Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 22

PLOT EXPLANATION—In Carla and Wendy’s defense (OMG, she’s defending Carla? Yes, just this once), you can turn over a new leaf and become a better person. You just can’t go back and undo the things that you did. So, Carla has decided, “I’m a shit person, I need to change,” and she did… but that didn’t help Ana at all. When she could help Ana, she was that shit person, and she stayed that shit person for a long time and that’s all Ana knows. Since we see the story through Ana’s eyes, that’s all we know.

Wendy met Carla after she shed the shit person, so she doesn’t know the shit person. She knows the “wonderful” person that Carla is now, that everybody else knows. Think about it—how many people pre-Stephen Morton are still in Carla’s life? How many people really know what type of person she was?

Think about if you meet someone and they have a wonderful spirit and wonderful characteristics. You get to know them, you like them a lot, you become friends. Then they tell you, “I used to be a really bad person,” and they proceed to tell you all the horrible things they did before they changed including alienating a child. You may say, “Wow, you did all that?” But, if you’re human, you’ll then say, “It’s a good thing you turned your life around.” This is the view that everyone post-Stephen Morton has of Carla. Ana’s camp is pre-Stephen Morton (as are all of us) and that shit ain’t flying with us.

I’m only saying that to say this. Be angry at Carla—we all are, but don’t be angry with Wendy. Wendy doesn’t know the same Carla that we do. Carla told Wendy about her past and Wendy chose to gauge her on her present instead of judging her on her past. She only brought it up to Ana once and told her that Carla was sorry. Ana told Wendy that she wasn’t going to discuss it, and Wendy respected that and never brought it up again. However, Wendy still loves the friend that she knows, just like Ana (and we) despises the woman that she (and we) knows.

I hope this sheds a little light on the subject.

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

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

Season 5 Episode 22

ANASTASIA

We decide to have dinner at a French restaurant called the Picasso in the Bellagio Hotel. As it turns out, they have a dress code and almost turned Sophie away because of her sandals. I wasn’t going to argue. Anyone who doesn’t want my green money, I can take it elsewhere, but Chuck sees the disappointment on Sophie’s face, and speaking of green money…

He leans in to the host and whispers, “C’mon man, she’s 13.” I see him discreetly slide something to the host and when he takes a closer look at it, his eyes sparkle.

“Well,” he says, “I guess we can make an exception just this once.”

I know that Christian doesn’t carry anything smaller than $100 bills in his pocket. I wonder if it’s the same with his security, because I know a twenty wouldn’t have elicited that kind a sparkle.

For kicks, I ask Sophia what she would like. She studies the menu for a moment and then announces that she would like the Menu Dégustation without the Sommelier’s wine pairing. I raise a brow at her.

“What’s on the Menu Dégustation?” I ask. She twists her lips.

“Aunt Ana are you testing me?” she asks.

“Kinda,” I admit. She looks at the menu.

“The Chef’s feature—Jamón de Bellota, Iberico, Cinco Jotas—is ham, like prosciutto. The first course, lobster salad, easy enough. The second—pan seared scallop with jus de veau, that’s veal broth. The third—Foie Gras—that’s liver, probably duck, but they’ll have to hold the honey caramel cognac from mine. And for the main course, we already had Wagyu at Once and the halibut seems plain, so I’ll be choosing the roasted tournedos loin of Colorado lamb.” She puts the menu down and awaits my response.

“Wow,” I say. “I’m equally impressed and appalled.” She frowns.

“Why are you appalled?” she asks.

“You’re 13,” she says. “I speak French—that’s why I knew what those things were. You know way more about international foods than I do, and I’ve been to France. That means you’ve had quite a bit of time on your hands.” She shrugs again.

“It happens,” she says, nonchalantly. “We all know about Mom and how I started watching cooking shows.”

“What about school and friends?” I ask.

“School’s fine, but boring. I catch on to everything kind of fast, so… And my friends, they’re cool. We talk on the phone and stuff, hang out at school, but some of the stuff they like I don’t like… and none of them are really interested in cooking.”

“Do you still feel left out?” I ask.

“Only when they start talking about boys they like,” she admits before dropping her head. “I don’t like any of the boys at my school. I’ll probably never have a boyfriend.”

That’s because you’re too busy pining over Marlow, but I don’t say that out loud.

“You never know what the future holds, Sophie,” I tell her. “You’re still so young. You’ve got your whole like ahead of you. Wonderful things could happen.” She fakes a faint smile.

“Yeah, I know,” she says dismissively, and that’s my cue to change the subject.

“Okay, enough of this depressing crap. What did you think of the show?”

And now, her eyes are alight with excitement. She can’t stop talking about “O” all the way through dinner. Even though we could see the changing of the stage from solid to pool, she was still mesmerized by the transformation of the floor to accommodate the different scenes. She pays so much attention to detail that she was the most astonished by the fact that whenever the performers went slowly in and out of the water, their facial expressions didn’t change. They didn’t take deep breaths to prepare for submersion; they didn’t close their eyes—they just came out and went back in like the water wasn’t even there.

And the Marlow crisis is averted.

As Sophie sleeps in the Romper Room suite with the twins and Keri, Gail and Jason take the suite that Daddy had for a little privacy for the evening. I check on my babies and kiss them Goodnight, then check in on Marilyn, who gives me a brief update of all things Helping Hands and Seattle before I head back to my husband and our suite.

“Did you get any rest?” I scold when I see him in the office portion of the suite.

“Yeah,” he replies, looking up from the computer and removing his glasses, “not a lot, but some. You know I can’t really sleep without you, but I was beat.” He walks over to me and kisses me quickly on the lips. “How was the show?”

“Phenomenal!” I tell him. “The performers were unbelievable. Their control and precision were outstanding. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life!”

“Not even Moulin Rouge?” he baits.

“Christian, not even Moulin Rouge. This show was a completely different setting and caliber. I wouldn’t even know how to compare it to Moulin Rouge, but on content alone—better, much better.”

“Wow,” he says, “I’m a little jealous that I didn’t go, but you were right. I was exhausted. As riveting as the show may have been, I most likely would have fallen asleep, and that wouldn’t have made you happy.” I chuckle.

“No, it wouldn’t. Anything new on the home front? How’s GEH?”

“Same old, same old,” he says going back to his computer. “The new initiatives we put in place are working like a charm. People are finally beginning to value their jobs again.”

“Good, because while I love the whole power couple thing, I don’t want to do it as a full-time job,” I say following him back to the office area. “I realize I can’t just drop the ball and run, but I do have Helping Hands to be concerned about. Mosele, however, has one more time to pull that sideways shit on me that he did and I’m going to bounce him out on his ass on GP!” He chuckles.

“I’m surprised you haven’t done it before now,” he says, “but giving him a day or two off was enough to scare him straight. In case he is bounced out on his ass, he knows he’s going to have a record of insubordination. That doesn’t fare well for him.”

“His mouth doesn’t fare well for him,” I respond, stretching my neck. “I take it Jason and Gail are still enjoying Vegas.”

“I think they are,” he says.

“They needed it,” I say with a yawn.

“And you need some rest,” he says. I stretch.

“Christian, my mother is exhausting me,” I admit. He stands from the chair again.

“That’s it—bath, then bed, and if you don’t go to sleep, I’ll eat you to sleep.” I sigh.

“Christian, I can’t possibly have sex tonight,” I protest.

“I didn’t say I’d fuck you to sleep, I said I’d eat you to sleep. Come on, let’s go…”

As much as I would have liked it, I didn’t need the cunnilingus. I fell asleep in the bathtub and had to be carried to the bed.

*-*

Wendy’s there when we get there. I have the sneaking suspicion that she never left, even though I don’t remember if she was wearing the same clothes. She tells me that my mother has had several visitors, but that it’s done very little for her spirits. Wendy pulls me out to the hallway to talk to me.

“She’s extremely depressed,” she says, “as I would expect her to be for finding out that she can’t walk. It’s going to take a lot of therapy to bring her out of this, and not just the physical kind. One of her greatest joys was being able to help the people at the rehab center. Now, she may very well be one of the people at the center.”

“Do you think she would want to do rehab at the place where she worked?” I ask.

“Honestly, I don’t know, I was speaking metaphorically,” she points out, “but, no, I don’t think she would want that…”

“Wendy!”

Wendy turns to the man who’s walking towards her with purpose.

“For the love of God, it took you long enough,” she says and embraces the man warmly. I’m assuming he’s a brother or something. The embrace was more familial than romantic.

“I’ll have you know that I’ve been here,” he scolds her. “I was out of town for the last two days, so don’t give me any of your lip.”

“Well, get in there,” she says, shoving him towards the door. He moves to go into my mother’s room, then looks at me and does a double take.

“You’re Anastasia,” he says, and now I examine him a bit. He’s an older, attractive gentleman, a little older than Chuck maybe… maybe Jason’s age.

“Yes?” I say, questioning.

“She hasn’t told you about me. That’s discouraging.” Who is this guy?

“She hasn’t had much time to tell me anything at all,” like key details of the accident, for instance. He extends his hand to me.

“I’m Abramio Cicci. You can call me Abe.” I cautiously take his proffered hand.

“Abe.” I’m still full of questions why I should know who this guy is.

“I’m—for lack of a better word—dating Carla.”

Dating Carla? He’s dating my mother?

“You know she’s my mother, right?” I ask. He laughs.

“Yes, Ana, your mother is seven years my senior,” he replies, answering my unasked questions.

“You also know that we don’t speak,” I continue. “I’m only here to make sure she’s squared away.” He nods sadly.

“Yes, I know the whole story,” he confesses. “I was hoping that this whole situation—the accident and the trial—would have changed some of that. I’m sure that she was hoping, too, though she won’t admit it.”

“It’s a bit too complicated to discuss with someone I barely know,” I say dismissively.

“I understand,” he says, sadly, then turns to Wendy, who just purses her lips. “I’m going to go in now.” Wendy nods and he goes in.

“Hm, my mother has a boyfriend,” I say.

“Of sorts,” Wendy says. I turn to her, but I say nothing. “She won’t let him get too close. He clearly adores her, but she handles him with a long-handled spoon.”

“Well, maybe that’ll change now,” I say. “She needs all the support she can get.” Wendy raises her brow at me, and her eyes say what I know her mouth won’t.

And yet, she doesn’t have yours.

I’m not moved by her internal judgment. I got past it the day I cried off the nurses talking about me at the nurses’ station. In fact, Christian was summoned to the administrative office to speak to someone about their behavior as soon as we got to the hospital this morning… and none of those nurses are on duty now. It could be that they’re not on shift anymore, but I don’t care.

“You really don’t know your mother that well,” she says, matter-of-factly. “She’ll probably push him away more now than she did before.” I raise my brow at her.

“Why?” I ask.

“She doesn’t want to lean on anyone. She’s only begrudgingly allowing me to help her. She thinks Gabe is only with her out of gratitude and when that wears off, he’ll be gone. My guess is that now, she’ll push with all her might to keep from getting hurt.”

She doesn’t stay to explain. She just walks away down the hall to parts unknown. I’m certain that she’s not leaving. She’s probably just giving my mother and Abe some privacy. I look in the window at them and Abe is sitting on the bed facing my mother, gently cupping her cheek.

I stand there for a moment and watch what appears to be a tender exchange between the two of them for about five minutes before I decide that I want to know more about this guy and their relationship. I open the door a bit to come inside and hear my mother doing exactly what Wendy said she would do.

“It’s no use, Abe. I’m already too old for you and now, I’m a paraplegic. This would be the sum-total of your life if you stayed with me. I can’t do that to you. You’re young, attractive, and you still have many good years ahead of you. It’s not fair. I can’t do that to you, Abe. I can’t…”

“Don’t you get it yet?” he asks, his voice beseeching. “I’m not going away, Carla. I’ll never leave you. I love you.”

“Abe… you’re a wonderful man. Don’t make me send you away. Will you just go willingly, please?” Her voice is cracking. He sighs and stands.

“I’ll leave right now, Carla,” he says. “I’ll give you a little time and a little space, but not much. You’re not getting rid of me that easily, no matter what you say.” He leans over and kisses her gently on the cheek and then the hand before he throws a longing gaze at her and heads towards the door. He nearly bumps into me as he’s leaving, his eyes glassy and reddening with unshed tears. He says nothing as he scurries past me out the door and down the hall.

My mother apparently doesn’t know I’m standing in the door just as her suitor leaves.

“Oh, Steve. We’ve fucked up everything,” she sobs. “Why can’t I just let you go?”

She weeps bitterly into her hands and when I see that she’s just not going to stop, I enter her room. When she looks up and sees me, she reaches for a tissue to clean her face. She’s so waterlogged that the tissue does nothing more than turn to wet balls of cotton on her cheeks. I go to her en suite and wet a clean washcloth with cold water. When I return to her bedside, she’s still unsuccessfully trying to wipe her face with the tissue. I hand her the cloth and she buries her face in it, her sobbing continuing.

“Would you please give me a minute?” she asks, her voice muffled under the cloth.

“Why?” I question. They’re just tears.

“Just… please? Can I have a minute?” Now, you don’t want to show any weakness around me? Cut the crap.

“Why won’t you let that man love you?” I ask candidly. She raises puffy, bloodshot eyes to me. Boy, she looks like shit when she cries. Do I look this bad?

“You’ve never lost the man you love, Dr. Grey,” she says, her voice pained. “Yes, he was shit. He was shit all the way around. He was a horrible person—he was selfish and self-centered, self-serving, any ‘self’ word you could think of, that was Steve. But he was never unkind to me, and I loved him. I still do.” I shake my head.

“How could you love someone like that and hate Daddy?” The question is rhetorical; I don’t think I really want the answer.

“Something wrong in the belfry, I guess,” she says, gesturing to her head, “and I never hated Ray. I resented that he couldn’t give me what I thought I should have had, and I thought Steve would, but I never hated Ray. He was a good man. He always has been. He just… wasn’t meant for me.” I’ll say.

“He’s happy now,” I tell her. “He’s happier than I think I’ve ever seen him, except when you two were together in the beginning.” I fold my arms and examine my mother. “You have no one, Carla,” I say. “As far as you know, I’m walking out of this room one day with no intentions of coming back. Why won’t you let that man love you?”

That’s exactly what I plan to do. I’m going to make sure that she has all the medical care that she needs and then I’m leaving. I’m not staying here trying to reconcile with her. I don’t hate her anymore, but I still don’t want to be around her. I still can’t see her as part of my life.

“You have this man that genuinely loves you, who genuinely wants to be with you and care for you, even now, and you’re pushing him away. Why?”

“Because it’s not fair to him!” she wails. “I still love Steve!”

“And you’ll probably love him until the day you die, but he’s not coming back! Why not find happiness with the living…?”

Then it hits me.

Shit.

Shit! Shit! Shit!

This is the second husband my mother has lost to death. Even though she expected Stephen to die, she still wasn’t ready for him to go. She’s a professional fucking widow. Now, she’s tried to kill herself, and she’ll most likely do it again. She’s finally accepted the horror of what she did to me, and her life really isn’t worth anything to her anymore.

“Do I need to have you committed?” I ask. “Do you really want to die?”

The scary part about that is that she didn’t even flinch.

“I’m useless,” she says with no malice or emotion. “I’m hopelessly in love with a man that I’ll never see again because I don’t believe in that whole I’ll see you in heaven thing. If anything, I’ll see him in hell and it won’t be a loving and tender reunion, so there’s that. I found some kind of comfort and redemption in my miserable existence in taking care of other people—in being a health aide and helping those who couldn’t care for themselves. Now, I can’t even do that. I can’t walk. I can’t even do any of my volunteer work. You saw it long before now—the legs have nothing to do with it. I’m worthless.”

At one time, I really believed that. I don’t know what changed. I haven’t had this great epiphany like she’s suddenly a wonderful human being and we’ll live happily ever after, but something has definitely changed. I sigh.

“I’m going to make some arrangements for you to go to an inpatient program,” I tell her. “You’re a danger to yourself right now, so you’re going to need intense therapy. You’re going to need physical rehabilitation, too.” She doesn’t raise her eyes to me.

“Why bother?” she says, just above a whisper, and I don’t think it was meant for me to hear.

“Because I’m your last surviving relative and you’re my responsibility, and this is what I say you’re going to do.” She doesn’t respond. “I have to ask you this because I can’t wrap my mind around the answer that you gave me three years ago and I still can’t wrap my head around it now.” She raises her gaze to me.

“You once told me that Daddy was too small for you,” I say, “that you left him because you wanted more, yet the life that you lived with Daddy had more substance than the life that you lived with Stephen. I was there for three years—I saw it. You had the house and the furniture, but you couldn’t afford it. You couldn’t afford to live the way that the people around you lived; they didn’t like you; they talked bad about you; they wanted nothing to do with you.

“With Daddy, I was happy, we had friends, we both fit in as much as we could. Even now, you maintain that Daddy was too small and you don’t regret it. You don’t regret ripping our lives apart—repeatedly—and you never got this big life that you expected to get. Stephen Morton died, leaving you in worse shape than you ever would have been with Daddy! You had his medical bills; he couldn’t work; he left you nothing. How can you still contend that Daddy was too small for you? That he wasn’t for you?” She shakes her head.

“You may never get this, Anastasia,” she begins, “but I loved Ray as a result of marrying him. I married Steve as a result of loving him. Many of my decisions were butt-ass stupid and selfish and I get that. I accept that. I’ve paid for them more times than you’ll ever know, and it appears that I’m still paying for them now. Don’t misunderstand, Anastasia, I don’t feel sorry for myself and I don’t expect you to, either. In fact, I’m surprised that you’re even here. But if you want the real answer to that question, Stephen. Was. My. More! Alcoholic, lying, scheming, gambling, money-sucking, debt-ridden parasite that he was, he was my more!

44d93a91ce7ee24f9811205ef30e6425“I loved him more than I can ever explain to you. Maybe that’s my penance for the horrible person that I am and the horrible things I did—the way I treated you, the way I treated Ray, the whole kit and caboodle! I fell for the ‘donkey,’ hook, line, and sinker. And I still love him now. And maybe you can’t understand that—hell, I can’t understand it sometimes, but it’s the truth. I would have followed him anywhere. I would have done anything he told me to do—and did! And no matter what you or anybody thinks of me, I’d sell my soul to the non-existent devil today to have him back!”

As odd as it sounds, I do understand how she feels. I’d live with Christian in a cardboard box…

But no way in hell would I sacrifice my children.

I don’t respond. I just leave the room and go to the nurses’ station.

“Yes, ma’am?” the young nurse says to me.

“Is Dr. Lee still on duty?” I ask.

“I’m not sure, but I can page him and see,” she replies.

“Please?” I request and she nods. She dials some numbers on the phone and sends the page. “Can I tell him what it’s concerning when can responds?”

“Yes. Please tell him that there’s been a development with Carla Morton.”

*-*

“Dr. Grey, this is a very serious accusation, as I’m sure you know. Are you certain about this?” he asks.

“I’m about as certain as a psychiatrist who is this closely related to the patient can be,” I reply.

“But you said yourself that you haven’t had much contact with your mother,” he retorts. “No offense to you, doctor, but I have to be certain that we’re doing what’s in the best interest of the patient.” I nod.

“I see,” I say, “and notwithstanding the fact that before she was even conscious, I put my Amex Black down—which is still on file—and told you to give her the best care possible, you’re thinking that I’m not wanting what’s in the best interest of the patient because I’ve been estranged from her for several years and I’m not all warm and fuzzy right now? Is that it, Dr. Lee?”

I can tell by his expression that’s exactly what he thinks even before he opens his mouth to say my name.

“I’ll tell you what, Dr. Lee,” I say, interrupting him. “You’re obviously not going to listen to me, my suggestions, or what I feel is best for my mother. So, she’s in your care now. You do what you feel needs to be done for her since you’re convinced that I don’t care, but while you’re sitting on that ‘God’ horse, consider this.

“I just told you that I think that woman is suicidal; that she drove her car off that bridge and it was not an accident; that she feels that she is no use to anyone anywhere especially since she’s paralyzed and even in that condition, I think she’s a danger to herself. I have given you my professional opinion as a doctor sworn under the same oath you took, and I have made a personal request as her daughter and next of kin. You can get her the psychiatric evaluation that she needs to determine if she’s in any imminent mental or emotional danger, or don’t, if you choose not to do so. Either way, if she hurts herself, it’s on you. And if she really drove her car off that overpass, you can believe that she’s going to hurt herself. Trust me, I’m a professional,” I add sarcastically.

“Let me know what you decide.” I turn and walk away down the hall towards the elevators without another word.


CHRISTIAN

“I understand your concern, Mr. Grey.”

I’m sitting at the side of a conference table with members of the hospital board as well as a patient advocate—more like a patient’s family advocate. She’s here on my behalf. The gentleman speaking right now is Milton Banks, CEO. I’ve explained the behavior of the nurses and the doctor in the ICU and many of them are appalled by their behavior. One or two sit silent and stoic.

“I agree that no one should be treated that way while seeing to the care of a family member,” he continues.

“It’s deplorable, Mr. Banks,” the advocate points out. “Whatever Dr. Grey’s relationship may be with her mother, no one can say that she hasn’t acted in Carla Morton’s best interest since she entered this hospital. Since when are family members required to behave in a manner that’s acceptable to staff in order to be treated with respect?”

“They aren’t, Mrs. Riddick,” he replies.

“Well, someone clearly forgot to tell the nurses on the second floor!” she retorts. “I’m not sure you know who the Greys are, but they are very powerful people…”

“With all due respect, Mrs. Riddick, the fact that they’re powerful doesn’t entitle them to any extra privileges.” This statement comes from one of the stoic, silent women at the end of the table.

“You didn’t let me finish,” Mrs. Riddick says, throwing a pointed glare at the woman before continuing. “As I was saying, the Greys are very powerful people, but they’re not asking for any special treatment. They’re only asking for the respect that you would give any other family member of a patient in this hospital. Are they entitled to that?

She asks the last question so firmly that the bitch at the end of the table shuts her mouth and doesn’t say another word.

“Mr. and Dr. Grey were already in Nevada dealing with a horridly taxing situation only to discover that Dr. Grey’s mother had been involved in a near-fatal accident in the midst of it, one that left her paralyzed and comatose, thereby requiring constant attention from Dr. Grey while she’s still dealing with this original issue. She’s already dealing with that wretched trial—of which, by the way, she was the victim and the defendant was found guilty, for anyone who might be concerned—and then she had to come to the hospital and deal with the scrutiny of a bunch of supposed professionals who should already know a thing or two about bedside manner and family treatment.

“Now, after informing this room that he has to listen to his emotionally fragile wife come home and cry nearly every day, Mr. Grey has to sit here and listen to the powers that be tell him that his family isn’t entitled to any special privileges when your staff didn’t even extend them the general respect that they were entitled to!

“She’s been in this hospital nearly every day seeing to the care and condition of her mother, and they’re putting her in judgment because she’s not crawling on the floor in concern and contrition? They have no idea what that relationship is like or, evidently, what Dr. Grey is going through and quite frankly, it’s none of their business! Their only concern is to provide quality care to Mrs. Morton and to show respect and professionalism to Dr. Grey, who is the next of kin and decision-maker in this case. Are you suggesting that because they’re powerful, they’re not entitled to that?”

Go, Mrs. Riddick!

She glares at the sow that made the statement, who still sits mute at the end of the table.

“Of course, that’s not what we’re saying, Mrs. Riddick,” Mr. Banks says, glaring at the same woman before turning back to the patient and family advocate. “I assure you that we will look into this matter and the staff members involved will be thoroughly reprimanded. I guarantee you that this behavior is completely contrary to the goals and mission of this hospital. Mr. Grey, you have my sincerest apologies for how your wife was mistreated. I’m deeply sorry about all this.”

“Thank you,” I reply with sincerity. “I truly appreciate it, but I want more than that,” I say.

“Here it comes,” the other silent, stoic bitch says. I ignore her… for now.

“I think there needs to be some kind of sensitivity training for situations like this,” I continue. “My wife’s mother could’ve died and that would have released a whole other can of worms, believe me. No one knows the turmoil my wife is going through inside. Her sanity and grace are balancing on the head of a pin and you have nurses on the floor that are caring for her mother and coming in contact with my wife every day that think it’s okay to treat her this way. Nobody should be treated that way—nobody! Not a bum off the street who comes in for back pain or a billionaire who can buy this hospital right out from under your asses!” I fix my glare on the two bitches at the end of the table.

“And once your organization has developed this sensitivity training that will help your staff to treat people like real live human beings, especially those who may be experiencing some kind of mourning, stress, or trauma of which you have no idea, you two should be required to take it, too!” I point at them both to emphasize the statement. The entire room has turned and is staring at them as they sit cowering under the uncomfortable gazes of their colleagues.

“That’s actually a very good idea, Mr. Grey,” Banks says soberly, still staring at the Stoic Sisters before turning back to me. “We’ll implement a training class and we’ll all take it. Some of us may not need it, but others clearly do!” He glares at the Stoic Sisters again before turning back to me.

“That’s all I ask,” I say standing to my feet and Banks stands with me. “I’ll be honest and tell you that I’m usually a heads will roll type of guy, but all I want is for the patients’ families to be treated with respect and for no one to have to go through the ordeal that my wife went through for simply trying to care for her mother.”

“Understood, Mr. Grey,” he says, proffering his hand to me. I accept his hand and shake firmly.

“I trust that you’ll keep Mrs. Riddick up-to-date on the progress and completion of the training?” I ask, so that she can keep me up to date.

“We will,” he says. I turn to Mrs. Riddick, who stands and walks out with me. I don’t even look at the Stoic Sisters on my way out.

When we clear the door, I see my wife sitting on a bench down the hall a bit. Before Mrs. Riddick starts talking, I guide her to my wife.

“Are you okay?” I ask, noting her appearance.

“Tired,” she says, “you know this place drains me.” I take her hand and turn to Mrs. Riddick.

“This is my wife, Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey,” I say. Mrs. Riddick proffers her hand.

“Riana Riddick,” she says. “I’m the family and patient advocate here. It’s nice to meet you, Dr. Grey.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Riddick. Likewise,” Butterfly says, accepting her hand.

“You have my card,” she says to me. “I’ll be in touch. Mr. Grey, Dr. Grey,” she says with a nod.

“Thank you,” I say before she leaves.

“Why will she be in touch?” Butterfly asks.

“Because there’s going to be some sensitivity training for the staff as well as disciplinary action for the harpies that treated you like shit, and I want the hospital to stay on top of it and make sure that it gets done. Riddick will be my eyes and ears. She’s good at this—I think she likes her job. She’s almost as good a debater as Allen.”

“Mmm,” she replies disinterested.

“Okay, what happened?” I ask.

“Not here,” she says, worrying her scar. “I’ll tell you on the way home.”

Home. Yeah, we need to hurry up and get you out of here if you’re calling this place home.

*-*

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, this just keeps getting better and better!” I bark while we’re driving home. “It’s a good thing I demanded sensitivity training. It looks like this asshole Lee needs it, too!”

“Don’t even get your undies in a wad, Christian. I’ve told him to make his decision and call me once he does. I’m not going back to the hospital until he does and when I do, I’m going to start signing responsibility over to someone else. I can’t take this anymore.”

“We’ll still be financing it?” I ask.

“Yeah, I still want to make sure she gets the best care. I just don’t want to make the decisions anymore.”

“You got it,” I say. “Just tell me what you need.”

“Right now, fuzzy pajamas, chocolate, and old movies…”

I get my wife set up with pajamas, old movies, and every chocolate thing I can order from room service. At the moment, she’s happily lost in a Cary Grant marathon, and I’m busy putting some things into motion.

She already knew that she would soon be sharing her yoga room with the children as a playroom. I’m making arrangements for everything that was purchased for the Romper Room Suite to be shipped back to Seattle when we return, with the exception of the cribs and bedding and the highchairs. We have those things at home, and we won’t be needing more any time soon. My Amex decked that suite out, and I want that stuff to return with us, especially since the children have become accustomed to playing with those things.

I send an email to Audrey Law, my travel agent, and cc Jason that we are planning our trip to Italy sometime this summer and to begin to prepare for an extended trip. I also contact the real estate agent that sold me the Villa to get me detailed blueprints and current pictures of the property with precise measurements so that my wife can begin thinking about how she wants to decorate it. Unless World War III breaks out and Europe sinks into the ground before we get onto that plane, we’re going to Italy this year.

Jason will have to make sure that the weapons for the security team are properly registered as well as each member properly certified with the authorities. I also ran the idea by him of Gail and Sophia coming out for a couple of weeks like Butterfly suggested. After hearing the truth about Sophie’s burn scar, he’d pull the moon down and give it to her if he could. So, I think he’s already on the ball about getting her passport.

I remember my trip to Rome with my family. I think it was our first… no, our second trip to Italy as a family. Although being abroad always appealed to me, I wasn’t very interested in the things that interested my family—the Altar of the Fatherland, the Villa Borghese… No, I was more interested in the Colosseum and the Pantheon; only slightly interested in the Trevi Fountain, but I tossed a coin in there anyway. I knew I would be back.

My most memorable moment in Rome was just outside of Circus Maximus. Being very sensitive to touch, I knew the moment someone was trying to “feel me up.” So, I turned around just in time for some bastard to try to make off with my phone. I confronted him and told him to give my phone back, but he handed it off to some other guy and thought I didn’t see him. I snatched the other guy by his jacket just as he was trying to make off with my phone. Elliot grabbed the first guy.

Mom and Dad were having a fit the entire time and Mia was just stunned as I’m fighting to pry my phone from the guy’s fingers. I ended up actually having to break his hand to get my phone back from him, then showed my parents that it was indeed my phone. The first guy tried to knee Elliot in the balls to get away. Elliot clocked him square in the jaw and the guy dropped right where he stood, unconscious.

We asked Dad what we should do. Once Dad saw that we were right and only trying to get my phone back, he told us to do nothing. The guys were pickpockets, and even if we called the police, they would only get a summons to appear which would most likely result in a small fine and no jail time. So, we left them there for all to see—one guy with a broken hand and the other guy out cold on the concrete. I’d say their tag team pick pocketing was done for the day… at least six weeks for one of them. He’ll have to depend on his fellow criminals for financial support for a while.

I’ll have to caution Butterfly against taking a purse or backpack while we’re wandering various cities, and I’ll have to remember to bring my money belt. I hate using that thing, but in certain areas, it’s utterly necessary.

Andrea has sent me some information that I asked her to gather about caring for a paraplegic. I’m completely in the dark here and I don’t want to depend on Butterfly for all the answers. I want to be of some help to her if she asks my opinion and I want us to be able to make some solid decisions about her mother’s care. Wendy’s right—there are several resources available to help her. She just has to be willing to put in the legwork—for lack of a better word—to apply for the resources and follow-up on the application process until she gets approved. She can even apply for disability since she’s unable to do the work she’s trained to do.

I go through as much of the information as I can until I’m suffering from MEGO, then I go to the bedroom to join my wife.

She’s sobbing.

“What’s the matter?” I say, climbing into the bed behind her. She sniffles and points at the television. She’s watching An Affair to Remember, and Cary Grant has just found out that Deborah Kerr is the lady in the wheelchair who wanted his painting. They’re both crying on screen and my wife is blubbering right along with them.

“You’re such a sap,” I say, pulling her into my arms and spooning her. “How many times have you seen this movie?”

“I don’t… know,” she sniffle-stutters, “a… couple… hundred… I think…”

“Yeah, you and every other sappy female,” I say. I roll her onto her back as the credits roll and begin to dry her cheeks with my handkerchief. She has used an entire box of the hotel tissues. She looks so sweet and vulnerable, looking up at me with her glassy eyes and blotchy cheeks. I kiss her eyelids and her cheeks to make her stop crying, then her lips… then again.

God, her lips are so soft when she’s been crying.

I kiss her over and over, so many times that I lose count. Her breath quickens and she moves my hand from her face to her breast.

“Make love to me,” she whispers, “please…”

So much for the fuzzy pajamas.

I squeeze the breast that she guided my hand to, then quickly unbutton her pajama shirt revealing her beautiful tits. God, she’s gorgeous. Her breath quickens as I take one nipple in my mouth and suck gently, grazing it with my teeth to make it taut. She whimpers and thrusts her hands into my hair. I move over her and pinch her other nipple between my fingers, causing her to cry out. She’s getting very hot very fast.

“Sit up,” I instruct her, moving away just enough to allow her to rise. She sits up and I push her pajama shirt off her shoulders and toss it onto the floor. I quickly pull my T-shirt over my head, tossing it aside before I lean in and kiss her again. She runs her hands up my arms to my shoulders and then my face as I push her back down onto the bed.

My mouth and hands travel down her body once more, to her breasts and then her navel as I push my hands into the elastic. She raises her hips for me, and I pull her pajama pants down her legs and off her feet. I open my fly and pull my boxer briefs down just enough to free my cock, and her pussy is wet and staring at me.

Fuck!

I crawl back onto the bed, still in my bottoms, and settle into the sweet core. She gasps and arches into me when I lick her outer lips, forcing them apart with my mouth so that I can taste the sweet meat inside.

“Christian…” she mewls, thrusting her hand into my hair again and her pelvis rhythmically into my mouth. She tastes so fucking good, and I groan as I devour her juices. I try not to eat until I get my fill because I know she’ll come if I do, but I can’t help it. She’s so hot and she smells so good and tastes so sweet…

“Christian!” she squeaks as her body starts to stiffen.

Fuck! Not yet… not yet, beautiful.

I pull back and allow her orgasm to wane, but I can’t wait any longer to be inside of her. I kiss her belly as I make my way back up her body, using the bed to push my pants and boxer briefs off as my cock is so damn hard, it’s zeroing in to her core like a fucking homing beacon.

Slow the fuck down, Grey. She asked you to make love to her…

Make love. Shit, this is going to be hard.

I’m holding one leg up with one hand on her side still kissing her stomach and kicking off my damn pants when she starts to beg…

Please…
Please…

I crawl up her body and as my mouth reaches hers, my cock finds its counterpart without any guidance, which wasn’t a difficult task with her legs on my shoulder. I try not to gasp in her mouth, but she gasps into mine and I’m completely blinded by the pleasure when I sink into her.

I try to keep still and let us both enjoy the moment of the initial entry, but I can’t. She’s kissing me hungrily and my dick wants more of her.

I allow her legs to fall down to my hips and I continue to thrust into her, deep and steady—not too fast and not too slow. I hold the back of her neck and her nape in my hands as I kiss her lips hungrily and nip at her neck, shoulders, and chest. Her sex sounds are maddening—like she hasn’t eaten in weeks and she’s starving and gobbling up every morsel I’m giving her. It’s making me fucking primal and I thrust deeper into her, both our bodies moving steadily against the bed.

She’s keening again, and I hold her neck up and thrust deep so that I can look at her, admire her beauty while I have her captured in passion, my shaft burning inside her as she gets tighter… and hotter…

“Open your mouth,” I breathe, “and give me your tongue.”

I know that she’s going to come soon, so I press my body against her so that each long and deep thrust ends with a grind. Then I hold her neck steady so that her head isn’t as mobile, and I suck her tongue and lathe it passionately with my own while it’s hanging helplessly out of her mouth. When she shrieks with her first orgasm, I fight to keep the rhythm of my hips and tongue until she rides it out. The sound of her cries alone is enough to push me over the edge, let alone that pussy tightening insanely on my cock.

I have to breathe through her aftershocks as I sit back on my calves, still thrusting deeply into her as I caress her breasts. She’s sweating a bit now. That pre-orgasmic sheen has given way to full-on perspiration, and our intermingling sweat is beginning to fuck with the Neanderthal in me.

I thrust into her again and again, her legs rising on my hips with each thrust, still clutching her breasts as I do. Her eyes are closed, and her hair is splayed wildly on the bed. Her mouth is open like she’s trying to say something, but she’s keening again, her hands grasping my thighs as I fuck her…

Make love to her…

NO, now, I’m fucking her!

My cock is burning, digging, pushing deep into that body, and it wants to come. I kiss her with abandon, and when she roughly grasps a handful of my hair, I can’t take it anymore.

“Oh, fuck, baby!” I groan. I cover her body with mine and plunge deep inside her, over and over. We’re pouring in sweat, and she holds her legs up and steady, thighs open as I stroke deeper and harder until I fucking see stars.

“Baby, shit, fuck!” I cry as my cock thumps and explodes inside of her. Oh, shit, it feels so fucking good. So fucking good, I can’t fucking see. Goddammit, that was so hard that my cock fucking hurts, but I can still feel her walls thumping against me. She was on her way to number two.

Your wish is my command.

I slide out of her and kiss her softly on the lips, giving my cock a few moments to cool.

“Turn over, baby,” I say.

She turns over and proceeds to get in the doggie-style position, but I push her gently back down onto the bed. Straddling her, I turn her head to the side and arrange her hair so that it’s completely away from her face, off her shoulders, and off her back. When she’s comfortable, I kiss her shoulders softly, then her back, allowing my dick to rub against her glorious ass just a bit, enough to ignite it again for me. I kiss down her back and the moment I get to the Garden, she ignites again. The unquenchable fire shoots right through her body and into mine, and Greystone is ready for action once more.

I pull my hips back and my shaft falls right to the bottom of her ass cheeks, the head nestled right below her anus. I gently push my rigid member just past her perineum and I feel moisture on the head. I know I’ve hit paydirt when I hear her gasp and her ass rises a bit, her fists gripping the bedsheets. I push into her core and sink into her warmth and tightness once more. For the love of God, this woman is going to be the death of me.

She’s got that pretty, round ass at the perfect angle and I’ve got yet another perfect rhythm into the pussy while I’m gently gripping those cheeks and hips. I’m looking down at this round ass and my thick, straining, shiny cock stroking between her legs, feeling the heat and the friction and it’s making my fucking mouth water. This site is so fucking beautiful that I can’t stop staring. My dick is impressive, but to see it disappear repeatedly beneath this beautiful, soft, round ass… I could watch this shit all day. Since I’m just getting started, the arousal and the burn isn’t too deep, and I’ve got this pleasant friction feeling on the skin. So, I never change my stroke…

And I watch…

And watch…

And watch…

“Oh, dear God, what are you doing to me?”

I didn’t even think about the fact that the continuous rhythm was going to bring her to another orgasm until she’s shrieking again and her ass is rising hard against my pelvis, her hands gripping the sheets like she’s going to tear them off.

Hot damn! There’s a picture for the memory banks!

“Baby, you are so fucking beautiful,” I say, and I continue my rhythm and enjoy the view.

A few minutes later, I’ve gotten my fill of the show and my balls are aching to come again. This is going to be the swan song.

My beautiful wife has had a chance to rest and now I want her to ride me a bit. So, I roll us both over so that she’s sitting on my dick.

“Come on, baby, ride it.”

What the fuck did I say that for?

My wife opens her legs around mine, leans back with both hands flat on my abs, and pumps my dick viciously, and I mean viciously.

“Fuck-ing hell!” I gasp, and that only fuels her fire. I swear to God, my cock feels like it’s getting buried in her goddamn uterus and she just keeps pumping and pumping, so deep that I feel her lips every time they slap my balls.

“God… damn… baby…” I gasp again, now holding onto fistfuls of the sheet myself. This woman is literally fucking the ever-loving life out of me. I thought after two shrieking orgasms, she would be a bit tuckered out and I would have to help her out with this, but she doesn’t need my help at all. Dear God in heaven, the fire and friction and depth.

“Baby… shit!” It’s at this point that I realized that I can’t do or say anything else but lay here and be fucked. I want to touch her, but she’s fucking me so thoroughly that if I let go of the sheets, we might both fucking take flight! I close my eyes and open my mouth so that I can get some air. My dick is on fucking fire—delicious, burning, aching, agonizing, searing fire! Fucking hell, my balls are about to pop like grapes. A few more minutes of this maddening pace and…

She stops.

Her body’s trembling, she’s grunting, and her arms give way behind her. She’s coming again… and hard.

Oh, for fuck’s sake, don’t stop now!

I release the sheets and grab those tits for all they’re worth. I’m pumping hard and deep into that pussy like I’m digging for gold, just like she was pumping me.

Don’t leave me now, don’t fucking leave me now!

I thrust and thrust and thrust, looking for that rhythm, and on the third thrust, I find it. I fucking find it.

“Yes!” I grit through my teeth, and only a few thrusts later, I heard the pop. Not sure what happened, but a stream of searing hot cum goes flowing through my shaft and bursting out the head.

“Oooohh!” I cry out in agonized surprise.

Still holding onto those tits, I thrust through this orgasm. At least, I think I’m thrusting. Cum is pumping so hard through my cock that I know I still feel the sides burning. I can’t even feel my balls, just hot, deep, crippling pain and pleasure searing through my fucking loins.

I can’t even breathe. I’m burying my dick deep in that pussy. The head is sandwiched in hot, wet, meat and still beating a mean tattoo inside of her. I can still feel her squeezing me, still feel the cum pulsing out of my shaft and filling her so much that it’s running down my shaft and to my ass.

She’s whimpering against my body now, and I’m still coming… and coming…

I keep pushing my dick into that core waiting for it to stop throbbing. She fucked me until my body begged to come and now that it is, it’s giving her all that it has left. I thrust into her hot core, her legs spread wide as I grip her luscious tits, my cock pulsing and thumping painfully as my balls empty inside her.

We both fall back onto the bed, breathless. Neither of us says anything as there really isn’t anything to say. I roll her over onto her side, spooning her and kissing her gently on her back until she falls asleep. Then, I locate the remote and turn the television off.

That was so hot, I forgot the damn thing was on.

*-*

I awake in bed alone. That doesn’t happen often. I almost always wake before Butterfly does. Is she alright?

I try not to leap out of bed in a frenzied rush to find my wife. She’s fine, I tell myself. She just got up before me and she’s probably having coffee or in the shower. When I go to the en suite to relieve myself and she’s not in the shower, I’m only slightly panicked, not frantic. I slide into my slacks from yesterday and go out into the living room.

“Well, I don’t know what to expect, Daddy,” I hear her say. See? I told you she was fine, I scold myself. “I’m 99% certain that my mother tried to kill herself, but her doctor is giving me a hard time about a three-day evaluation.”

I lean over and kiss her on the cheek and she quietly blows me a kiss as I head over to the coffee maker. She’s curled up in one of the dining chairs with a cup of coffee in front of her and a notepad that she’s been scribbling something on.

“I told him that she was in his care now, and that when he decided what he was going to do with her that he could call me and let me know… None of them thinks I want to take care of her. So, since everybody is so in love with her and I’m the big bad wolf and they know what’s best for her, then let them do it. Believe me, I would have done fine not to have this disrupt my life at all.”

I pour a cup of coffee. Once again, I think about Grace and how I could never feel this way towards her, but how I truly feel that Carla deserves every bit of what Butterfly is dishing out.

“That was yesterday,” she says to Ray. “I haven’t been back to the hospital and I’m not going back unless I’m summoned. And they had better make a decision before sentencing on Wednesday because if they don’t, I’m outta here.”

Well, that makes me happy to hear, that she doesn’t plan on hanging around to find out what Dr. Lee plans to do. I say if she wants to do herself, she’ll find a way. And when she does, they’ll see how wrong they were for how they treated my wife.

“I’m fine, Daddy, don’t worry about me,” she says. “I already have a game plan in motion.”

Oh? What game plan is that? I take a sip of the black coffee. I’m transported all the way back to the first cup of coffee my wife made for me at her condo in Seattle. I look down into the cup and smile…

“Black… a man after my own heart.” 

Those were her words when she found out that I prefer my coffee black. As it turns out, I was—am—in fact a man after her heart.

“What’s got you smiling like the cat who caught the canary?” she asks as she refreshes her coffee. I was so lost in my own world I didn’t even hear her finish her conversation with Ray.

“Remembering the first cup of coffee I ever had with you,” I say, putting my arm around her waist and pulling her to me. “You had me at ‘Grey,’” I say, pressing a tender kiss on her lips.

“You were insufferable,” she says, putting her hands on my chest, “fucking insufferable.”

“Some people would say that I still am,” I reply.

“Yes, they would,” she concurs, “but they don’t know you like I do.”

“Oh, you still think I’m insufferable too… sometimes.”

“Sometimes,” she says, pecking me on my lips again.

“How’s Ray?” I ask, releasing her and taking another sip of my coffee.

“He’s fine,” she says. “He called to check up on me. Says he regretted having to leave me here, but he had to get back to be with his family. I already know that.”

“What’s this game plan you were talking about?”

“I’m going to have someone here be responsible for my mother so that I don’t have to come back,” she says. “I’ve already got Alex doing background checks on her boyfriend Abe and her beloved Window.” I frown.

“Window?” I say. “Who the hell is that?”

“That’s what she calls Wendy,” she replies. “She appears to be ready to turn her entire life upside down for my mother and she obviously adores her Window, so she’s the most obvious choice. And then there’s this Abe character, who just showed up out of nowhere and is so in love with my mother. If they’re genuine in their affection and there’s no ulterior motive, it’s the perfect set-up. If not, then she’ll be in the hospital until they release her, and then she’ll go to a nursing home or assisted living.”

“And if the good doctor decides that she doesn’t need a psych eval?” I ask.

“Then she’ll be in the hospital until they release her, and then she’ll go to a nursing home or assisted living,” she repeats. “I meant what I said. I’m not going back to the hospital until I’m summoned and when I do, it’ll be to make whatever final decisions need to be made before I leave this place.”

And that’s that. The queen has spoken, and I have a feeling that no matter what, we only have one week left in Nevada.


A/N: “I fell for the ‘donkey,’ hook, line, and sinker. When Carla said this, she was referring to a part of the Shakespearean play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Without retelling the entire story and for those who don’t know of it, Puck is retrieving a flower that contains a powerful love potion. While at his task, Nick Bottom says something adverse to him and Puck turns Bottoms head into that of a donkey. The king and queen of the fairies—Oberon and Tatania—are fighting, and Oberon uses the love potion on Tatania while she’s sleeping, intent that she would fall in love with the first thing she sees when she wakes. What’s the first thing that she sees? Bottom as the donkey. She’s so in love with him that she actually marries him in the story.

A little useless factoid that I think I mentioned earlier during one of the weddings. Mendelssohn’s Wedding March—the song traditionally played when the bride and groom exit the wedding after the vows—was written for this play. So, when choosing your exit song, just remember if you choose this one, you chose the song where a woman was married to a donkey.

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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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, or 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 20

So, I’ve been a bit incommunicado because my birthday was this week. It was super hard without my mom, but I made it through and was able to do some celebrating this weekend.

As a result, the Muse has taken a bit of a hiatus. It happens sometimes, and I have some chapters that just need editing, so hopefully there won’t be any breaks from posting. Nonetheless, here’s the next chapter.

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

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

Season 5 Episode 20

CHRISTIAN

I sit at the desk in the office portion of the suite trying to process the information that was just relayed to me a few seconds ago by a member of my security team. I don’t know if this is good news or bad news.

“How long?” I ask.

“About twenty minutes,” Lawrence says. “I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t just looked in the room.”

“What’s going on now?” I ask.

“Well, right now, she’s freaking out because she can’t walk,” he replies. “I don’t know if anybody called Her Highness yet or not, because nobody bothered to stop and tell me, knowing that I’m here for her safety.”

I don’t know what the atmosphere is at the hospital because I don’t go up there to see Carla. As many times as Butterfly has come home in tears, I imagine that it’s somewhat hostile. I run my hands through my hair. I have to make an executive decision here.

“Anastasia is on a field trip right now with Sophia Taylor,” I tell Lawrence. “She’s been looking forward to it and I’m not inclined to disturb her with this right now. I would say that if the hospital doesn’t contact her immediately to wait until they’re finished.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll keep you posted as much as I can,” he says, and we end the call.

Fuck. Carla’s awake.

Will Butterfly think this is good news or bad news? How will she take it? Should I tell Ray and Allen, or should I wait until she knows first? Fuck it, I think I’m going to need backup. I text Allen.

**Can you please grab Ray and come to my suite? I’m in need of your assistance. **

When they get to the door, I’m pacing around the suite trying to figure out what to do. I open the door and I must look a fright. Ray frowns deeply.

“What’s wrong, son?” he asks before he even enters. “Is Annie okay?”

“Yes, yes, sir, she’s fine. Please come in,” I reply, walking away from the door and allowing them to let themselves in. “Sit… or stand, whatever you prefer, but I’m going to stand.”

“What’s this about, Chris?” Allen asks, impatiently.

“Carla’s awake,” I blurt out. Both gentlemen’s brows rise.

“Oh,” Allen says ominously.

“Yeah,” I reply.

“Ooo,” Ray remarks just as ominously.

“Mm-hmm,” I counter.

“Does Annie know?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I don’t think so. The guard outside of Carla’s door told me that she was awake. He didn’t even call Jason. He said he wouldn’t have even known had he not looked in the room and seen Carla freaking out about not being able to walk. We don’t even know if they’ve called Butterfly yet.”

“Well, don’t you think we should?” Ray asks.

“Actually, no,” I reply, and he frowns at me. “She’s on a field trip with Sophie that she’s really been looking forward to. Waiting until they’re done is not going to change Carla’s condition, but it will definitely interrupt her day.” Ray twists his lips but says nothing. I look at Allen.

“You want us to know first in case she flips her lid when she gets back here,” he deduces.

“You are correct,” I admit. “I also want to know your honest opinion about not telling her yet.” Ray clears his throat.

“She stayed all this time to see what was going on with her mother. I think she should know,” he says.

“I don’t know, Ray,” Allen says. “I think Christian’s right with this one. Jewel’s been walking on the points of needles ever since she’s been here. She needs to decompress in the worst way every chance that she gets. I say let her have the day before she has to deal with this.”

“Too late.”

We all turn to see Jason coming into the suite.

“What happened?” I ask.

“Dr. Whatever His Name Is called her while she was in the cooking class. She knows.”

“Shit!” I hiss, thrusting my hands in my hair again. “Is she on her way to the hospital?”

“No,” Jason replies. I raise a puzzled gaze to him.

“No?” I ask. Jason shakes his head.

“No,” he confirms. “The way I understand it, she got the call, looked at her phone, and immediately looked at Chuck, who did this…” He puts his hands next to his eyes and opens them wide. “She gathered that not only that her mother was awake, but also that Chuck knew before she did, which means that the doctor took his time calling her. Bearing that in mind, she’s now continuing her class with Sophie and my wife on Florentine chicken.” I look over at Ray.

“I guess the decision was made for me,” I say.

“Why did it take so long for the doctor to call her?” Ray asks.

“I have no doubt that she’s going to ask when she sees him,” I say. “I get the feeling that she’s not a favorite at the hospital.”

“Not a favorite?” Ray says. “What the hell?”

“We all know how Butterfly feels about Carla,” I tell him. “If she shows that same compassion at the hospital and they have no idea why, she’s actually the bad guy. That’s why she comes in here crying a lot of the time. Carla has built up a support system in her time of need that Butterfly never had in hers, and she’s very bitter about that. What’s more is that I don’t think the hospital staff is warm to her at all.”

“Well, why the hell don’t they pick up a newspaper or watch the news?” he asks angrily. “They would totally know why she’s behaving the way that she is.” I shake my head.

“I don’t think it would matter,” I tell him. “If you’ve had your mother with you all the time, you can’t imagine her being in this kind of state and you not caring about it. I certainly can’t imagine that with Grace.”

Ray must have had a fleeting thought of his own mother, because he deflates immediately. I’ve never heard either of them speak of his mother, so I’m assuming that she has passed on.

“Well, they’re all assholes, then,” he says dismissively. “Making assumptions is one of the worst things you can do when you’re dealing with a situation like this. It’s already hard for all parties involved. Annie doesn’t need to have to deal with their judgmental attitudes on top of everything else!” He’s becoming angry.

“I’m right there with you, Ray,” I say, “but cooler heads must prevail in this setting. We’ve been here waiting for the outcome of this saga and here it is. What’s important now is being here for Butterfly during the difficult decisions she has to make in the coming weeks and months.”

“What’s difficult?” Allen says. “Put her ass in a nursing home.”

“Those are our feelings, Allen,” I reply. “They may not be Butterfly’s.” Ray cracks his neck and shakes his head.

“Now I know why my Sunflower hates this place,” he says. “No matter how I try to relax, get comfortable, or let loose here, I haven’t been able to do it. I’ve heard about people who move here with big dreams, gamble it all away and end up homeless. I’ve heard about people who come here on vacation and leave not even having enough money to get a taxi back to the airport. Even though it’s not my money, everything here is still expensive as hell. How can you possibly raise a family in this environment or hold down a job unless you’re a stripper or a blackjack dealer? I shudder to think what the housing market looks like.

“Everything here is brown. There’re no trees except those blasted palm trees, and they look phony. Their downtown is in the middle of a slum, their police look like they’re wearing boy scout uniforms, and my first and most significant encounter with this God-forsaken place was finding out that my daughter was damn near dead. I can’t wait to get out of here!”

I should explain to Ray how he’s only half-right about the many observations he has illustrated about Las Vegas, but why bother? I had a similar reaction during my first visit to this desert cesspool.

Arid, barren, lonely, dusty…

“We don’t have much longer to wait to wrap things up, Ray,” I tell him.

“I hate to tell you this, son, but there’s less time than even you think where I’m concerned.” He does a near-military about-face and leaves the suite. Allen rolls his eyes.

“It’s too much, Chris,” he says. “I don’t know how Jewel is doing it. This place is physically and emotionally draining. We come from a place where it rains or snows 90% of the time, and here we are in a city where there’s no precipitation and the humidity is minus twelve. It’s a wonder we’re not face down in our bed 16 hours a day. With all the crying poor Marilyn does, she should have just dried up by now.

“Then, the only moral support we get is from our group! Jewel is accosted in the lobby before she even gets to her room; she’s attacked in court; bombshell after bombshell falls in that damn trial. While she may have brought the Karaoke Confrontation on herself, she goes to a Japanese restaurant and is splashed with Haterade in the bathroom. The hospital is obviously treating her like shit. And poor Sophie goes on a food tour and gets hated on by the guide. A 13-year-old girl—who does that?

“Ray is right—this place is worse than Egypt for the slaves in the time of the Pharaohs. It’s fucking time to go!”

He turns around and storms out of the room the way Ray did. I thrust my hands into my hair again and sigh a huge frustrated sigh.

“Boss?” Jason says. I shake my head.

“Get the jet down here,” I tell him. “Make sure the pilot knows that he’s here for the duration and needs to be ready to fly at as short a notice as possible. We’re coming apart here; a few more days and we’ll be clawing at each other.”

“Will do, sir.”


ANASTASIA

We’ve entered Sur La Table and as far as Sophie is concerned, we might as well be in Wonderland! Her eyes are sparkling and she’s more than ready to peruse the wares of the store. We’ve intentionally come very early before our cooking class is to start so that Sophie can outfit her beginner’s chef kitchen. I’ve asked for the manager and requested one of his best kitchen techs to help Sophie choose what she wants.

“While we’re looking for quality items,” I tell him, “we don’t want to be sold on the most expensive items in the store that are going to draw the highest commission and be completely useless to our little aspiring chef or we will swiftly be returning them to the store in Kirkland, WA.” The manager nods.

“We only want your experience to be pleasant and memorable. Let me get Anaé for you. I believe she will be best suited to assist you today.”

Off he goes to retrieve Anaé and Gail also looks longingly at some of the kitchen utensils.

“You’re also going to be making some purchases for yourself, Mrs. Taylor?” I tease. Gail sighs and turns back to me.

“No,” she says firmly. “This is Sophie’s experience. I want her to get the most of it, especially after that cow we had to deal with yesterday.”

“Ladies, this is Anaé. She’s going to assist you with your purchases today.” The manager smiles and bows before leaving Anaé with us.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms…” She extends her hand to me. She’s young, like Justine. Let’s see if she’s just as stupid.

“Grey,” I say. “Mrs. Grey.” I take her proffered hand and she smiles widely, then turns to Gail.

“And Mrs.?” she says, proffering her hand to Gail.

“Taylor,” Gail says, flatly, taking her hand. Anaé pauses for a moment.

“You have chef’s hands,” Anaé observes. “You cook?” Gail raises her brow.

“I do,” she replies, a bit taken aback.

“Good. Then, you’ll be able to help with our choices,” Anaé replies and turns to Sophie. “So, you must be our aspiring chef. What’s your name?”

“Sophia,” she responds.

“Is it okay if I call you Chef Sophia?” Anaé asks. “If I’m honest, it makes me feel important while I’m doing my job.” A sincere smile spreads across Anaé’s face and is matched by Sophie’s.

“Sure,” Sophie says, fighting to retain her glee.

This is what I was looking for. Chef Sophia, I like the sound of that.

“If it’s okay, sometimes I’ll call you ‘Chef’ for short. Is that cool with you?” Sophie’s smile grows wider.

“That would be awesome!” Sophie exclaims in an excited whisper.

“Excellent! So, let’s get started. The first tool you should look for when you’re ready to build your kitchen is a chef’s knife.” Anaé tilts her head. “May I see your hands, Chef?”

Sophie gives both hands to Anaé and she examines them carefully.

“For an adult, I would say an 8-inch knife would be best. Your hands are smaller, so I think a 6-inch would be better for you to start with. We’ll have you hold a couple of them and see how you like the weight. I recommend the Wüsthof classic.” She looks over at Gail for approval and Gail nods. So, it’s off to the chef’s knives we go.

Anaé is really good at her job. She tells Sophie about the weight of the knife and how it should feel in her hand. She also shows her the proper way to hold a chef’s knife and, watching her, I realize I’ve been holding it wrong for years. When she shows Sophie how to follow through and cut with the knife, I’m actually glad I decided to come along to see everything I’ve been doing wrong.

Next, we move to the All-Clad stainless steel 3-quart sauté pan and saucepan, both with lids, and the 10-inch skillet. Sophie immediately begins to balk about things sticking to the stainless steel and wanting to lean more to the non-stick options. Anaé assures her that non-stick has its place and that we’ll be moving to the T-Fal non-stick pans next, but that any kitchen would be incomplete without stainless steel, which is ideal for glazing to make sauces and gravies. Gail also suggests the stainless-steel stock pot and the Dutch oven, confirming Anaé’s information.

“We normally don’t carry T-Fal,” Anaé says, “but we just started stocking the T-Fal professional frying pans. This is really a great pan because you can use it in the oven up to 400 degrees. It’s a wonderful non-stick option, Chef, as I’m certain Mrs. Taylor can attest to. It has one of the most slippery cook surfaces on the market. You can probably cook eggs in it without oil.

“It also has this thermal spot indicator in the center that turns solid red when it’s preheated properly. Since stoves are different, this is a great tool for beginners to know when to adjust settings based on what you’re cooking. You don’t have a 12-inch in your arsenal yet, so I suggest that size in the T-Fal.”

Gail watches carefully and makes notes as Anaé suggests different items for Sophie’s kitchen, including a top-of-the-line meat thermometer, dishwasher-safe mixing bowls with pouring spouts, and a utility board.

Now, the utility board really got my attention. I can’t say how many times I’ve been unwaveringly frustrated with my cute little cutting boards that match my kitchen and are only big enough to cut a damn onion—and only barely! Anaé recommends a large cutting surface—15×21, to be exact. It’s an OXO Cool Grips utility and cutting board. Now, that’s a cutting board!

We’ll go shopping for spices and a proper spice rack when we get back to Seattle. Anaé recommends a proper pepper grinder and a pinch bowl for kosher salt. To be sure that she has her needed kitchen utensils—whisk, grater, spatulas, tongs, slotted spoons and the like—we’ve also secured the OXO kitchen utensils and essentials sets. Gail also picks out a set of bakeware, casserole dishes, and a roaster for when Sophie is ready to graduate to those items.

I personally think no kitchen is complete without a blender and a mixer—even a small one of each—and this leads Gail to also add a simple food processor. Sophie’s sole special request at this point is a waffle maker. Who are we to deny her that? And let’s not forget good potholders, cooling mats, and oven mitts.

Two hours and one extremely happy Chef Sophie later, we go to the rear of the store to the communal kitchen and our cooking class. Today’s lesson is homemade pasta, Florentine chicken under a brick, butternut squash ravioli with hazelnut and pecorino, and Modena flourless balsamic chocolate cake. The three of us and a fourth person who took the class alone break off into a group and begin to mix the pasta as instructed—sifted all-purpose flour and a pinch of salt on a butcher block counter. We make a well in the middle of the stack of dry ingredients, then pour six eggs and some olive oil into the well. We begin to whisk the eggs and olive oil together, mixing in the dry ingredients a little at a time until it’s time to knead the dough with our hands.

I’m elbow-deep in sticky pasta dough when my phone rings. I decide to ignore it, knowing that if it was anything important, like my children, my husband or Jason would call Chuck or even Gail. Neither of them reacts to a phone ringing, so I continue kneading my pasta dough. We get to the part where we’re pressing the dough to the thinness that we want before we cut it into pasta when my phone rings again.

“Dammit,” I say under my breath. No longer elbow deep in pasta dough, I dry my hands a bit with a nearby hand-towel and I look over at Chuck.

He’s on his phone. Shit.

I reach into my pocket and check Gail and Sophie. Neither has been alarmed, so I fish my phone out of my pocket.

702-233… Summerlin Hospital.

I raise my gaze to Chuck, who’s looking dead at me now, his expression unreadable. The phone is still ringing in my hand, and I know he knows something.

What the fuck is going on, Davenport?

His phone is now back in his pocket and I can’t read his expression. Next, he puts his fists on either side of his face and opens his hands and is eyes wide…

My mother is awake.

I look at the phone in my hand which has now started to ring a third time, send the call to voice mail, and go back to my pasta.

I never knew that chicken under a brick is actually cooked under a brick…

*-*

My mother looks like shit when I walk into the room. At first, her gaze is down and she’s still in the neck brace. She looks like she’s been crying for a month. When she raises her gaze to see me walk into the room, there’s no emotion in her face—nothing like glee or relief that the daughter you kicked by the wayside when she needed you stayed here and endured massive bullshit to stay near you when you needed her.

“I didn’t mean for this to happen,” she says the moment she raises her gaze to the door and sees me.

“Obviously,” I say, allowing the door to close behind me.

“I have health insurance,” she says, “and I’m awake now, so you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.”

I glare at her. Is she trying to be the fucking martyr? For Christ’s sake, cut it out! Apparently, everyone loves you except me, so I plan on getting you squared away and turning you over to the hands of your fan club as soon as I possibly can.

“Well, Mother, unlike you, I am a human being with a human heart, and I’m not going to leave you here to rot. Although I would be completely within my rights to do so, I won’t do to you what you did to me. So, let’s cut the crap, okay?”

She falls silent.

“You’re right about one thing. You’re awake, so you can tell me what happened.” She raises a questioning eye to me then turns her gaze away.

“Isn’t it obvious?” she replies. “My car went over a damn overpass and I didn’t die!”

She sounds angry.

“Are you angry about the overpass or angry that you didn’t die?” I ask sarcastically. She scoffs tragically and rolls her eyes.

“I know I was horrible to you,” she says, her voice low. “There’s obviously nothing I can do to fix that. It hurts, I hate it, but I’ve accepted it. Now, I’m awake, and I’m going to make the point to you that I tried to make to your husband before the accident. If you’re only here to hurt me back, I’ve got that covered for us both. You can go now, and you can take that sentinel at the door with you.”

I’m actually appalled. How dare she talk to me that way! She should be thanking God that I’m here seeing to her care. What are you going to do, kick me out? You can’t even walk!

“And in case I’m reading your expression correctly,” she says, “I’ll call the nurse and tell her to tell the doctor that you’re not allowed to come back here. I’ll have them call Wendy and I’ll manage, one way or another!” My eyes widen.

“Well,” I say matter-of-factly, “I see you’ve found a reason to grow a backbone.” I fold my arms.

“Listen to me carefully, Mother. I have no will or desire to listen to your grandstanding or your ‘I’ve paid my debt to society’ type of conversation. I am not my husband. I’m the girl who sat there for years–part of that time in much of the same situation that you’re in right now—while you fucked me over… big time! I’ve been back and forth to this hospital waiting for you to wake up, making sure that you have the best care, following your prognosis, and finding out that you have an advanced directive, which is a whole lot more than you did for me by your own admission. So, cut. The fucking. Crap!”

She finally gets that appalled expression on her face that I’m accustomed to seeing.

“As a human being and your last living relative, I’m going to make sure that you have everything you need before I leave this God-forsaken place and make no mistake. This is not going to be a warm reunion where I suddenly have some epiphany that life is short and we have to cherish one another…” I mock a sympathetic voice on the last part. “I realized life was short nearly 15 years ago when I saw mine flash before my eyes, and you turned your back on me.

“This is no more than a transaction for which I am responsible, and I’m going to see it through like any of my other responsibilities. And unlike when I was laying in that bed, you know why I feel this way. And let me make something else clear. You don’t have to tell the doctors, the nurses, or anyone else that you don’t want me to be here. You don’t want my help? Fine. You just say the word and I will walk out that door, take my damn sentinel with me, and never look back!”

She’s hurt and shocked. I can see the tears forming in her eyes… and I really don’t care. When she takes too long to answer, I turn to the door to leave. I need this like I need another hole in my head.

“Ana!” she says, her voice cracking and I halt my exit without turning around.

“I would…” She clears her throat as her words are barely coming out. “I would really like your help, please,” she says. “I would appreciate it more than you know.”

I don’t respond to her sentiment. I simply come back into the room.

“You should call Wendy anyway,” I tell her. “She was here. She would want to know that you’re awake.”

“I will,” she says. “I’m just… not ready.” I raise my brow.

“You’re not ready to talk to your best friend?” I question. She shakes her head.

“No,” she says, “not yet.” I take a deep breath and remember what I just said… nothing more than a transaction for which I am responsible.

“What has the doctor told you?” I ask.

“About what?” Oh, dear God, give me strength.

“About your condition,” I say, my voice choppy.

“What? That I can’t walk? I didn’t need him to tell me that,” she retorts. “Something about a spinal injury, of course, and that the situation may or may not be permanent—there’s no way to tell. This lovely neck gear is due to the broken neck, which is probably going to take another month or so to heal completely. The remaining bruising on my body should be gone in a couple of weeks. I have a skull fracture, so I probably shouldn’t operate any heavy machinery.

“I’ve had a surgery on my pelvis that’s basically the same as a hip replacement, which is a bit of a waste since I can’t walk, but hey…” She trails off and shrugs.

“The slight discomfort I feel while I’m breathing is because of the collapsed lungs, but they should be back to normal in a day or two. That’s the least of my worries. I think I’ve covered it all now.”

She’s being extremely sarcastic, and I’m trying to find sympathy for her, but I can’t. I feel even more resentful with her being awake than I did when she was in a coma.

“Are you in any pain?” I ask in a purely professional tone.

“No,” she says, “not that I can tell.”

“Are you hungry at all?” I prod.

“No,” she says, flatly. I roll my eyes and leave the room, headed to the nurses’ station.

“I’m out of my element here,” I say to the nurse. The last time I had someone wake from a coma, it was Val, and Elliot took care of absolutely everything. “She’s not very forthcoming right now with her needs or feelings, so please provide her with whatever she needs to be comfortable.”

It’s obvious to anyone that we’re not the best of friends, but I’m not trying to see her suffer. The nurse stares at me for a moment.

“Yes, Mrs. Grey,” she says in a professional tone. I’ve never bothered to try to correct her that I’m Dr. Grey. In this setting, I don’t think it would matter.

I take a moment to get some coffee and check my emails. As quickly as I’ve been thrust into the Mother’s awake situation, I want to be snatched right back out of it. Waiting for sentencing for this asshole is the last thing I must do in Las Vegas and whatever my mother is going to need will be done from a distance. I’ll have her beloved Wendy be my liaison and she can bump me out of it completely if she wants to. I have too much animosity to give her the emotional care that she needs, so I might as well be removed from making any lifelong decisions for her if she can find someone that she trusts to do it for her—especially since she has such a fucking fan club here that hasn’t heard nor do they care about my suffering or my side of the story.

As I’m coming around the corner from the family pantry, I can just hear the nurses at the station talking about my mother’s condition. While everything else appears to be progressing quite nicely, her prognosis isn’t promising in terms of her being able to walk again. They’re talking about the physical therapy she’ll still have to endure to make sure that her bones heal correctly, but that it looks like she’s not going to be able to walk on her own.

And then the conversation swings over to me.

“She’s the perfect example of ‘money can’t buy happiness,’” one of the nurses says. “She’s always here alone—I don’t think I’ve seen her husband once. She’s cold and unfeeling to her mother. She’s so stylish, but she looks like she’s utterly miserable. God, if that’s what money does to you, I’ll work ‘til I’m dead.”

“Didn’t Dr. Lee say that she’s a doctor, too?” another one asks. “Shouldn’t she know how serious her mother’s condition is?”

“I don’t know, I think it must be honorary or something,” the first one says. “I’ve called her Mrs. Grey every time I’ve seen her, and real doctors correct you on that fast!

“Well, I think we should call the patient advocate or something for Mrs. Morton,” the second one says. “I can’t see that cold broad doing what’s in her best interest no matter how much money she’s throwing around.”

Why do I put up with this? Why should I have to put on the happy face and pretend that I’m okay with all of this in order for people to treat me with some modicum of respect? If it’s not the nurses, it’s the doctor. If it’s not the doctor, it’s my mother’s fan club. What the fuck do these people want from me?

The tears are flowing—quietly but hard—while I stand behind the wall and listen to the continuing conversation about how horrible I am to my now-crippled mother. It goes on for a while, but for some reason, I’m unable to move. As if the Star Trek teleportation gods heard what they were saying, their conversation halts to the sound of approaching footsteps and a honey-smooth voice.

“Hello,” I hear one of the nurses say sweetly. “How can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m looking for room 2117. I’m going in circles.”

It’s Christian! That’s Christian’s voice!

I come barreling from behind the wall full speed as if I were already in motion instead of standing there and listening to these bitches talk about me, and nearly run smack into my husband.

“Whoa! Where’s the fire?” he says almost in jest before noticing that I’m sobbing.

“Butterfly!” he exclaims in concern as I take a step back. “What’s wrong?”

“I… I’m trying…” I stutter, “I’m trying…”

“Baby, c’mere, what is it?” He has that floundering tone in his voice as he moves to close the distance between us. I nearly run to his arms and he envelops me completely, squeezing my arms between our bodies as I cover my face and sob.

“Butterfly… what is it? Is she…?” I shake my head as much as I can.

“No… no…” I say from under my hands. I raise my gaze to him, and I know I look a fright.

“I want to… leave this place,” I tell him. “I want to… leave this place… and never come back… Nobody understands… what I went through… Nobody knows… what she put me through… and they don’t care!” I sob on his shoulder.

“You don’t have anything to prove to anybody, Butterfly,” he says, soothing. “Everyone who counts knows what you went through. We know she left you to die and we’ve all told you that you’re a very big person for even bothering to come here and see about her. You’ve got to stop breaking down like this, Baby. You’re going to frustrate yourself into an early grave and I won’t have it. I’ll set her up with the best home care money can buy and whisk you out of this place so fast, it’ll make your head spin! Is that what you want? Because I’ll get on it right now.”

This couldn’t have gone better if I had planned it. This entire conversation is transpiring not three feet from the nurses’ station with those same gossipy nurses listening in.

“Your Highness!”

I look up and Jason is walking quickly towards us. I roll my eyes.

“I thought… we agreed… that you weren’t going to call me that,” I say in a stuttering, whining voice. He sighs and cocks his head at me.

“Ana,” he corrects himself. “What’s wrong? Is she…?”

“No, she’s not dead,” Christian says, “My wife is just having another one of her ‘why-do-I-have-to-be-nice-to-mommy-when-mommy-wasn’t-nice-to-me’ breakdowns. I’m ready to get her out of here.”

“No… no…” I say, my voice still stuttering. “I’m going… to see this through… I’m going… to make sure… that she’s okay… and then… we’ll get her… the best care money can buy… and we’ll get out of here.”

“Good… okay. Come on, now, stop this,” he says, taking his handkerchief from inside his coat and dabbing my face while still holding me around my waist. “You know I hate to see this.”

I’m sniffling like a blubbering baby, trying to compose myself.

“Haven’t you shed enough tears over this, baby?” he says. “Fifteen years…”

I look up at him and throw my arms around his neck.

“I love you more than you’ll ever know,” I sob. He embraces me warmly.

“I love you, too, Butterfly. You know that…” He pulls me back, looks me in the eyes, and takes my face in his hands. “And I do know.”

I close my eyes and he presses his forehead to mine. His words and gestures calm me right down, and I’m able to take a deep breath. He kisses my tearstained cheek gently, and then my lips just as softly.

“Come on, now,” he says. “Let’s go see about Carla.”

He tucks me protectively under his arm and we walk towards my mother’s room. I can see the nurses in my mind’s eye staring at us as he guides me, sniffling, down the hallway, and choking on the words that made me cry.


CHRISTIAN

I don’t recall how bad Carla looked when I last saw her in this hospital room, but she looks horrendous now. Except for the places that still bear a bit of the bruising from the accident, her face is pale and peaked. Her torso is elevated, but both legs are in traction—why, I’m not sure. It’s not like she’s tempted to move them. She’s wearing a neck brace and she looks completely helpless.

Butterfly has pulled her hair back in a ponytail and washed the runny makeup from her face, so she looks a bit of a fright when she enters the room as evidenced by the obvious concern on Carla’s face when she first sees her—concern that immediately morphs into irritation when she sees me enter behind her. She sighs heavily and audibly and rolls her eyes as she can’t do much else.

“Carla,” I say as a means of greeting. She doesn’t respond. I raise a brow at her, and her expression doesn’t change. This is definitely not the same woman I encountered in Seattle a few years ago.

“We’d like to get to the bottom of the situation,” I say, moving to the foot of her bed.

“What situation?” she says, with her brow furrowed.

“Of the accident,” I reply in a professional tone, “of what happened.”

“What do you mean, ‘what happened?’” she asks confused. “Car, bridge, boom. What am I missing?” I resist the urge to roll my eyes this time. “If you think I did this to get my daughter’s attention, I’ve already told her that while I appreciate what she’s doing for me that she can leave whenever she wants.”

That possibility never occurred to me, but there’s no way she could have expected to survive a crash like that, so it’s highly unlikely… and I’m sure that Butterfly doesn’t need her permission to leave.

“That’s not what I meant,” I retort coolly. “We were just trying to find out if anything suspicious happened that you can remember. Did your brakes go out when you were heading towards the guardrail? Did you feel a bump or anything like someone hit you? What were you doing immediately before you got behind the wheel of the car? Did you feel woozy or dizzy?”

Carla looks even more confused than she did before. It’s like everything I’m saying is completely Greek to her. After a few moments, her brow rises as if she finally gets it.

“Does every event in your life involve a conspiracy theory?” she inquires with a frown.

“Most often, yes,” I reply. “Conspiracies are everywhere. I wouldn’t be alive without a healthy dose of skepticism and mistrust, and I certainly wouldn’t be a billionaire.” Carla twists her lips.

“That explains why you’re so paranoid,” she says. “That must be a terrible way to live.”

“So far, I haven’t been wrong. And if it keeps me alive, then it’s the only way to live,” I retort. She shakes her head.

“Well, I can assure you that there’s no conspiracy this time, Christian. Nobody hit me, nobody forced me off the road, nobody drugged me, and that I know of, my brakes didn’t malfunction. Unfortunately for your conspiracy theories, it was just me and the damn car, okay?”

“We’re not your enemies, here, Carla,” I chastise. “We’re only trying to get to the bottom of what happened and make sure that you’re not in any danger.”

“That’s not the impression you gave me,” she counters. “You made me feel like nothing would make you happier than if I just disappeared… died, even. I think your exact words were that you’ll bury my ass right next to my husband. I know how you feel about me and I know why. I’m not making any excuses for it anymore, but I didn’t seek you out. I didn’t present myself to you like, ‘Look what I did.’ I gave my testimony and I went home. You came to my house, shoving your money in my face and treating me like shit. So, you’ll just have to excuse me while I exercise my right to ‘a healthy dose of skepticism and mistrust!’”

Well, she hit that nail on the head, but fuck if I’m going to apologize to her. I meant what I said on her porch that day, every word of it. Any modicum of civility or kindness that I extend to her at this point is only to accommodate my wife.

She rolls her eyes and turns her gaze back to the tissue in her hand that she has now worried to sodden and crumpled shreds of useless tatters. I’m fighting to subdue the urge to present her with my handkerchief, but she relieves me of the responsibility by tossing the shredded mass into a small plastic bag on the tray table next to her and retrieving another handful of tissue to blow her nose.

“Okay, so you’re saying that no one sabotaged you or forced you off the road. You just somehow lost control of the car,” Butterfly concludes. “It’s not like we could find any evidence anyway. Your car was totaled. You’re lucky you’re alive.”

“Yeah, well,” Carla responds without lifting her head. “It’s not like I could drive it anyway. I’m perfectly fucking useless.” She says the last sentence under her breath, more to herself than anybody else. I can’t help but think about that old saying… how does it go?

The toes you step on today could be connected to the ass you will have to kiss tomorrow…

Or something like that.

“So, what’s the next step? What do you want to do?” Butterfly asks.

“Oh, I get a vote in this?” Carla retorts.

“Please cut it out with that ‘woe-me-my-life-is-over-and-I-don’t-have-anything-left-to-live-for’ shit. I don’t have time for it,” Butterfly chastises. “You have a long road of recovery and rehabilitation ahead of you whether you learn to walk again or not. You’re going to need to be strong and determined to overcome your limitations, but this doesn’t have to be the end for you.” Carla shakes her head and laughs tragically.

“You know what?” she says. “I think I want you to leave.” Butterfly’s brow rises as does mine.

“Oh?” Butterfly says.

“Yes, oh,” Carla retorts sarcastically. “Are you surprised? You asked what I wanted and I’m telling you. You can come back tomorrow… or don’t, but right now, I want you to leave.”

Butterfly is stunned into silence for a moment, but quickly recovers. She gathers her things and wordlessly walks out of the room. I don’t say a word. I simply stand and leave the room behind her. We head toward the elevator and we stop just as she gets to the nurses’ station.

“Do your homework!” she hisses to the two nurses behind the counter. “Google Anastasia Steele Green Valley. Find out why I’m so cold towards that woman before you attempt to judge me!”

She storms away from the counter and off towards the elevator. I watch her push the call button before I turn back to the nurses.

“I can only assume that you said or did something you probably shouldn’t have,” I say coolly. They both look at me gape-mouthed, eyes wide open like deer caught in headlights as I leave the station and join my wife.

*-*

I’m caressing her arm and she’s lying against me on the sofa as we sit in silence and watch the fire. I got the feeling that she just needed to sit and do nothing when we got back to the suite, so that’s what we’ve been doing for the last half hour. I’m sure that she’ll want to get up and go to the Romper Room suite soon to sit with the children, but right now, it’s just me, her, and the fire.

“Did you know that you can sing 99 Bottles of Beer from beginning to end almost 22 times from midnight to 6am if you repeat the last number without running right into the next one?” I frown. Where did that come from.

“What do you mean if you repeat the last number without running right into the next one?” I ask. She begins to sing.

“Some people say, ’99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer; you take one down and pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall, 98 bottles of beer; you take one down and pass it around, 97 bottles of beer on the wall, 97 bottles of beer…’ That way, the numbers just run right into the next one. I sing it where you start the verse over again when you get to the next number…

“99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer, you take one down and pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall…

“98 bottles of beer on the wall, 98 bottles of beer, you take one down and pass it around, 97 bottles of beer on the wall…

“97 bottles of beer on the wall, 97 bottles of beer…”

Where is she going with this?

“Okay,” I say, “I get it. How did you know that?”

“That’s what I used to do instead of counting sheep when I lived in Green Valley with my mother and Stephen,” she says flatly. I freeze for a moment, but then catch myself and continue to caress her arm.

“It never worked,” she continues. “That’s how I know how many times you can sing it in six hours. Some nights, I was afraid to close my eyes. Other nights, I wanted to close my eyes and not wake up. There were times when I would close my eyes and Cody was raping me, or that gang was beating me. Then there were times when I couldn’t wait to close my eyes to get rid of the day.

“You can sing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt 1,440 times,” she says. “You can sing the original version of Shortenin’ Bread with all the verses 144 times. You can sing When You Wish Upon a Star 230 times…”

I sit there and listen to my wife recount the songs that she had to sing to help her get through the night those years that she lived with her mother and her stepfather. She was 15… and 16… and even 17 for a few months, and she survived by singing childhood songs over and over again until she could get out…

Somewhere Over the Rainbow—166 times…
My Favorite Things—360 times…
Under the Sea—117 times…
Bare Necessities—149 times…
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious—120 times…

By the time my wife got through about 17 songs, I had heard enough. It’s no wonder she knows everything about Disney that there is to know.

“I want to know how you planned your escape,” I interrupt her. “You were only 17.” She closes her eyes and sighs.

“I was the only girl who wore jeans to graduation,” she said. “We had a dress code for graduation and at first, they weren’t going to let me walk across the stage. I convinced them that I was too poor to buy clothes, even told them that my parents weren’t there, but that I had a pair of dress shoes and I could hide my jeans, and no one would know. They felt sorry for me.

“I had taken some of my savings and bought a pair of stilettos. It was the first pair I had ever worn. I had never walked in high heels before and these were four inches. I rolled up my pant legs and walked in those heels like I had been wearing them my whole life. I walked up on that stage, got my diploma ledger, and walked back to my seat. I would have left then, but there was protocol and all.

“When we got back to the assembly room after the ceremony, I grabbed my duffel bag from its hiding place, changed back into my sneakers, stashed my cap and shoes into it and walked out of the auditorium. I took the Tropicana bus to Las Vegas Blvd and jumped on the Deuce one last time down the strip to the Greyhound bus station.

“There wasn’t a single bus that day going straight to Seattle. I had to catch the bus to L.A. first and connect from there to Seattle. The whole trip was 35 hours long, and I had never felt freer in my whole life. I had one of those pay-by-the-minute cell phones. I didn’t use it, but I only had one number in it—Daddy’s, and only in case of extreme emergency. Luckily, there were no extreme emergencies.

“I did my homework and started out at Sacred Heart. I told them my story, that I was abused in Las Vegas and couldn’t go back. I showed them my brands and they helped me apply for financial aid and… you know the rest.” I sigh and continue to caress her arm.

“They just took your word for who you were?” I ask.

“No, they took the word of my brands,” she replies. “They spoke for themselves and they were even more gruesome than they are now before they fully calloused over, which took about three years.”

“I can only imagine,” I reply.

“And then those catty bitches at the nurses station had the nerve to be talking about me,” she hisses softly.

“I knew it,” I say. “I knew that’s what it was. What did they say?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she replies. “I’m going to report them to their superiors if they say anything else about me, but God, do I get tired of being Mrs. I-Want-to-Speak-to-Your-Manager. It’s fucking exhausting! Why is it so hard for people to treat you with respect and common courtesy? It doesn’t matter that they don’t know my story! It’s none of their goddamn business! They have no right whatsoever to play judge and jury over my life.”

“I completely agree,” I tell her. “What would you like to do?”

“Oh, Christian, fucking nothing,” she says. “Get this wrapped up and go. Home. That’s what I’d like to do.”

We sit in silence for several more minutes until we’re interrupted by the doorbell of the suite.

“Hey, Jewel, how are you feeling?” Allen says, coming into the living area of the suite. Butterfly walks into his arms and sinks into his embrace. Ray is right behind him.

“I’m as well as can be expected,” she says, “trying to get things wrapped up as fast as I can and get the hell outta here.”

“That’s kinda why I’m here, Annie,” Ray interjects. “I’m heading on back to Seattle. I stayed to help you deal with things in case she died. She didn’t die, so I’m going home to my wife and son. I’m losing my mind without them and this place isn’t helping. I hope you understand.”

“Of course, I do, Daddy,” she says, moving from Allen’s arms to her father, standing on her toes and hugging him. “Thank you for staying this long. You really didn’t have to, but I’m so glad you did. I’ll tell Christian to get the jet ready.”

“I’m already ahead of you,” I tell her, “but the jet won’t be ready until tomorrow morning. The pilot just got in and he needs some rest.”

“That’s fine,” Ray says. “I can wait another night. This place is just so draining. I have no idea how anybody lives here.”

“I think I’m going to have to hop that plane, too, Jewel,” Allen says. “We’re all in a bit of a holding pattern right now waiting for the sentencing and I, like Ray, wanted to be here for you in case your mother kicked the bucket… or in case you asked me if you should pull the plug.” She gasps and Ray raises a brow at him.

“It’s true,” he says unrepentant. “Ask Christian. Had you asked me from a legal standpoint about pulling the plug on that woman, I would have told you to do it. I offer no apologies. I have no love lost for that woman and I’m not evolved enough to be a bigger person when it comes to her. Hope you’ll forgive me.”

“I love you to pieces,” Butterfly says, giving him the same big hug that she gave her father. “I’ve got my babies here now to help me hold myself together. I have Mare and my husband and our wonderful staff who are more family than staff, but I couldn’t have made it this far without you guys, so thank you.”

They share a three-way hug and I watch my wife relax into the arms of her father and her best friend. I only hope I can hold her together this next week without them.

*-*

We spent the rest of the evening eating finger foods that, quite frankly, adults should not be eating, and if I had to hear Ilsa singing Let It Go one more time, I would have committed hari-kari. Thank God somewhere around the 150th time—yes, I’m exaggerating—my wife fell asleep on the floor with the twins. I left Gail and Keri to contend with our children and I carried my wife back to our suite and put her to bed.

It’s about 2am as I’m reading emails and working, and I see the email from Alex regarding Stoney Blake, Esquire… Vincent Sullivan’s attorney.

Jason’s words come to mind and I think about what he said about Blake only doing his job. As a businessman, I understand completely. However, as a loving and protective husband, I don’t give a fuck. He came after my wife with his claws bared and this is what happened.

He made Anastasia look like a 15-year-old harlot who deserved what those monsters did to her. And while Jason is correct and he did his job to the best of his ability, he didn’t put his effort into defending a young man whom he thought was in fear for his life, or in pointing the finger at the culprits of whom he was supposed to be afraid. Cody Whitmore came out spotless in his defense while my wife had to defend why she was vomiting. He needed reasonable doubt by any means necessary, and he got it on two of seven charges.

Now, he has to deal with the consequences of the means.

I begin combing through the information that Alex sent me. Typical lawyer information at first glance until I look at his financials. He has more than one offshore account with his name on it. That’s nothing suspicious for anyone who has more than a few coins to rub together, except that the sources of the funds to these accounts appear questionable, though not to the naked eye.

Money going into an offshore account, or any account for that matter, can come from anywhere. However, after a couple of hours of working my way backwards through the information Alex provided, I’ve discovered that the cash streams into these accounts are all coming from various other accounts all under three different holding companies of some Blakestone variety—Blakestone Holdings, Blakestone LTD, and Blakestone LLC.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with an attorney having holding companies as an umbrella for his money, but he’s moving some significant amounts. Is he the attorney to the rich and famous? Does he charge obscene amounts for his retainers? If it’s that innocent, why move the money through 10 separate banks for three different holding companies into three larger offshore accounts?

Because small amounts moving through random bank accounts don’t raise suspicion.

“For the love of God, must the crooked and wicked be so fucking obvious?” I ask aloud to no one.

Think about it… Robin Myrick played with me like a cat plays with a mouse, moving money around from account to account just to prove that he could before he started syphoning it out of my company. I nabbed his ass at the airport.

Holstein ends up getting pinned for cocaine and meth and all we were trying to get him for was the gun, and all because he was helping the Pedophile with that fucking book.

We won’t even discuss the Pedophile.

And Greta Ellison. For fuck’s sake, BD Simmons? Seriously? Could you be any more obvious? I let you go after I discovered that you were the one who stole the gun that could’ve killed me and my best friend and you decide to cross me again? Jesus H. Christ!

And now Blake. Unless my corporate, finance, billionaire mind is mistaken, this stinks of either money laundering or gross misappropriation of funds. The further back I go, I find no beginning trail for these funds. They just show up, and then they get split up, and then they come together again. Doesn’t he know that money in offshore accounts is not protected from the IRS or the feds? He’s an attorney—he has to know that.

“Do you ever sleep?” I ask Alex when he answers the phone.

“Apparently not when you need me,” he replies.

“I’m looking at Blake’s financials here,” I tell him. “Am I mistaken, or did you just give me a late Christmas gift?”

“You’re not mistaken,” he says. “Our young attorney is moving lots and lots of money from unknown sources. Either he’s creating a rainy-day fund for a whole lot of rich folks, or I’d say he’s washing some dollars. And if he’s laundering for the rich, they’re not going to own up to it. If I were to estimate, out of every 100 transactions, 80 – 95 of them are cash deposits. Nobody carries that type of cash around… nobody, not even you and your pocket full of C-notes.”

“So, how do we shine light on this little operation?” I ask.

“You have to ask? The IRS,” he replies, “with a little help from the feds. All I need from you is the word…”

“The word,” I say, before he even finishes his sentence.


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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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, or 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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 19

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

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

Season 5 Episode 19

ANASTASIA

It’s kind of hard to maneuver a field trip when one of the occupants of your party is all about gourmet food while another is barely eating.

Sophie is excited to go to the gourmet restaurants and food sites and even just to taste whatever local fares that Vegas has to offer, while Marilyn only sits at various tables picking at the smallest servings of the simplest foods, if she ventures to eat anything at all. She doesn’t look as sickly as she did when the trip began. Her coloring isn’t so pale, but her hair still looks very brittle and she hasn’t gained a pound. She hasn’t lost anymore that I can tell, thank God, but she’s downright skinny now, and she’s never been that way.

I don’t want to send her back to Seattle because the last thing I want is for her to be alone and that far away. However, whenever we go on some kind of food excursion, she escapes to her room anyway. I wonder what she does in there all alone for hours. I know that she’s been meditating and doing some yoga, but that doesn’t take up an entire day. Does she just sit around and mope about Gary day in and day out?

“Have you checked on Gary at all?” I discreetly ask Al at brunch on Sunday. He shakes his head.

“I’ve been a bit distracted, Jewel,” he admits.

“I’m sorry,” I reply, “it’s just that since he responded to you faster than he spoke to anyone else, I thought…” I trail off. “If he’s doing half as badly as Marilyn, I’d be concerned.” Al looks across the room at Marilyn typing away on her phone.

“She’s still not eating?” he asks. I shake my head.

“Her shakes and supplements are packed full of nutrients,” I tell him. “She’s worked herself up to maybe a course per day, but it’s nowhere near enough. She supposed to be slowly introducing food back into her system, but I think she’s going too slowly.” Al shakes his head.

“I think you’re right. You might want to have one of your Jewel talks with her,” he says.

“I have been,” I say. “I’ve been keeping an eye on her as much as I can, but I know as well as anybody that when you’re in love with someone, it can take years to get over them.”

“She’s not going to survive for years at the rate that she’s going,” he says, pointing discretely at Marilyn.

“I know,” I lament. “I’ll call Philip and see if he can check in on Gary. I’d hate to know that he’s suffering a similar fate.”

“He looked fine when I saw him at Christmas, Jewel,” Al says, “just heartbroken.” I shrug.

“Heartbreak hits different people in different ways, I suppose,” I reply.

*-*

Dinner this evening is at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant, Hell’s Kitchen, in Caesar’s Palace, where you’re greeted with Satan’s flaming pitchforks at the door… I mean literally in flames! Burning! Unfortunately, Gordon’s not here, but there’s a video of him right at the door chastising someone for posting a picture of some unpalatable dish online. Further inside the restaurant, there is Gordon Ramsey and Hell’s Kitchen merchandise—cookbooks, mugs, T-shirts, etc.—and then there’s the restaurant consisting of a large bar and a huge dining room.

The chefs all cook in an open kitchen behind a large bar that’s marked red on one side and blue on the other. I don’t watch the cooking show itself, but Sophie tells me that this looks just like the set where the teams compete, and she is absolutely mesmerized. There are several screens around the restaurant displaying active flames. It’s different, but kind of exotic. The sun has gone down and the view out of the window is spectacular. We’re looking at the three lighted fountains in the courtyard and it’s absolutely gorgeous.

Needless to say, my husband has ordered everything on the menu, and with the size of our party—minus Mare, unfortunately—there won’t be a problem with the volume of food. Knowing that Sophie is our little aspiring chef, he wants to make sure she gets to taste everything that the restaurant has to offer and give her critique.

Sophie shies away from the raw seafood dishes and leaves them for the adults—mainly the adult men as Christian and Jason decimated the oysters on a half-shell while Daddy, Al, James, and Chuck all tear into the Hell’s Kitchen grand shellfish tower, shrimp cocktail, and caviar. I manage to snag some of the tuna tartare before they destroyed it.

Sophie is more attuned to the hot appetizers when they arrive and even more enthralled with the entrees. I scold the gentlemen, reminding them that this is Sophie’s experience as they can have it at any time, and they need to stop being barbarians and allow her to taste the food first. True, she didn’t want the raw fish, but of course, she’s going to want the other dishes. Christian raises his brow at me, and I raise my brow right back, while Jason puts his fork down and Daddy, James, and Al all snicker at the other end of the joined tables.

I take each dish and present it to Sophie. She smiles and takes a small serving of each, tasting each one like a seasoned professional food critic. She identifies the various flavors in each dish, mostly by watching the shows on the various food channels and paying attention to each texture as she allows the food to tantalize her tongue. The way that she describes the food, she has a table full of adults hanging on her every word the way that she did at the wedding…

“I didn’t expect for that combination of flavors to work so well together. The scallops aren’t seared too hard—just enough of a crust to compliment the puree and the apples…”

“I didn’t expect to like pumpkin soup, but the texture is so creamy, and the flavor coats your tongue…”

“I have to admit that I expected more from the Wagyu meatballs, but the polenta is delicious…”

Gail watches proudly as the adults wait for Sophie’s critique, then taste each dish, searching for the flavors and textures that she highlighted. Jason beams, showing all 32 of his pearly whites, his chest sticking out like a prized stallion, boasting that his Baby Boo is one day going to be a 5-star chef.

I have no idea why, but I can never say “no” to a Quinoa salad. However, it can be a bit filling, so I only eat a small bit of it and share with anyone at the table who wants some. When it came to the table, I almost didn’t share it. It’s red quinoa mixed with honeycrisp apples, dried apricots, goat cheese, toasted hazelnuts, and a honey vinaigrette dressing. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a quinoa salad this delicious, and Sophie concurs.

We had to order four of Gordon Ramsay’s famous Beef Wellingtons. The adults, again, allow Sophie to taste the signature dish first, and upon reading the food orgasm on her face before she praises the tenderness of the beef filet and the flakiness of the pastry, they tear into the dish leaving nearly clean plates behind in the melee.

The desserts are utterly divine. The salted caramel apple sponge cake and ice cream creation is delicious—smooth and creamy and indulgent. I’m not a fan of the peanut butter cheesecake, but Keri loves it! James and Daddy think it’s the bee’s knees, too. However, Sophie’s favorite—and mine—is the pineapple carpaccio… shaved pineapple, citrus foam, coconut sorbet, coriander, and passion fruit. It’s served in a large, clear-glass bowl with a plate-like rim and the server comes to your table and pours liquid nitrogen into the bowl in the center. If you’ve ever seen liquid nitrogen, it causes this smokiness to rise from the bowl and swirl in between the little pineapple and sorbet mountains and across the table. It makes the dessert not only delicious, but also visually aesthetically pleasing… and fun!

It’s still early when we leave Hell’s Kitchen and begin to head back to the Waldorf, but once we get to the valet at the hotel, Jason pulls me aside from the rest of the group.

“I thought you should know that Carol just left me a message,” he says. Carol… that’s Marilyn’s security detail. “She’s at the fountains at the Bellagio with Marilyn. She decided to take a walk and now she’s just sitting there by the water. She figured you might want to know.”

“She figured correctly,” I say, looking over at Christian. “I’m going to the Bellagio. Marilyn is there at the fountains. I just want to go check on her.” Christian’s brow furrows.

“You don’t think…” He trails off.

“I don’t think,” I say firmly, “but I don’t want her to be alone either.” I look at Chuck. “We’re going for a walk.”

“You’re walking?” Christian says, aghast.

“Yes, Christian, we’re walking,” I tell him. “Trust me, I’ll be more camouflaged in the crowd on the strip than I was with the entourage surrounding me on the courthouse steps.” He shakes his head.

“Chuck, take the car,” he says. Chuck gets into the driver’s seat of the car and waits for me.

“Christian, can you see the mall right there?” I ask, pointing to the Shops at Crystals. “The Bellagio is literally on the other side.”

“That’s great, and this is Vegas. There’s a whole fucking lot of people on the street and a whole lot of shit can happen. There’s the car. Take it or leave it. I mean it, Anastasia!”

I want to be mad, but Christian never really orders me to do anything. I’ll get a chiding, a gentle warning, his Dom voice… or something, but he never outright orders me to do anything. If he’s doing it now, he’s extremely concerned… and he’ll have Metro block the street off in five minutes.

I glare at him for a moment, kiss him on the cheek, and dutifully get in the car.

Chuck has to track Marilyn’s phone for us to find her by the fountain. She’s just standing there by the balustrade staring out at the water. Carol is nearby, but not too close—an attempt to give her some privacy, no doubt. I walk behind her and announce my presence so as not to startle her.

“Hey,” I say softly.

“Hey,” she responds without turning around. “Don’t worry, Bosslady, I’m not going to jump.”

“I didn’t think you would,” I say. She looks over at me.

“You didn’t?” she says with a mirthless smile. I shake my head.

“No,” I say. “I know you’re smarter than that. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” She turns back to the water.

“No,” she says with a heavy sigh, “I’m definitely not okay.” Her voice cracks with sadness and the hint of unshed tears. “I can’t see or feel anything but darkness and sadness and gloom and despair, and while I don’t want to die, I definitely want this to end.” And now she begins to cry.

“I miss him, Ana,” she says, looking out at the water, a steady stream of tears running down her cheeks. “I miss him so much that I can’t even breathe sometimes. It’s the worst at night. I still haven’t learned how to sleep without him. I’m lucky if I get an hour or two of sleep at a time and even when I do, I just dream about him. Then, I wake up alone and cry because he’s not there or because I’ve dreamed about him leaving me again.

“I got one of those weighted blankets to help with sleeping and when I wake up under the blanket, it’s painful—emotionally and physically. I think it’s too heavy for my body, because the part of my body that it’s laying on hurts like I’ve been working out all night… but even more so, it feels like he’s holding me. So, I turn around to hold him back and it’s this damn blanket, so it hurts even more.

“I can’t eat oatmeal,” she continues. “I can’t even see oatmeal. He ate it every day without fail except Sunday. We ate anything else for breakfast on Sunday—eggs benedict was his breakfast of choice on that day, but we ate whatever… but every other day, it was oatmeal. I would put butter and sugar and cinnamon in mine; he would put syrup in his.

“I can’t eat Chinese,” she says, “orange chicken to be exact. My Gary is a creature of habit. Every Wednesday, it was orange chicken…” She pauses. “Is… was… is… I don’t know anymore.

“That’s why it’s hard for me to eat, Ana,” she confesses. “Food makes me sick. Particular foods make me think of him, and then they turn my stomach, and no matter how hard I try to keep them down, I can’t. I want to vomit now just talking about food. You, of all people, should know that the mind is a powerful thing, and right now, mind over matter is working in his favor.” I frown.

“Why would you say this is in his favor?” I ask. “Do you think he would really want to see you this way?” She scoffs weakly.

“Ana, do you even think he cares?” she asks with disdain. “I know he doesn’t wish me dead—he’s not a horrible person, but I’d bet everything I have that he wouldn’t care that I’m going through this. He’d probably wish I’d suffer more for killing his baby.”

That statement makes her weep. She briefly cries into her hands a soulful, mournful sob, and then she stops just as quickly as she started. A few people stop to look at her and her horribly tear-stained face, but she just blankly stares in front of her and they eventually just move on.

“I wake up every morning filled with dread,” she says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just putter along during the day—second by second. I don’t see any relief. Yoga and meditation fill some of the many seconds of the day, and then somewhat help me get to the next second, but I can’t see beyond the next second.

“I can’t see my future. I don’t know where I’m going. Everything I saw had him in it. Even though I didn’t see kids immediately, I still saw him. I’ve never loved anybody in my life the way that I love him. I know women—and men—have often said that they’ll never love again, but I can truly say that I can’t see ever loving anybody else in my life the way that I love him. I can’t fathom how I’ll ever love anybody ever again. And I can truly say that had I known I would end up like this, I would have kept the baby.” I look over at her.

“That is so unhealthy, Mare,” I tell her. “Whatever you do, never have a child just to save your relationship. It’ll never work…”

“Tell it to my heart, Ana,” she says, turning her gaze to me, “I can’t hear you.” She turns back to the water. “Having a baby and loving and caring for Gary’s child would be worlds better than what I’m feeling right now, even if I had to care for it alone. I would have a purpose, a reason for living, for waking up every morning. Hindsight is 20/20 and I would have loved that baby with my whole soul had I known that this was the abyss I would be plunged into by giving it up.

“I know what I look like, I’m not blind or stupid—and I know what people think, but I don’t care. If they can’t help me get to the next second, I don’t care what they think. It doesn’t even bother me; it doesn’t hurt. Nothing hurts more than what I’m feeling right now.”

I want to say something so badly to make her feel better, to tell her that this pain won’t last forever, to convince her not to regret her decision because it cost her relationship, but I know that I can’t. I know that losing Edward made me want to curl up in a ball and die many nights; had me shying away from men and relationships for a long time; had me sobbing in the parking lot of my condo years after we were history because the rest of my friends had significant others and I didn’t—I was too afraid to step out and give someone else a chance because losing Edward hurt too much.

I link my arm in hers in a show of solidarity, just so that she knows that she’s not alone. We stand there for several minutes, leaning against the balustrade and saying nothing. After a while, we hear music, and the water comes alive. I had forgotten about the water shows at the Bellagio fountains. It’s some medley of some upbeat rock or pop song, and we watch the water and lights respond to the music and the beat, Marilyn silently wishing for “her Gary,” and me silently wishing I could somehow stop her pain.

*-*

I’m back at the hospital on Monday morning, being subjected to the cold, but professional demeanors of the nurses. My aloofness towards my possibly dying mother is now known among all of the nursing staff and they treat me with enough professionalism to grant all of my requests and make sure that my mother’s needs are tended to, but they don’t show me any warmth or concern that you would normally show to the family member of a patient.

I put on my armor and try not to let it bother me, but it does. It does bother me. I could do what she did and just not show up, just not come at all. I could hire someone to come in here and make sure that she’s okay, not even come back in here until the thirtieth day of her fucking directive to pull the plug, or just wait until she kicks the damn bucket to claim the body.

But no, I come in here nearly every day, asking about her condition and if there’s been any change, having the dying flowers cleared from her room and making sure that the fresh ones stay, even talking to some of her visitors and hearing from them about how much she loves me and how she regrets what she did to me as a teenager and what a wonderful person she is now.

Today, when I get here, she’s in a cozy tartan nightgown. Someone has washed and combed her hair and she actually looks a bit more content. I know the staff is waiting for me to storm out of the room, demanding to know who changed my mother’s clothes, but I’m not. Someone—maybe Wendy—brought her something that they felt she would be more comfortable in. I can’t deny her that.

I sit silently next to her bed and text Laura about how I’m feeling; about how unfair I think it is that she’s being looked upon as the poor little victim and I’m basically being pegged as the bad guy because I’m not all broken up about her condition. Laura gives it to me straight.

She tells me that as long as I’m on my mother’s turf, that’s how it’s going to be, and I just have to deal with it. She’s made a life for herself where she is and those who know her love her because of what they know about her. Those who don’t know can only go by what they see, and what they see is a stand-offish daughter who only does what’s necessary to keep her mother alive.

“They don’t care about your story,” she tells me in a chat. “Your details are not what’s important to them—hers are. Her well-being and waking up, her friends and those who love her, that’s what’s important. You need to get her squared away, whatever that means—physical therapy, the best home care, burying her, whatever it is—and then you need to go home! You’re not going to find any peace until you get out of that place. Some of our monsters, we don’t need to face. We just need to leave them buried. Get the sentencing, get your mom squared away, and get the hell out of Vegas. That’s it and that’s all.”

She’s right and I know she is. It’s just that getting to that point is hell. Most people here treat me like vermin, and I have to stay here until I get everything squared away. How do deal with that? How does anybody deal with that?

I’ve taken a little time to look at Sophie’s Facebook page. It’s highly monitored, so she’s very careful about what she posts, but she did post the meals that we ate at Hell’s Kitchen and that she’s having fun in Vegas. I know for certain that the Adventure Dome is Saturday, but Jason and Gail took her to the Shark’s Reef at the Mandalay Bay today and lunch at Border’s Grill. Her friends have commented on and liked her photos of the Beef Wellington and pineapple carpaccio, and I smile remembering how much we enjoyed the dessert.

I’ve lost track of time quietly surfing through Facebook videos and feeds and I hear someone enter the room.

“Oh! I’m sorry,” Wendy says. “I didn’t know you were visiting. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

I look at my watch. It’s much later than I intended to stay. I might as well let someone keep watch that wants to be here.

“No,” I say, rising from the seat.  “I really need to get going. I need to check on my children.” She raises a brow but says nothing.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Wendy says, removing some things from her bag and placing them around my mother’s room. “I brought some of her things from her home. I’m hoping the familiar might help to bring her out of this. I… was the one who brought her the gown.”

“I thought it might have been you,” I reply. “I’m sure that if she could speak right now, she would say ‘thank you.’ Those hospital gowns are awful.” I speak from experience.

“I’m sure she would,” Wendy replies, her voice cracking. She turns away from me and goes to the restroom. I think she’s going to compose herself, but she returns quickly with a small cup of water. She pours the water into a diffuser and adds a little oil to it—eucalyptus, I think. It’s not overbearing, so I think it should be fine. She looks adoringly, but sadly, at her best friend.

“I’m going to go and let you visit,” I tell her. “Thank you again for the gown.” She smiles softly at me.

“It was my pleasure,” Wendy says and turns back to my mother. “Hey there, old girl,” she says, taking the seat that I vacated next to my mother. “Shall we continue book three of Gideon Cross?” She pulls a book out of her purse and begins to read to my mother. I quietly leave the room and close the door behind me.

There’s no way to get to the elevators without passing the nurses’ station. I nod at Chuck, don my Jackie O’s, and walk past the judgmental cows at the station without looking left or right, headed for the elevator.

*-*

I spend the rest of the evening with my young friend Sophie and my babies. Christian is happily left to tend to all matters GEH while I tend to my mother, then he later joins us in the Romper Room/Disney suite where I completely escape from reality and play childish games and watch cartoons and Disney movies and eat finger foods with my babies… until I have to get up in the morning and adult again.

But not today.

It’s Tuesday, and the boys are on baby duty while Gail, Keri, and I take Sophie on the food tour. I couldn’t convince Marilyn to go, so she’s staying behind to help the guys with the twins. I beg Al to try to get in touch with Gary again. Marilyn has her good days and her bad days, and I can only imagine what Gary’s going through.

We decide to do a small group tour with just the four of us since the tour is mainly for Sophie and we want her to be the center of attention and not have to worry about what others are thinking about her as she proceeds through the various restaurants and sites.

We start at Mercato Della Pescheria, an Italian restaurant located in the Grand Canal Shoppes in the Venetian and Palazzo hotels in a portion of the combined locations called St. Mark’s Square. The tour includes a chef’s choice tasting of House-made Italian specialties. It’s set up like an outdoor Italian restaurant with the wrought iron tables and red and white tablecloths, and the ceiling of the Grand Canal Shoppes is painted to look like the sky while the hallways look like the streets of Italy complete with building-façade storefronts.

“This is good practice,” I say. “We’ll be going to Italy this summer for a few weeks.”

“You will?” Sophie asks. “You guys go a lot of places.” I nod.

“Christian bought me a house there,” I tell her. “I have to decorate it before we get there. Maybe you can help me.” Her brows rise.

“Really?” she asks, her excitement palpable. “I have no idea what to choose.”

“Really,” I reply with a laugh. “We’ll be learning together, because I have no idea what to choose, either.”

“I’d like to go to Italy one day,” she says. “I want to learn to make authentic Italian cuisine.”

“Well, I don’t know what the plan is for the summer, but maybe with your Dad and Gail’s permission, we may be able to work something out.” Her eyes widen further, but then drop.

“Now, you’re teasing,” she says.

“No, I’m not,” I reply. “You know I can’t make any promises because there’s a lot involved in being able to travel overseas, but it’s not impossible and I can at least see if it’s something that we can do. So, keep realistic expectations and since we can’t do spring break, we’ll see what we can do for summer vacation. Deal?” She makes the pondering face and nods.

“Sounds reasonable,” she says. “The idea that you’d like for me to go is really cool… even if it doesn’t get to happen.”

I keep forgetting that Sophie is so young sometimes with the things that come out of her mouth. She’s had quite the life to just barely be a teenager—she’s seen way too much in her young little life.

Let’s not forget the things you saw in your young little life.
This is nothing like that and we’re not going to compare them. So, if you don’t have anything constructive to say, shut the hell up!

The last person I need to hear from right now in this place in my fragile state of mind is the Bitch. She can only do more harm than good at this point.

Our tasting at Mercato Della Pescheria includes a Burrata board with aged balsamic, grilled bread and marinated vegetables, along with gnocchi pomodoro with fresh mozzarella and cacio e pepe alla ruota. I usually have a very scrutinizing tongue, but Sophie had me beat this time. All I tasted was spaghetti with Parmesan cheese, but not our little aspiring chef.

Let’s start with the fact that she had to explain to us how it was going to be served. They roll this huge wheel of cheese over to you on a cart where they’ve cut a bowl into the center of it. Then they place the hot pasta right from the pan into the “bowl.” They scrape the cheese from the inside of the bowl and mix it into the pasta, which Sophie informs me has already been tossed with olive oil and fresh cracked pepper. When they plate it for us, Sophie has a bit more pepper ground over her serving.

She tastes the pasta with every bit of the attitude of a food critic. She takes a small serving of the dish and puts it in her mouth. She chews purposefully, like she’s weighing the textures and flavors in her mouth. You can see her rolling the mixture around on her tongue and everyone at the table—including the server—is silent.

“Is the Bucatini domestic or imported?” she asks the server. He’s rightfully a bit taken aback.

“Imported, miss,” he says. “How did you know?”

“I didn’t,” she says. “I just want to be able to tell the difference.” Gail and I look at each other, obviously impressed. Our guide, Justine, not so much. She actually looks like she’s tasting something bad.

“Do you know the cheese, miss?” the server asks.

“Hmm,” she says, taking another forkful. “It’s either Parmesan or pecorino. I’ve never tasted pecorino before, but I know it’s close to Parmesan and this is close to Parmesan, not quite Parmesan.” He smiles.

“Very good, miss,” he says, almost proudly. “It’s pecorino.” Sophie smiles and claps her fingers together quickly, also proud that she identified the cheese. I had already said Parmesan.

“What’s Bucatini?” I ask anyone who’s listening. Sophie begins to answer.

“It’s…”

“It’s a heavy pasta like thick spaghetti, but it has a hole in the center,” Justine interrupts. I assume that she didn’t hear Sophie begin to explain the pasta to us. Sophie doesn’t pay her any attention. She just shrugs and finishes her pasta. I nod at Justine and wait for her to get distracted.

“What does she mean by ‘holes?’” I lean over and ask Sophie. “It just looks like spaghetti. I don’t see any ‘holes.’”

“Regular spaghetti is a solid noodle,” Sophie says conspiratorially, “Bucatini’s a long tube. Think ziti noodle, but long and skinny.” I open my mouth in realization, then look closer at the noodle and see exactly what she’s talking about.

“I don’t know why I was expecting to see holes straight down the noodle.” I shake my head at my ignorance and take a forkful of the pasta. Sophie giggles and continues with her tasting.

Our next stop is Royce Chocolates for truffles. As it turns out, Sophie’s no stranger to Royce’s Chocolates even though Justine tries to make it appear that these are the most exclusive chocolates in the world. The store looks a bit like a confectioner’s booth that just popped up and snagged the last little corner spot in the Canal Shoppes. No offense to Royce’s; the truffles are divine, but our tour guide is just droning on and on and on about the chocolates, and while the adults in the group are trying not to take the wind out of the poor girl’s sails, Sophie’s young truth filter is in full effect.

“They’re delicious,” she says, enjoying a chocolate and creamed caramel truffle, “I just expected them to be different, I guess.”

“Different than what?” Justine inquires.

“Than the ones at the store in Seattle,” she says. “It’s the same manufacturer, so I guess they would be the same.”

“There’s a store in Seattle?” Justine asks, and Sophie’s brow furrows.

“Bellevue,” the clerk says, nodding as we turn to look at her. Feeling a bit sheepish about her lack of knowledge, our tour guide quickly gestures us out of the chocolatier. I don’t mind that she likes her job; I just think she needs to be a bit more informed about the stops on the tour, or at the very least, curb her enthusiasm a bit.

We wander through St. Mark’s Square a little more, and we stop to watch as another server in another area makes a tiramisu tableside. Sophie watches in awe as the espresso-soaked ladyfingers are layered into the pan. I don’t know if the people at the table can actually eat the confection when it’s complete as the cream portion usually needs to chill overnight.

“She can’t have any of that on this tour,” Justine says haughtily. “The espresso mixture contains alcohol.” I just glare at her.

“And if the mascarpone cream mixture is done correctly, it has rum in it,” Sophie interjects like it’s obvious. “I know that!”

Sophie is clearly becoming irritated with Justine’s behavior, but she’s refined enough not to respond in kind. Although upon leaving the impromptu tiramisu presentation, she did ask, “What’s wrong with that lady?”

Our next stop is Cañonita, a location that prides itself on Mexico City soul food. Sophie is a bit reserved as the tour continues and I don’t like that. The foodie tour is for her enjoyment and I’m rather enjoying the benefit of her knowledge of the different ingredients even though I was well aware of the inclusion of Grand Marnier in the espresso mixture and rum in the mascarpone cream.

“Sophie, are you okay?” Gail asks, noticing her reservation.

“Am I allowed to say anything?” she asks matter-of-factly. I frown.

“Of course, you are,” I reply. “You can say whatever you like.” She rolls her eyes and sighs.

“Well, I was born on Cinco de Mayo,” she begins, “so every year that I can remember since I’ve been alive, I’ve had a Mexican meal on my birthday. Since we’re on this tour, I was wondering are we just going to eat the standard Mexican foods, or can I taste something different?”

“You can have what you like,” Gail says. “If you want something different, we’ll pay for it.” Sophie twists her lips.

“I’d really like to try the Pátzcuaro Duck Relleno,” she says. “I’ve never had it and I think it would be good.”

“We don’t have time for that,” Justine interjects.

“Wee’ll. Mek. Tyme!” Keri says slowly and deliberately, waiting for Justine to respond. I think her irritation is rubbing off on Keri. When Justine says nothing, Keri turns to Sophie.

“Come, Miss Sopheh,” she says, putting her arm around Sophie’s shoulder, “tell uhs aboht de duck.”

The corners of Sophie’s mouth rise in a small smile and she begins to tell us about Pátzcuaro Duck Relleno while it’s being prepared in the back. Justine sits at a separate table close by with her arms folded and her legs crossed. I have no idea what her problem is.

“The menu says that the Pátzcuaro Duck Relleno begins with duck confit, which is a French dish,” Sophie continues. “So, I wanted to see how a French dish could become a Mexican dish. I know the manchamantel sauce is clearly Mexican. I think the combined flavors would be very interesting.”

Sophie always amazes me talking about food, because the 13-year-old girl disappears, and we have this connoisseur in front of us.

“Hah do yah knoh so much abot fuud, Sopheh?” Keri asks. Sophie shrugs.

“I just really like learning about food,” she says, “where different dishes come from, what they mean, what spices they use, how it’s supposed to taste. I’m going to be a chef one day. I don’t know what my specialty will be, but I want to know about foods from all over the world.”

“Well, you’re off to a very good start,” I tell her. “Did she tell you that Ms. Solomon showed her how to make that delightful ham and pineapple sandwich and she got it right on the first try?” Gail turns to Sophie in honest surprise.

“No, she didn’t!” Gail says, with pride. “You should have told me. I’m proud of you.”

“It’s just a sandwich,” Justine says under her breath. No one else heard her, but I did. I’m trying not to feed into it. It’s beyond me why she feels threatened by this 13-year-old girl.

“Okay, what’s next?” I ask once we finished the delightful duck dish while Justine deliberately and slowly ate the crab cakes, enchiladas, and ceviche that was intended for the tour. She took more time to eat her food than we took to eat ours, but she said that we didn’t have time for the duck. Then she haughtily tells us…

“Well, we’ve only got an hour left and there are four more stops on the food tour, so we won’t make them all.” I try not to let loose on this woman, because I’m always letting loose on someone, and it could just be me being sensitive. Instead, I just ask, “What are the four remaining stops?”

“Well, first, there’s the Honolulu Cookie Company, where they have the exotic Hawaiian goodie bag that most likely has the best shortbread cookies you’ve ever tasted in your life. Then, there’s the William Carr Photo Gallery—he’s a well-known artist acclaimed for his ability to capture the beauty and perfection of creation…”

She sounds like she’s reading from a pamphlet. I look over at Sophie.

“I had truffles,” she says. “I don’t really have a taste for cookies.”

“These aren’t just any cookies,” Justine retorts. “These are Hawaiian shortbread…”

“No, thank you,” Sophie says calmly. “You said there’s an art gallery. Are there pictures of food or something?” Justine’s brow furrows.

“Why would you ask that?” she says.

“I’m just wondering what an art gallery has to do with a foodie tour,” Sophie replies. “I can understand if it was a museum tour, but…” Sophie shrugs.

“I was thinking that myself,” I say, my voice low.

“Well, generally, the more mature patrons appreciate the art, but if you don’t want to go…” Her tone is condescending.

“Well, you clearly said that we don’t have time for the other four stops, so what are the last two?” I shoot, trying not to bite this bitch’s head off. Noting my irritation, she quickly tells us that the last two stops are a bookstore and a Peruvian restaurant called Once, pronounced On-seh. We opt to skip to Once and see what Peru has to offer.

I’m so frustrated when we get to Once that I ask for a table for five. Justine proceeds to tell the host that we’re with the foodie tour. I quickly correct her.

She’s the foodie tour,” I tell the host. “We want a table for five.” I gesture at Gail, Sophie, Keri, Chuck, and myself. When the host nods, I turn to Justine. “You said we have an hour—we’re going to order.”

Justine’s eyes narrow at me, but I don’t watch her long enough to formulate a response. When we are seated, I ask Sophie which appetizers she thinks we should try and if she’s familiar with the cuisine.

“Some of it,” she says. “Ceviche is universal, but if you are going to get it, I would get it here since the dish is originally Peruvian. I think the braised fennel would be good, and I’d definitely like to try the Chicharron Karaage and the scallop and shrimp dumplings.” I nod.

“I’m going to eat whatever she’s eating,” Gail laughs, and I concur. Keri orders the oxtail Bibimbap and Chuck orders the prime New York Steak Anticucho. Justine is seething that no one is talking to her or paying any attention to her as we enjoy the last meal on the tour—not a tasting, a meal. She keeps looking at her watch and sighing impatiently.

When we finish our meal, I charge it separately to my Amex and we leave the restaurant. Justine is trying to wrap up the tour. I don’t know what she’s expecting—it was a bad experience for me. Sophie seems unmoved. She finally announces that the tour is at its end and turns to Sophie.

“How old are you, may I ask?” Justine asks Sophie.

“Thirteen,” she replies. “I’ll be 14 in June.”

“Mm,” Justine remarks unimpressed before turning to me. “You may want to introduce the concept of humility into her life a little more,” Justine says, then turns to walk away. I gasp, at a complete loss for words. Sophie is looking aghast, and Gail is furious.

“You hold it right there!” Gail announces in a voice that makes us all freeze. “How old are you?” Justine folds her arms again.

“I’m 26,” she says, matter-of-factly.

“Well, you have a lot of growing up to do!” Gail retorts. “That young lady is the picture of decorum. She was never rude to you once and you’re just upset that she knows more about your tour than you do! I saw your face when she told us about the tableside service at Mercato, and it’s not her fault that she knows that Royce has several locations and you didn’t.

“You announced that she couldn’t have the tiramisu when all she was doing was watching. I thought you were going to have a stroke over the duck. Then you tell us that we don’t have enough time to finish the tour, but you have a coronary when we ask to skip to the end! Is this your first day? Because you’re utterly terrible at this!”

Justine gasps, but doesn’t have a comeback for Gail’s chastisement.

“You remember that name, young lady—Sophia Taylor—because if you stay in the food industry at all and even if you don’t, I guarantee you’ll hear it again. Now, you get your act together or I’ll have your neck and your job, and that’s a guarantee!” Gail shoots.

Justine’s hand shoots to her chest in that clutches pearls way. She’s shocked that after no one really checked her on her attitude, she thought that she could take liberties with us and Gail let her have it.

“I… I’m sorry!” Justine says, aghast.

“Don’t apologize to me!” Gail says. “Apologize to her! You nearly ruined her day!” Justine turns to Sophie, but Sophie turns to Gail.

“She didn’t ruin my day, Momma Gail,” Sophie says succinctly. “The guy at Mercato was nice to me; I got to eat French duck made Mexican, and really good chicken, scallops, and shrimp. And we still have Sur La Table tomorrow. I’m fine, she doesn’t have to apologize. Can we please go now?”

Chuck stands a few feet away like he has all day, smiling widely as Sophie delivers her speech.

“Are you sure, Pumpkin?” Gail says. “She owes you an apology.”

“I’m sure, Momma Gail,” she says. “Let’s just go and find some gelato. I’d like that.” Gail smiles.

“I’d like that, too,” she says, turning to Justine. “You could learn a thing or two from that little girl, but I’m sure that you won’t.” She turns back to Sophie. “I love gelato,” she says. “Let’s go find some.”

I didn’t have to lift a finger.

I fall in step with Gail and Sophie. We walk all the way back to the other end of the Grand Canal Shoppes to a gelato stand called Cocolino. We each order our flavor, then take a seat and enjoy our treat. While we’re eating the gelato, I must ask the question that’s burning in my head.

“Sophie,” I ask, “she did owe you an apology. It’s not okay for anybody to treat someone that way, especially when she was being paid. Why didn’t you want her apology?”

“Because she didn’t want to apologize,” she says, matter-of-factly. “Do you remember when Marlow snitched on me at Christmas?” I glance over at Gail quickly. She raises her gaze to me, but turns back to her ice cream.

“Yes,” I say.

“If I had apologized to them, it would have been because they made me do it, not because I wanted to or because I was sorry, because I wasn’t… and that’s why I didn’t do it. This was kinda the same thing. She wasn’t sorry, and to be honest, what she was doing didn’t hurt me. She just looked kinda dumb. And Momma Gail was right. She was just mad ‘cuz I knew more than she did. They don’t pay me to know this stuff; I just like food channels. That makes her look real bad.”

I just had a 13-year-old girl explain a very adult philosophy in the most simplified terms I’ve ever seen.

If your apology is not sincere, I don’t want it—that’s one of my biggest mantras.
If my apology is not sincere, I’m not going to give it—see the first mantra.
I’m not going to let the fact that you don’t know what you’re saying or doing ruin my good time—in other words, “Sucks to be you… I’m bigger than this.”

I can’t remember the last time I was prouder to be Aunt Ana.

CHRISTIAN

“Dude, she left that woman’s face cracked and on the ground.”

Chuck is telling us about the ladies’ day out on the foodie tour. I was sure that it would be something harmless and fun, but it appears that the tour guide had a bug up her butt.

“Are you telling me that the person in charge of the tour got into it with Sophie?” I ask.

“No, Prince Gallant with your flaming sword, that’s not what I’m saying,” Chuck says. “Sophie knows a lot about food, more than I even think we know she knows…”

“That’s because Food Network and the Cooking Channel were her companions while her mother was binging,” Jason says. “She still watches them now. If we stocked her kitchen, she could make her own meals.”

“That might be a good idea, so that she can get some practice… but I digress,” Chuck says, getting himself back on track. “She knew what kind of cheese they were putting in the pasta. She knew the origin of a Mexican dish that really came from France. She knows the alcoholic content of tiramisu. She could have done a better job as a tour guide than the tour guide. Little Miss Raven Hair didn’t like that very much.”

“Did she insult my daughter?” Jason asks. Chuck twists his lips. “What did she say?” Chuck clears his throat.

“At first, she was just making little cracks about the food,” Chuck says, “talking over Sophie when she was trying to talk. In the end, the tour ended at Once, and the women all ignored her completely. That pissed her off. I think she thought Ana was Sophie’s mother, so she tells Ana that she needs to teach Sophie some humility. I could see the hairs rise on Gail’s neck from across the room.”

Jason immediately scoffs a laugh. I can imagine that he’s seen the hairs rise on Gail’s neck from across the room, too.

“Have you seen the Karate Kid?” he asks, doing the pose that Daniel does before his finishing move.

1ced433fc3e064e5d12646bd71f2bd84

“I have,” Jason says, still laughing.

“The minute her mouth opened, I could see Gail doing it in my mind’s eye. I thought that would be the end for that girl, but the finishing move came from Sophie. Gail demanded that the lady apologize to Sophie, but Sophie told Gail that she didn’t want the lady’s apology, that the lady didn’t ruin her day, and asked to go get gelato. Imagine having a 13-year-old girl tell you that your apology is beneath her.”

I hiss at the implication. That had to be painful. I’m convinced that Sophia Taylor is not of this world. Second only to my wife, she’s one of the most rounded people I’ve met for what her mother has put her through.

“Classic,” Jason says, “fucking classic. When you guys go to Sur La Table tomorrow, make sure she gets everything she wants.” Chuck laughs.

“Make sure you tell her that,” he says.

“No matter where we go, there’s always one,” I hear Butterfly say as she enters the Romper Room suite.

“Hello, dear,” I call out to her. She stops in her tracks and examines me for a moment.

“He already told you,” she says, coming further into the room.

“He did,” I say. She shakes her head.

“Well, for once I wasn’t the object of ire… but a child? Seriously?” she says, taking a seat among all the playthings.

“There’s just no accounting for taste, I guess,” I comment.

“Indeed!” Gail says, nearly storming into the suite. “The nerve of that child! Twenty-six indeed! She behaved like a toddler. Teach her some humility… teach yourself, you wretched little heathen! How dare she insult my stepdaughter that way! She doesn’t even know her. She’s guiding the tour and didn’t even know there was a Royce Chocolates in Seattle! She’s guiding the tour! Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?”

“We heard,” I reply. Why did I do that? Right at that moment, Sophie enters the room with an expression I can’t quite read.

“You okay, Baby Boo?” Jason asks.

“Mm-hmm,” she says in a manner that indicates that she’s not saying another word.

“I’m calling her boss!” Gail continues to rant. “We paid for that tour! We paid for Sophie to be treated that way. A grown woman—angry with a child on her tour. The very nerve! I’m going to go and call that place right now!” and out of the room she goes, off to make some tour guide’s life a little more difficult. Keri looks cautiously around the room before speaking.

“Wheh ah da tweens?” she says.

“They’re napping,” I reply. “They should probably wake soon.”

“Ah’ll goh chek on dem.” She kisses Chuck on the cheek and heads off towards the bedroom. We all look at Sophie, who purses her lips, then finally speaks.

“Momma Gail is mad!” she says, her eyes a little large and her face full of ill-suppressed mirth. “I thought she was going to rip that lady’s throat out!”

“What did she say?” Jason inquires.

“She didn’t say anything bad, it’s just how she said it,” Sophie says. “It was like… she wasn’t Momma Gail—she was somebody else.”

“Daniel-san,” Chuck says under his breath, and Butterfly looks at him bemused.

“She told the lady that she was terrible at her job and not to forget my name because she was going to hear it again someday. We were in the middle of the mall! People were staring at her; the lady was really embarrassed… it was awesome!”

Normally, I would advise a youngster that it’s not necessarily a good thing to take joy in someone else’s calamity, but I think the young lady had this one coming.

“Here’s the best part,” Butterfly says, turning to Sophie. “Why didn’t you want her to apologize to you?”

“Because she didn’t mean it,” Sophie replies. “She wasn’t sorry for what she said to me. She was sorry because Momma Gail got in her butt about it. If we had just huffed and puffed and left, she would have been fine. She reminds me of my mom… mad because Daddy did something for me or gave me something.” She scoffs in that irritated teenage way, rolls her eyes, and waves the situation off. “I just wanted to go have ice cream.”

Jason is quiet for a moment, but Butterfly correctly thinks to fill the dead air.

“Well, they had better not behave that way at Sur La Table tomorrow or that franchise is going to be Sophie La Table by the time we leave,” she says. Sophie giggles.

“That reminds me,” Jason says. “You have your own kitchen, and I think you’re old enough and responsible enough to start practicing your own dishes. So, when you go to Sur La Table tomorrow, you can get anything you want to outfit your kitchen.” Sophie’s eyes widen.

“Really?” she says in a high whisper. “Dad, are you serious?”

“I’m completely serious,” he says. “You can have whatever you want, and if it needs to be shipped, just have them ship it… and we’ll get a couple of extra fire extinguishers, too.”

“Daa-aa-aad,” Sophie whines, “I used to cook when I lived with Mom, just not gourmet stuff.” Jason’s face hardens.

“You did?” he asks. Sophie shrugs.

“Yeah,” she says. “If I didn’t, I’d starve… or I’d have to eat Pop-Tarts for life.”

“How long have you been cooking?” Jason asks. Sophie ponders her answers as Gail and Keri re-enter the room with the twins.

“About…” she ponders a moment more, “three or four years.”

That would fucking make her nine years old.

“What do you know how to cook, Sophie?” Butterfly asks, trying to get information and diffuse the situation at the same time.

“A lot of stuff,” she says. “I haven’t cooked all the stuff, but watching the TV shows and things on YouTube, I can probably follow any recipe you give me.”

“What have you already cooked?” Butterfly probes.

“I can cook breakfast,” she says. “I can make hamburgers and fried chicken. I tried to bake a chicken once, but it came out kinda dry. Then I learned I needed to take the innards out and turn the temperature down… and baste, so…” She ponders a little more. “I can do lots of Asian food—stir fry, pepper steak, shrimp fried rice… I know how to make sweet and sour sauce, too.”

“What’s the first thing you remember cooking by yourself?” Jason asks.

“Oh, that’s easy. Grilled cheese… I burned my hand,” she replies matter-of-factly.

“You burned your hand?” Butterfly interjects. “Badly?”

“Real bad,” she says. “I still got the scar. See?” She turns her hand over and shows us a straight scar from the bottom of her palm across the top of her wrist. It almost looks like the scar tissue from a knife slash. Jason frowns deeply.

“Shalane told me you fell off your bike and cut yourself on a piece of glass,” Jason counters. Sophie shakes her head.

“Nope. Grilled cheese,” she says, looking at her hand again and shrugging like it’s no big deal. I can see the steam rising from Jason’s head. “Don’t worry, Dad, I know how to make a great sandwich now. Ms. Solomon taught me.” Jason smiles tightly.

“She did?” he asks, trying to control his voice.

“Yeah, it’s ham and cheese and pineapple and it’s really good,” she boasts.

“Will you make one for me when we get home?” he asks. Sophie beams.

“Sure, Dad,” she says, proudly. “I’ll make you anything you want.”

“Pumpkin?” Gail says. “Will you please take Mikey for me and help Keri get them ready for snack time? I want to talk to your dad for a minute.”

“Sure, Momma Gail. C’mon Mikey, let’s go get treats.” Gail puts Mikey on the floor and he immediately takes Sophie’s hand and allows her to lead him to parts unknown.

“Jason, are you okay?” Gail asks once Sophie has left the room.

“Anything she wants,” he says to his wife. “I mean it. Anything that will allow her to create anything she wants…” He trails off.

“You’ll get no argument from me,” Gail says. “If anybody’s worth it, she is. And I really think we’ll be cultivating her dream, so why not get her started as soon as possible with the best utensils money can buy?”

“I don’t mean to get giddy over what is apparently a serious and very solemn moment, but this is going to be so much fun!!!” Butterfly declares gleefully while shaking her fists, adding the needed levity to the situation and causing Gail and Jason to snicker.

And just like that, crisis averted.

*-*

“Does Sophie have a passport?” Butterfly asks as we’re getting ready for bed.

“I don’t know,” I reply, nonplussed. “I don’t think there was ever a reason for her to have one before now, but I would have to ask Jason. Why do you ask?”

“I think it would be great if our trip to Italy was a family vacation,” she suggests, climbing into bed. “Not the entire trip, but maybe the last leg or so of it. I’d like for my babies to be there for a bit, and that would mean Keri and Gail, which would also mean Sophie. What do you think?” He shrugs.

“I don’t see why not,” he says. “It would definitely be a really good experience for her, and I’m certain that having the twins there for part of the trip would help you to relax. I’ll talk to Jason and see how he feels. This wouldn’t have anything to do with the whole Bad Taste Italian experience, would it?”

“It has everything to do with it,” she says shamelessly. “While we were at one of the restaurants, Sophie mentioned that she would like to go to Italy one day and taste authentic Italian cuisine. I told her that we would be going this summer and said that I would run it past you, Gail, and Jason to see how you all felt about it. I didn’t make any promises, though, because I don’t know if there’s any bureaucracy involved with her being able to leave the country or even if Jason would want that.” I chuckle.

“At this point, Jason would gift her the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and if there’s any bureaucracy involved with her being able to leave the country, he’ll get past that, too,” I say climbing into bed next to her. I turn the light off as she snuggles under the cover. I wrap my arm around her waist and pull her against me, pressing two kisses on her shoulder.

“You’re a really good Aunt Ana,” I say, as she snuggles into me and falls off to sleep.

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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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, or 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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 18

@Sweet Peach75, I have no idea why, but I happened to go to my website spam folder and there were like three posts in there from you! I’ve put them back on the site, but you guys, if you post a comment and you don’t see it after a day or so, hit me on that “contact me” link so I can check my spam. I’m going to check it more often just in case. I’m so sorry about that, Peach!!!

Thanks to all of you who like and retweet my links. Twitter and I just don’t seem to agree with one another. I get on there as often as I can and I try to follow it. If it weren’t for the sites (this one included) that automatically tweet my shit, I wouldn’t be there. So, again, I thank you! 

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

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

Season 5 Episode 18

CHRISTIAN

“I haven’t eaten anything yet, and I’m starving. Can you please order something from room service?”

“Of course, baby. How far away are you?” I hear her ask Chuck.

“About twenty minutes,” she says, her voice defeated.

“Will you need a drink?” I ask. She sighs.

“Just wine… and a cranberry spritzer.”

“I’m on it,” I tell her. “Come on back to the hotel and everything will be right as rain.”

“Yeah, sure,” she remarks. “Love you.”

“Love you, too,” I reply, and end the call. I dial Keri’s number.

“Yes, Chtistian?”

“Are the twins still asleep?” I ask.

“Noh, dey jess weke up,” she replies.

“Good. Butterfly is on her way. She’ll be here in twenty minutes. I’m having room service delivered down there for her.”

“Okeh, wee’ll be wehtin,” she says, and ends the call.

I order room service to the “baby suite,” then sit impatiently, waiting for my wife to return. I’m concerned about how she’ll feel about the babies being in Las Vegas. Will she be happy they’re here, like Allen said, or will she be pissed that I brought her children to this forbidden place—and without asking her first? Maybe she’ll be both—happy at first and then pissed, or vice-versa.

Well, I wanted to see them, too, and we probably won’t be going back to Seattle until her mother wakes or kicks the bucket—whichever comes first. So, there.

I get that nervous sinking feeling in my stomach when I hear her enter the suite. It turns to concern when I see her face.

“I thought Chuck was with you,” I say.

“He nearly bolted from the elevator saying he had to pee and took off in the other direction,” she says. No, he’s trying to get a few moments with his girl before we descend.

“You look like it’s been a rough day,” I say. She tosses her coat onto the big chair and sighs.

“Not so much,” she says. “I just… I don’t know how you can see someone in such a vulnerable position and not be concerned. I look at her and right, now, she’s completely at my mercy. I want to make sure that she’s taken care of, that she gets everything that she needs, but any time I think of feeling any emotion for her, it’s nothing but anger. I think about me being in that bed—no one caring about me—and her room is full of flowers. I think about no one coming into that room to see me, not even her, but her best friend came today and just sat with her for a long time. She even knew who I was.

“It seems so petty to compare her situation now with mine back then. It seems childish to say, ‘Well, you didn’t care about me, so I shouldn’t care about you.’ It seems so ridiculous to be jealous of her flowers and envious of her visitors and hateful that so many people appear to care for her, but I couldn’t get that! Not even from her!”

She puts one hand on her forehead and one on her hip, turning away from me and taking several deep breaths. I move in closer to her and gently grasp her arms.

“This hate is heavy,” she says, her voice thick and low. “I can’t keep carrying it, but I don’t know what else to feel. I feel like she doesn’t deserve the kindness that she’s getting, but that’s crazy.” She shakes her head. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“You’re human, Butterfly,” I tell her. “She hurt you. She left you all alone. You were just a kid. You can no sooner get over those feelings of helplessness and desertion than I can get over these burns on my chest and where they came from.”

She stiffens, but it’s true. We were both traumatized in our childhood, and the scars are a lot deeper than the ones left on our skin.

“My mother is dead,” I tell her. “I don’t have to worry about forgiving her or wondering why she did what she did, because she’s gone. Your mother is alive—she’s still able to account for her sins against you and deep down, that’s what you want. You want her to feel the loneliness and the seclusion that you felt at your weakest moment, but whether she wakes up or not, she’s not going to feel that. She has accumulated a support system here, and they’re concerned about her, and you have the right to feel the way that you feel, because you didn’t have that support system when you needed it the most. We’ve both healed the best we can from those scars, but they still run deep.”  She shakes her head.

“I have to deal with this somehow,” she says. “I can’t shed any more tears over this. I can’t let it take over my life. In a couple of weeks, one way or the other, this ordeal is going to be over for me. I’ll have some therapy with Ace or Laura in the meantime and deal with it however I must.”

“Laura?” I ask. “You’ve been having therapy with Laura?”

“The few conversations I’ve had with Laura have been more fruitful than the two years I’ve spent with Ace. Her conversations are not really therapy, they’re more organic. They’re geared more to helping you get well and deal with your issues than to keep you coming back for more sessions. I think I like her methods better. I’m going to have a talk with her about studying her methods and incorporating them into my practice with the families at Helping Hands.” I twist my lips and nod.

“That’s probably a good idea, Butterfly,” I say, “especially if you see the good in what they’re doing for you. I just don’t want you to discount the good that Ace did, too. His methods really helped you out in some of your hardest times.”

“Yes, he was very helpful in a lot of ways,” she says. “I think I’m just put off by the fact that he couldn’t seem to actively help me with the Boogeyman, and that seemed pretty important to me.” I nod. I understand where she’s coming from. However…

“Well, for now, I want you to put all of this stuff in a little box and come with me. I have a surprise for you.” I take her hand and lead her to the door.

“Christian, I really don’t feel like being around people right now,” she protests, “and where’s my food?”

“Humor me,” I say, retrieving the key from the sofa table as we head out the door.

 “Where are we going?” she asks as we pass the elevator.

“A few more steps, my love,” I tell her, and she sighs impatiently. When I knock on the door of the suite, Chuck opens it with a smile.

“I smell food,” she says. “The food is in here…?”

When Chuck clears the doorway, it looks like we’ve walked right into Romper Room. The entire suite has been transformed into a toddler-friendly play area, complete with wall decals, oversized blocks, playhouses, floor tiles with letters and numbers, the whole nine yards. Percy really went over the top making a home away from home for my children.

“What in the world?” Butterfly says as we step into the suite. “What is this? You want to play with toys?”

“No, but I figure you might want to play with those,” I say, pointing to the living room area. There Keri sits with a fidgety Minnie and Mikey standing next to her. Butterfly’s hands fly to her mouth and she gasps loudly, tears immediately springing to her eyes.

Keri says something to the twins, no doubt along the lines of “Go to Mommy” or something like that. Having gotten his land legs sooner than his sister, Mikey darts to his mother and she drops to her knees in just enough time to scoop him into her arms. A few moments later, Minnie joins the hugfest, and my wife is on her knees, holding her babies and sobbing. It’s a sight that would bring the toughest of us to tears.

Allen, Ray, and Marilyn have come to the suite while my wife is blubbering in the middle of the floor to her babies. When she pulls them back to say something to them that I can’t decipher through her tears, Minnie replies with something equally indecipherable while patting both hands on Butterfly’s cheeks and Mikey makes a vain attempt to wipe her tears from her eyes.

A protector even at one year old.

I kneel down next to her and rub her back, trying to calm her crying a bit. She releases the children and they immediately head to the colorful little table and the toys it carries.

“How could you bring my babies to this horrible place?” she sobs, turning to me while still on the floor.

Uh oh.

I turn to Allen, whose eyes have widened, his mouth falling open. She rises up on her knees and catches me in a fierce embrace.

“Thank you,” she sobs in my neck. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you…”

I slowly wrap my arms around her, still stunned by her earlier chastisement, but happy that we’ve averted a crisis. While we’re wrapped in our embrace, I catch my daughter out the corner of my eye standing next to her mother. When I look down, I see her patting Butterfly on the leg.

“Methinks the Lady Mackenzie wants your attention,” I say. She releases my neck and tries to compose herself. I hand her my handkerchief, and she wipes away what tears she can manage before turning her attention to Minnie.

“Yes, Minnie Mouse?” she says, her voice still shaking. Minnie points to something on the other side of the room and uses her usual indecipherable speech, to which my wife answers, “Show me.”

Minnie takes her hand and Butterfly doesn’t rise from her knees. She crawls behind Minnie in white slacks and Louboutin red-bottoms to whatever thing has captured my daughter’s attention. I sigh heavily and look over at Allen, who stretches his lips in that way that confirms, “Yes, we dodged a bullet!”

Butterfly spends the rest of the afternoon playing games with her children and completely forgetting about the late lunch I had ordered. After a couple of hours, we order dinner to the twins’ suite and everyone comes down again to have a family meal, which consists of cold smoked ahi tuna poke, lamb chops, beef tenderloin, rotisserie chicken, cedar plank salmon, day boat scallops, whipped mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, steamed broccoli, and foraged mushrooms with red velvet cake, vanilla bean crème brûlée, and lemon mousse cheesecake for dessert. Unfortunately, tiramisu is not on the menu, so my beloved wife settles for red velvet cake.

Our children enjoy chicken fingers and French fries with finger fruit for dessert. My picky daughter bypasses the finger fruit and opts for the broccoli instead… strange kid.

The children have had a very big day with their first trip in an airplane, walking into a toddler wonderland, and the excitement of seeing their parents again. The adrenaline of the day crashes down on them very quickly after they’ve had dinner and they both fall into a food-induced slumber, Minnie in her mother’s arms and Mikey in the highchair next to me. Allen and Ray have gone back to their rooms for the night and Marilyn is sitting next to Butterfly. They’re chatting about… whatever. Marilyn is sipping on her smoothie as usual, but I didn’t see her eat anything today at dinner.

I look at her carefully, and her hair is dull and stringy. She keeps it in a small bun most of the time, but right now, it’s in a ponytail. There’s no bounce to it. It looks like hair when it’s oily and limp, but it’s dry and visibly brittle. Her skin looks pale and her face is unhealthily narrow. Her clothes are hanging from her frame and even her eyes look dull. I remember clearly when her face was fuller and her skin had a glow, when she looked healthy and athletic instead of frail and sickly. It’s not that I watched her, but I saw her nearly every day. I wish I could say that she’s looking better, but she’s not.

“Did you invite Marilyn to the spa with you yesterday?” I ask discreetly.

“Yes, but she didn’t want to go,” Butterfly replies. Maybe a massage and a treatment will help Marilyn begin to feel like herself again.

“What’s the plan for tomorrow?” I ask, loud enough for the room to hear me.

“Well, I’m not going to see my mother tomorrow because I’ll be spending the entire day with my babies.” She kisses a sleeping Minnie on the forehead. “When I was carrying them in my belly, they gave me strength when I felt like I couldn’t make it. Now, I barely know how to function when I’m away from them. Isn’t that a sad state of affairs?”

“What about you, Marilyn?” I say. “Why don’t you and Keri kick back and take advantage of the free spa packages that come with these rooms?”

“Thank you, Christian,” Marilyn says. “Maybe I will some other time, but Keri, you and Gail can go, and I’ll stay here with Bosslady.” I nod and drop it, allowing Keri and Gail to coo over going to the spa. I really wish Marilyn would go. This situation actually appears to be aging her.

“Ana, I don’t mean to talk business with you, but I haven’t gotten a chance to see you alone all day. Carl sent the figures for the proceeds from Tina’s jewelry auction. It was quite the haul.”

“Really?” Butterfly asks with interest. “Did you see how much?”

“After auctioneer’s fees, 1.7 million,” she replies.

“Whoa! Really?” Butterfly exclaims. “Have you told Grace?”

“Not yet. I just saw the email before dinner,” Marilyn says.

“Do me a favor and forward it to Grace. She’s going to be thrilled. She was just telling me about the grant proposals that she and Courtney are working on.”

“Oh, yeah, speaking of Courtney,” Marilyn says, sitting back in her seat, “I talked to her today, too. Things seem to be going well overall. Her and Vick are doing great. She got her grades and she’s ecstatic…” She trails off.

“There’s a but in there, I hear it,” Butterfly says. I hear it, too. Marilyn sighs.

“She’s a bit depressed… and pissed,” Marilyn continues. “It appears that even though her relationship with Addie is flourishing, her grandfather committed a major faux pas. Just after we came to Nevada for the trial, he offered her $1 million in cash. He wasn’t convinced that she had turned her life around and he wanted her out of Addie’s life to spare Addie the heartbreak of discovering that her granddaughter was still the conniving little brat that she had previously proven to be.

“Courtney. Was. Livid. She told him that if her grandmother did give her something at this point, she would give it to Helping Hands because you guys were the only ones who gave her a chance and believed in her when she really was worthless. She told him that she completely understands how he feels and why he feels that way, but that she’s not going to allow him to torment her anymore, that she didn’t want his money, and that she never wants to see him again.”

Whoa! That’s severe.

“She really shouldn’t cut her grandfather off,” I interject. “He has a lot of contacts—in the business world, in society… He could really be helpful to her in the future.”

“He’s already cut her off, Christian,” Butterfly says. “Courtney’s right. I totally get why Fred feels the way that he does. Courtney was insufferable and incorrigible, but she didn’t come to them asking for forgiveness, to be accepted into the family, or for any money or support from them. In fact, she shunned it. She avoided all contact with them. Addie came to her. Even then, she had the condition that if they felt the same way that they felt when they sent her back to Hukatucky or whatever the name of that place was that she didn’t want to be bothered—she was fine without them.

“I don’t know what Fred is expecting from her, but if he feels that she’s still irredeemable, then he needs to separate himself from her. Stop being around her and stop antagonizing the girl.”

“He’s only doing the same thing I did with Carla, Butterfly,” I say. “I tried to hand her money to get out of your life and leave you alone if she was coming back into your life to cause you grief and she turned it down, too.”

“It’s completely different, Christian,” Butterfly says. “Courtney was a self-centered, irresponsible little brat and that hurt Addie and Fred a lot. My mother watched me be tormented—physically and emotionally—and then she contributed to that torment. Addie and Fred discovered over the course of a few months that Courtney was a seemingly unsalvageable bad apple. I suffered for years at the hands of my mother.

“Courtney turned her life around on her own terms and decided that what she did, she would do it while no one was looking. My mother gave a moving performance about how horrible she and Green Valley were to me, about how she wishes she could take it all back and that the money I gave her is in a trust fund for the children, but she had an audience—a very large one at that. She cut her own deal to give her testimony, and even if she was totally sincere about her change of heart, I am nearly 30 fucking years old. The pain that she put me through is completely immeasurable and its effects spanned decades. One courtroom testimony—though quite stirring—won’t make up for what she put me through.

“Courtney did nothing like that to Addie and Fred, nor has she tried to come back and get in their good graces. They came to her.”

I can’t argue with her. She’s right about all of it. I just can’t help but feel like…

“I wish there was some way that everybody could come out of this not so hurt,” I admit. “We all know that Courtney was a real piece of work, but she appears to have turned her life around. And Adelaide and Fred are old and dear friends of our family. I just wish it could be easier for everybody.”

“You’re sweet,” my wife says softly, “but sometimes, this is just the way it is, baby.”

“Yeah, I know. I just don’t like it.”

*-*

My wife is happily spending the entire day in Romper Room watching various Disney movies and playing with toys like she’s a toddler herself. She awoke this morning, took the fastest shower known to man, donned a pair of yoga pants and a sweatshirt, scoffed down her breakfast way too quickly to digest, and announced that she will be spending the day in the babies suite if I wanted to find her. With her permission, I take a few hours to catch up on all things GEH.

I’ve discovered that with the new system of employee reviews, we’ve had a few resignations—some of the workers in the trenches and a couple of people in middle management, nothing to be concerned about. When asked why they were resigning, many of them gave some form of the same answer—they felt like they shouldn’t have to justify why they deserved their raises.

My company is scraping its ass on the ground like an ailing dog, being dragged down by incompetent assholes, some of whom don’t have the leadership skills of a gerbil, and I’ve got people who feel they shouldn’t have to tell me that they deserve their raises simply because they’ve done everything they were told to do… no initiative, no latent leadership skills, no problem-solving, no nothing, not even speaking up to say, “I had an idea, but my opinion wasn’t respected.”

Well, if that’s how you feel, then goodbye—and good luck on your next STAR behavioral-based interview where you’ll have to explain why you quit your last job with a very lucrative company with endless opportunities for advancement and when and if you proved at any point that you could be a valuable member of the team.

My status report has come in on the Pedophile as well. I look over the pictures that were forwarded to Alex. They’re glorious! She’s sitting in a wheelchair and her skin is hanging off of what you can see of her face. Her blonde hair is once again growing out to its brown and gray roots, and she truly looks like she’s got one foot in the grave. It truly warms my heart.

After an email or twelve to various departments and my executive team, I head down to the Romper Room suite to see my babies… all of them.

*-*

“They’re playing all your songs tonight, Al,” Butterfly laughs.

“Looks that way,” Allen concurs.

James flew down to be with Allen for the weekend and a few of us take a chance again to get out of the hotel. Butterfly found a place online called Oddfellows. It’s north, just on the outside of the Freemont Street Experience near the courthouse. It’s an alternative-type dance club where I would suspect no one would know who we are or at least they wouldn’t expect us to be here. Each night has a theme, and tonight is 80’s night, apparently right up Butterfly’s and Al’s alley.

The order of the day is jeans and casual clothes, so I didn’t have to worry about my girl wearing some skimpy dress that would be the envy of all the women and the desire of all the men. There’s a skimpy dress here and there on the dancefloor—which has a small stage and a huge, wall-sized video screen as its backdrop—but not Butterfly. No, she wants to dance and gyrate, and that silk shirt, black jeans, and Louboutin stilettos are still enough to showcase that beautiful body and cause a few women to sneer and more than a few men to salivate.

My girl has had a Cosmo or two and is bouncing happily in her seat to the music, an eclectic mix of artists from what sounds like the 80’s and maybe a touch of the early 90’s.

“So, how do you distinguish between Allen’s songs and your songs?” I ask. “You’re both singing them all.”

“Well, Al was the quintessential white boy, so he introduced me to Billy Joel, Duran Duran, the B-52’s, A-ha, and Wham, to name a few. I was the reverse Oreo, so to speak, so I introduced him to Motown, Kool and the Gang, Bobby Brown, and Salt-n-Pepa. It appears that they are tapping into the 80’s white boy tonight.”

Just as she finishes that statement, the familiar twang of the beginning of Take On Me fills the air and my girl deliberately begins to wildly bob her head like a hand-banger, after which she leaps to her feet and begins to do that dance where the girls bounce back and forth on their toes from one foot to the other, her hands doing a calmer version of the swim, and all I can think to myself as she and Al pipe out the lyrics is, “Who is this girl?”

She went to the hospital briefly this afternoon and when she returned, I was informed that we were going out tonight. She disappeared into the bedroom for an hour or two and when she emerged, she was wearing the ensemble that she’s wearing now, quickly putting the kibosh on my more formal garb and instructing me to go and change. We’ve had a seafood dinner and my wife and her gay boyfriend are feasting on a dessert of Cosmos and 80’s music.

Once A-Ha has finished singing the last bars of the song and the lead singer bursts out of the cartoon world and into live color on the life-sized screen, Allen and Butterfly return to the table with me and James to quench their parched throats with a swallow or three of their Cosmos. Just as they’re catching their breath and reminiscing over yet another 80’s tune, an unfamiliar intro of horns begins to play. Butterfly looks up at Allen in acknowledgement and Allen raises a brow at her.

“Do you remember it?” Allen asks her.

“Of course, I remember it!” Butterfly replies.

“Well, what’re we waitin’ for?” Allen says, sliding out of the booth. Butterfly giggles as he takes her hand and they head off to the dancefloor. I look at Jason, who just shrugs. A few moments later, we watch as Allen and Butterfly break into a perfectly choreographed routine of what looks like a mixture between a foxtrot and a jive, and with all the spins and perfect steps they’re doing, you can’t really tell who’s leading. I look over at James, who’s as stunned as I am to see them dancing together like that. They actually look like they can compete professionally.

What’s more, I don’t think I’ve seen my wife smile this widely in weeks.

“Do you ever feel left out of their little club?” I ask James honestly. He shakes his head as he swallows his beer.

“No,” he says, “Allie makes sure that doesn’t happen. We have our own little club and everybody can’t be a part of that one.” He raises his brow and takes another drink of his beer. I remember Butterfly mentioning to me once that they dabbled a bit in the lifestyle. I don’t know if they’re still in it or how deeply they’ve gone, and I dare not ask without invitation, but he’s right—no one should be privy to the “marriage” club relationship unless you’re practicing Polyamory, and that’s a huge no-no for me and Butterfly. I don’t want anyone else’s hands—male or female—on my woman!

“I’ve never seen a friendship like theirs,” James continues. “Never. If I wasn’t certain of Allie’s love for me, I’d feel threatened. I’m a little jealous that I never had a friendship like that in my entire life.”

“I think we’re both lucky to have found them,” I tell him. “They’re in love with each other as much as two people can be in love and not share a sexual relationship. For her to have the capacity to love him unconditionally and then love me, too… yeah, I’m the luckiest man alive.”

“I might have to dispute you on that one, Chris,” he says, watching his husband finish a flawless dance with my wife. They were clearly in their own world and appear a bit surprised to discover that the dancers cleared a small hole in the dance floor for them to finish their routines while the spectators looked on, and they’re a bit taken aback when the room erupts into applause for them.

I discover later that the song that gave them dancing feet is called Mambo #5.

My girl returns to her seat and a Cosmo and a bottle of water later, she’s back on the dance floor, perfectly mimicking the steps—and adding a few of her own—to the Salt-n-Pepa, Push It and Janet Jackson Control videos.  

And now I know how my girl learned to dance. She probably spent quite a bit of time mimicking music videos.

I have to admit that concept behind the Tainted Love video, I can’t get with that. It looks too creepy to me. I’m surprised that I’ve never seen it before now. He’s singing to a little girl—he looks like a fucking pedophile. Jason notices my expression and leans over to me.

“You okay, Boss?” he asks.

“This song was popular back in the day, I remember it,” I tell him. “This was the concept behind it the whole time?” He looks at the video, then looks back at me.

“I… I don’t know,” he says. “But you know the eighties, Boss. There was a lot of artistic expression that didn’t necessarily make sense.”

“There’s nothing confusing about that,” I retort. “He’s singing to a child about tainted love. That’s disgusting! Who approved this message?”

“I wouldn’t get too upset about it, Boss,” Jason says. “The song is 35 years old and the guy singing it is probably twice as old…” and probably out molesting children if his video is any indication!

I purse my lips and shake my head. How jaded must my mind be to get this angry over a 35-year-old video whose director obviously adopted a very fucked up sense of creative license?

“You’re not off the mark on this one, Chris,” James says, bringing my attention back to him. “I think it’s weird, too, and that’s putting it nicely. It’s making me pretty fucking uncomfortable. That song was originally done in the 60’s by an artist named Gloria Jones—this is a cover. She made it very clear that it’s about a relationship gone sour and she’s singing to her lover about how she feels their love is one-sided and now putrid. Where the concept falls that he’s singing to a little girl is beyond me.”

“Thank you!” I say, throwing my hand in the air. “I’m not crazy! I still like the song, but that video sucks!” I bottom out my bear and search for the waitress to get another one. While I’m searching the room, my eyes land on Butterfly and her lifetime dance partner now dominating the floor to Paula Abdul’s Straight Up.

I’m mesmerized once again watching her mimic the moves in the music video with Allen as the perfectly in-sync backup dancer. I completely forget what I was bitching about watching her flawlessly execute that Butterfly thing that Paula Abdul does with her legs. She’s graceful and beautiful and if there’s conversation going on around me, I can’t even hear it anymore. I could watch her all day.

Next, another Paula Abdul song comes on accompanied by a video that would disturb me as much as the Tainted Love video… if it wasn’t so cute. It’s the video for Opposites Attract, and Paula’s love interest is—of all things—a cartoon cat. The entire video is a dance video and she and Allen never miss a step. They use whatever room the other dancers give them, whether it’s a few feet or the entire stage area of the dance floor. After watching her execute some of the rubber-band moves of Paula Abdul, many people usually just move out of the way. I’m totally blown away when she and Allen mimic the tap dancing scene near the end of the video.

Fuck, is there anything this woman can’t do?

They stroll back to the table like Paula and ScatCat strolls off the screen at the end of the video, smiling so hard that their faces should break. Amidst the thunderous applause and cheers, they’re cut off by one of the women that was dancing just before they get to the table.

“Are you guys a couple?” she asks. “You look great together!”

“Thank you,” Butterfly says sincerely. “No, we’re not. Actually, we’re both married. He’s my gay boyfriend.” She squeezes his hand and lays her head on his shoulder.

“And she’s my fag hag,” Allen replies, laying his head on hers.

“Wow, really?” the girl says, somewhat wistfully. “You’re kind of hot.” James reaches up and takes his husband’s free hand, guiding him to the seat next to him.

“I think so, too,” James says protectively.

“Wow,” she says, looking at Allen and his husband, “two hot guys. You can’t go anywhere in public, can you?”

James chuckles loudly and Allen laughs as the young lady’s eyes travel around the table and land—widely—on me. Butterfly slides into the booth next to me and latches onto my arm, smiling at the girl.

“Please tell me that’s another one of your gay boyfriends cuz I’ll turn him straight,” she says without taking her eyes off me. Butterfly shakes her head and flashes her rings.

“Nope. Husband,” she says with a smile.

“Shit!” she says. “Sorry,” she says to Butterfly, repentant and with pouty lips, then she rolls her eyes. “Three hot guys.” Her eyes wander to a lone Jason sitting on the opposite side of the table in a chair he commandeered and brought to the table. Before she can question, he holds up his finger and flashes his ring.

“Fuck!” she exclaims. “Four hot pieces of man-candy and they’re all taken! Figures!” She throws her hands up and marches, frustrated, away from the table, causing us to burst out in laughter while Jason just shakes his head.

“I had no idea you guys could tap dance!” I point out once our admirer has left.

“She can’t, I can,” Allen says, proudly.

“Well, she was doing a pretty good job up there,” James says.

“Only because he taught me that routine,” Butterfly says before taking a healthy chug of what must be room-temperature water.

“And she scares the shit outta me doing it in stilettos!” Allen chimes in. “The entire time, I was afraid that she would tweak her damn ankle!”

“But I didn’t, so keep your shirt on,” she says, waving down a waitress.

“My girl can do anything in stilettos,” I say, remembering what she said to me after our first night together. James’ brow furrows.

“Anything?” he asks, puzzled.

“Anything,” Butterfly confirms.

“Can you rock climb?” Jason asks, with a smirk.

“If it’s me or the rock, I’ll figure it out,” she replies.

The waitress has made her way to the table and Butterfly gets another round of drinks, lots of water, and soda for Jason. Once the waitress returns, I hand her a $100 bill and thank her for the drinks.

“I’m hungry again,” Butterfly announces after chugging an entire bottle of water.

“I can see why,” I say. “You’ve done a workout up there that would put Zumba to shame.”

“And I’m sweating like a pig,” she says, pulling the material of her shirt from her body repeatedly, using it to fan herself. “Give me your blazer,” she says.

“Why? Are you cold?” I ask.

“I will be in a minute if you don’t give me your blazer,” she says, and snatches her drenched silk shirt right over her head… in the middle of the damn club. I’m stunned just looking at those beautiful mounds held up by a stylish black sports bra.

“Shit!” Jason says, ripping off his suit jacket to cover Butterfly while she uses her 100% silk shirt to dry her sweat to a background of whooping onlookers.

“Your Highness!” Jason scolds over the music.

“Heeeeey! We agreed!” Butterfly protests.

“Your. Highness!” Jason reinforces, saying the second word so hard that Butterfly jumps in her seat. “Please! Don’t ever do that again!”

She stares at him like a child being scolded by her father. His words are a request. His tone is, “If you pull that shit again, you’re grounded for a month.”

“Okay, okay, sorry,” she says in a whiny, petulant, teenager voice. She buttons the suit jacket which is at least three sizes too big for her, her sports bra still peeking out from the neckline. She rolls the sleeves up to accommodate her hands, never raising her gaze to any of us while she’s doing it. I’m certain that she’s feeling chastised and a bit embarrassed. She had better be glad I was hypnotized by her tits or my reaction may have been a bit more… animated.

“Okay,” I say when she has fiddled with the sleeves a bit too long. “Back to the dancefloor.”

I push her out of the booth and slide out behind her. I’m dragging her to the dancefloor by her hand and she’s somewhat stomping behind me with her head down like I just told her to go to her room.

Geez, Butterfly, spoiled much?

I dance a little with her and she’s not into it at all, doing the obligatory two-step with minimal movements of her arms.

Well, this will never do.

“Okay. Fine. You don’t want to dance with me? I’ll dance by myself.”

I turn away from my wife and begin a series of crazy gyrations reminiscent of the final scene of Footloose. It’s not really bad, except if you take away the weird dresses and prom decorations, you’ve got one guy on the floor looking like he’s having a seizure.

When I turn back to my wife, she’s got one arm crossed over her chest and one hand covering her mouth, stifling a smile that she’s trying not to let show.

“No?” I say, shaking my head. “Okay, how about this?” For my next rendition, ladies and gentlemen…

I begin a really bad… and I do mean really bad rendition of Austin Powers’ fembots dance. Seriously, the dance was already bad on its own, but I made it worse. Now, both my wife’s hands are covering her mouth. And for my finale, folks…

I break into a flawless rendition of Napoleon Dynamite’s “Vote for Pedro” dance to Canned Heat… only I’m dancing to Break My Stride. And, well, flawless may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I must admit that Napoleon Dynamite was one of my guilty pleasures, so I know that routine very well. If it’s not flawless, it’s pretty damn close.

“Okay, okay, you’re making a fool of yourself!” my wife says, halting my exquisite execution through her laughter by putting her arms around my waist.

“Yeah, but I made you laugh, didn’t I?” I say victoriously.

“Heartily,” she says as I pull her against me and kiss her quickly.

“And he’s right,” I say, holding her over Jason’s way too big suit jacket. “What you did was worthy of a punishment. If you ever do it again, you’re going to get one, and you’re not going to like it. Understand?”

My voice is sober, but not harsh. It’s matter-of-fact. If you’re a bad little Pussycat, you’re going to get spanked. She nods and drops her head like a good little soumise.

“Yes, Sir,” she replies softly, and I hear it loud and clear as if she were speaking through a bullhorn. I put my finger under her chin and lift her head.

“Good girl,” I say, kissing her softly again on the lips. “Now, let’s go find something to eat.” I take her by the hand and lead her from the dancefloor.


ANASTASIA

Last night’s workout has turned out to be murder on my joints. I’m exhausted and sore, but not too tired to have breakfast with my children. I’m able to convince Marilyn to have a few pieces of fruit, but I’m certain that we’re going to have to graduate to more real food for her very soon. While Pedialyte, Ensure, and smoothies offer sufficient nutrition for her, she can’t survive off of those things indefinitely.

“Daddy, why do you call me ‘Sunflower?’” I ask when we are the last two people at the table. He raises his brow.

“I’ve… called you that almost since you were born,” he says. “Why do you ask?” I drop my gaze.

“My mother’s favorite flower is a sunflower,” I say. “It took me nearly 30 years to find that out and I found out from a stranger.” Daddy gasps.

“Oh,” he says, sadly. “I forgot all about that. Yeah, that might have been where it came from, come to think of it. I did love that woman once upon a time… very much. It wouldn’t have been too far fetched. I’ll stop if it bothers you…”

“Absolutely not!” I scold. “’Sunflower’ is something special between us that just happens to be her favorite flower.” Daddy nods and drops his head.

“I know why you didn’t tell me everything, but it hurts that you didn’t tell me everything.” I sigh heavily.

“I didn’t have the heart, Daddy,” I reply. “Those details are even hard for me to watch right now, and I remember everything vividly, like it happened yesterday. It was selfish of me not to prepare you guys for what was coming, but what could I do?”

“Nothing, Sunflower,” he says, his eyes filling with tears. “You couldn’t do anything. You couldn’t do anything then and you couldn’t do anything now.” He throws his gaze to the ceiling, trying to fight his tears.

“The only times I’ve ever cried was over you,” he admits. “I was broken when I lost Carla. I was destroyed when I lost you. It was the worst pain I had ever felt when you left me.” I cover my mouth and choke back a sob.

“I know, Daddy,” I say once I’m able to speak. “I felt the same way about you. All those horrible things she made me say to you…”

“I knew it wasn’t you, Annie,” he says. “The words weren’t yours and I could tell right away…” He trails off. “When I showed up at that hospital and you were all frail and weak, dear God, I wanted to burn this city down to find out what had happened to you. I was so angry with Carla. She couldn’t even tell me what was going on! She didn’t have any answers. She blamed you the entire time I talked to her, saying that she had no idea what you had gotten into. Your bruises were mostly healed, but you still looked broken. The pictures that I saw… I had seen men tortured in POW camps that didn’t look that bad.

“All these years, she just walked around like, ‘Shit happens,’” he says, his voice cracking. “Then, she had the nerve to show up at the hospital after you were kidnapped; all that shit she said in the press… Who the hell does she think she is?”

Daddy is getting angry and he’s crying freely now. Daddy’s right—I don’t remember ever seeing him cry. Marines don’t cry, but he’s crying now.

“How could she birth someone into the world and then treat her that way?” he sobs. “I wouldn’t treat a dog the way she treated you. And dear God in heaven, when she called me and told me that you were missing again…!”

Daddy is weeping now. His body is shaking violently with his sobs. I hold his hands tightly as he cries, my own dam bursting along with his. He’s been holding this in for a lot of years. He needs to get it out.

“I did everything I could to keep you,” he sobs. “This never would have happened if she had just let me keep you. I would have protected you… spared you all this agony…”

“I know, Daddy,” I weep. “I know you would.”

“Your capacity for kindness never ceases to amaze me, Annie,” my father says with tears streaming down his cheeks. “I’m not ashamed to say that after hearing her version of what happened, and what she felt, and knowing what you went through, I would have immediately pulled the plug on that woman!” He says the last part through gritted teeth.

“I’m angry and hurt for everything that she did to me,” I admit, “everything that she allowed to happen to me—from ripping me away from you to allowing her monster of a husband to mistreat me to the entire ordeal with Green Valley. I’m hurt and disappointed and enraged down to my very soul… but if I just let her die, then I’m no better than she is.

“At the end of the day, I have to live with my decision. That’s why I’m making sure that she’s getting the best care, but it’s not out of love or devotion. It’s out of human obligation. I’m her next of kin, and I will see her through to the end of her advanced directive or until she awakes, whichever comes first. Then, I’ll put her in a nursing home or the grave, whichever is necessary.”

“That’s still more kindness than she deserves as far as I’m concerned,” Daddy says, wiping his eyes. “I would either be donating her body to science or walking away and leaving her right where she lay! I guess the Man Upstairs has to work on my heart. I don’t think I’ve ever forgiven her for what she put you through.” I squeeze his hands.

“Forgive her, Daddy,” I say, through my sniffles. “I have. I can’t hold onto it anymore. I forgave her years ago when I gave her that money and told her to get out of my life. It still frustrates me that she did the things that she did, and that she was so heartless and cruel, hence my recent meltdown. That’s what happens when I dwell on it. That’s why I don’t dwell on it. You shouldn’t either.” He sighs heavily.

“You’re so wise, Annie, that it scares me sometimes,” he admits.

“Trust me, it can be a very heavy cross to bear,” I lament, wrapping my arms around my Daddy and hugging him with all my might.

Later that afternoon, I stop in at the hospital to collect more cards from more flowers and have some of the older arrangements removed. I told the nurse that she could decide what to do with them since some of them look like they may have been dying. I can still see the disapproval in her eyes when I give her instructions even though she doesn’t say anything to me about how she feels. It’s none of her business anyway. Henry, my mother’s guard today, shows me her visitors’ log.

Fourteen people have been here to see her since I said she could have visitors. What was that, like a couple of days ago?

I push down the anger, envy, and resentment that I feel each time I think about the number of visitors that this selfish adult grandmother has received in just the past few days that a 15-year-old girl wasn’t afforded in several weeks.

“Neti, neti,” I repeat to myself, standing in my mother’s room. “Neti, neti…”

Studying with Marilyn about meditation and restorative yoga, I came upon this simple Sanskrit chant. Neti, neti which simply means not this, not this. It’s used to push away bad omens, bad thoughts, bad situations. I use it to try to cleanse myself of the hateful feelings and energy that consume me when it comes to dealing with this woman. My negative energy can’t be conducive to her healing, and it’s certainly not conducive to mine.

“Neti, neti… neti, neti… neti, neti…”

I recite the damn thing all the way back to the hotel.

*-*

“Aunt Ana!”

Sophie gives me a big hug once she and Gail get to the hotel Saturday evening. She appears to be very happy to be here.

“Sophie!” I say, returning her embrace. “So… Vegas. How many of your friends can say this is where they’re spending their semester break?”

“None,” she giggles. “Most of them are talking about going to some exotic place for spring break, but I’m in Vegas now!” I laugh with her. There’s no use in spreading my hatred for this place. A lot of people like it here; I just don’t.

“I know that Gail and Jason have some things planned, but I’ve got a thing or two planned as well,” I tell her.

“It’s not all kiddie things, is it?” she laments. “I want to do some kiddie things, like I want to go to the Adventure Dome, but I don’t want to do all kiddie things. I want to do some grown-up things, too.”

“Like a Las Vegas food tour?” I ask, “Or dinner at one of the world-renowned chef’s restaurants?”

“Yeah!” she replies, starry-eyed.

“Well, that’s what I’ve got planned,” I tell her, and she hops in place and claps.

“Oh, yay!” she says. “When do we go?”

“The restaurant is tomorrow night, and the food tour is Tuesday. Is there anything else besides Adventure Dome that you want to do while we’re here?”

“I want to go to Sur La Table,” she says. “I’ve been to the one in Pike’s Place and I wasn’t really impressed. I want to see what the one here looks like.” I nod.

“Your wish is my command,” I tell her. “I’ll talk to Gail and Jason and see what they’ve got planned and we’ll fit it in among their plans, okay?” Sophie nods happily.

“Okay,” she says. I type into my phone memos to check out Sur La Table. The moment Google sees the name, it suggests the cooking classes that they have at the store in Summerlin. That would be fantastic! I’m glad my phone is on silent or Google would have blown my entire plan!

“Aunt Ana… I know why you’re here,” she says solemnly. I raise my gaze to her. I don’t really know how to respond. “It’s all over the news at home.”

I swallow hard. How do you explain something like this to a 13-year-old girl?

“I know about your mom, too,” she says, looking at her hands. “I just wanted to get that out.”

“Okay,” I reply.

“I don’t really understand this whole thing,” she says, her brow furrowed. “I really thought the police were supposed to help you.” I sigh heavily.

“Most of the time, they are,” I reply. “This guy… had a brother he wanted to protect more than me.”

“Well, that’s just… crappy,” she says. I know what she really wants to say, and crappy wasn’t it. “Everybody has somebody they want to protect. Does that mean that I have to worry about if the police are going to put somebody else’s well-being before me?”

I shake my head. I can’t tell her that this won’t happen. They very well might put someone else’s well-being before her for many reasons, including but not limited to protecting their own family.

“Let’s hope that’s not the case, Sophie,” I tell her. “I would think that overall, the police would want to do the right thing, which is to protect and serve the public. I feel that even though there may be a few bad apples, overall, the police are good people.”

“I hope you’re right,” she says, “but I still think I want Daddy to teach me how to shoot when I’m old enough.”

“Well, it’s not a bad skill to have,” I concur. She’s quiet for a moment.

“What they did to you,” she says, looking down at her hands, “it was horrible. It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever heard… even more horrible than my mom doing drugs… even more horrible than here trying to sell me to that guy…”

“That was pretty horrible,” I interrupt her with a furrowed brow.

“This was worse,” she said. “Somebody saved me… the police saved me. Nobody saved you… and I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

I’m doing my best not to get choked up. I know what she means, but that’s a huge responsibility for a little girl to take on about something that happened before she was even born.

“There’s nothing for you to be sorry about, baby,” I tell her, taking her hands. “These were horrible people and they did a horrible thing, and now they’re being punished.”

“I’m still sorry,” she says, now looking in my eyes, “I’m sorry that someone came to save me, and no one came to save you.” Oh, dear God.

I know what she’s feeling, and I can’t explain it away. I just take her in my arms and give her a really big hug.

“Thank you, Sophie,” I say, trying to keep my voice from cracking. “I think that’s the nicest thing anybody has ever said to me.”

*-*

Dinner tonight is at the Buffet at Aria, and poor Sophie wants to try everything on the menu. The food is spectacular, the dessert divine, and my honorary niece is eating herself into a stupor. Even my normally picky eater Mackenzie is shoveling different fruits and vegetables into her mouth.

Marilyn didn’t even bother to succumb to the pressure of a buffet, so she’s sitting this one out.

“We’re in Vegas,” Christian says to Chuck while Keri and Gail are off at the food stations. “Have you asked her?”

“Of course, I have,” Chuck replies. “I didn’t expect her to be here, so I left the ring at home, but I was prepared to buy another one if she had said, ‘yes.’”

“So, I take it that it was a ‘no,’” Christian replies. Chuck sighs.

“She’s afraid of something, but I don’t know what it is,” Chuck replies. “I adore her, and I’m certain that she loves me. I just don’t know why she won’t marry me.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want to be beholden to you,” I say. “I love Christian very much, but I wouldn’t want that either.”

“Well, first of all, I wouldn’t do that to her,” Chuck says, slightly affronted. “And second of all, she wouldn’t be. She’s here on her own visa and her job is with you, just like mine is. Granted, she got it because of her affiliation to me, but let’s face it. As much as I love her, if she was shit, you guys wouldn’t let her tend to your children. And now, she’s got her teaching certification, so she really doesn’t need me that way. I don’t think that’s it.”

I think it is. I think she doesn’t want to lose her independence and that she’s afraid that if she marries an American and she’s Anguillan, that’s just what might happen.

“I see those wheels spinning,” Chuck accuses. “You know something I don’t.”

“You’re right,” I confess. “I know how it feels as a woman making my own way and not wanting to lose that feeling. As much as I’ve become accustomed to the lifestyle that I enjoy with my husband, if something happened and I lost it all tomorrow…”

“Which is impossible,” Christian interjects.

“But if it did,” I retort, “I could still go out into the big, wide world and fend for myself. I’m just saying. I don’t know if that’s the problem, but maybe you should ask her what she needs in order to make that step. It may not be that she doesn’t want to spend her life with you. It may just be that you’re asking the wrong question.” He rolls his eyes.

“No offense, Ana, but I can’t hear the shrink right now. I love that girl, and if asking her to marry me is not the right question, then I don’t know what is. Excuse me.”

He stands and heads for the door, and I think he’s going to the restroom. I watch him leave, then crack my neck and finish my wine.

“I’m sorry I asked,” Christian says. I shake my head.

“It’s not your fault,” I reply. “I’m always trying to shrink someone else and I can’t even shrink myself. I’m all tied in knots in this place. I’m barely hanging on from day to day. You all had to bring my children down here to keep me grounded. Who am I to try to give someone advice on how to live?”

“A licensed psychiatrist and a damn good one,” he says, putting his arm around the back of my chair. “You do know what you’re talking about, and you’re right. He just doesn’t want to hear it. He’s raw from another let-down. And baby? When a doctor is ill, she doesn’t diagnose herself without tests. Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t have all the answers for all this crazy shit that’s going on in your life.”

I will not cry…
I will not cry…

“I thought I was supposed to be the shrink,” I say, laughing to fight my tears. He smiles widely and kisses me on the cheek.

“We both know I’m no shrink,” he replies. “I just love you and I want you to be happy.”

I smile and lean on his shoulder. I love Chuck and Keri, too, and I want them to be happy. I just wish I knew what was really holding up Keri’s decision


A/N: Freeds opened in Vegas—Henderson to be exact—in 2017, not 2015. Creative license.

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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Grey, Continued: Season 5, Episode 14

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

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

Season 5 Episode 14

CHRISTIAN

Lunch manages to end on a high note with Butterfly showing Cynthia and Larry pictures of the twins at Christmas and their first birthday and talking about the accreditation at Helping Hands and all the things the Center will be able to do now that they’re licensed. I’m very happy to move the conversation away from the trial. We’ve decided to stay, and now we need to make the best of our time while we’re here awaiting this damn verdict. Much to my surprise, Butterfly suggests that we all go to Karaoke since most of our party will be returning to Seattle tomorrow. Cynthia and Larry decline, but it looks like our party will be going to make fools of ourselves on stage.

Although we’re in better spirits as we watch the living statues perform in the middle of the mall/casino, our spirits take a nosedive the moment we see him.

“Brian? What the…?” Ray begins.

“I swear I’m not following you,” he says with his hands up. Butterfly and I are both glaring at him like we could shoot him where he stands.

“What, did you come for a shopping trip?” I nearly hiss. He turns his glare to me.

“As a matter of fact, I did,” he says. He reaches into his jacket and just as Jason is reaching into his, Cholometes pulls out a mirrored box. Inside the mirrored box is another box—blue… Tiffany blue to be exact. He opens the box to reveal what looks like a 2-carat solitaire stone set in a platinum band with eight round brilliant diamond set in the band.

“I’m going to ask Shawna to marry me,” he says to Ray.

“Thank God,” my wife says, probably a little louder than she intends and never making eye-contact with Brian. He brings his gaze down to her and I’m immediately on guard.

“I see that’s good news to you, Ana,” he says. “I’m glad to hear that.” Butterfly raises a hateful gaze to Cholometes that doesn’t even faze him.

“You’re here in Las Vegas to attend the trial of the bastards that beat and burned me 15 years ago. Yet, you say that you’re here to support my father. The last time I saw you, you tried to announce to a room full of my family and friends—particularly my father—that I and my husband engage in an alternative lifestyle. Forgive me if I question your motives, Mr. Cholometes!” she spits, her voice full of venom, before she turns to her father.

“We’re going to the car, Daddy. You can meet us there when you’re done talking to your friend.” She marches away with Chuck right behind her. I glare at Cholometes for a moment, then fall in step behind my wife. I hear Ray talking to him as we leave.

“Bri, I appreciate your support and friendship, but in the future when you want to drop into town, you may want to call first.”

“Good idea,” I say to myself as I catch up with my wife.

“Baby…”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she says. “I want to go to the Fashion Show Mall and buy a skimpy dress to wear to karaoke tonight.”

“We’re in the middle of a mall right now, baby,” I point out.

“I don’t want to risk running into him again!” she says. Duly noted… then I pause.

“How skimpy?” I ask.

“Nearly non-existent,” she says. “I’ll be with my husband.”

And she wasn’t kidding.

She bought a short cobalt-blue, spaghetti string dress that fit her like a second skin that she plans to wear without a bra. What’s more is that she found a pair of cobalt-blue thigh-high soft suede stiletto boots to wear with the barely-there dress. To make matters worse, she bought a white bridal cape trimmed in fur with a hood, so that you were sure to see her coming.

Fucking hell.

“Your dad is going to be there,” I protest, trying to get her to reconsider her wardrobe choice.

“And I’m a grown ass woman with twins,” she replies. “If he’s never considered the fact that I’m a sexual being, now would be the time to get over it.”

I had to buy something, too, because I hadn’t planned on attending any social events. So, all I brought are suits and sweats, and hell if I’m wearing either of those out with her tonight. So, what do I buy?

I find the most Beckham-esque pair of black slacks that I can find in that they fit a man’s muscular legs, ass, and groin area very nicely and leave nothing to the female imagination. I pair them with a thin muscle turtleneck T-shirt and a pair of Mahogany brown ankle boots that pretty much sends the message that my wife is not the only one who’s going to look tempting on the streets of Vegas. She examines me with a scrutinous eye before we leave the suite and simply laughs as we head for the elevator.

Everyone comes out with us tonight, including Mac’s husband, Fergus, which unfortunately means that Marilyn is the only dateless person this evening. At first, that gives me cause for concern, but she assures me that she’s okay and plans to have a good time. She even intends to sing a song.

Jason’s eyes bulge from their sockets when he sees my wife’s attire. Ray is equally speechless when she removes her cloak. Of course, Allen can be counted on to fan the flame.

“Well, well, well, Hot Mama, what’s gotten into you?” he asks.

“A little bit of hell from Sin City, that’s all,” she replies taking a seat. Jason looks at me and I just raise my brow and shrug. He, on the other hand, sighs and rubs his forehead. He knows that dress has the makings for a long night.

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We’re at a local bar in a casino called Ellis Island in downtown Las Vegas, as if we hadn’t spent enough time down here already, but this place is rumored to be one of the best karaoke spots in town. If I’m honest, the food’s not bad either. We arrived early and commandeered one of the large tables that look like picnic tables. We’ve deliberately skipped dinner to partake of the greasy bar food, because that’s what Butterfly wants—chicken wing dings, loaded steak fries, jalapeno poppers, fried mushrooms… all the things that usually mean a night of indigestion, not to mention a steady flow of a drink called “Adios.” Hopefully, I won’t have to carry her into the suite at the end of the night, but even if I do, she deserves to let loose after the week that she’s had.

When the massive amount of food arrives, everyone digs in and I’m thrilled beyond words to see that Marilyn takes a few bites of a wing ding! That was worth the trip all on its own.

More than one man has eyed my Butterfly in this delectable fucking dress with her nipples at full attention. I’m trying not to go all Neanderthal on the fuckers, but they’re getting on my fucking nerves. The women eyeing me are a bit more discreet, but the gesture offers me little to no comfort.

The first to be called up from our little group is Fergus. He gives his wife a kiss and mounts the stage.

“Hold on a minute there, lad, before ya start,” Fergus turns to the crowd. “Do any of ya Americans know anything about good Irish drinkin’ songs?”

I don’t know anything about Irish drinking songs. I look over at my wife and she shakes her head and shrugs, but his question receives a bit of a reception from the crowd.

“Well, let’s give it a lil shot. If I say, ‘And it’s no, naaaay, neveeeerrrrr…” He pauses and several people in the bar clap four times.

“Oooooohh! I see ya do!” he says with his jolly Scottish accent. “Well, let’s do a round of The Wild Rover!” He turns to the DJ. “Okay, lad, let’s give it a go.”

A rousing introduction of what sounds like banjos and violins pipe through the speakers, and Fergus begins singing about spending all his money on drinking but coming home with gold in store. When he gets to the first round of the “No, nay, never” chorus, a few people in the bar clap with him.

Now, here’s the thing about Irish drinking songs… well, I should say this Irish drinking song, because I haven’t heard any other ones. It’s a very happy song. In fact, in a room full of drinking karaokers, it’s infectious. So, by the time he gets to the second round of the chorus, more people are clapping with him. By the third chorus, my wife and I are clapping with him. By the fourth and fifth chorus, the entire bar is singing along with him.

He gets a rowdy round of applause when the song is over and an enthusiastic roar to sing it again… which he does, and it’s just as much fun the second time around.

After a few other performers, Ray goes to the stage and sings Lionel Ritchie The Only One. Apparently, Mac hasn’t had enough to drink yet to show her vocal skills, but James is beckoned to the stage a while later and belts out a very good version of Michael Bublé’s Save the Last Dance for Me.

To my dismay, three or four songs later, my scantily clad wife is called on stage and sings a very animated version of Katy Perry’s Roar.

And Christ, did she roar!

I’m sure that a good portion of the power behind that song was fueled by alcohol, but she doesn’t seem impaired at all. Of course, the catcallers are yelling shit like, “Yeah, baby, roar on over here,” and “I’ve got something to make you roar,” but they were largely drowned out by the power of She-Women waving through the crowd and “roaring” along with my wife.

No sooner the little “tiger” is ready to take her seat that the DJ beckons her back to the stage with Al. They cling to one another and sing That’s What Friends Are For. I see my wife getting misty-eyed when the song is over, and she hugs her best friend. So, I’m happy when one of the other patrons belts out Sweet Caroline, which is one of those songs that unites people across all genres.

A few songs later, Amanda produces an amazing rendition of Celine Deon’s Because You Loved Me, and now Allen is looking for a song to sing for James since everyone seems “so sappy and sentimental” as he put it—everyone, that is, except…

At first, you can’t tell what the song is because you just hear the guitar strumming a single tune for a few beats, but when she opens her mouth…

“There’s a fire starting in my heart, reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out the dark…”

Marilyn’s voice has so much soul in it that everyone at the table is taken aback. We’re all listening intently as she finishes the first verse, and if you close your eyes, you don’t know that this isn’t Adele.

“The scars of your love remind me of us, they keep me thinkin’ that we almost had it all…”

I look over at Butterfly and she’s staring at the stage like she’s never seen this person before. Marilyn’s eyes are closed as she sings the song and when she hits the chorus, her voice reverberates through that place like she’s giving a concert—and the crowd reacts as such, but Marilyn is in her own world belting out this song like a pro.

“Did you know she could sing like that?” I ask, leaning over to Butterfly.

“Not a clue,” she says, still gazing at Marilyn, who continues to captivate the crowd.

“Turn my sorrow into treasured gold. You’ll pay me back in kind and reap just what you sow…”

She’s clapping with the rhythm of the clapping in the song as she sings this part, almost like it was rehearsed, but each time she gets to that chorus, she belts it out and the women in the bar transform into backup singers.

“You played it, you played it, you played it, you played it to the beat.”

She ends the song perfectly as the music ends and steps quickly off stage to thunderous applause. She proceeds pass the table, not stopping to look at any of us.

“Marilyn!” Butterfly calls behind her.

“I’m fine,” she calls back. “I just need the restroom.” Butterfly moves to stand, but I prevent it, shaking my head when she looks at me strangely.

“Let her go,” I tell her. “She obviously needs a little alone time.”

Butterfly at first gives me a look that screams how dare I hold her down like that, but deflates when I point out that Marilyn needs to be alone.

“Well, that explains a lot,” Mac says, taking a sip of her drink. I frown.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I knew that crying was more than just a bad dream,” she says. “I just didn’t want to be intrusive. Bad breakup?” I look at Butterfly who shrugs. I can see Ray looking over at us expectantly, especially after he saw Marilyn kiss me on the cheek.

“The worst,” Butterfly says. “It’s not like we can keep it a secret anymore. I can’t reveal the details, but… it’s pretty brutal.”

Physically brutal?” Ray presses. Butterfly purses her lips.

“Daddy, I love you, but that’s none of your business. Bad break-up, that’s all you get, which is more than I should have said.”

“No offense, Ana, but it’s the elephant in the room,” Amanda says. “I don’t know her very well, but every now and then, a bit of personality shines through. She’s not usually this quiet girl that everybody’s seeing now, is she? And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that she doesn’t eat. I thought she was bulimic, but like Vee, I didn’t want to intrude.”

“What made you think bulimia if you hadn’t seen her eating?” Mac asks.

“I don’t know, maybe I’m thinking anorexia…” Amanda says.

“Can we please not talk about her this way?” Butterfly interjects fervently. “It’s rude and intrusive, not to mention narrow-minded to draw conclusions without knowing the entire story!”

“Thanks, Bosslady.”

We all turn to see Marilyn standing just at the end of the long table where we’re sitting. Amanda’s face pales and she chokes out her apology.

“Marilyn! I’m sorry… I didn’t mean…” Marilyn holds her hand up to silence Amanda.

“It’s okay,” she says. “It’s easy to get the wrong idea. I and my boyfriend didn’t see eye-to-eye on a very important matter and it resulted in our break-up. I wasn’t ready, not that I think I ever would have been, but it can’t be fixed now. I’m doing better with it now than I was before, but as you can see, I’m still not taking it very well. I’m ingesting what I can—doctor’s orders—but apparently, the first thing to leave after you lose your heart is your appetite… along with a bit of your sense of self-preservation, so…”

She trails off, and Mac and Mandy look more than a bit sheepish.

“So, I’m not bulimic and I’m not anorexic. I’m just broken-hearted,” Marilyn says with a shrug.

“I’m so sorry, Marilyn,” Amanda says again.

“Really… it’s okay. I totally understand. To be honest, I’ve become a bit accustomed to being Sideshow Bob… and I know Bosslady’s not going to tell you guys anything, so you heard it from me.” She mocks a half-bow. “Jason? Can one of the guys take me back to the hotel? I think I’ve had enough fun for the night.”

“Maybe we should all go…” Mac begins.

“Oh, please, don’t,” Marilyn protests. “I already feel bad that I put a big damper on the night. If everybody leaves because of me, I’m going to feel really shitty.” She turns to Jason and he nods to Lawrence.

“Christian, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll take you up on that separate room for the night,” she says. I look over at Mac who’s staring at me wide-eyed and beseeching. I clear my throat.

“I… took the liberty of getting a separate room for Mac and Fergus,” I say. “I know how it can be for married couples who haven’t seen each other in a week, so I thought… you know… just in case?” She nods.

“Goodnight, everyone,” she says as she retrieves her coat and purse and leaves with Lawrence. Mac releases a breath she was holding.

“Thank you, Christian!” she sighs heavily. “I feel twelve types of shitty now.” Butterfly doesn’t say anything. She just leans back into me. Everyone is quiet now and the tension can be cut with a knife.

“Okay,” I announce. “We’ve all had a pretty shitty week, and although what has happened to Marilyn is indeed tragic, she has requested that we don’t end the night on her account. So, Jason, please flag down a waitress so that we can get another round of drinks, and Mrs. McIntyre, I believe since you initiated the event that has thrust us into this current state of melancholy…” I’m speaking with an exaggerated tone to lighten the mood of the revelers, “… that it’s only fair that you turn in one of those little sheets and get up there and get to performing.” Mac twists her lips and snatches one of the song books from the table.

“I didn’t see you grace us with a performance, Mr. Grey,” she shoots.

“Oh, my request is already in,” I correct her. “I’m just waiting for them to call my name.” Butterfly turns to look at me.

“Really?” she asks.

“Yes, really,” I reply. “Did you think I was going to let you have all the fun?” She rolls her eyes.

“I’ll prepare myself,” she says.

“For what?”

“For all the women that are going to rush the stage when you start singing,” she replies.

I think I owe an additional debt of penance, too,” Amanda says as she begins to thumb through the song book.

I watch as Amanda and Mac begrudgingly submit their selections and Butterfly thumbs through the book. I don’t think she plans on singing another song. I think she’s just trying to find something to do with her hands.

“Jewel?” Allen says, garnering her attention. When she looks up, he just gazes at her. She looks back down at the book.

“I don’t know what to do,” she says quietly. “She’s so sad and I know this will pass, but I know from experience that it could take a really long time. In the meantime…”

She trails off and she continues to thumb through the song book. I slide my arm around her waist to try to comfort her.

“I know it’s not the same, Jewel, but she’s got you. She couldn’t ask for a better friend or Bosslady at a time like this…”

“But is it enough?” she interrupts, firmly but quietly. “I swear to God, she looks like she’s dying.”

Allen can’t counter because he knows that she’s right.

“We’re doing everything we can, baby,” I tell her, “and she’s doing what she can to get through this. I know it’s hard to watch, but we’ve just got to give her time.” Butterfly sighs and nods. Just as I’m about to say something else encouraging, the DJ calls my name. I kiss my wife on the cheek and go to the stage.

I chose a song that’s clearly out of my range, but I’ll make it work. The familiar intro plays, and my wife raises a questioning gaze to me as I begin to sing…

“I could stay awake just to hear you breathing, watch you smile while you are sleeping, while you’re far away and dreaming…”

Butterfly’s mouth falls open as I croon the lyrics. After a few lines, her face softens, and she sinks into the music.

“Lying close to you feeling your heart beating, and I’m wondering what you’re dreaming, wondering if it’s me you’re seeing…”

I’m no Steven Tyler, but I adjust the high keys to fit my voice and continue singing to my girl.

“I don’t wanna miss one smile, and I don’t wanna miss one kiss…”

She’s looking at me with those big ocean blue eyes that I could just fall into and I’m trying very hard to finish the song. It’s just a song, I know, but it reminds me of how much I love her and how lucky I am to have her.

“I don’t wanna close my eyes, I don’t wanna fall asleep ‘cause I’d miss you, Baby, and I don’t wanna miss a thing.”

As the lyrics end and the music is still playing, I can hear someone saying something over the applause, but I just want to get back to my girl. I sit down and pull her onto my lap, and she kisses me sweetly on the cheek. It’s tender and special and if I’m honest, I’m a little verklempt by the gesture.

“Jesus, Chris, you could’ve said ‘excuse me’ before you nearly knocked the poor girl down,” Allen scolds as he returns to the table after turning in more song requests. What the hell is he talking about?

“I didn’t knock her down! She’s on my lap!” I protest.

“Not that girl… that one.” He points to some girl just on the other side of the stage. She’s with a group of what I assume are her friends and she does not look happy.

“Who the hell is she?” I ask. I look at Butterfly and she shakes her head and shrugs.

“Oh, don’t ask her,” Allen chides. “She was just as moonstruck as you were. She was one of the fan club that gathered at the stage when you started singing.”

“Oh, you can’t be serious,” I say and Butterfly laughs.

“I told you,” she says, still giggling.

“I wasn’t even that good,” I point out.

“You were good enough,” Allen says. “You had a party of about five meandering at the stage.

“Couldn’t they tell I was singing to her?” I ask, gesturing to my wife.

“I’m sure they could, but I don’t think it mattered,” Mac says. “When you finished your song, that girl threw herself right in your path, and you politely pushed her right out of the way like a saloon door.” Butterfly sputters a laugh again.

“And I missed it,” she chuckles.

“You were otherwise occupied, dear,” Mandy chimes in.

“I should go apologize,” I say.

“No, you shouldn’t,” Butterfly says. “Vee says people could tell that you were singing to me, but she obviously didn’t care. So, I’ll tell you what. I’ll try to smooth things over since it was rude to knock the girl out of the way, because if you go over there, she’s going to see it as an invitation.” I raise a brow at her.

“It’s that or nothing,” she says. “I’ll be happy to sit here and drink and order more wing dings and watch my family sing.” She shrugs. I guess it couldn’t hurt to let her try to apologize for me. She didn’t shove the girl.

“Chuck is going with you,” I condition.

“Chuck can stay right where he is,” she retorts. “It’s 30 feet away. If she’s got a gun, she can shoot us from here,” she adds, throwing back her drink, then strolling over to the table with the women. I watch as she animatedly talks to the women and the one in the pink and white dress sneers at her a bit. They have a brief exchange then Butterfly shrugs, says something else and proceeds to leave.

She looks like she’s about to come back to the table when I vaguely hear something come from one of the women at the table that makes her stop in her tracks. Her mouth opens slightly in surprise before she turns around and takes the two steps back to the table. She says something to the girl, whose face transforms into a mask of horror. Her friends’ faces all range from shock and awe to badly hidden amusement. Butterfly stops the waitress and says something to her, and the waitress nods and leaves. Butterfly then smiles, waves, and walks back to the table.

“Do I even want to know what just happened?” I ask. She shrugs again with a smirk on her face.

“I apologized on your behalf, or at least I tried,” she begins. “She was surprised that you’re my husband; I didn’t bother to ask why. She didn’t accept my apology, so I just shrugged and said, ‘Well, I tried.’ Just as I was about to leave, she said that my husband shouldn’t have let me leave the house like this.”

“Oh, Lord,” Mac says.

“Oh, don’t worry,” she tells Mac. “I just told her that her friends shouldn’t have let her leave the house like that. Then, I bought them a round of drinks.” Allen nearly chokes on his drink and James has to pat his husband’s back and hand him a napkin.

“I guess I missed the thrust here,” I say.

“That, my dear Chris, is called shade,” Al says. “Friends don’t let friends go out looking like crap and that pink and white dress that she’s wearing looks like it came from the dollar store.” I shake my head.

“I can’t take you anywhere,” I jest to my wife.

“Hey, it’s not my fault that other people don’t know how to act around me,” she says.

“None of this has anything to do with the number of ‘Adios’s’ you’ve consumed, right?”

“Maybe,” she replies, “a little bit. Hey, you were the one who swerved her on stage. I was just trying to soften the blow.”

“The hell you were!” I accuse. “You were trying to rub it in.” She smiles.

“Maybe… a little bit,” she repeats.

“And what the hell is a ‘swerve?” I ask. She and Al laugh.

“Google it,” she says, “along with shade. Be sure to look for the urban dictionary definitions.” She resumes her perch on my lap.

“You really can’t blame me,” she says. “You do this to women wherever we go. It’s like they’ve never seen a handsome man in their lives, and they don’t know what to do with themselves when they see you.”

“Oh, like you don’t have the men in here sniffing the floor just to get a whiff of the soles of your boots,” I counter. She laughs heartily.

“More chicken wings,” she demands mirthfully, “and another Adios… and a glass of water.” The waitress actually waves at her from across the room and Butterfly nods.

“Did she just actually take your order?” I ask and she nods.

“We have an agreement,” she replies. “Daddy, are you having a good time?”

“Actually, I am,” Ray says. “It’s been quite a while since we’ve been out… what with the business and Harry. I thought I’d feel a little out of place with all these young people, but this is really fun, as long as no one says anything about the old coot sitting at the table with all the youngsters.”

“They better not,” Amanda says, leaning over to kiss Ray tenderly on the lips. “If they think Ana defended her man, they ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Ray smiles at his wife suggestively as she caresses his cheek, and I kind of get what Jason means when he says we need to get a room.

After a few more drinks and a lot more chicken wings, Mac is finally called to the stage to… grace us with her version of Hit Me Baby One More Time… and now I know why she had to be tipsy to sing, because she can’t carry a tune with a bucket!

Not long after that, Amanda gives us a moving rendition of Come Away with Me, although that song is already a bit melancholy and moving on its own.

We sit and listen to several other songs—both good and bad—and I’m really ready to call it a night when the DJ calls my wife’s name again.

“What?” I ask. “When did you turn in another song?”

“Al took it up there for me,” she says, rising from my lap. Oh, dear God, here come the catcalls again. She goes up to the stage and a song begins that I’m familiar with, but… there’s no way she can sing this song alone.

“I finally found someone who knocks me off my feet, I finally found someone who makes me feel complete…”

She effortlessly begins to sing a song—a duet, no less—and she’s singing both parts! Of course, she sounds fantastic, even singing the guy’s part. I don’t think the crowd really knows what to make of it.

“My favorite line was can I call you sometime…” Although she sounds good, the song sounds empty. She’s looking at me and singing and… Okay, I know what she’s doing now. Why didn’t she just say so? I rise from my chair and walk up to the stage and begin to sing with her on the second verse.

“Did I keep you waiting?”
“I didn’t mind…”
“I apologize.”
“Baby, that’s fine.”

It’s funny that this is where I came in on the song because I actually did keep her waiting while I was trying to figure out what she was doing. I’m getting flashbacks of us doing the impromptu duet at Mia’s wedding. We really surprised everyone and it’s not an experience that I’ll soon forget.

“This is it! Oh, I finally found someone, someone to share my life…”

I slide my arm around her waist and pull her to me in this nothing shred of a dress. She                                       feels fucking divine. I can inconspicuously caress her curves as we sing the song, but it’s getting a little hard to concentrate… literally.

“My life has just begun, I finally found someone.”

I nearly want to jump her fucking bones as the music dies, but her father would probably beat the hell out of me. Instead, I plant a passionate kiss on her lips right there on stage. There’s a reason to catcall, you fuckers.

“They didn’t have Love All the Hurt Away,” she breathes against my lips.

“Just as well,” I reply, kissing her softly. “Things might have gotten indecent.”

I step off the stage and take her hand, helping her down as well before we hear the dreaded and predictable suggestion about a room. We’re just sitting back in our seats when the DJ calls Allen to the stage. I nip and nibble at my wife’s ears, neck, and exposed shoulders while Allen sings to his husband about starting Back At One. When the song is over and Allen returns to the table, Ray confesses that he’s ready to go back to the hotel.

“This is really a lot of fun and I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but I really need some shut-eye.”

“So, do I,” I concur. “Being merry and shoving off girlfriend-hopefuls is hard and stressful work and I’m beat!”

The rest of the karaokers concur that it’s time to call it a night and we head for the cars.

*-*

She drops her cape right on the living room floor when we get back to the hotel. She doesn’t even bother to turn on any lights. She just walks over to the window where I can see her silhouette. I retrieve her cape from the floor and toss it over the back of a nearby chair, my jacket joining it. I close the distance between us just a little, leaving a few feet so that I can admire her body. She turns around and slowly walks toward me, closing the remainder of the space between us.

Neither of us speaks, and she never looks into my eyes. She only raises her gaze to my lips. The moon or the lights from the Strip or something is shining into our suite. I don’t know and I don’t care. I only know that it’s just enough light for me to see her—watch her tempt me.

She leans in just a bit, closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. She holds it for a few seconds, then blows it softly out of her mouth. She’s… smelling me. Shit, that’s hot.

I still don’t move because I want to see what she does next. She opens her eyes, still focused on my lips.

Don’t breathe, Grey. Don’t fucking move.

She raises her hand and moves to touch my lips… but she doesn’t. Instead, she touches her own, her fingertips barely ghosting over the skin before she replaces them with her tongue, only faintly licking where her fingertips have been before disappearing back into her mouth.

Fuck, this is unbearable.

Her teeth worries that same lip only for a moment and her hand drops back down to her side. She leans in as if she would kiss me, but stops—a breath away from my face and her mouth not quite high enough to kiss.

She just stands there with her hooded eyes still looking at my mouth and licking her own lip. I’m so busy concentrating on her mouth as much as she’s concentrating on mine that I don’t realize where her hand has gotten to until she nearly breaks me. She reaches out and teases my dick with a single finger, stroking it only once from tip to base. Her touch is like hot fucking fire and it’s one of the most grueling endurance exercises I’ve ever experienced not to react to her surprise caress.

Without saying a word, she turns away and walks toward the bedroom, her ass a magnificently animated display in that illegal dress. As she struts across the floor to the boudoir, she slowly removes her dress with her back to me, skillfully sliding the thin material down her torso, past her hips, and off her luscious ass, bending over to pick it up just as she crosses the threshold of the bedroom and tossing it somewhere off to the side. She’s still wearing those sinful suede thigh-high boots and a nearly nonexistent blue thong.

I walk to the room behind her pulling my shirt over my head as I go, totally intent on a wild, hard, and deep stand up and deliver when I get my hands on her. I won’t even need to take off my pants for the first fuck.

ANASTASIA

“Christian…! Please…! No more…” I beseech as I’m panting beneath him. We both came so many times last night that I completely lost count, and now, I’m awakened by an incredibly hard dick and my husband’s need to pound into me once more… or, I should say several times more.

“No more…” he pants into my neck, his hands entwined with mine as he’s resting his weight on me and chasing his own breath. The room is silent for several moments, save the sound of our breathlessness. Then, he turns his head and plants tender kisses on my cheek.

“What’s gotten into you?” I ask, finally able to speak, but still a little winded.

“You know what got into me,” he says, planting open-mouthed kisses on whatever part of my face and neck he can reach. “That goddamn dress… I wanted to fuck you right there on stage. That shit drove me fucking crazy. That damn thing was barely brushed onto your body and your damn nipples were sticking out of it like you were fucking freezing the entire time. I had to talk my cock down for half the night.”

“Mmmm,” I purr both at his words and his kisses. “Maybe I should wear it more often then.”

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“No, the hell you won’t,” he threatens. “Not unless you want me to follow you everywhere you go with a medieval mace. Then I’d literally be beating them off with a stick.” I scoff gently.

“Says the man who physically shoved a woman out of his path last night,” I tease.

“She liked my voice,” he jests.

“Oh, I’m just so sure that’s all that it was,” I retort. “It had absolutely nothing to do with those Triple H pants you were wearing.” He raises his head and looks at me.

“What the hell is a Triple H?” he asks.

“Not what,” I giggle. “Who… Triple H is a professional wrestler.” He frowns.

“I didn’t know you liked wrestling,” he says.

“I don’t,” I reply, “I just know who Triple H is.”

“Well, how do you know who he is if you don’t like wrestling?”

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“I saw him somewhere,” I admit, “on a poster or a commercial or something… and he can really fill out a pair of jeans!” Christian growls at me deep in his throat.

“Oh, come on,” I accuse, “there’s some starlet somewhere that gets your boxer briefs in a wad.”

“No, there’s not,” he says confidently. I twist my lips at him.

“You’re telling me that you never had a celebrity girl crush?” I say incredulously.

“Well, yeah, but they’re all old now,” he says.

“Well, Triple H is no spring chicken,” I jest.

“But he’s not as old as mine… and I bet he’s in better shape, too,” he defends.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” I say playfully. “Who are yours?” He clears his throat.

“Mine were Katherine Deneuve and Jane Fonda—when they were both much younger,” he confesses.

“You’re an old soul, Christian,” I say.

“And you’re not, Ms. Motown?” he defends. I shrug.

“Yeah, but… is Katherine Deneuve even still alive?” I ask. He shrugs.

“I think so,” he says. “I hadn’t heard that she died. If she is still alive, she’s like 80 now.”

“Well, Jane Fonda still looks good,” I say.

“Not as good as she did when she made Barbarella!” he points out. I laugh heartily.

“So, you don’t have any current girl crushes at all?” I inquire.

“Yeah, you,” he says, going back to kissing my neck and jaw.

“Very cheeky, Mr. Grey. I guess I should find that dress in red, huh?” he raises his head again and gazes at me.

“Okay, keep it up, Mrs. Grey,” he says, grinding his hips with his cock—though flaccid—still inside of me.

Okay, okay,” I surrender. There’s absolutely no way I can withstand another round, much less a possible punishment fuck.

When he finally rises off me, the separation is agony. I have been thoroughly well-used, and I can barely walk. I’m in need of some cold water in my nether regions, but who the hell wants to sit in a cold bath?

Me if I want to cool the fire in my loins.

I sit on the edge of the tub and use the shower head to spray some cool water on my crotch. Jesus Christ, that feels good. That man isn’t going to be able to touch me for a week if he keeps this shit up.

Once I’m cooled down a bit, I don a terrycloth robe and go to the bedroom. I check my phone since I haven’t spoken to the twins this morning and I see that I have an instant message from Laura. She probably wants to know how the trial went. I didn’t call her on Friday with any updates. I swipe the phone and check the message.

You made the tweets again, my dear. Nice dress!

Oh, shit. I click on the link Laura provided and there I am—several pictures of me, in fact—singing with Al, singing with Christian, singing alone, even talking to the table of girls before I ordered their drinks—and that dress is screaming “fuck me!”

What was I thinking?

Oh, well, it’s done now. I’m sure I’ll hear some hell from Vee or Christian any second now. I suddenly realize that there are no pictures of Christian in his come-hither gear besides the picture of us singing together—just me. And there’s that damn double standard…

Fuck ‘em. I look good.

I unwrap my hair and pull out the hair dryer. It takes forever to dry this shit now, but I let it grow this long, so…

Christian enters with wet hair and draped in a towel, so I assume he used the other bathroom while I was dousing my pussy in the en suite. He chooses a pair of jeans, some boxer briefs and a T-shirt, and he’s ready in about 10 minutes. I silently curse him for being able to allow his short hair to air dry, but my only other option is to cut mine, and that ain’t happening.

Fifty-eleven-trillion years later, I’m finally done with my hair and I’m now wearing a jersey and yoga pants as we have no plans of going anywhere today. I go to the kitchen to see if there’s any coffee in there, pondering what I want to do for breakfast. Christian isn’t out here, but there is a pot of coffee.

Egad! His Highness can work a coffee pot! I never knew!

I pour myself a cup—black—and allow the warmth to flow through my body. It feels good, but I need food. As I’m reaching for the room service menu from the dining table, Christian comes from the other side of the suite where I assume the office space is.

“Mac is on her way over,” he says, looking at his phone. “Apparently, someone at the bar knew who we were and now, we’re on someone’s Facebook feed.”

“Yeah, mostly me,” I say, drinking more of my coffee. He raises his gaze.

“You already know?” he says. I nod.

“I saw them when I got out of the shower. Laura sent them to me.” He scoffs a laugh.

“Why do we need Mac when we’ve got her?” he laughs.

“I tend to believe that, depending on the source, things hit social media before they hit the mainstream,” I reply. I take another sip of my coffee and there’s a knock at the door. No doubt, it’s Vee. Christian walks across the suite to open it and she breezes in with her tablet in her hand.

“I knew that dress would be trouble the minute I saw it,” she says as she and Christian join me in the dining room.

“Trouble in what way?” I ask. “I’m not running for office!”

“No, but you are the representation of a multibillion-dollar conglomerate,” she retorts, “not to mention that we’re here waiting for the verdict on a very sensitive case.”

“From a sequestered jury,” I point out.

“And the fact that you had to point that out means that if they had seen you last night, you know that there would be a problem…”

I’m trying not to look gape-mouthed at this woman as she seems to be lecturing me on my choice of dress! No one has ever lectured me on my choice of dress! Even Christian, who may have a word or two to say every now and again, didn’t lecture me last night. He just got in on the fun.

“Understand something, Vee,” I interject, attempting to diffuse the situation before I really begin taking it too personally. “I dress for no one. I never have and I never will. The only time I wore what someone besides my husband suggested I wear was when I came out of the closet as his girlfriend. Fifty to 75% of my wardrobe is imitation or genuine vintage. None of my shoes rise less than four inches—preferably six—including my wedges and some of them are platforms, more affectionately in some circles referred to as stripper heels. If I wore what other people thought I should wear, I’d never wear anything I liked!”

“Well, that may have to change…”

What? What the fuck did she just say?

I’m flabbergasted. She’s droning on about something and Christian his completely mum. Have I stepped off into the fifth dimension or something? Signed a prenup—check. Legally changed my name—check, check. However, the memo that indicates that PR gets to tell me how to dress must’ve gotten lost in the mail.

I’m certain that my husband’s silence means that he’s waiting to see how I’m going to react. He’s about to see right now.

“Okay, Vee? Stop,” I say, putting my hand up in the “halt” position. I think she’s stunned.

“I. Am a grown woman,” I begin. “I went out on a Saturday night to a bar in Las Vegas. I wore a party dress to that bar in Las Vegas. I had a good time at that bar in Las Vegas, which is something that I didn’t expect to do in Las Vegas. I don’t regret anything that I did, wore, or said last night. Although I have no intention of dressing like a hoochie every night, I may decide sometime in my lifetime to once again wear something provocative!

“I wasn’t acting unseemly. I wasn’t drunk in public. I didn’t get arrested. I wasn’t in a girl fight, although the possibility was pretty good. If I wore a habit or a burqa, someone would still have something to say. So, whatever damage control you feel you may have to do for ‘Anastasia’s Sultry Little Blue Dress…’ do it!”

I think she’s even more stunned than she was when I told her to stop. When she looks over at Christian, his hands quickly fly up in surrender, so she turns back to me.

“You do realize that if you dress like that on a regular basis, I’m going to be putting out fires all the time,” she advises me.

“Number one,” I say, crossing my arms, “I don’t dress like that all the time and you know it. You’re just uneasy because, as a consenting adult, I see nothing wrong with what I wore last night and because I won’t agree with you that there was something wrong with it. Number two, if I do decide to dress like that all the time, get your buckets ready. Nobody tells me what I can and can’t wear, not even him,” I say pointing to my husband.

5b285a986f95924a4357f1d3425eb293

6470905e01ecf8f5b2d132729de4607c“I know how to behave in public, Vee. I didn’t wear that dress to a country club or to meet the mayor. I wore it to a bar. J-Lo and Beyoncé have both worn less, on the red carpet, no less—in front of many entertainment cameras and national news outlets. We all talked about how scandalous it was, said our ‘ooo’s and ah’s’ like Smurfs and got over it. If my dress is the talk of Wall Street today, there’ll be another story tomorrow. Get a grip!”

Vee is still stunned, and I know why. I don’t want her to think I’ll be difficult, but we’ve got to get one thing straight.

“Vee, in most cases, I lean to your expertise and I will continue to do that, but unless I’m walking down 4th Street in a string bikini bottom and pasties on my tits, don’t tell me what to wear.”

She finally seems to be coming around to the crust of the conversation.

“Well, then,” she says, pursing her lips, “think I’ll just go on back to my room and… fuck my husband.” She makes some kind of goofy face and just leaves after that. I turn to Christian who’s making a face of his own, more like, “It wutn’t me.”

“Well?” I say defiantly.

“Well, what?” he asks, trying to hide his mirth.

“You don’t have anything to say?”

“I didn’t have anything to say last night. Why would I have anything to say right now?” he points out. I roll my eyes.

“What I don’t understand is why every little thing we do ends up being front page news before we’ve even had our coffee!” I say, throwing my hands in frustration. “You were on the other side of the world holding a giant reptile and the news was stateside before we were. Twice now, Laura’s told me about my day—from Australia—and I’m still here in Vegas!”

“I think you said it yourself, baby, it’s the nature of the beast,” he says calmly while refilling his coffee cup. He’s awfully cool for a conversation centered around my state of dress—or undress, as it were.

“Hey,” I say, “what gives? You’re usually in a tizzy about my Lindy bop dresses and you’re not having a cow over this?”

“Well, first, when I saw the bobble-head, I knew the conversation was already over.” I furrow my brow deeply at him, so he does this wild shaking thing with his head that looks like he’s having a fucking seizure!

“What the fuck is that?” I ask, wide-eyed.

“That’s what you do when someone says something that you can’t believe,” he says. My mouth gapes.

“I do not do that!” I defend.

“Ask. Anyone!” Christian says, firmly standing his ground. “The minute that neck starts working, I step back… even if I’m the reason that neck starts working.”

“Asshole,” I mumble.

“Be that as it may,” he says unfazed, “there are also a lot of other reasons I’m not flying off the handle, not the smallest of which is that you were with me,” he begins. “Not only that, I was with you when you bought the dress and the boots. I knew what to expect. I also had another realization.”

“And what’s that?” I ask. He sips his coffee.

“I think I’ve always known it, but I’m still amazed to see it in action. Women are very brazen when they see something they want. I’ve seen men try to make a move, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them as brazen as I’ve seen women. You could be at the park with your woman and your entire family and some female will come right up and try to put the moves on you.

“From what I’ve seen, men are subtle. They’ll wait until your guy’s not looking, then they’ll try to slip you a number or get you alone. As soon as the guy steps up beating his chest and telling them, ‘Woman, mine,’ they generally go away, but not women. Women will argue with you and taunt you, try to get the man at a later date… what’s that all about?” I shake my head.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I’m a shrink and I don’t fucking know. I’m one of those women who feel that there are certain things that should say that a man is off limits,” I begin counting on my fingers, “a wedding ring, an announced commitment, the fact that a woman is hanging on his fucking arm… but no. They do it with you all the time, they did it with David—they just walk right up like they don’t fucking see me! The girl on the wine train, Greta, Deanna, this bitch at the bar. Or I become America’s Most Hated just because I’m with you.

“There’s no way to combat that shit, and these women are becoming more and more brazen as time goes on. They look at me and convince themselves that I’m nothing and no one, that I’m a trophy wife and they step right in.” Christian sighs.

“Well, the point that I was making was that your dress, although it got a lot of attention, it wasn’t a threat to me. The catcalls came from the audience just like they came from the pool when you were in the bikini contest on the cruise. Except for the crazy couple that approached us—and the female approached us first—I didn’t have to worry about it. Nobody walked over to you, sending you margaritas; nobody asked you to take walks with them on the promenade, and even last night—nobody sent a drink to the table with ‘regards.’ Even earlier this week in the Skybar, the moment I made my presence known, that guy thanked me for the drink and went on his way.”

“He was harmless,” I say, waving him off, “and your presence didn’t make him leave.” He scoffs.

“Really?” he says. “And what did?”

“When he noticed that you were there, he made a comment about how intense you looked. He acknowledged that he thought you might have wanted him to leave, but he didn’t leave. When I told him that you were my husband, that’s when he left,” I say.

“Exactly!” Christian says. “The presence of your husband. Made. Him. Leave. And baby?” he leans in to my ear. “They’re never harmless. Women may be brazen, but men are smooth. No matter how polite they are, they have one goal, and Westwick should have shown you that.”

He raises a quick brow to me, then kisses me on the cheek before he goes back to the office area. I want to be pissed, but I can’t. If I can use Greta, Deanna, and a random stranger bitch in a pink and white dress as an example, he can certainly use Liam.

I sit at the table with my coffee looking into the cup, and somehow transport back to a time when I realized that women were brazen…

We were meeting a large group of friends at a martini bar. I had arrived first and sat at one table with a group of friends. More of our group were sitting at various other tables. Eddie arrived shortly after I did. Even though we were living together, we had driven separate cars because we were coming from separate locations.

Chelsie was there. She had disappeared for a while, right after I caught them the first time. Well, I hadn’t caught them. I saw the evidence and I confronted her with it. Her guilt made her leave, but she returned. And when she came back, she was stronger, different…

Brazen.

He greeted her before he even greeted me. He leaned down and whispered a conversation in her ear. I watched as her hand with insanely long acrylic nails reached up and caressed his face next to hers. I watched them for a long time, wondering and knowing at the same time that she was fucking my man again. I asked myself, “Could this be true?” But I knew that no one behaved that intimately if they were just friends.

I still played dumb to it, all the way until some of my other friends said that she was bragging about having him, that I knew who I was living with—knew what I had gotten into. I played dumb for the longest time, but she flaunted it in my face, and when I confronted her about it again, she threw a veiled threat at me.

She was brazen and I had lost.

“Butterfly?”

My reminiscence of one of the many women my ex had fucked is broken by my husband’s voice. I was a different woman, then, too. I was weak, and tired, and I couldn’t fight anymore.

“Are you okay?” I nod.

“Yeah,” I say, abandoning my now cold coffee. “I’m going to check on Marilyn,” I add, standing from the table. I move pass him and he catches my arm.

“The dress really wasn’t that big a deal, baby,” he assures me. I nod.

“I know,” I say, and I do. “What’s she gonna do—issue and apology for my attire?” He still examines me.

“You haven’t eaten anything,” he presses.

“I’m going to order something in Mare’s room… see if I can’t tempt her to eat a little something.”

Unable to argue with that logic, so he kisses me on the cheek and releases my arm. I smile tightly as I go to the bedroom to retrieve some shoes.

I fucking hate dominoes.

A/N: I don’t know if anyone else does this, but when my thoughts begin in Vegas and end up in Germany, I call that a “domino.” I start with one thought that leads to another one and another one and another one until I end up somewhere completely different than where I started. Ana and Christian started with a dress and Ana ended up in a recollection of her no good, lying, cheating ex-boyfriend.

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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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, or 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

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~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 13

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

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

Season 5 Episode 13

ANASTASIA

Dear God, I just couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand it! I seriously felt the walls closing in on me listening to this elite club of fuckers somehow try to make what this asshole did to me okay. Then, here comes this brainless fucking cum-sucker with the nerve to get in my face and accuse me of “doing” something to the snot rag who tried to kill me! And then, to top it all off, my beloved husband who watched me battle with this shit for years asked me if I was losing my mind.

What the fuck do you think?

Do you know anybody who would be able to keep their mind throughout this shit? And how many times do I have to go through this to get all the motherfuckers that did this to me? How many more times do I have to hear that my accusations are besmirching upstanding and stellar members of society… at least after 2001, that is. Am I wrong for wanting to just line them all up and use their glutes for target practice? Just empty several clips into their ass meat until I feel justified?

I couldn’t say that I didn’t care what happened in this case… I did, I really did, but if I had to listen to one more shining testimonial of this fucker, I would have leapt over that half wall and ripped his eyes out myself. And everything that accompanied my attempt to take a breather made it all the more necessary for me to get the hell out of that building.

Daddy silently walked with me as I wandered through the interactive aquarium that was almost identical to the one we visited in Australia. I didn’t look at the fish. I just walked around the aquarium enjoying being near the water. There’s no water in Vegas, except Lake Las Vegas which is quite a way from here. We’re in the middle of the city, in one of the not-so-desirable neighborhoods to be exact… not that being downtown was any safer. Nonetheless, this was as close to my kindred element that I was going to get without a 45-minute drive.

Yet, after about an hour of communing with the deep blue, I realized that I needed to get back into that courtroom, as much as I didn’t want to. So, I had Chuck take us to Chipotle, then we headed back to the Justice Court.

I had walked in just in time to hear the last part of Larson’s cross-examination of Vincent Sullivan, which shed a whole new light on why the fucker burned me, and now it’s time for closing arguments. I half listen to what the counselors are saying, reviewing a lot of the relevant testimony and what I thought the jury might be thinking…

“So, you’ve heard a lot of conflicting testimony over the past several days,” Larson begins. “You’ve heard Anastasia’s mother admit that she was an unfeeling, uncaring social climber who wanted nothing else but to fit into a society where she never belonged. You’ve heard damaging testimony from Amber Whitmore that she clearly remembers the defendant meeting up with a group of kids that night at her home dressed all in black, and seeing her brother coming home in a black cape like the cape we saw on the video and smelling like he had gone camping. Among other things, you’ve heard the defense paint a picture of an unscrupulous young gold digger looking to snag a rich boyfriend.

“Let’s just assume for a moment that Anastasia Steele was that person. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that you agree with everything they said about Anastasia Steele Grey. Did she deserve what you saw in that video? At any point, did anything you heard during these proceedings in its worst interpretation indicate that she deserved what you saw happen to her? I’ve been horrified during my tenure by stories and images of ostracization, by ill-fated misfits being teased and bullied—but I have never in my life seen anything this disturbing except in the movies. Attack her from behind, knock her unconscious, strip her naked and throw her in the trunk of a car, drag her begging and screaming to a bonfire, beat her, burn her, kick her, spit on her, urinate on her, and kill her baby, then leave her for dead? Really?

“They want you to believe that Cody Whitmore was this innocent young rich boy who was targeted by this young girl trying to make a name for herself on his back. Even if by some stretch of reality that could have been true, where and when does that make this act warranted and acceptable? Where and when does the alleged scheming of a teenage girl equate to attempted murder? At what point was Cody’s alleged victimization equal to Ana’s?

“And after hearing and seeing all this, this man…” he points to the defense attorney “wants you to classify this situation as unfortunate.” He says the last word slowly and with deep contempt, then pauses for effect. “What’s more, he wants you to view one of the alleged aggressors as the victim.”

He holds up a picture of Cody’s mugshot and the unrecognizable picture of me in the hospital after the beating, both retrieved from the Henderson Police Department.

“I would have to say that if any one person with any small amount of intelligence and capability of logical thinking can look at these two pictures and say that this man is the victim of the two, I’ll quit my job and never sit at the prosecutor’s table again, because I’m clearly on the wrong side of the law. If there’s anything that you heard that can justify that kind of violence against a young girl based on a theory of what they think she was doing at the time, my argument is futile and there’s really nothing else to be said.

“He took a plea for a lighter sentence,” he adds holding up Cody’s mugshot, “and anybody—anybody—who had anything to do with this…” he holds up the picture of me, “… is just as guilty as he is.”

That line of defense confused me. I’m clearly the victim—that’s indisputable. Clearly, if I were the worst and most opportunistic slut who ever existed, it still wouldn’t excuse what they did to me. I just corroborated what the video said… what happened to me, but Whitshit is testifying against Vincent Sullivan, talking about his participation in the attack. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to try to discredit Whitshit as opposed to trying to discredit me? Why make Whitshit look like the victim? He took a plea. What was the logic behind this defense?

“Now, we have new evidence—verbal, but evidence, nonetheless. No one would have known that the defendant had feelings for Cody Whitmore, and he doesn’t deny it. His entire defense was built on the claim that he was afraid of the Bonnie and Clyde combination that was Carly Madison and Cody Whitmore. Yet, his story changed to say that Cody made him feel at ease, smoothed things over once it was revealed that the defendant was romantically smitten with him.

“So, which version of his story should we believe? He said he didn’t know Anastasia Steele. Yet, he pressed that brand into her back with so much vigor—listened to her scream, watched her squirm… and then he did it again, after he gleefully participated in viciously beating her and humiliating her. He said he didn’t know her, but he gives a detailed description of a nobody… a social and fashion misfit, a Plain Jane in the wrong place, but he didn’t know her.” Larson shrugs.

“Some guy screwed some nobody in high school. Wasn’t that a regular occurrence? Didn’t that happen all the time? Why would you care… unless you had feelings for that guy? And now, she has to pay, right? That’s how Carly Madison felt. Why wouldn’t Vincent Sullivan feel that way when he admittedly had the same feelings for Cody Whitmore?”

This argument goes on for at least another 40 minutes, after which Drake takes the floor to dispel it. I barely listen as Drake paints Vincent Sullivan as a young misguided kid afraid for his life when he took part in my mutilation. Maybe he was afraid for his life, I don’t know. They did it to me; why wouldn’t they do it to him? Nonetheless, that night, he made the decision that his life was more important than mine, and today, I make the decision that mine is more important than his.

I’m elated when the judge gives the jury instructions on the interpretation of the law and dismisses them to deliberate. This leg is over, and now the waiting begins. I watch Christian exchange some words with Larson as Jason stands nearby. The courtroom begins to clear, and I get a better view of him. His hair looks like he’s been pulling at it for the last several hours. He looks down at his phone, then raises his eyes to me. He does a double take when he sees me in the back of the courtroom with Daddy and Chuck. Daddy is talking to Mandy and Chuck is quietly sitting next to me like the professional that he is. Christian walks away from Larson, who’s still talking to him, and makes a B-line for me.

“Hey,” he says, cautiously.

Hey? I guess I really can’t expect him to say anything else, can I? I wave a gloved hand at him. Daddy and Chuck correctly read the temperature of the conversation and move away to give us privacy.

“How much did you hear?” he asks.

“Enough,” I say, my legs crossed, and my gloved hands clasped in my lap.

“Are you angry with me?” he asks. I roll my eyes and sigh.

“I don’t know how I feel,” I say folding my arms. “I’m tired of being the goddamn damsel in distress! For once, I want people to look at me and say, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t fuck with her,’ instead of saying, ‘Oh, poor Anastasia Steele,’ or making me out to be a perfectly horrific villain. Twice now, someone has done something unimaginably violent to me, and twice the defense has tried to make it look like I set upon these poor boys with my toxic pussy! I mean, Jesus, I was 15! Who in their right mind deliberately plots to get pregnant at 15? And I was a virgin! He admitted it on the stand!

“There are so many unscrupulous, promiscuous girls out here who don’t care about their bodies or who they hurt or whose life they ruin. Carly Madison was a perfect example… but me? I was a good girl. I was an honors student who minded my own business and just wanted to be left alone. My biggest concern was getting away from Carla and Steven and getting back to Daddy. I was raped and then brutalized, and this is what I get? What the hell is the world coming to when the bad girls are protected and the good girls aren’t safe?

“A lesser person or just someone else who hasn’t enjoyed the good fortune that I have later in life would go completely insane trying to figure out the logic or the fairness in all this. I completely understand firsthand how something like this could cause someone to become a drug addict or continue a destructive cycle because this could drive you out of your fucking mind!”

I drop my gaze and shake my head, unable to see the reasoning in anything that’s happened in the last five days. What if the jury comes back and they believed Sullivan? Or Whitshit? What if they come back with a not guilty verdict because they bought his story about being afraid for his life. He wasn’t afraid of me, so why did I get punished?

I’m worrying my scar and as I raise my head, I catch a glimpse of Drake looking back at me in the courtroom. I don’t even look at him long enough to read his expression. I scoff and divert my gaze, standing up and walking out of the courtroom.

I’m almost at the elevator when I hear my name. I cringe at the sound of it. Christian and I turn around to see Larson quickly walking towards us.

“Dr. Grey, I really feel that things look good in our favor,” he says, humbly. I try not to shake my head.

“What did he get?” I ask, flatly. Larson’s brow furrows. You know what I’m asking you, fucker. What did he get? Larson straightens his back.

“He got the same thing Madison-Perry got,” he says. “Thirty years on various counts, including kidnapping, battery, and manslaughter. The only difference is that he has a possibility of parole in 18… because he didn’t brandish one of the irons.”

I twist my lips. That’s something. I expected them all to get away with it.

“Your final performance was very good,” I say, unfazed. “Let’s see what the jury thinks.” I turn to the elevator and Chuck pushes the down button before I do. I put my sunglasses on and watch the doors.

When the elevators open on the first floor, the press is clamoring outside. The police are gone now that the trial is over and it’s our own duty to get safely from the door to our cars. The three members of our security are standing at the door waiting for us to get there and our three SUV’s are waiting out front. However, standing at the end of the hallway on the other side of the building, I see someone that garners my immediate attention.

I ignore my husband’s call and march down the hall to where I see Pamela Whitmore standing. She straightens her dress, retrieves her purse and turns to leave, nearly bumping right into me. I’m clearly shorter than she is, but in my stilettos, we’re eye to eye. I stand there glaring at her for several moments, one hand clasped over the other. She doesn’t look nearly as menacing as she sounded over the phone, but I’m living proof that looks can be very deceiving. When I finally speak, my voice is very controlled.

“Your son. Raped me. And then he and his piece of shit girlfriend orchestrated my abduction, brutal beating, and torture, and the subsequent death of my unborn child, nearly killing me in the process. Then, your audacious husband paid off my worthless stepfather and my unscrupulous mother to keep me quiet. I suffered tremendous physical and emotional pain and torment at the hands of all of you, and you have the unmitigated gall to call my place of business and taunt me? Make veiled gestures towards my children?”

I pause for a moment and allow the words to sink in. Her skin blanches a bit, but there’s no other indication that what I’m saying is having an effect on her. So, let’s try this.

“If you dare come anywhere near me… anywhere near my family… I. Will kill you.”

I look her square in the eyes and I don’t blink, waiting for a reaction from her. At first, I get none, and then…

She swallows.

That’s all I need. I turn around and march back over to my husband.

“We can go now,” I say, walking past him and heading for the door.

I get my wish.

Apparently, when I open the door, the chill that I emit is colder than the outside. I dash down the stairs in my stilettos to near silence and easily get into my awaiting chariot with my husband very close behind me. The paparazzi must have known that if they approached me right now, I’d chop ‘em up and feed ‘em to my dog.

Dog.

“I want a pit bull,” I say once the car is loaded and we’re on our way back to the hotel.


CHRISTIAN

What the fuck did she just say?

“You want a what?” I ask in horror.

“A pit bull,” she repeats. “I want a pit bull.” I look over at Ray and his expression lets me know that I’m completely on my own.

“You want a pit bull?” I ask incredulously. “When you said that you wanted a dog, I was thinking a Chihuahua or a Shih Tzu or a Pomeranian… I wasn’t thinking a pit.”

“Well, that’s what I want,” she says defiantly.

“We have children,” I protest. “Pit bulls are dangerous dogs, Anastasia…”

“No, they’re not,” she retorts. “They’re family dogs. They’re only raised and trained to be dangerous and ours won’t be raised that way. And because we do have children, I want a thorough-bred, pit-bull puppy… with papers, but I want a pit. And we’ll hire the best trainer to train us and the puppy.” She’s thought about this and I can’t argue with logic.

“Thorough-bred, top of the line, and we all get trained,” I confirm.

“That’s what I said,” she replies.

“Okay, you’ve got a deal, but Ana?” She raises a brow to me. “If that dog even snaps at one of my children, I’ll shoot it myself.”

“You’d have to get to it before I do, but that won’t be necessary.” I sigh.

I guess we’re getting a dog.

Butterfly and I have a vigorous workout in the hotel gym. I find it very difficult to keep up with her, and I finally have to stop her workout and force a cooldown so that we can meet the rest of the family for dinner. She has to shower unless she wants to sit at dinner all sweaty.

We all meet up for dinner in my and Butterfly’s suite to discuss what would be happening next. Ray wants to be here for Butterfly but admits that he has a business that he needs to check on and wants to get back to Washington by Monday. Mac needs to get back to GEH as well to make sure Josh hasn’t burned the place down. James needs to get back as well, but Al is on the fence about going with him. He wants to be where Ana is through this ordeal and I can understand that. I’ve given instructions to Jason to have the jet ready to fly back to SeaTac on Sunday afternoon. Butterfly is reserving her decision for Sunday morning.

The plan is for us to stay until the verdict, but we don’t know how long that’s going to take. Getting back to Las Vegas in time for the reading once it’s announced that the jury has reached a verdict could be almost impossible, but Butterfly’s mood has changed significantly with today’s events—including her confrontation with Pamela Whitmore. So, we’re definitely playing it by ear right now. As we speak, she’s sitting in her chair to my right in a terrycloth robe with one foot up in the seat. She’s picking at a chicken Caesar salad, looking as though she’s a million miles away.

“Butterfly?” I say, trying to get her attention.

“What about security?” she says without raising her eyes. “I’m sure they’d like to see their families, too. We surely don’t need ten people here now.” I look over at Jason and he nods.

“Jason will coordinate who needs to go and who needs to stay and who can leave,” I reply.

“What about him and Chuck?” Butterfly says, still looking at the crispy junks of Romaine lettuce. “Gail and Keri must be pulling their hair out, not to mention Sophie.”

I look over at Jason, beseeching for him to help me out here.

“Your Highness…”

“Please,” Butterfly says, cutting him off and raising her eyes from her salad for the first time to look at him, “call me ‘Ana…’ just while we’re here.” She sounds like she’s pushing her voice from her chest with great effort. Softness covers Jason’s gaze.

“Old habits are hard to break,” he confesses.

“Please,” she repeats, “try.” He nods.

“Ana,” he says, “this is what we do. We know how this works and we’re accustomed to it…”

“The ladies shouldn’t suffer because you have to be here for us,” she protests. “When you were both out mending due to occupational injuries, we each had a different detail.”

“We’ll work it out,” he says.

“Don’t just say that to appease me,” she says. “I don’t want anyone in my life to suffer just because I have to be here, and Gail, Keri, and Sophie are in my life, too.” Jason nods.

“Duly noted,” he says. “We’ll work it out… Ana. I promise.” She nods and turns her attention back to her salad.

“I miss my babies,” she says. That gets my attention.

“We can have that jet ready in twelve hours,” I say, looking at Jason, who nods.

“No,” she says. “I’ll get some nice, long Facetime tonight before I go to bed, then spend the weekend with my family and friends here. We’ve got lunch with Auntie Cynthia tomorrow. I really want you to meet her, Daddy. I don’t know if you guys met at the wedding or not,” she says raising her gaze to Ray. “She’s the biggest reason I survived once they brought me back here.”

“You never told me that,” Ray says. Butterfly shrugs and turns back to her salad.

“There wasn’t much reason to talk about this place once I left,” she says, “wanting to put it all behind me, you know. I really should have done a better job of keeping in touch with her but…” she shrugs and trails off.

“I understand, Annie,” Ray says. “I’d love to meet her. I don’t think our paths crossed at the wedding unfortunately.” Butterfly smiles weakly and turns back to her salad. I throw a knowing glance at Ray, who twists his lips and turns back to his meal.

I can’t help but glance over at Marilyn, who doesn’t appear to look any healthier than she did when we left Seattle. Although we’ve all had our choice of meal, Marilyn only ordered a bowl of consommé and I’m beginning to get a little more than concerned about her. Jason assures me that her lunch smoothies are packed full of as many green vegetables that he can camouflage in there as well as half a scoop of organic protein. It makes me feel better, but I’m still very concerned about her. Butterfly told me that the doctor gave her the go-ahead and some instructions to work her way back into eating more, but something’s got to give soon, or this girl is going to waste away to nothing.

“Does anyone have plans for this Friday evening?” Mac says, taking a forkful of her salmon.

“Ray and I are going to see Penn and Teller,” Amanda says. “I’ve always wanted to see them, and the tickets are almost impossible to get, but the concierge was able to score some for us.” Mac nods.

“What about you, Al?” she asks.

“Oh, Cirque du Soleil, baby,” Al says. “The minute I knew we were coming to Vegas, I booked tickets.”

“Which show?” she asks.

“O,” he says, and it sounds like Eau, “I really think you would like it, Jewel. It’s a water show.” Butterfly raises her gaze to him.

“A water show?” she asks. “Really?” Al nods.

“Yeah,” he says. “A giant pool sets the stage and there’s synchronized swimming and aerial acts—dramatic costumes and original music… I can’t wait to see it.” Butterfly smiles faintly.

“Then, I await your review, Mr. Forsythe,” she replies, and Al returns her smile.

“What about you, Marilyn?” Mac asks. “Any plans tonight?”

Nobody has shared Marilyn’s latest emotional dramas with Mac, and this is one of those times that I wish we had given her some kind of heads up. She shares a suite with Marilyn, so I thought she may have some kind of idea, but if I know Mac, she’s plugged into GEH every night or getting updates from Josh or the internet on all things Christian, Ana, and Las Vegas Hazing Trial. So, she probably hasn’t seen what Marilyn may or may not be doing.

“No,” Marilyn says softly, “no plans for me besides binge-watching Game of Thrones.” Seeing the need to pull attention away from Marilyn, Al jumps in.

“What about you, Vee?” he asks.

“Sleeping!” she chimes in quickly, causing gentle laughter to rumble across the table. Even Butterfly chuckles a bit. “Once I do the regular check-ins of all the spots and the home office, it’s me and the sandman. Fergie’s flight gets in at 4:26am and I want to be awake to meet him at the airport.”

“Fergie?” Amanda asks, her brows furrowed.

“Fergus,” she says, “my husband.”

I knew that she was married, but I didn’t delve since he gave me no cause for concern.

“Fergus,” James says. “Do you mind if I ask the origins of that?”

“Not at all,” Mac says. “Fergie’s a full-blown, red-blooded Scotty! “

“No kidding!” James says. “With a kilt and everything?”

“He wore it to our wedding,” she says, with a smile.

“Now, is it true that the kilt has to be made a certain way, or can they just go buy one?” Ray asks.

“Anybody can just go buy one,” Mac says, “but any old body had better not wear any old kilt to Scotland or to any traditional ceremony of any kind…” and off my head of PR goes talking about the different types, colors, and measurements of kilts. How did we get into this conversation? Once I get a chance, I interject.

“Would you and Fergus like a private room for the weekend?” I ask, considering that she’s sharing a room with Marilyn.

“Oh… no, we’ll be fine. Fergie and I have been married for many years, Christian. We know how to behave.” I smile and nod at her. “But if we’ll bother Marilyn…”

Uncomfortable that the attention is back on her and her half-empty bowl of consommé, Marilyn shakes her head quickly and diverts her gaze from anyone at the table. The gesture mainly goes unnoticed.

After dessert and a bit more conversation, the group begins to disperse for their Friday evening plans. Butterfly goes to the bedroom to begin her long session of Facetime with the twins and I’ll join her in a moment, but first I steal a moment with Marilyn.

“How are you?” I ask, not knowing how to ask the question that I want to ask.

“I’m fine,” she says, looking at me questioning.

“Is there anything you need?” I ask. “Anything I can do to make you more… comfortable?”

Her questioning gaze slowly morphs into one of understanding, and the corners of her mouth turn up slightly.

“No, Christian,” she says, “I’ll be fine.”

“You… haven’t been eating,” I say, broaching the conversation carefully.

“The doctor says I have to take it slow,” she replies. “Smoothies, vitamins, water-based soups… I always vomit when I try to eat solid foods. It’s because my body, unfortunately, has become accustomed to eating itself. So, introducing regular food again is a process. She prescribed me Ensure and Pedialyte to be sure that my body is getting all the nutrients that it needs, and I’m getting in the smoothies and consommé so that Bosslady doesn’t have me involuntarily hospitalized…”

Or me.

“So… it’s almost like… tube-feeding…” I say cautiously.

“That’s exactly what it is,” she admits, “only I’m consuming voluntarily.” She drops her head. “I’m trying to get back to ‘normal’ as quickly as I can. My… situation has just been harder on me than I ever thought it would be.”

“I understand,” I reply. Without any respect to my personal feelings about her decision, I still think Garrett’s an asshole for leaving her like this. “Did you want me to get you a private room for the weekend?” I ask. She smiles and surprises me by taking my hand.

“No,” she says. “I’ll be fine. I’m a big girl. I live in the real world and I know that it doesn’t revolve around me. There’s plenty of space between Mac’s bedroom and mine. I’m sure that I won’t hear anything if she and Fergie decide to have some alone time, okay?”

I nod. I just want her to be comfortable. She surprises me again by standing on her toes and giving me a kiss on the cheek.

“Thank you, Christian,” she says sincerely. “You’re like the overbearing big brother I never had.” She gives my hand a squeeze before leaving the suite. I catch a glimpse of Ray, who frowns at me, then excuses himself from his wife.

“What was that about, son?” he asks, and I know that I owe him an explanation since he doesn’t know the nature of this relationship besides the fact that Marilyn is Butterfly’s personal assistant.

“Can you keep a secret?” I ask him in all seriousness. He raises his brow.

“It depends on the secret,” he says, his voice a bit sharp.

“Well, I can,” I reply, “and all I can tell you without betraying Marilyn’s confidence is that my wife and I are concerned about her health. She’s lost an unhealthy amount of weight in the last few months and no one in our group can attest to her eating any solid food all week. Can you?”

I see the wheels turning in Ray’s head, but he doesn’t answer.

“She’s important to my wife, so that means that she’s important to me. Whatever you see from me is nothing but concern and what you see from her to me is most likely gratitude. Anything else that you want to know, you’ll have to ask my wife or Marilyn.” He twists his lips and nods.

“I see,” he says. “You’re a strange man, Christian.”

“So I’ve been told,” I concur. “Go… you’ll miss your show.” He nods once. I’m certain that he’s not really sure what to make of the situation as he leaves and joins his wife.

“Christian,” Mac is getting my attention once the suite is nearly empty. “I don’t want to hurt Marilyn’s feelings, but I did book a room for tomorrow night. I’ll let you know what the room number is as soon as we check in.” I nod.

“Make sure you expense it,” I tell her.

“Thank you. It’s no offense to her. She’s a wonderful girl, but she cries at night… almost incessantly! I went in to comfort her the first night and she swore that she was okay, that she had a bad dream… but I’ve heard her crying other nights. Trust me, it doesn’t bother me except that I want to go in and talk to her, but I get the feeling that she doesn’t want to talk. The only thing is… that it doesn’t lend to set the mood for romance when you haven’t seen your guy for a week.”

“I totally understand,” I tell her. “Believe it or not, I think she would, too. Let me know what room you got when you check in and we’ll put it on our bill, too.”

“Thank you, Christian. You’re a prince among men,” she says before leaving the suite.

“So,” Jason says, sliding in for his chance for alone time, “do you agree that we should get back to Seattle some time during this trip?”

“I think it’ll help with her stress levels if she knows that you and Chuck are getting some time in with your ladies during this ordeal.” He sighs.

“She’s going to have to get some time in with her babies or she’s going to lose her mind. We both know that.”

“Yes, I know,” I reply. “Facetime helps, but it’s not the same. You know, those little munchkins have the most healing hugs…”

“Yes, I do know,” he says, fondly, “and it doesn’t change as they get older.” I smile.

“We’ll play it by ear,” I say. “I figure once it gets to the twelve-day mark, one of you will have to go home for the weekend. Hell, at that point, we may have to go home for the weekend.”

“Then, it’ll work out perfectly,” he says. “If we all go home for the weekend, no harm, no foul. As much as I respect Her Highness, you know that I’m not going to leave you in another state without me, right?” I feel a sudden warmness in my heart for my bodyguard and best friend.

“I know,” I acknowledge.

*-*

I’m sitting the in the living room of the suite at about 2am. We Facetimed with the twins for hours, even watching one of the Disney movies with them until they fell asleep. My wife fell into a contented rest—finally—after Facetiming with our children. After Jason gave me a report on Carla Morton’s and Pamela Whitmore’s uneventful Friday evenings, I worked for a few hours, played the piano for about twenty minutes and now, I’m as bright as a bunny, staring at the fire in the gas fireplace.

I’m wound so tight by all the mental stress of everything going on that I can barely think. My method of dealing with stress has always been to work out or fuck. I’ve already worked out and I’m back where I started from, and I don’t want to put myself upon my wife right now. I have to read her moods and when she finally fell asleep, her mood was not screaming, “Take me, take me now!” But I need something very physical right now or my head’s going to burst.

I get on the floor in front of the fire with my back against one of the chairs and shed the only piece of clothing that I’m wearing, my sweatpants. My cock is limp, not flaccid, but not hard either. I’m going to have to give him some motivation, but what? Pornos have never been my thing since I’ve always been so sexually active. I don’t have one of those Tenga eggs I used after Butterfly had the twins. Those damn things needed no motivation whatsoever. All I have is my hand and my imagination. I don’t even have anything to use for lube.

My cock looks so pitiful that I don’t even take it in my hand. I close my eyes and think of a time that I was so hot and so hard that I couldn’t stand it. The Tenga experience comes to mind, but it’s not enough to get me hard. Butterfly in the playroom… yeah. She always looks delicious in the playroom. The problem is that my mind keeps flashing from scene to scene to scene and although it’s a wonderful replay, I can’t concentrate on any one scene. Just when I’m about to give up, I think about the “red” photo shoot, and the perfect memory pops up behind it…

Santa Baby!

Fuck, that night was so hot! Our first Christmas Eve together. Her goddamn skills were lethal… are lethal. She hasn’t fucking lost her touch. In no time, one hand is rubbing my chest while the other wanders down to my balls, cupping and rubbing them firmly as my cock slowly firms to attention.

I see her ass peeking out of a red Santa skirt and shimmying at me in my mind’s eye and my cock throbs in appreciation of the memory. I move my hand from my balls to the base of my cock and squeeze, feeling it thicken in my hand. The anticipation that I felt waiting for her that night was driving me out of my mind. She was rolling and stripping and singing—long red boots on mile-long legs and a delicious ass that’s even thicker and juicier now than it was then.

I groan in my chest as I imagine that ass wiggling in my face, causing my shaft to lengthen and thicken even more. I grip it hard and give it one firm stroke.

“Fuck!” I hiss, looking through the gap between her legs at her beautiful mound clad in sexy red panties. I give my cock a slap, and another one immediately thereafter. I feel pleasure shoot through my groin almost blinding me. I stroke it again… and again… avoiding the head and feeling the shaft getting harder and harder in my hand. My breathing is becoming more labored as my dick gets hotter and the skin gets tighter. I want to grab the head, but that means I’ll come too soon, and the pressure of the week will still be trapped and needing to release.

I need to edge. I don’t want to, but I need to…

Still remembering the sensual show my wife-then-girlfriend gave me on Christmas Eve, I stroke my cock a little faster, a little deeper, a little harder. God, I wish I had some oil or some lube, but my saliva and precum will have to do.

On one of the strokes, I get the picture of her pulling my hips to her, dropping to her knees, and sucking my cock into her mouth. My hand runs over the head and collects the precum there, causing me to arch my back and thrust into my hand once. I thought I would come, but I quickly move my hand back to the shaft and away from the sensitive head, spreading the small amount of precum that I gathered over the tight skin of my cock. Fuck, this shit is torture…


ANASTASIA

I open my eyes and I’m in bed alone. My husband is nowhere to be found. I remember that we’re in Vegas, explaining my unfamiliar surroundings. I slept like the dead, but it’s still dark. What time is it?

I look at the clock—2:18am. I throw the covers off and see that I’m wearing the terrycloth robe and a pair of panties. I must’ve fallen asleep in them, but the room is dark, and the suite looks dark beyond the bedroom door. Where’s Christian?

I get out of bed and go in search of my husband. When I come out of the bedroom, I see the fire is lit in the fireplace. Noting that the living room is dark, I head towards the office area, but stop in my tracks when I hear moaning to my left.

What the fuck…?

I quickly turn around and head towards the sound, surprised to find my husband sitting alone on the floor in front of the fire. His eyes are closed and he’s naked. His legs are spread wide and he’s leaning back on the loveseat, his other hand rising up and down slowly on his erection.

I watch him lost in his passion; his expression strained as he pleasures himself. He looks amazing—a masculine deity in human form pleasuring himself on the floor of my Las Vegas suite. In the middle of all this hell, I get to watch this beautiful hunk of man working his gorgeous hunk of meat while his pecks, abs, and biceps flex involuntarily to the sensation in his cock.

I lick my lips, then bite the flesh of the bottom one. I have no idea why he’s masturbating in the living room, but he looks so sexy. I open my robe and rub my heating skin as his breathing becomes louder. He’s going to come soon… but then I watch as he moves his hand from the head, halting his speedy ascent to orgasm.

Do it again, I think to myself as my hand caresses my abdomen.

He looks lost… lost in his own little world, gripping his cock and stroking it with such force that it looks as if he may just yank it right off!

I reach down into my panties and find my clit. With each slow stroke of his cock, I stroke my clit, working myself into a heated frenzy.

He groans as he draws pleasure from his grip, and I shiver as I imagine what he must be feeling. His breathing becomes rhythmic matching his sliding hand and I close my eyes, my own orgasm not too far on the horizon. When I open my eyes, he has opened his eyes and he’s looking at me, still stroking his member. I’m shocked. I don’t know what to do. I feel like an intruder… on my own husband!

“Are you just going to stand there and watch?” he growls. What else am I supposed to do? You’re out here beating your meat instead of in our bed fucking me and I have no idea why. What’s more, I just got caught wiggling my bean watching you.

“Come here,” he commands me as his hips rise to meet his slowly stroking hand. I walk over and stand over him.

“Get rid of the robe… and the panties.”

I drop the robe to the floor and slide my panties down my thighs until they fall at my feet.

“Straddle my thighs.”

He’s breathless, very near orgasm, but I hear his Dom voice hidden in his arousal—not full Dom, but commanding. I stand over him and begin to drop down on him.

“I didn’t say straddle my dick. I said straddle my thighs.”

Fuck. He sounds mad! Is he mad? I straddle his thighs further away from his dick.

“Move back.”

Huh? Oookay… I slide further back toward his knees.

“Lean back on your hands.” Um, okay. I lean back on my hands. “Further! As far back as you can go!”

Okay! Bossy much?

“Feet flat on the floor. Knees up—spread ‘em wide!”

I do as I’m told, and I see what he’s doing now. I can’t easily lean forward, my legs are open wide, and I’m completely exposed to him. Without another word, he begins to stroke my clitoris with the head of his penis. The fire I had started a moment ago is beginning to roar again. I bite my lip as my clit starts to throb.

“Keep your hips still. Don’t move unless I tell you to.” I nod. His aim is so controlled. He fucks his hand deep and slow while using it to guide the head and a very small portion of the shaft to the bottom, tips, and sides of my clit. Only the head occasionally dips inside of me for lubrication, but the bulk of the stimulation are my inner and outer lips… and my clit… my entire clit!  Shit, it feels so good—a sensual massage with the head of his dick on my completely exposed clit.

“Yeah. That’s it. Feel it, baby,” he groans. I can’t control my breathing or my tongue as it darts in and out of my mouth, over my lips and teeth trying to absorb the immense pleasure he’s bringing to me. I want to grind against him, but not only is it difficult to move, but he also told me to keep still.

My breasts feel so heavy. Even though I stopped breastfeeding a week ago, I’m still producing milk—not as much, but it builds up if I don’t pump. It aches to be released when the children need to be fed… and when I’m aroused as my breasts are one of my erogenous zones… very erogenous zones!

He reaches between us with his fingers on my butt cheek; he opens my lips and strokes the side of my clit. The pleasure is almost unbearable. He’s so hard and each time he rises into his hand, his hard cock hits the underside of my clit just at the opening of my vagina… and my G-spot. I’m nearly blind from the friction and satisfaction. I don’t know what to do with myself. I throw my head back and get ready for the tsunami that’s about to hit.

“Christian! Christian!” I’m almost afraid of the orgasm that approaches. My legs are weak from this position and I won’t be able to keep still. My arms begin to tremble, and my legs start to shake.

“Fuck, you’re beautiful!” he groans as he continues to thrust and torment me. “Can you be any fucking hotter?”

Soon the sheer force of the climax that wracks my body causes my elbows to give way.

I’m going down.

Just as quickly, Christian wraps his arms around me and snatches me onto his exploding erection. Some of his semen squirts outside of me, but most of it is emptying into me as he holds me prisoner against his body, grunting like an animal.

He catches his breath very quickly, then lays me down between his legs, opening them wider so that I can lay my back on the floor. He brings my legs forward so that my knees are around his hips.

Whew! Thank God! I felt like a contortionist for a minute there.

While I’m resting and catching my breath, he licks his thumbs and rubs my tender nub. It hurts at first, but he’s gentle, coaxing me back to arousal with his cock still inside of me. When my tongue licks the inside of my lip and my knees rise higher widening my legs, he begins a slow stroke—only short enough to thrust his head and a portion of his dick into me. His ass doesn’t leave the floor. He licks his own lips sensually as he watches his cock slide in and out of me.

“Yes,” he says carnally, hissing as he breathes in. “That’s what I need… right there.” I feel his legs widen, but his stroke never changes. He takes my hand and puts my fingers in his mouth, licking them salaciously.

Fuck, that’s hot.

He takes my fingers out of his mouth and brings my wet fingertips down to my clit.

“Stroke it, baby,” he says in that same animalistic tone he came with. “Stroke it good. Don’t be shy…”

Yes, sir!

I begin with the slow stroke I did while I was watching him, rubbing deeply on every thrust, only I don’t have to imagine this time. He’s inside of me. I reach down a little further to caress his dick on the upstroke.

“No!” he hisses. “Just yourself! Only touch yourself. I want a full view of that glorious clit.”

Oh, God, he’s making me so hot! This is a three-finger job.

I wet my fingers again, tasting our intermingled juice and strumming my libido even further, then stroke my clit with my new moistened fingers, moaning when my wet tips may contact.

“Yeah, baby,” he says, just above a whisper, his hot cock seeming to thicken with the next mini-thrust. “That’s it right there, baby. Work that clit… you look so good.”

Knowing that he’s watching me and loving it has to be the biggest mind-trip I’ve ever felt. I close my eyes and thrust my breast forward, taking one of my nipples in my free hand and pinching it hard. The sensation shoots right to my clit and the other hand and I groan loudly. I feel a small amount of milk escape, but I don’t care.

“Oh, baby,” he says, his tone a mixture of arousal and reverence. “Keep going, baby. Don’t stop.”

I pinch my nipple again, teasing it and arousing it to firmness, remiss that I can’t easily reach the other one. Christian gasps deeply and snatches me off the floor.

“Don’t stop,” he hisses, his whispered voice thick with his arousal. “Keep touching yourself.”

It’s hard to reach my nipple, but there’s still enough space between us to stroke my clit, so I keep stroking, stroking myself into blind pleasure. He sucks my neglected nipple into his mouth and I nearly scream, stifling the sound as it escapes my throat.

“Do you feel that?” he says in that same aroused whisper as he mini-strokes into me. “Do you feel it?”

Fuck yeah, I feel it. From this angle, he’s at the perfect depth and aim to hit my G-spot, and I’m wiggling my bean.

“Uh-huh!” I answer helplessly.

“Fuck me just like that,” he breathes. “Can you do it? Can you fuck me like that?”

“Uh-huh! Uh-huh!” and I begin the stroke that where he left off. I only have my knees because one hand is on my clit and one was on my breast, but has now abandoned that task to concentrate on clit and fuck. It takes a minute, but I get the mini-stroke back… better, in fact, because I have to wiggle a little bit to reach my g-spot.

“Oooooh, my God,” he groans, “ooohh, my God, yes!” His hand travels up my thighs to my hips, grasping them firmly but not hindering my movement. He bites my nipples again—first one, then the other before taking it into his mouth and sucking hard. I’m fucking going to come. I have to slow down the stroke on my clit to stop the rise before the game is completely over!

“Kiss me,” he hisses, “Fucking kiss me like you mean it!”

Before I can even think about it, I take a handful of his hair with my free hand, snatch his head back and slam my mouth to his, thrusting my tongue inside and licking feverishly like I’m searching for buried treasure. He moans hard as his grip tightens on my hips and we share a kiss that last almost a lifetime. He breaks the kiss and looks into my eyes, his own hooded.

“Are you still stroking it?” he asks whispered. “Are you still stroking it for me?”

“Uh-huh,” I pant, now wildly wiggling my clit while I ride him, and he thrusts into me.

“Make it come, baby… make it drip all over me.”

I wiggle my bean slightly harder and before I know it, my knees lock in the “up” position so that I’m just gripping the head of his cock and I squeal out a crippling orgasm that has me gripping his shoulders for support.

“Fuck! Fuck! Ana, fuck!” he yells as he squeezes my thighs, holding me in place as my core torments the head of his cock, milking his cum in an equally violent orgasm.

“Oh, God,” he pants as I fall helpless into his lap and onto his still throbbing cock. “Oh God oh God oh God oh God oh God I needed that so bad.”

“Why… didn’t you wake me?” I pant.

“Ssssshhh, Ssshhh, shh,” he silences me as his head lolls then lies in my breasts, his arms firmly around my body now. “Sssshhhh…” I’m assuming he doesn’t want to lose the moment. It’s not really important now anyway, is it?

*-*

“Daddy, this is Cynthia Crestwood. Auntie Cyn, this is my father, Raymond Steele.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Steele,” Cynthia says, extending her hand to my father.

“Ray, please,” he says, accepting her proffered hand. “The pleasure is all mine, really. This is my wife, Amanda.”

“A pleasure, Cynthia,” Mandy says. “Is it okay if I call you Cynthia?”

“Of course,” Auntie Cyn says, shaking Mandy’s hand, “and call him Larry.” She points to her husband with a smile who shakes Daddy and Mandy’s hand.

“A pleasure, Ray, Amanda,” he says kindly.

“Mandy, please,” Mandy says. The six of us—and our security—have convened at the Cheesecake Factory in Caesar’s Palace for lunch. Of course, we immediately talk about the elephant in the room.

“So,” Larry begins says once we’re seated and have placed our orders, “I’ve been following the trial on Court TV. That was quite the revelation near the end there.”

“I didn’t know Court TV picked up the trial,” I say, looking over at Christian, who shakes his head. “I thought channel 13 was there—KTNV.”

“KTNV is affiliated with Court TV,” Auntie Cyn says. “The trial was on replay most of the night.” I shake my head.

“So, once again, America got to see me carried out of a courtroom. That’s just great.” They would have seen it on the news anyway, but a cable network with national affiliates? Yeah, groovy.

“You had us worried there, dear,” Auntie Cyn says. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I tell her. “I don’t do well in high anxiety situations. Try though I might, something always happens. Nonetheless, here I am.”

“I’m not an insensitive jerk,” Larry says, “but I have been known to miss a cue. So, if I happen to take the conversation somewhere that you would prefer it doesn’t go, please feel free to tell me to shut the hell up.” The rest of us laugh.

“I appreciate that, Larry…”

Lunch is filled with talk about the trial, how we think the jury might sway. We all gave our honest opinion based on the presentation of the evidence. No one came out and said that they believe the jury is going to come back with a not guilty on all counts, but everyone has a doubt or three.

Auntie Cyn feels that the kidnapping charge may not stand because they didn’t definitively prove that Vincent Sullivan physically had anything to do with the kidnapping. Daddy says that if he gets off on the kidnapping charge, he’ll probably get off on the conspiracy charge, too.

While Larry feels that Sullivan should get whatever they charge him with and more, he feels that the guidelines surrounding attempted murder may mean that the jury is going to come back with a not guilty on that one. While he’s definitely guilty of assault, battery, and manslaughter, Larry feels that attempted murder might be a stretch.

Amanda feels that the whole “diminished capacity” thing is bullshit. As a court reporter, she doesn’t buy it for a second. She’s seen the defense a lot—some succeed and some fail—and according to her, his case holds about as much water as a fishing net.

“It’s the criminal equivalent of ‘the dog ate my homework,’” she says, somewhat disgusted. “People who fall back on that as a defense take away from those who may truly have been in a diminished capacity. The guidelines to prove diminished capacity are so strict now that you basically damn near have to prove that you were either clinically insane or that you were not only in imminent danger, but also immediate danger at the time of the commission of the crime, and it’s all because people are so busy crying wolf!”

“What’s the difference?” Christian asks.

Immediate danger or peril is imminent, but not all imminent peril is immediate. Immediate danger is not a written doctrine or legal concept yet, but it’s one of the things that certain people may look for—and informed jurors are aware of—before a defendant takes the stand.

“Being mugged at gunpoint is immediate danger. It’s also imminent danger. Being threatened about a crime that’s going to happen tomorrow, that poses possible imminent danger for something that’s going to happen tomorrow and something that may happen to you in the future. You’ve got time to do something about it!”

“I felt that way, too!” Christian says. “Even if he really felt that he was in danger of retaliation, by his own admission, he had a whole day and possibly more to tell somebody what was going to happen, but he didn’t. He said he thought it was going to be a harmless brand like his brother’s frat brand, but even that’s assault if it’s against your will.”

“Exactly,” Mandy says. “Even if he really thought it was going to be harmless, he made a bad judgment call. Even though he knew in advance that this harmless thing was going to happen, he decided not to tell anybody. He sat on it for a whole day and didn’t breathe of a word of it to anyone who could’ve prevented it. He also made it appear that he was afraid of Carly from the very beginning. Why was he so afraid for his life if it was supposed to be this harmless thing?

“Good point,” Larry says.

“I’ve heard of sudden peril, though,” Auntie Cyn says.

“That’s a totally different type of law and a completely different concept,” Mandy says.

“Indeed,” Ray says.

“And back to the concept of imminent danger,” Mandy continues, “he could’ve told somebody what was going to happen the next day and prevented this whole thing from happening. He thought it would have put a target on his back—or at least he claimed he did, but it would have put a target on Cody and Carly’s back if anything happened to him or Ana. As diehard as his brother was to protect him—had something happened to Vincent, he wouldn’t have rested until those responsible were under the jail. And if he was really in danger, he could have relocated or his brother could have arranged some kind of protection for him—something, but those options were not dangerous. They were inconvenient! As a result of his lack of action, a girl was brutally beaten and burned, her baby was murdered, and he’s claiming the dog ate his homework.”

“Bravo!” Auntie Cyn says quietly clapping her hands.

“Very well said, baby,” Daddy says, quietly clapping as well.

“Hear, hear,” Larry says, raising his soda.

“Now let’s just hope the jury agrees with you,” I say, and the celebration stops. Everyone turns to look at me.

“See, here’s where I’m the Doubting Thomas,” I admit. “We’re talking about a group of people who share the community with this man. They share all the same values, the same beliefs, the same thought processes. There’s no doubt that he did these things to me. The question is his intent and state of mind. Two psychiatrists gave us the entire lowdown of the feeling of imminent danger. Neither doctor fully corroborated his claim that he felt he was in imminent danger, not to mention immediate danger. Was I the only one to see that?”

“No, you weren’t,” Christian replies. “I saw that, too.”

“So,” I continue, “unless those magic twelve people have the same thought processes that you do and not the same thought processes that he does, he’s getting off.”

“It only takes one, Ana,” Mandy protests gently.

“And then the best we get is a mistrial,” I say, “at which point, we’re going through all of this again. I hope we have—as you said—a panel of informed jurors. Otherwise, this whole thing was a waste of my time.”


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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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

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~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 12

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

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

Season 5 Episode 12

CHRISTIAN

“Yeah, get mad because I left you there and made you walk home, but rape? Please!”

Is this fucker actually saying that he didn’t rape my wife? That she made all this shit up? Is he seriously sitting there on the stand spouting this shit? I’m so angry that I feel the bench shaking. It takes a moment to realize that it’s not me.

“Boss?”

Jason’s earnest whisper causes me to look over at him, and I see my wife… shaking so violently that she’s causing the entire bench to shake.

“Ana?” I reach over and put my hand over her clenched fist, but she doesn’t respond.

“Ana?” I say louder. She raises her gaze to me. Her blue eyes are pale, paler than I’ve ever seen, and the whites are becoming more and more bloodshot by the second.

“Mrs. Grey?” I hear a voice calling her and I think it’s the judge, but I’m too busy trying to figure out what’s going on.

“Jesus, Ana, what’s wrong?” I ask. I’m flailing. Now, Ray has made his way over to us and he’s trying to assess the situation.

“Annie?” he says. “Sunflower, talk to me.”

“Mrs. Grey, you’re disrupting these proceedings!” the judge says.

“With all due respect, your honor, I don’t think she can help it!” I snap at him before I know it. When I look back at Butterfly, Jason is examining her eyes and Ray is still trying to get her attention. She’s shaking more violently now and still hasn’t uttered a sound.

“Is she epileptic?” the judge asks. I can’t think to answer.

“No, sir, your honor,” I hear Al say, “but she suffered a severe head injury in a car accident a little over a year ago.”

“It appears bad luck seems to follow her everywhere.”

That was Whitmore’s voice, the only thing that could cause me to take my eye off my wife. I see the devil when I see this man. I see Edward David multiplied exponentially because what he did, he did to a 15-year-old girl. At this moment, I’m wondering if it’s as easy to get to a fucker in prison in Nevada as it is in Seattle.

“You need to shut up,” the judge says in an uncharacteristic moment while pointing his gavel at Whitmore. “Bailiffs, clear the courtroom. Fifteen-minute recess.” He pounds his gavel and everyone except our party has left the courtroom in 60 seconds. Whitmore slow-steps pass us in the shackles, smiling down at my convulsing wife who probably doesn’t even know he’s walking by.

She’s shaking even more violently now, and I don’t know what to do. My first instinct is to lay her down, so I ask for help getting her into a prostrate position. When I do that, her heels click madly on the wooden bench and I realize that her head is going to do that, too. Jason removes his jacket and tries to make a pillow for her with it, but that doesn’t help. I kneel next to her and hold her head in my hands.

“Baby, can you hear me?” I ask, helplessly. She doesn’t respond. Her eyes are tight, and she’s shaking violently.

“Get paramedics in here,” the judge says. I can’t do anything but hold her close to me and let her shake.

*-*

It’s been forever since we got here. I mean, truly, forever. We’re at the University Medical Center waiting to hear the verdict on my wife. Since we came in through the emergency room, there’s nothing we can do but sit here and wait. Since they had no idea what was wrong with her and she doesn’t have epilepsy coupled with the fact that she has a previous serious brain injury, they did a quick evaluation, gave her muscle relaxers and immediately took her to get an MRI and a CAT scan.

And now, we wait. For hours and hours and hours, it seems, we wait.

Court has long since adjourned for the day and the entire entourage is now here in the waiting room. I tried to convince Ray to stay in court, to be my eyes and ears, but he was having none of it. No matter how I pleaded, he just said,

“Give it up, Grey. I’m going with my baby girl.”

Allen reluctantly agreed to stay in the courtroom along with James, Marilyn, and a few members of our security staff. However, Jason, Chuck, Mandy, Ray, and I have been painstakingly waiting all afternoon and evening for some word on Butterfly. Every time that door opens from the back, I’m waiting for some doctor to come out and tell me what’s going on with my wife. It’s agony, because that door opens a whole fucking lot. When I feel like I’m finally going to lose my mind…

“Family of Anastasia Grey…”

We all stand at once until everybody realizes that we can’t all bum rush the doctor.

“Ray?” I say, gesturing for him to come with me to see what the doctor has to say. We walk over to him and I almost can’t bear to hear what he might say.

“She’s fine,” he says, and I feel like my chest is going to cave in. Most doctors introduce themselves first, but I’m glad he led with, “She’s fine.”

“I’m Dr. Carver, I’m the head of neurology. We’ve run several tests on Mrs. Grey. We always want to eliminate the worst-case scenarios and we were able to do that quickly. It appears that she had a severe panic attack, honestly one of the worst I’d ever seen, but considering her neurological history and what you’re telling me that she’s going through right now, I’m not at all surprised.”

“Is she… is she awake or… what’s happening now?” I don’t know what to ask.

“She pretty much slept all afternoon,” he says. “She may be awake all night, but right now, the only thing wrong with her is that she’s hungry as a bear… her words, not mine.” I sigh heavily and thrust my hands into my hair, trying desperately not to collapse onto the floor in relief.

“When… can I see her?” I say, trying to remain calm.

“Right now,” he says, “Come with me.”

He leads me and Ray through the big doors that I had been watching all evening and down the magic hallway where all of the doctors and nurses had disappeared for hours during my agonizing wait. A turn here and a turn there and we’re in a big community room with beds separated by curtains. My wife is in the last bed on the end.

Well, I don’t like this at all.

The television is playing, and she has it set on the news channel, no doubt looking for some news about the trial.

“It’s limited coverage,” she says. “Either not much happened in the case today or nobody got a picture of me being carried or wheeled from the courthouse… or however you got me out of there.” It bothers me that she doesn’t remember.

“Nobody got pictures,” I tell her. “Unless someone in the courtroom said something, no one even knows.” She nods and mutes the television.

“Can I go now?” she asks the doctor. “No offense to you, doc, but the very last place I want to be right now is in a Las Vegas hospital.”

“It’s hard not to take offense to that, Mrs. Grey,” he admits.

“Do you know why I’m here?” she says flatly. “I spent weeks in a Las Vegas hospital when I was a kid. Nobody came to see me. Nobody cared. I don’t want to be here.” Dr. Carver smacks his lips.

“Oookay,” he says. “I’ll get your discharge papers ready. Make sure that you see your own doctor about this when you get back to Seattle.”

“Will do,” she says and throws the covers off.

“Do you need help, Sunflower?” Ray asks as she retrieves the plastic hospital bag with her things in it and Dr. Carver leaves the room.

“Thanks, Daddy,” she says. “I’ve got it.” Ray nods in that helpless but accepting way that I feel right now.

“Do you want to talk about this?” I ask.

“Not here,” she says as she shamelessly steps into her panties while Ray and I watch.

“I’m going to step out and give you some privacy,” he says, kissing her on the forehead.

“You changed my diapers, Daddy,” Butterfly protests.

“That was almost 30 years ago, Sunflower. You’re a grown woman now. I’m going to step out and give you some privacy.” And he leaves. I turn back to Butterfly.

“He told me that you were hungry. What would you like to eat?” She pauses as she pulls on her skirt.

“Roberto’s,” she says, pulling it up and zipping it in the back. My brow furrows.

“What’s Roberto’s?” I ask.

“Greasy Mexican food. I want carne asada fries with everything, two fish tacos, two California burritos, and two chicken quesadillas.” She snaps her bra in the back and proceeds to stuff it with tissues. At first, I’m wondering what the hell she’s doing and then I realize that she has no breast pads. I pull out my phone.

“Sir?” Jason answers.

“Butterfly is being discharged. I need you to find a place called Roberto’s and place an order for pick-up…”

“It’s 24-hours. He can have it delivered to the hotel,” Butterfly interrupts stoically, still getting dressed.

“I’d rather someone pick it up to make sure that it’s right,” I tell her. She shrugs as she buttons her shirt.

“Whatever works,” she says, searching the bag for her shoes.

“I’ll text you what she wants,” I tell him and quickly compose the text while he’s still on the line.

“Mexican food,” he says as he reads my text. “Does she want Corona, too?” Hell, she might. I turn to ask her just in time to hear her shoes clicking out of the little curtain pod. She has finished dressing just enough to be presentable with her shirt hanging out of her skirt, has taken her things in the plastic bag and is now headed for the nurse’s station. Shit.

“We’ll get something from the minibar,” I say, ending the call and rushing behind my wife who is walking with purpose.

“Excuse me,” she says when she gets to the counter.

“Yes?” the nurse behind the desk answers.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but I have to get out of here. Dr. Carver is discharging me, and I just need the papers. I’d like to have them now, please, or I’m leaving AMA.” The nurse is a bit taken aback.

“It… wouldn’t be AMA, ma’am. You just wouldn’t have your discharge papers.” She shakes her head.

“Fax them to the Waldorf,” she says, throwing her free hand up and proceeding towards the exit.

“Ana!” I call out to her, but she keeps walking. I turn to the bemused nurse, just as bemused as she is.

“Can you do that?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“Not without a written release from her,” she replies cautiously.

“Butterfly, they need you to sign something!” I call out. She waves her hand again and disappears around the corner.

“We’ll figure it out later,” I say to the nurse. “Thank you.” Once again, I shuffle to catch my wife who simply follows the exit signs and finds herself in the waiting room.

“Ana, are you okay?”
“Jesus, you scared us!”
“Jewel, you’re going to give me a stroke.”

“I’m fine,” she says coolly as she’s putting her coat on. “I didn’t mean to scare you all, but I need to get the hell out of here.”

Our party falls silent, most likely seeing her earnest and waiting for instruction. Jason isn’t here and I’m assuming he went to get the food. While I’m trying to see what the transport plan is, Butterfly and I make a startling realization at the same time.

Paparazzi. Just outside the door.

Butterfly gets a determined look on her face and I know that it’s showtime.

“Shit!” I hiss as she takes off towards the exit.

The automatic doors open, the flashes go off, the questions are flying at her and she does not stop. Anybody who gets in her way is going to get bowled over and I think they know it.

She is hauling down that sidewalk towards the parking lot. It’s like she doesn’t even hear or see these people around her. And if anybody gets in her way, may God have mercy on their souls.

She doesn’t need protection. She’s got a force field around her right now that says if you come near her, she’s going to kick you in the balls. Even her hair is bouncing with purpose, and the way that she’s striding in those stilettos, they might as well be track shoes.

“Butterfly, do you even know where you’re going?” I ask, taking long strides to keep up with her.

“I’m walking towards cars,” she replies. “I’m assuming my chariot is somewhere in there.” I sigh again and take out my phone.

“I see the flashes, sir,” Jason answers.

“Good. Be quick before she runs out here and jumps on a bus,” I warn.

“Don’t tempt me,” she replies.

“Jason?” I plead.

“To your left, sir,” he says. Like a ray of light from heaven, the black SUV pulls up in front of us. Butterfly doesn’t wait for me. She opens the front door, climbs inside and closes the door behind her. I’m surprised, as is Chuck, so he and I and Mandy and Ray just scramble into the back.

“Who’s going to get my food?” she asks.

“We’ll pick it up on the way,” Jason replies.

*-*

I don’t ever think I’ve seen my wife eat that much food. I’ve heard a reference to it—Chuck talked about the mountain of food that she ate in Anguilla when we had that fight, followed by the looting of the candy store, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen her eat this much. She doesn’t eat too fast, but she does eat it all, finishing her meal with a 32-ounce Dr. Pepper.

I just order salmon from room service and eat at a safe distance.

When she has finished her mound of Mexicana, I finally approach with caution.

“Do you want to talk now?” I ask. She shrugs.

“What is there to talk about?” she asks. “That fool raped me, and all this time, I just thought he wasn’t admitting it. I had no idea this is what was going on.”

Okay, I have to admit I’m a little lost.

“He still didn’t admit it, Butterfly,” I say, nonplussed. I don’t know what she’s getting at.

“And he’s not going to,” she shoots, angrily. “He’s never going to, not even to himself. When he came to GEH all cocky and shit, I thought he was just being an asshole… which he was of course. I had no fucking idea this is what was going on the whole time! Fifteen-year-old me didn’t get it at all, but damn near 30-year-old me—the one with the degree and the specialization in human mentality—yeah, I get that shit loud and clear now!”

I’m glad we’re in the penthouse, because she is having a fucking meltdown.

“Please forgive my ignorance,” I say calmly. “I need you to let me in on it. He’s a rapist. We know it. What am I missing?”

“You don’t understand, Christian,” she says, her voice laced with some unknown emotion—dread, fear, I don’t know, “Cody. Whitmore. Really. Doesn’t. Think. He raped me,” she says slowly. “He really felt like he had a right to do what he did to me, and when Stephen and I confronted him, he really felt like I was lying. Don’t you see what this means? There’s no telling how many other girls he did this to, and I know there were more by Carly’s reaction when I confronted her and Pamela Whitmore’s reaction on the phone. Jesus, how many times has he done this after he became an adult? He probably used what they did to me to keep girls quiet! The man is a serial rapist! He has to be! Thank God he’s locked up, but what’s going to happen once he’s free?”

She leaps from her seat at the table and the carnage of empty Mexican take-out trays so swiftly that her chair falls hard to the floor behind her with a thud.

“What the fuck is wrong with these people?” she seethes. “His father knew! He knew! He paid to shut me up! Was I the first? Was I the last? Was I somewhere in the middle? How could he walk around all cocky and shit knowing that his son was this fucked up? And Pamela fucking Whitmore—is she fucking clueless or delusional? And she had the nerve to call and threaten my children with that monster that she raised?”

She’s coming totally unglued, and justifiably so. How in God’s name can that fucker believe he didn’t rape her? Of course, he raped her! Is he suffering from that same shit that Lincoln claimed she had?

“He really thinks I lied on him,” she shrieks. “He really thinks he’s the victim here, and that’s why all this shit happened! Take one sexually depraved, mentally unstable, teenage lunatic and add one blindly obsessed, entitled, radically misguided, boneheaded bitch and you’ve got the teenage version of Natural Born Killers! And she’s procreated! Dear God in heaven!”

She falls on her knees with her fists clenched in front of her, cursing at the floor.

“He’s a sexual deviant! A fucking psychopath!” she wails. “Even his Daddy knew! That’s why he paid to shut me up. I can’t stand the fact that he’s breathing the same air that I breathe. It’s bad enough thinking that he lied about the rape all these years, but to know that he actually thought it was okay! He thought he was entitled! They almost killed me, fucking killed my baby, because he thought he was entitled. Fucking hell! You fucking miserable bastard!!!!”

She screams her dismay to anything or anyone that can hear her, and now I have to stop it. I can’t stand it anymore.

I fall down on my knees in front of her and gather her firmly in my arms. She fights me violently at first, but I have a strong grip on her and I’m not letting her go.

“No! No! It’s not fair!” she shrieks as she uselessly struggles in my arms. “It’s not fair. I hate him! He deserves to die! I hate him! It’s not fair! It’s not faaaaaaiiiiiiiiiirrrrr!”

Realizing that she’s not going to get away from my grasp, she screams and cries before her head falls limp on my chest. She’s mumbling something through her tears, but I just hold her there for an eternity, my head resting on hers as she weeps bitterly.

*-*

I didn’t get much sleep last night. I knelt on the floor with Butterfly until my knees were numb. She wailed for so long that I thought she would have another panic attack, but she didn’t. She just cried until her voice was gone, then she whimpered for several more minutes until she was exhausted, and I gladly carried her to bed, holding her and watching her as she slept.

I would gladly spare her all this pain and the realizations that we’re making as the trial proceeds. It was pretty damn dirty for Larson not to tell us that Whitmore had gotten a plea, too. Springing that shit on us at the trial wasn’t cool at all. I can only assume that he thought that Butterfly may not show up if she knew that Whitmore would be testifying. She had already confronted Madison-Perry, so it wouldn’t have been a big deal for her to have seen that witch on the stand, but Whitmore? Maybe he was going for shock value. If that was the case, that shit fucking worked in spades.

Maybe that’s what he was referring to when he said, “Expect anything.” Asshole.

I spent most of the night at the piano once Butterfly fell asleep. It was too late to call Seattle once we got back to the hotel, so we didn’t get a chance to speak to the twins. I can’t help but wonder how Ray feels watching all this. He tried to rescue her, but Carla wouldn’t let him do it. Now, she has to relive all this stuff in front of an audience and even make new discoveries like the shit she just discovered about Whitmore.

He’s not going to be rehabilitated in prison, because he hasn’t accepted what he’s done, and quite frankly, no one else knows. He’s just going to be punished for his part in the beating, and that’s all. I need to see if there’s anything else that can be done about his punishment while he’s in the custody of the Nevada Department of Corrections…

I got a little sleep on the sofa, but I’m awake again a couple of hours later to give instructions to the rest of the entourage, as we are so lovingly referred to in the press. I won’t subject Butterfly to anything she can’t deal with and I think going to court today after yesterday’s episode may be a bit much.

I’m still in a T-shirt and sweats when I sit down at the table with Ray, Allen, and Jason that morning. We’ve had breakfast brought to the room and we’re discussing what may happen in court today.

“It’s getting on time for us to get going,” Ray says. “Don’t you think you should wake Annie so she can get dressed and get some breakfast?” I sigh.

“Yesterday was really bad, Ray,” I inform him. “She came home and had another breakdown. I don’t think she’s going to make it to court today…”

“Oh, yes, she is.”

My thought is interrupted by Butterfly’s voice. I turn around and she’s fully dressed and ready to go.

“And you had better hurry and get dressed, or you’re going to be left behind,” she adds.

“Baby,” I protest. “I don’t think it’s a good idea after what happened yesterday.”

“I’m not going to let them win, Christian,” she says. “I have to see this through. I can’t stop now.” I put my hands on my hip, drop my head and sigh.

“Butterfly, in all honesty, you and courtrooms just don’t get along,” I say in frustration. She rolls her eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah—Fainting, Regurgitating, Convulsing Grey. I get it, but I’m still going. Are you going with me?” I look at Jason and Ray, roll my eyes and shake my head.

“Give me ten,” I say, before going back to the bedroom.

*-*

My wife is beyond untouchable this morning. She hasn’t shut me out, but it’s crystal clear that today, she’s facing this mess with her beautiful rack stuck straight out and taking this shit head on. She’s wearing a three-piece gray tweed pants suit with black leather gloves, a small black clutch, and black Louboutin suede stilettos. I briefly protested about her wearing no overcoat and she informed me that we weren’t in Seattle and her tweed suit jacket was heavy enough.

When the Audis pull up to the courthouse stairs, she sees that the police already have the press restrained. So, she leaps out of the car and begins her sprint up the stairs, surprising everyone—including the press.

“Shit, go!” I bark at Jason and Chuck, who dash out of the Audi behind her. I sigh heavily and prepare for my ascent.

“What’s that about?” Ray asks when we get out of the car.

“She’s had enough of this,” I tell him. “I hope this doesn’t go on much longer.”

“I hope not either,” Al says, joining us. “She’s rebelling. There’s going to be no controlling her shortly.”

There’s no controlling her now.

As we begin to ascend the stairs, I hear various cracks from the press:

“Jesus, how the hell can she run like that in those damn shoes?”

“I’d be a track star if I could move that fast.”

“What is Anastasia Grey running from today?”

“She’s running from you!” I say to the person who asked the last question. “It’s one of the worst times of her life and she still can’t get any peace. What do you expect?”

I just couldn’t take it anymore. We’ve got a damn reporter in the courtroom. They know what’s going on. What more do they fucking want?

“Christian?” It’s Mac. She’s right behind me with a firm grip on my elbow. My first inclination is to snatch my arm from her, but no need to give these fuckers a show. I turn away from the assholes and finish my ascent to the courtroom, taking the stairs two at a time.

We’ve apparently missed the rest of Whitmore’s testimony while we were at the hospital. I don’t think we would have wanted to hear it anyway. However, when we get into that courtroom, I’ve got a fucking earful for Larson.

“Exactly when did you plan to tell us that Cody Whitmore got a deal, too?”

“It was a last-minute decision, Mr. Grey,” Larson says. “It turns out that Carly Madison-Perry had no idea who Vincent Sullivan was, so she couldn’t testify to his presence, intent, or state of mind. We needed someone who could. He’s arguing diminished capacity. We needed someone that was present at the beating that could tear that defense apart. He had a viable defense just by the violence of the act alone…”

“Except that he was the first one that burned her!” I retort. Larson sighs and drops his head, then raises it again.

“You missed the second half of Whitmore’s testimony,” he says. “He destroyed that defense that Sullivan was a terrified participant. Whatever Sullivan says today is going to be highly overshadowed by the picture Whitmore painted. He had several character witnesses yesterday, but none of them chipped away at the picture of this kid who was willing to do anything to be one of the cool kids. I’m telling you, Whitmore was our star witness.”

“I thought she was your star witness!” I accuse, pointing at my wife. Larson deflates again and doesn’t respond.

“You said it was a last-minute decision. How last-minute?” I demand. He swallows.

“Monday morning… right before trial,” he confesses.

“It’s Friday,” I point out. “You had time to warn us. We might have avoided what my wife went through yesterday. How can we possibly trust you now?”

“I don’t trust anybody in this place,” my wife says impassively while gazing at Larson. “Let’s get this done.”

She takes a seat without another word. I glare at Larson before moving to sit next to my wife.

“Mr. Grey,” he calls out. I turn to face him again.

“I know the system has failed you in the past, but that’s because no one did anything. I’m doing something now, sir. Please, trust me. Trust the system to work this time.” I pause for a moment.

“I’m not the one you have to convince… counselor.” I glare at him for a few more moments, allowing my words to sink in before taking a seat next to my wife.

The prosecution concluded its case yesterday with Whitmore’s testimony and the defense began its presentation with the character witnesses for Sullivan that Larson mentioned. Today, the witnesses continue to stream in, one of which is a current girlfriend who testified that Sullivan still has nightmares about what happened that day. Her testimony was deflated when it was discovered that she and Sullivan broke up six months before his arrest, so she couldn’t really attest to the possibility that he still has nightmares.

Larson is going at the character witnesses with extreme gusto now, apparently more determined than ever to convince Butterfly that he’s really on her side and doing what’s best to win the case. I don’t doubt that he is. I just want to see it done with as little pain and inconvenience to my wife as possible. After three witnesses and two hours of listening to Sullivan’s accolades, Butterfly stands and leaves the courtroom before the fourth witness is called. I stand and walk out behind her.

“Butterfly!” I catch her as she’s walking towards the lounge area looking at her phone. She stops and raises her gaze to me. “Are you okay?”

“No!” she says firmly. “That asshole was the first to burn me! The pain was so bad that I passed out and didn’t wake up for three weeks! He scarred me for life! The hell if I’m going to sit there and listen to the whole of Nevada talk about how fucking great of a guy he is!”

“Baby, I understand,” I say, keeping my voice calm, “but the way that you left looks bad to the jury. You have to go back in there.”

“I told you, Christian, I don’t trust anybody in this place anymore,” she says. “I can’t fathom how anybody who has any idea what’s in that video can sit there on that stand and talk about how fabulous he is; how he’s such an asset to the community; how great a friend he is; how kind he is… I can’t stand it anymore. This great fucking guy left me with two grotesque burns on my back and only stopped because he thought I was dead! No! I’m not listening to this shit anymore. I can go to the bathroom, or to the lounge, or outside to the fucking car and talk to my children or read emails or scroll through Facebook—anything but listen to any more of this shit!”

“They didn’t see the video, baby, but the jury did…”

“And now the jury is being inundated with all these testimonials about how wonderful he is, everything he’s done for the poor and the sick…” She says the last part in a mocking tone. As she’s ranting, the courtroom doors fling open and out runs Larson, Ray, and Al, followed by a few others headed towards the bathrooms and lounge. I look at Al questioning and he mouths the word “recess.”

“Annie, are you okay?” Ray says, approaching us quickly. Butterfly just stares at her father without answering. After waiting for a response, Larson chimes in.

“Dr. Grey, it’s almost done. Please, come back into the courtroom.”

“No!” she barks. “I trusted you and you let me get ambushed in there! You facilitated it! I had no preparation whatsoever for that bastard being in the courtroom much less finding out that he got a deal. And now I have to sit and listen to people praise the man who could have killed me?”

“You’re a miserable bitch! You should be ashamed of what you’re putting Vince through!”

It only takes a second for everyone in our group to look to the left at some woman who’s throwing this insult at my wife. I didn’t even get a good look at her, but I thank the heavens for fast reflexes because I literally have to catch my wife in midair as she lunges at this unknown female with both hands. Jason is a second too late, but right on time to hear me growl,

“Get this woman away from my wife now!”

The entire ordeal probably didn’t last twenty seconds as the horrified instigator is being ushered away from us by our security.

“Watch the video, you stupid bitch!” Butterfly yells after her. “It’ll probably be on YouTube next week! Then you can see what Vince put me through!” I roll my eyes and shake my head as I hold my flailing wife hurling harsh words after the woman.

“Anastasia, have you lost your mind?” I ask forcefully, and out of nowhere, she stops flailing.

“Put me down,” she says calmly.

“No, Anastasia, you’re acting crazy,” I say.

“You’re going to see just how crazy I can get if you don’t put me down,” she says, still eerily calm.

“Put her down,” Mac says, coming out of the courtroom. I look at her and then at the back of my wife’s head before I slowly put her down. She straightens her jacket and puts her Jackie O’s on as she marches to the stairwell. I move to follow her, but Mac stops me.

“Let her go,” Mac warns. I look at Chuck.

“Go!” I hiss and he runs behind my wife. Ray is right behind them before I get the chance to say anything.

“She’s done,” I hear Mac say and I turn to her and the questioning glances of Marilyn and Amanda.

“She’s just pissed, as well she should be,” I reply.

“No, she’s done,” Mac says, then turns to Larson. “Whatever you have to do to win this trial, you have to do it without her. She’s done.”

“I don’t understand,” I say, pushing my hands through my hair. “She was lights and sirens to get in here this morning, and now she’s done?”

“Christian, yesterday she was confronted by her rapist in a surprise attack and now today, she gets to hear about how the guy who disfigured her back, left her in a coma, and contributed to the death of her unborn child is being treated unfairly by her and the court,” she says flatly. “I’ll come up with a press release for what just happened, but we need to decide what we’re going to do now because she’s quite possibly not coming back.”

I sigh heavily. We’ve turned our entire lives upside down to see this thing through. One of us has to. Chuck and Ray are with her now. I have to represent her in this courtroom. I have to. I look at Larson.

“You have to do what you have to do without her, but you better do it, because this damage is going to be irreparable if you don’t.” I say nothing else to him and walk back into the courtroom.

*-*

The longer I sit here listening to the Vincent Sullivan Parade of Good Deeds, the more I want to leap across this half-wall and choke the bastard. I can understand why Butterfly couldn’t listen to this anymore. It’s enough to make you gag! However, the final character witness before lunch gives me—and the jury—something more to chew on.

His name is Owen Carey. He went to school with Vincent Sullivan. He knows a lot about Sullivan, and the defense thought that Owen was going to sing all the accolades of the witnesses before him. However, once he took the stand and started talking, his tune changed, and Drake had to treat him as a hostile witness.

Owen, as it turns out, is Sullivan‘s on-again-off-again gay lover. The girl who testified earlier—Regan—wasn’t his girlfriend. Regan was his beard.

Owen had been waiting for his in with Sullivan since high school. They weren’t dating back then, but they hung around the same people. They and their gay friends would rate the guys in high school by who was the most “fuckable.” Even though Owen wanted Sullivan, Sullivan had his sights set on someone else.

“Vince wasn’t afraid of Cody Whitmore. Vince was in love with him,” Owen said. “He would’ve done anything Cody asked as long as it meant that he could be near him.”

Now, this could have gone either way, had the next thing not happened.

“Oh my God, Owen how could you!”

The court has to be brought to order as Vincent Sullivan cries out in despair of his gay lover’s betrayal.

Now, if anybody in this courtroom is like me, none of us cares that he’s batting for the same team. What’s more important is that his entire defense is based on the fact that he participated in this ritual because he was afraid for his life. If there’s any truth to what Owen says, how can you be deathly afraid of someone that you secretly covet?

Once Drake saw that his defense was heading south and ceased questioning, Larson goes in for the kill, drawing out all the juicy details of Sullivan and his sexual tendencies. I wouldn’t know why he was doing it until later.

“You show up as a character witness just to destroy his character and defense. As much as I would love to believe you, why should I? How do we know that you’re just not another scorned lover looking for revenge?” Larson asks as he wraps questioning.

“I don’t know. Maybe I am,” Owen replies. “Most likely I am, but that doesn’t change the fact that Vince was in love with Cody Whitmore. He probably still is. He could have testified against Cody and put Cody away. Instead, he let Cody do it to him. That’s love. And if you don’t believe me, check out my Facebook. I’ve got an album called Throwback Thursday with all kinds of pictures from GV High back in the day. You’re sure to find a couple of candid shots of Vince making googly eyes at Cody when he wasn’t looking.

“I don’t know anything about this Anastasia girl, and I didn’t pay any attention to what happened to her. I can’t give you any info on that because I didn’t keep up with it and it didn’t affect me… sorry, but shit happens, excuse my language. But I can tell you about Vincent Sullivan, and he followed Cody Whitmore around like a sick puppy. I don’t know exactly when this burning thing happened, but the closer to the end of the school year it got, the more he followed Cody around until Cody’s friends had to tell him to back up.”

Jesus, this fucker had female and male admirers. My girl didn’t stand a chance.

The last person to testify before lunch was Sullivan’s psychiatrist who painted the case of how someone can be coerced to violent and even deadly acts if they feel that their own life is in jeopardy. I noted how he painted this picture very vividly and clearly, but I’m not sure from his testimony that he’s convinced that Sullivan was afraid for his life. Even in cross examination, he kept referring to a “deep-seated fear,” but to me, he never confirmed that Sullivan committed this act because he was afraid for his life.

I attempt to call my wife at lunch to ascertain where she is and if she’s okay, but her phone is going straight to voice mail. Shit! Jason informs me that Chuck checked in shortly after they left, indicating that he has taken her and Ray to the interactive aquarium somewhere on the east side of town and will soon be taking them to lunch somewhere. She is not answering her phone, and besides texting his wife to tell her that he was okay, Ray isn’t either.

God, I want to talk to her so badly, to tell her about the surprise witness and the fact that the shrink didn’t fully uphold Sullivan’s claims. I would normally check my emails and see if anything is afoot at GEH, but I can’t even do that right now. I really want to talk to my girl…

**I love you. I’ll tell you what happened when I see you. I hope you feel better. **

As it turns out, Sullivan’s entire defense was his character witnesses—one of whom turned on him—his shrink who really didn’t solidify his defense, and his own testimony, which we’re about to hear now.

“Vincent, there’s no denying that you took part in this horrible act. You’re on the recording assaulting this young woman in a most violent way. Can you tell us how you came to be a part of this ritual?” Sullivan drops his head.

“I knew the girl from one of my classes,” he says. “She… was nobody. She wasn’t that attractive. She wore cheap clothes. She didn’t have any friends. She didn’t stand out at all—just some poor Plain Jane in the wrong place.

“I hung around with all of ‘em—Kevin, Brian, Rich, Will—we weren’t best buds, but we hung out. I got wind that they were going to a bonfire over at one of the ranches on Wigwam. Of course, I wanted to go.”

“So, you’re saying that you didn’t find out about the bonfire until the day that it occurred?” Drake asks.

“No, I knew about it sooner, earlier that week, and so did Owen! There were a lot of people talking about it, how Carly had a surprise show planned and it was supposed to be such a big night. Her family was swimming in money; I thought she was going to have a rock band there or something.”

“When did you learn differently?” Drake presses.

“Two days before it happened,” he says, his voice low. “I still didn’t know the whole story, but I knew that they were planning to punish somebody for something. Carly was known for doing shit like that… but Owen was right, and since our relationship is over, I guess I don’t have to keep it a secret anymore.” He throws a glare at Owen.

“I did want to be around Cody,” he admits. “I knew he was with Carly, but I just wanted time alone with him. I knew I could’ve turned him if I had the chance.” Drake clears his throat.

“What made you think you even had a chance with Cody Whitmore?”

“How do you think half of them figure out that they’re gay?” he says. “Do you have any idea how easy it is to turn a straight boy gay? Yeah, some of them realize that they were born that way, but the other half has to be introduced. They don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘I want dick.’ Just like there are gateway drugs, there’s a gateway here. We don’t all follow the same path to get here, but some of us were led through that gate.

“There’s a whole lot of ‘straight’ men out here that are closet gays and you don’t even know it. If Owen hadn’t opened his big mouth, you wouldn’t have known about my sexual preference. And I’m not gay, I’m Bi!”

“So, what does any of this have to do with the evening in question, besides the fact that you wanted to be around Cody Whitmore?” Drake asks.

“The day before the bonfire, we were all hanging out at lunch…”

“We?” Drake asked.

“A bunch of us. I couldn’t tell you who all they were. I can tell you that it was me and a few others that I’m not going to name, girls and guys, and Cody and Carly. That’s when she told us what she had planned. She mentioned the brands, but I had seen college guys get brands from their frats. My brother has one, so I thought it was no big deal. I thought it was going to be one brand on her ass or something. I didn’t find out until I got there that it was going to be more.”

“You knew the day before. Why didn’t you warn Anastasia or tell the police? Your brother?” Drake says.

“Carly singled me out,” he says. “Either she could tell that I liked him, or she already knew. I believe she thought I was competition, and since I knew what they were going to do, she deemed me her handler. I told her I didn’t want to do it; I didn’t want to be part of that shit, but she started taunting me—saying that I would go tell my brother, that if I wasn’t there and I didn’t do it and somebody found out, she would know who told.”

“She threatened you?” Drake asks.

“Not in so many words, but she was planning a bonfire where she was going to brand a girl in front of a crowd! What more would she do to me if I didn’t do what she told me?”

“And what about Cody? Did he threaten you?” Sullivan shakes his head.

“Cody was cozying up to me and I really thought he was feeling me. Carly saw that; I know she did. What better way to make sure that I wasn’t a threat than to make me part of the crime? Cody kind of smoothed things over, told me that it wasn’t going to be a big deal, that it would just be a little mark for her to remember her place. He made me feel at ease, so I agreed. But Owen was right about something else. I wasn’t afraid of Cody, but I was scared shitless of Carly Madison.”

There are several more minutes of talking about Carly and her plan, how things transpired that day, claims that Cody and Carly never let him out of their site because they thought he would tell somebody what they had planned. He paints this whole good-cop-bad-cop picture of the teenage Bonnie and Clyde all the way until they got to the branding.

He claims that he didn’t know that they had hit her over the head and kidnapped her. How did he expect for her to arrive, in Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage wearing glass slippers? He maintains that he was afraid for his life, even though he can be seen as one of the boys viciously—and sometimes gleefully—kicking, beating, and pissing on my wife, and when it came time to brand her, he didn’t hesitate until she wasn’t moving anymore.

His scared shitless performance is pretty good, but I never bought it from the beginning. Knowing what I know now, it doesn’t jibe at all with his account of his state of mind.


 ANASTASIA

Daddy, Chuck, and I return to the courtroom and slip back in unnoticed, taking seats in the back instead of on the front row. I catch a portion of Vincent Sullivan’s defense testimony that he was afraid of Carly and, as it turns out, in love with Whitshit. I guess Amber Whitmore was right. He is gay. Part of me can understand being afraid of Carly. I was terrified of her for years after what she did to me. The other part of me is screaming that his ass is full of shit.

Figures that he would be in love with Whitshit. I never saw that coming.

“What were the brands, Vincent?” Larson asks when he moves to cross-examine.

“Excuse me?” he says, a little taken aback.

“Let me rephrase, what did you brand into that young girl’s back?” Sullivan swallows.

“Cody told you…”

“And now I’m asking you,” Larson interrupts. “What did you brand into Anastasia Steele’s back?”

“It was… letters,” he says finally.

“Letters?” Larson says. “Just letters? What were they, your initials?” Vincent clears his throat.

“No,” he says.

“Let me help you.” Larson says. He retrieves a remote and pushes a button. A large screen monitor comes alive with side-by-side pictures of my back, one at 15 with fresh, oozing brands, and one from a couple of years ago where the scars are incorporated into the garden. They must have introduced these into evidence while we were at the hospital and Whitmore was testifying.

“Do you remember now, Vincent?” he asks. “Do you remember the letters now?” He walks back over to the table and retrieves a long, metal object. Oh, fuck, is that what I think it is? Did somebody keep those fuckers all these years?

“Do you remember taking a white-hot branding iron like this one…”

Like this one… thank God. That’s not the original weapon.

“… From a burning bonfire and pressing it into that young girl’s flesh? How about this one?” He retrieves a second iron and I can only assume that he has a replica of the “W” and the “H” that Sullivan burned into my back. “Do you remember now…?”

“Yes, I remember,” Sullivan says through his teeth. Now isn’t the time to get froggy, dude. You’re on trial.

“What were the letters?” Larson asks again.

“W and H,” he replies.

“And what were they supposed to spell?” Larson asks, but Sullivan doesn’t answer. “We’ve got three of the letters right here in our face on her back, Vincent. What were they supposed to spell?”

“Whore!” he spits out. The room is silent for a moment.

“Did you think Anastasia Steele was a whore?” Larson asks calmly.

“I didn’t know her,” he replies.

“You didn’t know her,” Larson says, “but you personally executed the first two letters of the brand. Were you going to do the entire brand before you thought she was dead?”

“Objection, relevance,” Drake says.

“How is this not relevant?” Larson asks.

“He didn’t do the rest of the brand,” Drake says. “He’s not on trial for what he would have done.”

“It speaks to state of mind and intent,” Larson asks, “but the answer probably is irrelevant now!” He’s pissed.

“Objection is overruled. Continue, Mr. Larson.” He turns back to Sullivan.

“Were you going to do the entire brand before you thought she was dead?” he repeats.

“I don’t know,” Sullivan replies.

“Let’s try it this way. Were you the one assigned to do the entire brand or was someone else going to take over after your first two letters?” Sullivan just shakes his head uncertainly.

“You stood there holding the second brand after someone said that they thought she was dead. Were you going to do the third brand before Carly Madison pushed you out of the way?”

“I… no… I… no, I wasn’t,” Sullivan stutters.

“I see. So, you were afraid for your life… afraid enough to brand her twice, but not enough to finish the job,” he taunts. “You really thought that she could kill you, but not this helpless and bound young woman that you all had beaten the hell out of, is that it? Just a little ‘mark’ on her butt, you said? Only you didn’t burn her butt, did you? And it wasn’t a little mark, was it?” Larson pauses.

“No…”

“It was supposed to be five!” Larson declares firmly. “Five brutal, vicious, and permanent burns… on her back! Your brother’s fraternity brand is permanent. What did you expect?”

“I don’t know…”

“You never intended to leave ‘a little mark’ on that woman! You leaned into that brand! You pressed that hot metal on her back while she screamed in agony, her skin searing the entire time until she passed out!

“You were with your friends; they were all going to the bonfire, even after they knew what was going to happen; and Cody smoothed things over when Carly scared you so badly. So, what you’re basically saying is that you were peer pressured into kicking, spitting on, urinating on, and burning a young girl—an act that would land her in a coma for three weeks and result in the death of her unborn baby. Is that what you’re saying?”

“I was scared!” Sullivan retorts firmly. “I was scared for my life! Everybody knew who they were—who their parents were. Everybody knows the power they had. Yeah, here’s a little nobody they wanted to make an example of, but they were ruthless, and we all knew it! They owned that school. They made an example of anybody they wanted, and nobody stopped them.  I was scared shitless that if I didn’t go along with them, I was gonna be next.” Larson’s eyes narrow, and now it’s them again. Didn’t he say a minute ago that he wasn’t afraid of Cody?

“You were scared,” he says. It’s a statement, not a question. He walks over to the evidence table and retrieves a picture.

“Imagine how terrified she was,” he says, shoving a picture in his face. I can only imagine that it’s one of the pictures of me, 15-years-old and black and blue. Vincent doesn’t even look at the picture. He sits there silently glaring at Larson for several moments.

“What’s the matter?” Larson says. “Can’t look at her? Weak stomach? Too gruesome? It’s your handiwork—don’t you want to see your masterpiece?”

“Objection, your honor,” Drake says.

“To what?” Larson says, whirling around to Drake. “Did he deny what he did? We all have to look at pictures of this nearly dead beaten and broken 15-year-old girl why doesn’t he?” He says the last part all in one breath. He seems to be getting a little emotional.

“I’m going to overrule your objection, Mr. Drake, but Mr. Larson, get on with it,” the judge cautions.

“No worries, your honor,” Larson says, shooting a glance back over to Sullivan. “I’m done with show-and-tell for now.” He puts the picture back on the evidence table and walks over to Sullivan.

“You said they made an example of anyone they wanted. You’ve seen them do this before?” Larson asks.

“Objection,” Drake declares. “The parties he’s referring to are not on trial here, and it’s hearsay.”

“No, but Mr. Sullivan is, and he says he was afraid for his life, so let him tell us why,” Larson retorts.

“I’ll allow it,” the judge says. “Proceed, Mr. Larson.” He nods and turns back to Sullivan.

“Mr. Sullivan, do you need me to repeat the question?” Larson asks.

“Carly had a different target every week,” Sullivan says. “Slip a mick in somebody’s Coke and then watch ‘em trip out through fourth hour; running a scavenger hunt with somebody’s car parts on the football field; taking pictures of girls naked in the locker room and posting ‘em around the school—stupid shit like Carrie at the prom! But this? This was the first time I had seen anything like this in my life! If I hadn’t already pissed, I would have pissed my pants.”

“Oh, we’re weeping for you,” Larson cracks. Surprisingly, there’s no objection or chastisement.

“Do you know why Cody Whitmore appeared in court yesterday? Because, as you recall, he knew who you were. He testified that you almost begged him to be a part of ‘the little party.’ But you know who didn’t testify? Carly Madison-Perry. She was supposed to, but she had no clue who you were. Cody was only too happy to fill in the blanks, and from your own testimony, you were very fond of Cody, but scared to death of Carly. So, now, you expect for the court to believe that you were in mortal fear of a girl who had no earthly idea who you were?”

“She does know who I am,” Sullivan seethes. “She knows exactly who I am!”

“’She was nobody,’” Larson continues, reciting Sullivan’s description of me. “’She wasn’t that attractive. She wore cheap clothes. She didn’t have any friends. She didn’t stand out at all—just some poor Plain Jane in the wrong place.’ Your description sounds very personal for someone that you didn’t really know. What made you analyze her in such detail?”

“That’s just how she appeared to me,” Sullivan says, “nobody special, nothing much.”

“Nobody special,” Larson repeats. “Nothing much… yet Whitmore wanted her, and not you.”

Whaaaaaat the fuck…

“Who did she think she was, wandering into the school with her nothingness and her nobodyness and sleeping with the guy that you had been lusting after for so long? How dare she get a piece of Cody before you did, right?”

Fucking hell! Could it be? Could this be true?

“Why did you have to burn her in the back? Of all the people there, why did it have to be you?”

“Carly told me to,” he says, his voice cracking.

“Did she?” Larson accuses.Did she really… or did you want to show Cody that you could do it? Did you want to get her back because she had Cody first? You didn’t know this girl—you said it yourself. How could you do something so personally vile to someone you claim you didn’t even know? That’s the worst kind of criminal, someone who could viciously attack another person they don’t even know. Is that who you are?”

“Stop! Stop!” Sullivan cries, ripping at his hair and weeping. “I was scared! I was scared!” He buries his face in his hands and cries. Larson just looks at him.

“I don’t believe you, Vincent,” Larson says calmly, while shaking his head. “Not because I’m here seeking justice for this crime, but because there are too many inconsistencies—with your witnesses, with your account of the events leading up to the attack, with everything. It’s not adding up. The only thing we have that’s telling the 100% truth is that video and those pictures. Somebody in this room is lying, Vincent… and I think it’s you. No further questions.”

Damn, that was a slam dunk. Whether he wins or not, that was a three-pointer from behind the foul line and nothing but net.


A/N: Natural Born Killers was a Quentin Tarantino/Oliver Stone movie made in 1994 about a Bonnie and Clyde couple that went across the country committing mass murders and leaving only one witness alive to tell the tale of the massacre. If you are familiar with Quentin Tarantino’s work, you know this was some pretty intense and sick stuff. So, I can only say that if you never seen it before, you just have to watch it understand Ana’s reference.

For those who may not know, “nothing but net” is a phrase coined by the NBA maaaaaaaaaaaaaaany years ago—like waaaaaay back in the nineties (lol). It actually came from a McDonald’s commercial where Larry Bird and Michael Jordan are having a shooting contest for a Big Mac and fries. The food has long since gone cold by the time the ridiculous and impossible contest is over, but the term “nothing but net” lived on to describe a “swish,” which is when a player scores and the ball goes through the net without touching the rim, making that satisfying “swish” sound because the ball touches nothing but the net.  

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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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

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~~love and handcuffs