Raising Grey:Chapter 85—Business As Usual? 

FThis 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 85—Business As Usual? 

CHRISTIAN

“I still think you overacted about the snake,” I say coming out of my dressing room while straightening my tie.

“Whatever,” she replies, “be glad I don’t cut you off,” she threatens.

“I’d find a way to make you give in,” I say confidently

“You think so, huh?” she challenges. I raise an eyebrow.

“You want to test the theory?” I retort just as haughtily, daring her to try me and begging her to do it at the same time. I’ll have your pretty little ass clawing at the walls. She ponders the theory for the moment, then turns and leaves the bedroom.

“I thought not,” I say under my breath as I follow her out of the room.

“You’re going back to the Center?” I inquire, noticing that she’s dressed for work as we descend the stairs. She sighs.

“Yes,” she says, “for now. I have responsibilities, but I don’t know what the future holds yet. I still don’t appreciate being disregarded that way, so we’ll just have to see.”

“What will you do if you leave the Center?” I ask. “Stay at home?”

“We both know I’d lose my mind,” she replies. “I haven’t gotten that far yet. I gave some thought to starting my own cause, but… that seems so catty and that’s certainly not my M-O. I just wish she could truly see what she did. It’s unacceptable and I just can’t tolerate it… and I won’t keep talking about it with you because I don’t want you to feel like I’m trying to make you take sides against your mother.”

“I don’t think that,” I say, placing my hand in the small of her back and leading her to the kitchen.

*-*

“Ronald Holstein on the line, sir,” Andrea says through the intercom. “I’ve been telling him all week that you were out of the country and expected back today. He’s been calling every day nonetheless.”

“Whenever he calls, tell him that I’m in meetings until further notice,” I reply. Let his ass stew for a while until I decide what I want to do with him… and we won’t be doing some simple shit like kidnapping his fucking dog, either.

“Yes, sir,” Andrea says.

“I know you’ve got a hundred meetings today, but you’re going to want to hear this,” Josh calls in my office from the reception area before I close the door. I gesture him in, and he closes the door behind him.

“Sir, let me start by saying that it’s not my business what you do in your private life, but I’m sure that you hired me because I’ve always got my ear to the ground and because I’m more insightful than most.” I already don’t like the sound of this.

“I’m listening,” I say as I gesture to the chair in front of my desk.

“Well, the puzzle is falling together, sir,” he says taking the seat. “Elena Lincoln is still talking to whomever will listen, but now she’s starting to say a little more.” I frown.

“A little more like what?” I ask.

“She’s saying things like people in high places are going to fall when her book is published,” he says. “She insinuated these things before, but she didn’t come out and say them. Now, she’s saying them—to other reporters and it’s filtering back down to me. I was going to make another trip back up there to see her, but I really don’t think I need to. Her diarrhea of the lips along with Ron Holstein’s foot-in-mouth syndrome has pretty much given me all I need.

“I should tell you that her conversation is not nearly as cloaked as she thinks it is. I only say that because it wouldn’t be wise to give away her story before publishing, or her book would be worthless. Bearing that in mind, I can only assume that she’s not fully aware of how much information she’s leaking and, sir, anybody with even the slightest inside hook would have no problem finding you in her code speak. What’s more is that they would probably find a few others, too… I did.”

Oh, fuck, this just keeps getting worse and worse.

“Okay, Josh, I need you to give it to me straight,” I say. “I can’t follow any more riddles.”

“Nineteen out of 20 journalists don’t have the background information or resources that I have,” he begins. “They could get it, but it would take a lot of work and even more time. By then, the story would be blown wide open. She didn’t give me the name of her ghostwriter, but she gave me her pen-name—BD Simmons. There’s no risk in giving me that because there’s nothing else published in that name. However, these ladies aren’t as savvy as they pride themselves to be.

“I don’t know what they’re expecting, but I can almost guarantee that Lincoln is counting on the safety of the prison walls, as ironic as that sounds. Her ghostwriter has anonymity on her side. For whatever reason, they’re both underestimating the danger of the situation. Knowing what I know about Lincoln—the public information and the inside information, you should know that it doesn’t take too much ingenuity to figure out what BD Simmons is an acronym for.”

No, it doesn’t. I figured it out the minute he said the name. BDSM.

“So, of course, the first thing I did was check her old haunts, her old sources, her submissives…” Jesus, this is so much more of this conversation than I really want to have with Josh. “The logical paths lead to three of her girls—two still studying journalism and one with a degree in literature. They all have other… interests at this time, according to Alex, but one has been visiting her at the prison, quite freely I might add.”

“And who is that?” I ask.

“That would be one named Greta Ellison. It didn’t take much more than context clues to figure out that she was BD Simmons.”

“Fucking hell!” I hiss, trying not to curse too loudly or crash something against the nearest wall. Why the fuck do I keep letting these people get away and the minute I let them out of my sight, they bite me?

“Get Welch in here!” I bark into the intercom.

“Yes, sir,” Andrea replies.

“You’re sure that Ellison might not be just filtering the information through to her? Like being a liaison between Lincoln and the ghostwriter?” I ask, not wanting to believe that I was gullible enough to set this bitch free instead of crushing her when I had the chance.

“Sir, to be able to stand in a court of law and tell you that Greta Ellison is Lincoln’s ghostwriter, I can’t. To look you in the eye and tell you with at least 95% certainty that Ellison is her ghostwriter, that I can do. No matter what your content, you can’t get a decent feel for the story—for what the real author wants to portray—without a face-to-face meeting. Even with every fact airtight and recited to you, you wouldn’t be able to relay a successful story without meeting personally with the subject, and Ms. Ellison does that a lot.”

She has no other reason to meet with Lincoln. There’s nothing for her to gain from the acquaintance, and I threatened her the last time we met. I let her ass go, but I threatened her…

And she threatened me.

 “You think you’re so much. You’re not untouchable, Mr. Grey, and I’m just the one to prove it!”

This should come as no surprise to me. I remember our first meeting. She wasn’t just an airhead when I interviewed her. She was brilliant. She was perfect. She knew all the right things to say and do to get me where she wanted me and that can’t be taught. She’s wily, cunning, sly, and conniving… and she’s smart. Now, she seems dead set to destroy me and my family by any means necessary. I’ve got to destroy her first.

The gloves are off… all the way off.

“I won’t say, ‘Good Morning,’” Alex says as he opens my office door. “I can already tell it’s well past fucked up.”

“That’s an understatement,” I say coolly, my mind travelling more miles per hour than I can clock. “Close the door and have a seat.” Alex enters and closes the door behind him.

“This thorn is never going to go away,” I say, standing from my chair and walking to the window. “She’s on the watch list. How was it that she was seeing Lincoln and we didn’t know?”

“The same way that she stole Her Highness’s gun, sir,” Alex says. He scrolls through his tablet and hands it to me.

“She’s like Ethan fucking Hunt, sir. She can physically turn herself into anyone, male or female. There’s no way to tell who she is when she leaves her home. We didn’t even know that she was visiting Lincoln until we worked our way backwards and reviewed Lincoln’s visitor logs…”

Do I even want to know how he got access to Lincoln’s visitor logs without Holstein’s cooperation?

“Then we coordinated the people leaving the apartment with the people returning. She hasn’t gotten smart enough to change disguises before she gets home. Then again, she doesn’t need to.”

I scroll through the pictures and see men and women of every nationality identified as Greta Ellison. I even had to turn the tablet around to confirm the person was her a few times. Height and build don’t change. Shape can be masked by clothing, but she’s definitely different people.

“A few times, she logged in to see Ron Holstein, so he’s definitely in on it,” Josh adds.

“Yeah, I figured as much,” I say, still swiping through the many faces of Greta. She’s dangerous—extremely dangerous—and she must be stopped.

“Josh, who have you deduced could also be in this book?” I ask. He twists his lips. He doesn’t want to tell me.

“High-profile officials,” he says. “Some politicians, philanthropists, businessmen like yourself…” That’s all I need.

“Any way to get word to them without totally letting the cat out of the bag?” I ask. “You know, they don’t need to know where the information is coming from and I don’t even need to know who they are… it’s better that I don’t. Just a little tip-off that they may soon be in a tell-all book about their dirty laundry that may make it look even dirtier than it really is.” His brow rises.

“I see what you mean. I may need your help, Alex,” he says.

“I’m at your disposal,” Alex says.

“Then, get on it,” I tell Josh. “I’ll have more questions for you once I sort my rambling thoughts.”

“I’ll keep you posted,” he says as he stands to leave.

“Alex, you stay. I need more information from you.” Josh pauses, but only briefly before he leaves the room. I go over to the desk and flip the switch that scrambles recording signals in my office, even my own.

“She’s a chameleon,” I say, once I know that I’m no longer being recorded. “She’s a fucking dangerous, pestilence ass chameleon that’s not going to fucking go away.” I walk to the window.

“Do you know that I presented her with proof that I knew she was the one that stole my wife’s gun?” I continue. “I had her pinned in a BDSM club between three people that could have killed her with our bare hands, confronted her, threatened her, and let her go and she still came back?” I hiss angrily.

“Yes, sir, I do,” he says. Of course, you do. It’s your job to know. It only takes a minute to ponder what needs to be done.

“Ellison is smart. She’s cunning and she’s brilliant. She gave that gun to a woman that she knew was unstable, delusional, desperate, and had a bone to pick with me. She knew what that woman was going to do with that damn gun, and she gave it to her anyway.”

“Yes, sir,” Alex concurs.

“That woman tried to kill me with that gun,” I say, handing him the tablet, “and had it not been for Jason, she would have succeeded. As an accessory, Ellison tried to kill me.” Alex cocks his head and ponders.

“With the right evidence, a court of law would say that you’re absolutely correct…”

“Fuck the court of law!” I bark. “Because of those two conniving, murderous cunts, my bodyguard and best friend took a bullet for me and that’s the only thing that saved my life and nearly cost him his!” Alex examines me.

“What do you propose?” he asks.

“Get started with Josh to alert the other officials that they’re technically in the hot seat. Between my world-class security team and my extremely savvy PR department, I’m sure innuendo can be circulated to the press without upheaval or suspicion.” Alex casts a knowing gaze upon me.

“You’re creating a smokescreen,” he says.

“I wouldn’t call it a smokescreen,” I reply, “just more people of interest. I was the center of her last trial. The spotlight is already going to be on me. I want to see how many other people we can cast center stage.”

“I know we’re not being recorded,” he says. “I need to know what you have in mind.”

“You know what I have in mind!” I retort sharply. “She’s a thorn, a deadly thorn in my side and she needs to be extracted… and her little dog, too.”

“Are we talking Lincoln or Ellison…”

“We’re talking both!” I say before the words are completely out of his mouth. “But we can’t be sloppy. The minute that smokescreen starts, I need shit to get rolling on the lot of them… Lincoln, Ellison, Holstein, and his haughty ass secretary, too.

“Why the secretar…?”

“Because she pissed me off!” I hiss… and she doesn’t know who she’s fucking dealing with. Alex straightens his back.

“What are we talking here, and in what order?” he asks.

“Punishments for Lincoln begin immediately—subtle at first, but by the time it’s over, she’ll know who it is.” I’ll come up with something creative for her at the end so that she won’t be willing or able to fuck with me ever again. “Save the secretary for last. I just want her seriously inconvenienced, extremely uncomfortable, and if I forget while pursuing the bigger fish, it’ll be your responsibility to make sure those wishes get carried out.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Holstein? Thorough retaliation—annihilation, if possible. My only requirement for him is that he gets to live,” I growl. “His begins the moment the signals start to rise from the smokescreen, so get that going now.”

“And Ellison?” he asks. I only glare at him. Ellison… big, little bitch with too much power, real and assumed. She’s become more than an inconvenience! I don’t know if she’s chasing money, fame, or revenge, but whichever it is, it’s going to cost her dearly. She has no idea how far this woman has taken her down the rabbit hole, if for no other reason but the information that she’s given her, let alone how she plans to use it.

My silence answers his question.

“Duly noted,” he says, rising from his seat. “Anything else?

“I want to be there for every step of what happens to Ellison until I tell you that I don’t,” I say.

“Yes, sir,” he says coolly before opening the door to leave the room. I know that I’ve already missed a meeting and Andrea didn’t inform me. She knows me so well that she probably knew to reschedule with me in a meeting with Josh and growling for Alex. Just as Alex reaches the elevator, I hear something I don’t think I’ve heard in all the years that she has worked for me.

Andrea raises her voice.

“Mr. Holstein, I don’t care who you are or who you think you are, but I am a professional, and unless you can conduct your calls to this office with a little professionalism and decorum in the future, I will disconnect your calls every time I hear your voice. How’s that for a short-skirted, pencil pushing answering machine… sir?

Whoa! Holstein said the wrong thing to the wrong person and Andrea’s giving him what-for on this end of the line.

“Well, if you think you haven’t gotten through to him before, let’s see how successful you are now!” She slams the receiver down and closes her eyes, taking a deep breath. Alex and I make eye-contact before he nods and boards the elevator. When Andrea opens her eyes, I’m peeking around the door jam at her.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey, but you don’t pay me enough to put up with the names he just called me.” My face falls.

“More than a ‘short-skirted, pencil-pushing answering machine?” I ask, as if that wasn’t bad enough.

“Much more,” she says, her voice low.

“The next time he calls, put him on hold,” I say. It’s time to put my plans into action for this fucker as soon as possible. I don’t disrespect Andrea and I won’t allow anyone else to do it, either. His dick has gotten way too big for his pants, and I’m about to whack it down a couple of inches.

*-*

Al was two steps ahead of me and conferred with my accounting department about the best way to itemize and categorize my assets for a will. He’s slowly working his way through the process, setting up a trust for each of the children and placing other items in a revocable living trust, and several other terms of mumbo-jumbo that I trust he’ll handle and explain to us when it’s time to sign the final documents. I inform him that we’ll plan to have dinner with him and Valerie and their significant others sometime this week to discuss some of the particulars and to get some things in writing should I and my Butterfly meet an untimely simultaneous demise. We set aside Wednesday for the meeting, pending Valerie and Elliot’s acceptance of the invitation and, of course, Butterfly’s approval.

It’s later than usual when I get home and all I can think is that I can’t wait to be in my wife’s arms. Today was packed full of catching up with whatever work and catastrophes that simply couldn’t be solved without my presence not to mention plotting revenge on my enemies. I didn’t even eat lunch, so I’m hungry in more ways than one. Just as we’re pulling into the garage, my cell rings.

“Grey,” I say without looking at the phone.

“Hello, Christian,” my mother’s voice says. I try not to sigh loudly into the phone. My last conversation with my mother involved her trying to get the inside scoop on what my wife’s plans are in terms of the Center. Now, she has spent an entire day with my wife… and she’s calling me. What is it now?

“Hey, Mom,” I say, trying to sound casual. “What’s up?”

“Is Anastasia home yet?” Why would she call me and ask me that? Why wouldn’t she call Butterfly? And yet…

“No…” I say, slow and uncertain, as I look over at the bin where her vehicle usually is and it’s empty. “Is everything okay?”

“She’s probably just still at the Center,” Mom says. “You may want to go down there and get her. It’s been a long day.” I’m noticing that my mother’s tone is a bit labored, like she’s extremely tired.

“What happened, Mom?” I ask. “Did you two have a fight?”

“No, we didn’t have a fight,” she says, slightly exasperated, “and you said that you were going to stay out of it, so that’s what you should do.”

Well!

“I didn’t call you for that reason, anyway,” she continues. “I called you because, like I said, it’s been a long day and she was still closed in her office when I left, so it might be a good idea for you to go and get her.”

Jesus Christ. This day has already been horrific. The last time I popped up on my wife at the Center unannounced… no, I won’t think that way. Mom says I should probably go and get her, so I’m going to get her.

“Okay, Mom, I’m on my way now,” I say, and Jason looks over the seat at me.

“Okay. Goodbye now.” And just like that, she ends the call. What the hell happened at the Center today? I’m just looking at my phone wondering what’s going to be waiting for me when I get to Butterfly.

“Sir?” Jason says, reminding me that we’re still sitting in the car.

“We’re going to the Center,” I inform him.

“What’s wrong?” he says with concern.

“Nothing that I know of, but Butterfly isn’t here and she most likely still has the children with her. I’d like to go and bring them home.” He twists his lips at me. “While we’re on our way, you can call Chuck and make sure that everything is okay, but my mother just called and told me to go get my wife, so I’d like to see her, okay?”

There. I’m not trying to catch her in anything, nor do I think I would. I just want to go get her.

“Very well, sir,” he says, and starts the car again. As we’re crossing the bridge, he put Chuck on the speaker.

“As far as I know, she’s fine,” Chuck says through the speakers. As far as he knows…?

“Why wouldn’t you know?” I ask.

‘Because she’s been holed up in her office all afternoon,” he says. “She hasn’t come out and when I went to check on her, she called through the door, ‘Leave me alone! I’m busy!’ So, knowing that she’s okay, I did what she asked and left her alone. I do know—through the grapevine—that she and Grace had an intense conversation today and Grace didn’t look happy when she left. She stayed all day, but she was less than pleased.”

“Why are you telling us this?” Jason asks.

“Because I think that’s why she’s still in the office,” he said. I sigh.

“She fought with Mom,” I say. Mom said they didn’t fight. Jesus, the day was at least as hard for her as it was for me and now, she’s hiding out. “Thanks, Chuck,” I say.

“You’re welcome, sir,” he says and ends the call. Jason looks at me, questioning.

“The mission hasn’t changed. Get me to my wife.” I wonder if she’s hiding from me thinking her argument with my mother is going to cause us a problem? I’m even more eager to get to her now than I was before.

Hurry up, Jason. She needs me…


ANASTASIA

“She hasn’t given you any idea when she’s coming back? Or if she’s coming back?” Courtney asks.

“Neither,” I tell her. “She’s never taken a day off in her life that I can remember, not even for doctor’s appointments…” which makes me question when she ever went before the whole pregnancy scare. “Then she takes them all at once. I’m still depositing her check into her account because she has nearly a lifetime in sick time accrued and she only ever used vacation time when I did so…” I trail off.

“Well, I’m certain that I won’t be as efficient as Mare was, but I’ll be happy to fill in for her the best that I can.” I sigh.

“Thank you, Courtney. Every little bit helps. I know that you have your own set of responsibilities here and I won’t interfere with your work, but of course I’ll pay you extra for helping me out. If Marilyn hasn’t decided what she plans to do at least by the new year, I’ll look into hiring someone more permanent.” It hurts to say that.

“I hope everything is okay with her. This is so out of her character. It had to be something really bad, and no, I’m not pumping you for information.” She looks down at her notepad and writes something on it.

“How are things with you and Addie?” I ask. Courtney raises her gaze to me.

“Still a little tense, but we’re talking,” she says. “Grandfather has made it clear that I’m still not getting any money from them and I’ve made it clear that I never intended to see them again, so the last thing I expect from them at this point is money. I don’t think I would want it even if they offered it to me. It reminds me too much of who I was and what I was doing… and how I felt when Grandmother disowned me. No… I think I’ll be happier earning my own way and making a life with Vick, whatever that life may be.”

“I’m glad that the two of you are talking, but you know I had nothing to do with this, right?” She rubs my forearm.

“Yes, Ana… I know,” she says. “Grandmother says you only talked about it after she confronted you. I know you would never betray my trust.”

“That’s what’s most important to me,” I tell her. “I’m all for a happy ending, but I won’t take credit for a victory that means you think I betrayed your confidence.”

“I know better,” she says with a smile. “I knew from the very beginning that it wasn’t you. I knew when I saw your face when I walked into your office. I may have been focused on Grandmother, but you were clearly horrified,” she adds matter-of-factly. “We’ve… got a long way to go. I don’t know if it’ll ever be back the way it was. Maybe it’s better if it’s not. Scratch that—it’s definitely better if it’s not.” She folds her arms around her body. “I… don’t like that Courtney. I don’t know how I lived with her for so long. No matter what happens, I don’t think I could ever go back to being her. For one thing, I’m sure I’d lose Vick. She won’t take any of my crap. She calls me on my shit any and every time I try to pull it, and she supports me in everything I do. What’s more, she knew me when I was that other crazy bitch, and she still loves me. Can you imagine?”

“Your grandmother knew and loved you, too,” I point out.

“No, she didn’t,” Courtney corrects. “She may have loved me, but she didn’t know me. She thought she knew me. She knew the façade. When she saw the real me, she thought that was the façade. When she found out that it wasn’t, she couldn’t take it. That’s why she sent me away.” She sighs and stands.

“I’m going to find something to do now,” she says. “I’ll be at your beck and call of course, but as you know, there’s lots that need my special attention… and I do better when I’m moving around.” She goes to the door, opens it and steps out. I follow her to the door.

“You’re sure this isn’t going to be too much for you,” I reinforce.

“Nah,” she says, hugging her laptop. “Outlook isn’t a foreign language for me. We use it in school for the syllabi and to keep up with our classes. I just have to spend a little time deciphering Mare’s hieroglyphics and we’ll be fine. Plus, I get an up close and personal look into the super-secret life of Anastasia Grey.”

She does a spooky little wiggle of her fingers and smiles before walking away down the hallway. I turn to go back into my office, but a shadow catches my eye. She doesn’t move or speak, but I can see her standing in her doorway, or at least her shadow cast on the floor of the hallway. I say nothing. I just go into my office and close the door.

Now, she’s lurking. She won’t even face me. Yet another reason why I feel this is no longer the place for me. There was a job that needed to be done here—some things that needed to be fixed. I fixed them. I did my job, but the job isn’t completely finished. So, I’m going to finish my job here and then I’m going to find something else to do.

What, I have absolutely no idea. Maybe I’ll get in touch with Josephine Kennedy, our sponsor for Broadmoor. She’ll probably have some suggestions. I don’t need to be in any kind of executive position. I just want to be somewhere that I can do some good and my opinion is valued.

Knowing that I don’t have much time to implement the learning programs needed before the school year starts, I immediately get to work researching the necessary requirements for a learning coordinator. I fire off a text to Keri to meet me in the office as soon as she has a moment.

Every time someone knocks at my office door, I get the willies. I don’t want to talk to Grace at all, to have her confront me about my absence or to rehash why I feel like she should treat me with more respect and consideration. These things should be understood. You hired me to do a job; then let me do it and don’t interfere with it. If you’re going to interfere and do things your way, what do you need me for?

Anyway, this time, it’s Keri at my door.

“Ya wanted ta seh meh, Annah?” she asks cautiously when she enters the room.

“Yes, please, come in,” I say. She slowly walks in and takes a seat. I can tell that she’s nervous, so I get straight to the point. “I need your help.” She looks shocked.

“You do?” she says, her surprise evident. I nod.

“First, I need to ask how the process is going with getting your teaching certificate here in the states. Were you still planning to do that, or had you changed your mind?”

“Noh! I mean, yes! I mean…” She’s terribly nervous. I’ve never called her into my office in an official capacity, ever, and she’s not quite sure how to handle it.

“Keri,” I say, rising from my seat and walking over to her. “Relax. You’re not in any trouble or anything like that. I just… I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone. I need some information and I just want to know what your immediate plans are.” Keri sighs heavily and rolls her eyes a bit.

“Ah’m sawtty, Annah,” she says. “Ah jus feel lak Ah’m bein’ cawled to da ptincipal’s awfice!” She laughs. In effect, she is, but only because the principal needs her help.

“I understand,” I say.

“Yes, I steel plan on gettin’ mah teachin’ cehtificate heyah. Ah cahl de school bohd ahnd dey sey Ah got ta tek de necesetty exams foh residency. Ah alreaty apply foh the exams since mah degtee is enough foh da requyment. So, Ah’m wehtin’ foh dem ta tell meh when da test gwine be and Ah should be okay.”

“They didn’t say anything about your citizenship or anything like that?” I ask.

“Ah’m heh on a work visa. Ah can keep dah sem visa or get a new one if I choose to teach. Ah wold luv to teach, Annah. I miss me bebbies.” I know that she’s talking about her students in Anguilla.

“Have you thought about becoming a resident?” I ask. She shrugs.

“Anguilla ask de sem ding when I cawled for mah recohds an cehtifications. Dey say, ‘ahe ya gwine stey dere in da states or ya come back to Anguilla?’ I tell dem it not my immediate plan ta stey, but don know what happen in de furtah.” I frown.

“You may go back to Anguilla?” I ask sadly.

“Me don know,” she says honestly. “Anguilla me home. I could nevah leave hah forevah. But me heart wit me Choonks. Das wheh Ah mus be.” That’s an enigmatic response.

“Does Chuck know that you’re somewhat on the fence about returning to Anguilla?” I ask. She nods. “How does he feel about it? He can’t be happy.”

“He not,” she says. “He tinks me run out da doh anyday wit mah bags. I tell him, ‘Choonks, don tek it dat weh. Ah jes not wannah lose meh woots, das all. Jes like yah not wannah stey in Anguilla becuz yah home heyah, I no wannah be in Anguilla witout yah, but Anguilla me home, too. Meh woots deyah. I don wanna lose dat.’”

“So, we’re not talking about packing your bags and moving back to Anguilla when your visa is over. We’re just talking about being able to go back to Anguilla as you please so that you don’t forget your roots.”

“Yeh,” she says, confidently. “I noh move back to Anguilla. Lek I seh, mah heart wit me Choonks. Ah havta be wheh he is.” I sigh heavily. It would be a devastating day all around if we lose Keri.

“Well, that’s good to hear,” I admit. “My second question is more detailed. You worked with small children in Anguilla, right?”

“Yeh, all me bebbies primery school, some younga,” she says. I nod.

“I’m trying to come up with a plan of action to get started with our early-learning program when the school year starts. I have some good solid ideas that we presented to get our licensing and accreditation, but now we need to tweak it and get it ready to roll out. I could really use some help.”

I confer with Keri about what direction we should take in terms of curriculums. I know that the subjects in Anguilla will most likely probably vary from the subjects in America, only because of the difference in culture and the direction of the curriculum as it relates to the region, but I’m certain that the basis is the same. I’ve done a little research to get a basic framework, but I’m definitely going to need some help in nailing down the particulars.

Keri turns out to be invaluable. We’re at it for hours fine-tuning our curriculum and learning plans. We’ve already done some interviewing for teachers and tutors, and we’ll have to make some decisions this week, which means that whether I want to or not, I’ll have to meet with Grace.

There’s no use putting it off.

Once I’ve finished with the basic curriculum, I ask Keri to look it over and see if there’s anything else that we may need. I don’t want to present this outline and framework to the teachers and tutors that I plan to hire, and it turns out to be total garbage. Then I send a text to Grace that we need to chat about the teaching staff and to let me know when she’s available to do so.

It was like carving my tooth out with a chisel just to send the text.

Not half an hour after I hit send, Grace is at my door.

“May I come in?” she asks. I sigh inwardly.

“Please,” I say, standing and gesturing to the seat in front of me. She enters and sits down, and I close the door behind her. I jump right in.

“The school year is starting in a few weeks and I don’t want to be caught unprepared like we have these last terms,” I say, picking up the papers showing the progress that Keri and I made and handing it to her. “We already conducted several interviews and with where we plan to start, I would think we don’t need too much staff right now—a few teachers and a tutor or two and someone to act as principal or superintendent just over the scholastic portion of the program…”

I continue discussing what I think would be the best direction for the preschool and tutoring program—afterschool classes, playgroups, and eventually, a possible part-time homeschool, particularly for at-risk families, namely residents in the dorms while Grace looks over the proposals and plans that Keri and I have collaborated on so far.

“You’ve been quite busy,” she says raising her eyes to me. “I’m glad the Center won’t suffer because of our disagreement.”

I wouldn’t say that just yet, Grace.

I continue the conversation as if nothing had been said about our disagreement and make suggestions as well as request input on who would be the best candidates for the positions we would like to fill as we really need to get the ball rolling like right now. Grace gives her opinions on who she thinks will fit the immediate bill and luckily, except for one, they were the same people that I think will work best. I cede to her judgment for the last person, selfishly thinking that if they didn’t work out, I wouldn’t have to be the one to contend with it. She would.

It’s a bit late in the afternoon when we bang out our initial steps and final choices, and I’m more than ready to discontinue the conversation. I’m not, however, ready to pick up the conversation that she wants to have.

“I really feel I did the right thing,” she says with conviction.

“Grace, this conversation is moot,” I say matter-of-factly. The time for us to have this conversation has passed.

“You won’t even discuss it with me?” she asks, her voice rising an octave in disbelief.

“No,” I say finitely. “I don’t want to fight with you or dispute this with you anymore. What you did could have had disastrous results, and if you can’t understand that, there’s nothing for us to discuss.” She sighs.

“Fine. I was wrong,” she says, almost like a petulant child. I shake my head.

“You don’t get it,” I say. “I’m not looking for capitulation. I don’t need you to admit that you were wrong. I need you to see that you were wrong. Courtney had come miles from where she started. Her progress was fucking immeasurable. Addie barely recognized her as the hell that she sent back to her hellhole hometown. What you did could have set her back far beyond her starting point, and what would you have to say had that happened? What could you have possibly said to me—to Courtney—had you, in your self-proclaimed omnipotence, destroyed all the work that she put in to achieve what she achieved?”

“Can’t you see that sometimes, everything isn’t answered by theory and book-smarts? Sometimes—oftentimes—there’s emotion involved, and you just have to go with your gut?” Her voice is beseeching.

“I can see that, Grace, but can you?” I retort. “Logic dictates that the strides made by Courtney should have had her running back to Addie to present her new self—to show her grandmother that she was nothing like the person Addie last saw. The fact that her grandmother felt that she was nothing, she had to prove her wrong—for herself, but in the process, she made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with the source of her uncertainty. When they parted ways, Addie pretty much told her that she was better off dead. She cremated and buried Courtney’s mother this past summer with no pomp and circumstance, and you just take it upon yourself to say, ‘Oh, it’s a good idea to shove these two into each other’s faces!’ If you can’t see what’s wrong with that, just how fucked up a judgment call that was, then you’ll do it again and I can’t tolerate seeing all my hard work destroyed that way. I might as well go back to my practice.”

“I… I… I didn’t know…” she stammers.

“Of course, you didn’t know!” I bark. “There’s a lot you didn’t know! I’m the psychiatrist! I have all the inside scoops on what’s going on in these people’s minds because that’s what I do! And you had the audacity to be offended because I pointed that out! I don’t diagnose the intricate illness of children—that’s your specialty, not mine! But they share their deepest, darkest secrets with me because of my station and I act accordingly! She trusted me! She trusted me with her secrets and her feelings, with her life! And you exploited that! Can’t you see that? Can’t you see that you orchestrated a train wreck that could have destroyed them both and they just got lucky and walked away?”

“I… was just… following my instincts,” she says, resigned.

“Well, congratulations, doctor,” I say, clasping my hands on the table. “This time, your instincts were correct, and in the process, you undermined everything I do. The very basis of my profession is privacy and trust—respecting the rights of the patient. You know the Hippocratic Oath, and you totally disregarded mine, then haughtily walked away smiling when you did it. I can’t work like that. I can’t have someone’s mental well-being in my hands and in the back of my head, constantly fearing that you’re going to make a decision that’s going to unravel the intricate tapestry that I’ve taken months… or years… to create with one of my patients based on your instincts.” I silently shake my head, indicating that this is definitely a no-go for me.

Grace bites her lip and takes a seat, humbly clasping her hands in her lap.

“Can you, for just a moment, see where I’m coming from?” she says, her voice shaking slightly.

“No…” I begin.

“Please… let me finish,” she beseeches without raising her eyes. It’s my turn to be petulant, but I just defiantly fold my arms and sit mute.

“Addie… is my friend,” she begins. “She’s been my friend for a long, long time—even longer than that crazy bitch who victimized my son.”

That kind of stings… and causes me to let my guard down a little.

“You may have known how Courtney felt, but I knew how Addie felt. She felt hurt and betrayed, and that’s what made her say the things she said to Courtney, but most of all, she was heartbroken. She felt that she would die and have nothing to show for her bloodline. She had such high hopes for Courtney, and when she saw those hopes dashed to the rocks…” She stops and swallows.

“I’m not saying that you wouldn’t understand,” she says. “You’re a mother, so you have to know that we only want what’s best for our children. Courtney’s mother was such a disappointment and Addie had her hopes in Courtney even when everybody told her that it would be a lost cause. When she finally accepted that those hopes were destroyed, it was the most traumatizing thing that had ever happened to her. She tried to move on, but she was crushed.

“That’s the reason I advocated for Courtney in the first place,” she adds. “After everything that she had done and all the problems she had caused, I just wanted to help my friend. It was wonderful seeing the progress that she was making, but Addie was still hurting… deeply hurt. We didn’t hear anything about her daughter because she couldn’t mourn her daughter. To her, it was all a lost cause.

“I found out about Adele—that’s her daughter’s name—at Mia’s wedding. I had been trying to indirectly arrange a meeting ever since. I knew Courtney was at the wedding, but by the time I had heard about Adele, Courtney had already left.

“When I say that I was trusting my instincts, Ana, I’m not just saying that I thought it was a good idea. My friend was suffering, and I just didn’t want to see her suffering anymore… and I knew that seeing Courtney—how beautiful she is and how far she’s come—would do her some good.” I roll my eyes nearly to the point of agony.

“Why. Didn’t you. Explain that to me?” I nearly seethe. “Why didn’t you come and talk to me?”

“Because just like you had confidences, I had confidences…” she begins.

“But it was okay for you to disregard mine!” I nearly shout, causing Grace to jump a bit in her seat.

Settle down, Grey.

I take a deep breath and address the situation again.

“The progress that I made with Courtney in eleven short months is more than I’ve done with a lot of people in years, and you could have undone all of that. That’s what I need you to see. This situation is the epitome of that old saying about the road to hell and good intentions. I can appreciate that you saw your friend suffering and you wanted that suffering to stop, but your. Methods. Were wrong. You threw a blowtorch into a vat of gasoline and prayed that it wouldn’t explode, and instead of alienating one person, you could have alienated three—one of which was your very close friend.

“As much as I want to say that the biggest betrayal here was to Courtney’s right to privacy and to Addie’s suffering, I can’t even say that,” I say, and she raises glassy eyes to me. Yeah, this is going to sting, Dr. Grace, so get ready for it. “The biggest betrayal is that you dismissed me. You dismissed my expertise and my feelings. It caused friction in my marriage and discord in my professional life. But you know what’s even worse, Grace? What you probably never even considered even up to this very moment? You. Destroyed. My trust! Did you think about that? Did you think about the fact that I have to trust the person that I work with and I don’t trust you anymore?

“I can’t be effective under those conditions, and I can’t just wave that off. When you’re dealing with the human mind, at any given moment someone’s sanity can be hanging in a delicate balance. One wrong word, one wrong action, can be the difference between a breakthrough and suicide—and I’m not exaggerating.” I immediately think of Ace’s shark’s tooth.

“I should have come and talked to you,” she says just above a whisper, her voice cracking.

“Yes,” I say softly, but firmly. “You should have…” and now, it’s probably too late. Grace takes a deep, shuddering breath and stands.

“Let me know what you decide to do,” she says without raising her eyes to me. “I’ll understand either way.” She turns and quickly walks out of my office. I hear her heels clicking at a quick pace down the hall and just before she closes the door to her office, I hear her begin to weep.

Dear God in heaven, I think to myself as my face falls on my arms on my desk, my hair splayed wildly over my hands and arms like a blanket. What am I going to do now…?

*-*

“Hey…”

My head feels like lead and my eyes hurt from crying. I can only imagine that I look like pure hell from having cried myself to sleep at my desk and when I turn towards the soft, melodic voice, my husband is looking lovingly at me while stroking my hair out of my face.

“Hey,” I barely squeak out. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s late… and Mom called me,” he says. “She told me that you were still in your office when she left and that it might be a good idea if I came to get you.”

“I don’t know what to do, Christian,” I lament, on the brink of tears again.

“Well, you won’t think about it tonight,” he says cupping my cheek. “Right now, I’m going to take you home, bathe you, feed you, and make love to you. Then, you can conquer this in the morning.”

I don’t have the will or desire to fight him. I’m tired of thinking, dreaming, fretting about this whole thing. It’s getting on my nerves. I stand and proceed to leave the building and had it not been for Chuck, I might have left without my children. Mom of the year.

My husband keeps his promise, making sure that I was fed, bathed, and loved. Nonetheless, at 2:49 in the morning, I find myself staring at the ceiling while he’s sleeping comfortably next to me. I don’t know how long I’ve been lying here, but I decide that I don’t want to lie here anymore. I quietly roll out of bed and retrieve the first shirt that I can find. It’s the linen shirt that Christian wore to work, and it smells like him. It’s comforting. I put it on and button it before leaving our suite.

The children are sound asleep and I don’t want to disturb them, so I go to the kitchen to get something to drink. After I fix a spritzer, I sit at the breakfast bar, trying to think of something to do. I look at my phone and begin to scroll through it. Some time between the time I got home and now, my contacts, calendar, and apps had all been moved to the new phone.

When did he find time to do that?

I had already forwarded my calls to the new phone, but it’s probably time to leave the new number on the old message so that I can retire my 4S soon. I decide to take a look at my emails. I had cleared most of them at work, but I hadn’t looked at the junk mail to see if anything had been misrouted.

Sure enough, something had.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Web Presence
Date: Saturday, December 13, 2014, 14:14
From: Laura Kelly

Hey there, Sheila!

Just a little nudge from down under to remind you to finish setting up your social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—but start with Facebook. It’s probably best for social media virgins. I know you said you had to talk to your PR people before you could pull the trigger. Remember what I showed ya!

Jax was a little depressed after visiting his mum’s grave, even more depressed when we got back to the ship and there was no Chris to shoot the shit with. You’ll have to come back and see us sometimes, or we’ll look you up next time we’re in the States.

Look for LauraLee Kelly on Facebook. You can’t miss me!

Missing you guys already!
Laura

Laura showed me the basics while we were on the cruise and we ran around her social media accounts a bit, but we never actually set up an account for me.

Social media. Facebook. Hmmm…

Screw PR. I’ll just create an alias.

I go to iTunes and download the Facebook app. Sign up with an email.

Back up.

I go to Gmail and create an alias email just for this purpose. You can’t be too careful.

First name… Anastasia

Last name… hmmm.

Lambert.

There’s no taboo attached to that name for me anymore. It’s a name that I used to escape, and I escaped, so…

Welcome to Gmail!

Back to Facebook.

Sign up. What’s your name?

Anastasia Lambert.

Hmm… it still feels too obvious.

Mercer Mistress… Hell, no!

Mercer Doctor Lady.

Good enough for now.

Upload a profile picture…

Butterflies!

I do a quick internet search and find a picture of a black and white butterfly that reminds me of Marty.

Perfect!

I download it to my phone, then upload it as my profile picture.

Invite your friends… well, I only have one that I know of on social media…

LauraLee Kelly. I need her email. Nah, I’ll look her up and invite her to be my friend. It’s faster.

I have access!

LauraLee Kelly.

She’s right. I find her quickly and send a friend request. I create the same account with Twitter, then I make the mistake of going to Facebook and Twitter and doing a search for my name.

There are a million of me!

I could make a page with my real name and no one would be any wiser, but no. I’ll hide behind Mercer Doctor Lady. Not very creative or catchy, I know, but it’ll fit the bill. I answer a few questions about books and hobbies.

There’s nothing on my timeline since I don’t have any friends, so I see what Facebook has to offer.

Videos… relationship advice… reality TV snippets… groups that might interest me… comedy…

I like comedy.

I watch several comedy videos and share many of them to my timeline.

I’m dying laughing over Steve Harvey and Family Feud…

Ellen Degeneres, well, I love her. I follow her and Steve on Facebook.

The Real Housewives of what? Where? What real housewives behave this way? And you’re still married? These women need to get a damn life!

“What are you doing down here?”

I’m startled by Christian coming to the kitchen in his pajama pants. I’m even more startled by something else…

Daylight.

“I was just… I couldn’t sleep,” I say. Hell if I’m telling him I spent all night on Facebook. His gaze softens.

“I didn’t do my job, then,” he says, closing the space between us. I put my phone down and sigh.

“It’s not you,” he says, “and I don’t want to pull you into the middle of what’s happening between me and your mother.”

“She said you didn’t fight, but I have a feeling you did,” he says. I look up at him.

“You thought I fought with your mother and you still brought me home and took care of me?” he shrugs.

“She’s my mother and I love her very much, but she went home to her husband. You’re my responsibility.” I wrap my arms around his waist and lean on his chest.

“I love you,” I say, breathing in his scent.

“I love you, too,” he says. I sigh. “You’re holding it in. You have to tell somebody.” I lean back and look up at him, twisting my lips.

“She looked like a broken puppy when she left my office, and I heard her crying,” I say. “She broke us… plain and simple. She broke us as a team. I have to trust who I’m working with. That’s it. I don’t expect you to take sides here, I really don’t, but I have to say it out loud. She broke us. She broke the team, and I don’t know if it can be fixed.”

“Any idea what it would take to be fixed?” he asks.

“Time, for one,” I admit, “and I’m not sure I’m willing to put it in.” She begged me last year to give Courtney a chance and I did, and we built something, and then she tossed it out like trash. Fuck how Courtney was feeling; fuck what Courtney wanted; Addie was more important.

“You’re taking it really personal, baby. Can you tell me why?” he asks.

“Because this could be anybody,” she says. “This could be a scared and battered wife and mother hiding from her abusive husband. I put in the work and get to the core of this girl’s deepest, darkest secrets—get her to where she’s not afraid to fall asleep at night; to where she finally sees that she’s out from under the oppression of her abusive husband and can do something with her life… move forward like Marlow’s mother did. And then Grace somehow brings the abusive father back into the picture. All that work I’ve done for nothing, and her only excuse and reasoning is that she’s following her instincts.

“Yes, that’s more graphic. Addie wasn’t abusive, but Courtney was crushed, crushed enough to never want to see her grandmother again, and Grace disregarded that… disregarded her feelings, disregarded her wishes, disregarded my work as a person and a professional. It’s very personal, Christian. How can I work with someone like that?”

“Then… why were you crying?” he asks.

“Because I obviously hurt her, and I didn’t mean to. We didn’t fight, but I was merciless in my explanations. She put her friend’s feelings over all professionalism and trust, the very basis of my profession. If she’s going to make decisions over my head without any consideration for my wishes, opinions, or input, then why am I there? I feel strongly about that, but I didn’t mean to hurt her—and I don’t know if she was hurt over understanding what she did to me or the concept of losing me.” He hugs me again.

“You’ll figure it out, baby. I know you will,” he encourages, “but doesn’t it feel better to get it out?”

“A little,” I say, sinking into his embrace.

“What have you been doing down here all night?” he asks. I twist my lips and look up at him, then push my phone over to him.

“Facebook?” he says, mirthfully. “You’ve been on Facebook all night?”

“Watching videos,” I say. “I don’t have any friends online.”

“You’ve got one, Mercer Doctor Lady,” he says and hands my phone back to me.

Laura accepted my friend’s request.


A/N: Ethan Hunt is Tom Cruise’s character in Mission Impossible. He was a master of disguise and could make himself or anyone else look like anyone anywhere.

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

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Raising Grey: Chapter 82—Now, Where Were We?

Danger—Aussie accent ahead. Turn away now.

There are probably some bad attempts at French laced in here, too. Beware, you’ve been warned!

All other previous disclaimers still apply.

Chapter 82—Now, Where Were We?

ANASTASIA

I am on fucking fire.

My body is completely alight with orgasmic release and I’m still trembling for more. I didn’t know he packed toys and I have no idea when he had the time to do it because I packed his bags, but I’m sure the fuck glad he did.

Maybe he picked something up when we separated in the Marketplace.

Who the fuck cares?! Get back to the “alight with orgasmic release” part!
I have to agree with the Bitch on this one.

He’s rubbing my ass and playing with that heavenly butt plug while I catch my breath and come down from a blinding climax. His hands anoint the sides of my body from just under my arms all the way down my thighs to my knees before he issues the command that I hoped I would hear.

“Turn over.”

I roll over onto my back, still blindfolded and mindful of the butt plug still inserted.

“Are you comfortable?” he asks when I’m situated.

“Yes,” I whisper, my hands resting on the bed on either side of my head.

“Good,” he says. I feel him leave the bed for a moment and I wonder with anticipation what he’s doing. I take this time to try to decipher the scents in the room. Lilac for sure… no, maybe it’s jasmine… mixed with…

I hear him come back into the room and feel the bed dip when he returns. I feel a strawberry against my lips, so I open my mouth and take a bite. As I’m chewing, I feel his body over mine and his lips cover my mouth. I open slightly, and cool wine flows from his to mine. I swallow the mouthful of strawberry and wine, totally food seduced at this point. A bit of the chocolate confection from dessert passes my lips and I savor the flavor as his body rises from mine, and moments later, oiled hands anoint my neck and shoulders.

He keeps me alight with sensations, causing one to flow right into the other—the strawberry into the wine into the chocolate and back into the massage. I purr with satisfaction as his oily hands travel from my shoulders down and over my breasts and nipples over my torso and abs and down to my pelvis. He reoils his hands to spread copious amounts around my mounds, my outer lips, the sensitive crevices at the junction of my thighs and pelvis and my top and inner thighs.

His hands travel masterfully all over the front of my body, touching and tempting me. Then, I feel a strawberry at my lips again. I bite and chew and wait for the wine, but it doesn’t come. Instead…

“Ah!”

Gentle pressure closes over my nipple. I bite my tongue and breathe in. It’s not his mouth—it’s a nipple clamp, the adjustable kind. I wait as he secures it, just enough to plump and sensitize my nipple. He doesn’t dawdle. He goes straight to the other one, which has become taunt in the process, and attaches the second clamp. He pauses for a moment, and even blindfolded, I can tell that he’s admiring his handiwork.

I feel him cover my body again, his erection pressing into my leg—and his mouth closes over one nipple and the clamp. I cry out in arousal, pushing my breast up towards him as his hand teases the other nipple in the clamp.

“Christian…” I whimper, so turned on that I can barely think. I keep my hands on the bed next to my head—it’s better this way—and his mouth feasts on my nipple while his fingers play with the other. Then he switches, giving both nipples the benefit of his talented tongue. I have to hurry and swallow the strawberry so that I don’t choke on it from my radical breathing, and the sweet flavor lingers on my tongue while my man stimulates my nipples.

It’s glorious!

He moves away from my nipples and slowly slides down my body, rubbing and planting kisses along the way. My breathing is more controlled when he gets to my feet and starts a gentle massage with the oil again. Yes, that’s jasmine. It’s a favorite scent of his… and mine, along with cinnamon and vanilla. His massage is gentle and firm at the same time, relaxing my ankles, my calves, my knees… and giving my throbbing clit a brief reprieve to recuperate. I know Christian Grey enough to know that the orgasmic stimulation is far from over, and it’s not the butt plug or the nipple clamp that’s giving it away.

It’s the thigh massage. The way that his hands are spread open on my thighs, kneading upwards so that his thumbs run across the crevices gently over my outer lips, he’s about to attack.

He straddles my legs again and there’s a pause in his massage. When he returns, the texture of the oil is different. Even though I can still smell the jasmine in the air, it’s not as strong. It’s not in the oil, and I’m very soon to find out why.

“Mmm… mmm…” I groan. He continues his massage, up the top of my thigh, across those sensitive crevices, over my outer lips, only this time, the tip of my clit is protruding ever so slightly, and his thumb zeros right in on it. He runs his oily thumb up and down just inside my lips with each upward motion of his hand, pressing my clit in and pushing it up, stroking it just so between my lips. I want to crawl off the damn bed as I try to stifle my whimper.

“Let me hear you, baby,” he encourages.

“Ah,” I gasp, the heat so hot and the moan releasing some of the pressure in my chest. His thumbs feel so good, one stroking my clit and the other teasing the crevice between my pelvis and thigh.

“Christian!” I breathe, grabbing my breasts and stimulating the nipple clamps there. I hear him gasp and he continues to rub intermittently, giving me seconds to recoil before I’m squirming on the bed again in ecstasy.

He moves his hands to my thighs and pushes them open—not eagle-spread, but open enough. He puts his hand over my mons, pressing firmly and squeezing just enough to heighten arousal, using the base to open my lips so that the clit protrudes just a little more than it did when he pleasured it with his thumbs.

Well, maybe more than a little more… I feel air on the underside. I can tell that he’s positioned between my legs, on his knees maybe…

“Oh, God,” I gasp deeply as I feel something I’ve never felt before—wet, smooth, soft. He starts at the tip of my clit with a titillating tickle, and I turn my head and bite my lip, sinking into a pleasure I’ve never felt before.

Is it a feather? No, it’s much heavier… thicker than a feather.

It moves from the tip of my clit, slowly down the underside and over the surface of my inner lips. Then it travels back up the same way that it started.

It moves up… and down… and up… and down… up and down… and up and down… flicking over and off the top of my clit just once… then it comes back… starts at the tip and moves down the underside and over the inner lips… then up again… then down… The strange stimulation is sending ripples through my body and even causing my thoughts to stutter—enough to ignite and keep me burning, but not enough for orgasm unless he keeps going and going and going. He’s exquisite in his meticulous movements, back and forth masterfully, like an artist.

An artist…

That’s what it is! It’s a paintbrush!

This has to me the most agonizing, glorious new thing I’ve ever felt! Wherever he got this idea, I owe ginormous homage and he needs to tell me how I can get some, too! This is fucking genius!

My whimpering is almost embarrassing, but this feeling is divine and irresistible. I can’t be silent… I can’t keep still… dear God, my stomach muscles are fucking aching and my pelvis is actually cramping with pleasure! How can that be?

Several moments later, the brush makes its final stroke and I’m panting in ecstatic exhaustion. Every time I’m about to come, he changes the rhythm and stimulation so that it brings me back a bit, not enough to start over, but enough to stop the rise to orgasm. It’s maddening—and magnificent!

Next, I feel cold air on my clit. He’s blowing on it, I know he’s about to dive in and taste the rainbow. What will he do—deep massage with a firm tongue? Fast, tormenting flicks to bring me to a quick release? A deep clitoral suck accompanied by a two-finger g-spot stimulation? Oh, no. Not just yet. Mr. Grey has other plans for me.

He lays his head on my inner thigh while placing his hand gently on the other to spread my legs. His tongue licks lazily over my inner lips and up to my clit, firming a bit when it gets to that fiery bundle of nerves, up and down like he’s casually licking an ice-cream cone. He repeats his lick over and over, his breath panting gently in contentment as his tongue covers all the necessary skin, never missing a spot in a gentle, sensual erotic caress.

“Oui… oui… mon amour,” I breathe as I flex my tightening clit. His massage doesn’t change, though his grip tightens a bit on my thigh, his hand presses flatter on my stomach and he continues to lick… and lick… and lick…

Fire is burning in my chest and my stomach is quivering madly, right where he’s pressing it—not to mention this infernal butt plug is still in my ass and that pleasure hasn’t ceased since the first orgasm! The rhythm syncs with my body and I feel the tightening in the small of my back.

And so does he.

The rhythm stops and he lifts my legs to expose my core and ass. He holds one leg up and commences a circular feast, around and around with a flexible rolling tongue—his entire tongue—as his free hand pushes, turns, pulls, and manipulates the butt plug.

Putain d’enfer, il l’a encore fait!

I whimper, nearly sob, my protest as my core continues to burn, but the orgasm backs away. I can’t take much more of this. The massage is delicious, round and round with his tongue masterfully covering my clit then traveling down to my vaginal opening and back up to madly manipulate that love button. Over and over he repeats the cycle, causing me to tremble and my muscles to clench painfully, but if it rises again and he changes rhythm, I’ll certainly expire.

I need it deep! I want to come!

“S’il vous plaît,” I whisper my plea, my voice desperate. “S’il vous plaît…”

He groans in his chest and situates himself between my legs. He throws my legs over his shoulders, reaches around my hips and cups both breasts, clamps and all.

“S’il vous plaît,” I groan again, more loudly this time, certain that he’s going to deny my again. Even though it’s heightening my pleasure, I can’t take any more. He massages my breasts firmly, causing my nipples to pebble in excitement. He parts my lips with his and proceeds to give my core the deepest, most sensual kiss—no teasing; his tongue, lips, and mouth are purposeful.

“S’il vous plaît, Christian, s’il vous plaît,” I beg. I’m desperate. The massage is so deep, so hot, I’m right fucking there. If he stops me this time, I’ll scream… I’ll cry… I’ll rip his fucking throat out! He can’t stop!

He massages harder, squeezes harder, kisses deeper, licks and sucks wildly, his mouth is watering all over my core, causing a delicious slip-and-slide sensation down there. I clamp my hands over his and squeeze and he moans, diving deeper into my core…

God, don’t stop… please don’t stop…

My back is so tight that it hurts, and when the orgasm starts to creep, I literally sob in my throat. I won’t be able to stand it if he stops.

I feel my legs cramping, stiffening… no…

I lock my ankles behind him and thrust my pussy into his mouth begging him in my native language not to stop and let me come. His kiss reaches down into me and wrenches a painful, merciless orgasm from my loins that has me screaming, still begging him not to stop—literally paralyzed with pleasure and pain as this climax wraps around my clit, these nipple clamps, and that butt plug all at the same time.

I think I’m still coming in my ass when he leaps to his knees, lifts my already elevated hips to his pelvis and thrusts double-digit inches of hard, hot, pulsing meat inside me. I scream at the pleasure. I love his mouth and tongue, but nothing feels like his dick!

“God damn, you’re so fucking hot!” he growls as the plunges into me over and over, like an animal. He thrusts and thrusts and thrusts, mindlessly, before he throws his head back and growls loudly, his eyes squeezed shut and his face twisted. He’s breathing like a bear and I don’t know if he came, but he snatches his rock-hard dick out of me. He tortures my clit with the head of his dick over and over, breathing and grunting like a bear before sitting flat on the bed.

“Turn around!” he growls, his voice deep and hungry. I move very quickly. “On your knees!” he commands. Okay, doggie-style. “Give me those pillows.”

Okay, not doggie-style.

I get into position as instructed. He opens his legs and rests them on my calves.

“Get comfortable, however you have to. Get on this dick and fuck me til you come.”

Til I come? I just came! You sure about that, Grey? I look over my shoulder at him questioning and he glares back at me as if to say, “What the fuck are you waiting for?’

Okay, you asked for it.

I wait for him to lie back on the pillows and I sit down on his pelvis—not on his dick, on his pelvis. I bring my calves from under his knees and open my legs as wide as I can.

This is my damn party? Then, I’m going to have it.

I grab that beautiful rock hard and veiny piece of flesh and stroke gently. The oil from my pussy is coating his skin and he grunts when I grab him.

“Get on with it!” he demands.

“Quiet!” I hiss. “This is mine now.” He forcefully grabs my hips as a warning, and I throw a glance over my shoulder.

“What are you gonna do?” I taunt. “Fuck me?” I glare at him, still teasing the head of his cock with my oily hands. His hips move ever so slightly to match the stimulation as he grits his teeth.

That’s what I thought. And now, Mr. Grey, I’m going to drive you crazy.

I begin to rock my hips up and down so that my open pussy strokes the side of his dick while my oily fist still grips and manipulates his head.

“Shit,” he hisses softly as he grips my hips. That’s right, Grey, just lay there and let me do what I do.

The veins on the side of his cock stimulate the underside of my clit and I lick my lips. Damn, that feels good. I get a little lost in the feeling of his glorious cock rubbing against my clit and I forget for a moment that there’s a man attached to it that’s going to come quickly if I don’t stop. His agonized groan brings me back to the here and now.

How about a little tease, Grey?

I plant my feet on either side of his hips and steady my hands on the bed on either side of him. Using only my hips, I massage my clit with the head and side of his dick—achingly slowly pumping my pelvis so that my clit rides up… and down…  and up… and down… over the slit and pulsing ridge of his head and partially down the side of his shaft.

“Oh, my God, yes,” I breathe as I watch the show between my legs; the head of his dick appearing and reappearing just beyond my mons; the burn of the friction going straight through my core…

“Jesus!” he prays quietly as his hands reach around my body and tease my tender nipples. One of the nipple clamps has fallen off, but both nipples are still hot and taut.

“Uh!” I groan, throwing my head back as pleasure once again shoots from three different directions. I know this has had the same effect on him that his changing rhythm had on me—that he’s still on fire, but has drawn back from “ready to blow.” I slide against that dick a few more times, biting and licking my lips in my own ecstasy until I’m nearly over the edge myself, and then I stop. I need that magnificent piece of meat inside me for this orgasm.

I resume the initial position he requested, situating myself between his legs and my calves under his thighs, causing him to bend his knees and open his legs very wide. With my ass in the air and the ass plug staring him in the face, I reach between my legs and thrust my finger into my core. I momentarily stifle the moan that wants to escape, but fail in the effort when I drag the moistened finger over my throbbing clit and massage it gently.

“Christ, baby, you’re so damn hot,” he breathes forcefully.

Like you wouldn’t believe, Mr. Grey, like you wouldn’t fucking believe.

I reach down and grab his cock and rub the head against my clit two or three times more before I guide him to my hungry opening. There, I hold him in place while the opening and lips of my aching pussy gently and slowly tease the head of his cock. I can feel the ridge just inside my vagina as the release and reentry make that luscious, wet “kissing” sound. I’m insanely turned on by this, so with him watching it, I know that he’s losing his fucking mind.

“Anastasia,” he breathes, his voice tortured, “God, you’re too much…”

“You make me this way,” I reply, my voice steeped in passion like a mindless horny nymph.

A few more vaginal kisses and I slide effortlessly down onto his cock, all the way to the balls. He groans loudly and places both hands on my ass. I start a rhythmic glide with just the slightest directional roll, raising my ass up towards him when I drop onto his dick, then pulling my hips down and forward when I rise off of it. His pleasure sounds are tortured, deep, and sexy, and my core is on fire filled with his thumping meat.

“Christian,” I mewl, “you feel so good… you’re so hard…”

I fight to keep my rhythm now with him filling me wall to wall. I know he’s rising to orgasm because he so thick and wide inside me, and I am once again producing that heat and wetness that’s accumulating on his dick and leaving an arousal cockring at the base near the balls. It would be embarrassing if it wasn’t so fucking hot and I wasn’t so goddamn turned on.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Grey,” I pant breathily. “I’ll come… I’ll come really fucking hard for you.”

“Fuck!” he hisses as he rubs my lower back, and I can feel his thighs tightening with pleasure. He wants to enjoy it, so he’s going to hold out until I blow. I push back onto his dick repeatedly so that I get maximum penetration and he groans again.

“God!” I gasp as I pump harder. His hands are still grabbing my ass and one of them moves and pushes the butt plug.

“Oh, God,” I exclaim, the pleasure so much that I can’t concentrate on my movement anymore. I straighten my body and balance on my knees, still bouncing on that wonderfully, deliciously hard cock. One hand moves to tease the nipple still painfully confined in the nipple clamp while the other shamelessly moves to circle my burning clit. I feel the sensation rise immediately from my feet, taking only a few seconds to overtake my thighs. Just as it begins to tingle and burn deep inside my core, he grabs my hip and pulls the butt plug out.

I scream and detonate into such a dangerously violent orgasm that I can’t even tell what the fuck is going on at the moment. All I know is fire and light and dizziness and trembling and screaming… lots and lots of screaming. My attempt to seduce my husband has backfired and I’m having one of the longest, hottest, heaviest, most mind-numbing orgasms I have ever fucked myself into.

I don’t know how long it is before I come down from that electric display and experience, but when I do, I’m on my knees, my chest flat on the bed with hair sticking to my sweaty face, panting profusely. Once I’m able to breathe a bit, I lift my head just slightly and catch him in the mirror. I didn’t know it was there.

He hasn’t come. I know he hasn’t because he’s still very hard inside me, but he’s smirking at my back—clearly unaware that I can see him.

Mo-ther-fucker, I’ll show you…

I put my hands flat on the bed and curl my back like a cat stretching from a deep sleep. Then, I roll my hips again, like I did in the beginning, only faster… and harder… and faster!

I get another glimpse of him in the mirror and that smug look has left his face. His hands have grasped my hips again, trying and failing to control my thrust as his mouth alternates between biting his lip and clenching his teeth.

“Slow it down, fuck baby, slow it down,” he begs breathlessly. Fuck you, Grey. Come, you cocky motherfucker.

“Uuuuhhhh!” I moan sensually, knowing that the sound of my voice will help to set him off, and partially because I absolutely adore how he feels inside me, even though there’s no hope of me coming again tonight. I lean up on my knees again and thrust my hands into my hair, lifting it sensually over my head, closing my eyes and puckering my lips as I roll my hips relentless and fast over his cock.

“You feel so good,” I mewl truthfully, “so good…” I add a gasp to the last two words and his breathing is no longer controlled. He’s losing it.

“Good… Fuck…” he hisses as he grabs my hips right below my waist and sinks into the bed a bit to angle his cock more.

That’s it, Grey. Give it to me. I’m going to milk you dry.

I fall back onto the bed with a helpless mewl, steady myself on my hands, and bounce my ass on his dick in an intense buns-of-steel workout while clenching my Kegels so hard that it’s a wonder my IUD doesn’t pop out like an orange seed. After a few minutes of bouncing and listening to my own mewling, I glance in the mirror to check on my husband.

His head is thrust back and he’s firmly holding my hips. His lips are moving like he’s saying something, but nothing comes out. After a few moments, his eyes return to our joined bodies and I reach behind me a stick a finger in my ass where the butt plug used to be.

“Oh, fuck!” he growls at the sight and begins to wildly thrust into me, overpowering my smooth, massaging stroke. He pumps into me feverishly, gritting his teeth and grunting and throwing his head back again. When the first cry of orgasm escapes his lips, I rise off his cock, open my ass, and capture his ejaculating shaft between the cheeks. Surprised and impassioned, his eyes open wildly, and his mouth is gaping as he’s gasping for breath.

I roll my still-oily ass over his squirting dick and watch him gaze in amazement as I hold it between my ass cheeks and pump the cum from his balls.

“Fuck!” he chokes. “Oh, God, do that! Do that! Fuck, yes! That ass! Oh shit! Shit! Shit! Shiiiiittt!”

His eyes are plastered to my ass like he can’t believe what he’s seeing—a fantastic stream of candle-lighting shooting up out of my oily ass from his dick. My husband sounds like he’s passing a kidney stone and I’m taking extreme pleasure in watching his haughty ass irk out an orgasm as intense as the one I just had. In fact…

I raise my hips, swivel and drop my pussy onto his still pulsing cock. He screams as I pull and push slow and hard, flexing my Kegels over his dick to mimic the tighten-release-push-pull of an oily handjob on the head and walls of his shaft.

“Gooooooooooddamn! Goddamn! Goddamn! Goddamn!” He’s twitching and trembling as he rides out the aftershocks and I smile to myself as he finally falls limp, breathless, and helpless, his body silently calling for mercy.

*-*

Had it not been for Jason calling to wake us, we might have missed out on the day’s events. As it turns out, a car will be arriving at 9am to take us to the Barossa Valley for a wine tour. The Valley is only an hour away, but Christian rightfully had them coordinate everything with Jason. I’m a bit jealous right now because for all intent and purposes, Jason is Christian’s Marilyn… and Andrea is Christian’s Marilyn. And Andrea has a Luma. Marilyn doesn’t have a Luma. She organizes my life all by herself.

I really miss Marilyn.

As we’re a bit pressed for time, I use the en suite to pump, shower, and prepare for the day while Christian uses the second bathroom. I can’t have another day where I don’t speak to my children, so when I’m done pumping and prepping, I call my babies for a little facetime. Keri informs me that Minnie is becoming a bit crabby and wouldn’t take her bottle last night. I’m certain it’s because she’s accustomed to the changeup between the rubber nipple and the breast—and she’s not getting one of those. This is further driven home by her elation to see my face on the phone and her subsequent displeasure with having to give the phone back to Keri. I can’t stand to hear her anguish, especially since I’m inadvertently causing it, so I hand the phone to Christian and let him get a little baby time while I try to nurse the wounds of my breaking heart.

“It happens all the time, baby,” he says, putting his arms around me and trying to comfort me while I stare out the window overlooking the City of Churches.

“Was she still crying when you ended the call?” I ask, never turning to face him.

“She settled a bit,” he says, pulling me against him… which means that she was still crying, just not as much. I suddenly can’t wait to have her in my arms.

“I’m a terrible mother,” I say, wiping away a tear.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You are no such thing,” Christian scolds gently. “You’re both having a bit of separation anxiety. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. Now I want you to stop that ridiculousness right now. It’s not true and I don’t have to tell you that.”

“I just… I shouldn’t have left her,” I protest.

“She’ll be fine,” he coaches. “What are you going to do when she goes to school?”

“Oh, God,” I say, and I’m overwhelmed with emotion. I drop my face in my hands and begin to weep. I hear my husband sigh heavily and I can imagine that he’s totally exasperated with me, and that just makes me cry harder.

“Don’t cry,” he says softly, turning me around to him and wrapping his arms around me. I stand there and weep into his T-shirt for several minutes until it’s covered in colored moisturizer and tears and he has to go and change it, and I have to wash my face and refresh my make-up. I still don’t feel good about leaving my baby, but I feel a little better since I’ve had my cry… I think.

Christian emerges in a white Izod over his jeans, declaring that he has no more T-shirts and will have to have the ones he has laundered since we still have two more days—including today—and the trip back to Seattle. Quite frankly, I like the Izod better.

39f548032e3227319813a69b6ab79224-christian-grey-jamie-dornan

I’m looking very Sex and The City in a comfortable flowy Halston Heritage lavender mini cut just above the knee and a pair of Louboutin Madmonica spiked open-toe cork wedge sandals. We rush down to breakfast so that we aren’t starting the day and an hour-long car ride to wine country on an empty stomach. That definitely wouldn’t be a good idea. My little crying spell and the subsequent cleanup cut our eating time in half, so we have a simple breakfast of eggs, Canadian bacon, roasted tomatoes, toast and juice—something that we can eat quickly, but not too quickly, before the car arrives.

“You were sleeping like the dead,” I say quietly to Christian during breakfast.

“I put in a lot of work last night,” he says proudly. “Bringing your beautiful wife to three orgasms is quite the feat.” He winks at me.

“Oh, really?” I challenge. “And I guess I had absolutely nothing to do with that last one, huh?” I raise my brow at him.

“Well… I… you… um…” Amazing. I’ve brought my husband to a stuttering mess.

“Um-hmm,” I say, filling my fork with food. “Well, while you opted for quantity—which was quite nice—I concentrated my efforts on quality. How do you think I did?” I throw an innocent gaze over at him, full well remembering watching him in the mirror muttering silent prayers while I rode his pulsing shaft relentlessly.

“You…” He clears his throat. “You… um… you did fine.” He quickly takes a sip of his coffee. I smile devilishly at him. I’ll just bet.

“Thank you, Mr. Grey,” I say, eating the food from my fork, chewing and smiling triumphantly. “By the way,” I add once I’ve swallowed my food. “Your choice of music…” I say, trailing off. He raises his gaze to me.

“Did you like it?” he asks.

“It was… a lot of new stuff. Some oldies… I didn’t think you were into the new stuff.”

“I can’t take credit for this song list,” he admits. “I typed a request into Pandora and just let it play.”

“What was the request?” I ask curiously.

“Baby-making music,” he says proudly. I burst out laughing.

After breakfast, a private van picks us up to take us on a beautifully scenic drive through the city of Adelaide and all the way north to the Barossa Valley. The ride will be approximately an hour long with plenty of sites to see along the way.

“Um, ma’am, I nohmally don’t comment on attiyah, but ya moight wanna chaynge ya shoes,” the driver says as we approach the car. Christian glares at him for a moment. He only glances at Christian momentarily before turning his attention back to me.

“It’s… foh ya comfoht, ma’am,” he adds. “There’ll be a lot of walking, ma’am,” he says in an attempt to get me to change my shoes. I immediately see the concern for my feet since I’m wearing wedges.

“Don’t worry about me,” I say with a warm smile. “Heels and I are old friends. I’d be much less comfortable in flats, and I have no problem taking them off if they become unbearable, which is not likely.”

“The touh is mohr than six hours, ma’am. If yoh’re shuh…” he urges once more. I appreciate his concern.

“I’m sure,” I smile. “Thank you for your kindness.” I elbow Christian in the side as he’s still glaring at the guy. “Stop it!” I chide softly. He looks down at me and I cock my head at him as an additional warning. When he appears to behave, I smile again at the driver and get in the van.

“Come on, Christian,” I chide gently to keep him from further harassing our driver. He leans in and sits next to me.

“The first thing he noticed was your shoes, huh?” he says as our security follows us into the van. It’s a late model Mercedes—it seats seven, but I’m not sure of the model.

“He’s probably trained to do that, dear,” I point out. “Can you imagine how many women have come on the tour wearing the wrong shoes and did nothing but complain the entire time?” The driver gets into the car and confirms what I’m saying.

“She’s roight, mate,” he says to Christian. “I don’t know whaht thehy’re expectin’, but plenty o’ sheilas get in wehring six-inch heels and thehy’re miserable halfway through the trip. Imagine how ya’d feel troying to enjoy ya day with blistahs on ya feet!! I always check an’ give ‘em toime and option ta chaynge. I’m sorry… I didn’t mean ta offend ya.” Christian sighs and waves him off.

“Don’t worry about it,” he says. “I’m just… very possessive of my wife, and it’s been an… interesting trip on that note so far.” I chuckle.

“Tell me about it!” I murmur mirthfully. The driver smiles in the rearview.

“Thanks, mate. Roight, then, shall we go?” He smiles widely and starts the car.

The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, including the gorgeous vineyards that lay before us once we clear the city limits. They’re everywhere along the road through the Adelaide Hills, from really small patches of land to huge estates. I’m captivated by the beautiful landscapes, but not so captivated that I can’t tell that my husband is distracted. Is he still pissed off at the driver?


CHRISTIAN

“I wanted to have more information for you before I called you with conjecture, sir,” Josh says as I’m drying my hair. I brought the phone into the en suite with me and it’s a good thing I did. Josh has information hot off “the presses” for me.

“What do you have?” I ask as I begin my grooming routine.

“Lincoln is talking to anyone who’ll listen. She’s a media dream and nightmare at the same time. She’s very indiscreet. She gives enough information to have you chomping at the bit, but it’s not hard for the educated researcher to decipher exactly who she’s talking about—they just can’t afford to speculate without further information.”

“Fuck, I was afraid of that,” I hiss around a mouthful of toothpaste. “How close is she to a release date?”

“She’s aiming for May,” Josh says. Shit, that means she’s got a lot of information already on paper, or at least shared with her fucking ghostwriter. “She’s got a good solid timeline in front of her and nothing between her and the tell-all but air and opportunity.” She picked the perfect time to leak her story—right after our exposé hit the air.

“Did she make you for working for me?” I ask.

“I don’t think so,” he says. “If she did, she didn’t let on, or she just doesn’t care. She didn’t give me the name of her ghostwriter either. She gave me a penname, but at the moment, it leads nowhere. I’ve got Alex looking into some things for me and I’m discreetly chasing a few leads myself.”

“Shit!” I hiss. “So much for nipping this thing at the bud.”

“Don’t lose faith,” he says. “It’s only been a few days. Sometimes, it takes a little more digging to find the buried treasure. That’s why I was waiting to call you…” and I got impatient and jumped the gun.

“She gave me pretty much the same information that she’s giving to any other reporter that comes through there,” he continues. “Everything she said to me, we’ve already read in the papers, but to her, it’s fresh and new information every time she gives it. So, I listen for fresh and new information. I listen for context clues that nobody else would know to listen for. Like I said, I’m chasing a few things to narrow down a few solid theories, but I won’t relay information that sends you in the wrong direction—I have to know for sure.”

“I appreciate that,” I reply with a disappointed sigh. I’ve been literally itching for some information on the crazy bitch, and pretty much… nothing.

“I do have some other information, though,” he adds. “The warden cornered me as I was leaving…”

Oh, now we’re getting somewhere.

“What did he want?” I ask.

He asked who I was working for. I told him that I was freelancing, that I’m hoping to get an angle that nobody else has gotten and I’ll sell my story to the highest bidder. It’s easier to get what you need from a crook if you come off as cutthroat and hungry than if you show any signs of ethics whatsoever.”

“What makes you think he’s a crook?” I ask. He scoffs. “I mean, I pretty certain that he’s crooked. I just want to know what makes you think he’s a crook.”

“Upstanding member of society and leader of industry has been trying to get in touch with you for several days on a matter that you know will directly affect him and you avoid his calls… You’re either crooked or stupid—or both!” I twist my lips. Excellent judge of character.

“He asked if I had gotten any material that was worth printing. I told him that I hadn’t. Everything that she gave me, I already knew. So, he dangles a carrot in front of me. He says the book, the story, and the possible subsequent movie rights are likely to blow the top off the social scene and quite possibly the financial scene. He knows it’s you. He didn’t say so, but he made enough references. I don’t know what Lincoln said, but he knows, and at this moment, he’ll protect her through the screenplay to get his payoff.”

Well, this is just fucking great. She didn’t have to tell him much of anything. Of course, he knows it’s me. I paid his ass off to keep her quiet. Now, he’s avoiding my calls and siding with her, giving her carte blanche when it comes to talking to reporters and her fucking ghost writer.

“He wants to get the profits from the book. She just wants to tell her story, but her story is so sick and twisted, I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to write it. The way she portrays the roles of certain characters, it’s not pretty. Her rendition will implicate people and suggest that they’re pretending to be victims when they fully participated in the activities.” She’s obviously referring to the fact that I became a Dom once I came of age and continued the BDSM lifestyle…

Or at least that’s what I thought.

“The brief description that she gave me made it look like she had a club—a coven, if you will—of pedophiles; that they engaged in consensual sexual relations with minors and that said minors joined the club and continued the cycle when they became of age.”

“Wait a minute… what?” I say, staring horrified into the mirror.  

“I can’t make it any clearer,” he says. “There are underground pedophile sex clubs all over the world. It’s disgusting, but it’s true. It’s a real movement, and there are a lot of people involved… a lot! Her basis from what I can see is that she was part of—or the head or madame of—one such organization. And Christian, she can say what she wants, because she’s writing it as fiction. So, whether it’s true or not, the sensationalism of it will have this shit flying off the shelves. Think O.J. Simpson and If I Did It.

Oh, hell. That’s already a horribly touchy subject. Now, we’re comparing my life and the lives of several other sexually victimized young boys to the story of a man who may or may not have nearly beheaded the mother of his children and her male companion?

And now, I don’t have Holstein’s cooperation because he’s more concerned with a piece of the possible pie. Fine, fuck it. They want to play dirty, then it’s dirty they’ll get.

“And no clue on BD Simmons.” It’s a statement in the form of a question.

“Nothing concrete,” Josh says. “Again, I won’t put flawed information into the hands of the most powerful man on the western seaboard.”

“Duly noted,” I reply. That really wouldn’t be wise. “I need you to keep me posted the moment you do get something concrete. My response to this matter will be swift and sure. Time and discretion are of the utmost essence.”

I end the call and try to pretend that this information has not soured my entire mood.

“You’re not here.”

My wife’s voice brings my attention back to the fact that we’re cruising along a country road on our way to one of Australia’s many famed wine regions. I can’t hide the fact that I’m completely distracted by the conversation that I had with Josh this morning. She’s probably going to be pissed that I called him, but… I have to tell her something.

“Excuse me, parlez vous français?” I say, leaning forward to the driver. He glances in the rearview mirror.

“I’m sorry, mate?” he says.

“Parlez vous français?” I repeat.

“Sorry,” he says, watching the mirror and the road, “not shuh whaht cha sayin’, mate.”

“No problem. Thank you,” I say, turning to my wife to have the entire conversation with her in French.

“J’ai parlé à Josh ce matin,” I say. She sighs.
(I spoke to Josh this morning.)

“Qu’a t’il dit?” she says.
(What did he say?)

“Il essaie toujours de savoir qui est l’auteur, mais Holstein protège Lincoln.” She rolls her eyes in frustration.
(He’s still trying to find out who the ghost writer is, but Holstein is protecting Lincoln.)

“Je le savais!” she hisses. “Je le savais putain! Cela explique pourquoi il ne prenait pas vos appels.”
(I knew it! I fucking knew it! That explains why he was not taking your calls.)

“Ça a empire,” I inform her. “Elle donne l’impression que nous étions un club secret de pédophiles… comme si nous étions un groupe entier cherchant des enfants et les recrutant plus tard dans leur cercle quand ils sont devenus majeurs.” Her eyes widen in horror.
(It gets worse. She gives the impression that we were a secret club of pedophiles… as if we were an entire group trolling for children regularly and later recruiting them into our circle when they became of age.)

“Vous n’êtes pas sérieux,” she whispers incredulously. “Qui dans leur esprit accepterait d’écrire quelque chose comme ça?” I shake my head.
(You’re not serious. Who in their right mind would agree to write something like this?)

“Tu sais aussi bien que moi qu’il y a un public pour tout, bébé,” I reply. “Vous devez juste trouver le créneau qui est prêt à écouter vos conneries.” She drops her head in her hands.
(You know as well as I do that there’s an audience for everything, baby. You just have to find the niche that’s willing to listen to your bullshit.)

“C’est irréel.” she laments. “C’est absolument irréel. Si je n’en étais pas personnellement conscient, je ne penserais pas qu’un être humain puisse survivre avec autant de mal. Je plaisantais quand je l’appelais «démon puant, méchant, sale, visqueux, visqueux, démone pédo-salope de l’enfer», mais que cette horrible reine diabolique appartient vraiment au plus profond les profondeurs du pire tourment éternel jamais imaginable. Il n’y a absolument aucune rédemption pour elle. Elle marche à pied détérioration, damnation et destruction et elle doit être détruite…”
(This is unreal. This is absolutely unreal. If I wasn’t personally aware of it, I wouldn’t think that any one human being could survive harboring this much evil. I was joking when I called her a ‘stank-ass, slutty, nasty, filthy, slimy, Pedo-Bitch She-Thing demon from hell,’ but that horrific, wretched, inhuman, devil queen really does belong in the deepest, hottest depths of the worst eternal torment ever imaginable. There is absolutely no redemption for her. She is walking deterioration, damnation, and destruction and she must be destroyed…)

I had all but forgotten about that name, but Butterfly is right. This woman is pure evil personified, the worst manifestation of Satanic personification—Princess Beelzebub unleashed on this earthly realm, and the world would truly be a better place without her in it.

My wife has completely gone off on a French tangent now. All the men in the car—including the driver—have gone a bit pale and are looking everywhere but at us, and as far as I know. I’m the only one who knows what she’s saying… maybe…

“Do you speak French?” I ask Lawrence. He shakes his head.

“German, sir,” he says. I look at Jason. I know Spanish is his second language.

“A word here and there, sir,” he says, “enough to know she’s pissed.”

“Stop talking about me like I’m not here!” Butterfly snaps. We weren’t… only that last statement, but I’m not going to be the one to dispute her on it. All the men quickly turn their attention to anything else—the scenery, the road, a speck of lint on the carpet, anything safe—while I turn my attention back to one angry little Butterfly.

“I shouldn’t have told you,” I confess, “at least not now. It’s going to ruin your day.”

“No, it won’t,” she says matter-of-factly, “because I know that you’re going to do everything humanly possible to rectify this situation. I know that you’re going to use your endless resources to make sure that this woman is not able to ruin the many, many lives that she could possibly ruin—now or ever again—with this ridiculous undertaking. You’re going to do what needs to be done to put an end to this—or I will.”

Three sets of eyes zero in on my wife and I’m sure it would have been four if the driver could look at her without putting us all at risk.

“Butterfly…” I begin my protest.

“I’m going to let you handle this, Christian,” she says, her voice unwavering. “I’m going to watch, and I’m going to let you handle it. But if for any reason, you are unable to stop this from happening, I want you to remember something—all those boys, their families, my children! I will stop at nothing and no one to terminate this ridiculous pursuit! She wants us to believe she’s crazy? Fine! I’m crazier! She will not jeopardize the lives of my children and that is my final word! And that’s not a threat, Christian, that’s a promise!”

I’m glaring at this woman possessed because I swear, I’ve never seen her before. Al usually tells me which version of “Ana” I’m dealing with when she steps out of herself, and he’s not here to identify this one for me. I’m quickly running through my head all the Ana’s he has introduced me to…

Knife-throwing Ana…
Marine’s Daughter Ana…
First-Blood or Rambo Ana…

Shit, I don’t know. All I know is that she’s glaring at me with the glassiest blue eyes I’ve ever seen, her pupils so constricted, they’re almost invisible. I fucking well better answer her.

“I. Will take. Care. Of this,” I say, finitely. She glares at me for a moment longer before she slowly nods once.

“Good,” she says firmly. “Keep me posted.” She turns her gaze away from me and back to the scenery going by outside the window. I throw a cautionary glance at Jason, who returns my glare before glancing over at Lawrence. A silent conversation ensues between the three of us to not let her out of our sight or she just might hurt someone today. The conversation inside my head is much more detailed.

Get this shit on lockdown or there’s going to be fucking hell to pay.

*-*

Tensions ease once we arrive at our destination. Butterfly has all but forgotten our conversation about the Pedophile, and it’s my job to ensure that her thoughts don’t wander in that direction again. Granted, it’s my fault they wandered in that direction in the first place, but I couldn’t keep the truth from her, especially since my ire and distraction was written all over my face.

“Hello,” a friendly gentleman greets us when we exit the Mercedes. “Ma nayme’s John. OI’ll be yohr touhr goide tahdeye.” I take Butterfly’s hand as Jason and Lawrence exit the vehicle.

“I’m Christian. This is my wife, Anastasia. These gentlemen are my security detail.” John’s brow rises.

“Political official, ahre ya?” John asks. I shake my head.

“No, nothing like that… but perfectly legal,” I assure him.

“Can nevah beh too syfe, eh mate?” he says with a nod before continuing directly to the next topic. “Tell me, whaht’s yohr expehrience with woine?”

Hmmm, how do I answer that?

“My wife is basically a Cabernet woman, but can be easily swayed with smooth reds,” I begin, and Butterfly playfully slaps my arm. “One of her favorites is the Screaming Eagle from Napa Valley. We discovered it on the wine train tours a couple of years ago.”

“Yes, OI’m quite familiah with the Screamin’ Eagle,” John confirms. “Which yeahr?”

“2006,” I confirm. “It’s apparently hard to find, but our concierge was able to locate a dozen and have them shipped to our home.” John nods.

“Have ya had tha pleasah of tha ’92?” he asks. I shake my head.

“I can’t say that I have.” John nods again.

“Extremely rahe vintage, mate,” he says, his voice laced with a bit of awe. “Aged in 60% new oak; it’s mohe puhple than woine colored and has a jammy black currant aroma mixed with hints of oak. Very difficult ta locyte and OI’ve huhd of bottles runnin’ upwuhds of 500,000 Amehrican!” He pauses for a moment. “Sorry thehre, mate. OI get a little carried awy talking about the woines.” I wave him off, playing down the fact that I’m thoroughly impressed with his knowledge of wines.

“Don’t be,” I excuse, “I’m a bit of a connoisseur myself, versatile with a preference to dry whites. I may pick your brain about what exclusive blends the region has to offer.” John smiles widely.

“OI’m yoh goiy, mate,” he says happily.

“I’m afraid we haven’t been able to expand our palates much since our honeymoon,” I add.

“Ah, newlyweds?” he asks. Butterfly giggles.

“Somewhat,” she replies. “We’ve been married for 18 months.”

“Yeah, thaht’s still newlywed,” John says. “Ahr little cornah of tha world hehr is whaht we cahl a woine town—everything hehr is centehred on tha woine.”

“I’ve heard that you have some award-winning Shiraz in these parts,” I coax. John smiles widely again.

“You huhd correct, mate,” he says gleefully. “Did ya do anythin’ special on ya honeymoon? Somethin’ that stuck out to ya, maybe?” I shrug.

“Well, our honeymoon started in Paris, then continued in Greece,” Butterfly says. “To be honest, the entire trip was pretty special, so it’s hard to pick just one thing. We had a tasting at Le Dokhan’s…”

“Ah, Le Dokhan’s!” John interrupts, “worhld-renowned champyne, oldest estahblishment in Pehris. You both must have vehry discuhning palates.”

“We’ve tasted a wine or three,” I confirm.

“Well, in thaht cyse, OI’ve got tha perhfect day in moind foh ya. Fahllow me and we’ll get stahted.”

He walks ahead of us and leads us to a rebuilt and refurbished 1962 Daimler Chrysler. Apparently, this beautiful classic car will be our transportation for the day.

“Ooo, very nice,” Butterfly says as she climbs inside.

John is quite chatty during the course of our tour and I’m very soon to discover why. He’s very proud of the Barossa Valley having lived here most of his life and conducted tours for over 20 years. He boasts having given this tour to dignitaries and wine connoisseurs from all over the world and promises to look me up so that he can add our tour to his updated list of bragging rights. He informs us that our tour has no specific itinerary and that if at any time we don’t like the course of the day to let him know and we can adjust accordingly.

We take a short drive to St. Hugo first. Although my wife was distracted with thoughts of Elena Lincoln’s demise on the trip to the valley, she’s quite attentive as John informs us of the history of St. Hugo. She remembered to bring the camera this time, and she’s taking several shots ranging from the picturesque countryside to quirky street signs pointing in various directions.

At the risk of sounding like the terrible snob that I can be, I’m extremely pleased with the vibe we’re getting from the Barossa Valley, and even more pleased when I hear of the settlement of the area. Most of Australia—particularly the ports we visited earlier in our vacation—was settled by convicts or others who had been exiled to Australia from England. Contrarily, settlers of South Australia and the Barossa Valley came looking for a better life. They were mostly merchants and farmers, those in search of their fortune on the shores and bush of Australia in the late 1800’s. Most prominent in this area were German settlers, and many of the vineyards they planted are still around today.

I’m not ashamed to say that the spirit that my Butterfly is gleaning from this area is much more relaxed and pleasant than the monsters she acquired at Port Arthur. So, yes, the snob in me is much more partial to the Barossa Valley, and I intend to do more research on our excursions in the future.

As we arrive at St. Hugo, John tells us that the current winery is comprised of original structures from the ruins of William Jacob’s winery, which was built over 150 years ago, as well as new additions designed to seamlessly tie in with the old ruins. We travel down a winding driveway with a stunning view of half-century-old cork trees—one of the few plantations of its kind in Australia.

Our tour begins with a short but refreshing walk through the vineyard. We note that some of the vines have been named and John tells us about how some of the names were chosen. One of the royal families came to the vineyard for an exclusive tour called the Sainthood Experience and the row of vines was named after them. Parcels from the vineyard of that row were picked and a custom wine was blended, where it is stored to age for three years and will then be delivered to that family. I don’t bother asking what that experience costs—I can imagine that even I would find it exorbitant.

After the tour, we head into a cozy tasting room, cellar door, and restaurant to literally enjoy the fruits of the field with a few other patrons of the vineyard. It’s easy to see that John is well known in the area. He takes pride in showcasing his knowledge and sharing his personal Barossa friendships and connections. It’s like he’s part of a special club that knows the inside scoop of all the secrets of the land—a wine fraternity, if you will.

Watching the wines being poured into the glasses is almost a spiritual moment. You can almost see the blends flowing out of the bottle and into the glass in slow motion, and your mouth waters with anticipation to taste it. The way the wine washes up from the bowl of the glass and gracefully caresses the sides enhances the experience. It’s almost like you’re watching a vintage being born in front of you even though you know that’s not the case.

Each tasting is accompanied by a very small gourmet entrée to complete the wine-tasting experience—a light degustation, not the complete chef’s experience, but we didn’t want that right now. Unlike the regular practice of pairing the right type of wine with the food, St. Hugo’s chef chooses his foods to complement the wines. After all, the wines are the stars of the show. The dishes are arranged with the wines according to taste—bitter, sweet, sour, fatty, savory, etc. We taste the various wines along with the simple dishes and ingredients and pick our favorites—which flavors we felt went best with each vintage, and which vintages we preferred over others. I’m pretty partial to the signature Shiraz while Butterfly predictably leans to an incredibly decadent Cabernet.

John is only too happy to inform the vintner that we would like three bottles of the 2005 Signature Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon to be packed and prepared to take back to the States. Reminding us of the tax and hassle of getting the wine through customs, he offered to send it directly to our address in Seattle. I wouldn’t have minded the tax on the wine—at $1000 a bottle, it couldn’t have been much for someone like me—but he raises a good point about the hassle of customs, and we may find more wine that we’d like to ship home. In light of that information, I agree to have the bottles shipped and give him our information for the shipping.

Just as I’m finishing the transaction, Butterfly scoffs loudly and indiscreetly. I frown and turn to her.

“What’s wrong?” I ask. I know she’s had a bit of wine, but it’s no more than we’ve had at a normal dinner and we’re just getting started, so it can’t be that.

“I must be one helluva hot dish!” she’s says uncensored. Okay…

“Well… yeah, but why is that a bad thing?” I ask.

“Because people can’t believe for the life of them that we just met, fell in love, got married, and started a family. I just have to be a trophy wife!”

That statement tells me everything I need to hear. There’s only one other group of people in the cellar door with us and they’re standing just to the left of her—two couples about our age examining the wine menu. At least the men are examining the wine menu. The women are looking over at Butterfly. They subsequently divert their gaze when they see me glaring at them.

“You are a trophy wife, baby. Get used to it,” I say loud enough for them to hear. They giggle and Butterfly gasps. “That’s because you’re one hell of a fucking prize. And the next time someone says that about you, just remember that they’re only saying it because they’re so goddamn jealous that they could chew out their own fucking tongues.”

I raise my brow at her and wait for acknowledgment. I get it in the form of her beautiful, coy smile that I know is only reserved for me. I lift her chin and kiss her gently.

“Never get upset about trolls, baby,” I say, still holding her chin, but looking at the cunts who disparaged her. “They’ve got nothing on you and they know it, and that’s why they try to cut you down.” I bring my eyes back to Butterfly’s. “Comprendre?”

“Oui, monsieur,” she replies sweetly. I brush her lips with another soft kiss.

“Let’s get out of here,” I say, taking her hand and tucking it into the crease of my elbow. “The riff-raff is starting to bother me.”

As we pass the couples still standing at the counter, I hear one of the men say, “Geez, what the fuck did you say?’”


A/N: Yes, they’re everywhere!

More music from the special night:
Usher—
Trading Places
Nelly and Kelly Rowland—
Dilemma
Usher—Lovers and Friends
Trey Songz—
All We Do
Slo Mo—
Ride
Jeremiah—
Birthday Sex
Guinuwine—
Differences
Trey Songz—
On Top
K Camp—
Blessing

Putain d’enfer, il l’a encore fait!—Fucking hell, he did it again!
S’il vous plaît”—”Please!”

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

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 71—Chain Reactions

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 71—Chain Reactions 

CHRISTIAN

We put Chuck and Keri on a plane to South Dakota yesterday to be present for the case today. Butterfly was not happy to see either of them go as Chuck is her detail and Keri is her nanny.

“I feel like my limbs are being cut off one by one,” she says. “My detail, my nanny, my PA…” I had forgotten that Marilyn had taken some time off as well in light of recent developments. I can imagine Butterfly feels a bit rudderless. Thank God Harmony’s here and has agreed to help Gail with the twins.

We haven’t discussed anything that happened Saturday night. I’m not sure how to approach the topic or even what needs to be discussed at this point. After talking to Jason, I somewhat understand the “Cinderella” concept, but how do I voice my displeasure with the way she spoke to my mother? Is this one of those situations where I should just “butt out” since it really had to do with the Center and wasn’t anything personal? It became personal, though—the comments that she made. However, had she said these things at Helping Hands in the course of her job, would I feel the same way? Am I only feeling this way because these things were said in my presence?

She was talking about her professional stance, and the position that my mother put her in by revealing to Adelaide that Courtney was still in town. To Mom, she was trying to help a friend, but to Butterfly, this was a professional betrayal.

I should have stayed out of this.

“You going in this morning?” I ask my wife who has been silent at the breakfast bar.

“Yes,” she says coolly. “I have new employees starting today and I should be there. And I have to figure out what’s going on with my calendar because I’m like a fish out of water without Marilyn.”

“Do you want to meet for lunch?” I say, attempting to offer an olive branch. She looks over at me.

“I’ll… let you know,” she replies uncertainly. “The morning is kind of heavy…”

“I’ll wait,” I interrupt. “You say what time.” She pauses for a moment, still gazing at me.

“Okay,” she says softly. “I’ll call you, then.” I give her hand a squeeze and kiss her on the forehead.

“I’ll see you later, then,” I say, and she nods.

*-*

“Kavanaugh wants nothing to do with you,” Lorenz says at the executive meeting that morning. “He’s shutting down any attempts from this camp to contact him.”

“Well, there’s always a hostile takeover… buy him out,” I suggest.

“Yeah, he thought of that, too,” Ros says, “so he’s not selling.” I nod. My lips form a thin line.

“Fine,” I say. “We’ve got plenty of Kavanaugh’s stock. Start dumping it.” Lorenz frowns deeply.

“Are you crazy?” he asks. I turn to him.

“Do you remember my interview, Lorenz?” I ask. “You’ve seen my portfolio—controlling interests or substantial participation percentages in 28 industries comprised of 419 subindustries in 165 countries on all seven continents. Kavanaugh is one subindustry in one industry in one country on one continent. This is only one of my holdings. It’s his entire life. He doesn’t want a financial and industrial powerhouse to bail him out when he’s on a proverbial dingy with a hole in it about to sink simply because the bailout is coming from me, well then let his ass sink. Start dumping stock 2% at a time. Once the NYSE and the NASDAQ reports that information, he’ll be lucky if he can still be considered penny stock.”

“Christian, this sounds dangerously close to insider trading,” Ros warns.

“Far from it, Ros,” I tell her. “It’s only insider trading if I use inside information not available to anyone else to further my position or unload a disadvantage. This is not inside information. It’s public knowledge that he’s on the skids. ‘Pump-and-dumps’ do it all the time. They buy low, drive up the price, watch the trends, and when it looks like it’s about as high as it’s going to go, they drop it. I’m an investor, and I see an opportunity to save my investment that’s very crappy right now and getting crappier by the second. I’m throwing him a life preserver and he’s kicking it back to me. He’s only looking at one side of that investment coin and that’s the fact that I don’t have enough to do a hostile. And he’s right, I don’t. However, I do have enough to make other investors sit up and take notice if I start dumping my shares.”

“There’s going to be no coming back from this,” Lorenz warns.

“There’s already no coming back from it,” I tell him. “He’s made it clear that he wants no part of my golden parachute. So be it. If I were so shrewd as to drive the price down, make him open sales again and gobble up the market before anybody else, guaranteeing at the very least a hostile takeover, he’d poison pill the company before I got my hands on it. I can tell when a company is on that final spiral down the drain, and Kavanaugh already has his feet in the grates—he just doesn’t think anybody knows it.”

I raise an eyebrow at Lorenz whose expression confirms that he agrees with me.

“Someone can still reach in and save him, and it doesn’t have to be me, but when and if they do, they’re going to be dealing with a company that’s worth at least one-third less than it is right now if not even less than that. Start dumping the stock. If I’m wrong and it turns around for him and the investors are making money, by dumping 2% at a time, I’ll still have a portion of my investment left. So… let the market decide.”

I wave the whole thing off. Buying Kavanaugh Media would have been a personal coup, but nothing more. I’ve got enough money to use C-notes to wipe my ass for the rest of my life. I don’t need this shit.

“And what’s going on with Kate Kavanaugh?” I ask. It makes me nervous when people just disappear.

“It appears that the Kavanaugh Princess is hiding out in the Hamptons with young Kevin… at least we think Kevin’s with her. You know her career is tied up in Kavanaugh Media and shortly, there’ll be no Kavanaugh Media. So, unless she has an endless money pot stashed somewhere, she’ll be looking for a job soon.” Ros replies.

“Make sure we keep our eye on her… just in case.” Lorenz nods.

“Excuse me, sir. Mr. Welch is in the lobby and says he needs to talk to you immediately.” Andrea’s voice surprises me as she never interrupts when I’m in a meeting. “He has Ms. McIntyre with him.”

Oh shit. Mac. What the hell is going on?

“I’m going to have to take this meeting,” I say to Lorenz and Ros. “Alex and Mac usually isn’t good news. Have we covered everything?” Lorenz looks at Ros, who nods.

“For now, it seems,” he says. “I’ll keep you posted.”

“Good man,” I say. “Send them in on your way out.”

I pop my neck as Ros and Lorenz leaves preparing myself for whatever the Gruesome Twosome have to tell me. I know it’s bad when I see their faces. Alex is serious, and Mac is a bit somber.

“Okay, out with it,” I say. Don’t beat around the bush, just give it to me. Alex closes the door and Mac drops a gossip rag on my desk.

“Tell me what I’m looking for here,” I say. “I really don’t feel like combing through stories of back woods women having babies by Elvis, aliens, and Michael Jackson.”

“Bottom left hand corner,” Mac says taking a seat. Alex stands behind her. I look at the bottom left corner of the tabloid.

Incarcerated Socialite to Write Tell-All Book of her Ordeal

“What?” I ask horrified. “I thought the law was written as such that she couldn’t exploit her crime for profit!”

“If she writes it as a fiction novel and changes all the names, she can,” Mac informs me.

“She’d have to change the events, too,” I nearly screech. “That woman molested children! It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who she’s talking about in her story—just a really good critical thinker, and I’m not just talking about my experience. One of those kids killed himself!” I suddenly want this woman to just disappear from the face of the earth.

“You’ve confirmed that this is true?” I ask them both. “This isn’t just some nasty rumor?”

“It’s confirmed, sir,” Alex says. “She’s been corresponding with ghost writers, publishers… even attorneys to make sure that she’s following the rules to get the book published.”

“And they’re going to publish this garbage.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Are you kidding?” Mac says. “Like you said, it won’t take a rocket scientist to tell who the characters are, even if she changes the names and events. A tell-all about Christian Grey and other possible prominent members of Seattle society? Right after you do an exposé of you and your lovely wife and your lovely life? Her timing is perfect—for her, that is. Depending on what she puts in that book, she can blow your image of your happy home right out of the water. But there’s so much more at stake here…”

“You don’t have to tell me,” I say. The damage that can be caused by the implications of this book are nearly fucking endless.

“So many pictures,” Alex laments. “So many boys…”

“Exactly,” I sigh. “We don’t even know if we found them all. Decades and decades of that shit—the embarrassment, humiliation, and pain this could cause is endless.”

Hasn’t she caused enough fucking heartache? What the fuck is she after? Before she died, Aunt Tina told me that Elena was corresponding with people, trying to get responses. What is she really doing? She can’t possibly hope to profit from this. Her only chance of release is escape. What’s really going on?

“Why is she trying to get attention?” It’s a rhetorical question.

“How did this story hit the mainstream?” I ask.

“There’s no telling,” Mac says. “She could have done it, it could be a publicity leak—nobody’s paying attention right now, but they’ve got their breach. All they need from this point is momentum.”

“And me visiting the prison would be momentum,” I observe.

“I’m so glad you figured that out on your own,” Mac exclaims. “I could just see you in my mind’s eye flying to the prison to ruffle some feathers and all you end up getting is a front-page spot.”

“Okay, so,” I stand from my desk and clasp my hands, “I’m open for suggestions on how to proceed with this because you know me—I’m ready to run in like a bull in a China shop.”

“We could get an injunction,” Mac says, “but we’d have to know what was in the book before we could do that.”

“So, an injunction’s out. Next plan?”

“Get in touch with the warden,” Alex offers. “He knows you, if I recall.”

“Yes, we’re acquainted,” I remark, remembering the very uncomfortable circumstances I arranged for Mrs. Lincoln after I discovered that she was responsible for the false accusations of sexual misconduct against my wife. “Anything we can do about her possible publishers and ghost writers? Make this endeavor look unattractive?”

“Here’s the thing about writing, Christian,” Mac says. “Once something is out there—articles, print, pictures, books—it’s out there. It’s so much easier to undo something someone said, even on television, than it is to undo the backlash of the written word. Any attempts to make something like this look unattractive would only have the opposite effect because believe me, no one is more aware that the pen is mightier than the sword than the person holding the pen.”

“So, I basically have no recourse now outside of talking to the warden?” I ask appalled. “He can’t possibly be ignorant to this, and he hasn’t done anything yet!”

“It’s very likely that he’s not,” Mac replies. “Why he’s not doing anything is yet to be determined.”

I scroll through the contacts on my computer and locate the information for Ronald Holstein. After going through a million transfers, I’m finally connected to his receptionist who, upon hearing my name, informs me that he’s unavailable but that she could take a message or patch me through to his voicemail. Since I’m not really sure if he’s aware of what’s going on, I leave a professional message on his voicemail to contact me as soon as possible no matter what time.

“So, now we wait,” I say.

I just got the damn Pussy DJ off our backs and now this? Jesus, it never ends!

*-*

I’m irritated when I get home as Holstein didn’t return my call, and surprised that Butterfly is already there since I’m home a little earlier than usual.

“Hey,” I say. “You’re here early.”

“So are you,” she says matter-of-factly. She’s sitting in the family room with a bowl of popcorn watching old movies like she’s been kicked back for the entire day.

“Is everything okay?” I ask, sitting next to her.

“I would really rather not talk about it,” she says. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you for lunch, but I was terribly distracted.” I nod.

“I have some news,” I say. She picks up the remote and silences the television. Placing the popcorn on the seat next to her, she brushes off her hands and sits up straight, like she’s preparing herself to go into battle.

This must have really been a pretty fucked-up day.

“Elena’s trying to write a book,” I spit out. She rubbernecks to me, her expression horrified.

“What?” she gasps. “I thought… I thought criminals weren’t allowed to profit from their crimes. I mean that’s the only thing she could possibly be writing about.”

“There are ways around it,” I tell her. “There’s no law against her writing a book. If she changes the names and events and it becomes a work of fiction, she’s in the clear assuming that no one can determine that she’s talking about real people—but everyone will know that she’s talking about real people. Conspiracy theorists and bloggers and motherfuckers with too much time on their hands may even be able to match her story with timelines and events and point a compass to specific people…”

“Like us,” she says.

“More than us, Butterfly, we were all over the trial. We’ll just be her anchor. Think of all those boys and their families. Some of them are adults and have families of their own, and if you remember, at least one that we know of didn’t make it. This woman has no fucking scruples!”

“And apparently absolutely nothing to lose,” Butterfly says flatly. I thought I proved that she did have something to lose in our last conversation, but maybe I wasn’t firm enough. We’re silent for a moment, and then my wife drops a bombshell on me.

“I’m considering leaving Helping Hands,” she says calmly. My turn to rubberneck.

“You’re what?” So much for not wanting to talk about it.


ANASTASIA

I can barely decipher what’s going on with my calendar. Marilyn has a lot of shorthand going on here and several reminders for her to do certain things. I really should have taken a better look at this thing last week when I wasn’t all a-flustered from the weekend’s events, but c’est la vie. I may have to draft someone somewhere to help me with this mess, but we’ll have to see.

I shoot a text off to Marilyn simply saying that I hope she had a nice Thanksgiving and I hope she’s taking care of herself. Every call I’ve tried to put in to Gary has gone straight to voicemail. I’ve left a few messages for him but stopped after the third one. After having that treatment from my father when he didn’t want to speak to me and then from Christian when he escaped to Madrid, instant defer to voicemail calls leave me with a very icky feeling to the degree of stirring up remnants of the Boogeyman. How about I choose not to do that to myself.

In an attempt to make sure that my friend hasn’t fallen to an ill fate, I recruit the assistance of the rest of the Scooby Gang to try to contact Gary. I only tell them that it appears that there has been a break-up and Marilyn is with her parents right now. None of us have had any luck contacting him.

Marilyn hasn’t returned my text either and I deduce that they’re both still radio silent. I just hope that she has me listed somewhere as an emergency contact so that someone will know to inform me if something really bad happens.

Ebony is doing well in the day care center and I’m hoping that we can convince her to put some of her other skills to use in the Center. God knows we need them in the worse way. We have a few new employees on the cleaning staff as well. We’re planning to end the contract with Sherwood and Clean It Up for You in January. So, we want to have a core team in place by that time and hire additional staff as needed.

Another development we’ve had since the interview is the outpouring of support from the community as well as the influx of donations right in time for the holiday season—clothing, non-perishable food items, cash and pledges, even additional volunteers. I’ve been able to get some applications from various sources for people who may be able to fill the many positions we’ll be needing to fill since we finally received our accreditation. I wasn’t kidding when I told Christian that my morning would be full—even fuller than I thought with me having to do my own administrative work. That must be why I was totally bowled over by the voice that greets me in the middle of the morning.

“Ana?”

I raise my head to see Addie standing in my office door. Oh, dear God.

“Addie!” I say, standing quickly from my seat and nearly knocking it over. “Please, c… come in.” Come all the way in and close the door behind you!

“I…” She timidly walks into my office. “Your office… it looks really different.”

“Yes,” I say, gesturing her further into the office and closing the door behind her. Sweet Jesus, this is a disaster. “I was able to make some changes with… all the different things that have been going on. We’ve finally gotten our accreditation, you know. There’s a lot that needs to be done in such a short time.”

“I’d…” She takes a seat in the Zen sitting area. “I’d like to make a donation… if I could.”

“Addie… that’s so kind of you.” She reaches into her purse and hands me a check. I don’t really focus in on the amount, but I see a whole lotta zeroes. “Addie, this is so generous.”

“It’s the very least I can do,” she says, lowering her head. “I turned that child away—ready to feed her back to the dogs that she came from. You’ve worked miracles with her.” I sigh.

“I didn’t do anything, really, Addie,” I tell her. “Courtney did all the work on her own…” and if she sees you here, the work may all be undone.

As if the fates heard my lamentations, my door flies open and in marches a distraught Courtney. She never enters my office without knocking when the door is closed. I know why she’s coincidentally here now.

“G… Grandmother!” she says, her voice more horrified than anything. Oh, shit. Addie stands and turns to her.

“Courtney!” she breathes. “Yo… you’re so… beautiful.” Courtney never takes her eyes off her grandmother but begins to frantically wring her hands. Addie takes a step towards her, but Courtney takes a step back, the dams bursting immediately and causing massive waterfalls down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” Courtney says, her voice full of tears, “I’m sorry, Grandmother, for the horrible person that I was and the terrible things that I did…”

“Oh, Courtney…”

“I’m sorry… that I hurt you… and that I hurt Grandfather… but you hurt me, too.” She weeps. Addie looks a bit horrified.

“You said I was worthless… nothing… you said I was better off dead…”

“Courtney!” Addie exclaims. “I did not say that! I would never say that!”

“Spare parts!” Courtney cries accusingly. “You said I was worth nothing but spare parts!”

Addie stands guiltily looking at her granddaughter.

“I felt like the world would be a better place without me. I was horrible and awful and even my spare parts were worthless. Maybe that’s how I made you feel… maybe I made you feel like you’d be better off dead and that’s why you made me feel that way. It’s a horrible, awful, wretched feeling and if I did that, I swear to God that I’ll never do that to anybody else as long as I live!” Courtney cries.

“Court…”

“I didn’t change my ways because of that,” she sobs, cutting off her grandmother. “I changed because I didn’t want to go back to Chuktapaw. I didn’t want to end up in a dead-end life like my mom! She has no hope! No future! And she doesn’t want to change! She wants to stay in that rat-infested lean-to that she’s lived in with that low-life man that she’s been with for years and she’s going to die there, and I don’t want that to be me!

“Somebody showed me that I was worth something even when I thought I wasn’t… even when you thought I wasn’t. Ana could have let me rot in that shelter, answer ads to be a stripper, but she and Ms. Grace took pity on me—after how I treated her, the things I said to her! She took pity on me… somebody thought I was worth something…

She weeps harder and Addie doesn’t speak. She must know that Courtney is just reloading.

“But I don’t care how horrible someone is to me. I’ll never in my life ever make them feel like they don’t deserve to be alive. I’ll walk away forever and never speak to them again before I ever make them feel like the earth would be a better place without them!”

“Courtney…” Addie says finally, “your mom is gone.” Courtney’s eyes pierce.

“What?” she asks incredulously. “When?”

“June,” she says.

“How?”

“Some rare virus,” Addie says. “I didn’t get the details. I didn’t even know she was sick.” Courtney purses her lips and clears her throat.

“Hence, my point,” she says nodding through her tears. “My mom’s gone, and nobody cared. Nobody knew. Nobody felt anything, not even me. Not even now, I don’t feel anything. I didn’t wish her dead and it’s tragic that she’s gone, but I knew,” she says, her voice still cracking, “I knew that’s how she would die. That’s how I would have died, and you were okay with that.”

“I was not okay with that, Courtney, I was hurt…”

“But that’s not what you said!” she wails. “I hurt you! I accept that and I’m sorry. I knew I would get money when you died, but I didn’t wish you dead! I never wished you dead!” she sobs. “I didn’t expect for you to account for what you said or how you felt. I just couldn’t deal with it. I couldn’t look at you and know that you felt that I was nothing more than an organ donor. I can’t change the things that I did and the way that I treated people, but there’s enough bad crap going on in the world and enough bad memories in my head to not subject myself to any new agonies.”

She straightens her back even though the tears continue to fall.

“Things have changed for me, Grandmother,” she says. “I found a life that I didn’t know I could have—a real life, with real people and purpose! I see a future beyond dollar signs. All I could see before was money and what I could do with it, and now I see so much more…

“I found somebody who loves me, who doesn’t care that I’m broke, who’s not looking for the next big trust fund. I had to find me first, but once I did, she saw what I couldn’t see. She helped me see that there’s so much more to me. I’m in school now. I want to help kids—troubled kids, kids who don’t think anybody understands them. She helped me see that I could do that. I didn’t think I could, but she wouldn’t let me give up… and now, I’m on my way. And I love it, and I love her, and she loves me!

“I have friends and people like me, and I can be myself—not what I think people want me to be. I don’t hang out with any of the ‘cool kids’ anymore, because just like I was a bad influence on them, they were a bad influence on me.

“Mrs. Franklin died. Did you know that?” she asks but continues talking before Addie can answer. “I didn’t go to her funeral. I didn’t know who would be there, but her daughter—Harmony—we’re friends. I’ve been talking to her and helping her through this time as much as I can. Mrs. Franklin’s children… they’re horrible. They’re worse than I ever was and old enough to know better, and now Harmony has to deal with them. I’ll never be like them again, but Harmony is good people, and I’ll be there for her…”

Courtney is rambling on and on and on about the person that she has become, and I realize that this is something that she needs to do. We let her talk and talk through her tears for a solid twenty more minutes until she’s physically exhausted. I catch her before she collapses on the floor in tears and help her to the seating area where she crumples onto the sofa and continues to weep.

Addie tentatively moves next to her and takes Courtney’s shuddering body in her arms. Her own tears flowing from her eyes, she expels a string of apologies, telling Courtney how much she loves her and never stopped.

Now is my cue to leave. I’m emotionally exhausted myself.

I leave my office and close the door behind me. When I raise my head, Grace is standing there with her arms folded, a triumphant smirk on her face.

“Don’t give me that look,” I say, firmly. “You were still out of place and you still meddled where you shouldn’t have. You got lucky. This could have been disastrous.” She still smirks at me.

“But it wasn’t, was it?” she says haughtily and turns away, beginning her victory stroll down the hall.

“Grace!” I call, my blood boiling. She turns to face me, ready for battle.

I’m not.

“I love this place,” I say closing the space between us, “but you know that I don’t have to do this. You know I’ve worked hard with Courtney and I respected her wishes because just like Addie, she was traumatized. You threw that out the window like it was nothing because you felt like it. I’ve built up her trust and you could have destroyed that because you thought the outcome should be different. You could have undone everything I did, everything she did, and you walk around haughtily flexing your plume because the situation happened to work out this time without any consideration for the damage you could have caused. I know that I’m only second in command, but if you ever undermine my authority like that again, you can find yourself another second.” She folds her arms, frowning.

“Is that a threat, Anastasia?” she confronts. Oh, dear God. She does want a fight. She can’t see for the life of her that she could have undone all of my hard work, and nor does it matter to her. I sigh a scoffing sigh and cover my face with my hands shaking my head. That’s it. I give up. I can’t put in this kind of work to have someone look at it like it’s nothing.

Nothing. That’s what it is.

“Absolutely nothing.”

I didn’t know I verbalized the words until I hear myself say them. I shake my head and walk away. I can’t even go to the nursery to see my babies because I didn’t bring them with me. I need alone time and my office is occupied. I walk to the other side of the building to the empty rooms that will soon be classrooms and activity rooms. I sit at one of the tables with the lights out and focus on my breathing…

In with the good air, out with the bad…
In with the good air, out with the bad…
In with the good air, out with the bad…

I don’t know how long I sit in that room meditating, but when I emerge and go to my office, the coast is clear. I go inside, closing the door behind me. I don’t think about anything. I just move, closing my laptop and putting it in its bag, packing small personal items into my messenger bag—nothing dramatic. I take a little time to scribble a note on my notepad. I know she’ll come back looking for me.

Dear Courtney,

I’m sorry if this situation caused you any grief. However it turns out, please know that I didn’t engineer this meeting. I hope you don’t feel like I’ve betrayed your trust and that we can still be friends. Please continue to stay in the condo for as long as you need to, and if you choose to leave, just let me know.

Anastasia

I fold the letter, seal it in an envelope, and write Courtney’s name on it in large letters. I put on my coat, pull my purse out of my desk drawer, and put my laptop bag and messenger bag over my shoulder. I snap off a piece of tape and tape the letter to Courtney on my office door. I retrieve my briefcase, walk to the door and turn out the lights without looking back, closing the door behind me.

I look carefully up and down the hallway and, spotting no one, I leave the office and quietly make my way to the service door and the parking lot behind the Center. I type a text to Chuck, then I remember that he’s not here with me. He’s in South Dakota in court with his family. I copy the text to Ben’s number and inform him that I’m in the parking lot and ready to go. Moments later, he comes out to join me.

“Is everything okay?” he asks when he gets into the driver’s seat of the Audi.

“Yes,” I lie. “I’m just ready to go home.”

*-*

“Why are you thinking of leaving Helping Hands?” Christian questions.

“Because my opinion is no longer respected or valued,” I reply.

“Baby, don’t you think that may be a bit dramatic?” he asks.

“I certainly do not!” I retort. “Do you see the progress Courtney has made in the last year? Even you have to say that’s remarkable. Do you know what kind of work it took to get her there? Do you know how hard I had to work to gain her trust—to get her to confide in me? She was living in squalor and I had to convince her to move into my condo. You can look at her face and see that she’s a completely different person than the girl we met. Even her showdown with Mia—it was extremely emotional, and it showed just how much she had grown, evolved. It took forever to earn her trust and she only asked one thing of me—not to tell her Grandmother that she was still in Seattle. I tried everything I could to convince her to talk to her Grandmother and she. Was not. Ready, and Grace just dismissed her wishes, my promises, all the work she had done, everything.”

“You guys are still fighting about that?” he asks.

“No, were not,” I say finitely. “We’re not fighting about it because one, she dismisses anything I say about the situation and two, she engineered a meeting between them.”

“Really?” he asks, his eyes wide. “How did that go?”

“I don’t really know!” I reply perturbed. “Courtney flipped the fuck out, sobbing and rambling for about half an hour, telling her grandmother how worthless and awful she made her feel. Things that Courtney was feeling that I didn’t even know came out in this meeting. She was devastated. She talked and wept until she collapsed in exhaustion.”

“Then what?” he questions, his mouth hanging open in awe.

“Addie hugged her, they were crying, and I left the room,” I finish. My husband’s head snapped back.

“Okay, what happened after you left?”

“Grace is standing outside with this smug I told you so look on her face, and I’m trying to explain to her that situations don’t always turn out that way. They could end up disastrous if you don’t handle them carefully.” My mind immediately goes to Stoley and to Ace’s shark tooth. “I tried to get her to understand that things could have gone astronomically wrong and she totally dismissed me—smugly, too!”

“But baby, can’t you just count this one as a win? I mean, all’s well that ends well, right?”

“NO!” I yell. “How can you two not see this? This was a four-way stop where the traffic lights don’t work, and everybody went forward at the same time! They were just lucky they didn’t crash and end up splattered all over the street! Somebody has to be out there to direct that traffic and that’s what I was trying to do, and she totally disregarded me. She disregarded everything and she’s proud of it. She told everybody to just drive, and the accident did happen. I’m just waiting to see if there are any survivors.”

“Baby, don’t kill me… but… could it be that you’re angry because my mother was right?” he asks.

“No, I’m angry because your mother was wrong!” I correct him. “What she did was the equivalent of playing Russian Roulette and the gun just didn’t go off. Instead of breathing a sigh of relief that her brains didn’t end up splattered all over the wall, she’s doing a taunting victory dance that the bullet happened to be in a different cartridge.

“But here’s the thing,” I say, moving the pillow from my lap and putting it back on the sofa, “I don’t have to be right. I’m just not going to be in a place where someone doesn’t respect my authority or wishes. She hired me because I’m a doctor—a professional, licensed psychiatrist. Then she completely ignored my professional recommendations on a case that was mine—a case that I had cultivated and groomed personally for a year—and then she gloated about it and she taunted me, and she disparaged everything I said. I can’t work like that. I can deal with being wrong, but I can’t… and won’t… work like that.”

I stand up and walk out of the family room, not because he doesn’t agree with me but because he and I shouldn’t be fighting about this. I won’t argue with him anymore about things that happen between me and his mother at the Center, assuming I go back to the Center.

“I’m not walking away angry,” I call back to him through the kitchen. “I’m just walking away… okay?”

“Fair enough,” he says after a pause.

I don’t even change out of my pajamas on Tuesday. I deliberately spend the entire day playing with my children, eating junk food, and watching romance movies with Harmony while deliberately ignoring my phone. Harmony plays hooky from school, too, because tomorrow, she has to go to Carl’s office and face off with her mother’s children for the reading of the will. She asks if Christian and I will come with her. I promise to be there and told her that we would have to approach Christian when he gets home. As it turns out, he knew about it before I did and had already planned to attend.

So, D-Day comes, and we put our war clothes on and head to Carl’s office. Harmony wears a turban so that her shaved head won’t be the topic of discussion. I’m not looking forward to this meeting, but Harmony admits that she’ll be glad when this is over so that the vultures can get their money and go away forever. She’s certain that she’ll never see them again unless they try to get her out of the house. In fact…

“I’ve decided to put the house up for sale,” Harmony says as Jason parks the Audi and we exit


CHRISTIAN

“Are you sure about that?” I ask her.

“I’m positive,” Harmony replies. “Not only are there just too many memories for me to stay, but it’s just too big. I know Momma only put the place in my name so that they wouldn’t put me out the moment that she passed away and to give me some time to figure out what I would do next. I’m certain she won’t mind. I like having space, but it’s way too much space. With the money from my trust alone, I’m sure that I could find a really nice place—maybe even downtown somewhere not so set apart from the rest of the world.”

“What are you going to do with the money from the sale,” I ask, “if you’re going to use your trust to buy a new place?” She shrugs.

“Replace the money from my trust,” she says. “I’m not going to spend the whole trust on a place. Maybe I’ll just rent something in town until I sell the mansion. Let’s face it, I’m a twenty-something girl in a big ass mansion out in the suburbs all by myself. I have all the makings of a recluse while I’m fighting off my brothers and sisters. The sooner I get away from the house, the better. I’m going to hold on to it long enough for Momma’s estate to be properly disposed of and then as soon as it’s done, I’m finding a real estate agent.”

“Would you be interested in a downtown penthouse?” Butterfly and Harmony both snap their heads over to me.

“Would I!” Harmony says, her interest piqued. “You know of one available?”

“I do,” I say, and my eyes shift to Butterfly’s.

“You’re selling Escala?” she asks in disbelief. I sigh softly.

“You love your condo,” I begin. “It had great memories for you, and I don’t have a problem with that. Escala… not so much.”

“Escala? Are you serious?” Harmony says. “You have a penthouse in Escala?”

“Yes, I do,” I say. “I’m having a few renovations done to it, and if you can wait until they’re done and I’ve gone through it to make sure that there’s nothing remaining that I want, we can negotiate a fair price and you can take it with all the furnishings.”

“That would be perfect,” Harmony says. “How long do you think the renovations will take?”

“Everything should be ready by the new year,” I inform her. The playroom will have been converted back to a regular bedroom by then and all of the BDSM paraphernalia removed. “You can stay with us until then if you don’t want to go back to the mansion.”

“Yes, please,” she says. “I’m thinking that I’ll just have to go on and dismiss the staff,” she adds as she steps onto the elevator. “I’ll give them some kind of severance once I hear what Mom has done and decide who I’d want to come with me… and who would want to come with me.”

“You can’t have Windsor,” I tell her.

“I figured as much,” she laughs as the elevator rises.

When we enter the office, all of the siblings have already arrived. They look at Harmony in distaste and with narrowed eyes and all I can think is that Paige and Theo sure don’t look like they’ve recently spent time in jail.

The receptionist leads us to the conference room and we all take a seat at the large conference table—the siblings on one side and Harmony, myself, and my wife on the other.

“Why are there strangers at the reading of my mother’s will?” Ilsa says haughtily.

“They’re only strangers to you and I want them here, so they’re staying!” Harmony claps back, her voice so sharp that no one else dare question our presence. There’s a fierce stare-off between Harmony and Ilsa, but Harmony doesn’t stand down. I’m a little entranced waiting to see which of them is going to blink first when I’m jolted from the spectacle by someone calling my name.

“Christian!” Carl greets me, surprised. He enters the room and shakes my hand. “I’m sorry, I didn’t expect to see you. I’m glad someone could be here for Harmony.”

“Thank you, Carl. This is my wife, Anastasia.” He smiles at Butterfly.

“Mrs. Grey,” he extends his hand. “A pleasure to meet you. Thank you for being here.”

“Ana, please,” she says. “So, it’s okay that we’re here?”

“It’s absolutely okay,” Carl confirms. “In fact, it’s welcomed. Please, have a seat.” He moves to the head of the conference table. “Everyone, please sit. Let’s get started.”

“So, all he saw was the guy and the tart sitting at the end of the table?” Ilsa hisses to Paige. What the fuck!

“Watch it, you bitter, cantankerous, old bat!” Butterfly shoots across the table, and all eyes turn to her. Ilsa gasps and literally clutches her pearls.

“How dare you!” she exclaims, appalled.

“How did you know that I was talking about you?” Butterfly asks matter-of-factly. “Was it the bitter part, the cantankerous part, or the old bat?” As if they could, Ilsa’s eyes widen further and she gasps again. “If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out,” Butterfly adds and Paige scoffs.

“Young people these days have no respect for their elders!” Paige hisses.

“Says the woman who waited for her mother to die, then showed up and asked for her diamond earrings back!” Butterfly barks. Now it’s Paige’s turn to gasp. “You don’t think I saw you examining your mother’s body jewelry—for your precious earrings, you grave-robbing, greedy ass vulture? You don’t know the meaning of the word respect, so you certainly won’t get it from me!”

Paige’s gasping is audible, like she’s having an asthma attack.

“Are you gonna die, Paige?” Harmony asks. “You might want to hold off until you at least find out what you’re getting.” Paige’s performance ceases and her evil glare is now turned to Harmony.

“I want them removed!” Ilsa barks at Carl. “I will not be treated this way at the reading of my mother’s will!” Them? Who is this them of whom you speak? I haven’t said anything to you yet, Ms. Daisy!

“It’s like she said, Ilsa,” Carl says, “If you don’t want anybody throwing adverse comments about you, don’t throw adverse comments about them. It’s a simple concept—a variation of The Golden Rule, you remember that? We learned it in Sunday School.”

Ilsa is even more appalled than she was before.

“Now, can we get started, or would you rather throw more insults across the table?”

“I didn’t insult anyone. I simply spoke the truth.”

“That woman,” Carl says, pointing at my wife, “is a highly-regarded member of the community, just like your mother was. She’s a doctor, a respected businesswoman, and a philanthropist well known in many social, business, and professional circles—more well-known than you are if for nothing else but her philanthropic work alone. So—Ms. Ilsa—calling her a twat simply because you don’t like the fact that she’s young, rich, and beautiful is the furthest thing from the truth! Now, shall we get started?”

Ilsa’s already prune-like face shrivels up even more as she absorbs Carl’s words, but she says nothing else.

“I have here Tina’s last will and testament. It’s quite detailed as to the disbursement and disposition of her estate and reading it will most likely take all afternoon. To that effect, I have a video that I will present before we proceed.”

Carl pushes a button on a remote and a screen descends from the ceiling against the wall behind him, much like the hidden screen in my office. Everyone in the room sits silently as we await whatever presentation we are about to see. The lights dim only slightly and after several seconds, the screen comes alive.

The setting is the second-floor library at the Franklin mansion, and Tina sits comfortably in a large chair in her shawl with her afghan over her lap.

All of the women gasp, including my wife.

“My name is Ernestina Eloise Franklin. I am of sound mind and not-so-sound body, and this is my last will and testament, recorded September 14, 2014. A written, signed, detailed, and notarized version of my will is currently in the possession of my attorney, Carl Richardson. This informal recording is for my family.

“I don’t know how many of you have gathered for the reading, but I assume that at least the immediate children will want to know what my will contains. Unless one or more of you have preceded me to the afterlife and nobody bothered to tell me, I know you’re all here, so let’s get right to it, shall we?

“My written will is solidly eighteen pages of very small print. I won’t put Carl through the tedious process of having to read the whole damn thing as I’m certain that each of you would much rather I just get to the point. So, without the hitherto’s, whitherto’s, therefores, and whatnots, this is what my will says.

“Let me start by saying that none of you get to contest it—none of you! I’m fully aware that the only person that I’m not allowed to disown is my husband, and he preceded me in death. Don’t make me disown any of you post-mortem. Trust me, I found a way to do it.”

The siblings all look at each other while Harmony never takes her eyes off the screen. I don’t even think she’s paying attention to her mother’s words; she just gazes lovingly at her mother’s image and barely takes a breath.

“You all have houses—sprawling mansions on huge estates afforded to you by the fortunes you acquired from me, Daddy, or your profit sharing from Franklin Steel. Some of you even have vacation homes and timeshares in exotic locations. To that end, you don’t need another house, but Harmony does as she doesn’t have one. On that note, Franklin House and the contents therein are to be passed down to Harmony.”

She must have made this tape before she did the quit deed. This, however, is no surprise to anyone in attendance.

“I have various other investment, ventures, stock options, mutual funds, CD’s, and the like in my portfolio. Carl has compiled individual portfolios for each of you to indicate how these investments will be divided among you. The particular numbers and dollar amounts are in my written will, but I guarantee you that the amounts in your portfolios are accurate. You may consult with Carl—or your own private attorney—concerning the disposition of these various assets. They can be transferred, or they can be liquidated—the choice is yours.

“My current liquid assets including all bank accounts, CD’s, the family trust and cash on hand total approximately $62 million. This does not include Harmony’s trust fund, which she has not yet received. The amounts will be divided as follows:

“All of my estate expenses are to be settled first—funeral costs, hospital bills, any outstanding debts or claims against the estate. The remaining members of my house staff are to receive $200,000 each. This will be considered severance pay should they decide they do not wish to continue under the employ of Franklin House upon my passing.

“Each child will receive $500,000 to distribute among their families—children, grand-children, etc.—as they see fit. Those funds will be disbursed to whichever of your descendants that you indicate. My grandson Damien’s share will be given directly to him as well, as his mother preceded me in death. Harmony, as you have no children, your $500,000 will be put into a separate trust for your future descendants. I hope you don’t think me cruel or think that I’m trying to force you to have children. I just want to be sure that, in that eventuality, your children have something as well. I think 40 is a good age to decide if you’re going to procreate. So, if by that age, you haven’t decided to have any children, the $500,000 is yours to use as you see fit.

“Once all expenses have been settled and the disbursements executed as requested, the remainder of my liquid assets are to be divided evenly among my five surviving children, the disposition thereof to be overseen directly by my attorney, Carl Richardson.

“As for the distribution of the family business, each of you will retain your voting shares in Franklin Steel. My shares will be divided as follows:

“Harmony, since you don’t have any shares yet, you will get 60% of my shares. Ilsa, Theodore, Jonah, and Paige, the remaining 40% will be split among you. If my calculations are correct, that means that the five of you will now have equal voting shares each. If you have sold any of your previous shares, that’s not my problem.”

There’s a whole lot of scoffing and gagging on the other side of the table as had Tina’s voting shares been split evenly among the children, each of the siblings would have had much more than Harmony—significantly more, in fact.

Each sibling currently holds approximately one-sixth, or just over 16%, of the Franklin family voting shares… every sibling except for Harmony, that is. Tina held the other one-third. Had she split her one-third five ways, each sibling—Harmony included—would have gotten 20% of her shares. With the shares that the current siblings should already have in their portfolios, that would have put each of them at over 23% of the voting shares each, leaving Harmony with less than 7% for herself. I can imagine that Tina spent quite some time calculating the value of her shares and comparing them to what each of her biological children had to arrive at the calculations she reached. If each of them held on to their voting shares, they will now each have 20% of the Franklin Family voting shares.

It’s obvious that several of them are displeased with this outcome. Jesus, they’re worse than Freeman.

“If you pay attention to my body, I shouldn’t have had a single piece of jewelry on me—not a diamond, not a piece of platinum, not even my wedding ring. Why? Because you can’t take it with you… right, Paige?”

Everyone looks over at Paige, who doesn’t seem surprised that her mother singled her out.

“Yes, Paige, I remember what you said. Each time you asked me for those diamond earrings back—12 times over the last several years to be exact—and I told you that I loved them so much that I wanted to be buried in them. Well, Paige, I lied.

“You bought those earrings and gave them to me for my 50th birthday. I wore them at that party and I never wore them again. They’re huge, they’re gaudy, they’re highly overstated and unattractive and you bought them for yourself! You made this big production of giving them to me in front of all my friends only to ask for them back six months later. Well, here’s what’s going to happen now.

“Christian, I’m assuming that you or your lovely wife has accompanied my Harmony to this reading…”

Okay, I’m a bit in shock, as are each of Tina’s children… including Harmony.

“If you haven’t, not to worry. Carl will apprise you of this portion of the will. All of my jewelry—all of it—is to be sold at auction and the proceeds donated to charity. That means every. Single. Piece of it, and I’ve already had it inventoried. I’d like for you to oversee the disposition of the jewelry and assure that the final donation be forwarded to Grace or Anastasia at Helping Hands.”

Paige gasps when she hears the fate of her beloved earrings… or so she thinks.

“Paige, your earrings aren’t part of that inventory… because they’re already gone. I donated those gaudy things to Habitat for Humanity four years ago. I have no idea what sum they rendered, but you can rest easy knowing that some poor family now has a home because of your generosity.”

So, this is priceless. She’s had her heart set on getting those earrings back for years, to the degree that she examined her mother’s body in the casket to see if they were there. She even has a charge of breaking and entering against her to get those earrings back, and they weren’t even in the house. They’ve been long since gone. I can’t help but laugh out loud when I hear this. She throws a look of death at me when she hears me chuckling and I give a sinister look right back, the one that I give cocky CEO’s or opposing board members when they think they want to challenge me. I can see her get a chill right down to the bone.

“I have various other knick-knacks and small items that will be distributed according to that multipage document I had to sign to keep you vultures from picking my estate apart like a rotting carcass. You’ll each get a copy of it to read at your leisure, but unless you are that interested in what’s going to happen to the damn fountain on the front lawn or the rubber ducky I used to play with as a child, I think you’ve pretty much heard what you we’re primarily interested in.

“So, there you have it. My fortune is yours now, you greedy, heartless leeches! You’ve got what you wanted—except for your precious earrings, Paige. Now, go away and leave my Harmony alone! I know that none of you have had a single kind word to say to her! Be gone with you all and leave her in peace.”

The screen goes black, and Harmony releases a held breath. I’m sure she had no idea that her mother had recorded her will, and this was more than a bit of a surprise to her.

“Carl’s going to see to the distribution of the will. Carl has the inventory of the jewelry. Carl is going to tell us what we get from the portfolio. Whose side are you on?” Jonah accuses. “You two are in cahoots to get the biggest chunk of the estate?”

“I’m on Tina Franklin’s side, sir,” Carl hisses, “as you have well known for decades. I’m the executor of her will and that’s what I’m doing—executing it! Now, you’re free to contest Mrs. Franklin’s will if you like. Just know that Ms. Harmony’s trust is untouchable as is the house. So, Harmony will have her fortune and the home, and you’ll simply be jeopardizing your and everyone else’s share of Ms. Tina’s fortune. Now, what would you like to do… sir?”

“A video will… indeed! I don’t think my mother did that without coercion for a moment! You’re not fooling anybody! Either of you!” Jonah barks. “I’ll have you disbarred for gross misconduct…”

“Oh, cut the shit!” Carl exclaims, causing the entire room to glare at him.

“You can’t speak to me that way…”

“You’re in my office—I can speak to you any way I damn well please!” he hisses, and the room falls silent. “I’ve been your parents’ attorney nearly since the day I passed the bar. Ever since the moment I met you—all of you—you’ve all been a bunch of insufferable brats! Uncontrollable, never satisfied, entitled little vermin who have run around the entire time I’ve known you asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ‘Where’s my share?’ You’re like those goddamn seagulls in that cartoon, running around screaming, ‘Mine! Mine! Mine!’

“Your. Mother. Was dying. For months! And none of you—not one of you—could be bothered to even come and say goodbye. This woman sat on the floor at her feet and wept in her lap, more times than I care to count! She’s had to battle crooked house staff, a greedy ex-husband, you—all while watching her mother deteriorate day after day. And you have the audacity—the unmitigated gall—to harass and besmirch the one person who stayed by her side and cared for her until she took her last breath when you didn’t even make the effort to show up? How dare you!” He growls the last words, and four stunned siblings continue to stare at him in awe and silence.

“Thurgood Franklin was my friend,” Carl continues. “And when he passed away, I made sure that his affairs were in order and that his wife taken care of, and you all know that because you were there. Now, Ms. Tina has passed away—also my friend—and because her spoken will is not to your liking, not only do you attack the one person who lovingly and painstakingly took care of her, but you also have the audacity to sit in my office and try to accuse me of misconduct? I’ve been your parents’ attorney for so many years that I’ve lost count! Your selfishness and greed have taken over your senses, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. I’m sure that Thurgood and Tina are thoroughly ashamed of you!”

For the first time since I’ve seen any of them, Tina’s children all look a bit contrite.

“Your mother. Is gone,” he continues. “She’s dead. She’s not coming back, and I think I shed more tears at her funeral than all of you combined. And I’ll tell you one thing that’s really going to piss you off. If I had my way, none of you would have gotten a goddamn dime! I told her more than once not to leave any of you anything, but she didn’t listen to me. You are her children, and she felt that you were entitled to it, but she made it clear that she was going to have her last say before any of you got a nickel.

“So, if you want… please, go ahead and contest the will. You’ll hold it up, but when it’s done, your proceeds will be divvied up between all of the remaining siblings… all of them!” Including Harmony, you assholes.

“You’ve heard your mother’s verbal rendition of the will. The printed rendition is exactly the same, with a little legal jargon thrown in. Do what you choose with that information. I have all of your contact information and you’ve heard what you’re getting. I swear to have the will executed and have the proceeds disbursed as soon as humanly possible just so that I never have to see any of you again. Now, get the fuck out of my office.”

He turns away to try to compose himself. Four siblings sit stunned, staring between each other and back at Carl—waiting for the punchline, I guess. After several moments and no one moving, Carl glances back over his shoulder to see the siblings still sitting there stunned.

“Are you all deaf?” he yells as he whirls around to face off with them. “Do you need a map? Or should I arrange for an escort for you? Get the fuck out!” He points to the door and stares at Theodore. It’s a standoff. One of them had better move.

Theodore stands, straightens and buttons his jacket, and with a last glare at Carl, turns and leaves the room.

Without moving his pointing arm, Carl turns his glare to Jonah, who repeats all of the gestures of his brother and leaves. Ilsa and Paige are out of their seats before Carl can turn their glares to them. I see them hovering outside the office waiting for Harmony when Carl puts his arm down, drops his head and sighs mournfully. Harmony stands, and I stand with her.

“My friend is dead,” he says, his voice low. “Over forty years of camaraderie and memories reduced to this. She and Thurgood are the main reasons I went into law in the first place. She’s the reason I stayed. I’m too old for this.” He raises glassy eyes to Harmony.

“I’m going to carry out my friend’s wishes and get this will executed as soon as humanly possible. I’m going to have her liquid assets divvied up and have millions of dollars distributed to four ungrateful, greedy, hateful ass children who don’t deserve a fucking dime!” he barks loud enough for the vultures in the hallway to hear him. “And then I’m out. I’ll be available if you ever need a consult or advice, but I’m not doing this anymore.”

“Carl!” Harmony says, her voice heavy with concern. “Don’t do this! Don’t leave your profession—what you worked so hard to achieve—because of them.”

“It’s not just them!” Carl retorts. “Do you think this is the first time this has happened? It certainly won’t be the last. People don’t have hearts anymore! They’re just walking, talking shells filled with evil and greed. People have come into this office for will readings and gotten into fist fights. Your loved one is dead! You’ve lost a part of your family! These people lost the woman who carried them for nine months, went through incredible hell, pain, and suffering to bring them into the earth. Paige was breech—she ripped your mother’s body apart so that she couldn’t have any more children. Tina nearly died trying to get her here and they couldn’t even say ‘goodbye?’ Did you know that, Paige?” he yells out into the hallway, and Paige moves away from the doorway and out of visibility.

“None of them have any conviction! Hell, they’re not even mourning. They’re sitting here more upset that she left you the house than they are that she’s gone and she’s never coming back! Who does that?” He falls into his chair.

“My last moments with your mom… she cried, and she asked me what she did wrong. She asked me what she did to cause her children to hate her so much. She talked about how she did her best to raise them and to make sure that they had everything that they needed their entire lives, and that they deserted her and left her to die alone. She thanked God for you, though,” he adds. “She knew that as long as you were around, she wouldn’t die alone.

“She was tired, Harmony. She was bone tired, and she waited until that deed was filed, and she let go. She didn’t take her last breath that night when she went to sleep and didn’t wake up. She took her last real breath when I told her the house was yours. She smiled and sighed deeply. Then she closed her eyes and said, ‘thank you.’ She was still alive after that, but it was all mechanical. She was already gone—already content to go home.

“She loved you so much, Harmony,” he says, his voice cracking. “She never regretted one minute of having you in her life. She understood what you were going through as a teenager, but she was immensely proud of how you turned out. If you take nothing else from this horrible experience, please take that.”

Tears are flowing from Carl’s eyes and Harmony, along with my wife, is openly crying.

“Thank you, Carl,” she whispers through her tears. “That’s the most precious gift I could ever receive.” Carl nods and composes himself.

“I hate to dismiss you this way, child, but I need to hurry and perform my last act as an estate attorney. My friend is gone, and I have no reason to do this anymore.” Harmony nods and takes his hand, giving it a firm squeeze. “If you need me…” he adds. She nods again and turns to leave. Butterfly puts an arm around her and Harmony returns the gesture. I think, at this moment, they’re holding each other up. I shake Carl’s hand.

“You’re a good man,” I say. He nods and purses his lips—his form of “thank you,” I think, as he fights to keep from completely breaking down. I quickly fall in step behind Butterfly and Harmony as they both watch the floor to avoid bumping into anything. They don’t make eye-contact with any of the siblings as they exit the office. Jonah moves to speak, and I throw a look of death at him.

Say something and I’ll knock your fucking dentures out!

I see a visible chill run through him as he takes a step back and clams the fuck up. As we’re waiting for the elevator, I hear Carl’s disembodied voice speaking through the intercom to his assistant—the siblings still hovering around her desk.

“Mrs. Andreini, please get the ball rolling on the Franklin file immediately. I want it executed and closed as soon as inhumanly possible. Also, close my door and get those people out of my office. Call the police if you have to.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Richardson.”

The elevator comes, and we don’t wait to see the outcome. I usher the ladies inside and push the button for the first floor, leaving the siblings behind us as the elevator doors close.


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

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~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 36—Kavanaugh Celebrations 

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 36—Kavanaugh Celebrations 

ANASTASIA

Boys can be such doodyheads!

Geez, did I just say doodyheads?

Well, I didn’t say it, but I thought it…

Have I been drinking?

After last night? Hell, no!

I’m just pissed as fuck at one Marlow Johnson. How could he be so damn insensitive? Well, he really wasn’t insensitive. He has no idea how Sophie feels about him. It’s just a childhood crush, and it’ll pass, but what he said about periods. I know teenage boys don’t give a fuck about things like that and they’d like to think it’s none of their concern, but damn, I guess I just wanted to think that Marlow might be different from other teenage boys in that aspect. I mean, he is different from other teenage boys in a lot of ways, but… well, nobody’s perfect.

“Permission to engage,” I hear my husband’s voice say from behind me. I turn around to see him waving a gray napkin in surrender.

“Wrong color,” I say, crossing my arms.

“What was that all about?” he asks. I shake my head.

“Reverse hero worship,” I admit. “I have high hopes for your young protégé. Sometimes, I forget that he’s still a bonehead kid with raging hormones.” I look down at my phone and close Jason’s text.

“Sophie get going okay?” he asks. I nod.

“Yeah. Chance took her home.” I raise my eyes to him.

“I didn’t think Marlow would bring a date,” he says. “He told me he was escorting his mom.”

“Where is Marcia?” I ask. I noticed that Marlow and Maggie are present, but no Marcia.

“She wasn’t feeling well, so she stayed home. Marlow secured a date at the last minute. He said he didn’t want to bring anybody because girls get kind of clingy at weddings.” I shake my head.

“And apparently, guys get kind of stupid,” I retort. Christian raises an eyebrow.

“It appears that girls are a bit more out of character,” he recounters. I look at him expecting. “Well, look at Sophie. I’ll have to admit, she was darling in her dress. I’m glad there weren’t more boys her age here or we may have had to beat Jason off with a stick. Her knowledge of food is phenomenal, and her dinner conversation was extraordinary—well beyond her years. But the banter between her and Maya… where did that come from?” I raise my eyebrow at him.

“Where indeed,” I say, as I see the little tart just over his shoulder emerge from the ladies’ room. Pretending not to see her, I continue the conversation with my husband just loud enough for her to hear.

“Why that high-school girl took a veiled cheap shot at a tween’s dress in front of people who consider her family, I have no clue. However, why Sophie sliced that horrendous fart of a dress that she was wearing from two seasons back, I get that. I realize that she’s young and inexperienced, but she should probably remember her place when she’s a guest at someone’s wedding around people that she clearly doesn’t know.” I glare at my husband and see the little cow shift uncomfortably in my peripheral before she scurries back into the ballroom.

“And… you weren’t talking to me just then,” he observes.

“I certainly was not,” I confirm. He shakes his head and puts his arm around my waist, ushering me back into the reception.

“Come. Champagne and dancing for you…”

A glass or two of champagne later, and I’ve loosened up a bit. After last night, I steer clear of the hard stuff. Couples are canoodling here and there all over the room waiting for the bride and groom’s first dance, Christian and I included, when we’re interrupted by some guy trying to talk shop over Christian’s shoulder.

“Not talking business at my sister’s wedding reception,” Christian says flatly.

“Oh, come on, Grey. Everybody talks a little business at social functions,” the guy coerces.

“Not talking business at my sister’s wedding reception,” my husband repeats, never changing his facial expression or even making eye contact with the guy. The guy glares at Christian. Then he turns to me and his gaze softens.

“You should get him to loosen up,” he says, with a smile. “He’s far too intense.”

“Oh, he loosens up just fine,” I retort. “He just didn’t come to his sister’s nuptials with intentions of turning them into a business meeting.” I smile softly at the asshole, who adjusts his tie, raises his drink, and walks away.

“Nice comeback, Mrs. Grey,” Christian says, nuzzling me behind my ear.

“I learned from the best,” I coo with a wink. “I need the restroom, dear.” I kiss him on the cheek and he reluctantly releases me. I quickly relieve myself and return to the floor as I don’t want to miss any of the festivities—and I do mean quickly—I’m not gone ten whole minutes, and yet…

I turn my back for an iota of a second, just long enough to piss and wash my hands, and this Lily bitch is all up in my husband’s face. She must think I won’t stomp a mudhole in her ass because we’re at Mia’s wedding. If you’re bad enough to try me, bitch, I’m bad enough to fuck you up. I make a B-line over to where this cunt is trying to put the moves on my man.

“Christian,” I hear her purrs as I approach, “it’s been so long since we’ve talked.” She closes in on my husband with outstretched arms, her dress only a breath away from a nip slip. Christian steps away from her grasp.

“We never talk, Lily,” he says coolly, avoiding her embrace. She pouts seductively.

“Just one hug, Christian,” she says, nearly rushing him and about to catch him in a bosom hug.

Oh, enough of this shit.

“Oh, no, I don’t fucking think so,” I say, putting first my arm, then my entire body between her and my husband.

“Excuse you!” she hisses at me.

“No, excuse you,” I retort. “You have clearly lost your mind if you expect me to stand here while you attempt to put those sacks of silicone all over my man! You might want to put those things away because he clearly doesn’t want you,” I say to the scandalous tramp standing before me offering herself to my man like free leftovers.

“She’s right,” Christian says. “I clearly don’t want you, so you might want to cover yourself up.” She giggles. She actually giggles.

“Don’t be coy, Christian,” she says in a sultry voice. Christian just shakes his head and pulls me close to him.

“Let it go, baby,” he says softly in my ear. “You won’t have to see her ever again after this.” Just as I’m nodding my acknowledgement, she retorts,

“But you will.”

“He’s married, you sow!” I whip around on Lily, finally having had enough of her blatant disrespect and overt flirting with my husband. She almost doesn’t acknowledge my outburst until Christian looks over at me. Then she turns affronted attention to me.

“Excuse me?” she says, as if I have no right to say anything to her at all.

“There is no excuse for you!” I seethe, no longer able to restrain myself. I won’t yell. I won’t make a scene, but I’ll beat her fucking ass if she doesn’t get away from this table. “He has a wife… and children! You desperate cunt!”

“How dare you!” she says, doe-eyed and surprised.

“How dare you, you indiscreet guttersnipe!” I feel my blood pressure rising. Someone should intervene before I get to the tears.

“Steele?” Val’s voice floats to my ears. “You okay?”

“Someone needs to remove this piece of trash from my presence before I do it myself!” I say through my teeth. I can feel Christian’s arms tighten around my waist. He’s preparing for the inevitable. Lily scoffs and Val decides now is a good time to intervene.

“I really think you should go away,” she says to Lily. Lily’s hands rest defiantly on her hips.

“I’m part of the wedding party. You can’t make me leave,” she says, rolling her neck on every word.

“I’m part of the family and yes, I can,” Val says, closing the space between them. Now, I’m chomping at the bit to get closer to this girl, but Christian is holding me tighter and tighter. Just as she’s about to rebut, big brother Elliot steps in.

“Look here, girlie,” he says to Lily, “you need to be anywhere but right here at this moment, because if you touch this one, I’ll fuck you up.” He pulls Val to his side. “And if you touch that one…” He points to Christian, “… she’ll fuck you up.” He points to me. Lily laughs loudly.

“Oh, please. Whatever,” she says incredulously. Now it’s Christian’s turn to speak.

“Lily, I don’t want to embarrass you, but what’s more, I don’t want to ruin my sister’s wedding. So, I’m going to grace you with my conversation by saying this to you one time.” She smirks victoriously at me and turns her attention to Christian. He leans in close to her and says,

“Get. The fuck. Out of my face. I don’t want you. I never have. If you come near me again… ever… I’m going to have my security remove you from my presence and then, I’ll get a restraining order against your ass. Your unwanted romantic overtures are bordering on harassment.”

Her face falls immediately and the smirk she wore moments before is now plastered on my face.

“You are worse and more persistent than any stalker I’ve ever had, and my stalkers have tried to kill my family. That makes you a danger to me, my wife, and my children. I never gave you the slightest bit of encouragement, and I don’t know what ever gave you the idea that you ever had a chance with me, much less that I would leave my wife for you. I’m not even attracted to you. I never have been and even if I ever was, what makes you think I would leave my wife and family for you? Now do yourself a favor and tuck your tits and what’s left of your dignity back into your bra and get the hell away from me!”

And there’s that look again… My God, she has that hideous look perfectly.

“You’re just saying that because she’s here,” Lily responds. Father in heaven, help us. Another delusional bitch. What the fuck, do they grow on trees?

“I’ve always said that, Lily,” he reinforces. “I don’t have to put on a show for my wife. Name one timeone time—when I gave you the slightest hint that I ever wanted you. Go ahead, I’ll wait.”

Lily knows that she can’t name any times because she would have to call Christian a liar to his face. I’ve seen her be forward at Grace’s house, on Christian’s boatbut I can’t believe that she would do this at Mia’s wedding reception. Isn’t she supposed to be, like, Mia’s best friend or something?

“Christian, if you would just give me a chance…” Her voice is haughty. She’s not even embarrassed enough to sound humble in her indiscreet and unbecoming begging.

“Oh, God, somebody make it go away,” Christian says mocking despair. I will! I will! If you just let me go…

“Lily, what are you doing?” Mia says, making her way over to us.

“Shamelessly coming on to my husband while I’m damn-near sitting in his lap,” I say before I can stop myself… and regret it immediately. Mia reacts, but not like I expected.

“You said you wouldn’t,” she says flatly to Lily. “You promised you would behave.” Lily stands mute. Mia sighs. “I should have known,” she says, shaking her head. “You weren’t even speaking to me for a while, then all of a sudden, we were best friends again. I should have known it was all about Christian. And what did you do to the maid of honor dress? You look like a stripper!” she exclaims. Finally, she just shakes her head and waves to someone. “You need to leave,” she says. Lily frowns.

“What?”

“You need to leave, Lily!” Mia reinforces. “I want you to leave now before you embarrass me more than you already have.”

“Mia, please,” Lily beseeches. “I was just talking, I swear…”

“Is that why my sister-in-law looks like she’s ready to crawl out of my brother’s arms and scratch your eyes out? Because you were just talking? What the fuck did you say?” Lily falls guiltily silent this time.

“Just about any inappropriate thing that popped into her head,” I add, “while offering her fake double-D boobs plated and served to my husband while I’m standing here. She didn’t even acknowledge my presence until I called her a cunt. She’d fuck him right here on the floor while I and the reception watched if he let her!”

Okay, my mouth needs a leash and my anger has already gotten loose and is running around the room. Mia’s reaction is swift. Her arm is up in the air, gesturing to someone to come over to us. Two suited members of someone’s security come over to our table.

“She’s leaving… now!” Mia gestures to Lily. “Please show her out.” Lily’s mouth falls open.

“You said you would give me a chance,” she says. “I was just talking.” I’m about to say something when Mia puts her hand up to silence me.

Yeah, it’s probably best that I keep my mouth shut come to think of it.

“We will talk about this later, but right now, you’re ruining my reception and I want you to leave. People are looking at you!”

Sure enough, I look around the room and we now have the attention of more than a few party-goers.

“We’ll talk once I’m back from my honeymoon, but please… just leave now, please.” Lily frowns deeply, then moves to hug Mia. Mia is a statue.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I really was just talking to him.”

“He’s married, Lily,” she says flatly. “They’re in love, in case you’re the only person in the world who’s blind to that. This isn’t news. You’re making a fool of yourself throwing yourself at my brother. He’s not being cruel or playing hard to get. He just doesn’t want you.” She holds her head down. “And I was a fool to think you really wanted to mend fences with me.” Lily now looks terrified. Why, I’m not really sure.

“Mia, I did…” she protests. “I do, I really do.”

“Why?” Mia asks, “so that you can have the opportunity to get closer to my brother?” She shakes her head before continuing. “Just leave, Lily. Leave now. We’ll talk about this later.” Mia won’t make eye-contact with her and Lily finally turns to leave.

“And Lily,” Mia calls out. She turns around. “There are a lot of people outside waiting for a story. The story is me leaving on my honeymoon with my husband. If you give them anything else besides you’re leaving because you don’t feel well, not only will I shun you for the rest of your life, but I’ll also make sure that you’re quite persona non-grata. Not a social circle on the west coast will come anywhere near you. And if you say anything adverse about my family including my sister-in-law, I’m sure my brother could make that nationwide and more than just social circles.”

Worldwide,” Christian throws in, to Lily’s dismay. She looks at him with the most crestfallen look I’ve ever seen, except for maybe the one on the Pedophile right before they took her away. “I told you to leave me alone. You should have listened.”

That’s when she turns that horrible sour face to me.

“And stop looking at my wife that way!” Christian snaps, startling everyone in the general vicinity. “You look like that ugly rock fish.”

“Stonefish,” I correct him. I was trying to place what that face looked like and that’s it!

“Whatever. It’s ugly.” Christian gestures to Jason, who walks over to us. “Keep an eye on her,” he says. “She keeps throwing stinkfaces at my wife.” Lily gasps.

“I’m not going to do anything to your precious Anastasia!” She knows my name! Who knew? All this time, she acted like I didn’t exist.

“I know,” Christian retorts. “I’m just making sure you know, too,” he hisses. Lily and I both glare at him.

“How much money do you spend just watching people?” I blurt out before I think about it, but Christian and Jason are unfazed.

“Apparently, not enough,” he replies, “and I’m going to start giving the order to shoot first and ask questions later if the wrong person comes near you,” he adds without taking his eyes off Lily. Now he gets the stink face.

“You’re not all that, Christian,” she says. “I was just talking.”

“Yeah, well, my sister said she doesn’t want you here anymore, so talk while you’re walking.” She huffs indignantly and heads toward the entrance to the ballroom.

“You’re giving her more credit than I would,” I say to Mia, noting that she said she would talk to Lily later.

“I’m not giving her shit,” Mia says. “I just want her out with the least amount of drama possible. I never plan to see her again. We fell out because she was mad that I didn’t hook her up with Christian in the first place. She fell back in when she found out I was getting married. I should have known what she was really up to, that trifling skank.” Mia drops her head. “Now, I have no one to do my damn maid of honor toast.”

She stomps back towards the bride’s table and I feel totally responsible for this since I’m sort of the reason the tramp was kicked out of the reception.

“Mia!” I call after her. Mia stops midstride and turns to face me. “I’ll do it.” Her brow furrows, then her gaze softens.

“I can’t put you on the spot like that,” Mia says. “You already had to fill in for a vocalist who will never get another job again if I have anything to say about it!” she hisses. “Thank you for that, by the way. You guys were wonderful. You sounded better than the people we hired.”

So we were told.

“It’s no trouble, Mia,” I say softly, closing the space between us. “It’ll be something short and impromptu, but it’ll be sincere. Can you even imagine what Lily might’ve said if what you said about her is true?” Mia thinks for only a moment.

“Yeah, you’re right,” she says. “I have no idea what I would’ve have done without you today,” she says with a sigh. “I’ll let Skye know there’s a change in plans.” She smiles at me and heads to her wedding planner. I watch her walk away and roll my eyes. God, this day just keeps getting better and better.


CHRISTIAN

Well, once we rid ourselves of one Lily in heat, my wife then volunteered herself to do the maid of honor toast. I don’t know why they couldn’t just let the best man do his toast and call it a day, but far be it from me to piss on somebody’s wedding. My baby had an idea to fix what was broken, and that’s fine by me.

As it turns out, Mia had come looking for Lily because it was time for the toast, so my wife is whisked away to charm the guests once more.

“For those of you who have been living under a rock and have not seen the tragedy that is my life unfolding for the last two years, I am Anastasia Grey.”

A huge round of applause and laughter fill the room at Butterfly’s not-so-flattering self-introduction and she curtsies on the stage.

“Thank you, you’re too kind. As you know, Mia is my sister-in-law through my husband, Christian. And it appears that I’m going to be pulling double duty tonight as the maid of honor unfortunately had to leave. I’ll apologize in advance because I was not prepared for this, so I’m just shooting from the hip, so please bear with me.

“First, I will, of course, begin by thanking our wonderful waitstaff who kept the food coming and the drinks flowing, our band, our wedding party, the wedding planners, the staff and security of Paramount Theater and of course, of Grey Enterprises Holdings for stepping up in a pinch, and certainly and not least of all, Carrick, for the bottomless checkbook!”

Another rousing round of applause and laughter as Dad stands and takes a dramatic bow while Mom and Mia laugh hysterically.

“The first time I met Mia, it was just over two years ago,” Butterfly begins, as the laugher dies down. “We bonded over the French language and Jimmy Choos.” Mia smiles at her. “Her brother called her ‘Meelo’ and she called him ‘Cwis’ and I thought it was the cutest thing I had ever heard. It made me long for a sibling, but more so, it helped me see that true love could never be tarnished.

“Mia likes to play. She’s a fun-lover, but make no mistake. She’s loyal to the point of murder.” More laughter fills the room. “I wish I was kidding about that. I’ve seen this little kitten turn into a wildcat when it comes to the people that she loves. I’m just glad to be one of the people that she loves.” Butterfly turns to Mia, who is clearly fighting back tears.

“I remember the night of their engagement,” Butterfly says. “Mia was doubting Ethan’s feelings for her and Ethan had planned to propose all along. The entire family was there. Mia screamed and we came running into the house like it was on fire…”

More laughter.

“Even then, Ethan proved that nothing was more important to him than Mia’s happiness and everything that I’ve seen since then has shown me more and more of the same. So, ladies and gentlemen, raise your glasses to Ethan and Mia. We wish you all the love and happiness your hands and hearts can hold, and Ethan, she’s a real handful… and she’s all yours now!” There’s even more laughter as the theater raises their glasses and spouts various congratulations to my sister and her husband. Her speech was short and sweet and to the point. I’m sure whatever Lily had planned was going to be nothing like that.

My wife makes her way back to our table—and my arms—and I kiss her gently on the lips.

“You were eloquent and gracious as always, my love,” I tell her.

“Thank you, darling,” she says, sweetly. As I kiss my wife, the lights go down and there’s an announcement that the bride and groom will now have their first dance. A fog machine begins to fill the room with fog and an image of a night sky is projected over the floor and fog. It gives the room a blue, ethereal hue. A soft female voice begins to sing Mary Lambert’s version of “She Keeps Me Warm” and we see Rita Oro emerge onto the stage with the band as Mia and Ethan take their place on dancefloor and glide effortlessly through the fog.

I coax my beautiful wife from her seat and bring her to my lap, cuddling her in my arms and holding her close to me while pressing gentle kisses to her neck as we watch my sister and her new husband share their first dance. I think about our first dance in our castle and I’m filled with that same love all over again, that same newness I felt when she first became Mrs. Christian Grey.

“And I can’t change, even if it I tried…” I whisper in her ear, repeating the words to the song that I feel in my heart, that I couldn’t stop loving her no matter what happened in this life; that she would always mean the world to me and losing her would break me down to nothing. She melts in my arms and I feel so much love and warmth that I could just burst. She wraps her arms around my neck and snuggles into me, swaying with me in our seat as Mia and her husband—and now her wedding party—dance to Rita Oro’s serenade. I love her so much. I can’t see my life before or without her. Rita stops singing and I can’t seem to untangle myself from my wife.

“I won’t bother with the wisecracks. I’d be wasting my breath,” I hear Elliot’s voice.

“I think you would,” I retort. She uncurls herself from me and kisses me softly on the cheek.

“I love you,” she whispers.

“I love you more,” I reply.

“Not likely,” she says, and I smile.

“We’d be debating that one all night,” I say, stroking her cheek. she laughs, too.

“Yes, we would.” She strokes my hair. I kiss her on the cheek.

“Alright,” Mia says, breaking our lovefest, “enough of the sucky-kissy. Get on the floor and dance.”

“With. Pleasure,” I say, taking my wife’s hand and leading her to the dancefloor as yet another love song begins to play.

Dancing with my wife is one of my most favorite things to do—for several reasons. For one thing, I love to watch her move. It doesn’t matter if she’s gyrating that little body to a funky pop beat, or grinding to a sultry love song against me, I adore seeing her sway her hips back and forth and swirl those dainty hands in the air, and fling her hair to and fro. And when she touches me, when she pushes her hands up my chest under my jacket to the thump of some tribal beat, her when her fingertips caress my nape as I’m holding her close and we’re dancing to a slow song, I’m gazing in her eyes and seeing my future and every good thing that every has and could happen to me…

And one stupid fucker after another comes wandering up to me trying to get my attention. One after another, I ignore them until I just can’t take it anymore.

“Grey, how are you, man?” McFarley says, yet one more interruption while I’m trying to dance with Butterfly, and I continue to sway with my wife without acknowledging his presence.

“I say, Grey, how ya doin’ there?” He’s fucking not going to go away. Did he think I didn’t hear him? I’m looking at my wife like I’m starving and she’s lunch. Does he really think I prefer to look at him instead of her? I lift my gaze from my wife and turn my head to him.

“I’d be doing much better if you’d leave me the fuck alone,” I inform him. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m dancing with my wife. I’m not deaf, I’m ignoring you. Now, will you please take your rude ass to another part of the dancefloor and intrude on someone else’s space?”

I turn a fierce glare to him that silences him immediately and he almost scampers away from us. I turn my attention back to my wife.

“You know it’s just going to continue all night,” she says. “If they could have gotten away with interrupting you at dinner, they would have.” She gently strokes my nape to comfort me. I have to admit, it’s working.

“I know,” I reply, “and I know that I may end up talking business with someone before the night is over, but I choose that discussion. They’re not going to swarm in on me like I’m Don Corleone and this is Minnie’s wedding.” I tighten my arms around her waist and deliberately rest my hands on the top of that luscious ass. “And they certainly aren’t going to interrupt me while I’ve got this body in my arms.”

And I’m a man of my word. Dance after dance after dance I spend on the floor ignoring probably dozens of interruptions until my wife declares that her feet hurt and she can no longer trip the light fantastic. We walk gingerly back to our table and I put her feet in my lap. I remove those delicious sandals from those dainty little feet and begin to massage those dainty little toes. My poor wife is doing her best not to make sounds of ecstasy in the seat next to me, but she’s not doing a very good job. So, she just closes her eyes and lets the chips fall where they may. It’s a good thing Herman and Luma have taken the girls home, because these sounds are a bit obscene, and I can’t help the smile that creeps over my lips at the looks we’re getting from other people who aren’t dancing.

“I see you’re a little too big to fit under my porch.”

I look over my shoulder and see the kindly old face of the woman that used to leave me lemonade and cookies, that is, before I took up with the Pedophile.

“Aunt Tina,” I say, with fond affection. She laboriously bends and kisses me on the cheek. “I would stand, but…” I gesture to the feet of my nearly catatonic wife.

“Oh, don’t you dare,” she says, making her way to the chair next to me. “What I wouldn’t give to have Samuel around to massage my feet, God rest his soul. She’s a pretty little thing,” she says, gesturing to Butterfly.

“She’s my whole world,” I say, gazing at my wife, “her, and my children, that is,” I correct, looking back at my childhood confidante. “How are the kids? I know they’re not kids anymore.”

“Hardly,” she says. “Have kids of their own, and some of them have kids of their own,” she laughs. “It’s been a good life for me, Christian. These old bones are tired.” My brow furrows.

“Why are you talking like that, Aunt Tina?” I ask. “You’re not well?” She shakes her head.

“Doctors give me six months, maybe a year if I do chemo, but my body’s just too weak for it. Look at me, I can barely stand. My children want me to do the chemo, but what kind of quality of life would that be for me if I’m going anyway?” I sigh, my heart suddenly heavy.

“Oh, Tina,” I lament.

“Now, none of that!” she scolds gently. “I’m 91 years old. I’ve had a wonderful life. I couldn’t have asked for more. I have beautiful children and grandchildren and even some great-grandchildren. None of my babies died before me. Yes, my Samuel went home, but it was his time to go, and he had a good life, too. We built a home and a good life; he left me comfortable. We’re leaving our children and their children comfortable. I have no regrets, not one! So, don’t you be frettin’ me and feelin’ sorry for me and makin’ me feel sorry for myself, okay?” she scolds. Aunt Tina always had a way of putting me in my place. If I had continued to come to her porch more often, maybe I wouldn’t have fallen into the clutches of a child molester, but then there’s a string of what if’s in my life.

“So… are any of the kids back home with you right now?” She nods.

“Harmony came home,” she says. “She and her husband separated last year. Things just didn’t work out. She was on the fence about what she wanted to do anyway. She finished school and the divorce still isn’t final, yet, so there’s that. She’s doing some work-at-home thing so that she can be close in case I need her. She doesn’t need to work—she just wants to stay busy, I think.”

“What is her degree in?” I ask.

“She’s got a BS in social work.” I look over at Butterfly, who appears to have drifted off into a massage-induced nap. I reach into my jacket and pull out my phone. Swiping the screen, I open my contacts.

“Can you put her information in there?” I ask. “Helping Hands may be able to use her services, if she’s interested. I’ll pass her information onto my wife and mother and they can give her a call.” Tina smiles and takes my phone, enters Harmony’s information, and hands it back to me.

“Your commercial still runs sporadically,” Tina says, handing the phone back to me. I examine the information to familiarize myself with it before saving it. “She saw it once and mentioned that she’d like to get involved in something like that. She’ll be glad to know that you offered to have Ana and Grace give her a call.” Almost on cue, Mom and Dad return to the table.

“Tina, you look lovely,” Mom says, bending to kiss Aunt Tina on the cheek. “I’m so glad you could make it. How are you feeling, dear?”

“This is one of my better days,” Tina smiles. “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. I would have had Harmony roll me in her if I hadn’t been up to it,” she adds with a laugh.

“Where is Harmony?” Mom asks.

“She’s around,” Tina says, scanning the room for her daughter.

“Oh, she’s here,” I ask, in surprise. Mom looks at me, bemused. “Tina was telling me that Harmony has finished her bachelor studies in social work. I have her phone number and was going to pass it on to you or Butterfly to talk to her about possibly being of some use at Helping Hands.”

“Being of some use? Are you serious?” Butterfly is awake as if she’s been taking part in the entire conversation the whole time. “Who are we talking about? A bachelor’s degree in social work? Where?” She’s as bright as bunny like she wasn’t out cold just seconds earlier. I can’t help the laugh that escapes me.

“Butterfly, I don’t think you’ve formally met Tina Franklin. She’s a dear friend of the family.” Aunt Tina extends a shaky hand to my wife. Butterfly removes her feet from my lap and reaches the distance across me to ease Tina’s difficulty.

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, dear,” Tina says.

“The pleasure in mine, Ms. Franklin,” Butterfly smiles.

“Tina, dear, please,” she says.

“You may remember that I told you I used to sneak under Tina’s porch and she would give me lemonade and cookies,” I say. No realization comes across Butterfly’s face.

“Did you tell me this before or after…?” She trails off. I take her hand.

“Before,” I say softly. She nods and smiles sadly at Tina.

“He’s probably told me the story,” she says. “Unfortunately, as you most likely already know, I had a terrible accident last year and I’ve lost a lot of my memories.”

“Don’t you worry your sweet little heart about it, dear,” Aunt Tina says. “We hold on to the important stuff.” She winks at Butterfly. “We were talking about my daughter, Harmony. She’s back home now to take care of me and may soon be looking for some way to put her degree to use. I’ve already given Christian her number in case you or Grace want to contact her…” My wife glances over at me.

“I asked for it,” I tell her, fearing that she may be having flashbacks of “the mothers and the daughters.”

“I didn’t say anything,” she says with a laugh. Tina chuckles.

“With a face and bod like that, I’d watch him like a hawk, too, dear,” Tina says impassively. Mom and Butterfly burst into laughter. Dad just shakes his head.

“I’m so glad that you two are having such fun at my expense.” My wife turns a scrutinizing eye to me, still laughing.

“I have one word for you,” she says, crossing her arms. “Lily.”

Point. Taken.

“Oh, that’s why she’s not here,” Dad says.

“Yeah, that’s why she’s not here,” Butterfly confirms.

“Lily,” Tina chuckles. “There’s a piece of work… and did I see Courtney here?”

“You… may have,” Butterfly says nervously.

“I thought Addie sent her home,” Tina says.

“She did,” Butterfly says. “Courtney decided to stay and make it on her own. She’s asked that I don’t inform her grandparents.”

“That may be a moot point if they bump into each other,” Tina points out. I look at Butterfly, who shrugs.

“I won’t engineer a meeting, but I’ve told her several times that I think she needs to talk to her grandparents,” Butterfly begins.

“As have I,” Mom chimes in. “She’s quite a different woman from who she was a year ago.”

“Yes,” Tina says, “anyone can see that just from looking at her.” Butterfly looks at her in amazement.

“You can?” Butterfly asks. Several surprised eyes turn to my wife. “Well, think about it. I’m with her all the time. I know there’s an emotional and a character change, but if there’s a physical change, it’s been gradual, so I wouldn’t notice it.”

Courtney

Courtney

“Well, there has,” Tina says. “I only observed her for a few minutes with her companion, but she carries herself much differently. She looks, behaves, and speaks like a lady. I’ve watched her for years and I’ve never seen this Courtney…” She turns to me. “… Just like I’ve never seen this Christian.” She looks at my wife. “You have an amazing effect on people, dear. My Harmony doesn’t need any fixing, but if you have this kind of effect on the people who do, I’d love for you to meet her.” Butterfly smiles shyly.

The Butterfly effect… I keep telling people just how powerful it is.

“Tell me, why doesn’t she want to talk to Addie and Fred? I won’t say anything—it’s not my place, but I’m just curious.”

“I’m not at liberty to say,” Butterfly responds. “When people talk to me, a lot of what they say falls under doctor/patient privilege. It’s hard for me to draw a line, so to be safe, I’m mum on all of it.”

“Well, there’s no privilege here,” Mom says. “I’ll still be discreet, though. I’d hate to betray her confidence. Short version, there was some very hurtful things said and Courtney thinks it’s just better to let sleeping dogs lie than to open old wounds.” Tina shakes her head.

“She couldn’t be more wrong,” she says. “Life is too short, too precious. You never know which day is going to be your last. She’s going to have to rectify this or she’s going to regret it for the rest of her life.”

“Hear, hear,” Mom says.

“I couldn’t agree more,” Butterfly says.

“There you are.” Our attention is drawn to an attractive, young brunette with a very short haircut who has made her way to our table. “I was talking to Greg and Lisa, and I turned around and you were gone.” Tina smiles an accommodating smile.

“And now I know how she felt when she was six years old,” Tina jests, eliciting a laugh from us. “This is may daughter, Harmony, everyone. Harmony, you remember Grace and Carrick…” Harmony extends her hand.

“Yes, I do. It’s good to see you again,” she says, greeting them both with handshakes and cheek kisses.

“And I don’t know if you met Christian,” Tina says. Harmony extends her hand to me.

“A little out of my age rank, but of course, I’ve heard of you. It’s nice to meet you, Christian,” she says, shaking my hand. She’s considerably younger than me, maybe early twenties at best, and already separated… that’s sad.

“Likewise,” I reply, politely.

“And this is his wife, Anastasia,” Tina completes the introductions.

“The other half of the famous AnaChris,” Harmony says, extending her hand. “You’re even more beautiful in person,” she adds sincerely.

“Brownie points for you!” Butterfly exclaims, accepting her hand while everyone chuckles. “We were just talking about you. Your mom informs us that you’ve recently completed your bachelors studies in social work.” Harmony throws a loving glance at her mother.

“Mom’s very proud of that,” she says, and I can imagine that Tina has probably mentioned it to anyone who will listen. “Yes, I just finished my studies in June. It was… difficult, but I got through.”

“So, what are your plans from here?” Butterfly asks.

“Well, I need my master’s before I can be licensed, so I start those classes next week. Luckily, since I’ve already secured my bachelors, I can complete my master’s in a year instead of two.”

“Tina says you’re working,” I ask. “You’re going to do them both?” And take care of your mother.

“No,” she admits. “I was only working to fill the time. An idle mind and all that,” she says, waving off the topic. Butterfly and Harmony are off on the topic at hand and I scan the room looking for Courtney. I admit that I can’t find her anywhere. Granted, the venue is huge, but I know what she looks like and I should be able to pick her out of the crowd. Tina puts her hand over mine on the table.

“Elena has been writing to me from prison,” she says. My chest immediately tightens at the mention of that woman’s name. “She’s talking about being reformed and such. She’s quite destitute.”

I don’t react. I don’t really want to know how Elena’s doing at all.

“She asks about you often,” Tina says. “I put together that years ago, you were one of her boys.” My eyes widen.

“You did?” I ask in horror. She nods.

“Yes,” she says. “I don’t blame you. Teenage boys think with their dicks. As a man though…” She trails off.

“I know,” I say, pushing my hands through my hair. “I know, Aunt Tina. I want you to know that as soon as I figured it out, I went on a mission to bring her down. I’m the reason she was caught. I found the boys that she was molesting.” Tina nods.

“I know, and I think she knows, too. She’s not certain, but you know that she never takes responsibility for anything that she does. I truly believe that she’s no threat up there in prison, and her letters are the rantings of a crazy woman, but I don’t know who else she’s writing to.”

I hear her warning loud and clear. Elena’s reach from prison is what caused Butterfly to be called before the licensing board on trumped-up charges of sexual misconduct. I may need to find out just who she’s been talking to in the weeks since our last visit.

“Thanks for the heads up, Aunt Tina,” I tell her.

“Anytime,” she says with a smile. “And now, I think it’s time my chaperone got me home. It’s getting to be past my bedtime. And if you get a chance, come on by and have some lemonade and some cookies for old times sake, okay? I’ve always got ‘em. And I’ll understand if you don’t, but always remember that Aunt Tina loves you… and I’m so proud of you.”

She leans forward and places a tender kiss on my cheek. I close my hand over hers.

“I’ll never forget you, Aunt Tina, and you’ll always have a place in my heart.” She cups my face and smiles. I help her out of her seat and Harmony is by her side in a moment.

“We’ll talk. You have my card,” Butterfly says.

“Sure thing,” Harmony nods. “Come on, Mom, let’s get you home.” I put my arm around my wife’s waist and watch Harmony lead Aunt Tina out of the theater, knowing that this may be the last time I see her.

“Why is it that the only time family and friends really come together is for events like this?” I ask. “Weddings and the like?” I never take my eyes off Tina’s retreating back.

“We get caught up in the mundane tasks of life,” Butterfly says after a pause. “We keep meaning to call someone, meaning to catch up with someone or go have lunch, drop by or say ‘hi…’ and then we get that call.” I turn my gaze to her. “That call that there’s bad news or the doctors don’t have any hope…”

I turn back to the exit and Aunt Tina and Harmony have left.

“… That there’s been an accident,” I say, my voice cracking, “or they need a kidney… or there’s cancer…” I feel my wife’s hand on my chest and I turn back to look at her, her beautiful blue eyes full of sympathy. I wrap my arms around her and bask in her love, so glad that I didn’t lose her last year when that crazy submissive T-boned her car.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the bride and groom to cut the cake!”

Good Lord, I thought they had already cut the cake. It’s late! Let’s just get this over and done.

So… now, I see that two of the huge things hiding in the corners behind these huge drapes are cakes—not just any cakes, the bride’s and groom’s cakes. Now, I’m one of the most ostentatious fuckers that ever lived. I am the epitome of go big or go home, but these cakes are the most extreme displays of largess and waste that I’ve ever seen in my life. Whoever created these monstrosities should be ashamed of the man-hours and materials invested in their manufacture with the level of starvation going on in the world right now. These two monstrosities are unveiled from the corners and the crowd rightfully gasps in amazement.

The cakes are on platforms that are rolled to the center of the floor in front of the stage on cranes. The cakes are nearly impossible to describe. Ethan’s WTF expression says it all.

Mia’s cake is a seven-layer intricate creation of flowers, columns, and tiers. The base of the cake is at least five to six feet in diameter and the first layer is quite possibly two feet thick. Each additional layer gets thinner until the top layer is about a foot thick—maybe the thickness of an average cake. All in all, the cake itself without the platform, is probably about ten feet tall, with realistic flowers and columns and bridges and balustrades and intricate details that are probably all edible. I don’t even know how they assembled the damn thing.

The groom’s cake is worse. It’s a castle—a fucking castle, complete with blue towers… several towers, something like twelve or fifteen of them! The castle is white with bricks and windows and doors and battlements and stairs and more flowers at a base that’s wider than Mia’s. Oh, and there are lights inside.

The cakes are so large that Mia and Ethan complete disappear behind them and must make their way around to the front of the bride’s cake in order to cut it. And what utensil is presented to them to cut the cake?

A sword… a fucking sword. Nothing else is long enough to reach the cake.

I shake my head in pure disgust. If every guest on Mia’s insane guest list took home a serving of cake equal to an entire normal cake, there would still more cake left over than anybody knew what to do with. There still must be enough filet mignon and duck confit prepared in the kitchen to feed a fucking army because I sure as hell didn’t order lobster until I got here, so there had to be enough food on hand to handle contingencies. This level of waste is abhorrent, and I have to find out what they’re going to do with the leftovers from this wedding.

“You don’t look happy at all,” my wife observes. I shake my head.

“Look at those cakes, Anastasia,” I say, my face hurting from frowning. “I spent the first four years of my life in squalor—starving, in agony—and somewhere, right now, in this city, there’s another child feeling that same pain and she’s got those.” I point in dismay at the ridiculous cakes. “I understand wanting the best—I really, really do, but this…” I gesture at the monstrous creations again. “There’s no explanation or excuse whatsoever for that.”

My brain immediately starts running through the calculations of what the pounds and pounds of flour it took to make those cakes could have done for the homeless—bread for sandwiches and pasta for entire meals. It’s probably a ridiculous concept right now, but with all the philanthropic causes that I support behind the scenes, this is exactly where my mind goes when I see something so utterly wasteful. Yes, I spend extravagant money on things for myself and my wife and children, but I am equally generous in my humanitarian endeavors, because they’re just that important to me.

“Maybe we should step outside,” my wife says, turning around in my arms, her expression serious, “or out in the lobby and take a picture or three—get away from this scene for a while.” I shake my head, more to shake off the figures of what I know those insane cakes costs and how that money could have been put to such better use.

“No, I’ll be fine. I’m fine,” I say, attempting to appear normal.

“No, Christian, you’re not,” my wife says firmly. I look down into her eyes and she stares at me. “You just called me Anastasia.

Shit, did I? I try to review my words in my head, but I can’t remember. I just… I can’t believe those fucking cakes. I look back at my sister and her husband and they’re beaming, laughing and feeding each other hunks of what had better be the most luscious and delicious cake ever made by human hands!

“I’m sorry, baby,” I say, running my hands through my hair, “I expected a three-ring circus, but as God is my witness, I didn’t expect this.”

“Don’t apologize,” she says, gently rubbing my chest. “Shots were fired for the goddamn wedding kiss, for fuck’s sake. When the minister said, ‘You may salute your bride,’ she was literally fucking saluted!” That makes me chuckle a bit, but did little to comfort my unease about the level of excess I’m witnessing tonight. I hold my wife close to me and sigh into her hair. I wonder how often shit like this was going on when I was hungry, hiding under the kitchen table or in the closet, praying that fucker wasn’t lighting another cigarette…?

“Bro, you okay? You look sick.” Elliot’s voice brings me back to the here and now, and I have to say that I’m glad it did. I had no idea I had slipped back into the squalor of the lost boy because of a fucking wedding cake.

“I’m fine,” I lie. I’m anything but fine. I have to find out what she’s doing with this leftover food. I will personally spend the night having this shit sent to a GEH facility for storage and distributed to the homeless and hungry tomorrow if I have to.

“He’s not, but there’s nothing that can be done about it, so don’t ask,” my wife says, her tone serious as she wraps her arms protectively around my waist and lays her head on my chest. It’s comforting, and it keeps the monsters away.

“That’s some cake, huh?” Elliot says, holding Val close to him.

“Yeah,” I sigh, “that’s some cake.” Elliot turns to look at me.

“She always was over-the-top, bro,” he says, and I hear the sympathy in his voice. “You couldn’t expect this to be any different.” I look over and meet his gaze.

“Yeah, I know.” I look back at the ridiculous cake and watch as it appears that they are setting up for some other performance or something in the middle of the room.

“It’s the food thing… isn’t it?” he asks. I look at him again and he doesn’t break his gaze. “You used to take food from the table and shove it in your pockets. You hid it in your room. You hid it in the treehouse. You hid it places and forgot about it. Mom would find it all the time. I didn’t know what was wrong with you, so I asked Mom. She told me that before you came to live with us, you didn’t have enough to eat, that you were often hungry, and that you were afraid that you were going to be hungry again. It explained why every single time at every single meal you ate every single thing on your plate. That’s why I always slipped you my Brussel sprouts when Mom wasn’t looking.”

I remember that.

“You never took more than you could eat; you never left anything behind; and you often got irritated with anybody who did. Even now, you still clean your plate. You don’t leave a morsel behind.”

I never knew my brother paid that close attention to me. I didn’t know that I still exercised those practices, either. I have serious issues with wasted food, but I try not to impose my issues on others, and I try not to be anal about them in my eating habits, but apparently…

“And now…” He gestures at the two obscenely large edifices that pose as cakes behind Mia and Ethan, and I’m just realizing that in our back-flashing of my food issues, we’ve missed the bouquet toss. No matter—I wouldn’t have been able to watch it with the lavish wasteful confections as a backdrop anyway.

“Well, that’s our cue, bro,” Elliot says. “The Caribbean is calling our names. If we wait any longer, we’re going to miss our flight.”

I almost forgot that he’s going to be leaving on his honeymoon as well tonight. All of our lives were put on hold when we got word that Pops didn’t have long left to live. I was planning to take my wife to Rome this summer for our first anniversary. That was a big no-go.

“You guys have a great time and a safe trip,” I tell him, shaking his hand.

“Tell her we stayed as long as we could, but it was either sneak out or crash the garter ritual.” He shrugs.

“I’ll tell her. Get going.” I pat him on the back in a bro-hug. Butterfly is hugging Valerie and wishing her a safe trip, making her promise to take lots of pictures. We send them off to say goodbye to Mom and Dad as we turn out attention back to floorshow of the girl who caught the bouquet and the guy who caught the garter. Apparently, I missed them both. How, I have no idea.

My wife attempts to comfort me throughout the minutiae of other things occurring in the next several minutes of the reception or so—bubbles appear from somewhere and there’s a dance line of some sort. I’m glad to see that those monstrous cakes are wacked up all to hell, but there’s still a whole lot of them left, and I do get to see those solid gold inscribed boxes Elliot referred to earlier. I’m waiting for an opportunity to get my sister alone, just a moment or two, and it’s like the girls on the sidewalk when I was a kid waiting for a chance to jump in on jump-rope. As soon as I get my chance though…

“Mia, a minute?” She examines me.

“I know that face, big brother. What did I do?’ Geez. I don’t want to scold her on her wedding day. How do I approach this? I suddenly feel like a kid about to ask his mother for a forbidden lollipop.

“I… um… if you don’t have prior arrangements… there’s… quite a few leftovers and… well… that’s a lot of cake, and…” I sigh. She chuckles.

“This is about the food thing, isn’t it?” she asks, and now I’m gape-mouthed.

“You know about the food thing?” I ask, amazed.

“Of course, I know about the food thing,” she says, obviously. “We all know about the food thing, Cwis, we love you.”

I’m standing here literally scratching my head. How did I not know they knew?
Because I never let them in.

Mia puts her hand on my arm.

“Did you think Mom didn’t know you were eating Elliot’s Brussel sprouts?” she asks, raising her eyebrows. I just shake my head and scratch my eyebrows.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what are you going to do with all the leftover food?” I ask. She smiles.

“Find a program,” she says. “Page ten, bottom left.” She kisses me on the cheek and walks away into a crowd of guests.

I nearly have to scour the entire theater to find a program that hasn’t been claimed by someone. I quickly flip to the back of the book and go to page ten and scan to the bottom left.

**Remaining food and confections from today’s festivities will be donated and distributed among the following charities:
Operation Nightwatch
Compass Housing Alliance
Pioneer Square’s Union Gospel Mission
St. Martin De Porres
Mary’s Place
Sacred Heart Shelter
Helping Hands…

The list is so long that I don’t have time to read all the names. I fall into a large seat nearby, a huge weight having been lifted off my shoulders. I felt like it was my responsibility and mine alone to be sure this food didn’t go to waste. It’s. So. Much. Food. And somebody somewhere is painfully hungry like that little boy under the kitchen table while all this food is sitting here going God only knows where.

But it’s not going God only knows where. She’s going to make sure that it goes to someone who needs it. It won’t go to waste.

I breathe.
I breathe again.
I feel light.
I feel so much better.
Thank you, Mia.
Good God, thank you.


A/N: Christian references Don Corleone because in movie The Godfather, the Don is required to receive anyone who requests an audience on the day of his daughter’s wedding.

Part II of the wedding is complete. On to part III! 

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be foundat 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

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 75—Emotional Rollercoasters

I want to thank everyone that donated to my GoFundMe project and that sent me well wishes and prayers. I have to take this test on 04/21/17 and as if I’m not worried enough about the results, they keep finding more things for me to pay for. So, keep me in your prayers. 

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bg.holmes@butterflysaga.com
AND
bronzegoddess@butterflysaga.com

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

Chapter 75—Emotional Rollercoasters

CHRISTIAN

“Mr. Grey, how do you feel about the verdict and the sentence?”

The Paparazzi are all over us the moment we leave the courtroom. With my hand tightly clenched to my Butterfly, I take a long, deep breath of the beautiful Seattle air and reply,

“I’m glad it’s over.”

Butterfly and I take the stairs and slide into the back of the SUV, releasing each other’s hand only long enough to secure the seat belt. We’re well on our way back to the Crossing, as I recall the morning’s events in my head.

No one else said anything. The only sound that could be heard in the courtroom is Lincoln’s quiet keening. That’s when Judge Burgess drops the boom.

“I have to say that this has been one of the most incredulous cases I’ve ever sat on, and I’ve seen more than my share. I’ve listened to the testimony, heard the verdict now entered into the court records, and reviewed the evidence in an attempt to render fair judgment in this case. When I came to the decision, I waited to see if the statements from this day would sway me in any way as each person speaking would hope would happen. I’m surprised that Mrs. Lincoln had nothing to say on her own behalf when given the opportunity, but I can only assume that she must have felt that her testimony was damaging enough.” He turns his attention to the defense table.

“Mr. Underwood, I’m not in the habit of insulting defense attorneys in my courtroom and I won’t start now. So, please, take this statement with all sincerity when I say that I have no idea what made you think you could bring that defense into this courtroom. I understand that our justice system isn’t perfect, but I hold nothing but contempt for anyone who steps into a court of law and attempts to make a blatant mockery of it. I feel like you tried to become famous on the back of your client and that if anyone else is willing to touch her after this that she has a solid case for appeal, because you didn’t defend her. I don’t know which of you came up with that cock-and-bull plea and defense, but you’ve been watching too much television and you would have done better to plead her out than to present that nonsense to this forum. Maybe you felt that you had nothing to lose, and maybe you’re right, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse defense in my life than I saw during this case. I hope you’re satisfied.

“In response to your statement, you have to forgive me, but I truly feel that if your client was ‘well on her way to rehabilitation’ as you so proudly proclaim that she would never have come in here and tried to insult this court into believing that after 50 years on God’s green earth, she was exempt from responsibility for the consequences of her actions. No, Mr. Underwood, I believe exactly the opposite is the case with your client, and since you have chosen to introduce the facts and sentence of a prior case into these proceedings, let me also inform you that the only sense of justice that I feel was served by that light sentence she was given for the many charges against her is the fact that the State of Washington did not have to waste money on a trial and drag the lives and suffering of many innocent people and families into the public eye. But make no mistake, sir; I may have my opinions about the prior case and I can’t do anything about that, but in terms of this case, I will not allow your flowery speech and your fancy footwork to persuade me to hand down a sentence that will set a precedence to one day allow an attempted murderer to walk free.”

Underwood looks totally deflated and although I never bring my eyes to the Pedophile, I’m sure that she feels the same way.

“Mr. Grey’s statement was profound and powerful and most likely gives voice to those who suffered in silence, didn’t speak, or no longer have a voice. While I can’t do anything about the prior sentence, and although the sentencing in this case for Mrs. Lincoln has already been decided, his words ring such truth that I can only hope he feels that some sort of justice will be served in this court today.”

Justice was served right there at that moment… when somebody heard me and acknowledged. She could get a one-day sentence for her crimes for all I care. I’d be fine from this point on.

“Will the defendant please stand for sentencing.” It was a statement, not a question. The Pedophile stands and never raises her head. “Elena Gabrielle Lincoln, having been found guilty by a jury of your peers, I hereby impose the following sentences for your crimes:

“For possession of a stolen firearm—a Class B, level V offense, I hereby sentence you to 17 months and no possibility of parole.

“For first degree assault—a Class A, level XII offense, I hereby sentence you 129 months with a deadly weapon enhancement of five years with the possibility of parole after twelve years.

“For attempted murder—first degree assault with intent to inflict great bodily harm—a Class A, level XII offense, I hereby sentence you to 129 months with a deadly weapon enhancement of five years with the possibility of parole after twelve years.

“These sentences are to be served consecutively after any other imposed sentence with no credit on this sentence for time served. You are hereby reprimanded back to the custody of the Washington Department of Corrections.”

Sweet relief… sweet, sweet relief.

“Christian! I love you! I’ll love you forever!” she wails as she’s being dragged from the courtroom. Thirty-three years total—well, thirty-two years and eleven months—served consecutively with her other sentence, which holds no possibility of parole. That means 58 years, and she has to serve 25 from the first sentence, then a year and a half from the second. Then she has to go into the third sentence and serve at least 12 years from that one, and if she just so happens to have a parole board of bumbling idiots that would parole her from that one, she would still have to serve at least 12 years of the fourth sentence. This means that if someone looked at her old decrepit ass and said, “Hey, let her out on her paroles,” she still wouldn’t have any hope of seeing the outside of prison walls until she was 99 years old. It’s all I can do not to cheer and do a fist pump when I see her disappear behind those doors, never to be heard from again.

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

Jason’s roar after we get to the bridge snaps me back to the here and now. What the hell? We just got great news—what now?

“Dammit! Thanks, Jax.” He ends the call. I’m glad Chuck is driving right now and not Jason. I didn’t even hear his phone ring. He’s dialing another number frantically and I’m waiting to find out what’s happened. “Manny, keep your eye on Tweety-Bird. The bitch made bail.”

Shit! I know what that means. Tweet-Bird must be Sophie and from the sounds of it…

“Jason?”

“Shalane made bail,” he hisses. “She put her house up and they let her ass walk.” He’s pissed.

“Sophie?” I ask.

“She’s got a detail at the school with her,” he said. “Even though I told them about the custody issue and that I’m now the parent of record, I don’t trust them not to let her take Sophie. I want to change her school, but we’re so close to the end of the school year that it wouldn’t be a good idea just yet.” We ride for a few more moments and just as we get into the gate at the Crossing, Jason gets another call.

“She did?… Good man. Maybe I’ll let her stay after all.” He speaks for a while longer, then ends the call. “She went straight from the jail to Sophie’s school. She didn’t even stop to change her clothes. Manchester headed her off, but couldn’t prevent her from going into the school. She couldn’t get Sophie, though. The school wouldn’t release her.” Jason chuckles. “She caught a cab,” he says. “She didn’t even get her car out of impound. She better spend that money wisely. She won’t be getting any more.”

When we pull into the garage, Butterfly says that she wants to go to the hospital. I debate if I want to go or not, but I think of Elliot and decide that I’ll go, too. She wants to change into something more comfortable. I’m only wearing slacks and a turtleneck, so I opt not to change. I notice that Chuck seems distracted while we’re waiting for Butterfly to change.

“You okay, Chuck?” I ask. My question brings him back from his daydream. He nods.

“Yeah,” he says. “My little catastrophes have nothing on what’s been going on in this house.”

“Little catastrophes?” I repeat. He waves me off.

“It’s nothing, really,” he says. “Joe got served with his papers from court last week. It turns out that we had to file in South Dakota, where Mom and Dad live. He’s blaming me because Mom is suing him, but what else is new?”

“Wow, he and Elena would make a great couple, don’t you think?” Chuck half-smiles. “Is that all?” Chuck shrugs.

“Keri,” he says. “She’s not doing too good. She had this cold… or at least we thought it was a cold. It hit the minute she got back to Anguilla and we thought it was just from the weather change. It held on for weeks. Now, she seems to be over it, but she sounds so weak and tired when I talk to her. I want to keep her on the phone to hear her voice, but at the same time, I want to let her go so that she can rest.”

“Do you need to go to her?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“I want to, but the babies have just been born and I can’t duck out now. Besides, I can’t fly to Anguilla every time she sneezes.” I raise my eyebrows.

“No… you can’t,” but you still look sick yourself that you can’t be with her.

“I’m fine, Christian, really. I’ll keep you posted,” he says, a bit too eager to get out of my presence. He misses her. I know he does, and the fact that she’s not well can’t be making that situation any better.


ANASTASIA

So, we finally get Sophie settled into the house and talking about things… and Shalane is trying to show up again. That has all kinds of implications. As much as Jason wants to keep her away from Sophie, that may be easier said than done.

Elliot has gone to stretch his legs. The pain and discomfort from sitting in one spot for more than 24 hours was more than he could tolerate. Christian coerced him to go for a walk the moment we got back to the hospital and I promised to stay here with Val, of course. She has no hair left. They shaved her completely bald… and I was complaining about a bald spot.

“Just have to outdo me in everything, huh?” I say. “I get in an accident and lose a patch of hair. You get a tumor and get your whole damn head shaved. You always had the coolest friends, the best clothes, the money… you were popular… but you never made me feel like less than a person, and you never let anybody else do it, either. That’s why I knew something was wrong when you changed. You were so cold. You were nothing like my sister.” I sigh.

“More than once, I wanted to find out what was wrong, but you wouldn’t let me in. You wouldn’t let me get close. But I never stopped loving you, Val. It was one of the worst break-ups of my whole life.”

I lay my head on her bed and, contemplating life with her gone and no hope of reconciliation, I weep. I weep until my chest rocks and feels like it’s going to cave in. I feel like it’s the end of the world. There’s no way that she can die without knowing how much she is truly loved. There’s no way she can die at all. It’s just… way too soon…

“There you go… with that… weeping shit again.”

A weak, barely-there voice causes me to turn my head to face her. It’s too heavy to lift off the bed, so I just lay there—still sobbing—watching her watching me. She’s watching me… am I dreaming? If I am, just let me stay here for a minute. She may say or do something sweet and if I move too suddenly, I might wake up. This may be the only way that she can reach me right now and I just want to stay here with her for a minute. But why is she still so weak? Dreams are funny things, I guess.

She raises her hand very slowly and lands it heavily on my cheek. She slightly moves her thumb in an unsuccessful attempt to wipe my tears away. It only makes me cry harder. I cover her hand with my own and turn my lips to her palm, kissing it repeatedly, just in case this is goodbye. Maybe that’s why it was so easy for Elliot to leave. Maybe she said goodbye to him, too.

Thank you, Val, wherever you are. I’ll always love you… always.

“Settle down… before you… hyper… hyper… ventilate, Steele… Grey…” she slurs. I’m trying, but it’s hard. My friend is here and I’m filled with relief, but for how long?

“You’re a terrible bitch,” I weep. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you go through this alone?”

“I wasn’t… alone… I had… El…”

“But you didn’t have me… or Al… or any of us… and we love you!” I snap quietly.

“I know, Steele… I just…” A single tear falls from her eye.

“I should have known,” I say, gently stroking her cheek. “None of this was like you, not in the slightest, not even on your worst day. I should have known.”

“I treated you like shit,” she protests, her voice slightly stronger.

“That’s why I should have known!” I wail. “You’ve never treated me badly. Even when I needed a smack upside the head, you were right there beside me.”

“How could you know?” she slurs. “It’s my head and I didn’t know.” I shake my head vigorously in denial… vigorously. No waking up! I’m awake! I’m awake and she’s awake! Don’t panic… don’t panic…

“I’m supposed to be your best friend. I should have known.” I squeeze her hand and kiss the back of it, my voice shaking and trying to remain calm, trying not to let her know that I thought I was talking to a figment of my imagination all this time. “Please get better soon. You have to meet your godchildren.” Her eyes become glassy and the tears fall.

“I… you ha… I’m still the godmother?” she weeps weakly.

“I couldn’t choose anybody else. It was always you.”

“Oh, Ana…” she’s weeping as much as her weakness will allow. I stand up and gently stroke her cheek.

“Ssssshhhh, relax now,” I soothe, “Don’t get upset. It’s not good for you.”

“I treated you so badly,” she sobs quietly. “I couldn’t control it. I could see it, but I couldn’t control it.”

“Ssh, no more,” I coax her as I push the call button. “It’s forgotten. It wasn’t you. I know now that it wasn’t you. When you feel like this, remember—it wasn’t you. It was the tumor, okay?”

“I’ve lost all of my friends… the people I love… my job.”

“You haven’t lost anybody, Val,” I tell her. “Look at this room. Do you think this is all Elliot?” She weakly looks around the room. “This…” I pick up a little arrangement with a tiny bear on it. “This is from Mindy. Maxie said she picked it herself… well, as much as a baby can point at a bear.” I laugh nervously and Val smiles at me. “I’m going to activate the contingency—not that I really have to. Everybody’s been here every day. Our friends will be here before day’s end. I promise.”

“Do you think so… after how badly I’ve treated everybody? Oh, my God… Al!” she laments.

“Especially Al. He’ll have a few of his choice gay words for you, but he’ll probably be here first.”

“Oh, God, how can I face him?” she weeps and I just sit on the bed and hold her hand. She’s going to beat herself up for a while over this and there’s really nothing I can do about that. I stroke her cheek with my free hand and just let her cry. There’s a commotion at the door and the nurse and a doctor comes into the room with a disheveled Elliot in tow behind them. He freezes when he clears the door.

“Angel?” I hear Elliot’s wispy voice over my shoulder.

“El,” she says longingly, her prior tears halting.

“Angel! You’re awake!” Whatever he has in his hands is now on the floor and he rushes to her beside. I quickly scramble to give him his place and he cups her face gently, kissing her several times.

“I didn’t know… I didn’t think you…” He can’t get a sentence out as his tears fall on her pillow. They need this moment, and I need to activate the contingency. I move to the door.

“Ana!” I turn around and there’s a panicked look in Val’s eyes. “Please… don’t stay away. Please come back.” I smile warmly at her.

“I will… and I’ll bring reinforcements.” She sighs sweetly and smiles before turning her attention back to an obliviously weeping Elliot. I step outside of the room to give them some privacy. Christian is standing there waiting for news.

“She’s awake,” I say, my voice barely there. His eyes grow large.

“She is?” he says and I nod. His eyes ask the question that his mouth doesn’t.

“She’s back,” I wail. He puts his hands on my upper arms.

Back back?” he asks, and all I can do is nod. “Oh, thank God,” he says, closing me in his arms. I know it’s been hard seeing me suffer all these months—even harder watching Elliot these last several days. So, I know his relief is genuine. I indulge in a relieving cry for a while, sinking into his chest while he holds me, then I pull myself together.

“I’m fine. I need to call Al,” I say. He nods and releases me with a kiss to my forehead. I dial Al as I’m walking towards the waiting room.

“Hey. What’s up, babe? I’m on my way to the hospital.”

“Well, that’s good, because you’re not going to want to miss this…”


CHRISTIAN

She looks very pale and frail when I Butterfly and I walk back into the room. We waited until the doctors and nurses left and gave us the go-ahead before we entered. Elliot is laser focused on her, so he doesn’t notice when I enter, but Valerie makes immediate eye-contact with me. She’s obviously weak and it’s hard to read her emotions right now, but she answers my question about her thoughts of my presence with two words…

“Hi, Christian.”

Her voice is so soft, so faint… I can barely hear her. I suddenly feel a twinge in my chest, like this is so serious and none of us really wants to lose her.

“Hey, Valerie,” I reply, my voice also very small. “How are you feeling?” I ask, sincerely.

“Bald,” she says, forcing a smile.

“I’m sorry,” I reply.

“Don’t be,” she says softly. “It’s for the best.”

She releases Elliot’s hand and holds her hand out to me. Her arm shaking and I know it’s hard for her to hold it up, so I don’t keep her waiting… though the gesture is more than a bit surprising. Elliot allows me to sit on the edge of her bed and I take her hand—much like she held mine when I was crying over Butterfly’s Montana sabbatical. The moment our hands touch, she starts to weep gently.

“I’m so sorry,” she squeaks, through her tears.

“Ssssshhhh,” I soothe, “None of that,” I say, caressing her hand for comfort. “I haven’t known you as long as Butterfly, and even I knew that it wasn’t you.”

“Yo… you’re a good man, Christian,” she stumbles, “A won… derful husband… to Ana and… I need you to know that… I would never… willingly treat her… that way… She’s my… Jewel… too…” She’s so overcome with emotion and weakness that she can barely speak. Butterfly immediately gets choked up, and I know that it can’t be good for Valerie to be this upset. “Please… forgive me.”

“There’s nothing to forgive,” I tell her, squeezing hand a little tighter and looking her in the eyes. “We. Know. It wasn’t. You. An intruder took you over and changed who you were, and we’ll all be by your side to chase that intruder away. Do you understand that? We’ll all be here.” I didn’t know I had closed the space between us. There’s maybe only a foot between my face and hers, and I have her hand clasped close to my chest.

That’s a first. I feel a little funny, now, but I won’t move until she understands that she’s not alone. My brother loves her; that makes her family. She’s about to go through a horrible ordeal after nearly pushing away everyone that could have walked through this with her. She needs to know that she’s not alone.

“Yes, Christian,” she says softly, her teary eyes concentrating on mine. “I understand.”

“Never alone,” I reinforce.

“Never alone,” she repeats.

“Damn straight!”

We all turn to the door to see where the added confirmation came from and find Al standing there more casual than I think I’ve ever seen him, in a T-shirt and jeans. His hair looks like mine does after a grueling day, so I know he’s been pulling it or torturing it somehow, and his eyes are bloodshot. James is standing behind him, just inside the door and I swear he looks like he’s holding Allen up.

“You bitch,” he says as the tears start to flow again. “I’m supposed to be the goddamn drama queen!”

Valerie breaks into laughter as much as her body will allow. Al breaks free from James and rushes to her bedside. Butterfly moves quickly and allows him access to their friend. She hugs him with her free arm and he kisses her repeatedly on the face and lips. I feel a small comfort knowing that he doesn’t just do that to Butterfly, but this is his family and he almost lost one of them.

“You’re a horrible human being for stealing my spotlight, but thank God that you’re back,” he weeps, holding her face in his hands.

“It’s good to be back,” she says, and the mournful tears start again. “Please, don’t ever forget that I love you…” She looks around the room at each of us. “… All of you. If this thing comes back…”

“It won’t!” Elliot says emphatically.

“But if it does,” she continues, “please don’t forget. Please don’t ever forget. I know this could kill me, but I’d die anyway if you all didn’t know how much I love you.”

You could hear hearts cracking all over the room. Each of us have had our own moments over the last several months of wondering what the hell was wrong with this woman… and each of us are feeling our own convictions now.

“We love you, too, you cow,” Al says, his voice still shaking.

“Ditto,” Butterfly squeaks.

“In my own way, I love you, too,” I confess, eliciting a small chuckle from Valerie’s throat before she turns her gaze to Elliot.

“Hey, you already know how I feel, Angel,” he says, longingly. “My life would be empty and lost without you.” The love that swells up in her eyes could chase away every ailment in her body. Part of me hopes that it will, as Elliot will be inconsolable if she doesn’t make it through this.

“And none of that dying shit,” James pipes in. “It would be a less exciting world without you, so you’re not allowed to die. You fight this thing!” She smiles weakly at James.

“Yes, sir,” she whispers.

*-*

Elliot feeds Valerie ice chips while Al and Butterfly try to catch her up on what’s been going on in the world. Al tells her all about the wedding, set to take place at our house next weekend—something intimate during a spring, sit-down party. The three of them immediately start discussing promising ideas for the wedding as well as what could be disastrous. Valerie suggests an indoor/outdoor thing since spring in Seattle is unpredictable and usually rainy.

Shortly thereafter, the rest of her friends come into the room, and the reunion of the Scooby Gang is complete, just as it should be. They talk about everything, catching Valerie up on all the things that have happened since she first blanked out, as she calls it…

The babies are here, of course. She will see them once she’s out of ICU.

I’m calling more people by their first name, including members of my staff who are now family instead of just staff.

David’s dead.

Dead dead?” she says, her eyes growing large. “Like graveyard dead?” Butterfly nods. “How the hell did that happen?”

Butterfly explains the whole thing about the crooked company, culminating with David’s “suicide.” Valerie looks a little remiss.

“He was an asshole,” she says, “but I never wished him dead.”

“Well, you’re a princess among women, because I had champagne when I heard the news,” Butterfly announces. “After everything he did to me, including handcuffing me naked to that bed and allowing that man to assault me, he’s lucky I didn’t drive to Walla Walla and spit on his remains!” And that’s the end of that conversation.

Sophie lives with us now because her mother is a drug addict that tried to sell her into slavery.

Chuck reunited with his parents and is suing his brother for a small country.

Keri was here and now she’s gone back home to Anguilla, but she’s been ill since shortly after she left and that has Chuck concerned.

While Butterfly closed her practice, Maxie is considering opening her own so that she can focus more on her family, which is timely since Phillip just got a raise and a promotion.

Sometime in the near future, we will be traveling to Italy as one of Butterfly’s push gifts was an Italian villa.

Garrett and Marilyn are pretty much the same and have no complaints. According to them, there’s enough going on in everyone else’s lives that they can just watch and be entertained.

“I need to say I’m sorry, you guys,” Valerie begins.

“Angel, no…” Elliot protests. Valerie put her hand on his bicep to silence him.

“I know, El,” she says, her voice gaining more strength, although she’s still clearly weak. “But I really have to say this. So, please, shut up and let me… I’m sick, you have to do what I say.”

The nervous chuckle that wafts through the room is more accommodating than sincere.

“If I could tell you what it was like being in this head for the last several months,” she begins. “It was like watching a terrible horror movie, only I was watching it and I was starring in it—a character in a real-life horror movie, where you can see the psychopath coming at you with the machete. You know he’s about to chop you up, but you can’t do anything about it. Then there’s the me that was in the audience, screaming at the dumb character to run out the door and down the street instead of upstairs and hiding in the attic where she was sure to meet her doom—but she couldn’t do anything but watch.

“I saw the looks on Ana’s face when I said those horrible things to her… the look of reservation at Maxie’s house when she handed Mindy off and left. That’s when I knew I had completely lost one of my best friends. It cut me to my soul, but I still couldn’t do anything about it. It was like, in my head I was saying something completely different, but when I opened my mouth and started hurling that stuff, all I could think to myself was ‘are you crazy?’

“After that, the alien just took over completely and I could do nothing but sit in the corner and watch while it pushed away everything and everyone I loved. There were moments when I came to myself and I thought I said something to let someone know what was going on in my head, but then I’d look around and I was alone—a solitude that I brought all upon myself.” She shakes her head.

“It wasn’t until El packed his things and I knew the last person that I had in the world was going to leave me that I was able to agree to see someone. Even then he had to take the reins… I still couldn’t do it. He told the doctors how I was acting and what was going on. I barely said anything.” She reaches over and takes his hand. “He saved my life. No matter what happens from here, he saved my life. He gave me back my mind… and I’ll love him forever for it.” She gazes into his eyes. “I want to spend my life with you, Elliot,” she says, her voice shaking. “Please don’t ever leave me.”

“Not a chance in hell,” he says, kissing the back of her hand. She smiles weakly at him before taking a breath and releasing it.

“I know everybody had… and has their theories about what was going on with me or what I was thinking. Grace and Mia will probably never speak to me again, especially after all Elliot had already gone through with Kate…” I don’t say anything about how Mom reacted when I told her about Valerie. I figure that when she’s ready, Mom will come and talk to her. “Whatever happens, know that I’m just glad that I was able to talk to you all and say that I’m sorry for anything that I said or did to offend you. I know that it was the tumor talking, but it was still my voice and my mouth, and I’m sorry if I caused any of you pain.”

“And that’s enough of that,” I hear my mother’s voice say from the entrance to the room around the corner. She has a huge bouquet of purple and white blooms as she comes completely into view. “Well! It looks like no one invited me to the party… and there’s no room anywhere for these.” Mom scans the room for a flat surface to put her flowers.

“I got it, Mom,” Elliot says, taking the monstrous bouquet from our mother and making room for it on the windowsill, currently already full of several bouquets from the rest of us.

“Grace, they’re beautiful,” Valerie says weakly. “What are they?”

“Windflowers and peonies,” she says. “They denote health and healing.” She sits next to the bed in the chair Elliot vacated to put her flowers in the window. “My son has never been so happy and so grounded as he is when he’s with you. I secretly prayed that we would figure out what was going on, although I never prayed for anything like this. You’ve only ever been a remarkable person, especially when that wretched woman tried to lay a child at his feet that didn’t belong to him. You stood by him, became his rock… I wouldn’t have expected anything less from him during your time of need.

“I’m so sorry you had to go through this. I’m certain that you’ll make a full recovery because you’ll get the best medical care that money can buy and you’ll have all the love and support that you need until and after you are whole again. I may be speaking for everyone, but for no one more than myself, when I say that I’m so glad that you’re back.” Valerie bursts into weak tears.

“I’m glad to be back, Grace,” she weeps. “It was awful! I so sorry…” My mother moves to sit on the edge of the bed next to Valerie and cradles her while she cries.

“There, there now,” Mom says as she rocks Valerie in her arms while we all watch in silence. “You get this all out, and then there will be no more crying about this. We all understand and we’re so glad that you’re here with us. You’re going to be fine now… just fine…”

*-*

“Christian!”

My wife gasps my name as she tightens around me, my rock-hard dick buried balls deep inside of her. I clench her ass and hold her against my throbbing member as she sits on my hips having dropped her weight hard onto my pelvis and grinding deliciously on my shaft as she holds onto the headboard. Her head thrown back, her face to the ceiling, she pants and moans loudly as she trembles atop me and my balls and penis empty wildly inside of her.

“Ffffffffffuuucccckkkkkkkkk!” I hiss, squeezing her ass so hard that I’m sure there’ll be handprints when I’m done. I want to get her into that new playroom and do some kinky, freaky shit to her, but with everything going on in the last few weeks, we haven’t even been able to look at the finished product yet, let alone take it for a spin. My dick throbs harder, empties faster, and burns hotter as I contemplate the things I want to do to her in that room.

“Dammit!” I pant as she falls over on top of me, spent and sated. “Goddammit!” I grab her head with one hand and guide her lips to mine, the other still squeezing her ass as I catch my breath. “Fuck, that was good.”

“Yes… it was…” she pants between kisses, her pussy still clenching my dick. I push up into her a few more times, my dick still burning and tender inside of her. What would be discomfort to someone else turns me on and I roll my hips so that the burn intensifies inside her quivering walls.

“You feel so fucking good,” I breathe against her lips as I wind myself up for round two of mid-Saturday morning sex. We had all stayed at the hospital for quite some time last night once Valerie regained consciousness. If I’m honest, all I wanted to do after all that damn emotion in that room was come home and bury myself inside my wife—to feel her tremor and clamp around my angry dick just like she did this morning. But when we got home, the twins demanded her attention—our attention, and she was just too wiped out to do anything after caring for our babies. So, I just brought her to bed and held her until she fell asleep.

However, when I woke up with morning wood so hard that I could barely go to the restroom and piss around it, I climbed back into this bed, pushed up that night shirt, ripped those panties off, rolled that body on top of me and dropped that hot, juicy, wet pussy right down on my full-staff pole. At first, she protested, but only for a moment—only until she felt that stiff, rock-hard thickness reaching so deep into her body, pumping up into her so hard and fast that her entire body was bouncing in the air and she momentarily couldn’t speak. Then, she ripped off that nightshirt, grabbed those tits and rode like the wind!

That pussy was so hot and tight that I almost blew before she did. When that burning, agonizing, vise-grip hold became soaked, slippery, juicy goodness with her cum secreting from her walls and sliding down my dick, I fucking lost it, gladly mixing my juices with hers until we were both a slippery, sticky, gooey, hot, erotic mess grinding into each other and about to start the fire again, until…

Beeeeep…

Fuck.

“Ooooohhh,” Butterfly groans. “Ana,” she calls into the air as I continue to tease her with my stiffening dick and we wait to hear the cooing of our two little angels.

… But nothing.

“Ana,” she calls out louder, but still nothing. She partially pushes herself up and looks at me. I half roll my eyes and call into the air.

“Yes?” I call out, perturbed and angry to be interrupted.

“Sir, it’s Benjamin Lawrence. I’m just getting to the Crossing and there’s a development at the front. I tried to call J and I don’t know if he’s asleep or what…” He’s probably fucking, just like me! “… but his ex-wife is here demanding her child. She’s making a terrible scene. If he gets here, we’re going to need more reinforcements than just security.”

“Shit!” I hiss, pissed as fuck that I have to pull out of my goddamn happy place for this sad excuse of a human being at my front gate. Butterfly slowly rises off of me, recognizing the seriousness of the situation and the glide is agonizing… almost orgasm-inducing.

“Fuuuuuuccck!” I exclaim at the separation, the burn almost unbearable and only making me harder. She covers her mouth, her eyes wide.

“Sorry!” she whispers loudly as I clench my teeth and my dick throbs.

“Sir?” Lawrence beckons.

“I’m on my way, goddammit!” I hiss, my eyes squeezed tight. “End two-way…” and she grabs my dick.

“Fuck! Just leave it alone please just leave it alone!” I would fucking safeword right now if I thought it would help.

“I can’t just leave you like that,” she protests.

“We don’t have a choice—just leave it alone, please!” I beseech her.

“Sorry, sir,” bellows across the room and pisses me the fuck off.

“Fucking end two-way communications!” I belt into the air. At least his voice cured the erection.

*-*

I’m nearly too late by the time Butterfly and I are cleaned up, downstairs and outside in our portico on this brisk March morning. Gail and Sophie are standing just outside the door, Gail with her arms draped protectively over Sophie’s shoulder while Sophie clings to both of Gail’s hands with her own. Jason is already marching toward the guard house and front gate where Shalane is screeching like a banshee for Sophie to come and get in the car. I’m only lucky that the property of the Crossing is so large and somewhat obscured from prying eyes by walls, fences, and foliage, because this woman is really creating quite the scene. Butterfly stays at the door with Gail, pulling her warm sweater around her while I quickly fall in step behind Jason. He’s likely to kill this woman once he reaches her.

“Open the goddamn gate!” I hear him hiss.

“No, don’t,” I say to Williams in the guard’s booth. Lawrence is still on the other side of the gate with Shalane. “She’s unstable enough to drive that car through here if you open that gate,” I tell Jason. He narrows his eyes—not in defiance, but in anger. I think he was getting laid. We both look like angry bears right now.

“Just enough for a person,” he hisses, and the gate opens enough for him and I to walk out. I won’t let him talk to her alone. He might kill her.

“So now you need a bodyguard, Mr. Taylor?” His spiteful ex shoots as we walk through the gates.

“No, but you might,” I say before I can catch myself. I have no love lost for this classless, snippy, drug-addict little… “I’m here for your protection.” She fixes her mouth for a comeback, but Jason beats her to it.

“You’re trespassing and you need to leave,” Jason says quietly. “You can’t see Sophie at all. I don’t want you anywhere near my daughter.”

Your daughter?” she laughs haughtily. “Have you forgotten?” Shalane taunts, attempting to pull a trump card that she thinks she still has. “I’m her mother and I have a court order that says I have custody of her.”

“Not anymore you don’t,” Jason says, holding up the order from the judge. “This is a court order placing Sophie temporarily in my custody until the custody hearing. You can only have preauthorized and supervised visitation with her. If you show up any other time without invitation, I will have you thrown off the premises and arrested. If you continue to call my phone like a crackhead looking for her next fix, I will get a restraining order against you for harassment. If you show up at my daughter’s school, at practice, or at any of her extracurricular activities, I will have you arrested for violating a court order. But you know what?” He leans in closer to her.

“Let me make this perfectly clear to you so that there’s no misunderstanding. You. Will not. See Sophie until I say so, and right now, I say ‘no.’” She’s panicking, already shaking from what appears to be withdrawal. I can see her mind racing for a comeback.

“You can’t keep me from seeing her,” she says shakily. “You said that document at least says that I can have visitation.”

“It does,” he says calmly. “Preauthorized and supervised visitation, but I don’t see any time in my immediate schedule to preauthorize visitation for you. I’ll let you know.”

Shalane is seething. She appears to be losing every bit of her grip on reality.

“You can’t do that to me!” she screams. “You can’t keep me from my daughter!”

“You mean like the many times you kept her from me over the years?” Jason retorts. “I had reasonable visitation—not preauthorized or supervised and you wouldn’t let me see her at all! How does that feel? Not so good, does it? I would love to say that I’m doing this to get back at you, but I’m not! I’m doing this because you’re dangerous to my child!”

“You know I’d never hurt Sophie…” There’s a back and forth between them for a while and they have forgotten that other people are watching them for a moment, but out of the corner of my eye, I see a small frame walking quick time down the driveway and across the lawn towards us. Shit—Butterfly is coming to give this woman what for, no doubt. I’m surprised to see that the small form isn’t Butterfly at all.

It’s Sophie!

I’m trying to get Jason’s attention, but he’s too busy arguing with Shalane to pay me any attention. Shalane, however, stops the argument when she sees Sophie running in her direction with Gail and Butterfly running quickly behind her.

Shalane squats to scoop Sophie in a hug, but I can tell by Sophie’s expression that this isn’t going to be the tender reunion Shalane is expecting. Before any of us can stop her, before Jason even sees her, Sophie runs full speed—hands out in front of her—and slams into her mother. Totally unprepared for the blow, Shalane falls back hard on the gravel portion of the driveway. She’s stunned into silence as she scrambles into a sitting position.

“Sophia!” Jason yells, not pleased that Sophie struck her mother even though she may have deserved it. “What are you doing?”

“Really, Mom? Really?” Sophie is screaming, tears streaming down her face, fury in her voice and posture. “You were going to let those guys take me? You were really going to let them take me, Mom? Really?” She kicks the gravel onto Shalane lap as Jason tries to stop her. When that’s not enough, she takes handfuls of it and throws it at her mother, yelling insults about her being a drug addict that hates her daughter and was about to sell her off for a fix.

“All this time, I listened to you blame Daddy and I never understood why,” she cries as Jason finally restrains her, keeping her from hurling rocks at her mother. “He would never say anything bad about you except that you wouldn’t let me see him, but you called him all kinds of terrible names and told me that he didn’t have time for me. It was all lies. I know it was now. I see how he and Miss Gail live. He’s got plenty of time for me!”

“Sophie, I’m…” Shalane is broken, still sitting on the ground and now, crying.

“No!” Sophie interrupts, no longer flailing in her father’s arms. The fight is gone out of her, but she has a lot to say. “You spent all the money on drugs. You lied to me about my father. When there was nothing left, you were willing to give me away!” Sophie accuses, sobbing. “You took everything he ever gave me, and when you were about to go to jail, you wouldn’t even let him come and save me!” Her cries are mournful now. She truly doesn’t want to fight anymore. “You tried and tried to make me believe that Daddy was the bad guy when all this time… the bad guy was you.”

Jason’s grip drops from his daughter. He’s anguished seeing her hurt like this.

“Sophie, no,” Shalane says, weeping sincere tears at her daughter’s accusations. Sophie pushes her again—one last time.

“Go away, Mom,” she weeps bitterly. “Go away!” Sophie launches herself into Jason’s arms, squeezing him around his neck like she’s drowning and he’s the lifeboat.

“Don’t cry, Baby Boo,” he says, stroking Sophie’s bright blonde hair, trying to calm her, but Sophie is inconsolable. “I want you to go with Gail, okay? I need to take care of this. I’ll be in shortly. I promise.” She nods, still weeping and releases his neck. He kisses her on the cheek and hands her off to Gail, who takes her hand and she and Butterfly lead a heartbroken Sophie back to the house. He turns back to Shalane.

“You heard her… go away,” he says flatly. Shalane gawks gaped-mouthed up at him, still sitting in the gravel of the driveway.

“I bet you wish I were dead, now, don’t you?” he adds and she pales. She finally stands and attempts to straighten her clothes.

“I only told them that because I thought they would let me go,” she defends. “I thought they wouldn’t lock me up if they thought that I was all Sophie had.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it!” Jason retorts, no longer willing to be any kind of civil with this woman, for lack of a better word. “You didn’t want me to know what was going on! What the hell did you really think was going to happen? You were moving four kilos of cocaine with a 12-year-old girl in the car and then you tried to trade her to those fuckers! What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I wasn’t trying to trade her!” Shalane lies.

“Well, tell me, what the hell was it? Why the hell did she have to tell you that she wasn’t going with those assholes?” Jason retorts.

“She misunderstood!” Shalane cries.

“Well, she misunderstood the fuck out of that conversation then!” Jason hisses. “But I didn’t! And neither did the shrink she spoke to… or the police! And neither will the judge in family court!” Shalane’s face pales. She can’t talk her way out of this and she knows it.

“What you do with your own life, I couldn’t care less. But when it comes to Sophie, you fucking have to deal with me! You’ve been doing your very best for the last seven years to erase me from her life, and you’ve failed miserably, but now this? I shudder to think what could have happened to our daughter on a goddamn drug drop if the police hadn’t shown up, let alone with you trying to sell her into human slavery for your goddamn drug habit!” He is seething, so much that Williams has placed himself in position to intervene should he lunge at this sorry excuse of a woman.

“Getting caught was the best thing that could have happened to both of you,” he continues. “My guess is that your dumb ass was an offering from the fucker that sent you out there, and you took our daughter with you—for leverage, no doubt! Then you don’t have the good sense to call me when you get caught. I might have been able to help you in all of this, but no, you tell the authorities and Child Protective Services that I’m dead! If I hadn’t already filed a case, my daughter would be down at Spruce Street right now, and that would have been just fine with you, wouldn’t it, you contemptible bitch? Anywhere’s better than being with me, right? Her loving and devoted father who continued to pay you alimony and child support? Even paying for her to attend an exclusive private school while you continuously found ways to deny my court-ordered visitation because you were the cheating slut who couldn’t keep her legs closed! Anywhere but with me, where she could discover just how much of a lying, conniving, sniveling, greedy little bitch you really are!” Her face is now showing signs of fight and insult.

“You don’t have the…” she begins.

“SHUT! UP!” Jason growls. Williams steps forward and puts his arm between them, unsuccessfully trying to push Jason away from his ex-wife while whispering, “J, chill.”

“You have nothing to say to me!” he continues. “You put my daughter’s life in danger and then you tried to prevent me from saving her! She was traumatized. She was weeping when I got there. I don’t know if you’re going to get off on the drug charges, but now, there are separate charges against you for child endangerment. Did you know that?” Her expression says that she did.

“I knew you had bats in your fucking belfry, but I didn’t know that you were that goddamn crazy! You don’t get to see her unless she asks for you. Don’t you dare fucking call me. I’ll call you when she wants you. Unlike you, I won’t keep her from you if that’s what she wants, but she has to say so and I won’t force her. And if you get the bright idea to just take her from any location where she may be, not only will there be an arrest warrant issued for you for kidnapping, but there’s nowhere in the world that you’ll be able to hide from me. I will hunt you down like the filthy dog that you are and believe me, lady, I will find you. I’ve found people in witness protection. Finding your ass won’t be any harder than ‘Where’s Waldo.’”

His voice is menacing when he talks to her. She was married to him once and I’m sure she believes him when he says these things. She had better—I’ve seen him find someone in witness protection. She could treat him any way she wanted when she had Sophie. She doesn’t have Sophie anymore.

“Now get your ass away from this property, you selfish, treacherous cunt!” I know this conversation is over, so I step in before she tries to poke the monster anymore.

“You need to leave,” I tell her, stepping close to her and pointing to her car.

“He can’t just…” she begins, her voice desperate. As much as Jason doesn’t want to hear anything this woman has to say, I want to hear even less.

“Ms. Deleroy!” I declare in the sharpest, loudest Dom voice I can muster, “Leave! Now!” She shrinks back and gasps at the sound of my voice, frightened and whimpering as she scurries to her car, gets in, and makes a U-turn in the driveway to enable a hasty retreat, taking out part of the landscaping and three of the lane lights on her way out. I look at Williams who is still holding Jason.

“I’ll make the call and get it repaired, sir,” he says. I nod and put my hand on Jason’s shoulder and Williams releases him. He looks over at me, his eyes still fiery and menacing. They don’t scare me, though.

“Come on,” I say, gesturing with my head to the house. “We have families waiting for us.” That breaks his angry resolve. He looks one more time in the direction that his ex-wife traveled, then turns and walks with me back towards the house, towards our wives and children.

*-*

My wife looks adorable cooing at our daughter while our son is in his seat nearby and Sophie looks on, starry-eyed and content, like the horrible incidents of just an hour ago never even happened.

“So,” I begin, “your apartment only has one bedroom. Sophie can’t stay there. So, what are you thinking—maybe the other one-bedroom suite next to you guys? Do you think she’s old enough to stay in there alone? Or would you feel better with her in one of the guest rooms upstairs on the second floor?” Jason gazes at me for a moment.

“I don’t have custody, yet, Christian,” he says. “We might be jumping the gun.” I wave him off.

“No judge in his or her right mind would place Sophie back with her mother. And even if they tried, Sophie would protest… and win! Look at the comparison! Huge mansion on Mercer Island where father and stepmom are live-in employees and stepmom is at the residence all day as nanny for twins or… drugged-out mother living alone who disappears for several days at a time who took her daughter on a drug bust and then tried to use that daughter as a bargaining chip. Was arrested and almost let the child go to a group home, then had to put her house up as collateral for bail. Oh, did I mention that she’s been charged with crimes in relation to the drugs for which she has not been tried which means Sophie will most likely have to find someplace to live anyway. Yeah, I can so see a judge deciding that sending Sophie back to Shalane is in the best interest of the child,” I finish sarcastically.

“Okay, okay, I get the point,” Jason says. “It’s just that I never dreamed that I would ever be in this situation where I would be able to have custody of Sophie without the bitch dying, that’s all. It’s so surreal!” I nod.

“So, I think it’s time we start making preparations to have a teenager around the house.” Jason scrubs the back of his neck.

“Yeah, she’s going to be thirteen really soon,” he says. “So, what do we do?”

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I’ve never had a teenager around the house.” He shrugs.

“Sophie’s so smart,” he says. “She’s wise beyond her years. She’s tried to hold on to her childhood, but things just keep happening and then she has to be an adult. She’s too young for that. I want to have some of her childhood, but for other parts of it, I know it’s too late.” He sighs. “I’m trying my best not to hate Shalane. She kept Sophie from me for so many years. All that time I could have been spending with her… as it was, our time together was like stolen moments. I was only able to spend time with her when it somehow served Shalane. Now, she’s going to be here full time and I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, this is the point where you have to take advantage of your resources,” I tell him. “You have a pediatrician who adopted three children at varying ages and raised them to adults at your fingertips. I’m sure she’d be more than happy to help you with what you should expect from Sophie in the coming days, weeks, and years. In addition, you live with a shrink.” He looks at me, blinking.

“I couldn’t see Ana professionally,” he says. “She’s too much like a daughter to me. I know I’m not that much older than her, but… you just can’t help how you feel.”

“So?” I say. “Does that mean that you don’t value her opinion? Let’s not forget that she’s the one who inadvertently discovered what Shalane was planning with Sophie and got Sophie to tell you and the police.”

“It’s not that, it’s just…” His sentence trails off.

“Use your resources, man. And if not, go talk to a child psychologist somewhere. Waste good money when you’ve got one of the best head doctors in the greater Seattle area living under the same roof as you.” I shrug.

“You’re biased,” he teases.

“You’re right. I am… and it’s absolutely true. How many lives have you watched that woman put back together again, including her own?” He ponders the thought as he looks over at Sophie and Butterfly and the fact that Sophie truly appears to be unscathed at the moment no matter how traumatizing the entire experience has been—and will be—for her.

“And again, you’ve made your point,” Jason says.

*-*

“Please… oh, God, please!”

Her hands are bound above her head, the restraints on each wrist attached to the opposite leg of the bed.

I’ve tormented her for several minutes with soft licking and sucking of her clit while her legs are tied open—her thighs restrained wide to the bed frame. I hold that delicious pussy open with my fingers—sometimes one side with one finger, sometimes both sides with my index and middle finger—just enough space to allow my tongue to get in there and torment those lips, the sides of her clit, the hood and the raw, sensitive underside over and over again, creating that intense burn that never goes away until she’s sated… gently tasting, licking and teasing with just enough moisture on my tongue to give her the slightly rough, gravelly feeling against that precious bundle of nerves and the soft, slick burn that edges her into insanity and keeps her right on the edge of orgasm until I want her to come. She’s blindfolded and the way her arms are bound, crisscrossed over her head, they press against the sides of her head, too, blocking her ability to hear.

I press down on the mountain of flesh right at the top of her slit… her Mons Venus… and it becomes firm and starts to pulse—hard—under my hand. Her orgasm is right there, violent, powerful and waiting. It only takes one never ender circle of the slightest increased pressure against her clit to…

“Oh, Goooooooooooooooood!” she wails, the Mons under my hand contracting hard and violently as this orgasm ripples through her, ripping her apart. I continue the circular pressure and she continues to wail, attempting to writhe, completely at my mercy. Only when there’s the slightest cessation of the bunched muscles under my palm do I stop my massage and quickly position my painfully aching and anxious cock at her opening. She’s still panting, still coming, still contracting underneath me.

Holding her hips down with both hands, immobilizing her, I push deep into her still quivering pussy.

“Fuuucckk!” I hiss as her pulsing walls and lips kiss and suck me deep. “Fuck, fuck, fuck…” I move my hips slowly, rhythmically, rolling our pelvises together and my dick inside along, around and against her walls at the same time, my full weight pushing down on my hands and her hips so that she can’t move a muscle. The feeling is agonizingly good—a truly deliciously painful burn, and I move slow and deep, so, so slow… deep grinding circles that have me shaking almost in no time.

“God, help me!” she chokes, her upper body trembling as her lower body has absolutely no purchase to move. God, she is so tight! I fight to keep my thumping, growing dick rolling, stroking, burning, slowly—so slowly, deep in that pussy.

“Fucking hell!” I hiss, stretching my tongue out of my mouth as I watch my dick, shiny and wet, slide in and out of this wet, shaved pussy, a ring of white cream being spread back and forth over my dick with every stroke, her arousal anointing me more and more with each push and pull, each in and out, and those pussy lips wrapping around my goddamn cock our juices mixing as I know I’m contributing precum to this delicious, hot, slick, silky mix.

“Fuck, baby!” I say, damn near drooling as I watch and feel the burn, the stroke, the blinding pleasure of our joining. “This shit is sexy as fuck!” I roll my hips so that the head hits each wall on the in-stroke. “Oh, God…” I groan as I almost lose it to the pleasure.

“Christian…” she wheezes, “Christian… God…”

I’ve got her now. Her pussy lips are hot… pink… wet… pulsing. Her mouth is open and she’s panting… lost in a world of passion and mindless ecstasy. I’ve hit that sweet spot and with her legs spread open and her hips held down, she’s at my mercy. She can’t do anything but absorb the pleasure.

“Yes, baby,” I coax as I roll my hips again, trying to block out the burning in my balls signaling my pending orgasm until I can get one more from her… one more fiery release. “I got you, baby. That’s it. Feel it, baby. I know you feel it. Shit, it feels so good… so hot and sweet and wet…”

She starts to tremble and pant, making no sound now, her body twitching uncontrollably… where she can move, that is.

That’s it, baby. Take it all…

I feel her pulsing, contracting, and though she’s silent and I have no idea if she’s coming or not, the feeling is so good—her tightening and throbbing and burning around me—that I can’t stand it anymore. I groan deep in my chest and bury myself hard inside her pussy, grinding so deep in that short, hard, inward and upward stroke against her that my body bows and arches backwards painfully. My jaws tighten so that my face actually hurts and my body stiffens so that my arms tremble from trying to support my weight as I push into her, grind into her, throb into her, empty painfully into her.

I hold my breath as this orgasm grasps my pelvis and holds me immobile with Nirvanic bliss. She pulses and tightens madly, milking and sucking every bit of nectar from my loins. When I finally release my breath and I’m able to move from the two massive hands that had my entire body in a choke hold, I look down at my wife—covered in a thick coating of sweat, gasping gently for air from her parted lips. Her chest rises and falls quickly, showcasing her gorgeous round breast and beautiful, taut nipples super-pink and pebbled from her intense arousal and orgasm, involuntarily spilling life’s milk down the sides of her mounds. I’m weak from the force of my orgasm… and my love for her, my awe at how beautiful she is in her ecstasy right now and how I want to kiss her and love her all over.

Still nestled between her legs, still cuddled in her sex, I release the restraints that hold her legs open. I rest my weight on her… still weak, sated… I release her wrist restraints and remove her blindfold. I gently lick the milk on the side of her breast that has escaped from her nipple. She doesn’t open her eyes. She’s too weak. I roll her over on top of me, her hair splayed over the back of her body. She releases a long breath and in seconds, she’s asleep on my chest. The weight of her body is so comforting atop mine that I don’t think I could count the breaths before I’m slumbering with her.


A/N: Eight more to go…

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

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Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 74—Opening Up

Thanks, you guys for your reactions to the last chapter. I want to apologize if I brought back too many bad memories for other people like myself who have suffered something similar with a loved one, but I thank you guys too for sharing your experiences with me.

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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 74—Opening Up

ANASTASIA

It’s just after dawn when Al and I get to the hospital after having spent the night on the sofa in the entertainment room. I’ve had a quick shower and a change of clothes, but by no means do I feel refreshed. Al has changed into some jeans and a sweatshirt he left at the Crossing the last time he and James spent the night. James dropped us off and went home to shower and change.

Elliot is asleep in the chair next to Valerie, holding her hand, as usual. Christian is on the loveseat at the foot of the bed, slumped down with his legs stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles, his fingers intertwined on his stomach. His neck is going to be killing him when he wakes. Valerie is still in the same position she was when I last saw her. Al walks over to her and stands next to her bed. He sighs heavily as he looks down on her motionless frame, a small whimper escaping from his mouth.

“Hi, Ice Pussy,” he says, his voice cracking as he leans down and kisses her gently on the cheek. “This is really fucked up, you know that?” he whispers. “You don’t get to die, so you bring your irritable, disagreeable ass back here… do you hear me?” On the last word, he sinks down into the chair on the opposite side of Elliot and begins to weep.

I walk over to Christian and gently stroke his hair. His eyes open slowly and it takes him a moment to focus where he is and what he’s seeing.

“Hi,” he says softly.

“Hi,” I reply. “No change, huh?” He shakes his head.

“I needed to see him last night… to make sure he’s okay. I hope you didn’t mind.” I frown.

“Of course, I didn’t mind, Christian. Why would you think that?” I continue to stroke his hair as he attempts to sit up. He winces, and I know immediately that his neck is in pain. I climb on the back of the loveseat. “Sit up,” I instruct him. He painfully pulls himself into a sitting position and I begin to work the kinks out of his neck and shoulders. He moans in appreciation.

“God, that feels good,” he groans.

“Don’t change the subject,” I chide gently as I continue to massage his neck and shoulders, paying attention to areas of high tension and pressure points. “Why did you think I would mind?”

“Because you were in bad shape, too,” he says, “And I felt funny leaving you.”

“Oh… okay, I guess I can understand that. But he’s your brother, Christian. I would have to be a really selfish bitch to take issue with you wanting to be with your brother while he’s hurting.” He nods.

“That’s why I love you,” he says. “You were so broken up about Valerie that you and Al could hardly speak. Yet, as badly as you felt, you still understood that I had to be with my brother. He needed me. He still needs me.”

“I know,” I say. “Do whatever you need to do. I completely understand.” I look over at the motionless Valerie. “I would give anything right now for her to sit up and call me a fat cow, start cursing me out… anything.” I don’t want to cry again. There will be plenty of that to come if she doesn’t wake up soon. I love her so, so much. I can’t believe this is happening.

I take a moment to examine the room. It’s pretty sparse except for a beautiful bouquet of flowers, no doubt from Elliot. That’s very significant in light of things right now. Valerie is quite popular at her job—at least she was before the tumor. And there’s no way I would have let her go through this alone—none of us would have, no way in hell.

Elliot raises his head and shows signs of the same discomfort Christian did moments before. He has to focus on the crying figure on the other side of the bed before he clearly recognizes who it is.

“Al?” he says, his voice hoarse, barely there. Al turns to look at him.

“Hey, Elliot,” Al says, shakily. “Tell me what happened… please.” I can imagine that Elliot doesn’t really want to talk about it, but he does anyway, because he’s the only one who knows. I listen carefully because I don’t want him to have to repeat the story.

“I knew something was wrong when they asked her to take a leave of absence from her job,” he begins. “Actually, I knew something was wrong when she first fell out with Ana, but I didn’t think anything of it. I certainly didn’t think this.”

He rubs the back of his neck and stretched his head back. I take this opportunity to shift on the sofa a bit, drawing his attention to me so that he could know that Christian and I are there. I wave and he raises his head once to gesture acknowledgement. He twists his head some more to pop his neck and continues the story.

“She would have times when she would come back to herself and she would know what she did. You would even see remorse in her eyes. It could be a flash or maybe last for a few minutes, but I would see it and know that even if just for a moment, she was the same old Val again. She would get this sad look on her face like she couldn’t believe what was happening at that moment, but it wouldn’t last.

“She was losing all her friends. Nobody wanted to be around her. I tried to stick it out, I really tried. I moved out of my own apartment three times…” I didn’t know that. “… But I always just came right back. New Year’s Eve when I showed up at Christian’s, she thought I had moved out because I never stayed away all night until that night. I just didn’t feel like going back. I’m not sure that I would have had she not come looking for me. We argued that night because I couldn’t come and see my brother and sister without her giving me shit about it. She was actually making me choose between her and my family, and I was sick of it.

“It got to a point where we were arguing all the time about stupid shit at least once a week. When her job told her to take the leave of absence, she was home all the time, so it became every day. If the wind blew the wrong way, she turned into Mrs. Hyde and lashed out at me. I got to the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore. I told her that I was really leaving, because I couldn’t take her attitude anymore.

“She got better for a while and she was really trying, I know she was, but you know how you can tell something’s forced and unnatural. She made me feel like she didn’t want me; didn’t want to be nice to me. We weren’t even making love anymore. She started getting sick all the time… I thought she was pregnant. I could have dealt with that, but her erratic behavior would have made her at least six months pregnant, and she wasn’t showing. She took a pregnancy test to be sure, but it was negative, of course.”

He takes a break and rubs his eyes, breathing in deeply and letting it out heavily. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell that he’s getting to the hard part.

“Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I gave her an ultimatum. Go see a doctor, go see a shrink, or we’re over. I was done. She didn’t believe me because I had made the threat so many times before and never made good on it. Hell, I didn’t believe me, but I had to decide if I was going to live like this forever. I knew I couldn’t… I’d only end up hating her. So, I packed everything I owned. My apartment still looks like I’m moving because I haven’t unpacked. I began putting my things in storage and I let her see the receipt to the storage facility so that she could know that I wasn’t kidding. I meant it this time. I was leaving. She could have the apartment and I would just leave. I even let Christian know. I was going to ask if he would let me crash in one of his guest rooms until and if she left. If she didn’t leave, I was just going to find another place. I actually mentioned it to Christian before they went on vacation.”

I lean down and look at Christian over his shoulder. He nods.

“She begrudgingly decided to see a medical doctor first, to make sure that the situation wasn’t physical ailment. Once and if she got a clean bill of health, then she would throw herself face-first into therapy and medication, if necessary… but she never got that far.

“She had an appointment on Monday… the Monday before you guys went to Oregon. Remember, Christian? You called me to do some work—the week that guy died, the one that had to give Montana all his money…” Christian nods. “That’s why I couldn’t do the work and I sent the other guys to do it. How did it turn out, by the way? Manny said it was great and Jason signed off on it, but never saw it.”

“We haven’t seen it either,” Christian says. “We just haven’t had time. It’s been one thing after the other since we got back, but we can talk about that later.” Elliot nods and looks back at Valerie.

“Anyway, we went to the doctor. I insisted on going with her because I didn’t want her downplaying what was going on—which is exactly what she tried to do. I told her doctor every gory detail and he suggested the brain scans. He referred us to a neurologist and I know it takes forever for those guys to see you. They wanted to give us an appointment for three weeks later… that would have been tomorrow. That thing would have stayed in her head all this time. I asked if he could put a rush on it—get us in there sooner because she was about to lose everything she has left. I kind of said it jokingly, but not so jokingly. The doctor told the neurologist what was going on. He recognized the symptoms—even the fact that I was about to leave her—and got us in there in a couple of days.

“Well, when you go to the hospital for a CAT scan and an MRI and they find a tumor, they typically don’t let you leave—even more so when the tumor’s on your frontal lobe. Apparently, it affects your personality—your logic and reason. You can actually be a danger to yourself and others in extreme cases. I think she was well on her way to that if she wasn’t already there.

“When they told us what it was, we had decisions to make. The surgery…” he gestures to Val, “… as you can see, can be dangerous. He told us that there is a chance that she wouldn’t wake up; that they may not get the whole tumor; that she might wake up still the same person that she was before the surgery; that she could be a vegetable… it’s just… endless. The neurosurgeon that performed the surgery is one of the best in the country…”

“Dr. Hill?” I ask incredulously. Elliot nods.

“How did you know?” he asks. I point to the fuzzy patch on my head. He sinks in his chair a bit. “You’re shitting me…” I shake my head.

“Nope, I’m not. It’s true, though… he’s one of the best there is—in the world, actually. I don’t know how he ended up in Seattle, but I’m sure glad he did…” I look over at Valerie. “… For more reasons than one.” Elliot looks over at her.

“Well, we still had so many decisions to make,” he says. “She doesn’t talk to her family. Her father walked out when they were young. Her mother passed away. She only knows of her father because of her brother. They stayed in touch and he stayed in touch with their father. Now, she doesn’t speak to her brother because he’s a drug addict and each time he’s ever tried to contact her, it’s been for money. She says that the last time he contacted her, she told him not to call her anymore if he was only calling for money. She never heard from him again, so we don’t even know where he is. We think we know what state he’s in, but that’s it.”

“I can find her family if you want,” Christian says. Elliot shakes his head.

“She doesn’t want them to know,” he says. “She’s certain that her father wouldn’t care and her brother would only show up trying to lay claim to her personal items. I’ve violated her trust by telling you guys. She didn’t want anybody to know, and I couldn’t let her…” He chokes on his words. “… Die without you guys at least knowing what was going on. If she wakes up, she can curse me out then… but I couldn’t do it.”

“You couldn’t shoulder this by yourself either,” I protest. “Had she been in her right mind, she never would have asked you to do that.” He shrugs.

“We spent days talking and trying to decide what the best course of action was. She made me her power of attorney in case she…” He’s choking up again. “… Is unable to make decisions. I didn’t want that responsibility, but I knew I had to take it. There was nobody else. She wouldn’t let anybody near her. She… she signed a DNR…”

“Oh, my God,” I whisper and Al gasps. Christian just drops his head.

“Yeah… so, if she goes, she’s just gone… and… her advanced directive is two weeks.”

“Two weeks?!” I nearly shriek. “Two weeks is no time!”

“I know,” he says. “I had to negotiate for that. She wanted to have no heroic measures. I argued with her and told her ‘You’re going to have to have something when you come out of this or there was no use in even having the surgery,’ and I was right.” He’s talking about the tube in Valerie’s nose. “I was trying to get her to agree to sixty days. I couldn’t even get her to thirty. Two weeks was all she would acquiesce. I can’t ask for CPR. She doesn’t want to be a vegetable. She may or may not undergo the surgery again if it’s not completely successful… there was just a bunch of shit, and I couldn’t talk to anybody. She made me swear.”

Goddammit! Valerie Marshall, how could you not tell me this? How could you let me think that you were just being a jealous, hateful, spiteful bitch? Don’t you dare fucking die on me!

“Anyway, it took all this time just to get all the ducks in a row. It’s a nightmare possibly planning the end of somebody’s life—somebody you love more than anything in the world…” He looks longingly at Valerie and sighs. “So, I’m breaking all my promises and I’m calling everybody because I can’t go through this alone, and you guys need to know. If she doesn’t make it, then I’ll have you track down her father and brother. I think that’s best because she was vehement about them not knowing. I’ll call her job tomorrow and tell them what’s going on. I’ll call Mom and Mia…”

“I called Mom last night,” Christian interjects. “She said that she would tell Mia.” Elliot nods. “I activated the Contingency, too,” Christian says, looking at me. I frown. Al turns around.

“How did you do that?” Al says. He’s like the head man in charge when it comes to the Contingency, and he was with me last night.

“I called Marilyn,” he says. “She was with Garrett…”

“Ah,” Al nods acknowledgement. “Well, that’s one thing that I don’t have to do, thank God.” He turns back to Val.

“Contingency?” Elliot asks. How could he not know about this?

“Yeah,” I say. “I don’t know how you don’t know about this because you really need to. The Contingency is something that came about when Edward kidnapped me. Nobody knew that I was gone for a full 24 hours. Christian thought I was back at my condo brooding and crying on Al’s shoulder. Al thought I was with Christian. I could have been chopped up in a ditch somewhere and nobody would have known.”

“Babyyy…” Christian whines the last syllable. It’s a thought he doesn’t want to contemplate.

“Sorry,” I continue. “Anyway, when we realized that the lines of communication were so poor and no one knew that I was missing, we came up with the Contingency. This wasn’t an issue before I met Christian because I didn’t have a boyfriend, so I was always in touch with Val or Al. Gary always talked to one or all of us every day, and Maxie and Phil are a couple. So, somebody was always talking to somebody else.

“Right around the time that I started seeing Christian, I was the last person to get ‘hooked up.’ Well, actually, I wasn’t, but everyone else had been actively seeing someone on and off on a regular basis except for me. So, you know that new relationship thing… you might end up MIA for a while. That’s what happened, only I ended up really MIA and nobody knew. The Contingency is a phone tree. All of us and our significant others are supposed to be on that phone tree—you included,” I say to Elliot. “If someone is missing off the phone tree or if there’s an emergency and we need to tell each other, we activate the Contingency.”

“So… if significant others are supposed to be in the loop, why was Al so surprised just a minute ago that Christian had activated the Contingency?” Elliot asks.

“It’s just semantics,” I say. “The Contingency is set up such that Al and I are first point of contact. If Al gets the news first, he calls me and Val. Val calls Gary and Max. Max tells Phil because they’re together. You’re on the Contingency because you’re with Val and you get notified by association, like Phil does. Same thing with Christian and James. However, if there’s a link missing out of there, then the Contingency gets skewed. Whoever has the emergency or the information activates the Contingency up and down the tree like I just mentioned. If I’m incapacitated, Christian would contact Al, and he would activate the Contingency. If Al or Val is incapacitated, James or you would contact me or Christian or whoever wasn’t incapacitated in that trifecta and… you get the drill.

“Last night, the two people who would normally activate the Contingency were curled up into each other and pretty much basket cases. So, Christian just got the news to anyone that he could inside the Contingency. That’s how we stay informed.”

“Pretty elaborate set-up,” Elliot says, trying to make light of the situation, but unable to laugh.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I say, sympathetically. He sighs.

“Well, I guess I’ve pretty much brought you up to date,” he says solemnly. “If I can think of anything else, I let you guys know.”

We all sit there in contemplative silence for several moments. After a while—I don’t know how long—Grace walks into the room in her scrubs.

“Mommy…” Grace crosses the room to her eldest son and Elliot is immediately reduced to a toddler, weeping into Grace’s bosom as she holds him close to her… something I’ve never seen. Grace just strokes his blonde hair, whispering soft words of comfort to him as he sobs. Al is overcome by the emotion and can’t sit still. He excuses himself and leaves the room.

“Come on, Elliot,” Grace says, “let’s go get some coffee and you can bring me up to date.” Oh, boy. Christian stands.

“I’ll bring you up to date, Mom,” Christian says.

“Oh! Christian! I didn’t even see you there. Hello, Darling. Ana,” she says with as much warmth as she can muster under the circumstances. I smile warmly at her. “I’ve spoken to Dr. Hill,” she says to Elliot. “He says her condition hasn’t worsened. That’s good news.”

“But it… hasn’t gotten any better… either, Mom,” Elliot says between shuddering breaths.

“I know,” she acknowledges, “but in these situations, it’s good to know that it hasn’t deteriorated. That means she holding her own, and we just have to pray that she’ll get stronger.” Elliot nods. “Come on, coffee.”

“I don’t want to leave her,” he protests.

“I know exactly how you feel, man,” Christian says, putting his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “But just a few minutes not in these four walls, okay? Let’s go get a little fresh air and you can come right back.” Elliot nods reluctantly and looks at me.

“I’ll stay with her,” I reassure him. Christian helps him out of the seat he had been sitting in all night. As soon as Grace and Christian help him from the room. I sit in the chair assuming Elliot’s vigil position.

I stroke her hand and think about the many crazy times that we’ve had… and the not so crazy times…

“I thought you said you didn’t date.” Val drops her backpack on the floor and heads to the kitchen with the few grocery bags she was carrying.

“I didn’t say that I don’t date. I said I’m not interested. Val, this is Al. Al, Val. The best description I can give you is ‘brother.’” Al is studying for pre-law finals and writing his essays for law school while I’m doing the same muckity-muck work trying to decide what my major is going to be.

“Oh, stuck in the friend zone, are you?” Val says, placing beers and some fresh fruit in the refrigerator.

“Yeah,” Al retorts, “more like best friend zone.” His voice is protective and a bit catty, something that doesn’t get past Val. She pauses for a moment, then continues what she was doing.

“Hmm, best friend. I stand corrected. He’s graduating,” she quips sarcastically. Al throws an inquisitive look at me, and I just shrug. I don’t know what her motives are. Not to be outdone, Al turns his attention to Val.

“Graduating in what way?” he asks. She throws a furtive smirk at him.

“You don’t know? Poor guy,” she chuckles, placing something in the cupboard.

“No, I don’t know,” he says, standing and crossing his arms, “so why don’t you enlighten me?” Apparently not one to back down from a challenge, Val turns her attention to Al.

“Oh, it’s just been my experience that guys stuck in the friend zone don’t mind hanging out there for a while so they can get all the juicy tidbits of her life, be the shoulder that she cries on, learn all of her deep, dark secrets so they can use the information to get in her pants one day.” Al scoffs at her. He’s finally taken all he’s going to take from this chick.

“Good God, who froze your clit?” he shoots, and I nearly choke on my cranberry juice and sparkling water. “Let me clarify something for you, princess. I’ve been in the friend zone—the best friend zone—for five years, and I do plan on staying there for the rest of her life. So, yes, you’re absolutely right. I do get all the juicy tidbits. I am the shoulder she cries on, and I fucking already know all her deep, dark secrets… more than you ever will. So whatever bug or contaminated semen has crawled up your ass or down your throat, you need to go take a douche and a gargle and leave a real one alone. And as far as getting in her pants is concerned, I don’t think my boyfriends would like that very much!” Al quickly stacks his many books, loads his messenger bag and shrugs into his coat. Gathering his things, he turns to face me. “We can hang out and study or whatever when Ice Pussy ain’t around!” he snaps as he brushes out the door, leaving it open as his hands are full.

Val is absolutely stunned. I don’t know if it was the dressing down that she just got or the fact that Al just revealed that he’s gay, but she’s speechless—gape-mouthed and all, and I’m furious!

“I don’t treat your company like that! Why did you talk to my friend that way?” I bark, while snatching my coat.

“I… didn’t know,” she excuses. “You know guys…”

“I. Said. Brother! That should have been a clue for you!” I shrug into my coat.

“Well, I didn’t say anything that bad. So I was mistaken; he was just being sensitive!” she defends.

“He wasn’t sensitive!” I retort. “You were RUDE! And if he was someone trying to get into my pants, that was still none of your goddamn business! Don’t you ever speak to my guests like that again—especially him, and if you have a problem with that demand, I’ll pack my shit and be out of here tomorrow!” I leave the apartment, slamming the door behind me to go and smooth things over with my best friend.

“You always had a way of making an impact on whoever you met,” I say, still gently stroking her hand. “I remember Al didn’t come around for the rest of the school year—not like he could. He got into law school the next semester and just didn’t have time.”

I want to see some kind of flicker… a twitch of her finger, her pupils move under her eyelids, some form of life—that she’s coming back to us, but I get nothing. Two days… twelve left… if she doesn’t wake up…

“It can’t end like this! It’s too soon! We’re just getting started. You haven’t even met the twins yet. We have to pick a new house for you and Elliot. There’s too much left to do…”

I’m startled by a gentle knock on the door and the nurse comes into the room.

“I’m sorry to disturb you. I just want to check her vital signs,” she says.

“Oh… yes, by all means. Should I move?” I say, making to stand.

“No, you’re fine. I can work around you,” she says with a gentle smile as she goes about the business of marking down Val’s vitals. “Are you her sister?” she asks.

“No,” I say. “She doesn’t have a sister.” She frowns.

“That’s odd,” she says, shaking her head and she makes a few notes in the chart. I look up at her.

“How so?”

“She was sure that she wouldn’t make it through the surgery,” the nurse says. “She’s doing much better than she thought she would, but she wouldn’t allow us to put her under until we promised to give her sister a message.” Now, I frown.

“Could it have been the meds? Or the tumor?” I ask. She shrugs.

“The tumor can cause many things—erratic behavior, even hallucinations, but it wouldn’t cause her to conjure up a sister she never had.” I shake my head, thoroughly confused, but more certain than ever that Val was certainly not herself for God only knows how long.

“What was the message… if you can tell me?” I ask. She twists her lips.

“You’re certain she doesn’t have a sister?” she asks again. I sigh.

“She has a brother that she hasn’t spoken to in years. We don’t even know where he is or if he’s still alive. I’m the closest thing to a sister Valerie will ever have, except for the last few months. It’s been kind of rough.” I sigh. “Who am I kidding? It was horrible. She… wasn’t herself. I’m sure you can imagine.” Realization dawns in her eyes and she walks closer to me, holding Val’s chart close to her chest.

“Then she probably meant you,” she says, her voice softening. I swallow hard. Val is about to go under—probably for good, or at least that’s what she thought—and she has a message for me? Maybe for me?

“What’s the message?” I ask again. She reaches in her pocket.

“She made me write it down,” she says, pulling out a piece of paper. “She made me swear to read it and not mail it or hand it to… her sister, so I sure hope it’s you. I’ve been carrying it around since the surgery hoping to run into her… you…” She opens the small piece of paper and begins to read.

“Tell her that I’m sorry. Tell her that I didn’t mean it. I don’t want her to remember me the way that I was. I’m so sorry. Thank you for Elliot and thank you for Brandon. You’ll never know how much I truly love you.”

My heart aches immediately, like someone struck me full force in the chest with a blunt ax. I grab my chest in an attempt to stop the pain and bleeding, but it’s no use. I hurt. I hurt bad!

“It’s me…” I choke, my voice barely above a whisper. Brandon was that fucker in college that put his hands on her and they found his ass in Green Lake Park somewhere—naked and fucking hysterical, just like I left him. As far as I know, though, he didn’t put his hands on another woman after that.

“Are you okay, Mrs. Grey? Do you need some water or something? To lie down?” she asks concerned.

“Some water, please,” I squeak. Please don’t die, Val. Please don’t die…

*-*

Al and I try to keep ourselves occupied throughout the week with work and the plans for the party. We’re both sick that Val still hasn’t come out of her semi-coma. The doctors say that it’s not a full coma like mine was, that she can most likely hear us when we come in the room. So, I’m at the hospital every day, talking to her and telling her about what’s going on with the Center, Al’s wedding plans… and her godchildren—the two beautiful blessings waiting for her to get better and introduce herself to them properly.

Courtney has done a complete one-eighty. I don’t even recognize her. Some days, she comes in dressed in her jeans and sweatshirt so that she can interact with the kids—crawling on the floor and playing games and whatever the day or activity calls for. Other days, she’s in totally professional garb, all about business and very dedicated and focused on her tasks. She even gave the representatives from the licensing board the final tour of the facility before approval because Grace and I were at the hospital and couldn’t get back to the center soon enough. We’re hoping that this is the last round before the licenses are approved and we’ll be accredited and licensed as a learning facility and a day care center so that we’ll be able to hire the staff that we need and apply for federal funding.

Sophie is opening up to me more and becoming more accustomed to her surroundings. I want her to feel comfortable here since, if all goes as planned, this will be her new home. She’ll be a real-life Sabrina, only more a part of the family than the Fairchilds where with the Larabees. However, we had an extremely disturbing talk on Wednesday after she came home from school. Half-days at work finds me at the Crossing in the afternoons until we can find some more help for Gail, and I take this time to feel Sophie out and make her feel more at home. Jason has a temporary custody order and basically got all that he asked for until the official custody hearing, including suspension of child support pending the outcome of the custody case. Today’s conversation caused me to reach out for legal advice.

“Jewel?” he answers. “Val?”

“No,” I say, “no news yet. I’m calling you in an official capacity. I need some legal advice,” I say. “It’s a touchy topic.”

“Oh? What’s up?”

“I have a patient who has some information about the possible commission of a crime in relation to another crime. I know under normal circumstances, I need to report this to the police, but I’ve got a problem.”

“There’s no problem, here, Jewel,” Al interrupts. “When discussing the commission of a crime, a psychiatrist’s doctor/patient privilege dies…”

“Not when the proof is perspective and most likely circumstantial… and not when the patient is a minor,” I tell him. “A minor is not supposed to talk to the police or an authority figure without the presence of a parent or attorney in relation to the commission of a crime. So, she can’t collaborate what she’s heard without me talking to her father and I can’t talk to her father without breaking doctor/patient privilege.”

“Yeah, that’s a slippery slope. You actually could report the crime, but without the patient’s collaboration, it’s kind of useless… unless there’s other evidence like a body or something.”

“No, nothing like that, I think, but it could be pretty severe if an investigation is opened.”

“Then I think you should report it anyway.” I sigh heavily.

“I don’t think I can,” I say, “not without talking to the parents.”

“If you report what you know, Jewel, you’ve taken care of your legal obligation and responsibility. That’s all you have to do. Where’s the dilemma here?” My scar is beginning to throb.

“Attorney/client,” I tell him, in all seriousness. I hear some shuffling, then a door closes.

“Jewel, you don’t even have to say that and you know it. There’s no way in hell I’d ever betray your confidence.”

“Yeah, I thought I wouldn’t either, but that’s just what I’m about to do. That’s why I need this to be under attorney/client privilege because that way, I know it won’t go beyond us. When you hear what I’m about to tell you, you’re going to be tempted to spill the beans, and even though I’m bound by my oath to spill them, I know you’re bound by your oath not to—even if I told you that I murdered someone. So, I love you, Forsythe, but I’m talking to you as my lawyer and I need to hear the words.” I sighs and I can tell that he’s more than a little hurt by my mistrust.

“Fine, Jewel,” he acquiesces, “this call is under attorney/client privilege.” I swallow hard.

“I’ve been talking to Sophie, trying to help her deal with what’s going on with her mother and what she saw. Today, Sophie finally became comfortable enough to talk about the night her mother was arrested and the actual drop. Something she said didn’t ring well with me, so I kept her talking, asking the right questions and garnering details. I have a sinking feeling that if Shalane had not been arrested that night, if the cops didn’t just happen to be about to bust that place that night, we would have never seen Sophie again.” The line is quiet.

“Okay, that’s always the case in a dangerous situation, but I’m assuming you mean something else,” Al says.

“The way that Sophie explains Shalane’s conversation with four other men in the room, she was like one of the Price is Right girls, like she was displaying the merchandise, only she wasn’t talking about the coke. She was talking about Sophie.” Al gasps on the other line.

“Jewel, how can you be sure?” he asks. “That’s a really severe accusation.”

“I can’t,” I say, “but Sophie is. She felt like a piece of meat. She kept telling her mom to stop because—her words—‘I’m not staying with these guys; that’s gross!’ I don’t know if this was a one-time thing to pay off Shalane’s debts or if this is something that goes on constantly; if this was to be a temporary romp for a bunch of sick pedophiles or if we’re looking at a possible human trafficking or prostitution ring, but four kilos ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at. So, I would say that we’re probably looking at something bigger.”

“How does Sophie feel about this? About talking about it, I mean,” Al asks.

“I haven’t approached her with it yet,” I reply. “We were talking as friends, just a sounding board, as far as she knows. If I go all professional on her, I’m afraid she’ll shut down.”

“Goddammit, Jewel!” he hisses into the phone. “Why did you make me swear to attorney/client privilege? You know I hate this kind of shit!”

“That’s why,” I say. “I could see you in my mind’s eye hanging up from me and calling someone down at the precinct.”

“Somebody has to tell them!” he barks. “I could have even made an anonymous tip, something, but now—fucking hell, Jewel.” Something crashes on his end of the line, not loudly… like he knocked something off his desk. “Somebody else’s kid could be bartered off as we speak. Do you think Shalane is the only meth-head with a kid in northwest Washington? In Seattle?” He’s really not taking this news well.

“This is why I need help,” I tell him. “This situation is delicate in so many ways. Jason has to know. That woman doesn’t deserve to be within ten feet of Sophie and they should actually keep her ass in jail, but she just might make bail.” Al is huffing now.

“Talk to Sophia again,” he says, his voice controlled. He’s angry. “Tell her about how wrong what her mother did was and try to convince her to let you talk to Jason so you can go to the police. Use your many skills to convince her, but you have to convince her. You know the legal side—you knew it before you called me. You can’t tell Jason without her permission, but you have to go to the police. The minor situation is a slippery slope, without the permission of the parent, so there will be no collaboration. However, as a mental health professional, you have to alert the police of possible future crimes. Have I covered all of my bases?” He’s irritated with me, now. I need to just let him get off the phone so that he can go punch something or… something.

“Yes,” I say quietly, “yes, you have.”

“Good. Call me if you have any other questions. No doubt, I’ll see you at the hospital later.” He ends the call on that note. He’s really upset and I can understand why, but I had to get his legal opinion and he’s just going to have to choke it down. I go back to the family room where I know I’ll find Sophie. She’s watching Frozen, one of the Disney movies I haven’t had a chance to see yet. I come in right at the part where Elsa is singing “Let It Go.” Sophie obviously loves this part and sings the entire song without stopping. When it’s over, she turns a smile to me, but it soon fades.

“Is something wrong, Miss Ana?” she asks. I sigh.

“Yeah, Sophie, something is wrong.” I cross my legs lotus-style on the sofa and face her. “I need you to help me,” I tell her. “I have a very important decision to make and I’m going to take your advice.” She turns to me and crosses her legs in the same position.

“Okay,” she says. “What is it?” I take a deep breath. How do you tell a child that you think her mother may have been trying to trade her into slavery or prostitution?

“You love your mom very much, don’t you?” I ask. Her face changes, then her head drops.

“Yeah, I do, but she needs help,” she says. “She was going to give me to those guys. I know she was,” she says flatly. I gulp.

“You do?” I ask in utter surprise. She nods.

“Yeah, like people traffic… I think that’s what it’s called.” My eyes widen and after a long silence, she raises her gaze to find me gaping at her.

“Sophie,” I ask in soft disbelief, “you’re not even 13 years old yet; how do you know about that?”

“We learned something in school—it wasn’t about people traffic; it was something else. I don’t even remember what it was now. I was looking up what we learned and one site led to something else and that site led to something else, and I ended up on people traffic. That’s what happens when you spend a lot of time by yourself… with the internet.” No wonder this young girl sounds so much wiser than her years, except when she’s scared to death.

“It’s called human trafficking,” I correct her.

“Yeah, that’s it,” she nods. “They sell people into all kinds of creepy stuff and I wasn’t going with those guys. I don’t care what Mom said.” I drop my head.

“Sophie, do you really think that’s what your mom was trying to do? Because that’s what it sounds like.”

“That’s what it felt like, too,” she says. “I don’t know for sure, Miss Ana, but that’s what it felt like.” I nod.

“You know I’m a shrink, right?” I say. She laughs.

“That’s what Daddy says, but he says I can’t call you that,” she giggles. I appreciate her introducing some levity into the situation.

“Well, yeah. But, I want you to know that I’m your friend first and a shrink second, and I want you to trust me to be your friend and keep your secrets, but…”

“But you have to tell somebody about the people traf… human trafficking,” she finishes for me. I sigh.

“We don’t know that’s what it really is, but it could be, and my oath means that I have to tell somebody because it’s illegal. Plus, if that’s really what’s going on, other kids might not have gotten away.” There’s silence between us for a moment, then her eyes grow large.

“Ooooooooohhhh!” she says just over a whisper, drawing the word out. “You mean, they could really be doing human traffic with other kids like me?” Her eyes are wide with disbelief.

“Kids, women, illegal aliens… anybody,” I confirm, “we don’t know for sure, but if what you say is true, then it’s possible.”

“God, Mom,” she says in disgust and disbelief, cursing her mother about as much as a twelve-year-old can curse her mother in the presence of another adult. “So, what do we do, now?” she asks.

“That’s what I need you to tell me,” I say, putting the ball back in her court. I need her to feel like she’s making the decision. I have to tell the police no matter what, but will I have a witness when I do? She ponders the situation carefully for several moments.

“Can we tell my dad?” she asks hopefully. “He’s smart and he knows a lot. He’ll know what to do.” I’m so relieved that she looks up to Jason so much, because that’s exactly what I was hoping for.

“Yes, Sophie,” the first word comes out breathy on the wind of a huge sigh of relief. “We can definitely tell your father. I’m sure he’ll have a solution for us…”

Later that evening, Jason, Sophie and I sit in my office with Jason fighting his rage as Sophie explains to him the same thing that she told me.

“You’re getting that pulsy vein on your forehead, Dad,” Sophie points out and Jason relaxes his face.

“Sorry, Baby Boo,” he says, “it was just the thought that if she had been successful…” and the pulsy vein is back.

“Don’t worry, Dad, I wasn’t going with those guys. I remember what you taught me,” she says. On some things, she’s wiser than her years. On others, she’s naïve and untarnished, as she should be. She shouldn’t know about human trafficking at all at her age, but from what she does know, she thinks that those sold into the ring must have at some point agreed to go with their captors.

It’s very late by the time I get to the hospital as the three of us had to stop and make a bit of a police report first. Al is there when I get there. He’s quietly reading some legal brief or something to Val while Elliot sleeps on the loveseat nearby. Her room is full of flowers now, as it should be, each person dropping off another gorgeous bouquet as they visit.

“Oh, my God, Al,” I lament, “the nurse says she can hear that stuff.”

“I know, that’s why I’m reading it,” he frowns.

“Read her something interesting. We want her to wake up, not be bored to tears. Read her a romance novel, even one of the classics. If it has to be law, read her the details of She-Thing’s trial. That’s entertainment!” I scold.

“I’m hoping she’ll wake up and tell me to shut the hell up,” he admits.

“So in the meantime, you torture her? That conducive!” I turn to her sleeping frame. “Please, wake up, Val and make him shut up.” And for a moment, only a moment, I see the corners of her mouth twitch, then raise slightly. I blink a few times, to make sure I’m not seeing things, but it’s there. It’s slight, but it’s there.

“Al?” I say, pointing to her face. He turns to look at her and gasps. “I’m not seeing things, am I? It’s there…”

“It’s there, Jewel,” he whispers, staring at the slight smile that we see on Val’s face. I don’t know if I have enough time to wake Elliot, so I take a quick picture with my phone. Just after I capture it, her face relaxes back to a resting state.

“Read that goddamn brief!” I whisper to Al. “I know you can hear me,” I say to Val as I lean into her ear. “I know you can, because I could hear some things when I was under. We love you. We all love you. You have to come back. Please… I’ve missed you more than I can stand. I can’t stand it anymore. You can’t leave me. You can’t. Please, come back…”


CHRISTIAN

“I have to give her supervised visitation, but if I have my way, that bitch won’t come anywhere near my child again.”

Jason is seething when we meet him at the Crossing after visiting Valerie. I came into the room right after the doctor and nurses had gone. Valerie had cracked a small smile and was responding to stimuli. She still has to wake up in about a week, or they have to take her off the machines. As her power of attorney, Elliot is trying to fight the advanced directive, denoting that she may have been incapacitated when she signed it due to the tumor. The fight itself would give her enough time to hopefully heal and wake up, even if he didn’t win. Nonetheless, the fact that she’s responsive has given us all a bit of hope.

I did take it upon myself to run a background check on her and locate her father and brother. Her brother’s in jail serving his third stretch for possession. Her father is small money with a chain of grocery stores. I’ll keep the information in case anyone wants it.

My current issue, however, is Jason and the fact that his ex-wife may have tried to trade his daughter as payment for a drug debt. Not only that, but we’ve got Lincoln’s sentencing hearing the day after tomorrow and I’ve been a bit preoccupied with the statement that I’m going to read.

“I can’t believe anybody would do that to a child, let alone a mother,” I tell him. He rubs his neck.

“Thank God Ana was there,” Jason says, relieved. “There’s no way I would have been able to pull that out of Sophie. Without it, there’s a possibility that her mother could get her back. Maybe even try it again. I don’t know how she did it, but your wife is a miracle worker. Sophie was itching to tell me—eager to do the right thing, and she looks like she’s taking it like a pro.” He shakes his head. “Ana promises to stay close and keep an eye on her.”

“That’s good,” I say. “This situation could have left her so much worse off in so many ways. I shudder to think what could have happened if…” He shakes his head. “I’m not letting her near Sophie. I don’t care what the court order says, I’m not letting her near my child.”

“Is that wise?” I ask. “You could get in trouble with the court.”

“There’s not a judge in the world that would blame me. The worst they could do it put me in jail for some stupid, trumped-up charge, so let them do it.”

“What about Sophie? What if she wants to see her mother?” I ask. He sighs.

“I doubt that’ll happen, but if Sophie wants it, I’ll allow it,” he says, begrudgingly.

“So what did the police say about the possible human trafficking?” I ask.

“Without more evidence, they can’t bring any charges against her for trying to sell my daughter. But they can investigate the dealers for human traffic. Shalane is already being brought up on charges of child endangerment for having Sophie in that place in the first place and get this! Her toxicology report was released and I needed it turned over to family court for part of the custody case. She tested positive for meth, coke, marijuana, ex, ruffies… ruffies, man! Ruffies don’t even stay in your system that long! And her blood alcohol… 1.9! It’s a wonder she was upright, let alone driving! They could have found her and my kid dead somewhere. I’m telling you, she’s not getting near Sophie again.”

“You’ll get no argument from me,” I tell him. “I just don’t want you to do anything that will blow your chances of getting custody.”

“This won’t blow my chances,” he says. “I have the best attorney in the world… better than money can buy.”

*-*

When we get to the courtroom Friday morning for Lincoln’s sentencing, I’m gobsmacked by what I see. Our front row has been reserved for us as usual, but the courtroom is full, even fuller than it was when the jury read the verdict. There are so many people here, but what shocks me the most is how many different versions of me there are in the room. I mean, nobody looks exactly like me, but they favor me—like my bevy of petite brunettes. As I scan the room, I see what could have been versions of me from what looks like the age of thirteen… until now.

“Oh, God,” I whisper, my stomach churning like raw acid and fire. The speech I prepared won’t scratch the surface of how this makes me feel—how sick this woman really must be in her soul, but she deserves no mercy for that sickness.

“Christian… baby, what is it?” my wife says sweetly, concerned.

“Look around,” I whisper, horrified. “Take a good look…” Butterfly scans the room, then again, then she gasps as realization sinks in.

“Oh, my God,” she whispers. Victims… more victims, and most likely, their parents. The trial was private, but anyone can watch the sentencing and make a statement. I figure we’ll be here all day. There’s way too many people here.

Butterfly and I nearly stagger to our seats with the new information we’re processing and I take time to locate my mother. She’s just as horrified as we are as she zeroes in on what Butterfly was examining. She tries to give me strength through her beautiful smile, but it does little to console me. She sees what I see—horrible representations of broken lives and stolen innocence, no matter if these people overcame their situation or not. I sit down and contemplate my situation… and my speech. They can’t say anything much because this isn’t the pedo-trial, and they didn’t get to speak before because she accepted a plea to the other charges and took the sentence that was handed to her. This is the only closure they can hope for.

I hear the shackles on her feet when she enters the courtroom, but I don’t raise my head to look at her. I’m disgusted and sick and trying to control the bile rising in the back of my throat. I just want this thing to be over—to turn my back and never think of her or speak of her again. I’m relieved when I hear the instruction to all rise. I so want this over and done. I wait… wait for Underwood to instruct the judge that Lincoln is already serving time on a prior offense and well on her way to rehabilitation; wait for him to try to convince His Honor that the maximum sentence would serve nothing as Mrs. Lincoln will already be incarcerated until she’s seventy-five; I listen as he continues to paint her as a victim with no consideration for the trauma that she only caused my family, not to mention these men and boys who line the walls of this room right now. If I’ve never seen a snake before, there’s one talking to the judge right now.

Skinner doesn’t say much. He reiterates that the evidence speaks for itself and that there’s no reason to rehash the facts. The jury has found her guilty and it’s up to the court to render just and sufficient sentence for her crimes. I wait for someone to stand or speak when Judge Burgess opens the floor for statements. No one does… so I do.

I walk solemnly to the lectern placed where the jury was seated and pull my speech from my pocket. I clear my throat and attempt to speak and the words seem to jumble on the page.

They won’t work. They’ll never describe the gravity of this situation.

“Mr. Grey?” the judge says. I clear my throat again… showtime.

“Justice won’t be served today,” I say, folding the paper that contains the speech I intended to give and shoving it back into my pocket. “Justice won’t be served in this courtroom. Elena Lincoln was found guilty of her crimes and justice still won’t be served.” Elena looks at me with hope in her eyes—poor, delusional woman—and Butterfly and my family eye me with confusion. I look down and sigh, then look back up and examine the courtroom.

“She took so much from so many people, then tried to come to this court—this forum of logical thinking, morally grounded, civically bound people—and tried to convince us that her behavior was acceptable because she said so. Wasn’t that the essence of her defense? ‘I’m superior; I’m special; I can ruin people’s lives and if they don’t do what I want, I can kill them?’ How could you or any living, breathing person—let alone a professional…” I glare at her attorney, “… possibly think that would fly among rational thinking human beings?” I glare at them both for a moment, then regroup.

“But I digress, because I said that justice would not be served. You’ve ruined so many lives,” I focus on Elena, “and in the end, your acts culminated with you trying to take mine. If there was ever any chance in the world that I could have ever loved you, you shattered that all to hell. All. By. Your. Self.” My words are dripping with venom as the truest pain rises in her tear-filled eyes. “Whatever the sentence, you can’t ever begin to repay the debt you owe to the people whose lives you have destroyed.

“People look at me and they see a billionaire and the first thing they want to say is, ‘Well, he didn’t turn out so bad.’ But know this—I am who I am in spite of my circumstances, not because of them. You don’t get to destroy my childhood and then take credit for my success! That’s not the way it works. You don’t get to take a bad matter and make it worse, then throw money at it and tout that you made me the man that I am.

“You think what you did for me made me stronger and you’re right, it did.” She holds her head up triumphantly. “I had to be stronger. I had to withstand what you were doing to me—what you were putting me through.” The same air that puffed her up is knocked violently out of her sails. “You constantly say that you gave me the money and the tools to start my business… you didn’t. You lent me the money to start my business; you were no more significant to my success than the local financial institution. I had the brains and the mental capacity and wherewithal to do the work myself. So, what exactly did you give me, Mrs. Lincoln?” Those sad eyes are back, but I feel nothing.

“Everyone seems to think that you gave me $100,000 to start my business, but nobody seems to know that was a loan, which I repaid with interest. What’s more, even less people seem to know that had it not been for me, you wouldn’t have had those salons as long as you did to afford you that lifestyle that allowed you to commit the crimes for which you are currently serving time! And yet… you want to sit there and spout about and believe that you’re the reason I’m the man I am today? That you did so much good for me? Well, tell me this, Mrs. Lincoln—if you were so good for me, if you fixed what was so broken in me, made me this great man, why was I still having those damn nightmares?”

Butterfly gulps as does my mother and the courtroom starts to murmur. Judge Burgess bangs his gavel.

“Order! Order!” he says. When the court quiets, he looks at me. “Are you finished, Mr. Grey?” he asks.

“I won’t get another chance, Your Honor,” I tell him, “I have one more issue to address.”

“Very well,” he says, replacing his gavel. I turn back to Elena.

“I couldn’t hug my mother until last year,” I begin. “I couldn’t show my family love, because you convinced me there was no such thing, that is until you found out I loved someone else. All of a sudden, love was this beautiful thing that I could share with you, and if I didn’t, then you had free me from the clutches of a woman who really does love me. Had it not been for the love of that woman, I wouldn’t be able to hug my mother and lean on her now that I need her more than ever; to tell my father and my siblings and my grandfather and my uncle exactly what they mean to me.

“I would never know the feeling of being one person—whole and healed—as part of someone else. I would never know how it feels to look down into the faces of two tiny little versions of myself and be filled with love and immeasurable pride when my infant children look back at me. Most of all, I would never know the feeling of waking up every morning with my arms and heart wrapped around my talisman after a good night’s sleep—nightmare-free.”

She’s gasps. She knew I was still having the nightmares. She never knew that they went away. Mom and Dad look gaped-mouth at me, then turn to Ana who looks at me with tear-filled loving eyes. I turn my gaze back to Elena.

“And you wanted to free me from that? I thank God and everything sacred that you didn’t.”

I hold my head down and take a deep breath to strike my last blow.

“Justice won’t be served because there’s no sentence severe enough for you to feel all the pain you’ve caused to all the people that you’ve hurt. But whatever the court decides to give you, whatever they feel is appropriate for your crime, I hope you rot! I hope that your evil festers in you and boils you from the inside out every day of your miserable life. I hope you live a long, long life of pain, suffering, and unhappiness. I hope your days from now on are filled with nothing but hopelessness, misery, and despair. And when your number finally comes and you draw your last breath, I hope the devil himself is there to greet you at the gates to escort you through all nine circles of Dante’s hell for the rest of eternity. Then, and only then, will justice be served.”

I stare unfeeling at her eyes. She stares broken-hearted into mine. I allow the venom and hatred to flow out of me and into the air towards her, into her. Let her carry it from now on. I’ve had enough of it. I drop my head back and inhale a deep, cleansing breath, releasing it along with every lie, every welt, every strike, every guilt trip she ever played on me. Every shackle she ever closed, every time she caned me, whipped me, flogged me, sodomized me, denied me orgasms for days, brainwashed me to believe that I couldn’t love and no one would love me—I gave them all back to her when I released that breath.

I’m free. I’m free of Elena Lincoln forever. I feel so light, I could fly.

“I’m done, Your Honor,” I say with no malice before leaving the lectern. I walk to m y wife and she bolts to my arms, kissing me deeply. We indulge for only a second before taking our seats on the benches behind the prosecutor.

“No…”

Her voice is so frail, I think I’m the only one who heard it.

“Christian… please… no…”  Lincoln begs, her voice soft and nearly inaudible. I cling to my wife, holding her close to me and feeling her warmth infuse into me—her love and her strength.

“I love you, Christian,” Elena whimpers. “Please don’t leave me… please don’t leave me alone…”

I hear her, but I don’t care. It only makes me pull my beautiful and precious wife closer to me, makes me want this whole thing to be over so that I can hurry home to my children…

“Are there… any more statements?” Judge Burgess is remiss to ask. What else could be said after that? I mean really, who else could say anything after that?


A/N: This is one of the ten final chapters of “Becoming Dr. Grey.” Stay tuned…

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

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Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 71—The Gatekeeper

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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 71—The Gatekeeper

ANASTASIA

Since I prepared to be in court for She-Thing all week, I won’t be going to Helping Hands, so I gave Marilyn the week off. Just after breakfast Thursday morning, I receive a call from the dreaded area code… 702.

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Grey?”

“Who’s calling?” I ask cautiously.

“This is Herbert Larson from the Nevada Attorney General’s office.” Oh… still haven’t gotten that subpoena.

“Yes?” I say. He pauses, no doubt noting my cold tone.

“I… just wanted to call you and tell you that Michael Underwood’s trial was set for Monday…”

Was?” I interrupt him.

“Yes, was. He saw the charges and the witnesses against him and he took a plea.” Another fucker gets to take a plea.

“Really? And what did he get?” I ask, stoically.

“He pled to second degree kidnapping, battery without a weapon, and involuntary manslaughter with a maximum of twenty five years on all counts. He got eighteen with a possibility of parole in fifteen.” Whoa!

“Oh.” I say, truly surprised. “Okay.” I couldn’t say much more.

“I’m calling because your subpoena was returned unserved,” he says. “We tried your last known address and your office. There was no contact at either location.”

“Why didn’t you try my attorney’s office?”

“He couldn’t be reached at his office either, Ma’am.”

“Geez, you have old addresses for everybody?” I lament.

“I’m afraid so,” he says. “We couldn’t legally serve anybody anywhere.” I nod.

“I’ll get you updated information today. I’m sorry about that, Mr. Larson,” I say.

“No apologies necessary. I just thought you might want to know that the first official sentence has been handed down in your case.” I sigh heavily, then frown.

“What about Carly Madison-Perry?” I ask. “I thought she had taken a plea, too.”

“Her plea is still pending,” he says. “It’s due to be finalized within the next week. Her keeping it is dependent on her testifying in court.”

“And what if everyone does what Underwood does and pleads to a lesser charge? Will she still get to walk even though she never had to testify in court?” There’s a pause.

“I can guarantee you that it’s not a ‘walk,’ Mrs. Grey,” he replies. “However, based on her willingness to testify, she would still get her plea bargain. Her pleading to a lesser sentence for the highest allowable charges means that it goes on the books that these crimes were actually committed and that anyone associated with the incident has to be associated with the commission of these crimes and not a lesser act, unless their specific action indicate a lesser act. This is why she got first degree kidnapping and Underwood got second.”  I nod as if he can see me.

“So, with Carly’s testimony, I need you to help me understand why you won’t just take all of these people to trial. It’s an open and shut case.” I hear him sigh.

“Under normal circumstances, you would be correct, Mrs. Grey. However, these circumstances are far from normal. We haven’t notified you of every development in this case, but so far, there have been seventeen arrests made with people rolling over on their friends. Some suspects have fled the state or are in hiding waiting to be apprehended. To be honest with you, every jurisdiction has a finite amount of resources that can be expended for all cases being investigated. To that end, if we can save the taxpayers some money and preserve our resources by still getting double-digit mandatory sentences on these pleas, I would consider that a win. Wouldn’t you?” 

The way he explains it makes perfect sense. I’ll just have to make sure that any of these monsters that do live long enough to see the outside of a prison don’t get to see their fortunes once they’re free. It’s the high living and the sense of entitlement that caused most of these bastards to participate in this shit in the first place. Others were just too busy following the leader.

“Am I allowed to know what Carly’s plea is?” I ask, certain that I won’t like the outcome. Larson pauses again.

“Mrs. Madison-Perry is being charged with conspiracy to kidnap in the first degree, kidnapping in the first degree, battery with a deadly weapon with substantial bodily harm, battery without a weapon with substantial bodily harm, manslaughter for the fetal homicide of your unborn baby, and attempted murder…” 

“So, they both got the kidnapping charges.” It’s a question that comes out as a statement.

“We’re hoping they’ll all get it,” he says.

“Well, Underwood got eighteen years. What kind of charges is she looking at?”

“Under normal circumstances, kidnapping carries a life sentence on its own. Like Underwood, she reviewed the odds against her and decided against taking her chances in court. If she delivers as promised, she’s looking at thirty years with no parole and a $35,000 fine.” Holy cow, Batman! I hiss into the line.

“She could have gotten life, huh?” I ask. There’s silence. “I think thirty years sounds fair. And she’ll never be able to come up with that $35,000.”

“Then she’ll most likely get more time for that,”  he says.

“Even better. I’ll email you to correct addresses for myself and my attorney. Thank you for explaining this to me, Mr. Larson.

“My pleasure.” I end the call after pleasantries and almost call Christian to tell him the news when I  see my father’s number in the call logs. I dial his number instead. It’s the middle of the morning, so his phone has to be on.

The caller you are trying to reach has chosen not to be disturbed at this time. Please try your call again later.

What. The. Fuck!

I look at the phone to make sure that I’ve dialed the right number. It says that’s Daddy’s phone. But it can’t be! That’s the blocked number message. I dial the number manually. Maybe there’s a technical reason for it.

That fucker’s voice is taunting me again.

I shake my head. Something is terribly wrong. I go in search of a landline in the house and dial my father’s number again.

The caller you are trying…

I hang up before the message completes. Panic stricken, I go in search of Gail. I find her in the kitchen going over the shopping list with Mrs. Solomon. I try to act calm.

“Gail, can I borrow your phone? Mine’s on the charger.”

“Sure, dear.” She puts her phone on the counter without hesitation and goes back off into the pantry.

I dial Daddy’s number hoping that I would get the same message from Gail’s phone that I received from my phone and the landline. I didn’t. It rings—three times, then he answers.

“Hello?”

“Daddy?” I say, uncertain. His answer is swift.

“Can’t talk now. Busy.” And the line goes dead. I’m stunned. He’s shutting me out. My father is shutting me out. In my whole life, my father has never, ever shut me out… but he’s shutting me out. I stand there for a moment. I’m lost. I don’t know what to do next. First Valerie, now this? The world is ending… the world must be ending! What kind of cruel joke it this?

My stomach burns. My chest aches like someone is beating me with a sledgehammer. Daddy is shutting me out. He blocked my phone numbers. He won’t accept my calls. Even Mandy won’t talk to me. I can’t get air. The walls feel like they’re closing in on me. My world is truly ending. How will I ever survive this? I’m going to die… I feel like I’m going to die… I can’t take it… I’m not strong enough…

This couldn’t be happening. This could not be happening! I look around for Gail, but she must have stepped into the pantry. I put her phone on the counter and head for the mudroom. I stand there lost for a moment, but see my keys on the hook next to the other keys for the other cars in the garage. I grab them and head out the door. I’m on autopilot. The windows are tinted, which is good, because when I drive to the gate, Ben just opens it and lets me out. I head towards the bridge. I don’t know where I’m going. I just… drive.


CHRISTIAN

“Boss… we got a problem.”

Boss… shit, what’s wrong? I get a sinking feeling when Jason comes into my office just past noon. He only calls me Boss when it’s something person.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“I just got a text from my wife… Her Highness is MIA.” I frown.

“I don’t get it. You got a text from your wife that Butterfly is MIA?” he nods.

“Just now. I’ve got the boys looking into it, but she’s definitely gone. She came into the kitchen about three hours ago asking Gail to use her phone. Gail thought nothing of it and just let her use it. She saw her phone on the counter as she was doing something with Ms. Solomon and thought nothing of it. Her Highness said her phone was dead.” I knew that wasn’t true because her phone was on the charger right next to mine when I left this morning. “When the babies awoke, Her Highness wasn’t there. Two-way communications says she’s not in the house.”

“She could be out by the fire-pit or something. Has anybody tried to call her?” I say. Jason rolls his eyes.

“You know we did, sir. Her phone is still in the bedroom… along with her purse,” he says somberly. “And her car is gone.” I bolt out of my seat.

“How do you know her car is gone?” I ask.

“Ben let her out of the gate. He assumed Chuck was with her. Chuck is not.”

“Shit!” I hiss, thrusting my hands into my hair. She left her purse, her phone, the babies. Was she kidnapped again?

“Did you activate the tracker on her car?” I ask. Jason scratches his chin. “What?”

“Her… car hasn’t been equipped with a tracker,” he says, meekly.

“What?” I roar. “That car is going to have the babies the goddamn most and it hasn’t been fitted with a goddamn tracker?”

“I think they were so preoccupied with getting the spec right that somebody forgo…” He pulls his phone out and frowns.

“What?” I ask.

“Gail just thought to call the last number dialed on her phone. It was Ray. He was more than a bit gruff with her. Is something up with Ray?” I roll my eyes.

“Yes,” I say, pulling my phone out call Ray. “Give me a minute.” Jason nods and leave my office.

“Hello?” Ray answers.

“Ray. It’s Christian. Have you seen Ana?”

“You gotta lotta nerve calling me!” he hisses. I’m taken aback.

“What?” I say, clearly shocked.

“She told me about that crap you two do, like I’m supposed to be okay with it. What the hell have you gotten my daughter into?” He’s livid, and I’m caught off guard. I don’t even know how to handle this Ray.

“Ray, I… it’s not like that…” I stammer.

“The hell it’s not!” he snaps. “I wasn’t born yesterday! I’ve seen that shit! I’ve been around more than you and even Annie knows! I’ve been everywhere from Amsterdam to Pattaya to the seedy areas of the states. I’ve seen all the sick shit that goes on in those clubs and at those parties and in those dungeons and you can’t pull the wool over my eyes!”

Whoa! So, Ray knows what he’s talking about, but he still only seems to have seen the worst part of it.

“Ray, those places you’ve been, you’ve only seen the most horrible stuff. It’s not like that with us, I assure you…”

“Don’t give me that shit! There’s no soft way to abuse a woman! Beating and caning and ropes and shit! And to think—my daughter is involved in this garbage!”

Was this what Butterfly heard? Is this how he spoke to her before he disappeared?

“Whatever you may think about my and my wife’s lifestyle, I can’t find her and I just want to know the last time you’ve seen her.”

“Good! I hope she’s left your ass! I hope she’s left this whole sick situation!” He can’t hear beyond his own hatred and anger and now, I’m sure this is why I can’t find Anastasia.

“Raymond!” I snap, my wick short. “My wife is missing.” My voice is short and curt, my words clipped. “She doesn’t have her phone or her purse. She hasn’t left me because our children are still at home. She could be in danger. Have you seen her?” He’s silent for a moment.

“No. I haven’t,” he says in the same clipped, angry tone he’s been using for the entire call. No concern for her whereabouts; no reaction to the ominous details I just gave him; nothing that I would expect from a father… much less a Marine. My heart sinks. This is who she met before she disappeared. She idolizes Ray. In her whole life, throughout everything, he’s been her one constant, and now this. What’s worse is that in hindsight, she may not have even had to tell him about the lifestyle since that blonde bitch never said anything in court and nothing’s come from my testimony on Monday except a few blurbs about the abuse. Oh, God. If anything has happened to Butterfly, this is all my fault… the breakdown of her relationship with Ray, the possible public humiliation, all of it… all my fault.

“Do you hate your daughter, now, Ray?” I ask him.

“No, but I hate you for what you’ve done to her!” he snaps without hesitation. Another closed mind. I should have seen this coming.

“Fine. Hate me, but don’t make her pay for it,” I say flatly.

“You’re the last person that can say anything to me about my daughter right now,” he hisses. “You should be glad I don’t get some of the guys from one of my sites to just come down there and beat your ass!”

“Do that if it makes you feel better, but don’t punish Anastasia because of how you feel about me.”

“Don’t you try to take that high road with me, Grey!” he snaps, angrier than I’ve ever seen or heard before. “You’re a sick fuck and I’ll never forgive you for what you’ve turned my daughter into!” I sigh heavily.

And another one bites the dust.

“I thought you knew,” I say softly, defeated. “I thought you knew how much I love her… that I would gladly lay down my life for her. I thought I proved it when I beat the hell out of your best friend and ended up in the hospital.”

He’s fallen silent on the other end of the line.

“I thought you knew that I could never, ever hurt her… that I would do anything for her. I thought I proved that when I turned the state upside down when she was kidnapped; when I flew to Green Valley and hunted down the fucker who raped her and the monsters who beat her and killed her baby; when I stood with you against her mother and that abomination that she married when they showed up at the hospital; when I sat by her side ready to fight you and anyone else who tried to take her away when she laid catatonic in my bed for three days.

“When I stood in that office ready to take that bullet if it meant that crazy bitch was not going to shoot my Butterfly; when I turned her into Cinderella and married her in a castle because she wanted to be a princess; when I signed her name to half of the company that I built on my back with my own blood, sweat and tears because I love and trust her that much… with my life!”

I don’t think he knew that last part.

“I thought I proved it when I stayed by her side and cried for twelve days when she was in a coma and refused to leave her until they kicked me out and banned me from the room even after she didn’t remember who I was. I really thought you knew that she is my whole life and I could never abuse her or mistreat her or misuse her. I thought you knew me better than some sick motherfucker that would just tie her up and torment her for my own enjoyment!” I bite out—angry, hurt tears now burning a trek down my face.

“Most of all, I thought you knew her better,” I choke. “I thought you knew that the Anastasia Steele that I met would never stand to be abused, hurt, or deliberately mistreated by anybody, much less someone who claimed to love her! After all that she’s already been through, I was certain that you knew she was much stronger, much wiser than that! I’m so disappointed to find out that after all this time, you don’t know.”

I swallow back my trepidation for the fact that I’m talking to Ana’s father and continue.

“You want to judge me for the lifestyle that I came from, fine. You do that. I won’t lie—it hurts. I thought you knew me better. I thought you knew what she meant to me, but clearly, I was mistaken.” I hear my voice shaking and I can hardly believe how affected I am that not only has Ray bought into the crap that he’s seen and heard about the lifestyle, but that he doesn’t know me well enough or trust me well enough to believe that I wouldn’t do that deviant shit to Anastasia.

“I misjudged you,” I say through angry tears. “I knew the rest of the world would judge us, would jump to conclusions, but I didn’t think you would. In the end, I always thought we… or at least she… would have you. I guess I was wrong.”

My heart breaks for Butterfly. He’s never going to come around. He thinks I’ve soiled her… changed her. He doesn’t want anything else to do with us. I wipe my eyes with the backs of my hands and swallow hard.

“I won’t bother you again,” I say to the silent line before ending the call. I thought Butterfly may have been exaggerating when she told me about her father’s reaction to the news, but she wasn’t. It was just as bad as she said it was—worse, even, and I hurt for her right now. I won’t even tell her about this conversation. It would only make matters worse. Right now, I just have to find her.

I straighten my face and clothes as much as I can and kick myself for not knowing that something more was going on when I left the house this morning. Before I call Jason to tell him about Ana’s last contact, I call Al.

“Allen Forsythe,” he answers.

“Al, Ana’s MIA. I’m sure it has to do with Ray. Where would she go?” I just get straight to the point.

“Wait a minute. What?” I sigh heavily.

“Please don’t make me go through this,” I say, scrubbing my eyes, already weary. “Ana’s missing. I believe it’s because she fought with Ray. Where would she go?” The line is quiet for a long time. I can’t stand it. I end the call and call Jason.

“Yes, Sir?”

“It’s Ray,” I tell him. “It has to be. He was cold and cruel when I talked to him. If he was half as horrible when she spoke to him, I don’t know where she is.” Jason sighs.

“I really thought we put a tracker on her car,” Jason says.

“I thought we did, too. Whose job was that?” I ask. As I’m deciding whose head will roll for forgetting one of the fundamental things needed on every vehicle I have ever purchased, my second line is ringing. Al is calling me back.

“One second, Jason,” I say and I change lines to answer the call. “Yes?”

“Has anybody checked the aquarium?” he asks.

“She wouldn’t go to the aquarium,” I say, trying to remain calm.

“She went to the aquarium the day before your wedding day,” he retorts. “Has she ever fought with Ray while you’ve been together?” he asks. I’m silent. “Have you checked her condo?” I hadn’t thought of her condo.

“No, I hadn’t thought of that, either. Any other suggestions?”

“I’m assuming she’s not answering her phone and you’ve tried to track it?”

“She doesn’t have it… Or her purse. They’re both at the Crossing,” I say, trying to stamp down the same rising emotions I had when David kidnapped her. There’s a knock at my office door. “Come in.” The door opens and Al walks through ending his call with me.

“I’m going with you to find her.” I know it’s no use trying to stop him. My phone rings again and I’m hoping it’s Butterfly. It’s Jason.

“What?” I ask, a little impatiently.

“I’m still here,” he says, and I forgot he was on the backline. I sigh.

“Allen and I are going to her condo. Send someone to the Aquarium. Fire whoever was responsible for getting the tracker put in her car and I mean I really want somebody fired. We could have discovered this when something terrible has happened to her and if something has…” I trail off. “I want somebody fucking fired, today, Jason,” I repeat. “I want my pound of flesh and I fucking mean it.” I end the call and walk out of the office.

The ride to Butterfly’s condo on Elliot Bay is silent. I’m driving and Al is in the passenger seat of the Audi I’ve procured from the office—one with a goddamn tracker, no doubt. I try to drive the speed limit, but my rising anxiety along with the reminder of Ray’s ire when I spoke to him is making that task a little easier said than done. I don’t remember the key code when I get to the gate, so Al has to remind me. I can’t describe the flood of relief that I feel when I see Butterfly’s Audi parked in her spot in the garage. I’m immediately overcome with emotion and I feel so light-headed that I literally have to stop the car right where it is and lean my head on the steering wheel.

I feel the car change gears and hear the parking brake engage. Moments later, Al is opening the driver’s side door.

“Go to her, Chris,” he says sympathetically. “I’ll park the car.” I raise a heavy head and see sympathetic brown eyes looking down at me. I nod, then exit the car.

I’m almost afraid of what I’ll find when I get to the condo. Surprised that my key still works, I open the door to hear the last chords of a song playing over the sound system in her apartment, only to hear it start over again— “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.”

This is not good. I run through the apartment looking for her, afraid of what I’ll find. She’s in her bedroom, on the floor, sitting up with her back against the bed with boxes of various items strewn about—photo albums, pictures, mementos… There are pictures of her when she was younger with Carla and Ray; pictures of just her and Ray; pictures of Ray and Carla, her and Al; pictures of an old house with a swing; old cutouts of foreign lands; what looks like a box of toys and some swatches of material and some other nondescript items and knickknacks. There’s a half-finished bottle of wine on the nightstand and no glass, and Butterfly is weeping bitterly.

I come into view of her just so that she can see that I’m here, but she doesn’t raise her eyes. She cries and cries over some shirt she has in her hand—a very worn T-shirt and I can barely make out the letters on the front… USMC.

I want her to at least acknowledge my presence, but I realize now that she can’t. I push some of the items aside and make room for myself on the floor next to her. I don’t know how long she’s been crying, but I wish she would stop because she’s hoarse, now. She doesn’t react when I sit down. She just keeps crying. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her more broken except maybe the day she and Valerie broke up, for lack of a better word. My God… Valerie. All her constants are leaving her. Is it because of me? Is she losing everyone important to her because of me?

I gather her frail little frame onto my lap and hold her in my arms as she buries her face in what I can only assume is her father’s Marine Corps T-shirt and the tears starts anew. I vaguely hear Al come into the apartment and then hear him on the phone asking Ray what’s going on.

Don’t call him. He doesn’t care. All he cares about is that his little pristine image of his daughter has been shattered, and if she’s broken and falling apart, it doesn’t matter to him. She’s my responsibility now.

She cries and cries and cries and cries for I don’t know how long. I hold her and rock her, wrapped in a blanket after she starts shivering. My heart is broken for her and hearing her cry tears me into a million pieces. I can’t stop my own tears while hearing the anguish in her voice, so after a while, I just allow them to fall in her hair. She’s broken because of him and I’m broken because of her… so we just sit here, broken.

“Chris…” I hear his voice, but I don’t move. Butterfly still hasn’t stopped crying and I don’t know how to make her stop. “You guys need to eat.”

I think I smelled food earlier, but I can’t eat, not if she doesn’t—not right now, and she won’t stop crying. I don’t move. I just keep rocking her, hoping she’ll stop crying soon.

My own eyes hurt now and my throat is dry. My face is tight from tears falling and drying and falling again. My heart hurts for my beloved, for not being able to take away her pain… a pain so deep that I can’t imagine what it feels like. I cling to her again and kiss her forehead, trying to infuse her with the love I feel to give her strength and stop her tears. My phone has been buzzing incessantly in my pocket, but the world could explode and fall into the sea right now for all I care. My Butterfly is in pain, and I can’t stop it. I can’t do anything to stop it.

The sun has long since gone down and I just want her to go to sleep, now. I just want her to stop crying for a moment and sleep, but she won’t stop. I know that she’s exhausted—still clinging to that shirt—she can’t sleep… or won’t sleep. I’ve tried everything… rubbing her back, singing to her, nothing works. She’s been weeping for hours and I’ve cried with her for some of those—my eyes red and swollen, I know. The pain is a dead giveaway. I can only imagine how she feels.

“Christian…”

Fucking hell, he called my mother.

“Christian, you have to eat,” she says softly. Sorry, Mom, not now. I wrap my arms tighter around my wife, who now cries soundlessly since her voice is completely gone. I can tell that her tears have started anew and it rips me to shreds. I start to weep again.

“I can’t make her stop, Mom,” I say through my tears, without looking up at her. “I’ve tried for hours, but she won’t stop.”

“I can give her a sedative,” Mom says. I shake my head.

“I don’t want to do that without her permission. She’ll just wake up crying anyway.”  My voice is so weak that I barely recognize it.

“She’s exhausted, Christian.”

“I know,” I say, helplessly, “but she won’t go to sleep… and she won’t stop crying.” I sob. “I hate it when she hurts! I hate it! I can’t stand this!” My shoulders shake as I bury my face in her hair, weeping for her as she weeps for her loss. I pull her as close to me as I can, wishing that I could absorb some of her pain, but realizing that I may be transferring some of mine to her. I don’t know what to do. I hear the heavy footfall of male feet and know that Jason or Carrick is now coming to try to convince us to eat or go home. Convince her to stop crying, then maybe we can do something.

“Sunflower?”

Both our heads shoot up at the sound of Ray’s voice. We’re both stunned, both tearstained, both exhausted as we gaze into his face. Confused green eyes look down at both of us before he squats down to us and stares for a long time in utter silence. This is the first time in hours that Butterfly has stopped crying. I can’t be concerned that it wasn’t me that couldn’t make her stop—I’m just glad that she has, though I think it’s because she’s stunned. Nonetheless, she’s not crying.

Ray stares from Butterfly to me and back to Butterfly several times in what seems like several minutes, I don’t know, but after close examination, his gaze softens when he looks at his daughter. Her lip trembles. Oh, God… Please, no more crying, Butterfly.

“I’m sorry, Sunflower,” he says, his voice cracking.

“Daddy…” her lips move, but nothing comes out. She bolts into his arms and sobs silently, her voice gone from crying all day. She clings to her father like life itself and he buries his head in her shoulder. I drop my head from my own exhaustion, taking in deep breaths and trying to clear my thoughts, and craning my neck from side to side, hearing and feeling the audible popping from the stiffness. I grimace from the pain. I feel a hand on my shoulder and wearily raise my painful eyes to see that it’s Ray. He says nothing, just looking at me with sad eyes. I nod and drop my head again and he gives my shoulder a tight squeeze. We don’t need any more words right now.

I manage to get some soup into my wife before carrying her exhausted body to the rainwater shower to try to relax her. She gratefully and silently allows me to clean her from head to toe, putting her hair in the Pocahontas braids again. I find a warm sleep shirt for her to sleep in and I strip down to my T-shirt and boxers. I don’t bother looking at the time; we’re both wiped out. We sleep at her condo that night, curled up in her bed in waterlogged exhaustion.

*-*

I’m the first to wake in the morning. We haven’t moved from the position we started in all night. I don’t want to move right now, but nature calls. I roll out of bed and relieve myself quickly. I need coffee.

I open the door to Ana’s bedroom and I smell food and hear a woman’s soft laughter. Not knowing which woman it is, I make to close the door to find something more suitable than a T-shirt and boxers. I look down and see a carryall and a garment bag on the floor at the door. I pick them up and bring them into the room. Butterfly has clothes here, though I don’t know if she can wear any of them, so most of these are most likely for me.

Inside the carryall are casual things—jeans, sweats, underwear, a robe. A suit and accessories are in the garment bag. I look at the alarm clock on the nightstand next to Butterfly’s bed. It’s after ten in the morning. I hope nothing important is happening today. I don’t remember any appointments on the books. I look at my phone and there are texts and missed calls from Jason, my mom and dad, Ray—all from yesterday and last night. That was the buzzing in my pocket. I put on my sweat pants and the robe over my T-shirt and boxers and go to the kitchen to find sustenance.

I find Amanda and Ray in the kitchen cooing over little Harry in his highchair. They pause when I come into the room and at first, I don’t know how to react. I feel like hell, like I’ve slept for three days and I could sleep for three more. I probably look just as bad.

“Good morning, Christian,” Ray says. Olive branch, I think.

“Good morning,” I say, my throat scratchy, looking for coffee.

“Jason brought some groceries. I made breakfast,” Mandy says. “Would you like some? Eggs and sausage and some toast.” I pause at the coffee pot.

“Yes, please… thank you.” I fed Butterfly soup last night and foolishly didn’t eat myself. My stomach lining is eating itself. I take a swallow of the hot black coffee trying not to scorch my tongue and savor the flavor of it going down my throat. Amanda piles a plate full of scrambled eggs and sausage links and puts a couple of pieces of toast on it before placing it on the breakfast bar. I tear into it like a bear. I’m famished. She and Ray continue their conversation as if I’m not in the room and I’m fine with that. Just let me eat. It’s not like I know what to say anyway.

Before I know it, the plate is empty and a laughing Amanda is placing another full plate of breakfast in front of me. I raise my eyes to her, somewhat embarrassed that I’m eating in front of her like a caveman.

“I’m… sorry,” I mutter. “I haven’t eaten anything since… breakfast yesterday.” I actually had to think about it to remember when I last ate.

“Don’t worry about it,” she says with a kind smile. “There’s plenty.” She turns back to the stove and cracks more eggs into a frying pan. I look over at Harry, making a mess of his scrambled eggs on his portable highchair. Your mom’s pretty cool, kid, I think to myself. I turn back to my plate and tear in again. I don’t raise my eyes to Ray. My last words to him were biting and I meant every one of them, but the air between us now is tentative.

“How did you sleep?” he asks, his voice cutting through the silence like a bullhorn. I swallow the eggs in my mouth.

“Like the dead,” I say honestly. I can’t remember the last time I cried myself to exhaustion. Even when Butterfly was in a coma, I cried and cried and cried until there was no water left in my body, but couldn’t sleep. I think it had to be when she left me and went to Montana.

“And Annie?” he asks, his voice soft.

“The same, I think,” I say. “Neither of us moved the entire night.” I take a drink of my coffee before shoving a sausage link into my mouth. He takes a sip of his coffee before speaking again.

“She always sleeps hard when she’s upset,” he murmurs. I stop chewing and put my fork on my plate.

“Yes, she does,” I say, staring at my uneaten food. “It’s one of her defense mechanisms; her way of running… without actually running.” I sit there in silence for a moment.

“You can say it,” he says. I raise my eyes to him, asking the question without asking it. “I’m an asshole.”

I stare for a moment, but say nothing. I turn my attention back to my plate, filling my mouth with food to avoid telling him just that. I had said everything I wanted to say to him about his behavior yesterday. I had no desire to revisit the topic.

“Yeah, I know,” he says. “You’re a better man for not berating me any further.” He drinks his coffee and I keep eating. I’m reprieved when I hear the door to Butterfly’s bedroom open, but horrified when she bends the corner into the kitchen. She’s grasping her head in obvious discomfort, head down and not looking where she’s going… and she’s headed face first into the wall. My body moves faster than my mind and I’m in front of her seconds before she goes “splat” into the wall. She whimpers slightly at the jolt.

“Wall,” I say quietly. “Your head hurts?”

“Um-hmm,” she mutters, so quietly that you can barely hear her. She’s holding her scar and I know that the blood pumping through that localized spot must be murder right now. I guide her to the seat between me and Ray—a bit of a buffer I think—and help her lay her head on the cold countertop. She protests a bit, but buries her head in her arms. I go to her bathroom and quickly retrieve two Advil and two clean washcloths. Returning to the kitchen, I lament that there is no cranberry juice, but pour a large glass of orange juice instead. I place two pieces of toast on a small plate and bring everything to the breakfast bar.

“Butterfly,” I say softly, leaning down to her ear. She acknowledges with a groan. “Advil.”

She lifts her head like an anchor and I put the pills in her mouth. I put the straw between her lips and she takes a sip.

“More,” I coax, and she sips some more. “Butterfly…” I chide gently. She takes several drags from the straw and I’m duly satisfied. I push the toast in front of her.

“Eat.” She has already buried her head back in her arms and groans in protest. “Just toast… please?” She clumsily reaches for the toast and takes a bite. I sigh with relief and move behind her. I begin to massage her neck, my fingers applying slight pressure along either side of her spine up the nape of her neck to the bottom of her skull. She moans appreciatively and takes another bite of the toast. Good girl. I reward her with more massage and after a few moments, her body starts to come to life.

“I’m sorry…” she says, her voice still hoarse and scratchy. I try not to stop massaging.

“For what?” I ask.

“For running off like that,” she says. “I wasn’t myself. I didn’t know what I was doing…”

“Ssshh,” I silence her self-chastisement, “I know.” I continue my massage.

“I should have listened to you, Annie.” His voice actually causes us both to jump. If I’m honest, I forgot they were there. I was laser focused on my wife and her pain, and she hadn’t opened her eyes yet. She tries to raise her head quickly, but the pain slows her ascent.

“Daddy?” she asks.

“Yes, Annie?”

“How long have you been here?”

“We… stayed the night in the guest room,” he says.

“I’m here, too, Ana,” Amanda announces. Ana gestures towards the sound of her voice.

“Hi, Mandy,” she murmurs.

“Your brother is with us, too,” Amanda adds.

“Hey, Harry,” Butterfly says in a sweet, scratchy voice. Harry responds to the sound of his name with some indistinguishable cooing. Butterfly suddenly gasps.

“My babies!” she says. I put my hand on her back.

“Gail hasn’t called with any kind of emergency, so they’re fine, but I’ll call and check on them, okay?” I tell her. She nods.

“I’m a terrible mother,” she murmurs.

“That’s nonsense and I don’t want to hear you say that again,” I say softly. “You’re a wonderful mother. You can barely stand to be away from them. There’s been a lot going on lately.

“Yeah,” Ray laments, “and I didn’t make matters any better.” Neither of us deny what he says because it’s true… he didn’t. Butterfly is able to finally sit up

, and taste a few more bites of her toast.

“Would you like some eggs, Ana?” Amanda asks, and she shakes her head.

“Just a little?” I press. “Please?” She looks up at me and acquiesces, nodding to Amanda.

“Where were you when she was a kid?” Ray asks. Apparently, young Ana gave her parents a bit of trouble at mealtime. I take the washcloths to the sink and wet them with cold water.

“Why, Daddy?” Butterfly squeaks, and all activity in the kitchen stops for a moment. We all know what she’s asking, and it has nothing to do with his prior question. I continue with my task, wringing the excess water out of the cloths and bringing them back to Butterfly.

“Cold,” I say as I place one on the back of her neck. She jumps at the initial contact, then settles. I fold the other in fours and place it over her scar.

“Daddy… why?” Ray sighs and hesitates.

“You’re my little girl,” he says. “I couldn’t see you doing the things I saw those men and women doing in those clubs and on those sites. It disgusted me. It made me sick. My Annie. My beautiful little Sunflower—involved in this… debauchery! This abominable act!” He grimaces and sighs, shaking his head. “I couldn’t see anything else.”

“I tried to tell you that we didn’t do those things,” she squeaked. “There’s some really sick shit that goes on in the lifestyle. Hell, that’s why we’re in court now, because of a crazy, sick pedophile who brought children into it—children!” she says horrified. “I tried to tell you we are not into that crazy, sick stuff, Daddy!”

“I know, I know,” he says, chastised. “I couldn’t hear you. You’re my baby girl. Don’t you get it?” She shakes her head.

“No, I don’t,” she says. “I need you to trust me. I need you to trust that I know what I’m doing with my life—that I’m not weak and stupid, that I may need help, but I’m not stupid!

“Annie, I…”

“Listen to her, Raymond,” Amanda says, gently, but firmly. Ray settles immediately, the sentiment on his lips dying as quickly as it was born.

“Has my behavior ever been self-destructive, Daddy? Ever?” she demands, finding her voice. “Have I ever done anything to deliberately hurt myself? To deliberately jeopardize my well-being? Granted, there may have been some situations that some of you may not have liked, but just to be careless and self-loathing and deprecating—has that ever been me? Even when I was living in the depths of hell with my loser mother and her loser husband, was that ever me?” She finally pauses to give him a chance to answer.

“No, Annie,” he says softly. “No… that’s never been you.”

“Then why?” she wails, almost close to tears again. I want to hold her—to run to her and beg her not to cry anymore, I can’t take anymore, but I know she has to get this out… and she needs answers. “Why would you think so little of me, and then to make matters worse, you shut me out! Why?”

“Because I couldn’t understand!” he sobs. “I only saw horrible things! Heard horrible things! Knew horrible things! On leave in different areas as a young Marine, we watched those shows. We saw those shows. More than once, I wondered how these women could allow these men to do that to them. How they could subject themselves to the horrors that I saw! Things that you wouldn’t do to animals!” He wails as tears stream unrestrained down his face. “In some places, I found out that the women were forced to do this stuff because it was part of human trafficking! And here I find out that my daughter is doing it! What was I supposed to think?”

“You were supposed to listen to me!” Butterfly shrieks. “You were supposed to put aside your closed-minded, preconceived notions about what you heard and saw from others and listen to me! I’m a shrink, for God’s sake!” She’s losing control. I slide out of my seat and go to her. “You shut me out! After everybody who has deserted me in my life, you shut me out! How could you do that to me? How could you?”

I touch her shoulder and she spins around, thrusting herself into my arms and weeping bitterly. I envelop her immediately, wanting to shield her from the world and the pain. Little Harry is crying now, disturbed by all the screaming and commotion and Amanda has freed him from his high chair, attempting to soothe him. Ray sits in his chair, running his fingers through his hair and trying to find his words while he dries his eyes.

“I was hurt and confused, Annie,” he says, his voice still cracking. “We do dumb things when we’re hurt and confused; please understand. I don’t expect you to forgive me right away… you may never forgive me, but please… please, understand.”

Butterfly only cries harder and her knees start to buckle under her. I lift her into my arms and carry her to the sofa. The weeping has begun again. I just sit her on my lap and let her cry, ready to settle in for a long day. At least she got some toast, but she’ll never get rid of that headache.


ANASTASIA

My heart feels like it’s going to burst. I was so relieved to see my father last night—I thought I had lost him. It felt like somebody had died. If I could have driven back to my room in Montesano and sat on the swing or cried in my bed, I would have. I was losing my grip on my foundation; it was crumbling from under me. I was reaching for anything that could hold me together… pictures of Mom, him and Mom, me and him, me and Al, the old house, my many mental travels… Harry has Fuzzlewuzzers, so I couldn’t reach for that, but when I saw the Marine Corps T-Shirt that he gave me that I wore to sleep every night the first year we moved to Las Vegas and had to squirrel it away when Mom went rummaging through my things in an attempt to rid me of all things Ray, I lost it. I couldn’t hold it together anymore. My heart broke in a million pieces and bled through every pore of my skin—my eyes the most—and wouldn’t stop bleeding—until I saw him last night.

Yes, the bleeding stopped temporarily, and every cell in my body succumbed to utter exhaustion. I don’t remember much of anything after I launched myself into Daddy’s arms except waking up this morning in my old bed with Pocahontas braids and the headache from hell and knowing, once again, that my husband had taken care of me. Once he had gotten some food and some medicine into me and tenderly began to massage the throbbing from my head, the fog began to lift… and I wanted to know why…

Why, after all I had been through, would my father think that I would deliberately allow someone to arbitrarily abuse me? Why he didn’t just listen to me or ask me questions instead of jumping to conclusions based on his preconceived notions and biases? Why, when we already had to deal with the stigma of what others would think of us, he had to become one of those judgmental, narrow-minded, bigoted assholes that we would have to battle if and when this information ever became public? But most of all, why did he shut me down… turn his back on me and refuse to talk to me with no explanation, especially when he knew how I felt about being let down?

Mom? Edward? Nearly every authority figure from my childhood? Valerie? In some cases, the justice system? And now you?

And what’s his answer? That same narrow-minded bullshit. I’m supposed to understand that when I came to him and was honest with him so that he wouldn’t discover this shit in the media, he turned his back on me! Physically blocked my number from his phone so that I couldn’t speak to him. When I finally did get through to him, he didn’t say, “You have to give me some time; I can’t process this right now.” He didn’t even have the decency to yell and scream at me and ask me why and tell me that he didn’t want to talk about this; he would have to talk about it some other time. He just gave me that lame ass shit, “Can’t talk now, busy,” and hung up in my ear.

And I’m supposed to understand that my hero—my Daddy—shut me down because of this same petty, small-minded, Puritanical, uninformed, “it’s on the internet, so it must be true” thinking that I’ve already had to battle in so many aspects of my life. Yeah… okay… sure thing.

Christian holds me close to him, saying nothing, but rubbing soothing circles in my back. I want to stop crying. I’m tired of crying, but my heart is bleeding again and I don’t know how.

“Please, Annie,” I hear Daddy’s voice across from me, beseeching. “Please stop crying. I can’t take it anymore… please…”

“You made me feel like nothing!” I sob. “Less than nothing! Like nobody! I wouldn’t do that to you. Even now, I wouldn’t do that to you. Even now, as angry as I am, I would not do that to you! I would never do that to you!”

“I know, Annie, and I feel horrible for that. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I couldn’t see or think straight and I’m sorry. Please, Sunflower… please…”

His voice is so broken that I can’t imagine causing him the type of pain that he’s causing me. I do my best to pull myself together even though my heart is still breaking. Christian smooths my hair off my face and uses his robe to wipe my tears, kissing my eyelids as my weeping subsides. He’s so good to me, so tender and sweet. He makes all the bad feel better. I don’t know what I would do without him here.

“So, what happened?” I say with shuddering breaths, turning on my husband’s lap to look at my father. “What great breakthrough occurred that you suddenly understand that my husband doesn’t use me as some random piece of meat for his sadistic entertainment when the doors are closed?” I couldn’t stop the venom that seeps into the words as I speak them. Daddy sighs.

“I… talked to some people, and some people talked to me.” He throws a glance at Christian, then drops his head. Mandy is sitting on the ottoman next to him, comforting Harry, who was also crying moments ago. Daddy puts his arm around her waist. “They helped me understand how much of a narrow-minded asshole I was being.”

“But you couldn’t listen to me…” I conclude.

“I couldn’t hear it from you, Annie,” he says, “any more than I could hear it from the girls that I saw years ago, in those clubs—even more so from you, because you’re my little girl. I know you don’t understand that right now. I know you can’t. All I can say is that in the future, if your daughter comes to you with some really hard news for you to stomach, remember this conversation.”

I hope to God that I never make Minnie feel like this.

“No offense, Dad, but I can’t see ever making my daughter feel like this,” I shoot. Christian gives me a squeeze. I know this is his way of telling me to give my father a break. I don’t know if I can. I know I have to, because if I don’t, I’ll be treating him the same way that he treated me. That’s no good.

“That’s because she’s a baby,” he says. “Wait until she grows up and the big bad world starts doing horrible things to her… things that you can save her from no matter how hard you try.” His voice cracks and his head falls. “You’d put yourself in harm’s way before you let anything happen to her, but things keep happening and happening… horrible things! Things you wouldn’t wish on your worse enemy! And you’re powerless… you’re powerless to stop them…”

He’s not talking about Minnie. He’s talking about me. Of course, he’s talking about me.

“One monster is killed and another monster is right behind it!” he bites through clenched teeth, his fists so tight that his knuckles are white. “They just keep coming and coming and she keeps slaying them—and just when you think she’s found her solace…”

He trails off mid-sentence and weeps so bitterly than the pain in my heart is replaced with sorrow and sympathy for him. I crawl out of Christian’s lap and onto the floor in front of my Daddy. I wrap my arms around his neck and will him to stop crying.

“I just… can’t keep… the Boogeyman away,” he sobs. “I promised… to keep him away… and I can’t!” His body shakes in my arms as he weeps from his soul, and I let him. He won’t be able to hear me until he gets this out… gets over this initial wave, so I just let him cry.

It takes several minutes. Christian has time to get us all some water. Mandy has put Little Harry down to sleep, and I comfort my father, stroking his hair like I do my husband when he’s inconsolable—how I’ll most likely do my children when they cry. When he’s finally had his cry out, my nightshirt soaked with his tears, I attempt to garner his attention.

“You did keep the Boogeyman away, Daddy,” I say softly. “You’re the only thing that did. That’s why it hurt so badly when you shut me out. My ultimate protector, my hero, shut me out… and I was lost.” He raises his head and tired, red, tear-filled green eyes meet my sympathetic blues. “The things that happen to me are not the Boogeyman, Daddy. They’re horrible, horrible facts of life that happen to people every day—maybe not all the same people, but they do. The Boogeyman is what happens here.” I point to my head.

“I help chase the Boogeyman away from other people. Although I have other people in my life that help chase the Boogeyman away for me, you’re the Gatekeeper. You always have been. Even when you weren’t physically there, you were still the Gatekeeper because even though I was taken away from you, I knew you would never leave me. This is the first time you have ever walked away from your post.” I hold his face in my hands and look him in the eyes, refusing to allow him to turn his gaze from me. “Don’t. Do it. Again.”

His lips tremble and the tears begin to fall once more.

“I won’t, Annie,” he says with a shaky voice. “I swear to God I won’t.”

I hug him again and allow him to cry a little longer on my shoulder. Superman wasn’t so super right now and just needed to be vulnerable for a while. I may not ever understand or fully get over him deserting me at one of the moments where I needed him the most, but I do have to understand that he’s only human and we’re all flawed in some way. Even if I want him to be perfect, even Superman has his Kryptonite.

*-*

I’m in my bedroom with my pillow shoved into my mouth, trying not to scream as Christian brings me to my second orgasm. He has licked, sucked, kissed, and fingered my pussy hard, deep, and fast, causing me to quickly explode—once nearly moments after he touched me and again twenty minutes later. I’m panting on my bed, shivering from my releases  and trying to catch my breath. He crawls up the bed and lies next to me, still in his T-shirt and sweats, kissing me on my cheek and neck.

“What…. brought that… on?” I ask between breaths. He kisses me a few more times, then hovers over my face.

“You’ve touched three products since you’ve been in this room,” he says softly while counting on his fingers. “Lotion, moisturizer, deodorant—you’ve dropped all three of them. You needed to relax.”

And relax I did!

“What about you?” I say, closing my eyes while his lips wander back over the skin of my neck.

“I’m fine, Mrs. Grey,” he says. “When I take you, I don’t want your father and your stepmother in the next room… because the pillow won’t do you any good.” He kisses me gently on the lips, but sensually on the lips. I sink into the delicious kiss, knowing that we both have to get up from here soon. That point was driven home when there’s a soft knock at the door. Christian groans into my mouth and after breaking the kiss and giving my bottom lip a little nip, pushes himself off of me to answer the door. I finally get a good grip on my moisturizer and pour some in my hand, spreading it evenly over my face. My hair has been in these braids all night, so I can either leave it there or take it down and let it flow into soft waves down my back. Did I have anything planned for today. As soon as I’m finished brushing my teeth, Christian comes into the en suite, his expression unreadable.

“What is it?” I ask.

“That was Amanda,” he begins, “Al called Ray because both our phones are dead.” Oh… yeah, I didn’t bring a charger with me. I assume he doesn’t have one either. Maybe I have one around her somewhere.

“What’s going on?” I ask.

“The verdict is in.”

*-*

I had less than an hour to get myself presentable so that we could get to the courthouse. Al had driven Christian over yesterday, so we would take my car and rendezvous with Jason and the rest of the security staff near the courthouse. Daddy wanted to be there with me, but we insisted that this was no place for Little Harry. Mandy was pacified to take Harry home and start dinner to allow Daddy to come to court with me on the condition that no matter what the verdict, we come to the house in Kent afterwards for dinner. I was sure that I would miss my appointment with Ace anyway, so I called to let him know what was going on and to tell him that there was a lot that we needed to talk about. He doesn’t usually make house calls, but agreed to come and see me tomorrow at the Crossing since doing so would be easier than opening his office. I agreed to his terms. Seems I was making deals all over the place today.

I also had to make a deal with my wardrobe.

Size four waistline, size I-don’t-even-know boobs and ass… in a size four closet. Hmmmm….

I did find an outfit that would make due, but it clung to every one of my curves, much like that dreaded dress I wore to the fundraising fiasco last year. A charcoal gray high-waisted pencil skirt with side ruching that, had it been made of any other material, would not give me much purchase to move and a black mock turtleneck. I did decide to take my hair down, of course, and wore big, chunky silver jewelry. Someone had brought my purse and phone when they brought Christian’s things—they must have thought I had more at the condo that I could fit. That wasn’t completely untrue, but only a few things that might have been presentable for court, and not many that I could find in the time allotted.

I was forced—not so begrudgingly, I might add—to wear one of my pairs of insanely high-heeled shoes. I chose a pair of Giuseppe Zanotti black leather back-zip stiletto sandals with toe band, S-shaped vamp strap, and ankle strap embellished with silver-tone curb chain to match my jewelry. With nearly a five-inch heel, I was towering over most of the people at the courthouse. My Gareth Pugh bolero insert woven coat had a shawl collar and an asymmetrical hem that draped all over, giving it a suit coat look rather than an overcoat. The same charcoal gray as my skirt with a belted waist, I decided to wear it as just that.

We were almost late getting to the courthouse as Christian freezes when he had comes back into the room, unable to take his eyes—or his hands—off my ass wrapped tight that pencil skirt. When I get a glimpse of him in the mirror, I’m fucking panting. Black on black Hugo Boss suit and the signature black Italian leather shoes… even his shirt and silk tie were black. He’s mouth-wateringly beautiful, and when I turn around to wrap him in my arms and kiss him deeply while he shamelessly gropes my ass, we almost forget that we have somewhere to be.

But alas, we did. So here we sit, in a courtroom packed to the walls with people, only a few seats remaining in the very back. Al had managed to have the front row cleared for us, and no one would dare argue with Chuck and Ben as they stood guard, saving the seats until we got there. I am flanked by my father and my husband, each holding one of my hands, when they bring the Pedo-bitch back into the courtroom. She looks matronly today in a color I never thought I’d ever see her wear.

White.

Well, it’s more of a cream… a sheath dress, very neat and professional. She still looks like a stank-ass, slutty, nasty, filthy, slimy, Pedo-Bitch She-Thing demon from hell to me.

“That can’t be the same woman,” Daddy says. “Is that the same woman?”

“Yeah, Daddy, that’s what she looks like without all the Botox, lypo, and chemical peels,” I say. Jason chokes back a laugh.

“She needed ‘em,” Daddy says. “She’s not very attractive.”

“She was once,” Christian admits, without looking in her direction, “but after you continuously do that shit, eventually it wreaks havoc on your body.” He has no malice when he says it; he’s just speaking the truth. Just like she’s done for the entire trial, she steals glances over her shoulder at Christian, this time, not bothering to scowl at me. That’s right, Bitch. Get a good look at him. Soon, you won’t be seeing him again for a long time, no matter what this verdict is.


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

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Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X