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

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 27

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 27

ANASTASIA

I’m sitting on the loveseat in the sitting room in our bedroom, patiently waiting for my husband to finish his lunch and join me. I should have had a drink or something while I wait. I’m not nervous or anything. I’m just trying to find the best way to say what I have to say without disregarding his feelings or completely capitulating to his behavior. I want to explain his error while recognizing his counterpoint about his concerns as valid.

We’re at a precipice with this conversation though. Christian Grey can be, and usually is, very passionate about his convictions. I could actually see that passion beginning to surface earlier today while we were talking, but almost as soon as it had risen, it was gone. It was like he was resolved to be the bad guy as evidenced by his comment about me taking Gary’s side and the subsequent question about why we were still having the conversation if that was the case.

He admitted that he felt he was in a lose-lose situation. Anyone constantly in that position wouldn’t bother fighting anymore. It’s not that I think he’s immature or anything, but I totally feel that if I don’t say the right thing, he’s going to shut down and that’s the last thing I want.

While I’m still pondering the best approach to the conversation, he casually strolls into the room with a spritzer in his hand and takes a seat in the chair opposite me on the other side of the fireplace.

Geez, this is going to be fun.

“I’m going to ask that you listen to what I say with an objective ear and not a defensive ear,” I begin. “I was forced to look at both sides of the coin and I ask that you please do the same thing.” He ponders the thought for a moment then nods.

I sigh and think about the best way to say what I want to say without setting off a disagreement. I guess I ponder a little too long.

“Is what you have to say that harsh?” he asks. “Do I need a real drink?” I roll my eyes, more at myself than anything.

“I’m trying to find a way to tell you that your feelings do matter; that I’m sorry that I discounted them, but that you still have to measure your reactions and your temper and that you can’t pop off and expect for it to be okay. You can’t just have an emotional response and not expect to get any fallout from it. None of us are afforded that luxury.” He pauses and furrows his brow.

“You just did,” he says.

“I just did what?” I ask, bemused.

“You just said what you needed to say,” he says calmly. “I know that my actions and my words have consequences. I wasn’t born yesterday. I don’t expect for people to be pleased when I have something harsh or unpleasant to say. They don’t even have to accept it. My problem is when my feelings are pushed aside or stomped on and not even considered. More times than I can count, people are more concerned about my actions towards other people and nobody’s concerned about how I’m affected. Yeah, I can do and say some pretty shitty things sometimes, but I need the people in my life to start putting themselves in my shoes and start saying to themselves, ‘Hmm, what might he have been thinking’ instead of ‘What the hell was he thinking?’”

He says both questions with the emphasis and the lack thereof needed to make his point.

“Garrett was hurting. He didn’t know what the hell he was going to do. He had an opportunity ripped from him that he wanted just like Elliot and Val. The only difference is that Elliot and Val didn’t have a choice in the matter.

“Marilyn had a choice and she made it. She made the choice that she felt was best for her and the people closest to her made her pay for it… repeatedly! She was beat down and ripped up by her parents and left for dead by Garrett. She finished the job by punishing her body—hopefully not beyond repair—and I have no doubt that she’s punished herself mentally more than once as well.”

He hit that nail on the head.

“Enter you and me. We do everything short of giving that girl one of our vital organs in an attempt to bring her back from the brink of destruction. Now, I don’t know if you’ve heard from Gary throughout the course of this exercise, but I sure as hell didn’t. All I saw was this poor girl suffering, and don’t think for one minute that I wasn’t concerned about suicide.”

I hadn’t even thought of that. Speaking to Marilyn, I know that she doesn’t have any suicidal tendencies, but it’s not impossible.

“So, now we have four people, just these four people—me, you, Marilyn, and Garrett. Marilyn’s feelings were all out on display for everyone to see. The remaining three of us made our feelings known last night. Being stuck between the two of them, you had to split your feelings because you were concerned about both of them. I was only concerned about one—the one I saw.

“Both Garrett and I said some things to each other that probably shouldn’t have been announced in a public forum, but they were. Marilyn had taken her feelings and was off somewhere waiting to leave the premises. Garrett took his feelings with him to go to Marilyn. You made your feelings very clear and all parties present were concerned about yours. Where did that leave me? Everybody avoided me like the plague, including you, and I’m sitting there wishing I had kept my mouth shut and knowing the entire time that I was entitled to what I felt.”

“I understand that, and you’re absolutely right,” I say sincerely. “I promise to be more mindful of your feelings in the future and not to shut you down that way. But you have to promise to try to be more mindful of what you’re saying and not to pop off so quickly even when your emotions are running wild. I guess we both seriously have some habits we have to work on.” He’s quiet for a moment.

“I can go with that, but I need you to take something away from this conversation. I’m not trying to get my way with this situation. I say what I mean, and I won’t apologize for it. I didn’t apologize to Garrett and I’m not going to apologize to you, because I meant what I said. The takeaway that I want from this conversation is that—depending on the situation—I’m going to do my best to dial it back a bit and think before I speak. However, right or wrong, whether the hearer likes what I’m saying or not, I’m entitled to how I feel, and people are going to have to respect if they except the same from me.” I nod.

“I get it,” I say. “I really do.” He nods, then runs his hands through his hair.

“So, how are they?” he asks. “I know that you saw them this morning.”

“Solemnly in love,” I respond. “That’s the best description for it. Gary went back to his place to get some clothes. They’ve been locked in her room all day after that, so I think they may be making up for lost time.” He purses his lips.

“Somehow, I doubt that,” he says. My brow furrows.

“Why do you say that?” I ask.

“I ignored women’s feelings for a long time, Anastasia, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t recognize what they were feeling. She’s too fragile for sex right now. She may get past that in a day or a week or so, once her heart can accept that he’s back, but right now—after one night, nothing sexual is happening in that room.”

“How can you be so sure?” I ask incredulously.

“I’ve broken the heart of more than one submissive,” he says, “and more than once, they didn’t show up on the ‘scene’ for a week or more. And have you forgotten that I broke your heart, too? I couldn’t touch you for days, let alone have sex. The first time I touched you, you nearly begged me not to. The next few times, you allowed me to touch or help you, but you went limp like a dead fish. Sex was utterly out of the question.”

I clear my throat. I had nearly forgotten that he couldn’t touch me. I didn’t forget the helplessness that I felt, but the sting of his touch… yes, I recognized that only too well in Marilyn’s reactions.

“Well,” I say, “I can’t imagine what they’ve been doing in that room all day since she won’t allow him to touch her.” I try to hide my discomfort.

“Maybe they’re talking,” he says. “They’ve got quite the road ahead of them if they expect to get back together. They may want to be together, but they still have the same problems they had when they broke up.” I look at him skeptically.

“Since when did you become so insightful?” I ask.

“Years and years of therapy,” he replies. “Just because I thought it wouldn’t do me any good doesn’t me that I didn’t listen.”

Well, sometimes, you coulda fooled me.
Shut the hell up.

“So,” I say, nervous and a but rudderless.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I was serious about vegging out for the day.” He stands, retrieves his spritzers and heads back towards the bedroom. “You’re free to join me if you want.”

I get up and follow him to the bedroom wondering what’s good on television.


CHRISTIAN

“I take it by your expression that the visit did not go well,” I say. It’s early evening and Jason has joined me in my study, having returned from taking Sophie to visit her mother in prison.

“It did not,” he says emphatically. “I couldn’t hear the entire conversation since it’s the whole receiver-screen thing, but I heard Sophie’s side, begging her mother to sign the papers and telling her how crazy her arguments sound, and I don’t even know what her arguments were. She talked to her for a few more minutes and I could tell the exact moment she gave up. Her entire posture changed, and she just said, ‘Fine.’ She didn’t say anything else for a long time. After several minutes of silence and waiting for her to say something, I heard her say, ‘This is what you want.’

“She told Shalane that even being in jail hasn’t meant anything to her; that she’s still the most selfish person that Sophie has ever met, and it’ll never change, and that Sophie has given up on hope that it ever will. Sophie didn’t say anything else for the entire visit and it lasted like 45 more minutes.

“When we left, I asked her if she was okay. She said that she didn’t want to talk about it, and she cried the whole way home, and that’s a pretty long ass drive.”

I can tell he’s very pissed about this. Shalane is being a spiteful bitch just because she can, but she doesn’t seem to realize that she’s only destroying any hope that she has of repairing her relationship with her daughter.

“So, what now?” I ask. He sighs.

“I’ll try to get a court order,” he says. “Sophie would be an adult before the custody permission part of it would ever be sorted out. I guess until then, vacations are just going to have to be the US and its territories,” he laments.

“We can still do things that can be fun for her in the US,” I say, trying to ease the blow.

“It’s not just her, Boss,” he says. “Sophie not being able to go overseas means that Gail can’t go either. She’s taken on quite the responsibility raising a child that’s not hers. I know she helps to raise the twins, but their mother is here. If the sky falls, Sophie is all her. She’s a wonderful woman, and I would have loved to show her Lake Como, and I would have loved for Sophie to have authentic Italian food, but it looks like that’s not going to happen for another four years.”

Try though I might, I know that there’s nothing I can do to get that passport for Sophie. This has to be completely on the up and up—no strings—or he could lose custody of his daughter.

“I’m sorry about this, Jason,” I tell him. “I wish there was something I could do.”

“This is one time that I wish there was, too.” He scrubs his hands over his face. “Do I want to know how things are going in this house?” I know he’s desperate to change the subject.

“I know that Garrett and Marilyn are still here, but no one has seen them since breakfast.”

“Making up for lost time?” he asks, his brow raised. I shake my head.

“We don’t think so,” I say, dispelling his thoughts. “Marilyn’s pretty fragile. I would venture to say that he’s having a hard time just holding her right now let alone trying to get some ass… not that I even think he’s trying.” Jason twists his lips.

“What about you and Her Highness?” he asks. “Still radio silence or should I even ask?”

“No, we talked,” I say. He examines me. “We talked. It was a good talk. Then we watched TV. Then I came down here. I slept most of the day.” His neck jerks.

You slept most of the day?” he asks.

“I did,” I reply, typing into my laptop. “I wanted to go to sleep last night, but I couldn’t. I finally went for a run this morning, came back, took a shower, had part of a conversation with Anastasia, then I fell asleep. By the time I woke up, it was well after lunch. I was tired, man, just… tired.”

“I see,” he says. “So, you said you had part of a conversation…”

“Yeah,” I say. “I said my piece this morning and then when I awoke, she said hers. Then, we said ours and that was it.”

“And you guys are speaking now?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “I was quite aware of her feelings, but I needed her to understand mine. I’m tired of taking the rap all the time and she needed to know that.”

“You were pretty passionate last night, Boss… and verbose,” he points out.

“But I wasn’t alone,” I say. “Emotions were high for more than one of us, and yet, I was the one singled out.” He twists his lips and nods.

“Yeah,” he replies, “I see where you’re coming from.”

“I didn’t want to be ostracized anymore and that’s why I left. I didn’t want to fight anymore, and I believe that’s why my body wouldn’t let me go to sleep. The only reason we talked is because she caught me coming out the shower and she had to initiate the conversation. I just didn’t want to fight… I’m tired.”

“And that, no doubt, came out in the conversation,” he says. I shrug.

“Most likely,” I reply. “I didn’t have to be right, but I needed her to hear me. If she didn’t, I wasn’t going to talk anymore and I made that clear. I wasn’t angry or… anything. I was just tired.”

“I can honestly say I’ve never seen that in you,” he says. “You were resolved. Either she heard you or she didn’t. Every other time, either they heard you or they were fired… or blackballed… or their contracts were terminated, and I was carrying them kicking and screaming out of the penthouse. Never this resolved, ‘that’s it, that’s all,’ and move on.”

“Well, I guess I’m a different guy,” I say, tapping away at my laptop. Even I know that. “I’m looking at puppy farms, for Christ’s sake.”

“You guys are really going to do that?” he asks.

“Yes, we are,” I reply.

“You’re going to get some flak for not getting a rescue,” he says.

“Well, it’s just like I told my brother. My wife wants a pit. Somebody else can rescue a pit. I’m not having a rescue pit around my children and I don’t care who doesn’t like it,” I inform him.

“You’ll get no argument from me,” he says. “My kid lives here, too.”

“We’ve got appointments to visit a couple of places tomorrow,” I tell him.

“Whereabout?” he asks. I type into my laptop.

“Rochester and Rainier,” I say.

“Geez, you couldn’t get any further?” he complains.

“Actually, I could,” I say. “Butterfly wanted to have puppies shipped in!”

“Shipped?” he asks. I nod.

“There are places around the country that breed the puppies, get their shots and papers and ship them to you when they’re old enough.”

“That doesn’t sound to… legit,” Jason says.

“Some are, some aren’t. I did my homework on the ones that she was eyeing and one of them is definitely out. Total scam, pulling pictures from reputable sites to build their own. That made me dig a little deeper to find local breeders that we could actually visit and see the facilities before we make a purchase. However, Rainier is the closest we’re going to get.”

“Road trip… who’s driving?” I look over my glasses at him.

“You are,” I say, “or you can arrange for someone else to do it since you drove all the way to Prisonville today.” He shakes his head.

“No, I’ll do it, but you get to tell Chuck that we have a Sunday road trip,” he adds.

“Jesus, you act like we’re leaving town. The furthest distance is 80 miles away. We’ll be back before dinner.”

“I’m just saying, you get to tell Chuck,” he says, rising to his feet. “I’m going to go check on Baby Boo.” He leaves my study and I text the information about the breeders and our appointment times to Butterfly. What’s the big fucking deal?

*-*

I soon find out that the big deal was that Chuck had plans on spending his Sunday with Keri, knowing that Butterfly had no plans, and my last-minute appointments quickly put the kibosh on that. We’re traveling down the I-5 south towards Rochester and he’s as sour-faced as I have ever seen him and silent as a rock. Butterfly spent the first half-hour journaling and has now fallen asleep with her legs curled underneath her. I, of course, am on my laptop examining possible mergers on the fire and reading emails. Jason begs to put some music on to cut through the silence and opts for Rachmaninoff’s angry concerto, perfect for Chuck’s mood.

Ironically, I found the two local breeders on Facebook. I had to do some digging after seeing how many backyard breeders and puppy mills there are out there, and I didn’t want anything to do with those places. With Alex’s help, I even discovered that one of the places that looked quite reputable was actually a huge scam—dogs kept in bad conditions and not correctly pedigreed, and a basic Google reverse search showed that they pictures they used were actually copied from other sites.

That’s how I found the Facebook sites.

I had to create a dummy email and a fake Facebook ID to get to the Facebook pages. These two local Facebook pages led to websites that checked out okay and offered appointments to tour the facilities, see the conditions, and meet the puppies and parent dogs. The pups you meet may already be promised to someone else as puppies aren’t given sent to their permanent homes until they are 9 to 11 weeks old. So, they try to get the puppies adopted out as soon as possible. The litter is often already promised when the mother is still pregnant.

I didn’t want them to know who I was before I got there, so I gave them a fake name and had Jason secure nondisclosure agreements before we made the trip. They will have to sign them before we do any type of business.

Fifteen minutes outside of Rainier, I wake my wife so that she can “put her face on” if need be. She really doesn’t need makeup. She’s absolutely gorgeous without it. Nonetheless, she smooths her hair a bit, checks her face, and adds some lip gloss. We’re both casual in jeans and sneakers, and she has opted for the Raybans instead of the Jackie-O’s today, her hair pulled back in a large clip.

We arrive at our first appointment and we’re not that impressed. It’s a pretty large operation, but it looks more like a puppy mill. There are rows of cages stacked three and four high with several dogs inside them. The dogs don’t look abused or mistreated. In fact, they look pretty healthy and well kept. I just don’t have the best feeling about this place. I tell them that we have another appointment, but we’ll keep them in mind. After all, the dogs do look healthy, but the place looks like an assembly line.

We drive on to Rochester, and Butterfly’s a bit disheartened as she leaves Rainier. She comments about wanting to take one of the puppies just to get them out of there. I tell her that’s the very reason we don’t want the puppy, because if it hasn’t been bred well, there’s no telling what we’re going to get.

We arrive at the breeder in Rochester about half an hour later. We pull up to what looks like a farm with several animals. There are some chickens and pigs and a goat or two from what we can see. When we get to the house, there’s an older couple standing on the porch. They look fit and well-preserved, but quite rustic. They meet us in the walk after we exit the car. The woman greets us first.

“I’m Agatha,” she says with a big smile, proffering her hand to me. “You must be Trevor.” I shake her hand.

“Yes, ma’am, nice to meet you, Agatha,” I respond. “This is my wife, Roseanne.”

Butterfly looks at me like I just hit her. I failed to tell her about the whole assumed names thing.

“Call me Aggie,” she says, then extends her hand to Butterfly. “Roseanne.”

“Call me Ana,” she says, shooting a look over at me as she shakes Aggie’s hand. “It’s very nice to meet you, Aggie.”

“This old coot is my husband, Lee.” Aggie gestures to her husband who shakes Butterfly’s hand first since she’s closest, and then mine.

“Welcome to our little neck o’ the woods, ma’am, sir…” As he takes my hand, he pauses and examines me. “Do I know you?” he asks.

“I’m not sure,” I say. I know their full names even though they only gave me first names. “Do you ever get to Seattle?” He shakes his head.

“No, can’t say I do. Most of the dogs we deliver are out this way or headed towards Spokane you know, farmland where they can run. Some in Idaho, a few in Montana, Oregon… We don’t get many orders from the city. Most of those folks want toy breeds or something else. They’re scared o’ pits, but that’s all we do—bullies and nothing else. They’re wonderful dogs…”

Lee goes off on what great dogs pit bulls and bulldogs are for a moment, and I can see that he’s passionate about his pups.

“You with the government or something?” he prods. “I swear I know you from somewhere.” I laugh.

“No, just a businessman from Seattle,” I say, glad that he can’t quite place me behind my Raybans.

“Let’s go on out to the kennels,” Aggie says.

We follow Aggie and Lee to the back of the house and the first thing we see is what looks like a pasture. There are about five adult dogs running around with horses.

“I take it you don’t just breed dogs,” I ask.

“Oh, no,” Aggie says. “We’re a fully operational farm. We’re just one of the smaller ones. We supplement our income with the breeding.” She lets us into the pasture and the dogs are all jumping on her looking for affection.

“At any given time, I have 10 bitches and four studs on the farm, sometimes five. All of my breeding dogs have come from the same line.” She pets the dogs as we cross the pasture and head to one of four large outbuildings. Inside looks like a dog hotel. There’s a section where the dogs sleep, where they play, where they’re fed, and what looks like a clinic.

There are cages in the boarding area, but they’re extremely large—like 5×5—and they look more like fancy dog houses with picket-fence-type walls. The floor of each cage is insulated with what looks like turf and there are dog beds and toys inside. The play area is full of pups, about 10, and they’re running around playing with each other and nipping at one another’s ears. My wife turns into a cooing fool when she sees them.

“These are all that remains from two litters about six weeks ago,” Lee says. “We lost two, they don’t always make it, but these are all promised to a new home. We keep ‘em until they’re at least nine weeks old, usually 11. Get the ones spayed or neutered that ain’t gonna breed, get all their shots and health certificates. We keep the vet here pretty busy,” he laughs.

“I bet,” I comment.

“These are all blue nose and moo moos. We’re expectin’ a couple of litters in a month or so—red nose, gottis, and brindles.”

“Are they already adopted, too?” Butterfly asks.

“We’ve got a couple of folks interested, but we have to see how many pups we get.” Lee leads us into the boarding area and down towards the end where the pregnant bitches are. He shows us the moms of the red nose, gottis, and brindles. There’s a fourth dog who appears to be quite miserable, though she’s in a very comfortable kennel. She’s panting and she looks up at us with sad eyes.

“What’s happening with this one?” I ask, pointing to the anguished dog.

“That’s Charmaine,” Aggie says, squatting down to the dog and gently stroking her head. “She’s a blue fawn and this is her first litter. She’ll only have about five pups max, maybe two or three.”

“Are her dogs for sale?” Butterfly asks. Aggie shakes her head.

“We always keep the first litter,” she says. “They become breeders in a couple of years. Charlie here is ready to pop. Hey girl,” she says stroking her head once. Charlie’s tail wags once and she licks Aggie’s hand. “Ronnie!”

“Yes, ma’am!” What looks like a skinny young boy comes running from around the wall from the play area.

“How’s Charlie lookin’?” she asks.

“I’d say tonight. Tomorrow morning at the latest,” he says. “Indigo and Jessup won’t be too far behind.”

“Keep an eye on Charlie,” she says. “She looks like she’s having a harder time than usual.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Ronnie says, and he’s back off to whatever he was doing.

“There are a lot of dogs pregnant at the same time,” Butterfly says. “How does this work?”

“Females can do three litters a year,” she says, “but we don’t breed them that often. I prefer to do one, maybe two depending on the dog’s health. I really like to let them rest for about a year before they breed again, but sometimes the dogs have other plans,” she laughs. “That’s why I keep so many bitches around, because the males can breed repeatedly for their entire life span.”

“Really?” Butterfly says. “How many litters do you hope to get out of each dog in a lifetime?”

“Three or four, but no more,” Lee says. “We spay ‘em shortly after that. We feel like they’ve done their duty.” He laughs. “The studs can go indefinitely, so they may get studded to private owners who want puppies.”

“Do you stud them out to other breeders?” I ask. Lee shrugs.

“Once in a while,” he says, “only if I like how the dogs are being kept.” He moves further into the kennel. “As for the adults, we keep some of ‘em. Some of ‘em, we sell. Not everybody wants a puppy.” He winks at me.

“How many have you kept?” Butterfly prods.

“Hmm,” Aggie ponders the thought. “We’ve been breedin’ about 30 years. I got about four spayed girls runnin’ ‘round right now. I got 11… no, 12 girls laid to rest in the Road to Rainbow Bridge in the back. I’ve given away a couple to good homes. Sold a lot. I’ve got nine breedin’ right now. The boys we keep until the end because they can just keep breeding. I’ve laid maybe… six to rest; I got three as farm dogs, five as breeders, and one old boy that just don’t leave the house.”

“The other sheds there are for farmin’,” Aggie says as we leave the kennel. “Stables in there, food and supplies and such in the other two. Not real interesting, but you can go see ‘em if you want, make sure we’re not harmin’ any animals.” I look over at the outbuilding that she identified as a stable and I see another woman—probably our age—brushing a horse just outside the open door.

“Your operation is very thorough,” I say. “You get a lot of flak for what you do?”

“PETA, ASPCA,” Aggie says, “they tend to lump all breeders into one category, especially the ones that breed in bulk. You see my operation. I have a manageable number of dogs and pups at any given time, and if the dogs don’t find homes, they stay here with us. It’s a lucrative business, yes, but not that lucrative if it gets out that you’re mistreating the animals or that your product is substandard—mutts, diseased dogs, and the like.

“The humane society has come more than once to buy up my pups for fear that they’re being mistreated, and I grill ‘em—what are you going to do with ‘em; do you have homes for ‘em already; what happens if they don’t get adopted? They still come around once in a while, but not as often, because I refuse to sell them my dogs unless they tell me definitively where my dogs are going. I don’t mind ‘em using my services for placement—you know someone that wants a bully pup and you come to me to find one, but you’re not going to come in here and just buy a slew a pups and I don’t know what’s going to happen to ‘em.”

Aggie becomes a bit passionate when she discusses the possibility of her puppies having uncertain futures. I think I’ve heard enough. I look over at Butterfly.

“What do you think?” I ask. She looks up at me and nods.

“Well, Aggie, Lee, let’s talk puppies,” I say.

“I thought that’s what we were doin’,” Lee laughs and leads us to the house.

It’s what you would expect from a large farmhouse—lots of natural wood, décor that’s the right mixture of modern, country, and rustic. We go into the country kitchen—white and wood—with a large island in the middle with a marble countertop and wood and wicker stools around it. This is where they do business—not the dining room, not an office, right here on the kitchen island.

8223165cb6f3856045eca17e94195bbf

There’s a laptop in the middle of the island and Aggie positions herself in front of it, gesturing for me and Butterfly to take the stools across from her. As we take our seats, a pudgy—for lack of a better word—pit bull comes meandering into the kitchen and literally flops down at Lee’s feet.

“And who is this?” Butterfly asks.

“This here ‘s Nails,” Lee says, bending down to give the dog a healthy scratch on the head. “Nails has been with us now goin’ on 18 years. He’s outlived all his brothers and sisters, and the old boy just keeps holdin’ on.”

“What’s the usual lifespan?” I ask, curious.

“Eight to 15 years depending on their health and livin’ conditions,” he replies. “Nails is a real old timer, so we just let him live out his golden years here in the house. He’s studded many a litter, so he’s done his duty. Time for ‘im to relax now.” I nod and take off my glasses.

“Is that the normal size for them as well?” I ask.

“No,” he says. “Grey lines can get to be 60 pounds. They average 35-45 like most bully breeds. Nails here is about 80—big for his frame.”

“Are there any larger breeds?” Butterfly asks.

“Gottis,” Lee says. “They can easily get to a hunnerd.”

I look over at Butterfly and she shakes her head. She has the same thought I do—a hundred-pound dog… I don’t think so.

Aggie looks up from her laptop and immediately does a double take at me once I’ve removed my glasses. Then she looks at Butterfly and back at me. Then, she gasps.

We’ve been made.

“You’re…” she pauses. “You’re Christian Grey!” she says in realization. Lee looks at me, then at Butterfly, just like Aggie did, then back at me.

“I knew that face was familiar!” he says. “I just couldn’t place it!”

“Yes, sir,” I reply. “I apologize for deceiving you, but I hope you understand why. Our privacy is very important to us.”

“Oh, no, I get it,” Lee says. “It’s gettin’ to where folks can’t go to the store without gettin’ mobbed these days. I can’t even imagine what you too have ta go through.” He looks over at my wife. “May I say you’re just as pretty in person as ya are on the pictures.” My wife blushes.

“Thank you, sir,” she says bashfully.

“She kinda looks like Millie, dudn’t she, Aggie?” Aggie examines my wife.

“Yeah,” she says, “a bit around the eyes.” Butterfly looks at her curiously. “Millie’s our niece, my sister’s girl. She’s off in college back east right now. I hope we didn’t make you uncomfortable.”

“Oh, no, not at all,” Butterfly says.

“Well, if you’d like, we can talk about gettin’ you folks a dog,” Lee says.

“If you don’t mind…” I gesture to Jason and he reaches into his jacket. “I require a nondisclosure agreement to do business.”

“Oh, yeah, the ‘keep your mouth shut’ paper. No problem,” Lee says, reaching into his own jacket pocket and pulling out a pen. I raise my brow.

“You’re familiar with them,” I say, a statement, not a question.

“We use ‘em,” Aggie says. “There are more puppy mills around than you think—horrible places, just horrible. Unsanitary, the bitches and studs are sickly, no tellin’ what kinds of illnesses those pups are carrying once they’re born. My advertisin’ is mostly word of mouth. Those folks on the Facebook page are all satisfied customers. We don’t want the press pokin’ ‘round here trying ta find a story, and believe me, knowin’ that you got a dog from here would probably bring us more attention than we’d like, so where do we sign?”

“Just so we’re clear, by you signing, this means that none of your staff will disclose you’re doing business with us?” I ask.

“Not if they want to keep their job,” Lee confirms. “Like I said, we use ‘em, too. If you want, you can leave six more of ‘em, and I’ll have ‘em signed and faxed back to you by Monday afternoon.”

This is easier than I thought.

“That sounds good to me, Lee,” I respond. Lee and Aggie each sign and NDA and Jason gives them six more, tucking their signed copies back into his jacket.

“Okay, so let’s get down to business…”

We talk about how soon the newest litters are expected, how long they stay with the mother and littermates before they can be sold, and just how formal the whole process is. There are birth announcements once the puppies are born, and you get pictures of the new litter and more pictures every couple of weeks. You pick the sex of your pup and they try to match it when the pups are born.

Once they reach eight weeks old, you get to see which puppy will be yours. From there, you make arrangements for delivery or to pick the pup up when they’re 10 to 11 weeks old. By the time you pick them up, they’ve been dewormed, microchipped, spayed or neutered if that’s what you want, and they had their first round of vaccinations. They come complete with the generational pedigree, registration with the American Kennel Club, a health guarantee and lots of doggie goodies to get them started.

Aggie and Lee make themselves available after you get your pup in case you have any problems or questions, and even have references for trainers in your area. I’m feeling a lot more solid about this place than I did about the place in Rainier. That other place seemed a whole lot more like, “When do you want your dog? Where do we ship ‘em? Will that be cash, check, or charge?”

Now comes the hard part—picking a breed.

“Well, we know the gotti’s out, so it’s between the red nose and the brindle, and I can’t choose because they’re both so beautiful,” Butterfly points out.

“I have to tell you, Ana, that each dog is different,” Aggie warns. “There’s no guarantee that they’re going to come out looking like their moms.”

“That’s not necessarily true, Peach,” Lee interjects before turning to us. “The brindles can come out to be just about any color, but the red noses near about guaranteed to come out that golden brown,” he corrects her. Aggie nods.

“He’s right… have you ever seen a calico kitty?” Aggie asks.

“Once or twice,” Butterfly replies. I’ve never seen one.

“You ever seen two together?” she asks.

“I don’t think I have,” my wife responds.

“Google ‘em,” she says. “Even online, I can guarantee you won’t find any two exactly alike. It’s the same with the brindles. They kinda like the calico of the pit bull.”

“Can we get one of each?” Butterfly asks. Immediately, everyone in the room glares at her, including Chuck and Jason. She jerks under our stare.

“Sorry,” she says, more chastised than she should be and shrinking a bit. “It was just a suggestion.”

“Don’t misunderstand, Ana,” Aggie says, “you can have as many pups as you want. It’s just that two new pups are a big responsibility.”

“Yeah, sure, okay,” she says, and she’s quickly shutting down. “I only raised two live human beings for more than a year,” she mumbles, and I think I’m the only one who heard her.

“So, um, we’ll need complete contact information—emails included—and a deposit of $250 per dog…” Aggie just gets right down to brass tacks without missing a beat. She doesn’t even reference the conversation that we just had regarding how many pups Butterfly wanted. She just gets right down to business without finding out how many pups we’re going to get. I complete all the paperwork as Butterfly appears to have no interest in the transaction at all.

What the fuck? She’s the one who said she wanted the pit puppies!

“So, which do you want?” I ask when I get to the section about breeds, gauging to see if she’s still interested in two puppies or if she’s just going to pick one.

“You pick,” she says, noncommittal… and now, she’s pouting. Very mature, Anastasia.

I’m certain there’s going to be a volcanic eruption down the line if I don’t reserve two puppies, so I silently do that without letting her know. I mark that I’m looking for one of the brindles and one of the red noses, a boy and a girl—sex of the breed to be determined by the litters—and I hand her my Amex.

I’m not bowing down to Butterfly. I truly believe that if she wants two puppies, she should have two puppies. Besides, she’s right about one thing. We have managed to keep two tiny humans alive for more than a year. I’m sure we can manage two dogs. We will, however, have a discussion about this childish behavior.

Once the transaction is complete and I’ve secured our two dogs, we thank Aggie and Lee, get in the car and head back to Mercer. Anastasia is silently staring out the window, still behaving petulantly, and I’ve had just about enough.

“Okay, Anastasia, what exactly is the problem?” I ask.

“I raised two children. Why the hell would any of you think I can’t raise two dogs?” she blurts out. “And I don’t plan on leaving the dogs with anybody for months at a time, but I’m certain that I won’t be the only one caring for them… or will I? Did I miss something?” Whoa, back up, Grey. Those guns are loaded.

“No, baby, you didn’t miss anything,” I say, trying to soothe her, “It’s just that it’s like Aggie said, two dogs are a big responsibility, and this is the first time we’ve had pets.”

“Just like we had no children… before our twins, that is,” she retorts, “and I don’t have to breastfeed the dogs!”

Oh, dear God, I didn’t need that visual!

“I was shocked,” I defend. “There was no indication before now that you were even interested in getting two dogs. I’m not allowed to have a reaction to that being sprung on me right when we’re about to sign the papers?”

“You all glared at me like I cursed in church, like I had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. It was humiliating!” she counters emphatically.

So, she’s not really upset about thinking she’s not going to be able to have two dogs. She’s more upset about being made to look like a fool in front of everyone.

“You’re overreacting, Anastasia,” I begin. “No one glared at you that way. We were just caught off guard by your request.”

“Yeah, okay, sure. I imagined the whole thing,” she says, taking out her phone and swiping the screen.

“I didn’t say that,” I reply. “I wasn’t prepared for you to ask for two dogs.”

“Yeah, um-hmm,” she says, typing into her phone without making eye-contact with me. And there she goes. She’s shutting down again and it’s really starting to piss me off.

“You really need to stop this,” I retort. “You’re behaving like a child.” I hear Chuck in the front react like someone gave him a swift gut punch. Anastasia, on the other hand, narrows her eyes at me.

Uh-oh…

“A word of advice, Mr. Grey,” she seethes. Oh, geez, now I’m Mr. Grey. “When you treat someone like a tweener, don’t be surprised when they behave like one!”

She stares at me for a while, then turns her attention back to her phone… and that’s the last bit of conversation that we have for the entire ride.

*-*

“Anah!”

Keri’s voice catches us just as we’re stepping out of the mudroom. We turn around to look at her and she has what looks like an invitation in her hand.

“Ah hav sumtim foh yoh,” she says with a smile and hands Butterfly the invitation. “Ahn foh yoh,” she adds, turning to me and handing me an invitation as well before skirting off happily in the direction she just came from. I sigh inwardly and unfold the invitation.

Sophia Taylor cordially invites you to her
Freshman Dinner
You are among the distinguished guests
To enjoy culinary delights at
Sophie’s first four-course meal
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Cocktails 6:00pm – 6:30pm
Jason and Gail’s Apartment
Grey Crossing
Mercer Island, WA
Formal Attire

I look over at Butterfly suspiciously and she returns the gaze, twisting her lips and looking back down at the invitation.

“Freshman Dinner,” I say, “that’s cute.”

“It’s her first dinner. Get it… freshman?”

“Yeah, I get it.”

I look at the invitation again. A 13-year-old is going to cooking her first dinner, and we’re going to be her guinea pigs. I’m trying to find some enthusiasm here. I scratch my neck and look over at my wife again. Are we headed to the gallows?

The look on her face says that she’s thinking the same thing that I’m thinking. She listed the things that she could cook in Las Vegas, but if this is a freshman dinner, I doubt that any of those things are going to be on the menu. I scratch the back of my neck in contemplation. Whatever it is, it won’t kill us. My wife looks over at me, and we appear to have come to the same conclusion at the same time.

We’re being ridiculous.

We both chuckle slightly and look at the invitations again, printed on heavy invitation card stock.

“What do you think?” I ask.

“I watched this girl taste a pasta dish at an Italian restaurant, ask if the pasta was imported or domestic, and tell us what kind of cheese they used. I think she’ll do fine… more than fine, in fact.”

“Look,” I say with a sigh, putting my hands gently on her hips, “let’s not do this. I’m sorry that you felt embarrassed or humiliated. That certainly was not my intention, and I’d venture to say that wasn’t the intention of anyone present. We were just surprised, all of us. We both know—all know that you’re completely capable of caring for two dogs, and everything you said was totally correct. You’ve kept two tiny humans alive—you’re not going to have the slightest problem with dogs, and we have quite a bit of help here when we need it. If you want two pups, you should have two pups. That’s why I put a $500 deposit down for a red nose and a brindle.”

Her eyes light up like the light from a full moon, and she throws her arms around me.

“I was being sensitive,” she says, still embracing me. “It was… shocking having everyone glare at me simultaneously that way, but I should have handled it better.”

“I totally understand why you felt that way,” I reinforce. She pulls back from me.

“Wait a minute,” she says, looking at me with her hands still on my shoulders. “You didn’t cave in because I was behaving like a brat, did you?” she asks. To be honest…

“Partially, yes,” I admit, “but mostly, no. It’s like I said, I didn’t appreciate the childish behavior at all. That’s why I didn’t tell you at first that I ordered two pups. I know that would have put the fire out immediately, but I had no intention of cosigning your behavior.”

“I get that,” she says, expectantly.

“However, also like I said, you can have two pups if you want them. I decided that immediately. We have more than enough room for them to run and play, though there’s going to be quite a bit of Scotchgarding in our future…”

She bursts out laughing.

“The partial yes part is because I knew once the puppy got here that you would revisit in your head the fact that you said you wanted two puppies, and a new addition to our family would be overshadowed by a disagreement or whatever you want to call it when we ordered the puppy. I didn’t want that.”

“You’re a wonderful man,” she says. “Sometimes I wonder how you put up with me.” I look at my watch. Plenty of time. I scoop her up in my arms.

“You can make it up to me by showing me just how wonderful I am,” I say as I carry her bridal style to our bedroom.


ANASTASIA

I had no intention of wearing an evening gown to dinner, but the invitation did say formal. I pick a comfortable creation from the Ruby collection—a black cotton Fit and Flare halter dress with a champagne lace illusion bodice that has a sweetheart neckline. It’s a simple dress—no fancy material or anything, but I’m jazzing it up with shoes and jewelry. My necklace is a cute black and pearl costume piece with crystals on a silver-toned chain. My earrings are Cristina Sabatini dripstone pearls with intricately woven black rhodium plating accented with cubic zirconia stones and smaller pearls—also costume.

My three, layered bracelets, however, are Chanel. Although they have some pieces that I think are gaudy and unattractive, Chanel is still my favorite designer for jewelry. Cartier is a close second, however. My three completely non-related bracelets, except by brand, are the black pearl embellished logo cuff, the rhodium tone black and white bracelet with faux pearls, and the Coco Crush white gold diamond bracelet.

And, of course, we can’t forget the black Louboutin stilettos.

As for my husband, he would make a paper bag look good, but he has opted for a black suit and turtleneck.

“So, my dear,” he says as I exit my dressing room, “are you ready for a culinary masterpiece.”

“I am,” I chuckle. “She actually did very well at our class at Sur La Table. Maybe she’s making the brick chicken. I’m actually looking forward to this.”

“Well, let’s go see what’s in store for us.” He puts his hand in the small of my back and leads me out of the bedroom. Before we pass the staircase, we spot Marilyn coming towards us.

Holy cow, Batman.

Marilyn finally decided to take us up on going to Miana’s and having a spa day, which is the equivalent of “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” in my book. Anyway, she’s in full make-up and a really cute new dress, and what once was a full head of brown and blonde hair is now an extremely short pixie cut. I didn’t even know who she was for a minute.

“Marilyn!” I say trying to hide my shock.

“Hey, she says shyly.”

“Hi,” I respond, still somewhat in awe. “You cut your hair.” Cut may not be the right word. She went from having a full head of hair—stringy though it may have been—to nearly nothing at all.

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“Yeah, I know. We tried to save it,” she says shyly. “It was dead and unrevivable—dry, split ends… I’m lucky they didn’t shave me bald and start all over.”

Dear God, no! That was shocking enough with Harmony! What is it with women and cutting their hair after a tragedy? Harmony went GI Jane, Marilyn pulled a 1960’s Mia Farrow, and even I wacked off a foot of my hair after “Escape to Madrid.” Granted, I had a few feet to work with but still. It’s shocking, but…

“It’s cute,” I say.

“You really think so?” she says, gently stroking her nape. I nod.

“Yeah,” I say honestly. “It’s fun and flirty, and it’ll be a whole lot easier to manage than this!” I say dramatically pointing at my hair. She chuckles.

“Gary hasn’t seen it yet,” she says. “I don’t know how he’s going to react when he does.”

“Do you like it?” I ask. She smiles softly.

“I do,” she replies. “I won’t keep it short like this forever, but for right now… it’s perfect.”

“Whoa!”

Moment of truth.

Gary walks down the hall staring at Marilyn’s hair. She’s so nervous that I hear her swallow.

“You look… great!” he says, after a pause. Marilyn almost looks like she’s going to collapse from relief.

“You like it?” she asks, begging for approval.

“It looks really good… like I can play in it,” he says a bit seductively. Marilyn blushes. Gary looks down at her dress and frowns a bit.

“Have you eaten yet?” he asks, no doubt examining her small frame, which is draped in a pretty dress, but still way too small. She raises disappointed eyes to him. Nice going, Gary.

“You wanna go out?” he asks, his voice sounding like he’s asking his teenage crush on their first date. Marilyn’s eyes sparkle and she’s beaming again.

“Yeah,” she says, her smile wide. He holds his arm out and she takes his elbow. They’ve completely forgotten that we were standing there as the descend the stairs to embark upon their “date.” I look over at Christian, and he holds his arm out to me.

“Shall we?” he asks. I smile and take his arm, and we head towards the elevator.

*-*

“Welcome to our humble abode,” Jason says as he opens the door to let us in.

“Cut the crap,” I say. “I haven’t decided if I’ve forgiven you for this afternoon.”

“Forgiven you?” Gail asks, looking from me to Jason. “For what?”

“Butterfly…” Christian cautions. I roll my eyes.

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“Forget it,” I say. “It’s not worth repeating.” I stick my tongue out at Jason as I pass him and he does the perfect “Spock” eyebrow at me.

“Whatever,” Gail says leading me to the table. It’s beautifully set for four complete with linens, flatware and stemware… and two bottles of wine, one of them open.

“Started cocktail hour without us?” Christian asks.

“This one was open when I got here,” Jason says. “This one my daughter asked me to pick. She specifically asked for a pinot noir… whose kid is this?”

“I opened that one and poured a portion for her to cook with,” Gail says, gesturing to the open bottle of wine. Jason’s eyes widen.

“You didn’t tell me that,” he says.

“Trust the cook, dear,” she says, rubbing his arms. “She even asked me if anyone had any food allergies.” He raises his brow.

“I guess I should trust the cook, then,” he says, his voice a bit lamenting.

“By the way, Jason. You bought your daughter a serving cart today,” Gail adds. Jason raises his brow.

“Do I want to know what it cost me?” he asks. Gail scoffs.

“What happened to Mr. Spare-No-Expense Taylor?” she teases. “Don’t worry, it was reasonable… and necessary. You told me to get her whatever she wanted.”

“You’re right. I don’t even know why I asked that question,” he says, kissing Gail on the cheek.

We can see into the kitchen and Keri is there with Sophie, but she’s not doing anything. She’s just standing there and every so often, Sophie gives her a direction or instruction and she complies.

“Bonsoir, mesdames et messieurs,” Sophie says coming out of the kitchen. Okay, I’m impressed. “I am your chef, Sophia Taylor, and I thank you for accepting the invitation to my freshman dinner. Sit down, relax, have some hors d’oeuvres, and the first course will be served in about twenty minutes.”

She bows and heads back off to the kitchen. The four of us look at each other like, “Who just left the room?” Little Sophie was wearing the full chef’s outfit—double breasted white jacket, checkered pants and the slotted hat. From the stains on her jacket, I put together that we’re having something with a rich sauce, and I can smell food cooking although I have no idea what it is.

“Well, I guess we should be seated and have some wine,” Christian says.

“Yes and no,” Jason says. “You can have wine if you drink from the open bottle. The unopened bottle is to be served with dinner. Or Chef says we can always get a drink from the bar.”

“Oh, excuse me,” Christian says, mocking a snooty voice. “I’ll just wait for dinner then. What’s this?” Christian retrieves something from one of the place settings and begins to read it.

“Oh, this is clever,” he says. To satisfy my curiosity, I go over to the table. There’s a 5×7 card at each table setting and I retrieve one.

It’s our menu.

“Very good!” I say as I review what’s in store for the evening:

 

Truffes au chocolat maison

Crostini—Brie et Figue, Boursin et Steak, Rillette, Servi avec salami dur et olives tricolores

Gratinee de soupe à l’oignon Français garnie de pain Français grillé et de fromage gruyère.

Coq Au Vin, pommes de terre à l’ail, petite laitue gemme avec vinaigrette à la moutarde

Tarte aux pommes Tatin avec de la crème fraîche et café

 

“Can you tell me what I’m eating here?” Jason says, and I laugh.

“Your daughter wants us to have a French experience tonight,” I say with mirth.

“Oh, I gathered as much,” he says. “I recognize French when I see it. I just can’t read it.”

“Hav a set, evyone,” Keri says. “Yoh stahtahs ah hehr.”

Christian pulls my seat out for me and Jason does for Gail.

“Well, I’m going to have wine with my hors d’oeuvres,” I say as I reach for the wine. Christian beats me to it and pours a glass for me.

“Mrs. Taylor?” he says, gesturing towards her with the bottle.

“Yes, thank you,” she says, and he fills her glass.

“The chef wud lek foh me to tell yoh tat evyting is homemed,” Keri says as she places a large cutting board on the table and leaves.

“Here are your starters, Jason,” I tell him. “The first thing on the menu is homemade chocolate truffles. That’s the confection you see there in the glass bowl covered in Swiss chocolate. The second thing you see is crostini. This one is brie and fig. This one is boursin cheese and steak. This one is rillette. It’s like a confit or a patte, for lack of a better word, but this one is pulled pork. And if she did that on her own, it took forever. You already know that’s hard salami and olives.”

Jason nods and goes for the crostini and olives, now that he knows what he’s eating. I go for the truffles.

I’m nearly shocked out of my senses.

“These are homemade?” I ask no one in particular. “She made these?”

“That’s what Keri said,” Christian says. “Are they good?”

“You have to try these!” I tell him like I just struck gold. Everyone takes a truffle and bites into it as I sip my wine.

“Wow,” Christian says, equally surprised. “These are delicious.”

“Yes, they are!” Gail says, finishing her chocolate while Jason reaches for a second.

“Don’t eat ‘em all up, you Neanderthal!” Christian scolds.

“There’s plenty!” Jason retorts, popping the second one in his mouth and reaching for a third. Gail slaps his hand.

“Ow!” he complains.

“You’ve already had two, Jason!” she scolds. “Let everyone else get a second one before you grab a third. Try the crostini.”

“I have tried the crostini and it’s delicious. You guys should try the crostini and let me have some more chocolate.” I quickly load my hors d’oeuvres plate with one of each crostino, some olives and salami and another truffle, because there’s going to be a riot in a minute. Christian does the same while Gail scolds Jason.

“Don’t fill up on chocolates before you get the main course, you toddler,” Gail teases.

“That’s okay,” he says, defiantly. “I’m going to get Baby Boo to make me my own batch of truffles.” He sticks his tongue out at his wife and Christian and I chuckle. We also here Keri and Sophie giggling in the kitchen as they, no doubt, heard the truffle exchange. Compliments to the chef.

A few minutes later, the chocolates and the crostini are all gone. Keri rolls out the serving tray—lovely gold and glass with wood—and serves the next course. It smells like home, a fire in the fireplace, and a warm sweater all rolled into one.

“So, this is the next item on your menu, Jason. It’s French onion soup gratinee topped with toasted French bread and gruyere cheese.”

“Wow,” he says. “This looks just like it does in a restaurant,” he adds, amazement in his voice.

“And it feels like a hug from the inside,” Christian chimes in.

“Tastes like one, too,” Gail says. I stop observing and letting everyone else have the fun and taste my soup. They’re right. It’s delicious. I know that you really can’t go wrong with a French onion soup, but when it’s right, it’s really right.

We refrain from licking our bowls clean when Keri comes to clear away the soup bowls and Sophie brings out the coq au vin.

“Alright, my French translator. I don’t need you to tell me what this is,” Jason says, opening the pinot noir and pouring us each a glass.

“Bon appetit,” Sophie says once she has placed the plates on the table, then leaves the room with her serving cart.

Okay, now here’s the real test. Coq au vin isn’t that hard for someone who already knows how to cook, but it can be a disaster if it’s not done right, especially if someone has a heavy salt hand.

I take a forkful and put it in my mouth. I look at everyone else, trying to gauge their reactions. We all look around at each other, and I’m the first to speak.

“This is really good!” I whisper.

“You didn’t help her?” Jason says to Gail, his voice low. Gail shakes her head in awe.

“I had given her some basic lessons before, but nothing like this!” she says. “She told me that she was making French onion soup and coq au vin, so I open and measured the red wine for her, but that was all, and that reduces when you cook it, so…” She takes another forkful of the chicken and potatoes.

“This is divine!” she exclaims quietly. I look over at Christian and he’s shoving forkfuls of chicken and potatoes in his mouth, nodding the entire time. When he raises his gaze to us, his expression screams, “Can’t talk… eating.”

I’m trying not to gobble down my dinner, but it’s kind of hard when the food is so damn good!

My dinner has settled well on my stomach and I know that we still have dessert. Keri clears the table and brings the dessert plates out to us along with the coffee service. She pours us each a steaming cup of coffee and goes back to the kitchen. Sophie comes out with a beautiful apple Tarte Tatin where the first slice has already been cut. She gives the first slice to her father and tops it with a dollop of crème fraiche before moving around the table to serve the rest of us.

“Oh,” Jason moans before we even get served. “This is so good.”

Sophie beams with pride as she serves the rest of us.

“Leave the tart, dear,” Gail says. “Your father’s almost finish with his first piece and I don’t want to have to hose him down because he wants another one.” Sophie laughs and Jason gives a good healthy “harrumph” behind his tart-filled mouth.

Dessert has been eaten and bellies are full all around the table. We drink our coffee and quietly converse about the upcoming week. Sophie comes shyly out of the kitchen and stands at the table near her father.

“So…” she says tentatively, “how did you like it?”

Each of us looks at someone else for a moment, then we break out in applause.

“Superbe!”
“Très magnifique!”
“That was outstanding!”
“Magnífica!”
“Delicioso!”

We stand to our feet and compliment Sophie’s meal in three different languages. She beams with pride as she shyly takes a small bow for a job well done.


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 20

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

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

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

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

Season 5 Episode 20

CHRISTIAN

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

“How long?” I ask.

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

“What’s going on now?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

Fuck. Carla’s awake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” Allen says ominously.

“Yeah,” I reply.

“Ooo,” Ray remarks just as ominously.

“Mm-hmm,” I counter.

“Does Annie know?” he asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Too late.”

We all turn to see Jason coming into the suite.

“What happened?” I ask.

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

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

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

“No?” I ask. Jason shakes his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arid, barren, lonely, dusty…

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Boss?” Jason says. I shake my head.

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

“Will do, sir.”


ANASTASIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sophia,” she responds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s on his phone. Shit.

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

702-233… Summerlin Hospital.

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

What the fuck is going on, Davenport?

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

My mother is awake.

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

She falls silent.

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

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

She sounds angry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you hungry at all?” I prod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then the conversation swings over to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your Highness!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or something like that.

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

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

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

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

“Oh?” Butterfly says.

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is she going with this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can only imagine,” I reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We won’t even discuss the Pedophile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 19

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

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

Season 5 Episode 19

ANASTASIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You don’t think…” He trails off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey,” I say softly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

But not today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Now, you’re teasing,” she says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Different than what?” Justine inquires.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why would you ask that?” she says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m 26,” she says, matter-of-factly.

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

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

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

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

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

“I… I’m sorry!” Justine says, aghast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t have to lift a finger.

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

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

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

“Yes,” I say.

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

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

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

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

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“I have,” Jason says, still laughing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He did,” I say. She shakes her head.

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

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

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

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

“You okay, Baby Boo?” Jason asks.

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

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

“Wheh ah da tweens?” she says.

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

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

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

“What did she say?” Jason inquires.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You did?” he asks. Sophie shrugs.

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

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

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

That would fucking make her nine years old.

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

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

“What have you already cooked?” Butterfly probes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And just like that, crisis averted.

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 18

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

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

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

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

Season 5 Episode 18

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

“Just wine… and a cranberry spritzer.”

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

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

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

“Yes, Chtistian?”

“Are the twins still asleep?” I ask.

“Noh, dey jess weke up,” she replies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A protector even at one year old.

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

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

Uh oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you invite Marilyn to the spa with you yesterday?” I ask discreetly.

“Yes, but she didn’t want to go,” Butterfly replies. Maybe a massage and a treatment will help Marilyn begin to feel like herself again.

“What’s the plan for tomorrow?” I ask, loud enough for the room to hear me.

“Well, I’m not going to see my mother tomorrow because I’ll be spending the entire day with my babies.” She kisses a sleeping Minnie on the forehead. “When I was carrying them in my belly, they gave me strength when I felt like I couldn’t make it. Now, I barely know how to function when I’m away from them. Isn’t that a sad state of affairs?”

“What about you, Marilyn?” I say. “Why don’t you and Keri kick back and take advantage of the free spa packages that come with these rooms?”

“Thank you, Christian,” Marilyn says. “Maybe I will some other time, but Keri, you and Gail can go, and I’ll stay here with Bosslady.” I nod and drop it, allowing Keri and Gail to coo over going to the spa. I really wish Marilyn would go. This situation actually appears to be aging her.

“Ana, I don’t mean to talk business with you, but I haven’t gotten a chance to see you alone all day. Carl sent the figures for the proceeds from Tina’s jewelry auction. It was quite the haul.”

“Really?” Butterfly asks with interest. “Did you see how much?”

“After auctioneer’s fees, 1.7 million,” she replies.

“Whoa! Really?” Butterfly exclaims. “Have you told Grace?”

“Not yet. I just saw the email before dinner,” Marilyn says.

“Do me a favor and forward it to Grace. She’s going to be thrilled. She was just telling me about the grant proposals that she and Courtney are working on.”

“Oh, yeah, speaking of Courtney,” Marilyn says, sitting back in her seat, “I talked to her today, too. Things seem to be going well overall. Her and Vick are doing great. She got her grades and she’s ecstatic…” She trails off.

“There’s a but in there, I hear it,” Butterfly says. I hear it, too. Marilyn sighs.

“She’s a bit depressed… and pissed,” Marilyn continues. “It appears that even though her relationship with Addie is flourishing, her grandfather committed a major faux pas. Just after we came to Nevada for the trial, he offered her $1 million in cash. He wasn’t convinced that she had turned her life around and he wanted her out of Addie’s life to spare Addie the heartbreak of discovering that her granddaughter was still the conniving little brat that she had previously proven to be.

“Courtney. Was. Livid. She told him that if her grandmother did give her something at this point, she would give it to Helping Hands because you guys were the only ones who gave her a chance and believed in her when she really was worthless. She told him that she completely understands how he feels and why he feels that way, but that she’s not going to allow him to torment her anymore, that she didn’t want his money, and that she never wants to see him again.”

Whoa! That’s severe.

“She really shouldn’t cut her grandfather off,” I interject. “He has a lot of contacts—in the business world, in society… He could really be helpful to her in the future.”

“He’s already cut her off, Christian,” Butterfly says. “Courtney’s right. I totally get why Fred feels the way that he does. Courtney was insufferable and incorrigible, but she didn’t come to them asking for forgiveness, to be accepted into the family, or for any money or support from them. In fact, she shunned it. She avoided all contact with them. Addie came to her. Even then, she had the condition that if they felt the same way that they felt when they sent her back to Hukatucky or whatever the name of that place was that she didn’t want to be bothered—she was fine without them.

“I don’t know what Fred is expecting from her, but if he feels that she’s still irredeemable, then he needs to separate himself from her. Stop being around her and stop antagonizing the girl.”

“He’s only doing the same thing I did with Carla, Butterfly,” I say. “I tried to hand her money to get out of your life and leave you alone if she was coming back into your life to cause you grief and she turned it down, too.”

“It’s completely different, Christian,” Butterfly says. “Courtney was a self-centered, irresponsible little brat and that hurt Addie and Fred a lot. My mother watched me be tormented—physically and emotionally—and then she contributed to that torment. Addie and Fred discovered over the course of a few months that Courtney was a seemingly unsalvageable bad apple. I suffered for years at the hands of my mother.

“Courtney turned her life around on her own terms and decided that what she did, she would do it while no one was looking. My mother gave a moving performance about how horrible she and Green Valley were to me, about how she wishes she could take it all back and that the money I gave her is in a trust fund for the children, but she had an audience—a very large one at that. She cut her own deal to give her testimony, and even if she was totally sincere about her change of heart, I am nearly 30 fucking years old. The pain that she put me through is completely immeasurable and its effects spanned decades. One courtroom testimony—though quite stirring—won’t make up for what she put me through.

“Courtney did nothing like that to Addie and Fred, nor has she tried to come back and get in their good graces. They came to her.”

I can’t argue with her. She’s right about all of it. I just can’t help but feel like…

“I wish there was some way that everybody could come out of this not so hurt,” I admit. “We all know that Courtney was a real piece of work, but she appears to have turned her life around. And Adelaide and Fred are old and dear friends of our family. I just wish it could be easier for everybody.”

“You’re sweet,” my wife says softly, “but sometimes, this is just the way it is, baby.”

“Yeah, I know. I just don’t like it.”

*-*

My wife is happily spending the entire day in Romper Room watching various Disney movies and playing with toys like she’s a toddler herself. She awoke this morning, took the fastest shower known to man, donned a pair of yoga pants and a sweatshirt, scoffed down her breakfast way too quickly to digest, and announced that she will be spending the day in the babies suite if I wanted to find her. With her permission, I take a few hours to catch up on all things GEH.

I’ve discovered that with the new system of employee reviews, we’ve had a few resignations—some of the workers in the trenches and a couple of people in middle management, nothing to be concerned about. When asked why they were resigning, many of them gave some form of the same answer—they felt like they shouldn’t have to justify why they deserved their raises.

My company is scraping its ass on the ground like an ailing dog, being dragged down by incompetent assholes, some of whom don’t have the leadership skills of a gerbil, and I’ve got people who feel they shouldn’t have to tell me that they deserve their raises simply because they’ve done everything they were told to do… no initiative, no latent leadership skills, no problem-solving, no nothing, not even speaking up to say, “I had an idea, but my opinion wasn’t respected.”

Well, if that’s how you feel, then goodbye—and good luck on your next STAR behavioral-based interview where you’ll have to explain why you quit your last job with a very lucrative company with endless opportunities for advancement and when and if you proved at any point that you could be a valuable member of the team.

My status report has come in on the Pedophile as well. I look over the pictures that were forwarded to Alex. They’re glorious! She’s sitting in a wheelchair and her skin is hanging off of what you can see of her face. Her blonde hair is once again growing out to its brown and gray roots, and she truly looks like she’s got one foot in the grave. It truly warms my heart.

After an email or twelve to various departments and my executive team, I head down to the Romper Room suite to see my babies… all of them.

*-*

“They’re playing all your songs tonight, Al,” Butterfly laughs.

“Looks that way,” Allen concurs.

James flew down to be with Allen for the weekend and a few of us take a chance again to get out of the hotel. Butterfly found a place online called Oddfellows. It’s north, just on the outside of the Freemont Street Experience near the courthouse. It’s an alternative-type dance club where I would suspect no one would know who we are or at least they wouldn’t expect us to be here. Each night has a theme, and tonight is 80’s night, apparently right up Butterfly’s and Al’s alley.

The order of the day is jeans and casual clothes, so I didn’t have to worry about my girl wearing some skimpy dress that would be the envy of all the women and the desire of all the men. There’s a skimpy dress here and there on the dancefloor—which has a small stage and a huge, wall-sized video screen as its backdrop—but not Butterfly. No, she wants to dance and gyrate, and that silk shirt, black jeans, and Louboutin stilettos are still enough to showcase that beautiful body and cause a few women to sneer and more than a few men to salivate.

My girl has had a Cosmo or two and is bouncing happily in her seat to the music, an eclectic mix of artists from what sounds like the 80’s and maybe a touch of the early 90’s.

“So, how do you distinguish between Allen’s songs and your songs?” I ask. “You’re both singing them all.”

“Well, Al was the quintessential white boy, so he introduced me to Billy Joel, Duran Duran, the B-52’s, A-ha, and Wham, to name a few. I was the reverse Oreo, so to speak, so I introduced him to Motown, Kool and the Gang, Bobby Brown, and Salt-n-Pepa. It appears that they are tapping into the 80’s white boy tonight.”

Just as she finishes that statement, the familiar twang of the beginning of Take On Me fills the air and my girl deliberately begins to wildly bob her head like a hand-banger, after which she leaps to her feet and begins to do that dance where the girls bounce back and forth on their toes from one foot to the other, her hands doing a calmer version of the swim, and all I can think to myself as she and Al pipe out the lyrics is, “Who is this girl?”

She went to the hospital briefly this afternoon and when she returned, I was informed that we were going out tonight. She disappeared into the bedroom for an hour or two and when she emerged, she was wearing the ensemble that she’s wearing now, quickly putting the kibosh on my more formal garb and instructing me to go and change. We’ve had a seafood dinner and my wife and her gay boyfriend are feasting on a dessert of Cosmos and 80’s music.

Once A-Ha has finished singing the last bars of the song and the lead singer bursts out of the cartoon world and into live color on the life-sized screen, Allen and Butterfly return to the table with me and James to quench their parched throats with a swallow or three of their Cosmos. Just as they’re catching their breath and reminiscing over yet another 80’s tune, an unfamiliar intro of horns begins to play. Butterfly looks up at Allen in acknowledgement and Allen raises a brow at her.

“Do you remember it?” Allen asks her.

“Of course, I remember it!” Butterfly replies.

“Well, what’re we waitin’ for?” Allen says, sliding out of the booth. Butterfly giggles as he takes her hand and they head off to the dancefloor. I look at Jason, who just shrugs. A few moments later, we watch as Allen and Butterfly break into a perfectly choreographed routine of what looks like a mixture between a foxtrot and a jive, and with all the spins and perfect steps they’re doing, you can’t really tell who’s leading. I look over at James, who’s as stunned as I am to see them dancing together like that. They actually look like they can compete professionally.

What’s more, I don’t think I’ve seen my wife smile this widely in weeks.

“Do you ever feel left out of their little club?” I ask James honestly. He shakes his head as he swallows his beer.

“No,” he says, “Allie makes sure that doesn’t happen. We have our own little club and everybody can’t be a part of that one.” He raises his brow and takes another drink of his beer. I remember Butterfly mentioning to me once that they dabbled a bit in the lifestyle. I don’t know if they’re still in it or how deeply they’ve gone, and I dare not ask without invitation, but he’s right—no one should be privy to the “marriage” club relationship unless you’re practicing Polyamory, and that’s a huge no-no for me and Butterfly. I don’t want anyone else’s hands—male or female—on my woman!

“I’ve never seen a friendship like theirs,” James continues. “Never. If I wasn’t certain of Allie’s love for me, I’d feel threatened. I’m a little jealous that I never had a friendship like that in my entire life.”

“I think we’re both lucky to have found them,” I tell him. “They’re in love with each other as much as two people can be in love and not share a sexual relationship. For her to have the capacity to love him unconditionally and then love me, too… yeah, I’m the luckiest man alive.”

“I might have to dispute you on that one, Chris,” he says, watching his husband finish a flawless dance with my wife. They were clearly in their own world and appear a bit surprised to discover that the dancers cleared a small hole in the dance floor for them to finish their routines while the spectators looked on, and they’re a bit taken aback when the room erupts into applause for them.

I discover later that the song that gave them dancing feet is called Mambo #5.

My girl returns to her seat and a Cosmo and a bottle of water later, she’s back on the dance floor, perfectly mimicking the steps—and adding a few of her own—to the Salt-n-Pepa, Push It and Janet Jackson Control videos.  

And now I know how my girl learned to dance. She probably spent quite a bit of time mimicking music videos.

I have to admit that concept behind the Tainted Love video, I can’t get with that. It looks too creepy to me. I’m surprised that I’ve never seen it before now. He’s singing to a little girl—he looks like a fucking pedophile. Jason notices my expression and leans over to me.

“You okay, Boss?” he asks.

“This song was popular back in the day, I remember it,” I tell him. “This was the concept behind it the whole time?” He looks at the video, then looks back at me.

“I… I don’t know,” he says. “But you know the eighties, Boss. There was a lot of artistic expression that didn’t necessarily make sense.”

“There’s nothing confusing about that,” I retort. “He’s singing to a child about tainted love. That’s disgusting! Who approved this message?”

“I wouldn’t get too upset about it, Boss,” Jason says. “The song is 35 years old and the guy singing it is probably twice as old…” and probably out molesting children if his video is any indication!

I purse my lips and shake my head. How jaded must my mind be to get this angry over a 35-year-old video whose director obviously adopted a very fucked up sense of creative license?

“You’re not off the mark on this one, Chris,” James says, bringing my attention back to him. “I think it’s weird, too, and that’s putting it nicely. It’s making me pretty fucking uncomfortable. That song was originally done in the 60’s by an artist named Gloria Jones—this is a cover. She made it very clear that it’s about a relationship gone sour and she’s singing to her lover about how she feels their love is one-sided and now putrid. Where the concept falls that he’s singing to a little girl is beyond me.”

“Thank you!” I say, throwing my hand in the air. “I’m not crazy! I still like the song, but that video sucks!” I bottom out my bear and search for the waitress to get another one. While I’m searching the room, my eyes land on Butterfly and her lifetime dance partner now dominating the floor to Paula Abdul’s Straight Up.

I’m mesmerized once again watching her mimic the moves in the music video with Allen as the perfectly in-sync backup dancer. I completely forget what I was bitching about watching her flawlessly execute that Butterfly thing that Paula Abdul does with her legs. She’s graceful and beautiful and if there’s conversation going on around me, I can’t even hear it anymore. I could watch her all day.

Next, another Paula Abdul song comes on accompanied by a video that would disturb me as much as the Tainted Love video… if it wasn’t so cute. It’s the video for Opposites Attract, and Paula’s love interest is—of all things—a cartoon cat. The entire video is a dance video and she and Allen never miss a step. They use whatever room the other dancers give them, whether it’s a few feet or the entire stage area of the dance floor. After watching her execute some of the rubber-band moves of Paula Abdul, many people usually just move out of the way. I’m totally blown away when she and Allen mimic the tap dancing scene near the end of the video.

Fuck, is there anything this woman can’t do?

They stroll back to the table like Paula and ScatCat strolls off the screen at the end of the video, smiling so hard that their faces should break. Amidst the thunderous applause and cheers, they’re cut off by one of the women that was dancing just before they get to the table.

“Are you guys a couple?” she asks. “You look great together!”

“Thank you,” Butterfly says sincerely. “No, we’re not. Actually, we’re both married. He’s my gay boyfriend.” She squeezes his hand and lays her head on his shoulder.

“And she’s my fag hag,” Allen replies, laying his head on hers.

“Wow, really?” the girl says, somewhat wistfully. “You’re kind of hot.” James reaches up and takes his husband’s free hand, guiding him to the seat next to him.

“I think so, too,” James says protectively.

“Wow,” she says, looking at Allen and his husband, “two hot guys. You can’t go anywhere in public, can you?”

James chuckles loudly and Allen laughs as the young lady’s eyes travel around the table and land—widely—on me. Butterfly slides into the booth next to me and latches onto my arm, smiling at the girl.

“Please tell me that’s another one of your gay boyfriends cuz I’ll turn him straight,” she says without taking her eyes off me. Butterfly shakes her head and flashes her rings.

“Nope. Husband,” she says with a smile.

“Shit!” she says. “Sorry,” she says to Butterfly, repentant and with pouty lips, then she rolls her eyes. “Three hot guys.” Her eyes wander to a lone Jason sitting on the opposite side of the table in a chair he commandeered and brought to the table. Before she can question, he holds up his finger and flashes his ring.

“Fuck!” she exclaims. “Four hot pieces of man-candy and they’re all taken! Figures!” She throws her hands up and marches, frustrated, away from the table, causing us to burst out in laughter while Jason just shakes his head.

“I had no idea you guys could tap dance!” I point out once our admirer has left.

“She can’t, I can,” Allen says, proudly.

“Well, she was doing a pretty good job up there,” James says.

“Only because he taught me that routine,” Butterfly says before taking a healthy chug of what must be room-temperature water.

“And she scares the shit outta me doing it in stilettos!” Allen chimes in. “The entire time, I was afraid that she would tweak her damn ankle!”

“But I didn’t, so keep your shirt on,” she says, waving down a waitress.

“My girl can do anything in stilettos,” I say, remembering what she said to me after our first night together. James’ brow furrows.

“Anything?” he asks, puzzled.

“Anything,” Butterfly confirms.

“Can you rock climb?” Jason asks, with a smirk.

“If it’s me or the rock, I’ll figure it out,” she replies.

The waitress has made her way to the table and Butterfly gets another round of drinks, lots of water, and soda for Jason. Once the waitress returns, I hand her a $100 bill and thank her for the drinks.

“I’m hungry again,” Butterfly announces after chugging an entire bottle of water.

“I can see why,” I say. “You’ve done a workout up there that would put Zumba to shame.”

“And I’m sweating like a pig,” she says, pulling the material of her shirt from her body repeatedly, using it to fan herself. “Give me your blazer,” she says.

“Why? Are you cold?” I ask.

“I will be in a minute if you don’t give me your blazer,” she says, and snatches her drenched silk shirt right over her head… in the middle of the damn club. I’m stunned just looking at those beautiful mounds held up by a stylish black sports bra.

“Shit!” Jason says, ripping off his suit jacket to cover Butterfly while she uses her 100% silk shirt to dry her sweat to a background of whooping onlookers.

“Your Highness!” Jason scolds over the music.

“Heeeeey! We agreed!” Butterfly protests.

“Your. Highness!” Jason reinforces, saying the second word so hard that Butterfly jumps in her seat. “Please! Don’t ever do that again!”

She stares at him like a child being scolded by her father. His words are a request. His tone is, “If you pull that shit again, you’re grounded for a month.”

“Okay, okay, sorry,” she says in a whiny, petulant, teenager voice. She buttons the suit jacket which is at least three sizes too big for her, her sports bra still peeking out from the neckline. She rolls the sleeves up to accommodate her hands, never raising her gaze to any of us while she’s doing it. I’m certain that she’s feeling chastised and a bit embarrassed. She had better be glad I was hypnotized by her tits or my reaction may have been a bit more… animated.

“Okay,” I say when she has fiddled with the sleeves a bit too long. “Back to the dancefloor.”

I push her out of the booth and slide out behind her. I’m dragging her to the dancefloor by her hand and she’s somewhat stomping behind me with her head down like I just told her to go to her room.

Geez, Butterfly, spoiled much?

I dance a little with her and she’s not into it at all, doing the obligatory two-step with minimal movements of her arms.

Well, this will never do.

“Okay. Fine. You don’t want to dance with me? I’ll dance by myself.”

I turn away from my wife and begin a series of crazy gyrations reminiscent of the final scene of Footloose. It’s not really bad, except if you take away the weird dresses and prom decorations, you’ve got one guy on the floor looking like he’s having a seizure.

When I turn back to my wife, she’s got one arm crossed over her chest and one hand covering her mouth, stifling a smile that she’s trying not to let show.

“No?” I say, shaking my head. “Okay, how about this?” For my next rendition, ladies and gentlemen…

I begin a really bad… and I do mean really bad rendition of Austin Powers’ fembots dance. Seriously, the dance was already bad on its own, but I made it worse. Now, both my wife’s hands are covering her mouth. And for my finale, folks…

I break into a flawless rendition of Napoleon Dynamite’s “Vote for Pedro” dance to Canned Heat… only I’m dancing to Break My Stride. And, well, flawless may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I must admit that Napoleon Dynamite was one of my guilty pleasures, so I know that routine very well. If it’s not flawless, it’s pretty damn close.

“Okay, okay, you’re making a fool of yourself!” my wife says, halting my exquisite execution through her laughter by putting her arms around my waist.

“Yeah, but I made you laugh, didn’t I?” I say victoriously.

“Heartily,” she says as I pull her against me and kiss her quickly.

“And he’s right,” I say, holding her over Jason’s way too big suit jacket. “What you did was worthy of a punishment. If you ever do it again, you’re going to get one, and you’re not going to like it. Understand?”

My voice is sober, but not harsh. It’s matter-of-fact. If you’re a bad little Pussycat, you’re going to get spanked. She nods and drops her head like a good little soumise.

“Yes, Sir,” she replies softly, and I hear it loud and clear as if she were speaking through a bullhorn. I put my finger under her chin and lift her head.

“Good girl,” I say, kissing her softly again on the lips. “Now, let’s go find something to eat.” I take her by the hand and lead her from the dancefloor.


ANASTASIA

Last night’s workout has turned out to be murder on my joints. I’m exhausted and sore, but not too tired to have breakfast with my children. I’m able to convince Marilyn to have a few pieces of fruit, but I’m certain that we’re going to have to graduate to more real food for her very soon. While Pedialyte, Ensure, and smoothies offer sufficient nutrition for her, she can’t survive off of those things indefinitely.

“Daddy, why do you call me ‘Sunflower?’” I ask when we are the last two people at the table. He raises his brow.

“I’ve… called you that almost since you were born,” he says. “Why do you ask?” I drop my gaze.

“My mother’s favorite flower is a sunflower,” I say. “It took me nearly 30 years to find that out and I found out from a stranger.” Daddy gasps.

“Oh,” he says, sadly. “I forgot all about that. Yeah, that might have been where it came from, come to think of it. I did love that woman once upon a time… very much. It wouldn’t have been too far fetched. I’ll stop if it bothers you…”

“Absolutely not!” I scold. “’Sunflower’ is something special between us that just happens to be her favorite flower.” Daddy nods and drops his head.

“I know why you didn’t tell me everything, but it hurts that you didn’t tell me everything.” I sigh heavily.

“I didn’t have the heart, Daddy,” I reply. “Those details are even hard for me to watch right now, and I remember everything vividly, like it happened yesterday. It was selfish of me not to prepare you guys for what was coming, but what could I do?”

“Nothing, Sunflower,” he says, his eyes filling with tears. “You couldn’t do anything. You couldn’t do anything then and you couldn’t do anything now.” He throws his gaze to the ceiling, trying to fight his tears.

“The only times I’ve ever cried was over you,” he admits. “I was broken when I lost Carla. I was destroyed when I lost you. It was the worst pain I had ever felt when you left me.” I cover my mouth and choke back a sob.

“I know, Daddy,” I say once I’m able to speak. “I felt the same way about you. All those horrible things she made me say to you…”

“I knew it wasn’t you, Annie,” he says. “The words weren’t yours and I could tell right away…” He trails off. “When I showed up at that hospital and you were all frail and weak, dear God, I wanted to burn this city down to find out what had happened to you. I was so angry with Carla. She couldn’t even tell me what was going on! She didn’t have any answers. She blamed you the entire time I talked to her, saying that she had no idea what you had gotten into. Your bruises were mostly healed, but you still looked broken. The pictures that I saw… I had seen men tortured in POW camps that didn’t look that bad.

“All these years, she just walked around like, ‘Shit happens,’” he says, his voice cracking. “Then, she had the nerve to show up at the hospital after you were kidnapped; all that shit she said in the press… Who the hell does she think she is?”

Daddy is getting angry and he’s crying freely now. Daddy’s right—I don’t remember ever seeing him cry. Marines don’t cry, but he’s crying now.

“How could she birth someone into the world and then treat her that way?” he sobs. “I wouldn’t treat a dog the way she treated you. And dear God in heaven, when she called me and told me that you were missing again…!”

Daddy is weeping now. His body is shaking violently with his sobs. I hold his hands tightly as he cries, my own dam bursting along with his. He’s been holding this in for a lot of years. He needs to get it out.

“I did everything I could to keep you,” he sobs. “This never would have happened if she had just let me keep you. I would have protected you… spared you all this agony…”

“I know, Daddy,” I weep. “I know you would.”

“Your capacity for kindness never ceases to amaze me, Annie,” my father says with tears streaming down his cheeks. “I’m not ashamed to say that after hearing her version of what happened, and what she felt, and knowing what you went through, I would have immediately pulled the plug on that woman!” He says the last part through gritted teeth.

“I’m angry and hurt for everything that she did to me,” I admit, “everything that she allowed to happen to me—from ripping me away from you to allowing her monster of a husband to mistreat me to the entire ordeal with Green Valley. I’m hurt and disappointed and enraged down to my very soul… but if I just let her die, then I’m no better than she is.

“At the end of the day, I have to live with my decision. That’s why I’m making sure that she’s getting the best care, but it’s not out of love or devotion. It’s out of human obligation. I’m her next of kin, and I will see her through to the end of her advanced directive or until she awakes, whichever comes first. Then, I’ll put her in a nursing home or the grave, whichever is necessary.”

“That’s still more kindness than she deserves as far as I’m concerned,” Daddy says, wiping his eyes. “I would either be donating her body to science or walking away and leaving her right where she lay! I guess the Man Upstairs has to work on my heart. I don’t think I’ve ever forgiven her for what she put you through.” I squeeze his hands.

“Forgive her, Daddy,” I say, through my sniffles. “I have. I can’t hold onto it anymore. I forgave her years ago when I gave her that money and told her to get out of my life. It still frustrates me that she did the things that she did, and that she was so heartless and cruel, hence my recent meltdown. That’s what happens when I dwell on it. That’s why I don’t dwell on it. You shouldn’t either.” He sighs heavily.

“You’re so wise, Annie, that it scares me sometimes,” he admits.

“Trust me, it can be a very heavy cross to bear,” I lament, wrapping my arms around my Daddy and hugging him with all my might.

Later that afternoon, I stop in at the hospital to collect more cards from more flowers and have some of the older arrangements removed. I told the nurse that she could decide what to do with them since some of them look like they may have been dying. I can still see the disapproval in her eyes when I give her instructions even though she doesn’t say anything to me about how she feels. It’s none of her business anyway. Henry, my mother’s guard today, shows me her visitors’ log.

Fourteen people have been here to see her since I said she could have visitors. What was that, like a couple of days ago?

I push down the anger, envy, and resentment that I feel each time I think about the number of visitors that this selfish adult grandmother has received in just the past few days that a 15-year-old girl wasn’t afforded in several weeks.

“Neti, neti,” I repeat to myself, standing in my mother’s room. “Neti, neti…”

Studying with Marilyn about meditation and restorative yoga, I came upon this simple Sanskrit chant. Neti, neti which simply means not this, not this. It’s used to push away bad omens, bad thoughts, bad situations. I use it to try to cleanse myself of the hateful feelings and energy that consume me when it comes to dealing with this woman. My negative energy can’t be conducive to her healing, and it’s certainly not conducive to mine.

“Neti, neti… neti, neti… neti, neti…”

I recite the damn thing all the way back to the hotel.

*-*

“Aunt Ana!”

Sophie gives me a big hug once she and Gail get to the hotel Saturday evening. She appears to be very happy to be here.

“Sophie!” I say, returning her embrace. “So… Vegas. How many of your friends can say this is where they’re spending their semester break?”

“None,” she giggles. “Most of them are talking about going to some exotic place for spring break, but I’m in Vegas now!” I laugh with her. There’s no use in spreading my hatred for this place. A lot of people like it here; I just don’t.

“I know that Gail and Jason have some things planned, but I’ve got a thing or two planned as well,” I tell her.

“It’s not all kiddie things, is it?” she laments. “I want to do some kiddie things, like I want to go to the Adventure Dome, but I don’t want to do all kiddie things. I want to do some grown-up things, too.”

“Like a Las Vegas food tour?” I ask, “Or dinner at one of the world-renowned chef’s restaurants?”

“Yeah!” she replies, starry-eyed.

“Well, that’s what I’ve got planned,” I tell her, and she hops in place and claps.

“Oh, yay!” she says. “When do we go?”

“The restaurant is tomorrow night, and the food tour is Tuesday. Is there anything else besides Adventure Dome that you want to do while we’re here?”

“I want to go to Sur La Table,” she says. “I’ve been to the one in Pike’s Place and I wasn’t really impressed. I want to see what the one here looks like.” I nod.

“Your wish is my command,” I tell her. “I’ll talk to Gail and Jason and see what they’ve got planned and we’ll fit it in among their plans, okay?” Sophie nods happily.

“Okay,” she says. I type into my phone memos to check out Sur La Table. The moment Google sees the name, it suggests the cooking classes that they have at the store in Summerlin. That would be fantastic! I’m glad my phone is on silent or Google would have blown my entire plan!

“Aunt Ana… I know why you’re here,” she says solemnly. I raise my gaze to her. I don’t really know how to respond. “It’s all over the news at home.”

I swallow hard. How do you explain something like this to a 13-year-old girl?

“I know about your mom, too,” she says, looking at her hands. “I just wanted to get that out.”

“Okay,” I reply.

“I don’t really understand this whole thing,” she says, her brow furrowed. “I really thought the police were supposed to help you.” I sigh heavily.

“Most of the time, they are,” I reply. “This guy… had a brother he wanted to protect more than me.”

“Well, that’s just… crappy,” she says. I know what she really wants to say, and crappy wasn’t it. “Everybody has somebody they want to protect. Does that mean that I have to worry about if the police are going to put somebody else’s well-being before me?”

I shake my head. I can’t tell her that this won’t happen. They very well might put someone else’s well-being before her for many reasons, including but not limited to protecting their own family.

“Let’s hope that’s not the case, Sophie,” I tell her. “I would think that overall, the police would want to do the right thing, which is to protect and serve the public. I feel that even though there may be a few bad apples, overall, the police are good people.”

“I hope you’re right,” she says, “but I still think I want Daddy to teach me how to shoot when I’m old enough.”

“Well, it’s not a bad skill to have,” I concur. She’s quiet for a moment.

“What they did to you,” she says, looking down at her hands, “it was horrible. It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever heard… even more horrible than my mom doing drugs… even more horrible than here trying to sell me to that guy…”

“That was pretty horrible,” I interrupt her with a furrowed brow.

“This was worse,” she said. “Somebody saved me… the police saved me. Nobody saved you… and I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

I’m doing my best not to get choked up. I know what she means, but that’s a huge responsibility for a little girl to take on about something that happened before she was even born.

“There’s nothing for you to be sorry about, baby,” I tell her, taking her hands. “These were horrible people and they did a horrible thing, and now they’re being punished.”

“I’m still sorry,” she says, now looking in my eyes, “I’m sorry that someone came to save me, and no one came to save you.” Oh, dear God.

I know what she’s feeling, and I can’t explain it away. I just take her in my arms and give her a really big hug.

“Thank you, Sophie,” I say, trying to keep my voice from cracking. “I think that’s the nicest thing anybody has ever said to me.”

*-*

Dinner tonight is at the Buffet at Aria, and poor Sophie wants to try everything on the menu. The food is spectacular, the dessert divine, and my honorary niece is eating herself into a stupor. Even my normally picky eater Mackenzie is shoveling different fruits and vegetables into her mouth.

Marilyn didn’t even bother to succumb to the pressure of a buffet, so she’s sitting this one out.

“We’re in Vegas,” Christian says to Chuck while Keri and Gail are off at the food stations. “Have you asked her?”

“Of course, I have,” Chuck replies. “I didn’t expect her to be here, so I left the ring at home, but I was prepared to buy another one if she had said, ‘yes.’”

“So, I take it that it was a ‘no,’” Christian replies. Chuck sighs.

“She’s afraid of something, but I don’t know what it is,” Chuck replies. “I adore her, and I’m certain that she loves me. I just don’t know why she won’t marry me.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want to be beholden to you,” I say. “I love Christian very much, but I wouldn’t want that either.”

“Well, first of all, I wouldn’t do that to her,” Chuck says, slightly affronted. “And second of all, she wouldn’t be. She’s here on her own visa and her job is with you, just like mine is. Granted, she got it because of her affiliation to me, but let’s face it. As much as I love her, if she was shit, you guys wouldn’t let her tend to your children. And now, she’s got her teaching certification, so she really doesn’t need me that way. I don’t think that’s it.”

I think it is. I think she doesn’t want to lose her independence and that she’s afraid that if she marries an American and she’s Anguillan, that’s just what might happen.

“I see those wheels spinning,” Chuck accuses. “You know something I don’t.”

“You’re right,” I confess. “I know how it feels as a woman making my own way and not wanting to lose that feeling. As much as I’ve become accustomed to the lifestyle that I enjoy with my husband, if something happened and I lost it all tomorrow…”

“Which is impossible,” Christian interjects.

“But if it did,” I retort, “I could still go out into the big, wide world and fend for myself. I’m just saying. I don’t know if that’s the problem, but maybe you should ask her what she needs in order to make that step. It may not be that she doesn’t want to spend her life with you. It may just be that you’re asking the wrong question.” He rolls his eyes.

“No offense, Ana, but I can’t hear the shrink right now. I love that girl, and if asking her to marry me is not the right question, then I don’t know what is. Excuse me.”

He stands and heads for the door, and I think he’s going to the restroom. I watch him leave, then crack my neck and finish my wine.

“I’m sorry I asked,” Christian says. I shake my head.

“It’s not your fault,” I reply. “I’m always trying to shrink someone else and I can’t even shrink myself. I’m all tied in knots in this place. I’m barely hanging on from day to day. You all had to bring my children down here to keep me grounded. Who am I to try to give someone advice on how to live?”

“A licensed psychiatrist and a damn good one,” he says, putting his arm around the back of my chair. “You do know what you’re talking about, and you’re right. He just doesn’t want to hear it. He’s raw from another let-down. And baby? When a doctor is ill, she doesn’t diagnose herself without tests. Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t have all the answers for all this crazy shit that’s going on in your life.”

I will not cry…
I will not cry…

“I thought I was supposed to be the shrink,” I say, laughing to fight my tears. He smiles widely and kisses me on the cheek.

“We both know I’m no shrink,” he replies. “I just love you and I want you to be happy.”

I smile and lean on his shoulder. I love Chuck and Keri, too, and I want them to be happy. I just wish I knew what was really holding up Keri’s decision


A/N: Freeds opened in Vegas—Henderson to be exact—in 2017, not 2015. Creative license.

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

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

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

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 17

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 17

CHRISTIAN

“Oh, absolutely, Mr. Grey.”

I don’t want Butterfly to know what I’m doing, so I’ve come down to the concierge’s office to make all of the arrangements. Percy informs me that he will do whatever is necessary to make my children comfortable for our stay. He has a second desk in his office, and he has allowed me to use it to make calls to get the children here without Butterfly knowing. She’s going to see her mother today out of duty, but she’s in bed this morning. She said she didn’t feel like getting up after that horrible crying spell she had last night. I told her that I was going to have a meeting with security—which I did—but now, I’m handling getting the children here.

“I’ve ordered two new cribs and baby linens from Buttercup Baby,” Percy says. “They’ll be here by noon and they assemble them for us as well.”

“Outstanding,” I tell him. “I’m surprising my wife and I’m sure that she wouldn’t be comfortable with the babies sleeping in cribs that have been used by others. You know new mothers…”

“Yes, sir, I do,” he says with a smile. “My youngest is four.” He winks. “We’re childproofing the Presidential Suite down the hall from your security suites. We’ll remove one of the beds from the two-bed room and it should accommodate the cribs nicely. We’ll also remove unnecessary furnishings from the suite to make room for any other equipment, playthings, etc. that we’ll be moving into the room. The childproofing should take about an hour and should be done by the time the cribs arrive.”

“Can you order supplies from that baby store, too? Diapers and such… I’ll have our nanny prepare a list for you. I don’t want them to have to pack the entire house on the jet. The refrigerator will need to be stocked, too. I’ll just have her call you. Her name is Gail Taylor.” He raises his brow.

“Taylor… any relation to Mr. Taylor?” he asks. I nod.

“She’s his wife,” I reply with a smile. “Long story.”

“No doubt,” Percy says with a smile. “When do you want the suite to be complete?”

“No later than tomorrow morning if you can pull that off. I’ll be eternally grateful,” I reply. “You have my Amex on file. Use it however you need and give me itemized documentation of what’s spent. Even a billionaire knows a write-off when he sees one.” Percy nods.

“I can pull it off. Leave it to me, Mr. Grey,” he assures me and leaves the office. I call Gail and give her Percy’s direct number, then inform her to have the children ready to travel in the morning. I’ve recruited Marilyn to help us with baby care duties for the rest of the week as Keri will be coming alone with the twins and their security details. Gail and Sophie will come on the weekend and stay the next week as Sophie will be on winter break next week and the stay won’t interfere with school. She and Gail can stay the week and then go back to Seattle while we sit in this holding pattern.

Everything has to be done covertly so as not to tip Butterfly off. I’m certain that if I suggest bringing the twins here, she’s going to disagree and try to kibosh the idea, but once they’re here, she’s going to be really happy.

I go back to the suite and find Butterfly in the living room, lounging across the big chair in one of the terrycloth robes.

“Is everything okay?” she asks when I enter the living room.

“As well as can be expected. Nothing’s burning down,” I say, feigning disinterest. “What’re you doing?”

“Talking to Laura and being amazed by how news from America gets to her faster than it gets to me,” she replies. Oh, dear Lord, what now?

“Well, she’s active on social media, darling, and you’re not,” I remind her.

“Maybe I should be more active, then,” she replies. I immediately panic.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Butterfly,” I warn. “We could very easily become targets of some crazed lunatic. You know there are people who stalk social media to find out your habits, your comings and goings, any weaknesses that they can exploit.”

“Oh, keep your shirt on,” she says. “I’m not talking about exposing trade secrets or the combination to the family safe. I’m just talking about paying more attention to certain topics. I’ve already set up a Twitter account with Laura’s help.” I frown.

“Another account?” I lament. “Butterfly, if you share even the slightest opinion, someone may be able to decipher who you are.” She turns her gaze to me.

“Christian, even the POTUS has a Twitter account. You really need to lighten up,” she says before turning her gaze back to the phone.

“Yeah, but he has a much better security force than we do,” I comment. She looks at me and rolls her eyes. “You’re asking for it,” I add.

“Sure, I am,” she says, still scrolling through her phone. “Relax, Christian. There’s so many Anastasia Greys and Christian Greys that if I were to put my name, rank, and serial number on here, they still wouldn’t know it was me.”

“You don’t have a rank and serial number,” I reply. She glares at me.

“Okay, this portion of the conversation is over or you’re going to frustrate the fuck out of me.” Well, I’m not trying to do that. I just want her to be careful.

“What’s your handle?” I ask. She raises a brow at me.

“Why? Are you going to send me a friend’s request?” she says sarcastically. I give her a knowing look. “Oh, gosh, seriously, Christian?” she whines.

“Anastasia?” I warn. She sighs heavily and rolls her eyes again.

“I’ve told you before, I’m sure, but it’s Mercer Doctor Lady. And quite frankly, Christian, there’s nothing to stop me from making as many IDs as I want,” she retorts.

“Except that you won’t because you know that I won’t be pleased,” I reply, sending off a text to Mac about my wife’s new hobby and her username.

“Keep fucking with me,” she mumbles, and I’m sure that I wasn’t supposed to hear it. I raise my gaze to her and she’s looking back at her phone.

“So, what’s the word on the Greys in Cyberland?” I ask.

“Nothing new,” she says. “Just that my mother is dying in the hospital and a bit of buzz about my purple silk suit, that’s all.”

“Your mother is dying?” I ask, my brow furrows.

“Not that I know of,” she replies, “but with that advanced directive, who knows?” Her thumbs are typing away on her phone. “Jax says, ‘G’day.’” I chuckle aloud imagining Jaxon’s accent saying that very thing.

“Tell him, ‘G’day,’” I reply mocking a very bad Australian accent.

“They’re talking about maybe coming to the States sometime this year since they have new friends in Seattle,” she adds.

“That would be great,” I reply enthusiastically. “Tell them to let us know for sure since we’re planning to do Rome this summer.”

“Do we have dates yet?” she asks as she types into her phone.

“No, but we should probably work on that soon,” I reply. “Are you going to the hospital today?

“I haven’t decided yet,” she says. She drops her hands into her lap with her phone. “Christian, is it wrong that I resent her flowers?” I pause.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I say. “Why do you resent her flowers?”

“Because nobody sent any to me,” she says, gazing in front of her at nothing. “I don’t remember how long I was in that hospital and no one sent me anything—no ‘get well’ wishes, no flowers or stuffed toys, nothing. She’s got so many flowers in her room that if she gets any more, I’m going to have to have some of them taken away. I didn’t get a damn thing. The only present I got was Daddy coming to get me out of there. I’m jealous and I’m angry and I don’t think she deserves it. What the hell is wrong with me?”

“Not a damn thing,” I chime in quickly, and she turns her gaze to me. “The only thing that I see wrong is that you’re asking if you’re wrong. The woman who was supposed to love you over everything else left you to die. You awoke alone in that cold and sterile room and you were only 15 years old. Notwithstanding anything that happened before or after that moment, no human being—let alone a young girl—can be expected to walk away from that unscathed. As far as I’m concerned, you have every right to resent the human kindness that’s being shown to her, apparently by several people, when this one person who should have extended a mother’s love to you didn’t do it. And that’s my professional opinion.”

“Your professional opinion?” she says with a strained smirk.

“Yes,” I say, moving over to sit on the floor next to her chair and taking her hand. “I think what you’re doing right now is nothing short of amazing, and that anyone else in your position who has been through what you’ve been through would let that woman rot… and rightfully so.” She looks at the ceiling and sighs.

“Inside,” she says, “deep inside where I’m hurting and I don’t let anybody in, that’s really what I want to do. I want to walk away from this whole thing and let all of her flower bearers take care of her, but I can’t. I can’t bring myself to do it. For so many reasons that I can’t verbalize, I can’t bring myself to do it.”

“Butterfly, take comfort in the fact that you’re a good person with a conscious. You’re a better person to your mother than your mother ever was to you, and if the only drawback that you have is that you resent those damn flowers, then resent those damn flowers. I recommend that you start getting rid of them when you get back to the hospital if there’s that many…”

“I’m not trying to be petty, Christian,” she protests.

“You’re not being petty,” I retort. “Getting rid of all of them, that’s petty. Getting rid of some of them, that’s not. You’re just thinning them out.” She sighs.

“I could send them to rooms with people who don’t have any flowers… like I was.” She drops her gaze into her lap. She’s reliving this whole thing over again and it hurts like hell to watch it. I rise to my knees, cup her cheeks in my hands, and kiss her gently.

“I think that would be a wonderful idea,” I tell her, rubbing my nose against hers. “Guess what I found out?”

“What?” she asks.

“That place with the crazy cakes on television—Vegas Cakes?”

“Yes,” she says expecting.

“It’s called Freed’s Bakery and they’re just down the road a bit. What do you say we order some sweets and get lost in a mountain of German Chocolate and fruit tarts? They deliver.” A wide smile spreads across her face.

“Oh, Christian, that would be divine!”

*-*

We spend what’s left of the morning and a good part of the afternoon in sugar-induced giddiness, after which my wife decides to let Mini-Morton sleep in peace for the day and she and Allen head to the spa for the rest of the afternoon. Now, I don’t know how appropriate it is, but I feel like we need to get back to ourselves. What always helps me get back to myself is a good scene.

We haven’t been in the playroom since we started seeing Artemis and Savvina, which means we haven’t had full-on playtime while exploring our new rules and dynamic. I know that we need to be mindful of what we’ve learned, but making too many advanced plans for a scene somewhat defeats the purpose. It’s more like an appointment instead of playtime, and who needs that?

I take the time that my wife is in the spa to do a little shopping. I haven’t been BDSM shopping in a while, not for travel toys, anyway. That trip in Australia was quick and dirty. This one will be slightly different—travel toys that can go home with us if we like. She had a wonderful reaction to that paintbrush on her clit. I never would have thought of that had the girl in the store not told me about it.

I’ve found some divine toys and bondage items at this store called Lovers Lane. I’m taking a chance coming here, but I don’t want to get any substandard products and my research tells me that this place is the best.

A blindfold, a leather crop, a butt plug, some oils, lube, sanitizer…

Thigh-high black stockings with the thick lace, elastic trim—no garter required…

BDSM wax play candles…

I pick out a few items that I need, the old faithful implements as well as a few new ones. I buy more things than I plan to use, but I’m going to try to use as many of them as I can, even if our escapade has to pick up on another night.

I’m a little aroused already thinking of the things I plan to do to my Pussycat. I’ll have to ease her into the new stuff and gauge her reactions to them. Hopefully, she’ll remember what she’s learned about her limits, but it’ll give me great pleasure to watch her carefully and see for myself what things she can and cannot take. I remember my training, and I’m going to take it slow, but I think we both need a scene right now—a pretty intense one at that.

I can hardly wait to get my hands on my little Pussycat

*-*

“Christian?”

I hear her call my name when she gets back to the suite. She stopped for Chinese with Allen, giving me more time to prepare myself and the suite for playtime. We won’t play in the bedroom. That’s too predictable. The en suites are not practical with all the hard surfaces, but we’ll be utilizing the rest of the suite as needed.

I emerge from the bedroom in my Dom uniform—black slacks, white linen shirt, and socks and shoes. I’m careful to never present myself to her in only this simple garb… unless I’m ready for action. She’s removing her coat and stops, stuck in suspended animation when she sees me. I slowly close the space between us, and finish removing her coat, tossing it onto a nearby chair.

“Would you like to play, Pussycat?” I ask in my Dom voice. She swallows hard and her pupils dilate.

“Yes, Sir,” she breathes, dropping her gaze immediately. I put my finger under her chin and raise her gaze to mine. Then I take a few steps back.

“Take off your clothes,” I say. “Don’t take your eyes off mine.”

She steps out of her shoes as she undoes her slacks, not slowly or sensually, but at a leisurely pace… not hurried, just comfortable, careful to keep her gaze on mine.

She slides out of her slacks and tosses them on the chair with her coat. Next, she undoes the buttons of her shirt, removes it and tosses it onto the chair as well. She’s standing there in her bra, panties, and pantyhose awaiting instruction.

“Everything,” I command. She slides carefully out of her pantyhose and panties simultaneously before reaching behind her and undoing her bra, all of her underthings joining her other garments on the chair.

I stand there and soak her in for a while—her full, round breasts, her curvy hips and luscious thighs, her shaved core hiding from me…

You’ll fuck her soon enough, Grey. Draw it out… make it worth it.

I reach in my pocket and retrieve the stockings.

“Put these on,” I say, handing them to her. She takes them from my hand and proceeds to gather the first one to put it on. I walk behind her to observe that glorious ass when she bends down to put the stocking on her foot. I groan audibly when she does, and she remains in the bent position while gently pulling the stocking in place to her upper thigh.

Oh, Pussycat, I plan to torment you as much as you’re tormenting me right now.

Mentoring with Artemis and Savvina exposes us to enough BDSM—with the occasional bondage fuck are slight impact play in between—but we haven’t had a full scene in months! We’ve learned new parameters since we’ve been seeing Artemis and Savvina, but we haven’t put them to use yet in a full scene. I plan to do so this evening.

I produce a butt plug from my other pocket and put it in my mouth. As she’s about to stand upright, I grab her ass firmly which signals her to stop. Her legs are still slightly spread from donning her stockings… Perfect. I push my hands in between her legs and thrust my middle finger into her pussy, my third finger rubbing her clit.

She gasps, but she’s wet as fuck! She’s even tighter than she is wet. I circle my finger inside of her, gathering the wetness inside of her warm walls while the finger on her clit aids to increase the lubrication. Her breathing picks up a bit, and she puts her hands on her thighs to support her weight. I crouch behind her so that the display is right in my face. My cock is hardening to solid steel as I watch my finger disappearing into her core, her juices spilling out into my hand. I feel the warmth and meatiness of her inner walls and it’s almost unbearable imagining being inside of her.

I hear her breathing increase and one of her legs begins to tremble. She’s getting close. My Pussycat is such a sexual being that even the slightest manipulation with the right rhythm and pressure can cause her to explode. I have to stop or it’s game over for her.

I drag my wet hand from her core and her clit, causing her to gasp and moan again. Fuck, she’s such a nymph! I spread the wetness I’ve gathered from her pussy to her inviting little rosette, staring at me and begging for my attention.

Here I come, baby. I’ve hardly forgotten you.

Her pink little asshole puckers when I anoint it. I fucking love that shit. I coat her ass with all the moisture that I’ve gathered from her cunt, then slowly breach the rosette with the wet finger. I reach around her body this time and use my other hand to finger her clit, rhythmically, while pushing my finger into her ass. She groans, panting while I fuck her with my hands, and when her legs begin to tremble again, I cease the manipulation of her clit, but continue with my finger in her ass.

She’s breathing heavily again, and I remove the finger from her ass. Making sure that the butt plug is thoroughly lubricated, I pull it from my mouth and slowly begin to push it inside of her. She gasps, and visibly relaxes her asshole, allowing the butt plug to slide effortlessly inside. I literally drool when her asshole swallows the butt plug, leaving nothing visible but the large blue jewel.

“Fuck,” I hiss quietly, wondering if I’m going to be able to complete the scene before I dive into her and fuck her senseless.

“Stand,” I tell her, rising upright behind her. She obeys, panting sensuously.

“Go over to the dining table.”

Yes, Pussycat. I don’t have any of my benches here, so the dining table will have to do.

Greystone is angrily pulsing against my pants as I watch the rolling-hip-wobble-ass-butt-plug-walk across the room and over to the dining table. There’s no use in even attempting to hide this erection. I can see the prominent outline of my hard cock straining to get out of these clothes. If I didn’t have my shirt tucked in over it, the head would be sticking out of my pants right now.

I walk over to the dining table and move in front of her. She gasps when she sees my cock through my pants and licks and bites her lips. Fuck, fuck, fuck!

“What are your safewords, Pussycat?” I ask.

“Bells, whistles, and…” She pauses and I nod. “Ladybug, Sir.”

That’s right, Pussycat. You can’t come without permission.

“I can trust you to use your safewords when needed, Pussycat?” I ask.

“Yes, Sir,” she replies. I take a deep breath and hand her a ponytail holder.

“Good girl. Now, while I love your hair, I don’t want it to get in the way,” I say. She takes the ponytail holder and quickly fashions her hair in some kind of ponytail-bun assuring that it will stay out of the way for the rest of the scene.

“Up with you now,” I say, holding my hand out to her. She takes my hand and, using one of the chairs as a step, she climbs onto the table on her knees.

“Come down here to the end,” I coax, and she brings her knees almost to the end of the table. Perfect. I take a blindfold—the final item in my pocket—and close the space between us.

“Lights out,” I say, softly, and tie the blindfold over her eyes. Her breathing quickens immediately.

“Spread your thighs a little wider,” I command, and she obeys. Her thighs are spread just so, and her clit is peeking playfully out of her waxed lips.

Control, Grey, control.

I move to the small table to the side where I’ve had all my other implements covered and retrieve the fur and leather cuffs. I take my time attaching the cuffs to her wrists before connecting them to each other behind her back. One of my favorite parts of BSDM has always been the binding, second only to impact play. I light one of the candles—blue of course—and turn back to my Pussycat.

There she is, kneeling on the table, blindfolded with her breast pushed out in front of her due to the wrist restraints.

Fuck!

I walk over to her and wait patiently as the wax begins to melt, ready to note her reaction from the first drop. Her chest is rising and falling in anticipation, and the blue wax finally turns to liquid, a single drop falling onto the top of her breast. She jumps from the sensation and gasps in surprise. Her knees fall open a little wider and her clit is now prominently protruding from her lips.

I wait, wait for her breath to calm, wait for the sensation to settle, wait for her safeword. She calms, and she doesn’t safeword.

“More?” I ask.

“Yes,” she breathes. “Yes… Sir…”

I allow another drop to fall on her breast and she gasps again, leaning back to expose more of her body. I let another drop fall, then another, and another… her abs, her chest, her neck, her shoulders. She writhes from the sensation, each drop causing a reaction. The candle is almost to the end and I have to light another. This one burns a little faster, the liquid running down her skin this time, turning her chest and abdomen into a beautiful blue sculpture.

When I light the third candle, I don’t know if I’m lighting it for her or for me. She’s loving this; her reactions are sexual and provocative, and she looks fucking divine. All this time, I haven’t spilled a drop directly onto one of her nipples…

Until just now.

Her gasp is audible—shrill, and she’s panting like a marathon runner. She doesn’t safeword, and I nearly come in my pants. I drop another drop on her other nipple and she gives me the same shrill gasp.

Caught lightning in a bottle twice. What’s more, that drop rolls down to the tip of her nipple until it’s hanging off in suspension and dries that way.

~~~Las Vegas Scene

Fuck, that is so fucking hot.

I finish the rest of the third candle on her thighs, then pull out my phone. I take several pictures of my beautiful blue nymph and our first experience of candle play. Her ecstatic poses and facial expressions captured in the pictures look like she’s posing professionally. I may need to put these in the playroom.

I put the phone away and quickly turn my attention back to my Pussycat. That clit is protruding so far, I simply can’t help it…

I pull a chair to the end of the table, have a seat, and run my tongue over the inviting clit. She cries out, leaning back onto her hands to support her weight. Looking at her this way, I already know that I’m going to fuck her in this position.

I lick her again, tasting her juices and wondering if these are new from the wax play, or the ones from when I finger fucked her earlier. No matter—they taste the same and still make me want to fuck the shit outta her!

I indulge in the pussy for a few more moments, tasting her and watching her chest rise and fall covered in the blue wax. It’s now that I realize that the wax most likely serves the same purpose as a gently flogging—to heighten the sensation and to bring the blood to the surface of the skin. That shit really turns me on!

I give her clit a reprieve and retrieve the harness from the table. I help her get back to an upright position and have her turn around so that her ass is to me. I kiss the cheek and give the butt plug a little turn and pull, enjoying her reaction to the sensation. I get a pillow from the sofa and instruct her to lay on the pillow with her ass in the air.

Yes, that’s it.

I attach the harness around her waist and then pull the leather strap between her legs and tighten it behind her. She whimpers, no doubt feeling the strap against her tender clit and feeling it push the butt plug into her ass.

Hold tight, Pussycat.

I finish the visual by binding her ankles together in a pair of cuffs to match her wrist cuffs. If she could only see how fucking beautiful she looks—bound, harnessed, and blindfolded on the dining table and served up like Thanksgiving dinner. I take a few more pictures of her for my collection.

“Okay, Pussycat?” I say, leaning down to her face.

“Yes, Sir,” she says, her voice relaxed but Nirvanic. I stand behind her and introduce her to a little surprise in the harness. The thick strap between her legs has a slit in the middle—not completely open, but with a nylon covering over it. I manipulate the slit so that the thin nylon covering is right over her cunt, so that I can play with her clit and feel her wetness slipping through at will. I don’t think she realizes it yet, but she will…

I retrieve my crop and give her a solid whack with the tip of it on her ass. She jumps from the first sensation but settles again. The second and third whacks cause her to gasp, but the fourth strike is a gentle flicking of her clit.

She squeals, then pants, whimpering and trembling. I flick it again, and she’s whimpering again. I flick it repeatedly and I see her body stiffen, as much as it can.

I return to pinkening her beautiful ass cheeks—a gentle spanking to pull the blood to the surface and then a bit of tormenting of the pussy.

I run the braided stem of the crop between her legs, over her opening and her clit. She groans deep in pleasure, almost unable to withstand the sensation. I watch her bite her lip to stifle the sound of the enjoyment, the only part of her body able to move is her hands in the cuffs. Her fists clench and she jerks when I strike her cheek with the crop, absorbing the impact of the blow. Her fingers flutter open and wiggle helplessly with any pleasurable sensation—flicking her clit with the tip of the crop; running the braided portion over the nylon slit in the leather.

Next, I torment her with the Plume feather tickler—her back, her ass, her clit, the bottom of her feet… I stop when she’s mindless with sensation.

I’m ready to fuck now.

She gets a reprieve while I strip. It’s a wonder my dick didn’t rip straight through my boxer briefs! It’s ready for a goddamn jousting match when I finally free it from my clothing.

Now, how will I take her?

Remembering that I want to fuck her in that position she was sitting in when I “waxed” her, I go to the Lovers Lane bag and retrieve the thigh cuffs that I planned to use on her attached to those ankle cuffs that she’s wearing.

Maybe later, but I’ve got other plans for them right now.

I attach the restraints to my own thighs and go get my Pussycat.

“Come on, Pussycat,” I say as I remove the harness from her. I release the clamp holding the ankle cuffs together, and Pussycat rolls to a sitting position, wincing a bit as her cropped ass meets the hard table. I help her to the floor and lead her to the living room. I take a seat on the large chair and guide her to my lap.

“Straddle me,” I instruct her, and she throws her legs over my thighs. Just as she’s about the descend on me, I straighten my cock and guide it right into her wet pussy. She freezes when the head breaches her core.

“That’s it,” I hiss, Greystone begging her not to get up. “Keep going.”

She’s still so tight that she has to ease down onto my eager dick, but when she has taken all of me, I have to take a deep breath to compose myself. I just sit there for a moment before I move.

“Lean back,” I command, my voice throaty as fuck. “Put your hands on my knees.”

When she leans on my knees, I put my arms around her and attach each of her wrist cuffs to my thigh cuffs. Then I sit back and observe her—spread out straddling me with blue wax over her breast, torso, and thighs… and her pussy wrapped around my cock.

“Okay?” I ask.

“Yes, Sir,” she purrs.

“Good… now ride me… slowly.”

She rises off my cock, slowly, then drops back down onto me… again… and again… and again. She licks her lips as her wetness coats me, making that delicious creamy sound as she fucks me. I scratch my nails over her body, removing the wax from her skins.

She moans, then whimpers, closing her eyes as she rides me.

When her skin is clean enough, I produce the battery-operated wand from just behind me. She leaps when I touch it to her clit.

“Ah!” she yelps, unable to keep quiet from the sensation. She continues to ride me, and I touch it to her clit again.

“Ah!” she yelps again. “Sir! I… I…”

“I know,” I reply, nearly growling. She’s tormenting me as much as I’m tormenting her. I feel my cock thickening inside her and I can’t help but touch the wand to my aching dick as she rides it.

“Fuck!” I hiss, throwing my head back in ecstasy. The damn thing isn’t even on its highest setting! Maybe somewhere in the middle. I touch it to her clit again… and again.

“Uuuuuuuggggghhhhh!” she laments, throwing her head back and quickening her pace on my cock. Her breath is getting heavier. Her tits are falling to the side just a bit and they look fucking divine. I open my legs a bit to get a deeper thrust as I wand her clit once more, a little longer this time.

“Aahhh, God!” she mewls, now rocking her hips forward a bit as she fucks me. Shit, I’m going to come like this. I raise my pelvis with each of her hip rolls, meeting her deeply as I wand her at the same time. She’s increasing her pace and as my dick gets harder, I pinch and rub her nipple with my free hand… and she’s still wearing that butt plug, too… and the blindfold.

She nearly sobs when I tease her nipple. She’s fucking me hard, fast and deep, dropping down on me with fire and fervor, her head back, her body bowed, and her hair falling out of the bun behind her and caressing my inner thigh with each wild and hard bounce. She’s whimpering and my dick is throbbing—hard! Fuck, I press the wand to her clit and feel the vibrations all the way inside of her. She freezes…

“Ladybug! Ladybug!” she pants!

I stop fucking her and move the wand. Her body is sweat-coated, flushed, and beautiful. Her chest rises and falls in such sensuality that I bite my lip to keep from thrusting into her again and pushing her over the edge. I stroke her body with my flat hand hard from her torso up and between her breasts. She looks positively delicious! She’s heaving as she slowly comes down from her near orgasm and my primal instincts are nearly eating me inside out. I watch her writhe from desire and need for several more moments, the Neanderthal inside beating his chest in arousal and frustration.  I can’t touch her sexually anymore without a check in.

“How’re you doing, Pussycat?” I say, and the tone of my voice surprises me—pure, primal Dominance seeded with just a touch of concern. She pants a bit.

“Good… Sir…” she breathes.

“Good girl,” I reply. When I’m certain that she’s not going to explode with the next movement, I reach around and release the clip from her wrist cuffs to my thighs. I attach the wrist cuffs together again in front of her and take her in my arms. Standing from the chair, I carry her back to the dining table and lay her down on her back.

“Hands over your head,” I instruct her, and she obeys. Fuck, she’s beautiful.

“Wrap your legs around me!” I say eagerly, almost unable to control myself. She wraps her legs around my waist, and I begin to thrust into her. I can’t help it. I can’t fucking control it. She feels so fucking good.

I grab her ass to hold her hips up for better penetration and my fingers brush against the jewel of the butt plug. Remembering that it’s there does nothing for my stamina and causes me to fuck her harder. She’s keening with every deep stroke and her body curls towards me.

Fuck, I’m going to come. She looks so goddamn good.

I thrust into her several more times, my cock searing in pleasure, my balls tightening almost to the point of pain. Her mouth is hanging open for several moments and she clamps her hands together in the cuffs, a familiar sheen forming her body.

“Ladybug! Ladybug! Lady…”

“Come for me, Pussycat…”

I barely get the words out of my mouth and she is exploding in orgasm around me. The feeling is so fucking phenomenal that I cry out shamelessly when my climax strikes, throwing my head back and yowling almost like a wolf to the full moon.

My Pussycat covers her face with her forearms, flinching from her massive release. I can tell she almost can’t stand the intense sensation. I’m not quite done with you yet, Pussycat. I have one more surprise for you.

I withdraw from my soumise and she closes her knees and draws them close to her, rolling onto her side. You’ll have a moment to recuperate, Pussycat.

I go over to the sofa and set up my final scene—pillows to prop up her hips, and my final two sex aids. I won’t torment her too badly. Her next orgasm will most likely be quicker than she expects and more powerful than the first. I watch her for a few minutes, examining her breathing and gauging when she has come down from her last orgasm. After a while, I walk over to the table and lean down to her ear.

“Are you ready, Pussycat?” I whisper. She swallows hard.

“Yes, Sir,” she says. I take her hands and help her to get off the dining table, then lead her to the large sofa.

“Bend over,” I instruct her. She obeys and I slowly pull the butt plug out of her ass. She hisses, then moans as it’s removed. I lead her back to the sofa and I take a seat. I lubricate my dick and instruct her to take a seat.

“Just sit right down, Pussycat,” I tell her. She sits on my lap, and I situate my cock between her ass cheeks. Her breathing is picking up again, and no doubt, she’s wondering what I have planned.

“Open your legs and lean back.” When she opens her legs, I begin to massage her with a lubricated pussy cup. She gasps at first. The lube starts off kind of cold, but it’ll warm pretty soon. The pussy cup has several little tickler fingers inside that’s going to drive her wild once I get it sealed on. It has a small, but powerful, rabbit vibrator attached to it, and… it’s a pump. So, it attaches with suction and doesn’t let go until I release it.

I’m shamelessly rubbing my lubed dick between her ass cheeks, taking pleasure in the friction and stimulation. If I don’t take my pleasure however I can get it, she’s going to come a whole lot sooner than I will, even with that valium-laced ass.

I manipulate that pussy cup until it feels like it’s in the right position—lips covered, but open a bit and exposed to the lubed fingers, then I squeeze the pump until it has a nice tight seal. She gasps a bit, but then bites her lip.

Yeah, I’ve got the right suction.

“Stand up, Pussycat.” She stands and I release her cuffs, leading her to the part of the sofa that has the pillows stacked.

“Feel your way,” I instruct her, while fisting my hard dick. “Lay face down with your hips on the pillows.”

Still blindfolded, she awkwardly feels her way to the sofa and the pillows with the pussy cup attached and lies with her ass perfectly sticking up in the air, her chest and head on the sofa and the pump hanging onto the sofa between her legs.

Shit, don’t come yet, Grey.

“Put your hands behind your back.”

She does, and I reattach her cuffs behind her.

Oh, hell. This is gonna be quick.

I position myself behind her and prepare myself. Do I turn on the pussy cup first and then enter her or enter her first and then turn on the pussy cup? Shit, with those controls located between her legs, I won’t even be able to reach the pussy cup once I’m inside her!

I set the vibration to two out of five and turn it on. She gasps loudly and jumps.

“You okay, Pussycat?” I ask.

“Aah… aahh… yes!” she breathes. “Yes… Sir!” Good. I open her cheeks to expose her rosette and slowly push my lubricated cock in. My lubrication has already begun to warm with the earlier manipulation of her ass cheeks and my hand. It takes a moment, but once I’m inside her, she feels like hot butter.

“Aaahh… oh God…” she moans. I haven’t even started fucking her yet, so I know it’s the pussy cup. I straddle her with my legs over hers, take both her hands in one of mine and stabilize myself on the back of the sofa with the other hand.

“You can come, Pussycat,” I say, my voice deep with passion.

“Thank you… Sir…” she breathes. I’m thrusting into her slow and deep and she’s moaning loudly with each thrust. Oh, fuck, her ass feels good. I’ve got this heating lube on my dick and she’s already tight as fuck and I love her ass so fucking much. It’s bouncing hard on my pelvis and caressing every fucking inch of my cock… and she keeps pushing it harder against me trying to get that deep anal stimulation that she likes. Not only that, but each thrust is pushing that sucking and vibrating pussy cup onto her clit.

Her moans are so loud that they’d almost be embarrassing if they weren’t so fucking hot. I fuck her harder, deeper and faster, opening my legs a little for deeper penetration and using her bound hands to pull her back against me with each thrust. I’m riding this ass like you would the mechanical bull and my dick is digging deeper and deeper with each thrust. Shit, I’m fucking blind and dizzy with pleasure. The heat is making this shit so intense, I don’t think I’m going to be able to fucking stand it when I come.

Pussycat’s hips have totally taken on a life of their own. I think she has forgotten that she’s even in a scene anymore. She’s fucking with purpose when her ass rises and rides with me.

“Fuck!” I hiss as I feel my cock burning inside and outside. “Fuck! Shit!”

My hips pump hard and fast into her and I feel a hard, burning stream of fiery cum rise through my dick causing me to kneel and grab my wife’s ass so hard that I’m certain I’ll leave fingerprints behind. I’m thrusting and pumping and coming in that ass so hard that I’m trying to be conscious of hurting her, but I can’t. This shit has total control of me.

After a few moments of hard coming and wild thrusting, I realize that I had absolutely nothing to worry about.

She buries her face in the sofa cushion and screams out a violent release, pushing her ass high and hard into me. She stays that way for several moments, squirming and coming and screaming. I’m coming down from my heated and crazy orgasm and she’s still going. However, she did start after I did. I knew it would be bigger… I didn’t know it would be that much bigger!

“Sir! Please! Take it off! Please, Sir, take it off!”

Shit, I forgot about that fucking vibrating cup!

Remiss to leave the valium ass, I slide quickly and carefully out of her and locate the switch to stop the vibration. Her ass is still in the air, but probably because she’s not going to drop her pelvis until I get that thing off of her. I release the pump and it falls into my hands, and her hips fall onto the pillows. She breathes a huge sigh of release but is still panting and trying to catch her breath.

My dick is still hot, but it has tapped out, too.

I release her cuffs from her wrists and kiss up her spine to her neck, then remove her blindfold. I stand from the sofa and lift her into my arms, situating her so that her exhausted body is cradled in my arms and her head is on my chest.

“Very well done, Pussycat,” I say as I carry her to the en suite, “very well done.”


ANASTASIA

I decide to go to the hospital and see about my mother on Wednesday morning. Christian’s been on the phone since the early hours, no doubt tending to his first love, and I truly need to see if there’s any change in Carla’s condition.

As I suspected, there are more flowers in her room. It looks like they brought more hospital tables in here to accommodate them all. I just shake my head and go to the nurses’ station.

“Is Dr. Lee in today?” I ask.

“Not yet,” the nurse tells me. “I don’t think he’s due to come in until the afternoon.”

“Is there any change in my mother’s condition?” I press. “Has there been any improvement? Any signals at all?” Her face falls slightly.

“I’m afraid not, Mrs. Grey,” she says. “Not to my knowledge anyway. The doctor would be able to better answer that question for you, though.” I nod, feeling a bit helpless.

“Her room is turning into a bit of a greenhouse,” I say. “Is it possible to remove some of the flowers and take them to patients who don’t have visitors… or no flowers in their rooms?” I realize that my situation was a bit of an anomaly. It’s rare that someone is admitted to the hospital and has no visitors, but I’m certain that some of the rooms can be brightened with an arrangement or two.

“That’s very kind of you, Mrs. Grey,” she says. “I’ll get a cart and get to it.”

“Thank you,” I say with a soft smile before returning to my mother’s room.

“Um, Mrs. Grey?” the nurse calls behind me, and I stop. “In her condition… it’s not usual, but…” She’s having a hard time saying what she needs to say. Oh, for Christ’s sake, spit it out.

“Is Mrs. Morton allowed to have any visitors?” she asks finally. “A few people have come to see her and… we didn’t have your permission.”

I twist my lips. She is my mother. Anastasia Grey’s mother. Unmonitored visitors could pose a huge problem.

“While I’m here, yes,” I tell her. “I’ll have to make arrangements for a member of my security to be here around the clock. Once that’s settled, then she can have visitors in my absence.” The nurse frowns.

“Mrs. Grey I can assure you that she’ll be safe,” the nurse says. I shake my head.

“It’s way too much for me to explain, ma’am,” I tell her. “I’ll arrange for security as soon as possible so that well-wishers can come and see her freely.” She purses her lips, shrugs, and nods.

“Yes, Mrs. Grey,” she says and turns her attention back to whatever is on the counter in front of her.

Once I’m back in her room, I begin removing the cards from the arrangements, intent on sending thank you notes if my mother doesn’t come out of this alive or giving the cards to her and letting her do it if she does. I count the cards and make note of who sent which flowers since some of them will be leaving the room.

Twenty-two.

Twenty-two separate arrangements, and I didn’t even get one… not even a get-well bear from Mommy.

I’ve got to stop comparing this situation to mine. It’s my responsibility to make sure that she gets the care that she needs. If I continue to feel hateful towards her, I can’t do that. Maybe she did deserve these flowers from the people who sent them. Maybe she’s worthy of the love and concern they’re giving to her. I shouldn’t besmirch her getting that from them, because she sure as hell won’t get it from me.

As I’m putting the cards in my purse, the first of Carla’s well-wishers taps lightly on the door before entering.

“Yes?” I say, cautiously. She’s not wearing scrubs or a lab coat, so I know she’s not staff.

“Ana…” she says, her voice somewhat wistful as she proffers her hand. “Anastasia, hi. It’s… good to see you.” I take her hand out of courtesy.

“Do I know you?” I ask.

“Oh, I’m sorry. No, you wouldn’t know me, but I’d know you anywhere. I’ve seen pictures of you and Carla speaks fondly of you. I’m Wendy. Carla is my best friend.”

Best friend? Shit, you don’t have a lot of friends, do you?

“It’s… nice to meet you, Wendy,” I say, trying not to sound too strained. She smiles.

“I’m not surprised that you don’t know me,” she says. “I know that you and Carla don’t speak. It’s one of her biggest regrets.” Oh hell, I can’t hear this.

Like an angel from heaven, the nurse comes in with a cart and begins to remove the flowers.

“You’re taking her flowers?” Wendy asks, her voice a bit horrified.

“Not all of them,” I reply casually. “The room is exploding in flora and if this is any indication, there’ll be more to come. I’m just sharing some of them with people in the hospital who don’t have flowers.” Her expression softens.

“Oh,” she says. “That’s actually… a very good idea. Carla would like that.” She turns back to my mother and takes her hand.

“Hey, old girl,” she says softly. “You stood me up for Hallmark and ginger this weekend. I’m expecting you to make it up to me.”

She takes a seat next to my mother’s bed and just sits there rubbing her hand. I look around and the nurse has filled the cart. The arrangement with the bear is on the cart and I suddenly get a small twinge.

“Don’t take that one,” I tell her, pointing to the bear. “I just… have a feeling she might want to keep that one.”

“Leave the sunflowers, too, please,” Wendy says without turning around. “Those are from me and… they’re her favorite.”

They’re her favorite? Sunflowers? How did I not know that?

I nod to the nurse and she removes the teddy bear arrangement and the sunflowers from the cart, replacing them with two other arrangements before leaving the room. I turn back to Wendy and Carla and I suddenly feel like and intruder on their visit.

“I’m going to leave you alone for a while,” I say, leaving the room before she has a chance to stop me. Chuck turns to me when I exit the room.

“Nobody except staff gets in that room without my permission,” I say. He nods once, then I turn and I walk down the hall to the family waiting room. There are a few people in here, so I go to the far corner and make a call.

“Your Highness! Is everything okay?” I roll my eyes.

“Can you please answer the phone and say, ‘Hello’ or ‘Taylor’ or ‘Jason’ or something instead of answering the phone like there’s a fire every time I call you?” I chide quietly.

“I’m sorry, Your Highness, it’s just that…”

“I know. I don’t call you that often, but if something is wrong, doesn’t Chuck usually call you? How many times have I called you with a fire?” There’s silence on the other end.

“None that I can think of immediately,” he replies.

“Exactly, so turn off the lights and sirens when you see my name unless I tell you that something is wrong.”

“So, I take it that nothing is wrong,” he says.

“Are you speaking to Chuck?” I retort.

“Duly noted. To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“I know that you had people watching my mother,” I tell him. “I need her to have an active security detail while she’s in the hospital.” He silent for a moment.

“You mean no more covert?” he asks.

“You can have covert if you need it, but I need someone posted at her door. She’s been having visitors and I don’t want any unscrupulous assholes to have access to her. All visitors will be required to show identification and sign in on a personal log. I don’t want to take any chances.”

“Understood,” he says. “I’ll get right on it.”

“And stop calling me ‘Your Highness’ or I’ll fire you,” I threaten.

“Yes, Your Highness,” he says. I end the call.

“Asshole.” I scroll through my phone and try to reach Keri, but her phone goes straight to voicemail. I call Gail and her phone rings twice, then goes to voicemail. What the fuck? I want to talk to my babies. Once I leave Gail a message to call me, my phone buzzes with a text. It’s from Gail.

**Knee-deep in household tasks. I’ll call you later. The babies are fine. **

That’s an odd text, but she must’ve known I was trying to get in touch with my babies. I call Jason back.

“Hello, Ana,he says, stressing my name.

“Good, now let’s see how long you can keep it up,” I reply.

“Don’t count on it,” he says. “Carla’s first detail should be there in about 20 minutes.”

“Good. Have you talked to Gail today?” There’s silence on the line.

“Earlier, yes. Should I be concerned?” he asks.

“Probably not,” I say. “I called to talk to my babies and the phone went to voicemail after two rings. Keri’s phone went straight to voicemail. I’m probably being paranoid, but that’s never happened before.” Jason chuckles.

“Never happened to you before, you mean,” he replies. “If she’s in her beloved pantry, you won’t hear from her for another hour or so, if you’re lucky.”

“She did say that she was knee-deep in household tasks…”

“Yep, pantry. Did she mention the twins that you’re concerned?”

“She said the babies were fine, but I can’t get a hold of Keri, either,” I whine.

“Well, I can’t help you on that one, but if she says the babies are fine, I wouldn’t worry.” I’m half-tempted to ask Chuck if he has spoken to Keri, but there’s no use in getting him alarmed.

“Who’s coming to guard my mother?”

Jason gives me information on the three guards who will be taking eight-hour shifts outside my mother’s door while she’s in a coma. They’ll set up some way to have visitors log in with us before they see her. He mentions his concern about them feeling like this is an invasion of their privacy.

“They’ll do it if they want to see her,” I tell him. “If they don’t, so be it.”

I finish the call with Jason, and briefly check in with Grace.

“How are you doing, dear?” she asks. “I can only imagine that it must be quite tumultuous in your life at the moment.”

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” I confide. “It’s way too much to explain right now, but I’m emotionally exhausted with what’s happening with my mother.”

“I can’t even imagine what you must be going through with that situation. I’m definitely keeping you in my thoughts.”

“Thank you, Grace. She has a visitor right now, and I want to give them some privacy. So, I just wanted to check in and get an update on what’s happening at the center.”

“Oh! May I ask if she’s conscious?” Grace inquires.

“No, but people are still coming to see her, so…” I trail off.

“I see,” she says. “It may be good for her. It may help her out of the coma.”

“Yeah, maybe,” I say, brushing it off. “So, what’s happening with Helping Hands? How are things going?”

Grace gets me caught up on the early learning classes and the tutoring sessions. We’ve hired someone that can teach the classes for adult education and GED, so that’s fantastic. Keri is now certified to teach in the United States, so that’s good news for the early learning classes. Donations have slowed a bit since Christmas, but that’s the usual annual cycle. She’s hoping that the grant proposals that she and Courtney are working on—some of which have already been submitted—will bring another stream of funds into the center. We’re not pressed for cash or anything, but no need in waiting until we are to secure funding for the future.

I end my call with Grace and go back to my mother’s room to find that Wendy is still there. I turn to leave again, not wanting to force her to cut her visit short.

“Ana?” Wendy says. I pause and turn around.

“Carla told me about… your childhood, that horrible thing that happened to you. She told me about how she treated you. If it’s any consolation, she feels overwhelming remorse for not being there for you, and for the horrible way she behaved. She needs you now, more than ever… she needs you to forgive her…”

“Wendy,” I interrupt her, coming fully into the room, “I appreciate that you care very much for my mother. I’m sure that means a lot to her, but with all due respect, we are not having this conversation. I can’t begin to tell you what this woman put me through, nor do I care to rehash it. And no matter what she has shared with you, she can’t begin to tell you either. And contrary to whatever you may believe or whatever she’s told you, I have forgiven her. I forgave her years ago. I’ve already informed the staff to spare no expense to be sure that she gets the best care imaginable, and that’s more than she did for me. I don’t mean to be rude, I really don’t…”

“I understand,” she says softly before turning back to Carla and gently touching her hand. “I’m sure she appreciates you assuring she has the best care.” She squeezes Carla’s hand.

“Get better,” Wendy says to her. “We’re all waiting for you.” She squeezes her hand again, then turns to leave.

We’re all waiting for you… geez.

“If there’s anything she needs,” she says with concern, “please let me know. I’m sure you can handle everything, but there are people who would be happy to help if there’s any way that we can.”

“That’s very kind of you. Thank you,” I reply. She smiles, nods, and leaves the room.

I already know that I look like the villain to her new group of friends, but it doesn’t matter. Everywhere I’ve gone so far, somebody has treated me like shit. Why should this be any different?

I look over at my mother’s unconscious form. I want to berate her for doing it again—for bringing me back to a place where I’m obviously an outcast; where somehow, she has told her story so that she comes out smelling like roses and I come out smelling like garbage. God, I’m in hell. I want to scream at her and yell and say cruel things, but instead, I keep them to myself. What good would it do?

She looks helpless, nearly dead. I wonder if this is how I looked to her when she came to the hospital… when she left me there alone…

“Goodnight, Carla,” I say instead, and quietly leave the room. It’s nowhere near nighttime yet, but I won’t be back today.

Should I even try to be there when she wakes up? Why even bother? Is this how she felt about me when I was in that coma? Why did she feel that way? What did I possibly do—or represent—that was so horrible to her? She said she didn’t think about me; she only thought of herself. But if I don’t think of someone, they won’t feel like I hate them—they’ll just feel like I don’t care. I felt like she hated me.


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

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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 6

No email this time. Still training for my promotion. I’ll post as often as I can.

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 6

ANASTASIA

It’s my babies’ first birthday!

I’m walking on sunshine making mental plans for their first birthday party tomorrow. I’ve counted the guests and I’m going through my phases of Better Homes and Gardens again, only this time, it’s the birthday edition—if there is such a thing—and I’m not depressed or running from dread. I’m so filled with glee that I could just burst. There’s no GEH or Helping Hands today as I have to be sure that everything is just right for Minnie and Mikey’s birthday.

My guest list is all set—small but large for a birthday for a couple of one-year-olds, but who cares? Nothing could ruin my mood today, but surprisingly, something pretty damn morbid made it a whole lot better. The television is playing in the family room and I’m listening to the local news channel. I’m sitting at the breakfast bar working on the menu for tomorrow’s party when something on the news catches my attention.

“Within the last hour, we’ve learned that Washington State Penitentiary inmate and former Seattle socialite Elena Lincoln has suffered a massive stroke…”

I rubberneck to the television and feel my body floating into the family room. I don’t even remember getting out of my seat. I watch as a picture of an extremely much older-looking Elena Lincoln flashes across the screen. She didn’t look like that when she went in. I know she didn’t. Her natural hair had grown out, and it was brown. This woman, though she looks much older, has blonde hair… and she’s smiling… and she’s outside! And she looks like she’s wearing makeup! Where did this picture come from?

I’m pondering what the fuck is really going on in that goddamn prison when this bitch is supposed to be in maximum security and she’s able to get her hands on hair dye and makeup… and she’s fucking outside! I can’t see the surroundings behind her or if she’s wearing prison garb, so she could be in the exercise yard for all I know, but hair dye? And makeup? Tupac couldn’t even get a decent haircut when he was in jail!

I’ve missed the entire newscast lost in my wondering, and I scramble for the remote to rewind live TV. I’d die of suspense waiting for the story to come back on.

“Ana, what is it? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”

I hear Gail’s voice, but I’m too focused on getting back to the story that I don’t even respond to her. I get back to the point where I see She-Thing’s picture on the screen and stop the rewind just before the story begins. I listen to the last bits of a story about the homeless people under the viaduct before the story begins to play again.

“Within the last hour, we’ve learned that Washington State Penitentiary inmate and former Seattle socialite Elena Lincoln has suffered a massive stroke. Lincoln was administered a routine flu shot when shortly thereafter, she began to show symptoms of a stroke. Prison officials indicate that Lincoln complained that she was dizzy, so she was instructed to lie down. Her symptoms became increasingly worse until she became unresponsive…”

“Is she dead?” I ask aloud. The words shocked me coming out of my mouth, but I don’t regret it. I want to know if the Pedo-Bitch is dead!

“Lincoln appears to have been in a coma since Wednesday, but has regained consciousness a short while ago…”

The Bitch is stomping her feet like Rumpelstiltskin while I attempt to appear unaffected.

“Although she is awake, Lincoln appears to have suffered extreme paralysis as a symptom of the stroke. At this time, she is unable to walk, move, or speak. There is currently no information on if the condition is permanent.”

Well, that’s something. The Bitch settles a bit.

“Questions arose as to whether Lincoln could have had an adverse reaction to the flu shot. Toxicology reports tested for the flu vaccine and revealed that she was given the same strain of the virus given to all the inmates and staff of the prison. Reports indicate that there was no way the flu shot could’ve caused a stroke.

“Lincoln will be moved to a minimum-security prison where a special team will oversee her care in hopes of a recovery.”

“She had a stroke from a flu shot?” I ask aloud.

“That’s impossible,” Grace says, and I forget that she was in the room. I look over at her.

“Not that I really care what happens to the bitch,” I tell her. “To be honest, it would have been good news had they said she was dead, but a stroke from a flu shot? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“Well, they clearly said it couldn’t have been caused by the flu shot,” she replies. “It has to be coincidence. Maybe she got some really bad news, or she had high blood pressure or something. There has to be an explanation.” She shrugs.

There is.

It suddenly dawns on me—my husband’s words a few days ago when I asked how things went with Greta Ellison.

“Nobody’s dead… except the book, and it won’t be back.”

Nobody’s dead except the book, and it won’t be back. That is so ominous, but I guess he’s right. The book, indeed, will not be back.

“Damn,” I say, gazing at the television, the news moving on to another story. “Karma’s a real bitch.”

“You look relieved,” Gail says, her brow raised when I turn to look at her.

“I am,” I reply. “There’s no use in lying. That woman is pure evil, and I’m surprised that it hasn’t consumed her from the inside out well before now.” Gail twists her lips.

“You’ll get no argument from me,” she says matter-of-factly, “the bitch shot my husband.”

Once I get over the initial shock of Elena’s fate, I walk around for the rest of the day on a damn cloud. I consider whatever happened to that bitch a necessary evil. She’s one miserable person who was hell-bent on destroying the lives of potentially dozens of families. I wholeheartedly believe that the world would be a better place without her, and I don’t regret those feelings. I only regret that the stroke didn’t finish her off.

Second only to my two darling bundles of joy, it’s the best present I’ve gotten in a year.

My husband didn’t seem surprised.

“Did you hear about She-Thing?” I ask when he gets home.

“I sure did,” he says, coming into the family room as I’m decorating for the birthday party. “I wish the bitch had died.”

“I said the same thing,” I reply. “Maybe we should ease up on that before we bring some bad Karma onto ourselves. “

“No problem. I don’t want to talk about her anyway. So, a month ago, Santa Claus shit all over the house. Now, we’ve got Minnie and Mickey Mouse droppings.” I glare at him.

“First of all, you better be glad my children aren’t down here to hear you cursing or I’d find some way to make you pay for it, and I don’t mean a swear jar. Second, I’m having a great time, so don’t you come raining on my parade, Christian Grey!” I’m pointing at him with a Minnie Mouse wand made of a black glitter Minnie head with a pink glitter bow on it attached to a wooden dowel.

“Careful where you shake that thing!” he warns. “I don’t want fairy dust all over me!”

“Fuck you, Dr. Killjoy,” I declare.

“Oooh! Who needs the swear jar now?” he teases, capturing me in his arms and tickling me, his fingers madly manipulating my ribs.

“Christian, stop!” I giggle helplessly.

“What? What was that? I don’t think I heard you…”

“Stop or I’ll pee myself!” I warn. He stops tickling me and pulls me into his arms.

“Well, we don’t want that,” he says, kissing me softly.

“You seem in a better mood today,” I observe, closing my eyes as he peppers gentle kisses on my lips, my neck, and my jaw.

“It was a better day,” he says between kisses. “Somebody came in there and put the fear of God into my staff and they’ve been getting their shit together.”

“Mmm… have they now?” I say, still absorbing his tender kisses.

“Mmm-hmm,” he says, gently tasting my skin.

“Sheesh, get a room,” Jason says, coming from the mudroom and through the family room.

“We don’t need a room. We have a house,” Christian retorts, “and you’re in it.”

“Along with a very impressionable teenager,” he remarks. Oops, he’s right. Sophie should be around any minute to help me with the hors d’oeuvres and sandwich fixings for tomorrow.

“Look who’s talking,” I say as Christian releases his embrace. “You come in kissing Gail every day.” He pauses as he reaches his wife to do just that.

“I kiss her,” he concurs, “I don’t maul her in the middle of the family room. We’re not making out amongst the Disney paraphernalia. Hello, Love,” he says, turning to his wife and kissing her sweetly.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Christian says, forcefully pulling me back into his arms. “I’ll maul my wife whenever and wherever I damn well please… but I will be mindful of the teenager.” He looks at me again and pops a fast, hard kiss on my lips eliciting a giggle from me.

“So, what’s going on at the Ivory Palace?” I ask my husband. “Finney and Ros finally get their asses in gear?”

“Among other things,” he says. “Everybody’s waiting for the Queen of Hearts to come breezing into the office… ‘Off with their heads!’” he jests, still holding me close to him while ceasing his kissing. “It’s one thing to have one hardnosed boss, but two… and then whatever gets pass me or—heaven forbid—you, is now being picked up by the executive team who are also afraid of having their craniums severed.” He raises a brow.

“Aha! Now we’re getting somewhere!” I declare. “That’s all we needed in the first place. Why the fuck did I have to come down there and put some fire under these assholes? And what’s with the Queen of Hearts analogy? That woman was insane. I’m not that bad.”

Queen of Hearts

“Well, get used to it because that’s what the ‘peasants’ are calling you,” he says. “And the Queen of Hearts may have been insane, but she was powerful. Insane or not, if she said a head came off, a head came off, and you proved that by sending Mosele home for a short ‘vacation’ to ponder his position. And let’s not forget the fact that you came breezing in there that Monday morning in this fierce red dress daring someone to test you. And those who did were made quick examples—not down the line, but in that same meeting. I think these people know who their dealing with.”

“Must we refer to them as peasants?” I ask. It sounds so unpleasant and elitist.

“If they can call you ‘Queen of Hearts,’ I can call them ‘peasants.’ And trust me, they have a plethora of unsightly names for me, so I’m being kind.”

Jesus, I would prefer not to have the company have the us/them mentality, but unfortunately, it looks like it may be what we need to get things done.

“Speaking of the executive team, how’s Ros doing with her dilemma?” I ask.

“I have no idea,” he tells me. “I don’t want to be in her personal life that way. While I truly do sympathize with her familial woes, I’m sure that I would prefer not to be in her proverbial bedroom that way. I can’t empathize with her at all because she made a vow to one woman when her heart was with someone else. I can’t speak to what she should have done or what she should do now. I can only say that it’s not my arena.”

I try not to frown. Ros is his second in command, so he very well should be concerned about her familial woes. However, I guess as the psychiatrist between us, I’m going to have to keep an eye on the situation myself. However, his reaction—though very calm and PC—is not getting past me.

“What?” he asks, obviously noting my contemplation.

“You have some very distinct opinions about this,” I say. He raises a brow. “I live with you. I’m married to you. I fuck you. I can read between the lines,” I say, answering his unasked question. He adjusts his posture, about to make a point.

“I can clearly say that’s something that I would never do,” he says. “When I asked you to marry me, that’s where I wanted to be. I had the choice to stay in my lifestyle and be with whomever I chose whenever I chose—that’s not what I wanted. I wanted you. I want you. So, the concept of wanting someone else after I said that I wanted you is something I can’t fathom. But you…”

He pauses. What the fuck? What about me?

“I’m with you. I love you. I know you well enough to know that this is where you want to be. That whole Westwood bullshit was a blip in the radar for a few different reasons, but I know this is where you want to be. The thought that you would marry me while you still had unclear feelings for someone else only to have those feelings resurface years after we said our vows—I would be murderous. I wouldn’t even know how to handle that.

“So, right now, while I am concerned about Ros, I have to compartmentalize this whole thing. What she did was selfish and cruel, and now she’s trying to find the easiest way out of the situation she created. She totally created this monsoon, and now she’s trying to get out of it without getting wet. And where the fuck does that leave Gwen?”

He’s beginning to get angry, but I can see him visibly trying to shake off his anger with Ros.

“I see,” I say, calmly. “So, your empathy strikes again, but this time, it’s striking with Gwen. How does that feel?”

He raises his gaze to me and I’m looking at him with soft but inquisitive eyes, nothing confrontational. He couldn’t empathize with Ros because he would never do that. The only thing that he could do is put himself in Gwen’s shoes, and it’s infuriating him.

“Pretty pissed off,” he says, his voice calmer, “which is why I can’t talk to her about it. When her personal shit interfered with her job, I got involved. Where it doesn’t interfere with her job, I’m out of it.” He shakes his head. I nod and put my hand on his cheek.

“I think that’s best,” I tell him. “I’ll handle it. Like you said, as long as she does her job, right?” He closes his eyes and nods, leaning into my hand.

“Thank you for not getting mad,” he says. I scoff a laugh.

“You almost had me for a minute there, Grey, but luckily, I learned to listen,” I say with a wink and a smile. We hear the clearing of someone’s throat, and we turn to see Marilyn standing there.

“Um, I hope I’m not disturbing you,” she says. Christian laughs. I turn to him.

“What?” I ask.

“She just did a ‘Jason,’” he says with mirth. My brow furrows.

“A ‘Jason?’” I ask. Christian cocks his head at me.

“If we’re in the midst of a conversation—or anything else—when Jason walks into the room, what does he do to get my attention?” I roll my eyes.

“You mean besides tell us to get a room?” I say, turning to Marilyn. “You’re not interrupting, Mare, what’s up?”

“I got a call from Alex. He said he tried to call you twice but no luck.” I begin looking around for my phone. Where is my phone?

“Hell, I don’t know where my phone is. Is everything okay?”

“Yeah. He said that you were looking for a final background check on Jade Goldwin. He emailed it to you,” she says. Oh, yeah, her.

“Thanks, Mare. Did he say that there was anything to be concerned about?”

“Not to me,” she says with a shrug. “I would think if there was cause for concern, he’d ask me to get you to the phone, so I would say not.” I nod.

“I agree, but I’ll look at it anyway,” I say. She nods and smiles before heading back off towards the elevator.

“Jesus, has she lost more weight?” I was hoping he wouldn’t notice that, but she has. My silence is enough for him. “Butterfly, this is not good. She’s really going to hurt herself if she doesn’t stop this!”

“I know, I know,” I lament. “I’m the doctor, remember?” He gazes at me for a moment.

“Her parents aren’t here,” he says, firmly. “She doesn’t have a significant other anymore. I hate to do this, but it’s you, baby. It’s all you.” I roll my eyes.

“I know, Christian, I’m just trying not to ambush the girl right now…”

“You may not have a choice. She’s slowly killing herself!”

“She just got back…” I excuse.

“Nearly three weeks ago!” he counters. I deflate. He’s right. She needs to eat.

“I’ll talk to her,” I say.

“You may need to do more than that,” he cautions.

“Like what?” I recounter.

“I don’t know, but you may need to do more than that! This is serious! She’s really hurting herself right now.”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” I say, hoping to halt the conversation. Jesus, I’m not the one starving myself for crying out loud. I just have to figure out what to do.

“So…” he says, stalling, “what’s with this Jade Goldwin?” Holy cow, that’s the way to change gears.

“She’s coming to the party,” I tell him. “She’s in Maxie and Mindy’s Mommy and Me class, and she has a son the same age as Mindy. I just wanted to vet her before she came to my house and head her off if necessary.”

“Oh? How did you meet her?” he asks. Now he’s interested. Good grief.

“Maxie and I were shopping, and we bumped into her at the Marketplace.” He nods. I know he wants more information. I roll my eyes for the umpteenth time. Where the hell is my phone?

“Keep doing that and they might get stuck that way,” he says, swiping his phone and touching the screen. I’m about to roll my eyes at him again when I hear the muffled sound of our song playing. I look around and back at him, and he’s holding his phone up, showing me that he’s calling me. Where the fuck is my phone?

It goes to voicemail and he calls it again… and again. It took four times for me to find the damn thing between the sofa cushions. How the hell did it get there?

I swipe the screen and the battery is nearly dead. It’s a good thing I found it, or I may have never found it.

“Don’t you have a case or a clip or something for that?” he asks.

“No, Mr. Grey, I keep it in my purse, and I didn’t go anywhere today!” I snap.

“Touchy,” he teases.

“Annoying,” I counter in the same sing-songy voice. I open my email and click on the pdf attached.

“Yeah, she’s Jane Q. Housewife,” I say, scrolling through the document. “Twenty-nine, married, four boys just like Maxie said.”

“And her husband?” Christian asks.

“Sells insurance for a local company,” I tell him. “Small beans.” He nods.

“Who’s coming?” he asks.

“Just Jade and her youngest,” I say, closing my phone. “Maxie vouches for her, so she can’t be all bad.”

“Who all is coming?” he asks.

“All the grandparents, the godparents—Mia bowed out this time, the Scooby Gang… except for Gary, Luma and Herman and the girls, Marlow’s bringing Maggie and probably a date…” Sophie will love that, “… and our newest guest Jade and her little boy, English.”

“English?” Christian says in horror.

“I didn’t name the kid,” I say, with a shrug.

“Dear Lord,” Christian says. “That poor kid is going to be teased incessantly.”

“You don’t know that, Christian,” I scold.

“Baby, I’ve traveled the world and I’ve never met anybody anywhere named English,” he points out.

“Okay, so he has a unique name,” I argue, “It’s not wild or crazy, like Fallopion or something. It’s just different.”

“You’re so sweet,” he says, stroking my cheek. “He’s going to get teased. Whoever came up with that name, that’s grounds for divorce.” I gape at him.

“You’re kidding, right?” I ask in horror. He raises a brow.

“Am I?” he asks, impassively.

“You’re saying that when we have another kid, if for some reason you’re indisposed and I come up with a name that you don’t like, you’ll divorce me?” My voice rises to a squeak on the last two words and I think hearing it come out of my mouth makes him realize just how ridiculous he sounds.

“Well, no, but you wouldn’t name our child something ridiculous like English!” he quips.

“And what if I did?” I say, putting my hands on my hips.

“Then there would definitely be some papers filed somewhere,” he says, “maybe not for divorce, but we would be changing that kid’s name. And anyway, it’s a moot point because we sat down and picked our children’s names together, months before they were born. So, why are we arguing about a kid who isn’t even ours?”

I twist my lips and fold my arms. The argument does seem a tad ridiculous.

“You were the one who started talking about divorce,” I pout.

“Yeah, and you were the one to actually take it literally,” he retorts. “Divorce you? Over a name, even? Seriously?” Asshole.

“Be useful and grab that garland,” I pout.

“Hey, wait, I’m not getting roped into decorating,” he protests.

“Oh, yes, you are!” I whirl around on him. “You came in here pissing on my happy place then we’re talking about everything from Elena to Queen of Hearts to Ros to Westwood to Marilyn to some random kid named English to divorce and dammit I want my happy place back!” I say the entire sentence without breathing and he just gazes at me.

“I got your happy place right here,” he remarks, matter-of-factly and I roll my eyes for the 101st time today.

“Grab the damn garland, Christian.”

*-*

It’s Saturday, the day that we meet with Artemis and Savvina, but that’s not until much later. Right now, Minnie and Mickey Mouse decorations are exploding all over my dining room and family room much like yuletide exploded all over my house for Christmas. I’m definitely in the mood to celebrate.

There are two giant Number One balloons to greet you at the door. One has a Mickey Mouse head and the other, a Minnie Mouse head. There’s also a Minnie and Mickey sign that reads, “Welcome to the birthday clubhouse.” Once they don their Minnie or Mickey Mouse party hats, the kids get to munch on “Daisy’s garden vegetables,” “Goofy grapes,” or various melons cut in the shape of Mickey’s head and garnished with blueberries and pineapple. There’s always a way to get kids to eat healthy if you make it fun.

They also get to build ham and turkey sandwiches out of bread, turkey, ham, and cheese all cut in the shape of Mickey’s head with choices of lettuce, tomato, pickles, and condiments as well—or they can choose to have Mickey shaped chicken nuggets or a hot dog from the “Hot Diggity Dog” bar. There are games and bubbles and prizes to keep them occupied, but let’s face it—who’s not going to have fun in Mickey Mouse land?

I was smart enough to know that “Hot Diggity” dogs and chicken nuggets wouldn’t cut it for the parents. So, we have the option of what I call “Chicken Bacon Crack Pinwheels,” Rueben pinwheels, quinoa salad, and seven-layer dip, along with the aforementioned fruits and vegetables. The drinks were either “Pirate Punch” or “Sea Water” from the Pirate Mickey drink bar, and various Mickey and Minnie Mouse cupcakes are spread around the house, along with the Mickey/Minnie birthday cake on the kitchen counter.

Sophie has help me with most of the same-day preparation, like she always does. She wants to be a chef or a caterer, and she loves preparing the food and decorating the house. She’s so grown up for her age that I’m a little afraid that she might be missing her childhood. With a mother like Shalane, though, she’s probably already missed it. She’s seen too much for her age, and once you see certain things, you just can’t unsee them.

Sophie shed her purple tresses shortly after her last altercation with Marlow’s most recent date on Christmas, and after a visit to Miana’s, Jason is glad to see her enter with shiny, beautiful, billowing blonde waves. She actually looks a little older, but it’s most likely because that purple hair made her look so much younger to me.

She gleefully helps me finish setting up for the twins’ party which, as we all know, is really a celebration for the parents, but I don’t care. My little brother will be here. Max is bringing Mindy and I even told her that she was clear to bring Jade to the party since they’re such good friends. I should definitely get to know her if they’re that close.

Celida and Mariah will be here. At the tender age of 6 and 8, they love parties for whatever reason. Maggie’s coming, too. I don’t know if Marlow will be bringing a date this time, but I almost wish that he wouldn’t. It usually ends miserably for him and for Sophie. Until she gets over this crush that she has on him, she’s not going to behave. She’s a woman scorned at 13, and most women scorned don’t even know how to behave as adults!

Mia has decided to sit this one out, but the grandparents and godparents will be here, and of course, our resident waif, Marilyn. I hope I can get her to eat some cake or something before Christian declares martial fucking law!

The guests are now arriving and surprisingly, Maxie, Phil, and Jade arrive before Al.

“Forgive me,” Jade begins, “if I seem a little out of place today. I can’t believe I’m here—this place is absolutely astonishing. And the decorations—dear God! Did you do this all yourself or did you have help?”

“Well, both, actually. I did it myself, but I had a little help, too. My biggest helper was this young lady right here…” I snag Sophie as she’s walking by. “This is my resident party helper, Sophia. Sophie, this is Jade, and you know Maxie and Phil.”

Sophie smiles and waves shyly.

“Hi,” she says sweetly.

“Hi, Sophia,” Jade says, “or do you prefer Sophie?”

“Sophie’s fine,” she says. Jade smiles.

“This is my son, English,” she says. English is older than the twins, but he manages a smile and a wave from his mother’s arms.

“English,” Sophie says, as if testing the word, “I’ve never heard of that as a name before.”

“He’s named after his paternal grandfather,” she says. “My husband insisted.”

“Oh,” I say, “so it’s a family name.” She nods.

“I would have chosen something normal, like Chad, or Blake, or Worcestershire,” she says, rolling her eyes, and I know the last one was a joke, but with a name like English, you can’t be too sure.

“It’s unusual,” I say, “but it’s nice.”

“Thank you,” she says. “It does sound distinguished at the very least.” I see my husband and decide to poke a little fun at him.

“Christian, come, meet our guest,” I say loudly so that he can’t ignore me or try to get away. He raises his brow at me because he knows what I’m doing, but I don’t care.

“This was my other helper,” I say to Jade when he comes over to us. “He hung a piece of garland or three.”

“A piece of…” My husband trails off in mock horror and I pretend to ignore him.

“Christian, this is Jade and her son, English,” I say, introducing them.

“It’s very nice to meet you,” he says with a nod of his head.

“Likewise. Thank you for having me,” Jade replies cordially.

English is an unusual name, isn’t it, Christian?” My husband throws a side gaze at me. “It’s a family name,” I tell him. “He’s named after his grandfather.” Still grounds for a divorce, Sir?

“Is that so?” Christian says. “Tell me, what is the origin of that name.”

“I have no idea,” Jade says. “As ridiculous as it sounds, I’m assuming it’s English! I can’t even derive a nickname from that, so I just call him Eddie.

My knees buckle and I’m literally choking on nothing. Christian catches me as I’m going down and makes an excuse to get me away from Jade. He takes me over to the pirate bar and I sit down.

“I’m fine. I’m fine. I just wasn’t ready. It caught me off guard,” I excuse.

“Okay, so you can just sit here until you’re back on guard,” he says, kneeling in front of me.

“Really, Christian, I’m fine,” I assure him. “That’s just the last name I expected to hear at my children’s birthday party.”

“Well, maybe Maxine should tell her friends to do some homework before she brings them around,” he states.

“Oh, please,” I lament, “aren’t I considered enough of a prima donna to the public without people having to know my life history before they visit me? Besides, what would we do, tell her to change her son’s nickname because of my ex-boyfriend? Just let it go.”

I raise my head just in time to see Maggie giggling with Sophie, and a few moments later, Marlow enters… with a date, and not the girl from Christmas. Jesus, what was that, a month ago?

“You may need to talk to him,” I say to Christian while gesturing to Marlow. He looks over his shoulder at Marlow, then back at me.

“What?” he asks

“The girls,” I whisper harshly. “He brings a different girl to every event.”

“He’s young, Butterfly,” he excuses. “He’s not attached to anybody and I know he practices safe sex.” I know that too, but…

“He brought one girl to Mia’s wedding in September; another one to Thanksgiving; another one to Christmas; and now another one to the twins’ birthday. That’s four girls in five months! You don’t see anything wrong with that?” Besides the fact that it’s totally tormenting Sophie, it just doesn’t look good… and it’s not smart!

“He’s a young boy sowing his oats like young boys do. He’s no dummy. He won’t get caught up in a bad situation. I don’t see the problem.” I cock my head at him.

“Oh? So, if Michael brings a string of girls home from the ages of 15 to 18, you wouldn’t have a problem with that?” I ask.

“No,” he says matter-of-factly. Is that so, Mr. Grey? I fold my arms and square off.

“And if Mackenzie brings home a string of boyfriends?” I say, and just let the words hang in the air. His face blanches and he begins to look a little ill.

Mm-hmm, that’s what I thought. What’s good for the goose is going to be good for the gander in this house, Grey. So, if you don’t want to see your little princess doing it, don’t think I’m going to allow little Master Grey to get away with it either.

“Talk to him,” I say, firmly before rising from the breakfast bar and going back to the dining room.

I greet my guests and assure everyone that I’m okay, chalking my coughing spell up to an unexpected bout with my own saliva. Marlow introduces me to his date—Tasha, I think her name is. It doesn’t matter. I’m sure that I won’t see her again after today.

Sophie and Maggie have taken to getting the children situated and playing “Pin the bow on Minnie” when Al finally decides to grace us with his presence.

“Sorry we’re late,” he says, and that’s all he gives me by way of an explanation, not that I need one. He and James are both as loose as a noodle and look like fresh, new daisies. I’m sure sex was involved.

“You nearly missed your godchildren’s party, you sex fiend,” I say, my voice low.

“Don’t be so dramatic,” he says waving me off. “You haven’t even opened presents yet.” I roll my eyes. “Who’s the bird with Maxie?”

“That’s Jade,” I tell him. “She’s in a Mommy and Me class with Maxie, which they probably had to miss to come to this party.” He looks at me.

“You sound a little snippy,” he observes. I glare at him.

“Jealous,” I say, honestly. “Maxie got married before me; had her baby before me; and now she’s moving on to new friends without me. Yeah, I’d say I’m just a little snippy.” I look over at Jade and Maxie having a conversation with Val.

“Jade calls her Max,” I say with disdain. “Her son’s name is English.” Al frowns.

“English? That’s his name?” he asks. I nod. “That’s odd. Where did that come from?”

“Apparently, it’s a family name. And get this, his nickname is Eddie.” Al literally winces at the mention of the name. “Yeah, my sentiments exactly, only a little more graphic.”

“Well, she seems like a nice enough person,” he says.

“She is,” I admit. “I just resent the fact that she’s apparently taking my place.” Al scoffs.

“Darling Jewel, she may be friends with our Maxine, but trust me—nobody can replace you.” He puts his hand on my shoulder.

“You’re sweet,” I tell him as we go to join the party.

Everything is going well, and the children are having a really good time playing games, opening prizes, and blowing bubbles. I’m with Minnie most of the day, standing her on her feet and coaxing her to walk with me, which she does. She’s doing very well keeping her balance and standing for several moments until she realizes that she’s standing, or she moves too fast to get to some new toy or adventure. Then she’s back on her hands and knees again. I think it’s adorable and, sure enough, after a few hours of guidance, she’s toddling around more than she’s crawling. Christian gets a few videos on his phone since I’m detained with entertaining. We’re just finishing singing “Happy Birthday” to the twins and I’m cutting and serving cake when I hear it.

“Is constantly twirling your hair an art form or can anybody do it?”

Oh, dear God. I raise my gaze to see Sophie, once again, facing off with Marlow and his date. Tasha looks at Sophie, appalled.

“Is this little brat talking to me?” she asks Marlow while pointing at Sophie. Marlow appears to be trying to smooth things over while Sophie stands there looking like she had nothing to do with Tasha’s current mood.

“No, Marlow! Does she speak to any other adult in this room that way?” Tasha shoots. I know what that means. Marlow is 17, so this girl is probably 18, and by pointing out that she’s an adult, she most likely just turned 18 and she’s smelling her adultness. I sigh.

“Nice one, Sophie,” I lament quietly.

“I don’t care,” I hear Tasha say. “In our house, children know to stay in a child’s place. Someone apparently forgot to teach her that!” She is furious. She throws a murderous look at Sophie and walks away.

“Seriously, Sophie?” Marlow hisses. “Jesus Christ, what’s going on with you?” and now, he’s livid, too as he goes after Tasha. I take this opportunity to make my way over to Sophie.

“Sophia!” I say quietly, “seriously, you’re going to have to stop this. Marlow is going to despise you if you keep this up.”

“I wasn’t trying to tease her,” she excuses, “it just slipped out. She stood there the entire time twirling her hair around her finger. Jesus, is she that flighty or is it a nervous tick?”

“And if it wasn’t her hair, it would be her shoes, or her dress, or her voice. This is getting out of hand!”

“What does it matter what I say?” she says. “He still going to do her.”

“Sophie!” I exclaim appalled.

“They’re so obvious! How can he not see it?” My question is how can you see it so clearly? “How can he even like these girls? They’re scatterbrains. They have the attention span of a goldfish. None of them even show up again after the first time!”

That’s what I said, but that could have a lot to do with you.

“Well, for whatever reason he likes them, he likes them, and you’re going to have to stop being rude to them. For one thing, it’s not very ladylike at all. And for another thing, I defended you when that girl passively aggressively insulted you at Mia’s wedding. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see how she made you feel although Marlow was clueless. What ground do I have to stand on right now when you’re behaving the same way she did? And third, and most important…” I put my hand on her shoulder and hold her gaze.

“I’m very fond of you, Sophie,” I say. “I consider us good friends, but I don’t like for anyone to insult the guests that come to my home and you do that repeatedly with Marlow’s dates. If they lash out at you first, I completely understand your need to defend yourself. But when you say disparaging things against them for no reason, that’s unacceptable behavior, Sophie.”

This is the first time that I’ve had to scold Sophie and I really don’t like it, but it’s necessary. She shrinks a bit as my words sink in.

“I really didn’t think about it that way,” she says. “I still think they’re flighty little thots, but I don’t want to make you guys look bad. I’m sorry, Ana.” I nod.

“You might want to apologize to Marlow and his date,” I tell her. She grimaces.

“I can’t do that,” she squeals quietly. “He already hates me, and I couldn’t face him right now… or her. Please don’t make me do that I’ll die!” She says the last part all in one breath, and I really believe she would just keel over and die if she had to face Marlow right now.

“Well, I can’t and won’t force you to do anything, Sophie, but you might want to think about your behavior and what damage has already been done.” She sighs heavily as if I’ve just pardoned her from the death penalty.

“Sophia!”

I discover that I may have spoken too soon. Gail’s voice interrupts our conversation and she is none too happy as she comes marching over to us.

“Sophia, is it true that you said something unkind to Marlow’s date?” Gail accuses. Sophie’s mouth falls open and she looks in horror over at Marlow. When I glance at him, he and his date are looking in our direction like they’re waiting for the ax to fall. Oh, this is just great.

“I can’t believe it,” Sophie says incredulously, her voice three octaves higher than normal. “He snitched on me?”

“So, that means that it’s true,” Gail accuses, a statement not a question.

“I was just kidding around, Momma Gail,” Sophie excuses. “It’s not my fault she can’t take a joke.”

“That’s because she didn’t find it funny,” Gail says. “You can’t say mean things about people and think it’s okay. It’s very unbecoming, and you owe them an apology. You march over there right now and apologize.”

As if Sophie’s face could show any more horror, she glares over at Marlow and his date then turns her gaze back to Gail.

“No,” she says, calmly, her voice resolute. You could knock Gail over with a feather right now.

“Excuse me, young lady?” Gail says in disbelief.

“I’m sorry, Momma Gail, but I’m not going to apologize. He already won. He snitched on me for hurting his girlfriend’s feelings, and now they’re staring at me waiting to see what kind of trouble I’m going to get in. So, he won. I’m in trouble, I already know it, but I’m not going to apologize.”

Sophie stands firm on that sinking boat that she’s not going to apologize. To already be convicted of the crime, she pled her case very well for a 13-year-old kid. Right now, Sophie would rather run naked down the I-5 than to go over there and apologize to Marlow and that girl. Gail looks at her stepdaughter and knows that it’s a lost cause to try to make her apologize.

“The party is over for you, young lady,” Gail says firmly. “Go to your apartment. You’re grounded for the rest of the weekend.” Shit, there goes my helper.

“Yes, ma’am,” Sophie says dutifully, and marches past Gail without looking back at me or at Marlow and his date. I roll my eyes before Gail turns around to look at me.

“What?” she says. “She was wrong. She’s going to turn out to be a bully if we don’t nip this in the bud.”

“I highly doubt that,” I say, “but don’t be too hard on her. You know, teenage angst, sibling rivalry… She was probably just giving her ‘brother’s’ date a hard time, nothing more.” I do the finger quotes around the word brother knowing damn well that it’s more than that, but she’s not a bully. She’s lashing out because she’s jealous.

“I don’t know,” Gail sighs. “I hope you’re right.” She walks over to Marlow and his date and says something to them. I turn away and head over to the food table. I can’t help but empathize with Sophie again. Even though she was clearly wrong, he told Mommy on her. There’s no better or more thorough way to drive home the fact that he looks at her as nothing more than a child than to tell Mommy that she said something wrong. There’s no way in hell Sophie was going to apologize after that. She’ll most likely gladly take the grounding and hide under her bed for the next two days.

“Trouble in the happiest place on earth?” My husband’s voice breaks me out of my thought process as I fill my plate with a few pinwheels.

“I just lost my party helper,” I say, taking another pinwheel. “Sophie was poking fun at Marlow’s date, something about twirling her hair on her fingers, and Marlow didn’t like it. Apparently, he told Gail and now Sophie’s grounded.” Christian frowns.

“He snitched on her?” he says. I raise a shocked gaze at him.

“That’s exactly what she said!” I say, surprised.

“Well, yeah, me and Mia used to do shit like that to each other all the time—me and Elliot, too—but we didn’t snitch on each other.” I smile and shake my head.

“I think it might be a different dynamic here, Christian,” I say before I realize that I’m saying too much.

“How so?” he asks, and before I get the chance to trip over my tongue, he continues. “He considers her a little sister and that’s just how she’s acting, like a bratty little sister trying to embarrass him in front of a girl. But hell, he snitched. He broke the sibling code.” I frown.

“There’s a sibling code?” I ask incredulously.

“Well, apparently not with him,” Christian says. “I know there are some siblings who’ll squeal if you left the top off the mustard, but in our family, Vegas rules applied—what happened outside of Mom and Dad’s knowledge stayed outside of Mom and Dad’s knowledge.”

Well, that’s scary. Stuff was going on right under their nose and they didn’t know it. That’s probably why Pedo-Bitch could so easily get to Christian and almost to Elliot. Everything was so hush-hush.

At this point, I don’t know who’s side I’m on.

“Yeah, well, I’d say the lines are drawn in the sand now,” I say, eating a pinwheel.

“I’d say you’re right,” my husband concurs.


CHRISTIAN

“When you are in a submissive role, your duty is to serve. However, it cannot only be your duty. It must be your desire. You cannot force this relationship–it has to be something that you want… crave or desire, even. Some soumises are born, some are cultivated. Either is fine, but this must be something that you want to do for yourself, or you’re wasting your time.”

Pussycat and I are sitting in our mentors’ den. The sessions with them and our attendance at the Munches have been highly rewarding and very informative. Pussycat has done lots of research on her own along with several assignments given to her from Savvina. She has brought several questions to our sessions, and today’s question has to do with tasks.

Tasks are generally set in a 24/7 D/s relationship, which ours is not. However, Pussycat points out that she can see how having a task or even several tasks would help her to maintain a submissive mindset. It doesn’t mean that she is releasing any of her independence. It just means that she’s acknowledging that I’m her Dominus and she, my soumise—and that in that role, she has the attitude of service, which is why Savvina is speaking on the duty of a soumise to serve.

“Service is a relative term,” Savvina continues. “It may mean that you perform direct duties required by your Dominus or it may not. It may also mean that you make yourself available for what he needs, or that you assist him with a skill or ability that he may not have. The possibilities are endless, and the two of you will set the guidelines for how you will serve him or what your specific tasks will be, if any.” Pussycat looks at me.

“Are there any specific tasks that come to mind that you think you may require of me?” she inquires. I ponder for a moment.

“None come to mind immediately,” I admit, “but I’m certain that we’ll come up with something.”

As we’re speaking, the coffee service arrives and is placed on the table in front of us. Savvina dutifully prepares two cups of coffee—one for Artemis, and then one for herself. She prepares Artemis’s cup with cream and sugar, and then her own before she sits back to enjoy the coffee. Pussycat’s and my cup remain empty.

I immediately see this as a test from our mentor if Pussycat is willing to serve—literally, although I’m not sure this is what she meant when she asked about tasks and service.

Noting that Savvina didn’t pour any coffee for us, Pussycat pauses only for a moment before retrieving the silver coffee pot and pouring a small amount into her cup. She replaces the coffee pot and takes a sip of the coffee. Then she retrieves the coffee pot again and fills my cup nearly to the brim. She adds a bit of cream and sugar before stirring it and handing me the cup and saucer, which I graciously accept. She then prepares her own cup and relaxes in her seat to enjoy her coffee.

“Why did you pour your cup first?” Savvina asks.

“I didn’t pour my ‘cup’ first. I poured a tasting in my cup,” Pussycat responds.

“And why would you do that?” Savvina asks. “Why would you pour coffee for yourself before pouring coffee for your Dominus?”

“Because I didn’t make the coffee, and it wasn’t made in my home,” she says. “How he takes his coffee is dependent on the brew, so I had to taste it to know what to put in it.” Savvina raises a brow and looks at me.

“Does she normally serve your coffee at home?” Savvina asks.

“Never,” I reply. “As of late, I’ve been leaving the house very early–before she wakes. It’s not something that I require her to do. Our staff makes sure that the coffee is prepared before either of us wakes. I sometimes leave so early that I just get coffee at the office.”

“How do you know how he takes his coffee if he’s never home or you’re not awake when he drinks it?” Savvina asks Pussycat, and she’s at a loss for words. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that she was affronted.

“If you are serving your Dominus, you should never drink or eat before he does,” Savvina says, and crosses her legs definitively. Pussycat is silent for a moment, her brow furrowed, and just as Savvina begins to speak again, she interjects.

“I disagree,” she says, crossing her legs as well. Savvina’s brow rises again.

“And why is that?” she prompts Pussycat.

“If I make my own coffee, then I want it strong and black. If he drinks my coffee, he wants it black, too. It’s been that way since the first cup of coffee he drank at my apartment more than two years ago. Coffee in restaurants or at the office are a good, robust blend, but not as strong as mine—as is the coffee made by my staff at home. In that case, he’ll take a little creamer, but not sugar. Designer coffees usually have a flavor of their own, so he won’t take anything in those either, unless he opts for a shot of espresso. If coffee is particularly weak, it’s nothing but English tea to his palette. So, he takes it with cream and sugar. So, I beg to differ with you, because if it’s coming from a strange pot, unless he’s pouring his own coffee, I don’t know what’s in the pot. So, I have to taste it before I serve him.”

Touché.

“Well,” Savvina says, “The teacher has been duly chastised.” She takes a sip of her coffee. “This is a perfect example of service being a relative term and the two of you setting your own guidelines for your definition of service. You came to me with a question about tasks and service, and you ended up educating me on one of the most important aspect of the D/s relationship—that it’s totally a la carte, and that each couple writes their own rules and guidelines for their relationship.” She turns to me. “You should be proud.”

I look at Pussycat, who’s unsuccessfully resisting the urge to smile. I reach over, take her free hand, and kiss it gently.

I am, very proud.

*-*

“I’m going to stop breastfeeding.”

I’m shocked to hear this announcement come from my wife as we’re riding into GEH on Monday morning. She lives to breastfeed our children and now she wants to stop?

“May I ask why?” I probe. She drops her gaze.

“There are so many reasons to stop,” she admits. “I’m more active outside of the home, with GEH and all, and even without GEH, I’m going to be more active with Helping Hands. We’re going to Vegas in a week and we don’t know how long we’re going to be there. I can’t go to the bathroom and pump every few hours and I don’t want to risk leaking all over my clothes. Most importantly, our children are drinking out of sippy cups and eating solid food. They just turned a year old. It’s time.” I twist my lips.

“You don’t seem too happy about it,” I tell her. She sighs. Breast-feeding was how and when she bonded most with the children. Now, she’s not going to be doing it anymore.

“We all have to be weened in one way or another,” she says with a shrug. “We might as well start doing it now before I start suffering from separation anxiety.” I take her hand and kiss it gently.

“I’ll be here for you,” I say. “And if I’m honest, I’m being a little selfish, too. Watching that nectar drip from your breast when you’re full and you come is very sexy.” That elicits a giggle from her.

“I know. I guess we’ll just have to ween you, too.”

I try not to stare at Marilyn throughout the morning, but she’s getting thinner and thinner and it’s not looking good on her. When she catches me staring at her, I ask her for a moment of her time.

“You’re going to Las Vegas with us, right?” I ask.

“That’s my understanding,” she replies.

“You know Las Vegas has some of the best cuisine in the country,” I inform her. “World-renowned chefs have restaurants there in some of the casinos and hotels. Have you possibly thought about which ones you may want to visit?” She sighs and rolls her eyes.

“I hadn’t given it any thought,” she says, her voice a bit perturbed, but I don’t allow it to sway me.

“Butterfly and I are hoping to go to Americana one night while we’re there. You’re welcome to come. I hear the food is exquisite…”

“I know what you’re doing, Christian,” she says. “You haven’t talked about any of the shows, none of the sights, not the nightlife or even the spas. You’re only talking about the food.” I purse my lips.

“I’ve known you as long as I’ve known my wife,” I say. “I’ve never seen you this thin… and you’ve gotten thinner just over the last couple of weeks. You barely touch your food at dinner if you eat anything at all and I have no idea what you’re eating throughout the day. You’re fading away in front of us…”

Marilyn hugs her iPad to her body like a shy schoolgirl as I drone on about eating and meals, and I get the feeling that I’ve lost her, so I stop talking.

“I’m not trying to preach to you,” I say, softening my voice. “That’s the very last thing I’m trying to do. I just don’t want to see you cause undue harm to yourself.”

She nods, and a single tear falls down her cheek. Shit.

“I’m sorry if I spoke out of place or if anything I said offended you,” I add.

She nods again, but doesn’t raise her head.

“Can I get you anything?” I ask.

“I just need to go to the restroom,” she says, her voice small.

“Yes, of course, by all means…”

She’s out of the office before the words are out of my mouth. My en suite would’ve given her more privacy, but I get the feeling that she wants to be as far away from me as possible. She brushes past the reception desk and nearly runs into Butterfly on her way to… the restroom.

“Mare?” Butterfly calls after her, but she continues her bolt down the hallway. Butterfly turns to me and storms into my office.

“What did you say to her?” she demands, Momma-Bear loins girded for battle. I roll my eyes and thrust my hands into my hair.

“I didn’t say anything wrong,” I say, my voice squeaky as I explain myself to Mistress. “I just informed her that Vegas has a lot of good cuisine and world-renowned chefs and that she was free to try any of them. I just thought that something may awaken her palette again and encourage her to eat.” Mistress deflates immediately.

“Oh… that,” she says, her voice somewhat small as she falls onto my sofa. “I don’t know what to do, Christian. I know this isn’t good for her. I can’t force feed her, but she’s got to stop this.”

“At the risk of sounding insensitive,” I say, sitting down next to my wife, “she’s going to have to address this before she gets on that plane. She’s going on this trip in an official capacity. She’s flying on a GEH jet, and she’s staying on a GEH dime. There’s all kinds of liability involved if something happens to her while she’s on this trip. Though it was small, she had a medical procedure two months ago and she’s not looking well at all. She needs to be medically cleared to travel, not to mention her doctor needs to see what’s become of her.”

“Don’t you think that may be a bit drastic?” she replies. I can’t even find the words to respond to that. My face must display utter horror as I scoff and gesture wordlessly to the door that Marilyn just hastily exited.

“Alright, alright,” she says, raising her hands in surrender. “You’re right. I’ll talk to her. I’ll get it done.” I lean over and kiss her.

“It’s for her own good, Butterfly,” I say. She drops her head and worries her scar.

“I know,” she says, her voice full of defeat.

Son of a bitch, where the hell is Garrett? The girl could die, and he wouldn’t even know. Would he even care? He’s a real fucking prince among men, I swear!


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