Raising Grey: Chapter 53—Big Brother

I KNOW THAT YOU HAVEN’T GOTTEN AN EMAIL YET BECAUSE I HAVEN’T SENT ONE. I JUST WANTED TO GET THE CHAPTER POSTED BEFORE I GO TO WORK.

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

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

Chapter 53—Big Brother

CHRISTIAN

I’ve gone back to wearing my tailored holster. The one I borrowed from the security office turned out to be a laughable failure.

I’m running over all the conversations I had with all the people that I spoke to today as I secure my Glock in its case and step out of my clothes in my dressing room. I’m accustomed to doing a lot in a day, but this has been quite the extended sprint.

Shut down any communication from Aragon and rein in my crazy head of security’s absurd attempts at trying to shield my family from the affects of dust.

Try to figure out exactly what’s in those storage bins. I’m so close on that because I don’t want Freeman to get word of the movement and try to do something to hold things up. I and my father and uncle aren’t there to stop him from trying something, so I’m trying to wrap things up as quickly as I can. I was going to have them try to distribute things from the storage bins. Now, I’m thinking to go with my first mind and ship everything here unless there’s something that’s just too fragile to travel.

Mission accomplished getting Aunt Tina to understand that she needs to cherish these last moments with Harmony. It’s a gift that her daughter will treasure for the rest of her life. As I step into the shower and allow the water to run over my head and face, I recall the conversation we had in her room, the one that brought her relief and caused her a bit of grief at the same time.

“Aunt Tina, Harmony, you don’t have to worry about that asshole getting any of Harmony’s inheritance. He’s not entitled to any of it.”

“I thought he was if I get it while we’re still married,” Harmony protests. “Isn’t it considered assets acquired after marriage?”

“Yes, but inheritances are protected as long as you don’t put the proceeds in a joint account.”

“Like hell that’s going to happen,” Harmony says without thinking. “Sorry, Mom.”

“Oh, thank God,” Aunt Tina says, breathing like the weight of the world has been lifted from her shoulders. “I so didn’t want that wretched man to get anything from my Harmony.” I sigh.

“Now, I have some not-so-good news,” I tell her. Harmony sits up straight, still perched on the floor at her mother’s knees.

“What is it?” she asks. Tina’s attention is now focused on me as well.

“My bodyguard, Jason—he wears an earpiece that keeps him in contact with the rest of our security team. Different frequencies of signals interfere with his earpiece… just like they interfere with your hearing aid.” She raises a brow to me.

“I don’t know what any of that means,” she admits.

“He was fine when we walked into the house,” I tell her. “The closer he got to your room, the worse the interference became. He alerted me of his suspicions and I asked if he could scramble signals.” She’s still frowning.

“Suspicions?” Harmony questions. “Of what, Christian?”

“We think your room is bugged,” I admit.

“That’s preposterous!” Tina declares. “Who would want to bug my room? Why?”

“I don’t know, but Jason warned me that the scrambler would interfere with the signal on the bug and it would interfere with a regular signal from a cell tower, meaning that I wouldn’t get a signal from my phone.” Harmony pulls out her phone.

“He’s right,” she says. “I don’t have a signal.”

“As soon as you said the humming in your ear stopped, I checked my phone and I had no signal.”

“Well, that could mean anything, Christian,” Aunt Tina says. “There are satellite boxes and all sorts of things in this house.”

“You could be right. Aunt Tina, but none of these things interfere with Jason’s communications earpiece.” She’s still shaking her head. “If you would just humor me, I’d like to have a team come in tomorrow and do a sweep of your home. If we find nothing, then all is well. If we find something, then we take action.”

“What kind of action?” she asks.

“Trying to find out who bugged your room and where the signals are going.” She twists her lips.

“It’s worth looking into, Momma,” Harmony says. “At the very least, we can find what’s making your hearing aid hum…”

So, now, Barney and a team of techs will show up at Aunt Tina’s house with an insane security detail with instructions to break Roger’s ankles if he tries to get in their way.

He’s the butler. What the hell is he expecting? Is he in line for some kind of inheritance, too? Luckily, even though Aunt Tina wasn’t involved in any kind of alternative activity, her staff was still required to sign confidentiality agreements upon accepting employment because I have a feeling that his days are numbered once Tina passes on.

I lather my hair and scratch thoroughly, trying to erase some of this day from my memory. It seems like too much happened at once. I don’t do well with death and it’s written all over Aunt Tina’s face.

I don’t know how long I stay in the shower trying to rid myself of all the remnants of this day. It’s somewhere around nine when I get to my office—brandy in hand, hair still wet—and open my laptop. I open my email and begin to respond to and clean up emails as quickly as I can—deleting those that aren’t important and shooting off answers to those that only need short responses. About one-fourth the way through my emails from today, I see one from Smalls simply labelled “Cars.” I click on the email and there are no preliminaries, just several pictures. I click on the first one:

36b707283494f724eda3cdd7676197bb

“Oh, a glove… I get it.” I open the next one.

98c50b5e0e3e66f38daf219a1ed98e11

I have to think about this one. Lives in the light but dies if the light shines on me. I have no idea. I look at the next one.

901f26075134d929053ab138fd13dc03

I totally have no idea. And these are supposed to lead us to the keys and titles to the car? I open the next one.

52ce5fcf1567b1411aeb6d17e0a86bb6

I try to see the logic in each puzzle like the logic in the first. Of course, it’s logical—I know the answer to it already. Nonetheless, I have no idea what the answers are. I open the next picture expecting to find a fifth riddle. I find something quite different.

“Fuck me.”

It’s still mostly covered by the tarp, probably to protect it from the dust and whatnot in the storage bin, but I get a very clear picture of a beautiful classic car underneath. The cover is pulled back to reveal about one-third of the car, and it’s fucking gorgeous.

“Hell, Pops,” I say, opening the next pictures to reveal another… and another… and a fourth. Four presumably fully-restored classic cars. Cherry was right. These cars have to be worth a fortune. Still not too late. I dial Uncle Herman.

“Hey, Christian. What’s up? You’ve got some news about the storage bins?” I suppose that’s a safe assumption. I don’t really call for much else.

“Yeah, Uncle Herman. You remember I told you there was a car in one of the bins, right?”

“Yeah, I remember,” he says.

“Well, I was wrong… there’s four.” Uncle Herman is silent for a moment.

“Four cars?” he says. I nod as if he can see me. “Four damn cars? In storage? Rick!” I can hear shuffling like he’s moving around. I don’t say anything, but I can hear him mumbling something about cars and still calling my father. “You sure, man? Four cars? Shit! Rick!”

I don’t get a chance to answer him at all. I think his questions were just rhetorical.

“I’m here! Keep your shirt on! Where’s the fire?” Dad says, his voice getting closer to the phone.

“Rick, four cars! Four damn cars in that storage facility.”

“What? What are you talking about?” Dad asks.

“Dad’s storage facility. In Detroit! There are four cars in there!” Dad is silent for a minute.

“You’re shittin’ me!” he barks.

“I’ve got Christian on the phone. He says there’s four cars in that damn facility!” I hear the phone rustling.

“Christian? Four? What kind of cars are they?” Dad asks me.

“I don’t know, Dad. I don’t know cars like that. But they’re classics, and they’re all restored.”

“Shit! Seriously?” he exclaims. “How do you know?”

“I’ve got pictures… well partial pictures…”

“Send them to me. Can you send them to my phone?”

“Can you access your email from your phone?”

“I’m already there…” I forward the pictures to Dad’s phone. The line is silent for a minute then I hear Dad’s voice again making some kind of strange exclamation.

“I can only see pieces, but these are some cherried-out cars, Herm,” he says to his brother. I assume they’re passing the phone back and forth and looking at the cars.

“I can tell by the frames that these are all Fords,” I hear Uncle Herman say.

“No shit, Sherlock?” Dad says. “I don’t know exactly what the hell they are, but I know Dad’s not going to buy anything else.”

“I don’t either. We should call Stan,” Uncle Herman says.

“It’s midnight in Detroit,” Dad protests.

“So, what? Wake his ass up. This is important! Hold on, Christian…” The line goes dead for a minute and when he returns, I can hear another line ringing.

“This better be important,” Uncle Stan’s sleepy voice says.

“It is,” Uncle Herman replies. “So, Stan, what do ya know about Fords?”

“You’ve got jokes at a quarter to one in the morning?” Uncle Stan replies.

“Take a look at your phone,” he says. I assume Uncle Herman texted him the pictures from Dad’s phone.

“I see riddles,” he says. “You woke me for riddles?” Shit, I forgot about the riddles.

“Riddles? No, look for pictures,” Uncle Herman says. After a few more moments, Uncle Stan comes back to the line.

“Okay, you woke me for old Fords,” Uncle Stan says.

“Not just any old Fords, Stan—classics, four of them, all in Dad’s storage facilities.”

“Are you serious!?” Uncle Stan is awake now. I can see him in my mind’s eye sitting straight up in bed. “These are in Dad’s storage? How long have they been there?”

“If you don’t know, we sure don’t,” Uncle Herman says. “I didn’t even know he had these things.”

“So, what’s with the damn riddles?” Uncle Stan asks.

“Yeah, about that,” I interject. “Hi, Uncle Stan. It’s Christian. So, you can’t move the cars out of the storage because we can’t find the keys. Apparently, these riddles are Pops’ way of leading you to the keys and the titles.”

Uncle Stan and Uncle Herman laugh at the same time and Dad asks what’s funny.

“You missed some files in that email. Here—open these.”

“We’ve got a regular party line going on here,” Uncle Stan jests. “I got the first one. It’s a glove.”

“Yeah, but do you know what it means?” I ask. “My men figured out the riddles for the manifest to find the cars, but they can’t figure these out. So, we had instructions to ‘ask the boys.’”

“Yeah, Dad and his riddles,” I hear Dad say. “You’d think he would have gotten some new ones.”

“So, you know what these mean?” I ask.

“Well, that third one kinda got me stomped,” I hear Dad say.

“Let me see,” Uncle Herman asks. I hear shuffling. “Poison without touching… no clue. I’m getting nothing from this.”

“Yeah, me either,” Uncle Stan says. Well, that’s not helping.

“The last one has something to do with Christmas.” Uncle Herman says.

“Uncle Herman, I’m dying to know how you figured that out,” I say.

“Flies when it’s born, lies when it’s alive, runs when it’s dead—snow,” he says matter-of-factly. “Dad did these with us all the time. It was his way of forcing us to think outside the box.”

“Pops was a smart man,” I say, not really meaning to say it aloud.

“Yes, he was,” Uncle Herman confirms softly. “Now, let’s figure out the ones we know. A glove, snow, and…”

“A shadow!” Dad says. “Live where there’s light but die if the light shines on me… a shadow.” There’s silence for a moment.

“Yeah, Rick, that’s it. A shadow. So, what does this stuff mean?” Uncle Herman says. I can tell that he has now put me and Uncle Stan on speaker.

“Well, the glove would have to either be work gloves or baseball gloves,” Dad says. “I didn’t know Dad to keep work gloves, did you?”

“No, but he kept every one of our baseball gloves from little league,” Uncle Herman says.

“Now all we have to do is find the baseball gloves. That’ll be like finding a needle in a haystack,” Uncle Stan complains.

“Maybe not,” I interject. “We’ve got a manifest of the stuff in storage. We might be able to find some of these things on the manifest.”

“Okay, so we’ve got somewhere to start. What about the Christmas one?” Uncle Herman says.

“The Christmas decorations?” Dad says. “You know we hated sorting those things every year, but Mom loved them, and I can guarantee Dad kept them.”

“Oh, I’m certain Dad kept them,” Uncle Herman says. “We put them on the tree the last year we were in Detroit. I had to help him sort them by myself because certain slacker brothers were MIA!”

They rib each other for a while over the Christmases they had to sort these old-fashioned Christmas decorations—homemade, some with moving parts, strings of lights with the giant light bulbs. I’m certain this is exactly what Pops wanted them to do after he was gone.

“Alright, you slackers, what about the third one? The shadow?” Dad asks.

“Oh, that’s easy. That has to be the silhouette pictures Mom did of us. Is there any other possible thing you could think of?” Uncle Stan says. There’s silence for a moment.

“I’ll go with you on that one, Stan, because I’m drawing a blank,” Uncle Herman says.

“Same here,” Dad concurs. “Now this fourth one, we’re never going to figure this out…” I don’t tell my father and my uncles, but I’m already typing the riddle into Google:

We hurt without moving.
We poison without touching.
We bear the truth and the lies.
We are not judged by our size.
What are we?

When the answer pops up, I already know what Pops wanted. It was never going to happen, and in the end, I’m sure he knew that, but there was nothing he could do about it by then.

“Pops wanted you to work as a team to get these answers,” I inform them.

“We know that. We are,” Dad defends.

“Uncle Herman figured out the baseball gloves. Dad, you got the Christmas decorations. Uncle Stan, you were right on top of the silhouettes… There’s a teammate missing.”

Silence.

“Shit,” Dad hisses. “Well, I’m not calling him.”

“We may have to if we want to figure this out,” Uncle Stan interjects.

“The hell we do!” Uncle Herman barks. “Each one of us may have figured out what the riddles meant, but a different one of us figured out each riddle. We work as a team, we figure this shit out. Fuck Freeman!”

Okay, Uncle Herman is pissed. I almost want to tell them the answer to the riddle, but I have a feeling Pops wants them to do this themselves.

Nobody said anything about hints, though.

“Why don’t you guys try to brainstorm about each line?” I ask. “And try to think like Freeman, if that’s possible.” I hear sighs of impatience from each brother, and the brain-storming starts.

“They bear truth and lies—people?”
“People are always judged by their size. What’s not judged by its size?”
“Oh, shit, that could be anything.”
“Poison without touching. What the hell can poison you without touching—air?”
“I can’t think of anything else, but what’s with the size thing? Air is infinite unless you’re in a vacuum.”
“Think Freeman. He doesn’t bear lies, necessarily, but he’s poison as shit.”
“Attitude? Could it be attitude?”

They go on like this for several minutes and I just want to blurt out the answer. That’s when Uncle Stan brings the conversation around to the right direction.

“Books tell truth and lies.”

That’s it, Uncle Stan, we’re on the right track.

“Dad has a billion books. He wouldn’t put that key in a book. That would be inhumane.”
“Remember this is Freeman’s clue we’re talking about.”
“Well, like I said, he’s poison as shit.”

What does he use to poison?

“Yeah, his mouth gives new meaning to ‘loose lips sink ships.’”

You’re getting there, boys.

“Loose lips… mouths bear truth and lies… but they can’t poison without touching…”

“Mouths can’t,” Dad speaks up, “but words can!”

Everyone gets quiet.

“Dad once told Freeman that his words were venomous. Poison without touching—they bear truth and lies, and kill is a small word with a really big meaning, while infinitesimal means small. And they don’t move, but they can cut you down like a mighty tree.”

Bingo. You got it, Dad.

“God, that’s perfect for Freeman,” Uncle Herman says, “but what does it mean?”

“Uncle Herman, when did you guys first realize that Freeman was kind of venomous with his words?” I ask. “Was it when he lost his girlfriend?”

“No, it was well before that,” he replies. “He would say little snide things that really hurt, even as a kid. Remember, Rick? Dad gave him that book Harriet the Spy?

“Yeah, I do,” Dad says. “He was supposed to learn a lesson from it, but I think the asshole used it as a bible. He’s a perfect example of why the book is banned. He totally missed the…” Dad trails off.

“What’s the matter, Rick?”

“That’s where the fourth key is,” Dad says. “That book was banned from school libraries in the eighties and it pissed Dad off, remember?”

“Vaguely,” Uncle Herman says.

“I always wondered why that one little white book was in Dad’s library with all his leather-bound books,” Uncle Stan points out. “It makes perfect sense.”

“So, now we have somewhere to look. What about the cars?” Dad says.

“I can’t tell what these are from these pictures,” Stan says. “I can’t see the tail lights and most of the cars are covered.”

“Well, get your ass down to that storage facility tomorrow and get a look at those cars,” Uncle Herman says. “You can give the guy in charge the info we discovered and see if they can find that stuff on the manifest. His name is Terry Smalls.”

“Um, I have to work,” Stan protests. “Screw it, I’ll take a sick day. This is more important. You still could have called me at a more decent hour.”

“Then you would have missed the opportunity to take a sick day because you would have been at work already. Goodnight, Stan. Love ya, buddy.”

“Goodnight, ass,” Stan says, and ends the call.

“I’ll text Smalls tonight to tell him to expect Uncle Stan in the morning,” I say.

“Christian, it’s after midnight in Detroit,” Dad protests.

“That’s why I’m texting him instead of calling him,” I say. “Goodnight, Dad, Uncle Herman.”

Goodnight,” they both say, and we end the call.


SUNSET

The black Lexus pulls up to the circular drive at the sprawling estate in Bloomfield Hills. Black Italian leather shoes exit the back seat of the car as Ricardo steps out as strides to the portico. The glass doors open before he has a chance to ring the bell.

“Mr. Aragon,” the butler says as he steps aside. Ricardo walks past him, ignoring his greeting and walking the route he does nearly every day—through the lavish formal living room, past the overly masculine entertainment room, down the hall decorated with ridiculously expensive works of art. The house is a statement in overcompensation, but Ricardo would never admit it.

At the last door on the right, Ricardo Aragon turns the knob and enters his boss’s lair. More ostentatious than the rest of the house, this room is decorated in lush fabrics and imported leathers and textiles, boasts a full service wet bar, and a media section that would be the envy of any sports enthusiast.

“How was your trip?” the lone voice says from behind a luxurious easy chair.

“He refused our request,” Ricardo replies. A hand with well-manicured nails presses a button and silences the many screens on the far wall.

“I’m aware,” the voice says. “You were your usual persuasive self, I presume.”

Sunset“Even more so,” Ricardo hisses as he pours himself a scotch. “Arrogant prick made it clear that he’s not afraid of death.” He throws back the shot. Ricardo’s host turns in his chair, his own scotch in his hand. Ricardo is always amazed by the fact that this guy looks so young to have amassed so much power.

“Hmm, he would rather die than bow,” Sunset observes. “He’s got real balls. I admire that.”

“I think we should teach him a lesson in respect,” Ricardo shoots, not at all pleased that his boss appears to be idolizing the bastard who basically tossed him out of Seattle with his ass in his hands.

“And that’s why I’m in charge and you take the orders,” Sunset retorts. “You put on a good show but I’m the one that gives the command. You don’t chop off a finger because somebody showed you up.”

“He didn’t show me up. He showed you up. I represent you!” Ricardo retorts, trying to incite his boss. Sunset laughs.

“That may be true, Ricky, but you need to understand that sometimes, it takes a gentler hand to catch the big fish. I sent you to Seattle to tell someone to let me know when they come to the city. You failed. Why? Because a goddamn billionaire thinks some thug in Detroit is trying to tell him where he can and can’t go. I could have sent Chev or Mumford to try to strongarm the guy. I knew that wasn’t going to work. I needed suave and smooth, handle with care, and you came strolling in there like fucking Fredo Corleone. It’s a wonder he or one of his men didn’t shoot you on the fucking street! I would’ve reacted the same way he did.

“Now, you want to make an example of him because you sashayed into his city throwing threats and making demands that you’re in no position to make like a goddamn amateur! I’m not trying to overthrow Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, or the Koch Brothers, and I’m sure as fuck not trying to overthrow Christian Grey. I’m looking for one red-headed, big-mouthed, motherfucker and he ain’t him! Keep an eye on him like I told you. I can guarantee you tomorrow he’ll be riding around in a fucking armored truck! He’ll have the goddamn Presidential cavalcade behind him. Ant won’t come anywhere near him now and we probably lost the best decoy we’ve ever had!!

“Let me explain something to you that you don’t seem to understand. Power is nothing more than glorified respect. Your power only goes as far as your respect, and more than 50% of power is imagined. My power comes from the fact that people fear me. They know what I’m capable of. My reputation precedes me, and people know what I can do. To achieve the kind of power and respect that I have, they would have to overthrow me and none of them have the gumption to try because they know that I’ll gut them like pigs.” Aragon swallows hard.

“Grey doesn’t know that,” Sunset continues. “He’s an international mogul with connections and ties that we don’t even know about. He has a dollar just like I have a dollar. He knows people just like I know people, or do I need to remind you about Ratzinger?” Aragon is visibly uncomfortable.

“The difference between his power, my power, and your power is that your power comes from me and he knows that. His power is his own. He took Myrick’s kid down by himself. The Feds just came in and cleaned up the mess. And there are still a couple of hackers and a company informant involved in that job that we can’t locate. They’ve dropped off the face of the earth, and I’m willing to wager that no one anywhere will ever hear from them again.

“I know guys like him. I’ve met guys like him. I’ve dealt with guys like him. I am guys like him. He most likely has no idea whatsoever what happened to those two and he doesn’t get his hands dirty unless it’s personal… and you threatened to go to his house where his treasured wife lives and his babies sleep. You feel like a big man now?” Aragon’s lips form a thin line. He’s not surprised that Sunset knows the details of his visit before he even had the chance to reveal them.

“You told me to make sure he doesn’t come to Detroit without permission. How did you expect me to do that?” he protests.

“See, that’s your fucking problem!” Sunset barks. “I did not tell you to make sure he doesn’t come to Detroit without permission! You heard what you wanted to hear, and you acted accordingly! I said advise Grey to inform us when he’s coming to Detroit as Myrick may be tracking him and we want to be prepared in case he decides to engage—or did you conveniently forget that Grey is not my damn concern?”

“No, sir, I haven’t,” Aragon replies through his teeth.

“This is a business first and foremost and I am a goddamn businessman, not a fucking thug. You want to throw around that fucking gang mentality, go on out in the streets, just don’t ever fucking cross me. I fear no man, but I also don’t pick useless fights. Why would I do that? Bullies only hold power for a minute, Rick, and then they’re shot dead in the street. Is that what you want?”

“No, sir,” Aragon says flatly.

“Good, because you’re valuable to me and I don’t want to lose you. What did I expect you to do? Be the fucking advisor and representative that I groomed you to be. You’re behaving like a common street punk. They’re a dime a bushel and that’s not what the fuck I need.

“Make no mistake, everyone has a target on their chest, Ricky, even you, but I’m counting on that target that Myrick has on Grey’s the pull that rat out the woodwork. His hate for that guy is deep and personal, and he’s not going to go down without taking Grey with him. That’s what I’m waiting for. He’s the first and the last person I allowed to get that much information on me and my business—a crucial mistake. You don’t even have as much info as he does, and priority number one is to take his ass down, not make Grey bow. Like I said, you’re valuable to me, so stop acting so goddamn cocky and act smart like you used to!

“Don’t think for a second that he hasn’t instructed his men to shoot your ass on sight. What do you think Seattle Police is going to do when your body dredges up from a drain on the Alaskan Viaduct or worse yet, the coroner comes and scrapes your remains off Grey’s marble floor? They’re coming straight to me, wondering why my number one guy was harassing one of Seattle’s finest citizens. I will have lost my best man and much less, I don’t need that headache. Don’t forget—your actions all come back to me, Ricky. So, consider him protected, in case you get any ideas.

“I don’t apologize, and your apology is useless right now. Get the fuck out of my face so I can try to figure out some kind of truce to send this man, so he can call off his fucking dogs. Thanks to your performance, I can guarantee you that unauthorized air can’t get to Prince and Princess Grey, let alone some revenge attempt by that little worm.”

Ricardo purses his lips and leaves the room while Sunset presses the button near his hand, and the screens come alive again.


ANASTASIA

I awake on Thursday and Christian is already out of bed. He came in last night, took a shower and went straight to his study. I know he came to bed last night because his side of the bed is rustled and doesn’t have that cold, nobody’s-been-here-all-night feeling. I throw my legs over the edge of the bed and the day’s task start rushing at me as soon as my feet hit the floor.

Decide on a layout for my home office. I have a feeling that I’ll be spending more time there than I planned. Christian is trying to tell me that everything is okay and although I still don’t want a fucking wagon train following me to work, it’s safer for me and the twins inside the walls and gates of Grey Crossing, whatever’s going on. I won’t tell Christian that I’ll be doing most of my work from home, but not willingly dragging my precious babies into unknown peril helps to fend off the Boogeyman feeling a bit. I’m happy with my decision.

Talk to Harmony and Marilyn about their respective problems. I didn’t get a chance to see Harmony at all yesterday and Marilyn acted as if everything was just honky-dory, so I didn’t press the matter. Babies don’t just go away, and if she is pregnant and decides to keep the baby, it’s going to change our dynamic, too. She’s at my beck and call right now, and that’s certainly not going to be the case with her being a mom.

And Harmony… I haven’t heard anything from Al about her divorce case, but I know she’s a nervous wreck with this greedy asshole slithering around waiting for her mother to die. It’s bad enough that she has to contend with her mom’s impending demise, but now this? It’s inhumane.

I don’t watch much television, but last night, I did see one of the promos for our segment on Monday. Looking at it with not such a critical eye, it was pretty good. It gives just enough bait for you to want to see more on Monday if you already know us, and enough to have you chomping at the bit to see the whole segment if you don’t. It brings to mind another task that I should do before Monday.

Release a statement about those sexual misconduct charges levied against me.

Without some kind of prelim, the little bit that we’ve said about the charges leaves a lot to the imagination. I don’t want to come off as some spoiled rich socialite who thinks she’s above the law or punishment. This kind of thing, of course, has to be investigated. However, the way I was treated by that board was completely unprofessional and uncalled for. I’ve touched on the issue in some of my interviews, but I haven’t really delved into anything substantial.

It’s time to call Vee.

Genie pants and a wrap-around today since I’m not leaving the house. My abs seem a little loose, so I’m going to have to focus on them a bit. I’ve been lazy with my workouts since Christian’s escape to Madrid. I need to get back into the routine again. Finding my Zen is great and all, but it won’t help me if I’m 175 pounds and flabby—not a good look for someone barely over five feet tall.

I don’t bother questioning the staff where Christian is when I come downstairs for breakfast.

“Not going in today?” Ms. Solomon says with a frown. I shake my head as I eat my bagel. “Are you feeling alright?”

“I feel fine,” I say. “I’m getting some work done on my office downstairs and I need to make some decisions about it, so I’ll be here today.” I chomp on my bagel and look at the information Courtney forwarded about projected staffing needs. She’s becoming quite valuable to the Center and I think paring her with Harmony might help them both with direction a bit. Courtney has the grit and Harmony has the schooling, so they’d make a great team.

I can’t help but notice Gail and Ms. Solomon whispering to each other. I don’t want to feel self-conscious about it, but what’s with the whispering?

Just in case they are talking about me or something that I don’t need to hear, I gobble the last bit of my breakfast bagel, pick up my gourmet coffee and my phone, and slide out of the stool at the breakfast bar. I make my way down to my office and stand in the doorway, looking at the space. Earth tones are good, but the over-abundance of wood darkens the room and overtakes the beautiful natural light in here. The bookshelves look overpowering and boxed-in. I need to have them ripped out or redone… how long will that take?

I sit down at my desk and start strolling through Google for ideas for my office. I’m sure that the bookshelves are going to have to go, so I text Marilyn to get in touch with the contractor who did my office at the Center. If she’s already on her way to Helping Hands, she can work wherever her butt lands. No use in making her drive to the Crossing if she’s already there.

“I can come to the house, it’s not a problem.” She called me after getting my text.

“I thought you would be at the Center already by now,” I say.

“I’m in my car—a few minutes down the I-5 and across the bridge and I’m there. Do you need anything on the way?” She sounds agitated.

“Um, no. I’ll… see you when you get here.” She ends the call abruptly, causing me to look at the phone like it just bit me.

What the hell was that all about?

Deciding not to spend too much energy on whatever bug is up Marilyn’s butt, I call Vee and explain my concerns about the interview and the topic of my sexual misconduct accusations.

“Ana, the interview covered it fine,” she assures me. “You totally made the point that you needed to make. The charges are false; the claims were made anonymously and not by the supposed victim; the board treated you like shit and then disavowed any responsibility for their actions. You want people to take notice, but anything more is going to be overkill. Leave it like it is.”

“If you’re sure,” I say, still not certain that we’ve covered enough ground on the topic.

“I’m positive,” she says. “This is what I do. If it doesn’t pick up momentum all on its own, which I suspect that it will, we’ll revisit it, okay?” I sigh. She’s the expert.

“Okay, fine,” I cede. “Can you transfer me to legal? I want to talk to Al.” She’s silent for a moment.

“May I ask about what?” What the fuck?

“Um, since when do I have to have your clearance to speak to my best friend?” I nearly bark. “Or to my head of legal?”

“Ana, no! Don’t take it that way,” she interjects. “You were just talking to me about the interview and the sexual misconduct charges, then you immediately turned around and asked to speak to Allen. I thought the two were related and since one of those is a media situation and I am the head of PR, I thought it was something I needed to know. Nothing more.” I shake my head.

“I’m a little wired, Vee,” I tell her. “Christian’s acting strange. Jason’s bumped-up security, which is something he never does lightly. So, I know something’s going on and if you know, you can’t tell me because of your NDA. I have a friend of the family who’s having some trouble—which is why I want to speak to Al—and my assistant is acting all snippy. The whole thing is irritating me and it’s really starting to mess with my Feng Shui!” Vee is silent for a moment.

“I’m… sorry… I’ll get Al for you.” And she’s gone. Jesus, this negativity all around me has to fucking go! It’s driving me absolutely crazy!

“What’s up, Jewel?” Al answers. “Vee says you sound a bit perturbed.”

“I’m fine,” I nearly hiss. “Any word on Harmony’s situation.”

“What about it?” he asks. Et tu, Allen?

“I asked you if she had any recourse against her snaky husband trying to wait out Tina’s death so that he can weasel in on her inheritance and I haven’t heard anything from you!” I snap.

“Chris didn’t tell you?” he asks. Well, that explains a lot.

“Well, I haven’t spoken to Chris!” I say sarcastically. “I haven’t even seen him since he left for work yesterday.”

“Are you two fighting again?” Al asks cautiously.

“No!” I retort angrily. “He’s just in a mood about something that’s going on down there.”

“Nothing’s going on down here,” he replies. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“No, it’s going on—you just don’t know about it… or you can’t tell me,” I correct myself. Al sighs.

“Jewel, there’s nothing going on that I know of. If there were, I could tell you, because you’re one of the owners. Unless there’s information that I’m specifically directed not to share, the NDA doesn’t apply to you…”

“Like when Christian went to Madrid,” I point out. He sighs.

“Yes, like when Christian went to Madrid,” he replies.

“So, like I said, something’s going on down there. You may not know about it, but something’s going on. Now… about Harmony please?” It’s time to change the subject before I start to get angry about secrets.

“Harmony’s inheritance is safe,” he says. “It’s protected assets. Her husband can’t lay any claim to the money unless she put the money in a joint account and comingled it while they were still married. As long as anything she receives isn’t mixed with their marital assets, he can’t get to it. He was probably leading her to believe that so that she would pay him off to go away. And the fact that her attorney was actually working for him explains why she didn’t know this.”

That’s exactly what I was prepared to do, too—pay his ass off.

“So, why did Christian hear about this and I didn’t when I’m the one who came to you with it?”

“Because Christian came to me yesterday and asked me about it. I told him what I found out and he said that he was going to see Tina last night and asked if he could be the one to tell her and Harmony the good news. I assumed he told you, too. I don’t see why he wouldn’t.”

I forgot he went to Tina’s last night, but he didn’t even try to find me when he got home. I could tell that he took a shower, but he just went to his study after that.

“I don’t know what’s going on with Mr. Grey,” I say under my voice.

“Well, I can tell you this,” Al says. “Something’s happening at Tina’s because he took an entire security team over there this morning, complete with IT techs.” I frown.

“IT techs?” I repeat. “What the hell is going on over there that they need IT techs?”

“I don’t know, but him, Jason, and a whole shitload of people and equipment are at Tina Franklin’s right now. He told me to be ready, but he hasn’t said for what.”

“Is Alex with him?” I ask.

“No, Alex is here.” Good.

“Will you be representing Harmony in her divorce?”

“No, Jewel. I don’t do divorce. It’s my understanding that Carrick has agreed to do it, though.”

“Okay, thanks for the info. Transfer me to Alex.” There’s silence.

“Jewel, please don’t harass that man about what’s going on at Tina’s,” Al begs. “I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“I’m not going to harass him about anything,” I say. “Can you transfer me to him please?” Al sighs and I hear the hold music while I’m transferred to Alex.

“Alex Welch,” he answers.

“Alex, it’s Ana. I need some information.”

“What kind of information?” he asks.

“I need a background check and current contact information for someone, but I don’t know his name.”

“That’s a problem,” he says. “I do need to know who I’m looking for.”

“Well, I know who he is—I just don’t know his name. It’s Harmony Franklin’s soon-to-be-ex-husband. I don’t even know her married last name. Franklin is her maiden name.”

“Franklin?” he asks. “The same Franklin whose house we’re combing right now?”

“You’re combing her house? Why?” I ask.

“The boss went to see her last night and J got feedback in his earpiece. That means the house is bugged. We’re just trying to find out where, who, how long, why… you get the idea.”

“Seriously?” I say. “Who would want to bug Tina Franklin?”

“She’s not the only one who lives in the house,” he says.

“Do you think Harmony did it?” I ask.

“We won’t know until we find the bugs,” he says. I shake my head. I hope it wasn’t Harmony, or this campaign I’m about to begin will be all for naught.

“Can you get me the information on her ex-husband?” I ask.

“It might take a day,” he warns.

“That’s fine. I’m in no hurry,” I tell him.

“Very well.” We end the call. I raise my eyes to see that Marilyn has joined me.

“Have a seat,” I say, gesturing to one of the chairs in front of my desk that will soon be replaced. She marches in and sits in the chair like a petulant child. Okay…

“Did you call the contractor?” I ask.

“I just got here!” she replies snippily.

“Well,” I say, gearing myself for battle, “You were standing there in the door looking at me like you were awaiting instruction, and since I had already given you that instruction before you got here, I assumed you already did it!”

“I was in the car when you called. Did you expect me to speak to the contractor while I was in the car when you knew I was already on my way over here?”

What the fuck is this? I told her she didn’t have to bring her ass over here in the first place and now she’s acting like it’s some kind of fucking inconvenience? I don’t have time for this shit! I fold my hands in front of me. She can be snippy on her own time.

“Maybe you should take the day off,” I say, removing my glasses. Marilyn glares at me.

“Are you firing me?” she says in shock.

“Are you quitting?” I shoot back.

“I didn’t ask for the day off!” she snaps. “I’m just asking if you’re letting me go!”

“Take. The day. Off. Marilyn,” I say, slowly and firmly. “In fact, take two and get your shit together!”

She glares at me but knows that if she quips at me one more time, she won’t have to ask if she’s being fired. She stands haughtily, turns on her heels, and marches to the door.

“And Marilyn,” I call to her. She stops. “Take a damn test. You’re pregnant.” She turns slowly to me.

“I don’t need you to tell me what to do with my personal life!” she shoots.

“Or don’t!” I shoot back. “Wait ‘til your stomach blows up to the size of a basketball before you’re willing to accept that you’re with child. Just leave that nasty ass attitude at the door, or don’t bother coming in Monday, either!”

She stands there looking at me for a long time before she turns and indignantly walks out the door.

Well, shit.

I may have just lost my assistant, because if she is pregnant and she keeps it, there’s going to be no working with her like this.

I scroll through my contacts on the cloud and find the name of the contractor who did the work on my office. I could call Elliot, but he’s doing the Miller home and I wouldn’t want to set him back for something this small. I’m not looking for an overhaul. I’m just looking for a fresh coat of paint and to revamp my bookshelves… and I’m back on the phone.

Once I tell the guy what I want, he tells me that he can have the work done in a day if the space is clear.

The space is not clear.

I make an appointment for him to come over this afternoon to see the office, then I call a moving company. I need all the items in my office packed up, and some of them shipped… where? Charity? The Goodwill?

Charity.

Helping Hands. I’ll donate the furniture to Helping Hands.

The soonest the movers can get here is tomorrow. Great. The almighty Anastasia Grey can’t get everything she wants. I call Christian’s office.

Christian Grey’s office. Andrea Fairchild speaking.” Just who I needed.

“Andrea, hi, it’s Ana Grey.”

“Hello, Mrs. Grey.” My teeth grind. I want to say, “Call me Ana,” but I know that years of training will prevent that from happening. “Mr. Grey is out of the office right now…”

“Oh, I’m not calling to speak to Mr. Grey. Andrea, I have a strange request. Does GEH have a temp agency or pool that they use when they need extra administrative help?”

“You mean like executives?” she asks.

“No, like assistants,” I clarify.

“Oh! Well, it depends on who it is,” she says. “If it’s a project that needs extra hands in one of the non-classified departments, we may use a temp agency. If it’s one of the departments that handle more sensitive information, like legal, accounting, or R&D… or Mr. Grey… we commandeer one of the more-trained assistants on site.” I nod. That makes sense.

“I need an assistant for a couple of days.” I tell her. “It may be longer, I don’t know, but for right now, it’s just a couple of days. Marilyn’s indisposed and I pretty much need someone that’s just going to be underfoot, kind of at my beck and call.”

“Will they be coming to your home?” she asks.

“Today, definitely. Tomorrow, maybe. If not, they’ll be coming with me to Helping Hands. I need somebody very professional and very well-trained.”

“I’m sorry to say that I don’t think we have anybody in-house that I would be comfortable sending to your home, Mrs. Grey. Although we have a stringent vetting process, this is the boss’s mansion we’re talking about. No matter how professional, these women… wait a minute…” She pauses mid-sentence. “Luma would fit the bill. She’s probably the only one that would fit the bill.”

“Oh, no, I can’t take one of Christian’s assistants,” I say.

“I’m Mr. Grey’s assistant. Luma is my assistant. I can get one of the assistants in-house to take her place while she’s gone. If it turns out to be more long-term, then we can post a position with our usual recruiters and get you someone… I hope Marilyn’s okay.”

“I’m not at liberty to say. Please find out if Luma is okay with this. I don’t want her to feel like she’s being shuffled about like a board piece.” I can hear her saying something to someone in the background before coming back to the phone.

“Luma’s happy to help. She’s on her way now.”

“Thank you, Andrea. I hope not to keep your right-hand girl for too long.” After a few pleasantries, I end the call with Andrea and begin to pack the books in my office.


CHRISTIAN

“How many?” I ask Tibbs when he comes to me with an update.

“Seven, sir, just in the library, and there’s a feed going somewhere. We picked up the digital transmission—we just haven’t found out where it’s planted and where it’s going. I’m going to have to call back to Barney to get special equipment for that.”

Seven bugs in the library. Seven fucking recording devices. Why do they even need that many for one room?

“Why so many?” I ask. “How big is the library?”

“Pretty big, sir,” he says. “They’re cheap technology—not the state of the art. They would have needed one for every twenty feet or so to get a good transmission.”

“Wouldn’t they have interfered with each other, like they did with Tina’s hearing aid and Jason’s earpiece?”

“Well, keep in mind. Tina’s hearing aid is high-tech, much like Taylor’s earpiece. They pick up sounds and frequencies from longer distances. Comparing these devices with Tina’s and Taylor’s technology would be like comparing a professional singer’s cordless mic to a speakerphone.”

Jesus! If it’s that important to bug somebody, wouldn’t you think they’d spend a little money?

“Could these be decoys?” I ask. “Hide the junk in plain view so that we don’t go looking for the state of the art stuff?” Tibbs shrugs.

“They could, but when it comes to audio equipment, we’ve got the tools to find the jewels and the junk, and so far, we’ve only found the junk.”

“And the visual?” I press.

“We’ll be able to close in on that when I get Barney on the phone.” I nod.

“You may want to consider doing shifts,” I tell him. “I don’t want you all to leave until every device is located.”

“Yes sir.” He goes back to work and I ascend the stairs to Tina’s room. I hear raised voices inside—Harmony’s and Roger’s. I step to the door and open it. Their conversation is so heated that they don’t even notice when I enter the room

“I told you to leave my mother alone with this! You’re upsetting her! You were told to do what I say, and you don’t seem to understand that I can fire you!” Harmony chides.

“Ms. Tina, they’re destroying the house. It’s a complete shambles. You have to make them stop this right now!” Roger is completely ignoring Harmony’s request and Tina looks exhausted.

“Jason, get up here right now,” I say into the earpiece that I’m wearing, now also getting feedback since I’m in Tina’s room. I step inside and make my way over to them.

“I said leave her alone!” Harmony demands again. “And get the hell out of her room. You’re going to drive her to her death faster by stressing her out like this!” Roger straightens his back and faces off with Harmony.

“I don’t have to take orders from you, little girl!” he hisses. I’m behind Harmony in moments.

“That’s a grown woman, not a little girl and yes, you do!” I exclaim. He doesn’t take down. In fact, he’s haughtier than ever.

“Who do you think you are—coming in here like you’re running things, ripping her home to shreds like garbage? Have you no respect?” I move Harmony behind me and step to Roger’s face.

“Get out, now!” I hiss. He raises his nose to me.

“I will not!” he declares. “You can’t make me go anywhere, and I don’t have to do anything you say.” The interference in my earpiece stops and Tina reacts with slight relief. I know this means the scrambler is active. I look over Roger’s shoulder and Jason steps into the room. I look at Roger again.

“Get. Out. Now!” I growl getting right in his face. I could strangle this worm, but I don’t know if there are cameras in here. His fear is now palpable, but he regains himself quickly. Just as he’s about to speak, Jason comes behind him and whispers in his ear.

“I and my men have ways of seriously hurting people that don’t leave evidence.” Roger turns a horrified, pale face to Jason. “Are you going to come quietly, or should we demonstrate?”

“You… you can’t hurt me. There are other people here—downstairs, all over the house. People will see you…” Roger stutters.

“Everybody downstairs works for me or him. Everybody else had the good sense to leave when we told them to, except you. Now are you coming quietly, or do you need persuasion?” Roger looks from Jason to me and then to Tina.

“Ms. Tina…” he begins.

“I think he needs persuading,” I tell Jason. Jason closes in.

“Don’t touch me I’ll go!” Roger retorts, trying to hide his fear. He walks out of the room where another of my security staff is waiting for him.

“Don’t let him out of your sight,” Jason says. “I’ll be down in a minute to chat.” The guard takes his arm and Roger flinches away from him.

“Snatch that arm away from me again and I’ll break it!” I hear him say before he escorts Roger away. I turn to Jason.

“Do you have a scrambler on you?” I ask. He frowns.

“Don’t you?” he says. I shake my head. He takes a small device out of his jacket pocket and hands it to me.

“No cell service while you have it. This is how you turn it off.”

“Good man. This room needs to be swept soon. She spends too much time in here.” Jason frowns.

“That’s going to be very inconvenient for her,” he says.

“How much of the house is done—for audio?”

“Almost all of the first floor,” he says. “We’re trying to get Barney’s second team here quickly because it’s a whole new sweep for the visual.”

“Tell me, what are you talking about?” Tina’s frail voice says. “Are you destroying my house like Roger says?” That fucker. He’s got her all worried when we’re only doing this for her protection. I need to talk to her alone for a minute—even without Harmony.

“Harmony, does she have a nurse here?” I ask.

“I can get one, quickly,” she says.

“Good. Get her one. Have them check her vitals and make sure she’s okay. I’ll sit with her while you go. You won’t have cell service in here.” She looks at her phone.

“You’re right,” she says. “I’ll be right back, Mom,” she says touching Tina’s hand before leaving.

“Aunt Tina,” I say, kneeling down to her, “I swear to you, we’re not destroying your house. Remember we talked about the reason your hearing aid stops humming, right?” Tina nods. “Well, we found seven audio recording devices in your library. Someone is listening to and recording what’s happening in your home. We just don’t know why they’re recording.”

“Oh, no,” she says, forlorn. “This can’t be.”

“Roger’s been jumping around like a bunny on speed ever since my men got here,” I tell her. “He has already damaged two major pieces of equipment, claiming it was an accident, and he’s been up here more times than I know trying to get you to call this off. Is he normally this intolerable?”

“Never,” she says. “It’s like he’s completely inconsolable…” like a kid who doesn’t want you to see a bad report card.

“What about Harmony?” I ask. “How has she been through this process?”

“Calm, for the most part, except when he comes in and starts demanding that I make you all stop what you’re doing. That’s the only time she gets upset.”

“How has she been since she’s been home?” I ask. Tina shrugs.

“Attentive. She’s been… Harmony. Roger’s been antsy. I just attributed it to the fact that he knows that I’m going to die soon, and the house will go to Harmony.” My eyes widen.

“He knows that?” I ask. Tina nods. “How does he know that? Have you revealed the content of your will to him already?” She frowns.

“I don’t recall, Christian,” she says. “I don’t think so. I thought maybe Carl said something to him…”

“Who’s Carl?” I ask.

“My attorney,” she says. I shake my head.

“Carl can’t say anything to him. It’s against the law. When did you last tweak your will?” She has to think about it.

“About a month ago,” she says. “Maybe a little longer. It was right before your sister’s wedding… a few weeks maybe. I just gotten the news about… you know. Harmony was the only one who came back. She had already moved out of the house from her husband—she didn’t have to come back, but she was the only one who did. When I heard that she was coming, I called Carl and updated my will. I think I did it right before she got here. I told Roger that she was coming and to prepare her room. I told him what I was doing… that I was updating my will, but I don’t remember discussing the contents with him. I do remember him voicing some concern at one time about what would happen to the house once ‘that girl got her hands on it.’ Harmony is the only one of my children that he calls ‘that girl.’”

So, Roger knows about the will. Unless Carl is pure smut and broke attorney/client privilege, we know who’s listening to the bugs.

“Where and when did you have this conversation with Carl?” I ask. “In here?”

“Of course, not!” Aunt Tina replies. “A lady doesn’t entertain a gentleman in her bedroom… except now,” she jests, pointing to me and Jason. “No, I always accept Carl in the li… brary. Oh, dear.”

Oh, dear is right. Harmony wasn’t here yet when Tina changed her will, but that library had to already be bugged. Harmony and Roger are like oil and water and unless they’re the best actors known to man, they can’t be working together on this. Yet, Roger knew the contents of her will before she made anything public.

Just as Tina and I are both putting this information together, we hear glass breaking downstairs. I look at Jason, who looks at me and we both make to move towards the door when we’re distracted by Harmony’s small form.

“Um, Christian?” I hear Harmony’s voice in the doorway. “The nurse is on her way to check Mom out, but I think there’s a problem downstairs with Roger… a pretty big one.”


A/N: Fredo Corleone is from The Godfather. Fredo wanted to have the power of the Godfather and felt that he should have risen into the role before Michael Corleone since Fredo was the older brother, but Fredo was weak and irresponsible and his father knew that Fredo couldn’t handle being Godfather. Sunset compares Aragon to Fredo Corleone because of a dumb move Fredo did inviting a bunch of girls to Michael’s room in Vegas when Michael was there to discuss business. Fredo was throwing around weight he didn’t have, and this was the beginning of the rift between the brothers that eventually cost Fredo his life.

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 52—Just In Case…

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

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

Chapter 52—Just In Case…

CHRISTIAN

“You told me not to talk about it anymore, so I’m not talking about it. However, I am a professional, and my concerns are real, tangible, and valid. That asshole got way too close last night, and you got way too comfortable. You may not see urgency in this situation and you may be right, but I’m not going to take any chances.”

Just as I’m finishing my coffee, my head of security informs me that we’ll have another detail following us today. So, instead of just me and Jason, it’s going to be me, Jason, and two other guards in a separate vehicle. I understand urgency—I felt it last night, but I fucked it out with my wife and I’m fine now. Apparently, Mr. Professional here didn’t fuck it out with Gail, and now I have an entourage.

“Don’t you think this is a bit drastic, Jason?” I ask. “I’m all for increasing security. I totally get it, but three guards in one car for one man?”

“You told a hired killer that you were getting your affairs in order last night. You’re inviting him to do something. You’re testing his hand, basically telling him, ‘Come and get me.’ It’s like you want to die.”

“I don’t want to die,” I seethe, “I’m just not afraid of death.”

“I’m not afraid of death either, Christian, but I’m not gunning to meet my Maker anytime soon. I have a wife, and I have a child, and I’d like to see her go to college, get married, maybe punch out a couple of grandkids for me. I know that my job comes with certain hazards, but I’m not jumping in front of bullets that don’t have to be aimed at you. So, as many times as you warn your wife to be careful, you need to do the same thing because last I checked, you got a couple of nuggets that you’d like to see get through college, too!”

“Does my wife know about this?” I demand.

“She’ll know that security has been increased when she leaves for Helping Hands, but she won’t know why. I thought I’d let you tell her, or if you prefer, I’ll have Chuck do it.” I look in his eyes and I realize that he’s not backing down on this.

“Shit,” I hiss. I stand from the breakfast bar to go find my wife.

I dread having to tell her this, but whenever I try to keep something from her, it causes so much angst between us and ultimately turns out to be a disaster. When I find her, she’s helping to pack up the twins.

“Hey, beautiful,” I say, when I walk into the room. Mikey is already buckled into his carrier and Butterfly is buckling Minnie into her seat.

“Hey, yourself,” she says after she gets my squirming daughter securely into her seat. “I thought you were already gone.”

“About to,” I say. “I need to talk to you about something before I go.”

“Oh?” she asks. “Is everything alright?” I look at Keri and Gail.

“Can you two excuse us for a moment?” I ask. Gail puts a diaper bag on her shoulder and lifts Mikey’s carrier. Keri does the same with Minnie.

“Ah’ll see ya downstehs,” Keri says as she’s the one who always goes to the Center with Butterfly and the twins. Butterfly was talking about getting Keri her own car. We may have to revamp that decision for a while. In fact…

“What’s wrong, Christian?” Butterfly asks.

“Chuck may have to drive you into town for a while… in your car, of course.”

“Why?” she asks. “What’s happened?” I sigh.

“Do you remember me telling you that Myrick made some enemies in Detroit which is why he’s in witness protection?” She tilts her head.

“Vaguely… really bad guys, that I remember.”

“Well, one of those really bad guys came to see me yesterday,” I confess. “He found out that I was in Detroit and decided to fly out here to tell me to get his boss’s permission the next time I decide to travel to Detroit.” Butterfly raises her brow.

“I see… and you said?” she inquires.

“I told him to kiss my ass,” I reply. “I feel like it was nothing more than a dramatic show of bravado for him to fly all the way across the country to try to get me to bow to his will. I was in Detroit for 24 hours. They found out that I was there, but never confronted me while I was there—probably because I was never alone. They would have had to barge into my uncle’s home, an attorney’s office, or a PI’s office to talk to me. Instead, he shows up at Grey House in a black car, his goon opens the door and tells me to get in… fuck you!” I say that last part more to myself than to Butterfly.

“So… did he threaten your life?” she asks.

“Not overtly, but it was easily implied,” I admit.

“Ah… hence the fuck me like it was the last time fuck last night,” she says, a little perturbed. Why is she perturbed? Didn’t she enjoy it? “And that confused look on your face says you don’t have a clue why I’m irritated.”

“Um… no,” I admit.

“What if it was the last time, Christian?” she scolds. “You don’t think I deserved to know something was up?”

So… um… now I don’t dare tell her that I was afraid of her being taken away from me as opposed to being afraid of me leaving her.

“I can only say that I’m sorry, Butterfly, but there’s a condition to that. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you immediately, but I couldn’t—not because the time wasn’t right, but because I was physically unable to talk about it. It was on me so hard that I couldn’t even think to talk about it. I was too stressed out and I had to release it before I could even approach it. I was going to go to work and talk to our security team and come up with a plan of action. Then, I planned on talking to you about it. Jason beat me to it and beefed up security.”

“So, if Jason hadn’t beefed up security…” she begins.

“I would have told you after we had a plan of action,” I interrupt her.

“What if something had happened before you had a plan of action?” she snaps. I don’t have an answer for her, and I’m getting drawn and tense again.

“I was wound tighter than a dollar store watch when I came into this house last night,” I say, forcing my voice to be calm. “I simply cannot regurgitate everything that’s going on with me when I’m wound that tight. You have to give me time. My options were to fuck you or avoid you, and I needed you so badly…” I trail off and clench my fists, trying to relax and not lose my temper. “I wasn’t fucking you like it was the last time. I was loving you until I could think again, until I could breathe again. And the burden was so heavy that when I finally released it, I could do nothing else but sleep. I would have told you. I just. Needed. To think. I thought after being with me all this time and knowing me and knowing how I handle things…”

“You’re right,” she says, her hands moving quickly to cup my cheeks. She kisses me firmly on my lips. “You’re right. I’m sorry,” she says, rubbing my arms and furrowing her brow. “Boogeyman.”

Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?

“I’m sorry, too,” I say. “This is not the Boogeyman, baby. We’re just being careful, okay? With all my heart, I think this man is all hot air or he would have done something by now. He even said as much.” She sighs heavily and drops her head.

“What do you mean he said as much?” she asks, somewhat resigned.

“He told me that if he meant me harm, it would have been done by now.” She sighs again.

“Well, that’s comforting,” she says sarcastically.

“That’s why Jason has added extra security,” I tell her. “We’re being cautious, not taking any chances.” She nods.

“Okay… what about Marilyn?” I roll my eyes. I forgot about Marilyn.

“We probably want to get another guy on her, too,” I say. “You’ll let her know or do you want me to do it?” She shakes her head.

“I’ll tell her,” she says. “Now, I’m having second thoughts about the exposé.”

“Not that I’m trying to scare you, but you have to know… there’s nothing that the exposé will show that these people didn’t already know. The biggest trump card that I have in my pocket right now is that we have a mutual enemy and quite frankly, that’s all we have in common…” which makes me even more fucking anxious to find Myrick wherever the hell he’s hiding.

“Okay, so… yeah, I better get to the office. I guess the sky is falling for all of us.” She mumbles the last part. I don’t bother asking what she means.

“I need to get going, too, baby,” I tell her leaning down and kissing her on the cheek. “Are we okay?” She touches my cheek again.

“Yes, we’re okay,” she says, but I’m not convinced. “I’m working on chasing away the demons. They don’t leave overnight, you know.” She smiles weakly.

“Yes, Butterfly,” I say, cupping her face. “I know.” I kiss her lips gently, then leave to join Jason. I can’t help but notice what looks like a convention of black suits in the garage. I don’t even bother asking.

“Let’s go,” I say, listlessly while climbing into the back seat and closing the door behind me.

My mind wanders to everything happening right now that requires my attention. The implications of Aragon’s visit and the subsequent need for two men in the car with me; whatever the hell is going on with the storage bins in Detroit—I have to call Smalls. He didn’t call me back yesterday and I can only assume that either Uncle Herman was able to get all the authorizations needed or it was just too late to do anything once and if clearance was given. So, that will be the first thing I deal with when I get to the office. While I’m pondering what other dilemmas will most likely confront me, Jason answers his phone through his earpiece.

“Taylor… fuck!” He snatches his earpiece from his ear and swerves a bit to regain control of the car.

“What the hell, Jason?” I demand, our passenger holding on to the door handle and glaring at Jason as well.

“My apologies, sir,” Jason says through his teeth, his fingers rubbing feverishly at his ear. “It’s your wife.” Well, shit, he doesn’t sound happy. I turn to the other guard.

“Put his phone in the cradle. Put her on speaker.” He really didn’t need to because the moment he picks up Jason’s phone, I can hear Butterfly screaming.

“Shit,” I whisper before Butterfly’s screaming voice is piping through the car speakers.

“Ana,” I say, trying to get her attention. She’s still screaming.

“Ana.” Still no acknowledgement from my screaming wife.

“ANASTASIA!”

“WHAT?” she shoots back at me.

“You know Jason is driving, Anastasia. What the fuck are you doing calling him screaming in his ear?”

“So, he hands the phone to you so that I can scream at you?” she asks sarcastically.

“No, your voice is piping through the whole damn car. Jason nearly killed us getting his earbud out of his ear!” There’s sweet silence, but only for a moment.

“There’s a goddamn caravan following me to work, Christian,” Butterfly complains. “What the hell is that? Is all of this really necessary?”

“There’s no need to be dramatic, Butterfly…”

“Don’t patronize me and I’m not being dramatic! I work at a fucking shelter, for Christ’s sake! You know, sanctuary? The press is going to be all over me!” I throw a look at Jason, who looks everywhere but at me. “What aren’t you telling me, Christian?” my wife demands.

“I’ve told you everything. There’s nothing else,” I say. I see Jason’s posture shift. He knows I haven’t told her everything, but there’s no way in hell I’m telling her that man said that he would come to my house.

“There’s apparently something you missed!” she declares. “I look like the French delegation driving across the bridge. The only thing that’s missing are the damn flags. What’s going on!”

“I’ve told you what’s going on,” I reinforce. “Jason just feels that we should have more protection for a while since that guy came to Grey House last night.” Jason’s shoulders relax a bit. I’m certain he thought I gave her some sugar-coated version of what happened. I told her exactly what happened… except that I told the guy that I wasn’t afraid of death, and that he threatened to come to my house.

“What the hell happened, Christian?” she barks. “There are eight people following me! In the other vehicles!”

“What?” I exclaim, my eyes widening. She’s not exaggerating. That’s fucking ridiculous. “Jason…!”

“It’s because there’s four of you,” Jason interjects impassively. “We’re just trying to keep you all safe, Your Highness.”

“This is bullshit and you both know it!” she says, most likely convinced that I knew the entire Delta Force was going to be following her this morning. I kinda did know. The MIB convention in the garage somewhat gave it away. I just chose to ignore it.

“Jason is just being extra cautious,” I hiss through my teeth, mostly at Jason.

“Well, guess what? I don’t give a fuck how cautious Jason is right now. This is fucking ludicrous! Every time you make some kind of change to security, I go along with it. There are eight fucking people following me! This is outrageous!”

She’s right. It is outrageous, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now. They’re headed across the bridge. It’s not like I can tell them to go away. I guess I was pondering the situation a little too long because the next thing I hear is…

“You know what? Never mind.” She ends the call abruptly. She. Is. Pissed.

“Fuck!” I hiss loudly. I look over at Jason who refuses to make eye-contact with me and we ride silently to Grey House.

*-*

“Fix this. Now,” I say to Jason once I’ve had a macchiato and a glazed apple fritter and calmed my nerves. “What the hell, sticking eight guards behind her? She’s more of a target with all these people behind her than she was before. You must see that.”

Jason and Alex are sitting across from me in my office, a unified front against my demands about this insane increase in security, I suppose.

“She’s got some of our best men around her, sir,” Alex replies. “Nobody’s getting near her and those babies…”

“At this point, I couldn’t get near her and those babies!” I retort angrily. “Don’t you see the problem with that?”

“Sir, Russo is mafia. There’s no other way to put that. This is big time. If he wants you dead, you’re dead. Your family’s dead. Your friends are dead…”

“And if that’s the case, eight guys surrounding my wife and drawing attention to her isn’t going to stop him, now is it?” I interrupt. “I’m not highly impressed with his techniques or intimidated by his reach and ability. He hasn’t presented me Myrick’s head on a platter, yet.”

“Myrick’s in hiding. You’re not,” Jason points out.

“Which further proves that he’s not as omnipotent as both of you seem to think he is!” I snap. “When I had a message for Myrick, I went to Ionia—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Elena, I went to the Washington State Prison—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Courtney after she threatened my wife, I trapped her in the ladies’ room—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Loverboy Investigator, I went to the State building—I didn’t send Jason. Hell, when Butterfly had a message for David before he offed himself, she went to the prison—she didn’t send Chuck. She went to some hick hole trailer park in California to personally confront the bitch that was responsible for her beating in Vegas. She had security, but she went, and I’m supposed to be shaking in my boots from some motherfucker that doesn’t even have the guts that my wife has?

“He keeps sending his consigliere every time he wants to make a point. Big fucking deal! I’m not talking to that guy anymore and I mean that! If Russo wants a war, he can do it, and I can’t win it, but these scare tactics are not fucking going to work with me!”

I’ve had enough of this shit. I’ve had enough of all of it. I know that these men sitting before me can do more than what they’re doing without sending the fucking A-Team around with my wife.

“I want my wife and family secure as much as you do, but this? No. If those bozos in the FBI can keep Myrick hidden and safe, you can keep my wife safe without drawing this much attention to her. You’re doing a fan dance for this fucker and you know it, and I’m not going to play his game. I’ll accept reasonable security enhancements, but this is overkill. Whatever point you’re trying to make, you’ve made it. You’re pissing me off and you’re scaring the fuck out of my wife. Call them off.” Jason finally decides to speak.

“With all due respect, sir, the threat that’s facing us is a real and present danger. I’m not trying to make a point; I’m trying to keep you safe!”

“I don’t think you heard me,” I say crisply. “Call. Them. Off. This is not a request.”

Jason glares at me and I don’t back down. He’s going overboard, and my wife is right. This is ridiculous.

“If imminent danger comes at my wife or our children, there can be ten men coming at her and as long as someone’s got her six, two to five of them will fall at her hand from her bullets. She doesn’t need eight people and you know this. Call them off.” Jason’s lips purse as he visibly prepares his retort.

“Two extra guards, one extra vehicle when the children are with her. That’s it. Make it happen or call them all off besides the regulars. Your choice,” I say.

“Less vehicles means a lower tactical advantage,” he warns.

“It’s all chance, Jason,” I inform him. “You and I both know that tactical advantage won’t mean shit if they really want her.” My words are grave, but true. Everything we do is a precaution. My home is a fortress, but if anyone is willing to risk their life to get to her, they can do it. Jason shakes his head.

“What’s going on with you?” he asks. “You’re usually the most cautious guy I know. Now it’s like you’re staring death in the face like you really don’t care.”

“Oh, make no mistake, I care. If anything happens to my wife, I will personally find whoever’s responsible, shoot them in every extremity several times and watch them bleed out. I can’t very well do that if I’m dead, so yes. I care very much about life. But my wife is teetering on the edge of a proverbial cliff every damn day. We’ve had this discussion. I don’t have time to be meek. And after she and I have both confided in you about her fears and how she’s feeling, I can’t for the life of me fathom how you thought it was a solid idea to trail her with three vehicles and eight damn guards!”

The military man in Jason suddenly slips away and his expression is now unreadable. I have no idea what’s going through his head, but just like that…

“I’ll take care of it,” he says. I know you will. You were bordering on insubordination and I was about to suspend your ass.

“Thank you,” I nearly hiss before turning to Alex. “What’s the word on Myrick? Anything?” He shakes his head.

“The trail is cold, sir. No new leads at all,” Alex replies.

“Well, heat it up!” I say firmly. “Put some pressure on whoever you need to put some pressure on—the ex-wife, the offspring, that kid in the service, the FBI, the CIA, the fucking President, I don’t care! I want this motherfucker out of my hair! Start turning over some goddamn rocks and I guarantee you’ll see some bugs start running! And I never want to fucking see Aragon again!”

Alex’s eyes widen, and Jason sits up straight.

“That’s what I said,” I reinforce. “I never fucking want to see his ass again. Put his mug on facial recognition so that if he shows up within ten feet of my building, this place lights up like a fucking Christmas tree! I will wear my harness and that gun that he seems to think is useless every damn day and I’ll make sure that my wife stays strapped like Calamity fucking Jane, but he gets nowhere near any of us and you don’t need eight extra guards to make that happen. He’s starts shooting, you shoot back! And aim for his fucking head!”

I am totally beyond reason. I want blood, and I want it now. This situation has gone on for way too long and I’m tired of it taking over my goddamn life.

I don’t even think I hear them when they leave my office. I’m seeing red. I know that my station puts me and my family in a position of danger on a regular basis, which is why I want that exposé to air. That’s only a small message to the somewhat little fish that we won’t sit around and be fucked with anymore, but what about the big fish? How do you get that message to them?

Every time Russo sends that fucker out here, he’s acting like a cat playing with a mouse.

“Mr. Grey, if I was looking to cause you any harm, the deed would have been done by now…”

Well, fucking do it, then, you pussy ass bastard, because I’m not running, hiding, or cowering from you anymore.


ANASTASIA

“Turn this fucking car around.” Chuck looks at me in the rearview mirror, bemused.

“What?” he asks, his eyes wide. That’s when I realize that we’re still on the bridge.

“As soon as you can, turn this fucking car around and take me back home. There’s no way in hell I’m taking all this attention to Helping Hands.” He’s silent for a minute.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, and I’m not even pissed that he’s calling me ma’am. I am pissed, however, that half of GEH security appears to be following me to work. Where are they supposed to stay while I’m working and meeting with residents—on the goddamn bleachers?

I’m fuming. Something’s going on and he’s not telling me what it is. I call Grace and try not to sound too agitated.

“Grace, I’m working from home today. There seems to be some kind of development that I need to get sorted with my husband.” There’s silence.

“I’m not prying but is everything okay?” she asks.

“I’m not sure, but it’s nothing you should be worried about. I’m certain we can figure out what’s going on with the situation. Is Marilyn there yet?”

“I don’t think so. If she is, I haven’t seen her.”

We get to the end of the bridge and Chuck takes the exit and makes to get back on the bridge headed home.

“If you see her, tell her to come to my house,” I say. “I’ve been thinking about something since I had to recruit members of security to help move office furniture yesterday. What do you think about having a full-time custodial crew instead of a contracted cleaning service? I know we would need consider the financial implications like benefits and whatnot, but I think the benefits of having someone in-house would outweigh those of having a service. You know, building maintenance, per se.” There’s a pause.

“I hadn’t considered it,” she says. “Have you done any research on it?”

“Well, no,” I say, “but I was thinking that with the problems that we had a couple of years ago with the cleaning service not covering certain areas of the building and having to inspect their work all the time and renegotiate the contracts, it’s worth looking into for several reasons. There are going to be more people in the building that are not just residents. The classrooms are now going to be utilized. There’s obviously going to be a need to have someone around that can fix things in a pinch—be a handyman, a janitor… Not only that, but having a staff makes people more accountable for the work that needs to be done.”

“Yes,” she says. “I can see where you’re going with that. And we’re going to have to look into offering benefits for staff anyway because we’re expanding. We’re going to be eligible for federal funding and grants now with our accreditation and we’re not as slim as we were before on our donations with the publicity we’ve been getting from your appearances and from the PSA that I’ve learned is still airing in some areas. We should probably put together a PSA of our own once we have the foundation of our programs in place.”

“Oh, that’s a fantastic idea, Grace,” I tell her. “It’s great that we have the Faces of Abuse campaign still airing, but now we’re going to be offering many more services, and we definitely need to get that word out there.”

“When is your segment with Christian supposed to run again?” she asks. “Cary and I don’t watch much television and I don’t want to miss it.”

“It runs on Monday night,” I tell her. “I thought about a little viewing party, but not on a Monday night.”

“Why not?” Grace says. “With a few minor exceptions, we basically write our own schedules. I think a viewing party is a great idea.” I shrug.

“I’ll talk to Christian about it. See what he thinks.” I was so critical in my viewing of the segment before that I didn’t really see it. I was just watching for “bloopers,” so to speak. Our conversation has gotten our caravan back across the bridge and onto Mercer Island.

“Marilyn and I will start researching the pros and cons of a service versus in-house custodial staff and see if we can come up with the numbers for you. Keri’s looking into her teaching credentials in the states, by the way. She informs me that she should have some solid information by the end of the week.” I look to Keri for confirmation and she nods.

“Okay. I’m going to start looking into some benefit packages for the employees of the center. Who was putting together the grant paperwork and request for funding?”

“That would be Courtney,” I tell her. “She’s also supposed to be getting us some kind of presentation by week’s end. She’s been pretty diligent with it and her studies.”

“Speaking of studies, Harmony is here today. I saw that she was here yesterday, too.” I told her to spend time with her mother. She doesn’t have much time left.

“Did she tell you about Tina?” I ask.

“Yes, and her unfortunate situation with that wretched husband of hers,” she adds. “Unfortunately, this is the way the divorce game is played, my dear. I don’t know anything about divorce law, but I know that divorces have held up lives for decades from people who don’t want the divorce and won’t sign the papers. A lot of cases have been won—or lost, depending on which side you’re on—because one party is just tired of fighting and simply gives up and gives in. I’m not sure there’s much that she can do but let him wait it out and give him want he wants short of paying him off to hurry up and sign the papers so that Tina can die in peace.”

“I have Al on it,” I reply. If all that needs to be done is he sign the papers and this is over, I’m not beyond paying this bastard off to go away. Maybe I’m getting too involved, but to me, this is just another way that the Boogeyman is bearing his teeth, even though he’s not bearing them at me. “What’s Harmony doing there anyway? I told her to spend some time with her mom.”

“Tina shooed her away and she doesn’t know how to deal with it. She’s young and going through some things herself right now. Handling two major life changes is taking its toll.”

“What about her classes?” I ask.

“Not until this afternoon.” I shake my head.

“Where is she now?”

“She’s helping Michelle out in the dorms—busy work for the most part.” We drive into the gate at the Crossing.

“Well, keep her busy until it’s time to go to school. I’m sure something’s going to give. Maybe have her help you with researching benefit packages.”

“Oh, yes, that’s a good idea,” she concurs.

“I’m going to touch bases with my husband and have him get in touch with the guy who did the Faces PSA—see if we can get a meeting.”

“Excellent, and I’ll get to work on Project Harmony and the benefits research.”

“Indeed, you know where to find me.” I end the call and text Marilyn to meet me at the mansion before I exit the car.

“Is everything okay?” A frowning Gail is walking quickly through the portico to help get the twins from the car. I gesture to the train of vehicles behind me.

“Imagine this driving up to Helping Hands,” I say. “We’d have news helicopters hovering over the Center!” She looks back at the Caravan of Love while I try not to slam the door after Keri has removed Mikey from the car. Chuck has already unbuckled Minnie’s seat and hands the carrier to Gail.

“Oh,” she says with a frown, looking at the line of Audis. “Why the entourage?” she asks. I shake my head.

“Ask His Highness,” I say, waving my hand disgustedly while breezing past her into the house.

*-*

“I don’t know if I’ve told you, but I’m redoing my office here, too,” I say to Marilyn as she types away on her MacBook while sitting in one of the seats across from my desk. She raises her eyes to me.

“Why?” she asks. “It’s so comfy and pretty.”

21d54a5af21611b9705d7f44ebc4c980

“It served the original purpose, but now, it looks too executive. It’s not Zen enough.”

“Oh… the Zen,” she says, tapping at her MacBook again. “How’s that working for you?”

“Some days it helps. Others, I’m struggling,” I admit.

“Well, you just started. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.” Yeah, I know. I just wish the Boogeyman would stop rearing his ugly head at me. I’m fighting him. I’ve decided not to take his abuse lying down anymore. But damn, it’s exhausting! I’m trying not to internalize Harmony’s issue; Christian has the entire Intergalactic Force following me; and I haven’t even bothered to ask Marilyn if she’s taken a pregnancy test. She seems in better spirits, but who knows what that means. I need to talk to Ace in the worst way and I’m trying to wait until my appointment on Friday, but it’s hard as hell. I need some damn guidance.

For some reason, my need for guidance leads me to call my husband instead of my shrink.

“Butterfly… are you okay?” he answers frantically, another reason for me to believe that something more is going on than he’s letting on.

“Why wouldn’t I be okay, Christian?” I ask, keeping my voice even. He sighs.

“Don’t read anything into it,” he cautions. “I just got the word the you went back to the house instead of going in to work and just as I was about to call you, you called me. It startled me, that’s all.” I raise my eyebrow in disbelief.

“Well, I couldn’t take the Observation Committee to the Center,” I say stoically. “It would be counterproductive.”

“Yeah, about that,” he says. “Jason went all commando-special-ops on me and pulled that shit, but I straightened it out. You’ll have a couple of extra details with you, but that caravan shit is a wash. I’m sorry if it scared you.”

It didn’t scare me, it pissed me off.

“We’ll keep the detail to your car and one additional with the usual guards and maybe two others, and Butterfly, it’s just a precaution. You know me—I’d rather be safe than sorry any day, but even I know when too much is too much.”

I try not to react, but I can’t help the sigh of relief I release knowing that Jason was just going overboard and that there was no sniper or something waiting to pick me off at the Center.

“You do still carry your firearm with you, don’t you?” And just when I was starting to relax…

“Yes,” I reply.

“Good, because I had to remind him that you’re a proficient shot and that you stay armed so that he would back off a bit. Hell, you’d probably pick off somebody coming at you faster than any of them would… I’m reminded of a certain Monster Bitch.”

I can’t help but laugh, and the tension is broken again, which I’m sure was his intent.

“I have a purpose for my call,” I say, not noticing that Marilyn has left the room. Where did she go?

“What is it?”

“Well, first, I want to see if you can set a meeting with that guy who did the Faces of Abuse PSA. We’re thinking of doing one for the new services at Helping Hands and we need direction.”

“I’ll give him a call,” Christian says. “And second?”

“I don’t know if you’ve been informed, but Tina Franklin has taken a turn for the worst.” I hear him sigh.

“Really?” he says, his voice deflated.

“Unfortunately, yes. She’s at home on hospice. Harmony’s not doing very well, so this portion kind of has a two and a three.” He pauses.

“I’m listening.”

I tell him about how Tina is pushing Harmony away in her last days. I’m certain she thinks it’s an attempt to spare Harmony the pain of watching her fade away. The problem is that she’s going to need these last moments to cling to when her mother is gone, and Tina is unintentionally taking those away from her. I beseech Christian to go and see her, maybe see if he can talk to her since he knows Tina so much better than I do. When he hesitates, I ask him how he would feel if this were Grace and he was in this position. He sighs.

“I’ll stop by after work,” he says, surrendering.

“There’s more,” I tell him.

“More than this? Sweet Jesus, what else?”

“Harmony’s divorce isn’t final. She had an attorney, but it turns out that the asshole was a spy for her husband. I’ve talked to Al about helping but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. Her husband is stalling the proceedings waiting for Tina to die. He knows that Harmony is going to get an inheritance and if she gets it before they’re divorced…”

“He may be entitled to half,” Christian finishes. “Yes, the dirty business of divorce. Dad always talked about hating to see two people who once loved each other rip one another apart in court.”

“Isn’t there something that can be done?” I ask. “Can’t the court force that asshole to sign the papers? If not, Tina’s going to die or Harmony’s going to give in and—either way—he’s going to get what he wants.

“Short of busting the guys kneecaps and making him sign the papers, there’s no way around this.”

“Can we bust his kneecaps?” I ask, only half-serious.

“Butterfly…” my husband scolds.

“I know, I know,” I say, “it’s just that this guy has been dirt from the very beginning…”

I tell him the whole story about how the marriage was a farce from day one, the whole time the soon-to-be-ex-husband hoping to get his hands-on Harmony’s money not knowing that the money wasn’t Harmony’s. I explain that Harmony is not a trust fund kid like Tina’s other children may have been; that Harmony is the adopted great-granddaughter that her parents didn’t want and how Tina kept her money out of the snake’s hands when she saw through him. I told him about the guy’s philandering and how horribly he treated Harmony once he realized he wasn’t getting a hold of her money, forcing her to leave to avoid the terrible treatment and infidelity.

“Now, it looks like he’s going to get what he was after all along,” I conclude.

“Well, that explains a lot,” Christian says. “I was wondering how Tina could have a daughter so young. I’m also wondering if all of her children are going to come home now that she’s in hospice, or if they’re all still too busy with their lives.”

I don’t say what I’m thinking… that they’ll all show up after she’s dead looking for their cut.

“So, we have a parasite on our hands,” Christian says, “and short of going the old-school route and giving him the beating that he so richly deserves or making him an offer he can’t refuse, he’s going to get off Scott free with half of Harmony’s inheritance. I’m not buying that. There’s a way around that somehow.”

“I don’t see that there is, Christian, except for Harmony not to get the money… and that’s punishing Harmony for her asshole ex-husband’s actions.”

“I’m a businessman. There’s always a way,” he says confidently. “I don’t mean to rush you, baby, but there’s a ton of shit that I have to get to today and you just gave me a couple of additional projects to add to the pile. Was there anything else you needed?”

“No, that was it. I’ll call you if I think of anything else.”

“Okay… now I’m going to see Tina after work. Unless I can get out of here early, that means I’ll be home late today.” His voice is placating, like he thinks I’ll break—not that I can blame him.

“Okay, that’s fine. I won’t wait up,” I say.

“Not that damn late!” he adds.

“I get it, Christian. You’ll be home later. I’ll see you when you get here.” We exchange I love you’d and end the call. So, the threat’s not so bad that I need eight people following me, but he wants to make sure that I’m carrying my gun. Like he said, Ana, don’t read anything into it.

The whole thing with the adoption has made me think about my biological family—or the lack thereof—and I go to that website I logged into last year. The damn thing’s been charging my account every month for a year and I haven’t even been paying attention to it. I think I remember Mare saying something about it right before the twins were born and I said that I would get to it, but nothing since then.

Nothing from Marilyn anyway.

When I log into the website, it’s full of hits and notifications. Holy cow, Batman! Are these all people who are related to me? Shit, it’s going to take me months to get through all this data and all these people!

I log out of the site. My brain can’t even absorb that shit right now. Is this a box that I really want to open? After nearly 30 years, here comes cousin Ana? And are these people legit or are they just people on the site who may know who I am and are trying to get a piece of the rock?

“Dear Jesus, not now,” I say, opening my email program instead. I see the email from Mia that I’ve been avoiding, the one with the link to her wedding site. I roll my eyes and sigh.

“Might as well look,” I say aloud and click on the link.

The site opens to a background of Mia and Ethan on their wedding day, all smiles and gleefully posing as Mr. and Mrs. Kavanaugh. There are so many links and features that I don’t know where to begin. My first destination is the guest list. I have no idea who put this together, but each person who signed the guest book is featured in this section—pictures with their scribbled names underneath and their relation to the bride and groom, if any. I quickly find the picture of me and Christian. Someone caught us walking into the ballroom together, I have no idea when. We’re very casual and he’s holding my hand. It’s a simple picture of us and I like it—not posed or phony, just me and Christian as we are… well, most of the time.

Most of the other pictures of the guests were either pictures from the photo booths or candid shots like me and Christian. I don’t know if Adelaide will peruse Mia’s website, but if she does, the guestlist will alert her that her granddaughter is still in town, or at least was for the wedding. Her photo is with Vickie, protectively holding her around the waist. Her smile is large and genuine. She looks radiant, and Vickie’s adoration of her clearly shows through the photograph. I won’t alert her that the picture is here. I think it’ll only cause her undue anxiety. She travels in some of the same circles as her grandparents. If it’s meant to be that they bump into each other, then they will.

I get lost in the website, reliving the night through many of the photographs and enjoying the journey. I even get a little miffed watching Marlow dance with his little walking-fart-dress-wearing date. Geez, I hope she’s not a girlfriend. Then there’s the picture of Carrick holding Grace close to him on the dancefloor and planting a tender kiss on her cheek. Elliot and Val didn’t escape the smooch-cam either. And of course, me and Christian. There’s even a picture of Christian placing a tender kiss on Tina’s cheek when she and Harmony were about to leave the reception.

A kinder, gentler Christian Grey…

I didn’t, however, expect to see a video clip of us singing for Mia. I guess somebody couldn’t resist.


CHRISTIAN

I hope I’ve convinced my wife to resume going into the office. I haven’t had a cooking lesson from Gail in over a week and I’m certain that I’ve completely forgotten how to crack an egg… which is ridiculous. I proceed with what I was about to do when my wife called me and interrupted my thought process.

“Terry Smalls here.”

“Smalls, Grey. I’ve been waiting for an update on my grandfather’s storage bins. What’s the news?”

“We’re still sorting, sir,” he says. “It’s like one of those boxes where you open it and there’s another box and you open it and there’s another box and you open it and there’s another box. I think you or your uncle should look at these manifests…”

“Why don’t you just tell me what’s in there?” I ask impatiently.

“Where do I start?” he laments. “We’ve got about five bins full of antique furniture—real quality stuff. We’ve got at least two and maybe three bins of knick knacks, and when I say ‘knick knacks,’ I don’t mean ‘whatnots.’ I mean old fashioned baby clothes, bronzed baby shoes, somebody’s wedding dress—According to the manifest, there’s a collection of Waterford Crystal somewhere in one of these bins. You know they don’t make that anymore, right?”

“Yes, I’m aware,” I say.

“Oh! Yeah, and three more cars.” I nearly drop the phone.

More cars?” I ask.

“Yeah, three,” he confirms. “We haven’t located them yet.”

“Then how do you know they’re there?” I inquire.

“They’re on the manifests,” he says.

“Classics? Restored, like the Mustang?”

“I don’t know, sir. We haven’t found them yet…”

“Goddammit, drop everything and find the cars first! My grandfather was sick well before he died. Those things might have been sitting there for years!”

“Will do, sir.” I end the call and push my hands through my hair. My grandfather was fucking rich, or he spent his money in such a way as to accumulate an array of valuable things that he must have horded for his sons—four classic cars, four brothers. That’s got to be what that is.

I must shake the thought from my head about the cars because there’s nothing I can do about this until I know what the cars are and what kind of shape they’re in.

I spend the morning and part of the afternoon pretending to concentrate on the business of mergers and acquisitions, but it’s no use. I want to know what the fuck is taking Smalls so long to unearth those damn vehicles. Then, I get the news that one of my safe havens is about to fall prey to the worst type of vermin and, like I said, short of breaking his kneecaps, I don’t know that there’s much I can do to help her.

Short of breaking his kneecaps… I’m not beyond breaking his kneecaps, but let’s see what we can get done legally first.

“Well, truth be told, Chris,” Al says once I summon him to my office, “I know about assets and I love a good juicy fight, but I never really got into divorce law.”

“It’s a contract,” I tell him. “It’s the same thing. Think about a merger that’s about to happen. We’ve got assets that we want to hide without tipping off the buyer or the SEC.”

“I didn’t say that I didn’t know what to do. I said that basically, this isn’t my area of expertise.”

“Okay, so get to the point. What does this all mean?” I ask, impatiently.

“Nothing. He can’t touch her inheritance. If they were still in love and planning to be married for life, he still couldn’t touch her inheritance. The only way that he could touch her inheritance is if she intermingled the money together with the marital assets somehow, like if she put the money in a joint account or if it was property and he paid to repair it. Other than that, he can hold the divorce up until hell freezes over. He’ll never get that money.” I just stare at him.

“I thought all money that came into the marriage after the vows was automatically community property,” I protest.

“Nope,” he says. “Even in community property states, inheritances are not ‘his, hers, and ours.’ If that money is deposited into an account that belongs only to Ms. Harmony, Mr. Harmony can’t fuck with it.” Well, I’ll be damned.

“Have you told Harmony yet?” I ask.

“I haven’t had the chance.”

“Let me do it,” I say. “I’m going to see Aunt Tina this evening and I’d love to be able to put both their fears to rest simultaneously.”

“Be my guest,” he says.

That fucker better be glad I’ve discovered that he can’t get any of Harmony’s money. I’m not the vigilante-save-every-damsel-in-distress-that-crosses-my-path guy, but any discomfort I’ve ever inflicted on any woman with few exceptions has been consensual. I hate for men to take advantage of women, especially emotionally and even more so financially, but I hate it even more when a jerk or a crook gets over on the good guy, and that seems to happen a lot.

Hearing the news about Harmony and Tina helps me to relax a bit and I get a little more done during the afternoon than I do during the morning. I decide to leave the office early to go see about Aunt Tina, but not before I touch bases with Smalls. How fucking hard can it be to find four whole ass vehicles?

Just when I’m about to lose my complete patience with Smalls and send someone else to Detroit to get the job done, my intercom comes alive.

“Mr. Grey, I have Terry Smalls on line 2.”

Without even answering her, I pick up line 2.

“It’s late afternoon here, so I know it’s after dark there. What took so long?” I bark into the phone. “They’re cars. What took hours to find cars?”

“Well, sir, all the cars are parked behind packed boxes like the first one was. Knowing that at least one of them has fine crystal in it, I’m sure you didn’t want us to go tearing through them like a bull in a china shop.” His voice is crisper than I would like, but he has been rummaging through storage bins all day. I bite back the urge to reprimand him.

“Oh, you found the damn cars?” I ask.

“Oh, we found the cars. Your grandfather apparently has a wonderful sense of humor,” he says mirthlessly. Watch it, Skippy.

“Meaning?” I say, nearly growling.

“Meaning,” he begins, softening his tone, “finding the cars meant going through riddles on the manifest. We unpacked at least two rows in four bins before we found the last car. One of my guys apparently likes logic problems, so he was quickly able to figure out the last two saving us a massive amount of time.”

“Riddles?” I ask incredulously. “Like what?”

“Oh, God, sir, please don’t put me through that again,” he laments, but continues anyway. “Things like two farmers go to the market to buy wheat one buys 45 bags the other buys 75 bags when they get home they split it evenly between three farmers but only one farmer paid for it and… you get the idea.” He says the entire thing without stopping. “When you solve the riddle, you get the number of a manifest or a storage bin, only we didn’t figure it out until after we found the second car. We’ll be here all night putting these boxes away.”

“You’ve got the boxes out already. Why not work in shifts getting some of that stuff sorted instead of shoving it back into the bins? I only suggest that because it’s got to be a better use of time than to shove it all back in there just to pull it back out again.”

“My guys are tired. I’ll run it by them, but I’m worried about accuracy with an exhausted crew.”

“You’re right. Not a smart idea. What can you tell me about the cars?”

“Well, we can see the cars, but we can’t move them. They’re open, but the keys and the titles are all hidden in RiddleLand again, and I have a feeling these are personal.” Oh, dear Lord.

“Please, explain,” I sigh.

“Well, in the glove box of each car, there’s a riddle. After each riddle, it says, ‘Ask the boys.’” I wish I had more patience for this. I’m not flying back out to Detroit. I don’t care if he finds gold bullion in one of those bins.

“Can you give me an example?” I ask.

“’What has four fingers and a thumb but is not living?’ That one was easy enough, a glove. But what does that mean to me? At first, we thought it meant look in the glove box of the other cars, but there were just more riddles. That’s when we saw the words, ‘Ask the boys.’ So, like I said. I think these are more personal.” Now, I’m exhausted and I haven’t even done any of the work.

“Send me pictures of the cars and the riddles, please. I’ll talk to my uncle. By the way, what kind of condition are the other cars in?”

“Cherry,” he says. “You have to see them. There’s no way I can explain it.” Cherry… that’s pretty ripe.

“Email them, pack up the boxes. Go have dinner and get some rest. I’ll be waiting for your call tomorrow.” My way of telling him that I won’t bother him since I know it’s going to take forever to get the boxes back into the bins.

“Yes, sir.”

*-*

It’s about five thirty when we arrive at Aunt Tina’s. The butler doesn’t recognize me when he opens the door, not that he has any reason to, but at first, he denies me entry or access to see her.

“I know what condition she’s in and she’s a very dear friend of mine. I’d like to see her please. Tell her it’s Christian,” I insist.

“I’m afraid that’s impossible,” he says, his nose in the air. “Mrs. Franklin is not seeing visitors.”

“She’ll see me,” I persist. He doesn’t relent. “Is Harmony here?” His face distorts in distaste. What the fuck is that all about?

“No, she’s not,” he announces. As if in answer to his question, a late model Jetta drives up the round drive. One of the other staff opens the driver side door and Harmony steps out.

“Christian,” she says, recognition setting in as she approaches the door. “How are you? It’s good to see you.”

“I wish I could say the same,” I complain. “I mean to say that it’s good to see you, but I can’t seem to get in to see Tina.” Harmony frowns.

“She’s not doing very well,” she says.

“Yes, I know. My wife told me. She explained her condition to me at Mia’s wedding and she asked me to come by and see her. Here I am, but I can’t get in.” She looks at the butler.

“Roger, what’s the meaning of this?” Harmony says. Roger looks at her but doesn’t acknowledge her. “Let Christian in. What’s wrong with you?”

“Ms. Tina is not in any condition to see guests,” he says snootily.

“That’s not for you to decide!” Harmony retorts. “Are you her doctor, now? Move.”

He says nothing but refuses to grant me access.

“Roger, I know you’ve worked for my mother for many years and you know the lay of this property like the back of your hand, but this. Is not. Your. House!” she hisses. Roger’s lips form a straight line. “Now, step aside, and please allow multibillionaire and mega-entrepreneur Christian Trevelyan Grey into my home!”

She’s glaring at him and he glares right back at her like she’s nobody. I’ve had enough. I shove this fucker aside and step into the house.

“Harmony, where’s Aunt Tina?” I ask, ignoring Roger’s appalled gasps and scoldings.

“She’s upstairs in her room,” she says. I take the spiral stairs two at a time. I don’t know why I feel such a sense of urgency, but I need to get to her to tell her what I’ve discovered and to let her know not to push Harmony away.

“Which room?” I ask Harmony when we get to the top of the stairs.

“Third door on the right,” she says.

“You can’t just go barging in on someone like this!” Roger protests. I whirl around on him in an instant.

“I’ve had all I’m going to take from you!” I hiss. “Now, if you don’t shut up…” I let the words hang in the air. Jason comes casually up the stairs behind me and stands behind Roger. He deflates at the sight of Jason and shrinks back a bit.

“How do you get anything done with him around?” I ask.

“It’s a trial,” Harmony admits.

“Let me guess. He knows more than you do and won’t listen to anything you say because he’ll only take orders from Tina. What’s more is that he walks around with a haughty ass entitled attitude looking down on everybody even though he’s nothing more than the help.” I’m staring at him waiting for a response or reaction from him. I get none.

“You’ve hit that nail right on the head,” Harmony says. Yes, I said the help. Gail, Jason, Chuck—that’s my family that happen to be my employees. They don’t act entitled and they certainly don’t treat my guests like vermin. So, yes, he’s nothing more than the help.

“Does he have any idea that everything he gazes upon and holds dear is going to you when your mother dies?” Roger’s eyes widen and his face pales. Harmony’s eyes widen as well.

“How do you know that?” she asks, surprised.

“I’m Christian Grey. I have my ways.” I say, never taking my eyes off Roger. I don’t know that, but he doesn’t know that I don’t know. “The very reason for my visit is to let you know that I’ve discovered some information about your inheritance and your asshole husband that should put your and Tina’s fears to rest.”

“I… I thought Ana had her friend Allen working on it,” Harmony says. I finally break my gaze with Roger and look at Harmony.

“She did,” I tell her. “Allen’s my head of legal. He’s a specialist in asset law, but he’s not a divorce attorney. No worries, though. I spoke to my father, too. He’ll be representing you in your divorce. But, first, I need to share some news with you and Aunt Tina.” I gesture to her to lead the way. She steps in front of me and walks to Tina’s door. As we’re about to enter, Roger makes to enter with us. I hold my hand up at his chest.

“We won’t need you, Roger,” I say. “Jason?” Jason steps in front of Roger as Harmony and I step into the bedroom.

“Sir!” Jason stops me somewhat urgently. He leans in to me.

“Sir, I’m getting feedback on my earpiece,” he says lowly. My brow furrows and I shake my head. What does that mean?

“This room is bugged,” he informs me. I’m instantly horrified.

“You’re sure?”

“I’m positive,” he confirms.

“There’s no way to scramble the signal?”

“Don’t dawdle there at the door! Come in!” Tina demands, her back to us. I look to Jason.

“I can call Alex. It’ll probably fuck up your cell signal, too.” I nod and put my hand in the small of Harmony’s back.

“Careful what you say,” I whisper to her as we walk across the room to Aunt Tina.

“Mom?” Harmony says softly. Tina takes her hand.

“You just don’t listen, do you, child?” she says sweetly. Harmony can’t control her emotions.

“It’s my fault, Aunt Tina,” I say, emerging from behind the chair. Her face is worn and tired but lights up when she sees me.

“Christian!” she says with excitement. “Are you being a bad influence on my Harmony?” Harmony kneels at her mother’s feet and lays her head in Tina’s lap. She weeps quietly, and Tina gently strokes her hair.

“This is why I don’t want you here,” she says, trying to comfort Harmony.

“This is exactly why she needs to be here, Aunt Tina,” I say softly touching her shoulder. “These will be her last moments with you. She needs every one of them.” Aunt Tina looks up at me and nods, still stroking Harmony’s hair.

“At least do your mom a solid and don’t cry every time you see me,” Aunt Tina says to Harmony, who tries to control her sniffles.

“Yes, ma’am,” she says, her voice soft. Tina shifts a bit in her chair.

“See? I’m not gone yet,” Aunt Tina says. “I just saw a commercial that you’re going to be on that program next Monday—you and your wife. What’s that about?” I look at my phone and I still have a very clear signal.

“We did a segment somewhat introducing ourselves to the world.” Aunt Tina tsk’s.

“You don’t need to be introduced to the world,” she says. “They all know who you are.”

“No, they don’t,” I smile. “They just think they do. Your butler certainly doesn’t know me. And he doesn’t like me either.”

“He’s just protective,” she says. “He’s been with me for a long time.”

“Is that why he doesn’t respect Harmony either?” I ask. Harmony raises her head from her mother’s lap.

“Christian…” She shakes her head.

“My dear, if Tina is the only one he’ll listen to, then Tina is the one that has to let him know he can’t treat you that way,” I inform her. Tina’s frail hand lifts Harmony’s chin.

“Is this true?” she asks. “Is he disrespectful to you?”

“He just doesn’t know me, Momma,” she says sweetly.

“Nonsense!” Tina says, pressing a button on the table next to her bed. Roger bursts through the door almost immediately, pushing past Jason and appearing before Tina.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, making eye-contact only with Tina.

“Roger are you being a pompous asshole again?” she says. His brows furrow.

“Ma’am?” he says.

“You treat my daughter as if she were me, today and from now on, or you can pack your things and leave this house tonight! Are we clear?” His eyes widen.

“Ma’am!” he says shocked. “Ma’am, I assure you…”

“I’m not looking for any of your English butler-school-taught bullshit right now, Roger. I am looking for a yes or no answer. Are. We. Clear?” He straightens.

“Yes…” he says. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Now, apologize to my daughter for how you’ve apparently been treating her when my back is turned.” He turns to Harmony.

“Ms. Harmony, I’m deeply sorry for my behavior…”

“Your insolence!” Tina demands. Roger clears his throat.

“For my insolence,” he corrects. “I humbly beg your forgiveness and assure you that it will never happen again.” Harmony turns away from him and rests her chin on her mother’s lap.

“It’s my understanding that you were rude to my guest as well,” Aunt Tina says. “I’m appalled, not only because he’s a dear friend of my family but also because you felt you have the right to treat anyone who visits my home that way. I’m dying, Roger, but I’m not dead yet! You should be glad I don’t fire you right now. I’m waiting.” Roger raises his gaze to me and I raise my hand to stop him.

“I don’t want his apology,” I say. Aunt Tina looks up at me.

“Christian, is that the behavior of a gentleman?” she scolds.

“No, ma’am,” I say, “and I don’t feel the need to be a gentleman in his presence.” I turn back to Aunt Tina while he continues to glare at me. “Forgive me, Aunt Tina.” She covers my hand and nods.

“You can go now,” she says to Roger. When he leaves, she opens her mouth as if to yawn. “Ah,” she says.

“What is it, Mom?” Harmony asks.

“There’s almost always a constant humming in my ears,” she says. “It’s gone.” I look at my phone. There’s no signal. Jason has found a way to scramble the signal in the room. I examine Aunt Tina.

“Aunt Tina, do you have a hearing aid?” I ask. I can’t see one, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have one. Sure enough, she pulls a device out of her ear that’s no bigger than a fingertip.

“I’ve had it calibrated a hundred times, but it doesn’t help.” I sigh.

“Both ears?” I ask. She nods. “Aunt Tina, I have some things to tell you.”


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

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 51—When Sly Calls

I’m going to answer a couple of questions really quickly about Brian and Shawna. Brian does love Shawna—as Shawna, not as Ana, Jr. However, him bringing Shawna to Ray’s house at that time was totally a “Nah nah nah nah nah, you’ve been replaced” moment. Either he was hoping to see Ana, because Ana and Ray were coming from the court, or he was hoping that Ray would tell Ana how much Shawna looked like her. He had no reason to think Christian would do it when Christian first found out.

Also (clears throat) in my defense, y’all know I’m the queen of the cliffy, but those last two chapters were not intended to end on cliffies. I had to cut the story somewhere based on word count and the only place to do it was at the cliff… so I’m sorry (giggle giggle).

I’m going to try to get back into the swing of things. Many of you already know that I had a death close to me and had to fly back to Detroit. Very much still reeling from the effects of the trip—mentally and physically. Felt every bit of the emotional strain my characters feel when they travel to that place and trust me—I took my laptop with me, but they were bone silent from the moment I landed until the time I left out of there. None of the Butterfly Saga juices were flowing at all until I was at the airport in COLUMBUS, OHIO on a two-hour delay. Then, I was able to do a little editing, but nothing more. So, here’s chapter 51. I hope it was worth the wait. 

Before we get started, I want to thank you all for hanging in here with me—seriously, through sickness and health, death, drama, moving, job changes, loving the characters, hating the characters, you’ve been right there with me. I appreciate it very much. Really, I do.

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

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

Chapter 51—When Sly Calls

When Sly calls, the profit speaks
When Sly calls, the secret leaks
The sky falls, the dice are tossed
The war is won, the battle’s lost

When Sly calls, it’s thirteen takes
When Sly calls, the summer breaks
The sky falls, the rain begins
And on the box some Leon spins
To insulate me from the icy aftershock I feel each time
That Sly calls.
~~Michael Franks, When Sly Calls (Don’t Touch That Phone), 1983

ANASTASIA

“Grace! What have you done?”

I get to the Center on Tuesday morning and I can hardly believe my eyes. Grace’s office has undergone quite the extreme makeover in five days. I can hardly believe it’s the same space.

“How did you pull this off in the little bit of time that I wasn’t here?” I ask. “It’s exquisite.”

“It was quite simple,” she says. “My space is smaller than yours, but I like that. It wasn’t as much of an overhaul as your office. Wallpaper; we changed out the light fixture; the floor is tongue-and-groove, and I just picked my furniture out of a catalogue and voila! Instant new office.”

“It makes me feel so fickle for toiling over colors and styles and textures,” I whine.

“You were looking for a specific look for a specific reason, and you’re going to get it. Your office is transforming into a virtual oasis. I wanted something more daring, more in-your-face, and that’s what I got. Don’t second-guess; it’s going to serve the exact purpose you need.”

She’s right. What’s left of my furniture and the rest of my accessories should arrive today and my Zen office at work should be complete before I leave. Marilyn will have to help me get my files and personal things organized, and I’m sure that will take all afternoon, but once that’s done, my space will be all set.

Grace’s office, on the other hand, is already set.

A statement in black and white with gold accents, Grace’s office screams “sophisticated professional.” There’s no doubt that this is the boss’s space. Black textured wallpaper with repeating geometric white—or pale gold—designs are a vivid contrast against wide snow-white baseboards, a snow-white ceiling, and white accessories. Large gold frames hold small, simple black and white pictures surrounded by white matting creating dramatic artwork that accents the color scheme. Spherical gold lamps with white shades mimic a spherical light fixture in the ceiling. The lamps sit symmetrically on either end of a black credenza against the back wall which holds and hides the printer, fax, files and various necessary supplies behind black lattice doors.

On the wall between the lamps is a small, round mirror in a large black frame with gold piping and resting on the credenza under the mirror is what looks like just the bust of an ancient buddha—although I could be wrong about the statue—strategically placed on books used as a podium. The design is simple… and genius!

A simple black desk with three gray marble inlaid panels sits on a deliberately misshapen white area rug. Two large leather chairs with silver trim tacks face the desk while a black leather desk chair—also with silver tacks—sits behind the desk. A small glass and gold cocktail table is placed between the two large leather chairs and the oversized window, also painted white to contrast against the black wallpaper, is covered with simple black wooden blinds.

And that’s the whole office.

It’s on quite the opposite spectrum of my large, two-room, earth-toned in search of Zen oasis. I’m beginning to feel like I may have overdone it, but I’m going to listen to Grace and not second-guess myself. I had a concept in mind and I should at least attempt to achieve it before I start shooting it down.

This was truly a long time coming for us both. We sank so much money into modernizing the rest of the areas in the Center to make them not only functional, but comfortable and inviting, that we completely avoided our own workspaces. It wasn’t until I looked around the room and realized that it looked like an office at a detention center rather than a space where someone would want to come and talk and pour out their fears and problems that I understood why even I was so confused in this place.

As my furniture and accessories continue to stream in and I slowly begin to see my office take shape, my fears are calmed as I see my vision coming to life. I was sidetracked by the sleek lines and bold direction of Grace’s office and completely forgot my intention for this space.

Make no mistake—creating a Zen office space is no easy task. You want the room to have the feeling of relaxation, where someone can come and pour their heart out of they need to, or just be able to come in and sit down and shoot the breeze. You want to have a place of solace, where peace and nature meet functional and professional. That’s where the problem lies, because I need a combination of both to be functional in this space while reshaping my life and mind to the place I need to be able to handle the changes in my life.

So…

My office really has become two distinct areas.

I have more room and more flexibility to play with at home whereas here, I only have this space. The office space will be delineated from the gray Zen sitting area by a “wall” of bamboo. However, the pale yellow wasn’t giving me the vibe that I wanted when I stopped by yesterday morning to see the progress. So, I made the swift executive decision to change it to a soft tan with an imitation raised stone accent wall and offered a bonus if it was done fast and right.

They had it finished by day’s end yesterday.

And I love the result. It’s earthier than the yellow and the accent wall is perfect opposite the bamboo “wall” and the gray textured wallpaper on the other side of the office and against the tongue-and-groove bamboo floor.

I went for the minimalist tan furniture in this space, something that makes the space functional but takes advantage of the new openness of the office. I was never at a loss for natural light, but the gray, metal desk and older black leather chair with worn bookshelves and an area rug from the prehistoric era screamed that we were on a budget. Not only that, but the meddling department head and her sidekick investigator who made my life hell are no longer a concern for how money is being spent. So, I don’t have to account for the funds used to deck out my office… even though I’m spending my own money.

The furniture is already set, but I want to adjust a few things to suit me better and I have a lot of little boxes that need to be unpacked. I need to get my files, books, supplies and necessities organized in the credenza, bookshelves and small cabinets…

And where’s Marilyn? She’s usually here by now.

I start by turning my desk around. It’s fairly large with lots of surface space, but it’s nothing more than four legs and a top with a computer stand attachment that I’ll most likely use for books or a speaker or a salt lamp or something since I don’t have a computer tower.

“What are you doing?” Courtney asks from the doorway.

“Arranging my office. Have you seen Marilyn?” She shakes her head.

“Not this morning… Chuck!” she yells down the hallway.

“Yeah?” I hear him call back, accompanied by the sound of his soles clicking quickly down the hallway.

“Slow down, killer, nothin’s on fire,” she says. His steps pause but resume more slowly. “Your boss is in here moving furniture and if she sprains a fingernail or something, Mr. Moneybags is going to be looking for blood. So, can we get her some help?”

Sprains a fingernail…

“You’re such a bitch,” I say to her and Chuck laughs.

“And yet, you still love me,” she says imitating awe before turning back to Chuck. “Help for the princess please?” she reinforces.

“I’m not a princess,” I declare haughtily while brushing off my desk. “I’m a Butterfly.” Courtney dramatically covers her chest and gasps.

“My apologies!” she exclaims. “Assistance for the Butterfly, sir, which is much more significant and delicate than a princess!” she says sarcastically. Chuck shakes his head.

“Give me two minutes,” he says pointing to me, “and don’t move anything else.”

“Sir, yes sir!” I say with a salute. He rolls his eyes and disappears from the doorway. I turn my attention back to Courtney. “Well, since you halted my progress, come on in here and help me organize some of this shit.”

Courtney helps me begin to organize while Chuck and two other gentlemen that he enlists adjust the furniture the way that I want. As it turns out, Chuck is very good at hanging artwork and I have several pictures—some Zen settings and butterflies—that he proceeds to arrange and hang for me. Courtney and I go about the business of opening several boxes of décor including Feng Shui crystals, carved hands holding sodalite and citrine clusters, and Himalayan salt lamps.

There are two bookshelves in my office. One will be reserved for books and whatnot, the other will be filled with the Zen and Feng Shui décor I’ve picked out, along with any other items I acquire, like the bonsai trees that are forthcoming. There are also jade plants and ficus plants scattered around the room along with some clustered bamboo here and there.

We get most of the décor situated and start to clean up the packaging now overtaking my office when Marilyn comes rushing into the room. She doesn’t look like she’s gotten much sleep—and it’s not the I got fucked all night look that she’s sporting.

“I’m…” she begins, pauses, and starts again. “I’m sorry… I’m late,” she says. I know something’s wrong, but I don’t want to out her in front of a room full of people.

“Is everything alright? Are you alright?” I ask, trying not to be too probing. She shakes her head, then nods, trying to wave me off.

“I’m… I’m just late,” she says, not making eye-contact with me. She’s never been late—not once, in all the years that she’s worked for me.

I don’t want to pry, but I‘m gonna… just not in front of all these people.

“We’re just starting to clean up, then I was going to get to unpacking and organizing my files and things.” Marilyn nods.

“I’ll start that,” she says. “Just let me look around a bit… get a feel for things.”

“Okay,” I say, and she begins to examine the area. Courtney throws me a “what the hell” look and I just shrug. I’m going to ask what the deal is, just not in front of everyone.

We get what seems like a million little boxes, packing peanuts, Styrofoam, plastic, and bubble wrap, all cleaned up and out to the dumpster and Marilyn has gotten my books, files, and supplies organized in no time flat. She knows how I like for things to be and it was easy for her to put each thing it its place. She even rearranged a ficus plant or two because she knows that bonsai trees are on the way. I thank everyone for their help and discreetly shoo them out of the room. Marilyn falls into one of the chairs in the sitting area.

“I like the bamboo wall,” she says, pulling her hair out of her face. “Was that a last-minute decision?” I nod.

“Yeah, along with the color-change and the imitation stone,” I say, taking the seat to her right. My Zen area really feels Zen. It makes you want to kick back and sip iced tea or something, and the soothing sound of the water flowing in the Chakra fountain lulls you into comfort and peace.

“Oh… okay, that’s what’s different. It was yellow before.”

“Yep,” I say, trying not to push. She sighs.

“So, I guess I’m going to be your first discussion in your new office,” she says. I don’t reply. “I’m late.”

“We’ve established that,” I say. “You can’t be this distracted about being late. You look like you haven’t gotten any sleep.”

“That’s because I haven’t,” she says matter-of-factly.

“So, you’re late because you haven’t gotten any sleep?” I ask. “It happens, Mare. You’re not chronically tardy. Hell, I don’t even remember the last time you took a sick day.” She laughs mirthlessly.

“No, Ana,” she says. “I’m late because I didn’t get any sleep. I didn’t get any sleep because I’m late.”

I’m frowning. It appears the we have a horse pulling a cart with another horse behind it.

“I’m confused,” I admit. Marilyn leans forward and puts her elbows on her knees.

“I’m late, Ana,” she says clearly. “Not tardy, late… like a week late.”

A week late? What the fuck? A week late for what?

Like a water balloon splatting in your face, I finally get what she’s talking about.

1-11

“Oh, shit!” I whisper. “Wow… um, okay. So… um… what does this mean?”

“I don’t know,” she says, falling back in her chair again. “Like you said, I’ve never been late. Twelve years, and you could set Big Ben by my cycle and now…” She scrubs her eyes.

“Have you talked to Gary?” She nods.

“He’s ecstatic at the very idea of a baby,” she says, but her tone and the fact that she’s not making eye-contact with me speaks volumes.

“But you’re not,” I observe. A single tear falls from her eye.

“I’m 25, Ana,” she says, her voice cracking. “I know this is the prime age for women to start having children, but I don’t even know if I want that. I want to do so much and see so much. Even though I can’t see my life without Gary, we never talked about happily ever after and raising kids. And even if we were to have that conversation, I certainly didn’t want it to happen this soon. We’re so young…”

The Bitch is shaking her head. She has things that she wants to say, but I’m telling her to shut the hell up. It’s truly time for Shrink Ana.

“Could this be a mistake?” I ask. “Stress or something? What kind of contraception do you use?”

“I’m not under any stress,” she answers. “We use birth control pills and condoms. And I’d bet my last dime this isn’t a mistake. I know my body. I know something’s not right.”

This truly seems like a tragedy for Marilyn. Her tears, her defeated body language, her totally broken tone all indicate that this is probably the last thing that she wants in her life right now.

And Gary’s over the moon about it.

“So… I guess you need to decide what you’re going to do about the situation,” I say gingerly. “I mean… have you taken a pregnancy test?”

“Ana,” she sighs, “I can guarantee you that’s just a formality.”

“Women are late all the time for any number of reasons,” I try to soothe.

“I’m pregnant,” she says. “I don’t know how far, but I’m pregnant. I’m not paranoid. I’m not jumping the gun. I’m willing to bet right now that if I pissed on a stick, it would change colors.” I sigh.

“So, why haven’t you pissed on a stick yet?” I ask. She rolls her eyes.

“Foolish procrastination,” she replies, “like if I don’t see a positive pregnancy test, I don’t have to deal with it yet; like I can pretend it’s not true…”

Foolish procrastination is right.

“And you don’t need me to point out the dangers of make believe right now, right?” I say, somewhat scolding. She glares at me. “I’m just saying,” I defend. “You’ve got a decision to make, Mare, and procrastinating is going to make it harder.”

She simply shakes her head and drops her gaze to her fidgeting hands.

“You don’t want to have a baby right now.” It’s a statement, not a question. Marilyn shakes her head. I open my phone and start the voice recorder. Like it or not, this is a session, sweetie. “Tell me all the reasons why…”

Marilyn begins to tearfully rattle off all the reasons she doesn’t want to have a baby right now. She has lots of things that she wants to do that she can’t do with a “kid on her hip.” She loves Gary but, like she said, they never talked about forever and she doesn’t want to end up a single parent raising a child. She’s not ready for any of the mental, physical, or emotional implications associated with being a mother. She never even considered if she wanted to have children because she has so many other plans. All her reasons are solid reasons for not wanting to have a baby, except…

“Have you considered adoption?” I ask, and I know it’s a mistake the moment I say it because even if she had, Gary wouldn’t agree to it. Then, there’s the implications of what this all means for their relationship.

“You’re kidding, right?” she snaps. “Put my body through that for nine months nurture and care for something inside of me for nine whole months to give it away have we met?” And I’ve clearly pissed her off. She said that without even taking a breath. “Are you going to try to shove some pro-life shit down my throat?”

Now, I’m a little pissed.

“I don’t know how to take that, Marilyn,” I retort. “I realize that you’re in a confusing place right now and I’m not trying to make it worse, but the fact that I had my twins because I was ready, I’m married, and it’s a good time for me does not make my decision pro-life shit!” I say those words a little more harshly than I intend, and it somewhat snaps her out of her temporary anger. I take a deep breath before I continue.

“I am 100% in favor of a woman making a decision about what she’s going to do with her body,” I say, my voice softening, “but while you’re in this state of mind, be careful not to throw spears at someone that aren’t necessary. You have a very tough decision ahead of you and I am not the enemy.” There’s silence between us for a moment.

“Now, let’s get back on track. You’ve given me several solid reasons why you don’t want to have a baby right now. Yet, you clearly haven’t made the cut and dried decision to go through with a termination or you would have gotten some sleep last night. So, tell me, what are the factors that are pushing you in the other direction? Her eyes fill with tears again.

“Killing a baby, to begin with,” she says. I could have the medical versus moral conversation with her about the fetus just being a glob of cells at the moment versus the life begins at conception theory. However, I don’t think that would be helpful right now. We’re having a whole ass case in Henderson based on that second concept and my pregnancy with that monster Cody Whitmore, even though I would have gotten an abortion one way or another if I found out that I was pregnant with that bastard’s spawn.

Marilyn tells me about her highly religious parents and her upbringing; the fact that she’s carrying a life inside of her and that she was taught that God is the only one who has control over life and death. This theory conflicts with what she has learned from her secular experiences—that it is her body first and she has the option to decide what she’s going to do with it. Does she ignore “God’s Will” and terminate the pregnancy, or does she follow through with her teachings and have the child, knowing that she’s not ready for one?

And then there’s Gary.

What will this do to their relationship? She loves him, and she knows that he wants to keep the baby. Most of the night was spent mulling over the situation with him looking at or touching her stomach more than once. She could have the baby, but she would be having it more for him than for herself. What kind of mother would that make her? Could she learn to love the baby, or would she be resentful towards the child because she was forced to have it against her will in order to keep her man? And what happens if they break up? There’s the whole custody thing and having to care for a child she really wasn’t sure she wanted to keep in the first place.

I don’t want to sway her in one direction or the other, but the choice seems pretty clear to me.

“I want you to hear something,” I tell her as I end the voice recording. I begin to play it back, trying to find the correct location of our conversation.

“You recorded me??” she asks horrified. I raise my glare to her.

“Stop acting new, Marilyn,” I retort. “You know damn well that I record all my sessions, and this is a session. I’m your friend, but you clearly need my professional help. Now shut up and listen.”

I get to the part where she begins to talk about the reasons that she doesn’t feel like now is the right time to have a baby—the plans that she has, the things she wants to do, uncertainty about the future and her feelings about being a mother. I stop the playback.

“Everything I heard right there is all about you—what you want, how you feel, what you’re thinking about the future, your body. Now, listen to this one.”

With a little effort, I locate the portion of the recording where we discuss not having the baby and the repercussions of that decision.

“Listen to what you’re saying,” I say as the recording ends. “You’re talking about how your parents would feel, how Gary would feel—how he kept cooing at your stomach and that you felt like you would be having the baby for him. The only feelings you identify is probable love and likely resentment. I’m not trying to make your decision for you, but that doesn’t sound like a woman who’s ready to have a child to me.”

“God,” she breathes, “I sound so selfish…”

“And guess what, Mare? It’s okay to be selfish. We’re talking about your future, your life, and how you’re choosing to spend it. If you feel that you’re going to be okay having a child and being a mom, then that’s your choice. But… if you feel that you’re not going to be okay with that decision, that being a parent right now is not for you, that’s your choice, too. No matter which decision you make, it’s going to have to be selfish but consider this.

“When you didn’t know that you were being recorded and you rattled off how you really felt, one of those decisions was all about you, how this would affect your life. The other was all about somebody else—what other people would think of you, how your decision would affect someone else. That will certainly foster resentment in the future. You’re going to sit back and dream about all the things you could’ve done—even things you had no intention of doing whatsoever—will all be that baby’s fault because you could’ve done it before you became a mom.

“I’m going to leave you with final thoughts, because like I said, I’m not trying to sway you in one direction or the other. I’m simply giving you the facts. One, everything you do will have consequences. If you decide to keep the baby, you’re going to have consequences attached to that decision. If you decide to terminate the pregnancy, you’re going to have consequences related to that decision as well. You’re going to have to decide which of those consequences you’re willing to deal with.

Second, you can’t live your life trying to satisfy someone else. Yes, you’re going to have to consider other people’s feelings, but all parties involved including you must realize that you are not the only parties involved.

“And third, make no mistake, Marilyn. I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you. Pregnancy is seven to nine months of hell on your body and mind with a few highlights thrown in. When it’s all said and done, if you decide that you’re ready to be a mom and you go into it with your whole heart, it’ll be worth it. If not, every single little adverse thing that happens to you will be Gary’s fault or that baby’s fault and trust me. When you can’t see your feet, you need help sitting and standing, and breathing sometimes becomes a task, a cloudy day will seem like an adverse thing.” She drops her head in her hands.

“You didn’t help, Ana,” she laments.

“Yes, Marilyn, I did,” I challenge. “I gave you some insight that you didn’t have before and I put your feelings in front of you—in your face in black and white. I just didn’t give you a cut-and-dried answer. You’re the only one who has that. Now, go take a damn pregnancy test. Do you want me to come with you?”

“No, I can manage a pregnancy test on my own,” she pouts. “Jesus, this is just so fucking much…” There’s a knock at my door that interrupts our session. Marilyn rises from her seat and dries her face.

“Good,” she sighs. “I’ve really had enough of this conversation for today.” She goes to the door and swings it open before I can stop her.

“Hi,” someone says from the other side. “I’m… looking for Anastasia. Am I interrupting?”

“No, you’ve come to the right place and you’re not interrupting. You are…?” Marilyn pauses.

“Harmony,” she says. “Harmony Franklin. I was supposed to call, but I was in the area, so…” She trails off. I rise from my chair and go to the door.

“Harmony,” I say, recognizing her from Mia’s wedding. “Tina’s daughter, right?” She smiles.

“Uh, yeah,” she says, smiling. “I was hoping… we could chat.”

“Certainly,” I say. “Come in.” Marilyn opens the door and gestures Harmony inside.

“I’m, uh, going to…” Marilyn gestures outside the door, trying to make a getaway.

“No problem, Mare,” I say letting her off the hook. “We’ll talk later?” She nods and gives me the okay sign before leaving. I turn my attention to Harmony.

“Please, have a seat,” I tell her, gesturing to the sitting area.

“It’s lovely in here,” she says, taking a seat.

“I just redid it,” I tell her. “It looked like a warden’s office before. I used my own money, so we wouldn’t put any financial stress on the Center.”

“It’s very… Zen,” she says. I chuckle.

“That’s what I was going for,” I say. “So, Harmony, let’s chat.”  Harmony sighs.

“Mom is on hospice,” she says, sadly. I gasp.

“I’m sorry, Harmony,” I reply. She shakes her head.

“She prepared me,” she says. “We knew it was coming. I’m trying to be strong, but…” She turns her head away and wipes away a tear. I reach over and take her hand.

“Is there anything I can do?” I say. She nods quickly.

“Give me a task,” she says, her voice cracking. “I’m in school and this stuff is second nature to me. I’ve already quit my job because I thought school was going to be harder than it is. That was only the case because of my asshole husband, which is another problem…”

Her husband is still a problem while she’s in school and taking care of her dying mother?

“Anyway, we just got the news today that… things have taken a turn for the very worst. Mom knows it’s all downhill from here, so she made me swear that I would fill my time and not sit and watch her die.” Her voice cracks even more. I frown.

“Okay,” I say.

“The thing is… I can keep part of that promise. I can find something to fill my time, but I’m not deserting my mother. No matter what she says, I’ll be damned if I let her die alone.” My heart smiles inside and breaks at the same time. I don’t really like Carla, but I don’t want to sit and watch her die, either.

“So, how do you plan to balance this?” I say. “You may know your course work very well, but it’s going to be hard enough trying to concentrate while you’re caring for your ailing mother. You want another task?”

“Nothing too strenuous,” she says. “I don’t want an internship, like Courtney. I think that may be too much for me right now…”

“Well, Courtney’s not an intern,” I correct her. “She just kind of does what she can do around here. She’s a Jane of All Trades, so to speak. If you’d like to come and volunteer, get some insight while you’re here, of course we don’t mind, and when you’re ready for an internship, we can work that out, too. But don’t bite off more than you can chew. Tina’s going to need you right now, and it’s imperative that you make sure that she understands how important it is to you to be by her side during this time. She’ll resist at first, but don’t give up, okay?”

Harmony sniffles a few times and wipes her eyes. I hand her a few tissues from my new tissue box. I bought it at first because it matched the décor—a wooden China box. Now I see I’m probably going to need it. Two people bawling like babies in the last twenty minutes… and the office just got finished!

“Harmony, do you mind me prying a bit?” I ask. She dries her eyes.

“I don’t mind,” she says. “It’s nice to have someone to talk to.” I frown.

“The rest of the family doesn’t talk to you?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“They’re all too busy with their lives,” she says. “Then, when Mom dies, they’ll all be at the reading of the will with their smelling salts and their handkerchiefs waiting to see what their cut of her estate is.” She shakes her head. “I don’t even care about the money, the property, none of it. The only thing I care about is how my lousy husband is behaving with all this.”

“That’s one of the things I wanted to ask you,” I say. “You said that your husband is a problem. I thought you two were divorced.”

Getting divorced,” she says. “He got wind that I came home after I left him to take care of my ailing mother. So, he’s holding up the divorce and waiting for her to die so that he can get half of my share of her inheritance.” My eyes widen.

“You can’t be serious!” I exclaim. She nods.

“I wish I wasn’t,” she reinforces. “It’s not that I want to keep the money for myself. Believe me when I tell you that it’s not important to me—I’d rather have Mom, but he doesn’t deserve any of it.”

And now, I’m sitting here wondering if there’s any way to prevent him from getting it.

“What does your attorney say?” I ask.

“Oh, I’m in the process of getting a new attorney,” she says. “I discovered after I filed for divorce that my attorney and my husband had history—history that clearly made this case a conflict of interest for him, but he failed to tell me. As such, my husband has known every single move I’ve made since I filed for divorce.” I shake my head.

“My best friend might be able to help you,” I tell her. “I’ll ask him. He’s GEH’s corporate attorney, but he was my best friend first.” She shrugs.

“Ana, I’m ready to let the guy have whatever he wants as long as it’ll get him out of my life.” I wag a finger at her.

“Don’t say that out loud,” I say. “If there’s a legal way around this, Al will find it…” and if there isn’t, I’ll consult my husband. I can’t stand it when unscrupulous men take advantage of women in vulnerable positions—or vice versa for that matter. My mind immediately goes to the fucking Pedophile and a gorgeous but misguided 15-year-old Christian Grey.

But I digress.

“My other question, if you don’t mind me asking, is about Tina. Honestly, I was just wondering about… the age factor. She seems a bit advanced in years to have a twenty-something-year-old daughter.” Harmony laughs faintly.

“You wouldn’t be the first person to ask that question,” she says. “It’s a long story, but I’ve perfected the short version. The quick and dirty—I’m adopted. The small detail—I am blood. Mom is biologically my great-grandmother. My bio-mom—piece of shit that she is—was looking for a way to secure the Franklin name. Her intention was to trap my dad—slacker that he is. Obviously, it didn’t work out that way. He wanted nothing to do with her, or me at the time.

“She held out hope that he would see the err of his ways once I was born, but he didn’t. She got her wish with the blood test proving that he was my father, but she wanted more than that, and she didn’t want a baby. So, I got dropped off at the ER just before my first birthday and the Baby Moses Law kicked in. When the powers that be sought out dear old Dad, he went to G-Ma since his mother had since passed away and the maternal grandmother obviously didn’t give a fuck either.

“Long story short, Mom pulled me out of the system before they had the chance to ship me to parts unknown and here I am. Unfortunately, I had “Mommy and Daddy didn’t want me” issues because even though Mom is the kindest and most loving woman you’ll ever meet in your life, bio-Dad wasn’t discreet enough to let sleeping dogs lie and let the cat out of the bag at a family gathering in one of his drunken stupors when I was eight years old.” She shrugs.

“I was a kid, but I wasn’t stupid. My mother was over 70 years old. It didn’t take rocket science to figure it out, but I didn’t need the gory details before I even turned 10.” She sighs. “I made a few bad decisions as a teenager—nothing really horrendous, but enough to cause Mom more than a little grief. In trying to understand why my mother, father, and grandmother didn’t want me, I was constantly looking for love in all the wrong places and eventually fell into the clutches of my estranged husband… who I now discover wants nothing more than a piece of the Franklin rock. Thank God I didn’t have any kids with that bastard.

“All this time, he thought Franklin money was my money. It’s not—it’s Mom’s money. She dictates where that money goes, and she saw through him the minute she met him. I was just fine with her stipulation that he prove that he could take care of me before she releases any of her money to me because I thought I loved him and I thought he loved me. As time progressed and he realized that he wasn’t getting any of that money, he became a real asshole. He wouldn’t touch me, he cheated on me, he belittled me…

“When I moved back home with Mom, he filed for divorce and asked for spousal support. The judge laughed in his face. Not only were we not married long enough for him to make such a demand, but also the money that he was trying to lay claim to wasn’t even mine and never came into play in our relationship. If anything, he’d owe me spousal support had enough time passed because Mom was paying my way through college… I wasn’t even working. So, he and his ridiculous request were both kicked to the curb. As a result, he keeps delaying the proceedings with hopes that Mom will kick over and I’ll get some money that he can lay claim to once she’s gone.” I nod.

“I’ll talk to Al today, see if there’s anything that can be done since we know this is what he’s doing.” I stand from my chair. “In the meantime, I can show you around if you like and you can see what we do. Then you can decide what you’d like to do while you’re here.”

Harmony smiles, stands, and falls in step with me. I show her around the community spaces, where we plan on having our classes, and the nursery where I check in on my babies before I head to the dorms to introduce her to some of the families there.

The day feels like it was never going to end. First, Marilyn and her pregnancy dilemma and now Harmony having to deal with Tina’s impending passing and her rat-bastard of a greedy, conniving ass husband. Al was only too thrilled to talk to her when I explain the situation to him. He’s no divorce attorney, so he has to look into how the law works in this particular situation. He’s fairly certain that there’s something in asset law that protects her, but I’m afraid that the law may be too slow with a resolution with Tina in hospice and so close to death’s door.

I’m so beat down when I get home that I send my babies off with the nannies for their evening feeding and head to my bathroom and a soak in my luscious marble tub. I grab the first bath soap I see and discover upon filling the tub that it’s vanilla cinnamon. No matter—I just need to soak. I drop my clothes right there on the floor and sink into the tub before it has even finished filling.


CHRISTIAN

“Christian! Are you crazy?” Jason declares, throwing all decorum out the window.

“No, Jason, I’m not,” I reply. “I’m in no hurry to die, but I don’t fear death. What I’m not going to do is get in the car with this man so that he can do what he wants, then drop me in parts unknown where my wife can’t even find or identify me. I don’t know why he’s here, but if he wants to shoot me, he has to do it right here in public.”

Aragon examines me and crosses his hands in front of him.

“You’ve got guts, Mr. Grey,” he says. “My employer could have used someone like you in his organization… before you made your billions, that is. But you’re also quite paranoid. I’m only here to talk.”

“You could have called,” I retort. “You didn’t have to come across the country. Did you find that asshole?” I ask, referring to Myrick.

“Not yet, but we will,” he says confidently.

“Then, I don’t see that we have anything to discuss,” I say.

“Oh, but we do, Mr. Grey. If I could have but a moment of your time…”

“Then say what you have to say and leave,” I reply. “I’m already late getting home to my family and I’m certain that I’ll have little if any interest in anything that you have to say unless you’re here to tell me that fucker is dead.” He clears his throat.

“Concise and to the point, I see,” he says, closing a bit of the space between us, his goon close behind him. “Mr. Grey, if I was looking to cause you any harm, the deed would’ve been done by now, and neither that bulletproof vest or that gun that you have stashed inside its holster would have saved you.”

This fucking son-of-a… I know that I should feel some kind of alarm or something dealing with this guy as he fucking followed me all the way back from Michigan, but for some reason, I’m just not afraid of him right now—him or his boss who likes to send severed private parts to loved ones.

“I see that your business isn’t important enough for you to speak your piece. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m leaving.” I turn to go back into the building and see that Alex has joined our entourage, and he looks none too pleased with the development.

“Should I follow you to your home, Mr. Grey?” Aragon interjects as I reach for the door. “Would you be more comfortable discussing the matter there?” Oh, this fucker has real balls. I’m getting angrier and angrier by the second and although I can tell that Jason is trying to tell me something with his eyes, I whirl back around on this fucker.

“Mr. Aragon are you deliberately trying to piss me off?” I ask. “Because that’s all your tactic is doing at the present and nothing to sway me to speak to you.”

“I’m not concerned about pissing you off, Mr. Grey,” he replies calmly. “My only intent is to speak to you, and I won’t be doing it here on the sidewalk. We can do this in my vehicle or in your living room. The choice is yours.” Jason leans in to my ear before I can respond.

“First floor conference room,” he says. Home turf and every possible failsafe imaginable.

“I have a third option, and only at the coaxing of my security team,” I say. “The conference room on this floor of my building. It’s that, or you can follow me home and explain to the Seattle Police why you’re following me. I really don’t care which. Take it or leave it.”

I have a feeling that Aragon and his boss aren’t the slightest bit concerned about the local police, but they would much rather avoid the attention nonetheless. Aragon purses his lips. His business is built on fear and respect and at the moment, I feel neither. I want to know why the fuck he’s at my business giving me ultimatums about speaking to him or he’ll show up at my doorstep. He nods once.

“Lead the way, Mr. Grey.” Without hesitation, I turn around and walk into the building. I don’t look left or right as I stride into the conference room with my security flanking me all around. Since he’s fully aware of the bulletproof vest and gun on my person, I remove my coat and jacket and throw it across the chair—I’m burning the fuck up in this shit.

“Would you mind removing your armor, Mr. Grey?” Aragon says. “It gives an air of mistrust and it’s kind of rude.” He takes a seat at the far end of the conference table. I scoff at him.

“You’ve got a lot of fucking nerve,” I reply. “You come to my business uninvited at the end of the workday and threaten that if I don’t take a ride with you, you’ll show up at my damn doorstep with my family, and you’ve got the gall to talk about mistrust and being rude? I don’t trust you for shit and I don’t give a fuck about being rude. You and your guy have a clear shot between my eyes. State your business.”

His jaw twitches and I can see that he’s getting irritated with me. I’m done sparring with him—say what you have to say. I want you out of here in the worst way.

“Temper can be a deadly thing, Mr. Grey,” he cautions. I don’t respond. I stand there looking at him like I’m waiting for him to get to the point… because I am.

“You should take a seat, Mr. Grey. It will make the atmosphere less tense.”

I still don’t respond, and I don’t move to sit. Get to the point, Skippy.

“You make conducting business very difficult,” he says.

“Is that what you came here to say?” I ask succinctly.

“I would be glad to tell you the purpose of my business if you would kindly take a seat,” he coerces.

“Is that what you came here to tell me?” I ask again. No more discussion, Aragon. Get to the point.

“I have an important message for you and you’re making it extremely difficult for me to deliver it.” And that’s strike three.

“Please get Seattle Police on the line,” I say to the guard standing closest to me as I reach for my jacket. “Let them know that I’m on my way home and I’m being followed by a late model black Mercedes and give them the license plate number.” I put my jacket on and reach for my coat.

“Yes, sir,” he says as he heads for the door,

“That won’t be necessary,” Aragon says firmly. The guard turns around and Jason signals him. He stands by the door. Aragon clears his throat. Having lost the position of power he never had from the beginning of this meeting, he shifts the focus to Sunset.

“My employer would like me to relay to you that the next time you feel so inclined to visit Detroit, you let him know in advance,” he says. I slowly turn my gaze to Alex and Jason.

“Is he serious?” I say, bemused. Neither gentleman reacts. I turn back to Aragon.

“No,” I say flatly. “Anything else?” His brow furrows.

“I urge you to exercise caution in your reply, Mr. Grey,” Aragon warns. “Mr. Russo does not take kindly to rejection.”

“I exercise caution in all things, Mr. Aragon, but one thing that never motivates me is fear. I know that your boss is a very powerful man, and I won’t begin to pretend to wield the same level of power that he does, but I don’t kowtow to threats—ever. If he was so resourceful to know that I was in Detroit, he can be just as resourceful and find out why. However, I am an international business man, and I will not now nor will I ever ask for permission to travel or check in with someone because I’m going to be visiting a town they live in. I’m not on parole, I’m not a part of the syndicate, and I don’t partake in any illegal activities… usually.” I add that part after remembering that I actively kidnapped three men last year and I’m still not aware of their current whereabouts, nor do I care.

“You can tell your boss that whatever microchip he has secretly planted in my skull or whatever Big Brother technology he’s using to track my movements, he can continue to use those. I don’t punch a timeclock and I’m not about to start clearing checkpoints for him.” Now Aragon stands.

“I must implore you, Mr. Grey. Mr. Russo will not be pleased with your response. He’s not a man that you want to make an enemy. In fact, he can be a valuable ally for you,” he adds. “He’s very good at making problems… disappear.” I just bet he is.

“No offense to your boss, but the only problem I’m really interested in him making disappear is that thorn in our mutual sides, and only if your boss sees him first because I will not hesitate to send that man to meet his fucking maker immediately upon identification.” He straightens his jacket.

“Just as he can be a valuable ally, he can also be a formidable adversary,” he warns. I cross my arms.

“I have no ought with your boss, but I owe him nothing, and I’m not going to gain clearance every time I want to come to Detroit.”

“It’s a matter of respect, Mr. Grey,” he insists.

“It’s a way to make me bow, Mr. Aragon, and we all know that,” I correct him. “I’m not in Detroit often because I can’t stand that place or what it represents in my life. However, when I must visit, I will not ask your boss’s permission to enter my hometown. I’m not a mafia boss; this is not a turf war; and I’m not invading his territory. You may say that this is a matter of respect for your boss, but for me, it’s a matter of dignity. If you’re watching me that closely, you know that I was only there to tie up loose ends for my deceased family, and if your boss expects me to kowtow to him for that, like I said, shoot me now.”

I’m done, and I don my coat to show that this conversation is effectively over. Aragon glares at me and walks to the door.

“I’ll relay your message to my employer,” he says, it’s clearly a warning.

“You do that,” I retort, “and I’ll get my affairs in order…” Aragon glares at me, bemused. “Just in case,” I add. He rolls his eyes and leaves the room. Jason immediately starts talking into his earpiece.

“Have you had your eye on the parking structure all this time?… Good, do a scan of all the vehicles. Start with the Fords. Let me know when three of them are clear.” He turns to me. “Jesus, Christian, you gotta be careful dealing with men like that,” Jason warns and Alex nods.

“I was careful,” I inform them, “I just wasn’t a worm, and I’m not going to be, ever. Once you find yourself indebted to or under the thumb of a man like that, you’ll never get out.”

“You were fucking daring him to take you out!” he retorts. “You have a family to be concerned about,” Jason continues.

“Yep, and if he touches my family, I swear to God that I will bring his empire down brick by brick, even if I have to use my dying breath to do it. Now, do you have any more cautions for me or can we go home?”

“Not until we clear the cars,” Jason says. “People who cross men like that end up dead in gutters, Christian,” he insists.

“Or having body parts mailed to their loved ones,” Alex reinforces. And yet, with all his power and resources, he can’t find the one man who could bring down his entire empire and put him in jail for the rest of his life. Excuse me if I don’t share your fear and anxiety.

“Well, then we’ll keep our eyes open and hope that doesn’t happen. In the meantime, I refuse to kowtow to this asshole—not because this is a power play and I’m the great Christian Grey, but because I’m an adult and I won’t ask for anyone’s permission to travel where I damn well please unless it’s a matter of national security. Now, you have voiced your concerns and they are duly noted. This conversation is over.”

“Christian…” Jason begins, and I throw a look at him that indicates that if he says another word about this situation, he might lose his job. He puts his hands up in surrender and silently leaves the room. Alex doesn’t bother continuing the conversation.

“Stay with the boss until it’s safe to leave,” he tells the two guards left behind, who nod at him just as he’s leaving the room.

*-*

I smell cinnamon… and something sugary. Vanilla, I think.

Jason made me leave the vest and the Glock behind when we left Grey House so as not to frighten Butterfly when I arrived home. It was a terrible fit anyway. A good shot could have hit me in the liver and ended it all.

I toss my coat, jacket, and vest into my dressing room and undo my tie. Having commandeered a snifter of brandy before coming upstairs, I take a seat in my wife’s sitting room in the dark and look out the French doors over the lake.

I’m not afraid to die, but I don’t want anything to happen to my wife and children either. That asshole threatened to come to my home and all I could think of was to prevent him from doing that by any means necessary. If the threat of police intervention didn’t work, I was ready for a full-on shoot-out if necessary.

Now, the thought of the entire thing is sobering.

I’m still not afraid, and I’m sure that I won’t kowtow to his kind, but I must consider my wife and kids. I take a healthy sip of the brandy and allow it to burn a trek down my throat. I was being sarcastic when I said that I would get my affairs in order, but do I really want to be breathing my last? I take another swallow of the brandy… then another…

“Christian?”

I turn to see my wife wrapped in a bath blanket, her hair tied up in a bun to keep it from getting wet. Her voice is truly like music right now and the sight of her soothes and excites me at the same time. I rise from my seat and stalk over to her.

“Are you alright?” she asks as I close the space between us.

“I am now,” I reply, my voice husky as I slide one arm around her waist and pull her to me, closing my lips over hers. She groans softly, and I drop the brandy snifter, unaware that there’s still brandy in the glass. It doesn’t break, but brandy spills on the floor and splashes about a bit. She turns to see what fell.

“Leave it,” I command, my voice thick with my need for her as I take her lips once more, probing her mouth with my tongue and undoing my belt and fly at the same time. I back her into our bedroom and lift her onto the bed. Making quick work of everything but my shirt, I remove her towel and crawl into the bed over her.

I’m starving for her, the thought of losing her fueling my need to feel her, to bury myself inside of her until I can think of nothing else. I want to taste her, but I feel as if I don’t have time. My cock is so swollen, so hard, hot, and hungry for her…

I climb on top of her and roll us over with her on top so that her legs fall open on either side of my hips. I spread them wider and my shaft finds its way right to my happy place without any coaxing. She gasps as I breach the opening of her core, her skin still wet from her bath. Fuck, she smells delicious and I could just climb right up into her… which is exactly what I try to do.

I use my legs and my hips to push up into her, slowly and deeply. I groan with each deep stroke and she seems not to know what to do with her hands. I stretch her right arm up by the side of my head and reach across her back with my left hand and grab her left hand, pulling it behind her and pinning her flat to my body.

I’ve got you now.

She whimpers as I taste the skin of her cheek and neck, squeezing her thigh with my right hand and holding it up onto my hip so that I can push as far into her as my cock will go in this position. The friction is so hot and so tight, and my dick is so fucking engorged that I can barely get it halfway into her tight little core, but fuck, that deep, slow stroke is so intense that it even feels good only halfway.

“God! Christian!” she whispers, her body at my mercy. I release her thigh and thrust my hand into her hair, guiding her mouth to mine. She moans low and deep as I love her, kissing her sensually so that she feels it everywhere.

I release her hand and put my hand on her neck, my fingers splayed across her cheek and holding her against me. Her breath quickens, and she turns her head, my mouth now at her ear, but her hand seems a bit wild behind her again. So, I use my right hand to press her left arm down onto her back, simultaneously pressing her pelvis further down onto my cock as I thrust slowly up unto her.

“Mmmmmm,” I moan involuntarily into her ear as I get deeper penetration onto my hard, raging dick. I feel her shiver a bit, so I repeat the move… and again… and again… so fucking good…

I feel her right hand grabbing the sheets over my head; her pussy beginning to produce that arousal that coats my dick. If I release her hand, it’s going wild again. So, I stretch it out and entwine my fingers in hers, bringing it down behind her thigh and using it for leverage to pin her against me and push up into her again.

I didn’t need to.

With her arousal coating my dick, I’m able to slide deeper into her. I hold her neck firmly, my mouth still at her ear and each time I groan my pleasure, she tilts her hips ever so slightly to match my stroke. Fuck it’s intense and so, so good. I’m concentrating for several minutes on how good she feels on top of me, around me, against me, my dick sliding slowly over and over again into and out of her sweet, hot crevice…

“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!”

It’s a sexy, feminine, primal keen from deep in her chest. She stiffens on top of me as her core pulses around me, and I continue the slow, deep stroke that brought her to orgasm. I couple the strokes with luscious licks and nibbles of her ear, making sensual sounds that are sure to go right to her core. She trembles a bit, her keens sounding a little like weeps.

She’s tender, and I want to stop and let her rest… but I can’t. She feels too good, and my soul needs to be exorcised from the visions of this day.

I roll over on top of her, looking into her deep blue orgasm-stricken eyes as she catches her breath. Still inside of her, I stroke her only intermittently. I bring my face close to hers and stroke, even more slowly, deeper and gentler than before. She puffs out a small breath with each stroke, her hands flat on the bed next to her, looking up at me with her eyes filled with love.

It’s just what I need.

With one hand cupping the top of her head and the other steadying myself on the bed, I thrust into her, so slowly, over and over, never taking my eyes from hers, never closing them, getting lost in the cool blue that rushes over my body and brings me comfort and pleasure.

“Baby,” I whisper, and her legs fall open wider. I use this opportunity to nestle deeper between her legs. God, so deep… so good.

That move allows me to go balls deep so that now each stroke sucks my whole cock inside of her and the curl of my hips gives her clit maximum stimulation. We continue to stare into each other’s eyes while our bodies wring the most immeasurable continuous pleasure from one another.

When I see that sheen of sweat, hear her breath begin to pant, feel her body start to stiffen and see her eyes darken to that unmistakable royal blue, I quicken my stroke only slightly. I’m unable to control myself and her reactions are making me hot and hard and helpless. She whimpers again and again, with each stroke and grind of my hips, and I’m getting harder and thicker, my balls so tight that they hurt.

When her mating cry rips from her chest this time like a shrill yowl coupled with primal growl, I’m nearly shocked from my stroke, but her lustful blue eyes, swollen lips, and sweat drenched face pull me right back in. The sexy sight before me, sexy sound in my ears, and wildly clenching muscles around my dick shoves me violently over the edge and I thrust hard into my wife, releasing out a fearsome cry, every bit of stress, anxiety, and worry draining from my body.

My body is not my own at this moment. It belongs to her. I collapse on top of her, kissing her lips and neck in love and reverence, releasing all the concerns of the day as I sink into her aura and we both drift off into sated sleep.


A/N: Baby Moses Law—Safe-Haven laws practiced in all 50 states that allows a mother who doesn’t want her baby to drop the baby off at a hospital, police station, or fire station and surrender parental rights without the fear of prosecution for child abandonment. They were written to help curtail abortions and because mothers—particularly very young mothers—were killing their unwanted babies or leaving them in unsafe situations, like child trafficking or just throwing them in dumpsters… alive!

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

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

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 48—’Round and ‘Round… and ‘Round

THE MUSE HAS GONE CRAZY!!!!

So, unless the layout and the flow of the story as I see it changes somehow, you can expect for “Raising” to be longer than the typical 80 chapters. I may find a place where I can break the story and start a new book, but if it’s flowing well and there’s nowhere for a cohesive time break, I’ll just keep it going.

HOWEVER…

Golden is currently on hold because Lynn is overwhelmed. I still know where I want it to go, and it’s definitely going to be a shorter story than the Butterfly Saga, but if I can’t give my best, I’m not giving anything at all, and the nuances of the story aren’t flowing as well as I would like with all that I have on my plate. So, Golden fans, I apologize for not updating as much as I should, but I can only do so much at once.

My darling Falala, you are the only one who has indicated that they’ve had that problem with having to re-follow the blog. I hope that’s not a trend and I hope you haven’t had further problems. Anybody else having any issues? I got two emails that said, “falalax is now following your blog.” I was like, “Huh? I thought she was already following my blog. Gotta love the world wide web…

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

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

Chapter 48—’Round and ‘Round

ANASTASIA

I take a quick shower and change into something more suitable for travel. When I exit the bathroom, I’m headed towards the living room area when I hear Christian’s voice.

“Hi, little man. Daddy loves you. Take care of the house until I get back, okay?”

I back away from the doorway so as not to interrupt his cooing time with the Prince of Grey Crossing.

“I miss you, Mikey. I miss you so much and I love you. Take care of your sister for me…”

I can imagine that seeing his father and brothers in such turmoil is causing his emotions to flip like crazy. I hear silence for a moment, then I hear,

“Hey Lelliot… yeah, it’s done. It was brutal, man… Listen, you know when I’m giving you shit, I’m just giving you shit, right? I don’t mean anything by it… Yeah, it’s just…” He sighs. “This place, man—this place fucks with me, and watching Freeman and Dad… Just know that I love you, man. I’ll always be there for you even when you act like a fucking jerk, but don’t act like a fucking jerk, okay?… Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s the whole married thing, I guess.”

I’d love to know what Elliot said that elicited that response.

“I’m ready to get out of here. Nothing is jogging any memories with me, but this place seems to bring out the worst in my family and I’m ready to shake it off… She didn’t go to the reading with us, which I’m glad that she didn’t. If Freeman had said anything to my wife…” He trails off. “Having her here has been a tremendous comfort for me though. She dropped everything just to be here and sit in a hotel room while the Grey brothers battled it out… Dad’s at Uncle Stanley’s with Uncle Herman. They’re going through the contents of a safe deposit box that Pops had at Chase Bank. Apparently, Uncle Herman’s name was on it, too, but he didn’t know until we went to the bank today. It was a big fucker with another big box inside, and they decided that they didn’t want to go through it in the bank in case—you know—there’s sentimental shit in there. Dad broke down in the car after the reading…”

He didn’t tell me that part.

“Well, I’m just waiting for the go-ahead from Jason that the jet is ready, and from Dad that he’s ready, and we’ll be the fuck out of here.”

I begin making noise and moving around because my entrance right when he ends the call will look very suspicious. I make sure that we haven’t left anything—toiletries in the bathroom, things in the drawers or nightstand. I wonder if Jason and Christian got everything from the first room.

“Okay, man, I’ll see you when I get back… I love you, Lelliot.” Christian ends his call when he sees me puttering around the room.

“How’s Elliot?” I ask. “Is everything okay?” I reach in my purse for pink lipstick and apply it to my lips.

“Yeah, everything’s fine,” he says, coming into the bedroom. “I just wanted to touch bases with him, you know, after our last conversation.” I put my lipstick away and raise my eyes to him.

“This has been hard for you, hasn’t it?” I ask, my brow furrowed.

“In more ways than one,” he admits, his hand pushing through his hair. “Pops is gone. He’s not coming back. Why wouldn’t the brothers pull together during this time? Bury the hatchet and kill all the ill feelings? Yeah, Uncle Stan and Dad and Uncle Herman are clinging to each other like glue, but Freeman…” He raises his head. “Freeman is a monster. On my worst days—back when I didn’t give a fuck about anything or anybody—I could never treat Elliot that way… never!” I gently touch his cheek.

“Of course, you wouldn’t,” I say softly. “Freeman is a broken man. He’s miserable inside and there’s no telling how long he’s been that way, so he makes it his business to make everyone else as miserable as he is.” Christian shakes his head.

“That sounds a lot like you’re making excuses for his behavior, baby,” he says. I twist my lips.

“No,” I reply matter-of-factly. “I’m a psychiatrist. I’m just shrinking him. All I’m saying is that hurt people hurt people, and he never got over his hurt. It just festered and festered until it made him the miserable human being that he is now.”

“Yeah, that sounds more like Freeman. Rotten ass bastard.”

Christian and I sit in the room for several more minutes. We’ve got the room reserved for two nights, just in case something happens, and we need to stay another day, even though we both—no doubt—silently hope that won’t be the case. Just after Christian gets word that the jet and pilot will be all set and on standby in the next thirty minutes he gets a call from his father. His voice is accommodating, but his facial expression shows deep displeasure.

“What is it?” I ask when he ends the call. He doesn’t respond. He just calls Jason.

“Meet us downstairs,” he says. So, we’re leaving. “There was a key to a storage facility among the things in the safe deposit box. Dad asked that we bring the truck in case there’s a lot of shit in there.”

What? It’s nearly nightfall! So… we’re not leaving.

I sigh heavily. This is not what I was hoping to hear. Not only is Maria supposed to be coming into town this weekend so that we can view the interview, but I miss my babies and I want to go home. This place is fucking with my goddamn chi!

“Come on, baby,” my husband says as he ends the call. “I don’t care what’s in that storage bin. We’ll be on that plane tonight.”

Music to my ears.

*-*

The storage facility is in a city called Oak Park, just on this side of Detroit. A code activates the large sliding gate and we drive to Burt’s storage bin.

It’s huge. We’ll be here all night.

Christian tells me to stay warm in the car, but I refuse. I want to see what’s in there, too. I get out of the car and follow my unhappy husband to the rolling door of the storage bin. Herman removes the lock and rolls the door up. We all stare at the contents in dismay.

Boxes. Lots and lots of boxes. This is going to take days to go through, not hours. Maybe even weeks. Herman sighs.

“My father’s whole life is probably in this thing,” he laments. “He probably had the monthly rents coming off a credit card or something. It’s still not closed.”

“Jesus, I forgot all about this,” Stan says. Herman and Carrick look at him. “When you guys went to Washington, Dad had the house packed up. I saw some of what was happening, but I didn’t see everything. I didn’t even stick around for most of it. I never even knew what happened to the key. When Dad died…” Stan gestures to the stuffed storage unit, “… this was the last thing on my mind. I’m sorry, guys.”

“No need for that, Stan,” Carrick says, squeezing his brother’s shoulder. “We were all a bit rudderless when Dad died. It would have come out eventually… and it did. I assume Freeman didn’t know anything about it or it would be empty by now.” Stan shrugs.

“I don’t know… I guess not. I didn’t keep it a secret from him or anything. You know how either you’re involved in the action or you’re not and if you’re not, you don’t have any information?”

Carrick and Herman nod.

“So, what do you want to do?” Stan asks. “The office is closed, so we can’t talk to anybody right now.”

“It wouldn’t matter,” Herman says. “I didn’t think to bring Dad’s death certificate with me or my executor documents. I thought we were just reading the will.” He rubs the back of his neck.

“It’s your call, Herm,” Carrick says. “Dad says you disperse the stuff as you see fit.”

“That was the safe deposit box,” Herman says.

“And the key to the storage facility was in the safe deposit box,” Carrick points out. “By extension, that means the storage facility, too.”

“We’ll support whatever you want to do, Herm,” Stan says, looking at Carrick, and Carrick nods. Herman sighs again.

“Mom’s jewelry was in the safe deposit box. Those model cars are most likely in there,” he says, pointing to the wall of boxes. Now Carrick sighs.

“What do you want to do?” he says, his voice soft, and I can tell that whatever “those model cars” are, they mean a lot to him.

“We have to go through this stuff, guys,” Herman says. “This is Dad’s stuff. We can’t just dispose of it, but I can’t do this now. I need to regroup in the worst way, and I know you guys do, too.” He looks at the boxes in front of him. “These boxes are sealed well, and I didn’t bring anything to cut them open.” He rubs his face.

“I’ll call the storage facility in the morning,” he continues, “find out what kind of arrangement my dad had with them and get them a copy of the death certificate and such,” he sighs. “But right now, I need my Luma.”

I know what that means. We’re going home.

“You go home, Herm,” Stan says, putting his hand on Herman’s shoulder. “I know exactly how you feel.”

“Yeah,” Carrick chokes, rubbing the back of his neck. “Me, too.” Christian reaches over and takes my hand in his, bringing his lips to my temple.

“Me, three,” he says against my forehead. Herman closes and locks the storage facility and we all head back to the cars. Stanley says his goodbyes and gets into his car while the rest of us get into the two rentals. Jason and Carrick have a quick conversation before we take off for the airport.

Now, I don’t know Michigan very well, but I know enough to know that we are driving back in the direction that we came from… away from the airport. My husband realizes it, too.

“Jason, where are we going?” Christian asks.

“Mr. Grey asked me to follow him. I thought he had already spoken to you,” Jason says, occasionally glancing into the rear mirror. I look over at Christian who doesn’t look pleased.

“My dad wouldn’t lead us into danger,” he says, “but next time, consult with me first.” Jason’s ears pinken.

“Yes, sir,” he says. “My apologies, sir. I, um, took the liberty of arranging for dinner options to be served on the flight, sir,” he adds. Christian nods, somewhat appeased by the gesture.

“Good man,” he says, and sits back in his seat. “I just don’t want anything to delay us getting the hell out of here,” he adds, more to himself than to anyone else.

We turn down an expressway labelled “I-696” and head west. I know we’re not headed back to Stanley’s house, because his house is further north. Christian squeezes my hand a bit as we drive down 696 for a few minutes, not comfortable at all not knowing where we’re going. After a few more minutes, we connect to another expressway called “I-275” and head south. I know that the airport is south, but we had to go through Detroit to get there. Now, I’m curious.

I gently nudge my hand from Christian’s and pull out my phone. Opening Google maps, I enter our current location—696 and 275, Michigan. It’s a spaghetti bowl of freeways, but I can make out what direction we’re headed. I’m seeing a lot of the streets on the map that I saw when we were headed to Stanley’s house, but we’re in the suburbs now where before, we clearly were not. From the scenery and my husband’s reaction, we were in Detroit.

Further satisfying my curiosity, I enter our destination—DTW.

Google maps shows me that we should be at the airport in thirty minutes. It’s a straight shot down the I-275 to the I-94 and we’re there. It also showed me the route Carrick drove before… I-94 east to the 39—Southfield Freeway—and right through Detroit.

Carrick found another way to the airport that didn’t take us through Detroit. I sigh.

“What is it?” Christian asks. I hand him my phone. He examines it carefully and his shoulders fall. The tension he was carrying moments earlier has slid off his shoulders and back and he almost looks like a totally different man.

“I’m… sorry, Jason,” he says, surprising both me and Jason.

“Sir?” he says, his eyes darting from the road to the mirror and back.

“My father…” Christian trails off. “We’re taking a detour to the airport—one that avoids Detroit.” Realization dawns on Jason’s face.

“Oh,” he says, softly. “No apology necessary, Boss. You were right, I still should have said something to you.” Christian nods and lays his head back on the seat. I take his hand and we ride in silence—and comfort—to the airport.

*-*

“After you talk to the management at the storage facility, I can arrange for the things in storage to be shipped to Seattle,” Christian says to Herman during dinner on the flight. “We can put the things in storage here and you can go through it at your leisure. I can even arrange for my shipping staff to go through the boxes and catalog everything in my warehouse if you like. It’s such a daunting task and if that storage facility is filled to the ceiling with boxes, you can be guaranteed that Pops had someone doing something like that.”

“He did,” Herman says after swallowing a mouthful of steak. “I had forgotten that right after we moved to Seattle, Dad had the house packed up. It didn’t even occur to me.” Christian frowns.

“You two stayed in that house before you moved to Seattle?” he asks. Herman nods.

“It wasn’t as bad as you think,” he says. “The house doesn’t look like much now, but Dad kept it up the best he could. Seriously, Christian, it seems like the minute we left, the house deteriorated. It was like it was holding on for Dad and when he left, it just gave up and died.”

Wow, that’s somewhat profound.

“Well, what do you say?” Christian presses. “I can have a crew in there probably as early as Tuesday. Depending on what’s in there, they can probably have that stuff cleaned up, packed up, and on its way back here by day’s end.” Herman pauses then looks at Carrick. “I would only trust staff who have seen me personally. So, I would send a crew directly from here.”  Dad nods at Herman.

“I think I may have to take you up on that, Christian,” he says. “Let me talk to Stan and see how he feels about it and I’ll let you know, okay?” Christian nods and tucks into his food. We all eat in relative silence until the meal is over, after which, the flight attendant brings us all drinks. A few minutes later, Jason is quietly reading, and Herman has reclined his seat and fallen quickly into a nap. Christian excuses himself and heads to the back of the plane. I assume he’s going to the restroom. Carrick has moved to a lone seat on the other side up the plane and is staring out the window at the black night sky. He doesn’t even notice when I take the seat across from him.

“How are you holding up?” I ask, breaking his solace. In my professional opinion, it’s not a very good idea for him to be sitting here mulling over the day’s events alone, especially since Christian said he broke down earlier.

“Isn’t it a terrible weight on your shoulders to be the ear for the entire family?” he says, his smile soft. I shrug.

“It’s what I do,” I reply, “and I’d rather do it for my family than some of the losers I’ve had to listen to over the years.”

“That’s not very professional,” he says, raising a brow at me.

“No, it’s not,” I admit, “but it’s true. I’ve had some real losers over the years.” My mind immediately goes to those attention whores at the community center who pretended to need help, but only wanted someone to whine to. “It’s why I stopped doing volunteer work at the community center. Those people didn’t need help—true, they needed therapy, but not the type that I was offering.” I shrug.

“I thought you left the community center for an entirely different reason altogether,” he confronts, and I know he’s talking about my initial battle with his son.

“That, too,” I confess, “but that wasn’t the reason. That was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.” I sigh. “So, as you can see, listening to family is not as daunting as you think.” He nods and looks out the window again.

“I feel like I’ve cremated my father again,” he says. Whoa, that serious. “I went through all these feelings and the hatred that Freeman feels for me, being back in the city where we grew up, seeing the places where my father worked—he was so proud. He was proud to be a Ford man, and he passed that down to our family, but I didn’t want to be a Ford man. I wanted to be a lawyer. More than anything, I wanted to be an attorney and throw around that word ‘Esquire.’” He laughs mirthlessly.

“Dad never gave me a hard time—not once. He paid for me to go to college. He mostly paid for law school. Then, I met Grace. She insisted on paying for the rest, telling me that she was investing in our future together. Dad had a problem with it at first, but once we were married, he understood.

“Our lives took several turns, and Dad was there the whole time. We always held each other together, all of us. Freeman wasn’t always a miserable bastard. He was always miserable and selfish, but he wasn’t always a bastard. Even he was there to help hold us together, especially when Mom died. But after that girl left him…” He shakes his head.

“Now, I’m here again. I hated going back to that place and I hated the reason I was there. If Christian hadn’t convinced me to come, I wouldn’t have. Now, I’m glad that I did, because if I hadn’t, Freeman would have gotten over again, and Herm and Stan wouldn’t have their money.”

He’s correctly assuming that Christian has told me about the life insurance. I want to keep him talking until he gets as much of this anger and pain off his shoulders as he can.

“Is it true that he can hold the money up for a long time and affect everyone’s share?” I ask. Carrick does a half-nod, half wobble of his head.

“The only thing that’s going to effect everyone’s share of the money is Dad’s final arrangements,” he says. “Once that’s dispersed, then it’s the waiting game to see how far Freeman wants to take this. But he’s not holding anybody up but himself, because my brothers got their money already… from me. Once he loses this fight, which he will, the remainder of the money after Dad’s affairs are settled will be dispersed to the sons, and Freeman will have gotten the short end of the stick.”

“How so?” I ask. “If all the sons are getting the same amount, even after Burt’s final arrangements and whatnot, that’s still going to be a hefty sum for each of you.”

“This is what that idiot doesn’t understand, and this is why I let him go ahead and do this. I’m one of my father’s four sons and all his sons got a portion of this policy. Now, if he was contesting that Herman and I were the only beneficiaries, I could get where he was coming from and halfway understand him contesting that—but we all got an equal portion of it. This was clearly Dad’s wish. Now, here he is contesting my portion knowing but not knowing that he’s actually contesting the entire policy.

“So, let’s say that he loses the contest, which I’m sure that he will. He will have spent time and money on an attorney to contest the beneficiaries of this policy. Let’s say that he only spends $200,000 in attorney, court, and probate fees and five years contesting the will…”

Only?

“He has now wasted five years of his life, done irreparable damage to the relationships that he had left with his family, and now, he gets to replace the $200,000 that he spent on a worthless fight out of his share of the money. Only, $200,000 in five years is not going to be worth what $200,000 is worth now. So, while my brothers can invest my portion of the inheritance and double their money if they choose the right investments, Freeman’s share is dwindling away to nothing… and speaking of nothing…

“If he gets his way and he wins this contest, he foolishly thinks that he’s going to walk away with a larger share and I—or Herm and I—are going to walk away with nothing. No, if he wins, he’s contesting the validity of the entire policy. He said so at the reading. He first declared that I didn’t deserve anything, then he paints a picture to Stan and tries to get the attorney to cosign that Herm and I brought Dad out to Seattle to die and got a life insurance policy in his name. I don’t know how long my father had that policy, so if he’s right and that policy popped up right about the time that Dad was about to die, it’s going to look suspect. He can’t protest me being a beneficiary because all four of us are beneficiaries, so he’s going to resort to that.

“Well, dear brother,” he says sarcastically, “if you win that fight, you’re not going to walk away with any of the money… none of us are!”

Shit, really?

“So, if he can convince a judge or whoever that you all bought the policy and waited for Burt to die, then nobody gets anything?” Carrick shakes his head.

“Not a nickel,” he confirms. “It’s fraud. The good news is that they would have to actively prove that we did that in order to press criminal charges, but I’m certain that the minute this goes before anybody with an ounce of common sense, they’re going to see right through it, and some unscrupulous attorney somewhere is going to take the case and let the fees mount up knowing that not only is this an unwinnable situation, but also that Freeman is going to get his share of that money. And when he does, he’s going to have to pay up if he hasn’t already.

“So, when I saw what he was doing, I immediately had the money transferred to my brothers’ accounts. I wanted Freeman to see what I was doing. I wanted him to see that I wasn’t going to allow him to ruin my brothers’ lives and what’s more, I don’t even need the money. One point five million dollars just flying around the room in a matter of minutes. What better way to foil your plans than with the very thing that makes your stomach turn?”

I’m making an observation that I’m not sure Carrick has made, but I can see it clearly.

“You refer to Herman and Stanley as your brothers,” I tell him, “but when you talk about Freeman, you don’t, unless you’re doing it sarcastically. You do realize that he’s still your brother, don’t you?” Carrick shakes his head sadly.

“Make no mistake, dear girl,” Carrick begins, “I know that man was born my brother, but my brother’s been gone for a really long time, and I miss him terribly. I’ve missed him ever since he left, even more so now that my father’s gone. When I cried in Seattle after our fight, it was because I knew that my brother was gone for good and he was never coming back. He came to my home and insulted my entire family—my wife, my children, you…” He trails off and shakes his head. “No, that man is truly dead to me. He was already a non-entity as far as I was concerned, but after today, after this…” He wipes away a tear. “I cremated my father again today, and I buried my brother.”

And now he’s broken again.

I sit there with Carrick for a long while as he weeps silently and mourns the loss of his family once again. When Christian finally emerges from the rear of the plane, he’s changed and freshly showered, no doubt washing the visit off him once and for all. He frowns questioning when he sees his father crying. Not willing to subject Carrick to Christian’s endless “What’s wrong” questions, I squeeze his hand to get his attention.

“Carrick, why don’t you go on into the back room and rest?” I suggest. “We’ll wake you when it’s time to land.” Carrick nods and stands from his seat. He walks to the back of the plane, nearly bumping into Christian on the way. Christian just grabs his arm to steady him, then squeezes his shoulder as he passes by.

“What’s wrong with Dad?” he asks once Carrick has left the room. “Is he okay?” I sigh heavily.

“It’s a good thing we’re leaving Detroit,” I say. “That place was taxing on all of you.”


CHRISTIAN

I spend the night buried in my wife again, so glad to be home in my own bed in my own city where I somewhat feel like myself again. I had intended on maybe getting some mile-high loving when I was finished with my shower on the plane, but Dad looked like shit and definitely needed some sleep. He didn’t wake until it was time to land.

We all seemed to have gotten back to ourselves once the jet landed at SeaTac. I didn’t expect to see the women there, but there they were. Dad wrapped himself around Mom and Uncle Herman just folded over Luma. My uncle is so in love with that woman. I don’t know why he won’t just marry her already.

I felt like I was falling asleep in the car on the way back to the Crossing. Chuck and Jason were whispering about something and I didn’t bother trying to eavesdrop. I was so relaxed being back in Seattle, back in one of my own cars, back home…

When we drove up the driveway into the Crossing, it was like someone hit me with a shot of adrenaline and all I wanted to do was fuck—not necessarily rabbit fucking or hard fucking… just fuck. So, fuck we did.

And I slept like a damn baby until noon.

When I wake, my wife is gone—well, not gone, just not in bed. It’s noon, why would she still be in bed? I sincerely stretch like a cat and lie eagle-spread on my bed—my bed. I can’t believe how content I am to be home… just to be here. My body relaxes into the mattress and I could truly just lay here all day. My solace is interrupted by one of the best interruptions ever. My wife unceremoniously enters the room with a wiggly pink bundle in her arms. They were asleep when we got home, so we didn’t wake them.

“Oh, please… give me that,” I say, sitting up and reaching for my daughter. My wife pauses.

“Are you dressed under there?” she asks.

“No, I’m totally commando, and she’s nine months old!” I protest.

“Yes, but Keri and Gail are not,” she retorts, raising her brow. I grunt and get out of bed. So much for lying in. I go to the dressing room and quickly slide into a pair of sweat pants.

“There!” I say, emerging from the dressing room. “Now give me my child!” I hold my hands out again and Minnie squirms in her mother’s arms, smiling widely and reaching for me. Butterfly laughs and places her in my hands. Good Lord, it’s like salve on a terribly stinging and painful burn.

“How’s Daddy’s girl?” I say, kissing her repeatedly and climbing back into bed. She coos and giggles as Keri enters with Mikey and Gail enters with a tray of food.

“I thought I would have to wake you, so I thought the twins might ease the ache a bit,” Butterfly says, placing Mikey on the bed next to me.

“I just woke, but you were right about the ache,” I say, adoring the smiling faces of my children.

“Let me know if you need anything else,” Gail says as she and Keri excuse themselves. I’m starving, but I don’t want to put my daughter down. I need her. I need to be close to my children. As if reading my thoughts, my wife begins feeding me the omelet and toast on my plate.

“You’ve already eaten?” I ask after swallowing, noting that there’s no food for her.

“Hours ago,” she says. “The trip sucked, but it wasn’t as taxing on me as it was on you.” I nod.

“I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t there,” I admit. She puts another large forkful of eggs in my mouth.

“Jack off?” she teases and I almost choke. She hands me a glass of orange juice and I take a couple of healthy swallows.

“Not just the sex,” I say with mirth. “Going to sleep with you and waking up with you; eating breakfast with you and just know that you were there.”

“I know what you meant. I was just teasing you.” She gives me more omelet and toast. “That place is draining—or maybe it was just seeing the effect that it had on you and Carrick and his brothers, but I’m glad we’re home.”

“Me, too,” I say, swallowing the delicious eggs. It immediately makes me think of the egg massacre incident that was my first cooking lesson. I need to get back in the kitchen soon if I want to cook something for my wife anytime soon. “What’s the plan for today?”

“Not a thing on the agenda until tomorrow,” she says. Yeah, Maria Sanchez is coming into town so that we can view the interview. For some reason, I’m not looking forward to this even though it was my idea in the first place, but what’s done is done now.

“Well, I think I want to spend time with these two today.” Minnie is laying on my chest, wide awake, but just lounging there. Mikey has pulled himself into a standing position, supporting himself on my leg. He appears to be babbling something to Minnie, no more than “ba-ba-ba” or “na-na-na” or something like that, but she is unfazed and just watching her brother’s performance. Mikey is not to be ignored. He continues his babbling, now bouncing and becoming more animated.

Minnie still doesn’t respond.

Mikey is getting louder with his babbling and bouncing even harder. His sister finally gives him the attention he’s seeking. She pulls her little grubby hand back and brings it down right on top of his head.

Smack!

“Oh!” I exclaim. “They’re doing that now.”

“No!” Butterfly scolds, pointing her finger at Minnie. Mikey is silent for three seconds, just long enough for the sensation to set in, before he falls down on his butt and releases a yowl. Minnie sticks her bottom lip out, gazing at her mother, then her yowling begins a second after Mikey’s.

“Oh, there, there, now,” I say, patting her on the back.

Don’t do that, Christian!” my wife scolds. I’m a bit stunned. Don’t do what?

“Put her down,” she says, her face stern and her voice firm.

“What? Why? She’s crying,” I point out as if it’s not obvious.

“Yes, that’s because I scolded her. Now, put her down.” Okay, fine, don’t scold me. I put my daughter on the bed and her cries become more urgent. “Do not hit your brother!” Butterfly says to a wailing Minnie before turning to me. “If you coddle her after I scold her, she’s going to run to you every time I try to punish her. She’ll be impossible, and then I have to kill you!” I put my hands up.

“Okay, okay, I get it!” I say. “But what about Mikey? Clearly he was yelling at her…”

“And clearly, she slapped the shit out of him, and now, he’s crying, too. That’s why I’m not picking him up, either.” She’s got a point there. I sit there helplessly watching my children cry as they learn a lesson, also learning a lesson myself. This is hard. I hate to see them cry. Butterfly allows them to cry for what feels like forever, but I’m certain that it’s only a couple of minutes.

“Are you two ready to behave?” she says to our children, and almost like they understood what she said, their cries subside a bit, but don’t cease. She folds her arms and looks from Minnie to Mikey.

“I can wait as long as you can,” she says. Minnie calms a bit, her plump tearstained face gazing at her mother as she begins her after-crying sniffles. Mikey calms a little thereafter, but only after he shoves his two middle fingers into his mouth. My brow furrows.

“When did he start doing that?” I say, pointing at my son.

“Since about three months,” Butterfly responds. “He just doesn’t do it all the time.” Both children have calmed now, and Butterfly turns to Minnie. “Are you going to behave now?” she asks. Minnie just looks at her. She holds her hands out and Minnie scurries to her arms, laying on her chest like she was laying on mine a moment ago.

“Get your son,” she says as she rubs Minnie’s back. I hold my arms out to Mikey and he stretches his hands out to me, trying to come to me without the aid of his arms to help him stand or roll. He’s quickly getting frustrated and I don’t want him to start crying again, so I pick him up and sit him on my leg. Using my fingers, I gently wipe the tears from his face.

“Don’t use your hands,” she says, softly, leaning over to the rolling tray and retrieving a burping cloth. She hands it to me and I begin to wipe my son’s face.

“She’s a real tyrant,” I tell him, low enough for only him to hear. “If you ever cross her, you’re on your own… but don’t cross her. I don’t like it when you cry.” I clean his face and put him on my chest where his sister was moments before. They look at each other as if challenging each other. They can’t be fighting this early. And they’re twins! I thought twins were inseparable!

“And this from the man who’s a proponent of spanking,” she says with a smirk while patting Minnie on the back. I look up at her and she raises her brow at me. Oh, yeah, I did say something like that, didn’t I?

Hmm, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do that.

“We… may have to come up with alternative methods of discipline,” I say without making eye-contact with my wife.

*-*

The thought of spanking my two little bundles had me clinging to them all day. Watching them cry and being unable to stop them was a bit more than I was willing to accept. Maybe once they’re older and ornerier, I might feel differently about the concept, but right now, I can’t even fathom it.

My clinginess doesn’t get past my wife. She even makes a papoose for me from one of her belly wraps so that one of the babies could be close to me the entire day. I think I needed it. Detroit took a lot out of me. Sure, I didn’t fall apart except for the mini-meltdown during the trip from the airport. I even did okay going to the private-eye’s office, which was in a city that was in the middle of Detroit. But the entire experience was just taxing as hell.

Seeing Dad and his brother snarling at each other like dogs…

The emotional strain of being in a city that broke me completely at an early age and could have broken me forever…

Watching my father break down all over again from the loss of his father and the total decimation of his relationship with Freeman…

No matter how much he may hate what that man is doing, he’s still Dad’s brother and this is truly taking a toll on him. How can anybody be so hateful towards their own family?

My mind immediately goes to Chuck’s brother, Joe, and a trip he has to make to his hometown for a lawsuit against his own flesh and blood merely for being an asshole.

Good God, are people really this unbelievably asinine? Was I ever this way? I may have been aloof, a bit obtuse at times, but I was never deliberately vicious to my family… never intentionally hurtful. For the love of God, who does that? I pull my phone out of my pocket and press speed dial.

“Hey, Bro, what’s up?” Elliot answers.

“Hey, what are you and Valerie doing for dinner?” I ask.

“Nothing,” he says. “We were probably going to order something in. We’ve gotten spoiled to having a cook,” he jests.

“Well, why don’t you come on over and get spoiled some more?” I say.

“You guys just got back. I thought you might have wanted to unwind and relax a bit. We didn’t want to be underfoot… I know how you feel about Detroit and all.”

How do I tell my brother that I need to see him without sounding like a pussy?

“Yeah, well, the familiar is kind of necessary right now.” That was it. Perfect. He pauses again.

“What time should we be there?” he asks. I sigh quietly.

“Six is good, and can you call Mia for me and see if she and Ethan can make it? I’ve kinda got my hands full with the babies.” He pauses again.

“Sure thing, Bro. We’ll be there.”

My brother and sister arrive promptly at 5:45, and I can’t help but wonder what Elliot said to Mia to get her to dinner on time. We sit down to a dinner of baked pork chops, Brussel sprouts and tomato-bacon linguini. I can’t bring myself to remove my papoose just yet, so Mikey sleeps comfortably on my chest throughout the meal while Minnie “purrs” nearby in her Pack-n-Play.

“Oh, everyone,” Mia begins, “our wedding website went live this morning.”

“Wedding website?” Butterfly asks. Mia nods.

“Yes. I wanted to approve everything that went onto the site, so they had to wait until we got back from the honeymoon to make it active.”

Oh, dear God.

“Mia…” I begin.

“Keep your shirt on, Big Brother,” she says. “The only media that is posted of you and Her Highness…” she says Butterfly’s nickname in a playful manner, “… are pictures and videos of you dancing, a bit of canoodling, her speech, and the two of you singing. Do you want me to take any of those down?” I look over at Butterfly who shrugs.

“Send me the link and I’ll let you know,” I say. Mia laughs.

“I sent you the link this morning,” she says. “You never go a day without checking your email. What gives?”

“I was spending time with my family,” I reply. “I’ll check it later.”

“I’m sure it’s fine, Christian,” Butterfly says. “We have an exposé airing soon. It can’t be any more intrusive than that.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. When is that supposed to be aired?” Elliot asks.

“The journalist who interviewed us is coming tomorrow morning so that we can see the final viewing, and we’re supposed to be part of Sweeps Week,” I say.

“Sweeps Week?” Valerie says. “That starts a week from Monday. Isn’t that cutting it kind of close?”

“Kind of?” Butterfly says. “Don’t get me started. If I see something that I don’t like tomorrow, they’ll have to scrap the whole damn thing!”

“You seem a bit intense about this, Steele,” Valerie says. Why does she still call her that?

“Well, that would be due to the faux pas that have already occurred, and the damn thing hasn’t even aired yet!”

Oh, hell. Butterfly isn’t very happy about this viewing, it appears. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a good idea. Should I tell Maria to send us a digital copy to review instead?

“What kind of faux pas, Montana?” Elliot asks. Butterfly begins to explain our experience with the grip boy and the “preview that got away,” when Valerie turns her attention to me.

“Elliot tells me that you convinced him to tell me about Gia,” Valerie says while Butterfly occupies Elliot with her tale.

“It… was a collaborative effort between me and my wife,” I admit.

“Well… thank you,” she says. “That would have been something terrible to hear through the society grapevine or on a gossip rag or something.” I raise a brow.

“Have you met Gia?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No,” she admits, “but I’ve heard of her. Her reputation precedes her. I don’t know what her general M-O is—there usually is one for appearing to be a scathing whore who will fuck anything with a dollar sign attached to it—but hell, she could just be mindlessly sleeping around, I don’t know. Whatever the case may be, I’m aware of Ms. Mateo’s character.” She sips whatever is in her glass.

“Are you… concerned about her?” I ask. “Because Elliot loves you more than life.”

“I know that,” she smiles. “It’s why he thought there was no need to tell me about her. I have no doubt the she’s old news as far as he’s concerned, but there are some things that you just need to hear from your man and not from some gossiping cows at the beauty shop or out in the grocery store somewhere or heaven forbid, at some social function where you have to smile and pretend it doesn’t bother you. It’s the Miller mansion, for Christ’s sake. Somebody somewhere is going to say something. Hell, they may end up in Architectural Digest or something. Then what?”

“Alright, Bro, my wife’s face is not looking too pleased over there. What are you talking about?” I raise an eyebrow at Valerie who shrugs.

Architectural Digest,” I reply. Well, we were. Elliot frowns.

Architectural Digest?” he repeats. “Your face is all frowned up about Architectural Digest?” She nods.

“I was just telling Christian that your work on the Miller mansion may end up in Architectural Digest,” she says with no malice. Elliot’s face falls and he turns to me. I hold my hands up in surrender, shaking my hands to signal that I didn’t start this conversation. He closes his eyes and nods.

“Yeah, it could,” he admits. “Does it bother you, Angel?”

“No,” Valerie replies. “It doesn’t. I think you’ll do great.” She reaches for his hand and he entwines his fingers with hers.

“I’m sorry,” Mia says, “but if I may ask, why would Val have a problem with you being in Architectural Digest? Isn’t that an esteemed honor?”

“Yes, it is,” Elliot replies, “but the designer on the project is Gia Mateo.” Mia looks at him as if she’s waiting for the punchline. Then the penny drops.

“Oh,” she says almost inaudibly. “Oh… o-okay.” And she doesn’t say anything else. Ethan leans in and no doubt, asks about the punchline, and she hushes him quickly.

“It’s fine,” Valerie says. “I’m just glad that I heard about their prior relationship from Elliot and not some third party. That’s all I was telling Christian.”

“Well, I’m glad she didn’t really get her claws into my brother,” Mia nearly hisses. “She’s an A-1 skank and she’s lucky some jealous wife hasn’t plugged her one by now!” Butterfly looks over at me and raises her brow.

“Okay, I’m all for changing the subject now,” I say. Mia looks at me and realization dawns.

“Oh!” she says, pointing at me. “Oh, yeah! That’s right!”

“What?” Valerie says. “Please tell me not you, too. That’s just trashy!” Oh, good grief.

“No, not him, too,” Butterfly interjects. “But that lovely parlor and the his and hers bathrooms and those beautiful women’s touches that you see all over the Slayer? Courtesy of one Gia Mateo.”

“Oh, I see,” says Valerie. “Well, that explains a lot. I was wondering why a floating bachelor pad had a fully pimped-out she-cave on the main deck. No offense, El, but I was wondering how she managed to bed you and not capture the attention of my billionaire brother-in-law.” Elliot puts his hand on his chest in mock insult.

“Whatever are you trying to imply?” he asks. “I’m just as good a catch as my loaded little brother.” Valerie smiles.

“Better, baby,” she says, snuggling up to his arm.

“Balderdash!” Butterfly chimes in. “She has to say that! She’s your wife!”

“And you have to disagree, because you’re his,” Elliot taunts. “Nice papoose, bro,” he teases, causing an outburst of laughter and instantly breaking the tension in the room.

Thank God!


ANASTASIA

As I’m getting ready for bed, I’m mentally cataloging all the things that I’ll have to do in the next few days when I realize that I’ve forgotten to disclose one detrimental piece of information to my husband.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” I say as I climb into bed with him. He raises his gaze from the phone to meet mine. “I found out last week, but with the Detroit trip coming up, I knew you needed to focus.”

“What is it?” he says, placing his phone on the nightstand.

“It’s about John.” Christian’s brow furrows.

“John Flynn?” he asks. I nod. “What about John?”

“He and his family are in England, and they may not be returning to the States.”

“What?” he responds, clearly displeased. “Why?”

I explain to him what Grace told me about MERS and the CDC and the government not wanting his son to return until he has a clean bill of health.

“Well, then, I’ll give him a call. We’ll get him the best doctors and get him well so that he and his family can come home.”

“I don’t think it’s the money, Christian,” I tell him. “I think it’s the principal. John may have become a citizen from marrying Rhian, but his sons are all American-born citizens and one of them is being denied re-entry. He’s quite disenchanted with that.” Christian’s expression softens, and he nods.

“I guess I would be, too,” he says. “I’ll call him anyway and see if there’s anything that I can do, but from what you’re saying, America may have lost a few citizens.” I nod.

“Yeah, it looks that way.”

Christian and I make love again a few times that night, and I know that we’re not only making up for lost time, but my husband is also trying to regain some of the control that has slipped away from him over the past couple of weeks. Pretty soon, I’m going to have to tap out. I don’t think my coochie can take much more.

“I don’t think the promo has gotten to many outlets,” Vee says on Sunday morning. We asked her to join us for breakfast so that we could be prepared for when Maria shows up with the footage of our interview. “We’re usually alerted when something airs about you guys for purposes of damage control. This thing must have truly only aired once and then it was pulled. We can’t even get a lead on where it aired.”

“And it’s not like I can go knocking on Old Lady Miller’s door and ask her where she saw it,” Christian points out.

“It’s kind of a moot point,” I add. “With sweeps being next week, whatever we approve will be splashed all over the network in promos. If there’s anyone in America who didn’t know who we were before now, they’ll know soon.” Christian finishes his eggs and bacon.

“Well,” he says, after swallowing his last bite, “how do we handle this? I already know that there’s no way that she’s going to show us a final cut that we’re going to be completely satisfied with. I almost want Allen to be present for the meeting, but I’m not trying to intimidate her to the point of pulling the segment.” Vee nods.

“No, we don’t want to do that, but we do want her to know that we mean business. We need to get a copy of what she shows us and what she plans to air. They have to be the same thing. Once something makes it to the airwaves, it’s immortalized. At one time, it wasn’t that way, but with technology being what it is today, your most embarrassing, humiliating, or painful moment could be trending on Twitter or Instagram tomorrow.” I sigh.

“Well, why trust anybody, then?” I ask. God knows I’ve had my own run-ins with reputable members of the press—the ex-submissive cable girl and the Pussy DJ, just to name a couple.

“Because you have to trust someone or remain in obscurity. That’s the name of the game,” Vee says. “Anyway, it’s like I said, I really think the leak was just somebody jumping the gun for Sweeps Week promotion and remember—she didn’t have to bring that shit to you that Roger, or whatever his name was, did. She could have swept that mess under the rug and you never would have been the wiser. It’s a testament to her integrity.”

“Or she could have been covering her ass,” I retort, skeptically. “If that footage had somehow gotten out later, she would have to account for how it was acquired.”

“She could claim ignorance,” Vee counters.

“It’s her production. Responsibility is assumed. I know that much,” I conclude. Vee twists her lips and nods her head.

“Ana, would you prefer this doesn’t air?” she asks. I turn my gaze to her.

“What?” I ask, bemused. Vee sighs.

“I understand a healthy dose of skepticism,” she begins. “In fact, when it comes to an exposé of the most intimate parts of your life—your home, your family, your children, what you do in your private time—I would be concerned if you didn’t show some level of trepidation. But you have disputed nearly every point I’ve tried to make so far when it comes to this viewing and anything that I’ve said in any possible defense of Maria and her actions. I’ve been in this business for a long time and I’d like to believe that my instincts aren’t dull or untrustworthy when it comes to people. I haven’t steered you wrong yet, but I can’t ignore your level of mistrust and discomfort the closer we get to the time to meet with Sanchez. I won’t try to force or influence you to do anything that you feel uncomfortable with no matter how good my instincts may be. So, I’m asking you honestly before this woman gets here. Would you prefer this doesn’t air?”

Christian and Vee examine me closely like they’re expecting and alien to pop out of my chest or something. I don’t want to pull the plug on the production this close to airing, but there’s something that I can’t sweep under the rug.

“I. Have had a bad time. Trusting people,” I say, looking only at Vee. “My instincts are not as sharp as I once thought they were. When I look back on all the things that I thought I was certain of that turned out to be something completely different, I have nothing left in the end but, ‘Shit, I wish I had seen that coming.’ People seem one way  when you meet them, when you deal with them, when you interact with them, and when you put your fate in their hands—on a large or a small scale—one way or another, you end up getting burned.

“I’m just trying not to get burned,” I tell her. “I’m trying to see the fire before it explodes through the forest and consumes my home. Twice, somebody has dropped the ball—grip boy and now this. We should have seen this footage weeks ago…” although that might have been a bit difficult with my husband hiding out in Madrid. My scar starts thumping a bit and I stick my hand in my hair and drop my head.

“I just don’t want to get burned again, okay?” I say without raising my gaze to anyone. “One more incident, and you can put an apple in my mouth and serve me up at a luau.”

There’s a long moment of silence.

“Ana, do you trust me?” Vee says, and now, the spotlight is on me. I sigh.

“Yes, Vee, I trust you,” I say, honestly, deflated and still not raising my head.

“Good. Then let’s see the viewing and see how we feel. I won’t pull any punches if I think something’s not right. I swear that to you.” I nod.

“Okay,” I cede. I don’t want to debate it anymore. I guess I won’t be able to shake the feeling until I see the viewing and in what light Maria has presented us. There’s another long moment of silence.

“Mac, can you excuse us for a moment? I need to talk to my wife,” Christian says softly.

“Sure,” I hear her say, and I don’t know where she goes, but I know that she leaves the dining room.

“Butterfly look at me.” I finally find the strength to raise my eyes to him though my head hurts so badly that I just want to lie down.

“Was that speech for me?” he asks. What? What is he talking about?

“Huh?” It’s the only thought I can formulate.

“You’ve been burned. You don’t trust anybody. Things you thought you were certain of; putting your fate in someone else’s hands—that’s more than just a couple of bad media experiences. Was that speech for me?”

I play the words over in my head, then review my feelings about them. Had this happened before the whole Liam/Madrid Mayhem—when the footage was recorded—I would feel differently. I was bad-ass when I discovered Grip Boy had filmed me in the nursery. I was ready to put him on the platter and serve him at the luau. Now, I’m fucking afraid of shit that goes “bump” in the night when I wasn’t before. I was able to deal with adversity and handle myself in tough situations and now, I kind of prefer to just hide in the corner until the adversity passes. That’s not me. That’s never been me… except when someone talked about or uncovered something about Green Valley.

Scary, vicious teenage mobs that attack you from behind, torture you, and leave you for dead…

Uncertainty of where in America—or the world—these bastards have landed…

The Boogeyman…
The Boogeyman…
Fuck, the Boogeyman…

I gaze at Christian and I’m unable to answer him. In all my pondering and wondering and trying to figure out an answer for him, all the fear and uncertainty and pain and anguish and the Boogeyman all go into the three-second funnel and come out with one word.

Yes.

I don’t have to say it. He reaches over to me and gathers me in his arms, holding me close to him and kissing my hair.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispers. “I’m so, so sorry…”

I want to respond that it’s not all his fault, that my actions—or lack thereof—were the catalyst for his behavior; that we’re both human and we make mistakes and that’s okay, but none of that will chase the Boogeyman away.

We sit there for several minutes with Christian kissing my hair and trying to reassure me that everything will be alright. As sweet and sincere as his gestures are, I know that I and the Boogeyman have several more rounds to spar, and I’m under no misconception that I’m not going to win them all. I’m just terrified at the concept of how many of them that I could lose.

I hear Vee clear her throat from the hallway before Christian releases me and allows me to sit upright in my seat. I drink the rest of my orange juice and try a few calming breaths as Vee enters the room with Maria close behind her.

“I’m sorry,” Vee says. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“It’s fine,” Christian excuses her. I still feel like shit. “Maria, I must inform you that my wife is quite concerned with how this matter has been handled thus far. Things have been sloppy; there has been no show of any kind of level of care when it comes down to the footage of our personal lives. We found out through word of mouth that footage of our home had already been aired. We should have heard that from you. You should have been contacting us with reassurances that this situation was a one-off and well in hand. We don’t feel that way now, and my wife is more uneasy than I can describe. I don’t like that… not one bit!”

I hear the protector coming out. I can see that he’s ready to battle for me, but I need more than that. What, I don’t know, but more.

“Ana,” Maria’s voice begins. I don’t make eye contact with her, “no amount of apology that I can offer can possibly restore your faith in me. All I can say is let me show you. Let me show you the promos and what I’ve done—even the promo that was accidentally shown last week. Even though you didn’t approve it beforehand, I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed with the presentation. We’ve gotten off to a rocky start and I and my network didn’t handle things like we should have, but please, give me a chance to make this up to you… to show you that you didn’t make the wrong choice.

“A story like this could make or break someone in this business, but I swear to you—getting a big story and shock value is not worth a lawsuit or losing my credibility or my career. I swear to you on my honor and my integrity, I won’t let anything be aired that you don’t approve. I give you my word. I’ll sleep with the reels if I need to if that will convince you.”

I almost want to demand her ass to sleep with the reels, but right now, I just need to see what’s on them.

“You need to understand that I’m not the only one that’ll be affected by what’s on that film,” I tell her, trying to steady my shaking voice. “My father, his wife, my brother… my children… our friends and family…”

I’m getting choked up by the magnitude of what could happen if this interview material is abused or misconstrued in any way.

“Ana, I know this hasn’t been the most reliable situation that you’ve dealt with so far, but I have the entire network’s attention on this one. There will be no more mistakes, I swear to you.” I hope the fuck you’re right.

“Maria,” I say, my voice shaking and unable to mask my fear and uncertainty any longer, “those are powerful words, but if you betray me, so help me…”

My sentence trails off, but that’s only because there are no words to explain the extent of hell that I would unleash on this woman if she does anything deceptive whatsoever. And these little faux pas that her network keeps doing, I will fucking own my own media outlet after this.

“Anastasia, you have my word,” she says, never breaking eye contact with me. I don’t acquiesce in any way. I don’t want her to think she has won me over other that I am even giving her the slightest chance to fuck me. It’s exactly the opposite. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the fucking enemy until this show airs.

“Let’s see what’s on these damn reels,” I say, standing up and heading for the theater room.


A/N: So that no one will be disappointed or say that I led them on, the next chapter will not reveal the interview. They will discuss what will and will not stay, but the full interview will not be posted/shared until the day it is aired, and everyone sees it at the same time.

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 47—Getting to the Bottom of Things

CHRISTIAN

“To my second son, Freeman…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Enjoy,” he retorts.

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

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

And let’s not forget the back property taxes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m in.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Son of a bitch,” he hisses uncharacteristically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“In a pig’s eye,” Freeman shoots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cyber…” Freeman begins, incredulously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rick…” he begins to protest.

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

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

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

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

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

“What services did you have?” he asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stan…” Freeman begins but trails off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is he getting at?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dad…?”

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

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

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

*-*

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

“Rick… look.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lori,” she purrs. I smile.

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

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

I learn that Westcott owns the business.

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

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

Lori’s not very smart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sir,” Alex answers on the second ring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ANASTASIA

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

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

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

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

Mommy misses you! I’ll be home soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Your Highness.”

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shit, what kind of day was this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean sort of?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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