. “Just… thank you, man… thank you the whole world.” Jimmy quickly wipes away a tear.

“You’re thanking me by living a good life and taking care of your family,” Christian encourages, “which I see is growing! Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” Thelma says with her full-beam glowing pregnancy smile. Jimmy’s right—she really is beautiful. She wears maternity quite well. As Christian and Jimmy discuss due dates and daddy duty, I catch Val’s attention in the crowd and gesture for her to join us.

“I miss champagne,” she says playfully as she comes over to the table.

“Thelma, this is my sister, Valerie,” I introduce. Thelma takes her hand.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Thelma greets. “How did I not know that you had a sister?”

“Well, we’re not blood sisters,” Val says, “we’re sisters-in-love, in a lot of ways. We’ve been friends for years and we happen to marry brothers.”

“Well, sisters-in-love are the best kind,” Thelma says. “Please join us…”

Very soon, the women are chatting away about babies and marriage and what have you. Val shares her experience with Meg while Thelma talks about how we met and how our family helped her family. After a long conversation, Christian, Val, and I excuse ourselves and head back to our table.

“I’m going to desert you guys for a moment,” Val says. “Nature calls.”

“By all means,” I say as Christian and I head back to our table.

“Well that’s a success story if I ever heard one,” Christian says pushing in my chair for me.

“I’ll say. I barely recognized Thelma. She looks so healthy and happy. She was barely holding on when I last saw her. She was doing better, but you could tell that being without Jimmy was taking its toll on her.”

“I kinda get it,” he says. “Think about how well we did when we were apart.” I can only assume that he’s talking about me trying to take a nosedive off a cliff when he went to Madrid and him turning into Death when I went to Montana.

“Yeah, not the best times of our lives,” I say, trying to brush away the memories. I glad to hear a soft voice over my shoulder at just that moment.

“Ana, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to intrude… may I please speak to you for a moment?” Addie comes over to our table. She’s frowning, but not angry. Her face is… troubled.

“Sure, Addie. Do you want to go somewhere more private?” Addie seems rudderless. Christian stands and pulls a chair out for her.

“Please, Adelaide, sit,” he gestures. “I’ll go and refresh my drink.” Adelaide looks at him and nods before taking the seat he’s holding for her. He touches my shoulder gently and heads to the bar.

“What’s wrong, Addie?” I ask. “Are you okay?” She clears her throat.

“The Center,” she says. “It seems to be doing very well.”

“It is,” I say cautiously. “Once we got over our last speedbump for accreditation, things began to move very quickly. We can barely keep up.” She nods.

“I barely recognize the place from the pictures,” she says. “Grace had been working on it for so long. I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t taken much interest in it as a project until you brought it to my attention.”

Oh, hell. Is she about to tell me that she wants to become involved in Helping Hands? I can’t turn her down, but…

“Unless it’s true what they say and you’ve found my granddaughter’s physical twin, is it safe to assume that the woman in the apron that looked like her was indeed Courtney?”

I’m caught off guard by the question. I thought I took special care not to use Courtney in any of the pictures to protect her anonymity from her grandparents.

“Yes, Addie… it’s Courtney,” I confess.

“I see. How long has she been here?” she asks.

“She never left,” I inform her. Addie nods and twists her lips.

“So much for teaching her a lesson,” she laments. I shake my head.

“Oh, Addie,” I say, “you have no idea. Courtney learned that lesson and more.” I turn towards her in my seat. “She made me swear not to tell you that she was still here. She feels like she’s hurt you and Fred enough and your words cut her to the quick.” Addie raises her head and her gaze meets mine.

“Am I supposed to feel guilty about what I said… after how she treated me?” she asks, appalled. I shake my head.

“You had every right to say what you were feeling after what you had been put through,” I reply, neither condoning or condemning her choice of words. “I’m only stating that they had the desired effect. Courtney feels that you two are better off without each other because of the way she treated you and because of your words to her. She was at Mia’s wedding reception.” Addie’s eyes widen.

“Mia’s…” Her words trail off. “They’re friends again?”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” I admit, “but they’re cordial enough where Mia was okay for her to come to the wedding. It didn’t come easily.”

“I can bet,” Addie says. I catch her meaning, but I don’t bother trying to smooth it over. Apparently, Courtney was right. That bridge is too badly burned for them to walk back across it.

“I discovered her in a homeless shelter right before I had the twins,” I tell her. “She had asked me for help, but I turned her down. Like you, I felt she was a lost cause. Our security had been keeping an eye on her because she threatened me, and they informed me that she was at the shelter. I found her going through the classifieds looking for a job.

“Grace put her up at the shelter at Helping Hands and gave her a part-time job there. She moved to subsidized housing and she lived there for quite some time—in a terrible part of town—but she was grateful as she said anything was better than going back to Putchatoowak or whatever that place is called.” Addie turns her head to me, and I just keep talking.

“She enrolled in school.” That piques her attention. “I got her a laptop as she was in no position to buy one herself. However, she took the bus to and from school and got back to that horrible little apartment after dark. She said that she wasn’t afraid because the neighborhood guys looked out for her, but she was a young girl living alone going to and from school and work leaving in the early morning and returning after dark. I couldn’t in good conscience leave her in that position.

“I offered her my condo. She refused. I convinced her that it was an investment and begged her to take it. The place where she was living was roach-infested and unsafe. It was deplorable. We worked out rent that she could afford and she moved in, a condition of her stay being that she get good grades, she continues to work with Helping Hands, and she becomes an asset to us upon graduation.”

What is she studying?” Addie asks in disbelief.

“Social work.” She frowns.

“You’re kidding.” I shake my head.

“I’m not,” I tell her. “She wants to work with children. More than one abused or troubled teenager has come through the Center and Courtney has brought them out of their shell or made them feel safe. That’s what made her choose social work. You know that she had no skills and no direction before. Now she does.

“I’ve asked her several times to allow me to contact you and tell you about the change in her life—in her attitude and her outlook. She refused. She begged me not to tell you. She spotted you at Mia’s reception and made a hasty retreat before you spotted her.”

“No, she didn’t,” Addie says, now looking at the table. She didn’t what?

“She didn’t get away before I saw her,” Addie says as if I had verbalized my question. “I did see her. She was… beautiful… and I didn’t recognize her. I assumed that my eyes were playing tricks on me, not only because I had sent her back to Chuktapaw nearly a year ago, but also because I thought there was no way in hell that Mia would allow her to come to the wedding. So, I blew it off. I figured if I didn’t hear from her after what happened this summer, I wouldn’t hear from her at all.” I frown.

“What happened?” I ask. Addie raises her eyes to mine.

“Her mother died,” she says. “I was listed as next of kin and when they contacted me, I didn’t even ask about Courtney. Her father had disappeared years before apparently and nobody was there to claim the body. I had her cremated and interred in the family tomb. There was nothing much else to do.”

Shit. Courtney’s mother is dead. I’m sure she doesn’t know. Should I tell her… or just let sleeping dogs lie? Jesus, what a conundrum.

“Then, when I saw her in the picture—smiling and wearing an apron… and serving fruit bowls to children…” She trails off again.

“Well, she’s here,” I say, crossing my legs. “She’s living in my condo, she attends Seattle Central and she’s at Helping Hands every day.” Addie raises a brow at me.

“Are you trying to arrange a meeting?” she asks. I sigh. I can’t believe I’m about to say this.

“No, Adelaide. I’m trying to avoid one.” Her eyes widen.

“How is telling me where she’s going to be every second of the day considered a diversion tactic from a meeting?”

“Because the way that I’m understanding what you’re saying and how you’re feeling, if anything happened to Courtney, assuming you could get to her, you’d cremate her, inter her remains in the family tomb, call it a day and forget she ever existed—assuming you don’t opt to donate her body to science for spare parts.”

Addie glares at me. Yes, Adelaide, she told me what you said.

“You’re our friend,” I continue. “Your daughter died this summer and there was no funeral—no mourning of the loss of your child that we knew of. We didn’t get the chance to comfort you, to give you condolences… you sent your respects when Burton Grey died, and we don’t even know your daughter’s name. Either you’re the coldest woman in existence—and I don’t believe that for a second—or this candle has been burned from both ends and is completely destroyed.

“I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Courtney is a changed person. I’ve watched the transformation myself for an entire year. She has a meaningful relationship—someone in her life who loves her very much. She’s got direction, drive, determination, but her wicks have disintegrated, too. She turned into a stuttering mess when she saw you at the reception and she got out of there as quickly as she could. She acknowledges what she did to you and how she treated you and for that reason, she doesn’t want to trouble you anymore, but she’s hurt, too.

“You wanted to hurt her, and you did,” I continue. “You wanted your words to cause her pain, and it worked. That knife cut through the bone. Nobody’s putting you in judgement because you were responding to an equally deep cut, if not a deeper one. But you can’t get offended because someone acknowledges the fact that what you said hurt her. It’s what you wanted, and you succeeded. Judging by how you feel about your daughter’s death and the fact that her passing gave you no concern for her daughter shows me that your pain and wounds are beyond the point of healing to the degree that you couldn’t even have a constructive conversation with Courtney.

“On the other side of that coin, Courtney’s in some place of martyrdom where she feels she needs to pay penance for what she’s done… not just to you, to everybody she’s ever hurt. In the process, she’s dealing with the gaping wound that your words left. So, the thought of even seeing you causes her anguish let alone speaking to you, not only because of what she did to you, but also because of what you said to her. To that end, it would be totally counterproductive on both ends for you two to see each other.

“If there are arrangements that need to be made in case of Courtney’s demise, let me know what you would like to do, and I’ll be the liaison to tell you that she has passed away should something happen to her. I won’t say anything about her mother unless she specifically asks. I think it’s better that she doesn’t know since there’s nothing that she can do about it.”

Addie shivers a bit, looking down at her frail, wrinkled hands.

“Thank you for being honest with me, Ana,” she says, her voice shaking, “though I wish you had told me this sooner.”

“I couldn’t,” I tell her. “I was sworn to secrecy, but I can’t avoid you seeing her on the screen. I wish I had been more careful about the pictures that we sent to the Greater Seatt…” Who sent the pictures? Who okayed pictures of Courtney? I wouldn’t have done that.

“Ana?” Addie says, bringing me back from my musings. I shake my head.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I just couldn’t tell you. She asked me not to and I had to respect her wishes. Had you not seen her in the presentation, she would still be somebody you thought you saw at Mia’s reception.” She nods.

“I’m going to find Fred,” she says. “I think I’d like to go home, now.” Without another word, she rises from her seat and walks off in the direction she came. I pop my neck like I’ve just finished a prize fight.

“Well, she didn’t look happy.” Christian is back by my side the moment Addie leaves.

“Where’s Grace?” I snap, and he immediately jumps back.

“Um, I don’t know,” he says a bit defensively. I begin to scan the room for her, and I see her in a conversation with some other guests. Ignoring my husband, I rise from my chair and stride over to her.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt,” I interject. “Grace, can I speak to you for a minute?”

“Of course, dear,” she says. “Excuse me, ladies.” I walk out into the hallway, not sure if Grace is following me. When I turn around, Christian and Grace are bringing up my rear.

“Ana, what is it?” she asks.

“Grace, I didn’t okay the pictures for the slideshow. Did you?”

“Yes,” she says, “I picked them all.”

“Including the one with Courtney in it?” I ask. She straightens her stance.

“Yes,” she says unapologetically.

“Knowing that Fred and Addie would be here?” Realization dawns on Christian’s face.

“Yes,” she replies finitely.

“Why would you do that?” I ask. “She has feverishly asked that we don’t tell her grandparents that she’s still here.”

“Because this is her family,” she says firmly. “Family needs to stick together, and you never know when you’re going to lose someone.”

“That’s not your place, Grace,” I say flustered. “You can’t push somebody’s hand until they’re ready!”

“And what if they’re never ready?” she retorts. “One of them will be looking down in a casket at the other and have nothing but regrets!”

“Then they’re never ready!” I say louder than I intended. “God, Grace, you may have caused more harm than good!”

“Then I’ll take that responsibility!” she snaps. “That girl is out on a limb doing everything she can to make something of herself and her life and she’s estranged from the only family that means anything to her. Her mother certainly doesn’t care…”

“Her mother’s dead,” I deadpan. Grace freezes.

“What?” she says.

“Addie’s daughter died this summer. I don’t even know what killed her. Addie never said a word. She retrieved the body, cremated it, interred it in the family tomb, and washed her hands. Courtney’s transformation is balancing on the head of a pin at any moment. I don’t have to tell you that—you’ve seen it. Yet, you think it’s a good idea to shove reconciliation down their throats that neither of them is ready for and probably don’t want because you feel like they should be speaking. How much sense does that make to you, Grace?” She’s struggling a bit for her words.

“You’ve proven my point,” she says. “She hasn’t seen her daughter in many years and when she does, she’s dead. She could have seen her before this, made amends before it was too late.”

“She hadn’t seen her daughter in years and when she did retrieve her body, she felt nothing,” I retort. “I would most likely do the same thing with my mother right now. She didn’t want to make amends! Unfortunately, Grace, some hurts don’t heal. So, while you’re trying to force a meeting that you think should happen, you might want to leave the psychoanalysis to the professionals!”

Grace gasps as I march away, and I hear Christian’s scolding tone behind me. I don’t care. She was wrong and it’s that simple. I head back into the ballroom and straight for the bar. I get a full glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. I can’t drink any hard liquor since I’m still here representing Helping Hands.

“Anastasia!” Christian hisses quietly, joining me at the bar. “That was totally unnecessary! You had no right to speak to my mother that way!”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Christian,” I say, taking my cabernet and moving away from the bar. “I didn’t speak to your mother that way. I spoke to a coworker—the director of Helping Hands—who used a charity function with our organization’s name on it to engineer a possible reunion that had nothing to do with her! She used her position to meddle in someone else’s affairs, a situation directly related to the Center no less. So, no, I wasn’t yelling at your mother and this has nothing to do with you!”

Christian’s face becomes stone and he pulls up to his full height.

“Very well, then,” he says. “The director of Helping Hands asked me to tell you that you can represent the Center tonight as she’s going home before she has one of her episodes.”

“Hmph,” I say, sipping my wine. “Her episodes. Didn’t her doctor warn us about her conveniently-placed episodes?”

Christian’s eyes become a metallic gray and he looks like he’s going to explode.

“Conveniently-placed or not,” he nearly hisses, “you yelled at my mother and she’s going home. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” He turns around and strolls coolly away from me as if we were just talking about the weather.

And that’s the last thing he says to me all night. It’s a fucking repeat of Val’s housewarming.

I try to keep up appearances, that London is not burning in the Grey camp, but everyone in our family can clearly see that Grace and Carrick have left and that Christian is avoiding me. Just when I’m sure that I’ve had just about enough of Christian hobnobbing with everyone else at the affair but me, I realize that he’s not quite finished making me feel shitty.

“You yelled at Mom?”

I turn around and find Elliot confronting me about mine and Grace’s altercation. I know that my mouth is hanging open, but I have no idea what my face is saying, because Elliot’s expression is clearly saying, “Oh, shit, what the fuck did I just do?”

I quickly scan the room for my husband. When I see him, he makes eye-contact with me almost immediately, then turns away and continues his conversation.

Welp, that’s enough for me.

I grab my clutch and wordlessly walk away from my brother-in-law. I retrieve my coat from the coat check and go out front to one of the waiting taxis.

Jesus, that’ll add fuel to the fire.

I say a prayer for my safety and get into one of the taxis, giving the driver my address and promising a huge tip if he gets me there quickly and in one piece.

He does.

“Mrs. Grey!” the guard says when I get to the gate. “What… where’s your detail?”

“Please open the gate,” I say, emotionally exhausted. The cabbie drops me at the portico, and I give him a hundred-dollar bill.

“Thank you, ma’am!” he says, awestruck.

“Thank you for getting me home safely,” I tell him. “You have a good night.”

When I walk into the grand entry, Windsor is rushing over to me. He has a puzzled look in his eye, no doubt wondering where everyone else is.

“Windsor, do you ever sleep?” I ask handing him my coat. He smiles.

“Yes, ma’am, I do.” I just nod and climb the spiral staircase. I look at my bedroom door, then I look at the nursery door. I opt for the nursery. I check on my children, and Mikey is sound asleep with his two middle fingers in his mouth. I check on Minnie and she’s silently looking up at me. No fussing, no fidgeting, just looking at me.

“Were you waiting up for me, Minnie Mouse?” I say to her sweet little face. I take her out of the crib and lay her on my shoulder, gently patting her back. She’s bringing me comfort, not judging me for how I spoke to her grandmother or for being Mrs. Grey or not saying something I should have or…

I sit there silently for a long time with my daughter, drawing on her unconditional love to give me some strength. It seems like I have to be strong for a lot of people, and lately I don’t have time for myself anymore. That can actually be a good thing, since it means that I don’t focus on my PTSD so much. I twist my lips and think about how I feel the need to journal right now. Then I remember Jason’s advice:

Talk to anyone who will listen.

Minnie will listen. She may not be able to respond or give me advice, but she’ll listen.

Then, I have visions of her subliminally absorbing what I’m saying and having nightmares about whatever incarnations of the Boogeyman that a baby’s brain can conjure.

That’ll never do… so I come up with another idea.

“Once upon a time, there was a girl named Cinderella,” I begin, sitting in the rocker with my daughter. “She lived in this great apartment and she had great friends and a great life. She didn’t have a boyfriend or anything besides this one psycho guy who thought they were meant to be together but that’s a different story.

“One day, she met this really beautiful prince with a really bad attitude. She just wanted to get away from him, but no matter what she did, she couldn’t escape. She fell in love with him and her whole life changed. People thought she didn’t have a right to be the princess. They called her names and talked about her being a bad person and only wanting the prince’s money and castle, but she loved him anyway. So, she ignored what the people said and stuck by her prince.

“As fairytales go, they got married in a beautiful castle and drove away in a classic chariot and flew away on a magic carpet to a faraway land to spend time together. Now, you would think that they lived happily ever after, but that’s not what happened.

“They had to come back to the real world from their faraway land, and terrible things happened, too many things to tell you, but Cinderella no longer felt like she lived in a castle with her prince. She felt like she was running from demons and devils and monsters all the time. People were always making her account for her thoughts and deepest feelings even when they were scary. People were sometimes trying to hurt her or even kill her…”

Too graphic.

“She longed for the days when the members of the court had nothing to do with her life, when it was just talking to the Mad Hatters all day and drinking wine and spending time with her friends all night.

“She misses quiet nights on the balcony and driving down the coast to nowhere, letting the sea breeze wash away her troubles.

“She misses unassuming daydreams about what her future holds—the things she could see and what she could become.

“She misses not being expected to be perfect because she’s married to the prince.

“She despises what people think they know about her and how they expect her to behave and their preconceived notions and theories about who she really is.

“She misses the simple, unassuming life that she once led…”

I sigh as I hold my daughter, now sound asleep on my chest.

“I don’t like being Cinderella,” I whisper matter-of-factly.

I sit with my sleeping baby for several more minutes, until I actually drift off myself in the rocker. When I wake, I put her back in her crib and slide out of my sleek silver strappy stiletto sandals. When I look out the door, the hallway is quiet. I don’t know how long I’ve been asleep, but it appears that no one’s home yet. I quietly close the door to the nursery and look at the door to our owner’s suite.

Cinderella’s room.

I don’t want to go in there.

I try to remember which room isn’t taken, assuming anyone wants to come back to my house tonight, the wicked old Cinderella who yelled at the queen.

I go into guestroom three and drop my shoes on the floor. I lie on top of the blankets fully dressed and fall asleep.

*-*

I’m disoriented when I awake. I don’t know where I am and for a brief moment, I forgot what happened the night before. I stretch and I feel an arm around my waist. I know how my husband feels so I don’t need to turn around. He’s coiled around me like he normally is and he, too, is fully dressed—well, at least shirt sleeves and pants that I can see. I need to get up. I slept like the dead and didn’t empty my breast all night. If I don’t relieve them soon, I’m going to ruin a perfectly good gown. I move a bit to wake Christian, but he shifts and pulls me closer to him. Well, that didn’t help. I sigh, thinking that I’ll have to jolt him from his sleep in order to get away.

“I heard you tell Minnie that you don’t like being Cinderella.”

I freeze. Shit, he heard my conversation with my daughter? I fucking hate that shit. I’ve done my fair share of eavesdropping, but I hate that he heard that—for many reasons. I was emotional when I said it; it was a private moment with my little girl; and it sounds really bad.

“You don’t like your life as it is?” he asks when I say nothing. I think about my response.

“I don’t like what’s expected of me simply because of who I am,” I reply honestly. “I have to behave a certain way, do all the right things, say all the right things, make all the right decisions and if I don’t, there’s hell to pay.”

“But, baby, that’s part of being an adult.” I wrench out of his grasp and sit up.

“No, Christian, that’s part of being Anastasia Grey,” I say, turning to face him. “I was an adult before I was Anastasia Grey, and I wasn’t under scrutiny for everything I said and did. Anastasia Steele came and went as she pleased. There was no one looking over her shoulder, no security details, nobody watching her every move. She was an adult, too, and she was not under the microscope. No one accused her of being a gold-digger. Nobody turned their noses up to her because of who she was or what she had. She only had to prove who she was, prove she was worthy, when she met you. Anastasia Steele became Cinderella and suddenly, her entire life—the good, the bad, and the ugly—are on display for everybody to see, and no matter what happens, Cinderella has to keep smiling. Cinderella has to keep representing the castle. Cinderella’s not allowed to hurt in public or fall apart in public and heaven forbid if Cinderella has a human moment at all. Le gasp, call the congeniality police! We have a major violation here! So, yes, there are many times when I don’t like being Cinderella!”

I rise from the bed and leave the guest room. I need to get to my breast pump or the shower before Niagara Falls releases from my boobs.

CHRISTIAN


“She’s not in the ladies’ room, Christian,” Val informs me after I’ve combed nearly every inch of this place looking for my wife. At first, I thought she was just being childish. Now, I’m scared shitless because I don’t know where she is. Bad things happen when my wife disappears.

“Sir,” Jason darts over to me and puts his hand on my arm. “I’ve tracked her phone. She’s at the Crossing.” I frown.

“How did she get all the way to Mercer and we didn’t know she was gone?” I bark.

“Because Chuck’s not here and she’s not wearing a tether, sir, except for her phone,” he retorts. “Remember tonight’s protocol? Chuck’s leaving town, we’re around family and friends, no need for extra security…”

He’s right. I agreed to lighter security tonight. Chuck has to be in South Dakota for his and his mother’s case against their brother. I can’t blame anyone for this one except myself…

And my careless wife.

She probably didn’t want to face me because of how she treated Mom.

“Let’s go,” I growl, heading for the door.

Everyone thought it best to head to their own abodes instead of coming to Grey Crossing, anticipating a showdown between me and my wife. The house is a tomb when I enter, only Windsor stirring to greet me.

“Mrs. Grey?” I hiss.

“She’s upstairs, sir,” he responds. “Will anyone else be coming tonight?”

“No,” I say, loosening my tie and taking the stairs two at a time. I head straight for the closed doors of our suite, but then I hear her voice to the right of me…

“Once upon a time, there was a girl named Cinderella…”

It’s coming from the cracked door of our babies’ nursery. Well, isn’t that adorable, I think angrily to myself. I’m tearing up a banquet hall looking for her and she’s here reading bedtime stories. I’m particularly livid after discovering that she took a goddamn taxi home!

“One day, she met this really beautiful prince with a really bad attitude. She just wanted to get away from him, but no matter what she did, she couldn’t escape. She fell in love with him and her whole life changed. People thought she didn’t have a right to be the princess. They called her names and talked about her being a bad person and only wanting the prince’s money and castle, but she loved him anyway. So, she ignored what the people said and stuck by her prince.”

Wait a minute. I’m new to this Disney thing, but even I know that’s not how that story goes. I lean against the wall next to the door and listen to her describe Cinderella’s life after she married the prince—the scrutiny, her fears, the dangers that followed her. I sigh heavily listening to her talk about how she misses how simple her life was before she met the “prince.”

“I don’t like being Cinderella…”

And it didn’t take a rocket scientist or even that statement to know that she was talking about us.

This conversation—this altercation or whatever it was that happened with her and Mom and more importantly, her leaving in a damn taxi without security—it needs to be addressed, but not tonight. She sounds raw and a bit vulnerable and this is not the time.

I go to our room and remove my jacket, tossing it and my tie onto the bed. I want a drink but think better of it. Instead, I’ll just sit here and wait.

And wait…

And wait…

And wait.

My mind replays the conversation she had with my mom. From what I understand, Mom was trying to orchestrate a possible meeting between Adelaide and her granddaughter and apparently, Butterfly and Courtney knew nothing about it. I don’t have all of the details, but she was pretty hard on my mom and I really thought that was very unnecessary. Mom left shortly after Adelaide did and… to be honest, I’m pretty gray—pun intended—on what happened after that.

My wife and I had some words, they weren’t kind, and I refused to argue with her in public. According to Mom, she would have to represent Helping Hands for the rest of the evening, and I was doing my best not to hinder that, but when Elliot asked me where Mom was, I told him the truth. The last time I saw her, she was glaring at me and Elliot was glaring at her, so I assumed he had asked about the altercation. I turned my head for a second, and when I looked back, she was gone.

I didn’t think anything of it. I thought she had taken Elliot aside to tell him her side of the story, but when a while later I saw Elliot and no Butterfly, I thought she had explained things, and everything was okay…

Until…

“Man, if looks could maim, I’d be castrated by now,” Elliot says. “All I could think was ‘back away slowly’ which is what I was trying to do, but then she just whirled around and took off out the door.” I frown deeply.

“Out the door?” I ask. “Where did she go?” Elliot shrinks a bit.

“I assumed she went to the ladies’ room,” he says. I look at my watch.

“Elliot, that was over half an hour ago. Nobody has seen her since!” I announce.

“Hey,” Val says, interrupting our conversation, on purpose no doubt. “Why so serious?”

“Val, would you mind terribly checking out the ladies’ rooms and seeing if my wife is hiding out in one of them?” I ask. She raises her brow knowingly to me then looks at Elliot.

“Mom and Montana had words,” he tells his wife. “It hasn’t been a good night.”

Grace and Ana,” she says, a statement, not a question.

“And me,” I admit, “but we didn’t fight. I was just not happy about her yelling at my mom.” Val twists her lips and rolls her eyes.

“I’ll be back,” she says as she heads off to the restrooms.

And now, I’m here, waiting and waiting for her to finish her remix of Cinderella with whatever child has her attention now. After waiting for I don’t even know how long, I toe out of my shoes and go back to the hallway. The nursery door is closed now, so I peek inside.

She’s not there.

I go down to the kitchen to see if she’s gone in search of a snack or a drink. She’s not there either. She’s not in the family room, the entertainment room, the movie room, her parlor, the office, or the gym.

Where the fuck is she now?

I’m almost tempted to activate the two-way but decide against it this late at night. I go back up to the second floor and begin to check the guest rooms. I would have thought not, but with the whole hating Cinderella thing…

Sure enough, I find her in the last guest room, curled up on the bed in her evening gown fast asleep.

And we’re sleeping in our clothes again.

I crawl in bed behind her and spoon her, falling asleep almost instantly.

*-*

“I had no idea that being married to me was such a goddamn trial,” I say to Jason while running on the treadmill the next day.

“You’re kidding, right?” Jason says. I look at him bemused. “No offense, sir, but working for you is a trial. I can only imagine what being married to you is like.” I frown.

“Don’t try to be cute,” I hiss. “It doesn’t suit you.”

“I’m not!” he snaps back. “That woman has been in your life for two and a half years. I know it’s not all bad, but I haven’t seen anybody go through the trials and tribulations that woman has been through just being married to you. Everybody’s watching her, people are gunning for her, she’s got to prove herself all the damn time… She can’t step wrong, she can’t be unhappy, she can’t be human. It’s a miracle she hasn’t had a nervous breakdown by now.”

“But she couldn’t have expected it to be easy when she agreed to marry me,” I protest. “Look at my life! She knew what she was signing up for.”

“Yeah,” he says, and nothing else. There’s something else behind that.

“Yeah, what?” I ask. He looks over at me without losing his stride.

“She’s still human, boss,” he says with a running shrug. “Whether you know what you’re signing up for or not doesn’t necessarily mean that you take it all in stride when it comes at you. And last night’s episode had nothing to do with being married to Christian Grey…”

“I didn’t say that! She did!” I protest.

“You didn’t let me finish,” he says. “It had nothing to do with being married to you, but it had everything to do with her version of Cinderella. She’s got responsibilities to people. One of those responsibilities was exploited last night and she was supposed to be okay with it—plaster a smile on her face and keep the night going. Nobody acknowledged her point of view last night. Whether it was right or wrong, nobody bothered to say, ‘I get it.’ Mrs. Wilson wanted to know why no one told her the truth about her granddaughter and she left upset. Dr. Grey was dug in that Mrs. Wilson had a right to know that her granddaughter was still here no matter what the consequences and she left upset.

“You heard your wife yelling at your mother and your mother left upset and that made you upset and you cut her off. Granted, you did it to prevent a public spectacle—which was smart—but she still got cut off. Then, whatever you told Elliot, he confronted her, and she was already burning the wick at both ends.” He does that imitation of an explosion with his hands and mouth. “We’re lucky she didn’t check into a hotel somewhere and turn her phone off. We were downtown after all.”

“God,” I sigh. “Our marriage isn’t going to survive this constant up and down.” Jason slows his treadmill down.

“Yes, it will,” he says, catching his breath. “This is marriage. It’s a constant up and down until you die, and you haven’t even hit your highest ups or your lowest downs. Why do you think they say love is a roller coaster? You didn’t expect it to be easy, did you?”

Yeah, I kinda did. My mistake.


A/N: 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 65—The Glue That Holds Family Together

Please say a prayer for my friend Yanique. She lost her mom recently after a long and diligent struggle with her health. Send her positive vibes, love, and light. I know that is a very rough time for her.

Tiny little chat here…

My last post was November 30—that was 16 days ago. In that time, I’ve gotten about 35 or so emails and messages that were not automated. Only one of them asked, “Are you okay?” There were other emails and comments (two or three) that had the tone, “How are you doing? How are things going?” I have seen them. Forgive me if I haven’t responded yet.  

The rest of them were all, “Where’s the next chapter?” “When are you going to post the next chapter?” “Why are you making us wait so long for a chapter?” One such comment was immediately after the last chapter was posted. I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on how that made me feel.

I’ve probably said this 99 times, and I’ll probably say it 99 more until and if I ever decide to just stop writing. I appreciate that people are so invested in my stories more than you all know, but please stop treating me like “just the next chapter.” I’m well aware that not everybody does that, so you all know that I’m not talking to everyone—but those of you who do, you know who you are. For the record, when you do that, it just causes me to lose my motivation and I wait longer to post.

I may come in on a Tuesday night and say, “Hey, I’ve got a little energy. Let me edit a chapter,” then wake up on Wednesday morning, do my tags, upload it, make my links, and get it posted before I start working. If, however, I come in to “Hurry up with the chapter,” I’ll just go do something else. I don’t want anybody to feel like they can say, “Chop, chop! Give us a chapter,” and I’m going to “chop chop.” It has the opposite effect—it slows me right down. Please don’t “out” yourself by saying, “I didn’t mean it that way” because please don’t be offended, but I’m not going to respond if you do. You’re just going to be “outing” yourself. Just put a pin in this and realize that this is how it makes me feel.

So, for those who asked, yes, I’m okay. I’m doing fine, thank you so much for asking. All is well. I’ve been very busy and I’m dealing with a little seasonal depression, but the winter solstice is five days away and then it’s only up from there, so that’s a good thing. Working from home has been fabulous, my beloved Falala, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I had to go into the office for a day last week and I’ll have to go in a few days in the future, but for the most part, I love, love, love being at home.

Now, here’s the next chapter. Each subsequent chapter will be posted as time and opportunity—and motivation—allows. Thank you for your continued support.

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 65—The Glue That Holds The Family Together

CHRISTIAN

“Dad had a T-Bird? A fucking ’64 T-Bird? And you gave it to Burt?” Freeman roars through the phone.

Mom gave me the “all clear” this morning, so I came over to Dad’s house to meet with Uncle Herman and see how much of the items from the storage units had been shipped to family. Smalls located the model car collection that was willed to Dad and warned that he would need more than a display case for it before he shipped it out on Monday. Apparently, Dad already knew that and has had Elliot working on redoing another whole room in the house to prepare for their arrival. Another whole room… I have got to see this collection.

Other various items are making their way to different parts of the country. Herman wanted Grandma Ruby’s Waterford crystal and her wedding dress since no one laid claim to them. He said that the younger family members couldn’t see the value in the crystal and that grandma’s wedding dress just sitting in a storage facility somewhere didn’t seem right to him. So, those things are on the way to Washington along with Dad’s model car collection, and my Apollo will be shipped to a restorer on the east coast.

Lanie sent me a picture of Burtie smiling brightly and posing with his boyfriend—Leo’s cousin—next to his new, incredibly pimped out 1964 T-Bird with the ocean in the background. These are apparently Burtie’s engagement photos as he and his new love plan to tie the knot after Burtie’s surgeries. He insisted on waiting because he doesn’t want his scars to be in the wedding pictures.

Word got to Freeman because Lanie posted the pictures on social media. So, either Freeman’s trolling her page, or someone told him about it, and now he’s on Uncle Herman’s speaker phone stomping like Rumpelstiltskin.

“No, Freeman,” Uncle Herman says calmly. “I had a fucking ’64 T-Bird and I gave it to Burt.”

“That was Dad’s car! I’m his son, too, and you can’t pretend I don’t exist no matter how much you want to. As his son, I’m entitled to his possessions just like you are, and I want my share of that stuff!” Freeman demands. A satisfied look comes over Herman’s face.

“Didn’t you hear what Wu said at the reading?” Uncle Herman says. “Dad left all of this stuff to me to distribute as I see fit. You don’t have a share.”

He left you whatever was in that safe deposit box, not what he had in storage!”

“And the key and the instructions to the storage bin were in the safe deposit box. So, dear brother, that means that all that stuff belongs to me, too. Is that why you tried to keep me from the reading of the will? Because you knew that Dad left the disposition of his estate to me? Is that why you wanted to get him back to Detroit before he died—so that you could coerce him to change trustees? Maybe give you power of attorney so you could sell his house before he even died? You tried to screw me and Rick and it backfired on you. How does that feel?”

“You’re just as paranoid as he is,” Freeman shoots. “You can’t prove I did anything!”

“I don’t have to,” Uncle Herman replies. “It still backfired. You lied and you schemed and you went behind our backs and it backfired—in an even bigger way than you think because you’re even cheating yourself out of $500,000 that belongs to you because you’re too busy trying to hurt somebody else. Rick doesn’t need that money, and he proved it to you by giving me and Stan $750,000 each while you watched! Then he told us that we could keep whatever is left of our share when you’re done with your shenanigans. Who’s being hurt here, because it’s certainly not any of us!”

“You’re not going to get away with this, Herman…” Freeman begins.

“Stop right there,” Uncle Herman interrupts. “Before you start getting one of your stupid, dark ideas, don’t forget—if you protest the will, you lose your rights to everything, including that dilapidated house you inherited.” Freeman is silent for several moments.

“The joke’s going to be on you,” he says, finally. “I’m selling this house, and I’m using the money to rebuild Dad’s, and when I’m done, it’s going to be worth far more than those trinkets you all are playing with!”

“Trinkets!” Uncle Herman laughs. “That trinket that I gave your son has been rebuilt, refurbished and it’s currently worth nearly $100,000. How’s that for a trinket?”

Freeman is silent again.

“And you’re selling your house—a perfectly good house with a very high market value so that you can try to repair a money pit in the middle of Detroit where the market values are dropping and the joke’s on us? Didn’t you buy that house while you and Nell were married? That makes it community property. What does she say about that?”

“She moved out. She has no claim to this house anymore!” Not that simple, Freem. “Besides, I’m signing the divorce papers. I’m giving that witch what she wants and getting her out of my hair once and for all.”

“You mean that witch that bore your children and dealt with your bullshit for more than twenty years? Is that the witch you’re speaking of?” Herman retorts.

“They’re all dead to me!” he snaps. “Burt’s pressing charges on me for a little tough love and his pathetic, weak mother is falling in step right behind him. And Nollie—or whatever the fuck her name is now—yeah, it can easily be said that she’s to blame for this entire fucking fiasco!”

“Kind of like Rick has been the root of all evil for all of your problems, but never you, right, Freem?

“You were never to blame for smashing Burt’s face in the middle of a crowded airport.

“You were never to blame for alienating the entire family from Rick because you were pissed that he married a rich woman.

“You were never to blame for cheating on your faithful wife who stuck with you through all of your bullshit and garbage until she just couldn’t take it anymore.

“You were never to blame for treating your daughter like the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life from the day she was born!

“You were never to blame for making Dad feel like a burden from the day he got sick and couldn’t take care of himself anymore. A week before he died, he pretty much called you a selfish bastard, and he repeated those words from the grave in his will. His final thought for you was that he knew that he never meant anything to you, that you were pretty much waiting for him to die so that you could get that house and you didn’t feel a bit of conviction about it.

“You’re rotten through and through, Freeman, and you don’t have the conscience to feel bad about it. You’re going to die old, lonely, and miserable, and you’re not entitled to a goddamn thing but that house that you got. There’s no hope for you! I wash my hands of you! So, go rebuild your money pit and leave us the fuck alone. Don’t call me again!” Uncle Herman swipes the screen and ends the call and sighs heavily.

“I want to feel bad about it, but I don’t,” Uncle Herman says to me and Dad. “There’s really no hope for him! That man is like Satan, walking through the earth and ‘seeking whom he may devour.’”

“He’s adamant about that house,” Dad says. “He’s an unfeeling, delusional asshole, but he’s not an idiot. You all stayed in Detroit and the surrounding areas all these years. Before you and Dad moved out here, you were there. It’s no secret that Detroit is deteriorating. Schools are closing, families are leaving, neighborhoods are falling to ruin… he has to know that house is worthless! So, what is it? What’s so important?”

“He thought all Dad had was that house. Hell, we all thought all Dad had was that house! He was just the only one who was willing to risk everything to get it—including Dad!”

“There’s got to be something else more important about that house,” Dad says. “It can’t just be sentimental value.”

“He thinks it’s worth something,” I say with a shrug. “Maybe there’s gold in the basement.”

“Well, I hope he finds it,” Uncle Herman says waving his hands. “Jesus, I don’t want to hear from him ever again. I can’t take this anymore.”

“We may have a bigger problem, Uncle Herman,” I say. “He’ll more than likely head down to the storage units and cause some trouble. You might want to call the management office and give them a heads up. I’m going to call my guy and have him ship everything that’s been claimed to those members of the family who claimed it and ship everything else here. We need to wrap this up and everything needs to be on the road no later than Friday. That’s still two days and enough time for him to wreak havoc.”

“Over my dead body,” Uncle Herman says while dialing a number on his phone. I also pull out my cell phone. I call Smalls and explain what’s going on and what needs to be done. That operation needs to be shut down and on the move from Detroit to Seattle in two days.

“That’s impossible, sir,” Smalls declares. “We don’t have the resources here to ship this stuff across the country in two days. It took longer than that just to get a company to secure those cars. And it took even longer to get them prepared to be shipped to you. The way that it was packed in these facilities, it was packed to be stored—not to be shipped. That’s going to take time and care unless you want these things to be damaged when they arrive, and do you want anybody but Grey Shipping to transport these items? Antique furniture? Fragile glassware? Keepsakes? Quite candidly, sir, I don’t want to be held responsible for a botched-up job and you and your family receiving a bunch of pretty pieces of things that obviously have some pretty significant sentimental value.” I sigh heavily.

“Well, what do you suggest, Smalls?” I say, almost through my teeth.

“Well, Mr. Grey, shipping these things piece by piece isn’t a really difficult task, but shipping fragile and valuable items all in bulk, that’s a little out of my realm. I know it’ll take time, but I’d need to consult the experts on the best way to proceed.” I roll my eyes. Was I naïve for thinking that he would do that in the first place?

The truth is that shipping the items quickly isn’t necessarily the priority. Keeping Freeman away from the items is what’s most important. I put Smalls on hold and conference Alex into the call.

“Welch, I have Smalls on the line, the team leader over the project in Detroit. Smalls, how many units do we have out there again?”

Four,” he replies.

“Welch, my uncle in Detroit has gotten wind that my grandfather’s things are being divvied out to the family and he has made it clear that he ‘wants his share.’ We both know that he’s an unreasonable, delusional hothead and very unpredictable. I think you can see where I’m going with this.”

“Yes, sir,” Alex replies.

“So, we need to get a detail out there—something like five guys that can work shifts, more at night than during the daytime. The management team has already been informed that Freeman is to have no access to the units, so that pretty much takes care of business hours even though I would want at least one guy out there during the day just to keep the peace and allow the team to do their job…”

Hm,” Alex says into the phone. Hm? What’s the hm?

“Something I’m missing, Mr. Welch?” I ask.

“Well, no, sir. It’s just that the team is on a few different projects right now, including securing the Franklin mansion. We’re just spread kind of thin at the moment.”

I’m not hearing that. Did I just hear that? Did I just hear my head of security tell me that we don’t have the staff to do something that I need done? I have a large force of elite motherfuckers that rivals the CIA. In fact, some of them came from the CIA—and this fucker is insinuating that I don’t have the security staff to do what I need? We had a guy just sitting at Pops’ house while I was on my honeymoon! I own several security companies! And this fucker is telling me that the staff is “spread kind of thin” right after this other fucker is complaining about shipping four storage units—and not even four anymore—full of stuff from Detroit to Seattle when I control shipping modes on land, at sea, and in the air?

Has married life made me a pussy… or just made me look like one?

“Mr. Grey?” My pondering has caused me to fall silent.

“Okay, so here’s the thing,” I say, rubbing my brow and trying to keep my anger in check. “I am a fucking billionaire, so I’m not very accustomed to the word ‘no.’ Today, I have effectively heard it twice from two different people in my employ…”

“I didn’t say ‘no,’ sir…”

“Are you interrupting me?” I ask whoever it was that dared to speak. The line falls silent. “Now, as I was saying, in just the past few minutes, I have grown fucking tired of hearing what we can’t fucking do, no matter how you try to phrase it. I have an entire shipping department that sends things worldwide—including foodstuffs to third world countries—and my guy in Detroit is telling me that he can’t get my grandfather’s belongings here in a timely manner without busting them all to pieces. So, to alleviate the possibility of my crazy ass uncle coming down to the storage facility and starting any shit while we’re trying to sort this out, I ask for a security detail to be dispatched to the location in case he starts feeling froggy and now, my head of security is telling me how thinly spread they are even though in addition to being able to send a banana to Antarctica and have it arrive intact, I own more security subsidiaries across the country than I can count. Money can do just about anything these days except bring the dead back to life and I’m richer than Midas. So, right now, I need the two of you to act like you have an endless money pot and fix these fucking problems!

“Yes, sir,” they say almost simultaneously. I end the call without another word and thrust my hand into my hair. I’m asking for shit to be shipped and I’m asking for a security detail. How hard can this fucking be?

I turn around to see my father and uncle staring at me.

“It’s not all that important, Christian,” Uncle Herman says. “I’ve talked to the management, and Freeman won’t get off the lot with anything.”

“There’s a couple of problems with that thinking,” I tell him. “The storage facility may be private property, but anybody can get in there—wire cutters, climb a fence, whatever. The management team aren’t going to be there 24/7 and quite frankly, neither are my guys. Freeman is already irrational and delusional. He’s harassed me to the point of having to get a restraining order and he’s beaten his son to the degree that he needs plastic surgery. I don’t put it past him for a second that he’ll go down there and bust in every door until he finds Pops’ stuff, or that he’ll find where they’re working and just start breaking Pops’ shit for the hell of it, or worse yet, hurt one of my guys. Can you guarantee me that he won’t do that?” I ask.

Uncle Herman just looks at me for a few moments. Freeman started a fight with and assaulted my father in his own house, then provoked me to the point of nearly choking him to death. Then he came back with the police and said that we started the fight. He’s a loose fucking cannon and right now, nobody’s there to keep him in check.

“No, son,” Uncle Herman says. “I can’t guarantee that.”

“I didn’t expect you would, but here’s the bigger issue. I run an international company with nearly bottomless resources. If I ask for fresh snow from the highest peak of Mt. Everest, intact and on my desk, I expect to get it—however they have to get it to me, but that’s not what I’m asking for. I’m asking for items—and yes, a lot of items and some of them very fragile—to be shipped across the country as soon as possible and for a security team to be present at the storage facility to make sure everything runs smoothly. Yet, twice in the last few minutes, I have the two HMIC’s telling me what they can’t do. I’m going to assume that they conveniently forgot who they were speaking to, and that they’ll have a game plan for me by the end of business.”

Uncle Herman and Dad look at each other and then back at me.

“You’re the boss,” Uncle Herman says. “I just don’t want you putting yourself or your company out for this.”

“Pops’ preserved all that stuff for his family,” I begin. “I know that he intended for Freeman to have some of it, but if Freeman had his way, he’d sell everything and run off with the money! This way, Pops’ legacy is being spread among all of his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren. The jewelry that you gave me for my wife— Butterfly cried when I gave her those things! And they will most likely one day end up in my daughter’s hands. How do you think Pops’ and Grandma Ruby feel looking down on that right now?” Herman smiles a warm smile.

“Pretty damn good,” he says contentedly. I nod.

“Damn straight! So, if the one selfish bastard who would ruin it for the whole family is the one person that gets cut out of the process, I can live with that, and I’m sure that my grandparents understand. Now, these people that I have in charge of these things are getting paid well enough to lick their wounds later, and if they want to keep getting paid those handsome salaries, they’ll stop dragging their asses, kill the excuses, and find a way to make this happen. So, don’t worry about it one more moment. The only thing you should be concerned about is who gets what and then we’ll make sure that it gets to be where it needs to be.”

“Like I said,” Uncle Herman says, still smiling, “You’re the boss… speaking of which, Ana emailed me about Mom’s wardrobe.” My brow furrows.

“Her wardrobe?” I ask. He nods.

“Yeah. I noticed that Ana wasn’t on the mailing list for Mom and Dad’s things. I thought it might have been an oversight, so I asked for her email address and sent her this list. I hope I didn’t overstep…”

“Oh, no, no, not at all, Uncle Herman. It actually was an oversight on my part. I didn’t even think to add my wife to the list. You know, the whole ‘we have everything we need thing,’” I excuse. I hope Butterfly won’t be too warm with me for not adding her to the list. It really was an accident. “So, what’s this about the wardrobe?”

“Apparently, your wife is a vintage clothing connoisseur,” my uncle says. “Mom’s heyday was the fifties and sixties, and even though she bought new things in the later decades, she kept all of her clothes and had many of them preserved in cedar chests and things like that. Georgie thought to send some pictures with the email of some of Mom’s things. I wouldn’t have thought the kids would be interested in any of those things, but your wife went nuts! As long as I get Mom’s wedding dress, I’ve agreed to send everything else to Ana. She’s going to keep what she wants and consign the rest with the proceeds going to Helping Hands.”

Butterfly in true vintage Lindy-bop dresses. I’m having a separate conversation with Greystone right now to keep him in check.

“Oh, yes, Butterfly loves that era of clothing. Her closet at her condo is nothing but vintage replicas. She’s going to have a field day with this. Thanks, Uncle Herman.” He smiles.

“A very small token, Christian,” he says. “If we didn’t have you, I have no idea how we’d get through this.”

“It’s the very least I could do,” I say


ANASTASIA

Marilyn may not want to discuss her situation with me, but as her employer, she’s going to have to tell me something sooner or later. Nonetheless, I’ve promised to stay out of her business and allow her to sort this out on her own. I won’t approach her about it unless she asks—or if she starts showing, whichever comes first.

“Courtney,” I ask when she comes out of the kitchen after I hang up from Marilyn, “I don’t mean to pry, but what conversation have you had?” She frowns.

“What?” she asks, bemused.

“With Harmony,” I say. “When you mentioned fattening her up, she said you had already had that conversation.”

“Oh, that… she can’t keep anything down when she’s really upset,” Courtney informs me.

“Oh,” I nod. “Could she be pregnant?” Courtney shakes her head.

“I asked the same thing. She’s been celibate for nearly a year now. It’s just her nerves. They’re really bad.”

“I can only imagine,” I say. “And this experience is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.” I rub my scar and sigh heavily.

“What’s wrong, Ana?” Courtney asks. I shake my head.

“I never understood the concept of death bringing out the worst in people. She’s barely hanging on, now she’s going to have to go head to head with these people who are supposed to be her siblings, so to speak.”

“Well,” she says, putting her arm around my shoulder, “That’s why she has us. I told Vick that I’ll be staying here with her tonight, so she might drop by. Should I let somebody know?”

“Yeah, just tell security. It’ll be fine,” I inform her.

I’m not as worn out when I get home as I was yesterday thanks to Courtney’s presence, but I remember that I need to call Val to find out the results of her doctor’s appointment. I’m anxious to know if Meg has returned and I’ll be front and center for her this time if she has.

“What did the doctor say?” I ask immediately after greeting her when she answers the phone.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” she says. “Meg has not reared her ugly head. Like I told you, there was a perfectly logical reason for the dizzy spells, so everyone can breathe now.”

“Did he say how often you’ll have them?” I press. “Or how long? Are they like the throbbing in my scar where you just have to deal with them whenever they show up?”

“Something like that,” she says. “We don’t know yet how often I’ll have them or for how long, but we’re pretty certain that they’re not permanent. What’s important is that my healing is still on track—more than on track, in fact—and we don’t have to prepare for any surgeries or radiation, thank God!”

“Were you worried, Val?” I ask, my voice softening. She sighs.

“I try to keep a positive outlook, Steele,” she says. “Life’s too short and you can’t spend it worrying, but… the unknown… that shit is scary as fuck.”

“I know,” I tell her. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t more supportive last weekend. I know you really could have used the encouragement.”

“Honestly, don’t trouble yourself. Just like you were finding your way last week, I had to find mine. There are some journeys that we must travel alone, as you well know.” I nod as if she can see me.

“I well know,” I confirm.

“So, what’s on your agenda for the rest of the week?” she asks, affectively changing the subject. I sigh.

“Tina died,” I say, sadly. “I’m at Harmony’s disposal. I know she needs me.”

“Oh, Ana. That poor girl. I know her pain. Give her my condolences, please.”

“I will. Luckily, there’s not too much that needs to be done. Tina made her own arrangements before she died. She knew that Harmony wouldn’t be able to handle it. And their attorney—he’s cordial and accommodating. He cares more about them than her own children.”

“Could it be the money?” she asks.

“It could be, but I sense a loyalty to the family—or at least, to Tina—that goes far deeper than money. After the mess of Harmony’s divorce and already having to deal with losing a loving mother…” I trail off. I’m grateful for Carl and how he’s handling things, even though I’m not the one who has to deal with all this. “He was at the county office the moment he learned that the quit deed had been registered getting copies of it for Harmony. I have a feeling that Tina was waiting for the deed to be finalized before she let go.”

“Oh, dear, that’s so sad,” Val says. “Those kids of hers must be some gruesome lot.”

“They’ve proven to be just that, but Christian and I are ready for them. It looks like we’ve adopted yet another family member.”

“You seem to do that a lot,” she laughs. “Marlow and his family, Luma and the girls… what about that other lady? Thelma and… what was that guy’s name?”

“James,” I remind her. She wasn’t around for that drama, but I filled her in later. “You should get to meet them at the gala on Thanksgiving weekend. It’s been decided that the Adopt-A-Family Affair is going to be the Adopt-A-Family Reunion. So, invitations have gone out to all of the families who had been listed to be adopted over the last five years.”

“That’s kinda cool,” she says. “Will they still be adopting families this year, or will it all be the Reunion?”

“No, things will still be going as planned,” I tell her. “We’ll just have more guests at the party this year than usual. So, have you had a cooking lesson this week?”

“A small one,” she says. “Chicken alfredo. It was simple, and I caught on pretty quickly…”

I continue my conversation with Val with her reminding me that Thanksgiving dinner will be at her house this year. Jason, Gail, and Sophie will be joining us as will Marlow, Maggie, and Marcia, so I’ll at least have one of my nannies with me. Chuck and Keri will be visiting some of Chuck’s extended “family”—people who have somewhat adopted him like we did. He wants to introduce Keri to them.

Val’s house is large, but unfortunately can’t accommodate a Grey family sleepover, so the Grey siblings as well as Jason and Gail will be staying the night at Val and Elliot’s while the parents—including Dad and Mandy—and Herman and Luma will be at Grey Manor.

Friday, the ladies will meet for Black Friday shopping as usual, then go to Miana’s for our Black Friday spa day. Keri will join us for Black Friday, and Minnie will spend the day with the ladies along with Celida, Mariah, and Sophie while Mikey and Harry hang out with the guys. The family will then all converge on Grey Manor for dinner and be spending Friday night there to have brunch on Saturday, then go to the Adopt-A-Family Reunion from there. Keri and Gail will get the twins home and Jason and Chuck will, of course, be on duty with me and Christian.

After the gala, we’ll all return to Grey Crossing, where the family will spend the night, have their final weekend brunch, and disperse to their homes. This way, all three homes will have hosted part of the Thanksgiving weekend… except for Mia who promises to maybe look for a bigger place and host a holiday next year.

Val is telling me about the Thanksgiving meal that will be catered and served by staff when my husband’s voice breaks into our conversation.

“I hear you’re going to have a sexy new wardrobe soon.”

I look up at him and shake my head.

“I gotta go, Val,” I tell her. “My husband has just arrived and, of course, requires my attention.”

“Of course,” she laughs. “I’ll talk to you soon.” We end the call.

“What sexy new wardrobe are you talking about?” I ask. “Ruby’s things?”

“Yeah,” he says, going into his dressing room. “I hear her entire vintage wardrobe is being shipped here.”

“Yeah, no thanks to you!” I yell into the dressing room. “Herman told me that list was supposed to go to all the children and grand-children. How did I not make the cut? I am your wife.”

“That was a terrible oversight on my part,” he says coming out of the dressing room while unbuttoning his shirt. “I’ll be honest—we already have so much that I wasn’t even thinking about us getting anything on that list. I’m sorry, baby.”

“You’re forgiven,” I say. “And what made you say that the wardrobe is sexy?”

“Lindy-bop dresses?” he says going back to his dressing room. “I’ve seen you in those—all demure and shit. They drive me crazy. And Uncle Herman says that the fifties and sixties were Grandma Ruby’s heyday, so I know she’s probably got some hot stuff in there.” He comes back out in a T-shirt and sweats.

“I don’t know how you fit all your junk in there,” I say. He looks behind him.

“In where? In there?” he says pointing to his dressing room.

“No, in there?” I say pointing to his sweatpants. “That’s a lot of meat and I’ve seen lesser men hang and wobble in those.” He looks down at his sweats.

“Why do you think I wear boxer briefs?” he says. “Jock straps are out of the question, as are tighty-whities, and even soft, I peek out of regular boxers. These were the only option.” I shake my head.

“I guess I should be happy I didn’t fall in love with an itty-bity. That would have been a disaster.” Christian laughs loudly.

“I guess so,” he says, through his laughter. “So, what’s on the agenda for tonight?”

“Food, then sleep, my love,” I say. “I’ve got some things to do at the Center tomorrow and then, I’m going to Harmony’s to finalize things for Tina’s service. It’s going to be Saturday, so we have to wrap things up.”

“No word from the siblings yet?” he asks.

“Not a peep,” I say. “It’s been quiet. Too quiet.”

“Jesus! Won’t they even help with the final arrangements?” I shrug.

“If they don’t get it in gear by tomorrow, they won’t have any input, so…” I trail off.

“Jeez, what a brood,” he says, shaking his head. “Let’s go eat.”

*-*

I discover that I spoke too soon about no word from the siblings. I get a text from Harmony at about 10am that she has to go to the funeral home for the final viewing of her mother before they present her for public viewing. I ask if she wants me or Courtney to go with her, but she assures me that she’ll be fine.

“This is the easy part,” she says. “Making sure a pretty woman in life is still pretty in death.”

She’s livid when I get to her house.

“That was not my mother!” she fumes. “The idea is to make sure that the dead don’t look dead,” she says. She pulls out her phone.

“I gave them this picture!” She scrolls through her phone and shows me a picture of Tina when she was alive.

“This is what they did.” I wasn’t prepared for her to show me a picture of Tina’s corpse, but that’s exactly what it was—a corpse… not in a casket, on a slab. It was clean and neat and presentable… and flaxen white. We know the deceased isn’t with us anymore, but we don’t want them to look that way! And what’s with that fucking hair? That’s not a bouffant, is it? It looks horrendous!

82920f4c350d65dc46d4b246afcc86f3

BOUFFANT 

“Was someone practicing?” I ask before I realize the words are out of my mouth, still gazing at the picture in dismay.

“That’s what I asked!” she seethes and scrolls through her phone again.

“That’s how she looks now!” she nearly hisses. Tina has been redone and is now lying in her casket with an ethereal glow. Her hair is how I remembered her wearing it at Mia’s wedding. Her coloring is perfect and she’s wearing a beautiful blue dress with long sleeves and a high Victorian-style collar. She looks stately and beautiful, and completely at rest.

“Well, at least they got it right the second time,” I say, examining the picture.

“They didn’t,” she says, swiping her phone and clearing the screen. “I did.”

My eyes must look like bowling balls. I can’t believe what I’m hearing.

“What?” I ask in disbelief.

“That’s what took four hours,” she says as she put her phone away. “I came back here, got my mother’s makeup and redid it. Then I had to give her a dry shampoo to get all that horrible hair spray out of her hair—something that I’ve never seen her use…” Harmony is furious and covers her face as she shakes her head.

“I must be delusional or insane with grief, because I swear I saw her smile at me when I had finished.” She raises angry eyes to me. “And it brought me peace—for a minute. In my head, I went on this insane rant, this ‘Who the fuck is this woman’ rant when I saw this stranger lying on a slab posing as my mother, but my anger just wouldn’t come out. I wanted it to, but it wouldn’t.”

She walks away from me and starts pacing around the room.

“I tried to tell them that wasn’t my mother, and they tried to tell me that death changes the face. I know that death changes the face, but that wasn’t even close. I asked if they even looked at the picture when they did my mother’s hair and makeup, and they just did this blank stare thing. I told them not to touch my mother and that I would be back, and that’s when I came home and got the supplies. Maybe it’s just the quality of the makeup…”

“No, it’s not just the quality,” I tell her, recalling the first picture of Tina. “She looked like a Halloween costume, and a bad one at that. They could have done much better.” I put my hand on her shoulder. “You did an excellent job.”

“Thank you,” she says, still angry. “I’m so pissed, I just want to hit something.”

As if from Harmony’s mouth to God’s ears, one of the security detail announces that she has visitors demanding entrance to her home. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who it is.

“Let ‘em in!” she says combatively, folding her arms and facing the entrance to the dining room.

Showtime!

I’m standing behind the sofa when they enter. None of them look their age. They look late forties at the latest, but I know from the intel that Christian gave me that the youngest of them—Paige—is 60 years old. The wonders of modern medicine.

They all walk in, stepping in sync, and one of the women folds her arms and adjusts her weight like she’s ready to face off.

I can’t fucking believe this. They all showed up together—unannounced, like a posse. They remind me of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad coming to wipe everybody out, only they didn’t expect to find her fifty guards deep. They expected her to be alone.

I lift my wrist to my mouth, clear my throat, and whisper a single word into the mouthpiece there.

“Backup.”

This is the signal that I want at least five other people in this room right now. I got seven.

“Harmony,” one of the women greet.

“Paige,” Harmony acknowledges with the same indifference.

“What’s with the goon squad?” one of the men jeer.

“You tell me,” Harmony says, folding her arms. “My ringer must be malfunctioning, because Mom’s been dead for two days and I don’t recall a call from any of you.”

“We didn’t get a call from you, either,” the same man retorts.

“Why would I call you, Theo?” she counters. “You never answered any other time I called, or when Mom called. Why would now be any different?” She looks from face to face.

“You got the call that you were waiting for—from her attorney. You comin’ to collect? Well, I hope he told you that you’re going to have to wait until the reading of the will.” The other woman, whom I deduce is Ilsa, scoffs.

“You look awful,” Paige says. “Are you on drugs?” Harmony’s eyes narrow.

“No,” she hisses, “I’m mourning the loss of my mother. You look great, by the way, for having just lost yours!” Paige is taken aback by her frankness. “Did you come to help with Mom’s arrangements?” she asks sarcastically.

“Well,” Ilsa says, “we were coming to help you clean up, get things in order, so to speak.”

“Well, as you can see,” Harmony says gesturing around the house, “everything looks like a shiny new penny, so I don’t need any help cleaning up.

“We mean like packing up Mom’s things,” Theodore interjects.

“You mean like picking through Mom’s things,” Harmony corrects him. “She’s not even cold yet, Theo. Can’t you even wait until she’s laid to rest before you start picking her bones dry?”

“That’s my mother you’re talking about!” he barks.

“Yeah, you might want to remember that!” Harmony retorts. “Mom’s dead. She’s gone! She’s not coming back, and there’s not a tear between you, but you want to ask me if I’m on drugs because I’ve cried a river in three days and I can’t keep anything down because I lost my mom. So, to answer your question, no—I don’t need your help cleaning up. We have a staff here who can help me with that. Anything else?” Paige sighs impatiently.

“I gave Mom a set of diamond earrings,” she huffs. “Unless she’s being buried in them, I want them back. I gave them to her for her 50th birthday. They’re 4-carats each. You can’t miss them.”

“No,” Harmony says firmly. “The stipulation states that nothing will be distributed from Mom’s estate until the will is read and that’s how it’s going to be.”

“So, what’s to stop you from taking her stuff?” Jason says.

“Well, you’ll just have to trust me, now, won’t you?” Harmony retorts, folding her arms. “Mom certainly did.”

“We don’t know that,” Theodore hisses.

“And you never will,” Harmony hisses back, “because you weren’t here to help take care of her, now, were you? You couldn’t be bothered to leave your oh-so-important lives to come and see about your dying mother! I sat here and took care of her for months and watched her slip away and now you want to come and throw darts at me?”

Harmony is drawing on some much-needed anger to fend off her selfish and greedy siblings. None of them have a response for not being there for Tina, so they resort back to accusing Harmony of manipulating her.

“I see you didn’t wait for the stipulation to take the house,” Ilsa says.

“That was Mom’s doing,” Harmony counters. “She put the house in my name before she died so you couldn’t come and put me out, which I fully know was your plan until you found out that Mom made it legal.”

“And stop calling her ‘Mom!’ She’s not your mom!” Theodore huffs.

“She is my mom!” Harmony roars, shocking us all. “And your hateful, belittling, treacherous, greedy, selfish attitudes and behavior is not going to change that. Now, get the hell out of my house!”

Your house!” Paige scoffs. “Couldn’t wait to say that, could you?”

“Damn straight!” Harmony says. “Get these people out of my house please,” she says to the security staff. The security detail begins to move forward toward the unwanted visitors.

“You can’t throw us out of Mom’s house!” Jonah protests.

“It’s my house now, and I can throw you out,” Harmony says definitively.

“If you put your hands on me, I’ll scream,” Paige tells one of the guards.

“And I’ll sue you,” Theodore tells another, “and you, too,” he adds to Harmony.

“Scream your little heart out!” Harmony says to Paige before turning to Theodore. “Sue away if you’ve got money to burn. I told you to leave my house. As of this moment, you’re trespassing. According to Washington law, I and my staff can legally remove you by any means necessary if you refuse to leave. Look it up—it’s public information.” She turns back to the security detail. “Get them out of my house.” The security detail create a half circle around the siblings.

“Ladies, gentlemen?” one of them says to the group while gesturing to the vestibule area. If looks could kill, there would be daggers flying across the room at Harmony, but I’m certain that her determined anger is forming a force field that renders their daggers ineffective, causing them to drop uselessly to the floor. Jonah whispers something to Ilsa, who nods before they turn to leave.

“Oh,” Harmony adds, “and you can forget about the secret doors. They’re locked, alarmed, and guarded… all of them.” Jonah whirls around as does Ilsa, revealing that this was the content of their whispered tête-à-tête.

“I’ll blow this whole house up with you in it,” Jonah threatens. Oh, he’s gone too far now.

“You try it,” Harmony seethes. “I’ll hunt your old ass down to the end of the earth. My trust kicked in after the divorce, so I’ve got the money for it.”

I can’t keep silent anymore.

“And friends in high places who just heard you threaten to commit murder,” I add. He pales a bit when I speak. “You should take her advice and leave now. I’m sure you’ll all get your piece of the pie at the reading of the will, which is all you really want, right?”

“You…” Jonah begins to me.

“Don’t,” I say, holding up one well-manicured finger. “Let me save you the headache and the lifetime of misery because this…” I point to myself with both index fingers, “… is a battle that you don’t want. If you’re slightly concerned about her, then you should be terrified of me because all of these people…” the same two fingers scan the whole room, “… work for me. And if you think her money is power, my money makes hers look like a piggy bank. Do you really want this?”

I’m picking a fight that I know he won’t follow through with. In fact, none of them will. They came to bully Harmony and didn’t expect her to be carrying a baseball bat. Then he turned on me—or thought he was going to turn on me—and got confronted with a wrecking ball.

“Gentlemen,” I say to my security staff, “show these people out by any means necessary.”

The staff moves in and the siblings once again head towards the door. Theodore, determined to destroy something on his way out, kicks over a table in the foyer causing the vase full of flowers to shatter all over the foyer floor. Within a moment, one of the guys from the security detail lifts him into the air by the back of his coat. His feet are flailing and he’s shouting obscenities while the others look on in total shock. The detail gets him to the porch and literally throws him off like that kid from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

200

It takes everything in me to keep from laughing when I see that man fly through the air and land on the lawn with a thud. Harmony isn’t as tactful.

“If you come back here again, I’m going to shoot first and ask questions later,” my security says. “You are all a threat to the lady of the house, and I will treat you as such.” He turns around and glares at Jonah, who doesn’t hesitate the scurry out of the house. Harmony goes to the door, laughing hysterically.

“I’ll send you the bill, Theo!” she yells into the night.

“Good luck collectin’!” he yells back.

“Never mind, then,” she retorts. “I’ll just submit it to the estate and have it taken from your share of the inheritance!”

“Fuck you, bitch!” he yells back while limping to his car.

“No thanks, Unc!” she yells. “I’m afraid your equipment is out of commission!” She turns back to Ilsa and Paige.

“Do you ladies need directions?” Harmony asks, all mirth gone from her voice. “I’m sure this gentleman would be only too happy to assist you!”

The ejection guard moves over to stand next to Harmony, prompting Ilsa to give Paige a little push before both women leave without another word. We watch as the gruesome foursome get into various cars and screech down the circle drive and off the premises.

“God! That felt good!” Harmony says as she walks back to the dining room.

“You haven’t seen the last of them, Harmony,” I warn as I follow her into the dining room and the detail secures the house.

243b0453c83e3f27031b22d2e7c3aa07“Good! Let ‘em bring it. I have a lot of pent-up anger and frustration from being ignored, being mistreated, being abandoned, taken for granted, and now losing the only person in the world that meant anything to me and having the funeral home make her up like the goddamn crypt keeper. This rage needs to be fed and they’re the perfect fucking food!”

She paces angrily around the dining room, her emotions cementing a snarl on her face that could scare the devil.

“I’m fucked up, Ana,” she hisses, pacing around the entire circumference of the dining room. “I’m seeing someone about it, but I’m fucked up. I’ve been fucked-up for as long as I could remember. As a kid, I couldn’t understand why people couldn’t love me—only my Mom. My sisters and brothers had kids that were older than me, and I didn’t get it. Then one day, dear old Dad lets me know why. I’m adopted—Franklin blood, yes, but two generations down adopted. I didn’t even know he was my father, and God only knows where my bio-mom is. That’s why they treated me so distant, why they were so ugly to me. But not once—not once—did my mother treat me like an outsider. Not once did she make me feel like I was not her child.

“I put her through hell,” she continues. “I wasn’t as bad as some kids, but she was too old to be dealing with my shit. I started having sex at 12, trying to find that love—that acceptance and attention that I was missing. I was a goddamn train wreck, and she didn’t deserve that. But you know what? She still made me feel like I was the most valued, most precious treasure in the world.

“When I got older and I met Ken, and he treated me like the sun, the moon, and the stars… an older guy—more mature, right? He knew things about the world and he made me feel good, and…” She shakes her head and continues to pace.

“I thought he was a great guy. I thought he was in love with me. When Mom said that I wouldn’t get my trust if I married him, I thought, ‘Fine, we’re in love. We’ll make it on our own.’ That’s when his true colors came out. He’s a dog and only wanted my money. All the others before him only wanted sex… and I only wanted to be loved.” She sighs heavily.

“So here I am now, all fucked up and trying to get out of the marriage, and I didn’t want to come back home to Mom, because I didn’t want to hear ‘I told you so…’ which she never said, by the way. But then she called me, and she told me what was going on, and I came home as quick as I could. I expected to walk in and find her bio-kids all camped out and clustered around her…” She trails off and shows the first sign of sadness. “And when I got here, she was all alone. She was dying, and she was all alone. I assumed that she hadn’t called them—that she called me first. But she had called us all, and I’m the only one who came. I didn’t know what I could do for her—I just knew I had to be here.”

“You did it, Harmony,” I say, making her pause in her trek. “You were here for her. You were the only one of her children that was here for her. That’s what she needed. She had doctors and nurses to care for her physically as much as they could. She had Carl to take care of her property, her legal issues. Roger was supposed to take care of her home, but he fell through and we came in, so she had someone for that. But she needed you to love her through her final days and her transition, and that’s what you did. That’s why she called you all, and where those losers never even showed up to the game, you were the pinch hitter and you hit that ball right out of the park. Don’t you see that?”

Harmony is breathing through angry tears as she fights to formulate her words.

“It was the least I could do,” she chokes. “She was… is… my angel. My guardian, my savior… she’s everything to me. It was the least… the very least…” She shakes her head and wipes her tears. “So, let them fucking come. I’ll unleash a level of hell on them that they’ve never seen in their entire lives!”

And there’s that fire again.

“Ana, I’m really very fucked up… and I need you to know that I made googly eyes at Christian,” she spits out. She doesn’t look at me as she confesses. “I didn’t want to fuck him… really. He’s a good-lookin’ guy, but… it wasn’t that. It’s that he had done this really great thing for my mom and he’s male and…” She rolls her eyes and continues. “I was grateful, not attracted and it was just… He didn’t give me the time of day. He didn’t even entertain the idea.”

Those last two sentences are the only two full sentences she’s actually formed, I think.

“I understand if you’re mad at me and don’t want to deal with me anymore…”

“Harmony,” I say, halting her rant, “I already know. It’s fine, I get it.”

She freezes again and stares at me.

“Oh, dear God, he swore that he wouldn’t tell you!” she says horrified. “I swore it wouldn’t happen again and he swore that he would never tell you!”

“And he kept his promise initially,” I tell her, “but when I told him how bad off you were after finding Tina had passed and he thought it best that I knew…” I trail off.

“To keep me from running into the arms of the nearest loser,” she completes my sentence. Well, I wouldn’t have put it that way, but… pretty much.

“You’re golden, Ana,” she says finitely. “If I were you, I would’ve kicked my ass.” I scoff a laugh.

“Only because I understand,” I inform her, “and if you do it again, I will.”

“Understood,” she replies, wiping her tears, “and don’t worry, I won’t.”


CHRISTIAN

It’s well after dinner, and my wife still isn’t home yet. She hasn’t texted me or called to say that she’ll be late, and I’m trying not to panic. Honestly, I’m not panicking. I’m just trying not to let my imagination run away with me. Although mine aren’t as prominent, Butterfly wasn’t the only one left with remnants of the Boogeyman after the whole Westwick situation.

To this day, I don’t know how I could have thought my wife would ever be unfaithful. She had already told me long ago that infidelity was a deal breaker for her. Yet, I believed that she would risk our home, our life, and our happiness for a stranger that she had only known for a few weeks.

Striking blue eyes… asshole!

I ascend the stairs and knock on the door of the nursery. When there’s no answer, I open the door and peak inside. It’s quiet—no nannies. My children must be asleep. I haven’t spent any time with them the entire week, but Mom says that I’m okay now, so I’m coming to see my children.

I step in quietly and close the door. Minnie’s crib is closest to the door, so I peak in at her. She’s fast asleep. I kiss my fingers and gently pat her cheek before I look in on my son. He’s awake, but fitful. He’s not crying and he actually looks sleepy, but he can’t seem to find his slumber.

I take him out of the bed and he immediately lands on my shoulder like a sack of potatoes. I sit in the rocker and rub his little back.

“You havin’ a rough time without her, too?” I ask. He raises gray eyes to me that look like mine. Then he puts his two fingers in his mouth and starts to suck as he lays his head on my shoulder.

I love you, kid, but we’re going to have to break that habit.

I’m concerned about him needing dental work, but their pediatrician actually says that if he must suck a finger or two, these are the best ones. Thumbs push against your upper mouth and teeth and interfere with the formation of bone structure, resulting in overbites and crooked teeth—and the need for ugly and expensive braces. The other prominent fingers push down on the tongue. So as long as they stop sucking before their permanent teeth come in, they should be fine.

I’m not buying it. My son will not be going to the first grade sucking his fingers… but for right now, it’s okay.

“I don’t think I ever sucked my fingers, Mikey,” I say as I rock back and forth. “At least, I don’t remember doing it. There’s a lot I don’t remember, though.”

I look out the window and I can see the light of the moon through the curtains even though I can’t see the moon itself.

“I remember…” I begin, and my thoughts go back to the very recess of my mind. Did the crack whore ever hold me like this? Did she ever rock me to sleep and give me gentle pecks on the cheek? When did she fall into the clutches of the pimp? How could she let that happen to us? Did she ever love me? At all?

“You don’t have to worry about that, Mikey,” I say as I rock him. “You have the most beautiful, kindest, caring mother in the whole world… well, your grandma’s pretty great, too, but you mom… she’s one of a kind.

“I didn’t think about that, you know, when I first met her… what kind of mother she’d be. No, son, I had much more unsavory thoughts which you may never learn about. I don’t imagine any man thinks about that kind of thing when he first meets a woman—unless he’s specifically looking for a wife. Who knows what any man thinks? I’m sure a normal man wouldn’t look at a woman and think about how badly he wants to chain her to a cross and be—”

I stop abruptly, remembering my audience. TMI, Grey. I look down at my son and his eyes are closed. He’s not completely lost to the sandman as he’s still sucking his fingers quite rhythmically.

“I know you do that as a means of comfort,” I say. “Is it because it reminds you of the nipple?”

I almost expect him to answer.

“Yeah, I get it, kid. Nothing tastes like that nipple… well, maybe one other thing for me.” I chuckle quietly as I have once again given my son too much information, even though he doesn’t know it.

“You’ll never have my life, Mikey,” I promise him. “You’ll never see the horrors that I saw or be abused or mistreated. There are so many people who love you if something were to happen to me and your mom, and I thank God for that. You and your sister will be set for the rest of your lives. But make no mistake, young man, I’ll expect you to work hard, follow your dreams and make something of yourself—just like I did.”

Just like I did…

I fell… no—I walked into the clutches of that horrible woman and my life changed forever. I will admit that had it not been for her money, I wouldn’t have been able to start my business. Well, that’s not necessarily true. With a good business plan, I probably would have been able to get a small business loan on the reputation of my last name alone, but I wasn’t thinking about that back then. I was thinking about the fact that my father had turned me down and was nearly ready to kick me out of the house for dropping out of college… and about fucking… fucking her. Right now, I can hardly believe how badly I wanted her. She was all I thought about most of the time. Everything I did was a means to an end to get back to her.

Do well in school. Get back to her…
Don’t get into fights. Get back to her…
Don’t date girls. Get back to her…
Get into college. Get back to her…
Behave myself. Get back to her…
Follow instructions. Get back to her…
Do whatever was necessary to get back to her…

Would she have even lent me the money if she wasn’t fucking and beating me? Probably not. I look back down at my sleeping son. He’s not suckling his fingers anymore.

“Promise me you’ll come talk to me first, champ… about anything,” I beseech him. “I swear, I’ll listen. I’ll even back your dreams, and if I don’t agree with them, we’ll talk about it—to see how sound and feasible they are. We’ll come to a compromise, or something, but I’ll never shut you down, kid. I’ll never feed you to the wolves.”

That’s not what my parents did, but the wolf got me anyway.


A/N: I Peter 5:8—”Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. 

HMIC—there are many connotations, one in particular for those in the UK, but in this instance, “HMIC” is “Head Man In Charge.”

The “Deadly Viper Assassination Squad” are the four other characters that tried to kill “The Bride” (Uma Thurman’s character, Beatrice Kiddo aka Black Mamba) in Kill Bill, hence prompting the stories Kill Bill, Vol I and II, where Kiddo sets out to kill all four members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, plus Bill.  

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.

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

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 64—For Everything, There is A Season

FYI—when we were younger, much younger, my husband and I used to fuck like bunnies all night, then get up the next day and fight about something like the Capulets and the Montagues. We did this regularly and I didn’t even know that we were doing it until he brought it to my attention.

It happens.
Don’t worry.
We survived.

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 64—For Everything, There is A Season

CHRISTIAN

I breathe in the steam from the shower for about twenty minutes. I feel like I’m going to catch fucking pneumonia. Running in the cold never bothered me before, but today I feel like my chest is going to explode. I better be more careful from now on.

I’ve never been so happy to find a T-shirt, turtleneck, and cable-knit sweater in my garment bag. I’m not sure why all three were packed in the bag for an overnight trip, but I don them all to warm my body.

“Hello. Mr. Grey,” the woman who opened the door for me greets. “Can I get you something?”

“A cup of coffee, please,” I say, taking a seat at the breakfast bar.

“How do you take it?” she asks.

“Black,” I reply. She nods and takes a cup from the cupboard. I shiver as I wait for her to fill the cup. I can’t seem to shake this chill even after a shower fifteen degrees hotter than Hades. She puts the cup in front of me and I cozy my hands around it, trying to shake the chill.

“You have big hands,” she says, staring at my hands dwarfing the coffee.

“It’s a small cup,” I reply. She raises her eyes to me and twists her lips.

“Why don’t I get you a mug?” she says and turns away to get a larger cup of coffee. I take a sip of the small cup and it’s scalding. It feels heavenly. It’s like my insides have frozen. It wasn’t even that cold outside.

She places the mug in front of me and I realize that I’ve already finished more than half of the first cup. Instead, I grab the large mug with both hands.

“Thank you…” I pause for her name.

“Mrs. Evans,” she says with a smile. I nod.

“Thank you, Mrs. Evans. I really appreciate it.”

“You might need some rest, young man,” she scolds. “How long were you out there?”

“I don’t know,” I admit. “I didn’t time it, but I didn’t think it was that long.”

“Well, your body appears to disagree with you,” she says. “Why don’t you go and sit by the fire. Brunch will be ready soon.” I nod and take the wonderful, steaming hot coffee to the living room. I look out the glass wall at my wife. She’s now looking at her phone and scrolling through something. Hopefully, she’s in a better mood than she was—we were—last night. I’m too weak to fight.

I tap on the glass and she raises her gaze to me. I do the “come here” motion with my hand, and I look more like a kid gesturing to his friends down the street to come and play.

She looks back at her phone and turns it off—I think—before she stands to come inside. I sit on the sofa facing the fireplace. The warmth doesn’t appear to be reaching me, but I take comfort in the scalding coffee and allow it to warm my chest going down.

Just the sound of the outside coming in when my wife opens the door makes me cold again and I shiver visibly. She walks over and stands in front of me. At first, she looks like she’s ready to do battle, but her expression changes almost instantly.

“You don’t look so good,” she says, her voice etched with concern.

“Thanks,” I reply, gulping more of my coffee, and shivering.

“What’s going on?” she asks while removing her coat.

“I don’t know. I was fine when I woke up, then I went for a run and now I feel like shit.”

“What did you wear when you went running?”

“The same thing I always wear—sweats, a T-shirt, a hoodie…”

“Well, apparently the weather didn’t think you wore enough, because you’re shivering.” She takes a seat on the sofa next to me. We sit there in silence for several moments and I’m the first to address the elephant in the room before I lose all my strength.

“You were short and snotty with me. I don’t like it and I didn’t deserve it.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry about that,” she says dismissively. “I wish I knew why I behaved that way. I’m not even sure what happened anymore.” I sigh. It seems so small now, but it was the biggest thing in the world yesterday.

“What were you doing out there on the patio?” I ask.

“Last night or this morning?” she inquires.

“Both.” She sighs.

“Last night… I don’t know. I just wanted to be away from it.”

“What’s it?” I ask.

“The party, the people… you,” she replies solemnly. I glare at her. “When you’re not happy with me, your displeasure is tangible,” she says. “It almost makes me understand why you went to Madrid… almost. There needed to be some distance between us if your discontent was as intense as I imagine it was. Heaven forbid we ever break up. I’d have to move to the other side of the world.” I roll my eyes.

“It’s not that bad,” I protest.

“It is that bad,” she says. “If it ever came to that, I’d have to go somewhere and wait until you approached me… if you approached me. I couldn’t approach you.”

Well, that smarts.

“Elliot said somebody came onto you last night,” I say. Her hand moves to her head.

“God, he saw that?” she says.

“Yes, and he cursed me out for not seeing it,” I say as I take another gulp of coffee to warm myself.

“Yeah, well,” she says, now rubbing her scar. She’s definitely not comfortable talking about this.

“Was he the only one?” I ask with a cough.

“Yes, there was only one,” she replies a little irritated. “Three less than you.”

She saw that, too, huh?

“What’s his name?” I ask.

“We didn’t get that far,” she replies.

“What? No snazzy pick-up line?” I prod before I drink more coffee.

“I didn’t remember anything except that he thought I was here alone,” she retorts. “When I showed him my wedding ring, he said something about never letting me out of his sight if I was his, and then he left me alone.” She folds her arms. She apparently didn’t like that.

“So, besides meditating, what were you doing out there this morning?” I ask, wanting to derail the subject.

“Journaling,” she says, and I frown.

“You were on your phone,” I point out.

“Yeah, my journals are going virtual,” she says. “The volumes behind my desk are nearly full. I don’t need pages; I need gigabytes.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Grey, but I thought you could use this,” Mrs. Evans interrupts as she brings me a tray with some consommé and crackers on it. “Something not too heavy in case you still want to eat brunch with the family.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Evans,” I say, looking lovingly at the steam rising from the consommé. I hate to let everyone down, but I think this is all I’m going to be able to stomach.

“Mrs. Grey, can I get you anything?” she asks my wife.

“That coffee looks good,” Butterfly says. “I’ll wait for brunch to eat.”

I drink my consommé and eat my crackers in relative silence. Butterfly stares at the fire as she drinks her coffee, occasionally looking over at me. I let the warmth envelop me from the inside out. The chill is finally dropping and I’m starting to feel cozy…

“Wake up, sleepyhead,” I hear Butterfly say. “Jason is here.”

I open my eyes and my head feels like lead. I’m wrapped tight in a throw and I feel like it’s 150 degrees in here. Sure the hell beats freezing.

“It’s time to go home,” she says. “I’m putting you in quarantine.”

“It’s just a cold,” I complain, my throat scratchy.

“You don’t know that,” Butterfly replies matter-of-factly. “You’re weak and shivering. You go from hot to cold to hot, and you slept through brunch.”

“I slept through brunch?” I lament. I wanted some of whatever Mrs. Evans was making. “Why didn’t you wake me?” I ask as I struggle to sit up.

“I tried. You just grunted and curled into a ball. Oh, and you owe Val a throw pillow. You’ve drooled all over that one.”

I look down where I was sleeping and sure enough, the pillow is half-covered with slime.

“Destroy that thing,” I say, grossed out by the sight.

“I intend to,” she replies. “That’s a $500 pillow, by the way.” I reach into my pocket and pull out a handful of bills. Val reaches for them, but Elliot heads her off.

“Naw, bro,” he says, catching his wife’s hand. “Put the infected currency away. I’ll get another pillow.” I shrug and put the money back in my pocket. I’m too weak to get offended.

“But I’m hungry,” I whine.

“And it begins,” Val laughs.

“I know, right?” Butterfly concurs.

“What begins?” I huff.

“Don’t worry about it. Val, what’s left that he can take to go?”

“I’ve got you, Mrs. Grey,” Mrs. Evans says, and starts scurrying around the kitchen. Jason walks in with my coat.

“I’ve got the bags in the car and the heat is on, so he’ll be good and warm,” he says, holding my coat open. I stand, and the room starts spinning.

“Whoa!” I hear Jason say, but he’s not the one who catches me. I open my eyes and my tiny wife has her arms around me.

“Just a cold my eye,” she says, looking at me with concern. Jesus, I hope she doesn’t catch whatever this is that I have.

My knees are weak, but thankfully, they’re still holding me up… somewhat. This is a good thing as I have no idea how this little woman—literally—is supporting 185 pounds of mostly muscle.

“Your Highness let me…” Jason protests.

“I’ve got him,” she says effortlessly. “Get his coat on him.”

They’re dressing me like a helpless toddler. Stand up, Grey! You’re stronger than this!

I try to stand upright while Jason helps me on with my coat. It’s taking every bit of strength that I have not to crumble over. Jesus, the air is thin up here…

“Come on, Superman,” Butterfly jests as she reaches for me again.

“Really, Ana,” Jason says. “Let me. The rain froze over and it’s slippery out there.” Butterfly throws an accusing gaze at me.

“You ran in the freezing rain?” she scolds.

“It wasn’t raining when I ran,” I excuse. Was it…? “You were out there journaling. You know it wasn’t raining,” I add, more to convince myself than her. She shakes her head.

“Get him to the car, please, Jason,” she says.

“Here, Mrs. Grey.” Mrs. Evans gives my wife a thermo bag. “A breakfast bagel and some soup. And here’s more coffee.” She hands her a travel mug.

“Thank you, Mrs. Evans. You’ve been too kind.” Mrs. Evans smiles.

“Get him to bed, dear,” she says. “They think they’re invincible at that age.”

“Until they get sick,” Butterfly counters, “then they turn into babies.”

Not me…

*-*

I feel miserable.

The soup didn’t help. The coffee didn’t help. Even my warm bed and these horrible flannel pajamas aren’t helping. Where did she find these things? I don’t even own a pair of flannel pajamas.

“I wanna take these off,” I whine. “They’re not comfortable.”

“But they’ll keep you warm,” Butterfly retorts. “Still not feeling any better?”

“No, and this wretched grandpa sleepwear isn’t helping!” She laughs at me. And I don’t like it.

“Well, you’re going to have to deal with it for a while,” she says. No, I won’t. As soon as I can move, I’m coming out of these things. “Would you like for me to turn on the television?”

“No. I want my laptop and my phone,” I say. She shakes her head.

“Nope. No work. Television, sleep, and food. Those are your options.” I frown at her.

“You gotta be kiddin’!” I hiss. “I have three deals set to close tomorrow; the team is going to be back in Detroit in…” I look at my arm and my watch is gone. “Where the fuck is my watch?” Butterfly folds her arms.

“Television, sleep, and food,” she repeats. “You wanna try me?”

“Butterfly, you can’t do this,” I complain. “I’ve got a multi-billion-dollar company to run…” and I’m miserable as fuck, but I’ll be even more miserable if I don’t know what’s happening at my company. She sighs.

“It’s Sunday, Christian,” she says. “Nothing is happening at your multi-billion-dollar company today.”

“Something is always happening at my company,” I protest. “If I don’t leave those people instructions, there’s no telling what’s going to happen!”

“What did you do when we were in Paris? And Greece? The company didn’t explode!”

“Because I left instructions! And I checked in! You know that!” I defend. She sighs.

“Christian Grey, if you’re sick longer than you have to be because you won’t rest and recuperate, I swear I’m moving out of this room and someone else can take care of your ass.”

“I won’t be sick longer, but I’ll be irritable and crabby as fuck if I don’t get my computer and my phone!” She raises her brow at me.

“Is that a threat?” she inquires.

“No, that’s a statement of pure, unmitigated fact! And a definite promise. And if you want to test that theory, keep them away from me. I won’t be responsible at all for my actions.” I don’t blink when I say the words. I know I’ll be crazy and untamable if she doesn’t get me my electronics and soon. So, what will it be, Mrs. Grey?

“You’re insufferable,” she says as she leaves the room. I hope that means that she’s going to get my phone and laptop or I’m going to harass everybody in this house until I get them.


ANASTASIA

So, he goes out in the rain and makes himself sick and apparently, I’m the one who has to pay for it.

I just want him to get one day of total rest—one day, and he’s giving me hell about his tethers. That place will do just fine without him, but he’s trying to convince me that the one day—a Sunday—that he doesn’t communicate with them, a meteor is going to fall out of the sky and obliterate Grey House.

“You have one hour,” I say as I hand him his phone and computer.

“One hour?” he laments.

“Make the best of it,” I say as I walk out of the room, miffed that I capitulated to his demands. I can’t cut him completely off. He’d probably die, but if I give him too much corporate rope, he’ll hang himself.

I look across the hall at the nursery. I need some baby time in the worst way. I reach for the doorknob and just as I’m about to turn it, common sense prevails. My husband is sick with I don’t know what and I’ve been around him all day. All I need to do is give cooties to my two little ones and my heart would officially be broken.

I move my hand away from the door and almost on cue, the two way comes to life.

“Ana,” I say sadly, and my babies begin to coo through the speakers. My heart is already breaking from not being able to hold them. I stand there and listen to them for a while. It’s like they’re having a conversation with each other. I stand there against the wall and sigh. God, I want my babies…

“Ana?”

Gail’s voice interrupts my baby time. She and Keri are standing in the hallway staring at me. I clear my throat and try to pull myself together.

“You and Keri will have to do your best to stay away from me, or to have as little contact with me as possible,” I warn. “The babies and Christian will be on quarantine. They all have to stay in their rooms until this thing with Christian blows over.” Gail and Keri look at each other and back at me.

“There’s no need to put the babies on quarantine, Ana,” Gail says. “As long as Christian stays in the room, the risk of infection is minimal at best.

“But I’m not on quarantine,” I say, “and I’m going to be in contact with Christian. I’m not taking any chances with my 10-month old babies. If they were older, I’d consider this cruel and unusual and we’d find a different solution. Right now, they’re just getting started. Make the room fun for them…” I want to cry. The thought of not seeing my babies until Christian is better…

“Ana,” Gail says, rubbing my arm and sensing my angst, “why don’t you call the pediatrician? Or Dr. Grey? See what the best course of action is before you deprive yourself of seeing your babies.” I nod and quickly wipe a tear away. I don’t know how she hit that nail on the head, but she did.

“Until I talk to them, please keep my babies in the nursery,” I say, my voice cracking. Gail nods, and she and Keri walk into Nirvana to care for my two little angels.

I take out my phone and sit down at the top of the stairs. I had planned to spend the day with the twins until Christian got sick. Now, of course, those plans have changed. I open my Journey app and start journaling.

November 14, 2014

Second entry of the day. No sign of the Boogeyman but I’m feeling shitty anyway. My brilliant husband went running in the rain this morning and has caught some kind of mutant cold that has knocked him on his ass in a matter of hours. Now, I have to tend to him and his whining—which has already begun—and I can’t hold my babies. I want to sock him in the nose for being so careless and at the same time, I want to cuddle him until he feels better. I didn’t prepare myself to be away from my babies, so my heart is heavy and I’m trying not to break down into a useless ball of mush…

I keep writing until I feel a little better and before I know it, Gail and Keri are coming out of the nursery. I raise my head to get a report on how the twins are doing.

“They’re sleeping,” Gail says with a sympathetic smile. “Have you been sitting here this entire time?”

“Yes,” I reply, maudlin. “I lost track of time.” I close my Journey app and notice that two hours have passed… and not a peep from my bedroom.

“Have you talked to Mrs. Grey yet?” she asks. I shake my head.

“No, but no matter what she says, I still need to know how serious this thing is with Christian before I come into contact with the babies.”

“Anah, if Ah meh,” Keri interjects, “bebbies catch cold all de time. Deh be fine if yah wan ta hold dem. Trest meh, Ah know.” I smile at her.

“Thank you, Keri. I’ll talk to Grace and… we’ll see.” I won’t risk infecting my babies. I walk pass them to the bedroom to relieve my husband of his electronics. When I open the door, I see that there’s no need. The phone is lying uselessly next to his hand, the screen black. The computer screen is asleep from no activity for several minutes.

And my husband is snoring like a trucker. I put his phone on the nightstand. He stirs when I move his laptop from his lap.

“That wasn’t an hour,” he grumbles.

“I gave you two,” I correct him. “Lie down.” He adjusts himself so that he’s not sitting up anymore, and I tuck the covers under his neck. “You know, if you wanted sympathy, you didn’t have to catch your death of cold to get it.”

“Shut up,” he replies in utter misery. “You’re the one who slept outside—how did I catch the cold?”

“I don’t know,” I say, “but stay away from the babies.”

“I can’t even get out of bed. I doubt that I’ll be messing with the babies.”

“Good, because if they get sick, I’ll murder you.” I blow a kiss across the room to him before leaving.

*-*

“It’s positive.”

Of course, I’ve decided to work from home on Monday. I’m certain that no one will be able to handle my husband if I leave, so I’m grounded until he’s better. I didn’t get much sleep last night worrying about him and missing my twins, so even though I’m taking zinc drops, vitamin c, and loading my body with immunity boosters and Airborne to prevent catching Christian’s bug, I’m still a bit groggy and see a nap in my near future. All these preventive measures will be futile if I’m exhausted.

And now a weeping Marilyn has just dropped another bomb on me.

“The pregnancy test?” I ask. “You took it?”

She nods, barely able to respond. This is not good news, no matter how happy Gary might be.

Gary!

“Have you told Gary yet?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“I just took the test this morning,” she sobs. “I don’t know what to do!”

“Well, the first thing you need to do is see a doctor. You need to know how far along you are,” I say. I sit on the ottoman facing her and take her hands. “Breathe, Mare,” I say trying to get her to calm herself. “You’re going to hyperventilate if you don’t calm down.” She tries to breathe slowly. It helps only a little.

“It’s not the end of the world, Mare,” I say gently. “You’ve got decisions that you have to make, but I promise, the sun will still rise tomorrow.”

“This is a disaster,” she says. “We’re always careful! How did this happen?” I shrug.

“Nothing is 100%,” I tell her. “There’s always a chance no matter what you do.” She sighs and sniffles. “Do you have an OB/GYN?” I ask. She nods. “Well, you need to call them… now. You’ve stalled in taking your test. You can’t afford to stall anymore, whatever you decide.” Still sniffling, she takes out her phone and swipes the screen. I go back over to my desk to give her some privacy. When I look at my phone, there’s a text from Harmony.

**The quit deed is final. That’s one less thing to worry about. **

I breathe a sigh of relief. At least she doesn’t have to worry about her “brothers and sisters” overrunning the house or trying to put her out once Tina is gone. I had no idea how soon that theory was going to be put to the test.

The next day, Marilyn goes to the OB/GYN… and Tina passes away. Harmony calls me hysterical and I can only make out that Tina is gone.

“Shit!” Christian says, throwing the covers off himself and swinging his legs out of bed.

“Christian!” I scold, and he turns to me after he stands.

“Baby, I love you. I feel worlds better than I did two days ago, but I can’t stay in this bed anymore, especially not now.”

I examine him carefully. His color has come back, and I’ve been pumping him full of immunity boosters, fruits and vegetables, and antioxidants. He’s not wobbly or groggy and he doesn’t have a stuffy nose or fever. Without waiting for my approval, he walks around the bed and heads for his dressing room. I hope he doesn’t think I’m going to allow him to leave this house! When he comes out of the dressing room in jeans and a sweatshirt, I stand in front of him with my lips pursed and my arms folded.

I’ll put you down, Mr. Grey.

“I know that look,” he says firmly. “One of us has to go to the Franklin mansion. It can be you or it can be me, but one of us has to go!”

“I’ll go,” I reply just as firmly. “Don’t go spreading your germs all over the house. This room, your office, your den, bathrooms. I’m not certain you’re not contagious and I meant what I said about my babies.”

“Dammit, Ana,” he complains.

“I haven’t seen my babies in three days trying to keep from transferring your germs to them!” I say pointing my finger at him. I’m crabby and irritable without them and I will cut you! He stares at me for a moment.

“Fine. Office, bathroom, bedroom, den. Now, get out of here.”

*-*

“She’s as we expected she would be, ma’am,” Windsor says after he lets me in. “She hasn’t left Ms. Tina’s room.”

“Was Harmony with her when she died?” I ask, removing my coat and handing it to him. He shakes his head.

“Ms. Tina passed very peacefully in her sleep,” he says. “Harmony found her this morning.” Oh, dear God. Windsor takes me to Tina’s door and I can hear Harmony weeping inside. I open the door slowly and it’s like I’ve stepped into a time warp—large, old, beautiful pieces of vintage furniture from a time long gone… and a small woman face down strewn across a very large bed, mourning. I walk over to the bed, sit on the edge and put my hand on her back.

“I’m so sorry, Harmony,” I say to her shaking, weeping form.

“She’s gone,” she sobs. “She was the only person in my whole life who loved me… who truly loved me… and now she’s gone. What am I going to do?” she wails. I sigh.

“She’d want you to move on and live a good life,” I say. “She’d want you to find happiness and love. She’d want to look down on you and know that she did a good job raising you. I know this is an unbearable pain, and you’re going to be really sad for a while… but don’t be sad for too long.”

“That’s just what she said,” she sobs. “Did you guys get this stuff from a book?” she adds with tearful mirth.

“In my case, probably… I’m a shrink, remember?” She forces a tearful snort. “In Tina’s case, she was no stranger to loss. She lost her husband, one of her children… She knew what it meant to have to carry on. But I’m sure that you gave her as much peace and serenity as she could have in her last days, Harmony. And she made sure that you would be okay when she was gone.”

“I know what you’re trying to do,” she says, “but my momma is gone. She left me. She didn’t have a choice, but she left me. I’m all alone. There’s nobody left who loves me, and pretty soon, her wretched offspring are going to be knocking on my damn door with their hands out. Do you know those assholes have accused me of colluding with Carl to get my hands on her house? Like I fucking care about this house? My momma’s gone, for God’s sake!” She buries her face in the covers, which no doubt still carry Tina’s fragrance, and weeps bitterly. I step out into the hallway and call Christian.

“How is she?” he asks.

“It’s bad,” I tell him. “It’s really bad. How airtight is a quit claim? I’ve never done one.”

“It’s filed with the Register of Deeds. It’s final—Harmony owns that house. Why do you ask?”

“Her siblings twice removed are accusing her of colluding with the attorney to finagle the house from Tina before she died.”

“Well, unfortunately for them, even if she had done that, it’s still final. That’s how cults end up so wealthy. They get people to sign over their assets and there’s nothing that can be done once the signature is on the paper. They’re just pissed that they couldn’t get to Tina before the documents were all signed. I talked to Dad and Carl was filing the will with probate as soon as he heard time of death had been established. He had only just gotten finalized copies of the deed. Jason has more security details on the way to the mansion if they aren’t there already. Her siblings won’t be able to get within a mile of her unless she wants them to. I suggest that you have Windsor or one of the other staff screen her phone calls for a while. I know she’s a mess.”

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” I lament. “She thinks there’s no one else in the world that loves her.” I sigh. Christian falls silent. “Baby, are you there?”

“I need to tell you something,” he says, “and I’m only telling you because I think it’ll help Harmony.”

“What is it?”

“After we swept the house of all the bugs and got rid of Roger, Harmony came on to me…”

“What??” I exclaim. Why the hell didn’t he tell me this sooner? All that we’ve done for her…

“Listen to me, Butterfly, before you get upset,” he says. “She has a problem. She didn’t overtly come on to me. She just turned on the flirt a little heavily. When I assured her that it would go absolutely nowhere, she was humiliated—not because I turned her down, but because she immediately recognized what she was doing. With me, it was hero worship, but with other men, it’s the quest for the love and attention that she never got. To my knowledge, she started seeing a therapist about it last week, and she made me swear not to tell you, not only because she didn’t want to jeopardize the relationship that she was building with you, but also because she knows that she has a problem and she’s getting help for it. I agreed not to tell you on the condition that she never did that shit again, but in this case, I think you need to know because she might need our help.

The jealous wife in me is clawing angrily at the walls, but the psychiatrist in me sees exactly what’s going on. And quite frankly, with the Boogeyman having the hold on me that he has… had…? Whatever… with the Boogeyman looming, I can partially understand why he didn’t want to tell me. The truth is that I can see why she’s not a threat… and why she’s really going to need our help.

“Butterfly?” Christian says when I don’t respond.

“Rationalizing,” I admit aloud. “Bottom line, she’s in really bad shape and from what you just said, it can only get worse. She feels like she’s totally alone in this and I feel like someone needs to be here with her 24/7, but she doesn’t have any friends like that. She wasn’t able to forge any relationships, and before you suggest it, it won’t be me. I care about her… I really do and what you told me doesn’t change that, but we don’t have that kind of relationship, either.”

“I’ll talk to Mom—maybe she knows someone. Can… you talk to Harmony?”

“Of course, I can!” I snap. “I told you what you said doesn’t make a difference. It’s classic transference, and if she’s seeing someone about it, then she’s recognizing the problem. The trick is going to be making sure that she keeps seeing someone about it because now, she’s had this huge loss and she’s very likely to slip into a black hole!”

“Okay, okay, I just… with everything that happened with Westwick… and the aftermath…”

“I know, I know,” I interrupt. “That was a… somewhat different situation, but please, let’s not rehash that.” I’m waving my hand at no one to try to shoo away the memories of Liam and that entire situation.

“Well, I found out that Tina already made her final arrangements, so that’s one less thing she has to worry about,” he says, quickly changing the subject. Good tact, Mr. Grey.

“I’ll try to discuss that with her, but it may be too much for today,” I acknowledge. “I’m going to get back in here and check on her.” He’s silent again. “Is there something else you have to tell me?”

“No… no there’s nothing else,” he confirms.

“I’m not mad, Christian,” I confirm. “I wish you had told me sooner, but I understand why you didn’t.”

“I’m feeling kinda shitty,” he admits.

“Why, because you didn’t tell me?” I told you that I understand…

“That, and… I’m kind of understanding why you didn’t tell me about Westwick right away.” I sigh heavily.

“Please let’s not do this,” I beseech, rubbing my scar and begging him to drop it.

“Okay, okay, I won’t dwell on it…”

“Thank you,” I say, cutting him off before he even finishes his sentence. “I’m hanging up now. I gotta go…”

“I love you,” he says, cutting me off this time.

“I love you, too,” I say before ending the call. I go back into the room, and Harmony has clearly cried herself into exhaustion and is asleep on her mother’s bed. I leave the room and close the door.

I’ve never felt so helpless in my life. She has no one—absolutely no one to help her through this. In all the times that I’ve done grief counseling, they’ve always had some kind of support system. It’s obvious that Harmony has no one. Nothing.

“Windsor, please keep an eye on her,” I tell him as Chuck helps me on with my coat. “I’ll be back tomorrow to check on her but call me if she appears to be spiraling at all.”

“I will, Mrs. Grey,” he says as he closes the door behind us. Walking to the car, I realize that I’m going to be Harmony’s support system. I trust Christian with her and her with Christian. I would just feel better not waving that carrot in her face when she’s this vulnerable… and the jealous wife is still peaking around the corner just a bit even though the shrink is knocking her upside the head every time she tries to get the upper hand.

I can’t help it. I’m human.

I take out my phone and dial a number. I’m going to need some help with this task.

“Hey, Ana, what’s up?”

“Hey, Courtney, are you busy?

*-*

I spend some time at the Center powwowing with Courtney and coming up with a schedule where she and I will be the foundation of Harmony’s support system. She and Harmony are both studying social work, so it’s actually workable experience for them both. I don’t want to say good experience, because it’s definitely not a good experience for Harmony.

Later that afternoon, I have a short and not-so-sweet talk with Marilyn.

“A little over ten weeks, we estimate,” she says of her visit to the OB/GYN. I sigh.

“Well, at least you know for sure now,” I say.

“I knew for sure before,” she says. “I was in denial hoping that some great solution was going to fall out of the sky even though I knew better.”

“So… what does Gary say?”

“I haven’t told Gary yet,” she confesses. I’m sure that a look of pure horror “graces” my face. “I just got back from the doctor, for Christ’s sake…”

“But you took your test yesterday!” I point out. “Why haven’t you told him yet?”

“Because I need it to sink in, okay?” she nearly squeals at me, and I realize that I’m drilling the poor girl.

“Okay,” I say, skeptically, but agreeing to drop the subject. “I don’t think I’ll be in the office much this week.”

“Why not?” she asks.

“Christian caught some kind of bug this weekend, so I need to keep an eye on him and also, Tina Franklin passed away.”

“Oh, God, really?” Marilyn says, deflated. “How’s Harmony doing?”

“Not well at all,” I confirm. “She has no support system and I expect for Tina’s children who have been completely MIA to this point to descend upon her any second. I’m going to have to be her support system, and she and Courtney have built a bit of a rapport, so I’m enlisting her services as well. I’ll most likely be there for most of the week as needed. To that end, you can choose to come here or go there or even to work remotely from home if you like. It’s up to you, just let me know.”

“Sure,” she says. “Is there anything I can do?” I shrug.

“I don’t even know what I can do right now,” I admit. “I’ve never dealt with anyone who didn’t have any support system. I mean, I can draw on my own experiences when I was a kid after the Green Valley attack, but this is so much different. Just… keep your phone handy. Whenever I need some magic, I always call you, so… do the same thing you always do.” She smiles.

“Sure thing, Bosslady.”

I’m completely drained and slightly more than depressed when I get home. The day has completely sapped all my energy and almost my will to live. I’ve checked in with Windsor and Harmony has stayed in her mother’s room crying and sleeping all day. I figure I’ll let her do that for today, but tomorrow, she’s going to have to start coming out of that shell and prepare for her mother’s final arrangements—and for her great-aunts and uncles/siblings to make their appearance.

It gets dark so early and I’m so tired. Actually, I’m not tired. It’s just that nothing has happened today to give me any energy. I normally go to the kitchen to get something to eat or drink, but right now, I’m drawn to my bedroom. To check on Christian? Maybe a hot bath? I don’t know. I wander aimlessly to the stairs and after ascending half-way, I see my husband on the second-floor landing.

“You’re looking fit,” I say and touch his forehead.

“I’m fine,” he says, softly. “No fever. I even got a little cardio in today.” I frown.

“Take it easy, Christian…” I warn.

“Cardio is good to build the immune system and help sweat out some of the toxins. Trust me, I’m fine.” He leads me to my bedroom door. “Now, I want you to go and take a hot shower, put on some clean, comfortable clothes, and go. See. Your children.”

“Christian, I can’t,” I protest. “You’re probably very contagious and I don’t want to make the babies sick.”

“This is why you’re taking a hot shower to be safe,” he says. “There’s hand sanitizer everywhere and if it makes you feel better, wear a mask, but I know what kind of day you’ve had, and I know that you need to see your children. I talked to Mom and she says that as long as you don’t feel anything coming on, the twins should be fine.”

“I don’t want to take any chances,” I whine.

“And in the meantime, you’re miserable,” he points out. “I thought you were going to kill me when I got out of bed this morning, and now I know why.” He takes my hands.

“Baby, our children are going to catch colds, and flu, and chicken pox, and heaven only knows what other childhood diseases, ailments, and injuries. So, let’s not make ourselves suffer when there’s nothing to worry about. Yes, I may transmit some germs to them, so I’m going to stay out of the nursery until I know that I’m well. You’re not sick. Go shower, clean clothes, sanitize your hands, and go spend some time with your babies. Remember, if you haven’t seen them in three days, they haven’t seen you either.”

God, I’ve been so concerned about not infecting them, it hadn’t occurred to me that we all may be suffering from a bit of separation anxiety. I sigh heavily.

“Go,” he says. “Hot shower—now.”

I don’t argue anymore. I go into my bathroom and step out of my clothes. I set my shower for as hot as I can stand it and get inside, scrubbing my body down like I’m about to perform surgery. I scrub my hair, my ears, under my nails… I even gargle with antiseptic mouthwash, just in case. After I don fresh clothes from my dressing room, I sanitize my hands all the way up to my elbows, then approach the nursery door. I’m still not certain about this, but I’m going to do it anyway.

I open the door and my nannies are playing with my children. Gail sees me enter and smiles widely.

“Well, hello,” she says, and looks down at Mikey. “Look who’s here. It’s Mommy!”

Mikey garbles some intelligible babbling sound, but I can’t tell what it is, nor do I care, because when he holds his arms out to me, all is right in the world.

“How’s Mommy’s precious boy?” I say, taking my son in my arms. He puts his hands on my face and gnaws on my jaw, baby slobber now dripping down my cheek. It’s the most wonderful feeling in the world.

“Oh!” Keri says, holding a wiggling Minnie. “Leettle Mees is nawt lahking da fack dat she nawt gettin’ de attention. We gonnah hat ta rectify da situation, Mah!” I giggle at the idea that my children are already exhibiting a bit of sibling rivalry. I take Mikey with me and sit in the window seat.

“Bring her to me,” I say. Keri comes over to the window seat and sits with me to assist in wrangling my children. Minnie is crawling across the seat and pulling herself up on my shoulder while Mikey continues with the baby-slobber-kisses. Christian was right—I may have needed some baby time in the worst way, but my babies need Mommy time, too.

The children are finally asleep after about an hour of playtime and I’m headed back to the bedroom to change my baby-drool shirt when I notice that there’s ambient lighting in the room. I open the door and find candles lit on every safe surface.

“What is this?” I say to myself, since Christian is nowhere in the room. I walk in and see my favorite vintage nightshirt lying on the bed. I want to eat… I don’t want to go to bed. I’m starving.

Almost in response to my complaints, my husband comes into the bedroom with a tray of food.

“I thought I was going to have to rescue you from the children,” he says, placing the tray on the nightstand. “Don’t worry, I was prepared to use the two-way. You’re still dressed,” he says examining me. “Get comfortable, your dinner’s getting cold.” He leaves out of the room and I’m a bit stunned.

Hey, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Change clothes!

I strip naked out of my comfort wear and slide into my nightshirt. I go into my en suite and run a brush through my hair a few times, dabbing a bit of citrus essential oil behind my ears. When I get back to the bedroom, Christian has returned with a bottle of wine and two glasses.

“What’s the occasion?” I ask, turning off the light to the en suite. I notice that he has a bottle of the yummy red we found in Napa.

“Nothing special,” he says, his pupils dilating as he examines me. “Well, besides you.” He reaches out to me and leads me to the bed. I climb on and he reveals a perfectly cooked filet mignon in mushroom sauce, asparagus spears with butter and garlic and fluffy, whipped mashed potatoes. The steak is so tender, I can cut it with my fork.

“Oh, God, this is delicious,” I say, savoring the flavor of the best cut of beef I think I’ve ever tasted in my life.

“Get comfortable,” he says. “I know it’s been a shitty day. How’s Harmony holding up?”

That’s when it hits me. He’s feeling guilty about what happened with Harmony, maybe even about not telling me. There’s really no need, but I’ve discovered that when Christian kicks himself about something, he really kicks himself. Me trying to reassure him that everything is okay would only make things worse. Besides, I’m getting the benefit of his guilty conscience.

“As badly as can be expected,” I answer honestly. “She’s going to need a close eye, so I’m coming up with some solutions for that.”

“Solutions like what?” he asks, filling a glass and handing it to me.

“Well, she’s going to have to mourn, but there’s too much to handle for her to wallow too deeply in the depths of despair.” I sip the wine and close my eyes. Dear God, that’s good.

“I did tell you that Tina made all of her own arrangements, didn’t I?” he asks, filling his own glass. I nod while taking a bite of an asparagus spear.

“Yes, but the siblings, the house, notifying people…”

We discuss Harmony situation for several more minutes while I finish my dinner. Christian tells me about talking to his father and Carl and trying to get Tina’s affairs as much in order as possible without disturbing the distraught Harmony. He also talks about what’s happening in Detroit—beginning to distribute Burt and Ruby’s things among the family. He tells me that he emailed me a list of the things that hadn’t been claimed yet with instructions to look at the stuff and let me know if there’s anything that I wanted.

“You gave me enough rubies to open a jewelry store!” I exclaim. “What else could I possibly want?”

“Just take a look at the inventory,” he says. “There’s a lot of stuff—plenty to go around. Anything that the family doesn’t claim may very well rot in storage here in one of my warehouses.” I sigh.

“Well, that would be very sad,” I say, finishing my meal and savoring my wine. “Let the family decide what they want first. I’ll see what’s left.”

“You are the family, Butterfly,” he says firmly.

“Okay, duly noted, but I can guarantee that the rest of them didn’t get a priceless treasure trove of rubies.” He raises his brow.

“Good point. Look at the stuff anyway, okay?” he says, softly. I roll my eyes.

“Okay,” I cede.

“You better be glad I don’t spank you for that,” he warns.

“You’re not well. You can’t spank me,” I say.

“Mom came over and checked me out,” he retorts. “She says I should be right as rain by tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” I ask. “That’s only a couple of days. You were damn near dead on Sunday.”

“The average cold is only supposed to hang on for a few days, Butterfly,” he says. “The only reason it would hang around longer is if you don’t take care of yourself or you overdo it. You damn near chained me to the bed for two days and you shoved nearly every green, fibrous thing in my face that you could find. I thought I would sprout leaves! I got better care from you than I would have gotten had I gone to the hospital. Besides, Mom says I never held on to a cold more than three days in my whole life, even as a child, and this time is no different. I’m giving it the three days as usual, and Mom has agreed to check on me again tomorrow morning, but I’m up and Adam once she gives me the all clear—no back talk.”

I know I’d be wasting my time even if I tried, so I don’t bother. I also deduce from his description that his current doting may be partially due to the fact that I was so attentive to him and adamant about his care over the last two days.

“Did you cook?” I jest, sipping my wine.

“Not this time,” he smiles, “but in the interest of keeping my promise to you, I ate in my den and had your dinner delivered to the elevator so as not to spread my germs to the rest of the household. I did, however, spend some time in the gym after which the disinfecting squad damn near-cleaned the whole damn thing. That place is more sterile than an operating room!”

I scoff a laugh. I can only assume that Gail must have said something to the staff about my concern for the babies and everyone has gone into anti-germ mode.

“Dinner was delicious. Thank you,” I say sweetly. His “You’re welcome” and the gaze that accompanies it is full of desire and promise, but I’m still not sure about our faces being that close together. He moves closer to me and his hand travels across the skin of my calf, up my leg, behind my knee, up my inner thigh… I feel goosebumps rising on my flesh and my nipples are getting stiff under my nightshirt, which doesn’t get past my husband.

“Oh, that’s so pretty,” he croons, using his free hand to fondle a nipple outside of my nightshirt. Oh, dear God in heaven, it’s driving me crazy.

He abandons my aching nipple and takes the nearly empty wine glass from my hand. He continues to torment the sensitive skin between my thighs as he places the glass on the nightstand. He adjusts two pillows on the headboard behind me without moving his hands from my legs.

“Lie back,” he instructs me, his voice barely above a whisper. I instinctively do what he says, moving down on the bed, my body propped up only slightly.

Jesus, if he brings his face anywhere near mine, I’m definitely not going anywhere near my twins, but right now, I don’t think I care. My entire body is alight with need, fueled by the fact that this has been a fucking emotionally taxing day!

His hands move higher between my thighs and his fingers ghost over my outer lips. His mouth closes over my nightshirt and nipple, his teeth gently nipping the tender flesh. Ecstasy shoots up my spine straight to my scalp giving me a head rush. Dear God, I want this man so badly.

His finger slides inside me, circling in my inner walls while his mouth moves to the other nipple, teasing and tormenting it like he did the first.

“Ah!” I breathe as I close my eyes. I’m so hot that it’s painful. His lips move down my body outside of the nightshirt. I swear with the heat coming from his mouth, the damn thing might as well not be there, and I’m so wet that I can hear the moisture as his finger moves inside me. It’s almost embarrassing… if it wasn’t so damn hot.

“You are so fucking ready,” he groans. “I want to fuck you. I want to taste your tongue and kiss you until our mouths are both numb, but I know the recovery time is when a patient is the most contagious and you’ve been lucky enough not to catch my germs even though you’ve been the only person within 10 feet of me for the past 48 hours, so I won’t push my luck. But I will taste you. So, if you’re going to catch a cold in your pussy, so be it, but I’m about to eat you until I’ve had my fill.”

Good God, I’m about to explode.

He slides down my body and nestles himself between my legs. He has me positioned so that I can watch him while he feasts on me, and it’s driving me out of my fucking mind. Throwing one last hungry look at me, his head dips between my spread legs. He kisses my outer lips gently and runs his tongue over my hot clit before taking it into his mouth. My back arches to give him more access and his hands reach up and cup my breasts.

“Christian…” I purr sensually, thrusting my hands into his hair and losing myself in passion.

*-*

“I tried to prepare myself for it,” she says. “I knew it would be hard, but I kept telling myself to stay strong and I would be okay, but when it happened…”

I’m back at the Franklin mansion on Wednesday morning to check on Harmony. Of course, she’s not doing much better than she was yesterday—it’s too soon—but she has some business to take care of that no one else can do, decisions that have to be made. So, unfortunately, she has to get herself in gear.

The girl is completely waterlogged. I don’t know how I’m going to convince her to get it together to start taking care of her business. Not only that, but if Tina’s biological children show up and she’s looking like this, they’re going to roll over her like an 18-wheeler.

“Harmony,” I begin, trying to find my words, “I know that you want to mourn, and that’s okay, but there’s so much that has to be done.”

“My mother just died!” she snaps.

“I know,” I remind her. “Is she still at the morgue? Has the funeral home picked her up? When do you plan to have the service?” She lifts her head from her mother’s bed and gazes at me.

“Oh… yeah…” she says sadly. “I guess that does all fall on me, doesn’t it?” I nod as I rub her arm.

“Yes, dear, it does… but I’m here for you, and Courtney’s going to come and help out, too. We need to get you some food, though. I’m sure you haven’t eaten. Why don’t you go take a shower, freshen up, and we’ll come up with a game plan, okay.” She nods sadly.

“Thank you, Ana,” she says. She drags herself off the bed and goes through a door that connects the rooms. I sigh heavily. This is going to be a long and tedious process.

While Harmony is in the shower, I summon Windsor to make her something to eat then go downstairs to talk to the security team.

“Who’s in charge here?” I ask.

“Mr. Taylor, ma’am,” one of the guards says.

“Who does he have in charge when he’s not around?” I prod.

“The supervising guard on shift,” he says. “It’s different for each shift, but right now, it’s Filmore.”

“How can I get in touch with Mr. Filmore?” He holds up one finger.

“One moment, ma’am.” He puts his wrist to his mouth. “Seager to Filmore… Mrs. Grey wants to talk to you, sir. She’s in the foyer… 10-4.” He moves his hand from his face. “He’ll be here in just a moment, ma’am.”

“Thank you,” I say, going back to the dining room to wait for Filmore. We’ll need a plan of action for when Tina’s children show up. Death turns human beings into horrible monsters and from what I’ve seen, they were horrible before Tina died.

“Mrs. Grey,” I hear from the foyer behind me. “I’m Stacey Filmore,” he introduces himself as he enters the dining room.

“Yes, Mr. Filmore, everything’s fine. I’m sure you know by now that Tina Franklin has passed away. We expect to be overrun any second by her greedy children.”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m aware of that,” he says.

“We can’t very well keep them from speaking to Harmony unless she requests it, but we can keep them from picking the house dry. Is there some kind of protocol that Jason has in place for when they show up?”

“Pretty much just to keep them out of the house and to take our cues from Ms. Franklin,” he says.

“Well, we’re going to need a little more than that…”

By the time we’re done, I’m wired with my own head and earpiece to call for assistance and Harmony will be, too. There are simple signals, codewords, and separate marching orders in case of extreme emergency. Jason will be briefed on the changes made to protocol and any adjustments that he suggests to the plan of action will of course, be welcome.

Courtney shows up just after Harmony has finished her shower, and I’m pleased to know that the two girls have previously formed a bond while working together at the Center. This is a welcome surprise as Harmony is going to need all the support that she can get right now.

“You look a whole lot better,” I tell her once she has freshened herself. “You’re going to be fitted with an earpiece so that you can summon security in case of emergency… while…”

“While the vultures are near,” she finishes. I nod.

“We’re on the same page,” I say.

“I guess I’ll have to make arrangements for my own security soon,” she sighs.

“Don’t worry about that right now,” I comfort. “Baby steps. Courtney, take her to the kitchen and see if Windsor has had anything prepared for her to eat.” Courtney nods and puts her arm around Harmony’s shoulders.

“C’mon, Money,” she says, “let’s see if we can fatten you up a bit.”

“We’ve had this conversation, Court,” Harmony says.

“Eh, we’ll still try,” Courtney says, and they disappear through the foyer.

What conversation?

That’s a fire for a later time. I wonder if Christian has flown the coup yet? My clit begins to throb thinking about how he licked and sucked and fingered me to two insanely cosmic orgasms last night. Focus, Grey, focus!

I pull out my cell and dial Marilyn’s number.

“How are things?” I ask. “Any fires, floods, or hurricanes that I need to tend to?”

“No, nothing,” she says, blandly. “I’ve been going through your family tree trying to check things out, but there are no hits on anything. I hate to tell you, but I think your bio-dad’s family may have written you off when you became a Steele.” I twist my lips.

“Don’t spend too much more time on it,” I tell her. “If they want to get in touch, they now know that I’m alive. It’s not like I need any of them anyway.” This whole situation with Harmony has shown me one very important thing if nothing else. Blood does not make family. Love does.

“Will do,” she says. “I don’t really have the strength to deal with rejection.”

“How goes your other situation?” I ask. She sighs.

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” she says.

“Have you at least told Gary?” I pry.

“Yes, I told Gary,” she says, impatiently. “I mentioned terminating the pregnancy—not even that I was making that decision, just that it was one of the options—and he went ballistic!” she exclaims. “He won’t even discuss it. It’s like he’s completely taking my options away. This is my body.”

“Remember that conversation we had about how many people this decision would affect?” I remind her. “Ultimately, you’re right. It’s your body and it’s your decision, but I’m sorry to tell you that you’re not going to come out of this unscathed.

“Obviously,” she says. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I respect that,” I tell her, “but you do need to make a decision…”

“Ana, I’m only going to say this once, so I need you to hear me,” she says. “I know the clock is ticking and that I have to make a decision soon so that I can make whatever preparations that need to be made. However, I reserve the right not to talk about this and talk about this and talk about this. All concerned and respected parties will be notified once I make my decision, okay?” I twist my lips.

“You won’t hear another word about it from me,” I vow.


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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 61—Memories

You know how you get a plan, and you say, “This is the plan! This is what I’m going to do!” and as soon as you start the plan, life happens and shit just gets dumped on your head?

Of all the times that I’ve said, “I’m ready to publish,” I never took the active steps. I just said it and then beat around the bush… “It’s okay, I’ve got time…” 

This is the first time—the first God’s honest time that I said that I was really ready to publish and I started taking steps to get published… and it seems like the celestial planes opened up and cow manure just started falling from the sky on my head, like my saying that I was really ready to publish was a bad omen. 

So… I’ve decided to keep my mouth shut—to be like Nike and “Just Do It.” You won’t hear me talk about it anymore until the book is being marketed to be sold. I can do this, I know I can, but shit just keeps rolling in front of me to stop me and I can’t keep letting that happen. It’s going to be a slow process because my money just dried up after 1) I had to go to Detroit for my other mother’s funeral and 2) I had to get major repairs on my car. The well is completely dry, and I’m trying to fill it back up again.

But I digress… On with the story. Thanks for listening.

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 61—Memories

ANASTASIA

The accident… of course. How could I forget?

You forgot because you never knew what day it was. You just woke up in the hospital.

That’s right. Nobody ever told me what day it happened… just sometime in November.

“Ana?” Grace says, and I snap out of my daydream.

“I…” I swallow hard. “I never knew what day it happened,” I admit.

“Are you okay?” Marilyn asks.

“I’m… I’m fine, I just…” I shake my head. “I just wonder why Christian didn’t say anything.” Was that what he was referring to when he said he thought I was sleeping in today?

“Maybe he didn’t want to bring it up. It’s such a sensitive topic, after all,” Grace says as she sits in one of the chairs in front of my desk. That could definitely be true. He did seem to be tiptoeing around the conversation… except when I said, “Fuck you.”

“Yeah,” I say with a sigh, suddenly feeling the need to rub my scar. “That’s definitely a day that will live in infamy.”

“I’ll certainly never forget it,” Marilyn says sliding into the seat next to Grace. “I think Al had activated the contingency and he just called Gary and Max. When he told me what happened, I was stunned. It seemed so… surreal.”

“That’s definitely the word for it,” Grace says. “I was in the hospital when they brought you in, but of course, I’m on the pediatric ward. By the time I discovered that you were there, you were already in surgery.”

“Where was Christian?” I ask. They both gaze at me.

“You don’t remember?” Marilyn asks.

“I’m sure if I thought about it hard enough, I would. But right now, I don’t,” I confess. “I remember him being there when I woke up, but the particulars of the moments before I got there are still a bit cloudy. They come and go.”

“Christian had gone back to Detroit to see if Anton Myrick was actually in jail,” Grace says. Oh yes, I do remember that now. “He had told you to come to our house until he returned, but you were already headed back to Escala. He discovered that you had been in the accident when he got off the plane.”

“That had to be horrendous,” I comment, thinking how I would feel if the roles had been reversed.

“Yeah, some unscrupulous photographers got some pretty candid shots of his immediate reaction,” Marilyn informs me. “I know you could probably find them if you Googled them, but the reaction of the public and the huge outpouring of support after your accident kind of shamed the reporters who took the pictures, and they somewhat disappeared into obscurity after that.”

“Hmm,” I say, “they became their own sacrificial lambs.”

“Pretty much,” Marilyn confirms. “Before I forget, I got a message from Val this morning that she and Elliot are going to be throwing themselves a housewarming tomorrow. She says gifts are not expected because it’s such short notice but will be accepted. She just wants to show off the new house.” I shake my head.

“I’m going to give her a pass on this one, because I don’t think she’s ever had a housewarming before in her life, but I’m going to rag the hell out of her for waiting until the last minute.”

“She’d probably just give it back to you, Bosslady,” Marilyn says. “How many last-minute parties or get-togethers of yours has she been invited to?”

Yeah… there is that.

“I didn’t want to say anything to anyone at the time,” Grace says, “but that’s when I first got the impression that something was wrong with Valerie besides her just being an insufferable cow. She was at the hospital every day and she truly looked like she was going to expire without you, but the moment anybody approached her…” She trails off and shrugs.

“Jesus,” I say. “That was just a bad time in all of our lives.”

“You and Christian never talked about it?” Marilyn asks.

“Very briefly,” I admit. “We were more focused on recovery and getting on with our lives than the accident, especially since we knew who had caused it and that I wasn’t in any danger of them anymore.”

“I never really got the details on that one,” Grace prods.

“Unfortunately, Grace, you won’t get them from me, either,” I say. “The most I can tell you is that part of the story is extremely sensitive and if it hasn’t been shared with the family by now, it won’t be.” She shrugs.

“Oh, well,” she cedes, “as long as there’s no threat…”

“There’s no threat,” I interject. There’s silence for a moment.

“Does it bother you to talk about this?” Grace asks. My turn to shrug.

“Not really,” I reply. “I never heard about the reactions of everyone else. I mean, I heard some of them, but not all of them, and not in any great detail. If I’m going to talk about it, now would be the time… before I go talk to my shrink later.”

“A shrink with a shrink,” Marilyn says. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.”

“It’s no different than a surgeon who needs a surgeon, or an eye-doctor who needs an eye-doctor, or a dentist who needs a dentist,” I say, and she nods.

“Being a doctor,” Grace says, “it was hard for me to watch. You were in pretty bad shape when you came out of surgery, and while Dr. Hill was gingerly trying to tell Christian what the odds were, I knew the grim truth. I think he did, too—Dr. Hill’s words were of very little comfort to him. He lamented losing you every day.”

“I remember when the cops came to the hospital,” Marilyn says. “I wasn’t in the room, but I saw when they left. They were none too happy, and Ray came out of there barking like a bear.”

“Ray?” I ask. “Daddy?”

“Yeah,” Marilyn nods. “As far as I could tell, they said something to Christian that he didn’t take too kindly to and he kicked them out. I think they came back a couple more times, but they never got anything, of course. Christian was on a plane when this whole thing happened.”

“They tried to pin this on Christian?” I ask incredulously. Marilyn nods.

“Christian wouldn’t talk to them,” she says. “If they didn’t have any information on what happened to you, he had nothing to say.”

“What?” I tease. “Mr. Grey didn’t stomp around the hospital demanding answers?”

“That didn’t happen until you woke up,” Grace says with a chuckle. “He was trying to get Dr. Hill fired because he kicked Christian out of the room.” I frown.

“Okay, I didn’t hear that part,” I say. “I remember losing my temper because Dr. Hill kicked him out of the room, but I didn’t hear anything about Christian coming unglued.”

“Oh, yes,” Grace says. “If I remember correctly, Dr. Hunt said that Christian approached him quite ardently about having Dr. Hill replaced. Christian said that he would call Switzerland if he had to and get the next best neurosurgeon available.”

That sounds like my Christian,” I reply with mirth.

“It turned out to all be a misunderstanding,” she says. “As you can see, all’s well that ends well.” I nod. I guess we really were in a hurry to move on with our lives. We never really discussed the impact this had on us or the people around us.

“Well, it looks like I have something to discuss with Ace this afternoon,” I say, trying to change the subject. Grace takes the hint and stands.

“Just remember,” she says, “I’m always here if you need to talk… about anything.” She leaves my office. I kind of get the idea that Christian may have talked to her at some point about my chosen treatment plan for PTSD. I hate admitting that I have it, especially after that conversation all those months ago with Dr. Baker, but she was completely off the mark. This situation was different, and she was wrong.

“So, Mare,” I say, changing tact, “you’re my employee, but you’re also my friend. Time is ticking into the future, my dear. When are you going to take that test?” She sighs.

“I know, I know,” she laments. “I’m going to take one this weekend. Whatever I decide to do, I definitely need to know soon.”

“Have you talked anymore to Gary?” I ask. She rolls her eyes.

“Gary is of one mind,” she says. “He won’t hear anything else but that I’m keeping the baby. So, talking to him is kind of mute right now, especially if I make a decision he doesn’t like. It irritates me that he rubs my stomach when I haven’t even decided to keep the baby if I am pregnant. And if I decide the terminate the pregnancy, I get the feeling that he’s never going to touch me again.”

I’ve seen this kind of situation break people up for more reasons than one. I don’t even know what to say to her right now.

“You have a tough decision ahead of you, Mare,” I begin. “Whatever you do will have quite the dramatic effect on you both, and that ripple will most likely reach much further than that. However, this is one of those times where I will advise you to carefully consider what you want. You are the first and most prevalent person your decision will affect. Only after that do you consider everyone else’s needs and wants. Either decision is going to affect you exponentially, and you need to decide which of those exponents are most bearable and most favorable.” She leans her head over on her fingertips and closes her eyes.

“Bosslady, can you do me a favor? Stop being PC for a minute and give it to me straight.”

Why am I beginning to hate when people say I’m PC?

“Okay,” I say folding my hands on my desk. “I had my babies because I was ready. I was in love with and married to a billionaire. I was happy. We planned for children, and I’m not so young. Granted, I’m not old, but for motherhood, I’m old enough. Conditions were right for me. Are conditions right for you?

“On the one hand, you’re young and you’ve got things that you want to do. On the other hand, you have a great guy who loves you and is excited about the concept of having a baby. Right now, those are the only two people that matter. There’s no other way to put this, Mare. You must rearrange your entire life for a baby. If motherhood was not in the original plan, that’s going to be fucking hard. It’s not going to be a cakewalk anyway, but it’s going to be really hard if it wasn’t what you wanted. You will make sacrifices. You’ll do things that you never thought you would do before, but all in all, it’ll be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ve ever had.

“However, if you don’t want this, it’ll be the worst decision you’ve ever made if you keep it. Your entire life thereafter will be filled with ‘what if’s’ and ‘woulda-shoulda-couldas.’ You’ll resent that baby and what you feel you had to sacrifice for him or her, and you could possibly come to resent Gary. You’re already resenting him for rubbing your stomach—which is a form of emotional warfare, even though he may not know it or intend it to be. That’s another reason why you need to take that test and make your decision because it’s not really fair to him.

“Now,” I begin, standing from my seat and walking around my desk. “There is, of course, a third party that you have to consider in all of this.” I lean on my desk in front of her.

“I’m not going to preach pro-life to you, but what about the baby? Can you give that baby the kind of life he or she deserves if you have it and don’t want it? You’ve already clearly said the adoption is not an option, but if it somehow becomes an option, can you give a baby away after you’ve carried it for nine months? How will that affect you? And Gary?

“And then there’s the unspoken thing that I don’t know if either of us has addressed. Twelve years ago, I was in your shoes even though I didn’t know it. I found out that I was pregnant after the fact, but knowing that, I knew that had I known before the fact that I would have found a way to get rid of it. The affects are the same—I detached myself from a living part of me enough to know that I never would have kept it; to be glad that it was gone. In my heart, I had terminated that pregnancy even though I had nothing to do with it.

“I never told anybody, but more than a few times, I wondered what would have happened if my baby had lived. Where would we be now living with a mother then who hated having me around much less help raise a child. Would I have turned out like her… or worse? Would Cody and his family have tried to take him or her away from me? Would they even claim it?

“All in all, although it was not a good thing that the baby was murdered, it was a good thing that I didn’t have the baby—but I still wonder…

“Would it have looked like me or would I have had to stare Cody Whitmore in the eye for the rest of my life?

“Would he have the rotten tendencies as Cody? Or my mother? Would I be able to curtail any of that?

“Would I love it anyway… because it was a part of me? Nurture it and do my best to keep it from harm, make sure that it never felt in its life the way that my mother made me feel? I still wonder.

“Technically, my twins are rainbow babies because they were the first born after I lost a child, but I often wonder if they’re considered rainbow babies if you didn’t want the first child in the first place.” I raise my eyes to Marilyn who is on the brink of tears.

“I didn’t get the chance to make that decision the first time, Mare, but you have to.” She quickly wipes a tear from her eye.

“Jesus, I’m not any closer to making a decision than I was before we started the conversation,” she laments.

“Well, if you’re looking for me to give you that magic word that’s suddenly going to be your answer, that’s not going to happen. I’ve given you the real deal—the entire good, bad, and ugly that I know. You have to make the ultimate decision.”

“I love Gary so much,” she says, her voice cracking. “Maybe, one day, I can see having children with him… but today?” She trails off with the question and offers no answer. “It’s… going to be a short day, right? Can you… survive without me for the rest of the day? I think I’m going to need to take some of that perpetual sick leave I’ve accumulated.”

“Go,” I say, waving her off. “I can manage.

*-*

“PTSD,” I snap at Ace after I take a seat on his sofa.

“Excuse me?” he says, closing the door behind me and standing at the seat in front of me.

“I have a question for you,” I say, “and it’s a valid question.” He folds his arms.

“I’m waiting,” he says.

“Are we getting too close?” He jerks his head like I just hit him. “You see, when Maxie and I began to get too close, her ability to help me weakened until it diminished completely. I’m wondering if we may be getting too close… too personal.”

“I sent you out of this office crying last Friday because you were choking on the truth, and now you think we’re getting too close?” he asks incredulously.

“I can’t see any other reason why you would have missed such an obvious diagnosis,” I say matter-of-factly.

“And what makes you say that?” he asks. There’s something hiding in his voice. It sounds like anger or frustration, I don’t know, but quite fucking frankly, I don’t care.

“PTSD!” I snap. “I’m suffering from PTSD because of Christian’s flight to Madrid!”

“Oh, that,” he says, finally taking the seat in front of me.

“Yeah, oh that!” I say in a mocking tone. “Wasn’t it obvious?”

“Was it obvious to you?” he retorts.

“It’s not supposed to be obvious to me! You’re my shrink!”

“And you’re still a doctor!” he snaps back. “Do you think a dentist needs another dentist to tell him that his toothache is a cavity? He may need someone else to look in his mouth and tell him how bad it is, but he knows it’s a cavity! And even he can manipulate a mirror and see a cavity in his own mouth. So, what did you do—take a good hard look in a mirror?”

“No! A friend helped me see what was going on, because my shrink couldn’t do it!”

“No, your shrink wouldn’t do it!” he shoots. “Someone else mentioned PTSD to you and you shut down completely—won’t even be in the same room with the woman. Now, I’m trying to help you work through an extremely difficult situation and you expected me to suggest it? Even if it may have been true?

“There are other ways to get you to understand that you’re suffering from PTSD without saying that you’re suffering from PTSD, like when I told you that you were torturing yourself; like when I told you that you have to find a way to move on or you would be paralyzed in fear if you didn’t; like when I shoved your unrealistic expectations of Christian right back down your throat and you ran out of here like a toddler because you knew that I was right! Had I come out and said, ‘Ana, you’re suffering from PTSD,’ you would have fired me, and you know it. Yet I saw it, your friend saw it, but you couldn’t. Why? I’ll tell you why, because you were so damn tunnel-visioned on it that you couldn’t see it yourself.

“Why do you think I keep calling you ‘doctor’ during our sessions?” he asks accusingly. “You know what’s going on. You’d spot it in a minute if it was somebody else, but you refuse to see it in yourself. Your misery is affecting everyone around you… everyone, yet you prefer to wallow in it and worry about it instead of doing something about it.”

“That’s not fair, Ace,” I say squarely. “You haven’t even asked me how I’m handling this or what I’m doing since I realized what it is. You just start condemning me for not knowing what it was in the beginning.”

“Well, excuse me, but when my patient—who is also a doctor—comes into my office and immediately starts barking at me about not doing my job, I tend to get a little sensitive. And quite frankly, don’t try to feed me that crap about not knowing what it was. You have all the classic symptoms. I can totally understand not being able to see through your shit-colored glasses, but with all that schooling and all the people that you’ve said you helped in your life, there’s no way in hell you didn’t know what you had. You just didn’t want to admit it because someone else said it first.

“Even though Dr. Baker may have been off the mark at the time that she mentioned it, she said it, you shut it down, and you couldn’t hear it or see it again. You deal with it every day in varying degrees with the people who come into the Center and you couldn’t—or wouldn’t—see it in yourself! So, you tell me who couldn’t diagnose you, doctor!”

I sit silently in my seat glaring at him, resenting him for being right… again, but he still didn’t give me a chance to tell him how I’m dealing with it.

That would be because you came into the office barking at him. Would you attempt to reason with a rabid dog?

And here you go. I definitely don’t need your smart mouth right now.

Yes, you do. You’ve been needing it for months, but you haven’t listened to me. I knew what was wrong, but the great Dr. Steele-Grey had this all figured out, so I shut the fuck up. Boogeyman, indeed.

Don’t mock my coping mechanisms.

That’s not a coping mechanism. That’s an excuse. And don’t look now, but your doctor’s staring at you.

Apparently, my inner conversation with the bitch went on a little too long and must have come with some kind of expressive gestures, because Ace is looking at me with a combination of confusion and anger… or frustration.

“I’m journaling,” I say to him.

“Congratulations,” he says sarcastically. “Psychology 101.”

“And now you’re mocking me, too,” I observe.

“Someone else is mocking you?” he asks, sarcasm still evident.

“Skip it,” I say, pursing my lips. “Today is the anniversary of my accident.” He raises a brow at me. “I didn’t know it. Grace and Marilyn told me.”

“How did you not know it?” he asks, frowning.

“Because I awoke in the hospital something like two weeks later not knowing who my husband was,” I retort. Ace scrubs his hand over his face.

“Ana,” he says, rising out of his seat, “I’m going to need you to find a friend to talk to. I can’t do this.” I frown deeply.

“What?” I ask horrified. He’s dumping me, too? Why the fuck can’t I keep a shrink?

“Today,” he says. “I can’t do this today. This conversation started on the wrong foot and I can’t find my professionalism to help you like I know that I need to. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a bit perturbed and this will not be a productive session. I know this is a delicate time and an important day, but I can’t service you like I should feeling the way that I do right now. That’s why I’m advising that you speak to a friend—not just any friend, someone who knows and understands what you’ve gone through over the last year… particularly over the last two months.”

But I don’t wanna talk to a friend. I wanna talk to my fucking shrink!

“Can’t we just… start over?” I protest.

“No, Ana, we can’t start over,” he retorts. “Today is a wash. I told you that your misery is affecting everybody around you. Now, it’s affecting me. You want to blame someone or something for how you feel, for your current state even though there’s not necessarily anyone to blame, but you gotta put it somewhere. Blame Christian; blame the universe; blame the blue-eyed guy who had you mesmerized and almost kissed you; blame the Boogeyman. Now, you’re blaming me.”

“I’m not blaming you!” I excuse.

“The hell you aren’t!” he snaps. “You came in here and screamed a diagnosis at me, then proceeded to try to dress me down like I’m the root of your problem, like I haven’t been telling you ever since this happened—ever since you came to me with this shit—to get to the bottom of how you were feeling. I knew what was happening when I visited your house, the minute you crawled into your shell and refused to talk about it. You wouldn’t even look at your husband and you were a breath off of doing that shrinking shit again.

“What I need you to do—what you need to do—is take some responsibility for your treatment and for how you feel. If you’ve done that already, bravo! But the bottom line is that you should have done it a long time ago. Go ahead and mourn the death of your perfect life—that’s fine. It had to die at some point, and a loss is a loss. It doesn’t matter if someone has not yet taken their final breath. However, after every death, life must go on. Yet you kept behaving like you wanted to crawl into the casket and die with your fairytale, and you couldn’t tell that was PTSD?”

He’s mad. He’s really mad. No, he’s pissed. His voice has escalated, and I know things are getting bad when I hear a knock at the door. A timid Amber sticks her head in the door.

“Doctor?” she says softly. “Are you okay?” Ace scrubs his hand over his kinky hair.

“I’m fine,” he says softly to his wife. “Don’t leave.” He turns back to face me.

“Find a friend to talk to,” he says coldly. “Don’t hold in how you’re feeling today, what today is and what it means. The most professional thing I can do right now is tell you to leave before I really offend you and then you really fire me.” He turns back to Amber. “Shut it down. We’re going home.”

“Yes, doctor,” she says professionally and returns to the reception area, leaving the door open.

The session is officially over.

Ace doesn’t say anything else to me. There’s really nothing else to say after you kick your patient out of your office, now is there?

I put my purse on my shoulder and walk out of the office, then out the front door. It barely closes behind me before I hear the lock engage.

Well, damn.

I walk to the parking lot, not really knowing how to feel or what to think. When I bend the corner, there’s a limo waiting there. What celebrity has come to visit Dr. Avery? Chuck steps out of the Audi and a chauffeur steps out of the limo.

“Apparently,” Chuck says, “your husband has plans for the evening. I’m to follow you and the limo to Miana’s where you will be ‘prepared’ for the night’s events.” He smiles.

It’s such a welcome surprise that I almost want to cry. I guess Christian will have to be the friend that I lean on tonight.

“Mrs. Grey,” the chauffeur says as he opens the door for me.


CHRISTIAN

“I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but did you know that there’s a hidden passageway that leads from the pantry to the foyer?” I ask Aunt Tina when I get to her house that morning.

“Of course, I’m aware of it,” Tina says softly. “I’ve lived in this house for 50 years. There are several. There’s one that leads from the kitchen to the servant’s quarters as well, and from the servant’s quarters to the backyard, but that one’s usually locked.”

Servant’s quarters to the outside… I shoot a text to Jason to check the other two passages immediately. Unless he was just afraid to approach or afraid to be discovered, Roger could be gaining access to the house freely even though he’s not on staff anymore.

“Well, I’m arranging for tighter security and some video surveillance of the outside of the house—not the cheap stuff that kept buzzing in your ear. The good stuff that my team will be able to review. We’ll set up a security room here…” I point to a room on the plan. Tina looks at it and nods.

“That was Daddy’s den,” she says fondly. My face falls.

“I won’t use it if you don’t want…” She waves me off.

“Daddy’s been gone for a long time now,” she says. “I’ll be gone soon, too. Use whatever room you must and do whatever you must to protect my Harmony.” Harmony smiles softly.

“You seem to be doing better today, Tina,” I say, squeezing her hand. She’s sitting in the parlor in a comfortable chair with a hot cup of tea and a roaring fire. There’s a very pretty and feminine shawl on her shoulders and an afghan warming her legs.

“Yes,” she says cheerfully, “getting all the juice outta the old gray mare before she’s put down.”

That sounds awful to me, but I know exactly what she means.

“I’m going to leave you in peace, now, Auntie,” I say as I rise to leave. She catches my hand.

“Harmony, darling, can you give me a moment alone with Christian?” she says sweetly.

“Sure thing, Mommy.” Harmony kisses her mother’s cheek. “I’ll go see how soon lunch will be.”

“Thank you, darling.” Harmony nods at me before leaving the room.

“My children are a dreadful lot,” she begins immediately the moment Harmony leaves the room. “I was hoping at least one of them would have come by now. They’re all old, I understand, but I’m older. They may even be sick, but I’m sicker. We’re all knocking on Death’s door, but he’s going to answer a whole lot sooner for me than he is for them.”

She shakes her head and gazes at the fire. She’s not angry. She doesn’t even seem hurt. She’s just… disgusted.

“I’m going to provide for them,” she says. “I’m going to leave something to every one of them. It’s what Daddy would have wanted, but the lion’s share is going to a child who didn’t even come from my cooter.”

Cooter… okay.

“They may still come, Aunt Tina,” I console.

“It’s too late,” she replies. “Emotionally and physically, it’s too late. I feel wonderful, Christian,” she says turning to me. “I feel like I could take a walk around the lake in the sunshine or do some of that needlepoint that I started but never finished. I want to pull out my old record player and dance and sing along to my favorite songs. I’m not sure if you know what that means, but I know what that means.”

Her energy burst. The end is near.

“Don’t let them near my Harmony, Christian,” she beseeches me. “You’ve done a lot for me these past weeks, and I appreciate it though I never asked for any of it. I’m asking for this. Protect her from those vultures. Do whatever you have to legally do to keep them away from my baby. I don’t know what I would have done without her, where I would be without her. I may have rescued her, but she rescued me right back, and I thank God for her every day.”

She takes a handkerchief from her cuff and dabs her eyes. I take her hand in mine—soft and frail, skeletal. These were the hands that brought trays of cookies and lemonade to the porch. I can still see it, as if it were yesterday…

“Is someone under there?” I hear an old lady, but I won’t make a sound. If I’m quiet, she won’t hear me. She won’t see me… and then she’ll go away.

I shouldn’t have chased that rabbit under here, but it’s so quiet—even better than the treehouse. Nobody can find me here…

But the old lady did.

She keeps looking under the steps, but then she goes away. Whew! She didn’t see me. I wrap my arms around my legs and lean my chin on my knees. I’ll wait for a while… wait until I don’t see the light, then I’ll come out.

I hear the door close to the house, and then footsteps on the stairs. She’s back. Why is she back? Did I make a noise?

I see her put something at the opening of my dark space. I wait for a minute, but then I crawl over to see what it is.

It’s one of the fancy little plates like the ones Momma has. Saw… saw… sawzers. There’s something on the sawzer. When I get closer…

It’s a cookie!

I snatch the cookie and gobble it down almost in one bite. It’s so sweet and yummy.

“If you come out, there’s more,” the old lady says, “and lemonade, too.”

I don’t want to come out. I’m scared… but she saw me take the cookie. If she tells on me, Momma will send me back to the man with the boots. If I don’t come out, they may call the blue people to come and take me away.

I’m scared now. I don’t know what to do…

“Come on out,” the old lady says. “I won’t hurt you.” She won’t hurt me.

“Promise?” I ask.

“I promise,” she says. I take a breath and come out of the dark space.

“Well, hello,” she says and smiles a big smile. “You’re Grace’s little boy, right?”

Grace. Grace. At the hospital, they call Momma ‘Dr. Grace.’ I nod.

“Come, have some more cookies, and I’ve poured you some lemonade. I know you must be thirsty…”

Aunt Tina was what I pictured my grandmother would be. I was wrong, of course, but I would have wanted my grandmother to be like her. Maybe Ruby was…

But I digress.

We sit there in silence for several minutes, holding hands and gazing at the fire. I’m the first to break the silence.

“Thank you, Aunt Tina,” I tell her. Worn blue eyes turn to my grays, and I know that she knows what I mean.

“You’re welcome, child,” she smiles softly. She pushes a button on the side table next to her and we wait in silence for a minute or two, after which there’s a knock at the door.

“Come in,” she says in the strongest voice she can muster. I look up to see Windsor coming into the room.

“Yes, ma’am?” he says obediently.

“Windsor, would you please bring a plate of my favorite cookies and a pitcher of lemonade… with two glasses?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Windsor says and disappears almost as suddenly as he appeared.

“Take care of my Harmony, Christian,” Tina says sadly. “I know that you have a family of your own, but… just do what you can.” I squeeze her hand.

“She won’t be alone, Aunt Tina. I promise.” She nods and looks back at the fire.

A few minutes later, Aunt Tina and the young boy who hid under her porch share cookies and ice-cold homemade lemonade one last time.

*-*

“Unfortunately, we don’t have any recording to tie Roger or Kenneth to the bugs and surveillance devices,” I inform Harmony after leaving Aunt Tina in her parlor. “My IT team thinks they went to a local location, like an email address or a cell phone. Without that location, we can’t get the recordings, and we know that neither of them would be forthcoming with that information. It might have even been destroyed by now.”

“Well, we still have the proof of his funds misappropriation, don’t we?” Harmony points out.

“Um, there’s a problem with that, too,” I say. “The funds that he misappropriated have been put into an account that has Tina’s name on it, too. So, technically, he took the money from her and gave it back to her. Since she locked him out of all of her accounts, she inadvertently locked him out of this one, too. I gave the information to Carl on Wednesday and since he’s her current power of attorney, he closed the account out and moved the money back to her main account.” I give her a little piece of paper that shows the transfer with several digits.

“Good God, that’s a lot of money,” she says.

“Yep,” I say. “He didn’t want to draw attention to himself drawing all the money out of the account, so he left it there probably hoping that he could get it later or draw it out in small amounts. Of course, he didn’t count on us finding the account.”

“How did you find out about it?” she asks. “Did he tell you?”

“Um, sort of,” I say. “We’ve been having him followed. He met up with Kenneth to try to salvage their scheme and he told Kenneth at the meeting. The recording isn’t admissible in court because neither of them knew they were being recorded. So, Roger’s story pretty much ends here.

“Jason has engineered a rotation that should cover the grounds while we tie up all the loose ends when the time comes. It shouldn’t be too intrusive. I just ask that you lean to the judgment of the security team in the coming days and weeks as I know you’ll be extremely fragile during this time, and your sisters and brothers will want to strike at your weakest moment.” Harmony shakes her head.

“All this to keep my siblings out… geez.” She folds her arms and walks to the French doors, staring out over the back lawn to the lake.

“Have you heard anything from them?” I ask.

“Oh, yes, I’ve heard from them alright,” she hisses, “every last one of them, in fact. They’ve called several times since Mom has been sick.” Hmm, from Tina’s description, I was under the impression that they hadn’t tried to contact her at all.

“Well, at least they’re calling to check on her,” I say.

“No, they’re not!” Harmony laments. “There calling to see if she’s dead yet. They call like crazy trying to get Mom’s stuff before she dies. They don’t ask to speak to her or ask how she’s doing. They don’t even know that she’s lucid. They think she’s drugged.” She closes her eyes and shakes her head. “I can’t believe these people. None of them have been there for her. None of them! They have proof that she’s knocking on death’s door and they’re not even attempting to help or come and see her before she dies. I swear, I won’t speak to any of these people once my mother’s gone.”

“I know this is a terrible time, but these are your siblings,” I point out.

“They’re not my siblings,” she retorts, walking away from the French doors. “Mom is not my mom because she adopted me. A piece of paper did not make her my mother. Her love makes her my mother. The unconditional love and care that she’s given me all these years. That’s why she’s my mother. These people are my great-aunts and great-uncles and only by blood. They’re horrible human beings and I want nothing to do with them. How that wonderful woman upstairs could have birthed four such monstrous people into the world, I’ll never know.”

Harmony falls onto the sofa and buries her face in her hands, weeping.

“I need more time!” she sobs. “I’m not ready! I need more time!”

Out of nowhere, Windsor appears with a wet washcloth and a glass of water. He stands in front of Harmony, waiting for her to acknowledge his presence. After a few moments of letting her have her cry out, he garners her attention.

“Miss Harmony?” he says softly. She weeps softly for a few more moments, then holds out her hand without raising her head. He hands her the washcloth and she buries her face in it just like she had buried it in her hands moments ago and continues to weep. I raise my gaze to Windsor, but he just watches Harmony. When she gets her sobbing under control, she gently cleans her face with the wet washcloth and hands it back to Windsor, who swaps it for the glass of water that he has in his hand.

“Would you like some tea, Miss Harmony?” he asks.

“Yes, please. Thank you, Windsor.” He nods and leaves the room. One week and he’s this in tune to Harmony already?

I, on the other hand, am a little out of my element.

“I’ll be fine, Christian,” she says with shuddering breaths. “It’s going to be like this for a while. I’m losing my mom.” I can only imagine.

“Do you have anyone that can come and stay with you for a while?” I ask. “This is a big house, and you and I both know that it’s just going to get bigger…” once Tina’s gone.

“I didn’t really make any friends while I was with Ken,” she says. “He such a narcissistic fuck that he wouldn’t let me out much without him.” I sigh.

Take care of my Harmony, Christian.

“I’ll talk to Ana… see if we can work something out,” I say. She won’t be able to stay in this house immediately after Tina passes away. I already know that.

She doesn’t respond.

“I have to get going,” I say apologetically. “I have to handle some business at my father’s house.” She begins to rise just as Windsor enters the room with her tea.

“I’ll see Mr. Grey out,” Windsor says, situating her tea on the end table next to her. She nods and sinks back into her seat.

“Harmony,” I say, and she raises her head. “Dig out your mom’s record player and play some of her records. She might enjoy a trip down Memory Lane.” She smiles at me.

“Thanks,” she says, her voice weak. “I will.” I follow Windsor to the door. Jason is a few steps behind him.

“Windsor, see if you can locate an old record player and records that belonged to Tina. She’s feeling nostalgic.”

“Yes, sir,” he says as he opens the door for me.

“One more thing. Were you… looking to stay on here once Tina passes on?” His brow furrows.

“Oh, no, sir,” he says. “I just want to do my best job while I’m here—help out in any way that I can.”

“Good,” I sigh. “You’re doing so well, I was just wondering.” He smiles.

“No, Mr. Grey,” he says. “I look forward to returning to my duties at Grey Crossing. I just want to make sure that I don’t leave a bad impression—of you or of me—while I’m here.”

“I don’t think you could ever do that,” I praise. “Besides, if you left, I may have to move in here with you because my wife would kill me.” I leave, and he closes the door behind me.

I’m lost deep in thought when I get to Dad’s house. I imagine that having no friends while your mom is dying is pretty fucking bad. Having none once she has passed on has to be worse. I need to ask my wife how to handle this one. I’m completely out of my league.

“Your clerk is doing most of the work,” Uncle Herman says when we sit down at the computer in Dad’s study. “I don’t know how she did it in such a short amount of time, but everything is categorized perfectly—furniture, collectibles, jewelry… even all the keepsakes. I had no idea how to find the paintings or the model cars Dad was giving to Stan and Rick, but she’s already located them and got the model cars on their way out here and Stan has already picked up the paintings.”

“Grandma had some really nice stuff,” I say, scrolling through the descriptions of the items. Some of them even have pictures. “Do you think anybody’s gonna fight over anything?”

“I won’t allow that,” he replies. “I’ve already told everybody how disputes will be handled. If they can’t deal with that, then tough.”

“We’ve got some requests already for some of the furniture,” I tell him. “Lanie’s looking at a walnut armoire and a marble vanity with stools.” Uncle Herman laughs.

“I’m not going to deny her that, no matter who else wants it,” he says. “She sat at that thing for hours when she came to the big house. Mom bought her her own set of makeup and she just played in it all day. The marble never stained, and she was careful not to get anything on the white seat cushions. It’s hers as soon as I get a shipping address.”

I remember a conversation about Lanie never being allowed to be girly around her father.

“And the armoire?” I ask.

“You’ve probably never seen Beauty and The Beast, have you?” he asks. I nod.

“As a matter of fact, I have,” I say.

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“Remember the talking armoire with all the beautiful dresses inside? Mom had every princess dress to date in that armoire, from Cinderella to Snow White to Belle. Even Pocahontas and Sleeping Beauty, and a few that she made up on her own. The Unicorn Princess was my favorite. Hell if I know where they found a rainbow gown—a costume of some kind, I think Mom made it. She made a headband with a pink horn and ears and there was a hot-pink wig made into a pony… Wait a minute…” Uncle Herman takes the keyboard from me and starts typing on it.

“I’ll be damned,” he says.

“What?” He highlights the item we’re discussing.

Eighteenth century walnut chateau armoire with girls costumes inside.

“The costumes are still in there. She’s going to freak out!” Uncle Herman exclaims.

“What if someone else wants the armoire?” I ask.

“Executive decision. They can be mad at me,” he says as he marks the armoire, vanity, and stools as not available and indicates that Lanie will be getting them.

We sit there for several more minutes virtually going through Grandma Ruby and Pops’ things. I hear all kinds of stories about the origins of the items and who will most likely want what. It appears that Pops never got rid of anything, so there’s going to be a lot to dispose of.

“No way!” I exclaim when we’re more than halfway through the list.

“What?” he asks. I look up at him.

“Pops’ had an Apollo?” I ask.

“What the hell is that?” he asks. I point the old player piano in very substandard condition.

“Oh, that,” he says and shrugs.

“Oh that,” I mock him. “That is 100 years old, man—at least.”

“It looks like it,” he says. “You want it?”

“Hell, yes!” I say before I think about it. “Wait a minute… someone else might want it.”

“Trust me, Christian, nobody wants that piano. It used to just start playing Take Me Out to the Ballgame in the middle of the night and we thought the thing was haunted. I don’t even know why Dad kept it.” My phone vibrates, and I pull it out of my pocket.

“The timer on the electric motor was off,” I say looking at my phone. “The cars should be here in about fifteen minutes. The T-Bird is on its way to Burtie in California.” Almost on cue, Herman’s phone rings and it’s Uncle Stanley.

“You get the cars yet, man?” Uncle Stan asks.

“They’re on the way. Christian says they should be here in about fifteen minutes.”

“I drove my Mustang down to Belle Isle for old time’s sake before I brought it home. Man, that’s a beautiful car.”

“I know. I saw the pictures,” Uncle Herman teases.

“Man, Christian, having the kind of power you do must be a pretty big burden to bear, huh?” Uncle Stan asks.

“In what way?” I counter.

“Well, I’ve only known of you for a few months, since my dad passed away. In that time, I watched the self-proclaimed bully of the family proceed into a harried frenzy at the mere mention of your name and then calm less than 60 seconds later after finding out that merely talking in your presence could cost him jail time. At a moment’s notice, you can go from the states to China and probably be back before dinner. Hell, you had travel arrangements for me to come see Dad before I even knew that I was taking a trip! That cocky ass private-eye who kept calling Rick esquire and stood firm that he wasn’t giving us any information, handed over a file as thick as the White Pages in less than five minutes after you made a call. Now, you’ve made arrangements to ship and deliver valuable antique cars—three of them, to be exact—to destinations in two states, with about as much effort as it takes to order a pizza. Is there anything you can’t do?

“I’m sure that there is, but to be honest… not much, Uncle Stanley.” He whistles.

“Having that kind of power must be staggering. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.”

“With great power comes great responsibility,” I caution. “I’m not always in the cat-bird seat, but most often, I am. To make a bad matter worse, in the eyes of some, I’m hated just because I have money, not because I’ve actually done something wrong. So, at times. It’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.”

“I can imagine. Grass is always greener and all that. All I can say is I’m glad you’re on my side.”

“Mine, too, although I have no idea what we’re talking about,” Dad says walking into the room and dropping his briefcase on the floor next to the desk. “What did I miss? Are the cars here yet?”

“Any minute now,” I say.

“Christian just claimed Ichabod,” Uncle Herman declares.

“No shit?” Dad says with a laugh. “I guess that really doesn’t surprise me.”

“Why the hell do you want Ichabod?” Uncle Stan asks.

“I’m assuming you’re talking about the hundred-year-old, priceless, classic piano, and why are you calling it ‘Ichabod?’” I inquire.

“After Ichabod Crane from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the headless horseman who rode in the middle of the night. Your treasured hundred-year-old classic is a playerless piano that randomly started playing in the middle of the night. It wouldn’t have been so creepy, but it started playing at the same time every night.”

“And when did you geniuses finally figure out that it was a faulty timer on the electric motor that went off at the same time every night?” I ask.

“We didn’t,” Uncle Stan say. “It just stopped playing.” There’s a knock at Dad’s study door and he goes to answer it. “It’s your problem now, genius,” Uncle Stan adds.

“A problem that I gladly accept,” I taunt. I’m going to get that beauty restored and get the timer fixed. When I show them how good it looks when it’s done, we’ll see who has the last laugh.

“Alright, boys, showtime,” Dad says. “Trucks pulling up the drive now.”

“Gotta go, Stan. You got your toys, now we’re getting ours,” Uncle Herman says. He and Dad say their goodbyes and end the call. The trucks are just pulling around the circular drive when we come outside.

“Dear God, they towed them across the country like that?” Uncle Herman asks horrified. The cars are both uncovered and traveling on flatbed tow trucks. I have to keep from chuckling a bit.

“No, they were transported to Grey Shipping in a boxcar by semi—much like the packing Pods that you’ve seen—then towed here on the flatbeds.” He nods.

“Why not just have the ‘Pod’ drop them off?” he asks.

“We tried. This area isn’t zoned for semis.”

“Okay, now you’ve lost me,” Uncle Herman says.

“Semi-trucks have to follow a certain route,” Dad tells Uncle Herman. “The drivers know which routes they can take, and which streets are zoned for heavy hauling like that. An 18-wheeler or tractor-trailer can’t travel on roads that aren’t zoned for that type of driving, like many residential areas.”

“I never knew that,” Uncle Herman says, watching the tow truck operator gingerly lean and lower the flatbed that carries his Fairlane.

“That car is even more beautiful in person,” he says.

“I’ll say,” Dad says, admiring the Coupe.

“I’ll race ya!” Uncle Herman jests and Dad laughs.

“No can do, big brother,” he confirms. “This beauty is going straight to the garage and won’t see daylight again until spring, where my lady and I will be enjoying picnics and rides on sunny Sunday afternoons.”

“Any room for this land yacht in there?” Uncle Herman asks.

“Of course, there is,” Dad says, “and if there’s not, we’ll make room.”

By the time I leave Dad’s house, Uncle Stan and I have gone through the manifests and have a pretty good idea what’s in the storage units. Nothing is committed to memory, of course, but he—and later, Dad—had quite the trip down Memory Lane going through Pops’ things.

An email actually went out Wednesday listing all of the items on the manifest even though Uncle Herman only looked at the finished list today. The email was sent with return receipt requested. So, we know that all the family members—grand-children included—received a copy of the list and Ms. Tanner has already started making a list of who wants what. As a result, by Monday, anyone who has requested something from the list can either prepare to pick it up or have it shipped depending on their locations, and notwithstanding the possibility that two or more people may want the same items.

I’ve gotten word from Chuck that Butterfly has left her session and is now in the limousine on her way to Miana’s. Chuck couldn’t gauge how she felt when she left Ace’s office, but she’s about to be pampered a bit before I take her out and help her forget her troubles.

This night one year ago was one of the most horrendously traumatic and miserable nights of my entire life. I can’t remember ever feeling the sense of loss and hopelessness I felt when they hinted that my Butterfly may not make it. I don’t even remember feeling that hopeless when the crack whore died. It was a long time ago and I remember feeling hopeless, but I don’t remember just how hopeless. Maybe I did feel that hopeless, I don’t know.

How the hell did my mind drift there?

Uncle Herman allows me to choose some pieces from Grandma and Pops’ private collection of vintage jewelry, real fucking quality shit. I stop at Cartier on my way home and have Marvin clean the pieces for me. He was hesitant at first because one of the pieces is pretty damn priceless. However, I assure him that I would trust no one else to the task and would not hold him responsible for any damage that occurs from reasonable handling. As a result, twenty minutes later, the pieces come back glistening and beautiful as if they’re brand new. He even provides me with unmarked boxes for the pieces since I brought them in simply wrapped in velvet as Uncle Herman had presented them to me.

As my barber gives me a haircut and trims my beard, I go over the events and discoveries of the day. Aunt Tina is having her final energy burst—something I learned about while being an asshole during Pops’ energy burst. Now would be the time for all of her loved ones to be around her reliving old times and telling her how much they love her, but there’s only Harmony, and she’s not holding up too well.

And then there’s my dad and uncles and the disposition of Pops’ estate. They did pretty well with the cars and Uncle Herman seemed to enjoy going through his parents’ things and remembering their significance—nothing like the crying fit he had earlier in the week. I was glad of that.

I was totally floored when he showed me Grandma’s jewelry collection from the safe deposit box, though. Good Lord! Extravagant doesn’t even begin to describe these pieces. I had picked one piece from the collection and Uncle Herman kept saying, “Pick another one.” I finally had six pieces of exquisite antique jewelry and I know my girl appreciates vintage pieces. Some of the pieces aren’t necessarily vintage—they’re just really pretty expensive. I don’t know how Pops had the money to afford these things. I can only guess that he must have been making an excellent living at Ford and purchased items when they weren’t so expensive. He apparently had a keen eye for value because I’ve yet to see anything that he purchased that depreciated in value except for that dilapidated house, and even the house was worth a pretty penny back in the day if I understand correctly. Even though it’s run down now, it’s in the historical district where the land itself is probably still worth something.

When I get home, Jason informs me that our reservations at Altura are all set. I haven’t taken her there yet. The last time I planned to take her was when I saw the ultrasound of the twins—and then all reason escaped from my brain and I simply had to get her home to take care of her. So, tonight, we finally get to go.

As I’m taking my shower, it occurs to me that she may feel a bit subconscious about the bruising on her wrists and ankles while the staff at Miana’s are doing her treatments. The pieces that I chose will hide those nicely, but hopefully her relaxing spa and make-up session won’t be too uncomfortable for her.

I choose a crisp linen shirt and a pair of jet-black jeans with a black blazer and a plain pair of black Bally leather ankle boots.

You’ll do.

With the jewelry in an unmarked bag, I descend the stairs and go to the garage.

Jason and Chuck are being dismissed for the night after I retrieve my wife from Miana’s. I requested that our chauffeur be security trained as well so that we don’t have an entourage of people with us. There will be no fucking in the limo tonight as I have other plans for us when we get home.

Of course, I’m fucking speechless when I arrive at Miana’s to pick her up for our date. She’s in a simple blue mock wrap dress with suede blue Louboutin Harler pumps with wide ankle straps and huge sexy Veronica Lake barrel curls in her mahogany hair… and she is stunning! I suddenly feel like a troll.

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Veronica Lake

“You look delectable,” I growl as I kiss her on the cheek.

“You’re looking quite yummy yourself, Chris,” she says, and my lady is feeling playful.

Oh, joy!

“Um…” I take her hands and notice that the skin on her wrist is flawless. I raise questioning eyes to hers.

“Airbrushing,” she says. “Seems I’m not the first wife with a kinky lover that this establishment has seen.” She winks at me. Jesus! I hope none of my prior subs came here it get cover-ups! It seems like an eternity ago and I can’t remember. I recover quickly and return my wife’s smile.

“Go on and get your coat, love,” I tell her. “I want to watch your ass as you walk away.” She smiles coyly and turns to the door.

And dear God, does she give me quite a show.


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

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 ~~love and handcuffs