For those who didn’t know, I recently lost my brother. That’s why I’ve been a bit MIA.
I received this beautiful picture (Dot Art from Australia) from one of my favorite people and readers in the whole world. She has always supported me from the day that I knew of her existence, even if she didn’t understand or agree with what I was writing. Last year, she sent me snowflakes (with words inside) when we didn’t get any snow. This year, we got snow, lol. I can’t tell you how much this means to me. I will put it near my desk where I can see it every day (and where all the literal “magic” happens) to make sure that I remember why I love doing what I do. Thank you so much, Falala. I hope you don’t mind me sharing. My Muse is alight with love and gratitude. ❤
I also heard that the royal baby shares a birthday with our Falala. Happy birthday, darling!
Danger—Aussie accent ahead. Turn away now.
Oh, song lyrics in here, too. So, for those who don’t like song lyrics, you might want to skip that part, too.
All other previous disclaimers still apply.
Chapter 80—Melbourne Mischief
“You should get a social media page,” Laura says as the four of us are enjoying dinner at the Paradise Restaurant. I look at her like she’s grown five heads.
“I can’t do that,” I reply.
“Because Christian likes his privacy…” I look over at Christian.
“I didn’t say Christian should get a social media page,” she interjects. “I didn’t even say you and Christian should get a social media page. I said you should get a social media page. No offense, Christian.” To my surprise, my husband doesn’t protest.
“I’m an extension of Christian,” I tell her. “We’re in the public eye a lot—the press, the tabloids… If I sneeze, the gossip rags are printing that I have the flu before someone can say ‘bless you.’” She shakes her head.
“Ana, President Obama has a Twitter page. You need to be on social media. Everything that you’ve told me that you’re trying to do—exposure for your center, your battle with the medical licensing board—you can reach exponentially more people with a social media page.” I shake my head.
“I don’t know,” I tell her, still looking to Christian for backup and getting none. “We need to consult our public relations people.” She frowns again.
“You have to ask your public relations people if you can start an Instagram?” she asks bemused.
“Yes,” I say. “The simplest things can become wildfires if they’re not contained properly.”
“And there’s those monsters again…” she mumbles.
“No, no,” I tell her. “Those aren’t monsters. Those are harsh realities. Just before we came on this trip, we had just put a lawsuit to bed for an idiot who flashed me an offensive tattoo on live radio.”
“Ana,” Laura begins in disbelief, “are you honestly telling me that you two sued someone for having a bad tattoo?”
“No,” Christian finally interjects. “We sued him for being an asshole.”
“Oh, they’re doing that now in the states?” she says. “Maybe I need to go back for a while. There’s a few I’d like to drag through litigation—one in particular…”
“Ovah moi dedd body!” Jaxon says, drawing a chuckle from me and Christian.
“We didn’t sue him because of the tattoo,” I say, bringing the story back around, “But the tattoo started it. I was doing live radio shows for a while—just local stuff, but talking about the Center and my situation with the medical board. This jerk was on one of the highest rated radio shows in Seattle…”
I share the unflattering story of Rossiter flashing me on the air and subsequently assaulting my dad, the “mysterious” beating that led to the defamation suit, and Rossiter finally agreeing to leave town, all without using his name. Laura now frowns deeply and stares at me.
“Who exactly are you guys?” she asks. I sigh. Here we go…
“Take out your phone and Google ‘Christian Grey’ with an ‘e’ and ‘GEH Enterprises.’” She raises a brow.
“Google?” she says incredulously.
“Google,” I reinforce. She shrugs and takes out her phone. After swiping the screen, she taps some words into her phone… and then she’s silent for a solid three minutes.
“I take it you found him,” I say. She raises wide eyes to me.
“Jesus, Ana, this is you?” she asks. I shrug, not quite sure what she’s looking at. “He’s worth more than Jaxon’s whole fucking family! And they’re worth a lot!”
“Yeah, he’s got a penny or two to rub together,” I say.
“A penny?” she says incredulously. “Seriously, Ana?” She turns to Christian. “Industry giant with interests, even here in Australia. How do I not know who he is?”
“Well, I don’t know, but everybody else does,” I lament. “It was actually quite refreshing to be around people who didn’t know who we were.” She whistles and shuts the screen down.
“Well, at least you’re not the mob,” she says as she puts her phone away. Thank God! I didn’t want anything to get weird between us because of who we are.
Our dining experience in Paradise turns out to be just that… an experience, that is. To begin, the restaurant is themed like a garden… the Garden of Eden, if I were to guess. There are people—hosts and hostesses of sorts—interacting with the diners. They’re running around like water sprites or flower children or something, communing with the earth while they engage you in their folly. They have names like Blossom, Idalia, and Apollo, and they greet you at the door or they walk along with the server as he’s bringing you some spacy drink.
Blossom comes along with our first drink, a Frozen Paradise Daiquiri Fishbowl… and yes, it’s really served in a goldfish bowl—with four metal straws. In her spacy little way, she tells us about Paradise. She tells us about the water sprite in the swing hanging from the ceiling that’s about a whole story above us with a train from her dress that hangs all the way down to the floor. She then tells us the plight of the acrobatic fairies dangling from the cage-like crescent moon also hanging precariously from the ceiling. In addition to the servers, I’d say there’s about seven to ten performers that engage diners in conversation and interactive garden play.
The food leaves nothing to be desired. Beautiful, colorful dishes in natural and garden themes are as tasty as they are creative, and the four of us feast and fill on beautifully artistic presentations of exotic and delicious foods that we would never think to order if we weren’t on a luxury cruise, including exquisite cheeses, truffles, and delicacies that I can’t even pronounce, let alone recognize.
Our food has been consumed and our first drink devoured when Apollo follows the second server over to our table with yet another frozen drink. This one is inside of four separate globes with straws inside. It’s some kind of rainbow drink made with multicolor jellybean vodka and lemonade. When the server leaves, I take a sip of my drink while Apollo decides to “mime” out each of our names. He did a mini-dance representing the King of Pop for Jaxon. He crossed his body for Christian, which I thought was strange since Catholics—and not Christians—are known for crossing their body.
Not to be confused with an eagle or a seagull, I scissor my hands at the thumbs and gently flutter my fingers. Apollo immediately guesses a butterfly. Laura just makes a universal sign for the sun, so he calls her Solari. I have no idea why she did that, and I have no idea what physical representation he would have come up with for her name.
The entire establishment is multileveled, and you can explore it from a ramp that spirals around the edge and connects to each level. Once the meal is complete, I decide to stroll up the ramp and observe the goings-on of the establishment. Christian declines the invitation, deciding instead to “watch me walk.” I shrug, take my globe, and begin my stroll around the restaurant and lounge.
“He’s been attentive this evening,” Laura observes when we get to the second level. He’s always attentive, but she’s right… tonight more than usual.
“He has,” I acknowledge while observing the activities on the main floor. “What did you say to him?” I ask before sipping my drink.
“Nothing much,” she says, unfazed. “I think I may have just given him a different perspective of a situation he already knew.” I nod.
“Like you did for me,” I say, raising my eyes to her. She leans on the rail and faces me.
“It’s like I said, Ana,” she says, “same… but different.” She takes a sip of her drink. “Knowing what I know about the two of you now, I understand why he reacted how he did to our conversation. I wish I had known before, but I’m certain that I wouldn’t have handled it differently if I had.”
I’m not sure I’m at all comfortable with her digging into my husband’s brain that way. If you think my monsters are something, you aint seen nothin’ yet!
“Christian is… a strong personality, unwilling to show any weakness, but not incapable of feeling it,” I warn, a little more firmly than I intend.
“I know that, and so does he,” she says, again unfazed. “What I find so remarkable about this relationship is how protective the two of you are of each other. You fight hard, but you love harder. It makes for a very intense relationship, but if you’re not careful, it can also make for a very short lifespan.” I frown deeply.
“Are you talking about us or our relationship?” I ask, somewhat appalled.
“Both,” she says. “Your fires burn hot for each other, but if either or both of you dump all of yourselves into it at the beginning, there’s nothing of you left. Eventually, if you can’t always have that spark—that fire—that you feel right now, you’ll begin to resent each other for not being that person that lit that spark in the first place, and you’ll hate the fact that you lost yourself in the process. And let’s face it—that’s not good for your health, and neither is constantly worrying about the well-being of the other; not trusting their instincts to do and be the right thing, make the right decisions, or know what’s good for them and what’s not. You’re both protectors—even to your own detriment. You need to know when to protect and when to allow yourself to be protected.
“You must find a medium where you settle into happy contentment—where he looks at you the way that he’s looking at you right now not because you’ve detoxed and decompressed and you’re glowing from the spa and you’re wearing a knockout dress, but simply because the atmosphere of the room changed because you’re in it now.
“I don’t know why we met, Ana,” she says, turning back to view the activities below. “I don’t know what brought us together, but you already know that I’m a firm believer in fate and destiny and all things mystical. You meet me and a few days later, you’re highly unnerved by a spiritual disturbance and here I am… and you haven’t seen your shrink in weeks. Coincidence?”
“I don’t believe in coincidences,” I say, never looking at her.
“Let him be him,” she says, her voice comforting, “and you be you. Let life happen and take every advantage or opportunity to be happy. Prepare for the unexpected, but when the bad comes, work your way through it, and when you’re done, rejoice in overcoming it. And Ana, by no means am I telling you to love your husband less. I’m only stressing that you don’t forget to love you in the process. Am I making any sense?” I sigh.
“More than I would like to admit,” I say, moving away from the rail and walking up the ramp a little more. I’m the shrink. I should have known these answers long ago, and it took someone who has no fucking clue whatsoever to help me see the light and get through one of the biggest obstacles I’ve ever had to face. It makes be feel… different… about my profession and how things are handled… how people handle me…
“He adores you,” she says. And I him, I think to myself. “And he knows that we’re talking about him.” I look down at him and see his eyes fixed on me. I lean on the rail again and gaze at him—his sexy new haircut and how good he looks in his slacks and blazer, his shirt open just a bit at the collar… a button or two, I think.
He looks scrumptious, and my mouth waters just looking at him. I run my tongue over my straw, take a drink, then suggestively wipe the corners of my mouth.
“You two could fuck without even touching each other,” Laura observes. Her voice intrudes my thoughts and I look over at her.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” I lie, finishing my drink and placing it on the bar-ledge of the railing before beginning my trek back down the ramp.
“I’m sure you do,” she laughs, “and I’m sure you’ve done it more than once.” She falls in step behind me. “Don’t be ashamed of your passion, enjoy it! Most people live their entire lives never once feeling what the two of you feel for each other.”
“You confuse me,” I say when we get to the bottom of the ramp. “In one breath, you warn me about allowing my passion to burn too hard and in the next breath, you tell me not to be ashamed of it and to enjoy it. Which one is it?” She raises a brow at me.
“Don’t you know, doctor?” she asks, and I suddenly feel like I’m talking to Ace’s Smartastic ass again. I turn and begin to walk briskly away from her.
“Ana,” she calls firmly, and I stop, folding my arms and looking at her. I’m a little tipsy from the alcohol… maybe more than a little, but I’m still pissed.
“You don’t like that,” she says, closing the space between us. “Why?”
“I get tired of people assuming that because I’m a psychiatrist that I have all the mental answers. I don’t! If I did, I’d be on a mountain in Tibet somewhere, handing out valuable tidbits of knowledge while people came from all over the world just to hear my wisdom! I certainly wouldn’t be running away from dead people on an island and I certainly wouldn’t be seeing a shrink myself!”
There, I’ve said it. I don’t have all the answers. I never even claimed to have all the answers. Why do people assume that just because I have a Ph.D. and M.D. behind my name that I automatically have all the answers—even to my own problems? It’s infuriating!
“I see,” Laura says coolly. “That was presumptuous of me and I apologize.”
Suddenly, I’m taken aback by that statement. No one who ever expected me to know it all ever apologized to me. They just continued to argue that I should know… even Ace. Now, I’m wishing I had some of my drink left.
“What I should have said is that we’re human and we have to find happiness wherever we can. You and Christian find extreme happiness in your passion. Go with that, but in the process, please remember who Ana is. Go ahead and get lost in the passion… just don’t lose yourself completely. Does that make sense?”
That’s the same thing Michelangelo said to me when I talked to him about the whole submissive thing a while back. Now, Laura’s saying it, too… and Christian said something the other night about our scene, but my head is too cloudy to remember it right now.
“Can we please stop with the serious talk I need to have some fun,” I say almost in one breath. Laura smiles and as if on cue, Apollo meets us at the bottom of the ramp.
“Butterfly, Solaris, come.” I frown at first as he takes our hands and leads us through the clouds.
“Fly, Butterfly,” he says as he mimics the gesture I did earlier to denote my name, so I fly. He leads me and Laura to the stage and instructs her to “shine” because the flowers need sunlight to grow and the birds and butterflies need sunlight to flourish. On the other side of the stage is the girl who said something yesterday about my hickeys. She’s some kind of bird.
I won’t fuck with your flight if you don’t fuck with mine.
Luckily, we all have fun fluttering around the Garden of Eden in Paradise and there’s no need for a butterfly to take a bite out of a bird’s ass because she stays on her side of the garden.
It’s late when we emerge from Paradise, and it’s clear that Laura and Jaxon are feeling a bit amorous.
“Whadya sy we call it a noight, love?” Jaxon says suggestively to his wife.
“I’d say you lead, and I’ll follow,” she replies coquettishly. They turn their attention to us.
“Whaht’s tha plan foh tomorrow?” Jaxon asks. “OI see ya didn’t book any excuhrsions.”
“Well,” Christian says, “we’re just going to see what sites we can in the city. You know we’ll be debarking in Melbourne.”
“Yeah,” Laura whines with a frown and her shoulders fall. “That makes me sad. It was really great sailing with you guys, Ana,” she adds trying to hide her disappointment. “Do you know what time you’ll be leaving the ship?” Christian and I look at each other and he shrugs.
“Not really sure,” he says. “I guess we’ll wake whenever the sun wakes us, then have breakfast and leave after that.”
“Whoi don’t we meet fah brekky?” Jaxon says. “Have one lahst meal befoh ya shove off?”
“Oh, that sounds so depressing,” Laura says, “but let’s. I’ll help you set up a Facebook and Twitter page so that we can keep in touch.” I raise my brow at her. “You don’t have to use your real name. Just let me know if you decide to change it.” I nod.
“Okay, that sounds like a plan. Christian?” I say.
“How’s 10:00?” he asks.
Pehrfect!” Jaxon says. “We’ll see yah in tha mohrnin’.”
Once a slightly distressed Laura heads off to be comforted by her husband, Christian takes my hand and leads me through the deck and outside.
“We should think about planning a trip to Italy,” he says softly. “You know I wanted to go this summer, but with Pops’ passing…”
“It couldn’t be avoided,” I interrupt. “The family had to be together.” He looks at me and nods.
“You’re so beautiful, Butterfly,” he says just above a whisper. “Do you have any idea what you mean to me?”
“Yes, Christian, I do,” I reply just as softly. His brow furrows as he pushes his fingers into my hair and cups the side of my face.
“Do you really?” he asks a bit more earnestly. “Do you really know that I wouldn’t know what to do with myself without you? That I’m not just saying that?”
Laura’s words choose this moment to come back to me, about losing yourself in the other person. We’ll have to talk about that… but now isn’t the time.
“Yes, my darling,” I say softly, “I do know.” I cup his opposite cheek with my hand. “I know.” He presses his forehead to mine and closes his eyes. I feel his fear and uncertainty. I don’t know what Laura said to him, but I need him to know that this is where I want to be.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for us, Christian,” I say softly, “for our family.” He raises his gaze to mine. “The future doesn’t seem so scary anymore…”
And it really doesn’t.
“No?” he says, somewhat surprised. I shake my head.
“No,” I reinforce. “I mean the unknown will always be a little frightening, but it’s not terrifying. I know I can handle it… and I know that we can conquer anything as long as we work together.” His lips form a flat line.
“Yes,” he breathes, pressing his forehead to mine again, “as long as we work together.”
I feel his caution, but I don’t know what’s causing it. I’m wondering what Laura said to him and if that’s why he’s feeling so rudderless. I pull back from him and meet his gaze again, giving him a reassuring smile.
“I like this look,” I say, running my fingers through the extremely short but soft waves in his hair. “I think you should keep it.”
“I thought you might not like it,” he says, running his own hand over his cut. “I know how you like to play with my hair.” I tighten my fingers in the short strands and he stifles a gasp.
“I still can,” I point out, “but I may have to get used to not seeing the JBF look you have when you grab at it yourself.”
“If you can grab it, I can grab it,” he proclaims. Our gazes lock and he leans down and presses a soft and sensual kiss to my lips, his tongue caressing mine just once and sparking a small fire inside of me.
“Come,” he breathes. “Let’s go gaze at the stars for our last night aboard.”
He leads me to the very top deck—the “adults only” deck. There’s no one up here, but there are chaises around for lounging and enjoying the view. I haven’t seen many children on this cruise, but apparently, they’re not allowed on this deck.
Christian removes his blazer and reclines on the chaise, gesturing for me to come to him. I sit on his lap and after a bit of adjustment, nestle myself sideways between his legs, after which he drapes his jacket around my body. I settle into the warmth and look at the sky. It’s amazing to me how the Australia night sky looks so much different than the Seattle night sky. It’s all connected… isn’t it the same sky after all?
Then I put that Ph.D. mind to work. Even though it’s the same sky, the constellations that Seattle sees at midnight in December are definitely going to be different than the constellations that Australia sees at midnight in December. Same sky, different constellations.
“Same, but different,” I say softly.
“Hmm?” Christian says, his voice content. Well, I can’t leave that hanging out there, especially not knowing what Laura said to him.
“I was just admiring the clear sky and thinking that it looks so much different than the Seattle sky at night. I’m not into astronomy, but I wonder if we ever get this sky during the course of the year.”
“Hmm,’ he says again. “That’s a good question. Without a bunch of charts and diagrams, that’s something we’ll probably never know. For all we know, this particular sky may not show up on our side of the world until noon.” I twist my lips.
“You’re right…” hence the comment, same, but different… like you and me.
“What made you think of that?” he asks.
“Just the fact that the sky looks so different, but it’s the same sky,” I tell him. “This may sound silly, but it reminds me of that song from An American Tail.” I look up at him and see absolutely no recognition in his eyes. Okay, I forgot. This is the man who hasn’t met many fairytales or cartoons—none at all, in fact, before me.
“An American Tail is about a family of Russian mice who travel to America for a better life…”
“Oh, a Disney movie,” he says, some realization in his voice. Close enough.
“A cartoon, yes,” I say. “During the ride, Fievel—one of the mice—gets thrown from the ship. He manages to make it to New York, but now he’s separated from his family. The entire story is about Fievel trying to reunite with his family, but while his mother and father think he’s dead, his sister is convinced that he’s still alive. At some point in the movie, Fievel and his sister Tanya are both looking at the night sky and singing the song, Somewhere Out There…”
“Wait,” he interrupts. “That song came from a cartoon?” he asks. I chuckle.
“Yes,” I tell him. “Fievel and Tanya are looking at the night sky in different parts of New York saying that even though they’re apart, they might be wishing on the same bright star and…”
“Sleeping underneath the same big sky,” he finishes. I look up at him and smile.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Wow,” he says incredulously. “I wonder how many other songs came from cartoons that I never knew about.”
“Well, let me think,” I say, trying to scan through my brain and think of the songs that I know. “Colors of the Wind by Vanessa Williams…”
“Which one did that come from?”
“Pocahontas,” I reply. “Remember Grandmother Willow, the tree behind the door in the twins’ room that creeped you out when you first saw it?”
“Yeah… oh, yeah, Pocahontas,” he says.
“A Whole New World by um… Regina Belle and Peabo Bryson,” I continue. He frowns and shakes his head. “I can show you the world shining, shimmering splendid…”
Still no recognition comes across my husband’s face, so I sing the chorus…
“A whole new world, a dazzling place I never knew…”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve heard that,” he says finally.
“That’s from Alladin, the cartoon with the big blue genie. You’ll definitely have to see that one now that Robin Williams is gone.” He frowns.
“What does Alladin have to do with Robin Williams?” he asks.
“He was the voice of the big, blue genie,” I say. My husband’s mouth forms an “o.”
“Circle of Life, Elton John,” I continue, attempting to get away from the morbid, “The Lion King.”
“Geez, I feel so out of touch,” he says.
“Don’t,” I comfort him. “There’s no way for you to know this at this point until you had children. Wait until you get to the really old stuff, like Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” He twists his lips.
“Oh, come on,” he jibes. “That’s just some word kids made up.” I release a high-pitched scoff.
“No, it’s not! It’s a song from Mary Poppins!” I correct him.
“Mary… I don’t believe you!” he protests. “Sing it!” I immediately break into song.
“It’s Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious. If you say it loud enough, you’ll always sound precocious. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Um-dittle-ittl-ittl-um-dittle-I, Um-dittle-ittl-ittl-um-dittle-I…”
“Okay! Okay! I believe you!” he stops me. I can’t help but laugh, because if you’ve never heard the song before, it goes so fast that it can be kind of shocking. I lay my head on his lap and look up at the stars again once I’ve contained my laughter.
“You’re a great mom,” he says softly. “Our children are so lucky.” I put my hand on his chest and push off of him so that I can look in his eyes.
“They have a great dad, too, Christian,” I say. “You’re kind, generous, protective to a fault… and you love them…”
“But I left them…” he interjects, “and you.” I swallow hard and take in a deep breath.
“And hopefully, you’ve seen the err of your ways and you’ll never do it again,” I reply. He gazes at me for a long moment.
“I’ll never do it again,” he whispers. Here’s hoping…
“Good,” I say, and lean up and kiss him softly. Our gazes lock when I pull away, and he pulls me to him and kisses me earnestly.
Remember that spark that I referenced earlier? Yeah, it’s a full-blown blaze now! He’s grabbing my ass and groping my breast; his tongue is plunging into my mouth, exploring every crevice as he holds me captive against his body. I can barely breathe as he devours me like a starving man and I’m powerless to his will.
We neck on the upper deck for what feels like hours until I’m so aflame that I could fuck him right out here in the open. Then, he tells me that he just needs to hold me—like he did that night in Anguilla. Part of me wants to stomp and pout—why didn’t he tell me this before he got me all worked up? And then I think about it. We’ve fucked for like half the trip. I can keep my hormones in check for at least a night.
Alright, Mr. Grey. I’ll behave myself and snuggle.
My wife is looking flawless in a black and white fitted striped maxi-dress as we head to breakfast on Friday morning. Her original hickeys have faded a bit, but she has a new, smaller one on the other side. She displays them like badges of honor with her back and shoulders bare. I think she looks simply scrumptious.
So as not to look like a total toad next to my exquisite wife, I go with a Beckham-esque look with black jeans and a black button-up. I leave Jason to get our bags off the ship and to the jet, which should already be at Tullamarine Airport, and Lawrence will accompany us for the day. He has decided to wear a suit today, and I assume that Jason may have had a talk with him about his effectiveness in Sydney.
We meet Jaxon and Laura at the Bistro for breakfast since Butterfly liked it the last time we ate here.
“You two are a really handsome couple,” Laura says when we enter the restaurant. “Your security looks really sharp today. What’s the plan?”
“So far, we’ve only made plans to see the Melbourne Aquarium,” Butterfly says. “Not sure where to go from there.”
“Don’t be afryed to ahsk the locals what’s poppin’ ta’dy,” Jaxon says. “OI can sy check out Fed Square. Lots ta do and see thehre. St. Paul’s Cathedral is a soite, or the Austraylian Centah of the Moving Image. And thehre’s lots of street aht if yah touh the city on foot. Ohr you cahn tayke a look around Queen Victohria Mahrket or Luna Pahrk.”
I got most of that… I think.
Laura helps Butterfly set up a Facebook and Instagram page under and assumed name with the option to change it once we talk to Mac about the implications of a social media presence.
“It can be really helpful to you,” Laura says. “It’s a great way to connect if it’s done correctly… like us.”
“Here, take my email and my cell number,” Butterfly says. Laura nods.
“I’m so accustomed to social media, I forgot those were options,” she laughs, pulling out her cell phone.
We feast on a breakfast of gourmet French toast made with cinnamon-brown-sugar brioche and served with syrup and fresh fruit; apple-cinnamon crepes topped with apple compote and vanilla yogurt; seafood crepes made with baby shrimp, fish, surimi, and mushrooms in a velouté sauce; flat iron steak with tarragon-Hollandaise sauce; corned beef hash and eggs; sweet potato French fries, Café Mocha, and Mimosas.
Jaxon tells us about going to Melbourne strictly to visit his mom’s grave. He doesn’t tour the city at all to avoid running into his overly snobby relatives.
“OI’d love foh them ta meet you,” he says before taking a bite of his steak. “Thaht wood cuhrtainly tyke the wind outta thehr sayls!”
“I wouldn’t mind making the trip with you,” I tell him once I swallow some of my seafood crepe. He shakes his head.
“OI think it’d be an exsahcoise in futility,” he says. “Some people ahre jes too fahr gone.” I nod and devour more of this delicious seafood crepe. Jesus, Gail or Ms. Solomon may have to find a recipe for this.
We dawdle as long as we can before we finish our breakfast and move to debark the ship. Jason has taken care of packing our things and double-checking the cabin to be sure everything is leaving the ship with us. I had to pull a lot of strings for us to be able to debark in Melbourne. First, I was supposed to get the request to the cruise line a week before we took our trip… in writing! I hit the antiquated fax machine the day before we flew out to Sidney. I needed—and received—a response the same day.
Getting off the ship in Melbourne instead of sailing back to Sidney was a little costly and a bit of a trial. We had four people who had to “check out” of the cruise much like you check out of a hotel. If I hadn’t, they would have listed the four of us as missing passengers. Luckily, when we flew out of the states and into Australia, our passports were already stamped. So, we didn’t have the hassle of having the cruise line vouch for us and handle our immigration issues because we were already stamped in.
I did, however, have to pay for the entire cruise for four people as well as an additional fine for each of us to get off the boat even though we didn’t cruise for the last two days of the trip. It’s not that the money is any big issue, but I am a bit miffed at our travel agent who insisted that Barossa Valley was an absolute must to see wine country…
The entire goddamn continent is wine country!
For the reaction that Butterfly had to Port Arthur, we could have skipped that part of the trip and toured the Tamar Valley or any of the numerous other locations that boast wine tours. I’m sure that my wife would have much rather been traipsing through rows of fresh grapes, tasting delicious wines, cheeses, and truffles, and enjoying an education on Shirazes, Cabernets, and Rieslings than trying to shake off the burdensome spirits of the dead!
The trip and itinerary through the Barossa Valley are the only part of the trip that was actually planned for us. I believe the agent is getting some kind of kickback for booking it. It better be a-fucking-mazing or I’m reaming her a fucking new one when we get back to Seattle. I’m already going to take a bite out of her ass for what is clearly a set-up. I’m sure that there are other ports we could have visited besides Port Arthur, and I’m not happy about that at all.
When I’ve signed every possible form and nodded a hundred times that I understood that we had to make our own way back to Sydney—or in our case, home—I send Jason on his way to the airport to secure the jet and to get us and our luggage to Adelaide later this evening. Once again, Lawrence stays with me and Butterfly. Once we’re on Melbourne soil, Jaxon and I bid one another a heartfelt and fond farewell with promises and intentions of seeing each other again. Tearing Laura and Butterfly apart, however, is proving to be a Herculean feat!
“I feel like I’m saying goodbye to one of my sisters,” Laura sniffs. Butterfly smiles.
“Then we’ll just have to make sure that we see each other again, won’t we?” my wife says. Laura nods, still in Butterfly’s arms.
“You take care of yourself,” she says, her voice cracking, “and don’t forget our talk.”
“I won’t forget,” Butterfly says, “not a word.” They hug again before they release and Butterfly hugs Jaxon goodbye. I wrap my arms around Laura.
“I won’t forget either,” I say quietly in her ear. She scoffs a sob.
“Take care of her,” she whispers. “She adores you, and she’ll do anything for you. Treasure that and make sure she knows that you do.” I pull away from her and look into her tear-filled eyes.
“Excellent advice that I intend to take,” I say softly before placing a gentle kiss on her tear-stained cheek.
“Ay!” Jaxon barks. “Don’t ya be givin’ ahll ma smooches awy!” He moves closer to us. “Goh grope yah own woife!” Laura chuckles.
“He wasn’t groping me,” she protests.
“OI saw the mate with a handful o’ me Lahrie!” Jaxon jibes. “Thaht’s gropin’ as far as OI’m concuhned! And the kissies on yah cheek! Whaht wass’at?”
Laura raises her brow and shakes her head. That’s when I realize that this performance is strictly the stop his “Laurie’s” crying.
“My apologies, sir,” I say, placing my hand on my chest and mocking extreme contrition.
“OI’ll let ya sloide this toime,” Jaxon says, pointing a finger at me, “but don’t let it happen again!”
We quickly part ways to keep Laura from weeping again and flag a taxi to our first destination, the Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium. Butterfly doesn’t get to the aquarium anymore, and it used to be one of her favorite pastimes. I knew for certain that we would visit this place the moment I knew that Melbourne would be one of our ports of call.
Once we pass the admissions counter, we go down this colorful hallway to a darkened room and a large round glass tank—very large, like nearly the size of the room. It’s called the Bay of Rays—as in sting rays—and it’s a 360-degree tank that looks almost like the bottom of the ocean and you can walk around it and see the different fish inside. I’m more than a little squeamish of sting rays.
“Be careful, baby,” I say as she leans over into the tank to get a closer look. She looks up at me.
“They’re very gentle, Christian,” she consoles, but I’m not convinced.
“Isn’t… didn’t… Isn’t that what killed the Crocodile Hunter?” I say quietly, so that the nearby children don’t hear my question. Butterfly stands.
“Well, yes, but that was different,” she says softly, also aware of the children around her. “First, he was in the wild submerged in the water with the thing. Second, from nose to barb, that stingray was longer than you are tall, and it felt threatened. I’m sure these specimens are accustomed to people. And third, I don’t want to be that close to a stingray. So, keep your shirt on, Mr. Grey.”
I guess I shouldn’t be too afraid of these specimens. They’re coexisting just fine with several other fish in the large, circular tank. The children don’t seem to be intimidated at all, but I can’t help it. We’re talking about my beautiful Butterfly here. I can’t discount the fact that a beloved conservationist and zoologist was killed by one of these things.
They look like they actually have fins instead of barbs, though, and when they swim to the side of the tank, they look like they’re smiling at you. As long as she doesn’t get into the tank with the damn things and they stay on that side of the glass, I guess I’ll be okay.
Our next stop is the Rockpools. Now, even though there is no deadly sea life in this area, it’s interactive, which means that you can stick your hand in the tank. Butterfly quickly takes advantage of this opportunity, seizing the moment to touch “sea stars” and shark eggs. No thank you.
“What’s the difference between a sea star and a star fish?” I ask the young guy on the other side of the exhibit.
“There’s no difference,” he tells me. “A sea star has a calcified skin that protects them from most predators, but they’re often called starfish when they’re not fish at all. They’re simply invertebrates with no backbones, like sea urchins and sponges. Would you like to hold one, sir?” I put my hand up and shake my head.
“Oh, no thank you,” I tell him. “I’ll just take pictures of the beautiful nature lover here,” I say, as I snap a picture of Butterfly closely examining a red and yellow star fish, er… I mean, sea star.
The Ancient Ocean provides information on prehistoric sea life, including some specimens that are still around, like the mudskippers and the pig-nosed turtles. My wife is totally immersed in the display, awed by the large teeth on the outside of the tank, said to be the actual size of the prehistoric Megladon. I’m not as enraptured by the whole experience as she is. However, I take great joy in watching her have so much fun, so we could spend the entire day here for all I care.
We take an escalator to the lower level, where we find the Coral Caves and the Art Aquarium. Now, the Coral Caves were nice to see, with all the nemo fish painted on the wall, but the shining moment for me is the Art Aquarium. My very adult wife with two twin children at home sits down at the child-sized table and colors a picture of a fish. I take several pictures in case she wants to later deny this moment… but it gets better. You scan this picture into some high-tech projector video whatever thingy and you wait for a minute and what happens?
Your fish appears on the screen—a simulated fish tank with fish on it that other “kids” have colored—and your fish is alive and swimming in the tank! I thought my wife was going to lose her mind.
There’s even one portion of the aquarium that talks about crabs. Here, we find a large crab shell—the ones the hermit crab carries on its back. There are several facts about crabs all over the wall, including crabs in tanks and the unforgettable fact that a crab can grow a limb back if it loses one. What’s more unforgettable is Butterfly’s interaction with the crab shells on the floor. One is pretty large—about three feet or so—with a glass crab inside, strictly for show. The other is larger, maybe four or four and a half feet round and empty.
My wife crawls inside of the damn thing.
I take several pictures of her crouched inside that thing… just in case she gets stuck, so that I can show our children. No such luck—my wife is a rubber band.
“Now, that’s probably the ugliest thing I’ve seen today,” Butterfly says when she sees the Japanese Spider Crab.
“The day is young, my dear,” I reply, and she swats my arm.
Down a flight of stairs we go to yet another sublevel where we find the Shipwreck Explorer and its guardians, the lionfish. Butterfly is once again mesmerized by this unique fish that I find somewhat unattractive.
“You like that thing?” I ask surprised.
“It’s interesting,” she says. I raise a brow.
“Maybe you’ve found a new favorite fish.” She rubbernecks to me and frowns.
“And replace Marty? Never!” she declares. I laugh.
“I’m sure Marty appreciates your loyalty.” I say as we proceed over to the Mermaid Garden.
Here’s where I discover that the stingrays in the Bay of Rays were not the ones to be concerned about. The ones with the killer barbs are more contained—in large tanks not accessible to the public like the open tank in the first room. However, they’re in this gigantor panoramic Oceanarium with harmless statues of mermaids in various poses as well as not-so-harmless massive sharks and huge stingrays, one of them so large that it basically takes up the entire ceiling above us.
Oh, by the way, idiots—er, I mean, people can choose to scuba dive with the sharks, which is exactly what one idiot is doing along with a guide or something while we watch. I don’t care how tame they are in captivity. You’ve got to be three eggs short a dozen to choose to swim with Jaws, much less pay to do it.
Did I mention that these things are in a very dark room that’s pretty much a 360-degree tank that leads to a tunnel where these things are floating all around us and swimming over our heads?
“Well, I’m thoroughly creeped out,” I say. My wife looks over at me.
“Christian, you really need to chill out,” she says in a soft, scolding voice. “The fish in the open stingray tank were more likely to get us than these are.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” I say as I hurry through the tunnel. My wife, on the other hand, dawdles inside the death tube, communing with the fish and gazing into the “ocean” depths as if she would sink into it and become one with it if she could. I take a picture of her looking so ethereal with her hands pressed against the glass and mesmerized by the fish inside. Then I have to think of something playful to say to snap her out of this faraway look that she often gets when she stares at the water… because it scares me.
“I’m going to change your nickname from Butterfly to Ariel,” I say. She turns to me.
“You remembered,” she says, dreamily and somewhat surprised. Yes, I remembered. I don’t know how I remembered, but I did. It’s a little factoid that was probably stashed back into the recesses of my mind along with the fate of the Gingerbread Man that my mind dug out when I needed a quick and relatable distraction.
“Wonders never cease,” I say, having drawn her daydreaming away from the blue depths. “Just don’t expect me to remember the words to Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” Come out of there now, please, I think to myself as I hold my hand out to her.
“Well, it wouldn’t suit me,” she says, taking my hand. “In theory, a mermaid is a beautiful creature, but she has dragged many men to their deaths. Not only that, but as much as it soothes me, I can’t breathe underwater.”
Exactly my point.
“So at least I don’t have to worry about you leaving me to become King Triton’s mistress,” I jest. She chuckles.
“No, dear,” she says mirthfully, “I’ll keep my feet planted firmly on dry land.”
So, back up the ramp we go to the Crocodile Lair and the Coral Atoll. The Croc Lair… yeah. For starters, there’s a pretty big replica of a fossilized crocodile in the lobby. Upon closer examination, I can’t help but wonder if this thing isn’t some kind of distant cousin to the big ass fucker in the lair! This monster is so big that you’re wondering how the hell did they get him in there and who the fuck feeds him. Fucking hell, while we’re talking, what the fuck do they feed him?
“What the fuck is that?” I murmur to my wife without moving my lips.
“Um, dear, you’re in a crocodile’s lair,” my wife says. “That would be a crocodile.”
“I know what it is!” I quietly snap at her, affronted. “I mean, what the fuck is it?” My wife facepalms herself.
“Come on,” she says, leading me over to the information wall on the beast.
His name is Pinjarra and supposedly, his body is ten times the size of his head. If that’s the case, that thing has a pretty big head! I think somebody miscalculated. He’s about 16 feet long, weighs nearly 1700 pounds, and he’s older than I am. Yeah, what the fuck does he eat? That’s probably why he’s in there by himself… he ate all the other crocodiles!
Oh, and when they’re sitting around with their mouths open like they’re about to chow down on dinner but nothing’s in their mouths, they’re panting like dogs to cool themselves down. How cute… not!
The Coral Atoll is harmless enough. It’s a giant circular and concave tank full of extremely colorful and diverse variations of coral and a variety of fish and sea life, including a green moray eel and several blue fish that my wife keeps referring to as Dory.
Up we go again to yet another level of this never-ending expedition, where we’re able to look down into the lair of the 16-foot monstrosity that we left on the floor below. No thanks, I’ve seen enough of you, buddy.
More to my liking was the Rainforest Adventure. This is a huge tank something like the Bay of Rays, only bigger… and it looks more natural because there are rocks and plants inside, trees with vines draping and extending to one another, and tanks in the walls that either look like caves or are painted with tropical backdrops that mimic the forest
This room is much more calming than just about any room in the aquarium… for me, anyway, except maybe the coral exhibits.
Butterfly wanders around the exhibit leaving me to my own vices. I guess she figures there’s nothing to really creep me out in here.
She figures correctly.
I enjoy being in here and seeing the different harmless species of fauna of this portion of the rainforest, not to mention that it’s very colorful and inviting in here. There’s a very harmless-looking sea turtle or three in the large tank, accompanied by lungfish—so named, I discover, because they’re the only species of fish that can actually breathe air. One school of thought is that the lungfish, which actually has lungs and can live to be 50 years old, is the missing link between humans and fish.
I’ve never dug into or studied evolution as such, and I honestly couldn’t say which school of thought I’m more particular to—that of evolution vs. Creation, that is. I have to say that I ultimately believe that there’s a greater power in the universe, I’m just not really sure how to identify it. I’ve never been particularly religious, but if I had to answer the question, “Is there a God,” I would have to say that my answer would be, “Yes.”
As far as evolution is concerned and the ideas that dinosaurs once roamed the earth and that man was once a water-dwelling being who decided to crawl out of the water, mysteriously grow bones, and become land creatures, I don’t know about all that. I know what the science books say and all that, but I guess if I had to put my theories into words that I would say that life and man came from a combination of both evolution and creation.
It’s too much for me to ponder on a trip to the aquarium. Why does vacation always send me on some kind of introspective spiral? Greece, Anguilla, the MONA, Port Arthur… well, Port Arthur did a number on us both. I guess I can ponder the relationship between man and a prehistoric fish without any problem after that experience!
There’s so much to see in the Rainforest exhibit—frogs, crabs, turtles, and large green snakes that my wife avoids like the plague. Probably the most menacing little guy in the entire display was Boyd’s Forest Dragon, menacing only because he gave Butterfly a little fright. He’s a reptile—very colorful—but he was perched on a branch inside one of the caves and gave her the willies.
There appeared to be fishing poles of some kind attached to the outside of the large circle exhibit, but we never found out what they were for.
We take the escalator back down to the ground floor and I discover that we’re finally on our last leg of our journey. It was educational and informative, even a bit interesting, but it seemed to take forever! I wouldn’t be surprised to find that it’s time to board the plane once we leave this place.
At the foot of the escalator is the Seahorse Pier. Now this is a bit of an extraordinary experience. I’ve always known that seahorses were a thing, but I didn’t know that there were other variations of them. I also never knew that there are these things called sea dragons.
“Butterfly! C’mere, look at this!” I exclaim with the excitement of a third grader. She comes over and examines the new world with me.
The sea horses are easily distinguishable by their familiar shape, but they come in so many sizes and colors. I find myself particularly drawn to a dramatic orange sea horse, just because I’ve never seen them in that color before.
But the sea dragons! Some of them are just long, slender little creatures of different colors that vary in length—some may have a small hump, like a beginning sea horse; others may have a slightly fatter body. The really remarkable ones are the leafy ones! They look like random, stray, leafy pieces of flora in the water. It’s fascinating!
Also in this exhibit is the chameleon of the sea, the giant cuttlefish. He’s a bit of an ugly guy, but he can change the color and texture of his skin to match his surroundings even though he can’t see color. I find that kind of curious. How does he change if he can’t see colors? As it turns out, the tiny nerves and cells in its body can “see” the environment and change colors.
To the left of us is a doorway that leads to the Bay of Rays, so I know we’re back where we started from. However, to the right of us is a movie theater that’s showing a 4D version of a movie called Ice Age.
4D… what the hell does that look like.
“I’ve heard of this. Is this one of the movies I need to see?” I ask my wife. She twists her lips.
“Well, first, it’s a series,” she says. “There’s about four of them out right now. Second, I’m not really sure if this feature is part of the series as I personally haven’t seen them all. And third, nah, you don’t really need to see it if you don’t want to. It’s cute, but not really a classic.”
I nod. No Ice Age for me. I’ve got enough to keep up with.
Speaking of the Ice Age, our last exhibit before we see daylight is the Penguin Playground. Nothing really special here—we just get to watch the penguins frolic and play in a recreation of their natural habitat. We watch the King Penguins with their yellow beaks and chest and impressive size. The King Penguins are smart because if you put something colorful up to the glass, they’ll follow it through the water. Not to be outdone, the gentoo penguins who are known to be the champion swimmers of the two species will follow the colors with even more balletic precision. Though we don’t see any at the aquarium, we’ve come to discover that there are places here in Melbourne, too, where the fairy penguins come in to nest after sunset.
“Jesus, it’s bright as hell out here!” Butterfly says, searching through her bag. I happened to ask one of the cashiers in the gift shop which direction would be best for us to go once we left the aquarium, as I’ve completely forgotten everything Jaxon suggested at breakfast.
“Well, ya got a coupla choices,” she had said. “Ya can take tha 30 strayte down ta Fed Squeh ohr ya can take Weeliams down to Queen Vic.”
She pulls out what looks like a tourist map and shows me in a “you-are-here” type of way where we are and where she’s suggesting that we go.
“Fed Squeh is nice and all—thehr’s lots to see, but you moight want to wayte til dahk, unless ya got tickets to an event or something…” which I don’t. “I prefer Queen Vic duhring this time of day.”
“Queen Vic” is Queen Victoria Market. Both destinations are extremely close, and her description makes me think that there’s not necessarily anything we’d want to see at Federation Square before sundown. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but that’s the impression I got. So, when Butterfly finally locates and dons her Jackie-O’s, I look down at my little map and make a decision.
“Where to now?” she says.
Queen Vic it is.
A/N: If, for some reason, you live under a proverbial rock, the Crocodile Hunter was Steve Irwin, world-renowned Australian Zookeeper and conservationist. He had a televised nature program; he owned a zoo in Australia; and I’m told that he was in Dr. Doolittle and Happy Feet. I had seen clips of what I called his crazy antics with animals and he had a lot of close calls. I hope I didn’t offend anyone with that “under a rock” comment, but I didn’t really keep up with the guy and even I knew the day he died. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Irwin#Death
For anyone who may not know, Ariel is of course the main character in The Little Mermaid.
The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. Be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last on the menu or you can click HERE.
There has been yet another development where if you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu entitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE.
The Australia Picture Board can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-the-trip-to-australia/ and the pictures from today’s chapter are in the “Luxury Cruise Ship” and “Melborne” sections.
And of course, the regular Pinterest board is here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/