Raising Grey: Chapter 46—Roots

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 46—Roots

ANASTASIA

Even though we left Seattle in the morning, it’s well into the evening when we get to Michigan, and after dark when we get to Stanley’s house. My husband held his breath almost the entire ride here from the airport, looking out of the window like he was examining exotic animals…

More like he was watching the apocalypse pass by before his very eyes.

We make our way to a suburb of Detroit called Farmington where Stanley lives. It’s a small town—I wouldn’t even consider it a city. The entire place is less than three square miles and again, I feel like I’m in Anguilla. Not to be confused with its neighboring—and much larger—city of Farmington Hills, Farmington is a tiny little municipality that looks as if it were cut right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Downtown Farmington is not more than three blocks total. The buildings all look like libraries and the restaurants like general stores. 5a5a714c6175252a2e3b3f07fb3bf20b

About a minute and a half from downtown, we turn down a quiet street and arrive at Stanley’s house. Unlike the sprawling estates of neighboring Farmington Hills, this small town of about 10,000 people boasts quaint, comfortable family homes. It reminds me a lot of Montesano, only I have no idea how they fit so many people in such a small place. Montesano is about four times the size with only one-third the population.

We drive up the driveway of this small house and park in front of the two-car garage. I swear I expect for Florence Henderson to greet us at the door complete with Jan in the background whining, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” Well, only if Carol Brady was married to James Bond. I’ve never told anyone, but Carrick and his brothers look a lot like James Bond!

Sure enough, the James Bond from Goldeneye opens the door and ushers us inside, and I stand firmly by my conclusion.

“God, am I glad to see you guys… I hadn’t heard anything, so I thought you just decided not to come.”

Stanley and his brothers—including Freeman—are all carbon copies of Burt at various stages of his life. They couldn’t be more different though. Carrick screams power while Herman has this contemplative reservation about him. Stanley, on the other hand, makes you want to just hug him and bake him cookies.

Freeman can eat shit and die.

“What smells so good?” I ask as Stanley welcomes us into his home and closes the door behind us.

“That would be the lovely Lana whipping up some of her magic in the kitchen. Let me take your coats.”

We each hand Stan our coats and take seats in the living room. Christian and I sit on the loveseat while Carrick and Herman take a seat on the sofa.

“The rest of the ladies decided not to come?” Stan says. Carrick shakes his head.

“Grace had to work and Luma needed to get the children off to school. It was too short notice. Christian only informed me of this on Tuesday.” Stan’s brow furrows.

“Tuesday?” he says, bemused. “I’ve known about this for weeks!”

“Have you spoken to our dear brother?” Herman asks. Stan shakes his head.

“Not since he attacked Burtie,” Stan says.

“Well, we can’t prove it just yet, but we have reason to believe that Freeman intercepted our notices for the reading,” Carrick says.

“Come on, guys,” Stan says, smacking his lips. “Don’t you think you might be a bit paranoid? That’s a bit of a stretch.”

“Well, under normal circumstances, I would agree with you,” Carrick retorts, “but we learned about a month or so ago that Freeman was having me followed.”

“Followed?!” Stan exclaims. “What the heck for?”

“I have no idea…”

Carrick and Stan talk for a moment about the agency in Detroit that had been following Carrick, which doesn’t ring any bells with Stan. I listen to the brothers chat for a while with Christian interjecting about Lanie and Burt and their progress in California. He’s vague about details, not knowing how much Lanie and Burt would want to disclose. Stan knew nothing about the divorce, the IRS audit, or the piece of ass that Freeman has had on tap for God only knows how long throughout his marriage. His distaste for the whole situation is written all over his face, and you can easily tell that he would do well not to be involved in any of Freeman’s sordid lifestyle—such as it were.

“Jesus, Lana would have my neck if I even looked at another woman… not that I would want to,” Stanley acknowledges.

Looked at another woman…

Suddenly, thoughts of Liam and the disaster that he… I caused over the last several weeks spring unwelcome to my mind and I need to move around, be useful, or simply leave the space.

“I’m… going to go see if Lana needs any help in the kitchen,” I say, rising from the loveseat. Christian squeezes my hand with a bit of urgency. You don’t need me here, baby. You’re safe here.

“We didn’t mean to exclude you, Ana,” Stan protests. I wave him off with my free hand.

“Nonsense,” I say, still trying to free myself from my husband’s near-death grip. “You gentlemen have a lot of things to talk about. I’ll go help dinner along. She’s cooking for four more people, after all. I’m sure she could use some help.” I turn my most comforting smile to Christian.

You’ll be fine. I, on the other hand, may just spontaneously combust. Let me go on out to the kitchen with the womenfolk.

He wants me as a security blanket, but he doesn’t need me in this room. His lips form a thin line and an unreadable expression flashes over his face before he brings my hand to his lips and kisses it gently.

“Don’t be long,” he says softly.

“I’ll just see if I can help. We can get dinner started faster.” I smile and escape to the kitchen, the Bitch breathing a huge sigh of relief as my feet start moving. I follow the heavenly smell to a double-swinging door. I push it gently and stick my head in. Stan’s wife is donning an apron and standing over the stove.

Again, Norman Rockwell.

norman-rockwell-freedom-from-wantShe looks over her shoulder and makes eye-contact with me.

“I hope I’m not interrupting,” I begin. “I just came to see if you could use any help.”

“Are you kidding?” she exclaims. “Yes! Please!” She puts the top on whatever pot she’s stirring and wipes her hands on her apron, then proceeds towards me with open arms.

“Ana, right?” she says before we embrace. “I remember you from Burt’s funeral. You’re kind of unforgettable… you look so much like Shannon.” She smiles at me. “I bet you’re tired of hearing that.”

“No,” I admit, “only because I’ve only heard nice things about her.”

“All true,” she says, releasing me and fetching another apron from a drawer in the island. “Are you sure you want to help in that lovely dress?” she asks. “It might get ruined with sauce or something.” I wave her off. If she only knew.

“It’s fine,” I assure her as I take the apron and tie it around my waist. “Not a family heirloom or anything.” We both laugh as she goes back to stirring the pot.

“I was just about to start chopping vegetables for the salad, but you know sauce. When it’s time to stir, it’s time to stir,” she laughs.

“Allow me,” I say, and I move to the chopping board and begin to quickly chop the vegetables for the salad. The kitchen is silent for about three minutes as Lana concentrates on her sauce and I concentrate on not losing a finger. It’s not that I can’t chop vegetables; I just chop really fast.

“Wow,” Lana says, turning around after she has turned off the fire under her sauce, “are you a cook?” I smile. Most of the vegetables are chopped and I’ve tossed a few of them in the salad while arranging a few others on top to make a gourmet-looking creation.

“No,” I chuckle, “I just have a litany of tiny skills that I’m barely ever able to utilize. There’s a lot going on in my life with my work and my twins…”

“Twins! Seriously? With that body!? God, I’m jealous.” I laugh at her envy.

“Well, thank you,” I say, arranging the last of the vegetables.

“What’s your secret?” she asks, taking fresh garlic bread from the oven and brushing butter on top.

“I try to eat right as often as I can, and I exercise—weights, yoga, dancing, sparring…”

“See, that’s too much for me,” she admits. “I can do the eating right part, if forced, but the exercising—I’m just too damn lazy.” We share a giggle again. “So, what are the boys doing? Scratching themselves and talking about sports or cars?” I chuckle again.

“No, actually they’re powwowing about how much of an asshole Freeman is,” I say. She examines me for a moment, then turns back to whatever else is warming on the stove—asparagus, I think.

“Well, that’s old news,” she says. “I didn’t like him the day I met him, and nothing’s changed. “You know how some people just have a bad spirit and you can spot it a mile away? That’s Freeman. He’s a monstrous type of man, so much so that I can just see it in his face. At the risk of sounding spacey, I’m very in-tune with inner auras and chis. His is very dark and disturbed. It’s like a demon entered the womb just as he was being born. I don’t doubt that his mother had a very hard labor with him, and the he did some questionable things as a child—not necessarily evil, just questionable…”

“Such as?” I ask, finishing the salad and wiping my hands.

“I don’t know, little things, like kicking puppies,” she says. It would be funny if I didn’t think it were true. I could see young, spoiled Freeman doing just that.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t put that past him, I say. She’s putting pasta in a bowl while I put meat on a platter just as I hear a disturbance in the corner.

“Smells good, Mom. Need some he…” A handsome teenager enters a door from the rear of the kitchen that I can only assume is the basement. “Aunt Shannon?” he asks with uncertainty. Lana and I laugh simultaneously.

“No, Deon, this is cousin Ana,” she says, walking over to me.

“Cousin?” he says. “None of my cousins look like her. She’s hot!” I blush and scoff a laugh.

“Deon!” his mother scolds. Deon shrugs.

“Sorry, Mom. It’s true.” He extends his hand to me. “Nice to meet you Ana. You’re my cousin how?”

“I’m Christian’s wife,” I say, shaking his hand. He shakes his head to tell me he doesn’t know Christian.

“She’s Rick’s daughter-in-law,” Lana clarifies. Deon’s eyes light up.

“Uncle Rick’s here?” he says. “I’ve never met him.”

“He’s in the living room with your father and Uncle Herman.”

“Cool. Can I…?” He points to the door leading to the living room.

“Go on but take this with you and put it on the dining table.” She hands him the platter of meat that I just loaded, and he heads out of the kitchen to the dining room.

“Showtime,” she says with a smile. And we each grab a dish to head to the dining room, I ask, “Lana, you make your own bread and your own sauce?” She smiles.

“No, I make Ruby’s bread and Ruby’s sauce,” she corrects me with a smile. “I found her recipes at the old house after Burt and Herman moved to Seattle. Burt was having the house packed up and we were trying to preserve some of the things since the house was vacant. We had no idea how dilapidated the place had become.” We place the dishes on the set table in the dining room and go back for more. “I thought the brothers might like having their mom’s sauce and bread during this… time.” I nod.

“It’s a beautiful gesture,” I say, taking another dish and heading to the dining room. “Question… If the house is in such bad shape, why is there such a big fight over it?” I ask.

“Nobody’s fighting over the house but Freeman,” she clarifies, placing the last dishes on the table. “Stan just wanted to get his parents’ things out of there and get them safely in storage. That’s where I found the recipes. I copied them and put them back, of course, but I’ve made some of the things for Stan a few times. All their valuables—they’re still in storage. They’ve been there for over a year. Herman and Stanley had planned to divide everything amongst the brothers, but things just got crazy and they never got to it.” We go back to the kitchen and wipe our hands once more on the aprons before taking them off and placing them on the counter.

“Ready?” she asks. I shrug.

“Ready,” I reply. We go into the living room and announce to the gentlemen that dinner is ready. They all pile into the dining room and sit down. Everyone serves themselves and conversation flows freely at the table, everyone laughing and enjoying themselves like a good old family reunion. The spirit in the room is jovial, despite the solemn reason for the visit, but the funniest part of the evening was yet to come.

In Stanley Grey’s household, Lana may do the cooking, because she’s good at it. However, in the spirit of fairness and teamwork, that’s where her evening’s duties end. The gentlemen are required to put the leftovers away and do all the cleanup.

My favorite Dom was none too pleased to hear that.

I tried to get him out of it by telling them that I only lifted two fingers to help with the meal and would be happy to assist with cleanup, but I think Herman and Carrick wanted to see my husband suffer and shooed me out of the kitchen when I tried to assist.

It was hilarious.

I heard one crash, several loud voices, and not ten minutes after they entered the kitchen, Christian was kicked out. Wearing an irritated, puppy-dog expression, he walks over to Lana and explains that he broke one of her plates and would be happy to replace it. Lana chokes back a laugh and tells him to have a seat and relax, thanking him for his effort and scolding the other men for being so intolerant. I think that makes him feel better.

Once dinner is over, Christian and I say goodbye to everyone as Herman and Carrick will be staying at Stanley’s and Christian and I will be going to the hotel. Not only did Stanley’s house not have enough room for everyone, but Christian didn’t know what kind of night he would have sleeping in Michigan for the first time since his childhood, and didn’t want to have to explain violent, audible nightmares to his extended family.

The Townsend Hotel is not what I expected from the outside—a large, rather imposing brick building that looks like it could be historic, but not very impressive. I’m extremely surprised when I get inside and the accommodations are anything but historic. Posh décor, sleek designs, marble everywhere. That’ll teach me to judge a book by its cover.

It’s extremely cold this time of year in Michigan—frigid even. The cold is different here than it is in Washington. I don’t know what it is, but this cold goes into your soul and takes up residence there. I need a fireplace, but there’s nothing in this room but a thermostat and what looks like a furnace that’s built into the wall.

That doesn’t look very cozy.

The room is cold—posh, but cold! There’s no climate control in this place? I realize that people may want their areas to be at custom levels, but the room should at least be room temperature! Christian’s face immediately says that he has drawn the same conclusion that I have.

This place is cold as fuck, what the hell?

I run my hand over the monogrammed blanket on the bed. Blanket… if you can call it that. It’s pretty, and thin. I pull the “covers” back and it’s nothing but this thin bedspread and top sheet to sleep under. Good Lord, I’m going to freeze to death!

I begin to rummage through the closets in the suite to see if there are extra blankets. There’s one… flimsy like the one on the bed. I look around in dismay, realizing that the only thing I brought to sleep in was a comfy little nightie. Christian is tinkering with the settings on the “furnace” in the corner, and I hear it come to life.

“You gotta be kidding,” he murmurs. I join him near the heat source to discover that there’s a very small vent on the thing and even at its highest setting, it’s not blowing out much heat. I walk around the suite to see if there are any other furnaces…

None. Just the one.

For this giant ass suite? One furnace?

I see the terrycloth robe at the end of the bed. It’s thicker than the goddamn blanket.

No fireplace, one furnace, and it’s cold as fuck. That’s it—bath to get the cold out of my bones, then I’ll sleep in my yoga pants, whatever warm shirt I have, and that terrycloth robe.

I go to the bathroom and turn on the water in the tub. There’s a lot of marble in here. It takes the hot water several minutes to get hot, but when it does, it’s scalding. At least something is hot in this joint. I get the water to the right temperature and plug the tub. The bathroom fills with steam and that makes me happy.

When I come back to the bedroom, Christian is typing into his phone. I can’t help but wonder who he’s trying to contact at this hour.

I go back to the bathroom, terrycloth robe in hand, and decide to strip in there. It’s warmer with the hot water running. When I take off my boots and socks…

“Shit!” I hiss.

“What?” Christian says, his voice full of alarm.

“Nothing. I’m sorry. The floor is like ice!”

Wrong thing to say.

“Goddammit!” I hear him pacing around or something while I finish stripping and climb into the tub.

Nirvana.

A few minutes into my bath, I hear my husband’s agitated voice.

“This suite is freezing,” he says. “There’s only one temperature control and it’s in the bedroom. I can’t even use the rest of the rooms at this temperature.”

There’s silence for a long time and then I hear…

“My wife is in a steaming bath trying to boil the cold out of her bones. When she gets out, her pores are going to be open and she’s going to be walking on a subzero marble floor, after which she’s going to enter an arctic bedroom to wrap herself in this bed sheet that’s passing off as a blanket and try to get a good night’s sleep in a room that’s about as cozy as the North Pole and hope she doesn’t wake with pneumonia.”

Another long silence.

“Why yes, I am from the west coast—Seattle, in fact. You know, snow advisories? Winter storms? Freezing rain?”

Uh oh… whoever is on the line with my husband just pissed him off. I don’t have to hear the other side of that conversation to know that they’re basically telling him that he doesn’t know how to handle Michigan weather.

“Never mind. This was a mistake,” and just like that, the call ends. Quiet resolution? Oh, shit. That’s worse than angry ranting.

“Jason, can you see if you can find me a duvet or a real comforter for my wife? This room is -17 degrees and she’s in the bathtub trying to warm up. Whether she decides to stay in tomorrow or go out, she’s going to be sick by the time we get on the plane.”

There’s a long pause, and then he says some other things that I can’t hear because he goes off into the living room. I add more hot water to my bath and sink into the comfort. If this is going to be the only warmth that I get, I’m going to enjoy it for as long as I can.

*-*

I stay in the tub until my skin starts to shrivel. The room is bone quiet and I actually fell asleep for a while. I finally decide to brave the arctic floor and dry off quickly, struggle into my yoga pants and t-shirt and wrap myself in the terrycloth robe. I gather my clothes and exit the bathroom to find Christian sitting on the edge of the bed still in his street clothes.

“Here, baby,” he says, dropping a pair of house slippers at my feet. “Put these on.” I slide into the slippers as he takes my clothes from my arms. He takes my hand and leads me out of the room and down the hall.

Where are we going?

We turn the corner and Jason is standing outside of another room like a good tin soldier.

“Thanks, Jason,” Christian says as Jason opens the door. “Get some rest.”

“Goodnight, sir, Your Highness.” He turns and walks down the hall. I’m glad nobody heard that. Paparazzi would be at our door just to find out who the fuck I am not knowing that’s just a private joke between Jason and me.

I walk into another suite and I’m immediately enveloped by warmth. More marble, including a beautiful black marble fireplace that’s already lit—very cozy surroundings, and a real comforter on the bed.

“Thank God,” I exclaim, pulling off the now too-hot terrycloth robe. “What happened? What was the deal with the arctic bedroom?” Christian shrugs.

“I don’t really know,” he says. “I asked Jason to go see if he could find us a real comforter. When he came back, we were here with apologies from the staff that we were booked in the wrong room.”

“Wrong room?” I ask. “Nobody should have to sleep in that icebox. What is this… three, four-hundred a night?” He nods.

“Four,” he confirms. “It was short notice, but it comes highly recommended, so…” He shrugs. My husband is a bit too reserved for my taste. I’m used to take no prisoners, get me what I want or this place will be closed by Friday Christian Grey, and right now, he seems… resolved. I don’t like it.

I go to the bathroom—heated floor bathroom this time—to finish my nighttime routine. I just want to go to bed now, since the room is all comfy and toasty. Intent on wearing my nighty now, I strip naked and put the robe back on. Once I’m done, I go back to the bedroom to find Christian sitting on the edge of the bed again, now in his boxers and T-shirt, gazing at nothing.

He’s looking rudderless like he has no idea what he should be doing right now. It’s bad enough that we’ve been going through our own turmoil for the past several weeks. Now, he’s here in this place—maybe not right in Detroit at the moment but being this close—he probably can’t even find himself right now.

Maybe we should meditate? Try to help him find his center? No, I have a feeling he needs much more than that.

I walk over to him and stand in his line of sight. His eyes slowly rise to mine, and he looks like a lost child—really, like a lost child trying to find his mother. It’s more than my heart can handle. I gently caress his hair, begging him with my eyes to tell me what he needs. He says nothing. He just keeps gazing into my eyes, his gray orbs glassy and almost clear.

I’m lost. I usually know what to do to help him, but right now, I don’t. We’ve been struggling to connect over this last week after our most recent realization. We’ve been tender, attentive, but not sexual, and to be honest, that’s usually how we decompress. I sigh heavily and reach into myself to try to find the me… the us… or some piece of it, before all this shit happened.

I climb onto the bed and straddle him, thrusting my hands into his hair and caressing his scalp. He closes his eyes and sinks into the comfort for about a minute or two. When he opens them again, his eyes are gray fire and I feel him thicken and his body harden underneath me.

He kisses me… more like he launches a sneak attack on my mouth and devours my lips, his hands roaming all over me. It’s like a goddamn stick of dynamite. His body ignites, as does mine and I can feel the inner struggle, the fight to satiate ourselves without ripping each other to shreds.

I forcefully pull his hair, trying to get as much of his mouth as I can, hungrily lapping his kisses. He groans and rises slightly off the bed with me still in his lap. When he sits again, we’re further up the bed, but he’s without his boxer briefs now. I struggle with his groping arms to get his T-shirt off and once I’m successful, he quickly undoes my belt and rids me of the terrycloth robe. My legs are now wrapped around him, my core open wide, and his thick erection rubs against my cleft, again and again.

We haven’t been intimate in what seems like forever and I’m rising quickly… very quickly! He’s grabbing at my naked body, taking as much from me as I’m taking from him. Good God, I feel like I’m going to combust!

He gasps and actually whimpers once he enters me. My body releases an involuntary tremor. My response to feeling him—thick and hard inside of me—is swift and sure, and almost immediately, I come. I rest my forehead on his and ride out a shivering orgasm, fighting the tears behind my eyelids because I don’t want him to stop, especially since he just got started. He groans in his throat and holds me incredibly close to him as he grinds sensually into me. My body is craving him, aching for him, weeping for him. I need him so much…

Oh, God, love me… love me, please…

He leans back and opens his legs further, causing my ass to drop between his thighs. I use my feet to steady myself on the bed which only causes my legs to fall open farther… and him to slide in deeper.

Oh, good God…

He grunts as he slips deeper into me, leaning back a bit to get a deeper grind. I don’t know how he’s balancing himself without putting his hands on the bed and quite frankly, I don’t fucking care. With my legs open like this, I’m getting the most delicious stimulation of my clit while he’s drilling me.

His left hand moves to my nape to hold me in place and his right hand cups my hip and ass cheek to guide me, and he’s grinding—stroking and drilling and driving me quickly to a second orgasm.

My God, what’s going on with me?

I feel the sweat building quickly on my body… our bodies. I wrap my arms around his neck—my forehead still pressed against his—and hold on, thrusting my fingers into his hair. I’m looking into his slate gray eyes and he’s watching me, closely, pushing me… pushing me…

My mouth is open and my uncontrolled breathing is almost embarrassing. He’s rocking into me with purpose, stimulating my clit each time and minutes after my first orgasm…

I whimper through my second release, unable to stop the tears from falling down my cheeks this time. I see the ends of my wet hair shaking through my tremors, and my husband never breaks our gaze. He’s still intense, still rocking and drilling into me, holding me down onto his insistent cock.  God, he’s so hard and he feels so good. How long has it been? Shit… only a week, I think. It feels like forever.

He groans deep in his chest and his stroke becomes more intense. He’s kissing me with those hungry sex kisses, slowly and intently chasing his orgasm. My body is mush—trembling, shivering mush, and he holds me tight and pushes his hard, hot cock up into me over and over and over…

“Sweet Jesus,” I whimper, and I only realize that I’ve said it out loud when his mouth latches onto my neck and sucks very hard, his stroke going deeper and deeper.

“Oh mon Dieu!” I cry out, resting my elbows on his shoulders and pulling hard on his hair. He growls again and grabs my ass cheek roughly, his long fingers slipping in to caress my rosette.

I’m so tired and weak that I’m a little loopy. I can only hold on as he guides me roughly, intently, and sensually over his thickening dick, repeatedly. His fingers are sinking into my skin to the point of pain, his left hand still holding me firmly at the nape of my neck. I almost can’t breathe when a finger the hand that’s violently grabbing and guiding my ass and hip slides between my cheeks and into my rosette.

And I’m rising again—swiftly.

I start to tremble almost immediately, his grunting sex sounds urging me on along with his rhythmic upward strokes into my core. His mouth covers mine just as his finger thrusts into my ass and before I can control it….

“Mmmmmmmmmmhmmmmmhmmhmmmmhmmmmmmmmm!”

I’m screaming into his mouth, shaking more violently than I did with the first two orgasms. He’s a fucking machine and I can’t fucking take much fucking more of this! As if his dick heard me…

“God! Fuck! God! Shit! Shit! Shit!” He’s cursing out a violent diatribe against my mouth as his cock throbs so viciously that the thickness of it is a bit uncomfortable. Thank God! I’m going to pass out here on his lap! My orgasm subsides long before his does, but he’s still pumping up into me and pushing me down on his cock, his fingers still inside my clinching ass. I close my eyes tight and wait until he resorts to the breathless, post-orgasmic gasps, not wanting to interrupt his release. Once I hear the panting begin…

“Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!” I sound like a cat. My ass tightening around his finger is very uncomfortable. He quickly removes his finger from my ass with no warning, causing me to yowl. That was the best way to do it, but it was still not pleasant. He peppers soft kisses on my lips and it feels like an apology. I melt into his lap and his arms, unable to protest in any way. As my body falls heavily on him, I can feel his erection still standing strong inside of me.

That’s impossible! He came! I felt him come! I know he did, but his cock is still as hard as steel.

At first, his kisses are tender, like he’s thanking me, worshipping me. A few minutes of that, and they become more intense, more demanding and hungry. I have no energy left and my legs fall to the sides of him. Noting my surrender, he lifts me from his lap and lays me on the bed on my side. God, I’m exhausted. I think he’s finally going to let me rest.

I think wrong.

Standing next to the bed, he leans over and sinks into me from behind. Fuck, I’m so sensitive from three orgasms that I hiss when he enters me. He leans on my right hip which pushes my left hip into the bed and presses my legs together, and he is thrusting, fucking me with long, deep, intense strokes intentionally massaging his entire dick with my tender pussy. With my legs pushed together, his dick is hitting every inner wall of my core. He wants to come again, and he’s fucking with just that specific intent.

And it’s hot.

As tired as I am, I feel myself rising again. I didn’t think that shit was possible, but here it is. My pussy lips feel hot as he’s using my body to get off, and his dick sliding into me sideways is hitting the most delicious sweet spot each time he sinks in balls deep. All I can do is lay here and enjoy the process, because if he doesn’t come first, I’m surely going to come again.

He drills and drills and thrusts and thrusts, never changing his stroke, and from the way he’s standing over me, I know that he’s watching his cock disappear into my pussy and reappear before he buries himself inside of me again. I grab the sheets as I feel his hips roll, chasing his release. My body responds involuntarily to his heightened, pre-orgasmic arousal and as his thrust quickens and his grind intensified, I grab a pillow and scream out my fourth orgasm.

Fourth! Dear God, man, arrête s’il-te-plaît!

Several punishing strokes later, Christian clenches my hip tightly with both hands and explodes violently inside of me. I’m too tired to even react. I’m exhausted and sore and I can’t keep my eyes open anymore…

*-*

Sunlight breeches my slumber and I open my eyes. I slept straight through the night without turning over once, as did my husband… I think. He’s still asleep. He’s spooning me, and I can feel his breath on my neck… and his morning wood right at my anus. Shit, I’m instantly hot, even after all that fucking last night. He’s hard as a rock and breathing that rhythmic, content breathing that indicates a deep sleep. We have about another hour before we even have to stir for breakfast and I am wet and on fire.

Should I wake him?

He had such a rough time yesterday that I just want to let him rest. He did his best not to complain, but he was definitely not a happy camper.

The Midwest morning sun seems a whole lot different to me. It’s not as comforting as the sunrise back home, although I’m biased. This place holds terrible vibes for my wing of the Grey family, and those vibes are rubbing off on me.

But right now, there’s something else rubbing off on me. It’s poking me in my ass, extremely close to a dripping wet and hot opening and try though I might, I can’t ignore it. If I just…

With my legs still together, I adjust my hips just a bit. I’m so wet that the head of his cock slips right into me. I gasp, then bury my mouth in my arm to muffle the sound.

He doesn’t move. His breathing remains even, but his cock twitches just a bit… too much for me.

I close my eyes and push back on him—slow and steady and taking him all the way to the balls. He groans deeply, then grunts, and when I pull back and push down on him again, he grabs my hip and moans, his fingers digging into my meat. I stroke him deep, riding him sideways hard and sweet, my eyes rolling back in my head as I cling to the sheets and savor each sensual, deep thrust. His hips remain still, but his cock gets harder… and harder… each breath releasing a lustful moan as I push my ass against his pelvis, taking his full shaft with each stroke. It’s fucking divine—and primal… unplanned and feral and sweet.

I’m getting wetter and hotter, and his cock is so hard that I feel him on every wall of me, his shaft rubbing perfectly against every hot spot with each entry and exit, just like last night. I roll my hips for massive stimulation and I get it, but he gets it, too. He forcibly grabs my shoulder and bends me slightly forward in the bed, causing my ass to stick out further. I oblige and use my hands to steady myself as I ride harder and faster against him. The friction is delicious and he’s filling me and filling me with every backwards thrust, bringing me higher and higher until…

“Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”

I hear a primal, chesty, throaty growl behind me and a fearfully strong grip holds my hips in place. He’s pulsing and throbbing and coming inside me… a lot! Shit! I wasn’t done yet!

I can hear his teeth grinding as he holds me still and continues to squirt inside of me. I didn’t know he had that in him after last night! I try not to be frustrated with my interrupted and shortened ecstasy and allow him to ride out what is apparently a stiffening and crippling orgasm.

After several moments of grunting, pulsing, and coming, he grabs a handful of my hair with one hand—shocking the shit out of me, by the way—and pulls my head back. His lips and teeth lock down on the tender meat between my neck and shoulder and I gasp. With his dick still pulsing inside of me, he releases my hip and brings his hand to my breast, squeezing the mound and pinching my nipple… hard!

He pushes himself further into me and pulls out, then in again, and out—our intermingled juices coating his cock as he thrusts. He hisses through his nose with each stroke, his cock still tender no doubt as he squeezes out the last few moments of his orgasm. Thankfully, the onslaught is too much for me.

My chest releases its own sensual growl as the orgasm that I had been chasing crashes down on me. Christian releases something that sounds like a whimper and immobilizes me against his body, his mouth still locked on the same spot on my neck.

That’s going to leave a mark.

I quake through my orgasm, feeling my milk squirt involuntarily onto the sheets as it often does when I’m extremely stimulated… or coming violently. When the orgasm wanes, finally, we both lay there in breathless splendor, weak and completely spent—useless.

That moment lasts for about fifteen seconds before Christian wrenches his now-flaccid dick from my very tender vagina, the motion and the friction causing my body to twitch and protest madly. He leaps from the bed and darts to the en suite without even closing the door. I hear him relieve himself with a loud groan and a hiss and a whimper or three. It’s not really funny, but I still have to stifle a giggle.

I hear the water running—a little longer than usual—but assume that he’s washing his hands. I hear the water stop and a few moments later, the bed dips behind me. I’m shocked out of my post coital bliss by a bitterly cold cloth on my genitals.

Fucking hell!

“I figure if I needed it, you probably needed it more,” he says, coolly.

“A little warning next time?” I complain. He nods.

“Sorry,” he apologizes as he gently cleans my crotch with the cold cloth. It actually feels good—once you know it’s coming, that is.

“My muscles were so weak after that session,” he explains as he cleans. “I was afraid that I was going to piss us both.” I chuckle, noting to myself that I’ll have to use the facilities soon, too. “Don’t think I didn’t hear you laughing at me.”

“Is that why you assaulted me with a cold washcloth with no warning?” I ask. There’s momentary silence behind me.

“I hadn’t thought of it, but it serves you right,” he says. He completes his cleanup and slaps my ass. I jump.

“Ow!” I protest as I leap out of bed. He sits there looking at me impishly and I roll my eyes at him as I go to the en suite.

*-*

About an hour after our morning tryst, I’m sitting at the dining table wild-haired and wearing the white terrycloth robe, chomping on pancakes, bacon, and croissants just like Julia Roberts while talking to my billionaire. giphy

“So, what are you going to do today?” Christian asks, as he sips his coffee. We decided that he would go to the reading with his father and uncles without me. Giving him a task will keep him focused and he won’t be in Detroit. I think just having me here gives him strength… and our animal sex over the past several hours certainly didn’t hurt the situation.

“I’m in Michigan,” I say. “I hadn’t considered any social activities while I was here.” He nods.

“Jason and the Navigator will stay here with you,” he says. “Dad, Uncle Stan, and Uncle Herman are coming to pick me up before we head to the attorney’s office. Wu, I think his name is. After that, we’ll head to that investigator and see what we can find out. With the four of us together, I think we’ll be alright. I would prefer it if you didn’t go to the city, though,” he says without raising his eyes from his breakfast. There are a lot of cities in the area, but I know which one he’s referring to.

“I know there’s good shopping around, but I don’t know details, so you may want to ask Lana if she’s available. I’ll touch bases with you after we’ve talked to Best Shields Family Investigations.” Shit… didn’t he tell me that Best Shields is in Detroit? I reach across and take his hand.

“I can go with you if you want,” I remind him. “It’ll only take me a minute to get dressed.” He smiles.

“It’ll take you more than a minute, and I’ll be fine. I’ll be concentrating on Dad and my two uncles and the business at hand. I won’t have time to feel sorry for myself.”

“And Freeman,” I add. He twists his lips.

“Yes, and Freeman,” he admits. His cell phone rings and I can tell by his end of the conversation that his father and uncles have arrived. He finishes his coffee and gives me a deep, searing kiss before retrieving his coat and leaving the room.

Now, I’m alone.

I have no desire to explore Michigan. The place holds no splendor for me. So, once I’ve showered and dressed, my day will consist of working virtually with Helping Hands, ordering bonsai trees and Zen gardens for my office, and skyping with Ace.


CHRISTIAN

“Have either of you met this guy before?” Uncle Stan asks as we head to the attorney’s office.

“I have,” Uncle Herman replies. “He’s been Dad’s lawyer for years. We didn’t have much cause to talk to him—or so I thought—but when we did, he seemed like a real stand-up guy.”

“So, why didn’t you get your letters about the reading?” I ask.

“That’s what I intend to find out,” Dad says. I get the feeling that he’s ready to rip his brother apart and I only hope that he doesn’t do anything that will get him arrested.

We arrive at this beautiful, tall building in Troy about fifteen minutes later. Uncle Herman seems friendly with the receptionist and asks her to summon “Nathan,” but not to tell him who’s here. The eyelash-fluttering receptionist makes a call and we wait for the attorney.

“Who’s that handsome hunk of youngness?” she asks, gesturing towards me. Oh, dear God.

“That’s my nephew, Christian,” Uncle Herman say. I want to murder him. Why the hell did he tell this woman my name?

“Mm,” she says, examining me like a piece of meat. “He single?” Uncle Herman laughs.

“No,” I reply. “Very happily married with nine-month-old twins.”

“Mm,” she says again, twisting her lips. “Too bad. Denise is still single, you know.”

I wonder if Denise knows that you’re pimping her out to strangers.

“Herman…” A dark-haired Asian gentleman greets my uncle. “It’s good to see you again.” Uncle Herman takes his extended hand.

“It’s good to see you, too, Nathan,” he says, shaking his hand. “I wish it was under better circumstances.”

“Yes, I know,” Nathan agrees, “but his last conversation with me was pretty strained. It must be better than he’s not suffering anymore.”

“Hear, hear,” my father says softly, garnering the attorney’s attention.

“Nathan, this is my brother, Rick. Rick, this is Nathan Wu, Dad’s attorney.”

“Rick,” Wu says as if testing his name. “Carrick, yes.” He proffers his hand to Dad. “Burt spoke very fondly of you.” Dad raises his eyebrows.

“He did?” he asks.

“Yes, he did,” Wu says. “You made him a happy man.” Dad twists his lips. I don’t know if it’s disbelief or if he’s trying to keep from crying.

“This is my son, Christian Grey,” Dad says, turning the attention away from himself. I extend my hand.

“It a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Wu,” I say. He accepts my hand and shakes firmly.

“The pleasure is mine, Mr. Grey,” he says with a smile.

“This is Stan,” Uncle Herman continues. “I don’t think you’ve met him.”

“No, I haven’t. Stanley?” Wu extends his hand to Uncle Stan. “A pleasure, sir.”

“Thank you, Mr. Wu. Likewise,” Uncle Stan says.

“So, gentlemen, if you’ll follow me, we’ll get to the business at hand.” We fall in line behind Wu and just as we’re stepping off the elevator on the floor were the conference room is, I remember one crucial piece of information.

“Dad,” I say, catching his arm. “Restraining order.”

“Shit!” Dad hisses, and all three men stop and look at us. “Christian has a restraining order against Freeman.

“Shit, that’s right. I forgot,” Uncle Herman says.

“Christian has a restraining order against Freeman?” Uncle Stan asks incredulously.

“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you about it later,” Dad says. “Should he go back downstairs and wait?” he asks Uncle Herman.

“You’re here on official business,” Wu says. “He can stay on the floor,

but I wouldn’t recommend that he come in the room.” Dad nods.

“Is there a waiting room up here or something?” he asks. Yes, please don’t send me back down there with the matchmaking receptionist with the 50’s hairdo and way too much blue eye shadow.

“Do you want to watch the reading?” Wu asks.

“If I could,” I respond, “without violating my own restraining order.” Wu nods.

“You have no idea how many times this happens. Follow me.” We all follow Wu down the same hallway and through a door into a small room.

“This is our deposition room, but it doubles for family members who can’t stand being in the room with one another. I think this is one of those times.”

It’s a utilitarian room, with a table and comfortable chairs, and what looks like a large screen on one wall. In the screen, I see Freeman sitting at a table with his fingers entwined, almost looking like he’s the king of the world. God, I hate that jerk.

“You can see and hear what’s going on in the room next door. We can’t see or hear you unless you push that button over there to speak through the intercom… or bang on the wall.”

I nod, then must reassure my father that I’m fine.

“Dad, go,” I tell him. “I came out here for you, not for you to worry about me.” I shoo my father and uncles away and settle in to watch the show.

Moments after they leave the room, I watch Wu walk back into the conference room. The first in the room behind him is Uncle Stan, which doesn’t seem to affect Freeman too much. However, when my father and Uncle Herman walk into the room behind him, Freeman’s ears turn red and his face turns stark white.

“What’s the matter, Freem?” Uncle Stan says. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Yeah, Freem, what’s the matter?” Dad asks. “Surprised to see us?”

“Yeah, darndest thing happened,” Uncle Herman chimes. “We almost didn’t make it.”

All three brothers stand there waiting for a response from Freeman. He just tightens his lips and turns to a slightly confused Wu.

“Let’s get this done,” he barks, like he’s the only one in the room.

“Yes, let’s,” Dad says. “I’m anxious to see what Dad has to say.” Uncle Stan, Uncle Herman, and Dad all take seats next to each other and on the opposite side of the table from Freeman. My vantage point is right at the head of the table where Wu is sitting.

“Gentlemen, I must inform you that these proceedings are being recorded for legal purposes. If any of you object to being recorded, you may leave at this time.”

No one moves to leave, so Wu continues.

“No matter what you’ve seen on television and in the movies, there is normally no open and dramatic reading of the will,” Wu begins. “It is often determined by the executor that the will is valid with its authenticity and any question thereof established by a solicitor, attorney, or other legal expert. As I was present at the creation of this document, I can and do hereby attest to its validity. In addition, any beneficiaries are normally separately notified of their entitlements so that they can raise any questions or challenges early in the process. Burton’s final wishes were that you all be present for a formal reading of his last will and testament so that each person knows what the other is getting and hopefully eliminate the need for any challenges. Before we begin, are there any questions?”

“Yes. Can you tell me how I and my brother Herman were notified of the scheduled reading of my father’s will?” Dad asks. Wu’s brow furrows.

“By… certified mail,” he says, thumbing through the file. “I have a signed return card to indicate that you received it.” He hands my father a green card and Dad examines it.

“That’s not my signature,” he says. “What about my brother, Herman?” Wu rifles through the file again and hands a card to Uncle Herman.

“Nope, not me,” Uncle Herman says. “That’s not even how I sign my name.” He hands the card back to Wu. Wu examines the card and then looks through the file in front of him.

“You’re right,” he says, comparing the signature to something in the file. “That’s not the same signature.” Wu probably has at least a dozen documents signed by Uncle Herman.

“You’re going to want to hold on to those,” Dad says, handing his card back to Wu. “They’ll most likely become part of a criminal investigation.”

“A criminal investigation,” Freeman scoffs as Wu puts the cards away. “Why, because you threw back one too many and don’t remember signing for the letters? You probably signed for Herm’s, too, and now you’re too ashamed to admit that you don’t know what you did with them. What’s the matter, Rick? You paranoid?” he taunts.

“No, but you should be, Freem,” Dad retorts. “The criminal investigation is because somebody tampered with the US mail, and I intend to do everything in my power to find out who. Does (Private Eye) ring a bell?”

Freeman turns as pale as he did when Dad and Uncle Herman walked into the room with Uncle Stan.

“Yeah, we knew about you long before Nollie’s trust stopped paying for your dick!” Dad shoots.

Good one, Dad.

“I knew you had something to do with this,” Freeman hisses.

“No, who had something to do with it was your daughter,” Dad corrects him. “From what I hear, you never gave her enough credit and now, she’s languishing in your slow demise.”

“Nollie’s not smart enough to do this on her own,” Freeman shoots. “There must have been some help from your meddling ass bastard son.” God, he’s such a Grade-A asshole.

“That’s why you’re losing your family, Freeman,” Dad says, shaking his head. “You’re a walking, talking piece of shit. You’ve underestimated Nollie for years, and when she finally shows you what she’s made of, you take it out on your son. You’ve treated your wife like garbage for as far back as she can remember, and when she stands up to you, you destroy her most precious memories. And you have the nerve to talk badly about my son. I hope that little piece of ass that you’ve got stashed away keeps you warm at night, because that’s all you’ve got left!” Dad nearly growls the last words at his brother before turning to face the attorney.

“Mr. Wu let’s get this done,” he says. “I don’t want to be in the room with this man any longer than I have to.”

For the first time since I’ve known him, Freeman is stunned into silence. I don’t know if it’s because everything that Dad said about his family was right, or if he realized that his little twat isn’t going to keep him warm at night once she discovers that her sugar daddy well has run dry. He better hurry up and sell Pops’ house and hopes he gets some money from it. Then again, the IRS is probably going to suck that money from him and when they’re done, Nell will get a nice share of anything that’s left… I think.

Wu just opens his file and starts reading, completely unfazed. I’m sure he’s probably seen a whole lot more than this during his career as an estate attorney.

“I, Burton Jefferson Grey, with a place of residence of 1452 SE Shoreland Drive, Bellevue, Washington, 98004, being of sound mind and not acting under any duress or undue influence while fully understanding the nature and extent of all my property and of this disposition thereby, do hereby make, publish, and declare this document to be my last will and testament, and hereby revoke any and all other wills and codicils heretofore made by me, hereinafter known as the ‘Testator.’”

I watch Uncle Herman’s brow furrow.

“What’s wrong, Herm?” Dad asks.

“Excuse me for interrupting, Mr. Wu,” Uncle Herman says, “but the address on that will is Bellevue? Not Detroit?” Wu nods.

“Yes, that’s correct.” Uncle Herman falls back in his seat.

“What?” Uncle Stanley says.

“Dad did this within the last year,” he says.

“So?” Freeman nearly barks. “He was dying. It’s common for a man to get his affairs in order when he knows he’s dying.”

No one turns any attention to Freeman. They all know what Uncle Herman is saying. Yes, Pops was dying, but he had something to say and he knew that his will would be the last time that he would be heard. You can see each of the brothers steel themselves for whatever is about to be revealed while Freeman still sits haughtily on his side of the table… alone.

“I am not married,” Wu continues. “I have four children: Herman Grey, Freeman Grey, Carrick Grey, Stanley Grey. My children will be included as heirs in this last will and testament.”

“Hmph!” Freeman grunts. When no one reacts, Wu continues the reading with the usual legal inclusions—Uncle Herman as his executor and Wu as his second giving them all power to dispose of and execute his estate; that all of Pops’ estate expenses, medical bills, final arrangements and such should be covered from his estate; and that all beneficiaries must survive him by 30 days. Freeman perks up when he gets to the section of special bequests.

“To my eldest son, Herman: you have been my diligent caretaker and constant companion since I fell ill after your mother passed. There is no monetary sum or physical value that I can place on the love and never-ending devotion that you have shown to me all these years, never asking for anything in return and often putting my needs before your own. My biggest comfort besides the fact that my suffering is now over, and I can finally rest is that you will be able to live a full life in your golden years and love Luma and the girls freely and without reservation.”

Uncle Herman audibly chokes back tears, his body physically jerking. Stanley puts his hand on his brother’s back in obvious concern, but Uncle Herman slightly raises his own hand to indicate that he’s okay and signals Wu to continue.

“To you, Herman, I bequeath the contents of the safe deposit box at Chase Bank to retain or distribute as you see fit.”

Uncle Herman simply nods quickly, never raising his head, and I see a tear fall on the wood of the large oak table.

“To my third son, Carrick…”

“Third son?” Freeman interrupts angrily. Wu raises his eyes impatiently to Freeman.

“To my third son, Carrick…” he repeats, his eyes piercing. He appears to have had enough of Freeman’s attitude. “You welcomed me into your home even after we abandoned you for twenty-five years…”

“We didn’t abandon him! He left!” Freeman barks.

“No matter how your older brother, Freeman, feels about it,” Wu continues, “we let you down. We followed blindly and didn’t take action when we should have and because of that, I nearly missed meeting my grandchildren and their families.”

“He should…” Freeman starts.

“Shut up!” All three brothers bark at Freeman in one voice, and the shock causes him to shrink in his seat.

“Nonetheless, you and Gracie opened your arms, your home, and your heart to me as if no time had passed and your beautiful children and their families showed me more love than my heart could hold, no questions asked. I know it hurt you and Christian not being able to use your resources to extend my life, but my time had come, and you made my last days some of the best of my life, besides my time with my Ruby. You all gave me one of the most precious and treasured gifts I could ever imagine, and know that as I take my rest, I take that love and gratitude with me to share with Ruby when I see her again. Please give my Mia the biggest hug and kiss you can when you see her again and tell her that Grandad loved every second he spent with her, even those horrible vitamin drinks, because I knew she was doing it because she loved me.”

“Oh, Dad,” my father breathes heavily, barely able to sit up in his seat. Nobody says anything. Even Freeman’s smart mouth is sealed shut.

“To you, Carrick, I bequeath my model car collection. Nobody appreciated it like you and I hope you have as many fond memories of it as I do with you.”

Dad smiles widely as Wu reads that he’s receiving the collection. A look of warm nostalgia falls over his face as he gazes off in front of him. When the brothers look at him questioning, he turns to Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman and coos, “You had to be there.” I’m dying to know the story behind these cars.

“To my youngest son, Stanley…”

“What the fuck?” Freeman hisses, and all three brothers throw a simultaneous death glare at him. He doesn’t respond, but his ire still shows on his face.

“My dear, sweet, gentle Stanley, I know I haven’t seen you much in the recent months, but I must tell you, son. It’s time to stand up and be who you need to be. You have a heart of gold and a flame of love and creativity that has the ability to burn brighter than the brightest wildfire, but you’re hiding it under a bushel. Lana adores you and you have proven time and again that you are a kind, loving, caring and doting father. Stop allowing people to turn your kindness into weakness. You deserve better and I know that you can achieve it. No matter what, my gentle prince, I’m proud of you. Know that I was proud of you them moment I breathed my last breath, and Ruby and I will be looking down on you waiting for that greatness that I know is inside you to be released. You know what I mean, son.”

“Yeah, Dad,” Stanley whispers, “I know what you mean.” After a brief moment of silence, Wu continues to read.

“To you, Stanley, I bequeath your mother’s pearl jewelry collection and her antique ring. I’ve seen the way Lana admired them when Ruby was alive, but I was unable to part with them while I was living. Now, I’m sure Ruby will be proud to see her precious pieces gracing the neck of your beautiful wife. I also bequeath you your mother’s collection of her original paintings. I’ve kept them in preserved storage all this time, also unable to part with them before I shed my earthly coil. Now that I’m with my Ruby, I know in my heart that you’ll appreciate your mom’s work. As always, hang loose, son.”

“Mom’s paintings,” Stanley says, wistfully awestruck. “Oh, dear God… he kept Mom’s paintings… for me!”

He says nothing about the antique and probably priceless jewelry that will be gifted to his wife—only the work of his mother’s hands that lived on as her legacy after she has passed away.

“To my second son, Freeman…”


A/N: “Oh mon Dieu”—”Oh, my God “

“Arrête s’il-te-plaît!”—”Stop, please!”

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

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Raising Grey: Chapter 43—Falling Out of Eden

You know that I love you all, but today, I want to give a special shout-out to my Twitter followers. I don’t get over there as much as I do on Facebook and other medias, but when I do, I see that they’ve shown me lots of support and love. I appreciate you guys more than you know. tenor

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 43—Falling Out of Eden

ANASTASIA

Once again, I’ve slept like the dead. My head hurts a little… that “too-much-sleep” feeling. I reach over for Christian only to find that his side of the bed is empty—and cold. He hasn’t been there for quite some time. Stamping down my insecurity as to why he’s not in bed with me, my eyes focus on something on his pillow. It’s an envelope. I sit up an open the envelope to find a note inside. The paper has blue rhododendrons printed all over it and three words…. those three words. Under the envelope is my iPod.

Um… okay.

I quickly go to the bathroom to relieve myself before returning to bed to put my earbuds in. When I open my iPod, it immediately goes to one file… one long file. Oh, God, what is this? I prepare myself for whatever it is and touch the file to play it. I hear random keys on the piano, nothing in particular. Then chords that sound like the player is trying out certain songs before a tune starts to play sweetly in my ears. I think I know what it is because the tune is familiar. I lean back on the headboard, still not completely sure what I’m listening to… until I hear it…

For so long for this night I prayed, that a star would guide you my way, to share with me this special day where a ribbon’s in the sky for our love…

It’s Christian! It’s my husband’s beautiful baritone voice singing Stevie Wonder “Ribbon in the Sky!” I cover my mouth in awe as he croons the song perfectly while his skillful fingers produce the accompaniment on his piano. When the song is over, I nearly cry and before I can recoil, his melodious voice and beautiful music is in my ear again…

When your legs don’t work like they used to before and I can’t sweep you off of your feet, will your mouth still remember the taste of my love? Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks?

How many songs did he record? This file says it’s hours long! Did he sleep at all?

Wherever you go, whatever you do, I will be right here waiting for you…

I listen to at least ten songs, weeping with love and joy and my heart nearly exploding before I have to go and find this man. I jump out of bed in my oversized nightshirt and don’t even bother trying to find bottoms. I need him now… right now.

I start in the nursery and the babies are sound asleep, but no Christian. I pass inquisitive faces on the first floor, but don’t bother saying anything. I don’t see him, so he’s not here either. On the lower level, I don’t find him in the entertainment room, the workout room or his office, and an empty brandy snifter on a coaster on the piano confirms that he was in his den before. I sigh heavily and think of the last place that he could be, though I wouldn’t know why he would be in there.

I soon find out.

My husband is in the theater room. On the screen, larger than life, are scenes from our wedding and that absolutely stunning dress that my hips probably can’t fit into anymore. I slowly walk to the front row and before I get there, I see that he’s nursing a beer. When I get to him, I see that this is the fourth beer he’s nursed… after whatever amount of brandy he had last night… and it’s about eleven o’clock on a Sunday morning… and he’s still in his pajama pants and a T-shirt. He turns tired eyes to me as I approach before putting his bottle in the cup holder on the armrest. I say nothing. There’s really not much I can say right now. Instead, I climb into the large theater chair with him, my legs straddling either side of him. His eyes are soft as he gazes at me, his arms sliding gently around my waist as mine coil his neck, my hands softly caressing his hair.

Now, it’s my turn to sing…

Take what’s left of this woman, make me whole once again, ‘cause I want you and I feel you crawling underneath my skin like a hunger, like a burning, to find a place I’ve never been. Now I’m broken and I’m faded. I’m half the girl I thought I would be, but you can have what’s left of me…”

His mouth is on mine before I can finish the last word. I pour all my anguish and uncertainty into this kiss, drawing strength and love from him as I do. I hear the laughter in the video behind me and remember the promises that we made to each other that day. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back the sense of security I felt when we pledged our lives to one another, but if I know my husband, I know he’ll spend his life trying to reassure me of his love and commitment. I can give him no less.

*-*

“It’s not Friday.”

Over a month after the last formal visit with my psychiatrist, I’m standing in the parking lot of Ace’s office next to my car. Chuck is still in the car. I had been waiting here for an hour for him to show up as I have no idea what his Monday schedule looks like.

“I was hoping to get a session,” I say. “I’ll wait for an opening if there’s anything at all available.”

“You may just have to,” he tells me as he walks towards the door. “Monday is usually chock full of people just waiting to complain about their weekends… no offense.”

“None taken,” I say as I fall in step behind him. He opens the office door and turns on the lights in the reception area.

“Amber should be here any minute,” he says. “She wanted to stop for pastries, so I came ahead. Had I known you were coming…” I wave him off.

“I had a big breakfast,” I interrupt him. “Christian acts like he’s trying to fatten me up.” Ace looks at me as he puts his messenger bag down.

“That doesn’t sound like Christian,” he says, flipping a switch behind Amber’s desk. The faint sound of birds chirping starts playing through speakers hidden in the office. I’d noticed it before but hadn’t paid attention to it until he just turned it on. It’s almost subliminal.

“To help people relax?” I ask, pointing to the ceiling referring to the sound.

“Nature sounds are always subconsciously relaxing,” he says, “but they have to be natural. Synthetic recordings—which most of them are—turn out to be more irritating. They have the adverse effect.”

“Now that I know it’s there, it won’t relax me anymore,” I gripe.

“Yes, it will,” he says, walking into his office. “You’ll try to see if it irritates you, but it’ll fade away as usual and you’ll sink into comfort.” Just as he’s finishing his sentence, Amber’s walking into the front door. She’s put on a bit of weight since the last time I’ve seen her. It’s only been a month—what the hell is she eating?

“I thought that was you,” she says to me as she put a bakery box on the counter. “Not many Audis appear in our parking lot… Did I forget to record an appointment?”

“No, baby,” Ace says, kissing his wife on the forehead. “Ana just came by to see if there were any openings today.” Her face softens.

“I’m sorry to say there’s not,” she says, looking from me to Ace. “Your first appointment is in thirty-five.”

“I don’t really want to rush things,” he says to me. I nod.

“Well, I guess… just let me know if something opens up throughout the week,” I say to Amber. She smiles.

“Would you like a pastry?” she asks, gesturing towards the box. “There’s plenty.” I hold my hand up and shake my head.

“No, but thanks.” I say. “I guess I’ll just go to the Center and get my day started. You’ve got my number.” She nods, and I head towards the door.

“Wait,” Ace says before my hand reaches the handle. “Baby, who do I have first?”

“Ms. Havisham,” she says. What? She can’t be serious! It only takes me a moment to realize the name is an alias. I used an alias, too, when I first started visiting Ace. I don’t even remember what mine was.

“Come on,” he says, gesturing me into his office.

“I don’t want to take someone else’s time,” I protest.

“She’s always late and then demands her full hour when she arrives.” I frown as I walk back towards his office.

“Why do you see her at the beginning of the day, then?” I ask.

“Because she’s eccentric and won’t have it any other way.” He closes the door behind me. How rude! The woman has no respect for others. I’ve had a few of those. “She makes other people wait. This time, she can wait. Have a seat.” The surroundings almost seem unfamiliar to me. I don’t know where to sit as he wanders around his office preparing for the day, so I just sit on one of the sofas.

“I was wondering when you were going to stop hiding from me,” he says. “I thought I was going to have to go back out to your house to see about you. It’s a nice place, but I charge extra for house calls.”

“Yes, you initially surprised me by coming by, but then I thought about who you are and realized that it’s just like you to do something like that.” He raises an eyebrow at me.

“But none of this behavior is like you,” he confronts. “Leaping off a cliff? Falling apart like there’s no tomorrow? I realize the situation was dire… grave, even, to a point, but I’m concerned that you may have lost your identity in trying to define yourself in terms of your husband.” I roll my eyes and shake my head before dropping my face into my hands. “Okay, I’ve touched on something there.”

“I don’t know who either of us are anymore,” I admit. “My husband was a Dominant before he met me. Then he met me—not a submissive personality, but able to submit for him because I wanted to experiment, see how it would go, test my limits. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but there are some times when I decide I’m not going to be that woman. When I do, it’s usually right when he needs me to be her.

“So, I go get advice from someone else in the lifestyle who rightfully said that Christian and I have barely scratched the surface of our BDSM lifestyle; that I might have to expand my horizons in order to be the woman that he needs; that I’ll have to find a happy medium between the woman that I am now and the woman that he fell in love with without losing myself in the process. I thought that’s what I was doing, but then one wrong move…” I trail off and drop my face in my hands again.

“One wrong move what, Ana?” Ace presses. I raise my head to find that he’s taken the seat across from me.

“Do you have any idea what it feels like to be waiting for the axe to fall no matter what you do?” I ask. “People keep telling me not to forget who I am. I don’t even know who I am. I don’t even know who I was. I’m just here… floating along waiting for the next catastrophe.”

“And thus, the crux of our dilemma,” Ace says. “You’re sitting here waiting for the bottom to fall out of your life and as such, you’re afraid to live it. That has never been the Ana I knew. Even after the accident, you were anxious to get back on the proverbial horse and get back to your life. Now, you almost sound like you want to hide in a corner and let life happen to you…”

Not necessarily hide in the corner. There’s nowhere to hide from the Boogeyman.

“And your silence just confirmed what I’m thinking. So, what are you going to do, Dr. Grey, curl up and die?” I turn accusing eyes to him.

“Way to be empathetic, Doctor!” I scold. He shrugs.

“I call ‘em like I see ‘em,” he says unapologetically. “That’s why you came to me in the first place and you wouldn’t keep coming to me if I didn’t. I’m not going to spoon-feed you any bull; I’m going to give it to you straight. I’m not going to hold your hand while you walk around in delusion. I can’t drag you kicking and screaming into reality—that’s a journey you have to take on your own, but I can sure as hell point that brutal light in your face and point you in the right direction.

“You fell off the horse… hard. Damn near broke your neck. Now, you’re afraid to get back on it. You had all your hopes and dreams wrapped up in this man. If nothing else ever came through for you, he always would… until he didn’t. He was human, and he fucked up big time and you can’t take it. Now, you’re not only questioning your relationship and who he is, but you’re questioning who you are. I really need to know how your husband making an active decision to do something and doing it makes you question who you are.”

“It’s not…” The words trail off before I can even finish the thought. My scar begins to throb. I’m not sure I can explain to him why I feel the way that I do. Hell, I’m not sure that I can explain it to me.

“I feel… rudderless,” I say, my voice a bit desperate. “One minute, I had all this direction… I had so much to do that I didn’t know where to start. I was trying to find a way to categorize my life—our plans for the Center, the allegations from the licensing board, Gloria Felton, fundraising activities, my own pet projects, my dad’s adoption, the pussy DJ…”

“Whoa… ho… wha… huh?” Ace stops me in the middle of my tirade. I glare at him.

“You interrupted me,” I say in disbelief. “Didn’t you learn like in Therapy 101 or something not to interrupt a patient when they’re on a rant?” He puts his hands up in surrender.

“Okay, I’m sorry, but Pussy DJ threw me off… dafuq is that?” I almost want to laugh at his colloquialism and the drop of his professionalism. Instead, I try to stay on topic since I don’t know when Ms. Havisham is going to show up.

“Rossiter!” I shoot. “The guy with the pussy on his arm that we’re suing for slander.”

“Oh!” Ace says in realization. “Yeah, him. I forgot about him.”

“Well, I didn’t,” I say, and I continue on with my rant about how things truly feel helpless. I want to get comfortable in my relationship with my husband again; in the happiness that I felt with my children and my perfect life… but, there always seems to be a wrecking ball waiting for me, and I can’t seem to find my footing anymore.

I don’t know how long Ace lets me talk, interjecting every now and then with thoughts on my situation, before we hear what sounds like an angry woman on the other side of the door.

“Looks like my next appointment is here,” he says, and he doesn’t seem happy about it.

“Is she a shark’s tooth?” I ask. “Or does she have the potential to be one?” He raises his eyes to me.

“You know I can’t tell you that,” he says. “I already told you too much by saying that she’s eccentric and always late.” I shrug.

“I don’t want to know her story. I just want to know why you’re dealing with her. You’re clearly not happy that she’s here, so why put yourself through this?” What a way to start the week.

“Don’t try to shrink me,” he says as the voices on the other side of the door get sharper and louder. “Physician, heal thyself.”

Well, that’s something that I certainly don’t want to hear.

The next sound has Ace sitting forward in his seat a bit. It sounds like the outside door opens, and the voices are still sharp. He looks like a dog when their ears stand up because they heard something.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“This room is semi-soundproof for patient privacy. If I can hear it, it’s loud.” Just as he looks like he’s about to stand, there’s an insistent knock at the door and Amber comes marching in.

“Mrs. Re… Havisham is demanding to speak to you now,” Amber says. Her face is flushed and she’s talking through her teeth. “She wants to know why you won’t end the current session since it ran over into her time.” I roll my eyes.

“I can leave,” I say reaching for my purse. Ace stands.

“No, you stay. This woman has dominated my Monday mornings long enough and now, she’s got my wife looking like it’s been a long day and the day just started.” Ace walks to the door and throws it open.

“Dr. Avery…” A woman’s indignant voice begins, but Ace interrupts her.

“No!” he says, shutting her down immediately. “I talk, you listen. What did you say to my wife?”

I can’t see her face, but Ms. Havisham is struck dumb for several moments. Ace says nothing and neither does Amber while Ms. Havisham formulates an answer.

“Your… wife?” she says.

“Yes, my wife!” Ace shoots, pointing at Amber. “What did you say to her?”

“I… Well, I…” At first, she stutters over her words. Then, her voice takes that indignant tone again. “I simply wanted to know what was taking so long. My appointment was fifteen minutes ago…”

“And you’re late… again!” Ace chides. “It amazes me that you expect for someone to value your time, yet you value no one else’s!” he adds. “Amber, what did she say to you?” Amber pauses.

“She demanded that I interrupt your session, go in there and ‘get you’ right now so that you could tell her why someone else was in her slot. When I informed her that just like I won’t interrupt her sessions when another patient shows up, I won’t interrupt you when you’re in with another patient, she became so belligerent with me that this gentleman came in from outside to make sure that I was alright.”

By this gentleman, I assume that she means Chuck.

“I see,” Ace says. “Well, madam, you have interrupted someone else’s session. That means that your session is just going to be that much later. In addition, you have upset my pregnant wife…”

Pregnant? Amber’s pregnant?

“If you ever do that again, you can find yourself another therapist.” I hear her gasp.

“Well!” she hisses. “There are hundreds of therapists in the Seattle area!” she shoots.

“That’s right. Feel free to go to any one of them and see which one of them will tolerate your behavior for as long as I have. Amber, prepare her file for the next doctor. Mr. Davenport, do you mind staying in here with my wife for a few more minutes?”

“Not at all,” I hear Chuck say.

“Your wife isn’t in any dan…” Before her sentence is finished, Ace slams the door. He turns his attention to me.

“I didn’t mean for you to lose a patient,” I protest.

“I didn’t lose a patient. I dropped her,” he corrects. “I can count on one hand how many patients I’ve dropped in my whole career because I don’t like doing it, but that woman has been asking for it. I don’t even know if she really needs help or if she just comes to complain.” I’ve had those. That last patient that I couldn’t shake who simply refused to believe that I was discontinuing my private practice. Bitch, I married a billionaire. What if I wanted to just sit around and eat bonbons all day because I could?

“When were you going to tell me that Amber was pregnant?” I ask.

“Well, I haven’t seen you in a while, have I?” he retorts. Touché.

“How far along is she?” I ask.

“Eight weeks. Don’t get off the subject.” He’s a bit riled now and I think he’s about to let me have it. “So, a really, really bad thing happened to you. It shook your belief in everything you thought you knew. You thought your husband was Prince Charming working on becoming Mr. Perfect and you found out that he wasn’t. He’s a plain old, messed up human being just like you. The only difference is that he was a billionaire when you met him. So, he fell off that pedestal that you put him on. You don’t think you fell, too? You need to stop moping around behaving like a kid who just learned there’s no Easter Bunny!”

I’m stunned by the tone he’s taking with me. I must look like a deer stuck in headlights.

“And stop looking at me like that,” he scolds. “I’ve been pussy-footing around with you for over an hour trying to get you to admit what’s going on with you. I already know and so do you! This is one of the very reasons that doctors make the worst patients,” he says. “You won’t accept the prognosis when it comes down to yourself. You want a second opinion even when the first one came from you.”

I glare at him like he has lost his mind.

“You know exactly what’s wrong with you, Doctor,” he continues. “You had a setback. A very traumatic thing happened to you and caused your progress to regress. And as many times as you’ve seen it, you won’t accept it for yourself because it’s too scary looking at it from the inside out. If someone were sitting in your office having this same conversation with you, what would you tell them?” I drop my head.

“I would give them that same old ‘trouble don’t last always’ speech,” I reply.

“Yes, you would, and you know why? Because you’re right. Trouble don’t last always. We’ve been over all of your coping mechanisms time and time again. You have all the tools you need to get through this—as a patient and as a doctor. Everything you’ve learned has prepared you for this moment. Your past was practice. Everything was bringing you to now. This isn’t the last bad thing that will happen to you and I’m not going to pull your leg—this probably won’t be the worst. So, you’ve got three choices… you can crawl into a corner and hide from the world in your little gloom-and-doom bubble, you can roll over and die right now, or you can choose to live! Love your husband with all his flaws and fuck-ups as much as he loves you with all of yours. Love those two beautiful babies that you have that I still haven’t met, by the way. Fight the battles you know are coming, fight for your causes. And. Live. Now what are you going to do, Dr. Grey?”

Holy cow, Batman. I’ve never given it to one of my patients with both barrels like that, ever… even when I know they needed it.

“Where do I start?” I say, my voice cracking and my eyes welling with unwelcomed tears. He pauses and sighs.

“You know what to do,” he says, his voice softening. “You just don’t want to do it because it’s hard work and it takes time. You know and understand that bad things happen and right now, you’re living in the gloom and doom… and that’s not acceptable. You’re not another shark’s tooth and you never will be. I’ve seen you, Ana, at your best and your worst. You’re too strong for that and you know too much. So, get your ass up, come the hell out of that gloom closet, and do what you need to do. You start from the beginning… from the first thing that you can do, and only you know what that is. Now, go do it. There’s nothing else for me to say.”

My lip trembles and I wipe away the tears that burn down my cheek. Shit. The beginning. Fuck if I want to do that. I stand and put my purse on my shoulder.

“Thank you for seeing me on such short notice,” I say, clearing my throat because my voice is still cracking. I pull my phone from my purse and don’t raise my eyes to his.

“You needed it,” he says. “Let me know if I’ll still see you on Friday. I think it may be a good idea.” I nod as I’m dialing Chuck’s number and put my phone up to my ear.

“Hello.”

“Is that crazy bitch still out there?” I ask.

“Yes, ma’am.” I sigh.

“Does your patio have an exit to the sidewalk or something?” I ask Ace.

“It exits to the alley, but that leads to the parking lot,” he answers. I nod.

“I’m going to the car,” I say to Chuck. “I’m taking the back way. I’m sure to end up in the papers as the root of all evil if that woman sees that I’m the reason she was denied access!”

“Okay, what do you want me to do?” Chuck asks.

“Stay with Amber,” I tell him. “Once I’m gone, Ace can come out and deal with his impatient patient.”

“Agreed,” Chuck says, and we end the call. Ace sighs.

“Can’t he just stay for a while?” Ace laments, rubbing his eyes.

“Nope. If I have to deal with the gloom closet, you have to deal with Ms. Havisham.” He twists his lips.

“Fair enough,” he says as he opens the patio door for me. “Call me if you need me.” I nod.

“I will,” I say as I walk out to the patio. It’s pretty out here. I wonder if he’s ever held any sessions out here? It might be a good idea… when it’s warm.

I exit the gate and walk down the short alley to the parking lot and my car. I guess Ace took a little time to himself before facing Ms. Havisham because it takes Chuck another fifteen minutes to come out to the parking lot. We only took one car today—my car—and it got me to thinking…

“Chuck, would you mind terribly if I bought Keri a car?” I ask. His brow furrows.

“You should probably be asking Keri that,” he replies, “but there’s a fleet of cars at the Crossing. Why would you want to buy her one?”

“Because none of them have the built-in car seats except mine,” I say. “I want her to have the ability to be more mobile with the children.” He raises his eyebrows as he pulls into traffic.

“You have something in mind?” he asks. I shrug.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “Rebe and Tate are always with the children. I guess it won’t matter if they’re following her car or following mine.” Chuck nods.

“That’s true.” He falls silent for a moment.

“What happened with the crazy bitch after Ace slammed the door in her face?” The corner of Chuck’s mouth rises a bit.

“We played the stare game for a few seconds. Then she starts talking to Amber about rescheduling her appointment. Amber told her that the doctor was booked and that she could call her if anyone cancelled. She didn’t like that.”

“I can imagine,” I say.

“So, she started getting a little huffy with Amber until I stepped closer to Amber’s desk and cleared my throat. She calmed down again and agreed to wait for the doctor to finish his session with you. When Ace came to get her, she was as gentle as a lamb.” I shake my head.

“Amber’s pregnant,” I say more to myself than to Chuck. “Geez, she’s not going to be able to deal with too many more huffy attitudes. I hope that crazy woman was a one-off.” Chuck shrugs.

“I’m sure they’ll figure it out,” he says. “Surely, neither of them will do anything to put the baby in danger.” I nod.

“By the way, does Keri have a U.S. driver’s license?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“She has an international driver’s license,” he says. “She got it when she was here before… got my hopes all up.” He says the last line partially in jest and partially seriously.

“You’ve been staying with us for nearly a year now,” I say. “What about your house on Bainbridge?” He shrugs.

“I get out there as often as I can,” he says. “I have a caretaker staying there right now. I don’t want to sell it, but… I want to be with Keri, so…” He trails off and shrugs.

“Well, I plan to keep her employed for a really long time,” I warn him. “She’s really good with the twins and I have no idea how I would survive without her.” Chuck throws a quick glance at me then back at the road.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he says.

*-*

“You’re looking well,” Grace says to me when I get to the Center. I think she’s being nice because I feel a little waterlogged from the crying and not quite myself.

“Thank you, Grace,” I reply. “Anything new brewing?” She raises an eyebrow.

“The licensing board called,” she says. I turn to look at her. “They want a formal statement about our accreditation experience with Gloria.” I sigh.

“Will I have to see Liam?” I ask. She frowns.

“Not… that I know of,” she says. “Ana, did something happen with Liam? Is that why Christian left?” I twist my lips. God, I don’t want to go through this again.

“Liam tried to kiss me,” I say. Grace’s eyes widen. “Christian walked in on it. He was going to kill Liam, so I told him to go home. He already has a record of violence and I didn’t want him to land in jail again.” I drop my head, the pain of the separation flooding me again.

“I have no idea what he heard,” I continue, my voice cracking, “but whatever he heard, it equated to ‘leave the country,’ so he did.” I clear my throat, but I’m unsuccessful in stopping those damn tears… again.

“I know he was hurt… and angry… and any number of other things…” I trail off and wipe my tears. “We’re working on it,” I say, finally. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

“The cliff?” she asks, her brow furrowed. I sigh.

“I was drunk, and I slipped,” I reply. “It was stupid, but it wasn’t suicidal.” She sighs.

“Why don’t you take some time off?” she says. “The only time you took off was when you fell off the cliff and that couldn’t have been very relaxing.”

“I plan to,” I tell her honestly. “Some half days… and some whole days. Not today though.” She nods.

“Just… do, okay?” Grace says. I nod.

“I’m going to my office,” I tell her. “Can you make sure that I’m not disturbed for about an hour?” She nods.

“Sure thing,” she says with a smile. I sigh and go to my office. When I step inside and close the door, I’m immediately struck by how clinical it feels. Every time I step in this office, it’s feels… clean, and that’s it. It definitely needs a makeover.

That reminds me… I wonder what’s going on with John? Did he quit? Is his son still sick?

I’ll have to ask about that later. Right now, I need some… changes.

Back to the beginning. Good fucking grief.

I’m the first one to know that going back to the beginning is going to take baby steps… big, huge, mondo… baby steps. Geez. I pick up my phone and dial.

“Grace Grey,” she answers.

“Grace, I’m going to need two hours… maybe two and a half, I don’t know…”

“Dear, call me when you’re available. I’ll make sure no one disturbs you.” I sigh.

“Thank you, Grace.” I replace the receiver and look at the room. The extra desk from when John shared the space with me is still here. I never saw fit to move it even though he moved to a separate space. We wanted to keep costs down on decorating, but I’m going to have to spend my own money in this space and put the furniture in storage somewhere since it still belongs to the Center.

For no apparent reason that I can decipher at the moment, I decide to sit on the floor in the middle of the room. I just… get a feel for it… and now seems like the perfect time to meditate.


CHRISTIAN

“Well, you’re the last person I expected to see.”

I asked around how I could contact one certain inspector for the licensing board. I didn’t get the chance to say anything to this asshole since I wanted to literally rearrange his face. Once I got the information on how to reach him, I don’t bother calling. No, this conversation is a bit too important and a bit too delicate for a phone call. Now that the Center has its accreditation and Felton has got das boot, there’s nothing to stop me from confronting Mr. Casanova here and getting some much-needed answers.

Once I found out who he was, I made an appointment to meet with him on a licensing matter under an alias. I couldn’t very well tell his assistant that Christian Grey wanted to meet with him. He’d suddenly get sick and pawn me off on someone else. It’s good to have friends in high places.

So, I sit in one of these generic fucking offices that you find in all state or municipal building—some forgotten space with empty cubicles and a meeting table tossed in. I deliberately sit with my back to the door, not that you probably can’t tell who I am anyway. Nonetheless, in walks this tall, good-looking fucker in a nice suit—not designer, but well-made—who, the last time I saw him, was leaning in to kiss my wife.

Liam Westwick, Chapter 43

“Come on, you had to expect to see me somewhere at some point. You just didn’t expect me to come to you.”

“I should probably have someone else present for this meeting, Mr. Taylor,” he says as he heads for the door.

“You do that,” I say calmly, “if you want someone else to hear me ask you questions about my wife!” I bite out the last two words. I hear his footfalls pause behind me, most likely right at the door. “This conversation can happen right here and now, or it can happen later in a different setting, but it’s going to happen… Liam.” I inject as much venom in his name as I can. He walks back to the table and sits across from me.

And his eyes aren’t that goddamn blue.

“Does your wife know you’re here?” he asks his voice low.

“No,” I say entwining my fingers on the table in front of me. “Why don’t you call her? I’m only too sure she’d love to join us. Aren’t you?”

“I didn’t get that impression,” he replies, his voice betraying his discomfort.

“You didn’t?” I ask, leaning in a bit. “Exactly what impression did you get when you were leaning in to kiss my wife?” He glares at me and I glare right back. This ain’t the stare game, motherfucker. I could glare at you for three days and not blink.

“I don’t have an answer for you,” he says, finally.

“That’s seems to be going around,” I snap. His eyebrows rise, and I realize that I may have inadvertently revealed a weakness on the part of my wife. So, I quickly turn that shit around. “She doesn’t have an answer as to why you tried to kiss her either.”

His demeanor shows the slightest drop, and it just makes me angrier. This fucker still has hope!

“You know,” I lean back in my seat, “I was angry enough to rip your throat out with my bare hands that night. My wife knew that; she saw that; and she diffused the situation the best that she could that night, but it wasn’t enough. I was still blazingly angry, and it did cause problems in our relationship.” He clears his throat.

“No offense, Mr. Grey, but if one incident caused problems in your relationship, then there were problems before I arrived.” Aren’t you the confident little fucker?

“Don’t get cute with me, fucker, I don’t like it,” I hiss. “The only thing saving you right now are these four walls. Don’t think for a second that I can’t get to you outside of them.”

“Threats aren’t necessary, Mr. Grey,” he says, straightening his back.

“Not threats,” I reply. “Promises. You wanna poke the bear, you go right ahead.” We sit and glare at each other for a few minutes more. I don’t break my glare when I continue talking.

“When the red haze and the urge to murder you subsided,” I begin, my voice cold and menacing, “I recalled what my wife said to you after she was pushing you away. Her exact words were, and I quote, ‘I’ve told you. I’m married.’” His pupils constrict when he hears this. He must have thought I didn’t hear Butterfly tell him that she was married… which, at first, I didn’t remember it. But I can see that I’m on to something here.

“If she had already made it clear to you that she was married, why were you leaning into her to kiss her? Is that a habit of yours—kissing married women?”

“No,” he answers, his teeth clenched.

“Well, that part of the conversation made me realize that she must have had that conversation with you before. How many times did she have the conversation with you that she was married?”

His face pales, and I’m sure that my wife tried to keep the dog on a leash more than once. She should have told me about this asshole the first time he approached her in any inappropriate manner. One visit from me to the Center while he was investigating would have put this fucker in his place, but that’s water under the bridge now.

“Your wife is a very beautiful woman,” he says. “Any man could lose himself for a moment—act impulsively…”

“Only this wasn’t impulse, because she told you more than once that she was married,” I interrupt his excuse. “You’re right, she’s beautiful. She’s fucking gorgeous, but that’s no excuse.”

Pretty Boy is at another loss for words. So, after we sit there in silence for a few minutes—and him losing the glare contest at least five times—I feel the need to wrap this shit up.

“Since you apparently don’t watch the news, don’t look at any social columns, follow any blogs or read any gossip rags, I’ll make this blazingly clear to you. I am the most jealous and possessive motherfucker you will ever meet in your goddamn life. That woman is my soul. She’s my heart, she’s the fiber of my being; she and my children are my very reason for living. And I’ll be damned straight to hell if I allow some pretty-boy-fuck to slip in the backdoor and fuck up my beautiful life with my beautiful wife! If you’re looking for some rich sugar-momma, some nice ass to drill in the dark, or some pretty bracelet to hang on your arm, look somewhere else because, Liam…”

“I…”
“Will…”
Destroy…
“You!”

The voice that comes from my throat frightens even me, but I’m watching Pretty Boy with the glassy blue eyes sitting here trying not to sweat. That’s when it occurs to me…

The entire time he’s sitting here, his eyes have been this pale blue—like clear water right at the edge of the beach. There’s been nothing striking whatsoever about his eyes.

Yet, right when my Butterfly is about to come, her eyes change—they turn to this soul-shaking nearly royal blue that sees right through you and makes everything inside of you stop. If she walked around with those blue eyes all day long, everybody in a 50-foot radius of her would stop like a freeze frame, particularly members of the opposite sex.

This fucker’s eyes never changed once since I’ve been here, so if his eyes were that blue at the time to cause my wife to pause, that means that any time he was around her, he must have been in a constant state of arousal, or at least heightened fucking sexual awareness. Butterfly has never looked in the mirror to see her own eyes when she’s coming… not that I know of, anyway. She doesn’t know what that shit does to you…

… Unless those eyes were looking back at her.

“Son of a bitch,” I hiss. I turn an even more hateful glare on this fucker. I can’t remember despising anybody this much when it came to my wife, not even Cholometes.

“If the licensing board needs anything else from Helping Hands, ever, you better make sure somebody else goes, because if you ever contact my wife… if you ever come anywhere near my wife again, I don’t care who you call—your ass is mine, and for your sake, I hope that’s very clear.” I look up at the eye in the sky.

“Did you get that?” I say to the camera before fixing my gaze on Liam again. I know that the eye doesn’t have sound. I also know that this particular eye has been deactivated for our meeting—but he doesn’t. So, my gesture simply added a little drama to our exchange.

Like I said, friends in high places.

I stand from the table, straighten my suit, turn around and leave the room.

*-*

“You’re going to teach me what?”

“Scrambled eggs,” Gail says with a smiling Sophie standing next to her. We’ve come straight home after stopping at school to get Sophie. A lot of the students appeared to meander around the car as she was coming out of the school. When we asked her why, she admitted that they might be hoping to get a glimpse of me.

Me? Why? Why would a bunch of middle school kids be concerned about me?

“Did you tell them that I work for Christian?” Jason had asked.

“Well, they already knew that, Dad,” Sophie replied, “but Ana came up for lunch a few times.”

I didn’t know that she and Sophie were that close. There seems to be a lot that I don’t know… but back to these eggs.

“Eggs does not a gourmet meal make, Mrs. Taylor,” I scold.

“You have to crawl before you can walk, Mr. Grey,” she retorts. “When you can make scrambled eggs—light, fluffy, edible scrambled eggs with no eggshells that don’t stick to the pan, you can move on to a more complicated meal. Until then, you learn scrambled eggs.” I shrug. Fair enough. Sophie giggles.

“It’s not as easy as you think, Uncle Christian,” she says, her voice filled with mirth.

“Then, I guess I’ll need you to help me, won’t I?” I say, honestly. Sophie nods, and we proceed to crack eggs.

The carnage! I can’t begin to imagine how many poor eggs had to die before I even learned how to crack an egg without getting half the shell in the bowl or half the egg on the floor! When I finally get to five eggs in succession—in the bowl with no shell… hours later, I might add—that’s when Gail tells me that even the most accomplished chefs sometimes get a shell in the bowl. They just take it out before they cook them.

I could kill her.

On to whisking.

That’s the easy part. She tried to make it complicated… “It’s all in the wrist,” but all she had to do was tell me what to do and I did it. Seasoning is a little more complicated.

A pinch of salt…
A sprinkle of pepper…
I have big hands, so my pinch is more like two pinches.

I tried to do a pat of butter and ended up with a glomp… if that’s even a word. That’s what Sophie called it.

Needless to say, my eggs didn’t turn out fluffy and they did stick to the pan, so we’ll be picking this lesson up again. However, I know how to crack them without shells, get them into the bowl and not on the floor, whisk them thoroughly, and I know that my pinch is actually two pinches. That’s one hell of a start for a man that could do nothing more than press buttons on the microwave.

We slaughtered eggs until Ms. Solomon threw us out the kitchen to get dinner ready. It’s now that I realize that Butterfly isn’t home yet. Chuck was supposed to warn us when they were on their way home so that I could get my ass out of the kitchen, but we got no warning. I go in search of Jason. I didn’t have to go far.

“How did the cooking lesson go?” he asks, kicked back on one of the sofas in the family room watching television. I fall down on the sofa next to him.

“Lots of chickens sacrificed their babies to the cooking gods today,” I say, thinking of all the eggs I murdered. “No word from Chuck?”

“Yeah,” he says. “He called a couple of hours ago in the middle of the poultry massacre. He said they were staying late at the Center.” My eyes shoot to Jason.

“What else did he say?” I ask, trying to hide the panic in the back of my head. Jason breaks his gaze from the television and turns his head to me.

“Nothing,” he says, his brow furrowed, “just that they were staying late.” I nod and turn my gaze to the television, paying absolutely no attention to what’s playing. She wouldn’t see him again after what we’ve been through. Would he dare go to the Center after my visit today? No, that would be a death wish… though Cholometes endured a street fight to prove his love for her. No, no, no… stop it, Grey. You’re being ridiculous. Butterfly wouldn’t risk our relationship again after everything that’s happened.

Again…

Would Chuck tell us if she was seeing someone else? He didn’t even know Liam tried to kiss her and he was there with her. I know he doesn’t sit under her every second, but how could he have missed that happening… or did he?

“Boss…?”

“I’m… um… going for a ride,” I say, bouncing out of my seat and heading for the mudroom.

“Do you want me to go with you?”

“No!” I say a little too quickly as I spin around on Jason. “No, I’m… I’m fine. I just need some air.” Jason turns off the television and rises slowly from the sofa.

“I’d feel a whole lot better if you just let me come with you,” he says, his voice cajoling. “It’s not like we don’t both know where you’re going.” My shoulders fall. I feel like a kid being caught trying to sneak out of the house after curfew. I sigh.

“You drive,” I say.

*-*

Chuck’s brow furrows when Jason and I walk into the Center.

“Is everything alright?” he asks. He’s at the front desk with the night guard and he stands as we approach. Some silent communication passes between him and Jason, but he doesn’t react.

“I… just wanted to come and ride home with my wife,” I say. Chuck still says nothing, but nods. “Where is she?” He points down the hall.

“Follow the music,” he says. I nod and walk down the hall towards the music… and the dreaded community room. Jason is right behind me. I hear one song stop as I approach and another one starts when I get to the door. My wife is a small ball in the middle of the floor—in yoga pants and a sports bra, and sweating. She’s in the room alone and the music coming from the speakers attached to her iPod bounce acoustically off the walls of the room. I look behind me to see Jason walking back down the hall towards Chuck, so I turn my attention back to my Butterfly.

She raises her arms and slowly unfurls like a flower coming into bloom. One voice speaks of giving up, but she blossoms beautifully, her legs stretching, her arms reaching for… whatever. Her hands are swirling—beautiful gestures that form universes, magic dust flowing from her fingers and filling the room. Somehow, I quietly float in and take a seat as a female voice harmonizes in the tune about giving up. The song is very pretty… if it weren’t for the words.

The last time I watched my wife dance this way, we had disagreed about spanking our children. Her body speaks in a way that no one can hear and yet no one can ignore. If she does this regularly, I never see it. I’ve only seen it twice in the two years that we’ve been together. The song ends with the same two words that started it…

Say Something…

Unlike the last time I watched her dance where she ended up curled in a ball and crying, this time my wife is open on the floor and sweating, her clothes sticking to her like she’s been at this for hours. She slowly rises from the floor and stretches her arms around her body, using the alternate hand to push into the deepest stretch. She doesn’t realize that I’m sitting on the bench until she turns her face in my direction.

I don’t rise to meet her. I just sit there waiting for her to come towards me. I feel like an interloper on her space and time right now… like I should have stayed at home. She goes to the other end of the bench and stops her iPod just as it begins to play another song, then retrieves the towel that she tossed there before proceeding in my direction.

“Was that for me?” I ask, self-centered bastard that I am. She doesn’t react though.

“No, that was for me,” she replies, winded and dabbing her eyes with the towel. I sit up straight.

“I never asked where you learned to do that,” I ask. “I very rarely see you dance like that…” Twice in our entire relationship.

“Modern dance,” she replies. “Elective—I took two semesters in college. Never went anywhere with it, though.”

“You’re good at it,” I tell her. “It seems you took a lot of classes in college I didn’t know about…” Human sexuality, business classes, French—but I knew about that one—now modern dance. Next, she’s going to tell me that she secretly pledged a sorority. “Where did you find the time?”

“It was easier than you think,” she says, her voice impassive. “It’s a side effect of not wanting time to think or remember anything.”

Ouch. I can certainly relate to that.

“So… what brings you here?” she asks, retrieving a bottle of water from the bench.

“I know you’re trying,” I begin, “but you still seem so… distant. I was just…” I trail off.

“You… were worried,” she says. It’s not a question. I know exactly what she’s saying and I drop my gaze. I won’t lie to her.

“Yes,” I say, a bit ashamed. She sighs and wipes the sweat from her forehead.

“Can’t say I blame you,” she says, taking a drink of her water. I look at her.

“We can’t go on like this,” I tell her. She meets my gaze.

“I don’t see that we have a choice, Christian,” she replies. I frown. She can’t be serious.

“I did something that shook your trust in me,” she says, “and you did something that shook my faith in you. I don’t know how to get that back and apparently, you don’t either. It’s just going to take time, I guess.”

I twist my lips. This hurts—the fact that the bliss and happiness that we felt, that we found in each other… it’s gone. We still love each other; we don’t want to be without each other… but that AnaChris bliss… is gone.

“We’re broken,” I say without lifting my head. Butterfly is silent. She’s not even trying to dispel my feelings about our relationship. That’s very discouraging. She sits on the bleachers next to me, wiping the sweat from her chest and neck.

“I went to see Ace today,” she says, before taking another large swallow of her water. That’s a bit of a surprise. “I told him everything. I told him that I didn’t come to talk to him because I was ashamed—ashamed that I had undone all of the progress that we had made. I was afraid of things that went ‘bump’ in the night, and I’ll admit… I still am to some degree. We went through regression therapy. I compiled all these coping mechanisms. I went back to Green Valley and faced my monsters—after I relived that damn beating and went into a catatonic state, that is. I confronted the devils that were Carla Morton, Carly Madison, and even Cody Whitmore to a certain degree, and I came out a better person for it. I have all these things to my benefit—all this stuff that I built up and yet… waking up to face the day is a task.

“Ace let me whine for a while, and then he ripped me a new one. He wouldn’t allow me to wallow or feel sorry for myself even though I’m still feeling it a bit. I’m still afraid—I’m still remiss to go through all this work that I must if I hope to even slightly achieve a shadow of the person that I used to be.”

I look over at her and see that tears have replaced the sweat that was there moments before. She reaches up and wipes one cheek.

“I fell,” she continues. “I fell from the cloud of bliss and comfort that I had been floating in for however long, and I came crashing back to reality at the speed of light. The impact was nearly enough to kill me, but God wasn’t that merciful. I lived. I lived with every ache, every pain, every bad memory, every broken expectation, every shattered delusion…” She trails off.

“Of me?” I ask when she pauses.

“Yes,” she says, “and of me… of us. You can’t love somebody through a tragedy, Christian. You can love them while they’re going through it. You can support them; you can be their anchor, their cheering section, but they have to go through it themselves. It was a tragedy that you walked out and left your family for whatever reason you chose to do it, but as selfish as it sounds, that wasn’t the tragedy for me. The tragedy for me was that I was hopeless and lost and confused and I didn’t have any answers and I was hurting, and then I fell—figuratively and literally—and you were not there.”

Love the Hurt Away. That’s our song and now, she’s saying that we can’t do it.

“I can be all kinds of wrong for what I say, for what I do, and for what I feel, but it doesn’t matter at this point. I was destroyed, almost wishing that I would die, and you were not there. For those reasons, there are several people that I’m sure are not completely convinced that I didn’t jump off that cliff.

“I’m a psychiatrist,” she says. “I’m a professional. I, of all people, know that a seed must lose its protective shell and face utter destruction in order to grow into something more beautiful… more powerful. It changes it’s form completely to become something else completely, and this relationship has lost its protective shell.” I frown deeply. I don’t like where this is going at all.

“What are you saying?” I ask, unable to hide my dismay.

“I’m saying that we have to grow,” she says. “We have to let go of what we were and we have to grow. We’ll never be who we were before because you can’t undo what’s been done. You can’t unhurt me and I can’t unhurt you. We can’t unlearn what we’ve learned. We can’t unlive the experiences and feelings of the last month. They’ll always be a part of us. So, we don’t have any other choice but to move on and grow from here, but this is like losing your virginity, Christian. We can’t go back.”

It sounds so scary… so impossible. I didn’t think I could love my wife more than I did… more than I do, and now she’s saying that we can’t get that back?

“I… don’t think I understand,” I say, my chest hurting so much that I think it’s going to burst. “If we can’t get back the love that we had… the connection that we had, what’s left?” Is this the beginning of the end?

“All that’s left is for us to rebuild and to fight for what we have,” she says, her head down and tears continuing to fall from her eyes and onto her yoga pants.

“I love you as much as I ever have, Anastasia,” I say, my voice cracking.

“I love you, too, Christian,” she says. “My feelings haven’t changed. But you need to understand that the impossible happened… for both of us… and we can’t go back. I didn’t kiss Liam, but it doesn’t matter, because in your eyes, I was still wrong. So, that damage is done. And then, Little Ana fell again. Little Ana is always falling… and nobody was there to catch me. That damage is done, too.

“We can’t go back, and it’s not that we can’t go back to the love that was felt. We can’t go back to the naïveté that was our relationship. We just have to… move forward. There’s no going back.”

I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to do what she’s saying we need to do. I don’t even know where to start. I’ve just loved her all this time—good or bad, thick and thin, sick or well, I’ve just loved her. I don’t know what else to do.

I feel so lost. She’s handed me an impossible task with no instructions. Change our relationship? Change the way we love? Grow how? Suddenly, I feel like that submissive in Elena’s dungeon again, waiting for a command that’s never going to come. I feel her hand cover mine and I turn my gaze to our hands. Hers looks so small over mine… so helpless, and yet… not.

“I love you, Christian,” she says, “and I’m sorry that I hurt you.” I nod and turn my hand over to grasp hers.

“I love you, too,” I choke, turning my gaze to her, “and I’m sorry that I hurt you. I won’t do it again.”

“Yes, you will,” she says without raising her head. “And I’ll hurt you, too. But that’s part of this growth. We’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to handle it.”

I pinch my eyes to push the tears out of them as we squeeze each other’s hands for dear life. Why do I feel like I’m losing my wife?


A/N: “It’s all in the wrist,” Sabrina, but that was when they were cracking the eggs in the movie, not whisking them.

Say Something, I’m Giving Up on You—A Great Big World Featuring Christina Aguilera. This is the song that Ana was dancing to.

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 40—Searching for Remedies

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
~~Ali McGraw and Jennifer Cavalieri in Love Story, 1970.

Yeah, that’s not true. 

Just let that marinate for a bit.

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 40—Searching for Remedies

ANASTASIA

There’s too much emotion… more than I can take at once. My head and heart are full, and I can’t think. I can’t function. It’s just too much…

My chest hurts. As much as I wanted him to come back, wanted to see him, wanted to talk to him, I wasn’t ready for it when he did. When he touched me, all of my feelings were raw and burning and bubbling up in me and I couldn’t control them. They were consuming me and taking me over and I couldn’t think. I thought I would explode, die, disintegrate… something, but I just couldn’t take it. God, help me. How can you want something so much and then can’t stand it when you get it? I’m normally very good with describing and identifying the seven stages of grief, but I don’t know which stage is “He’s-back-please-don’t-touch-me.”

My ankle hurts like fuck, but I learned when I came home from the hospital that the pain medication affects my breast milk, so I won’t take it. I heard Jason say over the two-way that I’ve been sleeping for more than 36 hours. I sure don’t feel like it, but my exploding breasts in the bath confirmed that my soccer players hadn’t emptied me in quite some time. Why didn’t the two-way notify me when they stirred?

Keri wordlessly gathers the clothes that I ask her to get for me and I get dressed, tackling my hair last. I’ve had enough of this fucking hair. It’s time to make a change.

“Keri, would you please call Miana’s and ask for Franco. Tell him that a spa day is needed at Grey Crossing… for… five… maybe six people and find out when he can arrange it? Marilyn has the number… or she can do it… or…”

“It’s okay, Ahna,” Keri says sweetly, cutting me off. “Ah’ll take care of it. Any deh in particuleh?”

“As soon as possible… today if he can swing it, but I’ll understand if he can’t.” She nods and pauses.

“Heh’s back, Ahna,” she says, like his return is going to solve all our problems. I can understand why she feels that way because returning to Chuck solved all of hers. I smile weakly and nod, sending her off to her task.

I want to go and see my babies, but I know Christian is there with them, and I don’t want to run into him right now. I don’t feel like working, although I know that it’s irresponsible of me to shirk my responsibilities to the Center. I sigh and try to use my cane to stand again, and of course, it hurts like hell. With no specific direction as to where I’m going right now, I sit back down on the bed and ponder my situation.

He’s back… I’ll have to talk to him sooner or later. How do I do that without my emotions running all over me and negating any progress that I hope to make?

Put yourself in his shoes. What would you have done if you had walked into his office and saw some woman about to kiss him?

I understand that, but I didn’t kiss the guy! I stopped him!

Do you think he saw that? Do you think he could see anything through his rage except the man closing in on your lips until he grabbed the guy by the collar?

But he didn’t even ask me! He just left and cut me off. He didn’t even give me a chance to explain.

Yeah, about that… as far as you’re concerned he saw something completely different than what was happening, right?

What are you getting at?

He saw you and this guy about to kiss, but that’s not what was happening, right?

Well, no, not really. I was expecting it to be Christian kissing me and knew that it was wrong.

So, you weren’t leaning in or anything, right?

No, I wasn’t leaning in! I mean, I could have moved away faster, but I wasn’t leaning in!

So, he interpreted something that you didn’t intend… something that really didn’t happen.

Yes, exactly! And then he left me without even talking about it!

Something like you interpreted a postponed wedding for a cancelled wedding and ran off to Montana without talking to him.

That was different…

How?

Yeah…
How?

*-*

The next twenty-four hours are full of tension, neither of us knowing what to say to each other or even if we should be in the same room together. I get the same quickening I’ve always gotten when he’s around, but something’s wrong… something else is there with it… a dread or a caution of some kind that makes me stiffen and guard myself. I don’t know what it is… Who am I kidding? Of course, I know what it is. I just won’t admit it, won’t say it out loud, because if I do, then it makes what I’m feeling real. It gives this horrible theory a pulse, and that means that things will never be the same.

So, I can at least identify this stage of grief… denial.

“You’ll be happy to know that the new acting director of the board of licensing approved our accreditation,” Grace says when she calls Friday morning to check on me.

“That’s good to hear,” I say noncommittal.

“We can start our curriculum whenever we like,” she adds. How wonderful. We got our preschool, our continued education, our tutoring program, college prep testing preparation… and it only cost me my marriage… maybe.

“I’m really glad to hear that,” I say, trying to show some enthusiasm. She’s silent for a moment.

“How are you, dear?” she asks. I won’t lie, but I still don’t want to talk about it.

“The same,” I tell her. More silence.

“I hear that Christian is back,” she says.

“Yep,” I answer, still not offering any additional information.

“Do you know where he was?” she asks.

“Madrid… I think,” I tell her. I only know from what I’ve picked up in passing conversations. He still hasn’t told me himself where he was. I would have loved to go to Madrid someday. Now, it’s the furthest thing from my mind. A waste, too, since I’ve heard that it’s a beautiful city.

“Will you be okay, dear?” she asks. I know that she means well, so I try to give her something.

“I’m fine, Grace,” I concede, though I’m far from fine. “It really is a good thing that we can move on with our plans for the Center. I’ll be in on Monday morning to bang out some more or the details. I’m sorry that I was so lost in my own thing that I lost sight of what needed to be done. I promise, I’ll do better.”

“Think nothing of it, Aa,” she chides. “I know it must have been difficult for you. I can only speculate what was going on and you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but know that I’m here for you, okay?” I nod as if she can see me.

“Thank you, Grace,” I say sincerely. What she doesn’t know is that the Center is my purpose and all I really have now except for the babies. I don’t know what’s going to happen with me and Christian.

Christian…

God, why did any of this have to happen?

Franco put together a special team to come over this evening for a pamper session. Keri had explained that I had sprained my ankle and asked that he bring any kind of aroma therapy that could help with the healing process. He rightly said that the best thing for it is elevation and ice. So, while the others—Gail, Keri, and Sophie—all enjoy other treatments, I soak in a eucalyptus bath with my earbuds in listening to Buddhist meditations with my injured leg elevated on the edge, padded underneath with a towel, and packed in ice.

It’s easy to slip away to nowhere when you allow your mind to clear and listen to the chants. I wasn’t nearly focused enough to do this over the last few weeks, when I was certain that my marriage was over. Now, I just clear my mind and float away to much-needed nothingness.

I’m brought back to the here and now when one of the technicians rouses me to get out of the tub before I shrivel and come to the chair for my hair treatment. I truly dread getting out of the warm cocoon that is the relaxing water, the first time in weeks that I’ve allowed myself to just be. When I sit in the chair, Franco gives instructions for the hot essential oil conditioning that I normally get.

“Wait,” I say, stopping him from mixing the oils. “Not just yet. I want you to clip all of the dead hair.” Franco frowns as the hair stylist carefully examines my hair.

“Mrs. Grey,” she says skeptically, “That’s easily eight inches of hair… most likely because it hasn’t been cut in so long.”

“At least a year,” I tell her, “and cut a foot.” The women in the room all fall silent and I hold my head down, avoiding their judgmental glares. The only one not afraid to speak is the child.

“Wow, Aunt Ana,” Sophie says. “That’s a lot. I would cry if they cut off a foot of my hair.” I raise my eyes to the blue-eyed unassuming angel and smile.

“My hair is so long that I can sit on it, Sophie,” I say sweetly. “I can afford a foot.” I wink at her and she smiles. I turn to Franco. “Mix my treatment for Sophie,” I tell him. “It’ll leave her hair shiny and luxurious and she’ll love it.”

Sophie smiles widely as Franco still looks from me to the stylist in uncertainty. He begins to mix the oils while the stylist stands a bit stunned. I look over my shoulder at her.

“I know what I’m doing,” I reassure her. “It’s time.” I turn back around in the seat and wait.

“Yes, ma’am,” she says, and begins to wash my hair.

For the first time in weeks, I take care to pick something to wear. Most days, I would just grab a suit and go to the Center. I think I alternated between the same three suits for two weeks… I think. I’m still sleeping in the guest room, unable to bring myself to partake of our bridal bed just yet, but I do go to my dressing room and choose a mint green airy  two-layer skater dress with a halter neckline and a cutout back. I wanted to wear a maxi-dress, but with the bad ankle, I could see myself doing a face plant.

Back in the guest room, I examine myself in the mirror. The stylist has given me a thorough facial, saying that my skin looked dull and a little blanched—nothing like she was accustomed to seeing me. It’s strange to me how you can be suffering the most agonizing pain—nearly dying inside—and be able to hide it from the world… for the most part.

Except Al and Grace, I suppose.

I had invited Grace to the impromptu spa evening, but she was on-call at the hospital and couldn’t join us. Maxie was still at work, and Val and Elliot are still out of town along with Mia and Ethan. I really didn’t want to have to explain my current situation to my girlfriends and I hope my ankle is back up to par before Val gets back so that I don’t have to relay that situation to her. They’re both going to be pissed as hell that I kept it from them, but I just couldn’t talk about it. Dragging it out in conversation won’t make me feel any better about what was going on.

Now that I’ve been boiled, milked (in the tub), soaked, plucked, cleaned, clipped, waxed, exfoliated, kneaded, sandblasted—or at least it feels like it—I’m standing here looking at myself, my hair in huge barrel curls still cascading down my back and over my breasts after Gina the reluctant stylist clipped over 13 inches of dead hair from my ends. I don’t know what to do or where to go. I don’t feel particularly sociable, but I guess these four walls have seen enough of me for the past few days. Ballet flats are the safest thing for me to wear, even though I feel like I’m about three feet tall compared to everybody else in the house except Sophie.

I need to see my babies.

I hobble down to the nursery, my ankle still really sore, and enter the room. I scan the normally happy space, Dumbo, Bambi, and Scuttle all looking back at me when I enter. I make a note talk to security about why the two-way hasn’t been notifying me when the children stirred over the last couple of days. To my dismay, my children aren’t in the nursery, so now I must go and find them, but the room isn’t empty either.

Christian is sitting in my window seat, staring at me.

I suddenly feel like an intruder in my children’s room. I’m very uncomfortable and I want to make a quick getaway but leaving without saying anything would be just plain rude.

“I… was…” I stumble over my words and the fact that I’m caught in his intense gray gaze, the one that always made me weak in the knees. Even from this distance, I can see his pupils dilate. I swallow hard and lean on my cane. “Where are the children?” I ask.

“Gail and Keri…” he begins, “they… um… rescued them from me and Jason shortly after they came from the spa.” He never breaks his gaze from me. “You look beautiful.”

I drop my gaze, unable to even correctly accept a compliment from him.

“Thank you,” I say, barely audible. He stands from the seat and walks slowly over to me. I feel wobbly and a little lightheaded watching him walk towards me. Sensations arise in my body that I thought were dead because I hadn’t felt them in weeks. I only felt grief and loss, so when my heart speeds up and my breath quickens slightly, I don’t know how to handle it. I can feel myself panicking a bit.

“I’m told that you spent quite a bit of time in that window,” he says, his voice soft and deep. “What were you looking at?”

“Nothing,” I say in the same barely audible voice. It’s not a total lie. The entire time I watched the bridge, nothing came across it that I was looking for.

“There’s not much to look at,” he says. “The sky, the treetops… and the bridge.” He’s closed the space between us and I don’t respond to his last statement. I swallow as I look at his feet, clad only in sweat socks poking out from under his jeans. The proximity is making it hard to breath. I don’t know how to handle this closeness again, yet. I flinch when he touches my hair, but he doesn’t stop.

“You cut it,” he says, his voice a little dreamy.

“It was time,” I confess. It was stringy and dead and way too long. It was holding too many burdens… too many memories. I’m suddenly hearing that song from South Pacific talking about washing that man out of my hair. Only right now, while he’s touching it and admiring the softness and the curls, I realize that man ain’t going nowhere… and do I really want him to? I’m having a hard time with my feelings right now, but I was miserable while he was gone. Now, he’s back… and everyone thinks that should fix everything. His return fixes nothing… he’s just here.

“It’s been a long time since I saw your hair this way,” he says, his voice breaking my inner contemplation. “It was almost this length when we first met… a little shorter at the time, maybe…”

My mind goes back to the time I caressed him with my hair, very shortly after we met. I remember the look on his face and the sound of his voice… he was in Nirvana.

My short spot isn’t so short anymore. It’s grown enough to curl it and camouflage it back into the rest of my hair with a clip or some bobby pins. Ironically, it’s being held back a mint-green flower that matches my dress… while I’m hearing songs from South Pacific.

“Are you coming down for dinner?” he asks, still caressing my tresses in his fingers. I swallow hard, but nod without raising my head. Yes… I should eat.

“Yes,” I breathe wistfully. “I…” His hand lifts my chin so that he can look at me… and I can look at him.

Oh, God…

My lips part to get more air so that I don’t pant like a silly little breathless puppy. Breathe, Ana, breathe. My feelings are still so conflicted when he brushes his lips against mine. Oh, God, the soft kiss on my skin, his smell in my nostrils, his hand gently steadying me at my waist. I feel like a girl getting her first kiss in school from the captain of the football team. I can’t move… not my body, not my lips… not anything as he gently grazes my mouth with his own. He’s soft, barely touching, lightly tasting, snatching small breaths from me as I close my eyes and try to remember… try to remember who we are and what we were…

My head lulls back and his kiss deepens, but only slightly as I just let him take what he wants—not reciprocating but lost in the sensation nonetheless. The kiss lasts for an eternity and ends too quickly, both at the same time. I’m suspended for a moment, still feeling his kiss even after his lips are gone. I keep my eyes closed, committing that feeling to memory, his warm lips on mine.

I’m catapulted back to the first time he kissed me in his office. It was nothing like this. That kiss was hot, hungry, and demanding, but it stirred the same intense feelings of need and longing that I feel now. I’m taking in short breaths and I feel the room tilt a bit and Christian’s hand tighten only slightly on my waist, steadying me.

I blink my eyes open and look into the face of the man that I love… that I long for… that scares the shit out of my heart right now. He gazes into my eyes, no doubt glazed over and confused looking back at him. I know he wants to kiss me again, but instead, he sidesteps and leaves the room.

Thank God!

I slowly release the breath I was holding, able to think more clearly now that he’s not in the space anymore, but I have to hold on to Minnie’s empty crib to steady myself so that I don’t slide down to the floor in a mountain of goo.

My skin is… crawling? Tingling? Whatever it is, it’s alive, and I’m hearing more songs in my head from South Pacific…

Bali Ha’i…
I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy…
Some Enchanted Evening…
Younger Than Springtime…


CHRISTIAN

My God, she’s so beautiful.

I don’t know what was happening in that room, but I had to get out of there. I wanted to consume her tiny little body in one bite and it was taking me over. The way she looked at me… lost and… submissive and… totally fucking mine, if even just for that moment, totally fucking mine. I don’t think she’s ready for the intensity of what I was feeling in that room. Looking all hot and delicious in that tiny little dress like she did the very first time I saw her—her hair cut almost the exact same way and she’s looking so vulnerable and giving off these needing, yearning vibes. The Dom and Protector in me is bristling to care for her and I’m fighting to get him under control. She’s walking around here hobbling on a cane, physically and emotionally hurting… I couldn’t even touch her the first day I came back…

But a moment ago, in the nursery… I touched her… and kissed her… and she opened to me, helpless, needy, and speechless. Fuck, she’s torturing me. I know her well enough to know that she’s not doing this on purpose, but fuck!

I thrust my hands in my hair and try to contain myself. I didn’t even ask if she needed help getting downstairs. Hell, I can’t go back in that room right now. I can’t be responsible for what happens if I do. I can’t carry her downstairs and I certainly can’t be caught in that tiny ass elevator with her right now.

I make it down to the family room where the Taylors, Keri, and Chuck are all cooing at my children. Little Sophie likes to help care for the twins and it appears that Mikey has taken quite a liking to her, so she has Mikey in her lap, occupying him with his sock doll why Gail and Jason look on. Keri has Minnie in her arms, rocking her to sleep while Chuck gazes longingly on the sight. I’ve got a feeling he’s got baby fever. Jason has his arm around his wife, but frowns when he sees me. He rises from the sofa and follows me into the kitchen.

“You okay?” he asks as I uncharacteristically go to the refrigerator for a beer.

“Yeah,” I say, popping the cap off a Budvar and drinking right from the bottle. I walk out to the family room patio and sit in one of the chairs, watching the sun go down over the lake.

“You wanna talk?” Jason says, sitting in a nearby seat. I take another swallow of my beer.

“That window you told me that Keri said she sat in all the time… the window seat in the nursery… treetops, sky, and the bridge.” I swallow more beer as a knowing look comes over his face. “It didn’t take me long to figure out which one she was watching for hours at a time.” Jason sighs.

“Yeah, that’s what my wife thinks, too,” he says. “She’s been pretty mute the whole time… taking care of the babies and escaping away to whatever corner she chose. It’s my understanding that she finally totally snapped when people kept asking her what was wrong, and she didn’t want to tell them. The consensus is that the only people who know what happened are the two of you and no one’s going to ask.” I nod as I look at the floor.

“I feel like I shouldn’t say anything before she does,” I tell him “When she’s ready, we’ll talk about it.”

“Okay… but… isn’t that kind of what got you where you are now?” he asks. I just shake my head.

Once I finish my beer, we go back into the house to find both of my children asleep in the nappers of their Pack-n-Play. Gail has gone to the kitchen to see about dinner with Ms. Solomon and Chuck and Keri have moved their canoodling to the dining room. Sitting with her gaze fixed on the two bundles in the Pack-n-Play and humming that same lullaby is my wife. Her cane sits idly by her, leaning on the sofa, as she stares longingly into the Pack-n-Play as if she would crawl inside with them if she could.

I watch her for several moments, unaware that Jason has left me on my own until Butterfly finally stirs and struggles off the sofa to hobble to the dining room, totally unaware of my presence.

“Jason,” she says when she gets to the dining room, “can you please find out why the two-way system hasn’t been alerting me that the children are awake for the past few days?” She moves to pull her chair back from the table, but I beat her to it, sliding the heavy chair from the table to give her access. She looks up at me with the bottomless blue eyes before taking her seat.

“Thank you,” she says, softly, before dropping her gaze to the table. She spoke with such authority a moment ago, and suddenly, she’s back to being a mouse. I can’t hide my confusion.

“That’s my fault, Ana,” Gail says, coming into the dining room. “You hadn’t been sleeping well, so when you finally got to sleep…” Gail shrugs. Butterfly looks at her and nods.

“I understand,” she says, “but can we… fix it… please?” Jason nods.

“I’ll have it recoded right after dinner,” he says.

Dinner is pretty uneventful. Sophie talks about how much she loves her hair and that Butterfly told the staff to use her treatments in Sophie’s hair. Now, Sophie wants to do the treatments herself once a month if she can’t get to Miana’s. Gail has promised to pencil in an appointment for them to have a beauty day every four weeks. This pleases young Sophie immensely as I’m certain that she hasn’t had anything like this with her mother.

Butterfly looks a bit uncomfortable throughout the meal until Keri asks if she’s okay. She simply indicates that her stomach has been upset and her digestion hasn’t been very good for the last few days but assures the table that she’s fine and very shortly thereafter, escapes to the family room with the children, who still haven’t awakened yet.

Conversation continues as usual at the table, but I watch Butterfly as she stares into the Pack-n-Play at our children. Soon, everyone heads in their separate directions and I go to the family room to check on Butterfly. She hasn’t moved for several minutes and I soon discover why. She has curled up on the sofa—her head lying on the back of the sofa and her legs curled under her—and she has fallen asleep. She looks so small and I recognize the shrinking immediately, but she looks adorable, too. I put a blanket over her and kiss her lips gently. She doesn’t react. Noting that it would be criminal to move any of them right now, I sit in her recliner and watch over all of them until someone stirs.

“Ana!” She startles me out of a daydream several minutes later when she pops up from the sofa like a Jack-in-the-box, saying her name and frantically trying to remember where she is. She’s groggy, like she’s drugged… it’s like she was on the very edge of consciousness. I realize that she heard the two-way activate in the kitchen and thought it was for her. What the hell was she dreaming about?

“It’s okay,” I say, moving carefully next to her and trying to calm her breathing. I can feel her racing pulse through her skin. “They’re not awake yet; they’re right here in front of you.”

She squints and rubs her eyes, scratches her head, the realizes where she is. She glances at her children in the Pack-n-Play, still fast asleep, then nods. Her head falls sideways onto the back of the sofa and she’s asleep in seconds. How does she do that?

Defense mechanism.

I gently stroke her hair and I’m again transported back to when we first met. She was fucking beautiful. She took my breath away… still does. I couldn’t fucking resist her. I remember seeing her that night at the nightclub. My God, it was outer-worldly. I couldn’t have escaped if I tried. I think that was the first real transformation for me—either that day or the day that I followed her to the New Orleans with Allen—either way, I knew I had changed and there was no turning back for me. Even now, when she doesn’t know what to do with herself and I don’t know what to do with myself, there’s no hope for me. I’m a fucking goner.

*-*

I’m not sleeping well if at all with Butterfly still sleeping in the guest room. Another night has come and gone, and we still haven’t talked, still haven’t made it to the same bed. It’s Saturday morning now and the only way that I can explain her mood today is… crabby. In the early afternoon, however, I get a notice from Windsor that we have a guest that just might change the course of things.

“Ace, hey. Did Ana call you?” His lips form a thin line as he examines me.

“No, she didn’t,” he says. “She cancelled her last three appointments without explanation and I got worried. She’s one of my most complicated patients. I hope you don’t mind me just dropping by, but she won’t answer or return my calls.”

Mind? I welcome it right now!

“No, not at all,” I say, taking a seat in the formal living room with him. “I don’t want to elaborate on what’s going on; I think she should start by telling you what she feels you need to hear. Activate two-way communications.” The system comes alive. “Locate Anastasia Grey.” A few moments pass, and I hear her raspy, whispering voice.

“Ana.” She’s in the nursery again.

“Ace is here,” is all I say. A few moments of silence pass.

“I’ll be right down.”

“End two-way communications.” Ace and I sit in expectant silence until Butterfly…

Butterfly…

… until Butterfly bends the corner, still on the cane from her newly injured ankle. Ace looks on in confusion as I take her reluctant hand and help her down the stair into the living room.

“What happened to your leg?” Ace asks, no prelim or greeting.

“Blazing stupidity,” she replies as she hobbles to the sofa, anger lacing her voice, “And it’s my ankle.” Ace twists his lip. I can see his skepticism. “To answer your question, I fell off a cliff… could’ve died.” She says it so matter-of-factly as she seats herself on the sofa opposite Ace. “So, what brings you here? Did someone tell you that I finally cracked up, or was it the missed appointments?” Her voice is laced with heavy sarcasm, which doesn’t escape Ace.

“The missed appointments,” he responds flatly while taking his seat. “As you know, extended periods of absence make me nervous.” Butterfly nods.

“Well, don’t worry. I’m not hunting great whites,” she responds. What the hell does that mean? “I’m sorry that I put you through that. It wasn’t intentional.” Ace looks somewhat side-eyed at her.

“Do you want to tell me what was going on? Are you okay?” he presses.

“My husband left me.” The words just jump out of her mouth like “We’re having chicken for dinner.” I try not to tense up at her stoic tone, though I know she’s anything but.

“Oh,” Ace says, looking from me to Butterfly. “Maybe this is a bad time, then…”

“No, you’re here because you care, and I appreciate that,” she says shifting her leg, obviously uncomfortable.

That makes two of us.

While she and Ace talk, I make quick work of moving the table closer to Ace and away from Butterfly. I move one of the armchairs in front of her and layer it with pillows. I chance lifting her ankle—touching her again—and gently placing it elevated on the chair and pillows. She winces when I touch her, but I soon realize that she’s wincing from the pain.

“You don’t… look like you fell off a cliff,” Ace says while Butterfly continues to wince in pain. It’s visible the moment the comfort sets in.

“What about painkillers?” I ask cautiously.

“I’m not taking them they taint my milk,” she says in one breath without raising her eyes to me. So, all the time she’s been in pain, she hasn’t taken any painkillers. That’s a double stab. “I fell off the cliff sometime last week,” she says to Ace. “Tuesday or Wednesday, I think. Maybe Friday… I don’t remember.”

“That’s a long time, Ana,” Ace observes. “You should be much better by now.”

“Well, I would be, but in a mad dash to not quite make it to the restroom, I leapt out of bed and tweaked it again. So, here I sit, in pain and irritable and really just wanting to go back to sleep.”

“You should really take something for the pain,” I press.

“I can’t they make my milk sour and my children won’t nurse.” She says it again all in one breath as if speaking to me is a task.

“Would you like a session?” Ace says. “Or not…”

“No, you’ve come all this way. We should at least talk,” she says to him. Ace looks at me expecting, silently asking me to give them privacy.

“If she doesn’t mind, I’d like to stay,” I say, humbly. I’ve been home for days and we haven’t talked, and it has to start somewhere. We both look at Butterfly who doesn’t react.

“I don’t care,” she says, impassively. “He can stay if he wants. I have nothing to hide.”

And another jab—whether or not it was supposed to be, I’m not sure, but it was. Ace nods.

“Okay, where would you like to start?” he asks.

“I have no idea,” she says.

“How about why you cancelled your sessions,” he presses.

“Because I didn’t want to talk about it,” she says without hesitation. “Because I was embarrassed, and I didn’t want anyone to know that my husband had left me; because talking about it meant that it was real and I didn’t want to hear myself say it. I didn’t want to discuss it or give it life. It was alive and burning inside of me—day after day, all-consuming, numbing, burning, aching pain, and talking about it wasn’t going to help.” Her eyes stay planted on her swollen, aching foot.

“I didn’t leave you,” I say, almost inaudibly. I don’t know if she heard me, but Ace did.

“What made you think Christian left you?” Ace asks.

“He wasn’t here,” she says flatly. “I was here. I was in this house taking care of our children, for days… weeks…” She starts to rub her leg as if she could feel new pain radiating up from her ankle. “I was here, and he wasn’t. No one knew where he was and if they did, they wouldn’t tell me. No one told me, so I didn’t talk to anyone.”

“Ana, it sounds like you think everyone else knew where Christian went and you were the only one who didn’t,” Ace says. She doesn’t answer. Oh, God, is that what she thought… that everyone was conspiring against her and she was the only one who didn’t know where I was?

“Did you think they knew where Christian was while he was gone?” Ace asks the question burning in my head.

“I didn’t think anything, Ace,” she says with the same cold indifference she’s had throughout the entire conversation. “I was in some of the most excruciating pain of my life and if I was thinking anything at all it was, ‘get up, relieve myself, turn on the shower, get in, use soap, lather my body, lather my hair, rinse, lather my hair again, rinse…” She recites her day in detail while Ace listens like it’s the most fascinating thing he’s ever heard. It is for me, because she outlines every single step, including…

“Eat so that my babies could eat…”
“Cry…”
“Stare aimlessly out some window…”
“Cry…”
“Sit in the nursery and wait for my babies to wake up…”
“Cry…”
“Go to bed and pretend to go to sleep…”
“Cry…”
“Watch the sun come up from whatever window I’m staring out of at sunrise…”
“Cry…”
“Get up and repeat.”

Again, the entire story recited with cold indifference like she’s giving a police debriefing about directing traffic. I sigh. What was the purpose of this exercise? Was I trying to put her through what she put me through when she went to Montana? If so, why? We had gotten past that and there was no point to be made, so why repeat the pain? Was the sadist in me coming out to prove to her that I could hurt her as much as she hurt me?

I never talked to Dr. Baker once while I was gone, never tried to work through any of my feelings or thoughts… I just left and worked, broke all communication and worked. I only thought about what I saw with her and Westwick as I was leaving Helping Hands, as I was drinking, as we boarded the plane, as I vomited my guts in the bathroom on the jet. It’s all I dreamed about that first night during the long flight to Madrid. When her name came up on my phone, I only knew that I didn’t want to talk to her. When I finally blocked her calls, it was because I wanted to focus and not think of her. Once I blocked her calls, I didn’t think of her and Westwick once—not once—until I felt the helplessness of not being able to save those teenagers being loaded onto that truck.

The conversation goes on for a while without my attention, Butterfly talking about nothing in particular. Her voice is monotoned and the only time she talks about what she was feeling is when she described the “all-consuming, numbing, burning, aching pain” that hung on day after day after day and the description of her day that involved lots and lots and lots of crying.

“I went to Madrid,” I say finally. I don’t know why I say it at this moment. I think… or I thought… I may have heard something about her still not knowing where I was. “There’s a factory and a hotel based there that were part of an acquisition in progress. I used the opportunity to liaise with the boards of directors and tour the properties.”

“Opportunity…” she says, like she’s testing the word, but says nothing else.

“Ana,” Ace says after a long pause, “Christian says he didn’t leave you. What do you think of that?”

Another long pause…

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” she says, flatly. “Windsor!” That last word is the most emotion she’s shown since Ace first got here.

“You’re never going to resolve what’s going on between you two if you don’t talk it out,” Ace warns. She still says nothing until Windsor enters the room.

“Can you please look in the closet of my bedroom and get my crutches?” Her bedroom. She plans on staying there, even though I’m home.

“There’s obvious tension between you two,” Ace continues after Windsor nods and leaves the room. “I’ve never seen this much animosity between you two in all the time I’ve known you. I’ve only seen love and respect even when you’re angry with one another. I’m afraid that you’re standing on the precipice and if you don’t talk this out, the damage could be irreparable.”

“Please, Butterfly,” I add, and she flinches again.

“The time for talking was before you left… or when I left you twenty messages begging you to call me or come home so we could work this out, right before you blocked my calls. I’m having a hard time finding my words now.”

It’s the first time I hear a twinge of emotion in her tone, but it’s gone as quickly as it comes. She and Ace say a few more words and I show Ace to the door.

“I won’t hide the fact that I was concerned that this may be a case of domestic abuse, which is why I had to see her for myself,” he says when I walk him to the door. I never even considered that he thought that. I frown deeply.

“You thought I hit my wife?” I ask, my voice low and menacing.

“I had no answers and I had to allow for every eventuality. Then I saw that she was injured, and that only fueled my suspicions. Be angry with me if you want, but my first obligation is to my patient, especially if I think she’s in a dangerous situation… and she is, and so are you.”

Somehow, I don’t think he’s talking about domestic abuse anymore.

“She never got to tell me what caused the hiatus of yours.” I push my hands through my hair.

“I walked in on her kissing… about to kiss another man.” Ace’s expression changes to horrified surprise. I shake my head. “No… no, let me…” I roll my eyes. “He was about to kiss her, but…” For the first time, I replay the scene in my head as describe it to Ace.

I walk into the room and see my wife and a man sitting on a sofa. She’s looking into his eyes and he’s gazing at her, gently caressing her cheek. Everything is moving in slow motion, even slower than his lean into her to eventually press his lips against hers. I see a red haze before me and I want to kill him.

He’s going to kiss my Butterfly… my Butterfly! And she’s not resisting!

Rage flows through my body and I barely register… only just this moment… that at the last minute, she puts both hands on his chest and halts his movement.

“No,” she says, “I’ve told you. I’m married.”

I’m already barreling towards them in blind fury, intent on pummeling this man within an inch of his life, but as I get to him, Butterfly jumps between us… she’s protecting him, telling me that she has this under control and instructing me to leave.

Leave… she wants me to leave…

So, that’s what I did.

I tell Jason to get the jet ready for an immediate overseas flight. It only took a few moments to decide where I was going as I was already working on the acquisitions in question. I went home, waited for Jason to pack and say goodbye to his wife and daughter, and was gone before she got there. I didn’t even say goodbye to my own children. I spent hours in the airport’s private lounge waiting for the plane and pilots to be ready. We almost didn’t have a flight attendant, but I didn’t care.

Leave… she wants me to leave… she wants me to leave…

So, I left.

Ace sighs when I finish my story.

“I hope you two work this out soon,” he says and turns to leave.

“Wait a minute,” I say, “I’ve told you why I left and what I felt and that’s all you have to say?” He turns back to me.

“Let me ask you this,” he says. “What if you had come home and Chuck hadn’t caught her from falling off that cliff? What if you had come back and your wife was seriously injured, crippled, or worse—dead? What if she never recovers from what she’s feeling now? What if she can never find her words and you can never get your relationship back together? What if you look up and one day you find her willingly in the arms of someone else, because this one sounds like she stopped him and told him that she was married. And it doesn’t sound like she was protecting him; it sounds like she was protecting you. Didn’t you two meet because of anger management classes that kept you out of jail?”

Shit! I forgot all about that.

“If she was protecting him, she would have sent him away to talk to him later. She had to wrap up what was happening with him right there and then and she couldn’t do that with you charging at him like a bull. She was going to talk to you later… until you cut her off. The two of you have huge abandonment issues and the minute things get too tough to bear, that’s exactly what you do to each other. You deflect her attempts at contact and she gets wine drunk. She tells you to go to hell until she wants you to come back and you don’t eat for five days. You postpone the wedding and she runs to Montana. You see an advance by another man—a spurned advance, I might add—and you run off to Madrid, and she damn near falls off a cliff. I thought you all covered these bases in marriage counseling—how you would handle it if one of you thought the other was unfaithful or if either of you had an inclination towards someone else. You’re not doing a very good job.

“You know as much as I do that when she told you to leave that she didn’t mean for you to get on a plane and fly to Madrid, leaving her with no explanation or no idea if you were coming back to your family. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the two of you, but I thought you had love locked down. It looks like the only thing you two are skilled at is abandoning each other at the worst possible times, because Christian, right now, she is gone… and I don’t know if you’re going to get her back.”

He glares at me for a moment, unapologetic, and proceeds to the door.

“I’ve breeched many confidences during this conversation with you, but it’s only because I’m concerned. If she wants to fire me and report me to the board, I understand.” I shake my head.

“That won’t happen,” I assure him. He doesn’t respond.

“Tell her to call me if she wants to talk, but I’m not sure there’s much else that I can do.” As he leaves through the front door, Windsor passes me in the grand entry with Butterfly’s crutches.

“Ana,” I hear her say, and realize that the two-way must have chimed in the living room. I hear our children cooing through the speaker system as I return to the room. Windsor is helping her to her feet and she winces in pain as she tries to balance on the crutches.

“I hate these things,” I hear her murmur, as she tries to adjust to the crutches. Had I been here, she would never have to use crutches. I would carry her everywhere. Hell, had I been here, she never would have fallen in the first place. She wouldn’t have been drunk on that cliff. She won’t let me touch her and when she has no choice, or I touch her before she can protest, she flinches and stiffens

I move over to where Windsor is standing, and he immediately steps aside. I look at Butterfly who refuses to make eye-contact with me while she pretends not to struggle while adjusting the crutches. I steady her petite body with one arm behind her back, move the crutch closest to me and hand it back to Windsor, and scoop her up in my arms before she has the opportunity to protest. The second crutch falls uselessly onto the floor and she lie in my arms like a wet rag, one hand placed over the other in her lap. Windsor follows behind me with her crutches as I carry her up the winding staircase.

“My children,” she protests when I turn the opposite direction from the nursery towards the guest room where she has set up shop.

“I’ll have them brought to you,” I say without breaking my stride. When we get to her room, I place her gently on the bed. I prop her swollen ankle up on another pillow before instructing Windsor to tell Gail to bring my wife her children… and an ice pack for her ankle. She says nothing; she just rubs her leg, low near her ankle.

Several moments of silence pass before Gail and Keri bring the children to us with the accompanying bottles for feeding time. She reaches for Mikey, who—as I have discovered—hasn’t had much breast time because Minnie always beats him to it. Keri puts Minnie in my arms and they leave without another word except for Gail to tell us that she’ll be back with the ice pack. My wife gently caresses our son’s mahogany hair and she looks as if her life begins and ends in his little eyes as he hungrily nurses. I’m feeling guilty for the small twinge of jealousy that I feel that she used to look at me that way so effortlessly. When she looked into my eyes yesterday after I kissed her, there was that longing… that familiar yearning in her eyes. I knew all was not lost, but… what do we do to get back what we had?

Mikey is nearly finished nursing both breasts and I have fed, burped, and changed my daughter and cooed her to sleep before Gail finally returns. I want to ask her what took so goddamn long, but she answers my question with a stainless-steel cooler in her hand.

“Chuck says you should use this,” she says. “It’s a cryotherapy unit. It’s intense cooling therapy and it’s going to be really uncomfortable for the first minute or so, but he says once you get used to it, you’ll never want to take it off… but you’ll have to or else you’ll freeze your veins.”

I frown at the double explanation she just gave and Butterfly looks just as confused.

“Let me explain,” Gail says as she puts the cooler on the floor. “Christian, can you help me?”

I put Minnie in her napper and follow Gail’s instructions. I gently lift Butterfly’s foot and leg, allowing Gail to wrap some kind of cold pad wrap around her ankle.

“This is filled with ice water,” she says, pointing to the cooler. “The cold water circulates through these tubes and through tubes in this pad to help with the swelling and discomfort around your ankle. You know how ice packs might feel uncomfortable and cause an ice burn if they sit on your skin?”

“Yes,” Butterfly nods.

“You won’t have that with this because the water is constantly circulating,” she says. “You’ll feel that discomfort right at the beginning, but the ice will soon give you a bit of a numbing feeling and you won’t feel the pain. That’s why he said you shouldn’t leave it on for too long because it can do damage.”

“Well, how long should she leave it on?” I ask. It’s going to give her great comfort, but she can’t wear it?

“Start with fifteen minutes and see if you’re comfortable,” she says to Butterfly. “If you’re still comfortable, then you can leave it on for half an hour to forty-five minutes, but then you should turn it off for a while to see how you’re doing—at least five or ten minutes, preferably more if you’re not in too much pain.” She turns her gaze to me. “If she falls asleep in it, turn it off.”

“I can hardly see myself falling asleep with cold water running around my ankle,” Butterfly protests.

“Chuck assures me that you will,” she says. “Christian, take Michael please. I don’t want any casualties when I turn this thing on.” I take Mikey and put him in his napper, hurriedly coming back to Butterfly’s side.

“This is how you turn it on and off; this is how you adjust it,” Gail says, showing us the controls. “Are you ready?” she asks Butterfly. She nods, and Gail turns the power on. At first, there’s no reaction from Butterfly, but a few moments later, she sucks in a large hiss. A few moments after that, she’s nearly crawling backwards on the bed.

“Shit shit shit shit shit!” she proclaims in quick succession as the coldness surrounds her ankle. She’s fighting to keep still and grimacing at her ankle.

“Turn it off!” I demand, unable to withstand the discomfort on her face.

“Wait a second,” Gail protests. “Chuck said it takes a minute, but it’ll help her. It’s much more effective than an ice pack… even my alcohol packs.” I watch as Butterfly continues to grimace looking at the pad on her ankle like it’s some kind of flesh-eating amoeba sucking the blood through her skin.

“Fuck!” she exclaims, several moments later.

“Turn it off! It’s not getting any better.” I move towards the cooler and Gail puts herself between me and the apparatus, putting her hand up defiantly to stop me.

Dr. Grey,” she says to me, a bit perturbed, “will you please give this device an opportunity to do its job before you proclaim it ineffectualness?” She glares at me, daring me to move forward and I’m having one of those Jason Taylor “you’re fired” moments. “Ana, how are you doing?” she says.

Butterfly gasps and relaxes her arms that were holding her off the bed moments ago. She settles a bit on the bed, taking in deeper breaths now.

“It’s better,” she says, her voice shallow, “It’s feeling better.”

“Good. Give it a few more moments and you should be feeling relief.” She nods, but still looks uncomfortable. I can’t believe she wouldn’t take the pain pills. We have enough breast milk frozen to feed an entire hospital nursery. She’s worse than Chuck and his AA concerns to go through this kind of pain. Could this be why it’s taking the ankle so long to heal? That’s what it was with Chuck. If this thing will give her any relief, I’ll get one in every fucking room.

“Ana… how about now?” Gail asks as the discomfort starts to leave Butterfly’s face and she begins to relax.

“Better,” she breathes. “Much better.”

“Is it giving your relief, or you can just tolerate the cold?” Gail asks.

“A little bit of both,” she says. “The throbbing pain was replaced with the unearthing cold, but once the cold started to settle down, the pain didn’t come back. So, yeah, it’s good,” she nods.

“Thank you,” she says, then turns to me and gestures to the seat over by my children. “Dr. Grey, if you will.” I roll my eyes at her.

“You’re picking up bad habits from your husband,” I say as I take my seat and check on my sleeping son and daughter. They’re getting a lot bigger, too big for their nappers. It’s time to bring out the second Pack-n-Play.


A/N: For those of you who have strong opinions on how this segment should end… sorry, but it was written months ago and I’m not changing it, so you just have to sit tight and wait it out. If you’re disappointed, angry, or disenchanted with the outcome, can’t help you there.

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 39—Shattering Dreams

So I got a little sensitive with the last couple of chapters. However, this storyline was written several months ago and it’s not like I’m going to change it, so I think I’ll just shut up and let you guys read it.

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 39—Shattering Dreams

ANASTASIA

I’m horrified to discover that my husband has flown the proverbial coop when I return to the Crossing. Liam apologized for his forward behavior and ran, embarrassed, from the Center. We’re lucky that he didn’t want to press charges against Christian for grabbing him that way. Christian was incensed and ready to kill that man. I had to put that fire out quickly or I would have been trying to bail my husband out of jail. He’s already got one strike against him—a big one, and it’s on the books!

As much as tempers were flaring, I couldn’t allow it to happen again. Allowing Liam to leave without talking to him might have led to just that. Even though he’s a bonehead for trying to kiss me in the first place, he would have been within his rights to make a police report because he was in the course of his job duties when this shit all happened. I would have defended my husband by telling the powers that be that Liam was making an advance at the time, but who needs that shit? Put the fire out now and deal with Christian once I’ve successfully kept him out of jail.

Or so I thought…

I knew there would be no talking to him at that moment, and I knew that he wouldn’t calmly wait around while I tried to talk to Liam. So, I asked him to go home and wait for me…

Then I get here, and he’s gone.
No note…
No explanation…
Just gone.

I’ve called him like a hundred times and he won’t even answer my calls—won’t yell at me, won’t tell me to go to hell, nothing. Gail only knows that he and Jason are gone. So, I know that means that he’s leaving town. She doesn’t know where; she doesn’t know how long… or at least she’s not telling me. She just knows they’re gone.

“What happened?” she asks. “What’s going on?”

Nobody was privy to what happened in the community room tonight but me, Liam, and Christian… and he hasn’t told anybody. At least, I don’t think he has told anybody.

I’m not telling them either.

I leave message after message after message on his phone until it finally just goes straight to voicemail…

“We said that we would talk about it if anything like this ever happened and you’re shutting me out. Please… call me.”

“How can you do this to us? To our family? Our children? I didn’t even kiss him! I’m being punished for something that never happened!”

“This is really fucking mature, Christian. Really mature! You need to stop acting like this and call me so that we can talk about this.”

After leaving something like twenty messages until his voice mail is full, I revert to text messages, still calling and hoping that he’ll answer the phone…

**Please, Christian, this is getting out of hand. It’s been four days… you can’t just cut me off like this. I’m your wife. **

I discover on the fifth day that he could, in fact, just cut me off. I dial his number like I do every five minutes or so of every day and after a while, I’m greeted with the same message that I got when Daddy blocked my number.

My heart clenches. That can’t be… this can’t be. I dial the number again, slowly choosing each digit to make sure that I’m dialing the right number.

“The party you have dialed…”

I sit frozen in my seat at my desk, my throat constricting, my vision blurred, and my chest feeling like a giant hand is squeezing the life’s blood from my heart and it’s literally bleeding onto the floor. He’s blocked me. He’s gone and he’s blocking my calls. He doesn’t want to talk to me. Doesn’t want to hear my side. Doesn’t want to work this out. He’s gone… and he’s cut all contact. The words I said to Liam that last night come back to me in haunting relevance…

I know a hopeless situation when I see one.

I dial his number once more and when the haunting voice begins to tell me that my communication is unwelcome, I let out a soul-shaking scream and mightily launch my phone across the office until smashes hopelessly against the opposite wall and disintegrates into a thousand tiny little pieces. I drop my face into my hands and wail my dismay.

He’s left me.

*-*

I spend the next four days locked in the office at the Center, still trying to revamp our plans for accreditation. I don’t feel any hope for anything, but I must keep up the façade that I’m functioning just fine because if I don’t, I have to answer questions about me and Christian, which I utterly refuse to answer right now.

I made the mistake of calling Jason a few times to see if I could get any information from him or try to get him to talk to his boss on my behalf. My attempts at both were flaming failures though he made a point to let me know that my estranged husband was okay, and he would do his best to keep Christian safe.

Fucking yippee.

I can’t taste food and at this point, I don’t know how many of my own tears I’ve ingested. I just know that I must feed my babies and if I don’t eat, I can’t feed them.

One day runs into the next as I spend my days in my office at the Center, doing my job and my nights in the nursery with the twins. I’ve become a permanent fixture in their window seat, looking out over the water with a perfect view of the bridge to and from Seattle. I think I’m subconsciously waiting to see if a familiar black Audi will come across the bridge at any moment. I know better, but I watch anyway, holding the phone that Marilyn replaced for me in her ever-present efficiency. I dare not dial the number again. I can’t stand the automated voice repeating that my husband doesn’t want me anymore. So, I just hold the phone and hope that he’ll have mercy on me and call me one day.

By the second Friday, I’ve had enough of waiting for that mercy. The walls are closing in on me and I need to get out of that house—away from the Crossing, the happy memories, even our beautiful children. I just don’t want to think or feel anymore. I’m so tired of this never-ending dismay and I just want it to stop. On my way out to the garage, I stop at the bar in the entertainment room and grab a bottle of Tennessee whiskey. Then I get into my car—my beautiful scuba blue metallic Audi with the huge moonroof that my once-loving husband bought me as a push gift and drive to the gate. After I threaten to drive through the gate if whatever guard on the night shift didn’t open it in three seconds, he opens the gate and I punch the gas.

I open the moonroof and turn IheartRadio to the driving station. This is not the kind of music that I normally listen to. The problem is that the kind of music that I do listen to would only remind me of Christian or love or love lost or some other sappy shit and I just can’t deal with that right now.

Years ago, I found an old access road at Discovery Park that no one seemed to know about and it looks to still have gone undiscovered. I happily go down the road and park at the lookout point over the water. I turn off the engine and let my seat back. I stare out the moonroof at the stars and crack open the bottle of whiskey. Taking it straight to the head, I throw back a large gulp. It burns like hell going down and I welcome the singe in my throat.

Just last week he was making love to me nearly all night long… or was that the week before last? It doesn’t matter, he does it all the time. Well… he did it all the time. Now, he can’t stand the sight of me… or the sound of me. As I feel the tears building up behind my eyelids, I hear my phone ringing in my purse. Hope springs in my chest as I answer the phone without even looking at the caller ID.

“Hello?” I say with anticipation.

“Ana? Are you alright?” It’s Chuck. My heart sinks immediately, like someone hit me in the chest.

“Oh, God, leave me alone,” I say before ending the call. I take another large gulp of the whiskey attempting to burn away the pain and disappointment that call caused me. It doesn’t help. I should have known it wasn’t Christian anyway. It wasn’t our ringtone.

Oh, God, this pain…

I swallow another gulp of the whiskey, hoping to burn away the slicing agony—or at least get so drunk that I forget it for a while. My riding music is beginning to sound like typical angry instrumentals, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a perfect contrast to my sorrowful maudlin mood, so I just let it play.

I feel myself begin to settle in the seat and the several swallows of alcohol are beginning to kick in. Of course, it only makes me relax, because except for wine, I’m a logical drunk. If I want to forget, I have to keep drinking.

Chuck’s face in my moonroof scares the shit out of me and for a moment, I think I’m hallucinating.

“Son of a bitch!” I cry out, startled almost to the point of pissing myself.

“You can’t do that, Ana,” he scolds.

“I can do whatever the fuck I want,” I say. I really don’t give a damn what he thinks. Really… I really don’t give a damn.

“You leave the Crossing without telling anybody where you’re going. Now, you’re sitting out here on a goddamn cliff, keys in the ignition, drinking whiskey straight from the bottle. You’re lucky the police didn’t catch you!”

“What are they going to charge me with? Drunk in public? I’m not in public, I’m in my damn car. Driving under the influence? I’m not driving, I’m sitting still.”

“How the fuck were you going to get home?” he scolds.

“I was going to call you! I’m not a complete idiot!” I say, taking another swallow from the bottle.

“Give me that.” He reaches for the bottle and I snatch it away before he can get to it.

“No!” I declare. “Get the fuck away from my car.” He glares at me in disbelief. “Somebody knows where Christian is,” I say, unwelcome tears falling down my cheeks. “Somebody knows what’s going on and nobody’ll tell me. So, get the fuck away from my car!”

He examines me for a moment, then nods.

“Fine,” he says. He opens the door, reaches in and takes my keys from the ignition.

“Hey!” I protest, stumbling out of the car behind him. “Give those back! I can’t listen to my music!”

“Nope. When you’re ready to go, I’ll take you home. Until then, these stay with me.”

“Asshole,” I say, now sobbing.

“I’ll give you that one, because you’re hurting, but you’re still not getting the keys.” I shake my head. I couldn’t possibly hate this man any more than I do right now. I stumble away from him and sit on the hood of my car, having a few more swallows of whiskey and lamenting my situation even more now that I don’t have music to occupy my mind. I feel my body shaking with sobs before I hear them, and the sound of my crying breaks my heart even more and makes me want to cry harder. I feel like Luma when I took her to the woods and let her wail and mourn Richard’s death—a deep-seated, burning, consuming pain that truly makes me want to die just so that it would end.

And the whiskey is only amplifying it—dulling my reflexes, but not the pain.

Angry that it’s not doing its job and lost in a sea of pain and confusion, I leap off the hood of my car and chuck the damn bottle over the cliff, hoping it’ll shatter into a thousand pieces…

When I open my eyes, I have no idea where I am. It takes me only a few moments to realize that I’m in the hospital—head spinning, ankle throbbing, but no worse for wear.

Ankle throbbing. What happened?

I try to remember what happened the night before, but I can’t. I only remember chucking that damn bottle off the cliff and then, nothing. I must have slipped somewhere, because my ankle is wrapped tight. Besides a horrible hangover, there’s nothing else wrong with me that I can tell.

But there’s definitely something wrong.

When I look around the empty room, the fact that I’m here alone isn’t the only indication that whatever happened to me didn’t incite him to come. It’s the empty feeling, the lack of fullness to my spirit that lets me know that he’s still miles away. I begin to remove the electrodes from my chest and the other monitors hooked up to my arms, my fingers, my wrist…

A doctor, a nurse, and Chuck all rush into the room—Chuck’s face full of worry. Not the face I was hoping to see.

“Mrs. Grey, please,” the doctor says, “we want to keep you for observation.”

“I’m fine,” I say, now ripping the wires from myself. I need to get out of here. “I’m leaving.”

“You took a really nasty fall, Mrs. Grey. You were lucky. It could have been worse. With your prior brain injury…”

“I’m going home!” I demand. Home… is there any such place anymore? Now, I know how Christian felt when I went to Montana. Now, he knows how I felt… betrayed. And he felt lost… lost and empty and lifeless with nothing to offer anyone. I get out of the bed only for my head to spin like thunder and my weight to crumble under the pain in my ankle. I’m suddenly overcome with uncontrollable anger and release a string of curse words that would make a sailor cringe.

“I’m fine!” I yell, as the anger is quickly replaced with remorse, sorrow, hopelessness, emptiness, and despair. “I’m fine,” I weep as I try to push myself off the floor, the pounding in my head and throbbing in my ankle making it impossible for me to get up. I crawl over to a chair and try to lift myself into it and off the floor, constantly repeating my mantra…

I’m fine… I’m fine… I’m fine… I’m fine…

If I say it enough times, maybe I’ll believe it.

I finally give up, both angry and forlorn that I can’t get off the floor on my own. I bang my fists angrily against the tile, throwing a tantrum like a little girl. My hands hurt, but my brain doesn’t register that I should stop beating the floor. In moments, Chuck is on the floor with me, trying to wrap me in his arms. I feel myself beating my fists on his chest, hear my mantra squealing from my throat and burning in my ears until the blackness surrounds me.

I’m fine… I’m fine… I’m fine…

*-*

I awake alone in my hospital room again. I don’t know how long I’ve slept, but I just want to see my children now. I turn on my side and face the window… away from the clock. I don’t see what time it is. I curl up into myself and gaze out the window—at the sun, the clouds in the sky… at nothing. My mind is clear, and I don’t formulate any thoughts. No conclusions. I just think about my babies… about Minnie and Mikey… and that I ache to just go home and sing to them… and hold them… There’s nothing else left.

The sun has moved some more in the sky and I still don’t know what time it is, still haven’t eaten anything, and still haven’t moved. The door finally opens and I don’t even turn or stir to see who it is. By the movement behind me and around the monitors, and by the empty feeling in my gut, I already know who it is.

“When can I go home?” I say softly after several silent moments. The movement behind me stills and the nurse finally says, “I’ll get the doctor.”

She leaves, and I never even saw her face.

The door opens again, and the room shifts to an air of familiar… still empty, but familiar.

“When can I go home?” I repeat. I have no more energy left to fight. Another moment of silence.

“Are you feeling any better?” Chuck asks.

“No,” I respond flatly. “When can I go home?” Chuck sighs.

“Ana, I know you didn’t try to hurt yourself on that cliff, but I had to convince the doctors that you were drunk, and you slipped and didn’t need to be put on a 72-hour hold. They’re watching you to make sure I was telling the truth.” I sigh as he walks around the bed to the front of me. I slipped… off the cliff… oh.

“I feel like I’m going to die, Chuck, but I don’t want to die, okay? If nobody else needs me, my babies need me.”

“I’m not the one that needs convincing,” he says as the door opens and the room fills with yet more emptiness.

“Mrs. Grey,” the doctor asks. I don’t even know his name. “How are you feeling?”

“The same as before,” I respond truthfully. “When can I go home?” He looks at Chuck, then back at me.

“We… would like to keep you for a few days,” he says, approaching the topic cautiously, “for observation.”

“Observation of what?” I ask without raising my head.

“Can you tell me what happened on the cliff?” the doctor asks.

“Can you tell me what’s wrong with me?” I retort, calmly. “Do I have internal bleeding or another head injury?”

“No, you don’t,” he responds.

“Then what do you need to observe?” I ask again.

“Mrs. Grey, can you please tell me what happened on that cliff?” I sigh heavily.

“Doctor, we can go around in circles until I finally call my attorney. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that when I tried to leave earlier, you sedated me for no other reason but that I was having an anxiety attack on the floor.”

“You were assaulting your bodyguard,” he says in a non-threatening tone.

“She was not assaulting me!” Chuck interjects. “And if you say that’s why you’re holding her, I’m going to call you a liar!”

“Two other people saw her attack you, Mr. Davenport.”

“Two other people saw her having an anxiety attack, just like she said, but you’re not listening to anything I say and now you’re not listening to her. What, are you trying to make a name for yourself? Forget it, I’m calling her lawyer.” Chuck pulls his phone out and proceeds to touch the screen.

“Please, Mr. Davenport, I assure you that’s not necessary. We’re just looking out for her well-being.”

“Then tell her why you’re holding her here instead of causing her additional stress! She’s had enough! Or can’t you tell… Doctor?” he snaps. The doctor sighs.

“Please, Mrs. Grey, I swear I’ll tell you everything if you can just tell me your version of what happened on the cliff.”

“I can’t,” I reply. “I was drunk. I know that I was drinking whiskey. I remember Chuck took my keys. I remember throwing the bottle off and that’s the last thing I remember before I woke up here. Is being drunk in public suddenly an offense to be held prisoner in a hospital? Do you haul all drunks in for observation?”

“No, but not all drunk people find themselves hurt on the side of a cliff,” he points out with no malice.

“Oh, and I suppose I’m the only person in history who has ever done something stupid while under the influence,” I retort. “You know, that’s why they don’t let us drive.”

“Mrs. Grey, I can assure you…” and here it comes. The politically correct mumbo jumbo line of bullshit where I have to listen to him tell me why he has to keep me locked in this room—or better yet, on the psyche ward. I really don’t have the strength to convince this fucker that there’s nothing wrong with me when there really is something wrong with me. I’m sick with grief and pain and confusion and no fucking sense of direction with no hope or light at the end of the tunnel, because my husband has left me. I’m sad, angry and clumsy, and apparently not too bright sometimes—but I’m not fucking suicidal. The trouble is that I’m not willing to fight the necessary battle to persuade him that I’m at least of sound mind. I put up my hands and slash them across the air. I don’t have any fight left in me.

“You know what? I don’t care. Do what you have to do,” I concede.

“Ana!” Chuck protests.

“I don’t care!” I say, looking at him. Nothing’s going the way that I want it right now; just fucking let me stay. I’ll consider it a mini-sabbatical in a horrible hospital room. Nobody needs me but my babies anyway.

My babies… I sigh heavily.

“Just call my nannies and get me a breast pump,” I say, laying back on the bed and facing the window again.

“Oh! You’re nursing!” the doctor exclaims. How the fuck did he not know that? Now, I show the only little bit of emotion that I can muster.

“Yes!” I snap. “I’m nursing! And I don’t want my milk to dry up while you’re observing! So, can I please get a breast pump?”

*-*

It turns out that my ankle is only sprained and should be back to normal in a few days. The doctor sends me home on Sunday with crutches and tells me to stay off it for a few days. As it turns out, my impromptu request for a breast pump when no one seemed to know that I was nursing prompted Dr. Whatever-His-Name-Was to let me the hell out of there, noting that someone intent on self-destruction wouldn’t readily be concerned about her milk drying up.

How the hell did he not know I was nursing? I only lactate every four hours! Like a goddamn faucet! Although I didn’t lactate while I was in the hospital… I wonder why. Nonetheless, needing to be the milk factory for my twins got me sprung from the pokey.

Lucky me.

I thought I wanted to come home to my own bed and lay down, just to recuperate in my own space, but when I get to the bedroom—our bedroom—the sight of it sickens me… I mean, physically sickens me. I literally become light-headed and I’m afraid I’ll vomit. I turn under the watchful eyes of my brother and bodyguard and go to the children’s room instead.

Minnie is the first to spot me. She starts this wail like she’s fussing at me for leaving her. Gail and Keri look up and watch me hobble over to her crib on my crutches.

“There, there, Mouse,” I comfort her, “Why all the fuss?” I rub her little tummy and she calms immediately. Mikey must have just settled for his nap, because he lay in his crib, eyes closed, totally content and occasionally sucking on his binky. I hobble over to the rocker and Chuck helps me sit down.

“Bring her to me,” I ask. Keri brings the squirmy little thing to me and sets her in my arms. She settles almost immediately, but still looks up at me with her questioning little eyes.

“I know, Mouse,” I tell her. It’s been hard to settle her with Christian away, but she—like me—is settling into discontent acceptance. “We’ll be fine soon.” I start to rock her and sing my babies’ lullaby until she finally falls asleep.

“Gail, can you help me, please?” I say, when I leave the children’s room. Gail looks at me with questioning eyes.

“Sure,” she says, her gaze sympathetic. I go into the owner’s suite, straight past the bedroom and into my dressing room.

“Can you please look in the drawer right there and grab three nightshirts for me?” She examines me, then complies with my wishes. I go over to my lingerie drawer and retrieve three bra and panty sets. With no idea of what I’ll be doing, I retrieve three random business outfits, some jeans and sneakers and then go in search of sweatshirts, yoga pants and T-shirts.

“Will you get the toiletries out of my shower? And two bath blankets from the main bathroom?” She hesitates.

“Ana… are you going somewhere?” she asks. I smile a reassuring smile.

“Yes, but I’m not going far,” I tell her.

Once we’ve gathered everything I need for right now, I ask her to have someone help her move the things to guestroom one. She smiles sadly.

“Ana…” she protests.

“Gail, my husband is gone,” I say, bravely fighting tears that I probably don’t have left to cry anyway. “I don’t know if he’s coming back and if his behavior is any indication, he’s probably not. This was our room… and I can’t sleep in here anymore.”

There’s no argument after that, just a silent nod of concession.

“Let me know when those things are moved, please. I’ll be in the nursery.”

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Gail had more of the things that she knew I would need moved to the guest room. I feel the same stab of burning rejection in this room that I felt in Escala when he ignored me for those weeks after the fundraiser fiasco. The difference is that he was there with me, in the same house even if not in the same bed, and now, I don’t know where he is… and no one will tell me.

I run a bubble bath in the tub that’s just about half the size of mine, strip and carefully climb in. Of course, the tears start. My nerves are stretched to their very ends. It’s no wonder the doctor thought I was trying to kill myself. I couldn’t put a cognitive thought together if I wanted to. At first, all I wanted was for my husband to come back… to forgive me for having the slightest moment of weakness when Liam looked into my eyes, even though I didn’t let him kiss me. Now, I don’t know what I want. I didn’t do anything wrong. Yes, I was tempted by an attractive man, but I didn’t cross the line. And now, I’m suffering consequences for something I didn’t even do.

Can I ever forgive him for that?

Isn’t this the same irrational behavior that he pulled on me when he thought I was sleeping with Elliot? Of course, Elliot wasn’t breaths away from me trying to kiss me. Oh, fuck, I can’t think about this anymore. It’s all I’ve thought about night after night after night since this shit started and I just can’t do it anymore.

But I can’t stop the tears either.

I just let them fall into the bubbles, dissipating them with the heaviness of my sorrow.

*-*

“So, as it turns out, you were right about Gloria Felton,” Al says, while visiting my office at Helping Hands a few days later. “I delivered your conflict complaint to the Office of the Director with the threat of a possible personal discrimination lawsuit, and they pulled Helping Hands’ file. It was unreasonable how she was spending the taxpayer’s money to personally persecute you guys. The reports, inspections, and compliances that she was asking for were way out of line. Organizations with more quote-unquote violations than Helping Hands were accredited in one-quarter of the time that you all have been struggling for validation. You guys should have been accredited months ago.” I sigh, though not as relieved as I should be from the news.

“So, in effect, Liam’s presence was totally unnecessary.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Not really,” Al says, “although his report helped to put it over the top that you all should have your accreditation by week’s end. No more stalling.”

That’s just great. The man inadvertently ruined my marriage and we didn’t really need him. Oh, joy. Gloria should be proud of herself. I gained accreditation and lost my happy home in the process. I may have won the battle, but she won the war. Maybe that was her M-O all along.

“Well, there is that, I guess,” I say with little enthusiasm. “What about Gloria?”

“Administrative leave,” he says. “It doesn’t look good for her. It’s very serious to let personal feelings interfere with your job, especially on the licensing board where you have people’s lives and businesses in your hands. The director already had complaints about her on his desk. He just couldn’t do anything with them and they weren’t official complaints because the people had gotten what they wanted. It was an ear-to-the-ground type of thing and he had no power until he got an actual complaint. You with your valid complaint that spread across seven departments and, as it turns out, could have been more, gave him exactly what he needed.”

“Well, that’s just great. What’s to stop her from talking badly about us after she’s fired or disciplined?”

“Way ahead of you.” He pulls out some papers and hands them to me. “A gag order—if she says anything about the current situation or you or any member of Helping Hands, we will ruin that bitch… and she knows it.” I smile weakly, looking at the paper.

“My knight in shining armor,” I say, patting him on the shoulder.

“Jewel?” I raise my eyes to him. “What’s going on?”

I knew it was coming. I look and feel like hell these days, no matter how I try to put myself together. It’s not like I could avoid his questions, but I just don’t want to talk about it… not even to Al. I guess not saying it makes it seem like it’s not really real, but it can’t get any more real than my empty bed.

“I just need you to be a friend and not ask, okay?” I say, almost beseeching.

“I just can’t stand seeing you like this,” he says. “Nobody sees what I see and it’s unbearable.”

“Just be a friend… please,” I repeat. “I’m holding it together by a thread.”

“But you don’t have to…” he continues.

“Al… please?” I beg, my voice shaking. I can’t do this. I can’t do this. He pauses for a moment.

“Okay,” he says, finally. “You’ll… call me if you need me?” His voice is beseeching, too. I nod, unable to look at him as he leaves my office. I take a deep breath when he has cleared the door and rein back the tears that threaten to fall. My heart still aches—a dull ache that never goes away—but I’m getting used to it now. It’s become a constant companion along with the occasional dream of Edward David taunting me that my marriage has fallen apart. The mind is a funny thing. At least it’s not fucking Harris.

It’s like that old Billie Holiday song tragically playing on repeat in my head…

Wish I’d forget you, but you’re here to stay,
It seems I met you when my love went away, 
And now I start each day by saying to you,
Good Morning, Heartache, what’s new?

The heaviness in my breasts signals me that it’s time to feed the twins or pump. I’m on a cane now since my ankle is much better, but still a little weak. So, I hobble to the nursery to see if either of the little angels are awake.

Keri is there helping with some of the other children while the twins are asleep and, just like clockwork, Minnie starts to stir. I open my suit jacket and gather my pink little bundle from her crib.

“Hey, there, Mouse,” I say, cradling her and slipping a nipple into her eager mouth. “Did you know it was lunchtime…?”

Several minutes later, Minnie had drained both breasts, burped, and fallen back to sleep, which means Mikey will have to take a bottle when he wakes. I was hoping that we could keep them on the same sleep schedule, but as it is, if we wake them before they’re ready, they’re irritable and cranky and hard to get back to sleep. So, we let them set their own schedules, which means that lately, one is awake around 1am while the other isn’t awake until about 4am. I could lament the situation since they had begun to sleep through the night, but hell… I don’t really sleep much anyway, so it’s fine with me.

Grace is waiting when I get back to my office.

“You’ve been hiding,” she says.

“I’ve been working,” I respond, as I take my seat behind my desk. “Al just let me know that Gloria has been placed on administrative leave and we should have our accreditation by the end of the week. I’ll say that’s pretty impressive.”

“Yes, it is,” she says, “but it doesn’t explain why you’ve been hiding.”

“I just wanted some peace so that I could work. Is there anything wrong with that?”

“No,” she says, accommodating. “Not at all, when you’re working and not hiding.”

“Grace, I appreciate your concern, but please understand that there’s just some things I don’t want to talk about.” There’s that thread again.

“Like why you were fighting to get out of the hospital and Christian was nowhere in sight?” I grimace at her discovery. “I work at that hospital, Ana, and you’re family. Of course, I was going to find out.” I sigh.

“Again, there are some things that I would like to keep to myself,” I repeat. Grace sighs and I know that she, like Al, is reloading the gun to try to get me to tell her what’s going on. I haven’t told anybody—no one. I’m carrying it all myself. I don’t want anyone to know that I’ve possibly chased my husband away, broke up our family, and destroyed our happy home. I hear her saying some comforting word—or words that are meant to be comforting—but all they really translate into is “tell me what’s going on, I can’t stand the suspense anymore.” Before I know it, I’m up at out of my seat.

“Why does everybody have to know what’s going on in my head?” I shriek. “Why can’t I just for once be unhappy and everybody just respect my wishes and leave me alone?” And I’m out of the office and into my car, without my cane, without my purse, without my kids—racing towards Grey Crossing.

*-*

“Ana, where the hell are you?” Chuck is livid. I still have my phone in my jacket pocket, which is the only reason that it didn’t get left behind.

“At home… in bed.” I’m surprised the guards at the desk didn’t tell him that I tore into the gate, almost taking the iron off the damn hinges if the gate hadn’t opened fast enough. He sighs.

“I’m bringing Keri and the twins home,” he says, his voice that sympathetic tone that I’m beginning to hate.

“Um-hmm,” I say, before ending the call. I close my eyes and fall asleep.

I awake to the sound of the two-way communications beckoning me.

“Ana,” I say, my voice raspy and my throat dry. I hear my babies stirring. I throw my legs out of the bed and test my foot. I’m still fully dressed and exhausted.

“Ana,” Keri’s voice comes over the two-way. “You rest. We got the babies.” I nod as if she could hear me and lay back in bed.

“Okay…”

I wake again, and the sun has gone down. There’s a U-Dub oversized jersey and some yoga pants at the foot of my bed—one of my favorite lounging outfits—and a note from Grace to call her if she can help in any way. I quickly strip out of my suit and shoes and put on my comfort clothing before climbing back into the bed and falling asleep again almost immediately.

This time when I awake, it’s daylight again. I know that I need to get up, but I can’t bring myself to get out of the bed. I have to feed my babies. I have work to do. I have to…

“So… Billionaire Boy left you high and dry after all. I knew he wouldn’t last…”

Edward emerges from into the white fog, dressed in his prison garb, his face stark white and devoid of life. Around his neck is a sheet twisted into a noose. I can imagine this is how they found him hanging in his cell.

“Why the hell can’t you fuckers stay dead once you die?” I ask no one in particular.

“Because we have to remind you of your mistakes. You should have stayed with me, Rosie. I knew the poor little rich boy would tire of you sooner or later—see you for the sloppy seconds that you really are. Right, Steve?”

“Of course…” Stephen Morton’s emaciated frame joins us in the fog. “Ann never could accept that she was nothing and will always be nothing. Maybe now, she’ll learn her lesson.”

“Oh, look, it’s Moonshine,” I say, unmoved. “Boy, my subconscious is really pulling out the heavy hitters tonight.”

“Not just yet. We’ve got one more,” Edward says. “Oh, Bob!”

My terrorizer joins the threesome in the cloud of white and now they surround me, taunting me.

“He left you for a kiss you never even got. How does that feel? I guess that twat isn’t as deadly as I thought it was. What a pussy!”

Robert Harris doesn’t look as intimidating as he once did, either—oozing bullet wounds all over his body. What the hell is this supposed to represent?

What’s so bad is that I’m not afraid of any of these apparitions. They’re just irritating the fuck out of me, circling me, and teasing me…

“You’re nothing. You always were, and you always will be.”
“Nobody’s ever going to love you or want you. What did you expect—happily ever after?”
“Your head got too big, Rosie; you should have stayed with me. I was the best you could hope for…”

And the obvious…

“He’s left you. He doesn’t want you anymore. You fucked up like you always do, and without even trying this time.”

Suddenly, a fourth figure joins us in the white fog, and I feel a warmth… a connection, the connection that I only feel… felt… with one other person. This is the closest I’ve felt to him since he’s been gone. Christian comes through the mist in that same suit he was wearing when he left. He walks to me with no concern for the apparitions around me. They keep taunting me, but with a wave of his hand, they’re gone—their taunts still echoing in the air…

“He’s left you…”

Christian cups my face with his hands and looks into my eyes.

“I haven’t left you… I’ll never leave you…”

I slowly open my eyes and it’s dark again. I’m not willing to get out of bed right now. There’s really no need. Someone’s been in to check on me. There’s fresh ice water in a pitcher on the night stand and my cane is leaning against it. I pull the covers up around my neck, trying to shake the cold, but the cold is inside, and I’ll never shake it. I’m unmoved by anything that happened in my dream except for one thing…

“I haven’t left you… I’ll never leave you…”

“Yes… you have,” I say aloud. I get out of the bed to go to the bathroom and fail to test my ankle before putting any weight on it.

And down I go.

“Shit!” I exclaim as I hit the floor with a thud, pain radiating through my body and from the fact that I think I twisted my ankle again. I feel helpless and useless and particularly unloved. The tears all come down on me at once and the feeling of loss and hopelessness is more than I can bear.

He’s left me.
My husband is gone, and he’s left me.

Suddenly, the urge to use the restroom floods out of my body as quickly as it came, replaced by the gaping emptiness, the never-ending pain of the abyss that’s swallowing me whole.

Able to do nothing else, I lay on the floor in the fetal position and weep.


CHRISTIAN

“Grey.”

“I’m fragile right now and I don’t need this damn stress. Now would you please tell me what the hell is going on?” Oh, good fuck, it’s my mother. I should have looked at the caller ID. I stopped after I blocked her calls and she could no longer call me nonstop.

“What do you need, Mom?” I ask stoically.

“I need to know what the fuck is going on with you and your wife and I don’t want to hear any bullshit about this being none of my business!” she demands. “I’ve never seen her like this before in my life!”

“You’ll have to ask her,” I respond.

“I have asked her and she’s not talking! Nobody’s talking! You’re nowhere to be found and nobody’s telling anybody anything—not even Ana. Nobody knows what’s going on and she’s walking around here like an apparition! A shadow of herself! Not even that! She’s hiding behind closed doors and when I finally corner her to talk to her, she sounds like a damn toddler! She looks like she’s about to have a goddamn nervous breakdown and nobody can fucking help her! At least tell me what the hell is going on so I can try to help her!” My throat tightens and almost feels like it’s closing on me. “Where the hell are you?”

“Europe,” I tell her honestly. “I had two deals that needed my attention and there’s a third one that I need to take care of.”

“Well, when do you plan to be home?” she asks, demanding. Boy, she’s really pissed.

“I don’t know,” I tell her. I’ve been trying to work through what I saw… what I think I saw, but I can’t. Right now, I just need to focus on the next deal. There’s really not a third deal and the first two could have waited—well, maybe not the first one, but I can find a third. After a long pause, I hear my mother sucking her teeth.

“I see,” she says, and I hear movement on the phone. “Well, like I said, I have no clue what’s going on, but from Ana’s reaction and your disappearance and likewise wish not to be forthcoming, I can pretty much guess.” I hear things slamming around and know that all diplomacy has left the woman on the other end of the line. “Not that you care, but your wife ran out of here after screaming at me to leave her alone and let her be unhappy in peace. She left her purse, her briefcase and her security detail behind… oh, and her children!”

“The twins?” I ask horrified.

“Charles got in touch with her back at the mansion,” Mom continues without reacting to my question. “Since it’s clear that you can take care of yourself, I’m following Charles and the rest of the security detail to the Crossing to see if there’s anything that I can do for Ana. She took the SUV and I have built-in car seats, so I’ll take the twins and Keri. It’s unfortunate that she drove home on her own as she’s not supposed to be driving since she was released from the hospital!” I leap to my feet at this revelation.

“Hospital?” I gasp. “What the hell was she doing in the hospital?”

“Oh, you didn’t know?” she asks sarcastically. “Don’t worry, Christian. Obviously, she didn’t die!” my mother shoots, anger radiating through the phone at me from 5000 miles away. “I’m sure you would have come home after that… then again, maybe not. Nonetheless, she’s fine. She’s still here functioning and taking care of your children—that is, when she’s not in the midst of what appears to be total, complete, and utter self-destruction. If you want to know why she was in the hospital, why don’t you ask her?”

She throws my words back at me and the line goes dead.

She dangles this news in my face and then ends the call like we were talking about the goddamn weather. The last person that had anything to say at all about possible concern for my wife was Allen, and I shot him down hard…

He was talking to Jason when we conferenced back to Seattle for some legal documents for Casa del Escudo Sagrado when Allen asked to confirm that I actually was in Madrid. When Jason confirmed the information with no further explanation, I felt the need to gently nudge my employee to keep his mouth shut.

“Please inform my head of legal,” I said into the air so that he could hear me, “that although his loyalties may be split, he has signed a non-disclosure agreement as a condition of his employment and I do expect him to honor it. If he has any issue with that, I assume he will let me know.”

The line was quiet with one of those pregnant pauses that Allen often accuses me of. Jason makes to speak, but Allen beats him to it.

“Well, that explains a lot,” he hissed into the line. “Please inform my employer that although I love my best friend like my own flesh and blood that I am a professional first. That although I am sick to my stomach watching her suffer physically and emotionally the way that she is right now, that I am not only fully aware of my job duties and description as well as the conditions of my employment, but also of the letter of the law in terms of attorney/client privilege, and he would do well not to insult my intelligence or integrity in the future. Also inform my esteemed employer that whatever may be occurring between him and my best friend affords him no purchase or right whatsoever to be an asshole towards me!”

The words hung in the air as both a chastisement and a warning for me to check my attitude when dealing with Attorney Forsythe, but there was also information there that I’m just now putting together with what my mother said…

“That although I am sick to my stomach watching her suffer physically and emotionally…”

She’s suffering physically. How the hell is she suffering physically?

“It’s unfortunate that she drove home on her own as she’s not supposed to be driving since she was released from the hospital!”

Released from the hospital… That means that this wasn’t an emergency-room visit. She was admitted!

“Jason!” I yell through the suite we share at the Eurostars Suites Madrid. He doesn’t answer right away, and I know he’s not asleep. He doesn’t sleep until I dismiss him and it’s not quite eleven yet.

“Jason!” I call again, exiting the first bedroom of the suite and crossing the span of the living area just as he’s making his way to me.

“Yes, sir,” he answers calmly.

“Where were you?” I demand.

“I was speaking to my wife and daughter,” he says, impassively. Speaking of which…

“Ana was in the hospital,” I inform him. He doesn’t react. “Did you hear me? Ana was in the hospital!”

“Yes, sir, I heard you. I know she was in the hospital.” What the hell…?

“When?” I ask in horror.

“This past Saturday,” he says, still unmoved. “It may have been Friday for them…” He ponders for a moment. “No, it was Saturday.”

“You knew?” I accuse. He nods. “That was the call you got at breakfast… when you left the room. That’s why you looked at me.” He nods again. “Why the fuck did I have to find out from my mother that Ana was in the hospital and not from you?” I roar.

“Why would I tell you?” Jason replies impassively. “Every time I came to you and told you that she had called repeatedly, or she was crying or hurt or upset, couldn’t sleep, forced herself to eat so that she could feed her children, you didn’t flinch. I thought she was calling me because you wouldn’t answer. I only just found out from that call from my wife that you had blocked her calls. I’ve seen this guy before. I know who he is. He’s the same guy that I knew when I had to drag crying, kicking, screaming submissives out of his house who didn’t bat an eye at their pain. After all these years with you, I know not to cross him.

“Yes, I got the call that she was in the hospital. Yes, I got the call that she had a breakdown while she was there, and they wanted to keep her for observation for fear that she would hurt herself. They finally allowed her leave when she asked for a breast pump so that she could feed her babies. Yes, I got the call that she was home. Her life wasn’t in danger, but only because she had angels looking out for her because she could have fallen to her death off that cliff.”

“Cliff…?” The word slips from my lips with disbelief.

“Oh, yeah, you didn’t know that either. She got drunk, stood on the edge of a cliff, lost her balance as she was throwing a bottle of whiskey over and fell. She could’ve died, but she didn’t. Chuck caught her, and she only slipped along the ledge about four feet. She awoke with a sprained ankle and bad hangover. Luckily, nothing’s broken except her heart. Nothing major.”

“Nothing major…?” I’m still at a loss for words. Why is he just delivering this shit like a basic debriefing? My wife could have died!

“No, sir,” Jason says, matter-of-factly. “For weeks, she’s been sitting in various places just staring at nothing. At first, it was that water swing outside over the lake. But lately, she’s been spending the night in her children’s room in the window seat looking out the window—for what, nobody knows. It got to be so bad that Keri just started taking pictures of her with her phone. She calls the series ‘A Tribute to Sadness.’

“She knows that if she doesn’t eat, she’ll not only hurt herself, but the babies, too, so she eats… but only what my wife brings to her. Marilyn keeps me posted on what she does when she’s at the Center. Mostly, she stays locked in her office working on whatever until it’s time to feed the twins again. The inspection is complete, and the inspector is gone. It looks like the center will finally get its credentials.” He pauses for a moment and takes a breath.

“Is that all? Oh, no, it’s not. If she doesn’t sleep in the window seat in the babies’ room, she sleeps in one of the guest rooms now. She doesn’t talk to anybody, not even Marilyn and only Al in an official capacity. So, your secret is still safe. Nobody knows that you’ve left her.”

“Left her?” I finally find some words. “I haven’t left her.”

“Coulda fooled me,” Jason says with a shrug. “Definitely fooled her.”

Shit, that stings.

“I’ve put covert surveillance on her because even though she convinced the doctor that she didn’t want to harm herself, the absent-minded things that she’s doing and the obvious absence of self-preservation will end up causing her more harm than anything that she can do to herself on purpose. The fact that she keeps running off alone without telling anybody is dangerous all by itself.

“I was hoping to go to sleep soon, so I was calling my wife to tell her goodnight and that I love her, and she was telling me that Ana’s back at home shut-up in the guest bedroom in the middle of the day without the babies. I didn’t get a chance to find out what was happening because you summoned me.”

Jason’s not offering me any of his usual sarcasm or opinions. He’s just giving me cold, hard facts in the most impassive manner possible. He won’t tell me that he thinks I’m an asshole for leaving and staying away without a word. He won’t offer any insight into how she’s feeling except broken-hearted and she thinks I’ve left her. No “you’re killing her” or “this is agony for her, don’t you care” or none of the protective emotion that he normally feels when it comes to her or the concerned friendship that he usually gives me as of late… well, not on this trip, though. Is he trying to be here for me… as my best friend, or has he really stoically detached himself from the situation?

“Are you angry with her, too?” I ask, trying to pull the truth from him.

“I wouldn’t know what to be angry with her for, sir—you never told me, but it doesn’t matter,” he says. “We’re in a foreign country and I have a job to do and that’s to protect you. I can’t allow anything to interfere with that.”

Stoic detachment. The fact that he knows so much about what’s going on with her indicates to me that he’s not angry with her, but I can’t tell if he’s angry with me. He has a job to do…

“Tell me everything…”

*-*

It takes a full 24 hours to get the GEH jet to Madrid and another hour and a half to get it refueled. Four pilots, three flight attendants, and this is probably one of the most expensive emergency flights I’ve ever taken. There’s no way I was taking a commercial flight to possibly get leaked to the Paps. I probably wouldn’t have made it out of the airport.

We don’t make it back to Seattle until 4am, two days after I had spoken to my mother. The house is a tomb when we arrive because no one is expecting us. I dismiss Jason straight to his suite and climb the stairs to find Ana. He said that she was in one of the guest rooms, so I don’t even bother going to our bedroom. I start with guestroom one thinking that she would opt to be as close to the twins as possible.

I was right… but she’s on the floor.

My first instinct is to rush to her and make sure that she’s alright until I see how she’s lying—in the fetal position with her hands under her face, pressed together and protecting the skin of her cheek from the floor. She’s curled into a ball so small that she looks like a child. I haven’t seen her this small since her shrinking days. I don’t think I even saw her this small back then.

Shrinking…

I walk around her and take a seat in the leather chair across from the bed. I remove my jacket and set it on the matching bench next to me and examine her lying there on the floor. The room is still dark, and dawn is threatening off in the distance, but there’s enough light in the room to make out her comfort clothes, the ace bandage around her right foot and ankle, and the tortured expression marring her face.

Her right foot…
Her driving foot…
She drove home with that ankle…

There’s a note on the floor at the foot of the bed and I pick it up and read it.

Ana,

I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I have a good idea. Keri and Gail said that you haven’t been sleeping, so I didn’t want to disturb you. Please call me if I can help you or if you want to talk. I’m here for you, dear.

Grace.

She didn’t tell anybody anything. All this time, she just kept it to herself… why I wasn’t here… that I wasn’t here. Even my parents didn’t know.

Did she talk to Ace?

I watch her sleeping on the floor for a few more moments before the two-way communications system comes to life. She pops off the floor with a gasp, a wobble, and a whimper—discomfort and confusion evident in her posture and positioning. She mumbles something like she’s coming out of a disturbing dream before she remembers herself and cracks out her name.

“Ana…”

Her voice is frail, high and unrecognizable, but the two-way should still know that it’s her. She clears her throat and it actually sounds painful, then she tries again.

“Ana…”

That was worse than the first time… breathy and painful and aching. She sighs when there’s still no response and scrubs her face with one hand, holding herself up and leaning on the other. Then I remember that she’s not the only person in the room.

“Christian.”

She whirls around in her seat on the floor to the sound of my voice like somebody hit her. She stares at me in shocked amazement, more like dismay, and Jason speaks through the two-way.

“Sir, my wife says that Ana is in guestroom one and she’s been asleep for more than 36 hours.” Shit. I remember when I slept like that… when she went to Montana. The psychotic break. That’s why he told me. He knew I’d come looking for her, but he wanted me to know that she had been asleep for more than a day.

“I’ve found her. Thank you, Jason. End two-way communications.” The two-way system deactivates, and Ana and I stare at each other for several moments. She’s the first to move. She crawls to the bed and retrieves the cane leaning against the nearby nightstand. Using the bed as leverage and the cane for support, she pushes herself off the floor and stands upright. It takes a lot of effort and she doesn’t ask for help. When she gets to her feet, she starts to walk, and I can tell that she’s in pain. Without a word, she hobbles to the en suite and closes the door.

I sit there for a while, pondering what to do next. Knowing her—knowing me—I knew there would be no warm welcome or running to each other’s arms for reconciliation. I don’t know how long I sit there before I realize that there’s no sound coming from the bathroom and she’s been in there for a while. I walk over to the door and knock softly. When there’s no answer, I knock again. Still no answer, so I try the door. She hasn’t locked it. When I open the door, she’s curled up inside the tub, her arms wrapped around her knees. Her hair is wet, and her head is resting on her knees, her face buried.

She looks helpless and broken and I haven’t seen her like this is quite some time.

I pull off my sweatshirt and walk over to the tub. This is a marble tub, too, not as big as hers—raised, so that I can sit along the side of it. I take one of the washcloths from the towel rack and wet it with water from the tub. I squeeze the rag so that the water trickles over her skin. She doesn’t move. I continue to do this until I’ve wet every exposed part of her body. I lift her hair to wash her nape and she cringes.

“No! Please don’t,” she weeps. What? She doesn’t want me to touch her? I put my hand on her shoulder and try to speak, but she protests again, more insistent this time… heart-wrenching…

“Please!” she cries, her voice cracking and broken. “I can’t take it right now… please…”

I can tell by the agonizing sound of her voice that if I touch her again, she’s going to fall completely apart. I put my own pride aside and move away.

“Okay,” I concede, and she sighs heavily, whimpering sorrowfully.

She sighed… she sighed because I stopped touching her.

“How are you going to get out of the tub?” I ask, examining her foot still wrapped in the ace bandage and submerged in the water.

“I’ll get on my knees,” her shaky voice says.

“You could fall.” She doesn’t respond. “Would you rather I leave?”

“You already did,” she squeaks, hugging her knees tighter. Okay, I had that one coming. I stand, moving to leave and thinking this might be better.

“I’ll be in the bedroom,” I say, a bit rejected, but not. “Call me if you need help.”

“I did,” she says, weakly. “You didn’t come…”

I sit in the bedroom, playing her words over and over again in my head.

I did… you didn’t come…

It’s only at this moment that I realize what my leaving really meant. I maintain that I needed some time away from her, from the situation, from how I was feeling, but just like Montana, I left her with nothing. No hope, no explanation, no lifeline. I had my phone. I just didn’t answer when she called. She escaped and we had to find her. I took somebody with me and she still didn’t know where I was. We weren’t married yet when she left, so her answering to me was a courtesy—one that I deserved as her fiancé, but a courtesy nonetheless. We’re married now; we’re next of kin over and above even our parents. We have a bigger responsibility to one another… and we have children.

She was in the hospital and I didn’t even know. Nobody thought I needed to be informed. If the people who know me and knew where I was thought I didn’t care about my wife falling off a cliff and having to be taken to the hospital, imagine how she felt.

Most of all, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Two wrongs? Or was it three? Four? Eleven? Twenty…?

I don’t know how long it is before she comes out of the en suite, but I know it’s a long time—so long that I stop watching the door and waiting for her to emerge… so long that I’m immersed in my own thoughts of the situation and forget where I am, surprised to see her exit the bathroom haphazardly wrapped in a bath blanket. Her long, wet hair hangs in a stringy mess down her back, some of in wrapped under the bath blanket. She’s just as surprised to see me still in the bedroom when she emerges as I am when she comes out. She probably thought I had given up and left by now.

I have to suppress the urge to just take care of her right now—to wrap the towel properly around her body, or better yet, unwrap it; to dry and untangle her extremely long hair; to pick her up and carry her to the bed and get the weight off that ankle and the now-wet ace bandage that may cause her to fall.

I lose the battle with that last one.

“No!” she says in a panic when she sees me coming towards her, my intent evident in my eyes. I stop just as I’m about to scoop her small body up in my arms.

“Please,” I say softly. “At least lean on me so that you don’t fall again. You were on the floor when I came in.”

Our faces are so close together. Her eyes are more empty and lifeless than I’ve ever seen them… ever. Her pupils are tiny, constricted—almost non-existent. I try to remember a time when I’ve ever seen this barren color of blue in her eyes… like an old pair of jeans that’s been washed too many times. I can’t. Not even when she checked out after watching the video of her attack were her eyes this pale. They’re normally deep blue… ocean blue… the bluest right at her height of passion. Right now, they look blanched and devoid of life.

Empty Eyes

I must have been staring too long, because she drops her eyes, then her head, breaking our gaze. I gingerly bend down and put my arm around her waist and she allows me to help her to the bed while she winces every time she tries to put the slightest weight on her ankle. She sighs again when she’s finally on the bed and out of my grasp. I feel a stab of rejection, but quickly push it back because there are too many other emotions swimming around in my head right now… and I really don’t deserve to feel rejected.

“Activate two-way communications,” I say, and the system comes alive. “Locate Keri Illidge.”

“Yes?” Keri’s disembodied voice answers.

“Keri, it’s Christian. I hope I haven’t disturbed you.” There’s a pause.

“Christian!” she says, surprise obvious in her voice. “Um, no, you haven’t disturbed me. I’m with the babies.”

“I’ll relieve you. Can you please come to the first guestroom and help Ana get dressed? Her ankle is bothering her.” Another pause.

“Yes, I’ll be right there.”

“End two-way communications.” The system shuts down and I bring my eyes back to my wife. She’s leaning forward on her hands sitting stock still on the bed and looking down. I sigh and leave the room. I meet Keri in the hallway.

“I don’t think she needs any help getting her clothes on, just getting what she needs to her… maybe combing her hair…” I trail off, still dejected that she wouldn’t let me touch her, but what did I expect?

“Yes, okay, no problem,” Keri says, and walks past me to the guestroom while I proceed to the nursery. An exhausted Gail is tending to Mikey while Minnie fusses in her crib. She smiles weakly when I enter the room. I look at her with apologetic eyes and force as much of a smile as I can. I know that she and Jason were probably making up for lost time when the babies beckoned. I reach into the crib and gather my fussy daughter in my arms. When I cuddle her against me, she settles immediately, nuzzling against my chest.

Sorry, little one, there’s nothing in those to sustain you. It’ll have to be a bottle.

I retrieve a bottle from the warmer and she suckles it hungrily, obviously fighting between hunger and sleep. I sit in the window seat that Jason informed me Ana sat in many days and look out at the view while I feed my daughter. There’s not much to see out this window… the same uninteresting view of Seattle and the bridge…

The bridge… She was staring at the bridge.

Fuck.


A/N: The song Ana is hearing in her head is Good Morning Heartache by Billie Holiday. The video is on my Pinterest page. 

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 37—In Other News…

I’ve been going through and “liking” posts and for some reason, I’ll go back, and WordPress is removing some of my likes. I may have to look for blog hosting elsewhere. This thing is getting on my nerves!

Also, in going through my mailing list, I’ve noticed that a lot of people with “me.com” or “icloud.com” emails have been bouncing a lot. These mediums may have something in place to prevent you from getting a lot of unwanted or junk email and mine may be getting caught in that. I’ve had about five people so far with those extensions tell me that they haven’t gotten emails from me since 01/04/18. With only a few exceptions, I’ve been sending out emails for every chapter. I’ve counted, and that’s five emails that you’ve missed, and my emailer is saying that they’re bouncing. Once again, be sure to add my contact emails—bg.holmes@butterflysaga.com AND bronzegoddess@butterflysaga.com—to your contacts list. It may help in curtailing the misdirection of the emails. 

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 37—In Other News…

ANASTASIA

Souvinier Bouquet

Christian is antsy as hell trying to get Mia alone and find out what she’s going to do with the leftover food. In the meantime, there was nearly a barroom brawl over the bouquet when she tossed it, wine-colored bridesmaids elbowing guests left and right to get their hands on that souvenir bouquet. Sure enough, one of those cows emerged with it, and I’m almost positive that she wrenched it from someone’s hands.

The garter toss wasn’t quite so brutal. In fact, it was very tame and moved along quite quickly. Marlow’s little fart-dress-wearing girlfriend appeared to be a bit perturbed that he didn’t take part in the ritual. Had I been her, I would have been relieved as she’s no more that 16 years old and wasn’t the one who caught the bouquet.

I’m still looking for my husband and wondering if he has cornered his sister yet when an extremely pale-faced Courtney catches my attention.

“I know it’s bad form to leave before the bride and groom, but I have to go. Will you please make my apologies to Mia?” She looks like she’s just seen a ghost and Vickie is ready and set to get her out of here. I grasp her arm and she panics. What has her so shaken?

“Wait. What’s wrong? What happened?” I ask concerned. “Whatever it is, we can take care of it.” Her shoulders fall and she looks as if she’s going to cry.

“My grandparents are here,” she says, resigned. “I don’t think they saw me. It’s a big place and they wouldn’t expect me to be here.” Her voice cracks on the last word. I put my hand on her shoulder.

“You really should at least let them know that you’re still in town,” I tell her. “You’ve come so far. You’re about to start school. You work so hard at the Center. We’re actually friends. You’re nothing like the person you used to be.” She shakes her head quickly as tears escape down her cheeks.

“We’ve hurt each other enough,” she says, just above a whisper. “It’s better to just leave it be.” Vickie puts her arm protectively around Courtney’s waist.

“I’ve told her the same things,” Vickie says. “She’s become a remarkable young lady. Mia even smiled at her in the receiving line.” The corner of Courtney’s mouth rises, her gaze fixed to the floor.

“It’s the joy of the wedding,” Courtney excuses. “She’ll come to her senses tomorrow.”

“It’s you,” I say, rubbing her arm trying to comfort her. “You’ve changed and we all see it.” She sniffles.

“You’re all really sweet,” she says, crossing her arm over her body and grasping Vickie’s hand. “I don’t… I don’t want a scene. If there ever will be a time for reconciliation—and I’m not saying that there will be—this isn’t that time. I’m just going to go. Please… just tell Mia everything was really beautiful…” She’s breaking down again and Vickie goes into protection mode. She’s very feminine, but she becomes quite the stud when it comes down to Courtney.

“I’m going to get her home. Please, make our apologies,” Vickie beseeches. I smile.

“Mia’s so enthralled, she won’t even notice, but I’m sure she’s happy that you came.” Vickie smiles and turns her attention to Courtney.

“Come on, baby,” she says, as she guides Courtney towards the exit. I watch them leave, then scan the room for Addie. I promised that I wouldn’t tell her that Courtney was still in town and I won’t. It wouldn’t matter. I don’t see her anywhere.

“Hey, you,” my husband’s voice breaks my concentration. He looks like an entirely different man!

“You look a lot better!” I observe. “Did you work something out with Mia?”

“I didn’t have to,” he says, handing me a copy of the program and pointing to something on the bottom of one of the pages. It’s a very long list of charities where the food from the reception is going to be sent.

“See?” I sing. “You were worried for nothing. She had it taken care of all along.”

“Yeah,” he says. “My whole family knew about my food issues and I had no idea. I feel kind of stupid.”

“Don’t,” I tell him, wrapping my arms around his waist. “You’re still trying to open yourself to people. It’s going to take some time.”

“Yeah.” He looks just past me as he kisses my forehead. “So, um, either he has to pee really bad or Marlow is itching to talk to you,” he says. I raise my gaze and sweep the room, my eyes falling on a twitchy Marlow. He’s not looking this way right now. He’s talking to his twitchy date.

“How do you know he wants to talk to me?” I ask.

“Because his eyes have been darting over here for the last few minutes,” he says. I sigh.

“Well, he’s your protégé. He could want some of your time,” I retort.

“Ten will get you twenty he wants you,” Christian counters. I frown.

“He doesn’t want to talk to me!” I retort. “Not after that ‘time of the month’ comment.”

“Well, he’s been talking to me all night. I think he wants you.”

“Ugh!” I kiss his lips and sit in my seat. “Okay, the doctor is in.”

“I don’t think it’s the doctor he wants. It’s Ana,” Christian says, taking his seat and raising his gaze to Marlow, who is now making his way towards us. “Five, four, three, two…”

“Hey… Ana… you wanna dance?” Marlow asks quietly. Christian leans in to me.

“Not the doctor.” I roll my eyes at him.

“Sure, Marlow,” I say as I follow him to the dancefloor. I don’t even pay attention to what song is playing. I hold my arms up for him to take me in hold and he looks at me, puzzled.

Oh, dear God.

I put his hands in the proper position and we begin to sway in that terrible two-step that everyone does who can’t dance. He can’t lead. He can’t even do a box step.

“So, the wedding was nice,” he begins.

“Yes, it was beautiful,” I agree.

“I didn’t know you and Christian could sing,” he adds.

“It’s not something we do often,” I say lightly. “The vocalist bailed. It was an emergency.”

“You guys sounded great together.”

“Thank you.” There’s silence for a moment or two.

“Maya seems to think you hate her,” he blurts out. Ah, the plot thickens.

She’s flattering herself,” I retort, without hesitation. “I’d have to care about her to hate her.” Marlow’s eyes roll around.

“Okay, she was right,” he says. “What did she do?”

“She didn’t do anything,” I tell him. “I don’t like her air of entitlement. Everyone here is here because they were invited. Sophie was invited. You were invited. Even she was invited. The only two people entitled to be here are the bride and groom. The rest of us are privileged to be allowed to share their day because in some way, we are a part of their circle. But look around you, Marlow. That’s circle’s pretty damn large. And the larger that circle becomes, the further the people in that circle get from the core and your date is about as far from the center of that circle as anybody can get. So, I just think she has a lot to learn about guest etiquette and I truly hope she plans on taking a lesson or three if you plan on bringing her to any family gatherings at my home.”

Translation: train your dog or leave that bitch in her cage.

“Okay,” Marlow says after a swallow. “I’ll… talk to her,” he says, uncomfortably.

“You do that,” I say, “and while you’re at it, you should probably use a little more discretion when you speak as well, young man,” I scold. Sweat sheens on his forehead and I know he’s even more nervous than before. He should be.

“Um, yeah, about that…” he begins.

“Yeah, about that…” I say, mocking him, “how can you be so evolved about everything else and be so archaic about that? You bend my husband’s ear about everything else—you had better bend it about women. You’ve got the best source in the world for it. I swear, that was the most insensitive thing I’ve ever heard you say. I was being flippant about that time of the month because I knew that most guys understand that’s when we’re wacky, but I never would have said that if I thought you’d blow it off that way.”

“I wasn’t blowing it off,” he protests, weakly.

“Don’t give me that, Marlow, that’s exactly what you were doing. And okay, you don’t have any knowledge yet on how to handle these things, but I’m telling you—get some! You’re coming into manhood, quickly! Time out for games. Be the person that I know you can be. You’ve come a very long way, and I’m proud of you even though you pissed me off today, but you still have a long way to go. Go ahead, be young, have some fun, live your life, but there are times when you have to develop and let go of some of that stuff—and let me tell you something. Introducing a young lady to your mentor and his wife is a time when you and she should know that she should be representative of you. If she’s not, don’t introduce her. If she is, and she acts like that, then you need a lot of work. Do you get where I’m coming from with all of this or do you think I’m just giving you a hard time?”

“No, no, I get where you’re coming from,” he says, his voice a bit defeated.

“Good, because I can understand a diamond in the rough and if that’s what she is, she needs a hell of a lot more polishing, and if she’s not, throw that lump of coal back.” I’m almost relieved when the song is over because I’m tired of the back-and-forth swaying, and I’m sure that Marlow can do without any further berating. I take a step back out of his grasp.

“And take some dance classes,” I say, and his expression is horrified. “You’re going into the business world. You don’t know what situation you’re going to find yourself in or when, but I can guarantee you that dealing with him…” I point at my husband, “… you’re going to find yourself at more than one black tie affair. You may even find yourself trying to seal a deal in a setting like this. I can guarantee you that Soul Train one-step-two-step is not going to cut it. You need to learn a proper ballroom, a foxtrot, and waltz… at least.”

I glance over at Maya, who’s sitting at their table examining us on the dancefloor with her hands clasped in her lap. I look back at Marlow.

“You want to play around with these flighty little high school girls, fine. You’re young. You’ve got time, but prioritize.”

I’m actually transmitting Sophie’s frustration and I know this, but I can’t help it. I detest girls like Maya. She’s Mia’s catty bridesmaids in training, and I hate being around them. I hope either she gets a clue or Marlow does. Christian’s expression is bemused when I get back to the table.

“You don’t look particularly happy,” he says. I shake my head.

“Mold him, Christian,” I demand. My husband frowns.

“I… thought I was,” he says.

“You’re molding the mind,” I tell him. “Mold the man,” I say, folding my arms.

“Um, okay. Elaborate.”

“Men like you and my father have me spoiled,” I admit. “You’re chivalrous; you’re gentlemen; you’re considerate; you know how to dance!” He frowns.

“That last one was kind of random,” he points out.

“It may have been random, but it’s still true,” I tell him. “Can you imagine going to one of your acquisition meet-and-greets, holding one of your new colleagues around the waist and doing a two-step?” He grimaces.

“Duly noted.”

“And that comment about not being concerned about a woman’s time of the month? Really? He’s how old?”

“He’s only seventeen, Butterfly,” he protests.

“And what were you doing at seventeen, Christian?” His face hardens.

“My story is so different than his,” he points out.

“All of our stories are different,” I tell him. “What was I doing at seventeen?” He’s silent for a moment. I was hiding in a woman’s shelter trying to go to college. “It’s never too soon to break bad habits, to teach him more productive ones. And if I’m giving bad advice, then I’ll shut up. Let him do what he wants.” I clam up, suddenly feeling like I shouldn’t be having this conversation.

“Don’t be like that,” my husband says, pulling me closer to him. “I’m only saying let him be a kid for a little while longer. We’ve both had experience with having our childhood snatched away from us a bit too soon. Adulthood will creep upon him soon enough, and when it does, he’ll have all the guidance he needs to make sure that he goes in the right direction and does the right things. In the meantime, let him have a little fun. There’s still time, baby. He’s not a bad kid. You know that.”

I do know that. I’m just pissed because Sophie was slighted.

“Yes, I do,” I sigh. “I made him feel a little shitty.”

“He’ll get over it,” he says. “His girl was kind of frosty to Sophia. I’d say they’re even.”

“You saw that, too,” I say, making eye-contact with him.

“Sophie is 13,” Christian points out. “The comments that girl made to her had obvious sexual overtones. Even I heard them. Why? Just why?” I shrug.

“I have no idea why, but Sophie’s presence threatened her. And if the presence of a 13-year-old girl threatens you, you’ve got some serious problems.”

“No kiddin’… uh oh.” My husband’s conversation is cut short when his gaze is drawn to something just across the room. I follow his eyes and see Ethan looking a bit lost in the sea of guest and wandering around the room.

“That doesn’t look like a happy groom,” Christian observes.

“No, it doesn’t,” I concur, “and don’t look now, but I think he’s headed this way.”

His head still darting from side to side, Ethan is indeed headed towards us. He doesn’t stop scanning the room until he gets to our table.

“I seem to have misplaced my bride,” he says, his face a bit verklempt.

“Excuse me?” I say, perplexed. That’s physically impossible.

“I know, right?” he says, catching my obvious meaning. “You’d think with all that dress and those damn sparkly things, I’d never miss her. She’s the brightest thing in the room.” I can’t help but note a slight bit of ire in Ethan’s voice, but I do my best to stamp down Dr. Grey. Nobody asked for her right now. Ethan falls into a nearby chair and scrubs his face.

“You alright there, Ethan?” Christian asks, examining him.

“Yeah,” Ethan says from under his hands. “It’s just been a helluva day, man. No way in hell Carrick could foot the bill for all this by himself. He must’ve hocked the family jewels for this. I have to give him something. Did you see those cakes?” He raises wide eyes to us. “I fully expected people to pop out of there! Or for the damn things to open and reveal the real cakes! I didn’t even know they could make cakes that big! And a castle? A damn castle? With lights!” His eyes are a bit wild now. “We cut the cake with a sword,” he adds incredulously. “Where have you ever seen that? A sword!” he repeats as if he’s waiting for it to make sense.

“A groom’s cake… that’s a castle… big enough for me to walk into… that we can cut with a sword. What, no knights to stand guard? No moat? No drawbridge?” He really doesn’t sound pleased about the cakes at all. This may have been a bit too much. He’s shaking his head when he reaches into his pocket and retrieves his phone. He powers it on and waits for a moment or two, saying nothing.

“You didn’t know about the cakes?” Christian asks Ethan, breaking the silence between the three of us.

“I knew they would be big,” he says without raising his head. “She told me that hers would be seven layers, so I was thinking, you know, the seven-layer cakes that would be like, you know…” and he’s trying to gesture his hands in a fashion to demonstrate a normal to somewhat large wedding cake. “We went to the bakery together,” he says finally, giving up on attempting to describe what he expected to see. “We chose the flavors—Nutella, pink champagne, and amaretto—and I chose Italian cream for the groom’s cake. And yeah, I chose the castle. I thought it would be kind of cool, but the model in the bakery was about 14 inches by 12 inches and it stood about a foot and a half tall. I didn’t expect that!”

The moment he turns his body to gesture over his shoulder at what’s left of the colossal castle cake, our attention is drawn to Mia “holding court” in the middle of a small crowd of guests heading in our direction. She’s beaming as the center of attention, like she always does, and Ethan shifts gears immediately like he hadn’t been bitching moments earlier about the sheer enormity of a cake he really didn’t expect.

“Oh, shit,” he quietly hisses as he slides his phone back into his pocket, straightens his hair, and rises from his seat to face Mia. Christian and I stand with him.

“E,” Mia chirps, closing in on her husband, who now has the brightest smile plastered on his face for her benefit. “What’s the name of that restaurant that you took me too that had the great food and the sake drinking contest…?”

“Umi,” Ethan answers, his voice subdued.

“That’s it!” Mia declares. “I couldn’t remember it for anything. C’mon, Nae wants to hear the story, but I don’t tell it nearly as well as you do.” She takes Ethan’s hand and moves to walk back to her crowd of guests, but Ethan hesitates, his head rolling around in frustration until his chin lands in his chest. Mia stops and turns back to Ethan.

“Hey,” she says, her voice concerned. “You okay?” Ethan sighs.

“You go on and talk to your friends. I’m going to go and get a drink,” he replies. Mia frowns.

“E… what’s wrong?” Mia presses. I can see in his face that Ethan doesn’t want to have this conversation right now, but he sees that he doesn’t have a choice.

“This,” he says, his eyes rolling around the theater. “I can’t take anymore. It’s a lot. I need a break. There’s a whole bunch going on and this is quite a bit to drink in. I don’t know what else is going to pop out at me next.”

“There’s nothing else, Ethan,” Mia says softly.

“Good, because I don’t think I could take anything else,” he says, the words rushing out of his mouth. Mia’s eyes are on the floor now. Ethan puts his hand under her chin and lifts her face so that their eyes meet.

“Mia,” Ethan says soberly. “I love you very much, and I don’t want you to be unhappy on our wedding day. I agreed to any and everything you wanted because you wanted it. All I want is you, and I have to be honest. I’ve had enough of all of this, and if you want to stick around for this production any longer, I’m going to go get a drink and find a quiet corner somewhere to be alone. My head is spinning from all this. I feel like a debutante being presented to society and not in a good way.”

He leans in and kisses her gently on the cheek, holding her there for a long moment, then he reaches in his pocket and retrieves his phone again. He turns the phone around to her so that she can see her smiling face—his screen saver.

“My phone is on, now, if you need to find me. Go. Mingle with your friends.”

There’s no malice, anger, or resentment in his voice when he speaks. He’s just… tired of all this. He’s going to let her have what she wants, but he’s played along for hours and he doesn’t want to play anymore. He kisses her on the cheek again, releases her hand, and walks away. Christian looks at me, then falls in step behind Ethan. As they head towards the bar, I look over at Mia and can’t quite read her expression.

Is she hurt?
Embarrassed?
Upset?
Angry?
Ashamed?

She wordlessly watches her new husband walk away from her and a single tear escapes from the corner or her eye.

“Mia?” I say softly. She sniffs and sighs heavily.

“I need to make my final rounds,” she says, her voice cracking. “It’s time to say ‘goodnight.’” She laughs tragically. “My maid of honor was kicked out—can you help me?” I know what she means. She needs to put on the happy face and try not to fall apart. There will also be the unending question of, “Where’s Ethan” as she’s making her way around the room. I take her hand and nod.

“C’mon, sis. Have you lost those shoes yet? Because if you haven’t, now would be the time.” She nods and reaches under her yards of skirt to remove the insanely embellished shoes… still the sharpest pair of shoes I’ve ever seen in my life.

“Let’s make it happen,” she says, carrying the magnificent creations in her hand as she screws up the courage to face her guests.

The ordeal takes 45 minutes… and I really don’t think she enjoys a second of it. She’s the quintessential lady, smiling and thanking everyone for coming. Half the people she’s speaking to, she’s never met in her life.

When she has spoken to the last guest she plans to greet, Mia finally makes her way out of the main ballroom

“Can someone call my husband, please?” she asks, her voice exhausted and—if I’m honest—a bit defeated. I pull my phone out of my clutch and quick dial my husband.

“Hey, Butterfly,” he answers.

“Are you still with the groom?” I ask.

“I am.”

“Is he sober?”

“Quite. He only had one drink. He’s not maudlin, he just wanted to get away from the crap… and to vent,” he says.

“Good, because his wife has made her rounds and is ready to go.” I hear him saying something, probably to Ethan, then he’s back on the line.

“They have a helicopter,” he says.

“Seriously?” I ask.

“Can you see them getting out of here any other way?” he asks. Actually, I can’t.

“Good point.” I turn to Mia. “You have a helicopter?” She nods.

“It’s just taking us to the plaza. We have a limo waiting there for us.”

“How do you get to the helipad?” Like magic, her wedding planner—who I now know as Skye—appears with Ethan, and my husband who is still on the phone with me. I end the call since the proximity is now giving me feedback.

“How did you we were out here?” I ask.

“Low background noise,” he says. “It was either here or the restroom.” He moves next to me as Ethan closes in on his wife.

“You look exhausted,” he says softly.

“I’m fine,” she replies, raising doe-like eyes to his.

“I just bet,” he says, sliding his arms around her waist and placing a soft, sensual kiss on her lips. Mia visually melts into his arms and closes her eyes at his touch, her sigh signaling that she wishes to be any place but here at this moment.

“Soooo… it’s a wrap,” Skye says. “Let’s get you kids airbound.”

Ethan gives Mia another squeeze before they turn to face us. Christian hugs his sister and I give Ethan a hug and congratulate him again. When they switch, Christian and Ethan shake hands and Mia takes me into a firm hug.

“Thank you… for everything. God couldn’t have blessed me with a better sister.”

I have to fight back the tears.

“You’re welcome… for everything. Enjoy your honeymoon and your new life, Mrs. Kavanaugh.”

“I know, right?” she giggles happily. We share one last hug before she releases me and turns back to her husband. Ethan scoops his wife up in his arms—sparkly dress and all—and falls in step behind Skye to wherever they will board the helicopter. I turn to my husband and release a sigh.

“They survived!” I exclaim.

We survived!” he corrects. He takes my hand and leads me back to our table.

“I envy them being able to take the helicopter and escape,” I admit. “This is one of those times I wish we could employ Charlie Tango.”

“Yes, the old boy would be quite handy right now, wouldn’t he?” Christian agrees.

“Ethan seemed much better,” I observe. “He was nearly fit to be tied when you guys left us.”

“Yeah,” he says. “He took his share of responsibility for enabling Mia—for giving her a free hand in the wedding planning and allowing her and Mom free reign in whatever they wanted to do, but he admits that this was nothing like what he expected. This was exactly what I expected. He turned a little green when I reminded him that the belly-dancers and pink flamingos had been nixed and we have no idea what else got the axe.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right!” I say in horrified realization. “There was a lot more on the menu, so to speak.”

“Indeed,” he replies. I shiver to think what else was planned that didn’t make it to the ceremony and how poor Ethan would have reacted to that.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the bride and groom have left the building,” is announced over the loudspeaker. I look up at Christian and we share the same incredulous, disbelieving look before bursting into laughter.

“I’m ready to go,” I say. “I’ve had enough of this for one day.”

“It’ll be at least an hour before Jason can get the car around to get us,” Christian laments.

“I don’t care how we get out of here. Let’s just get out of here,” I whine. He nods and takes my hand. He pulls me through the crowd, through the dressing room area in the back and to one of the back exits.

“You might set off the alarm!” I warn.

“Who the fuck cares? The reception’s over.” He pushes the door and to our delight, no alarm. “Service entrance,” he says, with a wink. There are several members of the staff wandering around, smoking cigarettes and chatting.

“Don’t mind us,” Christian says, and I giggle as he weaves me through the inquiring faces in the alley. He pulls out his phone and dials a number.

“Jason, bring the car around to the front. Call me when you’re there.” He ends the call and I frown at him.

“I thought you said it’ll take an hour for Jason to get the car around,” I protest.

“I might have exaggerated. It’ll probably take about 25 minutes, but while he’s moving, he’s drawing the Paparazzi’s attention. And, where are we?” He talks while he’s rushing me along. I giggle again.

“Escaping down a back alley, like fugitives,” I chuckle as my heels click against the concrete. We get to the end of the alley and I find myself scurrying behind my husband down the street adjacent to the freeway to evade the Paps. It’s not an easy escape as there is a fence and a curb that we must negotiate. However, once we clear the perils that are the alley and Convention Place, we cruise easily down Pike Street, where Christian effortlessly hails a taxi. He helps me into the back seat and climbs in behind me.

“Slater Park, Mercer Island,” he says to the cabbie. No sooner he turns around and starts driving, Christian descends upon me, covering my lips with hungry kisses. I ignite immediately, thrusting my hands into his hair. My husband is hot anyway, but when he’s clawing hungrily at me like this, he sets my soul on fire. I’m trying to be satisfied with just the kisses, but I’m burning as his hands wander over my body and ignite me in all the right ways and places. My euphoria is interrupted when we feel the taxi jerk suddenly, and our attention is brought to the darting eyes of the cabbie in the rearview mirror as well as his dangerous proximity to the car in front of us.

“Sorry,” he says, meekly. Christian reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet. He takes out a few bills which I’m sure are hundreds because that’s all he carries, and throws them into the front seat.

“I know you’ve seen more than this, so keep your eyes on the road and try not to fucking kill us all!” he snaps. The cabbie’s eyes grow large as he retrieves the cash.

“Yes, sir!” he says obediently and pins his eyes firmly in front of him.

And my husband descends upon me again.

His kisses become more intense, more purposeful, and I melt in his arms. I whimper into his mouth as his hand wanders down to my breast and pinches my nipple. Oh, God, I’m going to lose it.

Just then, he groans and pulls his lips from mine, fishing his phone out of his pocket.

“Yeah,” he grunts, then listens. “Get out of the car and wait for about twenty minutes, then pick us up at Slater Park.” He ends the call, shoves his phone back into his pocket, and turns his attention back to me.

“Where were we?” he growls as his mouth covers mine again.

By the time we get to the bridge, I’m trying for all I’m worth not to wrap my leg around him while he continues to deliciously devour my flesh. I’m so hot that I could combust at any moment. Noting my dilemma, he puts my leg around his hip and continues to grope and kiss me.

“Stay calm,” he breathes into my mouth as his hand travels up my dress and between my thighs. Oh, shit. “Don’t let on…”

His hand slides effortlessly into my panties and he begins to gently stroke my burning clit.

“Don’t come yet,” he whispers as he licks the corner of my mouth. “Hold on… let it build…”

I bite my lip and try to close my legs a bit more to fend off the building intensity.

“Ah, ah, ah,” he scolds. “If you do that, I’m going to make you scream in the back of this car.” I gasp as his finger strokes meticulously, rhythmically, over and over, building and burning until…

“We’re here, sir.”

The cabbie’s voice pulls me back from the edge of my orgasm as I only just now remember that we aren’t alone, despite Christian’s prior threat.

“Thanks,” my husband barks before opening the door and leaping from the taxi, nearly dragging me behind him. We stand there in silence and wait until the cabbie pulls away and is out of sight. Then, my husband drags me behind him again, looking for something. He finds what he’s looking for in a nearby cluster of trees.

I have to run on my tiptoes to keep up with him, my spiked heels occasionally sinking into the grass. He pins me against a large tree and kisses me hungrily again. I’m still hot from the fondling in the taxi. He pulls his lips from mine and slowly descends to his knees. He kisses my exposed inner thigh through my split and I almost lose my balance. His hands travel under my dress, pushing it up just enough for him to inhale deeply and smell his prize. He closes his eyes as if in ecstasy and licks the outside of my panties. I gasp at the feeling of his tongue against my outer lips. He probes deeper and his tongue is licking and massaging my clit through my panties. My head falls back against the tree trunk as the fire he was igniting in the back of the taxi burns once more. I feel him grab my panties and pull them down, just past my hips to reveal my pussy, and his head is buried again between my legs.

“Oohh,” I whimper as his hungry, hot tongue makes contact with my clit. He tastes me over and over, moaning each time his tongue runs across the sensitive bundle of nerves. It feels so good and I have to lean on his shoulders to keep from sliding down the damn tree. My legs start to tremble and he lifts one, throwing it over his shoulder to help me stay upright… and opening my pussy wider to his talented tongue. His hands reach up and cup my breast roughly, kneading them sensually as he continues to feast delectably on my aching clit.

His hungry licks turn into determined sucks and devouring mouthfuls and I know it won’t be long now. He reaches up and caresses my lips with his fingers. I realize this is the hand he used to finger me in the car, and I suck his fingers into my mouth, fellating them hungrily as his technique on my clit becomes more determined. I’m panting wildly, his fingers deep in my mouth and his hand firm on my tit when it happens.

“God! Christian!” I nearly scream when the climax hits me. He groans into my pussy and squeezes my tit a little harder, sucks my clit a little deeper and I explode magnificently, clutching his hair while he holds me up against that tree. His wet fingers move from my mouth across my face, down, and to my neck as I whimper and pant through this intense pulsing and burning. Once the orgasm has waned to a gentle throb, he kisses my clit gently and replaces my panties. He rises to his feet and thrusts his tongue into my mouth. I’m high and still aroused, tasting my juices on his tongue. I move my hands to his belt and try to unbuckle it, intent on returning the favor, but he halts my progress.

“No,” he says firmly. “Jason will be here any minute.”

Shit, I forgot about Jason.

Christian helps me put myself back together and leads me from the bunch of trees. I’m nearly composed when we get back out to the lighted area and a stretch of road where Jason will be able to see us. He puts his hand on the small of my back and pulls me over to him.

“You taste mighty fine, Mrs. Grey,” he mumbles, the scent of my arousal on his breath. Don’t get in Jason’s face, I think to myself, or he’s going to get a whole lot more than he bargains for.

“You bring that out in me, Mr. Grey,” I say, carefully watching his lips as he licks them, knowing I can smell myself on his breath. For the second time, I move to reach for his crotch and I see headlights shine at the end of the road.

Fuck! Jason. Dammit.

When the Audi approaches, Christian moves quickly to open the door for me so that Jason doesn’t exit the car.

*-*

He’s out of his jacket before we even cross the threshold. I instinctively leap into his arms and he catches me, as usual, with two handfuls of ass. Squeezing tightly while devouring my lips, he carries me up the stairs to our bedroom. I can feel the tip of his erection protruding through his pants and I try to grind down on it, but he’s holding me firmly.

“Anxious?” he growls.

“Yes!” I pant over his lips. He bursts into the doors and slides me to the ground, kicking the doors closed behind him.

“So am I,” he groans, his lips never leaving mine as he unclips the hook-and-eye at the back of my neck and unzips my zipper. I make quick work of the buttons on his shirt, ripping it out of his pants while he pushes my dress from my shoulders. I quickly remove the dress and let it fall to the floor while he unbuckles his belt and unzips his pants. He removes his shirt and I push my hands inside the back of his pants and boxers and squeeze his tight, firm ass. He does the same thing to my ass while his tongue plays seductively with mine. He grinds me against his erection and I don’t want to wait any longer. I push his pants and boxers past his hips, reach between us and grab his cock.

“Ugh!” he groans loudly as I squeeze it hard in my fist. He toes out of his shoes and pushes his pants and boxers to the floor, removing them and his socks at the same time. He quickly removes his T-shirt and pushes me down on the bed. Climbing over me, naked, he grinds his hips into my panty-clad clit and I groan loudly.

“Christian! Please!” I protest, trying and failing to remove my shoes.

“Leave them on!” he commands, his voice throaty and full of lust. He pulls my panties aside and positions his head at my opening. Before I can say anything, he pushes inside me, his cock burning my walls and making me dizzy.

“Yes! Oh, yes!” I exclaim as he penetrates me and his hips immediately begin to move with purpose. He grabs both breasts, still in my bra, and kneads them roughly as he plunges into me.

“Shit, you feel so good,” he groans, his hips rolling and thrusting and pushing me quickly to my second orgasm. I don’t speak. I just enjoy. He’s lost in his own passion right now and he’s taking me with him… and I fucking love it! He undoes my bra and nearly rips it from my chest, concentrating his gaze on my tits as he plunders into me over and over. It’s so hot, that hungry, lustful look in his eye as he watches my breasts wobble while he fucks me.

“Fuck!” he hisses as he drops his body over mine, his hips pushing my legs open wider. His hands travel to mine and his fingers entwine with my fingers. He holds my hands down and buries his face in my neck as his hips and dick grind deliciously into me. He groans louder and louder into my neck as I feel him getting thicker and harder, his thrust more intense. I can barely breath as the orgasm attacks, ripping a scream from my throat and a tear or two from my eyes as my husband holds me down and punishes me with his dick.

“Fuck! So tight! Too… tight… fuck! Fuck!” he gasps as I feel him begin to pulse and throb inside me while I ride out this wild orgasm.

I’m coughing and gasping for air when he cups the side of my face and peppers the opposite cheek with tender kisses… while he’s still fucking me! I know he came. I know he did! But he’s still fucking. He raises his eyes to mine and yes, I can even see in his eyes that he came… but he wants more.

He pushes off my body—still inside me—and rips those useless, soaked panties off me. Lifting my hips off the bed, be begins to plunder me again, methodically—hitting that magic spot even though he knows I’ve just come.

“Don’t move your hands!” he commands in a harsh whisper. “I don’t want to stop to tie you up, so stay. Right. There.”

And I don’t fucking move.

He hits that spot over… and over… and over… and in about ten minutes, I’m back at the mountaintop, ready to blow. When he senses the change in my body, he puts his arms under my knees, holding my legs wide and pummeling my poor little pussy.

“Oh, God,” I protest again, arching my back and keeping my wrists plastered to the bed.

“That’s it, Baby,” he growls. “Feel it. Show me that you like it. You look so fucking good… so fucking beautiful…”

That’s all it takes to start the ascent again, and it’s burning deep, so much so that at first, I didn’t know that I wasn’t actually having an orgasm… until the real orgasm hit.

“Oh, Go-o-o-od!” I weep as my body starts the tremble. Christian fights to hold me in the position so that I can finish… but he loses the battle.

“Fuuuuck!” he exclaims as one stiletto-clad foot flies to his shoulder, the other still suspended from the knee in his hand, and he thrusts hard into me… several times… causing the explosive orgasm that I was already having to go on and on and on.

“Oh, God! Please! Stop!” I cry as the intensity becomes too much for me, but my husband is gone, his body violently chasing his orgasm. I don’t think I can hold out much longer and several strokes later when I’m at my wits end…

“Fuuuuu-uuu-uuu-uuuuck fuck-ing hell fuuuck!” I don’t recognize his voice as he appears to be crying for mercy, his body stiffening and trembling wildly at the same time. He’s weak with pleasure and unable to hold his body up, only the unforgiving stiffening of his muscles holding him in place as his head hangs helplessly from his neck, sweat dripping from the ends of his curls and his body jerking impulsively with each throb of his finally emptying dick.

Thank God!

I prepare myself for the inevitable, for him to fall helplessly on top of me once nirvana releases him and allows his muscles to relax… it takes a long, long, time. I’m worried for a moment, but then he collapses—helpless, spent, and breathless, still inside of me and unable to move. I reach down and stroke his wet hair, bringing him slowly back to earth. Several minutes later, I think he’s fallen asleep on me when he says,

“That was incredible.”

“Yes, it was,” I concur. “What got into you?”

“I don’t know,” he admits. “The playfulness of running down that alley, being in the back of that taxi… I just… felt free… and I wanted to get into you!” He growls the last word.

“I’m glad you did,” I say, still stroking his hair.

*-*

Liam didn’t come looking for me Monday morning. He went straight to Grace. That left me able to get some real work done instead of this babysitting shit. Granted, he has gorgeous blue eyes and he’s really nice to look at, but I resent his presence here and really want him gone as soon as possible. Not only that, I’ve felt the need more than once to remind him that I’m taken. It’s been nothing particularly forward, but he tried to get me to go to lunch with him again and he even went so far as to ask me out for a drink once.

“It’s a harmless drink,” he had said, “just to unwind from all this damn work we’ve been doing.”

Since he insisted on diverting the conversation away from any romantic interest, I did the same when I declined, noting that I’m breastfeeding. It doesn’t help that we slip into a relaxed comfort and sometimes even a playful banter when we work together. I have to concentrate when I talk to him—on looking into his eyes just long enough to get my point across, but not staring as it’s very easy to get lost in those lipid pools on any human being. I also have to avoid gazing at the bridge of his nose, because that offends him. So, I’m a little more relieved than I should be when Tuesday comes around and he goes straight to Grace again.

“Come on, Friday… come on, Friday…” I think to myself.

Ever the hopeful optimist, I forget that forces beyond my control are constantly at work to destroy my little world and crumble my happiness and very existence. One such force that I erroneously failed to acknowledge at the moment got its modern identification in 1949 when a development engineer at Edwards Air Force Base named Captain John Murphy became frustrated with a malfunctioning electrical component. About the lab technician would had wired the component, he remarked “If there is any way to do it wrong, he will.” Although there is more evidence that the concept was born well before this time, supposedly, this was the first assignment of Murphy’s Law…

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

Still praying for Friday, but once again lulled into a false sense of comfort, I’m dismayed—for good reason—when Liam approaches me on Wednesday morning while I’m working in one of the classrooms.

“I see you’ve been meeting with Grace for the earlier part of the week. What’s the order of business this time?” I ask when I see him. He scratches his cheek.

“You,” he answers. I’m taken aback.

“Me?” I ask, bemused. He nods. Why the fuck…?

“Besides that first week, I’d like to know when exactly she plans on you investigating the Center,” I say with distaste. “Exactly why am I the focus of the investigation now?” He sighs.

“The financial report was just as flawless as the first week,” he says. “It shows consistent growth in the Center and no reason or cause for concern for future stability. When the board didn’t see a problem there, they shifted focus.”

The Board,” I say incredulously, “I’ll just bet the board saw me as a potential problem!” He sighs again and drops the pretenses.

“She let it slip that there’s some bad blood between her and the Center,” he admits. “When I waited for an explanation, she hinted at cutting corners and shabby qualifications—detrimental positions that could affect the outcome of the investigation being filled due to nepotism instead of choosing a qualified candidate for the job.” And now we get to the crust of things. She opened the door, so…

“She had her eye on this position for several years and I showed up and stole it from her,” I say with no remorse. “There had to be a reason why Grace hadn’t filled it all that time. She was overwhelmed with work, unable to pay attention to any of the smaller duties necessary to keep the Center running. There were areas of the Center knee-deep in dust and I just started cleaning them—yet, we had a cleaning crew. The first day I started working here, there was an angry young man who wouldn’t speak to anybody. Most of the staff here treated him like he was contagious. I got through to him, took him on, and now, he’s at Seattle Prep, getting great grades and making a huge difference in the area he grew up in.

“I have more success stories of families that have been mended and reunited or moved from dangerous situations and able to move on with their lives than you have time to hear, yet because she didn’t get the job, she feels that I wasn’t qualified? It’s sour grapes and nothing more. I’m a doctor with a medical degree; I spent my internship working with broken families. What has she done? What are her qualifications? Does she have experience or education in social work or administrative management that I’m not aware of?”

“Social work, no. Management, yes,” he says.

“Well, congratulations for her, but it doesn’t give her the right to besmirch my qualifications.” I slam my pen down on the table, angry that this woman has found a way to control us because she didn’t get a job all those months ago. God, how much time has passed? She probably combed through every application since she got that job, waiting for something with our name on it.

“Well,” he’s sounding a little nervous now, “it’s just that accreditation is a huge responsibility. We can’t afford to let anything slip through the cracks, that’s all.” I stare at him, my mouth agape.

“Slip through the cracks?” I repeat, my voice several octaves higher than normal. “There are several schools in Washington State that don’t even deserve to be considered schools—federally accredited schools who don’t make the mark on local scoreboards. Do you investigate those schools, too, or is this a privilege reserved only for those people on Ms. Felton’s radar?” He shifts uncomfortably in his seat and if this were a fight, I would have him on the proverbial ropes right now.

“It’s just my understanding that with you being the assistant director and with new twins and your husband that there may have been some cutting corners in the licensing process and she says that she just wants to make sure everything has been completed properly.” I gasp, and he immediately knows that he has said something wrong.

“It’s…” he stumbles. “You know how people may look for fulfillment in things other than their home life and may throw efforts into outside projects… and the importance of the success of those tasks may overshadow proper protocol—skipping important steps and using connections, as it were, to push different initiatives through the system…” Well, that didn’t make matters any better. Careful, Liam, you’re choking on that foot.

“I like. My life. Just fine,” I say, succinctly. “And tell your boss that she would do well to keep my personal life out of this professional matter. Make no mistake, Mr. Grey does have the power to make this whole thing go away—push things through the system, as you so delicately put it—but I don’t want that and neither does Grace. We want this whole thing to be legit and on the up and up, and Christian’s intervention would only take away from our credibility. This is a place for people to get help, to get education, to feel safe, and if they see that a dollar can sway our opinion one way or the other, they won’t feel that way.” Liam’s eyes sharpen and he’s a bit taken aback.

“I’m… sorry,” he begins, “I didn’t mean to demean or discredit you in any way, and I certainly didn’t mean to offend you.” He’s sincere, I can tell, but for now the damage is done.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Westwick, your boss doesn’t share your sentiment,” I state, gathering my things. “Her entire intention in this exercise in futility is to hold up our goal, discredit us and find fault with us. She has used every single tactic that she could to keep us from getting our final stamp of approval, and I personally don’t feel like playing her game anymore.” I stand, stacking my papers and files, while closing my laptop.

“I swear that I’m doing everything that I can to make sure that this isn’t a personal attack,” he says. I raise my eyes to him again, this time, in scrutiny.

“Have you seen anything in the time that you’ve been here that indicates that we need an in-depth investigation as to whether or not we were following the rules?” I accuse. “Does anything look rushed, unnatural, or staged to you? Does anything here look like we haven’t been working for years to get to where we are now? Has anybody had anything contrary to say about the Center except your boss? Have you had cause to question my qualifications anytime during any of our conversations? You come here armed with information about my personal life that has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the Center and you don’t see this tactic for what it really is? You really think this is just somebody doing their job?”

Again, he’s stunned to silence, examining me. I gather the rest of my things in my arms.

“You let your own eyes and ears tell you what you need to know. Talk to whomever you need to talk to; draw whatever conclusions are necessary. Then, you tell the boss whatever the hell you want, because I’m done with this charade.” I march indignantly out of the room and towards my office to find some lunch.

I’m back in my office, going over our paperwork for the hundredth time looking for any loopholes we might have taken, any ammunition that Gloria would have to use against us to justify the charade of jumping through hoops that she’s putting us through. Knowing that I’m not going to find one and that this will never end if I don’t take action, I push the reports, my laptop, and my iPod away from me and make the call that I said I would wait until the end of the investigation to make.

“Al, I need you to file a formal complaint against Gloria Felton of the Washington State Licensing Board. I also want a complaint lodged with the Department of Early Learning, Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the US Department of Education.”

“Whoa! Jewel, wait… what’s going on?” Al protests.

“This woman has done everything that she can to discredit the Center and to hinder our progress for becoming a fully-accredited learning facility and day-care center because of her own personal conflicts and I’ve had enough! She’s still holding a grudge because she volunteered with the Center years ago when I first got here, and Grace chose me over her as the assistant director because she wanted another licensed doctor on the administrative staff! Gloria has never gotten over it; she threatened us way back then and now, she’s making good on that threat. She’s even gone so far as to send an inspector down here armed with details about my private life. This is personal—stemming from when she was released from the Center years ago, and she shouldn’t be in charge of this!”

“Okay, okay, I get it. It’s crystal clear. I’ll file whatever you need with whatever agency you choose, but you know that with an open investigation, it’s going to set back your accreditation.”

“We’re not going to get it anyway!” I yell the painful truth into the phone. “We’ve followed every rule, every regulation, every tiny little bullshit request she’s given us and every time we pass with flying colors, she finds something else!” The adrenaline tears begin and I can’t stop them. I’m so angry and disappointed that I could hit something right now. “A chip in the wall paint; a crack in a floor tile; a teacher with a less-than-perfect grade-point average… There’s always going to be something that she can pick at—some small thing that she can scrutinize use to hold us up! She wants us to give up, but I’m not going down without a fight! I’m kicking and screaming until there’s nothing left!”

The adrenaline tears turn into angry wrenching sobs as I go over to the window and unsuccessfully attempt to compose myself. “All this work,” I weep, “all this time, these years we’ve invested… I can’t believe all our efforts can be shot to hell by some spiteful bitch with a bug up her ass!” I sob into the phone in the most unladylike fashion.

“Jewel, I really need you to calm down,” Al pleads. “I’ll get right on it, okay?” I nod as if he can see me and end the call, weeping into my hands. A few moments later, Grace and Chuck come barreling into my office.

“Ana! What’s wrong?” Grace asks.

“We’re not going to get it!” I sob. “He could go back to that office shitting rainbows out his ass about how great we are and we’re still not going to get our accreditation.” God, I’m so frustrated that I feel like I’m just going to explode—literally explode! “I’ve already called Al. I know what this is. She’s the boss! She can keep us tied up in bureaucracy for years! She has no intention of giving us accreditation because I got this job and she didn’t! And when it’s conveniently leaked to the news that we were denied accreditation and some puffed-up story as to why, what do you think that’s going to do to us? To our reputation? To our credibility? All this fucking work!”

I’m screaming now and attracting an audience of people not afraid to approach the mayhem—security, Jesse, Marilyn…

Liam.

I fall into Chuck’s arms, weeping for the demise of the dream Grace and I had for a full-functioning help and educational center. This investigation is going to take forever—years, maybe. Any decision for or against our accreditation will be withheld pending the outcome of the investigation. Great, just fucking great!

*-*

I’ve sent the twins home with Keri and Marilyn so that I can strategize about restructuring what the Center has to offer since our accreditation will be indefinitely tied up in the complaint process. So much was riding on our being accredited—continued education, the day care and preschool, a form of home schooling so that children of families in hiding would still be able to learn without falling behind. We can still run the day care center, we just can’t do anything related to early learning in the process. It makes me so mad that one woman’s vendetta can so easily ruin something that could have been so useful and helpful to the community.

I guess it’s back to the drawing board.

Intent on working a few more hours on formulating a whole new game plan that didn’t stray too far from the one we had been working on for the last year and a half, I go to the community room to see if there are any sandwiches left in the vending machine.

“You’re still here,” I hear a voice say from behind me. I turn around to see Liam sitting on one of the sofas in the community room, his tie undone and his shirt open to the top two buttons.

“So are you,” I say, turning back to the vending machine. After finding a turkey sandwich, I make my purchase along with some green tea.

“Why are you working so late?” he asks. Why do you care?

“I’m trying to revamp our plans for the community center since it looks like we won’t be getting our accreditation anytime soon.”

“Oh, ye of little faith,” he says, and I’m not amused. “Don’t you want to know why I’m still here?”

Not particularly, I think to myself.

“Well, I was trying to save my investigation and your accreditation,” he says. “After witnessing what I did today, I did a little research on your accusations, which turned up quite a bit that I’m not at liberty to dispose right now, but I can say that I think you were right.” I glare at him.

“You doubted?” I ask, turning now to face him. “You thought I was making this all up?”

‘You’d be surprised what I’ve come across, so I had to be sure.” He leans forward, clasping his fingers together with his elbows on his knees. “You’re very passionate about your work.”

You have no idea.

“The thought of someone needing help and not being able to get it is unacceptable to me,” I say, taking a seat next to him on the sofa. “In particular, children in bad situations is a real sore spot. Why should a child be held back or fall behind in their class because Mom is afraid to let them go to school for fear that their abusive husband will get to them? Why should someone who was dealt a bad hand or has made a bad decision not be able to pursue their high school diploma or GED? These women—and, yes, men, too—may be running from horrible, or even life-threatening situations. They come here for sanctuary, for help to start over, to find shelter, maybe a job and a new life and they may need daycare.  There are so many opportunities I wanted to bring to the community, but this selfish cow has decided that’s not a good idea because she has a bone to pick with us. It’s my understanding that she volunteered here for years and she knows what we do. How she could deny these services to people that need them in good conscience is beyond me.”

I open my sandwich and the accompanying mayo packet and spread a healthy amount on the bread. I just realize that I’m starving and take a healthy bite. God, it tastes like filet mignon.

“Well, I wouldn’t give up hope just yet,” he says. “You never know what may happen.” I scoff before taking another large bite of my sandwich, chewing hungrily before I swallow it. He’s strangely silent while watching me eat.

“I’m no stranger to bureaucracy, Liam,” I tell him. “And I know a hopeless situation when I see one. I’m not one to easily admit defeat, but I am realistic. We’re just going to have to rethink our strategy and find another way to help people in the forever-time it takes the licensing board to address our complaint. It hurts, terribly, but it’s not the end of the world.” I continue eating, lost in thought for a moment and thinking that one of the things we could provide is an after-school program—something besides tutoring—some kind of latchkey program or something where kids can just chill out and unwind after school. We don’t have that, and I was so concerned with the accreditation portion of things that I wasn’t thinking about the simple community services that we could provide.

I’m pondering the new idea for so long that I’ve finished my sandwich and most of my tea. I raise my eyes to see Liam staring at me.

“What?” I ask. He points at me.

“You, um…” he stutters, then points. “You… have a little…” He reaches to my face and brushes what I assume are crumbs off my cheeks. The touch is soft… intimate… and in a moment, I’m caught in his gaze—those otherworldly blue eyes that capture me with an emotion that I can’t identify. They change and they look like cool water, clear and refreshing. My lips part slightly as I’m caught, trapped, motionless, waiting… I feel him coming closer, see him coming closer, his warm hand on my cheek, and I relax. A familiar warmth settles through me as I gaze into his deep, blue eyes.

Blue… blue… no… something’s wrong here. Something’s very wrong here.

I press my hand to his chest to halt his progression. He’s going to kiss me.

“Liam, no,” I stop him. “I’ve told you. I’m married.”

He pauses inches from my face, from his goal, and it’s only now that I hear the determined progressing thud of expensive, Italian leather shoes. I turn my gaze towards the sound and right into the steely, blazing eyes of my angrily charging husband.


A/N: She did it again… another juicy cliffy. Don’t kill me… but hold on to your seats. It’s about to get bumpy.

The Paramount Theater doesn’t have a helipad, but for the sake of the story, we’re pretending that it does.

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 36—Kavanaugh Celebrations 

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 36—Kavanaugh Celebrations 

ANASTASIA

Boys can be such doodyheads!

Geez, did I just say doodyheads?

Well, I didn’t say it, but I thought it…

Have I been drinking?

After last night? Hell, no!

I’m just pissed as fuck at one Marlow Johnson. How could he be so damn insensitive? Well, he really wasn’t insensitive. He has no idea how Sophie feels about him. It’s just a childhood crush, and it’ll pass, but what he said about periods. I know teenage boys don’t give a fuck about things like that and they’d like to think it’s none of their concern, but damn, I guess I just wanted to think that Marlow might be different from other teenage boys in that aspect. I mean, he is different from other teenage boys in a lot of ways, but… well, nobody’s perfect.

“Permission to engage,” I hear my husband’s voice say from behind me. I turn around to see him waving a gray napkin in surrender.

“Wrong color,” I say, crossing my arms.

“What was that all about?” he asks. I shake my head.

“Reverse hero worship,” I admit. “I have high hopes for your young protégé. Sometimes, I forget that he’s still a bonehead kid with raging hormones.” I look down at my phone and close Jason’s text.

“Sophie get going okay?” he asks. I nod.

“Yeah. Chance took her home.” I raise my eyes to him.

“I didn’t think Marlow would bring a date,” he says. “He told me he was escorting his mom.”

“Where is Marcia?” I ask. I noticed that Marlow and Maggie are present, but no Marcia.

“She wasn’t feeling well, so she stayed home. Marlow secured a date at the last minute. He said he didn’t want to bring anybody because girls get kind of clingy at weddings.” I shake my head.

“And apparently, guys get kind of stupid,” I retort. Christian raises an eyebrow.

“It appears that girls are a bit more out of character,” he recounters. I look at him expecting. “Well, look at Sophie. I’ll have to admit, she was darling in her dress. I’m glad there weren’t more boys her age here or we may have had to beat Jason off with a stick. Her knowledge of food is phenomenal, and her dinner conversation was extraordinary—well beyond her years. But the banter between her and Maya… where did that come from?” I raise my eyebrow at him.

“Where indeed,” I say, as I see the little tart just over his shoulder emerge from the ladies’ room. Pretending not to see her, I continue the conversation with my husband just loud enough for her to hear.

“Why that high-school girl took a veiled cheap shot at a tween’s dress in front of people who consider her family, I have no clue. However, why Sophie sliced that horrendous fart of a dress that she was wearing from two seasons back, I get that. I realize that she’s young and inexperienced, but she should probably remember her place when she’s a guest at someone’s wedding around people that she clearly doesn’t know.” I glare at my husband and see the little cow shift uncomfortably in my peripheral before she scurries back into the ballroom.

“And… you weren’t talking to me just then,” he observes.

“I certainly was not,” I confirm. He shakes his head and puts his arm around my waist, ushering me back into the reception.

“Come. Champagne and dancing for you…”

A glass or two of champagne later, and I’ve loosened up a bit. After last night, I steer clear of the hard stuff. Couples are canoodling here and there all over the room waiting for the bride and groom’s first dance, Christian and I included, when we’re interrupted by some guy trying to talk shop over Christian’s shoulder.

“Not talking business at my sister’s wedding reception,” Christian says flatly.

“Oh, come on, Grey. Everybody talks a little business at social functions,” the guy coerces.

“Not talking business at my sister’s wedding reception,” my husband repeats, never changing his facial expression or even making eye contact with the guy. The guy glares at Christian. Then he turns to me and his gaze softens.

“You should get him to loosen up,” he says, with a smile. “He’s far too intense.”

“Oh, he loosens up just fine,” I retort. “He just didn’t come to his sister’s nuptials with intentions of turning them into a business meeting.” I smile softly at the asshole, who adjusts his tie, raises his drink, and walks away.

“Nice comeback, Mrs. Grey,” Christian says, nuzzling me behind my ear.

“I learned from the best,” I coo with a wink. “I need the restroom, dear.” I kiss him on the cheek and he reluctantly releases me. I quickly relieve myself and return to the floor as I don’t want to miss any of the festivities—and I do mean quickly—I’m not gone ten whole minutes, and yet…

I turn my back for an iota of a second, just long enough to piss and wash my hands, and this Lily bitch is all up in my husband’s face. She must think I won’t stomp a mudhole in her ass because we’re at Mia’s wedding. If you’re bad enough to try me, bitch, I’m bad enough to fuck you up. I make a B-line over to where this cunt is trying to put the moves on my man.

“Christian,” I hear her purrs as I approach, “it’s been so long since we’ve talked.” She closes in on my husband with outstretched arms, her dress only a breath away from a nip slip. Christian steps away from her grasp.

“We never talk, Lily,” he says coolly, avoiding her embrace. She pouts seductively.

“Just one hug, Christian,” she says, nearly rushing him and about to catch him in a bosom hug.

Oh, enough of this shit.

“Oh, no, I don’t fucking think so,” I say, putting first my arm, then my entire body between her and my husband.

“Excuse you!” she hisses at me.

“No, excuse you,” I retort. “You have clearly lost your mind if you expect me to stand here while you attempt to put those sacks of silicone all over my man! You might want to put those things away because he clearly doesn’t want you,” I say to the scandalous tramp standing before me offering herself to my man like free leftovers.

“She’s right,” Christian says. “I clearly don’t want you, so you might want to cover yourself up.” She giggles. She actually giggles.

“Don’t be coy, Christian,” she says in a sultry voice. Christian just shakes his head and pulls me close to him.

“Let it go, baby,” he says softly in my ear. “You won’t have to see her ever again after this.” Just as I’m nodding my acknowledgement, she retorts,

“But you will.”

“He’s married, you sow!” I whip around on Lily, finally having had enough of her blatant disrespect and overt flirting with my husband. She almost doesn’t acknowledge my outburst until Christian looks over at me. Then she turns affronted attention to me.

“Excuse me?” she says, as if I have no right to say anything to her at all.

“There is no excuse for you!” I seethe, no longer able to restrain myself. I won’t yell. I won’t make a scene, but I’ll beat her fucking ass if she doesn’t get away from this table. “He has a wife… and children! You desperate cunt!”

“How dare you!” she says, doe-eyed and surprised.

“How dare you, you indiscreet guttersnipe!” I feel my blood pressure rising. Someone should intervene before I get to the tears.

“Steele?” Val’s voice floats to my ears. “You okay?”

“Someone needs to remove this piece of trash from my presence before I do it myself!” I say through my teeth. I can feel Christian’s arms tighten around my waist. He’s preparing for the inevitable. Lily scoffs and Val decides now is a good time to intervene.

“I really think you should go away,” she says to Lily. Lily’s hands rest defiantly on her hips.

“I’m part of the wedding party. You can’t make me leave,” she says, rolling her neck on every word.

“I’m part of the family and yes, I can,” Val says, closing the space between them. Now, I’m chomping at the bit to get closer to this girl, but Christian is holding me tighter and tighter. Just as she’s about to rebut, big brother Elliot steps in.

“Look here, girlie,” he says to Lily, “you need to be anywhere but right here at this moment, because if you touch this one, I’ll fuck you up.” He pulls Val to his side. “And if you touch that one…” He points to Christian, “… she’ll fuck you up.” He points to me. Lily laughs loudly.

“Oh, please. Whatever,” she says incredulously. Now it’s Christian’s turn to speak.

“Lily, I don’t want to embarrass you, but what’s more, I don’t want to ruin my sister’s wedding. So, I’m going to grace you with my conversation by saying this to you one time.” She smirks victoriously at me and turns her attention to Christian. He leans in close to her and says,

“Get. The fuck. Out of my face. I don’t want you. I never have. If you come near me again… ever… I’m going to have my security remove you from my presence and then, I’ll get a restraining order against your ass. Your unwanted romantic overtures are bordering on harassment.”

Her face falls immediately and the smirk she wore moments before is now plastered on my face.

“You are worse and more persistent than any stalker I’ve ever had, and my stalkers have tried to kill my family. That makes you a danger to me, my wife, and my children. I never gave you the slightest bit of encouragement, and I don’t know what ever gave you the idea that you ever had a chance with me, much less that I would leave my wife for you. I’m not even attracted to you. I never have been and even if I ever was, what makes you think I would leave my wife and family for you? Now do yourself a favor and tuck your tits and what’s left of your dignity back into your bra and get the hell away from me!”

And there’s that look again… My God, she has that hideous look perfectly.

“You’re just saying that because she’s here,” Lily responds. Father in heaven, help us. Another delusional bitch. What the fuck, do they grow on trees?

“I’ve always said that, Lily,” he reinforces. “I don’t have to put on a show for my wife. Name one timeone time—when I gave you the slightest hint that I ever wanted you. Go ahead, I’ll wait.”

Lily knows that she can’t name any times because she would have to call Christian a liar to his face. I’ve seen her be forward at Grace’s house, on Christian’s boatbut I can’t believe that she would do this at Mia’s wedding reception. Isn’t she supposed to be, like, Mia’s best friend or something?

“Christian, if you would just give me a chance…” Her voice is haughty. She’s not even embarrassed enough to sound humble in her indiscreet and unbecoming begging.

“Oh, God, somebody make it go away,” Christian says mocking despair. I will! I will! If you just let me go…

“Lily, what are you doing?” Mia says, making her way over to us.

“Shamelessly coming on to my husband while I’m damn-near sitting in his lap,” I say before I can stop myself… and regret it immediately. Mia reacts, but not like I expected.

“You said you wouldn’t,” she says flatly to Lily. “You promised you would behave.” Lily stands mute. Mia sighs. “I should have known,” she says, shaking her head. “You weren’t even speaking to me for a while, then all of a sudden, we were best friends again. I should have known it was all about Christian. And what did you do to the maid of honor dress? You look like a stripper!” she exclaims. Finally, she just shakes her head and waves to someone. “You need to leave,” she says. Lily frowns.

“What?”

“You need to leave, Lily!” Mia reinforces. “I want you to leave now before you embarrass me more than you already have.”

“Mia, please,” Lily beseeches. “I was just talking, I swear…”

“Is that why my sister-in-law looks like she’s ready to crawl out of my brother’s arms and scratch your eyes out? Because you were just talking? What the fuck did you say?” Lily falls guiltily silent this time.

“Just about any inappropriate thing that popped into her head,” I add, “while offering her fake double-D boobs plated and served to my husband while I’m standing here. She didn’t even acknowledge my presence until I called her a cunt. She’d fuck him right here on the floor while I and the reception watched if he let her!”

Okay, my mouth needs a leash and my anger has already gotten loose and is running around the room. Mia’s reaction is swift. Her arm is up in the air, gesturing to someone to come over to us. Two suited members of someone’s security come over to our table.

“She’s leaving… now!” Mia gestures to Lily. “Please show her out.” Lily’s mouth falls open.

“You said you would give me a chance,” she says. “I was just talking.” I’m about to say something when Mia puts her hand up to silence me.

Yeah, it’s probably best that I keep my mouth shut come to think of it.

“We will talk about this later, but right now, you’re ruining my reception and I want you to leave. People are looking at you!”

Sure enough, I look around the room and we now have the attention of more than a few party-goers.

“We’ll talk once I’m back from my honeymoon, but please… just leave now, please.” Lily frowns deeply, then moves to hug Mia. Mia is a statue.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I really was just talking to him.”

“He’s married, Lily,” she says flatly. “They’re in love, in case you’re the only person in the world who’s blind to that. This isn’t news. You’re making a fool of yourself throwing yourself at my brother. He’s not being cruel or playing hard to get. He just doesn’t want you.” She holds her head down. “And I was a fool to think you really wanted to mend fences with me.” Lily now looks terrified. Why, I’m not really sure.

“Mia, I did…” she protests. “I do, I really do.”

“Why?” Mia asks, “so that you can have the opportunity to get closer to my brother?” She shakes her head before continuing. “Just leave, Lily. Leave now. We’ll talk about this later.” Mia won’t make eye-contact with her and Lily finally turns to leave.

“And Lily,” Mia calls out. She turns around. “There are a lot of people outside waiting for a story. The story is me leaving on my honeymoon with my husband. If you give them anything else besides you’re leaving because you don’t feel well, not only will I shun you for the rest of your life, but I’ll also make sure that you’re quite persona non-grata. Not a social circle on the west coast will come anywhere near you. And if you say anything adverse about my family including my sister-in-law, I’m sure my brother could make that nationwide and more than just social circles.”

Worldwide,” Christian throws in, to Lily’s dismay. She looks at him with the most crestfallen look I’ve ever seen, except for maybe the one on the Pedophile right before they took her away. “I told you to leave me alone. You should have listened.”

That’s when she turns that horrible sour face to me.

“And stop looking at my wife that way!” Christian snaps, startling everyone in the general vicinity. “You look like that ugly rock fish.”

“Stonefish,” I correct him. I was trying to place what that face looked like and that’s it!

“Whatever. It’s ugly.” Christian gestures to Jason, who walks over to us. “Keep an eye on her,” he says. “She keeps throwing stinkfaces at my wife.” Lily gasps.

“I’m not going to do anything to your precious Anastasia!” She knows my name! Who knew? All this time, she acted like I didn’t exist.

“I know,” Christian retorts. “I’m just making sure you know, too,” he hisses. Lily and I both glare at him.

“How much money do you spend just watching people?” I blurt out before I think about it, but Christian and Jason are unfazed.

“Apparently, not enough,” he replies, “and I’m going to start giving the order to shoot first and ask questions later if the wrong person comes near you,” he adds without taking his eyes off Lily. Now he gets the stink face.

“You’re not all that, Christian,” she says. “I was just talking.”

“Yeah, well, my sister said she doesn’t want you here anymore, so talk while you’re walking.” She huffs indignantly and heads toward the entrance to the ballroom.

“You’re giving her more credit than I would,” I say to Mia, noting that she said she would talk to Lily later.

“I’m not giving her shit,” Mia says. “I just want her out with the least amount of drama possible. I never plan to see her again. We fell out because she was mad that I didn’t hook her up with Christian in the first place. She fell back in when she found out I was getting married. I should have known what she was really up to, that trifling skank.” Mia drops her head. “Now, I have no one to do my damn maid of honor toast.”

She stomps back towards the bride’s table and I feel totally responsible for this since I’m sort of the reason the tramp was kicked out of the reception.

“Mia!” I call after her. Mia stops midstride and turns to face me. “I’ll do it.” Her brow furrows, then her gaze softens.

“I can’t put you on the spot like that,” Mia says. “You already had to fill in for a vocalist who will never get another job again if I have anything to say about it!” she hisses. “Thank you for that, by the way. You guys were wonderful. You sounded better than the people we hired.”

So we were told.

“It’s no trouble, Mia,” I say softly, closing the space between us. “It’ll be something short and impromptu, but it’ll be sincere. Can you even imagine what Lily might’ve said if what you said about her is true?” Mia thinks for only a moment.

“Yeah, you’re right,” she says. “I have no idea what I would’ve have done without you today,” she says with a sigh. “I’ll let Skye know there’s a change in plans.” She smiles at me and heads to her wedding planner. I watch her walk away and roll my eyes. God, this day just keeps getting better and better.


CHRISTIAN

Well, once we rid ourselves of one Lily in heat, my wife then volunteered herself to do the maid of honor toast. I don’t know why they couldn’t just let the best man do his toast and call it a day, but far be it from me to piss on somebody’s wedding. My baby had an idea to fix what was broken, and that’s fine by me.

As it turns out, Mia had come looking for Lily because it was time for the toast, so my wife is whisked away to charm the guests once more.

“For those of you who have been living under a rock and have not seen the tragedy that is my life unfolding for the last two years, I am Anastasia Grey.”

A huge round of applause and laughter fill the room at Butterfly’s not-so-flattering self-introduction and she curtsies on the stage.

“Thank you, you’re too kind. As you know, Mia is my sister-in-law through my husband, Christian. And it appears that I’m going to be pulling double duty tonight as the maid of honor unfortunately had to leave. I’ll apologize in advance because I was not prepared for this, so I’m just shooting from the hip, so please bear with me.

“First, I will, of course, begin by thanking our wonderful waitstaff who kept the food coming and the drinks flowing, our band, our wedding party, the wedding planners, the staff and security of Paramount Theater and of course, of Grey Enterprises Holdings for stepping up in a pinch, and certainly and not least of all, Carrick, for the bottomless checkbook!”

Another rousing round of applause and laughter as Dad stands and takes a dramatic bow while Mom and Mia laugh hysterically.

“The first time I met Mia, it was just over two years ago,” Butterfly begins, as the laugher dies down. “We bonded over the French language and Jimmy Choos.” Mia smiles at her. “Her brother called her ‘Meelo’ and she called him ‘Cwis’ and I thought it was the cutest thing I had ever heard. It made me long for a sibling, but more so, it helped me see that true love could never be tarnished.

“Mia likes to play. She’s a fun-lover, but make no mistake. She’s loyal to the point of murder.” More laughter fills the room. “I wish I was kidding about that. I’ve seen this little kitten turn into a wildcat when it comes to the people that she loves. I’m just glad to be one of the people that she loves.” Butterfly turns to Mia, who is clearly fighting back tears.

“I remember the night of their engagement,” Butterfly says. “Mia was doubting Ethan’s feelings for her and Ethan had planned to propose all along. The entire family was there. Mia screamed and we came running into the house like it was on fire…”

More laughter.

“Even then, Ethan proved that nothing was more important to him than Mia’s happiness and everything that I’ve seen since then has shown me more and more of the same. So, ladies and gentlemen, raise your glasses to Ethan and Mia. We wish you all the love and happiness your hands and hearts can hold, and Ethan, she’s a real handful… and she’s all yours now!” There’s even more laughter as the theater raises their glasses and spouts various congratulations to my sister and her husband. Her speech was short and sweet and to the point. I’m sure whatever Lily had planned was going to be nothing like that.

My wife makes her way back to our table—and my arms—and I kiss her gently on the lips.

“You were eloquent and gracious as always, my love,” I tell her.

“Thank you, darling,” she says, sweetly. As I kiss my wife, the lights go down and there’s an announcement that the bride and groom will now have their first dance. A fog machine begins to fill the room with fog and an image of a night sky is projected over the floor and fog. It gives the room a blue, ethereal hue. A soft female voice begins to sing Mary Lambert’s version of “She Keeps Me Warm” and we see Rita Oro emerge onto the stage with the band as Mia and Ethan take their place on dancefloor and glide effortlessly through the fog.

I coax my beautiful wife from her seat and bring her to my lap, cuddling her in my arms and holding her close to me while pressing gentle kisses to her neck as we watch my sister and her new husband share their first dance. I think about our first dance in our castle and I’m filled with that same love all over again, that same newness I felt when she first became Mrs. Christian Grey.

“And I can’t change, even if it I tried…” I whisper in her ear, repeating the words to the song that I feel in my heart, that I couldn’t stop loving her no matter what happened in this life; that she would always mean the world to me and losing her would break me down to nothing. She melts in my arms and I feel so much love and warmth that I could just burst. She wraps her arms around my neck and snuggles into me, swaying with me in our seat as Mia and her husband—and now her wedding party—dance to Rita Oro’s serenade. I love her so much. I can’t see my life before or without her. Rita stops singing and I can’t seem to untangle myself from my wife.

“I won’t bother with the wisecracks. I’d be wasting my breath,” I hear Elliot’s voice.

“I think you would,” I retort. She uncurls herself from me and kisses me softly on the cheek.

“I love you,” she whispers.

“I love you more,” I reply.

“Not likely,” she says, and I smile.

“We’d be debating that one all night,” I say, stroking her cheek. she laughs, too.

“Yes, we would.” She strokes my hair. I kiss her on the cheek.

“Alright,” Mia says, breaking our lovefest, “enough of the sucky-kissy. Get on the floor and dance.”

“With. Pleasure,” I say, taking my wife’s hand and leading her to the dancefloor as yet another love song begins to play.

Dancing with my wife is one of my most favorite things to do—for several reasons. For one thing, I love to watch her move. It doesn’t matter if she’s gyrating that little body to a funky pop beat, or grinding to a sultry love song against me, I adore seeing her sway her hips back and forth and swirl those dainty hands in the air, and fling her hair to and fro. And when she touches me, when she pushes her hands up my chest under my jacket to the thump of some tribal beat, her when her fingertips caress my nape as I’m holding her close and we’re dancing to a slow song, I’m gazing in her eyes and seeing my future and every good thing that every has and could happen to me…

And one stupid fucker after another comes wandering up to me trying to get my attention. One after another, I ignore them until I just can’t take it anymore.

“Grey, how are you, man?” McFarley says, yet one more interruption while I’m trying to dance with Butterfly, and I continue to sway with my wife without acknowledging his presence.

“I say, Grey, how ya doin’ there?” He’s fucking not going to go away. Did he think I didn’t hear him? I’m looking at my wife like I’m starving and she’s lunch. Does he really think I prefer to look at him instead of her? I lift my gaze from my wife and turn my head to him.

“I’d be doing much better if you’d leave me the fuck alone,” I inform him. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m dancing with my wife. I’m not deaf, I’m ignoring you. Now, will you please take your rude ass to another part of the dancefloor and intrude on someone else’s space?”

I turn a fierce glare to him that silences him immediately and he almost scampers away from us. I turn my attention back to my wife.

“You know it’s just going to continue all night,” she says. “If they could have gotten away with interrupting you at dinner, they would have.” She gently strokes my nape to comfort me. I have to admit, it’s working.

“I know,” I reply, “and I know that I may end up talking business with someone before the night is over, but I choose that discussion. They’re not going to swarm in on me like I’m Don Corleone and this is Minnie’s wedding.” I tighten my arms around her waist and deliberately rest my hands on the top of that luscious ass. “And they certainly aren’t going to interrupt me while I’ve got this body in my arms.”

And I’m a man of my word. Dance after dance after dance I spend on the floor ignoring probably dozens of interruptions until my wife declares that her feet hurt and she can no longer trip the light fantastic. We walk gingerly back to our table and I put her feet in my lap. I remove those delicious sandals from those dainty little feet and begin to massage those dainty little toes. My poor wife is doing her best not to make sounds of ecstasy in the seat next to me, but she’s not doing a very good job. So, she just closes her eyes and lets the chips fall where they may. It’s a good thing Herman and Luma have taken the girls home, because these sounds are a bit obscene, and I can’t help the smile that creeps over my lips at the looks we’re getting from other people who aren’t dancing.

“I see you’re a little too big to fit under my porch.”

I look over my shoulder and see the kindly old face of the woman that used to leave me lemonade and cookies, that is, before I took up with the Pedophile.

“Aunt Tina,” I say, with fond affection. She laboriously bends and kisses me on the cheek. “I would stand, but…” I gesture to the feet of my nearly catatonic wife.

“Oh, don’t you dare,” she says, making her way to the chair next to me. “What I wouldn’t give to have Samuel around to massage my feet, God rest his soul. She’s a pretty little thing,” she says, gesturing to Butterfly.

“She’s my whole world,” I say, gazing at my wife, “her, and my children, that is,” I correct, looking back at my childhood confidante. “How are the kids? I know they’re not kids anymore.”

“Hardly,” she says. “Have kids of their own, and some of them have kids of their own,” she laughs. “It’s been a good life for me, Christian. These old bones are tired.” My brow furrows.

“Why are you talking like that, Aunt Tina?” I ask. “You’re not well?” She shakes her head.

“Doctors give me six months, maybe a year if I do chemo, but my body’s just too weak for it. Look at me, I can barely stand. My children want me to do the chemo, but what kind of quality of life would that be for me if I’m going anyway?” I sigh, my heart suddenly heavy.

“Oh, Tina,” I lament.

“Now, none of that!” she scolds gently. “I’m 91 years old. I’ve had a wonderful life. I couldn’t have asked for more. I have beautiful children and grandchildren and even some great-grandchildren. None of my babies died before me. Yes, my Samuel went home, but it was his time to go, and he had a good life, too. We built a home and a good life; he left me comfortable. We’re leaving our children and their children comfortable. I have no regrets, not one! So, don’t you be frettin’ me and feelin’ sorry for me and makin’ me feel sorry for myself, okay?” she scolds. Aunt Tina always had a way of putting me in my place. If I had continued to come to her porch more often, maybe I wouldn’t have fallen into the clutches of a child molester, but then there’s a string of what if’s in my life.

“So… are any of the kids back home with you right now?” She nods.

“Harmony came home,” she says. “She and her husband separated last year. Things just didn’t work out. She was on the fence about what she wanted to do anyway. She finished school and the divorce still isn’t final, yet, so there’s that. She’s doing some work-at-home thing so that she can be close in case I need her. She doesn’t need to work—she just wants to stay busy, I think.”

“What is her degree in?” I ask.

“She’s got a BS in social work.” I look over at Butterfly, who appears to have drifted off into a massage-induced nap. I reach into my jacket and pull out my phone. Swiping the screen, I open my contacts.

“Can you put her information in there?” I ask. “Helping Hands may be able to use her services, if she’s interested. I’ll pass her information onto my wife and mother and they can give her a call.” Tina smiles and takes my phone, enters Harmony’s information, and hands it back to me.

“Your commercial still runs sporadically,” Tina says, handing the phone back to me. I examine the information to familiarize myself with it before saving it. “She saw it once and mentioned that she’d like to get involved in something like that. She’ll be glad to know that you offered to have Ana and Grace give her a call.” Almost on cue, Mom and Dad return to the table.

“Tina, you look lovely,” Mom says, bending to kiss Aunt Tina on the cheek. “I’m so glad you could make it. How are you feeling, dear?”

“This is one of my better days,” Tina smiles. “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. I would have had Harmony roll me in her if I hadn’t been up to it,” she adds with a laugh.

“Where is Harmony?” Mom asks.

“She’s around,” Tina says, scanning the room for her daughter.

“Oh, she’s here,” I ask, in surprise. Mom looks at me, bemused. “Tina was telling me that Harmony has finished her bachelor studies in social work. I have her phone number and was going to pass it on to you or Butterfly to talk to her about possibly being of some use at Helping Hands.”

“Being of some use? Are you serious?” Butterfly is awake as if she’s been taking part in the entire conversation the whole time. “Who are we talking about? A bachelor’s degree in social work? Where?” She’s as bright as bunny like she wasn’t out cold just seconds earlier. I can’t help the laugh that escapes me.

“Butterfly, I don’t think you’ve formally met Tina Franklin. She’s a dear friend of the family.” Aunt Tina extends a shaky hand to my wife. Butterfly removes her feet from my lap and reaches the distance across me to ease Tina’s difficulty.

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, dear,” Tina says.

“The pleasure in mine, Ms. Franklin,” Butterfly smiles.

“Tina, dear, please,” she says.

“You may remember that I told you I used to sneak under Tina’s porch and she would give me lemonade and cookies,” I say. No realization comes across Butterfly’s face.

“Did you tell me this before or after…?” She trails off. I take her hand.

“Before,” I say softly. She nods and smiles sadly at Tina.

“He’s probably told me the story,” she says. “Unfortunately, as you most likely already know, I had a terrible accident last year and I’ve lost a lot of my memories.”

“Don’t you worry your sweet little heart about it, dear,” Aunt Tina says. “We hold on to the important stuff.” She winks at Butterfly. “We were talking about my daughter, Harmony. She’s back home now to take care of me and may soon be looking for some way to put her degree to use. I’ve already given Christian her number in case you or Grace want to contact her…” My wife glances over at me.

“I asked for it,” I tell her, fearing that she may be having flashbacks of “the mothers and the daughters.”

“I didn’t say anything,” she says with a laugh. Tina chuckles.

“With a face and bod like that, I’d watch him like a hawk, too, dear,” Tina says impassively. Mom and Butterfly burst into laughter. Dad just shakes his head.

“I’m so glad that you two are having such fun at my expense.” My wife turns a scrutinizing eye to me, still laughing.

“I have one word for you,” she says, crossing her arms. “Lily.”

Point. Taken.

“Oh, that’s why she’s not here,” Dad says.

“Yeah, that’s why she’s not here,” Butterfly confirms.

“Lily,” Tina chuckles. “There’s a piece of work… and did I see Courtney here?”

“You… may have,” Butterfly says nervously.

“I thought Addie sent her home,” Tina says.

“She did,” Butterfly says. “Courtney decided to stay and make it on her own. She’s asked that I don’t inform her grandparents.”

“That may be a moot point if they bump into each other,” Tina points out. I look at Butterfly, who shrugs.

“I won’t engineer a meeting, but I’ve told her several times that I think she needs to talk to her grandparents,” Butterfly begins.

“As have I,” Mom chimes in. “She’s quite a different woman from who she was a year ago.”

“Yes,” Tina says, “anyone can see that just from looking at her.” Butterfly looks at her in amazement.

“You can?” Butterfly asks. Several surprised eyes turn to my wife. “Well, think about it. I’m with her all the time. I know there’s an emotional and a character change, but if there’s a physical change, it’s been gradual, so I wouldn’t notice it.”

Courtney

Courtney

“Well, there has,” Tina says. “I only observed her for a few minutes with her companion, but she carries herself much differently. She looks, behaves, and speaks like a lady. I’ve watched her for years and I’ve never seen this Courtney…” She turns to me. “… Just like I’ve never seen this Christian.” She looks at my wife. “You have an amazing effect on people, dear. My Harmony doesn’t need any fixing, but if you have this kind of effect on the people who do, I’d love for you to meet her.” Butterfly smiles shyly.

The Butterfly effect… I keep telling people just how powerful it is.

“Tell me, why doesn’t she want to talk to Addie and Fred? I won’t say anything—it’s not my place, but I’m just curious.”

“I’m not at liberty to say,” Butterfly responds. “When people talk to me, a lot of what they say falls under doctor/patient privilege. It’s hard for me to draw a line, so to be safe, I’m mum on all of it.”

“Well, there’s no privilege here,” Mom says. “I’ll still be discreet, though. I’d hate to betray her confidence. Short version, there was some very hurtful things said and Courtney thinks it’s just better to let sleeping dogs lie than to open old wounds.” Tina shakes her head.

“She couldn’t be more wrong,” she says. “Life is too short, too precious. You never know which day is going to be your last. She’s going to have to rectify this or she’s going to regret it for the rest of her life.”

“Hear, hear,” Mom says.

“I couldn’t agree more,” Butterfly says.

“There you are.” Our attention is drawn to an attractive, young brunette with a very short haircut who has made her way to our table. “I was talking to Greg and Lisa, and I turned around and you were gone.” Tina smiles an accommodating smile.

“And now I know how she felt when she was six years old,” Tina jests, eliciting a laugh from us. “This is may daughter, Harmony, everyone. Harmony, you remember Grace and Carrick…” Harmony extends her hand.

“Yes, I do. It’s good to see you again,” she says, greeting them both with handshakes and cheek kisses.

“And I don’t know if you met Christian,” Tina says. Harmony extends her hand to me.

“A little out of my age rank, but of course, I’ve heard of you. It’s nice to meet you, Christian,” she says, shaking my hand. She’s considerably younger than me, maybe early twenties at best, and already separated… that’s sad.

“Likewise,” I reply, politely.

“And this is his wife, Anastasia,” Tina completes the introductions.

“The other half of the famous AnaChris,” Harmony says, extending her hand. “You’re even more beautiful in person,” she adds sincerely.

“Brownie points for you!” Butterfly exclaims, accepting her hand while everyone chuckles. “We were just talking about you. Your mom informs us that you’ve recently completed your bachelors studies in social work.” Harmony throws a loving glance at her mother.

“Mom’s very proud of that,” she says, and I can imagine that Tina has probably mentioned it to anyone who will listen. “Yes, I just finished my studies in June. It was… difficult, but I got through.”

“So, what are your plans from here?” Butterfly asks.

“Well, I need my master’s before I can be licensed, so I start those classes next week. Luckily, since I’ve already secured my bachelors, I can complete my master’s in a year instead of two.”

“Tina says you’re working,” I ask. “You’re going to do them both?” And take care of your mother.

“No,” she admits. “I was only working to fill the time. An idle mind and all that,” she says, waving off the topic. Butterfly and Harmony are off on the topic at hand and I scan the room looking for Courtney. I admit that I can’t find her anywhere. Granted, the venue is huge, but I know what she looks like and I should be able to pick her out of the crowd. Tina puts her hand over mine on the table.

“Elena has been writing to me from prison,” she says. My chest immediately tightens at the mention of that woman’s name. “She’s talking about being reformed and such. She’s quite destitute.”

I don’t react. I don’t really want to know how Elena’s doing at all.

“She asks about you often,” Tina says. “I put together that years ago, you were one of her boys.” My eyes widen.

“You did?” I ask in horror. She nods.

“Yes,” she says. “I don’t blame you. Teenage boys think with their dicks. As a man though…” She trails off.

“I know,” I say, pushing my hands through my hair. “I know, Aunt Tina. I want you to know that as soon as I figured it out, I went on a mission to bring her down. I’m the reason she was caught. I found the boys that she was molesting.” Tina nods.

“I know, and I think she knows, too. She’s not certain, but you know that she never takes responsibility for anything that she does. I truly believe that she’s no threat up there in prison, and her letters are the rantings of a crazy woman, but I don’t know who else she’s writing to.”

I hear her warning loud and clear. Elena’s reach from prison is what caused Butterfly to be called before the licensing board on trumped-up charges of sexual misconduct. I may need to find out just who she’s been talking to in the weeks since our last visit.

“Thanks for the heads up, Aunt Tina,” I tell her.

“Anytime,” she says with a smile. “And now, I think it’s time my chaperone got me home. It’s getting to be past my bedtime. And if you get a chance, come on by and have some lemonade and some cookies for old times sake, okay? I’ve always got ‘em. And I’ll understand if you don’t, but always remember that Aunt Tina loves you… and I’m so proud of you.”

She leans forward and places a tender kiss on my cheek. I close my hand over hers.

“I’ll never forget you, Aunt Tina, and you’ll always have a place in my heart.” She cups my face and smiles. I help her out of her seat and Harmony is by her side in a moment.

“We’ll talk. You have my card,” Butterfly says.

“Sure thing,” Harmony nods. “Come on, Mom, let’s get you home.” I put my arm around my wife’s waist and watch Harmony lead Aunt Tina out of the theater, knowing that this may be the last time I see her.

“Why is it that the only time family and friends really come together is for events like this?” I ask. “Weddings and the like?” I never take my eyes off Tina’s retreating back.

“We get caught up in the mundane tasks of life,” Butterfly says after a pause. “We keep meaning to call someone, meaning to catch up with someone or go have lunch, drop by or say ‘hi…’ and then we get that call.” I turn my gaze to her. “That call that there’s bad news or the doctors don’t have any hope…”

I turn back to the exit and Aunt Tina and Harmony have left.

“… That there’s been an accident,” I say, my voice cracking, “or they need a kidney… or there’s cancer…” I feel my wife’s hand on my chest and I turn back to look at her, her beautiful blue eyes full of sympathy. I wrap my arms around her and bask in her love, so glad that I didn’t lose her last year when that crazy submissive T-boned her car.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the bride and groom to cut the cake!”

Good Lord, I thought they had already cut the cake. It’s late! Let’s just get this over and done.

So… now, I see that two of the huge things hiding in the corners behind these huge drapes are cakes—not just any cakes, the bride’s and groom’s cakes. Now, I’m one of the most ostentatious fuckers that ever lived. I am the epitome of go big or go home, but these cakes are the most extreme displays of largess and waste that I’ve ever seen in my life. Whoever created these monstrosities should be ashamed of the man-hours and materials invested in their manufacture with the level of starvation going on in the world right now. These two monstrosities are unveiled from the corners and the crowd rightfully gasps in amazement.

The cakes are on platforms that are rolled to the center of the floor in front of the stage on cranes. The cakes are nearly impossible to describe. Ethan’s WTF expression says it all.

Mia’s cake is a seven-layer intricate creation of flowers, columns, and tiers. The base of the cake is at least five to six feet in diameter and the first layer is quite possibly two feet thick. Each additional layer gets thinner until the top layer is about a foot thick—maybe the thickness of an average cake. All in all, the cake itself without the platform, is probably about ten feet tall, with realistic flowers and columns and bridges and balustrades and intricate details that are probably all edible. I don’t even know how they assembled the damn thing.

The groom’s cake is worse. It’s a castle—a fucking castle, complete with blue towers… several towers, something like twelve or fifteen of them! The castle is white with bricks and windows and doors and battlements and stairs and more flowers at a base that’s wider than Mia’s. Oh, and there are lights inside.

The cakes are so large that Mia and Ethan complete disappear behind them and must make their way around to the front of the bride’s cake in order to cut it. And what utensil is presented to them to cut the cake?

A sword… a fucking sword. Nothing else is long enough to reach the cake.

I shake my head in pure disgust. If every guest on Mia’s insane guest list took home a serving of cake equal to an entire normal cake, there would still more cake left over than anybody knew what to do with. There still must be enough filet mignon and duck confit prepared in the kitchen to feed a fucking army because I sure as hell didn’t order lobster until I got here, so there had to be enough food on hand to handle contingencies. This level of waste is abhorrent, and I have to find out what they’re going to do with the leftovers from this wedding.

“You don’t look happy at all,” my wife observes. I shake my head.

“Look at those cakes, Anastasia,” I say, my face hurting from frowning. “I spent the first four years of my life in squalor—starving, in agony—and somewhere, right now, in this city, there’s another child feeling that same pain and she’s got those.” I point in dismay at the ridiculous cakes. “I understand wanting the best—I really, really do, but this…” I gesture at the monstrous creations again. “There’s no explanation or excuse whatsoever for that.”

My brain immediately starts running through the calculations of what the pounds and pounds of flour it took to make those cakes could have done for the homeless—bread for sandwiches and pasta for entire meals. It’s probably a ridiculous concept right now, but with all the philanthropic causes that I support behind the scenes, this is exactly where my mind goes when I see something so utterly wasteful. Yes, I spend extravagant money on things for myself and my wife and children, but I am equally generous in my humanitarian endeavors, because they’re just that important to me.

“Maybe we should step outside,” my wife says, turning around in my arms, her expression serious, “or out in the lobby and take a picture or three—get away from this scene for a while.” I shake my head, more to shake off the figures of what I know those insane cakes costs and how that money could have been put to such better use.

“No, I’ll be fine. I’m fine,” I say, attempting to appear normal.

“No, Christian, you’re not,” my wife says firmly. I look down into her eyes and she stares at me. “You just called me Anastasia.

Shit, did I? I try to review my words in my head, but I can’t remember. I just… I can’t believe those fucking cakes. I look back at my sister and her husband and they’re beaming, laughing and feeding each other hunks of what had better be the most luscious and delicious cake ever made by human hands!

“I’m sorry, baby,” I say, running my hands through my hair, “I expected a three-ring circus, but as God is my witness, I didn’t expect this.”

“Don’t apologize,” she says, gently rubbing my chest. “Shots were fired for the goddamn wedding kiss, for fuck’s sake. When the minister said, ‘You may salute your bride,’ she was literally fucking saluted!” That makes me chuckle a bit, but did little to comfort my unease about the level of excess I’m witnessing tonight. I hold my wife close to me and sigh into her hair. I wonder how often shit like this was going on when I was hungry, hiding under the kitchen table or in the closet, praying that fucker wasn’t lighting another cigarette…?

“Bro, you okay? You look sick.” Elliot’s voice brings me back to the here and now, and I have to say that I’m glad it did. I had no idea I had slipped back into the squalor of the lost boy because of a fucking wedding cake.

“I’m fine,” I lie. I’m anything but fine. I have to find out what she’s doing with this leftover food. I will personally spend the night having this shit sent to a GEH facility for storage and distributed to the homeless and hungry tomorrow if I have to.

“He’s not, but there’s nothing that can be done about it, so don’t ask,” my wife says, her tone serious as she wraps her arms protectively around my waist and lays her head on my chest. It’s comforting, and it keeps the monsters away.

“That’s some cake, huh?” Elliot says, holding Val close to him.

“Yeah,” I sigh, “that’s some cake.” Elliot turns to look at me.

“She always was over-the-top, bro,” he says, and I hear the sympathy in his voice. “You couldn’t expect this to be any different.” I look over and meet his gaze.

“Yeah, I know.” I look back at the ridiculous cake and watch as it appears that they are setting up for some other performance or something in the middle of the room.

“It’s the food thing… isn’t it?” he asks. I look at him again and he doesn’t break his gaze. “You used to take food from the table and shove it in your pockets. You hid it in your room. You hid it in the treehouse. You hid it places and forgot about it. Mom would find it all the time. I didn’t know what was wrong with you, so I asked Mom. She told me that before you came to live with us, you didn’t have enough to eat, that you were often hungry, and that you were afraid that you were going to be hungry again. It explained why every single time at every single meal you ate every single thing on your plate. That’s why I always slipped you my Brussel sprouts when Mom wasn’t looking.”

I remember that.

“You never took more than you could eat; you never left anything behind; and you often got irritated with anybody who did. Even now, you still clean your plate. You don’t leave a morsel behind.”

I never knew my brother paid that close attention to me. I didn’t know that I still exercised those practices, either. I have serious issues with wasted food, but I try not to impose my issues on others, and I try not to be anal about them in my eating habits, but apparently…

“And now…” He gestures at the two obscenely large edifices that pose as cakes behind Mia and Ethan, and I’m just realizing that in our back-flashing of my food issues, we’ve missed the bouquet toss. No matter—I wouldn’t have been able to watch it with the lavish wasteful confections as a backdrop anyway.

“Well, that’s our cue, bro,” Elliot says. “The Caribbean is calling our names. If we wait any longer, we’re going to miss our flight.”

I almost forgot that he’s going to be leaving on his honeymoon as well tonight. All of our lives were put on hold when we got word that Pops didn’t have long left to live. I was planning to take my wife to Rome this summer for our first anniversary. That was a big no-go.

“You guys have a great time and a safe trip,” I tell him, shaking his hand.

“Tell her we stayed as long as we could, but it was either sneak out or crash the garter ritual.” He shrugs.

“I’ll tell her. Get going.” I pat him on the back in a bro-hug. Butterfly is hugging Valerie and wishing her a safe trip, making her promise to take lots of pictures. We send them off to say goodbye to Mom and Dad as we turn out attention back to floorshow of the girl who caught the bouquet and the guy who caught the garter. Apparently, I missed them both. How, I have no idea.

My wife attempts to comfort me throughout the minutiae of other things occurring in the next several minutes of the reception or so—bubbles appear from somewhere and there’s a dance line of some sort. I’m glad to see that those monstrous cakes are wacked up all to hell, but there’s still a whole lot of them left, and I do get to see those solid gold inscribed boxes Elliot referred to earlier. I’m waiting for an opportunity to get my sister alone, just a moment or two, and it’s like the girls on the sidewalk when I was a kid waiting for a chance to jump in on jump-rope. As soon as I get my chance though…

“Mia, a minute?” She examines me.

“I know that face, big brother. What did I do?’ Geez. I don’t want to scold her on her wedding day. How do I approach this? I suddenly feel like a kid about to ask his mother for a forbidden lollipop.

“I… um… if you don’t have prior arrangements… there’s… quite a few leftovers and… well… that’s a lot of cake, and…” I sigh. She chuckles.

“This is about the food thing, isn’t it?” she asks, and now I’m gape-mouthed.

“You know about the food thing?” I ask, amazed.

“Of course, I know about the food thing,” she says, obviously. “We all know about the food thing, Cwis, we love you.”

I’m standing here literally scratching my head. How did I not know they knew?
Because I never let them in.

Mia puts her hand on my arm.

“Did you think Mom didn’t know you were eating Elliot’s Brussel sprouts?” she asks, raising her eyebrows. I just shake my head and scratch my eyebrows.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what are you going to do with all the leftover food?” I ask. She smiles.

“Find a program,” she says. “Page ten, bottom left.” She kisses me on the cheek and walks away into a crowd of guests.

I nearly have to scour the entire theater to find a program that hasn’t been claimed by someone. I quickly flip to the back of the book and go to page ten and scan to the bottom left.

**Remaining food and confections from today’s festivities will be donated and distributed among the following charities:
Operation Nightwatch
Compass Housing Alliance
Pioneer Square’s Union Gospel Mission
St. Martin De Porres
Mary’s Place
Sacred Heart Shelter
Helping Hands…

The list is so long that I don’t have time to read all the names. I fall into a large seat nearby, a huge weight having been lifted off my shoulders. I felt like it was my responsibility and mine alone to be sure this food didn’t go to waste. It’s. So. Much. Food. And somebody somewhere is painfully hungry like that little boy under the kitchen table while all this food is sitting here going God only knows where.

But it’s not going God only knows where. She’s going to make sure that it goes to someone who needs it. It won’t go to waste.

I breathe.
I breathe again.
I feel light.
I feel so much better.
Thank you, Mia.
Good God, thank you.


A/N: Christian references Don Corleone because in movie The Godfather, the Don is required to receive anyone who requests an audience on the day of his daughter’s wedding.

Part II of the wedding is complete. On to part III! 

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 32—Lights, Camera, Action!

I love all my readers, don’t you guys forget that, but a special thanks to those who click on and read the emails and to those who follow the links to the page. I get reports on how many clicks I get, and it makes me feel good to see that people do actually click the links. So, thanks you guys. ❤ 

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

Chapter 32—Lights, Camera, Action!

CHRISTIAN

“So, what was last night?” I ask, drawing circles in the skin on my wife’s naked back. She’s lying on her arms in our bed, displaying an amazing case of afterglow.

“I don’t know,” she says, and her brow furrows. “It wasn’t a punishment fuck… except maybe at the beginning.”

“No, that was desperation sex,” I tell her. “I had to fuck, hard and fast, or I was going to explode. That one didn’t count.” She laughs at me. “Make-up sex?”

“We didn’t really fight,” she says. “I mean, we did fight, but that was way earlier like the day before, and the sex wasn’t to make-up from that. It was because of what happened the night before.” I nod and ponder the situation.

“We had a really good talk,” I say.

“Yes, we did,” she agrees.

“Do you feel like we really handled our issues? That we didn’t just fuck away our problem?” she nods.

“I really feel like we did,” she says. “You listened to me and how I felt and what I was thinking. You understood how serious it was, and I was able to understand the impact of my actions on you as well.”

“And then we fucked,” I say.

“And then we fucked… there’s nothing wrong with that, Christian. We’re a young, healthy, married couple in love with each other, who love sex. That’s one of the ways that we connect.” I nod.

“I was just afraid that we fucked away another problem,” I admit. “I feel so comfortable with how last night turned out. It almost seemed too easy.” Butterfly ponders the situation for a few more moments.

“Resolution sex.” I raise my eyebrows.

“Resolution sex… I like that.” I stretch out next to her. “I want to ask you a question if you’re willing to tell me.”

“I don’t have any secrets from you, Christian,” she says. I smile.

“Well, ladies have their feminine wiles and I understand if this is one of those things that you would rather keep to yourself.” She turns on her side to face me. God, she’s so fucking beautiful all thoroughly fucked and content in the morning.

“Okay, I’ll keep that in mind,” she says. I take a deep breath.

“I don’t really know how to put this, so I’m just going to jump right in, okay?” I say, and she nods. “Yesterday, when I left, you were one person, and when I came home, you were someone else completely. What happened?” She raises her eyebrows and diverts her gaze a bit.

“It’s just like we said, baby,” she begins, sitting up and pulling the covers with her, “we had a situation occur that caused you to be ripped completely out of your element. I knew the moment that you left for work yesterday that you were uncomfortable and unhappy and that was not fair to you. That was not what you signed up for. I knew that although I was firm in my convictions on how I felt about helping your family and about not being punished because I was caught in the middle, that we had to find a middle ground. We were in unchartered territory. Neither of us wanted to be there and neither of us knew how to handle it. You had to work your way down from an elevated level of aggression while I had to figure out what was going on.”

“Okay, that somewhat makes sense, but how is it that you were the one that had to make that move and not me?” I ask.

“How do you stop a charging bear?” she asks.

“I don’t know. Throw something at it?” I shrug. “I don’t often find myself in the path of a charging bear!”

“Actually, it depends on the bear,” she replies. “With brown bears, you curl up, stand still, or play dead. With black bears, you stand your ground, make a lot of noise, and fight back. With both bears, you can use bear pepper spray, but in neither case does anything indicate that the bear is just going to stop charging on its own. For better or for worse, some outside element has to calm that bear.”

“So… you became the bear calmer,” I conclude.

“Or the lion tamer,” she mumbles, but I don’t think I was supposed to hear that part. I raise my eyebrows and wait for her raise her gaze to me. Explain, Mrs. Grey. She wraps her arms around herself and the blankets around her body. This might be part of that “feminine wiles” thing that I said that she could keep to herself, so I wait to see if she wants to elaborate. She sighs.

“I’m going to admit to you that I’m way out of my element,” she says. “As much as we’ve played and as far as we’ve ventured, you know that I’m nowhere near as experienced as you are when it comes to the nuances of this lifestyle that we practice. Even when I take on the role as Dominatrix, I can only go so far—push the envelope to a certain limit—because I haven’t been trained, I haven’t done enough research, I only know so much…”

“I know that, Butterfly…” I begin. She raises her hand to gently silence me.

“You’re very accommodating to me and I appreciate that, but we may need to discuss moving forward a bit in our BDSM relationship.” My brow furrows. Moving forward? What does she mean by that? Is what we do already not enough for her? Shit, BDSM can get pretty fucking intense. She wants more?

“I’m listening,” I say.

“Good, ‘cause I’m floundering,” she says nervously, pulling her knees up to her chest. “After our talk yesterday, I realized that I didn’t know nearly enough about the dynamics of the D/s relationship to handle what was going on with you. We were on a precipice, and our next move would determine the fate of our relationship. Would we come out of this okay? Would we end up in a totally vanilla relationship? Would you have determined that I was able to give you what you needed as a wife but not as a submissive? Would you resent me and turn to others for your D/s needs? Would this be the beginning of the end for us?”

I want to tell her that there no fucking chance in hell of any of that shit happening, but I know that if I interrupt her, she’s just going to silence me again. So, I just continue to listen.

“I needed the help of someone with intimate knowledge of the D/s dynamic that I could trust, so I went to see Michel.” I frown.

“Who… is Michel?” I ask.

“Michelangelo? And Wolfgang? From the club?” she says. I think for a moment. Then recollection hits me—the mini-munch a couple of years ago, when she almost hit Elena with the beer bottle. Ah, good times…

“Oooooohh. I didn’t know you still kept in touch with them,” I say.

“Not all the time, but I have him on speed dial for emergencies. Anyway, we talked, and he explained to me the dangers of taking the D/s dynamic for granted. Although we refer to it as playtime, it’s not a game. It’s a very real part of our lives, and it’s an innate factor of your inner makeup. It’s a fundamental part of what makes you who you are. I’ve always understood that, but it came to me in blaring colors last night as you became borderline dysfunctional with the concept of being unable to punish me…”

Borderline?

“Bearing in mind that we each had problems with our roles yesterday, one of us had to take the reigns and be the voice of reason, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t even know that was what was needed. That’s where Michel came in. He helped me to see just how much I don’t know, how much I need to learn about myself—about who I need to be as a wife and a submissive; about getting in touch with myself and the things I’ve always loved about myself; about not forgetting who I am while I’m being who you need me to be. It’s no small feat being all those women—it’s very daunting, and here I am, jumping off into the Dominant/submissive pool like I know what I’m doing… it’s no wonder that, at different intervals during the course of this exercise and this relationship, we’ve been tearing at each other.”

“So…” I must interject so that I get an understanding of what she’s saying. “What you mean by ‘moving forward’ is that there’s more that you need to learn about the dynamic?”

“Well, yes,” she says, like it’s obvious. “What did you think I meant?” I shake my head.

“You don’t want to know. Keep talking.” I shake the wild thoughts from my head of the hedonistic things I’ve heard of and seen in the lifestyle that I thought my Butterfly was referring to. There’s no way in hell I planned on venturing into some of the avenues of the things that I’ve seen and heard of, and I was hoping and praying to God that she wasn’t suggesting it after I went off the rails a little because of a night of denied punishment. She momentarily examines me cautiously, but continues making her point.

“Long story short, Michel told me to reach back and remember the basics—always resort to the fundamentals when you find yourself drowning. Think about it. If you’re in deep water and you fight, you start to sink, but if you hold your breath and calm down, you float to the top. It was a little more detailed than that, but that’s the thrust. I remembered who I was when we fell in love, before life became complicated and I was in my head all the time—when things were simple, and I was simple… and… everything after that was easy.

“I remembered that crazy, dominant man who commanded a room when he walked into it and always drove me nuts—in a good way and a bad way…” she smiles to herself. “That first gray suit and that arrogant asshole and ‘just call me Grey…’”

Boy, she went way back!

“You made it clear that he was standing at the mental playroom door fighting for supremacy with his whip and his flogger, so he was the lion that had to be tamed. I needed clear, concise communication with you and in order to achieve that, I had to get past him. The only one that could get past him was the complete submissive—the lion tamer.”

So, that’s what that was about. Fuck if she didn’t get that shit perfect.

“But you didn’t tame the lion, Butterfly,” I protest. “You became the sacrifice. I wanted to eat you alive from the moment you came down those stairs yesterday, and that’s pretty much what I did before the night was over. My hairs were up and I was beating my chest every single second from that moment and through every sexual encounter we had last night. The inner me was clawing and tearing like a transforming werewolf the entire time…”

“And look at you now,” she interrupts. “Night before last, you left this room raging like a Klingon ready to do battle. Yesterday, you left the house barely hanging on to civility. I was surprised that you kissed me even on the cheek. You were ready to tear someone’s head off and although I don’t know what held you yesterday and kept you from lunch, I’m almost certain that someone at Grey House was picking pieces of their ass off the floor. Now, you’re as gentle as a lamb.” She leans forward on her knees. “I tamed the lion.”

Son of a bitch. She did tame the lion. How the fuck did I not see that? She explained it to me in plain English. She went back to the basics, became the perfect submissive—even in front of my family—without giving herself away. She maintained her poise and grace while yielding to me, allowing me to open doors for her, lead her out of the car, direct her into rooms, instruct her when it was time to leave, everything. She didn’t move without my permission. Her submission was subtle, but complete, and my inner and outer Dominant stood tall, proud, and arrogant, pleased beyond measure with her performance. When we got home, I both used her and rewarded her, like I would any perfect submissive. When the night was over, I was thoroughly sated…

And tamed.

“Well, it looks like the teacher has been taught,” I say, my voice slightly playful. “We’ve both learned some valuable lessons, I’d say, and… it appears there are still more to learn.”

“So, it appears,” she sighs.

“It’s been quite some time since I’ve instructed a submissive, Butterfly. We may have to undergo this learning together,” I admit. She shrugs, coquettishly.

“I’m okay with that if you are,” she says. “Remember, I’m pretty green to all of this. All I know is what you’ve exposed me to and what I’ve seen in my studies, which wasn’t much. I have a natural tendency for domination—when the mood strikes, and that’s few and far between—but for the most part, I’m flying by the seat of my pants here.”

“Well, let’s start with this…” I pull the covers from her breasts, allowing her pretty, pink nipples to pop out from under the sheets. “When we’re relaxing… like this, never—ever—cover these.” I raise an eyebrow at her. “I’m serious about that, understood?” The corner of her mouth rises slightly.

“Yes, Sir,” she answers sweetly.

*-*

I make slow love to my wife one more time before we get out of bed to face the day. There are a lot of plans to be made. Maria Sanchez is flying in tomorrow for debriefing and we’ll be doing the interview on location over the course of the three days. Mac is flying around like a bat out of hell while our staff are scurrying about like roaches setting up locations, security, wardrobes, securing NDA’s and background checks on staff at the gun range as well as Maria’s entourage. We’ll have a breakfast meeting to discuss final content and sign the paperwork on what will and won’t be allowed to be aired, just in case something gets caught in the interview or on camera that we don’t want disclosed.

Vickie is in seventh heaven fashioning my wife for the next three days, choosing colors and ensembles that will photograph well and look good on television—no loud colors or overly boisterous jewelry. The world already knows that we’re billionaires and our mansion, the fleet of Audis, and the crazy yacht that still hasn’t been moved back to the marina will speak volumes to that fact.

I don’t feel the need to call my tailor for anything new, but I did need the help of a professional stylist to get me screen-ready, so to speak. We chose pieces from my extensive wardrobe and added an additional accessory or two, but nothing too ostentatious or pretentious. Members of the family are expected to be caught in a cameo or three, so our stylists helped to design them as well to be prepared for the eventuality. And of course, the prince and princess of Grey Crossing—young Michael and Mackenzie—were both outfitted for their television debuts as well.

We were thoroughly worn out by day’s end and called it an early night, choosing to snuggle and rest for the evening since Friday would be an early morning of hair, make-up, and breast-pumping for my wife. I’ve also arranged for her to have an early-morning massage to help her relax before everything gets started as I know the weekend will be quite hectic.

I’m awake at sunrise and I summon Jason for a run to get prepared for the day. We have a few Paps waiting for us at the gate, but they foolishly attempt to keep up with us on foot instead of some motorized mode of transportation. Bad move.

When we return to the Crossing, Butterfly has just finished her shower and is preparing for her massage. I pass her on the way to mine and greet her with a kiss before proceeding to wash off the sweat of my run. Once we’re both primed and polished, we head to the Audis and to Grey House to our breakfast meeting with the broadcast journalist.

“Maria Sanchez. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you both in person.” Ms. Sanchez extends her hand to Butterfly first, giving her a formal shake, then to me. Draped in a pale peach sheath dress and an extremely high pair of stilettos, she appears warm and professional. She’s tiny—like my wife—short with a really small frame. I guess it’s a signature of short women to wear really high heels. I can honestly say that I haven’t met many women as short as my wife.

I’ve done my homework on Ms. Sanchez. That’s her maiden name. She’s married with three children and lives in New York. She’s Latin, 34 years old, born in the Dominican Republic. Her skin is a natural tan, more like a caramel, and she’s very petite. She moved to the states with her family when she was five and she’s been living here ever since. She studied at Columbia and cut her journalistic teeth with an internship at MSNBC. Although she never landed a permanent job at the network, a local celebrity spotted her and gave her a shot on staff at a morning show where she eventually worked her way up. Now, she’s prime time and nearly as big as Barbara Walters.

“So, you already know that I’m not a smut journalist,” Maria says as we sit down to a gourmet breakfast in the conference room of brioche French toast, bacon, potato pancakes, and fresh fruit. “The Paps are all over you, though—this whole Judd Rossiter thing; Ana’s father adopting her at 28; and there’s still the issue of the supposed misconduct charges that you were addressing in your interviews. Now, you guys are coming out with this exposé of sorts. It’s going to be quite the bit to bite off in an hour-long interview.”

“Thank you for getting my age correct,” Butterfly interjects. I frown. I’m not sure of what she’s referring to, but I let her continue. “I guess we’ll just have to keep our content as succinct as possible without sacrificing quality.”

“Or see if we can convince the producers to give us a two-hour time slot if all else fails,” I suggest. Maria shakes her head.

“Easier said than done,” she says. “We couldn’t convince him for two hours for President Obama or Bono.” I raise my eyebrows.

“You interviewed the President and Bono?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“I didn’t,” she answers honestly, “but two of my colleagues did, and it was a no-go on both. We’ve got good material on ice that we hope to air at a later date with their permission.” She shrugs. I don’t know how I feel about having material about my me and my wife on ice. We’ll have to discuss the logistics of that.

“We like the feel of your direction,” Butterfly points out as we continue our breakfast. “We think you can capture the essence of what we’re trying to portray without it looking rehearsed, kitschy, or ostentatious.”

“That’s the plan,” she says. “It’s going to be tricky, though. You live in a multimillion-dollar estate and you live a fairytale lifestyle.”

“People expect that,” I interject. “What they don’t expect is for us to be drinking out of solid gold goblets and our children to be sleeping in diamond-encrusted cribs.”

“Don’t they, though?” Maria jests before sipping her orange juice.

“Oh, you’ve got jokes,” Butterfly retorts. “No, we traded those for the platinum binkies.”

“Oh, of course,” Maria says, waving her hands, and the conversation continues just as lightheartedly.

Allen, Mac, and Joshua all join us throughout the course of the morning and we work out the final details of how the interviews will go for the next two and a half days. Andrea and Marilyn shadow us the entire time and we’re not even allowed—for the most part—to handle our own phones. The camera crew—and Maria—are following us around for what feels like 23 of 24 hours of the rest of the weekend and it becomes pretty clear that security is going to have to get almost violent with the Paps to keep them at a safe distance. Travel is going to be a task.

We shoot all the content for GEH on Friday afternoon. I give her a brief overview of my “humble” beginnings—the very short version of the story that Raynell Stanton was looking for. I was sure to throw in a bit of the bite, the killer instinct, and the mastermind that Raynell was sure I wasn’t willing to give… Ten short minutes of How a Bear Crushes the Competition Without Even Trying, just so she would know what she was missing. Then, we move on.

My wife had been swept away to “wardrobe and makeup” during my portion of the GEH interview. When she joins us to begin the tour of the facilities, she’s effortlessly flawless in a ruched gray skirt, black turtleneck sweater and simple black pumps with silver diamond hoops, her hair swept into a swooping ponytail. She looks classic and professional, right at home against GEH’s sleek designs and decors—once again, like she rightfully owns the place.

We visit key areas of the company before Maria requests time alone with Butterfly to see how she handles the camera on her own. I have every faith in my wife’s abilities, so I kiss her on the cheek and send them on her way, reminding them of the importance of avoiding proprietary areas and information while I prepare security for our departure.

“What’s the news?” I ask Jason when I get back to my office. “I know something is abuzz with a camera crew on site.”

“For the most part, they’re just trying to find out what’s going on,” he replies. “It’s only a matter of time, though, sir. Maria Sanchez is a well-known public personality. The moment they see her, you know the story breaks.”

“Then we have to do everything that we can to keep that from happening, or at least stall it for as long as we can. They’re not in the parking garage, correct?” He shakes his head.

“No, they can’t get pass the gates,” he confirms.

“Well, just make sure her crew goes down in the express elevators. Have them leave by the service gates while we and at least four Audis leave by the front gates. What can we do about Helping Hands? We can’t have a media circus there tomorrow. Butterfly will kill that portion of the interview before she allows that to happen and I concur.” Jason rubs his chin as he ponders the situation.

“Diversion tactics throughout the night. Have Maria’s crew meet Her Highness separately at Helping Hands,” he says. “Send a decoy entourage to Grey House in the morning to lead the Paps away from the Mercer house. Once the coast is clear, Her Highness can head on to Helping Hands. It’s rare that she goes in on a Saturday anyway, so they won’t be expecting it. Sunday, though… they’ll most likely follow us to the gun range.”

“That’s not a problem,” I tell him. “I’ve already arranged for private access to the gun range on Sunday morning. She’s leaving for New York on Sunday afternoon. By then, we can make an announcement that we were shooting footage for a human-interest piece to be aired later and they can go on their way.” Jason nods.

“Let’s just hope everything runs that smoothly,” he says. I sigh.

“Let’s just hope,” I concur.


ANASTASIA

Maria absorbs the posh surroundings as she strolls through the marble halls of Grey House with me and my husband. I’ll admit that the workspaces are open and well-appointed to maintain employee morale and reduce attrition. We want the best, and we want to keep the best, we assure her. She’s still a bit starry-eyed by the splendor of it all, but who wouldn’t be. I mean, let’s face it. Even the view of the boardroom is sexy.

Partially into the tour, she separates me and my husband so that she can get a feel for me on my own and how I function in this setting. I get it. Am I the trophy wife that everyone thinks I am, right? I don’t advertise that I also have an education in business, so no one knows, but Ms. Sanchez quickly discovers that I know my way around my husband’s company when I take over the tour on my own, describing certain projects that are in the works, carefully brushing over any delicate details that shouldn’t be revealed.

She further puts me to the test by specifically asking if it’s okay for us to visit quality control, unless there’s something too confidential in the works. I laugh to myself, thinking about the XRC90 that just got Rollins fired a little while ago and agree to show her around the department. Needless to say, she’s thoroughly impressed when I engage the new department head, Omar Braxton, in a conversation about “that transmitter” and he anxiously wants to show me his data, but I must curb his enthusiasm for another time as this information is, in fact, proprietary. It goes without saying that Maria is convinced that I’m not just Mr. Grey’s pretty little wife.

Once the tour and today’s portion of fact-finding is complete, I discover that getting out of Grey House that evening looks like something out of Mission Impossible. Jason, Chuck, Christian, and I load into one Audi SUV while various members of security load into three other Audis. Maria and her crew are loaded into her two vehicles and directed to take the back exit precisely at that time that we are exiting the front gates.

“Why all the vehicles?” I ask.

“The Paps are on the scent that something’s going on, they just don’t know what,” Christian says, and I see the flashing cameras just as we pass. “If they corner Maria at the hotel, you won’t be able to get the spot at Helping Hands tomorrow, because they’ll follow her trying to get the scoop. She has strict instructions not to come to the Center if she’s been followed by the Paparazzi for obvious reasons.” I nod.

“Yes, that could be a disaster, but I’ll be driving to Helping Hands tomorrow. What’s to stop them from following me?”

“Our hope is that they won’t act as a team and coordinate strategies, in that they’ll maintain that ‘every man for himself’ mentality that we’ve become accustomed to. If so, there’ll be enough frivolous activity with the Audis going to and from the Crossing throughout the night and morning hours to various Grey properties to raise suspicions and act as decoys. I’ll conspicuously leave in the morning and go to Grey House, drawing the lion’s share of the attention. It’s well-known that you don’t normally go into the Center on weekends, so our hope is that you’ll be free to go to Helping Hands once I leave, and Maria will be able to meet you there.”

“You’ve covered every base, Mr. Grey,” I say, patting him on the knee.

“I try,” he says with a smile. “It helps to have the best security team.” I see Jason glance at him in the rearview mirror. “How did the rest of the tour go?”

“Very well, I think. I get the feeling she wanted to make sure that I wasn’t your typical social-climbing-bracelet wife. I can’t very well be called a ‘trophy wife’ because I’m a doctor and I had my own position in my own right. She’s asked to see the condo, so I called Courtney to be sure it’s presentable.” Christian frowns.

“Why does she want to see your condo?” he asks. I shrug.

“I’m sure she wants to see where I came from before we were married. I’m surprised she didn’t ask to see Escala, but there was no need for you to prove that you didn’t come from meager beginnings.”

“And there’s no need for you to prove it either,” he says defensively.

“Yes, Christian, there is,” I retort. “There’s always a reason for me to prove it. There’s no reason in your eyes, and of course, I love you for that, but to the rest of the world, I’m a gold digger. If we’re going to expose ourselves this way, we can’t be afraid to open the book.” He sighs impatiently.

“And how are you going to explain keeping the place so spotless after we’ve been together for two years?” he asks.

“The truth,” I tell him. “I love my condo. It’s a terrible market to sell, and I’ve been subletting it to a friend who takes care of it for me.” His hand runs through his hair. “What’s the problem?” He pauses for a moment before he speaks.

“I don’t trust people, Butterfly,” he says. “If they can spin something to make it look some way other than it actually is, I expect them to do just that.”

“We’ve vetted Maria,” I remind him. “We’ve seen her work. She doesn’t operate that way. She’s even forewarned us about the impression others might get about some of the footage and the story. I really don’t think we have anything to worry about. If I did, I wouldn’t take her.” He sighs.

“Very well. We’ll see how it goes.” He takes my hand. “I just don’t want this to backfire on us in any way.”

“Neither do I, but we can’t live our entire life behind a veil. We already know that some of it has to be kept secret just because of who we are, but there must be some aspects of our lives where we aren’t constantly looking over our shoulders and waiting for something bad to happen or waiting for ‘the spin,’ or something else. We’re never going to get to that place without a little exposure. Remember what we agreed? Remove some of the splendor? The unified front?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” he says, squeezing my hand. “Just know that I’m still not against putting you and the kids in a bubble… and don’t think I can’t do it.”

“I know you can, Mr. Grey,” I say, rolling my eyes.

*-*

Both Carrick and Grace show up Helping Hands on Saturday morning. Carrick isn’t looking for any camera time, but he does want to make sure that his wife isn’t subjected to any undue stress. We’ve agreed not to discuss the accreditation fiasco on film—just the fact that accreditation is pending and what we hope to accomplish once it’s established. We walk Maria through what a normal day looks like at Helping Hands, careful to only show faces of low-risk families and only with their permission, doing an interview or two with mothers who agreed to be on camera and wanted to discuss how the Center is helping them.

By mid-afternoon, Christian’s diversion tactics are proving stellar as the Paps are nowhere in sight, and Maria, her crew, and I head to my condo. A quick 30-minute tour of my luxury digs overlooking Elliot Bay draws a few questions from the journalist about how such a young woman, a successful psychiatrist though I may be, came upon such lavish accommodations. I tell her the story about the bitter divorce and my stroke of luck in landing the coveted piece of real estate and that even though it was a steal for the price, it wasn’t cheap by any means.

She questions my décor, including the very masculine guest room. I could easily dismiss it with the fact that the apartment is being sublet and that could be the decorating style of the current tenants, but I feel no need to lie to her and dishonesty always comes out in the wash. So, I tell her the truth about Al being my best friend, this being his crash bedroom, and him having a key to my apartment for emergencies. When she furthers questions and discovers that this is the same Al that sat in on the meetings the prior morning as GEH’s attorney, she insists on riding back to the Crossing in the Audi with me to get more information on the relationship.

 

As I fill her in on the development of our little group, starting with me and Al as children, then adding Val and Gary in college, Maxie during my internship and Phil bringing up the rear as our Document Services guy at CCFW, Maria jokes that we sound like an episode of Friends. I humor her, but I totally disagree. Although there are six of us and six of them, I see no similarities in the personalities of the individuals or the dynamics of the group.

It’s early evening by the time we get back to the Crossing, and my boobs are ready to explode. I must excuse myself for a little while to pop a tit in the mouth of my babes or there’s going to be a flood to rival the days of Noah any second now. Mikey is more than ready for me when I get to the nursery and Minnie is just getting ready for her bath. I’m only to happy to silence his protests with an aching mammary that I am so surprised didn’t leak well before now. I relax in the rocking chair an accommodate his eager little sucking mouth, his little hand squeezing my mound as if he hopes to produce more milk. I sigh with relief as I feel my breast quickly begin to empty at my son’s coaxing, rocking him while gently humming the lullaby I often sang to him and his sister while they were inside me. He nurses for several minutes, seemingly taking only a few breaths for fear that the milk may escape if he stops suckling for even a moment, but after a short while, he calms to a steady rhythm drinking more evenly now that my breast is emptying and he’s beginning to get his fill.

I watch as his blueish-gray eyes lose their focus a bit and his little lids relax only slightly, not in weariness, but in comfort, and I can’t help but laugh to myself. He looks like his father, right after he’s had an orgasm and he’s basking in the afterglow. I don’t know what made me think of that, especially right at this moment while I’m feeding my son, but that look of contentment in his eyes couldn’t be compared to anything else. I guess it’s just that way with men… like father, like son.

I get the sneaking feeling of being watched, and just as I’m about to investigate why I feel like I’m being examined, Keri comes from just behind me with a clean and expectant Minnie Mouse, who was probably glaring at me all the way from the en suite wondering if her brother was going to suck up all the goods.

“Do you want me to give her a bottle?” Keri asks, looking down at Mikey.

“No,” I say, shaking my head. “I think Sir Michael is content. You can burp him and if he needs a little more, he can take the bottle. There’s a whole other breast that needs to be emptied.” I dislodge Mikey from the teat and adjust the emptied boob back into my bra. My chest actually looks lopsided, now. I release the other exploding mound from its prison and swap babies with Keri. Minnie latches on immediately, emptying the right boob even faster than her brother emptied the left.

“She must know she has an audience waiting,” I jest. Keri chuckles.

“I guess soh!” she says as she pats Mikey’s back, trying the help him give up gas. She takes him to the other rocking chair and we finish our task in relative silence, making sure the children are content before we take them down to the family room.

curly locks

Michael Allen Grey

Those blue eyes... (photo by Kim Jew) #toddlers

Mackenzie Anastasia Grey

The children make their television debut under the protective eyes of Christian and me, not to mention a mass of security. Maria jokes about how it’s not fair that two gorgeous people should produce such stunning children, and we don’t know if she’s only saying these things for the cameras, but we’re certainly smitten with our babies, so we can’t be unbiased. Christian took the liberty of showing Maria and the camera crew around various parts of the mansion and the grounds while I fed the children since we were running short on time and still had portions of the home interview that needed to be shot.

Elliot managed to steal some camera time, although Val opted to steer clear. She hasn’t really liked the limelight since her medical issues and such. Grace only capitalized on a moment or two to help publicize the work of Helping Hands while I was at the Center and Carrick stayed incognito, much like Val. I think he stayed out of sight because we still don’t know why he was being followed. Mia and Ethan are somewhere buried deep in wedding whatnots and never even made an appearance.

All things work and interview come to a halt for dinner and we feed the crew and staff while we eat. We then continue the interview in different portions of the house, different settings, and different topics, before calling it a night. The final segments will be shot tomorrow at the gun range and by now, the Paps are on that something’s definitely up with the Greys. There are only a few of them at the gate when Maria and her crew leave for the hotel in the evening, but we’re sure that there will be an entourage in the morning.

Unfortunately, that’s not all that’s waiting for us in the morning…

*-*

“Ana, Christian, before we begin, is there someplace quiet where we can talk?”

We didn’t have much trouble getting to the gun range in the morning. Even less trouble getting in when we get here. The Paps knew that the true story was with Maria, so they stuck to her for the night. Unfortunately for them, she had a back-up plan to get away from them as well—decoy vans to head in one direction and harmless, rented, soccer-mom-looking minivans to bring equipment and staff to the gun range. There were a few Paps who were smart enough not to fall for the decoy trick twice, but not enough to cause a problem, and they still couldn’t get past the private barricades once they got to the gun range.

Now, Maria stands in the lobby of the West Coast Armory, her face concerned, but not grave, requesting a private audience with us before we shoot the last segment, pun intended. Christian frowns.

“One second.” He goes over to the owner and has a quick word. I want to question Maria about exactly what’s going on, but I know it would probably only antagonize her and the situation further.

“We can use this office,” Christian says, gesturing us towards a door behind the counter. When we enter the office, Christian switches on the lights. There’s a desk directly in front of us and a table near the far wall. Maria gestures us over to the table and we all take a seat. She pulls out an apparatus of some kind that looks like a mini-handheld television.

“Apparently, there was a staff member that was added at the last minute to replace one that was injured—a grip from another set. Although he signed all the necessary documentation and passed all the background checks, he wasn’t sufficiently briefed on all the protocol surrounding this particular interview. Keeping in line with our agreement for full disclosure and only using pre-approved material, there’s something that I should show you.”

Maria pushes a button on the apparatus she’s holding, and the screen comes alive with a rough and uncut scene of me in the nursery with Mikey. I’m in the rocking chair and you can only see the back of me and the top of Mikey’s head, but it’s clear that I’m breastfeeding. I’m humming our lullaby to him, occasionally singing portions of the song and lovingly looking at my son as he nurses.

“I… I remember this… I came upstairs to feed the children. Who…?” I frown as I continue to watch the footage and this grip, who apparently knows his way around a camera, zooms in on my private moment with my son. Keri walks in and blocks his view of me and he curses. That must have been when we swapped Mikey for Minnie. Thank God Keri was standing there, or he might have gotten a picture of my bare breast! My fingers touch my lips and I feel myself flush for a moment, which doesn’t get by Christian.

“Butterfly?” he says, softly, causing Maria to her gaze to me. I’m still watching the screen, waiting for even the slightest slip. Christian’s hand is gently caressing my back as I remain in attentive silence.

“Butterfly, what is it?” I gently silence him by holding up my hand as I watch the footage until Keri moves. Minnie is settled, and I’m rocking and humming again. This scene plays on for a few minutes more before I hear other voices, the grip guys curses again, and the camera jolts before the footage ends.

“That’s it,” she says with a sigh. “That’s all of it. I’m really sorry. I’ve worked with every person on this team for years and nothing like this has ever happened before. This was a new addition the day we were flying out and I was assured that he had been briefed. Apparently, he had not.” I’m still sitting with my fingers on my lips. “Ana?”

“I was breastfeeding my children,” I say, finally, raising my eyes to her. “You saw, I was feeding my son.” I turn to Christian. “Mikey was on this breast and when Keri moved, Minnie was on this one.” I demonstrate moving my children from breast to breast. “What was he looking for? What was he trying to do? He sat there watching me feed my children for at least… what, 10 or 15 minutes? What was he hoping for, a nip slip or something?”

Christian’s jaw tightens as he turns his glare to Maria. He wants an answer to my question.

“I don’t know what his intentions were,” Maria says. “I could speculate and say that he might have been hoping that the bonus material would secure him a position on a more coveted show or even a promotion of some kind. He knows that our contracts and agreements are airtight and there’s no way that he could have sold the footage to anyone outside of the network without immeasurable repercussions. There’s no way he could have profited off this footage, so I have no way of knowing what he was trying to do.”

“Oh, there’s one way,” Christian retorts, his voice betraying his barely suppressed anger. “Haul his ass in here and ask him point blank what the fuck he was getting at!” Maria sighs.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Christian,” she says, her voice dropping a bit.

“And why not?” my husband nearly roars.

“That’s why!” she says, gesturing to him. “You’re passionate and ready to rip someone apart, and I have no doubt that you can. We don’t want to give him any kind of grounds to take action against you.”

“Action against me!” Christian says, struggling to maintain his composure. “He took unauthorized footage of my wife in our children’s nursery and we’re talking about action against me? I must be hallucinating this conversation!” Maria sighs again.

“Please listen to me,” she says, her voice firm, but soothing. “I’ve been in very close proximity to the two of you for nearly every minute of the last 48 hours. I’ve watched you eat; I’ve watched you work; I’ve watched you together; I’ve watched you apart; I’ve watched you with family and friends, with your children, and with your colleagues and subordinates. I’ve watched you in just about every setting that a person or couple could be in and it wasn’t until about five minutes ago that I discovered that you call her ‘Butterfly.’”

I look over at Christian and frown. He doesn’t take his eyes of Maria. He didn’t call me Butterfly around her? I hadn’t even noticed.

“From the expression on Ana’s face, I take it that this is a regular occurrence. Yet, you have been able to keep it from me for two days. That’s because you’re a man of control. You control yourself, your surroundings, and you definitely control the release of information about you—and that’s something that you either didn’t want made public, or you hadn’t decided yet.

“Now, your wick has burned all the way down to the wax and there is visible dynamite underneath—dynamite that I haven’t seen in 48 hours—and you want me to bring in the powder keg,” she concludes.

“You said it yourself,” Christian says, his voice even, “I’m passionate about my wife and my family, and I have a right to confront him about what he did.”

“I understand that,” Maria replies. “However, while I must protect you and your privacy, I must also assure his safety while he’s on the job. You must see how you’re putting me in an impossible situation here.” Christian sucks his teeth and nods.

“Why tell us about this at all, then?” Christian says with an angry shrug. “You could have handled this between you and your staff and your station and just trashed the footage. Why bring this to my attention if I have no say-so in it?”

“You do have a say-so in it,” Maria disputes. “I can’t, in good conscience, shoot anything in your home of you or your family, your business, your life, without making you aware of it or without your permission…”

“And you can’t use it without our permission,” I pinpoint. That’s what this is all about, isn’t it?

“I wouldn’t use it without your permission,” she says succinctly. “I have no intention of using it at all. It wasn’t part of the agenda we discussed,” she says pointedly, not taking down to my obvious accusatory tone. “However…” her voice trails a bit. And here’s the clincher. “This footage was shot on my watch. I have to take responsibility for it whatever happens to it. It’s now the property of the station, and whether it’s used or destroyed, I have to make you aware of it.”

“So, what you’re trying to tell us in a veiled manner,” Christian begins, “is that you can still use this footage, correct?” That’s what I’m getting at.

“We could, yes, but not legally without your permission,” Maria repeats. “Remember, you asked,” she says, pointedly. “You asked why say anything about it? Why not just destroy it? This is the answer. You have to know about it. I have to make you aware of it, even if I destroy it, because it was shot by one of my staff on my watch in your home. There’s no hidden agenda here, guys. This is not a reality show. I don’t set up bad situations so that I can catch you in candidly horrible moods and compromising positions. What you see is what you get. I don’t operate in shady techniques, so if there is a question or a concern or a suspicion that you have, come on out with it!”

I think the broadcast journalist lady is getting offended.

“My only question, concern, or suspicion is why I can’t confront the man who snuck around my house and filmed my wife in a semi-exposed state!” Christian huffs. “You talk about protection of our privacy and being on the up-and-up, but how would you feel if this were you? What if you found out that your privacy, your rights had been violated in the confines of your own home and the person who did it is being squirreled away and protected from you because of something someone thinks you’re going to do and you don’t even get the right to question him? How strong would your faith be in that organization?”

Maria examines Christian and then me for several moments, then rolls her eyes around the room in contemplation.

“I want you to know that I have never been in this position before,” she confesses. “I’m going to ask that you and Ana please move to the other side of the table.”

Christian and I look at each other. In any other situation, I think we would be offended. Under the circumstances, it doesn’t seem like such an unreasonable request. We stand and walk around the table. Christian pulls my chair out and I take a seat. As he sits, he immediately pulls out his phone as does Maria. They both talk in hushed voices, and in the next few moments, Jason and Chuck enter the room and stand near the desk. Oh, shit. A minute or two later, two other guys enter the office. One stands near the desk with Chuck and Jason while the other comes over to the table and takes the seat next to Maria.

“Ana, Christian, this is Reginald Blanke,” Maria says. “He’s our substitute grip guy and the one who shot the footage.”

“The unauthorized footage of my wife breastfeeding our children in their nursery in an otherwise off-limits portion of the house, correct?” Christian asks, glaring at the grip guy.

“That’s correct,” Maria says.

“I’d like to hear his answer,” Christian retorts, still glaring at Grip Boy.

“I… think I should probably have legal representation present,” he says, his voice small.

Wrong answer.

“Oh,” Christian says, his voice taking on sarcastic surprise. “Now, you want legal representation. You didn’t seem to think that was a problem while you were filming my wife and her exposed breast in my children’s bedroom. So, maybe we should just end the questions and the interview right now, withdraw our consent for this whole thing, and sue you and your network until I’ve decimated you and all your hopes and dreams, hmm? Then you can go on and seek your legal representation.

Christian sits back in his seat and waits for Grip Boy’s response. He’s pale and looks like he wants to speak. His lips are moving, but nothing is coming out of his mouth.

“Reggie,” Maria says, calmly, her head down, “answer the questions. You don’t have a leg to stand on and this man will bury you so far into obscurity that they will never find you with a birth certificate, full bio, DNA, and hound dogs.”

I almost want to laugh at the accuracy and the comedy of the statement. Yet, inside, I feel… angry. Why is he sitting here all afraid and bashful? He was behind the camera yesterday cursing at missed opportunities, so why is he sitting here today all anxious and timid? And what was he going for? If all he wanted was quiet and private moments, he got at least ten minutes of that, but he cursed when Keri blocked his view and when someone interrupted him. So, what was he looking for? What footage was he really trying to get?


CHRISTIAN

Blanke pulls at his collar a bit and adjusts in his seat while Maria mumbles something to him that I can’t quite hear. It doesn’t really matter, because I’ll pull the plug on this whole thing and just go about showing the world in my own way that my wife and I won’t be victims anymore. So, this little opportunist has about five seconds to open his mouth before Operation-Papa-Bear-Grey-Has-Lost-His-Ever-Loving-Rabbit-Ass-Mind goes into effect.

“Yes, sir,” Blanke mumbles, barely over a whisper.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that,” I say. I expect submissives to be shy and retiring, not intrusive, perverted opportunists who try to get partially naked pictures of my wife. He clears his throat.

“Yes, sir, I took the unauthorized footage,” he says, but won’t elaborate.

“Why?” I ask. He sighs and starts talking, his face buried in his chest. I can’t hear anything he’s saying.

“Let’s play a game,” I interrupt him. “Unless you want to repeat your entire story twice, let’s pretend that my face is that camera lens that you were looking through when you were recording my wife, and try telling that story one more time, shall we?” I fold my hands on the table and allow him to start again. When he makes eye-contact with me, I realize that he’s really just a kid. He’s probably only 23 or 24 years old, but I don’t give a fuck, because his dick is fully grown!

“I was just trying to get some cutting-edge footage from behind the camera so that they would consider putting me on more assignments,” he says. “I get stuck on the local stuff and the fluff pieces, shorts and stuff and I don’t get any kind of credit or anything. I just wanted to show Maria that I could get some real material.”

“And you did this without any consideration for the contracts you signed?” I retort. “We were very specific about the coverage that we wanted to use. We made our specifications completely clear to Maria and to your company before we invited you into our home, into our lives—and if you were unsure about what was acceptable and unacceptable, then you should have cleared it first before you went rogue trying to make a name for yourself!”

“I knew she would have to tell you, Mr. Grey,” Blanke defends. “I knew we would need your permission before we used any of the footage…”

“You would need my permission before you shot any of the footage,” I clarify. “Even the location of candid shots was cleared with us. Although the nursery was cleared with us and that footage already taken, my wife breastfeeding our children therein was not!”

“I took the footage straight to Maria this morning,” he defends. “I haven’t shown it to anyone else or did anything else with it.”

“You very well better hope you haven’t!” I snap. “Because if that footage shows up anywhere else, life as you know it is over.” Maria leans in to him and mumbles, “I told you.”

“You. Shot. Unauthorized. Footage. Of private. Moments. Of me. With my. Children.”

The growling, deep, menacing voice is coming from my Butterfly that silences everyone in the room. I was so focused on this Blanke motherfucker that I didn’t notice that she’s been sitting here this entire time simmering. I look over at my wife and I can see that her temper is now holding on by a spider’s web.

“You snuck around my house like a prowler; you lurked in the doorway of my infants’ bedroom and you filmed video coverage of me and my exposed breast with my babies without my permission like a sick peeping tom. You violated our rights, our privacy, our trust, and your contract. Now, besides the fifty or hundred million dollars that it would cost me for doing so, which I would gladly pay right now just for the opportunity, you give me one good reason why I shouldn’t leap across this table and rip your eyes out of their fucking sockets right now!”

Good. Fucking. Grief. She is scaring me. I reach over to touch her to try to calm her. Her fists are clenched, and the portion of her hands that are exposed—her knuckles—are like ice. She doesn’t react at all to my touch. I throw a cautionary glance towards Maria, whose brow furrows questioningly at me.

“I… um…” Blanke swallows, his eyes darting warily between me and my wife. Her fist still clenched, she addresses him again.

“You took the liberty of wandering through my home until you located me—alone, in my children’s bedroom, with my babies, in a state of partial undress. You say you were looking for cutting-edge footage. What kind of cutting-edge footage, Reggie?” She injects a heinous amount of venom into his name. “You got a solid ten minutes of a mother nursing her child. That’s real cutting-edge. I’d say that’s a whole lot more cutting edge than watching me fire my nine at the gun range, wouldn’t you?” She adds, her sarcasm evident.

A small sheen of sweat starts to bead on Blanke’s forehead and he looks to Maria for guidance, but gets no assistance from the journalist.

“You cursed when my nanny blocked your view of me,” she points out, “when we swapped the babies and I swapped breasts. You sat there for several more minutes… waiting—until somebody’s voice interrupted you and you had to flee. You got several minutes of footage of nothing but my back and me singing to my babies and you cursed both times you missed the chance to get something else. What. Were you. Waiting for?”

We all know the answer to that question, but Butterfly is trying to get him to admit it. He’d rather chew nails than admit that he was hoping to get a glimpse of her bare breast for whatever purpose—to sell, to use as leverage, for his own perverted thrill—but that was his goal, and everyone in the room knows it.

Butterfly’s fists open, and her hands flatten on the table. Her jaw tightens, and she takes in a breath and releases it. If I didn’t know better, I would swear… oh, fuck.

I turn to face my wife in the vain hope that my movement and proximity will distract her. I place one arm around the back of her chair, gently stroking her back and the other on the table just behind her elbow. I’m leaning slightly forward, my legs parted, my feet flat on the floor, my weight shifted towards my calves. I can move quickly if I must, and this fucker is not answering fast enough.

“I was feeding my son, for God’s sake!” she shoots. “I know women do it in public. I’ve done it in public, but I still cover up when I do it! I wasn’t in public; I was in private—behind closed doors, and you were deliberately trying to get a glimpse! On camera, no less!” she accuses finally. His eyes widen.

“I was no… I was…” He looks like a floundering fish searching for water.

“Don’t try to deny it!” Butterfly retorts. “You won’t admit it, and nobody here will say it, but I know. You sure as hell wasn’t looking for ten tender minutes of me nursing my babies because you got that! So, what the hell were you looking for, you fucking perv? There was no reason in God’s name for you to be in the private living area. What the hell were you doing on the second floor anyway?”

Related imageI see a huge question mark appear in Maria’s eyes almost like a cartoon and the gentleman who had been quiet and standing with Chuck and Jason chooses now to speak.

“Come to think of it,” he says, “I sent you to get shots of the aquarium on the ground level. Did you ever get those shots?”

“Y-yeah… I got… I got those,” Blanke responds.

“So, I try to give you a chance—let you out of my sight for a few minutes to get shots of the aquarium, and you go wandering around the house, taking shots of the Misses?” the guy asks incredulously. Blanke starts to squirm again.

“It wasn’t like that!” Blanke defends. “I got back on the elevator to come back to the main shoot, but I wasn’t paying attention and must’ve pushed the wrong floor. When it opened to the second floor, I heard her voice and saw her going towards the room, so… I decided to follow and… just hope for some candid shots…”

“Liar!” Butterfly’s voice reverberates off the walls and her gloved fist comes down hard on the surface of the table, causing a loud, thunderous crashing sound to rumble through the room, silencing everyone in the office and in the lobby outside. I refrain from leaping at her when I realize that she hasn’t risen out of her seat.

“Ana, he’s trying to explain…” Maria interjects.

“He’s lying!” Butterfly interrupts venomously, turning her gaze back to Blanke. “The center elevator was locked. Security made sure of it. That means he had to take the elevator on the south side of the house, at least 800 feet away. Now, unless he has the hearing of a bat and Superman’s x-ray vision to see through walls, he’s lying about hearing or seeing me go to my children’s nursery, and even if he had, what gave him the right to come snooping in on my private time with my babies? He still hasn’t answered that question!” she spits. “I am not. A piece of meat!” she spews. “And it’s because of the thinking of assholes like him that I can’t escape that goddamn stereotype!”

For the first time, I see Maria lose her composure. Her fingers rub roughly at her eyebrows and her decorum flies out the window.

“Oh my God Reggie how could you be so fucking stupid!?” she hisses in a vicious whisper all in one breath. “He told you to get panoramic footage of the aquarium… the goddamn aquarium! The only live subjects you had to shoot were the fish!” She sighs an exasperated sigh and never raises her gaze from the table… and I suddenly get a brilliant idea.

“Use the footage,” I say, flatly. Everyone’s head shoots up at once.

“What?” Butterfly says, incredulously.

“Use the footage,” I repeat. “It shows you in your best light—unrehearsed, candid, beautiful. You didn’t know the cameras were rolling. You were perfect with our children—gentle, attentive, caring, what every mother should be… totally oblivious to the fact that anyone was watching you. Anything that we did over the last three days could have been staged or rehearsed… except that.”

Butterfly still looks uncertain while the wheels are visibly turning in Maria’s head. I decide to sweeten the deal a little to help ease my wife’s fears a bit.

“I have a few stipulations,” I continue. Maria’s back straightens.

“They are…?” she asks.

“First, once this conversation is over, he’s off set,” I say pointing to Blanke. “A member of my security staff stays with him until you all board the plane. I don’t trust him anymore and that’s the only way you and he avoid a lawsuit for his breach.” His face pales.

“Done,” Maria agrees, which won’t be difficult since this is the last shoot we have to do. “Next?”

“Anything he has filmed is unusable. No matter what it is, if it needs to be filmed again, you need to let me know before you leave Seattle. If he worked as a grip, fine. If he was behind the camera, no.” Maria nods again.

“He’s probably only gotten landscapes and maybe backgrounds here and there. Grips don’t do any shooting. Like he said, he was hoping to get a foot in somewhere. Maybe now, he’ll stick to rolling the dollies,” she says.

“Good. Then that makes my third stipulation much easier. He gets no credit for the footage.” Butterfly perks up with that announcement. Blanke’s mouth falls open.

“Of course,” Maria says, with no hesitation.

“But I shot it,” Blanke protests, “and you’re using it! You have to give me credit!” Maria’s head jerks violently over her shoulder at him.

“We still have an interview and you’re not being sued, Reggie. Now, shut up and hope you still have a job when we get back to New York!” she spits. Blanke zips his lips at Maria’s command and she turns her attention back to me.

“Anything else?” she asks.

“I think that about covers it,” I say, sitting back in my seat and folding my arms. Maria nods and turns her attention to Ana.

“How about you, Ana? Are you okay with that? Is there anything you’d like to add?” Butterfly purses her lips before speaking.

“Thank you for asking me,” she says, her tone firm. “No, that’s fine with me,” she says as she stands from the table. She entwines her fingers together to press her shooting gloves down between them on each hand, and strides out of the room, those black jeans hugging that beautiful, round ass. Even with her hips swaying seductively from side to side, her entire garb and demeanor—from the bulletproof vest and black baseball cap to the black Timberland hiking boots—labels her as a force to be reckoned with and causes every man in the room to silently step aside as she exits. Maria groans almost inaudibly under her voice and I roll my eyes and sigh, causing Maria to turn her attention to me.

“Get ready for some fancy shootin’,” I say, in one of the worst deep south accents I’ve ever heard, causing Maria to involuntarily scoff a laugh before shaking her head at me. She looks back at Blanke and stands from the table.

“Get ‘im outta here,” she says dismissively, pointing a thumb behind her back to no one. I nod at Jason, signaling him to make sure that someone sticks to this asshole until he leaves the state. I pop my neck and prepare for a tense morning, hoping that Butterfly’s anger and aggression at this situation doesn’t shine through on camera. It’s not the image we’re trying to portray. Nearly everyone has left the office and Maria and I are the last to exit.

“Christian,” Maria stops me before we go out to the range. “You have to tell me something.” I turn to face her. “You know I call it like I see it. While Ana was talking to Reggie, you tried to come off as attentive and protective, but you looked more like the tackle ready to sack the quarterback… or was I misreading that?” I scratch my stubble before answering.

“Maria. My wife’s father is a Marine. If you do any research on any of her years prior to meeting me, which I’m sure you already have, you’re going to find some horrendous things. My wife got terrible news while we were on our honeymoon that she could do nothing about. My security staff and I took turns—15-minute non-stop sessions—of her whaling away at mitts on our hands with boxing gloves on hers until she wore herself out. It was a very painful experience for all of us. You saw the heavy bag in the workout room that now takes the brunt of that abuse.

“When I first met my wife, before we started dating, I discovered that we worked out at the same gym. I practice kickboxing. She practices Krav Maga. I watched her put her instructor—a martial arts specialist the size of one of my bodyguards—in a submission hold, and have him banging on the mat begging for mercy. His crime? He attacked her from behind. It took three men to coax her off him, because she wasn’t letting go.

“This part is off the record,” I preface, and she nods. “I had a crazy ex show up at my penthouse. She wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and she was very disrespectful to Butterfly, who wasn’t my wife at the time. She was in the kitchen cutting vegetables at the time. The crazy ex threw some flippant threat at my wife as she was leaving. Butterfly launched that knife at that woman, which sliced her split ends and landed point first in the door right in front of her.”

Maria’s eye’s pierce as I tell the tale of Elena’s last visit to the penthouse.

“Oh, that’s not the end. When the crazy ex left, and I scolded Butterfly for throwing the knife, indicating that had she not missed, she could have killed the woman, she assured me that she hadn’t missed and proved it by opening the drawer and launching two more knives at my front door, both of them lining up perfectly next to the first, not a centimeter apart. Had I not ceded that I got her point, there would have been more holes in the door—which, if I remember correctly, she promptly repaired with a nail file and caulk.”

Maria is still in awe, but tries not to scoff at the last statement.

“If you saw me about to sack the quarterback, you were right, because had she leapt at that man and got her hands on him, God save him. That woman is a lethal weapon. She may be registered for those guns, but she should be registered for a whole lot more. She’s deadly gorgeous, she’s smart and intuitive, she’s strong, she can operate basic projectile weapons, and she holds a Ph.D. and knows her way around the human body and mind. She’s a whole lotta hell in a small package. She’s someone I’d want on my team in any fight—mental or physical. I was never your worry… she was.”


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

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 ~~love and handcuffs