Raising Grey: Chapter 50—Unexpected Guests

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

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

Chapter 50—Unexpected Guests

ANASTASIA

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

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

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

“And how did she take that?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

“Often imitated, never duplicated,” I murmur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He activated the contingency,” he adds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Christian…” I say, my voice beseeching.

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

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

That’s a first.

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

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

“Sha…” he pauses again. “Shawna.”

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

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

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

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

“She makes you uncomfortable,” I say.

 

“She makes me very uncomfortable,” he cedes.

“Why? Because she looks like me?”

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

And suddenly, I’m wet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he quiets right down.

“I feel a bit slighted,” Christian complains.

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

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

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

“I’ll come with you,” Maxie says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For moral support?” Maxie says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone in the room falls silent for a moment.

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

“So, what now?” Maxie asks.

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

It’s time to change the subject.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fine,” she says begrudgingly.

*-*

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

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

Shit. Trapped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The coast is clear. Thank God!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian deflates immediately, and Shawna looks completely mortified.

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

Christian squeezes my arms and I just drop my gaze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I hope you’re right,” I respond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And just like that, the mood lightens.

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

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

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

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

**Okay. Be happy. **


CHRISTIAN

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

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

So, I’m keeping an eye on him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?” I press.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We may have another… Oh, hell.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who did what?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

“Terry Smalls here,” he answers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Line one, sir.” She sounds exasperated.

“Thank you. Leave him there.”

“Sir?” Now, she’s bemused.

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

“Yes, sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

And Capito calls again.

*-*

Ch 50 Capito

Antamonides Capito

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sí, señor,” he says, after a pause.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 49—Finding Anastasia

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

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

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

Chapter 49—Finding Anastasia

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lights go down and the segment starts.

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

We both rubberneck over to her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all, that is, except Butterfly.

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

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

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

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

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

“Butterfly?” I urge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quite the appropriate description.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shit… that hurt.

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

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

“Butterfly…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I never knew that,” I reply soberly.

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

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

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

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

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

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


ANASTASIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.

Michel’s words come back to me…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you have the nerve to haunt me, too.

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

Jesus! That sounds horrible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you need him to come, too?

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

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

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

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

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

So, I didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

“Baby wake up.”

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

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

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

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

Just like the rest of me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

“Rosie…”

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

“Rosie…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t expect you to forgive me…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward is Satan’s submissive!

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

And I see Harris’s face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daddy is officially my daddy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And nothing else.

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

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

“Pretty much,” Al says, and I sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Surprise!”

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

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

And Brian.

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

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

And then I see her.


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

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

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 25—Actionable Behavior

This is a work or 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 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 25—Actionable Behavior

CHRISTIAN

I had the foresight to retrieve my father’s phone right after the call from Mia. I had a feeling that my mother would try to pester him throughout the night. Even if she wanted to reconcile and apologize, my father deserved a good night’s sleep. I left a note on his nightstand that his phone would be on the wraparound desk in the hallway if he wanted it.

That’s where it stayed all night.

I’m almost afraid to join my family for breakfast. Nobody except Elliot is going into work today and I think we’re all just going to hide out at the mansion… hiding out from Mom. Last night’s call from Mia has everybody wanting to ask Dad what’s going on and I think the only person who has a clear picture of the situation besides Dad is Butterfly—and she’s mum, for good reason.

When I get to the table, Valerie and Elliot are already there. He’s not taking the day off because he wants to make sure their house is finished before Mia’s wedding since he and his wife will be taking a vacation. That blessed and hellish event is just about a month away, so he doesn’t want to let the grass grow under his feet.

“Our house is going to rival yours when it’s finished, Bro,” he says, shoveling eggs into his mouth. “We don’t have the space that you do, but the view is about the same—plus, you have the ‘go big or go home’ mentality. We just want classy and elegant.” I put my hand over my chest in mock insult.

“Was that a shot at me, big brother?” I ask. “Are you saying that I’m not classy and elegant?”

“Please,” Valerie interjects. “Of course, you’re classy and elegant, but our class and elegance is more like little impressive hills and prairies; your class and elegance is more like Mount Rushmore.” She raises an eyebrow at me as she sips her herbal tea. I shrug. I can’t argue with that logic.

“What can I say?” I reply as Gail places a large plate of pancakes in front of me. Oh, this looks like heaven. I couldn’t eat much yesterday and could only peck at dinner since I tried to pickle my insides the night before and into the early morning hours. Now, I’m fucking ravenous.

“What did I miss?” I hear Butterfly say as she makes her entrance. The pancakes taste like life and merry-go-rounds and happy endings, and I’m temporarily separated from the conversation going on at the table until I hear Butterfly mention Freeman’s name.

“What about Freeman?” I say, covering my full mouth as I speak.

“Apparently, he’s not so adverse to having money and being rich,” she says. My brow furrows.

“Oh?” I press, still chewing my food. She nods as she puts warm scrambled eggs and bacon on her plate from under the dome covers on the table.

“It appears that the discovery of his assets for the divorce are falling right in line with a very ill-placed audit,” she announces as she pours juice into a glass from a carafe. I scoff a laugh, drawing attention to myself, but I’m not really sure that I want the family to know that the audit was my idea. I mean, I’d rather the whole thing look like Karmic justice.

“Serves the fucker right,” I say, pretending to declare it under my breath while cutting more of the pillowy pancakes. “How the hell did that come about? And what does any of this have to do with being rich? Is he rich?” I shovel more food into my mouth and maintain eye-contact with my wife. I haven’t lied—I’m just seeing what she knows. She shrugs dismissively.

“He’s not rich like us,” she clarifies, “but from the assets he’s been hiding, he’s pretty fucking well off.”

“Who’s well off?” My Dad’s voice cuts through the room like thunder. We all momentarily look at him like a unicorn, hoping he doesn’t self-destruct, but Valerie is the first person to remind us that we need to act normal, even though having my father at our breakfast table without my mother is nothing close to normal.

“Ana was just telling us about the surprises your brother has been hiding,” she says, taking another sip of her tea.

“My brother?” he says, frowning. He takes the seat next to me and Gail brings fresh pancakes to the table. “God, those look good,” he says.

“Dig in,” I tell him. “Butterfly was just telling us about Freeman’s hidden assets.” Dad’s hand freezes as it hovers over the fresh stack of hot buttery pancakes.

“Hidden assets?” he asks, looking at Butterfly, who’s chomping away on crispy bacon and nodding.

“Apparently,” she begins after swallowing, “Your brother has been very smart with his investments over the years, such that he has much more squirreled away than Nell knew about, including houses and bank accounts abroad.” Dad’s eyebrows rise in suspicion as he puts two pancakes on his plate and pours syrup over them.

“Haven’t the proceedings just started?” he asks. “It takes forever to find something like that in discovery.”

“They didn’t find it in discovery,” I interject. “The asshole is being audited,” I nearly giggle.

“Audited?” Dad says in surprise.

“Yeah, at the same time that Nell’s attorney is in the discovery process,” Elliot adds. “That’s bad luck in spades.

“That’s not bad luck,” Dad says. “That’s Karma.”

“And she’s one beautiful bitch,” I add, then look over at my father. “Sorry, Dad.” Dad chuckles.

“This is one of those times where I have to agree with you, son,” he says, taking a mouthful of pancakes. “Oh, that’s really good,” he says, shamelessly talking with his mouth full.

“Well, it turns it out that’s not all he’s hiding,” Butterfly says, taking another bite of her breakfast.

“Oh?” Valerie questions. “What else?” Butterfly swallows before she says,

“A girlfriend.”

And my Dad nearly chokes.

I’m banging on his back to make sure nothing gets lodged in this throat, but he raises a hand to tell me that he’s fine. After taking a few healthy swallows of water, he turns to my wife.

“A what?” he asks, his voice a bit strained.

“A girlfriend,” she repeats. “He’s leasing a car—a Cadillac or something, I can’t remember right now—and she’s the one driving it around the metro Detroit area. That’s how they found her.”

“Fucking shit, really?” Elliot pipes in. Goddammit, this couldn’t have turned out better had I planted a woman to say she was fucking him!

“He really is a piece of work!” I exclaim, frowning. “Think about it—he’s so fucking sanctimonious about what everybody else is doing and he’s walking around doing this shit?”

“That’s Freeman,” Dad says, digging back into his breakfast. “He can quickly tell you what the hell you’re doing wrong, but can’t see his own flaws for shit.” I can tell Dad is getting bitter—he already spent the night in a bed not his own—so I quickly change the subject.

“So, what’s the plan for the day? It’s clear that everybody except our esteemed brother is hiding out…”

We talk about what we plan to do for the rest of the day. Life and business goes on and none of us plan on shirking our responsibilities. We’re just going to handle those responsibilities from the comfort of the Crossing. Dad will be using my den while Butterfly and I work from our respective offices. Valerie will be making some decorating decisions for their new home and as far as we know, business everywhere else will continue as usual.

At least, that’s what we thought.

“Sir,” Jason comes into the dining room somewhat on alert.

“What is it?” I ask him.

“Sir?” He then turns to my father. “Mr. Grey, your wife is here.”

I roll my eyes before I know it, and Dad wipes his mouth and tosses his napkin on the table. A collective sigh is heard ‘round the room as my father shakes his head. I take a deep breath. He knows that I can’t turn her away. He’ll have to do it, if that’s what he wants.

“Okay,” I say and nod to him. He nods back and leaves the room.

Breakfast is officially over.

“What do you want to do?” I ask him. He twists his lips.

“Can’t hide forever,” he replies.

“Apparently, not even for one night,” Elliot says. We both throw a look at him. He raises his hands in defense. “I’m just saying, okay?” he defends. “I get it, but still… give a guy a chance to cool off.”

“Apparently, you’ve forgotten New Year’s Eve,” Valerie chides gently. Realization comes to Elliot’s face.

“Touché,” he says, and kisses the back of her hand. “I don’t mean to eat and run, but you guys know I have to get to work.” He wipes his mouth and stands.

“Making a clean getaway?” Dad asks him.

“That, too,” he admits. “Love you, Dad.”

“Love you, son.” Just as he thought he would escape, Mom comes rushing into the dining room like she’s trying to catch my father before he leaves. Elliot is trapped, facing off with my mom. She clearly hasn’t slept, even though she has tried to hide her tired eyes with makeup.

“Leaving so soon?” she says, her voice sad. Elliot puts his hand on her arm.

“I have to go to work, Mom,” he says sympathetically, “and even if I didn’t, I’d still be leaving. This is between you and Dad.” He kisses her on the cheek. “Love you, Mom.” He leaves before she can protest. Almost on cue, Butterfly, Valerie, and I all stand and proceed to leave the room.

“I guess I can really clear a room, huh?” Mom says, her voice bruised this time. I don’t have the strength to respond. She sent me into nightmares, for God’s sake. I had to have an emergency phone session with Dr. Baker yesterday. Butterfly, as I can see, is in no hurry to engage either. Once again, it’s Valerie to the rescue.

“We all love you, Grace,” she says diplomatically. “We love you both, but if Carrick wasn’t here right now, you wouldn’t be here either. It’s just like Elliot said—this is between the two of you, so the rest of us are going to leave.”

I don’t wait for the go ahead to leave. I quickly get the hell out of Dodge. Butterfly and I both head for the elevator to go downstairs while Valerie makes her way to the stairs back up to the room she and Elliot share. I think my wife and I both hold our breath until the elevator closes behind us before we shake our heads and look at each other.

“She doesn’t look too good,” Butterfly points out.

“She looks like Dad did when I saw him yesterday,” I say. I was trying not to sound like “Dad didn’t get any sleep and now it’s her turn,” but that’s how it came out anyway. Butterfly sighs.

“This is not a good place for the family,” she says.

“No, it’s not,” I say as the elevator doors open to the ground floor, “but at this point, only one person can change that.” She nods.

“You know where I’ll be,” she says resigned, before kissing me on the cheek and heading to her study.

*-*

As hard as I try, I don’t get much done during the course of the day. Dad came to talk to me after his conversation with Mom and apparently, it didn’t go very well. He says they didn’t argue, but he’s still going to be staying here for a while—how long, he didn’t say, and I’m not going to press him about it. I need a break from my mother, and apparently, my dad does, too, but I can’t help but feel sorry for her. I’m her son, not her husband. Me taking a break from her is a whole lot different from Dad doing it.

Dad has also apparently secured the services of one Dr. Grey, M.D. while he’s staying here. He hasn’t really talked to anybody about his grief… he was depending heavily on Mom for that and now, she’s a bit distracted. He didn’t want to dump on Uncle Herman and now, he has no one else and refuses to confide in a stranger. So, Butterfly, it is. I have to say that I think this football outing is coming right on time.

Speaking of which, nightfall finds the four of us along with two of our security detail—Chuck and Jason—comfortably on the fifty at CenturyLink Field. Jason has assured me that Rossiter will certainly not be in attendance at tonight’s festivities, so Butterfly and I and our fathers settle in to enjoy the game.

The Bears are hustling for sure and they’re certainly quite proud of themselves, but they’re celebrating way too early and don’t hustle enough.

Wilson put a damper on the Bears’ party with two rushing touchdowns and the first part of the game is a display of senseless slaughter—five possessions and the Seahawks score every time. The score is 31-0 by half-time, Seahawks favor. I’m wondering why the Bears even bothered to show up.

But the best play of the night has to be Cutler’s massive fuck up. The Bears’ quarterback is standing there like he’s waiting for a bus while his teammate is calling plays. So, once the ball is snapped to his ass, he’s surprised! What does he do? He sends the ball sailing through the air to the wide receiver, Josh Morgan, who’s shuffling around at the one-yard line. Easy touchdown, right?

Wrong!

Good ole Cutler wasn’t paying attention to the two Seahawks hovering around his wide receiver and when he shoots the ball down the field, Jeremy Lanes effortless leaps in front of the stunned Bear and picks off the pass for a Seahawks turnover.

And the crowd goes wild.

Dad and Ray leap to their feet, yelling like teenagers at Jeremy Lane’s interception right at the Bears’ two-yard line and the subsequent 42-yard run across field. That man does so many fake-outs during that stretch, all I could think was “Sweet Feet.” Even Butterfly got into the fun, screaming at the cornerback to run his “tight ass” up the field. I could get jealous, but why bother? It’s not like she’s leaving me for him. Either way, the Bears did everything they could to stop him, but were left dumbfounded when he leapt in front of Morgan waiting at the goal line for an easy touchdown, and took that pigskin damn near back into enemy territory. Morgan somewhat redeemed himself, taking Lane down at the 43-yard line, but did he have a choice? Either way, Bears fans are cursing all over the country tonight.

I should have known that we weren’t going to get out of that game unscathed, though. Somebody somewhere has a GPS on my colon or something, because if there’s a camera in the general vicinity of me and my wife, it will find us. And what fucking camera finds us?

The goddamn KissCam.

Butterfly just giggles and points to it. When I look up and see that we’re front and center on the CenturyLink Field Jumbotron, I realize that my fucking manhood and honor are at stake and on display for everybody to see. I grab my wife out of her seat, bend her over my lap, and plant a passionate kiss on her lips that has her clawing at my hair.

And once again the crowd goes wild.

After a lip lock that lasts for several moments, I pull away and gaze down into her eyes.

“Showoff,” she breathes.

“Whatever do you mean?” I ask, before closing in on her again. After a few more moments, the crowd begins to chant, and when I focus, I realize that they’re chanting, “Get a room.” I tear my lips away from my wife to see that we are still on the Jumbotron. I laugh out loud and peck her on the lips again, finally letting her up and sitting her back in her seat. The crowd is cheering once again, and I shamelessly stand up and take a couple of bows while my wife shakes her head and hides her face. Dad and Ray are both laughing at my poor wife’s discomfort, and I put my arm around her and kiss her on the cheek to comfort her. She playfully smacks at my chest, scolding my impishness.

And soon, we’re back to watching the game, if you can call it that. The Seahawks score a field goal in the third and the Bears prevent a shutout by scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter, losing the game with an embarrassing 34 to 6 final score. Dad and Ray rise to leave with the rest of the crowd, but Jason signals for us to wait.

“I called for backup,” he informs me. “With the Jumbotron display, I figure the press will probably be present, but we have to wait for a minute. The guys were detained.” I frown.

“Detained? By what?”

“By whom… the cops.” Now he’s got my attention.

“Why? What did they do?”

“Speeding,” he informs me. I twist my lips and he puts his hands up in surrender. “Sir, I’ve had this conversation with every member of our staff. According to Chance, he wasn’t going more than five over the limit. Nobody on our staff ever does. Ben is with him, and he confirms it. So, I don’t know if this is some rookie cop with a bug up his butt or some guy trying to make his quota, but we got a ticket.” I shake my head.

“Just pay the damn thing,” I say. I seem to remember us getting one the other day, but I think we had an emergency or something, I don’t know. Nonetheless, I’m not going to let a stupid fucking speeding ticket ruin our day. “Did you guys enjoy the game?”

“Boy, did I!” Dad says. “It was just what I needed! I haven’t seen a game that great in years. I don’t get to many live games anymore, you know.”

“Maybe we should look into some season tickets, Carrick,” Ray says. “The wife doesn’t want to see the games and I don’t get to see my friend Brian much anymore since I moved from Montesano…” and off our Dads go talking about the game and hoping to secure some season tickets if it’s not too late. I look at Butterfly, who is smiling at her father.

“I know he misses Brian,” she says, sadly. “They’ll always be friends, but it’s just not the same since…” and she trails off. I think she feels guilty for coming between her father and his best friend.

“That’s not your fault,” I tell her.

“Isn’t it?” she says, looking up at me. “I could have tried harder, done something to discourage him before the situation got completely out of hand. True, I didn’t encourage him—I didn’t make him think he had a chance. But I didn’t work hard enough at nipping that situation in the bud—at Daddy’s wedding, when I should have done it. I guess I thought… I hoped the situation would take care of itself.” She sighs heavily. “Nonetheless, it’s water under the bridge now.” She looks at Dad and Ray laughing heartily at some joke or something one has told the other, and she smiles.

“When one door closes, another one opens,” she says softly.

“Here’s hoping,” I confirm.

Ray joins us for dinner at the Crossing before going home to his wife and son and the rest of us turn in for the night. Saturday brings a whole new barrel of issues to face.

“Fucking hell,” I say to myself as I read the latest Google alerts on a certain asshole. I call Jason on his cell.

“Yes, sir?”

“Come to my study.”

“Yes, sir.” I end the call and scroll through Rossiter’s latest interview, if you can call it that. I don’t know if he just started talking shit in a bar or something or if he actually sat down with somebody, but this bit of news has pictures and everything. A few moments later, Jason comes into my office.

“Close the door,” I tell him. He closes the door behind him and crosses the space to my desk. I turn my laptop to face him. He looks stoically at the article where Rossiter details an altercation with Grey’s “goons” to keep him from the football game last night so that my wife and I could “suck face” all over the Jumbotron. This doesn’t look good at all and I need to act fast.

“Can he prove that anybody in my camp touched him?” I ask. Jason shakes his head.

“Nope,” he says. “You don’t want the details, but no, he can’t.” I nod.

“No, I don’t want details, but you’re certain that he can’t prove it—no hidden cameras, no forensic evidence…”

“Sir, he can’t prove it… at all. I can guarantee you, he knows why he was confronted, but he can’t tell you who confronted him.”

“Good.” I dial Allen.

“I take it this is about your friend, Judd,” he says when he answers the phone.

“You’re quick. First thing Monday morning,” I tell him. “I want a lawsuit filed against him for slander and for libel.”

“I had a feeling,” I hear him sigh. “Is he lying?”

“Do you know if he’s telling the truth?” I retort.

“I’m your attorney, Chris, I need to know,” he counters.

“If he was or wasn’t, I wouldn’t tell you over the phone.” He sighs.

“Does Jewel know?” I roll my eyes.

“Again, I’m not discussing this over the phone and I guess I should have just invited you to dinner. How’s five o’clock? Bring the husband.” He sighs again.

“Have my godchildren awake and ready for several sympathy hugs. I mean it.” He ends the call. I sigh.

“I need to tell my wife.” Jason nods and leaves the room. “Activate two-way communications.” Ding. “Locate Anastasia Grey.”

“Ana!” I hear water running.

“Mmm, what’s the likelihood I can join you?” The water stops running. Dammit.

“Nil, my love. I’m just getting out. What’s up?”

“How soon before you’re decent and bringing that sexy ass downstairs?”

“I don’t know, about an hour or so? I was going to grab the twins after I got dressed.”

“Let the nannies grab the twins. I need you to get dressed and come to the study. There’s something we need to discuss.” She’s quiet for a moment.

“Is everything okay?” she asks.

“We have a little development. It’s delicate, and I need you to come down so that I can bring you up to speed.”

“Understood. I’ll be down as soon as I’m dressed.” I know I had to choose my words wisely. The wrong choice of words would have led to a hundred questions. “Delicate” and “bring you up to speed” translated into “can’t tell you over the intercom” and “important business that you need to be aware of.”

“See you in a minute, baby,” I say, trying to keep the tone light. “End two-way communications.”

A few minutes later, Butterfly is sitting across from my desk, her mouth hanging open and eyes wide as I inform her of Rossiter’s accusations and what led to them.

“I don’t know what to say,” she says, standing from her seat and beginning to pace. “I mean, are these guerilla tactics really necessary?” I shrug.

“I got a restraining order against the guy, but I couldn’t get a gag order. We’re going to be doing a prime-time interview pretty soon. We can’t have him running off at the mouth. She looks at the picture again.

“Did they really rough him up that badly or is this picture retouched?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I tell her. “I told them to send a message, not beat the hell out of him. Maybe this was the message.” She sighs.

“Well, of course I won’t say anything, but I don’t know how I feel about this,” she confesses.

“I just wanted you to know, baby,” I tell her. “Allen and James are coming over for dinner. I’m filing suit against him for libel and slander.”

“But it’s not libel or slander,” she protests. “You did have him attacked.”

“But he can’t prove it, and until he can, he can’t go spouting that stuff off on national media. It’s damaging to my reputation and it’s putting the safety of my family at risk.” She shakes her head.

“You’re treading a thin line, here, Christian,” she warns. I come from behind the desk and gently grasp both her arms.

“Baby, when it comes to my family, I will tread whatever line is necessary. This man sat in a room and subjected you to a very unprofessional and uncomfortable situation and when he was called to task on it, he blamed you for it. Then, he’s been running his mouth to anybody who’ll listen and the first opportunity he got to corner you in public, he did, and subsequently attacked your father. He didn’t know that your father was a Marine and was going to whip his ass. As far as he knew, he was attacking an elderly man in public, and he had no problem doing that and continues to blame you for his behavior. We have a restraining order against his ass and he still won’t shut the fuck up. Tell me again what fine line I’m treading?” She looks up at me with uncertain blue eyes.

“When you put it that way…” she says, her voice trailing off.

“Look, baby, I know you’re being faced with a huge moral dilemma right now. I only told you because I want you to be informed and not to be ambushed by information. You don’t have to carry the burden of the morality of it. I will. Okay?” She looks up at me and sighs.

“No, we’re in this together. If the big ape can’t keep his goddamn mouth shut and his fucking hands to himself, then guerilla tactics it is. My morality is just going to have to deal with it.” I kiss her on the forehead and pull her into an embrace.

“That’s why I love you,” I tell her. “Not all the time, but sometimes, drastic measures are necessary.”

“I know, I know,” she says. “I may have to take some drastic measures of my own with this licensing thing.” I pull her back and examine her face.

“What do you mean?” She sighs.

“This Gloria Felton bitch,” she hisses. “Nearly twenty letters and this cunt won’t budge! And I know that she’s behind this, because I can tell by the personal tone in the responses. One of them even hinted at refusing to do personal favors even for Washington’s elite.” I roll my eyes.

“You gotta be fucking kidding me.” I shake my head.

“I wish I were,” she says. “What this cow doesn’t understand is that she’s hurting the community trying to get back at us. I know that I can easily buy my way into just about anything, Christian, but we’re trying to legitimately make a positive mark on the community while she’s clearly pushing a personal agenda.”

“Well, you know you have unlimited resources at your disposal to push back,” I remind her. She nods.

“I know. I just… I truly want to exhaust every avenue before I go steamrolling into the capitol ‘Grey style.’ It’s so important that our credibility remain intact so that we can be taken seriously. I will not allow Helping Hands to become another one of those socialite, token charities with no value. Although Grace seems to be suffering from a bout of temporary brain damage, she’s put a lot of work into this organization and I won’t let that go to waste.” I kiss her forehead again.

“You’re a good woman and a good person… but you say the word and I can have an investigation crawling up her ass in seconds.” Butterfly shakes her head.

“That’s fuel to her fire, Christian,” Butterfly protests. “She’ll just go public with accusations of expected privilege. That’s why I’m sending the letters. I’m building a case. I have all the documentation that we’ve done every single thing she’s required of us. It’s more than enough proof that she’s not only being unreasonable, but she’s harassing us.” I nod.

“How much longer are you going to wait before you do something?”

“Not much longer. I’ve only got a couple more letters before I get to twenty, and she doesn’t even know that her snazzy responses are just adding to my paper trail. I’ve compiled so much documentation, it reads like a volume of encyclopedias. I have a file drawer with nothing but this shit—not a file, a file drawer.

“Damn.” This is worse than I thought.

“We should have been accredited months ago, Christian. It’s getting out of hand.”

“Well, why don’t we go and snuggle with two little bundles of happiness to try to put us in a better mood? We’ll have plenty to talk about when Allen gets here.”

“I’m all for that,” she says, putting her arm around my waist as we walk towards the door.


ANASTASIA

“So, you did have him assaulted,” Al asks. We’ve convened to the outdoor patio after dinner to get as many particulars as possible. In attendance are James, my husband, Jason and Chuck, myself, and Al, of course.

“I don’t know the particulars and I don’t need to know, but I requested a message be sent to him and apparently, one was,” Christian responds. Al looks up at Jason, who nods.

“He may not need to know, but I do,” Al says. “Everything you tell me is privileged, but I need to know what I’m walking into. We’re filing a suit against this man for telling the truth.”

“We’re filing a suit against this man for defamation of character. I or no one on my team has been arrested. He doesn’t have any proof,” Christian protests. “Let him press charges if he has any proof. Otherwise, he needs to shut the fuck up. He should have shut the fuck up in the first place or he wouldn’t have been in this predicament.” Allen turns back to Jason.

“No way whatsoever he can legally link it to us. He couldn’t even identify who attacked him,” Jason says.

“The whole cloak-and-dagger attack? Burn the clothes when you’re done?” Al describes.

“Pretty much,” Jason confirms.

“Too much information,” Christian protests.

“Chris, get over it,” Al retorts sharply. “You don’t get to enjoy the comfort of anonymity and plausible deniability while I’m getting my arms elbow-deep in shit because of something you ordered! I’ll keep your ass clean, but your hands are going to get dirty, Mr. Grey!”

My friend is getting angry. I shift uncomfortably in my seat. He turns his attention to me.

“Did you know about this?” he asks.

“I just found out this morning,” I confess.

“And?” he prompts.

“And what?”

“How do you feel about it?”

“Conflicted,” I admit. “Do I like the fact that we’ve effectively resorted to uncivilized, goon-like behavior? No, but the guy is a fucking asshole. He’s gone unchecked for a month now, and the longer he goes on, the more brazen he becomes. He wanted attention for that horrible tattoo on his arm—he got it, and now he’s blaming me for the attention. We get a restraining order against him to keep him from physically attacking us in public, but he can say whatever he wants to say without consequence? About me? About my family? My children? Don’t I have a big enough target on my back without this blowhard uselessly flapping his lips and making my existence more difficult?”

The patio has fallen silent while I go on a rant about the headache and inconvenience this asshole’s presence and commentary has brought to my life. I didn’t really realize it until now, but I hate this fucker and I don’t care if Christian and Jason and the rest of the team take turns putting their foot in his ass every day if it will make him shut the fuck up.

“I lied,” I say, folding my arms and crossing my legs. “I’m not conflicted. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and if that fuckturd keeps talking, I’ll go beat his ass myself!”

“Well,” Al says after a long silence, “I guess the Queen has spoken.”

“So… what? She doesn’t get a hard time, but I do?” my husband protests. I can see my best friend folding his arms in my peripheral.

You give her a hard time,” Al challenges. “Go ahead, I dare you. I double dare you.” I raise my eyes to my husband who turns his gaze to me and immediately raises his hands in surrender. “She didn’t ambush me; that’s why she’s not getting a hard time. I’m cuddling with my husband on what I think will be a lazy Saturday morning when I get a call from my esteemed leader telling me that I have a fire to put out from something that I’m discovering on one of the least reliable news sources in the entire state. And then the whole Mission Impossible of the situation tells me that it’s true and you’re sitting here like Sargent Schultz—‘I know nothing, I see nothing…’”

I burst into hysterical laughter as my friend imitates the character from Hogan’s Heroes who always turned a blind eye to bad activity when he was supposed to be guarding POWs. The situation was very much in need of levity at the time, but it very quickly takes on a serious tone again.

“My wife and I will most likely be doing an exposé interview within the next week or so,” Christian continues. “I need that suit filed first thing Monday morning and I need to be on somebody’s camera while coffee is brewing.” I roll my eyes.

“Good God, this is a fucking nightmare,” I lament.

“He’s got all weekend to plant his seeds,” Christian retorts. “On Monday morning, I’ve got to come back with something more than ‘nuh-uh!’”

“We’re doing a full-length, prime-time interview. The lawsuit will be filed, and the gag order will be in place—can’t we address it then?”

“No, we can’t,” Christian informs me. “My silence on this matter is the same as an admission of guilt. He gave me what I needed by going public with what happened. Somebody beat his ass—that’s obvious. He can’t prove that I had anything to do with it and he’s going on media and social media saying that I did it. The responses to his Twitter posts alone are enough to prove defamation of character. I got him! I’m going to let him yap all weekend long and give him enough rope to hang himself. Then, on Monday morning, I’m going to drop a bomb on his ass.”

“He’s right, Jewel,” Al says. “Judd has been nonstop on every medium that can support him, and people are coming back en masse calling Chris names and issuing threats. It’s nothing more than we seen before, but now, it’s directed. It’s someone who has had access to you guys. I may not be 100% in favor of these tactics, but the man is out of control. He caused his own problems, he keeps stirring the pot, and then he refuses to take responsibility for his actions. He’s got to be shut down one way or the other and while I would like for the methods to be completely legal…” He throws a look at my husband, “you gotta do what you gotta do.”

“You’re preaching to the choir here,” I say. “I’m just so tired of cameras. We were supposed to be doing one more interview…”

“Well, don’t worry. I’ll do this one alone. You can stay tucked safely in the comfort of our home and I’ll take care of the big bad wolf.”

“Sounds good to me,” I sigh.

*-*

We awake with the sun Monday morning, and Al is the first soul on the steps of the court house when the doors open. I’m preparing for a long day and just finishing my breakfast when a very flustered Marilyn comes marching into the dining room.

“What’s the matter?” I ask, my brow furrowed.

“We just got stopped by a cop on steroids!” she says, looking from me to Christian and back to me.

“We?” he asks.

“Me and Carol,” she says. “Well, Carol,” she corrects. “I was in front and she was following me. I look up and she’s slowing down, so I slow down, too. She pulls over, so I do, too. I open the door to go to her car and see what’s going on, and I see the cop walking up to her car. He sees me and bypasses Carol‘s car to get to mine. He tells me ‘Move along’ all snooty and shit. I’m like, ‘We’re together.’ He gets all nasty and tells me that I could be cited for obstruction, so I close the door, start my car, and pull forward about twenty feet. I’m on my phone calling Jason, because you guys told me not to go anywhere alone and before the call picks up, this asshole is banging on my window. I roll the window down and ask if he’s trying to break it. He demands to know who I’m calling and he’s screaming at me. So, I screamed back at him that I’m calling backup because he’s got my bodyguard detained and I’m not allowed to go anywhere without her and since he’s in no position to offer me a job for disobeying my employer, he should go on back there and do his, whatever it was. I don’t know what the fuck I said that scared the shit out of him, but he tells me to put the phone down and wait and that Carol would only be a minute. Then, he marches back to the car all ‘Bad Boys’ and a few minutes later, we’re back on our way. Before you ask, I think Carol got a ticket. I don’t know why, but she went to see Jason as soon as we got here.” Christian frowns.

“Were you speeding?” she twists her lips and turns to me.

“Bosslady, was I speeding?”

“Little Old Lady Caldwell here? No. She was probably going too slow.” Christian’s lip forms a thin line and he rubs his chin. “What is it?”

“Either I’m imagining things, or my people have been getting more tickets than usual,” he says. “It could be that time of the month or year and I’m just more in tune to it…”

“Boss…”

Jason interrupts Christian’s sentence with one word and a look. As my husband leaves the room with Jason, Marilyn takes his seat next to me and steals a piece of toast from the small stack on the table. She’s clearly bothered.

“What’s wrong?” I ask her.

“That cop,” she says, chomping on dry toast, “he was a real asshole. He was all, ‘move it along unless you want a ticket, too.’ At first, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t stop because I was trying to be difficult, Ana. I stopped because I needed another guard. He was downright panic-stricken when he saw me on my phone. I don’t know what the hell he thought was going on, but he scared the shit out of me the way he was banging on my window! I was like, ‘what…’”

Christian comes back into the dining room, his expression intense.

“The ticket was for driving too slow… two miles too slow, and I’m not crazy. Five tickets in five days.” He pauses and pulls his phone from his pocket.

“A ticket a day?” I say, frowning. He texts someone and raises his head to me.

“No, five tickets in five days. Not a ticket a day. One on Wednesday, three on Friday, and one so far this morning. This is not coincidence. Something’s wrong.”

“What do you think it is?” I ask. He shakes his head and looks at his phone again.

“I have no idea. Jason’s looking into it. We haven’t gotten five tickets in a year, let alone five in five days.” He taps a text into his phone again.

“Could it be quotas like you said? Or a gung-ho cop? Mare said the cop that stopped them was really cocky.” Christian shrugs.

“I don’t know. We have to see what Jason finds.” He swipes his phone and puts it to his ear. “Yeah?” He knows who that is. He didn’t answer with his usual, gruff, “Grey.” His face tightens like he just got bad news. Oh fuck, what is it? “Ballsy son of a bitch, isn’t he?” Do I even know what this is about? Marilyn and I both look at Christian, waiting to see what’s going to happen next. “Right here,” he says, after a pause, then takes his phone from his ear and swipes the screen. “You’re on speaker.”

“Jewel?” my best friend’s voice calls from the phone. I frown.

“Yeah?” I reply confused.

“Good. I just want as much of an audience as I can get.” There’s a short pause before he says, “No, you don’t hold the phone.”

“Faggot fucker,” a gruff voice says on the other line.

“You figure that out all on your own, you ugly asshole?” Al retorts. “Now, say what the fuck you want to say!” There’s another short pause before the barking starts.

“Grey, I don’t give a fuck what you think you’re doing with this shit, but you’re not gonna get away with it!”

Judd. Judd fucking Loser. What the fuck?

“I see you’ve met my attorney,” my husband says casually. “This encounter can only mean one thing. He must be serving you your summons and gag order as a result of your weekend activities.”

“You’re fuckin’ full of shit, you fucking asshole!” Loser barks. “You send your guys to rough me up, then you try to sue me for tellin’ the world what the fuck you did?” Christian laughs.

“You should know that all of my calls are recorded, but I’ll tell you this. I don’t know what kind of trouble you got yourself into, but I do know that you’re good at blaming other people for it—just like you blamed my wife for you sitting in a place of business with a pussy in her face; and then, you blamed me for you sexually harassing women at your job. Now, you’re conveniently blaming my staff for some beatdown you got at the hands of God knows who for God knows what. What happened, Rossiter? Did you get caught climbing out of bed with somebody’s wife?”

“Ha ha, keep talking, asshole. If you think it was bad before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! I’m ‘bout to make your life a miserable fuckin’ hell—and I can get bodyguards, too!”

“You do that, Juddy-boy, but you should probably know that summons that my attorney served you for slander, libel, and defamation of character comes with a gag order. Violation of that gag order is contempt of court. Contempt of court carries fines and immediate jail time. Not only that, couple that with current and any future violation of a certain protection order, and you’re looking at definite jail time.” I hear silence on the line again.

“You think all that money gives you the right to do any fucking thing you want to anybody in the world, don’t you, you piece of shit?” he hisses. “You probably never made an honest dollar in your goddamn life!”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’ve got you, asshole. I’ve got you right where I want you, and I’m going to ride your ass all the way to the end. You wanted to be famous, you got it. You picked the wrong piece of shit to fuck with and I’m about to show you exactly what an honest dollar can do.”

“That’s enough of that,” Al says. “You’ve got a press conference in an hour in front of Grey House.”

“Gimme that!” I hear Judd bark. I hear a really short scuffle, then a grunt, another grunt, a muffled buzzing noise, then a thump.

“I said you don’t hold the fucking phone!” my best friend’s voice says from a little far away. “One hour, Grey House,” he says again, closer to the phone.

“Oookay,” Christian says, uncertain. “What just happened?”

“That asshole just tried to take my phone,” Al replies.

“And what did you do?” I ask. “Did you hit him?”

“No,” he responds. “I tased him. I’m not trying to fight that gorilla, but I’m leaving before he gets up.”

“Good idea,” Christian says. “I’ll see you at the office. Drive carefully.”

“I always do,” Al says.

“No. Really. Drive carefully.” Al is outside in the open air now.

“Any particular reason? Something I should know?”

“I’ll tell you when I see you. Just drive carefully.”

“Okay,” Al says before he ends the call. Christian looks at his phone.

“No doubt it’ll be live,” he says, before bending down to kiss me. “Just scan the channels. I’m sure you’ll see it.”

“I’m sure I will, too,” I sigh.

*-*

Somewhere around the 11:00 hour, Keri, Gail, and I are all in the family room with the twins in tow, all six televisions tuned in to news programs and channels—local and national. Marilyn and Chuck are also in attendance—Marilyn on her tablet and Chuck on his Mac, looking for possible webcasts.

“It’s like waiting for the announcement for nuclear war,” Gail says, her voice low. I shake my head.

“Well, it is a declaration of war, so to speak,” I tell her. “This thing has gotten way out of hand. I have no idea what this guy is trying to prove. What was the purpose of his gesture in the first place? All this just to get a rise out of me? And once he saw that this stagecoach was beginning to run out of control, something didn’t click in his head that he should probably cease and desist? What drives you to make the conscious decision to antagonize the wife of the richest man in the state? One of the richest men in the country? The world? What is this exercise all about?”

“Maybe he was hoping to push Christian to the point where he could get some kind of payout from him,” Gail says.

“Yeah,” Marilyn chimes in, “and instead, he finds himself on the receiving end of a lawsuit. How does that feel, Skippy?”

“Showtime.” Chuck’s voice causes a silence to fall over the room and our heads all rise to the monitor in front of us. Chuck subsequently switches the other monitors not showing the headline to the same news channel—the headline being, “Christian Grey Responds to Judd Rossiter’s Allegations of Assault.” It must not be on the wire yet that he has filed a lawsuit against the asshole. Hold on to your pants, America.

There’s a picture of the front doors of Grey House, as I’m certain that my husband plans to escape inside once he’s made his statement to the press. A cluster of reporters stand around what looks to be a makeshift area for the press release. There’s no podium or anything—just a clear space with a few microphones on stands in a small half circle forming a small barrier. Different reporters are giving commentary on the different stations as we wait for my husband to immerge from wherever he plans to immerge and, of course, speculation is running wild about what he plans to say—from a full confession of attacking the asshole to an independent action on the part of someone on his security team with Christian disavowing any knowledge of the action. Nothing along the lines of, “Wasn’t me.” Boy, are they in for a surprise.

I’m nearly ready to piss my pants waiting for him to get on with this thing, but I’m certain that he’s getting some briefing and instructions from Vee. I know that without it, my husband is very likely to get on camera and say, “Fuck you, and fuck you, oh, and fuck you, too. I’ll see you all in court.” Vee is trying to help him say that a little more diplomatically… you know, without alienating the whole of Washington and every member of the press.

After what feels like a damn eternity, my husband finally exits the glass doors of Grey House along with his attorney and several members of his security staff. It looks like he’s changed clothes from what he was wearing when he left this morning. He’s now wearing a solid black suit tailored to fit him like he was sewn into it and a crisp, white linen shirt and a charcoal tie when at first, he was wearing a gray suit with a baby blue tie. Even his hair is tamer than I’ve ever seen it in my life. Part of me is asking, why did he change? The other part of me can clearly see the image he wants to portray, because that look is so sharp that he can cut someone with that suit.

His gaze is fixed and he doesn’t make eye contact with anyone as he makes his way to the cluster of microphones. He holds an unusually large manila envelope in his hand and stands silently, waiting for the crowd to hush as if he’s about to reveal the cure for cancer. When they do, he turns his attention to the envelope and reveals its contents. Cameras flash madly, but only for a second or two. My eyes widen and my mouth gapes and Gail gasps.

“Wahs datta pum-pum?” Keri asks, pointing at the screen. Chuck’s brow is furrowed as he clearly can’t believe what he just saw.

“Yep,” he says, “that was a pum-pum.” My husband just revealed a super-sized picture of Judd Rossiter’s bicep vagina tattoo. I don’t know whether to be impressed or horrified.

“Did you get it?” he asks the now silent crowd. “Did you see it or did you get a chance to blur that? I know that most of you are live. Those of you present, get a good look at it. Do you find it offensive that I have the audacity flash this on television? First thing in the morning while women and small children could be watching? Ladies in attendance, get a good at it. Should I put it away? Should I be considerate of your sensitivities of this display? I should be ashamed of myself for showing you this, right? I should have the decency to consider my audience before I display something like this, right?” He hands the photo to Allen who puts it back inside the envelope.

“Well, maybe one of you in attendance can explain to me why my wife doesn’t deserve that same respect. This entire thing—this whole three-ring circus—is because that is what stared her in the face in close proximity for two hours! I don’t know what he was trying to prove. I don’t know if he thought it was cute. I don’t know if he thought it was funny, but we’re just overreacting, right? It’s her money, right? It’s the fact that she’s wealthy—she’s supposed to get special treatment. Who is she to believe that she shouldn’t have to sit and look at a bare vagina staring at her on a man’s arm? She’s nobody special, right? How dare she think she deserves the common, basic respect of any other woman in the city!”

His undertone indicates that he’s getting a little agitated even though he maintains a statue-like cool. I should have gone in with him.

“Yet, many of you watching think that she should have just sat there and said nothing; that it’s her sense of privilege that made her speak up about the lewd display to which she was being subjected and not the fact that, as a lady, she didn’t deserve that; that even now, we should just shut up and let this man continue to slander and scandalize us every chance he gets simply because he refuses to take responsibility for his unprofessional and explicit behavior.

“You go on social media hiding behind screen names and profiles spouting threats, sanctimonious judgments, and pseudo-opinions about something you know absolutely nothing about, thinking that a dollar soothes all our ills and since we have so much money, we feel no pain—that we don’t feel the daggers that are thrown at us every single day by people who wish us harm simply because of who. We. Are.

“You praise this bully, this predator, this uncouth goon that you should want to keep far, far away from your wives, daughters and sisters. You fuel his fire and encourage his bad behavior, contributing to the theory that because he’s an everyday citizen he should be able to just flap his trap as much as he wants to and we rich folk should just sit back and roll around in our barrels of money and be happy with ourselves and shut the hell up. Well I say no. I say that we deserve to be treated like human beings no matter how many zeros are behind our net worth.

“How many of you have wives? How many of you would stand by and allow your wife to be disrespected, to be treated like a common piece of trash? Would you let some goon sit with this in your wife’s face for hours? How about you? Would you? How about you?”

He points to various people in the crowd as he asks each question.

“I didn’t think so… But I guess I should have, huh? If I had I wouldn’t be standing here accused of attacking some idiot over the weekend. I wish I had attacked him. I wish I could stand here and tell you that had the privilege of personally giving him those black and blue bruises he’s sporting right now for what he did to my wife and for what he continues to do to my family; for what he did to my father-in-law when he was just trying to enjoy a baseball game with his daughter; for the hundreds of death threats on the lives of my children that are being filtered through my office, my emails, my business website; for just generally being a pain in the ass… yes, I wish it was me! But no, I stand here being blamed for something I didn’t even get the pleasure of doing.”

Technically, it’s not a lie. He gave the order, but he didn’t touch him. My husband takes a breath to compose himself and continues.

“Upon discovering that I was being accused of attacking the man who has been the bane of my family’s existence for the last month, my legal team spent the weekend gathering necessary evidence and drafting legal documentation to file suit against Mr. Rossiter. This morning, a summons has been served on Judd Rossiter that I, my family, and my company are filing a lawsuit against him for slander, libel, and defamation of character for an undisclosed amount. A gag order has also been issued and served since this is now an open and ongoing case, and parties will be added to the lawsuit as evidence continues to be gathered—which means either he shuts his mouth or he’ll be in litigation for eternity!” He puts emphasis on the last word. Someone from the crowd just has to shoot a question at him before he gets a chance to say anything else.

“Mr. Grey, Mr. Rossiter never said you attacked him. He said that you had some of your ‘goons’ attack him. What do you say to that?” Christian clears his throat.

“Mr. Rossiter implicated me in his attack. And as a result, my children are being threatened. My family’s lives are in danger now because of what he’s saying, so please forgive me if I fail to get all the details exactly right, Mr. Reporter,” he retorts sarcastically.

“I’m sorry that my facts aren’t exactly up to par as you feel they should be, but I was having breakfast with my wife and my two infant children when I learned on a podcast on Saturday morning that I apparently attacked this man. I’m in the process of dealing with my own family catastrophes when I discover that apparently, I’m at the basis of somebody else’s! Maybe Mr. Rossiter should identify which of my ‘goons attacked’ him so that I can include them in the lawsuit!”

My husband’s eyes are piercing now and he has that look that dares another soul to speak. Another soul does not… yet.

“I’ve already filed a restraining order against this man because he attacked my father-in-law at a baseball game, and now this? I don’t know he’s pissed off now, but all of his woes don’t come at the hands of ‘Grey.’ I’m a businessman, not a common thug, and his defamatory remarks are a direct blow to my character and to my business image and I won’t stand for it. It’s one thing when he’s standing on a self-constructed, imaginary soapbox, spouting ill-conceived opinions about difficulties brought on by his own bad behavior. It’s quite another when he tears an upstanding citizen’s character down by accusing him of illegal activity with absolutely no proof.”

“But isn’t it true that you have an outstanding conviction against you for assault, Mr. Grey?” another reporter states proudly, like he’s pulled some kind of coup.

“Yes,” Christian replies without hesitation. “It’s true that two years ago, I assaulted the drunk driver who ran into my car, pushing me into oncoming traffic and nearly costing me my life. Yes, an officer was present, I was taken into custody, and required to do community service and take anger management classes. That’s a matter of public record.”

Just like that, Mr. Coup’s sails has been deflated.

“So, you’re saying that there’s no truth to Rossiter’s statements that you had him assaulted to shut him up?” someone else asks.

“I’m saying that if he has any proof whatsoever that I or anyone in my camp put their hands on him besides the incident at the baseball game when my father-in-law was defending himself and my team was protecting my wife, then he needs to produce it and it better be in court and not in the media, because I’m going to sue him so hard and so long that if he ejaculates into a condom, his sperm better have representation.”

Oh… that was pretty.

“My infant children are receiving death threats because he got into a barroom brawl or a lover’s quarrel or whatever trouble his big mouth got him into this weekend and now, he’s trying to blame it on me! Exactly how many enemies has this man made? He’s got sexual harassment charges crawling out of the woodwork, and that’s my fault, too, I hear. Apparently, I found various women in the Seattle area and planted them at his job right at the precise moment to say that he harassed, accosted, or acted inappropriately with them. Oh, I must have held him down while he got that tattoo of a woman’s crotch on his arm, too. That was really classy. This is absolutely absurd, and any medium, and news outlet, any high blog that chooses to spread this garbage should be ashamed of themselves, and from this moment on, I have a full legal team and a full research staff dedicated to nothing but sniffing out the libelous and slanderous perpetuation of this crap and taking it straight to litigation. I’ve got money to burn, and by the time I’ve dragged every rag through court for infringing on my family’s peace and safety this way, I will at least feel somewhat vindicated for our pain and suffering even if I lose!”

And there’s Papa Bear Grey again. The crowd falls silent as he marches away from the cluster of microphones, running his hand through his once-neatly-coifed hair, his restraint clearly holding on by a thread. Jason is by his side, shielding him from any other questions as it’s clear that if anyone comes near him, he’s going to snap. I want to go to him, but I know the paparazzi are everywhere and I wouldn’t get to the bridge, let alone to the front door of Grey House.

We all sit there silently for a moment as the reporters on the television clamor to try to get a final question in to my husband. I’m looking for my phone, but can’t seem to remember where I put it. He looked like he was going to blow any second. I know that look. He’s going to break something. He’s going to break something soon. I need to talk to him, to try to calm him… where the fuck is…

Gail slams my phone into my hand from wherever it was hiding and I quickly press the speed dial for my husband’s number. It seems to take forever to connect. The line finally picks up, but he doesn’t say anything.

“Breathe, baby,” I say.

“I can’t come home right now,” he growls. I know what he’s saying in that one sentence.

“I know,” I reply.

“There’s a lot to do,” he hisses.

“I know, baby,” I say, trying to soothe him.

“I… it… FU…” and the line goes dead. I sigh heavily. I already know what’s happened. Most likely, he’s in the elevator, and his phone has met the wall and is now on the floor in pieces. He had to break something… it was the phone. I sit there staring at my phone, waiting for it to ring. A text from Jason, something. Someone tell me that he’s okay.

It takes forever… fifteen infernal fucking minutes.

**He needs to settle. Andrea has already ordered another phone. It’ll be here by the end of business today. I’ll keep you posted. **

It’s from Jason. I have no idea what the hell was happening that it took him fifteen fucking minutes to text me. I want to ask a hundred questions, but I know that it won’t do any good, so I stick to a one-word response.

**Okay. **


A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at 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 23—Doors That Should Remain Closed

One of my faithful readers posted this comment on Facebook about the last chapter:

I love how there is such a fine line between his ability to be the old dominant and how hard he’s trying to balance that as dominant/husband.”

I’m glad that someone saw that. My response to her was, “That’s what I try to portray. People think that because he’s been a Dom for so long, he should have this down pat—he should be perfect. But he’s not. First of all, he doesn’t exercise his dominance every weekend like he used to. Second, when he was a Dom before, he was a sadist. Now, he’s trying to balance being a Dominant and his ever-present need for control with being a husband and a lover. Apparently, he’s not getting that right fast enough for some people.”

***SPOILER ALERT***
They get some playroom/playtime scenes just right—eroticism, passion, just the right amount of dominance or punishment. Some of them, they screw up; others they get ghastly wrong. Do you think that’s an accident? Would you really keep reading this story if it was always, “Playroom! Great time! Back to life…?” I got bored just writing that sentence. So, here’s a head’s up. The moment Christian and Ana get playtime, punishments, and marriage completely perfect and there are no more mistakes to be made, I’ll stop writing this story, because there will be no more story to tell.  

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 23—Doors That Should Remain Closed

ANASTASIA

Prime time. We’re going to do a full-length prime-time special interview about our lives. What’s more is that we’re looking for a national network as opposed to a local network and we’ve already gotten seven takers in less than twelve hours. Jesus Christ.

My husband thinks it’s a good idea to feed the beast. I’m not so sure. I still don’t get what it is about us that’s so damn fascinating. There are so many other rich couples who have been richer for longer and married for longer. Maybe that’s what it is—it’s the novelty, the newness… although I can’t see how it could be that, either, because we’re not that new.

Maybe they’re all just waiting for the breakdown, waiting to see when the other shoe will drop, I don’t know. He’s very preoccupied with the intentions and interference of his ex-subs, but it’s more than just them. It’s the Judd Rossiters and the crazy paparazzi, the ratings whores and whomever else seems to want a piece of the Greys. Brian seems to have breezed in and out of town without incident, but I’m still not so sure that he can be trusted either.

And then there’s the licensing boards.

The medical ethics board has gone completely radio silent when it comes to my accusations. They haven’t addressed them in the public forum or in terms of my complaints and requests for a formal investigation. It appears that the only way that I will get any kind of light shown into the ethics of how they treated me is to file suit against them. After talking to Al, that means that I would have to prove some kind of injury besides my humiliation, such as defamation of character—which I can’t—so I’m seriously considering taking the “Christian Grey” avenue on this one and seeing what strings can be pulled, because I can’t be the first person this has happened to and I’m certain that I won’t be the last.

As for the accreditation board, I believe that Ms. Felton has a hand in writing our responses personally. The letters have now taken on the tone of scolding and although they’re sighed by someone else altogether, I get the feeling that I’m sparring with the Head Bitch herself:

While we can appreciate your impatience, these matters take meticulous consideration and will not be rushed even for the most prestigious citizens of Washington…

We have received all fifteen of your prior correspondences and still maintain that we must be thorough in the licensing process to be certain that all institutions meet the requirements set forth by the state…

As you are requesting to be entrusted with the safety and shaping of the minds of infants and pre-school-age children, you must know that the guidelines for accreditation are much more rigorous than that of a primary or secondary academy…

Blah blah blah more bullshit wait bitches you should have made me assistant director then you wouldn’t be dealing with this shit right now blah blah blah fuck you joke’s on you your ass is mine rot in hell and so on and so forth…

I can only handle one catastrophe at a time. I’m already trying to deal with the pressure of an impending prime-time interview and whatever fallout may come from “sicing” Christian Grey on the Medical Ethics Board, should I decide to go that route. I don’t know that I can deal with Gloria Felton and her fucking pissing contest! We’re already going to miss out on any funding and any programs that we could have participated in during the fall school year when I was certain that we had this whole thing locked down last spring. I’m losing my fucking patience here! I make the decision that Ms. Felton has actually gotten sixteen letters from us, and she will only get twenty before I threaten to take some serious action on her ass. She has a boss, too, and I won’t sit still for this shit. Twenty letters, coupled with her smartastic responses, has to be enough to get some action from somewhere.

I learn to my great surprise that Christian has returned Mia’s list to her with only one elimination—Hammerstone. I regret not taking a look at it myself and crossing off the fucking daughters, but that would have been impossible since the bitches are bridesmaids. I swear, Mia is truly two altogether different people sometimes. When I first met her, she was sweet and considerate, bubbly and kind, protective of her family to the point of violence. I see that side of her quite often—if Christian is, could be, or has been hurt in any way; at the garden party when Kate tripped Val; when the ugly step-sisters were talking shit about me at Miana’s last year. She can truly be one of the most selfless people and fearless defenders I’ve ever seen.

And then, there’s this other side… this catty, spoiled, petty, uncontrolled debutante brat who’s worse than Courtney ever was. It’s like a switch is flipped and she becomes someone else completely. Even though I was hysterically drunk, I still wonder how the fuck those girls got on Christian’s boat—our boat—and where the hell was Mia? I know that we can be blind to our own imperfections, but how is it that she can see a character flaw so clearly in someone else, but she can’t see it in herself? And how the hell does Ethan deal with that shit? Maybe being around Kate was good practice for him and he just doesn’t see it.

And Grace! Good God, Grace! She’s the biggest enigma of them all. She does this huge, selfless thing with her life—she’s an emergency-room pediatrician! She’s on-call at the hospital when babies get the worst owies, and when she’s not spending her time at the hospital, she’s at the Center helping battered women and broken families put their lives back together. Then, in her spare time, she’s on the committees of several charities. I don’t even know how she finds the time to do all that! And yet, she’s still able to be this self-centered, maniacal, tunneled-visioned socialite who’s more concerned about her station, image, and reputation than she is about her children’s wishes. I can halfway understand Mia being an attention hog because she’s young, but Grace?

Every opportunity she sees, she tries to steal the spotlight and make it about her. I’m surprised that she hasn’t showed up at some of the radio shows and did the interviews herself! I’m still not over the infant coming-out party! I mean, I’m over it—I don’t hold a grudge—but I still never got the concept! Jesus, is she expecting Minnie to have a debutante party? Do I want Minnie to have a debutante party? I think not!

That’s going to be another fight.

I raise my head from my desk to see the door to my study open and bottle of that heavenly Soaring Eagle Cabernet being thrust inside with a monogramed white handkerchief hanging from it. I shake my head as I remove my glasses and rub my tired eyes. My husband’s head pokes cautiously into the door as if to see if the coast is clear.

“Are you still angry with me?” he asks as he enters with two large-bowl wine glasses in hand.

“I was never angry, Christian,” I say, a bit wearily, “I was just… uncertain, maybe a little confused. It’s a feeling that I don’t like.” He pulls one of the chairs closer to the front of my desk.

“I’m sorry,” he says, placing the glasses and the wine on the desk.

“So you’ve said,” I reply with no malice. He examines me for a moment, then begins to uncork the bottle. He pours a fair amount into one glass and hands it to me. I take a healthy sip and allow it to coat my tongue and then my throat as I take a deep breath and let it out, the alcohol soothing my senses.

“Twelve offers,” he says, pouring himself a glass, “coast to coast.” I sigh.

“Twelve.” I can’t help the lamenting in my voice.

“You don’t sound pleased,” he says, bringing his glass to his mouth.

“I don’t see the point,” I admit.

“There’s a method to my madness,” he says. “You can’t see it now because I think you’re a bit too raw about the whole thing, but you will. I’ll explain it to you, but not right now.” He’s right. I couldn’t see reason in this idea if Freud, Plato, and Socrates themselves all came back from the graves and explained it in great detail at this moment. I’m kind of stuck in a “why are people in general so fucked up” moment right now. I take another sip of my wine.

“There are some decisions that we need to make, though,” he continues.

“Such as?” I ask.

“Who we’ll do the interview with; where will it take place; what questions we’ll answer; when…”

“Whoa, whoa, slow down,” I say before gulping back the rest of my wine and trying to clear my head. “You are going to have to give me some kind of idea of the purpose of this interview or I’m not going to have any idea what questions we should answer or anything else.” He raises an eyebrow at me, then immediately pours more wine into my glass. I know this is going to be a serious conversation when he sits back in the chair like this is a business meeting and crosses his legs, so I sip my wine and prepare myself.

“Among other things, we need to send a message,” he begins. “There’s this curiosity, this fascination with us—our relationship and our lifestyle—and it’s getting to the point of getting dangerous. Being me has always had its hazards as has being married to me, but it’s getting ridiculous. Where I thought time would diminish the splendor that is us, it seems to only have enhanced it. Judd Rossiter, he just an asshole. I think he would have done the same thing no matter what woman was sitting in that seat, but the fact that it was you makes the situation more sensational.

“There are people all over the place who still feel like you were a gold-digger. No matter what you say, no matter how you try to convince them otherwise, that’s still the picture that’s in their heads. I’m almost certain that’s part of the issue with your treatment by the medical board. Yes, every accusation of sexual misconduct has to be taken seriously, but do they treat every doctor that way that has to come before the board… or even every female doctor? If they had, don’t you think you would have heard something about it by now being in the medical profession?”

Unfortunately, that makes a lot of sense. I sip more of the ethereal elixir to ease the pain of this most recent cut. It hadn’t even occurred to me that the situation was personal and not just a bunch of blowhards in another boys’ club looking down on a woman who dare breach their profession.

“The fact that we are who we are means that in feast or famine, we can’t just have a normal life,” he continues, his voice even. “Your father gets arrested, my grandfather dies, you’re in a coma fighting for your life—and the press is there every time like President Obama is about to make some huge announcement. We can’t stop people from taking pictures of us on our boat or stealing kisses at the zoo with their cell phones, but we have to make it such that the pictures are old news. Yes, people will always want to know when something happens, but at some point, our every move must stop being so fascinating. And then there’s the ex-submissives and the people who seem to have a bone to pick with me…”

I knew this was coming.

“So, now, I’ve talked to two of my ex-submissives and they both had the same thing to say…” Wha… wait… back up.

“What? Two?” His lip forms a straight line.

“You. Couldn’t. Possibly. Think that woman was going to do that to you on the air and I wasn’t going to confront her,” he says, his voice firm. I raise my hands in surrender before reaching for my medicine again.

“A little warning next time?” I say, swallowing the rest of the wine and lamenting the bottom of the glass. He doesn’t fill it this time.

“Duly noted,” he says. “As I was saying, Ashanda—whose real name is Sarah Bradley, by the way—pretty much said the same thing Charity said, though not so eloquently, and she gave you the answer while you were in the interview… but there’s more to it. Yes, these women want to know how you broke the code. What did you do to achieve the unachievable? But what’s more, they’re thinking, ‘The shell has been broken; now I can get in… if I can just get close or if I can just get rid of her.’”

Well, there’s a frightening thought. I reach for my glass again, dismayed that it’s still empty. I look at my husband and, after a pause, he pours what’s left of the wine into my glass. It’s not much, so I finish it quickly.

“They think I’m just any other man now, Anastasia,” he continues. “I carry the same allure that I had before without the protective shell—you broke that. So, now, they think they can all come in and infiltrate, by any means necessary.”

That’s the exact impression Ashanda… Sarah… that cable bitch gave me. I knew she was an ex-sub—I knew immediately—but I had no doubt whatsoever that she would mount my man while I watched if given the chance. All she needed was opportunity.

And Greta… fucking Greta. I want to know where that bitch is right now. I’m certain we haven’t seen the last of her and I still feel like I haven’t taken enough out of her ass for stealing my goddamn gun.

And didn’t I say I wanted to have a heavy bag installed in the gym? Why the fuck didn’t I do that already?

“Ana?”

Oh, fuck, was he still talking?

“Are you drunk, my love?” he inquires.

“Probably a little, but right now, I’m pissed,” I admit.

“Okay, talk to me,” he says, unfazed.

“There’s really nothing to say,” I declare, jolting from my seat. “It’s the same story. It’s the same thing. No use in asking why at this point. They want a story, let’s fucking give them one. I don’t want to leave my babies, so I’m not flying to New York or some shit and I don’t care if Barbara Walters calls. We do the interview here—on location.”

“Oh, yeah, you’re drunk,” he says.

“Yes, I am, a little, but you better listen,” I reinforce, ignoring the increasing fuzziness in my head. “On location—here, Grey House, and the gun range.” His eyes grow large.

“The gun range?” he asks.

“Yes, the gun range. You’ve seen me shoot and I know my father taught you. We want to send a message, this will send one loud and fucking clear.” He raises his eyebrow at me.

“I’m not sure any interviewer is going to go for that, but we’ll try,” he says.

“Don’t patronize me, Christian. I’m very serious,” I warn.

“Oh, I can tell. We’ll run it by Mac and see what she thinks.”

I should have known better than to expect unconditional surrender. That the best I can ask for.

“You really want people traipsing through our home?” he asks.

“That was your idea first, remember? And they’ll only get what we choose to show them,” I respond. “We won’t get away with not introducing the twins, and you know that, so at least they’ll be comfortable and we’ll do it on our own terms.” His gray eyes pierce at me and I know he hadn’t considered the thought of the children being part of this exposé. “It’s our family, Christian, get used to it. They’re as much news as we are and we have to control what gets released. I won’t have my children walking around in ridiculous costumes and masks like Blanket and Paris Jackson. Something’s got to give.” He sighs heavily.

“What the fuck have I signed up for?” he laments.

*-*

I’m drinking ginger tea and nursing a small hangover after falling into a coma-like, wine-induced sleep last night. I’ve awakened to Google alerts of Judd Loser talking to whatever down-in-the-dirt gossip rag that will listen to him about me, my father, the restraining order, Christian, and any piece of bullshit and nonsense he can throw out there. Unfortunately, since he’s talking about how all this stuff relates to him, we can’t legally silence him. He has the right to speak. Personally, I’d like to put my foot in his mouth and make him shut the hell up.

“Are you staying in today?” my husband asks when he enters the dining room at breakfast and sees my face.

“I had intended on going into the Center, sending a 17th letter to the licensing board, but I guess I can do that from here. I’m not feeling very well and this isn’t helping.” I hand him my iPad so that he can see the many Google alerts I have on the goings-on of one Judd Rossiter. His brow furrows and his lips form a straight line. I can see the wheels turning. “There’s nothing you can do, Christian, I’ve already asked Al. He’s within his rights to say the things that he’s saying as long as he doesn’t slander or threaten us.”

“There’s always something I can do, my dear,” he says before going to the kitchen and pouring himself some coffee. “He’s calling you an attention seeker. That’s rich.” He sips his coffee just as Marilyn comes breezing into the room.

“Good morning, Bosslady,” she chirps.

“Must you yell?” I complain, holding my head. “And why are you so fucking chipper?” She examines me carefully.

“Somebody had a bad night,” she says matter-of-factly.

“Somebody else had a great one,” I retort.

554e4e5e57a11c7d7e9377b5b9c440e6“I did, in fact,” she says shamelessly and extends her right hand to me. On her third finger is a beautiful ring in white gold with diamonds shaped like a heart. The ring forms an arrow around her finger that shoots through the heart. She’s grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

“It’s a promise ring. Gary gave it to me last night at dinner.”

“Oh, I’m such a bitch,” I say, rising from my seat and embracing her warmly.

“You can be sometimes, but I still love you, Bosslady,” she says with mirth. I release her and take her hand again, examining the ring more closely.

“It’s really beautiful, Mare,” I say, sincerely. She nods.

“It’s perfect. It looks like it took time and thought… and it says that he loves me.” She smiles sweetly. I return her smile.

“He does,” I confirm. “In all the years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him like this. Thank you for making my friend happy.”

“He makes me happy, too,” she says, admiring her ring. Christian comes over and looks down at Marilyn’s hand.

“Hmm, Rogers and Hollands. That one’s usually in sterling silver, but he went with the white gold, custom. Man’s got good taste.” I glare at him.

“How could you possibly know all that?” I question. He just looks at me as if to say, “Did you really just ask me that?” I just shake my head.

“Yes, she had a rough night—near-repeat of the wine-drunk incident of ’12. I’m sure she’ll fill you in. Take care of her.” He turns to me and kisses me on the cheek. “Call me if you need me.” I nod as he leaves the dining room.

“Repeat of the wine-drunk incident? Do I even want to know?” Marilyn asks.

“You have to,” I say as I lead the way to the elevator. “What’s my schedule look like today? Did I have anything at the Center?” She shakes her head.

“Same stuff,” she says. “You still have people clamoring for interviews if you’re interested.”

“No need,” I say as the doors open to the lower level. “Mr. Grey has decided that we’re doing an interview together… and the event will be televised… on prime-time… nationally.” Her eyes widen.

“Seriously?” she says in an amazed whisper. “What brought this on?”

“Among other things, Ashanda… whatever the hell her last name is. Her real name is Sarah Bradley. That’s all I’m allowed to disclose at this time.”

“Ah, another blast from Mr. Grey’s past,” she says, looking at her iPad as we enter my office. I turn and glare at her.

“What do you know about it?” I ask.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, Bosslady,” she says. “I’m right on top of most if not all of the occurrences in your life. I can easily put two and two together on some of them even if I don’t know all the details… and trust me, I don’t need to know them all. I just need to know enough to do my job properly and be a friend when you need it.” I sigh.

“I’d die without you,” I say, falling into my chair.

“No, you wouldn’t, but life would be much less interesting,” she says, winking at me. I roll my eyes.

“Get a heavy bag installed in the gym, please,” I add as I open my laptop.


CHRISTIAN

I’m starting to feel like Jimmy Conway from Goodfellas. When you have to make things happen, you just have to make them happen. I’ve tried to get a gag order on this asshole and he’s talking more now than he was before. I spent the entire ride into the office going over this blowhard’s latest declarations from the rooftops and the more I read, the more he’s pissing me the fuck off. I try not to let my money go to my head, but when you’re as rich as I am, you’re not very fond of the word No.

“I need Rossiter to shut the fuck up,” I say to Jason when we get to the office. “We’re about to go primetime with intimate details of our lives. He can’t be in the bleachers spouting this bullshit to any bottom-dwelling scandal sheet while we’re opening up to the world.”

“What do you want?” he says. I raise my eyebrows at him.

“Do you need me to spell this out for you?” I ask. “We’re taking all the legal avenues that we can and nothing’s working. Do whatever you must.” I’m done being Mr. Nice Guy. I’m tired of taking the high road every chance I get only to have somebody come along and roll over me and my family with a semi-truck. I’ll continue to be an upstanding citizen as long as the law works in my favor, but when it starts to fight against me, I’m fighting back.

“Should we start with a message or balls to the wall?” he asks, his tone changing. That’s what I’m looking for.

“Start with a message,” I say. “Let him know how bad it can get if he doesn’t shut the fuck up.” Jason nods and leaves the room. I go over to the desk and dial up to PR.

“McIntyre,” she answers.

“My wife has decided the locations of our prime-time interview—Grey Crossing, here, and the gun range. What do you think of that?”

“What? The gun range? Why the hell does she want to go to the gun range?” she asks in horror.

“It may have been something I said,” I reply.

“What in God’s name did you say to that woman that would prompt her to want to do part of an intimate family interview at the gun range?” she inquires.

“Oh, things about my exes and wanting to see who I am now that I’m a kinder, gentler Christian and possibly sending a message to a few folks about a few things… After the Ashanda Beasley thing, we may need to pull out the big guns—literally!”

“You’re kidding, right?” she declares in disbelief. “You can’t do that! You’re a prominent member of the community! That’s insane! ‘Guntucky comes to Seattle.’ There’s no way…”

“Well, you get to tell her, then,” I say. “I told her that I would run it past you. If you say it’s a bad idea, you have to explain to her why we can’t do it.”

“Gladly!” she says and ends the call without another word. My publicist just hung up on me. She’s about to have it out with my wife. I have a feeling that I don’t want to have any part of that conversation.

*-*

Something about this is just not right. I’ve spent most of the morning and the better part of the afternoon—the time that I wasn’t in meetings—going over the data for Capito Industrias, a company in Madrid that seems ripe for acquisition. For all intents and purposes, it seems like a viable, prosperous company. The numbers seem solid—there’s no financial trouble according to the initial financials. The owner is a young man, around my age, so he’s not looking to retire and live out his golden years. I don’t see new technologies in the works that may call for an additional influx of capital or even a high debt ratio that might require a bailout. So… why sell? Why now? What am I missing?

I’m certain that I’ll find my answer in detailed financial statements that break down the profits and losses per operation and subsidiary, as the company as a whole seems more than capable of holding its own. My eyes are getting tired and the numbers are all beginning to run together. I’m beginning to think I may need to go to the eye doctor, but I’m too damn vain to wear glasses. I lean back in my seat to rest my eyes for a moment. Of course, the whole interview situation comes to mind and it occurs to me that I haven’t heard back from Mac about her conversation with Butterfly. The longer I sit here with my eyes closed, the better they feel and the more I convince myself that I don’t need glasses. My victory dance is interrupted by my buzzing phone in my pocket and I have to squint to see a number that I don’t recognize.

“Grey,” I answer.

“Yes, Christian… Mr. Grey… do you have a moment?” the voice says. He’s trying to sound firm, but there’s a hint of trepidation in his voice.

“Who is this?” I ask.

“It’s, um… Marvin. Marvin Hammerstone.”

I pause for a moment because clearly, I’m hearing things.

“Excuse me, who?” I ask. This must be a joke.

“It’s Marvin Hammerstone… Judge Marvin Ham…”

“I know who the fuck you are how did you get this number and why are you calling me?” I say all in one breath. I hear a heavy sigh.

“I’m a judge. I can get anybody’s number,” he replies with no malice.

“In that case, I hope you’re calling me in an official capacity, considering that you’re a judge and all and you used your official resources to obtain my private cell phone number even though you and I have no official business,” I state matter-of-factly.

“No, this is a personal matter,” he says, as if I didn’t already know.

“You and I have even less personal business, Hammerstone,” I retort. “I have no reason whatsoever to be speaking to you.”

“I won’t take up much of your time…”

“You won’t take up any of my time,” I correct him.

“If you would just allow me to get a few words out…” he says, trailing off and clearly frustrated. Eh, why not? This could be fun.

“State your business and make it quick,” I retort. I hear him take another deep breath before he speaks.

“I promised my wife that I would call you and try to appeal to you on her behalf,” he begins. “She was looking forward to attending Mia Grey’s wedding very much, and now she’s quite brokenhearted that the invitation has been rescinded. I didn’t make the connection when she first told me about the wedding, but now that she has accepted the invitation, she’s feeling heavily shunned that she will be missing the ‘social event of the century,’ as she put it.”

He pauses for a moment, apparently expecting me to weigh in on the matter, I think. He gets nothing. I don’t care that his wife has her knickers in a wad because she won’t get to “hobnob with the snobs” at my sister’s wedding. When I don’t respond, he continues.

“She pressed further to discover that you didn’t want me in attendance and demanded that we be stricken from the list…” Oh, thanks, Mom.

“Not that I really care what you think, but that’s not what happened,” I correct him. “I told my sister that if the judge who used my misfortune as a stepping stone to strengthen his political platform would be in attendance at her wedding, then I wouldn’t be. I didn’t demand anything, Marvin. I just suppose my sister would rather have her brother present at her nuptials than a judge that she doesn’t even know and his wife who simply doesn’t want to miss out on the ‘social event of the century.’ Whatever tale my mother spun for your wife to placate her, well, I can’t be held responsible for that,” I add coolly.

“Whatever the logistics, Grey, the bottom line is that we were uninvited from the wedding at your behest. My wife is aware of this, and it’s been absolute utter hell dealing with her ever since she first got the news. I know you don’t owe me anything…”

“That’s an understatement,” I interject. He sighs.

“But I’m asking if just this once, we can set aside our differences or come to some mutual understanding for just one evening. We most likely won’t even bump into each other at the wedding. It’s being held at the historical theater—I’m certain that we can avoid each other’s company in a venue that size if my presence would disturb you that much… and I certainly have no problem being civil should our paths cross. What do you say, Grey?”

It’s a perfectly logical argument. There will be people in attendance that I probably won’t see all night… but they ain’t Hammerstone.  

“Differences?” I repeat, appalled. “Differences? You tried to put me jail because I decked the drunk driver who totaled my car, tried to kill me, then tried to say it was my fault, and you call that differences? You tried to make an example of me because of a knee-jerk reaction, not because I had seven vodka tonics for lunch! Yet you want me to let ‘bygones be bygones’ because your wife’s little feelings are hurt since she can’t hang out with the cool kids. You tried to make me look like a menace to society because it was an election year and you wanted to look good. The hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners, Judge Marvin Hammerstone—punisher of evil billionaires and protector of killer drunk drivers everywhere! Well, congratulations, judge, you got your wish. Now, you’re taking up my valuable and precious time and I don’t wish to talk to you anymore.” He can sense that I’m about to end the call.

“Grey, just wait a second!” he says quickly, his voice panicked. God, he sounds desperate. She must be really giving him hell… or she’s got something on him and is telling him to make this happen by any means necessary. This is even better than I thought. “Look, you want an apology, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was too concerned with my campaign and getting elected, I’ll admit that. You want revenge, you got it. You got me over a real barrel here, Grey. I’ll owe you big time. I’ll even make that pesky conviction go away.”  I literally laugh in his ear.

“You’re kidding, right?” I say, pretending to attempt to hide my mirth. “Have you been paying attention, Marvin? Exactly how has that assault conviction hurt me in the last two years? Anything that little conviction can do to me, I can buy my way around it… legally. I was even able to get a CCW last year. So, why the hell would I care if it’s still on my record? It gives me a little character. I’m not perfect. ‘I lost my temper because a drunk asshole almost killed me and then tried to blame me for it.’ I’ve never been squeaky clean, Hammerstone, and I never will be, but try to find something on me and you’ll come up empty-handed. I don’t give a fuck about a misdemeanor assault conviction! What the hell does that mean to me? Bask in your victory over the big, bad rich man, Hammerstone. How does it feel? You need to tell the little wifey to get over it. My sister can invite anyone she wants to her wedding and reception, but if you’re there, I’m not coming. And it appears that she wants me there more than she wants you.”

“Come on, Grey, what do I have to do?” He’s really begging now and I’m so curious to know what’s at stake and why this is so important to him, but hearing him beg is enough for me. “You just don’t get it. My wife has to be at that wedding! I’ll do anything that will give you vindication. Anything!” Ah, the magic word.

“Oh, I’ve already gotten vindication,” I retort. “Because of you and your self-serving tactics, I met my loving wife. I now have two beautiful children and a full, wonderful life. So, thanks, Your Honor, you really did me a solid without even trying… but I still don’t want to break bread with you and especially not at my sister’s wedding! So, if your wife’s happiness is dependent on me giving permission for you to attend that wedding, prepare her for bad news. Don’t call me again. We have nothing else to discuss.”

I end the call and put the phone on my desk. Then I call up to PR on my desk phone.

“Public Relation, Josh Shaler speaking.”

“Joshua, hi. Where’s Mac?” I ask.

“She left sometime this morning. I think she went to talk to Ana. I haven’t heard from her since.” Good grief, what happened?

“Well, my wife hasn’t called me, so I would say that there haven’t been any major catastrophes, so I guess I’ll just wa…” Before I get the words out of my mouth, a knock at the door interrupts my thoughts and Mac enters very shortly thereafter. She does not look happy. “Never mind. She just walked into my office.” I end the call and turn my attention to Mac. “Mac?” I say cautiously.

“So… you’re doing the interview on location… at the mansion, here… and the gun range.”

I take it she didn’t win that fight.

*-*

This has been a long fucking day and I’m ready to go home in the worst way. I still never got to the bottom of why Capito wants to sell. At least the answer isn’t in the financials. I’ve sent a request to the company’s CFO for the detailed financials from the last three years so that I can examine them for trends and compare them to the master statements. I’m all for buying a solid company with no problems if someone just wants to sell, but I’ve learned the hard way that all that glitters is definitely not gold.

I’m shutting down my laptop and putting some files in my briefcase when my phone buzzes in my pocket again. I fully expect to see my wife’s face when I pull the phone from my pocket, but to my surprise, it’s my mother. I haven’t spoken to her since I hung up on her that day after telling her that I wouldn’t be attending Mia’s wedding. I’ve talked to Mia, but not Mom. I sit back down at my desk and answer the phone.

“Hello.”

“Hello, Christian. How are you?” she says.

“I’m fine, Mom, how are you?”

“I’m fine. Did Ana tell you that I wanted you to call me?”

“Yes, she did. I’m sorry I didn’t call. Things got a little crazy and I just didn’t get around to it.” It’s the truth. It didn’t cross my mind with everything else that’s been going on. She’s silent for a moment, then of course, she gets to the real reason for her call.

“I didn’t know that Marvin was… Well, I didn’t know anything about the accident until Ana told me,” she begins. “Janise and I have been friends for a really long time, even before she and Marvin met. It would really mean a lot to me if you would reconsider…”

“Mom, I’m not having dinner with that man,” I interrupt her. “That’s all I have to say on the matter.”

“He actually called to see if you would consent to allowing Janise to attend without him. You won’t have to see him and my friendship with Janise can remain unscathed.”

Unscathed? Did she just use that word? She threw me under the bus—her own son—so that her friendship with Janise can remain unscathed and now she’s trying to appeal to me to save it? Seriously?

This is your mother, Christian. This is your mother.

“Mia turned her entire list over to me and I only made one request. I didn’t even bother counting all the hundreds of names on that list—I only made one request, just one. Don’t invite the man who tried to put me in jail. I didn’t ask for anyone else to be removed from the guest list and quite frankly, I’m not trying to make anything easier for that fucker since he had no intention of making anything easier for me when he threatened to throw me in jail.”

“Christian!” she says in that appalled mother tone. “Language! And I’m not asking a favor for him. I’m asking for me and a dear friend of mine…” Like Elena was a dear friend of yours.

Why the hell did my mind go there?

“Well, which is it, Mom?” I accuse. “You told me that he called to see if I would consent to allow Janise to attend with him. Now, you’re saying the favor’s not for him. What’s more is right before he called you, he called me and I told him that I wouldn’t consent to his wife coming to the wedding. So, now he’s going to tell my mommy on me? Is that it? You’re getting a little carried away with your lies, Mom.”

“What?” she nearly shrieks into the phone. “How dare you speak to me like that!” And that’s it. The conversation has just taken a nosedive and can no longer be productive, not that it ever was.

“I’ve had about enough, Mom,” I say soberly. “You told that man’s wife that I demanded that they be scratched from the list when I did no such thing. You told me that my wife said I would hack up Mia’s guest list and that was a blatant lie, too. Now, you just told me that you weren’t do a favor for Hammerstone when moments before, you admitted that he called you to ask if his wife could attend without him. I love you, Mom, and I’ve just gotten to a point where I can be open and affectionate with people. Don’t make me shut down.” I hear her gasp on the phone.

“You would do that to me, Christian?” she asks in that voice.

“And there it is,” I say, somewhat defeated. “In situations like this, it’s always about you. It’s never about anyone else. You’re not always this way, but when you are, you’re unbearable. Did you really know why I was a recluse, Mother?” I say, reverting back to the name that I had used with her for so many years. “Did you really know why I didn’t socialize or come to events or anything? It’s because I wanted to protect myself. It was bad enough that I didn’t trust anybody, but the wealthier I became, the more proverbial guns were aimed at me. If I stayed out of the way—concealed, hidden, private—I was less of a target. I never thought I’d be a target for my own mother, though.”

“Christian… you can’t seriously feel that way,” she says, her voice cracking, but I don’t feel any sympathy.

“Sadly, Mother, I do. But don’t worry, it’s not just me. It’s Ana; it’s Elliot and Valerie; even Ethan and Mia. She doesn’t see it because she loves this whole circus thing, but you’re inviting people to her wedding that she doesn’t even know and you’re doing that for whom… for Mia? Keep telling yourself that. Maybe you’ll believe it soon, but the truth is that you’re pushing your own agenda at our expense and we’re being forced to stand up to you.

“You lied to me about my wife, and you don’t see anything wrong with that. Then you turn right around and lie on me to the wife of a man that you know I despise so that you can save face, and you don’t see anything wrong with that, either. And you continue to lie whenever and however it suits you, indiscriminately. How many more lies have you told?

“I’ve never seen this side of you, Mother, and I don’t like it. Correction, I’ve seen it with any event of any importance that has happened in our lives since my wedding and I don’t like one bit. Maybe it was always there and I just didn’t know it because I wasn’t around… I wasn’t involved in family social events like I am now… Maybe I need to do that again…”

“Christian, please, don’t…” my mother beseeches, her voice pleading like I don’t ever remember before.

“I can’t take this anymore, Mom,” I say, going back to the term of endearment I’d adopted for her since Butterfly broke down my walls. “I don’t like this Grace. I don’t know this Grace. The Grace that I’ve known—the one that rescued me from squalor and starvation…”

The words burn in my throat as I remember—vividly—sitting on an exam table, screaming inside while the doctors and nurses touched me. They were only trying to help me, but it was torture. I wanted my mommy, and she was gone. She was cold and dead and I still remember her body when they took me out of that apartment, even if now, I can’t remember her face. But there was an angel there, and she was so nice to me. She looked at me, and I knew that somehow, everything would be okay.

“Christian?” my mother’s voice breaks through my thoughts.

“The Grace I knew was kind, giving, and considerate,” I choke. “She heard me when I couldn’t talk and she saved children from the boogey man even when she couldn’t save me. She sat with me and let me sniffle; she heard my screams when I couldn’t say a word. She brought home little helpless girls with drug addictions and night terrors that could be saved…”

My chest is burning from the thought of Mia screaming in the night at nothing, then waking—shaken and not knowing what was happening and sometimes, not knowing where she was. I helped to save her even when nobody could save me.

“My wife chased away my monsters, but the angel Grace did everything she could to save me from them. Every day, she went to the hospital and put broken kids back together, then she came home and took care of me. She went to the ‘Hands’ place and saved other Mommies and kids from the boogey man even if my mommy couldn’t be saved.”

“Christian…” My mother’s voice is soft and broken, but I can’t help her. I miss my angel Grace, and I don’t like this person in her place. I can’t deal with this person in her place. I won’t.

“I gotta go, Mom,” I choke, my voice cracking. “I’ll ta… I gotta go.” I end the call and put my head down on my desk, fighting hard to chase the demons away that threaten to break free and invade my peace once more.

*-*

I’ve tamed the monsters a bit and my mood has calmed considerably by the time I reach the Crossing, but I’m still in desperate need of my wife. She’s not in the usual places, so I head down to her office and find her sitting in the community room with Sophie. They don’t appear to be discussing anything serious, but I really hate to disturb them. Sophie takes one look at me and it appears I don’t have to.

“I’m… um… going to go and see if Momma Gail has some snacks,” she says with a smile to Butterfly and makes a hasty getaway. I try to play it cool. I really do, but all I can do is sink to my knees and embrace her, laying my head in her soft bosom. I can tell she’s a bit taken aback, but she just strokes my hair in that comforting way that makes everything better.

“Are you okay?” she asks softly. I nod.

“It’s been a rough day,” I admit, snuggling deeper into her chest and looking for that eternal comfort.

“How so?” she asks.

“You first. Mac looked a little beat down when she got back to the office.”

“Beat down? I didn’t beat her down,” she defends.

“Well, she was certainly more subdued than I’ve ever seen her,” I say, my voice low. “What did you say to her?”

“No.” That’s all she gives me.

“No, what?”

“No. That’s what I said.”

“No? Nothing else?”

“Nothing else,” she says. “She called and told me that we couldn’t do the interview at the gun range because we would look like backwoods vigilantes. I whole-heartedly disagree. I resent the fact that everybody who exercises their right to bear arms are immediately labeled as some backwoods crazy hicks from Deliverance. It’s not fair. And the more she talked, the more dug-in I became. It became imperative for me to show the world what this pretty little petite billionairess is made of. So, no matter what she said, I just said, ‘no.’ I vetoed every single rebuttal without explanation. The bottom line is that if I want to show up on television with a tooth blacked out, two high pigtails, and a plaid, tied flannel shirt like Daisy Duke, there’s not a damn thing anybody can do about it. So… no.”

Wow. I guess I can see why Mac was a bit downtrodden. She’s accustomed to getting her way because she can easily break you down with logic and reason. Only this time, Butterfly wasn’t hearing logic or reason or anything else. She was dug in, and Mac met dug-in Butterfly… and lost.

“I need to make some changes,” I confess. I can feel her gaze on me.

“What kind of changes?” she asks.

“I think I need to distance myself from my mother for a while.” The pause isn’t only pregnant, as Allen would call it, it’s tangible.

“You what?” she asks in disbelief.

“She’s out of control,” I say calmly. “It’s not just the wedding. It’s her whole attitude. I can’t take it and I need to step back before I start to resent her. She and Hammerstone ganged up on me today…”

“Whoa whoa wait what?” she says all in one breath pulling me back to look at my face.

“Hammerstone got his uninvite to Mia’s wedding and apparently his wife is giving him fresh hell about it. So, he called me hoping for relief. Finding none, he decides to tell my mommy on me and then she calls me trying to pressure me to give in and at least allow his wife to attend the wedding. Remember when I told you that she lied on you about what you said about Mia’s guest list?” She nods. “Well, she told his wife that I demanded that they be removed from the list and that’s why they were uninvited when that’s not what happened. I just said that I wasn’t coming if they were.”

“Oh, dear God,” she groans, shaking her head. “She’s becoming impossible.”

“It’s worse,” I reveal. “She contradicted herself to me on the phone almost in the same breath. I don’t know that woman anymore. She’s becoming the epitome of what’s been toxic to me my whole life.” I pause. “She caused me to regress today.”

“Oh, my God!” Butterfly exclaims. “Are you okay??”

“I think so… I will be… I am right now,” I say, wrapping my arms around her and holding her tighter. “I might have to talk to Dr. Baker though. My feelings today were pretty vivid. I could see the same things I saw when I was a little boy in the hospital after the crack whore died. I hope I haven’t opened any doors that I’ve long since closed. What do you do when the person that you trusted above everyone else betrays that trust?” I shiver at the thought of my perfect savior being flawed just like everyone else. “I called her Mother.” Butterfly leans back and looks into my eyes.

“That’s not good,” she says. “You’re already distancing yourself.”

“I know,” I reply.

“Do you know why?” I shrug.

“Protection, I think,” I respond. “It’s a defense mechanism. Remove myself from the problem. It’s all I know to do. It’s all I’ve ever done when the issue’s bigger than me… until the issue isn’t bigger than me anymore.”

“That’s why you’ve been a recluse all these years,” she observes.

“It was easier to avoid people than to answer the ‘are you gay’ and ‘when are you getting married’ and ‘when are you bringing a girl home’ questions, especially since I was beating little brown-haired girls every weekend. How do you explain that?” I push myself off her lap, suddenly needing some distance, some movement. I’m restless. I undo my tie and snatch it from my neck.

I need a drink.

Noting my agitation, Butterfly goes to the bar and retrieves a decanter and a brandy snifter. She pours the amber liquid into the glass and pushes towards me. I down the whole thing without even tasting it, allowing the fluid to sear the back of my throat and my chest as it goes down.

I feel like a kid who has just learned that there’s no Santa Clause. I love my mother. I adore her—and this entire situation is burning my soul like this goddamn liquor is burning my fucking chest. She’s slowly robbing me of the one non-verbal safe-haven that I had… the one place that I could hide where I didn’t have to ask if I could go—besides under Mrs. Franklin’s porch for lemonade, that is.

Jesus… Mrs. Franklin… Aunt Tina. I haven’t thought about her in a long time. I wonder how she is these days? God, I am regressing.

I thrust my hands into my hair and squeeze my eyes shut. I feel like my head is going to explode. Breathe, Grey, breathe. I hear the clank of glass on glass and raise my head to see that more brandy is in the snifter. Is this what I need right now? Do I really need this?

Fuck, yes, I need this now!

I take the glass like the fluid is the antidote to some lethal poison—which it just may be at present—and down it once more, sighing heavily once the glass is empty, the alcohol burning a trek down my chest once more.

“Talk to me,” her voice says firmly. I’m leaning on the bar, my hands spread wide and my head down. It’s not my wife’s voice that I hear… it’s Dr. Grey.

“She saved me,” I say softly. “When I had no hope in anything… in anyone… in myself… in life… she saved me. She made me see the world differently—not a whole lot differently, but differently. She made me not feel so… lost… so alone. I still felt alone, but not so alone. Nobody else understood me, but I could connect to her…”

I’m not explaining this right. It was so much more than this. It was so much deeper. I remove my jacket and toss it on… something—a chair, something. I hear footsteps and I immediately fear discovery, so I begin walking, ducking into the first door that I see. I try to close the door behind me, but she’s hot on my heels, the decanter and the snifter still in her hands. She says nothing when she enters the room.

“Would you like to sit, or would you rather stand?” she says, her voice professional. I swallow hard.

“I’d… rather stand,” I say, my voice breathy. My head is a little cloudy now. The brandy is starting to take effect.

“Very well.” She enters the room and closes the door behind her. I realize that she has followed me into her parlor. I walk over to the fireplace and lean on the mantle, trying to collect my thoughts. “You said she saved you. You could connect to her…”

“It was more than that!” I blurt out. “She didn’t just save me; she was my savior! She was my messiah! She was my last and only representation that the world was someplace that I wanted to be at all when I felt that living was the last thing I wanted to do. I was a kid—too young to know anything about suicide, but all I could think about was leaving this place and ending it all and she was the only thing, the only thing, that made me not want to do that. As much as I adore Mia, as much of an impact as she had on me, Grace was the element that made me not want to leave this earth.”

There it is. I’ve said it. After 27 years, I’ve finally put it into words. The ugly truth…

“The crack whore left me… my mommy left me. I stayed with her body for four days. I don’t remember her face, but I remember her body. I’ve seen pictures of her face. I have a picture of her face, but I still don’t remember her face… but I remember her body. I remember her being cold—freezing fucking cold… and blue. First, she was warm… then she was cold. I tried to cover her with my blanket, but she was still cold, and now I know why I don’t remember her face.”

I close my eyes and rub them, trying to remove the image that I saw right before they found me… right before they took me away.

“I remember that her skin was shiny… and she was bigger… not a lot bigger, but bigger… and she looked sick… Something was coming out of her nose and mouth—something white and it looked like blood was mixed with it…”

I put my hands in my hair again and scratch my scalp, trying to release the pressure on my skull.

“I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew something was wrong. I knew she was gone and she wasn’t coming back and I wanted her to please take me with her. I wanted her to please not leave me behind with this monster…” … with the man that put the firesticks on my skin…

“When the strangers came and took me away, I just knew he was going to come and get me. I just knew that if she was my mother, he was my father. I waited for years… I waited in terror for years for him to come and get me. That’s why the nightmares never went away… They were waiting for him… waiting for him to come back.”

It’s only now that I realize that I’m pacing the room, and only because my leg bumps the coffee table, which now holds yet another serving of brandy in the snifter. I take the snifter, but only hold it this time as I pace around the room.

“Every day, I waited. I waited for him to come and get me. I never got comfortable no matter where I was. For years, I didn’t talk to anybody. I didn’t make any friends. I didn’t get close. I didn’t let anybody in. I clung to the one person who showed me kindness… to Grace. They didn’t let her take me home immediately. I had to go to foster care for a while, but I don’t even remember those people. I don’t remember that place. I only remember Grace.

“I remember the house in Detroit with the big yard with the plum tree. I used to take a plum and put it in my drawer every night so I wouldn’t be hungry. Sometimes, when the nightmares woke me up, I ate my plum, went outside and got another one off the tree. Grace thought the neighborhood kids were picking them. If she ever knew that it was me, she never let on.”

I look down into the brandy glass, the fluid staring back at me beckoning me to take a sip.

“She was the reason I held on. She was the reason I didn’t let go. She was the reason I felt like things would get better even though most times, they just felt like they were getting worse. She was the reason I wanted to be and do more—not Elena and her whips and the sex… it was Grace. The sex and the lifestyle was motivation and drive to change, but not… reason. It didn’t give me the desire to change; it was a means to an end. Grace was that end—being a better son; being a better student; a better person, a better citizen, making her proud…”

My chest is tightening and the room feels like its spinning. It probably is with the amount of brandy that I’ve consumed, and I desperately want to drink what’s in my hand, but my vision is blurring and I’m thinking that it may not be the best idea.

Then I realize that it’s not the brandy blurring my vision.

“She was my savior!” I weep. “She gave me hope when I had none. I put her on a pedestal because she made me think she had no flaws—that she was this perfect angel who fixed broken children and saved lost souls and protected the weak and now…”

e65623ac380d0efb893cf9780ddb72afI’m back at the mantle, leaning on it and sobbing bitterly. I finally down the brandy in the snifter and throw the damn thing into the fireplace. I’m mourning and anguished and my legs turn to jelly beneath me and suddenly, I feel nothing but grief—total grief and despair over every possible thing that is, has, and can go wrong in my life. Blackness feels like it’s consuming me and I see the crack whore’s pimp and Pops’ death, Butterfly’s kidnapping and the Myricks hacking into my system and destroying my company, nuclear holocaust and my daughter growing up to become a stripper, the stock market crashing and the plagues of the Apocalypse… I’m that little boy all over again, huddled in the corner covering my eyes and praying for the monsters to leave and not eat me alive…

And then I feel her arms.

We’re on the floor between the table and the fireplace and her tiny body is coiled around mine. I’m sweating profusely and weeping uncontrollably and she’s kissing my forehead, holding me close to her, stroking my hair, rocking me, “ssshhhing” and saying soothing things.

“It’s okay…”
“I’m here now…”
“You’re safe…”
“You’re going to be fine…”

And again, I see the monsters hiss and retreat.

I’m exhausted… and maybe a little drunk… or a lot drunk, who knows… and I don’t know how I’m going to get up from this spot, not that I want to right now. The mournful sound of my crying is getting on my nerves now, so I stop, even though the tears continue to fall. I groan in misery and I can’t lift my head, so I just let it fall into her lap as she continues to soothe me. I don’t know how long I lie there in her lap, tears still falling, my wife and doctor caressing the ache from my head and soul when I remember something that I wanted to tell her.

“I may need glasses,” I slur, without raising my head.

“Mm,” she grunts.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“I think you’d look hot in glasses,” she says. “Do I get to pick them?”


A/N: Jimmy Conway— James Burke (born James Conway), also known as Jimmy the Gent, and The Irishman (July 5, 1931 – April 13, 1996)—gangster portrayed by Robert DeNiro in the movie The Goodfellas.

I’ve talked about the movie Deliverance before—dueling banjos, guys stuck in the wilderness, male rape, “squeal like a pig…” You’re going to have to Google that one.

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at 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 20—Le Gasp    

I see that a lot of people couldn’t get with introspective, sensitive Christian. I actually lost readers because of it! I guess I should have left him a hard-nosed, uncaring, brunette-beating Neanderthal and maybe they would have stayed. It was still in the single digits, but I had more people unsubscribe after reading a chapter where Christian showed a little insecurity, sensitivity, and introspection on his behavior than I had unsubscribe after the chapter that was labeled as the “rape” chapter! Oh, well, C’est la vie.

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 20—Le Gasp       

ANASTASIA

“Ana, do you have a minute?”

I raise my head from my laptop and the 14th letter that I’m composing to send to the licensing board to see Courtney standing inside of my doorway.

“Sure. Is everything okay?” I ask, gesturing to the seat in front of my desk.

“Yeah, everything’s fine. I just want your opinion on some… well… I need to talk to you.” She sits in the seat in front of me. I can see she’s a bit agitated.

“What is it?” I ask, removing my glasses and entwining my fingers. She sighs.

“I think I know what I want to do,” she says, focusing on her fidgeting fingers.

“With what?” I ask. She raises her eyes to me.

“With my life!” she announces.

“Oh.” This is big. “Do tell.” She sighs again.

“I think I want to go into social work,” she says. I raise my eyebrows and she raises her hands in defense. “Don’t think I’m getting all Florence Nightingale and shit,” she adds. The thought might have crept briefly across my mind. “I’ve been thinking about this ever since Jack, Jr.”

I remember Jack, Jr., and our encounter with Monster Bitch, which led to my subsequent early maternity leave.

“That kid was in really bad shape. I’ve seen some kids come through here that are pretty screwed up by their circumstances, but Jack, Jr., was on his last leg and it took everything to bring him back. I kind of know how that feels.” She drops her head. “I know it’s a bad thing to say, considering the fact that my grandparents gave me damn near everything, but I still know how it feels to want to curl up and die… to think that your whole world is crumbling around you…” She’s silent for a moment and I can tell that she’s in deep contemplation.

“Do you need a session?” I ask. Courtney and I don’t have a schedule. I just let her talk when she feels like talking. She shakes her head.

“No,” she says, her voice laced with sadness. “I just… didn’t know I’d miss her this much.” A single tear falls down her cheek, but she wipes it away quickly. “Anyway, I want to be a social worker. I want to help kids. I mean, I want to help anybody who needs help, but mostly, I want to help kids. Kids are truthful—brutally honest, but they still don’t judge you on sight. They’re what’s good in the world before the world corrupts them with biases and prejudice. Any way that I can help them or protect them… that’s what I want to do.”

I. Am. Stunned.

“Wow,” I say in genuine amazement. “That has to be the most profound thing I think I’ve ever heard you say.” She shrugs.

“I’m not trying to impress you,” she says. “I mean, I want to impress you, but I’m not trying to.”

“Mission accomplished,” I reply. “Have you looked into classes?”

“That’s why I wanted to talk to you. I don’t know where to start.” I nod. Someone who never considered school wouldn’t know where to start.

“How do you plan to pay for it?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I’ve heard that you can get financial aid, but I don’t know how that works.”

“Let’s narrow down schools for you first. Then, you can apply for financial aid and see what you’re eligible for.” I open Google. “So, I’m a U-Dub girl myself, but even I started at community college. I really think that would be best for you, too.” She nods and brings her chair around my desk to sit next to me. She retrieves a notepad and pen and turns her attention to the monitor. “I went to Bates, but I didn’t know what I wanted at the time. So, any college would have sufficed. Not that Bates wasn’t a great school, but if you already know what you want to specialize in, you’ll want to do your research on the best choices—and on what financial aid they offer…”

We spend most of the afternoon researching schools and Courtney appears to be very serious about her decision. She’s narrowed her choices down to two schools and with the financial assistance available, I think she’s going to go with Seattle Central. She has scribbled so much in that notebook that I think she’s nearly used all the remaining pages. That’s when she makes a confession to me that I never would have considered.

“Why didn’t you just copy and paste the information into an email?” I ask. She twists her lips.

“I haven’t been in my email in months,” she says. “I don’t have a computer.”

One of those not-so-small things that you take for granted.

“Courtney, you can’t go to college without a computer,” I say. She shrugs.

“Colleges have libraries and computer labs…”

“… That every other kid who doesn’t have a computer will get to before you do. Trust me, I speak from experience.”

“We’ll have a lab here soon… won’t we?” she says, her voice hopeful.

“Why don’t you have a computer?” I ask. “You had one before, didn’t you?” Didn’t she?

“I had one at my grandmother’s house,” she says matter-of-factly. “You can imagine that I didn’t get to take it with me when I left.”

“You haven’t had one since then?” I ask. She shakes her head. “Are you afraid to have one in your apartment? Do you think it would be safe there?” She shrugs.

“Nobody really bothers me,” she says. “I know the guys in the neighborhood. They’re not the best sort… you know, not like gangs or anything, but… well, you know…” Yeah, I know. “They kinda look out for me, though. I haven’t had any trouble.” I nod.

“I’m going to get you a laptop,” I tell her, “something small and functional that you can carry inconspicuously.” She raises her eyebrow at me. “You can’t attend college without a computer.”

“My pride wants to tell you not to do that, but the real me is jumping up and down inside like, ‘Hot damn!’” she confesses. I laugh openly. At least she’s honest. “I’m saving my money to move anyway,” she adds. “Sure, the guys look out for me, but there’s just too much that happens in that neighborhood. I feel safe in my apartment, but getting to my apartment is a different story.” I sigh.

“You don’t have a car, and you’re afraid to walk home?” she pauses.

“It’s only a few streets that make me nervous, but yeah, it can be an adventure.” She tries to laugh it off.

“How much do you have saved?” I ask.

“I’m working on enough for security and first and last month’s rent in a better part of town—not the best, but better,” she says.

“You didn’t answer my question,” I say. “How much?”

“About $800,” she says, her voice small. Eight hundred? What is that going to cover?

“Where are you trying to move?” I ask horrified. She pauses again.

“No, Ana!” she says firmly. I haven’t said anything.

“What?” I ask.

“No!” she says again. “I know you! I know what you’re thinking, and no! I’ve been okay so far. I’ll be fine.”

“And things are about to change,” I tell her. “You can’t stay there and go to school and work. You don’t even feel safe walking home!” She sighs heavily.

“Ana, I can’t…” she begins.

“Courtney…”

“Ana, I can’t!” she says again. “I have to earn what I get. Financial aid, okay. Laptop—shaky, but okay. Large sums of money, new apartment… no! I can’t. I can’t explain it to you, but I can’t do it.” She drops her gaze to her lap.

“What if there was a way for you to earn it?” I ask. She raises her head.

“What? Are you going to come up with some crazy scheme where I play hopscotch with a kid and make ten grand?” she says skeptically. Well, maybe not something so fickle, but I had plans of the sort.

“Listen, Courtney,” I begin, turning to face her. “You’ve lived in crumby subsidized housing for nearly a year. You never complained once. You started in a shelter, and you didn’t even wave a red flag for help. You’ve worked your butt off, and you haven’t asked for attention, reimbursement, or any extra privileges. You won’t even let me call your grandmother. You’ve worked here part-time and you’ve only taken your salary and an occasional meal and that’s it. Now, you come to me and tell me that you want to go to school for social work—a job that gives back to the community on every level. Anything that can be done to get you to that point is not a gift—it’s an investment, because you have a responsibility to succeed. You can’t do that if you don’t feel safe getting to your own home. You’re going to be keeping some late nights. How are you going to feel walking home from school trying to get to your apartment after the library has closed?”

She drops gaze to her lap. She knows I’m right.

“Goddammit, Ana,” she says just above a whisper, “I can’t be that girl again. I can’t…”

“Then don’t,” I tell her. “Be better. Show me, show yourself that you can be better, that you deserve more.” She shakes her head.

“I’ve got a lot of debts to repay,” she says, “emotional debts… I was a bad person…”

“And you may never repay all those debts, it’s just the way of life. You deciding that you want to go to school and be more is the first step to shaping a better future for yourself. Don’t spend your time living in regret while you’re trying to get there.” She sniffs and I can tell that she’s desperately fighting tears.

“Safer,” she says softly. “That’s it. I’m not letting you pay for some grand place with a view of Elliot Bay and try to say it’s your way of paying it forward…”

Grand view of Elliot Bay…

Oh, shit.

“You’re gonna hate me,” I say, rolling my eyes.

“What?” she says, furrowing her brow.

“I’ve got a place you can stay that wouldn’t cost me an extra penny,” I say. “It’s perfect for your needs and I wouldn’t have to pay security or first month’s rent or any of that.”

“Where?” she asks, surprised.

“My condo,” I tell her. “It’s centrally located; it’ll be easy to get to the Center, easier to get to school and one of the safest places you’ll ever live—and I already have a computer and Wi-Fi. It’s Cristalla Condos, though, and yes, it overlooks Elliot Bay. You would just have to deal with security dropping by every week. I’m already paying association fees on the damn thing. Somebody might as well use it.” Her eyes widen.

“You’re out of your mind!” she exclaims.

“You’re out of your mind if you turn it down!” I retort. “You were willing to take my money if I wanted to spend it on a hole in the wall somewhere. Now, I have a great place for you to live at no extra expense for me and you won’t take it!” The whole thing really sounds ridiculous… ridiculous enough for her to give in.

“This can’t be happening,” she laments.

“Nobody’s living in it. I love that place, but it’s just going to waste. It probably needs a good cleaning. You’ll honestly be doing me a favor.” She looks at me with that yeah, right look in her eyes before dropping her head to her hands again

“God, Ana,” she says, rubbing her forehead. “I mean, it’s really great, but…” She trails off.

“I get that you don’t want to become the person that you were before,” I tell her, “but we need you safe, and you need you safe. Now, I would hope that once you become a social worker, you would put some of your time in here…”

“Of course!” she says, clearly offended that I would even question her. I smile.

“Which is why I’m making this investment. This place is very important to me… more than I can tell you. Its vision and mission were created and are now perpetuated by a woman who is the sole reason that I have the man that I love and my beautiful children. If I had someplace like this available to me when I was younger, I’m sure that I wouldn’t have suffered what I did. So, yes, it means a lot to me, and anything that will help this place grow and help more people is worth anything I’m allowed to invest in it. So, you don’t want to be that girl again. That’s going to take some serious work with the package I’m offering you and I’m going to be watching you… very closely, believe me.” She scoffs.

“Well, that’s enough to make me keep my shit straight,” she says, her voice cracking. “I wouldn’t want you thinking I’m worthless, too.” Her voice gets very small with the last words. I want to hug her, but I know that’ll only cause the water works to flow.

“I have rules, though,” I tell her.

“I expect you would,” she replies.

“No parties, nobody sleeps in my room, and don’t fuck up my house. I come by when I want and I’ll do my best to announce myself before I do. Sometimes, I just sneak in when I need some type of normal for a little while. Other than that, we can get you moved in as soon as you’re ready.”

“Can we go now?” she laughs, her voice still cracking.

“School first, beautiful ocean-view condo later.” She takes the mouse and begins clicking on the links on the page, then feverishly scribbling on the notepad again. “Oh, God, stop.” I tell her. She looks at me strangely and moves her hand from the mouse. I take the mouse and maneuver back to Google, then to Gmail.

“Set up a new email,” I tell her, pushing the mouse towards her. “It won’t be a problem after this.” She smiles.

“Right,” she says, taking the mouse and setting up her free account. She set up something easy to remember, then begins to copy and paste key information into an email. She’s gotten pretty far in her research on my desktop, making calls to Seattle Central and setting appointments to meet with advisors and the financial aid department while I click away on my laptop. She’s in the middle of a phone call when I hear stilettos clicking down the hall. I’m expecting to see Marilyn peek into my office, but instead, I see long, smooth raven hair.

Mia.

Why the hell does she always show up when Courtney’s around?

She starts talking before she even enters the room—as usual—like everything should stop because she has arrived. Courtney turns in to the phone to better hear whomever she’s talking to, and Mia immediately gets offended by the gesture.

“I was looking for Mom,” she says in a low, growly, bratty voice that makes me want to leap across the desk and tell her to cut that shit out.

“Okay,” I respond, feeling the air getting thicker by the second.

“Well, I see that the next semester begins in about a month. Am I too late to register for some of the prerequisites?” Courtney says into the phone. Mia’s disgust seems to amplify.

“She’s going to school?” she asks in disbelief.

“Yes, she is,” I say matter-of-factly.

“Thank you, I’ll see you tomorrow at eleven, then,” Courtney says before replacing the receiver to my desk phone. Mia scoffs as Courtney scribbles something on her notepad, apparently forgetting about the email we just set up.

“That’s rich,” Mia says. “We’ll see how long that lasts.” Courtney raises her head to Mia, but just rolls her eyes and looks back at her notepad. “So, Mom and I were supposed to go over the final seating arrangements for the reception.”

“Um, I think she might be in the dorms,” I tell her. She smacks her lips and rolls her eyes.

“Ugh!” she grunts. “I told her I would be here. She’s knows that we can’t sit the senator anywhere near Judge Hammerstone or there may be a fight.” I rubberneck at her like someone just hit me. Not only is this Hillary Banks “Daddy, I need $300” voice getting on my fucking nerves, but she just said something that may be a deal-breaker for my husband.

“Hammerstone!” I say horrified. “Did you say Hammerstone? Marvin Hammerstone?” She looks at me a bit distastefully.

“Yes, Mom invited him,” she replies with a frown.

“You gotta be kidding me,” I say, putting my hand on my forehead.

“What?” Mia asks. I sigh heavily and raise my eyes to her.

“Your brother loves you, Mia, but if Marvin Hammerstone is at that wedding, he won’t be.” Her eyes grow wide and her mouth falls open.

“Why not?” she nearly squeals. Nails on a chalkboard.

“You’ll have to ask your brother,” I tell her, and she sighs like a petulant child.

“Christian can’t dictate my guest list!” she hisses. I shake my head.

“No, he can’t,” I say, “and I can’t tell you who to invite to your wedding, but I can tell you this. If you don’t want to risk your brother standing up and walking out before you even get to the receiving line, you might want to get him a copy of the guest list.”

“This is so not fayer!” and she actually stretches the word “fair” out into two syllables while physically stomping her feet like a six-year-old who has just been denied a lollipop. “I didn’t tell him who to invite to his wedding!”

“But you did see the guest list,” I remind her. “Because of who he is—in the community, in his industry and in this state—you owe it to him to at least let him see the guest list and decide if he wants to attend. Hammerstone is a deal-breaker, I can guarantee you that, and he should know if there are any other deal-breakers on that list.”

Courtney is listening attentively to the exchange, a fact that doesn’t get past Mia. When I stop talking, she stares Courtney down as if to ask, “Shouldn’t you be somewhere else?”

And Courtney stares right back.

“I think I’ll go wait for Mom in her office,” Mia shoots, while turning to leave. “There’s one too many unwanted elements in this room.”

“Don’t let us stop you,” Courtney shoots back. Mia spins on her heels to face off with Courtney, who would dare respond to Mia’s blatant disrespect.

“Excuse me, non-person?” Mia snarls. “Did you dare attempt to address me?” Courtney stands to her feet while shaking her head.

“You know, Mia,” she begins, “I put up with your snide comments and your little catty remarks because you have a right to be angry with me. What I did to you when we were fourteen was really pretty shitty and I haven’t been the best person in my life since then, but we’re adults now. If you need an apology, then I apologize. I’m sorry that I was such a horrible and selfish person to you when you were just trying to be a friend to me, but you really need to get over it!” Mia’s mouth falls open.

“Oh, you must be kidding me!” Mia exclaims. “What? You’ve turned over a ‘new leaf’ and we’re all supposed to just accept you now?” Good God, Mia, you’re being a little bitch.

“I couldn’t care less if you accept me,” Courtney retorts, firmly, but matter-of-factly. “You think I’m changing my life for acceptance? To be your friend? Look who’s shallow now!” She puts her hands on her hips and squares off with Mia. “I’ve ruined any hope we had for any kind of relationship. That’s fine. I get it. You’re not the first or the only and definitely not the most important or most painful. I’m turning over a ‘new leaf’ because my life was fucked up, I was a fucked-up person, and I don’t like it!” Her words are forceful and bring the ever-chatty Mia to silence. Grace has now stepped into the doorway and is silently observing the exchange.

“Except for my grandparents, the people who I had in my life were just as horrible, hateful, selfish, and destructive as me and I don’t need them in my life either if that’s the ‘we’ you’re talking about that needs to accept me. It doesn’t matter, though. I don’t care who does or doesn’t accept me, because I’m not doing this for any of you! I’m doing this for me… so that I don’t look in the mirror and see ‘nothing more than spare parts!’”

Then it hits me. What her grandmother said to her really sunk in. It wasn’t that she lost the money or even her grandmother’s favor. It was what her grandmother said—that it really hit home. It sunk in and she felt it and she could see it… and it still burns her to the core.

She’s shaking now; her eyes are glassy and her resolve is hanging on by a very fragile thread.

“I was offering you an olive branch,” Courtney says, her voice deep and shaking, “just a ‘hello’ and ‘I understand how you feel’ whenever I saw you, but if you don’t want it, I’ll take my branch back and leave you the fuck alone.” She literally pushes Mia out of her way and rushes past her only to come face to face with Grace. Her fist are clenched and she’s really shaking.

“Excuse me, Miss Grace,” she says, her voice small and trembling and her fists shaking in front of her, that fragile thread getting weaker and weaker by the second. Grace steps aside and allows her to pass. She disappears out the door and you hear her heels clicking down the hallway in a sprint. Grace watches her only for a second before she goes after her.

“She was really, really shitty to me,” Mia defends, her own voice shaking now, “to a lot of people.”

“I know,” I say and nothing else.

“She just says ‘hi’ like it’s nothing, like we’re old friends, like she never almost got me arrested and then spent years after that sitting on her high horse until her grandmother knocked her off and took that silver spoon out of her mouth!” she hisses. I nod contemplatively.

“That sounds about right,” I reply. Mia raises glassy eyes to me.

“Are you judging me?” she asks accusing. I know not to get offended. I know that she’s gripped with anger and indecision and a bit of guilt and self-righteousness.

“I love you, Mia,” I say with my hands clasped in front of me. “I’d never judge you, especially in situations like this. I don’t speak to my mother, remember?” She breaks her gaze and drops her head again.

“I don’t understand how she can expect me to be her friend,” Mia says, her voice cracking. That’s your problem, Mia. You assume too much… she never asked you to be her friend.

“I don’t think she’s expecting you to be her friend,” I retort gently. “In fact, I think she knows better than that. She hasn’t asked anything of anybody yet. She’s just walking around doing her job and learning. She lives in horrible, subsidized housing and she won’t accept help from anybody besides what she earns. She insists on doing everything on her own. She used our resources to find what she needed and apply for whatever assistance she could, and she did that begrudgingly. She’s doing everything else herself. The only thing she’ll really accept from the center is food and even then, only on the days when she helps out in the kitchen and cafeteria. Jessie used to hate her; now, they’re friends.

“I don’t think she was looking for any kind of acceptance from you, Mia. I just think she was trying to be friendly. Even if she did or does have an ulterior motive, you holding on to this anger and hatred all these years and it comes out every time you see her—who do you think is hurt the most by that?” Mia raises her eyes to me again.

“Are you shrinking me?” she asks.

“Yep,” I say in a peppy shameless voice. “It’s what I do.” I put my hand on her shoulder and hold her gaze. “And if I didn’t care, I wouldn’t bother.” She smiles a sad smile and I embrace her warmly for several moments.

“Stop beating yourself up,” I say, pulling her back to look at her face again. “If you don’t want to embrace her, you don’t want to be her friend, that’s fine. Nobody’s going to force you—it’s not necessary, but let go of all that spite. It’s not good for you. You see her, you don’t want to be bothered, you go the other way or just ignore her, but don’t lash out at her every time. It’s not healthy or ladylike.” She nods.

“Mom tries to tell me that, but I’m so full of fury when I see her that I can’t even hear it.” She shrugs.

giphy“Well, hopefully, you’ll hear it now. Let it go,” I say with a shrug. “If you really don’t like her, is she even worth that much of your energy?” Mia still looks a little crestfallen. “Let it go… let it go… can’t hold it back anymore.”

She giggles sadly as I sing the only line from the song that I know and embraces me warmly again.

*-*

Courtney has slipped off somewhere in the Center after Grace manages to talk her off the proverbial cliff. I typed her notes into the email that she started and sent it to her. Grace, Mia, and I had a civilized talk about Mia’s guest list—about as civilized as it can get with a whiny 20-something-year-old bride and an irritated mother with a bottomless budget who has been waiting to throw the wedding of a lifetime for at least one of her children. How did I win this battle? Simple… I put my hands up and said, “Okay,” then turned to walk away.

That was too tame for Grace and Mia.

“Oh, no,” Grace says, halting my progress. “What’s up your sleeve?”

“Not a thing,” I tell her. “I offered you the simplest solution to what could be a massive problem—show Christian the guest list so that he won’t have any surprises…”

“And so that he can whack away at who I can have at my daughter’s wedding!” she retorts. I put my hands up in surrender again.

“And that’s why I said, ‘Okay,’” I reply. “This is not my battle to fight.”

“So, what are you going to do?” Mia whines, “have Christian pressure me for the guest list?” I shake my head.

“No,” I say, calmly, “but I am going to tell him that Judge Hammerstone is invited… and then, I’m going to back away… slowly.” I back slowly out of the room to prove my point and head over to the nursery to see my babies. It’s almost time for us to go home. When I get there, I see that we have an unexpected visitor.

“Vickie! Hi, what are you doing here?” I say when I see my stylist in the nursery.

“Right now, I’m adoring this gorgeous little fella!” she says, bouncing Mikey in her arms. “Hello, little man! You are so handsome! You’d make a gay girl go straight!” she whispers the last part to him and he giggles as if he completely understood what she said. She coos at him a little more and he just loves it. My baby boy is already a little ladies’ man.

“Do you want kids of your own?” I ask her. She smiles at Mikey.

“Probably not,” she says. “I thought about it, but it’s not like I date anyone with the right equipment,” she jokes. “Who knows? I’m not putting my eggs in that basket, but who knows what’ll happen before I die?” she says, winking playfully at me. “Mommy’s trying to get you some new friends,” she says to Mikey. We laugh and talk some more and just as I’m about to ask Vickie again why she’s here, Mia comes breezing into the nursery.

“Hi, Vickie,” she says in that pouty, spoiled voice again.

“Mia,” Vickie greets, unable to mask her confusion at Mia’s behavior. Mia silently hands me a flash drive.

“Tell him to try not to veto everybody on the list!” she says snottily. I try to hide a laugh.

“Okay,” I say, trying to be sincere. She kisses Mikey on the cheek.

“Your daddy’s a tyrant,” she says to him.

“Don’t say that to my child!” I chastise. She shrugs.

“Sorry,” she says flippantly. I just roll my eyes. “You wanna come, Vickie?” Mia says. She’s inviting people to her wedding like it’s some kind of backyard birthday party.

“Come to what?” Vickie asks.

“To my wedding next month. If Big Brother doesn’t ice the entire guest list, it should be a blast.” Vickie smiles.

“Thanks, but I’m still nursing my broken heart from you shooting me down,” Vickie jests. “Besides, I don’t think my ‘plus one’ would suit your tastes.” Mia waves her off.

“You can’t possibly think I would have a problem with you bringing a same-sex partner to my wedding,” she protests. Vickie just smiles again.

“I know you wouldn’t have a problem with that, Mia, but I also know that you would have a problem with… Hey. You okay?” We follow Vickie’s gaze to see who she’s talking to. Courtney has just entered the room. She’s more composed than she was earlier, but she looks like she been a bit run-through today.

“Yeah,” she says, softly. “Emotional day.” She walks straight to Vickie and doesn’t acknowledge Mia’s existence at all. She reaches for Mikey who, in turn, reaches for her.

“Hey, there, handsome,” Courtney says, smiling at Mikey who pats her cheeks playfully. “I’m going home now, but I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.” She kisses him softly on the cheek and hands him to me. “I’ll be in after my appointment,” she says to me and I nod.

“Appointment?” Vickie asks, leaning in for a kiss. I should’ve known. They’re a couple now. Courtney gently places her hand on Vickie’s shoulder to halt her progress.

“Not in front of the kids, Vic,” she says softly.

“Oh, okay,” Vickie nods and blows a kiss to Courtney who gives her a small, sweet smile.

“If you’re talking about my children, they’ve seen a whole lot of smooching,” I tell her. It loosens her up a bit.

“Yeah,” she smiles, softly, “but they probably haven’t seen a lot of same-sex kissing,” she points out.

“You’ve never met my best friend and children’s godfather,” I tell her. “Just married his husband in April.” Her mouth falls open.

“I never knew that!” she says. I wink at her.

“Now, you know.” She smiles, exhaustion marring her face.

“Can we do the ‘condo’ thing another day? I’m wiped out,” she says. I nod.

“You say when,” I tell her. She nods and takes Vickie’s hand, leading her out of the nursery, and still never making eye contact with Mia.

“What appointment, baby?” Vickie says as they head towards the door and their voices fade.

“Her and Vickie?” Mia says stunned. I shrug.

“I didn’t know, either,” I respond. She looks at Mikey.

“She wouldn’t kiss in front of the babies,” she says softly. “Hell, I kiss in front of the babies.” I shrug again.

“So, do I,” I say. “To each her own, right?” I pull my phone out and text Marilyn.

**Get a cleaning crew to the condo tomorrow morning. I’m subletting it. **


CHRISTIAN

“Judge Fucking Hammerstone! Did you know that Mom invited that asshole to the wedding?”

The fact that I’m talking to my father flies straight out the window when I look at the guest list that my wife handed me that was so damn big, they just put it on a flash drive.

“No, son,” my father replies in that patiently impatient voice that he uses with me at times like this. “Those women don’t tell me anything. They just ask for my checkbook.” Sheesh! I wonder how Butterfly managed to get them to give her the guest list. I would have thought it would have taken an act of God to pry it out of her hands. I’m glad to see that none of the Kavanaughs have been invited, but there are certainly some people on this list that could turn her reception into a business meeting.

“Did you ever tell Mom about that?” I ask him.

“It wasn’t my place,” he says. I figured that if you ever wanted her to know that you would tell her yourself.” I sigh. I wish he had just told her so that I don’t look like the Grinch who stole the wedding reception. Shit, half of Seattle is on this damn list. It’ll be a wonder if some of the people I knew from the fetish clubs don’t show up.

“I’m going to call her and tell her…” I begin.

“No need, she’s right here.” As if he couldn’t wait to get me off the phone, I hear him call my mother.

Coward.

“Yes, Christian?” she says impatiently, and it pisses me off immediately.

“What did Ana tell you, Mom?” I ask.

“That I should give you the guest list so that you could decide who was coming to your sister’s wedding and who wasn’t,” she shoots. I know that’s not what my wife said and I know my mother is just being catty, just like she was with my wedding. If I told my wife what she just said, it would hurt Ana’s feelings. Instead, I’m about to turn the tables on my catty ass mother and my bratty little sister.

“I won’t tell my wife that you just lied on her,” I say, coldly. After a pause, my mother tries to back-peddle.

“Okay, maybe I misspoke,” she says. “What I meant to say was…”

“Save it, Mom,” I cut her off. “You all can invite anybody you want.” There’s silence for a while.

“We can?” she asks amazed.

“Yes. This is Mia’s day, so she doesn’t have to remove anybody from her list… except one.”

“I knew it was too good to be true,” my mother hisses. “I guess one isn’t so bad. Who… Hammerstone?”

“No. Me.” I end the call with no closing.

*-*

“You can’t ignore them forever,” my wife says as we feed our children before putting them down for the night.

“I can ignore them for a while,” I reply. I turned my cell phone off right after I hung up on my mother, prompting her to repeatedly call Butterfly’s phone until she had to turn off her phone, too. Then, the house phone began to ring incessantly, and we can’t turn that off. Gail knew it was my mother each time she called, and each time she called, Gail had the same response.

“I’m sorry, but Mr. Grey is unavailable right now. I’ll be happy to take a message for you… Yes, Mrs. Grey, he knows that it’s you and he’s still unavailable… I’ll tell him that you called again. Goodnight, Mrs. Grey.”

Of course, my mother has a way of making your life miserable—or trying to—until she gets what she wants. The problem is that my mother has never had to deal with high-nosed submissives for several years, having to store up her comebacks or throw them at the wall for fear of losing her job. So, she doesn’t know that Mrs. Taylor has a rebuttal for everything. When Gail had finally had enough of my mother’s tirading, ranting, and demands every ten minutes, her final respond was nothing less than priceless:

“Mrs. Grey, do you currently have a spot in your employ for a live-in house manager, her high-risk security husband and her 12-year-old stepdaughter…? No…? Then I respectfully ask that you stop demanding that I get my boss to the phone. He may be your son, but he’s my employer. He signs my checks, and no matter how many times you call back, whoever answers the phone, he signs their checks, too. As none of us have any desire to find ourselves unemployed, none of us are going to hand him the phone or inform him for the twentieth time that you are calling. I have no idea why he doesn’t wish to speak to you, but at this time, Mrs. Grey, he doesn’t wish to speak to you. Now, you can call back tomorrow and see if the climate has changed. If so, and if Mr. Grey is available, he will speak to you at that time. If not, then we’ll be having this conversation again. Now, is there anything else I can do for you, Mrs. Grey?”

I imagine that you could have fried an egg on my mother’s forehead after that conversation—either that, or her face is a perfect replica of the Scream Painting.

I don’t know what I hope to prove by this action. I don’t know if I’m trying to prove anything at all. I just don’t feel like fighting with them. I don’t know why my mother feels the need to invite half of Seattle to the nuptials of her children, but every time this happens, she becomes an unreasonable attention whore, or worse yet, an ill-behaved toddler. I just want my sister and my mother to see how crazy they’re getting over this wedding; and for my mom to say what she said about Butterfly, that was completely unnecessary. Sure, it wasn’t vicious or anything, but it was a lie—it wasn’t a twist on or a stretch of the truth. It was a blatant lie, and I don’t appreciate it.

“Maybe she just translated what I said to mean that you were going to hack up the guest list,” Butterfly says, trying to placate the situation. Or maybe her twisted-but-accurate foresight put words in your mouth.

“Is that what you said?” I ask, frankly.

“No,” she says, rocking Minnie to sleep in the rocking chair.

“What did you say?” I ask, after I put my little man in his crib. She sighs.

“When I found out that Hammerstone was on the guest list, I told them that you wouldn’t be there if he was invited. Then I told them that they should let you see the guest list so that you wouldn’t be surprised by anybody at the wedding or the reception.”

“Did you, at any time, insinuate that I would remove people from the guest list?”

“No,” she says softly while putting Minnie to bed. “In fact, it was the opposite. I told them that you wouldn’t come, or if you saw someone in attendance that you didn’t want to associate with that you would leave.” She put a blanket over Minnie, who sucks contentedly on her binky. “They alluded to you whacking up Mia’s guest list several times, but I never did.”

“Then, like I said, she lied,” I say, walking out of our children’s room and waiting for Butterfly to follow me. She does and closes the door behind her.

“I’m not going to lie. I’m looking for a reason not to go to this wedding,” I admit. “To see my sister walk down the aisle towards the man that she loves, to celebrate their union and the beginning of their new life, I wouldn’t want to miss that for the world. But this? This isn’t going to be a blessed, beautiful event. This is going to be the Mom and Mia Show with a cast of supporting actors and actresses. They’re putting warm butts in every seat so that they can have a packed house for their performance. If that’s what they want, far be it from me to interfere, but you and I both know that my life—our lives—are complicated enough not to have to spend the entire afternoon with anyone that I’d rather punch in the mouth than toast my sister’s wedding with. What’s more, I can’t deal with my mother when she’s like this. Mia’s a little brat who’s accustomed to getting her way and believe or not, I’m used to that, but my mother…” I trail off and put my finger up in the air to emphasize my point before walking into our bedroom. My wife follows me, then proceeds to her dressing room while I proceed to undress in the bedroom.

“She’s only been like this a few times and when she is, she’s insufferable. I can’t even describe how unbearable she is,” I say as I remove my slacks. “She has total tunnel vision, and she can only see what she wants. As much as I can see Mia going along with just about any ridiculous idea my mother comes up with, I know there are going to be some wildly ostentatious and preposterous things that Mia didn’t even see coming… even if she does like it in the end.” I walk into my dressing room to put my clothes on the valet and remove my T-shirt.

“Well, I’m sure that I’ll have a mouthful to deal with once I get to the Center tomorrow,” I hear Butterfly say as she enters the bedroom. “You know how your mother can be.”

“I’m sorry to put you in that position, but I hardly ever put my foot down where Mia is concerned. That’s probably why she and my mother think I’m some kind of trained pony.”

“I don’t think that’s the case,” she protests. “They both know that you can’t be forced to do anything you don’t want to do by anyone.”

“Oh, but you’re wrong,” I retort. “The Grey women have secretly manipulated me for years. That’s why Mom thought she could pull a trump card with our wedding when you protested the guest list.”

“Well, Mia’s probably pouting like an injured puppy right now. On top of the current guest list situation, she got an earful when she came to see Grace at the Center. She and Courtney finally had it out in my office today.” I come out of my dressing room in just my boxer briefs.

“You’re shittin’ me,” I say. She’s got her hair over her face and is brushing it forward.

“Nope,” she says from under her hair. “Courtney was in my office looking up course schedules, and you know how her mere presence puts Mia in a bad mood. So, Mia made a crack; Courtney cracked back; they went back and forth for a minute after which, Courtney annihilated her… and then ran out of the room in tears.”

848b4c987672cefdbe7648e0ad3b6609“Mia ran out of the room in tears?” I ask, leaning against the door frame and watching my hot wife brush her incredibly long, beautiful hair.

“No, Courtney did. She was ready to blow. It was really emotional for her. Every time Mia comes around, she’s got something horrible to say to Courtney. I know why she feels that way, of course, but it’s not like Courtney goes looking for her. She comes to the place where Courtney works and then she antagonizes Courtney while she’s on the job. Courtney had just had enough of Mia. I know Courtney was shitty and she’s most likely never going to be able to make up for the shitty person that she was. But seriously, Christian, how long do you make someone pay for something? I mean, if she wants to hold on to the grudge, fine, nobody can change that, but I guess I’m that person where if I don’t like you, I’m just going to stay out of your face. I’m not going to antagonize you every time I see you.”

She does this whoosh with her hair and I swear, she looks like she’s in one of those shampoo commercials where the girl’s hair is all shiny and luxurious and moving in slow motion. She’s wearing this adorable vintage nightshirt and I swear, my mouth is watering. But I’m going to behave. We’re having a conversation at the moment.

“So, the princess got her feathers ruffled,” I say, folding my arms and still leaning on the door frame of my dressing room.

“To say the least,” Butterfly says, still concentrating on her glorious mane. “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen Mia broken up about something Courtney said.”

“You mentioned course schedules,” I begin.

“Yeah, Courtney’s decided to go to scho…” Her words trail off as she raises her head and looks at me, and that salacious look in her eye tells me that my standing here in nothing but boxer briefs has the same effect as her sitting there on the bed in that night shirt with that silky pelt of hair flying all over the place.

“Focus, Mrs. Grey,” I tease, and she momentarily pops out of her trance, narrowing her eyes playfully at me.

“Asshole,” she says while continuing to brush her hair. “She’s decided to go to school for social work. Being around the kids that come to the Center has had a profound impact on her. She’s really good with talking to the troubled kids and getting them to open up. I think she’s found her niche. Plus…” she trails off.

“Plus, what?” I ask.

“Addie made her feel really shitty when she put her out. Granted, Courtney had it coming and then some, but it’s left a lasting impression. That parting was a massacre that cut pretty deeply. She’ll mention it every once in a while, but nothing more. When she does mention it, she goes right down the rabbit hole. From what I understand, she feels like she’s taken enough and she really wants to give back now. And the fact that she’s found love doesn’t hurt the situation either.”

“Ho-oh, you’re kidding?” I say. She shakes her head.

“Nope… with Vickie.” My mouth falls open and my eyes widen.

“Vickie? Your stylist Vickie?” She nods.

“I had a feeling something was going on, but I wasn’t sure. Then today, Vickie came to pick her up from the Center and Courtney had to stop her from engaging in a little PDA.” I frown.

“Why? I kiss you all the time… in public. I don’t give a fuck.”

“She felt like the children shouldn’t be exposed to girl-on-girl action,” she says, raising her brow. I scoff.

“Has she met Allen?” I say with mirth.

“My sentiments exactly,” she laughs, “and no, I don’t recall that she has.” She puts the brush on the nightstand and stretches in that way that I love to see her uncoil her little body. She crawls up on the bed and lies on her side with her elbow on the mattress, her arm propped against her head.

“Anyway,” she continues, “she’s going to attend Seattle Central. She’s really good with the kids and she’s decided that she wants to pursue social work.” Well, knock me over with a damn feather!

“Courtney Wilson, a social worker? You’re fucking kidding me!”

“Now, you sound like Mia,” she pouts. I sigh and walk over to her.

“I don’t mean to disparage the girl,” I say, sitting on the bed, “but you have to admit, it’s a huge transformation and kind of unbelievable.”

“I know,” she replies. “I just feel like there are only a handful of people in the world who are completely unredeemable, and Courtney’s not one of them. I honestly feel like she learned her lesson the minute she ended up in that shelter, and knowing how badly she alienated her grandmother has really taken a toll on her.” She sighs heavily and looks down.

“There’s something else,” I probe.

“Yes, there is…” She turns those big blue eyes to me and I get the feeling that this is going to be something I’m not going to like. “She’s living in subsidized housing. She’s afraid to walk home some nights. She’s going to be going to class and she doesn’t have a car, which means that there will be more times than not that she’ll have to maneuver the streets after dark…”

“You bought her a car,” I say. The wheels start turning in her head and I see that’s not what she wants to tell me, but that Courtney may soon own a new car. What the fuck is it, then?

“No, but…” She pauses. “I told her that she could stay at my condo.”

Oh… is that all?

“Okay, and?” I say, waiting for the really bad news.

“And… nothing. I don’t want her in that bad neighborhood while she’s trying to finish school. She gave me some push-back about it because she’s determined to earn her own way as much as she can, so there are rules and requirements of her staying there, but I think it’s for the best… at least until she gets her degree.”

“It’s your condo, Butterfly,” I tell her, pushing her hair from her face. “If this is what you want to do with it, I’m okay with that, as long as she understands that security is still going to be coming by there.”

“Yeah, I’ve already made that clear to her. To be honest, I just want to be sure that I’m not chasing a lost cause. You know me—people in need are like stray puppies. I just want to help them and make the world all better.” I look in her eyes and realize that I need to tell her what happened after my conversation with Cholometes. He’s long gone with no further incident, but I don’t like keeping secrets from my wife.

“Do you remember when you went to R&D to talk to Rollins about the XRC90 transmitter and I went to Alex to discuss the whereabouts of my past submissives?” Her eyes widen a bit with that “where is this going” look.

“Yes,” she replies.

“Well, we found some of them. Others we’re still looking for…” I look down at my hand. “Cholometes said something to me the other day. It… made me think.”

“Surely, you’re not taking anything he said to heart!” she asks incredulously.

“Normally, I wouldn’t,” I tell her. “Normally, I wouldn’t give a fuck and you know it, except… what he said rings true, and I had to find out how true it was.” I look over at her.

“I’m listening,” she says.

“He talked about the women I’ve ruined… or nearly ruined. Elena’s in jail, Naomi’s dead, Cassie’s in Timbuk-Buffalo-Fuck, and you were nearly killed—all because of me… directly or indirectly…”

“You’re kidding, right?” my wife says. “Did you really allow him to Jedi-mind-trick you like that? How could you possibly hold yourself responsible for Elena being a murderous pedophile, Cassie being conniving whore, and Naomi being a mental case?”

“Just hear me out, okay?” I say, trying to calm her rising ire. “I thought the same thing at first—that I can’t be responsible for the way these women behave. I was open with all of them. Our relationship was a means to an end for all of us, but then…” I run my hand through my hair. Here comes the hard part. “I had to know what they thought about me… about our interaction when it was over, so… I… called one of them.”

I look over at her and surprise registers on her face—not horror, just surprise.

“You called one of them?” she asks. I nod.

“Yes. I called one that I knew had been married for a while. Her name is Charity. We… parted affably. I asked her… what the deal was. I mean, I had to know. I never made promises to any of these women! Never! Not until you! I had to know why… what made them lose their damn minds!”

“Wait a minute,” she says, sitting up in the bed. “You called an ex-sub that you clearly hadn’t talked to in years who’s now happily married to ask her why your other subs are so fucking crazy?” It sounds so bad when she says it.

“Um… yeah.”

“And she talked to you?” she continues.

“Yeah,” I respond. She laughs sinisterly.

“She’s a better woman than I am,” she replies. “I would have told you to take a flying leap into a dark, murky lake, keep swimming ‘til you hit the bottom and don’t bother coming back up.”

Okay… is she angry? I can’t really tell.

“Pray, what did she say?” she asks.

“I… don’t know if I should tell you,” I answer honestly.

“You’ve gone too far to stop now,” she exclaims. I shake my head. My neck is already in the noose—might as well jump.

“She… talked about how good a Dom I was… the best, she said… and that I do these things to women, and then I take it all away. She told me that something like that is traumatizing to a woman who may already be on the edge, but then they watched me fall in love with you when I swore that I could and would never commit. When you look at Elena’s behavior and Naomi’s instability—even Cassie’s last-ditch effort… it makes perfect sense.”

“So basically, she told you that you turned these women out and that they flipped their wigs because you found a steady girl,” she summarizes.

“In laymen’s terms, yeah, but it was more detailed than that,” I reply. “She told me to imagine after being with you, you telling me that you couldn’t be what I needed and moving on… and then finding out that you had settled down with someone else.” There’s that physical shiver again. Her silence is almost deafening, so I look over at her. “I guess… some of them had hopes hung on me, even if they were unrealistic.”

“And Charity?” she asks softly.

“Charity had hopes, but not with me. Charity wanted more and she knew that I couldn’t give it to her. Hell, she knew the lifestyle couldn’t give it to her, so she left completely. That’s why she was safe to talk to. Exposure would be costly for us both.” I run my hand through my hair again.

“My takeaway from the conversation is that I’m partially responsible for the crazy,” I tell her. “Apparently, these fragile women weren’t strong enough to handle what I was dishing out even though I did everything in my power to prepare them for what was coming. Somehow, I still should have known that they weren’t able to handle it and I should have held back—not released the dragon on anyone until I was in a committed relationship because doing so gave them a glimpse into Fairyland and they couldn’t leave even when I was done with them, so…” I whistle and twirl my finger next to my temple in the “crazy” gesture.

“So, you pretty much fucked them crazy,” she says. I nod.

“Yep, pretty much.”

“Well, I could’ve told you that,” she says, lying back on the bed. I glare at her.

“Well, why didn’t you?” I retort.

“You didn’t ask!” she counters. “Your wife is a damn psychiatrist! You didn’t think to ask your wife why a woman who is already partaking in an alternative lifestyle for reasons that you are not aware wouldn’t easily fly over the cuckoo’s nest after you fuck her within an inch of her sanity? Couple that with the facts that you’re powerful, rich, and gorgeous, and you combine body-numbing sex with this crazy pleasure/pain thing and massive, explosive orgasms. Then to top it all off, you’re the king of mind games and you require total compliance from your submissives. They’re like children! They don’t stand a chance! And then you take it all away. Yeah… I could have told you this.” I shake my head.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think I could have heard it coming from you,” I lament. She looks over at me.

“No… I don’t suppose you could,” she says, resigned. She looks so sweet and so delectable lying there in nothing but this sheer nightshirt. I love that vintage shit on her and she knows it. It makes her look all damsel-like. Maybe she wore it on purpose to soften me up for what she thought would be the “Courtney” bomb. I probably shouldn’t let her efforts go to waste, then, should I?

I crawl over her and she lies down on the bed underneath me with her hands over her head and her delicious round breasts popping up through that nightshirt, her nipples taut to pretty little points. Oh, yes!

“Is she going to be sleeping in your bedroom?” I ask, my voice low.

“No… that’s one of the conditions of her being able to stay there.” Her voice is soft and longing. I lean down and lick her neck while untying the strings that hold the top together and expose one of her breasts. She gasps slightly as I take it in my mouth and suck hard, letting it pop from my lips and pink up, pretty and perky.

“Is there any left for me?” I say softly as I lick her nipple.

“I don’t think so,” she breaths as her fingers entwine above her head. “You know the babies come first.”

“Oh, no,” I correct her. “They eat first… you come first.” She laughs in her chest.

“Christian, you’re so bad!” she squeals.

“Not yet. Now, be a good girl and keep those hands above your head.” She nods while looking down at me still licking her breasts. I travel down her torso and push her gown up to her mounds, allowing me to taunt her navel with my tongue and nip her pelvic bones with my teeth. She gasps and her body jerks at the sensation, and I’m delighted to discover that she’s not wearing any panties. I travel further down her body and waste no time lapping hungrily at her delicious core. She groans in her chest and arches her back so that her pussy is pushing harder against my hungry mouth. Her hands instinctively find my hair and I stop tasting her.

“Hands,” I say, waiting for her to obey.

“Sorry,” she breathes and puts them back above her head. I press down on her pelvis to keep her from moving and torturously lick that clit softly for a few minutes. When she’s shaking in pleasure, I delve into her core and lap up the juices that I know have collected there. She whimpers and wiggles as much as her body will allow her to with me holding her down and when I look up at her, she’s gripping the sheets to keep from moving her hands. I torment her clit and core a little longer while sliding out of my boxer briefs, my dick so hard that it’s beating a tattoo against my stomach and precum is already seeping from the head.

I need to fuck her now!

I move quickly, crawling back up the bed and taking her knees with me so that she’s open by the time my cock reaches that area of the promised land. I release her knees when her thighs conveniently wrap around my hips and she’s so damn ready for me that my shaft sides right into her once my face reaches hers. It feels so good that I almost want to weep and she gasps with pleasure once I’m nestled inside of her. I entwine one hand with hers and grope her beautiful breast under her gown with the other. I only look in her eyes for a moment before starting to stroke into her and kissing her deeply. Fuck, it feels so damn good.

Her hips curl with mine and her free hand thrusts into my hair, her sighs and whimpers signaling to me that she no longer has control of her reactions. The more aroused she gets, the wetter she gets and the tighter she gets around my cock, causing me to thicken inside her. Fuck, I would swear I was fucking her for the first time.

“Goddamn, baby, you’re always so fucking tight!” I grunt, as I push deeper and deeper into her, her walls tightening more and more around my pulsing dick, her thighs clamping hard around my hips as she matches my grind.

“I work at it,” she breathes, pushing her hips up into me. “I’m coming, Christian.”

“So soon?” I lament, and stop moving my hips.

“Fuck, don’t stop!” she demands and I move my hips again, thrusting into her as she throws her head back and comes hot, wet, and quick around my wanting dick. Well, damn!

“Well, I guess that means I have to make you come again,” I say, thrusting deeply into her.

“I guess… it does…” she pants, trying to catch her breath.


A/N: Hillary Banks is the entitled, ignorant, rich daughter from Fresh Prince of Bel Air. A video of her first “Daddy, I need $300” is included on my Pinterest page.

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at 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 19—So Much For Normal…

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 19—So Much For Normal…

ANASTASIA

I don’t know what the big deal is about leaving us the fuck alone. Yes, I’m still looking for a little bit of normal in a whole lot of crazy. Yet, somebody somewhere feels like I’m not entitled to that.

Judd Loser went on a total tirade in the days after the Pacific interview. I addressed everything he could possibly throw at me, so every time he tried to cut me down or retort, they’d just throw a sound bite at him from the interview. It just made him angrier and what’s worse—for him, anyway—even more women came out with sexual harassment claims. One woman at his old job even went past sexual harassment and said he actual physically pushed himself on her. There was no sexual act or penetration, but it was enough to shed a really bad light on the current allegations and may result in some sort of criminal investigation.

There’s been no peace this week. Radio and local television shows are now trying to get me to make appearances, and I know that all they want is to rile me up over Judd in hopes of getting a bad reaction from me. As a result, I’m refusing any new appearances and only agree to do the three that I already had scheduled over the next two weeks with strict instructions that there would be no addressing the Judd Rossiter issue.

Al has kept a close eye on mine and Daddy’s adoption petition and so far, there’s been nothing from Nevada. I know that the court won’t contact Carla, but hell, there’s just no telling what might happen between now and the time that everything becomes legal. I’ve come to hope for the best, but expect the worse in light of everything that has happened to me in my life. It doesn’t matter, though. I don’t care what my mother does; this adoption is going through. Daddy will be my legal father and that’s that.

I’m doing my best to ignore Judd Loser for the weekend. Any time I see his name in the news or someone brings him up in conversation, I ignore it, change the channel, go to another website, or change the subject. In other news, Helping Hands receives some kind of form-letter-cookie-cutter response from the licensing board about the letters that I’ve been sending them—something about the process of approval or whatever the case may be. In response, I send two more letters on Friday with different wording, but the same questions… what’s the damn hold up?

Sunday is mine and Daddy’s big date—behind the dugout at the Mariners game versus the White Sox. Oh, my Daddy and his baseball. He gets quite passionate when his team is slacking, and quite colorful, too. If I wasn’t partially raised with a sailor, I’d be blushing the entire time.

“I’m gonna freeze with that breeze! Hit somethin’ for Christ’s sake!”
“You asshole! The plate hasn’t moved in 100 years and you still can’t find it!”
“Hey Morse, they killed a cow to make that glove! You could at least try to use it!”
“The ball is behind you, fuckhead!!!”

Even the bullpen isn’t safe…

“Shut up! You been sittin’ on that bench for so long, you should have enough splinters to make your own goddamn bat.”
“Yeah, I bet it’s hard sittin’ around for nine innings and twelve games. Stand up and stretch your legs.”

The best one is after a strikeout while gesturing to his torso…

“Just in case you forgot, when the ball comes in this area, you swing!”

It’s really fun to just let loose with Daddy at the game. I can understand his frustration, though. We’re in the fifth inning and the only scoring in the whole game was when a rookie hit a line drive down to left field with bases loaded, allowing the Mariners to score three runs. Thank God it was our team that scored or Daddy would have had a conniption. Just before the bottom of the sixth, I have to use the restroom, but I’m almost afraid to leave Daddy on his own. I nod to Chuck sitting a few rows behind us and he gets up to follow me to the ladies’ room, signaling Ben and Chance to keep an eye on Daddy.

Of course, there’s a line at the ladies’ room and I have to sing songs and think of ridiculous things to distract myself so that I don’t pee on myself. It was a close call, but I made it. After I wash my hands and join Chuck to return to our seats, I swear that I see Judd Loser get a beer at one of the stands, but when I look again, the guy is gone. I assume that I must have imagined it since the asshole seems to be flooding my conscious and my subconscious mind and just go back to my seat.

Of course, I get there just in time to miss the same newcomer knocking in another run for the Mariners. I thought this would make Daddy happy—his team is winning! Instead, he has more heckles for the seasoned players…

“Hey Seagar, rough night? The newbie’s makin’ you look bad.”
“Hey Miller, that’s a $200 bat. If you’re not gonna use it, can I have it?”

I’m in pain with laughter by the end of the game and very happy that the only four runs made possible by a newcomer name Jackson was enough to give us the win. The final score—Mariners, four, White Sox, two.

We stop at the souvenir shop on our way out and I can’t help but buy an 18” Mariners souvenir bat to give to Daddy after the crack he made to Miller. Just as I’m paying for my wares and I’m about to leave, I hear a voice over my right shoulder that I don’t recognize, but it still gives me a fucking chill.

“Wanna see my tattoo?”

I whip around right into the face of Judd Rossiter. I fucking knew it was him at the beer stand. Shit. I gotta get out of here. I turn and look for Daddy, anxious to get away from this asshole as quickly as possible.

“What’s your hurry, doll? That ass looks a whole lot better in those jeans than it did in that get-up you were wearing before!”

Do not engage. Do. Not. Engage. Where the fuck is Daddy?

“Not so big and bad with no mic shoved in your face, huh?”

Oh, this is bad and it’s only going to get worse. Just when I’m getting desperate to find my father, I run right into him.

“Annie! What’s the matter?” he asks, holding my arms.

“We have to go—now, Dad,” I say quietly.

“Aw, Annie, that’s so cute!” Loser taunts. My father raises his eyes to Loser, clearly not amused.

“Something I can do for you?” Daddy says coldly. Oh, shit. This will not end well.

“What happened to your billionaire?” Loser hisses. I can tell he’s had a few beers. “You like ‘em older now? He’s old enough to be your father.” Daddy moves me behind him.

“That’s because I am,” Daddy growls. Loser laughs loudly, drawing attention to himself.

“You should’ve asked for a blood test there, Pops! She looks nothing like you!” His two friends laugh heartily at his tasteless joke.

“Daddy, let’s just go, please?” I beg.

“I make it a point not to allow anybody to chase me from anywhere,” Daddy says, facing off with Judd Loser. He’s taller, bigger, younger, and drunker than my father. Daddy’s going to get hurt.

“Daddy, it’s fine. He’s not worth it, please, Daddy…”

“Fuck you, bitch!” he hisses. “Listen to your bitch daughter and leave, Daddy…” Judd Loser is poking my father in his chest, which infuriates me, but immediately sets off the Marine in my father. Daddy moves so quickly that I don’t even see what he does. I think he grabs Loser’s finger, because the next thing I know, Loser is kind of bent over going in the same direction as his hand, yowling in pain. Once Daddy releases his hand, he recovers quickly and comes back at my father with a clenched right fist.

… And all hell breaks loose.

I don’t know what exactly is going on, but all I can see are my father’s fists flying and two men about to jump him from behind. I have immediate flashbacks of the fight in Anguilla and the drunks jumping my husband in the barfight… and I have a bat in my hand that’s half a meter long. It’s about to go upside somebody’s head.

“Get away from my Daddy!” I scream, pulling the bat back for action. A hand catches my wrist before I’m able to swing.

“Whoa! Settle down, killer! We got this!”

I turn around to see Chance disarming me while Ben and Chuck quickly subdue the two men that were about to attack my father. Daddy has beaten Loser Boy down to the floor and has him face down on the concrete. One hand is holding his neck down so that he can’t move his head. The other hand has Loser’s arm bent in some kind of really uncomfortable-looking submission hold behind him while Daddy’s knee is pressed firmly in the small of his back.

I breathe a sigh of dread as the whole thing plays out before me. Chuck and Ben have produced cuffs from I don’t know where. Daddy doesn’t need them. Somebody’s calling the cops. Everybody here will be detained until they get to the bottom of what happened. In the meantime, Loser is still trying to get from under my father.

“Get off me, you old fuck!” he demands. “You’re hurtin’ my goddamn arm! Get the fuck off me!”

“Son, the more you fight, the more it’s gonna hurt. Wait for the cops,” Daddy says calmly.

“I’m gonna fucking sue you!” he threatens, his voice muffled since his cheek is pressed into the concrete.

“Good luck with that,” Daddy says calmly. “You’ll have to wait until after I press assault charges against you. There are witnesses and surveillance cameras that saw you poking me in the chest and taking a swing at me.” I roll my eyes and take out my phone.

“Ana! What is it?” Vee’s voice is frantic. It should be. I’m calling her on a Sunday.

“Vee, call Al, call my husband. We have a situation.”

“Why did you call me before you called them?” she asks horrified.

“Because the press is everywhere, and they’re going to see it first, so he might see it live.” Vee sighs.

“Give it to me…”

*-*

I’m sitting on the same bench in the same spot at police headquarters that I sat when we came to get Sophie the night that Shalane was arrested. I want to just bury my head in a hole and disappear. I keep my face covered since the sea of paparazzi outside have a bird’s eye view right into the precinct doors. It’s not hard to do since I’m so sick with anguish that my dad is back there in a cell with that asshole that I can’t lift my head anyway.

A commotion at the door causes me to look up and I see an angel burst through the crowd.

Christian. Please hold me. I feel like I’m going to die.

I can’t even find the strength to stand when he walks into the door. Sensing my weakness, he strides quickly over to me and squats down to me, gathering me in his arms. I can’t even speak. I just cling to him like life itself and lay my head on his shoulder, trying to find a way to cope with all this bullshit. My father’s in a cell along with Chuck and Ben and this asshole and his drunk friends who accosted us at the ballgame. A normal day out with my dad has turned into an utter fucking nightmare.

“We had such a great time,” I mutter into Christian’s shoulder. “Daddy was a total nut, and the Mariners won.”

“I know, baby,” Christian says softly, caressing my back and hair.

“He made a crack at Miller about the bat. I just wanted to get him a bat…” My voice is shaking.

“Sssshh,” he soothes. “This is not your fault…”

“It’s totally my fault,” I weep. “If I had kept my mouth shut in the first place, none of this would have happened!”

“I’m not going to even address everything wrong with that statement,” Christian says. “Let’s just get Ray and the guys out of here.” I nod into his shoulder and he reaches into his jacket and retrieves his ever-present handkerchief. He lifts my head and gently dries the tears from my cheek. Even though I’m already crying, I feel the adrenaline rushing through me at a back-breaking speed. I can hear my blood rushing through my ears. It’s sounds like a baby’s heartbeat and just as fast…

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!

I don’t know how much longer I sit on that bench while Christian and Chance and Al talk to whomever they talk to over and over and over. Christian had Marilyn call Mandy, but we insisted… somebody insisted… that she stay with Harry while we straighten things out. I’m not weeping anymore, but the tears haven’t stopped falling. And the blood hasn’t stopped rushing.

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!

I put both hands on my forehead in pure frustration. Yet another open case in the life of Anastasia Grey. Dear God, will I live to see a year without a courtroom?

“This is getting ridiculous! Should I have just let the guy sit there with the pussy in my face?” I ask aloud to no one in particular. I want to scream. This whole thing is so fucking ridiculous. He was clearly trying to antagonize me and I called him on it, and somehow, I’m the bad guy?

The sun has gone down… and the two guys who tried to jump my father from behind are released. They walk right pass me. They don’t even look over at me. I really don’t think they even know who I am. I wonder how it feels spending Sunday afternoon in jail simply because your friend is a classless, arrogant, uncouth piece of…

“Sunflower?”

I think I get whiplash snapping my neck in the direction of my childhood nickname. The only other time I remember my father looking this good to me was when he showed up in the hospital after the Green Valley beating. My body is moving before my brain and I only remember being on the bench, then being in his arms, squeezing him for dear life and saying his name over and over again.

Daddy… Daddy… Daddy… Daddy… Daddy… Daddy… Daddy…

“It’s okay, Sunflower,” he says into my hair. “I’m okay.”

“I’m sorry, Daddy,” I say softly, my voice barely audible.

“No,” he replies, just as softly. “That blowhard ran his mouth the entire time he was in the cell. There’s no way I’m letting you take responsibility for that. He’s a real piece of work and my only regret is that I didn’t break his jaw so he would shut the hell up.”

“Everybody’s out now,” I hear my husband say. I release my grip on Daddy to look over at him.

“Everybody?” Daddy asks.

“Yes, everybody, so let’s make it quick.” I take the hint and try to walk to the door, but my head starts swimming and I feel like shit. I’ve been crying for hours and the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh has only just now started to calm. Daddy’s on one side of me in a moment and my husband is on the other. Trying to look as normal as possible—as normal as two large men can look holding up small woman—we head for the door.

The flashes light up the night like the first dawn of morning and the questions fly like crazy as Daddy and Christian maneuver me down the stairs and to a waiting Audi. Daddy gets in on the street side of the car while Christian helps me into the back-passenger seat. Just as I sit my butt down on the leather, I hear that loudmouthed fucker projecting from the top of the precinct stairs.

“That bitch is trying to ruin my life! Just because she can’t take a picture of a pussy!”

Christian’s neck jerks in the direction of the voice and before I have the chance to say a word, he has put me in the car, closed the door, and is now running back to the stairs… towards that horse’s ass. The crowd splits immediately, leaving a straight path right to Judd Loser. Fuck! You won’t let us out of the hospital when the babies are born, but you’ll make a fucking pathway for Christian to get up there and kill the guy!

In the mayhem with cameras flashing, I can see a fight ensue in my mind’s eye, one or both men being beaten to a pulp in front of the police station, and my three-second funnel produces the inevitable outcome.

Christian spends the night in jail.

I could barely stomach the thought of my father in a holding cell without vomiting all over the precinct floor, but the idea of Christian doing time is more than I can handle.

The tears start before I can stop them. I can’t take this shit anymore. I have to think fast before my husband finds himself with another assault charge. I leap out of the car with clenched fists. It’s time for another sacrificial lamb.

Me.

“I have had enough of this shit! Christian, get in the goddamn car!”

My sobbing, screaming voice pierces over every sound in what seems like a 50-mile-radius and all eyes are on me… including my stunned husband’s. Don’t lose your nerve now, Steele… um, Grey.

“Nooooooooooooooowwww!” I scream through my tears, shaking my fists like a toddler having an uncontrollable temper tantrum. My husband is horrified and everyone else is frozen in place until…

“Yeah, Christian, get in the goddamn car…” he says in a taunting voice. Christian turns his gaze back to Judd Loser, but before he can move or speak, one of the reporters close to him says,

“You’re a real asshole, you know that?”

I’m almost shocked that someone came to my defense, and like lemmings often do, the others fall in line behind him, criticizing Judd Loser and snapping pictures of his shocked face, but I don’t have a chance to enjoy it. The adrenaline is getting the best of me and I feel myself going down. I don’t know who catches me. All I know is that I see flashing cameras, I feel strong arms, then muffled sounds, then darkness.

*-*

“There she is,” he says softly. I’m cradled in my husband’s arms in the back seat of the slowest moving Audi on the bridge. My head is fuzzy and my vision is blurred, but I feel him stroking my cheek and kissing my temple… and I feel like there are leprechauns tapdancing on my skull.

“Wha…” The word is a breathy sound, and that’s pretty much all I can muster.

“I didn’t panic,” he says. “I remembered… crying or fainting.”

I think I nod, glad that he didn’t waste the rest of the night rushing me to the hospital just to hear that I had one of my adrenaline fainting spells. It’s been a really rough, very emotional, extremely fucked-up day. It’s a wonder that all I did was cry and faint. I wouldn’t have been surprised had I given birth to a unicorn on the precinct stairs. That would have given the press something to talk about.

The press… fuck!

I think I’m going to hide in the mansion for a few weeks. As if reading my thoughts, my husband quickly addresses the issue.

“I think we moved too fast for them to get pictures of you,” he says. “They were too busy taking pictures of the asshole.”

I don’t know what I do after that… I’m too damn tired…

Christian and I had the same idea Monday morning… no work for me. I’m certain the paps are camped at the end of the driveway and I just can’t deal with it today. I won’t stay in bed all day, though, although I’m certain that my husband would like to convince me otherwise.

“You’ll see it anyway, so you might as well see it now,” he says as I join him for breakfast in the dining room. He hands me the paper and who do I see on the front of the local page.

Judd Rossiter. What bullshit is he spewing now?

The headline reads, A Real A**hole. Priceless! This I gotta see…

A stunned Judd Rossiter stood at the top of the stairs in front of the doorway of police headquarters yesterday after a reporter called him out for unseemly behavior. Rossiter allegedly assaulted Raymond Steele—local small-businessman and stepfather of Anastasia Steele-Grey—at the gift shop of Safeco Field after the Mariners game. Rossiter, Steele, two members of Grey’s security team and two other unknown men were all detained at police headquarters after the incident. Pictures below depict a clearly distraught Anastasia waiting at the precinct for her stepfather along with a very caring Christian Grey trying to calm her.

The paps had a field day with the cameras yesterday. The pictures could have told the story without any of the narrative.

Me with my hands over my face sitting on the bench lamenting the entire situation.
Christian squatting in front of me holding me protectively in his arms.
Christian wiping my tears as I sob.
Daddy on one side of me and Christian on the other side, both of them basically holding me up as we leave the precinct.
A not-so-flattering picture of Rossiter taunting us from the top of the precinct stairs—they didn’t even bother to blur out his horrible tattoo.
My husband rushing the stairs.
Me with my mouth open, fists clenched, and screaming—also a very un-flattering picture.
A stunned Rossiter staring into the camera.
Christian carrying me, my head on my husband’s shoulder, my face shielded.

How did he get to me so fast? He was easily half-way up those stairs when I started screaming at him?

Rossiter was charged with assault while the other men face no charges. All men involved were released late last night. Rossiter continued to taunt the Greys after his release, prompting Christian to charge him on the stairs of the precinct. Anastasia clearly suffered some kind of breakdown, screaming for her husband to “get in the g**d**m car” before he tore Rossiter to shreds. Rossiter continued his taunting, prompting a freelance reporter on the stairs to call him out as a genuine donkey’s poop chute. Anastasia lost consciousness after her screaming fit and can be seen here once again cradled protectively in her husband’s arms before the Steeles and the Greys are whisked away in a fleet of Audis, leaving Rossiter to face the angry press alone.

Rossiter and Steele-Grey have an ongoing feud about Rossiter’s inappropriate behavior during a live taping of “Rapping with Rob,” and the subsequent fallout. So far, a total of ten women have come forth with allegations of lewd and lascivious behavior on Rossiter’s part—a situation for which he continues to hold Steele-Grey responsible as she dared to speak up about his X-rated tattoo.

There’s a close-up of the same picture of him at the top of the stairs with a zoom-in of that disgusting tattoo. The photographer—or the paper—had the decency to blur out the woman’s clit, but the rest of it is in grand detail. So, one can easily imagine what the entire thing looks like without even seeing it.

Rossiter tried to defend himself, taking another moment in the spotlight to degrade the Greys and their relationship, but to no avail. For the most part, he just came off as a drunken, cursing buffoon defaming a distraught woman for calling him out on bad behavior. Exactly how many beers did you have at Safeco Field, Judd?

I bet his inebriation is going to be my fault, too.

I fold the paper closed and place it on the table, not even bothering to finish reading the story. I pick up my cell phone and dial Daddy’s number. I’m so hurt and humiliated that he had to be brought into this. The phone is answered on the first ring.

“Hello?” What the fuck? Who the…? Oh, shit.

“Brian?”


CHRISTIAN

We could barely get out of the driveway with the paps blocking the street. I thought I’d get used to this shit after a while, but I have to admit that I was falling blissfully into my wife’s quest for “normal.” So, I’m resenting the presence of the noisy press more now than I ever have before.

“So, when did he get into town?” I ask Alex during the drive to the office.

“As near as I can tell, yesterday evening. It looks like Mandy may have called him once she found out that Ray had been arrested.”

It appears that our friend, Brian Cholometes, is in the Seattle area visiting Ray and Amanda. I can’t say that I blame him. His best friend was being detained at police headquarters, but I still don’t fucking trust the guy. We’ve been keeping an eye on him and his Ana-look-alike girlfriend, but nothing has given us cause for concern… until now.

I just don’t like him being here.

“What’s he been doing since he’s been here?” I ask.

“Nothing that gives immediate cause for concern,” Alex says. “He got in last night and went straight to the Steeles’ home. He stayed there until Ray was released, and then he left about an hour after Ray returned home and went to the Fairmont. He’s at Ray’s office right now. I would just say he’s checking on his friend and he’s no cause for us to be worried, but I know if he’s here and you don’t know, somebody’s head is going to roll.”

He’s right about that shit.

“Let’s hope that’s all it is. Keep your eye on him,” I say. “Is she with him?”

He knows who I mean… Colostomy’s Ana look-alike.

“No,” Alex says, “Not that we can tell.” That means that either he doesn’t plan on staying long or that he’s hoping to get a glimpse of Ana.

“Just keep your eye on him,” I reiterate. Out of respect for my father-in-law and my wife, I will not engage, but I need to know if he tries to. At that point, all bets are off. My next call is to Allen.

“I’m on my way into the office. I want a restraining order on Judd Rossiter. I don’t want him to be able to come anywhere near my wife, me, or any of her family.”

“Do you really think that’s necessary?” Allen protests. “After they massacred him in the news, I don’t think he wants to see any of you guys any time soon.”

“That man attacked my wife and her father in a public ballpark. He continued to harass and taunt us on the stairs of the police station in front of the press after he had been charged with assault. I don’t know if he’s desperate, unstable, or just plain stupid, but whichever it is, you’re getting a restraining order for his protection. I’m ordering my security to shoot to kill if he comes anywhere near my wife or our family again. Hell, I’ll shoot him myself!” Allen sigh.

“’Nuff said. I’m on it,” he says, before we end the call. “Cholometes is in town,” I say to Jason. He sighs.

“Yeah, I got the text this morning,” he replies.

“How soon before he speaks to Butterfly? Any bets?” Jason shakes his head.

“I’ll give it until noon,” he says while pulling into the parking garage at Grey House.

*-*

“Did you know that Brian is here?” my wife says when I call to check on her. I look at my watch. Ten thirty. He didn’t even make it to noon.

“Yeah, I found out on the ride in,” I reply. “How did you discover?”

“I called Daddy’s office and he answered,” she says. I’m quiet for a moment, waiting to hear the rest. “He didn’t dawdle,” she continues. “He asked how I was and about the twins. I told him that we were all fine and he handed the phone to Daddy.” I sigh and try not to say anything about what I think of the asshole. Instead, I just change the topic.

“I’m getting a restraining order against Rossiter,” I tell her. “I don’t want him to come anywhere near you or our family. I shudder to think what might happen if the twins are with you and that guy approaches you again.” She’s quiet for a moment.

“I suppose it’s for the best,” she says. “I would imagine that he wouldn’t have a single friend in the city willing to be seen with him after yesterday’s fiasco, so I can see him feeling the need to settle a vendetta now. My question is why does everybody feel the need to come after us? The things that people do or want to do to us are so damn drastic, I just don’t understand it. I had people who didn’t like me when I was just Anastasia Steele, but nobody came after me. It can’t be the money, because nobody has tried to get any except my mother and Ginger Creepy Guy, so what the hell?”

“It is the money, honey,” I tell her. “They may not want money, but the money makes us a bigger target if for no other reason than that people think that we can buy our way out of any situation. You know, ‘More Money, More Problems,’ ‘With great power comes great responsibility,’ and let’s not forget ‘What’s she got that I don’t.’ The list is endless as to why they want to come after us—we have everything, or we’re capable of having everything—and they’re not. They had one of us or want one of us or want something we have or are upset that we’ve got something they don’t or don’t think we deserve what we have or are angry that we can get whatever we want. Fill in the blank, baby, but trust me… in the end, it boils down to the money.” I hear her sigh.

“I’ve got one last radio show that I’m doing next Monday, then I’m done,” she says. “It’s one of those live shows that runs simultaneously on camera on a local cable channel. I think I’ve gotten enough publicity for my causes for now… I need to let it rest. I need to focus on the accreditation of Helping Hands anyway. The process is taking way too long.”

“I can make some calls if you want,” I offer.

“Oh, God, no, please don’t do that. We already know that Gloria Felton is holding us up somehow. If you get involved, it’ll just throw fuel on the fire. No, we just have to figure out what needs to be done to get this thing moving the right way.”

“But here’s the thing,” I protest. “If you know that she’s holding you up, then the reason is obviously personal and there’s going to have to be some sort of outside involvement or interference, if you will. If this is a personal vendetta, she’s going to run it into the ground. She’s going to wait until you give up or she’s going to hold you back forever.” I hear my wife sigh.

“Just… don’t do anything, please,” she beseeches me. “Being on this side of things, I understand now why Grace didn’t want you to give money to the center. You’re a very powerful man and the last thing we need is the impression that you somehow bought or finagled our accreditation… and believe me. That’s exactly how she would make it look if you got involved.”

I understand what she’s saying, but she doesn’t understand that people with the slightest bit of power and an ax to grind are going to grind it in your ass until there’s no blade left. Whether she knows it or not, at some point, I’m going to have to get involved, but for now, I’ll respect her wishes… and just wait.

“Whatever you want to do, baby,” I say. “So, what’s on the agenda for the rest of the day?”

I listen to my wife talk about what she plans on doing with her afternoon, the entire time thinking about Cholometes presence in this part of the state and the Felton woman that’s holding up the accreditation for the center. I make a mental note to talk to Allen about exactly what’s needed to acquire accreditation and to discreetly look into whether there could actually be a legitimate delay in the approval. We should just wait it out for now, but I want to know first-hand exactly what the delay is.

Now, Cholometes.

I know from experience that waiting to see what move someone is planning to make can often be disastrous. I want to know what his intentions are and I want to know now—how long he plans on staying in town, what he’s going to be doing while he’s here, if he’s really here in support of his friend or in hopes of getting a glimpse of or a moment or two alone with my wife. I still don’t trust him. I’ve seen determination before—I’m the epitome of it. I’ll burn down cities for that woman and so will he. I know he will, and some Ana doppelganger isn’t going to change that. David was living, breathing proof of that.

“Put another tail on Cholometes,” I tell Alex. “Have him conveniently be discovered.” He’s silent for a moment.

“You’re playing with fire, Christian,” he warns, “or have you conveniently forgotten your last encounter with that man?”

“Just do it,” I reinforce. He sighs into the phone.

“Yes, sir,” he agrees skeptically.

*-*

“You’re leaving breadcrumbs again. What do you want?”

His voice is impatient over the phone and even though I engineered his contact, I fucking hate this arrogant asshole and really could do without talking to him.

“I don’t know what you mean, Brian. I’ve kept my eye on you ever since my wife kicked you out of our house and our lives. You’re a wildcard and I don’t trust you, so just like you’re watching me, I’m watching you.” He’s silent for a moment. Yeah, I know, asshole. “So, if you’re just now finding breadcrumbs, you haven’t been paying much attention…” I wonder just how overt Alex made the men I had him put on Cholometes? It’s only been a couple of hours and I didn’t tell them to go and wave at the fucker.

“Are you that insecure in your relationship, Grey?” he asks. “I realize that your world begins and ends with your wife, but here’s a news flash for you. There’s life after Ana.”

Did I mention that I hate this arrogant asshole?

“You could’ve fooled me,” I retort. “You followed her around for years sniffing her ass and hoping she would fall into your arms, even after we were married and she was pregnant with my children, and now you’re going to pretend that you’re suddenly disinterested?”

“And now you’re following me,” he counters, “and what am I doing? It was okay when you thought your men were being covert, but then you stick them right in my face to summon me like errand boys. And now, you’ve got my attention, so tell me, Grey. What the fuck am I doing?”

“Well, right now, you’re hanging out with a woman who looks exactly like my wife. So, while your mouth says you’re over her, your actions say that you’re not. In fact, your actions say that you’re dangerously close to obsession and that you’re trying to recreate a woman that you can’t have. Ana’s important to you and I know that she is,” I continue, “To you and to me. She gets into your blood and you don’t just shake her off. So, don’t try that coy shit, because it doesn’t work with me. I know exactly what you’re doing, and trust me—I’m keeping a really close eye on you and your new girlfriend.” Another pause.

“Is that what this is about?” he says, his voice actually rising an octave. “This is about Shawna? Oh, boy, I could have saved you some trouble,” he chuckles. “I have a type, Grey, just like you. There are things that I find attractive—that I’m drawn to—just like you, and I find Ana attractive. What’s the matter? Your feelers all up in the air because my girlfriend looks a whole lot like your wife?” he accuses. Yes, asshole, that’s exactly why my feelers are up in the air.

“Take a good look at all of your past submissives, you ass,” he continues. “How many of them could be sisters? Some of them twins? Don’t try to find something wrong with me having a relationship with a girl who looks a whole lot like the girl I fell in love with. Sha knows all about Ana, all about how I pined over her for years and was forced to finally let go. We don’t have any secrets. And yes, I know some of your subs changed to fit the bill…”

How the fuck did he know that??

“… But to answer your unasked question, no—Sha didn’t change. She didn’t dye her hair. She doesn’t wear contacts. She’s exactly three inches taller than Ana and she looked like that when I met her. So, stop thinking you have the monopoly on brunettes. Sorry to burst your bubble, but I don’t covet your life, even though I may have coveted your wife at one time, and there are other attractive women in the world that don’t want you!”

I know that’s supposed to be a stab, but for some reason, it’s not. I only want my Butterfly. As long as that sucker isn’t trying replicate her, which can only turn out badly when he discovers that the person he’s connected to is not Ana, I’m fine. He can get as many fembots as he wants. Hell, he can have my ex-subs—all of them, since he appears to know who they are.

“It might surprise you to know that I really don’t care who you fuck, as long as it’s not my wife. My only concern is for the people you might hurt and who might be hurt because of you.” He scoffs into the phone.

“You’re one to talk,” he jeers. “You’ve got one dead sub—because of you, one living in total obscurity—because of you, one off her fucking rocker in jail—because of you, and your wife was almost killed—all because of you, and those are just the ones you know of. If you don’t want me nosing and poking around in your life like I was before, get the fuck out of mine.” That leaves me uneasy. What the fuck don’t I know? “Listen to me carefully, because I’m only going to say this once. You’re harassing me, Grey. Don’t make me show you just how untouchable you’re not. Stay the fuck out of my life.”

“Don’t give me a reason to go nosing and poking around, and I won’t,” I retort.

“Keep it up, Grey, and you’re going to get more than you bargained for!” he ends the call without another word.

I fucking hate it when people hang up on me. It gives them that superiority that they’ve put me in my place. That shit does not sit well with me at all. I call Alex.

“Who the fuck did you put on Cholometes?” I demand.

“Is something wrong?” he asks.

“He just called me basically taunting me for incompetence!” I retort.

“You told me to make sure they were discovered…”

“What did they do—wave a flag at him?” There’s silence for a moment.

“Look, sir, I’m confused,” he begins. “I told you that this was a bad idea before we even embarked on this endeavor. You told me to do it anyway, and I did. I followed your directions exactly as you said and now you’re yelling at me. Did I miss something?”

No, you didn’t miss anything. I’m just fucking pissed! And I want to hold somebody responsible for me being pissed!

“No. Nothing.” I end the call. There’s no use in dwelling on this. I might as well get some work done or this conversation is just going to niggle at me all day.

I manage to forget my conversation with Colostomy and dive into some documentation and projections about a Spanish company that I want to acquire. I spend the better part of the afternoon picking apart the financials and synopses of the company when I’m interrupted by a text from Butterfly.

**Check your email. **

Well, this can’t be good.

I open my email and go to the folder that I have specifically for emails that come from my wife. And there’s a forwarded email:

To: Christian Grey
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Date: Monday, August 11, 2014, 16:14
Subject: FW: Curiosity Killed the Cat

Do I even want to know what this is about?

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey, M.D.
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

—————————————————————————————————

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
From: Brian Cholometes
Date: Monday, August 11, 2014, 15:59
Subject: Curiosity Killed the Cat

I’ve respected your wishes. I haven’t bothered you. I haven’t called or emailed you. I haven’t even spoken to Ray unless he initiated contact until he was arrested. Tell your husband to stop poking around in my life and my business unless he wants me to go back to poking around in yours.

Brian Cholometes

What the ever-loving fuck? I’m dialing his number faster than I can even think. He answers the call, but doesn’t say anything. He knows who it is.

“You threatened my goddamn wife? Seriously?” I bark into the phone.

“I didn’t threaten her,” he hisses. “I told her to keep you out of my goddamn hair just like I told you and you’re in it again. I don’t want your fucking wife anymore and I don’t give a fuck about you! Ray is my friend. He was my friend before you ever fucking came along and he’ll be my friend when you’re gone. I’m going to see about him when something is going on with him, and you can’t fucking stop that. Now you and I have nothing else to say to each other. Call off your fucking dogs and get out of my goddamn business. I’ve already told you that I’m not going to repeat myself and I’m a man of my fucking word. Don’t push me!”

The call ends abruptly—again—and I find myself at a crossroads. I. Am. Pissed. I want to drag this fucker through the mud just because I don’t fucking like him, but what’s worse is that I hate for people to get the last word on me! And he did it twice in one day!

However, I’m a smart guy. Yes, I’m a hothead, but I didn’t get as far as I am by doing dumb shit. Cholometes has something on me. He’s got information on my past submissives which is damaging enough, but more so, he’s got information about the outcome of a certain hacker situation last year. There are three guys who conveniently disappeared off the face of the earth and I have no idea what happened to them or where they are, but I’m certain that he does. So, even though it goes against every Alpha-male cell in my body, this is one time that if he says that he’s willing to stay out of my life if I stay the fuck out of his, I should stay the fuck out of his.

I sit back in my chair and think about what he said to me earlier. Part of me knows that I shouldn’t take what he said to me to heart, but this time, I can’t help it…

One dead sub…
One living in
total obscurity…
One off her fucking rocker in jail…
My wife was almost killed…
All because of me.

I don’t get it. All I did was fuck ‘em and beat ‘em and that’s the truth. The only tenderness I showed was aftercare. I didn’t show any true emotion until I met Ana. Yes, there was a time when I thought I had feelings for Elena when I was a teenager, but she beat and fucked that out of me, made sure that I knew that it was all about pleasure, pain, and sex and nothing else. I learned. I learned from the best… or the worst, depending on how you look at it, but I learned. So how is it that all these women losing their mind is my responsibility?

And why is it that I feel like he’s right?

I open the file containing the information on my prior subs. One has a Dom. One is a Domme. Four have moved on and are married. Three worked for Elena until she was arrested—not 100% sure what’s going on with them right now. One was chased into obscurity… by me. One hopeful is sitting on the sidelines, most likely losing her mind and plotting my demise as we speak, and three are dead—one as a result of trying to kill my wife. Two of them seem to have disappeared into thin air.

“It was just sex,” I say aloud. “I never promised them anything more. I told them I didn’t want anything more. How is it my fault?”

Is it my fault? Can I really be held responsible for someone wanting more than I could give them when I told them I couldn’t give them any more from the very beginning? Look at Ellison, for Christ’s sake. She went completely rogue and all we did was talk!

Would my wife check out like this if we ever split up? Of course, she would. I’ve unleashed all kinds of sexual, passionate, emotional hell on that woman. She’d go completely out of her mind, just like I would if she left me. It’s a good thing we’ll never find out.

I couldn’t have been all bad. Some of these women have moved on with their lives and forgotten all about me. Others… well…

I really have to know.

I click on one of the names and scroll down to the contact information. This is something I never expected to be doing in a million years.

“Hello.” I swallow hard.

“Hello… is this Charity?”

“Who’s calling?”

“It’s… Christian Grey.” There’s a pause.

“One moment.” I hear her talking to someone in the background before then a door closes a few moments later. “Well, I can’t say that I expected this call.”

“I can imagine,” I concur. “I never expected to make it.”

“Are you looking for a submissive? Because I’m not in the lifestyle anymore…”

“No. No, that’s not why I called. I’m married now.”

“I know,” she says. “The whole world knows,” she adds facetiously. “Christian Grey, married. I never saw that coming in a million years.”

“Trust me, neither did I. I… heard that you were married, too.”

“I am,” she replies, “very happily.” I nod.

“That’s good. I’m glad to hear that.” I really am… one less psycho bitch to worry about. I run my hands through my hair. “I…” I trail off.

“Well, this is definitely a first,” she acknowledges. “Mr. Grey is at a loss for words.” I sigh.

“I wouldn’t say that,” I say. “I just don’t know how to ask this question.”

“It’s the same thing,” she says, and I can tell that she’s smiling. “Just ask it. What’s the worst that could happen?”

You could tell me that I’m a living, walking, breathing, real-life monster and totally responsible for driving these women batshit crazy.

“When we were… together, did I ever give you the impression that I wanted more?” She scoffs.

“Not in the slightest!” she responds, “and for the record, we were never ‘together.’ I was your submissive. It was nothing more. I served a purpose in your life and you served a purpose in mine. When it was done, it was done. When I wanted a relationship, I left the lifestyle because I knew that I wasn’t going to find what I was looking for in that arena. What is this, some kind of ‘come to Jesus’ moment?” I nod as if she can see me.

“Yes, it is,” I admit. “There are several women that I engaged that seemed to have just lost their fucking minds. You’ve seen what happened to Elena. It was all over the news.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t know that you engaged Elena!” she retorts. “That explains a lot.”

“It’s a long story… and like what?” I ask.

“Like why she was always so particular about your girls. Like why she was always around. Like why she fawned over you and pawed at you when nobody else could touch you. She pissed all over you and anybody in the lifestyle knew that getting close to you meant going through her first. Girls were auditioning to be under her just to get to you. Being Christian Grey’s submissive was almost like being a part of this weird ménage à trois.”

How did I not know that?

“Are you still in the lifestyle?” she asks, curious.

“Not as such, no,” I reply. “I’m in a monogamous relationship now.”

“You were monogamous in the lifestyle,” she retorts. “At least that’s what you told me.”

“Well, yes, but you all were contracted… temporary…”

“So, your wife is your only submissive now.” I’m silent. Do I want to answer that question? “Don’t worry, Christian. I have as much to lose from exposure as you do.” It’s strange to hear her call me Christian when I was accustomed to her calling me Master or Sir.

“Yes, she’s my only submissive,” I confess. “I love her very much.”

“Oh, trust me, the world knows,” she replies.

“If that’s the case, then why are they acting so crazy?” I blurt out before I think about it.

“You’re asking me?” she says, puzzled. I sigh.

“I really need the point of view of someone that used to be my submissive,” I say honestly. “I told you all that I didn’t want anything more, and I didn’t offer anything more until I met my wife. So… why the crazy?” There’s another pause.

“I can only explain this from my point of view and from what I think I know,” she says. “You bring out feelings in women that they’re not accustomed to feeling. Your technique as a Dominant keeps a woman on the edge of her sanity, and for those who are already teetering on the edge of reality, that’s a dangerous combination. It’s very easy to topple over the edge and when you go over one of them, you go over them both.

“You were looking for something when you wielded that cane or when you cracked that whip. We were looking for something, too. Some of us are and were not willing to admit that we were hoping that you would fall in love with us. You’re a powerful man, Christian, not just in your money and your position. You’re powerful in every way. You overtake a woman, and when she turns her body over to you, you can best believe that she’s turning her mind over to you, too, and sometimes, her heart.”

“But I told these women,” I protest. “I didn’t have a heart, and if I did, there was no way that I was giving it to them.”

“And then you proved yourself a liar and gave it to Anastasia!” she retorts. “You clearly found everything that you ever wanted in Anastasia. Now, imagine finding that, having it for a period of time, and then being told that you can’t have it anymore. Would it matter when or how many times she told you that she couldn’t give herself to you, that she couldn’t give you anything more? Would it matter that she told you that she was incapable of loving you? How would you feel?” 

“I’m not sure I could imagine that,” I admit. “Anastasia’s ability to love me despite how fucked up I was, is what drew me out. So, if our relationship had been solely physical, I don’t think I ever would have fallen in love with her in the first place.”

“You couldn’t see yourself falling in love with anyone, Christian, so just go with me for a moment,” she counters. “If after you realized that you were falling for your wife, she told you that she couldn’t be with you, would you have been able to just walk away?” I physically shiver at the thought.

“No,” I reply finitely.

“Now, imagine her giving to some other man what she claimed that she would never be able to give to you…”

I don’t only shiver—I actually squirm at that thought. I can feel my teeth grind inside my mouth.

“You and I both know that Dominance and submission is a totally different animal than these flighty ass relationships with these people talking about ‘I looooooove you….’”

She drags the word “love” out in a comical manner to demonstrate her point.

“The amount of trust that goes into a D/s relationship is often deeper and more intimate than some marriages. You were a master, Master, and then you snatched that away from women who were probably hanging on by a thread and told them to just get over it. You told them that you couldn’t give them what they wanted and then they had to stand by and watch while you publicly gave it to someone else.

“I didn’t pine for you, Christian. I just wanted more. If I could have gotten it from you, I might have taken it, I don’t know… but I just wanted more. Not so for other women. I’ve had some before you and a few after you and trust me, you were the best. You can’t turn a woman’s body inside out and expect her heart not to follow. If that happens and she’s rejected and her mind is already fragile, what do you think will be the end result?”

“These women aren’t fragile!” I retort. “They’re psychotic! Possessive of something they never had…”

“But they did have you, Christian!” she counters. “We were your submissives, but you were our Dom… exclusively. That small part of you belonged to them and then you told them they couldn’t have it anymore. You took them on the ride of their lives. Then when it suited you, you stopped the car and told them to get out. I know from experience that some of those women are hanging on to sanity like a rubber band ready to snap, and you cut it. You gave them a drug and then you cut off the supply.

“You’re obtuse and unattainable, but what you do offer is magnificent and completely out of this world. Women would give anything to have it—that kind of passion and devotion, even if it’s not real. A dream is real while you’re in it until you wake up. Oftentimes, when you wake up, you’re broken-hearted that the dream has ended, and when you’re faced with your reality, it’s too much for you. That’s when they snap. That’s when they look for the object of their dismay… or affection. It may not be logical, but it’s true. You leave an impression on women that can never be removed or undone. You have stalkers that have never even touched you…”

Don’t I know it.

“… Imagine what it’s like for someone who has experienced the full impact of your passion or your fury… or worse yet, both. Imagine what it’s like for a woman who’s barely holding on to herself to withstand a Christian Grey punishment fuck, or one of your never-ending infernal orgasm-denial sessions.”

Shit. I remember how that left Butterfly the first time I did it to her in Anguilla. It was almost unbearable to watch her reaction. I had to make her come.

“So, it really is my fault that these women lose their minds,” I conclude. She pauses again.

“Not totally. You can’t take it all on yourself,” she says, “but there is a responsibility when you impose yourself upon someone the way that you do. You’re remarkably superb as a Dominant, but when someone has the skill that you do, it’s not something that should be passed out like a deck of cards. You did it because you couldn’t commit to one person, but with your talent and ability to consume someone the way that you do, with the passion that you have and the seduction that you emit, you did right to get married. You can’t hand that out like party favors and then tell people they can’t have it. In your defense, you took precautions—or at least you thought you did—to avoid attachment or expectation. But fragile or hopeful or even delusional minds can’t see that. They see happily ever after and one day, he’ll be mine no matter what he says.”

“Did you ever see that?” I ask. She laughs, a little sadly, I think.

“Not even once,” she replies firmly. “Which is a good thing, don’t you think?” I nod as if she can see me again.

“Are you allowed to say things like this?” I ask. “That I’m seductive and passionate and the best you ever had… and you’re married to someone else now?”

“I didn’t say that you were the best I ever had,” she clarifies. “I said that you were the best, meaning that you were the best Dom. You were passionate and powerful and you made me feel things that I had never felt before and will probably never feel again. But it was different… much different than it is with Niko and I sure that you know how that feels.” I nod again. She has effectively answered all of my questions, and maybe left me with a few more, but her last statement brings to mind the times that I told my wife that my dick knows “the difference.”

“Yes, Charity,” I say, “yes, I do…”


A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at 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 2—Beginnings and Conclusions

Okay, so, before all the medical practitioners and professionals that ever read my story decide to jump down my throat, PLEASE HEAR THIS! I’ve never been part of a medical investigation. However, in order to try to get this as close to real as possible, I researched the protocol and procedures of several states as well as talked to a few medical professionals—one of which actually took part in these kinds of investigations and admitted to me that the task was very stressful.

Having said that, please recognize that this is not only NOT going to be a by-the-book rendition of what may happen during one of these investigations, but also, I took a lot of creative license to develop this story line for reasons of my own. The last time I showed a doctor—ONE DOCTOR, not every doctor in my story, JUST ONE—in a bad light, I had a reader jumping down my throat, pretty much telling me that I was persecuting the medical profession by simply pointing out A PAINFUL REALITY that is unfortunately true with some doctors… SOME doctors!

I ask that you please put the torches and pitchforks away as you read this part of the story, because quite frankly, I don’t want to hear “That’s not how it happens!” I hate to tell you this, but research and discussion shows that part of this is EXACTLY how it happens while the other part is that great thing that we call FICTION! Speaking of fiction, Ana is now a 28-year-old psychiatrist. Explain it however it suits you. 😉

One more thing… Be sure that I have the email address that you want me to use on my mailing list. Also, be sure that you are checking that email regularly and that it doesn’t get too full. I sent my email out to the entire list last week and fifty-five emails BOUNCED! 

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 2—Beginnings and Conclusions

CHRISTIAN

“Talk to me,” I say to my father as Butterfly joins my side.

“He’s on oxygen, of course—he can barely breathe,” Dad says. “He’s becoming confused more often and he has awful muscle spasms. His skin is powdery…” Dad trails off. He holds his head down to try to rein in his emotions. “It… won’t be too much longer now.” I frown.

Pops’ condition deteriorated significantly not long after Valerie and Elliot’s wedding. Valerie finished radiation a couple of weeks later and Butterfly and I were planning our trip to Italy. Just when Valerie began to show significant signs of improvement, Pops’ health started to decline very quickly and he had to be rushed to the hospital. There wasn’t much that could be done for him. Without a kidney transplant, he doesn’t have much of a chance. To be painfully honest, it’s too late for a kidney even now. The hospital kept him for two weeks or so, but he has asked to come home. He has no unrealistic expectations. He’s certain that God still has miracles stored up there, but unfortunately, none of them are for him this time around.

“How long?” I ask. “Any idea?” Dad shakes his head.

“Weeks, maybe,” Dad says sadly, “but… I’d… put my money on days.” He squeezes the last words out. “That’s why we called everyone here. We’re most likely going to bring him home and let him live out the rest of his days in peace and comfort instead of alone in the hospital… and we just want everyone’s input.” I nod and squeeze his shoulder.

“Whatever you think is best, Dad,” I say softly. He nods and purses his lips. He looks over at Butterfly like he’s only just noticing that she’s there. She hands me the other baby carrier and hugs my dad. I’m glad she has so much faith in me carrying two of these things… not that I can’t do it.

“I’m so sorry, Carrick,” she says sweetly. “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Dad nods while Butterfly cups his face. His strong façade almost cracks at her touch.

“Being here is enough right now. Thank you, dear girl,” he says. My wife kisses my father on the cheek before she relieves me of one of my children and we all walk inside.

Elliot and Valerie are already here talking to Mom in the great room, along with Mia and Ethan. I look up the stairs just in time to see Luma disappear around a corner. She has become quite at home here since Pops and Uncle Herman arrived. It’s one of those situations where you understand that everything happens for a reason—even the really bad stuff. She lost her family and we welcomed her into ours. Now, she’s helping us through a difficult time. Mom rises when I enter and I kiss her on the cheek.

“How are you?” I ask. She smiles tightly.

“As well as can be expected,” she says. “Cary is so tired; the whole thing is really taking its toll on him. Herman puts up a brave front, but…” Mom shrugs. “You know we just have to be pillars for our men.” I raise an eyebrow.

Our men?” I ask suspiciously. “So, have Luma and Uncle Herman finally made it official?” My mom smiles a knowing smile.

“I knew it,” she declares. “I told them the only ones that they were fooling were themselves. Who all knows? Everybody?” I nod.

“Yeah, I think that’s a safe assumption,” I say. “I mean there hasn’t been any family powwows or anything like that, but the way they look at each other and the way they sneak away for stolen moments…” I gesture around the room. “… Like now.” Mom nods.

“He’s going to need someone… when Burt is gone,” she says sadly. “The last several years of his life have been centered around taking care of his father and that’s going to change soon. He’ll need a diversion—someone to care for him, and maybe someone else to care for.”

I look over at my wife who has settled in next to Valerie and Elliot, talking in hushed tones about who knows what while she situates the baby carrier at her feet. I still have one of my children in the carrier in my hand, I don’t know which one yet.

“She’s been so good for you, Christian,” my mother says. “I never thought I would ever see you shed your anger. I hoped, but I never thought…” She chokes up before she can finish her sentence and I rub her arm. “But look at you now,” she says, sniffling and fighting her tears. “A family man with a wife and two beautiful children.” I reach in my pocket and hand her my handkerchief when she loses the fight. “I’m sorry. It’s just that… times like these make you realize how important family really is.”

I hug my mother with my free arm, which only makes her cry harder. This is something else she didn’t think she would ever see, but being with Butterfly has changed me in ways that no one ever thought possible… not even me. The little bundle in my carrier begins to fuss and Butterfly’s attention immediately turns to me.

“Oh, please, please, let me,” my mother beseeches quickly drying her eyes and reaching for the baby seat. I look to Butterfly who nods once with a kind smile. I remove the blanket off the carrier to reveal which child I have been carrying. It’s Minnie.

“There’s grandma’s precious little Minnie Mouse,” my mother says, taking a fussing Minnie out of her carrier. Mikey must have heard the cue and starts to fuss as well.

“That means that this must be my godson,” Valerie says, removing the receiving blanket from the carrier before my wife has a chance to protest. “Hello, Sir Michael. Come and give Tee Tee Val kisses!” My little boy is quite the ladies’ man, because the moment Valerie retrieves him from the carrier, he gives her the biggest toothless grin. Speaking of teeth, Minnie has already started teething and has been quite irritable over the last couple of weeks. Butterfly is nearly at her wits end with Minnie’s relentless unwillingness to settle. The baby’s constant crying upsets her because she doesn’t like hearing Minnie cry. Noting her obvious distress, my mother comforts her.

“Don’t worry, dear. It’s just one of the growing pains they’ll have. Let me take care of her for you,” Mom says. Butterfly nods, and soon Minnie’s cries are off in the distance somewhere after Mom takes her from the great room. It’s obvious that my mother needs a distraction and quite frankly, Butterfly needs a break. Even with the two nannies at home, Butterfly is extremely active in caring for our children. Mikey has gotten to where he can sleep through the night if he’s not disturbed, but once Minnie started teething, her unrest would disturb him and now, he’s awake at night again when she stirs. Knowing that her daughter is in pain, my wife can’t sleep through the night either, so her latest sleeping habits have somewhat matched Minnie’s and, although I won’t tell her so, she looks exhausted.

She keeps telling me that something is holding up the accreditation at Helping Hands, but no one can seem to tell her or my mother what it is. So, of course, that’s very frustrating. Then there’s the hearing before the medical board looming over us and now, the family is gathering to discuss Pops’ deteriorating condition. We were planning a vacation on our anniversary at the end of the month. I intended to take Butterfly to the Italian villa that I bought for her, but with everything going on with work and licenses and Pops and the twins, it doesn’t look like we’ll be making that trip this year.

I sit on the sofa opposite Elliot and Valerie. Butterfly comes to join me and snuggles under my arm. I watch as my brother and his wife coo over my son who is hungrily taking a bottle offered by Valerie. I lean down and kiss my wife on the forehead.

“You okay?” I ask. She nods.

“I can’t stand to hear her cry that way,” she says, her voice sounding defeated. “It’s so shrill and I know that she’s hurting and I can’t do anything about it. It pierces me right in the heart—like a rusty knife!” I rub her arm and kiss her again, sinking into the silence.

“Listen,” I say and pause. She listens, realization dawning only moments later.

“She’s not crying anymore,” Butterfly says. “I wonder what Grace did.” I shrug. I don’t know what my Mom did, but I’m very happy that Minnie is settled, even if only for a moment.

“Are you guys planning to have kids of your own someday?” I ask Valerie and Elliot. “You’re a natural with babies.” Valerie smiles.

“Someday, but it won’t be for a while,” she says. “The radiation needs to work its way out of my system and then we need to know for sure that I have healthy ovaries.” Obviously, they’ve talked about this. “Once I have the ‘all clear’ from all pertinent doctors, we’ll most likely start trying sometime after that.” Elliot smiles and I nod.

“That’s a good idea. I’m feeling the need to keep our family line going,” I say. “We’re losing one of the foundations of the family and I’m just feeling that need to keep the legacy alive.”

“Tell me about it,” Elliot says before tenderly kissing his wife. Soon thereafter, Mom comes back into the great room with a cooing Minnie.

“Is she asleep?” Butterfly asks. Mom shakes her head.

“Just content,” Mom says. “I put something on her gums to soothe the ache.” Mom reaches into her pocket and pulls out a vial. “It’s a lavender oil dilution with just a touch of clove oil—not too much as clove oil can cause irritation in some infants.” She gives a vial to Butterfly. “A little bit on your finger—just enough to coat it—and rub it on her gums. She should get relief fairly quickly. When you run out, let me know and I’ll make more. I know the right concentration and you can’t be too careful with infants and clove oil. In a pinch, you can also use German Chamomile hydrosol. You’ll probably have to get it online, but you can put it right on her gums.” Butterfly nods and rises to put the vial in the diaper bag… but she doesn’t quite make it off the sofa.

“Butterfly!” I exclaim, catching her just as she falls back down on the sofa. She puts her hand on her forehead.

“I’m okay,” she says softly. “Just a little light-headed.” My brown furrows.

“Exhausted, you mean,” I accuse, taking the vial from her hands and putting it in the side pocket of the diaper bag. I turn around to the questioning faces of my family and the convicted downcast gaze of my wife. I sit next to her again and cuddle her close to me, nearly pulling her into my lap.

“Why are you exhausted, Anakins?” Mia asks. When Butterfly doesn’t respond, I speak instead.

“There’s a lot going on and it’s happening all at once,” I say without being specific. “Some things that can’t be helped and some things that certainly can, and I swear, Butterfly—if you don’t get a handle on those things that can be handled, I’m going to do it for you.”

“You can’t rescue me, Christian,” she protests.

“No, I can’t,” I agree, “but I can assure that all this stuff you’re taking on doesn’t kill you. It’s going to be your choice or mine, baby, but I won’t lose you.” She drops her eyes again.

“I’m afraid he’s right, Steele,” Valerie says and Butterfly raises her head. Valerie starts to count on her fingers.

“You were there for me, and I needed 24-hour care. You’re there for two babies and you never faltered. You’re there for the help center. You do the radio spots. You went from the six-week check-up to that crazy woman’s trial to caring for me and planning my spur-of-the-moment wedding. And this is just the stuff I know about. That doesn’t include if something else is going on…”

“There’s a whole lotta ‘something else’ going on,” I interject and Valerie nods.

“You’re not looking well, Ana, and the moisturizer that you’re wearing does not cover the bags under your eyes. You’re spread about as thin as you can be. Do you need to pass out before you take a break?”

“Fuck, no,” I answer emphatically, until I hear my mother hiss softly. “Sorry, Mom, but fuck no.” This time I mouth the word fuck. Butterfly’s shoulders sag her defeat. I cuddle her close to me. I don’t want her to feel like we’re ganging up on her, but I’m glad Valerie chimed in and told her that her overworking herself is not invisible to those around her. She would have taken it as me being overprotective.

“We’ll work this out,” I tell her, “together, but baby, the twins and I need you healthy, fit, and happy, so something’s got to give. At your current pace…” I trail off. She raises sad blue eyes to me in surrender and nods, curling into my chest and allowing me to hold her. I think there might be a bit of shrinking involved, but I allow it this time.

I gently stroke her hair as conversation carries on around us about babies and life and Mia’s upcoming wedding—anything but the elephant in the room and the reason that we’re all here… Pops’ condition. A few minutes later, Dad, Uncle Herman, and Luma all come from different parts of the house and join us in the great room. Dad and Uncle Herman look as run down as my wife if not more. Valerie and Mom have gotten the twins settled and back in their carriers and my father and uncle find a seat. Luma has already taken a seat with Mia and Ethan.

“Well,” Dad begins, “Dad’s not doing well at all. He’s very weak and very frail. The number of symptoms piling up is more than we can even describe. He’s irritable, upset… quickly deteriorating and currently alone in a hospital bed. Dialysis really can’t do much more to help him at this stage. The disease is so advanced and with his advanced age and no new kidney on the horizon…” Dad trails off. After several moments of silence, Uncle Herman continues.

“We called my brothers back in Detroit for input. You can just about imagine how well that went,” he says, rubbing his forehead. “Anyway, we don’t have time for the bickering. We have to make a decision. Dad doesn’t have long left and he’s refusing dialysis because he knows this. He wants his last days to be as comfortable as possible. We’re considering bringing him home on hospice instead of leaving him at the hospital, but it’s certain that if we do that, he’s going to die here and not too far down the road. We want his family to be around him when that happens, maybe even to hear and see his great-grandchildren on his last day… Is she alright?”

Uncle Herman had turned his attention to me to weigh in on the great-grandchildren suggestion, but is now referring to my wife. I was so engrossed in what he was saying that I wasn’t paying attention to Butterfly. She’s in the most awkward position on my chest with her mouth hanging open—fast asleep. She wasn’t shrinking, she was cuddling and trying to get comfortable. I adjust her so that she’s laying on my lap and she doesn’t even stir. If it weren’t for the rise and fall in her chest, I’d be concerned about her.

“She’s overworked,” I answer Uncle Herman. Dad looks at Mom with a furrowed brow. “It’s more than that, Dad,” I counter, anticipating his thoughts. “There’s a lot going on.”

“I’m sorry, son. I didn’t mean to dump this on you while you two while you’re going through something…”

“Trust me, Dad, it’s okay. This is family. It’s just that everything is happening at once and I have to help my wife delegate some things. She’s not going to be happy about that, but she can’t continue the pace that she’s keeping.” I stroke her hair again while she’s lying on my lap. “Please, Uncle Herman, continue.”

“I… feel a little guilty asking what I want to ask now,” he says, looking over at Dad, who sighs heavily. “We’ve decided… to bring him home and let him go in peace. We’ve talked about it and… we’d like for anyone who can to move into the Manor for a while. Dad’s become accustomed to having the family around and if everyone stays away while he’s dying… well…” Herman trails off this time. This is very hard for my father and his brother. I’m certain that Butterfly won’t mind moving in with my parents for a little while. It’ll give me a chance to pull her away from the situation she’s in for a while, too. Not so much a vacation, unfortunately, but at least a breather from some of the things she has to handle. I’ll cut down on my work, too, so that I can keep an eye on her and help out with the babies while this is all going on.

“Um… we have nannies that help with our children. I’m sure security can probably set up in the pool house or the pool house, but the nannies…”

“Give them a vacation,” Mom says. “We’ll help you care for the children.”

“Yes,” Luma says. “I am certain that my boss will allow me a revised schedule for a family emergency,” she says with a wink, causing me to chuckle. “I will be happy to help out with the children.”

“Me, too, when I’m not forced to work,” Mia chimes in. “You know how I love babies.”

“More time with my godchildren? Count me in,” Valerie also says. “Besides, Steele needs a break in the worst way. We’re going to have to pry her away from those babies, because that’s where most of her energy is going and life in general is zapping the rest. Even with the nannies, she’s right there every time one of the children cries. She’s going to have to let go just a bit. That’s why she has nannies—to allow her the time to do the other things she wants to do, not to try to be a stay-at-home mom and carry a full-time schedule. They’re both full-time jobs. Geez, she even takes the babies to work with her.”

“You’re preaching to the choir here,” I tell her. “I’ll appreciate your back-up when it’s time to convince her.”

“You got it,” Valerie confirms.

“Does that mean that you all are willing to move in for a while?” Uncle Herman says. “We don’t know how long it will be… we just know that it won’t be long.”

Various affirmations around the room confirm that Grey Manor will soon become Grey Compound for however long it takes for Pops to make his transition. More conversation reveals that one brother in Detroit is on the fence about what to do while the other is adamant about leaving Pops in the hospital. His suggestion is to have Pops deemed incompetent and unable to make his own decision and forcing him to take the dialysis to extend his life. Yeah, that’s the kind of fucker I want to make my end-of-life decisions… not!

Luckily, for lack of a better word, even if Pops’ capacity may be slightly diminished, he’s not completely gone and still able to make his own decisions. Not only that, he has advanced directives that were put in place before his health deteriorated and the person able to legally make decisions about his care is already here—Uncle Herman has power of attorney and is already trustee for Pops’ estate.

Once we sort out what’s going to be happening over the next several days or weeks—however long this process takes—I take my wife to my childhood bedroom and put her to bed. She still hasn’t stirred. One good thing about being here instead of home… no two-way communications, so she can’t be disturbed by the babies crying.

I get to work immediately on what needs to be done for our stay, as does Elliot and Ethan. The women are left to coo over the babies and make sure all the refrigerators are stocked. Jason will set up Security Central in the pool house and have a of staff rotation working shifts while we’re here. Gail and Keri will be on-call and brought to the Manor only if needed as the place will already be overrun with people. I arrange for cribs and baby furniture to be delivered to the Manor to set up nurseries in two parts of the house as Mom and Dad don’t have the staff or accommodations that we have. Gail and Keri are packing the things that we’ll need for a possible month-long stay with my parents—including clothes for me and Butterfly.

Work schedules will be severely cut as well as appearance schedules for my wife. Marilyn will also be on call to handle most of Butterfly’s tasks so that she can finally get a little rest. We can’t avoid the hearing coming up next week and I’m hoping that my deposition in all of this will put this shit to rest. Sexual misconduct… what a fucking crock. Although, something that Valerie said earlier stuck with me…

“You went from the six-week check-up to that crazy woman’s trial to caring for me and planning my spur-of-the-moment wedding.”

In two years—two years—of being with my lover, my fiancée, and my wife, there were only three people with intimate knowledge who really questioned our relationship…

Ronald Carlisle, the director of the community center where I attended the group sessions. I’m sure he did so for professional reasons and we never heard from him again after the sessions were complete.

Brian Cholometes, Ray’s best friend and a serious suitor for Butterfly. Could his jealousy and need for revenge have caused him to want to harm Butterfly after ultimately losing her to me?

And of course, the crazy woman to whom Valerie is referring—one Elena Lincoln. She knew the circumstances under which I met Butterfly. She could very well be the one who’s trying to ruin Butterfly’s reputation.

There could be any other number of people who could have made this false report, including someone that was in the initial group sessions, but I’d like to focus on these three first—eliminate them and then move on to possible other suspects. It’s time to shake the tree and see if anything falls out.

“Welch.”

“I appreciate more than anyone that I can pick up this phone at just about any hour of any day and reach you, but damn, man, you need a life,” I proclaim into the phone.

“This coming from my boss,” he retorts. “Should I hang up and go find one right now?”

“Don’t be a smart-ass,” I warn.

“Don’t tell me to get a life. I’ve got a life—the life I want. Now what do you need?” I stop egging him on and get to the point.

“I know that we can’t really pinpoint who contacted the licensing board about me and my wife since the complaint was anonymous, but if you know who to look at, could you find out if they contacted the licensing board at all?” The line is quiet.

“It’s a place to start,” he says. “If someone was trying to cover their tracks, you may never find out. But if they were using their cell or office phones or home phones, it should be easy enough. If it was in writing, that’s trickier.” I shake my head as if he can see me.

“It was a phone call,” I tell him. “Allen got that much from the review board, but they wouldn’t give any further information.”

“What do you have?” I give him the names. “Has Ana tried talking to Carlisle to see if he had suspicions? Or you? Didn’t you see him separately for a while?”

“He had suspicions,” I say. “He openly asked us if something was going on. Separately, but he asked us.”

“Then why wait two years?” he asks, the same question I was considering.

“Whoever made the complaint waited two years,” I point out. “I’m just going through a process of elimination. Besides our family and close friends, there’s only a handful of people who even knew that Butterfly and I met in those sessions. I’d like to start with the obvious.”

“Brian… you like to give me impossible tasks, don’t you?” he says.

“Only because I know you can do them,” I retort.

“Lincoln will be the easiest one. I’ll start with her.”

“Good man. Let me know what you come up with.”

“Will do.” I end the call and go in search of my mother.


ANASTASIA

I slept like the dead. When I open my eyes, it’s still daylight, but I can tell that it’s somewhat late in the day. I can’t remember the last time I had that content of a sleep. I’m in Christian’s bedroom with no idea how I got here. I throw my legs over the edge of the bed, stand up, and go to the bathroom. After relieving myself, I wash my face and try to tame my bed-head hair. Once I’m satisfied, I go in search of my family.

There’s no one in the great room and I didn’t want to just start opening bedroom doors and maybe walk in on something I really don’t want to see. I head for the dining room and discover my husband talking to his mother. I hear my name and decide to hang back at the door for a while. I’m sure that quite a bit has been discussed while I was sleeping.

“You just wouldn’t believe the headache we’re having,” I hear Grace say. “I don’t want to dump it all on Ana, and I swear that I haven’t, but she takes it on anyway. She has all the plans for the school and the day care center—it was her baby from day one. She feels like it’s her responsibility to see it through to the end. That’s partially my fault for freaking out when she announced her maternity leave.”

“That’s water under the bridge now, Mom,” I hear Christian say. “What’s important now is that she doesn’t work herself to death. You saw her this afternoon. She’s running on fumes! She even has the communications system in the house wired so that if one of the babies makes the slightest sound and she’s not in the room with them, she’s notified even if she’s on the toilet!”

“Good God,” Grace says. “That’s a bit extreme.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. We have two nannies and two children. At first, it was Gail and Ana. But when Sophie came to live with us, we didn’t want Gail spread too thin, so we hired Keri. There are three women in that house that can care for those children, but Ana cares for them the most. I think that may partially be my fault for telling her that I didn’t want my children raised by nannies.”

That’s not his fault. We agreed that the babies wouldn’t be raised by nannies. I want my children to know who I am. They can know who the nanny’s are, but this is called being “Mom.”

“That’s Mom for you, son,” Grace says, verbalizing my thoughts. “Mom is going to be the one to kiss boo-boos. Mom is going to be there for birthdays and holidays and to tuck them in at night. Mom is going to parent-teacher conference and to hug Minnie through her first heartbreak and give Mikey advice on girls that you may not be able to give him. Moms care; nannies help.”

“I know,” he says, and I can see him in my mind’s eye running his hands through his hair, “but she’s killing herself, Mom. She’s exhausted. She’s going to make herself sick. She can’t do both full-time and everything else that she’s trying to squeeze in. Something’s got to give. She’s going to have to cut down to part-time on both or let one go or something… There’s no way in hell she can keep up this pace. I just need to know that you’re on the same page with me.”

I lean against the wall as I listen to Grace agree with my husband. His voice sounds… distressed, and this is one of those times when even though I may feel like Wonder Woman, my husband needs to care for me. It’s not the control freak in him—well, maybe it is,  just a little bit, but not really. No, this is genuine concern for my welfare and the fact that the slightest thing is causing me to snap or fall apart lately. Although I wouldn’t call discovering that someone is accusing me of sexual misconduct a slight thing, it took the staff three days to get my office back to par after that revelation.

“Our biggest problem is getting the accreditation approved.” Grace’s conversation brings me back from my wanderings. “Now, I’ve discovered what’s holding it up.”

She did? Why didn’t she tell me?

“I only found out late yesterday. With what I knew was coming with Burt and the hearing on Monday, I was going to wait until after to say anything to her about it,” she says, once again reading my mind.

“Well, what is it?” Christian asks.

“The director of the licensing board,” Grace says. “She’s been putting us through the paces for months, continuously holding up our license for one thing or another and we couldn’t figure out why. I researched the process to have an appeal or an investigation conducted to see why we’re being subjected to such scrutiny and if this is the usual process for organizations seeking accreditation. Every time we pass one test or another review and we’re led to believe that we’re going to get our accreditation, something else has to be submitted or reviewed. I think the steps are unnecessary, so my research led me to the head of the board. You won’t believe what I found.”

“What did you find?”

“Gloria Felton,” Grace says. The name sounds slightly familiar, but there are no alarm bells going off.

“Should I know this person?” Christian asks.

“No, you wouldn’t,” the response came, “but Ana and I would. I passed Gloria Felton up as Assistant Director for the Center and gave the job to Ana. Ana was overwhelmingly more qualified for the job, but Gloria was convinced that I only did it because she was dating you at the time. She was spewing threats on her way out the door and now, it appears she’s making good on them.” I burst into the dining room.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I ask in a shrill voice. “Gloria fucking Felton? Really?”

Grace and Christian are both beyond shocked at my entrance.

“Ana! Were you eavesdropping at the door?” she asks.

“Yes, I was,” I admit openly. “I heard my name when I approached and I didn’t want the conversation to drop the moment I walked into the room. Gloria Felton? Is this a joke?”

“I’m afraid not,” she says.

“Was she the director back when she was trying to socially climb through the charity?” I ask. “How could she expect to do them both?” Christian raises an eyebrow at me.

“I don’t know,” Grace replies. “I don’t think so.” My scar starts to throb. Gloria fucking Felton. I only knew her as Gloria, which is why she didn’t ring any bells. All that work we’ve done can be just shot to hell because of somebody’s personal vendetta. Give me a fucking break. I notice the room has fallen silent and raise my eyes to see Christian and Grace both staring at me.

“I heard you,” I say, looking over at my husband. “You’re right. I’m exhausted. I can’t keep up this pace. I’ll talk to Marilyn about my schedule and work some things out, and I’ll utilize my nannies more…” I turn to Grace. “… But Grace, if something must suffer in this, it’s going to have to be the Center, because it’s not going to be my babies.” Grace’s face breaks into a sincere smile.

“I would expect nothing less, dear,” she says. Before I know it, Christian has gathered me in his arms and is holding me so close to him that I can’t move. He buries his nose in my hair and inhales.

“Thank you,” he whispers softly. “Thank you thank you thank you…”

I can only imagine that this is hard for him, what’s going on with Pops and watching Herman and Carrick fall apart before his very eyes, and now me—barely able to stay awake for a very important conversation. When he releases me, I open my eyes to see that Grace has left us alone in the dining room.

“It’s getting late,” I say. “Are we staying for dinner or shouldn’t we be getting home soon?” His lips form a thin line.

“Yeah, about that.” He returns to his seat, pulling me with him. I sit down in the chair next to him. “I’ve somewhat made an executive decision and I hope you don’t mind… you were asleep.”

“What’s going on?” I ask. Christian tells me about the conversation the family had while I was fast asleep on his lap; how all the siblings, their significant others, and Luma with her girls have all agreed to move into Grey Manor as a unified support system until Pops passes on; how Mia, Luma, Grace, and even Val have all agreed to become part-time nannies for the girls and for the twins while we’re here; how everyone wants to be present to support Carrick and Herman through this and help ease Pops’ mind knowing that family is around him during his final days.

“And I slept through this?” I ask horrified. “Christian, you let me sleep through this?”

“I couldn’t stop you, baby,” he states matter-of-factly. “I didn’t even know you were asleep until Uncle Herman asked if you were okay.”

“Why didn’t you wake me?” I protest. This was an important meeting and I slept through it like a toddler at naptime. He twists his lips.

“Baby, I moved you several times and you didn’t even stir.” He’s right. He got me off the sofa, upstairs and into the bed and I didn’t even know I was there. “Everyone understood, Butterfly. You tried, but you couldn’t hide it… you looked you were going to pass out.” I roll my eyes, admitting defeat.

“So… where are the babies going to sleep?” I ask.

“Well, we now have two nurseries—one in the guest room next to Mom and Dad’s room and Mom’s library has been converted to a nursery, too.” My eyes widen.

“How long was I asleep?” I ask.

“Several hours, baby.” I shake my head and stop arguing.

“Is there a space somewhere that I can commandeer as a makeshift office while I’m here?” I ask. “I’m going to have to meet with Marilyn—cancel some appearances, rework my schedule… I think Grace and I will have to alternate at Helping Hands for a while, and some days, they’ll just have to do without us both.” Christian smiles.

“I’ll see what Mom says about commandeering a room. I haven’t lived here in a long time, remember?”

*-*

Marilyn and I comb through my schedule on Sunday morning and cancel all my immediately upcoming appearances until further notice due to a family emergency. I know that this will lead to speculation, but right now, I can’t be concerned with that. As Christian and I prepare to give our depositions at the hearing tomorrow, he gets a call and decides to take it in another room. That makes me feel a little uneasy since it’s late Sunday evening, but I don’t squawk about it.

Mia and Grace take the rounds on baby watch so that Christian and I wouldn’t be late to the preliminary hearing for my license review in the morning. It’s an informal hearing, so I don’t necessarily need Al, yet, but the moment I enter the building, I begin to feel like I should have brought him with me.

I can’t even begin to express how ridiculous I think this exercise is. Just like in a real courtroom, Christian isn’t allowed hear my testimony and I’m not allowed to hear his. However, I’m quite surprised to see some of the participants of that same group that Christian was in as well as Ronald Carlisle in the waiting room, waiting to give their testimony. When I check in, I have to turn in my purse, my phone, and my watch before I’m led to a separate room where I sit all by myself… with an escort who’s not allowed to leave the room.

Why the hell did they take my watch?

I sit in that room with nothing but a table and no windows, and I slowly begin to lose hope. There’s no clock, there’s nothing to let me know how much time has passed. I sit and sit and sit in silence, and I feel like it’s been hours. I already know that I’ve been escorted to this room to make sure that I speak to none of the witnesses and I’m also certain that with the way that I’ve been treated—like a nobody, and I’m a licensed medical professional—that unlike a criminal trial where I’m innocent until proven guilty, I’ve pretty much been convicted, and it’s up to me to prove my innocence. I’m feeling more and more helpless the longer I sit here and I finally settle on a plan of attack, if you can call it that.

“Excuse me, why did they take my watch?” I ask the escort/attendant/guard or whatever the fuck she is.

“It’s protocol, ma’am,” she says in a clipped voice.

“But why my watch? What can I possibly do with my watch?” They didn’t take my wedding rings or my earrings or any of my other jewelry. What could I do with my watch?

“It’s protocol, ma’am,” she says again, and it’s obvious that she has no other words for me. I shake my head and sigh.

Just like I said, a nobody.

I close my eyes and meditate while I wait. I focus on my children, on my wedding day, my honeymoon, all of my best friend’s weddings; on Food & Libations and on holding my little brother for the first time; on dancing with my father and Christian’s proposal; on realizing that he loved me and I loved him even when I didn’t know who he was after coming out of the coma; on building a High School Musical bear with Sophie at Thanksgiving and on Keri’s return from Anguilla; on…

“Dr. Steele-Grey, the board is ready for you now.”

I look up at the escort who has been sitting silently in the cell with me all this time. That’s what this room is. It’s a cell, and after being stripped of my dignity this way, I’m resigned to accept whatever they say.

“It has come to the attention of the board that there has been an accusation of sexual misconduct against you, Dr. Steele-Grey.”

There’s some kind of introduction about this not being a formal disciplinary proceeding blah blah blah. I’ve already tuned them out. I was forced to walk about 100 feet from the door to a single chair sitting in front of a long Oxford wood table with four people on the other side facing me. They give me their names, but I don’t commit any of them to memory—two men, both over the age of fifty, a younger man and a woman… I can’t place her age. Christian’s got their names. I know he does. No matter, I already know what I’m going to say.

“You mean a conviction, don’t you?” I say, my voice controlled. All four of the people who sit in judgment of me raise their eyes to me.

“Excuse me?” one of them says.

“You said an ‘accusation.’ You meant a conviction, didn’t you?” I repeat. “I sit before this board accused by a ghost! Someone who can’t be bothered to come before this panel, show their face and proudly proclaim they openly accuse me of wrongdoing. No, I’m called before a disciplinary board and treated like a common criminal from the moment I entered this building based on opinion and conjecture. I’ve been sitting in a cell for four hours with no contact with anybody. I couldn’t even check on my children!”

“It’s not a cell, Mrs. Grey…”

“It’s Dr. Steele-Grey you haven’t stripped me of my license yet and have you been in that room?” I say all in one breath. They all fall silent. “If that’s not a cell, why did they take my watch? My watch! What can I possibly do with a watch?” I exclaim. “I remember a psychological experiment when I was in college where they put people in a cell with no window for days and deprived them of the ability to tell time. The subjects lost their minds. Is that what this was? Some kind of mind-freak experiment to break down my resistance? Stick me in a cell for four hours and hope I’ll confess to anything?”

“Mrs. Grey, that is not a cell,” he repeats, his voice sounding impatient.

“Excuse me, but is something wrong with your hearing?” I ask.

“I beg your pardon?” he scoffs.

“I repeat, is there something wrong with your hearing?” I ask, folding my arms. “Is your hearing okay?” I am pointing to my ears this time.

“There’s nothing wrong with my hearing!” he shoots.

“Eyesight good, too?” I ask. “I wear glasses, too, and I know things can tend to get a little fuzzy.” He’s really getting heating now.

“My eyesight is fine,” he replies as if he can barely maintain control.

“Well, I’m only asking because you keep addressing my sister-in-law. You see, she’s Mrs. Grey. I’m Dr. Steele-Grey, and when you called me in here and addressed me for the first time, that’s what you said. And when you look at that documentation in front of your face, that’s who you’re trying. And since you’re so sure that the description of that room is a matter of my own perception, I’ll tell you what, sir. You have one of these fine employees take you to that room, take your watch, and sit there with you for four hours without saying a word and then come back and tell me that it’s not a cell.”

He clears his throat and looks at his notes.

“We’re getting off the mark, here,” he says, bringing the conversation back to the cause of the hearing. “You know that you’re here because accusations of sexual misconduct have been levied against you.”

“By whom?” I ask.

“Christian Grey,” he says. I now notice that he must be the mouthpiece while the others just observe and take notes as he’s the only one who speaks.

“Would you like to rephrase that now or would you like to wait until I turn this over to my attorney for slander?” I say, impassively. He glares at me when the other older gentleman leans over and whispers something in his ear. He clears his throat again.

“What I mean to say is that the victim is Christian Grey,” he corrects himself.

“And again, I ask, accusations have been levied against me by whom? Christian Grey will tell or has already told you that there has been no sexual misconduct on my part while he was in my group session. So, what are we basing further hearings on? Who is my accuser and what is their evidence?”

“Mrs. Grey, you’re hardly in a position to make demands right now with the delicate nature of these proceedings.”

“It’s Dr. Steele-Grey, for the third time. And sir, if you’re not required to answer my questions, I’m not required to answer yours, nor will I defend someone’s opinion to this board.” They look at each other as I cross my arms and legs. That’s when the totally inappropriate questions begin.

“Did you wear provocative clothing to the group sessions you facilitated?”

“Did you ever act inappropriately around your patients or participants?”

“Did you and Mr. Grey have a lover’s quarrel during which time you outed him in front of the other members of the group for ‘mommy issues?’”

More and more questions exactly like this one are fired off at me. I shake my head at the line of questioning and laugh. I don’t answer a single question. When he’s done with his barrage, he asks one last question.

“You don’t have anything to say for yourself, Mrs. Grey?” I laugh again. Mrs. Grey. Okay.

“Yes, I do,” I say, rising and standing behind my chair. “Not one of those questions that you asked had anything to do with possible sexual misconduct except possibly when you incorrectly described a disagreement that I had with Mr. Grey as a ‘lover’s quarrel.’ So, since you have a problem wording your questions, I’m going to guide you in the right direction.”

“Mrs. Grey…” he begins.

“Mr. Grey’s first group session with me as a facilitator was June 11, 2012,” I begin without regard for this ass’s interruption. “Three days later, I learned that I would not be the right person to facilitate his anger management sessions because he—like you—did not respect me as a doctor at the time.”

I pause to allow that last statement to sink in for a moment. Old Boy #1 narrows his eyes at me and I continue.

“The following Monday, June 18, 2012, I had every intention of informing the court of Mr. Grey’s complete and total lack of respect for me as a doctor since he—like you—insisted on calling me Ms. Steele instead of Dr. Steele. At the time, he was trying to make me feel inferior, much like you’re trying right now by not correctly addressing me. However, I was going to use his unwillingness to participate in the group sessions as a reason for possible reassignment for him.”

“We really don’t…”

“Later that week,” I continue over his interruption, “I find out that he performed a background check on me, which caused me to fear for my safety. So, I had one performed on him as well, strictly on a personal level. This is where I learned about the unfortunate incidents of his childhood, including something to do with his mother. The argument that ensued the following Monday on June 25, 2012 had absolutely nothing to do with a lover’s quarrel, sir!” I hiss. “It had everything to do with the fact that I was tired of being antagonized by Mr. Grey for the prior two weeks when I was only trying to do my job, and I had had enough of attempting to help people who did not want my help. ‘Mommy issues’ was an unfortunate outburst that was subsequently followed by my resignation on the same day. If Mr. Carlisle told you correctly, I turned in a blank report for Mr. Grey so that someone else could evaluate his situation.

“I had no impact on Mr. Grey’s report or treatment for the anger management sessions. In fact, our romantic relationship didn’t begin until four days later when he interrupted a disastrous date that I was having that Friday night. That’s all I have to say. Draw what conclusions you need from that narration. Unless you have questions for me based on factual evidence, I’ve told you all that I’m going to tell you. And allow me to add that I’ve never been treated more unprofessionally by a supposed group of professionals in my life. If this is the governing body over my profession, I’m thinking that maybe I made the wrong career choice.” I turn away from them and begin the 100-foot walk towards the door.

“Mrs. Grey, this hearing is not over yet.” I stop and turn around.

“Yes, it is,” I say. “First of all, you keep calling me Mrs. Grey, so you’ve already made your decision. Second, and more importantly, this entire proceeding has been based on nothing but opinion. You haven’t presented one single fact—not one, and that’s not something that I think! That’s something that I know. The reason that I know is because none exist. There’s not one fact in existence that indicates that I have been sexually inappropriate with any of my patients. That is a fact! Your deliberations and decisions will be based on nothing but opinions, so what does mine matter? I’m the condemned…” I put my hand on my chest mocking contrition. “Oh, I’m sorry. I meant I’m the accused,” I correct myself sarcastically. “So, when you’re all done mixing all of your opinions in your cauldron and you come up with a decision about the fate of my impeccable record, I’m sure you’ll notify me if I’m deemed worthy to continue to practice psychiatry in these great United States!” I turn around march out of the room.

Christian is waiting for me outside of the hearing room when I come whooshing out the door. He stands immediately, his concerned gaze fixed on me.

“Butterfly?” he says, cautiously.

“Take. Me. To. My. Children.” I say. He nods once, puts his hand in the small of my back and leads me out of the building.


CHRISTIAN

I’m stepping off the GEH jet making the same trip my wife made a few months ago for pretty much the same reason. I’m about to ruin someone’s life more than it’s already been ruined.

Sunday, while we were planning our attack and testimony for her hearing, I received a call from Welch. Butterfly looked at me questioningly when I took it in the other room, but luckily, she didn’t ask anything.

Sunday…

“What do you have for me?”

“Lincoln,” he says. “She made a call to the licensing board a couple of months ago. As it stands, she saved up whatever credits she earned over the last year and used them to make that call. It’s hard as hell to save up those credits in prison because it’s basically a barter system. So, I can guarantee you that she’s been planning this for a long time.”

“Is there any way that we can legally get a recording of that call?” I ask.

“We can, but it would take more time than Ana has. You want to pull some strings on this one if you can, especially if you plan on using it to get her off the hook.” I run my hands through my hair.

“See what you can do to get it anyway,” I say. “And start working on getting me into that damn prison as early on Tuesday as possible. Get Holstein directly. I’ll need to meet with him personally.”

“On it,” Welch says before ending the call.

Today…

You would have thought the President was coming to Walla Walla with the cavalcade that met us on the tarmac. A caravan of police cars and motorcycles escort us to the prison as I remember the look on my wife’s face when she came out of that room.

“Take. Me. To. My. Children.”

She didn’t say a word about her testimony and she didn’t ask me about mine. She spent the rest of the evening basking in the love of our children and the support of our family and we didn’t mention anything about it, but once my testimony in front of those buffoons was complete hours earlier, I knew there would be a shakedown. Although I didn’t think it wise to tell Butterfly about Lincoln’s involvement in the whole thing just yet, I was bound and determined to bring everyone down that had anything to do with this farce, including that kangaroo-court panel of high-nosed assholes, and I made sure that they knew it.

Monday at the hearing…

“Why didn’t you tell me that Ana was inappropriate with you during her sessions?” 

I was surprised when Carlisle caught me at the fucking urinal and confronted me about the accusation. I already knew that it wasn’t him, but if I hadn’t, this would have driven it home. 

“It wasn’t me,” I assured him, “and we shouldn’t be talking about this here. It could hurt her case…”

I had answered all their ridiculous questions about my relationship with my wife when she was facilitating the group sessions, which was nothing but angry and tumultuous. I even answered questions about her demeanor and her style of dress—things that had absolutely nothing to do with the matter at hand. There was no romantic relationship until after she quit the sessions. The more they talked, the more I smelled a witch hunt, and that’s when I threw all decorum out the window because they weren’t looking for the truth.

“If an anonymous tip—and a fabricated one at that—is able to cause this much upheaval in the life of a respected doctor without first speaking to the supposed victim as well as considering the source before continuing with any formal or informal proceedings, then I feel sorry for all of the licensed professionals in the state of Washington and across the country for that matter who can be subjected to this kind of scrutiny based on something not even as reliable as a high school lavatory whisper. Even accused murderers are allowed to confront witnesses and accusers and yet my wife sits here fighting an apparition. She didn’t pursue me. I pursued her and I did so after she quit the center. That’s what you need to know. Those are the facts. We never even had a kind word for one another while she was my facilitator, much less a sexual relationship. She didn’t even know who I was and when she found out, she didn’t like me. After I kissed her for the first time, she fled my office. I literally had to crash her date and convince her that I wanted to be with her before she would have anything to do with me. There never was any sexual misconduct on Dr. Steele-Grey’s part towards me. Me towards her, that might be a different story.”

“What do you mean by that?” Carter asked. He appears to be the head man in charge of the board, because he’s the only one who speaks.

“I used every tactic I could think of besides whipping it out right in front of her to break down her defenses. At first, I thought it was because I wanted her to do what I wanted her to do. After a while, I realize that I just wanted her… and I’m an asshole.”

“Mr. Grey, profanity is not necessary,” Carter protests.

“What are you going to do—hold me in contempt of the board?” I say sarcastically.

“No, but we can have your testimony withheld from the proceedings.” No, he can’t. He’s being a jerk, but I’ll roll with it.

“You do that,” I say. “I’ll just give my testimony to the media. I’m sure they would love to hear how you ignored the statement of the supposed victim in a case of sexual misconduct.” His eyes grow large.

“I’m sure Mrs. Grey wouldn’t like that kind of publicity,” he retorts. I lean back in my seat.

“Let’s examine the facts,” I say, counting off on my fingers. “You’re disrupting her life right now and holding her license over her head not six months after she’s given birth to twins while our family is going through a major crisis. Your inquisition is based on accusations from a faceless, nameless person that she’s not allowed to confront. The victim is not some random patient that she treated with a possible ax to grind—it’s me! Her husband and the father of her children and I’m standing here telling that your claims are bullshit and you won’t even listen to me—the supposed wrong party! You’re dragging her away from running her charity and helping people for this nonsense and you think she would be averse to shining public light on this travesty? This three-ring circus? This unjust witch hunt? And with my resources, you don’t think I’ll find out where that anonymous tip came from and make that public as well?

“Have you not heard the radio spots that she’s been doing to drum up donations for the Help Center? If you seriously think that she wouldn’t jump on the opportunity to expose the injustice of attempting to defame her character and put her license and reputation at risk with absolutely no concrete evidence, then you have no idea who you’re dealing with. She’ll be on a radio spot or a television show before the ink is dry on the paper you sign.”

I’m sure there’s some kind of agency that polices the board, even if I don’t know who or what it is. If they pull Butterfly’s license or impose any disciplinary action on her without true just cause and evidence, somebody’s going to be investigated. To bring a public light to that situation is the last thing Carter wants, and I see it in his eyes.

“I can already tell that you’re not interested in the truth; only in tearing a young doctor apart and ruining her career for whatever reason. I can’t stop you, but I can tell you this. I won’t stop until I’ve turned over every rock and searched every crevice and I’ve gotten to the bottom of this. Whoever is under those rocks better beware. I don’t care how high I have to go and you know I have the resources to do it.”

So now, I’m being searched and allowed into the prison where Edward David drew his last breath… well, technically, it was at the hospital, but this is where it all started. I’m led straight into the restricted area and up into the superintendent’s office.

“Mr. Grey,” he greets. “Welcome. What can I do for you?” Ronald Holstein ensured Butterfly’s safety when she came to visit David that last time.

“I appreciate you seeing me on such short notice. I’ve imposed upon your kindness before and I was hoping that I might be able to impose upon it again,” I tell him.

“If it’s within my power, I’ll be glad to help you,” he assures me.

Twenty minutes later, I not only have the recording of the bitch’s phone call sent to Welch and to my phone, but also on a small recording device lent to me by Holstein so that I can play it for the Pedophile in case she tries to deny her involvement.

When I enter the small room, she’s sitting at a table with her head down. I swear I barely recognize her until she raises her head to look at me. Those cold, empty eyes begin to sparkle at the sight of me. I almost feel sorry for her for the hope evident in her irises.

“You just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?”

I’m sure that she was certain that she would never see me again except for the Faces of Abuse PSA, but here I am, live and in living color. I’m sure she wants to count this as a victory on her part. She’ll feel differently once this visit it over.

“Christian,” she breathes, relief and longing evident on her face. Mine remains impassive.

“I won’t bother with formalities or even the usual insults that I normally throw your way, because you won’t hear it. I will tell you this, though. I know what you tried to do to my wife.”

Her facial expression changes just for a moment before she dons her Domme mask, entwining her fingers like she did when she spoke to me as her pet.

And that just pisses me off more.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she says impassively.

“That’s fine. Just know that I know. I’ll make this quick because I don’t want to be in your presence any longer than I have to, but you need to hear this from me. You failed. I’m going to use my connections to have Ana’s record cleaned of these accusations. Not only that, but before my testimony was even complete, one of the board members declared that the entire hearing a waste of taxpayer’s time and money.

“I’m not sure what you thought accusing my wife of sexual misconduct against me was going to accomplish. Yes, an accusation normally could stay on her record for months, maybe even years… if I didn’t have friends in high places. I have the governor’s private cell phone number on speed dial, for God’s sake!

“To top it all off, you used prison resources to file a fraudulent claim against my wife that caused emotional distress and possible loss of income had these allegations become public. So, to start, we now have a restraining and gag order against you—again! You can’t even breathe my or my wife’s name without consequences.” She cackles loudly.

Consequences?” she asks in a disbelieving tone. She gestures around her. “Take a good look, Christian,” she says sarcastically. “Consequences? Seriously?” I match her cackling laughter with a sinister, deep, throaty laughter of my own—a sound that silences her immediately.

“Wait a minute,” I say through my laughter. “Are you seriously under the impression that… it can’t get worse?”

Her face falls again and fear materializes in her eyes, although she won’t cower. I lean over the table, towering over her.

“Listen carefully, Mistress!” I hiss. “You. Have. Nobody. Even your rich aunt has opted for self-preservation and abandoned you. If you were free, we would sue you for what you did to my wife. Since you’re not, we can sue the prison for allowing these actions occur since all your calls are supposed to be monitored. Guess how the warden felt about hearing that possibility?”

She sits solemnly listening to what I’m saying. She knows what I’m getting at.

“So, who exactly do you think would give a flying fuck if some unfortunate thing were to happen to you every day at 3:00? Death is too good for your ass, so I… we… would definitely want you to live through it.”

She begins to tremble a bit as her pupils constrict, her resolve breaking into nothing.

“Take your fucking sentence and don’t bother us anymore,” I hiss. “If you do, there will be no rest for you. There will be a steady flow of padded pockets to insure your unending pain and suffering—a lifetime of misery and unhappiness just like I wished for you in court. And to give you just a little taste of what’s in store, this is what you get for trying to ruin my wife’s reputation. When you leave this room, you’ll be taken straight to solitary confinement where you’ll stay for fourteen days. Let’s see how you like that tiny room with no light and no running water. Once your stint in solitary it complete, you’ll spend fourteen more days with a new cell mate. My understanding is that her name is Roberta Coleman.”

“Ber…” she breathes. “Bert!” She’s horrified. I smile.

“Ah, you’re already acquainted. Good. I suggest that you use the next twenty-eight days to ponder your situation… to think about if you want to face these or other consequences again if you cross me or my wife. And a piece of information, you sick, sadistic bitch, there are 206 bones in the human body. That’s 206 separate opportunities to break something on your worthless ass. Fuck with me again. The jury may not have believed you, but I do. You are a narcissistic, pathological, screwed-up cunt, and if you fuck with my family again, I will treat you with no regard. And by the way, since you so readily see the afterlife as an escape, you’re on suicide watch. The last time a Grey visited this hellhole, someone ended up dead. You won’t be so lucky. Enjoy your 28 days.”

I turn around and walk out of the room, half wishing that she—like David—would do the world a favor and off herself, but knowing that she’s too self-centered to try it.


A/N: So, the sigh heard ‘round the world—“It was Elena… that’s so predictable!” Well, maybe it was, but for me, that story was still left open-ended and I didn’t like it. Here’s why…

Elena went to jail still delusional, still thinking that Christian loved her, but was under a spell that Ana put on him. Make no mistake—every time Elena said that Ana had Christian under a spell, she really believed it. There was no possible way that Christian could want Ana over her after all these years and all the beautiful subs that were perfect for him that he turned away when they wanted more except that he had to be under the influence of something. She was completely convinced that if she could get him away from Ana, she could get him back. That’s why she wanted to kill him—to have him in the afterlife.

Now, why—after everything—did she do what she did? Well, she’s behind bars for life! What worse can happen to her? In her little mind, prison gives her some amount of protection from Christian’s reach. The prisoners already make her life hell, so if she can watch Ana be dragged through the mud and publicly humiliated, then that’s one bright spot… one thing to look forward to in her dismal little life. If there was no “Yes, I can reach you even in here,” she could always come back nibbling at them like a mouse. And what do mice do? They leave shit droppings, they gnaw into your bags of food and leave signs that they’ve been there. Then they get away before you catch them, and you have to set traps and bait for them or call the exterminator and hope that you get them all.

Nasty bastards!

So, Christian called the exterminator.

So, now here’s something that I don’t normally do. I’m giving three spoilers… listen carefully.

1—The person in the epilogue was NOT Elena.

2—A storyline will develop where Elena might have the potential to reach out and strike again. “Might” being the operative word.

3—I needed this to happen to Ana to lay the groundwork for a different storyline.

That is all.

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

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~~love and handcuffs