Introduction to Seasons…

Someone made a really good point to me quite a while back in a comment in an attempt to make me stop writing. They told me that the story was really good, but that I should have stopped at Book III because that’s where the story stopped.

They were right.

Don’t panic; I’m not going to stop writing, but I just want to point something out and make an announcement to those of you who have seen a significant change in the writing from Book I to Book IV.

For a story to continue, characters must change, people must die, situations and dramas must develop—things don’t stay the same. As a result, you may lose readers. People may lose interest. They may not be happy with the direction of the tale.

And you know what? That’s okay.

I stopped watching TV because it just wasn’t holding my interest anymore, but I was still diehard on some series just because I was… until they didn’t hold my interest anymore either.

I fussed and I screamed and I jumped up and down and had a temper tantrum when Grey’s Anatomy killed off McDreamy, but people still watch Grey’s Anatomy.

There was an episode of Scandal where some young black kid was killed and Olivia Pope came to the rescue and some black activist looking for his fifteen minutes of fame starts bashing her right there on the scene loosely referring to her as a tool used by the white man to get the black folks to shut up (not his exact words), all I could see was some flighty-ass “brother” looking for attention and bringing separatism to the black community instead of relief to the family. As a result, I watched the first few minutes of that episode and never watched Scandal again, but other people watched Scandal all the way to the end.

And guess what? Shondaland didn’t die because I stopped watching and my story won’t die because certain people stopped reading and lost or lose interest. But Shondaland and my broken love affair with Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal (when it was on) made me realize something…

The “Christian and Ana Show” did end with Book III. That’s where they got married, had their kids, and their “happily ever after” began. Once you get to Book IV, you are now in the series—the soap opera. You are now in the Downton Abbey, the Days of Our Lives, the Game of Thrones (before it ended), General Hospital of the Christian and Ana saga and how they interact with other people and the other dramas that occur from those interactions.

As a result, Book IV will be renamed Season IV, and the chapters renamed Episodes. This way, there will be no confusion for those of the mind that the particular Christian and Ana story stopped at Book III. You’re right. The rest of the series is now called

The Misadventures of Christian and Ana and Their Crazy Friends

It will be named Misadventures for short, and each season will most likely still have a title of its own. Enjoy. Or don’t. But don’t ever suggest that I stop writing. I won’t 😊

Smoochies!

~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 93—Holy Yuletide, Batman!

One more chapter after this one…

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

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

Chapter 93—Holy Yuletide, Batman!

CHRISTIAN

The last few days have been a damn nightmare.

Try though I might, I couldn’t get out of the office before 7pm because there was always a fire to put out.

Four of my department heads will bring in the New Year unemployed because, as I have discovered, two of them failed the drug tests and the other two are completely incompetent. The latter were part of the dismal audits that I conducted this week and I hadn’t even gotten to the former two departments yet. After having to move assistant department heads up to department heads, I now have to give them some time to figure out what’s happening in the department before I can rake anyone across the coals. The problem is, do I focus on them now while I have the chance to influence the progress and performance of the new department heads or do I give them an opportunity to acclimate?

Lorenz and I are up to our fucking nostrils in year-end bullshit and these inadequate, incapable ass leaders I’m supposed to have, and Rosalind has decided to teach me a fucking lesson by leaving me hanging right at the fucking holidays! Wait until her haughty ass comes back and finds out that 12 of our employees—two of them, department heads—had to be dismissed for testing positive for controlled substances. I don’t know how yet, but I’m going to find some way to make her pay for her actions.

My entire body felt like a taut rubber band at the end of the day. I had only planned to work until about noon since it was Christmas Eve, but catastrophe after catastrophe kept landing in my lap. The only good news I got involved another Elena Lincoln mishap, and the story about Holstein being rushed to the hospital with bubble gut after consuming our delivery of champagne. I’m so ready for the serenity of my sanctuary, but the moment we approach the driveway, the only thing I can think is…

What the fuck is this?

I was certain that we had the wrong address. I know that no other houses on the street look like mine, but this is crazy. This can’t be my house! I know that I’ve been preoccupied with what’s been happening at GEH, but I couldn’t have been this obtuse to what was going on in my own home.

When I finally get a good look at everything that has happened in this place, I don’t recognize my own home. It’s like Santa’s elves came in and vomited all over the joint. Sparkles and lights and bulbs and garlands and candy canes and pinecones everywhere! When the fuck did she ever find time to do all this??

When she said she was preparing the house for Christmas, I had no idea it was going to come out looking like this! And she had to do it all before Maddie and Nelson got here! When exactly did Maddie and Nelson get here?

Jesus, Mary and Joseph! And I had better be careful with that exclamation, because they all appear to be on my front lawn!

It’s late once I finished a grueling workout to both work off the day and try to whip my ass into shape before seeing Claude this weekend. I go to my office and finish up the last of some work before the holiday, then I head towards the elevator.

“I thought you would already be in bed,” Chuck says as I run into him and his father in the community area on the sofa.

“I’m on my way up now,” I say walking over to them. “Nelson, it’s good to see you again,” I say extending my hand.

“Likewise, young man,” he says, giving my hand a firm shake. “Long day?”

“Extremely long,” I lament, and he chuckles a bit.

“Don’t work too hard, son,” he cautions. “It’s worth nothing if you forget what you’re working for.” I hear ya, but this company ain’t gonna run itself.

“You two smell like… food,” I say, Chuck laughs.

“Your wife had us smoking meat in the barbeque kitchen,” he says, and I frown.

“You’re a guest!” I say to Nelson. He laughs heartily.

“When Momma says we’re helping with the meal, we’re helping with the meal. The only other option was bakin’. I aint no baker, Christian,” Nelson says with mirth.

“But smoked meat can be eaten any day of the week,” Chuck adds. “And with three turkeys and two hams, something had to be smoked.”

“Three turkeys?” I exclaim. “Who all is coming to my house?”

“From what I understand, the guest list is somewhere between 30 and 50,” he says calmly.

“You gotta be kiddin’,” I say. He shakes his head. “Is the party going to be down here?” I ask, observing all the decorations.

“I would venture to say that the party is going to be all over the house,” Chuck informs me. I frown.

“The rest of the house looks like this?” I say, pointing to the elaborately decorated Christmas tree. Chuck does this strange, knowing laugh.

“I’ll just say this,” he begins, “when she first said, ‘seven Christmas trees,’ I thought was a joke.”

“Seven!?” I exclaim, my eyes wide. “Seven fucking trees??” Nelson snickers again.

“Oh, boy, are you in for a surprise,” he says. “Go over to the French doors and just take a look into the backyard.”

I go over to the French doors and motherfucking hell… my backyard looks like daylight. They can probably see this shit from outer space.

“Oh, God,” I lament. Nelson sighs.

“You have been working too hard if you haven’t seen this, son,” he says. “Go take a walk around your house.”

“The walk is going to have to wait until tomorrow. I’m exhausted,” I confess. “Goodnight, gentlemen.”

They say goodnight and they fall back into their conversation. Afraid of what I may see on the first floor, I take the elevator straight upstairs like I do most nights and go straight to our bedroom.

Butterfly has fallen into what I can clearly see is one of the deepest sleeps ever. I’m sure to be right behind her, but…

This room is cold!

I get a fire going in the fireplace and quickly change into my pajamas. Did she know it was this cold when she came to bed? Is that why she’s wearing flannel?

I climb into bed next to her and I don’t even remember my head hitting the pillow.

It’s daylight when I open my eyes again. This is the first time I remember it being daylight when I awoke in several days. I’m in the same position that I was when I fell asleep. I look over at Butterfly, and she looks like she hasn’t moved either—maybe adjusted her head, because her hair has fallen over her face now. I brush the strands behind her ears and just gaze at her for a moment.

She looks unbelievably peaceful—absolutely no clue of the hell breaking loose at our empire, and apparently going absolutely crazy with decorations around the Crossing. I’ll take a look at them, but for right now, I need to stretch my legs and get my blood pumping.

“Nice of you to join us, Bro,” Elliot says as I program the treadmill next to him. “Didn’t you work out last night?”

“Yeah, but I always do a short one in the morning, too,” I say as I find my pace. “My trainer beat my ass last week and now he’s giving me shit.”

“Does that mean that I don’t have to arm-wrestle you for those pecan goodies this year?” he asks, bringing the treadmill into a cooldown pace.

“Dream on,” I chuckle. “I’m hoping my wife put some away for me.” Elliot laughs.

“You’ve got jokes,” he says. I pound on the treadmill for 15 minutes, just enough to get the blood pumping, then I go into my own cooldown.

“What did you mean by that?” I ask as I walk at a brisk pace.

“By what?” he says, drying his face and stepping off the machine.

“By that crack, you’ve got jokes. Did you eat all the damn cookies?” He laughs again.

“Cut it out, man,” he says as he cracks open a cold water and takes several large swallows. “Honestly, bro, there was just too much joy to the world going on in this house yesterday. I’ve never seen a giddier group of women in my entire life! I had to come out to the smoke session just to get a healthy dose of testosterone and cynicism!”

“Including Montana?” I ask, trying to gauge my wife’s mood.

Especially Montana!” he exclaims. “She was running around wearing a shirt with Santa Clauses all over it, literally barefoot in the kitchen. They nabbed my wife the minute she bent the corner and almost tried to recruit me until I escaped. I went to sleep and had nightmares about gingerbread men with all the cookies she baked.”

“She always bakes a lot of cookies at Christmas,” I point out. It means that I get those chocolate-pecan delights that I had to choke him for last year.

“No!” Elliot says, shaking his head. “No. No! You have no fucking idea, man!” I frown as I step off the treadmill.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I ask. He just glares at me as I dry the sweat from my brow. He grabs a cold water and tosses it to me.

“Hydrate, and come with me,” he says.

We walk to the elevator and I now notice cookies on surfaces that I don’t remember seeing them the night before. Those are my pecan goodies! How did I miss them? Is that what Chuck and Nelson were sitting there eating last night? Greedy bastards. I hope Butterfly put some away for me.

When the elevator gets to the first floor, I see that nearly every surface in the family room has a plate of cookies, and of course, there’s another Christmas tree, and more pine garland and bulbs and lights and bows and…

“Behold,” Elliot says, gesturing to the kitchen. The bar to the patio is covered with pastry boxes stacked high like bricks. There are cookie tins on a nearby table also stacked in a staggering pattern…

“Wha…” I can’t even get the words out of my mouth.

“Those are all full of cookies,” he says. “There are cookies in the pantry, and there are cookies all over the house. There are even cookies in the guestrooms—at least there were in mine and Val’s bedroom, so I’m only assuming they’re everywhere else.”

“Jesus!” I exclaim, looking around my kitchen.

“Oh, He’s here, too. He’s on the front lawn,” Elliot announces.

“I know,” I quip sarcastically. What the hell, she did all this in three fucking days! I walk through my Christmas Village kitchen into my even more Christmas Village dining room that now looks strikingly like a holiday banquet hall. Tables are already set for a Christmas feast so I’m not really sure what the plan for breakfast is supposed to be.

An individual Christmas stocking containing flatware graces each plate on the dining table and the accompanying tables that have been commandeered for our apparent Christmas feast. A huge platter big enough to hold a turkey sits in the center adorned with gingerbread people creatively holding candy canes.

How the hell do you bake a gingerbread man holding a damn candy cane? And do I see actual Christmas sweater cookies??

“There’s no way she did all this on her own,” I say.

“Oh, she had lots of help, but she was the ringleader,” Elliot assures me. “Dude, I checked on Angel several times throughout the afternoon and evening yesterday just to make sure that she and the baby were doing okay. I can personally guarantee you that nothing you consume today will be store-bought. Be not surprised if everything you sink your teeth into, Montana had a hand in it.”

“Even these?” I ask, picking up one of the gingerbread men.

“Even those,” he says. “I got to devour some of the pieces that didn’t make it… they’re fantastic, even better than Mom’s. They got chocolate in ‘em!”

Better than Mom’s? I love my Butterfly, but nobody makes gingerbread cookies better than Mom’s.

“Taste it,” he says, noting my skepticism. I bite the little guy’s leg and the flavor is delectable. It’s crunchy and airy and delicious!

“Those are the ones that have been sitting out to get what Montana calls the ginger ‘snap.’ Wait until you try one of the ones that have been sealed and are still moist. They’re fucking insane!”

Good Lord. I don’t know whether to be impressed or worried. I’m looking at this gingerbread man like he’s going to give me the answers and all I can hear him saying is, “Ouch!”

“I… take it from your silence that you weren’t in on all of this,” Elliot observes. I shake my head.

“No,” I say, flatly, still savoring the flavor of yet another confection my wife will have now introduced me to. Elliot is too silent for too long and I raise my gaze to him

“What?” I ask.

“Christian… I’m going to say something, and if it’s none of my business, you tell me to shut up and I’ll back off.” I nod and wait for him to finish.

“Is everything okay between you and Montana?” I sigh.

“I… I think so…” I don’t know that anything is particularly wrong.

“You think so?” he asks.

“Well, we had a disagreement this weekend, but…” I trail off.

“You squashed it?” Elliot asks. “Everything’s square now?”

Shit. I don’t think so.

“Well,” I say, “we didn’t see eye to eye on something, but we didn’t fight. It was just a difference of opinion. We said how we felt about it and then we dropped it, but… well, I’ve been working. There’s all kinds of crazy shit going on at GEH and… I haven’t really talked to her all week.” Elliot frowns.

“How can that be?” Elliot asks. “You still sleep together, don’t you?”

“Of course, we do!” I snap. “Every fucking night!”

“Then how is it that you…” He trails off. A look of realization dawns on his face.

“Out with it, Elliot,” I spit.

“I saw Jason last night, but I didn’t see you,” he observes. “I didn’t even see you at dinner and it was Christmas Eve. I didn’t see you until you came to the gym this morning, and I’m guessing that Montana doesn’t spend a lot of mornings in the gym.”

The accusing tone of his words make me feel defensive at first. I told him that my company is having problems. Butterfly knows that. What does he expect me to do right now?

His next words, however, are very sobering.

“Do you remember Mom’s episode?” he asks. “When Montana had to rush her to the hospital? Do you remember how she was acting before that happened—how irrational she was? Do you remember how insane Mia’s wedding was, and how more insane it would have been had she not cancelled half the shit Mom was doing?”

“Elliot, are you trying to tell me that my very youthful wife is perimenopausal?” I inquire.

“No,” he says, his tone serious. “But I am saying that if you can look at all of this and say that everything is okay, you got blinders on. This house looks fucking fantastic—for a woman who’s been planning for Christmas since Labor Day. Has she been?”

I bite the inside of my jaw but don’t answer.

“I don’t know how long it took her to do this, but we came to see you guys last week, this house didn’t look this way—not a bulb, not a light, not a piece of garland, not even a bare Christmas tree. What do you have, like five of them fully trimmed now?”

“Chuck says there’s seven,” I correct him. He twists his lips.

“Let me let you in on a little secret,” he says putting his arm around my shoulder. “If you knew exactly how many cookies she has in this house, you’d own stock in sugar right now…”

I probably do, but I’ll let him make his point.

“She made so many damn cookies that she could probably pass them out all over the greater Seattle area and you would still have enough of those pecan cluster things to last you until spring.”

Well, that’s comforting… and frightening.

“She pulled off something better than Martha Stewart and worthy of Architectural Digest and the Better Homes and Gardens Holiday Issue in less than a week and you didn’t even know it, so I’m venturing to say that she did it in just a few days. Can you really look at this—all of this—and say that this is normal? Because if you can, I’ll throw my tongue over my shoulder and shut the fuck up right now.”

I sigh heavily still looking at the gingerbread man with no foot.

“Have you seen these?” he asks, presenting another plate of cookies. My brow furrows.

“Mickey Mouse?” I say, looking at the spread of elaborate decorated mouse cookies. “I kind of get the Christmas sweaters, but why Mickey Mouse?”

“Um, maybe because you have two little Mouseketeers, and this is their first Christmas?” Elliot points out. “You do know that you have a candy-themed Christmas tree with a red polka-dot tree skirt that screams Minnie Mouse, right?”

Shit! Can I be that much of an asshole? It’s now that I realize that I did all of my Christmas shopping really early, but none of my gifts have been wrapped.

“Look, Bro, I’m not going to lecture you about how to be a husband. I’m still learning myself, and you’ve had more time at this than I have. But I am going to caution you to pull your head a little out of GEH and stick it a bit more into your family. There’s a whole lot going on here and you completely missed it. You love that company, but it’s not going to love you back, and it sure as hell ain’t gonna keep you warm at night or raise your children.” He pats me on my shoulder.

“Think about it,” he says. “I’m going to go shower and wake my Angel.” He brushes past me and heads towards the large staircase. Shit, I’ve got to go and wrap my gifts for my family and take a damn shower myself, and Elliot has given me quite a bit to think about, and I just realized…

There are cookies all over this damn house and none in my office or den.

I head to the elevator to my den to wrap my presents before everyone wakes, snagging a plate of those pecan clusters along the way.

*-*

I soon discover why the tables were set for dinner instead of breakfast. No one immerged until noon! What kind of festivities were going on in this house while my back was turned?

I’m able to get my presents wrapped before anyone sees me, but I don’t know which tree to put them under, so I just put them under the one in the family room. I hear activity in the kitchen and Christmas carols piping softly through the sound system, so I think it’s safe to say that the house is coming alive. I take the elevator up to the second floor and there’s still no activity. As I duck into my room, I hear laughing women in the nursery. I want to stick my head in, but I’m almost certain that the laughter will stop if I do, so I just go into my room.

Butterfly’s not here and she’s not in her shower, so I assume that she’s in the nursery with the twins. I fell in the bed too tired—and cold—to shower last night, so I start my shower and strip out of my workout clothes. When I step in, the water feels good beating on my head and back. I just stand there for a while and let it massage my scalp.

Jason was trying to tell me that something wasn’t right a few days ago. Now Elliot is telling me that Christmas Village is a blaring sign that something is wrong. I can’t confirm or deny either one because I haven’t really seen or spoken to my wife all week—not because I didn’t want to, but because there was so much on my mind that I didn’t want to dump it all on her. But now that I think about it, the last words that we really had was about her thinking I wanted another woman. We… haven’t talked since then.

I towel-dry my hair thoroughly when I get out of the shower. Something tells me that casual isn’t going to cut it today, but hell if I’m wearing a suit. So, I find a crisp pair of burgundy slacks and a two-textured black shirt with a pair of bespoke shoes. This will have to do. I’ll admit that the vigorous workouts must be doing me some good. My biceps and pecks look amazing! Then again, it could just be the shirt.

My family and various guests are mulling around eating hors d’oeuvres and sipping various beverages. Everybody’s not here yet, but those who have arrived have the same idea I do—no red-carpet garb, but don’t be a damn slouch. I walk over to Elliot and fill my glass with whatever red drink is in the punch bowl next to him. It’s really delicious. Cider? Cranberry? Both? I don’t know, but it’s good.

“The dead has arisen,” Valerie jests. “I thought you were going to miss Christmas completely, which would have been a real tragedy, because look!” She gestures around the house. “Isn’t this just the most? The very most?” She sounds downright giddy talking about the décor. Elliot raises his brow and takes a sip of his Christmas punch to avoid having to say anything.

“Yeah, it’s something,” I respond. “What do you say, there, Elliot?” I say, putting him in the spot. The corner of his lip rises along with one of his brows.

“Yes! It is quite the display!” he says enthusiastically. “Angel and I were just talking yesterday about how we couldn’t figure out for the life of us how Montano found the time, energy, or motivation to pull this off. What do you think, bro?” he says conspicuously, and volleys that ball right back into my court.

Asshole.

“The stars of the hour have arrived!”

My wife’s sing-songy voice rescues me from having to banter with my brother and when I turn around, a sight greets me that nearly knocks the damn wind out of me. Butterfly is walking into the room in this layered mock-wrap burgundy rock-a-billy cocktail dress—it’s gorgeous! I can tell that it’s one of my grandmother’s dresses and if she dressed like this all the time, it’s a wonder she and my grandfather didn’t have 15 kids!

She’s wearing a pair of burgundy Louboutin sky-high peeptoe platform stilettos that fade to black at the toes and her hair is in this swoopy kind of multidirectional chignon. She looks fucking scrumptious! She’s got my children with her and I swear to God, she looks like a sexy ass Mrs. Claus with two gorgeous little Christmas elves!

“Where’s your Santa outfit, Bro?” Elliot says quietly in my ear.

“I didn’t get the memo,” I say, a little more wistful than I intended. Minnie’s wearing a little red dress with Minnie Mouse on it and a Santa hat with little mouse ears. Mikey’s wearing a red jogging suit with one Mickey Mouse on the shirt and the pants.

“Where’s Mikey’s hat?” Val asks. Butterfly looks down at Mikey.

“He kept taking it off, so…” she shrugs. She’s got something attached to her arm and to Mikey’s arm, it almost looks like a leash!

And Mikey’s walking! When the fuck did Mikey start walking?

“When did that happen?” I ask aloud, pointing to my son. My wife looks down at Mikey again and then looks back up at me.

“Yesterday,” she says calmly. “He just got up and started walking.”

“Actually,” Gail interrupts, “he just got up and started walking to Momma. We were playing just fine on the floor in the nursery until Ana walked in. Then he just got to his feet and ran to his mother.” Ana looks down and smiles sweetly at our son.

That kind of stings. A somewhat knew that I may not be here to see my children’s first steps just because of the nature of my life, but when it really happened… That hurts a little bit.

“Steele!” Valerie says, closing in on my wife. “Are you wearing Mickey Mouse earrings?”

“Mickey and Minnie,” she says, turning her head so that Valerie can see.

“Where on earth did you find those?” she asks. “They look custom made.”

“At the Marketplace aren’t they adorable?” she beams all in one breath.

My wife looks like a million bucks and I look like a troll—I should probably change clothes, but into what? Nothing in my closet can make me look that good.

She hands Minnie off to Valerie and lifts Mikey in her arms. They head off to the kitchen towards Maddie talking about… whatever, and I kind of feel like the odd man out in my own house.


ANASTASIA

Everything turned out wonderfully!

Everyone loves the decorations. Since dinner is going to be quite early, we decided to forego breakfast and lunch for hors d’oeuvres, finger foods, cookies and drinks. Our family and friends are slowly beginning to file in and I’m surprised that Al isn’t one of the first people in attendance. That’s not like him.

“Oh my gosh, Ana, you look adorable!” Grace says as she and Carrick arrive with Luma, Herman, and the girls. “And the Nutcracker soldier at the guard’s booth is priceless. How on earth did you manage to pull this off?”

“Sheer will and determination,” I reply with a laugh, “and a whole lot of Christmas spirit. It was really a lot of fun. I had Sophie to help and the staff was magnificent… and look what I got for Christmas!” I say. I put Mikey down on the floor and he walks right over to his grandma. She gasps and scoops him up in her arms.

“Oh, wow, he’s walking!” Grace beams. “Who’s a big boy!” she exclaims happily, and he rewards her with infectious baby giggle.

“Well, would you look at that!” Carrick says, his smile wide and sincere.

“Who wouldn’t be just full of excitement and joy with something like that?” I say.

“Christian looks a bit subdued,” she points out and looks at me. I twist my lips and shrug.

“It’s GEH,” I say, furrowing my brow a bit. “It’s got him really distracted. I’m hoping he loosens up and gets into the holiday spirit as the day goes on.”

“I can’t see how he wouldn’t!” Grace says, looking around the room. “I saw the formal living room and that gorgeous display in the grand entry and now this. Does the entire house look like this or just the main floor?”

“Well, I didn’t disturb the work areas downstairs—the offices and such—but besides those rooms, the sub levels and the main floor look like this,” I tell her. “Except for the outside balconies, I didn’t bother the second floor either. You see that Gulliver dropped some of his decorations on our lawn, and the backyard turns into Santa’s landing strip at nightfall,” I say a little sarcastically.

“I tried to control myself,” I excuse, “but every time I did one thing, my brain said, ‘do that, too!’ and then I… this is what happened.” I gesture flippantly around the room. “I’ll be the first to tell you that I got carried away, but I don’t regret a moment of it.”

“Well, it looks fabulous, let me tell you. I’m going to be taking a tour of the grounds to get some pointers,” Grace compliments.

“Well, let me know when you want to wander. I’ll be glad to wander with you,” I say.

“Oh. My God. This is too much! Too much!” Mia says, bursting into our conversation with two different Mickey Mouse Christmas cookies in her hands. “How did you come up with these?”

“Those were a collaboration,” I admit. “Sophie came up with a really great idea and the theme fit in perfectly with my little mice and their first Christmas.”

“Genius. Sheer genius,” she says as she bites into one and hands one to Ethan. “And they’re delithous!” she says with a mouthful of cookie. Ethan bites into his cookie and nods.

“Yeah, these are really good, Ana,” he says.

“Thank you,” I reply. “Try the gingerbread men on the dining table. They have chocolate in them.”

“Oh, dear God, I’m going to be in the gym for a week straight,” Mia says.

“Yes,” I say unapologetically. “Yes, you are.” She and Ethan head off to maim a gingerbread man or three and Grace garners my attention again.

“You were right, by the way,” she says. “My doctor said that sometimes we do need to change up the HRT, and she prescribed me a different med and dosage. It’ll take a while to see if it works, but at least there’s hope, right?” I smile.

“Excellent. You just never know; you know what I mean? I’m just glad my hunch was right. Just, don’t wait so long next time if you feel like something is kind of off, okay? If you’re wrong about it, at least you can eliminate that issue, right?”

“Vah vah vah voom!” I hear Al’s announcement as he walks into the kitchen. “Mrs. Claus never looked like that in any of the pictures I’ve seen.” I laugh.

“I’m not Mrs. Claus,” I chide.

“You coulda fooled me!” he says, putting his hands up and gesturing around the room. “The only thing missing is Rudolph and Dasher on the roof and Santa’s legs hanging out of the chimney.” My eyes widen.

“Aw, that would’ve been cool!” I whisper loudly, Al shakes his head.

“I’m done,” he says. “You’re hopeless. Give me kisses.”

I hug my best friend and kiss him on the cheek. As I greet James, Grace and Carrick excuse themselves and take my little prince off to parts unknown.

“The place looks incredible, Ana,” James says. “You did this in a week?”

“Try three days,” I say with a tight smile. Al raises a knowing look at me.

“You’re shitting me,” he says.

“I had a lot of help,” I excuse. “Gail even called in a team of extras.” James laughs but Al is less amused.

“Well, no offense, but I’m ravenous, so I’m going to attack some treats. Allie?” James says.

“I’ll be right along,” Al says. “I need to chat with Jewel a bit.” James nods and kisses his husband on the cheek before leaving us to our conversation. Al’s gaze turns accusing.

“Three days?” he says. “Even if you didn’t physically do all this work on your own, it doesn’t take a shrink to know that something’s not quite right about this setup.” I roll my eyes trying not to be transparent.

“It’s Christmas, Al,” I whine heavily.

“Aaaand what’s wrong?” he says, folding his arms and calling me on my bullshit.

“What’s right?” I hiss. “My PA is totally MIA, which is driving me fucking crazy, one of my best friends won’t even speak to me…”

“Chris is chained to a computer at GEH,” he interjects. I huff and roll my eyes again.

“Don’t even get me started on that place,” I seethe.

“Or that man,” Al points out, once again not allowing me to evade.

“Allen, it’s Christmas,” I say deliberately. “Enjoy my over-the-top decorations and my fabulous food and shut the hell up about real life, okay?” I warn. He raises an eyebrow at me.

“This conversation’s not over, Jewel,” he says.

“It is for now,” I caution. “Go find your godson, and good luck keeping up. He’s walking now.” His eyes widen.

“For real?” he says, abandoning the previous conversation.

“For real,” I say, trying to walk away.

“Don’t you want to know why I was late?” he asks.

“Not really, no,” I say, refusing to take the bait.

“Well, I’ll tell you anyway. I went to see Gary.”

That gets my attention.

“And?” I ask, my eyes trained on his face, which is a bit more solemn now.

“He’s okay,” he says, soberly. “He looks well… not happy, but well. He’s staying in a studio closer to his job, nothing special, not homey at all. He’s actually living out of his luggage.”

“Did you tell him anything about Marilyn?” I ask.

“I didn’t tell him anything about Marilyn because I don’t know anything about Marilyn,” Al says.

“So, what did he say?” I press. “What is he doing?”

“Nothing much, and nothing much—sitting at his little studio apartment watching television.” My eyes widen.

“On Christmas?” I ask appalled.

“Yep,” Al nods. “He said that he would rather eat pizza and binge-watch Game of Thrones than to be around people right now.”

“Well, that’s just ridiculous,” I say, folding my arms.

“Maybe so, but honestly, Jewel, he wouldn’t be happy here right now. It’s cute and all, don’t get me wrong, but yuletide threw up in this place! The depressed and broken hearted are not looking to have a ‘holly jolly Christmas.’” I sigh heavily. I wouldn’t be so sure, best friend.

“At least he’s speaking to you,” I say, and I turn and march away from him with my arms still folded, trying not to admit how slighted I feel. I do my best to shake off the feeling that one of my best friends would rather watch reruns of pale medieval women training dragons than spend the day with me. It’s incredibly selfish, I know, but I still feel that way.

“Isn’t this great?” Sophie says bounding over to me in a Christmas T-shirt and jeans. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more Christmasy house, ever!” She’s smiling widely and eating cookies, her purple hair pulled back into a ponytail.

“Mia really loved the Mickey Mouse cookies,” I inform her.

“She did?” she beams, and I nod. “Well, I think Uncle Elliot and Uncle Christian like them all,” she adds. “Uncle Christian had a handful of the pecan cookies and he was elbowing Uncle Elliot away from the gingerbread men. Ms. Grace had to make them stop.”

I laugh heartily at Grace scolding her sons about cookies.

“Hey.”

I turn around and look into the face of my husband. I haven’t seen him all week and quite frankly, he looks different. His chest looks wider… broader. Is that a new shirt?

He looks damn good, probably from all that working out.

“Hey,” I respond.

“You’ve been pretty busy, huh?” he says. I shrug.

“A bit,” I admit. “I had to do a lot in a little bit of time.” He nods.

“You certainly did a lot,” he says matter-of-factly. “I see that you pretty much created a cookie factory. You tried some new flavors?”

“Not really.” Does he really want to talk about cookies? “New shapes, yes. Icing on the sweaters and the mice. Chocolate in the big gingerbread men…”

Those are really good,” he admits.

“That’s Maddie’s recipe,” I tell him. “Are those going to replace the chocolate pecan as your favorites?”

“Not in a million years,” he says, and kisses me gently on the cheek. I smile a small smile at him before he goes to converse with Carrick and Herman.

God, those pants really look good on him…

“Ana…”

I break my gaze from my husband’s ass and turn around to greet Marcia… and a very tall and very handsome black man.

“Hey,” I say, pulling her into a hug. “I’m glad you could make it.”

“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss it,” she replies. “You really outdid yourself!”

“I may have gotten a little carried away, but it’s the babies’ first Christmas, so…” I shrug and trail off.

“Ana, this is Zachary,” she says, introducing me to her companion.

“It’s nice to meet you, Zachary” I say extending my hand. He takes my proffered hand.

“Zach, please,” he says, looking at me strangely. “Wait a minute… Ana… Anastasia Grey?” I raise my brows.

“Yes?” I reply cautiously.

“All this time, you’ve been telling me about Ana… it was Anastasia Grey?” he says to Marcia. Marcia nods.

“Yeah,” she says in an expecting tone.

“And when Marlow talks about Christian… Christian Grey?” he says. Marcia nods again.

“That would be correct,” she says. He scoffs a laugh.

“Is something wrong?” I ask.

“No, I’m sorry,” Zach says. “She talks about you all the time and I just never put the two together. I feel kinda like a dope.” I sigh inwardly. No trouble allowed on Christmas.

“Don’t,” I say. “I kinda prefer that people don’t know who we are. They don’t know how to act around us. By the way, I saw Maggie, but where’s Marlow?”

“Oh, he’ll be along any minute,” Marcia says. “He stopped to pick up his date first.”

“Who is it this time?” I ask. “Is it the young lady from Thanksgiving?”

“I don’t know, I can’t keep up,” Marcia admits. “When it comes to girls, my son has the attention span of a goldfish!”

“Jesus, I hope that’s just a phase,” I lament.

“Trust me, it usually is,” Zach chimes in. “He’s a good-looking young man with a bright future. He can have his pick of young ladies right now and that’s what he’s doing. He’ll grow out of it or settle down when he finds the right one. He doesn’t strike me as the mindless, ‘play-the-field’ type of kid.”

“Well, I hope he’s at least practicing safe sex,” I add, thinking of the crack his date made at Mia’s wedding about taking off something Marlow didn’t like… or something to that effect.

“He is,” Marcia chimes in. “I keep him supplied with condoms even though he begged me to stop buying them. No way. Nope! I’m going to buy them until he’s grown and out of my house and even then, I can’t guarantee that I’ll stop.” I laugh heartily.

“That’s good to know,” I say. “He’s got a really bright future ahead of him. I’d really hate to see that ruined by unplanned events.

“Or some opportunistic little trick out there trying to make a fast buck,” Marcia emphasizes.

“Hear, hear,” Zach cosigns.

“Well, come on in,” I say, gesturing them further into the house. “There’s quite a bit to see and do.”

“I see,” Marcia says. “My goodness, you’ve really outdone yourself.”

“I blame the babies,” I laugh, leading Marcia and Zach over to some of the cookies.

“I hope I’m not too late,” I hear Marlow saying, walking into the room with an extremely attractive—and voluptuous—brunette. Jesus, what are they putting in the water? These teenagers now and their curves… they’re giving us adults a real run for our money.

“Nope, you’re right on time,” I say, gathering him into a hug. “Dinner should be starting pretty soon, but there are plenty of hors d’oeuvres to tame your tummy. And who do we have here?”

“This is Emily. Emily, this is Anastasia Grey,” Marlow says presenting his date to me.

“Emily! That’s it!” Marcia says almost inaudibly. I stifle a laugh.

“It’s nice to meet you, Emily,” I say with a smile and extend my hand.

“Likewise, Mrs. Grey. Thank you,” she says, taking my hand and giving it a shake. “Your house is fantastic!”

“Thank you, and call me Ana,” I reply. She smiles.

“Ana,” she repeats. “My mom would love this place. I grew up in a house where the Christmas tree was already trimmed for Thanksgiving and my mom makes her own fruitcakes. She has Santas from all over the world that she’s been collecting before I was born. She would never leave this place.”

“Well, by all means, make sure you take her some of my homemade Christmas cookies,” I say. “I’ve got a million of them.”

“Oh, you and my mom are gonna be best friends,” she laughs. “I’m so glad you’re normal.”

“Excuse me?” I say in confused laughter.

“When Marlow told me that we were going to Christmas dinner at the Greys, I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, I knew you were beautiful, but in person, you’re gorgeous!” I try not to blush. “And then, we’re driving up to this big mansion and I’m totally expecting to see everyone sitting around with their legs crossed, drinking tea with their pinkies up, talking about the stock market or the weather or something appropriate. I’m so glad to see everybody walking around just being friends and being… normal. I didn’t even know what to wear.” I smile widely and put my arm around her shoulder.

“I think that’s the nicest thing anybody’s ever said to me,” I tell her, and she smiles widely. “And you look just fine.”

“I’m not kidding, Ana, you’re gorgeous. What’s your secret? I’ve been trying to drop this pesky fifteen pounds since freshmen year.”

“Why?” I ask. “You have impressive curves… I’m hope I’m not being to forward.”

“I’ve told her the same thing,” Marlow says. His mother gazes at him and he just shrugs.

“My hips and my butt are kinda big,” she says, her voice low and conspiratorial. I laugh.

“I don’t know if I can help you much there,” I say, with mirth. “This ain’t a petticoat that’s making this dress flair out.”

We laugh heartily and I can hardly believe that I’m having this refreshing conversation with a girl who can’t be older than seventeen.

“But I’ll tell you this,” I add. “I don’t count calories and I eat what I want, but I happen to like fresh and wholesome foods—kabobs, fajitas, anything Mediterranean, that’s my thing. I do yoga regularly. I know Krav Maga, although I haven’t done that in a while…” Mental note—find another trainer, “… and I have a gym in my basement—sparring and weights are my favorite.”

“No wonder you look so great,” she says a little wistfully. “You have natural discipline. I’m so excited that Ana Grey gave me her regimen!!” I curtsy.

“Glad to be of service!” I say. “Start the regimen tomorrow! Diets are a no-no today. There are treats and cookies abound, and the menu is fabulous, so make sure you save room.” I gesture towards the kitchen and the family. Emily smiles and walks in the direction I’m gesturing.

“Thank you,” Marlow mouths as he passes me, and I wink at him.

“She seems nice,” I say as Marcia closes in the space between us.

“She is,” Marcia says. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say she went to finishing school. She’s extremely well-groomed.”

“I think she’s too hard on herself about her weight,” I say as she walks away. She’s not a particularly small-framed girl, but she’s not overweight by any means. She has what I would call an impressive resume in the rear.

“I have to agree with you, but you know how high school is. She’s probably been teased for being two pounds too round.” I twist my lips. Yeah, I know only too well how high school is.

Marcia and Zach work their way into the crowd as Marcia introduces him to Christian. I can see “background check” in my husband’s eyes all the way from here. Sometime while I was being preoccupied, Harmony has joined the party and is talking to Mia and Ethan, and my dad, Mandy, and Harry have all slipped in, too. Harry is entertaining his nephew Mikey who is now running around like a madman. I have to hurry and get him some more sneakers now—with the hard soles.

Minnie has her own audience of women who are adoring her dress and trying to get her to stand so that her brother doesn’t leave her behind. Val helps her to walk a few steps, then releases her, and she walks a few steps on her own before falling on her little butt. The ladies all clap for her achievement, causing her to clap as well and burst into fits of giggles.

Christmas is looking mighty fine at the Greys.

“Hey,” I hear from behind me. I turn around to see Courtney and Vickie.

“Hey!” I say my face lighting up and reaching for a hug. “I’m glad to see you. Come in.” I kiss Courtney on the cheek, then Vickie.

“I hope you don’t mind us showing up like this,” Vickie says.

“Are you kidding?” I reply. “This is why I plan for ‘do-drops,’ because people do tend to drop in. Come on, the more the merrier. Look at this place, what do you think?” I say, proudly gesturing around the house.

“It’s definitely merry,” Vickie says with a laugh.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I cede with a smile. “Looks like Leavenworth, doesn’t it?”

“More like Whoville!” Vickie says. “The only thing you don’t have is the Grinch.”

“Yeah, he’s over there,” I say pointing in Christian’s direction. When I look at him, he’s laughing and apparently having a great time with Jason, Chuck, and Nelson.

“He doesn’t look too Grinchy to me,” Vickie points out.

“Maybe he’s had some of the spiked eggnog,” I say with a laugh.

“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go over and have some of what he’s having,” Vickie says before kissing Courtney on the cheek and heading off towards Christian.

“She’s good for you,” I say to Courtney as we watch Vickie walk away. She puts her hand on Christian’s arm to get his attention and he greets her warmly with a hug. He hasn’t even hugged me today.

“She’s very good for me,” Courtney replies, gazing at her girlfriend. “The fucking best.” I turn my gaze to her.

“I would have thought you would be spending the holiday with family,” I say, trying to gently approach the topic.

“No,” Courtney says, looking down at her hands. “I gave Grandmother the things that I bought for her and Grandfather yesterday. I don’t think Grandfather will ever trust me again—that bridge is burned. I don’t like it but I’m okay with it. Vick’s family… well, they’re not very keen on this set up.”

“That you’re a girl, you mean?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No, that I’m white.” My head does the bobble-thing.

“What?” I ask incredulously. Courtney nods matter-of-factly.

“Oh, yeah,” she says, looking back at Vickie once more. “Apparently they can deal with her eating pussy. They just can’t deal with her eating pink pussy.” I blink several times.

“You can’t be serious!” I say. “That’s one of the most medieval things I’ve ever heard!” And there’s that word again.

“Tell me about it,” she says. “I’ve already had to fight the whole bi battle—and quite frankly, after finding Vick, I’m pretty sure that I’m not bi, I’m gay—but now I have to fight the race battle, too? I mean this is ridiculous. Why can’t I just freaking love who I want to love, and they love me back without having to pass some damn test?”

“You can.”

We turn around to the deep voice that interrupted us right into gorgeous brown eyes and caramel skin.

“Forgive me for intruding, but I couldn’t help overhearing,” he says. “You can love whoever the hell you want. It’s nobody’s business but yours. You don’t have anything to prove to anybody, as long as the two of you are happy. Whoever else doesn’t like it can go to hell. It’s that simple.” Courtney’s eyebrows rise.

“Who… are you?” she asks.

“Oh,” I say, “I forgot you guys probably haven’t met. This gorgeous and insightful black man is James… Al’s husband.”

“Get the fu—…” She stops and covers her mouth. “Get outta here! Are you serious?”

“I’m serious,” I say. She extends her hand.

“It’s very nice to meet you! I had no idea,” she says.

“That I was black?” he says, taking her hand with a smile.

“No, that you were hot,” she admits without apology.

“I should warn you, she’s very frank,” I say to James.

“That’s not a problem,” James says with mirth. “I have the same problem with my family. I don’t know if it’s as bad for you as it is for me, but let’s just say that I and my husband won’t be going back to my hometown in the foreseeable future.”

“Boy, I need you to talk to my girlfriend. She’s feeling pretty bad about it…” and off they go toward Vickie.

I’m making my way around the house, preparing everyone to head into the dining room as dinner is going to be served soon when I see—and hear—Sophie in yet another sparring match with Marlow and his date.

“What? I didn’t say anything,” I hear Sophie say, and I can tell that this not-so-cordial conversation has been going on for at least a few volleys.

“Marlow, I heard Ana say that dinner is about to be served. Can we just go sit down?” Emily says, obviously trying to extinguish whatever’s going on.

“Yes, dinner,” Sophie says, “we have a lovely menu. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.” I hiss quietly to myself. Maggie’s mouth falls open with a gasp and her eyes widen like saucers. Sophie’s meaning didn’t get past anybody.

“Sophie!” Marlow exclaims in horror. Emily is clearly affronted and folds her arms.

“Little girl, what is your problem?” she asks pointedly. Little girl… oh, no. Sophie just shrugs her off.

“I don’t have a problem. Sorry if you think so,” she says. “Nice skirt, by the way. They’re making everything in plus sizes these days, huh?”

Oh. God. Shots. Fired.

Emily puts her hands on her hips and her expression says that if she were anywhere else, she and Sophie would be fighting right now.

“Those are pretty tall words coming from someone who looks like one of Rainbow Brite’s little friends,” Emily seethes, looking Sophie up and down before flipping her hair dramatically and walking away from the conversation. I want to rush in and save Sophie and scold Marlow for one of his girlfriends being rude to her once again… but Sophie started this one, so I can’t.

“Geez, Sophie,” Marlow says, clearly exacerbated. “What is wrong with you?” It’s a rhetorical question and he doesn’t wait around for an answer, walking quickly behind his date and catching her arm to smooth things over. After a short exchange of words, she flips her hair again and smiles coyly, hooking arms with Marlow and heading towards the dining room with him.

Crisis averted—for Marlow anyway. Sophie, on the other hand, looks like she’s going to hurl. I can’t even intervene this time because she brought it on herself.

Just when one catastrophe plays out in front of me, another is possibly calling me on my phone. There’s no quiet space in the immediate vicinity and I have to find one quickly before my phone stops ringing. I run to the mudroom, grab a coat—I think it’s Christian’s—and dash out into the garage. I swipe the screen and catch the call just before it goes to voicemail.

“Gary?” I say into the phone.

“Hey,” he says. He sounds so depressed.

“Hey!” I respond. It’s so good to hear his voice.

“Merry Christmas,” he says.

“Merry Christmas,” I reply. “How are you?”

“Shitty, but alive,” he says. I pause.

“Well, I’m glad to hear that you’re alive,” I reply. It’s quiet for a while.

“I don’t want to talk to her,” he says. “I don’t want to talk about her or see her… but I miss her.” I sigh.

“Yeah, that’s usually the way it is,” I say, “especially today.”

“Today sucks,” he says. “I gotta go,” he adds after a pause.

“Gary!” I say, desperately trying to catch him before he hangs up. “If you need me, Gary…” I trail off. He’s silent again, and for a moment, I think he hung up.

“I know,” he says. “Merry Christmas.” And he ends the call.

I feel worse now than before he called. I’m glad he thought of me and I’m happy to hear his voice, but he sounds positively miserable. I hate to hear the hurt in his voice and hate even more that I can’t take it away.

I don’t want to see her, but I miss her. What a conundrum to be in.

I look down at my phone to swipe it closed and see that I have another notification. It’s email. I almost ignore it, but it’s Christmas, so I decide to at least see who it is.

Shit! It’s Marilyn. What are the fucking odds?

She sent the email just after midnight. How did I miss it? I open my email app and go to her email.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: I’m Alive
Date: Thursday, December 25, 2014, 00:15
From: Marilyn Caldwell

Merry Christmas Bosslady,

I hope today finds you well. I can’t say the same for myself—a little better, maybe, but not well.

I was glad to get the email from you. It’s good to know that there’s someone who hasn’t forgotten about me.

I’m depressed, Bosslady. Really depressed. There’s no use in beating around the bush when your boss is a shrink. I’m not in a good place at all and being here with my parents has been nothing but emotional and spiritual torture. My mother is a goddamn gospel bully. If there is a place in heaven for her, I’d be surprised. Jesus is probably embarrassed at the way she wields His name like a weapon throwing everyone into hell like she’s the final judge and jury!

I did manage to get out a bit. It was my only saving grace—the library, mostly. The movies, wherever I could go to get away from my mother’s swinging sword. Dad’s waving the blood-stained banner, too, but not nearly as badly as my mother. The way she talks about me, you would think my bed was just going to ignite any second with fire and brimstone with me in it.

The truth is, Ana, I couldn’t be alone. I didn’t trust myself. I wasn’t actively thinking suicide or self-harm or anything like that, but I couldn’t think from one moment to the next when Gary walked out. I certainly couldn’t sleep in our bed or live in our house, smell his smell… I probably would have done something drastic had I stayed. I’m only telling you this because I didn’t want you to think I was crazy coming to my parents knowing what was waiting for me when I got here. I needed some place to go. I couldn’t stay in Seattle and I knew that they would watch over me even if it meant that they were throwing me in hell every 15 minutes.

I’ve accepted that it’s over between me and Gary. I’m still not happy with it and I don’t know when or if I’ll ever get over it. I know the shrink in you would tell me that time heals all wounds, but this one is gaping and oozing, and rips open every night when I’m in bed alone. If it does heal, I’m afraid that it’s going to take a lifetime.

Having said that, I want to say that you’ve been the best damn boss a girl could have—paying me all this time even though you hadn’t heard from me and didn’t even know if I would be coming back. I thought about leaving and starting all over somewhere else—somewhere that there was no chance of running into the man that I love with all my heart, but who can’t stand the sight of me. You’ll forgive me if I’m not around for any of the Grey family functions if he’s expected to be in attendance, but it’s time for me to get on with my life and stop hiding out. It’s not healthy for me and whatever I’m going to do, I can’t do it hiding in my old childhood bedroom and enduring 16 – 18 hours of constant persecution.

So, Bosslady, I’ll be back in Seattle and back to work the first Monday of next month. I’m a little stronger now, but not strong enough to come back just yet. By giving myself a deadline, I have something to work towards, and by promising you that I’ll be there, I know I can’t back out.

I won’t ask if Gary has asked about me. He hasn’t tried to call, and he hasn’t reached out to me by text or any social media, so I’m sure he just wishes that I were dead. I will most likely forever be known as the woman who killed his baby. We weren’t ready for a baby. No matter how much he wanted it, we weren’t ready. I thought we were being so careful, but apparently not careful enough. Now, I’ve lost everything. I couldn’t win with this one, Ana. I just couldn’t win.

So, I’m going to have a little “me” time and be a tourist in my own city for the next 10 days to break the funk of what life is before I come back and put my big girl panties on. I’ll admit that I wanted to be hurtful, so I waited until my parents went to sleep, then I packed my things and moved out of the Hellbound Hotel and now I’m at the Doubletree. They won’t care anyway. Their only concern will be that I’m not there for them to torture me anymore.

Thanks for caring about me, Ana. Really. I’ll see you on the fourth.

Marilyn Caldwell
Personal Assistant to Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey

I’ll be the first to admit that her changed signature gives me hope. I almost want to jump through hoops that she’s coming back on the fourth, but I’m happier that she got out of the toxicity of her parents’ house. I wish she and Gary could see past this hurt and realize that they love each other very much. Honestly, she can see past it. He can’t.

I take a deep breath and let it out, then I check my face for tears or smudged mascara and go back into the house.


A/N: Ana mentions “Gulliver’s” decorations on the front lawn. She’s referencing Gulliver’s Travels and his visit to Lilliput.

Leavenworth is “Christmastown” Washington.

NEW CHRISTMAS PINTEREST PAGE 
https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-a-grey-christmas/

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

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

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 92—Getting Ready for Christmas

Two more chapters after this one…

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

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

Chapter 92—Getting Ready for Christmas

ANASTASIA

I’m awakened by small slaps on my face… very small. What the hell?

I open my eyes to my daughter’s chubby little face. It takes me a moment to get my bearings. I’m not quite sure what has happened.

I stretch to find that I’m in my bed, still fully dressed, and Minnie is in her PJ’s. How did we get in this predicament?

Once I’m able to focus a bit more, I realize that my daughter is sealed inside of a three-walled pillow fort, of which my body is the fourth wall. And it suddenly makes sense. Christian put us here. I fell asleep in the window seat with Minnie in my arms. I just didn’t want to sleep alone again, even if it meant being crunched in the dreaded window seat. But I slept like the dead, and awoke to my daughter, not Christian. So, I still don’t know if I slept alone.

“Come on, Minnie Mouse,” I say, getting out of bed and retrieving my babbling baby. “It’s bathtime…”

After a short stint at Helping Hands to make sure the place wasn’t going to crumble to the ground, I let the troops know that I’ll be working from home for the rest of the week and head out. I’ve got to get the house and the meal ready for Christmas in three damn days and I still have a little Christmas shopping left to do. I’m back at home by two and decide that I need a partner in crime. It would usually be Marilyn, but…

“Hey, what are you doing this afternoon?”

“Nothing. I don’t have any appointments until tomorrow. What’s up?”

“I need to do some shopping. Are you up to come with?”

“Sure. Sounds like fun. Where do you want to meet?”

“I’m looking for some particular decorations for the house and the table. Meet me at the Marketplace…”

So, I find myself running around the Marketplace with Maxie in the afternoon, picking out some of the corniest decorations and tchotchkes to turn my house and kitchen and tables into a winter wonderland. It’s Minnie and Mikey’s first Christmas, and I want it to be special.

“Good Lord, Steele, I know you have a mansion, but do you really have room for all this crap you’re buying?” Maxie scolds.

“Actually, I don’t think I have enough,” I reply. “I won’t know until I start putting things together and there’s a hole somewhere.” She stares at me for a moment. “What?”

“Are you okay?” she asks. Oh, no, we’re not having this conversation.

“No, I’m not okay,” I reply. “I found out this weekend that Christmas is going to be at my house. I put off doing decorations because there always seemed to be something more important going on. Now, I’m going to have a house full of guests—some of them from out of town, by the way—and I don’t have a single bulb, light, or piece of garland anywhere. I have no idea how many guests are actually going to be there, and I don’t have the help of my P.A. Quite frankly, I’m a bit panic stricken, but I’m just going to grab some shit, order some groceries, and make it do what it do. You’re invited, by the way.” She raises her brow.

“Ew, when you put it that way, I can see why you’re losing your mind. Thanks for the invite, but Phil and I will be with family. Speaking of P.A., have you heard from Gary yet? I twist my lips.

“Kinda,” I say, handing poinsettias to Chuck and Ben. “I sent the ‘hey bitch’ email to him and I get ‘hey bitch’ back.”

“Ow,” she says.

“Tell me about it,” I say, handing my Amex Black to the vendor. “I’m really starting to resent it. I didn’t do anything wrong and I don’t understand why I’m being ignored and treated this way. The psychiatrist in me can’t be logical right now. We’ve been friends for way too long for this shit.” I sign the receipt and retrieve my copy along with my card. The guys take turns running to the car while I continue shopping.

“You know these things take time,” Maxie says. “I don’t have all the details, but I’m assuming there’s a real hurtin’ put on him since we haven’t heard anything from him in weeks…”

“Max!” I hear a woman’s voice call out to my friend and I turn my head to see who it is.

“Jade, hey,” Maxie says in a friendly voice. Very friendly… familiar. “I thought you had class today.”

“Cancelled, last minute,” Jade says as she closes in on Maxie and they give each other those cheek hugs—the sincere ones, not the air kisses. What’s this? “Now, I’m scrambling to get a meal together for RJ and the boys. You know they’re hopeless without me.” She laughs and Maxie nods before turning to me.

“Ana, this is my friend, Jade. Jade, this is…”

“Ana Grey, of course. Everyone knows Ana Grey.” She smiles widely and extends her hand to me. “Max told me she knows you and I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been just dying to meet you.”

Strange. Max hasn’t told me a thing about you.

“Jade,” I say, returning her smile and accepting her proffered hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“At the risk of sounding forward,” she begins, leaning in to me conspiratorially. And here we go. Am I going to get some inappropriate question about my husband’s dick size? “Can we all hang out sometimes? Your fashion sense is insane, and I’d love some tips. I need to come out of the Mom-jean-mu-mu look!”

And I feel like shit.

“Sure,” I say, faking the biggest smile I can.

“Yeah, I’ll set up a lunch or a girl’s day or something,” Maxie intervenes, noting my discomfort.

“You know the rules,” Jade says cheerfully, “plenty of notice please!” She and Maxie laugh sincerely, and I so feel like the outsider. “Wow, Ana Grey shops at the Marketplace like the rest of us mere mortals! I feel so privileged!”

I know it was meant to be a compliment… or I think it was meant to be a compliment, but I still feel a little slighted.

“Well, I’d love to stay and chat,” she says, “but like I said, hungry men at my house. See ya Saturday, Max?” she adds, waving as she’s walking off, thank God.

“I’ll be there,” Maxie says, waving back. When she’s out of sight, Max turns to me.

“I’m sorry, Ana,” Maxie apologizes. For what, not telling me about your new friend sooner? “I didn’t mean to put you on the spot like that. I can fend her off if you don’t want to ‘hang out.’” She makes the finger quotes and I know she’s trying to let me off the hook.

“No, it’s okay,” I tell her. “Whatever is convenient for you guys. At least she didn’t ask me one of those terribly indiscreet sexual questions,” I say rolling my eyes. Maxie’s expression is horrified.

“What?” she inquires.

“Oh, yes,” I say, picking at something in a booth that I’m not even slightly interested in. “Any woman who suddenly feels ‘friendly’ with me will immediately ask me about my husband’s bedroom skills… or his dick size.” Maxie swallows hard.

“Oh, my God, you’re kidding!” she gasps. “I mean, I’m a woman. I can understand the curiosity… but that’s so crass and rude!” I nod.

“Oh, my friend,” I sigh, “you don’t know the half of it. It’s a tragic cross to bear.”

“Well, Jade’s not like that. I promise you,” she says, examining a nearby jewelry box. We’re silent for a moment, then I approach the elephant in the Marketplace.

“So, how did you guys meet?” I ask her, trying not to put too much emphasis on the topic although I’m chomping at the bit to know.

“She’s in my ‘Mommy and Me’ group,” Maxie says, examining the jewelry box more closely, considering the purchase. “She has four boys and her youngest, Blaine, is the same age as Mindy.” She hands the jewelry box to the vendor to be wrapped, finally deciding to purchase it.

“I didn’t know you were in a ‘Mommy and Me’ group,” I say, still trying not to pry, but really wanting to. Who is this Jade person? Why haven’t we met? Why hasn’t Maxie said anything to me about her? And what’s this Max shit? Her name’s not Max—it’s Maxie!

Suddenly, I realize the animated conversation in my head is one-sided and Maxie is looking at me questioning.

“What?” I ask, defensively.

“You got a new beau?” she asks. I frown. Did she hear about the Liam Alienation? I didn’t think that shit was public! Has he been talking to people??

“Why would you ask me that?” I ask, horrified. God, please, don’t let Liam be spreading untruths.

“You have a handful of tightie-whities. Christian doesn’t strike me as the type.” She points to my hands and I look down and realize that in an attempt to appear nonchalant, I’ve fisted two handfuls of briefs. Shit!

“No,” I say, trying to stack the underwear neatly the way I found them. I don’t have an answer for why I’m groping men’s underwear, so I don’t bother to offer one. It’s not like I have to, though. Maxie used to be my therapist. There’s no hiding shit from her.

“Out with it, Steele,” she says, reverting to my maiden name again.

“Out with what?” I say, still organizing the underwear. When I look over at her, she simply raises a brow at me. “I just… didn’t know you made a new friend, that’s all. No big deal.” I shrug, trying to downplay the situation. Maxie smiles at me as she hands the vendor her credit card.

“Ana,” she says, shifting her weight on her feet, “you’re right. It’s not a big deal. We get it, and we don’t hold any ill will, but the Scooby Gang isn’t really the Scooby Gang anymore. Phil and I have had a child. Gary is branching out on love with Marilyn—even though it’s not looking so great these days…” I roll my eyes and nod. “And no offense, but you, Val and Al have pretty much trio’ed off, for good reason. You and Al have always been the closest and now, he’s your corporate attorney—and Val married your brother-in-law, not to mention that whole cancer thing.

“Nobody’s pointing any fingers or complaining about being left out, but… we kinda were. You still include us in celebrations and things, and we know that you still love us, but we just don’t… hang out like we used to, and that’s okay. We’re growing up, but it leaves time and space to make new friends. Those things just happen. As long as you don’t just completely ditch us and leave us in the dust, we’re grown-ups and we know how real life goes. And face it, Steele… you have a new friend or three that hasn’t been introduced to me, and if you don’t, you should get out more.”

She winks at me, causing me to smile and push her with my shoulder. It’s strange seeing my friend make friends that I’m not privy to, or that we didn’t meet together, but she’s right. Things change, people change, and that’s okay, but during the course of those changes, it’s important not to let your valuable friendships fall by the wayside.

I really need to get in touch with Gary…

*-*

Sophie has quite the bit of decorating sense along with her extensive knowledge of food to be so young. She admits that it comes from things like watching Martha Stewart and such, so I’ve enlisted her help in decorating the house for as long as she feels like doing it, along with the unlucky members of the staff. I appear to be spending more time with Sophie than I am with my husband, but it’s also part of making sure that she’s not too bored for her Christmas vacation. It’s going to take all the way until Christmas to get the house finished, and this is a chore that I can’t delegate. We’re down in my parlor with the door closed, all of my wares from the Marketplace along with last year’s Christmas decorations strewn all over the room, trying to decide which decorations should go where.

There’s an insane wreath for the front door, and the “formal” Christmas tree will be in the grand entry with empty wrapped boxes underneath, but how many of the windows should have wreaths… and which ones?

How many lights is too many lights?

Is a life-sized nutcracker soldier at the guard booth a bit too much?

To tinsel or not to tinsel? That is the question…

Wait a minute… crawling babies that like to put everything in their mouths… not to tinsel! Definitely not to tinsel!

Where’s that blueprint of the house Jason showed me once?

Yep, this is going to be an epic undertaking, and I’ve got two days to make it happen… while Scrooge is at work, because I don’t want him kiboshing any of my ideas. I’ll do all the behind-the-scenes things tonight and tomorrow, like decorating the trees that are not in the “in-your-face” places, putting the lights and garland out and creating centerpieces and décor for flat surfaces. Then on Wednesday, we’ll tackle the big stuff, like the Nutcracker soldier, the lighted snowballs for the lawn, and the ice globe lanterns and snowball tree for the backyard. I would literally fight him on any of this if he tried to fight me, but hell, he may not even notice.

At the last minute, I find a nativity scene large enough to go on the lawn next to the drive outside of the gate that wasn’t one of those horrible cut-out scenes. I paid the fortune it costs for overnight shipping so that it’ll be here by Christmas Eve. Then I plot out how many people will be here for Christmas dinner. I lost count at the possibility of 20 – 30, so I just did a menu and grocery list for 40. I thought about having it catered, but that would mean people in my house that I really don’t know at Christmas. So, it looks like I’ll be breaking out the chef’s apron with Ms. Solomon and the staff.

It won’t matter. I’ve decided that since my marriage seems like it’s going through a bit of the for worse parts of our vows, I’m going to start taking joy in some of the things that I did when I was just Ana Steele—like cooking. For the first time, I’m regretting having someone staying in my condo. I wish I could go there and escape like I normally do, but it’s just location. Christian doesn’t spend a lot of time in the common places of the house, so if I plan a kitchen takeover a couple of times a week, he wouldn’t notice either way. Luckily, with the Christmas meal, I can definitely stretch my chef legs as long as I want.

We were able to get so much more done than I thought we would…

Beautiful, lush, green evergreen garland accented with plush red bows and delicate lighting line several doorways and nearly every balustrade except for the main staircase—that has to be done on Christmas Eve.

We managed to get the three trees on the sublevel decorated.

I’ve got a jillion centerpieces and table decorations, from silk flowers with candles and evergreen garland to wine glasses and hurricanes filled with lights, various color bulbs, acorns, and fake snow. They’ll be going on just about every surface that can accommodate them.

There are various wreaths—bulb wreaths, garland wreaths, flower wreaths, etc., on the windows and doors at the back of the house.

By early evening, I’m all tuckered out. My parlor—or workspace—looks like Tropical Storm Shaniqua hit it, but I’ll have to tidy up tomorrow when I get back to decorating.

It’s past dinner time and I’m just not in the mood for a large meal, so I ask Ms. Solomon if she wouldn’t mind making me one of her Hawaiian ham sandwiches. Curious, Sophie asks if she can have one, too. So, Ms. Solomon whips up two of the delicious creations along with a winter drink that makes my head spin.

“What is this?” I ask when I sip the sweet beverage.

“Cranberry-apple cider. I thought you might like a tiny bit of variety from your usual spritzer.”

“It’s delicious!” I exclaim. I look over at Sophie for confirmation, and half her drink is already gone.

“I think it’s a hit. We have to add this to the holiday menu. I’ll get a large drink dispenser tomorrow for easy service,” I say.

“No need, we already have one,” Ms. Solomon says.

“Will it be too much trouble?” I ask. She scoffs and waves me off.

“Not at all. Besides, I’m accustomed to the work that goes into making the holidays special,” she replies.

“It’s going to be a lot of work,” I warn. “I don’t even know how many people are going to be here.”

“More than fifty?” she asks. I shake my head.

“I lost my count somewhere between 20 and 30, and there’s usually a do-drop or three, so I’m preparing for 40.” Ms. Solomon’s brow furrows.

“Do-drop?” she asks. I nod.

“Random people who do tend to drop in… ‘do-drops.’” Realization dawns on her face.

“Okay, that makes sense,” she replies.

“Don’t worry,” I say, “I’ll be right here getting my hands dirty with you.”

“That’s not necessary,” Ms. Solomon scolds. “The staff and I will be able to handle it.”

“Oh, I welcome the task, believe me,” I say, taking another bite of the delectable sandwich.

“May I have another?” Sophie asks. I look over at her plate and there’s nothing left but crumbs. I can’t help but laugh.

“Of course, you can, sweet girl,” Ms. Solomon says as she begins to make another sandwich.

“Good, huh?” I say with a smile. Sophie nods.

“Really good!” she says. “Can you teach me how to make them?” Ms. Solomon raises her eyes to Sophie and it almost looks like she’s about to cry. I await her response, knowing the history of the sandwich.

“Of course,” she says, smiling sadly and hiding the crack in her voice. Her sadness doesn’t get past the very perceptive Sophie.

“I’m sorry,” Sophie says. “I didn’t mean to upset you.” Ms. Solomon shakes her head.

“It’s nothing, child,” she replies. “It’s just that… all these years, people have only asked me to make the sandwiches. They’re so quick and easy to do, but no one has ever asked me to show them how. It’s a good thing, don’t worry. I’m glad to give the recipe to someone new. Come. Get your apron. I’ll show you now.”

I watch with a strange sense of pride while Ms. Solomon shows Sophie how to make the delicious sandwich. Sophie catches on right away and makes a second sandwich for which I must be the guinea pig. She plates it perfectly and sets it in front of me.

“It’s delicious,” I say when I take a bite.

“Tell me the truth,” Sophie says. “Is it different than Ms. Solomon’s? Does it taste like I missed anything or heated the pineapple for too long?” She surprises me with her knowledge of food. She knows that if she heats the pineapple for too  long, it changes the texture and usually the flavor.

“Sophie, it’s perfect,” I say, taking another bite. “May I have some more cider?” I ask with a full mouth of delicious ham, cheese, and pineapple. Ms. Solomon and Sophie laugh at me, and Sophie sits to eat her own sandwich while Ms. Solomon gets me another cider. The sandwich really is very good, and I happily sit there and eat the rest of it while Sophie and I discuss the plans for tomorrow.

We’re both pretty tuckered out after “dinner” and Sophie thanks me for including her in the decorating.

“I remember decorating stuff when Dad was home,” she says. “Me and Mom just… didn’t. I got some gifts and stuff, but the first real anything I remember since Mom and Dad split up was last Thanksgiving with you guys.” I feel sad for her knowing that.

“How do you feel this Christmas?” I ask. “I mean, you know…”

“With Mom being in jail?” she asks. “I don’t know. I don’t even think about it. If she wasn’t in jail, she’d be somewhere getting high, so what’s the difference? When I think about her and everything that happened, it really makes me mad, so I don’t think about it. I try to focus on things that make me happy. Does that make me selfish?”

It’s so sad that this 13-year-old girl has to ask herself questions like this—if it’s selfish for her not to think about her drug-addict mother who tried to sell her for a fix so that she can be happy.

“You’ll have to deal with it one day, but for right now, I think you’re doing just fine,” I reply. She hugs me around my waist and squeezes tight. The gesture catches me off guard and nearly takes my breath away.

“Thank you, Aunt Ana,” she says, her voice angelic. I embrace her warmly and kiss her hair.

“You’re welcome, Sophie,” I say, softly. “Now, get some sleep. We’ve got a lot to do, and I really can’t do it without my helper.” She pushes away from me and looks up at me with a smile.

“Yes, you can,” she says, sweetly, “but you won’t have to.” She smiles, then turns and walks through the family room towards her apartment.

“No… I can’t,” I whisper to her retreating form.

The children have been put to bed and I find myself tired, but still quite awake. I wander down to the movie room and sit in one of the luxurious chairs. They’re large and comfortable and they recline almost to a horizontal position. I scroll through the available movies with the remote and settle on The Lake House with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves.

Yeah, this is perfect—two lovers separated by time that will never be together, it seems.

I get all the way to the part when Keanu’s character, Alex shows up at Kate’s birthday party—played by Sandra, of course—which she clearly didn’t want to have. As many times as I have watched this movie, I’ve always wondered how appropriate it is to invite people that neither of you knew to a birthday party for your girlfriend. She was doing her internship and she looked exhausted, but then she comes home to a house full of people, some of them strangers.

That kind of happened to me when Daddy adopted me, but I didn’t mind the party and the only stranger present was Brian’s doppelganger girlfriend, Ana, Jr. I wonder what ever happened to her and if she and Brian are still together.

I lean back in the chair and get comfortable watching one of my favorite scenes in the movie, when Alex and Kate are dancing outside while her birthday party is going on inside—two unlikely lovers falling in love at a very inopportune time. I remember that they kiss at the end of this scene.

How can someone who has committed themselves to someone even wrap their heads around the concept of kissing someone else? It’s something that I never could understand. Even when Liam was leaning in to kiss me, I knew it was wrong and all I could think was, “No, this ain’t Christian.”

I watch as they embrace each other passionately as Paul McCartney sings that song, This Is the Way It Should Be. I don’t remember the last time I heard that song, but I remember clearly the last time I thought of it. It was when Christian and I made love on the hood of his RS7 after our very first visit to a BDSM club. I remember thinking that nothing could go wrong as long as we were together—nothing…

The song ends as Alex and Kate get lost in their kiss.

*-*

I awake right where I fell asleep. There are no windows in the movie room, so I can’t tell if it’s morning. When I reach for the remote, I discover that I’m wrapped in a velour throw and I’m lying on a pillow.

Shit, these chairs are almost as comfortable as my bed!

I push the status button on the remote, waking the movie screen, and the time pops up in life-sized numbers… 8:53am. Whatever I’m going to do, it’s time to get up from here. I stand and stretch before grabbing my wayward hair and tying it in a knot behind me. The hair of the “short part” falls out and brushes my shoulder. Of course, I’m not bald over there anymore, but it’s still nowhere near as long as the rest of my hair. I’m used to that side doing its own thing, though.

I fold the throw and place it and the pillow neatly in the seat, then stumble my way to the kitchen. No one is in the kitchen when I arrive which is odd, but there’s still coffee in the coffee pot. I pour myself a large mug of black coffee and make my way back downstairs. I look at my parlor as I pass and it’s a tsunami of Christmas rubble. I groan when I see it and proceed to my office.

I check my calendar to see if anything important is happening today. If it is, it’s not in my calendar. Chuck informed me yesterday that Maddie and Nelson have opted to stay here over the Christmas holiday. That makes me happy. I know they would have slightly more privacy at the Bainbridge house, but Chuck does need to be on call, and having them that far away means that he has to schedule visits to see them. That kind of defeats the purpose of them coming to Seattle, doesn’t it? I type out a text to Gail that they’ll be staying with us until just after the new year and to prepare one of the guest rooms for their stay.

I open my email to touch bases with the world again. Carl has emailed me again about the auction for Tina’s jewelry. It’s going to be the day after Christmas. I can’t help but think how bad that marketing strategy is—well, maybe not. People are always looking for good deals at after Christmas sales, but that’s not the type of money that you would hope to pull in from a charity auction, is it?

Carl’s probably not even concerned about that. After having to deal with Tina’s brood of misfit children, he’s probably only concerned about getting everything taken care of and closing up shop. No doubt, at this time of year, that’s the soonest that he could get into the auction house and he simply didn’t want to wait.

To be honest, I can’t even imagine going to a jewelry auction right now. There’s just too much going on in the immediate to make plans for it even in the future. I send him an email and politely decline.

I spent part of yesterday sending out emails and texts to everyone that Christmas would be at the Crossing this year and asking that they RSVP that they’re aware that Christmas festivities will start somewhere around 2pm. And as I’m counting, I was right to prepare for 40 people. As I’m going through my emails, my phone rings with a text. It’s Grace.

**Are you coming in today? **

Uh, oh… is something wrong?

Ana: I hadn’t planned to. I’m getting the house and meal situated for Christmas. Do you need me? Is everything okay? **

Grace: Dammit, I forgot I dumped that on you at the last minute! I’m sorry. No, I was just waiting to see if there were any special plans for Christmas besides the holiday meal. **

Ana: Do you think it’s too late to arrange for Santa Claus to come by? I think it would be nice and I know we have the money in the budget. **

Grace: That’s a great idea! Why didn’t I think of that? I’ll arrange it. The kids will love it and so will the parents. I’ll put Helen and Ebony in charge of it on Christmas. Helen asked to work and Ebony loves kids. **

Ana: That sounds great, and don’t worry about me and Christmas. The task turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I’m stretching my long-dormant domestic legs. It’s great! You’re really going to love it. **

Grace: I’m so glad to hear that. When my mind is clear, I feel like I’m taking advantage of your talents and kindness. I’m sorry if I’ve made you feel that way. **

You have, but that statement is the best Christmas present you’ve ever given me.

Ana: Thank you, Grace. That means a lot to me. ❤ **

Grace: You mean a lot to me, Ana dear. Please don’t forget that even though I may behave like a horse’s ass sometimes. **

I literally laugh out loud.

Her final text is to tell me that she’s seeing her doctor this afternoon like I suggested and that she’s emailing me the confirmed final choices for tutors and teachers for my approval. That bump we faced was a pretty big one, but she is my mother-in-law after all, and hopefully, we’ve gotten past it and the future will look a little smoother.

I go through my emails and my heart leaps a bit when I see one from Christian. It falls like a block of lead when I realize that it’s work-related. I click on the email, knowing that he really wouldn’t send it to me unless it was important, knowing how I feel about GEH right now.

And it is.

It’s actually good news for me. The mandatory drug tests are nearly complete and out of all the people tested, so far only eight have returned with positive drug tests for various controlled substances. In a zero-tolerance company, this is grounds for immediate dismissal. The violators have indicated that they’ll sue, and even I with my limited knowledge of law and business know that they don’t stand even the slightest chance. The drugs are varied, even in a small group—marijuana, cocaine, meth, heroine—and the name at the top of the list? Deanna Carson!

Merry fucking Christmas, bitch!

I close the email and smile. This won’t be the last she hears from me, even though she doesn’t know that she’s hearing from me now, but it’s a really good start.

I look at my phone and decide that I need to bust a bit of a mission myself. I do a bit of Googling, dial some numbers, get stuck in a phone tree and after a bit of finagling, I get Gary’s number at his desk at City of Lights. He’s so busy at that place and I know that he won’t answer, but I have to try.

“Hello, you’ve reached the voice mail of Garrett Pope. I’m not available to take your call right now but leave me a message and I’ll call you back. Bye.”

“No, you won’t,” I say sadly before the phone beeps. “Hi, Gary. I know you told me to leave you alone… and that you couldn’t talk right now. I… I’ve just never known a time when we couldn’t talk, not since the first day we met.”

I clear my throat and realize that I’m getting choked up.

“Christmas is just a few days away… and no one should be alone on Christmas…”

I swallow my tears and keep talking.

“If you’re worried about running into her, she won’t be here,” I add with a sniff. “Just… call me… please…”

I end the call before bursting into tears. I’m emotional anyway trying to deal with Christian’s ire and the fucking holidays and the fact that I agreed to have Christmas at my house with only three days’ notice. I quickly dry my tears and turn my focus to something more constructive than the fact that two of the men in my life are rejecting me right now.

I need to take a shower and get my day started since there’s still so much to do. I take the elevator straight upstairs and make a B-line to my room. I really don’t want to explain tears to anyone this early in the morning. I strip out of my clothes and turn the shower on as hot as I can stand it. Then I get in, let the water run over my head, and cry.

It’s a cleansing cry, just to get out all the pent-up frustration—over nothing and everything, so that I’m not talking to Sophie about some random thing and it suddenly turns into a nostalgic tear-fest over some specific color of red.

Motown music will be piping through the communication system today.

I don a pair of yoga pants and an oversize cable-knit sweater—which suddenly gives me a great idea for the cookie bake. It’s actually going to spread over two days now since I have more ideas for cookies, and I’ll most likely be in the kitchen for three days. The grocery delivery will be coming today, and things have to start being prepared, like cooking three turkeys. There’s a science to cooking three turkeys for Christmas so that all the meat is hot for Christmas day. Two will be cooked and carved on Christmas Eve and the third will be cooked on Christmas day.

Then there are the many side dishes that will be prepared, the cookie tins I’m going to make, the desserts, the beverages, etc…

I walk across the hall to my babies room and open the door. There’s Keri fixing Minnie’s outfit, and Gail is on the floor playing with Mikey. When he sees me at the door, he pushes himself to his feet and just toddles right across the room to me.

Three women are staring gape-mouthed at my son. I look up at Gail and point to my son who is now holding onto my legs and looking up at me with a four-toothed drooling grin.

“Wha… ho… di… e… when di…?” I can’t even get a full sentence out. What I’m trying to ask is had he shown any progress towards walking besides the one or two steps we had seen him take. Gail just shakes her head and looks at me, wide-eyed.

“He just got up and started walking!” she says in amazement and turns to Keri. “Did you see that? He just got up and started walking!”

“Ah see! Ah see!” Keri says. “Whut a wanhduhful Chtissmas ptesant!”

“It is indeed!” I say, bending down to retrieve my son. “Mikey’s walking!” I beam. “Such a good boy. Are you going to teach your sister now?”

“Bah bah bah bah!” he says, patting both my cheeks with his hands. I’m all warm and happy inside to see my baby boy get up and walk on his own. I only wish I could have caught the moment on video, but I’m not too soon to forget it.

With the help of the staff and lots of additional labor that Gail had the foresight to hire, we’ve gotten all the decorating done before 3pm—all the trees, including the giant bulb tree in the backyard and the ice globe lanterns that can be seen from the lake. The big boat house and the boat house at the end of the dock are covered in lights along with some of the surrounding trees. The back balconies have been decorated with lights and giant illuminated candy canes. Giant bulbs grace the front lawn before you get to the portico and a large wreath greets you at the front door.

Sophie and I have started my extra Christmas cookie bake, which are additional batches of gingerbread and sugar cookies to be decorated in various ways. I’ve also got a million empty cookie tins to fill and give away. Even with four professional ovens, there’s going to be way too much going on to be hogging any stoves with cookies besides the traditional Christmas Eve cookie bake.

We’re just finishing the tree and stairs in the grand entry when Chuck arrives with Maddie and Nelson. I’m so glad they decided to stay with us this year. I give them warm hugs and introduce them to my gorgeous babies.

“Oh, that’s right!” Maddie says. “You were pregnant when we last saw you! My gosh, babies grow so fast!”

Knowing that he’s the topic of conversation, Mikey stands again and walks over to Maddie. Chuck’s eyes widen.

“When did that happen?” he asks, pointing at Mikey. I shrug.

“He just got up this morning and started walking,” I inform him. “He’s been running around ever since.”

“Well, what do ya know about that?” Chuck says in amazement. He doesn’t have any of his own children, so he’s experiencing everything first-hand through mine.

“Maddie, Nelson, I know you must be tired from your trip. Are you hungry? Would you like to eat something, or would you rather settle in first?”

Phase one of the Pre-Christmas Eve Cookie Cookoff continue with Maddie helping to shape the sweater cookies that came to mind this morning as well as the cutouts for gingerbread men, Christmas trees, and various other merry shapes to be decorated with icing and candy, including Mickey and Minnie Mice to celebrate my babies’ first Christmas.

Maddie and Nelson tell us their side of the legal battle with Joe over dinner, for which Christian still hasn’t joined us. I haven’t seen him since Sunday afternoon. Were it not for the little hints of his presence, I wouldn’t even know he still lived here. However, with the smell of fresh Christmas cookies filling the air, the sound of my favorite music piping through the sound system, and the fact that my baby boy is up and running around like he’s in a marathon, I find it difficult to be down in the mouth about anything right now.

I take a hot bubble bath to soothe my muscles as I know I have a very busy day ahead of me tomorrow—the rest of the Christmas cookies; the cooking for Christmas combined with entertaining Chuck’s parents when they get back from the festivities he has planned for them; making sure that Mikey who is now walking doesn’t get into any mischief… Jesus, I’m going to have to childproof the house now!

I nearly fall asleep in the bathtub, but I don’t. I climb out and slip into a warm nightshirt, crawl into bed, and say hello to the sandman.

Morning comes so much faster than I expect, but I’m greeted with something that I’ve come not to expect. Christian’s gone, but his side of the bed has been slept in. Maybe that’s why I slept so hard.

If he’s up this early, he’s obviously gone to work. I’m not surprised that he’s working on Christmas Eve. We both worked last year. I just took the day off to host Christmas.

Since I took a bath right before bed, I forego the shower and don yet another pair of yoga pants and a sweater—a Christmas sweater, to be exact. It’s a cute red and white off-the-shoulder oversized sweater with Santa heads lining the top and a winter wonderland lining the bottom. I peek in to check my babies and they’re both asleep, so I head downstairs.

To my delight, Sophie, Gail, and Maddie are all donning aprons and getting the kitchen ready for the mayhem that will be Christmas Eve. Ms. Solomon has agreed to allow us to invade “her” kitchen for the traditional Christmas Eve Cookie Bake as well as whatever dishes I choose to “help” with today with the condition that whatever remains to be done on Christmas that I allow her and the staff to complete it.

“The lady of the house shouldn’t be cooking on Christmas,” she scolds. “That’s why you hired me!” I smile and agree to her conditions. The only things that will be cooked today are two of the three turkeys and things that won’t degrade when you reheat them.

Our Christmas is going to be far from traditional. We’re going to have eight vegetable dishes, four pasta dishes, traditional dressing and my cheesy potatoes, turkey and ham, three different salads and an assortment of crudité, antipasto, hors d’oeuvres  breads, pastries and desserts as well as a variety of beverages.

One of our pasta dishes will be a divine macaroni and cheese that Maddie makes. Everyone who has had it swears to it, including Keri.

Also, to my delight, Nelson and Chuck bond over long conversations out at the smoker. So, one of our turkeys and one of our hams will be slow smoked over Applewood.

Not to be excluded, Sophie has asked permission to prepare an ambrosia salad, while Keri has requested to be able to contribute Jamaican rice and peas. It will be quite the eclectic Christmas indeed.

By mid-afternoon, the house is alive with delicious aromas, laughter and Christmas carols when Windsor announces that Val and Elliot have arrived. I come into the grand entrance to greet my sister and brother just as they’re entering the portico.

“Hey!” I say cheerfully, opening my arms to Valerie. “I’m glad you’re here! The cookie bake is still going on.”

“Oh, dear God, I forgot all about the cookie bake!” she says as she removes her coat. “I heard it was quite the family affair last year. I missed it because of Meg.”

“Well, there’ll be none of that this year,” I say, handing her coat to Windsor while Elliot does the same with his coat. “I’ve probably tripled all my recipes, so there’s plenty more to cook.”

“Tripled?” she asks. “Why?”

“I’m filling cookie tins,” I say. “I’m going to give more away. Plus, you know Christmas was kind of sprung on me this year, so I’m cooking enough food to feed all of Seattle!” I add with a laugh.

“I’m kidding,” I say as my sister and brother laugh with me, “but I anticipate that there will be way too many leftovers for my family, even with guests staying over. So, we’ll be packing up some food for the homeless. I thought cookies would be nice, too, you know?”

“Jesus, Montana, this place looks like Santa’s workshop!” Elliot says, looking around at the explosion of decorations. I look around, too, and roll my eyes.

“Yeah,” I sigh. “I think I may have gotten a little carried away…”

“A little?” Val says. “There are ginormous Christmas bulbs on your lawn and a life-sized Mary and Joseph cradling a six-pound-seven-ounce baby Jesus before we even get in the gate!”

“Oh, wonderful!” I exclaim. “The nativity scene arrived! They didn’t even tell me. How does it look?”

“Like Bethlehem!” Val informs me. I’m giddy with excitement.

“Oh, I have to go see it!” I say, turning to retrieve my coat.

“No need,” Val says. “I took pictures.” She pulls out her phone and opens her gallery. I scroll through picture after picture of various angles of the nativity in the snow outside of my gates complete with an illuminated star above it.

The three wise men, various barn and field animals, angels, the star of Bethlehem, and of course, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. She even has pictures of the house with the lights and the giant bulbs as you approach.

“Oh, Gosh, it’s beautiful,” I say wistfully.

“Steele, it’s insane. What brought this on?” I sigh and twist my lips at her.

 “Oh, come on,” I say, “I know it’s over-the-top, but isn’t it great? I feel like Buddy in that movie Elf. It makes you feel like a kid again, and my babies love it! Come on in. Wait until you see how happy everybody is.”

“Where’s Christian?” Elliot asks as they fall in step behind me.

“At work,” I reply. He and Val look at each other.

“It’s Christmas Eve,” Val says.

“Yep,” I say dismissively. He’ll probably be working tomorrow, too. “Come on, I don’t think you’ve met Chuck’s parents.” I lead the way into the family room where Maddie and Nelson have settled in. Once Elliot and Val catch up to me, I introduce them to Maddie.

“Oh, geez, you guys are cooking and baking cookies. What’s a guy to do?” I hand Val an apron.

“Well, you can help out, or you can go get your coat and go to the barbeque kitchen. Chuck and Nelson are back there smoking meat.”

“I’ll take the barbeque kitchen, thank you,” he says, going to retrieve his coat.

“Okay, Steele, seriously, what are these?” I turn around and see Val looking at the assortment of new cookies on the counters.

“The sugar-cookie-and-icing Christmas tree stacks are Sophie’s creation.” I gesture to Sophie and she curtsies. Val smiles and nods at her.

“Those big, bulky looking sweaters with the white icing—I kind of shaped those by hand. I got the idea from a cable-knit sweater that I was wearing yesterday.”

“You shaped those by hand, Steele?” she asks, and I nod. “That’s pretty good.”

“Thanks,” I reply. “The shapes got a little better when Ms. Solomon informs me that we have cookie cutters, and that’s where these Christmas sweaters came from.” I gesture to the sweaters with different color icing and designs on them.

“Then, of course, she introduced me to the rest of the cookie cutters, and that’s where all the shaped gingerbread cookies came from.”

“What about those?” she asks, pointing to larger gingerbread men and women holding candy canes. “They’re darker. They’re not burnt, are they?”

“No,” I say with a giggle. “That creation is credited to Maddie. That’s a chocolate gingerbread cookie. It’s moist and very tasty, and you get a second treat with it.”

“Oh! Okay, but how are they holding onto the candy canes? Wouldn’t they have melted in the oven?” Val presses.

“Probably,” I tell her, “but Maddie wrapped the dough around chopsticks, then stuck the hands together and baked them that way. Once they were done, we had to carefully remove the chopstick and insert the candy canes. There were more than a few casualties.”

“We ate the evidence,” Maddie interjects, and we laugh. Our laughter is interrupted by Jason walking into the room.

“Hello, ladies,” he says announcing his presence, and various women reply as he walks over to Gail. “Hello, love,” he says quietly while kissing her on the cheek. She blushes a bit and I feel a twinge of envy… just a twinge.

“Maddie, it’s good to see you,” he says to Maddie. “Was your flight okay?”

“As well as can be expected for flying,” she says warmly, giving him a hug.

“You’re here, so that must mean that Christian is present,” Val says. “Where is he, parking the car?” she jests.

“You’ve got jokes,” Jason says with a chuckle, then turns to me.

“He’s in the gym,” he says. “GEH was a bit of a shi… boo-boo storm today, especially with Ros gone.” I furrow my brow.

“I’m an old lady, Jason, but you certainly don’t have to censor yourself for me,” Maddie says. “I’ve heard worse, I assure you.” He smiles at her.

“No offense, lovely lady, but it’s for the babies,” Jason says. “Her Highness insists that we use no profanity around the prince and princess.”

“Her Highness?” Maddie repeats and looks at me. I scoff and Val laughs.

“Did you have to say that?” I lament.

“Never knew what you were getting yourself into when you started that, did you?” he chuckles.

“You started that?” Maddie says with a laugh.

“It was a joooooooooke!” I whine. “When he first met me, he kept calling me ma’am and it was driving me nuts. I told him to call me ‘Ana’ and he just wouldn’t. I made several suggestions—Doctor Lady, Pookie… I would have preferred he called me Pookie than this!”

I wouldn’t,” Gail says matter-of-factly while removing a tray of freshly baked sugar cookies from the oven.

“I wouldn’t mind it so much, but he calls me Her Highness all the time. He only calls me Ana when it slips or when he’s really serious about something. Even the security staff at GEH knows me as Her Highness!” I complain.

“Well, you get what you ask for,” he retorts.

“I asked for Ana!” I counter.

“Too late. It’s Your Highness now,” he says with a smile as he steals a warm sugar cookie. Gail slaps his hand, but she’s too slow.

“Ros is gone?” I ask, bringing the conversation back around. “Gone where?”

“Not gone gone,” Jason clarifies, swallowing the cookie. “She’s on vacation.” My frown deepens.

“Wait a minute… Ros is on vacation while all this shi—… crap is going on?” I ask incredulously.

“I don’t know all the details. You’ll have to ask him, but yeah, she’s gone until after the new year.” Hmmm, so on top of all the GEH bullshit, he’s now dealing with this crap one man… woman short, and every cell in my being is telling me that she did this shit on purpose.

“I know that look, and I’m shamelessly making my getaway,” Jason says. “Where are the men hiding?”

“In the outdoor barbeque kitchen,” Gail says, opening the refrigerator and retrieving a bottle of beer. “Nelson and Chuck are smoking meat and Elliot is out there with them.”

“Hey! Christmas festivities without me?” Harmony says making an entrance from the front of the house.

“Another woman. I’m out,” Jason says, escaping towards the back of the house and the barbeque kitchen.

“Hey, Harmony,” Gail says. “Grab an apron and a potholder. We could certainly use an extra set of hands…” I’m rolling out crust for one of the apple pies and Val walks over to me.

“You didn’t know about that?” she asks. “Ros is like his second in command, right?” I nod, trying to concentrate on rolling the crust out evenly.

“I don’t know much about what’s going on at GEH lately,” I say, perfectly rolling the dough to place into the pie pan.

“You’re half-owner of the company. How do you not know?” she asks, moving the pie pan closer to me. I carefully place the crust into the pan and begin to form it into the crevices.

“That’s not how they treat me,” I say, lowering my voice and brushing the crust with butter. “They tolerate me when I’m there. If I speak, someone could lose their job, and that’s all they really care about. The last time I was there, Christian said that he was doing an audit of the departments to find out why things aren’t being done. Ros asked him right in front of me if legal was going to be audited, too.” Val’s brow furrows.

“Al’s department?” she asks. “Is he fucking up, too?” I glare at her and realize that her voice is too low for the twins to hear her in the next room.

“No,” I reply matter-of-factly. “She illuminated the nepotism and made a point that the other departments would clearly see the favoritism if legal wasn’t audited, too. The bitch didn’t even have the guts to look me in the eye when she was saying that shit!” I hiss quietly as I add the homemade apple mixture into the pie crust.

“Hm,” Val says, “and now she conveniently takes a vacation right in the middle of a shitstorm.”

Right in the middle!” I snap quietly. “He comes in every day and goes straight to the workout room, and she figures that now is a good time to go see Bermuda!” I nearly growl as quietly as I can so as not to draw attention to myself. I’m fighting not to get angry, but I really want to throw something right now. Val looks knowingly at me.

“What?” I ask, besides the fucking obvious.

“Is that why this place looks like the North Pole?” she asks, pointing around herself at the overload of decorations. Looking at them, I’m quickly feeling a bit Christmasy again.

“I just want to be happy, Val,” I tell her. “It’s Christmas. It’s time for eggnog… and cookies… and outrageous decorations… and family… and I just want to be happy.” I shrug and she smiles softly.

“Then let’s be happy,” she says. “You want to do the lattice on that pie, or should I?”

My sister… my friend…

*-*

I still haven’t seen Christian once I’ve put my children down to sleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads.

I’m almost certain that in addition to what may be going on at GEH, he’s avoiding me. It might be a good idea that he’s avoiding me, because I don’t know what to say to him and he clearly doesn’t know what to say to me.

But tomorrow’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake.

We normally exchange a gift on Christmas Eve, but I haven’t seen him in four days. He probably didn’t even buy a gift for me! We didn’t even adopt a family this year because we had the Family Reunion instead of the Family Affair, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise since I’m fighting to make sure that this particular Christmas season doesn’t turn out to be a dud.

I spend another evening in my marble tub to make sure that I don’t awake stiff as a board. Tomorrow’s Christmas. I’ll have a house full of people and no matter how I feel, I’ve got to entertain. Ms. Solomon has banned me from the kitchen and although I won’t be cooking, I hate to tell her that there are going to be some moments when I’m going to be in there.

Harmony, Val and Elliot, and Maddie and Nelson are all tucked away in the guest rooms as well

I’ve laid out Minnie and Mikey’s Christmas attire, complete with two additional Christmas wardrobe changes should they ruin their first outfits. I’ve even carefully chosen my own clothing and this house is going to be drowning in Yuletide joy if I have to shit it out of my own ass!

I climb into bed in a flannel nightshirt, all warm and snuggly, and it doesn’t take long for me to fall off to sleep.

I awake to an empty bed… again. He was here; I can tell. There’s a fire going in the fireplace and his side of the bed has been slept in, but had it not been for those signs, I never would have known he was here.

There’s no warmth around me like he held me at all. I don’t feel any love or hate or anything from him. Four days and not a fucking word. It’s almost like he doesn’t exist… like I don’t exist.

He leaves before I wake.

He works until the very late hours of the evening or if he does come home, he makes sure he doesn’t encounter me until I’m asleep.

The only thing that lets me know that the man isn’t dead is that there’s no APB out on him.

The only communication that he’s had with me over the last several days is an email that he sent to the entire executive staff about the drug tests.

Maddie and Nelson arrived two days ago, and I don’t even know if he has spoken to them.

Any other time he hasn’t seen me, he would call me or text me or something. Although I know this goes both ways, I haven’t heard a thing out of him—not a peep.

He clearly wants to be left alone. He’s either still licking his wounds, his work has him all tied up and I’m very much the second thought, or he’s trying to teach me a lesson. Is he still in an internal uproar about what I said this weekend? Is this his way of lashing out at me… or punishing me?

Well, at least he didn’t fly to fucking Madrid!

I throw the covers off and get out of bed.


A/N: NEW CHRISTMAS PINTEREST PAGE 
https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-a-grey-christmas/

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 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.

Explicit details of sex and BDSM scenes from here on out. Some may be hot while others may not be to your taste… and not necessary CG with Ana together. Proceed at your own discretion, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

This ain’t your everyday Christian and Ana story. Don’t expect anything. Just read it as it goes along or go away. 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 new saga continues…

CHAPTER 27

Briana Evigan Ch 27

GOLDEN

I sit in my room for several hours after I leave Trey’s… Christian’s apartment. I don’t know what to think or feel. He turned me away. I want to be angry, but I can’t. I can’t muster up the outrage that I should be feeling, or at least that I think I should be feeling. I want to be angry because of what he took from me.

He took the last word.

I leave them salivating for me. I leave them wanting me, craving me… I leave them aching for the Golden treatment. He obviously wants me, but he sent me away. He told me to leave.

You win—I’m in agony; I can’t take this anymore. You make me want you, but then you say I can’t have you. Then you go away, but you make me want you again. I can’t get you out of my mind. You’re in my blood…

Please, just go, Ana. Just go…

There’s a small satisfaction in knowing that they want you, that they’ll come crawling back to you, even if they know that you’ll push them away… more than small if I’m honest. There’s that knowledge that they want to come back that speaks to the sadistic goddess inside.

He took that away from me. I was there in his home, somewhat available, and he told me to leave. The nerve of him! Although, I guess I’m being a little selfish since the man just gave his sister a kidney and could have died, and I’m stewing over what he took from me.

Instead of concentrating on Christian and his denial, I concentrate on the things that fulfill me—beating the hell out of my clients; watching them suffer and begging to come and then making them explode all over the exhibition room. I often imagine Christian watching me, salivating and nutting all over himself because he can’t have me. I think about him more than I like these days and I even dream about him some nights… dammit.

In one such dream, I was telling him why he couldn’t have me. He was begging and begging, telling me that he would give me anything to make him mine…

“You’re never going to be able to change me,” I tell him. “You’ll never change who I am. You’re saying that this is what you want. This is what you want right now. You’ll want exclusivity. You’ll want me all to yourself. You’ll even want me to get rid of Blake and that’s never going to happen. You will not want me to do to other men what I do to you. You won’t want me to do to them what I do to them. The resentment will set in, and then the hatred, and soon, you won’t be able to stand the sight of me. Why do that to yourself? Why should we do that to each other? Why not walk away now after we’ve had a good run and some good times? Take the good memories that we’ve had and don’t ruin it. Nothing lasts forever, we both know that, so let’s quit while we’re ahead.”

Then, of course, I wake up knowing that he doesn’t want to see me, and the last time he saw me, he sent me away. That indescribable feeling comes back, and I end up beating the hell out of one of my clients again… with Christian watching in my mind’s eye. I’ve actually acquired three more clients in the last two months, one of whom bought me a pair of solid gold stilettos that I’ll never wear.

Shoes are supposed to have some give, people, or you can’t walk in them!

Anywho, I’m still Golden and at least that hasn’t changed.

In other news, there has been an arrest in Blondie’s case. Some miniscule piece of evidence pointed to one guy who, if he had me as his defense, wouldn’t have been fingered for the deed. However, I’m not prone to represent the guilty, not to mention he crumbled under interrogation and confessed to the crime, offering to give up his accomplices for a plea deal as he’s looking at 25 to life. Once his plea was carved in ink, he fingered two other hired killers…

And Linc.

That doesn’t surprise me. Once I saw how badly he beat her before running off to the Bahamas, I knew that he was capable of doing much worse. Once I heard that she had liquidated some of their portfolio to pay the lawsuit, I knew that act wouldn’t go without some kind of punishment. Did I expect her to be killed? No, but I did expect some kind of retaliation. Once I saw how she died, I fully expected Linc to have done it himself. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that he watched the whole thing.

Someone asked me if I felt any conviction over the situation. There’s the fact that the lawsuit was fabricated by me over something that didn’t really happen and that her death was a direct result of paying off that lawsuit. Had it been anyone else, I might have, but let’s look at the facts.

She stole one of my clients by lying to him because I wasn’t available.
She plotted against me to ruin me in the BDSM community by siccing Magic Dick on me.
When it didn’t work out the way she had hoped she threatened my life.
She blamed me for whatever did or didn’t happen to her crummy salons, causing me to hire security so that she didn’t attack me when my back was turned.
She ganged up on me with her frosted fuck creepy husband at the fundraiser a couple of years ago.

And that’s only what she’s done to me.

She broke Christian’s arm.
She falsely accused him of battering her.
Had one thing gone differently—any one thing—after she let him loose on me, he would also be in a wheelchair or dead from a bullet from my gun.

That woman was the devil, and you can’t feel sympathy for Satan.

For me, however, life is a bit… surreal, for lack of a better word. I still get off on my sadistic lifestyle. In fact, I need it now more than ever to maintain balance—but that word…

Balance.

I feel like something is really missing from my life. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is, and I refuse to accept that it has anything to do with Christian. He was a chapter in my life that is now closed, and I can deal with that. But besides that, nothing else has really changed. Yet, even with yoga, meditation, and my beloved sadism, I can’t really find the balance that I’m looking for.

In my search for balance, I’ve been spending a little more time with my family. I’ve put more pictures and keepsakes of Mommy and Daddy around the house, things that Aunt Sheila gave me after Uncle Richard died. It makes me feel so much closer to them and I’m very happy about that.

I also try to get to dinner at Aunt Sheila’s at least twice a month. She’s still dealing with Uncle Richard’s death and the fact that more and more has come out about the kind of person that he was since he passed. He was a faithful husband and family man—he just wasn’t a really good person.

One Saturday night, I agree to go with Tracy to a club in the old neighborhood. I’m definitely game for some dancing and a few drinks. So, I put on my Bodycon wine-colored party dress with a sexy side slit and my wine-colored fabric thigh boots and plan to hit the club in Tracy’s Kia. I should have known that it wouldn’t be that easy. We have to wait in line to get in and once we do, we head to a table of Tracy’s friends.

The eye-cutting begins immediately.

“I thought you said your cousin was coming,” one of the girls says accusingly. Tracy gives her a watch-it glare.

“This is my cousin,” Tracy says. “This is Ana.”

“Oh,” she replies popping her neck, and every last one of them turn their heads without addressing me.

Okay, it’s going to be this kind of night. That’s alright, I’m not looking for new friends. I’m looking to dance and drink.

I squeeze into the seat next to one of the girls, who blatantly turns her back to me. I roll my eyes and they rest on Tracy’s, who is sitting across from me. She’s talking to the girl sitting next to her and looking apologetically at me at the same time.

Well, this was a great idea, but I won’t spoil Tracy’s night. I turn my attention to the dancefloor and people watch.

“You look like you could use a dance.”

I’ve sat here for what feels like an eternity, but I know it was only a few minutes, when I look up to see where the voice is coming from.

Tall, dark, and handsome… and he wants to dance.

“I certainly could,” I say. I put my purse across my body, and he leads me to the dance floor. This is what I needed… just to be free and have a good time. I dance for four songs with the guy and as I’m leaving the dancefloor, he hands me a number. I smile prettily and thank him for the dance before I head back to the table.

“Somebody needs some deodorant,” the same girl says to no one in particular when I sit down. Then she turns away from me and sips her drink. Tracy is gone, and I assume she’s dancing. I know that I’m not emitting any odor because first, I am wearing deodorant and second, I’m not even sweating. So, I deduce that she’s just being catty and bitchy for no reason. I sigh again and mock her behavior, turning the other way, away from her and towards the dancefloor.

Tracy returns and the revelry begins at the table again—for everyone but me, that is—for a solid twenty minutes. Yet another gorgeous black guy comes and asks me to dance, and I oblige. The truth is, it wouldn’t matter if Quasimodo walked up and asked me to dance, I was leaving that table. Who wants to spend a night out with a bunch of bitter, angry women?

I dance for several songs, get another number, and head to the bar. I order a double shot of vodka and a glass of water. When the vodka comes, I throw it back quickly and take large gulps of my water. When a third dance partner approaches me—champagne skin and curly hair—I’m on the floor again.

I spend most of the evening on the dancefloor or at the bar—mostly on the dancefloor. I go to the ladies’ room to relieve myself and decide that it’s time to rejoin my party at the table, not that I want to.

“Oh, Jesus,” one of the other girls says. “She’s back.”

No, the hell I’m not. I’m a grown ass woman. I don’t need this shit.

“God, you guys are a bunch of really catty bitches! That’s embarrassing. She didn’t even do anything to you!” Tracy accuses.

“Because of her, nobody wants to dance with us!” one girl remarks. Well, that’s a crock of shit. I haven’t even been at the table most of the night.

“Well, I’m leaving, so you don’t have to worry about that anymore,” I say, standing to my feet and grabbing my purse.

“Good!” she remarks. “Bye!”

“It’s not her fault that nobody wants to dance with you, Latrice,” Tracy says, standing as well. “It’s your fucking resting-bitch-face that chases them away. Jesus, if I can’t bring anybody around you guys, I don’t need to be around you either.” She puts her purse strap on her shoulder.

“Come on, Ana,” Tracy says, hooking arms with me, “let’s go get a drink… somewhere else!” We begin to walk away from the table.

“Uncle Tom!” one of the girls yells behind us.

“Fuck you, Allie!” Tracy yells back, flipping the bird behind her without turning around. We walk arm-in-arm out of the club and go to Tracy’s Kia.

“You didn’t have to leave your friends behind for me, Tracy,” I say as she starts the car.

“It’s been a long time coming,” she says, as she drives down the road. “It’s not like we were ride-or-die, anyway. They’re unhappy and they find fault in everything. Only one of them is actually doing something to make changes in her life and that’s Vershawna. The rest of them just complain about where they are. Yeah, we’ve been friends for a long time, but you can only deal with that shit for so long. I’ve grown out of it. They’re still stuck in it.”

“It could also be because I’m white,” I say, stating the obvious.

“That’s what it is this time,” she admits. “Tomorrow they’ll see somebody with the wrong color hair, with a skirt too short, with too many kids, you name it. If they can find something wrong with the world, they will. It’s time out for that shit.” I shake my head and look out the window.

“What is it, Ana?” she asks.

“I’ve met a lot of people in my lifetime,” I begin, “from a lot of different nationalities and backgrounds. My father was black. I grew up in a black neighborhood. Most of my pro bono cases are young black boys that just deserve a break. My yoga instructor is black, my receptionist is black…”

“And you’ve said that you’ve met a lot of different nationalities, but so far, all you’re talking about is black,” Tracy points out.

“And there’s a reason for that,” I say. “I’ve met people from many walks of life, and I don’t treat anybody any differently because of it. Why is it that black women—particularly in social situations—dislike me so much? I get the whole concept of racism; I haven’t lived under a rock for the last 34 years, but this is more than that. This is I shouldn’t be seen with a black man; I shouldn’t visit the areas I grew up in… and it’s not all black people! It’s black women. And it’s not all settings—it’s in a club or a restaurant. They don’t give a fuck if I’m at the grocery store, it’s just if I’m having dinner with Kevin, or dancing with Darryl, or riding Fuckboy Jake’s bike! What the fuck is that?”

I’ve raised my voice louder than I intended and Tracy has fallen silent. I cross my arms like an errant child, certain that I’m not going to get an answer, but Tracy starts talking.

“It would take me way too long to explain that to you, Ana,” she says calmly, “but that’s not going to change. It comes from a long line and centuries of oppression and discrimination, and I think you know that. What you’re getting from black women is what black people have experienced from white people since well before you and I were gleams in our daddies’ eyes. The hatred that comes along with that has been passed down through the generations. Among the many, many other intolerances among the races, the vast majority of black women in many areas have a staunch intolerance of white women with black men. Remember, it’s only been about 50 years or so since the races could legally interact that way.

“The world is slowly changing, I know, but not everybody is changing with it—on both sides of the fence, for that matter. You never met our grandfather, did you?” I furrow my brow.

“No, I don’t think I did,” I reply.

“That’s because he went to his grave pissed at Uncle Ray for marrying Carla,” she says. I didn’t know that, but I vaguely remember something like that happening on Mommy’s side of the family, which is why I ended up with Uncle Richard and Aunt Sheila. I sigh and shake my head.

“So, I guess I’m just supposed to stay on my side of the bridge, then.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“You cross the bridge whenever you want,” Tracy replies. “That’s the only way to combat this kind of shit. Just don’t be surprised when people aren’t willing to cross that bridge with you.” I twist my lips. This isn’t new, I was just looking for some grand reason that black women hate me so much. There’s none. It’s the same reason they hated Mommy for marrying Daddy, and it’s not going to change.

“You hungry?” she asks, breaking my chain of thought. I look over at her and nod.

“Famished,” I reply.

“What do you have a taste for?” she asks.

“Greens and cornbread,” I say, without hesitation.


Eric Dane 27

TREY

I gave up a goddamn kidney; now my mother is going to have to speak to me.

It’s been months since the operation and even Dad has come by to see me. I’ve finally gotten the clearance from the doctor to resume activities as usual, and now, I’m going to my parents’ house to put this radio silence to rest.

I’m getting everything together and I’m looking for my phone, but I can’t find it. Where did I toss the damn thing? I look on the nightstand and see that the top drawer is partially opened. I open the drawer and there’s my phone.

How the fuck did it get in there?

I take it out and swipe the screen to see if I missed any important calls or texts. Just beyond the phone, I can see what else is in that drawer. It’s the handkerchief I used to wipe Golden’s lipstick away when she kissed me.

I run my thumb over the lipstick stain. She’s gone now, so I can admit that I had started to care for her. Maybe she’s right… maybe this is best. My first instinct is to put the handkerchief in the laundry to rid it of the memory of her, but then I’d look at every handkerchief I own and wonder if it’s the one. Instead, I take it to the kitchen and toss it in the trash.

The housekeeper lets me in at my parents’ house and tells me that Dad is out in the back and Mom is in the dining room. For some strange reason still unbeknownst to me, I decide to go and talk to Dad first. He’s sitting in a lawn chair facing the lake. He’s not looking left or right, just straight in front of him, like he would run out there and jump in the water and never return. Mom must not be talking to him either.

“Coming out for a father and son talk, are you?” he asks. He doesn’t look over his shoulder, so I don’t know how he knows who’s walking up to him or even if it’s me or Elliot. He’s quite maudlin and he looks like shit. He’s got a tumbler of amber liquid in his hand, but I can tell that he’s not drunk.

“I’m just making sure that you’re not out here contemplating suicide,” I say as I take the seat next to him. “I’ve never seen you like this, even when you and Mom broke up.” He turns to me.

“Concerned, son?” he asks, his voice laced with irony.

“Yeah, about my mother,” I reply matter-of-factly. He scoffs and takes a sip of his drink.

“I could die tomorrow, and you wouldn’t care,” he says, looking out over the lake. “You wouldn’t shed one goddamn tear.”

“And whose fault is that, Dad?” I ask. He turns an angry glare to me.

“You’re saying this is all my fault?” he asks incredulously. “You blackmailed me into showing you the BDSM ropes—pun intended—and you’re saying that this breakdown is all because of me?”

Touché.

“No, Dad, I’m not saying that,” I cede. “We both burned that bridge, but you kept throwing kindling on the fire for years and you know it.”

I don’t turn my gaze from him. I’m waiting for his rebuttal, but I know that he has none. He turns back to the lake.

“I hope my grandkids give all of you as much hell as you’ve given me,” he laments quietly. I scoff.

“What grandkids?” I ask, incredulously. “I’m 36 years old with no desire to have any children. Mia just got a new kidney—so that’s not happening any time soon if at all. And if you’re putting your hopes and dreams in Elliot to carry on the family name, good luck! He’s pushing 40 with a girl in every fucking port, and unless he’s got some illegitimates somewhere, sorry Dad, but this branch of the Grey family tree is dead.” He sighs.

“Well, that’s depressing,” he complains. “Looks like I’ve failed at everything.”

I shake my head. I can’t feel sorry for this man. He’s deliberately deceitful and the only time I’ve ever seen him exercise honesty and scruples is on the bench.

“I don’t know what you expect,” I say after a long pause. “I don’t know how long you were in the lifestyle during your marriage, and I’m sure Mom doesn’t either, but as soon as she found out and the bottom fell out from under your life as a husband, you stopped being a father. I’ll take what happened to our relationship because of how I held that whole thing over your head, but what the hell happened to Elliot? He finished college; he had the education; he was on the right track. What they hell happened?”

My father finally throws a glare at me.

“Yeah, you know,” I say nodding. “That’s what you do. Ever since you lost your woman, you wanted everybody to be as miserable as you. So, you went on this campaign to get everybody under your thumb. I don’t know how that served you, but you did it to the point where you had something on everybody. Me and BDSM—yeah, that’s a taboo lifestyle and it could cause some damage in certain circles, not to mention that it certainly was going to hurt Mom. Elliot and cocaine, and whatever the fuck else you’ve got hanging over his head, well, that goes without saying. But Mia, Dad? You were holding her hostage through dialysis? Seriously?”

“I wasn’t holding her hostage,” he defends.

“The hell you weren’t!” I retort. “I understand not wanting to put Mom through any undue stress, but something you said along the way scared the shit out of Mia about telling Mom what was going on, and I saw it in her face. Mom should’ve known what was going on with Mia. It was going to come out one way or another and she was fucking blindsided when it was. You thought that was the better option? You’re the fucking parent, Dad. Did you lose all of your paternal instinct when you were swinging that fucking whip at Bunny?”

My father doesn’t answer.

“Mia had another reason for not telling Mom about dialysis and I’m going to find out what it was, but you—you were just plain selfish. Whatever imagined power you thought you had, you’ve lost it all, and now you’re sitting out here concerned again that you may have lost your woman. Since you’ve forsaken everything to keep her and she’s probably all you’ve got left, you might want to get your shit together and figure out how to make this up to her.”

I turn my gaze to the lake. It’s beautiful with the evening sun glistening off it. I get lost in its peace for a moment.

“It was this bad,” he adds. I frown.

“What was?” I ask.

“Breaking up with your mom,” he says. “It was worse, you just didn’t see it.” He looks out at the lake and takes another sip of his drink, his eyes glazing over.

“I never wanted to die before, but without her, I did. I wasn’t suicidal, I just wanted the pain to stop. It was the worst pain of my entire life. I swear there was nothing else to live for… nothing.”

Gee, thanks, Dad.

“Don’t look at me like that,” he says, without turning his gaze to me. “Not five minutes ago, you confirmed that you wouldn’t bat an eye if I dropped dead in front of you.”

“I didn’t say that,” I protest.

“You didn’t have to,” he retorts. “It doesn’t matter, though. It’s my bed and I have to lie in it.” He’s quiet for a few minutes.

“I’m going to talk to Mom,” I say, standing from the seat. “If she’s not going to speak to me, she’ll have to do it to my face. Get your shit together, Dad,” I say as I walk back to the house. Mom is standing at the French doors with a glass of wine in her hands as I approach.

“You and your father talking. There’s a twist,” she says, sarcastically. “Then again, you have so much to share!” Okay, I had that coming.

“All I can say is that I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t openly lie to you, but I wasn’t totally truthful. I can tell you this about me, though—about all of us. Each, in our own way, was trying to spare you more discomfort. You had been through hell with Dad and we saw that. We watched you suffer and whatever we may feel about each other, we all love you very much. You’re the only reason why we tolerate each other’s presence when it’s time to come together when we’d much rather not. Mia’s a spoiled nagger, Elliot’s an asshole, I’m a cocky motherfucker, and Dad’s a snake…” Mom throws a chastising glare at me.

“I’m sorry for my language, and you may love him, but we both know it,” I say frankly. “But we all love you, and we wanted to spare you as much pain as we possibly could.” She turns back to her wineglass.

“After what your father put me through,” she begins, “I don’t know if I can forgive him for keeping this many secrets from me.” She takes a swallow of her wine and walks back into the dining room. So that’s why he looks so damn miserable. I follow her and join her at the table.

“Do you love him, Mom?” I ask.

“Of course, I love him!” she says, her head snapping to me. “That’s why he’s still here!”

“Then, you’ll forgive him,” I say. “And he’ll fuck up again, and you’ll forgive him, then, too… as long as he doesn’t do any big shit, again—then I’ll have to come and kill him.” I think she scoffs a laugh, but her face doesn’t change. “You know what they say about the road to hell, Mom. We all had the best intentions, even though none of us executed the best strategy.”

I don’t tell her that I really believe that Dad was keeping the secrets because he wanted to later use them as leverage. For what, I don’t know, but unless he has more ammo on my sister and brother, his well is empty.

“Why did you keep this from me, Christian?” she asks sadly. “Your secrets were the most painful.”

“Why mine, may I ask?” I say.

“You said it yourself, Elliot is a fuck-up,” she says. “I don’t know what he’s into—except cocaine now—but I know it’s nothing legitimate. Whatever he’s doing, he has that snaky, slimy look about him. And the women he brings around—why would you bring any of these women to your parents’ home? I’m preparing myself to hear some terrible news about him, and I can only hope it won’t be the very worst, but I expect for something to be deceitful about him.

“And Mia… well, Mia, I don’t know. Was she really trying to spare me, or did she have that whole stupid ‘I can do this on my own’ attitude that she has about nearly everything else? How the hell did she think she could go through this for seven years and we not find out? There’s no other way this could have ended except for her in a body bag.

“But you,” she shakes her head. “You’re into that same shit that your father was in, that nearly tore our family apart and how do I find out? From the cocaine addict who was simply trying to pull other people under the bus with him. But what you did with your kidney was worse.” I frown.

“How?” I say, my voice squeaking. I saved Mia’s life!

“Because you could have died!” she shoots. “Is that how you wanted me to find out you gave Mia a kidney?”

I don’t dispute her. My portion of the surgery was much easier than Mia’s. It was mostly done by laparoscope. It was the whole swinging-crutches-at-people-losing-my-shit thing that caused complications. And the press must’ve really been spooked, because I haven’t seen one picture of us or heard anything about the surgery even in the gossip rags.

“I’ll start with the first question,” I begin. “I didn’t tell you about my sexual lifestyle because of your history of it with Dad, but tell me, Mom. Is that the only reason why you’re appalled by the BDSM lifestyle?”

“I’m appalled because I’ve seen what they do!” she shoots.

“You haven’t seen everything, Mom,” I correct her, “I can guarantee it. If you’ve Googled anything, you’ve probably seen the grittiest that there is to see, and that’s not all there is to the lifestyle. You probably don’t want any BDSM lessons, and I don’t blame you because of what you’ve been through. But you can’t judge what you don’t know, and if you do that to me, you’re judging me for participating in a lifestyle that may be off the beaten path a bit, but is completely legal and based on the concept that every activity is safe, sane, and consensual. It’s no different than being homophobic or discriminating against someone because they’re transgender, or black, or physically disabled, or different than you in any way. And that would make you wrong, Mom.” Her eyes widen.

“How so?” she asks horrified.

“If Dad cheated on you with a Mexican woman and you discovered that I was marrying a Mexican woman, would you be angry with me for that?” I ask. She’s still stunned. “How about a vegan? Would you hate all vegans if Dad cheated on you with a vegan? What if he turned out to be bisexual and he cheated on you with a man—would you disown me for being gay?” Her face falls impassive.

“It’s the same thing, Mom,” I tell her. “You’re not attracted to women; you eat meat; you married a white man… and you don’t practice BDSM, but you can’t put those of us in judgement who do. This…” I pause and point at her, “is why I didn’t tell you.” She closes her eyes and I can see them rolling behind her eyelids.

“You’re… going to have to give me some time to deal with this,” she says. “In the meantime, I would really rather not know about any of your escapades.”

“Tell that to Elliot,” I say matter-of-factly. “You would have never known about any of it if I had my way.”

“Then, you still would have been lying to me,” she points out.

“But you don’t want to know, so where do I win in this?” I ask. She thinks about it, then changes the subject.

“What about Mia’s kidney?” she says. “We already knew that she needed one. There was no need to lie about it.” I sigh.

“Well, I told you that in the hospital, but I also suspected that Elliot was doing something—like what he was doing—that meant that he couldn’t donate a kidney. I was trying to avoid what happened, but it happened anyway, so that was all for nothing.

“Elliot has made some really fucked-up choices and he hates that he’s not in the spotlight. Anytime that spotlight gets turned on me, he finds some way to make it a bad thing. When he thought I was leaving town for Mia’s surgery, he was talking shit then. When he found out that I was the one who gave her the kidney, he was talking shit then. Mia was upset with me for shit that she really felt was my fault. Elliot was just fucking pissed because he couldn’t be ‘the golden boy,’ as he calls me. Do you realize that I was in a lose-lose situation all around?” She holds her head down. She’s clearly suffering from information overload.

“Christian, I love you,” she says, calmly. “You’re my baby boy, but if you keep another secret like this from me again, I’ll never forgive you and I may not survive it. Are we clear?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I say.

“Are there any other secrets?” she asks.

“That woman they found dead last year, Elena Lincoln—the one who threw a potted plant at me and broke my arm?” My mother’s brow rises.

“Yes?” she says expecting.

“We had an affair years ago,” I confess. She waves me off.

“Oh, I knew that,” she says.

“How did you know?” I ask, my brow furrowed.

“That woman found the strength of Hercules and hurled a concrete pot at you. No woman causes that kind of damage to a man unless it’s self-defense or she’s known him Biblically,” she says. “Hell hath no fury…” I shrug.

“Then unless you want to know the details of my BDSM lifestyle, no, I have no other secrets.” She silent for a moment.

“Do you whip those women?” she asks.

“Do you really want to know?” I’ll tell you, but it’s all or nothing, Mom. She shakes her head.

“I don’t want to know,” she says, shaking her head. I stand, lean over and kiss her on the cheek.

“I love you, Mom,” I say. “Forgive me for my half-truths and omission lies.” She looks into her glass of wine.

“I’m working on it,” she says. That’s all I can ask. I walk through the dining room and head to the stairs to go check on Mia, who has been at home with Mom and Dad since the surgery. As I bend the corner, I see my father has come back into the house and is standing at the French doors.

“Don’t hurt my mother again,” I tell him. “I meant what I said.”

“You didn’t tell her that I was the one who introduced you to the lifestyle,” he says. His voice is defeated, but it could still be a veiled threat.

“Do you want me to tell her now?” I shoot. You’re not holding this over my head anymore.

“I just wanted to know why you didn’t tell her,” he asks, raising weary eyes to me. I sigh inwardly.

“I did tell her,” I say. “I didn’t blurt it out like a general public service announcement, but in so many words, I told her—and Dad, I think she already knows…”

“You can stop your sorry attempt at murmuring! I know!” Mom yells from the dining room. I twist my lips at my father.

“She knows,” I say sarcastically. “Don’t. Hurt my mom again.” I walk past him towards the stairs.

“Get your ass in there and grovel,” I add without looking back at him.


Briana Evigan Ch 27 2

GOLDEN

I’m standing in front of the ominous glass building, Grey House, trying to get the nerve to go inside. I’ve stood here many times before over the course of the past several months, never once daring to go inside. What the hell would I say to him? Why am I even here?

I know why I’m here… because I can’t get him out of my mind. We have unfinished business, but hell if I know how to finish it. He haunts my dreams when I’m asleep; he haunts my thoughts even when I’m with another client… another client. He’s not my client anymore. There’s absolutely nothing between us.

“Fuck,” I say, losing my nerve like I’ve done a million times before and turning to the parking structure.

“Ana!”

I turn towards the voice calling my name and there he is, walking down the street towards his building with Taylor close behind him… and now towards me.

Oh, shit.

“What are you doing here?” I ask. He raises his brow.

“This is my building,” he says, stating the obvious. I roll my eyes.

“No, I mean, what are you doing out here instead of up there?” He twists his lips. I’m positive that he wants to say none of your business, but he doesn’t.

“I was having lunch with a friend,” he says matter-of-factly. “What are you doing here?”

“I work downtown,” I say, a bit indignantly.

“No, what are you doing here?” he says, pointing in front of him and using my words against me. I don’t have an answer. I never got pass the point of meeting him face to face. I never came up with the magic Golden speech to give the poor suffering subject once I met him. So… here I am.

He reads my silence and puts his hand in the small of my back, effortlessly guiding me into the parking structure of his building. Is he sending me away again?

I soon find that he’s just moving us off the sidewalk and away from prying eyes. Taylor disappears somewhere as we walk to a secluded corner of the garage.

“What do you want, Golden?” he asks his voice low. Oh… Golden… we’re here again. I gird myself for the conversation ahead.

“I want to know why you sent me away,” I ask, the truth rushing out of my mouth before I have the chance to catch it.

“For the same reason that you sent me away,” he replies. “I couldn’t deal with it.”

“I never said I couldn’t deal with it…” I begin.

“Are you serious?” he interrupts. “You didn’t have to. Actions speak louder than gold and you made it perfectly clear that you were having all kinds of problems with everything happening between us. Your wiring short-circuited because of the kiss, and you went completely radio-silent after we had sex. You really think you needed to say you couldn’t deal with it?”

“Look, Christian,” I say, looking around the parking structure to make sure no one is around, “the only thing I was looking for is the respect that a Mistress is due!”

“I never disrespected you!” he retorts quietly.

“The hell you didn’t!” I counter angrily. “You showed up unexpected at my home and had the nerve to question me about a conversation that you shouldn’t have even been privy to! Any other time, there was a protocol when you left—it was how we operated. And you get all sensitive when I reacted the way that a Mistress would the next time I had you in my dungeon!”

“I was not your submissive!” he hisses. “I never will be!”

“And yet you and your kisses and your sex are supposed to change me?” I bark.

“Why do you keep saying that I’m trying to change you?” he demands. “I never gave you that impression! Not once! I can’t make you not be who you are any more than you can make me not be who I am. The only difference is that I didn’t know who I was until I got the full spectrum. One woman couldn’t satisfy me, because one woman couldn’t give me what I wanted—what I needed! Even after you beat the hell outta me, I needed to fuck… hard!

“Do you have any idea how many women I’ve fucked to your face? How many times I came into some deep, hot, tight orifice seeing you the entire time? It didn’t matter to me that you got some poor sucker off the day before or that you were getting him off right there and then. What mattered was that I was blasting the rocket’s red glare and I was seeing you! I was feeling your flogger on my back, smelling your smell, seeing your tight body and imagining that it was you wrapped around my cock! And then when you finally gave me what I wanted—sweet Jesus! I had hit Nirvana. Then you cut me off like a kid asking for a lollipop the day after Halloween… completely! Without a word. You and those fucking games! I can’t take those fucking games anymore!” He throws his hands up in the air. “Why am I even telling you this? It’s not like you fucking care!”

“Because I do care!” I yell at him. “I don’t want to, but I do! I don’t want to change who I am… who I was… but nothing makes sense anymore. I’m nothing like who I used to be. I can go through the motions. I can inflict the pain. I can make them come… but I’m not who I used to be! It’s not the same… something is missing. Something’s not right…”

I’m still a sadist and I’m still a Dominatrix, but I’m just not who or what I was. I simply can’t wring the pleasure from the experience that I used to… and I know why. Son-of-a-bitch, I know why. I don’t want to admit it and the words are ripping a hole in my chest, fighting to get out. They won’t be denied. I shriek in anger as I spew the confession burning in my throat and chest.

“Goddammit!” I sob. “Elena was right! She was right! You have spoiled me for other men! I’m ruined! I’ll never be the same! I’ll never fucking be the same! Damn you, Elena Lincoln! Damn you straight to hell! And damn you, too!” I yell at him as I make a B-line to my Range Rover. I dream about this man. I want this man. I can’t function properly without this man! What the fuck am I supposed to do now?


c50b50fe03562a62f3e07c4fdd3dfb38

TREY

She’s running away… again! She’s basically told me that she can’t live without me and now, she’s trying to run again.

I’m behind her before I can stop myself. I reach her right before she gets to her truck and snatch her back into my arms. She’s still weeping when I cover her lips with mine, branding her lips with a searing kiss. They’re salty and soft and irresistible, and when she wraps her arms around me and returns the kiss, I back her against her truck and press my body into hers, taking all of her that I can in case she gets away.

What the fuck am I doing? Why the fuck am I even doing this to myself? Because she’s goddamn addictive, and now that I’ve had her, I can’t think of anything else!

“I love you and I hate you!” I seethe as I bury my face in her neck. “Why do I let you do this to me!”

She’s still sobbing as I take mouthfuls of her flesh, tasting her everywhere my lips can reach, her weeping only ceasing when I take her lips.

“Why don’t you turn me loose?” I question against her lips, my hand thrust in her hair and holding her captive as I reposition my lips and feast on her neck.

“I… can’t!” she chokes. “I tried… I… keep trying… I can’t!”

Her hands thrust into my hair and I kiss every part of her that I can reach, fighting not to ravish her right here in the parking lot.

Breathe, Grey, breathe. Think about this. Think about what you’re doing.

I close my eyes and press my forehead against hers and we’re both panting like marathon runners, her breaths mingled with tearful whimpers.

“What are we supposed to do with this?” I breathe fiercely.

“I… don’t know,” she says in a sobbing voice. “I’m out of my element here.”

“I can’t take your fucking games, Ana,” I admit, my voice still harsh while I hold her close to me. “You’re hot for me one minute and the next minute, you’re cold, aloof, and invisible.”

“I know, I know,” she says, her voice helpless.

“I’d rather you walk away from me forever than to keep me on that goddamn rollercoaster. Let me go and let me get you out of my system… out of my blood!” I squeeze her harder with every word, my fingers digging into her body.

“No… no… please…” Her fingers tighten in my hair and I slam my lips against hers again, our teeth clashing together as our tongues hungrily search for each other, driving fiercely into each other’s mouth and devouring unspoken words.

I told her I loved her. Did I mean that? Did I mean that I love her or that I love what she does to me?

I break our kiss. We need to talk. We can’t do this here… none of this.

“Meet me at my penthouse,” I breathe raggedly against her lips. “Twenty minutes. We have to… work this out.”

She quickly nods at me with wide, glassy, brown eyes. I take a deep, ragged breath and release it before I let her go. I turn away from her and walk to the elevator, thrusting my hands into my hair on the way. What the fuck am I getting myself into? Wouldn’t it just be simpler to send her the fuck away? She’d just come back… like she did today.

“Ana?” I say, turning to face her. She hasn’t moved from her spot, but she quickly raises her head to look at me.

“Don’t play with me,” I say finitely. “If you’re not there when I get there, I’ll never see you again.” I mean it. I don’t have time for her games. She nods at me with a tearful sniffle.

*-*

About 45 minutes after I leave Ana in the parking garage at Grey House, I arrive at the lobby of Escala. I don’t know why I waited so long. I think I was just stalling, certain that she was playing with me again and that she wouldn’t be there—that she was stringing me along with her Golden lasso like Wonder Woman, leaving me totally helpless to her powers once again.

When I exit the elevator from the parking garage and walk into the lobby, she’s sitting there waiting for me, watching the front of the building like she expects me to walk in the front door. I guess she did.

“Ana,” I call out firmly to her. Her head snaps in my direction and she stands immediately. Her stride doesn’t have that confidence that I’m accustomed to. She’s not weak or anything, but that edge isn’t there. That edge that I love and hate.

Love and hate.

When she reaches me, I take her hand and wordlessly head to the elevator. Jason is already in the penthouse having gone up before me. So, she and I ride silently to the penthouse. The air is so thick in the elevator, you can hardly breathe. I stare at her while she stares at the numbers above us, rising to indicate that we’re headed for the top floor. When the bell rings and the doors open, she’s gotten a bit of her stride back and she slowly walks into the foyer. I follow behind her, reaching around her to open the doors of my penthouse.

She takes a deep breath and walks inside, immediately placing her purse on the sofa closest to the door. It’s the middle of the afternoon and my apartment is a ghost town—nobody expects us to be here.

I close the door behind me and walk over to her. She has her back to me and I total intend to ask if she wants something to drink for our talk, but she turns around and looks up at me, lips parted, brown eyes wide and wanting.

Shit! Fuck now, talk later.

I gather her in my arms, lifting her off the floor before she has the chance to think or protest. I burn her lips with a passionate kiss as I hurriedly carry her to my bedroom. I kick the door closed and place her feet on the floor. We stop kissing only long enough to remove our respective suit jackets and shirts. She quickly tugs at… something, and her hair releases from a tight bun and cascades down her back.

Fuck. I need her now.

She’s back in my arms and I’m undoing her skirt as she loosens my belt and unzips my fly. Both pieces of clothing fall down our legs and we each step out of them and our shoes, leaving them in mounds on the floor.

Lifting her in my arms again, I carry her to my bed, still hungrily devouring her kisses and I sit on the edge, forcing her to straddle me. I feel the heat of her core between us and my cock is hardening fast. I reach under her hair and unhook her bra, causing her breasts to spill out freely. I take one of her nipples into my mouth, taunting, teasing and tasting it. She gasps and drops her head back. I put my hand into the small of her back, holding her down onto my erection as I tease her nipple to tautness.

She whimpers loudly, the ends of her hair brushing my hand as I immobilize her against my body, against my cock. I put my other hand flat on her spine, move my mouth over to the other nipple, and begin to grind into her, against her exposed clit through her silk panties. She gasps loudly and thrusts her hand into my hair. She tries to move, but I have her firmly pressed against me, burning that clit with my rock-hard cock.

I’m going to make you come, Ana.

With nowhere to go, she drops her head back again and settles in for the ride. I suck her nipples hard, occasionally giving one or the other a gentle nip. Her whimpering becomes wheezing and her grip on my hair tightens. Moments later, her body stiffens and she’s crying out her orgasm. Her stiffening body begins to tremble as I continue to grind into her, squeezing out every single pulse of that clit. When her legs tighten against my thighs and she falls shivering against my body, I know that she’s had enough.

I stop my ministrations against her and lay her panting body on the bed. I remove her panties, suspenders and stockings all in one slow but efficient motion, tossing them in the mound of clothes we’ve created next to my bed. Giving her a brief moment to catch her breath, I remove my boxer briefs and socks, and they join the pile as well. I crawl back onto the bed and settle between her legs, the smell of her sex juices assaulting my senses. I use my nose to separate her lips and inhale deeply, blowing gently on her clit when I exhale. Her back bows and she grabs handfuls of the bedsheet.

I won’t make her cum again this way, but I’ll get her good and ready.

I am merciless on that clit. I mean, I am seriously porno-licking this pussy. Saliva is mixing with her juices from her orgasm and dripping down to her asshole. I use my fingers to spread the juices to her lips and tease her opening as my tongue torments the tip and underside of her clit. She nearly growls with pleasure as she arches into my mouth.

“Ah! Ah!” she cries as I fuck her with my tongue and suck her cunt until she’s trembling on the bed. I eat that pussy until her cries change and become high-pitched, then I crawl up her body, pushing her legs open with mine. I entwine my fingers into hers and pin her hands down on the bed. I gyrate my hips until the head of my cock finds the opening of her pussy. It takes all I have not to thrust into her balls deep, but I’m so fucking hard that I’m certain I’ll hurt her if I do… no matter how wet she is. I push into her, slow but hard.

Fuck, she’s just as tight as she was the last time.

I take a deep breath and push into her again.

Almost there…

I put pressure on my knees and push once more… hard. A squeaking noise comes from her throat this time and I pause, my cock buried balls deep inside her.

“You okay?” I ask, my voice and breath ragged. She’s panting underneath me, her eyes closed tight. “Ana?”

“Yes! Yes!” she says without opening her eyes. “Again!”

Her pussy is so hot and tight that I have to concentrate not to nut like a fucking teenager. I pull out of her—only halfway—and thrust deep into her again. She squeals softly again and the sound shoots straight to my dick.

“Again!” she breathes. “Don’t stop!”

Your fucking wish is my command.

I pull out of her halfway and plunge into her again… and again… and again. Her squeals become whimpers, then moans as I bury myself deep inside her over and over again and again, using our entwined hands for leverage. Jesus, it’s like we fit together perfectly, like nothing and no one I’ve ever felt in my life.

“Christian…” she breathes, turning her head to the side and closing her eyes. I bury my face in her neck and feast on her skin while I bury my cock deep inside her core. Unable to free her hands from mine, she wraps her legs around me and meets me thrust for thrust.

Goddamn, this shit feels so good.

“Christian… oh, God…” Her body bows again, and she locks her legs around my body. It doesn’t hinder my stroke, though. I’m thrusting freely and deeply into her now as she encourages me with various sex phrases…

“Yes…”
“Don’t stop…”
“Right there…”
“Again…”
“Please…”
“Oh, God…”

I’m getting hot and hard and my cock is just about ready to blow inside this soft, warm, tight pussy.

“Let me go… please… let me go…”

I release her hands and she wraps them under my arms and around my body, pulling me tight against her as she attempts to match my strokes.

“Kiss me… Christian… please…” she breathes. I put my hands on either side of her head and thrust my tongue into her mouth, licking and tasting and exploring as I stroke into her core with intent and purpose. My body is on fire.

She mewls into my mouth and strokes fast and hard on my dick, tightening her legs around me. When I feel her juices flowing and her walls tightening, I stroke deeper to pull her orgasm out of her, but then she bends her fingers and sinks her nails into my back, raking roughly across the skin.

“Fuuuucck!” I yell involuntarily against her mouth, my eyes closing tight from the pain, and my balls popping hard and emptying with force and anger inside her. I’m certain that she drew blood and if she didn’t, I have eight of the reddest tiger stripes across my back you’ve ever seen.

My back is throbbing with the pain… and so is my cock, giving up its final offering and I fall listlessly onto Ana’s panting body.


A/N: So, they sealed the deal again… but there’s still another chapter to go. What do you think?

The Pinterest board for this story can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/fifty-shades-golden/.

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 91—Thin Line

Three more chapters after this one…

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

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

Chapter 91—Thin Line

ANASTASIA

After a quick shower and a fresh change of clothes, I head across the hall to the nursery. The children haven’t stirred yet, so I don’t disturb them. Instead, I go down to the kitchen to locate Gail.

“Has Christian eaten already?” I ask, watching her as she loads dishes into the dishwasher.

“Yes,” she says. “He and Jason have already left.” My brow furrows. It’s Sunday.

“Left?” I ask. “Where did they go?”

“To the airport,” she says, matter-of-factly.

What?

All kinds of horrible scenarios are going through my head, but I’m determined not to jump to conclusions or allow the Boogieman to take hold of me… without a thorough explanation, that is.

“Why… did they go to the airport?” I say, my voice calmer than my countenance at the moment. Gail turns a questioning gaze to me.

“I thought you knew,” she says, pausing her task. I shake my head as nonchalantly as I can. “He’s going to get some flight time in his helicopter. He said if he didn’t clock some time soon, he might lose his license.”

I don’t let her see me sigh, although my chest feels like it might cave in. I just nod and begin to pour some coffee.

“I smell bacon,” I say, effectively covering my jitters. “Is there any left?”

*-*

“I’m glad you called,” Grace says on the other line. “Would I be terribly selfish if I said that I don’t feel like hosting Christmas this year?”

“Grace,” I scold, “when were you going to tell us?”

“Everybody’s accustomed to coming to my house,” she whines. “I was trying to find the energy and will to go through with it, really I was, but I’m so tired. I just don’t want to do it this year… I really… I just don’t want to.” She sounds like a toddler trying to convince me not to make her go to bed.

“It’s not too late,” I tell her. “We can do Christmas at my house. You are coming, aren’t you?”

“Of course, I am!” she retorts. “It’s just… so much work…” Tell me about it. “I just don’t feel up to hosting it, Ana.”

“Grace, have you spoken to your doctor?” I ask. “Make sure that your medicines are all the right dosages? You should tell him how you feel. You might need some adjustments.” She sighs.

“You might be right,” she cedes. “I haven’t been feeling that great at all lately. It couldn’t hurt to have them check me out, huh?”

“I highly recommend it, doctor,” I press.

“I hear you, I hear you, I’ll call her in the morning,” she corrects me. “Can I bring something? A dessert or something? I did kind of dump this on you…”

“No, just bring yourself,” I say. “It’s an excuse to bake more cookies,” I add. Grace laughs on the other end and I’m happy that we’ve moved beyond truce. I end the call with Grace, suggesting that she take tomorrow off from Helping Hands and let me know when her appointment is going to be, then I call Chuck.

“Hey. We goin’ somewhere?” he asks.

“No, I was just trying to find out if your parents decided if they wanted to stay here or at your house for the holidays,” I say.

“I think Mom’s concerned about being an imposition,” he says. “They might want to stay at the Bainbridge house.”

“Well, that kinda sucks,” I say. “I really would like to see them, and them being all the way in Bainbridge, that’s an hour drive one way including the ferries anytime you want to see them. See if you can convince them to stay at the Crossing. We’ll be having Christmas here.”

“We are?” he asks.

“Yeah, we are,” I say. “Grace isn’t feeling up to hosting Christmas this year and in Val’s delicate condition, I wouldn’t dare spring it on her. And Mia… well, newlyweds and such. Anyway, yes, we’re having Christmas here, with all seven Christmas trees and the ‘come-one-come-all’ spirit that we always have.”

“Any idea how many people?” he asks.

“The door will be open,” I say. “I would hope that I could get everyone to RSVP by Christmas Eve, but the headcount will at least be the usual suspects.” Just as I finish my sentence, I raise my head to see my husband standing in the doorway just gazing at me.

“Well, I guess I’ll see if they want to come and stay, then since there’ll be festivities here anyway,” he says.

“Yeah,” I reply. “I gotta go. Gotta put out the APB’s and get the menu going.”

“Alright. I’ll let you know about Mom and Dad as soon as I do.” He ends the call and I put the phone on my desk still looking at my husband.

“Christmas is going to be here?” he asks casually.

“Yes,” I reply. “Grace isn’t feeling up to hosting this year. She apologized and assured me that she would be here.”

“It’s Thursday,” he says, walking into the office. “Do you think you’ll be able to pull it off by then?”

“You did a birthday party in a matter of a few hours,” I remind him. “I can do Christmas in a few days.” He nods and takes one of the seats in front of my desk.

“You have to know that I would never do that to you,” he says without looking at me. I swallow hard.

“I know,” I reply softly.

“Do you?” he accuses raising his head to me. “I don’t want you to say it because I was angry or because you think it’s what I want to hear. You have to know that I would never do that to you. Do you?” His statement is deliberate, and he won’t take a lie or a half-truth from me.

I didn’t before, truthfully, I didn’t. I wasn’t sure, but I am now.

“I know,” I repeat, firmly. I really do. He turns his gaze from me.

“I’m not angry anymore,” he says without looking at me, “but I’m not happy, either. Part of me wants to shake you and demand that you tell me how you dare think that way in the first place. Even when I ran off to Madrid thinking that you were protecting that asshole over me, the thought of another woman never entered my mind once. Not once! Part of me wants answers. The other part of me doesn’t even want to know. I don’t care how unhealthy it is, how you doctors may think I’m hiding, I don’t give a fuck. I don’t want to know what would make my wife—the woman that I love with every cell of my being—think that I would turn to one of those sub-bots that I used to flog and fuck because she wouldn’t allow me to use her beyond her limits.”

He stands from the chair and begins to pace around my office, his hands on his hips and his expression intense.

“This was my idea,” he says, gesturing wildly into the air. “It was my idea to get some formal guidance to see how we would proceed with our relationship in the lifestyle. Why would I bother doing that if I wanted someone else? And yes, I realize that the dreaded walk down Memory Lane happened after I made the suggestion, but I still went through with the meeting. I was open and honest about the memories and how they made me feel and look what it got me. I mean, really, why even bother bringing it up if my intention was to stray outside our relationship? That wouldn’t only make me an asshole. That would make me a stupid asshole…”

He’s ranting on and on and on, things that he didn’t say in front of Artemis and Savvina. These things were… are meant for my ears only. I think the biggest kick in the stomach for him is that he finds it incredibly unbelievable that my thoughts would even veer in the direction of him being unfaithful. All things considered, it was less about him being unfaithful and more about whether or not I would be able to be what he needed, even though the relationship between the two would eventually be cause and effect.

Was I too concerned about not being able to meet his needs? Was I taking a personal flaw—or what I perceived as a personal flaw—and imprinting it on my husband, i.e. I can’t be what he wants so he’s automatically going to find someone who can?

“I want you. To stop. Shrinking,” he says coolly and firmly. That’s when I realize that I’ve pulled my knees up into the chair and that my body is in such a tiny ball that another body could fit in here with me. I stretch my legs and put them on the floor, clasping my hands in my lap. That’s the best I can do.

“I can’t rescue you right now,” he says honestly. “I’m fighting my own demons at the moment.”

I guess we both are. I can’t blame him.

He gazes at me for a few moments, then he leaves my office.

I won’t cry. I haven’t been wronged.
I won’t blame the Boogeyman. That’s not what this is.
This is my own insecurities biting me in the ass and flowing out of my big mouth, and I just have to deal with the aftermath.

He needs time. I’ll give him time. Once his feelings of confusion simmer down, he’ll find his words. Then, he’ll most likely bite my head off.

And I deserve it.

*-*

“Purple, huh?” I say as I sit on Sophie’s bed, polishing her toenails the same lavender as her hair. She has already done my toes and I was waiting for them to dry as I do hers. I spent the afternoon journaling—mostly berating myself for being an insecure twit and imposing those feelings on my husband—then meditation, then yoga, and now I’m down here in Sophie’s apartment connecting with her on a simple level and trying to find out how she feels about the latest events in her life.

“I’m tired of being invisible,” she says, trying not to wiggle her toes. She painted mine blue and they’ve already dried. “It looks cute, and it’s kind of a statement.” I frown.

“What statement?” I ask.

“We’re… Care Bears.” My eyes widen and I try not to laugh.

“Care Bears?” I ask, fanning the polish on her toes.

“Yes,” she says. I’m Share Bear, because I always share my lunch with my friends when they forget theirs. My friend Cecily is Grumpy Bear… well, just because it fits, and the blue hair looks really good on her. And Lanie is Cheer Bear because, let’s face it, she’s sickeningly cheerful sometimes.”

I’m glad to hear that she has friends who were willing to stick through this crazy idea with her. I was worried about her fitting in after I had to make a couple of appearances at her school.

“And what color is Lanie’s hair?” I inquire.

“Pink,” she says. “It’s very pink.” I nod.

“How did their parents react to the new look?” I say.

“They didn’t flip out like Dad did!” she declares in the insolent teenagery way. “It’s not even permanent!”

“It just surprised him, Sophie. I think it’s really cute,” I say.

“Thanks,” she says. “I’m going to do it again when it wears off.” I don’t respond. I decide to change the subject.

“So, how do you feel about your mom?” I ask. I don’t know if anybody talked to her about it.

“You mean about her going to jail?” she asks. I nod. “I don’t know, Ana. I want to feel sad about it—she is my mom after all—but she tried to sell me to her drug dealer. What did she think was going to happen to me? I’m a kid, but I’m not stupid. I know he was going to try to do all kinds of creepy things to me or make me do creepy things. And whenever I talk to her, she acts like it didn’t happen. So, how am I supposed to feel about her going to jail?”

“I don’t know, Sophie,” I tell her. “My mom did sell me to someone… or at least she sold my silence, and I still haven’t forgiven her. So, this is one time I don’t have the answer for you.”

“At least somebody understands me,” she says. “I feel like a horrible person because I don’t know how I feel about her going to jail. She’s my mom, I really don’t want her to go to jail. But geez, she tried to sell me! Or trade me. That means that she really has a serious problem if she didn’t see anything wrong with that.”

“That’s true,” I say. “How do you feel about her getting help and maybe wanting you to come back and live with her?” Sophie shakes her head.

“I would beg the judge to let me stay with my dad,” she says finitely. “I’ve been doing some studying on my own and I know that the judge listens to kids of a certain age. I’m hoping that I’ll be old enough that by the time my mom is eligible for parole, the judge will listen to me.”

“The judge listened to you before, Sophie,” I tell her. “I’m sure he’ll listen to you again.” She twists her lips.

“I hope so,” she replies. Then she falls silent for a few moments.

“What is it, Sophie?” I ask.

“This is my first Christmas with Dad since… I don’t know how long. I’m just wondering how it’s going to go.”

“Well, it’ll be different for us this year,” I tell her. “We normally all meet at Grace’s, but this year, everybody’s meeting over here.” She raises her brow.

“Everybody?” she says, her voice a mixture of hope and dismay, if you can say that. I give her a sympathetic glance.

“You know the door is always open at Christmas for anyone who wants to stop by.” She sighs.

“That means that Marlow will probably be here, and he’ll bring one of his scatterbrains,” she says with distaste. I shake my head.

“You may want to lighten up a bit on his dates,” I tell her. “It only serves to piss him off when you give them a hard time.”

“They’re such easy targets,” she says. “You know why he’s with them. Do they have to be so obvious?” I raise a brow.

“Why is he with them?” I ask.

“Either they want to meet you or Uncle Christian, or he wants to make out,” she says matter-of-factly, and she’s right—most likely the latter.

“So maybe now might be the time not to pay so much attention to Marlow and his dates and start paying more attention to your own interests,” I say. I want her to focus on something other than the unattainable young man who visits us from time to time. It would be a long time before he would ever even be slightly interested in Sophie, and she’s certainly sabotaging any possibility of that even in the distant future with her behavior. He’s four whole years older than her—well, nearly four. She’d probably be somewhere around twenty-one before he would even consider looking in her direction, and there’s a whole lot of years between 13 and 21. Give it up, Sophie.

“Yeah, well,” she says flippantly. “I suppose there’s no way I can get out of Christmas,” she laments. I raise my brow and purse my lips.

“Not unless you want to tell your father that you don’t want to be around Marlow and why,” I inform her. She scoffs.

“Please,” she says in that surly teenage voice. “He had a cow over purple hair. This would probably give him a coronary!”

I don’t bother asking exactly what this is. We’ve all had girlhood crushes on some unattainable older boy. It’ll pass.

Once our toes have dried and we’ve talked about everything from her beloved High School Musical and Zach Efron to the fear of being a high school student herself next year, I hear the two-way come alive.

“Ana,” I call into the air, and I hear Minnie’s cooing voice.

“Well, that’s my cue,” I say, uncrossing my legs from the lotus position and putting them on the floor.

“How does the system know when to call you?” she asks, removing the tissue from between her toes. “Like, does it buzz every time the babies cry or when does it not buzz or what?”

“Barney set it up,” I tell her, then I realize that she doesn’t know who Barney is. “Christian’s IT guy. It’s some algorithm where it picks up a certain sound or tone of the babies, but only from the nursery.” We’re going to have to revisit, because it’s picking up some other things.

“Can I come with?” she asks, hopeful.

“Sure, you can, come on.”

Keri has already made it to the nursery when we get there, and I’ve already told Gail that I was on my way and that Sophie is with me. Sophie adores baby time. Like everyone else, she doesn’t know which baby to grab first. Luckily, Keri has made the decision and retrieved Minnie, so Mikey finds himself in Sophie’s arms. Already the ladies man, he coos and smiles at her, reaching for her face as she talks to him.

We spend quite a bit of time playing with and feeding the babies—more like monitoring them while they eat. Feeding time is a bit messy these days as the babies eat more with their hands, grabbing their sippy cups on their own and dropping more food on the tarps under their highchairs than they get into their mouths. It’s mostly a success, though that ends in bathtime and a nap for my two food critics.

We find that it’s early evening when we’ve finished with the twins and it’s time to go in search of sustenance. There’s nothing cooking when we get to the kitchen and when I locate Gail, I find out why.

“Christian and Jason are still at the office. He says they’re going to be late,” Gail tells me as she’s going over the house schedule for the coming week. Still at the office? It’s fucking Sunday! Why the fuck is he at the fucking office? And why the fuck didn’t he tell me he was going?

He’s avoiding me.

Try though I might, I can’t hide the mix of anger and disappointment that wells up inside of me. From now on, if I want to know where my husband is—if I want to know—I’ll ask Gail. At least her husband tells her what’s going on.

“Ms. Solomon decided not to start dinner until she talked to you,” Gail adds, reading my expression. “She thought you may want something quick and simple…” since my husband won’t be eating with me. I swallow hard and straighten my back.

“Sophie?” I say, turning to my Sunday companion. “Would you like to come and help me reacquaint myself with my kitchen?” Sophie’s face lights up.

“Yeah!” she says, like I just gave her a Christmas present. I nod and we walk into the gourmet kitchen.

“Sophie and I are going to play ‘chef’ this evening, Ms. Solomon,” I say, trying to hide my ire with my husband behind and painted-on smile. Ms. Solomon picks up immediately.

“Okay,” she says, “just call me if you need me,” and she leaves the kitchen to me and Sophie.

“So, I say, retrieving my chef’s apron from its hiding place where it has set way too long, “do we want something easy or complicated?” I hand Sophie another apron.

“Complicated,” she says, almost reading my mind and taking the apron. She ties it around her little body as I contemplate what we’re going to create. “Aunt Ana?” she says, getting my attention. I quickly turn my head to her. She variates between “Ana” and “Aunt Ana” at will.

“Hmm?” I reply, acknowledging her.

“Boys are stupid,” she says, looking up at me with big, understanding blue eyes that almost make me cry. I sigh heavily.

“Yes, they are,” I say as I retrieve a mixing bowl.

My spirits lift somewhat after Sophie and I giggle like schoolgirls creating a fabulous homemade chicken pot pie with all fresh ingredients including crust from scratch. It’s not really complicated on the cooking scale, but it’s detailed enough to keep us both occupied. As an addition to our comfort food, I make my garlic butter cheesy mashed potatoes and nearly cry when I taste them, longing like crazy for the simpler time when these were always in the fridge, and understanding a little more why Christian would wax nostalgic about memories of his most recent past.

The girls—Gail, Sophie, Keri, and I—all have dinner at the dining table, careful to keep the conversation light, nothing too serious to bring down girl time. When dinner is done, we load the dishwasher, put the food away, and go to our separate corners.

After I spend some time doing yoga, I take to Facebook and decide to create my first post…

“Your past is always your past. Even if you forget it, it remembers you. ― Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye”

I close Facebook so as not to be tempted to overshare. The sun has long since gone down and still no word from my husband. Deciding to turn in early, I stop in my babies’ nursery like I always do to check on them. I find Minnie standing in her crib holding on to the edge, sleepy-eyed, but awake. I close the door and take her from her crib. She’s unsettled for whatever reason, so I take her to the window seat and rub her little back.

I make the mistake of looking over at the bridge. I’m not looking for an Audi, I’m just looking at the bridge, wondering how many husbands are crossing it on the way home to their families; or how many families are returning from Sunday dinner at grandma’s house, going on to prepare for the busy week; or how many wives are driving across the bridge, leaving their families and never to return again.

God, that’s dismal.

I look down at Minnie in my arms and she has fallen asleep. I didn’t really need to remove her from the crib to put her to sleep. I just needed to hold her in my arms. For the moment, I’ve officially had enough of wearing my big girl panties. I’ll be a big girl tomorrow. Right now, I just want to cry.

I cradle my sleeping baby girl in my arms, hold her close to my body, and weep.


CHRISTIAN

I’ve buried myself so deep in work that I didn’t realize how late it was until Jason tells me that his wife wants to know if we’re coming home before midnight.

“I’m sorry,” I tell him. “Old habits are hard to break. I got some of the results back from the drug tests along with some of the reports from the departments and I just got lost.” He furrows his brow at me.

“Do you need to talk?” he asks.

“About what?” I counter. About the fact that I’m one man, er, woman down because Ros chose now to have a pissing contest? I could just fire her, but she hasn’t taken much if any vacation time all year. So, the work falls on me and Lorenz and, well… I’ve got other things on my mind, too—like the goddamn Pedophile and that cunt ghostwriter of hers, and…

“We have,” I protest. “We were talking about Christmas, which is going to be at the Crossing this year, by the way.” Jason frowns.

“Thanks for telling me!” he scolds.

“I was just told today,” I defend. “And it’s only going to be family and friends anyway.”

“People are going to be coming and going. You never know where the paps are hiding. We have to be informed about these things.”

“It slipped my mind,” I say, removing my glasses and rubbing my eye.

“Now I know something’s wrong,” he says. I frown and glare at him.

“Why are you saying that?” I ask.

“Because anything to do with security, your twins, and your wife never slips your mind,” he says. “If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine, but just know that I know. And it’s more than just this work shit.” He waves around the room at my office. “Let me know when you’re ready to go,” he adds as he walks out of my office. I’m only glad no one else knows me as well as he does.

Except my wife. At least I thought she knew me… well enough to know that I wouldn’t go running into the arms of another woman because she won’t do the hard stuff. For fuck’s sake, Anastasia…

I push those thoughts out of my head and shoot off an email to HR to have the handful of people who tested positive out of my building no later than Tuesday. I’m happy to find that the vast majority follow the rules. Those who can’t will have bad news from Santa.

In accordance with my own rules, I CC the email to my wife. It’s like I told Ros before she flew the coop—if five people come back with a positive test, that’s five people that I can get rid of and get some drug-free talent in here, which is what I want. Nine came back with positive tests ranging from marijuana to meth, and I don’t even have all the results yet. I can get them out of here before they fuck anything up if they haven’t already. I’d say that’s a big win for the company so far.

I fire off a few more emails and let Jason know that it’s time to go. We have to be in court in the morning at 10, so I don’t want to keep him away from his wife and daughter for too long…

What about your wife…?

I head to my piano and a snifter of brandy like I did last night and let my melancholy tickle the ivories. My music is solemn—disappointed, like my mood. I haven’t had dinner and surprisingly, I’m not even hungry. After I don’t know how many hours, I realize that I’m really tired, though, more tired than I expected that I would be.

I want my damn bed. I haven’t slept in it and I’m tired and I want it now.

I close my piano, finish my brandy and head to my bedroom.

She’s not here, and the bed hasn’t been slept in. It’s 3:00 in the morning, and she’s not here. She’s not in the sitting room either, and the throw from the bed hasn’t been disturbed. There’s no evidence whatsoever that she’s even been in this room. I check her yoga room and she’s not there either. I would have seen her when I came from the elevator if she had been in here.

I begin to check every guest room except the room that Harmony is sleeping in. Maybe she’s feeling the same way she felt when I left for Madrid and doesn’t want to sleep in the room by herself.

No luck.

I’m trying to keep myself from panicking. I know that she wasn’t in the gym when I passed by. Her office? Her parlor? The aquarium? The spa?

Nothing.

Where the hell is she? I can’t find her anywhere! Now, I am starting to panic. Was I too hard on her? Has she left me? No, she wouldn’t leave without the children…

The twins! Of course!

I don’t wait for the elevator. I take the stairs two and three at a time to the first floor, bolting through the empty family room, kitchen, dining room and past the main entry, then up the main staircase to my twins room. I’m out of breath and I have to pause for a moment to calm my breathing before I open the door.

When I do, holding my breath, the room is dark… too dark. I scan the room and after adjusting my eyes to the darkness, I see Mikey fast asleep in his crib. I look over at Minnie’s crib and it’s empty.

My daughter is gone. Where is my daughter… and my wife?

A momentary rush of panic flows through me as I note the empty rocking chair and no light from the en suite. Just when I about to go full DEFCON 1, I see a shadow in the window seat.

Oh, shit.

I slowly walk across the room and I’m relieved and dismayed at the same time to find my wife fast asleep in the window seat with my daughter cradled contentedly in her arms. Her head is lying back on the wall and she’s scrunched up in the window seat with the baby in her arms. The moon is shining on her face, and her tears have left many treks behind.

I don’t know how to feel. I feel like I’m the one who has been wronged because I was wrongly accused, but she’s been crying.

I shake my head and reach for my baby to put her in her crib, but my wife stirs—not enough to wake, but enough to tighten her grasp on Minnie. My daughter whimpers a bit, but suckles her binky a couple of times and she’s out again… and so is my wife.

I’ll have to leave them here… or take them both.

I gather my wife in my arms, and she must’ve cried herself into sheer exhaustion, because all she does is breathe those crying shuddering breaths, clings to her baby, and falls immediately back to sleep in my arms. I look back at Mikey once more, who hasn’t stirred, and carry Butterfly and Minnie to our bedroom.

Once I lay her down, she feels the softness and loosens her grip on Minnie. My daughter rolls out of her mother’s arms and begins to stir and fuss a bit.

“Sshhh,” I soothe, rolling her onto her belly and patting her back as she sucks her binky. In no time, she’s fast asleep again. I look over at my wife, fully dressed and curled up so tightly in a ball that she looks like she’s eight years old.

She’s shrinking in her sleep. I can’t stop her from shrinking in her sleep.

I put the blanket over her and Minnie and go to my en suite. I stand in the shower for several minutes, allowing the heat to wash away the stress of the day. Once I begin to feel relaxed again, I pull on a pair of sweats and climb into bed. Neither of them has moved from the positions I left them in. I lie in bed on my back, staring at the ceiling and trying not to think about the thing that kept me away from home all day. I eventually fall asleep in that position.

I only sleep for a few hours and I’m awake again. Jason and I are headed for court this morning, I need to get out of bed. I stretch, and my hand brushes over my baby girl. I look over at her and her mother. It’s hard to believe they haven’t moved for hours—neither of them. Butterfly’s still curled in a ball and Minnie is still resting peacefully on her belly. I carefully slide out of bed so as not to wake them and go into my dressing room. I quietly dress for the day, my tie draped around my neck and my shoes, cufflinks, and suit jacket in my hand and sneak quietly out of the room.

I finish dressing just before I descend the stairs and as I’m coming through the hallway towards the kitchen, I can hear Jason talking to Gail.

“I don’t know what it is,” he says. “Something must’ve happened when he and Her Highness went out on Saturday. He’s been avoiding her ever since.”

“I knew it had to be something,” I hear Gail reply. “I think she asked me three times where he was. She never knew. I made the mistake of telling her that you guys had gone to the airport—she turned white, I mean alabaster white. She tried to downplay it, but she was terrified for a minute until I added that Christian was getting some time in Charlie Tango.”

“Well, hopefully it’ll blow over soon…”

“I don’t think so,” Gail interrupts her husband. “You’ve seen him like this before. He’s cantankerous and unapproachable, and that was before Saturday. Whatever’s going on between them, she can’t talk to him, and he can stay this way forever.”

“I know, but before, he didn’t have her. And as much of an asshole as he is, I know he doesn’t want to lose her.” He pauses for a moment. “Do you think I should let Sophie come to the sentencing? She’s young, but she’s mature for her age.”

There’s another pause before Gail speaks.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” she says. “That’s her mother, and seeing Shalane hauled away in cuffs is probably not a good idea for her. You’ll talk to her when you get home.” Jason scoffs.

“When I get home—that’s rich. With him hiding in that office until the late evening hours, I don’t even know when that’s going to be.”

“Well, tonight, you may need to have one of the other gentlemen sit with Mr. Grey while he hides out, because your daughter needs you. He can neglect his family if that’s his choice, but you, sir, need to be here.”

I’m not neglecting my family! We had a disagreement and we haven’t been speaking as much for one day! That’s not neglect!

“I’m sorry we haven’t had that much time together,” Jason says. “First Australia, and now this.”

“You’ll just have to find a way to make it up to me,” Gail replies suggestively, and I hear the unmistakable sound of kissing.

I’m not neglecting my family. If I feel slighted, I have every reason to take some time to myself and get my mind together. What the hell is this neglect shit?

“You’ve seen him like this before. He’s cantankerous and unapproachable, and that was before Saturday…”

I’m not neglecting my family… am I?

I take a few steps back through the hallway, then double back, allowing my soles to announce my presence before turning into the dining room and heading for the kitchen.

“Are you ready?” I ask Jason as I enter the room. “Good morning, Gail.”

“Good morning,” she replies, smoothing her hair. “Coffee?”

“Yes, black please,” I say.

“I guess so,” Jason finally responds with a shrug. “I wouldn’t even go if I didn’t have to, but you know… Sophie…”

“Yeah, I know,” I say, taking a welcome sip of my coffee. I look down at the plate in front of him. “That’s a hearty breakfast you’ve got there,” I say, noting the healthy serving of what looks like chicken pot pie and… are those…?

“No, I’m packing this for lunch,” Gail says, placing a cover over the plate and placing it into a thermal bag. “I made one for you, too, if you want it. Ana made a homemade, deep-dish pot pie last night and there’s enough to feed an army, and of course, those mashed potatoes…”

Ana? Butterfly cooked last night? And the potatoes?

“Yeah,” I say, trying to be nonchalant, “We’ve got a busy day ahead of us today. Brown-bagging is probably a good idea.” Gail throws a knowing look at Jason which I ignore while taking another gulp of my coffee and looking at my phone. “Is her hair still purple?”

It takes a moment for him to catch on.

“I’m used to it now,” he says. “Worse things could happen.”

“I’m glad,” Gail says, “because she’s talking about touching it up.”

“Purple again?” Jason laments a bit. Gail nods. “Well, like I said, worse things could happen.” He takes the thermal bag from his wife and kisses her. “See you later, love,” he says. I finish my coffee and walk out behind him.

*-*

The courtroom is fairly empty. There’s no one here at the moment except the courtroom staff, minus the judge, me and Jason, and the district attorney. I can’t imagine going forth into something that is this life-changing and no one even shows up to support me.

The way that I understand it, Shalane has agreed to come to court and turn herself in, taking a plea on a lesser charge with the hopes of getting a lighter sentence. Jason sits in his seat looking straight ahead of him. I can tell that he’s lost in thought. He’s probably thinking that his entire life and the life of his daughter balances on what’s going to be said in this room today.

The doors open behind us and in walks Shalane and what appears to be her attorney. She’s dressed more modestly than I’ve ever seen her, but she looks very thin and pale. I can’t tell if she’s thinner than she was the last time I saw her or not, but she’s thin. Her hair is pulled back in a bun, making her face look even thinner, skeletal even. Jason raises his gaze when he hears the doors open and looks back. Their eyes meet and Shalane looks horrified. Jason just shakes his head and faces the front again.

“She’s still using,” he says. I look back at her and then at him.

“How do you know?” I ask. I know that meth users look frail anyway, but how would he know that she’s not just frail from using before?

“She looks like death,” he says, turning his gaze to me. “I haven’t seen her since the last time that we were in court because the few times that she requested visitation, I had to work, so Gail took Sophie to see her. She looks worse now than she did then, and I know that she was using then.”

He turns his gaze to the front of the courtroom again and Shalane stops right next to us.

Shalane's meth mouth in chapter 91

“Where’s Sophia?” she whispers harshly. When she bears her teeth at him, they look awful. I don’t remember them looking that awful the last time I saw her. She looks like she’s been chewing tobacco and never brushed her teeth. I turn my gaze away from her. She looks horrible.

“Not here,” Jason says without looking at her.

“You know as well as I do that I may not see her for a while. Why wouldn’t you bring her so I could say ‘goodbye?’”

Because he probably didn’t want her to see you looking like this! Jason doesn’t dignify her with a response. Her attorney urges her to take her seat. She throws a hateful glare at Jason right before the bailiff announces the judges arrival and Shalane scrambles to her place at the defendant’s table. Everyone is seated and Shalane’s case is announced. After the attorneys introduce themselves, the judge speaks.

“It is my understanding that in the case of the State of Washington vs Shalane Deleroy, the defendant wishes to enter a plea, is this correct?”

“It is, Your Honor,” Shalane’s attorney says.

“Is the office of the District Attorney aware of this plea?”

“We are, Your Honor,” the D.A. replies.

“Is the office of the District Attorney in agreement with this plea?

“We are, Your Honor.” The judge examines some papers in front of her.

“It is my understanding that the charges have been amended from conspiracy to distribute to possession of a controlled substance, is that correct?” the judge asks.

“Yes, Your Honor,” the D.A. confirms.

“Very well. Ms. Deleroy, would you please stand?” The judge says and Shalane gets to her feet.

“Do you understand the charges against you, Ms. Deleroy?” the judge asks.

“Yes, Your Honor,” Shalane responds.

“Okay. In the matter of the State of Washington vs Shalane Deleroy, on the count of possession of a controlled substance, Ms. Deleroy, how do you plead?”

“Guilty, Your Honor,” she says after a short pause.

“Counsel, you have reached a settlement?”

“Yes, Your Honor,” the D.A. says. “The people have agreed to a sentence of 18 months in jail followed by five years’ probation.” That’s all? She tried to sell a child, for fuck’s sake! But of course, she took a plea. Gotta love the justice system.

“Ms. Deleroy, do you know that by pleading guilty you lose the right to a jury trial?” the judge asks.

“Yes, your Honor,” she replies.

“Do you give up that right?”

“Yes, Your Honor,” she says flatly.

“Do you understand what giving up that right means?” the judge asks.

“Yes, I do.”

“Do you know that you are waiving the right to cross-examine your accusers?” the judge continues.

“Yes.”

“Do you know that you are waiving your privilege against self-incrimination?”

“Yes.”

“Did anyone force you into accepting this settlement?” the judge inquires.

“No, they didn’t.”

“Are you pleading guilty because you in fact were in possession of a controlled substance on the night of March 19, 2014?

“Yes, I was.”

“Very well, Ms. Deleroy, you are hereby sentenced to 18 months in jail, with review in a year, followed by five years’ probation, on condition that you complete a court-approved drug rehabilitation program.

“You are hereby remanded and without bail to the custody of the sheriffs of Kent county to be delivered for commitment to the Washington State Department of Corrections where you will be confined until final execution of this judgment and sentence prescribed by law. This court is now in recess.”

The gavel falls and we watch as the bailiff cuffs Shalane. She doesn’t resist or perform like she has been known to do. Her attorney says something to her as she’s being cuffed, and she just nods meekly. Moments later, she walks out of the courtroom with the bailiff without a word or looking back.

Jason is still deep in thought as we leave the courtroom and walk down the courthouse steps in the frigid cold. We walk in silence to the car and once inside. He starts the car and just sits there for a moment.

“Jason?” I say.

“Thank you for coming with me today,” he says.

“You’re welcome,” I reply. There’s a long pause.

“I loved that woman once,” he says, almost nostalgically. “At one time, she and Sophie were my whole life. And then, it seems like out of nowhere, we were at the other end of the spectrum. I was devastated when we got divorced. How does something change so drastically between two people who love each other?”

I can see his reflection in the rearview mirror, but he’s still looking straight ahead. I don’t have an answer to his question and I’m not certain if it’s rhetorical or not.

“Work it out, sir,” he says, and his eyes shift to mine in the reflection of the rearview mirror. “Whatever it is, whatever has you and Ana at odds, work it out and work it out fast. Don’t let it simmer. It only takes a minute to lose everything you love.”

We gaze at each other for a moment in the mirror before he puts the car in gear and heads toward GEH.

*-*

“It’s been a bit of a commotion today, sir,” Andrea says. “Mr. Holstein has called several times. I hear a hint of desperation in his voice. Allen has asked to be notified as soon as you arrive as he indicated that GEH is most likely looking at five lawsuits for wrongful termination…”

“From the ex-employees who failed the drug tests?” I ask, bemused.

“Yes, sir, it looks that way,” she replies. I scoff a laugh.

“Bring it on,” I say. “Tell him that I’m here and to bring the files and names of those losers who want to sue me.”

“Yes, sir,” she says and begins to dial the phone.

I walk into the office I left not 12 hours ago, Jason’s words ringing in my head to fix whatever’s wrong between me and “Ana.” He never calls her Ana, so either he was highly distracted or very serious. I remove my coat and rub my hands together. They’ve gotten a chill just from the car to the door. It’s really cold outside.

“Andrea, will you get me a cup of coffee, please?” I say into the intercom.

“Yes, sir,” she replies. I fire up my computer and of course, many emails greet me—responses from the department heads I’ve been harassing about projects that should have long since been started or even finished. I take several minutes to respond to them and give further directives. Then I can’t help but feel a bit of anger towards Ros for skipping out on me at such a crucial time, but I push the thought out of my head. It is what it is, so she gets one gimmie, but that’s it.

“Well, hello, Chris. So nice of you to join us,” Al says, breezing into my office in that way that he does.

“Don’t give me shit, Forsythe, I had things to do this morning,” I warn. “What’s up?”

“Well, first of all, Chocolate is walking on air that we finally got the ball rolling on SEEKNID,” he says. I raise my gaze to him.

“You told him that?” I ask.

“No, he told me,” he says. “He’s been getting calls about algorithms and the way the program is supposed to work in an ideal setting. He’s got an appointment to come down next Tuesday for his input and approval.”

I must’ve missed that email in the thousands that I’ve been reading over the past several days.

“Well, it’s good to know that someone around here is doing their job,” I point out. “So, what’s the angle—I drugged their coffee?”

“No,” he replies. “They’re actually claiming ADA protection.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” I say. “This is a joke, right?”

“Well, no. Under the ADA…”

“I know how the ADA works!” I snap. “Title I to be exact. The moment I decided that this would be a drug-free workplace, I educated myself on that.”

“Good, so I don’t have to explain it to you. The revolutionaries are trying to sue you for not making reasonable accommodations for their ‘illness.’ According to the lawsuits, as an employer, you should have provided counseling and cessation or rehabilitation programs instead of firing them.”

“And this is why I had to go all Rambo on my fucking company,” I lament, “because the inmates are running the fucking asylum.”

“There’s only eight of them, Chris,” he says.

“All eight of them are suing?” I ask.

“All eight of them have mentioned it,” he replies.

“And if only one of them is successful in this suit, employers everywhere will have to keep drug addicts on their payroll,” I respond. “This section of the ADA is supposed to protect people like Chuck, who had a bad spell but has cleaned their life up and is moving on, so that their prior mistakes don’t follow them to the grave—not strung-out or social-using opportunists who got caught. They’re not suing me because they’re sick. No, they’re suing me because they failed random drug testing, which is my right to perform as an employer, and I’m going to be performing it more often.

“No one came to me and said, ‘Sir, I have a problem I need treatment.’ They went out and partied the night before or the weekend before and they dropped dirty. So, if they have money to burn, let them go on and sue me, because I’m taking this all the way to the fucking top. Any lawyer with an ounce of sense knows this isn’t going to go anywhere. There’s no judge in America that’s even going to hear this. So, all I want to hear from this point on about these cases is how soon they’re going to be thrown out of court.” He twists his lips and nods.

“Christmas is at your house,” he says.

“Yes,” I say after a pause.

“When were you going to tell me?” he asks.

“Ana just decided this weekend,” I say. He raises a brow at me. “What?” His face falls to a slight frown.

“Nothing,” he replies.

“Out with it, Forsythe,” I demand. Everybody seems to be able to see that something is wrong, and I haven’t said a word or even behaved differently that I know of.

“Nothing,” he says again, “if you don’t see anything wrong with what you just said, neither do I. Have you started planning for February or are we just flying by the seat of our pants?” I frown.

“What’s happening in February?” I ask and his eyes widen.

“Green Valley? Smote the bastards? Hello?” I shake my head.

“I’ve been a little distracted with company business,” I reply.

“Well, undistract yourself!” he demands. “This is like one of the most important things that has ever happened in Jewel’s life!”

“Jesus Christ, I know,” I say, irritated. “Just give me definite dates and I’ll have travel plans ready.”

“Well, you may want a guest list, too, because it looks like you’re going to have a full-on entourage.” I frown.

“Entourage?” I ask. “That’s a bad idea. That screams of publicity, something we really don’t need.”

“Well, I’m going, and I know that if I’m going, Chocolate is going to be there.”

“We really don’t need legal representation for this, Al…”

“Well, then it’s a good thing I’m not coming as legal representation,” he interrupts. “I was around for this shit, Chris. I may not have been right there in her face, and I may not have been able to be by her side, but I was there. I felt everything that she felt and when she got back to Montesano at the tender age of 16, I cried with her while she told me what happened. I vowed that if it took my last breath, I would see these motherfuckers get what’s coming to them and I’m. Going. To Vegas.”

His brown eyes are piercing through me at the moment and I’m pretty certain he’d deck me if I tried to stop him. I sigh heavily and drop my head.

“I’m sorry,” I say, not able to give him any explanation as to why I was so insensitive of his emotional investment in all this. He’s silent for a moment.

“What’s going on with you, Chris?” he asks, and when I look up, he’s closing the door. I drop my head again.

“There’s so much going on in my life right now,” I admit. “We went to Australia to decompress and I come back to a shitstorm of motherfuckers not knowing what they’re doing. I’m putting all of my time and energy into trying to figure out what’s going on before my company collapses, and now I get the news that bastards are trying to sue me because I’m not letting them do drugs on the job.

“Ros is testing all of my patience. She took nearly three weeks off right at Christmas with no notice and right in the middle of a crisis because she’s pissed! She’s pissed because I decided to do random drug testing which sniffed out eight people so far, and because I’m turning the company upside down, but not to her specifications. It bothers the fuck out of me that Lorenz is floating around just as cool as you please while I’m running around here pulling out every strand of my hair.

“My wife has vowed not to come to GEH anymore because she feels like nobody respects her, and Ros was bordering on insubordination the day that she walked out of here.”

“She said that?” Al interrupts. “She said she wasn’t coming back because they don’t respect her?” I nod quickly and widen my eyes.

“Yeah, she did,” I confirm. Al scoffs, then chuckles. “What’s funny?” I ask with a frown.

“She’ll be back,” he says with a knowing smile, “and when she does, some fire’s gonna fly in this bitch.” I eye him speculatively, then roll my eyes.

“I’ve got another Ana to meet now?” I’ve got a feeling that’s the last fucking thing that I need.

“Oh, this Ana doesn’t have a name, but you’ve probably met her already. Tell me—if I’m not overstepping—has this surly, distracted, inattentive, bear-like, solemn persona made its way to your home yet?” He’s gesturing to me in the most belittling manner as he rattles off this list or unattractive adjectives that describe me perfectly these days.

“No, you’re not and yes, it has,” I confess. He twists his lips.

“Um-hmm, and how is Butterfly taking that?” he says, his brow furrowing. “I notice you haven’t used that particular term of endearment in this entire conversation.” Jesus, I haven’t? Is that what Jason was talking about?

“Things aren’t well,” he says. “There’s other things going on.”

“And none of them stemmed from this, right?” he presses. I don’t know how to answer that. We were planning to see our BDSM mentors anyway. When we got there, I made a confession and she accused me of wanting to be with other women. That had nothing to do with what’s going on here and neither did our going to see our BDSM mentors…

But my confession and the feelings surrounding it did.

“So, while you’re searching for an answer to that question, riddle me this. Have you ever seen Jewel get to the end of a situation that she couldn’t handle or that had just worked her nerves to the very end and flip the fuck out? I mean, completely turn into somebody you didn’t know?”

Flynngate and the Treehouse Trauma both come to mind immediately. Then, of course, there was the Crouching Tiger moment when the Pedophile put her hands all over me in front of a room full of people at my parents’ house. And let’s not forget holding a chopping knife to the Pedophile’s throat at the breakfast bar at Escala, and that cold woman that took over my kitchen the entire afternoon. I get a chill just thinking about it…

“And that…” Al says, pulling me out of my daydream and pointing a finger at me, “tells me that you have seen her in this state. And when she blows, be prepared for somebody to walk out, especially if her flamethrower is aimed at our little ‘hot shot in heels.’”

“Fuck,” I hiss. The last thing I would want to have to do is choose between Ros and my… Butterfly. I would really hate to lose Ros, but that’s a no-brainer. Al stands.

“Whatever fire is in the hole at home, fix it, Chris. You and I both know that although this is your pride and joy and you built it with your bare hands, none of this…” he gestures around the room, “is going to be worth anything to you without Jewel.”

Without Jewel? What does he mean by that? She’s not going anywhere! It’s not that bad…

Is it?

I sit there pondering just how bad the situation must be for Jason and Al to check me about it without even talking to my wife, and I’m surprised to see that Al has left and Jason has taken his place.

“It’s late,” he says. “I figure you might want your lunch.” He’s standing there holding the plate his wife made for me this morning along with some utensils. Food from the hands of Butterfly. I move to take it from him

“Thanks,” I say. He hesitates.

“It’s still cold,” he says. “You want me to have Andrea heat it up?” I shake my head and take the plate.

“No, I’ll do it, but ask her to get me something to drink, please.”

“What do you want?” I think for a moment.

“Cranberry juice and sparkling water on ice.”


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

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

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

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

 

Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 26

Two more chapters after this…

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.

Explicit details of sex and BDSM scenes from here on out. Some may be hot while others may not be to your taste… and not necessary CG with Ana together. Proceed at your own discretion, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

This ain’t your everyday Christian and Ana story. Don’t expect anything. Just read it as it goes along or go away. 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 new saga continues…

CHAPTER 26

Eric Dane 26

TREY

I didn’t get the whole lowdown on sexual activity once I’m released from the hospital, so I’m pretty sure that I’m just going to take it easy until I’m cleared by the doctor. In light of that, I have one last hurrah on Sunday night. I do every freaky thing in the book—anal, deep throat, titty fucks, you name it…

And I don’t come once.

I know it’s a combination of being worried about the surgery—if Mia will be okay, if there’ll be any complications for either of us—and the fact that I still have residual thoughts of Golden.

 

She let me call her Ana while we were maki… having sex. I don’t refer to her as that anymore.

I let Ronnie know that I’m going to be unreachable for about a month and a half so that she doesn’t think I’ve dropped off the face of the earth. I told her to call me if she needs me, but that I’m really going to be tied up in a very important project. Of course, she gave me a hard time about the pun. I’m really glad that we’re still friends.

I’ve already packed my bag and I’m heading out of the penthouse with Jason when I look back at Mrs. Jones standing in the kitchen. Her hands are clasped together, and her expression is unreadable. She’s clearly concerned. I hand my bag to Jason, walk over to her, and I take her clasped hands in mine.

“I’ll be fine,” I tell her with more conviction than I feel. “People do this all the time.” She nods quickly and looks at the floor.

“Yes, sir,” she whispers.

“I’ll need lots of your soup,” I say, trying to lighten the situation. She scoffs a chuckle-sob.

“Yes, sir,” she says again. I kiss her hands and she never raises her gaze to me. I quickly walk out the door with Jason before I get all emotional and lose my nerve.

When I get to the hospital on Monday morning, I have Jason wait in Admitting while I go see Mia. I’ve been here just about every other day to make sure that she’s okay. At first, she was surprised. Now, she’s accepting of it even though I think she may be kind of cautious. I still haven’t told anybody that I’m going to be her donor. Like Ronnie, I tell them that I had some important business that couldn’t be rescheduled.

“Wow, Christian,” Elliot jibes. “You couldn’t put your business on hold for even a minute to make sure your sister is going to be okay?” I ignore him. I could blow his entire world with three sentences right now…

“Why yes, brother, I did in fact put my business on hold to make sure that my sister is going to be okay. I’m her donor since you are somehow physically unfit to donate your kidney. Why don’t you tell us how that came about?”

That’s not the priority right now, however. Mom has that same question in her eyes as I move next to Mia’s bed.

“Hey, Pest,” I say, taking her hand.

“Hey, Lucifer,” she replies with a smile. She’s scared. I can tell.

“You ready?” I ask, sitting on her bed next to her. She shrugs.

“I really don’t have a choice, do I?” she laments.

“We talked about this,” I remind her. “You’re going to come through this okay, and you’re going to take better care of yourself, right?” She nods quickly.

“Right,” she whispers.

“Aw, isn’t this sweet?” Elliot chimes in. “Hell has officially frozen over. Lady Capulet and Lord Montague are playing nice and all we needed was a life-threatening emergency. Go figure.”

“Elliot, stop being such an asshole,” Mia says without looking over at Mom, which she usually does when she curses. I think we all know that she gets a few “gimmes” today.

“So, look, I really have to get going, but I know you’re gonna knock this thing outta the park. Just give it as much hell as you’ve given me.” She smiles weakly.

“Get better,” I say, trying to make a hasty getaway. She raises sad eyes to me.

“Come on,” she begins. “Admit it. Your life would be a whole lot simpler without me.” Her voice is maudlin with a touch of that sarcasm I know so well.

“Of course, it would,” I reply with a half-smile, “but I don’t want you to die… because it would also be quite boring.” I fight the urge to hug her. I’m sure that I’ll spill my guts if I do. “I gotta go, Pest. I gotta see a man about a dog.”

“Of course, you do,” she says, her sarcasm returning. She drops her head again and I can’t resist. If this doesn’t work out right, I may not see her alive again. I lean down and kiss her on the cheek. She raises surprised eyes to me that quickly soften when we make eye-contact.

Yeah, sis, I may not like you that much, but I do love you.

“What’s your hurry, bro?” Elliot taunts. “What could possibly be more important than your sister’s health?” I turn a hateful glare to him.  I could destroy him in front of everybody right now with the information that the doctor insinuated and come out the hero for giving up a perfectly functioning piece of my body to a woman who obviously hates me… well, hated me, but I don’t do that.

I don’t know how long I stand there glaring at him, but I watch as his expression changes under my cold stare. I don’t have time to play this game with him. I have to go and get checked in myself.

“Nothing,” I nearly growl in response, and I’m about to prove it when you can’t, you asshole. I leave the eerily silent room and, as usual, Elliot has to have the last word. He just wasn’t brave enough to say it in my face.

“Then, why are you leaving?” he yells out of the room. “She could die, you know!” I hear my mother scolding him.

“I’m aware of that, Asswipe,” I say lowly to no one. “That’s what I’m trying to prevent.”

I walk slowly down the hall and press the elevator button to head to admissions, pretending that this isn’t the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

*-*

You get this drunk, hungover feeling without the headache when you wake up from anesthesia. My mouth feels like cotton and my throat stings a bit.

“Mr. Grey, you’re awake,” some nurse says. “That’s good. Let me get some readings from you and the doctor will be in shortly.” I smack my chops trying to create some saliva in my arid mouth.

“Dry mouth?” she asks. I nod. “We’ll get you some water for that.” She marks something on her chart and leaves the room. I look around and see that I’m in what looks like a common recovery room. Well, I don’t like that.

“Sir?” I slowly turn my head and Taylor is walking into the recovery room. “Just checking on you, sir.” I gesture my hand around the room. “They’re going to be moving you to a private room soon, sir.”

Yeah, soon. The last thing I want is for my parents—or heaven forbid—Elliot or Mia to see me in here.

Mia!

My facial expression must have given it away.

“No one knows we’re here, sir,” he says, “so I haven’t been able to get any information on your sister.” I lay my head back on the pillow. I don’t even want to open my mouth.

“Mr. Grey, how do you feel?” The next voice I hear is a large black man in scrubs—our doctor. I open my mouth and point inside.

“You’re hungry?” he asks. “That’s new.” I make a gesture like I’m drinking something.

“Oh, you’re thirsty,” he says. “Well, that’s good. We’ll get you some water.” Like an angel from heaven, the nurse comes back with a picture of ice water and looks at the doctor for approval. He nods and she hands me the small picture.

“Small sips, Mr. Grey,” she says while helping me raise my head. My tongue and throat are saying, “That’s not gonna happen,” but when I get the straw to my mouth, my strength says, “Small sips.”

“Your stats are looking really good, Mr. Grey,” the doctor says. He shines that infernal light in my eyes, and I blink and glare at him. He does a couple of other things to test my reflexes and such. When my throat feels better and my head is slightly clearer, I’m able to form a word.

“Mia,” I say, my voice rough. The doctor looks up at me and raises his brow.

“It looks really good, Mr. Grey,” he says. “She’s tired as you would expect. Her resistance and immune system aren’t as strong as yours with the dialysis, but she’s looking good.”

I nod. The last thing I want is for her to go downhill, especially since part of me is inside her now.

A while later, I’m hungry and cantankerous, and I want to go to a private room. I’m tired of laying in this bed and I want some food. I’m wearing a catheter and I fucking hate it. After enough bellyaching, either they finally got my room ready or the squeaky wheel got the oil.

I’m in a wheelchair and Taylor is rolling me down the hall with the nurse walking close by—not my nurse, but a nurse. The minute we exit the recovery unit, I hear it before I see it. It’s the unmistakable raucous of the press. What the hell are they doing inside the hospital? The moment we round the corner, I see them, a cluster of them trying to get into one of the rooms. I’m only glad the poor bastard in the room ain’t me. I make to hide my face until I see something that causes me to cringe.

“What are you doing here? Get away! This patient has had major surgery and is trying to recover. What’s wrong with you people? How did you even get in here?”

That’s my doctor demanding that these vultures cease and desist. My doctor… Wait a minute! Does that mean…? He turns around and sees me in the wheelchair about 50 feet from him and his brown skin turns white. His expression tells me everything I need to know.

That’s Mia’s room.

And suddenly, I feel no pain… just pure rage.

I’m up out of that chair and storming down the hall before anybody can stop me. The catheter bag is dragging on the floor behind me and I don’t know what disconnected. Somewhere along the way I get my hands on a crutch from God only knows where and bellow at these fuckers as loud as I can… which turns out to be pretty loud for a guy who just gave up a kidney.

“Move the fuck outta my way!”

My voice carries over the clamor of the reporters and they all stop. A nurse rushes down the hall and moves to assist me.

“Get your hands off me!” I demand, and she nearly leaps away from me, startled. “How the fuck did they get in here?” I roar. “This is a goddamn hospital! Why the fuck are they here?”

“I… I don’t know, sir…”

“Get security and the police on the phone and do something!” I turn back to the press. “Get the fuck away from her room or I’ll start swinging crutches and anything I can get my hands on.”

“And we’ll sue you for everything you have, billionaire boy,” one of the reporters says.

“Good luck convincing a judge about a man in the hospital in a gown hours after giving his sister a kidney!” I raise the crutch and they begin to back away, enough for me to get into Mia’s room.

I walk in and there’s a nurse smiling for the cameras over a sleeping Mia.

“You!” I bark, and another nurse nearly jumps out of her skin. I read her badge and commit her name to memory. “I’m going to have your fucking life in the palm of my hands. Kiss your career goodbye!” With the crutch at the ready, I start swinging. Fuck a warning—I’ll blame the meds.

“Get the fuck outta my sister’s room!” I demand. The crutch cuts through the air and the crowd leaps back, Dammit, I missed every one of them. Now, I want blood. I swing again, but these bastards are fast.

“If I see one picture of me or my sister in the press, you will all sorely regret it! I promise you that!” I swing again and connect with a wall. Pain rings through my hand and wrist and shoots up my arm… the bad arm. Fuck, I forgot about that thing.

The crack of the metal crutch against the wall was enough to clear the room, except for the petrified nurse.

“You inconsiderate, hateful, selfish, heartless bitch!” I seethe. She takes a step back as I walk toward her. “How could you? How could you violate her privacy that way? She’s unconscious! Totally indisposed! What the fuck is wrong with you?” I’m angrily pointing at Mia to illustrate her helpless condition and when I throw a glance at her, she’s looking at me. I’m shocked to see her eyes open.

“Mia?” I squeak, caught off guard by her gazing at me.

“Chr… Christian…” she says weakly. “Wh… what are you… doing here?”

That’s right. She doesn’t know that I’m the one who gave her the kidney.

“I…” As soon as I try to formulate the words, something happens. My head gets fuzzy and starts to spin and I feel weakness in my body. I think I say something, I don’t know, but suddenly, all I see is darkness.

*-*

When I open my eyes, my head feels like lead. I can feel that irritating oxygen tube in my nose and I can’t move a muscle. My body weighs a ton. I’m trying to focus—it looks like I’m in a different room—more machines, more IV bags, more fucking tubes. Whatever happened, I ain’t gettin’ up no time soon.

I turn my head and try to focus on the form sitting next to my bed, but I can’t make it out for shit. Nobody but Taylor should know that I’m here, so maybe it’s a nurse.

Shit!

Mia knows I’m here now. She probably knows that I’m the one who gave her a kidney. So, there’s no telling who this is by my bed. I try to focus my eyes a little more, but it’s hard as hell. I can tell by the fuzziness that they’ve got me on some drugs. I fight harder to focus, and the blob begins to take form. These must be some really good drugs because that woman looks like Golden.

This is so unfair. When I’m at my weakest and can’t clear my mind enough to fend off thoughts of her, she haunts me in my drug-induced haze.

“Go away,” I manage. Maybe if I can fully wake up, I can make the apparition disappear.

“What?” Oh, dear Lord, and it speaks, too.

“Go away!” I say again. Haven’t you hurt me enough?

“I hurt you?” it asks. Did I say that aloud? Of course, I didn’t. Hallucinations are all in your head, so of course they can read your mind. I close my eyes and try to make her disappear. “I warned you not to fall in love with me, Chopper.”

Chopper. Fuck. I forgot all about that name.

“And as far as I knew, I didn’t,” I retort weakly, “but I like you enough to be confused. Now go away and stop haunting me.”

“Haunting you?” it asks. “What do you mean haunting you?

Oh, for fuck’s sake! I swat at the apparition, hoping it will dissipate and leave me the hell alone. A manicured hand reaches up and catches my wrist, stopping it cold before it gets anywhere near the apparition.

The apparition… what the fuck?

I glare at the hand, then into the face of one very angry madam.

Oh, hell, the haze is clearing up now!

I have no idea what expression is on my face, but whatever it is, hers morphs from anger to sheer confusion to questioning uncertainty. I, on the other hand, haven’t cleared the haze enough to know where or when I am, but I know one damn thing for sure.

“Mi… Mistress??”

7bd497e296c232ffba49c6bffa0997f6-briana-evigan-beautiful-things

GOLDEN

So, from what I can see, Linc is the primary suspect in his wife’s murder and the prosecutor’s office is looking for an indictment. This is a high-profile case, and they’re pressed to solve it.

The coroner’s report was gruesome. Elena died from blunt force trauma. The thing is… she didn’t just get cracked over the head and die. Somebody beat the hell out of her—brutally. The medical examiner is a friend of mine from college, and she gave me all the gory details.

Blondie was beaten and kicked and strangled mercilessly. Her body was bludgeoned so badly from head to toe that some of the strikes actually broke the skin on her body. Her face was so swollen that she was nearly unrecognizable. Although she was identified at the crime scene, her identity had to be officially confirmed by fingerprints and dental records.

After all of that, she took 15 blows and kicks directly to her head. That’s what killed her. The bleach was a means to clean the body of DNA and evidence. So far, it’s been pretty effective. However, since they discovered that Linc had motive, they’ve been on his ass, combing his financials, tracing his every step to pin it on him. His passport has been revoked—not seized, revoked. He can’t even go to Canada or Mexico. He even tried to move back into his house, but the police have it sealed off as a crime scene… even after all these months.

I really hope he did it—not because I’m that macabre or because I want to see him go down, but because they’re combing the very hairs in his asshole to find evidence against him. If they find out that he’s guilty, then he deserves it. If they don’t find anything or it turns out that someone else did it, he’ll be the victim of the biggest and worst persecution campaign I’ve ever seen in my life.

While spending the holiday with my father’s family—my family—I discovered that Reynard approached them first. I knew he had approached Richard, but I didn’t know he had approached the entire family. He displayed about the same amount of grace, poise, and tact with them as he did with me. Except for that empty shit he said leaving my house, he hasn’t made any real threats. Nonetheless, even though the Blondie threat is no longer an issue, I still keep Jesse around.

I come home one day after another big win and a heavy fee being transferred to my account to Blake preparing a delicious dinner.

“Well, this is wonderful,” I say.

“I’m sure you closed Hamilton and Ryers successfully, Mistress,” he says matter-of-factly.

“I did,” I say, trying to see what he’s preparing.

“Make yourself at home, Mistress. I will set the table.”

I change into jeans and a sweater and I return to the dining room. We have a delicious meal of gazpacho with pa amb tomàquet, paella, empanadas, and homemade churros for dessert. He tells me about his day while we eat, that his whore ex-wife has finally sold the house to a nice family, which means that the home will be used as it was intended at last. I tell him about the cocky male corporate lawyers who underestimated me once again. We’re toasting to my success when he rolls his eyes and reaches for his phone.

“I apologize, Mistress,” he says. “It’s incessant.” I try not to be irritated as he pulls out the phone and looks at it. He frowns, looks at me, then back at his phone.

“What?” I say.

“It’s nothing, Mistress,” he says, and puts his phone on the table. He begins to clear the dishes from the table, and his phone buzzes again… and again… and again.

“Blake, what is it?” I ask again.

“It’s nothing,” he says, putting his phone back in his pocket without looking at it.

“It’s clearly something. Your phone is buzzing like a ticking timebomb, now what is it?” His expression is a combination of melancholy, regretful, and angry… which is some fucking combination.

“What do you hear of Christian Grey these days?” he asks, and I’m totally taken aback to the degree that I jerk like someone just hit me.

“Are you telling me that your phone is going batshit because of Christian Grey?” I ask, nearly in horror. Blake doesn’t respond. “Who in the fuck is texting you like a goddamn crackhead over Christian Grey?” I ask sincerely irritated.

“They’re not texts, Mistress,” he confesses. “They’re more like… notifications.”

Notifications? What the… Never mind.

“I hear nothing of Christian Grey these days,” I say, pretending that I’m not fucking dying to know what those damn notifications are all about. “And I really don’t want to,” I add for effect.

“Mistress,” he sighs, “there’s something you should know.”

“What?” I ask, impatiently.

“It’s about Mr. Grey.” I roll my eyes.

“Look,” I begin. “I thought we had this conversation. Trey is no more. He doesn’t exist to me and I really don’t want to hear about him. What is your obsession with this man?”

“Permission to speak frankly, Mistress,” Blake says coolly.

“Not if you’re going to disrespect me,” I retort.

“I would never do that, Mistress, but I am going to say something that you may not want to hear.” I cross my arms. Fine, fire away.

“Permission granted,” I say firmly.

“He does exist,” Blake says. “He’s a walking, breathing person right here in the county where you live. He has affected you and although you may deny his existence, he’s alive and kicking and still on this side of eternity. He has permeated that shell that you’ve erected for everyone else that doesn’t work with me. I know you care for him and that he has affected you and you think of him often because you’ve changed—not enough for anyone else to see, but enough for me.”

I’ve changed alright. I’ve changed back to who and what I was before I met Trey—to that sadistic, hedonistic goddess that has my clients clamoring for me. There’s not a damn thing wrong with that.

“Are you finished?” I shoot.

“Not quite,” he says softly. “You’re right. I am obsessed with Christian Grey—the same way that I’m obsessed with Caldwell Lincoln, Reynard Stamper, Kevin Sheardon, and the same way that I was obsessed with the late Richard Steele and Elena Lincoln. I’m obsessed with these people only to the degree that they affect you. And he affects you, so I just keep tabs on him from time to time.”

“Well, there’s no need,” I say flatly. “I’m fully aware of Christian Grey’s new love interest and it doesn’t affect me,” I say with more conviction than I feel.

“Well, that’s good to hear, but you may be interested in knowing that he’s not with his new love interest anymore. The relationship didn’t last three weeks. They’re good friends now, but not lovers.”

Are you kidding? I don’t talk to the man for months and he hooks up with someone for three weeks—three fucking weeks—and I see them during that damn three weeks? That shit knocked me completely off my square, made me totally doubt everything I was and everything I felt, and they weren’t together for three fucking weeks. This is why I don’t get attached. That shit is too damn messy.

“Well, I’m sorry for him that his relationship didn’t work out. This has nothing to do with me, and I’m weary of this conversation.” I turn to leave.

“One more thing before we conclude… please, Mistress.” I roll my eyes and turn back to my errant submissive. If it were the nature of our relationship, I would chain him to the ceiling and lash him until he wept.

“Yes?” I seethe.

“Are you at all familiar with the term nephrectomy?” I frown.

“No,” I reply, waiting for him to get to the point.

“It’s the procedure where one of your kidneys is removed.” My eyes widen.

“What?” I say just above a whisper. “Are you trying to tell me that Christian has renal failure?”

“No, but his sister does, so he donated one of his kidneys to her.” He pauses. “I’m still a little gray on the details—no pun intended—but something happened, and he’s had some complications. He’s not doing well.”

I suddenly feel my throat constrict. Something’s happening in my chest and I feel a bit lightheaded. My arms fall to my side as I attempt to appear unaffected.

“What hospital is he in?” I ask.

“Seattle General,” Blake informs me. I take a deep breath and purse my lips.

“Send some flowers,” I say before turning and leaving the room.

“Yes, Mistress,” I hear from the room I just left. I ascend the stairs, go into my bedroom and close my door. I almost can’t breathe. Christian is in the hospital, he’s short one kidney, and he’s having complications. What kind of complications? Why didn’t I ask that question before I left the room? What if he doesn’t make it? Will I be okay? I said that he didn’t exist to me, but is that what I really want? What if he really didn’t make it? What if he dies?

What was that you said about not getting attached?

I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and grab my car keys.

*-*

“He hasn’t had any visitors,” the nurse says. She didn’t want to give me any information, but I effectively convinced her that I’m close friends with him and just wanted to make sure that he was okay. “He didn’t list anyone as next of kin except his bodyguard, Jason Taylor. His sister didn’t even know that he gave her a kidney until the anesthesia wore off and she’s been in no condition to come and see him, so…” She trails off. Even though she didn’t give me everything, she may have still given me too much information.

“I’ll make sure that his family knows,” I tell her. She raises a brow at me.

“You’re associated with the family?” she asks. I nod.

“I know his father very well,” I tell her. “We’re colleagues.” She looks at me skeptically.

“The judge?” she questions.

“Yes,” I say, reaching into my purse and giving her a business card. “Like I said, we’re colleagues.” Her expression softens as she reads my business card.

“Oh,” she says. I’m startled by a somewhat familiar voice down the hall.

“Ms. Olivet?” I turn to see that a confused Taylor is coming down the hall with two coffees in his hand. I turn to the nurse.

“Thank you,” I say with a nod.

“You’re welcome,” she says softly. I walk towards Taylor.

“How is he?” I ask when I close the space between us. At first, he doesn’t answer. “Taylor? How is he?”

“He…” he begins. Then he breezes past me to a door where another guy is standing. He hands him one of the coffees, then peeks into the room. Expressionless, he comes back over to me and gestures me to a community waiting area.

“Have you seen him?” he asks.

“No,” I reply. “What’s happening? I know that he gave a kidney to his sister.” He looks at me in surprise. This must have been the world’s best kept secret if his family didn’t know—not even the sister who received the kidney. Taylor is looking at me now no doubt wondering how I found out. Don’t look at me; I’m trying to figure out how Blake found out.

“Taylor, please tell me before my imagination starts running away with me,” I beg, trying not to sound too desperate.

“He had some trauma only hours after he left surgery,” he begins. “Right before they were to remove the catheter, he discovered that the press was in his sister’s room. An unscrupulous guard apparently colluded with an equally unscrupulous nurse and… the rest is history. Mr. Grey physically kicked them out of Mia’s room and collapsed shortly thereafter. Apparently, once his adrenaline dropped, he succumbed to his condition. There was some tearing, some internal bleeding, something about a fistula or something… They had to take him back to surgery. He… he’s been out for three days. He’s not comatose, but he should be awake by now.”

“And you haven’t called his family, Taylor?” I scold. “Really?” He avoids my gaze. “I know Carrick Grey,” I tell him, and his eyes rise to mine.

“For God’s sake, Taylor, he may not wake up! If you don’t tell his family what’s going on with him, goddammit, I will. And I think they would rather hear this from someone that they’re somewhat familiar with than a total stranger, but if you can’t do it, I guarantee you that I can have Carrick Grey’s home number in twenty minutes.” I sit there folding my arms. He rolls his eyes.

“I’ll call his mother,” he cedes.

“You better,” I warn. “I’ll put my guy on getting that number just in case.”

“I’ll call her,” he says like an errant child, and I believe him. I nod.

“Can I go in and see him… or should I just leave?” He twists his lips and shakes his head.

“I really don’t know,” he says. “He’s… different lately… even before the surgery.” He pulls his phone out of his pocket. “Go,” he says, scrolling through his phone. “Go in before I lose my nerve to make this call.” He puts the phone to his ear, and I walk to the door that I assume is Christian’s. “Ms. Olivet?” I turn back to him.

“If I find myself unemployed, I’ll be knocking at your door for a job.” I have to suppress a smile as he turns back to his call. “Mrs. Grey?… Hello, ma’am, this is Jason Taylor… Yes, Christian’s security…” I leave him to his call and make eye contact with the guy standing at the door before I go inside.

the-tragic-demise-of-mark-sloan-1518199391

I’m not prepared for the sight that greets me. He looks weaker and more helpless than I’ve ever seen him. There’s a tube down his throat helping him breathe and he’s attached to more machines than I’ve ever seen on one person. Jesus, is he dying?

I sit next to his bed and say nothing. What can I say?

Hiya Chopper, remember me? I was your Domme once, but we had sex and it blew my mind. I didn’t know how to handle it or you, so I cut you off, but now that I think you might be dying, I’m back. So, how the hell are ya?

I sit there for several minutes, listening to the rhythm of his heartbeat on the monitor. It’s comforting… somewhat. At least he’s still here.

He’s still here…

“He does exist. He’s a walking, breathing person right here in the county where you live. He has affected you and although you may deny his existence, he’s alive and kicking and still on this side of eternity. He has permeated that shell that you’ve erected for everyone else…”

How do I deal with this? I’m not satisfied anymore with this life. I want… something else. But this? Can I give up who I am for this? Do I want that? Does he even want that?

My thoughts are interrupted by the door opening, followed by the ceremonious entering of what looks like doctors and nurses.

“His numbers look better and his saturation… Who are you?” I stand from my seat.

“I’m… a friend,” I reply.

“Mr. Grey asked not to have any visitors,” the doctor says firmly.

“It’s okay,” Taylor says coming into the room behind the doctors and nurses. “Ms. Olivet, if you’ll come with me, the staff need to do some things for Mr. Grey.” He holds his hand out to me. I look back at Christian and weave through the inquisitive faces with an “excuse me” or two before joining Taylor.

“What’s going on? Can you tell me?” I ask as we walk toward the community area again.

“Well, the good news is that his stats are looking better,” Taylor says, guiding me past the community area and to the elevator. Is he kicking me out? “They want to remove his catheter and his breathing tube.”

I sigh and try to appear unaffected… again. The elevator rings and he gestures for me to get inside. I want to say something like, “Tell him I was here,” or “Don’t tell him I was here.” Instead, I just step inside. To my surprise, he steps inside with me.

What does he think? That I’m going to troll around the hospital or something? He presses the button for the first floor and continues what he was saying.

“The bleeding has stopped from what they can see, but there were some other complications that went way over my head. It was touch and go for a while, but any improvement is better than unconscious for three days.”

The elevator rings on the first floor and he gestures for me to exit. I leave and turn towards the outside doors.

“Wrong way, Ms. Olivet,” he says. When I turn around, he’s standing at the elevator gesturing in the opposite direction. I don’t question. I follow him and he leads me to the cafeteria as he continues to apprise me of Christian’s condition.

“Would you like something?” he asks. “Some food or some juice or coffee?” He gets two more coffees and I frown.

“You guys drink a lot of coffee,” I say. “Didn’t you just bring coffee a couple of minutes ago?” He frowns.

“No, I got coffee for us when you went in to see Mr. Grey,” he says, bemused.

“That’s what I said,” I reply, equally bemused. He pauses.

“Do you know how long you’ve been in there?” he asks. I shrug. I don’t even remember what time I got here. His expression softens.

“Would you like a muffin… or a Danish? Something else?” he asks. “A bagel, maybe?”

“Taylor, how long have I been in that room?” I ask him.

“About three hours,” he says matter-of-factly. “There are salads and sandwiches on the other side, or maybe you’d like something hot?”

What the fuck?!?

“Three hours?” I say horrified. “You gotta be kidding!”

“No, ma’am, and I’m certain that very soon, his parents are going to be here.” I roll my eyes and rub my neck.

Don’t get attached. Yeah, sure.

“Do they have corned beef?”

*-*

“Taylor, how long has he been like that?”

An older, beautiful blonde woman is grilling Taylor about Christian’s condition. She looks terribly worried and I deduce that this must be Christian’s mother.

“About three days, ma’am,” Taylor replies. “He’s doing much better than he was.”

“Much better?” the woman exclaims. “He was worse? He looks like he’s dying!” My sentiments exactly.

“Please, Mrs. Grey, let me take you to talk to the doctor. I’m certain that he’ll put your fears to rest.” Taylor begins to lead Mrs. Grey away just as the elevator rings.

“Grace!” I hear a familiar voice call.

“Cary,” her voice cracks. I drop my head so that my hair falls over my face and watch through my tresses as Carrick Grey opens his arms to accept his wife in a warm embrace. She weeps gently on his shoulder as he rubs her back and comforts her. The inner me rolls my eyes at the display. The outer me can’t help but gaze at them in awe of their love and care for each other and wonder what it must be like to have that. After more than three decades on earth, I’ve never had that.

Judge Grey puts his arm around his wife, and they follow Taylor down the hall. Goddammit, these feelings! I don’t want these fucking feelings! Why the hell can’t they just leave me alone?

It would be so easy to just stand up, go downstairs, walk the hell out of here and don’t look back. So, why can’t I just fucking do it?

“Ms. Olivet?”

Taylor is rousing me from my sleep. My head feels like a rock and there’s a crick in my neck. I fell asleep in the chair in the waiting room.

“What time is it?” I ask.

“It’s just after 2am,” he says. “My replacements are here and I’m about to call it a night. Why don’t you go home and get some rest now?”

I stretch and look around. The staff appears to have changed and there’s no one in the waiting room.

“Are his parents still in there?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“They’ve gone to see Mia. Then, they’re going home for the night.” I nod.

“I’m confused,” I say. “Why didn’t his sister tell his parents what he did and that he was here?” He shakes his head and sighs.

“They’re a strange family, Ms. Olivet,” he replies. “I couldn’t answer that question for you because I don’t know.” I nod again.

“Maybe I’ll just go in and say goodnight,” I say, standing and cracking my stiff joints. Taylor nods and walks with me to the door. He holds it open and I go inside. Christian looks a lot better now. That tube is gone, and he has the small oxygen tube in his nose. He looks like he’s sleeping now as opposed to dead.

I sit in the chair and gaze at him again. He’s such a handsome man. He looks so peaceful, but still very weak and vulnerable. I’m just feeling sympathy for him, that’s all. It’s nothing more than that. I don’t want him to die and I’m concerned about him. That’s all this is…

“Go away…” I hear a frail voice say. I slip out of my daydream and focus on wet, gray eyes groggily gazing at me.

980x“What?” I ask. I’ve been here for hours worrying about your ass, afraid that you were going to die, sleeping in a very uncomfortable waiting-room chair and your first words to me are go away, you ungrateful asshole?

“Go away!” he repeats. “Haven’t you hurt me enough?”

Are you kidding? Is he serious? He knew what this was.

“I hurt you?” I ask incredulously. He doesn’t reply. He just closes his eyes tight, like he’s trying to wish me away. “I warned you not to fall in love with me, Chopper.”

“And as far as I knew, I didn’t, but I like you enough to be confused. Now go away and stop haunting me.” His voice is barely above a whisper.

“Haunting you?” What the fuck? “What do you mean haunting you?

He raises his hand and swats at me like he’s trying to swat away a fly. You disrespectful… I grab his flailing wrist and hold on tight. You better put that thing away. You’re short one vital organ. You want to be short a limb, too?

He stares at my hand grasping his wrist in disbelief, then up at me—and I am pissed. How dare you fucking swing at me, you insolent…

But his face… he’s horrified. It’s like he’s seeing a ghost, or death itself has walked into the room. He’s silent for several moments before he breathes, “Mi… Mistress?”

Oh, shit. How did that happen? Does he regularly talk to manifestations of me? Should I be afraid? Instead, I just sigh and shake my head.

“I’m not your Mistress anymore, Chopper… Trey,” I say, placing his arm gently back on the bed. I only ever really called him Chopper during a scene—maybe a few other times.

“I know… I mean…” His voice is still weak. “What are you doing here?”

“I heard you weren’t well,” I say, crossing my legs and girding up my armor, “or I should say I heard that you weren’t doing well.”

“How did you hear that?” he asks. “Are you having me followed?”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” I reply. “I know people who know people…”

“But no people knew I was in here, so how did you know? My parents don’t even know.”

Somebody knew,” I tell him, “and your parents know now.”

“What?” he shoots, and his monitors spike. I stand and put my hands on his chest.

“You need to calm down,” I tell him. “You became upset and from what I understand, you may have attacked some reporters. You ripped your sutures—inside and out—and you put yourself at risk. A lot of people thought you may not make it. You’ve been out for nearly four days. I know your father—he’s presided over a lot of my cases. I threatened Taylor that if he didn’t call him, I would. Taylor and I both agreed that it would be better that they hear this news from someone that they know as opposed to hearing it from a stranger.”

“Let’s see if he still feels that way when I fire his ass,” he croaks.

“Then, he’ll just come and work for me,” I say, and Christian glares at me. “If I was a mother, I would very much rather come and see my very alive son who may not be doing well than to come to the hospital and identify his remains when I didn’t even know that he was sick, much less that he gave my daughter a kidney.”

“You know too damn much,” he squeaks. You’re right. I do.

“Are you in pain? Do you need any pain meds?”

“Yes, and yes,” he says, laying his head back on the bed. I press the button for the nurse. He tries to adjust himself in the bed, but he can’t move. A few moments later, a petite nurse enters the room.

“Mr. Grey,” she says, her voice bubbly. “Ma’am,” she nods at me and I nod back before she comes to the side of the bed. “You’ve decided to join us. How do you feel?” She looks at his chart and some of the machines.

“In pain… and I’m thirsty,” he croaks. She nods.

“Let me get the doctor and we’ll see what we can get you, okay?” She proceeds to check his pulse and blood pressure, looks at his IV bag and checks some other stats.

“Glad to see you’re awake, Mr. Grey. Your vitals look good and I’ll be right back with the doctor.” She smiles and nods at me again before leaving the room.

Christian and I are completely silent for several minutes. Neither of us knows what to say to each other. When I thought he was dying, I could think of nothing but getting to him, being by his side. Now that I know he’ll be fine, I just want to get the hell away from him—put as much distance between us as possible.

“Mr. Grey, hello. We must stop meeting like this…” The doctor comes into the room and starts talking to Christian, and I take this moment to make my getaway.

“Mi… Go… Ana!” He’s coherent enough to go through all of my names before I make it to the door. He’s still weak and fragile, but his eyes are beseeching. I give him a weak smile.

“I’ll check on you,” I say softly. I turn away and walk out before I lose my nerve and stay. I look at the guard at the door—some guy I don’t know—and he gives me a nod. I turn away and walk to the elevator.

What was the purpose of this exercise? I keep asking myself that question during the entire ride home. I went running to this man’s beside like… like… like he meant something to me. Why the hell did I do that? The minute I saw that he was going to be okay, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. So, why did I go in the first place?

I sit in front of my house for several minutes when I get home. I’m seeing Judge and Mrs. Grey, holding each other warmly in the hospital hallway when they didn’t know what was going on with Christian. It was very tender and loving, and you could tell that they cared for each other very deeply. I don’t want that. I don’t want to be dependent on anybody and I don’t want anybody to be dependent on me… do I? I look at my front door and see Blake there waiting for me to come in. I sigh heavily, open the door and step out of the truck. I close and lock the door behind me and proceed towards the only man in the world who can see right through me.


Image result for eric dane in bed

TREY

I should have known. I don’t know why I was surprised. Day one and day two, I watched that door. I asked Taylor if he had heard anything from her or seen her, or even if she asked if I were dead or alive. Nothing. Nothing at all. Day three, I have a lovely showdown with my family… in a fucking hospital bed.

“Christian,” Mom says, her voice pained, “why didn’t you tell us? They just told us that they had found a donor. They didn’t tell us that it was you.”  I can’t come up with an answer for her.

“I asked you,” she accuses. “You lied to me.”

“I didn’t lie to you, Mom, I avoided the truth,” I defend.

“It’s the same thing, Christian!” she says, fighting back her tears. “I could’ve lost two of my children and I wouldn’t have known until they were gone!” She covers her mouth and turns away. Dad raises his eyes to me.

“This was an incredibly selfless thing that you did, son,” he says, sounding more fatherly than I’ve heard him sound in decades, “and very foolish to do on your own. Your mother needs to know… and I need to know… why?” I sigh and try to rely on divine intervention to give me an answer, but I realize that nothing is going to suffice but the truth.

“I don’t know why Mia hates me,” I begin, “but she does, or at least she did. It can’t just be Harvard. It can’t. There has to be something else. I’ll never find out what that is, but she hated me. If she knew that she was getting my kidney, she might’ve said ‘no’ just to spite me. She would’ve thought I would try to use it to hold over her head, like she would be indebted to me for the rest of her life! And she would’ve said ‘no.’ Then what? She goes back to the end of the list and hopes for another kidney because she turned down a perfectly good one. And then we hope that she finds one before she dies? I couldn’t take that chance. We couldn’t afford for that to happen!”

“Is that what you thought?”

I hear Mia’s voice and look over at the door. She’s sitting in a wheelchair just outside the threshold.

“You thought I hated you so much that I wouldn’t take your kidney?” I sigh. Jesus, she wasn’t supposed to hear that.

“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” I scold.

“No,” she retorts. “I’m doing a hell of a lot better than you because I wasn’t swinging crutches at people three hours after surgery.” Oh, shit, she saw that. “You really thought that, Christian? That I wouldn’t accept your kidney?”

“And once again, the golden boy has to take the spotlight,” Elliot jeers. “You weren’t the only kidney, Mr. Perfect. Did you forget I was a match, too?” God, did he have to use that word? I’m still not 100% sure her visit wasn’t a figment of my imagination.

“Then why didn’t you give your kidney?” I ask. I won’t out him, but if he keeps it up…

“Oh, because billionaire boy beat me to it!” he snaps.

“How was that possible when they tested you first?” I ask. “The doctor told me that I was the perfect match—the perfect choice to save Mia and to extend her life. Now, why would they even need to test me if they had already found a match with you?” Drop it, Elliot.

“Most likely because of his cocaine use,” Dad blurts out. Elliot’s head whips over to Dad and my eyes transform to the size of saucers.

“Dad? Seriously?” Elliot accuses.

“Yes, seriously!” Dad retorts. “I’ve had enough of you walking around here like you’re so goddamn high and mighty. This isn’t about you!”

“Dear God, Elliot! Cocaine?” Mom exclaims horrified. “How long? Never mind! Never mind! I don’t want to know.” Elliot smiles nervously.

“Chill out, Mom,” he says in that slimy voice that he uses to make your skin crawl. “It’s not the end of the world. It’s just a little nose candy.”

“I’m not hearing this!” Mom says, throwing her hands up. “I am not hearing this.” She turns to Dad. “Carrick? You knew?” Dad sighs.

“Unfortunately, I did,” he says to her before turning to me. “How did you know?”

“I didn’t!” I reply, awestruck. “The doctor wouldn’t tell me, but he was adamant that I was Mia’s best chance of survival even though we were both a match.” Elliot is clearly floundering, so instead of walking that plank that he was standing on and taking his medicine like a man, he decides to shoot a hole in the bottom of the boat.

“Well, since we’re telling secrets,” he says with a devious smile, “I suppose you already know that Christian is into that same shit Dad was into.”

You can actually hear the skin ripping as his knife sinks into the bodies of nearly every person in the room and drags down their torsos, spilling fresh blood onto a sterile floor.

“Wha…?” Mom shrieks. Dad and I quickly look at each other and have a silent conversation about what really needs to be said here. Elliot is looking to drag everybody down with him, even if it destroys Mom in the process.

“Christian, is this true?” Mom shrieks. I screw up my courage and spit it out.

“Yes, Mom, it’s true,” I say impassively, “but Mom, you can’t be angry with me. I’m a consenting adult. This was after Juliet—I wasn’t in a committed relationship, so nobody was hurt. I shielded you, the family, and everybody from it, and if it wasn’t for Chicken Little over there, you still wouldn’t know.”

“How did Chicken Little know?” Dad asks.

“I heard the two of you talking,” Elliot says victoriously, and Mom turns her horrified glare to Dad. Oh, great.

“I asked questions, Mom,” I clarify. “It was no secret that he was familiar with the lifestyle and I was curious. I didn’t want to go wandering off into some crazy cult shit… so I asked.”

Mom looks back and forth between me and Dad, not sure which of us to be angry with more, no doubt, but Elliot’s not done yet.

“Yeah, Dad has dirt on everybody. He’s been holding us hostage for years. So, since my secret is out, let’s lay everybody’s dirty laundry on the table. So, what about the Little Princess over there—Little Miss Throw-Everybody-In Judgment? What’s the dirt on Mia?” Elliot says snidely.

“You just saw the dirt on Mia,” Dad hisses without looking at him, then turns to Mom.

“Mia’s been on dialysis for the last seven years. You’d already been through so much we didn’t want to tell you. Of course, it got to the point where we couldn’t keep it a secret anymore.”

Seven years… dear God. Even I didn’t know that. It wasn’t that she wasn’t taking care of herself. It was just that… she was waiting. It was time.

“Secrets,” my mother chokes through her tears. “Secrets and lies! That’s all this family is built on—secrets and lies!” She runs out of the room in tears. Dad sighs mournfully and looks down at Mia.

“Are you okay?” he says softly. She shrugs.

“Yeah,” she says. “I’m glad it’s out. We’ll work on the rest later.” Dad takes her hand and looks over at me. I give him a half shrug to indicate that I’m indifferent about the whole thing, but there are really no hard feelings. He raises angry eyes to Elliot but says nothing. Then he leans down to kiss Mia’s cheek, releases her hand, and leaves the room, most likely to go find Mom. I turn to Elliot.

“Well, congratulations,” he sneers. “You’re the golden boy once again.” And there’s that word. I glare at him.

“You thought I was leaving her hanging for a business trip, and I was shit. You find out that I gave her a goddamn kidney, and I’m still shit.” I just look at him and shake my head.

“Get the fuck outta my room, Elliot,” I say with no emotion. I’m totally done with my brother, and I have nothing else to say on the matter. He gazes at me for a moment, then at Mia who has her back to him and hasn’t raised her head, and wordlessly leaves the room. Mia wheels over to me.

“It’s Harvard, Christian,” she says, placing her hand on the bed on top of mine but still not raising her eyes. “It’s always been Harvard. I resent you… resented you because I didn’t get a chance to go. Everything fell apart between Mom and Dad right after you dropped out, and I didn’t get a chance to go. It was my dream to go to Harvard, and I felt like you took it away from me. I resented you, but I don’t hate you. I never hated you.” She sniffles.

“When I saw you in that room with that crutch, swinging it at strangers and cursing out some nurse with your ass hanging out…” I try not to laugh. That’ll be in somebody’s paper if it’s not already. “… All I could think was, ‘What the hell is he doing here?’ When I finally shook the anesthesia, the doctor told me that you had given me your kidney and that you weren’t doing too well.” Her voice cracks on the last words. I swallow hard.

“You looked so weak every time I came to see you,” she squeaked. “I kept thinking, ‘He gave me the kidney to make up for stealing my chance to go to Harvard.’ I just wanted you to wake up, so I could say ‘thank you’ and ask you why you didn’t want me to know… but when I came in and heard the real reason…” She trails off and begins to weep. I turn my hand over and grasp hers in mine. She’s been crying a lot these days, and I don’t know if I can get used to it. She’s always been outspoken, and she can be a real pill, but I’ve never seen soft Mia.

“I’m sorry,” she sobs. “I’m so sorry. How can I ever make this up to you?” I squeeze her hand.

“By taking care of your body and living a good life… and agreeing to stop all this bickering. I think we’ve both seen that life is too short for this shit.” She nods through her tears.

“And Mia?” She raises her gaze to me.

“You’re smart, you’re resourceful, and you do a good thing. I’m proud of you for chasing the bad guys… but I’m not one of them.” She nods again.

“I know,” she says, still in tears. “I wanted to make you the bad guy, and I found a way through the whole ‘capitalist’ thing, but… I’ve always known.” I nod.

“So… you’ll give your brother a break?”

“This one,” she says, wiping her eyes and I deflate a bit.

“You’re going after Elliot?” I ask, knowing how this will affect our already upset Mom.

“No,” she says. “There’s nothing to go after. I don’t know what he does, and I don’t have the will or energy to chase him down. I’ve always known he was a creep and now—today—I know he’s a drug addict. I don’t see any redeeming qualities and until he shows me some, I have to let that go. Besides,” she strokes my hand gently, “I’ve got some serious bridges to mend on this side of the water.”

I don’t tell her that she never really hurt me; she was just a pain in my ass, but she needs to work through how she’s feeling, and I’ll be there to help her. I’m glad to have my little sister back.

“We’ll get through it,” I say softly, twisting my lips to avoid that twinge in my chest that’s making me feel a bit sappy.

“Christian,” she says just above a whisper, “thank you.” I squeeze her hand again.

“You’re welcome.”

*-*

Day four, Mia is my only visitor, and we spend the entire day together, including meals. Day five, we both get to go home. Elliot is M.I.A. as expected. Mom and Dad come to get Mia and Taylor comes to retrieve me. My mother doesn’t speak to me and that smarts. It’s a double-edged sword along with the cat-and-mouse game that Golden keeps playing with me. I get in the car after hoping—futilely—that my mother would at least acknowledge my presence. And suddenly, I’m weak again. I’m weak and I’m tired and even though I spent a week in bed, I just want to get back in bed again.

“Taylor, I need a little help,” I say when we get back to the penthouse. I feel like all the energy has been sapped out of me just by leaving the hospital and getting in the car.

“Do you need a doctor, sir?” he asks. “Should we go back to the hospital?

“No, the doctor said this might happen…” Sudden drains of energy, feelings of emptiness, loss, and depression. I just have a feeling that this isn’t just from the nephrectomy, that it’s quite possibly more emotional than physical.

“Can you just help me get to bed please?”

I put my arm over his shoulder, and he helps me to the elevator.

I spend the rest of that day as well as the next several in my bed. Mrs. Jones brings me meals and Taylor checks on me regularly. I shower each morning and change my pajamas, just to get back into bed and lay there or watch TV or talk to Mia or Ronnie—who reams me a new one once I tell her what really happened.

I deserved that… and she comes to check on me when she can.

The rest of the time, I think about Mom… and her.

Until day ten… when she shows up at my penthouse. She’s like a ray of sunshine showing up in my room and my spirits suddenly soar.

“I… said I would check on you,” she says almost timidly.

“That was more than a week ago,” I reply. “I could’ve been dead.”

“But you aren’t,” she says.

“What took so long?” I ask, really needing to know why she made me wait for ten days.

“I… I was busy,” she says, and I immediately see her whipping some poor, fortunate soul chained to the ceiling in her dungeon.

Cat-and-mouse. She’s playing with me again.

I told you not to fall for me, Chopper.
I’m not your Mistress anymore, Chopper.

Indeed, you aren’t, and suddenly, I’m weary again.

“I need you to leave,” I say, quietly. She’s silent for several moments.

“What?” she asks.

“You can’t fathom the concept that someone wants you to go away, can you?” I ask, wearily. “I said the same thing to you at the hospital—basically the same thing—when I didn’t know it was actually you sitting there, and your reaction was exactly the same. You said, ‘What,’ like you couldn’t comprehend the words that were coming out of my mouth. So, I’ll say them again so that you’ll know that I’m not under the influence of any drugs. I need you to leave,” I repeat, shaking my head and barely believing that I’m hearing myself say it.

“You play with me,” I continue, “I’m one of your toys. You’re a true sadist—you said it yourself. You win—I’m in agony; I can’t take this anymore. You make me want you, but then you say I can’t have you. Then you go away, but you make me want you again. I can’t get you out of my mind. You’re in my blood. I’m pussy-whipped, and it’s not because you fucked me. I was pussy-whipped long before that. I had dreams about you; I saw you in other women before and after you cut me off. It’s always been you and as far as I know, it’ll probably always be you. Fuck, I almost took a damn bullet for this shit!

“You got what you wanted!” I say with clenched fists. “You broke me down after I swore that another woman wouldn’t do that to me. I’m your ultimate trophy! Or maybe not—maybe I’m just another notch in your belt. But congratulations! You win. You really are a sadist—a divine, magnificent, beautiful, horribly cruel sadist. Whoever fucked you up, you got them back in spades—with me! Now, please, just leave before I make a bigger fool of myself than I already have.”

I grit my teeth to keep from saying what I really want to say; to keep from begging her to stay with me if only for tonight. I can’t take this anymore. My emotions are way more involved than I ever intended and it’s just too damn much.

“Christian…”

“For God’s sake, just go!” I yell. Her soft, concerned voice is like nails on the chalkboard of my soul—literally. And hearing her say my name smarts even more.

“Please, just go, Ana,” I say softly. “Just go…” I shut her down. I can’t hear her anymore. I don’t know how long I sit there in my bed with my head down, but the next voice I hear…

“Can I get you something, sir?” Taylor says. “Or I can have Mrs. Jones make something for you…” I sigh heavily.

“Something to drink, please,” I say, my voice barely audible. “Maybe some soup, too. My throat hurts.”


A/N: This was one of the chapters that I wrote near the middle of the book when I decided how to expand on the family dynamic. It was very hard to write.

We’re really closing in on the finale. So, remembering the warnings I’ve been spouting all through the story, any predictions at this point on how the story will end?

Will it be a “Your girl is lovely, Hubbell” ending like in The Way We Were?

Will it be the moment when Sayuri finally wins the affections of the Chairman in Memoirs of a Geisha?

Or will it be some calm (or wild) variance in between—The Secretary? Wild Orchid? The Story of O?

Two more chapters to find out…

The Pinterest board for this story can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/fifty-shades-golden/.

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


Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 25

There are three more chapters after this one.

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.

Explicit details of sex and BDSM scenes from here on out. Some may be hot while others may not be to your taste… and not necessary CG with Ana together. Proceed at your own discretion, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

This ain’t your everyday Christian and Ana story. Don’t expect anything. Just read it as it goes along or go away. 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 new saga continues…

CHAPTER 25

Trey Chapter 25

TREY

It’s Valentine’s Day…

And where I wish I were spending it with Ronnie, as a friend of course, she’s got a new beau in her life. It’s some guy that she met from one of the dating sites and this is their first date. She promises to give me all the details at our next lunch—whether he’s a dud or a stud—and I…

Well, I’m at the club taking advantage of one of the many single submissives available this evening. Tonight, it’s a gorgeous fucking redhead with an Olympic ass. I plan to oil that thing down and fuck her blind. No exhibition room for me tonight—I don’t want the distraction. I just want to fuck.

I begin the night with her squatting in front of me, my hands pinning her up-stretched arms against the wall by her wrists. I’m standing in front of her, deeply and slowly fucking her mouth and throat. Her safeword is to look up at me and blink, especially since her mouth is full and I’m almost drooling looking down at her lips wrapped around my cock while it’s disappearing into her mouth and throat. She doesn’t safeword, though. She can take it and take it she does. She’s so fucking talented that when she licks my balls with my dick still in her throat, I give her the first of many seminal salutes right down her goddamn throat.

Next, she’s in stocks with a spreader bar on her ankles, her stilettos causing her ass to toot straight up in the air, and my dick is jutting angrily right in her direction. She’s helpless and she can’t move, and I want to fuck—and fuck and fuck and fuck. I don’t care if she comes. I’m going to fuck her until I get Golden out of my head… at least for the night.

Her pussy is dripping wet in anticipation of my cock, and I’m going to give it to her, hard and deep, but first…

I oil that ass so that it’s nice and shiny, then lube her asshole thoroughly and retrieve the large glass butt plug. With no preparation, I shove it into her ass to the hilt. She gasps and her leg trembles. She likes it rough. She better, because there will be nothing tender about tonight’s fucking.

I position my head at her opening, grab her hips, and shove my cock in hard. She cries out in a high-pitched squeal. Fuck, that’s tight! And wet! And fucking hot as a goddamn sauna.

I don’t make a sound. I just concentrate on my dick—pulling it out and shoving it back in hard, deep, hot… fuck! God, it’s so fucking good. I pull out and slam into her again… and again… and again… the fucking pleasure shooting all the way to my goddamn feet. It’s hard to keep quiet, but I do, so I can pay attention to my throbbing, burning cock buried inside this eager, hot pussy.

I look down at her ass, swallowing that butt plug and rising and falling with each stroke. That shit is erotic as fuck. I grab the bottom of her ass cheeks and lift and spread, revealing my dick all wet and shiny, veiny and coated with her juices, the skin of her pussy wrapping around it and pulling as I pull out from her and resisting as I push back inside. Fuck, the sight is almost better than the feeling… which makes the feeling burn hotter.

I grit my teeth and stifle a groan as I plunge into her—deeper and harder with each stroke. I feel her start to tremor inside and my cock hardens. I throw my head back and thrust deeper and deeper, again, again, again…

I want to pull out when I feel her orgasm beginning, make her suffer, but I can’t. When she tightens around me, I look down at her ass and the butt plug is pulsing with her, every throb causing it to move. Her orgasm is so massive that although I hear her whimpering, I can only feel her pulling my dick deeper and deeper inside of her quaking pussy. I open my mouth and cum, violently, massively, and silently—the ejaculation causing my knees to buckle and my thighs to tighten. My tongue hangs far and hard out of my mouth in silent ecstasy and I’m dizzy when I’ve finally finished.

I grit my teeth and catch my breath as my cock pulses inside of her, my orgasm finally waning. I take a moment or three to get my bearings, my cock sliding out of her and my cum dripping on the floor from her open legs. That shit causes a twitch and I know I’ll be ready again in no time.

The butt plug’s gotta go, because that ass is next.

As my aching cock is getting a little air, she’s panting and still recovering from her climax. I put the spanking horse underneath her, because that body has to stay still for this ass fuck. Once she’s positioned on the spanking horse, I release her from the spreader bar. That asshole is puckering and pulsing and begging for my cock. Who am I to deny it?

I breach her rosette with the head of my cock and it slides in easily. I go further and further until I reach some resistance and she gasps. Then I take it slower until she takes all of my dick and then I thrust harder… and harder… and harder. She groans.

“Quiet!” I order, and she’s immediately silent.

Completely immobilized, she takes every deep thrust, her oily ass swallowing my cock over and over again. The site is fucking delicious. This is a perfect way to spend Valentine’s Day.

I grab her hips and slam her ass against my pelvis every time I thrust, her cheeks bouncing and wobbling from the impact and making that satisfying noise each time we make contact…

Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap!

My cock is burning from the tight friction and the vision is causing my balls to tighten. She whimpers with each thrust and I grab the frame of the stocks to get more leverage.

Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap!

Faster and harder I go, chasing this intense tightening in and below my balls. She cries a shrill cry and unless she was tightening her Kegels and had an orgasm in her pussy, she’s riding through an anal orgasm. No matter, because that ass is tightening either way.

Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap!

Thwap!

What the fuck!

I get a sting in my back that causes me to drive hard and fast into this nameless redhead with the big ass. She’s back! She’s fucking back! I’ve been trying to exorcise this shit for months. I even have a failed fucking relationship to chalk up to this shit and she’s still fucking here.

Thwap!

“Aahhh!” I cry out involuntarily, the sting going straight to my dick and causing it to swell and thicken. Still holding on to the stocks, I’m fucking her hard while I drill and grind into her ass, and in my lust and pleasure-filled haze, her flaxen red hair turns brown and whimpers are replaced with a voice more familiar.

Trey… fuck me, Trey…

Thwap!

I’m sweating like a racehorse, pounding like a jackhammer and a few moments later…

Thwap!

“Fuuuuuuuck!” I grunt in agony as the dam bursts and I’m spraying uncontrollably into her ass. My dick is thumping painfully inside her and I’m momentarily blinded by the dizzying pleasure. I don’t know what to do except stand here as the pain in my balls intensifies from the incredibly, indescribably powerful orgasm ripping through my body right now. I’m stiff and shaking at the same time as I dare to whisper her name…

“Ana…”

*-*

I’m awakened from an intensely deep sleep by my phone buzzing on the nightstand. It’s 3am. I came home and fell into an orgasm-induced sleep, angry that thoughts of Golden/Ana still haunt me during intense orgasms. I can’t seem to separate the pleasure and the pain. My first thought is that Ronnie’s date took a terrible turn and she needs me to come and get her, but when I clear the dust from my sleepy eyes…

“Mom?” I answer in a crackly sleepy voice.

“Christian…” She’s crying. What’s wrong?

“Mom, what is it?” I ask. “Is it Dad?”

“No… No… It’s… your sister,” Mom weeps into the phone, “she’s… not doing well.” I feel the blood rushing from my face.

“What do you mean she’s not doing well, Mom?” I ask. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“Mia’s… Mia’s kidneys are shutting down,” she says.

“What?” I whisper.

“It happened so fast,” she breathes. “She was on dialysis for a short while, but then… out of nowhere…” My mother breaks down into sobs.

This doesn’t happen out of nowhere. Not this. Mia either didn’t know what was going on with her body or she didn’t care, and now my Mom is crying her eyes out, afraid that she’s about to lose her daughter. Was this what Dad was talking about months ago? What’s with the cryptic shit he was saying? Why didn’t he just come straight out and tell me what was going on?

“Where are you?” I ask.

“Se… Seattle Gen,” she chokes out.

“I’m on my way, Mom,” I say, unsuccessfully attempting to mask my anger.

I blindly slide into the first clothes I get my hands on. For all I know, I could be wearing red pants, a purple shirt, and green sneakers. I text Taylor that I’m going to Seattle Gen to see about Mia and rush down to the car. I think I get it in gear and moving before I even get the door closed.

I’m talking aloud to no one the entire way wondering what the hell happened to my sister. Our fights have been some real doozies, but nothing ever bad enough that I would wish something like this on her… and I’ve got a few choice fucking words for my father when I see him, too.

My mother runs to my arms the minute I enter the waiting room for the Intensive Care Unit. I throw a hateful glare over her shoulder at my father as she cries in my chest.

“Mom, tell me what’s going on,” I say.

“I’m not totally sure,” she says, weeping bitterly. “She told me that she was going to have some simple procedure done. I knew something was wrong when I saw the shunt…”

The shunt? I never saw a shunt. Where was the damn thing?

“I asked her about it, and she confessed that she had been on dialysis for a few weeks or a few months, I don’t remember which, but she assured me that everything was okay—that they were only doing dialysis to help strengthen her kidneys…”

They generally don’t do dialysis to strengthen your kidneys that I know of. They do dialysis when your kidneys are starting to fail. I look up at my father again and I can tell by his expression that there’s more. He’s got that “Don’t say anything or we’re all toast” look on his face.

“Her creatinine levels are crazy, and none of this sounds right to me—none of it does,” Mom weeps. “Mia has given strict instructions that we only get limited information on her condition and I don’t know what to do right now.”

“How did she end up here?” I ask. “Was she here for dialysis and they just kept her?”

“She was out with friends and she passed out,” Dad says. “She has a medic alert bracelet and they brought her here.” I shake my head.

“Mom you need to calm down,” I tell her. “I know you’re upset, but we should find out what’s going on before we think the absolute worst…”

“This is the absolute worst!” she shrieks. “My baby girl is sick! She’s been on dialysis and I didn’t know! I don’t know what’s going to happen to her! This is the worst!” she sobs.

I hold her for several moments until she calms, my thoughts going in a million different directions. I have to go talk to Mia, and…

“Where’s Elliot?” I ask.

“I left him a message, but he hasn’t responded,” Dad says. I twist my lips. Do you really expect him to respond to you?

“Mom, have you tried to call him?” I ask.

“No,” she says, her voice weary.

“Can I see your phone?” I ask. She doesn’t question. She just gives me her phone. I kiss her forehead and walk into the hallway and head to the nurses station.

“Where is Mia Grey’s room?” I ask.

“Room 517, down the hall, third room on your left.” I nod my “Thank you’s” and leave. I scroll through the contacts on Mom’s phone as I head to Mia’s room and swipe the screen when I get to Elliot’s number.

“Hey, Mom,” he answers sleepily.

“You’ve taken to not checking your messages, Asswipe?” I say.

“Wha…? Christian?” he says groggily. “Why are you calling from Mom’s phone?”

“Your sister’s in the hospital and she’s doing pretty fucking bad, so you need to get your ass in gear.”

“Who…? What…?” he says.

“You heard me. Get your ass to Seattle Gen, now!” I disconnect the call.

I look in the window of room 517 and see Mia sitting up in the bed. She doesn’t look good at all. Her skin looks a mix of grayish-yellow. I quietly open the door and slowly enter the room.

“Oh, great, this is just what I need,” she says when she sees me, “the angel of sunshine.”

I don’t respond to her sarcasm. Instead, I walk over to the chair on the side of her bed and sit down. At first, I don’t say anything. I look down at my hands for a minute or two, trying to find my words, occasionally looking back up at her to make sure she’s still alive. At minute three, I finally find the words that I want to say.

“You’re dying, Mia,” I say finitely. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“I’m not dying, Dr. Grey,” she shoots back. “My levels are just off.”

“You’re in intensive care, Mia. You levels are not off!

“Don’t try to tell me about my illness!” she hisses. “I’ve been living with this my whole life! I know what’s going on!”

“Then give it to me straight!” I retort sharply. She’s silent for a moment, so I softly add, “Please.”

I don’t know what that one soft Christian moment does for her, but she totally crumbles and begins to cry.

“I need a kidney,” she weeps. “I won’t make it if I don’t get one.” Her shoulders are shaking with genuine sobs. I can’t watch her like this. Whatever our differences, I can’t watch her like this.

I stand and sit on the edge of her bed. I embrace her and let her cry in my arms. She’s scared and I can see that she is. She cries for quite some time as I hold her and rub her back.

“How long?” I say when she finally starts to calm.

“I’ve been on dialysis for years,” she says. “That’s all you get.”

Years? Fucking years? Mom thinks it’s only been a couple of months or something.

“Mia why didn’t you say anything?” I chide gently. “This is very serious stuff.”

“I told Dad,” she says, “when I first started dialysis.” I stiffen.

“Dad knows?” I ask.

“I had to tell one of them,” she says. “I couldn’t tell Mom. She had already been through too much. I regretted telling him from the very beginning. He held it over my head like a juicy piece of gossip.”

So, this is the big juice Dad had on Mia. That’s pretty fucking cruel.

“Jesus, Mia,” I say feeling somewhat helpless. “You need a kidney. How long have you known?”

“About a year,” she says. “I thought I would have one by now. I was doing everything the doctor told me to, to the letter—taking my meds, never missed dialysis. I don’t know what went wrong. My GFR is out of whack, all of my levels are crazy…”

“That’s because dialysis is a temporary fix, even if you can do it for years. It’s not a long term or permanent solution, Mia.” She nods and wipes her nose.

“I know,” she says, her voice shaking, “I was trying to buy some time.” I shake my head and squeeze her hand.

“It’s going to be okay, pest,” I say. “We’re going to find a kidney for you, okay?” She raises wide eyes at me. “And it won’t come from any of my underground connections that’ll snatch some poor sucker off the corner that’ll miraculously be a match.” She wipes her nose again and rolls her eyes.

“I deserved that,” she says wearily.

“Yes, you did,” I say, kissing her on the cheek. “I’m going to give Mom back her phone, and you need to get some rest.” She wearily nods and snuggles down into her pillow. I pull her covers over her shoulder like I did before we became mortal enemies… well, not mortal enemies.

I leave her room quietly and close the door. Who’s standing off to the side but dear old fucking Dad.

“You. Are a real fucking piece of work,” I hiss shamelessly at him. He has the nerve to look affronted.

“Don’t blame me,” he chides. “I told you…”

When did you tell me?” I bark, trying to keep my voice low. “You told me no such damn thing! You told me that she was having episodes!”

“I told you in that conversation when you asked me what her doctor said,” he replies. I take a moment to recall the conversation. What did he say…?

What does her doctor say?
The same thing he’s been saying…

I look at my father with disdain.

“You’re a real fucking asshole, you know that?” I say calmly.

“If you had been speaking to your sister…”

“I. Asked. You!” I hiss. “I asked you outright was she dying; what did the doctor say; I asked you, plain and simple, and you did that same game-playing sneaky, sheisty shit you always do. You know damn well you made it seem like nothing was seriously wrong. ‘The same thing he’s been saying,’” I say in a mocking voice.

He makes to respond, but I’ve heard enough. I have no idea why, but my mother loves him. That’s the only reason that I won’t deck him right now.

“I know somebody like you,” I say, thinking of my golden tormentor, the ache still fresh after all these months. “They get off on other people’s pain, on watching them squirm. You know the type, don’t you, Dad?” I add, glaring at him and he glares right back. I know he was a Dominant in the lifestyle, but was he a sadist? I never asked.

“You lost the love of your life once because of your selfishness and shadiness,” I warn calmly. “Keep it up, Dad, and you’re going to lose everything you hold dear.”

I stare him down for a moment to see if he has any shots that he wants to add—this’ll be his last chance. When he has none, I go in search of a doctor or nurse.

“Excuse me,” I say, capturing the first one that I see in the hallway. “You have a patient here that needs a kidney. How do I find out about possibly becoming a donor?”

*-*

I call Daisy Evans during business hours. She’s the living donor coordinator on staff as well as the main coordinator at the transplant coordination center. I tell her that I don’t want my identity revealed yet. I’ll decide if I want to do that once we find out if I’m a match for Mia. She takes the time to get me registered with UNOS—The United Network for Organ Sharing—and then she starts the process of seeing if I’m a viable donor. There’s so much information I need to know about this process:

Mia has a 5-15% chance of dying each year she’s on dialysis. I know that she’s been on there for longer than she’s telling us. I just don’t know how much longer.

It’s a fairly simple surgery to remove the kidney as most of it is done through a laparoscope. Mia’s part is going to be more difficult.

My recovery, should I be a match, will also be pretty simple—a 2 to 3-day recovery in the hospital followed by a 6-week recovery at home, then life is back to normal.

There’s a whole lot more shit to know and learn, but Daisy tells me that I’ll have plenty of time to get and review all the information I need before the procedure. That doesn’t make me feel good since I know that my sister is pretty much on borrowed time.

The next few weeks are kind of crazy. I start with a questionnaire that’s about a hundred questions long. Then, there’s the blood test, the urine test, the ultrasound, a psychological evaluation, a financial evaluation, an overall health evaluation… My head is spinning by the time I’m done with all these fucking evaluations! The entire time, I’m worrying if my sister’s going to die by the time I find out if I’m a good match for her.

I would go by the hospital to see her at least twice a week. Then when she moved back home with Mom and Dad, my visits changed to once a week. I know that Elliot and I are both being tested since Mom and Dad have already been tested and are, crazily, not compatible to give her a kidney. After sitting on pins and needles for weeks, I’m finally called into the transplant coordination center one day to talk to Daisy Evans.

“Mr. Grey, I want to start by saying that I have some good news for you,” she says. “You and your brother are both ABO and crossmatch compatible. You’re both ideal matches to donate a kidney to your sister.” Well, this is good news.

“There’s a but,” I say.

“Your brother’s health and… extra-curricular activities would most likely exclude him from being permitted to give her a kidney.” I frown.

“Wait, are you telling me that my brother is going to need a kidney soon, too?” I ask horrified. I only have two kidneys!

“I’m not saying that,” she says. “I am, however, strongly suggesting that you be the one to donate the kidney. Mia is a very young woman and she has a better chance of survival and extended life with one of your kidneys than she would with one of Elliot Grey’s. That’s all I can say without breaking the law and I’ve already insinuated more than I should.”

So, basically something is wrong with Elliot or he’s done something to his body or kidneys that makes him less than ideal. If he were sick, we’d be having a different conversation. So, my guess is recreational drugs or alcohol. Obviously, if I want my sister to live, I’m going to have to be the one to give her the kidney. She’s a real pain in my ass, but I don’t want her to die.

“Remember when I requested to remain anonymous?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says.

“I need it to stay that way,” I say. “No one can know that it’s me, not even my parents until I’m ready.” She frowns.

“That’s highly unusual,” she says. “This is your sister…”

“You do deceased donors all the time,” I point out, “and the person on the table or their family doesn’t know whose kidney, heart, or liver they’re getting. They just know that they or their loved one is getting a second chance at life. The donation has to be anonymous.” She sighs.

“This affects your support system,” she says.

“You’ve seen my evaluation,” I counter. “You know that I have a very capable support system outside of my family.” She nods.

“As you wish, Mr. Grey,” she says.

“So, what do we do next, doc?” I ask.

So, after all this time, it turns out that my evaluations are still not over. I now have to meet with everyone who will possibly be touching my body, including the coordinator, who won’t be touching my body—the nephrologist, the surgeon, another social worker, and the anesthesiologist—severally and collectively, and the entire time, they’re reminding me that I have the option not to do this.

“I have a question,” I say. “How many people have gone through this entire process and then decided—right at this point—that they don’t want to do it?” The social worker sits back in her seat.

“Um, maybe about five to eight percent,” she says.

“Do you want to know why?” I ask, “Why that five to eight percent change their minds?”

I have a captive audience now.

“Because when this process started, I was given a detailed evaluation. I was asked every question on that thing down to if I rode a horse when I was three years old. I gave you samples of everything in my body except my kidneys—and I’m sure I’ve somehow given you that, too—to show that I’m capable of donating a kidney. I’ve been instructed to do my own research, which I have done. I’ve talked ad nauseum with the transplant coordinator for months. I’ve done everything short of cut my side open, rip out my own kidney and hand it to you to prove that want to give this kidney to my sister.

“When I’ve finally passed the physical, psychological, and financial testing for this process, I’m finally able to meet the actual team that’s going to be doing the process, which from what I understand is a couple of tiny cuts, a few snips, a larger cut and sloop! It’s out.”

The coordinator and the nephrologist both jump when I say, “sloop,” which is an indication that the kidney is being slid out through this two-inch incision at my “bikini line.”

“I’ve read up on and been repeatedly informed of the recovery time, the possible risks, and the restrictions. I could have changed my mind anytime during this grueling process, but I get to this point and I have five people constantly informing me, ‘You don’t have to do this,’ ‘You know you don’t have to do this,’ ‘You can change your mind at any time,’ ‘You haven’t been coerced into doing this, have you?’ ‘You can walk away at any time.’

“You know what that does—having it repeatedly hammered into your head that you don’t have to do this? It makes the listener feel like either one or more of you is not confident in their abilities or that there’s something you’re not telling us.”

“That’s not the case at all, Mr. Grey,” Daisy says. “We just want to make sure that the person that is about to make this sacrifice is completely sure, that they’re in the right state of mind to proceed.”

“And I totally understand that, but the constant questioning at some point becomes badgering the witness. And people who were completely ready before suddenly feel like, ‘Well, maybe I shouldn’t do this’ because of you. How many of those five to eight percent have gone through all the evaluations, all the research, all the testing, and backed out at this point?”

“All of them,” the surgeon says. “They don’t get to this point unless they pass the preliminary evaluations.”

“What does that say to you?” I ask. “You have someone who has proven to be perfectly healthy, perfectly ready to go under the knife and give the gift of life and then decide, ‘Eh, no thanks.’ They go through all of this and then they get to the Inquisition, and they don’t want to go through this anymore. If they didn’t have doubts before, they do now.”

“Which is why we ask if they’re ready. We just want to make sure that the donor doesn’t have any doubts or major concerns…” Daisy says.

“And that’s why only two of you need to ask that question at this point—maybe three if you’re still not 100% sure. And those three only need to ask the question once. There are five of you, and each of you asked me twice. You don’t think that’s enough to plant a seed of doubt in anybody’s mind?”

They all fall silent for a moment, probably counting how many out of that five to eight percent could have actually been successful transplants. They’re so busy trying to cover their asses that they’re less concerned about good medicine.

“The only doubts and major concerns I have about this process is that it’s taking so long that my sister might die before she actually gets my kidney. So, let’s lay this to rest in case anybody is going to ask me this question again.” I look at the nephrologist. “Are you confident in your abilities?” He frowns.

“Yes, sir, I am,” he says, taken aback by the fact that I would ask him that. I ignore his offense and move on to the surgeon.

“Are you confident in your abilities?” I ask.

“Yes, I am,” she says, flatly. I move on to the anesthesiologist.

“Are you confident in your abilities?” I ask,

“Yes, sir,” he says without malice. I nod.

“Are you confident in your abilities?” I ask the social worker.

“I am,” she says impassively. I look at Daisy.

“And how about you?” I ask. “Are you confident in your abilities?”

“Yes, Mr. Grey, I’m confident in my abilities.” I nod and look at the group as a whole.

“Is there anything in this process that you have left out, omitted, failed to tell me, or are hiding that I need to know before I lay on that table?” They look at one another, shaking their heads as if to say, “Not me, did you leave something out?”

“No, Mr. Grey,” Daisy says, “we’ve told you everything.”

“Well then, if you have any other relevant questions, please ask them. Otherwise, let’s cut the bullshit and get this scheduled. I’m afraid my sister doesn’t have much time left. “

*-*

“That’s really great news, Mom,” I say when she calls me to tell me that Mia’s surgery is scheduled for two weeks. They wanted to wait for three, but I made them move it up since there was no reason to wait. I wanted to go next week, but they said, “no.”

I know why they want to wait—to give me time to back out. They don’t understand that I’m counting the days. I’m watching my sister get sicker and sicker.

“I appreciate you being able to bury the hatchet and be there for your sister during this time,” she says. You have no idea, Mom.

“You never know how much time you have left with someone,” I tell her. “Recent events have shown me that you have to fight the battles worth fighting and leave the others alone. When does she check in?” I ask, pretending not to know.

“Two weeks from Monday,” she says, sounding like she’s talking about Christmas, which for her, she probably is.

“I’ll be there, Mom,” I promise.


Golden Chapter 25

GOLDEN

Yep, I still love what I do. All I needed to get back to myself was to get a hold of two or three of my pain whores, beat the Trey out of me, then make them come like fountains.

I even kicked the shit out of Desmond’s case—the first pro-bono case I’ve had in a long time that actually went to trial. Once the barracuda was back, the D.A. didn’t stand a chance. Golden is back on her square.

I go to the clubs with no worry of Trey since he has a girlfriend now. Truth is, I don’t think I would care if he showed up at all—single or attached. I still wouldn’t let him near me with a ten-foot pole.

I do, however, take the chance to go and see my father’s family, though. I waited longer than I should, but I show up for Easter dinner based on an invite from Tracy. Everyone’s going to be meeting at Sheila’s and bringing a dish. So, to prove I haven’t lost my roots, I bring the greens. Of course, they all look at my pot of greens with a healthy dose of skepticism. I call them all out and tell them to at least taste my greens before they write me off. After all, Aunt Sheila is the one who taught me how to cook.

There are no greens left in the pot when dinner is over.

The family sits down to a game of Spades and Tracy graciously asks me if I want to “P-up.”

“Hell, no,” I say emphatically. “I’ve watched enough Spades games to know that the only white girl in the room does not need to be playing. She needs to be watching!”

The room lights up with laughter as the adults play several hands of Spades…

And the white girl watches.

I know from way back when I used to watch Daddy play that Spades is part of the culture. It’s not just some game of playing the highest card and taking the most books. No. There’s a whole lotta smack-talkin’ involved, and if you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, you stay the hell outta the game!

Guess what the hell Ana does?

The beer and Hennessey is flowing and I start to get to know the family better. Tracy and Lance actually have four children—two together, which were the two that I saw in the grocery store—and one each from prior partners. Junior has two little girls, but he’s divorced. My understanding is that the split is amicable, and that the girls spent the first part of the day at church with their mother, then came to Sheila’s for dinner with their dad. While the adults are talking, Junior’s oldest, Felicia, walks over to the group.

“Who is that lady, Aunt Tracy?” she asks, pointing to me.

“This is your Aunt Ana,” Tracy says. Felicia looks at her.

“I thought you were my Aunt,” she says.

“I am,” she says, “but Ana’s your aunt, too.” She looks at me then back at Tracy.

“She’s white,” Felicia whispers. Tracy chuckles.

“Yes, she is,” Tracy says with mirth. Felicia looks right at me and firmly asks:

“How did you get white?” Her little hand flies up to her mouth and her eyes widen. Immediately realizing her mistake, she begins to back-peddle.

“I mean… um… I…” Her eyes fill with regret and I spring into action.

“It’s okay,” I say, crouching down to her. “I know what you mean.” Relief instantly replaces her relief. I know that she meant to ask how she can have a white aunt when her family is black.

“Your grandpa had a brother that died when he was younger,” Tracy tells Felicia. “His name was Raymond. He adopted Auntie Ana, but when he died, Ana came to live with us.” Felicia frowns.

“Oh,” she says slowly. “Is that like Regina?” she asks. Tracy frowns.

“Who’s Regina?” she asks.

“A girl at my school,” she says. “She has two mommies. She said one mommy is her real mommy and the other mommy adomded her and now she’s her mommy, too.” Tracy and I both laugh.

“Yes,” Tracy says, “adopted,” she corrects.

“Adopted,” Felicia repeats.

“That’s exactly what this is,” Tracy says.

“Okay,” Felicia says. “See you later, Aunt Ana. I wanna go play.” She smiles widely and waves before she goes off to play with the other children.

“I wish the whole world could be that accepting,” I lament. Tracy puts her hand on my shoulder as I rise.

“Unfortunately, I think the world will end before that happens,” she says sadly.

I stand and go relieve myself and I can tell that a pow-wow of the adults has occurred since I was gone. Junior takes the initiative to ask the question that’s burning in everyone’s minds.

“Ana, we heard Dad’s version of what happened—which was apparently wrong. Do you mind telling us what happened to you when you left… or you didn’t come back?” he asks. I can tell he has no idea of the truth. I sigh. “If it’s too painful…”

“No,” I say, “it doesn’t sting as much anymore, so I can tell you. Let me start by saying that I have no intention of speaking ill of the dead,” I add. “I’ve already forgiven my uncle, so I’m going to make this as neat and clean as possible.

“I was dating Jake at the time… I honestly don’t even know his last name…”

“Fuckboy Jake?” Tracy asks, then looks over at Sheila. “Sorry, Mom.” Sheila waves her off. I know immediately from the description that we’re talking about the same person.

“Yes,” I say without hesitating. “You all remember—how many white people were there in the neighborhood?”

“About as many as there are now,” Tracy says. “There was only you.”

“Exactly,” I say. “So, when Fu…” I stop and look at Sheila. “When F-Boy Jake chooses me over all the black queens, who do you think gets the whisperings, the murmurings, and the side-eye?”

“I didn’t know you were dating Jake,” Junior says.

“I know,” I say. “He wasn’t F-Boy Jake at the time. I think he was F-Boy in training.” I roll my eyes. “Anyway, you know he always rode that yellow bike and he always wore those yellow jumpsuits…”

“I was wondering why you started wearing those jumpsuits,” Tracy says. “I thought it was just a fashion statement.” I nod.

“Well, now you know,” I say. “So, one night, I was riding his bike and the neighborhood girls saw me and started to give me a hard time. They started calling me names and wanted to know if Jake knew that I had his bike. You know his parents had that party store over on 161st…”

They nod.

“Well, I knew how to get in so that I could put Jake’s bike back. Ask me how these girls got there before me, I have no idea, but when I got there to put his bike back in the storage room, they were tearing up the store and they tore up his bike, too. The only thing that I could deduce was that these girls were mad that Paleface was the flavor of the month and wanted him to know it. So, here are my options…

“Defend little Jakey—or try to run away—and risk getting my butt kicked by a mob of mad black girls, or somewhat look like I’m going to join in and try to walk out of this alive. So, what did I do? I stole a candy bar.” The group pauses, waiting for additional information.

“And then what?” Tracy asks.

“And then nothing,” I say. “I stole a candy bar—that was it. And I only did that because I was afraid that if I didn’t do something, they were going to beat the hell out of me.” Aunt Sheila frowns deeply and sits forward in her chair.

“Go on,” she says, a little too calmly.

“The cops picked up everybody that they saw on surveillance. When Uncle Richard got there and found out that the whole thing happened on a Sunday morning, and not one day where he could prove I was in school, he wrote me off. He left me cold with no lawyer, no parent, no nothing. I didn’t even get a chance to talk to him; I never got a chance to explain. He looked at me like I had shot his puppy and left me there. I got to court and there was nobody there for me but the public defender. I don’t even know what happened… I just know they let me go.”

“And that’s why you take a lot of cases pro bono,” Sheila says, her expression unreadable. I pause for a moment and gaze at them.

“I just want them to know that somebody’s listening,” I says. “Black kids—particularly black boys—often get fingered for just walking down the street. I just want to make sure they don’t get thrown in jail simply for ‘walking while black.;”

Junior clears his throat while Tracy looks down and Sheila is looking dead at me.

“It’s the same thing that happened to me,” I continue. “Granted, I’m white, but I was accused of something I didn’t do. I did one dumb little thing, but even if I had done the ultimate worst, I was convicted by the one person that I needed to be in my corner without even having the chance to explain myself.

“When they asked me if they could take me somewhere, I knew they couldn’t bring me back here. I knew Uncle Richard wasn’t going to welcome me with open arms after he had deserted me at juvie without even hearing my side. I knew that if he had left me there on the mercy of the court that he wasn’t going to welcome me with open arms. I knew I was on my own, because if I wasn’t, he would have come for me; he would have looked for me; he would have sent Tracy and Junior to bring me home from school; something. Instead, he told you all not to talk to me. I know there’s nothing that can be done about this now, but I have to say this. You guys have no idea how many times I wished you guys would walk into school one day, look at me, and say, ‘Ana, come home,’ but you would barely even look at me.”

Now, Junior’s head is down, but Sheila is still looking at me.

“I lived on the streets,” I say with a shrug, “in vacant houses. I lied about my age and got a job for a while, but then I had to quit so I could focus on school. I still had to get scholarships or else I wasn’t going to college. So, I pinched pennies and I entered writing contests. That’s how I survived. As soon as I graduated and U-Dub said I could come to the dorm in August, I went straight to the dorm. I’ll never forget it. I left everything I had in that vacant house. When I moved in, I had bought a new duffle bag, I filled it with new clothes, one pair of pajamas, toiletries, and a towel. The first thing I did was take a shower.

“I slept with no blankets for three weeks until my roommates felt sorry for me and gave me some bedding. I didn’t have a computer, so I was in the library until it closed. School was a dream for me because I had spent a year and a half in hell, but it all paid off in the end.”

“Excuse me,” Sheila breathes and scurries from the room. I watch her run from the room and look back at Junior.

“I had to ask,” he laments, shaking his head. I look at Tracy.

“Your version of things is completely different than Dad’s version of things,” she says. “According to Dad, you had gotten involved in some kind of gang and that’s why you were in juvie. They were removing you from our home since Dad was technically just a guardian and not your parent or adopted parent, and they were making you a ward of the state because of your activities. If we looked at you funny, it’s because we couldn’t put together what Dad was saying with what we were seeing, but he told us not to talk to you, and the fact that you never came back to the house only served to reinforce what he was saying.” She looks at the door her mother exited.

“Mom’s going to start grieving again,” she says. “She’s been finding out all kinds of things she didn’t know about Dad—not things like he’s got another family across town or anything like that. Just things she didn’t know… like this. If she finds out too much more, it’s going to rip her apart.”

Now, I look at the door Sheila just exited.

“May I?” I ask, gesturing to the door. Tracy nods.

“Be my guest,” she says. I get up and follow Sheila through the door. I begin to walk down the hall, and the layout of the house is coming back to me. I know where she is. She’s in her spaffice.

A spaffice is just what it sounds like—it’s a cross between a spa and an office, and it’s the opposite of a man cave. Now, it’s not a spa in the sense that there’s a Jacuzzi or a set-up to get your nails done and things like that, but it was always Sheila’s escape and you couldn’t bother her when she was in her office. I remember the few transformations it took on while I lived here. Now, it’s got a jungle-like look, with lots of flourishing live plants and a Zen-like setting. There’s even a hammock in the room. Right now, Sheila’s at the window seat looking out of her bay window.

“Aunt Sheila?” I say, cautiously entering the room.

“I was against you coming to live with us at first,” she says without turning around, her voice soft. “It’s because of the neighborhood that we lived in… and you were white. I foolishly worried about what people would think, but I also worried that we wouldn’t be able to keep you safe.”

A single tear falls down her cheek and she quickly wipes it away.

“I quickly learned that my brother-in-law… or your mother… or both, had taught you a thing or three, and I had nothing to worry about. People still talked, and it bothered me at first, but after a while, I didn’t care. Richard was your advocate. He always wanted the best for you, just like he wanted the best for Tracy and Junior… and so did I.

“I have no idea what happened that day, Ana,” she says turning to me. “Richard left to get you, and he came back without you. He simply said that you had gotten into trouble and you would most likely end up in foster care. I asked him what happened. I asked him why they would put you in foster care when you had us. You had been with us for years. He refused to talk about it. He simply said that you weren’t coming back and that I didn’t have to worry about the white girl in the house anymore. I was appalled that he said that. After all these years, he still thought I felt that way?” She shakes her head.

“I wanted to know what happened. I wanted the information that he wouldn’t give me. I tried to call the juvenile center, but they had no record of you, and now I know why. I didn’t know who else to call. That day, Tracy and Junior came home and said they saw you at school. I looked at Richard, and he forbade everybody to talk to you. He said that you would be a bad influence on the children and that you would use my emotions against me. He made it sound like you had gone out and joined a gang or something… and now…”

She sighs heavily and looks out the window again. I walk over to her and take her hand.

“He didn’t even tell us he had gotten in touch with you again. For all we knew, you were dead or in jail or somewhere with a slew of babies… we had no clue. Once the kids graduated from high school, there was no more talk about you. And now, here you are… almost twenty years later…” She begins to weep again.

“I’m sorry, Ana,” she sobs, her shoulders shaking. “I don’t know how you can possibly forgive us…”

“I can forgive you because you were misled,” I say, squeezing my hand. “You went by what Uncle Richard said, and that is… was your husband after all. I didn’t even know you tried to look for me.”

“I didn’t try hard enough,” she scolds herself through her tears. “You went to school with my kids, for God’s sake!”

“And your husband and the man of your house told you that I was a bad influence. I’m the adopted daughter of his biological brother. If you really thought he felt that way, what could you do? I wouldn’t want a bad influence around my kids… if I had any.”

“How can you forgive him?” she says through her sniffles. “How can you forgive him for lying on you and deserting you like that? For everything you went through…?” I drop my head and think about my words before I speak.

“I was so angry for so many years,” I say. “I was hurt; I felt betrayed. I lost my Daddy and Mommy all back over again. I used those emotions to thrive. I thought about Daddy and Mommy looking down on me. I never once thought about what they would think of Uncle Richard and what he was doing. I didn’t even know the whole story about what Uncle Richard was doing and I still don’t know, because he’s not here to tell us. So… what do I do now? Do I just sit here angry and spiteful at a dead man?

“I can’t live like that, Aunt Sheila,” I tell her. “I forgave Uncle Richard for me… because there’s just nothing else to do.” She twists her lips.

“Where did you get this fortitude and character?” she asks, “because I doubt that you got it from us.” I shrug.

“I think I may have picked up a bit of it from you guys,” I admit, “some of it from my Daddy and Mommy, and… some of it from life.” I sigh. “Everything happens for a reason, and I still know how to cook.” We laugh.

“You sure do!” she says surprised. “You didn’t forget one single thing in those greens. I can’t get Tracy to cook greens like that!” I chuckle.

“That’s because when everything is taken away from you, you hold on to what you can with both hands,” I say. She looks down at my hand over hers and covers it with hers with her other one.

“I’ll never let you get away again,” she says, a tear or two dropping on our joined hands. I put mine over hers.

“I’m not going anywhere, Aunt Sheila,” I promise.


A/N: Never saw this coming, did you? 

The Pinterest board for this story can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/fifty-shades-golden/.

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