This is a work of creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.
I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues…
Season 5 Episode 29
“Nope, they got nothing,” Alex told me when I called him from security central on my burner on Tuesday night. “The missing person’s report came from a friend of hers who normally sees her a couple of times a week and hasn’t heard from her. They can’t prove anything with Lincoln’s strokes. They just happen. Sometimes, very young people have strokes—they don’t know why. They linked the ghost writer through the warden because he thought the information would help his case—it didn’t. So, now they’re going to start sniffing up the asses of Seattle’s movers and shakers, ruffling all kinds of feathers on a hunch hoping something falls out. I can guarantee you have nothing to worry about.”
“What about Ellison?” I ask.
“Have you seen Dodd?” he asks.
“No,” I reply.
“Then I can guarantee that you won’t see Ellison either.” That’s enough for me. “And call the governor. You need to show some outrage.”
That was Tuesday after Cagney and Baretta left my home. I figure I’d wait a couple of days before I called Charlotte to see if anybody else called her.
“Always a pleasure when you call me, Christian,” she says when she answers the phone. “Let me guess, Detective Burns and Detective Groomer.”
“Tell me they’re not going through with this,” I say, mocking disbelief. “What is this all about? Was this girl somebody’s long lost niece or something?” I immediately think of the Pedophile’s great-aunt showing up to tell me to call off the dogs.
“No, just another missing persons’ report. Unfortunately, this one smells of the whole Hollywood Madam thing. So, somebody’s trying to make a name for themselves. I haven’t gotten to the bottom of who, yet, but I need to know. What is your connection to this girl?”
“I’m going to tell you the same thing that I told them. I planned on fucking her before I married my wife, so I ran a background check on her,” I say.
“Christian, must you be so crude?” she asks.
“It’s the truth, Charlotte,” I reply. “I don’t have casual affairs and I don’t sleep with just anybody. You know the sordid details of my relationship with Elena Lincoln, but at the time, she was someone that I trusted. Knowing my need for discretion—and my type—I relied on her judgement when she introduced me to someone. That was around the same time that I met my wife. One came with a relationship which you know I didn’t want. One was no strings attached, only I realized later that there were strings attached.”
“Elaborate,” she says. I sigh.
“Let me start by saying that I fell head over heels in love with my wife before I even knew I was in love with her. As such, Gretchen didn’t even have a chance…”
“I think her name is Greta,” Charlotte corrects me. I laugh inwardly.
“And that’s the whole thing!” I say, mocking frustration. “The same thing happened when the cops were here. I kept messing up her name. That’s just how little an impact she left on me. I loved Ana. I wanted Ana. Even if she didn’t want me, I wanted her. So, when Gret-ta showed up, as perfect as she was, I couldn’t slide her into the slot because it wasn’t her slot. I wanted this other woman. I would have done anything I had to do to get this other woman. She was like no other woman that I ever met, and the same shit that I was doing before was not going to work on her. She wasn’t impressed with my money, my power, my looks, nothing. She fucking hated me, and I was already worshipping the ground she walked on.
“Gret-ta would have been perfect for a no-strings-attached steady fuck, which was exactly what I was looking for before I met my wife. The closer I got to winning my wife, the further I got from Gret-ta. Then, I found out that there was a large transfer of funds from Lincoln’s account to her account, and I felt like a damn John. I called the whole thing off and pursued my wife with gusto until I got her. That woman’s not even an ex, Charlotte. She was a hopeful, a wannabe that never made the mark. She doesn’t pose a threat to me because she doesn’t know anything about me. Anything that she could know about me—even from Lincoln—she can’t print or say, because before she would have even been able to be considered to be in my company, she would have had to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
“There’s nothing that she can gain from saying anything about me even if she knows anything about me. She was just somebody I thought about fucking and if she tells somebody that, that wouldn’t hurt. I thought about fucking Haley Berry, too, but that never happened and this just as relevant, if not less. She can’t hurt me. She poses no threat to me. So, why are they bothering me?”
“I believe you, Christian,” Charlotte says. “I’m glad you told me the whole story so that I have something to go on. Other reputable people haven’t been as forthcoming as you. Granted, I have several other people who say that they have no idea who she is, and others who I’m certain know who she is but they won’t tell me. I know they have something to hide. I’m beginning to wonder if this girl really is a high-class hooker.”
“She might be,” I say. “I was soliciting sex, I admit that, but I was doing it in a ‘meet you, see if we click, let’s do this’ type of way. Once I saw that money had exchanged hands and I had no explanation why, I was out, and if she says anything different, she’s a liar.”
“Well, unfortunately, right now, she’s not saying anything,” Charlotte replies. I sigh.
“How many people have they questioned so far?” I ask.
“I don’t know, but you’re the 16th person who called me.”
Sixteen! They’re chasing dust particles. They’re never going to get an answer.
“Charlotte, you and I both know that if this girl hit the right person at the wrong time, they’re never going to find her. All they’re doing is ruffling the feathers of a lot of high-powered people. They came to my home and interrogated me like a criminal with no grounds whatsoever. They disrupted my day; they upset my wife; they frightened my children… all on a hunch! They have no evidence, no probable cause—they wouldn’t even tell me why they were here until Jason threatened to call the chief of police!
“What do they think happened to this girl? Who do they think is responsible for her disappearance? Do they have any real leads besides hearsay and bits from the gossip columns, because that’s all they gave me?”
“From what I understand, yes, that’s all they have.” I sigh, actually from relief, but I don’t want her to know that.
“Charlotte, if they come at me again, I’m going to the press,” I say.
“Christian, please, don’t do that,” she pleads. “That could destroy their whole investigation.”
“Then, they need to have something more concrete,” I say. “A man who has something to hide is not going to stick his face in front of a camera. I will. I’m tired of cops treating me like shit just because they feel like they can. They treated me this way when Anastasia was kidnapped. They treated me this way when she was involved in that accident. Hell, they treated me this way when that crazy blonde bitch tried to kill me. I’m tired of this! And I’m as tired of calling you to fix it as you are of me calling you.”
They’ve got nothing on me. I know they don’t even though I know what happened to that bitch. This is a fishing exhibition with no bait, and I was their first target. I’m always their first target, so my frustration is real.
“I hear you, Christian, loud and clear… and I’m on it,” she replies.
“I’m sorry, Charlotte,” I say, for you getting involved in this and having to cover for me, even though I’m guilty.
“Don’t be,” she says. “We’ve had this conversation more than once, and you’re right. Each time you’ve called me, someone has stepped out of line in just this way, so I can’t be upset.”
Yes, you can, Charlotte. They’re sniffing up the right tree with me. They just don’t have any proof, and until they do…
“They just need to leave me the hell alone,” I say.
“Just don’t call the press, please,” she says. “Let me handle this.”
“Okay,” I reply. “I’ll keep my mouth shut, for now.” For always.
I wish her family well and end the call.
I feel badly for lying to Charlotte, but I did what needed to be done to that predatorial bitch and I don’t regret it… and I need for them to stop sniffing in this direction—not now, but right now!
I take several deep breaths then count for a while to get this crazy bitch off my mind. As much as I hate to admit it, I wish I had told Alex to get rid of her, burn the body, and dump it in the ocean somewhere.
It’s time to redirect my thoughts.
“Hey, are you busy?” I ask.
“I’ll be meeting with a new intake in a moment, but nothing unusual,” she says.
“Can I invade on your day and bring you some lunch? I need a little sunshine in my life.”
“Mmm, that would be divine,” Butterfly replies.
“Any requests?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says. “I’d love a gyro and some fries.”
“I’ll be there shortly,” I promise.
“See you then.”
I stop by a Mediterranean restaurant and pick up a gyro and fries for my wife along with some chicken Shawarma, falafel, and baklava. I just want to be with my girl and forget about all this other shit.
Jason hangs out at the guard’s desk while I head back to my wife’s office. She said she had to meet with a recent intake, and I’m hoping she has finished the meeting by now. Her office door is open, so I walk in, but I discover that she’s talking to an older woman when I enter.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “The door was open…”
“It’s okay,” Butterfly says, “I’ll only be another minute or two.” I nod and turn to leave just as the woman turns her head and looks at me. I… think I know her. I don’t forget a face; I just can’t call a name. My mental Rolodex spins out of control as I feel as though it’s imperative that I know this woman’s name. Just as my wife calls my name to get my attention…
“Sarah!” I exclaim. Realization slapping me hard in the face. The woman nearly leaps out of her skin at the sound of my voice, almost appearing to cower in her chair.
“Christian!” Butterfly chastens. “You can’t do that!” I know what she’s talking about. I probably scared the poor woman to death and she’s here for some kind of safe haven.
“I’m sorry,” I say, softening my voice and turning my gaze to Sarah. “Sarah… Burnett, right? Do you remember me?” Sarah is still scared shitless and won’t say anything. “You helped me,” I add, softly. “You helped me at one of the worst moments of my life.”
Sarah’s gaze softens, and I can see that she’s trying to place my face. I rarely meet anybody who doesn’t know who I am. Then again, she didn’t know who I was then, either. Why is she here at Helping Hands?
“Sarah,” I say, softly, crouching next to her so that we’re at eye-level, “Please… look carefully. Tell me you remember who I am.”
“I’m… I’m sorry… I don’t,” she says, still frightened.
“That’s okay,” I tell her. “It’s actually refreshing that someone doesn’t know who I am. Tell me, do you still work at the parking structure on Alaskan Way?” Her brow rises.
“No…” she says tentatively, “not for a while.”
“Christian…” Butterfly protests, “you’re scaring her.”
“Baby,” I interrupt her, “I don’t mean to scare her and I’m not trying to prevent you from doing your job, but this is personal. This is Marlow-Marcia-Maggie personal.” She quickly throws her hands up in surrender and rolls her eyes.
“Sarah,” she says softly, “this is my husband.” Sarah’s shoulders fall immediately, and relief is evident in her eyes and her sigh. “Whatever insanity he may be suffering right now, I promise he won’t hurt you.” Sarah raises questioning eyes to me.
“How… did I help you?” she asks timidly.
“Three years ago, you let me sit in your booth and watch security tapes of the aquarium across the street,” I say. She pauses for a moment, then she gasps loudly and points to me, then to Butterfly, and I nod. Butterfly is bemused when I turn to her.
“If it hadn’t been for her,” I say pointing to Sarah, “when David kidnapped you, I’m certain I never would have found you.”
Now, it’s Butterfly’s turn to gasp. Her fingers gently touch her lips as realization dawns and the pieces start falling into place.
“Oh, my God,” Butterfly breathes. “She… saved me, too.” I nod and turn back to Sarah, whose eyes are filling with tears.
“It’s a happy ending, Sarah,” I say, smiling and taking her hands in mine. “I found my princess—my Butterfly—I got her back, and it’s all because of you.”
“Oh! Oh!” Sarah reaches out to Ana. “I’m so happy!” she says, cherubically. “I never would have known that was you.” Ana takes her hand and crouches down to her.
“It looks like I owe you a huge debt of gratitude as well,” Butterfly says, fighting tears of her own.
“You don’t,” Sarah says. “Any good person would have done the same.”
“There were places on that dock that wouldn’t help me, Sarah,” I inform her. “So, no, they wouldn’t have.” She smiles softly.
“Then, they weren’t good people,” she says, and that’s the person I met in that parking garage, not the frightened woman cowering on the sofa in my wife’s office when I arrived.
“You have no idea, Sarah,” my wife says, unable to fight her tears anymore. “I was in a horrible situation and there was no hope… I can’t begin to thank you enough…”
“Well, I can,” I say, squeezing her hands. “Tell me why you’re here. Tell me what you need… anything you need!” I implore her. Her eyes grow large and Butterfly touches my hand.
“Christian…” Okay, Christian’s being intense. Bring it back a notch. I drop my head and take a deep breath, bringing beseeching eyes back to hers.
“Please…” I say softly. “You helped build my faith in people, in the kindness that people can show to strangers with absolutely nothing to gain for it.” I drop my head and keep talking. “You’re one of the very few people I’ve ever met who put herself on the line and did a hugely kind thing for someone with nothing to gain.” I raise my eyes back to hers.
“You’re in trouble now,” I say, “or something bad is happening and I won’t sit still. You were an angel from God for me that day, and you rescued me. Please, let me help you now. Anything,” I reinforce. “Tell me what’s going on. Tell me why you’re here. What can I do?”
She looks at me then at my wife. Then she closes her eyes and nods.
“I’m not accustomed to taking handouts,” she says softly.
“Believe me when I tell you, this is not a handout. You paid this forward… way forward. My wife could have died, Sarah. She was in a horrible way when we found her, and it took a long time for her to heal from those physical and emotional scars. She wouldn’t be here, be with me, if it weren’t for you. We owe you big time. Please, let us help you… please.” She sighs and shakes her head.
“It’s a big mess,” she says, breaking down into sobs.
I remove my coat, give Butterfly her lunch and give my lunch to Sarah as she explains to me how she ended up where she is now. She lost her job after she helped me because she broke the rules in letting me see the videos and sending them to my team before the subpoena had been secured. Ever since then, she had been working whatever odd jobs she could find to try to make ends meet. All she knows is security because it’s all she’s ever done, so she didn’t keep the odd jobs for long. She faced age discrimination, even though she’s not old—she’s just older, and she’s very healthy and smart.
Her husband became abusive because she couldn’t pull her weight. She’s horribly in debt and she has no children or family to turn to. She’s been evicted from her home just today and when her husband finds out, he’s going to beat her. What’s left of her stuff that hasn’t been taken is still sitting on the curb in front of her house and she’s afraid to go back and even look through it because her husband will probably be waiting for her there.
I drop my head. It physically hurts that someone who showed such kindness to me at her own detriment is now facing this kind of problem. If that asshole that she married would kick her when she’s down, maybe this had to happen so that she can get away from him.
“May I ask you some personal questions?” I say.
“You can ask me anything,” she says. “I’m so glad everything worked out for you two. It made all this worth it.”
“And I’m about to make it even more worth it if you let me. You sacrificed so much for us. It would be my honor if you let me help you… and the very least I can do,” I say.
“Mine, too, Sarah,” Butterfly says. “I really owe you my life. I was in a really bad way, and if it weren’t for you…” Butterfly holds her head down to fight her tears. Sarah takes her hand.
“Don’t cry, child,” she says, “it all worked out in the end.”
“Except for you,” Butterfly chokes. “Please… you have to accept what we give you as gifts… in gratitude… endless gratitude… for my life!” she sobs. Sarah squeezes her hand and looks at me, smiling, with tears filling her eyes.
“Who am I to turn down such a wonderful gesture… when I’m in need?” she says sweetly. “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
“That He does, Sarah,” I concur. “That He does.”
The afternoon is now full of my mission of mercy. I put in a call to Alex to begin a standard employment background check on Sarah Burnett. I can tell that she may take initial gifts from me, but she won’t take endless handouts. She has to feel useful. Butterfly sets her up on her computer to complete a job application for GEH and I call ahead to Human Resources.
“Yes. Mr. Grey, what can I do for you?”
“I have a candidate here who is completing the online application as we speak, and her background check is in progress. She has…” I look at Sarah. “How many years of security experience do you have?”
“Twenty-five years,” she says. I raise my brow and nod in approval.
“She has 25 years of security experience. Are there any positions in our security sector that can use her?”
“Corporate or commercial?”
“Commercial,” I reply. Corporate is too dangerous. I hear typing on the other end.
“Yes,” she says. “Ever since we absorbed Vansteen into the corporate offices, there’s been a lot of attrition. With stricter guidelines, the slackers have mostly fallen off and we need some more people. With her experience, I suggest she replace the supervisor we just lost.”
“That’s perfect,” I say. “As soon as she’s finished with her application, I want you to pull it. Then wait for her background check to come from security…”
“Um, Christian?” Sarah calls me. I turn to her. “I don’t have a phone.”
“Her application doesn’t have a phone number on it,” I say. “I’ll be updating that later.”
“What’s her name?”
“Sarah Burnett,” I say.
“Got it. I’ll keep an eye out for the application, sir.”
“Thank you.” I end the call and turn to Sarah.
“Tell me honestly,” I say to her. “Do you want to go back to your husband? Nobody’s going to blame you if you do…”
“No,” she says without hesitation. “I spent too many years being his punching bag. I’m better off alone.”
“Well, you certainly won’t be alone, Sarah, because you’ve got us now.”
And, of course, the Greys have a new family member.
We leave Helping Hands and go back to Sarah’s house. All of her things have been taken and what’s left isn’t worth scavenging through. Luckily, her husband never showed up while we were there, and she’s content to start over—a new life without him.
I put her up at the Fairlane Olympic for the next few days as I’m certain she needed some privacy—more than she would have gotten at Helping Hands. It’s a nice place for what it is, but she needs to lament her circumstances for the last time before she lets it go. I also set her up with a new cell phone so that she can get the call when HR gets her background check and security clearances.
I asked her to make a list of her debts so that we could get them squared away. She drew the line at me paying her debts, stating that once she was gainfully employed, she could pay them on her own. So, I made her a deal. I would pay her accumulating debt in one lump sum, and once she was stable and getting regular checks, she could pay me back in a no-interest loan. She agreed to those conditions. What she doesn’t know is that the money that she’s paying me back is going to go into her GEH retirement fund.
I give her a prepaid debit card with $1000 on it so that she can get toiletries, clothes, and have some meals over the next couple of days. I’ll be getting her a GEH expense card in the next couple of days to float her until she starts working and she gets her first check. She vows to pay that back as well, and I just nod.
Her last order of business is to find a place—a nice place—in the city close to the job, preferably in the Pike Place area. Her eyes widen when I mention the area.
“With what I pay my staff, you’ll be making enough to live wherever you want,” I say. “Pike Place is safe, it’s closer to the job, and your husband is not likely to find you there… but we’ll handle it if he does. I’ll pay your first and last month’s rent and security deposit so that you don’t have to worry about saving to move.” She drops her head.
“I want to get divorce proceedings started as soon as possible,” she says, sadly. Butterfly takes her hand.
“You don’t have to do that now if you don’t want to,” she tells Sarah. Sarah sniffs and wipes her eyes.
“Fifteen years, child,” she says, raising tear-filled eyes to Butterfly. “It’s time to break the shackles.”
“I’ll have our lawyer call you tomorrow,” I say. She nods.
“He’s also my best friend,” Butterfly says.
“You might even recognize him,” I add. “He was with us when we came to the parking garage that day.” She nods again and I realize the day has probably been too much for her.
“We’re going to let you get some rest now,” I say, rising to leave. “It’s been a very eventful day.” Without warning, Sarah jumps up and throws her arms around me. Butterfly’s eyes widen and she knows I’m prone to panic in this situation, but not this time. I gently wrap my arms around her as she cries softly on my shoulder.
“Just when you think things won’t get any better… God sends angels into your life,” she says.
Don’t I know it! I pull her back and look at her face.
“And you. Were ours,” I say definitely. “Thank you… from the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
“You’re most welcome,” she says. “And thank you.”
“Likewise,” I reply. She kisses me softly on the cheek.
Butterfly embraces her and tells her that we’ll check on her tomorrow, and we leave to allow her to get some sleep.
“Did you ever tell me about her?” Butterfly asks as Jason drives us home.
“I don’t know,” I admit. “I thought I did, but I don’t know.”
“What is the likelihood that she would show up at Helping Hands… in her time of need… right when you were coming to bring me lunch?” I sigh.
“Like she says, the Lord works in mysterious ways.” It occurs to me that her husband may somehow get wind of what’s going on and how well she’s doing and try to muscle in on her gig. I type a text to Alex to find out who he is and as much as he can about him.
When we arrive at the Crossing, all I want to do is get out of these clothes. After stopping to coo at her children who made it home before we did since we took a detour to get Sarah squared away, Butterfly joins me in the bedroom. I’m pulling my T-shirt from my pants when she comes into the room, removes her suit jacket, and tosses it across a chair. I watch her as she’s unbuttoning her shirt.
“I have a question,” I ask.
“What is it?” she says, tossing her shirt onto the chair with her jacket.
“When is the last time we fucked?” She freezes, staring at me with both hands behind her back, no doubt about to unclasp her bra.
“Too damn long if you have to ask,” she says, squirming out of her bra and tossing it to parts unknown.
I think we both needed that. We fucked straight through dinner and just had something brought up to the suite. It was a very emotional day, seeing Sarah and the situation that she was in after what she did to help us. There’s nothing she can’t ask me for. I’ll never see her hungry, or homeless, or hurt, or in any financial trouble ever again. Had I known they fired her for helping me find my Butterfly, I would have jumped into action long before now.
Butterfly was a bit overwhelmed when she discovered Sarah’s role in her rescue as well. I was sure that I told her about Sarah. Maybe I did, but it was a while ago and she had no way of putting two and two together without me.
Sarah is matronly—not quite old enough to be my grandmother, but older than my mom. She didn’t need to be working at that place anymore anyway. With her experience, she could probably offer some great training and organization to the private commercial security sector of my company. She doesn’t need to be walking a beat or patrolling. She needs to be in charge, offering her expertise to a failing division.
My wife is fast asleep when I finally take the elevator downstairs to the ground floor to try to get some of the work done that I missed today while tending to Sarah. Once again, as I’m going through the entertainment room, I see Garrett out on the patio. Even from behind, he looks a bit forlorn. Part of me wants to just leave him to his thoughts. Then another part of me doesn’t want to just leave him out there. I twist my lips and roll my eyes, retrieve a couple of beers from the wet bar and go out the French doors.
“You spend a lot of time out here,” I say, but as I approach, I see that he’s wiping tears from his eyes. Um… okay.
“Would you rather I leave you alone?” I ask. He takes a shuddering breath as another tear falls from his eyes.
“I fucked up, man,” he says, dropping his head and leaning his elbows on his knees clasping his hands between them. “I fucked up really bad.”
“Okay,” I say, moving to the side of the sofa. “Elaborate.” He throws a tearstained glare at me and twists his lips as if to say, “seriously?” I shrug.
“I’m just wondering what brought you to this conclusion now,” I clarify, still standing there with the beers.
“She’s destroyed, man,” he says, dropping his gaze again. “I broke her. I really broke her. Serves me right that she doesn’t want me back.” Now, that’s a shocker.
“Did she say that?” I ask surprised.
“She doesn’t have to. I can’t get close to her. I mean, she’ll let me near her, but she won’t let me in.”
“Aaahh, that,” I say, remembering as I sit down next to him and put the beers on the ground. He turns a nearly hateful glare at me.
“What do you mean, ‘ah, that?’” he barks. “She’s not playing a game!”
“No, she’s not playing a game. And yes, you did fuck up. What, do you think you’re the only person who’s ever been through this?” I glare right back at him and wait for his response. He deflates and drops his head. He doesn’t want to fight with me. He doesn’t even want to fight.
“When you do something that knocks the wind out of someone, it takes a while for them to recoil. But when you suck all the air out of the room after you’ve knocked all the wind out of them, they may never recover. Which one do you think you did?”
“I know which one I did. That’s why I don’t think she wants me back,” he replies.
“So… now what?” I ask. “You sit here and wallow in self-pity? Because that’s what I think this is.”
He rolls his eyes.
“So, I was wrong for mourning the loss of my baby and now I’m not allowed to mourn the loss of my girl?” he challenges. I scoff.
“You didn’t lose her. You threw her away!” I retort. “She didn’t do anything wrong, Garrett. She made a choice—a choice about her body, but it turned out not to be the right choice for you. No one is discounting the pain, hurt, and disappointment that you felt, but you two should have worked this out together.”
“I thought we did,” he interjects.
“No, you didn’t,” I accuse. “You took her choice away. You made it such that either she have that baby or you leave. I don’t know if you considered the consequences of your decision—how it would affect her, how it would affect you, but it nearly killed her. It did kill her emotionally, and you can see for yourself what it did physically. Did you tell her that you would leave if she terminated the pregnancy?”
“No, but I didn’t tell her that I was going to stay.” That is a juvenile response.
Mmmm… kay,” I say, skeptically. “And you’re surprised that she’s feeling the way she’s feeling right now.”
“I’m not surprised,” he retorts.
“But you expected her to welcome you back into her life just because you showed up again?”
“I don’t know what I expected!” he shoots. “I didn’t even expect to see her, let alone wonder if she even wants me back, but is it too much for me to expect her to at least let me in? She won’t even come to my place. If I want to spend time with her, I gotta come here. And when I do, she’s… formal at best.” Is he serious?
“It’s been less than a week! What do you expect?” I declare. “You’re lucky she even agreed to see you.”
“Look, I really don’t need you to rub my face in this. I know I’m screwed.” My turn to roll my eyes.
“Garrett, I left my wife for three weeks and she nearly leapt off a cliff.” He turns a surprised tear-stained gaze to me.
“What?” he asks, in shock.
“Do you remember that random sprained ankle around her birthday?” He pauses, then nods uncertainly. “Yeah, I had a big kneejerk reaction to a big thing that happened between us and all I knew was that I couldn’t be around her. I took the clothes on my back, my telephone, my laptop, and my security, and I got outta Dodge without a word. She didn’t know where I was; she didn’t know if I was coming back; and I never spoke to her once. After trying a hundred times to get in touch with me to no avail, she had a drunken moment at a lookout point and if Chuck hadn’t been there to catch her, she wouldn’t be here right now.”
Garrett sits there looking wide-eyed and gaped mouth at me.
“No, I didn’t lose a baby. I don’t know how that feels, but I do know how it feels to feel like you’ve been so betrayed that you run away… and fuck up. So, no, you’re not the only person who has been through this. She had moved out of our bedroom and when I came back home, she didn’t move back in for a week.”
“Shit,” he says slowly in disbelief. “I can’t see that happening to you two.”
“None of us could see it happening to you and Marilyn either, but it did,” I reply.
“But you’re back, now. You’re fine,” he protests.
“It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t immediate. She had to understand what role she played in the situation and I had to understand what role I played. Figuring that out nearly ripped us apart. As much as we wanted it, we literally had to discuss if we felt like we could be together anymore or if we should just walk away—be co-parents and nothing else. That was one of the hardest things I think I’ve ever done in my life.” He raises a brow.
“You’ve had something harder than that?” he asks. I cock my head at him.
“Having to sit still and wonder where she was for four days while she was kidnapped,” I say. “Coming to grips with the fact that I may have to let her go after that accident that left her in a coma because she had a 60-day advanced directive. Fighting almost all of you when Maxine wanted to commit her when she was catatonic…”
“Okay, okay, I get it,” he says. “I never really thought about all the things you guys have been through. So… how did you get back to here?” he asks. I shrug.
“Butterfly had to get over her fear,” I tell him. “I could only help her so much, then she had to do the rest herself. We had severe trust issues that we had to overcome. Neither of us are perfect and we had to understand and accept that. We had to accept that there would be more problems, more issues, more mistakes, but we also knew that being without each other was impossible. Our relationship is not conditional—I’ll love you as long as you don’t hurt me anymore—but in the beginning, right after a really big hurt, it is. It’s like… loving to swim and sail and jet ski and surf but being afraid of the water after you nearly drown.
“The water can’t guarantee that you’re not going to drown if you’re not careful, but the only way to stay completely safe is to stay away from it and all the things that you love about it. Marilyn’s afraid of the water right now. You’re going to have to help her to love watersports again.”
“How do I do that?” he asks. “I fucked up so bad, I don’t know how to fix this.”
“It won’t be easy,” I confess. “You abandoned her when she needed you, and even though you needed the time to yourself as well, this just wasn’t the way to do it. Do you think that she, too, wasn’t ripped apart emotionally before she terminated that pregnancy?”
“The therapist said the same thing,” he admits, now looking at the ground.
“Mm-hmm, and you left her to carry all of this alone,” I say without apology. “She felt the confusion that came along with the termination, the pain of suddenly losing you without warning, the fear of uncertainty of what would happen next, the weight of all of her own insecurities…”
I’m drawing on everything I knew that my wife felt because even though there was no terminated pregnancy involved, I know from our talks that she was feeling the exact same things when I left.
“You wanted her to hurt, and she did… tremendously. Now, you want to come back and fix it—make it all better, and it’s not as easy as you thought it would be.”
“Okay, Christian, I accept that it’s not going to be easy. Just please, tell me what to do. Point me in the right direction.”
I sigh in frustration. I know what he’s feeling, but he’s got a long road ahead of him.
“You’ve got a painful conversation to have,” I tell him. “We all know that she wants the pain to stop, but does she really want you back? Does she really want a relationship with you? Does she trust you enough—or is she willing to trust you enough—to move forward from here? You’re not going to get back what you had, but is it possible for you to come together and build something else… hopefully something stronger and better than what you had before? Only time will tell if that’s going to happen, but is she… and are you really willing to try knowing that what you had before is gone?
“Experience makes it such that you can’t unwalk the road that you’ve already traveled. This is now part of your story. Will it be a milestone, or will it be the end? That’s the painful and brutally honest conversation that you must have. Depending on the outcome of that conversation, you’re going to have several moments where you will have to continuously show her how much you love her and that you understand what you lost. That sounds easy and fun, and sometimes it will be. Other times, not so much.”
“Okay,” he says with a heavy sigh. “So, where do I start? What do I do?”
I reach into my pocket and hand him a handkerchief. This wet face is killing me. Then, I retrieve the beers from the floor and give him one.
“Well, everything won’t work for everybody, but here’s what I did…”
“You are never going to believe this.”
It’s just before lunchtime on Friday morning and I’m in my study. Christian and I are planning to pay a visit to his travel agent this afternoon to get the ball rolling on our trip to Italy, so I worked from home today instead of the short day that I normally work on Fridays at Helping Hands. I’m signing off on some expense forms and calculating the latest distribution from the profit sharing from Miana’s that comes to Helping Hands when Marilyn comes strolling into the room with a goofy smile on her face. It’s a very welcome sight and I’m quite curious to see what’s brought this on.
“What?” I ask, my interest piqued.
“Are you ready for this?” she baits. “Gary made me a mixtape—well, a mix mp3,” she says, smiling giddily.
“Really?” I say, surprised. “How many songs?”
“Five,” she says, her voice full of mirth. “My Love is Your Love by Whitney Houston, Lost Without You by Robin Thicke, Can’t Let go by Anthony Hamilton, I Can’t Stop Loving You by Kem, and Have You Ever Loved Somebody by Brandy.” She’s giggling so hard. I can’t believe that these five songs have her so tickled.
“Five songs, huh?” I reply. He couldn’t find any more? She nods, laughter still lacing her voice.
“No, you don’t get it. He made me a mix tape. He sang all the songs himself,” she confesses. My eyes widen. He must’ve talked to Christian.
“He did?” I inquire, shocked. “I didn’t know Gary could sing.”
“He can’t!” she declares, laughter taking her over, tears now falling from her eyes. “He knows his music! He has all those synthesizers at work. He even played his acoustic guitar. The music is beautiful, but he can’t hold a tune to save his life! It’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever heard!”
I raise a brow in slight confusion as she’s reduced to uncontrollable laughter, unable to contain a chuckle or two of my own. When she composes herself, she finally tells me the meaning of her last statement.
“Do you have any idea the guts it takes for somebody who can’t sing if the world depended on it to make a mixtape of five live songs against professional music—runs and all? He’s under absolutely no misconception about his lack of vocal ability! He has the ear—he just don’t have the pipes!”
She lets that statement hang in the air for a while before she breaks out in uncontrollable laughter again. This time I join her. Her laughter is infectious, and I haven’t heard it like this in months. It’s a wonderful sound.
We had talked earlier about her meeting with her shrink. It’s like she sees her doctors, then she comes to me for a second opinion, which I don’t mind. I’m a professional, and we are friends. She had shared with her shrink—I think her name is Dora—about her fear of getting close and letting her guard down, and how ridiculous it seemed to her since all she really wanted was for him to come back. Now he’s back, and she doesn’t know how to get comfortable.
Her doctor expounded on the dangers of jumping back into a relationship with Gary before she could clearly see where her own life was going—what direction she wants to take as an individual before she starts to plot her path as part of a couple.
“She told me that it was dangerous to see myself as Gary’s girlfriend before I had put myself back together and figured out who I really was,” she had said. I couldn’t agree more, but being on the inside of all of this, I have to admit that all I wanted was for her and Gary to get back together and for her to stop killing herself. As hurt as she was, she always seemed to have a brutally realistic grasp of the truth of her situation with her…
… Boyfriend? Ex-boyfriend? Whatever. She was under no misconception of the damage her decision had done to their relationship, and even if she had hope in the beginning, she was never delusional about the possibility—or lack of possibility—of him coming back. She was lost and forsaken without him. Granted, it was like horrible withdrawal symptoms from a drug, but Gary was the dose she needed to come back from the brink of hell.
But alas, ultimately drugs are no good for you, and even though the analogy is kind of harsh, Gary’s return is just a fix. Dora’s right. She’s got to repair the damage she did to herself on her own before she can let him in that way.
So, seeing her giddy as a schoolgirl over a mixtape is both refreshing and disturbing—disturbing because she’s getting that “quick fix” again, but refreshing because I haven’t seen her this vibrant in months… at least!
“Those are some very powerful songs,” I tell her.
“I know,” she says, taking a seat in front of my desk with her iPod Touch. “I know he wants me to hear the words, and I’m trying, but…” She’s still smiling but she trails off.
“What?” I ask.
“I’m just thinking a lot,” she says. “I was so independent before Gary. I had my own place. I had friends. I went out whenever I wanted to. Now, his friends are my friends and some of my friends that aren’t couple friends fell off. Without him, it was like I had no direction, no purpose, no life… and I can’t let that happen again. I’ll never go back to the person that I was before, but I need to find some small piece of me still here so that I can build on that.”
“How’s that going?” I ask. She does that kind of so-so gesture with her head.
“It’s a slow process,” she says, “and I have to thank you tremendously for meditation and yoga. They were helping me find my center even before he came back. Even with the shock of his return, I think I still took it better than I would have had I not had some kind of coping techniques.” I frown.
“I don’t know, Mare. You took it pretty hard. You ran out on the golf green in the middle of the night with no coat on in high heel shoes and fell to your knees in the wet grass.”
“Well, yeah, at first,” she concurs. “I agree that the initial shock and the immediate fear of getting hurt again was more than I could take. I had to—have to heal twice… once from him leaving and once from him coming back.”
“Okay, I’m the shrink and you lost me,” I say. She sighs.
“I know. I was lost when Dora explained it, but she hit the nail right on the head.” She adjusts in her seat. “Imagine some kind of trauma that causes you to stop breathing. Whatever the trauma, it has damaged your body immensely quite possibly beyond recovery. Now, someone around you performs CPR—chest compressions. If you do chest compressions correctly, you’re going to break some ribs, but the heart and the breath will probably start again.
“Whatever the trauma that caused you to stop breathing has to heal or you may stop breathing again, but that CPR caused damage, too… and that has to heal. Gary leaving was the trauma that caused me to stop breathing. Gary returning was the CPR. I can see now that the world isn’t ending, but both of those things have shaken me to my core. Both of those occurrences happened completely without warning, and I wasn’t prepared. And now I have to regroup before I can give myself to anybody.”
“Did you tell Gary this?” I ask. She shrugs.
“In so many words,” she says. “I didn’t tell him that I don’t want him, but I did tell him that after meeting with Dora, I realize that I have to get myself together. I made a life decision for my life. Whatever else it was, whoever else it affected, it affected me the most, and I feel like he made me pay for my decision. What if it happens again? Let’s not even talk about if I get pregnant again. What if I make a decision that could affect my life just as significantly and he doesn’t agree with it? Just for one moment, I need him to stop seeing ‘she killed my baby’ and start seeing that I had a reason for making the decision about my body that I did. And I don’t think he can. Can I live with him constantly feeling like I betrayed him, like I’m a murderer, instead of understanding even for a moment why I made the decision that I did?”
I don’t know who this Dora shrink is, but she’s damn good.
“I totally get it, Mare… and I get that Gary sees you slipping away.” She nods.
“I know he does, but I’m not slipping away from him. I just gotta find me, first.”
“That’s a massive undertaking you’re embarking upon right now. Would you be able to cope with it if you came out of it… single?” Her shoulders fall.
“I really hope that doesn’t happen,” she says sadly, “but the truth is… I feel like I went to the brink of hell and looked Satan right in his mouth, and I didn’t die. It may seem dramatic to someone else, but that’s how I felt. Even though my decision affected him, it affected me more… because it’s my body. So, now, I have to make another life decision—to concentrate on trying to heal myself before I can even think about healing us. I love Gary, but if he can’t understand that, then I don’t know where that leaves us.”
“Did he give you the impression that he wouldn’t understand?” I ask. She twists her lips and holds up her iPod Touch.
“Okay, let me rephrase,” I say with a chuckle. “When you two had this conversation, did you leave him feeling like you would completely step aside from you two as a couple to find you as a person?” She ponders the thought for a while.
“I don’t think I did,” she replies, “but I don’t know how he may have interpreted our conversation. I didn’t break up with him because that’s not what I want to do, but are we technically together? We never really did break-up, he just left…”
“Sweetheart, you broke up,” I say. “He didn’t say the words, but you broke up.”
“Okay, yeah, you’re right,” she says, “but that further proves my point. Where does that leave us now? We’re around each other, which is a hell of a lot more than what we were a month ago, but are we together?” She shakes her head. “If I don’t know where this puts us, I’m sure he doesn’t.”
“You two are floating around in limbo and you definitely need to put a label on what you’re doing,” I tell her. “If you’re going to work on your relationship while you work on yourself, tell him that. If you’re going to set him aside while you work on yourself, tell him that. But right now, Mare, you don’t even know.” She shrugs and shakes her head.
“No, I don’t,” she admits.
“Well, you’ve got a homework assignment, because this isn’t fair to either of you. Make a clear and concise decision about what you want to do, and then make sure that he knows what your decision is. It’s only right.”
“I know,” she says. “I know you’re right, but right now… I’m going to listen to my mixtape.” She smiles at me and waves her iPod at me. I return her smile as she leaves my office. Might as well let her have some enjoyment. She’s been miserable long enough.
It appears that my husband only deals with the very beautiful. After stopping by the Fairlane Olympic to check on Sarah, I meet my husband at an agency downtown called Glittering Adventures. When I arrive, he’s already inside, and his agent is hanging on his every word.
This woman is stunning.
She has a gorgeous mane of cherry blonde hair cascading over her shoulders in full, billowing curls. I can tell by her blended dark roots and dark brown eyebrows that this is not her natural color, but it’s the best bottle job I’ve ever seen! Beautiful, large brown eyes and perfect olive skin makes me think that either she’s Mediterranean, or she spent just the right amount of time in the tanning salon.
She’s sitting across from my husband wearing a pink blouse that’s unbuttoned just low enough not to be indecent. She coyly toys with a pendant hanging from a silver or platinum necklace, gazing at my husband as he speaks. I almost want to leave… I feel like I’m intruding.
“Here she is,” he says sweetly when he sees that I’ve entered the building. He stands from his seat as I walk over to the desk to join him.
“I stopped to check on Sarah,” I say after he kisses my cheek.
“How is she?” he asks.
“A little lonely, I think,” I reply.
“Maybe we should invite her to dinner at the Crossing?” It’s a question, not a statement. I shrug.
“It’s worth a shot,” I say, unbuttoning my coat. He removes it for me and hangs it on a coat tree with his as I take a quick moment to make eye-contact with Cherry Blonde over here. She doesn’t linger on my gaze for a second. She turns right to her computer.
Oh, okay. Can’t even introduce yourself, huh? I see.
“Butterfly,” Christian says, coming back to the desk. “This is Audrey Law. She handles all of my travel arrangements. Ms. Law, this is my wife, Anastasia Grey.” She smiles widely at me… now.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Grey,” she says.
“Audrey,” I say with a knowing smirk. For a nanosecond, I can see the defense in her eyes, but it’s gone as quickly as it presents.
“So… Italy,” she says, now turning back to Christian.
“Yes,” he says. “We’re going this summer.”
“How long do you plan to stay?” she asks, still fluttering her eyelashes at my husband. I sigh inwardly. Must you be so fucking obvious?
“I’m thinking six weeks,” Christian replies. “The last two weeks will be spent in Sala Comacina on Lake Como.”
“Excellent choice,” she says, her voice suggestive. “Were you looking to rent a villa there?”
“No,” I interject, my voice a little too syrupy sweet. “I own one there already. Christian gave it to me as a push gift when I gave birth to our twins.” I smile a full 32-teeth fake smile at her, which she returns before turning her gaze back to Christian. I hear him scoff slightly in his chest as I move closer to him.
Yes, I’m pissing on my territory, dear.
“That was very sweet,” she says to Christian, still ignoring me. “Do you have any other specific plans for your trip? Any other destinations you particularly want to see?”
“Yes,” Christian replies. “We’d like to begin our trip in Rome. Then, at some point, we’ll get to Milan. I’ll be flying my wife’s stylist out with us during that week to take advantage of authentic Italian fashion for her fall and winter wardrobe.”
Audrey’s brow rises when he says that, and my smile becomes more genuine as I realize what he’s doing.
“Very well, I’ll be sure to arrange that,” she says, the warmth in her voice slipping slightly.
“Florence is a given,” he continues. “I’d definitely like to introduce my Butterfly to the birthplace of the Renaissance. Although I’ve seen it in person, she has yet to experience the magnificence of the David up close.” It’s Audrey’s turn to scoff.
“You haven’t seen the David?” she says, mimicking shock but relaying a bit of disgust. Oh, I know what you’re doing, bitch.
“No, I haven’t,” I say, regretfully. “I’ve always wanted to see many places and things, but unfortunately, my early life didn’t afford me that luxury. As fate would have it, though, I fell in love with a man who is determined to show me the world and loves to take me away to places on a moment’s notice. In just the last three years, I’ve been to Greece, Paris, Anguilla, Australia—even some of the best places right here in the United States. I barely get a chance to store away my memories of the last exotic destination before he’s whisking me off again.”
“Oh,” she replies, a bit deflated. “That must be quite the ordeal trying to be a good mother to infant twins,” she digs.
“Oh, not at all,” I retort. “My husband and I make every accommodation for our babies, including assuring that they have plenty of time with Mommy and Daddy. We just spent several weeks in Las Vegas taking care of some very trying events and even then, my husband had our twins sent to us for the last two weeks of the trip. The situation was very hard for me but having my babies with me made it so much easier to bear. I don’t know if you have children, but if you do, you know how hard it is for a mother to be without her children even for a day without suffering from separation anxiety.” She tries not to twist her lips.
“No,” she says, flatly, “I don’t.”
“Oh, well let me tell you,” I continue. “They’re not infants anymore. They’re actually toddlers now, but I still can’t stand being away from them. Even with two full-time, live-in nannies, it’s imperative that I be a part of their everyday life. That does mean that traveling can be a bit of a task. If I don’t Facetime with them every day, I can’t sleep…”
“Ditto,” Christian interjects, and I look lovingly over at him.
“That’s why the last leg of our trip has to be at my villa,” I add, “so that our children can come and join us.”
“Oh,” she says, deflating again. “Well, okay. Um, I’m not sure what activities to plan in Lake Como that can include two toddlers…”
“Don’t worry about that,” Christian says. “My wife and I will handle our children’s entertainment. I’m more concerned about having a clean itinerary for the rest of our trip that involves as little hassle and is virtually seamless so that my wife can see as much of Italy as possible. I’m sure you understand.”
The tone of the last sentence has a bit of a warning in it that I hope she heard, especially since her fees and commissions are going to be included in the excursions and trips that she plans for us. If she fucks this up, one-upping me is going to be the least of her problems. She’s going to have one angry bull on her hands.
I raise my brow at my husband acknowledging that I heard that tone, before turning a knowing look back to Audrey. He never takes his eyes off her, and she straightens in her seat and swallows.
Yeah, she heard it.
“Of course, Mr. Grey,” she says, her voice crisper and more professional, but still warm—to my husband at least. “Have I ever let you down?”
“No, you haven’t, Ms. Law. That’s why I keep coming back.” And if you want him to continue coming back, you’ll turn that simpering shit off and do your damn job. One word from me and we’ve got a new travel agent.
“Of course, of course, Mr. Grey. Any other specifics you have in mind?”
“Yes,” he says. “we must be in Venice no later than June 29 and we don’t want to leave before July 2.”
“Any particular activity or event for Venice?” she asks.
“Yes,” he says, looking over at me. “It’s our wedding anniversary. We must be in Venice.”
A shy blush reddens my cheeks and a girlish giggle that I can’t fake escapes in my chest as I consider what decadent and sexy plans my husband has for us in the most romantic city in the world.
Audrey can’t fake it either. The same thought is making her ill.
“Ah, yes,” she says, now turning to her computer and typing feverishly. “Gondola rides, I presume?” Her tone is condescending, but Christian either ignores it or misses it entirely.
“Endless gondola rides,” he says, still looking into my eyes and now taking my hand. “A kiss under the Bridge of Sighs at sunset, hot chocolate at Café Florian, strolling the beautiful stone streets of the quaint back alleys, eating gelato in the shadow of the Palazzo Papadopoli…”
I’m now gazing into my husband’s eyes and imagining this wonderful scene that he’s painting for me… the cliché kiss under the famed Bridge of Sighs that’s making my heart race as we speak. I’m actually seeing scenes of Lady and the Tramp sharing the same piece of spaghetti and accidently kissing in the middle, if you can believe it. Once again, I look into this man’s eyes and see my future, full of love and passion, memories to be made, challenges to overcome…
“Yes, fine, okay, I can have an itinerary ready for your review by tomorrow morning.”
Unable to stand the electricity coursing between my husband and me, Audrey rudely and abruptly interrupts my lustful and longing thought processes. I fucking forgot she was even here.
“No waiting for tickets to attractions. All intercountry travel arranged in advance. I trust you can handle this in a satisfactory manner?” he says, turning his attention back to Audrey.
“Yes, of course, Mr. Grey. You won’t be disappointed.” She stands and extends her hand to my husband. He shakes it courteously and releases it. Then, he looks at me and back at Audrey. She plasters a phony smile on her face.
“Mrs. Grey,” she says, proffering her hand to me. Um, no.
“Audrey,” I say, turning to the exit and leaving without shaking her hand.
“That wasn’t very nice,” my husband says once we’re out of the office, failing to hide the mirth in his voice.
“No more than she deserved,” I reply. “Much less, in fact. I should have scratched her smartastic, condescending, whorish little eyes out… but I didn’t.”
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-misadventuresseason-v/
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