Raising Grey:Chapter 85—Business As Usual? 

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

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

Chapter 85—Business As Usual? 

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

“Yes, sir,” Andrea says.

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

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

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

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

“A little more like what?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And who is that?” I ask.

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

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

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

“Yes, sir,” Andrea replies.

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

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

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

And she threatened me.

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

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

The gloves are off… all the way off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m at your disposal,” Alex says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir,” Alex concurs.

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

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

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

“What do you propose?” he asks.

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

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

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

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

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

“Are we talking Lincoln or Ellison…”

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

“Why the secretar…?”

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

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

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

“Yes, sir.”

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

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

My silence answers his question.

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

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

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

Andrea raises her voice.

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

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

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

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

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

“Much more,” she says, her voice low.

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s wrong?” he says with concern.

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

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

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

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

“Why wouldn’t you know?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurry up, Jason. She needs me…


ANASTASIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I understand,” I say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s no use putting it off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wouldn’t say that just yet, Grace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I… I… I didn’t know…” she stammers.

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

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

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

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

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

“No…” I begin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Settle down, Grey.

I take a deep breath and address the situation again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

“Hey…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When did he find time to do that?

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

Sure enough, something had.

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

Hey there, Sheila!

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

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

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

Missing you guys already!
Laura

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

Social media. Facebook. Hmmm…

Screw PR. I’ll just create an alias.

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

Back up.

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

First name… Anastasia

Last name… hmmm.

Lambert.

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

Welcome to Gmail!

Back to Facebook.

Sign up. What’s your name?

Anastasia Lambert.

Hmm… it still feels too obvious.

Mercer Mistress… Hell, no!

Mercer Doctor Lady.

Good enough for now.

Upload a profile picture…

Butterflies!

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

Perfect!

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

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

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

I have access!

LauraLee Kelly.

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

There are a million of me!

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

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

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

I like comedy.

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing down here?”

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

Daylight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then… why were you crying?” he asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura accepted my friend’s request.


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

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

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Raising Grey: Chapter 84—Adelaide Antics

More Aussie—get over it.

All other previous disclaimers still apply.

Dedicating this one to Alexis, who sends me a “thank you” email every time she gets a chapter. I may not always respond, but I see every one of them, my friend. You’re welcome, and thank you for sticking it out with me.

Chapter 84—Adelaide Antics

CHRISTIAN

I’m lying on the bed trying to catch my breath and she’s still playing with my cock. She has made it clear that she’s not done with me yet, so I better get my ass and gear and get ready for round two.

I take a few deep breaths to regain control of my body and try to draw my focus away from my aching dick. My wife playing with it before it’s ready is not necessarily a good thing, but I’m not going to tell her that.

It’s time for mind over matter, Grey. You’ve been here before—being tormented after an orgasm. You can overcome this.

My wife is in tune with me, though, even in this pickled state, and she adjusts her stimulation… gently stroking my balls and playing with my perineum like only she’s allowed to do. It gives my tender head and cock a moment of sweet reprieve, but still adds the sweet stimulation of her gentle hands. I close my eyes and absorb the feeling of my wife touching me as my cock recuperates. A few moments later, I sink into the feeling of her hands on me, stimulating my prostate from the outside.

She looks up at me, demanding, opens her mouth wide and descends upon my balls. I take a deep breath and she sucks them into her mouth. My dick twitches a little, but hasn’t yet revived. She rolls her tongue around the skin, tasting it and never taking her lust-filled blue eyes off of me.

Lick, lick, lick, suck… she’s tasting them, savoring them like candy, and after a minute or two, we have liftoff. When she sees my cock respond to the stimulation, she sucks my balls into her mouth, manipulating them like she’s giving them a blowjob.

“Sssss,” I hiss as she sucks them into her mouth, fellating my testicles like two delicious gumballs right before you devour them. It looks insane and feels even better, and it’s not long before Greystone it staring up at me at attention. He seeps a very tiny bit of grateful moisture from the head and settles back into pleasure, occasionally bobbing his applause at her masterful skills.

I gaze into her commanding blue eyes as I push my pelvis down against the hand still massaging my perineum while she gobbles my balls. Without warning, she takes my cock in her mouth again and I hiss in surprise. She bobs down on it and I can’t help but thrust. Then, she’s up on her knees, nothing touching me but her lips and tongue.

“Good God,” I hiss as I thrust slowly and evenly into her mouth, rolling my hips to keep up with her rhythm. She angles her head at just the right moment in just the right way with each thrust to accommodate the mouth fuck. Her mouth is wet and hot and as I stroke into it, saliva falls amply and provocatively from her lips. I swear if she keeps this up, this show will be over a whole lot sooner than we want.

Fucking hell! What was in that wine?

She grants me reprieve and releases my dick momentarily only to zero in on the head once more. Fucking hell.

She licks the head gently, then purses her lips in the most delicious way and sucks it into her mouth. The skin is still a little pliable and oh, so sensitive and it feels so good. Her puckered lips suck the head, the tightness and pressure never relenting, and now I want to crawl up the bed away from her. Her lips never breach the rim and she’s driving me crazy. When she loosens her lips a bit to allow saliva to run over the head of my dick only to suck it into her mouth and clean the skin again, I nearly break into convulsions.

“I want to make you come like this again,” she says, “but I can’t wait anymore…”

She scurries on top of me and drops down on my rock-hard dick, thrusting it so deep inside of her that I think I feel the opening of her uterus. I’m in elated shock as she just sits atop me, her head back and her eyes closed, her hands flat on my chest.

“Yes!” she breathes, as she flexes and contracts her pussy. “Oh, yes…”

Oh, yes is right! I can’t say it because I’m frozen in pleasure, my hands once again gripping the sheet and my mouth open, looking up at this enchantress and panting like a dog. Do what you wish to me… I’m yours… I don’t care…

She rocks her hips infinitesimally, but she may as well be wobbling like she’s working a hula-hoop! Greystone reaches out in every direction to feel her walls and I can barely function. I watch her lick and bite her lip as she widens the stance of her knees for traction and I’m mesmerized. Her mouth is moving but no words are coming out and she looks ethereal, almost like she’s praying—and this feeling in my cock is heavenly. Her walls are squeezing and grinding against my shaft ever so slightly causing this deliciously infernal burn. The light from behind her is causing a “halo” effect around her and it’s either the remnants of the wine or an extreme pleasure-induced haze, but I swear that God has sent an angel to ride me tonight…

Yeah, it’s the wine, but who the fuck cares?

Her grind intensifies just a bit, a tiny bit of roll and a tiny bit of thrust, and I know that she’s finding the angle that’s hitting that spot. I’m not even here anymore. I’m just that body that’s attached to that dick that’s bringing her to her plateau.

Use me, baby. Fucking use me til you scream…

Her hip roll becomes a steady thrust, short and intense, and her nails dig into my chest. The pain ignites my pleasure center, my balls tighten, and I almost lose it. I grunt loudly, grabbing her knees as she continues to ride me.

Yes… touch me…

I don’t know if she said it out loud, but I heard it. My hands travel up the front of her thighs to her hips, pistoning against mine and working Greystone into a fired frenzy.

“Yes!” she breathes, and I squeeze her hips. Fuck that dick, baby. Ride that cock until you’re dripping all over it.

My hands move up her alabaster skin to her breast. I squeeze her mounds and thumb her taut nipples until they pebble.

“Oh, God,” she keens, her thrusts quickening. She moves her hands from my chest and positions them on the bed on either side of my head.

I can’t play with her breasts anymore. I can’t concentrate… too good… too good…

My hands move to her thighs and clench. I have no choice but to hold on for this masterful ride. She drops her head so that her hair falls forward over my face, reminding me of the very first time she caressed me with her hair. It’s longer now, thicker, and it smells divine, and I swear that I’m slipping into a level of subspace where I’m transcending a bit, my shaft and balls being beaten within an inch of their lives as she’s now thrusting with speed and purpose, fucking me…

Fucking me like a man… like a man would fuck his woman, driving into her balls deep with sweet abandon, feeling her wrap around him over and over again as he pursues sweet release. I’m that man, only I have nothing to do with the fucking. I’m being fucked—ridden like a wild animal.

Her breaths are ragged, driven. Her rhythm is fast and smooth. She doesn’t pump and rock me with each thrust, although the bed rocks violently with our movement. No, her motion is smooth, a groove on and off my dick, the only parts of her moving are her hips as she fucks me and her knees as they open and close on either side of me with each thrust, her feet secure under my thighs anchoring her to my body.

Fuck… oh fuck…

She’s primal as she rides me—fucking feral. I can’t see her face through the mask of her hair over mine, but I know that her eyes are closed, her mind and body concentrating on nothing but riding that dick, nothing but feeling it fill her pussy over and over and over…

I grind my teeth and take in a breath as I feel the orgasm quickly rising in my balls again. She’s not ready, and I can’t go until she does.

With her hands flat on the bed, she moves her hips up and down on my cock with a very controlled and rhythmic bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce. With each silent drop, my cock threatens to blow, but I hold that painful nut, waiting… waiting…

She whimpers. Fuck, she whimpers. The sound of her voice turns me on so much. Don’t come, Grey. Fucking hold it…

I squeeze her thighs harder, trying to hold back my climax banging at my balls and demanding to be released.

She whimpers again.
Fuck, she’s killing me here!

She’s bouncing harder, faster, with purpose, her breathing intentional and ragged… Fuck, I’m not going to make it…

“Come! Come!” she hisses heavily. Shit, I hope she was talking to me, because I squeeze her thighs tight and begin to blow fantastically inside of her. Seconds later, she shrieks and begins to tremble on top of me. I grab her breasts as I’m blasting out my insides, pumping all my hopes and dreams inside of my happy place. Her legs tighten on either side of me, her hands clasp over mine on her breasts, and her head falls back, releasing cries of passion as we both ride out our orgasms.

*-*

Sunday has no particular schedule except to be at the airport at 4:30pm to fly back to Seattle. Even though the session last night was hot as fuck, we managed to get to sleep at a reasonable hour. Butterfly awakes with only a slight hangover—fortunate, but surprising, considering that she probably consumed her body weight in wine yesterday and enamored several people in the process. However, after a steaming hot shower, another round with the breast pump, and lots of water and some ibuprofen for my libation princess, she’s ready to face the day.

We start with some Facetime with our babies with a promise that they will see us tomorrow night. Minnie’s separation anxiety seems to have gotten a little worse and I must say that I’m glad we’ll be home soon. I shudder to think how badly my babies suffered while I was away from them in Madrid. True, they had their mother, but I wasn’t there… and she was suffering, too. God, I can’t believe I was such an insensitive asshole.

Intent on forgetting about the huge fuck-up I made a few months ago after leaving my wife and children with no word if or when I was coming back home, I aim to have fun with my wife for our last day in Australia. So, we have a hearty breakfast and plan to spend our last day at the Adelaide Zoo. However, after talking to the front desk staff, we decide to go to the Cleland Wildlife Park instead. According to the locals, the Adelaide Zoo is nice, but you’re going to spend most of your day seeing more of the common animals that you would see in any zoo. Cleland is a bit more interactive and entertaining on short notice. We’ll get a chance to connect with and observe the indigenous species of the land in their natural habitat.

Once again, Lawrence shadows us while Jason gets us checked out of the hotel and our bags checked at the airport. He’ll meet us at Cleland with a picnic lunch we secured from a local café and then it’s to the airport with us all to return home.

My wife is looking adorably casual in another pair of skinny blue jeans and a cute T-shirt that’s tied in a knot behind her with a caption that says, “Baked in Seattle.” She’s wearing another pair of sneakers today and says that she just wants to be comfortable walking around the zoo and traveling home. I pretty much mimic her outfit in a T-shirt and jeans, although my shirt doesn’t have a caption.

We enter the park through the gift shop and past the café before we exit out the back of the building and we’re on our way to see the animals.

There are a lot of exhibits, but for the most part, many of the animals roam pretty freely so as to maintain the aspects of their natural habitat. So, it’s very easy to just walk up to them and start feeding them. However, there are some enclosures, and what’s the first one that we see?

You guessed it—the reptile enclosure.

“I don’t want to go in there,” Butterfly protests.

“Don’t be a chicken,” I say. “We don’t even know if we’ll see the same things we saw at the zoo. We’ll probably see something more interesting and exotic.”

“I see snakes on the display, Christian. We will see the same things.”

“Well, then, you know that they’re in cages, and I want to see the snakes.” I enter the reptile enclosure to see what types of exotic animals are on display. Lawrence stays with my wife outside as I take a look around.

It’s probably a good idea that Butterfly stayed outside, because some of the snakes are contained in the displays and some of them are not. Granted, they’re not crawling all over the floor, but they are on displays outside of the glass. I don’t know why I’ve always been a bit fascinated by snakes. Maybe it’s because I’ve always considered myself a bit of an unsavory character—unkind, undeserving of love, maybe even a little wicked—and snakes have historically been associated with evil, like the serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden.

There are a few keepers in the reptile enclosure, all near one of the reptiles who aren’t contained. I’m fascinated by the one with this huge greenish snake wrapped around his body. I see that a small child is actually stroking the body of the snake and I walk over to get a closer look.

When I say this damn thing is huge, I mean it’s huge! I have no idea how long it is, but I’m fairly certain that it’s non-venomous if they’re allowing a child to pet it while it’s wrapped around another human being. I’ve only seen two other snakes this big. One is an anaconda and I’m pretty certain this ain’t one of those.

“Is that a Burmese python?” I ask the trainer. That’s the snake that accompanies Selma Hayak’s dance at the strip club in From Dusk Till Dawn.

“Thaht’s a good guess, mayte, but no. This is an olive poython. She can get ta be fordeen feet long and up to 20 kilos in body weight…”

Here’s another example of the varying accents in Australia. He hardly has an accent at all, and not only that, but I also note that he used a metric weight and a standard measure of length.

“Theyse ahr warm weathah poythons that eat really big pry—kangaroos, wallabays, things of thaht soht. This guhl here was actually a breedah for a while, but now she’s here with us.”

She looks strangely majestic wrapped around this guy and I reach out to caress her smooth skin…

“Would ya loike to hold hah?” he asks. I’m taken aback by the question and frown, but I find myself agreeing to hold the ginormous olive python. The keeper shows me how to cradle the snake as he helps her wrap her coils around my body. If you don’t cradle or hold them correctly, they can get hurt, which strangely means that in captivity, we’re more dangerous to them than they are to us.

I’m a tiny bit nervous holding the snake, admiring her texture and how gentle she is, and hearing more facts and statistics about how she came to be in the Adelaide preserve when olive pythons mostly inhabit northern Australia. I’m sort of wishing Butterfly was here with me to take a picture of this, but I’m certain that she’d probably have a coronary if she saw me like this. I don’t know why because it kind of feels like a big hug…

“Christian Trevelyan Grey, what the hell are you doing!?”

Is my mother here?

I raise my gaze to see a tiny and enraged Butterfly glaring at me with her hands on her hips, and the entire reptile enclosure falls silent.

“You have infant twins at home, and you come to Australia and suddenly become Steve Irwin! Have you lost your mind?” she scolds.

“It’s not dangerous, baby,” I say, and I feel like I’m twelve.

“Not dangerous??” she shrieks. “It’s a snake! A very big snake! And I can guarantee that it didn’t get that big by eating mice!”

“Thehr hahmless, ma’am,” the keeper says. “She’s not venomous and she’s gentle as a lamb.” Butterfly throws a glare at the keeper that chills my soul, and I simultaneously throw a glare at Lawrence, who simply shrugs. The shrug says a lot—he couldn’t stop her from coming in, but I’m still miffed at him.

“I thought you were staying outside,” I retort, trying to regain control of the situation.

“You’ve been in here forever,” she counters. “I would like to see the park!”

I haven’t been in here that long… have I?

“Sir,” she says, turning to the keeper, “would you please remove the huge, man-eating reptile from my husband?”

“Yes, ma’am. C’mon, guhl,” the keeper says as he gently begins to uncoil the python from my body and wrap her around his. I can see that he’s unsuccessfully trying to hide his mirth as he retrieves the snake. There’s no use in trying to reason with her right now. She might as well have walked in on me with another woman.

Actually, she did.

She does a military turn to leave and marches towards the door. Just before she gets there, we see a group of children gathered around another keeper. I’m sure we have the exact same thought. What in this room could have children gathered around like that?

She approaches cautiously and stands there, easily able to see over the children and somewhat mesmerized, I must say, by whatever has their attention. I look over her shoulder and the keeper is handling a bearded dragon. I don’t know what has Butterfly so mesmerized, but she is completely entranced. When the keeper asks if she wants to hold it, she extends her hand without even speaking. The keeper places the dragon in her flat palm, and she examines it carefully while the keeper gives us little factoids about it, like the fact that its beard does indeed look like unshaved whiskers and extends fully when he feels threatened.

I snicker at my wife’s obvious double standard and lean in to get a laugh at her expense.

“Mommy, can we keep it?” I whine like one of the children watching my wife, causing them to snicker. It breaks her trance and she looks over her shoulder at me. “You can hold a dragon, but I can’t hold a python.” She sticks her tongue out at me and hands the dragon back to the keeper with a “Thank you.”

“I told you at the zoo that I don’t have problems with lizards. It’s snakes that are my issue,” she says once we clear the door. “And how can you even compare the two? That dragon was twelve inches tops from nose to tail. That snake was ten feet long easily.”

“Fourteen, but who’s counting?” I say, walking past her and looking at the full-sized map since she has the small one.

“You are such an a—ah! Oh, God!” I turn around to see my wife leaping backwards and looking at something on the ground. A large ball of fur is running towards her, and she yelps. And then another. I look at the map and discover that these furry little not-so-adorable creatures are potoroos. Butterfly doesn’t like them too much. As a matter of fact, she could very much do without them.

Potoroos have really long tails and are about the size of a young housecat. When they stand, they resemble very small kangaroos. However, when they run on all fours—which they do more often—they look like very large, really fat rats. They scamper right across the trail as you’re walking by, causing my wife to nearly jump out of her skin when she sees the first one. I’m certain she would have scurried up the nearest tree if she could. Once she sees the first one, she has the displeasure of seeing them scamper all over the park in herds looking for food like giant rats in the sewers of New York. She opts not to feed them, although Lawrence gets a kick out of letting one of them eat from his hand.

A tiny bit of fun never hurt anybody.

A wallaby walks up to us on the trail and Butterfly leans down to feed it. However, a potoroo runs over to partake in the feast and Butterfly is having none of that. So, the poor wallaby has to wait until the next person comes with a treat. No worries, Butterfly. We’ll get a chance to see more wallabies deeper in the park.

Our next stop is the rainbow Lorikeet display. Two of the birds are huddled on the fence together and I swear, they look like their snuggling and making out. The minute one walks down the fence for some room, the other walks right back up to it and continues to rub against the first bird’s feathers.

“Is that how they mate?” I ask Butterfly, who has downloaded the Cleland app to help us identify the animals and get more information on them.

“Maybe,” she says, scrolling through her phone. “They’re mostly monogamous and most of them mate for life. So… these two could be a couple.”

Could be? It looks like one is going to mount the other right here on the fence!

After a quick left turn past the Lorikeets, we arrive at one of three kangaroo habitats—the Kangaroo Island kangaroos. You can walk right up to them and feed them right from your hand. From there we see the swamp wallabies, confirming what I said earlier—that we would get another chance to feed the wallabies without being swamped by what Butterfly so lovingly refers to as “wildlife rats.”

She’ll hold a fancy lizard, but she won’t go near the potoroos… My wife is strange.

Next, we walk through one of the aviaries in the park where we see various species of native birds, water birds, and forest birds and on the other end outside of the aviary, we see the cape barren geese and the emu. I think I remember seeing the emu and some kind of kangaroo at the Seattle Zoo, but I’m not sure. I have to say that I’m getting a kick out of not just seeing the usual suspects as I’m certain we would have had we gone to the Adelaide Zoo instead.

We spend a little time looking at the wombats, but unfortunately, they like to hide in their little dens or holes or whatever you call them. So, they’re not really interested in putting on a show for us. However, it’s a warm day, so the echidnas are out and about on display. They’re these tiny little things that favor miniature porcupines, but when I see them, I swear they remind me of powder puffs—maybe not so puffy, but they still look like powder puffs.

Further into the park are the western grey kangaroos and the yellow-footed flock wallabies. We see the wallabies first, and I mistake them for just more kangaroos, but the locals inform us that wallabies have shorter legs than kangaroos. I only see the difference after they point it out.

A western grey kangaroo with a baby in her pouch comes to eat from my wife’s hand, which is somewhat unusual, we’re told, since kangaroos are extremely protective of their babies. She actually holds onto Butterfly’s hands with one of hers while she eats the feed from her palm. Of course, I must capture that for posterity.

Jason calls us to inform us that he has arrived with our lunch, so we head to the picnic area, intent on saving the Tasmanian Devils and the Koala display for last. More time has passed than we thought as it’s easy to lose yourself in the various species of animals in the park, especially watching them thrive in their own habitat.

“Is it me or does is seem like we haven’t really had any alone time on this trip?” I begin as we tuck into a delicious picnic lunch of Thai salad with beef strips; chicken, avocado, and pesto rolls; a stocked deli and Mediterranean antipasto tray; fruit salad, croissants, sparkling mineral water, bottled water and of course, a bottle of white wine. My wife raises her head slowly and cocks it to the side, gazing at me like a strange animal.

“Well, yes, of course there’s been a lot of fucking,” I acknowledge, “but I just mean out and about.” She begins to load her fork with Thai salad.

“Well, we are in a foreign country,” she replies. “We have to have our security. It’s the nature of the beast—you pointed that out to me. And we’re in a very touristy part of the world. It’s not like we went to a retreat.” She takes the forkful of her salad.

“I know. I guess I kind of expected more ‘gazing at sunsets’ and that sort of thing. Speaking of sunsets…” I pull out the camera and scroll back to the pictures of the sunset that I took at Barossa Valley.

“Christian, these are beautiful,” she says as she scrolls through the pictures, temporarily abandoning her lunch. “Where did you take these?”

“Wine country,” I tell her. “Near the end as we were leaving.” She looks at me and frowns.

“Where was I?” she asks. “How could I have possibly missed this?”

“You were asleep, darling,” I inform her with a smile. The fruits of the land had you knocked out completely. She twists her lips.

“You’re going to rub that in,” she complains, handing me back the camera.

“Not as much as you did last night,” I say before taking a bite of my chicken wrap. The words are out of my mouth before I know it, and I don’t regret it. It’s true. She raises a brow to me and helps herself to some antipasto.

“I made a call a few days ago,” I say. “Remember when I said that I wanted us to have some kind of training when we got back to Seattle?” She nods. “Well, a couple of old, trusted acquaintances got back in touch with me and are willing to set something up for next weekend.” She swallows her food.

“That soon,” she says, picking at her salad. I place my fork on the plate and take her hand.

“Is there any reason why we should wait?” I ask. “We need some formal training.”

“What… exactly is involved in ‘formal training?’” she asks.

“We learn from people with experience how the lifestyle fits into our relationship,” I say, trying not to be too obvious to possible prying ears.

“Hmmm,” she says before turning back to her lunch.

“What?” I ask.

“I’m not sure how I feel about ‘formal training,’” she says. “It brings the Pedo-bitch She-thing to mind.” I twist my lips. I hadn’t thought about that.

“It’s going to be necessary, baby,” I tell her. “We’re going about this the wrong way. We jumped into it with both feet, but we never really knew what the other needed from the relationship. I’m feeling around in the dark for your needs and you’re pushing yourself beyond your limits for mine. That’s totally unacceptable.”

“But… strangers,” she says, trepid, “I realize the importance of assistance, believe me, but the thought of training for something so intimate with outsiders…” She’s shaking her head.

“When you needed guidance, you went to your friend, Michelangelo,” I point out. “This is going to be no different.”

“This is going to be world’s different,” she says, firmly but softly. “Someone’s going to be teaching me how to be a submissive. I remember the BDSM club, Christian, I don’t know if I want anybody to see me like that!”

See her like wha…?

“Whoa! Whoa! Wait a minute. I remember the BDSM club, too. I don’t want anybody to see you like that, either! Is that the kind of training you think I mean?”

Her expression softens, a mixture of relief and confusion.

“I tho… well… well, what other kind of training is there?”

I slump back in the chair a bit, my own emotions a bit of relief and amusement.

“Baby, you’re a psychiatrist,” I say softly, leaning in her direction. “You took human sexuality as part of your required studies. You must know that the biggest percentage of the lifestyle is psychological—what you mentally gain from the experience. The physical is an aid; it’s a means to an end. It’s not the meat of the relationship or the lifestyle. You must know that.”

“Well, yes, but…” Just as she begins her protest, I can see one of those three-second-funnels run through her head with a myriad of scenarios and questions and situations and realizations and in just as much time, she says, “You’re right. My mind is totally blowing past that part because it’s wrapped around the physical portion of it. I don’t know how I could have missed it.”

“Because you’re in it,” I point out, stroking the skin on the back of her hand. “It’s the same thing as being able to help someone else face and conquer their fears, but not being as successful about facing your own. It’s a normal human flaw. But now that I understand more clearly, I can tell you. Our training will be all instructional, informational, and verbal. We may take part in an activity or two if it’s required or we desire it, but I don’t want anybody else seeing or touching that beautiful body any more than you do.”

I stroke her cheek with the back of my hand and she physically relaxes. Geez, if she thought for one second that I would want anyone but me exercising any dominance of any kind on her, I’m extremely glad to dispel that theory. Touch my Butterfly? In a pig’s eye! And some other horny Dom watching me spank or flog her so that he can go impose his will on some pain whore somewhere with images of my Butterfly in his head? I think not!

“Yes,” she says, “yes, I think I would like to pursue this… to see… what we need to do to enhance our relationship and… to meet each other’s needs.” She’s choosing her words carefully. I can tell.

“I want to be a good husband, and a good Dom to you,” I say without hesitation or careful choosing of my words. “I want us to come to an agreement of what works for us instead of you feeling like my will must be imposed upon you. When I’ve lost control, I do want you to help me back to where I need to be, but only to the extent of what you can take, not what you think I need. You’re the perfect Domme for me when the time comes—and with very little training—but I’m definitely not the perfect Dom for you… yet.”

“That’s what we’re aiming for?” she asks uncertain. “Perfection?”

“As fucking close as we can get,” I say, bringing her hand to my lips and pressing a gentle kiss on her fingers. She gives me a faint, coy smile.

“I can deal with close,” she says softly.

We finish our lunch talking lightly about the things we plan to do when we get back home, but I can tell that she’s still distracted by the previous content of our conversation. I’ll just have to show her that everything will be better throughout the course of our training. She’s not some mindless, meaningless submissive. She’s my wife, and it’s important that she knows what she means to me—even in that submissive role… especially in that submissive role.

We’re back on the trail to commune with the rest of the animals in the park before we must head to the airport. Our first stop is the red kangaroo area. The kangaroos stick around in groups of two or three—one, occasionally—especially babies with parents. All of the animals are pretty docile and accustomed to human interaction, and the red kangaroo is no exception. I lean down to feed one of them while Butterfly is feeding another. He lies down on the grass in the shade and gets comfortable, forcing me to walk over to him and squat. While he’s chilling under the tree, I extend my open hand with the feed and he just chomps away. I reach up and rub his head, giving him a scratch behind his ear. The freaking diva raises his chin like a dog as if to say, “You missed a spot.” I hear a little giggle and look over at my wife, who’s videotaping my interaction with my latest friend on the digital camera. I give her a good show and scratch him under his neck, since he so obligingly raised his head to give me a better angle.

We continue through the preserve and arrive at the dingoes den. They have a beautiful coat, and amongst themselves, they’re very playful. However, they’re considered “pests” and as an old tale goes, they like to eat babies in Australia. I don’t know how true that is, but according to one of the locals also attending the park, there is a story from the 80’s that a woman named Lindy Chamberlain’s baby mysteriously disappeared while on a camping trip.

Dingoes, like any other animal in the wild, are opportunistic and mostly eat small animals like rabbits and rodents. At the time, the ranger was touting that dingoes in the area were becoming quite aggressive and due to the eating habits and reputation of the dingo, Chamberlain declared that a dingo had eaten her baby. The story is apparently pretty controversial because some people say that dingoes don’t really eat babies. Yet, she lost her baby and blamed a dingo.

Though the infant’s clothing was discovered mangled and bloody about two and a half miles away from the campsite, the child was never found.

The dingo is a carnivorous canine, likened to a reddish-brown wild dog, with a longer snout and sharper teeth. Whether they attack babies or just eat rabbits remains to be seen. However, the pure dingo is an endangered species because of crossbreeding with domestic dogs, so pest or not, the pure dingoes in this habitat are protected.

We finally get to see some real, live Tasmanian devils. The little buggers are tiny little black things that scurry around looking for food or whatever it is they’re looking for. This being my first time ever seeing a live Tasmanian devil, I try to compare it to the cartoon.

“No resemblance,” I say. Butterfly frowns.

“To what?” she asks.

“To the cartoon,” I reply. She pauses for a moment, then laughs loudly.

“Besides the ears, have you ever seen a rabbit that looks like Bugs Bunny?” she asks mirthfully.

She’s got a point.

Many of these devils are very small, but they’ll only get to be just over two feet long at their longest only about 18 pounds. I would say that all of these are less than ten pounds. They can run pretty fast—about 8 miles/hour—and although he’s not leaving utter destruction in his path, this little guy in the enclosure looks like he’s trying to reach that speed as he runs around and around and around in circles while his friends just sit on a rock watching him. I guess the cartoon Tassy is more of a caricature of what the Tasmanian devil should look like, because I see little to no resemblance whatsoever.

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Now, of course, Butterfly has to have the experience of holding a koala. They’re cute and lovable and right up her alley, and they’re actually very strong. My wife adores them. Had I jokingly asked if we could take one home like I did the bearded dragon, I’m certain she would have agreed and demanded that I find a way for us to have a Koala transported to the Crossing. I could see myself trying to convince her that we are not the Neverland Ranch and a koala is not Bubbles. Oh, the arguing with PETA and animal control and the zoning board for keeping an exotic animal in the area…

And I quickly bring my mind back from the tangent.

We pet them for a while and learn about their upbringing and temperament from the keeper while they feed on sprigs with eucalyptus leaves. Finally, Butterfly gets her much-anticipated opportunity to hold the koala. The keeper instructs us to don a smock that’s very soft like velvet or something, almost like the koala’s fir and the same color. We each get the opportunity to hold the koala in our arms and Butterfly is completely stricken. She gets her picture taken with the little guy and I think he’s as stricken with her as she is with him—he won’t release her when it’s my turn to hold him.

We finally come to a compromise and Butterfly pets him while I hold him. That’s the only way that he would settle in my arms! When he finally does, though, he cuddles into me and continues to eat his eucalyptus leaves. Butterfly stays by my side while I take a picture with it to keep the little guy from squirming. It’s like holding a small child—well, not my kids. My kids are cuter, but this little guy is pretty cute, too. We have to be careful while we’re handling them as they have powerful claws and can scratch you pretty badly. That’s why we wore the smocks.

Butterfly is sad to leave the wildlife park, particularly the koala area, but we stop at the gift shop where we buy lots of trinkets and souvenirs as well as copies of our pictures from the Koala experience. Oh, and she purchased several stuffed koalas, too.


ANASTASIA

Traveling to and from Australia means that you can literally be traveling for about 48 hours to three days, if you count swapping planes and layovers. What I can’t understand is if we could fly from Sydney straight to Seattle after a 1 ½-hour layover—which is what we did—why couldn’t we fly from Seattle straight to Sydney? Since I’m not the pilot, it’s a rhetorical question. And since the flight is already done, it’s also a moot point.

There’s a bit of fanfare at the airport when we arrive—not much, but more than I expected since no one knew that we had left the country. I assume that someone else must have been flying out or arriving at SeaTac, and they just got a bonus capturing the Greys.

Boy, was I wrong!

I’m sad to leave Australia and my fuzzy koala friends, but I’m very happy to be home with my bed and my babies, though I can honestly admit that I didn’t miss the snow. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on those two little pink bundles when we arrive on Sunday evening, and Gail is right on top of it, handing me Minnie the moment I remove my coat and settle in the family room. Once that order of business is complete, she dives right into the next one.

“Did I correctly see you with a giant snake wrapped around your body?”

Christian and I look at each other and back at her.

“What?” he asks incredulously.

“Either someone has some very good photoshopping skills or there’s a picture circulating around the internet of you with a Burmese python wrapped around your body… in those clothes!” she confirms pointing at him.

“Are you serious?” he asks. “That couldn’t have been a day ago! Did you see any paps around?” he inquires of Jason.

“Um, I was retrieving lunch at the time,” Jason replies, “but Ben didn’t notify me of any press when I got back.”

“Then who took the picture?” I ask.

“It says Renee Schuller took the picture,” Gail says, scrolling through her phone. “She was another visitor at the zoo when she heard someone yell your name. Knowing who you were, she snapped the picture and posted it on her Facebook. It went viral in a matter of an hour.” My husband slowly turns his head to me, and I shrink a bit.

“Well, what did you expect?” I defend. “I walk into a reptile enclosure that I didn’t want to go inside in the first place to find my wayward husband who had spent so much time in there, I thought one of the reptiles had eaten him, and when I get in there, he’s got a god… gosh darn snake wrapped around his body that I discover is over twice as long as he is tall! Yes, I flipped the f… freak out.”

“You called out his name?” Jason asks.

“Yes, I was horrified! He had a frag-nabbit python wrapped around his body!”

“And someone recognized him just because you called out his name?” Gail protests.

“She called out my full name—all three of them—loudly, and somebody knew who I was. I was expecting to turn around and see Grace standing there! Instead, I’m standing there being scolded by my wife trying to convince her that the snake is harmless. Even the keeper was laughing at me. Oh! But not five minutes later, she’s holding a dragon!” All eyes snap to me.

“God, you are so dramatic,” I chastise.

“You were holding a Komodo dragon?” Gail asks surprised.

“No!” I reply, a bit perturbed with my husband. “I was holding a bearded dragon, not a Komodo dragon. Komodo dragons are much bigger than bearded dragons…”

“Yeah, like a hundred and eighty pounds,” Jason points out.

“Exactly!” I say. “I was holding a lizard that was about 10 inches long. He was holding a 14-foot python!”

“And it was an olive python, not a Burmese python,” Christian defends.

“What’s the difference?” I retort.

“About ten feet,” Jason interjects. Christian makes that one-up kind of face, and I just want to punch him.

“Fourteen feet, Christian!” I announce. “Fourteen feet of man-eating reptile wrapped around your body! Exactly how did you expect me to react?”

“I didn’t expect you to be there!” he counters.

“Then you should’ve brought your as… butt out of the reptile cage!” I retort sharply.

“What is this thing you’re doing?” Jason points at me with an open hand. “Gosh darn butt freaking frag-nabbit—what is this?”

“My children are almost a year old which means they’re going to be forming more words which means I don’t want any cursing around my babies.” I announce.

“Yet, you’re cursing me out about a flipping snake,” Christian mumbles, deliberately loud enough for me to hear him. Did I curse once? Did I say even one curse word? One?

“I’m going to hit him,” I say calmly to Jason while pointing to my husband. I’m going to hit him really hard and he may need medical attention.

“Remember, boss,” Jason says, “you have to sleep with her.”

Christian twists his lips but quickly gets the point and goes to the refrigerator.

“Hey! You guys are back!” Chuck comes from the area of the elevator, acknowledging our presence. “It’s been dead here without you,” he says, coming over to the sofa and giving me a kiss on the cheek. “How was Australia?”

“It was an adventure,” I say, somewhat dryly. Chuck sits on the arm of the sofa next to Keri.

“You didn’t have a good time?” he asks, curious. I sigh and kiss my yawning baby girl.

“No, we really had a great time—a couple of adventures here and there, but nothing to write home about… except when someone gets a picture of you and posts it on Facebook.” I twist my lips as Christian comes back into the family room with a Budvar, drinking it straight from the bottle.

“Oh, you saw the picture,” Chuck says. “What did you think?”

“I didn’t see it,” I reply. “I was there!” He turns to Christian.

“What did you think?” Chuck asks.

“I didn’t see it either, but I will,” he says dryly, before taking a drink of his beer.

“Ooookay, so, that’s my cue to shut the hell up,” Chuck says.

“Good idea,” Jason advises, “and watch your language.”

“What did I say?” Chuck says, shrugging.

“Hades,” Jason replies. “Her Highness doesn’t want any cursing around the children since they’ll be picking up words soon.” Chuck nods.

“Will you ever stop calling me Her Highness?” I ask.

“Old habits die hard and you started it, so live with it,” he replies matter-of-factly. I twist my lips and turn to Chuck.

“So, Chuck, tell us about your trip, first. How did things go?” I ask. Chuck sighs.

“Well, I got to see Mom and Dad’s house… not new, but new to me. It’s in Rapid City and it’s really beautiful—four bedrooms and three baths. Mom and Dad don’t need that much room, but they wanted to have room when Sunny and the kids came to visit. It’s a beautiful place and I would have loved to share some of those missed years with them, but…” He trails off and clears his throat.

“You know that we spent the days in court,” he continues, entwining his fingers with Keri’s. “Most of the nights we spent in front of the fireplace with good old-fashioned hot cocoa and marshmallows, going through albums and pictures of old times… and things that I missed—birthday parties, Christmases, Thanksgivings. We had good, home-cooked meals. I mean our meals here are pretty great, but there’s nothing like Mom’s cooking. She made this cabbage soup that she used to make when I was at home. I haven’t had it in forever! And the pan cornbread! Keri had three helpings!” he laughs.

“Eet wahs deleshush!” Keri exclaims, her eyes large. “It wahm an wholesome. ‘S like a huhg from de inside!”

We all laugh, and Chuck continues to tell us how his parents connected with him in their home and in their town, how they saw the sights of the city and even visited Mt. Rushmore. We don’t rush him to talk about the trial. We just let him ramble on for a while about reconnecting with his parents and wanting to go back home to visit more often, now that he actually has a home.

“Joe is a miserable bastard,” he says finally, as if he were saving the worst for last. “He sees what he’s done, and he knows what he’s done. He just doesn’t care. He found a way to make himself the victim the entire time. He told the court about my drinking, my terrible behavior—you know, destroying his wedding and stuff—and how he was desperately trying to protect his parents from my toxicity. It was like he had a catalog of every terrible thing I had ever done when I was drunk. If I were on the outside looking in, I would have taken his side, too.”

“So… what happened? Did he win?” Jason asks. Chuck purses his lips.

“We had an uphill battle, me and mom,” Chuck says. “We had to prove that we had lost something besides time in order for it to be an actionable case. Joe spent months preparing for this case. Every bit of my dirty laundry has been aired in South Dakota… the cars I wrecked, the wedding I destroyed, the break-ups I’ve had—if I stole a pack of gum, it’s now on the court record. At first, everybody was looking at me like I was a criminal, but when we got a chance to speak…”

He clears his throat again and has to regain his countenance a bit. It’s obviously hard for him to talk about it, and now I can see why he waited to discuss it.

“Joe talked for the whole first day, which I thought was strange since he was the defendant. He had all kinds of convincing evidence as to why he felt like I shouldn’t be allowed contact with my parents. He looked like the perfect, simple little country boy just trying to protect his ‘maw and paw’ while I went off to the city to live a fast life and get drunk. He even used our accident against me,” Chuck says, looking at me, “claiming that he came to Seattle to see me last year only to find me laid up, busted, and broken after having an accident from driving while drunk. I looked like Satan when he was done. I didn’t even want to take the stand. We went to a restaurant that night for dinner, and they wouldn’t even serve us!”

He shakes his head while Christian and I exchange a glance. He tried to use my accident to gain ground for his selfish actions—that unfeeling asshole!

“I came back to the house that night, and I told Mom that I didn’t think it was worth it. I would be coming back to Seattle at the end of the week and I would never have to see that town or him again if I didn’t want to, but they have to live there. Mom wouldn’t let me quit. She told me that he stole something very valuable from us and that if we didn’t see this through, win or lose, that he would automatically win. Then Keri gave me a pep talk and pretty much said the same thing Mom said. All I had was the truth—I didn’t have a mountain of memories and journal entries to spill in front of the court. I didn’t know how effective I would be.

“We went to court the next day and got the surprise of our lives. With a town full of angry ass people staring at me, I took the stand. Mom’s lawyer asked me questions, and I told my side. I didn’t deny anything he said. I owned up to everything that I did, except I wouldn’t let him use that accident against me. I told the court about the car that T-boned us and that anyone who wanted to know what happened in that accident could Google my name, the date, and that accident in Seattle and get the truth.”

“Did they do that?” I ask.

“Most of the court was on the phone while I was still testifying,” he responds. “That’s when the tide changed.”

Jesus, I’m glad to hear that! I’m sitting on the edge of my seat—literally—waiting to hear the rest of what happened.

“With one statement and in a matter of about a minute, I had established Joe as a liar and even worse, an opportunist. He not only lied about me and the accident, but he tried to use it against me to his advantage in a court of law, which is perjury. To keep him out of jail, his lawyer recalled him to the stand where he testified that he didn’t intentionally lie on me; he just didn’t have all the facts. With my history and seeing me laid up from a car accident, of course he assumed I was driving drunk. The judge opted not to charge him with perjury, but the damage was already done.

“I told the court about my time in rehab and AA; the years of trying to get in touch with my parents and how he destroyed all my letters; thinking that they hated me and never wanted to see me again; doing my tours of duty and coming back and joining a private security force; getting into that terrible accident that almost killed me; only being able to reach my parents because I had a wealthy boss who tracked them down after Joe came to see me asking for money for them and told me that they still wanted nothing to do with me; having an entire family all across the country that didn’t even know I was alive… I’d say the tide shifted pretty strongly.

“Mom had a plan… a big one. Never try to pull one over on your mother. She’ll get you every time.” He chuckles and shakes his head.

“My family came from everywhere!” he says, “not all of them, but a lot of them. They all talked about watching my mother suffer, about the years she spent researching and following dry trails and trying to track me down, waiting for a phone call or something in the mail to tell her something, anything, any tiny bit of hope. Mom had been searching for years trying to find me—trying to get me some help if that’s what I needed—and all the time, I was okay. I was in full recovery and living a healthy life. What Joe did wasn’t just selfish. It was cruel.

“Three days of nothing but solid testimony against my brother—hours and hours of recounting all the stories he told and the lengths he went to in order to ensure that I wouldn’t be able to get in touch with anybody and that nobody would be able to get in touch with me. Christian, as horrible as it was, had that car not nearly killed me, I never would have found my family, and they never would have found me.

“The parade of people that came through that courtroom talking about how my mother suffered, what she went through and what she did—they laid a foundation for her, and she got on that stand and cinched the deal.

“Mom had records—money that she paid for internet searches and background checks—nothing that panned out because she was using amateur resources and by the time she was searching for me, I was already in the service. After I didn’t hear anything from them, I moved on with my life. Jay called me about this great opportunity, I came to Seattle, and that was that… but Mom, she now had to deal with what she accepted as the death of her son and was going through therapy… money trail.”

I see where he’s going with this. They’re suing for slander and defamation of character, but he didn’t want money—he never did. He just wanted somebody to tell Joe that he was wrong, but you don’t get that kind of satisfaction in civil court. There has to be something lost—like I lost wages when David kidnapped me, and I lost money when that Keystone Cop took my credit cards—that can result in a need for restitution and possibly be a catalyst for punitive damages. Maddie produced that loss. Now, they had a real case.

“Joe had tried to make the therapy seem like it was my fault for disappearing. It didn’t float. Even his ex-wife showed up in court talking about how obsessed he was with keeping me and my parents apart even before she left him. In the end, he lost.”

Those were the words I was waiting for.

“He lost the case?” I confirm. “You won?” Chuck nods.

“Mom showed a monetary loss and had records and witnesses to prove it. I didn’t really show a monetary loss except for the stamps on the letters he destroyed. But when I mentioned the wealthy boss who tracked my parents down, there’s an expense that can be tracked… and it was enough.”

“So, what happened?” I ask, anxious to hear Joe’s fate.

“The jury found in our favor,” he says. “They awarded us one of the weirdest settlements I’ve ever seen in my life. Joe has to pay me and my mom a dollar a week… every week… for life!”

“What?” I ask, a bit surprised as well as a bit appalled.

“Yep, and if he misses a payment, he’ll be held in contempt of court and arrested.”

“You’re kidding,” Christian says.

“I’m not,” Chuck replies. “He can’t file bankruptcy to discharge it, because it’s something that he can pay. There’s no hardship. Even if he had other debts that he couldn’t pay, this one still couldn’t be discharged. He is locked in. If he doesn’t make the payments, he’ll be held in contempt of court and then have to do jail time. Then he’ll have to pay fines when he gets out and he’ll still have to pay our restitution. The only way that he can get out of this is to leave the state, but even that has its repercussions. He would still have to make the payments wherever he goes and if he doesn’t and the court finds out, there’ll be a warrant issued for his arrest and he’ll be a fugitive. He’s locked in.”

“How did things end?” Jason asks. “I mean, I know you had to have something to say.”

“I told him to never darken my door again and forget that I’m alive except when he has to write my check. Then I let him know that every penny that he gives me is going to a local alcohol rehab program so that more people can be success stories like me.”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Fifty-two dollars a year—that hardly seems like compensation for what you lost.”

“Can you really put a price on what he did to me?” Chuck says. “To my family? They thought I was dead… my mom thought I was dead. He knew I was alive… and well. He knew I had gone through rehab. He knew I was in the military. He knew, but he was holding this anger for what I did at his wedding, and subsequently somehow blamed me for ruining his life. My mother can’t stand not to speak to him because that’s her son, and I wouldn’t expect it to be any other way, but what he did to us is immeasurable.

“I think the judge did the right thing, because assigning a specific dollar amount would have been an insult. Yet, by saying, ‘Send them a dollar a week every week for life…’ you don’t know when that’s going to end, so there’s no set dollar amount on that. Plus, he’ll never forget. He’ll never forget what he did to us and why he has to pay for it, even if it’s just a dollar. He was wrong. He was very wrong, and somebody in authority confirmed that. Somebody told him he was wrong, and he can’t take out a loan or hock his drawers and pay off the debt and call it even. It’ll never be even. What he did to us will never be even! Yeah, I think the judge did the right thing.”

He takes a deep breath and lets it out while Keri rubs his back.

“Mom surprised me, though,” he says once he’s calm again. “She kissed him in the middle of the courtroom right after the verdict in front of everybody. She told him that she loved him, but that she must have failed somewhere as a mother. She told him that if he doesn’t pay that dollar every week to me and to her like the judge ordered that contempt of court wouldn’t be his only problem. She said that $2 a week was the very least that he could do after what he put his family through, and that if he couldn’t do that, she would never speak to him again. She said that she has unconditionally given the last fifteen years to him and that she was giving the rest to me, and he could be a part of it, or he doesn’t have to. It’s his choice. And then we left.”

“Wow… talk about courtroom drama,” I say.

“I feel so bad for Joe,” Chuck says. I almost hurt myself rubbernecking over to him.

“Why in the he… heck do you feel bad for Joe?” Christian asks

“Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying he didn’t deserve what he got, but I do feel sorry for him. I don’t know if he has any friends, but he’s alienated his family to the degree that I don’t think it can ever be fixed. I’m his brother. No matter what happened in our lives, I’m still his brother, and look what he did to me. Look what he did to my mom and dad. Nobody’s ever going to trust him again.

“I was under the influence of a controlling drug that I let go of and never touched again. He did this with sound mind and body. He has no excuse. I can forgive him for what he did to me. I really can. I can’t forgive what he did to my mom and dad.”

He shakes his head again and the room falls silent.

“So, on another note, my parents are going to spend an early Christmas with Sunny and the kids, and then, they’re coming here and staying through the New Year. I had a feeling you wouldn’t mind if they stayed here, but they can stay at my place in Bainbridge if it’s an imposition.” His face is alight again with joy, talking about his parents coming for Christmas.

“Now you know better than that,” Christian scolds. “Find out what would make them more comfortable. I’m fine with whatever they want to do.”

“When will they arrive?” I ask.

“I don’t know yet, but I’ll have to get the Bainbridge house cleaned for their arrival just in case,” he says. “Now, enough about me. I want to hear about the trip. I’ve never been to Australia. Jason, what do you think of Sophie’s new look?”

Jason frowns and Gail drops her head.

“Dammit, Chuck, thanks a lot!” she exclaims. I look down at Minnie and she’s asleep in my arms. Mikey is out cold in the Pack-n-Play. Crisis averted. Gail didn’t even notice.

“What new look?” Jason asks. Gail shakes her head and takes out her phone. She swipes the screen and enters something into it. Jason reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone.

“What the fuck!?” he yells.

And two babies are startled and crying.

“God! Thanks, Jason!” I declare and try to get Minnie to settle while Christian retrieves Mikey and gently begins to sooth him. Jason is unfazed, at least by my scolding.

“Gail, what the hell?” he hisses quietly through his teeth.

“She wanted to try something different,” Gail defends. Did she shave her head? Oh, dear God…

“What’s wrong? What is it?” I ask, praying that she didn’t follow Harmony’s lead and scalp herself.

“Purple!” he barks at me. “Her hair is purple! She looks like one of those rainbow horses you used to see in those cartoons! Who’s idea was this?”

0c92ef8bcafa0f5da9440b78ed459cb6And now I’m trying to suppress a laugh. The hormonal, emotional teenage girl dyed her hair purple. Worse things have happened.

“Calm down, Jason. It’s a rinse,” Gail chastises. “It’ll be gone in about three shampoos and then she’ll probably be green.”

“Oh, God,” Jason laments. “Please don’t let child services see her. They’ll probably take her away from me.”

“Um, Jason,” I say, “child services removes a child from abusive and dangerous situations, not because she dyed her hair purple.” He sighs heavily and rolls his eyes.

“This is just a phase, right? Tell me this is a phase. I hope this is a phase…”

“Oh, for God’s sake, man, stop being so dramatic. What are you going to do when she brings home a boyfriend?” Gail chides. I raise a brow and turn to Jason.

“Ugh,” he groans, puts his hand on his forehead, and turns away. Gail and I chuckle quietly, and I just shake my head. She’s already in that stage, Jay. You better prepare yourself.


A/N: The way that this picture was previously labeled in Pinterest made me think I might have made young Sophie’s hair purple before. I don’t think I did, but just in case, someone let me know if I did.

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

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

The Australia Picture Board can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-the-trip-to-australia/ and the pictures from today’s chapter are in the Cleland Wildlife Park” sections.

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 47—Getting to the Bottom of Things

I’m so happy that you guys liked that last chapter. I didn’t mean to cut your hearts out with the cliffhanger, but with word counts and this particular storyline, that’s the only place I could end it. Having said that, I’ll quickly address a couple of things from the last chapter.

I don’t think things are going to occur the way everyone thinks they are, but I will say that in the end, I think you guys will be satisfied. I won’t lie and say that it’ll be by the end of this chapter, but when all is said and done, I think you’ll like it.

Now, about the cold room… years ago—I can’t remember where I was—I was in a room just like that. The vent was in an area that was about 10 feet wide so that the heat would come out and hit this other wall ten feet away and it was right in front of the window. The room never got warm and I never forgot that room. I just don’t remember where that room was.

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

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

Chapter 47—Getting to the Bottom of Things

CHRISTIAN

“To my second son, Freeman…”

“About goddamn time!” Freeman hisses, almost inaudibly, but I hear him through the wall. Neither of his brothers react to his selfishness.

“Impatient as always, weren’t you, Freeman? That’s why I saved you for last.

“It’s hard for a father to realize that he’s done everything that he could and still, it wasn’t enough. In all the years I’ve been on the earth, I can honestly and fretfully say that I’ve never met another human being in my life who was as bitter as you. You’ve never taken responsibility for any of your circumstances and although I understand that life dealt you a massive emotional blow, that’s life. It does that to all of us.

“I’ve got diabetes. I need a kidney, but I’m not blaming anybody else for that. You blamed your shunning sweetheart and her rich boyfriend for your unhappiness. Although she was responsible for the original blow, she was not responsible for everything else that happened thereafter. That was all you—your unending need to be the center of attention and have everything exactly your way or else!

“When the world didn’t bow to your will, we were all wrong. Rick was a monster because he found a rich woman who loved him and wanted to marry him. Nollie was a disappointment because she wasn’t your precious firstborn son. Nellie was a failure because you, my son, did not provide the Y-chromosome, or did you forget that’s how that worked?

“So, now I’ve found my way to greener pastures and if you’re hearing this now, it means that you still haven’t changed. I can see that the people around you are slowly beginning to see you for what you are. My final wish for you is that I wish you the best, son. I hope you find whatever it is that you’re looking for, because at the rate that you’re going, you’ll end up with no one and nothing.”

Wu pauses at this moment, having read Pops’ words with the fever and fire that Pops himself would have delivered had he still been alive. Freeman says nothing. His expression is hard to read—either stoicism, impassivity, or he’s doing a really good job of hiding his pain. I completely expect him to say, “Come on, get on with it,” but he doesn’t. He sits silently waiting for Wu to continue.

“On more than one occasion,” Wu continues, “I’ve heard you bickering about that house with the rest of the boys. You win, Freeman. You get the house. If I know my sons, none of them want it anyway, and I only ask their forgiveness if I’m wrong about that, but you made it quite clear that the house meant more to you than I did. So, now that I’m gone, you get what you’ve been waiting for. It’s all yours. Let him have it, boys. It’s truly worthless—physically and emotionally.”

Dad, Uncle Herman, and Uncle Stan all look at each other and a silent conversation passes between them. Uncle Herman twists his lips, Dad does a non-committal shrug, and Uncle Stan just waves it off, each of them signaling in their own way that they don’t give a damn about the house. Uncle Herman and Dad told him before he left Seattle that they didn’t care, but he still chooses this moment to gloat.

“You got a toy car collection. I got a house,” he taunts. Dad just shakes his head.

“Enjoy,” he retorts.

It only takes a moment for the impact of that word to hit Freeman.

Whatever condition it’s in, that house is a family house, and he no longer has a family. So, he really can’t enjoy it. I know from having the house guarded for about a year that it’s in a terrible state of unrepair and is pretty worthless. It’s in an area of Detroit that’s considered a historical area, but the property values are way down because it’s Detroit. If he wants to sell it, he’s going to have to sink a mint into it to get it back to its former glory, or he’s going to have to sell it as-is and get maybe one-fifth of the value.

And let’s not forget the back property taxes.

His victory really isn’t a victory at all and just like Pops predicted, he’s losing everything. The house is a consolation prize and not even that.

“Although you have proven almost up to my last day to be a disappointment, I’m still a fair man and you’re still my son. To that end, you will still get your share of my monetary worth upon my passing,” Wu adds.

“Monetary worth?” Herman interrupts. “What is he talking about?”

“Herman, apparently, your father made preparations that he didn’t even tell you about,” Wu says as he turns his attention back to the will. “Because Burton’s medical bills and final arrangements have all been handled by you and/or your brother, Carrick, there’s no demand on the proceeds from the life insurance policy.”

“Life ins…” Dad trails off. “Dad had a life insurance policy?” Freeman perks up immediately at the thought of money.

“Who’s the beneficiary?” Freeman intercepts. Even Wu looks like he’s had enough of Freeman.

“I’m getting to that,” Wu says, impatiently, “if you would all give me a moment to do my job…”

“Just tell us who gets the money!” Freeman demands.

“Man, just shut up!” Uncle Herman declares. “By law, that will must be executed exactly as Dad wanted, and if you keep flapping that hole in your face, we won’t know, and nothing you say is going to change what’s in there.”

“You gettin’ ballsy, too, brother?” Freeman rises from his seat across from Uncle Herman. Oh, shit.

“Freeman, you have disrespected our father and our family name in every way imaginable and unimaginable. With his final words, he declared just how worthless you really are and the fact that he meant nothing to you and he knew it—that you were just waiting for him to die so that you could get his house. Now, I am a breath away from beating the hell out of you with every inanimate object in this room that’s not nailed down. So, sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.”

Uncle Herman’s voice sounds like a gentle and menacing growl coming from his chest, and it unnerves me… even from behind this glass. Freeman’s resolve cracks for a moment, and when he looks like he’s about to reload, Dad pipes in.

“Make that two of us,” he says. Freeman looks shocked to hear my dad collude with his brother to kick Freeman’s ass, but not nearly as befuddled when Stanley’s voice adds…

“I’m in.”

Just like that, like he was anteing up for poker! Freeman looks at the snarling eyes of all three of his brothers sitting across from him at the conference table, their hands all clasped in front of them in the exact same pose, glaring at him and waiting for him to make a decision. Common sense that I thought the man never possessed appears to influence his actions, and he quietly takes his seat. No doubt, the thought of a violent beatdown from his three angry brothers is enough to cool the narcissism of even this asshole.

Wu reads the remainder of the legal jargon—and there’s a lot of it—including a no-contest provision and concludes the reading of the will. Afterwards, he retrieves another document from the file and begins to describe it.

“Herman, you are the primary beneficiary of the policy. You were to handle your father’s final arrangements and present the billing to me so that I could see that the mortuary was paid. Apparently, your notification of this information, which I sent right after your father’s death was… lost or rerouted, I don’t know…” He doesn’t raise his eyes to Uncle Herman or Freeman. “As a result, you and your brother took care of all of your father’s final arrangements. There are no demands on his estate from creditors and as a result, the entire proceeds of the life insurance policy will split four ways.”

“So… how much was it?” Uncle Stanley asks.

“Two million,” Wu says. “You each get $500,000.”

“Five-hund… fuck me…” Uncle Herman whispers. Uncle Stan is stunned into silence. Dad sits there with his brow furrowed. I know exactly what he’s thinking—he doesn’t need the money.

Apparently, he’s not the only person who feels that way.

“I’m contesting,” Freeman says, matter-of-factly. Four heads in the room rubberneck towards Freeman.

“Contesting what?” Stanley nearly shrieks. I can tell by his expression that he sees his dreams going down the drain like a toilet. “Dad had four sons. He split the life-insurance evenly—we all get $500,000. You’re fucking ruining this for us all!”

“That bastard was absent for the last 25 years!” Freeman shoots, pointing at Dad. “He doesn’t deserve a goddamn thing from Dad!”

“And you do?” Herman shoots. “When Dad was dying, your suggestion was to bring him back to Detroit and put him in a goddamn nursing home! You didn’t care that he was happy in Seattle, only that he was in Seattle. Why do you have to be such a miserable bastard all the time!”

“He can’t do that!” Stanley protests, almost sounding like he wants to cry. Freeman is dug in, trying to make it appear that it’s Dad’s fault that none of them will get their money, but he’s crazy like a fox. First of all, he knows that contesting means that nobody gets any money. Not only does it hurt Dad—so he thinks—but he’s hoping to turn the other two brothers against him for holding up the life insurance payout, even though it’s not even Dad’s fault.

Second, the longer he holds up that payout, the more likely it is that the divorce will be final, and the IRS audit will be complete, meaning that Nell and the Feds won’t be able to attach the funds from the policy.

“I hate to tell you this, little brother, but yes, I can,” Freeman says, celebrating in his immediate victory. “Herman and that asshole dragged my dad all the way across the country away from the protection of the rest of his family. He was on dialysis; he was on the list for a kidney. He was holding his own for years while he was here, then they get him out there and a year later, he’s dead and there’s a mysterious two-million-dollar life insurance policy. That’s awfully convenient and I can contest the validity of the whole damn thing. Isn’t that right, Mr. Wu?”

“You can,” Wu says, “but you need to hire your own attorney. I’m the second executor of the estate, and I have no intention of going against my client’s final wishes. Know that contesting the beneficiary of the life insurance policy is very expensive and almost impossible to win.”

“You fucking piece of shit!” Uncle Herman seethes now standing from his seat. “Are you suggesting that I let my father die for a life insurance policy that I didn’t even know existed?” Uncle Herman’s tone and expression is murderous and I’m certain that Freeman’s next words are likely to determine his immediate fate on planet Earth at the hands of the oldest Grey brother.

Freeman’s expression indicates that he’s got the same feeling.

“I thought there was a no-contest clause,” Stanley interjects, trying to diffuse the situation and no doubt, keep Herman out of jail and avoid another Grey funeral. “Didn’t you say there was a no-contest clause that says if he contests the will, he loses his share?”

“That’s if he contests the will,” Dad says, “not the life insurance policy.” Stanley looks at Wu, who nods. Stanley deflates immediately.

“Son of a bitch,” he hisses uncharacteristically.

Dad and Freeman are silently facing off with each other as Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman vehemently voice their displeasure with his selfishness. As Freeman sits there with a cat-who-caught-the-canary sneer on his face, Dad’s eyes narrow and the corner of his mouth slowly begins to rise.

“Valued at about $500,000 apiece, you said, Mr. Wu?” Dad says, without breaking his glare from Freeman.

“Yes, Mr. Grey, that’s correct.” Dad pulls out his phone and presses one number. “Isabelle, yes, can you please prepare two transfers, each for $750,000?… Yes, one in the name of Stanley Grey, and one in the name of Herman Grey… Yes, I’ll contact you back with the account numbers…”

I already know that Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman are going to protest the transfer, so I get on the phone with Alex.

“I need both of my uncles’ bank account information as soon as you can get it to me—like three minutes ago. Stanley Grey and Herman Grey.”

“I’m aware of your uncles, sir. Give me fifteen.” I end the call and continue to watch the soap opera unfolding before me.

“We can’t let you do that, Rick,” Uncle Herman says. “This is all of our fight. We’ll fight it… and we’ll win.”

“And I believe you,” Dad retorts, “but as long as the money is stuck in probate and you guys aren’t using it to live, he’s winning,” he says pointing at Freeman.

“But our share is only 500… why 750?” Uncle Stanley asks.

“Because I don’t need the money, but you do,” he says. “If I took that money, it would be like taking a handful of popcorn and throwing it on top of a bucket of more popcorn. It would just sit there. You guys take it. You can use it.”

“You’re our brother,” Uncle Stanley says. “You’re entitled to it, too.”

“In a pig’s eye,” Freeman shoots.

“And I appreciate that and accept it,” Dad says to Uncle Stanley, ignoring Freeman’s comment, “and now, I’m doing what I want to do with it…”

Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman continue to protest Dad’s gesture when my phone buzzes. It’s an email from Alex and he has sent me the bank account information for my uncles. I forward it to my father. He ignores his buzzing phone, so I tap on the two-way glass. He looks in my direction even though I know he can’t see me, then he reaches in his pocket and pulls out his phone, swipes the screen a few times, and begins typing into it.

“Well. Gentleman, my son has just forwarded me your bank account information and I’ve just sent it to my assistant. You’ll have the money within twenty-four hours.” They both look at the two-way glass and Freeman now knows that he has an audience.

“Who’s in there?” he demands. “Who the fuck is in there?”

“My son is in there,” Dad says. “He’d be in here, but he has to maintain a safe distance from you,” Dad smirks.

“You mean the little bitch that has a restraining order against me?” Freeman hisses.

“Careful,” Dad says, unfazed. “Anything you say could be a violation of your court order.”

“I can say whatever the fuck I want, as long as I don’t say it to your little prick son,” Freeman shoots. Dad smiles.

“Is that true, Mr. Wu?” Dad says, folding his hands on the tabletop and flashing a knowing smile. “Can this insensitive asshole say whatever the fuck he wants in front of my son who currently has charges pending against him for harassment?” Wu clears his throat.

“No… that’s not true,” Wu says. “Anything that he says or does that can be seen or heard by the complainant can be construed as harassment. It’s part of the cyberbullying law.”

“Cyber…” Freeman begins, incredulously.

“Shut the fuck up, Freeman. You’re being recorded,” my father says, menacingly. Freeman sighs angrily resigned.

“You have ruined my entire goddamn life,” he says to Dad. “My entire fucking life! From childhood, all the way ‘til now, you’ve been nothing but a goddamn problem. You’re a fucking thorn in my side and I just wish you would disappear.”

“I didn’t ruin your life, Freeman. You ruined your own damn life. Your wife is divorcing you. Your children left the state to get away from you. None of the family will speak to you. You missed your final goodbye to your father because you were being an ass. You have charges pending against you and you could be facing jail time for beating the hell out of a perfect son in the airport! Of all places, the airport… where they detain you for sneezing! You left several threatening messages on my son’s voicemail, calling him so much that he couldn’t even conduct business to run his billion-dollar empire on his cell phone until the police told you to cease and desist and I ruined your life?” Dad laughs incredulously before continuing.

“You’re going to get your wish, Freeman. I’m going to walk out of this room and never think of you again. You will only be topic of conversation if somebody brings you up or you continue with this stupid fight. But you’ll just burn through your portion of Dad’s life insurance, because it’ll be frozen during the fight with probate. You’ll be coming out of your pocket to pay any attorney to contest this policy, and I’ve got money to burn. I won’t allow my brothers to suffer because you’re being an asshole as usual.”

Stanley reaches for his buzzing phone and I can only assume by the look on his face that he received notification of Dad’s wire transfer. He interrupts Dad and Freeman’s arguing.

“You did it…” he says incredulously. “He did it…” he says to Freeman. “Seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars was just deposited into my account.” He turns to Dad. “Rick, you can’t do this.”

“Yes, I can,” Dad says. “It’s my money and I’m rich. I’ll do with it whatever I want.” He turns his glare back to Freeman. “I won’t allow this selfish bastard to ruin Dad’s final gift to the two of you. When he finally loses his contest and you get your share of Dad’s policy, you can pay me back then… if you want to.”

“If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine, but I’ll only accept five-hundred from you, Rick,” Uncle Stanley says. “That’s my share.”

“I would have given you guys my share anyway,” Dad says, looking between Uncle Herman and Uncle Stanley. “If Freeman wasn’t such an asshole, I would have given him a share, too,” he adds as if Freeman wasn’t even in the room. “I appreciate and accept what my father did for me. Even in his last days, he remembered me and showed me that he still loved me. That’s priceless. That’s all I need. You two can do so much more with this money than I could.” He turns to Uncle Herman. “The woman you love has two little girls that are going to need college funds. You may want to take a vacation. God knows, you deserve one. And you…” He turns to Uncle Stanley. “I’m sure you can find some use for that money. Isn’t Kevin about to graduate high school?” Uncle Stanley sighs.

“Rick…” he begins to protest.

“Please, Stan… let me do this,” he beseeches his brother. “Please?” Uncle Stanley sighs again.

“You got a heart of gold, Rick,” Uncle Stanley says. Freeman scoffs, but Dad doesn’t acknowledge him. Dad smiles and squeezes his brother’s hand before standing from the table.

“Mr. Wu, please make sure that any other fees for my father including your own are all paid promptly and keep me informed of the progress of this other matter.” He takes out his business card and hands it to the attorney. “Don’t use any of the funds from the estate for this issue. As my brother Herman is my father’s executor, you can send your bill care of my brother Herman to this address. I can assure you that after today, there’ll be no more tampering with our mail. Oh, and by the way, there will be demands on my father’s life-insurance policy. Although my father’s final arrangements were covered by me and Herman, they should have been covered by the life insurance. I will be submitting certified and notarized documentation from the mortuary to be reimbursed for the cost of the services rendered before the proceeds are divided between me and my brothers.”

Freeman sneers at my father and probably at the thought that Dad is still going to be getting a share of the policy before anyone else.

“I had services, too!” Freeman barks. Dad doesn’t acknowledge him, but Wu turns his attention to Freeman.

“What services did you have?” he asks.

“We had a memorial for him here… after that asshole had him cremated against my wishes!” Freeman retorts. Wu turns to the other three brothers.

“Not that I have to explain this,” Uncle Herman said, “but Dad said that those were his final wishes. Three brothers were present and weighed in on the matter before Dad was cremated. We called Freeman and tried to include him, but he refused.” He turns to Freeman. “He’s finally learning—the hard way—that he doesn’t have the power to control everybody’s lives, and it looks like he doesn’t even have the power to control his own.” Wu sighs and turns to Freeman.

“You can submit documentation for reasonable expenses for any mortuary preparation or services that you had here in Detroit. Private memorial services are not subject to reimbursement from the life insurance policy,” Wu informs him. The magic words…

Reasonable expenses… which means don’t submit documentation for $10,000 since Pops’ remains were already cremated, and in an urn, when you received them.

Mortuary expenses… again, the remains were already prepared when you received them.

Private memorial services… that means don’t present a bill for a $20,000 rave you had to celebrate the fact that your father has finally kicked the damn bucket!

“But he gets to write off his memorial services?” Freeman nearly screeches.

“I’m only submitting documentation for mortuary services, transport of my father’s remains from home to the mortuary, to and from the church, to the crematorium, and back here to Detroit. I’m not submitting any documentation for the repast or any private memorial services.” Dad looks at the glass and I know that I need to get him an invoice from GEH for the transport of Pops’ ashes back to Detroit on the jet.

“Any more questions, Mr. Grey?” Wu says to Freeman. Freeman stands angrily mute. “Please note… reasonable mortuary services. I’m not sure what else could have been done by a mortuary once Burton Grey’s remains had been cremated and his ashes had been sealed in an urn, but you’re free to submit documentation.”

I can see Freeman’s blood boiling right before our very eyes. Wu takes Dad’s card and they shake hands before Dad leaves the room. Freeman’s ready to reload, but before he gets the chance to retort at all, Uncle Stanley turns his glare to Freeman.

“Lose my number, Freeman,” Uncle Stanley says. “I’m done with you after this.” He stands to leave after my father.

“Stan…” Freeman begins but trails off.

“You’re toxic, Freeman!” Uncle Stanley shoots, whirling back around to face him. “I don’t know how I didn’t see it before! I always thought you were just hurt and angry—like you felt deserted or somehow wronged, but you’re just spiteful, hateful, and wicked. You destroy everything you touch, and Dad was right—you’re going to die a lonely old man and it has nothing to do with Rick! It’s you! You let something that happened to you when you were a kid effect your whole goddamn life and you still won’t let it go. You blame everything and everybody for your situation and you have for years and here’s a newsflash for you, brother. There are people who have been through far worse than you have and turned out to be much better people. You have no excuse for decades of bitterness and selfishness, and I’m through with you!”

Stanley glares at his brother for only a moment more before he storms out of the room after my father. Dad enters the room with me right after Uncle Stanley leaves and watches the screen as Herman wordlessly examines Freeman before standing himself and walking out of the room.

“Let’s go, Dad,” I say, putting my hand on his shoulder. He turns without a word and we leave the room.

The ride is silent for the first several minutes as we begin to head south towards Detroit. This trip doesn’t make me happy, but I’m more concerned about the expression on my father’s face. It’s completely unreadable. It started out as stoicism, but is now morphing into something else completely… anger? Dismay? Complete and utter discontent? I have no idea.

“Dad?” I ask after the car has been silent for way too long, each brother lost in his own separate contemplation. There’s no response or reaction from my father.

“Dad? Are you okay?” I try again. My voice causes Uncle Herman to turn around in his seat and look at Dad. Uncle Stan is driving since he knows the area better than anyone, but even he glances in the rearview mirror to see what’s going on with Dad.

“You alright, Rick?” Uncle Herman asks. Dad shakes his head.

“When did he do it?” Dad asks. We all look at each other and back at Dad. We have no idea what he’s asking. Herman makes to say something, but Dad continues.

“I hadn’t seen Dad for over two decades until my son got married last year. He had no way of knowing whether I was dead or alive. He knew I had married Grace. He knew I had married money…”

What is he getting at?

“I was fine,” he continues. “I’m a successful lawyer who married a trust fund girl who ended up being a successful doctor. I’m rich. I’m very rich. When he came out to the wedding, he knew I was rich. Granted, I didn’t pay for the wedding, but it was in a goddamn castle!”

Is he angry with Pops? Uncle Herman and I exchange quizzical looks, but we all know that we have to let Dad work through whatever this is. He raises tear-filled eyes to Uncle Herman.

“Look how we were living,” he says. “My home is called ‘Grey Manor.’ My son’s home is ‘Grey Crossing.’ We have more money than we know what to do with.” His voice is starting to tremble. Uncle Herman is the first to engage.

“I… I know, Rick,” he says cautiously.

“Then why?” Dad says, his voice cracking and tears falling down his cheek. “Somewhere during the last year, he changed his will. Did you listen to the tone of it? It sounds like he was talking to us the day right before he died! He got a life insurance policy—a two-million-dollar life insurance policy, and then he made me—a rich man—one of the beneficiaries.” He’s weeping now. “He wouldn’t let me buy him a goddamn kidney! I could have bought him a kidney! I could have saved his life! He left me half a million dollars…”

I knew it! Pops alluded to it, but I knew it. I knew Dad wanted to buy him a kidney. I knew because I wanted to buy him a kidney. Now, I have to ask why, too. Why would Pops leave money to Dad knowing that Dad didn’t need it and probably wouldn’t accept it?

“A two-million-dollar life insurance policy,” he says. “For the love of God!” Dad’s weeping has become nearly hysterical.

“Dad…?”

“My father had a two-million-dollar life-insurance policy,” Dad said. “He even included that ungrateful ass bastard that he knew was just waiting for him to die. That worthless piece of shit! I never want to see his face again as long as I live!”

I don’t know how serious Dad is about not wanting to see his brother again or if he’s just feeling super emotional right now. I just know that Freeman better stay the hell away from the vast majority of Grey males at this time if he doesn’t want to breathe his last. My father drops his face in his hands and weeps bitterly.

“I love you, Dad,” he sobs. “I love you so much…”

*-*

Dad is in no condition to confront the private investigators who were following him, so Uncle Stan decides that we should have lunch first. I put a call in to Jason to have the jet on standby because we may be leaving later than anticipated. We pull up to this restaurant with a giant guy in red and white checkered overalls standing in front of it. I can’t imagine getting a decent meal at this place, but when Uncle Herman sees where Uncle Stanley has taken us, he turns around in the seat to get Dad’s attention.

“Rick… look.”

Dad raises tired bloodshot eyes and looks out the window. When he sees the giant chunky guy in the jumpsuit, he smiles a wide smile and attempts to dry his tears.

“You’re an asshole, Stan,” Dad laughs.

“I know,” Uncle Stan acknowledges. “Now, let’s go get a Big Boy.”

I discover a few things about my dad and his brothers during lunch. First, Big Boy is the name of the restaurant—hence, the giant “boy” in the front wearing the checkered overalls. Second, Big Boy is also the name of the famous burger served at the restaurant. They serve a lot of other food, but apparently, the franchise is best known for the burger. I mistakenly said that the Big Boy must have come from the Big Mac, but the Grey brothers quickly corrected me by telling me that the Big Boy came first. While McDonald’s opened in 1940, Big Boy opened the prior decade.

Most importantly, Big Boy burgers were a treat, and often used as rewards or bribes in the Grey household—like good report cards, finishing chores first and, in Dad’s case, no longer wetting the bed.

Apparently, Uncle Stan gave him a really hard time about it even though Dad stopped wetting the bed long before Uncle Stan was old enough to know that he was doing it.

The outing brought back good memories for the brothers of their childhood, but it also reinforced the fact that they don’t remember Freeman in many of those memories. He was in some of them. Apparently, he and Dad were really very close at one point, but now, they’re a perfect example of the thin line between love and hate.

With new resolve after his breakdown in the car and the subsequent lunch with his brothers, Dad is now able to face the owner and investigators at Best Shields Family Investigations. Upon realizing the severity of what his brother had done, he decided to initiate the steps to get a restraining order against him as well. He knows that Freeman won’t try to contact him, but he wants to be sure that the asshole knows that he can’t do anything else either.

The agency is in a small city called Hamtramck—which happens to be right in the middle of Detroit. It’s one of two cities surrounded on all sides by Detroit. I don’t know whose bright idea that was, but…

Uncle Stanley took a route the went straight up Dequindre, so that I didn’t know we were in Detroit until we were leaving and entering Hamtramck. Uncle Stanley really is quite sensitive to other people’s feelings.

Best Shields is housed in this unimpressive storefront-type building on Conant, right down the street from one of those jailhouse-looking schools… a junior-high school, no less. We enter, and I immediately see a receptionist that looks way too young to be a receptionist.

“Hi,” she coos at me. I immediately step forward.

“Hi…” I trail off waiting for her to fill in her name.

“Lori,” she purrs. I smile.

“Lori. We’re here to see your boss about an assignment.” I say the words like it’s a top-secret mission.

“Mr. Westcott? Sure. Why don’t you gentlemen have a seat.” While my father and uncles have a seat, I lean over the counter turn on my best flirt with Lori while she informs her boss—Brad Westcott—that he has clients in the waiting room.

I learn that Westcott owns the business.

I learn that sweet little Lori wants to be a private eye one day but doesn’t know when to stop talking.

I learn a lot of useless bits of information, including the fact that Lori has big dreams of leaving Hamtramck one day and that Brad always makes new clients wait for a few minutes because he doesn’t want to appear desperate.

Lori’s not very smart.

I drop my name and GEH more than once to see if this little chatterbox is going to do me any good. I often get what I want when people know who I am, but I get the feeling that in this state, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. She keeps mulling over the name as if she should already know who I am. I’m not the Grey that you know, Darling.

He doesn’t bother coming out to greet us. He has Lori to show us into his office. It’s something I would do, but I’m a multibillionaire businessman who runs my worldwide empire from a glass tower in downtown Seattle, not a small-time private dick in a brick, one-story storefront office in a small city hiding in the middle of the east side of Detroit.

“Gentlemen,” he says, standing to his feet. “Bradley Westcott. What can I do for you today?” He extends his hands to no one in particular. Uncle Herman raises one eyebrow and steps forward to be the mouthpiece.

“Herman,” he says, taking Westcott’s hand firmly. “This is my brother, Stanley; my nephew, Christian; and my other brother, Carrick.” Westcott nearly has to wrench his hand away from Uncle Herman.

“You look familiar,” he says, looking from Uncle Herman to Dad.

“We should,” Dad says, extending his hand to Westcott. “You may know our brother.” Just as Westcott takes his hand, Dad drops the bomb. “My surname is Grey. Carrick Grey, Esquire. This is my brother, Herman Grey. The brother that’s not here that you may recognize on sight is Freeman Grey. Ringing any bells yet?”

Dad’s grip on Westcott’s hand must be tighter than Uncle Herman’s, because it takes Westcott more jerks and extra effort to free his hand from Dad’s.

“I don’t know why you’re here, esquire,” Westcott mocks. “If you’re not looking for my services, you can walk right back out the door you walked in.

“I was hoping to appeal to your sense of reason,” Dad says, his voice menacing. “My worthless brother has become Public Enemy #1 to most of my family. He’d do better to walk around with a target on his back, but it doesn’t matter, because we’ve all disowned him. That’s one of the reasons why his payments to you stopped so abruptly.” Westcott’s lips form a thin line at the mention of losing his cash cow.

“My brother’s behavior and activities have been atrocious, and I was merely hoping that you would be willing to share the information that you gathered on me and my brother. You see, I plan on getting a restraining order against Freeman Grey for the invasion of my privacy and the fact that he attacked me in my home then tried to have me arrested, subsequently hiring a private detective to spy on my life for no reason at all. Even certified mail intended for my brother and I have been intercepted and we now have proof that those letters were signed for and received by someone other than us. I’m sure you can see our dilemma in trying to collect information for possible prosecution. And if your man was any good at all, he knows who I am, what I have, and maybe some of who I know and what I can do. So, once again I say that I was hoping to appeal to your sense of reason.”  Westcott folds his arms.

“You already know, esquire, that I don’t have to tell you a goddamn thing. And I don’t care who you are or where you come from. You’re not going to get me to openly admit to committing a federal crime,” he jeers. That’s enough for me. I may have left my suave and attitude back in Seattle, but I have no problem stating cold facts.

“Look,” I begin, matter-of-factly, stepping in front of my father, “I’m not saying this to scare you. I’m giving you information. We both know that you’re not obligated to give my father anything, but there are two things that you should know.

“First, my father is a very, very wealthy attorney from Seattle. You’ve probably dealt with wealthy clients before and they’ve probably thrown some weight and some threats around at you, and my father could most likely do the same thing. He could tie you up in litigation and it would go on forever and ever and it would be inconvenient and that would be about it. It would most likely exhaust your legal fund and put you in a bit of a bind, because my father’s very wealthy and this is personal.

“I, on the other hand, am not only an international businessman, but I’m also one of the top three most powerful entrepreneurs in the country. If you don’t believe that, ask your receptionist. I deliberately dropped my name and my business name with her when I walked in the door. I’m not sure how thorough your investigations are, but had you looked into my father’s children, you would already know who I am. Hopefully, you didn’t since I have a restraining order against your client, and you would have been an accessory in his harassment if you had.

“Nonetheless, if your receptionist—and aspiring PI—did her job, she can most likely give you a decent dossier on me right now. Having said that, I should say that if my father doesn’t get what he’s looking for by the time we leave this office today, then we’ll leave, and I’ll wish you luck getting any clients anywhere in the United States from this day forward.”

“I don’t respond kindly to threats, Mr. Grey,” Wescott says. I shrug.

“Okay,” I say with no malice, and nothing else. I’m not trying to throw my weight around. I just want Dad to get what he needs. If he doesn’t, this little speck will just be wiped off the radar and I’m just going to go about my day. Whatever he has on Dad will be useless anyway, so it won’t make a difference to me. He laughs at my response.

“That’s good. I’ve never seen that tactic. Are you trying to intimidate me, Mr. Grey?” he taunts. I shrug again. He’s so minor league that he has no idea just how minor league he is.

“See, we’re not doing this,” I say calmly. “I’m not here to prove that I’m a rottweiler and you’re a poodle. I’m here so that my father can get what he came for. If he can’t get it, we’ll leave… but you’ll certainly know that we were here. So, I’m going to leave and go into the lobby, because I’m not having a pissing contest with you. Either you’ll tell my father what he wants, or you won’t but you and I, we have no business… yet.”

I walk out of his office and back to the lobby where I comfortably take a seat right in front of the aspiring PI and slide my finger across the screen of my phone.

“Sir,” Alex answers on the second ring.

“How quickly can you blackball Best Shields Family Investigations?” I ask aloud. I can see Lori’s head pop up in my peripheral. That’s right, listen carefully, little girl.

“How quickly do you want it?” he asks.

“Good answer. Not yet, but I do need a message sent like five minutes ago. Something loud and clear, fairly harmless, but with implications that bigger things are to follow. I’m not playing with this guy. I don’t feel like doing the one-two step of who’s the bigger dog in the yard. My father has taken about all he can take right now and I’m ready to wash my hands of this whole thing.”

Lori’s fingers are typing madly on the computer. Either she’s doing the research that I accused her of before, or she’s warning her boss that I’m drawing battle lines in the sand… or both. Either way, I know that Alex is thorough, and my message will be heard loud and clear. I can also hear Alex typing on the other end.

“Brad Westcott, not too many high-profile clients, family business… consider it done, sir.”

“Thanks, Alex,” I say and end the call. I start running through my emails and before I can respond to the fifth one, Westcott’s door opens. I can hear him bitching up a storm in there, but Uncle Stanley’s head pops out.

“Christian, can you come in for a second?” he beckons me. I stand and put my phone away. I raise an eyebrow at Lori who immediately looks down at her computer screen. When I enter Westcott’s office, he immediately falls silent and turns his tirade onto me.

“Who the fuck do you think you are?” he barks. “What the hell is this shit? Is this supposed to fucking scare me?”

I did scare you, buddy—that’s why you’re screaming, but I don’t have the strength to be the usual cutthroat that I am. I’m not looking for reverence or respect. I’m looking for results. I put my hand on my father’s shoulder.

“Come on, Dad, let’s go,” I tell him. Dad looks at me, bemused. “You’re getting a restraining order against Freeman, so he can’t do anything with any of the information that he has. He’s cock-strutting and posturing and throwing weight around that he’s too dense to know that he doesn’t have, and we don’t have time for this. He’s playing a game that I refuse to play, and you should refuse to play it, too. The jet is already fueled and waiting, and my pilot is ready at any moment to take us out of this God-forsaken place. Let’s just go.”

I’m resolved. Whatever damage can possibly be done by whatever information this asshole has, I can undo it. Freeman’s reach stops here and now. I’ve had all I can take.

“He just went from being cool, calm, and cocky to going into a kindergarten tirade. What is he looking at?” Uncle Stanley asks.

“I have no idea what he’s looking at,” I say to Uncle Stanley. “I called my head of corporate security five minutes ago. Whatever he’s looking at, that’s how long it took Alex to get it.” I turn my gaze to Westcott. “Imagine what he could do with unlimited time and resources.”

For the first time since we’ve walked into the office, Westcott looks… cautiously contemplative, although some of the color has left his cheeks. I never threw a single threat at him. I only used inuendo and insinuation—not my usual style, but then again, I’m not my usual self in this place.

Westcott narrows his eyes and rises from his seat. He goes to a file cabinet behind him and pulls out a file that’s about an inch thick.

“Here,” he barks. “That’s everything.” He slams the files down on his desk. Dad moves the file over to him and begins to thumb through it.

“Take it with you,” Westcott hisses. “I don’t want anything else to do with you or your family.”

“We don’t want anything else to do with you either, Mr. Westcott, but that’s not all of it,” I respond calmly. I put my business card on the desk in front of him. “You already know how to reach my father and uncle. Here’s my information. We’ll be expecting the rest of your findings by the end of business today, including your digital documentation. Remember, sir, unlimited time and resources, and very little patience.”

I don’t wait for a response or a reaction. I’ll admit that I usually gloat in staring someone down and knowing that I’ve intimidated them. Not today… not here. I just want to get out of here. I turn around and walk out of the office without another word.


ANASTASIA

I don’t know what’s happening with Christian at this very moment, but I’m totally unable to relax. Even meditation didn’t help much. It helped, but not much.

We didn’t meditate before he left, either. We fucked, but of course, that was my idea. And the thought of feeling him inside of me calms my racing mind right down. I hope it does the same for him.

I order a few bonsai trees—some for my Zen office at work and some for home. I like the Zen gardens, too, so I order a couple of those. I didn’t get a chance to tell Dad what was going on, so I call him and let him know that Christian and I are in Detroit and why, but that I’ll be home before Monday and wouldn’t miss our court date for the world. He puts Harry on the phone and we have a conversation where he’s sprouting his usual baby jabber and I answer like I know exactly what he’s saying. It’s good practice for when I must translate what my own children are trying to say. I’m told that I’ll know, and people will constantly be asking me. We’ll have to see.

Of course, cooing at my little brother made me realize that I hadn’t spoken to my own children. Even though we’ll be home in a few hours, I miss them. So, I Facetime Gail so that I can wave at my little darlings and blow them kisses.

Mommy misses you! I’ll be home soon.

Courtney missed her calling as an organizer and coordinator. I’m glad that she’s going to school and has a direction that she wants her life to take, because she can whip any situation into shape if you set her to task for it. She has set up interviews for PRN relief staff on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. She’s collecting information for interpreters and looking into hiring bilingual and multilingual staff for obvious reasons, and she has emailed me a general format of needs for the additional counseling and support services that we want to initiate.

Keri is contacting the necessary parties in Anguilla and here in the states to make sure that she has the teaching and possible child care qualifications to be certified here. We talked briefly, and she informed me that Chuck asked her to marry him again. She declined… again. She wants to get her own footing in America and make sure that she can’t be asked or forced to leave on her own before she agrees to become Mrs. Davenport.

“Why are you waiting?” I ask her. “You love him, and he loves you. You obviously can’t live without each other. He was a basket case the minute you stepped on that plane to go back to Anguilla—the minute—and you nearly starved yourself to death. You’re not going to be without each other, so why not make it official?” Keri sighs.

“Ah con’t explen it to yah, Anah,” she says. “Et’s sometin Ah jes gottah do. Den I can marry me Choonks wit a clean conscience.”

“How does he feel about it?” I ask. She laughs.

“Yah knoh hah he feel,” she chuckles. “He tek meh today, he tek meh tomorrah, as long as I let ‘im tek me.”

I love Choonks, too, so I’m making it my business to be sure that Keri gets her certification in the states, no matter what it takes, and a permanent job is waiting for her at the Center as well as being my nanny for as long as she chooses.

I skype for an hour with Ace. Because of the time difference and the fact that I expect to be in the air on my way back to Seattle when our regular session is supposed to be, he agrees to take his lunch when he should be meeting with me and have a session with me earlier in the day. We rehash some of the things that we talked about on Monday, and he scolded me thoroughly for making Christian feel like we had to start over with our relationship and would never get back the love and the bond that we had before.

“I’ll admit that you may come out of this relationship with something totally new and different, but to make him feel like he has to start from square one? Have you met your husband?”

I try to rationalize my thinking by telling him that I felt a fresh start would be good for us, something to wash away the old ways of thinking and behaving and introduce new and more productive ways of dealing with issues and with each other… and he promptly called me on my bullshit.

“That’s all well, fine, and good if that’s what you were doing, but we both know that you weren’t. You were scared to death of the concept of having to face rebuilding yourself from the first healthy techniques that you learned for coping with problems and you wanted to drag Christian in there with you. You know that there’s nothing wrong with your relationship and the way that you love each other. What’s wrong is the way that you two handle controversy. That’s the thing that needs a revamp, not the whole damn relationship.”

It’s no fun being handed your ass twice in the same week by your therapist.

Just after lunchtime, there’s a knock at my door. I answer it and find Jason on the other side.

“I was just checking on you,” he says. “You’ve been quiet all day and I wanted to make sure that you were still alive in here.” I raise my brow at him.

“I haven’t been quiet. You just haven’t heard me. I’ve been quite busy, in fact.” I leave the door open for him to come in. He’s probably going stir crazy down there in the room by himself with nothing to do and just being on standby if I want to go somewhere. “Have you had lunch yet?”

“I was going to get something after I made sure that you were okay,” he says.

“Why don’t you order something up for room service for us both? Unless you had other plans…”

“What other plans?” he says. “We’re in this God-forsaken place with nowhere to go and I’m glad we’re only here for a day.” I twist my lips.

“It’s not that bad,” I protest. Jason scoffs.

“Anything in this area—in the general vicinity—is Detroit to Christian Grey. Detroit is hell to him and he’s a completely different person when he’s here. I hate it almost as much as he does when we have to come to this place. The spirit is suffocating, and even though the surrounding cities and even many areas in Detroit are not as bad as the slums he was born in, it’s all bad to me. There’s nothing good about it. If there is, I can’t find it.”

“That’s because you’re not looking for it, but then again, why would you?” I smile at him. “Lunch.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

*-*

“Jason, how did we end up in this room?” I ask as we’re eating. I’m having a turkey club with fruit and French fries and Jason opted for a burger large enough to feed four people. “Did Mr. Grey go down there and threaten someone’s job?”

“Not directly,” he says, after swallowing a bite of his burger. “I went down and had a chat with them.”

“With whom?” I ask. “What did you say to them?”

“I went down and asked for the manager on duty. I told him to listen to me if he wanted to and if he didn’t, don’t. I warned him that there is a self-made billionaire and international businessman on the third floor in a cold room with a cold wife on a cold night and a bedsheet on his bed posing as a blanket. He’s in the state on a very sensitive matter but has avoided this place like the plague for the last twenty-five years. He just called down to the desk to get some assistance and relief from the cold and was pretty much told, ‘tough cookies, freeze your ass off—this is Michigan.’ I warned him that said businessman has very deep pockets, a short temper, and a far reach and that his fortune was made by acquisitions and hostile takeovers and that right now, while he’s between a rock and a hard place in a cold room with a cold wife freezing her pretty little toes off that when he gets back to Seattle at the top of his beautiful, climate-controlled glass palace, he’s going to remember this trip and this cold room, and he’s going to start making calls. That may not make any difference to him because this is just another guest complaint, but he might want to see who’s complaining.”

He scrolls through his phone and shows me GEH’s LinkedIn page, maintained by the PR department. The damn thing is a testament of perseverance, money, and power. I raise my eyes to Jason.

“And that’s just the LinkedIn page,” he says. “You know that if you Google him, you’re going to get a whole lot more shit. That’s why he’s always telling people to Google him.”

“Yeah, I know,” I respond, recalling our first meeting with distaste and the day Mr. Money Man told me to Google him. Jason chuckles.

“Well, anyway, it didn’t take much after that to get you this room with the fireplace already heating so that you didn’t catch your death trying to get a good night’s sleep after taking a bath.” I nod.

“Well, thank you,” I tell him. “And you’re right, Christian is totally not himself right now.”

We talk a little more, finish our lunch, and shoot the shit about nothing and everything while I’m telling him about what I’m working on at the Center. We’re also conspiring on Chuck and Keri to try to make things easier for them to finally tie the knot when my husband comes breezing into the room looking very emotionally heavy-laden.

Shit, what kind of day was this?

“Call Metro,” he says to Jason. “Notify me the moment the jet is ready for takeoff.”

“Yes, sir,” Jason says. He nods to me and leaves the room without another word. I turn to my husband, afraid to ask how things went.

“It was a bit of a disaster,” he says, removing his coat and tossing it into a nearby chair before falling onto the sofa. I just sit down next to him and curl my knees under me. That’s when he drops the two-million-dollar bomb on me.

“There’s no way Dad would have accepted that money. We both wanted to buy Pops a kidney, and he said “no.” I didn’t want to rob some kid of his chance at life, I just wanted more time with my grandfather. I didn’t even want a black-market kidney, just bribe a match to give up one of theirs… maybe… I don’t know. Is that the same as a black-market kidney?”

“No, but it’s unethical, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a doctor that would agree to it if you found one at all.”

“Well, it’s moot now. Pops is gone, he wouldn’t take the deal anyway, and Dad’s in shreds again because he left him $500,000… which Freeman is protesting.” My head pops up like a chicken.

“What?” I ask. “Why is Freeman protesting?”

“The same reason as always… he’s an asshole,” Christian says.

“Well, couldn’t he use that money right now?” I ask incredulously.

“Right now,” Christian says. “Yeah, that’s another thing. As long as the money is locked up and nobody gets a share, his creditors can’t attach the money—neither can the IRS or Nell’s attorneys. So, he’s got a win-win from this… sort of.” My brow furrows.

“What do you mean sort of?” I ask.

“Well, he wins because Dad won’t see the money anytime soon, but it costs a lot to contest a life-insurance policy and Wu won’t help him. So, while he’s contesting, he’s going to have to pay for those services, which means that when he does get his share of the money, it’s going to be significantly less than it was before if there’s anything left at all. Not only that, but Dad and Uncle Herman are submitting funeral costs to the attorney to be reimbursed, which means I have to give him a billing for flying Pops’ remains and at least one brother back to Detroit. I could actually charge for Uncle Herman going both ways, saying that he was the one that delivered the remains.

“Nonetheless, Dad and Herman will see some of the money first, and a portion of their reimbursement will come from Freeman’s share. He tried to say that he had services, too, but Wu told him that the life insurance policy will only pay for verified services for the remains. That deflated him quickly. To add sprinkles to this Karmic sundae, Dad had $750,000 transferred to Uncle Herman’s and Uncle Stan’s accounts right while we were standing in the office.” My mouth falls open and my eyes widen.

“Christian, are you serious?” I ask incredulously. “I thought each son’s share was $500,000.”

“It is, but I know Dad was probably rubbing salt in Freeman’s wounds,” he says. “Dad said that his other brothers shouldn’t have to suffer because of Freeman, and split his share between the two of them, so that if Freeman keeps that money tied up for a long time, they can still do what they want with their share. And like I said, Dad wouldn’t have accepted that money. He announced that if Freeman wasn’t such an asshole, Dad would have split his share with him, too.

“But the pièce de résistance, Dad’s getting a restraining order against Freeman, too, in case he gets the bright idea to have Dad followed again and all of the brothers wrote him off at the reading of the will, including Stan. Nobody’s speaking to him now.” I shake my head.

“That won’t do anything,” I tell him. “Freeman is one of the most extreme narcissists that I’ve ever seen. All he’ll do is keep doing the same things that he’s doing and keep blaming someone else for his problems.” Christian shrugs.

“Well, he’ll be doing it alone, because no one who counts is going to be there to hear him,” he says. My husband runs his hands through his hair. “Get changed, Baby, unless you want to wear your yoga pants to the airport. I’m ready to get the hell out of this place as soon as possible.”


A/N: I miss Big Boy. It was Elias Brothers when I lived in Detroit. I don’t know if it’s still there.

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 25—Actionable Behavior

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

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

Chapter 25—Actionable Behavior

CHRISTIAN

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

That’s where it stayed all night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Audited?” Dad says in surprise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A girlfriend.”

And my Dad nearly chokes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least, that’s what we thought.

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

“What is it?” I ask him.

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

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

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

Breakfast is officially over.

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

“Can’t hide forever,” he replies.

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

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

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

“Making a clean getaway?” Dad asks him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrong!

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

And the crowd goes wild.

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

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

The goddamn KissCam.

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

And once again the crowd goes wild.

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

“Showoff,” she breathes.

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

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

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

“Detained? By what?”

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

“Why? What did they do?”

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s not your fault,” I tell her.

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

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

“Here’s hoping,” I confirm.

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

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

“Yes, sir?”

“Come to my study.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good.” I dial Allen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does Jewel know?” I roll my eyes.

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

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

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

“Ana!” I hear water running.

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

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

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

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

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

“Is everything okay?” she asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?” She sighs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Damn.” This is worse than I thought.

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

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

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


ANASTASIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pretty much,” Jason confirms.

“Too much information,” Christian protests.

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

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

“Did you know about this?” he asks.

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

“And?” he prompts.

“And what?”

“How do you feel about it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sounds good to me,” I sigh.

*-*

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

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

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

“We?” he asks.

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

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

“Bosslady, was I speeding?”

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

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

“Boss…”

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

“What’s wrong?” I ask her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah?” I reply confused.

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

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

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

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

Judd. Judd fucking Loser. What the fuck?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I always do,” Al says.

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

“Any particular reason? Something I should know?”

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

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

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

“I’m sure I will, too,” I sigh.

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh… that was pretty.

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

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

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

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

“Breathe, baby,” I say.

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

“I know,” I reply.

“There’s a lot to do,” he hisses.

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

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

It takes forever… fifteen infernal fucking minutes.

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

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

**Okay. **


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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 18—I Can See Clearly Now…

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

Chapter 18—I Can See Clearly Now…

CHRISTIAN

“I’m sorry, Marilyn, but I’m not waking her. Anastasia had a rough night last night, and I don’t expect for her to wake for at least another three hours.”

“I’m sorry, Christian, but this is really important,” Marilyn presses. “There are two shows vying for her attention and she’s been trying to get both spots for weeks! If she doesn’t make a decision today—like now, they’re going to give these spots to someone else!”

“Then, make the decision,” I say calmly. “That’s why she hired you.”

“I wouldn’t dare make this decision without her input!” she retorts. “She’d have my head on a platter.”

“Well, you’re going to have to make it today,” I say calmly. “Listen… I swear I’m not being difficult. She had a bad night, a very. Bad. Night. Unless you tell me that you see Armageddon coming over Lake Washington, I’m not waking her.”

Butterfly has been asleep for maybe two and a half hours after staying awake all night keeping an eye on me. Unless she comes down those stairs on her own, I’m not disturbing her for at least another three hours. Even my mother has called about some letter she wrote to the licensing board and I refuse to disturb her right now.

“I’ll take whatever fallout you would take for this, but I’m not waking her. She needs to rest.” I hear Marilyn sigh on the other end.

“She’s going to have my neck,” she says defeated.

“Did you do anything wrong?” I ask.

“No, but she gave me specific instructions that the moment either of these GM’s called to find her wherever she is.” I lean back in my chair and sigh.

“Okay, let’s talk,” I say. The line gets quiet.

“What?”

“Let’s talk. What’s going on with these two GM’s?”

“Well, they both need somebody to fill their Monday morning spot,” she says.

“And this same thing happened last weekend,” I tell her. “What is it? Do they all wait until Sunday afternoon to fill their Monday morning spots?” I’m serious with this question. I recall that Butterfly wasn’t happy when the radio station called eighteen hours before show time to move her mid-morning interview to 5am.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I think they sometimes just have a change in programming.”

“So, let me tell you what’s happening,” I say crossing my legs and getting comfortable. “Butterfly had a somewhat volatile interview last Monday, after which she dropped a little fire on the press on the sidewalk when she left. I breezed through and threw a little gasoline on that fire so that when she had her Wednesday and Thursday interviews, they were pretty tame for the most part… but the fires were already burning. Are you following me so far?”

“Um, yeah,” she says with a little uncertainty.

“Now, there are a few unanswered questions as well as some fuses that can be lit for the first show that can get her on the hot seat, which is what they’re trying to do now—not necessarily trying to back her into a corner, but trying to pin her down to information before she gives it to anyone else. Have you seen today’s society page?” The line is silent again.

“Since when do you read the society page?” she asks.

“Since my wife started doing radio interviews,” I tell her, “and since a boater somewhere captured pictures of us making out on my private yacht! You wanna know why both of those stations are burning up your phone right now? Because we’re in the news today… not only because we were stealing kisses while sharing an ice cream cone at the zoo yesterday, but also because that asshole disk-jockey Judd whatever the fuck his last name is, was making noise at a bar last night after having too much to drink about recently being placed on administrative suspension after five women from the radio station accused him of sexual harassment. This after my wife made it very clear that he behaved inappropriately towards her on the air. You wanna know why they’re chomping at the bit to get her to commit to them before the sun goes down? Because they know that Butterfly is prone to do any impromptu interview if you shove a mic in her face and they’re trying to avoid that. They want an exclusive.

“Let them know that she’s not available right now and that when she is, she will discuss with them when and if she can make an appearance. Be firm, Marilyn. Let them know that as important as her cause is to her, she will not be pressured into committing to a Monday morning live spot less than 24 hours before the red light comes on. No matter who it is that’s asking for the interview, it’s unrealistic, and it’s not going to happen. You know it and I know it and if she were standing here, she’d tell you the same thing. She’d say that she needed to think about it and to try to come up with an alternative. So, give them that choice—to come up with a reasonable alternative and I’ll bet you that if they want her bad enough and they’re not up to anything sneaky, they will.” She’s silent for a few moments.

“Yeah… that makes sense,” she says, uncertainly.

“Of course, it makes sense,” I tell her. “They’re not calling the shots, she is. I know my Butterfly. She doesn’t want to come off as a diva and she doesn’t want to be difficult, but she won’t be ‘pushed over’ either and they need to know that. KNTZ tried that shit and totally lost the interview. They wanted the Senator in her spot and they got it. It was a good gamble, but in the process, they lost Butterfly. I can guarantee you that somebody somewhere is banging their head against a wall wondering if there’s some way that they could have secured both of those interviews without trying to stick her in a spot when the roosters crowed. Because that’s what cost them the interview—it wasn’t that they wanted to move her. It’s where they wanted to move her to. Think like they are and negotiate slots. She depends on you to tell her what her schedule is. You are Ana when she’s not there. You represent my wife to the public before they see her. You’re as important as she is, if not more, because you’re the gatekeeper. They can’t both have the same slot. Negotiate the space—it’s as simple as that. One of those spots is more attractive than the other and you know it is. You just have to think outside the box to figure out which one it is.” There’s another pause.

“Thank you, Christian,” she says. “You’ve helped me a lot… but please tell Ana to call me as soon as she wakes, okay? Maybe by then, I will have smoothed out an interview schedule for tomorrow.”

“Good deal,” I say before exchanging pleasantries and ending the call. Just as I’m picking up the paper again, Jason taps on my office door. I raise my head as he walks in.

“You look somber,” I say. He sighs heavily.

“I’m trying to get myself ready,” he says. I nod. He and Sophie have to be in court tomorrow for the custody case. They usually don’t move this quickly, but Shalane Deleroy is looking at jail time… plus, I know a few influential people and I wasn’t going to chance that crazy bitch getting “cleaned up” and taking Sophie away from Jason. So, as long as we could get the case in front of a judge while she’s still awaiting trial, it’s cut and dried.

“Are you ready?” I ask.

“Oh, I’m more than ready for the trial,” he says, “but this bitch is coming over here today.” I sit up in my seat.

“Today?” I bark. “Why?”

“She wants to see Sophie,” he says. I roll my eyes. He has to make Sophie available for reasonable visitation. It’s likely that he’ll have to do that even if Shalane has to do time. I shake my head.

“Don’t leave her alone with that bitch,” I say. “Make her come inside.” Jason furrows his brows.

“You want her in the house?” he asks, surprised.

“No, I don’t want her in the house,” I say, “but she can’t be outside of this house with Sophia. She tried to sell her to a drug dealer, for God’s sake. Why does she want to see her now?” I shake my head. “No, I don’t trust that bitch for shit. They can bring her through the mud room and around the back. She can talk to Sophie in the community room, in her apartment, or on the back patio, but she can’t leave the grounds with her.”

Jason examines me for a moment, then his eyes soften.

“You would think Sophie was your daughter,” he says, trying to hide a smirk.

“Well, she’s my honorary niece and I feel responsible for her,” I retort. He smiles widely.

“Thanks, Boss,” he says sincerely, “I thought we’d have to go to a park again. The paps were getting wise to that routine and Shalane likes an audience.”

“Don’t mention it,” I tell him. “When can we expect the witch?” He looks at his watch.

“In about an hour,” he laments.

“Why is she coming to see Sophie the day before she’s supposed to go to court?”

“Probably to guilt trip her into saying something nice about her tomorrow. She doesn’t understand that it won’t matter. The judge wants to hear what Sophie has to say, but with what Shalane is charged with, it won’t make a bit of difference in the decision.”

“You should be able to keep her from influencing Sophie that way, or at least trying to,” I protest.

“I don’t want anything to get in the way of tomorrow,” he says.

“Trust me, that bitch tried to sell your daughter. Nothing’s getting in the way of tomorrow.”

*-*

My wife awoke rested and feeling much better a few hours later. Chuck and I are treated to a show of our women doing yoga in the backyard near the pool. Chuck has that faraway look in his eyes when he watches her and we talk for a while about their future and when he plans to propose to her again. He insists that he doesn’t want to rush it, but that he’d marry her on a moment’s notice if she said, “Yes.” Jason comes out to the patio to sit with us, joking that it’s a good thing that his and Gail’s apartment is in the middle between Chuck’s apartment and Sophie’s or Chuck would need soundproof walls. Chuck apologizes and promises to keep it down to muffled screams of passion from now on. Just as we comment that Shalane is two and a half hours late for this oh-so-important visit with Sophie, Jason gets a call that the witch has arrived. He goes off to get Sophie just as my hot wife and our nanny finish their session.

“Did you enjoy the show?” she asks, toweling off the sweat from her body.

“Bring that body over here and I’ll show you how much I enjoyed the show,” I say, wagging my eyebrows. She walks closer to me, still drying her body.

“God, you’re insatiable, Mr. Grey, and I’m all sweaty,” she protests. I grab her wrist and pull her quickly into my lap, eliciting a fit of giggles that I love to hear from her so much.

“And you point is?” I say, situating her firmly on my lap. “I love the way you smell,” I confess, kissing her sweaty neck.

“Behave, now,” I say. “We have others around.” At that moment, I look over at our “others” and Chuck has a handful of Keri’s ass, proclaiming what a “fine piece of meat” she is.

“I don’t think they care,” I say, nuzzling back into my wife neck and licking the salty sweat from her skin. She giggles again and I hear someone clear their throat behind me. We all turn our gaze to see Lawrence and Shalane Deleroy standing on the patio just this side of the French doors. Deleroy looks nervous, but not nervous enough to put a leash on her tongue as she distastefully observes the PDAs she’s witnessing while Lawrence’s gaze seems to be transfixed on… Keri.

“Well,” Deleroy says indignantly, “so much for decorum.” My wife is rising off my lap and talking at the same time.

“Bitch, you are all the way in my house now and I have no love lost for your ass. Keep talking shit in my house and I will happily slap your ass back across the bridge!” I catch my wife’s wrist just as she gets to Deleroy, who is now cowering behind Lawrence.

“Whoa, settle, tiger,” I say softly. “That’s not your fight.”

“It is when she walks in my house talking shit,” she hisses before turning back to Deleroy and pointing a finely manicured finger at her. “One more word,” Butterfly threatens, “Just one more word out-of-line…”

“Making friends as usual, I see,” Jason says as he, Sophie, and Gail all come from the direction of the apartments.

“Sophie! Baby, I’ve missed you!” Deleroy says a little too enthusiastically as she holds her arms open for Sophie, who doesn’t move towards her mother.

“What do you want, Mom?” Sophie says softly. Deleroy drops her arms.

“I see he’s turned you against me,” Deleroy says. Sophie turns to leave. “Sophia!” she calls, and her voice sounds a little desperate. Sophie stops and comes back to Jason’s side.

“I already told you, Mom, I’m not going to let you talk badly about Dad anymore. If that’s why you came, then you can leave.”

This girl is way too wise and has seen way too much to be so young. She’s gaining some of her childhood years back being here with us and being around the babies, and around Luma’s girls when they come over. Even her apartment, though fully functional, is decked out with things that a little girl her age should have. She’s been much more rounded since she been here than I remember when she first got here. She’s more outspoken and she seems to have more fun. She’s relaxed… until her mother comes around.

“Let’s go, Sophie. I’d like for us to have a talk,” Deleroy say.

“In light of the circumstances and the case tomorrow, your visit with Sophia will take place on the grounds today,” Jason says, firmly. Deleroy looks horrified by this revelation.

“You’re saying that I can’t even be alone with my child anymore?” she asks in dismay.

“Of course, you can. You just can’t leave the grounds,” Jason says, before turning to Sophie. “Sophie, where would you like to visit with your mother?”

“She can come to my apartment,” Sophie says, her voice none too pleased.

“Your apartment?” Deleroy exclaims. “These people have you living alone and you’re only twelve?”

“There’s the word!” I have to catch my wife around her waist to prevent her from lunging at Deleroy, who turns white as a ghost at the gesture. Sophie, however, is not one to let the comment drop so easily.

“No, Mom, I’m not alone here! I’m never alone here. There are people here with me all the time—Momma Gail, Daddy, Mr. Christian, Ms. Ana, Chuck, Keri—and when they’re not here, there’s always somebody else. What you did—leaving me in that house with no food and no phone for three days while your creepy drug dealer kept coming by looking for you right before you tried to trade me off for drugs—that was alone. This is not alone. I’m not alone here. I’m never, ever alone!”

The patio is silent while Sophie faces off with her obviously delusional mother.

“And I realize that I’m not a priority in your life and I don’t think I ever was, but try to keep up, Mom. I’m thirteen.” Though her voice was shrill and angry moments ago, Sophie’s voice is low and cool when she delivers this bit of information. Then, she drops the final bomb on her mother. “Your visit was at twelve. It’s two thirty. You’re late and I don’t want to see you. You can leave now.”

Sophie turns and walks back towards the apartments.

“Sophie!” Deleroy calls after her, but she doesn’t stop walking. “Sophia!” Still no response as Sophie disappears into the jungle patio. “Go get her!” she hisses at Jason. “The court says I still have visitation!”

“Yes,” Jason agrees, “supervised visitation at an agreed time. Your visitation was at noon. You missed it.” Deleroy wrings her hands, looking past Jason as if she’s desperate for Sophie to return.

“I was detained,” she says, her voice shaking.

“I know,” Jason says calmly. “You’re tweeking.”

So, that’s why she’s shaky and nervous. Damn, it’s so fucking obvious, I wasn’t even paying attention. Deleroy narrows her eyes and lashes out on Jason, ignoring his last comment.

“You are not better than me, Jason!” she yells. “I’ve had bad luck and that’s all. I’ve made mistakes, but you can’t hold them over my head for the rest of my life! You move her into this fortress and I can’t even get to her! You and that cow and this prima donna are filling her head with bullshit…”

Butterfly almost got to her with that last statement, but I was fast enough to pull her back… and now she’s furious.

“Goddammit if you’re not gonna let me beat ‘er ass get ‘er the fuck outta my house!” She screams it all in one breath—and I do mean screams.

“You need to leave before my wife kills you!” I exclaim, because I’m a strong man, but holding back a flailing, snarling, scratching, angry cat is not an easy task. I hear some word fly back and forth, but I’m too busy trying to keep my wife from committing a felony. When things seem like they’re going completely out of control, a shrill voice brings everybody to a screeching halt.

“Go! Mom! You’re high!”

Butterfly stops flailing in my arms and all eyes are on Sophie.

“Sophie… baby…” Deleroy squeaks.

“I will. Not. See you. When you’re high! Go. Now!” Sophie’s fists are clenched and I think everyone knows to let her handle this.

“Sophie, I’m not…”

“Oh, my Goooo-ooo-ooodah!” Sophie says in pure frustration. “You’re so full of shit!” she screams. Jason’s head jerks back, but there’s nobody on this patio but Sophia Taylor and Shalane Deleroy.

“I never mattered to you!” she screams. “Even before the drugs, I never mattered! I was a way to piss Dad off, or a way to get more money from him, or in the end, a trade-off for a quick fix! I was a kid, Mom, not fucking blind!”

Gail’s eyes are large and she hisses at nearly every word that comes out of Sophie’s mouth.

“Get out! Get! Out!” Sophie’s screaming, but nobody moves. She looks at all the adults, her eyes glassy and full of fury.

“Do I live here or not??” she screams at whomever will answer. Everybody’s too stunned to reply, so I do.

“Yes, Sophie. You live here.”

“Then, get her out of here!” She’s pointing at Shalane and screaming at Lawrence. “Get her out!” I throw a quick look at Lawrence who immediately turns on Shalane.

“Ma’am,” he says, giving her an opportunity to leave on her own. She looks at him with disdain.

“You can’t make me…”

“Two of the occupants of this residence has requested your departure. You are now trespassing, which is a crime in Seattle. You can walk, or I can remove you. You have ten seconds to decide.”

Shalane looks wide-eyed at Lawrence, then at Sophie, who looks like she will beat Deleroy back across the bridge. With probably one second to spare, she decides that she would rather walk, turns indignantly, and leaves with Lawrence right on her heels. A few seconds after her departure, Sophie breaks down. Butterfly wiggles from my grasp and goes to her, wrapping her arms around Sophie as she sobs. Jason runs his hand through his hair, obviously trying not to hit something.

“I’m… sorry…” Sophie chokes through her tears as every woman on the patio cocoons protectively around her.

*-*

Butterfly and I go to court with Jason and Gail the next afternoon as moral support and witnesses for Jason. Al tried to prepare us, but we don’t know what to expect. Shalane is present with her attorney and she has brought a few witnesses with her as well. We don’t know any of these people, but of course, they all sing praises about how good a mother Shalane is and how well she takes care of Sophie. When they are examined by Al about Shalane’s drug use and attempt to trade Sophie for methamphetamines, they suddenly get the stammers and complete amnesia about these particular incidents. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see through the theatrics and determine that these are not credible or believable witnesses.

Standing against a gainfully-employed father who unwittingly supported this woman’s drug habit through generous amounts of continued child support for several years, a billionaire businessman and entrepreneur, a respected psychiatrist and member of the community who donates her time and professional services to a local community center whose mission and vision is to assist battered and unfortunate families to be self-sufficient and safe—oh, and a police officer armed with an arrest report that this strung-out mother was apprehended in a drug raid with said child in attendance, possibly with intent to trade said child for a fix—yeah… not much ground to stand on, Deleroy.

But our presence wasn’t the poison pill.

Sophie wasn’t allowed to be present during the presentation of the custody case. However, her deposition was taken in chambers with both attorneys present. The judge felt that she needed to be free to express her true feelings. Had they seen this young lady on my patio yesterday, they would have known that this wouldn’t be an issue. The video of Sophie’s deposition is played for us just before the judge renders his decision.

“How old are you, Sophie?” the judge asks.

“I’m thirteen,” she replies.

“And you know why you’re here, right?” she nods.

“You’re trying to decide if I live with my mom or my dad,” she says. The judge nods.

“What kind of grades do you get in school?” he asks.

“I get A’s and B’s mostly,” she says. “I got a ‘C’ in gym though.”

“Why did you get a ‘C’ in gym?” he asks.

“I was losing points because I kept coming to class with the wrong color shorts on,” she says.

“Why did you do that?”

“I needed yellow, green, or gray. I didn’t have any of those colors, so I wore what I had. I told my mom that I needed yellow, green, or gray and she said she would get them, but she never did. So, I got a ‘C’ in gym.” She shrugs.

“You don’t seem to care too much about that ‘C’ in gym,” the judge says.

“Worse things happen,” she says with a shrug.

“Worse things like what?”

“Like not seeing your mom at all for weeks at a time,” she says. “I mean, she was there, I just never saw her. She was asleep when I came home from school, or she was in the room with one of her boyfriends. I had to cook for myself… when there was food in the house…”

“There were times when there was no food in the house?” he asks. She nods.

“Near the end, yeah,” she says. “At first, it was just Mom wasn’t around, I didn’t have her breathing down my neck all the time, great. Then, these guys started coming around and I never saw her. Then, she would be gone for days and I knew she wasn’t there. Then, we started running out of food and I had to make what I could… Is my Dad going to see this?”

Jason sits up straight in his seat and listens carefully to what she says.

“You’re saying that you don’t want your dad to see this?” the judge asks. Sophie shakes her head. “Why not?”

“Because he’s gonna be mad at me,” she says.

“Why do you think your father is going to be mad at you?” She rolls her eyes.

“Because one day a while ago, there wasn’t any food in the house and I was hungry and I went to school and I ate out of the garbage.” Jason’s hand flies to his mouth. He closes his eyes and his head drops.

“Why do you think he would be angry with you for that?”

“Because I never told him,” she says with a sigh. “I was trying to protect my mother.”

“Why would you want to protect her from something like that?” the judge asks. “You were hungry…”

“Because she’s my mom,” Sophie says, like the answer was obvious. “She’s done some really messed-up things, but she’s still my mom.”

Now Deleroy’s head falls. She covers her face and cries.

“So, you still love her,” the judge asks.

“Of course, I love her!” Sophie nearly shrieks. “She’s just… not a good mom anymore.”

Deleroy chokes back a sob. Even for a strung-out, soulless, cold-hearted bitch who tried to sell her 12-year-old daughter, this must be hard to hear.

“Was she ever a good mom?” the judge asks.

“That’s hard to say,” Sophie replies soberly. “I think she was. I didn’t have anything to compare it to until I saw Ms. Ana with the twins…”

Butterfly covers her mouth and gasps. I reach over and grasp her hand.

“Those are babies, though. Everybody likes babies.” Sophie smiles playfully. “But when she thinks nobody’s looking, she smiles at them and she kisses them. She tells them that she loves them and I know they don’t know what she’s saying. You just… know that she would do anything for those babies…” Sophie trails off.

“You didn’t feel like that with your mother?” Sophie shrugs again and looks like she’s searching for her words.

“I’m a little older now than I was when I was living with Mom, and…” she trails off again, sighs, and starts to fidget with her fingers. “Do you know that Momma Gail calls me ‘Pumpkin?’” she says, smiling. “Daddy calls me ‘Baby Boo.’ Mom calls me ‘Sophie’ or ‘Sophia.’ Everybody calls me that. Ms. Ana and Mr. Christian call the twins ‘Minnie and Mikey.’ Isn’t that cute?” she nearly squeals.

“Yes, it is,” the judge agrees, lightheartedly.

“Mr. Christian… he calls Ms. Ana ‘Butterfly,’ and when they don’t think I can hear them, Daddy calls Momma Gail ‘Love’ and Keri calls Chuck ‘Choonks,’” she giggles.

We have to be careful around this little girl. She sees and hears everything.

“I even heard one girl’s mom at school calls her ‘Nooka.’ I don’t even know what that means, but her name is ‘Ember,’ so I know it’s a nickname.” She drops her head sadly.

“What does that mean to you?” the judge asks.

“It means that these people love each other,” she says, sadly. “Mom never had a nickname for me. As far back as I can remember, Daddy called me ‘Baby Boo,’ but Mom never had a nickname for me. Just… Sophie… Everybody calls me ‘Sophie…’” she sounds as if she’s going to cry.

“You don’t like ‘Sophie?’”

“It’s okay, it’s my name… but shouldn’t your mom have a different name for you? I mean, something that nobody else calls you? Like everybody calls ‘Minnie and Mikey’ ‘Minnie and Mikey.’ But Mr. Christian and Ms. Ana might call ‘em ‘Mouse,’ or ‘Little Man,’ or ‘Big Man,’ or something like that… I know I’m not making sense…” she says.

“No, you’re making perfect sense,” the judge says, “but just because your mom didn’t have a special nickname for you didn’t make her a bad mom, did it?”

“No, I guess not,” Sophie says, and now she’s mum on the subject.

“Why don’t we get to the important stuff—why we’re here… where you want to live,” the judge says. “Your opinion is important here.” Sophie sighs.

“Are you going to listen to me or are you going to throw out what I’m saying because I’m a kid?” she asks.

Jason looks back at me and I swear we must be sharing the same look of awe.

“I’m going to listen to you, Sophia,” the judge says. Sophie obviously looks at Allen and Deleroy’s attorney before looking at the judge, then back at her hands.

“My mom has a problem,” she says, her voice cracking. “She didn’t always have this problem, but she has it now. She wasn’t always a bad mom… she really wasn’t. She kept me away from my dad, and that hurt, but she still wasn’t a bad mom…”

Deleroy is weeping now.

“But when she started that stuff, she changed. Everything changed. I was… ten or eleven, maybe… but I could tell things were different. She lost weight, she didn’t wash, she looks old… her teeth in the back are rotting away. She smells different, she acts different… Daddy was sending a lot of money for child support. I know he was, but there still wasn’t enough! Things just got bad and then they got worse and now… Mom might go to jail. What’s going to happen to me then?

“I spent a lot of time with my mom and I was barely ever able to see my dad. I wanna live with my dad,” she says without raising her head.

“Is that the only reason you want to live with your dad?” the judge asks.

“Mom’s not a good mom anymore… I wanna live with my dad,” she says again. “She never let me see him,” Sophie says, raising her head. “When I asked to call him or go see him, she always said he was too busy. For a long time, I thought my dad didn’t want me and she let me keep thinking that. Who does that?” She drops her head again.

“Even after everything that’s happened, Dad’ll still let me see Mom any time I ask him. He’s never kept me away from her… I just can’t be alone with her because she’s on that stuff. And I want her to get better, I really do, but I can’t live with her. I was hungry and unhappy and lonely… I don’t want to live with her…”

“What if she gets better, though?” the judge asks. “What if she goes into rehab and she’s not using anymore? We can make it so that you live with your father for a little while and then go back and live with your mother once she’s all better.”

Jason visibly tenses, but relaxes again when he sees Sophie shaking her head.

“I don’t want to go back and live with my mother,” she says, tears streaming down her face. “I only have a few more years and then I’ll be a grown up. Momma Gail likes me, Ms. Ana likes me, I get to play with the twins; I don’t have to be all by myself all the time. Nobody messes with my stuff. I get to go on field trips at school… and now, I know my dad wants me. I always knew that everything she was telling me about him wasn’t true, but now, I get to see it for myself. He spends time with me and tells me about when he was a kid… even about when him and Mom were married, before they started fighting. I talk to Ms. Ana about everything! She’s smart and she wears great clothes!”

I try not to laugh at her comment, but the rest of the courtroom is not so successful.

“And she gets me. I don’t know how, but she gets me. And Momma Gail… if something makes me sad or I don’t feel good, she’s always there. She has all these different home remedies for stuff and I think she could heal anything!”

Again, we laugh.

“I wanna stay with my dad,” she says her voice breaking and becoming somber. “I wanna stay with Mr. Christian and Chuck and Ben and Keri and… I feel like I got a real family now. I don’t wanna be alone anymore. If you send me to live with my mom, I’m gonna be alone again. I don’t wanna be alone.”

There’s a long moment of silence before the judge speaks.

“Thank you, Sophia,” he says. “Any questions from counsel?” the judge asks.

“No questions, Your Honor,” I hear Allen say.

“No questions,” the other attorney says, and the screen goes black. Deleroy hits her attorney on the arm and gestures to the front of the court as if to ask why he didn’t examine Sophie. He never even looks at her.

“It’s a difficult decision to tear a child from either parent, especially in a situation like this. I know to the layman, this may seem like a cut-and-dried case. The mother is quite possibly facing jail time for being caught in a drug raid. She’s obviously battling an addiction, which always stands to destroy the family and, most of all, the life of the child. There is some question about the intention of the mother to trade the child for drugs on the night of the raid. However, without concrete evidence or an outstanding charge, this accusation is speculation and perception and could just be the interpretation of a very frightened child of the night’s events. In a case like this, I’m driven to consider giving second chances to parents who are on the track of redemption. However, I must also consider the best interests of the child.

“In speaking to Sophia Taylor, I feel that she’s a very rounded, very wise teenager. I’m certain that she’s not easily coerced and I can see right through a child who has been coached. Sophia is craving real love and attention—a healthy home life and familial relationship. Not only does it appear that she has been deprived of this in recent years, but she’s also been deprived of basic companionship and guidance in her life. Her wisdom—such as it is—has been acquired from observing situations outside of hers; from watching the children at school interact with their parents even before she saw the interactions of the Taylors and the Greys. You only saw portions of the conversation that Sophia and I had and the parts that you didn’t see revealed that Jason Taylor went a long way to teach his daughter valuable life lessons and to be an active part of her life long before she came to live with him in March.

“In weighing the parental impact on Sophia of the time that she has lived with her mother and the impact of the time that she has lived with her father and in light of the current circumstances, the pending criminal trial, the mother’s current dependency, and the testimony of the child in question, I believe it to be in the best interest of the child to grant permanent primary custody of the minor child, Sophia Loren Taylor, to the father, Jason Taylor.”

I do my best not to stand and cheer while Deleroy gasps and cries out, “No!” in one of the most dramatic and theatrical displays I’ve ever seen. The judge continues by revoking the current child support order and asking if Jason requires child support from Deleroy. He declines, citing that his suspicion is that his child support was her only source of income, so there’s not much that she can give him. The judge informs him that he is free to revisit the child support order at a later date.

“Mrs. Deleroy, I don’t think you’re completely beyond redemption,” the judge continues. “Take this time for reflection and rehabilitation. Whatever the outcome of the criminal case against you, there’s always hope for recovery, and that’s what you need to strive for. Mr. Taylor, it’s the order of this court that you must make Sophia available for reasonable visitation with Ms. Deleroy. Supervised visitation is allowable and advisable until such time as Ms. Deleroy has successfully completed a medical drug rehabilitation program. In the meantime, I wish you all luck. Court is adjourned.” And the gavel falls.

“All rise.” We all rise except for Deleroy who is crumpled in a mound on the table, weeping bitterly. When the judge leaves the courtroom, she turns and lets loose on Jason.

“You bastard!” she cries. “You took my daughter, you son of a bitch! Are you happy now?”

Jason just looks at her and without a word, exits the courtroom while she’s still screaming profanities.

A few feet down the hallway, Sophie is sitting on a bench with a social worker awaiting the outcome of the trial. When she sees her father, she leaps to her feet, her eyes wide.

“Daddy?” she says, her eyes hopeful. A smile spreads across Jason’s face.

“We’re going home, Baby Boo,” he says as he opens his arms wide. Sophie squeals with delight and runs down the courthouse hallway, launching herself into her father’s arms.


ANASTASIA

“So, Judd Rossiter…”

After I woke from a very peaceful rest yesterday and right before my outside yoga session with Keri, Christian informed me to call a very frantic Marilyn who had called earlier that morning with two shows that wanted me to appear the next day. What the fuck? When I talked to Marilyn, it was Good Morning Seattle and Prominent Pacific, two of the shows that I had been targeting ever since I decided that I wanted to do radio interviews.

Fuck!
Fuck!
Fuck!

“What’s happened?” I had asked Christian. I knew something had to happen for them to suddenly be chomping at the bit to get me when they kept telling me, “We’ll be in touch,” before.

“You mean besides the fact that you’re becoming famous in your own right?” he said. “Somebody turned in another impromptu picture of us at the zoo cuddling under that umbrella.”

“That’s not news,” I told him.

“Oh, and Judd Rossiter is going down for sexual harassment of five women on his job—after you made a stink about that clit tattoo.”

So, that’s it. Juicy gossip about a local radio personality with a pussy on his arm. None of my causes were worth radio time, but the great Christian Grey takes down a disc jockey for flashing cooch at his wife, now that’s news! Okay… I’ll play your game, but you’re not going to like it…

So, Marilyn booked Seattle for Monday morning at 10am and Pacific for Tuesday at the same time. And now, here I sit with Sandra Price on Good Morning Seattle with her trying to get some gossip out of me. I told her when I sat down that I wanted to talk about my causes, and she went straight in to Rossiter.

“What about him?” I ask innocently.

“Give us the scoop. What’s the deal?” she says, leaning in for the kill.

“I don’t know what you want to hear,” I say shrugging. “You know as much as I do about the situation.” She glares at me a bit.

“Oh, come on, Ana. Inquiring minds want the deets. We hear that he’s being sued for sexual harassment by five women at the station.”

“Well, there you have it. What do you need me for?” I ask. “Was this a lead-in for how this relates to my treatment by the licensing board for those fabricated sexual misconduct accusations? Because if it was, we can skip the lead-in and go right to the story.” Sandra glares at me for about four seconds and I smile at her. “Sandra, I think this is what they call ‘dead air.’” She snaps out of her trance and tries to get back on track with the interview.

“I was just trying to get your side of the story, but if you don’t want to tell it…” she taunts.

“I’ve already told it, Sandra. I realize that you’re probably not supposed to listen to the competition, but if you want to stay on top of what’s going on in Seattle, you probably want to listen to that interview.” Tired of beating around the bush and trying to get information from me about the story, she starts asking direct questions.

“Is it true that Christian went down to the station all He-Man and demanded that Rossiter be fired?” she asks. I shrug.

“You have to ask Christian that question,” I say, knowing that an answer in the affirmative or the negative would both be a confirmation.

“Surely, you know if your husband came down to the radio station,” she prods further.

“I didn’t see him,” I answer honestly, and leave it at that.

“Don’t be coy, Ana, it’s not cute,” she quips, still trying to get me off my game.

“Don’t be deceptive, Sandra, it’s not professional,” I retort, and her eyes narrow again. “I love good gossip as much as the next person, but I only talk about what I know. I know that this topic was exposed on another radio station last week and that if you would like the ‘deets’ of that occurrence, you should probably get a sound bite from the radio station like everybody else did. I also know that your people called my people on a Sunday morning to book me for this slot today, at which time, you were informed that I would talk about my treatment by the licensing board after being falsely accused of sexual harassment charges as well as the work that I and my mother-in-law are doing at Helping Hands. Yet, when I get here, you’re asking about something completely unrelated—something that I was not and am not prepared to talk about, and I wonder if you ambush all of your live guests this way.”

Sandra’s mouth flies open. We’re live—she can’t stop me. She was hoping to catch me up in the Judd story, and now I’ve turned the tables.

“’Ambush’ is a pretty harsh word, don’t you think?” she says, in the most non-threatening tone she can muster.

“Oh,” I say, with the same pretentious softness, “I’m so sorry if I misspoke. What exactly are we doing?” Sandra’s eyes cut to something behind me and I look over my shoulder. In the control booth behind me is another woman in a red blazer with her arms folded. She’s glaring at Sandra with a look of death and there’s a man beside her with a large white dry-erase board with instructions in big bold black letters.

ASK ABOUT THE LICENSING BOARD

I turn back to Sandra, who’s still looking over my shoulder. I clear my throat and get her attention. When she turns her glare to me, I point to her microphone.

“Dead air,” I say. She looks down at her card.

“Of course,” she says, “just trying to brighten our dull little lives with a little juicy stuff. You know how that is.” She flashes a phony smile. I retort with the phoniest laugh I can muster to be blasted across the airways. Before we have a chance to start the interview back up again, Sandra’s recorded voice comes over the sound system with,

“We’ll be right back after these messages.”

“Clear,” I hear from the control booth and Sandra suddenly pales. In two seconds, the red blazer storms into the room and gets in Sandra’s face.

“Stick to the goddamn script and cut the ratings whore shit unless you want to end up back on the 4am weather report tomorrow.” Red Blazer says the entire thing through her teeth and Sandra doesn’t respond. She quietly picks up her index cards and stacks them without a word. Red Blazer doesn’t even acknowledge me. She breezes right back out of the booth and Sandra and I sit there for two minutes of total silence. When the control booth calls out “We’re on in five,” I’m almost relieved to hear the intro music start up again.

“And welcome back to Good Morning Seattle. Our interview continues with Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey, psychiatrist and assistant director of Helping Hands…”

And just like that, we did the interview that I agreed to. The person who conducted this interview was nothing like the “ratings whore” sitting in the room two minutes ago. It’s like the body snatchers came into the room and took the first bitch away, replacing her with this professional woman asking relevant questions about my issues.

As it turns out, this had nothing to do with me. Good Morning Seattle really did want to get me into a morning slot because of the exposure that I’ve been getting lately, and they were totally fine with me discussing the licensing board and Helping Hands. It was Sandra Anchorbitch who, like Judd Loser, was trying to get a few minutes of more fame with her “ratings whore shit,” as Red Blazer put it. Honestly, there’s always one. That’s how the sacrificial lamb was born in the first place. They’re not on every show and hopefully, there won’t be one on Prominent Pacific, but we’ll just have to see.

The afternoon is much better than the morning, although I must admit that I didn’t know what to expect at Sophie’s custody hearing. Courtrooms and I haven’t been the best of friends, and I didn’t relish the idea of having to be in one again, much less having to take the stand. The case is very volatile and I have no idea what’s going to come out in the examinations, especially since Sophie will be living in our house if… when the judge grants Jason full custody. People tend to villainize me and Christian at every turn and I expect for this situation to be no different.

I had no idea how wrong I would be.

I don’t know where Shalane found this attorney, but she should have kept searching. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that Jason hired the guy! He made Jason’s point for us more times than not. Shalane’s character witnesses were unreliable at best. I wouldn’t say that they were shady, but they didn’t help her case any. The attorney’s cross examination did nothing to pick apart our testimony. His questions basically only clarified what we had already said.

The most agonizing part of the entire case was listening to Sophie talk about how she didn’t really feel motherly love. She went on and on about nicknames and I don’t know if that meant anything to the case, but it meant everything to me as a psychiatrist. She never felt the special love that a child should feel from a mother than turns your heart to mush… the love that make my voice turn into Alvin and the Chipmunks when I see “Mommy’s little man” or “Mommy’s Minnie Mouse.” She clearly missed out on that from her mother, and although she had a hard time verbalizing it, she did so perfectly.

Shalane can’t see past her own loss. She’s so busy blaming Jason for her problems that she can’t see her own mistakes. When Jason walks out of the courtroom without a word with my husband on his heels, I just watch and listen as Shalane spews profanities at him. There’s no mention whatsoever of being a better parent or taking care of her child, just what he took from her. I stay behind for a moment and watch the temper tantrum. Jason doesn’t even react. He just leaves the courtroom while she’s screaming at him. She finally turns her gaze to me, still sniffling and slobbering.

“What?” she weeps. “You wanna kick my ass now?” she says, recalling our near-encounter yesterday. No, Shalane, you’re doing a good enough job of that all on your own.

“Stop. Thinking. About. Yourself,” I say coolly. Shalane’s anger falls and her face turns to stone. “You are her mother. No one will ever take your place. She loves you. Nothing will ever change that. Get yourself together! She needs you! She will always. Need you!”

I don’t know if I got through to her, but she didn’t rebut. I can only see Carla and how everything was always about her. It wasn’t always that way, but it was that way when it counted. I moved past it, but I’ll never get over it. I’ll never get over not being important enough to my mommy. I don’t want that fate for Sophie.

I glance over at her attorney who gives me a nearly infinitesimal nod. It turns out that he really is one of the good guys.

When I leave the courtroom, an elated Sophie is wrapped around her father and they’re both laughing like they’re at Disneyland. When he walks out hand in hand with his little girl, we’re met by a few paparazzi on the stairs, always looking for a story. The little lady handled like a pro.

“I’m going home with my daddy. That’s all.”

And that was all.

*-*

“Listen, Ana,” Shelby Fisher says as I sit in the preshow briefing, “I want to hear about Judd Rossiter, too. I heard the radio show. I heard what you said to him. The world knows that Christian Grey went down to that radio station, although nobody really knows what happened because the station is mute about it. Judd is talking about it on every slime show he can do and freedom of speech says that he can do that. I’d like to get some inside on it, but I won’t if you say ‘no.’”

I sigh. So, Judd is mud-slinging. It’s not just bar talk; it’s more than that. I nod.

“How much time before we go on the air?” I ask.

“About fifteen minutes,” she says. I nod again.

“Let me talk to my publicist really quickly and I’ll get back to you on that, okay?” She nods.

“That’s fair,” she says. I pull Marilyn into one of the nearby conference rooms and lock the door. I hope nobody was using this room right away.

“Google Judd Rossiter,” I tell her as I dial Grey House.

“Elva McIntyre.”

“Vee, it’s Ana. Listen, Judd Rossiter is apparently running off at the mouth about his stroke of bad luck with the ladies at his job. Do you know what he’s saying?” I can hear her typing away at her keyboard.

“I know he was yapping about it, but so far nothing’s come up about you or Christian. Just sour grapes about the women who are accusing him…”

“Oh, shit,” Marilyn’s voice breaks through Vee’s explanation.

“What?” I ask.

“Seattle Nooz’ live webcast this morning has him portraying you as a prude that needs a good fucking and Christian as the billionaire messenger boy that you’ve got by the balls. He’s basically saying that Christian came into the station after you called him and that because of that visit, the girls making the accusations were planted… and the Nooz is running with that.” I sigh and roll my eyes. This shit happens all the time, but I just don’t need it when I have two major causes that require the spotlight.

“I heard,” Vee says, “and I see. You can’t avoid it. Address it, but don’t focus on it. Don’t stoop to his level. Do it like Ana. Handle it… don’t feed it.” I nod. I know what to do.

“Tell Christian,” I say. “He doesn’t need to be blindsided by this. I’ll be at Grey House this afternoon before I go to the Center.”

“You got this, Ana,” she says before she ends the call.

“Yeah, I got this,” I mumble, before turning to Marilyn. “You’re coming into the booth with me. Find as much as you can…”

“So, what’s the verdict?” Shelby asks. I sigh.

“I appreciate you letting me know that you want to address the issue. Because you asked instead of ambushing me, we’ll devote no more than ten minutes to that discussion, but we must remain professional. I reserve the right not to address something, but I’ll try to answer your questions.” She nods.

“That’s all I can ask,” she says. Three minutes later, we’re on the air. She begins by asking for a short recap of what’s going on.

“I really hate to focus on this situation when there are so many other important topics to discuss, but I realize that it can’t be ignored,” I begin. “Long story short, I brought to light how his behavior was inappropriate. I also mentioned that it probably made other women in the workplace uncomfortable to have to look at that. What happened after that, I can only speculate, but I’m sure that you can relate to the concept of several people speaking up after one speaks up? I can only guess that after I spoke up about the inappropriate tattoo that other women may have found the courage to speak up about their experiences with him as well.”

“He’s painting it as a big set-up from an uptight woman with an ax to grind,” she says. “I have to admit that you have never struck me as ‘uptight,’ so what’s that all about?”

“The entire time I sat in that booth with female anatomy staring at me, I took every measure to remain professional—even in expressing my distaste with his offensive tattoo and suggestive attire, I remained tactful and diplomatic. Maybe he’s not accustomed to that type of response and that’s why he calls me ‘uptight.’ I can actually understand that. If the only thing you’re used to is women diverting their gaze or gasping in horror, I would imagine that you wouldn’t know how to properly describe someone confronting you on the vulgarity of your personal representation in the workplace.” Shelby’s brow rises.

“Wow. Nice,” she says with a chuckle. “What about his comment about your husband? We all know that Christian Grey can make things happen.”

“Well, I’ll say this,” I say. “I know that my husband is very protective of me and for good reason. I’m the mother of his children; I’m the wife of a billionaire, and let’s face it—I haven’t had the best of luck, right?” I say with a shrug. “I’ll repeat what I said on Monday. I didn’t see him at the station, but if he did show up, what husband in his right mind would have the power to speak up about his wife being disrespected and not do it?

“We ask for the manager in a restaurant when the service is bad—not millionaires and billionaires and power players, just regular people who expect to be respected. Yet, my husband is being portrayed as henpecked because he may or may not have defended me against someone’s inappropriate and predatory behavior.  Maybe chivalry is dead where that guy came from, but all the upstanding men in my life defend their women—their wives, daughters, and mothers. So, I don’t really know what else to say about that.” Shelby does a small fist pump in the air and we share a silent giggle.

“What about…” She pauses for effect and to let me know that a big one is coming. “… the claims that the women that are making the accusations against him are planted?” I literally laugh out loud.

“That’s just ridiculous!” I exclaim shamelessly. “I can’t even begin to speculate what kind of planning has to go into executing something so ludicrous! You would have had to know exactly when I was going to be on the show then plant people months in advance as employees to be ready for when I showed up! What’s more, you would have had to know that he would have flashed this thing at me! Do you see how ridiculous that really is?” I say, my voice high.

“Clearly,” Shelby agrees.

“I would really like to know how those women feel about that accusation,” I say, matter-of-factly. “I’d be interested in knowing what the station has to say about it. This is an open investigation on his professional behavior. Seriously, if these women are traumatized enough by this, it could lead to workplace lawsuits and he’s just talking about it everywhere like it’s the weather. He’s got a bone to pick with me because he’s got an open vajayjay in my face and he’s not even thinking about these other women. Then again, he wasn’t thinking about them in the first place, now was he?”

Shelby shakes her fists and looks to the heavens mouthing, “Gold!”

“Oh, my God, vajayjay!” she says, through her laughter, and I just realized I let that out of my mouth. Oh, well… she loved it.

“I’m not going to have a sparring match with this man,” I begin after our laughter subsides. “There’s a character flaw at play when you think it’s okay to display a tattoo like that to women with whom you do not have intimate relationships. It’s that simple. It’s offensive. It’s suggestive. It’s vulgar, and somebody spoke up about it. When that one person spoke up about it, all of the people who felt that his behavior—whatever his behavior may have been—was offensive, suggestive, or vulgar all spoke up about it. When you make a decision to go against the grain, you have to live with the consequences. I’m all for self-expression, but he can’t show up with an exposed naked woman on his arm in the workplace any more than I can show up naked to my job at the help center.” Shelby makes that shrug face.

“I… think that says it all,” she says with a nod. “Thank you so much for addressing that and so eloquently. Now, let’s get to the real reason for your visit. I know you normally talk about the licensing board first, but I’d like to switch it up and talk about Helping Hands. Apparently, your mother-in-law, Dr. Grace Trevelyan Grey is a successful pediatrician here in Seattle and she’s been the director of this organization for many years. I hear that you guys have been doing some great things for the community down there…”

Best interview I’ve had yet. I got to address that asshole, Judd, without going into the gutter and Shelby had really done her research. She painted Helping Hands in the best possible light with statistics and testimonials, even bringing to light the span of services that we’ll be able to provide once the accreditation is complete. I’m thoroughly pleased with the outcome of this appearance and Shelby has asked me to come back for an update after the accreditation goes through.

“You. Are. Phenomenal!” Vee says when I call to check in with her after we leave the station. “You’re going to put me out of a fucking job, you know that?”

“Not a chance,” I tell her. “We need you. As you can see, I need you.”

“He needs you,” she says quietly. “Don’t ever repeat this, but he’s been such a better man since you’ve come along. His image was taking a silent hit that year you showed up—stoic, cold ass businessman with no heart and he was fine with that. Now that you’re here… he just a better man.” I smile.

“Thanks, Vee,” I say sincerely. “Tell that better man that I’m on my way there.”


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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 83—Grey House of Resolution

 This is the last chapter of Book III. Enjoy!

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

Chapter 83—Grey House of Resolution

ANASTASIA

“Get us a Justice of the Peace here—I know you can. I need this woman to be my wife today. I’ll give her the wedding that she wants later, but I need her now.” Elliot is only too ready to take Val’s hand today if the mighty Christian Grey can pull it off, but even Christian knows that’s an impossibility.

“Bro…” Christian protests.

“Please, Christian,” he says, never moving his eyes from Val’s. “I need her now.” I look over at Val and she stares back at him with love and adoration, nodding her ascent. Christian sighs.

“There’s a three-day waiting period to get married once you get the license,” Christian says. “I can’t put a rush on that. You want your marriage to be legal and valid, right? I can’t even get in touch with anybody tonight.” Elliot raises his eyes to his brother.

“Okay. So, if I get the license tomorrow, that means we can get married on is Saturday. My feelings won’t change.” He looks down to Val. “Will yours? I don’t want to rush you.”

“I…” she begins. “I’m sick… and I just wanted to be better for you…”

“You are all to me,” he says gently but emphatically. “I’ll never leave you. I’ll be with you forever. I’ll love you until the end of my days no matter what condition you’re in. No one but you… only you. Please don’t make me wait.” Valerie bites her lip and nods enthusiastically.

“Okay! Okay!” she whispers desperately. “Yes! Please!”  She throws herself into Elliot’s arms. She gasps as he removes the scarf from her head.

“If you want to wear it in public, if it makes you more comfortable, that’s fine. But when you’re home with me… with your family… I want to see only you.” He caresses her bald head reverently. I can see and feel her heart melt from across the room as he presses his lips onto hers.

“Okay, now we can leave,” I whisper and quickly usher Christian out of the room. When he closes the door behind us, I let out a gasp of my own.

“What is it?” he asks.

“I have to plan a wedding in three days,” I lament. “Val will get married in a burlap sack as long as she gets to marry that man, so I have to start my miracles right now. This fucking sucks.”

“Why does it suck?” Christian asks, bemused. “They love each other. They want to get married. What’s the problem? If all else fails, we’ll call our wedding planner, tell her that she has two days—simple and sweet and money is no object.”

“That’s not the problem, Christian,” I tell him. “Your birthday is on Friday. I wanted to celebrate.” He groans audibly. “You hate your birthday, don’t you?”

“It’s just another year getting older,” he says. “We can celebrate my birthday next week. My brother is going to spontaneously combust if he doesn’t marry that girl this weekend.” I narrow my eyes at him. Yeah, you got out of it this week, Grey.

“I won’t be able to attend the meetings this week,” I tell him. “There’s absolutely no way.” He ponders the situation.

“Well, you don’t need to meet accounting and legal. You’ve already met accounting and Al is legal. You’re going to have to set some time aside on Thursday, though. That’s the day you meet the Twins’ security detail.” I rub my eyes.

“That means I’ll have to work real miracles tomorrow.”

“You’ll be interviewing for the position of executive vice president soon, too. ” I frown.

“What? What happened to Ros?”

“We need help so there will be three of us now,” he says. “Interviews begin in two weeks.” I throw my hands in the air.

“I don’t want to be executive vice-president!” I nearly screech. He rolls his eyes.

“That’s not what I meant!” he retorts.

“Well, that’s what you said! You said that I would be interviewing for…”

“What I meant was…” he interrupts, “that you, I, and Ros will be conducting interviews in two weeks for an executive vice-president.” Well, that’s not what you said, genius!

“Fine, fine,” I say, waving my hand and dismissing the situation as it doesn’t take precedence right now.

“What do you hear from Josh these days?” My head snaps toward him.

“What?” That was a quick change in topic… and we need to be talking about this damn wedding! My birthday plans for Christian have already gotten the kibosh and although I know it’s for a very good reason, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. “I don’t know… nothing. I haven’t talked to Josh in a while. Where did that come from?” Christian rubs his chin.

“I haven’t talked to Mac yet, but I may be considering him for her assistant in the PR department, if he’s interested. I know it’s not as exciting as the freelance reporter and photographer gig, but it’ll pay a lot more. And I really wouldn’t care what he does in his spare time, as long as it doesn’t interfere or conflict with what he does for GEH.” I shrug.

“You can approach him. I have no idea how he’ll feel about it though,” I tell him. “I can say that he’s never expressed a desire to leave what he’s doing, but it’s not like we sit down and chat about our hopes and dreams.” I say flippantly. “What time will I be meeting the Twins’ detail on Thursday?”

“I don’t know yet. Let me talk to Chuck and Jason and I’ll get back to you on that.” I nod.

“Tell Marilyn,” I say. “She’ll put it in my schedule as I’m sure that I’ll be a clucking duck for the next few days. Will you or Elliot make sure that your family knows? If Grace wants to help with the planning, I’ll welcome it—but she must understand that everything is tentative pending Elliot and Val’s approval. There will be no bullying, no crying, no whimpering, no getting her way and if I see her doing it to Elliot because he’s her son, I’m going to intervene and make sure that he and Val get what they want. Val can’t have any stress and I won’t have her popping in and stressing her out because she wants some outrageous thing that…”

“Okay! Okay! I get it!” he says, grasping both my arms. “I don’t want you to have a stroke either. I know that you’re strong—stronger than Valerie right now—but you’ve had cranial trauma, too. Please remember that.” I nod and sigh. “Mom will behave or we’ll uninvite her from the wedding,” he adds, garnering a laugh and a smile from me.

“Okay,” I say after a cleansing breath. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go call Al… and gloat.”

*-*

“You’re a horrible cow! Both of you!” Al declares through the phone as I activate the contingency.

“Honestly, Al, this was so short notice,” I defend, “short notice like she decided at three and proposed at seven.”

“No excuse! That was plenty of time to call me, you heifer!” he retorts. “I’m so going to get you guys back for this! I just don’t know how yet!”

“Well, that chance might come sooner rather than later, because she wants to get married on Saturday.”

“Saturday?” he gasps. “What the fuck, Saturday?!”

“Yes, Saturday, which means the special surprise that I had for my husband’s birthday will now most likely be a bachelor party,” I huff because it still smarts.

“Why does she want to get married so soon?”

“Well, honestly, it’s not her. It’s him. She even said in her proposal that she was perfectly fine waiting until she was well so that she could be better for him, but Elliot insisted.”

“That sentimental pussy,” Al says. “It probably didn’t help that we brought our wedding to Val’s hospital room. Chocolate!” he calls out to James.

“Yeah, babe,” I hear James call back.

“What’s the name of that place where we found those yummy tuxes?” I don’t hear anything for a while.

“Why do we need tuxedoes?” I hear him ask.

“Because there’s a wedding on Saturday,” Al says.

“Saturday?” James exclaims. “And you’re just now telling me?”

“I’m just now finding out myself,” Al responds.

“Who’s getting married?” James asks.

 

“Fuck, is she dying?” I hear James’ concerned voice come into the room.

“Shit! Jewel, is she dying?” Al says, turning his attention back to me.”

“No!” I yowl at him. “I just told you that she told him she wanted to wait until she was well!” I scold. “Why would she say that if she knew she was dying?”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. No, Chocolate, she’s not dying.”

“Oh. Well, that’s good,” I hear James say. “Um, we used the Tuxedo Club, but I don’t know if they’ll have something for them by Saturday…”

“Tell them it’s for Christian Grey,” Al says.

“But they’re closed right now,” James protests.

“Well, call them tomorrow,” Al says. “We don’t have any time to lose.”

“I have to work in the morning!” James protests.

“Chocolaaaaate,” Al whines and I already know he’s about to get his way. There’s a pause.

“Fine. I’ll call in the morning. Now get off the damn phone.” Oops, sounds like somebody has to go pay the piper.

“Gotta go, Jewel. Gotta earn the tuxes.” Oh, God… I think that was TMI.

“Bye, Al,” I say with no further conversation. He’s not going to be able to activate the contingency anytime soon, so I call Maxie and Gary with the news, promising to give them an update tomorrow and I don’t really know what direction I should be going in…

The cake…
The food…
The location…
The dress…

I guess the dress should probably be where I should start. Christian will get the Justice of the Peace and we’ll obviously have the wedding here as Val is not up for too much traveling. Other than that, I have no idea what Val is going to want. Is it supposed to rain on Saturday? Will she want the wedding indoors or outdoors? Will she even be up to a wedding after a full week of radiation?

The easiest thing for me to do would be to plan a family party—quick and easy. I’ve got an entire kitchen staff; they can do the cooking. We’ll have to get a cake, though—fast! I simply can’t do this without Val’s input. Even anything tentative would be a disaster if she doesn’t want it.

I go back up to the bedroom and knock gently on the door.

“Come in,” Val’s voice says softly. I walk in and Elliot is on the phone with his hand pushed on the back of his neck. Val looks a bit forlorn. I point to him and look at Val.

“Grace,” she says. “You know how she always wants a Broadway production and we can’t even put on a school play by Saturday.” I sigh, and listen to Elliot try to explain to his mother that they won’t postpone the wedding to accommodate more guests. I shake my head.

“Put her on speaker,” I tell him. He frowns, but puts his mother on speaker as I requested. She’s not even listening to him. She’s still talking when he puts her on speaker.

“… And how am I possibly going to get the Manor ready for a wedding by Saturday? You simply must postpone the wedding! I just can’t pull it off!”

“Grace?” I say, interrupting her tirade.

“Who is this?” she asks.

“This is Ana.”

“Ana, thank God! Help me talk some sense into these two!” she beseeches me. Actually, I’m here to talk some sense into you.

“Grace, my friend here has cancer. That means that she can’t have any stress. If you could see her face right now, this conversation is stressful for her. That doesn’t help the healing process, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I know that! That’s why I’m telling them to postpone the wedding and give us time to plan.”

“But, that’s not what they want, Grace,” I say, attempting to refocus her intentions. “Elliot almost lost the woman that he loves. They realize how valuable time is, and he wants Valerie to be Mrs. Grey, right now. The only thing stopping them from saying ‘I do’ at this very moment in this bed is a three-day waiting period.”

“Oh, this is absurd!” she declares. “I want to at least have a hand in planning one of my son’s weddings!” Well, I think that was a shot at me and the fact that I didn’t allow her to invite a thousand people to mine and Christian’s wedding. But you know what? We’re not going to have that fight, because it’s done.

“Well, you know what, Grace?” I say, trying to rein in my anger, “you can totally have a hand in planning your son’s wedding, as long as you listen to and do what he wants. Now, there’s a lot to be done between now and Saturday. I have two gourmet cooks on my staff, so we don’t have to hire a caterer. Your house isn’t wedding ready? My house always looks like a showplace. They can get married here… unless they chose another location. We’ll need decorations, seating, music, and a cake, and I’ll have to find something beautiful for my friend to wear on her wedding day. Al is already working on the tuxedos. There will only be family and very close friends here, so the banker from Washington Mutual will not be on the guest list. There’s plenty on that list that I’ll need help with and you can always help me with those things, but Grace? I will fight rabid dogs and wild horses to keep stress away from my friend and sister, because I almost lost her, too. So, you can get on the bus with us and we can plan this wedding and have a beautiful party on Saturday or we can call the whole thing off and Christian can contact the Justice of the Peace on Saturday, and they’ll get married alone.”

“That’s not fair!” she squeals through the phone. “Why is it that we have to…”

“Two choices, Grace,” I say, shutting her down. “This is not open for negotiation. Pick one!” The line is silent for a moment and I think she’s appalled. In fact, I know she is.

“Fine,” she pouts. “I’ll help out where I can.”

“Excellent, and now for the rules…”

“Rules?” she huffs.

“Yes, rules!” I retort. “Repeat after me… I, Grace Trevelyan Grey, will not walk around huffing like a toddler because I’m not getting my way.”

“What?” she nearly shrieks.

“A month ago, my friend was at death’s door! We could have lost her! She wants to grab the bull by the horns and live life to its fullest because none of us knows how long we have left on this big blue ball! We don’t even know if she’s going to be up to a wedding after radiation on Friday! I refuse to allow anything to upset her, not even you! Now, say it!” She’s still silent on the phone, no doubt waiting for Elliot to say something. Wrong tactic. I’ll be the bad guy if I have to.

“I’m not kidding, Grace, I love you dearly and I really mean it, but I will block your number out of every phone in this house, quit my position at the Center, and have the guards block you at the gate. Say it!” She huffs again.

“I, Grace Trevelyan Grey, will not walk around huffing like a toddler because I’m not getting my way.”

“I will also not call my sons and try to guilt trip them into doing something that I want them to do while Ana’s not around.”

“Oh, this is ridiculous…”

“Blocked at the gate, Grace,” I remind her. She sighs.

“I will also not call my sons and try to guilt trip them into doing something that I want them to do while Ana’s not around,” she hisses.

“I will remember that I’ve already had my wedding and I got what I wanted against my parents’ wishes and I need to let my children have what they want now.” She falls silent again.

“I will remember… that I’ve already had my wedding and I got what I wanted against my parents’ wishes and I need to let my children have what they want now.” Her voice is softer now. Forgot about that, didn’t you, Grace?

“I will remember that Elliot and Valerie love each other very much and they’ve crawled through hell to get to where there are right now including baby scares and death scares and they don’t want to wait anymore.” Her voice cracks as she repeats that one.

“And I won’t make Ana quit her job.” She laughs at the last one, and I can tell that it’s through tears.

“And I won’t make Ana quit her job.” I sigh.

“Good, because I really do need your help. Can you possibly secure a cake? Anything—something pretty, hopefully, but anything? Preferences, you guys?”

“Chocolate or red velvet!” Val says.

“Red velvet’s good for me… or carrot!” Elliot says.

“Ooo, carrot’s good!” Val chimes in.

“Okay, you heard it. If you can get me three tiers with chocolate, carrot, and red velvet, that would be great. If you can find something suitable in just red velvet or carrot, I can deal with that.”

Okay,” she says, her voice small. “Can I send over a picture of my wedding dress? I’d like for Valerie to wear it, if it’s a good fit and if she likes it.” I look over at Valerie, who nods.

“She says ‘yes.’ If it’s suitable, that’s two major things that we don’t have to worry about.”

“I’m sorry, you all… I… tend to get carried away with these things, but hopefully you can see why.” Her voice cracks at the end again and I feel a little badly for how harshly I spoke to her.

“Don’t worry, Grace. When I’m trying to run things at Minnie’s and Mikey’s wedding, you’ll get to sit back and laugh at me.” She laughs good-naturedly.

“I love you all,” she says through her tears.

“Buck up, little soldier, and go find us a cake.” She laughs again and says her goodbyes. Elliot ends the call and I release a huge sigh.

“Oh, God, thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you…” Elliot comes around the bed and embraces me warmly, curling his body over mine in gratitude and burying his face in my shoulder and repeating his “thank you’s.” I have a feeling that the situation was more stressful on him than it was for Val. She just sits there smiling at us as I rub his back.

“I told you, you’re my brother. I gotta take care of you, too.”


CHRISTIAN

I thought it best to postpone the meetings with accounting and legal until next week—after the wedding—since I rode with my brother to the courthouse to get his marriage license. He was excited and terrified at the same time.

“I’m going to have a wife, man,” he says. “Maybe even some kids.”

“You gettin’ cold feet?” I ask. He nods honestly.

“Maybe a little, but I can’t see my life without her,” he replies. “When I see my future… when I see Mrs. Elliot Grey, I see her. I proposed to Kate. I had every intention of marrying her, but I never saw her in that spot. When I see way down the line—gray hairs and bald and forever… I see Angel. Why wait? I know she’s what I want and it’s not going to change.” He puts the license in his inside jacket pocket. “How did you know Montana was the one?” I chuckle.

“Day one, man,” I tell him as I maneuver the car through traffic with Jason and Williams following close behind us. “She literally had me at ‘Sir.’” He frowns.

“She was calling you ‘Sir’ from day one?” he asks.

“Yeah, but not the way you’re thinking,” I correct him. “I was daydreaming—about her, no less—and she called me ‘Sir’ to get my attention. I wanted her before she opened her mouth.”

“Yeah, you wanted her, but when did you know that she was the one?”

“I’m telling you it was right then,” I tell him. “I was looking for a new submissive. I had just gotten rid of the old one because she was too damn clingy. I had the perfect one lined up—Elena found her for me because of course, she knew exactly what I liked—but I couldn’t seal the deal, because I wanted Butterfly. We were both in denial. She hated me and I hated her. We really did hate each other… but we wanted each other even more. I crashed her date; I took my helicopter on what could have been a wild goose chase to rescue her. Then, when we got there, I ran toward gunfire to find her. I may have hated her, but I knew from day one that she was the one, because I couldn’t get her off my mind.”

I stop at a bar right before you cross the bridge and Elliot and I order burgers and fries for lunch. We’re sitting at a table waiting for our food when Elliot informs me, “I’ve always known that Montana was a fireball, but now I’m convinced that she’s not from this planet!” I frown. He just called my wife an alien.

“What the fuck does that mean?” I ask, my brow furrowed.

“She handled Mom like a pro,” Elliot says. “I’ve never seen anybody talk to Mom like that. She threatened to lock her out of the wedding!”

“What?” I say, nearly choking on my beer. Elliot nods.

“I left Mom a message yesterday and she called right back in full-on barracuda mode. She wasn’t listening to anything I was saying. Montana came into the room, told me to put her on speaker and mowed over Mom like a tractor!”

“No shit? And Mom took that?” Elliot nods again.

“Montana told her that if she didn’t behave that she would block Mom’s number from all the phones, quit working at the Center, and tell security not to let her pass. And she made her swear not to call me or you to try to get things done her way behind Montana’s back.”

“You’re bullshitting me!” I laugh. “How the hell did she manage to get Mom to agree to all that?”

“I don’t remember the whole conversation, man, but I remember mostly that it’s because Valerie almost died and Montana wasn’t gonna let anything stress her out and that this is what we wanted and nothing was going to get in the way of that. She might have said something about dogs with rabies and stallions running wild, I don’t know, but when it was all done, Mom was as meek as a church mouse.”

“Well,” I begin, taking another drink of my beer, “the tiger strikes again.” I turn to my brother. “You know, you call my wife ‘Montana.’” He looks back at me bemused.

“That’s what I called her from the first day I met her… Ana Montana, you know, like Hannah Montana…” He gestures demonstrating with his hands.

“I know what you meant, but you know that’s where she ran off when she left me.” He ponders the situation, then his mouth falls open.

“I never put that together,” he says. “I’m sorry, Bro…”

“It’s no big deal, I just wondered if you ever knew it.”

“I didn’t realize it until now,” he says.

We talk for a while longer before we wander back into Wedding Central. Butterfly keeps Valerie included as much as she can, but only to a certain degree as she agreed to accompany Valerie to her radiation treatments and talk to her about wedding stuff to keep her mind occupied. Now, Valerie is worn down and trying to rest, so the dining room table has been commandeered for all parties involved to stop in, drop their responsibilities and maybe pick up a new one or add ideas.

My mom and my wife are working surprisingly well together, like a well-oiled machine. Butterfly has discovered that Saturday is one of those rare Seattle days that won’t have rain, so the wedding will be outside. I’d never seen Mom’s wedding dress before, but apparently, she asked Valerie if she wanted to wear it and Valerie said yes. Butterfly mentioned to me that the dress is way too big in some places because of Valerie’s treatment-induced weight loss and I offered to pay my tailor extra to take her measurements and have it altered overnight if Mom didn’t mind. He was only too happy to oblige.

Butterfly took a break from planning on Thursday to meet the security detail for the twins. One of them, she had already met—Tate Nixon was assigned to Marilyn, but it’s been decided that he would be a better detail for Mikey, so Carolyn Ridenoir is going to be assigned to Marilyn, now. Rebecca Peterson is going to be Minnie’s detail and I’m more than a bit surprised that both of the new members of my security team are female. Were these the “guys” giving Chuck a hard time about being soft? I like them already.

“I need you to take Elliot somewhere to decompress,” Butterfly says to me right after the meeting with the new security detail. I frown.

“Um, like where?” I ask her. He’s definitely not going to go for a bachelor party. The man doesn’t even drink.

“Um, like figure it out,” she replies. “He looks like he’s aged ten years in the last six weeks. This situation is beating him down. Now, Val has revealed that she’s not going to her treatments today and tomorrow because she wants to be sentient for her wedding and he’s having a cow. I tried to explain to him that two days of treatment are not going to make or break her in a five- to six-week regimen and that she could make them up if it was a problem, but that did little to placate him. I need him more anticipatory groom and less worried father-slash-boyfriend-slash-caregiver and I need you to make that happen. I need him to loosen up!”

How the fuck do you get a teetotaler to calm down beside drug him without his permission? Me and my wedding party went paintballing, but I can’t tell everybody to take Friday off to go paint-balling with a one-day notice. Maybe we can go alone… nah, paintballing requires a team or it’s no fun. Shit, I don’t know what I’m going to do with this short notice. She doesn’t realize that she’s asking me to move mountains.

Move mountains… there we go…

“My wife has given me the impossible task of making you relax tomorrow so that you can get married on Saturday without any problems,” I say to Elliot after I’ve made some calls to set up our day.

“You’re kidding, right?” he says, sitting on the patio and watching the garden get decorated early for part of the party.

“No, I’m not,” I reply, “Apparently, not only are you looking like Rip Van Winkle, but you also had a meltdown when Valerie told you that she wouldn’t be taking radiation for the next two days. So, now, I have to keep you from having a stroke before we get you down the aisle.” He sighs.

“Dude, imagine if your wife tells you that she’s going to stop her life-saving treatment,” he laments.

Dude, she’s not stopping it. She’s postponing it. She’s taking two days to regroup so that she can be coherent enough to tell you how much she loves you on Saturday. She’ll pick up right where she left off on Monday, and if she needs any additional treatments, they’ll tack them on at the end. My wife’s right, man, two days is not going to break her. Had it been a holiday, they would have given her a break and she would come in another day or pick up where she left off—we learned that when we were doing research for you guys to move in with us.”

“Her doctor wasn’t happy about it,” he protests.

“Her doctor also wasn’t happy about her moving in with us,” I remind him. “Tell me she’s not doing better since she’s been here than she was at the hospital.” He sighs again.

“Yeah, she’s doing better,” he admits, “much better in fact.” I put my hand on his shoulder.

“She’ll be fine, man,” I assure him. “It’s only two days. Nothing can happen in two days that wouldn’t have happened before.” He holds his head down and nods in surrender.

“So… where are you taking me?” he concedes.

“Well, we’ll get up early in the morning and I thought I’d take you soaring first.” He raises his eyebrow.

“Really?” he says, his voice lifting. “I always wanted to do that.” I nod.

“Then, after a healthy, high-carb breakfast, we’ll grab the dirt bikes and do some riding. Once we’ve had our fill of that, we’ll grab the packs and hit the side of a mountain.”

“Whoa, that sounds like my kind of day,” he croons.

“It’s not done yet,” I tell him. “We’ll pack up a 4X4 and head to that spot on the Sound that Dad always used to take us to, set up camp and do some fishing.”

“Yeah?” His eyes light up like a kid at Christmas. It causes me to chuckle.

“That means your lazy ass better catch something or we won’t have anything for dinner.”

“Oh, please,” he laughs, “You were always the one who caught the least fish, if any at all,” he teases.

“I’ve gotten better since I got my boat,” I tell him. “Maybe I’ll take the family out on the water this summer. She’s been moored for way too long.”

“I can’t argue with you on that one, Bro,” he says, then his brow furrows. “You said we’d set up camp and eat fish for dinner. We’re staying all night?”

“That’s the plan,” I tell him. “Consider this your bachelor party. I even got you some O’Doul’s for around the campfire.” This elicits a hearty laugh.

“Leave it to my billionaire brother to find non-alcoholic beer,” he jests.

“You can’t camp without beer,” I tell him.

“Well, you get to tell our wives,” he says. I smile. He’s calling her his wife already.

“Sure thing,” I assure him.

*-*

After assuring Butterfly and Valerie that we had battery back-up and chargers for our cell phones, they reluctantly agree to set us loose in the wilderness. I remind Butterfly in bed on Thursday night that it was her idea to get my brother to decompress. Not only is this what he likes to do, but he’s thrilled about the day trip—24 hours of nothing but outdoor sports with the Grey brothers. He completely let go of the fact that Valerie was skipping radiation for two days.

She’s convinced that I’m getting back at her for making me deal with my damn-near hysterical brother—who wasn’t hysterical at all, by the way. So, she bound me to our bed and fucked me within an inch of my life, coming three times before she allowed me to come once. Fucking hell, that was good!

I still manage to wake up before dawn and get Elliot to Evergreen Soaring for an acrobatic glider ride. He’s like a kid on a roller coaster! He fucking loves it and makes me promise to teach him to do it one day. He even wants to stick around and watch some other acrobatic flights, which we do for an hour or so before we go to breakfast. After oatmeal and sausage, we hit the trails with a couple of dirt bikes. My brother gives me a real run for my money. He says that kicking the alcohol was an amazing cleanse for his system and helps with his energy levels. I might do a cleanse of my own to see what it does.

Our hike turns out to be a basic Q&A session about married life…
How did we decide we wanted to have kids?
What do we do when we’re mad at each other besides fuck?
Have we made any preparations for the kids should something happen to us?

He was a little horrified when I told him that Valerie is the godmother and she takes the twins if something happens to us.

“Don’t you think I should be part of that decision?” he says.

“Yeah, you should, but you should probably have that conversation with your wife because I’m certain that this was some kind of blood oath from a decade ago or something. Come between that if you want, but I’m not touching it with a 10-foot pole.” He laughs at me.

“Pussy,” he teases.

“Why yes, I love it, and I won’t fuck with the opportunity to get it as long and as often as possible.” He laughs at me.

“My wife,” he repeats. “I’m getting married tomorrow.”

“You’re getting married tomorrow,” I confirm. He sighs.

“So, let’s get on up this mountain,” he says, and his pace picks up.

We eat lunch from our backpacks once we get to the top of the mountain. We just sit there for a while and enjoy the view and each other’s company. My brother starts to relax a bit and he begins to talk more about the future he sees with Valerie. He’s happy that he made the ultimatums that he did or they never would have found out about the tumor. He still feels guilty for the comments that he made about being glad that her behavior had to do with something physical and not that she was just turning into a raving bitch, but he maintains that feeling as the whole “raving bitch” thing is what took Kate away from him.

We make our way back down to the waiting Audi 4×4 and hit the road again, headed for the camping area. When we get there, we set up camp and go over to the fishing spot on Puget Sound where our Dad used to take us when we were kids. It’s mid-afternoon and I don’t tell him that I brought some cans of pork and beans in case we didn’t catch any fish since we usually set out fishing in the early morning hours. To our delight, we made three great catches—my brother beating me two-to-one once again—and had a wonderful dinner of fresh fish.

“I do miss beer,” Elliot says as he drinks his near-beer. “This tastes like the real thing.”

“I’m no connoisseur of non-alcoholic beer, but I did do a little research and this one got the highest reviews.” He nods as he takes another swallow his drink.

“Sorry we had to commandeer your birthday, man.” I shrug.

“You know how I hate celebrating my birthday,” I admit. “I only do it now for Butterfly. This is a pretty cool way to celebrate,” I tell him, raising my beer to him.

“Hear, hear!” he says, clinking his bottle with mine. “I didn’t know it was possible to love somebody more than you love yourself,” he says, gazing into the fire. “Isn’t that supposed to be unhealthy or something?”

“It depends on how you look at it,” I tell him. “I think you’re wording it wrong. To say that you love her more than you love yourself indicates that you have no value of your own existence and I don’t think that’s true. If it’s anything like what I feel for Butterfly, it’s that your existence—your happiness and your life—is now wrapped up in hers, too; that you would give your life to protect her, but you’re not looking for that to happen anytime soon. If she falls to harm or unhappiness, that makes you unhappy. You, in turn, will do whatever is necessary to make sure that she’s safe and happy to secure your own happiness. That’s the height of self-preservation, man.

“Butterfly is only just now fully understanding why I’m as possessive and controlling as I am, and we’ve been together for nearly two years. It’s not about me having to be in control of everything—it’s about knowing that everything is as it should be. And now—with her and the twins—my very sanity is dependent on knowing that she and my children are safe; on keeping them happy and making sure that all their needs are met. The moment you love someone more than yourself, and their life becomes more important than yours, then you’ve got real problems, Bro.

“I think it’s more that we know that we can take care of ourselves and we feel that they need our protection. So, that ‘me Tarzan, you Jane’ mentality comes out and we want to stand in front of them and protect them from the world. The thing is that we have two of the strongest women on earth—walking, talking, breathing, living pillars of strength—and when they’re brought down, we can’t see straight. So, something as major as a brain tumor or an accident that leaves her in a coma for twelve days brings their importance and their role in our lives to the forefront… not that it wasn’t always there. We just realize how precious and fragile life is when we’re threatened with the possible loss of someone we love.” He frowns at me.

“Dude, how did you… how do you know all this?” he inquires. “No offense, but before you met Montana, you were one of the most screwed up motherfuckers I’ve ever known, evidenced by the fact that you had to practice this lifestyle with random women and no feeling. I’m all for a good fuck and a one-night-stand—well, at least I used to be—but you had some intense shit going on. I seriously want some inside information, because that shit drove two women crazy, that I know of, and you’ve got a third hanging on to you for dear life, so much so that you build room in your house just for this. What the fuck, man?” I blink several times.

“Well, first, I learned from experience and a whole fucking lot of therapy. And Elliot, the right woman can set you on the right path every time. I don’t have to tell you that. As for the lifestyle…” I run my hands through my hair. “I don’t know if Ana has discussed our practices with Valerie, but you would definitely have to discuss this with her before you embark on something like this. It has to be consensual between both parties involved. You have to set definite limits of what you will and will not do, and Elliot, it can spice up the fuck out of your sex life, but it can ruin your relationship if you’re not compatible on this level. So, be very sure before you set out on this journey.”

“Well, how do you know?” he asks.

“You don’t until you try. The thing is that you may discover that you want something different out of it than Valerie does. Are you willing to take that chance?” He frowns again.

“Not… no… no. I’m not willing to do anything that’s going to make me lose her. It’s just… well… I wouldn’t mind putting some fire back into our nights, once she’s well again, that is.”

“That’s easy to do,” I tell him. “You don’t have to go full-on Dom to do that.”

“Full-on Dom? What is that?”

“Nothing,” I say, swallowing my beer. “Let that plane fly and let me just give you some pointers…”

My brother and I spend the next several hours under the stars talking about how to please a lady.


ANASTASIA

Val, Al, Maxie and I spend the night talking and eating finger foods, all of us drinking non-alcoholic beverages and going back down Memory Lane. We finally get to sleep all camped out in Valerie’s room at about three in the morning.

Of course, I’m the first to wake, with a million things still left to do before the wedding this afternoon at three. We’ve kept it as simple as possible. Christian’s tailor delivered Grace’s altered dress yesterday and it’s beautiful on Valerie. She’ll just wear some white ballet flats underneath and she’s decided to wear a crown of daisies on her shaved head just like she wore at Al’s wedding. I can tell that she feels subconscious about getting married bare-headed, but she’s trying not to let it bother her, especially since in a show of solidarity, Elliot cut all his hair off.

The garden, patio, and pool area are all decorated with spring flowers, fabrics and linens. There’s no particular color scheme, just springtime. Since the guest list consists of all the people who are usually around us on holidays anyway, we just rent comfortable outdoor furniture for informal seating. The food and drinks will be set up buffet style in the outdoor dining room.

There’s a trellis set up in the middle of the seating where Val and Elliot will say their vows. We have a wheelchair for Valerie, but she’s determined to walk down that aisle. So, we just have a beautifully decorated chair sitting at the trellis for her so that she can comfortably exchange vows with her fiancé. James had tuxes delivered for Al, Elliot, and Christian as Christian will be the best man and Al will give Val away. Elliot was easy to please as James told him what was available on short notice and Elliot just picked one. He went with the charcoal gray with matching vests, silk lapels, and thin-striped gray and white ties. Maxie and I will wear some pretty, low cut peach dresses that she found off the rack for us along with some nude stiletto sandals that match pretty nicely. We’ll have daisies in our hair, too.

Grace worked a small miracle and found a baker that did a five-tier cupcake set-up in our flavors of choice with pink roses spaced on the tiers and a top layer red velvet cake for the bride and groom. We’ve completed the wedding ensemble with a full bouquet of white roses and soft pink flowers. Maxie and I will be carrying smaller versions of the same. God has graced us with beautiful weather and the make-up team will be here at noon to make sure we are all relaxed and beautiful when the time arrives to say, “I do.” At eleven, however, another delivery comes while I’m polishing Val’s nails a soft pastel pink.

“Look what I’ve got,” Maxine says as she comes into Val’s room with a medium sized box. “It’s from Elliot for our bride to be.” I smile widely at Val, who blushes prettily. There’s are three envelopes on top and the white on says, “Open me first.” I gently open the envelope, remove the letter inside and hand it to Val so that she doesn’t ruin her nails. She reads it silently, her hand covering her mouth and her eyes filling with tears as she hands me the note.

My Angel,

The day they told you that they would have to shave your head, you cried bitterly. You cried even more to learn that you may be completely bald from the chemotherapy. You asked them to sedate you before they shaved your head. It broke my heart to see you that way and there was nothing that I could do about it.

Today, there is. You are giving me the precious, immeasurable gift of becoming my wife. I have done this small gesture to show you how much I love you and what you mean to me. I asked a special local charity to do this for you and in gratitude for their work, they asked that I make a direct donation to the cause.

So, my angel, these are my two wedding presents to you. Please open the blue envelope first, and then the gold, before you open the box.

I can’t wait until you’re Mrs. Grey.

Your love for life,
Elliot.

“Read the notes, Ana,” she says, weeping and still trying not to smudge her polish. “I’m going to cry all over them and ruin them. I know I am.”

I nod and remove the blue envelope from the box and open it first.

“This is to certify that a donation has been made to the Cancer and Research Wing of Seattle General Hospital in the amount of…” I pause and gasp when I see the number. I didn’t know that Elliot had this kind of money just laying around. “… Fifty thousand dollars…”

Valerie’s gasps and covers her mouth, tears squeezing from her eyes as she weeps quietly. I swallow my emotions and continue to read the note.

“… In the amount of $50,000 by Elliot Grey in the name of Valerie Marshall-Grey to advance the study and research of cancer and tumor treatment in hopes of one day finding a cure.” My voice goes up on the last words as I can’t hold in my emotion anymore. Maxie stands next to me, covering her mouth and attempting to hide her tears as well. I’m glad Franco hasn’t done our makeup yet or we would be runny, ruined messes right now.

“I don’t know what… he could possibly do… that could be more… loving and generous than this!” she weeps. I wipe the tears from my eyes and place the note and the blue envelope on the table next to her.

“Let’s find out, shall we?” I say, pulling myself together and taking the gold envelope from the box.

“Once you were asleep and they had to shave your beautiful hair, I asked them to save it and give it to me, which they did. I was hoping this gift would be ready in time and by the grace of God, it is.”

What the hell could he make out of her hair? We both twist our lips a bit in preparation of what might be in the box. Might as well rip off the Band-aid. I open the box to find another box inside… well, actually, it looks like a travel bag. I take the travel bag out and there’s another note on top. I gasp when I read it.

“What? What is it?” she exclaims. I unzip the front of the bag so that it falls open in front of Val. She frowns.

“He wants me to wear a wig?” she says in dismay. “It’s really pretty, but…”

“It’s not just any wig, Val,” I say, looking down and reading the final note aloud.

“Dear Angel, wear this only if you want to, but I wanted you to have it just in case. It’s shorter, I know, but it’s made entirely of your hair.” Val gasps again and covers her mouth.

“No…” she breathes as she reaches into the wig travel box and removes the mannequin head that holds her wig. “This is all my hair?” she says, her voice cracking terribly. “Oh, my God, it’s beautiful, Ana, look at it.” She touches the wig like it’s made of gold.

“Yes, it is,” I say, unable to hold back my tears anymore.

“And it’s so soft,” she says. “He really loves me.” She breaks down in uncontrollable sobs.

“Did you doubt?” I ask. She shakes her head, tears streaming down her face.

“I was such a bitch!” she weeps. “I almost lost him!”

“You never would have lost him,” I assure her. “One way or another, this would have come out, and you wouldn’t have lost him.” We cry a little longer before I fix her smudged nails and we wait for Franco to come and put us back together.

*-*

“Tell me you guys are almost ready. My brother is about to shit his pants out here.”

Christian looks absolutely delicious in the charcoal gray tux James chose for him. I stick my head out to greet him, but I completely lose my words when I see him in that tux. I bite my lip, thinking about all the things I want to do to him. My mouth is fucking watering…

“Ana,” he warns, bringing me back to myself. I shake my head like I’m shaking off a dream.

“Um… yeah… yeah, we’re ready. I was just going to call Al to bring the wheelchair. Can you send him up, please?” The corner of his mouth rises in a knowing smirk.

“I’m going to gobble you up when this party is over,” he says, his voice deep.

“Likewise,” I say, shameless, licking my lips.

“Promises, promises,” he taunts.

“One I intend to keep,” I say, crisply.

“C’mon, guys, I’m getting married! Where’s my chariot?” Val’s impatience elicits a laugh from both of us. I blow him a kiss.

“Go,” I say, lustfully. He growls in his throat and walks back down the hallway. I turn around to look at Val and shrugs.

“If Elliot looks as good as he does, you’re going to have a problem,” I warn.

“I know,” she says, half-lamenting, half lustful, although I must say that Franco and his team did a fabulous job on all of us. He has styled this custom-made wig for Val and you would never know that it’s a wig. Her eyebrows have thinned and he lightly filled those in with a pencil, but her eyelashes only needed a little mascara and she looks pretty as a picture with a soft pastel palette of colors. A few minutes later, Al arrives with the wheelchair. For a moment, he’s struck speechless.

“Oh, my God,” he breathes. “Valerie… you’re beautiful.” Val’s face scrunches.

“Al, please don’t make me cry,” she squeaks.

“Please tell me your face is smudge-proof,” he says. “There’s not going to be a dry eye in this place.” And she’s crying. I’m dabbing her face with a hanky and thankfully, yes, everything is smudge-proof.

“Let’s go get your man,” he says as he helps her into the wheelchair.

He was right. Once Maxie and I walk out of the patio door and down the makeshift “aisle” to the center of the seated guests, the sound of sniffles and weeps can be heard all across our backyard as Valerie makes her way to the arch. Elliot is completely spellbound and absolutely dumbstruck. Christian has to pat his back to make him close his mouth. He picked the song for her to walk down the aisle and it’s totally unconventional. She didn’t expect it, but when she hears it, she smiles widely at her husband to be. She and Al walk to the chair that we’ve decorated for her as Leona Lewis’ voice booms over our outdoor sound system declaring an angel being the answer to her prayers.

Al can hardly give Val’s hand to Elliot when the Justice of the Peace declares that it’s time to give her away. He just sheds a tear and kisses her on the cheek before turning her over to the man who will protect her for the rest of her life. He gestures for her to sit and she shakes her head, telling him that she’s fine and promising to sit if she gets tired.

They stare into each other’s eyes, never looking left or right no matter what’s said or what occurs around them. They never even flinch… until it’s time to exchange personal vows. Elliot asks for Val to go first. He knows she’ll want to stand and say her vows and he wants her to be able to sit if she gets tired. She’s happy to oblige.

“I had rehearsed vows, but… I can’t remember them.” She swallows hard and gazes at Elliot. “I’ve searched my whole life to find a man like you. I’ve waited an eternity to feel the love that I feel for you. It’s all-consuming and it takes over your mind and body like nothing else. Even the tumor didn’t dampen or cloud what I feel for you. Oh, Elliot, I love you with all of me… every part of my body and soul even my toes love you.” She says the last part in one breath and a slight, soft chuckle comes over the room. “There will never be anyone else for me. You are love… and hope… and laughter… and beauty… and passion… and life… all rolled up into one! I don’t know how… I got so lucky… or why you love me… but thank you!” She’s weeping now, holding tight to Elliot’s hands.

“I promise you, I swear to you, I will spend my life loving you, supporting you, and making you happy. And when I give you a hard time—because we both know that I will, please don’t forget that I love you. Please don’t forget that you are my world. Please don’t forget…” She closes her eyes and brings his hands to her lips, kissing them reverently before brushing the backs of them against her cheek as she weeps.

There’s silence for a long time and the only sound that can be heard is that of Val’s gentle weeping. She’s weakened now, either by exhaustion or emotion, but she reaches for the chair. All of the men on the groom’s side, including the groom reach for her, but of course, Elliot is there to help her to the seat. Once she’s seated, he gracefully descends to his knees and waits for her weeping to subside a bit. He releases his grip and takes her tear-stained face in his large hands. He gazes at her for several moments, well after she opens her eyes and raises her gaze to him. Finally, after a very long pause, he speaks.

“My love, my heart, my mind, my body and soul… all belong to you. Do with me as you will, because I’m at your mercy.”

That’s all he said… but did he really need to say more?

Valerie chokes and sobs in a very unladylike fashion, and the rest of the women in the room—and Al—all follow suit, weeping and sobbing and trying not to be unseemly. We all do our best to compose ourselves, but to very little avail. The bride finally regains enough composure to exchange rings with her beloved. Finally, after one of the most emotional ceremonies I’ve ever seen in my life, the Justice of the Peace pronounces them man and wife. Elliot melts into his wife, gathering her into his arms and kissing her with the passion and hunger of a starving man.

“Mrs. Grey,” he breathes between kisses. “Mrs. Grey. Mrs. Elliot Grey…” His voice is wistful and longing.

*-*

“Well, we just have you guys left,” Christian says, gesturing to Marilyn and Gary, “and you guys.” He gestures to Keri and Chuck, too.

“Hey, don’t rush us! We’re enjoying ourselves,” Marilyn proclaims.

“Hear, hear!” Gary says and he and Marilyn share a tender kiss.

“What about you two?” Christian says to Chuck. “Have you… thought about it? Love is in the air.” Keri giggles.

“Yas, weh tink about it. Weh don know yet. I luv mi Choonks and mi Choonks luv me, but weh don wan shotgun weddin to stay in da contry.” I nod.

“What about… I mean, you were sick. Have you seen a doctor?” I ask. She nods.

“Keri got a full medical work-up right after we got back to the states,” Chuck says. “It turns out that she was just… grieving. We’re keeping track and watching for pregnancy and things like that, but according to the doctor, she was just unhappy.”

“I jus miss mi Choonks,” she says, leaning on his shoulder. “Mi no gud witout ‘im. Anguilla no longeh mi home witout ‘im. Mi home wherever mi Choonks is.” He leans down and kisses her gently, gazing into her eyes and gently stroking her locks. Say what you want, I have a feeling we’ll be hearing those wedding bells soon, too.

Christian is right, though. Love is in the air. Elliot has Val sitting on his lap, feeding her red velvet cake and kissing the crumbs off every time they fall. She’s lit up like springtime and I have to admit that the wig of her own hair is not only beautiful and flawless, but it also has to be one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever seen.

Mindy is asleep on her father’s lap as Maxie sits comfortably under Phil’s arm as they talk about whatever.

As Celida and Mariah play with Maggie nearby, Luma and Herman are in deep conversation. Luma blushes as Herman whispers something to her, and Pops sits sleeping and reclined in a nearby chair, not wanting to be shuttled to some room to “rest” while the party is going on. Mandy is bouncing little Harry on her knee while Daddy plays with his son and gazes at his wife. Carrick and Grace sit close while holding a conversation with Marcia, and on the dance floor, we have a canoodling Mia and Ethan, Allen and James, and… what’s this I see? Sophie and Marlow!

I don’t draw attention to them… well, not at first, but Marlow is smiling and telling what seems to be an interesting and funny story while Sophie—at least a foot shorter than he is—gazes up into his eyes with the unmistakable look of a love-struck teenager. I glance at Jason and Gail, happy that they’re caught in their own session of canoodling, before I gently poke Christian to get his attention.

“What do you make of that?” I say, quietly, bringing his attention to the young couple on the dance floor. He shrugs.

“I can guarantee you with no level of uncertainty that he views her completely platonically,” Christian says. I raise my eyebrows.

“Well, his eyes may say ‘platonic friend,’ but her eyes say, ‘teenage crush,’” I inform him. He looks at Sophie and Marlow again before stealing a glance over at Jason and Gail.

Still canoodling.

“Let’s not tell Jason,” Christian whispers. I shake my head inconspicuously.

“Let’s not,” I concur. His lips slowly cover mine and I taste delicious kisses that make me want him right here and now. Just as I’m about to sink into the kiss, my beloved Minnie starts to stir in her Pack-n-Play.

“She can’t be hungry,” I lament. “I just fed her an hour ago.”

“It’s all the activity,” Maxie says. “She wants to see what’s going on.” I sigh and move toward the Pack-n-Play.

“Seet down, Anah, I got heh,” Keri says, and she has scooped Minnie out of the Pack-n-Play before I can even get out of my seat. Relieved, I snuggle back in next to Christian. Minnie fusses a bit, but calms when Keri looks down at her and starts to sing. Chuck gazes at his woman like the sun rises and sets in her eyes, which for him, it probably does…

Res yo’ hed, chile, ees tyme to dodo,
De sun goh down behind de mounten slope,
If yoh fine it hahd to sleep,
Tuhn yo’ hed, close yo’ eyes, don peep!
Emagin dah banana boat on de sea,
Keepin’ you afloat oh so gtacefuhlly,
So many stahs shinin’ in de skies,
You can coun dem all if you close yo’ eyes…

Looking over at Keri smiling down at Minnie and singing her into contentment while my daughter coos back at her, the answer to one of our dilemmas slaps me in the face as if it had been staring at me all this time… which in reality, it had. I gasp loudly, my finger pointing straight in the air as if to say “Eureka!” Christian looks at me as if I’ve sprouted branches, waiting to see what strange fruit I will produce.

“Sophie’s here,” I say, turning to Gail. “That means you’re a stepmom.” Gail scans the room waiting for a punchline.

“Yeah,” she says expecting.

“You can’t spend as much time on your duties as we had hoped, because of this new responsibility,” I add. She twists her lips.

“We’ve already established this,” she says impatiently. “I’m doing my best. We’ve been actively looking.”

“You need a reason to stay in the States,” I say, turning to Keri, “and a job. You have experience with children. You lived with us for three months. You were here when the twins were born.” Keri stares at me, slowly catching my meaning. I look over to Christian.

“Someone that we know and trust. She doesn’t even have to be vetted.” I gesture to Keri again. “Look how good she is with Minnie.” My husband finally catches my drift and gasps, holding both his hands up in the same “Eureka” gesture as we both breathe at the same time…

“Au pair.”

Keri is stunned.

“Yu wuld do dat foh mi?” she asks.

“Would you do that for us?” I ask. “Legally, you would have to live here and I have a feeling Chuck wanted to get you back to Bainbridge…”

“Chuck will get her however he can get her!” Chuck interjects quickly.

“Au pairs don’t get paid,” I continue. “They work for room and board on a work visa. We would give you something, of course, but it wouldn’t be a salary. We would have to work out some kind of informal allowance or something…”

“Ah don cayah ‘bout da money!” she says, quickly. “Ah’ll b’able tah stey wit mi Choonks… an Ah’ll b’able tah wohk wit dah bebes! Yaz, yaz, please!” I throw my hands up, now in victory.

“That’s it,” I say, happily. “We’ll start the paperwork on Monday.” Keri squeals with happiness, causing Minnie to squeal with her and eliciting a laugh from Christian. I scan the room and catch Gail smiling gleefully at the arrangement, while Jason is frowning, looking straight ahead. I follow his gaze to the love-struck Sophie, her pretty blonde hair brushing her back and her spring dress swaying while she stares captivated up at Marlow, who’s still talking. I sigh and chuckle.

“Now, what are we going to do about that?” I say to no one in particular.


EPILOGUE

You can’t always get what you want,
You can’t always get what you want,

You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes, well you just might find,
You get what you need.

This song is such bullshit. You don’t fucking get what you need or what you want unless your goddamn name is Grey! Ruin everything for everybody and then just think you’re going to walk off into the sunset with no fucking repercussions. Money is everything. Money can buy you the world, right?

My life… my whole fucking life… ruined! Why?

Grey!
Grey!
Grey!

They eat! They drink! They’re merry! Not a fucking care in the goddamn world. Oh, and the twins that Seattle loves… fucking gag me! Born with a goddamn silver spoon in their mouths. You rob someone of everything they have, then you sit in that mansion surrounded by all those fucking Keystone cops like you’re so goddamn untouchable. Seattle’s sweetheart and the richest man in the free world—you’re fucking laughable! You think you can just ruin people’s lives? Just walk up and wave your fucking money wand and it doesn’t matter who goes down, as long as you get what you want, right?

Well, enjoy it while it lasts, Greys, because you’re going to regret the day you ever fucked with me!


A/N: So that’s all for Becoming Dr. Grey, my lovelies. Stay tuned for more drama, villains, lemons, and life in Book IV!

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 78—Conversions

My procedure went very well and the tests came back clean. Daddy and Baby Bronzy took really good care of me this weekend. I sincerely want to thank everyone who sent me messages, IM, emails, texts, positive thoughts and prayers, and any other little things. My cup runneth over. I love you all. 

Don’t forget to add those crucial email addresses and let me know if you’re still not getting emails. I found that some emails transferred from the new list and others didn’t, while yet others are just not getting the emails even though my mailer says they have been sent. 

bg.holmes@butterflysaga.com
AND
bronzegoddess@butterflysaga.com

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

Chapter 78—Conversions

ANASTASIA

I’ve been keeping up a maddening pace and I’m not really sure how much longer I can do it. I know that one of my biggest time hogs has been alleviated now that Al and James are married and off to their honeymoon in Bali. So, that’s one less thing I have to worry about. But I’ve still got a lot on my plate that I think is going to catch up with me soon:

Gail is still helping out with the twins as requested, but I’m not really getting the reprieve that I was hoping for since Sophie’s here now and Gail needs to be a stepmom to a twelve-year-old. This means that she has to make sure she’s up and ready for school, pack her lunch, be there when she gets home from school, help with homework when needed… you know, be a mom. Couple that with being the manager of this mini-resort that we live in, wife to her husband, and nanny to my kids, she’s walking around with one eye open about as much as I am—which means that I’m up at all hours with the twins more often that I was hoping.

Then, I’m trying to get back into the swing of things with Helping Hands with all the changes going on. As soon as I was ready to get the ball rolling, nine other things seemed to get in my way. I’m trying to do these self-defense classes a few times a week to help me get back in shape and teach women and victims to not feel so helpless, but that’s taking a lot out of me.

Then there’s Valerie. Fuck if what happened to her didn’t just knock the wind out of my goddamn sails. I’m at that hospital every day without fail. I don’t care what’s going on or what time it is; I’m at that damn hospital and she’s seeing my face. She still won’t let us contact her brother or her father, but under the circumstances, I can see why. She lit up like a Christmas tree when we showed up in the room to have Al and James’ ceremony. She was weak and exhausted—I could see it all in her face—but it was most likely the highlight of her year thus far. I pray that it’s not too late for more highlights for her.

Then, there’s all the other unfinished business in life—I haven’t done anything with the country club. We haven’t decided the safest and most reasonable course of action for taking the twins in public as I’d like to go into the office more often and I can’t do that without a feasible plan for keeping the twins safe from the Paparazzi. PR is going crazy and we haven’t made any definitive decisions about when and if I’m going to make any public appearances—and those requests are simply pouring in.

The emotional toll of all this stuff—the up and down of it all—David dying; She-Thing’s trial along with the Green Valley trials starting; Sophie moving in and the custody battle as well as dealing with her crazy ass, drug-addict mother; having my babies; caring for my babies; Al’s wedding; Val’s recovery…

… Wanting to get some semblance of my life back…

And now, after I spend the day at Helping Hands without my babies and my trusted bodyguard and checking in on Val at the hospital, I come home to find out that yet another aspect of my life may be turned completely upside down.

“Chuck is going where?” I ask in horror.

“To Anguilla,” Christian says. “He’s flying out in the morning.”

“What’s wrong? Is something wrong with Keri?” I ask, probing for more information.

“Something’s wrong, but he’s not sure. One of her friends called him in the middle of the night and told him that Keri’s not doing well. From what he described, it sounds like she’s not taking care of herself to the point of it taking a serious toll on her health.”

I sigh heavily. I love Keri. I really do, but I know how Chuck feels about her. I saw that painful goodbye at the airport. If he thinks that she can’t survive without him, he’ll leave his life and stay down there with her.

That terrifies me.

“So… he doesn’t know what to expect when he gets down there,” I say, a statement, not a question.

“No, and he’s not making any decisions until he does.” I sigh again. I know what that means. I need to prepare myself to lose my bodyguard and friend. I wouldn’t expect him to leave Keri if he gets down there and discovers that she’s deteriorating without him.

I don’t get any sleep that night for worrying about Chuck and Keri for part of the night, Val for another part, and trying to comfort irritable little babies for the rest of the it. I end up sleeping in the next day and don’t bother going to Helping Hands. I wouldn’t be of much use anyway.

“Ana, can I impose on you to help me with something?” Gail asks while I’m sitting at the breakfast bar well into the morning.

“Bosslady, Grace emailed some documents that need your attention. She said that you guys were supposed to look them over together this morning when you came in. I let her know that you probably won’t be in today because you weren’t feeling well and she understood. But she asked if you have time could you look them over and get back to her.” Marilyn in her ever-efficient manner is letting me know that she has put out that “I need Ana and I need her now” fire that always seems to be set under Grace. I didn’t know that woman was leaning on me as much as she does until I wasn’t always around for her to lean on anymore. It makes me wonder how she ever functioned without me.

“Thanks, Mare. Did you look at the reports?” She shakes her head.

“Waiting for clearance from high command,” she says teasingly. I nod with a chuckle.

“Take a look at them and let me know if there’s a fire,” I tell her. She nods and she’s off to see what needs to be addressed so urgently about Grace’s reports. I turn my attention back to Gail before taking a large gulp of my coffee.

“Okay, Gail, what can I do for you?” I ask.

“Well, we’re trying to decide where Sophie should stay in the house,” she says. “The apartment is just not big enough for the three of us, so of course she’ll have to have her own room. We were initially thinking one of the guest rooms, but they’re so far away from us. I realize that she’s not a toddler and she’d be fine in one of the guest rooms without a problem, but let’s be realistic. The guest rooms are on the second floor on the west end of the house and we’re on the ground floor on the south end of the house.”

“It’s no different than it is with the twins,” I remind her.

“Yes, but you’re right next door to the twins,” she points out. “I feel awkward with her being so far away from us even though she’s in the same house. It feels like she’s an afterthought.”

I can see why Gail would feel that way. You almost need a golf cart to navigate the inside of this place and we already have three to navigate the outside.

“The other alternative is for her to have the third apartment downstairs near us. In terms of proximity, that would be ideal… but a twelve-year-old girl in her own apartment. I don’t know how I feel about that.” I can’t resist the laugh that escapes me.

“I’m sorry, Gail,” I say to her puzzled expression, “but it’s just a cluster of rooms downstairs next door to you guys. It’s not like she’s moving to her own condo in University Place,” I say, trying to lighten the mood. “I actually think the apartment is a better idea. It’s closer to you and you’ll feel better with her being closer to you. Also, it’ll give her a little sense of responsibility. She’ll have to keep her apartment clean; she can decorate it how she wants to; she has the option of being in her space and having time to herself or coming out and being around everyone else.

“With your permission, she’ll be able to have company over in an area that allows her some privacy with her friends, but still allows you and Jason to supervise the visits and who comes and goes. It would be awkward for her to bring her visitors in through the house and up to one of the guest rooms. But once she starts to make more friends, there’s an entrance through the patio with closed-circuit monitoring. You can see who’s coming and going and when the weather gets warmer, she and her friends will have easy access to the pool. With her about to become a teenager and under the circumstances with her military dad that you know won’t allow her to step wrong, I think it’s an ideal set up.” Gail’s face twitches.

“I guess I’m a little old fashioned and the whole ‘kid in her own apartment’ idea just gives me the heebie-jeebies, but when you put it that way, it really does make more sense for her to have the apartment,” Gail concedes. “Now, how do we decorate it?”

“That, you’re going to need Sophie for,” I tell her. “It’s going to be her space and you’re going to want to let her make it her own. It’s an apartment and it’s kind of scary, so you have to make sure that she knows you’re not deserting her. By the same token, give her carte blanche. Let her have fun. How many of her friends will be able to say that they have their own apartment?” A smile forms on Gail’s face.

“You’re right. This could really be fun,” she says. “Will you help me when the time comes to decorate? You two get along so well and I just want her to feel comfortable with her choices.”

“Of course, I will, Gail,” I tell her. It’s midweek and I haven’t heard anything about what’s going on with Chuck and Keri. It’s really making me worry that he won’t come back and this will be a welcome distraction. That afternoon when Sophie comes home from school, I ask her how she would feel about living in the apartment alone.

“Well, it’s not like being at home alone,” she says. “This is a really big house and somebody is always here. It’s just a bunch of rooms that’s separate, that’s all. So, I guess that’s cool… kinda neat, really. I’ll be the only seventh grader with her own apartment!”

I had a feeling this would be how she reacted, so Sophie, Gail, Marilyn, and I do an afternoon of cyber shopping for the initial ideas for Sophie’s room. I think it’s important for her to have this time with Sophie even though she admits that Sophie connects with me more. I agree with her on that note, but as she is to be Sophie’s stepmother, there has to be a more hands-on approach with her than there has been in the past, especially since the time will come when Gail will have to discipline Sophie.

They fall easily into conversation and I’m able to examine the dynamics of their relationship more closely. They’re friends, of course, but it’s going to take some time before Gail can slide into the maternal position. She’s still handling the situation with kid gloves and I’m afraid that when the situation calls for a firmer hand, she may be in for a rude awakening. We’ll just have to see what happens in time.

We’re very surprised to learn that, when given carte blanche, Sophie’s taste for her living space is very simple and quite sensible. She likes clean lines, basic colors, and nothing too flashy. She definitely wants her electronics, like any tween would, but she’s not overly demanding or even slightly unreasonable as you would expect a child with a basically bottomless pocketbook to be.

As I watch her choices and interactions with Gail throughout the afternoon, I can’t help but feel a bit melancholy. She seems a bit too sensible—too realistic in that she hasn’t had the opportunity to really be girly. I was expecting to see the Sophie that bought the High School Musical Build-A-Bears on Black Friday. Instead, I more see a Sophie that looks a lot like the young girl who attended Chaparral High School in Las Vegas before Sophie was even born—the girl who saw only too soon how real and cruel the world could really be. I know that she hasn’t suffered anything so horrible as what I did, but that doesn’t minimize the impact of having a situation snatch away your childhood.

Sophie’s bedroom was a very easy decorating choice. She saw a model of a black and white simple setup and fell in love, telling Gail and me that she felt it would be ideal for her—plain white walls where the bed was set in a recessed cubby that held drawers and shelves on either side as storage and nightstands. Minimal wall décor so that she could plaster posters, art, bulletin boards, or what have you around the room with a small workstation against one wall painted in an accent color. This accent color was a muted purple and the area held a basic box white desk with floating shelves and shadow box shelving. The most extravagant thing was a regal looking desk chair—black with silver trim—that looked like a DIY job. She goes completely gaga over the set-up and we simply can’t deny her. We place the order for the paint and the furniture the same day.

When it came to decorating the rest of the apartment, we somewhat drew a blank. What do you put in an apartment for a twelve-year-old girl? For this task, I set Marilyn and Sophie in the library together for the evening until dinner with the instructions to build a scrapbook of ideas and just let me know what they come up with.

This turns out to be a sensational idea. Once set to her own devices, Sophie’s mind goes completely free and I’m able to see that young girly-girl I thought may have gotten lost in the “too much is going on in this poor child’s life right now” shuffle. She had things in her scrapbook like a traditional papasan, a welcome mat that read “you’re like, really pretty,” and a sign that said “babe cave.” I’m starting to feel a little better about the tween coming of age in her little space now. I even start to see her pictures of her beloved High School Musical. I just can’t get over the uncanny resemblance of that Zac kid to that asshole Cody Whitmore…

By Thursday, I still haven’t gotten the swing of things like I would like. Marilyn and I go to the Broadmoor for lunch just for the hell of it, to get the feel of the country club and just to be seen. The food and service are outstanding and it gives me an opportunity to think in a different setting than what I’ve been in—Helping Hands or my office or the nursery or the hospital. Ben is, of course, tagging along with us along with Marilyn’s guy—I can’t think if his name right now.

I lament that although my butt is tightening and doesn’t wobble so much, it hasn’t gotten much smaller. The firming is sexy, though, and I don’t look so deformed like I did before. So, I’ll keep working on it. In the meantime, it’s time to call Vickie and get started on that spring wardrobe. No use in looking frumpy.

“I’ve been waiting to hear from you,” she says when I call her from the Broadmoor on Thursday. “I’ve been seeing you in the news and wondering when I get to dress that hot new little body.”

“Watch it, Vic. I thought you liked breathing,” I warn playfully.

“What is it with you straight women?” she says. “You’re hot. We appreciate it. Get over it. So, do I have carte blanche again or do you have something in mind?”

“A little of both. I want some of the latest spring fashions, but I definitely want something that accentuates my new figure—both sensually and professionally. I used to love my Lindy Bop dresses, but with the new ass, I’m certain that I’ll come off looking more like Jessica Rabbit when I wear those. That’s not the kind of look I want for the office. Maybe an after-five thing every now and then, but not running around the Center.”

“I see… sexy professional. Got it. Plans for the summer?” I twist my lips.

“I don’t know. We were actually planning a trip to Italy, but so much has been going on now, I don’t know if it’s still a go or not. I’ll have to let you know.”

“Okay. So, right now, we’re just doing spring/summer coming out party pretty much, right?” I can hear her typing away on her computer.

“Yep.”

“Shoes and accessories?” I ponder the thought again. I have more shoes than are legally allowable.

“Accessories, definitely. Shoes, only if there’s something extremely cute and new out there and the outfit screams for them. You know I already have more shoes than Imelda Marcos.” Vickie laughs.

“That you do. I’ll put some things together for you. Need anything in a hurry?”

“No hurry. A week, maybe?” I reply.

“Okay, so I’ll need to come by and take some new measurements…”

“Tomorrow morning?” I ask.

“That’s fine. I’ll see you then.” I end the call and get back to lunch with Marilyn.

“Paps outside,” she warns looking at her phone. I raise my head to her.

“How do you know that?” I ask her.

“It’s my job to know,” she says with a smile. “But I have instant alerts on you and when I get an alert that you’re having lunch at the Broadmoor before we’ve even decided on desert, that means Paps outside.” Shit. Just what I need. I fire off a text to Christian.

**At the Broadmoor for lunch. Paparazzi outside. Will need to lock down security for the twins. **

The response is almost immediate.

**Already on that. Update on Chuck. Emergency situation needs immediate action. Meet me at the Crossing in twenty. **

Double oh shit.

“No time for lunch, Mare. Fire on the home front,” I say, gathering my purse and belongings.

“Oh, shit,” she says, putting her phone away.

“My sentiments exactly.”

*-*

“Okay, wait a minute. Why in the world do you have to go to Anguilla?” I ask. He’s going to Anguilla and he’s taking Jason. That means that the two most capable members of our security staff along with the head honcho are all going to be in a foreign country for I don’t know how long and he’s leaving his family in the capable hands of Ben and Chance? Seriously?

“It’s only for a couple of days, max,” he says. “We’re going down there to get him and bring him back. You know the trip is twelve hours and even with relief pilots, there has to be some rest time.”

“I still don’t see why both of you have to go.”

“Moral support,” he replies. “It doesn’t look good. Even though Keri’s not well, it doesn’t look like she’s going to be returning with him. And there’s some psycho fucker down there that’s vying with Chuck for Keri’s attention. I don’t have all the details, yet, but from what I understand, Chuck is staying in a hotel now because the asshole tried to kill him in his sleep.”

“Fucking hell, seriously??” I say and Christian nods as he continues to throw a few items into a duffel bag.

“He can’t stay. If he does, he’ll never get a good night’s sleep. He’ll constantly be watching his back and Anguilla’s what—eight square miles or something like that?”

“Yeah, something like that,” I concur. “God, Christian, he was in terrible shape when they said goodbye in February. This is going to damn near kill him having to do it again.”

“I know,” he says, zipping the duffel. “Now you see why I have to go.” I nod and kiss him passionately.

“Have a safe trip, baby,” I say against his mouth. He drops the bag and wraps his arms around me, pressing me hard into his body and kissing me deeply until I’m dizzy.

“I have a jet waiting,” he says, brushing my lips with his, “but when I get back, I’m feasting on this body until I get my fill.”

“Okay,” I breathe, still kiss-dazed and dizzy. I wobble a bit when he lets me go and just watch as he walks out of our bedroom. I sink down onto the bed wondering if this week could possibly hold any more surprises.

Again, sleep evaded me last night and I feel like a fucking zombie this morning. My man is in Anguilla, maybe for another whole day, and I haven’t heard anything yet. I didn’t get a chance to ask him about security for the twins. It completely slipped my mind with the whole “I’m leaving the country for a day or so” thing. So, with the Paparazzi hovering around, the children will stay nestled in their nursery, or as of late, in this adorable two-baby carrier I received as a gift from one of the volunteers at Helping Hands. It’s wonderful when they are both awake and I just want to have them near me, or for doctor’s appointments, and it’ll truly come in handy when I’m at Helping Hands.

Baby Carrier

Maneuvering being a mother of twins is turning out to be a bit more emotional than I thought. I know parents are not supposed to have favorites and believe me, I love my children equally, but I find that they need different levels and amounts of attention from me which requires me to spend differing amounts of time with them. Because of that, I’ve grown fond of each of them in different ways, but I’m still concerned sometimes when I spend time with one of them that the other may not be getting the attention that he or she needs. I tried to address that concern with Ace once and he admits that this was outside of his area of expertise and that I might want to talk to my pediatrician about it, unless I truly feel drawn to one twin more than the other—then, that would be something that we could discuss. Thankfully, that’s not the case.

Mommy’s Little Boy is the introvert—quietly taking in his surroundings while pondering the meaning of life. I have a feeling that My Little Extrovert—Minnie—however, will one day rule the world. She must be heard and won’t be silenced! I’m certain now that she was the one scoring all the illegal goals in my belly while Mikey silently stood by watching her curse the referee for “bad calls” while shaking his head.

Minnie doesn’t latch as hard—she eats, she’s done. Granted, she likes being there; she coos just like her brother and caresses the soft skin of my mounds while she’s feasting, looks lovingly into my eyes and all that. But when she’s done eating, she doesn’t have to sit there latched onto the breast. She can be held or rocked or put in her seat, swing, or napper… but no, not Prince Michael! Nine times out of ten, he has to fall asleep with a mouthful of nipple and a handful of tit! He’s going to be a breast man.

Last night’s stay at the hospital was an overnighter, though my visiting time was actually short. Val is wiped out from her treatments and Elliot looks like hell. He obviously isn’t getting any rest as he’s watching over her like a guardian and he won’t sleep. I agreed to spend the night in the hospital with them so that someone could be awake with Val and he could get some sleep. He needed it. He was going to have a psychotic episode any second if he didn’t close his damn eyes. Even then, he still slept fitfully.  As such, I got no sleep last night.

When I get back home this morning, Vickie’s at the Crossing. Shit! I forgot we had fittings this morning. I’m yawning and scratching my head when I get to my office where she, Marilyn, and Courtney are all waiting for me.

“I’m sorry, Vickie,” I tell her. “I haven’t had a shower or anything. I’ve been visiting a sick friend in the hospital.” She raises an eyebrow at me.

“Oh?” she says with a knowing look. “Who’s in the hospital?”

“My friend, Valerie,” I say, scrubbing my face. “Christian’s brother is dating her. We just discovered that she had a brain tumor…” I ramble while searching around on my desk for God knows what. “It’s a really long story, but the short version is that I stayed with her last night so that Elliot can get some sleep, which he still really didn’t sleep. We’re going to have to do something about that. That man is going to die if he doesn’t sleep. She’s in the hospital, for God’s sake—you would think they could have someone sit with her for an hour or two so the man could sleep! God, he looks like shit. I wonder when was the last time he had a decent meal. Good God, I hope he’s got somebody capable running the business during this time. I’ll have Christian look into that when he gets back. Shit, when is he going to be back…?”

“Ana!” Marilyn calls my name and snaps me out of my tirade. It’s only now that I realize that I’ve had this entire conversation out loud. I blink at the women around the room.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “There’s so much shit going on… Courtney, what are you doing here?” I say as an afterthought, only just registering that Courtney normally isn’t here.

“Good morning to you, too,” Courtney laughs, pointing at a stack of files that I haphazardly pushed aside on my desk. “More deliveries from Miss Grace,” she says. “She says that she already knows that there’s a lot going on, so just look at them and soon as you get a chance and report back to her.” I nod.

“Will do.”

“And I wanted your opinion about something, but you seem a bit swamped so, I’ll just ask you at another time.” I turn my attention to her.

“No, it’s fine. What is it?” I ask.

“Nah, I need you focused. You’re sleep deprived, overwhelmed, got files to look at, probably haven’t eaten yet… Another time, there’s no rush.” She stands from her seat on the sofa and I watch as Vickie’s eyes rake over her body. She has taken to dressing like Marilyn—pencil skirts with high waistlines and strappy sandals or modest three-inch pumps, occasionally with a matching jacket to finish off the business look. Today, with the spring Seattle weather, she foregoes the jacket, but wears a stylish pea coat over her simple ensemble.

“Catch ya later, Court,” Vickie says, suggestively. Courtney throws a shy smile back at Vickie.

“Um… okay,” she says with a wave, her voice a little shaky. She raises her eyebrows at me and leaves the room. Marilyn laughs to herself and assumes her perpetual position of looking down at her tablet. Vickie watches Courtney until she disappears out the office door.

That was Courtney Wilson?” she asks incredulously. “Fred and Addy’s bratty little entitled granddaughter?”

“Yep,” I say, nearly falling into my office chair, after not finding what I have no idea I was looking for.

“What the hell did you do to her?” Vickie probes. “She’s… pleasant and… desirable… Damn, she’s hot! You’d never know with all that yapping she used to do. What the fuck? What happened?”

Life happened,” I reply. “The Wilsons disowned her, but to be fair, I think she disowned them just as much as they disowned her.” I can’t seem to get it together. I’m so tired.

“Coffee?” Marilyn says. I nod. If I hope to just make it back up the stairs, I better have a cup.

“Should I come back at another time?” Vickie asks. I shake my head.

“No, it’s fine. You’ve come all this way. It’s not your fault my family is falling apart.” I stand from my seat. “Where do you need me?” Vickie chuckles and rises from her chair.

“Word of advice. You’re hot and I’m gay. Don’t ever ask that question again, especially since that little morsel just walked out of the room and I didn’t jump her bones. Over here, arms out.” I snicker and move in front of her, assuming the position.

“You’re a horn dog, you know that?” I tease. She raises her eyes to me as she’s bringing the measuring tape around my breast.

“And…?” she says, as if it’s common knowledge. “I love beautiful women. I love their bodies, especially their breasts…” She looks at the number on the measuring tape and whispers “Damn” under her breath.

“Watch it,” I warn.

“Shut up,” she says, touching information into her iPad. “You grew a rack overnight. I have to measure it and don’t get to grope it.” She moves to my waist. “So, will you give me her number?”

“No,” I say flatly.

“Cockblocker,” she says, moving to my hips.

“Um, at least one of us would have to have a cock for me to do that,” I tell her. “I’m not your pimp, Vickie. I’m not giving you her number. But I will give her your number if she asks for it now that I know you’re interested. And if you want to pursue her, she’s at the Center almost all the damn time.” Vickie nods.

“Well, that’s a solid. Thanks for that much… cockblocker,” she teases and I laugh again. “Goddammit, Ana, what’s with the ass?”

Oh, I needed that like I needed another hole in my head!

“Thanks a lot, Victoria!” I shoot and the negative self-image starts to rear its ugly head.

“Oh, lighten the fuck up,” she snaps, without a missing a beat. “There’s nothing wrong with it. You were just so damn tiny before. Now, you’ve got a real ass. I’m gonna make that bun look good,” she says licking her lips and checking me out. Suddenly, the self-consciousness crawls back into the darkness where it came from.

“Go make me look fabulous, you horny bitch,” I say waving her off. She bursts out into hearty laughter.

“Just so that you know, not many people can talk to me that way,” she says, putting away her tools and iPad. “Same shoe size?”

“More people should,” I say. “And yes, nothing happened to my feet, thank God.” I don’t know what I would do with all those damn Louboutins if my feet had gotten permanently bigger.

“Okay. Next week? Same Bat time? Same Bat channel?” I nod.

“See you then.” She leaves and I sit at my desk for a moment to take a look at the files Grace sent to me. Marilyn comes back with my coffee and I take a welcome sip.

“Mare, I’ve got a project for you and I need it done kind of quickly,” I say.

“So, what else is new?” she chuckles. I nod. I know that I would truly be lost without her.

“I need you to find out what needs to be done to get Valerie home,” I tell her. “She’s currently getting radiation and chemotherapy and from what Elliot says, she’s done with the chemo, but needs at least two more weeks of the radiation. The hospital is doing a really good job, as best as they can, but he needs more moral and physical support and he’s not getting it. She’s going to need around-the-clock care; we want to know how feasible it is for her to go back to the hospital to get her radiation treatments or to even have them administered at home if that’s possible. I’d like to see to getting her out of there as soon as is safely possible for her condition.” Elliot is truly going to just tap out if he keeps up this pace.

“You want to try to get her this care at Elliot’s place or at her place?” Marilyn asks.

“Neither,” I tell her. “Here at the Crossing.”


CHRISTIAN

“Wake up, baby.”

I shower my wife’s angelic face with tender kisses as she’s sprawled across one of the sofas in my den. It’s about 1pm Friday when we return to the States, and we came straight to the Crossing after touching down. I’m dying to know how she ended up in here.

“Butterfly, wakey, wakey…”

“Hmmm…?” She raises her head sleepily and unfolds like a hot little kitten. I’m glad that I’m crouched in front of her in a comfortable pair of cargo pants or I would be extremely uncomfortable from this unreal woody that has developed in my pants right now. “Christian… hey, you’re back.” Her voice is wistful. “What happened? What time is it? Where’s Chuck?” She has barely opened her eyes and the questions are firing at me faster than a speeding bullet. I find it rather funny.

“First things first, what are you doing in here on the sofa?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I honestly don’t know,” she says. “I was tired and looking for a close place to lie down. This place won.” I shake my head.

“Somebody wants to say hi.” I hold my hand out and watch Butterfly’s face light up as Keri comes into view.

“Keri!” she exclaims. “You’re here! You’re back! What happened?” She sits up and holds her arms out and Keri walks into her embrace.

“Home wahsn’t home witout mi Choonks,” she says, her voice muffled in Butterfly’s neck.

“I’m so glad to see you!” Butterfly exclaims, pulling her down onto the sofa. “Wait… does this mean… you’re staying? You’re here for good?” Keri holds her head down and blushes.

“Ah don knoh,” she says softly. “Ah’d like to,” she adds.

“She’s here for good,” Chuck reinforces from the end of the sofa, catching glances from both of us, but none more adoring than from Keri. She smiles widely and turns back to Butterfly.

“Ah guess Ah’m heyah foh gud!” she says gleefully. She and Butterfly exchange a sincere embrace.

“Oh, there’s so much I have to tell you! But first, you have to tell me why you’re so thin,” Butterfly says concerned. Keri drops her head.

“I miss mi Choonks,” she says sadly. “I no miss food.” Butterfly cups her cheeks.

“No more of that,” she says. “We have to get you back to a healthy weight. Come! Come! There’s so much that you’ve missed!” She pulls Keri by the hand and leads her toward the door. “The twins have changed so much! They’re gorgeous! You have to come and see them. Are you hungry? We’ll get you a snack first. You must be hungry after that long flight. And Al and James got married, just last weekend. The ceremony was beautiful. They were going to have it in the backyard, but at the last minute, they decided to have it at the hospital. Oh! Valerie! Poor Valerie! Wait ‘til I tell you what happened to her…”

Butterfly and Keri have long since left the den and her voice can still be heard fading down the hallway. I turn to Chuck, who looks at me and shrugs.

“Your wife,” he says.

“Speaking of which,” I say, gesturing him to the French doors that lead to my office. “Are you going to marry her?”

“If I have to,” he says, without hesitation. “I’m eventually going to marry her anyway. I’m sure she would rather her wedding not be something that’s rushed for citizenship, but if that’s the only way…” He shrugs.

“Maybe we can get her a work visa, then you can take your time,” I suggest. “She’s a teacher, right?” He nods.

“A teacher certified in a foreign country with a heavy Jamaican accent. I can’t even begin to know what kind of paces they would put her through to get a job here.”

“Well, she’s on vacation now. We’ll talk to her; find out what she wants to do then work on getting her citizenship. If I know Butterfly, she’ll spend the first week fattening her up, the second week toning her up, the third week dressing her up… you’re going to have to jockey for time with her.”

“It may be a moot point,” he tells me. “She may already be carrying my child.”

Wha…?

“You had unprotected sex?” I ask him. He shrugs.

“The first time I was ambushed…” The first time? “The next time… well, the next several times…” Show off. “It was a foregone conclusion. She wanted to get pregnant. She wanted a part of me after I was gone.”

“And now?” I ask.

“Now, it doesn’t matter. Whatever happens, happens. She’s my family.”

“But you were going to leave her,” I accuse.

“I wasn’t going to leave her leave her, Christian,” he defends. “I would have taken care of my child, wherever he or she was. And eventually, wherever Keri was, I was going to be. If I couldn’t convince her to come here and be with me…” He trails off.

“You would have lost your mind… nothing to do but monitor that one psycho beach bum day and night. You would have gone stir crazy.”

“I would have gone crazier without her.” Jason comes barreling into the office.

“Your wife must have been bored!” he declares, upon entry. I frown.

“Why do you say that?” I ask.

“The apartment? Sophie’s bedroom? It’s finished! It’s got a painted accent wall and everything—dark fucking purple! It was bare when we left!” I put my hand on my hip.

“Excuse me—that’s your daughter in the space next to your apartment. How did this become something my wife did and not yours?” I ask, perplexed.

“Because she said that she was going to ask Ana for help before we left…”

“Help!” I interject. “Keyword… help, which means if anything, my wife was an accomplice, not the perpetrator. So, roll that back, Mr. Taylor.” Chuck struggles to suppress his laughter. “What are you laughing at? You’re not far behind.”

“You two might as well can it. They were both bored,” he says. “I gave you no notice before you flew to Anguilla. That means you gave them even less.” I roll my eyes.

“Well, the bedroom is completely finished. It looks like they brought an interior decorator in there. And the rest of the apartment looks like it just exploded in Teenage Mutant High School Musical.” I can’t suppress the scoffing laugh that escapes me. I can only imagine what new trends will be the “But Daddy, I have to have it” thing when Mackenzie is Sophie’s age.

“What are you laughing at? You’re not far behind,” Chuck says, using my own words against me. I just laugh some more. I won’t admit that I was thinking the same thing.

“I’ve got a long way to go before my baby is at that stage,” I say. “You’re right there with us with the bored wife/significant other.” He nods and rubs his neck.

“I would agree we need to find something for her to do,” he says.

“She just got here,” Jason says. “Give her a chance to settle in.”

“Yes, we know that, but sooner or later, we’re going to have to make some decisions about what’s going to happen with her,” I say. “We’re just getting a jump on things before they get a jump on us.” I walk behind my desk and sit down, having had this entire conversation on my feet. I’m really going to have to look at my schedule and what’s been going on over the last several weeks. I feel out of sorts—like things have been going on without me while I’ve been trying to sort out this mess that is my life—which is exactly what’s been going on, if I’m honest.

“Listen, liaise with Alex and plan to meet with me next week,” I tell them both. “Correspond with Andrea for meeting times. I want a debrief and department meeting on current security issues—a state of the union, so to speak.” Jason frowns.

“Is something up, Boss?” I shake my head.

“A lot’s been going on. I’m just really out of touch and I don’t like it.” I wake my computer and shoot off an email to Andrea to notify department heads to prepare for a “state of the company” meeting with each of their departments. Security, accounting, legal, and PR will be first on the agenda, as well as a meeting with Ros—my second in command—to bring me up to date on important issues that I’ve been out of the loop on because of life… you know, the birth of my children, my brother’s girlfriend’s brain tumor, the Pedophile’s trial… silly little things.

“There’s not much going on that you don’t know about,” Jason assures me. “The new guards for the twins have been vetted and they’ll be brought on site next week. Besides that, everything else is business as usual.

“That’s just it, Jason. I’ve been so out of the loop lately that I don’t know what business as usual is,” I tell him. He nods.

“Okay. I’ll get with Alex, and we’ll set something up for early in the week,” he says.

“I want updates on our latest watch list. You know what happens when we become complacent,” I tell him. He nods again. Complacency resulted in Butterfly getting T-boned and nearly killed. I send an email to Ros about meeting with me next week and liaising with Andrea with a good time. She responds almost immediately with a shot about this meeting being way overdue since Al probably knows more about what’s going on in my life than she does and with GEH than I do. I fire back an email with a slight warning tone praising her for her hard work during my personal quandaries, adding a not-so-gentle reminder of who’s the boss of the company.

She doesn’t respond.

I spend the afternoon combing through more GEH business from my study, setting up meetings for next week and looking through long overdue emails while Chuck gets Keri settled again in their apartment and Butterfly heads off to her therapy session with Ace. Chuck informs me that in the near future, he and Keri will move back to his house in Bainbridge, but not yet. He wants her to stay near the familiar until they decide exactly what their next move is going to be. I assure him that I have no problem with that.

*-*

It’s well past 9pm when I finally emerge from my study. I’ve got several meetings set up with departments and department heads next week, opting to move the usual department head meeting to first thing Monday morning. This meeting will only be to announce the “State of the Company” sessions that will be in progress as well as to make one other long overdue company-wide announcement.

I will be informing my department heads of my wife’s equal ownership of the business.

I know this may not go over well with some of them as I can clearly remember the reaction of my prior panel of attorneys when I announced this intention in our prenuptial agreement. However, things have changed significantly in my life and only look to change even more as time progresses. My family is expanding; the dynamic of our lives is changing in ways I never even imagined; and I’ve never been one to procrastinate, but if Elliot and Valerie’s situation has taught me anything, it’s that life is way too short and you never know what the fuck it’s going to throw at you. When my wife was nearly ripped from me, all I could think was “Please, bring her back.” When she came back, all I could think was, “I’ll never let her go.” I wanted to hold on for dear life and just stay suspended in the moment.

Then, Valerie got a brain tumor.

Who do you blame for a brain tumor? How do you prepare for that fucking contingency? What the hell do you do if the love of your life is ripped from your arms because of a malignant growth inside of her body that’s been slowly taking her away for months? What do you do with that information? Just as I was trying to process that information, Keri subconsciously damn-near starves herself to death!

Fucking hell!

I have never felt more ready to get my ducks in a row and make sure my life is in order than I do right now. GEH doesn’t need an overhaul or anything, but everything that has been going on has resulted in small changes that I need to be kept abreast of, and as a partial owner of the company, so does my wife. So, now is the time to make the official announcement, be brought up to date on things that might have slipped past me and bring Butterfly into the loop.

I’m rubbing my eyes and walking towards the elevator. I surprised to Butterfly in her parlor as I pass. She’s sitting on her sofa and staring at a roaring fire in the fireplace.

Uh oh… that usually means contemplation. I knock on the open door so as not to startle her.

“Hey,” I say, entering the room after she looks over at me.

“Hey,” she says, turning her attention back to the fire.

“Is everything alright?” I ask. She sighs.

“I went by to see Valerie after my rambling session with Ace,” she says. Rambling session.

“You had a lot to talk about?” I say, stating the obvious.

“Too much. It wasn’t very productive. More informative than anything—information to put in the file… on the shelf, so to speak.” She twists up her hair and throws it over her shoulder onto her back. Okay, her session with Ace was uneventful, so it must be Valerie.

“How is Valerie? Doing better, I hope.” She shakes her head.

“The radiation has her depressed and wiped out. I’ve been trying to get over there every day, to sit with her and bring her something palatable to eat. She mostly sleeps, but she says that me being there makes her feel better. She’s really bummed about her hair. I know the feeling. She cries a lot.” She’s lamenting over the condition of her friend. “She still feels horrible about how she treated me when she didn’t know she had the tumor. I keep trying to tell her that nothing she said or did back then counts because she wasn’t Valerie, she was Tumor Valerie, but it doesn’t help. She missed my pregnancy, the baby shower, Thanksgiving, the birth of the twins… somewhat.” She rubs her eyes and puts her free hand on her forehead. “You would think as a shrink I would know the perfect things to say to make this all better, but she’s inconsolable.” I move over to where she is on the sofa.

“I’m sure she’s just relieved that you two have gotten things together, as am I,” I say, sitting next to her and gently stroking her hair. “Give her time. Once this is over and she’s well again, this will all be just a bad memory.” Butterfly scoffs a bit.

“Imagine that,” she laments. “I hit my head and lose my memories—some of them forever, it seems—and she develops a fucking brain tumor.” She shakes her head. “Maybe we should get matching helmets and tin-foil hats.” I hope that was a joke because I chuckle a bit. “Elliot, though… your brother is a prince among men,” she adds. “This has been utter hell for him and he hasn’t faltered one bit. I don’t know what Grace and Carrick put in your milk when you two were younger, but I thank God for how they raised you every day of my life and I’m sure that Val does, too.” She’s looking at me with glassy blue eyes and I place a gentle kiss on her lips.

“We Grey men just know a good thing when we see it, Mrs. Grey,” I say, softly. She touches my cheek gently as a tear falls from the corner of her eye.  She looks at me questioning. “What is it, baby?”

“I… I know I have no right to ask, but…” I put my finger over her lips.

“Don’t ever say that to me,” I tell her. “You have a right to ask anything of me, do you understand?” Her eyes sadden.

“This is a big one,” she says. “A really, really big one.” I sigh and cuddle her in my arms.

“Okay, lay it on me.” She swallows hard.

“I know the timing is terrible, especially with everything already going on around us, but I’ve had Marilyn doing some research and I’d like Elliot and Val to move in here with us for a while.” I freeze. She’s right, that is a big one… huge!

“Um…” I’m at a loss of words.

“I told you it was big,” she says, her voice deflated. The sound guts me.

“Have you talked to Elliot about this?” I ask. “What does Valerie say?”

“I haven’t talked to anybody yet, except Marilyn to do so initial research on what would be involved. I wanted to talk to you first.” That’s oddly comforting. I half expected her to put her head together with Valerie and make the offer, then spring in on me… just because she so considerate and wants to help her friend. She pushes out of my arms and sits up to face me. I immediately miss the closeness.

“I know there’s a lot of people in the house, but we have a huge house. We could open a fucking bed and breakfast if we wanted to. Elliot is exhausted. He doesn’t leave the hospital. I don’t know who’s running his business, but they need to apply for sainthood… as does he. He doesn’t sleep. He’s not eating well. He’s worried to death about her. I’m sure that we can get her all the care that she needs here. She’ll be around friends; we can make her comfortable; she’ll have somebody with her around the clock—good food, good company… we can get her to her treatments or even get her treatments brought here if they can be, and he can get some rest! And Christian, there’s something else.” I look into her eyes.

“What is it, Butterfly?” I ask.

“I’ve lost so much time… we’ve lost so much time. It hurts… I can’t get it back—I know I can’t get it back, but…” Her tears flow freely now as she looks down into her lap. “Under normal circumstances… if we weren’t married… if there was no Elliot… this is what I would do. I would have put all of my patients on hold or moved to part-time and moved her into my guest room. I would have hired a nurse and a caretaker and I would have been there the rest of the time. I would have known the moment she was sick, the minute something was wrong…”

And there it is. She loves Valerie, always has, and I know that she still blames herself for not knowing sooner that something was ghastly wrong with her friend.

“Butterfly, you did know something was wrong. You said it more than once, several times, in fact. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink, baby.”

“I should have done something!” she shouts, shooting up from her seat. “I was all sensitive about my feelings and my wedding, thinking that she was inconsiderate for suggesting something in front of my mother-in-law and look what was going on! We’ve been friends for over ten years, Christian… ten years! I should have known something! I should have known something was wrong!”

She buries her face in her hands and weeps bitterly, her mournful sobs saying all that her words couldn’t. Agony rips from her chest with each of her cries and I can’t stand it. I would literally crawl on my hands and knees through hell, fire, and brimstone and bring her the beating heart of Satan himself to keep from hearing the sounds that are wrenching from her soul right now.

“Baby, please,” I beseech her as I wrap her in my arms in an attempt to comfort her and end my own pain as well. “We’ll find out as much as we can, and we’ll talk to Elliot and Valerie together and see what they think, okay?” Anything… please… just stop this. My chest aches… bleeds… no, stabs listening to these sounds tearing from her heart. “Sssshhh, baby, please…” I stroke her back and kiss her forehead, silently vowing to somehow make it right. She nods, her face buried in my chest, but her crying doesn’t cease. I lift her into my arms and take her back to the sofa, sitting down and placing her on my lap. I allow her to cry for a few more moments, but I just can’t take it anymore.

Butterfly… please…

I push her hair away from her forehead and kiss her repeatedly. I continue to brush her hair from her face, gently kissing wherever my lips can reach. She’s weeping so violently that she’s starting to sweat. I try to dry the wetness from her face, still kissing her temples, her eyebrows, her eyelids.

Please stop crying, baby…

I push her long locks off her face and they fall down her back. Stray tresses cling to her skin and I push them away from her face, out of my way so that I can kiss her tears away.

I’ll make it right, Butterfly… I promise… please, don’t cry…

Her weeping only wanes slightly as I shower her face with gentle kisses. I use my thumbs to brush away the tears that have collected on her cheek. She has shrunk into my chest with her weeping, but I force her to lift her face to me to that I can kiss her cheek, her chin, her jaw… anything to distract her from the pain that making her heart ache so much right now… and mine.

It’ll be fine, baby… it’ll be okay…

Her cries are slowly morphing into soft whimpers as she lies back in my arm… vulnerable, beautiful. God, I love her so much. I want to protect her from the world—from anything and everything that could possibly make her unhappy. I never want to hear the sound of anguish that I heard from her moments ago. It was like what I heard when she and Ray fought, and I couldn’t comfort her, then. It ripped my soul to shreds.

I love you, Butterfly…

I gently cup her cheek, her face upturned to me—tearstained and weary. I close my lips over hers… once… twice… God, her lips are so soft. I kiss her again softly… again… and again… soothing her aching soul and mine. Her breathing changes, but I don’t change the kiss except to gently run my tongue over her mouth and kiss her again. Her arm tightens slightly around my shoulders while her hand flattens softly against my chest. Her lips part and I’m tempted to thrust my tongue between them. Instead, gently lick the inside and continue the tender tasting of her mouth. Her soul calls to me… softly… a brief whisper…

Christian…

My spirit responds autonomously…

I’ve got you, baby…

I’ll talk to Marilyn… and Jason… see what needs to be done to get Valerie comfortably moved into the closest and largest guest room as soon as possible… but not yet. Not right now. Right now, I gently press my hand into her hair, caressing her scar where her hair is the shortest and supporting her head, savoring the flavor of her breath and showering her with tender kisses until our lips are numb and her mourning has long since ceased.

*-*

“Hello?”

“Good morning, Marilyn. It’s Christian. I hope I haven’t disturbed you.” It’s Saturday morning and I spent way too much time last night trying to get my lamenting wife to sleep. I can’t allow her request to wait another moment. I’ve waited as long as I could already.

“Um, hi, Christian… no, not really. Is everything okay?” No. My Butterfly slept fitfully all night and she tells me that you’re the first go-to person on this matter.

“I didn’t wake you, did I? I can call back…”

“I’m fine, Christian,” she assures me. “What’s up?”

“I didn’t know if you were planning on working today. Butter… Ana’s out of it. It was a long night, but… I need your assistance if you’re available.” There’s a long pause.

“You need me?” she says in surprise. I nod, forgetting that she’s on the phone and can’t see me.

“Yes,” I say, clearing my throat. “Butte…” fuck it. “Butterfly said that she asked you to gather information about possibly bringing Valerie to live with us. I know she just asked you to do it yesterday and I’m not trying to rush you or anything, but I was wondering if you had a chance to gather any information.” Another long pause.

“Um, yeah, actually, I have,” she says. “By the time I had gotten the information, she fell asleep; then Keri came home; then she went to see Ace; then she went to see Val; it got late… you know the drill.”     

Oh, good! Marilyn is nothing if not efficient as fuck. I know she will have gotten all the information that we need to get Valerie moved in if we can get her and Elliot to agree to it.

“I know you’re not… um, probably not… scheduled to work today, but… if it’s not too much of an imposition…” Why the fuck am I stuttering? If she wants to bring the information over, she can bring the information over. If not… “You can just email it if it’s too much trouble.”

“Christian, may I ask… what happened last night?” No doubt, she’s picking up on my obvious discomfort. “I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds. If I am, I apologize.”

And now I realize why I’m stuttering. The last time we really talked, our relationship was a bit strained. If she doesn’t give me the information that she has, I have to start from scratch. That being the case, talking to Elliot and Valerie and setting up what needs to be done with the doctors and nurses and home health care aides and any equipment delivery could be delayed for days… and seeing Butterfly in the condition that she was in last night for even one more moment is an unacceptable option. Bearing that in mind, I need to get that information that she has like yesterday and since she’s done the research, it’ll be easier if she goes over it with me.

“Butterfly…” I run my hands through my hair. “She’s having a really hard time with what’s going on with Valerie. She feels responsible for not knowing sooner that something was medically wrong as opposed to mentally. She took it really hard last night and… she had a very hard time falling asleep. I’d really like to get a jump on whatever can be done to make this transition as quick and easy for Elliot and Valerie as possible, but I can’t do anything until I talk to them and I can’t talk to them until I have information… and I can’t spend another night with my wife like that,” I add. “She feels helpless. She has to do something and the longer we wait…”

“I’ll be there in thirty,” she interrupts. “Gary will be with me.” I try—and most likely fail—to hide my relief.

“I’m sure Butterfly won’t mind… and thank you.”


A/N: First, Ana extends a ginormous “thank you” to Barbara (Beachycolor) for the gift of the double baby carrier. Guaranteed that she will get lots and lots of use out of it!  

Next, Sophie is going to be a bit more prominent in other parts of the story and maybe in a one-shot or short spin-off of her own. To that end, I’ve created a Pinterest page for her scrapbook. I would love for my beloved readers to help in the development of this character and her style. I’ve pretty much gotten in my head what her personality is going to be like, but I think it would be fun for people to see a piece of their suggestions in her. How can you be a part of this? I’m glad you asked. There are several ways that you can contribute.

1) If you have a Pinterest ID, you can send me a message on Pinterest and I will make you a direct contributor of the album “Sophie’s Scrapbook.”

2) If you are on my Facebook page, you can send me a direct IM with links, pictures, or suggestions.

3) You can click the “Contact me” link on the WordPress page and send a direct email to me with links, pictures, or suggestions.

4) You can email me directly at bg.holmes@butterflysaga.com.

I look forward to what we can come up with for this bright and beautiful little girl. There will be some mentions of her in the main story, but I honestly look forward to her having a little story of her own… nothing as detailed as the any one of the tetralogy (so far), but something to get an idea of who she is and what happens to her.

Five more to go…

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

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

Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X