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

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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/

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.

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 67—Saying Goodbye To Yesterday

Happy New Year, everyone. I’m still dealing with a bit of the winter blues, but I’m so happy to have made it whole and healthy to 2019 that I totally forgot to be depressed. 🙂

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 67—Saying Goodbye To Yesterday

ANASTASIA

We have a few more Bailey’s cocktails than I intended, but still manage not to overdo it. I have a recipe for Bailey’s smores, which is like a root beer float, only it’s made with all the ingredients for a smores with a healthy amount of Bailey’s added—something strong enough to relax her but not enough to leave her drunk or with a hangover. Courtney only had one very early in the afternoon. Harmony and I had one before dinner and after dinner. We all chewed the fat through dinner, but Courtney excused herself before the second round of smores.

“Christian’s really a great guy,” Harmony says, very relaxed and finally not crying. “Momma liked him a lot. She said that he used to crawl under her porch and drink lemonade or something. Do you know anything about that?” I nod.

“He told me about it a while ago,” I say. “He doesn’t talk about it much, but he remembers his visits fondly.”

“She said he was a bit of a troubled kid,” she adds, “but she didn’t give me details. I can’t imagine Christian being that kid.”

There’s a lot about Christian I bet you can’t imagine.

We’re silent for several moments before she finally says something.

“I can’t believe that he was a horrible guy the whole time,” she says. Huh? “Ken, I mean,” she adds. Oh! I thought she was talking about my husband. “I knew I wasn’t the only person he was seeing because we weren’t exclusive. He was older and worldlier—and he had the prettiest eyes…”

I didn’t notice that about him.

“I mean, on first glance, they just look like regular eyes,” she corrects herself, “but when the light hits them just this certain way…” She trails off. “I know he doesn’t look like much, but he was the world to me… at first. He told me I was special, and he treated me like a princess. He was the only guy to ever make me come from just having sex.”

Hmm, she’s been having sex since she was twelve and this guy is the first to make her come from sex? That’s sad.

“Yes, that can be quite powerful,” I say. She nods.

“Especially for a promiscuous, love-starved young girl with daddy issues,” she admits. “I was ripe for the picking and he took full advantage. I married him a few months after I met him, and I was totally stricken. I don’t remember when I told him about my trust, but somewhere down the line, he asked about it—and I asked Momma. That’s when she told me that she wasn’t going to give it to me. She wanted to see what Ken was going to do to take care of us. I was so mad,” she says shaking her head. “I just kept thinking, ‘What right do you have to make my husband prove his love for me to you?’ I was pissed and glad at the same time. I thought, ‘We’ll show her! We’ll make it without her damn money.’

“When I told Ken what happened, do you know what that asshole said to me? He said, ‘Go back over there and apologize. Kiss her ass and tell her whatever she needs to hear to get that trust.’ I thought I had crossed over into another dimension. Could this be my prince saying this to me? I told him, ‘no.’ I told him what her requirements were and that we could make it together and we would be fine without her money. He laughed at me… he ridiculed me, called me naïve, stopped talking to me altogether. When I tried to talk to him, he’d ask, ‘Have you talked to your mother?’ I still refused to believe that he was the monster that he was proving to be.

“Then, the women started. He wasn’t even discreet about it. I would find cancelled checks that he made out to these women, but I dare not ask him for a dime. I even found love letters written to them, and we won’t even talk about the nights he disappeared. It took four women—four—for me to realize I was a fucking joke… nothing but a big payoff and when I couldn’t deliver, he didn’t want me. So, here I am… no prince, a broken heart, and my Mom is gone. I got my trust, though,” she finishes, in a tragic tone.

I don’t know what to say to that. I knew she had to be heart-broken when she first found out what a loser her ex-husband was. I didn’t know that she still felt that way. Maybe she’s talking about her heart being broken because she’s lost Tina, I don’t know.

Is it crazy that I miss him sometimes?” she asks. I raise my brow. No, she’s not talking about Tina. I shake my head.

“Not at all,” I tell her. “You don’t know my entire story, but I used to be in love with this real psychopath. He was smooooooooth as silk, and I worshiped the ground he walked on. The problem was that he knew he could get any girl he wanted—and did. The cheating was ridiculous, let me tell you. My best friend finally forced me to see what he was doing to me and I finally broke up with him—put him out of my apartment. Do you know that for years after that, I still yearned for him? Still wanted him to come back? There were points where if he had come back, I would have welcomed him with open arms. Luckily—and unluckily—he didn’t come back until I was over him.”

“Why unluckily?” she asks. “I mean if you were over him…” she trails off.

“Because he couldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and that’s when I met the psychopath. I found out that he lied about his background and who he was. I discovered that he brutally beat this girl in his hometown for breaking up with him, and she looked just like me. I found out how schizophrenic he was because in one breath, he needed me and couldn’t live without me and in the next breath, I was a whore and a bitch because I was with Christian. Bear in mind, this was four years after our final breakup. Then, I learned just how crazy and psychopathic he was when he kidnapped me and had me chained to a bed for four days.”

“Oh, dear God!” she exclaims. “How did you possibly get out of that?”

“It was a combination of things. He was running out of time and he got desperate and gave me my phone, trying to convince me to call Christian. Instead, I made an emergency call without him knowing and kept him talking until my phone died. Jason, Christian, and the Seattle police tracked us down and rescued me.”

“Who’s Jason?” she asks.

“Christian’s head of security,” I say, and she nods.

“Oh, yeah, I know him,” she replies. “I didn’t know the police were really able to track your phone.”

“Well, I think they are, but they didn’t. Jason and Christian tracked my phone, then they picked me up in Christian’s helicopter and they had to get me to the hospital because I needed medical attention.”

“Helicopter?” she asks bemused. “What happened to just a regular old ambulance?”

“I… was on an island. Vashon Island to be exact. There’s only one way in and one way out besides air, and that was the ferry, so…” I shrug.

“Why did you need medical attention? There aren’t any hospitals on Vashon Island?” I shrug.

“I don’t know,” I admit honestly. “Christian had to get to me, so he flew his helicopter to get me and brought me inland to Seattle General…”

I tell her the whole ugly story of my desperate ex-boyfriend and his asshat ex-Keystone Cop sidekick with an axe to grind because he fucked up and lost his job. Harmony sits there in awe as I recount my horrible tale about being willing to die before I succumbed to Stockholm’s Syndrome, about Christian swooping in like Superman to save me, and about the eventual deaths of both my captors.

“Jesus, Ana,” she says when my story, “I just had a sucky husband, you had a full-on psycho… Do you think Ken could be that psychotic?”

“He doesn’t strike me as the type,” I assure her.

“Did Edward strike you as the type before he did it?” she asks.

Good point.

“Edward was obsessed,” I tell her. “Ken is looking for a quick dime. He’s not going to do anything even slightly dangerous to get it, I can guarantee you that.”

“How can you be so sure?” she asks. I wasn’t going to tell her this, but now I’ve planted a seed in her head about a crazy ex-boyfriend and now, I have to dig it out.

“The Friday before our interview aired, I went to see your ex-husband,” I tell her, “me and two of my bodyguards. We might have let him see our firearms in their holsters as we gently encouraged him to sign the damn divorce papers and to leave you the fuck alone.” And her eyeballs bulge again.

“You did what?” she asks in shock. “And when?” I recount the details of my visit to her ex-husband the week before he signed the papers. Her mouth falls open.

“He said something to Carrick about not wanting any trouble or something like that… That was you?” Before I get the chance to answer, she throws her arms around me and loses herself in a fit of sobs.

*-*

I hear a gentle knock that causes me to open my eyes and take in my unfamiliar surroundings. Harmony and I are sprawled out on her mother’s larger-than-life king-sized bed, fully dressed. I raise my head and I’m sporting a bit of a headache, but nothing too severe. Shit! I fell asleep! Did I call Christian? Did Chuck call him?

Ignoring my alarm, I slowly raise my head a bit to see a gorgeous mop of coppery-brown hair with soft gray eyes underneath peeking into the door.

“Are you ladies decent?” he says softly.

“Mmmmm,” I groan. He walks into the room looking every bit the Greek god in his jet-black suit.

Shit! The funeral! Now I pop up from the bed and get a slightly uncomfortable head rush.

“Are you ladies hung over?” he adds with a chuckle, walking over to the bed and sitting on the edge, gently massaging my scalp. I hold my thumb and index finger together to denote, “A little.” He nods and gestures to the door. Windsor comes in with a rolling tray, no doubt covered in food.

“He tells me you had Baileys last night,” my husband says softly. I nod. “So, we’ve brought you some ibuprofen, a nice and greasy breakfast, and some Baileys-laced coffee.” I nod again. “How much did you drink?”

“Maybe three or four smores,” I say. “Not enough to cause any real damage.” He frowns.

“You drank smores?” he asks bemused. I wave him off.

“It’s hard to explain,” I tell him. “I’m sorry I didn’t call.” He kisses my forehead.

“You were on a mission of mercy,” he says, “and partial self-destruction, it appears.” He looks over at Harmony. “How did she handle the drinks?” I look over at her.

“Better than me, I think,” I say. “She needed some rest. Today is going to be a rough day… and her father came yesterday.”

“Christ, they’re coming out of the woodwork,” he hisses. “So, the gambling king showed up yesterday?” I raise my brow.

“Ooh… that’s what he was talking about,” I acknowledge.

“What do you mean?”

“He asked for money,” I tell him, “says that he owes some bad men and that they’ll probably kill him if they don’t get paid.”

“Did Harmony give it to him?” he asks. I shake my head.

“She told him that he made that bed, now he has to lie in it.” Christian nods.

“Good for her.” I twist my lips.

“Maybe she should give him the money,” I say. He raises a brow.

“Why? He’s not going to pay his debt with it. He’s just going to gamble it away again,” he declares.

“Well, arrange for the guy to get the money and settle her father’s debt. The guy could come after her.

“Her father would just ring up another debt. Harmony’s right—she can’t be responsible for his actions or his consequences. Besides, his loan shark won’t come after Harmony.”

“How do you know that?” I ask. “These type of people will get their money any way they can, I’m sure of it.”

These people don’t have Alex,” he says, impassively. “She has to contend with her father, which it appears she’s doing a good job of that, but those people won’t fuck with her.” I sigh heavily.

“Thank God!” I breathe.

“My angel is gone,” Harmony says softly. We look over at her, and her eyes are still closed. Is she talking in her sleep? “But she left me two wonderful guardians to look out for me… Will you please ride in the family car with me?” She slowly opens her eyes and makes contact with mine. I fight not to cry as I gently stroke her hair.

“Of course, we will,” I say, failing to hide my emotion.

*-*

The ride to the church is silent. Harmony stares ahead of her as she clasps my hands. I can tell that she’s dreading this entire thing. She, Christian, and I are in the limo and there are three Audi SUV’s following us. One may think it’s overkill, but we don’t know what to expect. When our little caravan pulls up, we see the siblings standing outside of the church. Some of them are alone while others have an entourage of their own—significant others, children maybe, I don’t know. Christian steps out of the car first, then he helps me out while the driver opens the door for Harmony. I take one elbow and he extends his other arm to Harmony. She sighs heavily and obediently clasps his elbow as we proceed to the door of the church.

“Ms. Franklin,” the funeral director greets her. “Are you ready?” Harmony shakes her head.

“I’ll never be ready,” she admits, “but let’s get this done.” He nods.

“Um, I need your help. Those people over there indicate that they’re family. We’ve reserved two rows. Did you want them to be part of the family procession?” She closes her eyes and sighs, steeling herself.

“Four of those people are my mother’s children,” she says. He frowns.

“Your sisters and brothers?” he asks bemused.

“No!” she says, sharply. “My mother’s biological children. They’re listed in the obituary. I don’t know who those other people are. This is my family.” She gestures to Christian and me. The funeral director gives her a knowing look.

“I see,” he says. “I’ll take care of it.” He nods to Christian, who leads us into the church and down the aisle. Tina is laid out in a beautiful mahogany casket. Most often when I attend a funeral, the deceased looks like their head is sinking into the pillow, their chest is distinctly protruding forward and they look a bit unnatural. Tina looks like her neck and head have been elevated a bit, so that she really does look like she’s just sleeping. Harmony stands there gazing at her mother for several moments. Christian tries to guide her away from the casket, but she won’t move. Other mourners begin to clear their throats, an indication that she’s holding up the viewing line, but she doesn’t move. Christian throws a glare at the line and the throat clearing stops.

“Give me your coat,” he says. I remove my coat and hand it to him. He moves me over to Harmony and I take her arm. He looks at the funeral director.

“Let her stand here as long as she wants,” he says quietly. “She’ll never see her mother again.” The funeral director nods and Christian walks away. I put my arm around Harmony’s shoulder and the funeral director gestures for the other mourners to go around us.

Get in where you fit in, folks.

Ilsa and Paige make their way to the front of the line and begrudgingly stand next to Harmony. They throw a glance in our direction and I glare right back at them.

Try something you blue-haired old bitches and we’ll end up on YouTube!

As if they read my thoughts, they turn around and look at Tina.

“Mother…” Paige breathes dramatically, touching the side of the casket and tilting her head back and forth in a strange manner as she gazes at Tina. It’s everything I can do not to exclaim, “Oh, give me a fucking break.” In my head, I can see Tina’s lips twist in the same sentiment of disbelief.

Paige ends her performance and steps back to the spot she occupied next to Harmony. No one else bothered with any of the theatrics.

“The funeral home did a wonderful job,” someone behind us says. “She’s beautiful.”

“They didn’t. I did,” Harmony says gazing at her mother. Ilsa and Paige glare at her, wondering what she’s talking about. “I did my mother’s hair… and her make-up. She was white and powdery, not because she’s dead, but because they used the wrong foundation.” She touches Tina’s gloved hand.

“They had her hair in a small bouffant. My mother has never worn a bouffant—at least not while I was alive. It was always a delicate French roll or that Grace Kelly bun.”

“You’re right,” the woman behind us says. “You prepared your mom?”

“I did,” Harmony confirms. “Shisiedo very light ivory hydro-liquid compact, a hint of minimalist soft pink whipped powder blush, translucent loose powder to hold her glow, and her favorite nude lip balm. Just enough color so that she looks as peaceful and beautiful as when I found her that morning.” She looks lovingly at Tina, a sad smile gracing her face and a lone tear on her cheek.

“Oh, God, can you be any more dramatic?” Ilsa whispers, but not low enough. Harmony doesn’t hear her, but I do, and so does the woman standing behind us.

“Have a little respect for the family!” she quips at Ilsa, who gasps at her.

“I am the family!” she retorts haughtily. “That’s my mother lying in that casket!”

“Oh, I didn’t know,” the lady says unapologetically. “Have you been out of the country?”

“No, just out of touch,” Harmony answers for her before finally turning away from the casket heading towards her seat. I note that Christian asked for my coat so that he could save the first two seats in front for Harmony and me while he took the third. He received more than one dirty look from the siblings for his gesture while his glare dared any one of them to say something.

I move my coat from the first seat and allow Harmony to sit before Christian removes his coat from the second seat for me.

“You did a wonderful job, dear,” the same lady says, squeezing Harmony’s hand before proceeding to her seat. Harmony silently nods her thanks and looks ahead at her mother, mournful tears streaming down her face.

Once the procession ends and everyone takes their seats, the simple service begins. It’s only short enough for people to see her one last time, pay their respects, a short eulogy, and that’s it. Paige, who kept her theatrics going at the casket a few moments too many, missed her opportunity to get a seat on the first row and she’s sitting behind us. Every thirty seconds, she’s saying something derogatory about the service or the church or anything she can bark about.

“Dear God, this is so tacky,” Paige complains. “There’s nowhere for her children to say anything; the obituary is bare; and the casket is horrendous. Who planned this?”

My husband has had enough. He whirls around to face her.

“Tina made all her own arrangements before she passed, so if you have a problem with anything you see, you can go on up there to the casket and take it up with her. Now, please keep your discontent to a gentle roar, because people are staring at you!” He hisses the last part through his teeth.

Sure enough, she looks around and a hush has fallen over the small church, all eyes on Paige expecting. She turns indignantly in her seat away from Christian and faces the front of the church, only to find the minister glaring at her.

“I’m sorry, Momma,” Harmony whispers. I put my arm around her shoulders and turn my attention back to the service.

As intended, the service is very short and respectful, and the procession goes to the cemetery and the family tomb to have Tina interred next to her beloved husband. There are no dramatics at the cemetery. No, Tina’s family reserve that display for the repast. It’s being held at a small colonial-style hall in Bellevue—one with an open bar, which probably isn’t the best idea, but…

The attacks begin almost immediately.

“Who are all these people?” Ilsa complains. “Where are Mom’s friends?”

“You mean the ones who know who you are?” Harmony asks. “Most of them have passed on. The ones who remain are either in hospice or were too weak to come. The rest are here, but you’d know that if you kept in touch.”

“This hall is too small,” Ilsa continues. “You should have picked a better locale.”

“Where would you have had it?” Harmony asks impassively.

“Someplace grander than this,” she says distastefully, “like the Fairlane Olympic or something.”

“Oh, okay,” Harmony replies. “Maybe the machine ate your message when you called to make those arrangements.” Ilsa blindly continues voicing her discontent.

“Why didn’t you list Mom’s grandchildren in the obituary?” Ilsa accuses.

“Because I don’t know who any of them are,” Harmony responds matter-of-factly. “During the numerous times that you all called, none of you offered to help me and the last time that I’ve seen you or any of your children, I was a tween. So, how do you suppose I do that, sis?” Her final tone is a bit murderous, and Ilsa decides to drop that subject, except for one last dig.

“You’re a great-grandchild and I see you made front and center…”

“She’s. My. Mother!” Harmony says in a voice so demonic that it halts all of Ilsa’s questions. She storms away from her sister/great-aunt in a fury. I look over at Christian and shake my head. This is, no doubt, the way that Harmony has been treated her whole life.


CHRISTIAN

This circus is really getting on my damn nerves. Three of my guards have to stay in close proximity of us at all times to prevent a goddamn fight from breaking out. These people are the worst brood of assholes I’ve ever seen in my life. I may not have been paying close attention, but I don’t think I’ve seen ten tears drop between the lot of them.

“Excuse me…” I hear someone’s voice over my shoulder as I and Butterfly are literally creating a human shield around Harmony to protect her from her mother’s horrible children. “Aren’t you Christian Grey?” I frown.

“Who’s asking?” I reply, my tone none too friendly.

“I’m Tina’s oldest son,” he says with gleeful haughtiness. “I had no idea that you were acquainted with our family. It’s such an honor that you’re here. The family truly thanks you for coming.”

And suddenly, he’s the Franklin family spokesperson? I walked into the church with Harmony, sat through the entire funeral, went to the cemetery, and now—here at the repast after he’s gotten a few drinks in him, he’s brave enough to approach me? Fucking shit, fucking hell, son of a…

I stand from the barstool and face him, pulling myself up to my full height and trying not to squash him under my shoe.

“You’ll have to forgive me…” I pause and wait for his name.

“Jonah,” he says, extending his hand. “Jonah Franklin.” I look at his hand but don’t accept the shake.

“Well, Jonah, I’m very sorry for your loss, and you’ll have to forgive my candor and chilliness at this moment, but I don’t know who you are. You know me as Christian Grey, billionaire and entrepreneur. What you don’t know is that I was a scared and lonely little boy that hid under your porch when I was a kid, and Aunt Tina gave me lemonade and cookies…”

“Really?” he interrupts.

“I’m not finished, Jonah.” He’s taken aback by my sharpness, and I now have his attention and the attention of a few others around us, but I don’t care.

“What you also don’t know is that about a month or so ago, I had your mother’s house swept and a key member of her staff fired because her house was bugged; that I also had some of my own staff stay at her house to make her last days more comfortable and to make sure that no one took advantage of her; that I and my wife spent numerous hours with your mother during that time making sure that her needs were met and that her daughter wasn’t overwhelmed with her mother’s care; that through the diligence of three separate attorneys and a court order, she could relax during her final hours because she didn’t have to worry about her home and assets being stripped by long-lost family members coming to get a piece of the rock and that nothing can be touched or claimed—not even an earring—until the reading of the will.”

My eyes flash over to the daughter that began harassing Harmony for her mother’s 4-carat diamond earrings the moment she hit the door.

“What you also don’t know is that I and my wife saw Harmony cry day after day while she watched her mother slip away—all while she was continuing her education and dealing with her own dramas; that Harmony chose your mother’s clothes and styled your mother’s hair herself so that she could be presentable when you saw her today; that it was Harmony that called my wife screaming when your mother took her last breath. So, you’ll forgive me if the only family of Aunt Tina’s that I know of is Harmony, because she’s the only one who’s been here.

“I’ve basically been the right-hand man, making sure that all your mother’s loose ends were tied and all of her wishes have been carried out. As I have no stake in any of her property or belongings, I was to be the objective ears and help her make the decisions that she needed to make in her last days. These are decisions that her family should have helped her make, but an objective outsider—a close friend, but an outsider nonetheless—had to make sure that her affairs were in order, that a house manager that had been skimming from her accounts for years was finally gone before he could do any real damage. Her very adult children should have been there to handle that for her, to make sure that crooked little weasel was dealt with, but only one—only one—took on that responsibility, and that one was not you.

“So, Jonah, I say all that to say that the only family that I know of is Harmony. So, if you’re speaking to me now on behalf of the family, then I have a question for the family. Where. Were you? Where were you when your adopted sister was crying her eyes out and holding herself together by a thread while she watched her mother die? Your mother? Who are you now coming to me speaking on behalf of the family when you haven’t been here on behalf of the family? I have! Harmony has! My wife has! For the past several weeks, we’ve been here on behalf of the family! Where were you during that time?”

“Christian, please…” Harmony beseeches, but I’m sorry. I have to know.

“Where were you?” I ask the room full of shocked faces. “Where were you when your mother was dying? Where were you when she took her final trip down Memory Lane? While you’re looking at Harmony like she’s nothing, like she’s no one, angry because Aunt Tina put the house in her name, where were you when Tina took her last breath? November 11, 2014 at approximately 2am Pacific time, where were you? What was so important that not one of you could come and visit her and say goodbye? She’s not going to ask you,” I say pointing to Harmony, “so I will. Where were you? A weekend out of your oh-so-busy lives to come and see your mother and tell her that you love her and none of you did!

“Her body wasn’t even cold yet and you come banging on the door demanding entry like you own the place! The dirt isn’t even on her casket yet, and you’re trying to lay claim to her valuables! Did she mean nothing to you?”

I feel rage rising in my chest and I clench my teeth to bite the words I want to say to this useless lot of people. My chest is rising and falling like an angry bear and they all stare at me in stunned silence.

“Christian…” My wife’s voice is normally my calming agent, but not now, not today. I whirl around to face her.

“I was here,” I say, my voice low and menacing. “I was here the whole time—the whole time! I waited, we waited, and none of them showed up. She cried,” I bite out, remembering Tina’s tearstained cheeks in my mind, “she cried, and she waited for them to come and not one of them came! Not one! Not even to say goodbye! To their own mother!”

“I know, baby,” she says, her soft voice gently chiseling down the edges of my rage. I turn back to the family.

“Which one of you worms threatened to blow the house up with Harmony in it?” I demand. No one says anything, but everybody looks at the person whom I assume is Theo. “Don’t make threats you can’t cash in,” I say, glaring at him. “You’ll have to get through a whole lotta motherfuckers to get to her, and I’m one of them. So, if you’re looking to bring Armageddon down on yourself, go ahead and try something.”

“Is he fucking her?” one of the sisters says to the other, feigning an attempt to be discreet. Butterfly was right. This is a wretched bunch of human beings.

“No,” I say, turning my attention to her. “I’m fucking her!” I say pointing at my wife. “But I’ll tell you this, you uncouth old shrew! Tina’s final request of me was to take care of Harmony—to protect her from you all, and you can bet your shriveled little asses that’s exactly what I plan to do.” I turn away from her before she has the chance to react or respond and turn to my wife.

“I’m going to do everything—everything in my power to make sure that they don’t pick her estate dry.” I turn around to look at the faces still observing my rage. “Everything!” I bark at them.

“I know you will, baby. I know you will. Come on, let’s go get a drink.” She takes my hand and I blindly follow my wife to the bar.

*-*

It takes quite some time, but my rage finally settles—and none of the Franklins dared to approach me during that time. They do, however, approach Harmony several times, who has perched herself at a table with a glass of clear liquid that she never drinks. She just stares at it. One Franklin comes over to her; then another one; then two or three at a time. It’s like they powwow, and they get up from the table then they come back and come at her again. Each time they leave, she looks more and more spent.

“Go over there and sit with Harmony,” I tell Chuck. “See what the conversation is and don’t let anybody harass her.” Chuck nods and goes over to the table, heading off another Franklin just as they were walking in her direction. Chuck says a few words to her and she nods without raising her gaze. He says something else, and she nods again.

It only takes a minute or two for one of the Franklins to come back to the table. It’s a female, and she actually tries to dismiss Chuck. When he refuses to leave, she gets into a bit of a heated conversation with him and Harmony, although her conversation is one-sided as Harmony nor Chuck is responding. When he’s heard enough, he tells her to kindly leave the table because Harmony isn’t talking about this right now. I assume that it’s about property once again and just as I’m about to walk over to the table, Harmony stands swiftly, knocking her chair to the floor in the gesture.

“For God’s sake, just leave me alone!” she screams and runs to the door, bursting through it and down the stairs onto the icy ground outside. Everyone runs to the windows where we can see Harmony standing in the middle of the pathway, sobbing and screaming the same word over and over…

“Momma! Momma! Maaahahahah-maaaaaaaaahahaha!”

Before I can say anything, Butterfly is running outside in her coat with Harmony’s in her hand. She negotiates those stairs like she’s not wearing six-inch platform stilettos in the ice and snow and quickly wraps Harmony’s coat around her. Harmony stands there calling for her mother… to come back? To rescue her? Just because she can’t take it anymore? I turn to Jason standing behind me and he nods and starts talking into his wrist.

“Bring the car around,” he says, and all the guests turn to him. “Get Harmony home. The Franklin house is on lockdown effective immediately. Nobody gets in without her permission. Call in backup if you need it.”

The room is eerily silent, but I don’t look at the faces of Aunt Tina’s children. I’m disgusted and if Tina really could roll over in her grave, she’s doing it now.

An Audi drives up to the walkway and one of my many security staff get out and walk over to Ana and the weeping Harmony. He tries to help her walk, but her feet don’t move. She starts to fight, protesting that she wants her mama, but like a wrecking ball just hit her, she collapses into mournful sobs, and my guard has to catch her. He scoops her into his arms and carries her weeping body to the car with Butterfly walking behind him. She turns and looks over her shoulder. I don’t know if she sees me, but my eyes lock on hers before she turns back to follow Harmony and the guard to the Audi. I turn around and face the four remaining children that Tina has left behind.

“Well,” I begin, “she’s gone now. Plot away, and good luck to you all.” I turn to Jason. “I’m ready to get the hell out of here.”

“Right this way, sir,” he says, gesturing to Chuck who appears with my coat. “Bring the other cars around. The boss is ready to go,” he says into his wrist. It all looks so Mission Impossible, but I’m glad that it does. I want all of these leeches and moochers to know exactly what they’re dealing with. The hell if I’m going to allow them to dismantle Tina’s estate like a bunch of fucking vultures. I walk out of the hall without another word, Chuck and Jason both flanking me just behind me, knowing that everything they’re looking at screams “power.”

Fuck with me. I dare you…

*-*

“How is she?” I ask when I get to the Franklin house.

“She’s upstairs with your wife,” the guard at the door says. I make my way up the stairs, but I don’t knock on Harmony’s door. I just wait for a few minutes. My wife emerges after a while looking a bit spent.

“How is she?” I ask softly. She shakes her head.

“I wish I had some tranquilizers,” she says. “She’s inconsolable.”

“There’s nothing in the medicine cabinets?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I have no idea.” That’s when I remember that Windsor is on staff here temporarily. I call Jason’s phone.

“Yes, sir?” he answers.

“Jason, can you locate Windsor and ask him if he can scare up some tranquilizers somewhere for Harmony.”

“Yes, sir.” When I turn back to Butterfly, she’s worrying her scar.

“What is it?” I ask.

“She’s never going to get any peace,” she says, gazing at me with large sad eyes. “They’re going to keep coming, banging at the door, waiting for the will, trying to pressure her… She’s going to lose her mind… and I can’t sit here every day.” I sigh. I know I don’t need to say it, but I do.

“She can come and stay with us for a while,” I suggest.

“She may not want to,” Butterfly protests. “I think she’s spent every night this week in her mother’s bed. Hell, she can’t even mourn properly. This is cruel.”

“We’ll gently convince her that it’s the best thing to do, but not right now,” I say, putting my arm around her and pulling her close to me. She shudders, signaling me that she has been crying or that she’s about to cry. I embrace her and try to figure out how I can convince Harmony to leave her cocoon-turned-hell for a few days and come to Grey Crossing.

“Sir…” We’ve stood in the hallway for quite some time. Our embrace is interrupted by Windsor with a bottle of pills and a glass of water.

“One of the staff had some sleeping pills,” he says. I nod and gesture to Tina’s door where Harmony has been all this time.

“I’ll take them,” Butterfly says. Just as she’s about to reach for the door, it opens suddenly, and Harmony’s disheveled form is standing there with a small overnight case.

“Harmony!” Butterfly exclaims, and we’re all startled standing in the hallway. Harmony looks absolutely waterlogged, her tearstained face still drenched with fresh tears, her eyes bloodshot red and nearly swollen shut.

“I can’t… I can’t… stay… here!” she chokes through her sobs. She holds up the overnight case. “I have… some of… my mother’s… things… They can… have it… all… I can’t… stay here… I’ll go… to… a hotel…”

“You’ll do no such thing,” Butterfly says, taking the overnight case and handing it off to me. “You’ll come to Grey Crossing, and you’ll stay as long as you like. My husband insists.” Harmony looks over Butterfly’s shoulder at me, then collapses into my wife’s arms in yet more inconsolable tears.

After we’ve packed a few of Harmony’s things, we’re back in the Audi’s heading down the road to Grey Crossing. I’m driving, and Chuck is in the passenger seat, my wife and a still-weeping Harmony in the back seat. I’ve left Jason at the mansion with specific instructions.

“Give the staff some time off. Lock down the house. Arrange for whatever temporary winterizing is necessary. Absolutely nobody gets in this house. The lady of the house is away, and the instruction is to have any trespassers arrested, no matter who they are.”

Butterfly is very happy to have Windsor returning to us. As much as we care for Harmony, we want our butler back.

We get Harmony settled in one of the guest rooms and she doesn’t emerge for the rest of the night. We want to ask her if she means that she couldn’t stay in the Franklin Mansion tonight or if she means that she could never stay in the Franklin Mansion again. I know it’s no use asking her at the moment, and my wife proves to also be a closed book as she spends most of her evening in the gym after which she takes the longest bath known to man before heading straight to bed. I spend the evening with a bottle of brandy and my piano. It was a hell of a day for all of us.

The days that follow aren’t much different. Harmony doesn’t leave her room, speak to anyone, or eat all of Sunday. Butterfly spends most of her day hunched over her laptop. I’m certain that she’s journaling.

I was hoping that Monday would bring the return of a welcome routine—getting ready for work, having breakfast, talking about what our day would look like, but Butterfly seems to be grieving along with Harmony, who still hasn’t left her room. I’ve instructed Ms. Solomon to take some food to her room and not to leave until she eats it. Now, I need to try to break the Butterfly funk.

I find her in the nursery sitting in the window seat looking out of that horrid window.

Good God, not there!

She turns to me when I open the door. Our children are both asleep and she’s dressed for work. Is this where she comes now when she’s sad?

“What are you doing in here?” I say softly so as not to wake our sleeping babies.

“Being around them gives me peace,” she says quietly.

“But I know that window doesn’t,” I say, moving next to her. She sighs and turns her gaze back out the window… probably to the bridge.

“It’s a familiar place in time of turmoil,” she replies. A familiar place… like hell.

“Can’t we find you another familiar place?” I ask. “One with not so many… negative connotations?”

“It’s just geography,” she says, turning to me. “Ace cancelled our appointment.” I frown.

“What appointment?” I ask. “Last Friday’s appointment?” She nods.

“That’s partially why I drank so much,” she admits. “Baileys was my therapist.”

“Doctors cancel appointments all the time, baby,” I comfort.

“Not twice in a row,” she says. “The anniversary of my accident, he basically threw me out of his office.”

“Why?” I ask, a bit bemused and a bit angry.

“Oh, I pissed him off,” she says. “I said something to him that I definitely shouldn’t have, and he put me out to keep from exploding at me. Seems I can’t keep a shrink.” I know she’s referring to Maxine quitting on her and even though I’ve never admitted it, I know that I was largely the cause of that… not totally, but largely.

“That’s not true, baby,” I say, sitting in the window seat next to her. Since she’s turned sideways, she’s actually looking at me. “What did you say that was so bad?”

“I basically told him that he wasn’t doing his job,” she says. “I asked him why my head of security had to point out that I was suffering from PTSD and he didn’t.” I twist my lips.

“Baby, you know why,” I tell her.

“Yes, I know why,” she admits, “but I still held him responsible. So, he threw me out of his office. He told me that he could effectively service me that day and that I should find someone that I could trust to talk to.”

“And then we had our date,” I remind her. She nods.

“It helped a lot,” she says. “It was just what I needed in so many ways, and not just because of the mind-blowing sex.” She tries to chuckle.

“And then we fought—or silently fought at Valerie’s and Elliot’s house,” I recall. She shrugs.

“Shit happens,” she says, trying to look past me back at the bridge. I think this is going to be her new “shrinking.”

“And then I caught the mutant bug from hell and you took care of me,” I add, tilting my head so that I’m in her line of sight and not the bridge. Sad blue eyes meet mine and I know that her heart is heavy.

“And then Tina dies, and her overbearing inconsiderate family tries to cause Harmony to have a fucking nervous breakdown,” she hisses.

“And when you need to vent, Ace calls and cancels your appointment…”

“Actually, Amber called and cancelled it, but yes, that’s the thrust.” I twist my lips.

“You decided not to take the babies to work today? I see that you’re dressed. No one would blame you for taking the day off.”

“No,” she says shaking her head. “I’m not taking the babies in because I have way too much to do, so there’s no need in waking them when I can’t give them the attention they deserve. And I can’t take the day off for the same reason. I have to meet with the new maintenance guy to review his observations and set up interviews for maintenance and cleaning staff.”

“Can’t my mother do that?” I ask. She nods.

“She could, but she’s been very patient and understanding with me while I’ve been playing hooky to take care of Harmony. It was a necessary evil, but I have responsibilities. I can’t keep pawning all the work off onto her.” I sigh. I think about all the time I was taking off and Ros gave me what for, prompting me to hire Lorenz.

“Maybe we’ll have a special, quiet dinner when you get home,” I tell her. “I’ll give you a nice massage and we can watch some of your favorite old movies.” She smiles.

“That would be divine,” she says. I take her hand and stand, prompting her to stand with me and come away from that blasted window.

After I force her to have a real breakfast—no bagel, jelly, and cream cheese today—I send her on her way with a kiss and instructions to Chuck not to allow her to stay late today no matter what.

“Call me if you need backup,” I tell him. “I’ll take the heat.” He nods his acknowledgement and leaves. I text Ros and Lorenz and ask what’s on the burner today and if they can survive without me. I also text Andrea to find out if there are any pertinent meetings on my agenda. After about twenty minutes, everyone responds that there are no fires, floods, or hurricanes on the horizon. So, I go to my dressing room and change into something casual.

Jason is shocked when I come back to the kitchen.

“Is everything alright?” he asks, he and his wife eyeing me speculatively.

“Everything’s fine,” I say. “Did Sophie get off to school okay?” He nods.

“Yes, sir,” he says.

“What news, if any, from the Franklin Mansion?” I ask.

“None yet, sir,” he says. “No one tried to visit this weekend, but the day is young.”

“Well, we’re taking the day off, but I’m going to monopolize your wife, and you’re not allowed to watch.” He raises a brow at me.

“Wha…?” Gail says from the other side of the counter. I turn to her.

“Remember when I said I wanted you to teach me to cook?” I ask her.

“Um, yes?” She says uncertainly.

“Well, today’s the day,” I tell her. “I need a romantic dinner for my wife and I need you help me cook something. No more cracking eggs.” Jason stands from his stool.

“You’re right,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to watch this anyway.” He walks around the counter to his wife.

“Go easy on him,” he says, “and wail if you need me.” He leans over and kisses her and exits through the family room. She sighs heavily and turns her attention back to me.

“I am yours to mold today, Mrs. Taylor,” I say, putting my hands up in surrender. “Whatever your instruction, I will follow. I won’t give you any problem. Just please, understand if I get a little frustrated because I’m fucking up.” She pauses for a moment, then hands me a chef’s apron.

“Let’s get started then.”

The kitchen looks like a warzone after about four hours. I had no idea I could fuck up so much, but Gail is very patient with me—in between uncontrollable fits of laughter. After one exploding pot of sauce, one burned pot of sauce, and one completely unusable pot of sauce, we give up on the red sauce and move to something more idiot-friendly.

We’re going to have a mish-mosh type of meal, but I wanted to be able to provide courses that I prepared myself. Our appetizer will be raspberry-grilled brie with toasted baguette slices and crostini. Our main course is a simple Thai shrimp recipe with red peppers and snap peas served with Jasmine rice—easily cooked in the rice cooker. The hardest part of this course was deveining the shrimp! For dessert, I choose various chocolate fondues with fresh fruit. All very easy dishes even if a bit time consuming for a beginner. As I’m trying to complete my task, I feel my phone buzzing in my pocket and my hands are an utter mess.

“Gail, would you retrieve my phone from my pocket?” I say, thrusting my hip towards her. She looks at me like I’ve asked her to murder someone.

“Please!” I beg. “Before it stops. My company is running without me.”

“Which pocket?” she says skeptically.

“Front,” I say, thrusting my hip at her again. She hesitates, but gingerly reaches into my pocket to retrieve my phone.

And it stops.

“Shit!” I hiss as she produces my now silent phone.

“Well, don’t be mad at me!” she defends. “You’re thrusting your hips at me telling me to stick my hands in your pants—did you expect me to jump at that opportunity?” I roll my eyes at her while I examine my phone, trying to see who called before the screen goes black.

“What?” Jason’s voice growls from the family room.

“Your timing fucking sucks,” I announce, “and I thought you said you were staying out of the kitchen.”

“I stayed out for hours! I’m hungry!” he demands. “Why is my wife talking about you gyrating and telling her to stick her hands in your pants?” Just as he’s demanding answers, my phone starts buzzing again.

“That’s why!” I bark, pointing with gooey hands. “Answer my phone, please!”

Jason glares at me but walks over to the counter and looks at my phone. Picking it up, he swipes the screen and puts it to its ear.

“Grey House of Perversion,” he answers. What the fuck?

“I’m fucking going to kill you,” I say quietly, “after I fucking fire you.”

“Oh, no reason, besides the fact that your boss is telling my wife to grope him,” he says. And his ass is talking to someone who works for me. I’m really going to kill him. I go to the sink to wash my hands.

“Al says the pussy DJ wants to talk?” Jason says, his face as questioning as his statement. I frown.

“He said what?” I ask, drying my hands and looking over into the fondue pot.

“That’s what he said,” Jason confirms. What the fuck is the…? Oh! The pussy DJ! Rossiter. I hold my hand out for the phone and Jason hands it to me.

“What does he want to talk about?” I ask Al. “He can talk when we get to court. Did he forget there’s a restraining order on his ass?”

“Do I even want to know what’s going on in that house right now?” Al asks.

“Besides the fact that I’m about to fire my head of security for the 918th time, no. Now answer my question,” I demand.

“Well, you can’t get much publicity with a gag order and you can’t easily go anywhere and start over with a lawsuit hanging over your head. You can’t even really defend your position—to anybody—if you can’t talk about it. So, our obscene little attention-grabbing hothead pussy DJ had his attorney call me and ask for a meeting with hopes for a settlement.”

“He’s got to be kidding,” I say, while stirring my white chocolate fondue. “What could he possibly have that I would want that would prompt me to drop this case?”

“That’s what he’s trying to find out,” Al says. “What are we aiming for with this lawsuit, Chris?”

“How about his total ruin?” I say, turning the fire down to its lowest setting. “For him to shut the fuck up and fade into obscurity. That would be a good outcome. Is he willing to settle on that?”

“Chris…” Al says, his voice slightly scolding. I don’t have time for this right now.

“Make an appointment for him and his attorney to meet us on Wednesday,” I say flippantly.

“Why not tomorrow?” he asks.

“Wednesday, Al,” I say, my voice demanding.

“I was just curious,” he says, sounding like a petulant child.

“Because I didn’t come in to work today and I don’t want to start my week with a meeting with that asshole!” I say.

“Fine, sir,” he says, still petulant. I end the call.

“Call Chuck and have him drop Butterfly off at the front door,” I tell Jason. Under no circumstances is she to come into this kitchen!” Not only do I not want my surprise to be spoiled, but I also don’t want her to see what a mess I’ve made. “Screw this up, and I really will fire you, Jason.”

“Promises, promises,” he says as he takes out his phone and starts dialing. I turn to Gail.

“I need to go clean up and get changed. Can you make sure nothing explodes or sticks or burns or…”

“You’re fine,” she interrupts. “You did a great job. Rough start, but it all came out in the wash.” I nod and toss her the hand towel I’m holding.

Mrs. Solomon has set the table in the formal living room—the one in front of the floor to ceiling windows with a view of the lake. Ambient lighting is accented with candles and a beautiful glow from the moonbeams bouncing off the lake. That view couldn’t have been better if I planned it.

“Activate two-way communications,” I say as I walk to the bottom of the stairwell. “Locate Windsor.”

He’s the only person in the entire system known by only one name.

“Yes?” he answers.

“Can I see you in the grand entry please?” I summons. He acknowledges and is there almost before I get the chance to disengage the intercom system.

“Mrs. Grey should be home very soon,” I tell him. “If she gets here before I return, would you show her to the table in the living room?”

“Yes sir.” Whether or not I admit it aloud, it’s good to have him back.


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.

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 64—For Everything, There is A Season

FYI—when we were younger, much younger, my husband and I used to fuck like bunnies all night, then get up the next day and fight about something like the Capulets and the Montagues. We did this regularly and I didn’t even know that we were doing it until he brought it to my attention.

It happens.
Don’t worry.
We survived.

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 64—For Everything, There is A Season

CHRISTIAN

I breathe in the steam from the shower for about twenty minutes. I feel like I’m going to catch fucking pneumonia. Running in the cold never bothered me before, but today I feel like my chest is going to explode. I better be more careful from now on.

I’ve never been so happy to find a T-shirt, turtleneck, and cable-knit sweater in my garment bag. I’m not sure why all three were packed in the bag for an overnight trip, but I don them all to warm my body.

“Hello. Mr. Grey,” the woman who opened the door for me greets. “Can I get you something?”

“A cup of coffee, please,” I say, taking a seat at the breakfast bar.

“How do you take it?” she asks.

“Black,” I reply. She nods and takes a cup from the cupboard. I shiver as I wait for her to fill the cup. I can’t seem to shake this chill even after a shower fifteen degrees hotter than Hades. She puts the cup in front of me and I cozy my hands around it, trying to shake the chill.

“You have big hands,” she says, staring at my hands dwarfing the coffee.

“It’s a small cup,” I reply. She raises her eyes to me and twists her lips.

“Why don’t I get you a mug?” she says and turns away to get a larger cup of coffee. I take a sip of the small cup and it’s scalding. It feels heavenly. It’s like my insides have frozen. It wasn’t even that cold outside.

She places the mug in front of me and I realize that I’ve already finished more than half of the first cup. Instead, I grab the large mug with both hands.

“Thank you…” I pause for her name.

“Mrs. Evans,” she says with a smile. I nod.

“Thank you, Mrs. Evans. I really appreciate it.”

“You might need some rest, young man,” she scolds. “How long were you out there?”

“I don’t know,” I admit. “I didn’t time it, but I didn’t think it was that long.”

“Well, your body appears to disagree with you,” she says. “Why don’t you go and sit by the fire. Brunch will be ready soon.” I nod and take the wonderful, steaming hot coffee to the living room. I look out the glass wall at my wife. She’s now looking at her phone and scrolling through something. Hopefully, she’s in a better mood than she was—we were—last night. I’m too weak to fight.

I tap on the glass and she raises her gaze to me. I do the “come here” motion with my hand, and I look more like a kid gesturing to his friends down the street to come and play.

She looks back at her phone and turns it off—I think—before she stands to come inside. I sit on the sofa facing the fireplace. The warmth doesn’t appear to be reaching me, but I take comfort in the scalding coffee and allow it to warm my chest going down.

Just the sound of the outside coming in when my wife opens the door makes me cold again and I shiver visibly. She walks over and stands in front of me. At first, she looks like she’s ready to do battle, but her expression changes almost instantly.

“You don’t look so good,” she says, her voice etched with concern.

“Thanks,” I reply, gulping more of my coffee, and shivering.

“What’s going on?” she asks while removing her coat.

“I don’t know. I was fine when I woke up, then I went for a run and now I feel like shit.”

“What did you wear when you went running?”

“The same thing I always wear—sweats, a T-shirt, a hoodie…”

“Well, apparently the weather didn’t think you wore enough, because you’re shivering.” She takes a seat on the sofa next to me. We sit there in silence for several moments and I’m the first to address the elephant in the room before I lose all my strength.

“You were short and snotty with me. I don’t like it and I didn’t deserve it.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry about that,” she says dismissively. “I wish I knew why I behaved that way. I’m not even sure what happened anymore.” I sigh. It seems so small now, but it was the biggest thing in the world yesterday.

“What were you doing out there on the patio?” I ask.

“Last night or this morning?” she inquires.

“Both.” She sighs.

“Last night… I don’t know. I just wanted to be away from it.”

“What’s it?” I ask.

“The party, the people… you,” she replies solemnly. I glare at her. “When you’re not happy with me, your displeasure is tangible,” she says. “It almost makes me understand why you went to Madrid… almost. There needed to be some distance between us if your discontent was as intense as I imagine it was. Heaven forbid we ever break up. I’d have to move to the other side of the world.” I roll my eyes.

“It’s not that bad,” I protest.

“It is that bad,” she says. “If it ever came to that, I’d have to go somewhere and wait until you approached me… if you approached me. I couldn’t approach you.”

Well, that smarts.

“Elliot said somebody came onto you last night,” I say. Her hand moves to her head.

“God, he saw that?” she says.

“Yes, and he cursed me out for not seeing it,” I say as I take another gulp of coffee to warm myself.

“Yeah, well,” she says, now rubbing her scar. She’s definitely not comfortable talking about this.

“Was he the only one?” I ask with a cough.

“Yes, there was only one,” she replies a little irritated. “Three less than you.”

She saw that, too, huh?

“What’s his name?” I ask.

“We didn’t get that far,” she replies.

“What? No snazzy pick-up line?” I prod before I drink more coffee.

“I didn’t remember anything except that he thought I was here alone,” she retorts. “When I showed him my wedding ring, he said something about never letting me out of his sight if I was his, and then he left me alone.” She folds her arms. She apparently didn’t like that.

“So, besides meditating, what were you doing out there this morning?” I ask, wanting to derail the subject.

“Journaling,” she says, and I frown.

“You were on your phone,” I point out.

“Yeah, my journals are going virtual,” she says. “The volumes behind my desk are nearly full. I don’t need pages; I need gigabytes.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Grey, but I thought you could use this,” Mrs. Evans interrupts as she brings me a tray with some consommé and crackers on it. “Something not too heavy in case you still want to eat brunch with the family.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Evans,” I say, looking lovingly at the steam rising from the consommé. I hate to let everyone down, but I think this is all I’m going to be able to stomach.

“Mrs. Grey, can I get you anything?” she asks my wife.

“That coffee looks good,” Butterfly says. “I’ll wait for brunch to eat.”

I drink my consommé and eat my crackers in relative silence. Butterfly stares at the fire as she drinks her coffee, occasionally looking over at me. I let the warmth envelop me from the inside out. The chill is finally dropping and I’m starting to feel cozy…

“Wake up, sleepyhead,” I hear Butterfly say. “Jason is here.”

I open my eyes and my head feels like lead. I’m wrapped tight in a throw and I feel like it’s 150 degrees in here. Sure the hell beats freezing.

“It’s time to go home,” she says. “I’m putting you in quarantine.”

“It’s just a cold,” I complain, my throat scratchy.

“You don’t know that,” Butterfly replies matter-of-factly. “You’re weak and shivering. You go from hot to cold to hot, and you slept through brunch.”

“I slept through brunch?” I lament. I wanted some of whatever Mrs. Evans was making. “Why didn’t you wake me?” I ask as I struggle to sit up.

“I tried. You just grunted and curled into a ball. Oh, and you owe Val a throw pillow. You’ve drooled all over that one.”

I look down where I was sleeping and sure enough, the pillow is half-covered with slime.

“Destroy that thing,” I say, grossed out by the sight.

“I intend to,” she replies. “That’s a $500 pillow, by the way.” I reach into my pocket and pull out a handful of bills. Val reaches for them, but Elliot heads her off.

“Naw, bro,” he says, catching his wife’s hand. “Put the infected currency away. I’ll get another pillow.” I shrug and put the money back in my pocket. I’m too weak to get offended.

“But I’m hungry,” I whine.

“And it begins,” Val laughs.

“I know, right?” Butterfly concurs.

“What begins?” I huff.

“Don’t worry about it. Val, what’s left that he can take to go?”

“I’ve got you, Mrs. Grey,” Mrs. Evans says, and starts scurrying around the kitchen. Jason walks in with my coat.

“I’ve got the bags in the car and the heat is on, so he’ll be good and warm,” he says, holding my coat open. I stand, and the room starts spinning.

“Whoa!” I hear Jason say, but he’s not the one who catches me. I open my eyes and my tiny wife has her arms around me.

“Just a cold my eye,” she says, looking at me with concern. Jesus, I hope she doesn’t catch whatever this is that I have.

My knees are weak, but thankfully, they’re still holding me up… somewhat. This is a good thing as I have no idea how this little woman—literally—is supporting 185 pounds of mostly muscle.

“Your Highness let me…” Jason protests.

“I’ve got him,” she says effortlessly. “Get his coat on him.”

They’re dressing me like a helpless toddler. Stand up, Grey! You’re stronger than this!

I try to stand upright while Jason helps me on with my coat. It’s taking every bit of strength that I have not to crumble over. Jesus, the air is thin up here…

“Come on, Superman,” Butterfly jests as she reaches for me again.

“Really, Ana,” Jason says. “Let me. The rain froze over and it’s slippery out there.” Butterfly throws an accusing gaze at me.

“You ran in the freezing rain?” she scolds.

“It wasn’t raining when I ran,” I excuse. Was it…? “You were out there journaling. You know it wasn’t raining,” I add, more to convince myself than her. She shakes her head.

“Get him to the car, please, Jason,” she says.

“Here, Mrs. Grey.” Mrs. Evans gives my wife a thermo bag. “A breakfast bagel and some soup. And here’s more coffee.” She hands her a travel mug.

“Thank you, Mrs. Evans. You’ve been too kind.” Mrs. Evans smiles.

“Get him to bed, dear,” she says. “They think they’re invincible at that age.”

“Until they get sick,” Butterfly counters, “then they turn into babies.”

Not me…

*-*

I feel miserable.

The soup didn’t help. The coffee didn’t help. Even my warm bed and these horrible flannel pajamas aren’t helping. Where did she find these things? I don’t even own a pair of flannel pajamas.

“I wanna take these off,” I whine. “They’re not comfortable.”

“But they’ll keep you warm,” Butterfly retorts. “Still not feeling any better?”

“No, and this wretched grandpa sleepwear isn’t helping!” She laughs at me. And I don’t like it.

“Well, you’re going to have to deal with it for a while,” she says. No, I won’t. As soon as I can move, I’m coming out of these things. “Would you like for me to turn on the television?”

“No. I want my laptop and my phone,” I say. She shakes her head.

“Nope. No work. Television, sleep, and food. Those are your options.” I frown at her.

“You gotta be kiddin’!” I hiss. “I have three deals set to close tomorrow; the team is going to be back in Detroit in…” I look at my arm and my watch is gone. “Where the fuck is my watch?” Butterfly folds her arms.

“Television, sleep, and food,” she repeats. “You wanna try me?”

“Butterfly, you can’t do this,” I complain. “I’ve got a multi-billion-dollar company to run…” and I’m miserable as fuck, but I’ll be even more miserable if I don’t know what’s happening at my company. She sighs.

“It’s Sunday, Christian,” she says. “Nothing is happening at your multi-billion-dollar company today.”

“Something is always happening at my company,” I protest. “If I don’t leave those people instructions, there’s no telling what’s going to happen!”

“What did you do when we were in Paris? And Greece? The company didn’t explode!”

“Because I left instructions! And I checked in! You know that!” I defend. She sighs.

“Christian Grey, if you’re sick longer than you have to be because you won’t rest and recuperate, I swear I’m moving out of this room and someone else can take care of your ass.”

“I won’t be sick longer, but I’ll be irritable and crabby as fuck if I don’t get my computer and my phone!” She raises her brow at me.

“Is that a threat?” she inquires.

“No, that’s a statement of pure, unmitigated fact! And a definite promise. And if you want to test that theory, keep them away from me. I won’t be responsible at all for my actions.” I don’t blink when I say the words. I know I’ll be crazy and untamable if she doesn’t get me my electronics and soon. So, what will it be, Mrs. Grey?

“You’re insufferable,” she says as she leaves the room. I hope that means that she’s going to get my phone and laptop or I’m going to harass everybody in this house until I get them.


ANASTASIA

So, he goes out in the rain and makes himself sick and apparently, I’m the one who has to pay for it.

I just want him to get one day of total rest—one day, and he’s giving me hell about his tethers. That place will do just fine without him, but he’s trying to convince me that the one day—a Sunday—that he doesn’t communicate with them, a meteor is going to fall out of the sky and obliterate Grey House.

“You have one hour,” I say as I hand him his phone and computer.

“One hour?” he laments.

“Make the best of it,” I say as I walk out of the room, miffed that I capitulated to his demands. I can’t cut him completely off. He’d probably die, but if I give him too much corporate rope, he’ll hang himself.

I look across the hall at the nursery. I need some baby time in the worst way. I reach for the doorknob and just as I’m about to turn it, common sense prevails. My husband is sick with I don’t know what and I’ve been around him all day. All I need to do is give cooties to my two little ones and my heart would officially be broken.

I move my hand away from the door and almost on cue, the two way comes to life.

“Ana,” I say sadly, and my babies begin to coo through the speakers. My heart is already breaking from not being able to hold them. I stand there and listen to them for a while. It’s like they’re having a conversation with each other. I stand there against the wall and sigh. God, I want my babies…

“Ana?”

Gail’s voice interrupts my baby time. She and Keri are standing in the hallway staring at me. I clear my throat and try to pull myself together.

“You and Keri will have to do your best to stay away from me, or to have as little contact with me as possible,” I warn. “The babies and Christian will be on quarantine. They all have to stay in their rooms until this thing with Christian blows over.” Gail and Keri look at each other and back at me.

“There’s no need to put the babies on quarantine, Ana,” Gail says. “As long as Christian stays in the room, the risk of infection is minimal at best.

“But I’m not on quarantine,” I say, “and I’m going to be in contact with Christian. I’m not taking any chances with my 10-month old babies. If they were older, I’d consider this cruel and unusual and we’d find a different solution. Right now, they’re just getting started. Make the room fun for them…” I want to cry. The thought of not seeing my babies until Christian is better…

“Ana,” Gail says, rubbing my arm and sensing my angst, “why don’t you call the pediatrician? Or Dr. Grey? See what the best course of action is before you deprive yourself of seeing your babies.” I nod and quickly wipe a tear away. I don’t know how she hit that nail on the head, but she did.

“Until I talk to them, please keep my babies in the nursery,” I say, my voice cracking. Gail nods, and she and Keri walk into Nirvana to care for my two little angels.

I take out my phone and sit down at the top of the stairs. I had planned to spend the day with the twins until Christian got sick. Now, of course, those plans have changed. I open my Journey app and start journaling.

November 14, 2014

Second entry of the day. No sign of the Boogeyman but I’m feeling shitty anyway. My brilliant husband went running in the rain this morning and has caught some kind of mutant cold that has knocked him on his ass in a matter of hours. Now, I have to tend to him and his whining—which has already begun—and I can’t hold my babies. I want to sock him in the nose for being so careless and at the same time, I want to cuddle him until he feels better. I didn’t prepare myself to be away from my babies, so my heart is heavy and I’m trying not to break down into a useless ball of mush…

I keep writing until I feel a little better and before I know it, Gail and Keri are coming out of the nursery. I raise my head to get a report on how the twins are doing.

“They’re sleeping,” Gail says with a sympathetic smile. “Have you been sitting here this entire time?”

“Yes,” I reply, maudlin. “I lost track of time.” I close my Journey app and notice that two hours have passed… and not a peep from my bedroom.

“Have you talked to Mrs. Grey yet?” she asks. I shake my head.

“No, but no matter what she says, I still need to know how serious this thing is with Christian before I come into contact with the babies.”

“Anah, if Ah meh,” Keri interjects, “bebbies catch cold all de time. Deh be fine if yah wan ta hold dem. Trest meh, Ah know.” I smile at her.

“Thank you, Keri. I’ll talk to Grace and… we’ll see.” I won’t risk infecting my babies. I walk pass them to the bedroom to relieve my husband of his electronics. When I open the door, I see that there’s no need. The phone is lying uselessly next to his hand, the screen black. The computer screen is asleep from no activity for several minutes.

And my husband is snoring like a trucker. I put his phone on the nightstand. He stirs when I move his laptop from his lap.

“That wasn’t an hour,” he grumbles.

“I gave you two,” I correct him. “Lie down.” He adjusts himself so that he’s not sitting up anymore, and I tuck the covers under his neck. “You know, if you wanted sympathy, you didn’t have to catch your death of cold to get it.”

“Shut up,” he replies in utter misery. “You’re the one who slept outside—how did I catch the cold?”

“I don’t know,” I say, “but stay away from the babies.”

“I can’t even get out of bed. I doubt that I’ll be messing with the babies.”

“Good, because if they get sick, I’ll murder you.” I blow a kiss across the room to him before leaving.

*-*

“It’s positive.”

Of course, I’ve decided to work from home on Monday. I’m certain that no one will be able to handle my husband if I leave, so I’m grounded until he’s better. I didn’t get much sleep last night worrying about him and missing my twins, so even though I’m taking zinc drops, vitamin c, and loading my body with immunity boosters and Airborne to prevent catching Christian’s bug, I’m still a bit groggy and see a nap in my near future. All these preventive measures will be futile if I’m exhausted.

And now a weeping Marilyn has just dropped another bomb on me.

“The pregnancy test?” I ask. “You took it?”

She nods, barely able to respond. This is not good news, no matter how happy Gary might be.

Gary!

“Have you told Gary yet?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“I just took the test this morning,” she sobs. “I don’t know what to do!”

“Well, the first thing you need to do is see a doctor. You need to know how far along you are,” I say. I sit on the ottoman facing her and take her hands. “Breathe, Mare,” I say trying to get her to calm herself. “You’re going to hyperventilate if you don’t calm down.” She tries to breathe slowly. It helps only a little.

“It’s not the end of the world, Mare,” I say gently. “You’ve got decisions that you have to make, but I promise, the sun will still rise tomorrow.”

“This is a disaster,” she says. “We’re always careful! How did this happen?” I shrug.

“Nothing is 100%,” I tell her. “There’s always a chance no matter what you do.” She sighs and sniffles. “Do you have an OB/GYN?” I ask. She nods. “Well, you need to call them… now. You’ve stalled in taking your test. You can’t afford to stall anymore, whatever you decide.” Still sniffling, she takes out her phone and swipes the screen. I go back over to my desk to give her some privacy. When I look at my phone, there’s a text from Harmony.

**The quit deed is final. That’s one less thing to worry about. **

I breathe a sigh of relief. At least she doesn’t have to worry about her “brothers and sisters” overrunning the house or trying to put her out once Tina is gone. I had no idea how soon that theory was going to be put to the test.

The next day, Marilyn goes to the OB/GYN… and Tina passes away. Harmony calls me hysterical and I can only make out that Tina is gone.

“Shit!” Christian says, throwing the covers off himself and swinging his legs out of bed.

“Christian!” I scold, and he turns to me after he stands.

“Baby, I love you. I feel worlds better than I did two days ago, but I can’t stay in this bed anymore, especially not now.”

I examine him carefully. His color has come back, and I’ve been pumping him full of immunity boosters, fruits and vegetables, and antioxidants. He’s not wobbly or groggy and he doesn’t have a stuffy nose or fever. Without waiting for my approval, he walks around the bed and heads for his dressing room. I hope he doesn’t think I’m going to allow him to leave this house! When he comes out of the dressing room in jeans and a sweatshirt, I stand in front of him with my lips pursed and my arms folded.

I’ll put you down, Mr. Grey.

“I know that look,” he says firmly. “One of us has to go to the Franklin mansion. It can be you or it can be me, but one of us has to go!”

“I’ll go,” I reply just as firmly. “Don’t go spreading your germs all over the house. This room, your office, your den, bathrooms. I’m not certain you’re not contagious and I meant what I said about my babies.”

“Dammit, Ana,” he complains.

“I haven’t seen my babies in three days trying to keep from transferring your germs to them!” I say pointing my finger at him. I’m crabby and irritable without them and I will cut you! He stares at me for a moment.

“Fine. Office, bathroom, bedroom, den. Now, get out of here.”

*-*

“She’s as we expected she would be, ma’am,” Windsor says after he lets me in. “She hasn’t left Ms. Tina’s room.”

“Was Harmony with her when she died?” I ask, removing my coat and handing it to him. He shakes his head.

“Ms. Tina passed very peacefully in her sleep,” he says. “Harmony found her this morning.” Oh, dear God. Windsor takes me to Tina’s door and I can hear Harmony weeping inside. I open the door slowly and it’s like I’ve stepped into a time warp—large, old, beautiful pieces of vintage furniture from a time long gone… and a small woman face down strewn across a very large bed, mourning. I walk over to the bed, sit on the edge and put my hand on her back.

“I’m so sorry, Harmony,” I say to her shaking, weeping form.

“She’s gone,” she sobs. “She was the only person in my whole life who loved me… who truly loved me… and now she’s gone. What am I going to do?” she wails. I sigh.

“She’d want you to move on and live a good life,” I say. “She’d want you to find happiness and love. She’d want to look down on you and know that she did a good job raising you. I know this is an unbearable pain, and you’re going to be really sad for a while… but don’t be sad for too long.”

“That’s just what she said,” she sobs. “Did you guys get this stuff from a book?” she adds with tearful mirth.

“In my case, probably… I’m a shrink, remember?” She forces a tearful snort. “In Tina’s case, she was no stranger to loss. She lost her husband, one of her children… She knew what it meant to have to carry on. But I’m sure that you gave her as much peace and serenity as she could have in her last days, Harmony. And she made sure that you would be okay when she was gone.”

“I know what you’re trying to do,” she says, “but my momma is gone. She left me. She didn’t have a choice, but she left me. I’m all alone. There’s nobody left who loves me, and pretty soon, her wretched offspring are going to be knocking on my damn door with their hands out. Do you know those assholes have accused me of colluding with Carl to get my hands on her house? Like I fucking care about this house? My momma’s gone, for God’s sake!” She buries her face in the covers, which no doubt still carry Tina’s fragrance, and weeps bitterly. I step out into the hallway and call Christian.

“How is she?” he asks.

“It’s bad,” I tell him. “It’s really bad. How airtight is a quit claim? I’ve never done one.”

“It’s filed with the Register of Deeds. It’s final—Harmony owns that house. Why do you ask?”

“Her siblings twice removed are accusing her of colluding with the attorney to finagle the house from Tina before she died.”

“Well, unfortunately for them, even if she had done that, it’s still final. That’s how cults end up so wealthy. They get people to sign over their assets and there’s nothing that can be done once the signature is on the paper. They’re just pissed that they couldn’t get to Tina before the documents were all signed. I talked to Dad and Carl was filing the will with probate as soon as he heard time of death had been established. He had only just gotten finalized copies of the deed. Jason has more security details on the way to the mansion if they aren’t there already. Her siblings won’t be able to get within a mile of her unless she wants them to. I suggest that you have Windsor or one of the other staff screen her phone calls for a while. I know she’s a mess.”

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” I lament. “She thinks there’s no one else in the world that loves her.” I sigh. Christian falls silent. “Baby, are you there?”

“I need to tell you something,” he says, “and I’m only telling you because I think it’ll help Harmony.”

“What is it?”

“After we swept the house of all the bugs and got rid of Roger, Harmony came on to me…”

“What??” I exclaim. Why the hell didn’t he tell me this sooner? All that we’ve done for her…

“Listen to me, Butterfly, before you get upset,” he says. “She has a problem. She didn’t overtly come on to me. She just turned on the flirt a little heavily. When I assured her that it would go absolutely nowhere, she was humiliated—not because I turned her down, but because she immediately recognized what she was doing. With me, it was hero worship, but with other men, it’s the quest for the love and attention that she never got. To my knowledge, she started seeing a therapist about it last week, and she made me swear not to tell you, not only because she didn’t want to jeopardize the relationship that she was building with you, but also because she knows that she has a problem and she’s getting help for it. I agreed not to tell you on the condition that she never did that shit again, but in this case, I think you need to know because she might need our help.

The jealous wife in me is clawing angrily at the walls, but the psychiatrist in me sees exactly what’s going on. And quite frankly, with the Boogeyman having the hold on me that he has… had…? Whatever… with the Boogeyman looming, I can partially understand why he didn’t want to tell me. The truth is that I can see why she’s not a threat… and why she’s really going to need our help.

“Butterfly?” Christian says when I don’t respond.

“Rationalizing,” I admit aloud. “Bottom line, she’s in really bad shape and from what you just said, it can only get worse. She feels like she’s totally alone in this and I feel like someone needs to be here with her 24/7, but she doesn’t have any friends like that. She wasn’t able to forge any relationships, and before you suggest it, it won’t be me. I care about her… I really do and what you told me doesn’t change that, but we don’t have that kind of relationship, either.”

“I’ll talk to Mom—maybe she knows someone. Can… you talk to Harmony?”

“Of course, I can!” I snap. “I told you what you said doesn’t make a difference. It’s classic transference, and if she’s seeing someone about it, then she’s recognizing the problem. The trick is going to be making sure that she keeps seeing someone about it because now, she’s had this huge loss and she’s very likely to slip into a black hole!”

“Okay, okay, I just… with everything that happened with Westwick… and the aftermath…”

“I know, I know,” I interrupt. “That was a… somewhat different situation, but please, let’s not rehash that.” I’m waving my hand at no one to try to shoo away the memories of Liam and that entire situation.

“Well, I found out that Tina already made her final arrangements, so that’s one less thing she has to worry about,” he says, quickly changing the subject. Good tact, Mr. Grey.

“I’ll try to discuss that with her, but it may be too much for today,” I acknowledge. “I’m going to get back in here and check on her.” He’s silent again. “Is there something else you have to tell me?”

“No… no there’s nothing else,” he confirms.

“I’m not mad, Christian,” I confirm. “I wish you had told me sooner, but I understand why you didn’t.”

“I’m feeling kinda shitty,” he admits.

“Why, because you didn’t tell me?” I told you that I understand…

“That, and… I’m kind of understanding why you didn’t tell me about Westwick right away.” I sigh heavily.

“Please let’s not do this,” I beseech, rubbing my scar and begging him to drop it.

“Okay, okay, I won’t dwell on it…”

“Thank you,” I say, cutting him off before he even finishes his sentence. “I’m hanging up now. I gotta go…”

“I love you,” he says, cutting me off this time.

“I love you, too,” I say before ending the call. I go back into the room, and Harmony has clearly cried herself into exhaustion and is asleep on her mother’s bed. I leave the room and close the door.

I’ve never felt so helpless in my life. She has no one—absolutely no one to help her through this. In all the times that I’ve done grief counseling, they’ve always had some kind of support system. It’s obvious that Harmony has no one. Nothing.

“Windsor, please keep an eye on her,” I tell him as Chuck helps me on with my coat. “I’ll be back tomorrow to check on her but call me if she appears to be spiraling at all.”

“I will, Mrs. Grey,” he says as he closes the door behind us. Walking to the car, I realize that I’m going to be Harmony’s support system. I trust Christian with her and her with Christian. I would just feel better not waving that carrot in her face when she’s this vulnerable… and the jealous wife is still peaking around the corner just a bit even though the shrink is knocking her upside the head every time she tries to get the upper hand.

I can’t help it. I’m human.

I take out my phone and dial a number. I’m going to need some help with this task.

“Hey, Ana, what’s up?”

“Hey, Courtney, are you busy?

*-*

I spend some time at the Center powwowing with Courtney and coming up with a schedule where she and I will be the foundation of Harmony’s support system. She and Harmony are both studying social work, so it’s actually workable experience for them both. I don’t want to say good experience, because it’s definitely not a good experience for Harmony.

Later that afternoon, I have a short and not-so-sweet talk with Marilyn.

“A little over ten weeks, we estimate,” she says of her visit to the OB/GYN. I sigh.

“Well, at least you know for sure now,” I say.

“I knew for sure before,” she says. “I was in denial hoping that some great solution was going to fall out of the sky even though I knew better.”

“So… what does Gary say?”

“I haven’t told Gary yet,” she confesses. I’m sure that a look of pure horror “graces” my face. “I just got back from the doctor, for Christ’s sake…”

“But you took your test yesterday!” I point out. “Why haven’t you told him yet?”

“Because I need it to sink in, okay?” she nearly squeals at me, and I realize that I’m drilling the poor girl.

“Okay,” I say, skeptically, but agreeing to drop the subject. “I don’t think I’ll be in the office much this week.”

“Why not?” she asks.

“Christian caught some kind of bug this weekend, so I need to keep an eye on him and also, Tina Franklin passed away.”

“Oh, God, really?” Marilyn says, deflated. “How’s Harmony doing?”

“Not well at all,” I confirm. “She has no support system and I expect for Tina’s children who have been completely MIA to this point to descend upon her any second. I’m going to have to be her support system, and she and Courtney have built a bit of a rapport, so I’m enlisting her services as well. I’ll most likely be there for most of the week as needed. To that end, you can choose to come here or go there or even to work remotely from home if you like. It’s up to you, just let me know.”

“Sure,” she says. “Is there anything I can do?” I shrug.

“I don’t even know what I can do right now,” I admit. “I’ve never dealt with anyone who didn’t have any support system. I mean, I can draw on my own experiences when I was a kid after the Green Valley attack, but this is so much different. Just… keep your phone handy. Whenever I need some magic, I always call you, so… do the same thing you always do.” She smiles.

“Sure thing, Bosslady.”

I’m completely drained and slightly more than depressed when I get home. The day has completely sapped all my energy and almost my will to live. I’ve checked in with Windsor and Harmony has stayed in her mother’s room crying and sleeping all day. I figure I’ll let her do that for today, but tomorrow, she’s going to have to start coming out of that shell and prepare for her mother’s final arrangements—and for her great-aunts and uncles/siblings to make their appearance.

It gets dark so early and I’m so tired. Actually, I’m not tired. It’s just that nothing has happened today to give me any energy. I normally go to the kitchen to get something to eat or drink, but right now, I’m drawn to my bedroom. To check on Christian? Maybe a hot bath? I don’t know. I wander aimlessly to the stairs and after ascending half-way, I see my husband on the second-floor landing.

“You’re looking fit,” I say and touch his forehead.

“I’m fine,” he says, softly. “No fever. I even got a little cardio in today.” I frown.

“Take it easy, Christian…” I warn.

“Cardio is good to build the immune system and help sweat out some of the toxins. Trust me, I’m fine.” He leads me to my bedroom door. “Now, I want you to go and take a hot shower, put on some clean, comfortable clothes, and go. See. Your children.”

“Christian, I can’t,” I protest. “You’re probably very contagious and I don’t want to make the babies sick.”

“This is why you’re taking a hot shower to be safe,” he says. “There’s hand sanitizer everywhere and if it makes you feel better, wear a mask, but I know what kind of day you’ve had, and I know that you need to see your children. I talked to Mom and she says that as long as you don’t feel anything coming on, the twins should be fine.”

“I don’t want to take any chances,” I whine.

“And in the meantime, you’re miserable,” he points out. “I thought you were going to kill me when I got out of bed this morning, and now I know why.” He takes my hands.

“Baby, our children are going to catch colds, and flu, and chicken pox, and heaven only knows what other childhood diseases, ailments, and injuries. So, let’s not make ourselves suffer when there’s nothing to worry about. Yes, I may transmit some germs to them, so I’m going to stay out of the nursery until I know that I’m well. You’re not sick. Go shower, clean clothes, sanitize your hands, and go spend some time with your babies. Remember, if you haven’t seen them in three days, they haven’t seen you either.”

God, I’ve been so concerned about not infecting them, it hadn’t occurred to me that we all may be suffering from a bit of separation anxiety. I sigh heavily.

“Go,” he says. “Hot shower—now.”

I don’t argue anymore. I go into my bathroom and step out of my clothes. I set my shower for as hot as I can stand it and get inside, scrubbing my body down like I’m about to perform surgery. I scrub my hair, my ears, under my nails… I even gargle with antiseptic mouthwash, just in case. After I don fresh clothes from my dressing room, I sanitize my hands all the way up to my elbows, then approach the nursery door. I’m still not certain about this, but I’m going to do it anyway.

I open the door and my nannies are playing with my children. Gail sees me enter and smiles widely.

“Well, hello,” she says, and looks down at Mikey. “Look who’s here. It’s Mommy!”

Mikey garbles some intelligible babbling sound, but I can’t tell what it is, nor do I care, because when he holds his arms out to me, all is right in the world.

“How’s Mommy’s precious boy?” I say, taking my son in my arms. He puts his hands on my face and gnaws on my jaw, baby slobber now dripping down my cheek. It’s the most wonderful feeling in the world.

“Oh!” Keri says, holding a wiggling Minnie. “Leettle Mees is nawt lahking da fack dat she nawt gettin’ de attention. We gonnah hat ta rectify da situation, Mah!” I giggle at the idea that my children are already exhibiting a bit of sibling rivalry. I take Mikey with me and sit in the window seat.

“Bring her to me,” I say. Keri comes over to the window seat and sits with me to assist in wrangling my children. Minnie is crawling across the seat and pulling herself up on my shoulder while Mikey continues with the baby-slobber-kisses. Christian was right—I may have needed some baby time in the worst way, but my babies need Mommy time, too.

The children are finally asleep after about an hour of playtime and I’m headed back to the bedroom to change my baby-drool shirt when I notice that there’s ambient lighting in the room. I open the door and find candles lit on every safe surface.

“What is this?” I say to myself, since Christian is nowhere in the room. I walk in and see my favorite vintage nightshirt lying on the bed. I want to eat… I don’t want to go to bed. I’m starving.

Almost in response to my complaints, my husband comes into the bedroom with a tray of food.

“I thought I was going to have to rescue you from the children,” he says, placing the tray on the nightstand. “Don’t worry, I was prepared to use the two-way. You’re still dressed,” he says examining me. “Get comfortable, your dinner’s getting cold.” He leaves out of the room and I’m a bit stunned.

Hey, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Change clothes!

I strip naked out of my comfort wear and slide into my nightshirt. I go into my en suite and run a brush through my hair a few times, dabbing a bit of citrus essential oil behind my ears. When I get back to the bedroom, Christian has returned with a bottle of wine and two glasses.

“What’s the occasion?” I ask, turning off the light to the en suite. I notice that he has a bottle of the yummy red we found in Napa.

“Nothing special,” he says, his pupils dilating as he examines me. “Well, besides you.” He reaches out to me and leads me to the bed. I climb on and he reveals a perfectly cooked filet mignon in mushroom sauce, asparagus spears with butter and garlic and fluffy, whipped mashed potatoes. The steak is so tender, I can cut it with my fork.

“Oh, God, this is delicious,” I say, savoring the flavor of the best cut of beef I think I’ve ever tasted in my life.

“Get comfortable,” he says. “I know it’s been a shitty day. How’s Harmony holding up?”

That’s when it hits me. He’s feeling guilty about what happened with Harmony, maybe even about not telling me. There’s really no need, but I’ve discovered that when Christian kicks himself about something, he really kicks himself. Me trying to reassure him that everything is okay would only make things worse. Besides, I’m getting the benefit of his guilty conscience.

“As badly as can be expected,” I answer honestly. “She’s going to need a close eye, so I’m coming up with some solutions for that.”

“Solutions like what?” he asks, filling a glass and handing it to me.

“Well, she’s going to have to mourn, but there’s too much to handle for her to wallow too deeply in the depths of despair.” I sip the wine and close my eyes. Dear God, that’s good.

“I did tell you that Tina made all of her own arrangements, didn’t I?” he asks, filling his own glass. I nod while taking a bite of an asparagus spear.

“Yes, but the siblings, the house, notifying people…”

We discuss Harmony situation for several more minutes while I finish my dinner. Christian tells me about talking to his father and Carl and trying to get Tina’s affairs as much in order as possible without disturbing the distraught Harmony. He also talks about what’s happening in Detroit—beginning to distribute Burt and Ruby’s things among the family. He tells me that he emailed me a list of the things that hadn’t been claimed yet with instructions to look at the stuff and let me know if there’s anything that I wanted.

“You gave me enough rubies to open a jewelry store!” I exclaim. “What else could I possibly want?”

“Just take a look at the inventory,” he says. “There’s a lot of stuff—plenty to go around. Anything that the family doesn’t claim may very well rot in storage here in one of my warehouses.” I sigh.

“Well, that would be very sad,” I say, finishing my meal and savoring my wine. “Let the family decide what they want first. I’ll see what’s left.”

“You are the family, Butterfly,” he says firmly.

“Okay, duly noted, but I can guarantee that the rest of them didn’t get a priceless treasure trove of rubies.” He raises his brow.

“Good point. Look at the stuff anyway, okay?” he says, softly. I roll my eyes.

“Okay,” I cede.

“You better be glad I don’t spank you for that,” he warns.

“You’re not well. You can’t spank me,” I say.

“Mom came over and checked me out,” he retorts. “She says I should be right as rain by tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” I ask. “That’s only a couple of days. You were damn near dead on Sunday.”

“The average cold is only supposed to hang on for a few days, Butterfly,” he says. “The only reason it would hang around longer is if you don’t take care of yourself or you overdo it. You damn near chained me to the bed for two days and you shoved nearly every green, fibrous thing in my face that you could find. I thought I would sprout leaves! I got better care from you than I would have gotten had I gone to the hospital. Besides, Mom says I never held on to a cold more than three days in my whole life, even as a child, and this time is no different. I’m giving it the three days as usual, and Mom has agreed to check on me again tomorrow morning, but I’m up and Adam once she gives me the all clear—no back talk.”

I know I’d be wasting my time even if I tried, so I don’t bother. I also deduce from his description that his current doting may be partially due to the fact that I was so attentive to him and adamant about his care over the last two days.

“Did you cook?” I jest, sipping my wine.

“Not this time,” he smiles, “but in the interest of keeping my promise to you, I ate in my den and had your dinner delivered to the elevator so as not to spread my germs to the rest of the household. I did, however, spend some time in the gym after which the disinfecting squad damn near-cleaned the whole damn thing. That place is more sterile than an operating room!”

I scoff a laugh. I can only assume that Gail must have said something to the staff about my concern for the babies and everyone has gone into anti-germ mode.

“Dinner was delicious. Thank you,” I say sweetly. His “You’re welcome” and the gaze that accompanies it is full of desire and promise, but I’m still not sure about our faces being that close together. He moves closer to me and his hand travels across the skin of my calf, up my leg, behind my knee, up my inner thigh… I feel goosebumps rising on my flesh and my nipples are getting stiff under my nightshirt, which doesn’t get past my husband.

“Oh, that’s so pretty,” he croons, using his free hand to fondle a nipple outside of my nightshirt. Oh, dear God in heaven, it’s driving me crazy.

He abandons my aching nipple and takes the nearly empty wine glass from my hand. He continues to torment the sensitive skin between my thighs as he places the glass on the nightstand. He adjusts two pillows on the headboard behind me without moving his hands from my legs.

“Lie back,” he instructs me, his voice barely above a whisper. I instinctively do what he says, moving down on the bed, my body propped up only slightly.

Jesus, if he brings his face anywhere near mine, I’m definitely not going anywhere near my twins, but right now, I don’t think I care. My entire body is alight with need, fueled by the fact that this has been a fucking emotionally taxing day!

His hands move higher between my thighs and his fingers ghost over my outer lips. His mouth closes over my nightshirt and nipple, his teeth gently nipping the tender flesh. Ecstasy shoots up my spine straight to my scalp giving me a head rush. Dear God, I want this man so badly.

His finger slides inside me, circling in my inner walls while his mouth moves to the other nipple, teasing and tormenting it like he did the first.

“Ah!” I breathe as I close my eyes. I’m so hot that it’s painful. His lips move down my body outside of the nightshirt. I swear with the heat coming from his mouth, the damn thing might as well not be there, and I’m so wet that I can hear the moisture as his finger moves inside me. It’s almost embarrassing… if it wasn’t so damn hot.

“You are so fucking ready,” he groans. “I want to fuck you. I want to taste your tongue and kiss you until our mouths are both numb, but I know the recovery time is when a patient is the most contagious and you’ve been lucky enough not to catch my germs even though you’ve been the only person within 10 feet of me for the past 48 hours, so I won’t push my luck. But I will taste you. So, if you’re going to catch a cold in your pussy, so be it, but I’m about to eat you until I’ve had my fill.”

Good God, I’m about to explode.

He slides down my body and nestles himself between my legs. He has me positioned so that I can watch him while he feasts on me, and it’s driving me out of my fucking mind. Throwing one last hungry look at me, his head dips between my spread legs. He kisses my outer lips gently and runs his tongue over my hot clit before taking it into his mouth. My back arches to give him more access and his hands reach up and cup my breasts.

“Christian…” I purr sensually, thrusting my hands into his hair and losing myself in passion.

*-*

“I tried to prepare myself for it,” she says. “I knew it would be hard, but I kept telling myself to stay strong and I would be okay, but when it happened…”

I’m back at the Franklin mansion on Wednesday morning to check on Harmony. Of course, she’s not doing much better than she was yesterday—it’s too soon—but she has some business to take care of that no one else can do, decisions that have to be made. So, unfortunately, she has to get herself in gear.

The girl is completely waterlogged. I don’t know how I’m going to convince her to get it together to start taking care of her business. Not only that, but if Tina’s biological children show up and she’s looking like this, they’re going to roll over her like an 18-wheeler.

“Harmony,” I begin, trying to find my words, “I know that you want to mourn, and that’s okay, but there’s so much that has to be done.”

“My mother just died!” she snaps.

“I know,” I remind her. “Is she still at the morgue? Has the funeral home picked her up? When do you plan to have the service?” She lifts her head from her mother’s bed and gazes at me.

“Oh… yeah…” she says sadly. “I guess that does all fall on me, doesn’t it?” I nod as I rub her arm.

“Yes, dear, it does… but I’m here for you, and Courtney’s going to come and help out, too. We need to get you some food, though. I’m sure you haven’t eaten. Why don’t you go take a shower, freshen up, and we’ll come up with a game plan, okay.” She nods sadly.

“Thank you, Ana,” she says. She drags herself off the bed and goes through a door that connects the rooms. I sigh heavily. This is going to be a long and tedious process.

While Harmony is in the shower, I summon Windsor to make her something to eat then go downstairs to talk to the security team.

“Who’s in charge here?” I ask.

“Mr. Taylor, ma’am,” one of the guards says.

“Who does he have in charge when he’s not around?” I prod.

“The supervising guard on shift,” he says. “It’s different for each shift, but right now, it’s Filmore.”

“How can I get in touch with Mr. Filmore?” He holds up one finger.

“One moment, ma’am.” He puts his wrist to his mouth. “Seager to Filmore… Mrs. Grey wants to talk to you, sir. She’s in the foyer… 10-4.” He moves his hand from his face. “He’ll be here in just a moment, ma’am.”

“Thank you,” I say, going back to the dining room to wait for Filmore. We’ll need a plan of action for when Tina’s children show up. Death turns human beings into horrible monsters and from what I’ve seen, they were horrible before Tina died.

“Mrs. Grey,” I hear from the foyer behind me. “I’m Stacey Filmore,” he introduces himself as he enters the dining room.

“Yes, Mr. Filmore, everything’s fine. I’m sure you know by now that Tina Franklin has passed away. We expect to be overrun any second by her greedy children.”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m aware of that,” he says.

“We can’t very well keep them from speaking to Harmony unless she requests it, but we can keep them from picking the house dry. Is there some kind of protocol that Jason has in place for when they show up?”

“Pretty much just to keep them out of the house and to take our cues from Ms. Franklin,” he says.

“Well, we’re going to need a little more than that…”

By the time we’re done, I’m wired with my own head and earpiece to call for assistance and Harmony will be, too. There are simple signals, codewords, and separate marching orders in case of extreme emergency. Jason will be briefed on the changes made to protocol and any adjustments that he suggests to the plan of action will of course, be welcome.

Courtney shows up just after Harmony has finished her shower, and I’m pleased to know that the two girls have previously formed a bond while working together at the Center. This is a welcome surprise as Harmony is going to need all the support that she can get right now.

“You look a whole lot better,” I tell her once she has freshened herself. “You’re going to be fitted with an earpiece so that you can summon security in case of emergency… while…”

“While the vultures are near,” she finishes. I nod.

“We’re on the same page,” I say.

“I guess I’ll have to make arrangements for my own security soon,” she sighs.

“Don’t worry about that right now,” I comfort. “Baby steps. Courtney, take her to the kitchen and see if Windsor has had anything prepared for her to eat.” Courtney nods and puts her arm around Harmony’s shoulders.

“C’mon, Money,” she says, “let’s see if we can fatten you up a bit.”

“We’ve had this conversation, Court,” Harmony says.

“Eh, we’ll still try,” Courtney says, and they disappear through the foyer.

What conversation?

That’s a fire for a later time. I wonder if Christian has flown the coup yet? My clit begins to throb thinking about how he licked and sucked and fingered me to two insanely cosmic orgasms last night. Focus, Grey, focus!

I pull out my cell and dial Marilyn’s number.

“How are things?” I ask. “Any fires, floods, or hurricanes that I need to tend to?”

“No, nothing,” she says, blandly. “I’ve been going through your family tree trying to check things out, but there are no hits on anything. I hate to tell you, but I think your bio-dad’s family may have written you off when you became a Steele.” I twist my lips.

“Don’t spend too much more time on it,” I tell her. “If they want to get in touch, they now know that I’m alive. It’s not like I need any of them anyway.” This whole situation with Harmony has shown me one very important thing if nothing else. Blood does not make family. Love does.

“Will do,” she says. “I don’t really have the strength to deal with rejection.”

“How goes your other situation?” I ask. She sighs.

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” she says.

“Have you at least told Gary?” I pry.

“Yes, I told Gary,” she says, impatiently. “I mentioned terminating the pregnancy—not even that I was making that decision, just that it was one of the options—and he went ballistic!” she exclaims. “He won’t even discuss it. It’s like he’s completely taking my options away. This is my body.”

“Remember that conversation we had about how many people this decision would affect?” I remind her. “Ultimately, you’re right. It’s your body and it’s your decision, but I’m sorry to tell you that you’re not going to come out of this unscathed.

“Obviously,” she says. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I respect that,” I tell her, “but you do need to make a decision…”

“Ana, I’m only going to say this once, so I need you to hear me,” she says. “I know the clock is ticking and that I have to make a decision soon so that I can make whatever preparations that need to be made. However, I reserve the right not to talk about this and talk about this and talk about this. All concerned and respected parties will be notified once I make my decision, okay?” I twist my lips.

“You won’t hear another word about it from me,” I vow.


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

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 59—Issues

 Email to come later…

So, I guess my biggest flight from reality in the last chapter was the “92 ½ months pregnant” statement. I was certain that mothers would get that, but it seems like it just flew over everybody’s head. I was sitting at my computer cracking up because I just kept getting emails and comments and IM’s that said, “Did you really mean to type that?” I was like, “Was I the only one that felt that way later in the pregnancy?” You know, that, “This kid ain’t gone never come!” feeling. I was expecting people to do a double-take and go, “92 ½ months pregnant? What? 92 and a… Ooooohh! Yeah…” but… no, that didn’t happen. Anywho, welcome to my twisted sense of humor. 😉

I wrote this chapter when my hand wasn’t working, so a lot of it was dictated into the computer. I edited it the best that I could, so please excuse any grammatical errors you may find. I have someone that looks things over and catches those for me—I just didn’t want you guys to think I threw the chapter together and didn’t care.

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 59—Issues

ANASTASIA

“So, the big ‘to do’ this morning is the interview that aired with Christian and Anastasia Grey on Monday night.”

I had been keeping my eye on the internet and the local morning shows to see if anyone had anything to say about our interview. After an enlightening conversation with Courtney yesterday, I really want to know what the rest of the world is thinking. Of course, Wake Up, Seattle doesn’t miss its chance to weigh in on the topic. It’s one of the usual local shows with primary male and female co-hosts and right now, the female has the floor.

“After a veritable lifetime of discretion, sneaking in and out of the country without the world’s knowledge, relationships that remain in question or completely in the dark, and a dramatic life worthy of a movie deal, the Greys came out of the billion-dollar shadows and opened up on network primetime television. The interview was an intimate look into their lives, careers, and family. As usual, Christian oozed power and sex-appeal all over the screen while Anastasia remained the picture of poise and independence, able to hold her own next to her billionaire husband.”

The segment was more of the same, recapping various portions of the interview, highlighting issues that still may raise questions, but an overall unbiased report…

Until…

“So, the day of the interview, I learned from a very reliable source that Maria Sanchez wasn’t the only broadcast journalist in line for this story. There was also Danika Farrell and Raynell Stanton.”

Oh, shit.

“Once the interview was over, I took to social media and our friendly Twitter to see what each woman had to say about the outcome of the interview. Maria was silent, most likely opting to let Twitter have its way and see what the viewing public felt before interjecting her thoughts, if she so chose to do that. Danika and Raynell, not so much.

“Danika chimed in first with a hearty congratulations on a job well done, commending Maria on getting the right mixture of business and personal in the interview, ending with a friendly jab, ‘I’ll get you on the next one, girl.’ And that was pretty much it.

“Raynell was not so gracious in the slightest. In my humble opinion, if you don’t like a piece, you talk around it or you say nothing at all. By criticizing another reporter for a piece that they did, you’re opening Pandora’s Box. You’re basically telling the rest of the journalistic world, ‘Here I am, take your shot.’ That’s okay if that’s your plan, but I’ve got a feeling that wasn’t what Raynell was aiming for.

“Now, some say that Raynell may have been bitter because she was passed over for the interview. Hence, her attempts to discredit the subject. Other sources, however, indicate that she actually threw the audition so that she wouldn’t be chosen for the interview at all. Her first shot hit Twitter right when the interview was airing in the Eastern time zone.”

Each time she reads a tweet, it’s plastered across the screen for the viewers to read.

**Auditioning for an interview—how stuck on yourself can you be? #eccentricorparanoid **

“Now, because she’s a well-known television journalist and does a lot of interviews, nobody was really sure what she was talking about. It started to become clearer over her next few tweets and as the segment played out on the east coast…”

**Little boys and their toys, including their little girls. #itsgoodtobetheking **

**That boat is bigger than most people’s houses. Overcompensating much? #justbuyasportscar **

**Oooo, guns! Classy! Loved the speech to deflect from the need for gun control. #NRAunite **

“Now, in general, you’re not watching Twitter while you’re watching television, but people like us—yeah, we do that. As you can see, the shots are quite personal and getting a little vicious as time progresses. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put all that together and realize that she was talking about the Grey interview that was currently in progress in her time zone. The only thing that she left out was her blatant mention of AnaChris, but she rectified that situation in her final tweet of the night…”

**As I suspected, a flamboyant display of ostentatious largess with little to no substance whatsoever. I predicted it would be a total waste of my time; I was right. #dodgedabullet #greyinterview **

“Now,” the host says as she puts her cards on the table in front of her, “it could just be me, but this tweet pretty much drove the nail in that she actually threw the interview. Am I wrong on that?” Her male co-host shakes his head.

“Nope, that’s what I’m seeing, too,” he says.

“So, to that, I just say this. Ray, are you trying to get the reputation of being hard to work with? Rumor has it on the wire already that you threw the interview and then you tweet something like that? You do know that celebrities and influential people have Twitter accounts, too, right? Do you want them to see your name and say, ‘Hmm, she threw the Grey interview because she felt like it wasn’t worth her time?’ They’ll stop calling you, honey. And quite frankly, even if you feel your subject matter sucks, the sign of a good investigative journalist is that they take the material that they have and they make it the best story possible. That’s what I always thought.” She turns to her co-host.

“That’s what they taught me. Remember that story on failing vendors at the Marketplace?” he chimes in.

“How could I forget?” she laments. “It turned out okay, though.”

“Yes, it did. We were talking to people who were losing their spots at the Marketplace because they weren’t getting enough business. While some people were quite engaging, others had already given up and had nothing to say. It could have been a real disaster, but instead, we used what we had and filled the rest in with valid statistics and information with some customer interviews thrown in and it turned out to be a good piece—even saved some of the failing vendors.”

The female host nods as the audience applauds.

“But I digress,” the male host recovers. “Tell me, what happened on Twitter after this? Did AnaChris chime in?”

“Honestly, I’m not sure that they have Twitter accounts. They probably haven’t even seen this.”

“Until now,” the male host laughs.

“Yeah, until now,” the female host chuckles. “Nonetheless, tweeters came back with mixed reviews—as we thought they would—but the AnaChris fanbase was in full force all night Monday night and all day yesterday, bashing the poor Raynell with hundreds of tweets like:

**@raynellstanton Yeah, that’s right. When the opportunity of a lifetime passes you by, pretend that it didn’t matter. #haternation **

**@raynellstanton Do you think we don’t know you threw this story away and Maria grabbed the chance to get the story that you wanted? “Big mistake… big… huge!” #sourgrapes #youblewit **

**@raynellstanton Exactly what’s the bug up your butt? That you didn’t get the interview or that the interview was actually good? #youcouldabeenacontender **

**@raynellstanton You were this close. You’re sh***g yourself that you threw away that opportunity, aren’t you? #almostdoesntcount **

**@raynellstanton Keep saying it over and over again until you finally believe it #imeanttodothat #imeanttodothat #imeanttodothat #imeanttodothat **

“And my personal favorite…”

**@raynellstanton Are you on drugs? That was quality television and excellent journalism. Pissed because you tripped at the audition? Grab your hem, your Haterade is showing. **

“Well, I’m sorry,” the male host interjects, “but this one is my favorite…”

**@raynellstanton Don’t worry. There’s always Bill Cosby. #jellopudding **

The audience groans as he raises his head and shrugs.

“What?” he asks. “Too soon?”

The female host shakes her head and laughs.

“Turn his mic off,” she demands facetiously as the audience follows her in laughter. “Turn. His. Mic off!”

Once the laughter dies down, she continues with the segment.

“Eventually, Raynell removed her tweet after having been hashtagged, retweeted, and basically decimated within a 24-hour period, but the damage had already been done. For just such an emergency, several tweeters screen-printed her tweet to live on in infamy and be passed around the internet for years to come… or at least until the next trend.

“AnaChris isn’t without their share of criticism, however. One tweeter agrees with Raynell saying…”

**Largess is right. I expected to see Robin Leach slide down the banister at any moment and I’m surprised we didn’t see a maid or a butler. You tried to come off looking like a power couple, but you look more like the Seattle Beverly Hillbillies to me. **

“And another tweeter remarked…”

**True American love story. Right, if by American love story, you mean “Playboy billionaire lands gold-digging trophy wife and now, they try to convince the world that they’re happy.” #letsseetheprenup **

“And this one…”

**Why does she still have her condo if they’re happily married? She has a million square feet on Mercer Island and still has a condo on Elliot Bay? What’s the real story here? #howsitreallyhanginggrey #lovenest **

“So, both sides have sounded off, AnaChris lovers and haters. I will say that the lovers, however, are much more vocal, so we’ll give this round to them. But in terms of the consensus of the interview, overall, it was a good interview—a concise exposé with peeks into their business, their personal lives, their passions, their beautiful children and even their struggles.”

“Yeah,” the male host says. “Who would have thought billionaires had struggles? But they do… valid everyday issues as well as large, life-changing things, just like the rest of us mere mortals.”

“Exactly,” the female host replies. “Now, like I said before, I’m not one to criticize another journalist. However, when you open the door to that kind of criticism, I’m going to walk in. So, here’s my take on it.

“These people are putting themselves out there and you don’t expect them to be cautious about who they let tell their story? You can call it an audition if you want to, which in effect, it was—you are going to be on television. It’s a job interview, Ray. Even if you had been the only candidate, you still would have had to interview for that position. We all have to meet with the subjects and discuss our direction, hoping they’ll be satisfied with our vision. You disparaging that fact was just petty and I don’t have to tell you that.

“They obviously made the right decision in not choosing you because you didn’t want the story and had you not gotten the exact material that you wanted, there’s no telling how you would have portrayed them on television. So, if you felt like it was such bad material and a waste of time, why are you going on about it? If what you said had any truth to it, the classy thing to do would have been to sit back with a Cheshire cat smile and bask in your ‘I told you so’ moment. Social media, the press, and the public would have ripped them apart and you wouldn’t have had to lift a finger. Instead, you’re looking like the scorned senior who got stood up for prom trying to convince herself that she didn’t want to go in the first place.

“And let’s face it, Raynell, you can’t talk to a billionaire without talking about his money or have you conveniently forgotten Oprah’s interviews with Kim Kardashian in her beautiful home, Michael Jackson on the Neverland estate, George Lucas on the Skywalker Ranch? And let’s not forget all the rich and famous people interviewed by Ms. Barbara Walters. You’ve been in this business for a while, Ray. Why are you suddenly acting new to this? Do yourself a favor and don’t try to make Grey out to be the bad guy because you didn’t want to talk about his money.

“You turned down a golden opportunity and now you’re talking about dodging a bullet. No, my dear, that wasn’t a bullet. That was an egg, and it hit you square in the face. That’s why you took that tweet down. We’ll be right back.”

The audience applauds as the screen fades to black and goes to a commercial. I chuckle to myself at the outcome of the synopsis—a little bit of this and a little bit of that. We’re loved and hated all over, which is what I expected.

I finish my coffee and croissants and go down to my office. Lately, I’ve been doing a few hours at home before going into Helping Hands. It gives me time to have breakfast, feed my babies, meditate, write in my journal, and organize and plan my day. I don’t have any plans on doing any real work at home today, just preparation for the most part—which is when I caught the morning show talking about our interview. I know there was probably a whole slew of speculation on the talk shows yesterday, but I didn’t bother to watch. Anything really horrible—or juicy—would get to me eventually.

I enjoyed watching the segment the second time around. There were a few parts that I thought were a little cliché, but they really couldn’t be presented in any other light. We’re a wealthy, powerful, beautiful couple with a beautiful home and beautiful children… cliché, yes, but it’s the truth. Nonetheless, I already knew that bloggers, Facebookers, and tweeters were going to have something to say about it. Hell, they slam President Obama on a regular basis—we’re certainly not immune.

I’m packing things up and preparing to head to Helping Hands when the two-way comes alive.

“Ana,” I say into the air.

“Dr. Grey, this is Warton at the front gate. There’s someone here to see you. He won’t give his full name. He just said, ‘Gary.’”

Well, this guy must be new. I don’t recognize his name and he doesn’t know members of the Scooby gang.

“Let him in,” I say. “I’ll be right up.” There’s hesitance in the air before Warton says, “Okay.”

What the…? It’s Gary, let the man in.

I make my way up to the first floor, through the dining room and to the portico to meet Gary. On the days when I spend part of my day at home and part at work, I let Marilyn decide if she wants to come to my house or wait until I get to Helping Hands. Today is one of the days she decided to go to the Center, which is probably why Gary is here.

When I get to the portico, Gary is exiting the driver’s seat and there’s a guard standing behind the car.

“Ana,” Gary says confused. “Is this a new protocol or something?” I frown looking at the guard that I don’t know.

“Not that I know of,” I say, staring at him and waiting for an explanation. He takes the stance with one hand over the other in front of him.

“He didn’t give his full name, ma’am,” the guard says in an authoritative, matter-of-fact kind of way.

“So, why did you follow him up to the portico after you let him in?” I ask.

“Like I said,” he begins, “he didn’t give his full name.”

“Were you going to follow him through the house if I didn’t come out?” I inquire. His concrete resolve appears to break a bit.

“Um, well, it’s protocol, ma’am,” he stutters. “I have to log who visits…”

“Who else is in that booth with you?” I ask. “Everybody who works here should know who Gary is.” He stutters a bit and says somebody’s name, but I really don’t even hear him.

“Listen, Warhol,” I say, not because I’m being funny, but because I really can’t remember his name. “You don’t know who Gary is because you’re new, and that’s okay—I understand that. But how dare you follow someone up to the portico like a guard walking the green mile after I’ve instructed you to let them into my home!” He tries not to appear shaken when he responds.

“Ma’am, we have to take certain precautions when someone refuses to give their full name,” he responds.

“Do you do that to Val, Al, or Elliot when they show up?” I ask, folding my arms. He’s silent, and I’m certain that none of these people have showed up on his watch. “Nonetheless, I informed you to let him in. Is this how you’re going to be treating my guests? Like suspects?” He clears his throat.

“It’s… for your safety, ma’am,” he says. “You could have been under duress.”

“Did I use the panic word?” I ask. His brow furrows. Oh, dear God in heaven. “Do you know the panic word?”

His face blanches a bit.

“Please, leave,” I say before I even know the words are coming out of my mouth. After a pause, he turns around and heads back to the guard’s booth. “Come on in, Gary,” I say, walking into the house and pulling my phone out of my pocket.

“I hope I haven’t cost someone their job,” he says after he walks in the grand entrance.

“Oh, you didn’t cost him anything, but he might have cost himself his job,” I say putting the phone to my ear.

“Your Highness,” Jason answers.

“I want this Warthog motherfucker off my property,” I say firmly into the phone.

“Warthog? What?” he asks bemused.

“This guard at the gate—I want him gone.”

“May I ask what he did wrong, ma’am?” and he’s fully formal. That’s what I need right now.

“Well, first he asked Gary for his full name. That’s fine, but Gary told him to just tell me that it was Gary and I cleared him to come into the gate. When I come out to the portico, this asshole is following him like a sentinel. When I ask him why, he basically questions the fact that I let someone into my house. His first mistake was questioning me in my house. His second and largest mistake was trying to lecture me on protocol when his ass doesn’t even know what the fucking panic word is!”

“How does he not know the fucking panic word?” Jason hisses to himself.

“My sentiments exactly. Get him the fuck off my property.” I try to be accommodating and understanding, but there are times when I do feel like Her Highness and this is one of them. “And Jason? I don’t want him fired. I just want him properly trained. But if you do see the need to fire him, make sure that he knows that if he tries any of that Harris shit, I’ll shoot him in the fucking balls.” Jason clears his throat.

“Yes, Your Highness,” he says, and I end the call.

I almost forgot that Gary was there.

“I’m sorry about that, Gary. Is everything okay?”

“I just need to talk to you,” he says. I nod and gesture to the living room.

“What’s wrong?” I ask as I take a seat on one of the sofas.

“It’s Marilyn,” he says with his head down. “Has she talked to you?”

I sigh. I don’t know how to answer that. I don’t want to lie to him, but I can’t tell him what we talked about.

“That’s okay,” he says. “Your silence speaks volumes.” He sits down on the sofa close to me. So, I guess I inadvertently told him without telling them anything at all.

“I can’t understand why she’s not more excited about having his baby,” he says. “This is like the best thing that can happen to us. It’ll make us into a family. I love her more than anything. So, what’s the problem?”

I still really can’t tell him what we talked about. So, I sit there silently just looking at him. He raises his eyes to me.

“Ana, are you seriously not going to talk to me about this? We’ve been friends forever!”

“I’m sorry. It’s not that, Gary. Some things that are said to me are said in confidence as a psychiatrist. And I can’t reveal what’s been said. So, even though you’re my friend…” I trail off. He nods.

“I get it… but I don’t. You’re my friend and I’ve always come to you and talked to you about anything and I can’t talk to you about this. That really fucking sucks.” I sigh again.

“I can always talk to you as a friend about how you’re feeling, Gary. But I can’t tell you anything about Marilyn.” He stands up and begins to pace.

“I know she’s pregnant,” he says. “She hasn’t taken a pregnancy test, but I know she’s pregnant. I can tell by the way she looks, by her demeanor… but she’s acting like it’s the end of the world. I wouldn’t leave her. Of course, I’d stay by her side. And even if for some ungodly reason we didn’t work out, she’d never be raising this baby alone. I’ll always be there for my child. But, for some reason, she can’t seem to wrap her mind around the joy that we can have together raising our baby. I don’t understand it. We’re not teenagers. We’re both gainfully employed. We’re in love. What’s the problem?”

“Well, speaking as a woman and not as Marilyn,” I point out emphatically, “our body has to go through some crazy things to endure pregnancy. Hormone changes, body changes—you look at yourself in the mirror and you feel like hell, all kinds of things, and that’s a whole year almost of going through that. That’s a lot to take on to decide I want to become a mother.

“And then there’s a commitment, and don’t get it twisted. It’s not an 18-year commitment, it’s lifelong. So, the minute you decide to have a baby, your entire life changes that very second. It’s not just, ‘Hey, let’s bring this life into the world and yeah it’ll grow up and I’ll be there…’ No. You’re invested all in. That’s a huge decision, and it’s scary no matter what your plight in life. I was married to a billionaire when I found out that I was pregnant with twins, and I was still terrified! What if I bring them into this world and some strange speck of dust falls on them and causes them to have some kind of strange illness or disease and they die? What if the world does the same thing to them that it did to me and they don’t survive it? That’s the kind of fear I had while I was carrying my children, not to mention just the everyday life shit that was going on. And believe me, Gary, I’ve only scratched the surface of what goes through a woman’s mind when she’s considering whether or not to have a baby…”

“Considering whether or not to have it?” he asks in horror. “Are you telling me that Marilyn is considering not having my baby?” Oh shit, think fast, Grey!

“Will you stop putting words into my mouth, you moron?” I exclaim. “I told you when this conversation began that I was telling you about a woman in general, not Marilyn! Don’t you dare go harassing my friend because of something I told you about my personal experience!”

He deflates immediately, and I almost feel bad. Marilyn is actually considering terminating the pregnancy, but I can’t tell him that I know that or that she told me that. And I feel awful that I just snapped at him to cover my own faux pas, but I honestly don’t see that I had a choice.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I wasn’t trying to offend you.”

“Don’t apologize…” I should actually be apologizing to you, “Just, please, see my comments for what I’m saying, for what I went through when I was pregnant. Don’t read anything into it and don’t take that nonsense back to Marilyn. You’ll only make a bad matter worse, I can guarantee it.”

“So, what do I do?” he asks.

“Just be there for her, I say. Every woman goes through a phase of terror and fear and uncertainty. You have to let her go through it. It’s hard for her. It was hard for me.”

“Do you think she’s considering getting rid of my baby?” he asks sadly. I feel horrible for him… and then I deflect.

“Gary, I wouldn’t tell you that if I knew. My speculation is of no importance whatsoever.”

“I should be happy, Ana,” he says pacing around the living room. “We should be happy. This should be one of the best times of our lives. I love her, she loves me, and we created a baby from our love. What could be more special? And yet she’s walking around in this cloud of doom like the world is about to end. And I just don’t know what to do. I don’t want to pressure her or make her feel bad, but if I reach to touch her, I instinctively reach for her stomach and that seems to irritate her. So, I try not to do it but then my hand instinctively goes down there anyway. What am I supposed to do?”

“I wish I had an answer for you, Gary,” I say. “You just have to be patient. One way or another a solution is going to surface and this thing will work itself out.” He twists his lips at me.

“You and I both know that a baby doesn’t just work itself out. Things have to be done, plans and decisions have to be made, this doesn’t just go away like a pimple or rash. And if that’s what she’s expecting or waiting for… She’s got to be fucking smarter than that!”

And I’ve pissed him off again. I rub my hands over my face.

“There’s really nothing I can tell you that you want to hear right now,” I admit. “What you want to hear is that Marilyn will come around and everything’s going to be fine and you two are going to have a baby and live happily ever after. I can’t tell you that because I don’t know that. And if Marilyn hasn’t taken a pregnancy test, she doesn’t know that either. So… you’re just going to have to be patient. If she hasn’t taken the test yet, convince her to take the test.

“You guys can’t make any decisions on anything or make any plans until you get that little blue plus sign. Until then, everything, and I do mean everything, is speculation. She could just be under some kind of stress and just missed her period or something. It happens. And you’re planning for a baby whether it’s a happy baby time or gloom and doom baby time, we don’t even know. She’s got to take that test. So, if you want my advice, this is what I say. Stop everything—stop the rubbing of the belly, stop the dreamy baby talk, and impress the importance of taking that test. Nothing can be done either way until she takes the test.”

He falls down onto the sofa and drops his face into his hands. I can see that he’s miserable and I really want to be there for my friend. There’s a thin line between having two friends on different sides of the fence. And I’m about to cross that thin line.

“Is there any way that you can humor me and tell me something that’ll make me feel better?” he asks. I put my hand on his back.

“Whatever happens Gary,” I begin, “when the time comes—if it’s now or if it’s later—you’ll make a great father. And if Marilyn is pregnant and you guys do have a baby, that baby will have two of the most concerned, caring, loving parents in the world. Please remember that whatever happens, you two are in love. You fell in love almost at first sight and you love each other endlessly. Don’t let anything come between that love.”

“I never thought I could love anybody the way that I love Mare,” he says, “and I would love our baby even more, if that’s even possible. A part of her and a part of me? That’s amazing!” he adds in awe.

“I’m not an idiot,” he says, “and I’m not being selfish. I know that I’m being one-sided about this because I’m not the one that’s going to be carrying the baby. But I can only imagine how beautiful she’ll be carrying our child. Just like you were…”

He thought I was beautiful?

“… All glowing and swollen doing this labor of love that’s the most beautiful thing in the world. Who couldn’t love someone who does that?”

“You’d be surprised,” I tell him. “That’s why there are so many single mothers in this world. Everybody doesn’t feel the same way you—and Christian—feel. We’re very lucky to have men like you guys.”

“Well, I don’t know, maybe I’m naive, but any man who can scoff at a woman who puts her body through this to bring his child into the world as a fucking idiot.” I chuckle

“You should teach a class,” I say with mirth. He smiles sadly.

“Thanks for listening,” he says. “I’m at the end of my rope and I just don’t know what to do, but you’ve given me a little insight and I’ll do what I can to make sure she gets that pregnancy test.” He stands. “I’m playing hooky from work, so I got to get back. I don’t mean to dump on you and run, but…”

“Don’t worry about it,” I say. “I have to get to the Center anyway… How did you know I was here?”

“I went to the Center first and they said you hadn’t come in yet, so I took a chance on stopping by here.”

“Marilyn wasn’t there yet?” I ask. He nods.

“She was,” he says. “I checked on her, too, and she got mad at me for doing it.” Yeah, she’s pregnant. “I hope I didn’t get that guy in trouble,” he adds, referring to Wart-ass. I shake my head.

“I don’t know how much trouble he’s in, but I asked for him to be retrained. There are some things that he doesn’t know about being at Grey Crossing, and he’s going to have to learn them if they allow him to stay.” I stand with him and walk him to the door.

“You can always talk to me about anything, Gary. Don’t forget that. But please remember, if it’s something about Marilyn and she’s spoken to me in confidence, I wouldn’t be able to share anything with you that I know. And I’m not admitting to knowing or talking about anything at this time.”

“I get it. It’s a bad place to be in and I’m sorry I put you there.”

“I’m sorry I snapped at you,” I reply. He nods, and I escort him back to his car and watch as he drives away.


CHRISTIAN

Midway into my afternoon after working through some notes from meetings and a few key emails, my phone rings. I don’t recognize the number.

“Grey,” I answer.

“I knew you’d be too cocky to change your damn number.”  I know the voice, but I can’t place it.

“Who is this?” I ask impatiently.

“You know who it is,” she says confidently. “You’ll figure it out soon enough, but I’ll give you a hint, Master…”

Oh, shit.

“’Hold it… right there… that’s it… that’s my good little Myshka… don’t come now, Myshka…”

Myshka. Natasha.

“Myshka… I’m not even Russian, you asshole.”

“If you had been, you might have lasted longer,” I hiss. She laughs.

“You’re hardly in any position to antagonize me right now, Grey. You have absolutely no idea why I’m calling, so you have no choice but to shut up and listen…”

I open the panel on my desk and press the button to summon Alex. He’ll start surveillance on the office, see that I’m on the phone, and immediately trace the call.

“Why the fuck are you calling me? I don’t have all day.”

“There he is,” she says confidently, “There’s that asshole I know so well… keep me on the phone long enough to trace the call and get me to tell you what you want to know. You don’t have to trace the call, Master, I’ll tell you where I am. I’m at your club downtown, not even a mile away from you. I’m enjoying a delicious lunch while overlooking Elliot Bay, and this is my personal cell phone—not a burner. If you turn your head to the right, you would be looking right at my table with a good set of high-powered binoculars. So, you can tell your goon that he’s wasting his time. You know exactly where I am.”

This bitch knows me too well to have been my submissive for such a short time.

“What do you want… Myshka?” I hiss. She falls silent, but only for a moment.

“Call me that again, and I’ll release a certain flash drive to the press. With the publicity your little wife has been getting and your most recent television appearance, that should make for a great story. Tell me, is she a good submissive behind the scenes, because there’s not a submissive bone in her body in public.”

Fucking hell… more fucking blackmail. Butterfly and I are in too delicate a position right now to withstand something like this. I’m already beginning to regret doing that exposé.

“What do you want? Money?” They all eventually want money. She laughs again.

“Far from it,” she taunts, “but you’ll have to come to the club to find out.”

“Are you out of your fucking mind? I’m not meeting you anywhere,” I bark.

“Fine. Don’t.” And she ends the call. What the hell? I dial the number back and it goes straight to voicemail.

“The Club,” is all the voicemail says. Fucking bitch. Can I afford not to meet her? Can I afford to call her bluff and allow whatever she has to hit the press? I don’t even know what it is… is it a playroom scene? Is it a copy of the contract? What the hell is it? I’m sitting there pondering my next move for I don’t know how long when my phone chimes with a text.

**I won’t wait forever. Last chance, Master. **

I suddenly hate this woman. Just as I stand from my desk, Jason and Alex enter the office.

“Natasha Gaines?” Alex asks.

“Yes,” I hiss through my teeth, “I don’t even know what the fuck she could have. Could that bitch somehow have hacked my private video information from my home?” Alex raises his eyebrow.

“Is it connected to the network?” he asks.

“Nowhere,” I tell him. “Not a network anywhere. This information is specifically on hard drives all their own that aren’t even connected to the internet. The only thing more secure than this is a single print of a polaroid. No one even knows where it is. If it malfunctions, I don’t repair it. I rip the whole thing out, secure the hard drive, destroy the rest of the hardware and start over.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty secure,” Jason confirms. “She’s got to have something of her own.” I thrust my hands into my hair.

“How?” I ask. “Our contract was so short, and I never let her out of my sight!”

“I don’t know,” Alex says, “but can you afford not to look into it?” I shake my head in defeat.

“Get me to the goddamn club,” I hiss to Jason.

*-*

Natasha's Blue Dress“So glad you could make it,” Natasha purrs when I get to the booth where’s she’s having her lunch. She has abandoned the brunette dye job and is fully blonde, wearing a slinky blue dress that demurely hugs all her curves. Blue… the bitch would wear blue.

“I’m here. Now what the fuck do you want?” I hiss.

“I want you to sit the fuck down and stop standing over me like you’re my goddamn Dom…. Sir!” She injects so much venom in her words that I’m irritated to the utmost height of my irritation.

“Listen to me,” I say, leaning down to her face. “I’m not going to jump when you say jump. You better tell me what the fuck this is about, because I’m losing my goddamn patience.”

“Then sit. The fuck. Down,” she says calmly, her resolve never slipping. This is certainly not the same submissive that I sent away years ago. I don’t know this woman, and I have no idea what she’s capable of. I slowly slide onto the furthest end of the booth from her. “That’s a good boy.”

That’s it, fuck this shit. I move to stand.

“Not so fast,” she says, wiping the corner of her mouth with the napkin from her lap. “I haven’t really told you why I brought you here.”

“You have about five minutes to get to the fucking point, then you can release whatever you have to the press and I’ll just destroy you.” She smiles.

“You don’t mean that,” she says, sweetly.

“Try me,” I threaten. She leans in.

“I already have. And here you are.” She sits back in her seat. “No matter. I’ll make it quick. I have a plane to catch.” She throws her napkin onto her plate. “I’ve come to collect my due.

“Money. I knew it,” I bark. “How much?”

“God, you’re so fucking dense,” she retorts mockingly. “It’s not money. I’ve come to collect what I should have gotten from you years ago.” I frown. What the fuck can she be talking about?

“You owe me,” she says with a sinister smile.

“I don’t owe you shit,” I retort.

“Yes, you do,” she says. “You owe me an orgasm. In fact, you owe me several, but I’ll take just one.”

I can’t believe my ears. She’s out of her fucking mind.

“You want me to fuck you?” I ask incredulously. She laughs again.

“No,” she says, as if the answer is obvious, “but you will be giving me an orgasm.”

“I’m not giving you anything, Natasha,” I hiss. “If you don’t want money, then I’ll prepare my wife for whatever’s on that flash drive.” She reaches into her blouse and pulls a flash drive out of her cleavage. It’s connected to a necklace around her neck.

“You sure about that?” she asks with a confident smile. I think about the fucker I was before I met Butterfly. I was a sadistic, kinky asshole. The trip down Memory Lane that I had a few months ago with Alex just trying to catalog and locate these women would be a Disney movie compared to the shit that I did to them. And if she has it on video…

She smiles victoriously as she leans back in her seat.

“I won’t do this, Natasha,” I tell her. “I haven’t touched another woman since my wife and nothing that you say or do will make me change that.”

“Ooooooohhh, isn’t that sweet!” she croons insincerely. “Well, don’t worry. I wouldn’t let you touch me with somebody else’s hands, you narcissistic ass.” She reaches into her purse and pulls out a small box. It looks like a treasure chest. I recognize it immediately as the box that holds Ben-Wa balls. I frown at her.

“You want me to spank you?” I ask in the same incredulous voice. “I will not play this fucking game with you!”

“You will! Or I’ll personally give your wife a show that she’ll never fucking forget, and that’s a promise!” she hisses.

“How do I know you don’t already have copies ready for the press?” I test.

“You don’t,” she counters, “you just have to trust me. You know that concept, don’t you, Master? You exploited it very well.”

This whole thing sickens me. I have to do what she asks… but can I?

“What do you want me to do?” I nearly growl.

“That’s it,” she smiles. “That’s what I want right there… that voice.”

Dumb bitch. She’s mistaking my I’m pissed the fuck off and I want to kill you voice for my Dom voice.

“All you have to do is sit there and talk to me… in that voice… but we won’t be having just any conversation. We’ll be talking about that last time you used me… that time that you flogged me, and sucked me, and fingered me, and fucked me… for hours… and told me not to come. You used every orifice gloriously, and then you sent me away… because of hair color.”

“You lied,” I say through my teeth. “You talk about me exploiting trust when you exploited my trust, and now you’re angry because you were found out?”

“Not angry,” she clarifies. “Pissed! Pissed the fuck off, in fact—and not because you found out about my hair color. If you’re not man enough and you need mousy little brunettes over fiery blondes, that’s fine with me. What I’m not fine with is being tormented for hours while you used me like a rubber fucking sex doll and then threw me away like a used piece of tissue!”

Oh, yeah, she’s pissed.

“So,” she says, opening the box and taking the Ben-Wa balls from the box, “you’re going to give me that orgasm that you withheld from me years ago—right here and right now.” Her hands go under the table and I can see her hips moving a bit. Moments later, her hands are back on the table and it’s obvious where the balls are.

“I’m not giving you shit, Natasha, and I don’t care what you do,” I say.

“Well, there’s a start,” she purrs, and I can see her legs cross under the table. “I’ve managed to get rid of that Myshka bullshit. Now, let’s talk about that night…’

“We will not,” I hiss.

“Yes, you will,” she says softly, her voice oozing with sex. She’s hot already. “And if you don’t want the rest of the late lunch crowd to hear you, you may want to scoot a little closer.”

I fold my arms. I’m not sitting any closer to this trick and I’m not going to let her get what she wants from me.

“That’s fine,” she says, “I don’t care who hears us. I’ll start.” She leans closer to me and I don’t move.

“I arrived at your apartment at about 7 p.m. dressed in that nothing dress that you told me to wear—no underwear and no bra. You ripped it from me and left it in tatters on the floor. I remember hoping that Taylor wouldn’t walk out of the back and see me standing naked in your great room.

“You ordered me up to your playroom and like a good little submissive, I went. I stood at the door in nothing but those stilettos for about 15 minutes before you decided to ascend the stairs. I have no idea when you discovered that I was a blonde and not a brunette, but you would make sure that I remembered my malfeasance.

“You ordered me into that room, chained me to the ceiling, and flogged me until my skin was hot. You knew that would set me off…”

I sit at the table watching her and listening to her describe our final scene. I can’t even focus on her face. All I can focus on is that fucking flash drive around her neck.

“And now you’re wondering how you can get the drive,” she deduces correctly. “You could always just snatch it off my neck, but then I would just scream, and then the poor little billionaire would have to explain why I’m sitting at the table crying and clutching my neck and he’s holding my gold chain.” She smiles

Well, that idea is out the window. There’s always a pap or three sitting somewhere and waiting to get a photo op. I’m dying to know what this encounter is going to look like in the papers.

“You see, Mr. Grey,” she mewls, and from the tone of her voice, I would swear that we were fucking, “I’ve got you figured out more than you think I do. Now talk!”

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” I tell her, “because I’m not going to sit here and sext with you at this table and I don’t give a fuck what’s on that drive.”

“Well,” she says, “you can either describe our encounter or I’ll have the biggest crying and screaming fit you’ve ever seen and draw some very much unwanted attention to us just like a scorned lover. Then, I’ll take my flash drive and leave you to explain that scene to everybody.”

Shit. She’s got me over a barrel. Either I do this or one way or another, I end up in the paper and not in the good way.

“You were the worst fucking submissive I ever had…”

“I told you to describe that night,” she hisses.

“I am!” I retort viciously. “Take it or fucking leave it.”

She falls silent and glares at me.

“I should have known something wasn’t right in the first place. You couldn’t follow instructions, you kept topping from the bottom. You were worthless. And then I find out that you were really a blonde. That fucking pissed me off!”

“You should have just let me go, you asshole!” she pants, angrily.

“And I did,” I shoot victoriously, “but I decided that first, I needed to teach you a lesson. And teach you a lesson I did!”

I’m going through the gory details of that night, about how I fucked her and flogged her and treated her like the piece of meat that she was—the lying little cunt that weaseled her way into my playroom and totally betrayed my trust. There’s nothing sexual or sensual about the conversation. It’s the most demeaning description of any encounter of any kind that I’ve ever had with anyone about anything… and she just sits there grasping the edges of the table and staring at me. I’m taking joy in letting her know that she was just a hole or three to jack off into and that she would never get the satisfaction from me that she wanted; that just like that night I would leave her hanging… and then I got the surprise of my life.

She throws her head back and has a wild orgasm right there at the table, reminiscent of that scene from When Harry Met Sally. What the hell? Is she crazy? There was nothing seductive whatsoever about that conversation! And she came? Is she faking?

 

I sit there glaring at her for at least a minute horrified, along with the diners from about four or five other tables. I make eye-contact with one or two of them and our eyes all say the same thing… What the fuck is going on with her? I’m sitting so far away from her that it can’t be mistaken that I’m not touching her at all, so we all think she’s just losing her fucking mind.

If that does make it to the paper at all, the headline would say something like:

Christian Grey Having Lunch with Nutcase Having Out of Body Experience.

About a minute after her display begins, it ends. And she’s breathing heavily at the table trying to compose herself. I sit there just looking at her for a few moments.

“Are you insane?” I ask. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

She begins to smooth her hair and she fixes her lipstick, dabbing her face with her napkin from the little bit of sweat that has accrued there.

“That was perfect, lover. Thanks,” she says softly, closing her compact and putting it back in her purse. “That’s exactly what I needed.”

I’m convinced that she has totally lost her mind.

She removes the flash drive from her necklace and pushes it across the table to me, a satisfied grin plastered all over her face.

“Enjoy,” she purrs. “You earned it.” What the hell…? Then it hit me…

She needed the asshole. She needed the asshole to ring the orgasm from her that he denied her all those years ago to serve her purpose. She got me exactly where she wanted me, and then I gave her exactly what she needed. Fucking hell fuck fucking shit fucking hell fuck.

“What about copies?” I growl.

“Trust me, that’s the only copy. It’s the only one I needed. When you see it, you’ll see why. It’s one of a kind, baby.” She stands and retrieves her purse. “You can take care of lunch. Goodbye, lover.” She straightens her barely-there dress, blows me a kiss, and walks out of the club. I palm the flash drive and leave the club hastily.

“She spoke to me before she got into a taxi,” Jason says when I get downstairs to the car. “She said to tell you that you can stop looking for her. She’s in New York and she’s not hiding from you.” I sigh heavily. Of course, she’s not hiding from me. She had incriminating evidence that could destroy me one way or the other and probably still does.

“Get me back to the fucking office,” I growl. I need to see what’s on this goddamn drive.

The ride back to Grey House takes for-fucking-ever. I’m nearly running to the elevator when I get inside. What the fuck does this bitch have on me and how did she get it? Every second of the elevator ride is driving me out of my fucking mind. I feel like I’m riding to goddamn Judgment Day!

I dash out of the elevator and nearly sprint to my office without a word before slamming the door behind me. Everything is moving in slow motion, including my normally lightning-speed laptop.

“Come on, come on,” I urge the fucking thing to wake up. When it finally comes alive, I nearly smash the drive into the USB port and wait for it to read.

There’s only one file on the flash drive, and it’s very small. What the fuck is this shit?

It’s a movie, but it’s a room that I’ve never seen before. It’s very well-decorated and very well-lighted and there’s no one sitting in it. And then, Natasha comes into the frame. She sits in this very large chair, crosses her legs, and looks into the camera.

“Hello, Lover. If you’re watching this, it means that we’ve already met, and you’ve given me what I need and now I’m giving you what you need. You’ve given me something that you held from me for several years—my orgasm—and I’m giving you what you deserve. Absolutely nothing.

“Years ago, you brought me to that pretentious glass palace of yours and you mistreated me and misused me to no end. And then you sent me away like a discarded piece of garbage, like I had no feelings whatsoever… like I was nothing. I never really knew a man could treat a woman like a piece of meat the way you did. I can’t even begin to tell you how I felt when I left your apartment that night. To say that I was humiliated is a massive understatement. It would never fully cover the level of self-loathing and self-hatred that you unleashed in my life. The utter mortification that I felt at your hands was and always will be completely unmatched.

“And you are so fucking self-righteous that you most likely had no clue or care that you had demoralized me to the degree that I questioned who I was, everything about myself. Wasn’t it the job of a good submissive to be everything her Master wanted and needed? If he had a fantasy, wasn’t it her job to fulfill it? If you had to change something of yourself to be what he wanted, that was a small sacrifice. So, going from a beautiful sunshine blonde to a dull and boring brunette was no big deal. It was what you wanted… but it wasn’t.

“I felt like an abomination. You changed my whole life that night. You made me re-evaluate everything I thought I was.

“All those years ago, I berated myself for wanting to be what I thought you wanted. I don’t know if it ever once occurred to you that I did what I did because I wanted to be what you wanted me to be. Instead, you treated me like a mutt… not a thoroughbred, because I wasn’t your precious natural brunette. God, you are such a fucking asshole and you didn’t deserve me in the first place. I was a perfect submissive. I was just what you needed, but you were too dense to know it and you were too blind to see past the blonde hair. It took me a long time to understand that this was a shortcoming on your part, and that was your loss—not mine. Now that I know that, I realize that there was a small but large piece of me that you ripped from me that day… and I had to get it back.

“I took what you owed me. If you’re still dominant, I know that it’ll eat you up that all these years later, I lured you in with a threat… no real material. I just walked in, took what I wanted from you, and walked out. That’s all I needed. You’re still so fucking egomaniacal that I could record this shit already knowing what the outcome would be. You’re predictable, just like all the rest of them. That’s why I can’t be a submissive anymore. We’re not the puppets—you are. You ‘sitting-on-top-of-the-world’ motherfuckers, running your little empires and making the world think you’re so powerful when most of you are nothing but scared little boys running from something. You go home at night and batter your wives or girlfriends or significant others, knock your kids around a bit or ignore them altogether, or in my case, beat a little submissive… taboo in the eyes of society, but acceptable because I consented.

It’s pathetic. A method to cope… What a fucking crock of shit.

So, here’s what I’m doing, Christian….” I hate my name on her lips. “I’m becoming a Dominant… a real Dominant, not that ‘mind-game, play with little girls’ bullshit that you’ve been doing. I’ve trained intensely for over a year, and you can trust and believe that I’m going to be the best there is. I’m not pining over you or watching your every move because you found love with a new little Myshka!”

She says the words so mockingly that it makes my skin crawl.

“No, I learned. I learned what it means to inflict pain so exquisite that my submissives are gagging for me. I learned to draw pleasure out to the point of unconsciousness. I’ve got tricks even you’ve never seen, Sir, and I’ve done the last thing that I needed to do. I finally broke your control over me and got you out of my system, and thanks to you, I’ll be a fantastic Domme—even better than Elena, maybe even better than you.

“I knew the moment I saw that ‘look-at-me-I’m-sitting-on-top-of-the-world’ tell-all piece of bullshit that you did with the little woman that really didn’t tell anything, I knew this was the perfect time to take what I needed from you—right at that moment when you thought you were the biggest shit ever. How does that victory lap feel now, Christian?

“You want to ruin me? Go ahead. Ruin me. Ruin the little submissive who pissed you off because she made you make her come. That’ll make you feel like a big, powerful man, won’t it? It was good for me. I got what I wanted from you. Thank you for closure. You won’t hear from me again. Have a nice life, lover.” And she blows a kiss to the goddamn screen again.

I… Am… Fucking… Livid…

I fell for the oldest goddamn trick in the book. This bitch lured me in with a carrot—and a plastic one at that—and I let her. I fucking let her! I couldn’t afford for her to release something that would set Ana off after everything that has happened. I couldn’t risk it, and at the slightest mention of the possibility, I let everything I know fly out the fucking window.

“Fuck!” I yell. I’m not angry that the fucking cunt came. She needed a nut that bad, so be it. I’m mad that I let this shit happen. I mad that I allowed her to lure me away from my office to a private place for some bullshit. Now, I have to tell my wife because it’s going to eat me up if I don’t and if anything does come from this, she needs to know before it happens.

I damn near rip the flash drive from my laptop and storm into the en suite. I crush the damn thing under my heel—several times—then throw the pieces ceremoniously into the toilet. Snatching my jacket from the back of the office chair, I storm out of my office, nearly breaking the door on my way out.

“Sir?” Jason says as I breeze past him to the elevator, him quickly falling in step behind me.

“Nothing! Fucking nothing! Abso-fucking-lutely nothing! Get me the fuck out of here.”


A/N: So, in case you didn’t catch it, Raynell was getting hit with a lot of one-liners from movies and songs in the hashtags and tweets. She used one and social media came back on her with a vengeance!

#itsgoodtobetheking—History of the World, Part I. Mel Brooks also made a song out of it later.

#dodgedabullet—common phrase used often, but my favorite was Beyoncé, Best Thing I Never Had

“Big mistake… big… huge!”—Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts), Pretty Woman

#youcouldabeenacontender—it’s actually “I coulda been a contender,” Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), On the Waterfront. It’s pretty old.

#almostdoesntcount—song by Brandy

#imeanttodothat—used to death along with “I’m okay,” but it originally came from Pee Wee Herman in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

I recognize that this is a controversial and upsetting time for victims of sexual abuse and assault as well as for Cosby supporters everywhere. However, we live in the real world where real stuff happens—thus, the reference to Bill Cosby. Please note that the case that has now come to a head with a conviction and sentence was first brought to public scrutiny and began to pick up momentum in October of 2014 when a comedian referred to Cosby as a rapist, causing several women to come forward with their accusations. As such, please note that at this point of the story, we are in November of 2014, which is why the male host jested, “What? Too soon?” It may (or may not) have been in bad taste on his part, but that’s what happens in entertainment whether we like it or not.

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.

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 57B—Christian and Ana’s Interview

All of the same disclaimers apply. Have fun and enjoy…

Chapter 57B—Christian and Ana’s Interview

<The interview opens with the camera panning into the large wrought iron gates of Grey Crossing>

MARIA NARRATING: Here in the exclusive neighborhood of Mercer Island, Washington—a ten-mile island reserved for the crème de la crème—Christian and Anastasia Grey enjoy the trappings of wealth and luxury afforded to only the most elite of high society.

<Cut to and pan various rooms of the Crossing while Maria narrates>

Aptly named “Grey Crossing,” this beautiful home boast 13,721 square feet of pure opulence and elegance complete with a full staff on hand at all times, sure to turn even the most discerning among us green with envy. From the marble-floored grand entrance to the Grecian formal dining room to the splendid luxury infinity pool, there’s no question that Mr. and Mrs. Grey enjoy only the best of the best. However, neither of them spends their days lazing away by the pool eating truffles and sunbathing. No—to get the full picture of who the Greys really are, you have to look outside the gates of Grey Crossing.

<Film rolling quickly in reverse of the opening wrought iron gates>

The best place to delve to begin this story would be here at the glass tower known as Grey House—world headquarters for Grey Enterprises Holdings, Incorporated.

<Cut to a pan of Grey House from the front door and up the glass building against a partially-cloudy but sunny sky>

Easily one of the most fascinating people in America and arguably, the world, master businessman and entrepreneur Christian Grey started his company just over a decade ago and within a very short time, became a financial and industrial powerhouse. Revered and respected by many, Christian runs his company with the wisdom, effectiveness, and efficiency of much more experienced captains of industries. Underestimating his shrewdness because of his youth has been the downfall of many unsuspecting rivals.

<Cut to Christian having a conversation with Allen in the glass boardroom>

He prides himself on choosing the best of the best to run his company beside him, recently securing a highly sought-after executive to extend his impressive repertoire.

<Cut to Ana strolling confidently through the lobby towards the elevators>

Gone are the days of the haughty businessman and his “trophy wife,” now being quickly replaced by what we can clearly see as “the power couple.”  Grey House is a state-of-the-art smart-high-rise that boasts sleek lines, opulent design, open work spaces with lots of natural lighting, sophisticated systems that ensure the most efficient processes, and lots… and lots… of security.

<Pan through various work areas of GEH, then the front lobby desk showing a visitor being checked in, then cut to several of GEH’s security team lined up in black suits, the camera panning across each of them quickly>

In fact, GEH probably boasts the most stylish security squad in the country, but don’t let the good looks fool you. Hailing from various backgrounds including military and special training, GEH’s security team prides themselves on proficiency and effectiveness. These gentlemen run a tight ship, working as a synchronized team and utilizing some of the most sophisticated security protocols and equipment in existence.

Facial recognition software and hardware prevents unauthorized persons from accessing any area beyond the main lobby, allowing for the continual tracking of the location of any GEH employee as well as all visitors while on the premises. And speaking of visitors, if you don’t have an appointment, forget about it.

<Maria continues to narrate as Christian and Ana show her through various departments of the building, giving a quick synopsis of the activity occurring in each area>

Mr. Grey seems most at home in his seat at the helm of GEH in its executive offices. After a tour of the impressive organization, I sit down to have a short tête-à-tête with the head and founder of Grey Enterprises Holding, Inc.

<Christian is seated in a large white chair in his office while Maria sits across from him on one of the white sofas>

MARIA: I won’t ask that cliché question “To what do you owe your success.” I can imagine that’s pretty old and, at this point, redundant. So, I guess I’ll just ask what made Christian Grey the Christian Grey?

CG: Well, nobody wants to know the rags-to-riches story—you’ve heard that already, many times and from different people, and not all that interesting. Even though my story is a story of rags to riches, it’s old news. If you don’t know the tale already, you won’t hear it from me.

I wasn’t old enough to drink when I started my company with a small loan and an idea. I was both exhilarated and terrified to be branching out on my own. My parents were horrified that I dropped out of college—Harvard, no less—to follow this pipe dream as my father called it, but I was… exhausted.

MARIA <frowning>: Exhausted? Before you started your business?

CG <nodding>: Yes. I was Christian Grey. I was the orphan from the streets of Detroit who was granted a silver spoon—and there’s the rags to riches story I was trying to avoid. <He shrugs> Yet, it’s a terrible burden. It’s even more of a burden, I think, than to be born with that silver spoon in your mouth, because you’re expected to be grateful, and not to step wrong—to take advantage of the opportunity given to you and to do your very best to be perfect, or at least that’s the way I felt.

MARIA: And were you perfect?

CG: Far from it. I gave my parents hell, not because I was a bad kid, I just had a rough start and I didn’t know how to respond to certain things. So, when I came to my parents and told them that I was dropping out of Harvard after everything else that had already occurred in our lives, my father wasn’t hearing it. He was having no part of it, he was totally against it, and he was ready for me to either return to Harvard or move out. And he had every reason to feel that way—who in their right mind throws away the chance at a Harvard education?

MARIA: So, you didn’t resent your father for not supporting you.

CG: Absolutely not! At the time, I wished he would have had more faith in me, but as time progressed, I understood why he didn’t. But then there’s always that drive to make your parents proud and I was already on the uphill climb with that battle, so I had no other choice but to succeed. Yes, the odds were very much against me. Nonetheless, I followed that pipe dream, and my instincts paid off and helped get me to where I am today.

MARIA: Well, we see the obvious wealth and power and people easily see and paint you as a tyrant, and economical dictator. So, when you reference where you are today, exactly where are you today, Christian?

CG: One-hundred percent self-made billionaire whose name commands respect with many in the business world and strikes fear in many others. How did I get to where I am right now? Raw grit—pure unmitigated drive and determination and a learned and complete lack of fear. Do I want to find myself homeless and broke? No, but I understand more than anyone that you can lose everything with one wrong move. Hell, today, you don’t even have to do anything to lose everything. All you have to do is blink and not see something coming.

To further answer your question, GEH has controlling interests or substantial participation percentages in 28 industries comprised of 419 subindustries in 165 countries on all seven continents, including funding to one of the scientific research stations in Antarctica, and that’s just our for-profit endeavors. I haven’t calculated our impact and involvement in philanthropic work. Am I cocky? Absolutely. It takes pure brilliance and unshakable will to build what I built and be able to flaunt that success without anyone being able to take credit but me—and my competitors know it. Yes, I have an amazing executive team, and I wouldn’t be able to function without them, but GEH—the brain child—that’s mine. I’m not afraid to lose a battle or three. I’m not afraid to sacrifice the small things for the greater good, because sometimes, lost battles result in ultimately winning the war, and there’s always a war going on, Ms. Sanchez.

MARIA: And what’s the war right now, Mr. Grey?

CG: Oh, make no mistake—there’s always a war. When you are in a position of power, someone’s always looking to get that position. Now, if there’s another position available that’s like your position, then you may be safe because both of you can be in that position of power. However, if yours is the only position of power available, make no mistake—they’re gunning for you.

Immediately, however, we’re fighting domestic threats. I’m cutthroat with my business—mercilessly brutal and unapologetic about it. I’ll show up to negotiations for a hostile takeover with a virtual Samurai sword, walk into the room with my weapon hidden, but end up swinging two-thirds into the meeting. I’ll walk out of that room with a signed contract in hand, with high-handed, puffed-up executives lying across the boardroom table and slumped over in chairs bleeding from vital organs and left to die.

I proclaim this with no small amount of caution. I know that people are going to be gunning for me. They were gunning for me before and they’ll be gunning for me after this program airs. But no man worth his salt became great by being afraid—cautious, yes; wise, of course; prudent, no doubt, but afraid? Not a chance. A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.

MARIA <raising her brows>: Shakespeare!

CG: I’m well-read, and I did go to college for two years before I dropped out, although Shakespeare was required reading in high school.

MARIA: So, you mentioned the threats being domestic. Care to elaborate on that?

CG: Close to home, where they think I’ll be weak due to my emotional involvement. We have media personalities attacking us for no reason, just looking for the next sensational headline at our expense, no offense…

MARIA: None taken.

CG: False accusations against me and my wife, perpetuated solely to destroy our reputation and careers; internal assaults on my company that I’m not allowed to expound upon at this time; physical attacks on my wife and her family—you saw those on the news and they’ve left devastating effects on us. We bounce back, yes, but none of these attacks have left us unscathed.

Yet overall, none of these people have succeeded. Some of them just go away. Others go down as flaming failures—but they just keep coming. For every failure, there’s 20, 30, a hundred more behind them waiting for their shot at the Greys. Everybody wants the dream—to be financially secure enough not to be worried about the future—but many are spitefully angry with those of us who have achieved it. They want to take what we have or destroy us completely. What sense does that make?

MARIA: Maybe they feel like you’ve taken something from them—like you owe them something because of who you are and what you have… or what they feel you’ve done.

CG: They all feel that way! They all feel like I should divvy out what I’ve earned to them in one way or another—frivolous lawsuits, false accusations, Grey babies that aren’t Grey babies…

I can count on one hand—one hand—the number of people who may have had cause to feel that I had wronged them and came after me in some way for it. Not only did they fail, but their accusations were unfounded. Everyone else just has some delusional reason for wanting to bring me or my family down. I’m in this business to make a profit—to take sick companies and make them well again or to pull the plug on those that are hopelessly dying; to expand my interests and make sure that GEH remains the international powerhouse that it is in the most ethical manner imaginable. But I don’t pull punches. There’s no slight of hand when you see me coming. I conduct business like a businessman and if you get my iron fist, it’s because you earned it and you know it. So, these personal attacks on my family for business reasons or whatever reasons they are, they’re going to stop because we’re pulling out all the stops from this point forward.

MARIA: You haven’t been pulling out the stops to this point?

CG: We have, but apparently the message hasn’t been clear enough.

MARIA NARRATING<pan to Christian overseeing a meeting of his department heads with Ana sitting in the seat to his immediate right>: Christian Grey has unequivocally thrown down the gauntlet. He’s fearless in his business dealings but appears to be an even more formidable opponent if you cross him in terms of his family. With a net worth of more than 14 figures, he commands the boardroom with little effort, and is the quintessential example of self-made power and success. <animation of several magazine covers featuring Christian including Forbes, Money, Time, Entrepreneur, and People>.

The jewel in his crown, Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey.. Dr. Grey is a successful psychiatrist in the Seattle area who put her career on hold to become assistant director for Helping Hands, a Seattle-based charity that helps displaced families and victims of domestic abuse.

Image result for Genie FrancisHeaded by Dr. Grace Trevelyan-Grey—Christian’s mother—the charity hopes to soon offer continued learning, tutoring, and early learning classes for displaced families as well as members of the community. Helping Hands was featured in a public service announcement last year known as “Faces of Abuse” where many local celebrities, civic leaders, and everyday citizens confessed to being abused at one point.

<Portions of the “Faces of Abuse” campaign play>

HH Resident: They actually have security, so I feel safe bringing my kids here. Dr. Ana started a self-defense class after she had her babies. I can’t do all the stuff that she does, but I can handle myself pretty well after taking her classes, such that I’m not afraid anymore.

MARIA NARRATING: Dr. Grey confided that her aim in her chosen profession was to help others overcome frightening and adverse situations in their lives. Dr. Grey experienced her own trauma as a teenager, fueling her desire to assist those who need it most at a time when they’re most vulnerable.

<Scenes of Anastasia and Grace assisting families at Helping Hands>

However, in the hallowed halls of Grey House, it’s quite a different story. Armed with a minor degree in business and finance, Anastasia is hardly merely the “boss’s wife” in these walls. Walking through the lobby, it’s easy to see that she—like her husband—is also revered and respected. Having been gifted half of GEH as a wedding present, she takes her responsibility as part owner very seriously. She rightfully walks around like she owns the place, but I wanted to be sure that this wasn’t an act for the reporter. So, I randomly chose a department that I felt the boss’s wife would have no reason to frequent.

When I ask her to take me to Quality Control, she laughs. I mistake it for nervousness. I’m soon to realize how wrong I am. A short elevator ride later, we find ourselves in the Quality Control department. Here, Anastasia is giving me a brief rundown of the different products in testing and I’m already astounded by her level of knowledge of simply what’s on the floor.

AG: Mr. Braxton…

<A gentleman in conversation with someone at one of the stations raises his head and, upon noticing Anastasia, excuses himself and joins the ladies in the middle of the room>

I’m sorry to interrupt you, Omar. This is Maria Sanchez. You may have heard that she’s doing a human-interest piece on myself and Mr. Grey. Maria, this is Omar Braxton. He’s the head of our quality control department.

MARIA NARRATING: Omar is friendly and accommodating, and after we talk for a short while, Ana decides to flex her GEH muscles a bit.

AG: Omar, that information that I gave you about that transmitter a while back—you never got back to me on the final findings. I know it was pretty cryptic, and I know we saw some anomalies, but did it help break any codes? Were any of our questions answered, particularly the biggest one?

<Omar’s face lights up and he’s become quite animated>

OB: Like you wouldn’t believe! Breaking codes is an understatement. I’ve had an entire team working on those figures since you brought them to our attention. It’s amazing how the slide of a number or three can make such a huge difference, but it did… all the difference in the world. We never would have caught that without running those extra tests. I’d really like to show you the data… <looking over at Maria> … when you have a moment.

AG<smiling>: Of course. We understand. There’s just been so much going on, I haven’t had a chance to get in here and ask you about it. I’ll set up a meeting as soon as I can to go over your findings.  I’d love to see your progress.

<They smile at each other before Anastasia and Maria move to another area>

AG: Proprietary information. You understand.

MARIA NARRATING: Of course. I won’t lie. I was hoping to catch the queen snoozing at the switch. I should have known something was afoot when my request to visit QC was followed by a giggle.

Having seen Anastasia outside of the corporate world in her natural habitat at Helping Hands, so to speak, I wanted to get an idea of who she was before she was the glamorous and sophisticated billionairess we see now—not that she wasn’t sophisticated before, but she wasn’t always a billionairess. Imagine my joy when I find out that she still owns the condo where she lived before she met Christian. I would have expected the space to be vacant, maybe a college space like a small apartment or a loft that was shared by a group of struggling students.

Not in the slightest.

Anastasia’s condo is large, spacious and beautifully decorated. I asked her if she had remodeled it once she was married, and she assures me that it’s in the same condition she left it in when she moved out to live with Christian in his penthouse at Escala downtown, complete with a very masculine guestroom—which we’ll get to later.

<Maria walking towards the camera while she addresses the viewing audience>

MARIA: So, here we are in Ana’s pre-Christian condo overlooking Elliot Bay. It’s obvious that she’s no stranger to posh surroundings as exhibited by the stunning décor and open floor plan, semi-gourmet kitchen with stainless steel appliances, and a view of Mt. Rainier that was certain to attach a heavy price tag to this property. As it turns out, Ana secured this property for a steal from a divorced wife trying to unload it—that “steal” nonetheless resulting in a 7-figure price tag.

<Cut to Maria and Ana sitting across from each other in Ana’s living room>

MARIA: So, Ana, tell me—how does a girl from Montesano suddenly find herself a businesswoman and half-owner of one of the largest corporations in the world?

AG: Well, I’m no Christian Grey. I was somewhat catapulted into this situation. It’s kind of like a baby bird being slapped out of the nest and either you fly, or you die. When my husband first told me that he was making me part owner of GEH, I thought he had lost his mind. Yes, I minored in business and finance, but that’s only because I knew that fresh out of med school, I wouldn’t have enough money to hire business managers, financial planners, and accountants and such once I was ready to start my practice. So, I took some business classes and one thing led to another and boom—minor in finance. I never in a million years would have thought that I’d be even partially at the helm of a multibillion dollar conglomerate.

MARIA: How did this come about? I mean, did he just come home and make the announcement?

AG <rubbing the side of her head>: It was somewhat like that, but there was so much more involved. It’s kind of gray when I try to put it all together, but I remember that I had inherited—for lack of a better word—a company as part of a settlement. We had intended to absorb the company into GEH. However, closer examination revealed that it wouldn’t be prudent to do so. While we were sorting out the particulars of disposing of the company, the precariousness of my position with GEH came to a head and that’s when we decided to make it official. I was a figurehead up to that point, and not even that. The story is far too long and tedious for me to repeat it, but let’s just say that the transition was anything but seamless.

MARIA: Were you met with resistance? <Ana ponders her answer for a long while> Animosity? Resentment? Jealousy?

AG <sighing>: Those are strong words and remember, I’m a psychiatrist. So, words mean a lot. Amazingly, I can’t really put into words what I was met with because I’m not inside anyone’s head, but I can tell you what I think it felt like.

Imagine being part of an organization where you have a clearly-marked figurehead. Strong, powerful, knows exactly what he wants, successful, he gets things done—there’s no doubt who’s in charge. He’s “take no prisoners” and you don’t cross him. Suddenly—out of nowhere, literally—you’re getting marching orders from the little woman who is not only in actuality a petite woman but has already been pegged a gold digger. Now imagine being on the receiving end of those feelings when you’re trying to get something done. <Maria blanches>

MARIA: How do you do that… not mince words and still remain so politically correct? <Ana scoffs>

AG: It’s a blessing and a curse.

MARIA: So, tell us about Ana before Christian.

AG: You mean besides what’s splattered all over the tabloids?

Independent, driven, self-sufficient. I had my own practice, and it was successful. I even had a waiting list. I was doing volunteer work as well, but it wasn’t really satisfying. That’s because I wasn’t in the right place and I wasn’t contributing what I felt I needed to contribute, so I had to move on.

MARIA: Someone’s going to ask, so I’ll ask first. You speak like this was no big change for you, but your life wasn’t nearly this extravagant before Christian, right?

AG: You mean the life of a billionaire’s wife? Of course, not, but I wasn’t a pauper, either. This condo is decorated exactly as it was when I met Christian. <She gestures around the room> Nothing has changed except that I have a friend staying here so that it doesn’t fall to disarray. But look around you.

<Pan of various rooms and décor of the condo>

Does this look like the digs of some poor struggling woman waiting to be rescued?

I drive Audis now, but when we met, I was driving a current-year Chrysler 300. I was a fashionista, just like I am now, although my shoes may not have been Louboutins. I hadn’t dated anyone for four years and I wasn’t looking to date. When I met Christian, I didn’t know who he was and when I found out, I didn’t like him. I wanted him out of my presence as quickly as possible and I tried to do that, but he was persistent. One thing I learned about Christian Grey. When he wants something, he doesn’t give up easily if at all.

MARIA: It almost sounds like you loved him against your will.

AG: I did! I wasn’t looking for any kind of relationship, least of all with Christian Grey, but look what happened.

MARIA: Is it really that simple? Is it really just look what happened or was there more to the story?

AG: There was quite a bit more to the story. Most of the story was plastered over the news—in trials and kidnappings and attacks and accusations… bitter lies and just plain hatefulness. We couldn’t get any peace. I’ve always considered myself just a regular girl, you know—no frills, nothing special… just me. Suddenly, I become half of AnaChris and everything about me was different. It was like…

<Anastasia pauses here, trying to find her words>

I just got lost in the whole billionaire-ness of it all, and it wasn’t that it went to my head. It was just that I wasn’t me anymore. Suddenly, I had to justify every decision I was making—from what I was wearing, to who did my hair, to what I was driving, to the precarious timing of my pregnancy.

MARIA: Okay, but besides the obvious wealth and dollar signs, where did the ‘more’ come in? <Anastasia frowns>

AG: The more?

MARIA: Yes, the ‘more.’ You said that there was more to the story than just look what happened. <Ana sighs>

AG: Christian is nothing if not cautious and thorough. I was in a position to cause him distress, and I wanted nothing more than to just be out of it… by any means necessary. Our relationship was no accident. How we came into each other’s presence may have been chance, but the events that followed were anything but. Everything that occurred to lead us to become a couple was planned, and believe me, he’s not ashamed to admit it.

It wasn’t that way at first. He wanted me out of his hair and I wanted out of his hair. But one action led to a series of events that, in the beginning, I felt weren’t supposed to happen, but now I feel they were destined.

MARIA: Forgive my bluntness, Ana, but you’re speaking in riddles. <Anastasia shrugs>

AG: Well, you must know that I have to be careful what I say. Before I expound on how this particular portion of our lives played out, I have to talk to Christian first.

MARIA: Are you afraid of how he’ll react? <Anastasia raises a brow> Okay, let me rephrase. Are you concerned that his reaction would be less than favorable?

<Anastasia leans back in her seat, placing her fingertips delicately under her chin>

AG: I’m always concerned about Christian’s reaction, not because I’m anxious that his reaction may be less than favorable, but because I don’t want to be the deliberate cause for his duress. My job is to be his helpmate, his life-mate, to love him and bring him comfort and solace. I can’t effectively do that if something that I’m doing is a source of angst, now can I?

My husband has always been a very private person. There are parts of our personal lives that the public will never know, just like there are parts of everyone else’s personal lives that are not subject to public scrutiny. So, yes, I will need to discuss with my husband how much of this story will be revealed during this segment.

MARIA<nodding>: That’s fair enough. So, let’s move on to this Judd Rossiter thing. What can you tell us that won’t put you in a bad position?

AG: Nothing, unfortunately. It’s an open case and there’s a gag order. I’m afraid that anything I say could compromise the proceedings or definitely put me in contempt of court. I’ll just say that I know when to keep my mouth shut <an obvious shot at Rossiter>

<The setting changes to the backseat of the converted Audi>

MARIA: So, how have your relationships changed, Ana? How do your friends feel about the new life you lead? Was it a rough transition? Did you have to make new friends?

AG<sighing>: It had its bumps every now and then. It’s no secret that my sister-in-law was battling a brain tumor shortly after my husband and I married. That was a trial for us all because she was my friend before she was my sister-in-law. But she came through it with flying colors, thank God, and she’s doing better than ever. That was probably the biggest transition we had to deal with in terms of friendships. My core support circle is the same as it was before I got married. It even merged a bit.

MARIA: Merged? Do elaborate

AG: People who had been dating got married, and people who weren’t dating each other started dating. As you know, my friend Valerie whom we were just speaking about married my husband’s brother and became my sister-in-law. As for making new friends, my husband’s sister Mia—I would consider her now part of my core group of friends along with her husband, Ethan. I have friends at Helping Hands… so, yeah, I’ve met more friends, but my core friendships have remained the same. The original group call ourselves the ‘Scooby Gang.’

MARIA<chuckling>: Why the ‘Scooby Gang?’

AG: It’s simple, cute, unassuming, maybe a little naïve because the Scooby Gang never fought, and we’ve had the occasional tiff or falling out, but we always find ourselves back at the core again. When the chips have really gone down, there’s never been a time where we haven’t been there for each other. We’ve had segments in time where something may have gone down that we weren’t aware of, but when the situation was revealed, we all came together like we usually do. I don’t know if you remember that when I was kidnapped, it was my best friend Allen who made the call to arms with Christian.

MARIA<nodding>: I do remember that. So, what’s the makeup of the Scooby Gang?

AG<smiling>: Without getting into detail, there’s me, of course. Then, there’s Allen, Valerie, Maxie and Phil, and Gary.

MARIA: So, there’s six of you… like a real-life episode of Friends. 

AG<making a face>: Yeah, we’re… friends, of course, but… well, there are more people that are in the core by default, like Marilyn and James… even Christian and his brother Elliot…

MARIA NARRATING<while Anastasia continues to explain the ‘core’ dynamic>: I could tell that she didn’t necessarily agree with the comparison to Friends even though she didn’t really protest. She just went about the business of illustrating how different from Friends her inner sanctum really is.

MARIA: So, do you get to see your friends as much as you used to?

AG: Not as much, but that’s because of life events on the part of all of us. Most of us were single before, and now, we’ve all coupled-up or married. Two of the couples have had children <she raises her hand>, we’ve had career changes, health issues… you know, life events. But what I love about our friendship is that the minute someone says, “I need you,” or “Hey, let’s get together,” we’re together or have a party or F&L planned within a couple of hours.

MARIA<grinning>: FNL? What is that, Friday Night Live?

AG<laughing>: No! Not FNL, F-and-L… Food and Libations. I love to cook. When I was a single girl in that beautiful condo with that gorgeous kitchen and open floor plan, at least once a month and usually more, I and my friends would come together for Food and Libations. It was usually on a Saturday night. I would cook, and they would bring the drinks—libations—whatever they wanted. We socialized and caught up on the week’s events, and they would clean up. That’s why you saw the other bedrooms at the condo. In case someone drank too much, they could crash. Allen is my right arm; he has been for 14 years. So, he has a permanent room at my condo and a key.

MARIA: Does he have a permanent room at Grey Crossing?

AG<rolling her eyes>: Everybody has a permanent room at Grey Crossing. Have you seen the size of that place? What can one nuclear family do with all that space?

MARIA NARRATING: All that space indeed…

<Cut back to the opening gates of Grey Crossing from the beginning of the interview and pan to various rooms as Maria narrates>

Eight bedrooms, double-digit bathrooms—not including the staff’s apartments on the lower levels—a gourmet kitchen, two-story formal living-room and Grecian dining room, a ginormous family room, several outdoor patios on multiple floors, and an outdoor dining room and barbeque kitchen and a small private beach in the backyard leading to an enviable view of Lake Washington, and we haven’t even scratched the surface.

Two working elevators, a fully-loaded workout room, an infinity pool with jacuzzi, a private spa, and an outdoor sauna and shower; a theater room that would put some theaters to shame; a lush parlor for her and a decked-out den for him as well as his and her offices with posh furnishings and an aquarium in between.

And speaking of aquariums…

Full-wall aquariums greet you not only at the entrance to a massive entertainment room on the ground floor, but also in the private spa where Mrs. Grey goes to have her beauty treatments every now and then.

And Ana was correct when she mentioned room for everyone at Grey Crossing.

<Cut to shots of Valerie and Elliot in the dining room, and Elliot later in the family room>

Christian’s brother and sister-in-law are a regular fixture at the Crossing, a bit of a home away from home, you could say. And good luck sneaking onto this estate uninvited. The Crossing is equipped with all of the state-of-the-art security devices as Grey House and a few extras including a combination location and two-way communication system.

We could spend another hour just touring the beautiful rooms, furnishings, and amenities of the gorgeous estate, but we’d much rather talk to the couple who call it “home.”

<Cut to Anastasia and Christian on the sofa in the formal living room with Maria sitting on the opposite sofa>

MARIA: So, let’s get to the question that everyone wants to ask. How did a local psychiatrist land Seattle’s most eligible bachelor?

CG and AG<simultaneously>: Well…

<They look at each other and Anastasia gestures to cede the floor to Christian>

CG: Let’s start by clarifying your question. She didn’t land me—I landed her. People think that there’s some formula to this—there isn’t. My life is and always has been very private, so although I had interactions before, they weren’t plastered all across the news. This one only became news because my wife—then girlfriend—was kidnapped, but we very much would have preferred to keep our relationship private.

The truth of the matter is that when the right person comes along, all bets are off. There’s no amount of conniving, scheming, hoping, wishing, praying, or plotting that you can do that can make you be that one. There has to be an emotional and physical connection and at some point, there has to be a willingness on the part of both parties to engage.

In our case, this was truly cosmic intervention. We hated each other—unquestionably, undeniably, and unequivocally. She correctly had me pegged as an arrogant, egotistical, narcissistic donkey’s butt and she made it no secret… and she wanted nothing to do with me. I thought she was a pompous, stuck-up, headstrong, disagreeable female and I wanted nothing to do with her. She had my fate in her hands and I resented it. I tried to bully her, and she was having none of it. She pretty much told me what I could do with myself and where to go and stormed out… and I fell in love.

So, if you ladies want to know the answer to the age-old question “how to land a billionaire,” call him names and tell him the truth about his crappy behavior, and then leave him to marinate in it and refuse to speak to him… but know that if you’re not the one that supposed to end up in his life, you may end up landing a restraining order and jail time as opposed to landing a billionaire.

<Maria looks at Anastasia, who simply shrugs>

AG: I told you, I wasn’t looking for love, and even after I met him, I wanted anything but a relationship with him. You know how the boys in grade school would kick you or hit you or tease you if they liked you? <Maria nods> He was worse. He tormented me. I thought he hated me and I certainly could do without him.

MARIA: So, how did you end up crossing that thin line between love and hate?

CG: It was… tricky.

<Maria cocks her head at Christian, waiting for the rest of the tale>

CG: My life was very private before I met my wife. I did have relationships, but they were very structured and very formal. From my side, they were very dispassionate, very unemotional. Although they were monogamous, they were only a means to an end. The women involved were legally sworn to secrecy. Believe me, there are legally binding non-disclosure agreements all over the state of Seattle.

MARIA: What if one of these women decides to come forward with this information? Like if they felt as if they had nothing to lose?

CG: Well, first of all, everyone has something to lose. They just don’t know what it is until they lose it. In all honesty, I can say this—it’s no secret that I’m a powerful man. If you come after what’s near and dear to me, to any man, he’s going to come at you with all he’s got. Do you really want that? In terms of the legal system, I’m a businessman. I’ve never had a board of directors—I am the business. Wherever I was, the business was—in my building, in my cars, in my penthouse, in my shower, on my private jet—you get the picture? I discuss and conduct business in all those places. To that end, any information heard or discovered in any of those places is protected business information including the color of my underwear, and the language of the contract is such that revealing that information is a punishable criminal act.

MARIA: Oh, come on, seriously?

CG: Corporate espionage.

MARIA: Revealing the color of your underwear is corporate espionage, Christian?

CG<shrugs>: They should have read the contract. So far, no one has been brazen enough to attempt to breach a signed NDA, but should they try, they’re in for a rude awakening because they’ll most likely find themselves in cuffs. All I can say is that if they would like to test that theory, they can try.

MARIA: What about you, Anastasia? How do you feel about this whole NDA thing?

AG<shrugs>: I never signed an NDA. Our relationship is far from dispassionate, quite emotional, and to hell with structure.

MARIA: Well, alright, then. So, Christian, why were you so secretive about your relationships?

CG: I have a lot to lose. My reputation is at stake. People wanted to easily paint me as a playboy or they wanted to marry me off. I wasn’t serious about anybody. I really couldn’t afford to be half of a whole until I was half of a whole.

MARIA: And that happened when Anastasia was kidnapped.

CG<sighing and taking Ana’s hand>: Yes. Nothing else mattered then but getting her back. I didn’t know where she was. I didn’t know if she was hurt; what he was doing to her. I didn’t know if I would get her back alive or at all. <Holding his head down> I couldn’t see past the moment. I could only see getting her back, and I had to make sure that people paid attention. So, that’s why I put my face to the plea. <A clip of the plea plays silently as he speaks> At the time that we had recorded the call for help, we hadn’t gotten any clues yet except who took her, so we didn’t know where they were or what the next move was.

MARIA: Then there was the daring helicopter rescue. What were you thinking, Ana?

AG: I honestly don’t remember most of it. It’s partially because of the trauma and it’s partially because of my later accident where I’ve lost some of my memories. I remember the gunshots and I remember the lights of the hospital. Then I remember going home. The rest of it is kind of a big fuzz. I remember the smell of mildew and the feeling of hopelessness…

<Anastasia trails off>

MARIA<reaching over and squeezing Ana’s hand>: Well, we don’t want to take you back down that road again. I think we’d all like to know when you first realized that you were in love.

AG<she and Christian are looking at each other>: It just happened. We were in my apartment and I remember thinking this can’t possibly be happening this fast.

MARIA: You’re smiling, Christian.

CG: I didn’t feel that way.

<Anastasia’s glaring at him>

It was happening for me. I didn’t know what it was at first, but it was happening, and I knew it was.

<Anastasia’s glare softens>

MARIA: Who said it first?

CG: That’s why I didn’t feel the way she did. She said it first. I felt it first. I felt it long before she did. I would go so far as to say that I think she was still hating me when I first felt it.

AG<amazed>: That can’t be right!

CG: Oh, I think it was. The first time you said you loved me, you were asleep in my apartment. By that time, I was deeply in love with you, but I hadn’t said it yet. You said it again in your sleep, this time in your apartment and I said it back, but you were still asleep. The first time you said it to me awake was the third time you had said it to me.

AG<in awe>: Are you kidding?

CG<shaking his head>: And the first time I said it to you while you were awake was the second time I had said it… that I know of.

AG: You said you knew… while I still hated you. How could you have known? I mean, before me? How…

CG: Honestly, I think I loved you as far back as when Allen and James came to pick you up from the community center.

AG<stunned speechlessness>: Wha…?

<Maria watches in gleeful anticipation>

CG: I was still trying to figure it out <Christian laughs>

MARIA: This is so adorable. So, this totally shoots down the whole gold-digger theory…

AG<still stunned>: Huh?

MARIA: Well… you know there are still the hangers on with the gold-digger theory that Ana was looking for a billionaire and snagged Christian and got pregnant to keep him and… you know the rest.

CG: Once again, I say, Anastasia didn’t chase me, I chased her. Anastasia didn’t even want me. Anastasia didn’t even like me. When she says that she hated me, let me tell you… she hated me! She saw me at my worst… my very worst. As it turned out, she was on a disastrous date saying goodbye to the same guy that later kidnapped her. She had a little too much to drink and I made sure that she and her car got home safely. The rest is history.

MARIA: Now, how did you end up getting to her exact location that night?

CG: I shamelessly stalked her on her date. Then I sent a bottle of wine to her table to apologize for being such a jerk. I just wanted to make my presence known. I didn’t know she was breaking up with the guy.

AG: It’s a long story, but I had already broken up with the guy. He was asking for another chance.

MARIA: Needless to say, you said, “no.”

AG: Needless to say.

CG: Anyway, we fell in love because I pursued her. I had to have her. We’ve always been completely open and honest with each other, even about our secrets…

MARIA: Secrets… Elena Lincoln.

CG: Yes, Elena. I can’t talk about her too much. She was a mistake in my life that lasted for many years. I can’t begin to tell you the effects she had on me and my family. I just can’t talk about her. I can only say that my wife is slowly undoing the damage that woman has done to me. <Anastasia smiles>

MARIA: How so?

CG: It’s very personal, but she’s doing it by loving me… unconditionally, flaws and all. She’s undoing all the bad and replacing it with good. It’s scary and sometimes painful, but she chases all my monsters away.

MARIA: Wow, that’s very deep. Ana, does he do anything like that for you?

AG<Her voice incredulous>: Are you kidding? He’s my ultimate protector. I fear nothing with this man around. Nothing. I feel like if there’s anything that he can’t do, he’ll find a way to get it done. I and my children have nothing to fear as long as he’s alive.

MARIA: Those are big shoes to fill, Christian.

CG: I’m up to the task.

MARIA: So, you mentioned early on that you were secretive about your relationships because of your reputation. Couldn’t the details of a past relationship still ruin your reputation?

CG: Yes, they may damage my reputation, but here’s something to remember. I have enough resources right now to retire every member of my family including my infant children. Me going after someone for damaging my reputation could destroy them completely, but how much would it really hurt me? The most that anyone could ever hope to gain by trying to expose me in any way would be homelessness because I would spend all of my energy on injunctions and gag orders. By the time they had any hope of collecting anything from me, we would both be dead. That’s the big and the little of it. If anyone tried to do anything to ruin my reputation, I would adapt. If they tried to do anything to harm me or my family, just know that I’m coming at you with everything that I have. It’s that simple.

MARIA: I can understand that. Now, we may not be able to talk about the relationship with Lincoln, but can you elaborate a bit on the attempted murder?

CG <sighs>: Not really. It’s not because I can’t talk about it. It’s because I don’t know what the hell happened. To this day, I’m still not sure what was going on. I really thought I knew, but I don’t. The woman is some kind of crazy—that’s all I know.

MARIA: Ana, this is your area of expertise. Care to elaborate?

AG: Well, this is delicate territory for me, but since the case has already been decided, I can offer a bit of opinion. From what I saw, long story short, all of her actions were justified. In her eyes, everything she did was justified—it didn’t matter what it was, she was justified in doing it. So, she went about the business of doing what she wanted to do, and the court didn’t agree with her. There’s just no other way to explain it.

MARIA: But why did she want to kill Christian?

AG: She said it in the courtroom—to free him from me.

MARIA: I don’t get that.

AG: You and me both. Neither did the jury.

MARIA: So, let’s back up a bit. Before the wedding… you left for a while.

<Christian drops his head>

AG: Yeah, I did.

MARIA: Why?

AG: Because I was having a hard time dealing with rejection.

CG: I wasn’t rejecting you.

AG: I didn’t know that.

MARIA: How do you know that now?

AG<shaking her head>: I still don’t. <Christian raises an amazed gaze at her> The heart is fragile. He knows that now more than ever. <Christian drops his head again> My man disappeared for several hours, and when he returned I heard, “Let’s not get married,” and that’s all I heard. I couldn’t take it, so I left. I left to try to clear my head and deal with the heartbreak that I was feeling. There was a bit of back and forth—he found me, we fought, we talked, he left, he kind of fell apart. I came back and saw what it was doing to him. We talked again. He told me that he didn’t say, “Let’s not get married.” He said, “Let’s not get married right now.” I understood what he said the second time. The problem is that I still only heard, “Let’s not get married,” and I saw all my dreams dying.

CG<barely audible>: You still feel that way?

AG: We’re married now, but that’s still what I heard.

<Christian wraps his arms around his wife>

MARIA: So… you made it down the aisle and you go on this lovely honeymoon, and it’s cut short…

AG: Yes, crazy ex-boyfriend decides that he wants his speedy trial right in the middle of our honeymoon. We’re sure that he planned it. You saw how that turned out.

MARIA: It’s my understanding that during that case, you discovered that you were pregnant with your children.

AG<grimacing>: You understand correctly. There was an unfortunate incident involving the defense attorney that prompted me to take a pregnancy test.

MARIA: An unfortunate incident… care to elaborate?

AG<her eyes wide>: No.

MARIA NARRATING: At the request of our hosts, we move the interview to their spacious and well-equipped family room. Though they looked quite majestic in the formal living room, our couple is much more relaxed in this setting.

MARIA: Okay, Ana, let’s move to something that I hope is a little more palatable than the last few moments of our previous discussion. I know that one of the main reasons for your appearance today and other appearances before now is centered on the allegations of sexual harassment against you. Just a quick synopsis. Someone made an anonymous call that you behaved inappropriately with a patient and that opened an investigation into the allegations. Tell us about that.

AG<straightening her posture>: Yes. The medical profession is based largely on trust. People trust us with their bodies. In my case, they trust us with their minds. It’s a huge responsibility, so accusations like this must be taken very seriously. Of course, I was devastated when I heard that someone would even think I would do something like this. But when I saw who the victim was, I knew it was a personal vendetta.

MARIA: Are you allowed to reveal who the victim was at this point?

<Christian slowly raises his hand>

MARIA: Yes, Christian? Who was the victim?

<He sits there in the same position>

MARIA<horrified>: You??

<Christian nods>

AG: My sentiments exactly. I was anonymously accused of sexual misconduct with my husband.

MARIA: Dear God, how did that come about?

AG: Well, we’re still trying to get to the salt of the matter. Anything that we say about the person who made those calls would be pure conjecture. Even though we have our theories, those claims are anonymous for a reason… to make sure that the accusers—valid accusers—are protected. The problem is that the system also protects those who just want to throw smut.

I’m going public with the accusations against me because not only were they totally untrue and unfounded, but they were completely ludicrous! And the way that I was treated at that inquisition that they called a hearing was preposterous and the most blatant display of unprofessionalism I had ever seen. They dragged in people from my past—colleagues, patients—they chose completely irrelevant questions even down to questioning my attire. They locked me in a room for hours without my phone, my purse, or any type of timepiece with a guard who never said a word to me the entire time, like I was a common criminal.

They subjected me to this board of stuck-up elitists who all looked down their nose at me and refused to refer to me by my title. All doctors themselves, they all knew how offensive it is to strip a doctor of her title. So, as a continuation of their emotional warfare, they all called me “Mrs. Grey” instead of “Dr. Steele-Grey,” no matter how many times I corrected them and informed them that I still had my license.

I could go on forever about how unjustly I was treated by the board, and quite frankly, I’m lucky that I escaped that witch hunt with my license still intact. I’m not some pompous, pampered little doctor-person who got her little feathers ruffled because the big bad men didn’t pat me on my head. <Anastasia feigns baby talk> I just want to see people treated more fairly when they’re required to present their cases in situations like this. Even killers get a right to a fair trial—I was convicted before I even stepped in that room on zero evidence and a rumor.

So, my campaign is not to toot my own horn and proclaim that they’ve hurt the feelings of the great Anastasia Grey. My purpose for going public is to hopefully appeal to others who may have experienced this kind of treatment. When the board was confronted about this incident, they swept the whole thing under the rug like nothing happened. So, how many other people have been subjected to this?

My voice is loud because I refuse to remain silent about this, but two voices are better, four is a lot louder, The more, the better, of course. So, how many people within the sound of my voice has been treated unfairly by this board or knows someone or of someone who has? If this is you, you can reach me at my office at Helping Hands. Yes, we have security screening, but it’ll be worth it if we can shed some light on this situation.

MARIA: So, you’re looking for a class action?

AG: It’s more like a call to action. If I’m the only person who was treated this way by the board, well then, I’m just one person. This is my battle to fight and mine alone and we don’t have to worry about other people being treated this way. However, if this is the usual treatment of people who are accused of this kind of action, then we need some kind of investigation—maybe an examination of the archaic ideals of the board and possibly replacing its members.

MARIA: Are you up to that job, Ana… possibly being a member of the board?

AG<her eyes wide>: Oh, God, no! I don’t want someone’s fate in my hands like that. With everything I’ve been through, they don’t even bother picking me for jury duty!

<Christian laughs>

MARIA: So, if the board approached you, would you turn them down?

AG: First, I highly doubt that the board would ever approach me, but second, I’ve never even given the concept any thought. I just want people to be treated fairly. I don’t necessarily have to be the one to do the job in order for that to happen. And third, to answer your question—no, it’s not something that I want. I have no dreams or aspirations whatsoever of being on the board.

I felt like the views of the board were quite antiquated in the questions that they asked me and the way that they treated me. I have no problem with the traditional values being part of this process. In fact, I support it. However, I feel that the board and its members and guidelines need to incorporate more of the forward-thinking concepts that define the passing of time as well as modern medicine and practices.

I seriously felt like I was in that movie, “Twelve Angry Men,” and I was the accused awaiting the verdict. I left those proceedings, went home, and waited for them to tell me that they were stripping me of my license. Had I done something wrong, I could do nothing but hang my head in shame, but I really, really did nothing wrong. So, I think something needs an overhaul here, and if I remain silent, it’s not going to happen…

MARIA NARRATING: The seriousness of the conversation is interrupted by cooing babies in the background, Christian gestures to someone to come forward.

MARIA: Oooohh, this is such a treat!

CG: Hello there, Minnie Mouse! <Christian takes his daughter>

AG: How’s Mommy’s handsome man? <Anastasia takes her son>

MARIA<brimming with excitement> Please! Please! Introduce us!

CG: Well, this redhead beauty is Mackenzie and that handsome prince is Michael, and these are the heirs to the Grey estate. <Mackenzie looks adoringly at her father>

MARIA: Is she a daddy’s girl?

CG: She’s definitely a daddy’s girl.

MARIA: And what about Michael—is he Mommy’s boy?

AG<examining Michael>: I don’t know. Mikey is laid back. He likes everybody. Mackenzie is more expressive, so while I can tell that she loves Mommy, she coos more at Daddy.

<Watching Mackenzie do just that while Christian makes faces at her>

MARIA: Most Moms say that parenting comes naturally. Is that how it was for you?

AG<twisting her lips>: I think that’s a broad statement, Maria. I don’t think parenting comes naturally to anybody; that’s why some children are taken away from their parents. I think the connection that you feel while carrying a little life around in your body for nearly a year can’t help but to extend to the living breathing human being once they’re no longer in your body. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

<Cut to the scene of Anastasia in the rocker in the nursery with her back to the camera nursing Mikey and singing to him>

AG<while the scene is still playing>: I can’t speak for anyone else. I can only speak for myself. The moment I discovered that I was pregnant, all I wanted was to love and protect my babies. I was afraid that the world would gobble them up and mistreat them, and I knew that the only way to prevent that from happening was to nurture them, shield them from what harm I could and prepare them for the world ahead. It’s a frightening and daunting task, but it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Minnie’s first smile and Mikey’s first babble… I can’t even describe the feeling that comes over you when you witness the smallest milestones.

<The scene continues for a few moments more, the only sound being Anastasia serenading her baby>

<Cut back to the family and Maria in the family room>

MARIA<with a broad smile>: Minnie and Mikey… was that intentional?

AG: Yes and no. We mulled over our children’s names, each of us making suggestions about what we wanted to name them.

<Cut to a picture of Minnie and Mikey each in their Minnie and Mickey Mouse swim suits earlier that summer>

I had always had my son’s name picked out since before I was even pregnant, and Christian insisted on naming the girl after me.

MARIA<frowning>: But her name is Mackenzie…

AG: Her middle name is Anastasia. I drew the line at the first name. One “Anastasia” is enough! <Christian shrugs>

MARIA<laughing>: I see. Well, I can say that they seem to be two well-behaved babies.

<Cut to scenes of Christian playing with Mikey; Keri rocking Minnie to sleep; Anastasia playing an animated game of peek-a-boo with her son; Christian bouncing his daughter on his knee while she laughs gleefully>

AG: I’ll be the first to tell you that my children are blessed. They have a lot of people around them that love them—their mom and dad, two wonderful nannies, their grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, and friends… We have quite the village for these two.

MARIA: You realize that you’ll probably come under scrutiny from traditional moms because of your nannies.

AG: Even traditional moms have babysitters. Mine just happen to live with me. We have two children and there are two of us. We both work, so we need help. Even if we had one child, we’d still need help. You saw the nursery at Helping Hands—my children go to work with me every day. I personally come and feed them at lunchtime and I check on them several times during the day. There’s also a day care at Grey House. So, if I need to spend the day there, my babies can come with me there. My nannies are at my disposal, so if I decide that I want the babies to stay home, they can stay in the comfort of their own space. I won’t allow people to guilt-trip me about having help with my twins when I have such a busy life.

MARIA: Christian, how did you feel about having nannies to help with the children.

CG: I suggested it. While there was a condition with both of us that nannies wouldn’t raise our children, we both agreed that we would need help. It would be unrealistic not to seek that help since we readily had the resources. Mrs. Taylor had already been in my employ for several years and was delighted to help out, and Ms. Illidge has been a friend of the family since before we were married. Her qualifications stem back to before we even met her. Circumstances landed her in our laps and we couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

We get to spend time with our children, watch them grow, love and nurture them without having to worry if they’re in good hands when we’re not around. Make no mistake, my wife and I raise our children. Our nannies are back-up.

MARIA<nodding>: Very well said, Mr. Grey. So, Ana, on the topic of parenting, Ray Steele… he’s adopting you. <Anastasia nods> You’re 28. <She nods again> Why now?

AG: It’s long overdue. My father has done the honorable thing by me for as long as I can remember—even years before. He’s the only father I’ve ever known, and he’s never made me feel unloved or unwanted. Whenever he was able, he was always there for me.

MARIA: Whenever he was able? <Anastasia sighs>

AG: I won’t smear anybody because it’ll get me nowhere, but my father and I were kept apart for a long time. We did what we could to stay in touch, but it was hard.  I know my father. If he had the foresight that he does now, if he had any idea that forever was not really forever, he would have adopted me when I was a child—before all the hardships and nightmares that I suffered because we were forcefully ripped apart and kept from each other.

MARIA: You’re talking about your mother.

AG: I’m talking about my childhood. Daddy adopting me now is closure for us both on so many levels, I can’t begin to explain them all to you. Everybody has their theories and some of them are correct, but the bottom line is that I love my Daddy and he loves me. We just want to make it official.

MARIA: Ray has a son of his own. You’ll have a brother soon.

AG: I already have a brother. The adoption is just a formality.

MARIA NARRATING: As you can see, the Greys have a strong and enviable sense of family. Christian is fiercely loyal to those he loves, and Ana makes it no secret that she’ll go to the wall for the ones she holds dear.

On the flipside of this wholesome, loving family picture is a fearsome twosome with a hidden talent, so to speak. We’re here at the West Coast Armory where Christian and Anastasia have decided to showcase yet another aspect of their personalities. I could easily see Christian in this setting, but I was surprised by what I discovered about Anastasia.

So, here’s this tiny woman in black jeans and a black, long-sleeved muscle shirt with a three-foot ponytail hanging out of a fitted baseball cap looking every bit a miniature SWAT member in safety gear for the shooting range and some of these firearms are bigger than she is.

MARIA: Not that any of us would really understand, Ana, but tell us what you’re working with here.

AG: This is a Mossberg 500, 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun. Now this is normally a pretty big gun…

MARIA: It’s still a pretty big gun compared to you.

AG<laughing>: Well, not as big, because it’s been modified with the Mossberg Flex system. In laymen’s terms, the huge deer hunting stock has been replaced with a pistol grip, the larger barrel swapped out for a shorter barrel and the camo fore-end removed and replaced with this tactical fore-end, which is better used for home defense. Trust me, in its original form, this gun is probably as long as I am tall. Now, the pistol grip takes about four inches off the length of the gun, and it makes it easier to handle. You can hold it comfortably in your hand and shoot from the hip.

A double-barrel does a lot of damage and the recoil can be really insane. I took a dare once and pulled both triggers of a double-barrel when I was about 22 and dislocated my shoulder. Got a pretty nasty cut on my hand, too.

Where a double-barrel allows you to shoot two rounds, you would have to pop out the shells and manually reload. A pump action, on the other hand, allows you to pop out the shell and reload immediately, which is crucial in an emergency. So, more rounds, more opportunities to hit your target, but I rarely miss.

<Cut to scenes of Anastasia in gear and goggles, pumping the Mossberg and hitting the targets every time>

MARIA NARRATING: She’s definitely proficient with this firearm and with others as we discover during the course of the day. Though Christian’s an excellent shot <cut to Christian in goggles firing off his Glock and shredding a target several feet away while Maria continues to narrate>, I was quite stunned to discover that Ana is a more precise marksman than her husband. While he truly decimated his target, enough to strike fear into any aggressor, Ana put twelve rounds nearly perfectly into the same bullet hole.

<Shot of Anastasia standing with feet apart, wearing headphones and goggles and firing her Glock rapidly in front of her>

That’s impressive.

Me, on the other hand, not so much.

<Cut to Maria in gear and Anastasia showing her how to hold and fire the Mossberg>

I’m proud to say that I hit one target, but that was after firing off about nine rounds and taking at least 10 seconds to ‘pump’ the gun after each discharge. I think I’ll leave this to the experts.

<Cut to Anastasia and Maria standing on the open gun range>

MARIA: Now, Ana, with gun violence on the rise, you won’t have immunity from the criticism that you’re promoting acts of violence by glorifying the use of weapons. How do you respond to that?

AG: I can’t be held accountable for the behavior of every gun owner in America. My father is a Marine. He trained me in knife throwing, self-defense, and the proper way to handle and discharge a firearm, as you just saw. I’m responsible with my guns. They’re well-maintained and kept under lock and key when they’re not on my person. I’m adequately licensed to carry my weapons and they’re all legally registered. I’m not contributing to the wretched state of affairs where illegal guns make it into the hands of lunatics or, worse yet, children, and mass or accidental shootings occur.

MARIA: Yes, but what about your children?

AG: What about them? As I said, our firearms are always under lock and key when they’re not on our persons, so my children are in no danger of our guns. And for the record, when they’re of an appropriate age, they’ll learn to shoot, too.

MARIA: There are those who are going to say that the safest gun is no gun at all. Look at the countries who have successfully banned guns or have very strict gun-control laws. Violent deaths in those countries are exponentially lower than here in the United States and sometimes nearly, if not completely, nonexistent.

AG: To be honest with you, Maria, I would love to live in a country and an environment where this wasn’t necessary. I would love to raise my children in a society where they didn’t have to worry about one day having to defend themselves or their home with a deadly, projectile weapon. Unfortunately, I have no intention of moving to the UK, Australia, Japan, or Germany anytime soon. It’s a lovely concept, but unfortunately not feasible for my family at this time. We live in a country where we not only exercise our constitutional right to bear arms, but also—unfortunately—some of us abuse it. I’m not one of those people who abuse that right, and I will not be held accountable for those who do. As for those countries who have successfully implemented gun-control laws—bravo! You got it right. As for America, I don’t know what to say about that. I’m not speaking for the entire country, but in my mind’s eye, I can see law-abiding citizens turning in their firearms while gang members and criminals retain theirs, leaving us vulnerable and defenseless… a country even more gripped in fear than we already are. It would be a 24/7/365 version of The Purge. It’s sad and unfortunate that guns fall into the wrong hands, but I feel that it would be completely counterproductive to remove guns from the right hands, and that’s my opinion.

MARIA: That’s a lovely speech, Ana, but you know that you’re still going to come under fire, don’t you?

AG: Let ‘em come! I use my firearms for recreation on the gun range, or for self-defense, and that’s all. When they see me brandishing my gun in public or using it for any illegal means, then I may feel some conviction from naysayers. In the meantime, I’m exercising my second amendment right to bear arms in America and I apologize, but I’m not going to try to sway to opinions of the portion of viewing public that feels like I shouldn’t be able to do so. When and if America bans guns, I as a law-abiding citizen will turn in my firearms. Until that day, I will continue to take advantage of my right to be a responsible gun owner. Those who don’t like it and want to put me in judgement, c’est la vie, I can’t hear you.

MARIA NARRATING: Very powerful words. And, there you have it. If you’re looking for a scapegoat, you won’t find it here. Mrs. Grey stands firm on her rights and refuses to be held accountable for the unscrupulous acts of others. You have to admire her gumption.

<Back at the Crossing in the family room>

MARIA: So, Christian, I’ll direct this to you. If you wanted one thing to be a major take-away from this segment, what would that one thing be?

CG<sighing heavily>: Good grief, we’ve covered so much, I don’t know that there could be one takeaway.

For starters, it needs to be known that I and my family will no longer be a target, not that we ever were. In terms of our physical well-being, my wife and I are both very well-trained in self-defense. In addition, we are both licensed to carry concealed weapons. This information is only pertinent should you get past the several military-trained men that protect us.

Now, we’ve had other attacks on us—financial, emotional, attacks on our character, things of that nature. These attacks will no longer be tolerated either. In the end, we’re still just people. We just want to live our lives.

I’ve worked hard to become the man that I am. Nobody handed me anything. I didn’t have a trust fund from Daddy to start my business. I had a loan that—like any other businessman—I had to repay, with interest. I took that loan and parlayed it into a billion-dollar corporation and somehow, that’s a bad thing. Well, too bad. I’m sorry that hurts the feelings of people who for whatever reason think I don’t deserve what I have or I owe them something. I owe no one but creditors, the IRS, and my family to take care of them. Know that anybody who comes at me, my family, or anything that I’ve worked for and love, I’m coming back with both barrels loaded.

My wife and I were a chance meeting. We were the last person on each other’s radar. Her formal impression of me was that I was an egotistical, narcissistic bastard and she put that in writing, so let me tell you. If she was trying to woo or trap a billionaire, that’s a very strange way to do it. I’m ashamed to admit that my first intention was to destroy her. As you can see, fate had other plans for us.

Once and for all, she was not ever and never will be a gold-digger. She didn’t “make it big” when she met me. She was financially well-off before she became Anastasia Grey.

Hopefully, this answers those questions of the prying minds and the ignorant, unless you just choose to remain ignorant. And if you see us out having dinner, at the park with our kids, at the grocery store, leave us alone. I’m not the President of the United States and we deserve some kind of little bit of a normal life. I get that you’re curious, but we don’t deserve to be abused because of your fascination.

MARIA: I couldn’t agree more. I have to say that when we first discussed doing this interview, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I mean, you have your theories and so you prepare yourself for what you think may happen, who you think you may meet, or who may be presented to you because everybody has a person or persona that they present to everyone else, but the real part of themselves, they keep private. We often shield the real person from the public, so that you really don’t know who you’re dealing with in front of the camera. But I will have to say that it’s been a pleasure speaking with the two of you, getting to know your family and your children, getting to see what you do on a day to day basis and being able to show the viewing audience that it’s not necessarily what they think. It’s really hard to humanize someone, especially when all you’ve ever seen of them or known of them is dollar signs. When all you know of someone is money, that’s all you see is money—you don’t see the human being.

<Slow motion news clips play of every scene Maria describes>

We saw the protector in full glory carrying his damsel from the hospital, her face shielded by a jacket after she had suffered the brutal beating during her kidnapping.

We can probably name every sacrificial lamb whose career has fallen at Anastasia’s hands.

We were all broken hearted when Christian announced that Anastasia was “the one” at the first press conference we had ever seen him in addressing his personal life.

And each milestone—and heartbreak—since then, we’ve been with you every step of the way… in the trials, with the announcement of the pregnancy, with the Faces of Abuse campaign…

From the fairytale wedding to the mourning of a loss of a patriarch, we’ve all felt your pain, your tears, your happiness and your frustration.

<Cut back to Anastasia and Christian holding their children, and Maria looking into the camera>

So, I humbly thank you very much for allowing me to introduce and present to the world the human beings that are Christian and Anastasia Grey. Thank you, and goodnight.

<Fade to black>


~~love and handcuffs