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??”

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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.

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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


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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? 

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~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 86—Going Soft?

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 86—Going Soft?

CHRISTIAN

Butterfly agrees that Wednesday is a good day for us to meet with the godparents of our children to solidify our plans for the twins. She’ll talk to Valerie since I’ve already told Al. In the meantime, I’m back in my glass and steel fortress about to let some folks have it.

I’m sitting in the usual department head meeting, putting together some thoughts concerning the four people at the center of my ire. While I’ve been sitting here, I’ve listened to discussions about shipments of supplies to some of our warehouses that had to be rescheduled because the shipping dock simply misplaced the materials, resulting in a horrible delay of delivery of product to our end users; a fire in one of our buildings on the east coast that resulted in injuries; and an extremely costly error with one of our pharmaceutical subsidiaries that could result in a lawsuit.

While I’m sitting here quietly fuming at our shipping, quality, and safety teams and waiting to hear what the plan of action is to keep these situations from becoming international incidents, one of the department heads from some department is expounding on some question that Lorenz has asked about something. I half-heartedly pretend to listen and jot down notes in my ledger—something I never do—when I decide that I’ve heard enough of the useless rambling. I have a shift in my seat that I do that signals the person speaking that they should wrap it up soon.

“What’s the progress with SEEKNID 1.0?” I ask casually once I hear that the discussion about… whatever it was… has ended. I hear throats clearing but no answers. So, I raise my gaze to my R&D department head. “Mr. Hammond, was my question unclear?” He clears his throat and rubs his eyes.

“No, sir, your question was clear,” he replies, his voice tired. I narrow my gaze at him.

“Well?” I hiss, waiting for an answer.

“I… haven’t had a chance to review it, sir,” he says. My brow furrows and I look over at my wife, who shrugs, before I look back at Hammond.

“What do you mean you haven’t had a chance to review it?” I ask. “I sent an email requesting immediate research and testing on Tuesday… while I was still on vacation with my wife.”

“I sent one as well,” Butterfly chimes in, “wanting to know why it was taking so long for the project to be initiated.” I look over at her.

“You sent one, too?” I ask. She nods.

“I questioned the delay of a very important product both to GEH and the industry and requested additional information on the normal timeline concerning the processing of a project from presentation to production. I never received a response.”

“To whom did you send this email?” I ask frostily.

“I did a blanket reply to all of the people on the original email that you sent out… even you. Maybe I did something wrong,” she says. All heads know that I’m now going to go in search of this email, because if I received it, their asses received it, too. I may not look for an email from my wife because I’m with her every day and she can just tell me what’s up… or text me. As soon as I swipe the screen of my phone, people start speaking up.

“I received that email, Dr. Grey,” Ros says. “I’m sorry I didn’t respond. I made the error of thinking that one of the heads closer to the project with more detailed information would provide an explanation for you. I apologize for that oversight on my part…”

“Same here,” Lorenz excuses. “Granted, I wouldn’t have had the immediate information that you needed, but I—or someone—should have responded to your email. I hope you’ll excuse the oversight.”

“It’s an oversight on your part because you and Ros have an entire company to run,” Butterfly says as I’m searching for her email. “I appreciate the acknowledgement and hope that in the future, I can expect a response to an email when I send it. ‘I don’t know, let me find out for you’ is a perfectly good response. It’s just very disheartening feeling like I’m being ignored.”

“Understood, Dr. Grey,” Lorenz replies. “Thank you for understanding.” My wife nods just as I find her email that she sent minutes after I sent the email to my chief officers, Barney, Hammond, and R&D.

“That explains why my company heads didn’t respond. However, in this instance, I can understand why they would have expected the experts in the area to have said something.” I turn to the people who would normally have their hands on the pulse of the situation… or who should, that is.

“I have no excuse, sir,” Barney says, his response a mixture of unapologetic but humble, if that’s possible. “I have quite a few irons in the fire in IT and since the product hadn’t made its way through R&D yet, there’s really nothing I could do with it at this time. I apologize, too, An… Dr. Grey, for not at least responding to your email. Please charge it to too many balls in the air and not disrespect, ma’am,” Barney finishes, and I can see my wife cringing inwardly at the ma’am sentiment.

“So, that leaves my $15-million R&D department,” I say, turning back to Hammond and the man sitting next to him. “We’re all waiting for you, gentlemen. Was my executive and IT staff supposed to respond to these emails that were clearly in your court and control?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Hammond says a bit half-heartedly. “I just saw the email this morning before I came to the meeting. I didn’t have a chance to look into the matter thoroughly.”

“This morning?” I frown. “Why did it take so long?”

“I’ve been in the hospital, sir,” he says. “I was just released yesterday. I had a severe upper respiratory infection.” I glare at him. Is this fucker contagious? “It’s cleared up now, sir,” he adds, reading my thoughts. “I’m just still a little weak from the illness.”

“How long were you hospitalized?” I ask.

“Twelve days, sir,” he replies. Shit! That was some infection!

“And who is your second in command?” His eyes widen and I see the guy sitting next to him suddenly get fidgety.

“I take responsibility, sir,” Hammond says, “I should have left stricter instructions…

“That’s admirable of you,” I interrupt. “But I sent instructions to the team to get going on this last week while I was on vacation and you were hospitalized recovering from a severe infection. Now, who. Was your second. In command?” He sighs heavily and drops his gaze.

“Nathan Burgess, sir,” he says without making eye-contact. I look over at the sweating worm next to him.

“I take it you’re Nathan Burgess,” I say, watching the man’s forehead become shinier and shinier.

“Yes, sir,” he squeaks then clears his throat. I lean back in my seat.

“Let me ask a question to all people within earshot… Should I call an ear, nose, and throat specialist in to have you all examined?” I bark, and everyone suddenly sits up straight. “I’m sure that I made the announcement months ago that Dr. Anastasia Grey is 50% owner of this company and you all are still treating her like a goddamn outsider! Don’t you all realize that with or without my authorization, she has the power to fire any and everyone in this room? And she can’t even get a response to a goddamn email?”

I see my wife squirm infinitesimally, then plaster an impassive expression on her face.

“A week goes by and she couldn’t get a specific answer to a specific question that she asked and all I’m getting is a bunch of ‘I’m sorry’s,’ but what’s more, did you all suffer from fingerous brokitis? Because no one responded to me, either!”

The looks of discomfort that everyone donned moments ago have now been replaced by expressions of horror. This lets me know that even after this last announcement, they still won’t regard my wife as 50% owner of this company.

“I sent an email to at least five people within the sound of my voice and to the research and development team a week ago, and not one person thought it might have been important to stick your head in the door and ask, ‘Hey, what’s going on with the thing Mr. Grey asked about?’ Not one of you? None of you?”

Now even my executive staff is looking a little green in the face, as they should. I sent this email out to several people, because I expected if one person didn’t see to the situation, someone else would have. I didn’t send that information out for show. Even my wife had the good sense to respond and acknowledge the email and none of these highly-paid assholes thought they should even bother?

Even though Hammond knows that he’s off the hook for this situation because he was sick in the hospital, he still shrinks in his chair. That only makes me more pissed at this Burgess fucker.

“And you,” I say, focusing my attention on him, “if anyone was at the root of finding out where this project stood, it’s you, because your boss was out sick. Tell me, did you not see the emails?” He’s so scared right now, he could shit his pants.

“I… um… I remember… seeing the reports on… the projects we were working on…”

“It’s a simple question, Mr. Burgess,” I interrupt this stuttering fool. “Did you see the emails?”

“I… I think… I may have seen the email from you, sir,” he stutters.

“So, you did see one of the emails,” I confirm, and he nods. “And not only did you not see fit to respond, but you also don’t have any information about the content.”

“I was trying to get some information for you, sir,” he excuses. “I didn’t want to respond without at least having some kind of input…”

“So, you didn’t respond at all,” I interrupt. “Nothing.” And I get no response. “To add to that, you knew that you were the one in charge when the command came down, and you sat there quietly willing to allow your boss to take the wrap.”

“No, sir,” he interjects, “that… I wasn’t…”

“You all. Are getting. Sloppy,” I say, my voice threatening. “I lighten up on you for a minute and you act like you don’t remember who the fuck I am. Do I need to go back to being that iron-fisted fucker I was before I met the love of my life for you slackers to remember that I will fire you at a sneeze? Did you all conveniently forget all the crazy shit that I and my family have been going through? Shit that’s been plastered all over the goddamn news? You idiots are in charge! I trust you to run my company when I’m not here! Did I make the wrong decisions? Should I be coming in here taking my frustrations out on you? Or do I need to babysit each one of you fuckers to make sure the work is getting done? If I must do that, why the fuck do I need any of you?

“Two years ago, I told you all that I didn’t become who I am today by turning a blind eye to weaknesses in my company. You didn’t believe me then, but you better fucking well believe me now. I will be revisiting those protocols that were put in place at the last company-wide review. Anybody who I find lacking will find themselves immediately on the block. Depending on the severity of the situation, that means one of two things. First, your position may immediately become interim. This means that you will have to reapply for your position, and I personally will decide based on your qualifications and the talent pool if you get to keep your job or find yourself replaced—sound familiar?

“The second outcome is that your performance has shown no improvement in your department since the last protocol review or you have fucked up so tremendously that you just lose your job. I will be completely within my rights because with the exception of two or three departments that have new heads, you have been given two years to get your acts together and put your best foot forward. If I discover that you’re still doing the same haphazard, lackadaisical work that you were doing at the last protocol review, I’m getting rid of your ass.

“And make no mistake, this will not be a review of what you’ve done in the last couple of months. There’s nothing you can do in the next week or so that can repair the shabby ass job you’ve already done, if that’s the case. So, don’t bother putting any extra credit projects on the hopper or searching for a scapegoat, because it’s not going to help you.

“Mr. Burgess,” I say, turning my attention to the second man in charge of R&D, “effective immediately, you are being placed on administrative leave without pay for a period of three weeks. I have documentation from both owners of this company specifically asking about a program that should have been in production months ago.

“Although you may not have seen the email from Dr. Grey, you admit that you saw the email from me and a week later, you haven’t even pulled this extremely important and potentially profitable project off the shelf yet. I promised the developer that we would have some information for him, and you have nothing for me to give him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled the project away from us since our company apparently doesn’t want it!

“Your position will be under review as well and the only reason you’re not being fired is because I don’t think you disobeyed a direct order. I just think you’re being sloppy, and you dropped the fucking ball, which is almost just as bad by the way. I’m running a multi-billion-dollar company with holdings and subsidiaries worldwide. I don’t have time to micro-manage and I can’t afford for anybody to be sloppy.

“Hopefully, three weeks without pay and a bit of uncertainty about your future will help to alleviate that situation. After your three-week administrative leave, I and Dr. Grey will have reviewed the departments and you will be notified if you do or do not still have a job.

“Mr. Hammond, I want a preliminary report on the SEEKNID software in my email within three days, and cc Dr. Grey’s company email with those findings as well. Don’t rush and don’t fuck this up, Mr. Hammond. A preliminary report shouldn’t be too difficult to generate. If you have questions, contact James Forsythe-Fleming directly. His contact information is in the project file.” I stand to my feet and turn to my wife.

“Is there anything you’d like to add?” I ask.

“No, I think you’ve covered it quite thoroughly,” she replies, crossing her legs. I turn back to the department heads in the conference room.

“You’re dismissed,” I tell them. They begin to scramble out of the office, and I gesture to Jason to handle Burgess. He nods once and walks out the door behind Burgess. Ros and Lorenz stay behind and everyone else leaves the room.

“So,” Ros begins, “does this mean that Finney and I are under review as well?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I say, taking my seat. “I work closely with you two every day. I’m very well acquainted with your job performance, although I do expect you to treat an email from my wife as if it was an email from me.” They glance at each other. “Is that a problem?”

“No, of course not,” Lorenz says. “Again, Dr. Grey, my apologies for not responding.”

“Accepted,” Butterfly says softly, “and when it’s just us, I prefer Ana if you don’t mind.” Lorenz nods.

“And what about legal?” Ros asks.

“What about legal? I retort, my brow furrowed.

“Will legal undergo the review that the other departments are being subjected to?” I know what she’s asking.

“As a matter of fact, it will not,” I say finitely. “Much like you and Lorenz, I work with my head of legal nearly every day. I have had no problems from my legal department and as such, I’m not in the habit of fixin’ what ain’t broke. And in case you’re wondering, my accounting department won’t be subjected to that protocol review either as they already undergo an audit annually. Are there any other departments that you have questions about?”

“I’m not trying to start a fight, Christian,” Ros says. “It’s just that you know what they’re saying about your head of legal since he is your wife’s best friend.” Butterfly sits up straight and glares at Ros, who doesn’t return her gaze.

“I hired Allen Fleming-Forsythe because he is very fucking good at what he does, not because he’s my wife’s best friend. And those people that you’re talking about, tell them to get their Doctor of Jurisprudence Degree, and then maybe they can say something!”

Ros shrinks a bit in her chair at the same time that Butterfly leaps from hers.

“Baby…” I say, trying to halt her escape.

“I’m going back to the Center,” she says, retrieving her purse.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“Darling, they’re never going to revere me as you—none of them,” she says. “Some of them will get it in their heads that they need to respect me. Others will resent me. Still others will try to fuck you while I watch,” she says disdainfully, and I know she’s talking about that little trick from the new projects meeting a few weeks ago. “But they’ll never ever treat me like they treat you. It’s simply not going to happen.

“Your best friend is your bodyguard, but nobody’s asking if our security is going through an overhaul, just legal. You want them to treat me like you because you hold their destinies in your hand, but that’s simply not going to happen. They can’t wrap their heads around someone else wielding your omnipotent power. So, there will be sometimes when I’ll be able to take the reins with some people, and sometimes when I definitely won’t. You trying to shove it down their throats is just going to cause them to question and resent me, even at the risk of their jobs. It’s that simple.”

Without another word or any malice, she puts her purse on her shoulder and strolls out of the conference room, Chuck silently falling in step behind her. Ros and Lorenz have a silent conversation—again—which is really starting to piss me off. I thrust my hands in my hair, close my eyes, and begin to count.

She’s right. They’re never going to revere her like me. My two executive heads—or at least one of them—just proved that. We had a goddamn mole in the building for three years that everyone was certain that I fast-tracked through the system without even so much as an actual word from me, but I can’t openly hire an extremely qualified head of legal without being questioned about nepotism because he’s my wife’s best friend.

I don’t know if I really wanted them to revere her like me, though. At the most, I want them to respect her and recognize her authority, but it appears that I can’t even get one of them to do that until I get my hairs up. Then, they respect her for the moment and it’s back to business as fucking usual.

Dear God, I’m trying so hard to temper the new husband and family man with the hard-as-stone businessman, but it’s damn near impossible to be those two people. I was always the cold-hearted, unfeeling asshole everywhere I went—business and professional—and people sat up and paid attention; never questioned my judgement or authority. I need to get that back, but fuck if I’m going back to being that asshole that I was before…

“Christian?”

Ros’s voice breaks into my thoughts and the darkness behind my closed eyes. Without realizing that I was still counting, I now notice that I’ve gotten somewhere in the 300’s. I hope I was counting quickly.

“You can go now,” I say without opening my eyes.

“Christian, I…”

“I need. You to leave,” I hear myself nearly growling. After a brief pause, I hear the two of them stand and leave the room. I don’t know how many more minutes I stand there before I head to my office.

“Has Holstein called today?” I ask Andrea as I pass her desk.

“Twice,” she says. “He’s on hold as we speak.” I nod.

“Get Welch and Shaler in here…”

“The smoke is rising quickly on the internet,” Josh says once he and Alex are seated in my office. “All it takes is a rumor to get the fire going online. By the end of the week, if that, there will be quite a few high-powered people with ruffled feathers from nothing but a little innuendo.”

“Good, and what can we do with Holstein by the end of the week?” I ask Welch. He looks over at Joshua. “Nothing drastic,” I add. The real hell will come later.

“We’ve got a few things in the hopper for him,” Alex says, revealing nothing. “We’ve already got great information on him. It appears that our dear warden has been a very bad boy as of late.” I raise my brow.

“Excellent,” I say, turning back to Joshua. “How long before the average reader will be able to see the smokescreen?”

“Keep your eyes on the regular news outlets. When you see it, everybody else will, too.” I nod and look at the screen just to my left scrolling the NASDAQ and NYSE for selected stocks.

Kavanaugh Media has dropped significantly in the last week and still dropping, and that asshole is still holding out. Well, good luck to you.

“Start to sprinkle some inconvenience on Holstein,” I instruct Alex. “I want him jittery as fuck. If I know the kind of people he’s pissed off like I think I do, he’s going to be getting it from so many different directions that he’s not going to know where it’s coming from first.” Alex nods and I turn to Josh. “Any new news for me?” I ask him. He shakes his head.

“Not since yesterday,” he replies.

“Well, good work so far,” I comment. “Keep it up.” He stands, taking his cue to leave.

“Thank you, sir. You know where to find me,” and he leaves. I turn to Alex.

“Ellison and Lincoln,” I say after flipping the switch on the scrambler.

“We’ve of course put a tracker on Ellison’s car, but we expect her to get wise to that pretty soon. She has another… partner who requires her to carry a specific cell phone everywhere she goes…”

“How did you find that out?” I ask with a frown. He just twists his lips and cocks his head at me.

“I mean…” I stutter, then sigh. “I did this shit for years. Can people find out this crap about me?”

“Your operation was a whole lot more Mission Impossible than a lot of these amateurs out here,” he says, and yet another Mission Impossible reference. “She went to see Lincoln yesterday and was forced to leave said phone at the guard’s desk… with one of my colleagues. It’s being tracked as we speak, along with the small device that has been placed on her car. We figure that no matter what disguise she wears, she has to either carry that phone, drive that car, or both.”

“Have we found out anything else on her besides who she’s playing with and that she can disguise herself to be anybody?”

“Nothing much, except that her Dom likes to watch.” I frown. That’s one thing that I could never get into—watching my women with someone else. I’m too damn possessive for that shit… and I immediately think of Butterfly leaving my office a little while ago.

“Can we use that to our advantage at all?” I ask.

“We will,” he says, “when it’s time for the confrontation. For now, we’re watching her every move and trying to get as much information as we can on that book, and if there’s a plan of action if she doesn’t publish or check in with anybody.” I don’t react. I know what he’s getting at and I don’t want to admit that I anticipate the day that Greta Ellison is no longer a blip on my radar.

Butterfly has arrived at the Center by now. I wonder what she’s doing?

“And Lincoln?” I say, trying to keep my mind on the matter at hand. “What’s the word on her since she’s obviously still visiting with her ghost writer?”

“I still have friends in low places,” Alex says. “Lincoln’s life can become ‘uncomfortable’ as soon as you say the word…”

“’The word,’” I reply sarcastically, and he nods. It seems that I should have never gone through Holstein in the first place to get what I needed. I should have just kept the job in-house. Hell, I don’t know the ins and outs of this kind of thing anyway.

“How uncomfortable do you want her to be?”

Very!” I say before I think about it, “but not yet. Just uncomfortable enough for now… enough to know that something’s not quite right. Shit Holstein can’t prevent, right?”

“Shit Holstein won’t even know about,” Alex confirms.

“She could tell him,” I warn.

“She could, but by the time she realizes that she’s targeted, he’ll have his own problems to contend with. He won’t know which way is up with all the people that’ll be pissed at him by the time Josh’s plan is put into action. He’ll be clawing and begging for vacation time by the end of the week from the publicity alone.”

This is good news. I’m so sick of bullshit, I could literally scream. I actually just want to go home and daydream about our trip to Australia and all the fun and sex that we had… the wines we tasted, karaoke and game night, and deciding that we’ll begin BDSM training this weekend…

“Still with me, sir?” Alex’s voice breaks in, and my visions of butterflies leave my head.

“Yeah, I’m still here…” just barely.

“Thinking about the meeting?” he asks.

“Amongst other things, yes,” I admit. “I have no idea how my life became such a mess.”

“There are several answers to that question, sir.” I glare at him.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” I snap.

“Simply that it depends on which question you’re asking. How did your life become such a mess… from which point of view? As a child? We know the answer to that. As a teenager? We’re fighting that demon right now. As a man, same demon, only she had you believing that you were in charge when she was actually the one in charge all the time.”

“How the fuck did you know that?” I bark.

“We all knew it,” he replies. “You were the only one who didn’t. Now, you’re a husband and a father, and that’s the real fucking mess.”

“Are you trying to get fucked up? And fired? In that order?” I threaten. He shrugs unfazed.

“You asked a question. I’m just answering it,” he replies. “Love is the messiest situation you’ll ever encounter in your life, and I don’t have to ever have been in love to know that. You had a nice little plan of things, a place for everything and everything in its place, including each of your Jennifer Love Hewitt wannabes. And then along comes this 5’3” fireball and knocks you right out of your Cesare Paciottis and onto your billion-dollar ass. There was nothing clean and tidy in the world about that transition. You fell instantly, and then she got kidnapped—what—two weeks after you sealed the deal?”

“Something like that,” I mumble.

“The next year of her life plays out in the press with you as nothing more than honorable mention in several of the headlines. Then you spend more money than you’ve ever spent on any one purchase in your life except your penthouse maybe—notwithstanding your business acquisitions—to marry her in a castle, to let the world know that the infamous Christian Grey is finally off the market. You take an ass beating like I’ve never seen you take since the day I met you to prove that you’re worthy of her love, and you went soft in that fight…”

“I did not fucking go soft!” I interject, ready to leap at the fucker.

“Yes, you did,” he retorts unapologetically. “You could have flattened that fucker in three hits, and you know it. I know him. I know his skill. And I know that he could have done the same thing, but he wanted to beat your ass and leave a mark, and that’s exactly what he did. He landed your ass in the hospital. You couldn’t see. You had to have your teeth wired. You were unrecognizable. He won! But you… you were worried about what Butterfly would say if you laid him out; how she would react if you sent her father’s best friend home out cold in five seconds. At the same time, you wanted to teach that fucker a lesson, but you wanted to play fair. Ain’t shit fair in love and war and this was both, and you conveniently forgot that, but you want to stand there and tell me that this shit ain’t messy? Seriously?

“You want to know what’s going on with your business? You’re going soft. People can see you going soft. You’ve found love and it’s the most beautiful, life-changing thing in the world, but that’s what it’s doing—it’s changing your life, and people can see that. Why do you think that Spanish asshole thought he could pull that shit over your eyes? Why Fairlane LTD sold you a poison pill? Why the Pussy DJ, as you affectionately call him, tried to drag that shit out as far as he could? Why two ex-submissives and one wannabe felt like they could push limits they knew would set you off? One is back to being afraid of you, one is more afraid of Ana than of you, and one isn’t afraid of either one of you.

“The old Christian Grey would have had each one of those bitches crushed under his heel. The new Christian Grey—the husband and father—is soft, and that’s a good thing when it comes down to your wife and family, but not a good thing when it comes to your business and dealing with your adversaries. You even showed that today. Two years ago, that guy from R&D, Burgess, would have been out on his ass. You put him on administrative leave. You gave him and everybody in that room hope when you should have struck fear into them. You’re in a cutthroat business and you’re turning into a teddy bear. So far, the most Christian Grey thing I’ve seen you do is go after Lincoln and her crew of Merry Men.

“Christian Grey gives half his empire to a woman? Any woman? Everybody everywhere is wondering what the fuck is going on. You have to figure out what you’re going to do here, sir, because what it looks like you’re doing is giving the reins to everyone else—Ros, Finney, your wife—while you sit back and watch. Of course, no one is worried about showing your wife Christian Grey respect. They’re not even showing you that respect right now. Nobody responded to your email? Seriously? You don’t find that strange?”

Shit. Shit, shit, fucking shit, fucking hell, shit. Having that anvil hit me in the face is the most painful and shocking thing I’ve felt since Pops died. Even more shocking than finding my wife locked in a gaze with another man, and that says a lot! Besides Lincoln, my biggest concern these days is trying not to curse around the twins.

“I’m going soft,” I say.

“You’re going soft,” Alex confirms. “You built this empire with a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude. You’re not going to be able to maintain its momentum being ‘father of the year.’ You’re going to have to choose one or be satisfied with a compromise… and all the drawbacks that come along with that.”

My company and my family are the two single most important things in my life, and my head of security is telling me that I have to choose between them? That’s not possible. There has to be a compromise that doesn’t leave me looking like a pussy.

“Get started on our prison posse,” I tell him. “I’ve got some things to ponder.”

Once Alex goes and I’m in the office alone, I give some serious thought to the man that I used to be. He was a real fucking asshole—in and out of the office. I didn’t have to be one person during the day and another at night and on weekends. I was just Christian fucking Grey, striking fear and reverence into businessmen and submissives everywhere. Now, I have to prove that I’m not a pussy without ostracizing my wife or mistreating my family. How the fuck am I supposed to do that?

My thoughts are interrupted by my cell phone buzzing in my pocket. I’ve been standing at the window pondering my situation for I don’t know how long, but the call is coming from inside GEH. What the…?

“Grey,” I say answering the phone.

“Sir, it’s Alex. I don’t have time to explain, but I think you should get down to Helping Hands right now!


ANASTASIA

I’ve had enough of trying to be Mrs. GEH. If those fuckers don’t want to acknowledge my authority, so be it. And why would they? Christian’s been at the helm of that company for more than a decade, then I show up with a marriage license and a minor degree trying to throw my weight around and take over. No thanks. If the day comes where I have to take the reins of GEH—and I truly hope that day never comes—then I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. In the meantime, Christian can have it. I’m done locking horns with people who don’t think I should be there.

Courtney is filling in as well as can be expected for Marilyn, but I do still miss her, as a PA and a friend. I’m still not very comfortable at the Center right now. I want to make the executive decisions that need to be made, but I’m in constant concern that Grace’s instincts will somehow undermine whatever decisions I make. I make a list of everything we need to go over—which is nearly everything since I no longer want to make any final decisions on my own. Geez, why am I even here? I’m nothing more than a middleman at this point.

I’m lamenting my situation when a knock at my open office door causes me to raise my head. Speak of the devil…

“If you have a moment,” Grace says in a formal tone. I gesture to the chairs in front of my desk, inviting her to sit. She takes a seat and for some reason, I immediately prepare myself for a showdown.

“I’ve given it some thought,” she says, her hands in her lap. “You shouldn’t leave Helping Hands… I should.”

Okay… I certainly wasn’t expecting that! I frown.

“What?” I say, surprised.

“I’m a figurehead, Ana,” she says. “You’re the voice. You’re the face. You’re doing all the work. We’re starting classes because of you. We’re getting more donations and attention than ever because of you. We got past that whole thing with Gloria and the licensing board because of you and it nearly cost you everything. Helping Hands cannot afford to lose you. It would be the worst thing that could happen to this organization.”

“Grace, I can’t run this place alone… or full-time. I’ve got twin babies at home. I quit my practice just so that I could work here part-time. Did you forget that?”

“No, I haven’t forgotten that,” she says. “There’s no reason why you couldn’t remain part-time with the right person in the position as assistant director… or as director if you choose to remain the assistant. I think… I think I’ve truly damaged the professional relationship too much and we just can’t be effective if we’re here together.”

I won’t deny that the professional relationship is terribly damaged, but it’s more than that.

“Here’s the thing,” I begin. “You and I being here together is not the problem. It never has been the problem. We’ve bumped heads before. We’ve had disagreements before. We’ll have them again. The issue—the very big issue—is you disregarding my professional opinion and authority.

“It’s like you take temporary leave of your senses, and you’re a doctor, Grace. It’s not like you don’t understand the importance of confidentiality and trust in a doctor/patient relationship.”

“That’s not how I saw this,” she defends. “You and Courtney are friends. Addie is my friend. We’ve been friends for decades. I wasn’t stepping on your professional toes! You were looking out for your friend and I was looking out for mine!”

“I made it clear to you that our relationship was personal and professional! If you didn’t know that, then it’s because you ignored me—not because you weren’t informed. And that brings to light yet another very vital piece of information. You felt like your friendship with Adelaide was more important than my friendship with Courtney. And if my relationship with her was destroyed, that was fine as long as you got what you wanted. So, basically, what you’re telling me is that what you did wasn’t just a bad judgment call—it was just you being completely selfish?”

Grace sighs heavily, drops her head, and puts her hands on her hips.

“Yes, Ana, that’s what I’m telling you,” she says flatly before raising her eyes to me again.

And I’m floored.

I wasn’t expecting her to just come out with it. I was expecting her to stutter a bit, beat around the bush, stall, try to explain herself, something. She just spit it out and I’m pretty taken aback by it.

“I don’t have an explanation for it,” she says as if reading my mind. “I don’t have a justification for it. I can’t wrap it up in a pretty bow and make it what it’s not. I felt that my longtime friend needed to see her granddaughter—needed to see the changes that she made in her life, and I orchestrated it… by any means necessary. I wasn’t taking into consideration any other relationships, friendships, promises, nothing. All I knew was that this woman needed to see that Courtney had changed, really and truly changed.

“I watched Tina die and her crazy, ungrateful children swarm in on the house like rats. She went to her grave with nothing but regrets for those children—nothing but regrets! And then I see Adelaide feeling like her granddaughter is a lost cause when she’s not 20 miles away every day making something of herself and being a better person. I couldn’t live with that!

“Just telling her that Courtney was here—that she had changed—wouldn’t have worked. She had to see it! So, I put the picture—one picture—in the slideshow. It was in a slideshow with at least 100 other pictures from several different agencies, and I told myself that if she saw it out of all those pictures, then it was meant to be, and if she didn’t, then I would walk away… and she saw it.”

Grace is showing a bit of passion as she tells this story, so much that I can somewhat understand why she did what she did, especially in light of Tina’s recent death… but she still betrayed me, professionally and personally.

“I apologize,” she says further, “for disregarding your professional authority, and I also apologize for jeopardizing your relationship with Courtney. But I don’t apologize for helping my friend. I feel like it was really, really necessary under the circumstances.” I sigh.

“And therein lies the problem, Grace,” I point out. “If you don’t feel any remorse or conviction for what you actually did, then you’ll do it again. I pour myself into these people’s mental well-being, and I can’t have someone look at the situation and just say, ‘This is how it should be,’ and just make an executive decision without even thinking to consult me first simply because you knew I would say, ‘No.’ You’re playing a dangerous game of chance with people’s lives and your solution to that problem is that you should just pick up and leave simply because you don’t want me to leave.

“With or without me, you built this place. You had the idea; you bought the property; you funded it; you built it from the ground up—and you have a responsibility to this place and the people in it. You can’t just throw your hands up and walk away…”

“But you can?” she asks incredulously. “I want what’s best for the Center and like it or not, you have a responsibility to this place, too. You’ve started all kinds of programs, hired staff and created different departments, got our accreditation so that we can do schooling—people depend on you!”

“I’m an employee!” I point out.

“You are assistant director!” she retorts, pronouncing each syllable. “This place will survive without me, but it won’t survive without you.” I’m being battered with logic here.

“I won’t be blackmailed into keeping this job, Grace,” I say finitely. “I won’t be forced to move into a position that I can’t handle because we don’t see eye-to-eye and you don’t want to be here anymore.”

“Will you listen to yourself?” she nearly barks. “That’s the exact reason you’re leaving! And it’s not that I don’t want to be here. The Center needs you, and if it’s going to be a choice between you or me, then the choice needs to be you.”  I’m not going to coddle her.

“If you want to leave Helping Hands, you can, but I’m not running this place full-time. It’s everything I can do to be here when I’m here. I’m not going to take on the role as director.”

“I’m not saying that I want to leave Helping Hands!” she shoots back. “Of course, I don’t want to leave! I love the work that I do here, and I love what the Center does for the families and the community, so much that I’m willing to step down if I’m going to be a hindrance to its progress. We’ve accomplished so much over the last two years and I’m under no misconception, Anastasia. I know that’s because of you. If the Center loses you, it will certainly lose that momentum that it has gained over that course of time, and we may never get it back. I’m just trying to do what’s best for the Center.”

Well, fuck. I hate to admit it, but I know that she’s right. It’s not that no one else can do my job or even step in and pick up where I left off, but will they have the passion, drive, and vision that I have for this place? Even only part-time, I get a lot of shit done in this joint, and lately, part-time has been feeling a lot like full-time.

I don’t think the Center would crumble and die without me, but I have to agree that it could possibly take a substantial blow.

“Understand me clearly,” I begin. “My responsibilities are very important to me, and I will not shirk them. That’s the reason I came back here in the first place. But Grace Trevelyan Grey, make no mistake. We don’t have to agree, and you don’t have to kiss my ass, but if you ever cross me this way again—if you ever again disregard my professional opinion and authority or dare to treat me with the complete and utter lack of respect that you’ve shown me throughout this situation, I am outta here—with no notice!

“I understand and appreciate that there’s a lot going on—with this place, with your job, with your recent diagnosis. I get it. However, that does not give you license to treat other people like they don’t count and if you think it does, then I’m here to tell you that you are sorely mistaken.

“If you feel strongly about something, you need to find some kind of way to talk it out and find out if there’s a solution to the situation, just like you’re supposed to when you have bouts or episodes with your menopause. You knew this situation had repercussions and you completely ignored them. Do that again, and this ball is all yours. Have I made myself perfectly clear?”

“Must you be so cold and harsh in making your point?” she retorts, coolly.

“Yes!” I nearly hiss. “You were cold and hard in making yours and I want to make sure that there is no misunderstanding here. I want to see Helping Hands succeed and continue to assist the community as much as you do, but not at the cost of my dignity, self-respect, or peace of mind. Now I repeat—have I made myself perfectly clear?” She pulls herself up to her full height.

“Perfectly,” she says. We stare at each other in silence for several moments, each of us waiting for the other to say something.

“I… think now would be a good time for me to call it a day,” she says formally. “I’m on call at the hospital tonight and I should probably get a couple of hours rest before I go in.”

“I think that’s probably a good idea,” I reply. Don’t go home and tell your husband or mine that I bullied you, or I won’t be back tomorrow, and you can sell the place for all I care. She sighs.

“Goodnight,” she says just as formally. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” She walks out of my office.

Sakes alive, this woman is going to be the death of me.

Almost the second that she walks out of the office, my desk phone rings. I sigh heavily and lift the receiver.

“Dr. Anastasia Grey,” I answer wearily.

“Hello, Mrs. Grey. How are you today?” a woman replies.

“I’m fine. May I ask to whom I’m speaking?”

“Oh, you don’t know me, but I just wanted to talk to you myself, to ask you how it feels.”

“How what feels?” I ask bemused.

“To be sitting on top of the world,” she says. “To have your family around you and your friends and your husband. To have more money than you know what to do with. To have the life that many people only dream about while you go about the business of ruining the lives of others.”

I’m taken aback by the accusation of this unknown woman. I want to know who this is and she’s giving me the creeps at the same time. As I’m trying to formulate some kind of response, I see Courtney walking past my door. I wave frantically to get her attention, then cover the mouthpiece of the phone when she enters my office.

“Get Chuck!” I whisper harshly. She doesn’t hesitate. She darts out of the room and I turn my attention back to the mystery caller. “Who is this? What do you want? What are you talking about?”

My husband is dead, Mrs. Grey,” she continues. “I’m sure that you know that. After nearly thirty years of marriage, I’m a widow now. My children are all gone. One of them is in jail. One of them is a public figure and just wants to stay as far away from this as he can. One of them won’t even speak to me because she’s convinced that I had something to do with this.”

“To do with what?” I ask almost frantically. “I don’t know who you are, and I don’t know what you’re talking about! I’m going to hang up now.”

“No, you won’t, because you’re dying to know who I am,” she says calmly. “You’re aching to know why I said you’re ruining people’s lives.”

“You’re right, I do want to know, but I’m not about to play a cat-and-mouse game for your entertainment,” I hiss.

“Aren’t you the little indignant one!” she hisses back. “You walk around all high and mighty like nobody’s important but you. Nobody matters but you and your precious little family. How are your babies by the way—growing up healthy and strong like Mommy and Daddy, I take it?” I suddenly feel a sharp chill and then seething, searing rage.

“Lady,” I say with as much restraint as I can muster just as Chuck walks into the room, “I don’t know who the hell you are, but you better hope for your own sake that you didn’t just imply a threat to my children.” Chuck freezes and when I raise my eyes to him, all the color is gone out of his face. He’s on his phone in moments talking very low while I try to ascertain who this woman is.

“You’re right about one thing. You don’t know me. You have no idea who I even am, so save your high-handed threats, you lying, pompous, pampered whore! You’ve never even met me, but don’t worry, you will. Every time I see your picture in the paper or see your face in the news, it makes me just want to gag. It’s bad enough that I have to stand by and watch you get over on other people’s pain and tragedy. Now, I had to be subjected to a two-hour vomit-fest about how special and perfect you are. You hit it big because your gold-digging ass landed a big fucking fish and all of a sudden, that’s supposed to make you something? You’re nobody! You’re nothing! You always were nothing and you’ll always be nothing!”

God, if I didn’t know better, I would swear that I was talking to Elena Lincoln, but this is not Lincoln. I’d know She-Thing’s voice anywhere.

“You don’t know shit about who I’ve always been, bitch!” I nearly shriek. “You don’t know shit about what I’ve been through, so don’t you dare try to pretend you know me!”

“Oh, I know exactly who you are!” she shoots. “You’re the same lying little cunt you always were! You were the same fortune-seeking, gold-digging, attention-hungry, lying bitch that you were when you were a teenager. I see you have those same social-climbing tendencies as your worthless mother! My only regret is that they didn’t kill you!”

Fucking hell. This is not happening. This is fucking not happening. I take out a pen and scribble on my desk pad:

Green Valley.

Chuck raises his eyes to me and mutters something into his phone.

“I know you’re still there,” she snaps. “I can hear you breathing…” I’m trying to quickly put together who this could be. She talked about Carla, so she has to be one of the socialite-bitch parents. She keeps calling me a gold-digger and a lying bitch. I don’t say anything as she continues to rant and I’m putting together the things that she’s already said. One child is in jail, probably the one that helped in the beating. There are a lot of people that were arrested, but I don’t know who all is still in jail besides the main players. I sit at my desk and start typing facts frantically—whatever I can remember from the conversation:

Her husband is dead; they were married for 30 years.
Her children are gone—jail, public figure, and incommunicado, none of them apparently speaking to her or readily accessible.
She’s pissed off about my money.
She called me a lying, pompous, pampered whore. Pompous and pampered obviously comes from the money and she clearly thinks I’m lying on her kid, but where did whore come from? Was she there? Is that a reference to the brand?
Fortune-seeking, gold-digging, attention-hungry, social-climbing… None of this is helping me. They’re just angry words. Who is this woman?

“Are you fucking typing??” she asks, horrified.

“Yes, I am, because you’re boring me,” I reply quickly out of frustration, “I’ll admit that I’m dying to know who you are, which is the only reason why I’ve stayed on the phone for your useless drivel. So, you can either tell me who you are and what the fuck you want and get it over and done, or you can continue to sit here and drone on that whatever role your offspring played in my torture was somehow my fault! Either way, I’ve got shit to do, so while I sit here and listen to your self-victimized, delusional babbling, I’m going to type until I feel this conversation is going nowhere and then I’ll hang up.”

“You self-righteous bitch!” she exclaims.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Move on,” I say, pretending to have no interest. Nothing pisses off an already pissed-off person more than acting like you truly don’t care that they’re as pissed off as they are.

“How dare you trivialize my suffering!” she screams into the phone. Is she serious?

“You mean like you trivialized mine?” I respond calmly. “I was beaten within an inch of my life. I was 15 years old in a coma for three weeks. I lost my baby. I’ve got brands on my back, lady, haven’t you seen the video?” She momentarily gets quiet. Maybe she hasn’t seen the video, but she certainly heard about it while I was in the hospital.

“It serves you right,” she says, indignantly, and I have to stop myself from laughing in her ear though a tiny scoff does manage to escape. No one’s suffering is important but our own.

“That’s what I get for trying to reason with the unreasonable. Your child is in jail right now because you passed down to him or her the same privileged thinking that you’re trying to push off on me right now. You push the blame off on the victim so that they—and you—don’t have to take responsibility for what they did. If I had my way, all of you stuck-up, snobby, voluntarily blind ass parents would be sitting in jail and going on trial with your criminal children for raising a bunch of spineless, socially irresponsible, uncaring, amoral, juvenile delinquent bastards!” I bark. I hear her gasp on the other line. Yes, lady, you really pushed the button, now.

“It’s okay, though,” I continue. “It’s okay that your child participated in a crime that killed one person and temporarily maimed another, but you think that’s fine because it’s your child. You wouldn’t feel that way if your daughter was on the receiving end of this brutality.”

“My daughter would never be in your situation, because my daughter is not a lying, gold-digging cunt!” she spits.

“How would you know?” I ask. “According to your victim rant, she’s not even speaking to you…”

And then it hit me, like a boulder from the sky…

Her daughter won’t speak to her because she thinks Mom had something to do with this. In fact, she moved away to New York and she’s not speaking to the whole family because of this incident.

One child is a public figure, like a newscaster—or whatever he is—in Texas.

One child is in jail, the fucker that started this shit in the first place.

Her husband is dead… because he killed himself on Christmas Day right before the family fortune went completely belly-up and eventually took more than half of Green Valley’s wealth with it.

Whitmore!

I didn’t know that I had tuned her out until I come back to myself and she’s ranting and cursing in my ear again.

“This concludes our conversation,” I interrupt her unceremoniously. “I know who you are. I’m calling the district attorney to tell him that you’re harassing me, so leave me alone. Please know that if you come anywhere near me or my family that I am armed and licensed, and I will defend myself up to and including deadly force.” She’s quiet for another moment.

“You don’t know who I am,” she says, confidently. “Don’t pull that shit on me, you little twit!” Oh, well, at least I’ve gone from a cunt, a whore, and a bitch to a twit.

“No?” I say confidently, both in response to her and to Courtney’s and Chuck’s questioning eyes. “Tell me, exactly how many other girls accused Cody of rape?” I say calmly.

She falls silent. I know there were more. He was too cocky, and Carly was too ready to defend him. They were all in a state of self-imposed blindness, like if they didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.

“How many parents did you all have to pay off?” I continue. “Are there any little illegitimate grandchildren running around that you may or may not know about? Hell, your son and his friends beat my baby out of me. How many of his other victims didn’t get that privilege?” She gasps loudly, then screams into the air on the other end.

“You’re a lying bitch!” she screams into the phone, and now I’m a bitch again. “You were a lying bitch then and you’re a lying bitch now!”

“Yeah, I’m sure that we all were,” I say, referring to his other victims. “Goodbye, Mrs. Whitmore. You’ve been warned. Don’t contact me again.” I hang up the phone and take a deep breath. The adrenaline drop is almost immediate. I open the drawer of my desk and retrieve my purse. My hands shake as I search frantically for the card.

“Ana?” Courtney’s voice is thick with concern, but I just put my hand up to silence her. I think a whimper escapes in the gesture, but I’m not sure. Locating the card, I shakily dial the number and wait for an answer.

“Anastasia Grey for Herbert Larson,” I spit all in one breath when the receptionist answers. I’m shaking uncontrollably now, and the tears start to flow.

Herbert Larson. Ms. Ste… Mrs. Grey?”

“Mr… Larson…” I can’t get my words out.

“Mrs. Grey! What’s wrong?” he asks alarmed.

“Whit… Whit… Whitmore! Pa… Pamela Wh… Whitmore…”

“Mrs. Grey, please. Breathe. I can’t understand you…” I’m starting to hyperventilate. I push back from the desk and drop my head between my legs. Chuck kneels in front of me while Courtney retrieves the phone.

“Mr. Larson?… Yes, I’m Courtney Wilson, I’m Mrs. Grey’s temporary personal assistant… May I ask who you are, sir?… Oh, okay. I understand now. She just received a call here in her office at the Center from one of the parents of someone who has been arrested in her attack. From what I understand, it was Pamela Whitmore and she mentioned someone named Cody…”

Thank God for Courtney. I’d certainly be lost without her right now.

“Yes, sir, I’m sure that can somehow be arranged… She’s very upset. I’m sure she’s probably going to go home for the rest of the day. From what I could understand from Mrs. Grey’s end of the conversation, this Whitmore woman may have made some kind of derogatory reference towards Mrs. Grey’s children and their safety… Yes, sir, I’ll have her give you a call as soon as she’s able… Thank you, Mr. Larson. I’ll tell her.”

She ends the call. Although I’m no longer hyperventilating, I’m still sobbing. I feel sick to my stomach. The adrenaline that kept me collected on the phone with that witch has left my body all too quickly and all I can think about are my children. I’m still laboring a bit with my breathing and my sobbing when I focus, and Chuck has suddenly become Christian.

Did that just happen? Am I crazy?

I look around the room to make sure I’m not hallucinating… you know, head injury, grief, adrenaline? I identify Chuck and Jason both standing nearby. I don’t know how he got here so quickly or when he took Chuck’s place but thank God he’s here. I throw my arms around his neck and weep with abandon. He’s rubbing my back and trying to soothe me, but it’s no use.

“My babies… my… babies…” He stands effortlessly with me in his arms and without a word, proceeds to carry me out of the center.

*-*

“I’m not coming to the department head meetings anymore,” I tell Christian once I and my babies are home and settled and someone has explained the Pamela Whitmore situation to him. He frowns.

“May I ask why?” he asks.

“I’m a distraction,” I say. “They’re not going to treat me like you and the more you try to make them do it, the more they’re going to kick against you. I’ll be present for really big announcements and super important meetings that can shift the direction or position of the company as I am part owner now, but in terms of the operations, you don’t need me and neither does the company. I’m a hindrance, not a help.” He sighs.

“We never would have found the flaw in the XRC90 transmitter if you hadn’t caught it,” he protests.

“Yes, you would have,” I inform him. “You have a lot of smart people working for you—Ros, Lorenz, Barney, somebody would have found the error. I was just the one focused on it at the time. It’s okay to come home and be a husband and father, but you need to run your business when you’re at your business, and everyone has already told you that I’m one of your biggest weaknesses. You need to see that in this situation right now.” He rolls his eyes and runs his hands through his hair.

“I love you,” he says. “I love our life together. I don’t want to see that change.” I frown.

“And it won’t,” I say. “Why would you think…”

Then it dawns on me. Somebody has already had this conversation with him, or something like it.

“Why would you think our life would change?” I finish my question.

“Because I have,” he blurts out. “I’ve changed since I’ve been with you. I’m not the man I used to be in any shape or form. You’ve permeated me—my blood, my soul, my very being, everything that I am, you’ve permeated me, and I’m a different man… and everybody knows it.”

As much as I love him and as much as I love hearing that I’m in every cell of him, I don’t need him to tell me that this is a bad thing for him as a businessman.

“Well, fuck,” I breathe.

“I have a hard-enough time trying to be one person,” he laments. “I don’t think I can successfully be two.”

“I know,” I respond. It’s then that I realize that part of the old Christian Grey may need to return in order to save his company, his legacy. I’m going to have to be understanding and let him do what he needs to do. This isn’t going to be easy.

“You gotta do what you gotta do, Christian,” I say, resigned. He rolls his eyes.

“There’s no way that I can be that guy I was before,” he says firmly, “nor do I want to.”

“And you don’t have to,” I point out. “But you need that iron fist that you used to rule with, and if it means that you need to put on that asshole persona when you enter GEH, then so be it. I saw you be two different people in one night, Christian. I know you can do it.” I’m referring to the night he turned into the Dom with Greta Ellison and nearly broke her wrist. His pupils constrict as he realizes what I’m referring to.

“Yes… you have, haven’t you?” he says, none too pleased. I nod.

“You gotta do what you gotta do,” I repeat. He sighs heavily.

“God, this shit is going to be difficult as fuck,” he hisses.

“I know,” I assure him. “Difficult, but not impossible. Just picture yourself walking into your building and everybody around you is trying to destroy your company. Who would you be?” His brow furrows, then one rises.

“Yeah, this ain’t gonna be as hard as I thought,” he says frankly.

I’m certain that it won’t. It’s a necessary evil… but will we survive it?


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

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~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey:Chapter 85—Business As Usual? 

FThis 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 85—Business As Usual? 

CHRISTIAN

“I still think you overacted about the snake,” I say coming out of my dressing room while straightening my tie.

“Whatever,” she replies, “be glad I don’t cut you off,” she threatens.

“I’d find a way to make you give in,” I say confidently

“You think so, huh?” she challenges. I raise an eyebrow.

“You want to test the theory?” I retort just as haughtily, daring her to try me and begging her to do it at the same time. I’ll have your pretty little ass clawing at the walls. She ponders the theory for the moment, then turns and leaves the bedroom.

“I thought not,” I say under my breath as I follow her out of the room.

“You’re going back to the Center?” I inquire, noticing that she’s dressed for work as we descend the stairs. She sighs.

“Yes,” she says, “for now. I have responsibilities, but I don’t know what the future holds yet. I still don’t appreciate being disregarded that way, so we’ll just have to see.”

“What will you do if you leave the Center?” I ask. “Stay at home?”

“We both know I’d lose my mind,” she replies. “I haven’t gotten that far yet. I gave some thought to starting my own cause, but… that seems so catty and that’s certainly not my M-O. I just wish she could truly see what she did. It’s unacceptable and I just can’t tolerate it… and I won’t keep talking about it with you because I don’t want you to feel like I’m trying to make you take sides against your mother.”

“I don’t think that,” I say, placing my hand in the small of her back and leading her to the kitchen.

*-*

“Ronald Holstein on the line, sir,” Andrea says through the intercom. “I’ve been telling him all week that you were out of the country and expected back today. He’s been calling every day nonetheless.”

“Whenever he calls, tell him that I’m in meetings until further notice,” I reply. Let his ass stew for a while until I decide what I want to do with him… and we won’t be doing some simple shit like kidnapping his fucking dog, either.

“Yes, sir,” Andrea says.

“I know you’ve got a hundred meetings today, but you’re going to want to hear this,” Josh calls in my office from the reception area before I close the door. I gesture him in, and he closes the door behind him.

“Sir, let me start by saying that it’s not my business what you do in your private life, but I’m sure that you hired me because I’ve always got my ear to the ground and because I’m more insightful than most.” I already don’t like the sound of this.

“I’m listening,” I say as I gesture to the chair in front of my desk.

“Well, the puzzle is falling together, sir,” he says taking the seat. “Elena Lincoln is still talking to whomever will listen, but now she’s starting to say a little more.” I frown.

“A little more like what?” I ask.

“She’s saying things like people in high places are going to fall when her book is published,” he says. “She insinuated these things before, but she didn’t come out and say them. Now, she’s saying them—to other reporters and it’s filtering back down to me. I was going to make another trip back up there to see her, but I really don’t think I need to. Her diarrhea of the lips along with Ron Holstein’s foot-in-mouth syndrome has pretty much given me all I need.

“I should tell you that her conversation is not nearly as cloaked as she thinks it is. I only say that because it wouldn’t be wise to give away her story before publishing, or her book would be worthless. Bearing that in mind, I can only assume that she’s not fully aware of how much information she’s leaking and, sir, anybody with even the slightest inside hook would have no problem finding you in her code speak. What’s more is that they would probably find a few others, too… I did.”

Oh, fuck, this just keeps getting worse and worse.

“Okay, Josh, I need you to give it to me straight,” I say. “I can’t follow any more riddles.”

“Nineteen out of 20 journalists don’t have the background information or resources that I have,” he begins. “They could get it, but it would take a lot of work and even more time. By then, the story would be blown wide open. She didn’t give me the name of her ghostwriter, but she gave me her pen-name—BD Simmons. There’s no risk in giving me that because there’s nothing else published in that name. However, these ladies aren’t as savvy as they pride themselves to be.

“I don’t know what they’re expecting, but I can almost guarantee that Lincoln is counting on the safety of the prison walls, as ironic as that sounds. Her ghostwriter has anonymity on her side. For whatever reason, they’re both underestimating the danger of the situation. Knowing what I know about Lincoln—the public information and the inside information, you should know that it doesn’t take too much ingenuity to figure out what BD Simmons is an acronym for.”

No, it doesn’t. I figured it out the minute he said the name. BDSM.

“So, of course, the first thing I did was check her old haunts, her old sources, her submissives…” Jesus, this is so much more of this conversation than I really want to have with Josh. “The logical paths lead to three of her girls—two still studying journalism and one with a degree in literature. They all have other… interests at this time, according to Alex, but one has been visiting her at the prison, quite freely I might add.”

“And who is that?” I ask.

“That would be one named Greta Ellison. It didn’t take much more than context clues to figure out that she was BD Simmons.”

“Fucking hell!” I hiss, trying not to curse too loudly or crash something against the nearest wall. Why the fuck do I keep letting these people get away and the minute I let them out of my sight, they bite me?

“Get Welch in here!” I bark into the intercom.

“Yes, sir,” Andrea replies.

“You’re sure that Ellison might not be just filtering the information through to her? Like being a liaison between Lincoln and the ghostwriter?” I ask, not wanting to believe that I was gullible enough to set this bitch free instead of crushing her when I had the chance.

“Sir, to be able to stand in a court of law and tell you that Greta Ellison is Lincoln’s ghostwriter, I can’t. To look you in the eye and tell you with at least 95% certainty that Ellison is her ghostwriter, that I can do. No matter what your content, you can’t get a decent feel for the story—for what the real author wants to portray—without a face-to-face meeting. Even with every fact airtight and recited to you, you wouldn’t be able to relay a successful story without meeting personally with the subject, and Ms. Ellison does that a lot.”

She has no other reason to meet with Lincoln. There’s nothing for her to gain from the acquaintance, and I threatened her the last time we met. I let her ass go, but I threatened her…

And she threatened me.

 “You think you’re so much. You’re not untouchable, Mr. Grey, and I’m just the one to prove it!”

This should come as no surprise to me. I remember our first meeting. She wasn’t just an airhead when I interviewed her. She was brilliant. She was perfect. She knew all the right things to say and do to get me where she wanted me and that can’t be taught. She’s wily, cunning, sly, and conniving… and she’s smart. Now, she seems dead set to destroy me and my family by any means necessary. I’ve got to destroy her first.

The gloves are off… all the way off.

“I won’t say, ‘Good Morning,’” Alex says as he opens my office door. “I can already tell it’s well past fucked up.”

“That’s an understatement,” I say coolly, my mind travelling more miles per hour than I can clock. “Close the door and have a seat.” Alex enters and closes the door behind him.

“This thorn is never going to go away,” I say, standing from my chair and walking to the window. “She’s on the watch list. How was it that she was seeing Lincoln and we didn’t know?”

“The same way that she stole Her Highness’s gun, sir,” Alex says. He scrolls through his tablet and hands it to me.

“She’s like Ethan fucking Hunt, sir. She can physically turn herself into anyone, male or female. There’s no way to tell who she is when she leaves her home. We didn’t even know that she was visiting Lincoln until we worked our way backwards and reviewed Lincoln’s visitor logs…”

Do I even want to know how he got access to Lincoln’s visitor logs without Holstein’s cooperation?

“Then we coordinated the people leaving the apartment with the people returning. She hasn’t gotten smart enough to change disguises before she gets home. Then again, she doesn’t need to.”

I scroll through the pictures and see men and women of every nationality identified as Greta Ellison. I even had to turn the tablet around to confirm the person was her a few times. Height and build don’t change. Shape can be masked by clothing, but she’s definitely different people.

“A few times, she logged in to see Ron Holstein, so he’s definitely in on it,” Josh adds.

“Yeah, I figured as much,” I say, still swiping through the many faces of Greta. She’s dangerous—extremely dangerous—and she must be stopped.

“Josh, who have you deduced could also be in this book?” I ask. He twists his lips. He doesn’t want to tell me.

“High-profile officials,” he says. “Some politicians, philanthropists, businessmen like yourself…” That’s all I need.

“Any way to get word to them without totally letting the cat out of the bag?” I ask. “You know, they don’t need to know where the information is coming from and I don’t even need to know who they are… it’s better that I don’t. Just a little tip-off that they may soon be in a tell-all book about their dirty laundry that may make it look even dirtier than it really is.” His brow rises.

“I see what you mean. I may need your help, Alex,” he says.

“I’m at your disposal,” Alex says.

“Then, get on it,” I tell Josh. “I’ll have more questions for you once I sort my rambling thoughts.”

“I’ll keep you posted,” he says as he stands to leave.

“Alex, you stay. I need more information from you.” Josh pauses, but only briefly before he leaves the room. I go over to the desk and flip the switch that scrambles recording signals in my office, even my own.

“She’s a chameleon,” I say, once I know that I’m no longer being recorded. “She’s a fucking dangerous, pestilence ass chameleon that’s not going to fucking go away.” I walk to the window.

“Do you know that I presented her with proof that I knew she was the one that stole my wife’s gun?” I continue. “I had her pinned in a BDSM club between three people that could have killed her with our bare hands, confronted her, threatened her, and let her go and she still came back?” I hiss angrily.

“Yes, sir, I do,” he says. Of course, you do. It’s your job to know. It only takes a minute to ponder what needs to be done.

“Ellison is smart. She’s cunning and she’s brilliant. She gave that gun to a woman that she knew was unstable, delusional, desperate, and had a bone to pick with me. She knew what that woman was going to do with that damn gun, and she gave it to her anyway.”

“Yes, sir,” Alex concurs.

“That woman tried to kill me with that gun,” I say, handing him the tablet, “and had it not been for Jason, she would have succeeded. As an accessory, Ellison tried to kill me.” Alex cocks his head and ponders.

“With the right evidence, a court of law would say that you’re absolutely correct…”

“Fuck the court of law!” I bark. “Because of those two conniving, murderous cunts, my bodyguard and best friend took a bullet for me and that’s the only thing that saved my life and nearly cost him his!” Alex examines me.

“What do you propose?” he asks.

“Get started with Josh to alert the other officials that they’re technically in the hot seat. Between my world-class security team and my extremely savvy PR department, I’m sure innuendo can be circulated to the press without upheaval or suspicion.” Alex casts a knowing gaze upon me.

“You’re creating a smokescreen,” he says.

“I wouldn’t call it a smokescreen,” I reply, “just more people of interest. I was the center of her last trial. The spotlight is already going to be on me. I want to see how many other people we can cast center stage.”

“I know we’re not being recorded,” he says. “I need to know what you have in mind.”

“You know what I have in mind!” I retort sharply. “She’s a thorn, a deadly thorn in my side and she needs to be extracted… and her little dog, too.”

“Are we talking Lincoln or Ellison…”

“We’re talking both!” I say before the words are completely out of his mouth. “But we can’t be sloppy. The minute that smokescreen starts, I need shit to get rolling on the lot of them… Lincoln, Ellison, Holstein, and his haughty ass secretary, too.

“Why the secretar…?”

“Because she pissed me off!” I hiss… and she doesn’t know who she’s fucking dealing with. Alex straightens his back.

“What are we talking here, and in what order?” he asks.

“Punishments for Lincoln begin immediately—subtle at first, but by the time it’s over, she’ll know who it is.” I’ll come up with something creative for her at the end so that she won’t be willing or able to fuck with me ever again. “Save the secretary for last. I just want her seriously inconvenienced, extremely uncomfortable, and if I forget while pursuing the bigger fish, it’ll be your responsibility to make sure those wishes get carried out.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Holstein? Thorough retaliation—annihilation, if possible. My only requirement for him is that he gets to live,” I growl. “His begins the moment the signals start to rise from the smokescreen, so get that going now.”

“And Ellison?” he asks. I only glare at him. Ellison… big, little bitch with too much power, real and assumed. She’s become more than an inconvenience! I don’t know if she’s chasing money, fame, or revenge, but whichever it is, it’s going to cost her dearly. She has no idea how far this woman has taken her down the rabbit hole, if for no other reason but the information that she’s given her, let alone how she plans to use it.

My silence answers his question.

“Duly noted,” he says, rising from his seat. “Anything else?

“I want to be there for every step of what happens to Ellison until I tell you that I don’t,” I say.

“Yes, sir,” he says coolly before opening the door to leave the room. I know that I’ve already missed a meeting and Andrea didn’t inform me. She knows me so well that she probably knew to reschedule with me in a meeting with Josh and growling for Alex. Just as Alex reaches the elevator, I hear something I don’t think I’ve heard in all the years that she has worked for me.

Andrea raises her voice.

“Mr. Holstein, I don’t care who you are or who you think you are, but I am a professional, and unless you can conduct your calls to this office with a little professionalism and decorum in the future, I will disconnect your calls every time I hear your voice. How’s that for a short-skirted, pencil pushing answering machine… sir?

Whoa! Holstein said the wrong thing to the wrong person and Andrea’s giving him what-for on this end of the line.

“Well, if you think you haven’t gotten through to him before, let’s see how successful you are now!” She slams the receiver down and closes her eyes, taking a deep breath. Alex and I make eye-contact before he nods and boards the elevator. When Andrea opens her eyes, I’m peeking around the door jam at her.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey, but you don’t pay me enough to put up with the names he just called me.” My face falls.

“More than a ‘short-skirted, pencil-pushing answering machine?” I ask, as if that wasn’t bad enough.

“Much more,” she says, her voice low.

“The next time he calls, put him on hold,” I say. It’s time to put my plans into action for this fucker as soon as possible. I don’t disrespect Andrea and I won’t allow anyone else to do it, either. His dick has gotten way too big for his pants, and I’m about to whack it down a couple of inches.

*-*

Al was two steps ahead of me and conferred with my accounting department about the best way to itemize and categorize my assets for a will. He’s slowly working his way through the process, setting up a trust for each of the children and placing other items in a revocable living trust, and several other terms of mumbo-jumbo that I trust he’ll handle and explain to us when it’s time to sign the final documents. I inform him that we’ll plan to have dinner with him and Valerie and their significant others sometime this week to discuss some of the particulars and to get some things in writing should I and my Butterfly meet an untimely simultaneous demise. We set aside Wednesday for the meeting, pending Valerie and Elliot’s acceptance of the invitation and, of course, Butterfly’s approval.

It’s later than usual when I get home and all I can think is that I can’t wait to be in my wife’s arms. Today was packed full of catching up with whatever work and catastrophes that simply couldn’t be solved without my presence not to mention plotting revenge on my enemies. I didn’t even eat lunch, so I’m hungry in more ways than one. Just as we’re pulling into the garage, my cell rings.

“Grey,” I say without looking at the phone.

“Hello, Christian,” my mother’s voice says. I try not to sigh loudly into the phone. My last conversation with my mother involved her trying to get the inside scoop on what my wife’s plans are in terms of the Center. Now, she has spent an entire day with my wife… and she’s calling me. What is it now?

“Hey, Mom,” I say, trying to sound casual. “What’s up?”

“Is Anastasia home yet?” Why would she call me and ask me that? Why wouldn’t she call Butterfly? And yet…

“No…” I say, slow and uncertain, as I look over at the bin where her vehicle usually is and it’s empty. “Is everything okay?”

“She’s probably just still at the Center,” Mom says. “You may want to go down there and get her. It’s been a long day.” I’m noticing that my mother’s tone is a bit labored, like she’s extremely tired.

“What happened, Mom?” I ask. “Did you two have a fight?”

“No, we didn’t have a fight,” she says, slightly exasperated, “and you said that you were going to stay out of it, so that’s what you should do.”

Well!

“I didn’t call you for that reason, anyway,” she continues. “I called you because, like I said, it’s been a long day and she was still closed in her office when I left, so it might be a good idea for you to go and get her.”

Jesus Christ. This day has already been horrific. The last time I popped up on my wife at the Center unannounced… no, I won’t think that way. Mom says I should probably go and get her, so I’m going to get her.

“Okay, Mom, I’m on my way now,” I say, and Jason looks over the seat at me.

“Okay. Goodbye now.” And just like that, she ends the call. What the hell happened at the Center today? I’m just looking at my phone wondering what’s going to be waiting for me when I get to Butterfly.

“Sir?” Jason says, reminding me that we’re still sitting in the car.

“We’re going to the Center,” I inform him.

“What’s wrong?” he says with concern.

“Nothing that I know of, but Butterfly isn’t here and she most likely still has the children with her. I’d like to go and bring them home.” He twists his lips at me. “While we’re on our way, you can call Chuck and make sure that everything is okay, but my mother just called and told me to go get my wife, so I’d like to see her, okay?”

There. I’m not trying to catch her in anything, nor do I think I would. I just want to go get her.

“Very well, sir,” he says, and starts the car again. As we’re crossing the bridge, he put Chuck on the speaker.

“As far as I know, she’s fine,” Chuck says through the speakers. As far as he knows…?

“Why wouldn’t you know?” I ask.

‘Because she’s been holed up in her office all afternoon,” he says. “She hasn’t come out and when I went to check on her, she called through the door, ‘Leave me alone! I’m busy!’ So, knowing that she’s okay, I did what she asked and left her alone. I do know—through the grapevine—that she and Grace had an intense conversation today and Grace didn’t look happy when she left. She stayed all day, but she was less than pleased.”

“Why are you telling us this?” Jason asks.

“Because I think that’s why she’s still in the office,” he said. I sigh.

“She fought with Mom,” I say. Mom said they didn’t fight. Jesus, the day was at least as hard for her as it was for me and now, she’s hiding out. “Thanks, Chuck,” I say.

“You’re welcome, sir,” he says and ends the call. Jason looks at me, questioning.

“The mission hasn’t changed. Get me to my wife.” I wonder if she’s hiding from me thinking her argument with my mother is going to cause us a problem? I’m even more eager to get to her now than I was before.

Hurry up, Jason. She needs me…


ANASTASIA

“She hasn’t given you any idea when she’s coming back? Or if she’s coming back?” Courtney asks.

“Neither,” I tell her. “She’s never taken a day off in her life that I can remember, not even for doctor’s appointments…” which makes me question when she ever went before the whole pregnancy scare. “Then she takes them all at once. I’m still depositing her check into her account because she has nearly a lifetime in sick time accrued and she only ever used vacation time when I did so…” I trail off.

“Well, I’m certain that I won’t be as efficient as Mare was, but I’ll be happy to fill in for her the best that I can.” I sigh.

“Thank you, Courtney. Every little bit helps. I know that you have your own set of responsibilities here and I won’t interfere with your work, but of course I’ll pay you extra for helping me out. If Marilyn hasn’t decided what she plans to do at least by the new year, I’ll look into hiring someone more permanent.” It hurts to say that.

“I hope everything is okay with her. This is so out of her character. It had to be something really bad, and no, I’m not pumping you for information.” She looks down at her notepad and writes something on it.

“How are things with you and Addie?” I ask. Courtney raises her gaze to me.

“Still a little tense, but we’re talking,” she says. “Grandfather has made it clear that I’m still not getting any money from them and I’ve made it clear that I never intended to see them again, so the last thing I expect from them at this point is money. I don’t think I would want it even if they offered it to me. It reminds me too much of who I was and what I was doing… and how I felt when Grandmother disowned me. No… I think I’ll be happier earning my own way and making a life with Vick, whatever that life may be.”

“I’m glad that the two of you are talking, but you know I had nothing to do with this, right?” She rubs my forearm.

“Yes, Ana… I know,” she says. “Grandmother says you only talked about it after she confronted you. I know you would never betray my trust.”

“That’s what’s most important to me,” I tell her. “I’m all for a happy ending, but I won’t take credit for a victory that means you think I betrayed your confidence.”

“I know better,” she says with a smile. “I knew from the very beginning that it wasn’t you. I knew when I saw your face when I walked into your office. I may have been focused on Grandmother, but you were clearly horrified,” she adds matter-of-factly. “We’ve… got a long way to go. I don’t know if it’ll ever be back the way it was. Maybe it’s better if it’s not. Scratch that—it’s definitely better if it’s not.” She folds her arms around her body. “I… don’t like that Courtney. I don’t know how I lived with her for so long. No matter what happens, I don’t think I could ever go back to being her. For one thing, I’m sure I’d lose Vick. She won’t take any of my crap. She calls me on my shit any and every time I try to pull it, and she supports me in everything I do. What’s more, she knew me when I was that other crazy bitch, and she still loves me. Can you imagine?”

“Your grandmother knew and loved you, too,” I point out.

“No, she didn’t,” Courtney corrects. “She may have loved me, but she didn’t know me. She thought she knew me. She knew the façade. When she saw the real me, she thought that was the façade. When she found out that it wasn’t, she couldn’t take it. That’s why she sent me away.” She sighs and stands.

“I’m going to find something to do now,” she says. “I’ll be at your beck and call of course, but as you know, there’s lots that need my special attention… and I do better when I’m moving around.” She goes to the door, opens it and steps out. I follow her to the door.

“You’re sure this isn’t going to be too much for you,” I reinforce.

“Nah,” she says, hugging her laptop. “Outlook isn’t a foreign language for me. We use it in school for the syllabi and to keep up with our classes. I just have to spend a little time deciphering Mare’s hieroglyphics and we’ll be fine. Plus, I get an up close and personal look into the super-secret life of Anastasia Grey.”

She does a spooky little wiggle of her fingers and smiles before walking away down the hallway. I turn to go back into my office, but a shadow catches my eye. She doesn’t move or speak, but I can see her standing in her doorway, or at least her shadow cast on the floor of the hallway. I say nothing. I just go into my office and close the door.

Now, she’s lurking. She won’t even face me. Yet another reason why I feel this is no longer the place for me. There was a job that needed to be done here—some things that needed to be fixed. I fixed them. I did my job, but the job isn’t completely finished. So, I’m going to finish my job here and then I’m going to find something else to do.

What, I have absolutely no idea. Maybe I’ll get in touch with Josephine Kennedy, our sponsor for Broadmoor. She’ll probably have some suggestions. I don’t need to be in any kind of executive position. I just want to be somewhere that I can do some good and my opinion is valued.

Knowing that I don’t have much time to implement the learning programs needed before the school year starts, I immediately get to work researching the necessary requirements for a learning coordinator. I fire off a text to Keri to meet me in the office as soon as she has a moment.

Every time someone knocks at my office door, I get the willies. I don’t want to talk to Grace at all, to have her confront me about my absence or to rehash why I feel like she should treat me with more respect and consideration. These things should be understood. You hired me to do a job; then let me do it and don’t interfere with it. If you’re going to interfere and do things your way, what do you need me for?

Anyway, this time, it’s Keri at my door.

“Ya wanted ta seh meh, Annah?” she asks cautiously when she enters the room.

“Yes, please, come in,” I say. She slowly walks in and takes a seat. I can tell that she’s nervous, so I get straight to the point. “I need your help.” She looks shocked.

“You do?” she says, her surprise evident. I nod.

“First, I need to ask how the process is going with getting your teaching certificate here in the states. Were you still planning to do that, or had you changed your mind?”

“Noh! I mean, yes! I mean…” She’s terribly nervous. I’ve never called her into my office in an official capacity, ever, and she’s not quite sure how to handle it.

“Keri,” I say, rising from my seat and walking over to her. “Relax. You’re not in any trouble or anything like that. I just… I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone. I need some information and I just want to know what your immediate plans are.” Keri sighs heavily and rolls her eyes a bit.

“Ah’m sawtty, Annah,” she says. “Ah jus feel lak Ah’m bein’ cawled to da ptincipal’s awfice!” She laughs. In effect, she is, but only because the principal needs her help.

“I understand,” I say.

“Yes, I steel plan on gettin’ mah teachin’ cehtificate heyah. Ah cahl de school bohd ahnd dey sey Ah got ta tek de necesetty exams foh residency. Ah alreaty apply foh the exams since mah degtee is enough foh da requyment. So, Ah’m wehtin’ foh dem ta tell meh when da test gwine be and Ah should be okay.”

“They didn’t say anything about your citizenship or anything like that?” I ask.

“Ah’m heh on a work visa. Ah can keep dah sem visa or get a new one if I choose to teach. Ah wold luv to teach, Annah. I miss me bebbies.” I know that she’s talking about her students in Anguilla.

“Have you thought about becoming a resident?” I ask. She shrugs.

“Anguilla ask de sem ding when I cawled for mah recohds an cehtifications. Dey say, ‘ahe ya gwine stey dere in da states or ya come back to Anguilla?’ I tell dem it not my immediate plan ta stey, but don know what happen in de furtah.” I frown.

“You may go back to Anguilla?” I ask sadly.

“Me don know,” she says honestly. “Anguilla me home. I could nevah leave hah forevah. But me heart wit me Choonks. Das wheh Ah mus be.” That’s an enigmatic response.

“Does Chuck know that you’re somewhat on the fence about returning to Anguilla?” I ask. She nods. “How does he feel about it? He can’t be happy.”

“He not,” she says. “He tinks me run out da doh anyday wit mah bags. I tell him, ‘Choonks, don tek it dat weh. Ah jes not wannah lose meh woots, das all. Jes like yah not wannah stey in Anguilla becuz yah home heyah, I no wannah be in Anguilla witout yah, but Anguilla me home, too. Meh woots deyah. I don wanna lose dat.’”

“So, we’re not talking about packing your bags and moving back to Anguilla when your visa is over. We’re just talking about being able to go back to Anguilla as you please so that you don’t forget your roots.”

“Yeh,” she says, confidently. “I noh move back to Anguilla. Lek I seh, mah heart wit me Choonks. Ah havta be wheh he is.” I sigh heavily. It would be a devastating day all around if we lose Keri.

“Well, that’s good to hear,” I admit. “My second question is more detailed. You worked with small children in Anguilla, right?”

“Yeh, all me bebbies primery school, some younga,” she says. I nod.

“I’m trying to come up with a plan of action to get started with our early-learning program when the school year starts. I have some good solid ideas that we presented to get our licensing and accreditation, but now we need to tweak it and get it ready to roll out. I could really use some help.”

I confer with Keri about what direction we should take in terms of curriculums. I know that the subjects in Anguilla will most likely probably vary from the subjects in America, only because of the difference in culture and the direction of the curriculum as it relates to the region, but I’m certain that the basis is the same. I’ve done a little research to get a basic framework, but I’m definitely going to need some help in nailing down the particulars.

Keri turns out to be invaluable. We’re at it for hours fine-tuning our curriculum and learning plans. We’ve already done some interviewing for teachers and tutors, and we’ll have to make some decisions this week, which means that whether I want to or not, I’ll have to meet with Grace.

There’s no use putting it off.

Once I’ve finished with the basic curriculum, I ask Keri to look it over and see if there’s anything else that we may need. I don’t want to present this outline and framework to the teachers and tutors that I plan to hire, and it turns out to be total garbage. Then I send a text to Grace that we need to chat about the teaching staff and to let me know when she’s available to do so.

It was like carving my tooth out with a chisel just to send the text.

Not half an hour after I hit send, Grace is at my door.

“May I come in?” she asks. I sigh inwardly.

“Please,” I say, standing and gesturing to the seat in front of me. She enters and sits down, and I close the door behind her. I jump right in.

“The school year is starting in a few weeks and I don’t want to be caught unprepared like we have these last terms,” I say, picking up the papers showing the progress that Keri and I made and handing it to her. “We already conducted several interviews and with where we plan to start, I would think we don’t need too much staff right now—a few teachers and a tutor or two and someone to act as principal or superintendent just over the scholastic portion of the program…”

I continue discussing what I think would be the best direction for the preschool and tutoring program—afterschool classes, playgroups, and eventually, a possible part-time homeschool, particularly for at-risk families, namely residents in the dorms while Grace looks over the proposals and plans that Keri and I have collaborated on so far.

“You’ve been quite busy,” she says raising her eyes to me. “I’m glad the Center won’t suffer because of our disagreement.”

I wouldn’t say that just yet, Grace.

I continue the conversation as if nothing had been said about our disagreement and make suggestions as well as request input on who would be the best candidates for the positions we would like to fill as we really need to get the ball rolling like right now. Grace gives her opinions on who she thinks will fit the immediate bill and luckily, except for one, they were the same people that I think will work best. I cede to her judgment for the last person, selfishly thinking that if they didn’t work out, I wouldn’t have to be the one to contend with it. She would.

It’s a bit late in the afternoon when we bang out our initial steps and final choices, and I’m more than ready to discontinue the conversation. I’m not, however, ready to pick up the conversation that she wants to have.

“I really feel I did the right thing,” she says with conviction.

“Grace, this conversation is moot,” I say matter-of-factly. The time for us to have this conversation has passed.

“You won’t even discuss it with me?” she asks, her voice rising an octave in disbelief.

“No,” I say finitely. “I don’t want to fight with you or dispute this with you anymore. What you did could have had disastrous results, and if you can’t understand that, there’s nothing for us to discuss.” She sighs.

“Fine. I was wrong,” she says, almost like a petulant child. I shake my head.

“You don’t get it,” I say. “I’m not looking for capitulation. I don’t need you to admit that you were wrong. I need you to see that you were wrong. Courtney had come miles from where she started. Her progress was fucking immeasurable. Addie barely recognized her as the hell that she sent back to her hellhole hometown. What you did could have set her back far beyond her starting point, and what would you have to say had that happened? What could you have possibly said to me—to Courtney—had you, in your self-proclaimed omnipotence, destroyed all the work that she put in to achieve what she achieved?”

“Can’t you see that sometimes, everything isn’t answered by theory and book-smarts? Sometimes—oftentimes—there’s emotion involved, and you just have to go with your gut?” Her voice is beseeching.

“I can see that, Grace, but can you?” I retort. “Logic dictates that the strides made by Courtney should have had her running back to Addie to present her new self—to show her grandmother that she was nothing like the person Addie last saw. The fact that her grandmother felt that she was nothing, she had to prove her wrong—for herself, but in the process, she made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with the source of her uncertainty. When they parted ways, Addie pretty much told her that she was better off dead. She cremated and buried Courtney’s mother this past summer with no pomp and circumstance, and you just take it upon yourself to say, ‘Oh, it’s a good idea to shove these two into each other’s faces!’ If you can’t see what’s wrong with that, just how fucked up a judgment call that was, then you’ll do it again and I can’t tolerate seeing all my hard work destroyed that way. I might as well go back to my practice.”

“I… I… I didn’t know…” she stammers.

“Of course, you didn’t know!” I bark. “There’s a lot you didn’t know! I’m the psychiatrist! I have all the inside scoops on what’s going on in these people’s minds because that’s what I do! And you had the audacity to be offended because I pointed that out! I don’t diagnose the intricate illness of children—that’s your specialty, not mine! But they share their deepest, darkest secrets with me because of my station and I act accordingly! She trusted me! She trusted me with her secrets and her feelings, with her life! And you exploited that! Can’t you see that? Can’t you see that you orchestrated a train wreck that could have destroyed them both and they just got lucky and walked away?”

“I… was just… following my instincts,” she says, resigned.

“Well, congratulations, doctor,” I say, clasping my hands on the table. “This time, your instincts were correct, and in the process, you undermined everything I do. The very basis of my profession is privacy and trust—respecting the rights of the patient. You know the Hippocratic Oath, and you totally disregarded mine, then haughtily walked away smiling when you did it. I can’t work like that. I can’t have someone’s mental well-being in my hands and in the back of my head, constantly fearing that you’re going to make a decision that’s going to unravel the intricate tapestry that I’ve taken months… or years… to create with one of my patients based on your instincts.” I silently shake my head, indicating that this is definitely a no-go for me.

Grace bites her lip and takes a seat, humbly clasping her hands in her lap.

“Can you, for just a moment, see where I’m coming from?” she says, her voice shaking slightly.

“No…” I begin.

“Please… let me finish,” she beseeches without raising her eyes. It’s my turn to be petulant, but I just defiantly fold my arms and sit mute.

“Addie… is my friend,” she begins. “She’s been my friend for a long, long time—even longer than that crazy bitch who victimized my son.”

That kind of stings… and causes me to let my guard down a little.

“You may have known how Courtney felt, but I knew how Addie felt. She felt hurt and betrayed, and that’s what made her say the things she said to Courtney, but most of all, she was heartbroken. She felt that she would die and have nothing to show for her bloodline. She had such high hopes for Courtney, and when she saw those hopes dashed to the rocks…” She stops and swallows.

“I’m not saying that you wouldn’t understand,” she says. “You’re a mother, so you have to know that we only want what’s best for our children. Courtney’s mother was such a disappointment and Addie had her hopes in Courtney even when everybody told her that it would be a lost cause. When she finally accepted that those hopes were destroyed, it was the most traumatizing thing that had ever happened to her. She tried to move on, but she was crushed.

“That’s the reason I advocated for Courtney in the first place,” she adds. “After everything that she had done and all the problems she had caused, I just wanted to help my friend. It was wonderful seeing the progress that she was making, but Addie was still hurting… deeply hurt. We didn’t hear anything about her daughter because she couldn’t mourn her daughter. To her, it was all a lost cause.

“I found out about Adele—that’s her daughter’s name—at Mia’s wedding. I had been trying to indirectly arrange a meeting ever since. I knew Courtney was at the wedding, but by the time I had heard about Adele, Courtney had already left.

“When I say that I was trusting my instincts, Ana, I’m not just saying that I thought it was a good idea. My friend was suffering, and I just didn’t want to see her suffering anymore… and I knew that seeing Courtney—how beautiful she is and how far she’s come—would do her some good.” I roll my eyes nearly to the point of agony.

“Why. Didn’t you. Explain that to me?” I nearly seethe. “Why didn’t you come and talk to me?”

“Because just like you had confidences, I had confidences…” she begins.

“But it was okay for you to disregard mine!” I nearly shout, causing Grace to jump a bit in her seat.

Settle down, Grey.

I take a deep breath and address the situation again.

“The progress that I made with Courtney in eleven short months is more than I’ve done with a lot of people in years, and you could have undone all of that. That’s what I need you to see. This situation is the epitome of that old saying about the road to hell and good intentions. I can appreciate that you saw your friend suffering and you wanted that suffering to stop, but your. Methods. Were wrong. You threw a blowtorch into a vat of gasoline and prayed that it wouldn’t explode, and instead of alienating one person, you could have alienated three—one of which was your very close friend.

“As much as I want to say that the biggest betrayal here was to Courtney’s right to privacy and to Addie’s suffering, I can’t even say that,” I say, and she raises glassy eyes to me. Yeah, this is going to sting, Dr. Grace, so get ready for it. “The biggest betrayal is that you dismissed me. You dismissed my expertise and my feelings. It caused friction in my marriage and discord in my professional life. But you know what’s even worse, Grace? What you probably never even considered even up to this very moment? You. Destroyed. My trust! Did you think about that? Did you think about the fact that I have to trust the person that I work with and I don’t trust you anymore?

“I can’t be effective under those conditions, and I can’t just wave that off. When you’re dealing with the human mind, at any given moment someone’s sanity can be hanging in a delicate balance. One wrong word, one wrong action, can be the difference between a breakthrough and suicide—and I’m not exaggerating.” I immediately think of Ace’s shark’s tooth.

“I should have come and talked to you,” she says just above a whisper, her voice cracking.

“Yes,” I say softly, but firmly. “You should have…” and now, it’s probably too late. Grace takes a deep, shuddering breath and stands.

“Let me know what you decide to do,” she says without raising her eyes to me. “I’ll understand either way.” She turns and quickly walks out of my office. I hear her heels clicking at a quick pace down the hall and just before she closes the door to her office, I hear her begin to weep.

Dear God in heaven, I think to myself as my face falls on my arms on my desk, my hair splayed wildly over my hands and arms like a blanket. What am I going to do now…?

*-*

“Hey…”

My head feels like lead and my eyes hurt from crying. I can only imagine that I look like pure hell from having cried myself to sleep at my desk and when I turn towards the soft, melodic voice, my husband is looking lovingly at me while stroking my hair out of my face.

“Hey,” I barely squeak out. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s late… and Mom called me,” he says. “She told me that you were still in your office when she left and that it might be a good idea if I came to get you.”

“I don’t know what to do, Christian,” I lament, on the brink of tears again.

“Well, you won’t think about it tonight,” he says cupping my cheek. “Right now, I’m going to take you home, bathe you, feed you, and make love to you. Then, you can conquer this in the morning.”

I don’t have the will or desire to fight him. I’m tired of thinking, dreaming, fretting about this whole thing. It’s getting on my nerves. I stand and proceed to leave the building and had it not been for Chuck, I might have left without my children. Mom of the year.

My husband keeps his promise, making sure that I was fed, bathed, and loved. Nonetheless, at 2:49 in the morning, I find myself staring at the ceiling while he’s sleeping comfortably next to me. I don’t know how long I’ve been lying here, but I decide that I don’t want to lie here anymore. I quietly roll out of bed and retrieve the first shirt that I can find. It’s the linen shirt that Christian wore to work, and it smells like him. It’s comforting. I put it on and button it before leaving our suite.

The children are sound asleep and I don’t want to disturb them, so I go to the kitchen to get something to drink. After I fix a spritzer, I sit at the breakfast bar, trying to think of something to do. I look at my phone and begin to scroll through it. Some time between the time I got home and now, my contacts, calendar, and apps had all been moved to the new phone.

When did he find time to do that?

I had already forwarded my calls to the new phone, but it’s probably time to leave the new number on the old message so that I can retire my 4S soon. I decide to take a look at my emails. I had cleared most of them at work, but I hadn’t looked at the junk mail to see if anything had been misrouted.

Sure enough, something had.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Web Presence
Date: Saturday, December 13, 2014, 14:14
From: Laura Kelly

Hey there, Sheila!

Just a little nudge from down under to remind you to finish setting up your social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—but start with Facebook. It’s probably best for social media virgins. I know you said you had to talk to your PR people before you could pull the trigger. Remember what I showed ya!

Jax was a little depressed after visiting his mum’s grave, even more depressed when we got back to the ship and there was no Chris to shoot the shit with. You’ll have to come back and see us sometimes, or we’ll look you up next time we’re in the States.

Look for LauraLee Kelly on Facebook. You can’t miss me!

Missing you guys already!
Laura

Laura showed me the basics while we were on the cruise and we ran around her social media accounts a bit, but we never actually set up an account for me.

Social media. Facebook. Hmmm…

Screw PR. I’ll just create an alias.

I go to iTunes and download the Facebook app. Sign up with an email.

Back up.

I go to Gmail and create an alias email just for this purpose. You can’t be too careful.

First name… Anastasia

Last name… hmmm.

Lambert.

There’s no taboo attached to that name for me anymore. It’s a name that I used to escape, and I escaped, so…

Welcome to Gmail!

Back to Facebook.

Sign up. What’s your name?

Anastasia Lambert.

Hmm… it still feels too obvious.

Mercer Mistress… Hell, no!

Mercer Doctor Lady.

Good enough for now.

Upload a profile picture…

Butterflies!

I do a quick internet search and find a picture of a black and white butterfly that reminds me of Marty.

Perfect!

I download it to my phone, then upload it as my profile picture.

Invite your friends… well, I only have one that I know of on social media…

LauraLee Kelly. I need her email. Nah, I’ll look her up and invite her to be my friend. It’s faster.

I have access!

LauraLee Kelly.

She’s right. I find her quickly and send a friend request. I create the same account with Twitter, then I make the mistake of going to Facebook and Twitter and doing a search for my name.

There are a million of me!

I could make a page with my real name and no one would be any wiser, but no. I’ll hide behind Mercer Doctor Lady. Not very creative or catchy, I know, but it’ll fit the bill. I answer a few questions about books and hobbies.

There’s nothing on my timeline since I don’t have any friends, so I see what Facebook has to offer.

Videos… relationship advice… reality TV snippets… groups that might interest me… comedy…

I like comedy.

I watch several comedy videos and share many of them to my timeline.

I’m dying laughing over Steve Harvey and Family Feud…

Ellen Degeneres, well, I love her. I follow her and Steve on Facebook.

The Real Housewives of what? Where? What real housewives behave this way? And you’re still married? These women need to get a damn life!

“What are you doing down here?”

I’m startled by Christian coming to the kitchen in his pajama pants. I’m even more startled by something else…

Daylight.

“I was just… I couldn’t sleep,” I say. Hell if I’m telling him I spent all night on Facebook. His gaze softens.

“I didn’t do my job, then,” he says, closing the space between us. I put my phone down and sigh.

“It’s not you,” he says, “and I don’t want to pull you into the middle of what’s happening between me and your mother.”

“She said you didn’t fight, but I have a feeling you did,” he says. I look up at him.

“You thought I fought with your mother and you still brought me home and took care of me?” he shrugs.

“She’s my mother and I love her very much, but she went home to her husband. You’re my responsibility.” I wrap my arms around his waist and lean on his chest.

“I love you,” I say, breathing in his scent.

“I love you, too,” he says. I sigh. “You’re holding it in. You have to tell somebody.” I lean back and look up at him, twisting my lips.

“She looked like a broken puppy when she left my office, and I heard her crying,” I say. “She broke us… plain and simple. She broke us as a team. I have to trust who I’m working with. That’s it. I don’t expect you to take sides here, I really don’t, but I have to say it out loud. She broke us. She broke the team, and I don’t know if it can be fixed.”

“Any idea what it would take to be fixed?” he asks.

“Time, for one,” I admit, “and I’m not sure I’m willing to put it in.” She begged me last year to give Courtney a chance and I did, and we built something, and then she tossed it out like trash. Fuck how Courtney was feeling; fuck what Courtney wanted; Addie was more important.

“You’re taking it really personal, baby. Can you tell me why?” he asks.

“Because this could be anybody,” she says. “This could be a scared and battered wife and mother hiding from her abusive husband. I put in the work and get to the core of this girl’s deepest, darkest secrets—get her to where she’s not afraid to fall asleep at night; to where she finally sees that she’s out from under the oppression of her abusive husband and can do something with her life… move forward like Marlow’s mother did. And then Grace somehow brings the abusive father back into the picture. All that work I’ve done for nothing, and her only excuse and reasoning is that she’s following her instincts.

“Yes, that’s more graphic. Addie wasn’t abusive, but Courtney was crushed, crushed enough to never want to see her grandmother again, and Grace disregarded that… disregarded her feelings, disregarded her wishes, disregarded my work as a person and a professional. It’s very personal, Christian. How can I work with someone like that?”

“Then… why were you crying?” he asks.

“Because I obviously hurt her, and I didn’t mean to. We didn’t fight, but I was merciless in my explanations. She put her friend’s feelings over all professionalism and trust, the very basis of my profession. If she’s going to make decisions over my head without any consideration for my wishes, opinions, or input, then why am I there? I feel strongly about that, but I didn’t mean to hurt her—and I don’t know if she was hurt over understanding what she did to me or the concept of losing me.” He hugs me again.

“You’ll figure it out, baby. I know you will,” he encourages, “but doesn’t it feel better to get it out?”

“A little,” I say, sinking into his embrace.

“What have you been doing down here all night?” he asks. I twist my lips and look up at him, then push my phone over to him.

“Facebook?” he says, mirthfully. “You’ve been on Facebook all night?”

“Watching videos,” I say. “I don’t have any friends online.”

“You’ve got one, Mercer Doctor Lady,” he says and hands my phone back to me.

Laura accepted my friend’s request.


A/N: Ethan Hunt is Tom Cruise’s character in Mission Impossible. He was a master of disguise and could make himself or anyone else look like anyone anywhere.

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 72—Searching for Blue Skies

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 72—Searching for Blue Skies

ANASTASIA

I haven’t been at the Center all week. It may be a bit selfish of me, but I just can’t reconcile myself to making executive decisions or putting in a year’s worth—or more—of work on a project just to have my work, expertise, decisions, and opinions dismissed and disregarded because I’m not the number-one-head-honcho. I don’t have a problem relenting when my idea may not be the best one or with taking orders, being a team player, or taking one for the team. Hell, trying not to rock the boat with Liam caused me to keep my guard down and not cut him off at the knees like I would have done anybody else who came on to me, and look what the hell happened there!

Courtney hasn’t called me either and that makes me feel like she’s certain that I betrayed her trust and set up a meeting between her and Addie. That pisses me off to no end considering all the time and effort she and I both put into building the relationship that we had.

I feel crappy getting Ebony into the Center and just disappearing like a specter in the night, but every time I think about going into the Center, I see Grace’s cocky smirk looking back at me outside of my office door. I don’t think anything felt more like a betrayal than her standing there with that smug expression on her face like she was right all along, and I was supposed to bow to her knowledge and wisdom. I’ve decided that if she can preserve herself from having one of her “episodes,” I need to exercise a little self-preservation as well and avoid any attacks of PTSD—or just the desire to punch my all-knowing-all-seeing mother-in-law and boss in the nose.

I know that I can’t avoid my responsibilities and commitments. However, when I awake in the morning, I go straight to the empty play area and do my yoga. Then I shower and dress in yet another pair of yoga pants and a comfy shirt before going down to get some breakfast. I know that Christian wants to say something about it, but he just examines my attire and proceeds to discuss what’s happening at Grey House… and with the Pedo-bitch.

“I’ve been trying all week to get in touch with the warden,” he says while sipping his coffee. “I’m fairly certain that he’s just avoiding my calls altogether. He has no reason to do that… unless he’s involved in some way.”

“Could that be the case?” I ask. “Think about it—how could she get manuscripts, excerpts, recordings, phone calls out to a ghost writer without help or permission? She can’t just do that. She’s got to have help.” Christian’s brow furrows.

“Shit, I never even considered that,” he says. It’s safe to say that this is one of the people that Christian may have had in his pocket. I remember that before I even left the building after visiting Edward, the warden knew I was there and was greeting me at the door. It looks like this one may have gotten away.

“So,” I begin, “looks like this problem may be a bit bigger than we anticipated.” I can see the contemplation lines forming in his forehead.

“Yeah,” he says, distracted, “I think you’re right. This may take a different touch.” He finishes his coffee and stands from the breakfast bar. “You’re going to be home today?” I nod.

“Between my office and the babies,” I tell him, finishing my eggs and bacon. “I need to fill in where my two employees aren’t today. Have you heard anything from Chuck?”

“The testimony was over yesterday. From what he said, it was pretty brutal. He’s going to stick around to see if he gets a verdict today, then he and Keri will most likely be on their way home this weekend either way.” He pauses for a moment. “Have you heard from Marilyn?” I twist my lips and shake my head.

“No, and I’m worried,” I say. “She and Gary are both avoiding my calls and I have no idea what kind of condition either of them is in. It’s starting to wear on me.”

“Well, don’t let it stress you out too much,” he says, kissing me on the forehead. “I gotta go, I need to put some things in motion.”

“Love you,” I say to his retreating back and he waves at me. I take my coffee and head down to my office. I need to go through my calendar for the next month and figure out Marilyn’s notes and reminders in case my P.A. decides Seattle just isn’t for her anymore.

The calendar is a bit of a mess to decipher. I can’t figure out what all of these reminders are. I guess when they pop up, I’ll see them and note what they are at the time. I see some interviews scheduled for next week. Right now, I don’t see myself returning next week, and I don’t see Marilyn coming back in that time frame to notify the Center that these people are expected. So, I forward appointment emails to Grace with “no reply requested.” I’m not trying to spark a dialog. I just think it’s only fair that she knows what’s on the agenda if I don’t plan to be there.

I call in and check my voicemails. One of them is one of the aforementioned interviewees requesting a reschedule due to an emergency. I make a note to call her and have her reschedule with Grace. Two are from fellow doctors who saw my interview and want to discuss their experiences with the licensing board. I’ll definitely be giving them a call back today. No time like the present.

Dr. Daisy Sharwin is a dentist who was also accused of sexual misconduct. According to her accuser, Dr. Daisy was touching her inappropriately. Once the findings were reviewed, it was determined that the patient was suffering from a mental illness and had wrongly accused the doctor during a psychotic episode. Dr. Daisy describes the same experience I had, being closed in a room for several hours with a guard who never spoke and no clock before being called before a panel of high-nosed superior officials who treated her with an unbelievable lack of respect. Although she was cleared of the accusations, she felt that she had no recourse for the way she was treated by the board—until I went public with my experience. Now, two voices are better than one.

Make that three.

Dr. Emma Falstaff, a local chiropractor, is accused by the wife of one of her patients of sexual advances. While her case is still pending, she described an experience very similar to mine and Daisy’s, the only difference being that she was able to keep her watch. I’ve instructed her to keep me updated on the outcome of her case. Whether she wins or loses, her treatment during the process is what I’m focused on. However, I don’t want her involvement in this action to compromise her case in any way.

Two more people to add to my contacts and track information. God, do I need Marilyn.

The only other voicemails I had at work were two hang-ups from unknown numbers. Having cleaned out all the voicemails, I turn my attention to my emails. One of Marilyn’s reminders pops up that I have a 3:00 with Lordes Avery. I click the link to follow the reminder and discover how to read the coding on my PA’s calendar without having to take an entire class on the nuances of Outlook, thank God! It’s not that I didn’t know how to use it before now. It’s just that her system of organization is so far advanced beyond us mere mortals that I never would have been able to figure it out without some kind of hint.

Three O’clock with Lordes Avery… hmm…

Should I call him? I didn’t make last Friday’s appointment, but I’m almost certain he didn’t expect to see me. I still get charged if I don’t cancel within 24 hours, so why bother fucking calling at this point? Should I return his oh-so-considerate gesture and send him a text? Naaaahhhh!

I go back to my emails and one pops up that nearly makes my heart stop. After trying to get a response all this time…

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: MIA
Date: Thursday, December 4, 2014, 23:21
From: Marilyn Caldwell

Dear Ana,

I’m sorry that I haven’t returned your calls. This whole thing has been more of a nightmare than I can even describe.

I had to tell my parents why I needed to stay with them for a while and as I told you, they’re staunch fundamentalists. The moment I confessed, they threw me in Hell. I came to try to get a break from the hurt and the pain and I just swapped one torment for another. My mother plays these wailing songs of repentance every day that drive me up the damn wall! I’m spending most of every day being preached to and cautioned to ask forgiveness for my sin and thrown into the “lake of fire.”

I haven’t been ignoring you, but not looking at my phone is easier than staring at it and waiting or hoping for a call from Gary that never comes. I’m an emotional wreck, Ana. Some days, I wake up so depressed that I just want to jump off a bridge somewhere. Other days, I realize that’s not the answer and I have to live with my decision and move on. Hindsight is always 20/20 and I know that no man—or woman—is an island, but the feelings that are plaguing me right now simply because I chose this path for an unplanned pregnancy is making me never want to touch anyone ever again. I certainly can’t tolerate anybody touching me right now. Being an island doesn’t seem like such a bad idea at the moment.

I’m sorry I can’t tell you when I’ll be back. Being here with my parents is nerve-wrecking as fuck, but it still beats the memories that I face in Seattle and all the things that Gary and I shared. It’s a geographical cure of sorts that’s like putting a bandage over a stab wound but having someone poking at it all the time. The alternative would just be having the wound gaping and seeping and bleeding and having someone just jab that knife in again every day. I’m sure you can see why the former torture is preferable to the latter.

I just can’t stand being in that apartment right now or doing any of the things that I used to do. This hurts so much. I’ve been hurt before, but never like this. There are some times when I truly want to just curl up in a little ball and die—which is different from being suicidal, so don’t worry, doctor. As much as I would like for the pain to stop, I’m not brave enough or stupid enough to end it myself. My parents would probably come into the room and try to exorcise my lifeless body (yes, it is that bad).

If you feel like you can’t hold my job for me, I’ll completely understand, but my mind is so fucked up right now that I would do more harm than good if I tried to work. I would be completely useless right now. I’m not going to read my email anytime soon, because I just realized that this would be another way for Gary to reach me, and I don’t want the disappointment of not seeing a letter from him. I’ll check it at some point, so if you do intend to fire me, it’s okay if you send me an email. I’ll see it eventually.

I’m sorry if I let you down, too.

Marilyn

Jesus, she sounds absolutely hopeless. I’m not so certain that she won’t attempt suicide with the despair I hear in her words. I have to trust her, though. Getting in touch with her parents would only make a bad matter worse, but her suffering all alone and enduring the religious bullying of her mother and father is not a good combination, either. I sigh and begin typing out my reply.

To: Marilyn Caldwell
Re: MIA
Date: Friday, December 5, 2014, 13:45
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Dear Marilyn,

Only because I had a hateful, cheating, worthless boyfriend can I say that I can empathize with your pain and the loss you feel. I know it’s not the same and the circumstances are quite different, but I know that feeling of emptiness and the constant inner bleeding that feels like it’ll never end. I’m here if you need to ramble about it.

I don’t feel like you’ve let me down. More than anything, I just want you to be okay. You’ve always been a strong woman and you’ve always known what you want. Looking into a future of pure uncertainty is undoubtedly one of if not the scariest thing that can ever happen to someone. I completely understand that you need time to take self-inventory and regroup. I won’t preach to you as it appears that you have quite enough of that going on in your life. I will say, however, that you may want to reconsider your escape plan as the current one appears to be just another prison. Let me know if you need any help.

I will offer what advice I can as a doctor and as a friend. Get out of that house. If that’s where you choose to stay, okay—but don’t stay there every day all day. If your parents are playing “repentance music” all day, it’s psychological warfare and it’s adding to your misery. Didn’t you grow up in Spokane? Are any of your old friends still there? Maybe catch up with some of them. Go for a walk. Go to the park, the library, anything, but get out of the house and away from the weepin’ and moanin’ music. I can guarantee it’s not good for you.

I want to say more, but I think I’ve said enough. I don’t want you to feel like I’m going to chew your ear off or beat a dead horse. Keep me posted on how you’re doing. I may need to find a temporary replacement while you’re gone as I feel so damn helpless right now without you. I’m home today—not only because I don’t have my trusty assistant, but also because Keri is gone to South Dakota with Chuck for the case against his brother, Joe. Also, there’s been a bit of a development at Helping Hands.

Long story short, Grace engineered a meeting between Courtney and her grandmother without anyone’s knowledge or permission. When I tried to explain to her how wrong she was for what she had done, she basically snubbed me and ignored my concerns. I feel like she doesn’t respect me and any authority that I thought I had as her second in command is imagined. She acted the same way when we found out that she was perimenopausal, but that was understandable. She was reacting to a hormonal imbalance that had her doing things totally out of character. This was done with full consciousness and purpose, and her dismissing all my concerns and authority was equally purposeful.

So, I’m at home. I was trying to decipher what my calendar looks like for the next month and, as soon as I started to think like you, I figured it out. Except for Wednesday when we went to the reading of Tina’s will, I’ve spent most of the days with my babies, which turns out to be a welcome change. You know I already spend as much time with them as I can but spending day in and day out with them has been heaven. Once I’m done with the calendar today, I’ll be with them again for the rest of the afternoon. I’m thinking Mickey Mouse Clubhouse marathons or maybe Bubble Guppies. I haven’t decided yet.

Anyway, you keep me posted on what you’re doing and please call me or write me if you start to feel completely hopeless. I wouldn’t consider you weak, stupid, or cowardly, but grief can be a powerful thing.

Your Friend,
Ana

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

I click “send” to transmit the email and immediately begin thinking about Gary. This radio silence is bullshit and I’m not having it anymore. He may not want to talk to me, but he’s fucking well going to talk to someone.

“I’m activating the contingency,” I say.

“What?” Val says over the phone. “Why?”

“He and Marilyn broke up,” I explain. “It was ugly, and I can’t elaborate, but apparently, he’s not speaking to me.”

“Good God, Steele, when did you last speak to him?” she asks.

“Last Monday,” I admit. “I’ve been calling him nearly every day and he’s not responding. I need somebody just to verify that the man is still alive.”

“How’s Marilyn through all of this? Weren’t they living together?”

“Not well. I haven’t heard from her in a week and I just got an email from her last night…”

“An email?she interrupts.

“Yes, Val, an email.”

“Did she quit?” Val asks surprised.

“I don’t know,” I admit. “I know that she’s taking a hiatus right now and I’ve already told you more than I should have.”

“Alright, alright. I’ll call the others. We’ll track him down.” I end the call with Val and decide that I’ve done enough “work” for the day. It’s baby time.

*-*

Line up, everybody. It’s time to go outside!
Outside! Outside! Outside, everybody, outside!
Line up everybody line up line up line up my gup-gup-gup-gup-guppies!
Everybody get out! Get, get, get up, get out, get everybody go outside!!
Line ‘em up, here we go, here we go, here we go,
Everybody line up! Here we go outside!
Everybody let’s go, g-go-go-ga-get out-out-out-out-out-out-out-out-outside!
Bubble Guppieees!

My children are bouncing madly on the floor trying to say something that vaguely sounds like “outside” while I’m clapping along like a toddler singing the words with Mr. Grouper. I’m probably one of the few adults that knows every syllable of the Bubble Guppies Outside Song. The entire thing is only about 20 seconds long, but it’s such a good beat that it’ll probably never get old.

“Are we interrupting?”

I whirl around shocked out of my fucking mind at the sound of my husband’s voice. I’m so caught off guard that I feel like I’ve just been caught masturbating.

“Godda…” I catch myself knowing that our children are beginning to form words.

“Frag-nabbit, Christian, you scared the… ding-dang outta me!”

He and his unexpected guest are both standing there laughing at me and I want to hit them both.

“It’s early!” I scold. “What’re you doing home so soon?” and then I realize who’s with him.

“Vickie?” I ask, in confusion, scrambling to get off the floor. “Is Courtney okay?”

Vickie’s laughter fades and her brow furrows.

“Y… Yeah, Court’s fine,” she says, bemused. “She told me to give her a report on you, though. She said you hadn’t been to the Center all week… now, I’m confused.” I shake my head.

“Well, you can tell her I’m fine and I hope all is well with her. She’s still at the condo? She’s not moving?”

“Why would she move?” Vickie asks. “What am I missing?… Oh, you mean that thing with her grandmother? They’re talking, but she’s not moving back in with her as far as I know.”

“No… that’s… Never mind,” I say, waving her off. “If it’s not Courtney, why are you here?” She looks at Christian.

“She’s here to bring your summer wardrobe early,” Christian says, removing his suit jacket and tossing it over the sofa.

“Okay… why?” I ask.

“Because you need to decompress,” he says, sitting on the floor with the twins. “We both do. We’re blowing this popsicle stand and we’re taking our Australian cruise. We’re flying out of here first thing tomorrow morning and we’re leaving the country for a week.”

Well, I’m in shock.

“A… what?” Speechless.

“We’re getting the hell out of here,” he says. “It’s an emergency matter of extreme importance and detrimental to our sanity.”

“But… we… You’ve already told everyone that we’re going?” I inquire.

“I’ve told no one and neither will you,” he orders. “Only our staff knows that we’re going.”

Good Lord. I know we have that jet-setting kind of money and ability, but this still seems so sudden. At the moment, things seem so… undone.

“Baby,” he takes my hand, “we’ve been wound tight ever since Madrid—you more than me—we need to decompress or we’re going to self-destruct. The world will be here when we get back. It probably won’t even miss us while we’re gone.”

“My babies…” I protest.

“There’s enough breast milk stored to feed our children for a month and they have the best hand-picked nannies in the world. Keri should be back this weekend, and Harmony is here to help out. We’ll call them every day if you like.” I take a deep breath and hold it. Even though I hate leaving my babies for the slightest bit of time, he’s right. I need a severe change of scenery or I’m going to implode. I release my breath.

“Okay, Vick, show me what ya got…”


CHRISTIAN

“May I ask, is the warden in at all today?” I question. I’ve called Holstein every day this week. I’ve left messages on his voicemail and with this sow of a secretary of his who is now behaving like I’m taking up her precious time, and he doesn’t even have the decency to return my calls.

“Yes, sir. He’s here, he’s just not available,” she says, her voice a little impatient.

“Has the warden been in the office all week?” I further inquire.

“Mr. Holstein is a very busy man!” she says, her tone now scolding.

“That’s not what I asked!” I say, dropping decorum, my voice sharp. “I asked if the warden has been in the office all week. If you can’t answer the question, simply say, ‘I can’t answer the question!’” I’m calling on a business matter, you disagreeable cunt, so you can save that smart-ass attitude for someone else.

The line is silent for a moment or two. I completely expect her to hang up in my ear, but she surprises me by answering the question.

“Yes,” she replies, “the warden has been in the office this week.” That informs me that the fucker is simply ignoring me.

“I see,” I say, understanding that this asshole is going to evade my calls until I give up. You don’t want that, Ronnie, but since reason won’t prevail…

“Thank you,” I say roughly. “I know what I need to do now.”

“Wha…?” I don’t allow her to finish her statement—or question—before I end the call.

“Andrea, get Josh Shaler down here, please,” I say into the intercom. I’m already online planning my week before she acknowledges that she heard what I said.

My wife turned her entire life upside down to be available to my mother and Helping Hands, and now, she doesn’t even know if she’s going to stay there.

Her assistant exercised her right to choose, and now, she’s hiding out in eastern Washington somewhere—which is also putting a strain on my wife.

One of our nannies is in South Dakota with my wife’s trusted security detail dealing with a case against his brother that I can’t even describe.

And now, a woman who shouldn’t be able to reach us in any way whatsoever because she’s locked away for the rest of her miserable life is yet finding another way to reach out and cause us grief from inside prison walls and her fucking zookeeper won’t answer my goddamn calls.

It’s time for a vacation… a real one… now!

Before Josh even arrives in my office, I arrange for the jet to be fueled and ready to get us to Sydney, Australia. Take off will be 5:30am tomorrow morning and we’ll have a layover in L.A. to refuel and pick up a second pilot for the flight to Australia. I send off a text to Lanie to tell her that we’ll be in L.A. for a few hours in the morning, suggesting that we get together for breakfast. I’ve just requested that we activate our contingent cruise seating with the cruise line when Josh knocks on my office door.

“You wanted to see me?” he says, sticking his head in the door. I gesture for him to come inside.

“Are you still freelance?” Josh laughs as he takes a seat.

“No offense, sir, but when I leave here, I’m in disguise. So, yes, I’m still freelance.”

“Good. I’m sure you’ve heard about Elena Lincoln’s book,” I tell him, trying to keep my ire in check.

“I have,” he says. “I thought you were going to talk to the warden about that.”

“He’s avoiding my calls,” I declare. Josh raises one brow.

“Really?” he says. “I thought he was on our side”

“I thought he was, too. Apparently, he’s had a change of heart. Now, I’m completely in the dark and I want to know what the fuck is going on.” I punch out a text to Alex that I have a situation and he needs to come to my office.

“Okay, so I’m assuming that you want me to put my ear to the ground…” he begins.

“All the way to the ground,” I tell him. “I don’t like to be on the outside of critical information, and this is as critical as it gets. I don’t understand why this witch can’t just shut up and let people get over what she’s done to them. Does she really believe that crock of shit she said in court?”

“So, how badly do you need this information?” Josh asks. I raise my eyes to him. What the fuck is he asking me?

“What do you mean by that?” I ask him.

“I mean how low do you want me to go?” I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that.

“As low as you can go without getting caught,” I tell him. “I’m ready to pull some down-in-the-valley switches on this shit. I’ve had enough of running behind the eight ball on this woman…” Alex sticks his head in the door as I’m releasing to Josh. I gesture him inside. “She has caused immeasurable harm to more people and families than just me and mine and she won’t stop. I’ve had enough of this.”

“I take it we’re talking about Lincoln,” Alex says, taking the seat next to Josh. “No luck with the warden?”

“Yes, we are and none at all. He won’t take my calls and his smarmy ass secretary had the nerve to get a little salty with me on the phone today.” Alex purses his lips.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” he says. “The story is sensational. If she promises him just a couple of points or something off the publishing rights, let alone any possibility of screenplays and such, that’s enough palm oiling to buy her protection.” I ponder it.

Future palm oiling,” I point out. “The book has to be written first.” I look over at Josh. He raises a brow to me.

“I need as much information as you can get,” I tell him. “If you can find out who she might be talking to—even if it’s just family and friends. And I know they’re called ghost writers for a reason, but I’ll be forever in your debt if I can somehow get a name.”

“I’ll do what I can.” He stands to leave. “And Alex?” Alex turns to Josh. “Whatever you’re about to do, can you give me a couple of days before you do it? I’m just a reporter looking for a story. Your type of looking attracts attention.” He nods.

“I got you,” Alex replies, “but I can’t give you long.”

“If I can’t get what I need in a couple of days, I won’t get it,” Josh says. If I need more time than that, I’ll let you know.”

“Fair enough,” Alex says, and Josh leaves the room.

“So, I take it that I don’t need to explain anything,” I say to Alex.

“Nope,” he confirms. “Now, how low do you want me to go?”

“To hell,” I tell him, “and get me something on that high-nosed-ass secretary, too. I’m done fucking playing nice. I’m out of the country for the next week, but I’ll have my cell. Try not to use it if you don’t need to and get Jason in here for me.” I dial Victoria’s number as Alex leaves the room.

“This is Victoria.”

“Vickie, it’s Christian.”

“Christian, hi. Courtney was just asking me about you guys. Is everything okay?” I frown.

“Yes, why wouldn’t it be?” I ask.

“She hasn’t seen Ana in a week,” she says. “She wants to know if everything is okay.” Oh, that.

“Well, you’ll be able to ask her yourself shortly. I need you to meet me at the Crossing. I have one of those impossible tasks for you.”

“Oh, dear, what is it now?”

“My wife needs a summer wardrobe—casual, formal, and swimwear—a week’s worth in twelve hours or less.” The line is silent.

“You’re fucking kidding, right?” she says.

“No, I’m not. We’re on a plane tomorrow morning to an Australian cruise and excursion and we’ll be gone for a week. Can you do it or should I call a personal shopper?”

“Can I do some shopping?” she demands. “There’s no way that’s going to get done unless I can get some shit off the rack—and I gotta hit my best consignment shops.”

“Do what you must, just get it done. I’m going to be home at four and I prefer that you are there with me,” I inform her.

I’m going to charge you out the ass for this, Grey,” she says.

“What else is new?” I say.

“If I still liked men, I would make you fuck me till my hair curled!” Okay, she’s pissed.

“Your girlfriend wouldn’t like that, and my wife already gave me one pass when it comes to you. I doubt she’d do it again.” The line is quiet again.

“You told her?” Vickie asks horrified, “about us?

“Yeah,” I reply casually. “Months ago.” She scoffs.

“You’re fucking insane, you know that?” she says before hanging up on me. I look at my phone.

“See you at four.”

*-*

“I’m sorry, son. I’m not trying to pull you into this, I promise. I was just hoping that you could tell me what’s going on.”

“Nope, Mom, I’m sorry, I can’t,” I say. I came home from the Family Affair and heard my wife pretty much tell my daughter that she doesn’t like being married to me. I’m out of this shit.

“I haven’t seen or heard from her all week. I haven’t seen Marilyn for two weeks. When I hear from Ana, she forwards me the appointments that she’s scheduled for next week. So, it’s safe to assume that she’s not coming back?”

“It’s never safe to assume anything, Mom. You need to talk to my wife.”

“I—” She stops abruptly. “She doesn’t want to talk to me.” Well, that’s obvious.

“Well, I’m really sorry, but I don’t have any answers for you, Mom. You have to talk to Butterfly.” She sighs.

“Can you tell me… if she’s alright? Does she seem hurt… or angry?” Nope, Mom, not giving you that either. I can hear it now… Christian told me you were mad…

“She seems like herself,” I reply. “She gets up in the morning, gets dressed, exercises, eats her breakfast, and goes to her office—and I go to work. When I come home, she’s watching television or playing with the children… she’s being herself, like she normally does.” She sighs again.

“Okay,” she says. “Can you at least relay a message that I called, and I would like to know what’s going on please?”

“I can let her know that I spoke to you and that you’d like for her to call you.” She scoffs into the phone.

“You’re not crossing that line at all, are you?” she accuses.

“Not in the slightest, Mother,” I confirm, “not on your life.” She chuckles aloud.

“Smart man,” she says. “Love you, son.”

“Love you, too, Mom.”

Vickie’s driving up just as I’m getting out of the car. I hope she didn’t get too much shit off the rack. I don’t want my wife walking down the streets of Sydney or strolling down the halls of a luxury cruise ship looking like a dime-store tourist.

“If she swings at me, I’m going to kick you square in the balls,” she says, dragging a roller bag behind her while her assistant is carrying several shopping bags and a garment bag.

“Are your choices that bad?” I ask with a raised brow.

“You know what I’m talking about,” she says. Oh, the college fuck.

“I can guarantee you that she doesn’t care. Let’s go.”

The family room is strewn with bathing suits, summer clothes and evening wear, and my wife goes about the tedious task of trying to pick her wardrobe for the next week while Gail scurries to get her packed as she chooses certain pieces and vetoes others. Jason comes in with some packages that I need, and I’ve set up shop on the pool table nearby to make sure that all necessary arrangements are being made while my wife is giving instructions to her personal stylist and to Gail for pieces to commandeer from her dressing room. Two hours later, she’s packed and ready and I’m finishing up the necessary changes to our itinerary and accommodations while Jason makes plans for our security and moving to and fro in Australia.

“Tell Courtney for me that I’m fine and we’ll definitely talk in detail when I’m back from my trip,” she says to Vickie.

“Good,” Vickie says. “She’ll be glad to hear that.”

“Tell her that I may need her help on a task, too. And let her know that Harmony will be staying here with us indefinitely. I won’t be here, so she’s going to have double duty.”

“Will do,” Vickie says closing her bags and cases. “I’ll send you my bill,” she says to me. “I’d give it to you now, but I hate to see a grown man cry.”

“Just charge it to the Black,” I tell her. “You’ve got the number.” She shakes her head.

“Men like you with that kind of play money make me happy and irritate me at the same time.” She waves to Butterfly. “Have a wonderful trip.”

“Thanks, Vickie!” My wife calls as she leaves, then turns to me. “What is it with you and these crack-of-dawn flights?”

“You know where we’re flying, right?” I ask. She shrugs.

“Australian cruise—somewhere in Australia, I presume,” she says.

“Exactly,” I say. “That’s about a 20-hour flight without a layover, and we have one. Not only that, but we’re going to lose a day traveling to Australia. We’re going to leave Saturday morning, but we’re not going to get there until Sunday night.” She frowns.

“Well, that sucks,” she complains. “We’re going to lose a day of our vacation.”

“No, we’re not,” I inform her. “We’re going to get it back at the end of the week. That reminds me…” I reach into my pocket and pull out Jason’s latest acquisition for me. “Phones age in dog years. What do you have—like the iPhone 4?” She nearly growls at me.

“Four S,” she hisses. I reach into the bag and pull out an iPhone 6 Plus.

“Still dog years,” I tell her, handing her the 6 Plus.

“Ooo, pretty,” she says, examining the gold-toned phone.

“I’m glad you approve,” I say. “I couldn’t commandeer your number because it’s not my phone, but this one has been updated with all the usual apps that I know you use and the tracking software. Any apps that I don’t know you use, you’ll have to update yourself. You can forward your calls to this number or put a message on your old phone that your number has changed, but this is an international cell. You never know when I want to whisk my bride away to some exotic foreign country—like today.”

“Good point. I’ll just notify the necessary parties that my number has changed… maybe I’ll do it when I get back. I’ll forward the calls until then.” I nod.

“I can help you transfer all of your contacts and app information when you’re ready.”

“Naw,” she shakes her head. “That won’t be necessary. I’ll get Maril…” She trails off. Force of habit was about to cause her to say that Marilyn would do it. “On… second thought, yeah, when we’re back, I’d appreciate your help.” I nod.

“No worries,” I say, walking past her and proceeding to the stairs.

“I know you have a lot of power, Mr. Grey,” she says, falling in step behind me, “but can you please tell me how you decided on Friday morning that we were going to Australia and on Friday night, we’ve got travel arrangements? That’s a lot, even for you, sir.”

I pick her up and playfully throw her over my shoulder. She yelps as I take the staircase, two at a time with her over my shoulder. I place her back on her feet when we get to the top of the stairs.

“I had open tickets for the cruise, so I exercised my option,” I say walking to the bedroom. She falls in step behind me again. “I own a jet, so I had Jason arrange my pilots this morning. We’re making a bit of a change to our cruise. It was a seven day—we’re only doing five because I have plans for the weekend, so we’ll be disembarking at our last port of call.” I walk into my dressing room and try to figure out what I need to pack.

“Doesn’t that cost extra?” she asks, quickly selecting suits and a tux from my closet area. “Isn’t there a fee for disembarking early or something?”

“Yes, there is,” I say, watching her gather my wardrobe like a pro, complete with underwear, while it took her two hours to organize hers. “But this is what I wanted, and I have money, so…” I trail off.

“Do I get to know where this special destination is that requires us to disembark from a luxury cruise to get there?” she asks as she lays out my clothes. “Where are your garment bags?”

“They’re in storage,” I tell her, “and maybe I’ll tell you, maybe I won’t. I haven’t decided yet.”

“Will I like it?” she asks as I head for my en suite.

“You’ll love it,” I call behind me. “Activate two-way communications… Locate Windsor.”

“Windsor,” he responds.

“Windsor, I need you to bring my Alfred Dunhill luggage to the owner’s suite. I need the black rolling suitcase, the duffle, the toiletries bag and the garment bag.”

“Yes, sir,” he replies.

“End two-way communications,” I say.Alfred Dunhill Luggage--Chapter 72

“Hmmm, Alfred Dunhill,” she says, coming out of my dressing room. “And I’m carrying the Louis Vuitton. We’re going to look so pretentious.”

“And you care?” I ask. She shrugs.

“Not really,” she remarks, laying out more clothes on the bed… and I’m perfectly outfitted without lifting a finger—except to choose my toiletries from the en suite. I shake my head and scoff a laugh. “What?” she asks, bemused.

“How do you do that?” I ask. She looks at my cruise wardrobe and smiles.

“You have your special gifts and I have mine.”

*-*

“Are you sure you don’t mind us leaving you like this?” Butterfly asks Harmony as we’re about to leave the Crossing. “I know this can be a delicate time for you.”

“I’ll be fine,” Harmony replies. “Courtney and I are going to the mansion today so that I can start going through my things and Mom’s things that aren’t going to be confiscated and donated to charity. I really want to get the house cleaned out as soon as possible. I’ve got so much to do and lots to keep me occupied. I know I need to mourn Momma, but right now, I just want to keep busy.” Butterfly hugs her.

“Call if you need us. I have a new international phone now.” Harmony looks over Butterfly’s shoulder at me and I raise my brow.

“I won’t be calling you, Ana,” Harmony says. “Now, get out of here and have a great time.”

Butterfly says goodbye again to everyone and we get into the Audis with our luggage and head to the airport.

She sleeps for the entire flight to Los Angeles. It’s only three hours, but she’s dead in her seat the moment the seat belt light is off. I’m going through and responding to emails, giving instructions for the next week in my absence and putting out feelers on who might be Lincoln’s ghost writer. I may be sinister in my thinking, but she’s one of only two people that I can think of at the moment that I wish would just die.

I’ll also have to remember to tell Butterfly about Rossiter’s “settlement”—him agreeing to get the fuck out of our lives and stay the fuck out of our lives from now on. It’s my understanding that he’s actually going to lay down roots somewhere else, but not without the assurance that we’re going to be watching him wherever he goes. The very idea that he thought he would flash a raw, naked pussy painted on his arm at my wife and somehow get a payoff for it—the fucking nerve of this guy.

“I didn’t know if you would make it,” I say to Lanie and Leo when we disembark at LAX to refuel. “It was such short notice I thought we may have to just wait until next time.”

“I’m trying to be like you, man,” Leo says, grasping my hand and shaking. “I’m flirting with a couple of options for a private jet, but the right number of zeroes can get you a charter anytime. It’s only an hour flight for us from San Fran.” My wife and Lanie greet each other with a hug. That’s when I see Burtie.

He seems… shy and small for the lack of a better description. There’s a guy walking with him as he approaches us. He’s a little taller than Burtie—a nice looking guy with stylishly cut black hair and a medium to stocky build. He takes Burtie’s hand as they get closer and I note that this must be Leo’s cousin.

“How was your flight so far?” Lanie asks.

“I wouldn’t know,” Butterfly admits. “I was up most of the night preparing for the trip, so the minute we took off, it was ‘Goodnight, Nurse’ for me.”

“I couldn’t tell you either,” I say. “I assume that it was pretty smooth since I was able to work uninterrupted the entire way.” Butterfly glares at me.

“Yeah, that’s the only time he’s going to be able to work,” she declares, “when I’m asleep. This vacation is going to be a damn vacation, so I will definitely have a problem with him working during any of the time that I’m conscious!”

“Hear, hear!” Lanie says. Butterfly smiles widely at Burtie and opens her arms.

“Don’t I get a hug, cousin?” she says sweetly. He coyly returns her smile and walks into her open arms.

“It’s so good to see you,” I hear him say softly. She embraces him warmly.

“It’s good to see you, too, Burtie,” Butterfly says. I lean over and kiss Lanie on the cheek.

“And who is this?” Butterfly asks when she and Burtie release their embrace.

“This is Bernard,” Burtie says, taking the young man’s hand again and pulling him into the fold. Bernard waves like a shy little girl and smiles.

“Hi,” he says sweetly.

“Bernie, these are my cousins, Ana and Christian. Bernie is my fiancé.” Butterfly raises her brow.

“Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Bernie,” Butterfly says extending her hand to him.

“A pleasure,” he responds. “I know this is going to sound so stereotypically gay, but I saw you the moment you stepped onto the tarmac and that outfit is to die for!” Butterfly beams at the compliment.

“Thank you!” she says.

“I so love Jackie O!” he gushes.

“That’s exactly what I was going for!” Butterfly exclaims.

“Oh God she was like only one of the most elegant women that ever lived!” he says all in one breath.

“Absolutely! She was unbelievably iconic. You can’t go wrong matching any of her fashions…”

And this conversation is going to go on forever,” Leo says. “I should mention that my cousin is one of the most sought-after designers and personal stylists in the San Francisco Bay area. Right this way, please… we have a car.”

“To fit eight people?” I ask, thinking of Jason and Ben.

“Yes,” Lanie replies. “We procured a limo for just such an emergency.”

As Butterfly and Bernard continue to discuss the polished grace and timeless, easy elegance of Jackie Kennedy, we all make our way through the airport to the taxi stand where our limo awaits us. On our way to brunch in Beverly Hills, Leo and I talk about the strides we’ve made in identifying the variations in the XRC90 transmitter. The ink on the Waymark deal should be dry just after the new year.

“How’s Aunt Nellie? Why didn’t she join us?” I ask. Lanie looks over at Burtie who’s in an animated conversation with Butterfly and his fiancé.

“She’s better than she has been, but still not great,” Lanie says in a low voice. “She didn’t feel like coming out so early on a Saturday morning, but she sends her regards. She’s had a small setback though. She got word that my father is moving towards signing the divorce papers soon. Their lawyers are just hammering out the terms. It should be final any day now.”

“I thought that’s what she wanted,” I say bemused, “to put this thing to rest. You know how these things can drag on forever.” Lanie sighs and checks to see that her brother is occupied.

“Mom explained it to me like this. Imagine one of your children comes up missing. You search for them for months or even years, but you never find them. You finally give up hope and resolve yourself to the fact that if they were alive, they would have found a way to get in touch with you by now. You go about the business of living your life, putting yourself back together again and sometime later, the police show up. They inform you that they’ve found your child’s body.

“Now, even though you knew the child was dead because there was just no way that they could still be alive, the body makes it final. It makes the loss tangible and real. This is the equivalent of hearing that my father is going to sign the divorce papers. She now has the body, and it’s tearing her up all over again. He’s a horrible, wretched person, but that doesn’t negate the fact that she loved him for thirty-some-odd years.” Lanie finishes with a sigh.

“Does she know about the life insurance policy?” I ask. “And what about the house?”

“She knows about the life insurance policy and she knows that he’s protesting Carrick’s share of it. She’s sure that he’s just protesting it until the divorce is final, and she’s not waiting for that. As for the house, she’s never going back to Michigan, so he can have that, too, but his other assets are going to have to be split.” I shake my head.

“He got Pops’ house,” I tell her. “That’s what he wanted. He’s going to sell his house and pump the money into rebuilding Pops’ house.” Lanie’s eyes widen.

“What??” she exclaims, garnering the attention of everyone in the car, which is exactly what she was trying not to do.

“Sorry,” she says, trying to play the situation down. “Don’t pay me any attention, you know how I can get.” She waits for Bernie and Ana to attract Burtie’s attention again before she turns back to me.

“That dilapidated old hole?” she hisses just above a whisper. “That stack of sticks is worthless! I don’t even know how Grandpa and Herman stayed in it for so long. That place should have been condemned years ago!” I shrug.

“That’s my understanding, too,” I tell her. “But he’s going to put his house on the market and use the money to rebuild that ‘stack of sticks.’” She shakes her head.

“Well, it doesn’t matter. Mom’s ready for the ‘funeral.’ She’s had enough. There’s no way she can possibly move on with this divorce still in progress, and she’s not really sure how she’s going to move on when it’s over. Hell, my father has a girlfriend—it was over a long time ago. Mom just didn’t know it.”

“Why didn’t he just let her go instead of dragging her through all this hell?” Leo asks. “It’s cruel and unusual punishment to put someone through this.”

“Freeman’s so cocky, he thought it would never come to this,” I reply.

“I think it was just cheaper to keep her,” Lanie says. “Once he reached the 10-year mark, half his shit was hers.” I twist my lips.

“Yeah, I guess there’s that, too,” I cede. I look down the row at Burtie.

“How about Burtie?” I ask not much above a whisper. Lanie shakes her head.

“Bernie’s good for him, but he’s having a really hard time with this situation, too,” she says. “I don’t know which of these are harder to swallow, so I’m just going to toss them at you.

“His parents are getting divorced. That sucks for anybody under any circumstances. Now, before you say, ‘Hey, Lanie, they’re your parents, too,’ you need to see the difference. That’s his mom and his dad. That’s my mom… and my father. All these years, he’s just been my father, just the man who nutted and brought about my creation. All these years, before this shit, that’s been his dad. So, his mom and his dad are getting a divorce, and he has to contend with that.

“Also, just like Mom, he loves Freeman. All he has ever wanted was for Freeman to be proud of him, and this is what he gets to take with him—the fact that for whatever reason, he wasn’t good enough; that his beloved dad battered him so badly that his face is slightly deformed and some of his teeth were knocked out or had to be removed. And that’s number three.

“Burtie was always an attractive young man, but now he keeps his face down and he tries to fade away and not be seen. He’s got several teeth missing and that makes him feel subconscious, and then he has those two horrible scars on his face. He’s getting his implants this week and the surgery for the scars will be in the next two weeks, but that’ll take care of the physical damage. What about the emotional damage?”

I look down the row in the limo again and Butterfly has moved next to Burtie. She’s holding his hand and his head is down. Bernie is leaning forward very close to Burtie, holding his hand as well.

That looks like a session.

“Has anybody pointed out the name thing?” I ask, “Burtie and Bernie?”

“Several times,” Leo says, looking at his cousin and brother-in-law. “They appear to be really in love. I wondered how it could happen so soon. Burtie’s only been here for a few months, but Bernie says he’s been stricken ever since he first met Burtie in Michigan. According to them, ‘When you know, you know.’”

“Yes, I can attest to that,” I say, looking over at Butterfly.

“Was it love at first site for you, Christian?” Lanie asks.

“Oh, I know this story,” Leo interrupts. “So do you, babe. Remember the interview?”

“Oh, yeah,” Lanie says, looking at her husband and then back at me. “She hated you at first, but you were quite taken with her.”

“Bingo,” I confirm, “So, I can understand being stricken very early on. At the risk of being Devil’s Advocate, however, just be mindful that Burtie’s in a vulnerable and compromised position at the moment…”

I don’t know how to say what I’m trying to say without making Bernie sound like he’s trying to take advantage of Burtie’s predicament or without making Burtie appear to be a weakling looking for someone to hold him up. Luckily, I learn that I wasn’t alone in my concern.

“I’ve had the same conversation with my brother,” Lanie says softly. “His response assured me that he realizes his position and he’s aware of his feelings. He even admits that he’s susceptible to the smallest act of kindness right now, but that he’s certain that with Bernie is where he wants to be.”

“And I’ve spoken to Bernie,” Leo continues, “both because he’s my cousin, I love him, and I don’t want to see him hurt and because if he hurts Burtie, he’ll hurt my Lanie, and then I’d have to kill him. I’m certain that he’s going into this with both eyes open, but in all honesty, they’re both grown men and will make their own decisions. Only time will tell.”

I nod. I know that he’s right, but that poor guy is fighting some serious demons and some of them are written right on his face.

“At least pretty soon he won’t have the visible reminders of what happened,” I say with a sigh.

“At least there is that,” Lanie says. “He’s been seeing a therapist. He’s been working through some of his issues, but I’m afraid that the emotional betrayal is probably going to be there forever. He’s heartbroken. All he has ever wanted was for his father to be proud of him and now, the betrayal he feels from that unprovoked attack…” Lanie trails off and shakes her head. We’ve had this entire conversation in hushed tones, trying not to let it appear that we’re keeping a secret.

“So, we’re planning a spring wedding as Burtie is certain that all of his scars will have healed by then, and Bernie is willing to give that man anything he wants. Bernie does very well financially and Burtie has a very promising future in engineering. Neither of them is in a particularly destitute situation,” Leo says.

“Burtie just has a long way to go,” Lanie adds. “His self-esteem has taken a hit with the scars and the missing teeth, and he’s fighting depression and rejection from the man who, like Mom, he still really loves.”

“What about you, Lanie?” I ask. “You don’t feel anything, honestly? Nothing at all.” Even I feel a bit of a tug when discussing the crack whore every now and then. Lanie shrugs.

“I feel bad that my family was torn apart—that my mom and my little brother are struggling to find balance,” she says, matter-of-factly. “But I was abandoned a long time ago, cousin. You can’t miss what you never had.”

And there you have it.


A/N: I originally had Christian carrying a different brand of luggage, but changed it when that whole “black face” shirt came out. I’m sure can figure out which one he had before.

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 71—Chain Reactions

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 71—Chain Reactions 

CHRISTIAN

We put Chuck and Keri on a plane to South Dakota yesterday to be present for the case today. Butterfly was not happy to see either of them go as Chuck is her detail and Keri is her nanny.

“I feel like my limbs are being cut off one by one,” she says. “My detail, my nanny, my PA…” I had forgotten that Marilyn had taken some time off as well in light of recent developments. I can imagine Butterfly feels a bit rudderless. Thank God Harmony’s here and has agreed to help Gail with the twins.

We haven’t discussed anything that happened Saturday night. I’m not sure how to approach the topic or even what needs to be discussed at this point. After talking to Jason, I somewhat understand the “Cinderella” concept, but how do I voice my displeasure with the way she spoke to my mother? Is this one of those situations where I should just “butt out” since it really had to do with the Center and wasn’t anything personal? It became personal, though—the comments that she made. However, had she said these things at Helping Hands in the course of her job, would I feel the same way? Am I only feeling this way because these things were said in my presence?

She was talking about her professional stance, and the position that my mother put her in by revealing to Adelaide that Courtney was still in town. To Mom, she was trying to help a friend, but to Butterfly, this was a professional betrayal.

I should have stayed out of this.

“You going in this morning?” I ask my wife who has been silent at the breakfast bar.

“Yes,” she says coolly. “I have new employees starting today and I should be there. And I have to figure out what’s going on with my calendar because I’m like a fish out of water without Marilyn.”

“Do you want to meet for lunch?” I say, attempting to offer an olive branch. She looks over at me.

“I’ll… let you know,” she replies uncertainly. “The morning is kind of heavy…”

“I’ll wait,” I interrupt. “You say what time.” She pauses for a moment, still gazing at me.

“Okay,” she says softly. “I’ll call you, then.” I give her hand a squeeze and kiss her on the forehead.

“I’ll see you later, then,” I say, and she nods.

*-*

“Kavanaugh wants nothing to do with you,” Lorenz says at the executive meeting that morning. “He’s shutting down any attempts from this camp to contact him.”

“Well, there’s always a hostile takeover… buy him out,” I suggest.

“Yeah, he thought of that, too,” Ros says, “so he’s not selling.” I nod. My lips form a thin line.

“Fine,” I say. “We’ve got plenty of Kavanaugh’s stock. Start dumping it.” Lorenz frowns deeply.

“Are you crazy?” he asks. I turn to him.

“Do you remember my interview, Lorenz?” I ask. “You’ve seen my portfolio—controlling interests or substantial participation percentages in 28 industries comprised of 419 subindustries in 165 countries on all seven continents. Kavanaugh is one subindustry in one industry in one country on one continent. This is only one of my holdings. It’s his entire life. He doesn’t want a financial and industrial powerhouse to bail him out when he’s on a proverbial dingy with a hole in it about to sink simply because the bailout is coming from me, well then let his ass sink. Start dumping stock 2% at a time. Once the NYSE and the NASDAQ reports that information, he’ll be lucky if he can still be considered penny stock.”

“Christian, this sounds dangerously close to insider trading,” Ros warns.

“Far from it, Ros,” I tell her. “It’s only insider trading if I use inside information not available to anyone else to further my position or unload a disadvantage. This is not inside information. It’s public knowledge that he’s on the skids. ‘Pump-and-dumps’ do it all the time. They buy low, drive up the price, watch the trends, and when it looks like it’s about as high as it’s going to go, they drop it. I’m an investor, and I see an opportunity to save my investment that’s very crappy right now and getting crappier by the second. I’m throwing him a life preserver and he’s kicking it back to me. He’s only looking at one side of that investment coin and that’s the fact that I don’t have enough to do a hostile. And he’s right, I don’t. However, I do have enough to make other investors sit up and take notice if I start dumping my shares.”

“There’s going to be no coming back from this,” Lorenz warns.

“There’s already no coming back from it,” I tell him. “He’s made it clear that he wants no part of my golden parachute. So be it. If I were so shrewd as to drive the price down, make him open sales again and gobble up the market before anybody else, guaranteeing at the very least a hostile takeover, he’d poison pill the company before I got my hands on it. I can tell when a company is on that final spiral down the drain, and Kavanaugh already has his feet in the grates—he just doesn’t think anybody knows it.”

I raise an eyebrow at Lorenz whose expression confirms that he agrees with me.

“Someone can still reach in and save him, and it doesn’t have to be me, but when and if they do, they’re going to be dealing with a company that’s worth at least one-third less than it is right now if not even less than that. Start dumping the stock. If I’m wrong and it turns around for him and the investors are making money, by dumping 2% at a time, I’ll still have a portion of my investment left. So… let the market decide.”

I wave the whole thing off. Buying Kavanaugh Media would have been a personal coup, but nothing more. I’ve got enough money to use C-notes to wipe my ass for the rest of my life. I don’t need this shit.

“And what’s going on with Kate Kavanaugh?” I ask. It makes me nervous when people just disappear.

“It appears that the Kavanaugh Princess is hiding out in the Hamptons with young Kevin… at least we think Kevin’s with her. You know her career is tied up in Kavanaugh Media and shortly, there’ll be no Kavanaugh Media. So, unless she has an endless money pot stashed somewhere, she’ll be looking for a job soon.” Ros replies.

“Make sure we keep our eye on her… just in case.” Lorenz nods.

“Excuse me, sir. Mr. Welch is in the lobby and says he needs to talk to you immediately.” Andrea’s voice surprises me as she never interrupts when I’m in a meeting. “He has Ms. McIntyre with him.”

Oh shit. Mac. What the hell is going on?

“I’m going to have to take this meeting,” I say to Lorenz and Ros. “Alex and Mac usually isn’t good news. Have we covered everything?” Lorenz looks at Ros, who nods.

“For now, it seems,” he says. “I’ll keep you posted.”

“Good man,” I say. “Send them in on your way out.”

I pop my neck as Ros and Lorenz leaves preparing myself for whatever the Gruesome Twosome have to tell me. I know it’s bad when I see their faces. Alex is serious, and Mac is a bit somber.

“Okay, out with it,” I say. Don’t beat around the bush, just give it to me. Alex closes the door and Mac drops a gossip rag on my desk.

“Tell me what I’m looking for here,” I say. “I really don’t feel like combing through stories of back woods women having babies by Elvis, aliens, and Michael Jackson.”

“Bottom left hand corner,” Mac says taking a seat. Alex stands behind her. I look at the bottom left corner of the tabloid.

Incarcerated Socialite to Write Tell-All Book of her Ordeal

“What?” I ask horrified. “I thought the law was written as such that she couldn’t exploit her crime for profit!”

“If she writes it as a fiction novel and changes all the names, she can,” Mac informs me.

“She’d have to change the events, too,” I nearly screech. “That woman molested children! It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who she’s talking about in her story—just a really good critical thinker, and I’m not just talking about my experience. One of those kids killed himself!” I suddenly want this woman to just disappear from the face of the earth.

“You’ve confirmed that this is true?” I ask them both. “This isn’t just some nasty rumor?”

“It’s confirmed, sir,” Alex says. “She’s been corresponding with ghost writers, publishers… even attorneys to make sure that she’s following the rules to get the book published.”

“And they’re going to publish this garbage.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Are you kidding?” Mac says. “Like you said, it won’t take a rocket scientist to tell who the characters are, even if she changes the names and events. A tell-all about Christian Grey and other possible prominent members of Seattle society? Right after you do an exposé of you and your lovely wife and your lovely life? Her timing is perfect—for her, that is. Depending on what she puts in that book, she can blow your image of your happy home right out of the water. But there’s so much more at stake here…”

“You don’t have to tell me,” I say. The damage that can be caused by the implications of this book are nearly fucking endless.

“So many pictures,” Alex laments. “So many boys…”

“Exactly,” I sigh. “We don’t even know if we found them all. Decades and decades of that shit—the embarrassment, humiliation, and pain this could cause is endless.”

Hasn’t she caused enough fucking heartache? What the fuck is she after? Before she died, Aunt Tina told me that Elena was corresponding with people, trying to get responses. What is she really doing? She can’t possibly hope to profit from this. Her only chance of release is escape. What’s really going on?

“Why is she trying to get attention?” It’s a rhetorical question.

“How did this story hit the mainstream?” I ask.

“There’s no telling,” Mac says. “She could have done it, it could be a publicity leak—nobody’s paying attention right now, but they’ve got their breach. All they need from this point is momentum.”

“And me visiting the prison would be momentum,” I observe.

“I’m so glad you figured that out on your own,” Mac exclaims. “I could just see you in my mind’s eye flying to the prison to ruffle some feathers and all you end up getting is a front-page spot.”

“Okay, so,” I stand from my desk and clasp my hands, “I’m open for suggestions on how to proceed with this because you know me—I’m ready to run in like a bull in a China shop.”

“We could get an injunction,” Mac says, “but we’d have to know what was in the book before we could do that.”

“So, an injunction’s out. Next plan?”

“Get in touch with the warden,” Alex offers. “He knows you, if I recall.”

“Yes, we’re acquainted,” I remark, remembering the very uncomfortable circumstances I arranged for Mrs. Lincoln after I discovered that she was responsible for the false accusations of sexual misconduct against my wife. “Anything we can do about her possible publishers and ghost writers? Make this endeavor look unattractive?”

“Here’s the thing about writing, Christian,” Mac says. “Once something is out there—articles, print, pictures, books—it’s out there. It’s so much easier to undo something someone said, even on television, than it is to undo the backlash of the written word. Any attempts to make something like this look unattractive would only have the opposite effect because believe me, no one is more aware that the pen is mightier than the sword than the person holding the pen.”

“So, I basically have no recourse now outside of talking to the warden?” I ask appalled. “He can’t possibly be ignorant to this, and he hasn’t done anything yet!”

“It’s very likely that he’s not,” Mac replies. “Why he’s not doing anything is yet to be determined.”

I scroll through the contacts on my computer and locate the information for Ronald Holstein. After going through a million transfers, I’m finally connected to his receptionist who, upon hearing my name, informs me that he’s unavailable but that she could take a message or patch me through to his voicemail. Since I’m not really sure if he’s aware of what’s going on, I leave a professional message on his voicemail to contact me as soon as possible no matter what time.

“So, now we wait,” I say.

I just got the damn Pussy DJ off our backs and now this? Jesus, it never ends!

*-*

I’m irritated when I get home as Holstein didn’t return my call, and surprised that Butterfly is already there since I’m home a little earlier than usual.

“Hey,” I say. “You’re here early.”

“So are you,” she says matter-of-factly. She’s sitting in the family room with a bowl of popcorn watching old movies like she’s been kicked back for the entire day.

“Is everything okay?” I ask, sitting next to her.

“I would really rather not talk about it,” she says. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you for lunch, but I was terribly distracted.” I nod.

“I have some news,” I say. She picks up the remote and silences the television. Placing the popcorn on the seat next to her, she brushes off her hands and sits up straight, like she’s preparing herself to go into battle.

This must have really been a pretty fucked-up day.

“Elena’s trying to write a book,” I spit out. She rubbernecks to me, her expression horrified.

“What?” she gasps. “I thought… I thought criminals weren’t allowed to profit from their crimes. I mean that’s the only thing she could possibly be writing about.”

“There are ways around it,” I tell her. “There’s no law against her writing a book. If she changes the names and events and it becomes a work of fiction, she’s in the clear assuming that no one can determine that she’s talking about real people—but everyone will know that she’s talking about real people. Conspiracy theorists and bloggers and motherfuckers with too much time on their hands may even be able to match her story with timelines and events and point a compass to specific people…”

“Like us,” she says.

“More than us, Butterfly, we were all over the trial. We’ll just be her anchor. Think of all those boys and their families. Some of them are adults and have families of their own, and if you remember, at least one that we know of didn’t make it. This woman has no fucking scruples!”

“And apparently absolutely nothing to lose,” Butterfly says flatly. I thought I proved that she did have something to lose in our last conversation, but maybe I wasn’t firm enough. We’re silent for a moment, and then my wife drops a bombshell on me.

“I’m considering leaving Helping Hands,” she says calmly. My turn to rubberneck.

“You’re what?” So much for not wanting to talk about it.


ANASTASIA

I can barely decipher what’s going on with my calendar. Marilyn has a lot of shorthand going on here and several reminders for her to do certain things. I really should have taken a better look at this thing last week when I wasn’t all a-flustered from the weekend’s events, but c’est la vie. I may have to draft someone somewhere to help me with this mess, but we’ll have to see.

I shoot a text off to Marilyn simply saying that I hope she had a nice Thanksgiving and I hope she’s taking care of herself. Every call I’ve tried to put in to Gary has gone straight to voicemail. I’ve left a few messages for him but stopped after the third one. After having that treatment from my father when he didn’t want to speak to me and then from Christian when he escaped to Madrid, instant defer to voicemail calls leave me with a very icky feeling to the degree of stirring up remnants of the Boogeyman. How about I choose not to do that to myself.

In an attempt to make sure that my friend hasn’t fallen to an ill fate, I recruit the assistance of the rest of the Scooby Gang to try to contact Gary. I only tell them that it appears that there has been a break-up and Marilyn is with her parents right now. None of us have had any luck contacting him.

Marilyn hasn’t returned my text either and I deduce that they’re both still radio silent. I just hope that she has me listed somewhere as an emergency contact so that someone will know to inform me if something really bad happens.

Ebony is doing well in the day care center and I’m hoping that we can convince her to put some of her other skills to use in the Center. God knows we need them in the worse way. We have a few new employees on the cleaning staff as well. We’re planning to end the contract with Sherwood and Clean It Up for You in January. So, we want to have a core team in place by that time and hire additional staff as needed.

Another development we’ve had since the interview is the outpouring of support from the community as well as the influx of donations right in time for the holiday season—clothing, non-perishable food items, cash and pledges, even additional volunteers. I’ve been able to get some applications from various sources for people who may be able to fill the many positions we’ll be needing to fill since we finally received our accreditation. I wasn’t kidding when I told Christian that my morning would be full—even fuller than I thought with me having to do my own administrative work. That must be why I was totally bowled over by the voice that greets me in the middle of the morning.

“Ana?”

I raise my head to see Addie standing in my office door. Oh, dear God.

“Addie!” I say, standing quickly from my seat and nearly knocking it over. “Please, c… come in.” Come all the way in and close the door behind you!

“I…” She timidly walks into my office. “Your office… it looks really different.”

“Yes,” I say, gesturing her further into the office and closing the door behind her. Sweet Jesus, this is a disaster. “I was able to make some changes with… all the different things that have been going on. We’ve finally gotten our accreditation, you know. There’s a lot that needs to be done in such a short time.”

“I’d…” She takes a seat in the Zen sitting area. “I’d like to make a donation… if I could.”

“Addie… that’s so kind of you.” She reaches into her purse and hands me a check. I don’t really focus in on the amount, but I see a whole lotta zeroes. “Addie, this is so generous.”

“It’s the very least I can do,” she says, lowering her head. “I turned that child away—ready to feed her back to the dogs that she came from. You’ve worked miracles with her.” I sigh.

“I didn’t do anything, really, Addie,” I tell her. “Courtney did all the work on her own…” and if she sees you here, the work may all be undone.

As if the fates heard my lamentations, my door flies open and in marches a distraught Courtney. She never enters my office without knocking when the door is closed. I know why she’s coincidentally here now.

“G… Grandmother!” she says, her voice more horrified than anything. Oh, shit. Addie stands and turns to her.

“Courtney!” she breathes. “Yo… you’re so… beautiful.” Courtney never takes her eyes off her grandmother but begins to frantically wring her hands. Addie takes a step towards her, but Courtney takes a step back, the dams bursting immediately and causing massive waterfalls down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” Courtney says, her voice full of tears, “I’m sorry, Grandmother, for the horrible person that I was and the terrible things that I did…”

“Oh, Courtney…”

“I’m sorry… that I hurt you… and that I hurt Grandfather… but you hurt me, too.” She weeps. Addie looks a bit horrified.

“You said I was worthless… nothing… you said I was better off dead…”

“Courtney!” Addie exclaims. “I did not say that! I would never say that!”

“Spare parts!” Courtney cries accusingly. “You said I was worth nothing but spare parts!”

Addie stands guiltily looking at her granddaughter.

“I felt like the world would be a better place without me. I was horrible and awful and even my spare parts were worthless. Maybe that’s how I made you feel… maybe I made you feel like you’d be better off dead and that’s why you made me feel that way. It’s a horrible, awful, wretched feeling and if I did that, I swear to God that I’ll never do that to anybody else as long as I live!” Courtney cries.

“Court…”

“I didn’t change my ways because of that,” she sobs, cutting off her grandmother. “I changed because I didn’t want to go back to Chuktapaw. I didn’t want to end up in a dead-end life like my mom! She has no hope! No future! And she doesn’t want to change! She wants to stay in that rat-infested lean-to that she’s lived in with that low-life man that she’s been with for years and she’s going to die there, and I don’t want that to be me!

“Somebody showed me that I was worth something even when I thought I wasn’t… even when you thought I wasn’t. Ana could have let me rot in that shelter, answer ads to be a stripper, but she and Ms. Grace took pity on me—after how I treated her, the things I said to her! She took pity on me… somebody thought I was worth something…

She weeps harder and Addie doesn’t speak. She must know that Courtney is just reloading.

“But I don’t care how horrible someone is to me. I’ll never in my life ever make them feel like they don’t deserve to be alive. I’ll walk away forever and never speak to them again before I ever make them feel like the earth would be a better place without them!”

“Courtney…” Addie says finally, “your mom is gone.” Courtney’s eyes pierce.

“What?” she asks incredulously. “When?”

“June,” she says.

“How?”

“Some rare virus,” Addie says. “I didn’t get the details. I didn’t even know she was sick.” Courtney purses her lips and clears her throat.

“Hence, my point,” she says nodding through her tears. “My mom’s gone, and nobody cared. Nobody knew. Nobody felt anything, not even me. Not even now, I don’t feel anything. I didn’t wish her dead and it’s tragic that she’s gone, but I knew,” she says, her voice still cracking, “I knew that’s how she would die. That’s how I would have died, and you were okay with that.”

“I was not okay with that, Courtney, I was hurt…”

“But that’s not what you said!” she wails. “I hurt you! I accept that and I’m sorry. I knew I would get money when you died, but I didn’t wish you dead! I never wished you dead!” she sobs. “I didn’t expect for you to account for what you said or how you felt. I just couldn’t deal with it. I couldn’t look at you and know that you felt that I was nothing more than an organ donor. I can’t change the things that I did and the way that I treated people, but there’s enough bad crap going on in the world and enough bad memories in my head to not subject myself to any new agonies.”

She straightens her back even though the tears continue to fall.

“Things have changed for me, Grandmother,” she says. “I found a life that I didn’t know I could have—a real life, with real people and purpose! I see a future beyond dollar signs. All I could see before was money and what I could do with it, and now I see so much more…

“I found somebody who loves me, who doesn’t care that I’m broke, who’s not looking for the next big trust fund. I had to find me first, but once I did, she saw what I couldn’t see. She helped me see that there’s so much more to me. I’m in school now. I want to help kids—troubled kids, kids who don’t think anybody understands them. She helped me see that I could do that. I didn’t think I could, but she wouldn’t let me give up… and now, I’m on my way. And I love it, and I love her, and she loves me!

“I have friends and people like me, and I can be myself—not what I think people want me to be. I don’t hang out with any of the ‘cool kids’ anymore, because just like I was a bad influence on them, they were a bad influence on me.

“Mrs. Franklin died. Did you know that?” she asks but continues talking before Addie can answer. “I didn’t go to her funeral. I didn’t know who would be there, but her daughter—Harmony—we’re friends. I’ve been talking to her and helping her through this time as much as I can. Mrs. Franklin’s children… they’re horrible. They’re worse than I ever was and old enough to know better, and now Harmony has to deal with them. I’ll never be like them again, but Harmony is good people, and I’ll be there for her…”

Courtney is rambling on and on and on about the person that she has become, and I realize that this is something that she needs to do. We let her talk and talk through her tears for a solid twenty more minutes until she’s physically exhausted. I catch her before she collapses on the floor in tears and help her to the seating area where she crumples onto the sofa and continues to weep.

Addie tentatively moves next to her and takes Courtney’s shuddering body in her arms. Her own tears flowing from her eyes, she expels a string of apologies, telling Courtney how much she loves her and never stopped.

Now is my cue to leave. I’m emotionally exhausted myself.

I leave my office and close the door behind me. When I raise my head, Grace is standing there with her arms folded, a triumphant smirk on her face.

“Don’t give me that look,” I say, firmly. “You were still out of place and you still meddled where you shouldn’t have. You got lucky. This could have been disastrous.” She still smirks at me.

“But it wasn’t, was it?” she says haughtily and turns away, beginning her victory stroll down the hall.

“Grace!” I call, my blood boiling. She turns to face me, ready for battle.

I’m not.

“I love this place,” I say closing the space between us, “but you know that I don’t have to do this. You know I’ve worked hard with Courtney and I respected her wishes because just like Addie, she was traumatized. You threw that out the window like it was nothing because you felt like it. I’ve built up her trust and you could have destroyed that because you thought the outcome should be different. You could have undone everything I did, everything she did, and you walk around haughtily flexing your plume because the situation happened to work out this time without any consideration for the damage you could have caused. I know that I’m only second in command, but if you ever undermine my authority like that again, you can find yourself another second.” She folds her arms, frowning.

“Is that a threat, Anastasia?” she confronts. Oh, dear God. She does want a fight. She can’t see for the life of her that she could have undone all of my hard work, and nor does it matter to her. I sigh a scoffing sigh and cover my face with my hands shaking my head. That’s it. I give up. I can’t put in this kind of work to have someone look at it like it’s nothing.

Nothing. That’s what it is.

“Absolutely nothing.”

I didn’t know I verbalized the words until I hear myself say them. I shake my head and walk away. I can’t even go to the nursery to see my babies because I didn’t bring them with me. I need alone time and my office is occupied. I walk to the other side of the building to the empty rooms that will soon be classrooms and activity rooms. I sit at one of the tables with the lights out and focus on my breathing…

In with the good air, out with the bad…
In with the good air, out with the bad…
In with the good air, out with the bad…

I don’t know how long I sit in that room meditating, but when I emerge and go to my office, the coast is clear. I go inside, closing the door behind me. I don’t think about anything. I just move, closing my laptop and putting it in its bag, packing small personal items into my messenger bag—nothing dramatic. I take a little time to scribble a note on my notepad. I know she’ll come back looking for me.

Dear Courtney,

I’m sorry if this situation caused you any grief. However it turns out, please know that I didn’t engineer this meeting. I hope you don’t feel like I’ve betrayed your trust and that we can still be friends. Please continue to stay in the condo for as long as you need to, and if you choose to leave, just let me know.

Anastasia

I fold the letter, seal it in an envelope, and write Courtney’s name on it in large letters. I put on my coat, pull my purse out of my desk drawer, and put my laptop bag and messenger bag over my shoulder. I snap off a piece of tape and tape the letter to Courtney on my office door. I retrieve my briefcase, walk to the door and turn out the lights without looking back, closing the door behind me.

I look carefully up and down the hallway and, spotting no one, I leave the office and quietly make my way to the service door and the parking lot behind the Center. I type a text to Chuck, then I remember that he’s not here with me. He’s in South Dakota in court with his family. I copy the text to Ben’s number and inform him that I’m in the parking lot and ready to go. Moments later, he comes out to join me.

“Is everything okay?” he asks when he gets into the driver’s seat of the Audi.

“Yes,” I lie. “I’m just ready to go home.”

*-*

“Why are you thinking of leaving Helping Hands?” Christian questions.

“Because my opinion is no longer respected or valued,” I reply.

“Baby, don’t you think that may be a bit dramatic?” he asks.

“I certainly do not!” I retort. “Do you see the progress Courtney has made in the last year? Even you have to say that’s remarkable. Do you know what kind of work it took to get her there? Do you know how hard I had to work to gain her trust—to get her to confide in me? She was living in squalor and I had to convince her to move into my condo. You can look at her face and see that she’s a completely different person than the girl we met. Even her showdown with Mia—it was extremely emotional, and it showed just how much she had grown, evolved. It took forever to earn her trust and she only asked one thing of me—not to tell her Grandmother that she was still in Seattle. I tried everything I could to convince her to talk to her Grandmother and she. Was not. Ready, and Grace just dismissed her wishes, my promises, all the work she had done, everything.”

“You guys are still fighting about that?” he asks.

“No, were not,” I say finitely. “We’re not fighting about it because one, she dismisses anything I say about the situation and two, she engineered a meeting between them.”

“Really?” he asks, his eyes wide. “How did that go?”

“I don’t really know!” I reply perturbed. “Courtney flipped the fuck out, sobbing and rambling for about half an hour, telling her grandmother how worthless and awful she made her feel. Things that Courtney was feeling that I didn’t even know came out in this meeting. She was devastated. She talked and wept until she collapsed in exhaustion.”

“Then what?” he questions, his mouth hanging open in awe.

“Addie hugged her, they were crying, and I left the room,” I finish. My husband’s head snapped back.

“Okay, what happened after you left?”

“Grace is standing outside with this smug I told you so look on her face, and I’m trying to explain to her that situations don’t always turn out that way. They could end up disastrous if you don’t handle them carefully.” My mind immediately goes to Stoley and to Ace’s shark tooth. “I tried to get her to understand that things could have gone astronomically wrong and she totally dismissed me—smugly, too!”

“But baby, can’t you just count this one as a win? I mean, all’s well that ends well, right?”

“NO!” I yell. “How can you two not see this? This was a four-way stop where the traffic lights don’t work, and everybody went forward at the same time! They were just lucky they didn’t crash and end up splattered all over the street! Somebody has to be out there to direct that traffic and that’s what I was trying to do, and she totally disregarded me. She disregarded everything and she’s proud of it. She told everybody to just drive, and the accident did happen. I’m just waiting to see if there are any survivors.”

“Baby, don’t kill me… but… could it be that you’re angry because my mother was right?” he asks.

“No, I’m angry because your mother was wrong!” I correct him. “What she did was the equivalent of playing Russian Roulette and the gun just didn’t go off. Instead of breathing a sigh of relief that her brains didn’t end up splattered all over the wall, she’s doing a taunting victory dance that the bullet happened to be in a different cartridge.

“But here’s the thing,” I say, moving the pillow from my lap and putting it back on the sofa, “I don’t have to be right. I’m just not going to be in a place where someone doesn’t respect my authority or wishes. She hired me because I’m a doctor—a professional, licensed psychiatrist. Then she completely ignored my professional recommendations on a case that was mine—a case that I had cultivated and groomed personally for a year—and then she gloated about it and she taunted me, and she disparaged everything I said. I can’t work like that. I can deal with being wrong, but I can’t… and won’t… work like that.”

I stand up and walk out of the family room, not because he doesn’t agree with me but because he and I shouldn’t be fighting about this. I won’t argue with him anymore about things that happen between me and his mother at the Center, assuming I go back to the Center.

“I’m not walking away angry,” I call back to him through the kitchen. “I’m just walking away… okay?”

“Fair enough,” he says after a pause.

I don’t even change out of my pajamas on Tuesday. I deliberately spend the entire day playing with my children, eating junk food, and watching romance movies with Harmony while deliberately ignoring my phone. Harmony plays hooky from school, too, because tomorrow, she has to go to Carl’s office and face off with her mother’s children for the reading of the will. She asks if Christian and I will come with her. I promise to be there and told her that we would have to approach Christian when he gets home. As it turns out, he knew about it before I did and had already planned to attend.

So, D-Day comes, and we put our war clothes on and head to Carl’s office. Harmony wears a turban so that her shaved head won’t be the topic of discussion. I’m not looking forward to this meeting, but Harmony admits that she’ll be glad when this is over so that the vultures can get their money and go away forever. She’s certain that she’ll never see them again unless they try to get her out of the house. In fact…

“I’ve decided to put the house up for sale,” Harmony says as Jason parks the Audi and we exit


CHRISTIAN

“Are you sure about that?” I ask her.

“I’m positive,” Harmony replies. “Not only are there just too many memories for me to stay, but it’s just too big. I know Momma only put the place in my name so that they wouldn’t put me out the moment that she passed away and to give me some time to figure out what I would do next. I’m certain she won’t mind. I like having space, but it’s way too much space. With the money from my trust alone, I’m sure that I could find a really nice place—maybe even downtown somewhere not so set apart from the rest of the world.”

“What are you going to do with the money from the sale,” I ask, “if you’re going to use your trust to buy a new place?” She shrugs.

“Replace the money from my trust,” she says. “I’m not going to spend the whole trust on a place. Maybe I’ll just rent something in town until I sell the mansion. Let’s face it, I’m a twenty-something girl in a big ass mansion out in the suburbs all by myself. I have all the makings of a recluse while I’m fighting off my brothers and sisters. The sooner I get away from the house, the better. I’m going to hold on to it long enough for Momma’s estate to be properly disposed of and then as soon as it’s done, I’m finding a real estate agent.”

“Would you be interested in a downtown penthouse?” Butterfly and Harmony both snap their heads over to me.

“Would I!” Harmony says, her interest piqued. “You know of one available?”

“I do,” I say, and my eyes shift to Butterfly’s.

“You’re selling Escala?” she asks in disbelief. I sigh softly.

“You love your condo,” I begin. “It had great memories for you, and I don’t have a problem with that. Escala… not so much.”

“Escala? Are you serious?” Harmony says. “You have a penthouse in Escala?”

“Yes, I do,” I say. “I’m having a few renovations done to it, and if you can wait until they’re done and I’ve gone through it to make sure that there’s nothing remaining that I want, we can negotiate a fair price and you can take it with all the furnishings.”

“That would be perfect,” Harmony says. “How long do you think the renovations will take?”

“Everything should be ready by the new year,” I inform her. The playroom will have been converted back to a regular bedroom by then and all of the BDSM paraphernalia removed. “You can stay with us until then if you don’t want to go back to the mansion.”

“Yes, please,” she says. “I’m thinking that I’ll just have to go on and dismiss the staff,” she adds as she steps onto the elevator. “I’ll give them some kind of severance once I hear what Mom has done and decide who I’d want to come with me… and who would want to come with me.”

“You can’t have Windsor,” I tell her.

“I figured as much,” she laughs as the elevator rises.

When we enter the office, all of the siblings have already arrived. They look at Harmony in distaste and with narrowed eyes and all I can think is that Paige and Theo sure don’t look like they’ve recently spent time in jail.

The receptionist leads us to the conference room and we all take a seat at the large conference table—the siblings on one side and Harmony, myself, and my wife on the other.

“Why are there strangers at the reading of my mother’s will?” Ilsa says haughtily.

“They’re only strangers to you and I want them here, so they’re staying!” Harmony claps back, her voice so sharp that no one else dare question our presence. There’s a fierce stare-off between Harmony and Ilsa, but Harmony doesn’t stand down. I’m a little entranced waiting to see which of them is going to blink first when I’m jolted from the spectacle by someone calling my name.

“Christian!” Carl greets me, surprised. He enters the room and shakes my hand. “I’m sorry, I didn’t expect to see you. I’m glad someone could be here for Harmony.”

“Thank you, Carl. This is my wife, Anastasia.” He smiles at Butterfly.

“Mrs. Grey,” he extends his hand. “A pleasure to meet you. Thank you for being here.”

“Ana, please,” she says. “So, it’s okay that we’re here?”

“It’s absolutely okay,” Carl confirms. “In fact, it’s welcomed. Please, have a seat.” He moves to the head of the conference table. “Everyone, please sit. Let’s get started.”

“So, all he saw was the guy and the tart sitting at the end of the table?” Ilsa hisses to Paige. What the fuck!

“Watch it, you bitter, cantankerous, old bat!” Butterfly shoots across the table, and all eyes turn to her. Ilsa gasps and literally clutches her pearls.

“How dare you!” she exclaims, appalled.

“How did you know that I was talking about you?” Butterfly asks matter-of-factly. “Was it the bitter part, the cantankerous part, or the old bat?” As if they could, Ilsa’s eyes widen further and she gasps again. “If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out,” Butterfly adds and Paige scoffs.

“Young people these days have no respect for their elders!” Paige hisses.

“Says the woman who waited for her mother to die, then showed up and asked for her diamond earrings back!” Butterfly barks. Now it’s Paige’s turn to gasp. “You don’t think I saw you examining your mother’s body jewelry—for your precious earrings, you grave-robbing, greedy ass vulture? You don’t know the meaning of the word respect, so you certainly won’t get it from me!”

Paige’s gasping is audible, like she’s having an asthma attack.

“Are you gonna die, Paige?” Harmony asks. “You might want to hold off until you at least find out what you’re getting.” Paige’s performance ceases and her evil glare is now turned to Harmony.

“I want them removed!” Ilsa barks at Carl. “I will not be treated this way at the reading of my mother’s will!” Them? Who is this them of whom you speak? I haven’t said anything to you yet, Ms. Daisy!

“It’s like she said, Ilsa,” Carl says, “If you don’t want anybody throwing adverse comments about you, don’t throw adverse comments about them. It’s a simple concept—a variation of The Golden Rule, you remember that? We learned it in Sunday School.”

Ilsa is even more appalled than she was before.

“Now, can we get started, or would you rather throw more insults across the table?”

“I didn’t insult anyone. I simply spoke the truth.”

“That woman,” Carl says, pointing at my wife, “is a highly-regarded member of the community, just like your mother was. She’s a doctor, a respected businesswoman, and a philanthropist well known in many social, business, and professional circles—more well-known than you are if for nothing else but her philanthropic work alone. So—Ms. Ilsa—calling her a twat simply because you don’t like the fact that she’s young, rich, and beautiful is the furthest thing from the truth! Now, shall we get started?”

Ilsa’s already prune-like face shrivels up even more as she absorbs Carl’s words, but she says nothing else.

“I have here Tina’s last will and testament. It’s quite detailed as to the disbursement and disposition of her estate and reading it will most likely take all afternoon. To that effect, I have a video that I will present before we proceed.”

Carl pushes a button on a remote and a screen descends from the ceiling against the wall behind him, much like the hidden screen in my office. Everyone in the room sits silently as we await whatever presentation we are about to see. The lights dim only slightly and after several seconds, the screen comes alive.

The setting is the second-floor library at the Franklin mansion, and Tina sits comfortably in a large chair in her shawl with her afghan over her lap.

All of the women gasp, including my wife.

“My name is Ernestina Eloise Franklin. I am of sound mind and not-so-sound body, and this is my last will and testament, recorded September 14, 2014. A written, signed, detailed, and notarized version of my will is currently in the possession of my attorney, Carl Richardson. This informal recording is for my family.

“I don’t know how many of you have gathered for the reading, but I assume that at least the immediate children will want to know what my will contains. Unless one or more of you have preceded me to the afterlife and nobody bothered to tell me, I know you’re all here, so let’s get right to it, shall we?

“My written will is solidly eighteen pages of very small print. I won’t put Carl through the tedious process of having to read the whole damn thing as I’m certain that each of you would much rather I just get to the point. So, without the hitherto’s, whitherto’s, therefores, and whatnots, this is what my will says.

“Let me start by saying that none of you get to contest it—none of you! I’m fully aware that the only person that I’m not allowed to disown is my husband, and he preceded me in death. Don’t make me disown any of you post-mortem. Trust me, I found a way to do it.”

The siblings all look at each other while Harmony never takes her eyes off the screen. I don’t even think she’s paying attention to her mother’s words; she just gazes lovingly at her mother’s image and barely takes a breath.

“You all have houses—sprawling mansions on huge estates afforded to you by the fortunes you acquired from me, Daddy, or your profit sharing from Franklin Steel. Some of you even have vacation homes and timeshares in exotic locations. To that end, you don’t need another house, but Harmony does as she doesn’t have one. On that note, Franklin House and the contents therein are to be passed down to Harmony.”

She must have made this tape before she did the quit deed. This, however, is no surprise to anyone in attendance.

“I have various other investment, ventures, stock options, mutual funds, CD’s, and the like in my portfolio. Carl has compiled individual portfolios for each of you to indicate how these investments will be divided among you. The particular numbers and dollar amounts are in my written will, but I guarantee you that the amounts in your portfolios are accurate. You may consult with Carl—or your own private attorney—concerning the disposition of these various assets. They can be transferred, or they can be liquidated—the choice is yours.

“My current liquid assets including all bank accounts, CD’s, the family trust and cash on hand total approximately $62 million. This does not include Harmony’s trust fund, which she has not yet received. The amounts will be divided as follows:

“All of my estate expenses are to be settled first—funeral costs, hospital bills, any outstanding debts or claims against the estate. The remaining members of my house staff are to receive $200,000 each. This will be considered severance pay should they decide they do not wish to continue under the employ of Franklin House upon my passing.

“Each child will receive $500,000 to distribute among their families—children, grand-children, etc.—as they see fit. Those funds will be disbursed to whichever of your descendants that you indicate. My grandson Damien’s share will be given directly to him as well, as his mother preceded me in death. Harmony, as you have no children, your $500,000 will be put into a separate trust for your future descendants. I hope you don’t think me cruel or think that I’m trying to force you to have children. I just want to be sure that, in that eventuality, your children have something as well. I think 40 is a good age to decide if you’re going to procreate. So, if by that age, you haven’t decided to have any children, the $500,000 is yours to use as you see fit.

“Once all expenses have been settled and the disbursements executed as requested, the remainder of my liquid assets are to be divided evenly among my five surviving children, the disposition thereof to be overseen directly by my attorney, Carl Richardson.

“As for the distribution of the family business, each of you will retain your voting shares in Franklin Steel. My shares will be divided as follows:

“Harmony, since you don’t have any shares yet, you will get 60% of my shares. Ilsa, Theodore, Jonah, and Paige, the remaining 40% will be split among you. If my calculations are correct, that means that the five of you will now have equal voting shares each. If you have sold any of your previous shares, that’s not my problem.”

There’s a whole lot of scoffing and gagging on the other side of the table as had Tina’s voting shares been split evenly among the children, each of the siblings would have had much more than Harmony—significantly more, in fact.

Each sibling currently holds approximately one-sixth, or just over 16%, of the Franklin family voting shares… every sibling except for Harmony, that is. Tina held the other one-third. Had she split her one-third five ways, each sibling—Harmony included—would have gotten 20% of her shares. With the shares that the current siblings should already have in their portfolios, that would have put each of them at over 23% of the voting shares each, leaving Harmony with less than 7% for herself. I can imagine that Tina spent quite some time calculating the value of her shares and comparing them to what each of her biological children had to arrive at the calculations she reached. If each of them held on to their voting shares, they will now each have 20% of the Franklin Family voting shares.

It’s obvious that several of them are displeased with this outcome. Jesus, they’re worse than Freeman.

“If you pay attention to my body, I shouldn’t have had a single piece of jewelry on me—not a diamond, not a piece of platinum, not even my wedding ring. Why? Because you can’t take it with you… right, Paige?”

Everyone looks over at Paige, who doesn’t seem surprised that her mother singled her out.

“Yes, Paige, I remember what you said. Each time you asked me for those diamond earrings back—12 times over the last several years to be exact—and I told you that I loved them so much that I wanted to be buried in them. Well, Paige, I lied.

“You bought those earrings and gave them to me for my 50th birthday. I wore them at that party and I never wore them again. They’re huge, they’re gaudy, they’re highly overstated and unattractive and you bought them for yourself! You made this big production of giving them to me in front of all my friends only to ask for them back six months later. Well, here’s what’s going to happen now.

“Christian, I’m assuming that you or your lovely wife has accompanied my Harmony to this reading…”

Okay, I’m a bit in shock, as are each of Tina’s children… including Harmony.

“If you haven’t, not to worry. Carl will apprise you of this portion of the will. All of my jewelry—all of it—is to be sold at auction and the proceeds donated to charity. That means every. Single. Piece of it, and I’ve already had it inventoried. I’d like for you to oversee the disposition of the jewelry and assure that the final donation be forwarded to Grace or Anastasia at Helping Hands.”

Paige gasps when she hears the fate of her beloved earrings… or so she thinks.

“Paige, your earrings aren’t part of that inventory… because they’re already gone. I donated those gaudy things to Habitat for Humanity four years ago. I have no idea what sum they rendered, but you can rest easy knowing that some poor family now has a home because of your generosity.”

So, this is priceless. She’s had her heart set on getting those earrings back for years, to the degree that she examined her mother’s body in the casket to see if they were there. She even has a charge of breaking and entering against her to get those earrings back, and they weren’t even in the house. They’ve been long since gone. I can’t help but laugh out loud when I hear this. She throws a look of death at me when she hears me chuckling and I give a sinister look right back, the one that I give cocky CEO’s or opposing board members when they think they want to challenge me. I can see her get a chill right down to the bone.

“I have various other knick-knacks and small items that will be distributed according to that multipage document I had to sign to keep you vultures from picking my estate apart like a rotting carcass. You’ll each get a copy of it to read at your leisure, but unless you are that interested in what’s going to happen to the damn fountain on the front lawn or the rubber ducky I used to play with as a child, I think you’ve pretty much heard what you we’re primarily interested in.

“So, there you have it. My fortune is yours now, you greedy, heartless leeches! You’ve got what you wanted—except for your precious earrings, Paige. Now, go away and leave my Harmony alone! I know that none of you have had a single kind word to say to her! Be gone with you all and leave her in peace.”

The screen goes black, and Harmony releases a held breath. I’m sure she had no idea that her mother had recorded her will, and this was more than a bit of a surprise to her.

“Carl’s going to see to the distribution of the will. Carl has the inventory of the jewelry. Carl is going to tell us what we get from the portfolio. Whose side are you on?” Jonah accuses. “You two are in cahoots to get the biggest chunk of the estate?”

“I’m on Tina Franklin’s side, sir,” Carl hisses, “as you have well known for decades. I’m the executor of her will and that’s what I’m doing—executing it! Now, you’re free to contest Mrs. Franklin’s will if you like. Just know that Ms. Harmony’s trust is untouchable as is the house. So, Harmony will have her fortune and the home, and you’ll simply be jeopardizing your and everyone else’s share of Ms. Tina’s fortune. Now, what would you like to do… sir?”

“A video will… indeed! I don’t think my mother did that without coercion for a moment! You’re not fooling anybody! Either of you!” Jonah barks. “I’ll have you disbarred for gross misconduct…”

“Oh, cut the shit!” Carl exclaims, causing the entire room to glare at him.

“You can’t speak to me that way…”

“You’re in my office—I can speak to you any way I damn well please!” he hisses, and the room falls silent. “I’ve been your parents’ attorney nearly since the day I passed the bar. Ever since the moment I met you—all of you—you’ve all been a bunch of insufferable brats! Uncontrollable, never satisfied, entitled little vermin who have run around the entire time I’ve known you asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ‘Where’s my share?’ You’re like those goddamn seagulls in that cartoon, running around screaming, ‘Mine! Mine! Mine!’

“Your. Mother. Was dying. For months! And none of you—not one of you—could be bothered to even come and say goodbye. This woman sat on the floor at her feet and wept in her lap, more times than I care to count! She’s had to battle crooked house staff, a greedy ex-husband, you—all while watching her mother deteriorate day after day. And you have the audacity—the unmitigated gall—to harass and besmirch the one person who stayed by her side and cared for her until she took her last breath when you didn’t even make the effort to show up? How dare you!” He growls the last words, and four stunned siblings continue to stare at him in awe and silence.

“Thurgood Franklin was my friend,” Carl continues. “And when he passed away, I made sure that his affairs were in order and that his wife taken care of, and you all know that because you were there. Now, Ms. Tina has passed away—also my friend—and because her spoken will is not to your liking, not only do you attack the one person who lovingly and painstakingly took care of her, but you also have the audacity to sit in my office and try to accuse me of misconduct? I’ve been your parents’ attorney for so many years that I’ve lost count! Your selfishness and greed have taken over your senses, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. I’m sure that Thurgood and Tina are thoroughly ashamed of you!”

For the first time since I’ve seen any of them, Tina’s children all look a bit contrite.

“Your mother. Is gone,” he continues. “She’s dead. She’s not coming back, and I think I shed more tears at her funeral than all of you combined. And I’ll tell you one thing that’s really going to piss you off. If I had my way, none of you would have gotten a goddamn dime! I told her more than once not to leave any of you anything, but she didn’t listen to me. You are her children, and she felt that you were entitled to it, but she made it clear that she was going to have her last say before any of you got a nickel.

“So, if you want… please, go ahead and contest the will. You’ll hold it up, but when it’s done, your proceeds will be divvied up between all of the remaining siblings… all of them!” Including Harmony, you assholes.

“You’ve heard your mother’s verbal rendition of the will. The printed rendition is exactly the same, with a little legal jargon thrown in. Do what you choose with that information. I have all of your contact information and you’ve heard what you’re getting. I swear to have the will executed and have the proceeds disbursed as soon as humanly possible just so that I never have to see any of you again. Now, get the fuck out of my office.”

He turns away to try to compose himself. Four siblings sit stunned, staring between each other and back at Carl—waiting for the punchline, I guess. After several moments and no one moving, Carl glances back over his shoulder to see the siblings still sitting there stunned.

“Are you all deaf?” he yells as he whirls around to face off with them. “Do you need a map? Or should I arrange for an escort for you? Get the fuck out!” He points to the door and stares at Theodore. It’s a standoff. One of them had better move.

Theodore stands, straightens and buttons his jacket, and with a last glare at Carl, turns and leaves the room.

Without moving his pointing arm, Carl turns his glare to Jonah, who repeats all of the gestures of his brother and leaves. Ilsa and Paige are out of their seats before Carl can turn their glares to them. I see them hovering outside the office waiting for Harmony when Carl puts his arm down, drops his head and sighs mournfully. Harmony stands, and I stand with her.

“My friend is dead,” he says, his voice low. “Over forty years of camaraderie and memories reduced to this. She and Thurgood are the main reasons I went into law in the first place. She’s the reason I stayed. I’m too old for this.” He raises glassy eyes to Harmony.

“I’m going to carry out my friend’s wishes and get this will executed as soon as humanly possible. I’m going to have her liquid assets divvied up and have millions of dollars distributed to four ungrateful, greedy, hateful ass children who don’t deserve a fucking dime!” he barks loud enough for the vultures in the hallway to hear him. “And then I’m out. I’ll be available if you ever need a consult or advice, but I’m not doing this anymore.”

“Carl!” Harmony says, her voice heavy with concern. “Don’t do this! Don’t leave your profession—what you worked so hard to achieve—because of them.”

“It’s not just them!” Carl retorts. “Do you think this is the first time this has happened? It certainly won’t be the last. People don’t have hearts anymore! They’re just walking, talking shells filled with evil and greed. People have come into this office for will readings and gotten into fist fights. Your loved one is dead! You’ve lost a part of your family! These people lost the woman who carried them for nine months, went through incredible hell, pain, and suffering to bring them into the earth. Paige was breech—she ripped your mother’s body apart so that she couldn’t have any more children. Tina nearly died trying to get her here and they couldn’t even say ‘goodbye?’ Did you know that, Paige?” he yells out into the hallway, and Paige moves away from the doorway and out of visibility.

“None of them have any conviction! Hell, they’re not even mourning. They’re sitting here more upset that she left you the house than they are that she’s gone and she’s never coming back! Who does that?” He falls into his chair.

“My last moments with your mom… she cried, and she asked me what she did wrong. She asked me what she did to cause her children to hate her so much. She talked about how she did her best to raise them and to make sure that they had everything that they needed their entire lives, and that they deserted her and left her to die alone. She thanked God for you, though,” he adds. “She knew that as long as you were around, she wouldn’t die alone.

“She was tired, Harmony. She was bone tired, and she waited until that deed was filed, and she let go. She didn’t take her last breath that night when she went to sleep and didn’t wake up. She took her last real breath when I told her the house was yours. She smiled and sighed deeply. Then she closed her eyes and said, ‘thank you.’ She was still alive after that, but it was all mechanical. She was already gone—already content to go home.

“She loved you so much, Harmony,” he says, his voice cracking. “She never regretted one minute of having you in her life. She understood what you were going through as a teenager, but she was immensely proud of how you turned out. If you take nothing else from this horrible experience, please take that.”

Tears are flowing from Carl’s eyes and Harmony, along with my wife, is openly crying.

“Thank you, Carl,” she whispers through her tears. “That’s the most precious gift I could ever receive.” Carl nods and composes himself.

“I hate to dismiss you this way, child, but I need to hurry and perform my last act as an estate attorney. My friend is gone, and I have no reason to do this anymore.” Harmony nods and takes his hand, giving it a firm squeeze. “If you need me…” he adds. She nods again and turns to leave. Butterfly puts an arm around her and Harmony returns the gesture. I think, at this moment, they’re holding each other up. I shake Carl’s hand.

“You’re a good man,” I say. He nods and purses his lips—his form of “thank you,” I think, as he fights to keep from completely breaking down. I quickly fall in step behind Butterfly and Harmony as they both watch the floor to avoid bumping into anything. They don’t make eye-contact with any of the siblings as they exit the office. Jonah moves to speak, and I throw a look of death at him.

Say something and I’ll knock your fucking dentures out!

I see a visible chill run through him as he takes a step back and clams the fuck up. As we’re waiting for the elevator, I hear Carl’s disembodied voice speaking through the intercom to his assistant—the siblings still hovering around her desk.

“Mrs. Andreini, please get the ball rolling on the Franklin file immediately. I want it executed and closed as soon as inhumanly possible. Also, close my door and get those people out of my office. Call the police if you have to.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Richardson.”

The elevator comes, and we don’t wait to see the outcome. I usher the ladies inside and push the button for the first floor, leaving the siblings behind us as the elevator doors close.


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

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

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 70—The Women

Hello my friends,

One of my readers and Facebook friends Charlette Bishop has lost her son and is unable to properly lay him to rest. As many of us are parents, I’m certain that we can empathize with the unimaginable pain of possibly losing a child. Couple that with the distress of being unable to provide that child with a proper burial, and the situation becomes utterly unthinkable. I’m asking anyone who can to please follow the red link below and donate to the family’s efforts to bury their loved one. There’s strength in numbers, y’all, and I can guarantee you that ANY AMOUNT will be appreciated. Please help if you can.

Help A Family Bury A Beloved Son

I know every week, it seems like it’s something else, but you can’t time when these things are going to happen. Please, PLEASE help if you can. Thank you in advance.

GOLDEN—I’m getting a lot of inquiries about her. I haven’t abandoned the story, but I have to follow the Muse. I’ve been battling (and I do mean BATTLING) with a particular storyline for Raising and if I break off of it, I’m going to lose it. 

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 70—The Women

ANASTASIA

“All the Grey women have gone on shopping sprees for our weddings,” Mia begins.

“I didn’t!” Val protests.

“Well, then, we rectify that now—for you and for Luma,” Mia protests.

“But I don’t need anything, child,” Luma says sweetly. “Herman gives me everything I need and more. I don’t even have to work if I don’t want to.”

“There’s not one little thing that you can think of that you may want for yourself?” I ask. “That’s the whole idea of the Black Friday shopping spree. I can almost guarantee that none of us actually needs anything. I’ll probably be loaded down with baby gear—since Harry is quickly introducing my son to the joys of walking. Val, I know you’re going to be on the lookout for cute maternity clothes and stuff for the baby’s room. This is the time to not think about prices and do the impulse shopping thing. Hell, I hate shopping, but I look forward to this every year.”

“Don’t worry, Luma,” Grace says, hooking arms with her. “I’ll show you how it’s done.”

By the time we’re getting ready to head to Miana’s, Luma has shed her timidity of shopping and has purchased some beautiful new pieces. She admits that she could use a color and trim but won’t go overboard at the salon. As usual, Sophie sticks close to me in this setting, but doesn’t say too much. I guess it’s up to me.

“So,” I say as we’re getting our pedicures. “Thanksgiving.” She twists her lips.

“Yeah—food, fun, family, yippee,” she says with little enthusiasm.

“You’re beginning to sound like a surly teenager,” I say, raising my brow. She sighs.

“Usually, it’s just me and Mags, talking about… whatever, and Mariah and Celida and let’s face it. They’ve been through some crappy stuff losing their mom and their dad, but they’re basically the same person and they’re both… so young. At first, hanging around them was kinda fun. Now, it’s more like babysitting.” She looks down at her toes as the technician trims her nails.

“And Marlow?” I ask. She twists her lips again but doesn’t make eye-contact with me.

“What about him?” she says, trying to be impassive.

“He was pretty upset when he left yesterday,” I inform her.

“Hmmm,” she says, unmoved.

“Why do you think that was?”

“Because his girlfriend was mad,” she informs me matter-of-factly.

“So, what was her problem?” I ask.

“She can’t take a joke, I guess,” Sophie mumbles.

“Is that what happened?” I press. “You were joking?” She looks up at me and her expression says that she’s aware that I already know what happened.

“I wasn’t talking about her,” Sophie fibs. “Maggie doesn’t like her—I don’t know why. She’s says Britney’s a phony and that she’s anorexic because she so skinny.” I nod.

“I see. So… you didn’t say anything about Britney needing a gravy sandwich.” Sophie twists her lips and looks back down at her toes.

“That’s what I thought,” I say.

“That’s not what I said,” she mumbles.

“Well, what did you say?”

“I said she should have some more gravy. That’s all,” she says petulantly.

“And of course, that had nothing to do with her being skinny, right?”

Maggie said she was skinny, not me!” she defends.

“But did the gravy suggestion follow Maggie’s comment?” I accuse, and my little friend is quiet again. I’m a shrink, kid. Don’t try to pull anything past me.

“Listen, Sophie, I’m not really sure what the issue is with you and Marlow’s… dates, but this sparring really needs to stop. It’s only going to piss him off, and it’s only going to make him—and you—feel uncomfortable at family gatherings. Since we consider you both part of our family, that would certainly be a less-than-ideal development. From what I gather, what you said about Britney hurt her. Now, I know that twit Maya was a real piece of work, but did Britney do anything to bring that on?” She twists her lips again. She twists her lips a lot. I think that’s her tell.

“No,” she admits, looking back at her toes again.

“Listen,” I say turning to her, “you know that if anybody does anything unfair to you or treats you badly, I’ve got your back. But I can’t defend you when you’re deliberately mean to people for no reason. You wouldn’t want anyone to treat you that way, would you?” She nervously starts to twitch and fiddle her fingers. “Is something going on? Do you want to talk?”

She raises beseeching eyes to me as if she’s begging me to understand how she’s feeling and just as I swear she’s about to open up and talk to me, Mia and Val gleefully burst into the room to get their pedicures. She looks at them and clams up again, shaking her head that she has nothing to say.

And the moment is lost.

I reach over and take her hand, causing her to bring her eyes to mine again.

“Anytime, Sophia,” I promise her. “You can talk to me about anything, anytime.” She drops her eyes and nods again, but says nothing else. How long is this poor girl going to carry this torch and bear this burden by herself? She either needs to say something about it or get over it and move on.

When we arrive at Grey Manor after the shopping and the primping, Marlow’s car is visibly one of the vehicles in the circular drive and Sophie suddenly has the look that she would rather be anywhere but here. She looks like a caged rabbit, like if I open the door and let her out, she’s going to run into the woods and disappear.

“Chuck, Keri, can you take Minnie inside and start unloading the bags? I need to speak to Sophie.”

Chuck looks at me for an instant, then nods and exits the car. Keri quickly leans into the back where Sophie and I are sitting and removes Minnie from her car seat, leaving me and Sophie alone in the car.

“Okay, Sophie, the last time you looked that green was at Mia’s reception. Shortly thereafter, you had one of the guards take you home. There’s nowhere to run. What’s going on?”

She gives me that same look again and I’m just waiting for someone to come knocking on the window or throw the car door open to ruin the moment once again. Thank God no one does.

“You have to swear to me that you’ll never tell anybody—nobody, ever—or I’ll never speak to you again!” she vows.

“I’ll never tell anybody anything that you tell me unless I feel like you’re in danger,” I promise. She sighs and looks down at her lap.

“I like Marlow,” she says, her voice small, “a lot. I know he doesn’t like me like that. I know I don’t stand a chance. I know I’m too young. I know this will never happen, but it doesn’t make me stop liking him. I look forward to family gatherings and holidays because I’ll get to see him—and then he shows up with some twit or some scarecrow. Last year at Thanksgiving, we had a great time! We talked, and he didn’t make me feel like a kid. We could always talk. At Christmas, and New Year’s… and then at Aunt Val and Uncle Elliot’s wedding, he danced with me. It was…” She trails off, looking straight ahead out the windshield. “… Really nice. And then, the girls started coming around and… he stopped talking to me.”

Her gaze drops back to her lap as she tries to find her words.

“It was just like one day, I didn’t exist anymore,” she says, her voice cracking. “He used to ask me about school and talk to me about what he wanted to do, where he wanted to go to college. Now, he doesn’t even speak to me when he comes into the room! I’m not stupid! He’ll be graduating soon and I’m not even in high school yet. He’s way out of my league. Geez, I don’t even have a league, but did he have to start treating me like I’m nobody? Like he doesn’t even know I’m alive? What does it matter what I say about his scarecrow, vomit-dress-wearing girlfriends if he doesn’t even know that I’m alive?” she wails.

She buries her face in her hands and begins to sob. I put my arms around her and let her cry. I can’t offer her any comfort. She’s right. Crushes are painful, and she’s got a crush on someone that she can’t have. They might as well be on two different planets for the chance that she has to be with him—at all. It’s good that she understands that, but it’s bad, too. There’s no hope for them, yet she has to see him at every. Family. Outing. And he’s not going to stop bringing his girlfriends around. Now is not the time for me to tell her to buck up and get over it. It’s just going to make it worse, so I just let her cry.

Her crying doesn’t subside, and she eventually lays in my lap and continues to weep. After she’s been there for a few moments, Marlow comes out of the house. He looks left to right as if he’s looking for someone, then he quickly strides to his car. I realize that Sophie and I are the only ones who haven’t come into the house, and he’s looking for us… or at least he’s looking to avoid us.

Don’t worry, Marlow, the coast is clear. She doesn’t want to see you right now any more than you want to see her.

After belting himself into the seat, he starts the car and drives off, unknowingly leaving Sophie in a puddle of her own tears.

*-*

I didn’t realize that I had completely skipped my session with Ace until Christian asked me about it at brunch the next day. I don’t even know if Ace expected me to keep a session on Black Friday. Nonetheless, I didn’t hear from him and he didn’t hear from me, so…

It’s time for the Greater Seattle Adopt-A-Family Reunion and I’m ready to see the families that we’ve helped throughout the years. Granted, Helping Hands isn’t the only charity that takes part in this occasion, but I’m still anxious to see the families that we’ve helped thus far. Last year, I was elegant in maternity green, but this year, I’m fierce in an elegant black halter gown with a beaded back and a pair of crystal-encrusted Circonvolu Strass Christian Louboutin stiletto strappy sandals. So that I don’t freeze my ass off, but I’m still able to showcase my gown, I’m wearing a burgundy custom-made full-length maxi coat that only buttons to the waist then flares out like a cape.

The rest of the ladies are equally elegant in their jewel-toned gowns and fancy footwear—Mia in rich magenta, Val and Mandy in brilliant blues, Luma in yellow topaz, and Grace in a deep, cheery pink. Our gentlemen all accompany us in sleek Brioni, Tom Ford, and Cesare Paciotti. Even my dad dons Armani for the occasion.

The initial portion of the evening has been changed from the usual cocktail hour to a more family-friendly meet-and-greet as some of the older children of the adopted families were invited to join us tonight. This, of course, means that Marlow is in attendance. I don’t know why I was fretting him bringing a date with him, but my concerns are unfounded as he accompanies his mother instead.

I can’t help but stare in wonder at the changes I see in them both since that day that we met. He was so angry, and she was so… small. She’s still a petite woman, of course, especially next to her very tall son, but back then, she was… emotionally miniscule. Her abusive husband had beaten all the life and energy out of her, and she was just here. Today, she looks vibrant and beautiful, refreshed. She’s telling me about her new beau, Zack—well, maybe not so new, she’s been seeing him for a few months now, but she won’t allow anything to become too serious too quickly. That’s the reason we haven’t met him yet.

We talk for a moment about Maggie and Marlow and the strides they’ve made in the last two years. She mentions that Maggie sometimes asks what happened to her father. She’s gotten older and understands the world a little better, but still doesn’t know the whole story. Marcia just glosses over it when the topic arises.

“It may be time to tell her the truth,” I counsel Marcia. “She’s old enough to understand and whatever hypotheses she formulates, you want them to be based on facts.”

I shouldn’t be surprised that I have to don the Dr. Steele-Grey hat tonight. I don’t mind, though. The families have all come a long way.

We’re seated for dinner and we enjoy a delicious rack of lamb with trimmings while we congregate and share stories. As usual, a slideshow comprised of pictures of the families and various happenings with the supporting charities follows dinner, I get a kick out of hearing the various exclamations of recognition when people see their family or their organization on the screen. When the slideshow is over, I begin to make my way around the room to do the necessary networking required to make connections and keep the donations rolling in. While I’m mingling, I scan the room hoping to see the one person that I haven’t talked to in eons.

“Thelma!” I say once I finally spot her. She’s wearing a beautiful evening gown, silver with a hint of blue, lace back and crisscross scooped front with a special extra feature.

“I see congratulations are in order,” I add, taking a seat next to her once we greet one another. “When are you due?”

“This little bundle is due in March,” she says, rubbing her belly, “but if he’s anything like little Jimmy, he’ll be here by Valentine’s Day.”

“Couldn’t wait to meet Mommy and Daddy, huh?” I ask. Thelma smiles.

“No,” she laughs. “He was in quite the hurry.”

“How are things going?” I ask.

“Oh, Ana,” she says. “Things couldn’t be better. Jimmy fought to shake that infection at first, but he never took time off—that’s why it wouldn’t leave completely. I fussed a little, but you know my Jimmy… he’s hard-headed. Once he was finally well, though, he put some healthy weight back on, and he was feeling like himself again and…” She points at her stomach with both index fingers and smiles.

“I can’t remember a time we’ve been happier except when we first got married. His bosses saw how serious he is about his job and how well he works, and they made him a supervisor—a raise, better benefits… I’m able to put money away for a rainy day now. It’s been so wonderful. I’ve been meaning to call you and catch you up on things, but it’s kind of hard to do these days,” she laughs.

“I can imagine,” I say.

“It was wonderful to get the invite to the gala,” she says. “I couldn’t wait to see you and tell you turned our lives around. I can’t begin to thank you…”

“Ana!”

I’m caught off guard by a man’s voice exclaiming my name. I turn around and see a very stocky James coming towards us carrying two large glasses of what looks like orange juice.

“James, hi,” I say, rising from my seat. He places the glasses on the table.

“Oh, I was so hoping I would see you,” he says wrapping me in a warm embrace.

“I’m glad to see you, too, James,” I say, returning his embrace.

“Please, call me Jimmy,” he says, releasing me with a smile. “Bella only calls me James when she’s mad at me.” I raise my brow.

“I’m Bella,” Thelma says, raising her hand, and I nod. Jimmy turns to his wife.

“Isn’t she glorious?” he says, looking lovingly at Thelma before kneeling down to her.

“Stop it, now,” she says, playfully swatting his shoulder. He gently kisses her cheek and takes her hand.

“Do you need anything else?” he asks. “Are your feet okay?”

“My feet are fine, Jimmy,” she says cupping his cheek. “And you can have one glass of champagne if you want…”

“Oh, no,” he says. “I’m not taking any chances. It’s orange juice for us both tonight. I have to get my packages home safe and sound.” He smiles at her before turning to me. “Is Christian here?”

“Right behind you.” I turn to see Christian approaching us with a half-smile. “I saw some man wrapped around my wife and figured I better come and investigate.” Jimmy laughs heartily as he stands.

“Well, you have no worries here,” Jimmy says giving Christian’s hand a firm shake. “I only have eyes for that beauty right there,” he adds, gesturing to his wife.

“How have you been, man?” Christian asks. “Things been okay?”

“More than okay,” Jimmy emphasizes. “I can’t begin to thank you for everything you’ve done for us. You saved my life, man.”

“Think nothing of it,” Christian says. “It was the right thing to do.”

“No, really,” he says, gesturing for Christian to take a seat. Christian holds my chair out and I sit while James continues to make his point as both gentlemen take their seat.

“I was living in a death trap. I foolishly had my family there. I don’t know what would have happened if you two hadn’t come along. Ana gave my family a safe place to be while I was going through my insanity—and Christian, what you did for me…” His voice cracks a bit while he’s trying to speak. “Just… thank you, man… thank you the whole world.” Jimmy quickly wipes away a tear.

“You’re thanking me by living a good life and taking care of your family,” Christian encourages, “which I see is growing! Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” Thelma says with her full-beam glowing pregnancy smile. Jimmy’s right—she really is beautiful. She wears maternity quite well. As Christian and Jimmy discuss due dates and daddy duty, I catch Val’s attention in the crowd and gesture for her to join us.

“I miss champagne,” she says playfully as she comes over to the table.

“Thelma, this is my sister, Valerie,” I introduce. Thelma takes her hand.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Thelma greets. “How did I not know that you had a sister?”

“Well, we’re not blood sisters,” Val says, “we’re sisters-in-love, in a lot of ways. We’ve been friends for years and we happen to marry brothers.”

“Well, sisters-in-love are the best kind,” Thelma says. “Please join us…”

Very soon, the women are chatting away about babies and marriage and what have you. Val shares her experience with Meg while Thelma talks about how we met and how our family helped her family. After a long conversation, Christian, Val, and I excuse ourselves and head back to our table.

“I’m going to desert you guys for a moment,” Val says. “Nature calls.”

“By all means,” I say as Christian and I head back to our table.

“Well that’s a success story if I ever heard one,” Christian says pushing in my chair for me.

“I’ll say. I barely recognized Thelma. She looks so healthy and happy. She was barely holding on when I last saw her. She was doing better, but you could tell that being without Jimmy was taking its toll on her.”

“I kinda get it,” he says. “Think about how well we did when we were apart.” I can only assume that he’s talking about me trying to take a nosedive off a cliff when he went to Madrid and him turning into Death when I went to Montana.

“Yeah, not the best times of our lives,” I say, trying to brush away the memories. I glad to hear a soft voice over my shoulder at just that moment.

“Ana, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to intrude… may I please speak to you for a moment?” Addie comes over to our table. She’s frowning, but not angry. Her face is… troubled.

“Sure, Addie. Do you want to go somewhere more private?” Addie seems rudderless. Christian stands and pulls a chair out for her.

“Please, Adelaide, sit,” he gestures. “I’ll go and refresh my drink.” Adelaide looks at him and nods before taking the seat he’s holding for her. He touches my shoulder gently and heads to the bar.

“What’s wrong, Addie?” I ask. “Are you okay?” She clears her throat.

“The Center,” she says. “It seems to be doing very well.”

“It is,” I say cautiously. “Once we got over our last speedbump for accreditation, things began to move very quickly. We can barely keep up.” She nods.

“I barely recognize the place from the pictures,” she says. “Grace had been working on it for so long. I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t taken much interest in it as a project until you brought it to my attention.”

Oh, hell. Is she about to tell me that she wants to become involved in Helping Hands? I can’t turn her down, but…

“Unless it’s true what they say and you’ve found my granddaughter’s physical twin, is it safe to assume that the woman in the apron that looked like her was indeed Courtney?”

I’m caught off guard by the question. I thought I took special care not to use Courtney in any of the pictures to protect her anonymity from her grandparents.

“Yes, Addie… it’s Courtney,” I confess.

“I see. How long has she been here?” she asks.

“She never left,” I inform her. Addie nods and twists her lips.

“So much for teaching her a lesson,” she laments. I shake my head.

“Oh, Addie,” I say, “you have no idea. Courtney learned that lesson and more.” I turn towards her in my seat. “She made me swear not to tell you that she was still here. She feels like she’s hurt you and Fred enough and your words cut her to the quick.” Addie raises her head and her gaze meets mine.

“Am I supposed to feel guilty about what I said… after how she treated me?” she asks, appalled. I shake my head.

“You had every right to say what you were feeling after what you had been put through,” I reply, neither condoning or condemning her choice of words. “I’m only stating that they had the desired effect. Courtney feels that you two are better off without each other because of the way she treated you and because of your words to her. She was at Mia’s wedding reception.” Addie’s eyes widen.

“Mia’s…” Her words trail off. “They’re friends again?”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” I admit, “but they’re cordial enough where Mia was okay for her to come to the wedding. It didn’t come easily.”

“I can bet,” Addie says. I catch her meaning, but I don’t bother trying to smooth it over. Apparently, Courtney was right. That bridge is too badly burned for them to walk back across it.

“I discovered her in a homeless shelter right before I had the twins,” I tell her. “She had asked me for help, but I turned her down. Like you, I felt she was a lost cause. Our security had been keeping an eye on her because she threatened me, and they informed me that she was at the shelter. I found her going through the classifieds looking for a job.

“Grace put her up at the shelter at Helping Hands and gave her a part-time job there. She moved to subsidized housing and she lived there for quite some time—in a terrible part of town—but she was grateful as she said anything was better than going back to Putchatoowak or whatever that place is called.” Addie turns her head to me, and I just keep talking.

“She enrolled in school.” That piques her attention. “I got her a laptop as she was in no position to buy one herself. However, she took the bus to and from school and got back to that horrible little apartment after dark. She said that she wasn’t afraid because the neighborhood guys looked out for her, but she was a young girl living alone going to and from school and work leaving in the early morning and returning after dark. I couldn’t in good conscience leave her in that position.

“I offered her my condo. She refused. I convinced her that it was an investment and begged her to take it. The place where she was living was roach-infested and unsafe. It was deplorable. We worked out rent that she could afford and she moved in, a condition of her stay being that she get good grades, she continues to work with Helping Hands, and she becomes an asset to us upon graduation.”

What is she studying?” Addie asks in disbelief.

“Social work.” She frowns.

“You’re kidding.” I shake my head.

“I’m not,” I tell her. “She wants to work with children. More than one abused or troubled teenager has come through the Center and Courtney has brought them out of their shell or made them feel safe. That’s what made her choose social work. You know that she had no skills and no direction before. Now she does.

“I’ve asked her several times to allow me to contact you and tell you about the change in her life—in her attitude and her outlook. She refused. She begged me not to tell you. She spotted you at Mia’s reception and made a hasty retreat before you spotted her.”

“No, she didn’t,” Addie says, now looking at the table. She didn’t what?

“She didn’t get away before I saw her,” Addie says as if I had verbalized my question. “I did see her. She was… beautiful… and I didn’t recognize her. I assumed that my eyes were playing tricks on me, not only because I had sent her back to Chuktapaw nearly a year ago, but also because I thought there was no way in hell that Mia would allow her to come to the wedding. So, I blew it off. I figured if I didn’t hear from her after what happened this summer, I wouldn’t hear from her at all.” I frown.

“What happened?” I ask. Addie raises her eyes to mine.

“Her mother died,” she says. “I was listed as next of kin and when they contacted me, I didn’t even ask about Courtney. Her father had disappeared years before apparently and nobody was there to claim the body. I had her cremated and interred in the family tomb. There was nothing much else to do.”

Shit. Courtney’s mother is dead. I’m sure she doesn’t know. Should I tell her… or just let sleeping dogs lie? Jesus, what a conundrum.

“Then, when I saw her in the picture—smiling and wearing an apron… and serving fruit bowls to children…” She trails off again.

“Well, she’s here,” I say, crossing my legs. “She’s living in my condo, she attends Seattle Central and she’s at Helping Hands every day.” Addie raises a brow at me.

“Are you trying to arrange a meeting?” she asks. I sigh. I can’t believe I’m about to say this.

“No, Adelaide. I’m trying to avoid one.” Her eyes widen.

“How is telling me where she’s going to be every second of the day considered a diversion tactic from a meeting?”

“Because the way that I’m understanding what you’re saying and how you’re feeling, if anything happened to Courtney, assuming you could get to her, you’d cremate her, inter her remains in the family tomb, call it a day and forget she ever existed—assuming you don’t opt to donate her body to science for spare parts.”

Addie glares at me. Yes, Adelaide, she told me what you said.

“You’re our friend,” I continue. “Your daughter died this summer and there was no funeral—no mourning of the loss of your child that we knew of. We didn’t get the chance to comfort you, to give you condolences… you sent your respects when Burton Grey died, and we don’t even know your daughter’s name. Either you’re the coldest woman in existence—and I don’t believe that for a second—or this candle has been burned from both ends and is completely destroyed.

“I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Courtney is a changed person. I’ve watched the transformation myself for an entire year. She has a meaningful relationship—someone in her life who loves her very much. She’s got direction, drive, determination, but her wicks have disintegrated, too. She turned into a stuttering mess when she saw you at the reception and she got out of there as quickly as she could. She acknowledges what she did to you and how she treated you and for that reason, she doesn’t want to trouble you anymore, but she’s hurt, too.

“You wanted to hurt her, and you did,” I continue. “You wanted your words to cause her pain, and it worked. That knife cut through the bone. Nobody’s putting you in judgement because you were responding to an equally deep cut, if not a deeper one. But you can’t get offended because someone acknowledges the fact that what you said hurt her. It’s what you wanted, and you succeeded. Judging by how you feel about your daughter’s death and the fact that her passing gave you no concern for her daughter shows me that your pain and wounds are beyond the point of healing to the degree that you couldn’t even have a constructive conversation with Courtney.

“On the other side of that coin, Courtney’s in some place of martyrdom where she feels she needs to pay penance for what she’s done… not just to you, to everybody she’s ever hurt. In the process, she’s dealing with the gaping wound that your words left. So, the thought of even seeing you causes her anguish let alone speaking to you, not only because of what she did to you, but also because of what you said to her. To that end, it would be totally counterproductive on both ends for you two to see each other.

“If there are arrangements that need to be made in case of Courtney’s demise, let me know what you would like to do, and I’ll be the liaison to tell you that she has passed away should something happen to her. I won’t say anything about her mother unless she specifically asks. I think it’s better that she doesn’t know since there’s nothing that she can do about it.”

Addie shivers a bit, looking down at her frail, wrinkled hands.

“Thank you for being honest with me, Ana,” she says, her voice shaking, “though I wish you had told me this sooner.”

“I couldn’t,” I tell her. “I was sworn to secrecy, but I can’t avoid you seeing her on the screen. I wish I had been more careful about the pictures that we sent to the Greater Seatt…” Who sent the pictures? Who okayed pictures of Courtney? I wouldn’t have done that.

“Ana?” Addie says, bringing me back from my musings. I shake my head.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I just couldn’t tell you. She asked me not to and I had to respect her wishes. Had you not seen her in the presentation, she would still be somebody you thought you saw at Mia’s reception.” She nods.

“I’m going to find Fred,” she says. “I think I’d like to go home, now.” Without another word, she rises from her seat and walks off in the direction she came. I pop my neck like I’ve just finished a prize fight.

“Well, she didn’t look happy.” Christian is back by my side the moment Addie leaves.

“Where’s Grace?” I snap, and he immediately jumps back.

“Um, I don’t know,” he says a bit defensively. I begin to scan the room for her, and I see her in a conversation with some other guests. Ignoring my husband, I rise from my chair and stride over to her.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt,” I interject. “Grace, can I speak to you for a minute?”

“Of course, dear,” she says. “Excuse me, ladies.” I walk out into the hallway, not sure if Grace is following me. When I turn around, Christian and Grace are bringing up my rear.

“Ana, what is it?” she asks.

“Grace, I didn’t okay the pictures for the slideshow. Did you?”

“Yes,” she says, “I picked them all.”

“Including the one with Courtney in it?” I ask. She straightens her stance.

“Yes,” she says unapologetically.

“Knowing that Fred and Addie would be here?” Realization dawns on Christian’s face.

“Yes,” she replies finitely.

“Why would you do that?” I ask. “She has feverishly asked that we don’t tell her grandparents that she’s still here.”

“Because this is her family,” she says firmly. “Family needs to stick together, and you never know when you’re going to lose someone.”

“That’s not your place, Grace,” I say flustered. “You can’t push somebody’s hand until they’re ready!”

“And what if they’re never ready?” she retorts. “One of them will be looking down in a casket at the other and have nothing but regrets!”

“Then they’re never ready!” I say louder than I intended. “God, Grace, you may have caused more harm than good!”

“Then I’ll take that responsibility!” she snaps. “That girl is out on a limb doing everything she can to make something of herself and her life and she’s estranged from the only family that means anything to her. Her mother certainly doesn’t care…”

“Her mother’s dead,” I deadpan. Grace freezes.

“What?” she says.

“Addie’s daughter died this summer. I don’t even know what killed her. Addie never said a word. She retrieved the body, cremated it, interred it in the family tomb, and washed her hands. Courtney’s transformation is balancing on the head of a pin at any moment. I don’t have to tell you that—you’ve seen it. Yet, you think it’s a good idea to shove reconciliation down their throats that neither of them is ready for and probably don’t want because you feel like they should be speaking. How much sense does that make to you, Grace?” She’s struggling a bit for her words.

“You’ve proven my point,” she says. “She hasn’t seen her daughter in many years and when she does, she’s dead. She could have seen her before this, made amends before it was too late.”

“She hadn’t seen her daughter in years and when she did retrieve her body, she felt nothing,” I retort. “I would most likely do the same thing with my mother right now. She didn’t want to make amends! Unfortunately, Grace, some hurts don’t heal. So, while you’re trying to force a meeting that you think should happen, you might want to leave the psychoanalysis to the professionals!”

Grace gasps as I march away, and I hear Christian’s scolding tone behind me. I don’t care. She was wrong and it’s that simple. I head back into the ballroom and straight for the bar. I get a full glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. I can’t drink any hard liquor since I’m still here representing Helping Hands.

“Anastasia!” Christian hisses quietly, joining me at the bar. “That was totally unnecessary! You had no right to speak to my mother that way!”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Christian,” I say, taking my cabernet and moving away from the bar. “I didn’t speak to your mother that way. I spoke to a coworker—the director of Helping Hands—who used a charity function with our organization’s name on it to engineer a possible reunion that had nothing to do with her! She used her position to meddle in someone else’s affairs, a situation directly related to the Center no less. So, no, I wasn’t yelling at your mother and this has nothing to do with you!”

Christian’s face becomes stone and he pulls up to his full height.

“Very well, then,” he says. “The director of Helping Hands asked me to tell you that you can represent the Center tonight as she’s going home before she has one of her episodes.”

“Hmph,” I say, sipping my wine. “Her episodes. Didn’t her doctor warn us about her conveniently-placed episodes?”

Christian’s eyes become a metallic gray and he looks like he’s going to explode.

“Conveniently-placed or not,” he nearly hisses, “you yelled at my mother and she’s going home. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” He turns around and strolls coolly away from me as if we were just talking about the weather.

And that’s the last thing he says to me all night. It’s a fucking repeat of Val’s housewarming.

I try to keep up appearances, that London is not burning in the Grey camp, but everyone in our family can clearly see that Grace and Carrick have left and that Christian is avoiding me. Just when I’m sure that I’ve had just about enough of Christian hobnobbing with everyone else at the affair but me, I realize that he’s not quite finished making me feel shitty.

“You yelled at Mom?”

I turn around and find Elliot confronting me about mine and Grace’s altercation. I know that my mouth is hanging open, but I have no idea what my face is saying, because Elliot’s expression is clearly saying, “Oh, shit, what the fuck did I just do?”

I quickly scan the room for my husband. When I see him, he makes eye-contact with me almost immediately, then turns away and continues his conversation.

Welp, that’s enough for me.

I grab my clutch and wordlessly walk away from my brother-in-law. I retrieve my coat from the coat check and go out front to one of the waiting taxis.

Jesus, that’ll add fuel to the fire.

I say a prayer for my safety and get into one of the taxis, giving the driver my address and promising a huge tip if he gets me there quickly and in one piece.

He does.

“Mrs. Grey!” the guard says when I get to the gate. “What… where’s your detail?”

“Please open the gate,” I say, emotionally exhausted. The cabbie drops me at the portico, and I give him a hundred-dollar bill.

“Thank you, ma’am!” he says, awestruck.

“Thank you for getting me home safely,” I tell him. “You have a good night.”

When I walk into the grand entry, Windsor is rushing over to me. He has a puzzled look in his eye, no doubt wondering where everyone else is.

“Windsor, do you ever sleep?” I ask handing him my coat. He smiles.

“Yes, ma’am, I do.” I just nod and climb the spiral staircase. I look at my bedroom door, then I look at the nursery door. I opt for the nursery. I check on my children, and Mikey is sound asleep with his two middle fingers in his mouth. I check on Minnie and she’s silently looking up at me. No fussing, no fidgeting, just looking at me.

“Were you waiting up for me, Minnie Mouse?” I say to her sweet little face. I take her out of the crib and lay her on my shoulder, gently patting her back. She’s bringing me comfort, not judging me for how I spoke to her grandmother or for being Mrs. Grey or not saying something I should have or…

I sit there silently for a long time with my daughter, drawing on her unconditional love to give me some strength. It seems like I have to be strong for a lot of people, and lately I don’t have time for myself anymore. That can actually be a good thing, since it means that I don’t focus on my PTSD so much. I twist my lips and think about how I feel the need to journal right now. Then I remember Jason’s advice:

Talk to anyone who will listen.

Minnie will listen. She may not be able to respond or give me advice, but she’ll listen.

Then, I have visions of her subliminally absorbing what I’m saying and having nightmares about whatever incarnations of the Boogeyman that a baby’s brain can conjure.

That’ll never do… so I come up with another idea.

“Once upon a time, there was a girl named Cinderella,” I begin, sitting in the rocker with my daughter. “She lived in this great apartment and she had great friends and a great life. She didn’t have a boyfriend or anything besides this one psycho guy who thought they were meant to be together but that’s a different story.

“One day, she met this really beautiful prince with a really bad attitude. She just wanted to get away from him, but no matter what she did, she couldn’t escape. She fell in love with him and her whole life changed. People thought she didn’t have a right to be the princess. They called her names and talked about her being a bad person and only wanting the prince’s money and castle, but she loved him anyway. So, she ignored what the people said and stuck by her prince.

“As fairytales go, they got married in a beautiful castle and drove away in a classic chariot and flew away on a magic carpet to a faraway land to spend time together. Now, you would think that they lived happily ever after, but that’s not what happened.

“They had to come back to the real world from their faraway land, and terrible things happened, too many things to tell you, but Cinderella no longer felt like she lived in a castle with her prince. She felt like she was running from demons and devils and monsters all the time. People were always making her account for her thoughts and deepest feelings even when they were scary. People were sometimes trying to hurt her or even kill her…”

Too graphic.

“She longed for the days when the members of the court had nothing to do with her life, when it was just talking to the Mad Hatters all day and drinking wine and spending time with her friends all night.

“She misses quiet nights on the balcony and driving down the coast to nowhere, letting the sea breeze wash away her troubles.

“She misses unassuming daydreams about what her future holds—the things she could see and what she could become.

“She misses not being expected to be perfect because she’s married to the prince.

“She despises what people think they know about her and how they expect her to behave and their preconceived notions and theories about who she really is.

“She misses the simple, unassuming life that she once led…”

I sigh as I hold my daughter, now sound asleep on my chest.

“I don’t like being Cinderella,” I whisper matter-of-factly.

I sit with my sleeping baby for several more minutes, until I actually drift off myself in the rocker. When I wake, I put her back in her crib and slide out of my sleek silver strappy stiletto sandals. When I look out the door, the hallway is quiet. I don’t know how long I’ve been asleep, but it appears that no one’s home yet. I quietly close the door to the nursery and look at the door to our owner’s suite.

Cinderella’s room.

I don’t want to go in there.

I try to remember which room isn’t taken, assuming anyone wants to come back to my house tonight, the wicked old Cinderella who yelled at the queen.

I go into guestroom three and drop my shoes on the floor. I lie on top of the blankets fully dressed and fall asleep.

*-*

I’m disoriented when I awake. I don’t know where I am and for a brief moment, I forgot what happened the night before. I stretch and I feel an arm around my waist. I know how my husband feels so I don’t need to turn around. He’s coiled around me like he normally is and he, too, is fully dressed—well, at least shirt sleeves and pants that I can see. I need to get up. I slept like the dead and didn’t empty my breast all night. If I don’t relieve them soon, I’m going to ruin a perfectly good gown. I move a bit to wake Christian, but he shifts and pulls me closer to him. Well, that didn’t help. I sigh, thinking that I’ll have to jolt him from his sleep in order to get away.

“I heard you tell Minnie that you don’t like being Cinderella.”

I freeze. Shit, he heard my conversation with my daughter? I fucking hate that shit. I’ve done my fair share of eavesdropping, but I hate that he heard that—for many reasons. I was emotional when I said it; it was a private moment with my little girl; and it sounds really bad.

“You don’t like your life as it is?” he asks when I say nothing. I think about my response.

“I don’t like what’s expected of me simply because of who I am,” I reply honestly. “I have to behave a certain way, do all the right things, say all the right things, make all the right decisions and if I don’t, there’s hell to pay.”

“But, baby, that’s part of being an adult.” I wrench out of his grasp and sit up.

“No, Christian, that’s part of being Anastasia Grey,” I say, turning to face him. “I was an adult before I was Anastasia Grey, and I wasn’t under scrutiny for everything I said and did. Anastasia Steele came and went as she pleased. There was no one looking over her shoulder, no security details, nobody watching her every move. She was an adult, too, and she was not under the microscope. No one accused her of being a gold-digger. Nobody turned their noses up to her because of who she was or what she had. She only had to prove who she was, prove she was worthy, when she met you. Anastasia Steele became Cinderella and suddenly, her entire life—the good, the bad, and the ugly—are on display for everybody to see, and no matter what happens, Cinderella has to keep smiling. Cinderella has to keep representing the castle. Cinderella’s not allowed to hurt in public or fall apart in public and heaven forbid if Cinderella has a human moment at all. Le gasp, call the congeniality police! We have a major violation here! So, yes, there are many times when I don’t like being Cinderella!”

I rise from the bed and leave the guest room. I need to get to my breast pump or the shower before Niagara Falls releases from my boobs.

CHRISTIAN


“She’s not in the ladies’ room, Christian,” Val informs me after I’ve combed nearly every inch of this place looking for my wife. At first, I thought she was just being childish. Now, I’m scared shitless because I don’t know where she is. Bad things happen when my wife disappears.

“Sir,” Jason darts over to me and puts his hand on my arm. “I’ve tracked her phone. She’s at the Crossing.” I frown.

“How did she get all the way to Mercer and we didn’t know she was gone?” I bark.

“Because Chuck’s not here and she’s not wearing a tether, sir, except for her phone,” he retorts. “Remember tonight’s protocol? Chuck’s leaving town, we’re around family and friends, no need for extra security…”

He’s right. I agreed to lighter security tonight. Chuck has to be in South Dakota for his and his mother’s case against their brother. I can’t blame anyone for this one except myself…

And my careless wife.

She probably didn’t want to face me because of how she treated Mom.

“Let’s go,” I growl, heading for the door.

Everyone thought it best to head to their own abodes instead of coming to Grey Crossing, anticipating a showdown between me and my wife. The house is a tomb when I enter, only Windsor stirring to greet me.

“Mrs. Grey?” I hiss.

“She’s upstairs, sir,” he responds. “Will anyone else be coming tonight?”

“No,” I say, loosening my tie and taking the stairs two at a time. I head straight for the closed doors of our suite, but then I hear her voice to the right of me…

“Once upon a time, there was a girl named Cinderella…”

It’s coming from the cracked door of our babies’ nursery. Well, isn’t that adorable, I think angrily to myself. I’m tearing up a banquet hall looking for her and she’s here reading bedtime stories. I’m particularly livid after discovering that she took a goddamn taxi home!

“One day, she met this really beautiful prince with a really bad attitude. She just wanted to get away from him, but no matter what she did, she couldn’t escape. She fell in love with him and her whole life changed. People thought she didn’t have a right to be the princess. They called her names and talked about her being a bad person and only wanting the prince’s money and castle, but she loved him anyway. So, she ignored what the people said and stuck by her prince.”

Wait a minute. I’m new to this Disney thing, but even I know that’s not how that story goes. I lean against the wall next to the door and listen to her describe Cinderella’s life after she married the prince—the scrutiny, her fears, the dangers that followed her. I sigh heavily listening to her talk about how she misses how simple her life was before she met the “prince.”

“I don’t like being Cinderella…”

And it didn’t take a rocket scientist or even that statement to know that she was talking about us.

This conversation—this altercation or whatever it was that happened with her and Mom and more importantly, her leaving in a damn taxi without security—it needs to be addressed, but not tonight. She sounds raw and a bit vulnerable and this is not the time.

I go to our room and remove my jacket, tossing it and my tie onto the bed. I want a drink but think better of it. Instead, I’ll just sit here and wait.

And wait…

And wait…

And wait.

My mind replays the conversation she had with my mom. From what I understand, Mom was trying to orchestrate a possible meeting between Adelaide and her granddaughter and apparently, Butterfly and Courtney knew nothing about it. I don’t have all of the details, but she was pretty hard on my mom and I really thought that was very unnecessary. Mom left shortly after Adelaide did and… to be honest, I’m pretty gray—pun intended—on what happened after that.

My wife and I had some words, they weren’t kind, and I refused to argue with her in public. According to Mom, she would have to represent Helping Hands for the rest of the evening, and I was doing my best not to hinder that, but when Elliot asked me where Mom was, I told him the truth. The last time I saw her, she was glaring at me and Elliot was glaring at her, so I assumed he had asked about the altercation. I turned my head for a second, and when I looked back, she was gone.

I didn’t think anything of it. I thought she had taken Elliot aside to tell him her side of the story, but when a while later I saw Elliot and no Butterfly, I thought she had explained things, and everything was okay…

Until…

“Man, if looks could maim, I’d be castrated by now,” Elliot says. “All I could think was ‘back away slowly’ which is what I was trying to do, but then she just whirled around and took off out the door.” I frown deeply.

“Out the door?” I ask. “Where did she go?” Elliot shrinks a bit.

“I assumed she went to the ladies’ room,” he says. I look at my watch.

“Elliot, that was over half an hour ago. Nobody has seen her since!” I announce.

“Hey,” Val says, interrupting our conversation, on purpose no doubt. “Why so serious?”

“Val, would you mind terribly checking out the ladies’ rooms and seeing if my wife is hiding out in one of them?” I ask. She raises her brow knowingly to me then looks at Elliot.

“Mom and Montana had words,” he tells his wife. “It hasn’t been a good night.”

Grace and Ana,” she says, a statement, not a question.

“And me,” I admit, “but we didn’t fight. I was just not happy about her yelling at my mom.” Val twists her lips and rolls her eyes.

“I’ll be back,” she says as she heads off to the restrooms.

And now, I’m here, waiting and waiting for her to finish her remix of Cinderella with whatever child has her attention now. After waiting for I don’t even know how long, I toe out of my shoes and go back to the hallway. The nursery door is closed now, so I peek inside.

She’s not there.

I go down to the kitchen to see if she’s gone in search of a snack or a drink. She’s not there either. She’s not in the family room, the entertainment room, the movie room, her parlor, the office, or the gym.

Where the fuck is she now?

I’m almost tempted to activate the two-way but decide against it this late at night. I go back up to the second floor and begin to check the guest rooms. I would have thought not, but with the whole hating Cinderella thing…

Sure enough, I find her in the last guest room, curled up on the bed in her evening gown fast asleep.

And we’re sleeping in our clothes again.

I crawl in bed behind her and spoon her, falling asleep almost instantly.

*-*

“I had no idea that being married to me was such a goddamn trial,” I say to Jason while running on the treadmill the next day.

“You’re kidding, right?” Jason says. I look at him bemused. “No offense, sir, but working for you is a trial. I can only imagine what being married to you is like.” I frown.

“Don’t try to be cute,” I hiss. “It doesn’t suit you.”

“I’m not!” he snaps back. “That woman has been in your life for two and a half years. I know it’s not all bad, but I haven’t seen anybody go through the trials and tribulations that woman has been through just being married to you. Everybody’s watching her, people are gunning for her, she’s got to prove herself all the damn time… She can’t step wrong, she can’t be unhappy, she can’t be human. It’s a miracle she hasn’t had a nervous breakdown by now.”

“But she couldn’t have expected it to be easy when she agreed to marry me,” I protest. “Look at my life! She knew what she was signing up for.”

“Yeah,” he says, and nothing else. There’s something else behind that.

“Yeah, what?” I ask. He looks over at me without losing his stride.

“She’s still human, boss,” he says with a running shrug. “Whether you know what you’re signing up for or not doesn’t necessarily mean that you take it all in stride when it comes at you. And last night’s episode had nothing to do with being married to Christian Grey…”

“I didn’t say that! She did!” I protest.

“You didn’t let me finish,” he says. “It had nothing to do with being married to you, but it had everything to do with her version of Cinderella. She’s got responsibilities to people. One of those responsibilities was exploited last night and she was supposed to be okay with it—plaster a smile on her face and keep the night going. Nobody acknowledged her point of view last night. Whether it was right or wrong, nobody bothered to say, ‘I get it.’ Mrs. Wilson wanted to know why no one told her the truth about her granddaughter and she left upset. Dr. Grey was dug in that Mrs. Wilson had a right to know that her granddaughter was still here no matter what the consequences and she left upset.

“You heard your wife yelling at your mother and your mother left upset and that made you upset and you cut her off. Granted, you did it to prevent a public spectacle—which was smart—but she still got cut off. Then, whatever you told Elliot, he confronted her, and she was already burning the wick at both ends.” He does that imitation of an explosion with his hands and mouth. “We’re lucky she didn’t check into a hotel somewhere and turn her phone off. We were downtown after all.”

“God,” I sigh. “Our marriage isn’t going to survive this constant up and down.” Jason slows his treadmill down.

“Yes, it will,” he says, catching his breath. “This is marriage. It’s a constant up and down until you die, and you haven’t even hit your highest ups or your lowest downs. Why do you think they say love is a roller coaster? You didn’t expect it to be easy, did you?”

Yeah, I kinda did. My mistake.


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

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~~love and handcuffs