Grey Continued—Condensed: Episode 48—It’s Good to be the King

Warning—History ahead!

This is the CONDENSED version of the chapter.

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.

Episode 48—It’s Good to be the King

ANASTASIA

It’s raining outside again—not pouring like it was when were at Ara Pacis, but not drizzling like it was when we got here. We’ve got a good little amount of water now.

The walk down the steps is surprisingly easier than the walk up. It’s usually the other way around for me, but Christian holds my hand and we just stroll through the rain with the other Romans and tourists. The steps are made such that the water flows down and disappears into a grate on the front of each step. So, I get a very pleasant surprise when I get to the bottom of the stairs.

Puddles!

I don’t want to be sopping wet with dirty rainwater, but I can’t help jumping into one small puddle like a 12-year-old before we continue our walk.

We cross the street, bend a corner, and tucked away at the end of one of these little alleys is a quaint little eclectic restaurant with a café outside and rose red walls inside. Red walls! I look over at my husband.Edoardo Red Walls “Red walls?” I say with a knowing smile.

“Bonus!” he says, wagging his eyebrows.

We all walk in a sit down at three tables pushed together. I’m contemplating what gastronomical wonders I’ll be experiencing for lunch today when Ben stands and breaks my chain of thought.

“I’m going to eat outside, sir,” he says to Jason and heads to the door before Jason can stop him. What? It’s raining out there!

“Ben,” Jason calls out to Ben’s back.

“Let him go,” Christian says, just as he’s clearing the door. “He’s trying to prove some goddamn point and I don’t know what that point is. Chuck’s not here. The object of his ire has left the building and he’s still pissy. Fine, let him be pissy. He did right to go outside and not spoil our lunch, but since he’s being an ass, if he gets sick, he still has to work.” Jason sighs and rolls his eyes.

“So, what’s good to eat here?” he asks.

“Everything,” Christian replies, “and we’re going Dutch, gentleman. So, you might want to tell him to bring his ass back in here and order some food unless he plans on having air sandwiches and aqua cocktails for lunch.”

Jason stands to go outside while Christian heads for the cashier to order. Al and I sit there at the table just looking at each other.

“I am normally alone,” he says. “I do not normally have coworkers… partners. I am new at that. Do they always behave this way?”

“Never!” I emphasize. “In the entire time I’ve known my husband, I’ve only seen one person behave this way and he was fired the same day.”

“It is hard to concentrate,” he says, “to do my job. He behaves… unreliably… untrustworthy. Is he competent to do the job? I am not asking you, signora. It is just something that I think when I am ever in a multi-person assignment, which is not often. I must protect his back. Will he protect mine?”

I get what he’s saying. You can’t be sloppy or emotional in his line of work. Depending on the situation, it could cost your life. You have to be sharp, and right now, Ben is behaving like a college girl who just broke up with her boyfriend.

“I don’t want to seem like I’m talking behind anyone’s back,” I say, “but for the most part, we’re family here… or like family, and I mean really like family.” If anything, Ben’s the odd man out. “You know families don’t always get along, but in the end, they won’t let anything happen to each other.”

“I will take your word for it, signora… and I will still watch my back.” He raises his gaze and stands.

“Signore,” he says and leaves the table. He’s good. He wouldn’t leave the table while I was here alone. He waited for Christian to return.

“What was that about?” Christian asks. “He’s got to watch his back?”

“This whole thing with Chuck and Ben, and Ben’s behavior,” I confess. “It’s very unprofessional, and he’s on a team with these guys. So, he’s worried about how professional they are.”

“And he told you all that,” Christian says. It’s a statement, not a question. I twist my lips and cock my head at him.

“I wouldn’t worry about his professionalism if I were you,” I retort. “When the two of you split in different directions, he asked me if they normally behave this way. He’s usually a one-man band and doesn’t often work with partners, but when he does, he wants to know that they’re precise and they’re going to have his back. You can go ahead and confront him if you want, but I can guarantee you’ll need another Italian guard by the morning because he’s not the one behaving like two schoolyard boys playing ‘King of the Hill.’”

You didn’t listen to me when I tried to warn you about bringing this up to Chuck in the first place. You might want to listen now.

“I’m giving away one of my secrets,” he says, “but you know your eyes say everything that your mouth doesn’t, right?”

“Is that so?” I say. “And what are they saying now?”

“That you don’t believe me,” he says, “and that I should have kept my mouth shut.”

Dammit!

“And now you’re thinking that I’m right…”

“Okay cut that shit out it’s creepy,” I say all in one breath. “How am I supposed to be all mysterious if you know what I’m thinking?”

“I don’t always know, but sometimes, you’re pretty easy,” he chuckles.

“It’s not raining anymore,” Jason says when he comes back to the table. “I’m going to order my food.” Ben walks past the table just as Jason arrives and heads towards the cashier. Christian just nods at Jason, who follows Ben shortly thereafter.

“Jesus,” I say. “Something’s got to give. I’m not spending the next five weeks like this.”

Lunch is amazing. The restaurant Christian took us to is called Edoardo II. It has a beautiful outdoor patio that I would have loved to eat on had it not been raining—and the pouty college boy wasn’t sitting out m,cv there.

The food is outstanding—antipasti and bruschetta; ravioli, Paccheri, and spaghetti with various savory sauces; sea bass, meatballs with sauce, sliced pork and potatoes, chicken romano… there is so much food! Even the salads are delectable, and conversation flows just as freely as it did yesterday.

In the interest of full disclosure, Al makes it clear how he feels about the bickering between the security staff and his concerns about them being sharp on the job. Jason thanks him for openly voicing his concerns and promises to talk to his staff. I don’t look at Christian. I don’t want him to read my eyes.

“So, what did you think of the museum?” Christian asks in the middle of the meal.

“It seems like there was a lot of ‘look at me, look at what I did’ and ‘look how much better I am than the other guy,’” I point out. “Was there even enough focus on the Empire with all that cock-strutting? Maybe that’s why there’s so much dick in the art.”

“And there you go with that fixation on penises again,” he says, shaking his head.

“I’m going to be fixated on penises the entire time I’m here. They’re everywhere. The woman’s snatch is covered everywhere I go, but even the woman with the dick had her dick out,” I point out as I take a bite of my food.

“Baby!” Christian exclaims, his voice dripping with mirth. I raise my gaze and people are staring at me throughout the restaurant. I quickly swallow my food.

“I’m talking about the art,” I say loudly. “If you didn’t see it, don’t blame me. It even greeted you on the stairs before you even got to the square!” What the fuck are you people gawking at? Dick is abound all over the damn city and you’re looking at me funny for pointing it out?

There’s a mixed reaction of laughter and people quickly averting their gazes. I turn back to my lunch and continue my conversation.

“There’s no way they can be sensitive walking through here with all this nudity,” I say to Christian.

“Apparently, some of them are,” he replies, still suppressing his laughter.

The Spinario--A young boy puling a thorn from his foot“Well, they need to get over it,” I reply. “Even the little boy taking the thorn out of his foot had his twigs and berries swinging freely.”

And Jason sprays some of his soda.

“You really have to stop,” Christian says, no longer suppressing his laughing. I look over at Jason whose body is shaking with laughter as he covers his mouth with a napkin.

“Okay, okay,” I say with a chuckle.

*-*

Rome is magical and comforting and a bit mysterious when it’s wet. It doesn’t seem like any other place I’ve been after a rain. It’s serene, but it’s almost like the ghosts of the past all join us in our stroll down the streets or our gazing at the city or our long moments of contemplation about a ruin or a structure or even a statue or a new building and they whisper secrets in our ears about days gone by. It’s not creepy like visiting a dark, dank crypt. It’s like the grounds have been disturbed and the spirits are stretching their legs and telling us stories of old.

We’ve come back the way that we came and around the Altar of the Fatherland to the site that Christian promised me that we would see before we left Rome—Trajan’s Column and Forum. I’m really excited to see this because I did research on this one and I know what I’m looking at. The ruins girl is happy again!

I believe Christian may already know this story, but he obliges me anyway and allows me to share my knowledge since I’m so happy to be here and even happier to tell my tale.

Trajan actually came from Spain and was one of Nerva’s top generals, who eventually adopted him. The Praetorian Guard suggested Trajan become emperor in favor of the military. And so it goes that Trajan was the first non-Roman emperor in the empire. He was a man of the people—a military man who also got along with the senate. Although he built a pretty large forum in his own honor like other emperors, Trajan’s Forum included public space and buildings, and was funded by his own spoils of war.

At the opening of the forum is Trajan’s Column, a vertical spiral comic book depicting and celebrating his conquering of Dacia and is the location of Trajan’s tomb. Right next to the Trajan Column are the columns that remain of the Basilica Ulpia, the main building of Trajan’s Forum. The brilliant colors that covered these columns as well as Trajan’s Column have faded over the centuries. The basilica columns all came from different areas and would have been a rainbow of colors, and the pictures of Trajan’s Column would have been in full color, making it look like a comic strip.

You can see these things from street level for free, but we’re going in through the museum so that I can see the inside of the Trajan markets. Trajan was one of the few exceptions to the commonly known notorious emperors, and one of the things that he built during his reign was the first shopping mall ever built. It’s constructed out of several little niches called tabernae and each one of those tabernae was a store—furriers, oils, pottery, you name it.

Trajan wanted to build a huge forum for himself, but the forums of Caesar, Augustus, Nerva, etc., were already built. There was no room for Trajan. So, he tore down a large part of Quirinal Hill behind the existing forums, built his huge forum, and built the Trajan Markets in a concave shape nestled inside of the hill behind it to help stabilize the remainder of the hill. Trajan’s Column is exactly the height—125 feet—of the hill that he had destroyed to build his forum.

There’s a lot of walking and stair-climbing in the Trajan Market, but it’s totally worth it. The architecture is amazing and you get to see the whole concrete/brick/mortar construction up close. It’s one of the reasons the Markets remain standing today—that, and the fact that they were still in use for so many years. As we’re walking down the cobblestone street inside the market, a piece of trivia comes to mind.

“Here’s a fun fact,” I say as we’re walking down an actual ancient Roman street inside the Markets of Trajan. “Romans loved ketchup.”

“Ketchup?” Christian says, skeptically.

“Yes, ketchup, but it wasn’t the ketchup that we know now. It wasn’t made from tomatoes; it was made from fermented fish oil, but they called it ‘ketchup.’ It was more like soy sauce.” I look back at Al who flattens his lips and nods.

Ben still looks like the out of place tin soldier with a stoically sour expression. I totally forgot he was here. That’s a good plan.

“Anyway, tomatoes replaced the fish oil when they discovered the New World. Just a little fun fact for you.”

“Hmm,” he says, “they probably should’ve kept the fish oil. It’s better for you than this processed shit we’re eating and it probably tastes better, too.”

“The ancient Romans would most likely agree with you, signore,” Al chimes in.

“What made you think of that now?” Christian asks.

“Because one of these shops most likely sold nothing but ketchup… Oooo, look!” I quickly make my way over to an open taberna with a glass covering over the bottom half of the opening. It’s full of tall clay jars covered or partially wrapped in some kind of plastic or something. Some of them are sitting on what looks like stacked rubber rings and some of them are broken. They look quite aged—like the color is partially faded on parts of them.

“That was most likely a pottery shop, signora,” Al says.

One of the shops in the Trajan Market still filled with potteryA pottery shop? From ancient Rome? With pottery still in it? Is it real? I don’t care, I’m thrilled! I take about 10 pictures of the same little taberna. It’s already exciting that we’re walking down real ancient Roman streets, and now we stumble on what probably was a genuine ancient Roman pottery shop still containing genuine ancient Roman pottery! Maybe…

I get caught up in wandering around the ancient streets and climbing higher up into the markets because it looks like a village, complete with birds strolling around and cats lounging on the cobblestone. I’ll admit that I got a little lost until I found the back entrance to the museum that got us here. We stroll through the refurbished museum inside the extremely well-preserved marketplace, showcasing relics mostly from the Basilica Ulpia. The life-sized marble sculptures that once stood near the ceiling of the basilica gives you an idea of the scale of the building as recreations of the structure make them look pretty small from far away.

Trajan wasn’t a paranoid ruler like many of the younger and older emperors before him. He was middle-aged, experienced, and intelligent, unlike the younger emperors who most often took power in their early twenties. Murder was a commonplace thing in the high ranks of the Roman Empire—especially among family members—to facilitate the change of power. Not so with Trajan, who brazenly invited his only rival to dinner at his palace.

Trajan didn’t harm him at all, but he did show his true power. He had dinner with him, they hung out, and he let him go. Trajan openly showed his rival that, yes, I can bring you into my home, feed you, turn my back on you while you sit at my table, and still not worry about you. The rival got the message. This was not a man he wanted to fuck with.

As it were, Trajan ruled during one of the most peaceful and thriving periods of the empire. Upon his passing, Hadrian—his trusted general—became his adopted heir and the next emperor of Rome. Hadrian was experienced and level-headed, just like Trajan, and turned out to be a very good choice for emperor. Hadrian ruled as judiciously as Trajan did, continuing on the period of thriving and peace and the time of the five good Emperors of Rome.

I had no idea that we had spent so much time in the Trajan Forum, but I’m glad that we haven’t missed our tour of the Domus Aurea. It’s going to be our last stop for the day before we go back to the hotel to clean up for dinner.

Jason heads back the way we came to get the car while the rest of us take the one-kilometer stroll over to Domus Aurea, which is about a quarter mile north of the Colosseum. I didn’t do any research on this one, so I leave all the explaining to our tour guide.

Nero's Domus Aurea“After the Great Fire of Rome which swept through and destroyed a large part of the city, Nero set out to rebuild. However, he commandeered a large part of the best land for himself—reportedly 200 to 300 square meters, spanning across parts of the slopes of four of the Rome’s famous seven hills to build a huge palatial complex for himself,” the young female guide tells us.

“The palace was a statement of largess and over-indulgence with marble-covered pavilions and marble floors, walls covered in stuccoes and frescoes, and various rooms laminated in gold leaf, which lends itself to its name Domus Aurea, meaning ‘Golden House.’ The enormous complex came complete with nature parks, gardens, fountains, a man-made lake, huge atria in the structures as well as numerous sculptures, statues, and porticos all made of the finest and most luxurious precious materials from all over around the empire. It was a huge party palace used mostly for entertaining because there’s no evidence that it had any bedrooms, living quarters, kitchens, or bathrooms.”

Wow, talk about MTV Cribs. All this was basically an ancient-Roman-pimped-out party house with no functional rooms—just a big ass hall of opulence for banquets and parties.

“Although the entire complex eventually became known as the Nero’s Domus Aurea,” she continues, “this building we are about to enter is the actual Domus Aurea building.”

She turns around and ushers us into the gate.

“As you probably know, Nero’s complex spread from here all the way over to Palatine Hill. Just southwest of here is the Colosseum, and that was the location of his man-made lake. His structure even occupied part of the Roman Forum. This exedra that we are entering is part of a later construction by Trajan when he was burying Nero’s palace…”

Burying the palace?

“I’m sorry, did you say burying the palace?” one of the members of our tour asks the same question I was just thinking.

“Yes, ma’am,” she says as we enter the building and head down a very tall hallway. “You would think that Nero would have tried to keep a low profile, seeing as to how he was very unpopular, but this was not the case. Not only did some of the populous believe that he set the fire on purpose, but he also taxed the upper class for funding to public and private works. His list of malfeasances—real and imagined—are far too many to name, but one source sited him as one of the most hated leaders of all time. In the end, there was a rebellion and Nero escaped Rome before they could kill him. It was of no avail, however, because he was sentenced to die anyway, and opted to take his own life instead.

“Once he was gone, nobody wanted to be associated with Nero. In fact, the senate issued a ‘Damnatio memoriae,’ a Latin phrase that translates into ‘to condemn his memory.’ They wanted to do everything they could to erase Nero from history and the peoples’ memory. So, subsequent emperors went about the business of actually burying his party palace under new structures of Rome.

“Most of the Domus Aurea building was buried under Trajan’s bath complex. The Palatine section is buried under Domitian’s palace. Nero’s artificial lake was filled in by Vespasian to create the Flavian Amphitheater, which is now called the Colosseum. It gained this name as Nero’s ginormous bronze ‘Colossus’ of himself portrayed as the Sun King was moved from its original location in the vestibule of his palace to its new home next to the Amphitheater to make way for a temple to Venus and Rome.

“Portions of the magnificent Golden House have now been excavated, and we are able to see 30 rooms of the once 300-room palace.”

So, basically, this was an ancient-Roman-pimped-out party house because it didn’t have any bedrooms, living quarters, kitchens, or bathrooms—just a big ass hall of opulence for banquets and parties.

Once we traveled down the long hallways to get to the center of the structure, it’s hard to discern which parts were built by Trajan and which were built by Nero. There were walls built where it was once Nero’s courtyard. The walls had to be built to support the dirt or the dirt would have collapse when Trajan built his baths.

Although many of the rooms that have been excavated remain remarkably intact, Trajan stripped much of the Domus Aurea of its precious materials before he buried and used them in his own construction. To me, that kind of defeats the purpose. We want to erase the whole idea and memory of Nero… bu-u-u-t I’m going to rip all of his expensive shit out and use it in my building.

Hmm…

We did see the multiple rooms that lined the courtyard that obviously have different color schemes based on what was left of the wall coverings. Even the servant’s hallways were covered with lavish paintings.

“The palace was built strictly for entertainment, and there’s no evidence that any of the rooms had doors. However, the structure was designed to take advantage of the natural sunlight at different times of the day. With the sunlight beaming in at different angles and hitting all the jewels, ivory, gold, and marble, the house sparkled, further lending to its name.”

We move further into the palace, and I’m surprised to see a mosaic floor still perfectly intact. The guide tells us that Trajan couldn’t be bothered to remove the tiles because it may have taken too long, so he just left it. To be several centuries old, the floor is in pristine condition.

When we get to the center of the structure, there’s an octagonal room with an oculus in the ceiling.

“This was strictly a party and entertaining hall,” the guide says. “When people entered, they would be sprayed with perfume and rose petals from the opening. It afforded sunlight during the day and a beautiful view of the starry sky at night. The walls here would have been decorated in marble and there was a waterfall in the wall over there that would drain through the floor.”

Aula Ottagona--Octogonal Hall

Once we’ve traipsed through the rooms that were once frequented by Nero and his guests, we get an added attraction to the tour—a projected movie on the wall of what the outside and some of the rooms would have looked like when Nero lived here as well as a 3D virtual reality experience through VR glasses to see what the rooms and the grounds looked like.

It’s spectacular!

This is amazing to me as I watch various 3D reconstructions and recreation of this indescribable palace and estate. It’s exquisite. It’s beyond measure and value, and Nero built this whole thing in four years. It’s incredible that they wanted to erase this man from history so badly that they literally just threw dirt over all his shit.

Smackety—you’re gone!

Strip the gold, strip the marble, strip the bronze, strip the ivory, whatever you can’t strip—bury it! They didn’t even repurpose the space. They were just like, “Smackety—bury him!” Where do you even find that much dirt?

Maybe they repurposed it when Trajan demolished that 125-foot hill.

He had a lake built on his property—a fucking lake! They built a sophisticated irrigation system and drained the lake and built the Colosseum over it. Then they kept the irrigation system in place so the Colosseum wouldn’t flood.

They moved his colossus to the Colosseum and built the Temple of Venus and Rome where the structure that held his huge atrium was.

What they didn’t tear down, they threw dirt over it. Palatine Hill was taller because they just threw dirt over Nero’s shit. Domitian built arches to serve as a foundation to extend Palatine Hill so that he could continue to build over Nero’s shit.

Rulers just said, “Just throw some dirt over that. I ain’t using that,” and for fifty years, they just went about the business of burying his palace and planting shit on top of it. After the fire of 104, Trajan was like, “Yeah, I don’t need that,” threw rubble over his crap and built a whole ass elaborate bath complex over it.

Do you get the idea that they wanted to separate themselves from Nero??

When we leave the Domus Aurea, it’s just about time for la Passeggiata, but we need to go home and change. My hair is all frizzy from the humidity and my skin feels pretty damn clammy, and Christian just admitted that his shoes are wet inside. If he catches a cold and ruins our vacation, I’m going to kill him.

We get back to the hotel and after I shower, I realize that the only thing I’m going to be able to do with this mass of hair that’s not going to take an hour and a half is either vamp ponytail or messy chignon. Vamp ponytail will require gel and flat ironing. Messy chignon will only require hair combs, mousse, and maybe a couple of bobby pins… a curl here and there if I feel so inclined.

Messy chignon it is.

Once I’ve finished blow-drying my hair, I notice how quiet the suite is… except for one sound.

I hear moaning.

WTF, Christian, we’re in Rome! I’ll put my legs in the air for you anytime you want. Are you serious?

I don my robe and go in search of my husband. I won’t stop his shenanigans, but he’s going to get a good scolding when I catch him in the act. I hear the shower in the other bathroom and I head in that direction. When I get there, my husband has just finished his shower and he’s humming. I just bet you are! All loose as a noodle, now, aren’t you? I fold my arms and stand there in the door. He nearly jumps out of his skin when he sees me.

“Fuck! Anastasia, what the fuck! You scared the shit out of me, what the hell?” he says, perturbed.

“You tell me,” I reply affronted. “I was two rooms over also in the shower. If you needed a fuck, all you had to do was join me!”

“Well, I could always use a fuck, but what are you talking about?” he says, suggestively. Oh, no, Mr. Grey, no sloppy seconds for me today.

“You don’t think I heard you?” I confront.

“Heard me what?” he asks bemused.

And then I hear the moaning again. This time, my husband hears it, too. He raises his brow in a quizzical way and quickly grabs a towel.

“Seriously,” he says as he wraps the towel around his body. Seriously, what? What the hell is that?

He walks out of the bathroom and out of the main suite and he goes searching. I know he’s looking for the source of the moaning, and I immediately remember that Chuck is in our suite. When he locates the sound and heads in that direction, I grip his arm.

“Chuck,” I say.

“I know who the fuck it is,” he says, his voice low, and he heads towards the sound. Why is he angry? I scamper behind him to the door of the room and catch his hand just as he’s reaching for the handle.

“Don’t just barge in on the man!” I whisper.

“Why the fuck not?” he whispers, harshly. “My security staff is all in an uproar and he had to take the day off and move up here because he and Lawrence are at odds over Keri, and now he’s gettin’ some ass?”

Shit! That’s right! What the fuck, Chuck?

Sure enough, we can hear his female companion cry out in ecstasy. We look at each other and a few moments later, Chuck joins her, not-so-quietly announcing his arrival at the promised land. I shake my head in disgust and roll my eyes. I was rooting for you, you unfaithful fuck!

We’re both standing, stunned and appalled as we listen to this asshole breathing through the aftermath and telling this tramp how good it was. Christian angrily reaches for the handle again when we both hear something that makes him stop mid-grab.

“I miss you so much…”

Now, we’re confused. You’re fucking her, how can you miss her?

“I miss you, too, Choonks.”

Choonks… that’s Keri! How the fuck did she get here? And so fast? Christian and I are looking at each other with the same questions on our faces as we shamelessly listen to Choonks and his intimate exchange with his Island Girl. The more we listen, the more we realize… she’s not in that room.

Facetime.

We come to the same conclusion at the same moment and simultaneously cover our mouths to stifle our laughter. Christian gently pushes my shoulder to guide me out of the hallway, and we quietly scamper back the way we came.

When we get back to our bedroom, we burst out into fits of silent giggles and laughter. We almost burst in on Chuck sexting with his girlfriend on Facetime. Hopefully, he’ll sleep well tonight.

Ana's dress for dinner in S5, E48After we’ve had our laugh, I head to the closet with instructions to dress classy as we’re having dinner at the Waldorf tonight. Tonight would be a good night for my simple green wrap-around dress—stylish, but sexy, and my green serpentine pointed toe stiletto heels. Soft make-up—just tinted moisturizer, mascara, and lip gloss—and a pair of, no doubt, outrageously expensive emerald earrings that Christian bought for me one day… just because.

Christian in his black suit at the La Pergola, S5 E48My husband is a simple man when it comes to clothes—classic, expensive, but everything is generally black, blue, or gray. It doesn’t matter, though, because he makes everything he wears look good. Case and point, the black suit with white shirt and textured tie that he’s wearing right now that simply looks like he’s going to the office… and makes me want to jump his fucking bones right now.

“You’re going to be the death of me, Mrs. Grey,” he says.

“Look who’s talking,” I retort, trying not to drool.

“Jesus, he’s suffering so bad,” Christian says, recalling Chuck’s predicament, no doubt. “I almost want to fly her out here… but it wouldn’t be conducive and I know that.”

“He’ll be okay,” I say, finishing my chignon. “He’s a grown man… and he has Facetime.” I giggle and Christian laughs.

We employ only Jason for the night, which is fine by me since Ben still had a bug up his butt all day even without Chuck being present. I’m glad we’re taking the car, because wearing one of the few pairs of stilettos that I brought on this trip, I would really prefer not to be walking. I would if I have to, but I prefer not to.

The sun is low in the sky, but still in the sky. The temperature outside is a balmy 79 degrees, and the smell of the rain from earlier still hangs in the air. I almost wish we could walk, but… stilettos. I take a deep breath of the clean, rain-drenched air before we get into the car to go to the Waldorf.

Once inside, I’m again wishing we had walked. Although the car is very comfortable, I’d like the fresh air, and if I open the window, my hair will look like I’ve been attacked by wolves.

“Jason, it’s a beautiful evening,” Christian says. “Open the roof.”

The roof? Open the roof?

Jason pushes a button and a panel slides back revealing a fully panoramic moonroof. Now, how did I not know that was there? Jason then turns a knob and the front panel of the glass slowly slides back while the back panel tilts up to open just slightly. A perfect breeze of rain-cleansed Roman air blows evenly through the car and out the back window, giving me that fresh air that I wanted without destroying my hair.

“Okay?” Christian asks.

“Perfect,” I say, taking a deep breath and letting it out. “How did you know?”

“Because you did that before you got in the car,” he says. I smile and snuggle into the arm of my perfect husband. He always knows how to make me happy.

We arrive at the circular drive of the Waldorf and I immediately know… it’s nothing like Vegas. Don’t get me wrong, Vegas wasn’t shabby, but Rome is like… wow!

Jason opens the door for Christian, who walks around and opens the door for me. I step out and enter the beautiful hotel, decorated in jewel tones and opulence.

Once again, not Vegas.

We make our way to the rooftop to La Pergola, a restaurant just as opulent as the hotel. Although many of the women are dressed somewhere between conservative and elegant, I still feel underdressed.

“Why are you covering yourself?” Christian asks, and I’m just noticing that I’ve clasped my hands in front of me.

“I didn’t know that I was,” I say, honestly. It must be my reaction to my plain green dress. Christian puts his hand in the small of my back and kisses me softly just behind my earlobe.

“You look stunning,” he says, before moving his lips away.

“You have to say that,” I say, unable to hide my blush. He leans in again and places a discreet open-mouthed kiss in the same spot… and I’ve got chills.

“You. Look. Stunning.”

Fuck, is it hot in here?

“You have a reservation?” the hostess says with a big smile.

“Yes,” my husband says, pulling me closer to him. “Grey, party of two.”

The hostess smiles again, retrieves two menus, and leads us to a table next to the floor to ceiling terrace doors with a gorgeous view.

“Oh, Christian!” I breathe. “This is beautiful.”

He smiles and pulls my chair out for me as the hostess sets the menus on our table.

“I’m going to tell you, I’m very hungry,” I say. “We missed aperitivo, and I’ve become accustomed to it now.”

“Okay, do you see anything on the menu that you like?” he asks. I open the menu. I should’ve know that he was setting me up… The menu is 11 pages. I didn’t know there was going to be a test!

“Yikes!” I exclaim quietly. Luckily, it’s in English. “Christian, what do I order?”

“Look around a bit,” he teases. I shake my head and try to decipher what I want from the menu. Where’s Sophie when you need her?

“Signore, signora, I am your server, Simón. We will start you with light antipasti while you peruse the menu,” the server says when he comes to the table. Christian nods and thanks him.

“So, this is the only three-star Michelin in Rome,” Christian tells me. “The executive chef is Heinz Beck. He’s been here for 20 years, executive chef for 10. The chef sommelier is Marco Rietano. I don’t know how long he’s been here, but he’s a three-star Michelin sommelier as well.” I nod.

“I feel like I should know what that means, but I don’t,” I confess. “I’ve heard of five-star restaurants and hotels, but you say three-star Michelin like it’s better.”

“It is,” he says. “In laymen’s terms, the 5-star rating system is for civilians. A hotel or restaurant can be rated 5-star because somebody liked it and gave it a review on Google based on quality, comfort, ambience, luxury, etc. The 3-star Michelin rating system is food and wine only. It’s a world-wide guide distributed by the French company Michelin for over 100 years. One-star means the dining is okay, worthy of mention. Two-star means the dining is good, worthy of a detour if you’re in the neighborhood. Three-star means excellent, worth a journey to eat there.”

“Are we talking about Michelin the tire company?” I ask. He nods.

“I don’t know if the tires came first or the food came first, but yes. Chefs, sommeliers, and restaurants strive for a 3-star Michelin rating. As this is the only restaurant in Rome to have that rating, as you can see it’s not something that’s very easily achievable.”

“Hmm,” I say. “In that case, I’m clearly out of my league, here. I need you to do this.”

“I was hoping you would say that,” he says. “I suggest the 10-course meal.”

Ten courses! Yikes, I said I was hungry. That’ll do it.

“And if you’re still hungry when it’s done, we’ll go somewhere for pizza.” He winks at me and I laugh demurely. He’s cute.

“You expect we’ll still be hungry after ten courses?” I ask incredulously.

“Well, they’re chef’s portions,” he informs me. “They’re usually pretty satisfying, but if not, we’ve got a backup plan.” He winks at me.

Simón comes over to the table and Christian informs him that we’ll be having the 10-course meal with whatever wine pairing the sommelier recommends.

“My wife is famished, so we’ll have a full range of antipasti while we await the other courses. And please send the sommelier over when he’s available,” he requests. “Each time I come I’m looking for a particular vintage. I’ll be eternally grateful if he has it this year.”

“Yes, signore,” Simón says, and leaves the table.

“Why did you have me toiling over that menu when you already had an idea what we would be eating?” I accuse.

“I wanted you to see if there was something on there that you wanted,” he replies. I shake my head.

“At this point, I don’t need to know where the pig was raised, how it was killed, who its family was, or how it’s prepared. If it’s dead and tasty, I’ll eat it,” I reply, causing my husband to laugh and shake his head.

“You read all that in the menu?” he asks.

“For one dish!” I point out. “No wonder the thing is 11 pages long!”

“Signore,” I hear from behind me, and a friendly-looking gentleman joins our table. “I am Marco Rietano. You wish to see me?”

“Yes, Marco, thank you for coming over. I’m Christian and this is my wife, Anastasia.” Marco smiles at me and does a bow and a nod, and I return his smile.

“Each time I come, I ask about a vintage that I know you were trying to get and I’m just wondering if you acquired it yet. Do you yet have the Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1985?” Christian asks.

“Sì, signore,” Marco replies, “we were able to acquire some bottles last year.” Christian’s eyes light up.

“You do?” he confirms. “Excellent! We will definitely be having that.”

“Very well. Will you have it now and the recommendations with the main courses?” Marco asks.

“I can guarantee you that if you keep the 1985 flowing, we won’t need anything else,” Christian assures him. He nods once and smiles.

“Sì, signore,” he says, and leaves the table. The moment he leaves, the first round of antipasti arrives—small finger foods, one for each of us.

“Now I know why you asked for a full round of antipasti,” I say. “I’ll starve waiting for the main course.”

“No, you won’t. I promise,” he assures me.

Aperitivo at La Pergola--Fried polenta with baby carrot and raspberry vinegar; Pickled onions macerated in linseed oil on black cabbage; Puffed bread chips with grilled chanterelles in herbal oilOur first round of antipasti is fried polenta with baby carrot and raspberry vinegar; pickled onions macerated in linseed oil on black cabbage; and puffed bread chips with grilled chanterelles in herbal oil. Except for the carrots, they’re single bites of food, but they’re really good.

“Mmm,” I say after eating the pickled onion followed by a bite of the baby carrot, “that’s a real taste sensation.”

“I told you, give it a chance,” my husband replies.

Not a moment after we’ve finished the first round of antipasti, Simón is coming to the table with a plate stacked with… something, and Marco is right behind him with a bottle of wine. Simón sets the plate on the table and clears the empty dishes.

“Beet, turmeric, sumac, and poppy seed chips,” he says with a bow and steps away from the table. Marco takes his place, presenting the bottle to Christian. My husband nods and Marco proceeds to uncork the bottle, then pour a tasting of the luscious red into one of the incredibly large wine glasses on the table. My husband takes a sip, then nods, and Marco pours not much more than a tasting into his glass, then into mine. What, are they rationing the shit?

“Taste it, but only sip it… trust me,” he says. There’s nothing more than a sip or two in this glass. I don’t argue. I take the glass by the stem and take a small sip, allowing the wine to coat my tongue.

It’s like a long, warm hug from an old, familiar friend.

“Liquid silk?” I ask, turning a disbelieving eye to my husband. He chuckles.

“No, but close,” he says. “This is a Super Tuscan grape, and 1985 was an exceptional year. This vintage is very hard to find.”

“Christian, how could you do this to me?” I say. “I’ll never be able to enjoy my Cabernet again after this.” I take another sip of the elixir, trying not to chug it, not that I could. It’s a smooth, but robust and hearty flavor. You must sip it, but after each sip, there goes that hug again.

“It is good, yes?” Marco says.

“It is very good,” I reply, replacing the glass so that I don’t drink it all at once. Marco nods and another server appears with a wine bucket on a tall stand. Marco puts the wine in the bucket with a small towel, nods, and walks away. He’s a sommelier, so I know I don’t need to ask if there’s ice in the bucket. Chilling would totally ruin the flavor of this wine.

“So from the content of your conversation, there’s no likelihood that you’re going to be able to get some bottles of this illegally delicious nectar to go home with us, is there?” I take one of the chips from the plate and crunch into it as quietly as I can.

“Not very likely,” he admits. “It took at least four years for a three-star Michelin sommelier to get his hands on some. It’s going to be damn near impossible for me to get a hold of any.”

I frown, on my face and in my soul. I guess this is one of those experiences I’ll just have to enjoy for the time that I have it. I won’t be a brat although the Bitch is stomping around like Rumpelstiltskin.

And these chips aren’t bad at all.

Before we finish the chips, another beautifully plated antipasti comes out, this one a bit more substantial than the other.

“This is watermelon carpaccio marinated in an infusion of birch, cardamom, ginger, lemongrass and jasmine with seafood,” Simón says as his colleague clears the table again. “Enjoy.” He nods and leave.

I never would have thought to prepare watermelon this way. It’s thinly sliced, a mix of the sweet and savory with the hint of the citrus and floral spices. It almost tastes like meat, and I’m very happy that Christian got a plate of his own. I gobble the entire plate along with a couple more sips of “hug.”

Now, I’m not feeling so ravenous, and I can enjoy what they bring to us.

“Marinated crustaceans with peppers and Tropea onion jam,” Simón announces as he presents the next course. “More wine?”

Marinated crustaceans with peppers and Tropea onion jam“Please,” I say with a nod. Simón pours another small amount of wine in the glass which—as I have discovered—turns out to be enough while I admire the creation before me. It’s arranged in this unusual bowl with a wide, flat brim. There’s some kind of pastry or flaky bread decorated with sprigs of flowers and vegetables on top of the prawns arranged in a way so that they almost appear to be in their natural habitat inside the bowl. The entire thing looks like a tropical island sitting on top of a coral reef. It’s actually… fun.

And it’s delicious.

The flavors complement each other so well. There’s nothing overwhelming, and it’s not under-seasoned either. There’s just enough of everything to make you appreciate the dish. I now truly understand why chef’s dishes are so small. They’re not meant to be gobbled. They’re meant to be appreciated.

… Along with a few sips of a warm hug.

And the courses keep coming… Scallops, artichokes, and summer truffles…

… And a warm hug.

Mediterranean roasted eggplant with pomegranates and tahini…

… And a couple more warm hugs.

“More wine?”
“Yes, please!”
Warm hug, warm hug, warm hug…

After all the taste sensations and warm hugs, we finally get our pasta dish—Fagottelli “La Pergola.” It’s apparently the house specialty. It’s like ravioli, and there’s only six of them on the plate. Hmm… okay, chef’s servings.

I soon discover why there are only six ravioli on the plate.

“Where’s my fork?” I ask. “Why did I get a spoon with my pasta?”

“Okay, this is what you’re going to do,” Christian explains. “Don’t try to cut it. Take an entire piece of pasta on the spoon and put the entire thing in your mouth.” I do as I’m told.

It explodes when you bite into it—deliciousness all over your oral cavity. I have to take a moment to savor.

“Oh, my God, this is delicious. What’s in this?” I ask once I’ve finally consumed the creation.

“It’s the chef’s special liquefied carbonara pepper sauce inside a pillow of hand-made ravioli. The outside sauce is green onions in pecorino cheese.” I raise my gaze to him.

“How many times have you been here?” I ask.

“A few,” he confirms with a wink, taking a spoon of his pillow of ravioli.

“With a woman?” I ask. Why the fuck did I ask that question? He raises a surprised gaze to me as he chews his food. Oh, well, it’s out of my mouth now. I can’t take it back. What the hell is in this wine?

“Do you really want to know the answer to that?” he challenges. That response already gave me my answer. He’s a billionaire, extremely handsome, and he’s only been yours for the last three years. Why wouldn’t he have traveled with a woman?

“No,” I say, looking down into my bowl and spooning another ravioli, “no, I don’t.” Christian catches my hand before I’m able to lift my spoon from the bowl, causing me to look up at him.

“No, Anastasia,” he says, his voice sober, “I’ve never taken another woman out of the country. I’ve done a lot of things alone that are normally reserved for couples because I felt like I shouldn’t be deprived of these things simply because there wasn’t a woman on my arm. I’m going to have several firsts with you on this trip… and this is one of them.”

I gaze at him for a moment and I feel a smile slowly creep across my face. I try to keep it coy, but I can’t. What he just said pleases me so much that I feel my cheeks about to burst!

Yeah, I bet it’s the wine.

“Now, enjoy your Fagottelli,” Christian says, chuckling softly. And that’s exactly what I do, and it is delightful—the best pasta I think I’ve ever tasted in my life.

Our meat course is lamb cerebellum with fava bean puree, peas, fried artichokes, and chicory marinated in culatello sauce with chili and mint. That course is paired with a varied selection of cheese from the trolley, and several sips of the warm hug. I’m forlorn to see Simón pour the last of the bottle into Christian’s glass, and elated to see Marco close behind him uncorking a second bottle to pour for me.

“Magnifico!” I exclaim, I almost leap from the table and dance with glee. Marco chuckles and places the bottle in the bucket before leaving.

Dolci is baked apricots with yogurt ice cream and iced sphere of red fruit on tea cream with crystallized raspberries. The red fruit turns out to be pomegranate, and there’s chocolate involved. It’s pretty, and it turns out to be one of the most decadent things I’ve ever tasted.

I’m thoroughly satisfied as I sit back and enjoy the after-dinner espresso and more of the warm hug. The meal was exquisite and well worth the wait and I’m so satisfied, I could just purr.

To my surprise, Heinz Beck comes from the kitchen and begins to make rounds of the dining room, greeting each guest. Talk about your special touches! He smiles as he makes his way to our table.

“We have met before,” he says, when he greets my husband.

“We have,” Christian says, proffering his hand. “Christian Grey.”

“Heinz Beck,” he says, accepting my husband’s shake. “I am not so good with names, but I do not forget a face.”

Animated Emoji Chefs Kiss GIF by swerkChristian introduces me and tells Heinz that this was my first visit. He asks how I enjoyed the meal and I can’t tell him enough how divine everything tasted, the flavors all bursting in your mouth, at one point doing the chef’s kiss on my fingers, which pleases Heinz tremendously. He asks about our vacation and how many of the sites we’ve seen. He holds an actual conversation with us for about a minute and a half before he thanks us for dining and tells us to enjoy the rest of our vacation. Then, he moves on to greet the diners at the next table.

So, this is what dining in a 3-star Michelin restaurant is like.

As we’re leaving, probably some 20 or 30 minutes later, Marco greets us at the door. He’s standing there like he had no other purpose but to stand at that door and he’s holding a beautiful wooden case.

 “Grazie,” he says. “You come again?”

“We definitely come again,” Christian says, enthusiastically. Marco smiles and hands him the case.

“Grazie, Signore, for you and the signora.” He takes my hand and kisses it chastely. “Grazie, signora,” he says with a bow.

“Thank you, Marco,” I say with a warm smile. “It was delightful.”

We walk out of the restaurant silently, like we just did a bank heist and we’re trying to quietly make a getaway. Christian carries the case like it’s handcuffed to his wrist. With his hand in the small of my back, he’s kind of rushing me along a bit.

We both know what’s in that case.

When Jason brings the car around, Christian opens the door for me and I hurriedly climb inside. Once he’s inside and we’re on our way, we’re behaving like we just got a Christmas present… because we did!

“Tell me that’s not what I think it is,” I say, unable to contain my glee. Christian unhooks the brass clasp on the case and opens it…

… showing me one of two bottles of warm hugs.

*-*

My husband instructs Jason to take us to the Trevi Fountain so that we can have a little stroll before we go back to the hotel. There are still a lot of people out here, but we’re able to stroll a bit without too much trouble and find a seat on a bench on the lower level right across from the fountain. It’s a little chillier over here by the fountain, and I foolishly didn’t bring a wrap, so Christian drapes his jacket over my shoulders… again. I kind of think my mind convinces me to leave home without an overcoat on purpose, but I probably shouldn’t have done it tonight since I was worried earlier about him catching cold from his wet shoes.

“Are you okay?” I ask when he gives me his jacket.

“I’m fine,” he says. “The temperature’s perfect for me and my arms aren’t bare.” I lean on his shoulder and we hold hands as we watch the Trevi Fountain at night. It’s an entirely different view from what we saw during the day. Even with all the people mulling around, it’s beautiful. And it’s water… I could sit here all night.

“It’s hard to believe you came here alone at all,” I say. “Rome is… magical. Historical and mysterious and romantic… it almost seems like a waste not to enjoy it with someone else.” He’s silent for a few moments.

“I never, ever wanted to be here with anybody else,” he says. “This place is too special to me to share it with some meaningless submissive. It meant too much… means too much to just… cheapen the experience that way.”

“Be honest,” I say, “did you ever want to bring Elena here? I know what she meant to you at one point.” He sighs.

“She came once,” he admits, “but she came with the family. We never had any time alone, which is probably… no, definitely as good thing. This is my special place. Had I made any lasting memories here with her, she would have taken this away from me, too, especially after I finally accepted what she really was.” I sigh.

“She hasn’t taken anything away from you, Christian,” I say, tracing his palm gently. “She’s a part of your past, and you can’t avoid it. She didn’t steal your innocence because, as much as I hate to say it, your innocence was tainted before she got to you. But for you to connect so spiritually to a place this remarkable, that says a lot about you.” I look up at him.

“There may have been emotions that you were unable to express or identify, but someone who’s heartless—like you want to believe you were—never would have been able the have the experiences that you’ve had here in Rome. The epiphanies and the appreciation, the introspection… that takes a deeper soul, a depth that was always there. You just didn’t know it, because the people that love you couldn’t get through to you, and the person that you loved was worthless.

“But in those moments when you were free, when you were on your own in the streets of Trastevere or wandering the Jewish Ghetto, that’s when the real Christian came out—the young boy who was always reaching for love, peace, and enlightenment. And you found that here, even when it was scary or painful. I’ve always known you were a good man with a kind heart. I’ve never doubted it, but now, I’m completely sure of it.”

I gently stroke his hair just over his ear and gaze into his beautiful gray eyes, sparkling from the water reflection off his irises.

“Thank you so much for sharing this with me,” I say, just above a whisper before I press my lips to his.


A/N: There are some very remarkable reconstructions of the Domus Aurea on my Pinterest page in the Domus Aurea album. If you want an idea of what the Golden House may have looked like before it was buried, I suggest you go take a peek! 

NEW PINTEREST ALBUMS WILL BE ADDED EACH CHAPTER FOR THE ITALY VACATION. I SUGGEST YOU DON’T MISS THEM AS THEY WILL GREATLY ENHANCE THE EXPERIENCE!

This chapters albums include the Edoardo II RestaurantTrajan’s ForumLa Pergola in the Waldorfand the Domus Aurea. There are lots of pictures in these albums to give you the full effect of the ruins and the history. 

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

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

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.

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued—Detailed: Episode 48—It’s Good to be the King

Warning—History ahead!

This is the DETAILED version of the chapter.

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.

Episode 48—It’s Good to be the King

ANASTASIA

It’s raining outside again—not pouring like it was when were at Ara Pacis, but not drizzling like it was when we got here. We’ve got a good little amount of water now.

The walk down the stairs is surprisingly easier than the walk up. It’s usually the other way around for me, but Christian holds my hand and we just stroll through the rain with the other Romans and tourists. The steps are made such that the water flows down and disappears into a grate on the front of each step. So, I get a very pleasant surprise when I get to the bottom of the stairs.

Puddles!

I don’t want to be sopping wet with dirty rainwater, but I can’t help jumping into one small puddle like a 12-year-old before we continue our walk.

We cross the street, bend a corner, and tucked away at the end of one of these little alleys is a quaint little eclectic restaurant with a café outside and rose red walls inside. Red walls! I look over at my husband.

Edoardo Red Walls “Red walls?” I say with a knowing smile.

“Bonus!” he says, wagging his eyebrows.

We all walk in a sit down at three tables pushed together. I’m contemplating what gastronomical wonders I’ll be experiencing for lunch today when Ben stands and breaks my chain of thought.

“I’m going to eat outside, sir,” he says to Jason and heads to the door before Jason can stop him. What? It’s raining out there!

“Ben,” Jason calls out to Ben’s back.

“Let him go,” Christian says, just as he’s clearing the door. “He’s trying to prove some goddamn point and I don’t know what that point is. Chuck’s not here. The object of his ire has left the building and he’s still pissy. Fine, let him be pissy. He did right to go outside and not spoil our lunch, but since he’s being an ass, if he gets sick, he still has to work.” Jason sighs and rolls his eyes.

“So, what’s good to eat here?” he asks.

“Everything,” Christian replies, “and we’re going Dutch, gentleman. So, you might want to tell him to bring his ass back in here and order some food unless he plans on having air sandwiches and aqua cocktails for lunch.”

Jason stands to go outside while Christian heads for the cashier to order. Al and I sit there at the table just looking at each other.

“I am normally alone,” he says. “I do not normally have coworkers… partners. I am new at that. Do they always behave this way?”

“Never!” I emphasize. “In the entire time I’ve known my husband, I’ve only seen one person behave this way and he was fired the same day.”

“It is hard to concentrate,” he says, “to do my job. He behaves… unreliably… untrustworthy. Is he competent to do the job? I am not asking you, signora. It is just something that I think when I am ever in a multi-person assignment, which is not often. I must protect his back. Will he protect mine?”

I get what he’s saying. You can’t be sloppy or emotional in his line of work. Depending on the situation, it could cost your life. You have to be sharp, and right now, Ben is behaving like a college girl who just broke up with her boyfriend.

“I don’t want to seem like I’m talking behind anyone’s back,” I say, “but for the most part, we’re family here… or like family, and I mean really like family.” If anything, Ben’s the odd man out. “You know families don’t always get along, but in the end, they won’t let anything happen to each other.”

“I will take your word for it, signora… and I will still watch my back.” He raises his gaze and stands.

“Signore,” he says and leaves the table. He’s good. He wouldn’t leave the table while I was here alone. He waited for Christian to return.

“What was that about?” Christian asks. “He’s got to watch his back?”

“This whole thing with Chuck and Ben, and Ben’s behavior,” I confess. “It’s very unprofessional, and he’s on a team with these guys. So, he’s worried about how professional they are.”

“And he told you all that,” Christian says. It’s a statement, not a question. I twist my lips and cock my head at him.

“I wouldn’t worry about his professionalism if I were you,” I retort. “When the two of you split in different directions, he asked me if they normally behave this way. He’s usually a one-man band and doesn’t often work with partners, but when he does, he wants to know that they’re precise and they’re going to have his back. You can go ahead and confront him if you want, but I can guarantee you’ll need another Italian guard by the morning because he’s not the one behaving like two schoolyard boys playing ‘King of the Hill.’”

You didn’t listen to me when I tried to warn you about bringing this up to Chuck in the first place. You might want to listen now.

“I’m giving away one of my secrets,” he says, “but you know your eyes say everything that your mouth doesn’t, right?”

“Is that so?” I say. “And what are they saying now?”

“That you don’t believe me,” he says, “and that I should have kept my mouth shut.”

Dammit!

“And now you’re thinking that I’m right…”

“Okay cut that shit out it’s creepy,” I say all in one breath. “How am I supposed to be all mysterious if you know what I’m thinking?”

“I don’t always know, but sometimes, you’re pretty easy,” he chuckles.

“It’s not raining anymore,” Jason says when he comes back to the table. “I’m going to order my food.” Ben walks past the table just as Jason arrives and heads towards the cashier. Christian just nods at Jason, who follows Ben shortly thereafter.

“Jesus,” I say. “Something’s got to give. I’m not spending the next five weeks like this.”

Lunch is amazing. The restaurant Christian took us to is called Edoardo II. It has a beautiful outdoor patio that I would have loved to eat on had it not been raining—and the pouty college boy wasn’t sitting out there.

The food is outstanding—antipasti and bruschetta; ravioli, Paccheri, and spaghetti with various savory sauces; sea bass, meatballs with sauce, sliced pork and potatoes, chicken romano… there is so much food! Even the salads are delectable, and conversation flows just as freely as it did yesterday.

In the interest of full disclosure, Al made it clear how he felt about the bickering between the security staff and his concerns about them being sharp on the job. Jason thanked him for openly voicing his concerns and promised to talk to his staff. I didn’t look at Christian. I didn’t want him to read my eyes.

“So, what did you think of the museum?” Christian asks in the middle of the meal.

“It’s seems like there was a lot of ‘look at me, look at what I did’ and ‘look how much better I am than the other guy,’” I point out. “Was there even enough focus on the Empire with all that cock-strutting? Maybe that’s why there’s so much dick in the art.”

“And there you go with that fixation on penises again,” he says, shaking his head.

“I’m going to be fixated on penises the entire time I’m here. They’re everywhere. The woman’s snatch is covered everywhere I go, but even the woman with the dick had her dick out,” I point out as I take a bite of my food.

“Baby!” Christian exclaims, his voice dripping with mirth. I raise my gaze and people are staring at me throughout the restaurant. I quickly swallow my food.

“I’m talking about the art,” I say loudly. “If you didn’t see it, don’t blame me. It even greeted you on the stairs before you even got to the square!” What the fuck are you people gawking at? Dick is abound all over the damn city and you’re looking at me funny for pointing it out?

There’s a mixed reaction of laughter and people quickly averting their gazes. I turn back to my lunch and continue my conversation.

“There’s no way they can be sensitive walking through here with all this nudity,” I say to Christian.

“Apparently, some of them are,” he replies, still suppressing his laughter.

The Spinario--A young boy puling a thorn from his foot“Well, they need to get over it,” I reply. “Even the little boy taking the thorn out of his foot had his twigs and berries swinging freely.”

And Jason sprays some of his soda.

“You really have to stop,” Christian says, no longer suppressing his laughing. I look over at Jason whose body is shaking with laughter as he covers his mouth with a napkin.

“Okay, okay,” I say with a chuckle.

*-*

Rome is magical and comforting and a bit mysterious when it’s wet. It doesn’t seem like any other place I’ve been after a rain. It’s serene, but it’s almost like the ghosts of the past all join us in our stroll down the streets or our gazing at the city or our long moments of contemplation about a ruin or a structure or even a statue or a new building and they whisper secrets in our ear about days gone by. It’s not creepy like visiting a dark, dank crypt. It’s like the grounds have been disturbed and the spirits are stretching their legs and telling us stories of old.

We’ve come back the way that we came and around the Altar of the Fatherland to the site that Christian promised me that we would see before we left Rome—Trajan’s Column and Forum. I’m really excited to see this because I did research on this one and I know what I’m looking at. The ruins girl is happy again!

I believe Christian may already know this story, but he obliges me anyway and allows me to share my knowledge since I’m so happy to be here and even happier to tell my tale.

Trajan was a man of the people—a military man who also got along with the senate. That was unusual because normally, you had the favor of one or the other or neither, but never both. While most emperors were more concerned with building monuments and temples that honored themselves—palatial architecture—Trajan was more concerned with giving the people a center of commerce and a place for the equestrian class to mingle—public architecture. Granted, he built a pretty large forum in his own honor, but that forum included public space and buildings, and was funded by his own spoils of war.

Speaking of war, we start our tour of Trajan’s Forum at Trajan’s Column, which is pretty much a vertical spiral comic book depicting his conquering of Dacia, aka Romania. The forum itself is a celebration of that defeat. There used to be a naked statue of Trajan at the top. However, one of the popes replaced it with a clothed statue of St. Peter. Trajan’s tomb is actually inside of Trajan’s Column. You can climb to the top via a spiral staircase inside, but you need special permission to do that.

Right next to the Trajan Column are the remarkable columns once covered in marble that remain of the Basilica Ulpia, the main building of Trajan’s Forum. The columns of the basilica as well as Trajan’s Column would have been covered in brilliant colors in ancient times although the colors of both have faded over the centuries. The columns all came from different areas and would have been a rainbow of colors, but again, the pictures of Trajan’s Column would have been in full color, making it look like a comic strip.

We cross the bridge built across the middle of the forum to get a closer look. There are pieces of marble down on the ground—large pieces to us, but mostly used for sculptures and statues. Contrary to popular belief, the columns that held the structure up would not have been made of marble because it wasn’t fit to hold the weight. Some of them may have been covered in marble, but they weren’t made of marble. You can see these things from street level for free, but we’re going in through the museum so that I can see the inside of the markets.

Trajan MarketsYeah, markets. As it were, in a time where most emperors were considered somewhat notorious, Trajan was one of the few exceptions, and one of the things that he built during his reign was a shopping mall. One thing that you notice about the portion of the structure that still stands is that it’s constructed out of several little niches called tabernae. Each one of those tabernae was a store—furriers, oils, pottery, you name it—thereby making Trajan’s Forum the first shopping mall ever built, and it was pretty big.

Trajan actually came from Spain and he was one of Nerva’s top generals, who eventually adopted him. The Praetorian Guard suggested Trajan become emperor in favor of the military. And so it goes that Trajan was the first non-Roman emperor in the empire.

Trajan wanted to build a huge forum for himself, but the forums of Caesar, Augustus, Nerva, etc., were already built. There was no room for Trajan. So, he tore down a large part of Quirinal Hill behind the existing forums, built his huge forum, and built the Trajan Markets in a concave shape nestled inside of the hill behind it to help stabilize the remainder of the hill. Trajan’s Column is exactly the height—125 feet—of the hill that he had destroyed to build his forum.

There’s a lot of walking and stair-climbing in the Trajan Market, but it’s totally worth it. The architecture is amazing and you get to see the whole concrete/brick/mortar construction up close. It’s one of the reasons the Markets remain standing today—that, and the fact that they were still in use for so many years. You can easily see the ruins for free on the outside, but for the 16 Euro it cost to get inside and see everything up close, I wouldn’t miss it. As we’re walking down the cobblestone street inside the market, a piece of trivia comes to mind.

“Here’s a fun fact,” I say as we’re walking down an actual ancient Roman street inside the Markets of Trajan. “Romans loved ketchup.”

“Ketchup?” he says, skeptically.

“Yes, ketchup, but it wasn’t the ketchup that we know now. It wasn’t made from tomatoes; it was made from fermented fish oil, but they called it ‘ketchup.’ It was more like soy sauce.” I look back at Al who flattens his lips and nods.

Ben still looks like the out of place tin soldier with a stoically sour expression. I totally forgot he was here. That’s a good plan.

“Anyway, tomatoes replaced the fish oil when they discovered the New World. Just a little fun fact for you.”

“Hmm,” he says, “they probably should’ve kept the fish oil. It’s better for you than this processed shit we’re eating and it probably tastes better, too.”

“The ancient Romans would most likely agree with you, signore,” Al chimes in.

“What made you think of that now?” Christian asks.

“Because one of these shops most likely sold nothing but ketchup… Oooo, look!”

I quickly make my way over to an open taberna with a glass covering over the bottom half of the opening. It’s full of tall clay jars covered or partially wrapped in some kind of plastic or something. Some of them are sitting on what looks like stacked rubber rings and some of them are broken. They look quite aged—like the color is partially faded on parts of them.

“That was most likely a pottery shop, signora,” Al says.

One of the shops in the Trajan Market still filled with potteryA pottery shop? From ancient Rome? With pottery still in it? Is it real? I don’t care, I’m thrilled! I take about 10 pictures of the same little taberna. It’s already exciting that we’re walking down real ancient Roman streets, and now we stumble on what probably was a genuine ancient Roman pottery shop still containing genuine ancient Roman pottery! Maybe…

A lot of the upper floors that still have glass in the windows were added during the medieval times, including a tower near the back of the structure. During that time, it was used as a convent and then as barracks.

I get caught up in wandering around the ancient streets and climbing higher up into the markets because it looks like a village, complete with birds strolling around and cats lounging on the cobblestone. You honestly expect ancient Romans to come strolling out of the doors in togas and tunics and start talking. We spend quite a bit of time in this area, and I’m glad that Christian kept his promise and made sure that we got to see it before we left Rome. We even happen upon a garden complete with mandarin trees.

I’ll admit that I got a little lost until I found the back entrance to the museum that got us here. We stroll through the refurbished museum inside the extremely well-preserved marketplace, showcasing relics mostly from the Basilica Ulpia. The marble sculptures are truly life-sized and stood near the ceiling of the basilica. This gives you an idea of the scale of the building because according to the recreations of the structure, they looked pretty small from far away.

You can easily picture yourself shopping in the various taberna in ancient times just like you would shop one of the fashionable malls of today.

As a ruler, Trajan wasn’t a paranoid man like many of the younger and older emperors before him. He was middle-aged, experienced, and intelligent, unlike the younger emperors who most often took power in their early twenties. It was a common thing for siblings to poison each other, heirs to poison predecessors, the senate to kill the emperor and his heir, and so on. Murder was a commonplace thing in the high ranks of the Roman Empire.

But, not with Trajan. He only had one rival who wanted to be the undisputed emperor of Rome. To show his true power, Trajan invited his rival to dinner at his palace.

Did he kill him?
Did he poison him?
Did he lock him up in a dungeon?
Did he do some unthinkable thing to him to show his power?

Yes and no.

Trajan didn’t kill him. He didn’t harm him at all, but he did show his true power. He had dinner with him, they hung out, and he let him go. Trajan pretty much showed his rival that, yes, I can bring you into my home, feed you, turn my back on you while you sit at my table, and still not worry about you.

The rival got the message. This was not a man he wanted to fuck with.

As it were, Trajan ruled during one of the most peaceful and thriving periods of the empire. He knew that he needed an heir, but he had no children. So, he had to adopt someone before he died to prevent civil war. However, remember, Trajan was smart. He knew that adopting an heir too soon would probably result in the murder of him and his heir by someone who wanted the throne.

He did adopt an heir—or so we think.

Hadrian, his trusted general, became his adopted heir and became the next emperor of Rome. Hadrian was experienced and level-headed, just like Trajan, and turned out to be a very good choice for emperor, but no one knows if he was named the heir and successor before or after Trajan’s death.

Trajan’s wife didn’t tell anybody about Trajan’s death for a few days. It was during the time after his death and before the announcement of his death that she informed Hadrian that he would be Trajan’s adopted heir. Once Hadrian was informed and became emperor, then Trajan’s death was announced.

Was he named heir before or after his adopter passed away? It doesn’t matter. Hadrian ruled as judiciously as Trajan did, continuing on the period of thriving and peace and the time of the five good Emperors of Rome.

I had no idea that we had spent so much time in the Trajan Forum, but I’m glad that we haven’t missed our tour of the Domus Aurea. It’s going to be our last stop for the day before we go back to the hotel to clean up for dinner.

Jason heads back the way we came to get the car while the rest of us take the one-kilometer stroll over to Domus Aurea, which is about a quarter mile north of the Colosseum. I didn’t do any research on this one, so I leave all the explaining to our tour guide.

Nero's Domus Aurea“After the Great Fire of Rome which swept through and destroyed a large part of the city, Nero set out to rebuild. However, he commandeered a large part of the best land for himself—reportedly 200 to 300 square meters, spanning across parts of the slopes of four of the Rome’s famous seven hills to build a huge palatial complex for himself,” the young female guide tells us.

“The palace was a statement of largess and over-indulgence with marble-covered pavilions and marble floors, walls covered in stuccoes and frescoes, and various rooms laminated in gold leaf, which lends itself to its name Domus Aurea, meaning ‘Golden House.’ The enormous complex came complete with nature parks, gardens, fountains, a man-made lake, huge atria in the structures as well as numerous sculptures, statues, and porticos all made of the finest and most luxurious precious materials from all over around the empire. It was a huge party palace used mostly for entertaining because there’s no evidence that it had any bedrooms, living quarters, kitchens, or bathrooms.”

Wow, talk about MTV Cribs. All this was basically an ancient-Roman-pimped-out party house with no functional rooms—just a big ass hall of opulence for banquets and parties.

“Although the entire complex eventually became known as the Nero’s Domus Aurea,” she continues, “this building we are about to enter is the actual Domus Aurea building.”

She turns around and ushers us into the gate.

“As you probably know, Nero’s complex spread from here all the way over to Palatine Hill. Just southwest of here is the Colosseum, and that was the location of his man-made lake. His structure even occupied part of the Roman Forum. This exedra that we are entering is part of a later construction by Trajan when he was burying Nero’s palace…”

Burying the palace?

“I’m sorry, did you say burying the palace?” one of the members of our tour asks the same question I was just thinking.

“Yes, ma’am,” she says as we enter the building and head down a very tall hallway. “You would think that Nero would have tried to keep a low profile, seeing as to how he was very unpopular, but this was not the case. Not only did some of the populous believe that he set the fire on purpose, but he also taxed the upper class for funding to public and private works. His list of malfeasances—real and imagined—are far too many to name, but one source sited him as one of the most hated leaders of all time. In the end, there was a rebellion and Nero escaped Rome before they could kill him. It was of no avail, however, because he was sentenced to die anyway, and opted to take his own life instead.

“Once he was gone, nobody wanted to be associated with Nero. In fact, the senate issued a “Damnatio memoriae“, a Latin phrase that translates into ‘to condemn his memory.’ They wanted to do everything they could to erase Nero from history and the peoples’ memory. So, subsequent emperors went about the business of actually burying his party palace under new structures of Rome.

“Most of the Domus Aurea building was buried under Trajan’s bath complex. The Palatine section is buried under Domitian’s palace. Nero’s artificial lake was filled in by Vespasian to create the Flavian Amphitheater, which is now called the Colosseum. It gained this name as Nero’s ginormous bronze ‘Colossus’ of himself portrayed as the Sun King was moved from its original location in the vestibule of his palace to its new home next to the Amphitheater to make way for a temple to Venus and Rome.

“Portions of the magnificent Golden House have now been excavated, and we are able to see 30 rooms of the once 300-room palace.”

So, basically, this was an ancient-Roman-pimped-out party house because it didn’t have any bedrooms, living quarters, kitchens, or bathrooms—just a big ass hall of opulence for banquets and parties.

Once we traveled down the long hallways to get to the center of the structure, it’s hard to discern which parts were built by Trajan and which were built by Nero. There were walls built where it was once Nero’s courtyard. The walls had to be built to support the dirt or the dirt would have collapse when Trajan built his baths.

Although many of the rooms that have been excavated remain remarkably intact, Trajan stripped much of the Domus Aurea of its precious materials before he buried and used them in his own construction. To me, that kind of defeats the purpose. We want to erase the whole idea and memory of Nero… bu-u-u-t I’m going to rip all of his expensive shit out and use it in my building.

Hmm…

We did see the multiple rooms that lined the courtyard that obviously have different color schemes based on what was left of the wall coverings. Even the servant’s hallways were covered with lavish paintings.

“The palace was built strictly for entertainment, and there’s no evidence that any of the rooms had doors. However, the structure was designed to take advantage of the natural sunlight at different times of the day. With the sunlight beaming in at different angles and hitting all the jewels, ivory, gold, and marble, the house sparkled, further lending to its name.”

We move further into the palace, and I’m surprised to see a mosaic floor still perfectly intact. The guide tells us that Trajan couldn’t be bothered to remove the tiles because it may have taken too long, so he just left it. To be several centuries old, the floor is in pristine condition.

When we get to the center of the structure, there’s an octagonal room with an oculus in the ceiling.

Aula Ottagona--Octogonal Hall“This was strictly a party and entertaining hall,” the guide says. “When people entered, they would be sprayed with perfume and rose petals from the opening. It afforded sunlight during the day and a beautiful view of the starry sky at night. The walls here would have been decorated in marble and there was a waterfall in the wall over there that would drain through the floor.

“You can see over there that purple paint was used in this room. This color, along with red, was very expensive and hard to get.

“The Domus Aurea was rediscovered when an artist lowered himself into the ground and found the beautiful frescos on the ceiling of the structure. He was then followed by several more artists, including famous artists like Rafael and Michelangelo, who walked around the rubble and examined the art. This was the birth of the Grotesque art form because the artists thought they were in a grotto.”

Once we’ve traipsed through the rooms that were once frequented by Nero and his guests, we get an added attraction to the tour—a projected movie on the wall of what the outside and some of the rooms would have looked like when Nero lived here as well as a 3D virtual reality experience through VR glasses to see what the rooms and the grounds looked like.

It’s spectacular!

Re-creation of one of the rooms in the Domus AureaThis is amazing to me as I watch various 3D reconstructions and recreation of this indescribable palace and estate. It’s exquisite. It’s beyond measure and value, and Nero built this whole thing in four years. It’s incredible that they wanted to erase this man from history so badly that they literally just threw dirt over all his shit. Smackety—you’re gone! Strip the gold, strip the marble, strip the bronze, strip the ivory, whatever you can’t strip—bury it! They didn’t even repurpose the space. They were just like, “Smackety—bury him!” Where do you even find that much dirt?Re-creation of one of the rooms in the Domus Aurea

Maybe they repurposed it when Trajan demolished that 125-foot hill.

He had a lake built on his property—a fucking lake! They built a sophisticated irrigation system and drained the lake and built the Colosseum over it. Then they kept the irrigation system in place so the Colosseum wouldn’t flood.

They moved his colossus to the Colosseum and built the Temple of Venus and Rome where the structure that held his huge atrium was.

What they didn’t tear down, they threw dirt over it. Palatine Hill was taller because they just threw dirt over Nero’s shit. Domitian built arches to serve as a foundation to extend Palatine Hill so that he could continue to build over Nero’s shit.

Rulers just said, “Just throw some dirt over that. I ain’t using that,” and for fifty years, they just went about the business of burying his palace and planting shit on top of it. After the fire of 104, Trajan was like, “Yeah, I don’t need that,” threw rubble over his crap and built a whole ass elaborate that complex over it.

Do you get the idea that they wanted to separate themselves from Nero??

When we leave the Domus Aurea, it’s just about time for la Passeggiata, but we need to go home and change. My hair is all frizzy from the humidity and my skin feels pretty damn clammy, and Christian just admitted that his shoes are wet inside. If he catches a cold and ruins our vacation, I’m going to kill him.

We get back to the hotel and after I shower, I realize that the only thing I’m going to be able to do with this mass of hair that’s not going to take an hour and a half is either vamp ponytail or messy chignon. Vamp ponytail will require gel and flat ironing. Messy chignon will only require hair comb, mousse, and maybe a couple of bobby pins… a curl here and there if I feel so inclined.

Messy chignon it is.

Once I’ve finished blow-drying my hair, I notice how quiet the suite is… except for one sound.

I hear moaning.

WTF, Christian, we’re in Rome! I’ll put my legs in the air for you anytime you want. Are you serious?

I don my robe and go in search of my husband. I won’t stop his shenanigans, but he’s going to get a good scolding when I catch him in the act. I hear the shower in the other bathroom and I head in that direction. When I get there, my husband has just finished his shower and he’s humming. I just bet you are! All loose as a noodle, now, aren’t you? I fold my arms and stand there in the door. He nearly jumps out of his skin when he sees me.

“Fuck! Anastasia, what the fuck! You scared the shit out of me, what the hell?” he says, perturbed.

“You tell me,” I reply affronted. “I was two rooms over also in the shower. If you needed a fuck, all you had to do was join me!”

“Well, I could always use a fuck, but what are you talking about?” he says, suggestively. Oh, no, Mr. Grey, no sloppy seconds for me today.

“You don’t think I heard you?” I confront.

“Heard me what?” he asks bemused.

And then I hear the moaning again. This time, my husband hears it, too. He raises his brow in a quizzical way and quickly grabs a towel.

“Seriously,” he says as he wraps the towel around his body. Seriously, what? What the hell is that?

He walks out of the bathroom and out of the main suite and he goes searching. I know he’s looking for the source of the moaning, and I immediately remember that Chuck is in our suite. When he locates the sound and heads in that direction, I grip his arm.

“Chuck,” I say.

“I know who the fuck it is,” he says, his voice low, and he heads towards the sound. Why is he angry? I scamper behind him to the door of the room and catch his hand just as he’s reaching for the handle.

“Don’t just barge in on the man!” I whisper.

“Why the fuck not?” he whispers, harshly. “My security staff is all in an uproar and he had to take the day off and move up here because he and Lawrence are at odds over Keri, and now he’s gettin’ some ass?”

Shit! That’s right! What the fuck, Chuck?

Sure enough, we can hear his female companion cry out in ecstasy. We look at each other and a few moments later, Chuck joins her, not-so-quietly announcing his arrival at the promised land. I shake my head in disgust and roll my eyes. I was rooting for you, you unfaithful fuck!

We’re both standing, stunned and appalled as we listen to this asshole breathing through the aftermath and telling this tramp how good it was. Christian angrily reaches for the handle again when we both hear something that makes him stop mid-grab.

“I miss you so much…”

Now, we’re confused. You’re fucking her, how can you miss her.

“I miss you, too, Choonks.”

Choonks… that’s Keri! How the fuck did she get here? And so fast? Christian and I are looking at each other with the same questions on our faces as we shamelessly listen to Choonks and his intimate exchange with his Island Girl. The more we listen, the more we realize… she’s not in that room.

Facetime.

We come to the same conclusion at the same moment and simultaneously cover our mouths to stifle our laughter. Christian gently pushes my shoulder to guide me out of the hallway, and we quietly scamper back the way we came.

When we get back to our bedroom, we burst out into fits of silent giggles and laughter. We almost burst in on Chuck sexting with his girlfriend on Facetime. Hopefully, he’ll sleep well tonight.

Ana's dress for dinner in S5, E48After we’ve had our laugh, I head to the closet with instructions to dress classy as we’re having dinner at the Waldorf tonight. Tonight would be a good night for my simple green wrap-around dress—stylish, but sexy, and my green serpentine pointed toe stiletto heels. Soft make-up—just tinted moisturizer, mascara, and lip gloss—and a pair of, no doubt, outrageously expensive emerald earrings that Christian bought for me one day… just because.

Christian in his black suit at the La Pergola, S5 E48My husband is a simple man when it comes to clothes—classic, expensive, but everything is generally black, blue, or gray. It doesn’t matter, though, because he makes everything he wears look good. Case and point, the black suit with white shirt and textured tie that he’s wearing right now that simply looks like he’s going to the office… and makes me want to jump him fucking bones right now.

“You’re going to be the death of me, Mrs. Grey,” he says.

“Look who’s talking,” I retort, trying not to drool.

“Jesus, he’s suffering so bad,” Christian says, recalling Chuck’s predicament, no doubt. “I almost want to fly her out here… but it wouldn’t be conducive and I know that.”

“He’ll be okay,” I say, finishing my chignon. “He’s a grown man… and he has Facetime.” I giggle and Christian laughs.

We employ only Jason for the night, which is fine by me since Ben still had a bug up his butt all day even without Chuck being present. I’m glad we’re taking the car, because wearing one of the few pairs of stilettos that I brought on this trip, I would really prefer not to be walking. I would if I have to, but I prefer not to.

The sun is low in the sky, but still in the sky. The temperature outside is a balmy 79 degrees, and the smell of the rain from earlier still hangs in the air. I almost wish we could walk, but… stilettos. I take a deep breath of the clean, rain-drenched air before we get into the car to go to the Waldorf.

Once inside, I’m again wishing we had walked. Although the car is very comfortable, I’d like the fresh air, and if I open the window, my hair will look like I’ve been attacked by wolves.

“Jason, it’s a beautiful evening,” Christian says. “Open the roof.”

The roof? Open the roof?

Jason pushes a button and a panel slides back revealing a fully panoramic moonroof. Now, how did I not know that was there? Jason then turns a knob and the front panel of the glass slowly slides back while the back panel tilts up to open just slightly. A perfect breeze of rain-cleaned Rome air blows evenly through the car and out the back window, giving me that fresh air that I wanted without destroying my hair.

“Okay?” Christian asks.

“Perfect,” I say, taking a deep breath and letting it out. “How did you know?”

“Because you did that before you got in the car,” he says. I smile and snuggle into the arm of my perfect husband. He always knows how to make me happy.

We arrive at the circular drive of the Waldorf and I immediately know… it’s nothing like Vegas. Don’t get me wrong, Vegas wasn’t shabby, but Rome is like… wow!

Jason opens the door for Christian, who walks around and opens the door for me. I step out and enter the beautiful hotel, decorated in jewel tones and opulence.

Once again, not Vegas.

We make our way to the rooftop to La Pergola, a restaurant just as opulent as the hotel. Although many of the women are dressed somewhere between conservative and elegant, I still feel underdressed.

“Why are you covering yourself?” Christian asks, and I’m just noticing that I’ve clasped my hands in front of me.

“I didn’t know that I was,” I say, honestly. It must be my reaction to my plain green dress. Christian puts his hand in the small of my back and kisses me softly just behind my earlobe.

“You look stunning,” he says, before moving his lips away.

“You have to say that,” I say, unable to hide my blush. He leans in again and places a discreet open-mouthed kiss in the same spot… and I’ve got chills.

“You. Look. Stunning.”

Fuck, is it hot in here?

“You have a reservation?” the hostess says with a big smile.

“Yes,” my husband says, pulling me closer to him. “Grey, party of two.”

The hostess smiles again, retrieves two menus, and leads us to a table next to the floor to ceiling terrace doors with a gorgeous view.

“Oh, Christian!” I breathe. “This is beautiful.”

He smiles and pulls my chair out for me as the hostess sets the menus on our table.

“I’m going to tell you, I’m very hungry,” I say. “We missed aperitivo, and I’ve become accustomed to it now.”

“Okay, do you see anything on the menu that you like?” he asks. I open the menu. I should’ve know that he was setting me up… The menu is 11 pages. I didn’t know there was going to be a test!

“Yikes!” I exclaim quietly. Luckily, it’s in English. “Christian, what do I order?”

“Look around a bit,” he teases. I shake my head and try to decipher what I want from the menu. Where’s Sophie when you need her?

“Signore, signora, I am your server, Simón. We will start you with light antipasti while you peruse the menu,” the server says when he comes to the table. Christian nods and thanks him.

“So, this is the only three-star Michelin in Rome,” Christian tells me. “The executive chef is Heinz Beck. He’s been here for 20 years, executive chef for 10. The chef sommelier is Marco Rietano. I don’t know how long he’s been here, but he’s a three-star Michelin sommelier as well.” I nod.

“I feel like I should know what that means, but I don’t,” I confess. “I’ve heard of five-star restaurants and hotels, but you say three-star Michelin like it’s better.”

“It is,” he says. “In laymen’s terms, the 5-star rating system is for civilians. A hotel or restaurant can be rated 5-star because somebody liked it and gave it a review on Google based on quality, comfort, ambience, luxury, etc. The 3-star Michelin rating system is food and wine only. It’s a world-wide guide distributed by the French company Michelin for over 100 years. One-star means the dining is okay, worthy of mention. Two-star means the dining is good, worthy of a detour if you’re in the neighborhood. Three-star means excellent, worth a journey to eat there.”

“Are we talking about Michelin the tire company?” I ask. He nods.

“I don’t know if the tires came first or the food came first, but yes. Chefs, sommeliers, and restaurants strive for a 3-star Michelin rating. As this is the only restaurant in Rome to have that rating, as you can see it’s not something that’s very easily achievable.”

“Hmm,” I say. “In that case, I’m clearly out of my league, here. I need you to do this.”

“I was hoping you would say that,” he says. “I suggest the 10-course meal.”

Ten courses! Yikes, I said I was hungry. That’ll do it.

“And if you’re still hungry when it’s done, we’ll go somewhere for pizza.” He winks at me and I laugh demurely. He’s cute.

“You expect we’ll still be hungry after ten courses?” I ask incredulously.

“Well, they’re chef’s portions,” he informs me. “They’re usually pretty satisfying, but if not, we’ve got a backup plan.” He winks at me.

Simón comes over to the table and Christian informs him that we’ll be having the 10-course meal with whatever wine pairing the sommelier recommends.

“My wife is famished, so we’ll have a full range of antipasti while we await the other courses. And please send the sommelier over when he’s available,” he requests. “Each time I come I’m looking for a particular vintage. I’ll be eternally grateful if he has it this year.”

“Yes, signore,” Simón says, and leaves the table.

“Why did you have me toiling over that menu when you already had an idea what we would be eating?” I accuse.

“I wanted you to see if there was something on there that you wanted,” he replies. I shake my head.

“At this point, I don’t need to know where the pig was raised, how it was killed, who its family was, or how it’s prepared. If it dead and tasty, I’ll eat it,” I reply, causing my husband to laugh and shake his head.

“You read all that in the menu?” he asks.

“For one dish!” I point out. “No wonder the thing is 11 pages long!”

“Signore,” I hear from behind me, and a friendly-looking gentleman joins our table. “I am Marco Rietano. You wish to see me?”

“Yes, Marco, thank you for coming over. I’m Christian and this is my wife, Anastasia.” Marco smiles at me and does a bow and a nod, and I return his smile.

“Each time I come, I ask about a vintage that I know you were trying to get and I’m just wondering if you acquired it yet. Do you yet have the Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1985?” Christian asks.

“Sì, signore,” Marco replies, “we were able to acquire some bottles last year.” Christian’s eyes light up.

“You do?” he confirms. “Excellent! We will definitely be having that.”

“Very well. Will you have it now and the recommendations with the main courses?” Marco asks.

“I can guarantee you that if you keep the 1985 flowing, we won’t need anything else,” Christian assures him. He nods once and smiles.

“Sì, signore,” he says, and leaves the table. The moment he leaves, the first round of antipasti arrives—small finger foods, one for each of us.

“Now I know why you asked for a full round of antipasti,” I say. “I’ll starve waiting for the main course.”

“No, you won’t. I promise,” he assures me.

Aperitivo at La Pergola--Fried polenta with baby carrot and raspberry vinegar; Pickled onions macerated in linseed oil on black cabbage; Puffed bread chips with grilled chanterelles in herbal oilOur first round of antipasti is fried polenta with baby carrot and raspberry vinegar; pickled onions macerated in linseed oil on black cabbage; and puffed bread chips with grilled chanterelles in herbal oil. Except for the carrots, they’re single bites of food, but they’re really good.

“Mmm,” I say after eating the pickled onion followed by a bite of the baby carrot, “that’s a real taste sensation.”

“I told you, give it a chance,” my husband replies.

Not a moment after we’ve finished the first round of antipasti, Simón is coming to the table with a plate stacked with… something, and Marco is right behind him with a bottle of wine. Simón sets the plate on the table and clears the empty dishes.

“Beet, turmeric, sumac, and poppy seed chips,” he says with a bow and steps away from the table. Marco takes his place, presenting the bottle to Christian. My husband nods and Marco proceeds to uncork the bottle, then pour a tasting of the luscious red into one of the incredibly large wine glasses on the table. My husband takes a sip, then nods, and Marco pours not much more than a tasting into his glass, then into mine. What, are they rationing the shit? Sassicaia 1985 Tenuta San Guido

“Taste it, but only sip it… trust me,” he says. There’s nothing more than a sip or two in this glass. I don’t argue. I take the glass by the stem and take a small sip, allowing the wine to coat my tongue.

It’s like a long, warm hug from an old, familiar friend.

“Liquid silk?” I ask, turning a disbelieving eye to my husband. He chuckles.

“No, but close,” he says. “This is a Super Tuscan grape, and 1985 was an exceptional year. This vintage is very hard to find.”

“Christian, how could you do this to me?” I say. “I’ll never be able to enjoy my Cabernet again after this.” I take another sip of the elixir, trying not to chug it, not that I could. It’s a smooth, but robust and hearty flavor. You must sip it, but after each sip, there goes that hug again.

“It is good, yes?” Marco says.

“It is very good,” I reply, replacing the glass so that I don’t drink it all at once. Marco nods and another server appears with a wine bucket on a tall stand. Marco puts the wine in the bucket with a small towel, nods, and walks away. He’s a sommelier, so I know I don’t need to ask if there’s ice in the bucket. Chilling would totally ruin the flavor of this wine.

“So from the content of your conversation, there’s no likelihood that you’re going to be able to get some bottles of this illegally delicious nectar to go home with us, is there?” I take one of the chips from the plate and crunch into it as quietly as I can.

“Not very likely,” he admits. “It took at least four years for a three-star Michelin sommelier to get his hands on some. It’s going to be damn near impossible for me to get a hold of any.”

I frown, on my face and in my soul. I guess this is one of those experiences I’ll just have to enjoy for the time that I have it. I won’t be a brat although the Bitch is stomping around like Rumpelstiltskin.

And these chips aren’t bad at all.

Before we finish the chips, another beautifully plated antipasti comes out, this one a bit more substantial than the other.

“This is watermelon carpaccio marinated in an infusion of birch, cardamom, ginger, lemongrass and jasmine with seafood,” Simón says as his colleague clears the table again. “Enjoy.” He nods and leave.

I never would have thought to prepare watermelon this way. It’s thinly sliced, a mix of the sweet and savory with the hint of the citrus and floral spices. It almost tastes like meat, and I’m very happy that Christian got a plate of his own. I gobble the entire plate along with a couple more sips of “hug.”

Now, I’m not feeling so ravenous, and I can enjoy what they bring to us.

“Marinated crustaceans with peppers and Tropea onion jam,” Simón announces as he presents the next course. “More wine?”

Marinated crustaceans with peppers and Tropea onion jam“Please,” I say with a nod. Simón pours another small amount of wine in the glass which—as I have discovered—turns out to be enough while I admire the creation before me. It’s arranged in this unusual bowl with a wide, flat brim. There’s some kind of pastry or flaky bread decorated with sprigs of flowers and vegetables on top of the prawns arranged in a way so that they almost appear to be in their natural habitat inside the bowl. The entire thing looks like a tropical island sitting on top of a coral reef. It’s actually… fun.

And it’s delicious.

The flavors complement each other so well. There’s nothing overwhelming, and it’s not under-seasoned either. There’s just enough of everything to make you appreciate the dish. I now truly understand why chef’s dishes are so small. They’re not meant to be gobbled. They’re meant to be appreciated.

… Along with a few sips of a warm hug.

And the courses keep coming… Scallops, artichokes, and summer truffles…

… And a warm hug.

Mediterranean roasted eggplant with pomegranates and tahini…

… And a couple more warm hugs.

“More wine?”
“Yes, please!”
Warm hug, warm hug, warm hug…

After all the taste sensations and warm hugs, we finally get our pasta dish—Fagottelli “La Pergola.” It’s apparently the house specialty. It’s like ravioli, and there’s only six of them on the plate. Hmm… okay, chef’s servings.

I soon discover why there are only six ravioli on the plate.

“Where’s my fork?” I ask. “Why did I get a spoon with my pasta?”

“Okay, this is what you’re going to do,” Christian explains. “Don’t try to cut it. Take an entire piece of pasta on the spoon and put the entire thing in your mouth.” I do as I’m told.

It explodes when you bite into it—deliciousness all over your oral cavity. I have to take a moment to savor.

“Oh, my God, this is delicious. What’s in this?” I ask once I’ve finally consumed the creation.

“It’s the chef’s special liquefied carbonara pepper sauce inside a pillow of hand-made ravioli. The outside sauce is green onions in pecorino cheese.” I raise my gaze to him.

“How many times have you been here?” I ask.

“A few,” he confirms with a wink, taking a spoon of his pillow of ravioli.

“With a woman?” I ask. Why the fuck did I ask that question? He raises a surprised gaze to me as he chews his food. Oh, well, it’s out of my mouth now. I can’t take it back. What the hell is in this wine?

“Do you really want to know the answer to that?” he challenges. That response already gave me my answer. He’s a billionaire, extremely handsome, and he’s only been yours for the last three years. Why wouldn’t he have traveled with a woman?

“No,” I say, looking down into my bowl and spooning another ravioli, “no, I don’t.” Christian catches my hand before I’m able to lift my spoon from the bowl, causing me to look up at him.

“No, Anastasia,” he says, his voice sober, “I’ve never taken another woman out of the country. I’ve done a lot of things alone that are normally reserved for couples simply because I felt like I shouldn’t be deprived of these things simply because there wasn’t a woman on my arm. I’m going to have several firsts with you on this trip… and this is one of them.”

I gaze at him for a moment and I feel a smile slowly creep across my face. I try to keep it coy, but I can’t. What he just said pleases me so much that I feel my cheeks about to burst!

Yeah, I bet it’s the wine.

“Now, enjoy your Fagottelli,” Christian says, chuckling softly. And that’s exactly what I do, and it is delightful—the best pasta I think I’ve ever tasted in my life.

Our meat course is lamb cerebellum with fava bean puree, peas, fried artichokes, and chicory marinated in culatello sauce with chili and mint. That course is paired with a varied selection of cheese from the trolley, and several sips of the warm hug. I’m forlorn to see Simón pour the last of the bottle into Christian’s glass, and elated to see Marco close behind him uncorking a second bottle to pour for me.

La Pergola at the Waldorf“Magnifico!” I exclaim, I almost leap from the table and dance with glee. Marco chuckles and places the bottle in the bucket before leaving.

Dolci is baked apricots with yogurt ice cream and iced sphere of red fruit on tea cream with crystallized raspberries. The red fruit turns out to be pomegranate, and there’s chocolate involved. It’s pretty, and it turns out to be one of the most decadent things I’ve ever tasted.

I’m thoroughly satisfied as I sit back and enjoy the after-dinner espresso and more of the warm hug. The meal was exquisite and well worth the wait and I’m so satisfied, I could just purr.

To my surprise, Heinz Beck comes from the kitchen as begins to makes rounds of the dining room, greeting each guest. Talk about your special touches! He smiles as he makes his way to our table.

“We have met before,” he says, when he greets my husband.

“We have,” Christian says, proffering his hand. “Christian Grey.”

“Heinz Beck,” he says, accepting my husband’s shake. “I am not so good with names, but I do not forget a face.”

Animated Emoji Chefs Kiss GIF by swerkChristian introduces me and tells Heinz that this was my first visit. He asks how I enjoyed the meal and I can’t tell him enough how divine everything tasted, the flavors all bursting in your mouth, at one point doing the chef’s kiss on my fingers, which pleases Heinz tremendously. He asks about our vacation and how many of the sites we’ve seen. He holds an actual conversation with us for about a minute and a half before he thanks us for dining and tells us to enjoy the rest of our vacation. Then, he moves on to greet the diners at the next table.

So, this is what dining in a 3-star Michelin restaurant is like.

As we’re leaving, probably some 20 or 30 minutes later, Marco greets us at the door. He’s standing there like he had no other purpose but to stand at that door and he’s holding a beautiful wooden case.

 “Grazie,” he says. “You come again?”

“We definitely come again,” Christian says, enthusiastically. Marco smiles and hands him the case.

“Grazie, Signore, for you and the signora.” He takes my hand and kisses it chastely. “Grazie, signora,” he says with bow.

“Thank you, Marco,” I say with a warm smile. “It was delightful.”

We walk out of the restaurant silently, like we just did a bank heist and we’re trying to quietly make a getaway. Christian carries the case like it’s handcuffed to his wrist. With his hand in the small of my back, he’s kind of rushing me along a bit.

We both know what’s in that case.

When Jason brings the car around, Christian opens the door for me and I hurriedly climb inside. Once he’s inside and we’re on our way, we’re behaving like we just got a Christmas present… because we did!

“Tell me that’s not what I think it is,” I say, unable to contain my glee. Christian unhooks the brass clasp on the case and opens it…

… showing me one of two bottles of warm hugs.

*-*

My husband instructs Jason to take us to the Trevi Fountain so that we can have a little stroll before we go back to the hotel. There are still a lot of people out here, but we’re able to stroll a bit without too much trouble and find a seat on a bench on the lower level right across from the fountain. It’s a little chillier over here by the fountain, and I foolishly didn’t bring a wrap, so Christian drapes his jacket over my shoulders… again. I kind of think my mind convinces me to leave home without an overcoat on purpose, but I probably shouldn’t have done it tonight since I was worried earlier about him catching cold from his wet shoes.

“Are you okay?” I ask when he gives me his jacket.

“I’m fine,” he says. “The temperature’s perfect for me and my arms aren’t bare.” I lean on his shoulder and we hold hands as we watch the Trevi Fountain at night. It’s an entirely different view from what we saw during the day. Even with all the people mulling around, it’s beautiful. And it’s water… I could sit here all night.

“It’s hard to believe you came here alone at all,” I say. “Rome is… magical. Historical and mysterious and romantic… it almost seems like a waste not to enjoy it with someone else.” He’s silent for a few moments.

“I never, ever wanted to be here with anybody else,” he says. “This place is too special to me to share it with some meaningless submissive. It meant too much… means too much to just… cheapen the experience that way.”

“Be honest,” I say, “did you ever want to bring Elena here? I know what she meant to you at one point.” He sighs.

“She came once,” he admits, “but she came with the family. We never had any time alone, which is probably… no, definitely as good thing. This is my special place. Had I made any lasting memories here with her, she would have taken this away from me, too, especially after I finally accepted what she really was.” I sigh.

“She hasn’t taken anything away from you, Christian,” I say, tracing his palm gently. “She’s a part of your past, and you can’t avoid it. She didn’t steal your innocence because, as much as I hate to say it, your innocence was tainted before she got to you. But for you to connect so spiritually to a place this remarkable, that says a lot about you.” I look up at him.

“There may have been emotions that you were unable to express or identify, but someone who’s heartless—like you want to believe you were—never would have been able the have the experiences that you’ve had here in Rome. The epiphanies and the appreciation, the introspection… that takes a deeper soul, a depth that was always there. You just didn’t know it, because the people that love you couldn’t get through to you, and the person that you loved was worthless.

“But in those moments when you were free, when you were on your own in the streets of Trastevere or wandering the Jewish Ghetto, that’s when the real Christian came out—the young boy who was always reaching for love, peace, and enlightenment. And you found that here, even when it was scary or painful. I’ve always known you were a good man with a kind heart. I’ve never doubted it, but now, I’m completely sure of it.”

I gently stroke his hair just over his ear and gaze into his beautiful gray eyes, sparkling from the water reflection off his irises.

“Thank you so much for sharing this with me,” I say, just above a whisper before I press my lips to his.


A/N: There are some very remarkable reconstructions of the Domus Aurea on my Pinterest page in the Domus Aurea album. If you want an idea of what the Golden House may have looked like before it was buried, I suggest you go take a peek! 

NEW PINTEREST ALBUMS WILL BE ADDED EACH CHAPTER FOR THE ITALY VACATION. I SUGGEST YOU DON’T MISS THEM AS THEY WILL GREATLY ENHANCE THE EXPERIENCE!

This chapters albums include the Edoardo II RestaurantTrajan’s ForumLa Pergola in the Waldorfand the Domus Aurea. There are lots of pictures in these albums to give you the full effect of the ruins and the history. 

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

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

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.

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued: Episode 36—Word of Mouth

So, my friends, it has happened again. There has been yet another death in my family. I think I’m at the age now where I just can’t avoid it. We’re all getting older—even though he was younger than my husband and this was very sudden—but although the details are a little gray, I think it’s safe to say that the virus has claimed another victim.

I’m still waiting for arrangements and, as such, I will be flying back to that place that Christian and I hate so much. It’s looking like it may be close to this coming weekend, so I may not get another chapter up for a couple of weeks. Knowing that, I just wanted to make sure I got something posted before this weekend was over so that there’s not another complete MIA from me. Love you all and please, keep me and my family in your prayers.

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

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

Season 5 Episode 36—Word of Mouth

CHRISTIAN

After that sex fest left us both heaving mounds of sweat on the bed, I realize that slipping into Dom mode means aftercare. So, I fill the jacuzzi tub with water and carry her tired ass into the bathroom.

“Mmmm,” she says as the jets soothe her body.

“You like?” I say, squeezing water from one of her freshwater sponges onto her body.

“Very much,” she says, snuggling into me. “It was a perfect night, Christian. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Butterfly,” I reply. We didn’t do anything for her first Mother’s Day last year with Valerie and Pops and everything. I couldn’t let another year go by without celebrating the mother of my children. Speaking of which…

“I’m remiss to bring this up after the wonderful night that we had, but with it being Mother’s Day, I can’t get it out of my head. Do you remember that couple at the inn on the Sonoma Coast—our babymoon?” She thinks for a moment.

“Sheila and CJ?” she asks. I shake my head.

“No, the Daniels,” I reply, “Kiley and Arthur.” She rolls her eyes.

“How can I forget them?” she says, and I’m sure that she means him. He was pretty fucking unforgettable.

“Yeah, well, for shits and giggles, Jason felt the need to keep up with them,” I reply. “Guess what we found out?”

“What?” she says in a tone that I can’t quite place. That tone that says she knows something, and she wants to know if I know what she knows.

“He’s about to do a bid for murder,” I reply. Her eyes sharpen.

“What?” she gasps. “What the hell?” My sentiments exactly.

“The baby was born biracial, a boy,” I tell her. “Daniels took one look at the boy and thrust him to the ground, still attached to his umbilical cord. The baby died of blunt force trauma before he was even two minutes old.” Butterfly gasps a long, horrified breath.

“Oh, dear God, no!” she exclaims in a harsh whisper. I sigh heavily and shrug.

“That guy really is a piece of shit, and he deserves to burn,” I reply.

“I guess Kiley got more than she bargained for,” Butterfly says, shaking her head.

“They could have talked about this,” I say. I know this means that she was unfaithful, of course, and that Arthur fuck is a real fucking piece of work, but he couldn’t hold anything against her. He was fucking around, too. “I don’t excuse infidelity of any kind, but this guy was a true asshole and I could truly understand why she wouldn’t lay next to him to save her life. But if she thought that there was a possibility that this baby wasn’t his—especially a totally different race, they should’ve talked about that before the baby was born.”

“Mmm,” Butterfly says as if she’s contemplating something. Yeah, she knows something.

“What is it?” I ask.

“I had thought many times to call Kiley and ask how things were going,” she says. “I agree that Arthur’s an asshole, but I should’ve known that this was going to end in disaster.” I frown.

“How could you possibly know?” I ask. She’s silent for a moment and then it hits me.

“Wait a minute. Are you telling me she already knew this wasn’t his baby?” Butterfly twists her lips and nods.

“She knew everything,” she says. “She’s pretty well-off and he was spending her money on other women. She put a chunk of it in another account, got a financial advisor and began investing. The advisor was black. She had pretty much replenished the money that Arthur spent plus some by the time they went to the babymoon, and her pot was still growing. She was going to go on and let him spend all the money that he thought she had because she had another stockpile… and because she had started seeing the financial advisor.

“She and Arthur weren’t even sleeping together. When she found out that she was pregnant, she got him drunk and made him think they had had sex, but they never did. She was sure that he was just going to leave once the money ran out, and her ultimate revenge was for him to be standing in the delivery room while she delivered a black baby. I know she had no idea that this was going to be the outcome.”

I’m completely appalled by this entire story. What kind of demon was inside this man to make him decide that he would kill a newborn baby? I totally get rage, but a newborn baby? And Kiley—I want to feel some kind of sympathy for her, losing her baby and the sheer fact that she had to deal with this asshole… but to plan this whole thing, to bring an innocent life into the middle of this mess—that’s unthinkable.

“What happened to Kiley?” she asks.

“She checked out for a few months. When she came back to herself, she didn’t remember anything—not her baby, not her husband, not her lover, nothing. She moved back with her family and filed for divorce from her loser husband since he was a stranger to her.” My wife twists her lips.

“So, she pretty much got a clean slate out of this,” she says.

“Yeah, pretty much,” I reply while gently scrubbing her back.

“It’s more than she deserves,” she says, and I stop scrubbing. “I know what you’re thinking. He’s an asshole, but she planned this whole thing and an innocent child died because her plan backfired. I wouldn’t want to be on that jury.” I twist my lips.

“I agree,” I say, “with all of it. And now, we’re going to change the subject. How is the decorating coming along?”

“The villa?” she asks and I nod. “Swimmingly. Sophie is really going at it with both hands now that she knows she’ll be able to see the finished product. She was always involved and eager to help, but now, she’s enthusiastic about it. She’s so excited about the styles and the textures. It’s like doing one of those home-improvement shows, and then being able to see the result in the big reveal.”

“I’m so glad she’s going to get to see Italy,” I say. “There’s so much for her to learn in that two weeks, even in Lake Como. I think Rome might be a bit much for her at her age.”

“Why?” she asks. “What’s wrong with Rome?”

“Nothing, it’s just a lot of history. There’s so much to absorb—the churches, the museums, the ruins, they’re all beautiful, but it’s a big meal to swallow.”

“Are you saying that I’m going to be overwhelmed when we get to Rome?” she asks.

“You could be,” I tell her, “but I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’m making sure that the learning has fun mixed in it so that you don’t feel like you’re in a college class every moment of the trip.” She lays her head on my chest.

“Well, I know you can’t expect to go to Rome and not be slammed with history. It’s Rome, for God’s sake,” she says.

“Yes, but it’s also a very beautiful city with a lot of excellent sights and very good food… very good food!” I emphasize.

“So, I’m hoping that the hotel where we’ll be staying will have a gym,” she chuckles.

“I thought they all had gyms,” I say, “but that is my intention.”

“Good,” she says, sinking into the comfort of the water.

*-*

The sun is rising over the sound and the orange sky looks beautiful bouncing off the water. I look over at my wife snuggled under the covers, naked, and purring like a kitten. Except for the small mishap with Wexton, our night was perfect. Even that discussion about the Daniels didn’t ruin our evening, although it did make me think.

How can you justify planning an act that can so hugely devastate another person without thinking about the consequences? All the possible outcomes? Arthur cheated on his wife mindlessly, obviously not caring what she thought because if he had been more careful, she never would have known. And her plan—knowing that he would be present while she birthed the baby and there he was, standing there in the delivery room full of doctors and nurses holding a black baby that’s obviously not his. He was an asshole and she knew it, and she let him hold her baby, a baby that they both would know wasn’t his…

The thought causes my mind to drift to nearly all of the horrible people I’ve met in my life who have done horrible things to others, including myself, without a thought or care for their feelings. I’ve been callous in my life, especially to businesses that I’ve taken over and submissives I’ve dismissed, but have I ever been intentionally cruel?

Of course, I have.

I’ve destroyed so many lives—blacklisted people for pissing me off or crossing me—and how quickly we forget Dodd and the hackers, and Ellison. Yet, I don’t feel badly about what happened to any of those people. So, what’s different now?

The baby. It’s the baby.

The baby is the one who paid for the sins of the father… and the mother… even though the father wasn’t his. My only consolation in this situation is that the baby seemingly didn’t suffer. Even though his death was cruel, he died quickly, and there’s no telling what his life would have been like being born into the turmoil in which he was conceived.

“Dear God, don’t let my children have to pay for any of my mistakes,” I say aloud.

“What would make you think something like that?”

Her soft voice startles me from my thoughts, and I look over to see her still in the same position with sleepy eyes looking at me.  God, she’s beautiful. She changed me. She changed my whole life and everything that I was and will be. I can’t wait to show her Rome.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” I say gazing at her.

“You didn’t,” she says. “I was admiring your naked silhouette against the sunrise.” I raise a brow at her.

“You trying to start something, Mrs. Grey?” I taunt, walking over to the bed. She chuckles.

“I beg your pardon, but I’m not the one standing naked in front of a picture window with the sun behind me,” she points out. “I bet the sailors on Elliot Bay are getting a real eyeful.” I sit on the bed and lean over to her.

“Luckily, there’s no one out there,” I tell her. “This view is for your eyes only.” I lean over and kiss her passionately. She wraps her arms around my neck and gently plays with my hair. It comforts me immediately and soothes my raging thoughts. I gently break the kiss and touch her nose with mine.

“You’ve changed me,” I confess as if she didn’t already know. “You’ve changed everything I ever though I was and everything I ever thought I knew… everything I could be. A father? Five years ago, that would have been unheard of. No place in my life for children with the subs and the BDSM clubs and the taking over of businesses and ruining lives. No, not a chance… but now? My life without you and the twins? It’s unthinkable. I could never go back to the man that I was.” She gently strokes my hair.

“You take such good care of us,” she says, her ocean blue eyes looking deeply into mine, “and it’s not the money—although, let’s be realistic, the money helps…” I chuckle at her attempt to add levity to the situation. “But I mean how you care for us, protect us, and provide for us how I know you would whether you had $2 or two million. You love us and I’m certain there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for us. We’re so lucky to have you.”

If she only knew how wrong she is. They’re not lucky to have me. I’m lucky to have them, and I’ll do anything to keep them… and to keep them happy and safe.

“This conversation has gotten so serious,” I tell her. “Let’s get dressed and have breakfast, my dear… and Happy Mother’s Day to the most beautiful mother in the world.”

7a6daf83d0edac2b642108b5d42b11f3 We get dressed and head down to the hotel restaurant, Six Seven. They have quite the menu for Mother’s Day brunch, and I and my wife take full advantage—stuffed French toast, a crab omelet, marionberry pancakes, brûléed goat cheese salad, and we split the fresh seafood variety platter and the Roquefort crusted filet mignon. Butterfly enjoys three prosecco mimosas with her meal and I have one Corpse Reviver #2, which is Bombay Sapphire gin, Lillet Blanc, Cointreau, lemon, and Pernod.

We enjoy the meal tremendously, talking about the opera and laughing at Wexton’s idea that he even had the slightest chance with my wife. We’re uninterrupted, but I notice that we’re getting more than one odd stare and whisper. I don’t bring it to my wife’s attention, though. She’s nice and mellowed by the mimosas during her Mother’s Day brunch and if the peasants want to gawk at her beauty, so be it.

A couple of hours later, we check out of the hotel and take our bags to the valet. One attendant heads off to get my car while the other does a double-take at us and then at something on the valet podium.

“Excuse me,” he says, humbly, walking over to us, “but do you mind signing this for me?”

Since when do I have to sign something to get my car from the valet?

I look down at what he’s holding, and it’s the local news section of this morning’s newspaper. Butterfly giggles when she sees the front headline.

The Paps have gotten a picture of us standing in front of the Opera House, sharing a kiss.


ANASTASIA

I remained happily cocooned in my Mother’s Day bliss for the entire day—delicious meals prepared for me, good company with Sarah, Luma, and Grace and the family joining us for dinner, and endless snuggles with my babies—but alas, we couldn’t hold Monday off or all of the problems it usually brings with it.

The day begins smooth enough, but just before lunch, Courtney comes to me to tell me that one of the children staying in the dorm is a horrible bully. He’s mean to the other children, taking their food at lunch, and a list of other things. They’ve tried to talk to him and even some of the parents have complained to his mother, I’m told, but to no avail.

This is one of the parts of the job that I don’t like. The child may be completely traumatized by the situation that he’s come from, and now, I have to talk to his most-likely traumatized mother to bring the situation under control.

“Susan, I want to talk to you about Ferrell’s behavior…”

“Oh, God, here we go with this again,” she laments. I frown.

“With what again?” I ask.

“What has he done now?” she asks impatiently. Oh, dear God. Is this what we’re dealing with?

“He’s bullying the other children in the program,” I reply. “He’s taking the smaller kids’ food at lunch, he doesn’t play well with others, and he’s downright rude to the staff. Something has to be done about his behavior.” She sighs.

“I’ve tried to talk to him I don’t know what to do,” she says all in one exasperated breath, and she doesn’t sound like she’s frustrated. She sounds like she’s irritated.

“Well, then, we need to come up with a solution, because his behavior is unacceptable,” I reply firmly, trying to keep my cool.

“Well, what do you want me to do?” she says, rolling her neck. Okay… stop… breathe… let’s try to approach this another way.

“Susan, families come here for sanctuary. It’s supposed to be a safe place. If the bigger kids bully the smaller kids, it’s not a safe place anymore. So, we definitely can’t have that. A lot of these parents are very protective of their children, and justifiably so, because a lot of you have come out of very bad, very violent situations. If the bigger kids bully the smaller kids, they’re back in that violent situation. He can’t take food from the other children and he has to obey the staff.”

“He’s a growing boy,” she defends. What the fuck? That boy is grown! He’s 12 years old and he weighs as much as I do if not more.

“Susan, is that your response to your son taking food from other children in the program?” I ask, nonplused.

“There should be more for the bigger kids,” she continues. “They barely give him enough. He’s obviously still hungry.” He’s still hungry because he looks like a 12-year-old linebacker!

“First of all, there’s plenty of food for everyone. If he wants more, all he has to do is ask for seconds. And secondly, how can you sit here and explain away your son taking food out of other children’s mouths because he’s not getting enough? What if someone does that to him?” She scoffs.

“I’d like to see ‘em try,” she says snottily.

“Do you hear yourself?” I ask incredulously. “I’m trying to tell you that your son’s behavior is unacceptable. He can’t keep behaving like this. It’s contradictory to our mission here and counterproductive to what we’re trying to accomplish. You need to handle this situation because his behavior is affecting a lot of people.”

“I have a lot on my plate right now!” she shoots. “I’m trying to keep him away from his no-good father who likes to use us as punching bags. I don’t have time to deal with Ferrell taking an extra cookie from a kid. Isn’t that why you’re here… to help guide troubled children? Why don’t you do something about it since he’s so unacceptable?”

Oh, I can do something about it, you contemptable shrew, but you definitely wouldn’t like it.

“We’re here to help you; we’re not here to raise your child,” I retort.

“Then, help me, dammit!” she snaps. That’s when I lose it.

“Hold it!” I counter, my eyes piercing. “I don’t know who you’re accustomed to speaking to in that tone, but you won’t speak to me that way!”

“Ana!” I turn around to see Grace marching into my office. “I won’t walk into this room and take sides, but we can hear you two down the hall. What seems to be the problem?”

“Somebody needs to remind Dr. Moneybags here that she needs a better bedside manner!” Susan barks. My mouth and eyes fly open in surprise. I’m utterly appalled. “You call this place a help center, but she doesn’t want to seem to help!”

I turn a horrified gaze to Grace. I don’t have words for this situation at the moment. If she came from a violent husband and her attitude is this bad, it’s no wonder the kid is so fucked up.

“Mrs. Yardley, can you tell me what happened?” Grace says after a deep sigh.

“Yeah! She’s trying to tell me how to raise my kid!” she retorts. I did no fucking such thing. I’m only trying to tell her to keep that little monster on a leash!

“Ana?” Grace says, waiting for an explanation. I cross my arms and face her.

“This is Ferrell’s mother,” I say, and pause for a moment. Realization passes over Grace’s face for a moment, but she quickly recovers. “I was telling her about his behavior, and that he’s making the staff’s job impossible by refusing to listen to instruction. I told her that he’s taking food from the younger children and her response was that he’s a growing boy.”

Once again, Grace tries to maintain her expression, not very well, though.

“That’s not all I said,” she interrupts haughtily.

“And I’m still talking,” I say, looking over my shoulder in her direction but not directly at her, “but you can feel to take over if you want.”

“No, you go right ahead, Dr. Moneybags,” she says sarcastically, and now I turn to look at her.

“I haven’t called you out of your name,” I tell her. “Now, unless you want me to give you an unattractive nickname, you call me Dr. Grey, or nothing at all.”

“Okay, Nothing At All,” she replies matter-of-factly. I turn back to Grace with raised eyebrows and twisted lips, gesturing at the disrespectful cow standing next to me like, “What the fuck do you expect me to do with this?” Grace gets that look in her eye like “somebody’s in trouble.”

“Mrs. Yardley, we are definitely here to help you, but that’s only if you want it, and there are conditions,” Grace says. “On more than one occasion, the staff and residents have come to us complaining about Ferrell’s behavior. This is why we’re coming to you—as his mother—to let you know that his behavior is not acceptable. It’s counterproductive to everything we’re trying to accomplish here with a facility full of at-risk families. We are more than happy to assist you with whatever counseling he may need and to help you in any way that is within our means, but we have guidelines—guidelines that we must follow, and guidelines that we expect our families to follow. If anyone in the Center is unable to follow those guidelines, we’re going to ask them to leave.” Oh, that was the wrong thing to say to this sow.

“You’re kickin’ me out?” she says, affronted.

“I repeat,” Grace says firmly, “if… anyone in the Center is unable to follow those guidelines, we’re going to ask them to leave. Are you saying that you’re unable to follow our guidelines?”

“I can follow ‘em just fine!” she barks at Grace.

“Good then one of the guidelines is that you’re not going to raise your voice at me or my staff anymore!” Grace retorts firmly all in one breath. “We can all hear just fine, and we’re going to speak to you with respect and you’re going to do the same thing to us!”

Yardley pauses for a moment as if she’s shocked, which she probably is.

“Next, we’re not in high school here,” Grace continues. “We’re all adults. We can address each other that way. Snazzy comebacks and unattractive nicknames will get us nowhere, and we might as well end this interaction now and go our separate ways. This is Dr. Grey; this is Mrs. Yardley. Those are the names you need to be using.”

Now, Yardley crosses her arms and shifts her weight to one leg. She’s clearly defensive, but I have no problem telling this woman to shape the fuck up or ship the fuck out.

“Now, we have a problem here. We have a child in the facility that’s making it difficult for other children to heal and move on with their own troubled lives. He’s also making it impossible for my staff to do their job. That child is your son. Now, we can address this problem like adults and see what solutions we can come up with, or we can call it a wash and part ways. The decision is yours, Mrs. Yardley.”

Grace doesn’t want to turn away anyone who needs help any more than I do, but we’re not going to put up with this shit. We’re here to help, and we’re not going to be antagonized by someone we’re trying to help in the process.

“I’ll talk to him,” she says after a pause. Grace nods once.

“Remember,” Grace says, “we’re here to help.” She looks at Grace, cuts her eyes at me, and then petulantly leaves the room. I roll my eyes and shake my head.

“You can’t yell at them, Ana,” she says calmly.

“They can’t yell at me, Grace,” I say pointedly. She gazes at me for a moment and then nods.

“Take a break,” she says, putting her arm around my shoulders. “We were blessed that we’ve only had one like her in several years, but that one is enough.”

I think she’s conveniently forgetting Monster Bitch, but she wasn’t a resident, so there’s that.

“I’m going to go and spend some time with my babies,” I say. Grace nods and gives my shoulders a squeeze.

Minnie is playing with alphabet blocks when I get to the day care room and Mikey is behind a child-sized car, pushing it around the room. There aren’t as many small children in day care, only a handful as most of the families lately have school-aged children. Keri is nearby my twins and Ebony is feeding one of the infants. The other girl employed in here is at the table reading a magazine as the rest of the children are asleep. I go over and give Keri a break while I sit on the floor and play with the blocks with Minnie. Mikey abandons his car and decides that the blocks are more interesting since Mommy’s watching. They play well together and then Mikey has a conversation with his sister that I swear she understands, because she replies to him in like gobbledygook and they continue playing with their blocks. I smile and shake my head.

Maxie has “Mommy and Me” classes with her friend Jade. Mindy is learning to interact and play with other children. There have never been many children in the Center that were the same age as Minnie and Mikey except when they were babies. Should I introduce them to something like “Mommy and Me?” I don’t want them to be those spoiled, entitled rich kids I’ve seen only too often. I don’t want them to feel sheltered or shut in, either. Their only interactions for the most part are Mindy and Harry…

I’m probably reading too much into this. Dr. Nahabedian has given them a clean bill of health, including their developing personalities and social skills. It’s just that, as a mom, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing everything I need—giving them everything they need—for their developmental success.

I take out my phone and snap some pictures of them building whatever edifice they’re building with the blocks. After a few pictures, I start the video and record my two little architects negotiating the plans for their construction project. After a while, Minnie tires of the blocks and decides that she wants Mommy time. While Mikey continues to work on their architectural masterpiece, Minnie walks over and crawls into my lap.

Her little eyes look heavy and either she has gotten extremely comfortable in her happy place or someone skipped a nap. I begin to sing their lullaby to her and watch her little lids begin to droop…

“Anah! Anah!” Keri comes rushing back into the day care and takes Minnie from my arms. I see black suits run past her and I’m immediately alarmed.

“Choonks ahn ‘is wey upstehs! Des a fight in da dome!”

The dome? What the…? Oh, the dorm!

“Oh, shit!” I say, finally letting go of Minnie. I’m running behind my security and as we bend the wall to the stairwell, Grace meets us at the door.

“Yardley?” I ask.

“I don’t know, but that’s where my money is,” she says.

We’re all lunging up the stairs following security, and the minute we open the door to the second floor, you can hear the rabblerousing in the hall. We follow the noise and sure enough, there are two women rolling on the floor like wrestling bears, and yes—one of them is Yardley.

“Break it up!” Grace screams at the two women. “I said break it up!”

When there’s no reaction from the women on the floor, Grace nods to security, and Chuck and his cohort separate the women.

“Get your hands off me!” Yardley demands, trying to swing at Chuck. “Let me go, you…” She looks up and sees me and Grace standing there.

“I want her arrested!” she demands pointing at the other resident. “She hit my son!”

“He hit my Mark!” the other resident says. “He’s twice his size! He’s been terrorizing my child ever since he’s been here—pushing him around and eating his lunch, and she doesn’t do anything about it!”

“They’re just being boys!” Yardley retorts. “You shouldn’t have hit him!” I’m so pissed off right now.

“Mrs. Handon, why didn’t you just tell Mrs. Yardley that Ferrell was antagonizing your son?” Grace asks.

“I told her plenty!” Mrs. Handon says. “The first time I told her, she apologized. The second and third time I told her, she just waved me off. The next time I tried to tell her, she put her hand up and told me that she didn’t want to hear it. That’s when I decided that if she couldn’t discipline her little monster, the next time he put his hands on my kid, he was gonna get it. He put his hands on my kid, so he got it! He slapped my Mark, so I slapped him!”

I look over at Ferrell, standing by the wall and crying like somebody beat the hell outta him. He’s easily between 110 and 120 pounds—at 12! Mark’s 10, and he’s lucky if he’s 70 pounds. Here’s this big ass boy bullying a smaller boy, and when he gets a taste of his own medicine, he turns into a sobbing little bitch. He’s going to grow up to be the perfect little narcissist!

Mark, on the other hand, is curled up and hiding in the corner, his arms wrapped around his legs and his face hiding behind his knees.

“Mrs. Yardley, I’ll be glad to call the police if that’s what you would like,” Grace says, “but know that if they come, they’re going to take both of you into custody and your boys will go to Family Services.”

Yardley suddenly calms down. I don’t know which bothers her more—going to jail or little Feral going to Family Services.

“Well, I want something done about this,” Yardley says indignantly. “She hit my son!”

“And what should we do about Feral hitting Mark?” I say. She glares at me.

“His name is Ferrell!” she shoots. Oh, shit, did I say that out loud? My face exhibits honest horror. I didn’t mean to say that.

“Oh!” I exclaim. “I’m sorry,” I say honestly, not sorry that I called the boy Feral, just sorry that I said it out loud.

“I’ll just bet you are!” she seethes. Grace sighs heavily, obviously exacerbated.

“I need to see you all in my office… now. Oscar, Chuck, please?” Grace turns around and marches away. Oh, shit, this is not going to end well.

“Ladies,” Chuck says as he and Oscar release Mrs. Yardley and Mrs. Handon. “If you please.” He gestures towards the stairs and the women both walk in that direction.

“What about my son?” Mrs. Handon says. “I don’t want him left up here with that creature!”

“I’ll bring the boys,” I say calmly. That seems to suffice for both parents and they all head to the stairwell. When they’re out of sight, I go over to Mark. This kid is terrified. I know their stories and he’s already been traumatized. I kneel down to him.

“Come on, Mark,” I tell him. “It’s okay.” He looks up and sees me and even though he didn’t make a show of it for everybody, he’s been crying. He stands without a word and never raises his head. I put my hand on his shoulder and lead him out of the corner.

“Ferrell,” I say, gesturing for him to come with us. When he gets within arm’s reach of Mark, he reaches to hit him. I catch his wrist and squeeze, just hard enough to show him how strong I am. He looks at me like he can’t believe I’m touching him and I glare at him like Satan.

“You behave yourself,” I say between my teeth, still squeezing his wrist. Kid, I’ll make what his mom did look like a walk in the park.

“You… you hit me!” he says, bringing attention to us. His mother has already cleared the floor, so I’ll make an example out of him.

“I did no such thing,” I say calmly still holding his wrist for everyone to see. “You were about to hit Mark again, and I stopped you. Now, if you like, I can call the police, your mom can go to jail, and you can go to juvie, because that is assault. Nobody’s just called you on it yet. Now, are you going to behave, or should I pull out my cell? Choice is yours.”

He stares at me a bit horrified but says nothing. I release his arm and he pretends to snatch it away, but he couldn’t get loose and he knows it. He walks ahead of me and Mark to the stairs. I look down at Mark who still hasn’t raised his head. He’s been bullied all his life by his father and now he has to deal with this. If we don’t break this cycle soon, he’s going to become a statistic—suicide, homicide, or both. I sigh and lead him towards the stairs.

“This is a very unfortunate situation,” Grace says once we’re all in her office. “You’ve both come to us because you need help. As much as we want to help you, this cannot be tolerated.”

“I should say not!” Yardley says indignantly.

“Mrs. Yardley!” Grace snaps. “Not two hours ago, we spoke to you about Ferrell’s behavior, and you said that you would talk to him. Is this the result of that discussion?”

Grace awaits Yardley’s response and when there is none, she continues.

“The families in this facility are already here because they’ve suffered some kind of traumatic experience. You should know better than anybody that these children have seen and been through some horrific things. They don’t come here to be exposed to more of it. I told you that this afternoon and it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. That’s unfortunate, because as much as we would like to help you both, we have a zero-tolerance policy here with fighting, and we’re going to have to ask you both to leave.” Yardley looks horrified.

“I was just protecting my son!” Yardley defends.

“And I was protecting mine,” Mrs. Handon retorts calmly. She’s resigned to her fate. If the situation repeated itself, she’d do the exact same thing. Yardley, on the other hand, wants to play the victim.

“With all due respect, Mrs. Yardley,” Grace interjects, “if you had followed instructions and gotten this situation under control like you promised you would, we wouldn’t be here. I’m not going to debate this issue with either of you. Security will escort you back to the dorm and you’ll have to leave.”

“This is bullshit,” Yardley says lowly, but just loud enough for us to hear her.

“Mrs. Handon,” I say, “I’ll get on the phone and see if I can find alternative placement for you this evening.” She nods and says nothing. She’s reserved, and probably tired and scared just like Mark.

“What about me?” Yardley hisses.

“I wish you luck,” I say, “but I’m going to give you a little advice before you leave.”

“I don’t need your advice!” she barks and stands.

“Well, you’re going to get it!” I tell her. “Because if you don’t, I’m going to call the police and have you both arrested just out of spite.” Mrs. Handon now raises her head, her eyes piercing.

“Sit your ass down,” she says, her voice low and satanic, “or I’m going to get up outta this seat and make sure that ride to jail is worth every motherfucking second!”

Yardley looks at her with narrowed eyes. Chuck and Oscar prepare themselves to detain the ladies and probably for another girlfight. Yardley assesses the situation quickly. Eventually, she decides that she doesn’t want to take the wrath of a woman who not only has to leave a safe haven because Yardley wouldn’t control her damn son, but now she’ll go to jail because you didn’t sit your ass down and listen. The possibility of Yardley herself going to jail as well probably doesn’t appeal to her, so she takes a seat.

“Your son,” I say, “will probably try to tell you that I hit him, too. I didn’t. He tried to hit Mark again on our way down here, and I caught his wrist and told him to stop. Luckily, he made a huge scene, and I have witnesses. He has a future ahead of him. Right now, that future is dotted with juvenile detention and prison, and quite possibly any other imaginable thing that can happen to a selfish little bully who has never been properly taught or disciplined.

“This is not news to you. You know he’s a problem. You knew he was a problem when I confronted you about him before I even had a chance to speak. You even had other parents tell you that he’s a problem, and you still didn’t do anything. He is incorrigible and you’re condoning his behavior. He’s a fire-starter, Mrs. Yardley, and I can guarantee you that if you don’t get him under control, one day he’s going to get burned and he might just take you with him.” She purses her lips.

“Are we done now?” she says.

“Yeah,” I say, “we’re done.”

“Come on, Ferrell,” she says and stands and marches to the door, facing off with Omar. He steps aside to let her and Ferrell pass and falls in step behind them. I turn to Mrs. Handon.

“You and Mark come to my office,” I tell her. “We’ll find somewhere for you to go.”

“Who’s going to take us and they know I got kicked out of here for fighting?” she laments.

“They don’t have to know that,” I say. “I’ll tell them we’re at capacity. I’m really sorry about this.”

“I understand,” she says. “I couldn’t let him keep hitting my son, though. Do you see how big that kid is? Mark didn’t stand a chance.” I nod and lead her down to my office. Chuck stands outside and waits while I go about the business of trying to find somewhere for the Handons to go. Unfortunately, the emergency shelters are full to capacity, and the intake departments are closed for the non-emergency shelters as it’s later than I thought.

“Dr. Grey,” she says, “if you can’t find someplace for us, call Family Services for Mark. I don’t want him to have to be on the street.” I’m getting more and more angry at Yardley by the second.

“That won’t happen,” I tell her. Not only will they take her son, but they’ll probably call his father, and he’ll be right back where he started from. I’ll put her up in a motel and post security at the door before I let that happen.

“If I could just get back to Palouse,” she laments. “My mom and dad don’t have much, but they have the house and the land in Palouse. If I could get to them, they would protect us. Dad would blow a hole in Carter’s ass so fast if he came out there…” she laughs tragically.

“All you need is to get to Palouse?” I ask. She raises her head.

“Dr. Grey, I didn’t… I wasn’t trying to…” I raise my hand to silence her.

“I know,” I say, “but are you telling me that you have a safe haven in Palouse?”

“I think so,” she says, dropping her head. “I’ve been ashamed to call… to tell them that…” She starts to cry. Mark rises from his perch and walks over to his mother. He puts his arm around her shoulders as she weeps and she turns to embrace him. I quickly get online and Google plane tickets to Palouse… $84 one way.

Two hundred measly dollars is standing between them and peace and freedom?

“Do you have Mark’s birth certificate?” I ask. Usually, when women run, they don’t leave with much, and I know she didn’t take much with her when she left. She nods.

“I always knew I would leave. I just didn’t have the guts and I never had the money,” she says. I turn the phone around to her.

“Call your parents,” I say to her. “Tell them you’re coming home.”

*-*

“Tough case?” Christian says when I fall down on the sofa in the family room. It’s nearly 9pm when I get home. I had Keri and Gail leave the children in the family room with us as I need a little more bonding time tonight.

“The worse,” I lament. “One kid was bullying another kid. We talked to his mother and she didn’t do anything. We ended up having to kick both families out because the mothers got into a physical altercation.”

“That hardly seems fair,” he says, sitting next to me and gathering Mikey up for snuggles. “Hey, little prince,” he says, tickling Mikey’s ribs as Mikey giggles feverishly.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy,” I tell him. “No fighting under any circumstances.” My head falls back on the sofa.

“Top! Top!” Mikey giggles and Christian ceases with the tickling.

“Okay, little man,” he says and Mikey continues to laugh in his arms. “Give Daddy a kiss.”

Mikey plants a slobbery kiss on his father’s cheek, and Christian puts him down to greet his daughter.

“How’s Daddy’s little princess?” he says, now scooping Minnie into his arms. She pats his cheeks like always. I don’t know what that means, but she always does that when you pick her up.

“Oh, shit!” Minnie exclaims as soon as she’s in her father’s arms. His eyes furrow.

“What the he… heck?” he demands. “Who’s been talking like that around her?” I sigh heavily.

“That would be me, I think,” I say without raising my head. “When the situation erupted at the Center, I reacted with her still in my arms. I only hope Mikey didn’t hear it because I can’t deal with two sailors today.” Christian shakes his head and turns to Minnie.

“Bad word,” he says, shaking his head. “Bad word, Minnie Mouse.” I don’t think she cares one bit what he’s saying. She’s just happy to be in Daddy’s arms.

Happy to be in Daddy’s arms…

What the hell turns these men from loving and caring fathers into monsters, I’ll never understand. Maybe they were never loving and caring fathers. Maybe it was an act to begin with. I don’t know… Carla was once a loving and caring mother and she turned into a raging bitch, so what’s her excuse?

I put one mother and son safely on a plane to Palouse this evening while effectively putting another mother and son out on the street to fend for themselves. In and of itself, it sounds horrible. It makes me a bad person… but I tried to help them all. I tried to give them a chance, but the Yardleys—Jesus. I wonder if anyone will help them with her behaving that way.

*-*

Sophie and I are in our favorite place as of late—in my office combing through emails, pictures, and ideas for the villa, vetoing some of Aaron’s outlandish ideas while giving him the go-ahead on some others. It’s Thursday evening, and Christian has informed me that we’ll be taking the boat to his parents’ place this weekend, at which time, all parties involved in the trip to Italy will be meeting to discuss final plans.

To be honest, it is that time. We’ll be leaving for our private portion of the trip in about three weeks. Everyone else will be on their way out the following month. It’s more than time to tie up loose ends.

Sophie and I are busy discussing some of the pieces for the living rooms and sitting rooms when my phone vibrates. It’s Grace. Oh, hell, what’s going on at the Center?

“Hey, Grace, what’s up?” I answer.

“Hello, dear. I hate to have to call you with this, but have you seen the news?” Grace asks me.

“No,” I reply. “What?”

“Are you anywhere that you can turn it on?”

“No, I’m in my office. There’s no television in here,” I reply. She sighs and then she’s silent for a while.

“What is it, Grace?” I ask.

“We’re famous,” she replies, “and not in a good way.” My brow furrows as I try to figure out what she’s talking about. Just as I’m about to ask her to elaborate, Marilyn comes walking—quickly—into my office with twisted lips.

“Do I want to know what this is about?” I ask them both, and they both start talking at the same time. Marilyn hands me her tablet, already open to one of the local news channels with a video paused, and hands it to me. I press play to see what the commotion is about.

“We’re here in front of the Helping Hands Community Center and Shelter with one of their former residents. And what’s your name, ma’am?”

“Susan Yardley.”

“Oh, shit,” I say as I sink into my seat.

“I… think I’ll… go to bed, now,” Sophie says, standing and heading towards the door.

“Thanks, Sophie… I’m sorry…” I mutter, trying to pay attention to what’s happening on the screen.

I watch the entire interview, which isn’t more than five minutes, as Susan Yardley and her very large son talk to the reporter about being “thrown out” of Helping Hands after they were assaulted by another resident. Of course, there’s no mention that Feral was antagonizing other children and stealing their lunches, or that the alleged assault came after he attacked a child nearly half his age and size. And they’re standing right in front of the damn Center!

“Are they down there now?” I lament.

“No,” she says, “I have no idea when this was taken.” I thrust my hand into my hair—my scar is beginning to hurt. This bitch even managed to muster up some tears as the reporter vows to find her and her “poor son” somewhere safe to go. If she’s so damn scared, why is she on television letting her supposedly psycho and violent husband know her plans? I wonder if what she’s saying is even true…

“Baby,” Christian is marching into my office. “Excuse me, Marilyn, I’m sorry to interrupt, but… that situation at Helping Hands is on the news? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I’m just now finding out. How did you find out?” He waves his phone at me.

“Mac is on the phone, and she’s not happy,” he says.

“I’m not happy, either,” I say, “but why is she not happy?”

“Somebody should have told me what was going on,” Mac says on speaker phone.

“There was an altercation between two residents at a homeless shelter. That’s hardly newsworthy,” I declare.

“Well, somebody thought it was because it’s on the news!” Mac declares. “It’s too late to get ahead of this, so we’ve got to come out with a statement.”

“No, we won’t!” Grace says at the same time that I declare, “The hell we will.”

“What the hell?” Christian says looking around the room for the phantom voice.

“That’s your mother,” I say, pointing to my phone on the desk, “and we will do no such thing.”

“Ana, anything that has to do with you can affect GEH…” Vee begins.

“This is not GEH!” I state emphatically. “This has nothing to do with GEH and I will not have you making a statement and feeding into this woman’s lies.”

“Butterfly…”

“No!” I nearly shout. “These are people’s lives we’re talking about here. The safety of every resident we have has been threatened simply by those assholes doing that interview in front of the damn Center! No goddamn statement, and I mean it! If you want to do something useful, find out everything you can on that lying, spiteful bitch and see if she’s really ‘hiding’ from a violent husband or if she’s just taking advantage of the system. I know if I were afraid for my life and the life of my son, I wouldn’t be plastering him in front of a television camera!”

Everyone in the room falls silent.

“Shit,” Grace says, “I hadn’t even considered that.”

“Why would you?” I say. “We’re here to help people in need. We trust them to be honest about their situations. If we were doing background checks on everybody, we wouldn’t help anybody… and that’s the truth.” I turn to Christian and speak loud enough for Vee to hear me. “You have your orders, but you have to use the information you saw on television. I can’t give you anything else.” Christian looks incredulously at me.

“After all this, you’re still going to protect her?” he asks, appalled.

“I have to, Christian!” I snap angrily, more angry that I have to protect this sneaky, conniving, lying bitch’s identity than anything. “I took an oath and I have to stick to it. Not only could giving you any information cost my license, but it could cost our accreditation—or did you forget all the trauma involved in that endeavor?”

Christian’s face falls, and I immediately regret bringing it up.  God, my scar is hurting.

“Besides,” I say, holding my head down and trying to massage the pain away, “nobody will ever trust us again if we do something like that. You’ll have to use what you got from the interview. I can’t help you… And get some more security down to Helping Hands as soon as possible. After this dumbass stunt, somebody’s estranged husband is going to come down there looking for his wife and kids.”

I see Christian turn away from me. He takes Vee off the speaker and begins to give her instructions.

“I’m sorry, Ana,” Grace says.

“There’s nothing for you to apologize for,” I reply. “None of us saw this coming and there’s no way that she could stay there.” Grace sighs.

“I know,” she replies, “I just feel like there has to be a better way to handle this.”

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow,” I say, “see if we can come up with some plan of action. We’ll have to make an announcement to the residents. They’re going to see more security and they’ll want to know why. They’ll need to know about the exposure this woman has brought to us and they’ll need to be careful when leaving the Center.”

This damn thing has so many far-reaching implications, this bitch has no idea what she’s done. I’m certain she doesn’t even care.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” Grace says with a sigh. “We’ll talk tomorrow, dear.”

We end the call and I swear my scalp feels like it’s going to crawl off my head and run out of the room screaming… and I want to cry.

“Marilyn, can you excuse us for a moment?” I hear Christian say. I hand Marilyn her tablet without raising my head. I don’t have strength or will to fight, so if he wants to argue he’s going to have to do it himself.

I hear Marilyn leave the room and then silence. I’m trying to muster every bit of my strength just to sit here and not lash out at him if he tries to convince me that we need to release a statement and not to crumble onto the floor from the implications of everything going on here. Helping Hands is supposed to be a safe haven, and this woman has jeopardized that all for personal gain. I’m certain of it. The more I think about it, the angrier I get… and the more helpless I feel.

I hear him move next to me. He turns my chair to face him and I can see that he’s crouching down to me. He gently clasps my wrists, causing me to raise my gaze to him as he moves my hands away from my face and head. He puts his hands on either side of my head, steadying my head with one hand and searching through my hair with his fingertips with the other. Without breaking our gaze, his fingertips find my scar, and he slowly begins to massage with just a little firmness…

And the pressure begins to cease.

As the pain starts to subside, I can get a clearer picture of him through my angry, helpless haze. His expression is one of helpless concern and sympathy. It destroys my resolve, and I begin to weep. He says nothing. He just continues to massage my scar. The more he massages, the better I feel and the heavier my heart feels. He’s never done this before. No one besides the doctors have ever touched my scar that I can remember except me. I don’t think he avoided it; I just don’t remember him ever touching it. Maybe he did, I don’t know, my mind is swirling… and my thoughts… and my emotions… and it really feels good.

“People are horrible!” I weep. “I do the best I can what else can I do!”

“That’s all you can do, baby,” he says, his voice soothing.

“These women come from horrible situations!” I sob. “I can’t imagine surviving through some of the things they’ve had to endure… and this selfish bitch…”

My body shakes with sobs and with anger.

“I know,” he says softly. “I know.”

He’s still massaging the pressure and pain out of my scar and my heart just crumbles at the kindness as well as in anguish for these women, some of whom are literally running for their lives, having their safety and what little peace of mind Helping Hands affords them ripped from their fingertips. It’s like when Daddy brought me to Montesano and that devil bitch Carla ripped me from my peace and dragged me back to Nevada.

That doesn’t help my mood at all.

I tip over onto my husband’s shoulder and continue to weep. One hand now gently strokes my back while the other continues to massage my pain and resolve away. The dam is flowing freely now and I couldn’t stop it if I tried. I see a figure come into my doorway, but my eyes are too watery to make out who it is. I’m too busy crying anyway to care or to entertain anybody’s company right now.

“We’ve got four more guys on the way to Helping Hands,” I hear Jason say. “Four more will replace them tomorrow, and we’ll have a steady rotation until we hear otherwise. Do you think that’ll be enough?”

I can’t respond. I don’t even know if he’s talking to me or Christian.

“We’ll leave it at that for now,” Christian says. “We’ll revisit in the morning.”

I see Jason’s form leave my office and my heart is so heavy and full at the same time that I think it’s going to explode.

I don’t know how much longer Christian literally allows me to cry on his shoulder, but once I stop, the pain and pressure are gone from my scar, but I’m waterlogged and exhausted. He gets me to our suite and draws me a bath. After a good soak and a cup of chamomile tea, I fall into a heavy slumber.

*-*

“Mrs. Grey, would you like to issue a rebuttal to Mrs. Yardley’s accusations?”

I can’t believe that I’m greeted by the fucking Paparazzi when I get to Helping Hands. Don’t these fuckers realize what they’re doing? Nobody’s going to come here for help while the press is camped out!

I stop, take a deep breath, and turn around.

“Yes, I would,” I say, and I can see Chuck stiffen.

“First of all, it’s Dr. Grey. Second, this place is a safe haven. We help remove people from dire circumstances and dangerous living conditions, and I refuse to allow one person—no matter who they are—to jeopardize the safety and well-being of these families in any way. With that in mind, I have absolutely no comment on the personal business or identities of anyone behind these walls—past or present. She wants to defame me, fine, just don’t endanger my residents. And by the way, that’s what you’re doing right now! These people depend on anonymity for their safety and you’re blasting us all over the news trying to get a story! You should be ashamed of yourselves!”

The crowd of reporters is mostly quiet as I walk into the center with the exception of two or three reporters still barking questions at me that I don’t really hear.

When I get inside, the new guards greet me and Oscar informs me that there is now a guard posted at the elevator and at each exit—even the locked ones. One of them will also do rounds every hour with a female guard doing the checks on the resident floors. That makes me feel a lot better.

Grace and I agree that we need to have a meeting to gauge the moods and hear the concerns of the residents. So, we schedule it for just after lunch even though Friday is normally my short day. It won’t be so, today. We’ve got to let these ladies know what’s happening and what steps we’re taking for their safety.

I don’t really know what to do with myself throughout the morning. Most of the press grew a conscience after my short statement and left the premises, but there are a few diehard reporters still out there. No one has left or showed up since I got here. I hope none of the women had job interviews today. I put a call in to Al to see if anything can be done about the press as they’re jeopardizing the safety of these women. He’s seeing if there’s anything he can do.

I make this announcement to the ladies when we begin the meeting, alerting them to the additional security which they had already seen. In general, most of them understand the circumstances and are more pissed at Yardley than they are concerned. They’re also very appreciative of the extra steps that we’re taking for their security.

“Why aren’t we watching television?” one of the residents asks in the middle of the meeting. “It’s going to start any minute.” Television? What the hell?

“Why would we be watching television?” Grace asks. “What’s going to start?”

“Penelope‘s interview,” she replies. “I’m sorry, I thought that’s why we were having the meeting.

“Nooooooohoohoohoohoooooooo,” I lament as I drop my head into my hands. No Christian to rub my scar today. What are these women trying to do, shut us down?

“Um, yeah… KOMO is supposed to be showing it live in just a few minutes,” she says a little timidly. Do I even want to see this shit? Grace makes the decision for me and retrieves the remote, bringing the television to life and turning it to KOMO for the after-lunch affair that is usually filled with soap operas and women’s talk shows. I can’t even find any more words. I just sit there and wait for the ax to fall.

It doesn’t take long.

I watch the screen as the narrator—whomever it is—describes the quiet, small, picturesque town of Palouse with its rolling hills and farmland and general store and two newly transplanted residents… Penelope Handon and her son, Mark.

“I’m the other resident that was asked to leave,” Penelope says, and I drop my head. Et tu, Bruté?

“What do you have to say about all of this?” the reporter says.

“If it weren’t for Dr. Trevelyan-Grey, Dr. Grey, and Helping Hands, I may be dead,” she replies. My head flies up in surprise. What did she just say?

Elaborate,” the reporter probes.

“I and my son were in a horribly violent and deadly situation. Helping Hands gave me a safe place to stay, food and clothing, and they were helping me to find a job until that night. I did get into a fight with that woman.”

“And they threw you out?”

“It’s not that simple,” she says. “I did what I had to do to protect my son, but the center has a strict, no-fighting policy and they should. These families have been through enough. We broke that.”

“So, how can you now speak so highly of a homeless center that threw you out?”

“They didn’t throw me out,” she corrects. “I broke the rules and I had to leave. Would you suggest they keep me there after I got into a physical altercation with another resident?”

“I wouldn’t suggest that they throw you out,” the reporter retorts.

“You’re stuck on that, aren’t you?” she replies. “You must live in a world without rules. I’d like that. I’d like to live in a world where there were no repercussions for my actions. That’s apparently where you live and where that awful woman thinks she lives, where you can do whatever you want without consequences.”

“Nobody’s saying that, Mrs. Handon…”

“Really?” she retorts. “You’re stuck on they threw you out, but you’re completely ignoring the fact that I and that woman you interviewed got into a physical altercation in a residential section that put other people in danger. She or I, our children, or someone else on that floor could’ve gotten hurt, and you’re still stuck on they threw you out. Let’s not forget that these people are already traumatized and now they have to be subjected to this? Where are your priorities?”

The reporter makes a motion to cut the filming, but the cameras keep rolling since they were live at the time. I can hear someone whisper that the station wants them to keep rolling.

“That woman was awful,” Penelope continues. “You saw her son. You saw how big he was. Look at my Mark—half his size and nearly half his age, and this kid is bullying him and taking his lunch. I thought we were all there for the same reason—to get help. The women and children that are still there, they’re not going to tell you anything about how that woman behaved and how her son terrorized the smaller kids and disobeyed the staff, how we went to that woman numerous times to tell her about it and she did nothing, how Dr. Trevelyan-Grey and Dr. Grey tried to talk to her about it and she still did nothing. They’re in hiding! They’re trying to put their lives back together, but I’m not in hiding anymore. For the time that I was there, Dr. Grey taught me self-defense, and now I’m in a place where if danger comes my way, we will fight it.

“She apologized for having to ask me to leave because she has children of her own and she understood. She tried to nip this in the bud before it even got to this point and the woman who came running to you like a victim was the cause of all of this. She’s gone now—she’s got her money and her moment in the spotlight and in the meantime, you’re going after a philanthropist and humanitarian, a woman who gives of herself and her time to help others so that you can get a story. Where’s the human interest in that? I hope you get what you’re looking for. I hope it makes you famous.” The reporter nervously clears his throat.

“Well… it looks like this interview is over.”

“Not quite,” Penelope says, looking at the camera. “If you’re in danger, if you’re in trouble, if you’re afraid, go to Helping Hands. They will go out of their way to help you. They will protect your privacy and anonymity and they will do everything they can to get you back on your feet… or at least to a place of safety. Just be sure that you behave like a human being and not a zoo animal when you get there and know how to obey the rules.” She turns back to the reporter. “Now, this interview is done.” She stands from her seat and walks out of the camera shot.

And the community room erupts with cheers.


A/N: “Choonks ahn ‘is wey upstehs! Des a fight in da dome!”—”Choonks on his way upstairs. There’s a fight in the dorm.”

It was brought to my attention that English is not a first language for many of my readers. So, when I do venture to write an accent, there will be translations in the author’s notes.

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

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

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.

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 1

I don’t want to start the season with a huge chapter note, but thank you guys for being there for me when my Mommy died. It really means a lot. It’s strange how life imitates art (and vice versa). I had this entire chapter written weeks ago—parts of it, months ago. Without giving spoilers, yes, some sad things happen, but they weren’t just added in when Mommy died. 

I also want to add my condolences to our beloved Falala. She lost her other fur baby this week. Please send her some love and support in comments here or on her post in “Do You Need To Talk” and let her know that we love her and we’re thinking of her. 

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

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

Season 5, Episode 1

ANASTASIA

The year 2015 came in like a lion, not a lamb.

“You don’t have to be strong for everybody Val. And you certainly don’t have to be strong for me.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Val says, somberly. “I’m not. I’ve just cried so much that I don’t think I have any water left.”

Val left the Crossing looking a little gray in the face. We awoke this morning to the most dreadful news. She had lost the baby.

“The doctor says that these things happen, especially after the strain my body had been through last year. She told me that there’s nothing wrong with trying again after a little while… but I don’t know.” Her voice cracks on the last word. I stroke her hand.

“When you’re ready,” I say softly.

“I don’t know that I ever will be,” she sobs, finding those tears that she didn’t think she had. “I was so excited! El was excited. Our lives had started anew in every way! Meg is gone; we have a new house; a new baby was on the way… and now this!” She covers her face and sobs into her hands.

“And it’s not over.”

I’m about to hug my sister and best friend when Elliot’s voice stops my progression. He comes over to the other side of the hospital bed and cradles her weeping body in his arms.

“You cry as much as you need to, Angel, but it’s not over. Your body is remarkable. It looked death in the face and flipped it the bird. And when your heart was ready to give more love, it was determined to produce new life. But, Angel…” He sits on the bed and puts his hand under her chin to lift her gaze to his.

“I’ve got you,” he says. “This beautiful body needs some more rest—some more time to heal from that prize fight that it won last year. Our hearts were eager and so was your body, but it just wasn’t time yet. It’s. Not. Over… and when you’re ready, it’ll happen, and not a moment sooner. I’ve got you, and you’ve got me. I’m not going anywhere, and if you decide that this experience was too much and it’s not for you, I’ll still be here—standing by your side and loving you through it. Okay?”

Val falls into his chest and weeps for a moment before composing herself.

“Isn’t he the most wonderful man in the world?” she says, gazing into Elliot’s eyes. I turn my head to the doorway to see my husband standing there with his hands shoved in his pocket. He looks forlorn as he watches his brother and sister-in-law working through the loss of their unborn child. He won’t admit it, but his empathy has come a long way since he’s met and married me and had children of his own. The pain in his face says it all.

“Second most wonderful,” I say softly.

*-*

The drive back to the Crossing is silent. Christian had leaped from the bed and sprang into action when he got the call, leaving Jason behind and almost leaving me as he leapt into the car and sped out the gate and across the bridge to the hospital. Now, he looks blankly in front of him as he concentrates on getting us and the car back to Mercer Island. Everything happened so fast that there was no time for the paparazzi to get wind of anything.

He’s still silent when we get back to the Crossing. He seems to be moving on autopilot. He drives into the garage, turns the car off, then exits. He walks mechanically to my side of the car and opens the door for me.

“Thank you,” I say softly as I exit, and he nods once. He closes the door behind me and places his hand in the small of my back, guiding me to the mudroom door. We both shed our outerwear and boots right there in the mudroom, and my husband releases a heavy sigh as both hands rake through his hair.

“Can I get something for you?” I ask, concerned. “Some coffee or something to eat? Neither of us had any breakfast.” He shakes his head.

“I…” He holds his head down for a moment as if to collect his thoughts. “I’m going to take a shower, first… just to try to…” he trails off. I put my hand on his back and he raises his gaze to mine.

“Okay,” I say, nodding. No need to explain, Mr. Grey. This is pretty big. He nods at me again and heads for the elevator. I sigh heavily and walk to the kitchen.

“Hey,” Gail says, coming from her office space in what used to be the small dining room. “How’s Valerie?” I sigh again.

“I don’t know,” I say, reaching into the refrigerator for sparkling water and cranberry juice. “As well as can be expected, I guess.” I fill a glass with ice from the dispenser and make a cranberry spritzer. I put the bottles away and drink my glass nearly half down.

“She was so excited,” I say, shaking my head. “She didn’t think she’d be able to conceive after Chemo. The good news is that she can conceive… but can she carry?” I cover my eyes and fight my own tears, my sadness for my best friend and sister.

“What did the doctor say?” Gail presses, concerned. “Did they tell her that she wouldn’t be able to?” I shake my head.

“No,” I say after drinking more of my spritzer. “From what they say, it was just too soon. Her body needs to get a little stronger before she tries to have a baby.”

“Well, that’s encouraging news,” Gail says, “although I know from experience that it does nothing for the current loss.” I raise my eyes to hers, vaguely remembering her telling me about miscarrying.

“Christian’s not taking it well,” I tell her. “When tragedy strikes his family…” I search for my words. “He’s a lot more empathetic than he used to be.”

“Did you all eat?” she asks. “Would you like for me to fix you something?” I should be hungry, but to be honest, I’m not… not in the slightest.

“Let me see what Christian wants to do and I’ll let you know,” I say, finishing my spritzer. She takes my glass and puts it in the sink, and I head to the elevator.

I lost a kid once, too, but I didn’t know that the kid was there, so I never had a chance to miss it… or want it… or not want it. I sometimes wonder what that kid would have been like had it lived. Would it have been a monster like my mother or its father, or would I have been able to show it enough love not to be a terrible person? Would I have been able to love it at all? Would I have kept it? Carla and Stephen probably would have made me give it up. I know one thing’s for sure—my life certainly wouldn’t be where it is now.

As the elevator opens, I think about Minnie and Mikey, my two little miracle babies. They were determined that nothing was going to stop them from getting here alive and healthy, not even a missile that put me in a coma for nearly two weeks and almost cost me my memories. I can’t even imagine how I would feel if something had happened to my precious angels before they were born. I’m stepping double-time to get to the nursery as I desperately need to see them.

I open the door quietly to find that I’m not the only one who needs some immediate baby time. Christian is standing over our daughter’s crib, gazing silently down at her sleeping body. He so transfixed on her tiny little form that he doesn’t even move when I open the door. I pull the door closed a little, just enough to watch him with our daughter. He stands there for several more moments before he kisses his fingers and gently taps Minnie’s head.

“I love you,” he whispers, stroking her red tresses gently for a few moments. He walks over to Mikey’s crib and Mikey stirs a bit, but falls back into slumber. Christian silently watches him for several moments.

“And I love you,” he whispers to his son, repeating the gestures that he just did with his daughter. I step away and close the door, leaving him to his moments with his children. Suddenly, a shower sounds like a very good idea.

I try not to cry in the shower. I’m overcome with sadness for Val and Elliot, but also with impending doom for the fate of my own children. They’re growing so quickly. I’ve been practicing helping Minnie stand and take steps on her own every day since Christmas. I don’t want to rush her, but I don’t want her to be developmentally too far behind her brother, either. They both have the chubby baby cheeks and thighs that just make you want to pinch them all day, and they’re eating more solid food than breast milk these days. I’m a little melancholy about having to wean them soon, which doesn’t help with my attempt not to cry.

I let a few tears fall as I wash, condition, and rinse my hair. I’ve composed myself once the shower is over, and I take the time to dry my hair and put it in a ponytail. I pull on a comfortable off-the-shoulder cable-knit sweater dress that I grabbed from the dressing room before my shower and I come out into our suite. Christian is lying on the bed on his back in sweatpants and a T-shirt, his hair still wet.

He’s staring at the ceiling and saying nothing. I climb in bed beside him. During these times, he usually tells me that he needs me. Making love when he’s feeling this forlorn often grounds him, helps him to remember that he’s not alone. This time, he seems different.

“Do you want to talk?” I ask as I lay on the pillow next to him. He shakes his head.

“I’m tired,” he says. “I’m really tired. I don’t remember being this tired in a long time.”

“You didn’t get much sleep,” I say, “and we got the call really early.”

“I’m exhausted,” he says, and sighs heavily. I don’t doubt that he is. He’s been going like a machine since Christmas, and this isn’t the first emotional overload-type thing that we’ve had in the last few days…

New Years’ Eve…

The festivities are no different than any other New Years’ Eve—good food, good friends, family, drinks… and fireworks. We, of course, have an excellent view of the fireworks at the Space Needle right from our backyard, and when midnight strikes, we kiss and toast the New Year in just like every other year. We’re all looking at the fireworks when we hear Chuck’s angered voice.

“Shit!” he hisses. We all turn to face him and he’s bolting into the house.

“Choonks, wah’s wong?” Keri calls after him.

“That’s not ginger ale!” he yells as he disappears into the French doors.

“Shit!” Jason says, abandoning the group and dashing into the house behind Chuck. Keri, Maddie, and Nelson all run in behind him while the rest of our guests just look on in confusion. Christian picks up the glass, sniffs it, and looks at me.

“It’s champagne,” he says gravely.

“Shit!” I hiss like Jason and Chuck before me and run into the house. I hear Christian excusing us as I dash through the entertainment room. It’s empty. There’s no one in the community area either. That’s when I hear agonizing noises like someone is being punched in the stomach.

I know what that is.

I follow the sounds through the community space and into Chuck and Keri’s apartment. Maddie and Nelson are standing horrified in the living room while Chuck and Jason are in the bathroom. Keri’s standing outside the door with tears in her eyes. Chuck is on his knees paying homage to the porcelain gods while Jason stands over him. I can hear his throat and stomach wrenching as he vomits everything he ate at the party… probably everything he’s eaten all day.

When he stops for a moment and breathes heavily, I think it’s over, but he starts again. I don’t hear that horrible sound of his insides splashing against porcelain this time. He’s still breathing like a bear though. There’s another pause and then I hear Jason’s voice.

“Stop, man! There’s nothing left!” he commands. “You’re dry-heaving now, it’s gone!”

They sound like they might be scuffling, and Jason repeats his command.

“Stop!” he says again. “There’s nothing left, Chuck!”

“I gotta make sure!” Chuck protests. Jesus, he’s determined not to let even the slightest bit of alcohol into his system.

“You got it, man, it’s gone,” Jason said. “You barely took a sip and you’re vomiting bile now. You’re dry heaving, there’s nothing left. I wouldn’t lie to you.” There’s silence for a moment. “Goddammit!”

I hear scuffling again and now Keri turns away from the bathroom and is fully weeping. I put my arms around her, and I can see into the bathroom. Chuck is sticking his finger down his throat trying to make himself vomit more, and he has already discharged everything he has in his stomach.

“Help him!” I mouth to Christian as Keri cries on my shoulder. Christian enters the bathroom and tries to help Jason restrain Chuck.

“Come on, Chuck,” Christian says. “It’s over. It’s gone, trust me.”

“You don’t understand!” Chuck wails, sounding almost like a child. “I can’t be that guy again! I can’t! I can’t be that guy…!”

We know what he’s talking about, and Maddie and Nelson know all too well. Maddie moves past all the big men and kneels next to her son, taking his face in her hands.

“You’re not that guy, Chuckie,” she says. “We can all see it, and we know it. We knew that guy. We knew him well, and even though we loved him, we didn’t like him very much. You’re not that guy anymore, Chuckie. We know you’re not that guy.”

“I’m sorry, Mom,” he weeps. “I didn’t mean to drink it…”

“I know Chuckie,” she says, softly with a smile. “Give yourself a break. There’s a difference between accidentally sipping what you thought was ginger ale and finishing off an entire bottle of gin. That Chuck is gone, and I’ve got my Chuckie back. You didn’t slip—you picked up the wrong glass. It was a mistake. So, please, stop hurting yourself.”

He looks his mom in the eyes and nods. Jason and Christian help him up and his legs are a little wobbly. He reaches for Maddie and she helps him to the sofa.

“Salt-water, please,” she says as Chuck falls down onto the sofa. Keri breaks our embrace to go to the kitchen. She quickly mixes salt and water and brings it to Chuck along with the kitchen garbage can. As he rinses the flavor of bile from his mouth and spits into the garbage can, Keri retrieves a bottle of water from the fridge.

“Dtink itahl, Choonks,” she says softly, having cleaned the tears from her face. He looks at her and effortlessly bottoms out the bottle. She nods her approval as he tosses the bottle in the trash. She sits on the sofa next to him and turns to face him. She pulls his head into her bosom, wraps her legs around him and cradles him in her arms.

“Easy nuh,” she says as she gently strokes his hair. She doesn’t care who’s in the room; she needs to comfort her Choonks. He lays on her breast and closes his eyes, wrapping his arms around her and settling in obvious contentment.

“We should go,” I say to all the onlookers, as Keri and Chuck are in their own world now. Jason puts the waste basket back in the kitchen and we head for the door.

“From now on, I fix my own drinks,” Chuck says as we’re leaving.

Present Day…

I had a session with him and his sponsor later that day. He said that sipping that champagne felt like the past burning a trek down his throat and all he could think of was to get it out. He knew he was going to vomit before he made it to the apartment, and he was trying not to do it in one of the sinks along the way.

Thoughts of everything that Joe had said about him in court was haunting him, and he could only see the alcohol as a devil inside of him—a parasite—and even the slightest drop of it would grow inside of him and consume him. I could tell by his intensity that if he could, he would have had his stomach surgically removed if it meant that there was no chance that there was any alcohol left in his system.

He never has to worry about relapsing. He’s dipsophobic now. I can’t say that’s any healthier than being an alcoholic as any kind of obsessive behavior is not good, but in the big scheme of things, this ain’t too bad of a phobia to have.

Turning my attention back to my nearly catatonic husband, I can’t help but feel rudderless at the moment, not quite knowing how to help him. It’s late afternoon now, and there’s no likelihood that he’ll be going into the office at all. In fact, he was so distracted by trying to get to Elliot and Val as quickly as he could that he had forgotten to call the office to tell them that he wouldn’t be there.

When Ros called, I answered the phone to inform her that he wouldn’t be in. She actually seemed a bit put off that I was telling her that he wasn’t going to be in. Not that I owed her an explanation, but I felt it was a professional courtesy to tell her why, and I took great pleasure in passively making her feel like shit when I told her the reason. Somebody’s going to have to put that trick in her place really soon because she’s really pushing the envelope.

That’s probably why my husband is exhausted right now. He hasn’t allowed any emotion to creep in, so to speak, since he’s been so busy busting balls at GEH. The fuck-ups are slowly beginning to turn around and the supposed lawsuits are falling as fast as they were filed, once the plaintiffs were told what their real chances of winning were and my husband made it clear that it would be a cold day in hell before—and I quote—“those goddamn drug addicts got another fucking dime from me to support their fucking habits.”

Now, he just needs to rest, for however long he needs it.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” I ask, looking at the side of his head as he gazes at the ceiling. He turns his head to me, his eyes glassy, tired, and sad, and I’m sure that he’s going to tell me that he needs me… and he does, but not in the way that I’m thinking.

“Can we just…” He sighs. He’s having a hard time finding his words. “Can I just hold you for a while?”

I look over into his beseeching gray eyes and my heart melts at his sadness. I move closer to him and situate myself comfortably on his chest with my arm around his waist, one leg bent over his. He embraces me firmly with both arms, then kisses my hair. I think of the lullaby that I sing to the kids when they’re feeling fussy, the French one about the eggs, and I hum it to him while I’m laying on his chest. He holds me close and tight as I hum the tune to him, and a few minutes later, I feel his chest begin to rise and fall as his breathing evens. I know I can’t move or he’ll wake, so I keep humming the tune until I fall asleep.



CHRISTIAN

My wife is amazing.

I know that Valerie is her best friend and like a sister to her, but she was more concerned with how I was feeling than anything else during this time. How am I feeling? I’m feeling very shitty. I feel shitty for lots of reasons and in no particular order.

I feel shitty because my brother was so excited to be starting his family and now, he’s had it ripped from him for no good reason.

I feel shitty because he has to watch his wife and the woman he loves suffer physically and emotionally through this, and there’s nothing worse in the world than not being able to stop the pain of the woman you love…

… except for not being able to stop the pain of your children.

Seeing him lose his child made me feel the most intense and powerful possessiveness that I’ve ever felt in my life! My babies, my heart and soul besides my beautiful wife… Jesus, if anything happened to my kids…

I feel shitty because I just want to make everything right again… everything… and I can’t.

Butterfly and I decide not to see our mentors on Saturday night under the circumstances. There’s no way that we would be able to concentrate on any of the tasks at hand.

We attended the Munch with Artemis and Savvina the weekend after Christmas, just to be introduced to other Domini and their matrimonial submissives, who refer to themselves as soumises, As I speak French, I know this is the French plural for submissive, but this is the adjective. I’m not sure that there is an appropriate noun. Nonetheless, I like it.

This group of people is almost like a club of their own, not that they separate themselves from the others, but that they share a common bond and tend to gravitate more towards those with like interests—as is usually the case in any BDSM circle.

I’m quickly learning that being a married Dominus, or just Dominus as Artemis prefers, is nothing like what I’ve been before. I’m learning to be a Dom all over again. I have to deprogram myself from what I used to be, what I’ve always known, and reprogram myself to a new way of being; a new way of responding; a whole new behavior. I can’t operate the way that I used to because I’m not the same person. BDSM served a specific purpose for me. It was a direct means to a particular end, and there were no emotions involved.

I was a sadist, but I’m not that man anymore.

As a result, everything has to be retaught. There was no way that I could bring Anastasia into my world with the theories, techniques, and mindset that I always utilized. It never would have worked, and that’s why we never found our balance.

Had I married a submissive who had been previously conditioned in the method that I practiced, the old way would have been fine, but that’s not who I married. What’s more is that none of the submissives who had been conditioned in that way ever lasted, because that’s not what I really needed.

If I’m honest, I used those women like old rags. Once they were dirty, I laundered them in showers and baths and sent them to be plucked and primed to my specifications only to use them again. I made it clear that I didn’t want these women, and if the old rags became too comfortable, I threw them out.

How could I possibly expect for this same mentality to work with my wife?

Artemis is bringing so many things to light for me. My entire method of operation was based on punishments and rewards. For a sadist who has plans to beat the hell out of you every Friday night, that’s a perfect formula…

I need to cause you pain to release mine and regain control, and if you’re a good girl, I’ll let you come.

If you misbehave, I’ll beat you some more, and after I’ve tormented you sexually in every way imaginable and had my fill of you—literally, then I’ll make you go to bed without an orgasm.

I want unequivocal, unquestioned loyalty and obedience and if I don’t get it, I’ll make you pay.

If I do get it, I’ll make your body scream in ways that you never thought possible.

I’ll take you from extreme to extreme. I’ll ruin you for all other men. You’ll learn to love it; you’ll yearn for it… ache for it… the pleasure and the pain.

You’ll learn to love it. You’ll discover that you can’t do without it… and the moment that you do, I’ll cut you off and end your contract.

I began our relationship with every move I knew. I pulled every masculine wile on her that I could—and then I released the demon. It was so powerful that neither of us could control it, and yet, we tried. We tried so hard that at some points, it almost destroyed us. And now…

Here we are, where we should have started in the first place. We’re both starting from scratch. Anastasia had no idea what she should and should not be doing, how she should or should not be behaving, what she should or should not expect as a submissive. Her entire concept was take as much as you can and when you’ve reached your limit, take a little more. Why?

Because her husband is a sadist.

I could—and would—give her whatever she could take. There was no measurement of “Maybe this is going too far.” It was just, “More? Okay!”

So, now, I have embarked upon the intricate journey of shedding the title and persona of the typical sadistic Dominant—talented though I may be—and completing the task of becoming the exquisite Dominus. As such, my wife is completing the task of becoming the soumise. At some point, our roles will switch again, but right now, we’re concentrating on this particular dynamic as it fits into our lives.

I don’t know whose journey is harder—hers, having to dispel the misconceptions that she’s had for the last few years during her escapades with me; or mine, having to deprogram most of the things that I learned from Lincoln and in Dom training all those years, or at least re-purpose them—for lack of a better description—to fulfill our current needs.

Anastasia is a strong and independent woman. It’s not in her to be a 24/7 submissive, nor would I want her to be. However, this new dynamic means exploring new territories and desires, both physical and mental, and there will be some sacrifices and compromises on both our parts. I’m going to have to sacrifice my old methods of relating the inflicting of pain, total surrender, and unconditional obedience to my pleasure and maintenance of control. These things must be balanced, and there’s a time and a place for all of them.

TPE requires complete surrender and unconditional obedience. However, while some relationships may be built upon that, ours is not. There’s a time and a place.

While inflicting pain can be quite liberating and erotic, it can’t always be the go-to technique in a relationship like ours. There must be a give-and-take on several levels when implements are used to inflict pain, induce pleasure, or administer punishment.

I was always hyper-aware of a submissive’s feelings and physical reactions, but only to the degree that their responses fulfilled my needs…

If I whipped you until you cried, so what? I fucked you until you came; now, go take a bath and get over it.

If you were twitching and jerking uncontrollably at the end of the scene, it’s probably because your orgasm was so intense that your pussy or your asshole was gripping and squeezing my dick endless until you drained my balls of every single drop of fluid I had to give.

I knew how to time torment and ecstasy perfectly so that I was certain to get everything I needed exactly at the moment that you got what you wanted. And if you didn’t get what you wanted, it was deliberate, and that’s usually what I wanted.

It’s all different now…

The Munch we attended was held at a local venue called “10 Degrees.” It clearly wasn’t what my wife expected and certainly nothing like the impromptu munch we attended at the BDSM club a few years ago. Although my wife chose to don a very sexy black bandage dress of a respectable length, she could have worn one of my grandmother’s vintage Lindy bop dresses and still fit in with this crowd at this location. On more than one occasion, my wife was swept away to a semi-private cluster of conversation with a group of submissive wives while I took the opportunity to converse and pick the brains of Artemis and some other attending Domini. It was during several such powwows that I discovered that my way of thinking was going to have to take a serious detour if this relationship was going to be functional and enjoyable for us.

Today was to be the day that we were going to explore our intimacy a bit more. One of those ways was going to be to choose a nickname for my wife when she was in the role of soumise. Baby came too easily, Butterfly is an everyday name, and Anastasia is clearly what I call her when I’m angry. Ana is what everyone else calls her, and Mrs. Grey is out of the question because I called all of my previous submissives by their last names and we’re trying to separate the old Dom from the Dominus. So, we have to come up with something else. I say “we” because even though I may be using the name, she has to respond to it. I think I’ll talk to her about that later when we’re alone. It shouldn’t be hard for us to come up with something without the assistance of our mentors.

Quite a bit happened in the past two weeks. I awoke the day after Christmas and realized that I had been a Grade-A ass all week to my wife and family, and while it was still imperative that I whip my company back into shape, something had to give… and soon! I took that Friday off and spent it with my wife and children like I should have done on Christmas Eve.

We exchanged our gifts and although we got each other plenty of those gifts that you purchase for the husband or wife who has everything, my biggest gift to Butterfly was the task of decorating our Italian villa as we will be spending six weeks there this summer even if Armageddon befalls us. She was absolutely thrilled. Concerned about leaving our children behind, she was even more delighted to discover that the family will be spending a portion of the summer with us as well, including our children.

Her most precious gift to me was a leather-bound album with various pictures of her and our children throughout the year—in color and black and white, various settings, some candid and some professional. She knows this kind of shit turns me into a big sap, and that’s why she usually waits to give these personal gifts on Christmas Eve. Of course, it took my breath away and I felt like the luckiest bastard on earth.

We also gave gifts to our staff, including the car that we had been promising Keri with the built-in car seats for the kids—a 2015 Chrysler Town and Country. I would have preferred an Audi, of course, but my wife previously informed me that not everyone wanted to drive an Audi, and Chuck informed me that Keri previously admired the Town and Country. As long as it had the safety features that I wanted, it was fine with me. So, Keri is now the proud owner of a metallic silver Chrysler minivan.

December 26 held one more surprise for the Grey family. Pops’ attorney from Detroit, Nathan Wu, called to tell us that Freeman had given up on the protest of the life insurance policy. Freeman was, quite frankly, eager to get his hands on his father’s house. We knew that this had to mean that he had signed the divorce papers as well, because he wasn’t going to allow any proceeds from Pops’ will to get caught up in his divorce. Little did he know that any of his inheritance was most likely protected property from the divorce, but honestly, none of us cared. Our biggest controversy now was trying to get Dad to accept his share of the policy as well as the money that he gave to Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman.

That beautiful Apollo showed up, refurbished and playing beautifully this past Tuesday, and it has pride of place downstairs in the den with my baby grand. My father and my uncle came over to see it once it had been delivered, after which they called Uncle Stan and the three of them drank a toast to Ichabod while it played one of several preprogrammed songs in its new repertoire, Down by the Old Mill Stream.

Valerie is being released from the hospital today and, once again, we insist that they come and stay with us for a while as Valerie’s body recuperates—just for a few days, or a week, until she’s back on her feet. It’s a good thing we decided against the mentoring sessions tonight. We were needed at the Crossing much more.

My brother is clearly more concerned about Val in the loss of the baby than he is about himself. I can see through the façade, though. He’s been my brother longer that he’s been her husband. He’s crushed, but with everything that she’s been through, he can’t let Valerie know how he feels. He doesn’t want to stress her out and possibly send her into a relapse with her cancer and he’s very concerned about her health and getting her back to 100%. However, once she’s released from the hospital and they get to the Crossing, the truth all comes out.

“How are you holding up?” Butterfly asks Valerie once they release their embrace. Valerie nods.

“I’m doing okay,” she says with a sad, unconvincing smile. “One day at a time.” Butterfly takes her hands.

“I know,” she says. “Come on, let’s talk…” She takes Valerie’s hand and leads her through the dining room. Elliot gazes at her until they disappear into the family room.

“Do you want to talk?” I ask, and I’m certain that my voice startles him. “You look tired.” He twists his lips.

“I’m fine,” he says, his voice clipped as he walks towards the formal living room.

“You don’t look fine,” I say, falling in step behind him. He whirls around on me after he steps down into the living room.

“Oh, so you’re the psychiatrist now.” It’s a statement, not a question. “Montana, how you’ve changed.”

Definitely not fine.

“I’m not trying to piss you off, Elliot,” I say as I close the space between us. “I just want to make sure that you’re really okay. I know if this was Butterfly, I definitely would need some help… or a drink… or I would want someone to pay or tell me why this happened.” Elliot laughs sarcastically.

“Oh, the great Christian Grey and all his millions!” he quips angrily. “If he found out that his little wifey was allergic to water, he’d stop the rain from falling!” I purse my lips.

“I know you’re upset, Elliot,” I say, ignoring his ill-placed ire, “you have every right to be…”

“This isn’t about me!” he hisses. “This is about her! All the shit that’s happened to her! When no one else was there for her, I was there for her! I took care of her; I watched over her; I stood by her when everybody else went MIA—everybody! I did everything in my power to protect her… and I couldn’t!” he bites out. I frown.

“There are some things that you can’t protect her from…” I try to interject.

“Says the man who rescued his woman from kidnappers in a helicopter,” he retorts sarcastically. “Basically brought her back to life after she was nearly killed in a car accident, spent 12 days in a coma, and woke up not even knowing who you were!”

“But I couldn’t prevent those things from happening to her!” I counter. “I may have retrieved her from Vashon Island, but she was still taken and brutally beaten. And yeah, I sat next to her bed and cried and prayed while she was in a coma, but I couldn’t prevent the accident that put her there!”

“Don’t you dare!” he hisses angrily. “Don’t you dare for one moment pretend that you know what I’m feeling right now! You have no fucking idea—no goddamn idea in the world how this feels!”

His eyes are a veiny red and he’s furious, ready to charge. If I don’t pick my words carefully, we’ll be rolling around grappling on the floor—and I will not fight him right now. I take a deep breath through my nose and let it out, never taking my eyes off my brother who is standing in front of me poised like a gladiator, ready for battle.

“You’re right,” I reply. I pause for several moments and watch him deflate infinitesimally. “I have no idea what you’re feeling right now. I couldn’t even begin to imagine, nor would I want to. I know pain, and I know that you’re hurting, but I can’t empathize with the pain you’re feeling right now. I do know this much,” I say, closing the space between us. “You’re taking care of Valerie. Who’s taking care of you?”

His face changes. The fury mask fades in an instant and is replaced with the most mournful, drooping, angst-filled expression I’ve ever seen. My brother chokes out a sob, and then another before crumpling in despair. I catch him in my arms and lower the dead weight to the floor as he sobs uncontrollably.

“I tried… I tried… I did… everything… I could…” he weeps bitterly, unable to catch his breath. “She… needs me… she needs me… to be strong… but this… hurts… God… it hurts… so bad…”

His weeps quickly turn to uncontrollable heaves as he chokes out his grief for his loss. His body is shaking, and his muscles are flexing like he wants to fight, but he’s tight… tight in a ball… still holding it in…

“Let it out, bro,” I encourage. “Let it out. It’s okay to hurt. I’ve got you.”

I can tell he doesn’t want to weep too loudly for fear that Valerie will hear him. Even now, at one of his darkest moments, he’s thinking of Valerie. I let him cry and text my wife.

**Where are you? **

A few moments later, she texts me back.

**In the parlor. **

I reply quickly…

**Can you please keep Valerie down there for a while? My brother needs to vent. **

It takes her a minute to respond.

**I understand. Sure thing. **

Thank God I didn’t have to explain that. Having a psychiatrist for a wife certainly has its benefits. I put my phone back in my pocket and lean in to my brother.

“Let it out, Lelliot,” I tell him. “I swear she won’t hear you.”

He raises tear-filled eyes to me, and I nod at him, giving him permission to grieve properly. He closes his eyes and releases a heart-wrenching wail that tears me down to my very soul. The sound is so painful that it’s everything I can do not to grab him and shake him and tell him to stop screaming like this; that everything is going to be okay and this is not the end of the world, but he’s been holding this in. He’s been the tower—the strong front for his extremely fragile wife. He hid his feelings so well that no one knew what he was going through. It’s a wonder he didn’t have a psychotic breakdown through all of this.

I can’t grab him and shake him, but I can grab him.

He curls into a ball, covers his face with his hands and sobs openly, finally crying without a care about who may be listening. I can hear his pain… and it’s killing me. It’s killing me that I can’t take it away from him. He was right not to let Valerie see this. She wouldn’t be able to take it.

I curl my body over his, quickly wiping away the selfish tears that fall from my own eyes onto the back of his shirt.

“That’s good, Lelliot,” I say, hiding the tears in my voice. “Let it all out…”


ANASTASIA

Elliot tried, but he wasn’t able to hide the fact that he was broken when Val and I finally came from the parlor. They both have the same questions…

Why did this happen?
How did this happen?
Was there something they could have done to prevent it?
How will they keep it from happening again?

The truth is that there’s no right answer to those questions. The immediate answer is that Val’s weakened state could have contributed to this, but truthfully, perfectly healthy women have miscarriages all the time. There’s no explanation for it and at some point, you heal from the pain and try again.

However, there’s no telling that to a woman—or a man—who has just lost a child.

They spend time blaming themselves until they’re just not blaming themselves anymore. Sometimes, it’s quick and sometimes, not so much. The further along the pregnancy is, the harder it is to deal with the loss. Val was heading into her fourth month and she had begun to feel the quickening of the baby, so that made it all very real. Then, to have something happen like this, after you’ve felt the baby move inside you and you’ve started making plans for the new life… we should definitely be having a funeral right now.

After Val said that she couldn’t cry anymore, the floodgates opened like Niagara Falls once we got to my parlor. She polished off a bottle and a half of wine all by herself, and I let her. She cried and cried about how she’s a failure as a woman and a mother and I spent the better part of an hour trying to convince her that this was not true; that there was nothing that she or anybody could have done differently that could have prevented this; that these things just happen and as painful as they may be, sometimes, they just can’t be prevented.

My words did very little to comfort her.

Little did I know that Elliot was on the first floor having a breakdown of his own, and when he and Val were reunited, they could do nothing more than crawl upstairs and go to bed.

Christian and I sit down to dinner alone. He concentrates on finishing his meal, and I know it’s because he’s fighting with his emotions. He’s forcing himself to eat so that he doesn’t starve himself being overcome by his feelings. I don’t attempt to engage. We simply eat in silence and I let him finish his meal. Maddie and Nelson are still here until Monday, but they’ve been having more intimate meals with Keri and Chuck in their apartment since Chuck’s episode.

“The other soumises were telling me that communication is paramount in any healthy relationship,” I break the silence once we’ve finished our dinner and we’re having coffee, “especially a BDSM relationship.” He raises his gaze to me, his expression almost as if he forgot that I was sitting there next to him. He bottoms out his coffee and stands from his seat. Then he moves to the back of mine, signaling for me to stand and he pulls my chair out. He takes my hand and tucks it into his elbow. I feel a little flush come over me.

“Where would you like to chat?” he says. I’m taken aback. Anywhere will do. I would have been just fine sitting here at the table.

“The library,” I reply. We have two libraries and one of them became Marilyn’s office. We never use the other one.

He leads me to the elevator, and we take a silent ride to the lower level. I stop at the aquarium to say “hi” to Marty, who’s swimming obliviously in and out of her castles and reefs. As I take a moment to admire my fish, Christian retrieves a bottle of brandy and two snifters from the bar. We walk quietly to the library and I take a seat on the sofa. Christian turns on the fireplace and takes a seat next to me.

“Do you have anything in particular that you want to talk about?” he asks as he pours us each a brandy.

“Anything but Elliot and Val,” I say softly. He stops pouring for a moment, still looking at the brandy snifter.

“Agreed,” he says, and finishes pouring the drinks. He hands me one of the glasses and takes one for himself. We each take a large sip of the brandy before the conversation begins.

“We were supposed to come up with names tonight,” Christian begins. “I was thinking that I don’t know why we can’t do that activity on our own. It shouldn’t be hard.” I shrug.

“Yes, I can’t see why we couldn’t do that,” I reply.

“Mine should be easy,” he says. “I’ve only ever been referred to as Sir, Mr. Grey, or Master. Mr. Grey and Grey has definite connotations for us. Master feels like footprints from a past life. I don’t want to bring that into our relationship.”

“I agree,” I say, sipping my brandy.

“There are other options—Lord, Captain, Mister, Boss. The Latin Dominus is used as my title, as soumise is used for yours. It’s nice, but it seems a bit pretentious for you to address me that way. The rest of those seem over the top, except for Boss, and Jason sometimes calls me that. So, if you’re comfortable, I say we keep it simple and continue to use Sir.”

“I think that’s best,” I concur. “I did a little research on appropriate names for a submissive. They all sounded ridiculous.” Christian furrows his brow.

“Such as?” he asks, before sipping his brandy.

Baby girl, princess, kitten, honey bear, buttercup…” I rattle them off.

“None of those would fit for you because those are generally all names for littles. You’re not a little and I’m not a Daddy Dom, so those definitely wouldn’t work for us.”

“What’s a little?” I ask.

“That’s a whole other Dominant/submissive dynamic,” he replies. “It often involves age play where the submissive behaves at an age suitable for his or her Dominant, or at whatever age the submissive chooses.”

“Like adult babies?” I say with distaste.

“Yes, adult babies can be a type of a little,” he confesses. I shiver a bit.

“There are other types of littles?” I ask. He nods.

“They can be any age,” he says. “It depends on the preference of the couple.” I shake my head.

“That… sounds like someone who fantasizes about children,” I admit. “It doesn’t seem healthy. What place could that possibly have in a BDSM relationship?”

“Please don’t try to get me to explain that,” he beseeches. “I’m aware that the dynamic exists, but I couldn’t describe the fascination or attraction to it. I don’t have enough information on it, so I can’t defend or criticize it… and we’re getting off topic,” he chides gently. “Your name? Remember?”

“I like pet, but for some reason, I feel as though I should have a deep abhorrence for that word.”

“You should!” he says, nearly cutting me off before the words are out of my mouth. I lean back from him a bit as his tone is clipped and his eyes are sharp. Then, he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.

“This may be one of those things that slipped your mind,” he begins, “but Lincoln called me ‘pet.’” I nearly choke on my brandy.

“Oh… yeah… no,” I say, finishing off the amber liquid. He pours me another drink.

“I liked love and kitten,” I say,but Jason calls Gail Love…”

“And Ethan calls Mia kitten,” Christian says.

“Oh, yeah, that’s right,” I say, twisting my lips. “How about kitty? I like that one, too.”

“Too close to kitten,” he says. He moves the glass to his lips and stops.

“What is it?” I ask. He smiles widely before taking a sip of his drink.

“I’ve got it,” he says, placing his glass on the coffee table. “You like kitten and kitty, two variations of a feline, but we can’t use them because I don’t want to feel like I’m Domming my kid sister.”

“Your point?” I say. He leans in close to me, his face mere inches from mine.

Pussycat,” he breathes in his Dom voice… and my panties are instantly wet. I swallow hard.

“I… I like that,” I choke out, abandoning any bit of “cool” I may have previously had.

“I thought you would,” he says, retrieving his glass. “I like it, too.” He leans back on the sofa, swirling the brandy around in his glass and looking salaciously at me with a confident half smirk on his face. I clear my throat.

“We’re supposed to be talking,” I say, trying not to gulp down the rest of my brandy.

“I thought we were,” he says, raising an eyebrow at me.

“I… suddenly don’t know what else to say,” I pant, trying to remain calm, but failing miserably as I mindlessly swallow the rest of my second brandy and flinch as the spirits shock my throat and burn their way down my chest. Christian bottoms out his first brandy and puts the snifter on the table. He takes my glass from my hand and places it on the table next to his. Moving closer to me on the sofa, he leans in to me until I can only focus on his eyes through my hormone-and-brandy-induced haze.

“Weekdays have been a real bitch for me lately, Anastasia,” he says, his voice low and his face mere breaths away from mine. “Seeing that it’s Saturday night and the past two days have been just as shitty, what I’d like to do now is to take you upstairs to our room, tie you to our bed, and fuck you within an inch of your sanity. Or…” He leans in even closer, “I can bind your wrists and fuck you right here. It really doesn’t matter either way to me, as long as I get to fuck you. What do you say to that?” I swallow hard again.

“I’d say that I’d like that very much,” I squeak. His lips brush mine and he speaks the next words against my mouth.

“Upstairs… or here?” he breathes. The word is barely a whisper.

“Here.”

*-*

Christian is asleep and I’m wide awake, lying on the floor in the library. He’s wrapped around me and a blanket is wrapped around us both, the light from the moon and from the fire illuminating the room. This is only the second or third time in weeks that I’ve seen him sleeping so peacefully, which is a shame since two of those times were most likely aided by sheer exhaustion from concern for his brother.

Lying on my back and looking at the ceiling, I can’t help but go over the events of the holiday season…

Chuck tried to rip out his esophagus from swallowing a taste of champagne.

Mikey got up and just started walking out of nowhere, and Minnie’s not far behind him. We’re going to have to start childproofing the house very soon.

I got word that the bitch Deanna Carson who threatened to attempt to seduce my husband and then made good on her threat was one of the employees that was fired for failing the drug test and is now part of a class action suit against GEH. I plan to put a stop to that shit.

My husband is working long ass hours trying to save his company from going down the toilet and I can’t shake the feeling that he’s the only one who seems to care about it.

Carrick’s brother Freeman looks like he’s not going to be a problem for the brothers for a while. I don’t know what’s happening with the harassment charges that Christian brought against him and the assault charges from Burtie, but he dropped that ridiculous case protesting the legitimacy of the life insurance policy, and Lanie told me that he has signed the divorce papers and agreed to Nell’s demands. It would have left him in the hole a bit, but he got their house in Farmington and the proceeds from Burt’s life insurance as well as Burt’s house in Detroit. I don’t know the value of everything, but apparently, he got what he wanted.

I accused my husband of longing for a submissive from his prior life, which sent us into nearly a week of silence and avoidance and caused me to turn my home into the Land That Christmas Fucking Well Wouldn’t Forget in an attempt to escape the situation. I had to have the house professionally un-decorated to remove all that stuff… but I have it all stored away, just in case!

Marilyn flies back in today, and I can barely wait to see her! I asked if she needed a ride home from the airport, but she said that she would just like the evening to herself to regroup and acclimate to being back in Seattle. So, I’ll see her at the office tomorrow.

Harmony will be moving into Escala at the end of the week once the closing is final. I feel a bit melancholy about that, almost like I did when Daddy said that he was leaving the house in Montesano. Yes, that was where Christian gained his Dom legs and beat and fucked 15 brown haired submissives, but that’s also where we built our lives, where we cut our teeth on many firsts. The place holds some fond memories for us, and some not so fond ones as well, but it’s where we officially became The Greys.

And, of course, my sister and best friend lost her baby.

I think that about sums it up.

Feeling a combination of sorrow, nostalgia, and melancholy from reviewing the major events of the past few weeks, I feel a tear slide down my temple and into my ear.

Pussycat. We decided on Pussycat. Never in a million years would I have expected him to come up with that name, but surprisingly, I really like it. My mind immediately wanders to the conversations that I had with clusters of other soumises. Listening to them speak so freely about their relationships and their roles, being able to slip into a submissive state of mind so quickly and easily, being able to be everything my Dominus needs at a moment’s notice… I try very hard not to think about how far I have to go and how much I need to learn. I try to only focus on the journey and making this a rewarding experience for us both.

My mind then floats to my conversation with Savvina and how she basically told me that I had no idea what I was doing or feeling…

“No, you don’t. You don’t find Nirvana, peace, or even subspace until it’s over and he makes you come. This. Is. Not. Just. For. Him. As his wife, this is for you, too. Until you fully understand that, you’re in a dangerous place.”

I’m afraid. I’ll admit it. I’ve sat wondering more than once if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. This isn’t a game anymore. This isn’t “dabbling” as our mentors referred to it. This is the real thing—a real-life, full-on, BDSM relationship. We said that we wouldn’t be 24/7, but I don’t know how we can’t be. I’ve immersed myself in research and websites and blog pages, chats with trusted soumises, and everything that I’m reading and seeing and hearing says that you will submerge yourself in this lifestyle in one way or another.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you have to walk around in spandex and leather 25/8… or 24/7, but it does mean that you have to always be mindful of your Dominus just as he has to always be mindful of you—and there’s a lot involved in being mindful.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the onslaught of information that just popped into my head as I lie here in the dark in my husband’s arms, I squeeze my eyes shut tight, and another tear slides down my temple. On cue, my husband pulls me closer to him, and kisses the tear from my temple.

“Sleep,” he says, softly, and with surprisingly little effort, I close my eyes, and fall asleep.


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

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

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Introduction to Seasons…

Someone made a really good point to me quite a while back in a comment in an attempt to make me stop writing. They told me that the story was really good, but that I should have stopped at Book III because that’s where the story stopped.

They were right.

Don’t panic; I’m not going to stop writing, but I just want to point something out and make an announcement to those of you who have seen a significant change in the writing from Book I to Book IV.

For a story to continue, characters must change, people must die, situations and dramas must develop—things don’t stay the same. As a result, you may lose readers. People may lose interest. They may not be happy with the direction of the tale.

And you know what? That’s okay.

I stopped watching TV because it just wasn’t holding my interest anymore, but I was still diehard on some series just because I was… until they didn’t hold my interest anymore either.

I fussed and I screamed and I jumped up and down and had a temper tantrum when Grey’s Anatomy killed off McDreamy, but people still watch Grey’s Anatomy.

There was an episode of Scandal where some young black kid was killed and Olivia Pope came to the rescue and some black activist looking for his fifteen minutes of fame starts bashing her right there on the scene loosely referring to her as a tool used by the white man to get the black folks to shut up (not his exact words), all I could see was some flighty-ass “brother” looking for attention and bringing separatism to the black community instead of relief to the family. As a result, I watched the first few minutes of that episode and never watched Scandal again, but other people watched Scandal all the way to the end.

And guess what? Shondaland didn’t die because I stopped watching and my story won’t die because certain people stopped reading and lost or lose interest. But Shondaland and my broken love affair with Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal (when it was on) made me realize something…

The “Christian and Ana Show” did end with Book III. That’s where they got married, had their kids, and their “happily ever after” began. Once you get to Book IV, you are now in the series—the soap opera. You are now in the Downton Abbey, the Days of Our Lives, the Game of Thrones (before it ended), General Hospital of the Christian and Ana saga and how they interact with other people and the other dramas that occur from those interactions.

As a result, Book IV will be renamed Season IV, and the chapters renamed Episodes. This way, there will be no confusion for those of the mind that the particular Christian and Ana story stopped at Book III. You’re right. The rest of the series is now called

The Misadventures of Christian and Ana and Their Crazy Friends

It will be named Misadventures for short, and each season will most likely still have a title of its own. Enjoy. Or don’t. But don’t ever suggest that I stop writing. I won’t 😊

Smoochies!

~~love and handcuffs