Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 28

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

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

Season 5 Episode 28

ANASTASIA

“Hey, Baby Boo, if you make me a batch of those chocolate truffles, I’ll do the dishes for you.” Sophie’s eyes light up.

“Deal, Dad!” she says. She opens the refrigerator and produces a healthy bowl of truffles, handing them to her father. Jason’s mouth falls open.

“You little sneaky mouse,” he says, and Sophie giggles.

“Are there any more leftovers, Sophie?” Christian asks from the counter. “I’d love more of the coq au vin.”

“Yes, Uncle Christian, there’s leftovers of everything.”

“May I have a doggy bag?” he asks.

“Me, too,” I chime in. “The tart is basically a memory, now, but I’d love servings of whatever you’ve got left.”

“C’est un sac gastronomique, Oncle Christian,” Sophie corrects. Christian and I both raise a brow at her.

“Tu peux parler Français?” I ask in awe. Sophie puts her finger and thumb together.

“Un peu,” she admits. “I’m learning at school; some on my own on the internet.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don’t take all my food, you gluttons!” Jason warns.

“Pipe down, you blow hard,” Christian says. “Besides, it’s not your food, it’s Sophie’s food. Don’t worry, we’ll leave some for you. And while you’re balking, give up some of those truffles!”

“Not a chance!” Jason retorts. “I bartered for these! I earned them! Get your own, you loafer!”

“You haven’t washed a single dish, yet!” Christian protests. “Who’s the glutton now?”

“But I will, so stay away from my chocolates!”

Sophie giggles at two grown men fighting over her food as she artfully crafts foil swans just like they do in the fancy restaurants and fills them with servings of what’s left of dinner while Christian and Jason bicker about the chocolates. I have to tear Christian away from the brawl and scoot him out of the apartment, bidding Gail goodnight and offering my apologies to a giggling Sophie for her Uncle Christian’s immature behavior.

When we get to the elevator, Christian pushes the button for the second floor. My brow furrows.

“You don’t want to put the food away?” I ask.

“Oh, I intend to,” he says with a nod. Catching his meaning, I laugh.

“And here I was wondering how I was going to maneuver a midnight kitchen run.”

*-*

“She was very happy with the outcome last night,” Gail says as we sit at the breakfast bar the next morning.

“Well, the food was really good,” I reply. “It’s not like we had to lie about it. Those foil swans went right up to the suite last night. We ate our leftovers and watched TV.” Gail and I laugh.

“I thought Jason was going to get downright violent over those chocolate truffles,” she laughs.

“Tell me about it!” I say with mirth, “Two grown men fighting over chocolate.”

“That’s okay,” Christian says coming into the kitchen. “I know he’s bringing some of those chocolate goodies to work today and if he doesn’t share them, he can’t have any more Christmas cookies.”

“Are you serious?” I gasp a laugh. “Christmas is nine months away! How are you even going to remember that?”

“Oh, I’ll remember,” he says. “The minute I smell that goodness baking in the air, I’ll remember.”

“Oh, this is ridiculous,” I say. “I guess we’re going to have to bribe Sophie into making a batch of those truffles every week or we’re going to have civil war here!”

“That works for me,” Christian chimes in shamelessly. I smile to myself, then shake my head.

“Shalane is really doing a huge disservice by keeping Sophie from going to Italy!” I hiss. “She’s a natural talent, and now she wants to go to the motherland of Italian cooking where she can learn the background behind the food and take advantage of the culture and her mom is trying to hinder her. She can’t do much else for the girl while she’s locked away. Why wouldn’t she do this?”

“I don’t think she’s concerned about all that,” Christian says. “I think she’s concerned about her own selfish things and hurting Jason. Maybe she wants to make Sophie beg some more.”

“That’s just ridiculous!” I snap. “That girl could turn out to be magnificent and this is her chance to help her and she won’t do it. What a despicable human being.”

“Talking about my mom?” Sophie says, surprising us all and coming around the corner from the family room and into the kitchen. We’re all in stunned and ashamed silence because none of us expected her to still be here.

“Pumpkin, what are you still doing here?” Gail asks.

“We’re running a little late,” she says. “I think Dad was in a sugar coma.”

“He ate ‘em all?” Christian exclaims, dismayed, and Sophie shrugs. “No Christmas cookies! Not one!” he declares finitely. I sigh.

“Sophie, I will pay you to make those truffles once a week,” I declare. Her eyes widen.

“Once a week? Really?” she asks.

“Yes, because if you don’t, these two are going to kill each other over those chocolates!”

“Sure,” she says. “They’re so easy to make. And, yeah, my mother’s a… word that I can’t use.” Sophie puts her bookbag on the counter and goes to the refrigerator. She opens the Subzero and stops.

“You didn’t… like the food?” she asks me and Christian. I frown.

“Why would you think that?” I ask.

“The swans aren’t in here,” she says sadly. Christian and I laugh immediately.

“No, Sophie, we loved that food… so much, in fact, that it never made it to the refrigerator.” Sophie’s brow furrows.

“You ate it for breakfast?” she asks.

“We ate it for an after-dinner snack,” Christian clarifies. “Boy, that would have been a sight to see… two grown billionaires in their pajamas eating mashed potatoes in bed with their fingers!” Sophie bursts out laughing.

“You ate with your fingers?” she giggles.

“I didn’t feel like coming back downstairs for utensils,” he explains. Satisfied, and still giggling, Sophie removes the orange juice from the refrigerator.

“Sophie,” I say tentatively, “since you already know what we were talking about, I want to ask you a question. I know that I asked if you wanted to help decorate the villa, but… I don’t want to make you feel badly about… you know, helping to decorate it and then not getting to see it.” Sophie’s eyes widen.

“Please, let me help you decorate the villa, Aunt Ana,” she beseeches. “It may be the closest I get to Italy this year. Please?” I sigh. I hate that she’s going through this.

“Of course, you can, Sophie,” I say. “I just didn’t know if you would still want to.”

“I still want to,” she says, “even if I don’t get to see it in person.” I try not to shake my head.

“You’re such a grown-up girl,” I say. “You surprise me every day.”

She giggles into her orange juice and I catch a glimpse of Jason out of the corner of my eye. He is fuming, and I’m not really sure why. I inconspicuously elbow Christian, but he has the tact of a goat sometimes and rubbernecks his head right over to Jason.

Fuck.

Jason sees the possible problem brewing and comes out of his hiding place. What the hell was he doing eavesdropping back there anyway?

“Ready to go, Baby Boo?” he says in his normal voice. “I’m sorry we’re going to be late. I told Jeff I would take you to school and then I dropped the ball. Too many chocolates, I guess.”

“Stingy hog,” Christian says under his breath before finishing his coffee. He stands and kisses me on the cheek. “Love you.”

“Love you, too,” I reply. “Drop the word to those loafers not to get too comfortable. I’ll be back to bring some hell next week. I just need to make sure the center is running okay.”

“Will do,” he says, walking past Jason.

“I’m ready, Dad,” Sophie says. She finishes her orange juice and puts her glass in the sink.

“Bye, Momma Gail,” she says, kissing Gail on the cheek.

“See you after school, Pumpkin,” Gail replies.

“Bye, Aunt Ana!” she says, dashing past her Dad.

“Bye. Sophie,” I say to her retreating back. Jason falls in step behind her, and I suppose Christian will find out why he’s fuming.

*-*

It’s business as usual at the Center. Courtney informs me that things are still touch and go with her grandfather, and she’s not hopeful that it’ll change any time soon, but that he has agreed not to harass her as long as she doesn’t do anything to hurt Addie. She had already written off the relationship, so nothing that he said to her had any merit as far as she was concerned. So, in her own words, she’s no better off than she was before and no worse.

Ebony didn’t come in today. She hasn’t missed a day since I hired her, so this gives me cause for concern. She’s not answering her cell phone, and I don’t want to send someone to her address on file simply because she missed a day of work. I’ll just have to wait and see how things pan out.

Marilyn didn’t come in today either. She and Gary went back to her doctor to see if her condition needs any further intervention since she’s unable to keep food down.

There were a couple of residents who needed to chat today and work through some fears and problems, but besides that, like I said, business as usual.

I left the Center a couple of hours early to go to my annual checkup with Dr. Culley, my OB/GYN. After the usual pap smear and the regular barrage of tests, she informs me that since I’ve stopped breastfeeding, my normal periods should begin again in about a month or so.

Christian has made it home by the time I get there and he’s down in his study working on God only knows what. I’m hoping that I don’t have to roll through GEH again and rattle some cages, because I don’t have a problem doing just that if my husband turns into a bear again. However, it looks like the same old thing for him—business as usual.

I go to my study to get a look at the blueprints for the villa. Pop’s death last year put everything on hold and to be honest, so much has occurred in the nine months since that date that I haven’t given any thought whatsoever to the place. Who’s been taking care of it? Has it just laid vacant all this time? I would imagine that someone is looking after it just like they are his other properties when he’s away—which, by the way, I’m still not sure of all of them after the years we’ve been together. I think there’s one in New York, one in Hawaii, and a ski resort somewhere, but I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask him one day.

I never even got to look at the Villa last year. I don’t even know if the link to the virtual tour is still available. I know I have the floor plan and blueprints though. That’s somewhere to start. I open the file where I saved the basic floor plan.

Holy cow, Batman.

Is this right? This can’t be right!

“Christian!” I bellow.

“What?” My husband comes barreling into my office a few moments after I call him. He looks anxious. Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you, but…

“The villa, Christian,” I say. “This place is bigger than my house!”

He glares at me for a moment. Then he puts his hands on his hips.

“Woman, you just screamed like you were being attacked and it’s about the villa?” he asks incredulously.

“It’s got 14 bedrooms, Christian! What the fuck am I supposed to do with 14 bedrooms?”

“Rent ’em out!” he snaps. “Invite the homeless to stay! Open a museum and charge admission for all I care!” he adds, throwing his hands in the air. “Woman screaming bloody murder. Scared the shit outta me!” He leaves the room mumbling and fussing at no one.

I didn’t mean to startle him, but fuck. Fourteen fucking bedrooms? What a colossal waste of space! Fourteen bedrooms for two people. It’s going to cost a fortune to decorate this place and then we’re only going to stay there for two weeks out of the year… and not every year! Damn straight, the family’s coming. I thought this was going to be fun. I’m going to have to move fast—real fast. And I have to find someone to decorate this damn place overseas! For fuck’s sake. I would have started this last year had I known. I get up and stomp into Christian’s study.

“Is this place at least empty?” I ask.

“For the most part, yes, Anastasia it is,” he says without raising his head.

“Don’t Anastasia me!” I bark. “I’ve got to find a decorator overseas—or one that we plan to fly overseas—that can decorate a 14-bedroom villa in two and a half months. Don’t you think you should have told me?” Now, he raises his gaze to me.

“We’ve owned that villa for longer than our children have been alive,” he retorts coolly. “Forgive me if I thought you already knew by now.”

Probably a hundred snappy comebacks attack me at once about the crazy couple of years we’ve had and how the last thing on my mind would be the floor plan of a villa a million miles away. As soon as the comebacks pop to mind, my thoughts get all jumbled like they often do with a three-second funnel…

I should be grateful; he bought me a villa.
This asshole could’ve told me it was 14 bedrooms.
I’m being petty I should have fun with this.
How the hell am I supposed to decorate all this space in three months!
We’ll have our own space to relax in while we’re in Italy. It’ll be so romantic.
I’m not even going to be there! Who the fuck is going to oversee this shit?

I know I do the bobble head and at the end of the three-second funnel, all I get is, “Get the fuck outta this room.”

So, I do.

I march my confused ass back to my office and slam the door. I drop back down in my seat and look at the blueprints on my laptop screen… forlorn. I hope the virtual walk-through still works, because if it doesn’t, I’m completely screwed. I have to find a decorator that’s willing to decorate the home… overseas… without me being there… and it has to be someone that somebody in the family knows or else they have to be vetted and that could take a fucking month.

I drop my head in dismay on the laptop and groan my displeasure. After I lament for a moment or two, I realize that I have no time to waste if I want to get this damn thing decorated before June. I really can’t be mad at Christian, but I can… but I can’t… but I am. Had I known what I was dealing with, I would have chosen paint colors, textiles, and flooring long ago. Now, my only option is to choose a style and run with it. I click the link for the virtual tour and, thank God, it still works.

I can get a feel of what the villa looks like, but not what I’m really working with since the rooms are all full of this Metro-Euro-Contemporary-Americano-Modern whatever this crap is so I can’t even get a good look at the walls or the floors, only the layout. This whole first-person tour thing is not really working for me. It’s the whole 3D, virtual reality thing instead of watching a movie, which gives you a better feel for the space. It just looks like a big ass house that I need to decorate.

So, yeah, I’m screwed. I groan again, retrieve my cell and call Elliot.

“Montana, what’s the word?” he answers.

“Help me,” I groan.

“Well, you sound sorrowful,” he says. “What’s up?”

“Did Christian tell you that he bought me a villa in Italy?” I say.

“He may have mentioned it, yeah,” Elliot says.

“We’re taking a Roman vacation in June,” I tell him. “I don’t know when we’ll end up in the villa, maybe July. I have to decorate it before that!”

“Okay, well, three months, that’s good time,” he soothes.

“Elliot, the damn thing has 14 bedrooms.” The line is quiet for a moment.

“Fourteen?” he nearly shrieks. “What the fuck are you going to do with 14 bedrooms?”

“My sentiments exactly!” I concur. “You know Christian’s motto—go big or go bigger!” I can almost see Elliot rubbing the back of his neck.

“What are you gonna do?” he asks.

“I was hoping you could help me with that part,” I admit. “Know any designers—good and discreet designers—who are willing to take on this overseas job with a bottomless budget and decorate my villa for me?”

He’s quiet again.

“Come on, Elliot, you gotta know somebody,” I reply.

“I know a few that might be able to do it. Getting them is going to be the problem. Spring is right around the corner and they’re in high demand right now.”

“Elliot, when I say bottomless, I mean bottomless,” I tell him. He sighs.

“Will there be any blasting, demo, and rebuilds?” he asks.

“Not that I know of, but even if there was, we wouldn’t do it now. We don’t have time,” I reply.

“There’s always time. Why don’t you know?”

“When’s the last time I’ve been to Italy, Elliot?” I ask. “I haven’t seen this place. I’ve only seen virtual tours and blueprints and you know how helpful those are.”

“So, you’re actually going to need someone to go over there and do a walkthrough—probably a designer and an architect…”

“Not an architect,” I tell him. “Whatever we can’t hide is just going to have to wait.” He’s silent again.

“There’s always Gia,” he says. “Where I or Christian are involved, she’ll jump at the chance.”

“Gia who? Oh, wait… Gia Mateo? The Mrs-Grey-Hopeful that decorated his boat? How about, ‘no?’ How about, ‘hell, no?’”

“Your pickings are kind of slim, Montana,” he says. “Short notice and they’ve got to drop everything they’re doing to fly overseas and check out your villa in one of the busiest decorating seasons of the year. Do you realize what you’re asking?” I groan inwardly. Of course, I realize what I’m asking… the impossible.

“What about the guy that helped decorate the crossing?” I ask. “What was his name?”

“Aaron,” Elliot says. “He was going to be one of my suggestions, but he’s a hot commodity.”

“Bottomless…”

“Be that as it may,” he interrupts, “he may still be unavailable, and you’d have to go with Gia.”

“I thought you said you had some others,” I quip.

“Those are two of the best and I trust them,” he counters.

“You trust Gia?” I accuse.

“Yes, Montana, I trust Gia. We used to fuck, but that’s not why. She’s good at what she does; she’s a consummate professional; and she dare not cross the Greys—any of us.” I think that last part was for me.

“She’ll be a last resort,” I say.

“She may be an only resort,” he replies.

“Call Aaron first,” I say. “Let him know that I have a huge, profitable job for him, but let me explain what it is.”

“Okay,” Elliot says with skepticism, “but you might want me to put in a call to Gia, too.”

“Aaron, first,” I insist. “I have to go now. I’ve got to lament over blueprints and textiles some more.”

“Talk to you later, Montana.” I end the call.

Gia Mateo. I’ve never met her, but in my head, I’m seeing a busty blonde or redhead with way too much makeup and really tight clothes. A woman you would definitely want to keep your husband away from… and who won’t be decorating my villa if I have to pay Aaron three times his normal fee!

I don’t even know what to look for in terms of style for my villa, so I begin to shut everything down. No use in beating myself over the head. I haven’t talked to Marilyn all day and she promised to give me an update on her doctor’s appointment today. Did she get bad news? Is she hiding? Only one way to find out.

**Hey Mare, come see me in my office when you get a chance. **

Either she’ll come immediately, or she won’t come at all. So, I continue getting things together, clearing my desk, and shutting down. Maybe she’s not home, yet. Maybe she decided to spend the night at Gary’s. Maybe…

“Hey,” Marilyn says as she enters my office.

“Hey,” I say, after shutting down my laptop. “How goes things?”

“Okay, I guess,” she says, noncommittal. Hmm, not sure how to interpret that.

“I was expecting you to tell me how the doctor’s appointment went,” I say. “Mine went fine. I’m not pregnant,” I jest. Marilyn laughs weakly.

“I’m sorry. I just forgot,” she says, coming further into the room. She seems a little depressed, not as bad as before, but not particularly happy.

“Is everything okay?” I ask. Maybe the doctor gave her some bad news.

“Not great, but as well as can be expected,” she begins. “As it turns out, the meal replacement shakes and smoothies kind of helped to get me back to where I needed to be. I’m not there, yet, but I’m coming out of the danger zone since I haven’t lost any more weight. Since I’ve gotten over the possible risk of just wasting away, the doctor says that now is a good time to get a structured dietary plan. So, I’m now seeing a nutritionist to whom I have to report every week. She will report to my doctor every week, and if we don’t see some significant improvement, then I may have to be hospitalized before my vital organs start shutting down.”

“Are you still at risk for that?” I ask.

“Not that we can tell, but we’ll have to see.” She replies. I nod.

“Where’s Gary?”

“He’s back at his place for the night,” she says.

“He’s not running, is he?”

“No,” she says with uncertainty.

“You don’t know,” I say.

“No, I don’t think he’s running.” I examine her.

You’re not running, are you?” I ask. She raises her gaze to me but doesn’t answer. “I thought this was what you wanted.” She sits on the chest in front of my desk.

“Have you ever felt a pain that was so bad and so deep that you would do anything not to feel it again?” she asks.

“I have,” I say. It made me afraid to love for half a decade. “You’re afraid.”

She turns her gaze from me, sighs heavily, and nods.

“Mare, what you were doing to your body—starving yourself and not eating—that wasn’t healthy, and that wasn’t normal. But this, what you’re feeling right now, this is totally normal. I felt this way when Christian returned after he left me and went to Madrid. I love him endlessly, but when he came back, I sat waiting for several days for the other shoe to drop… for something horrible to happen and he leaves me again. I couldn’t get comfortable. I couldn’t let him touch me. I couldn’t let him love me… I couldn’t trust him with my heart anymore. Things were perfect and then… they weren’t.”

It hurts just thinking about that time of our lives let alone talking about it.

“How long did it last?” she asks. I sigh.

“It’s hard to say,” I reply. “I was still uncertain when we went on our Australian cruise. We had to talk to people… therapists, friends… we had to learn to trust each other again.”

“That’s exactly what this is,” she says, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around her legs. She looks like she’s shrinking, but I can’t say for sure that she is.

“I love him so much,” she says, looking off into the distance. “I want to be with him, but I’m so afraid that it I get comfortable again, it’s all going to crumble and I’m going to back where I started from. I’d be better off alone than to let that happen.” There’s a revelation.

“Would you rather be alone?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No,” she replies, “I want Gary.” I stand and walk over to the front of my desk.

“Then it’s a chance you have to take, Mare,” I tell her. “Nothing lasts forever, you know that, but we live our best lives and we glean what happiness we can from it while we’re here. A wise woman once told me that as long as we’re alive, the fear of something going wrong—the monsters—will always be there. We have to decide if we’re going to let the monsters run our lives.” I sigh.

“Mare, the foundation of my entire world was shaken… shattered when Christian left. Hell, I damn near leapt off a cliff, for God’s sake. When he came back, I was scared frozen. I didn’t know how to let him in. It took a while for things to get back to normal and took a while for me to understand exactly what I wanted. I knew that we were never going to get that perfect, untarnished love back because it was now stained with reality. So, did I want to build from where we were or did I want to let go?

“That’s the first question that you have to answer for yourself. Do you want to start from where you are right now and build on love from there, or are you too hurt and too afraid and you want to let go? And Mare, there’s nothing wrong with needing to be with yourself, by yourself, to find yourself again if that’s what you need to do. But you’re going to have to ask yourself if you want to do that without Gary, because honestly, you weren’t doing so well without him.”

“I already know that I don’t want to be without him,” she confesses. “I know it.”

“Well, then you’re going to have to face up to your fears and fight the monsters,” I reply. “Yes, it’s scary, and it won’t be easy. Anything we have can change in the blink of an eye. Do you sit and wait for the monsters to gobble you up, or do you grab those sons of bitches by the throat and you show them who’s boss?” I ask, using the same words Laura used with me about the Boogeyman. Mare takes a shuddering breath.

“I’m going to bed,” she says as she stands. “This entire thing is exhausting.”

“Have you been sleeping?” I ask.

“With him, yes. Tonight will be by myself. We’ll see,” she confesses.

“Did you eat?” I press.

“Yes, Bosslady,” she says. “I’m on a strict ‘or else’ regimen with my doctor and I really don’t want to end up in the hospital.” That’s a healthy attitude.

“Have you decided if you’re going to talk to someone?” I continue.

“Gary and I have an appointment with a counselor tomorrow,” she says. “I have an appointment of my own on Thursday. And before you ask, I’m going to meditate now before I go to sleep.” I laugh.

“Okay, okay, I’m pushing too hard. I just worry about you, Mare,” I admit.

“I understand, and I appreciate that. One way or another, I’ll be fine,” she says with a weak smile before leaving my office.

One way or another.

She hasn’t fully decided to take Gary back… or at least she hasn’t fully settled into the idea. I can’t blame her. As much as I love him, it took me months to settle back into “happily ever after” with Christian.

*-*

“I’m sorry I didn’t call yesterday,” Ebony says when I get to Helping Hands in the morning. “I was hiding. I had a little scare this weekend. It was a false alarm—very silly on my part but it sent me into hiding for a moment. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“If you’re ever frightened or whatever might be going on, please let me know. I’m sure we could help you, Ebony.”

“I believe you,” she says. “It’s just… old habits are hard to break. I saw someone that I thought I knew, and I thought they saw me and… It was all just a silly misunderstanding. I’m very embarrassed about it.”

“Well, we don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but again, if you need me…”

“I know,” she says. “Thanks.”

I’m tying up a few loose ends in the afternoon when a number comes across my cell that I don’t recognize.

“Dr. Anastasia Grey,” I answer.

“Ana! Hey, it’s Aaron,” he replies.

“Aaron, hi! Thank you for calling me back,” I say.

“You sounded a little desperate on my voicemail. What’s up?”

“I am,” I admit. “Aaron, I have a huge project that you probably won’t even want to do, but I have to ask you first before I go somewhere else, and since you did such a great job on the mansion…”

“Okay, way to scare me off before I even hear about the job,” he jests. “What’s the job?”

“My husband has purchased an Italian villa on Lake Como,” I say. He whistles.

“Abroad!” he says. “Near George Clooney?”

“I don’t think so,” I say. “Christian doesn’t like attention and being near George Clooney would definitely draw attention.”

“Well, exactly where is your villa located?” he asks. I pull up the email with the blueprints.

“Sala Comacina?” I say, a question instead of a statement.

“Hmm, you’re not that far from him… about seven miles,” he says. Well, I hope he keeps the paps on his end of the lake.

“So, can you do it?” I ask.

“I can do it, I just have to figure out how,” he says.

“Well, at this point, it’s either you or Gia Mateo…”

“That bitch?” Aaron nearly squeals. “No. She’s mediocre at best, she steals ideas from other designers, and she gets most of her jobs through her pussy. No. Hell, no. Italian villa for the Greys? The fuck if I’m letting her get that prestige piece.”

“I don’t know, Aaron. This is a big job in a little bit of time.”

“How big and how little?” he asks.

“Fourteen bedrooms, 1210 square meters, two months, two and a half tops,” I reply.

“Shit!” he exclaims. “Any blasting?”

“You and Elliot asked the same question,” I say.

“That’s because it’s going to be exponentially longer if we have to take out walls.”

“Well, no. I won’t approve knocking out walls. I haven’t seen the place and you have to tell me what you can do with the bones.” There’s silence.

“You haven’t seen the place?” he says.

“No,” I reply. “It’s in Italy, so I’ll be totally dependent on you!” I hear him scoff.

“Make no mistake. You know I’m going to charge you out the ass for this, right?” he says.

“Yep,” I reply without hesitation. “Mr. Grey will pay for it all.” Serves him right. I hope this is what he expected buying a 14-bedroom Italian villa sight unseen. I sure hope he trusts the real estate agent that oversaw the purchase and we haven’t bought a money pit.

“Ah, to have money to burn,” he says. “I’ll see who I can delegate my current projects to and I’ll be looking for a flight out this weekend. Should I go commercial or will Mr. Grey be flying me out on his private jet?”

“It’ll have to be commercial,” I tell him. “I’ll have my assistant make arrangements for a Saturday flight. I don’t know what the villa looks like, so I’ll have her make nearby accommodations as well.”

“Sounds like a plan, and don’t call that bitch, Gia—not even for suggestions!” he reinforces.

“Jesus, Aaron, did she steal a boyfriend from you or something?” I ask. Aaron laughs.

“I can see why you would assume that,” he says. “I’m straight as an arrow, baby, but I will turn into Elsie de Wolfe at the flip of a coin when it comes to decorating and I can get catty with the best of them. Ask anybody in the industry. She got to where she is on her back and off other people’s ideas.”

“That wreaks of bitterness,” I point out. “Has she ever stolen anything from you?”

“She tried,” he says. “When I saw her using the design, I didn’t even confront her. I filed an immediate cease and desist and prepared for a civil battle. When she discovered that I wasn’t going to negotiate, she paid me off and stopped using my design. Now, she’ll take a design, tweak it a bit and put her own spin on it, then say it was hers. Since she’ll have all the design work for her design, you can’t nab her on it. They could smell her coming a mile away at NeoCon and the AD Design Show. She’s gonna cross a real cutthroat one day and they’re going to give her what for. We work too hard to get here for some thieving, whorish infringer to come and steal our designs.”

He’s pretty passionate about this.

“Well, I’ll take your word for it. I’m forwarding the email with the blueprints and a walk-through and I’ll have travel plans for you by the end of the day. Would you prefer to fly morning or afternoon?”

“Morning,” he says. “I’ll lose a day and a half flying to Europe. Oh, and tell Mr. Grey that I’m not after your ass, just your money.”

“What?” I ask in horror.

“Tell him,” he reinforces. “He’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. Talk to you soon!” And he ends the call.

What the hell was that about?


CHRISTIAN

“Sir, Ben informs me that the police are at the front gate.”

Jason has called me on my cell. I’m in my office looking over the final details of a merger that we’re planning on completing this week when I get this unwelcome interruption.

The police?

“Did they state their business?” I ask.

“No, sir. They won’t do it until they speak to you.” Without knowing why they’re here, I can’t turn them away. I just hate it when they’re all secretive. I don’t like cops anyway and they don’t like me.

“Let them in,” I reply.

“Would you like for me to accompany you, sir?”

“No,” I say, “not yet, but keep an eye on things.”

“Yes, sir.” I end the call and ponder the situation. I have no idea why they’re here… asking for me. I don’t want to alarm my wife, so the best thing to do would be to just go and see what they want. I stand from my desk just in time to hear the two-way communication system come to life.

“Christian.”

“Windsor here, sir. Detective Burns and Groomer here to see you.”

“Show them to the living room and stay with them there. I’m on my way up.”

“Yes, sir.”

I take the south staircase that leads to the front of the house and immerge near the formal living room. I see two detectives—one guy in that stereotypical trench coat and a woman in a dark designer pants suit—standing in the living room and looking around at their surroundings.

“May I help you?” I ask when I enter the room.

“Christian Grey?” the guy says.

“Yes?”

“We have some questions for you about Greta Ellison.” Oh, shit. Showtime.

“Who?” I say, my brow furrowed.

“Gre-ta El-lis-on,” he repeats slowly and sarcastically. I’m already pissed that the guy didn’t reintroduce himself. He told Windsor who he was. He didn’t tell me. So, he’s already starting this meeting off with hostility. I chuckle-scoff in his face.

“I heard you the first time, Skippy,” I say with mirth and equal sarcasm. “I just don’t know who you’re talking about.”

“That’s odd, because we have evidence of a background check you did on her a little while back.” He shows me a picture of Ellison. I study it for a moment.

“Oh, her,” I say in fake surprise. “A little while back?” I frown. “You mean like three years!”

“Oh, now you remember,” he comments.

“You showed me a picture,” I reply. “I don’t keep every girl’s name on the tip of my tongue that I planned to fuck.” I turn to Windsor. “Did you see a badge?” I ask.

“Yes, sir,” he says.

“Thank you,” I say. Windsor nods once and leaves the room. The guy raises his brow at me.

“Is that what it was, Mr. Grey?” he asks. “You planned to fuck her.”

“That’s exactly what it was,” I reply, unoffended.

“You do background checks on all the women you plan to fuck?” he probes.

“Considering the fact that I don’t plan to fuck anybody else but my wife, the answer to your question would be ‘no,’” I say matter-of-factly.

“Let’s try this another way,” he says.

“Yeah, let’s,” I counter, folding my arms. You set the tone. I’m just following your lead. He glares at me.

“Those were your words, Mr. Grey, not mine,” he defends.

“No, they were not,” I retort. “I said planned to fuck—planned… past tense. You said plan. Those were your words, Detective, not mine.” Seeing that I’ve thrown his words back at him, he regroups.

“Were you in the practice of doing background checks on women with which you had planned…” he stresses the word, “… to engage in a sexual relationship?”

“I certainly was,” I reply. “I’m a very important man, Detective. I can’t blindly interact with just anybody, especially on a sexual level. Women are very unscrupulous…”

“As are men,” the female detective retorts. I turn my gaze to her.

“Well, I wouldn’t know. I don’t fuck men,” I reply calmly. Her cheeks redden a bit.

“Women are unscrupulous,” I repeat. “When it comes to men like me, there’s always somebody looking for a payoff or a lawsuit. I had to be very careful with whom I interacted.”

“Doesn’t sound very romantic,” she shoots.

“It wasn’t,” I inform her, “and I didn’t care. I wasn’t offering romance and I wasn’t looking for love. I was looking for a clean, stable, steady fuck, because I may be an asshole, but I’m a monogamous asshole.”

“What happened with Ms. Ellison?” the guy asks.

“She obviously didn’t work out,” I reply.

“Why not?”

“Because I found a better fuck,” I reply. He raises his brow.

“You do background checks on all your women? Did you do one on your wife?” he asks.

“Yes, I did.”

“Does she know that?” the female asks.

“Yes, she does. She was the better fuck.” I stare at her while that answer sinks in.

“Better?” the guy asks.

“The best!” I stress, still staring at the female, who purses her lips and rolls her eyes. “Why are you asking me all these questions?”

“We’ll be asking the questions here, sir…”

“Well, you won’t get any more answers until you tell me what this is about. All I know is that you’re asking about Greta Ellis, and I have no idea what this has to do with me,” I say firmly.

“Ellison,” he corrects.

“Ellis, Ellison, Bueller, I don’t care! What does this have to do with me?” I shout.

“Christian!”

I look over the detectives’ shoulders and my wife is descending into the living room.

“You’re scaring the children! What’s going on?” she demands.

“Well, I have two of Seattle’s finest standing here interrogating me about my personal life and I have no idea why. They’re asking me about background checks, including the one I did on you.” She does a mini-head-bobble and turns to the officers.

“Are background checks illegal?” she asks surprised.

“I hope the hell not! I run at least a hundred background checks a year! I run a multibillion-dollar, multi-national company!” I bark.

“Christian!” Butterfly scolds again. “Keep it down… the twins!” she adds firmly.

“It depends on what you do with the information,” the guy replies to my statement.

“He married me!” Butterfly counters. “I had one done on him, too.” The guy appears impatient and a bit perturbed.

“Mrs. Grey, if you’ll excuse us…” he says. Butterfly’s glare sharpens and her brow furrows deeply.

“I beg your pardon!” she retorts, putting her hands on her hips, clearly affronted. “Are you trying to dismiss me from a room in my own home?”

The tone of her voice catches us all off guard and now, she has forgotten about frightening the children.

“I most certainly will not!” she says, folding her arms and rolling her neck angrily. “You’re asking my husband personal questions about our life in our home you’re scaring my children and you haven’t told him why,” she says all in one breath. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Making her leave right now would make it appear that I have something to hide from her, so I let her stay and hope that she doesn’t react when she finally hears that this is about Greta Ellison.

“We were just talking to your husband about his ex-lovers. You may find this conversation uncomfortable,” the female cop says. Butterfly chuckles.

“Ex-lovers?” she says with mirth. “You want some coffee? You may be here a while.”

She-cop is taken aback by my wife’s candor.

“You know how many lovers your husband has had?” she asks.

“Yeeeeaaaahhh,” my wife answers as if it’s obvious, which it is.

“And you’re okay knowing that?” Butterfly’s head bobbles a bit again.

“Are you a virgin?” she asks the female cop.

“No,” she replies, somewhat offended.

“Neither was my husband when we met, Cagney,” she replies, pointing her thumb at me. I have to hide my smile at the nickname. Again, neither of them introduced themselves to us, so they get whatever nickname we call them. Cagney rolls her eyes again.

“We can always finish this conversation at the station, Grey…” and now I’m Grey, “you would just have to come with us,” the guy informs me.

“Uh, no I don’t,” I reply. “You don’t have a warrant, I’m not under arrest, and you don’t have probable cause. So, either you tell me what this is about, or you can leave the premises… now.” He closes his notebook.

“You’ve been prepped,” he accuses.

“No, I haven’t,” I reply. “I’m a billionaire with a misdemeanor charge. Look me up. I know the drill.” I fold my arms. “So, do you tell me what this is about, or do you leave?”

“I don’t understand why you’re being so hostile, Mr. Grey, if you have nothing to hide.”

And now I exercise my right to remain silent.

“Oh, pleading the fifth, now, huh?” he taunts.

“Activate two-way communications,” my wife says into the air. I look down at her as the intercom comes alive. “Locate Jason Taylor.” There’s silence for a moment.

“Taylor.”

“Jason, will you please come to the formal living room? We’re having a bit of a problem with two detectives here.”

“On my way. End two-way communications.”

“Who’s Jason?” the guy asks and now, neither of us are speaking. “Oh, now they’re both silent.” A few moments later, Jason enters the room.

“Ma’am? Sir?” he says, “what seems to be the problem?”

Cagney and Baretta here are asking me personal questions and they haven’t told me why,” I begin. “They say it’s about one of the girls I did a background check on three years ago before I met my wife, but they won’t tell me what it has to do with me. For all I know the girl is laid-up somewhere fat and out of shape with two kids in a loveless marriage. Since they won’t tell me what this is about and they don’t have a warrant for my arrest, I asked them to leave, which they refuse to do.” Jason’s face looks distastefully at the detectives, then at me.

“Cagney and Baretta?” he asks. I shrug.

“They didn’t think I deserved to know their names,” I inform him.

“We told your butler…”

“You didn’t tell me!” I interrupt him. He glares at me.

“I’m Burns, she’s…”

“I’m no longer interested, Baretta!” I cut him off again before turning back to Jason. “I told them to leave,” I repeat.

“Detectives, I’m Jason Taylor. I’m head of security here at Grey Crossing. I’m sure you know the protocol. If you don’t have a warrant, I’ll see you out.” He gestures to the grand entry.

“We’re not leaving until we get some answers… Mr. Taylor,” Baretta says in a condescending tone.

“That’s fine,” Jason says, unfazed. He pulls out his phone and swipes the screen. “I’ll just make a quick call to the chief at headquarters and tell him that two of his detectives are on private property without a warrant harassing one of Seattle’s most prominent citizens and refusing to leave after you’ve been asked at least twice, subjecting yourselves to criminal trespassing charges and the department to a possible lawsuit…”

“For scaring my babies!” Butterfly chimes in. Cagney suddenly looks a bit uncomfortable.

“You have the number directly to the chief of police,” Baretta says skeptically. It’s a statement, not a question. Jason turns his phone around for the detective to see.

“On. Speed. Dial,” he says, his voice low and firm. “And in the interest of full disclosure, detectives, nearly every inch of this property is under audio and video surveillance.”

He points to the chandelier in the ceiling, indicating that there’s a camera inside. Baretta looks at Cagney and then back at Jason, who has now taken the stance and is waiting for the detectives to make a decision.

“A missing person’s report has been filed on Greta Ellison,” he says finally. “No one close to her has seen her since just after the new year.” I look at him expecting, then gesture my hand for him to continue when he doesn’t.

“Did you hear me, Mr. Grey?” he asks.

“Yes, I heard you,” I reply. “I’m still waiting for you to tell me what this has to do with me.” He narrows his eyes at me.

“We’re questioning every person of interest in this matter,” he replies. My eyes widen.

“Person of…?” I look over at Jason who doesn’t react. “Person of interest?” I ask, turning back to Baretta. “I did a background check on that woman three years ago. That makes me a person of interest?” I ask incredulously.

“No, the fact that she was authoring a book—an exposé—about Seattle’s elite makes you a person of interest,” he says. I furrow my brow in perfect pretend confusion.

“She was writing a book?” I ask. “What could she possibly say about me? I met with her for maybe 30 minutes sometime in… 2012. She doesn’t know enough about me to write a book.”

“She wasn’t the source—she was the writer,” Cagney says. I look at her expecting, the same way I looked at Baretta early.

“Waiting for the punchline here,” I say when I get no further information.

“Someone with a great personal knowledge of you was feeding her information, Mr. Grey,” Baretta says. “She was a ghost writer.”

“Was,” I say. “Is she dead?” I ask.

“I don’t know… is she?” Baretta retorts.

“You’re the one who’s talking about her in the past tense, Detective,” I shoot back calmly. “If you haven’t confirmed that she’s no longer with us, then you may not want to talk about her in the past tense. And while you’re standing here wasting time on me, why don’t you talk to her source? Wouldn’t they have more information? Maybe she’s gone into seclusion or something to finish this so-called book.”

“Her source is currently indisposed,” he replies. I frown again.

“What?” I say incredulously. “Who is it?”

Nothing.

“Okay, so since you want to play cat-and-mouse to try to find out what I know without telling me what you know, let me answer all your questions.” I begin counting on my fingers. “I don’t know where Greta Ellis is, who she was talking to, what she was doing, or what she was supposedly writing. Nobody has any permission to write anything about me—biographical or autobiographical. If I see anything with my name or any characters that even resemble me, there’ll be court orders and injunctions, and someone will be buried so deep in litigation that there’ll be nothing left to do but read the eulogy. Now, since I have nothing else for you and you have nothing else for me, get out of my house!”

“Mr. Grey, the source is Elena Lincoln. I’m sure you remember her! And the girl’s name is Ellison,” Baretta says perturbed.

“Haven’t you figured out yet that I don’t give a fuck what the girl’s name is?” I reply, gesturing for emphasis. “I don’t know where she is. I haven’t spoken to her in years. And Elena Lincoln? For fuck’s sake, are you serious? I saw that in the tabloids! I thought that was a bunch of hearsay. No reputable publication printed it. The places where I saw any mention of it was right next to, ‘I’m having Michael Jackson’s post-mortem love child.’ Why would I think that held any salt?

“And isn’t there a law somewhere that she can’t profit from her crimes? Doesn’t that fall under this category? She can’t write about anything but her crimes! That book would never get off the ground. No publisher in their right mind would touch it. That’s real? She’s really going to try to do that? So, what did she say about me that has you on my doorstep right now?”

“That’s classified, sir,” Cagney says.

“Is it?” I ask. “Well, then we’re back to the cat-and-mouse-game, aren’t we?” I say folding my arms.

“Wait a minute,” Butterfly says. “Ellison… I remember that name.” My head snaps over to my wife. Where are you going with this, Butterfly?

“You do?” Cagney asks, her interest piqued, and now Butterfly has everyone’s attention.

“Yeah,” she says, turning to me. “Wasn’t that the girl who accosted us in the Market?”

I try not to let the detectives see me breathe a huge sigh of relief.

“Oh… yeah…” I say in honest recollection. “I forgot all about that.”

“Accosted you?” Cagney asks.

“Yeah,” Butterfly replies. “We were at Pike’s Market—it used to be a weekend haunt of mine before the Paparazzi started following me everywhere…”

Butterfly tells the story casually like she’s talking to a couple of old friends, complete with a couple of tangents about what she thinks we bought that day. I couldn’t be prouder of her performance.

“Anyway, we’re walking to the car with our goods and there she is with all her wares on display.” She laughs and gestures to her breasts in a way that imitates triple-G cups.

“She’s telling my then-boyfriend…” she gestures to me, “… how much better than me she could be for him and various other sexual propositions, and he pretty much blew her off, told her to get lost, and we went on to the car. I was a bit miffed because I didn’t like the fact that random girls… well, girl… was walking up to us in the Market basically offering herself like she was some of the fruit there on the stands! I remember saying something like she’d fuck him right there on top of the oranges if he let her. She had this gross underboob thing going on where her shirt was really short, so you could see the bottom of her breasts. That is so tacky! Who does that in public…?”

And the Oscar goes to…

“Mrs. Grey, Mrs. Grey,” Cagney says, an attempt to break her tangent, “had you seen Ms. Ellison any time after that?” Butterfly gets a confused look on her face, then shrugs and shakes her head uncertainly.

“I don’t know,” she replies. “I could’ve. I mean, I couldn’t pick her out of a crowd. All I remember was her tits!”

Cagney has rolled her eyes so many times listening to my wife that I swear they’re going to get stuck that way.

“You need to talk to Lincoln,” I interject. “If this girl is writing her story, then Lincoln knows where she is.”

“Unfortunately, Mrs. Lincoln suffered a stroke… around the same time that Greta Ellison is reported to have come up missing.” My mouth falls open, mocking disbelief.

“Well, isn’t that convenient!” I exclaim. “I don’t believe that for a second,” I say. “That woman has balls bigger than mine. She has a heart of stone and I‘ll bet my fortune that she’s faking. You better keep an eye on her.”

“Well, as you can see, we can’t really talk to her,” he says. “It was all over the news.”

“Well, I have a multibillion-dollar company to run, so I’ve got bigger fish to fry than to be concerned about a woman who’s spending the rest of her natural life behind bars and deserves to be there. But you can best believe I’ll be keeping my eye on the news, now, because I don’t believe this stroke shit for a second! If she could figure out how to get somebody on the outside to write this story for her, she’s up to something. Like I said, you better keep an eye on her.” I certainly am.

After several moments of silence, something else suddenly dawns on me.

“Wait a minute,” I say, pondering parts of the conversation. “You said that she’s writing a book about Seattle’s elite and that makes me a person of interest?”

“That’s what I said,” Baretta says.

“Seattle’s elite,” I repeat. “Are you also going to be questioning Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Paul Allen, Gabe Newell?” I ask. “Any judges or senators on that list or am I the only lucky bastard you get to harass today?”

“We have several people that are going to be questioned,” he replies.

“All members of Seattle’s elite?” he doesn’t answer. “You guys really drew the short straw, didn’t you? Who the hell did you piss off to pull this detail?” I laugh out loud. “I mean seriously,” I say around my laughter, “this is your plan of action? You’re going to walk into affluent homes in the greater Seattle area with absolutely no evidence, throw out conjecture and suggestion, and hope somebody trips over their tongue and tells you something about this girl? You have nothing else but that she disappeared supposedly sometime after her meal ticket became ‘indisposed…’” I use the finger quote around the word while saying it mockingly, “and now, you’re going to go to the private homes of the most influential people in the state, trying to bully them, upsetting their wives and scaring their children—and you have absolutely nothing concrete to go on?“

I’m laughing hysterically now, my laughter partially in relief, but mostly because it’s really very funny that they have absolutely nothing to go on and they’re knocking on my door. I thought they may have found some substantial piece of evidence that pointed them to me besides a three-year-old background check.

“I hope you guys have a really good retirement plan that doesn’t involve the police department,” I say, my voice mirthfully mocking. “The governor’s office is about to be flooded with calls on you two, one of which will most likely come from me. She was a guest at my wedding, for Christ’s sake!

“How many people do you intend to send over the edge today? My advice is that if you want to find any substantial evidence or leads, or if any of the people you’re questioning had anything to do with this girl’s disappearance, you had better rethink your strategy, because you’re headed down the wrong road… backwards!

“I want you out of my house now. I have nothing else to say to you. If you want to talk to me in the future, get a warrant or contact my attorney, Allen Forsythe. He’s in the GEH directory. Jason?” I gesture to Jason to show the detectives out and put my hand in the small of my wife’s back to lead her out of the room.

“Mrs. Grey?” Cagney calls as we’re walking away. “Do you really feel safe with this man knowing that he could possibly have something to do with this girl’s disappearance?”

Oh, dear God. If they only knew. Butterfly stops in the grand entry and turns around to face the detectives.

“You know, you guys may get a little further with this investigation if one of you pretends to be the good cop,” she says, matter-of-factly, before turning around and walking out of the room with me. When we bend the corner and are out of sight of the detectives, I turn around to face my wife, still walking backwards. I hold my hand up in front of her. She smirks at me and we clap hands in a victorious high five before joining our children in the den.


A/N: I think I made a reference to Cagney and Lacey before in reference to female cops where we don’t know their names. Baretta was another cop from a cop show back in the 70’s.

I don’t think underboob really became a thing until 2016 and for my story, Greta had underboob going on around 2012 or 2013. Again, creative license.

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Gary Returns After the Breakup

This is a small bit of the story from Gary and Marilyn’s POV. I did this because many people said that they wanted to know what Gary was thinking throughout all this, and I thought it was a good idea to show how I felt Gary was feeling about the termination and the breakup.

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…

Gary Returns

GARY (Still too soon)

It’s been three months, one week, five days, and 13 hours since I last saw her. When I knew what she was going to do, I sat in the apartment and prayed that it wasn’t true—that she would change her mind and she wouldn’t go through with it. It didn’t do any good, though. I felt it the moment my baby died. I felt it as if someone was stabbing me in the chest and ripping my soul from me piece by piece. I reached for her to comfort me, but she wasn’t there. She was at that clinic, killing my child.

When she returned and told me that she had gone through with it and my baby was gone, I knew I couldn’t stay. I was so filled with hatred and rage. My baby was ripped away from me before I had the chance to stop her. It was like I didn’t have a say in the matter at all. She completely ignored my wishes and protests and just terminated my child like you would pop a pimple. I was furious.

That first week after I left, all I did was cry. I cried and cried for the loss of my child, the fact that I would never get to meet him, never get to hold him, never even knew if it was a “him.” I felt like she robbed me—like she made the decision and that was it. I felt betrayed and nauseated and angry and hateful. I wanted her to die, too—to see what it felt like… what she did to my baby…

By day eight, that all changed.

I had been horrible. I was so hurt for so long that I wouldn’t speak to her when she tried to call. I wouldn’t speak to any of my friends, least of all, Ana. I knew she was just going to try to convince me to talk to Mare and that was the last thing I wanted for several reasons. I moved into a studio a few blocks from my job and cut communication with everyone. It was the easiest thing to do at the moment.

I ate a lot… worked out even more; cried; tore shit up; hid from my feelings as much as possible. When I saw her number show up on the phone, it sickened me. It pissed me off that she would even try to get in touch with me.

On day eight, the calls stopped.

I was relieved and dismayed at the same time. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted her to stop calling me so that I could think straight, but if I’m honest, knowing that she was still there was strangely comforting, even though I didn’t want to admit it.

More crying, more eating, more working and working out, more avoiding the calls and attempts of contact from my friends. The calls from Ana start—about two a week for three weeks. At first, she would leave a message. By the second week with no response, she stopped leaving messages. She would just call and hang up if the call went to voice mail. By the third week, her calls stopped, too. I could see them all in my mind’s eye at Food and Libations talking about how tragic the whole thing is.

I’m coming out of my baby funk a bit when I get a text from Ana.

**She’s moved out of your apartment. You can go back now. **

Why would I want to go back? Why would I want to live in the place that I shared with the woman who killed my child? Then the words hit me:

She’s moved out…

Where did she go? Shit, why would I care?

Days turned to weeks, then to months, and I did everything I could not to think about her—who she was with, where she was living, what she was doing to get over me, if she even needed to get over me. Did she ever really love me at all? If she did, how could she just kill my baby? Just like that?

Some days, I was able to push her out of my mind—throw myself into my work or work out until my muscles burned so badly that I couldn’t think of anything else. I’d eat like a bear then I’d exercise like crazy to burn off the carbs. And that was the extent of my life.

When Allen ambushed me, I was kind of pissed. I wanted to know how he found me, then I remembered that he worked for Mr. I-Can-Find-Jimmy-Hoffa-If-I-Want. I felt like it was a horrible invasion of my privacy, but only because I was pissed about the baby. Had this been any other situation and no one could get in touch with me, I wouldn’t expect anything less. I knew they had activated the contingency because everybody tried to get in touch with me, even though nobody let on that they knew exactly what was going on… if they knew exactly what was going on.

There were times when I thought I might have been overreacting. Yes, it hurt that she killed the baby, but we could always have another one in the future when she was ready, right? But what if she was never ready? What if she got pregnant again and killed my baby again? Could I even look her in the face again after this?

More than once, I weakened and tried to call her, but I couldn’t bring myself to dial the numbers. More than once, I wanted to hear her voice, but didn’t know what to say. Many nights, I tried to sleep and couldn’t, because she wasn’t there. I’d be exhausted but sleep just wouldn’t come to me. It took her seven weeks to move out of my apartment—probably seven weeks of wondering if I was going to come back. I didn’t think it was over between us. I didn’t accept that it was over between us even though I was the one who left.

When I got back to that apartment, I knew it was over.

I couldn’t feel her presence at all. It was like she never existed. She scrubbed the place down like Single White Female. If I didn’t know for sure that she had been there, I would have thought I dreamed the whole thing. The refrigerator was completely empty. There were dry goods and food in the cupboards, but nothing that she would normally eat that I wouldn’t. I went to the closet, the bedroom, the en suite, looking for anything that she may have left behind—cosmetics, underwear, an earring back…

She left the trinkets… the special things I had bought for her, except the promise ring. I knew what that meant. It represented my promise to love her. She doesn’t need the money, so I know she’s not going to pawn it. So, if for no other reason, she’s keeping it to remind herself… of what we used to have.

She was gone. Completely gone. I left her… and then she left me.

I cried again.

After a month or so more, I had worked myself into a routine—work, eat, work out, watch Netflix reruns, go to sleep, wake up, repeat. There was nothing for me to look forward to and I didn’t torture myself by expecting anything. This was my life now and I didn’t want to be bothered.

And then, today happened.

I don’t know what made me order lunch from here today, but here I was. It was subconscious, I think. I hadn’t even considered that café across the street where she always got those muffins. I had just picked up my usual monstrous lunch, when something drew me to look at that door. It was nothing new. It wasn’t like I was really looking for her… was I?

There she is, standing in the doorway—at least I think that’s her. I blink a few times. It’s not impossible that I could be seeing things. That woman looks like her… a little bit… but…

Are my eyes playing tricks on me? That can’t be her. She’s… so thin… and her hair. It’s dull and it almost looks gray. She looks awful. What happened to her? She looks like she’s ill… like she’s dying. Is she on drugs?

Isn’t that what you wanted? You wanted her to die for killing your baby. It looks like you’re getting your wish.

She steps away from the coffee shop, takes a bite of the muffin or cupcake, then frowns. She looks like she’s going to hurl. She stops and removes the bite from her mouth with a napkin, tossing it and the entire confection into a nearby garbage can. She doesn’t go back into the coffee shop to complain or replace the sweet. She just turns away and begins to walk down the sidewalk.

Are you kidding? What the hell—is she sick? Did the abortion do something to her health? She should have eaten the damn pastry! She’s wasting away!

I begin walking behind her on the opposite side of the street. Her stride isn’t that of the beautiful, confident young woman that I walked away from three months ago. No, this is someone else. Her head is down, and she looks like death. She doesn’t notice that people veer away from her as she proceeds down the sidewalk, simply to avoid the gray cloud of doom that’s enveloping her, afraid that her dismay might rub off on them. If I were to guess, I would expect that this stranger is barely functioning and having to concentrate on every task just to get through the day.

I’m still not convinced that it’s her until after a few more steps, and she reaches a car that I recognize. I watch her unlock the door, get inside, start the car and drive off down Cherry street.

For the love of Pete! She looks terrible. And it’s not until this moment that my heart sinks and my chest begins to ache.

I still love her… so much. I hate the situation. I hate what she did, but I never stopped loving her. God, it hurt so much seeing her like that. I could pretend that it was all about me when I didn’t see her. That’s why I had to leave that day. Seeing her made everything so fucking real, so fucking in-my-face. Truthfully, it’s still about me. It still hurts. I lost a child and I couldn’t be with the woman who was the direct cause of my loss.

But seeing her today… shit.

I’m standing here in the middle of the sidewalk, looking at the empty spot that her car vacated moments ago. I don’t know what to do. I knew there was a possibility that we would run into each other, but not this soon.

It’s been three months. How do you figure that’s “soon?”

It’s still too soon for me.


MARILYN (Father, can You hear me?)

God, that muffin tasted like lead.

I tried. I really tried, but I just couldn’t eat it. Ana’s not going to get off me if I don’t start eating better. She’s worse than my mom… well, I’ll take that back. Nobody’s worse than my mom.

One minute, it’s, “Lyn, baby, you have to eat or you’re gonna die,” and the next minute, it’s, “I hope you’re praying and asking forgiveness for your eternal soul for what you did.”

I haven’t spoken to my parents since sometime in January and my visits will become even more few and far between if they can’t stop tossing me into hell every time I talk to them. It’s bad enough that I’ve lost the man I love over this. I’m not going to be subjected to the fire and brimstone talk every time I want to see my mom and dad.

And I told them as much the last time I spoke to them.

“Mom, Dad, you have made it perfectly clear how you feel about me terminating my pregnancy. I wish I had never told you what I did. I love you both dearly, but if you continue to psychotically condemn me to eternal damnation every time I talk to you, I’m going to stop calling and I’m going to stop coming home so that you no longer have to deal with the horrible sinner you created!”

I ended the call and haven’t spoken to either of them since.

That was two weeks ago. Mom calls incessantly, leaving messages that she loves me, and she’s only concerned about me. She doesn’t reference the abortion—directly—but I can still hear it in the tone of her conversations. So, I just avoid them altogether.

I haven’t really been able to eat solid food since this whole thing happened. It’s like my mouth and stomach are revolting and refuses to allow anything in since I ceremoniously kicked the baby out. It turned out to be the worst decision I ever made. I stand by my conviction that I wasn’t ready for a baby at all and putting my body through nine months of hell to hand the kid off to someone else was certainly not in the cards for me either. However, the emotional and physical turmoil that I’ve experienced wasn’t worth whatever benefit I’ve gotten from the termination.

I couldn’t wrap my head around carrying a baby, being a mother—I’m young and I’m just not ready for it. Now, I’ve given up my baby and I’ve lost Gary, too. It also appears that I’ve lost the ability to eat. I thought it was just emotional at first and it would pass when the grief passed. The grief hasn’t really passed, but I do have the desire to eat, just not the ability. I’ve been to the doctor a few times and she certain it’s a nervous stomach from all the stress. They’ve run so many tests on me—even tests to be sure everything was okay with the termination.

Nothing. My body just doesn’t want food.

I can only tolerate consommé, fruit juices, meal replacement shakes, and the occasional smoothie. I was already thin, but according to the doctor, I’ve lost over 20 pounds since the procedure. She has prescribed me things like Ensure and Pedialyte to make sure that I’m getting all of my nutrients and has threatened to put me in the hospital more than once. I’ve gone from an athletic 139 pounds to a waif-like 114 in just a few months.

I’m going to have to find a place soon before Christian adopts me! I’ve discovered that he has this thing with food and people going hungry. The first time I turned away a meal, I thought he was going to have a conniption! I opted to take meals—or the lack of them—in my room to keep from having to fall under that scrutiny, but then he sent Ana to be my food guard, so they knew that I still wasn’t eating.

She later told me about his childhood and how he was poor and starving before his mom and dad adopted him. Now, wasted food and people going hungry are two things that he completely abhors. They’ve been so kind to me that I didn’t want to offend them in any way, so I started coming down to dinner, asking for small portions and choking down what I could. Dinner is usually followed by going straight to bed because my stomach would feel like I’ve eaten the head of a sledgehammer and I just couldn’t tolerate it. I eventually had a talk with Christian about my hopefully temporary eating disorder, and he lightened up a bit—especially after he saw me drinking Ensure and Pedialyte or having a healthy spinach or fresh strawberry smoothie. I got points for trying.

But it was he who coerced me—to put it nicely—to go to the doctor and make sure nothing was wrong. Now that I have, he and Ana are keeping an eye on me like Mother Hen and Father Goose. It’s nice, though, that someone cares for me without trying to throw me into Dante’s Hell.

For the first week of our separation, I just wanted him to listen to me, to try to understand why I made the decision that I did, even though he all but begged me not to. After that, and several unanswered calls, I decided to leave him to his thoughts, incorrectly hoping that he would come around after he had some time to himself. After over a month of Mom and Dad’s “dance with the devil” lectures, I decided that it was time to get on with my life… without Gary.

It was the hardest decision I had ever made. Deciding on the termination wasn’t hard. It’s what I wanted. Living with that decision is an entirely different matter.

Letting go of Gary was… is impossible. I love him too much and I don’t think I’ll ever get over him, at least no time soon. The thought of someone else touching me sickens me about as much as eating does. So, as it stands, I’m doomed to be alone, haunted by the memories of the incredible love that I lost.

I spent one night in the apartment; tried to sleep in our bed, but that was impossible. After spending the night wide awake on the sofa, I knew I would have to leave. After asking Boss Lady not to make me work that weekend, I found myself agreeing to move into Grey Crossing immediately. I truly didn’t want to impose, but I was able to get some sleep that night not having to endure another damnation sermon or having to smell the sheets where Gary’s aroma still lingers in our bed—even after all that time.

So, as my body continues to revolt on me, I drink the Pedialyte on my way back to Helping Hands after picking up Ana’s lunch, trying to chase away the metal taste of my beloved blueberry muffin on my tongue. I contemplate what I could have done differently, short of not terminating the pregnancy. I do this often, and I guess it’s my way of punishing myself—repeatedly—for my ghastly mistake. How someone can be of two minds about this is a mystery to me, but I am. I still feel like I wasn’t ready for a baby, and no, I wasn’t willing to carry it to term to give it to someone else. Yet, when I think about the mystery with my health, disappointing my parents…

Losing Gary completely…

… I often wonder if I would have been okay having the baby and being a mom. I would be about six months pregnant right now, and I didn’t bother getting a due date. That’s a reminder I certainly don’t need. What kind of father would Gary have made? Would we have gotten married?

That familiar ache in my chest and the longing in my soul have become constant companions as I once again lament losing the greatest love of my life. As usual, the questions are too painful and after I swipe a tear from my cheek, I push them to the back of my head and continue my ride back to the Center before the proverbial water under the bridge reaches up to drown me.

*-*

“I can tell by your face you didn’t eat anything. Does the smell of food make you sick?” No, just the taste of it… most of it, anyway.

“I tried, Bosslady,” I excuse. “I got one of my favorite blueberry muffins from the coffee shop on Cherry St, and when I bit into it, it tasted like garbage.”

“You’ve been here for hours! What have you eaten?”

“Pedialyte,” I say, my voice low.

“That’s not eating,” she scolds, her voice crisp. “I know the doctor said that was okay as a meal replacement, but you can’t do that forever. You’re wasting away, Marilyn. Where are you now?” I drop my gaze.

“One-fourteen,” I reply. When I raise my eyes to her, her lips are forming a thin line.

“You’ve got five more pounds,” she says. “Five more pounds, Marilyn, and I’m checking you in. You can go willingly, or I’ll call your parents, and I have no problems with an ambush.”

“Okay, okay,” I cede. I guess it’ll be nights of choking down food and going to bed with an upset stomach in hopes of keeping it down.

“You are going to the victory celebration on Friday, right?” It’s a question, but I know it’s more like a demand from a parent. I have to say that I really don’t want to be around people these days, especially since they assume they know what’s going on in my life. That whole bulimia/anorexic conversation in Vegas still smarts.

“Who else is going to be there?” I ask cautiously.

“All my friends and family are invited,” she answers, “but to answer your unasked question, I don’t think Gary will be there. I haven’t heard from him in months.” My lips tighten. I hate that our failed relationship is obviously affecting her friendship with Gary, but if there’s anybody I can’t stand to see right now, it’s the man that makes my heart race so fast that it feels like it’s going to beat right out of my chest.

“Fine, I’ll go.” They’ll have to serve soup of some kind, and I can probably choke down a salad, and when no one is watching, I’ll excuse myself to the restroom and go walk around the putting greens. More time to reflect and torment myself.

For the next three days, I do exactly what I said I would—choke down my small helpings of dinner, then go straight to bed with the hopes of not regurgitating the entire meal. By the third day, Ana is on to me, but I tell her to take it or leave it. After I thoroughly convince her that I don’t barf-chow, I tell her frankly that it’s the only way food will stay down and the only way that I don’t lose those five pounds that she threatened me with.

On Friday morning, Victoria comes to the Crossing and drapes Ana in one of her magnificent Ana-Grey-only originals for the dinner tonight. She says that she happens to have this cute, white number for me as she noticed my frame is a bit petite and thought that maybe the things that I have might not fit for tonight.

Um-hmm, really subtle, ladies.

Nonetheless, the dress is really cute and fits me perfectly. It’s a beautiful white high-low formal and it’s every bit of a size two or zero. I can’t be angry, though. I know that everyone is concerned about me and she’s right. Nothing I have that’s appropriate for tonight fits. I sigh and thank her for the dress.

When Ana suggests going to the spa for treatments, however, that’s where I draw the line. When I say that I can’t stand for anybody to touch me, I mean anybody! I’ll wash my own damn hair, put it up in a messy chignon, and do my own damn make-up.

The wretched evening arrives, and I ride with Ana and Christian to Broadmoor to celebrate. I feel a little guilty being the wet blanket, but I’ll do the best that I can under the circumstances. I really want everyone to just leave me alone, but I know that left to my own devices, I’ll certainly just shrivel up and die. Ana and Christian know that, too, and I can’t be angry with them for being concerned. If anything, I’m angry and irritated with myself for not being able to pull out of this.

Even now, in this beautiful room with all of Ana’s family and friends, all I can do is think of him… wishing he was here so that we could dance together or make jokes about people. Various ones at the table try to engage me in whatever small talk they can think of, but it’s no use. I’m too busy thinking about Gary.

The last social “outing” I went to was karaoke in Vegas and as I gaze into my lemon-lime soda, I can’t help but wonder how many quiet conversations are going on right now about my bulimic appearance.

“Marilyn…”

I’m startled to hear my name and I look up to see Christian standing over me.

“Yeah?” I reply.

“I hate to put you to work, but Butterfly says there’s something going on with the cake. Would you mind popping back to the kitchen and making sure everything’s okay? If it’s not too much trouble…”

“Oh! Sure, no problem,” I say. Before I can move, I see something over his shoulder that snatches the breath out of my body.

Gary.

Am I seeing things? Am I wishing he was here so much that I’m seeing things?

“Marilyn?” My eyes are drawn to Christian’s. I can see the sympathy in his eyes, and I know immediately. There’s nothing wrong with the cake. He was trying to get me out of the room. He was trying to keep me from seeing Gary.

He’s here! Dammit, he’s here! I only came because I thought he wasn’t going to be here. Our eyes meet simultaneously, and I can’t take it. I can’t stand seeing him, not even for a second. My heart bursts into the most terrible inferno of molten hot lava and suddenly, the room is 150 degrees.

This is hell. This is really hell.

No…
No…
I can’t do this…

I spring from the table and dash out of the room as fast as my feet can take me. I need air. I need it now. I can’t breathe.

Jesus! Help me, please…

I’ve officially lost it. After all the hell and brimstone talk, now I’m praying. I’m on fire, I’m in hell, and I’m praying. As if in answer to my prayers, the door appears before me as if it wasn’t there the entire time. I burst through it and run, headed for the greens like I planned to in the first place. The sky is clear, and I can see just fine in the dark, but a clear night in March in Seattle means that it’s cold, and I forgot my coat.

It doesn’t matter—the burning in my chest will keep me warm and wild dogs couldn’t drag me back into that place right now. Maybe I’ll catch pneumonia and die, and this will all finally be over.

I run until the painful heat in my chest is replaced with painful cold, the cool air stabbing at my lungs as I heave and sob. I fall on my knees on the cold grass, welcoming any other feeling but these sharp pains of anguish and longing for the man that I love who can’t stand the sight of me. Somewhere during the run, I’ve lost the combs that held my chignon together, and strings of dull, listless blonde hair fall into my face and stick to my wet cheeks. I throw my head back a release a loud mournful cry, one that I hope would shake the foundations of the earth and crack through the heavens. My mother was right. God is punishing me.

“Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease!” I cry with all the breath I have. “God, Pleeeeease, forgive me! I’m sorry! Please, God, please…”

The only thing I know to do is pray. Nothing I’ve done to this point has helped. I can’t see my way clear to anything or anyone, not even the cold stabbing at my chest and knees…

… And now my soul.

“God, pleeeease,” I cry. “I can’t take it back. I would if I could, but I can’t. Please, make it stop! Please! I’ll do anything! I’ll do anything, God, just please make it stop! I can’t stand it! Please, God…”

I drop my face in my hands and weep, begging God to please take this pain away from me. I hear a song in my head that my mother played almost every day. I resented it then, but now, I’m just praying for Him to hear me. Send a bolt of lightning; put me out of my misery; give me amnesia; anything, just take this away… please, take this away…

Father! Can You hear me now?
Father! Can You hear me now?
Father! Can You hear me now?
Father! Can You hear me now?

I’m numb from the pain. It seems like it just won’t end. I’m stuck in it and I can’t get out. This is my punishment. This is my hell. This is what Mom and Dad were trying to tell me, what I was trying to ignore. Oh, dear God, please forgive me. I’ll do anything, just please forgive me…

The bolt of lightning that I was hoping for strikes through my arm, but it’s not enough. I jerk violently from the shock. It’s just a jolt—it doesn’t end me. Not the arm, aim for my head or my heart. That’s when I realize that it’s not a bolt of lightning. It’s something much worse.

Somebody’s touching me.


GARY

I said I wasn’t going, but I felt convicted in my heart. I haven’t been a very good friend to Ana throughout this trial. She’s always been there for me when I needed her… always. Now, at one of the most pivotal moments of her life, I can’t put my feelings aside and at least make an appearance?

She won’t be there. I know she won’t. She didn’t come to events before we got together, and she never went to anything that wasn’t work-related unless she was with me. She won’t be with me and this isn’t work-related, so she won’t be there. I quickly change into a formal black suit and head off to the Broadmoor Country Club.

There’s no way to see all the cars in the lot, but I can see most of them, and I don’t see her Sonata. I think I’m safe in my assumption that she didn’t come. I drive up to the door and give my keys to the valet. I enter the ballroom, packed full of Ana’s family and friends. I feel better being here, coming to support my friend and just not being in those four walls anymore, even though my heart still aches from the obvious. I scan the room and find Ana on the dancefloor with Christian. I make my way over to them just as the song that’s playing is ending.

“Hey… Ana,” I say softly. She turns around to see who’s talking and her face goes pale.

“Gary!” she says, in shock. “H… hi. I… didn’t know you were coming.” She embraces me hard and whispers in my ear. “It’s good to see you.” I wrap my arms around her.

“It’s good to see you, too,” I say. I’m looking at Christian over her shoulder and he’s glaring at me like I stole money from him. Ana releases me and immediately looks over her shoulder at Christian. I guess he’s possessive of his wife and I should let her go.

“Christian,” I say, by means of a greeting.

“Garrett,” he says, his voice crisp. He glares at me for a moment. “Excuse me,” he says before walking off the dancefloor. I look at Ana, who can barely make eye-contact with me herself.

“We didn’t think you were coming. I hadn’t heard from you…”

“I know,” I interrupt. “I’ve been a terrible friend, and I’m sorry. I’m glad at least some of those bastards are finally getting their just deserts.”

“Um, yeah… me, too.” She’s distracted. She keeps looking around the room. I frown.

“Ana… what’s wrong?” I ask. “Would you rather I not be here?” Have I completely destroyed our friendship along with my relationship? She sighs.

“It’s not that,” she says, finally. “Marilyn is here.”

My eyes sharpen. What the fuck? She never went to anything without me, and now she’s here? I whip around and the moment I turn, I see her eyes—blue and way too large for her face; horrified and staring back at me. Good God, she’s as skinny as a child. She’s even thinner than she looked on Monday!

“What the hell…?” Before I finish my thought, she’s out of her seat and out the door. I move to follow her, but Ana grabs my arm.

“Gary…” she cautions, “she’s not doing well.” I gesture wildly to the area Marilyn just vacated.

“Ya think?” I say louder than I intended. “Look at her! She’s wasting away to nothing! She looks like she’s dying!” I examine the door she just exited, and I see Christian walking purposefully towards us. I don’t have time for this. I head to the door.

“Gary…!” I hear Ana’s voice behind me, but I keep moving. Christian steps in front of me as if to block my path and before I know it, I push him out of my way with all the force in my body and dash out the door behind Marilyn.

When I get to the corridor, I can’t see her. Did she go to the ladies’ room? Just as I’m headed in that direction, completely intent on bursting in if I have to, I see her through the large paneled glass wall. She’s outside, running across the grass in the dark in a strapless dress and no coat!

“Shit!” I say, bursting out the doors behind her. She’s got such a head start and I don’t know if I’ll catch her. If I call her, she might run faster. She is hauling ass across this grass in those heels and it’s everything I can do just to keep pace with her. Suddenly, she stops like she hit the wall.

Thank God, I think to myself. But no, she falls into the cold, wet grass in this flimsy white dress that she’s wearing.

“Shit!” I find the strength to run faster. As soon as I’m within a few feet of her, she releases a blood-curdling noise that causes my stomach to do flip-flops. I look around to see who’s watching. Somebody might think I’m out here trying to murder the girl. I think I see a small crowd in front of the country club, so they know that I’m not killing her. I approach with caution…

And she’s praying.

Loud and hard and mournfully, praying for it to stop. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what it is. She’s lost so much weight that it looks like her health is failing. Her hair is thin and sticking to her tear-streaked face and I would guess that she’s shed a lot of it, too. She’s rocking back and forth like the old ladies in church, crying to the sky almost incoherently until she drops her face in her hands.

Jesus! This is awful.

I get on my knees in front of her, almost afraid to touch her as she continues to pray and cry for relief. I remove my jacket and move to put it around her bare shoulders, and she jerks like I burned her. What the hell?

“Mare?” I say, and she doesn’t stop her crying and praying. I put my arms around her, and she fights me like she’s fighting for her life.

“No! No! No!” she whimpers with every swing. What the hell is this? This is not Marilyn. I struggle through her clawing and swinging at me until I get her wrapped in my arms. Moments later, she hits that wall again and her fighting stops. Her head drops onto my shoulder and she continues to weep and rock, inconsolable. I let her weep for a few more moments, but I know we can’t stay here. We’ll both catch our death. I retrieve my jacket from the ground and wrap it around her shoulders again. Knowing that I have one hell of a walk ahead of me, I lift her into my arms and prepare to carry her across the long putting green.

She. Weighs. Nothing.

I kiss her forehead and start my walk.

I get about 100 feet and see salvation coming from the side of the country club—a golf cart driven by what looks like one of the service staff. I walk towards him, very happy to see him headed in our direction.

“Is she okay?” the guy asks, concerned.

“She’s cold,” I reply. “I need to get her inside. Do you have some private area anywhere that I can take her?” He nods.

“Yeah. Get in, let’s get her out of here.”

I climb into the golf cart and sit Mare on my lap. I’m so glad to be holding her, but not under these circumstances and not this light.

He leads me to a small changing room, and I lay Marilyn on a sofa. She’s laying there like a ragdoll and she hasn’t stopped sobbing. He goes to the linen closet and retrieves what looks like a bed sheet. He hands it to me and I drape it over her, removing her shoes and wrapping it around her feet.

“Can I get her anything?” he asks.

“A glass of water,” I tell him. “A cool compress and some hot tea with lemon.”

“There’s a bathroom through there with clean washcloths and some glasses for water. I’ll go get some tea.”

I nod as he leaves the room and I go to the restroom. When I return with the compress and water, she’s still shaking with sobs. I kneel next to her, set the water on the floor, and dab her face gently with the wet cloth moving her wet hair from her face. Her cheeks are fire-red, her eyes swollen, and she looks like she’s physically in pain.

“Please stop crying,” I say, trying to dry her tears as quickly as they fall. She’s like a faucet. She can’t turn off. I sigh and stand from the floor. I bend down and lift her from the sofa before taking a seat with her on my lap. She’s still sobbing, and I doubt that she’ll stop.

I put my arm around her and push her stringy, wet hair behind her ear. I kiss her head and cup her cheek, trying to soothe her, but she’s truly inconsolable. My heart broke—shattered when I knew what happened to my baby. But seeing her like this, knowing how long she’s been like this, what she had to be going through to be this thin, this frail, this unhealthy, this quickly, and watching her sob in my arms right now to the degree that she can’t hear anything? This is ripping my soul out.

She didn’t grab her coat and go hide in a car. She didn’t lock herself in the ladies’ room and refuse to come out. She ran outside and took off across the putting green in nothing but a strapless dress and high heels on a cold Seattle night where she fell into the grass and started screaming to God to make her pain stop.

This is worse than I ever could have imagined. Mare’s not an atheist, but it takes a lot for her to pray after growing up with fanatically Christian parents. To see her screaming to God for relief in the cold, wet grass… and to see her now, unable to stop crying…

“I love you,” I say softly. “I still love you so much… please stop crying…”

Her crying doesn’t cease, and it doesn’t falter. I realize that I just have to let her cry until she stops. So, I just hold her there close to me, rocking her, cupping her cheek and kissing her forehead, willing her to stop…

*-*

I don’t know how long we sit there. I know that the guy that brought us in here brought tea, and it has long since gone cold. She has finally stopped crying, though she still has that shuddering breath thing going on.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper when it seems that she’s coherent enough to hear me.

“I’m sorry, too,” she squeaks, and I know she’s talking about the baby. I hold her closer to me.

“We’re going to have to talk to someone,” I tell her. “This is big.” She nods but says nothing. I lift her chin so that I can look into her eyes.

“This hurt,” I tell her. “I hurt every day that my baby’s not here, but I love you and I need you, and not having you with me makes this worse.”

“I can’t take it back,” she weeps, her body shaking violently. She’s so fucking frail… “I’m sorry. I would if I could… I’m sorry…”

“Ssshhh,” I say, tucking her head under my chin. “It’s done now, we just have to figure out how to get through it.” She takes a deep breath and shivers.

“Still cold?” I ask. She nods. “What do you want to do?”

“I can’t go back out there,” she says. “Half of them already think I’m bulimic. Now the other half thinks I’m crazy.”

“Stay here. I’ll get your coat…”

Christian’s eyes are full of judgement when I come back to the ballroom. Quite frankly, I don’t care. He and Ana stand when they see me, and I walk over to them.

“How’s Mare?” Ana asks, concerned.

“She’s cold and exhausted and she wants to leave… and we need to talk,” I say to Ana.

“She’s staying with us now,” Christian points out, challenging. Who the fuck do you think you are?

“So, what do you suggest I do, Christian?” I say, squaring my shoulders. “Do I take her back to my place, or do we spend the night at yours?” Your choice, asshole. He narrows his eyes at me and just as he’s about to say something, Ana puts her hand on his chest.

“Whatever makes Marilyn more comfortable,” she says. I look at her, then at Christian who’s still seething, then back at Ana.

“Thank you,” I say before turning to leave.

“You and I will have words later,” Christian shoots.

“No, we won’t!” I retort turning back to him. “The intricacies of this situation are between me and Marilyn, and no one else!”

“That’s just it, Garrett, it’s not between you and Marilyn. We took care of her and watched her fall apart while you took off!” Ana is trying to calm him, but he’s already on a rant—and trust me, my friend, I can go right there with you.

“And while I appreciate that you took care of her, you have no idea what I was going through, and I have no inclination to explain it to you. So, you can’t put me in judgment.”

“The hell I can’t!” he roars. “Look at her! She’s deteriorating before our very eyes while you’re off hiding somewhere! My wife was a few days away from having her committed!”

“And what was I going through, Christian?” I yell. “Do you have any idea?”

“What the fuck does it matter?” he retorts, coldly. “You don’t look like you’ve lost 25 pounds!”

You arrogant son-of-a-bitch. How fucking dare you dismiss my suffering just because you weren’t there to witness it. I am so through with you, you rich, pompous, puffed-up, self-important asshole. I close the space between us and look right up into his cold, gray eyes.

“Lose a baby, Christian!” I retort, furious. “Then you can come and talk to me!” I don’t blink. I stare his ass down. My eyes are piercing, my heart is racing, and I swear to God, if he says another word, I’ll knock his teeth loose again.

An unknown emotion flashes over his face, but he doesn’t say anything. What—no smart-ass response, Uncle Moneybags?

I’m so angry that I’m shaking, so I think the best course of action is for me to get my girl the hell out of here before I end up spending the night in jail. Fuck his security, I’ll beat his pretty ass right now. I do a sharp about-face and walk the hell out the room, leaving all the inquiring minds behind.

“I need my girlfriend’s coat,” I say to the coat check attendant.

“Do you have a ticket?” she asks.

“Shit!” I say. I’m thinking quickly. She ran outside, she didn’t have her purse. The coat check ticket is probably in her purse, which is most likely in the ballroom. If I go back in there, I’m going to get arrested…

“Gary?”

I look up to see Val coming out the ballroom walking towards me. At first, I think she’s going to let me have it, but she opens her arms and closes the space between us. I return her embrace.

“It’s so good to see you,” she says. I close my eyes and sink into the hug.

“I’m sorry it wasn’t better circumstances,” I say. She pulls back and looks at me.

“None of us knew what happened,” she says. “Even now, it’s just speculation. But Gary, we’ve missed you. Don’t do that again.”

“Val…” I begin to protest.

“Elliot and I lost a baby in January,” she blurts out. I can’t stop my gasp. “I don’t know and I don’t care if it was the same for you or if it was different, but if you lost a baby, it was the same.” She pauses. “You need your friends.”

I hold my head down and nod, fighting back the tears. She embraces me again.

“We love you,” she says. “Don’t run from us again.” I clear my throat.

“I won’t,” I say, just above a whisper. She hands me a purse that I assume is Mare’s and kisses me on the cheek. She heads back to the door of the ballroom and I take a deep breath and wipe away a stray tear before I raise my gaze to her. Elliot is standing in the doorway when I raise my head. He puts his hand in the small of his wife’s back then makes eye-contact with me. He nods twice… and I return his nod. He walks back into the ballroom and my shoulders fall. This night has been way too much for me.

I open the small clutch which doesn’t have much in it and easily locate the coat check ticket. Once I retrieve Marilyn’s coat, I go back to the dressing room to retrieve my girl. She slowly rises from the sofa when I enter. She has removed the sheet and put her shoes back on. She hands me my jacket and I help her into her coat.

“Here.” We turn to see the guy who came out to the putting green standing there with something in his hand. “I only saw two. If there were more, I didn’t see them.” Mare smiles faintly and takes what looks like two blinged-out hair-combs from his hand.

“Thank you,” she says softly. “I thought they were gone forever.” He smiles and leaves, and I take her hand.

“Your ring is gone,” I observe, thinking it may have fallen out there in the green as well.

“It didn’t really make a lot of sense to keep wearing it,” she says sadly. “Besides, it doesn’t fit anymore anyway.” I purse my lips—happy that it’s not lost in the putting green, but not so happy that she stopped wearing it. What can I expect, though?

Getting into Ana’s house without Ana being present is a bit of a task. Whenever I showed up, Mare was with me, but security expected me—some gathering of some kind. Now, Mare’s in my car, she looks like hell, and the guy at the gate didn’t recognize her at first. I thought we would have to call Ana for clearance, but somehow, that crisis is avoided, and we’re able to get past the gate. I park on the far end of the circular driveway so as not to block the portico or the garages, and Mare and I go inside.

She’s sitting on the bed in one of the guest rooms, looking out the window and saying nothing. I’ve turned on one of the lamps by the nightstand and I’m waiting for her to speak. When she doesn’t, I walk over to her. She’s just sitting there, looking out of the window like she doesn’t know what to do with herself. Jesus, I barely recognize her. She jumps when I touch her, like it burns.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m not used to anyone touching me anymore.” I frown.

“Nobody touches you?” I ask. “Not even a hug?” She shrugs.

“Bossla… Ana,” she says. “Nobody else really knows what to do with me.”

Hell, I don’t know what to do with you, either. I sit down next to her and stare out of the window.

“I… didn’t want to be without you… I just couldn’t…”

“I know,” she interrupts me. I touch her arm and she jerks again, but I don’t move my hand.

“Let me finish,” I tell her. “I couldn’t handle what I was feeling… am feeling. I loved that kid and never even saw him. And then… he was gone.”

She doesn’t look at me. She only looks out the window.

“Did you know… if it was a boy or a girl?” I ask. She shakes her head, but says nothing. “I think it was a boy.”

Tears begin to fall from her eyes. I mean they’re running like a faucet and her expression doesn’t even change. It’s like she’s hemorrhaging water inside, but on the outside, she’s dead. All we need is the casket.

“I don’t know how to move on,” she says. She’s not even blinking. “I don’t know what to do next. I haven’t known for months. I’ve just been… here.” I can tell.

“I saw you on Monday.”

That gets her attention.

“Where?” she asks, turning flooded eyes to me.

“At Sugar’s on Cherry,” I reply. “I wasn’t following you. We just happened to be on the same street at the same time. Maybe I was following you,” I shrug. “It’s not like I don’t know you like their blueberry muffins.” She turns back to the window, her eyes still gushing water.

“It’s not like I could eat it,” she says, still not blinking.

“I know. I saw you when you threw it away. I wanted to chase you down the street and force feed you, but…” I try to wipe her cheeks, but more water falls as quickly as I try to wipe it away.

“It won’t help,” she says. “They’ll just keep falling.” I gaze at her.

“Why don’t you stop?” I ask.

“I don’t know how,” she replies. “The first month, my parents berated me for killing a child and taking a life and stealing one of God’s souls. They threw me in hell daily, for several hours every day. We don’t even speak anymore. I went to them for comfort and they tormented me the entire time. The crying had already started, but it became wailing by then.

“The second month, when I came back to Seattle, I spent one night in the apartment and realized that I couldn’t live there… so I left, and Ana brought me here. I took this room because it was the farthest from everyone else… and I could cry in peace.

“The third month, I was in Vegas. I expected it to be a geographical cure—get away from Seattle without the hell and damnation from my parents… it was not. The ladies that went with us—Ana’s stepmother and Christian’s PR lady—both thought I was anorexic or bulimic. Bosslady had to stand up for me.” She mentioned that earlier, but I thought she was being dramatic.

“They said that?” I ask frowning.

“I was away from the table. They didn’t think I heard them. I didn’t go out with them anymore after that.”

“You went out?” I ask, feeling an immediate twang of jealousy. I didn’t go out… not once. She nodded.

“We all went to Karaoke in Vegas. I was the only one there without a date… well, unless you count security.” Well, that must’ve sucked.

“Did you sing?” I ask. I’ve heard her singing around the apartment and in the shower when she thinks I’m not paying attention. She has an incredible voice.

She nods.

“What did you sing?”

She begins to sing. I can barely hear her. Even with her voice this low, she sounds amazing.

There’s a fire starting in my heart, reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out the dark…

I sit there and let her sing the song. Rolling in the Deep… that’s an angry song.

“The scars of your love remind me of us, they keep me thinkin’ that we almost had it all…”

She still doesn’t look at me as she’s singing. It’s like she’s having a conversation with the tree outside and it’s quite riveting.

“You had my heart inside of your hand, and you played it to the beat…”

She stops singing. I know it’s not the end of the song, but she stops anyway.

“Did you hate me?” I ask. She shakes her head unfazed by my question.

“I hated myself,” she answers, “for what I did, for what I lost, for what I felt, for who I was, for everything. I can’t undo what I did. I can’t bring the baby back, but if I had the chance to do it again…”

“You’d do the same thing,” I say. She looks at me in horror.

“Look at me,” she says, the first time since her breakdown on the green that I’ve heard any emotion in her voice. “I’m dying, here. I know I’m dying, and I can’t do anything about it. Ana said she would take me to the hospital if I got any thinner, and I would have let her. I drank so many of those damn shakes that I can’t stand the taste of them anymore, so I haven’t been drinking them anymore. I knew I would lose more weight, so I forced myself to eat what food I could at dinner to keep Christian from calling a state of emergency. I’ve never been sicker in my whole life… and I can’t do anything about it. Hindsight being 20/20, there’s no way in the world I’d want to go through this again. So, no, I wouldn’t do the same thing.”

“Well, then, you’d be trading this for a whole new set of problems,” I tell her. “You weren’t ready for a baby, clearly… and neither was I. We weren’t prepared. The next thing I knew, the baby was there, and I was all in. And then, the baby wasn’t there anymore… and I was crushed. So, what… you would have had the baby when neither of us were ready. At some point, you would have felt like you were forced into making that decision. You eventually would have resented me, or worse yet, the baby—at the very least, the situation. Yes, there were some wrong decisions made here, but I’m not so sure that was one of them.” She drops her head and sighs.

“I’m so tired,” she laments. “I’ve never been so tired in my life.”

I crawl off the bed to the floor and remove her shoes. I unzip her dress and help her step out of it. I pull the covers back and she climbs into the bed. I tuck her in and sit next to her.

“Go to sleep,” I tell her, pushing her hair out of her face. “I’ll still be here when you wake.”

She’s asleep in no time. I watch her there for a moment, missing being next to her and not knowing who this frail frame of a woman is lying next to me all at the same time. I lay behind her and look out the window, wondering what she was thinking, what she must have been going through all this time.

Was Christian exaggerating? Was it really 25 pounds? She wasn’t that big to begin with. She was 130… maybe. Now, she’s about 105? For Pete’s sake, a healthy teenager weighs more than that. She really is no bigger than a child. What the fuck have I done to this woman?

I don’t know how long she slept—maybe an hour, tops—but she sits up silently like she wasn’t sleeping at all. I know that she was, but she rises to a sitting position effortlessly. She scrubs her face and sighs deeply, mournfully, her bony shoulders falling so far that they nearly disappear.

“Do you need something?” I ask, simultaneously putting my hand on her shoulder. She gasps and moves away from me so far… She’s grasping her chest and staring at me like she’s seeing a ghost. Quite frankly, she scared the shit out of me, so I jumped back a few miles, too.

“What?” I ask, a bit horrified, waiting for her to tell me my latest transgression.

“I… I…” She’s panting like she’s out of breath. “I thought it was a dream.” Okay, now I’m horrified.

“You thought all that was a dream?” I ask incredulously. This was a very detailed, very traumatizing evening in and of itself, and she thought it was a dream? She takes two deep, seemingly painful breaths.

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” she says, her voice low.

Fuuuuuuck me. How many dreams as horrifying as tonight has she had over the last three months? I can tell she was genuinely startled by seeing me here and not in a good way.

“Oh, God,” I say, quickly gathering her in my arms and holding her close to me, leaning hard into her back. What have I done? Dear God, what have I done?

“Please…” she whimpers, “not so hard… you’re hurting me.” For the love of…

“I’m sorry,” I say as I release her a bit and gently kiss her shoulder. “Lay back down. You didn’t sleep long at all.”

“I never do,” she says, allowing me to pull her back to the bed. No food… no sleep… it’s truly a puzzle that she’s not a lot sicker than this. Maybe she is and we just can’t see it. It’s a wonder she’s alive.

“Do you want something to eat?” I ask as I rub her thin arms. She’s shakes her head.

“I’m suddenly really tired,” she confesses.

“You said that before and now you’re awake,” I reply. She nods. Without another word, she’s back off to sleep in moments.

Several minutes later, she appears to be in deep slumber, but my mind is going miles and miles per second, and I know that I’m not going to sleep. I slide out of bed easily, intent on going to get some fresh air, but I realize that she’s probably going to be traumatized if she wakes up again and I’m not here, doubly disappointed that she thought it wasn’t a dream only to think that it was again. I remove my wallet from my pocket and place it on the nightstand next to her bed.

Too subtle.

I remove my driver’s license and prop it up on the wallet and the lamp so that it’s the first thing she sees when she opens her eyes. It’s not a dream, baby. I was here, and I’ll be back.

I quietly slip out of the room and head downstairs. I want to go somewhere and think for a minute, just a moment or two to myself. I wander around this huge, never-ending house until I find my way back to the stairs. Getting to the dining room isn’t hard from here. There’s a patio just beyond the kitchen, but if Ana returns and sees me there, she’s going to want to have that deep, meaningful talk that I’m not ready for. I wander around a little more and find the stairs to the lower level.

A bar! No, no… the last thing I need to be right now is inebriated. There’s another patio, though. Yeah, this’ll do.

I sit on the sofa and look out at the moon and the lake, taking the first deep breath that I’ve taken all night since I walked into that ballroom. For the love of Pete, why didn’t I expect to see her there? What the fuck was I thinking?

I know exactly what I was thinking; that she killed my baby and that she’s out there living up the single life. Even though I saw how skinny she was at that donut shop, it still didn’t occur to me that she was suffering. I mean, it did, but it didn’t sink in. She was the woman who murdered my child, not the woman that I loved pining away for me for three months and hasn’t eaten or slept in just as long.

She looks horrible. She’s frail and sickly; her hair is thin and dull; her skin is ashy and hanging from her bones in certain places; her face is sunken in and she’s got bags under her eyes. She’s walking dead. She’s literally walking dead… and she’s a sight for sore eyes.

I never thought she would be reduced to this. I don’t know what I thought—I didn’t care. For the love of Pete, this is horrible. I drop my face in my hands and sit there forever, lamenting my situation.


A/N: Single White Female is a movie from 1992 where Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character was so obsessed with Bridgette Fonda’s character that she actually went crazy. At the point of the movie where Jennifer’s character knew it was time to make her getaway, she scrubbed the entire apartment so that none of her fingerprints were there.

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

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

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Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 25

The quarantine continues, and it’s starting to take a bit of a toll on me. How is everyone else doing?

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

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

Season 5 Episode 25

CHRISTIAN

For the first time in a long time, things are quiet at GEH. I almost don’t know what to do with myself. I’m of two minds with the serenity.

One, I can finally take a breath and relax for a moment. Everyone is doing what they should be doing, and my business looks exactly as it should. Time to zero in on some new acquisitions.

Two, it’s too damn quiet. Either someone is plotting something from the inside or there’s an attack brewing from the outside. Either way, I should be preparing myself for friendly or hostile fire, for some kind of Apocalypse—foreign or domestic.

Instead, I decide to use the downtime to do some research on the family dog.

I’m diligent in my study about pit bulls. Just because my wife wants one doesn’t mean that I’m blindly going to buy one if I find that it’s a bad idea, and I don’t care what she says. I have to be mindful of my children and anyone who comes to visit us for that matter.

I may have delved further than I needed, but I don’t care. I find myself sitting in my office on Wednesday morning reading an in-depth study on pit bull temperament from 2006. When given a series of test to determine general temperament and aggressiveness, pits were shown to have a better temperament and less aggressive tendencies than hound dogs, herdings, terriers, beagles, some mixed breeds, and even many toy breeds like Chihuahuas.

Pit bulls are loyal because they love humans. They’re eager to please, which makes them great family dogs. I would imagine that most dogs like humans, though, unless they’re feral, stray, or taught to be aggressive to humans. Nonetheless, it appears that they like working with humans and they make good police dogs because they’re pretty easy to train. That is a definite plus!

They’re affectionate and they’re snugglers. My wife and kids will love that.

They’re very athletic. I like that, because I can take him on a run with me.

They’re a very healthy breed and they don’t shed a lot. That’s good, too, because it’s going to be our responsibility to care for this dog and the lower the maintenance, the better. I’m glad she didn’t decide she wanted a husky or a retriever. I see that they’re great dogs, too, but my research shows they shed a whole fucking lot! And I don’t think I could deal with Shih Tzus or yorkies or Pomeranians—safe, maybe, but too damn small.

The more I read about pit bulls and the different breeds of dogs compared to them, I realize that my wife was right. Pit bulls are a good choice for a family dog and can even be protectors if trained correctly.

Once I’m satisfied that this decision won’t bite us in the butt—literally, I send out the all-points bulletin that our family will soon be adopting a pit bull puppy so that close family and friends who come to visit won’t be shocked when they see him. I plan to give the cleaning staff a raise for having to clean possible accidents.

I don’t know anything about adopting a puppy and I’ve decided not to delegate this task to either of our PAs. If we want a dog, we’ll have to find one ourselves. I begin a search for puppies in the area. I am having absolutely no luck. I’m finding dogs for sale, but they’re older dogs. There are backyard breeders everywhere, but I don’t trust them. They just take their dog and they breed it with someone else’s dog who says it’s pure bred and it’s a crap shoot. There’s even a pit pull puppy rescue here, but they don’t have any puppies. And even with the rescue, you’re still likely to get the puppies from those backyard breeders. It’s time to send a text to my wife.

**Where in the hell do you find pit bull puppies in Seattle? **

I’m scrolling through the internet still trying to find what I need when my phone rings. It’s Butterfly.

“Hey,” I answer.

“Are you looking for pit bull puppies right this second?” she asks. Duh, didn’t I just send you a text.

“Um, yeah,” I reply.

“That’s so strange because so am I,” she says, her voice full of mirth. Oh… okay.

“This seems like an impossible task, baby. Have you found anything in the Seattle area?”

“No, but I didn’t expect to,” she replies. “Breeders are most likely going to be in more rural areas. We may even have to look out of state.” I frown.

“How do you get a puppy from out of state?” I ask. “We have to go pick it up?”

“Yes, or have it shipped,” she replies.

“Shipped? You mean like Amazon?” I ask, horrified. She laughs.

“Something like that, yeah,” she replies, “but there are humane and professional methods to ship an animal, Christian. Don’t worry.”

I’m sure there are, I’m just not familiar with them.

“So, what do you suggest?” I ask.

“I’ve seen a couple of breeders so far that look promising. One is in California and one, I can’t see where they’re located from the site. They have great testimonials and genetic and health guarantees. They look like they care about their dogs because their warranty is void if you take the dogs to one of two major vet hospitals because they’ve seen overmedication, misdiagnosis, and overcharging. I figure we could do some research and see where this second one is located and see which one would best suit our needs.”

“How did you find them?” I ask.

“Probably doing the same thing you did. I searched for ‘pit bull puppies in Seattle’ and ‘pit bull breeders Seattle.’ I know people have a lot of things to say about puppy farms, but I can’t take any chances. I want to find a reputable breeder with traceable references that can get us a quality pedigreed dog.”

“Oh, you’ll get no argument from me,” I tell her. “Elliot was telling me about his dog and that he’s a rescue. He asked if we were planning to get a rescue, and that’s an unequivocal ‘no.’”

“Elliot has a dog?” she asks.

“Yeah. I can’t remember if he told me the breed—I think it’s a mix. It’s a therapy dog for him and Valerie. She hasn’t told you? He says she loves that dog.”

“It’s not her fault. It’s been wild since Vegas and we haven’t had a chance to talk. I’m going to call her. I’d like to meet the little guy.”

“I don’t know if he’s a ‘little guy,’ baby. I can’t remember the breed.”

“He’s smaller than me,” she says. I remain quiet. My woman is short and very petite.

“Watch it,” she says, noting my silence.

“I didn’t say anything!” I defend.

“Your silence speaks volumes,” she rightfully accuses.

“Well, maybe I should’ve just said the dog could be bigger than you,” I tease.

“Asshole,” she replies.

“I love you, too,” I laugh. She disconnects the call. I would normally scold her for hanging up on me, but I’ll give her this one. I chuckle and put the phone on my desk.

*-*

Various conversations are going on at dinner. Butterfly and I are further discussing our choices for a dog breeder. Gail chimes in with mirth about how Ms. Solomon thought all of Sophie’s kitchen wares were for her and was highly disappointed to find out that they weren’t. She subsequently performed an inventory of the kitchen with Ms. Solomon and realized that there was a utensil or three that could use replacing.

Marilyn sits quietly at the table as she has for the last three nights. She takes very small portions of food, then eats as much as she can. To say that I’m elated to see her eating at all is an understatement, but I must admit that it looks like quite the task for her. On the two previous nights, she ate about half her food, then excused herself from the table looking rather ill. Tonight is no exception, only this time, after she and Keri have finished feeding the children, Butterfly follows Marilyn to her room.

Sophie is visibly absent from the dinner table, and when everyone has left except me and Chuck, Jason tells us why.

“I had to tell Sophie that she may not be able to go to Italy this summer. She’s crushed,” he says. I frown.

“Why?” Chuck asks. “What did she do?”

She didn’t do anything,” Jason replies. “Both parents have to be present to sign for a minor to get a passport. If they’re not able to get to the passport office, then the absent parent has to sign a document that says it’s okay for Sophie to get a passport…”

“Let me guess,” I say, “Shalane won’t sign.”

“You got it,” he laments. I sigh, frustrated.

“But she’s in jail and you’ve got sole custody of Sophie,” I argue. “Doesn’t that mean something?”

“I have sole physical custody of Sophie,” Jason says. “We still have joint legal custody of her. Shalane being in jail doesn’t mean she gave up her parental rights.”            

“Jason, how did you ever fall in love with that woman?” Chuck asks. Jason shrugs.

“She wasn’t always that woman,” he says. “She used to be fun and vibrant and caring. I think my job changed all that. I don’t know what she was doing when I was overseas, but she seemed so supportive and loving. When I got back home from doing my tours, it was like a second honeymoon.

“When I started doing security, she started getting restless. I was floored, man. I had done years overseas for much less money and she never behaved like this. Now, she was complaining that I was never home and that she and Sophie never saw me. They saw me a hell of a lot more than they did when I was active duty!” He shrugs.

“Well, then the other guys started showing up and… the rest is history. She became a flaming bitch after our divorce. I don’t know when the drugs and the pure and utter resentment set in but, yeah, that’s our life now.” 

“Is there anything else we can do?” I ask. “We’re just taking her on a trip. We’re asking for a valid passport. We’re not smuggling her out of the country!”

“I can file for sole custody—you know how long that takes. I can ask for a court order to get a passport without her permission, but it’ll most likely be too late for Italy by the time I get it.”

“You should file for it anyway,” I tell him. “It’s worth a shot and I’m willing to plan another trip just to spite the bitch.” Jason scoffs.

“Maybe I will,” he says. “For now, Sophie’s angry and hurt, and I hate that. She’s a good girl. She doesn’t give us any trouble, and she deserves this trip. She doesn’t deserve for her mother to continue to try to use her as a pawn every chance she gets. Shalane doesn’t care or understand that all this is going to do is hurt her daughter and alienate Sophie from her. Nonetheless, Sophie wants to talk to her to see if she can convince her to sign the papers.”

“Do you really want to do that?” I ask. Jason looks down into his coffee cup.

“She has to see her twice a month anyway,” he replies. “They can talk about whatever they want. If she wants to talk to the bitch about her passport, there’s nothing I can do to stop her. Quite frankly, if Sophie can’t convince her to sign the papers, nobody can.” I shake my head.

“This is utterly ridiculous,” I declare. “When is the next visit?”

“Saturday, as luck would have it… good luck or bad luck, well, that remains to be seen.”

“Dude, I’ve heard that there’s a thin line between love and hate, but I’ve never understood it. I’ve seen people who have vowed to spend their lives together ‘til death do us part’ throw more venom and rocks at each other than the Capulets and the Montagues. I could never, ever imagine building a family with Keri and then behaving this way,” Chuck says.

“It’s hard work,” I tell him. “My wife and I have only been married for a couple of years—not even that yet—and we’ve already run the gauntlet. I know there are things that we haven’t experienced yet, but we’ve been through a lot. Hell, I left my whole family and ran away from home for nearly three weeks.” I thrust my hand into my hair. “All I can say is that you have to find that place of respect and stay there. No matter what happens, you always have to get back to that place of respect.”

“I thought it was love,” Chuck says. I raise my brow.

“Let’s ask the one gentleman among us who’s been through a divorce,” I say, turning to Jason. “Did you still love Shalane when you were going through your divorce?” I ask, already knowing the answer.

“I certainly did,” he says. “I loved the woman that she once was, the one that I married who wanted to build a family together… but she wasn’t that woman anymore.”

“Did you still respect her?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“Nope,” he says. “She had cheated on me and lied to me and all kinds of things.”

“Even though you still loved her, would you had taken her back if she decided that she didn’t want to get the divorce?” I ask. He has to think about that one. Love is very powerful.

“Knowing what I know now, hell no, but back then, it would have been more of a reluctant ‘no.’ I couldn’t trust her anymore, and she would have had to go through a hell of a lot to get my trust back. I wasn’t willing to go through all of that—wondering if she was partaking in midday rendezvous when I was working; being suspicious of every little thing she did; afraid to take assignments for fear that she’d be throwing orgies when I was away. I wouldn’t have been able to take the good jobs for the good pay because I wouldn’t be able to concentrate. You know we can’t have that with what we do. I would have ended up a mall cop,” he says to Chuck, who nods in agreement.

“Honestly, I think it’s a little more detailed than just ‘get back to that place of respect.’ I think it’s more than that, but I can say that if you can’t respect them, you can’t move on with them,” he concludes.

“So, here I am looking at three phases of a relationship—the beginning with me and Keri, in progress with Christian and Ana, and the crash-and-burn end with you and Shalane. What’s to make me feel like if I marry Keri, I won’t end up where you are?” Chuck asks.

“You don’t know that,” Jason says, “but if you’re planning to get married because you’re expecting everything to be perfect, don’t get married. I present exhibit A.” He gestures to me, and I purse my lips and raise my hand. He’s right.

“Everything is certainly not perfect in our relationship,” I tell him, “and I expect more obstacles in the decades to come, but I wouldn’t trade my wife for anything.”

“And then, you have to remember that there are success stories. Look at Grace and Carrick,” Jason points out. “You’re rolling the dice no matter what you do, Chuck, but you have to remember that while your feelings are very important and deserve to be recognized, there are two people in the relationship, and you must be ever mindful of that other person’s feelings, too.

“I think that’s where Shalane and I dropped the ball. I didn’t understand or get the fact that she resented me working all the time. I couldn’t reconcile the fact that if I was away on active duty for years and she was okay with that, what was the problem with me working long hours as long as I came home at night? She complained, but she never answered the question, and the next thing I knew, she was sleeping with other guys.

“I was doing what I felt I needed to do with no real consideration for her feelings because I didn’t know what they were, and she happily went gallivanting out in the street into the arms of other men with no consideration at all for mine. The only marriage that can survive that is one of convenience, and even then, it may not survive.”

“Well, no offense, but this is depressing. I’m going to find out if my woman is done with her duties. Then I’m going to do my best to forget this conversation,” Chuck says, finishing his coffee and standing up. “Goodnight, guys.”

We say Goodnight simultaneously and Chuck goes off in search of Keri.

“I’m going to go check on Soph,” he says. “She might be hungry now… unless she’s cried herself to sleep.”

I pat him on the arm and send him to go comfort his daughter. I climb the stairs, once again pondering the time I ran away from home. Get back to that place of respect. I’d like to think we’ve gotten there. Even though curiosity is killing me, I won’t dredge it up. She has enough to push out of her mind without having to worry about that.

I ascend the stairs and decide to go to my children’s room. My wife is in there with Keri, and the children appear to have just slipped off to sleep.

“Your boyfriend is looking for you,” I tell Keri just above a whisper.

“Ah knoh,” she says, placing a blanket over a sleeping Mikey. “Gudnight.”

“Goodnight,” I say as she leaves the room and closes the door behind her. I go over to my wife who’s sitting in the window seat, rubbing Minnie on the back.

“I try to give them equal time,” she says, kissing Minnie on the forehead. “I can’t keep up with who I held last. I love them both so much.”

“Who says you have to keep up?” I ask, sitting in the window seat next to her.

“I don’t want either of them to feel neglected,” she laments. I chuckle.

“Trust me, the last thing our children could ever feel is neglected,” I say. She rolls her eyes.

“I’m not talking about material things, Christian,” she says.

“Neither am I,” I reply. She shakes her head.

“You don’t understand,” she says. “You’re not a mom.”

The average person would be offended by that statement, but I know exactly what she’s saying.

“You’re right,” I say. “I’ll never know how it feels to be a mother, to feel life growing inside of you and then push it out of you and have two living little beings in your arms that you baked from scratch for nine months. But I know how it feels to be a father. I know how it feels to watch your body swell with our children inside, and to worry about you 24 hours a day the entire time that you were carrying them. I know how it feels to see those babies enter this world and take their first breaths. I know how it feels to look at my family—the three of you—in utter awe, knowing that love created this entire conglomerate and that nothing I ever do in my entire life will ever be as magnificent and glorious as this.

“Most of all, I know how it feels to look at you with our children and watch how you melt with love and compassion whenever they’re around, wishing that I had a mom like that when I was their age—one that was able to chase away my monsters. And when I see you with our children, I know for sure that one thing that they will never feel… is neglected.” She looks up at me with those guileless blue eyes.

“Thank you, Christian,” she says, softly. “That’s so sweet.”

I kiss her gently on her temple. It may have been sweet, but I meant every word.

“How’s Marilyn?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“Still not doing very well, I’m afraid,” she says. “She eats because she knows that she has to… and she’s kind of being forced to… and then she goes to bed because her stomach is in knots.”

“That can’t be good for her digestion,” I say.

“It’s the only way she can keep any food down,” she says. “She confessed to me that she tried to eat one of her favorite muffins on Monday and she couldn’t even choke it down. She’s trying, but I’m convinced that she’s going to need some more help.” I shake my head.

“How do you let somebody suffer like this that you once claimed to love?” I ask in disgust.

“If you’re talking about Gary, Christian, he probably doesn’t know she’s feeling this way,” Butterfly excuses.

“Of course, he doesn’t know!” I shoot. “He left her out to dry and didn’t look back. She’s falling apart and her friends have to pick up the pieces!”

“Sssh!” she scolds as Minnie stirs a bit but goes back to sleep. Apparently, my voice was louder than I intended. She puts Minnie in her crib and rubs her back a little to help her get back to sleep.

“Where’s Gail?” I ask, my voice soft again.

“Down with Sophie,” she says. “I can’t very well justify her taking care of my kids when her kid is having a crisis. Did you hear that spiteful cow won’t sign the papers for Sophie to get a passport?”

“I heard,” I say. “I wish there was something I could do to speed this process up, but this is federal. You can’t fu… mess with it.”

She looks up at me, then checks Minnie again before gesturing for us to leave. We exit the nursery and close the door behind us.

“There are some people in this world that I wish would just go straight to hell, and she’s one of them,” my wife says as we walk to our bedroom.

“Not before she signs the papers,” I say, closing the door behind us.

“Christian!” she scolds. I scoff at her.

“How is what I said any harsher than what you said?” I inquire honestly. She twists her lips.

“It’s not,” she cedes before pulling her shirt over her head. “I should have taken the high road before I said anything. It just pisses me off so much!”

“I know,” I say, unbuttoning my shirt and pulling it off my shoulders. “This is just one of those times where we’re going to have to hope that good prevails.”  

“Sometimes, you just want to be more proactive,” she says, stepping out of her pants and her panties and walking to her bathroom. Damn, that ass!

“I know how you feel,” I say, stripping out of the rest of my clothes and leaving my boxer briefs. “You know how helpless I feel right now.”

She’s quiet, so I know she must be brushing her teeth. I duck into my bathroom and quickly brush mine, managing to make it back to the bedroom before she does and sit on the side of the bed. A few minutes after I get back to the room, she comes out of her bathroom in a nightshirt brushing her extremely long hair.

“You would think she would want to do everything in her power right now to get into Sophie’s good graces, not piss her off,” Butterfly says as she vigorously brushes her hair over her shoulders and in front of her face.

“It’s never been about being in Sophie’s good graces,” I correct my wife. “Anything she ever did was never out of any consideration for Sophia. Even that Thanksgiving she allowed Sophie to spend here with Jason was because she was hoping to be invited, too. Sophie has always been a pawn, a tool, or a means to an end. I’m surprised that girl is as well-rounded as she is with the mother that she had to contend with all these years.”

“She’s about to be 14,” Butterfly says, still tackling her hair. “She’s coming up on a very delicate time in her life and her mother is not here. This is the time that her mother should influence her the most and she’s not here. She’s not going to be in there forever. She has no concern whatsoever what her relationship with Sophie is going to be like once she’s free?”

“Apparently not. The entire time I’ve known of her, it’s been ‘how could she hurt Jason?’ Sophie’s feelings never came into play—ever. I just didn’t know how bad it was until Sophie almost went to Spruce Street,” I tell her. She shakes her head and stops brushing her hair.

“She’s there for rehabilitation—to repay her debt to society—and she has no interest in rebuilding her relationship with her daughter… the daughter she tried to trade for drugs, I might add. That’s sad. That’s really fucking sad.”

“Well, that’s Shalane,” I tell her, “I really don’t expect her to change anytime soon. Now, at the risk of sounding extremely insensitive, I really don’t want to talk about Sophie anymore. I don’t know if you’re trying to be comfortable in that little night shirt, or if you’re trying to torment me, but I need you to bring that hot little ass over here right now before I combust.”

A coy smile creeps onto my wife’s face as she slowly walks over to me, places the brush on the nightstand, and crawls onto the bed and on top of me.

ANASTASIA

The guest list for my party is perfect. It’s all the usual suspects—the Scooby Gang, the Thanksgiving crowd, Courtney and Vicky, Harmony, Jason and Gail, Chuck and Keri. We decided to keep the crowd adult only, so there will be a sleepover at the Greys tonight with Luma’s girls and Sophie along with the twins and Marlow’s sister Maggie. Ms. Solomon and the staff have graciously agreed to oversee the slumber party festivities so that our nannies could join their significant others at the soiree.

In all honesty, as much as I love being around Sophie, it’s better if I don’t see her hissing at Marlow and his date all night. In the interest of fairness, he won’t be at the party either, since he’s not quite 18 for another few months.  

Friday morning, Vicky comes by to bring me a dress for the evening. I didn’t really need another dress, but Christian insisted. When I show her the dress that I planned on wearing to the celebration, she agrees that my choice is better.

She brought a striking blue high-low dress with a lace bodice and chiffon skirt. I agreed to keep it because it’s beautiful, but the dress that I present is more formal and, to be quite honest, much classier. It’s from Grandma Ruby’s collection and as luck would have it, also a high-low. It’s a weighted-matte satin with a sweetheart neckline. The bodice has a lace overlay that comes up in a scooping neckline over the sweetheart and creates a sleeveless top with matching lace appliques on the top of the skirt. I only needed to accessorize this masterpiece.

“I have the perfect accessory for that,” Vickie says, opening her accessory case. “I was going to go with a classic Chanel with the dress that I brought along, but something told me to pack this set, too. Now, I’m glad I did.”

Vickie removes a black velvet box from her accessory kit and opens it to reveal the most unique set of jewelry I’ve ever seen.

“Oh, Vickie… that’s breathtaking!” I exclaim.

“It’s the Brilldoor ‘Flirt’ jewelry set,” she says. “It’s not your husband’s precious platinum, but it’s polished white gold and it’s handmade. It’s very soft, so it’s delicate. It won’t bend with the wind, but if you treat it too roughly, it will lose its shape.”

That would be a true tragedy. The set is a necklace, bracelet, earrings and rings made of akoya pearls and diamonds precariously placed in narrow, delicate, swirling treks of decorated white gold. The pieces are almost indescribable… and exquisite.

“Where on earth did you find these?” I coo, fawning over the beautiful pieces that almost look like filigree.

“It was one of those ‘invitation only’ show that I attended once. You could watch step-by-step as the pieces are being created. Of course, they were creating more than one piece at a time so that you could see a different piece at each step of the process. But watching them sketch the design and then bring each piece to life… and the stuff that they make, I’ve never seen anything like it,” she admits.

“And you’ve been holding out on me?” I accuse.

“Ana, this is only the third set of this jewelry that I’ve acquired, and I probably should have given you the price of this before I showed it to you.” My brow furrows.

“Why?” I ask. “How much is it?” She raises her brow and pulls her earlobe.

“Ana,” she sighs, “this set is 73,400 euros.” I’m taken aback.

“Okay,” I say, “now, I don’t know the conversion rate, but even I know that the euro is worth more than the dollar…”

“It’s a little over 80 grand,” she says. “If you don’t want to buy it, I can let you borrow it. It’s good advertising for you to be seen in it, but Ana, you break it, you bought it.”

Eighty grand. Christian just put his Amex Black on file for my mother. I can’t ask him to be responsible for something like this.

“You need to ask Daddy Warbucks first?” she says.

“Yeah,” I sigh. “He just committed to taking care of my newly-handicapped mother, and I feel awful asking him for something so frivolous so soon after he has agreed to such a commitment.” My heart is broken. I know in the big scheme of things, $80,000 isn’t much when it comes down to our fortune, but for one set of jewelry…

As I’m lamenting saying goodbye to a custom set more timeless than Chanel as far as I’m concerned, Vickie takes a picture of it with her phone and begins typing away. I give no thought whatsoever to what she’s doing until her voice breaks my concentration.

“He said get the set,” she says, still typing on her phone.

What? What did she just say?

“Who… what?” I say, taken aback. She raises her gaze to me.

“He said get the set,” she says. “I sent him a picture; I told him you wanted it; I told him what it cost; he said get the set.” My eyes nearly bulge out of my head.

“He knows this single set is $80,000 and he told you to get it?” I ask horrified.

“Eighty-one-five, to be exact, and yes, he told me to get it.” She seems completely unfazed by this.

“Why did you do that?” I’m a mixture of horrified and elated. She raises her gaze to me.

“You weren’t going to ask him,” she replies. “You were looking at that set like you had just found buried treasure and you weren’t going to ask him. Besides, how do you think I dress you most of the time?” she adds, as if it’s obvious. “Most of the things that I put you in go past his eyes before they go past yours—except for the things you produce from ‘Grandma’s Hope Chest.’ I just don’t think he understands how clothes fit you and how I could buy something from the thrift store if I want and you would make it look like a million bucks.”

“Don’t knock the thrift store,” I say, “I’ve found some treasures in my day going junk shopping.”

“Hence, my point.” She types into her phone again. “He just cleared the purchase. The set is yours.”

“You’re kidding!” I whisper wistfully. I finger the pearls and diamonds on the necklace as if I’ve just been presented with the Hope Diamond. “Fucking Santa Claus,” I say under my breath, recalling the title I gave him when he presented me with the Holly Golightly tiara when we first started dating.

“What did you say?” Vickie asks.

“Nothing,” I say, closing the box and placing it on top of Grandma Ruby’s blue dress. I’ll match this ensemble with a pair of navy blue sky-high Louboutins and we have an outfit. As I admire my accessories, Vickie pulls me to the side to whisper in my ear.

“At the risk of overstepping my bounds, I watch women’s bodies,” she says, “and I’ve been watching hers. At best she’s a size 2, and maybe even smaller. I would venture to say that she doesn’t have a single dress in her wardrobe that’s country club ready that fits. So, I brought something for her, too.”

I look over at Marilyn, who is admiring the blingy hair combs in Vickie’s collection of accessories. I purse my lips on the best way to handle this. I know Vickie’s right, but I don’t want to offend Marilyn. I’ve already basically forced her to go, even though I later discovered that she helped to plan the whole thing.

“She has to agree to accept the dress,” I tell Vickie.

“Oh, of course,” she says. “That’s why I asked first. I don’t want to come off as pushy—or be offensive.” Good, we’re on the same page.

“Okay. Follow my lead.” I walk over to Marilyn admiring the hair combs.

“Those are pretty,” I say, touching the hair combs. Marilyn deflates a bit.

“Do you think they’ll work with your dress?” she asks, trying to hide her disappointment.

“I was talking about for you,” she says. “Consider it a gift for all the work that I know you did planning this party.” Her eyes light up.

“Really?” she asks, the first excitement that I’ve seen in her in months.

“Oh, for that reaction—Vickie!” I call Vickie over to us.

“I’ll take these, too,” I tell her. “Marilyn likes them.” Vickie examines the combs and nods.

“You got it,” she says. “If I may…” She goes over to her garment bag and takes out a beautiful white dress—also a high-low dress, more like a mini with an attached skirt. The thing is so small, it looks like a child can fit it.

“I brought this for you. I knew you were going to the party, but I didn’t know if you would need one, too, since you’re a bit petite. If you like it, you can have it.”

Marilyn looks from Vickie to me and then back at the dress. She smiles a soft, knowing smile and sighs as she examines the dress, running her hands over the delicate chiffon.

“It’s very pretty,” she says, “and it goes very well with the combs. Thank you.” Vickie smiles.

“Why don’t you try it on?” she says. “If it needs any altering, we can get that done quickly.”

“I doubt that it will, but I’ll try it on,” Marilyn says. The dress has a built-in bra, thank God. I don’t think we would have found something strapless on such short notice. It only takes her a moment to change into the dress, and once she does, it’s stunning. Even Marilyn herself couldn’t deny it.

“My work here is done,” Vickie says, zipping her garment bag and closing her accessory case. “We’ll see you for dinner at six.” We thank her again as she leaves.

“Okay, now,” I tell Marilyn. “It’s time for some pampering, trimming, waxing, and threading. What say you?”

“I say that I’ll call Miana’s and set it up for whatever time you like, but I’m going to pass,” she says.

“Maaaaaare,” I whine, “it’s gonna be a girlie day. When was the last time you’ve had a girlie day?”

“Bosslady,” she says, “I appreciate the combs, and I love the dress, but the laying on of hands I can’t do right now. I’m just now working my way into trying to eat. Baby steps, please.” I sigh and purse my lips.

“Okay,” I pout, “but what about your hair? I know you’re going to want it to look good.”

“I still know how to style my hair, Boss,” she says, “and I have two gorgeous new combs to help me.”

Knowing that I’m not going to convince her to partake in the spa afternoon, I don’t harass her further. She sets up the spa day for 1pm, and I send out the APB for anyone who wants to come over and get pampered. Val and Maxie quickly take me up on the offer. Mandy shows up later, and Gail and Keri were both front and center. Courtney and Harmony both have class, so they couldn’t make it. Marilyn opted for a peaceful soak at home and to pluck and shave herself. She’s going to need a spa day soon—if nothing else, a massage to release all the toxins that are her life… and a trim. I love her, but her hair looks hideous.

It’s showtime, and we all head to the Broadmoor Country Club for dinner. Promptly at 6:00pm, all of the partygoers from Grey Crossing arrive at the country club and our private room reserved for the occasion. It’s only now that I feel like I can breathe—that the trial is behind me, my mother’s drama is behind me, Las Vegas is behind me. The first thing I ask for the moment I take my seat is a Cosmo from the bar. Val takes the cue and asks for one, too, causing Christian’s and Elliot’s eyes to widen.

What’s with them? It’s not like we’ve never drank Cosmos before. In fact, Christian made perfect—and endless—Cosmos for us when we were on his bo…

Oooooooooh.

I pay no mind to my mental wandering and gleefully sip my Cosmo when it arrives.

Christian and Marilyn went right after my heart and chose a menu with Indian cuisine. Oh, heavenly Father, the food is divine, and there’s live music playing from the band all throughout dinner—maybe a little too chamber-musicish for me, but still nice. The meal starts with Mughlai tomato soup, falafel, baba ghanouj, tabbouleh, and hummus all with fresh pita bread. I don’t want Marilyn to get sick, but she seems to take the soup and the tabbouleh pretty well in small portions. That makes me happy.

Once we’ve munched happily on the appetizers, the main courses begin—Samosa, chicken and paneer pakora, chicken tikki, stuffed grape leaves, and cilantro and tamarind chutney. The food is paired with a fruity rosé that compliments the flavor nicely. At this point, my tummy is happy and I’m comfortable discussing the details of the trial with those who weren’t present to see the carnage. There’s only so much that’s being shown on television since there are still other defendants involved.

I tell my captive audience about my mother’s surprise testimony, followed by her Evel Knievel rocket launch off the freeway overpass and my subsequent experience with the catty nurses at the hospital. Then, of course, I let them in on George Sullivan throwing himself under the bus for his brother, which didn’t help the case at all. Whitmore’s sister’s testimony was a bit of a lowlight of the trial, and I’m saving the best—or worst—for last.

Conversation is moving along, and I brush over Whitshit’s useless testimony to focus on Vincent Sullivan and is entourage. Needless to say, there’s the same shock and awe when my listeners hear that Vincent was gay and that his involvement was most likely to win the affections of Whitshit.

Dinner is over and before I attempt any dessert, I have to dance off some of this food. I take my husband’s hand and drag him to the dancefloor.

“Marilyn didn’t eat much, but she did okay,” he says while we’re dancing. “She had a little soup and salad and a few bites of meat, and she doesn’t look like she’s headed for the bathroom to vomit.”

“You were watching her, too, huh?” I say as we move instinctively across the floor. “I think she’s probably on her way to doing better. She just had to introduce some food into her system. As long as she takes it slow, she may be moving in the right direction.”

“I hope so,” he adds and we both look over at her. She’s beautiful tonight, but frail… and sad… and lonely… and it’s written all over her. I just shake my head.

“I really hope things look up for her soon,” he says, falling back into step with me. “I don’t imagine that she can… shit!” He says the word so hard that it shocks me.

“What?” I ask, looking up at him.

“Hey… Ana,” I hear behind me. I know that voice. I turn around and I’m horrified by who’s standing there.

“Gary!” I breathe. Dear God, Gary’s here. “H… hi. I… didn’t know you were coming.” My thoughts are all jumbled for a moment and when they clear, all I can think is that I haven’t seen or heard from my friend for months, and I’m so glad that he’s here. I throw my arms around him and hug him firmly, relaxing a bit when he returns my embrace.

“It’s good to see you,” I say sincerely, trying not to cry. It’s been hard not knowing if he was okay.

“It’s good to see you, too,” he replies, softly, laying his head on my shoulder like a lost little brother… which to me, he was. However, I have to snap out of my own relief at his return to face an extremely stark reality.

I release him and look over at Christian who is glaring at Gary like he might pounce on him any minute. I quickly look over at Marilyn, who is unhappily lost in her own world and unaware that it may be about to come shattering down around her again.

Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck!

“Christian,” Gary says to my glaring husband.

“Garrett,” Christian responds coldly. There’s a brief standoff before Christian excuses himself and leaves. I don’t know if he’s aiming to do damage control with Marilyn, but it’s my job to do it with Gary.

“We didn’t think you were coming,” I say, trying to draw his attention away from the dinner table… and Marilyn. “I hadn’t heard from you…”

“I know,” he says, cutting me off. “I’ve been a terrible friend, and I’m sorry. I’m glad at least some of those bastards are finally getting their just deserts.”

“Um, yeah… me, too,” I reply occasionally looking back at the table. Christian has made it over to Marilyn, and whatever he’s saying to her, she’s standing and nodding. It looks like he’s given her a task, hopefully something to get her the hell out of the room. She’s too fragile to face him right now.

“Ana… what’s wrong? Would you rather I not be here?” Gary says, his voice cracking. Shit, I can’t let him feel that way. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Marilyn just spotted him, and I can see it in her eyes even from way across the room. She’s about to bolt.

“It’s not that,” I sigh. “Marilyn is here.”

At first, he looks like he’s angry. Then he pans the room and finds her immediately. His head jerks back in obvious surprise.

“What the hell…?” he begins. As soon as he says the words, Marilyn takes off out of the ballroom. He’s ready to be hot on her heels, but I think it’ll be too much for her and I catch his arm.

“Gary… she’s not doing well,” I warn. He points to the door.

“Ya think?” he yells, his voice reverberating through the ballroom and gaining everyone’s attention that wasn’t looking at him before.

“Look at her!” he shrieks. “She’s wasting away to nothing! She looks like she’s dying!”

He brushes me off his arm like a fly and sprints towards the door behind Marilyn.

“Gary!” I call after him, but he’s clearly a man on a mission. Christian is headed towards us and I think he was intent on stopping Gary. However, my small friend who’s easily half a foot shorter than my husband plows through Christian like a bulldozer and takes off behind Marilyn. Not to be outdone, Christian moves to follow him.

“Christian, stop!” My husband turns around and glares at me. I close the space between us quickly. I’ve seen that look; I know that look; nothing’s going to stop him from getting to Marilyn.

“If that were you, would anybody be able to stop you from getting to me?” I ask. Christian’s anger deflates immediately. My mostly timid friend just pushed my tree of a husband at least two feet out of his way to get to his woman. Anybody that gets in that man’s way right now is going to be crushed and left for dead.

“She’s not ready,” he says intently to me, ever the protector ready to shield her from whatever harm he can. “You and I both know that she’s not ready for this. You know how fragile she is. She’s not going to be able to handle this right now.”

She may not have a choice. The situation is right here in her face now and try though she might, she’s not going to be able to run from it. But he’s right, she is very fragile right now.

“Come on,” I say, taking my husband’s hand and walking out the door behind Marilyn and Gary. I scan the area quickly and see nothing, but when I look outside the glass walls, I see Marilyn running across the putting green coatless with Gary several feet behind her trying to catch her.

“Shit! She’s going to die out there!” I say and I dash out the door behind them. I stop on the putting green a few feet from the parking lot and watch Marilyn running with all her might like somebody’s trying to kill her. It’s now that I realize that I’ve left without my coat, and I’m extremely relieved when my husband steps behind me and drapes it over my shoulders.

“You’re going to die out here too,” he says.

“Oh, dear God, thank you,” I say to him as I close the coat around me. Knowing that we’ll never catch her right now, I stand helplessly in place, praying that in her weakened condition she doesn’t literally catch her death of cold. It’s not freezing out here tonight, but it’s too cold to be running around with a strapless dress and no jacket.

At this point, nearly everyone has abandoned the party and has joined us on the immaculately manicured lawn to watch the drama unfold. I wish will all my might that this didn’t have to take place in such a public forum, but under the circumstances, it couldn’t be avoided.

After covering as much territory as a track star in the first leg of a marathon, Marilyn collapses to the ground on her knees, releasing a cry so heart-wrenching that it causes me to shiver and induces Christian to wrap his arms around me from behind. I think he’s doing it as much for his comfort as he is for mine.

Marilyn is screaming something, but she’s too far away and I can’t hear what she’s saying. Gary drops to his knees in front of her. Dear Lord, this isn’t good.

“Get her off the fucking ground, man,” Christian hisses from behind me. I feel the same way, but I know Mare is raw, and it’s going to take some not so gentle coaxing to get her to cooperate. Gary reaches for her and it looks like they’re fighting. More than one man moves to assist including mine, but a few moments later, the fight has left her, and they sit rocking on the cold grass.

Now, I want him to get her off the fucking ground.

As if he heard me, he wraps his jacket around her shoulders, lifts her off the ground like a piece of paper and begins to walk towards us.

For the love of God, if that woman doesn’t eat…

He’s headed off by a golf cart heading across the green towards them. He speaks briefly to the occupant before getting on with Marilyn still in his arms. The golf cart heads back to the side of the club and disappears.

There’s nothing more here to see.

I look up at Christian and sigh before heading back into the club and what’s left of my party.

I’ve polished off two more Cosmos before there’s any word on Marilyn. After some time, I see Gary coming back into the ballroom in just his shirt sleeves. Christian stands as he approaches, so I stand as well, moving in front of Christian as a barrier between him and Gary.

“How’s Mare?” I ask as he closes the space between us.

“She’s cold and exhausted and she wants to leave… and we need to talk,” he replies. He sounds exhausted himself.

“She’s staying with us now,” Christian snaps. Oh, for the love of God…

“So, what do you suggest I do, Christian? Do I take her back to my place, or do we spend the night at yours?” Gary isn’t backing down from my husband in the slightest. If Christian wants a fight, he’s going to get it tonight, and his narrowing eyes say he’s looking for one.

“Whatever makes Marilyn more comfortable,” I reply, putting my hand on Christian’s chest. Back off, Killer. You’re overstepping your bounds, here. Gary examines us both.

“Thank you.” He turns and heads for the door. With the unending need to have the last word, my husband shoots to Gary’s retreating back, “You and I will have words later.”

“No, we won’t!” Gary replies. “The intricacies of this situation are between me and Marilyn, and no one else!”

Oh, shit. Fucking shit balls from hell. Christian, for God’s sake, leave it.

“That’s just it, Garrett, it’s not between you and Marilyn. We took care of her and watched her fall apart while you took off!”

“Christian, stop,” I say, trying to get his attention, but he’s looking right past me. His fuse is lit, but he doesn’t understand, so is Gary’s. And they’re having this fight right here in the middle of the ballroom in front of the whole fucking world… or with the sensitivity of the subject matter, it might as well be!

“And while I appreciate that you took care of her, you have no idea what I was going through, and I have no inclination to explain it to you. So, you can’t put me in judgment,” Gary rejoinders.

“Christian, please!” I say once more, trying to defuse the situation.

“The hell I can’t!” Christian roars. “Look at her! She’s deteriorating before our very eyes while you’re off hiding somewhere! My wife was a few days away from having her committed!”

That’s it. He’s gone. He just announced to a room full of people that I was about to forcibly put my assistant in the hospital. I walk away from them and take my seat, pick up my glass and bottom out my Cosmo.

“And what was I going through, Christian? Do you have any idea?” Gary retorts, his voice and temper rising.

“What the fuck does it matter? You don’t look like you’ve lost 25 pounds!” That’s it. My little friend is about to try to pummel my husband.

“Jason?” I say calmly, subsequently pointing behind me to indicate that there’s going to be a fight soon because my husband can’t keep his fucking mouth shut. Jason rises and walks over to Christian and I wave down a server.

“May I have a vodka rocks, please?” I ask while I await Gary’s response. If he ends up in jail, our money is going to bail him out and my lawyer is going to represent him in court. I hear Gary’s cool, angry voice just as my speedy vodka rocks makes it back to the table.

“Lose a baby, Christian! Then you can come and talk to me!” That was pretty harsh, but Christian drew first blood. I take a good gulp of my drink and await the flying fists.

Nothing.

My angry friend diffused the entire situation with that one statement.

I watch Gary whizz past me and out the door, no doubt to retrieve Marilyn and take her to whatever home she chooses. Christian returns to the table and I just shake my head.

“What?” he asks.

“Too far, Christian. Way too far,” I say, finishing my drink.

“What?” he repeats, and he has the nerve to look surprised.

“You always have to have the last word that you’re so busy shooting off your mouth without thinking. How does that feel right now?” He frowns deeply.

“What the fuck did I do?” Are you serious? Are you fucking serious?

“You mean besides the fact that you just outed Marilyn and all her personal business in front of a ballroom full of people? You just totally disrespected one of my best friends and completely trivialized his suffering because you only saw one half of the story! Thank you! Thank you very much!” I stand from my seat and storm over to the band.

“Hey!” I say to the guy who looks like the leader. He turns around and looks down at me. “This is my party and I need something I can dance to.” He raises his brow.

“What do you want?” he asks.

“Motown, old school hip hop, R&B, whatever you got.” He looks at me like I’ve just given him his big break.

“Your wish is my command,” he says, turning around to his band mates. I head back to the main table.

“Ana…” Christian says, trying to get my attention. I walk right past him and over to Al. Without a word, I grab his hand and begin to drag him from the table and his conversation with his husband and Val and Elliot towards the dancefloor. Just as we get to the edge of the dancefloor, the music starts playing for Michael Jackson, “Do You Remember.”

“Uh oh,” Al says. He removes his jacket and tosses it to a gaped-mouth Christian before joining me on the dance floor.

A/N:  So, apparently, my fonts are going batshit again, but I’m too tired to try to figure out what the hell is going on with them. Hopefully, it doesn’t bother you guys too much.

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

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 23

As promised, a little bit of salve for this corona quarantine…

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

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

Season 5 Episode 23

ANASTASIA

“If it’s not too much trouble, would you please meet me at the hospital?”

I’ve happily spent Saturday with me and Sophie happily introducing my babies to my love of aquariums, then taking pictures with the Wax figures at Madame Tussauds before coming home and having a junk food/romcom night with all the girls since Gail and Sophie will be leaving tomorrow. I thought about sending the twins back, too, but decided against it since I’d rather have my babies here with me.

I had decided to take a trip to the chocolate factory this morning, but I have Dr. Lee on the line smugly requesting my presence at Summerlin. You wanna go that route, Doc? Fine by me.

“Save the sarcasm, Dr. Lee,” I retort, “and you can shove that judgmental attitude right up your ass. I’ve taken all I’m going to take from you and that self-righteous gaggle of nurses you have up there.” He’s silent for a moment, then he clears his throat.

“I apologize,” he says stoically. Save it.

“What have you decided?” Get to the point. I’m not making a trip out to Summerlin for you to throw more bullshit at me. He pauses again.

“Will you please come to the hospital and sign the documents giving us permission for Mrs. Morton’s psychiatric evaluation?” he replies. It’s about fucking time.

“I’ll be there as soon as is convenient,” I reply. “And Dr. Lee?”

“Yes?” he replies, his voice sounding a bit petulant.

“Anastasia Rose Steele, date of birth 10/18/85. You have my permission to obtain my medical records from UMC from March 2001, and I know that you can. Take a good look at what happened to me. Share it with those sanctimonious, critical nurses that keep giving me the side-eye and disrespecting me when I show up on the ICU. And as you’re reading that stuff, calculate how old I was when this occurred. Consider the fact that I was a straight-A student who did nothing at all to deserve what happened to me except allow myself to get raped by the most popular boy in school. Maybe that’ll answer some of your questions, if it’s not too much trouble!” I disconnect the call.

When I raise my head, Christian is standing in front of me.

“Do you need me to go with you?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say. The hell if I’m going into the enemy camp alone. He nods.

“So, what’s the verdict?” he probes.

“He’s going to request the psychiatric evaluation,” I reply. “He needs me to sign some papers.”

“That’s what we wanted, right?” he asks.

“Yep, that’s what I wanted.”

It’s sometime in the afternoon when I get to the hospital. I don’t go to my mother’s room. Instead, I go to the nurses’ station on the main floor and have them page Dr. Lee. My hope is to have this meeting in his office and avoid as much confrontation as possible. However, he sends word back to have me meet him at the nurses’ station on the second floor. I give Christian a knowing look.

“It’s gonna be that type of day, I see,” he says. He places his hand in the small of my back and leads me to the elevator.

I’m still hoping that he’s going to escort me from the nurses’ station to the second floor. He does not. He doesn’t even suggest that we go to a private area in the hospital—the corner of a waiting room or even into my mother’s room, which I really didn’t want, but it would have been better than being out here in front of the whole world. No, he just starts rattling away right there at the nurses’ station. The only privacy that I’m afforded is that if someone even approaches who is not medical personnel, he stops talking.

“I talked to Mrs. Morton yesterday. She was extremely detached, which I would expect under the circumstances. When I tried to discuss the details of the accident with her, she was very evasive, to say the least. This could have been a result of her injuries and the brain’s protective measures to forget the trauma, but I don’t think that’s what this is.”

He stops speaking for a moment to allow someone to pass.

“It wasn’t like she didn’t remember. It was as if she was deliberately avoiding answering the question. When I mentioned speaking to someone, a therapist, perhaps while she’s in the hospital, she didn’t respond. I went further to tell her that we wanted to be sure that she wasn’t a danger to herself and she just shrugged and looked out of the window.”

Another pause.

“I’m still not completely convinced that she’s not a danger to herself. However, she didn’t protest enough when I alluded to the possibility of being committed. So, what we’re going to do is called a Legal 2000. Because she was first admitted to the hospital for medical treatment, we will have her evaluated and observed by a psychiatrist over the next 72 hours. If the psychiatrist finds that there is no underlying psychiatric condition, the…”

Another pause. This is ridiculous.

“… The mental health hold will be discontinued after that time and a safe discharge plan will be developed. It may turn out that Mrs. Morton was overwhelmed by sadness and depression at the time and just made a hasty but drastic decision. As a mental health professional, I’m sure you know that there are ways to deal with that as opposed to committing her long term for fear that she’s a constant threat to herself.”

“I do,” I acknowledge coolly.

“She won’t be able to have any visitors during that time. She will be on restrictive care. This means that your guard won’t be necessary…”

“My security is not leaving that door,” I interrupt him. “We live a life where our privacy is constantly invaded and violated and her relationship to me exposes her to the same inconvenience, not to mention that since she’s in a public hospital, she’s even more vulnerable than she would be if she were at home. She could be exploited for a headline simply by someone walking past her window and snapping a phone pic. My security detail has specific instructions that no one gets into that room without permission, so you should actually be glad that they’re posted there to be sure that no one breaches the perimeter.” He sighs heavily.

“Very well, Dr. Grey. She could have agreed to the treatment herself, but she was too impassive and didn’t consent, so we contacted you…”  which means he wouldn’t have called me had she consented to treatment on her own. He’s going to be a thorn in my side

He hands me the forms and I read them over quickly, noting all the wherefores and whatnots before I sign them.

“We’ll give you some time to talk to her before she’s on restrictive care. ‘No visitors for the next three days’ means you as well,” he says.

“Is there anything else?” I ask.

“Not at this time,” he says. I nod. Since you want a fucking audience, you got one, Doc.

“I won’t bother asking why we didn’t have this conversation behind closed doors, but I will say this. If I have to encounter that high-handed attitude of yours one more time because you don’t approve of my behavior because I’m not falling all over the floor in tears, I’m going to have my mother moved, and there’s nothing you can do about that without a court order proving that I’m abusive or negligent, and we both know that I’m neither.” I glare at him and await his response.

“Understood,” he replies.

“I can’t help but wonder if the hospitals treated her this way when I was in a coma and she clearly didn’t care,” I shoot. I watch his face blanch a bit. “I’m assuming you read my medical file.”

“I… did, yes,” he responds.

“Good,” I say, turning to the nurses. “Since you’re all so hell-bent on treating me like crap because I’m not falling out in dismay over my mother’s condition, I want all of you who have children to imagine that was your 15-year-old daughter lying in that bed in a coma mutilated that way. And if you don’t have children, do what you’ve been doing all this time and imagine that it’s your mother.” I turn back to Dr. Lee.

“My mother treated me like vermin for years—the worst when I was in that hospital bed. I’m giving her a whole hell of a lot more than she ever afforded me!”

Without another word, I turn around and walk back to my mother’s room with Christian behind me. Abe is standing outside her door when I get there.

“You’re committing her?” Abe accuses, his eyes like fire. “Are you punishing her for what she did to you as a child? Is that what this is?”

“Not at all,” I respond. “What my mother did to me when I was a child is over and done. We can’t go back and change it. And she’s not being committed; she’s being evaluated. And she’s not being evaluated because she sucked as a mother when I was 15. She’s being evaluated because she possibly drove her car off an overpass. When I talk to her, she still wants to die. She sees no reason for living, nobody that she’s useful to, and now, she can’t walk. She’s even more useless in her own eyes than she was before.

“She may have tried to kill herself, Abe. If she gets the chance again, she’s going to succeed. She needs to heal from her guilt; she needs to heal from loving a man that she’ll never have again; and she needs to come to grips with her new way of life. She’s worth nothing to you, herself, or anybody else in the condition she’s in now. She needs help. I have to make sure that she gets it.”

“Is it me?” he asks, desperation in his voice. “Is this a test for me? I love her, Ana. I truly do. I’m not going anywhere. I swear I’ll stay by her side until she’s over that man, until she’s over this. She has a beautiful heart and she doesn’t know it. I don’t know what’s happened to her in her life. I don’t know your terror besides what she’s told me and what came out in court. I just know that right now… right here, right now… she has a big beautiful heart, and I want it. I want to fill it with all the love it can hold. Please… if this is a test for me…”

“It’s not,” I interrupt his shaking voice. “Abe… Carla. Needs. Help. If you love her like you say you do, be there for her. She’s going to try to send you away. Don’t let her. She’s going to need someone once this is over, but this is not going to be a quick or easy process. If you have any other intentions besides the pure and unadulterated love of that woman, walk away now. Spare yourself and her any further frustration and heartache. If this is going to be too much for you, walk away. Carla is nearly 50 years old and we’re literally going to be trying to teach an old dog new tricks. This may not be what you want, and no one will hold it against you if…”

“I’m not. Going. Anywhere,” he says firmly. “I refuse to leave her. Do what you must, but I’ll be here.” His eyes pin me, implore me, but demand that I hear what he’s saying.

“How long… have you been seeing my mother?” I ask. He swallows.

“I’ve known her since before my daughter died, of course, but I’ve been seeing her intimately for about a year.” Intimately…

“Have you…?” How do you ask a grown man that you don’t know about your mother’s sex life?

“Only a handful of times,” he admits, without me having to ask the question. “She’s a very… private person. Our relationship, as it were, is not public knowledge.” I touch his arm.

“My life is not here,” I tell him. “My life is in Seattle. I’m going to need some eyes and ears here in Nevada, and some backup to help with her care and recovery. If you’re really serious…”

“I’m dead serious,” he interrupts.

“Let me finish,” I say. “If you’re really serious about wanting to be with my mother and wanting to help her through this, then I can really use you on my team. But understand this, Abe. I don’t hate that woman. I only want the best care for her, and I’m not trying to make or watch her suffer. She’s extremely vulnerable to the degree of being helpless. Know for a fact that I will not stand by and allow her to be mistreated or misused, especially right now when she really can’t fight for herself.” I pull out my business card and hand it to him.

“If you’re serious, you’re going to have dinner with me and my husband tonight. If you’re not, walk away. If you want to help with her recovery, we welcome your assistance. However, if your intention is to take advantage of her or abuse her in any way, there’s nowhere on earth you’ll be able to hide from me, and that is a promise.” He examines me carefully.

“You’re serious,” he says.

“I’m very serious,” I reply frankly without taking my eyes off him. He takes the business card.

“We’re staying at the Waldorf,” I add. “Six o’clock.”

He takes my hand with both of his and kisses it for a long moment, a tear falling on my skin.

“Thank you,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper. I nod once and he releases my hand and walks to the elevator. Christian has said nothing during this entire exchange. I look at the door to my mother’s room for a moment. Then I drop my head back, looking at the ceiling, and take a deep breath. I let it out, dropping my head and my shoulders dramatically, and closing my eyes. This is starting to become way too much, and I’m ready to wrap things up.

I raise my gaze and straighten my back. I look to my right at my husband standing next to me. I look to my left and do a double take when I see Dr. Lee still standing at the nurse’s station looking at me. His expression is unreadable, and I don’t know if he’s close enough to have heard my conversation with Abe, but so be it. I turn and go into my mother’s room.

*-*

Dinner has been delivered to our suite at the Waldorf. I thought we would meet in the restaurant downstairs, but Christian thought it would be better to meet in the suite where we could have privacy. Alex did a rush preliminary background check on Wendy and Abe for us in preparation for this meeting. I considered having Wendy present as well, but I think it best that we meet with them separately.

My husband has done most of the talking for us. I only interject if I have specific questions. Abe has been accommodating so far, declaring that his life is an open book and nothing spectacular. Christian has not let up on him, though, and Abe appears to be getting a bit defensive.

“I can’t imagine what you must think of me,” Abe says. “Yes, Carla is older than I am, but she’s very beautiful… a trait she has obviously passed down to her daughter.” He looks at me, but his gaze doesn’t linger. He immediately goes back to talking about my mother.

“There was concern that my affections for her were… displaced—transference or infatuation. I assure you, that’s not it. Yes, it’s very admirable how much of herself she chooses to give to others. She’s the reason I decided to become a caregiver myself.”

“Yes, I see that you decided to become a hospice caregiver shortly after your daughter died,” I say. “That must have been a very tough decision.”

“Losing my little girl was the hard part,” he says, “harder than you’ll ever imagine, but Carla was there to make her transition as smooth as possible. She was kind and caring and very attentive to my Amalia. She sat with her when I could not. She talked with her and put her heart at ease about death. She did not speak of heaven, but she spoke of peace and an end to her pain. I appreciated that more.

“She did not desert me when my Amalia died,” he continues. “She contacted me often to make sure that I was okay, that I would not slip into despair. One day, I asked her out for coffee. Then she allowed me to take her to dinner. I always thought that the responsibility was met once the patient healed… or died. Carla showed me that I was wrong.” He raises tear-filled eyes to me.

“I miss my Amalia,” he says, “every day. I miss my Amelda, too. She was my wife. Cancer took her from me just after Amalia was born… the same cancer that took my Amalia.”

He catches a tear that falls down his cheek.

“I know that Carla loves her Stephen,” he continues. “I know how that feels. It will never go away. I still love my Amelda, and I always will. This is why I am willing to wait. I know that the love will never leave, and I would never disgrace his memory that way… but I also thought I would never love anyone besides my Amelda and look what happened.

“She lost her husband… and her daughter, even though her circumstances are much different from mine, but same. We are two pilgrims on a journey to find purpose after losing everything. She has taken me on a journey for which I will always be eternally grateful—that of being able to care for others and give of myself, to provide the comfort to them that was given to me during one of the most difficult times in their lives, and mine. Now, her journey begins, to find love when you think there is none, to see that she is not useless even in the depths of her despair when she thinks she has nothing else to give.

“So, you see, Anastasia, I know that you and your husband are very powerful, but as long as I’m alive, I’m going to be here, and I’m not going away. You said that she would send me away. She’s done that many times before. She hasn’t been very successful. I don’t know or care what you can do to me, but know that you won’t be successful either if that’s your intention.”

“Our intention is to make sure that she’s taken care of and not advantage of,” Christian interjects firmly.

“Is that what you think I’m doing?” he asks.

“I don’t know you, Mr. Cicci, that’s why you’re here,” Christian retorts.

“That’s strange, I thought I was here in the best interest of Carla, not to be put under your microscope or to seek your approval,” Abe retorts fearlessly. Christian straightens in his chair.

“My biggest concern right now is this woman right here,” Christian warns. “Her concern at the moment is her mother, so by extension, she’s my concern as well.”

“Well, Mr. Grey, let me assure you that my biggest concern right now is not Anastasia. My biggest concern is Carla. My presence here tonight is only to assure her daughter that my intentions are pure and that I will not desert her in her time of need. I’m not here to interview for a position to be subjected to your scrutiny. I love that woman. I’m going to see her through this. I’m going to be there for that woman, and I’m not going to let anybody stop me.” He looks from Christian to me and back to Christian.

“And if you try to hide her from me, I’ll find her. That’s what you do when you love someone—you never give up. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve suddenly lost my appetite.”

He pushes back from the table and strides out of the suite without another word.

“Christian, I really think you were picking a fight with the wrong person,” I say.

“Well, we’ll find out, won’t we?” he says. “The last thing you need to be worried about is someone coming in exploiting your mother’s weaknesses. No matter how much you distance yourself from the situation, that’s still not going to make things any easier for you.”

No, it won’t.

“While I appreciate his situation, game time is fucking over. If he’s in it for the long haul, great. Nothing I said tonight will make any difference whatsoever. But if he’s bullshitting around, the sooner he gets his ass off this boat, the better!”

I sigh heavily. He’s right. Abe doesn’t have to love or even like us, but he does have to be there unendingly for Carla even when we’re not. So, if he’s full of shit, it’s better that he gets pissed and walks away now. And if he’s the real deal, it’s better that he gets pissed and digs his heels in now.

My conversation the next day with Wendy was nothing like the conversation with Abe. She gave me a little more insight on the relationship, that she knows that my mother is very fond of Abe, but she clearly feels guilty for having feelings for someone else besides Stephen. Maybe this is something they can help her overcome during her therapy.

Wendy cried often during our talk. She has three children and she’s divorced, a little older than my mother. They met on the job and hit it off immediately. Wendy’s phone is full of pictures of her and my mother throughout their friendship. My mother appears to be genuinely happy in several of the pictures. It’s clear that over a short period of time, they have formed quite the bond.

She even has a picture that she took of her and Abe. The adoration in his eyes towards her can’t be faked.

Wendy and I exchange numbers, addresses, and emails, and we discuss a lot of what will be needed for my mother’s care. This is what Wendy does for a living, so it’s quite fortuitous that she happens to be my mother’s best friend. I let her know that we will set it up so that she receives compensation for helping to take care of my mother. Though she assures me that it’s not necessary, I tell her that it is, because we would be paying someone else if we weren’t paying her. This way, she can give the best care possible to her best friend without having to worry about her livelihood.

She cries again.

Both Wendy’s and Abe’s preliminary background checks are unremarkable. Alex assures me that when it comes up with the basic stuff—credit reports, traffic tickets, education—it’s usually a good sign and a safe bet that they won’t find anything else. For me, that’s one less thing to worry about.

The next few days fly by with no Sophie to talk to and not having to go back and forth to the hospital to check on my mother. I spend the days recuperating from everything Las Vegas by spending every possible waking moment with my children and giving Keri and Chuck some time to enjoy Las Vegas before we leave.

It’s Wednesday now. Two big things happening today. First, I finally hear the sentence for Vincent Sullivan, and I can put that one thing behind me. One down, 15 or so to go. Second, I get the results of my mother’s psych evaluation and I can finally make some decisions about her care.

And then I can go home!

For now, it’s time to head to the battleground. I’ve known from the moment I knew that I was coming back to this place what I would be wearing should this day arrive. I’ve won now. I don’t know what kind of sentence Vincent Sullivan is going to get for his role in what happened to me, but someone has officially said that what he did was wrong. Someone convicted him, and I’ve won!

I’m wearing a plain tan mock neck cut-out fitted dress that hugs all of my curves from my Anastasia Steele days and a pair of nude Louboutins from my Anastasia Grey collection. I’ve accessorized with earrings, a necklace, a ring, and a bracelet from my Australian opal and white gold collection. A tan wool office lady style cloak with Batwing sleeves and faux fox fur collar and cuffs protects me from the elements. My hair is set in beautiful curls flowing down my back and I look every bit the Seattle socialite.

When I step out of the car with Christian, I hold my posture like I’m walking the red carpet. Donning my Jackie O’s, I take the stairs slowly and deliberately.

Print this, you bastards.

I don’t feel so defeated when I step into the courtroom. I see Larson do a double take when he sees me. I don’t know why because with his shenanigans during this trial. He could have been one of them instead of one of us as far as I’m concerned. Some of the courtroom murmuring ceases when I step in, and I’m tempted to stop in the middle of the aisle and take a bow. I immediately lock eyes with the bitch who asked how I could “do this” to Vincent in the hallway that day. I don’t stare. I just make note of where she’s sitting, intent on adding a little salt to my statement. I take my seat, my gaze fixed coolly on the bench and nowhere else as I wait for the proceedings to begin.

A few minutes later, the court is called to order and the defendant is led into the courtroom in shackles and his DOC navy blue scrubs… at least that’s what they look like. He’s not polished and cleaned up like he was during his trial. No, he looks like he’s resigned to his fate. Today, he marches in and takes a seat at the defense table, no remorse or anguish in his face and no anger—just another day in the life, it seems. He rests his hands in his lap and does the same thing that I do, concentrate on the bench.

The judge says a few words and explains what’s going to happen during the proceedings. When he opens the opportunity to make a statement, Larson first rises to illuminate the reasons why Vincent Sullivan should receive the maximum sentence allowable on all counts.

Having lost his case almost completely, Blake stands to ask for leniency as the defendant has had several years to ponder his actions and has become a valuable and productive member of society.

How fortunate that he has become a productive member of the society to which he has yet to repay his debt!

But that’s not all…

In lieu of Vincent making his own statement to the court, the defense presents a video. A video! This is Blake’s last trump card to try to get his client off.

The video is heart-wrenching. It looks to be professionally done. There are pictures of Vincent when he was a kid; him with his ailing mother before she passed away; current pictures of him doing volunteer work in the community, all set to the narration of several members of the community asking for leniency for this outstanding citizen who made a “horrible mistake” when he was a kid. There are tears and expressions of complete disbelief that Vincent will be required to do any jail time. There are even some people begging that the judge has mercy on the actions of a misguided teenager who has since seen the err of his ways. There’s even sad, emotional music playing in some portions of the video.

In his portion of the video, Vincent denies any personal vendetta when he participated in the incident, painting himself as a frightened and misguided child at the time. He still refuses to take responsibility for any wrong that he did during the attack, stating repeatedly that he maintains that he was afraid for his life and safety.

I didn’t even know that they were allowed to present videos like this, but apparently, they are. It doesn’t sway me, though. Whether it sways the judge or not, we’ll have to see, but I’ve got my statement ready.

When the judge asks if I want to make a statement, I nod and move to the podium. I’ve made some notes so that I don’t go off on a tangent, but I know exactly what I want to say…

“Had I known I could’ve done this by video, I would have saved myself the airfare,” I begin. “However, I believe my point will be driven home more adequately by speaking to you face to face, your honor.

“I’ve waited for this day for nearly fifteen years. I never thought it would come. I never thought I would see anything that even resembled justice for what happened to me… a young life destroyed, an innocent life ended before it even began… and a group of self-important, pumped-up, lethally-entitled rich kids running around like nothing happened, certain—just like I was—that they would never pay for their crimes. And now, here I am finally able to address the situation openly.

“I’ve lived with the horror of what happened to me for over a decade. I’ve lived with the dismay that these monsters not only got away with what they did to me, but also that they are now raising children with the same sense of entitlement and disregard for human suffering in the same world where I’m now raising my twins. I’m living with the disillusionment that one crime can go unpunished forever while another goes unsolved for what feels like a lifetime… against a child… an honor student, a good kid who didn’t bother anybody, whose only crime was that she was a poor girl trying to survive in a rich world, put upon by one, lied on by another, and attacked by many.” I shake my head. “What am I supposed to tell my children about being good people when this is what happened to me?

“Most of all, I’m still horrified that such atrocities can come from children the same age that I was at the time. What kind of breeding must there have been for these kids to feel like this act was in any way justifiable? These were teenagers… teenagers who planned one of the worst hazing and assault rituals that I have ever seen in my personal and professional life, fact or fiction… and for a mental health MD to say something like that, believe me, it means a lot.

“I’ve had to study some of the most horrific things in my plight to understand the human mind and to this day, I still can’t fathom how teenagers could choose to utilize a method so unthinkable and inhumane that even though it was used as punishment for high crimes in the dark ages, it was banned in the early 19th Century as cruel and unusual.

“What must this child have been thinking?” I continue as I gesture to Vincent Sullivan. “He sits here before you now as an adult—they’re all adults now—parents and respected members of the community, mingling with you in your country clubs and PTA meetings, their children attending the same schools that yours attend, the same social functions, blending in just as cool as you please… monsters hiding in plain sight. What must they have been thinking all those years ago when they planned this whole thing—a simple hazing ritual that got out of hand, right? No—a premeditated assault on someone just because they were different. Premeditated… think about that. How premeditated must this act have been for someone to order custom brands and wait for delivery to spell out a word on another human being’s skin?”

There are audible gasps and murmurings in the courtroom when I bring this point of premeditation to the forefront. I’m hoping to give the prosecution a bit more firepower the next time they have to bring one of these monsters to trial.

“How much time did they have before their weapons of torture arrived in the mail—making UPS or FedEx an unwitting accessory to murder—to allow them to change their minds and rethink their plans? I mean, seriously think about that… did they wait for standard three-day shipping or did someone pay special express delivery so that the brands could get there sooner?”

I really want to drive home the extent of the atrocity that these people are getting away with. An entire community basically turned their heads on what happened to me, because I refuse to believe—even now—that someone else didn’t know what was going on. Melanie kept a recording for twelve years, revealing what happened during a death-bed confession. Sullivan knew the entire time that his brother was involved and no matter how well he hid the incident, there was forensic evidence, the location where I was found, the fact that the baby’s DNA could have been traced… There was too much stuff to hide; someone had to help him.

“Even now—today—there are people in this very room who accosted me in the hallway of this building and after seeing the vicious, brutal, stomach churning violence that he inflicted on me still accused me of ruining the defendant’s life.”

I turn around and look the woman in the eye who confronted me in the hallway the day that I fled the courtroom after the “Vincent’s So Great” parade. She shrinks a bit under my stare, but I don’t linger. Instead, I return to my statement.

“But I thank God that justice has prevailed and that this ungodly act will no longer go unacknowledged and unpunished. I thank God that someone looked at this behavior and said, ‘No, this is unacceptable, and something has to be done about it’ even though some people would have you think I deserved it. Nobody deserved what happened to me… nobody—not then, not now, not ever… not even the monsters who did it to me.

“These starry-eyed teenagers who should have been practicing for the big game, doing their homework, and planning for the Sadie Hawkins dance gathered somewhere and thought out this plan of torture—pondered it, waited for it, savored it, anticipated it, then put it into action. We’re going to cause irreparable physical and emotional damage on another person just as soon as our brands arrive. Those same someones accepted a plea for pointing out the other participants in their sadistic little ritual—rewarded with a lighter sentence for being tattletales when they were the ones who orchestrated the entire thing in the first place! And now he’s sitting here hoping that he’s not going to get the book thrown at him for executing two of the three horrific scars that I must live with for the rest of my life.” I sigh.

“Rest assured that I’ll be present at every trial for every one of these monsters who robbed me of my peace and innocence for several years. I’ll celebrate triumphs and I’ll lament defeats, and I’ll probably regurgitate every time I have to watch that damn video, but I won’t stop. I won’t rest until every person involved in my torture and the death of my unborn child is called to task for their actions.

“I’ll be honest and say that I’m glad that something will happen so that they won’t be walking the streets anymore, but I’ll also say that I hope the future is not so merciful on someone who premeditates a violent crime so thoroughly that they mail-order a murder weapon!”

When I’m finished with my dissertation, even the judge is taken aback by my explanation of the extent of the premeditation. I take my notes, turn from the lectern and return to my seat.

The silence is so thick that it sounds like white noise.

“Thank you all for your statements,” the judge says. “I must say that I have never seen anything so heinous before in my life as I have seen in this trial. To exercise objectivity throughout this case was a feat fit for Mr. Universe. And while I commend myself for being able to stick to my duty and maintain order throughout these proceedings, I must admit that I take great satisfaction in being able to now speak my mind freely as a human being, a father, a man, and a member of the judicial system.

“In my opinion, this is one of those times where the justice system worked exactly how it should have, even if nearly 15 years later. The bad guy was caught—one of them, anyway—and is now required to stand here and atone for his actions.

“However, this is a lose-lose situation as far as I’m concerned, because although Dr. Grey was able to pick up the remnants of her life, move on and become a successful doctor and businessperson, without doubt, her life was never the same after what happened to her. Her innocence was ripped from her; her peace was stolen. No one, and I mean no one came to her rescue. Simply as a member of the human race, that horrifies me. As a member of the judicial system, that befuddles me beyond belief. As a man and a father, that enrages me more than words can say.

“In addition to that, we have a young man here who has not yet reached the age of thirty and who is apparently a respected and productive member of society whose actions 15 years ago will forevermore shape what the rest of his life will look like. No just man can blindly swing a sword and not feel the cut of his blade on another man, and yet that’s what I must do today.

“Emotional evidence has a way of swaying a case, but not nearly as much as factual evidence and the facts speak for themselves. The sheer magnitude of the details of this case sends chills down my spine to consider that a group of adults could do something like this. It’s nearly unimaginable that a group of children did it. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and I’m still having a problem absorbing the fact that a group of teenagers committed this crime.

“Dr. Grey, let me begin by offering you a long overdue and heartfelt apology. The system failed you—miserably. For that, I am deeply, deeply sorry. There are no words that can express how appalled and disappointed I am that it took this long for you to see any kind of justice. It happens that some cases may slip through the cracks, but that’s not what happened here. I may not be able to speak on other open cases, but the right against self-incrimination does not excuse any of us from obeying, and in some cases, enforcing the law. This was a blatant disregard for the law—it’s malfeasance and mishandling in almost its worst form, second only in my eyes to law enforcement unjustly shooting or harming an unarmed person. To that end, hopefully, today, I can bring you some small, miniscule measure of closure for the injustices done to you.”

“Thank you, Your Honor,” I say quietly.

“I’m of the firm belief that shaking my finger at or scolding attorneys usually comes to no avail, but I will say this. Mr. Drake, I hope you don’t have any daughters, because the sins of the father have a way of coming back to bite the children. What’s more is that one day, you may find yourself in a position where you have to explain to them how you villainized a young girl who had already been victimized beyond reproach in one of the worst ways humanly imaginable. For that, I do not envy you, sir.

“I’ve often heard it said that with great power comes great responsibility. To me, that means that it’s important that someone in my position does not get so caught up in their power that they forget their duty and responsibility. Bearing that in mind, I have the responsibility to pass sentence on a situation here that will have a great impact on future cases similar to this one. That’s a mighty burden to bear and a heavy load to carry, knowing that if I make the wrong decision today, that it could impact similar cases in the future. Having said that, I thought long and hard on the facts involved in the case and the circumstances surrounding it as I pondered my decision.

“I must be mindful that not only is this man at my mercy, that I hold someone’s life in my hand, but also that nearly 15 years ago, he held someone’s life in his. He was responsible for what happened to her, and now I’m responsible for what happens to him.

“Mr. Sullivan, I, like the jury, do not feel that you were afraid for your life at all. There are many other motives that can be attached to why you did what you did to that 15-year-old girl, but your team failed to prove mortal fear in any way, shape, or form. Even with the bad lighting, I could see malice and intent in your expression and I’m certain the jury saw it, too, in the four times that they viewed the video. In you, I saw one of the kids on the edge—on the very edge—of the popular crowd. Your brother was working to take care of the home, but you had just enough to fit in with the affluent kids. Is that why you tortured a young girl for sport? To fit in? Only you know the answer to that, Mr. Sullivan, but know that I have no problem sending a message loud and clear that that type of behavior will not be tolerated in this jurisdiction.

“In addition, I feel that you would have grounds for appeal based on that production that your attorney just presented to the court in your defense. I saw nothing in that video that would sway me to be lenient on you in any way. All I saw was a theatrical production for the purpose of taking the court’s time. There was nothing in that video that hasn’t already been said during the proceedings by many of the same people. The only thing that video was missing was a walk off into the sunset and closing credits. The case against you is so strong that as far as I’m concerned, Mr. Blake’s coup was actually a Coup de grâce, and you would have done better to make a statement on your own.

“As such, having been found guilty by a jury of your peers, your sentence stands as follows.

“On count one, assault accompanied with acts of extreme cruelty and substantial bodily harm, I hereby sentence you to serve the maximum term of 10 years with a possibility of parole after seven years served.

“On count two, battery with a deadly weapon with substantial bodily harm, I hereby sentence you to serve the maximum term of 15 years with no possibility of parole, and a fine of $10,000.

“On count three, battery without a weapon with substantial bodily harm, I hereby sentence you to serve the maximum term of 5 years with a possibility of parole after 3 years served, and a fine of $10,000.

“On count six, manslaughter for fetal homicide, I hereby sentence you to serve the maximum term of 10 years with no possibility of parole, and a fine of $10,000.

“On count seven, attempted murder, I hereby sentence you to serve the term of 20 years with no possibility of parole. As indicated in the Nevada Revised Statutes, I am imposing an additional 10 years on this count for the use of a deadly weapon, also with no possibility of parole.

“These sentences are to be run consecutively and are to be executed forthwith.

“In case there’s any doubt about my judgments, let me make them clear. I’m sending a message to any defendant in this matter, any attorney who chooses to defend them, and any judge who sits on the bench. Take heed that when the justice system works the way that it should, no one group of people anywhere, anytime, or at any age is allowed to become judge, jury, and executioner. It doesn’t matter to me that we’re talking about a group of 15 and 16-year-old kids. What they did to this girl is reminiscent of the lynchings of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

“Anyone who can look at that video and see what happened to that girl and listen to her scream and somehow say that’s okay by any means or for any reason needs their head examined. And anyone who can participate in that kind of barbaric display deserves the highest sentence that can be imposed by law. So, Mr. Sullivan, be glad that you have been granted opportunities for parole on some of those sentences, because that means that you didn’t get the maximum. I doubt that you’ll ever see parole, however, considering that your sentences are to be served consecutively.

“At the end of sentencing, by rote I often say, ‘I wish you luck,’ or if it’s a death sentence, ‘May God have mercy on your soul.’ I do not wish you luck, Mr. Sullivan, not because I’m a bad person or because I wish any ill will upon you, but because I know that luck won’t help you. You have no hope of seeing daylight outside of prison walls for 65 years. Luck isn’t going to do a thing for you.

“I won’t say, ‘May God have mercy on your soul, because unless you acquire some horrible disease or some serious unfortunate event befalls you in prison, you’re very likely not to meet your maker for a very long time. I will, however, combine those two and wish you mercy.

“You’re going to a place where friendship has a cost, Mr. Sullivan, where if there is a smiling face, there’s a price behind it. You find opportunities for education and rehabilitation, but you’ll never find the friendships and freedoms that you’ve enjoyed on the outside. For that reason, I wish you the mercy that you did not grant Anastasia Steele. I hope it was worth it. This court is adjourned.”

I can only say that I’m glad that each time I’ve been in the courtroom that even though I felt that the trials were harrowing and the defense attorneys were rude, unfeeling, and utterly insane for thinking that they would be able to get their clients off, the court always came back with sentences that I felt these bastards deserved. Even though Vincent Sullivan wasn’t found guilty on all counts, they got him on most of them, and he’s going away for a long time.

His attorney is leaning over whispering something to him and he turns mournful eyes to me. We stare at each other for several moments as his attorney chatters away, and I’m waiting for whatever hateful gesture he’s going to hurl at me because of the situation that I put him in. His mouth forms the words…

“I’m sorry.”

His tearstained face is now full of remorse and regret—for his fate? For what he did to me? I don’t know which. I close my eyes briefly and take a deep breath. When I open them, he’s still looking at me. I nod once to acknowledge that I heard him, and moments later, he’s led away out a door on the side of the courtroom to serve his sentence.


CHRISTIAN

“Sir, I need to take a few days off.”

Shortly after we hear the sentencing for Vincent Sullivan, we’re in the car headed back to the hotel when I get a call from Alex.

“This is new,” I say.

“No, sir, it’s not,” he says. “You’ve just never known when I’ve done it before. I need to go to DC to secure a couple of my clearances.”

“When?” I ask.

“Immediately, sir.”

“Why so last minute?” I inquire.

“It’s not really last minute,” he replies. “I knew that the clearances had to be secured… again, but there are some details that I didn’t expect that I need to tend to personally and as soon as possible.”

“What type of details?” I ask.

“I think you already know that’s classified,” he replies. Of course, it is. What was I thinking?

“Do you need the jet?” I ask. He pauses.

“No, I’ll go commercial,” he replies. “It draws less attention.” He’s right about that, too.

“Will the fort be secure while you’re gone?” I ask.

“I’m never really gone, sir. I think you know that.”

“Jason knows?”

“Yes, he’s aware. I should have everything wrapped up by the weekend.” Why do I suddenly feel a wave of panic that my head of corporate security and one of the most important people on my team won’t be at the helm?

“Very well, safe journey,” I reply.

“Thank you, sir. Oh! And I’ve forwarded the background checks to you and Ana for Abramio Cicci and Wendy Scorcio. Easily traceable. Very much your average Joe and Jane,” he says.

“That’s good to know,” I reply. “I’m sure that Butterfly will be happy to hear that.” She raises her gaze to me from the seat next to me.

“I’ll let you know as soon as I return, sir,” and he ends the call.

“Glad to hear what?” Butterfly asks.

“That Alex has forwarded the background checks for Wendy and Carla’s beloved Abe to both our emails.” She examines me.

“You don’t like him,” she says.

“It’s not that I don’t like him, Butterfly. I just have a natural distrust of people that I’m not going to apologize for, and I don’t care who doesn’t like it. If he proves to be on the up and up, which Alex thinks they both will, then all is well. Like he said, he doesn’t have to satisfy me, but if he turned out to be a swindler, for your sanity, I would have made sure he didn’t get near Carla.”

My wife smiles and shakes her head. She looks at her phone and swipes the screen, opening windows and scrolling.

“He’s right,” she says, scrolling slowly through her screen. “Absolutely nothing remarkable—pretty boring except that he lost his wife and daughter. He got a payout from his wife’s life insurance policy, but he only paid for her final expenses from it. He’s pretty well off—not wealthy, but well off, enough to not have to work at that rehab center. So, that must be a total labor of love. He’s a Mason, but that’s about it.”

“Masons… wow, I haven’t heard of them in a while,” I observe.

“That’s because you don’t associate with any, honey,” my wife says, still scrolling through her phone. While she’s scrolling it vibrates. She swipes it again.

“Hello… This is she… Yes… oh… Okay, well, I’m just leaving the justice court, so I’ll be there as soon as I can… Thank you.” She ends the call.

“Dr. Lee?” I ask.

“No, a Dr. Hamlin,” she says. “He’s a psychiatrist. He examined my mother and oversaw her observation. He wants me to come to the hospital to meet with him.”

“Any indication on Carla’s diagnosis?” I ask.

“He wouldn’t tell me that over the phone, Christian. You know that.” She’s right. I forgot.

“Did you want to go now?” I ask.

“Food first,” she says. “I’m not going to deal with this on an empty stomach.”

*-*

“Dr. Grey?”

“Yes?” A gray-haired man is in Carla’s room when we get there. He proffers his hand to my wife when she enters.

“I’m Dr. Hamlin, ma’am. We spoke on the phone.” She shakes his hand.

“Dr. Hamlin, a pleasure to meet you, sir.” He turns to me.

“Mr. Grey?” he says, proffering his hand to me as well.

“Yes, doctor,” I reply, shaking his hand.

“Mrs. Morton, I’ll be discussing our meetings and my findings as I indicated to you. Who would you like to be present?” he asks.

“Just my daughter,” she says without raising her gaze. That’s my cue. I put my hand on my wife’s waist.

“I’ll be outside,” I say. She nods. I kiss her on the cheek and leave the room.

“Has she had any visitors?” I ask the detail at the door. “I know that no one can get in, but has anybody come?”

“A few have come from her job. They signed in, but of course, they couldn’t see her. Her two friends come every day and just sit in the waiting area over there for an hour or so.”

“Which two friends?” I ask.

“Wendy Scorcio and Abramio Cicci,” he says. I raise a brow.

“You know them by name without looking at the log?” I ask.

“They’re here every day,” he replies. “I think I should.” I nod. He’s right, he should. I take a seat in the waiting area and start going through my emails. After I’ve deleted more than a few, my phone rings.

“Hey, Elliot, what’s up?” I answer.

“Nothing much,” he answers matter-of-factly. “Did I call at a bad time?”

“No, we just got to the hospital and I got kicked out of the room so that Butterfly and the doctor and the mother could talk.”

“Yeah, that’s one of the reasons I called,” he says, “just checking up on Montana.”

“She’s doing as well as can be expected. This whole thing with her mother has been more of a trial than the trial, I think.”

“Well, that’s got to be pretty big, because that dude’s sentence has already made it to the Pacific Northwest.”

“It has?” I ask.

“Yeppers. Sixty-five years, Jesus! I bet he regrets the day he ever laid eyes—or brand—on Montana.”

“No shit,” I confirm. “He looked sick as fuck being led out of the courtroom, and he wasn’t even found guilty on all charges. The two that pled to all of the charges got less time than he did.”

“Speaking of which,” Elliot says, “the predictions on the court and news channels is that a lot of the people in custody are going to start taking pleas. The word is that they’re reviewing the evidence to see what they can be charged with and possibly convicted of, then they’re going to start taking pleas so that they don’t end up doing 65 like your boy.”

“I don’t know how Butterfly’s going to feel about that,” I say, looking at the door to Carla’s room.

“Honestly, if I were you, I would tell her so that she’s not blindsided. They’re expecting some pleas to be accepted by Friday.”

“Shit, that soon?” I lament. “Jesus, I don’t even know what they’re going to tell her about her mother! This shit never fucking ends.”

“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Bro,” he apologizes.

“It’s not your fault,” I tell him. “Inconvenience is never timely. That’s why it’s called inconvenience.”

“Well, let’s talk about something not so serious. You’re not going to believe this,” he says.

“Believe what?” I ask.

“I got a dog,” he says.

“No shit,” I say.

“Yep. Our therapist suggested it. She said that a pet will help us heal from losing the little nugget. Dogs are used like this all the time. It won’t replace a baby, of course, but it’s helping already. Angel loves him.”

“And you?” I ask.

“I like him, too,” he says. “He’s a rescue… a mutt, but he’s so damn lovable. I take him running with me on his leash in the mornings, and then he spends his days with Angel.”

“Wait a minute—how did you get a dog and you’re still living at my house?” Elliot laughs loudly.

“We went home, Christian,” he says. “Why would I bring a dog into your house with all the columns and marble?” My turn to laugh.

“It sounds like a good idea for you guys, and speaking of which, you’re not going to believe this.” There’s silence on the line.

“You got a dog, too?” he asks, and I think he’s being facetious. I shake my head as if he can see me.

“No, but we’re getting one,” I say, “with all the columns and marble.”

“A rescue?” he asks. I shake my head again.

“Butterfly has requested a pit bull puppy.” Silence again.

“A pit?” he says. “Those are dangerous dogs, Bro. Are you sure about that?”

“I felt the same way you do. I didn’t want any vicious dogs around my babies, but she assured me that they’re family dogs and only dangerous if they’re bred and raised that way. So, I agreed, but I did my research and she’s right. Pits have really gotten a bad rap. There are some really pretty ones in fact, and if you train them properly, they really are excellent family dogs. That’s why we’re getting a pup—thorough-bred—and we’re all going to be trained.”

“You’re all going to be trained?” he repeats.

“Yeah. I want to make sure that we know the right commands and that he respects us and the family, because if he steps wrong and attacks one of my kids or my wife, I’ll have to shoot him.”

“Thorough-bred? So, you’re buying one? Aren’t you concerned about getting flack for buying a dog instead of adopting one from the shelter?” he asks.

“Not at all,” I reply. “I’m not trying to be politically correct when it comes to a pit bull that’s going to be around my family. My wife says she wants a pit, so we’re getting one. But in all honesty, you’re right about the fact that pits can be vicious dogs—if they’re not raised properly. A rescue pit? Around my kids? I don’t know what that dog has been through, how he’s been raised, or who its parents are. And if it mauls one of my children, well then, I’m going to have to put it down. Nope, not taking that chance.”

“That’s a chance you’re taking with any dog, Bro,” he says.

“Well, then, maybe you should keep an eye on your dog,” I say. Silence.

“Point taken.”

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

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 3

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

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

Season 5 Episode 03

ANASTASIA

Like any relationship, the BDSM journey is just that—a journey. If you ever think that you have arrived at the place you need to be in that relationship, it’s time to re-evaluate. You are constantly changing and growing, constantly becoming more and exploring more. You don’t sprint through the lifestyle; you stroll, tasting the flavors of what you enjoy and enjoying the process of evolution through the experience.

One thing I’ve discovered in our sessions with Artemis and Savvina and from the soumises at the Munch is that there is no one way to practice the lifestyle. Now, even in my inexperience, I already knew that. However, more than once, I’ve seen or heard people—even at the Munch—who seemed to think that there was only one way to practice, and that if you didn’t follow a certain set of rules, then you were doing it all wrong. Your way of practicing the lifestyle was incorrect because they “would never do anything like that” to their sub, or their Dom “would never do anything like that” to them.

I was happy to hear the majority of the soumises form a consensus about the few elitists—their word, not mine—who seemed to think that they knew everything there was to know about BDSM:

“If you ever meet someone who tells you that the way that you choose to practice is wrong, or that there is only one set of rules and that if you don’t follow those rules, then you’re not practicing the right way, get as far away from them as you can. That’s not someone that you want to emulate. No one has the right to tell you what you or your Dominus wants in your relationship. You dictate that. It’s okay for someone to guide you, but feel free to ignore their guidance, especially if they’re trying to tell you that you’re wrong. Run, dear. Run far away.”

That bit of advice came from Emelda. I’m not sure if that’s her real name. Some people used aliases—as did Christian and I—and some people used their real names—as did Artemis and Savvina. Emelda was once in an S&M relationship where a coven of submissives told her that she not only had to accept whatever her sadistic Dom dished out, but also that she was not allowed to have her own desires, she wasn’t allowed to voice her opinion, and that what her Dominant says goes, no matter what. She was in a very unhappy S&M relationship and she felt that she had to stay there because this was the only way to go. It wasn’t until she ended her relationship with her dictatorial Dominant and ventured out on her own that she realized how many different variations of the lifestyle there really are.

Shantille was on the opposite end of the spectrum. She was afraid to explore what she really wanted in a Dominant because too many times, she was told that the intense play that she liked was abuse and the Dominants shouldn’t treat their submissives that way. Shantille likes extreme punishments; she feels that if there’s no bruising, it’s not kinky enough for her. Pain to the point of tears is cleansing and erotic to her and that’s what she wants. Once again, the elitists tried to tell her that she was being abused; that her Dominant wasn’t a real Dominant—he just wanted to beat her; that she should probably seek some therapy if that’s what she really wanted.

All and all, my sessions with my mentors and with like-minded individuals over the past weeks have taught me that BDSM is a buffet. There’s literally something at the table for everyone, from the very tame to what some would consider the grossly extreme. What one couple or group or person may get off on, another might find disgusting or abusive—or boring. To be welcomed into the various circles, as it were, you must be careful not to degrade someone else’s relationship or practice. That’s a quick way to get blackballed from certain clubs and parties.

Another thing I’ve learned is to respect the balance—or imbalance—of power. While the soumise has the power and control to halt play with a safeword, his or her Dominant will always be the Dominant, until—if—they switch. As such, there is going to be an imbalance of power, and for this reason, you must constantly communicate—in and out of Downtime.

This is very new to me because I always felt that as Christian is the Dominant, his word during playtime was law and I had to follow or be punished. We set the guidelines where as soumise, I must follow the rules. However, in a healthy BDSM relationship a soumise has needs, too, and must be able to communicate those needs.

When we’ve completed our mentoring session on Saturday, we’re always in the mood to play a bit. We only venture into kink so far, as we still feel that we have a lot to learn about the D/s relationship as it relates to us and our marriage. However, we don’t want to deprive ourselves of what we enjoy, either. So, I get to enjoy a light flogging—ten firm lashes with a cat—and a thorough fucking from behind while chained to the playroom bed… nothing too intense, but just something to take the edge off.

Bright and early Sunday morning, we arranged for a crew to meet us at the apartment that Gary and Marilyn once shared, and my PA tearfully tackled the task of packing her things and sorting through what she had brought from her apartment and what belonged to Gary in terms of furniture. There were things that I knew were touches of Marilyn in the apartment, but since she and Gary bought several of the things together, she refused to take them.

For good measure, she cleaned out the refrigerator, removed and tossed out expired food from the cabinets, and meticulously cleaned and vacuumed each room after she was certain that she had removed all her things from that room. The apartment was eerie when she was done—not empty, but a bit hollow. She took the door key and the mailbox key off her ring and left them both on the counter before walking out of the apartment without looking back. I couldn’t help taking a last look at the space that had once represented the love den for one of my closest friends and the woman who took his virginity—also my friend. I locked the doorknob and closed the door behind me.

I didn’t drive to the apartment, thinking that Marilyn might be too upset to drive her car back to the Crossing. I was right. She only had one request when we got into her car, that I call Gary as soon as possible to let him know that she had moved out so that he could go back and do whatever he planned to do with the apartment. Then she sat in stoic silence, tears burning a trek down her cheek for the entire ride back to Mercer.

She didn’t eat that night, and I didn’t force her to. I know Christian was just chomping at the bit to get her to eat something, but once I told him what our day entailed, he let it go for one night.

Val and Elliot are doing a little better. They’re still a bit sad about the loss, but not as melancholy as they were in the very beginning. They appear to be clinging to each other and loving each other through it, which is a good thing. I’ve sometimes seen with the loss of a baby that one spouse may tend to blame the other, causing a rift between them that is sometimes never mended. Marilyn and Gary are one such cautionary tale, although their situation was the result of a deliberate action.

This past week, Christian seemed to try to lighten up a bit when he came home from GEH, but now instead of being the big bad bear, he’s just exhausted when he gets home. He whined a bit about Claude beating his ass again on Saturday but took a little victory in the fact that Claude didn’t beat his ass as quickly and easily as he had before.

But he’s still really tired.

My husband doesn’t look like he’s finding any peace, except when we’re talking to our mentors or when we’re fucking. He’s been auditing and restructuring and re-evaluating the company for about a month now. He should definitely be seeing more progress than he has been. What the fuck is actually going on in that company?

There’s no way to begin to describe the amount of crap that he has on his plate. He put faith in me as 50% owner… and I backed away. I haven’t even been in the office again since Ros’ remark about Al and the nonchalant way the department heads behaved towards me. I own half of that company, and I let them chase me away…

… Because Daddy couldn’t get me the respect that I deserved…

… And I subsequently left my husband to handle things all on his own.

He has an executive team. What the fuck are they doing? What the fuck is anybody doing?

I ponder my situation only a few more moments before I make a decision. He’s trying to get to the bottom of things, but only a few heads have rolled… not enough, apparently. Moreover, apparently not the right ones. I screw up my resolve and open the folder that contains the GEH emails forwarded to me.

The first fifty or so are all useless drivel that followed Christian’s command that I be CC’ed on executive emails. Garbage. I get through those rather quickly. Very shortly thereafter, I get to some real meat and potatoes…

Requisition requests, memos, executive orders from the boss, status reports…

Executive orders from the boss…

I decide to filter out the messages that all came from Christian. Hundreds of them… in a very short period of time. How does he keep up with all this?

Just for shits and giggles, I filter out the messages from Ros and Finney. Exponentially less. Does Christian just have more to say? I read a handful of his emails and find that they’re not just the typical Christian Grey “What the fuck, get this shit done” emails that I thought I would see. There’s critical thinking, probing questions, analysis, detailed directives—yeah, there’s some commands and “get this shit done” in the emails, but there’s some serious meat in here, too. I see a bit of meat and vegetables here and there from Ros and Finney, but for the most part, I’m seeing the equivalent of electronic “uh-huh’s” and “okay’s.”

 As I scan through the emails, I see several emails going from Finney to Ros and Christian, from Christian to Ros and Finney, and from Ros to Finney and Christian. I see even more emails from Christian to departments and department heads asking about projects and deadlines and metrics and what have you. I see the emails coming back to me, to Finney, to Ros, and to Christian. But the responses coming from Ros and Finney to the department heads are very few and far between.

Am I missing something?

Do they not take part in the general operation of the corporation? Is there some kind of delegation of duties in the hierarchy that I just don’t see? Why does it appear that Christian’s doing all the damn work?

The more emails that I read, the more I get the feeling that I’m right. Christian’s pretty much holding the reins of this Clydesdale powerhouse all by himself, guiding it down the necessary paths and trying to keep it from swaying left or right or veering off in the wrong direction while Ros and Finney are pretty much riding along in the coach.

Well, they’re not that useless, but from what I’m seeing here, they might as well be.

So, in light of everything that’s been going on in our home, with our relationship and discussions, and the fact that I am, in fact, 50% owner of that company, I’ve decided that I do need to know what he’s dealing with in more detail in order to be a better wife, Domme, soumise, and partner—and to allow these fuckers who are under my employ to run me away from my company is not the way to do it. I can draw the line between Ana, Butterfly, Dr. Steele-Grey, That Bitch You Don’t Want to Fuck With, and anybody else that I need to be… but if you need That Bitch, then here she comes.

I spend the rest of the evening going through the remainder of the emails, categorizing them and making rules for various ones so that they go to specific folders as I need them to and getting a better idea of what I’m dealing with in terms of the framework and infrastructure of the company. Once I’ve gotten a pretty good idea, I bang out an outline of some key points that are causes for concern. That part takes a little longer than I expected since I didn’t want to burden Marilyn with working on the weekend so soon after her return. Things will become perfectly unbearable soon enough. I might as well allow her to get her bearings again.

Once I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of the direction that I would like to take, I scan Christian’s emails to me for a group that I know he had created, then copy it into my contacts:

I’ll find out soon enough what’s the difference between the members of the Management Team and the Department Heads and Executive Team, but no matter. I want them all in this meeting. I discover that the Executive Team is Ros, Finney, and me. I remove myself from the Executive Team group and compose my email.

To:      GEH Department Heads
GEH Management Team
GEH Executive Team
Bcc:   Christian Grey
Re:      Emergency Mandatory Leadership Meeting
Date: January 11, 2015 20:21
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

High Priority High Priority CommunicationHigh Priority

Good Morning Team,

This is your other boss, Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey.

Let me begin by saying that I appreciate being included in the emails. It has given me some very valuable insight on the inner workings of the organization—its strengths as well as its flaws.

In an effort to continue the mission and vision of GEH, I will be holding a mandatory meeting tomorrow at 1:00pm in the Executive Conference Room. The location is subject to change based on availability, so please keep an eye on your emails as you will be responsible for any information communicated and attendance is required unless you get specific permission from me not to attend.

Sincerely,
Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey…

Hmmm… I don’t really have a title with GEH and this is my company email.

Assistant Director was easy with Helping Hands.

We actually have executive and Senior VP’s and quite frankly, I’m not a VP.

Co-CEO? Abso-fucking-lutely not!

What is the hierarchy in this situation? Fuck it, never mind. I know what I’ll call myself.

Sincerely,
Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Executive Director, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

I’ll hear something about it if it’s the wrong title. I send an email to what I now call my Power Assistants Team, Marilyn and Andrea, to make sure that the room is available and to secure certain items needed for the meeting, including a podium and a preprinted sign-in sheet. I call up to Ms. Solomon to bring me an antipasto tray and a pitcher of cranberry spritzer and settle in to prepare my meeting.

Things are really sloppy and can be corrected with just the slightest push in the right direction, a little change in protocol and requirements, and a sledgehammer upside someone’s head. I understand why my husband had to become the iron fist. People had stopped taking him seriously.

What I don’t understand is why it looks like he’s doing it on his own. Not once do I see Ros or Finney drop the anvil on someone who has clearly dropped the ball or has shown mediocre effort in rectifying any errors or bringing a viable solution to fruition. My husband’s voice is the shot heard ‘round the company. However, even with all his power, he can only handle so many direct situations at once. Bearing this in mind, it’s time to shake things up, but I don’t want to show up and come off as a mom having a temper tantrum.

As such, I will need to call on The Bitch.
You rang?
I sure as hell did. We’ve got a job to do, sistah.
Bring it on.

“Good evening.”

I raise my head to see my husband standing in the doorway of my office wearing his glasses. I rarely see him wear them, but here he is.

“Busy?” he asks. He knows I am. I remove my glasses.

“I’m working on something,” I tell him, putting my glasses down and clasping my hands on the desk in front of me.

“You don’t usually work on Sunday,” he says, slowly breaching the doorway and approaching my desk. Sorry, not today, Sir.

“It’s time-sensitive and pretty detailed,” I tell him, not breaking my gaze with him. “Did you need something?” I ask. I need to get back to work. He raises a brow at me as he halts behind the chair in front of my desk.

“What are you working on?” And there it is. He’s never asked me that before. Very droll, Mr. Grey.

“I think you know,” I respond, still holding his gaze. He’s silent for a moment before he finally takes one of the seats in front of my desk.

“I was perusing my email and I’ve just discovered that there will be a meeting of the department heads tomorrow afternoon with the Executive Director,” he points out. I don’t respond. “Non-profit organizations have Executive Directors. We’re not a non-profit.”

“And Chief Executive Officers normally answer to the Chairman of the Board,” I point out. “We don’t have a board.” He purses his lips in thought.

“Duly noted,” he cedes. “We’ll leave it for now.”

“How kind of you,” I say sarcastically, especially since I didn’t ask your permission.

“There’s a problem though,” he says. “I have another meeting at that time, so you may have to reschedule.”

“No,” I say matter-of-factly, “that works out just fine, because this is not your meeting—it’s mine. And if Ros or Finney were going to be in the meeting with you, I need them, too.” He raises a brow at me.

“I like to know what’s going on in my company, Anastasia…” Anastasia. Perfect.

Our company,” I say, firmly, folding my arms. “And you will know. I wouldn’t dream of keeping anything from you. But this meeting is mine, and your presence is not required. In fact, it’ll be more effective if you weren’t there.” He purses his lips again.

“Very well,” he says, and I’m sure that he’s thinking that he’s going to have to undo whatever mess I may create tomorrow, but I’ve got news for you, Grey. You won’t be able to unfurl this one. And if you try, I’m going to walk away and leave it to you—50% and all… and you’re going to leave that damn asshole bear at the door when you come home or you’re going to have a much bigger problem to deal with.

*-*

I don’t go into Helping Hands in the morning. Instead, I work remotely with Keri, and we confer with the learning coordinator about the last things needed to put the curriculum in place for tutoring. We’ve already gotten our Head Start program going and two of the children in the daycare will be attending. Keri and Ebony are very excited about that. Courtney’s doing well with her teen support group—not counseling, just building on the idea of peer support. Our cleaning crew is moving right along with the transition from Clean It Up For You, and Mrs. Sherwood is unsuccessfully attempting to prove to us just how much we really need her. I’m aware that having an in-house staff is more expensive than having a service do the cleaning for us. However, the accountability of an in-house staff is worth the extra money.

After sitting with curlers in my hair all day, I fashion it in big, billowing curls and don a red sweater dress that falls sleekly over my body and ends mid-calf with an insanely long matching knit wrap that I wear backwards so that it falls nearly to the floor like a cape behind me. I finish the ensemble with a pair of sky-high black patent leather Louboutin classic red-bottom stilettos and an oversized black patent leather clutch bag. Light make-up and moisturizer assure that there’s no overkill, and I’m ready to make some waves.

“You mean business, huh, Bosslady?” Marilyn asks when I enter the kitchen.

“Kickin’ ass and taking names,” I reply. “You ready?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she says.

“Then let’s rock and roll.”

Marilyn carries my coat for me in case I need it, but I won’t. I go straight from the mudroom to the garage to the Audi, and from the Audi to the elevator in the parking structure on GEH’s ground floor straight to the top floor. I expect to see Christian holding a meeting in his office, but he’s not there. He better not be in this department head meeting. I specifically told him not to come and if he’s testing me…

I walk into the meeting with Alex, Chuck, Ben, and Marilyn behind me. I’m overjoyed to see that my husband has honored my request and stayed away from my meeting as I stroll in with purpose and head straight to the sign-in sheet. I see that several people that are probably in this room haven’t signed the sheet like I asked. So, I call them out.

“Pa Nou Yi?” I read out, knowing that I’ve pronounced her name perfectly. A pretty Asian woman raises her head and acknowledges her name.

“Did you forget to sign in?” I ask. She clears her throat.

“We never use sign-in sheets with Mr. Grey,” she announces matter-of-factly, other members of the management team cosigning her statement. I nod.

“I see.” I retrieve the ledger containing the sign-in sheet and deliberately snatch the attached pen with so much force that I break the ball chain holding it to the lectern. I stride purposefully over to Ms. Yi and place the sign-in sheet and pen in front of her.

“Do I look like Mr. Grey to you?” I ask, glaring at her. She purses her lips, then picks up the pen with the piece of ball chain still dangling from it and signs next to her name.

“Thank you,” I say. “Has anyone else forgotten to sign in?”

“I have,” someone says, raising her hand, and a few other people raise their hand as well.

“Pass that around, Ms. Yi,” I say, “so that the rest of your colleagues can sign it.” She doesn’t make eye-contact with me as she slides the sign-in sheet to the next person.

“Now we have to take attendance like toddlers?” someone comments from across the table. I slam my hands on the table with just enough force to get his attention, lean over it and glare into his face.

“If you’re going to behave like toddlers, yes, you do,” I retort sharply. He’s a bit taken aback, evidenced by his expression. “And the next time you have something to share, say it loud enough so that we can all hear you.” I glare at him next and he stares back at me. Like I said, I’m not Christian Grey. I don’t have time for the stare game. I’ve made my point.

I march purposefully to the head of the table and slam my large, patent-leather clutch down on the table, startling several of the meeting’s participants. I remove my backwards wrap and drape it over the back of the seat while I wait patiently for the sign-in sheet to make its way around the table.

“Thank you,” I say to the last person who hands the sign-in sheet back to me. I see that there are people who still haven’t signed in after the sheet has made its round. 

“Alex, let the four people who haven’t signed in on this list know that they have five minutes to get to this meeting that started ten minutes ago, or they can be escorted out of the building immediately.” I hand him the list.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says without pausing and pulls out his cell. I pull a Christian Grey move and pull out my cell phone while standing at the head of the conference table, making a note of the names that were blank on the sign in sheet.

“Mrs. Batma?” Alex says from across the room. “This is Alex Welch from GEH security. You received a memo that there would be a department head meeting at 10am today with Dr. Anastasia Grey. She indicates that you have five minutes to get to the meeting, which started ten minutes ago, or I’ll send my staff down to escort you from the building.”

He doesn’t pause. He ends the call and calls the next person on the list.

“Chuck, Ben, please pull the remaining four chairs over by the window.” You fuckers want attention, you’re going to get it. Once they get the chairs lined up, I tell Chuck to go outside and wait for them. Finney and Ros keep looking at each other, no doubt wondering what the hell I’m doing. Yeah, you guys are generally in the inner sanctum, but not today. Today, you’re in the same category with these fuckers who don’t know who the hell I am.

A few minutes later, Chuck escorts our four stragglers into the conference room.

“So nice of you to join us. The next time one of your employers calls a meeting, try not to be late!” I say sharply. “Alex has the sign-in sheet.” The ladies and one gentleman murmur apologies.

“Now, we can get down to business,” I say once they’ve signed in and taken a sheet.

“Shouldn’t we wait for Mr. Grey?” Ros asks.

“Mr. Grey didn’t call this meeting. I did. Do you have a problem with that?” Her eyes widen as she glares at me, but she quickly remembers where she is.

“None at all, Dr. Grey,” she replies.

“Good. Now, as I was about to say before I was interrupted, I know you haven’t seen me around for a few weeks and why should you? You hadn’t seen me around before then either. Well, that’s about to change. I realized that I’m sitting in my lovely home enjoying a wonderful life made possible by the fruits of the labors of this company. And now, for some reasons, the efforts have appeared to stray from the common goal, and the labors are all beginning to fall by the wayside. Now, I can’t just sit back on my laurels and watch that happen, especially since—like it or not—I own half of this company.”

I pause for a moment to let that sink in.

“I’ve given some serious thought to this situation before I called this meeting… how I was going to deal with the fact that I’m part owner of a multi-billion-dollar company, but I can’t even get the management staff to respect me as such. My first instinct was to just leave this alone and allow Christian to run his business. Then, I remembered a conversation that he had a while back when he told me that I would be half-owner of this company. He said he trusted me. He said that he knew that his company would be in good hands if anything happened to him—that whatever I didn’t know, he had an executive staff and a management staff that would assist me to help keep the company thriving.

“He had that talk with me before he knew that I had any business education whatsoever. I thought he was out of his mind, but the fact remains that he did entrust me with fifty percent of his company while he’s alive, the whole of it upon his demise. So, hate it or love it, boys and girls, I’m here to stay.

“Who are you?” I ask, pointing at the guy who made the toddler comment.

“Theodore Mosele,” he says after a pause, “head of…”

“I don’t need to know what you’re head of; I just need to know your name,” I cut him off, holding my hand up to halt his introduction. “Mr. Mosele brought up a very good point. Why do we have to take attendance like toddlers?” I look at the list. “Mr. Reiter, would you like to tell us why?”

I look around the room and a gentleman raises his gaze to me along with his brow as several other department heads in the room turn to him.

“Um… to make sure that we’re all here?” he says—a question, not a statement.

“Excellent!” I reply. “The four people who decided to join us fifteen minutes after the meeting started are evidence that the sign-in sheet is needed, at least until I get to know who you all are… and I will get to know who you all are.” I turn to the four stragglers.

“The fact that you were up here within five minutes upon the threat of unemployment proves to me that you weren’t doing anything that was so important that you couldn’t have your asses in here at one!” I glare at them all and allow those words to sink in.

“Consider this your only warning,” I caution the attendees of the meeting. “The next time any of you decide that you have something better to do than to attend an owner’s meeting—or you conveniently forget how to sign your name when you enter—you will be subject to immediate disciplinary action.” I hear a few gasps, but no one speaks.

“I now understand why my husband feels the need to go back to running his business with as little leniency and leeway as possible. It appears that if he gives an inch that people will take ten damn miles.” I bark.

“I was going to back away and let him handle GEH like he always has, and then I realized… We’re a team. We’re going to remain a team. And in order for us to be effective, I have to back him up and we must work together.

“I’m no Christian Grey. I’m never going to be Christian Grey, nor do I want to be Christian Grey. However, like it or not, I am still fifty percent owner of this company. Anybody who doesn’t like that or can’t respect that can get the fuck out right now!”

The room is silent for a moment, then various murmurings begin.

“I don’t recall giving anybody else the goddamn floor!” I say, looking directly into the eyes of every person that I see has begun to speak out of turn, glaring at them and waiting for them to see that I’m plotting their demise if they don’t shut the fuck up. The murmurings quickly dissipate.

“I don’t care if you see me as an extension of Christian Grey, because when it comes to me, he’s not your biggest concern—I am. From this point on, any one of you who has a problem treating me with the same respect that you would treat anyone else who signs your paychecks and can bounce you out of here on your high-paid asses will find out just how quickly I can do the latter.

“The sudden random fifty-percent drug testing? That was me, to weed out any initial weak links. The mid-year and year-end self-evaluations followed by subsequent leadership evaluations—that was me, too. This tells the company what you think you’re worth to the company and what you can offer. Then it requires that your leaders cosign those conclusions, and add some thoughts of their own. This way, we can see what talent we have available in our pool, but we can also see who’s not making the mark. This also puts responsibility on your supervisor to dispel or justify your analysis of your performance.

“If you say you’re doing great and your supervisor says that you’re doing great, then you better be doing great. If you say that you’re doing great and your supervisor says, ‘Not so much,’ then it might be time for a counseling. Automatic raises are a thing of the past—that includes cost-of-living raises. All GEH employees must prove through these mandatory evaluations that they are worth their raises. If you are still employed here when the fiscal year begins, you will get a raise. However, your evaluations will determine how much. GEH will no longer be paying for mediocre or substandard work. From now on, you earn your money here, or you can get out.

“I’ve only brought these points to light to show that some of the things that you have seen implemented at GEH have come directly from me. You don’t have to see me to know that I’m affecting your lives already. Having said that, let me make this clear.

“I will not, I repeat, I will not accept disrespect, side-eyed glances, push-back, second-guessing, or any other little passive-aggressive tactics that anyone wants to try to push off on me. You don’t need my husband’s go-ahead or second opinion to carry out a command that I give you and I don’t need my husband’s permission to fire your ass and have you ceremoniously escorted off my goddamn property. If you want to see how far I can go to prove what I can do, please try me—I welcome the challenge. I can be an ally, or I can be an enemy—it’s all up to you. What I won’t be is an afterthought. I’ll be, ‘Oh, shit, Dr. Grey,’ before I’ll ever be, ‘Oh, yeah, Dr. Grey.’ Is that understood?”

The room is silent.

“That is not a rhetorical question!” I shoot. Various yes, ma’am’s fill the room. This is the first time that ma’am doesn’t make my skin crawl. None of these people are my fucking friends with the exception of a handful. I’m not dealing with this bullshit from these people anymore.

“Excellent. Now, let’s go over some particulars that I saw in some of the emails that I read last night.” I gesture to Chuck who brings my briefcase. I open it and remove my iPad and a few documents.

“This is how this is going to go,” I begin. “I’m going to call on many of you as needed by department to expound upon various projects and initiatives that should be in progress or nearing completion. You are going to give me as much useful information as possible without withholding key components and without drowning me in a bunch of useless drivel in an attempt to lose me in lingo. I won’t pretend to know what each of you are talking about. However, I have enough knowledge and a solid level of intelligence to grasp a general synopsis of the information that I’m asking for. Is there anyone unclear about what I’m about to do?”

Various No ma’ams fill the room and I’m certain that if they were unclear, they would fake it until they knew exactly what I wanted. Ros and Finney do this thing that I often see Christian and Jason do—the look that says a thousand words—and they do it often. To me, it honestly feels like a “put a pin in what she just said, and we’ll discuss later.” Why the fuck do you need to discuss later? Why can’t you discuss it now? But I digress. Other things to handle at the moment.

“Good. The first thing I’d like to talk about is…”

I go through the outline that I made from the email last night, making notes on each initiative and alerting various department heads that I would like to revisit the directives they’ve been working on, gesturing to Marilyn to make note of those departments as I plan to visit them later in the week or next week, as I get the time. Helping Hands is truly running itself with Keri, Courtney, Grace, and the learning coordinator—although I can’t completely disappear, I don’t need to be around as much.

During the meeting, I make various demands of Chuck and Marilyn, sometimes Ben and Alex as well, addressing them all just as informal as I always have.

“As you can see,” I say once I’ve gotten all the information that I want from each department head, “I call many of the staff by their first names. That’s because I’ve developed a rapport with them. I can develop a rapport with anyone in this room, but you’re going to determine what that rapport is going to be—friendly, strictly business, you can’t stand my fucking ass, I don’t care. As long as you do your damn job and respect my position.

“And make no mistake, I don’t care what you want to call me behind my back—really, I don’t. Call me a ballbuster, call me a bitch, call me a wannabe, call me whatever the fuck you want. Just don’t let it get back to me and do what the fuck I say when I give you a command or send you an email. I most likely have some personal opinions about and colorful names for many of you, simply due to the fact that I had to rearrange my life to get to the bottom of what was going on here before the life that I’m enjoying falls out from under me.”

I place my iPad on the conference table and stand, spreading my fingers out so that my fingertips are the only part of my hands touching the table.

“This meeting is adjourned,” I say. “Those of you who will have appointments to discuss your directives with me, look for an email from my personal assistant, Marilyn Caldwell.” Everyone stands with as little murmurings or fanfare as possible, including my executive team.

“Ros, Lorenz, wait, please,” I say. Another 10,000-word glance passes between them and they sit.

“Alex, is there a smaller room where I can meet with Ros and Finney?” I ask. He looks at his phone before responding.

“Mr. Grey isn’t done with his meeting yet,” he says. “You can use his office.” Perfect. I nod.

“Chuck, please gather my things together here and you and Ben wait for me outside of Christian’s office. Marilyn, my notes should have synced with yours, so hopefully if gives you an idea of what I need and what to send to each department head about what I need and include meetings that won’t conflict with anything that I have scheduled now. Hopefully, Andrea can find a spot for you…”

“No problem, Bosslady, I’m on it.” I nod and turn to my executive staff.

“Ros, Finney,” I say marching past them with my shawl and clutch in hand.

Christian’s office is perfect for this task. His chairs are far enough away from the front of his desk to make sure you know that he knows he’s the boss. I sit my gorgeous ass in his seat of power as Ros and Finney initially hover over me for a moment or two before they finally take their seats. I pause for a moment before I begin, then I jump right in with no prelim.

“Are you concerned about your jobs at all?” I ask them. Ros’ eyes pierce.

“Excuse me?” she asks.

“I realize that you can leave this place today and have a job tomorrow, but my question is, and I’ll repeat it… Are you concerned about your jobs at all?” Ros stands and puts her hand on her hip.

“Are you threatening us, Ana?” she accuses, affronted. Bitch, what the fuck…?

“Well, I don’t know, Ros. Do you feel threatened?” I reply, taking the exact same tone that she’s taking with me. Ros is a powerful woman and she knows that she is, but I’m not going to back down to her or anybody else if I feel like they’re a hindrance to my husband. So, it behooves them to answer the goddamn question.

“Okay, ladies, please,” Finney says, standing as well and attempting to be the voice of reason. “We’re all on the same team here. Of course, we value our jobs, Ana,” he replies. I glare at Ros again and she glares right back. She’s testing me, I know, but I’ve got bigger fish to fry. I turn back to Finney.

“That’s not what I asked,” I tell him. “I asked if you’re concerned about your jobs at all. Is there some hierarchy here that I’m not aware of?” I inquire. “Some distribution of work that I’m just not privy to? I don’t pretend to know everything.” Finney frowns.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Finney says.

“Neither do I,” Ros shoots, folding her arms. I glare at her.

“Watch your tone with me, Ros, I’m not in the mood,” I caution.

“And you think I am?” she retorts. I suck my teeth trying not to lose my temper.

“Rosalind…” I begin.

“Anastasia?” she retorts, interrupting me.

That’s it.

I slam my hands so hard on Christian’s desk that it rattles, pushing myself out of his chair. She and Finney both leap back a step, and her stance has moved from offensive to how-close-is-the-nearest-door. I’m glaring at her, ready to fucking pounce if this is what she wants.

“You’ve got one more time,” I seethe, pointing and glaring at her from behind Christian’s desk, “just one more time to pull that passive-aggressive disrespectful bullshit on me, and you’re going to find out just who the head bitch in charge really is!”

She’s standing there gape-mouthed staring at me like she can’t believe what I just said and did. She’s been the high petticoat all these years and I understand that she feels like her toes are being stepped on right now, because dammit, they are!

Try me, cookie!

“Ros,” Finney says, his voice very low, “she’s right. You’re being insubordinate.” She throws a glare at him, then at my strawberry-red raging face. I can see in her eyes that she has a three-second funnel of her own and either she thinks better of what she says or what Finney said got through to her. Her stance changes again, and she’s immediately more approachable… and receptive.

I take three deep breaths to calm my anger… no, my rage and repeat myself.

“Is there some hierarchy here that I’m not aware of?” I repeat, “or some distribution of work that I’m just not privy to? Like I said, I don’t pretend to know everything. What I mean…” I say immediately, “… is that I took some time this weekend to review the emails that have been floating around the department heads and the executive team for the last several weeks, and it appears that all initiatives, directives, questions, answers, and guidance come from my husband.

“Now, maybe I’m just seeing things, or maybe I’m biased in my view of the emails. Maybe there are some emails that just aren’t getting to me, but from what I can see, there’s an uneven distribution of work among the executive team and it looks like one person is taking all the responsibility on himself. I would just like to know how the work is distributed so that one person doesn’t carry all the burden. It’s my understanding that Finney was hired because he didn’t want you to carry the burden all by yourself, but now, he appears to carry the lion’s share on his back. Am I mistaken? Did I miss something?”

“We all have different roles, Ana,” Finney says, and Ros still hasn’t found the words to address me yet.

“And does his role entail carrying the lion’s share of the work?” I ask again, since they seem not to be able to answer the question. I turn back to Ros.

“I’m not here to fight with you,” I say firmly. “I’m not even here to cunt-strut with you. I don’t have the business savvy that you do, the knowledge that you do or even the tenure that you do, but if my green, inexperienced ass can look at this setup and tell you that something’s wrong then dammit, something’s wrong—and it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in business management to see it.

“He’s got shit flying in every direction and it’s all coming from him. Now either you two are not following directions and are not CC’ing me on all executive email or for the umpteenth time, he’s doing the lion’s share of the work! Which one is it?”

Ros purses her lips, folds her arms, and drops her gaze—and I’m about three seconds from sending her ass on an administrative leave, but I won’t because I need answers.

“If GEH has a top-drawer, Grade-A executive team, why is he carrying this all by himself? And don’t tell me that he’s not! I live with that man. I have to watch him every day. He’s wound even tighter than he was when he was dealing with those fucking hackers. He has to gird up the asshole hours before he even leaves the house and he usually doesn’t shed it for hours after he gets home. Does Gwen have to deal with that?” I shoot at Ros. Her face softens infinitesimally.

“Does Mrs. Finney?” I say, turning to Finney. Their silence tells me everything I need to know.

“This is his baby,” I nearly seethe. “He suffers many sleepless nights wondering what’s going to happen with his creation—his life’s fucking work. He needs unwavering support, from you, from me, from everybody that values their job here, but he needs it most of all from the people who are closest to him! He and I are not the only ones who need to put up a unified front! You do, too. He doesn’t just need great minds pushing pencils, making calculations, and giving great ideas. He. Needs. Your. Support!

“You are not figureheads. You are each one-third of an executive team, but it looks like he’s carrying all the weight. You’re worried about drug tests and if my best friend’s department is going to be audited. Does legal fucking need to be audited? Because if it does, fucking audit it! Do it because there’s something going wrong in that department, but don’t do it to make a fucking bunch of sycophants happy who can’t even keep an eye on their own goddamn departments.

“That same silence that you observe when he walks through the hallways, they need to observe that same silence when you walk through the hallways—not because they’re afraid of you or because you’re being an asshole, but because you wield the same power that he does and they know it. And people should know that if they’re not doing what they need to do that the same hammer that he can bring down on them can come from you.

“If there needs to be a change of accountability around here, that’s fine. That’s why I came up with the mid-year and year-end evaluations. You didn’t need them before because everybody was scared shitless. Slowly but surely, that situation has faded, and now my husband has taken it totally upon himself to become the long arm of the law and get this place back in shape. But I refuse to believe that he has to take on the role of Big Angry Growling Daddy Bear 20 out of 24 hours a day while you’re fussing about drug tests and whether legal is going to be audited or not. He’s walking around barking at everybody he talks to and every time I see you two, you’re cool as a cucumber. What’s wrong with this picture?” They throw knowing glances at each other.

“And that,” I say, pointing to them, “if I see that, he does, too. That is a total indicator that you’re a team and he’s the odd man out. I’m a psychiatrist—I dare you to tell me that I’m wrong.”

I fold my arms and wait for a response. I feel like I’m talking to the enemy now. How many times has Christian had to justify something to them? How many battles has he had to fight where they’ve had these secret conversations with their eyes? Whose side are they on anyway? If they’ve built some kind of alliance that has my husband on the outside, what does that mean for GEH?

Ros wants to retort, but her facial expressions indicate that she doesn’t really know what to say. Finney, once again, speaks for them both.

“We’re definitely not against Christian, Ana,” Finney says. “We may not agree with every decision that he makes, but we’re not against him…”

“And it’s okay that you don’t agree with every decision,” I retort. “My husband can be very high-handed, but agree or disagree, he shouldn’t have to carry every burden on his back. And right now, he is.”

They turn to each other for one of those secret-eye conversations again, but quickly divert their gaze. Hmm, something’s getting through.

“The reason I asked if you were concerned about your jobs is not because I was threatening you. It’s because GEH is at a precipice. The mistakes and the dismal performance that we’re seeing in some of our departments is dreadful. No, we’re not losing money, but we’re trying not to get there. And the safety and quality issues; the inventory mishap; the fact that I, a civilian, walked in here and found the flaw with the XRC90 transmitter and the responsibility subsequently still fell on Daddy Bear to get them to run some simple tests; the fact that SEEKNID, a software that basically saved this company from potentially losing millions and millions of dollars, didn’t get launched last year—those are all indications that too many balls are being dropped and we’re headed downhill. That’s a huge concern for my husband, and if it’s not a concern for you, the hell if I’m going to let him take that shit on all by himself. And if we can’t patch the holes in the framework, then I’m going to discuss with him taking this company public.”

“Public?” Ros has suddenly found her words.

“Yes, public,” I say. “Maybe a board of directors can have better luck than we are, and if they can’t, then we’re screwed anyway, aren’t we?”

“Ana…” and I’m Ana again, “… taking this company public could be the worst possible decision…”

“But having your CEO die from a stress-induced heart attack sounds like a better plan to you?” I ask, my arms folded. They involuntarily have one of those silent eye-conversations, then look back at me.

“At the risk of overstepping my boundaries,” Ros begins with no malice, “you said it yourself—this is Christian’s baby. He’s worked hard at it. He’s said many times that he already knows that a board will come in here and tear it apart. They would do everything for the profit and not for the company, the community, or the greater good, and he doesn’t want that. It would break his heart to do something like that. He’ll never take this company public. It’ll be like giving his baby up for adoption, then selling it to the devil. He’ll die at the helm before he does that.”

“That’s a very interesting analogy you just used,” I inform her. “I know very well that this is Christian’s baby, but guess what? Christian now has two very alive, very breathing children—not metaphorical babies… babies who are walking and breathing and growing and learning to call him ‘Daddy.’ GEH was his only baby, but it’s not anymore.

“Christian Grey never thought that he would be a husband and a father, but now he is. He never thought he would give away half his company to a woman, but he has. I birthed Minnie and Mikey and he birthed GEH. He trusts me to help raise his children, and I am. He trusted you to help cultivate GEH. Are you doing that? We have employees at the house just like we have employees here. If I drop the ball and everything has to go through Daddy Bear, why does he need me? I serve as wife, mother, confidant, partner, lover—if I can’t do those things, what good am I? If an outsider can walk in and see that I’m not doing those things, if they can’t see or feel my presence in my home… my children don’t reach for me when I walk in the door, nobody cares whether I’m there or not… what purpose am I serving?”

“I think you’re being a bit harsh, Ana,” she inserts, “no disrespect intended.”

“Am I, Ros?” I say. “How many times have you been to dinner at my home lately?” I ask. “How many times have you seen my husband not make it to the dinner table before his children have to be put to bed because he’s in the workout room working off the day? How many nights have you gone to bed early so that you can be awake in the wee hours of the morning because that’s the only time that you can have a normal conversation with your spouse? How much of GEH goes home on your backs and gets dumped on your families? How much time does it take for you to wind down from the pressures of the day and let go of the business so that you can have some kind of semblance of a normal life?

“I don’t see the same stress on you and Finney that I see on my husband, and when I went into those emails, I see why. My whole intention was to come in here, claim my half of the company, and start really putting my foot down on some shit so that he doesn’t have to take it all on himself, but he has an executive team. Why should I have to do that?

“You walk in first thing in the morning looking like a million bucks and you leave without a smudge on your lipstick, but he’s pulling his hair out.” I turn to Finney “You emit knowledge and power in your stride. You’re confident and it’s evident. He’s wearing a perpetual grimace. He’s constantly pondering something, and I know that he doesn’t smile here because he doesn’t smile at home.” I turn back to Ros.

“You’re always entitled to a vacation—anytime you need it and anytime it’s available—but you don’t think we know that you took a vacation at a very crucial time for this company because you had a bug up your butt?” I accuse. She stares at me, her expression a mixture of surprise and chastised.

“We drop what we’re doing, and we take international vacations at will,” I admit. “So, the very last thing I’m going to do is give you a hard time about taking some time off, but I won’t hesitate to call you out on your bullshit reason and timing. You made a statement and we heard it loud and clear and I don’t like it. He’ll never call you on it, because he can take the reins by himself… but he can’t do both. He can’t be the 24/7, ball-busting leader and still be a family man.

“He has changed,” I point out. “He’s my husband now. He’s the father of my children, and I am not going to lose him to this business… and that’s not a threat. That’s a bona-fide, genuine, signed, sealed, and delivered promise!”

There’s nothing else for me to say. I retrieve my wrap and my clutch and walk out of the office.

Chuck, Ben, and Marilyn silently and quickly fall in step behind me as I stride to the elevator. Chuck inserts a key into the panel and pushes the button for the first floor.

“I need one of those,” I tell him. Without blinking, he gets on his phone.

“Alex… please secure an express key for Her Highness.” He ends the call and looks straight ahead.

When we exit the elevator, I begin my stroll across GEH’s marble floors, commanding the silence that I said should befall the room when Ros and Finney enter as well as a glare here and there. I meet one of them head on since she doesn’t feel the need to break it… today’s sacrificial lamb, so to speak.

“Take a picture it lasts longer!” I shoot in one breath as I approach her. My firm voice cuts through the silence of the lobby, causing everyoneincluding those who weren’t even looking at meto turn their attention to the glaring bitch, who quickly drops her head and her gaze all before I even past her.

The car has been parked in the front of the building for my exit and although I’m dreading the cold without my coat, the statement being made as I march through the lobby with my entourage is much more effective and is bound to cause a buzz once I leave…

One that will ring loudly through the hallowed halls of GEH and, no doubt, directly to the ears of my husband.

CHRISTIAN

That red dress is screaming business and “fuck me” at the same time, demurely covering everything from her neck to her mid-calf with the exception of her dainty little hands. I’m more than a bit taken aback when she snatches that pen from the podium and slams it down in front of the head of procurement along with the sign-in sheet she got from God only knows where.

I see her getting a bit of kickback from some of the boys on the management team, but she’s giving it right back to them. I’m glad I was able to finish my meeting in time and now, I’m tucked in Jason’s office as he and I watch her meeting through the various eyes in the sky. Every time somebody tries to give her some shit, she chews them up, swallows them, and shits them out. Before anyone attempts to be insubordinate, she lets them know that she doesn’t need my permission to kick them out on their asses, and she’s right.

She reminds me of a female version of myself, and I can’t help but wonder what brought this on.

“She can really command a meeting,” Jason says, watching as she fires off detailed questions at members of the Boys’ Club that a few of them have a hard time answering. I would berate them for not having answers that I need, but not Madame Butterfly. Oh, no. She politely lets them know that they will be getting memos for later meetings in a few days or so where she expects to get the answers that she’s seeking without excuses.

Shit, the Butterfly Sword looks to be about as effective as the Iron Fist, if not more so in some cases.

She must have spent hours researching what these departments should be doing! I know that I know some of these projects off the top of my head and others I’m very familiar with…

And somebody tell me why Ros and Lorenz are looking at each other like deer caught in headlights!

I watch the management team and department heads scatter like rats when she dismisses the meeting, several of them crowding the stairwells and not even waiting for the elevator. She has struck the fear of God into these people and they’re off to do whatever is necessary to save their souls! And now, it’s time for the showdown with Ros and Lorenz. I only say showdown because the last time Butterfly was in the office at one of the department head meetings—when she swore that she would never be back—she had a bit of a head-to-head with Ros, who never apologized for her behavior, accusations, or disrespect, by the way. Now, she’s locked in the room with the Butterfly Sword and I’m anxious to see who’ll emerge victorious.

Butterfly doesn’t pull any punches. She goes straight for the jugular. Lorenz is confused, but Ros is ready to fight, and the dukes are raised.

“Oh, shit,” Jason hisses, covering his chin and mouth while shaking his head. He knows what’s coming. No sooner than Ros girds up her armor and prepares to show her weapon, Butterfly slams her hands on my desk shattering the silence and any expectation in the room as well as Ros’ resolve. Her next words and much of the conversation thereafter demonstrates who’s clearly in charge in this meeting.

She’s brought a few things to light that I never considered. I don’t care that I’m doing things on my own as long as they get done, but she’s right. If I have an executive team, why am I doing things on my own? My wife is trying to get a school started. We have to go to Green Valley in a few weeks and I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to go with her with things in the current condition they are, and she’s turning her focus from things that she should be focusing on to the inner workings of GEH and why things aren’t getting done here.

Maybe I should be coming down on Lorenz and Ros a little more. Why the hell did I hire him in the first place? Oh, yeah… I hired him to help take the load off Ros whenever I pulled up and left town and to allow her to take time off without it handicapping the company. Apparently, something got lost in translation with their duties. And I love that she points out that look that they give each other. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear to God that they were planning a mutiny.

And I love my wife dearly, but she knows that I’m never going to take my company public. I don’t even know why she mentioned that. Then again, I guess if there was an ultimatum on the table, we’d need to have a serious discussion about it—about what it would mean to take my company public and why she would think it was a last resort or even a resort at all. Then her final words play in my head as I watch her walk across the lobby…

“He has changed. He’s my husband now. He’s the father of my children, and I am not going to lose him to this business… and that’s not a threat. That’s a bona-fide, genuine, signed, sealed, and delivered promise!”

What makes her think she’s losing me to my business? For fuck’s sake, I’ve got a lot of thinking to do about all this myself. I turn my gaze back to my office and Ros and Lorenz are still standing there.

“Why are they still standing there?” I ask, pointing at the screen.

“They’re talking,” Jason says. I purse my lips.

“Turn it up,” I say, focusing on the screen again.

“Calm down, Ros,” Lorenz says, “Christian knows more than anybody what a disaster it would be to take this company public if for no other reason than that there are assholes out there who would love to take it on just to run it into the ground.”

“But she doesn’t know that,” Ros hisses. “She’s running around here throwing orders like she’s got a new toy, and she’s going to destroy the business in the process.” That’s not what I see at all.

“And may I ask where that theory is coming from?” Lorenz challenges. “What did she do in that meeting that leads you to believe that she didn’t have complete control over everything that she was doing? I would have had to be studying for months to get the kind of detailed intel she had on these departments and what they should be doing. She reviewed emails for a weekend and walked in here and rightfully handed a bunch of executives their asses. Then she turned around and held the departments responsible for not having the information that she needed. I don’t see anybody running around ‘with a new toy’ at all. I see somebody with a vested interest in this company wanting to know what the fuck is going on.”

“Oh, God, don’t tell me you’re under that spell, too,” Ros laments. “Christian I can understand. He’s married to her and he’s in love with her. Now, your vision is all clouded, too?” Careful, Ros.

“My vision is not clouded,” Lorenz says firmly but slowly, “and I don’t like the implication of what you’re trying to say.”

“Oh, keep your shirt on. I’m not trying to say anything. I’m just pointing out the fact that she has absolutely no business experience whatsoever besides her little minor degree…” She waves her hand around dismissively as she describes my wife’s education, “and she’s coming in here throwing orders around to the people who have been doing this for years. They’re not going to like it and we’re probably going to see quite a bit of pushback from it.”

“And whatever they’ve been doing for years, Ros, they haven’t been doing it right. That’s why she’s here. This is her company, too, and she has a right to call ‘bullshit’ when she sees it. Now, I see where you’re coming from, and had this been any other pampered wife running in here waving the ‘I’ve got the power’ flag without the correct information or intention, I would be the first person going to Christian and telling him that shit needs to stop. However, I can clearly see, that’s not what’s going on here and so could those other people in that room. What exactly is your problem?”

“My only problem is with someone who has no idea what the hell is going on marching in here trying to run things!” she snaps, folding her arms. Lorenz falls silent and just looks at her. Noting the silence, she raises her gaze to his.

“What?” she demands.

“You know what? I hope you’ve got your asbestos pantyhose on because whether you like it or not, that little ball of fire is going to fly through here and make some changes and if you don’t watch your attitude and stay on your toes, you’re going to get your ass seared. So, what I suggest you do is pack up that little green-eyed monster and put it back in your pocket, because whether you agree or not, there’s nothing that she said in that room or this one that was. Not. True.

“If she has to deal with half the hellion at home that he is when he’s here, it’s a wonder she hasn’t packed up her babies and run to the hills. You and I both know that we don’t carry the burden that he does, and we definitely don’t take it home to our wives. That woman that walked into that meeting this morning was pissed! She was about the business of getting down to business and whether you want to admit it or not, that’s exactly what she did.

“I’ve watched you make little snide, dismissive comments around and about her like you don’t understand what side your bread is buttered on. Get used to it, Tootsie—she is the head bitch in charge. She could be sitting at home eating bonbons and watching soap operas and she would still be the head bitch in charge. You should be happy that he has a woman that’ll look at all this and see that something’s not right and try to find a solution for it instead of sitting back, spending all his money, and giving him a hard time about having to work so much!”

Damn, I never thought of any of that. Whatever Butterfly wants, I just make sure that she gets it, even if it’s a private meeting with my department heads… well, not so private since I watched from Jason’s office. I just didn’t interfere.

“I’ve worked for this company for years,” Ros says. “I have just as much blood, sweat, and tears in it as Christian. I’ve helped to build it up from a baby just like he did. I just don’t want to see all my hard work—our ­hard work—dismantled by a housewife, no matter how smart she is!”

Damn, Ros, petty much? I agree that she worked hard to get GEH where it is today and her contributions are invaluable, but why must she besmirch my wife so badly?

“Well, forgive me for not noticing,” Lorenz quips, “but what you just saw was goddamn intervention, or did you miss that whole thing? And if what you say is true, then tell me this—are you bleeding, sweating, and crying as much as he is right now? Will we see Gwen marching into the building any second telling us that this shit has got to change?”

Ros falls silent for a moment as if pondering Lorenz’s words, basically the same words that Butterfly said to them not twenty minutes ago.

“Make no mistake, she’s going to have a talk with Christian, and I can guarantee you that there’s going to be some ‘Come to Jesus’ in there. She looked at something somewhere that said that we’re not pulling the weight Christian is when we’re supposed to be a three-man team, and she’s about to make it a four-man team like it or not.”

“Christian likes to do things himself. You know how hands on he is,” she excuses.

“I know that’s bullshit and so do you,” he counters. “We do what we’re told. We do what’s needed. We’ve gotten comfortable in sitting back and not getting our hands too dirty because it’s easy to stay back and let him do that. What building do you need to fall on your head to realize that all of our jobs are in jeopardy right now? A month ago, she couldn’t tell you what the process was for SEEKNID from idea to completion, and now she can tell you that we can probably shave a day off our inefficient shipping processes just by streamlining and combining some of the tasks. Isn’t this the same woman who found a flaw in a product that was supposed to be one of the major selling points of one of our deals last year just by looking at the acquisition reports?

“You’re selling her short, and I have no idea why and I really don’t care, but you better get off that horse, because you’re on it by yourself, and we both better get our asses in gear or we may just find ourselves in the unemployment line!” He glares at her for a moment before he walks out of the office.


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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 2

I didn’t mean to trigger so many people and so many bad experiences with last week’s episode. I’m sorry. 

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

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

Season 5, Episode 2

ANASTASIA

Marilyn was truly a sight for sore eyes this morning… somewhat.

While I’m very glad to see her, I can’t get over how pale and frail she looks. She absolutely looks ill. Nobody’s saying it out loud, but it’s written all over everyone’s face as she greets them on Monday morning.

What the hell happened to Marilyn?

With her being away for so long and no one knowing why she was gone, the main whisper around the Center is that she has the big “C.” This is a perfect example of how the rumor mill gets started.

“She doesn’t have cancer, for Christ’s sake,” I scold some of the gossipy kitchen staff. “And it’s none of your business what’s happening with her unless she wants to tell you. So, stop drawing conclusions and spreading false rumors about something that you know absolutely nothing about!”

Duly chastised, the kitchen staff shut down their misguided conclusions and the rumors stopped just after lunch. At least, they stopped around me.

Marilyn quickly jumped right back into her work, exclaiming how awful my calendar and commitments looked and wondering how many of them I had missed while she was gone.

“Did you totally delete your appointments with Ace?” she asks horrified. “There’s none of them here. What’d you do, fire the guy?”

“Actually, yes,” I reply. She raises a questioning gaze to me. I sigh and remove my glasses. “He threw me out of his office during one of my sessions…”

“So, you fired him?” she asks confused.

“No, not yet,” I reply. “The next week, his wife called and cancelled my appointment, on the day of my appointment. The next week, he texted me and told me that my appointment was cancelled. After that, I skipped two weeks. I just didn’t feel like dealing with the rejection.

“The following week, we went to Australia, where I had several epiphanies and discovered after five weeks of no therapy that my therapist may not be helping me as much as I thought he was. I still journal; I still talk to people as needed; I still meditate and do my yoga; and I still have Ace on speed dial, but the weekly sessions are over. They’re not helping anymore.”

“How have you been doing since you stopped seeing him?” she asks.

“Overall, pretty good. I’ve had a few hiccups—I’d be worried if everything was peaches and cream after I fired my therapist, quite frankly, but all and all, things are okay with me. It was the right decision.” After a pause, I add, “Now, I’m going to ask the question that nobody wants to ask. Are you well?” Marilyn frowns.

“What do you mean, ‘Am I well?’” she asks.

“Physically,” I say. “Have you been to the doctor since the termination? Is something going on with your health?”

“No, I haven’t been to the doctor. It was an abortion, Ana, not open-heart surgery. There’s nothing wrong with my health. I feel fine.”

“Then why do you look like you’ve lost half your body weight?” I ask. She sighs and rolls her eyes.

“You’re being dramatic,” she says. “It’s just a few pounds. I’m depressed. I have the right to be a little thinner.”

“You’re using present tense,” I say. She rolls her eyes again and meets my gaze.

“What? What do you mean?” she asks.

“You’re saying that you’re depressed, that you have the right to be thinner. I take it that means that you’re not eating.” She sighs like a petulant child and drops her gaze back to her iPad.

“And you’re still depressed, that means you’re still not eating.”

She doesn’t raise her head or acknowledge my statement.

“Look at me, Marilyn!”

The petulant child raises her eyes to me again.

“You’re dangerously thin. You’ve lost a tremendous amount of weight in a short time and the ‘C’ word is already floating around the rumor mill. My God, how could your parents watch this and not be concerned?” Her demeanor changes immediately.

“Because they were more concerned about my immortal soul than my earthly coil!” she snaps, immediately dropping her gaze back to her iPad. I sit silently watching her and waiting for her response.

“It’s just a little weight,” she says without raising her gaze. “Trust me, it’ll be back in no time.” I don’t press the issue… for now. I just get back to the work at hand.

We’ve gone over some of the things that need to be done and Marilyn is frantically working to get her calendar—I should say my calendar—and notifications back to where they should be. I’ve noticed her daydreaming more than once and this time, she’s toying with her finger nervously, rubbing the spot as if it hurts. I’m only just remembering that she used to wear a promise ring there that Gary gave her last year. As if she’s suddenly conscious that she’s worrying her finger, she stops and turns her focus back to her iPad.

“Can you ever forgive him for leaving you?” I ask.

“I already have,” she says, her voice small as she concentrates on her iPad.

“Because you still love him?” She sighs.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s ever going to change, but no. I understand how he feels. I don’t think he could ever understand how I feel… but I get it. So… yes, I’ve already forgiven him.”

“Enough to take him back if he asks?” She pauses for a long moment.

“Can we please change the subject?” she beseeches. I sigh. She needs to talk this out, to come to grips with her raging emotions, but I guess now isn’t the time.

“I’d really like to not have to work at all this weekend,” she interjects. “I need to find a place to stay.” I frown.

“I can’t stay in that apartment,” she says, hugging her iPad close to her and looking at the ground. “It’s worse than being at my parents’ house. I can’t do it. And I don’t want to be alone. I thought I could handle it, but I can’t. I was fine at the hotel. There weren’t so many memories, but now I’m back and I feel like I’m going to die.

“It’s Gary’s apartment,” she continues. “He paid the lease and I can’t stay there… for obvious reasons. I’m calling movers to come and get my things and maybe I’ll put the bulk of them in storage while I try to find somewhere permanent, but it was hell sleeping in that apartment last night… or trying to sleep in it. When I’m gone, let him know that he can move back in. I’m surprised he didn’t move in while I was at my parents’.”

“I don’t think he knew that you were gone,” I reply. The truth is that nobody has seen Gary. We know that he’s working, but he hasn’t really spoken to us since the breakup. He called me once on Christmas, but that’s it. He probably thinks I’m going to harass him about Marilyn.

“You have any idea where you’re going? Have you looked at any places yet?” I ask.

“My old apartment is obviously gone, so that’s out,” she says. “I’ll find something.”

“And in the meantime?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I can’t stay with my parents. Even if they were close enough, they drive me crazy,” she says. “They haven’t ostracized me, but they’re acting like they have to cast demons out of me because I murdered this innocent child.” Her voice cracks as she says it. “I wish I hadn’t done it,” she confesses. “I would have kept the baby had I known it would be this bad.”

You feel bad?” I ask.

“Gary’s hurt and I’ve lost him forever. My heart aches and I can’t stop it. My parents are treating me like Satan’s spawn instead of their daughter. Nothing much would have changed if I had the baby…” I frown, horrified.

“Nothing much? Are you kidding? Your entire life would have changed!” She raises her eyes to me.

“You would have let me bring the baby to work,” she points out. “And Helping Hands has a nursery…”

“I’m a billionairess with a full-time assistant, full-time nannies, and full-time staff—and I had to choose between my practice, Helping Hands, and my babies. You really think your life wouldn’t have changed?” She drops her eyes back to her iPad. “You did what you felt you needed to do for yourself. Neither decision was going to be easy, and they would both be full of regrets no matter what you chose. You’re only tormenting yourself by second-guessing your decision because you can’t go back and undo it.” She sighs.

“Yet another reason to change the subject,” she says, with the same shaky voice. “Is it okay if I have the weekend off?” I twist my lips.

“Of course, it is,” I say softly. “We usually don’t work weekends unless there’s an emergency anyway.” A few moments pass and I say, “You know I’ve got the condo. Courtney’s staying there now, but there’s plenty of room.” She shakes her head.

“Me and Court are cool and all, but not cool enough to be roomies. You pay me well, Boss Lady. I’ll find a place.” I know you will, but I don’t want you to be alone. You don’t look well and you’re scaring me!

Here comes the Owie House again.

“I have eight bedrooms—pick one,” I say. She raises her eyes to me, then realization dawns.

“Oh, I’m sure Christian would just love that,” she says sarcastically. I twist my lips.

“Are you forgetting how many bedrooms I have?” I say. “As long as you don’t come out of those rooms in any state of undress, we’ll be fine. Besides, having my personal assistant truly at my beck and call would be a dream come true—even if it is only temporary.” She smiles weakly.

“You’re just trying to make me feel better,” she says. I lean forward on my desk.

“Do you have any idea how handicapped I was without you? Any clue?” I ask. She cocks her head at me.

“If you’re calendar’s any indication, yes, I do!” she declares.

“Courtney’s wonderful. She did the best she could, but she’s not you,” I reply. “Look at all the people that live here,” I add. “Val and Elliot are here, and some days, we never even see them! You could go for days in this joint and not bump into each other… and you work here! No commute. Put your furniture in storage—you can use the storage at my condo if it’s not much, I know that’s empty. Hide away in the furthest bedroom from humanity if you choose and take some time to regroup. That way, you don’t have to stay in the apartment, you don’t have to be subjected to the cathobapticostal condemnation and casting out of demons for choosing to terminate your pregnancy, and you can take your time and find a nice place on your schedule. No pressure.” She frowns.

“Have you talked to Christian about this?” she asks. I pull out my phone and start texting.

“No,” I tell her, “but he’ll be fine with it.”

“I don’t want to make this decision until you talk to your husband,” she protests. I raise my eyes to her.

“Would you rather not stay there?” I ask. “I don’t want to pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do.” She shakes her head as my phone buzzes, and I continue to text.

“It’s not that,” she says. “I’m sure I’ll have privacy. I just don’t want to impose, seriously. Right now, the easiest thing for me to be is invisible…” which is why I don’t want you to be alone.

“That’s not healthy,” I reply, “but I guess it’s somewhat expected under the circumstances.” My phone buzzes again. “And I’ve talked to my husband,” I say, showing her the texts.

Ana: I’d like for Marilyn to stay with us for a while until she finds another place.

Christian: Okay.

Ana: She’s worried about being an imposition.

Christian: Eight bedrooms?? Almost 15,000 square feet?? We’ve already got a tribe living there. What’s one more?

Marilyn almost laughs after reading the text. That’s progress.

“Thank you,” she says, her voice soft and grateful. I’m glad I turned the phone around before the next text came in.

**Garrett’s being an asshole. **

**No, he’s not. He’s hurt and he has a right to be. I just wish this wasn’t so hard on either of them. **

**There you go with that PC-ness again. She needs him, and he deserted her. That’s all I see. **

**I understand. I won’t dispute you on that. But he’s still my friend, so what are you going to do when he comes around? **

**Don’t worry, I’ll behave. **

“What is it?” Marilyn asks, noting my constant texting.

“Oh, nothing. We’re just discussing that we have to keep our chandelier swinging and jungle noises to a minimum,” I jest. She laughs. “Honestly,” I interject, “he doesn’t agree with Gary’s handling of this situation.” She drops her head.

“Neither do I, but I understand.” she says sadly. “I might as well be dead to him. He was everything to me… still is—and I thought I was everything to him, but apparently, I’m not.”

I want to tell her that it’s just not that simple, but to her, it is.

“He was my heart and soul. I can’t even put into words what he meant to me… means to me. I want to hate him so badly, but I can’t. I swear to God, I would have kept the baby had I known it would turn out like this.”

Tears are falling down her cheek faster than she can catch them. I’m glad the door is already closed.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” I tell her, “but wouldn’t you have just been swapping one set of problems for another? You clearly said that you weren’t ready.” She shakes her head.

“I know,” she says weepily, “but this feels like it’s never going to end. It’s never going to stop hurting…” she trails off, weeping.

“It will, Mare,” I try to comfort her. “It doesn’t feel like it right now, but it will.” She does her best to pull herself together, but she’s still sniffling.

“You may want to put me in the room farthest away from you and Christian,” she chuckles sadly. “I still spend most of my nights crying and I don’t want to disturb you.

That’s it.

“Fuck finding a place of your own. You’ll store your things on our property, and you’ll stay as long as you need to.”

“I can’t…”

“Yes, you can,” I interrupt her. “I’m not ashamed to say that I’m very worried about you. You went straight from a horrible, traumatic breakup to living with your parents who subjected you to weeks of religious bullying and emotional warfare. You really haven’t had any time to heal and now, you’re trying to move back into your old apartment where all the wounds are ripped open again. You look like you’ve lost at least half of what little body fat you had and quite frankly, I’m scared. You’re going to come to my house where you can have good company whenever you want it and good food so we can fatten you up.” She laughs through her tears again.

“Good luck with that,” she says. “My mom may be a fundamental fanatic, but she’s the best cook on the planet! She couldn’t even get me to eat. I can’t keep anything down.” I frown.

“What are you eating lately in an average day?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I don’t know, I’m not keeping a diary,” she says.

“What did you eat yesterday?” I ask. Her eyes go skyward as she tries to think.

“I had a cup of tea and some toast before I left Spokane. Then, I had an orange in the afternoon. I had Chinese delivered to the apartment for dinner.” I caught that. She had it delivered…

“But did you eat it?” I ask. Her shoulders fall.

“Yes,” she answers suspiciously. My eyes narrow.

“And?” I press. She sighs and rolls her eyes.

“Boy, nothing gets past you, does it?”

“No, so spit it out,” I chastise.

“I did,” she replies.

“No, you didn’t. You’re holding something back…”

“No, I did,” she says, her turn to interrupt, “I spit it out—or up. I couldn’t hold it down.” I shake my head and close my laptop.

“Would you like for me to go with you so that you can pick up some things for the week? We can handle the heavy lifting on Saturday.”

“You’re already giving me a place to stay,” she protests. “I couldn’t ask for more.”

“You’re not asking, I’m offering,” I say. Rising from my seat, I swipe the screen on my cell phone and call Chuck.

“You okay?” he answers.

“Jesus, am I that bad?” I ask. He sighs.

“I just never know what to expect when you call before quitting time.” I shake my head.

“Well, keep your boxers on. All is well with me, but all is not well. I need you and Carol to bring the cars around. We need to go to Marilyn’s and pick up some things. Have Tate and Rebe get Keri and the twins back to the Crossing, unless Carol wants to switch with Tate for a while as there might be some heavy lifting…” Chuck scoffs.

“Are you kidding?” he asks. “Have you seen Carol?”

“Well, not without clothes, no,” I say matter-of-factly. He chuckles.

“She’ll be fine,” he says. “She has bigger biceps than Christian.” Egad, don’t tell him that!

“Don’t publicize that, okay?” I warn. There’s a moment of silence.

“Affirmative,” he says. “I’ll get the transportation ball rolling.”

“Thank you,” I say before ending the call.

“You don’t have to do this,” Marilyn says.

“Quiet, Little Orphan Annie,” I say, packing my things and grabbing my coat, handing Marilyn hers. “You’re wasting away in front of me. This situation requires an immediate intervention and I’m the one to do it.”

*-*

You can tell that no one’s been to the apartment since she left, not even to check on it. It has that stale, needs to be cleaned smell. She just stands in the door and looks around the room.

“It’s barren,” she says. “We had so many good times here, but you wouldn’t know it looking at it now. It’s gray in here—it looks like the death angel himself brushed through every room and left his aura behind.”

She hadn’t even unpacked. All there is to do is clear what’s left of her things out of the apartment and clean it.

“Please grab those two bags over there,” she says to Chuck and Carol, pointing to the luggage that I assumed she had taken to Spokane with her. She goes into the kitchen and returns with a large roll of black garbage bags.

“Ana, can you help me please?” she says. I frown and follow her into the closet.

“You’re going to pack your things in garbage bags?” I ask, horrified.

“Trust me,” she says. She removes a bag from the roll and tears a hole right in the bottom of it, rendering it basically useless… or so I thought. She takes a handful of clothes from the rack of the closet, still on the hangers, and hands them to me.

“Hold this,” she says. I take the handful of garments from her and she proceeds to put the bag over the garments, sticking the hooks from the hangers through the hole at the bottom of the bag. She takes the garments from me, hangs them back on the rack, and ties the bag closed at the bottom.

Instant garment bag.

“That’s kind of clever,” I tell her. She nods.

“Yep, and the clothes are still on the hangers. So, when I get to your house, I hang them in the closet and rip off the bags.” I nod. Work smart, not hard.

After about an hour, Marilyn had enough of being in Gary’s apartment. We had gathered most of her things and agreed to come back this weekend to situate the rest. She deduced that her car being here is what prevented Gary from coming to the apartment, so since she was going to be staying with us, she would leave it here until she packed and removed the rest of her things to eliminate the risk of running into Gary. Her relationship is over. She doesn’t like it, but she’s accepting it.


CHRISTIAN

I’m sitting at my desk thinking about the conversation that I and my wife had the day after Christmas about Management 101. My meeting this morning is with the human resources department along with Ros and Lorenz. Last week, I reviewed a sampling of our annual reviews and my wife is right—these reviews are shit. There appeared to be no measurable goals and feedback was shoddy, at best.

Further investigation showed that the managers in each department are responsible for the content and conducting of the annual reviews as well as the feedback and follow-up. There’s no accountability for leadership, and no useful feedback for employees to promote improvement. It’s just like Ana said—management isn’t motivating the people in the trenches and, as a result, we have shitty work coming from the trenches, and if there is any hidden talent down there, it’s hidden in the shit. Once again, my wife was right. I have no idea how my company hasn’t folded by now.

In an attempt to get everyone involved instead of just having another heads will roll meeting, I put Lorenz in charge of a brainstorming session where we put the ideas that my wife suggested to work. How do we create a system of reviews that holds each employee—management and subordinates—responsible for their performance on an ongoing basis, with continuous feedback and evaluation to identify weaknesses and opportunities before they become critical?

I was amazed how the room came alive. Many, if not all, of the people in my human resources department have degrees and some of them are in management. The whiteboard was full of ideas and poor Andrea had her hands full trying to keep up with the minutes of the meetings. Many of the ideas mirrored the suggestions of my wife, but in more detail…

Holding management accountable to levels below and above them will keep them on their toes and prevent them from doing the old soft-shoe when performance reviews come around.

Specific goals need to be set for all employees that are measurable and align with the goals of the organization.

Employees need to know that they are not only striving for excellence individually, but also as a team. If one employee is lacking, they bring the team down, in which case, the team will be able to motivate said employees to identify opportunities to improve and achieve their goals.

The meeting went on all morning. When it was complete, each attending had a task to bring back to the next meeting where they would work with Lorenz to construct a new method of reviews that would be more conducive to the company. Two really important points came out of this meeting besides the birth of the creation of a new system of performance reviews:

I was able to pass this ball off to Lorenz and the human resources team. Even though the initial idea came from me by way of my beautiful and intelligent wife, I don’t have to monitor the progress of the project. I could delegate the responsibility to one of my other executive team, leaving me to deal with other pressing matters. I’ve become so accustomed to handling things myself—and everyone letting me—that the concept of delegation is sometimes hard for me to grasp. I don’t know who can really do exactly what needs to be done unless someone steps forward and says, “Hey, I can handle this for you.”

The second thing… Ros contributed nothing to the meeting. She didn’t have a suggestion, she didn’t take any notes, and her expression barely changed at all for three hours. If I were to guess, she was just sitting there wondering when it was all going to end. She sat in the meeting the entire time like she was watching a movie at the drive-in. All she needed was the goddamn popcorn.

I don’t have time to ponder what the fuck is going on with her because the moment I get back to my office, Alex has left a message that he wants to meet with me, and I’m quite anxious to know what he has to say.

“Holstein is losing his mind trying to see who’s got it in for him,” Alex says when we settle in my office and I activate the scramblers. I’ve just been informed that besides the lovely Christmas inconveniences that he’s had so far, he received a box of live rats on his doorstep on Saturday. His wife and children were put up at a hotel while he contacted exterminators in hopes of getting the things out of his house.

How the hell do you deliver a box of live rats?

Alex informs me of the lovely things we have prepared for the weeks to come for our favorite little traitor, and I must admit that the finale warms my fucking heart. Elena’s small and gradually growing mishaps are a delayed Christmas present as well. She’s suffered everything from a black eye to a busted lip to a sprained ankle. Hers and Holstein’s comeuppance will culminate right at the same time.

I guess now would be the time to start terrorizing that smarmy-assed secretary, since she wants to mouth off with the big boys, let’s see if she likes how the big boys play.

The buzzing in my pocket informs me that I have a text message. I remove my phone and see that Butterfly is informing me that Marilyn will be staying with us for a while. I shrug inwardly. The more the merrier. Chuck’s parents left this morning after being assured that he would be okay, and Harmony will be moving into Escala at the end of the week. Even though Valerie and Elliot have moved back in for a while, they’re pretty much a staple at my house to the degree that they permanently have their own room.

Butterfly tells me that Marilyn is protesting, and I remind her that we have eight bedrooms, then express my displeasure with how Garrett handled this situation. I’m staying out of it for the most part, but I feel that if you love someone, you shouldn’t desert them even when they piss you off. Believe me, I’m still kicking myself for the Madrid excursion, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

Alex is still filling me in on the progress of Alcatraz and the plans to be put in place for one Ms. Greta Ellison when Ros bursts into the room without knocking or being invited. I glare at her.

“Excuse me, but when has it been acceptable to burst into my office without permission?” I ask. She just looks at me.

“We have a development on the Fraser account,” she says.

“That didn’t sound like an apology and you haven’t answered my question,” I bark. She rolls her eyes.

“I don’t have time for this,” she says, dropping the file on my desk. “Look at this.”

“Keep fucking with me, Rosalind, and you’re going to have a whole lot of goddamn time on your hands.” I declare coolly. She raises a surprised gaze to me. That got her attention. “Now, pick up your file, get the fuck out of my office, and try that shit again.”

She blinks a couple of times like she can’t believe what she’s hearing. I’m not going to repeat myself, so she had better move her ass. As if suddenly realizing that I’m not fucking playing with her, she retrieves the file and marches back out the way that she came in. At this point, I wouldn’t give a fuck if she didn’t come back.

As it appears that’s exactly what she decided, Alex and I resume our conversation. A few moments later, my intercom comes alive.

“Rosalind is here to see you, sir,” Andrea’s voice says uncertainly. I look over at Alex, who actually rolls his eyes in disbelief. My sentiments exactly! My first inclination is to make her ass wait for a few more moments, but I decide instead to let her in with the intention that if she brings any of that premenstrual I am woman hear me roar bullshit with her, she’s going to be roaring on the other side of that goddamn door.

“Send her in,” I say. I deactivate the office scrambler and clasp my hands in front of me while glaring at the door. She’s slightly more docile when she enters, and her temperament cools even more as she approaches my desk, no doubt noting the please fuck with me today expression on my face.

“We have an issue with the Fraser account,” she says, handing me the file. I stand and indignantly snatch the file from her hand, giving her a healthy dose of the attitude that she feels I should contend with from her.

“What am I looking for?” I say, my voice low and firm as I skim through the information.

“You should see it there in a minute,” she replies. Don’t test me, lady. Tell me what the fuck you want. I cut a sharp glare at her.

“What. Am I looking for?” I ask more firmly in case I didn’t make the question clear the first time. She sighs.

“On the first page…”

We go through the file and the areas for concern over the next few minutes. Alex excuses himself to “take care of some things” while we’re going through the information. After we decide on a course of action, I lean back in my chair.

“Tell me why you couldn’t solve this on your own,” I ask. “This is pretty elementary.”

“I don’t know where your mind is lately, Christian,” she retorts. “I may think one course of action is the best and you’re totally against it.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” I counter. “You’ve had autonomy in this company since the day you first came on staff. I don’t second guess your decisions. I may decide that there’s something that I don’t want to do, like I may shut down a merger, but I never second guess your decisions. You didn’t need me for this, and I had to take time out of my day to tell you what you already knew. Why?” She purses her lips.

“It’s like I said, I don’t know where your mind is. We used to be in sync, but lately, our thought processes have been extremely… polar.” I shake my head and cut right to the chase.

“You confuse me, Ros,” I admit. “You get all touchy because of my wording of something and because of my decision to perform random drug testing and we actually found several people who not only had traces of drugs in their system but were also high on the job. And for the life of you, you still can’t admit that I was onto something. You actually didn’t like my decision, and you still can’t admit that I was right. You act like I’m taking toys out of your little play box and I won’t let you come and play in mine. What the fuck is up with you?”

“I’ve already told you there’s nothing up with me,” she says, flatly. “If you insist on thinking otherwise, there’s nothing I can do about that.” My expression doesn’t change, although inside, I’m sick of her shit.

“You can go now,” I dismiss her, turning my attention back to my computer. She turns on her heels and marches out of the room, and I ponder my words.

You can go now…

Has Ros outlived her usefulness? She’s been a part of this company almost from the very beginning. It’s always been her and me with our noses to the grindstone. Good, bad, or ugly, we’ve always managed to pull this company through. Now, there are changes—lots of changes—occurring in our lives, personal and professional.

She and Gwen were engaged when she started here, but they married after she had been with GEH for a year.

Things went floating merrily along for a few years and then I met Anastasia. That’s when the ship started falling apart.

As soon as I turned my attention from the company for the slightest moment, balls began dropping all over the place. I would go out of town on business trips at the drop of a hat and there was never a problem, but as soon as I started taking trips with my girlfriend-then-wife, she started having problems and I had to hire Lorenz. Now, we’ve got help and she’s still behaving as if she’s having a problem pulling her weight. If I didn’t know for sure that she was gay, I’d think she was pregnant. And that brings up another point…

She’s getting to a point where she’s downright rude to Anastasia. She shows her absolutely no professional courtesy as an owner of this company, but she also acts as if she doesn’t even like her as a person. Once again, if it weren’t for the whole gay thing, I’d swear she was a spurned lover!

Has she outgrown GEH? Has GEH outgrown her? Is it time to suggest that she update her resume and review her professional options? I would give her nothing but a shining recommendation, but sometimes, people just don’t fit anymore, and I can’t have someone on my team that I feel is not on my team anymore.

I thrust my hands into my hair. I can’t deal with this right now, but can I afford to put it on the back burner until the situation becomes detrimental? I shake my head and call Allen.

“Allen Forsythe-Fleming,” he answers.

“Allen, when are we supposed to go to Nevada?” I ask.

“February 2nd,” he says. Jesus, I hope this shit is somewhat in order with the company by then. There’s no telling how long we’ll be in Vegas for this fucking circus.

“Do we have a final headcount?” I ask.

“For…?” he asks.

“How many people are going,” I say, as if it’s obvious. “Ana’s dad wants to go; you’re going; we have security. Do we have a final head count?”

“Oh… no, I didn’t think about that. I’ll call Jewel and see who all we’re expecting. Is everyone going to have security?”

“Liaise with Jason to see how much security will be needed for the amount of people traveling. He also usually makes my travel and lodging arrangements, too. Do we have any clue how long this thing might take?” I ask.

“I would say prepare to be there for at least a week, but quite possibly more than that. I remember Jewel watched most of the Double-Dicker’s trial stream live on some court channel. I don’t know if they’re going to do the same for this one. Part of me thinks they will and part of me hopes that they won’t.” My brow furrows.

“Explain,” I press.

“It’s much more sensational than the Edward David trial, so I would think they would want to stream it. On the other hand, Jewel’s been through enough. This was a terrible and, quick frankly, very personal time in her life. I wouldn’t want to see that splattered all over the news.” I nod as if he could see me.

“Hear, hear,” I concur.

*-*

I’m exhausted when I leave the office today. Ros tried my patience three more times before the day was over and I just don’t have time to deal with her attitude along with everything else happening with the company. She just came back from vacation and it’s done absolutely nothing to improve her sour ass mood. As such, I can’t very well send her off on another one, but something’s got to give because this female is working my last fucking nerve.

When I get home and we enter the garage, I’m expecting to see Marilyn’s car in the last bin, but there’s nothing. I leave my coat and boots in the mudroom and decide that I’m way too tired to work out. This day really wore me out.

I step into the family room to see Keri and Gail minding the twins as they watch some Disney cartoon on television.

“Where’s Butterfly?” I ask, wearily.

“Upstairs,” Gail replies.

“Marilyn’s not here?” Gail nods.

“That’s where Ana is,” she says. “They arrived not too long before you and they’re probably upstairs unpacking some of her things.” I nod and reach for my son.

“Hey, little prince,” I say, lifting him out of the Pack-n-Play. “I guess they had to confine you to make sure that you wouldn’t run amuck all over the house, huh?” Mikey babbles something incoherent as he pats both my cheeks.

“Hes seestah won beh too fah behahnd. Look!” Keri shows me that Minnie is standing and taking several steps on her own. I sigh heavily about how quickly it seems my children are growing.

“Gail, have we thought about childproofing at all?” I ask.

“I’m already on it,” she replies. “Ana actually beat you to it.” I smile softly.

“Of course, she did,” I say, looking back at Mikey. “Your mom thinks of everything.” I kiss him on the cheek, lean down and give my Minnie Mouse a kiss before I go in search of my wife.

I take the elevator to the upper level and I can hear women talking the moment the doors open. Good grief, did she stick the poor girl on the other end of the house? Sure enough, I follow the voices to the last bedroom and there they are. The door is open, but I knock anyway. Butterfly and Marilyn both raise their heads to me, and I’m not prepared for the sight that greets me.

“Hhi,” I say, with a little more emphasis on the “h.”

“Hey,” Butterfly says, somewhat surprised, but rising to greet me. She gives me a small peck on the lips, and I enter the room.

“Hi, Christian,” Marilyn says as she stands. I try not to allow my expressions to betray my thoughts, but I don’t think I’m doing very well.

“Hi, Marilyn… how are you?” I ask cautiously.

“As well as can be expected,” she says, with a shrug. You sure about that?

“What?” she says after I’m silent for a while.

“Forgive me if I misspeak, but… are you well?” I ask. She raises a brow at me.

“Yes,” she says, with no malice. “I…” She looks over at Ana, who shrugs one shoulder at her. “I’ve been a bit… depressed. It’s… a little hard to eat.”

“A little…?” I nearly gasp. “It hasn’t been that long. What’s it been, like a month? Two?” Marilyn drops her head.

“One month… one week… five days…” Her voice trails off as she whispers the last two words, and I suddenly feel so bad for her. I sigh heavily.

“Marilyn,” I say, my voice softening as I close the space between us, “I know you’re hurting, but you’ve got to eat. You’ve lost so much weight. There’s absolutely nothing healthy about the amount of weight you’ve lost since I’ve last seen you. You’re in a mansion now… with a cook… and a butler… please, eat.” She drops her eyes again and nods.

“I’ll do my best,” she promises. I take her hands.

“That’s all I can ask,” I say, giving them a squeeze.

“You can’t say I didn’t warn you,” Butterfly says to Marilyn.

Dammit, I wish she had warned me! This poor girl looks like she’s knocking on death’s door. She was thin to begin with—not skinny, but fit. Now, she looks downright frail, and her makeup is doing nothing for her skin. It’s ashy and her face is sunken, like it’s barely hanging onto her bones. She doesn’t look like the Grim Reaper, but compared to what she was, she’s pretty damn close!

As I’m pondering the situation with Marilyn and how to get her back to a healthy weight without force-feeding her, I catch a glimpse of black plastic in the closet.

“Um, why are there garbage bags hanging in the closet?” I ask, pointing to the bags.

“Oh.” Marilyn walks to the closet. Dear God, she looks even thinner from behind. She quickly rips away one of the trash bags to reveal several garments now hanging neatly in the closet.

“Garment bag in a pinch,” she says. “Easy packing and unpacking when you’re in a hurry.” I purse my lips and nod.

“That’s pretty smart,” I say. “There might be a market for something like that.”

“Well, take the idea, Mr. Mogul,” she says. “If anybody can sell it, you can.” I smile.

“Do you mind if I steal my wife for a minute or two?” I ask, looking over at Anastasia. Marilyn waves me off.

“Take her,” she says. “I think she’s babysitting me.”

“I’m not babysitting!” Butterfly protests.

“Then you won’t mind coming with me and letting Marilyn get settled, right?” I say, cupping her elbow and guiding her off the bed. She looks back at Marilyn as if she’s leaving her pet at the boarders for a week.

“You’ll be alright?” Butterfly asks like a protective mother.

“Go,” Marilyn says, shooing her off.

“I’m right down the hall if you need me,” Butterfly continues, trying to stall as I gently lead her away.

“Go-wah!” Marilyn says, a little more urgently. I put my arm around my wife’s waist and guide her out of the bedroom.

“Don’t miss dinner,” I say sternly to Marilyn and raise my brow at her. She nods noncommittal and rips another garbage bag from her clothes in the closet.

“Why did you stick her all the way down here?” I ask as I lead my wife away from Marilyn’s door.

“She wanted the farthest room,” she replies. “She still cries a lot.” I shake my head.

“Jesus, somebody should tell him what he’s doing to her. She looks like hell!”

“We don’t know what this is doing to him,” Butterfly defends. I want to ask whose side she’s on, but Marilyn is her PA and friend and is now living here, so she’s obviously on Marilyn’s side; and Garett is her longtime friend, so I can see why she would be on his side, too. She’s stuck in a bad place, and I’m glad it’s not me!

“Where’s her car?” I ask.

“Still at Gary’s apartment,” she says. “She left it there in the parking garage while she was out of town. As such, Gary never came near the apartment, we’re thinking it’s because he thought she was there. Her logic is to leave it there until the end of the week until she gets all of her things from the apartment and avoid the chance of running into Gary.” I twist my lips again.

“If this is how you felt when I went to Madrid, I am so, so sorry,” I lament. She closes her eyes and shakes her head.

“It’s water under the bridge,” she says. “It’s over and done; let’s not bring it up.”

Her reaction lets me know that’s exactly how she felt. I pull her into my arms and kiss her forehead.

“Minnie’s going to be walking soon,” I say as we walk towards the stairs…

*-*

With a broken-hearted Marilyn, a mourning Valerie, and a soul-weary Elliot at the dinner table, we try to keep the conversation light, but try though we may, there wasn’t much participation from our latest house mates. Valerie dutifully ate her meal, mostly in silence, while Elliot devoured his food like the caveman that he is. I’m not insulting him; I’m always happy to see that someone has a healthy appetite, especially with the young lady to my right looking as if she needs to be holding a sign that says, “Will work for food.”

I try to keep the conversation going as much as I can by talking about Butterfly’s solid idea for revamping performance reviews and even Ros’ bad attitude throughout the day. Butterfly chimes in with discussion about the school year starting and Keri taking her tests for her American teaching certifications soon. We covered everything we could think of from the Christmas cookies to Freeman finally being out of the brothers’ hair, but nothing could ignite a table-wide conversation.

Marilyn dismally picks at her food and I’m certain that she hasn’t eaten two bites before excusing herself from the table. I watch her walk from the table with her head down, looking like she’s headed for the gallows. She’s so thin that I’m afraid if a good storm occurs, she would be whisked away to the Land of Oz. I want to demand that she come back to the table and finish her meal, but she’s a grown woman, not one of my children. When I look over at Butterfly, she’s watching Marilyn walk away with the same concern that I am. She finally just shakes her head and begins to pick at what’s left of her own food.

“She’s lost weight,” Valerie says finally, and I’m glad that she’s talking.

“Yeah,” Butterfly laments. “She’s not taking the breakup well at all.”

“That’s not a bad breakup,” Valerie protests. “We’ve seen bad breakups, Steele. We’ve been bad breakups. That’s more than a bad breakup.”

What can she say, that Marilyn is also in mourning for the loss of a baby that she wasn’t really sure that she wanted and that she willingly got rid of? Valerie’s mourning losing a baby that she and Elliot wanted more than anything. This would very likely put a rift between them.

“Yes, Val, it’s more than that, but I’m not at liberty to talk about it,” Butterfly says.

“Garett’s an ass,” I mumble before taking a mouthful of food.

“Christian,” my wife warns gently. I glance over at her and she’s scolding me with her look. I turn my attention back to my meal.

*-*

The apartment has been cleaned from top to bottom. The sunlight from the glass windows lights the entire space and the view of Elliot Bay is just as spectacular as it was when I first moved here. Escala was one of the first things I purchased when I began to make my fortune. It was a status symbol. It was me thumbing my nose at my father because he thought I was out of my mind to throw away the opportunity of a Harvard education to go out on some “half-cocked business endeavor.” When Fortune named me as one of the top twenty up-and-coming businessmen of the decade, I celebrated by buying my first sports car…

And this penthouse.

I remember personally choosing every piece of furniture that decorated this space—every dish, every lamp, every sculpture and vase, every piece of art. It’s empty now. I’ve just finished the closing and signed the papers transferring ownership to Harmony, and now the space is waiting for her to come in and make new memories.

Memories.

It’s not like I can pretend that the things that happened in this space didn’t happen. I was mostly happy here. My life went through many transitions, but for me, they were all good. Each transition was better than the last, even the time I spent with Lincoln.

Elena.

I haven’t said or even thought her first name in quite some time. She’s been The Pedophile or Lincoln or even that blonde bitch or just that bitch, but nothing more. Now, in this empty space, I remember a lot of our relationship, what she used to mean to me.

In those days, she was everything—a mentor, a friend, a trusted confidante, a lover. It was a relationship that I hadn’t shared with anyone else, ever. I didn’t know what it meant to have friends or people you confided in, only her. I only had my family—and John, and my life was so steeped in secrecy that I couldn’t even confide in my family.

I trusted no one. I thought everyone was out to get me, everyone. Submissives only wanted the gifts that I could give them or the pleasure I released on them. If they wanted more than that, I terminated our contract and didn’t look back. No one sought to really be my friend. They only wanted what they could get from me. I had learned to distance myself from people a long time ago, especially since I couldn’t stand to be touched.

Jesus, that seems like ages ago.

I still have a phobia of strangers touching me without permission, but things have certainly changed over the past several years.

I wander up to what used to be the playroom. The walls are now painted a calming ecru. The chains, tracks, and carabiners have all been removed from the ceiling. I had completely forgotten that there were windows in here. I had that entire wall covered with artificial soundproof walls that only showed a landscape from the outside.

All the equipment has been removed from the walls. It and the furniture from this room have been taken by Artemis to be sold on consignment with the proceeds going to my account for whatever other services I may need from him in the future—everything except the Chesterfield chair. Butterfly and I decided to keep the chair for Downtime and put it in our sitting room.

Downtime is a specific time for us to communicate while in character—me as Dominus and her as soumise. During the Munch, we learned that Downtime can be called by either of us when we need to discuss something, particularly about our relationship, but it could be anything at all. It’s another way for us to connect as Dominus and soumise in a non-sexual atmosphere unless we choose to transition into a sexual act. It can be used to reconnect after we’ve had a disagreement. Downtime can be very powerful in maintaining a strong, loving, and respectful BDSM relationship if utilized properly.

I’m not really certain why they call it Downtime, but its description may have something to do with it. Butterfly would present herself to me as soumise, in whatever garment I’ve chosen for her for the evening, and she would then become Pussycat. She would sit in whatever position I choose for her—kneeling in front of me, sitting in my lap, or her head in my lap. Whatever her position, her head would remain below mine, indicating her willingness to submit to me. We’ve procured a plush pillow for her for the times when she will be expected to kneel.

We will, of course, communicate at other times, but Downtime is specifically to assist in the transition from vanilla to D/s, even if there’s no sexual act involved. It’s not required every time we want to make a trip to the Blue Room, but it’s recommended for couples who plan to practice on a regular basis, particularly in a married D/s relationship. During the Munch, Artemis recommended Downtime at least once a week. Butterfly got the same recommendation from Savvina.

I couldn’t imagine having Downtime in this room with those women who used to be my submissives. I’m certain that I’ve spoken to them more than once in a Downtime position, with respect and consideration for their immediate concerns, but this is certainly different.

At first, I didn’t want to use the Chesterfield chair. I remember making her fuck me until she was completely exhausted in that chair. She remembers the encounter fondly and indicates that she would like to see me sitting in the chair in my Dom uniform. I can imagine the comfort and pleasure I would feel with Pussycat at my feet in one of her Victorian nightshirts with nothing underneath, or simply a pair of white thongs, her head resting on my lap while I caress her brown tresses and we calmly discuss whatever may be pertinent at the time. It’s important that we don’t allow heavy feelings or anger to prevent us from doing Downtime. No matter what the situation, I’m still her Dominus, and she will always be my soumise.

It’s strange and somewhat appropriate that I would think of our new relationship standing here in this room where I first explored my role, tastes, and preferences as a Dom. It now looks like any other bedroom in the penthouse, but it has experienced many transformations throughout my journey of discovery.

At first, it was black. I had taken my cues from Elena and leaned to the familiar—black equipment, black furniture, nearly black walls. That worked for a few months, but I began to feel like I was lost in the darkness when I entered the room. My soul was dark enough; my surroundings didn’t need to be black, too. That’s why my apartment was always decorated in stark white with contrasting accents. It may have seemed sterile to some, but to me, it was comforting. White would definitely not do for the playroom, though.

The only other colors that meant anything to me were red, yellow and green. I certainly wasn’t going to have a yellow or a green room, and although red is the customary safeword, it seemed appropriate to me…

And it worked out very well.

The rich wood tones of the furniture and the deep, dark browns of the Chesterfields blended very well with the Red Room. There were a few pieces with black cushions or accents with blonder tones in the wood, but nothing too bright. It was inviting and foreboding at the same time, and absolutely perfect for my purposes.

I’m experiencing nostalgia again as I recall picking the pieces for my room. Elena had helped outfit the Black Dungeon, but I found Artemis through connections I had made on my own. He listened to what I wanted and offered suggestions on what the Red Room should contain and look like. He was right. The playroom was exquisite. I could hardly wait to leave work some Fridays and get back here to this room—to the comfort and safety it afforded me; the control I wielded in these walls. There’s nowhere in the world that I was more powerful than I was in this room, not even at my desk in GEH or at the head of the conference table while simpering executives hung on my every word. No… here… this was my realm, my central station of Dominance. My power was absolute, and I knew it

I brought many women to their knees… broke their bodies, then broke their hearts. They ached for the pain, coldness and cruelty I was dishing out. They returned for it weekend after weekend, and when I turned them away, they cried for it. Some of them even went insane. One of them died trying to kill my wife.

I sigh heavily thinking of the women I abused and destroyed in this room. Granted, they signed up for the physical pain, but not for the emotional warfare that I subjected them to… some of them anyway.

I feel her presence behind me, and I don’t have to turn around to know that she’s in the room. I’m feeling guilty for all the memories that flooded me when I entered this room, some of them still refusing to be exorcised.

“I’m sorry,” I say, conviction in my voice for my unspoken mental transgression. Butterfly comes behind me and wraps her arms around my waist.

“Don’t be,” she says, laying her head on my back. “This room is who you were, and a lot of who you are right now. Good or bad, it helped to shape the man that you’ve become—my husband and the father of my children. I can’t be upset about that.”

I cover her hands with mine and sigh heavily. I always thought that we would get back to this room for one last hurrah. Maybe it’s good that we didn’t.

“We’ve had more than a few hot memories in here of our own,” I comment with mirth. I can feel her smiling on my back.

“That we did, Mr. Grey,” she says, and I squeeze her hand in an effort not to slip into my own submissive mode. Mistress can be merciless as a Domme, and I must admit that I like it. I like it a lot!

“Remember the first time you subbed for me?” I ask. “You knew just what I needed even though I tried to make you stay away that night. I was certain then that you would be perfect for me. I already knew, but that moment erased any lingering doubt.”

“I remember it well,” she says. “I was scared shitless.”

“I know,” I reply, “but you did very well, especially for your first time.”

“I’ll never forget it,” she says into my back. I drop my head and take a deep, cleansing breath.

“Can we make a promise?” I say, and her head rises from my back.

“What?” she asks.

“Can we please promise that our lifestyle—our roles—won’t become so practiced that we don’t find any enjoyment in it anymore? That if we find ourselves becoming too sterile or too routine that we’ll talk about it and find a way to keep things fresh?” She’s silent and when I turn around in her arms, she’s smiling at me.

“I thought that’s what we were doing now,” she says, her voice soft. “I thought that’s one of the reasons we sent the Chesterfield back to the Crossing… for our Downtime… and ideas.”

I smile back at my coy little wife. Things will never be sterile or routine with her. She’ll always find new ways to turn me on even without trying. I cup her face in my hands and kiss her softly, and again.

“I love you, my beautiful Butterfly,” I whisper with my eyes closed, my forehead touching hers.

“I love you, too, my love,” she whispers. I kiss her again and release her face, gesturing for us to leave. She smiles at me and walks out of what used to be the Red Room. I turn around and look at the ecru walls once more, then leave the room, closing the door behind me.


A/N: The sale of Escala is final, and one chapter of the Grey Saga is definitely closing. What does the future hold for our couple, especially with one of the Green Valley trials on the horizon?

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

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

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 1

I don’t want to start the season with a huge chapter note, but thank you guys for being there for me when my Mommy died. It really means a lot. It’s strange how life imitates art (and vice versa). I had this entire chapter written weeks ago—parts of it, months ago. Without giving spoilers, yes, some sad things happen, but they weren’t just added in when Mommy died. 

I also want to add my condolences to our beloved Falala. She lost her other fur baby this week. Please send her some love and support in comments here or on her post in “Do You Need To Talk” and let her know that we love her and we’re thinking of her. 

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

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

Season 5, Episode 1

ANASTASIA

The year 2015 came in like a lion, not a lamb.

“You don’t have to be strong for everybody Val. And you certainly don’t have to be strong for me.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Val says, somberly. “I’m not. I’ve just cried so much that I don’t think I have any water left.”

Val left the Crossing looking a little gray in the face. We awoke this morning to the most dreadful news. She had lost the baby.

“The doctor says that these things happen, especially after the strain my body had been through last year. She told me that there’s nothing wrong with trying again after a little while… but I don’t know.” Her voice cracks on the last word. I stroke her hand.

“When you’re ready,” I say softly.

“I don’t know that I ever will be,” she sobs, finding those tears that she didn’t think she had. “I was so excited! El was excited. Our lives had started anew in every way! Meg is gone; we have a new house; a new baby was on the way… and now this!” She covers her face and sobs into her hands.

“And it’s not over.”

I’m about to hug my sister and best friend when Elliot’s voice stops my progression. He comes over to the other side of the hospital bed and cradles her weeping body in his arms.

“You cry as much as you need to, Angel, but it’s not over. Your body is remarkable. It looked death in the face and flipped it the bird. And when your heart was ready to give more love, it was determined to produce new life. But, Angel…” He sits on the bed and puts his hand under her chin to lift her gaze to his.

“I’ve got you,” he says. “This beautiful body needs some more rest—some more time to heal from that prize fight that it won last year. Our hearts were eager and so was your body, but it just wasn’t time yet. It’s. Not. Over… and when you’re ready, it’ll happen, and not a moment sooner. I’ve got you, and you’ve got me. I’m not going anywhere, and if you decide that this experience was too much and it’s not for you, I’ll still be here—standing by your side and loving you through it. Okay?”

Val falls into his chest and weeps for a moment before composing herself.

“Isn’t he the most wonderful man in the world?” she says, gazing into Elliot’s eyes. I turn my head to the doorway to see my husband standing there with his hands shoved in his pocket. He looks forlorn as he watches his brother and sister-in-law working through the loss of their unborn child. He won’t admit it, but his empathy has come a long way since he’s met and married me and had children of his own. The pain in his face says it all.

“Second most wonderful,” I say softly.

*-*

The drive back to the Crossing is silent. Christian had leaped from the bed and sprang into action when he got the call, leaving Jason behind and almost leaving me as he leapt into the car and sped out the gate and across the bridge to the hospital. Now, he looks blankly in front of him as he concentrates on getting us and the car back to Mercer Island. Everything happened so fast that there was no time for the paparazzi to get wind of anything.

He’s still silent when we get back to the Crossing. He seems to be moving on autopilot. He drives into the garage, turns the car off, then exits. He walks mechanically to my side of the car and opens the door for me.

“Thank you,” I say softly as I exit, and he nods once. He closes the door behind me and places his hand in the small of my back, guiding me to the mudroom door. We both shed our outerwear and boots right there in the mudroom, and my husband releases a heavy sigh as both hands rake through his hair.

“Can I get something for you?” I ask, concerned. “Some coffee or something to eat? Neither of us had any breakfast.” He shakes his head.

“I…” He holds his head down for a moment as if to collect his thoughts. “I’m going to take a shower, first… just to try to…” he trails off. I put my hand on his back and he raises his gaze to mine.

“Okay,” I say, nodding. No need to explain, Mr. Grey. This is pretty big. He nods at me again and heads for the elevator. I sigh heavily and walk to the kitchen.

“Hey,” Gail says, coming from her office space in what used to be the small dining room. “How’s Valerie?” I sigh again.

“I don’t know,” I say, reaching into the refrigerator for sparkling water and cranberry juice. “As well as can be expected, I guess.” I fill a glass with ice from the dispenser and make a cranberry spritzer. I put the bottles away and drink my glass nearly half down.

“She was so excited,” I say, shaking my head. “She didn’t think she’d be able to conceive after Chemo. The good news is that she can conceive… but can she carry?” I cover my eyes and fight my own tears, my sadness for my best friend and sister.

“What did the doctor say?” Gail presses, concerned. “Did they tell her that she wouldn’t be able to?” I shake my head.

“No,” I say after drinking more of my spritzer. “From what they say, it was just too soon. Her body needs to get a little stronger before she tries to have a baby.”

“Well, that’s encouraging news,” Gail says, “although I know from experience that it does nothing for the current loss.” I raise my eyes to hers, vaguely remembering her telling me about miscarrying.

“Christian’s not taking it well,” I tell her. “When tragedy strikes his family…” I search for my words. “He’s a lot more empathetic than he used to be.”

“Did you all eat?” she asks. “Would you like for me to fix you something?” I should be hungry, but to be honest, I’m not… not in the slightest.

“Let me see what Christian wants to do and I’ll let you know,” I say, finishing my spritzer. She takes my glass and puts it in the sink, and I head to the elevator.

I lost a kid once, too, but I didn’t know that the kid was there, so I never had a chance to miss it… or want it… or not want it. I sometimes wonder what that kid would have been like had it lived. Would it have been a monster like my mother or its father, or would I have been able to show it enough love not to be a terrible person? Would I have been able to love it at all? Would I have kept it? Carla and Stephen probably would have made me give it up. I know one thing’s for sure—my life certainly wouldn’t be where it is now.

As the elevator opens, I think about Minnie and Mikey, my two little miracle babies. They were determined that nothing was going to stop them from getting here alive and healthy, not even a missile that put me in a coma for nearly two weeks and almost cost me my memories. I can’t even imagine how I would feel if something had happened to my precious angels before they were born. I’m stepping double-time to get to the nursery as I desperately need to see them.

I open the door quietly to find that I’m not the only one who needs some immediate baby time. Christian is standing over our daughter’s crib, gazing silently down at her sleeping body. He so transfixed on her tiny little form that he doesn’t even move when I open the door. I pull the door closed a little, just enough to watch him with our daughter. He stands there for several more moments before he kisses his fingers and gently taps Minnie’s head.

“I love you,” he whispers, stroking her red tresses gently for a few moments. He walks over to Mikey’s crib and Mikey stirs a bit, but falls back into slumber. Christian silently watches him for several moments.

“And I love you,” he whispers to his son, repeating the gestures that he just did with his daughter. I step away and close the door, leaving him to his moments with his children. Suddenly, a shower sounds like a very good idea.

I try not to cry in the shower. I’m overcome with sadness for Val and Elliot, but also with impending doom for the fate of my own children. They’re growing so quickly. I’ve been practicing helping Minnie stand and take steps on her own every day since Christmas. I don’t want to rush her, but I don’t want her to be developmentally too far behind her brother, either. They both have the chubby baby cheeks and thighs that just make you want to pinch them all day, and they’re eating more solid food than breast milk these days. I’m a little melancholy about having to wean them soon, which doesn’t help with my attempt not to cry.

I let a few tears fall as I wash, condition, and rinse my hair. I’ve composed myself once the shower is over, and I take the time to dry my hair and put it in a ponytail. I pull on a comfortable off-the-shoulder cable-knit sweater dress that I grabbed from the dressing room before my shower and I come out into our suite. Christian is lying on the bed on his back in sweatpants and a T-shirt, his hair still wet.

He’s staring at the ceiling and saying nothing. I climb in bed beside him. During these times, he usually tells me that he needs me. Making love when he’s feeling this forlorn often grounds him, helps him to remember that he’s not alone. This time, he seems different.

“Do you want to talk?” I ask as I lay on the pillow next to him. He shakes his head.

“I’m tired,” he says. “I’m really tired. I don’t remember being this tired in a long time.”

“You didn’t get much sleep,” I say, “and we got the call really early.”

“I’m exhausted,” he says, and sighs heavily. I don’t doubt that he is. He’s been going like a machine since Christmas, and this isn’t the first emotional overload-type thing that we’ve had in the last few days…

New Years’ Eve…

The festivities are no different than any other New Years’ Eve—good food, good friends, family, drinks… and fireworks. We, of course, have an excellent view of the fireworks at the Space Needle right from our backyard, and when midnight strikes, we kiss and toast the New Year in just like every other year. We’re all looking at the fireworks when we hear Chuck’s angered voice.

“Shit!” he hisses. We all turn to face him and he’s bolting into the house.

“Choonks, wah’s wong?” Keri calls after him.

“That’s not ginger ale!” he yells as he disappears into the French doors.

“Shit!” Jason says, abandoning the group and dashing into the house behind Chuck. Keri, Maddie, and Nelson all run in behind him while the rest of our guests just look on in confusion. Christian picks up the glass, sniffs it, and looks at me.

“It’s champagne,” he says gravely.

“Shit!” I hiss like Jason and Chuck before me and run into the house. I hear Christian excusing us as I dash through the entertainment room. It’s empty. There’s no one in the community area either. That’s when I hear agonizing noises like someone is being punched in the stomach.

I know what that is.

I follow the sounds through the community space and into Chuck and Keri’s apartment. Maddie and Nelson are standing horrified in the living room while Chuck and Jason are in the bathroom. Keri’s standing outside the door with tears in her eyes. Chuck is on his knees paying homage to the porcelain gods while Jason stands over him. I can hear his throat and stomach wrenching as he vomits everything he ate at the party… probably everything he’s eaten all day.

When he stops for a moment and breathes heavily, I think it’s over, but he starts again. I don’t hear that horrible sound of his insides splashing against porcelain this time. He’s still breathing like a bear though. There’s another pause and then I hear Jason’s voice.

“Stop, man! There’s nothing left!” he commands. “You’re dry-heaving now, it’s gone!”

They sound like they might be scuffling, and Jason repeats his command.

“Stop!” he says again. “There’s nothing left, Chuck!”

“I gotta make sure!” Chuck protests. Jesus, he’s determined not to let even the slightest bit of alcohol into his system.

“You got it, man, it’s gone,” Jason said. “You barely took a sip and you’re vomiting bile now. You’re dry heaving, there’s nothing left. I wouldn’t lie to you.” There’s silence for a moment. “Goddammit!”

I hear scuffling again and now Keri turns away from the bathroom and is fully weeping. I put my arms around her, and I can see into the bathroom. Chuck is sticking his finger down his throat trying to make himself vomit more, and he has already discharged everything he has in his stomach.

“Help him!” I mouth to Christian as Keri cries on my shoulder. Christian enters the bathroom and tries to help Jason restrain Chuck.

“Come on, Chuck,” Christian says. “It’s over. It’s gone, trust me.”

“You don’t understand!” Chuck wails, sounding almost like a child. “I can’t be that guy again! I can’t! I can’t be that guy…!”

We know what he’s talking about, and Maddie and Nelson know all too well. Maddie moves past all the big men and kneels next to her son, taking his face in her hands.

“You’re not that guy, Chuckie,” she says. “We can all see it, and we know it. We knew that guy. We knew him well, and even though we loved him, we didn’t like him very much. You’re not that guy anymore, Chuckie. We know you’re not that guy.”

“I’m sorry, Mom,” he weeps. “I didn’t mean to drink it…”

“I know Chuckie,” she says, softly with a smile. “Give yourself a break. There’s a difference between accidentally sipping what you thought was ginger ale and finishing off an entire bottle of gin. That Chuck is gone, and I’ve got my Chuckie back. You didn’t slip—you picked up the wrong glass. It was a mistake. So, please, stop hurting yourself.”

He looks his mom in the eyes and nods. Jason and Christian help him up and his legs are a little wobbly. He reaches for Maddie and she helps him to the sofa.

“Salt-water, please,” she says as Chuck falls down onto the sofa. Keri breaks our embrace to go to the kitchen. She quickly mixes salt and water and brings it to Chuck along with the kitchen garbage can. As he rinses the flavor of bile from his mouth and spits into the garbage can, Keri retrieves a bottle of water from the fridge.

“Dtink itahl, Choonks,” she says softly, having cleaned the tears from her face. He looks at her and effortlessly bottoms out the bottle. She nods her approval as he tosses the bottle in the trash. She sits on the sofa next to him and turns to face him. She pulls his head into her bosom, wraps her legs around him and cradles him in her arms.

“Easy nuh,” she says as she gently strokes his hair. She doesn’t care who’s in the room; she needs to comfort her Choonks. He lays on her breast and closes his eyes, wrapping his arms around her and settling in obvious contentment.

“We should go,” I say to all the onlookers, as Keri and Chuck are in their own world now. Jason puts the waste basket back in the kitchen and we head for the door.

“From now on, I fix my own drinks,” Chuck says as we’re leaving.

Present Day…

I had a session with him and his sponsor later that day. He said that sipping that champagne felt like the past burning a trek down his throat and all he could think of was to get it out. He knew he was going to vomit before he made it to the apartment, and he was trying not to do it in one of the sinks along the way.

Thoughts of everything that Joe had said about him in court was haunting him, and he could only see the alcohol as a devil inside of him—a parasite—and even the slightest drop of it would grow inside of him and consume him. I could tell by his intensity that if he could, he would have had his stomach surgically removed if it meant that there was no chance that there was any alcohol left in his system.

He never has to worry about relapsing. He’s dipsophobic now. I can’t say that’s any healthier than being an alcoholic as any kind of obsessive behavior is not good, but in the big scheme of things, this ain’t too bad of a phobia to have.

Turning my attention back to my nearly catatonic husband, I can’t help but feel rudderless at the moment, not quite knowing how to help him. It’s late afternoon now, and there’s no likelihood that he’ll be going into the office at all. In fact, he was so distracted by trying to get to Elliot and Val as quickly as he could that he had forgotten to call the office to tell them that he wouldn’t be there.

When Ros called, I answered the phone to inform her that he wouldn’t be in. She actually seemed a bit put off that I was telling her that he wasn’t going to be in. Not that I owed her an explanation, but I felt it was a professional courtesy to tell her why, and I took great pleasure in passively making her feel like shit when I told her the reason. Somebody’s going to have to put that trick in her place really soon because she’s really pushing the envelope.

That’s probably why my husband is exhausted right now. He hasn’t allowed any emotion to creep in, so to speak, since he’s been so busy busting balls at GEH. The fuck-ups are slowly beginning to turn around and the supposed lawsuits are falling as fast as they were filed, once the plaintiffs were told what their real chances of winning were and my husband made it clear that it would be a cold day in hell before—and I quote—“those goddamn drug addicts got another fucking dime from me to support their fucking habits.”

Now, he just needs to rest, for however long he needs it.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” I ask, looking at the side of his head as he gazes at the ceiling. He turns his head to me, his eyes glassy, tired, and sad, and I’m sure that he’s going to tell me that he needs me… and he does, but not in the way that I’m thinking.

“Can we just…” He sighs. He’s having a hard time finding his words. “Can I just hold you for a while?”

I look over into his beseeching gray eyes and my heart melts at his sadness. I move closer to him and situate myself comfortably on his chest with my arm around his waist, one leg bent over his. He embraces me firmly with both arms, then kisses my hair. I think of the lullaby that I sing to the kids when they’re feeling fussy, the French one about the eggs, and I hum it to him while I’m laying on his chest. He holds me close and tight as I hum the tune to him, and a few minutes later, I feel his chest begin to rise and fall as his breathing evens. I know I can’t move or he’ll wake, so I keep humming the tune until I fall asleep.



CHRISTIAN

My wife is amazing.

I know that Valerie is her best friend and like a sister to her, but she was more concerned with how I was feeling than anything else during this time. How am I feeling? I’m feeling very shitty. I feel shitty for lots of reasons and in no particular order.

I feel shitty because my brother was so excited to be starting his family and now, he’s had it ripped from him for no good reason.

I feel shitty because he has to watch his wife and the woman he loves suffer physically and emotionally through this, and there’s nothing worse in the world than not being able to stop the pain of the woman you love…

… except for not being able to stop the pain of your children.

Seeing him lose his child made me feel the most intense and powerful possessiveness that I’ve ever felt in my life! My babies, my heart and soul besides my beautiful wife… Jesus, if anything happened to my kids…

I feel shitty because I just want to make everything right again… everything… and I can’t.

Butterfly and I decide not to see our mentors on Saturday night under the circumstances. There’s no way that we would be able to concentrate on any of the tasks at hand.

We attended the Munch with Artemis and Savvina the weekend after Christmas, just to be introduced to other Domini and their matrimonial submissives, who refer to themselves as soumises, As I speak French, I know this is the French plural for submissive, but this is the adjective. I’m not sure that there is an appropriate noun. Nonetheless, I like it.

This group of people is almost like a club of their own, not that they separate themselves from the others, but that they share a common bond and tend to gravitate more towards those with like interests—as is usually the case in any BDSM circle.

I’m quickly learning that being a married Dominus, or just Dominus as Artemis prefers, is nothing like what I’ve been before. I’m learning to be a Dom all over again. I have to deprogram myself from what I used to be, what I’ve always known, and reprogram myself to a new way of being; a new way of responding; a whole new behavior. I can’t operate the way that I used to because I’m not the same person. BDSM served a specific purpose for me. It was a direct means to a particular end, and there were no emotions involved.

I was a sadist, but I’m not that man anymore.

As a result, everything has to be retaught. There was no way that I could bring Anastasia into my world with the theories, techniques, and mindset that I always utilized. It never would have worked, and that’s why we never found our balance.

Had I married a submissive who had been previously conditioned in the method that I practiced, the old way would have been fine, but that’s not who I married. What’s more is that none of the submissives who had been conditioned in that way ever lasted, because that’s not what I really needed.

If I’m honest, I used those women like old rags. Once they were dirty, I laundered them in showers and baths and sent them to be plucked and primed to my specifications only to use them again. I made it clear that I didn’t want these women, and if the old rags became too comfortable, I threw them out.

How could I possibly expect for this same mentality to work with my wife?

Artemis is bringing so many things to light for me. My entire method of operation was based on punishments and rewards. For a sadist who has plans to beat the hell out of you every Friday night, that’s a perfect formula…

I need to cause you pain to release mine and regain control, and if you’re a good girl, I’ll let you come.

If you misbehave, I’ll beat you some more, and after I’ve tormented you sexually in every way imaginable and had my fill of you—literally, then I’ll make you go to bed without an orgasm.

I want unequivocal, unquestioned loyalty and obedience and if I don’t get it, I’ll make you pay.

If I do get it, I’ll make your body scream in ways that you never thought possible.

I’ll take you from extreme to extreme. I’ll ruin you for all other men. You’ll learn to love it; you’ll yearn for it… ache for it… the pleasure and the pain.

You’ll learn to love it. You’ll discover that you can’t do without it… and the moment that you do, I’ll cut you off and end your contract.

I began our relationship with every move I knew. I pulled every masculine wile on her that I could—and then I released the demon. It was so powerful that neither of us could control it, and yet, we tried. We tried so hard that at some points, it almost destroyed us. And now…

Here we are, where we should have started in the first place. We’re both starting from scratch. Anastasia had no idea what she should and should not be doing, how she should or should not be behaving, what she should or should not expect as a submissive. Her entire concept was take as much as you can and when you’ve reached your limit, take a little more. Why?

Because her husband is a sadist.

I could—and would—give her whatever she could take. There was no measurement of “Maybe this is going too far.” It was just, “More? Okay!”

So, now, I have embarked upon the intricate journey of shedding the title and persona of the typical sadistic Dominant—talented though I may be—and completing the task of becoming the exquisite Dominus. As such, my wife is completing the task of becoming the soumise. At some point, our roles will switch again, but right now, we’re concentrating on this particular dynamic as it fits into our lives.

I don’t know whose journey is harder—hers, having to dispel the misconceptions that she’s had for the last few years during her escapades with me; or mine, having to deprogram most of the things that I learned from Lincoln and in Dom training all those years, or at least re-purpose them—for lack of a better description—to fulfill our current needs.

Anastasia is a strong and independent woman. It’s not in her to be a 24/7 submissive, nor would I want her to be. However, this new dynamic means exploring new territories and desires, both physical and mental, and there will be some sacrifices and compromises on both our parts. I’m going to have to sacrifice my old methods of relating the inflicting of pain, total surrender, and unconditional obedience to my pleasure and maintenance of control. These things must be balanced, and there’s a time and a place for all of them.

TPE requires complete surrender and unconditional obedience. However, while some relationships may be built upon that, ours is not. There’s a time and a place.

While inflicting pain can be quite liberating and erotic, it can’t always be the go-to technique in a relationship like ours. There must be a give-and-take on several levels when implements are used to inflict pain, induce pleasure, or administer punishment.

I was always hyper-aware of a submissive’s feelings and physical reactions, but only to the degree that their responses fulfilled my needs…

If I whipped you until you cried, so what? I fucked you until you came; now, go take a bath and get over it.

If you were twitching and jerking uncontrollably at the end of the scene, it’s probably because your orgasm was so intense that your pussy or your asshole was gripping and squeezing my dick endless until you drained my balls of every single drop of fluid I had to give.

I knew how to time torment and ecstasy perfectly so that I was certain to get everything I needed exactly at the moment that you got what you wanted. And if you didn’t get what you wanted, it was deliberate, and that’s usually what I wanted.

It’s all different now…

The Munch we attended was held at a local venue called “10 Degrees.” It clearly wasn’t what my wife expected and certainly nothing like the impromptu munch we attended at the BDSM club a few years ago. Although my wife chose to don a very sexy black bandage dress of a respectable length, she could have worn one of my grandmother’s vintage Lindy bop dresses and still fit in with this crowd at this location. On more than one occasion, my wife was swept away to a semi-private cluster of conversation with a group of submissive wives while I took the opportunity to converse and pick the brains of Artemis and some other attending Domini. It was during several such powwows that I discovered that my way of thinking was going to have to take a serious detour if this relationship was going to be functional and enjoyable for us.

Today was to be the day that we were going to explore our intimacy a bit more. One of those ways was going to be to choose a nickname for my wife when she was in the role of soumise. Baby came too easily, Butterfly is an everyday name, and Anastasia is clearly what I call her when I’m angry. Ana is what everyone else calls her, and Mrs. Grey is out of the question because I called all of my previous submissives by their last names and we’re trying to separate the old Dom from the Dominus. So, we have to come up with something else. I say “we” because even though I may be using the name, she has to respond to it. I think I’ll talk to her about that later when we’re alone. It shouldn’t be hard for us to come up with something without the assistance of our mentors.

Quite a bit happened in the past two weeks. I awoke the day after Christmas and realized that I had been a Grade-A ass all week to my wife and family, and while it was still imperative that I whip my company back into shape, something had to give… and soon! I took that Friday off and spent it with my wife and children like I should have done on Christmas Eve.

We exchanged our gifts and although we got each other plenty of those gifts that you purchase for the husband or wife who has everything, my biggest gift to Butterfly was the task of decorating our Italian villa as we will be spending six weeks there this summer even if Armageddon befalls us. She was absolutely thrilled. Concerned about leaving our children behind, she was even more delighted to discover that the family will be spending a portion of the summer with us as well, including our children.

Her most precious gift to me was a leather-bound album with various pictures of her and our children throughout the year—in color and black and white, various settings, some candid and some professional. She knows this kind of shit turns me into a big sap, and that’s why she usually waits to give these personal gifts on Christmas Eve. Of course, it took my breath away and I felt like the luckiest bastard on earth.

We also gave gifts to our staff, including the car that we had been promising Keri with the built-in car seats for the kids—a 2015 Chrysler Town and Country. I would have preferred an Audi, of course, but my wife previously informed me that not everyone wanted to drive an Audi, and Chuck informed me that Keri previously admired the Town and Country. As long as it had the safety features that I wanted, it was fine with me. So, Keri is now the proud owner of a metallic silver Chrysler minivan.

December 26 held one more surprise for the Grey family. Pops’ attorney from Detroit, Nathan Wu, called to tell us that Freeman had given up on the protest of the life insurance policy. Freeman was, quite frankly, eager to get his hands on his father’s house. We knew that this had to mean that he had signed the divorce papers as well, because he wasn’t going to allow any proceeds from Pops’ will to get caught up in his divorce. Little did he know that any of his inheritance was most likely protected property from the divorce, but honestly, none of us cared. Our biggest controversy now was trying to get Dad to accept his share of the policy as well as the money that he gave to Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman.

That beautiful Apollo showed up, refurbished and playing beautifully this past Tuesday, and it has pride of place downstairs in the den with my baby grand. My father and my uncle came over to see it once it had been delivered, after which they called Uncle Stan and the three of them drank a toast to Ichabod while it played one of several preprogrammed songs in its new repertoire, Down by the Old Mill Stream.

Valerie is being released from the hospital today and, once again, we insist that they come and stay with us for a while as Valerie’s body recuperates—just for a few days, or a week, until she’s back on her feet. It’s a good thing we decided against the mentoring sessions tonight. We were needed at the Crossing much more.

My brother is clearly more concerned about Val in the loss of the baby than he is about himself. I can see through the façade, though. He’s been my brother longer that he’s been her husband. He’s crushed, but with everything that she’s been through, he can’t let Valerie know how he feels. He doesn’t want to stress her out and possibly send her into a relapse with her cancer and he’s very concerned about her health and getting her back to 100%. However, once she’s released from the hospital and they get to the Crossing, the truth all comes out.

“How are you holding up?” Butterfly asks Valerie once they release their embrace. Valerie nods.

“I’m doing okay,” she says with a sad, unconvincing smile. “One day at a time.” Butterfly takes her hands.

“I know,” she says. “Come on, let’s talk…” She takes Valerie’s hand and leads her through the dining room. Elliot gazes at her until they disappear into the family room.

“Do you want to talk?” I ask, and I’m certain that my voice startles him. “You look tired.” He twists his lips.

“I’m fine,” he says, his voice clipped as he walks towards the formal living room.

“You don’t look fine,” I say, falling in step behind him. He whirls around on me after he steps down into the living room.

“Oh, so you’re the psychiatrist now.” It’s a statement, not a question. “Montana, how you’ve changed.”

Definitely not fine.

“I’m not trying to piss you off, Elliot,” I say as I close the space between us. “I just want to make sure that you’re really okay. I know if this was Butterfly, I definitely would need some help… or a drink… or I would want someone to pay or tell me why this happened.” Elliot laughs sarcastically.

“Oh, the great Christian Grey and all his millions!” he quips angrily. “If he found out that his little wifey was allergic to water, he’d stop the rain from falling!” I purse my lips.

“I know you’re upset, Elliot,” I say, ignoring his ill-placed ire, “you have every right to be…”

“This isn’t about me!” he hisses. “This is about her! All the shit that’s happened to her! When no one else was there for her, I was there for her! I took care of her; I watched over her; I stood by her when everybody else went MIA—everybody! I did everything in my power to protect her… and I couldn’t!” he bites out. I frown.

“There are some things that you can’t protect her from…” I try to interject.

“Says the man who rescued his woman from kidnappers in a helicopter,” he retorts sarcastically. “Basically brought her back to life after she was nearly killed in a car accident, spent 12 days in a coma, and woke up not even knowing who you were!”

“But I couldn’t prevent those things from happening to her!” I counter. “I may have retrieved her from Vashon Island, but she was still taken and brutally beaten. And yeah, I sat next to her bed and cried and prayed while she was in a coma, but I couldn’t prevent the accident that put her there!”

“Don’t you dare!” he hisses angrily. “Don’t you dare for one moment pretend that you know what I’m feeling right now! You have no fucking idea—no goddamn idea in the world how this feels!”

His eyes are a veiny red and he’s furious, ready to charge. If I don’t pick my words carefully, we’ll be rolling around grappling on the floor—and I will not fight him right now. I take a deep breath through my nose and let it out, never taking my eyes off my brother who is standing in front of me poised like a gladiator, ready for battle.

“You’re right,” I reply. I pause for several moments and watch him deflate infinitesimally. “I have no idea what you’re feeling right now. I couldn’t even begin to imagine, nor would I want to. I know pain, and I know that you’re hurting, but I can’t empathize with the pain you’re feeling right now. I do know this much,” I say, closing the space between us. “You’re taking care of Valerie. Who’s taking care of you?”

His face changes. The fury mask fades in an instant and is replaced with the most mournful, drooping, angst-filled expression I’ve ever seen. My brother chokes out a sob, and then another before crumpling in despair. I catch him in my arms and lower the dead weight to the floor as he sobs uncontrollably.

“I tried… I tried… I did… everything… I could…” he weeps bitterly, unable to catch his breath. “She… needs me… she needs me… to be strong… but this… hurts… God… it hurts… so bad…”

His weeps quickly turn to uncontrollable heaves as he chokes out his grief for his loss. His body is shaking, and his muscles are flexing like he wants to fight, but he’s tight… tight in a ball… still holding it in…

“Let it out, bro,” I encourage. “Let it out. It’s okay to hurt. I’ve got you.”

I can tell he doesn’t want to weep too loudly for fear that Valerie will hear him. Even now, at one of his darkest moments, he’s thinking of Valerie. I let him cry and text my wife.

**Where are you? **

A few moments later, she texts me back.

**In the parlor. **

I reply quickly…

**Can you please keep Valerie down there for a while? My brother needs to vent. **

It takes her a minute to respond.

**I understand. Sure thing. **

Thank God I didn’t have to explain that. Having a psychiatrist for a wife certainly has its benefits. I put my phone back in my pocket and lean in to my brother.

“Let it out, Lelliot,” I tell him. “I swear she won’t hear you.”

He raises tear-filled eyes to me, and I nod at him, giving him permission to grieve properly. He closes his eyes and releases a heart-wrenching wail that tears me down to my very soul. The sound is so painful that it’s everything I can do not to grab him and shake him and tell him to stop screaming like this; that everything is going to be okay and this is not the end of the world, but he’s been holding this in. He’s been the tower—the strong front for his extremely fragile wife. He hid his feelings so well that no one knew what he was going through. It’s a wonder he didn’t have a psychotic breakdown through all of this.

I can’t grab him and shake him, but I can grab him.

He curls into a ball, covers his face with his hands and sobs openly, finally crying without a care about who may be listening. I can hear his pain… and it’s killing me. It’s killing me that I can’t take it away from him. He was right not to let Valerie see this. She wouldn’t be able to take it.

I curl my body over his, quickly wiping away the selfish tears that fall from my own eyes onto the back of his shirt.

“That’s good, Lelliot,” I say, hiding the tears in my voice. “Let it all out…”


ANASTASIA

Elliot tried, but he wasn’t able to hide the fact that he was broken when Val and I finally came from the parlor. They both have the same questions…

Why did this happen?
How did this happen?
Was there something they could have done to prevent it?
How will they keep it from happening again?

The truth is that there’s no right answer to those questions. The immediate answer is that Val’s weakened state could have contributed to this, but truthfully, perfectly healthy women have miscarriages all the time. There’s no explanation for it and at some point, you heal from the pain and try again.

However, there’s no telling that to a woman—or a man—who has just lost a child.

They spend time blaming themselves until they’re just not blaming themselves anymore. Sometimes, it’s quick and sometimes, not so much. The further along the pregnancy is, the harder it is to deal with the loss. Val was heading into her fourth month and she had begun to feel the quickening of the baby, so that made it all very real. Then, to have something happen like this, after you’ve felt the baby move inside you and you’ve started making plans for the new life… we should definitely be having a funeral right now.

After Val said that she couldn’t cry anymore, the floodgates opened like Niagara Falls once we got to my parlor. She polished off a bottle and a half of wine all by herself, and I let her. She cried and cried about how she’s a failure as a woman and a mother and I spent the better part of an hour trying to convince her that this was not true; that there was nothing that she or anybody could have done differently that could have prevented this; that these things just happen and as painful as they may be, sometimes, they just can’t be prevented.

My words did very little to comfort her.

Little did I know that Elliot was on the first floor having a breakdown of his own, and when he and Val were reunited, they could do nothing more than crawl upstairs and go to bed.

Christian and I sit down to dinner alone. He concentrates on finishing his meal, and I know it’s because he’s fighting with his emotions. He’s forcing himself to eat so that he doesn’t starve himself being overcome by his feelings. I don’t attempt to engage. We simply eat in silence and I let him finish his meal. Maddie and Nelson are still here until Monday, but they’ve been having more intimate meals with Keri and Chuck in their apartment since Chuck’s episode.

“The other soumises were telling me that communication is paramount in any healthy relationship,” I break the silence once we’ve finished our dinner and we’re having coffee, “especially a BDSM relationship.” He raises his gaze to me, his expression almost as if he forgot that I was sitting there next to him. He bottoms out his coffee and stands from his seat. Then he moves to the back of mine, signaling for me to stand and he pulls my chair out. He takes my hand and tucks it into his elbow. I feel a little flush come over me.

“Where would you like to chat?” he says. I’m taken aback. Anywhere will do. I would have been just fine sitting here at the table.

“The library,” I reply. We have two libraries and one of them became Marilyn’s office. We never use the other one.

He leads me to the elevator, and we take a silent ride to the lower level. I stop at the aquarium to say “hi” to Marty, who’s swimming obliviously in and out of her castles and reefs. As I take a moment to admire my fish, Christian retrieves a bottle of brandy and two snifters from the bar. We walk quietly to the library and I take a seat on the sofa. Christian turns on the fireplace and takes a seat next to me.

“Do you have anything in particular that you want to talk about?” he asks as he pours us each a brandy.

“Anything but Elliot and Val,” I say softly. He stops pouring for a moment, still looking at the brandy snifter.

“Agreed,” he says, and finishes pouring the drinks. He hands me one of the glasses and takes one for himself. We each take a large sip of the brandy before the conversation begins.

“We were supposed to come up with names tonight,” Christian begins. “I was thinking that I don’t know why we can’t do that activity on our own. It shouldn’t be hard.” I shrug.

“Yes, I can’t see why we couldn’t do that,” I reply.

“Mine should be easy,” he says. “I’ve only ever been referred to as Sir, Mr. Grey, or Master. Mr. Grey and Grey has definite connotations for us. Master feels like footprints from a past life. I don’t want to bring that into our relationship.”

“I agree,” I say, sipping my brandy.

“There are other options—Lord, Captain, Mister, Boss. The Latin Dominus is used as my title, as soumise is used for yours. It’s nice, but it seems a bit pretentious for you to address me that way. The rest of those seem over the top, except for Boss, and Jason sometimes calls me that. So, if you’re comfortable, I say we keep it simple and continue to use Sir.”

“I think that’s best,” I concur. “I did a little research on appropriate names for a submissive. They all sounded ridiculous.” Christian furrows his brow.

“Such as?” he asks, before sipping his brandy.

Baby girl, princess, kitten, honey bear, buttercup…” I rattle them off.

“None of those would fit for you because those are generally all names for littles. You’re not a little and I’m not a Daddy Dom, so those definitely wouldn’t work for us.”

“What’s a little?” I ask.

“That’s a whole other Dominant/submissive dynamic,” he replies. “It often involves age play where the submissive behaves at an age suitable for his or her Dominant, or at whatever age the submissive chooses.”

“Like adult babies?” I say with distaste.

“Yes, adult babies can be a type of a little,” he confesses. I shiver a bit.

“There are other types of littles?” I ask. He nods.

“They can be any age,” he says. “It depends on the preference of the couple.” I shake my head.

“That… sounds like someone who fantasizes about children,” I admit. “It doesn’t seem healthy. What place could that possibly have in a BDSM relationship?”

“Please don’t try to get me to explain that,” he beseeches. “I’m aware that the dynamic exists, but I couldn’t describe the fascination or attraction to it. I don’t have enough information on it, so I can’t defend or criticize it… and we’re getting off topic,” he chides gently. “Your name? Remember?”

“I like pet, but for some reason, I feel as though I should have a deep abhorrence for that word.”

“You should!” he says, nearly cutting me off before the words are out of my mouth. I lean back from him a bit as his tone is clipped and his eyes are sharp. Then, he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.

“This may be one of those things that slipped your mind,” he begins, “but Lincoln called me ‘pet.’” I nearly choke on my brandy.

“Oh… yeah… no,” I say, finishing off the amber liquid. He pours me another drink.

“I liked love and kitten,” I say,but Jason calls Gail Love…”

“And Ethan calls Mia kitten,” Christian says.

“Oh, yeah, that’s right,” I say, twisting my lips. “How about kitty? I like that one, too.”

“Too close to kitten,” he says. He moves the glass to his lips and stops.

“What is it?” I ask. He smiles widely before taking a sip of his drink.

“I’ve got it,” he says, placing his glass on the coffee table. “You like kitten and kitty, two variations of a feline, but we can’t use them because I don’t want to feel like I’m Domming my kid sister.”

“Your point?” I say. He leans in close to me, his face mere inches from mine.

Pussycat,” he breathes in his Dom voice… and my panties are instantly wet. I swallow hard.

“I… I like that,” I choke out, abandoning any bit of “cool” I may have previously had.

“I thought you would,” he says, retrieving his glass. “I like it, too.” He leans back on the sofa, swirling the brandy around in his glass and looking salaciously at me with a confident half smirk on his face. I clear my throat.

“We’re supposed to be talking,” I say, trying not to gulp down the rest of my brandy.

“I thought we were,” he says, raising an eyebrow at me.

“I… suddenly don’t know what else to say,” I pant, trying to remain calm, but failing miserably as I mindlessly swallow the rest of my second brandy and flinch as the spirits shock my throat and burn their way down my chest. Christian bottoms out his first brandy and puts the snifter on the table. He takes my glass from my hand and places it on the table next to his. Moving closer to me on the sofa, he leans in to me until I can only focus on his eyes through my hormone-and-brandy-induced haze.

“Weekdays have been a real bitch for me lately, Anastasia,” he says, his voice low and his face mere breaths away from mine. “Seeing that it’s Saturday night and the past two days have been just as shitty, what I’d like to do now is to take you upstairs to our room, tie you to our bed, and fuck you within an inch of your sanity. Or…” He leans in even closer, “I can bind your wrists and fuck you right here. It really doesn’t matter either way to me, as long as I get to fuck you. What do you say to that?” I swallow hard again.

“I’d say that I’d like that very much,” I squeak. His lips brush mine and he speaks the next words against my mouth.

“Upstairs… or here?” he breathes. The word is barely a whisper.

“Here.”

*-*

Christian is asleep and I’m wide awake, lying on the floor in the library. He’s wrapped around me and a blanket is wrapped around us both, the light from the moon and from the fire illuminating the room. This is only the second or third time in weeks that I’ve seen him sleeping so peacefully, which is a shame since two of those times were most likely aided by sheer exhaustion from concern for his brother.

Lying on my back and looking at the ceiling, I can’t help but go over the events of the holiday season…

Chuck tried to rip out his esophagus from swallowing a taste of champagne.

Mikey got up and just started walking out of nowhere, and Minnie’s not far behind him. We’re going to have to start childproofing the house very soon.

I got word that the bitch Deanna Carson who threatened to attempt to seduce my husband and then made good on her threat was one of the employees that was fired for failing the drug test and is now part of a class action suit against GEH. I plan to put a stop to that shit.

My husband is working long ass hours trying to save his company from going down the toilet and I can’t shake the feeling that he’s the only one who seems to care about it.

Carrick’s brother Freeman looks like he’s not going to be a problem for the brothers for a while. I don’t know what’s happening with the harassment charges that Christian brought against him and the assault charges from Burtie, but he dropped that ridiculous case protesting the legitimacy of the life insurance policy, and Lanie told me that he has signed the divorce papers and agreed to Nell’s demands. It would have left him in the hole a bit, but he got their house in Farmington and the proceeds from Burt’s life insurance as well as Burt’s house in Detroit. I don’t know the value of everything, but apparently, he got what he wanted.

I accused my husband of longing for a submissive from his prior life, which sent us into nearly a week of silence and avoidance and caused me to turn my home into the Land That Christmas Fucking Well Wouldn’t Forget in an attempt to escape the situation. I had to have the house professionally un-decorated to remove all that stuff… but I have it all stored away, just in case!

Marilyn flies back in today, and I can barely wait to see her! I asked if she needed a ride home from the airport, but she said that she would just like the evening to herself to regroup and acclimate to being back in Seattle. So, I’ll see her at the office tomorrow.

Harmony will be moving into Escala at the end of the week once the closing is final. I feel a bit melancholy about that, almost like I did when Daddy said that he was leaving the house in Montesano. Yes, that was where Christian gained his Dom legs and beat and fucked 15 brown haired submissives, but that’s also where we built our lives, where we cut our teeth on many firsts. The place holds some fond memories for us, and some not so fond ones as well, but it’s where we officially became The Greys.

And, of course, my sister and best friend lost her baby.

I think that about sums it up.

Feeling a combination of sorrow, nostalgia, and melancholy from reviewing the major events of the past few weeks, I feel a tear slide down my temple and into my ear.

Pussycat. We decided on Pussycat. Never in a million years would I have expected him to come up with that name, but surprisingly, I really like it. My mind immediately wanders to the conversations that I had with clusters of other soumises. Listening to them speak so freely about their relationships and their roles, being able to slip into a submissive state of mind so quickly and easily, being able to be everything my Dominus needs at a moment’s notice… I try very hard not to think about how far I have to go and how much I need to learn. I try to only focus on the journey and making this a rewarding experience for us both.

My mind then floats to my conversation with Savvina and how she basically told me that I had no idea what I was doing or feeling…

“No, you don’t. You don’t find Nirvana, peace, or even subspace until it’s over and he makes you come. This. Is. Not. Just. For. Him. As his wife, this is for you, too. Until you fully understand that, you’re in a dangerous place.”

I’m afraid. I’ll admit it. I’ve sat wondering more than once if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. This isn’t a game anymore. This isn’t “dabbling” as our mentors referred to it. This is the real thing—a real-life, full-on, BDSM relationship. We said that we wouldn’t be 24/7, but I don’t know how we can’t be. I’ve immersed myself in research and websites and blog pages, chats with trusted soumises, and everything that I’m reading and seeing and hearing says that you will submerge yourself in this lifestyle in one way or another.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you have to walk around in spandex and leather 25/8… or 24/7, but it does mean that you have to always be mindful of your Dominus just as he has to always be mindful of you—and there’s a lot involved in being mindful.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the onslaught of information that just popped into my head as I lie here in the dark in my husband’s arms, I squeeze my eyes shut tight, and another tear slides down my temple. On cue, my husband pulls me closer to him, and kisses the tear from my temple.

“Sleep,” he says, softly, and with surprisingly little effort, I close my eyes, and fall asleep.


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

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 ~~love and handcuffs