Raising Grey: Chapter 31—The Importance of Compromise

So, apparently in the last chapter, I made a reference to an episode of the Golden Girls and I confused two episodes. Dorothy was suffering from something else completely when she gave the doctor a piece of her mind in the restaurant, not menopause. Somehow, I thought it was menopause. Hopefully, the point I was trying to make didn’t get lost completely in my faux pas. I should have known that something was wrong when I couldn’t find that episode online, but c’est la vie. Sorry, guys. 

Sorry for the late post… my internet went out last night.

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 31—The Importance of Compromise

ANASTASIA

No one can sulk like Christian Grey.

When that man gets a bug up his butt, he can mope around better than a broken-hearted teenage girl. He walked out of our room last night and I swear, all I could see was a toddler having a temper tantrum. When I awoke this morning, I was alone in our bed and I could tell that he hadn’t slept in it. I don’t have time for his little hissy fits. I meant what I said last night. I won’t allow him to punish me when I feel that I’ve done nothing wrong and he’s just going to have to find some other way to deal with that.

I shower and get dressed then go down to the kitchen where I find my husband at the breakfast bar already conducting business over a cup of coffee and nearly-finished breakfast.

“Well, something’s not right with the numbers and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see it. You and Lorenz can look at them and tell me what you come up with. I’ve been mulling over them for weeks. Maybe they just need a fresh eye.”

Another merger with a hidden glitch. It seems quite a few companies have been trying to pull one over on GEH lately. I can’t help but wonder why.

“Well, I’ll be in the office shortly. I’ll send you the link to the latest financials on the network…”

What? He’s going into the office? We’ve got all kinds of shit to discuss for this interview this weekend and Grace is coming home right after lunch.

“Good morning,” I say, once he has ended his call. He raises his gaze to me.

“Good morning,” he responds, and it’s hard to get a read on him.

“We’ve got quite a bit that we should be doing today,” I say, somewhat questioning.

“I know,” he replies. “Everything that needs to be done will get done.” He bottoms out his coffee and stands from the breakfast bar, typing something into his blackberry. He’s… stoic or impassive or something… not cold, just… not really there.

“So… what is it? If I don’t let you whip me when you want to whip me, I get the cold shoulder or whatever this is?” I accuse. Christian raises his gaze to the ceiling and sighs before bringing his eyes to me.

“I need you to understand something about me, Anastasia,” he says, his voice low. “I am a Dominant. That’s the person that I was when you met me. That’s the person that you fell in love with and who fell in love with you. Last night, you told me that I couldn’t be that person. You had your reasons, you explained them, and I had no choice but to accept them. Right now, I’m trying to deal with that. So, forgive me if I’m not Perfect Husband Christian fawning all over his Butterfly while I’m dealing with it!” I frown deeply.

“Are you telling me that if I choose not to allow you to punish me because I feel that I don’t deserve it, this is what I have to deal with?” I inquire. “You walking around being sullen and surly like a child who just lost their favorite toy?” He turns to face me, pulled up to his full height, and I have to concentrate not to feel slightly intimidated by him at this moment.

“Anastasia,” he begins, his voice still low and commanding, “at the risk of sounding juvenile, you did take away my favorite toy. You eliminated my most reliable coping mechanism. I tried the normal alternative measures—I ran to China on that treadmill, then I beat the hell out of your heavy bag until I thought the hooks would come out of the ceiling and floor. The installers did an excellent job, by the way. I pondered spending time with my piano, but I could see myself destroying the keys out of pure frustration. I’ve done that once—I didn’t want to do it again. So, I stayed in the gym until my muscles burned, then I spent some time in the hot tub. Now, I’m going into the office to do some work and when it’s time to go see Mom, I’ll come back here and ride to Belleville with the rest of the family like we discussed.”

“Just like everything’s fine,” I say, a statement, not a question. His face doesn’t change even though his tone does slightly.

“You can’t have it both ways, Ana,” he replies. “I’m still wired like a meth addict, my only restraint coming from the incessant ache in my legs and arms. I’m going to focus on that and on my work so that I don’t focus on my total lack of control, here. Then, I’m going to turn my focus to my mother and the very serious issue that’s facing her and our family so that I don’t turn the focus on me. Currently, that’s what I have to offer.

“I can understand and even empathize with how you felt last night. That’s the new Christian. That’s the guy that can take ‘no’ for an answer. The one that can’t—the one that’s in my head standing in a playroom with a whip in one hand and a flogger in the other waiting for me to give in to my primal urges—yeah, he’s still there. He’s still waiting for me to do something to regain control of an apparently uncontrollable situation. So, while kinder, gentler Christian is trying to persuade cooler heads to prevail, Neanderthal Christian is fighting tooth and nail taunting us all to ‘grow a pair.’”

He pauses and closes his eyes, takes a deep cleansing breath and releases it. When he opens them again, slate gray eyes fix on me and freeze me to the spot.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend a few hours at Grey House this morning. You may want to check in at Helping Hands. I’ll see you back here at lunch.” He leans down and kisses me on the cheek before turning around and walking towards the mudroom.

Jesus. What do I do with that? He clearly doesn’t hate me. He’s not even angry with me. It appears that he totally understands how I felt last night and why I felt that way. He’s just having a rough time dealing with it. Shit, I can’t say that I like this Christian any more than I like “punish me whenever he feels like it” Christian. There’s got to be some kind of middle ground, and I guess it’s going to be up to me to find it.

*-*

“Well, hello, darling. I was surprised to hear from you with such urgency. Is everything alright?”

I took Christian’s advice and ducked into Helping Hands very quickly to check on the status of things and make sure that the structure was still intact. Everything was running as smoothly as could be expected with both leaders currently out of commission, so to speak, but once the staff was given a general idea of what was happening, they all rallied to make sure that operations continue as usual. Jesse, Courtney, and key volunteers and workers all have me on speed dial in case there’s a need for me to rush back to the center, and I make a mental note to check in on John and his family sometime in the next few days if Christian hasn’t called him already.

“Thanks for seeing me on such short notice.” After my brief conversation with Christian this morning, I knew that I needed to speak with someone that understands the mind of a Dominant. Christian and I met Michelangelo and his partner, Wolfgang, at a BDSM club a couple of years ago. That’s not Michel’s real name, but it’s just easier to remember. He doesn’t bother calling me Stacey anymore since everyone in the Seattle area knows who the hell I am.

“I’m in desperate need of some advice,” I tell him.

“Intimate advice, I take it,” he says, gesturing me to the back of his store. He’s a holistic apothecary, and I make it a point to look around the shop at some of the natural remedies before I leave.

“Yes, but don’t let me forget to grab some essential oils before I leave.”

“Oooo,” he says, shimmying his shoulders, “I’ll put together some yummy concoctions for you, my dear. My own special formulas. Now, step into my office and tell me what’s ailing you today.”

Michel’s office is an envious thing of beauty and is making me completely rethink my workspace at home. It’s glass on three sides, one of those sides being a set of double doors that open onto a gorgeous deck. The other two sides are floor to ceiling windows that look out onto large trees and stunning landscaping, with retractable shades to cover the windows at night. There is minimal furniture in the room—an aluminum frame desk with a white surface and matching rolling desk chair and two very comfortable brown sitting chairs with ottomans and a glass end table between them.

“Have a seat, darling. Let’s chat.” He gestures me to one of the comfortable chairs while he takes the other. I fill him in on the basics of the situation without getting into too much detail, just that I feel that I didn’t deserve to be punished and the basic reasons why, but that the Dominant in my husband is battling with the lack of control.

“I’m not trying to change who he is and I certainly want to be what he needs,” I confess, “but I won’t compromise myself or my principles to do that.”

“As well you shouldn’t, my dear,” Michel agrees. “The fact that Christian understands that speaks volumes. Most Doms really get set in their ways and they must regain that control by any means necessary.”

“Michel, Christian is that man,” I tell him. “He won’t abuse me, and I can always safeword and end any scene or any situation, but…” I trail off, thinking of two specific punishment fucks that left me feeling like a piece of meat. Then, there was the spanking in the shower, but he took a severe punishment following that… that’s another story, though.

“Ana?” Michel says cautiously. “You haven’t… been raped, have you?” I shake my head and frown deeply.

“No!” I protest fervently—not by my husband anyway. “No, of course not! It’s just… Christian’s presence and authority over you is… powerful. If you plan to challenge him, you had better be armored. There are times when I’m not, when I’m not so certain about how I feel about a scene until after it happens. By then, my feelings are all conflicted and when we talk about it, there’s often a problem.”

“But… you talk about it,” he interjects.

“Well, yeah, we always talk about it. Sometimes, we even talk about it with our therapists.”

“My God, you two are one of the most functional couples I’ve ever met!” he exclaims.” I scoff.

“Yeah… no. We’re still working on it,” I correct him.

“What do you think functional means?” he says. “Do you think anybody out here has it all together? If they tell you that they do or even lead you to believe that they do, they’re lying through their teeth! You’re going to be working on that relationship until the day you die, especially a BDSM relationship. Anybody out there who tells you that they have the perfect Dom or that their Master hasn’t or would never hurt them, they’re full of shit! That’s how the hell they know what they don’t like and won’t tolerate. It’s a constant learning experience, even for seasoned Dominants and submissives. And you said therapists. Plural. That means that the two of you have the good sense to know that you can’t both see the same person, am I correct?” I raise my eyebrows at him.

“Correct,” I say slowly.

“And you have the good sense to know that even though you are a shrink, you still need one,” he adds. “Like I said, the most functional couple I’ve ever seen in my life, and don’t let anybody convince you otherwise. Anything that you’re going through, it’s all growing pains. You’re going to have them—sometimes worse than others, and you’re never going to stop growing. Have you had your big breakup yet?”

“Yes,” I answer, thinking about my trip to Montana.

“While you were married?” I frown at him.

“That’s not going to happen. Christian won’t let me out of his sight.” It’s Michel’s turn to scoff.

“Don’t count on it,” he says. “You two are going to be together for 100 years and sometime during that hundred years, you’re going to have a big breakup. It won’t be the end of the world. It’ll just feel like it. Don’t let it destroy you.” I shiver at the thought of breaking up with my husband. I can’t even imagine it.

“You sound like you speak from experience,” I lament.

“I do, my love. Now, let’s get back to your problem, ‘cuz this won’t be that time…” Michel crosses his legs and turns to face me. “Your husband has spent his adult life being a Dominant while you’ve only spent a fraction of your adult life being a submissive. You’ve found yourself in different facets of life beginning at a very early age. I don’t know the whole tale of how both of you became the people that you are, but I know that much from what you’ve already told me.

“What you’ve learned about being a sub, you’ve only learned from him. He has a very structured and practiced routine for what he does and what he’s learned about the lifestyle. He’s been adjusting himself over the course of time to fit around you. Now, he’s been forced to make another adjustment—the adjustment to no—one that he’s probably never or rarely had to contend with before. This has just been thrust upon him out of nowhere and he’s not going to deal with it very well. You’ve come to the right conclusion that there has to be a middle ground.

“Right now, he’s asking himself if he can be a husband and a dominant. Although he’s not questioning his role as your husband, make no mistake that those two roles are battling—challenging one another to the degree that he’s suppressing his natural urges. One is going to win, and whichever one does, it won’t be pretty, because the other is still fighting.”

I figured as much. In fact, he basically said as much.

“You, my dear, are the lion tamer,” he says. “You have to find the balance between the two. You married the beast—you knew that, and you accepted that. Now, you have to tame it, help him find the natural balance between the husband and the Dom. You know him better than anyone—anyone, Ana. So, the first thing you must do is trust your instincts.” He entwines his fingers in his lap. “I need you to relax and think. Take a few deep breaths for me…”

I do what he tells me to do. I listen to his voice and focus on my breathing until I’m calm and relaxed.

“Now, open your eyes… tell me about your man.”

“He’s… sexy,” I say. “I want to say it’s the first thing I noticed about him…”

“What’s the first thing you noticed about him?”

“That he was hot… and quiet… and his striking eyes,” I say, recalling the day that he commanded the attention of every woman in the room at the community center and arrogantly ordered that I just call him “Grey.”

“Okay, and then what?”

“He exercised his dominance on me immediately, but it didn’t work. It made me resent him.” Michel raised his eyebrows at me.

“It did?” I nodded. “How did you become his submissive?”

“We had an attraction that we couldn’t fight, and we gave in to our primal urges. Then… we talked. He confessed his involvement in BDSM, and I told him about my brief studies in college and my curiosity of the lifestyle. We agreed to see where it took us and here we are.”

“So, it’s pretty much been touch-and-go since then,” he deduces. I nod.

“Like you said, everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from him… or from you, from college… outside studies… nothing as intense as what he knows.”

“And you’re still learning,” Michel adds. I shrug.

“I guess I am,” I conclude. Michel sighs.

“Darling, you’re just dabblin’ in submission. You’ve barely scratched the surface. If he’s having this much problem with you introducing ‘no’ to punishments and playtime, you two really need to talk about where you want to be in the lifestyle. Right now, though, you need to get him back on balance, even if it’s only in perception, because he’s spinning out of control—but trust me. That conversation needs to happen sooner rather than later.” I nod.

“You said that he spoke of the girl he fell in love with,” Michel continues. “You’re going to want to reach back and find her. You’re going to want to let him know that she’s still there, but not lose the person that you’ve become in the process. You’re also going to want to tap into the Dom that attracted you—allow him in without the punishment. Cede him the control that he craves without totally relinquishing the reins of that principle that you’re holding fast to. He must respect your input. He has to understand that although he is the husband and Dominant, he also needs to know when to exercise restraint.

“Every situation doesn’t warrant discipline, and sometimes, as Doms, we may forget that, particularly in the heat of the moment. You need to bring him back to his position—gently—without appearing to top from the bottom. It’s going to be difficult, but not impossible. Once he’s there, you need to introduce your concerns to him in a way that he understands—in a manner that says that you are not defying him, but that you need him to recognize how you feel; that even punishments administered to children are ineffectual if the child thinks they aren’t warranted.”

God, that’s so simple. Last night, I simply refused to be punished—which I know was within my rights, but now I can see I guess there was a better way.

“So, darling, let’s get you in the right place to get your Dom back…”

*-*

I spend several more minutes talking to Michel before Chuck and I head back to the Crossing. I have an hour before the family is due to meet here for lunch before we go to Grey Manor. I’m hoping Christian will wait until the last minute before he comes home. I spend exactly fifteen minutes meditating in a steaming bath of essential oils mixed for me by Michel, a combination of neroli and sandalwood with a touch of ylang ylang. I don’t use any perfume—just a touch of the neroli behind each ear, on each wrist, and down my décolletage.

Agent Provocateur lace demi-bra, matching panties, garters, and of course—black stockings… with thick thigh panels.

I close my eyes and remember the simple Ana from a few years ago who loved the knockoff fashions high-heeled shoes and immediately remember Audrey Hepburn and her little black cocktail dress… Sabrina

I go to the back of my closet and locate my 50s retro vintage black Rockabilly dress with cap sleeves, pleated bodice, sweetheart neckline and A-line silhouette—reminiscent of the throwback dresses that I used to wear when Christian and I first met, only not so tight. I’m pleased that even though my hips are bigger than they once were, my torso is small enough to fit my pre-pregnancy clothes. I guess Vee was right. No need to lose any weight for the interviews, I guess.

I wasn’t careful with my hair in the bath, and the ends got wet. I don’t have time to do anything glamourous with it, so I meticulously braid it in a loose tuxedo braid and use a jeweled butterfly clip on the end to keep it from unraveling. For a quick hairstyle, it looks good.

No makeup—just my tinted moisturizer and soft pink lip gloss with a touch of brown eyeliner. And now, jewelry. I go into my dressing room and open my jewelry box. Chanel… Cartier… no. I open the little box next to it that has been all but forgotten since I’ve been married, the one that holds Ana Steele’s costume jewelry. I see the perfect things—my Kramer clear pave rhinestone gold-tone vintage necklace and matching earrings. The earrings resemble three petals of a four-leaf clover and the necklace looks like the same petals circling my neck. Very pretty and timely for the dress. I find one pair of plain black stilettos, figuring that I must have gotten rid of the rest when I migrated to Louboutins. They’re still in good shape. These will have to do.

I examine myself in the three-way mirror of my dressing room and see the old Ana reflected back at me. I’m very pleased. I feel a small sense of pride that I was able to find the woman that I was before and still maintain the woman that I’ve become. I see them both in my reflection. Can I be both women for the rest of the day?

I’m surprised to find that I’ve only used forty-five minutes of the hour that I had left before the family is due to meet at the Crossing. After I peek in on my sleeping children, I take my purse and a plain black wrap down to the dining room to wait for everyone to arrive.

Elliot and Val are the first to get to the table after I take my seat. I’m clearing emails from my iPhone and responding to messages from Andrea and Marilyn about things that are being set up for the interview this weekend. I’ve heard nothing from Christian all morning.

“Wow. Steele. Were we supposed to dress up? You look great,” Valerie says as she takes her seat.

“Yeah, Montana, I didn’t get the memo. Is this a formal affair?” Elliot teases. I force a smile.

“Oh, you know me,” I say, waving them off. “I just… felt like pulling something out.”

“That’s from the vintage collection,” Val observes. “I haven’t seen one of those dresses since our days at the condo.”

“Yeah,” I say, downplaying the situation. “Like I said, just felt like pulling something out.” I shrug.

“Are we late?” Mia and Ethan breeze into the room.

“Nope, you’re right on time,” Val says, rising to kiss Mia on the cheek. Ethan and Elliot shake hands and fall into quick conversation.

“Hey, Anakins. Nice dress,” Mia says. “Vintage?” Oh, good grief.

“Yep. An oldie, but goodie,” I say, nonchalantly, looking into the kitchen and silently begging the staff to bring lunch.

“Where’s Christian?” Ethan asks.

“Probably wrapping up some big merger as usual,” Elliot says. “Did he say he was going to be late, Montana?”

No, he didn’t. In fact, he hasn’t said shit to me all morning.

“No, he’ll probably be along soon,” I say, looking at my phone and scrolling through my text. “Maybe we should just get started.” I look at Ms. Solomon and she nods.

We’re halfway through lunch, discussing how we plan to approach the meeting with Grace and Carrick when I finally get a text from my husband that he’s leaving Grey House and will be home in a few minutes. I sigh heavily and roll my eyes.

“Well, whatever huge merger has kept Mr. Grey from our company has finally been settled,” I say. “He should be here shortly.”

“Geez, that man and his empire,” Ethan says. “I guess nothing comes easy, huh?”

“No good thing, anyway,” I say with a shrug. “If you all will excuse me, I’m going to check on my babies before we have to leave.” I smile and leave the table. Waiting for Christian to arrive and playing the happy hostess while shielding questions about my style of dress was a bit too much for my psyche. I’m trying to stay grounded in my purpose and it’s hard to do while wondering why my husband couldn’t bother to join us for lunch like he was supposed to.

“They’ve been fed already?” I ask when I come into the room. Gail and Keri each have one of the children in their arms.

“Yes,” Keri says. “This little one is almost asleep again.” She shows me a droopy-eyed Minnie and I kiss her on her little forehead.

“This little soldier is fighting. He has no intention of succumbing to the Sandman,” Gail says.

“Let me have him,” I say, holding my arms out for my little prince. Gail gives me my son and he raises his blue-gray eyes to me. We still don’t know whose eyes each child is going to have as they are both blue-gray and maybe they’ll stay that way, though Minnie clearly has her father’s hair color while Mikey sports a wild mop of brown locks.

“So, you’re being defiant, too, are you?” I ask my son as he stares wide-eyed at me. They’ve only been awake for about forty minutes. Maybe he’s just not ready to go back to sleep. Maybe he wants to see the world and explore things. I lay him down on his back on his mat and get on the floor with him.

“Ana!” Gail scolds. “You’re getting on the floor in that dress?”

“I’ll be fine,” I say, waving her off.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” she says with a smile as she leaves the room. I turn my attention back to Mikey.

“Hey, little man. Whatcha doin’?” Mikey coos at me as I tickle his little belly. I retrieve his hollow plastic football and playfully touch it to his nose, eliciting a laugh from him. I hold it high in front of his face, drawing his attention to the bright blue and green colors before bringing it back down to his waiting hands.

“Touchdown!” I exclaim playfully and he grasps the ball with both hands and giggles gleefully. He coos and blubbers and rolls on his mat, and I continue to engage him as if we are having the most interesting conversation of all time. He reaches for his rings and brightly colored toys and I praise him for being such a good boy. Time passes mindlessly while I play with my precious little prince and before I know it, Gail has returned to retrieve me, informing me that Christian has arrived and the family is ready to go to Grey Manor. I almost dread leaving the solace of the nursery and my cooing infant to face my brooding husband and the tasks ahead, but what must be done must be done.

I rise from the floor, bringing Mikey with me and handing him off to Gail after kissing his chubby pink cheeks and telling him that I love him. I check my clothes and leave the nursery to join the family downstairs.

Everyone is in the grand entry when I exit the nursery to the second-floor landing. I descend the stairs, watching my feet so that I don’t take a spill and go to the dining room to get my wrap and purse. I come back to the grand entry placing my wrap on my shoulders.

“Everything okay?” Val asks.

“Yeah, I think my son is trying to start a rebellion,” I reply with mirth, imagining my son set to become the quarterback for the Seahawks. I pull my braid from under the wrap while still trying to adjust it.

“I thought that would be Minnie,” Mia says.

“No,” I say, retrieving my lip gloss from my purse and touching up my lips. “From the looks of things, she’s going to sleep through it.” I put my gloss away and finally raise my eyes to the group… and Christian is staring at me.

“You changed,” he says. I try not to react.

“Yeah,” I say, and nothing else.

“Uuuhh, let’s get going,” Ethan says, breaking the long silence. Everyone else moves towards the door, but Christian waits for me. I take a few steps and he places his hand in the small of my back and leads me out the door. I try to suppress the small shiver that I feel as he guides me to the portico and over to one of the waiting Audis. Jason opens the door for me and I slide into the seat, placing my hands demurely on my lap until they close it behind me. I quickly attach my seatbelt and smooth my dress before Christian gets to the other side of the car, placing my hands back in my lap. We’re in the converted Audi with the seats that face us, and Val and Elliot ride with us. I’m silent for the first half of the ride, my eyes trained on my hands clasped in my lap. I can hear Christian and Elliot talking, but I’m not really paying attention to what they’re saying. My mind is wandering to bits of the conversation that I had earlier with Michel, about bringing myself back to who I was without losing who I am and also finding a middle ground for my husband…

“Are you okay, Steele?” Val says. My head jerks up.

“Hm?” I say. “Yes. I’m… just… thinking about our meeting with Carrick and Grace.” It’s a sorry excuse, I know, but it’s all I’ve got. Christian reaches over and covers my clasped hands with his. My eyes fall to our joined hands. His thumb strokes my skin and I say nothing else for the rest of the ride.

When we get to the Manor, Christian quickly gets out of the car. I stall a bit, but not conspicuously, pretending to have trouble undoing my seatbelt. Sure enough, he appears on my side of the car to open my door and reaches in to take my hand and help me out of the car. This doesn’t go unnoticed by my best friend and sister, who gives me a coy smile, but I pretend not to notice. If she has any idea what I’m doing, then she knows why I can’t respond to her.

Carrick greets us at the door and he looks a little more rested than he did yesterday. He hugs each of the women and shakes the hands of each of the men.

“She’s going to be a bit reserved,” he says. “It’s the medication. She’s a completely different person than who she was before she went into the hospital. Still Gracie, but nowhere near as wound as she was before.”

Everyone is silent as we walk into the house to greet Grace. She’s in the great room, sitting comfortably on one of the sofas. She’s wearing a comfortable pair of slacks and a long-sleeved shirt, most likely to cover the scar on her arm.

“Come on in, children,” she says. “I don’t bite.” I’m the first to enter the room and kiss her on the cheek.

“How are you feeling, Grace?” I ask.

“Much better now,” she says, with a smile. Carrick takes a seat next to her and the rest of her children begin to file in and greet her. I stand and wait for everyone to hug and kiss her and begin to take their seats. Christian takes my hand and guides me over to the second sofa. I sit when he gestures for me to sit.

“So, I’m sure you all have already talked and you know what’s going on,” Grace says.

“Yes, Mom. We know,” Christian says.

“So, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s serious enough that some things have to change…”

The conversation goes a lot smoother than I expected. I thought that Grace would protest a lot more than she did. I also thought her children—particularly her sons—would hold back their feelings more, but they’re very open with how this situation affected them and what they expect from their mother while she’s going through her ordeal. Mia and Carrick both put their feet down that she’s off wedding duty, not only because it’s too stressful, but also because she got completely carried away. She insists, however, that the wedding not be postponed, and she agrees that she’s truly in no mindset to handle any of the preparations. Mia scolds her a bit for the outrageous plans that she made and told her that her one duty would be to call that wedding planner and tell her that if she didn’t listen to Mia and withdraw what Mia asked of her that she would be sued. Grace agrees to do that one task and then wash her hands of all things wedding.

Including the Hammerstones.

“Christian, I can’t tell you how sorry I am for how badly I behaved in terms of Janise and Marvin. I have no excuse really. I don’t know how to make up for it…”

“It’s done, Mom,” Christian says. “That’s guy’s a real asshole and there’s just nothing that can be done about that. I’ll take joy in the fact that I won’t have to break bread with him at my sister’s wedding.” Grace smiles.

“I’m very happy that you can forgive me, son. Now… Ana…”

“Please… don’t…” I say, putting my hands up. “There’s way too much. It wasn’t you, I know it wasn’t…”

“Ana, do you realize what you’ve done for this family?” Grace interrupts me. “What you mean to this family? You’re remarkable… There are times when I just don’t know what we would have done without you…” Her voice cracks on the last two words and Carrick puts his arm around his wife. “I just… I don’t know what to say… Thank you is not enough. There’s so much that you are to us. So much that you mean to us. Don’t ever forgot that. Please, don’t ever forget that!” Her voice fades into tears and Christian squeezes my hand once again.

“I won’t forget it, Grace,” I say softly, trying to offer her some comfort.

“No more crying now, Gracie,” Carrick says, gently wiping his wife’s cheeks with his thumb. Grace nods as her husband reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handkerchief, handing it to his wife.

“Now,” she says, dabbing at her eyes, “tell me about the Center. Is everything okay?”

“Nope. Too soon,” Carrick protests. Grace frowns at him.

“You can’t take everything away from me,” Grace retorts. “I’ll lose my mind. You heard what the doctor said. I have to stay as normal as possible.” Carrick narrows his eyes.

“Fine. Helping Hands and the hospital. No more for now. Charities only as I see fit. If I see things becoming too much, I reserve the right to pull the plug—no questions asked.” Grace smiles.

“Yes, Cary,” she says sweetly. He rolls his eyes.

“It’s only because I love you,” he adds.

“I know, Cary,” she says. He pulls her close to him, forgetting that they’re in a room full of their children and their significant others.

“When is the last time we’ve had a vacation?” Carrick asks.

“It’s been a while,” Grace responds.

“We should rectify that.”

“Maybe we should.”

Should we invite Luma and Herman?” Carrick suggests. Grace ponders the thought.

“It’s a nice gesture, but I think it should be just the two of us.” Carrick raises his eyebrows, and now I’m certain he’s forgotten that they’re not alone in the room.

“Bermuda? Brazil?” he suggests.

“Saint Lucia!” Grace concludes, raising her eyebrows, and they kiss.

Then Elliot clears his throat.


CHRISTIAN

We spend the evening at my parents’ house having dinner and talking things through about how we’re going to handle Mom’s condition. None of us would have ever thought that Mom going through menopause would be a family operation, but we didn’t think it would affect her so drastically either.

And Butterfly.
Good God, Butterfly!

Something about her is making me feel fucking primal!

Not like caveman primal, but kind of… and, maybe a little protective or… something, I don’t know.

She’s wearing this dress. She looks like something straight out of Mad Men—like you want to show her off to the world like, “Look what I got,” but you want to walk behind her with a club and tell everybody to stay the fuck away! And she’s giving off this smell—it’s not a perfume. It’s not the coconut or the other fragrance—vanilla? Cinnamon? I don’t remember, but it’s not either of those, either. Whatever it is, I can resist the urge to jump her, but I just want to bury my nose in her neck.

And she’s quiet. Her words are economical. She says just enough to be sociable, to get her point across and no more. She’s demure… and she seems… subservient… submissive…

But… not overkill.

She’s fucking perfect.

Good God, that playroom fucker is standing there sneering at me, smiling a satisfied grin with his arms folded and his legs crossed at the ankles, but I haven’t punished her and I don’t plan to, so what’s the deal?

I glance over at her sitting in the large chair by the fireplace holding a half empty glass of champagne. One leg is crossed over the other, showing off her beautiful calves while her skirt modestly covers both knees. The structured bodice of her dress holds her luscious breasts together in a very flattering sweetheart neckline. Vintage jewelry captures the light of the fireplace and an alluring braid—similar to the ones my submissives used to wear in the playroom, but much more elegant—falls down her back, held in place at the end by a jeweled hairpiece. She’s lost in thought as the fire dances in her eyes, and she looks like a perfect painting of a sophisticate in a French bistro somewhere.

“I think it’s time we should be going,” I announce, anxious to get this creature alone if for no other reason but to gaze on her beauty in private. Nearly everyone responds with movement, standing and nodding and the like. From the corner of my eye, I can see Butterfly place her champagne glass on the side table, put both feet on the floor, smooth her dress and sit up straight. I can’t help but turn my gaze to her.

Her eyes slightly downcast, not by much, but I can tell. Her skirt falls slightly off the edge of the seat. She’s not completely there—but she’s almost there… almost…

Submissive position three.

My chest feels like it’s going to explode. That playroom fucker is laughing out loud and dancing a goddamn jig. I have to get her out of here. I must be alone with her. It takes every bit of my control to casually walk over to her and extend my hand to her. I know that’s what she’s waiting for. She rises effortlessly from her seat, one smooth movement. I tuck her hand in my elbow, then put my finger under her chin.

“Look at me,” I command softly. She raises her eyes only a bit and looks at me through her lashes. “Let’s go home.”

The ride home is silent again as I draw circles in Butterfly’s skin. I can feel the gooseflesh rising, if only slightly, and I wonder what she’s anticipating. Elliot and Valerie sit silently across from us, neither of them making eye-contact with either of us. When we get home, they quickly say their goodnights and scurry up to their room. I, on the other hand, take my wife hand and lead her to the elevator and down to the bar.

I help her into one of the barstools and then walk behind the bar. I turn on the sound system and Slo Mo start to sing something very vulgar about fucking and making love. I keep the music low. I only want it in the background. I pour us both a brandy before I slide into the barstool next to her, facing her. We sit silently for long moments and I just examine her as I sip my brandy. She sits perfectly still, her legs crossed and dangling from the high stool, both hands wrapped around the brandy snifter, her eyes slightly downcast. The song is nearly over before I speak.

“Talk to me,” I say, my voice deep, barely above a whisper. She swallows hard.

“I…” Her voice is breathy.

“Drink,” I command her. She takes a small sip of her brandy. “Again,” I say. She takes a larger sip, then closes her eyes as she swallows the liquid. “That’s better. Now, talk to me.” She takes a deep breath.

“I… don’t want you to lose who you are,” she says softly.

“Okay,” I reply.

“I don’t want to lose who I am, either,” she adds.

“I understand that,” I concur.

“It’s important to me that… when we find ourselves at an impasse that… we find somewhere that we can meet… in the middle.” She swallows hard.

“That’s a good idea,” I agree. “So, how do you suggest we do that?”

“I’m not completely sure,” she admits, “but I thought that remembering where we came from would be a good start.” I slide from my barstool and close the space between us.

“A very good start,” I reply, trying not to growl. Her breath catches in her throat. “Take a drink.” She takes another drink of her brandy and places the snifter back on the bar.

“You once told me that we would know what roles we needed to assume,” she says without raising her eyes.

“I did,” I confirm, standing very close to her. She takes a deep breath, then asks,

“Does that go both ways?” I examine her for a brief moment.

“Elaborate,” I command softly.

“When you first said that, I assumed that you meant… that we would know when to submit…” She pauses.

“Yes?” I coax.

“Does that also mean that… we would know when not to dominate?”

I can tell that she’s extremely nervous, that she wants her concerns to be heard, but she’s trying to maintain a delicate balance between my dominance and her submission. I have no idea how she could have possibly known this is what was needed to address what’s happening between us… could it have been her human sexuality studies? Did she reach back into her years of schooling and tap into her hidden knowledge to find the solution to our issue? Did she talk to Ace? Or Dr. Baker? Someone in the lifestyle?

I slide my hand around her waist, holding firmly to the structured torso of her dress. I love to feel her in clothes like this—restrained, like corsets. I note the fragrance that’s been wafting from her all night and I still can’t place it, but it tantalizes my senses now that I’m closer to her. Is it in her hair? I think it might be. I caress her waist with one hand, resisting the urge to pull her against my body, maintaining the controlled tone of my voice.

“Why do you think I stopped myself last night?” I say, trying to find the words to explain my actions. “For the first time, you told me before a scene began that you didn’t see cause for being punished. Every other time, you’ve waited until after the scene was over—often until the next day and sometimes, not saying anything until you were prompted. This time, you made it very clear that you didn’t want it. You didn’t see cause for it and you were not accommodating it, no matter what I said or did. I had no other choice but to respect and adhere to that, but the man that I am—the Dominant that I am—left me with no recourse. It was a physical and a mental thing and I just had to find a way to deal with it.

“We were on completely different ends of the spectrum. I was at a total loss of control and I felt like your actions and your decisions were the reason for that loss of control. You, on the other hand, felt totally different. I have no idea who was right and who was wrong, or even if there was a right or a wrong, and because I still haven’t completely regained my control, I still don’t know the answer to that conundrum. All I know is that if you say, ‘no,’ if you tell me that I can’t touch you in that way all the way to the point of telling me that you will safeword, I can’t do it.”

For the first time—or maybe the second—since lunchtime, she raises wide, blue eyes to mine without permission.

“I didn’t say that you couldn’t touch me,” she protests, her voice soft, but urgent. I gently cup her cheek with my free hand.

“Ana, you told me that you would safeword if I needed you to. Was I supposed to fuck you with that in the back of my head?” I ask. She drops her gaze again.

“So… the threat or mention of a safeword is the same as safewording,” she deduces.

“I’m afraid so,” I confirm. She nods without raising her gaze. I give in to my urges and pull her against my body, pushing my body between her legs, her softness melting against my hardness. I lean down, bury my nose in her neck, and inhale deeply, allowing her scent to incite my libido.

“What is that smell?” I ask, unable to stand the suspense anymore.

“Um, it’s… bath oil…” she hesitates. I gathered that much. “It’s a combination… sandalwood and… something with orange in it…” she says breathily. Yes, I do recognize those scents. I turn my lips to her neck and taste her skin. She feels so small and vulnerable in my hands and I hold her tight against my body as my lips and tongue explore her throat. I feel her pulse quicken as her hands rise to my forearms.

“Hands down!” I demand, my face still buried in her neck, and her arms fall immediately to her sides. Her reaction feeds my primitive possessiveness—my need to own her completely. The exercise in control not to ravage her right here and now is painful and titillating at the same time. I wrap her ridiculously long braid around my hand and pull hard. Her breath catches in her throat as her head jerks back violently, exposing her alabaster neck to my ravenous bites and sucks. I groan deep in my chest as I bruise her tender skin with my teeth and lips. I’m fucking starving for her.

I kiss up her neck and up her jaw, then bite her chin until I’m looking down into her eyes.

“What am I going to do with you?” I growl, because at this moment, I really don’t know. I’m caught between the Master who wanted to punish her last night, and Sir who just wants to dominate her now… the one she’s submitting to—consciously or subconsciously, she’s submitting… fully and completely, and I want to ravage this sexy little body in all sorts of rude ways…

But I really don’t want to punish her anymore.

“Whatever you see fit, I would imagine,” she breathes. “I trust you… Sir.”

And my entire body hardens for her.

“Have you voiced all of your concerns, Mrs. Grey?” I say, just above a whisper

“I…” she pants, barely able to contain her anticipation, or arousal, or whatever she’s feeling, “I would like to know how I should handle… this situation in the future… should it arise again…” And it will. She’s so breathless, she can barely speak. This is when I must remember that I must temper my need for control and obedience with tenderness and understanding; my role as a Dominant with my role as a husband.

“That would be the time when you would respectfully request the right to speak frankly to Sir, even if your emotions or temper may be high,” I instruct her while gently stroking her cheek. “While it’s imperative that I understand and respect your needs, feelings, and state of mind, I need the same consideration from you. If you are averse to an activity for any reason, that needs to be addressed immediately. Likewise, if I’m in full Dom mode and you safeword, it’s the equivalent of a fighter jet being shot out of the sky. There’s no other comparison for it. It’s a total crash-and-burn. Do you see how detrimental that is?” She nods. “Are we on the same page with that?” She nods again.

“We are,” she says. “I understand, Sir.”

I can tell that she does understand, but there’s still regret in her eyes from the distance that was put between us, or my description of how I had to cope with her denial, I’m not sure. Either way…

“Open,” I whisper. She pauses only for a beat, then opens her mouth. I slide my tongue inside and around, exploring and tasting, but never closing my lips over hers, licking and tasting, gazing into her deep, blue eyes and sharing a sensual kiss that I first shared with her when I retrieved her after that ordeal with Edward David… a kiss that I’ve only ever shared with her. She recognizes our kiss and her tongue massages mine as her breath skips and she struggles not to close her eyes.

Don’t close your eyes, Butterfly. Stay with me…

I gaze at her as I continue to taste her lips, tongue, and mouth in our special way. Her eyes become heavy-lidded and I watch as the last of her resistance falls away. She’s completely mine now. I grip her hips and pull her roughly to the end of the stool, lifting her leg around my hip and grinding my erection into her soft core. We’re in the community area and someone could walk in at any moment, but I don’t care. It’s my house, and I’ll fuck her wherever I damn well please.

My hand travels under her dress and up her thigh. When I feel the bare skin of her thigh and realize that she’s wearing stockings and garters, the horny little man in me loses all control. I bruise her lips with searing kisses and use dexterous fingers to undo the suspenders on the leg wrapped around my hip. I only need to release one of them.

Control yourself, Grey. Don’t rip the damn panties.

I celebrate inwardly when the front and back fasteners release and I quickly work the panties down one leg with the help of my very flexible wife. I didn’t realize she was wearing a petticoat under this dress to help it flare out in that vintage 50s fashion, but I don’t allow it to deter me. I easily find my way back to her treasured heat while making quick work of my zipper and freeing my cock from my boxer briefs, never moving my lips from hers. She steadies herself on the barstool and within seconds, my steel-hard cock is buried deep inside of her and driving hard into her core.

“Fuck!” I bite out as her walls brutally burn my shaft. “Don’t come!” I hiss. “This is for me!”

She’s panting like a freight train, but she nods. I need this. I need this in the worst fucking way, and it’s going to be fast… and rough. I drill into her hard and deep over and over and over. She bites her lip to keep from crying out from the brutal thrusts. In moments, I feel my balls tightening and I thrust into her harder and harder. She whimpers with each thrust and I hear the bar stool scooting across the floor with each forceful thrust.

“Yes! Yes! Fuck! Yes!” I grunt with each thrust and soon, I come so hard that I have to struggle to keep from crumpling to the ground. It was only a few minutes, but I needed it so badly—to use and bruise her, because she’s mine. I had to remind her and myself that no matter what, this. Body. Belongs. To me!

I lean over her on the bar stool and catch my breath. When I pull back and examine her, she’s completely flushed, still steadying herself on the seat of the stool. I pull out of her and grasp her hand, surprising her by pulling her from the stool and dragging her through the community room and down the hall towards our private areas, my semi-hard, recently ejaculated dick still hanging out of my pants. Her stilettos click loudly and quickly on the floor behind me as I turn quickly to the first secluded room I see…

My wife’s parlor.

I drag her inside and close the door behind us, slamming her body into mine and snatching her breath away by bruising her mouth with deep kisses again, pinning her arms behind her back as I possess her once more. She whimpers and breathes wildly and helplessly as I release her hands and quickly unzip her dress, pushing it off her shoulders, down her torso and down her hips, following the dress down her body with my mouth, kissing and sucking and admiring the delicious lace lingerie underneath. I turn her around and push her against the nearest wall, removing the dress completely and releasing the suspenders from her stockings so that I can completely remove these damn panties from this delicious pussy and this luscious ass, the entire time playing in the garden because I know that drives her fucking wild. She’s scratching at the wall like a caged animal trying not to climb it while I outline the letters of her tattoo with my tongue.

I take my time reattaching the suspenders to the stockings. We’re keeping these on, but we’re losing this bra. I need to see those tits.

“Don’t move,” I growl at her back once I have her stripped to suspenders, stockings, and shoes. These aren’t Louboutins. No matter—she still looks sexy as fuck in them.

I strip completely and quickly and take my hardening dick in my hand, stroking it from base to tip a few times while I examine my wife and submissive’s round bare ass staring back at me framed in lace suspenders and stockings. I walk over to her and grind my stiff cock into the crease of her ass, allowing the head of it to stroke her rosette a few times.

“Do you feel how hard you make me?” I growl. “I just fucking came!”

“Yes… Sir,” she breathes, her voice dripping with arousal. I leave her standing there and quickly move her wrought iron glass table closer to her fireplace to give us more room. Clearing the pillows from her large sofa with one swoop of my arm, I snatch her from the wall and pull her to the middle of the room. I retrieve my shirt from the floor and hand it to her.

“Put this on.” She slides her arms into my shirt and begins to button it. “No!” I command, pushing the shirt open at her shoulders. My hands travel down to her breasts and I fondle the mounds and tease her nipples, causing a drop of milk to leak. I lick the nipple clean and Butterfly gasps, biting her lips.

“Yes!” I rumble, the inner Neanderthal beating his chest. Woman! Mine! “On the sofa. Sit.” She sits demurely on the sofa like the perfect submissive while I retrieve the handkerchief from my pocket and my necktie. Draping the necktie around my bare neck, I kneel in front of her and push her legs open.

“Lie back,” I command her. There’s quite a bit of room without the large throw pillows. She lays back on the sofa and I open her legs wide. I proceed to clean the massive amount of semen from her thighs and core. Once I’m satisfied that she’s clean enough—not complete, just enough—I take the tie from around my neck.

“Give me your hands.”

She presents her hands and I quickly and deftly secure her hands with my black silk necktie.Christian secures Ana's hands with his black silk necktie in chapter 31 rg

“Scoot back,” I direct her. “Hands over your head.” She does as she’s told. When instructed, she spreads her legs wide and digs her heels into the edges of the cushions of the sofa. If she rips it, I’ll buy her a new one. Now, she’s spread out open, sexy, and glistening in front of me—her pretty, pink pussy displaying a sexy mixture of her of her arousal and mine; her beautiful, round breasts peeking out from underneath my shirt, giving me an occasional gift of a drop of sweet nectar; her hands bound over her head… and she’s waiting for me.

Ready or not, here I come.

I lean in to that gorgeous wet fruit and lick from core to clit. She gasps and shivers. I love her reaction, so I do it again—softly, meticulously. When she begins to whimper and claw at the back of the sofa, I start a rhythm… kissing, licking, sucking, and tasting that pretty pussy much like I did that night in Anguilla, when I had to tie her thighs down. This time, she just has to bear it. What did I call it? Oh yeah, the French kiss—pay attention to every sinew, every crevice, every lump, bump, and imperfection of this beautiful creation. Hold her hips down when she tries to thrust forward or squirm and alternate between a deep penetrating massage that moves her clit from side to side and up and down to a flutter right on the tip that causes a chill and a sharp shock of pleasure to jolt through her entire body.

Yes…

Licking on either side of the clit that causes the buds of the tongue to stimulate the tender nerves just under the skin…

Gathering the juices as they collect at the base of the opening when she pulses and threatens to explode…

Applying just the right amount of pressure as I suckle her clit and release it just before that crucial moment… not to torment her, but so that her orgasm is that much more intense…

Her breasts… they’re so fucking swollen… just like her clit… If I touch them right now, she’s going to come instantly. She’s bound and squirming and beautiful and so, so, ready, and my dick is aching like fuck. So, I guess it’s time to put her out of her misery.

I throw those lovely legs over my shoulders and lock in on the beautiful clit, intent to suck the pleasure out until she can’t help screaming my name.

“Sir… Sir…” she’s panting helplessly, trying to get my attention. I hear you, baby, but I’m not stopping. I increase my manipulation, concentrating my stimulation on the goal of orgasm while reaching my hands around her hips and up her body, around to cover her breasts, kneading and massaging and tweaking those tender, aroused nipples. I’m rewarded with two offerings of life’s milk from her ample mounds, and I massage the liquid into her taut peaks, lamenting only that I’m unable to clean it away with my mouth, but my tongue is otherwise occupied right now… with the imminent seduction and satisfaction of my wife’s tender, juicy, and delicious clit.

It’s throbbing, thumping, and hardening now, and my pearl is protesting more and more, trying to respectfully inform her Dom that the well is about to blow, but her Dom knows. In fact, her Dom is counting on it.

Moments later, my Butterfly is panting and wheezing and can take no more. She can barely get the words out of her mouth.

“S-Si-Sir! Sir! Lad-Ladybug! Lady… bug!” She chokes out her safeword to warn me that she’s about to come and I raise my eyes to hers to signal that’s it’s okay. Her head falls back and her hands uncharacteristically drop to my head and tangle in my hair. My goddess croons a beautiful melody as she comes, pleasure wracking her body and lifting her from the sofa. Before the vibrations have finished, I slide up her body, take her in my arms and slam my aching erection into her throbbing pussy. Good God Almighty! The grip is insane!

“My, God, you are so sexy!” I groan, my voice hoarse as I plunge into her, “so fucking sexy.”

“Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!” she repeats, panting, out of breath and still coming, I think. Her bound wrists are behind my head, her arms around my neck and her pussy feels like an earthquake around my dick. Oh, God is right.

“Baby! Fuck!” I hiss against her lips as I grind my cock into her tight, pulsing core. She wraps her legs around my hips and locks her ankles together at my ass, panting and wheezing and holding on as I pump into her over and over and over…

“God, you feel so good,” I growl, gripping her ass tight with one hand and holding her body hard against me across her back with the other arm. My face is buried in her neck and with her legs wrapped around me, she’s opened perfectly for me to thrust up into her balls deep repeatedly, grunting animalistically with every forceful, hot, painful pump. The friction is maddening and her pussy still hasn’t stopped throbbing from her first orgasm. How is that even possible?

“Goddamn, this pussy,” I curse as I push her ass hard into me, trying to get still deeper into her core. Fuck, she feels so fucking good and she’s so goddamn wet that her juices slide from her pussy and our sliding and joining sex down to the crack of her ass and her puckering rosette.

Fuck if I’m letting that shit go to waste.

I adjust my hand and massage the moisture into the puckering bundle of nerves before I unceremoniously thrust my middle finger into her tight ass and begin a finger fuck that compliments my dick in her pulsing pussy. She cries out in surprise, then quickly begins to pant in helpless ecstasy.

“Sir! Sir! I’m going… to come!” she warns, her voice squeaky and helpless, her orgasm sneaking up on her before she had the opportunity to prepare.

“Don’t!” I growl. “Don’t come yet! Hold it! I’m not ready!” That’s a fucking lie. I’m going to blow any second, but I just started playing with that ass and I’m not fucking ready. I’ve got to hold out just a minute longer. I grind into that pussy, punishing her walls while my finger thrusts into her ass, drawing out her pleasure and her torment.

“G-God… God… p… p-please… Sir, I… can’t…” she pants, her eyes squeezed tight, bearing the pleasure and threatening to blow any moment.

“Hold it!” I pant, thrusting into her faster, my balls tightening, my cock thickening and threatening eruption as I’m pumping into this tight, heavenly orifice. Her ass has swallowed my finger all the way to the base, and I know that she won’t be able to stop her orgasm… so safeword, no command, no nothing. It’s going to be nuclear.

“This body is mine!” I declare as I thrust into her. “Only! Ever! Mine!”

“Please!” she cries, helpless. “Oh, God, please!”

“Come for me,” I command her as my balls tighten madly. “Come for me, dammit!” She crumples into me and shudders into a violent trembling orgasm, making an inhuman sound and crying in my ear. I can feel my dick pulsing hard against the walls of her pussy, even harder than her throbbing core, as my balls empty every single drop of semen they have to offer. I come so hard that my dick is throbbing and pulsing long after it has emptied its contents into my wife and we lay splayed, spent and useless, on her parlor sofa.


A/N: Thank you all for your patience while I toiled with real life issues. Hopefully, I have enough content now that there won’t be any skipped weeks for a while. 

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

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 10—Family Feuds

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 10—Family Feuds

ANASTASIA

Right after we get Nollie to the tarmac and onto the GEH jet, Christian falls into a silence that doesn’t break. He won’t say a word. The entire ride back to Grey Compound, nothing. When we get there, he disappears to parts unknown and I don’t see him for the rest of the night. And when I say the rest of the night, that’s exactly what I mean. He doesn’t come to bed; I don’t see him at breakfast; I can’t find him around the house. I have to ask other people if they’ve seen him.

Elliot saw him briefly Sunday night.

Carrick got a glimpse of him Monday morning.

Sometime between Monday and Tuesday, he spoke to Jason to get the jet in the air again Tuesday evening to get Herman and Stan back to Detroit with Pops’ remains. Stan said there wouldn’t be much of a service in Detroit since most of his family and friends actually came to Seattle to say goodbye. The brothers took the liberty of having urn amulets with a small portion of Pops’ ashes made for each brother—even Freeman—and each grandchild. Carrick secretly gave one to me, too, stating that Pops would have wanted me to have one since I helped so much with his mental transition… Yes, I cried when he gave it to me.

He said that he would hold onto Christian’s until he decided to resurface.

And the evening and the morning were the third day. By the time dusk fell, I had had enough. Minnie was inconsolable as she is accustomed to smelling and seeing her father at least once a day, and when she’s in a fit, so is Mikey. I leave my crying twins with Gail and go in search of my husband. Grey Manor—still Grey Compound for the next couple of days—looks fairly deserted. Elliot and Val have gone to look at a property that they may want to buy and renovate as their new home. Luma and the girls have gone home for a while since Herman, along with Stan and Lana, have gone to Detroit to deliver Pops’ remains. Everyone else has retreated to parts unknown, including my MIA husband. Had it not been for sightings from other people, I wouldn’t know if he was dead or alive!

After searching all the rooms in Grey Manor, including Pops’ old room, I call his cell phone only for it to go straight to voicemail. I’m angry now, wondering where in the fuck this man has been hiding for three days. Standing outside on the grass, my fear begins to turn into worry that he might be having a psychotic break when I turn to my left and find where I think is my husband’s hiding place.

The tree house.

a62d3d805f932f9762f9770ca4d9b2bf

I run double-time to the tree house, scurry up the stairs of the patio and across the gangplank to the main house. If the door is locked, I swear I’m breaking it down. Prepared to use my shoulder as a battering ram, I find that there’s no need to do it. The door is unlocked. I walk in to find my husband sitting comfortably on a chair watching something on television—I couldn’t even tell you what it is. He has three days of growth on his face and he’s wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. He’s just kicking back, doing nothing, with a dead phone next to him. He’s not having a psychotic break. He just hiding out.

“Close the damn door,” he says without looking back to see who has entered his realm.

“Turn around,” I nearly growl, unable to hide my ire and displeasure at this time. He turns to face me, somewhat quickly, a bit shocked to see me. My fists are clenched and it’s everything I can do not to lunge at this man in pure anger. I get that he has a hard time handling grief and loss, but this is the second time in as many weeks that he has lost his ever-loving mind over his grandfather’s death and I. Have had. Enough. He has no consideration for anybody’s feelings but his own and goddammit, that’s just not how grownups deal with things Mr. Grey.

I have to admit that standing here looking at my mountain man husband, I’m really ready to fucking do battle with him, but truth is that he needs to see the bigger picture. He may have gotten lost in his grief, but he completely deserted his wife, his children, his family when we are all in a time of need right now. I. Am. Livid, and for once, I’m not thinking about his feelings this time.

“Is this what I can expect from you anytime there’s a tragedy in our family?” I hiss. “I can expect for you to just check out and leave me to deal with everything on my own? Because if that’s what my future with you holds, tell me now.”

Even I must admit that the statement sounds quite ominous, but I think part of me wants it to sound that way. The one time I checked out on Christian in a time of tragedy, I had no control over it and he and my friends and family were fighting over taking me to the psychiatric ward. I don’t know if he says anything… I think he does, but I just keep talking.

“Apparently, I missed the memo that you clearly got that says that you can pick and choose when you decide to be a husband—and that’s okay. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself. I was doing it before we met and I can do it now since you seem to have decided that you’re not up to the task, but you don’t get to pick and choose when you want to be a father. That’s not an option, Mr. Grey, and it never will be. Now, you get your ass up and get in that house and help take care of your children!”

I don’t wait for a response. I turn around and slam the door loudly behind me. I march down the stairs and across the lawn without looking back. I wanted to yell and fight and curse and call him names. He’s not utilizing his resources. He’s not talking to Dr. Baker. He’s not talking to me. He’s not talking to his parents. He’s not talking to anybody, because if he were, they sure as hell wouldn’t have advised him to hide in his pimped-out tree house! No, he’s turning himself in to his grief and not seeking counsel or solace anywhere, which means those of us who need him can just kick rocks right now for all he cares.

So, what that we all must work through our grief just like he does?

So, what that we all loved Pops and hate it that he’s gone, too?

So, what that he has a family that depends on him, two crying children that he fathered who haven’t seen him three days? Who gives a fuck that we need him, right? We can just all fend for ourselves, right?

I storm into the house and up the stairs into the nursery to my yowling babies. Poor, flustered Gail is still trying to calm Mikey, but he’s having none of it. Since his sister, who is usually the contemplative one, is uncharacteristically screaming at the top of her lungs, Mikey is taking a cue from her and is wailing in utter discontent. They’re displeased and want their voices to be heard. They fucking well should! They need their parents and they know that something’s wrong. I’m sure of it.

“I’ve got it, Gail,” I say, taking Mikey from her hands. She frowns deeply. I know what she must be thinking—two screeching children and I’m dismissing her? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing. My babies need their parents and if their father is too selfish and inconsiderate to see that his children are yearning for him, then I’m going to take care of them myself.

“Ana…?” she protests

“It’s okay, Gail. I got it,” I repeat, taking Mikey to the en suite to prepare his bath. I place him in his bouncer there and start the water running in his portable tub. He’s usually the only one that needs the bouncer because he’s always quite verbal, but Minnie is never this unsettled. I get his bath to the right temperature and begin to strip him out of his onesie. By the time I’ve removed his diaper, he still won’t settle. He’s wailing like a wounded dog and Minnie is attempting to match him cry for cry. The angry tears burn down my face as both of my children seem inconsolable. I don’t weep or scream—I just let them fall. It’s a bad time for the Grey family, and my children are no different and won’t tolerate being ignored.

It only makes my resolve stronger, to focus on my children and get them settled, clean, fed, and content. The angry tears still run down my cheeks and drench my shirt as I gently bathe my son. I look down and realize that it’s not my tears drenching my shirt. It’s my milk. My breasts have suddenly become hugely swollen, and the cries of both of my children are bringing my milk down. Well that’s just great. I hate wasting my breast milk, but there’s nothing I can do about it at least until I get Mikey clean.

I ignore my leaking bosom and continue to bathe my son, the tears still flowing heavily down my cheeks. C’est la vie. I dry my face with my arm so that I can see more clearly, but my tears are as persistent as my children’s tears. They want to be seen, too. Mikey’s cries have calmed to keening as I’m finishing his bath and Minnie is now quiet. Thank God! I lay Mikey on the changing table and begin to dry his little body, starting with his feet. My attention is drawn to the doorway where I see Christian standing with Minnie in his arms. He’s looking at me like I’m some kind of alien being. I must look a fright—face covered in tears and shirt covered in milk.

“Where’s Gail?” He hasn’t spoken to me in three days and these are the first words he has for me—well, besides “Close the damn door.” I turn my attention back to drying my son.

“She’s not her father!” I snap, my voice thick with tears and anger. He stands there for a moment and I don’t raise my eyes to him again. I concentrate on drying my son, putting together an outfit for him in my head as I make sure his little skin is clean and comfy. I don’t know that Christian had moved from the door until I hear the water running in the bath tub and the portable tub being emptied. I put a clean towel between my son and myself as the milk is still flowing from my breasts. After wrapping Mikey in a clean baby towel, I take him back to the bedroom to get him dressed.

No time to dawdle. After quickly proceeding with his grooming routine—baby powder, baby lotion, diaper, T-shirt, and onesie—I settle into the rocking chair and attach the electric breast pump to my left breast and my beautiful baby boy to my right. Only then, do my tears stop flowing. He’s contentedly looking up at me with blue-gray eyes, his hands fondling my breast as he hungrily has his supper. My tears dry uncomfortably on my cheeks as I gaze lovingly at my son, finally quiet.

My attention is distracted by Christian replacing the container on the breast pump—now full—so that he can feed Minnie. I thought Mia was crazy to buy this contraption because the damn thing costs a fortune. I haven’t stopped thanking her for it since the first time I used it. I was concerned about being able to produce enough milk for twins. That, I discovered, was not going to be a problem. Harvesting the milk was the bigger issue. It comes fast and won’t be denied. When we realized how quickly it was coming, Christian bought about four more of those things for different parts of the house, the car, one to stay at Helping Hands and one for here at his parents’ house. He can be very considerate when he wants to, but he can be equally as selfish.

I have filled another bottle by the time Mikey is fed and burped. He has fallen contentedly back to sleep, so I detach the breast pump and place him gently back in his crib. I don’t know if he’s had enough, but he has exhausted himself from crying. Christian is quietly feeding Minnie when I leave the nursery and go back to our bedroom.

Silence.

I strip out of my clothes and leave them on the floor before going to the en suite. I need a shower… and a nap. I’m exhausted, too—mentally and emotionally. Twice, I wanted to be there for my husband, to try to help hold him up and get through this difficult time, and twice he’s just shut me down and shut me out. I’m not sure that I can take this. How do you handle something like this—just being ignored and disregarded because he’s suffering? We’re all suffering! Did he forget that I spent hours in that room and in this house with Pops as we shared the details of our lives and he was slipping away from us? How fucking selfish can you be?

The tears start again and I just cry, weeping audibly now and letting the water cleanse my face and my milk-sticky breasts. The tears don’t stop until after I’m done washing my hair and body and I’m rinsing off the soap. I brush my teeth, certain that I won’t be getting back out of the bed once I’ve laid down, even though I haven’t had dinner yet. I wring the water out of my way-too-long hair before wrapping it in a towel, then wrapping my body in a towel as well.

When I walk out of the en suite, I find him on the floor in our bedroom. It looks like he was standing against the wall and just slid down to the floor. His legs are bent, his arms are resting on his knees and his head is down… and he’s sobbing.

“Baby, I’m sorry,” he weeps. “I don’t know how to deal with this… darkness!” I sigh. My heart immediately softens at the sight of my broken husband. I kneel next to him and lift his face in both my hands.

“Don’t shut me out,” I say. “We’re all we have. Stop shutting down on me at your worst moments. I’m your life mate, your help mate and that’s what I’m here for. If you shut me out, shut your children out… you have nothing left.”

He closes his eyes and continues to weep like a broken little boy. I try to comfort him, but nothing I’m saying or doing helps. He continues to weep bitterly for several minutes and I know I have to stop him somehow. I drop my towel and crawl into his lap, straddling his hips.

“Ana…” he says, his breath stuttering, “I can’t…”

“I know,” I say, softly. I imagine that he feels the same emptiness I felt when Daddy stopped talking to me, only Pops can’t come back and tell him that everything will be okay. I cradle his head against my naked breast. “Just touch me,” I coax. “Wherever you want, just touch me.”

His strong arms slide around my waist and he pulls me against his body with incredible force. I feel everything—his desperation, his loneliness, how rudderless he’s feeling. I kiss his hair over and over as I cradle his head.

Please God… give him peace… please…

I can still feel his tears, but his weeping slows. Good… this is good. I reach for his back and pull his T-shirt up to his armpits. He releases me and allows me to pull it off his head, but quickly wraps his arms around me again when the shirt is gone. His body calms immediately at the touch of my skin against his. This is what I was hoping for. His knees slowly slide to the floor and he crosses his legs lotus style. My butt slides down between his crossed legs and I lift his head from my breast. His eyes are puffy and red; his face streaked with treks of a hundred tears, three days of an overgrown beard prickling his cheeks. I push his soft curls off his face and they just fall back down, so I hold them over his brow as I hold his head up to look at me.

So much pain in his glassy nearly white-gray irises… so much pain.

I kiss him soft and long on his forehead and he breaks down again at the sentiment. We’re about eye to eye now, so he lays his head on my shoulder and continues to weep.

And I let him.

I caress his hair like I normally do when he’s in distress, and I rock him back and forth in my arms and allow him to mourn with me like he can with no one else. I begin to hum a song—I have no idea why, it’s just the first song that pops into my head, about showing that you love someone takes more than words. I continue to rock my husband as he sobs, humming the melody with the hopes that the tune will bring him some comfort.


CHRISTIAN

I’m awakened by the feeling of warmth being draped over my shoulder. I open my eyes and I’m still sitting against the wall in my childhood bedroom, the nearest wall able to hold me when the weight of the darkness I’m carrying hit me like a ton of bricks. I had played my wife’s words over in my head…

“I can take care of myself. I was doing it before we met and I can do it now since you seem to have decided that you’re not up to the task, but you don’t get to pick and choose when you want to be a father.”

I was failing at being a husband and a father because I was wallowing alone in my grief over Pops. God, I loved that old guy… still do. I don’t know if this pain will ever go away. I feel like someone has amputated one of my limbs and I don’t know how to function in a world where he’s not in it, even though I knew that one day, he’d be gone. Looking into the eyes of my unhappy little girl—the same blue eyes that Ana has—made me realize that I had to pull myself together, so I held it together long enough to bathe her, feed her, and put her back to bed.

“Hey Minnie Mouse,” I had said. “Daddy’s a real mess, but I’m going to try to do better, okay? I hope you don’t mind if I come and talk to you sometimes. Tell you about my troubles. You’re a good listener and you make me feel like there’s some hope left in the world.” I sighed heavily. “I lost my grandpa,” I had said. “One day, that will happen to you, too, but hopefully not for a really long time. You have two grandpas, and if you lose them both, Mommy and Daddy will be really sad. But Daddy’s sad right now… Mommy is, too,” I added, thinking about the tear stains I observed on my wife’s face before she put Mikey to bed and left me in the nursery. “I think that’s kinda my fault. I’m sorry, Minnie Mouse. I’ll do better. I promise.”

When I looked back down at my daughter, she was fast asleep in my arms. I kiss her little forehead, and place her gently in her crib. She stirred a bit before she fell into slumber. I went over to my son’s crib. He sucked intermittently on a pacifier, but he was fast asleep as well. I kissed my fingertips and tapped them gently on his forehead.

“Watch over your sister while I’m gone, little man. Daddy loves you, too.”

When I went back to my childhood room, I looked around at the setting and somehow felt like that lost little boy that first walked into this room, when everything was so big and so new…

And so dark.

I suddenly felt out of breath. No matter what I did, I couldn’t breathe. I leaned against the nearest wall and took in deep breaths so that I wouldn’t suffocate. Once I had regained my equilibrium, I was suddenly overcome with endless hopelessness, so heavy that I couldn’t hold myself up. My legs were buckling from under me as I leaned on the wall and slid down to the floor and into the hopeless pit of despair.

“I’m sorry,” my mother says flatly as the blanket covers my other shoulder, and my naked wife. “I knocked.”

“It’s okay, Mom,” I reply, wrapping my arms tighter around my sleeping wife, her body wrapped around mine as she sleeps on my lap.

“I was just coming to check on you,” she says, still standing over us. “It was late and you missed dinner. I’ll have Liona or Mrs. Thompson reheat something for you if you like. It’s late for dinner, but still early… well, only nine.” I nod.

“That would be good, Mom. Thank you,” I say. She returns my nod and leaves the room, closing the door behind her. I look down at my sleeping wife’s angelic face. This couldn’t be easy for her either. I outline the creases of her face and massage the lines in her forehead. Even though she’s sleeping quietly, her rest must be fitful because she’s frowning in her sleep.

“My queen,” I whisper as I kiss her lips softly. “I love you more than life. I know that’s unhealthy, but I do.”

I kiss her forehead and her cheek, then she stirs. Her eyes open and she glances up at me. It takes a moment for her to get her bearings, but when she does, she reaches up and caresses my face.

“How are you?” she asks softly. I nod.

“Okay… for now,” I admit. I have to take this minute by minute. That’s all I can do. “I want to see Dr. Baker tomorrow, or whenever I can get an appointment. Will you come with me? I know you don’t like her and if you don’t want to go…” She puts her fingers over my lips to silence me.

“I’ll go,” she says. “You just let me know when.” I nod and squeeze her in my arms.

“I’m sorry,” I say again. “I’m nothing without you… without Minnie and Mikey…”

“It’s okay,” she whispers, “just please, don’t let it happen again. Don’t shut me out… I can’t be there for you if you won’t let me, not to mention, I feel just as lost without you… Okay?” I nod against her shoulder.

“Okay.”

*-*

“One of you fuckers know where my daughter is and I’m not going to leave you alone until you tell me!”

Butterfly and I had a very productive meeting with Dr. Baker. She and the doctor even saw eye to eye on the best ways for me to deal with my grief. We talked about my need to “cocoon” when I think about Pops and the fact that he’s not here anymore; how the afternoon visits became part of my norm and one of the first things that I need to do is fill that time with something else so that I’m not wallowing in the loss. Dr. Baker emphasized that now is the time to lean on my family, especially my wife, as not only is the family suffering as well, but also my wife is a mental health professional that can help me through my grief process not only as a loving wife, but also as a trained psychiatrist. This went a long way in closing the rift between Butterfly and Dr. Baker and I was glad to see that the emergency session was healing for us all.

I had Jason drop me at the office before taking my wife back to Grey Compound. Mom agreed that since Herman was coming back tonight and Luma and the girls would be returning and staying on for a while that there was no need for the entire family to stick around at the family house. She left the door open for anyone who wanted to stay, but we all agreed that it was probably best for Grey Compound to go back to being Grey Manor. Elliot and Val will be with us at Grey Crossing for a while until they get approved for the house they want to buy. It’s more than Elliot has ever spent at one time and I offered to buy the house for him and have him pay me back whenever he was ready, but he wanted to go through the whole approval process and buy it on his own. He put his condo on the market—a property that’s significantly less than the property he wants to buy, and Valerie had long since paid out the lease on her apartment since living alone in her condition was not an option any of her friends or her new family would entertain.

Jason has not yet returned when I receive a call on my cell from the last person I ever thought would be calling me. I don’t even know how the fucker got my number, and I don’t bother asking. What’s done is done.

“I don’t know how you got my phone number, but you would do well to forget it, because I’m not telling you shit. When and if she’s ever ready to talk to you, she will, but from what I understand, you treated her worse than you treated us and she came from your balls. So, if I want nothing to do with your worthless ass, you can only imagine how she feels.”

“You goddamn fucking son-of-a-bitch. I knew you knew what happened. What did you do to my daughter?” Freeman seethes through the phone.

“Oh, you mean my cousin?” I taunt. “It’s not what I did to your daughter. It’s what I did for my cousin, you asshole.”

“She’s not your goddamn cousin,” he hisses. “You’re not a fucking Grey and you never will be.”

“Well, you’re the only fucker who feels that way, and your opinion doesn’t count,” I say calmly.

“Cut the shit and tell me where my daughter is or I’ll send the cops on your ass!” he threatens.

“Like you did last time, you yellow piece of chicken shit?” I retort. “You do that, and I’ll tell them where to find her. But I’m not telling you shit!” I end the call and immediately put a call in to Nolanda.

“Hello?” she answers.

“Hi, it’s Christian. How’s married life?” I ask.

“Ask me in a year. I’m still on my honeymoon,” she jests. “What’s up?”

“Freeman’s calling, threatening police intervention,” I tell her. “I won’t tell him anything that you don’t want me to, but I may have to tell the police if he goes through with it.” She pauses for a minute.

“He’ll go through with it,” she confirms. “He’s an asshole that way. Tell him anything you want except exactly where I am. You can say west coast, he’ll really hate that, but nothing else. Make it sound as sinister as you want. I’ll be getting a new number on Leo’s phone plan soon and I have a little surprise in store for Daddy when he calls my old number. So, go for it, Cousin Christian. Have fun.”

8970d0126898e82c4ad003cb50345fa2My inner monster is rubbing his hands together and tweaking his handlebar mustache like the villains in the old silent movies.

“That makes me happy. How’s the move going?”

“Fabulous,” she replies. “I love it here. I’m so glad I followed my heart. Thank you, Christian… for everything. Now, let my father have it and give me a play-by-play when you’re done.”

“Why don’t I conference you in?” I suggest. “He’s been calling me non-stop since I just hung up on him. Consider it a housewarming gift. You don’t have to say a word. Just listen.” I can almost hear her smiling through her silence.

“Make it happen,” she says. I put her on hold and dial Freeman’s number. He answers so quickly that I barely have time to bring Nolanda back onto the call.

“Came to your senses, huh?” he says, smugly.

“No,” I replied. “I’m only calling you because I talked to my cousin, Asswipe, and she gave me permission to give you the scoop. So, sit down and have a drink while I tell you a little story.”

“Get to the point, shithead!” he shoots.

“Shut the fuck up or I won’t tell you anything and you can go on and call the police, you useless bag of horse feces!” I couldn’t think of anything… ickier. I think it caught him off guard and he has finally fallen silent. Wonder of wonders!

“My cousin took a one-way flight in my private jet to Las Vegas the day after Pops’ funeral. There, she met up with her fiancé and they were married the same day. She wasn’t kidnapped, you fucker. She eloped.”

“You’re a fucking liar!” he says

“You can only wish, but alas, it’s true. She wanted nothing more to do with you or the fact that you named her after the son that you felt she should have been. She felt like you never wanted her because that’s how you treated her, and that you wouldn’t give a fuck if she was gone anyway, so she went to live her life. Her sole wish is that you don’t know where she is, but I’ll be happy to tell you everything else…

“She’s somewhere on the west coast; she married a millionaire; and she’s changing her first and last name—her last name because she’s married; her first name because she doesn’t want that shit you gave her anymore.”

The line is quiet for several moments, but he comes back with a vengeance.

“What the hell did you say to her?” he asks, enraged. “She gets out there with you fucking nuts and now she’s acting like she’s lost her goddamn mind. What did you do—sell her to one of your rich fuck friends?” he adds incredulously.

“And that’s your problem,” I interject. “You don’t give her credit for having a goddamn mind of her own. What in the world do you think I could have possibly said to Nolanda to make her uproot her life and leave everything she’s ever known, arrange a goddamn marriage, and have her move out here with one of my friends all in one day??” I pause for a second to let it sink in just how stupid that sounds. “You’ve got serious problems, man, and I don’t give a fuck if you solve them, but you better get your head screwed on straight before you lose everything that’s important to you in your life!

“Nolanda’s been dating her fiancé for two years, but she never brought him around you because he has money and she didn’t want to hear your mouth. She was just waiting to finish her finance studies to leave. It just so happened that Pops’ death coincided with her plans to come out west.”

“He’s not your Po…”

“Shut the fuck up, I’m not finished!” I bark. “She had a plane ticket to fly back to Detroit with Burt. Once she got off the plane at DTW, she was catching the red-eye back to Vegas with her fiancé. That’s what she told my wife, who then suggested that she just take our jet to Vegas instead of suffering a day of jet lag after at least ten hours in the air for no good reason. Her fiancé flew out to Vegas to meet her last Sunday and they were married the next day.

“I’m sure you can find her if you try hard enough, Freeman, but it wouldn’t do any good. She’s done with you. She’s done with not being good enough for you. She’s done with feeling like she’s your biggest regret. She’s done with being first-born but second-best, with being the last thing on your mind and in your heart. She’s done with feeling like a fucking failure because she wasn’t a boy even though your dick spit out the other X-chromosome. It wasn’t her fault, not your wife’s fault, not even your fault, because as much as you may want it, you can’t command your balls produce a boy. Yet, you had to blame somebody… somebody, and you blamed her!

“For her entire life, you made her feel like shit. She was never enough. You never treated her like she had a mind of her own. You never even showed her that you loved her. And you can sit there all you want and try to convince yourself and anybody else who’ll listen that you didn’t do that or didn’t know you were treating her that way, but you’ll be the only person who believes it. Hearing her describe the way you treated her while she was growing up, the loneliness and hopelessness she felt—like she would never measure up, it was one of the most heartbreaking things I’d ever heard in my life. I was only too happy to offer my services to assist her.

“She doesn’t even have a term of endearment for you, did you even notice that? She calls you ‘my father,’ and the one time she referred to you as Daddy, she injected so much disdain into the word that it was obvious that she would rather chew nails then say it. I’m certain that had she not run away to get married, she would have eventually just run away alone. So, don’t blame me for her making her escape. I just facilitated it, but it was going to happen with or without me. You have no one to blame for this one but yourself.” The line is silent again for several seconds before Freeman speaks again.

“I don’t know what the fuck she fed you, but it wasn’t like that,” he growls. “I never treated Nollie that way.”

“Oh, cut the fucking crap, Dad!” Nolanda barks. Oops, the jig is up. “That’s a crock of shit and you and I both know it!” Again, there’s silence on the line for a moment.

“Nolanda, where the fuck are you?” he seethes.

“None of your goddamn business!” she retorts. “You’ll be lucky if you ever see me again. How fucking dare you insinuate that I concocted the shitty way you treated me. Years and years… decades of being ‘not-quite-Nolan,’ and you’ve got the nerve to try to tell someone that it was all in my fucking head?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Freeman defends.

“Then what did you mean?” she asks. “Treating Mom like she failed because she produced a girl and treating me like I didn’t exist. Telling me that my favorite color was blue and not yellow, because yellow was too bright. Putting me on a punishment for a month for coming home in lip gloss. Refusing to let me wear anything with flowers on it. I lost my best friend at fourteen because when I brought her to our house, you were talking about her father like a piece of shit because he made more money than you. Did you ever know that she and the girls that used to be my friends teased me until I graduated for that?

“Oh! And graduation! I was the only girl who couldn’t wear heels! And prom? Even the nerds and the fat chicks went to prom… but not me. Nobody wanted to take me. And college! Fucking college! Everybody went straight out of high school or very shortly thereafter. I had to wait for eight fucking years because Daddy wanted me to go to Ford! But you didn’t make Burtie go to Ford, did you? You were all ready to pay his way, but you didn’t need to. Maybe if I wasn’t so fucked up with low self-esteem in high school, I could’ve gotten a free ride, too!

“You believe whatever the hell you want to and you say whatever the hell you want. If you’re lucky, I’ll be at your funeral. You’ll never have to lay eyes on your biggest mistake ever again!” With that she ends the call and Freeman and I are still left on the line. I should have kept my mouth shut and just hung up the phone, but no. I let my presence be known by one word…

“Wow.”

“You turned her against me, you son of a bitch!” he hisses. I roll my eyes.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, goodbye Freeman. Oh, and by the way, your son is gay.” I end the call and immediately put his number on the blocked list. He got wise to that quickly and began calling me back to back from an unknown number. When I had accumulated seven messages of threats, three from his phone number from earlier and four from the unknown number, I call him back.

“You foolishly left seven threatening messages on my phone, which means now I can take legal action against you for harassment. Now, leave me the fuck alone before I really make you hate rich people and show you just how far my arms can reach!” I end the call and summon Alex, because just as I suspect, before Alex even answers the line, my phone is buzzing again.

“Yes, sir,” Alex answers.

“I have a personal pebble in my shoe,” I tell him. “What steps can I take to make it go away?” There’s a pause.

“Details?” Alex presses. I give him the short version of what’s going on with my asshole uncle. “Oh, well, how about you start with an audit?” I frown.

“An audit?” I ask, bemused.

“Yeah. You’d be surprised how much mental distress an IRS audit can cause even if you have nothing to hide,” he says. Oh, an audit! Of course!

“Any way I can be informed when it begins?” I ask.

“Of course. Let me make a few calls.” I end the call with Alex and wait until my phone stops buzzing with Freeman’s latest incoming call to dial my voicemail and check my messages.

“I’ve got connections, too, asshole. I’m not afraid of you.”

“You should be,” I say aloud as I put in a call to Al to get the ball rolling on harassment charges.

Just as I finish the details of the harassment and stalking charges—which, by the way, have caused me to silence my phone for the rest of the afternoon—Mac shows up with what she feels is yet another catastrophe that must be handled.

“Well, congratulations, you’ve made the news again,” Mac says as she and Joshua enter my office. Joshua sits on the sofa facing us while Mac cues up an internet article on the screen behind me:

Grey Promises to Make the Lives of Intrusive Reporters “A Living Hell”

I don’t react to the headline. I said what I meant and I meant what I said. Who wants to film a fucking funeral? Pops wasn’t famous, but these bottom-dwellers want to get a shot of me or my wife, so they violate my family’s privacy and intensify their grief by shoving a camera in their faces at one of the worst possible times of our lives! They’re lucky I didn’t start swinging or have security start shooting!

“Threaten the press, Christian. That’s a great idea!” Mac says to me with Josh sitting on the sofa, silently cosigning her sentiment by twisting his lips. When I don’t respond to her, she presses on.

“I don’t need to tell you this, Christian,” she warns fervently. “The press has power. They can destroy you.”

“I don’t care, Mac,” I tell her. “They can tear me apart in the press, but at that moment, they needed to leave that funeral, and they did—well, they backed off, anyway. My father and his brothers were hanging on by a thread, and those fuckers didn’t care. I don’t care what they say about me—I’m young and rich. I’ll bounce back! My father and uncles did not deserve that scrutiny while they were trying to bury their father! It’s everything my family can do to hold ourselves together during this loss and they’re looking for a sound bite! Well, they got one! They can do what they want to me! I’m a big boy! I can take it, but I meant what I said! Leave! My family! Alone!”

The more I think about it, the angrier I get. The press can destroy me. Well, fuck the press! My voice comes back seeping with the fury that I feel for those inconsiderate vultures.

“They’re there when someone is born. They’re there at every tragedy. They’re there when someone dies. Why? I haven’t done anything notable! I haven’t found the cure for cancer, made some crippled kid walk or brought the dead back to life. All I did was work—work my ass off and made something of myself and they’re punishing me for it! My best friend gets shot, my wife nearly dies, my children are born and they’re there at every turn! I sneeze and they’re there. My wife changes clothes and they’re there. My grandfather dies and they’re there. And why? Because I’ve got money… something that any one of them could have had they just put forth the same effort that I did. It’s getting such that if I have a prostate exam, it’s going to be a goddamn televised event!”

My anger is boiling out of me faster than I can contain it.

“They want to destroy me in the press, let them destroy me! I’m worth more than Fort Knox right now. I could move to a small island with my entire family and live the rest of my life off my investments alone! They want to destroy me, have at it. If they do, at least at some point, I’ll finally be yesterday’s news! Maybe then I can get some goddamn peace!”

I didn’t know that I had graduated to yelling until Mac and Josh stare at me in stunned silence. I shake my head and turn my attention back to my laptop.

“If they have something else to say about me, let me know what you’re going to do about it. Otherwise, I don’t give a fuck.”

*-*

“He did what?” I roar when I walk into the small meeting in the great room. Butterfly is sitting there looking quite maudlin with my mother sitting next to her. Dad is leaning against the mantle of the fireplace while Uncle Herman stands behind one of the sofas with his arms folded.

“I don’t know how he did it in the middle of a crowded airport, but he beat that kid within an inch of his life,” Uncle Herman says. Apparently, Freeman was furious when Nolanda didn’t return to Detroit, so he took it out on Burt and beat the hell out of him in the middle of Metropolitan Airport. “By the time airport security pulled Freeman off Burt, he was unconscious. He had multiple contusions, a smashed eye-socket, and he’s going to need some serious dental work.”

I just stand there shaking my head. I feel some small amount of relief that this happened at the airport and not after I told him that Burt was gay, but horrified that I’m feeling any relief at all.

“So, why isn’t he in jail right now?” Butterfly asks.

“He was,” Uncle Herman says. “His attorney posted bail and he was released just as we were landing. At the same time, Nell was calling Stan to tell him what happened.”

“He landed Sunday night. Why are we just now hearing about this?” Mom asks.

“Nell was really in no condition to speak to anyone,” Dad says. “She was at the hospital with Burt and he was unconscious for an entire day.” Shit, shit, shit. I never would have thought this would happen. I know Freeman’s an asshole and I don’t know much else, but I still wouldn’t have expected this.

“So, where’s Burt, now?” I ask. “I mean, what now? He can’t stay in that house with Freeman.” There’s no telling what he’s going to do now that he knows Burt is gay. Uncle Herman sighs.

“When Stan and I got off the plane, Nell had called Stan and left a message that they were at Beaumont, but she gave no more details. We went to the hospital not knowing what to expect, but fully expecting to see Freeman. When we get there, Burt’s mouth is wired shut and he’s writing on a dry erase board, drinking his dinner from a straw. He was barely recognizable. He said that he told Freeman that Nollie said that she was staying, but that’s all he knew. He didn’t even see it coming when his father hit him and he woke up in the hospital two days later. It wasn’t until his mother told him what happened that he knew that his father had attacked him.

“Nell could barely explain what happened,” Uncle Herman continues. “She had to watch the video playback of the beating and identify her husband as the assailant. The way she and Burt described it, Burt was unconscious after the first hit. So, Freeman just kept beating his unconscious body in a blind rage. He couldn’t even defend himself. He got in several good hits and kicks on Burt’s limp body before bystanders tried to get involved and he started hitting them, too. By the time airport security got to him, they had to hogtie his ass to restrain him and the ambulance took Burt to the hospital.

“What’s worse is that Freeman was the emergency contact in his wallet. So, every time they try to call Burt’s emergency contact, Freeman’s phone is ringing. I can only imagine what they must have been thinking when they found out that this man’s father beat him this badly in the middle of an airport.” Uncle Herman shakes his head and runs his hand through his hair, pushing it off his forehead.

“Long story short, they finally got in touch with Nell and she stayed at the hospital with him the entire time. Freeman’s been in lock-up all this time and when he was released, it was with a restraining order to stay away from his son. Burt was released earlier today and the guy that you sent with us went back to the house with him and Nell so that they could get some of their things. They got as much as they could fit in the SUV we rented because she’s sure that he’s not going to let her back in the house again.”

“Where did they go?” Butterfly asks.

“To Nell’s mother’s house,” he says. “He has to stay one-hundred feet away from Burtie, so he can’t go to the house. Stan and I came back to get some more of their things before we left and he was already destroying their stuff. We tried to stop him, but he rounded on Stan and…” Dad looked up at Uncle Herman. This is the first time I’d seen a protective streak in my father and I knew he would feel responsible for anything that happened to his little brother after hearing what happened to Burt.

“And what?” Dad asks as if he would fly to Detroit himself and beat Freeman’s ass if he hurt Uncle Stan. Uncle Herman laughs.

“Stan came back on him with one blow and the ‘fight’ was over,” Uncle Herman chuckles. “Didn’t even hit him in the face. He hit Freeman in the chest. So. Hard, that an involuntary whimper escaped from his throat along with all the breath from his lungs.”

I could almost feel the pain from that blow. That’s one of those hits that causes noise to come from your voice box even if you’re saying nothing.

“Stan moved so fast, I didn’t even see the hit. I heard it and I saw the aftermath. Freeman just crumpled on the sofa like an invisible force was pushing him inward. Stan said, ‘Stay there, Freem, or I’ll lay you down. I’ll give you the beating that Burt should’ve.’ Freeman looked at him like he had seen a ghost. When Freeman tried to get off the sofa, Stan told him again, ‘Stay down.’ Reminded him that there’s an active restraining order against him and that he just got out of jail. If they got into a fight, he just violated his bail and would be back in jail by midnight. Freem stood still while we gathered as much as we could and put it in that SUV.” I shake my head.

“Well, he’s going to have two restraining orders now,” I say. Everyone frowns and looks at me. I pull out my phone, go to the call logs and hand it to Dad. “All of those missed calls are him, and most likely all of those messages.” Dad frowns.

“How do you know it’s Freeman? They’re all unknown,” he says as he scrolls through them.

“It’s him, Dad,” I say. “He started calling today. He wants to know where Nolanda is.”

“You know where Nollie is?” Uncle Herman says.

“We both do,” Butterfly responds. “She confided in me with her plans and I shared them with Christian—with her permission—so that we can aid her escape.”

“Well, where is she?” Dad says.

“It’s up to her to reveal that, Dad,” I say. “All I can say is that she’s safe, she’s happy, she’s gotten married, and she’s not going back.”

“Nollie got married?” Uncle Herman asks. I nod.

“She knew Freeman wouldn’t approve, so she eloped,” I respond. “I more think she eloped, though, instead of having a wedding because she just wanted to get away from him, and her new husband is rich. She was conferenced in on one of the calls with him today and it was bloody. She unloaded on him mercilessly. Now, he’s calling me because… well, obviously, he has to blame somebody—anybody, but himself. So, my attorney is filing harassment charges against him. I’m told that my phone logs and his threatening messages are more than enough to charge him with stalking, which—according to Al—he can go to jail for a year and be fined $1000.”

“Oh, it’s better than that,” Dad says. “If he’s already served with a restraining order and he’s already on bail and he continues to stalk you, those numbers go up to five years and $10,000.” I frown at my father. How did he know that? “I practiced law in Michigan before I moved here, son,” he says, answering my unasked question.

“Oh, that would be lovely,” I say with no remorse. “His last call was 5:17pm Seattle time, so that’s 8:17pm Detroit time. I’ll find out from Al tomorrow what time the restraining order was served… if it was served.”

“Freeman’s life is going to be shit when this is all over,” Uncle Herman says, “and somebody has to tell Nollie what’s going on.”


ANASTASIA

“We can’t tell Nolanda,” Christian says immediately.

“We have to tell Nolanda!” I retort. “This happened to Burt because she wasn’t on the plane!”

“This happened to Burt because her father’s a fucking asshole!” he yells back, his fists clenched. Grace looks at him but says nothing. “She has a right to live her life and if we tell her this happened, she’ll never forgive herself.” I take a deep breath and speak in a calming voice.

“She’s going to find out, Christian,” I say softly. “How do you think she’ll feel knowing that we knew first and didn’t tell her?” Christian’s eyes dart back and forth between mine.

“Fuck!” he roars, slamming his hands so hard on a nearby table that it rattles. People from the kitchen come running into the great room, Elliot and Val included. I quickly put my hand on my husband’s back, trying to soothe him. Christian leans on the table with the table runner bunched in his fingers.

“He’s a fucking monster,” he says through clenched teeth, “a goddamn, fucking monster. All the girl wanted to do was live the life he never afforded her! All she wanted was peace, and he takes it away at every turn. He beat the hell out of that kid because he couldn’t control the other kid’s life.” Christian shakes his head. I have no doubt that he’s feeling part of the responsibility for putting Nollie on the jet to Vegas this past weekend. “How could my kind, caring grandfather had produced such an evil, heartless, selfish bastard?”

“There’s always one,” Carrick says, garnering Christian’s attention. “Uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins, daughters, sons, brothers, and sisters—all kind-hearted, good individuals… and one asshole.” Christian shakes his head.

“I was the asshole at one point,” he says defeated.

“You were nothing like Freeman!” Elliot interjects.

“But I was still an asshole,” he protests.

“Okay, I can attest to that,” I say to stop the back and forth, “but now you’re not. You’re a kind-hearted, loving and devoted husband, a doting father, and grateful son and a philanthropic human being. You’re nothing like Freeman and you never will be, and even though you’ve had your moments, you’re a wonderful man now and we all love you. Freeman has no one that’s saying that about him right now.” Christian takes a deep breath and his body settles.

“I can’t tell her,” he says, still leaning on the table and shaking his head. “I can’t tell her that Freeman nearly killed Burt because of her.” That’s not what happened. Freeman nearly killed Burt because he’s an evil and selfish asshole.

“I’ll talk to her,” I tell him.

*-*

“Hi, Nollie, it’s Ana.”

“Hi, Ana… why so glum?” she asks.

“I need you to sit down, honey.” I hear her pull out a chair and take a seat.

“Is it Mom?” she asks. “Is she alright?” I swallow hard.

“She’s left Freeman,” I say. “She moved in with her mother and she’s going to be filing for divorce as soon as possible.”

“Did he hit her?” Nollie asks in a panic.

“No, Nollie, he didn’t hit your mother. He did… hit Burt.” The line is quiet.

“He hit Burt,” she says. It’s a statement, not a question. “Why did he hit Burt?” I sigh.

“He was angry that you didn’t return to Detroit,” I tell her. “Christian and I just found out. Apparently, he attacked Burt almost the moment he got off the plane.”

“You’re telling me that my father attacked my brother because I didn’t come back to Detroit?” she summarizes. I sigh.

“It’s not your fault, Nollie…” I begin.

“I know it’s not my fault! It’s my father’s fault! He’s a fucking asshole!” she declares. I pull the phone away from my ear as she rants, but can’t hide my relief that she knows it’s not her fault. Christian examines me for a moment, then instructs me to put the phone on speaker, which I do.

“… And a self-righteous son-of-a-bitch. Burt wouldn’t hurt a fucking fly and he knows it and his Cro-Magnon bully ass did this shit to my brother? Somebody needs to…”

“Nolanda!” Christian says forcefully. Nollie stops mid-rant. “What can we do to help?” She sighs.

“Where’s my brother?” she asks.

“He and your mother are staying with your grandmother,” Christian says.

“Why didn’t anyone call me?” I sigh again.

“It’s been a real mess,” I tell her. “Burt had to be hospitalized and your mom went straight from the hospital to her mother’s. She’s been nursing Burt back to health, but most likely didn’t know what to say to you. She sighs.

“They didn’t want to upset me,” she says sorrowfully. “I have my grandmother’s number. I’m going to call them right now. Christian, if it’s not too much trouble, I would like to use the jet again… I just… don’t think I can get a commercial flight soon enough… and the layovers and delays…” Her voice starts cracking.

“You let me know when you’ll need it,” he says. Nollie starts to cry.

“Thank you, Christian,” she weeps. “I’ll call you soon.” I end the call and he calls Jason.

“Back to Detroit again,” he says into the phone.


A/N: So, Freeman’s a bigger fucking asshole than we thought and he’s well on his way to losing everything he every cherished.

The song that Ana is humming to calm Christian is called “More Than Words” by Extreme. 

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

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 6—Changing Lanes

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 6—Changing Lanes

CHRISTIAN

“Like I said before, I’ve studied your vision for many years. I’ve always wanted the chance to work with you, not only for what you think I can bring to the company, but also for whatever knowledge I can glean from you, Mr. Grey,” Lorenz says as we take an informal tour of Grey House on Monday morning. I’ll be introducing him to the other departments at the department head meeting later. Right now, Ros and I are giving him a somewhat lay of the land.

“Your reputation precedes you, Lorenz,” I tell him. “Ros and I are on a first name basis, a privilege not shared with many on my staff. I would think it would be a bit awkward if I didn’t extend the same courtesy to you.” I gesture to him to enter the company cafeteria, which always has a chef on staff and a large selection of food for nearly every palette. “What’s most important to me in this relationship is that I have someone on my right and left hand that I can trust. There were many qualified candidates that applied for the position, but they didn’t fit the bill for more reasons than one.” I take the coffee from the counter. I rarely come down to the cafeteria in the morning, but when I do, they know that I want a fresh cup of black coffee.

“You have them trained well,” he says after he and Ros places an order, noticing that I didn’t need to. I raise my brow at him.

“They’re not trick ponies, Lorenz,” I chastise gently, and he immediately catches my meaning, “but they like to keep me happy.” I turn around to see who’s working today. “Thank you, Misty.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. Grey,” she says with a bright smile. When Lorenz and Ros take their orders, we head back out of the cafeteria and continue our tour.

“As you already know, Ros and I both have families, so only the two of us running things has become a bit of a trial as of late since my wife just gave birth to twins. I was never very social as such before I met my wife, so my life has taken on a new dynamic. Even now, I really shouldn’t be in the office because my grandfather is in a very bad way, but there were things that needed to be handled—one of which was officially welcoming you to the company.”

“How is Burt?” Ros asks sympathetically as we are heading to the floor with the executive offices just under mine. I clear my throat and hide a sigh.

“Any day now,” I tell her as we round the corner towards Lorenz’s office.

“There are so many new technologies now, Mr. Gr… Christian,” Lorenz says sympathetically. “Maybe there are ways that they can prolong his life.” I shake my head.

“We wouldn’t want that,” I say. “He’s suffering right now and we try to keep him as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. We don’t want to prolong his suffering just so that he could have a few more seconds with us.”  Lorenz nods.

“I understand,” he says. “This must be very hard on you.”

“It is,” I sigh. “It’s a long story that I don’t want to repeat right now, but I haven’t had him in my life for very long and now I’m losing him. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.”

“Well, I’m a praying man, Christian, and I’ll pray for your family.” I nod again.

“Much appreciated, Lorenz.” I straighten up. “Now, enough about me. I’m going to leave you in Ros’ very capable hands while I get some things done in my office. You know where to find me and I’ll see you at the department head meeting at ten.” I leave him and Ros to finish the tour as I make my way back to my office. I’ve decided to finish the quarters behind my office that have been dormant and unfinished for over a year now. Security is tighter this time around and workers must be registered and scanned with temporary badges into GEH’s security grid and then scanned again before they are allowed off the elevator onto this floor and the stairwells are guarded—no access. The work was nearly done before the Pedophile made her appearance that day, so there’s not much left to do. As such, the work can go on behind me without much noise or disturbance.

I sit down at my desk, still pondering Uncle Stan’s situation. It really shouldn’t be that hard to get him the time off that he needs to come and say goodbye to Pops. I just don’t know how to go about doing it without direct connections within the company. Sure, I know some people on the mountaintop, but by the time they even make their way to top level executives on the factory food chain, let alone down into the trenches, Pops will have passed on. I’ve got to come up with something fast.

“Andrea, come in here for a moment, please,” I beckon her over the intercom.

“Yes, sir.” A few moments later, she’s in front of my desk with her tablet.

“I need you to skip the department head meeting this morning. Let Luma take the minutes for you…”

“Luma’s not here, sir,” she says. “You gave her permission to take time off due to your family crisis.”

Shit, that’s right. I completely forgot.

“Dammit!” I exclaim, running my hands through my hair.

“What is it, sir?” I lean on my desk and fold my arms.

“I know how hard it is to transcribe minutes after they have been recorded, but I may need you to do that. I have a time-sensitive issue that requires your immediate attention. I may still be working it from other angles, but I need every possible angle explored.” She looks at me expecting.

“Okay,” she says. “I’ve become accustomed to being in two places at the same time. What do you need?” I sigh.

“Will you see if you can find out who I would need to talk to if I want to get some time off for a factory worker in one of the Big Three in Michigan? He’s out of paid leave and can’t get a leave of absence, so I think they’re throwing the book at him. I don’t want to rock the boat, though, because he still has to return to this job when all is said and done.” She bites her lip in contemplation and nods.

“I’ll see what I can find out,” she says. “I’ll start in the obvious places and work my way up. You better get to the meeting, though. You’re about to be late.” I look at my watch and push myself off the desk.

“It’s not like they can start without me…”

The announcement of Lorenz being added to the team is met with a bit of a lukewarm reception. Many of the department heads are wondering why I didn’t hire from within. It’s because I’m not 100% pleased with the performance of some of the departments and putting one of these people in an executive position over the company when they can barely handle an executive position over a department would have been a huge tactical error.

“Who would you have suggested that I choose from inside?” I ask, directing the question at the department head who raised the issue.

“Well, I’m just saying that… we would have liked the opportunity to have applied for the position,” he retorts, his voice lacking the conviction and accusation that it held moments ago. “We weren’t even extended the invitation.” It’s a very valid argument, but still doesn’t address the question.

“And again, I pose the question to you… who would you have suggested that I promote from the inside?” I ask. “You’ve been in the department head meetings nearly every Monday for the past several years with most of the people in this room. Tell me—honestly—who would you have suggested that I promote from the inside?” He looks around from person to person and doesn’t provide an answer. What’s more remarkable is that he doesn’t even offer himself as a viable candidate. I turn my attention to the hand that I see raised to my right.

“Mr. Grey, are we to understand that there’s no further room for advancement from where we are now?”

The million-dollar question. All eyes are on me. I am now presented with a situation where most high-level executives or owners find themselves—where I must put my foot down and show these people who’s boss without prompting a mass work stoppage or walkout. This situation must be handled both firmly and gingerly.

I stand from my seat, something I very rarely do in a department-head meeting. Accusing and expectant glances now become cautious. You’ve rattled the boss’s cage and he can no longer sit here quietly and observe the show. Now you’re nervous… and you should be. The sleeper has awakened—again.

“Mr. Carlton,” I say, buttoning my jacket, “besides the introduction of Mr. Fineman, what has prompted this line of questioning?” He considers his answer.

“Nothing, sir,” he replies. “Nothing before this made me think about possibly being able to advance—nothing but the creation of a position into which one of your senior managers could have advanced, but were never given the opportunity.” There’s a small murmur in the room.

“I see,” I say, stepping away from my seat and beginning my circle of the table, much like my wife did a few months ago when I announced that she was a major shareholder, which brings me back to the conversation. “So, before the creation of this vice-presidential position, were you satisfied with your station? Your salary fair? Your benefits and incentives suitable? Your company car and other executive perks acceptable? That’s not a trick question—there’s no wrong answer. This is not a trap.” He pauses for a moment.

“Well, yes sir,” he says. “My salary is quite generous and I’m very happy with my perks.” I nod.

“How about anyone else in this room?” I ask. “Is there anyone in this room who feels that their annual raises should be more? Their bonuses are not adequate? Not enough vacation time? Anything? Again, not a trick question and no wrong answer.”

I can see the honest contemplation on the faces of many of the people in the room, but none of them show discontent with their compensation.

“Okay, so let’s address another issue,” I say in the most diplomatic way possible. “How many of you feel restless, like the position that you’re in has you locked in a fishbowl and there’s nothing else to offer?” I’m looking for the Dodds in this one. I can’t have another person in an executive or management position trying to find a way to sabotage my company. Dodd’s fate was never made public. Hell, I don’t even know what happened to him. To that end, no one knows what would become of them if they cross me in such a manner, and this situation is the perfect environment for mutiny. A few hands are raised, some quickly and others more slowly. I make a mental note of the hands that I see in the air.

“That’s understandable,” I respond, to the surprise of many of the people in attendance, “especially if you’ve been here for any extended period of time. There are a few points that I feel compelled to make at this juncture,” I say, still circling the room. “First of all, as you all know, my life has taken on some major twists in recent years, which requires that I immediately have a more flexible schedule. For that reason, I was forced to seek out a qualified professional who could effectively be me in my absence with little to no training as quickly as possible. Being totally honest, who among you would have been able to stand from this table at this very moment and do that job?”

I emphasize the fact by pointing to Lorenz. They look from one to another and once again, no one can produce a suitable candidate.

“As I pointed out in his introduction, Mr. Fineman’s qualifications, resume, and references are impeccable. He comes highly recommended and leaves nothing but success in his wake. GEH is lucky to have acquired him and I hope that my executive management staff will be respectful and cooperative as he familiarizes himself with the intricacies of this organization.” That’s more information than they really deserve, but that’s okay. I’m only building up to tearing down that false sense of security.

“Every ladder has a certain number of rungs, which means at some point, you reach the top of that ladder. My management staff are all at the top of that ladder. Mrs. Bailey and I are not on that ladder. Being on that ladder insinuates that you can go down… and you can go down.” I add that last part in as a pre-warning for what’s coming next.

“Mr. Carlton, I’ll answer your question, now. This room is full of the elite of my company. Most of you worked your way to these executive positions. Others of you—like Mr. Fineman—were hired based on your qualifications. You are the cream who have in one way or another risen to the top and yes, this is the highest that you can go in the company. Having said that, please note that should you feel discontent in your position, you are more than welcome to tender your notice and resignation. Upon proper notice, I will be more than happy to honor your contracts with any severance packages promised as well as adequate references based on your performance with this organization. I’m very certain that there are other positions that would offer an opportunity for advancement, but I’m not remiss to say that you would be very hard pressed to find the kind of compensation offered by GEH.

“I did not add an additional rung to the advancement ladder,” I continue. “I hired someone to assist me with executive job duties, which are the duties that perform. Listening to your concerns and weighing them with your answers regarding your compensation packages, I conclude that had I continued doing what I was doing—trying to spread the work between me and my second in command, which was causing us undue stress and grief—you all would have been happy with your compensation and positions as long as I didn’t hire anyone over you to perform job duties that any of you have yet to say that you could step up and perform at a moment’s notice.”

There is still silence in the room. Even the quiet got quieter. And now, the death blow.

“While you are the best of the best of GEH, know this. This is a non-stock corporation. There are no stockholders, no board of directors and no members. There’s only me, my wife, and very soon, my infant children. This means that I. Answer. To no one. I decide I want something done, it’s done. Your ideas, concepts and departmental needs must be approved. Mine. Do not!

“I’m not accustomed to having to explain the decisions for how I run my company to anyone except my wife, who is also a majority shareholder in this company. The only other shareholders in this company will soon be my infant children, and I only answer to them for food, shelter, and the occasional diaper change. While your questions were justifiable based on your positions and concerns, and warranted answers, understand that this will be the last time I will ever be urged to address executive decisions made by me for Grey Enterprises Holdings, Incorporated. I know and understand that as of late, I haven’t quite been the ballbuster that I once was, but make no mistake… he’s not dead. I can bring him back anytime anyone feels the need to be reminded just how far my reach can go.

“Mr. Fineman came from an exclusive talent pool assembled for immediate need. With your qualifications, you can all join that talent pool, but you can also be replaced from it. Also remember that while there are unfortunately no positions above you that can be filled by you at this time, there are talented people in this company that would be only too happy to take the positions you choose to vacate. I will only remind of your NDA’s and your legal obligations concerning proprietary information. I will also caution you that your positions are based on skill… and loyalty. Breach of my trust comes with severe penalties. I would tell you to ask around, but I would first challenge you to find anyone who has breached my trust in any prominent or desirable position anywhere.”

I’ve made my way back to the head of the table and face the occupants of the meeting. Many of them appear to have shrunk in their seats… or something. I unbutton my jacket, sit back in my seat, and cross my ankle over my knee.

“Are there any questions?”

And there’s that rat pissing on cotton again.

“Then this meeting is adjourned. Ms. Bailey, Mr. Fineman, Mr. Forsythe, Mr. Welch, can you remain behind, please?” The other department heads rightly take this as their cue to scramble out of the conference room like roaches.

“Well,” Lorenz says, “I didn’t think I’d be seeing you in action so soon.”

“Neither did I,” I say, “but that’s nothing. Wait until you see me in negotiations.” I turn to Alex. “Did you make note of who raised their hands?”

“I did, sir,” he says.

“You know what to do. Keep reports and let me know if anything develops.” Alex nods.

“Yes, sir,” and he leaves without another word. I turn back to Ros, Al, and Lorenz, who raises his eyebrow at me. “You can’t be too careful,” I say.

“I’ll make sure to stay on your good side,” he says. I nod. I decide to direct the conversation to Uncle Stan.

“I have a delicate situation on my hands right now. It’s time sensitive—extremely time sensitive—and if I can’t find a sensible solution to the issue by day’s end, I’m going to have to roll through this thing like a bull in a China shop and I really don’t want to do that.”

“What’s up?” Ros asks.

“It’s one of the reasons I hired you, Lorenz, to give me time with my family. I need to know who I would talk to if I want to arrange so time off for an employee of a company that we supply steel to. Human resources have proven to be a no-go, so there has to be another way. This is of the highest immediate importance.”

“Detroit?” she asks. I sigh.

“Yes. One of my uncles works for the Big Three, but he’s taken all the time that he can and can’t get any time off to see Pops before he dies. I’m open for any suggestions.”

“You’re sure there’s no luck with human resources?” Al asks.

“Nobody to sweet talk,” I admit, “or threaten. I don’t want to strong-arm my way through this. I know that I could if I wanted to… money talks. But my uncle has to go back to work at that place when this is all said and done. If there’s any way that this can be done the same way that any other employee would be able to get help in an emergent situation, I’d prefer that, but I don’t have time to dawdle. If I can’t get this done in a reasonable manner by the end of business today, then I’ll strong arm, but I would prefer not to.”

“Steel workers… Have you tried the union?” Lorenz asks. I twist my lips.

“I don’t know what the union could do besides collective bargaining. Am I missing something?”

“They’re supposed to be on the side of the worker. I know most of them have funds to help with bills and whatnot when they decide to strike. There has to be something in place for a situation like this. A leave bank or something? With time being at a premium, I’d say go as high as you can in the UAW.” I don’t want to admit this early that the guy’s a fucking genius, but the guy’s a fucking genius. I never even considered going to the union.

“Okay, I’m ashamed to say that this is the first time I’ve tried to help the little man, so to speak, so I don’t know which direction to go,” I confess.

“That’s not true, Christian,” Ros says, frowning deeply. I turn my gaze to her. “Jim Radcliff? The Martins? Luma?” she reminds me.

“The Johnsons?” Al interjects. “Marlow? Sophia Taylor? Val?”

“Those people are all family,” I remind him.

“There weren’t when you helped them,” he retorts. “The Radcliffs and the Martins aren’t your family and the others are only family because you welcomed them, except Val, who married your brother… after you helped her. Which reminds me… Chuck and his parents? Keri?” I put my hands up in surrender.

“Okay, okay, I get it,” I say waving my hands. Apparently, I’ve been fairy godfather to more people than I thought. Lorenz smiles at me.

“You’re a secret philanthropist, sir?” he asks.

“Apparently so,” I say, running my hands through my hair. “Lorenz, can you help me out, here? I’m usually not at such a loss and my only care is normally that things are just handled—thoroughly and properly. This time, it’s different. The situation is out of my hands and it involves a direct family member, so it also needs to be handled carefully.” Lorenz runs his hands over his chin and beard in contemplation.

“Can you give me an hour?” he asks.

“Not much more than that,” I say. “I have to make something happen really soon. I’m already on borrowed time.” He nods once and excuses himself.

“I think he’ll do fine,” Ros says, once he leaves the room. “He comes with his own contacts, you know.”

“I know,” I tell her. “That can be a good thing or a bad thing. We’ll just have to wait and see which…”

I was about to find out sooner rather than later which…

*-*

“I have Dennis Williams on the phone for you, Mr. Grey,” Andrea’s disembodied voice informs me. I was standing just inside the door of my nearly-complete sleeping quarters when I get the alert.

“Dennis Williams?” I ask, frowning. Who the hell is Dennis Williams? “Did I have a conference call that I wasn’t aware of?”

“No, sir,” she informs me. “Mr. Williams is calling from the UAW Solidarity House in Detroit. He’s the sitting president of the United Auto Workers union.”

The sitting president… The fucking sitting president… Are you kidding me?

“Which line?” I ask, quickly taking a seat at my desk.

“Line one, sir,” she says. I press the blinking light for line one.

“Christian Grey,” I say into the phone.

“Mr. Grey, hello. This is Dennis Williams from the UAW in Detroit.” I can tell he’s an older gentleman. I would have liked to have been better prepared for this call, something I’ll discuss with Lorenz in the future, but in this case, I’ll make an exception. I did pretty much tell him that my ass was on fire.

“Hello, Mr. Williams,” I respond. “I wish I could say that I was expecting this call. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I hear that a colleague of mine is now in a senior position in your company… Lorenz Fineman?” A colleague?

“Yes, he’s accepted the position of executive vice-president with Grey Enterprises Holdings,” I confirm.

“I should clarify, he’s not really a colleague,” Williams adds. “He’s helped us with some difficult situations in the past—strictly legitimate business, of course. When he called asking for my assistance with an urgent matter, I couldn’t possibly turn him down. He says it has to do with your uncle and the steel company that supplies the Ford plant. Do you have time to talk to me about it?”

Oh, boy, do I!

“I’d appreciate any help you can give me,” I inform him. “I should first tell you that I own controlling shares of Severstal.” The line is momentarily quiet.

“You do?” he says.

“Yes. So, if I wanted to push people around and be a bully and get things done, I could, but I don’t want to do that. My uncle is an honest working man and I don’t want to cause any trouble for him.”

“Grey!” Williams says, finally. “Of course! How did I not make that connection?” I laugh to myself.

“For some reason, a lot of people don’t. Maybe that’s a good thing. My own uncle didn’t even know until this past weekend, but that’s a different story. The situation is pretty simple and I just want to know if there’s anything that can done about it.”

“Well, let’s hear it. We’ll do whatever is in our power.”

“That’s all I ask. His name is Stanley Grey and he’s in the Dearborn Ford Plant. He’s used all of his leave time due to other emergent family issues. However, his father—my grandfather—is out here in Seattle with me and my father. He’s dying of kidney failure and he doesn’t have long left to live… a week, maybe. All his sons have been out here to see him before he passes except Uncle Stanley. It would mean a lot to my family if we could get him out here before Pops dies. He can’t use FMLA because he’s not the primary caregiver and Pops isn’t dead yet. So, you see my dilemma.”

“Yes, I see,” he says. “This is a fairly easy fix, though, and totally legit.” I hear him typing into his computer. “Stanley Grey… yes, there’s only one Stanley Grey in the Dearborn plant.” He types some more. “Yeah, I see he has used all of his time.” More typing. “He’s got an impeccable record, though. Long-term employee… no disciplinary action… We shouldn’t have a problem getting him some time from the bank.” I frown.

“The bank?” I ask.

“Yes, the paid-leave time bank,” he replies, still typing. “Employees have an option to donate time to the paid leave bank for situations like this. You never know what might happen. The union is a team, Mr. Grey. We have to look out for one another.” More typing. “Your Uncle has probably donated to the bank himself, but once the time is donated, it’s just classified by pay grade, not by person.”

“Does my Uncle know about this? Why didn’t he just ask for some of the time?” I ask.

“He might have, but there’s a process in getting the time approved and by the time it’s approved, it sounds like your grandfather would have already passed on.” He continues typing. “Yes, he applied for emergency time—two weeks. He withdrew it, though. I’m assuming it was just too close.” I hear more typing. “I’ll admit, Mr. Grey, this is partially special treatment because Mr. Fineman is a friend that we would like to keep in our good graces; but this is also the very reason why we have this time bank, for situations like this. Your uncle is entitled to this time and with his record, he most likely would have been approved. But based on what you’re telling me, it probably would have been too late for him to see his father before his death.” I hear shuffling on the other line, then a woman’s voice before Williams answers her.

“Can you get Dearborn HR on the line?” he tells her. “Tell them to check the leave bank database for Stanley Grey. This is his employee number. His leave bank request for two weeks has been approved effective immediately and he needs to be released as soon as possible. Tell them his father is gravely ill—use those words, Karen… gravely ill.” I hear the female voice say something on the other end and then a door closes.

“I appreciate you contacting the union, first, Mr. Grey,” Williams continues. “I’ll honestly say that I’m not really sure what you may have been able to accomplish through other channels, but even if you were unsuccessful in your plight, it still would have caused us problems.” I frown.

“I don’t quite follow,” I say.

“Well, HR works with us with the banked time, but the union maintains it and submits the requests for approval. Let’s say you went the traditional ‘heads will roll’ route, calling in favors or raging at whatever executives you knew. That shout would have started in Severstal’s hallowed halls, which would have made its way to through Severstal executive offices. After bouncing around shivering executives for a while, it finally would have made it to Ford’s board of directors… if you’re lucky. They would run around for a day or so trying to find out who should be blamed. Big man from one of our largest steel vendors is trying to get something done for his uncle. Who the hell is his uncle? They would be so busy running around scared that it would probably take them another day to figure out that Stanley Grey was in the Dearborn Plant.

“Now, they call HR and they go through the entire process all over again of discovering that Stanley doesn’t have any time left, even though you’ve already made this known in your request. Now, I must inform you that this information is not moving as quickly as it did between you and me—you talk to the source on the phone, I type in his name, find the request and get it approved and rushed through HR. No, this is going through a series of emails and executive memorandums that read like a game of CLUE with no one wanting to take any responsibility for this situation going into the crapper and Ford possibly losing its biggest supplier of steel since we know that Severstal has other large customers worldwide.

“After all this—probably three to four days after you’ve made the request—some clerk happens to see the notice and mentions it to someone in the know in HR that Stanley Grey needs some emergency leave and the request is coming ‘straight from the top.’ Keep in mind that the union may or may not get that ‘straight from the top’ information, assuming that we’ve been notified at all since no one thought to tell us.

“One of the reps on-site or at the local in Detroit is now trying to get this pushed through, but it still has to go through some kind of process at the union level. Let me tell you, Mr. Grey, news from the top gets to the union at a snail’s pace unless it’s something that directly has to do with us. Even then, it’s usually on a need-to-know basis and they decide who needs to know. By the time your ‘get this done yesterday’ request gets to us, it’s five days later. Your grandfather may have already passed away, and everybody’s now passing the buck until it lands in the lap of the union. So, by Mr. Fineman knowing to bring this matter straight to us, we’ve saved each other a lot of headache.” I hear a chime or some kind of notification. He’s silent and I hear typing. “And while I was telling my little story, your uncle has been notified of his approval and is clocking out as we speak.” I sigh heavily.

“Mr. Williams, you have my eternal gratitude. I don’t know how to thank you for this.”

“All I ask is that if there’s ever a reason for our paths to cross again, listen to Finney. He knows what we need.” Finney? Really?

“Thank you again, Mr. Williams. I don’t mean to be rude, but I need to make travel arrangements for my uncle… and I need to tell my father.”

“You’re quite welcome, Mr. Grey. Until and if we meet again, it was my pleasure.” We exchange pleasantries and end the call. I dial my uncle’s number.

“Hello?” he answers and I can tell that he’s in the car.

“Uncle Stanley?” I respond.

“Christian!” he exclaims. “You did it! I don’t know how you did it, but you did it!

“Are you driving, Uncle Stanley?” I ask, unable to mask my concern.

“I’m hands-free,” he says, chuckling. “You’re just like my wife. Your voice is coming through the speakers.”

“What do you need?” I ask, relieved. “How soon can you get here?”

“Well, I’ll have to get a flight,” he says.

“Let me see what I can do,” I tell him. “I would send my jet, but it’s too short notice. If I can’t get you a flight within the next six hours, I’ll send my jet.” The line is silent for a moment.

“You have a jet?” he says, quietly.

“Yes, sir,” I tell him. He chuckles.

“Freem didn’t stand a chance,” he says. I don’t bother answering. Freem has a problem with money that I can’t explain.

“Will anyone be traveling with you?”

“No, not yet,” he says. “My wife may try to come later. There are some things going on with her job and our home that need our attention. She was more concerned about me getting to see Dad before… before he’s gone.” His voice cracks.

“Uncle Stanley, I’m going to try to make some travel arrangements for you. I’m going to end this call now. I don’t want you to be upset while you’re driving. How soon would you want to leave?”

“I’m going home to pack and wait for your call, son,” he says. I nod.

“Then I’ll call you with a flight as soon as I get one.” We say our goodbyes and end the call. I buzz my PA.

“Yes, sir?”

“Andrea, I need a first-class, straight through flight from Detroit to Seattle as soon as you can get it booked…”


ANASTASIA

I split my time today between cooing at my twins, talking to Pops, and being a buffer between Mia and her parents when they discussed continuing with her wedding plans. That last one was totally unnecessary as Grace and Carrick both agree that Mia should continue with her planning, just like Pops said. A few times, she came into Pops’ room with plans for the wedding and each time he saw her enter, his face lit up while she talked about small details like napkins, floating votives, centerpieces, and favors. I asked Pops if he wanted to rest and he politely said, “I’ll rest when I’m dead!” before turning to Mia and saying, “Nix the candle stands. I like the floating votives better. And the stones on the bottom should be gray—not iridescent. The iridescent stones look like dollar store dressing!”

“I thought that, too!” Mia had said. “I’ll let you know as soon as we narrow down the flower choices.”

“Whatever you choose, use lilacs instead of baby’s breath,” Pop’s calls out to her. “It’s prettier and aromatic, and it symbolizes new love.” Mia smiles widely.

“Thanks, Grampa,” she says sweetly before leaving his room. I turn back to Pops. “She’s doesn’t treat me like I’m dying,” he says as an explanation. “She’s giving me that gift, so I’m giving her the gift of showing interest in her wedding. That will be her final memories of me.” I smile as a tear drops down my cheek.

“Would you like to hold your great-grandson?” I ask. Pops toothless grin spans his entire face.

“I sure would,” he says, his gums on full display. I take Mikey out of the carrier attached to my body and place him gently in Pops’ arms.

“Hey, there, little fella,” he says sweetly to a sleeping Mikey. Again, Pops’ face lights up and I vow to keep as much life around him in the coming days that I can. His room is serene, welcoming death quietly and calmly like his life is already over, and that’s not what Pops wants. As he spends some quality time bonding with his great-grandson, I open the window and let some fresh air in. I come back over to his bed and sit down.

“You seem in good spirits today,” I say. He smiles at Mikey as he rocks him back and forth.

“You’re a doctor, child,” he says, still smiling at his great-grandson. “You know what this is.” I cringe inside. I know exactly what it is.

“You know what it is, Pops?” I ask cautiously. He nods.

“That last burst of energy that allows me to be coherent and say goodbye to my family,” he says, somewhat solemnly. “Ruby had it before she went home. It won’t be long, now.” I nod.

“I would say that you’re right,” I say, stroking Mikey’s silky brown hair as he sucks his binky intermittently without opening his eyes. “I can’t help but feel sad. I know what’s to come, but…” I hold my head down and quickly wipe away a tear. “… It just seems like we haven’t had enough time.”

“But we certainly made the best of what we had,” he said. “I loved reliving my life with my Ruby through talking to you. It was the most wonderful gift anyone could give me.”

“I’m glad I could do something for you during this time,” I say, feeling helpless.

“You’ve done so much!” he says. “Your wedding made it possible for me to reconnect with my son, meet my grandchildren, and know that the Grey name will continue to flourish well after I’m gone. Look at this!” He looks adoringly at Mikey. “Look at this gorgeous little man, this wonderful bundle of hope. I know that Ruby is so pleased that I got a chance to meet you all—to bond with you all and see my complete family before I pass on. This is why I’m not afraid. I have love and fulfillment on this side and I’ll have it on the other side. I just have to make the transition. What more could a man ask for?”

My tears flow freely now. I admire his strength and courage and I wish I had the chance to know him better before he’s taken away from us. A year seems so short.

“Tell me about your greatest adventure,” he says, catching me completely off guard.

“What?” I ask, a little shocked.

“I’m lucid and for the moment, I’m not dying. I want to hear about the living. Tell me about your greatest adventure.” I laugh softly.

“That would have to be marrying your grandson,” I reply. He scoffs at me.

“You’re supposed to say that,” he says in disbelief.

“Well, in my case, it’s true,” I say. “This relationship has been one roller coaster ride after another. I never know what’s going to happen next. There’s never a typical day in the life of the Greys. Everything we do, we do big… even screw up. I tell you, Pops, it’s been a wild ride.” He chuckles.

“Okay, then tell me about one of the adventures you’ve had since you married my grandson… a good one!” he clarifies. I only think for a moment.

“I would say that one of our best was our honeymoon, before it was cut short…”

I spend quite some time telling Pops about our trip to Europe. He’s never been, even though he’s taken a trip or three here and there with Ruby before she passed away. I relive the splendor of the Arc de Triomphe and the fact that Christian made me wear flats before we could see it. I hate flats because I’m already short, but I was already pregnant with the twins and didn’t know yet, so my feet were swelling in the stiletto boots I had been wearing for the last six hours. Pops sat in silent awe and wonderment as I talk about the wine tasting at a historic Paris champagne bar, seeing a show at the famous Moulin Rouge, and visiting the Eiffel Tower. He knows something else happened with the Eiffel Tower as I physically feel my face flush when I start talking about it, but he doesn’t press for details.

I continue with the beautiful sites and shopping of Paris, then take him on a mental trip through Greece. His eyes shine as if he can see the sites in his head and is traveling right along with me. We talk for hours about the Parthenon and the Acropolis, the bronze statues in the museum and church on Lycabettus Hill; the Olympic Stadium and the religious experience that was the prison and death place of Socrates; the wonder that is Delphi and the Santorini sunsets. Just as our virtual trip is coming to an end, I hear my husband’s voice and the whisper of a male voice that I don’t recognize. It’s only now that I realize that the sun has long since set and my son has slept for more hours than normal nestled in his great-grandfather’s arms.

“Pops!” Christian says in amazement as he enters the bedroom. “You look great! What… what happened?” Pops smiles at Christian, but doesn’t bother to repeat what we already know. Instead, he opts to enjoy what time he has left.

“Mikey here kept me content while Ana regaled me with fabulous tales of your honeymoon. It’s enough to put a little life in this tired old soul,” he replies. Christian smiles widely.

“Well, if that’s all it takes to get you looking and sounding this good, maybe I can put a little more life into you.” Christian leans out the door and gestures to someone. What looks like a young version of Carrick walks into the room.

“Stan!” Pops says with enthusiasm. “Son! Oh, my God! I’m so glad you made it!”

“Hi, Dad,” Stan says, walking into the room and approaching his father’s bed. Christian relieves Pops of Mikey, who promptly starts to fuss. Pops and Stan look at each other and embrace for long moments. Christian hands Mikey to me and we step out of the room to give father and son some much needed time together.

“He really looks good,” Christian says. “I haven’t seen him look this great since the wedding.”

“Yeah,” I say sadly. Christian examines me.

“What’s wrong?” I look up at him, almost not wanting to tell him what’s going on, but there’s no use in getting his hopes up.

“Christian,” I say softly, “often, during their last days, terminally ill patients get one last burst of energy right before they pass on. It could last anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days, but once the energy wanes, death comes pretty quickly. Pops is convinced that this is what’s happening and so am I.” I give him a sympathetic look as I comfort Mikey. He frowns deeply.

“What are you talking about? He looks great,” he protests. “He might be turning around. I think he’s on the mend.”

“On the mend?” I ask, gently. “Christian, you know that’s impossible. You know his condition. What exactly is mending? Do you think his kidney is suddenly becoming whole and healthy again?” His face transforms from hopeful and jubilant to angry.

“Look,” he says, squaring off against me like I’ve challenged him to a fight, “my grandfather is healthy and in good spirits. I don’t know how it happened, but he’s the best he’s looked in months, and I’m not going to let you take that away from me!” I gape at him in horror.

“Me?!” I say aghast. “What in the world makes you think I have control over anything in this situation? I’m just telling you what I know as a doctor!”

“Well, doctor, I know you went to school and you’ve got all that fancy learnin’…” He’s mocking me! He’s totally mocking me! “… But I think I’ll take the condition of my grandfather over your expertise!” He hisses before storming off angrily.

What just happened? What the fuck just happened? We’ve all been sitting here waiting for that inevitable day that Pops leaves us—we all even moved in so that we wouldn’t have to hear the news over the phone! Now, somehow, I’ve become the Angel of Death and my beloved husband ridicules my education and hard work because I point out that he’s having his last energy burst? Am I in the fucking Twilight Zone? Fuck Ashton Kutcher, where the fuck is Rod Serling??

I storm off in the same direction Christian did, stopping in the nursery to deposit Mikey into his crib. The energy in the house must be too much for my little man because he’s been asleep for hours, only stirring every now and then when he’s moved. He slips back into slumber when I lay him down, and I continue to Christian’s childhood bedroom. I change into a pair of yoga pants, a sports bra and my runners and dial the pool house.

“Williams,” Chance answers.

“This is Ana. I need an escort out front in five minutes. One second longer and you’ll lose me.” There’s a moment of silence.

“Um, yes ma’am,” he says before I end the call. I put on a hoodie over my sports bra, grab my purse, phone, and keys and I’m outta here.

*-*

“I’d like a three-day pass, please,” I say to the girl behind the counter. She hands me an application which I complete and pay her for a three-day pass. I’m at one of those 24-hour gyms to work off my frustration. I go straight for the heavy bag and let loose on it.

How the hell can he even wrap his mind around the concept that Pops is suddenly “on the mend” when he’s been suffering from chronic kidney failure since before he even got here?

You know what this is. The day is near and he’s battling the first three stages of grief all at once… emphasis on the bargaining with the energy burst.
That’s bullshit! This isn’t bargaining! He’s placing blame for the obvious on me and then he’s treating me shitty for knowing what’s going to happen next!

I wail away at the heavy bag, feeling even angrier that at a time when we should be soaking up our last moments with Pops, we’re actually fighting because he’s feeling better!

You’re the doctor. You know what’s going on here and you’re supposed to be the level headed one.
I don’t want to be the level head. I don’t deserve this abuse! I’ve had just as much time to get to know Pops as everyone else except Herman and Carrick. I love him, too, and I don’t want him to leave us either! I’m not taking my feelings out on anyone else! Why does he get to take his feelings out on me? Because of his title? Because him being adopted means he’s actually related and I’m not? He’s at home spending time with Pops and I’m here beating the hell out of leather and sand and arguing with you!

For the first time ever, I’m not feeling the burn I need from the heavy bag. There’s no one on the other end of my fist screaming and moaning in pain or begging for mercy, so I’m feeling no satisfaction. On that note, I take my sadistic ass over to the barbell weight bench to cause myself some real pain. There’s 100 pounds on the barbell and I quickly and easily do two reps of ten bench presses.

Not enough weight.

I add more weight up to 110 and still don’t feel anything after ten reps. I feel like I’m wasting my time.

“Chance,” I call and he’s by my side in moments. “Add ten more pounds to this.” He frowns.

“Ma’am?” he questions. Oh, fuck, do I have to go through this with everybody who ever sees me workout for the first time.

“Ten more pounds please take it up to 120!” I say all in one breath. He chews the inside of his cheek, but does what I ask, staying close by as I press 120 for two reps of 10. There, that’s a little more burn, but I still want just a little more.

“Fifteen,” I tell him. “Take it to 135.” He frowns, but does as I ask, removing some of the lighter weights and adding heavier ones to bring my total weight to 135. I lift the barbells and begin to feel the burn, but still not certain that we’re at 135. At my strongest, that’s the most I’ve been able to press and this doesn’t feel like 135.

“Are you sure this is 135?” I ask after my first rep of ten. He nods.

“You can look at the weights yourself. It’s 135,” he says. I sigh. I guess I’ll just do reps of ten until I can’t do anymore. I’m very likely to hurt myself doing more than 135 and I have nothing to prove to anyone. I just want to feel the burn in my muscles, but the first thing I’m going to do when we get back to the Crossing is have a heavy bag installed so that I’m not spending my nights at a 24-hour gym whenever I feel the need to kill someone.

“I assume you can spot,” I inquire. He gets into position at my head, ready to take the barbells should I hit the wall. I begin a second reps of ten with Chance spotting me, then a third, and barely make it through a fourth. On the fifth rep, I tap out at eight and Chance has to spot me. When he takes the barbells from me and put them back on the hook, I’m puffing and trying to catch my breath. I think I may have only slightly overdid it, but I’ll find a hot bath when I get back to Grey… Compound.

I see Chance’s hand as he extends it to me to help me off the bench. I grab his hand and he helps me sit up before handing me a bottle of cold water. I gladly take it and down half of it before I take a breath.

“Why do you need a bodyguard?” he asks, after taking a seat on a nearby bench. I frown.

“What?” I question.

“I just watched you bench press more than your own body weight for four reps of ten and one rep of eight after you pressed 120 for two reps of ten, 110 for one rep of ten, and 100 for two reps of ten. That’s ten reps totaling 98 presses in about 25 minutes after you damn near tore the heavy bags off the wall for twenty minutes… and you’re proficient with a firearm. Again, I ask, why do you need a bodyguard?”

His summation of the situation is somewhat facetious and draws a small chuckle from me.

“I don’t need a bodyguard, but my children do,” I tell him. “I need back-up,” I add. He raises his eyebrow at me. I dry the sweat off my body with one of the gym towels then proceed to clean the machine I was using. “The one time I was overtaken in my adult life, I was double-teamed and drugged.” We won’t talk about the pesky Green Valley situation when I was poly-teamed or jumped or whatever you want to call it. “I can take care of myself, but I don’t have eyes in the back of my head. That’s why I have a bodyguard.” He nods.

“I’d hate to ever have to go one-on-one with you,” he says. “You’re tiny and you’re strong and you’d slip out of my grasp and beat my ass.” I chuckle again.

“Yeah, I could take you,” I tell him, “maybe not face-to-face, one-on-one combat, but in a self-defense situation, I could take you. I’m just smart enough to know that I can’t take two of you.” I finish drying the machine off and put my hoodie back on. I didn’t bring a change of clothes, so showering and putting these sweaty clothes back on would be my only option. No thanks, I have a hot bath in mind when I return anyway.

“I don’t think anybody could take on two of me,” he says. I just shake my head.

“If you think so, but you’re not invincible, Chance. You’re just well-trained. You’re not the only one. Don’t get cocky,” I say as I walk out of the health club.

“I don’t,” he says, “except now, I feel a little better at times like this when I have to shadow you.” I turn a bemused gaze at him, questioning with only my eyes. He shrugs. “After what I just saw, you could be my backup!”

I laugh at him as we get in the car and head back to the Greys.

*-*

It’s quiet when I get back to the Manor. I go to the kitchen and quickly down a glass and a half of cold water before refilling my glass and heading up the stairs. I quietly open the door to the nursery and check in on the twins. It’s well past their feeding time and I can only assume that either they haven’t awakened yet or…

“They’ve already been fed.”

His voice has ice in it as I look over my shoulder at him. His eyes are laced with anger as he glares accusingly at me. I don’t have the time or the energy to go at it with him at this hour. I quietly close the door and head towards our temporary bedroom.

“Where have you been?” he demands, his voice low. I whirl around and look at him with incredulous impatience.

“Look at me,” I begin, gesturing at my attire. “I’m wearing gym clothes. I’m sweaty and funky. Where does it look like I’ve been? I went to work out!” I put a hand on my hip and await his rebuttal.

“It’s 3:00 in the morning,” he accuses. “Our children woke and you weren’t even here. Nobody knew where you were in the middle of the damn night!” I narrow my eyes at him, not in anger, but in disbelief.

“Security knew where I was!” I retort quietly. Like he says, it’s 3AM and we’re standing in the middle of the hallway. “I called them first to ask someone to go with me.”

“That’s strange, because when I called out there, they had no idea that you were gone!” he snaps. I shake my head. Chance answered the phone and I told him that he had five minutes to get out here or I was leaving. He may not have had an opportunity to tell someone, although that’s not very likely, but whatever. Why is he standing here hissing at me like a dog?

“Well, that’s strange to me, too, because I don’t recall hearing my cell phone ring questioning my whereabouts or even my safety. Hell, I’m surprised that you’re concerned where I was at all!” I retaliate before I even realize it. “You were so ready to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater when I explained Pops’ burst of energy, just throwing shit on all my studies, my internship, my knowledge because you suddenly can’t accept that your grandfather is passing away. Why the hell would you even care about me when this is obviously all my fault, right?” My voice is getting a little louder than it should and Elliot sticks his head out of one bedroom while Grace and Carrick are now looking out of a room from down the hallway.

“We’re not talking about that right now. We’re talking about what’s bringing you home at 3:00 in the damn morning!” he shoots.

“I told you! I went to work out!” I rebut.

“At three in the damn morning? Yeah, I believe that.”

What the fuck? Does he just want to fight? No, Christian, no. Fucking no.

“Fine. Ask Chance—he was with me. Call 24-hour Fitness. Track the GPS you finally put on my damn car. Do whatever the fuck you want to verify if I’m lying to you. Let me know what you find out.” I turn to go into his room. I need to get out of these sweaty, nasty clothes and into some water, pronto. Only, for some reason, I can’t move forward. I hear my husband’s voice and I turn around and see fire in his eyes, though I don’t know what he’s saying. His words are lost in the haze in my head and the fact that he’s firmly gripping my arm. It feels like slow motion when my eyes travel from his down to his hand squeezing my arm and back up to his eyes.

“Like I said,” I begin, my voice slow and calculated as I look up at him through my eyelashes in a way that’s anything but sexy, “ask Chance; call the gym; check my GPS; check traffic cameras; find an eye-in-the-sky; track the Space Needle Weathercam; pray to a higher power; hold a séance and ask the dead. I really don’t care. Do whatever the fuck you need to do to get your answers since my fancy learnin’ word is no longer good enough for you! Now please! Remove your hand! From my arm! Before I take it the wrong way!”

He glares at me with a look that not only relays his fury, but also the fact that he doesn’t know who the hell I am right now. Damn straight, Grey. I don’t even know who the hell I am, so I think you better let go of my fucking arm. After a few seconds, he does just that. I go into our room without another word and close the door behind me.


A/N: Ashton Kutcher and Rod Sterling reference—Somewhere earlier in the story,  maybe in another book, something unbelievable happens to Ana and she asks, “Am I being Punked? Seriously, where’s Ashton Kutcher?” So, this situation is so much more unreal than that one that she’s certain that she’s graduated from Punk’d to The Twilight Zone and she’s now asking for Rod Serling, who was the host of the original series from 1959 – 1964.

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

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 4—Everyday People

I can’t remember which comment somewhere said that I had a link that was going to the original story. I didn’t know what you were talking about at first, but I figured it out later. Thanks for pointing it out! 

I just felt like a bonus chapter, so here ya go! I’ll email it out later.

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 4—Everyday People

ANASTASIA

I’m awakened with sweet kisses all over my face. I’m trying to open my eyes, but yesterday was emotionally trying from start to finish. First, Carrick’s brother shows up and acts like he wants to challenge the entire household to a goddamn duel! Then, that same asshole tries to get my husband arrested and since my husband already has a record, he was going to do jail time for sure. Next, I turn into a blubbering idiot because all this shit had to happen right around our anniversary and there’s nothing I can do about it, thereby proving that money can’t buy you happiness—not that I thought it could. To make that matter worse, Christian walks in on my sob-fest and Valerie promptly tells him why I’m crying while I was trying to convince him that it was just an emotional day. After that display, I fully expect to find that when we return to Grey Crossing, the Taj Mahal will have been relocated to my front lawn.

Finally, there’s Pops. He’s under no misconception of what’s happening. He’s fully ready to go. He’s suffered a lot and he’s just tired now. He talks about seeing Ruby again and the little boy that she miscarried… Carrick has never told any of us about that. I wonder if he even knows. I sat with him for a while before bedtime and he talked about how he wished his sons would come together before he died, so that he could see them all together one more time. He’s resolved that Freeman won’t do it. He had said that Freeman is bitter and unhappy. He’s been bitter for years and the family just chose not to fight him, but in the act of pacifying one son, he had ostracized another. His complacency almost meant that he could have died without seeing how well Carrick had done with his family. He said that he was happy to have come out and met us all, to see how successful and close we all are and to be a part of it if only for a little while.

He said that he felt like Mia was the daughter that he never had, and if he and Ruby were to have ever been blessed with a girl, he would have hoped she would have been just like Mia. He really loves Mia. She can be a bit overwhelming if you can’t tolerate her, but Pops thrived on her energy, even when she was making him drink those terrible health drinks. Her attitude and sunshine is contagious, and he wanted her around him all the time. Even now, she comes in after everyone is gone and some nights, she climbs into bed with him. He says that those are the nights that he sleeps the best. Just last night, she came in and laid down next to him while he and I were still talking. Ethan stood on the other side of the bed where Pops could see him, and Pops mustered up his breath to mutter to breathe a warning to him…

“You… take care… of my Mia… Don’t ever… hurt her… or be cross… with her… She’s a… gentle soul… and if you… mistreat her… it will… destroy her… and I… will destroy you.”

Whoa, Ethan. I’d take the warning of a dying man if I were you. I suspect he would come back and haunt you for hurting his Mia.

“I love her more than I can say, sir,” Ethan said to Pops with conviction. “I’ll never hurt her and I’ll kill the man who ever tries.” Pops nodded his approval at Ethan before turning to a teary-eyed Mia.

“You’ll make… a beautiful… bride,” he says, bringing a shaking hand to Mia’s cheek. “I wish… I could… be here… to see it… but… Ruby’s calling me… I’ll tell her… all about you… and we’ll… be lookin’ down… on you… when that man… makes you… an honest woman.”

Mia’s lip trembled, but she held her weeping in as she kissed her grandfather on the cheek, little dainty ladylike tears falling from her eyes.

“I love you, Grampa,” she said, her voice trembling.

“I love you… my sweet… sweet Mia.” He kissed her on the forehead and we finally left him to rest. When she was sure that she was far enough away from Pops’ door so that he couldn’t hear her, she collapsed into Ethan’s arms with heart-wrenching sobs. He scooped her into his arms and carried her up to the third floor to their room. I followed and went to our room and fell into an emotional, exhausted sleep.

Now, my husband’s soft lips are working their way across my jaw and down my neck. He groans into my skin as he kisses me and gently nips the skin as he moves along.

“Happy Anniversary, my love,” he says as his lips travel down my chest in my now open pajama shirt. Is he going to take me here? God, I want him to, but we’re in his parents’ house…

“Happy Anni… ah!” He sucks my nipple into his mouth and bites down gently on it, sending shocks all the way through me, straight down to my core. He continues to suck and bite on it until I feel like I’m going to lose my mind. He moves over to the other nipple as he snatches me up into his lap.

“Christian…” I breathe, the burning in my nipple matching the burning in my core. I’m straddling him, my thighs or either side of his as his hands slide down my back and into my pajama pants. He grips my bare ass hard, guiding my hips so that I grind against his steely erection. My head falls back and I thrust my hands into his hair as he rubs against me… higher… higher… higher I’m going as I feel his head and his shaft throbbing through his boxer briefs against my clit. I’m panting, rising to my orgasm, when he stills—holding me against him, no more movement. He kisses my lips gently, then again.

“Settle,” he says, his voice controlled like he wasn’t just throbbing like a madman against my pussy. I hate that he can do that. “I want you hot… all day. I’ve got surprises for you tonight.”

“All… all day?” I whimper, dismayed. He nods, looking me right in the eyes.

“Go shower. Don’t touch yourself. Mom is cooking for us, then I’m sending you out of this house for a while.”

“Sending me… what about the twins?” I protest.

“I’ve taken care of that,” he says. “So, pump if you need to, because you’ll be gone all day…” He kisses me with a wet open-mouthed kiss—short, but full of promise. “And all night.” I shiver when he says that and I can only nod.

“What should I wear?” I ask, trying to control my hormones. He thinks about it for a moment.

“Be comfortable,” he says. “Shorts.” I nod and smile. “Be quick. Mom is making us brunch.” I nod again. He kisses me again before releasing me and leaving the room.

Shorts. Comfortable. Okay.

I wait for a moment and stick my head out the door to make sure that he’s gone before I walk quietly down to Mia’s room. Her door is cracked, so I knock.

“Come in,” she replies. I walk in and she’s just putting some earrings on. “Hey, Anakins. Whatcha need?”

“Shorts,” I say with a shrug. “My best friend blabbed that I was sad about our anniversary, so my husband is sending me away for the day.”

“Yeah, I know,” she says, finishing with her jewelry and turning to me. “I’m helping out with the twins.” I smile at her.

“Thanks, Mia. I really appreciate this.”

“No worries. It’s good practice for when Ethan and I are ready, and I love spending time with those babies—once we get Minnie calmed down from the teething pain.” I frown.

“Yeah, it’s a bit much for her, but your mom’s miracle concoction is just that—a damn miracle!” We both laugh for a moment and then she looks me up and down. “Shorts—hmm… cute or comfortable?”

“Both,” I reply.

“You know I don’t have the ass you do. Boobs, yeah, ass, no.” I twist my lips.

“Anything gym short-ish that we can dress up?” I ask. “They stretch.” She puts up a finger and opens her mouth as if she has just made a miraculous discovery.

“I got it. I’ve got the perfect thing!” She disappears into her closet. I knew to ask her because she had to leave half of her wardrobe behind when she and Ethan moved into the new apartment. She comes back out with this adorable two-piece runner’s set with a long-sleeved hoodie jacket.

“Oh, that’s perfect,” I say, taking the set from her. Tiny little gym shorts that will just cover my ass and a matching jacket. “Sports bra or T-shirt?” I ask. She goes back into the closet and pulls out the cutest pink T-shirt. It’ll fit me, but I’m definitely going to have to pump so that the girls don’t leak.

“You’re going to give my husband a heart attack,” I say, looking at the darling little shirt that’s sure to accentuate my assets, with a logo across the boobs that says, “I’m So Om Nom Nom.” Come to think of it, he deserves it after working me up and leaving me hanging. I’m not going to be the only one all hot and bothered all day.

I take a shower and pump my milk. I wear a thong since these shorts are sinfully short and I don’t want any panty lines. I thought about a demi-bra, but this shirt is screaming “support those girls or there’s going to be a problem.” I put the outfit on with a comfortable pair of sneakers as I’m certain that I won’t get out of the house in heels with these on. Not feeling much like fussing with my hair, I put it in a messy bun and finish the look off with simple hoop earrings and lip gloss. I poke my head in to check on the twins before going downstairs to the dining room.

“I. Am going. To kill. Mia,” my husband says, gawking at me when I enter the room. I know what I look like—hot, but not trashy. I’ve finally been able to tone my hips and ass since the twins were born, but they are really toned… round and firm and beautiful, and I love them. So, I know my husband is having a cow right now.

Ana Ass

“What did I do?” Mia exclaims from the other side of the table where she sits with Ethan.

“You said shorts,” I say innocently. “I don’t have shorts here. Should I change?”

I catch a glimpse of Val snickering out the corner of my eye and Elliot is shaking his head.

“Don’t worry, Mia,” he says. “With Montana in that outfit, he’ll keel over before the day is done just thinking about it. He won’t have time to get to you.”

I know Christian wants to say “yes” because I’m sexy as hell and I won’t be with him all day, but he doesn’t want to come off as Tarzan, beating his chest and making me go change. So, instead, he just says, “Bring your sexy ass over here, woman.”

I smile coyly at him at walk across the dining room with my hands clasped in front of me. His pupils dilate as I cross the room to him and he’s practically salivating.

“Yep, keel over dead,” Elliot teases.

*-*

Christian has me sitting so close to him throughout brunch that we might as well be sitting in the same chair. We’re feeding each other fruit and stuffed French toast and maple sausage while conversation carries on around the table like we’re not food-fucking each other right now. Once coffee starts to go around, the conversation floats around to Pops.

“So… I’m going to sign the house over to Freeman and Stan once… well, you know, once Dad is gone,” Herman says. Luma squeezes his hand. She’s been by his side the entire time this ordeal has been going on. “Do you have a problem with that, Rick?” Carrick shakes his head.

“I never wanted the house,” he says. “Does it even have the value that it had before? I know it’s in the historical district, but… it’s still Detroit.” Herman nods.

“They’re building the city back up,” he says. “There were some hard times for a while with that asshat Kwame Kilpatrick and all the shit that followed once he was arrested. It was downhill for the city after that. But the new downtown is revitalizing the city, so property values may go back up. I think that’s what Freeman is counting on. The house is paid off so he’s hoping to make some money off the property.”

“Well, no,” Carrick says, “he can have it. It’s not like I plan to go back to Detroit for anything.” There’s a long pause. “Do you?” Herman raises his head and looks at Carrick.

“Do I what?” Herman asks.

“Plan to go back,” he says. “I mean… to Detroit.” Herman’s brow furrows. I look at him just in time to see him look at his and Luma’s joined hands.

“Well, I want to go see my kids, but if it’s all the same to you, I was thinking that I might want to stay in Seattle,” Herman says. Carrick sighs audibly.

“It’s all the same to me, brother,” he says with a wide smile on his face. He and his brother share a moment silently between him before Carrick says, “I just don’t understand why Freeman has to be so bitter.”

“Yes, you do, Rick,” Herman says. “He’s always like this.”

“Not always,” Carrick says, taking a sip of his coffee.

“Yeah, Rick, he was,” Herman says. “You two are the middle boys, and Freeman was determined not to fall into the ‘oldest, youngest, middle’ stereotype…” I frown.

Stereotype?” Christian asks for clarification. Herman turns to him.

“The oldest is the bully, the youngest is spoiled, the middle is abused or forgotten,” he says.

“I never heard of that,” Ethan interjects.

“Me, either,” Val says. I, however, am familiar with this dynamic. I’ve had more middle children as patients than I want to count.

The theory is that the oldest comes first and has Mom and Dad—depending on the family—all to themselves. Then, the second child comes along and the first child has to share the attention, often getting bumped aside since there’s now a new “baby” of the family. However, when the third child is born, the dynamic changes. There’s yet another baby in the family to take Mom and Dad’s attention away from the first two. The oldest has now most likely grown out of the attention-needing phase and has either become protector or bully. The baby is coddled and the middle child either forgotten or abused.

“Well, there are kids in our neighborhood who lived it, so if it’s not true, then someone somewhere believed it was. Anyway, Freeman and Rick are second and third born. Freem could’ve done without you, until Stan was born a couple of years later. Then, you were his best friend.”

“So, I guess I don’t get it,” Mia says, frowning. “Freeman didn’t like Dad until another kid was born?” Herman nods.

“I knew Mom and Dad were going to have more kids. They prepared me for it from the moment I could talk, telling me that I was going to be a big brother, so I expected it. When Freeman was born, it was no surprise. I guess Freem didn’t get the preparation that I got, because when Rick was born, he became the most miserable little bastard you ever met in your life. He stayed that way for two years until Stan was born. Then, there needed to be a unified front against the enemy… the enemy being Stan. Stan was oblivious to the whole thing. I saw it. It didn’t bother me much, but I saw it. I was just happy Freem wasn’t such a miserable bastard anymore.

“He latched onto Rick like a leech when Rick was two years old. He was that manipulative at four. He orchestrated this friendship where the rest of us—even Mom and Dad—were on the outside looking in.” Carrick frowns.

“I never got that feeling,” he said. “I always thought we were just… close.”

“In your eyes, you probably were,” Herman says. “In his eyes, it was the two of you against the world. Only it wasn’t the two of you against the world anymore when you went and married Grace. He always thought the brothers would get married in order of birth, so he would get married before you. When you got married first, you deserted him. You jumped ship, and the fact that you married money made it even worse.”

“That’s just ridiculous!” Carrick interjects. “We lived in a big house in one of the best parts of the city at the time. We didn’t want for anything. Christmases were insane; we didn’t have to wear hand-me-down clothes, even though most of the kids we knew were doing just that. Hell, some of them even wore our hand-me-downs. We lived a great life. We were not poor! What was or is his huge aversion to money?” Herman sighs.

“You ever watch The Little Rascals, Rick?” he asks after a pause. Carrick frowns.

“Yeah, haven’t we all?”

“Not all of us,” Elliot pipes in. My husband throws a look at him and Elliot shrugs. “I haven’t seen it,” Elliot replies in a what did I do tone. Herman continues.

35e1820e04e9d86ee47f6bfc626e7765

“Well, for those of you who don’t know, Alfalfa was the neighborhood ‘crooner’ in love with Darla, the neighborhood sweetheart—the proverbial girl next door. Waldo was the rich kid who went to their school, also with his sights set on Darla. There was a constant battle between Alfalfa and Waldo for Darla affections, and she played right up to them both.”

“I always thought Darla was a trifling little tramp, but I felt bad saying that about a kid who was all of eight or nine years old,” I say to no one in particular.

“Well, as you know, in the end, Alfalfa always won Darla’s affections. Not so in the real story. Freem’s ‘Darla’ stayed with him for three years until they graduated high school. Freeman went straight into the factory after high school. He wanted that factory money and Dad got him right in. That’s a really good living for a man with a family, but for a single man, that’s a mint!

“’Darla,’ or Rachel in this case, went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor right after prom and ‘Waldo,’ a guy named Kevin Higgins, followed her. With no ‘Alfalfa’ to interfere, Kevin charmed the pants off Freem’s girl… literally. Freem stopped hearing from her. She wouldn’t contact him when she came home from school. She was never in her dorm or anywhere to be found when he went up to see her.

“She came home for Christmas in her junior year and Kevin came back with her. Freem showed up demanding answers, and she finally told him the truth about her and Kevin. The next year, when Rachel and Kevin came back for summer vacation, they were married at Kevin’s parents’ estate in Novi—no long engagement, just ‘marry me,’ ‘okay,’ and they did it. Freeman waited for that girl for three more years after graduation hoping that she would come back and when she did, she had a husband and that husband came from money.

“Freeman was convinced that it was the money that won her over, not that the two of them were spending time with each other and just fell for each other in Freeman’s absence—which is most likely what happened. Rachel was faithful to him in high school and Freeman couldn’t believe that for reasons of love and love alone, she went to Kevin and not him. Freeman had saved up so much living with Dad and having no expenses that he couldn’t even see that he was pretty well-off on his own. He lives in a huge house in the suburbs. His kids go to the best schools; his wife drives the best car. He’s living a little beyond his means to still try to show Rachel what she missed after twenty years, but he’ll never forgive her for leaving him for money.

“When Rick married before he did, and married into money, he had the worst fit I had ever seen. A line was drawn in the sand, not because we were upset with Rick, but because Freeman was still living at home with Dad and Stan, Mom was dying, and we were just trying to keep the peace. After Mom passed and you married Gracie, Freeman wrote you off. You were oblivious to the situation with Rachel because he didn’t want to tell you. Stan was oblivious to everything because he was young and it didn’t roll down to him. But I saw it all—my brother has been a self-serving bastard since the age of four when he started priming you as part of the ‘us against them’ party. You never fell into it, although you and Freeman were really close, but he didn’t see that. You were his wingman; you would always have his back.

“Along comes this young beautiful blonde—with money—and Freeman’s left out in the cold again… for money. It couldn’t be the fact that you loved her, like Rachel did Kevin. They’re still married, by the way—two kids, a lovely home, and very happy as far as I know. You all saw for yourself that Freem married, too, and he’s got two kids, but he still doesn’t forgive the money. As far as he’s concerned, you betrayed him just like Rachel did.” Carrick shakes his head.

“All these years,” he says. “All these years, I’ve been wondering why he hated me so much. This is so unbelievably ridiculous that I can’t even wrap my mind around it. He thought that I would turn my back on my family for money?” Herman shook his head.

“Not that you would… you did,” Herman says. “In his eyes, you chose the dollar. A lot of times, we thought to contact you and it just fell by the wayside because it was such a huge fight. And that was our fault—Dad, Stan, and me—but we never felt like you deserted us. Freem was just a force to be reckoned with that we didn’t want to battle. When we got the invitation to the wedding, Dad had just had enough. He said that you’re his son, too, and he wasn’t going to allow Freeman to steal another minute away from him. I think he knew then that his days were numbered and he wasn’t letting Freem dictate what was going to happen to him or whether he could see his son or not. So, Freeman’s current animosity isn’t towards you anymore. It’s more of a transference of what he can’t show to Dad.”

“That’s not possible,” Carrick says. “Freeman hates me… not Dad.”

“He doesn’t hate Dad, but he’s mad at Dad, even more now that Dad’s here. Trust me, it’s not you, Rick. It’s Dad.” Carrick frowns.

“Well, I know he’s mad at me because of Dad…” Carrick says, still trying to understand.

“No,” Herman says, “he’s mad at Dad. He tried to keep Dad from coming out here for the wedding. He threatened to have him declared mentally incompetent until I reminded him that I was Dad’s power of attorney and trustee over his estate. He’s been trying to get Dad back to Detroit since the day after the wedding. When I told him that Dad and I were staying, he flipped his lid. Then I suggested sending Dad back, but I wasn’t coming. I never would have done that, but I wanted to see his reaction. You know what he did? He sent me a request to change power of attorney and a manila envelope full of nursing home brochures. He was going to put my father in a nursing home if I didn’t come back to take care of him. That’s the last contact I had with Freeman before Dad’s health deteriorated, and that was right after New Year’s.

“Freeman is really upset right now because there’s no one on his side. And he’s really pissed at Dad because of what Dad said to him that day he showed up and because he knew you guys were fighting.”

“What did he say?” Carrick asks. Herman pulls out his phone and thumbs through it, placing it on the desk and swiping something on the screen. He puts the phone on the desk and we hear Pops’ voice.

“You need… to let it… go. You… need to… make peace… with your… brother… Life… is too… short to be… fighting and… mad… all the time… Don’t you… get tired… of being… angry… all the time… Freeman?”

“I just want what’s best for you, Dad,” Freeman’s voice says over the phone. Pops coughs a bit, but it’s not until I hear the next words that I realize that he was trying to laugh.

“I love you… Freeman… I want… you to know… that… but you… never did… anything… unless… it was… what… was best… for you.”

Uncle Herman picks up the phone and swipes the screen.

“That’s it,” he says. “That’s all of it. Shortly after that, he came down and got into the fight with Christian… if you can call it that,” Uncle Herman laughs. Yeah, I call it dumb ass crossed the wrong Neanderthal and saw his fucking life flash before his eyes. Christian scoffs.

“Yeah,” he interjects, “One minute, he’s all ‘you feelin’ froggy, kid?’” He did a horrible imitation of Freeman’s voice. “The next minute, he’s ‘officer save me—that caveman could have killed me.’” There’s an uncomfortable laugh around the table.

“What made you record that?” Carrick says to Herman.

“I saw where the conversation was going,” Herman said. “Freeman came up the stairs looking like he has just gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson in his heyday. Dad looked at him and tried to ask what happened. Freem called you a hothead and said that you instigated the whole thing…”

“Of course, he did,” Carrick said, shaking his head. Herman nods.

“Dad didn’t buy it,” he continues. “He bought that you had beaten the hell outta Freem, but not that you instigated the fight. He asked Freeman what he said and Freeman denied saying anything to you. That’s when I started opening my phone and told Dad that Freeman called your children bastards and you came at him with a hard right.”

“Oh, dear,” Grace says, sipping her coffee. Herman shrugs.

“I wasn’t going to have him badmouthing Rick when he wasn’t there to defend himself. Anyway, he dug a hole for himself because he mumbled that they would never be Greys and that’s when Dad told him that he needed to stop being mad all the time.” Herman sighs. “So now, he gets to carry the burden of knowing that the last time he saw Freeman, his son left angry at him because he’s too big of an asshole to think of anyone but himself!” Herman spit those last words out just as I hear a slight commotion behind me.

“Um, hello everyone… bad timing?” I turn around to see my best friend standing in the doorway. It almost seems like forever since I’ve seen Al and I can’t help but go to him and wrap my arms around him.

“Hi, Al,” I whisper in his ear.

“Hey, Jewel,” he says, bringing his arms around my waist.

“What are you doing here?” I ask.

“We’re taking you out for a day of fun!” Al says, trying to make his voice sound more chipper than the solemn mood that has settled over Grey Manor.

We?” I question.

“Me and Val. We’re going to go have some fun like we did when we were teenagers and forget about being adults for a while.”

That’s when I realize that the short suit is perfect, because I truly look ten years younger and not like a mother of twins. I nod before I release my embrace.

“I could use a little fun,” I say with a sad smile. I turn around to face my husband. “What about you?”

“Don’t worry about me,” he says. “I’ll catch up with you later.” He rises out of his seat and puts his arms around me, shamelessly putting groping my ass—a cheek in each hand. “Have some fun and I’ll see you this evening.” He kisses me softly, and then again.

“Okay, okay, no making out in front of parental units. Damn!” Elliot hisses, just as Val gives him a sweet kiss. I rip myself away from my sexy ass husband and follow my friends out of the Manor.

*-*

63026a45c33b335a847fe73d08884480Christian arranged covert security for the day and I don’t even bother to look for them. So, with Val and Al on my arm, we go straight to the mall. The first place we hit is Accessory Palace. Val and I used to spend hours in here when we were in college. Val finds two big bows with ponytail holders on them, promptly buys them and puts my hair in two “anime girl” ridiculously long ponytails. I swear I look like I should be in high school!

LollipopDetermined not to give away my identity, Val pays for our accessories, which includes a costume “key” to go on my earring like Janet Jackson wore in the “Control” video. We couldn’t resist finding a store with lollipops and taking several shots and selfies of us posing like naughty schoolgirls.

Next, we play nine holes of indoor miniature golf on a course in the mall that actually glows like cosmic bowling! I’m not really one for miniature golf, but it turns out to be a lot of fun. My white sneakers light up with the lighting effects and Al jokes about how it won’t be hard to find me on the course. Val wins, still not sure that I didn’t let her win. Al bitches about the whole game since he finishes 37 under par, which he only got because if you got six strokes and you still didn’t get the ball in, we gave it to you at six. Al got six strokes 4 times! I was 18 under par to Val’s 10, and I really didn’t let her win. One of Al’s complaints was correct. A lot of the “holes” had a little lift around the outside of the rim. So, if you didn’t hit the ball just right, it would roll to the hole and look like it’s going in, but instead, roll down the outside of the rim and back down the hill. I figured that out around the third hole and adjusted my stroke, so he doesn’t have an excuse… sore loser.

Before we leave the mall, we spend some time at Gameworks. Now, could Ana just play some games quietly and have fun? No! Ana had to go all out and play the games that would draw attention to herself, like the dancing game where your feet have to move at the speed of light causing your ass to jiggle and your boobs to bounce. I don’t know how long I stay on that game working up a sweat before I realize I’ve drawn a crowd—not because I’m so good at this, but because my ass is jiggling and my boobs are bouncing. I have a good laugh at my own expense, then get off the machine before I cause some poor pubescent boy to nut himself.

 

 

Val and I then challenge each other to air hockey, which I most certainly did not let her win and what happens? More pubescent and not-so-pubescent gawkers. Why? Two beautiful women bending over an air hockey table battling it out to the death and giggling maniacally. You tell me.

After several games where I win several tickets, we wrap our arcade trip up with an interactive video game called “Police 911,” where you step inside this little frame that reads your body movements and puts you in the game. So, if you physically move to take cover and keep from getting shot, the screen moves with you in first person. Needless to say, I drew a crowd on this game, too, because I played for quite some time on two tokens while listening to things like, “She can protect and serve me anytime,” and “She’s going to beat my high score,” and “Damn, that bitch can shoot.” Shortly after the last comment, I give my last “life” to a kid standing near the game and we leave the arcade, not necessarily because of the comment, but because it was time and I wanted to do something less physical.

Now, I’ve lived in the Seattle area on and off for the better part of nearly thirty years and I’ve never seen or even heard of what my friends called “The Gum Wall.” It’s exactly what it sounds like—it’s a wall in an alley near Post Street covered in already-chewed gum, and my friends thought that this was something that should be on my bucket list. This wall actually draws tourists who will add to it, take pictures in front of it, and even touch it. The truly brave among them—or truly stupid, depending on your perspective—will even lick it. It’s disgusting!

Going to the Space Needle was more my cup of tea. Even though I had been several times before, riding up that elevator and going to the observatory never loses its splendor for me. It’s like a party in the observatory and I always get butterflies in my stomach riding to the top in the elevator. I always loved the observation deck and even the butterfly ride up to it…

Seeing Mt. Rainer off in the distance and listening to the elevator operator tell us that it’s one of five active volcanoes in Washington and the highest point of the state…

Looking over Elliot Bay and seeing my condo, wondering if I should sublet it or just sell it or keep it in case I need an escape…

Just letting the wind and the breeze blow through my pigtails and erase all manner of worry and stress as I gaze out over the Pacific…

“Chocolate’s mom called.”

I look over my shoulder at Al and frown. His husband, James, has very little to say about his family, but none of them were invited to their wedding a few months ago.

“Really?” I ask curiously. “What’s up?”

“She wants him to come home for the Fourth of July,” he says, looking over the ocean with his binoculars. That was another sore spot for James that I knew about. He went home to Arizona for Thanksgiving, taking Al with him. The reception was less than warm, to put it kindly, and he has no desire to return. He was part of the Faces of Abuse PSA that we did last year and although I don’t know—or can’t remember—the particulars, I know it has something to do with his childhood and him realizing at an early age that he didn’t like girls.

“Are… you guys going?” I ask. Al shakes his head.

“Not likely,” he says, “but it’s put him in a foul mood. I’m expecting some kind of scene later when I get home.” I raise an eyebrow.

Scene as in having a fight making a scene or scene as in wrist restraints and riding crops?”

“The latter,” he says, a small smile playing with his lips. “I shouldn’t be happy about it. It’s coming at the expense of him being upset about his family, but I can’t help it. He’s a natural at this! If I didn’t know better, I would swear he’s done it before.”

“Have you asked him?” I say, walking around the observation deck. He nods.

“He says he hasn’t, but after you and I talked and we dabbled, we met with that guy you told us about—Michel—and his boyfriend. They helped us along and now Chocolate is king, let me tell you!” Al momentarily gets a lusty, glassy look in his eye and once his pupils dilate, I snap my fingers.

“Yo, Forsythe, step away from the playroom,” I say quietly. His blinking and slight head shake lets me know that he had indeed wandered to some area involving a spreader bar or a St. Andrew’s Cross.

“That’s Fleming-Forsythe to you, Missy,” he hisses, while sticking out his tongue at me. I like the fact that he and James took each other’s last name without having to make too many changes to legal documents. Al is Fleming-Forsythe, putting James’ last name before his, so that if a document still says Forsythe, it’s still legal. In turn, James is Forsythe-Fleming for the same reason.

“Come on, you two. We’ve got ice-cream and pampering to do,” Val says, pulling our conversation away from the lifestyle and back onto the day ahead of us. Christian and I could definitely use some playroom time. He’s wound tight as hell and I just don’t feel like myself these days after everything that’s been going on in the last couple of months.

I love the fact that we’re just having an average day like we used to before I became Anastasia Grey. I miss doing simple things like going to the Marketplace and the aquarium, even going to kick Luc’s ass at some Krav Maga or doing yoga in one of the local studios. The fact that I’m dressed like a damn teenager and I don’t have a horde of security around me turned out to be one of the best disguises in the world. I’m hiding in plain view and all I had to do was dress and act like a normal person.

Fortunately—and unfortunately—our cover is blown when we walk into a Baskin & Robbins to get two-scoop waffle cones. The clerk serving us ice-cream recognizes me immediately under those pigtails and ridiculously large and goofy sunglasses that I wore as part of my disguise, not my normal Jackie-o’s. It was fortunate because we were going straight from here to Miana’s to pamper and primp, so our entire day couldn’t be ruined by the paps. It was unfortunate because if we didn’t hurry and get the hell out of here and stop taking pictures with the misled, start-struck ice-cream clerk, the rest of our day would soon be ruined by the paps. Luckily, we slipped out before any cameras showed up.

Val’s last spa day was my disastrous birthday weekend last year, so she took full advantage of the facials and massages and body wraps for the rest of the afternoon. I was plucked, scrubbed, polished, buffed, kneaded, and threaded within an inch of my life before Franco shows up with this gorgeous red creation for me.

“Mr. Grey demanded that you be wearing this when your treatments are finished,” he says. I already feel so pretty—my hair falling down over my shoulders in bountiful, soft waves; flawless model makeup gracing my cheeks and lips; and now Franco brings me this stunning ensemble that informs me that the night will surely be as memorable as the day. It’s a basic red hourglass tunic dress the falls just below the knees, but grommet-inset leather starts at the shoulder, crosses the breast, and ends at the other hip. Leather laces are threaded through the grommets to hold the dress together so that if you untie the laces, the dress can be as demure or as raunchy and you want it to be. There’s a cute pair of strappy sandals with 4-inch heels along with two Cartier boxes that, no doubt, carry at least $100,000 worth of jewelry. My breast pump has also miraculously materialized, so I plan to take full advantage of that having not seen my children all day.

“Mrs. Grey?” I turn to see another of Miana’s employees standing there with another garment bag, only she’s not looking at me. She’s looking at Val. I clear my throat and get Val’s attention.

“I’m not the only Mrs. Grey in the room anymore,” I tell her, gesturing to the lady standing next to her. Val turns and her brows furrow, then raise to her bangs.

“Wha…? It’s not my anniversary,” she says, bemused.

“Apparently we’re going together open the bag!” I say all in one breath. Val opens the garment bag to find a cold-shoulder purple mini that has a draping top and a fitted skirt. She has a matching pair of purple Louboutin stilettos and three accompanying Cartier boxes.

“Wow… I guess we are,” she says, giggling like a schoolgirl.


CHRISTIAN

“She knew about Flynn. She knew about my guns. She had way too many details from after her mole was gone. How? She knows about you dismantling businesses. You still own the salons, so she couldn’t be talking about that. It has to be the miscellaneous subsidiaries or something else.”

My wife’s words from the Pedophile’s trial play back in my head. I’ve since had Alex and Barney working on locating any other possible leaks in our system and nothing has come up. I’ve also had them screening every employee who has come and gone for the last three years and the well is still dry. I can’t take another fucking hacker situation, that’s for damn sure. That shit seemed to drag on for-fucking-ever and when it was finally finished, I had no damn closure—just more unanswered questions. I still don’t know where the fuck the crack whore’s pimp is. For all I know, he could be somewhere perusing through my files as we speak. But Barney and Alex say that’s not possible. There are no footprints anywhere.

Alex has given me another theory, though. Myrick, Jr., infiltrated all of my files, even my phone when he leaked the ultrasound pictures of the twins. We had no idea that he was lurking around in the system until last fall, but he had his eye on me and Butterfly since at least the Thanksgiving of the year before. That’s when he was able to get Butterfly’s keys and make copies—while we were staying at the Manor over Thanksgiving weekend. We know that he was working with Lincoln, which is how she got the keys anyway, or at least how she got the gun.

The key to this mystery is going to be in finding out who the accomplice was that actually went into Butterfly’s apartment. Whoever that was, I’m sure that they have more information on the topic, but we don’t even know where to start. Then again…

“You want what?” Alex asks.

“Every video from every camera from every angle from Cristalla Condos from February 23th and 24th of last year. I want an account of every person that was in that building those two days. If a door opened in that building over those two days, I want to know where that person started and where they ended up. If there is anyone who doesn’t have a definitive destination, that’s where we’ll start investigating.” There’s silence on the line.

“Why did no one think of this last year when it happened?” he asks.

“Because we’re idiots,” I say. “We’d been lulled into a false sense of security all the way up to the point where that man hacked into my computer systems. Get started. I’m going to want to see the results and the videos and Butterfly may need to see them, too. We may be able to identify someone.”

“Yes, sir.” I end the call and shoot off an email to Andrea and CC Ros that I will be in the office tomorrow after all. I have two important issues on my agenda. The first is to find out how I can get my uncle, Stanley, here to say goodbye to Pops. He seems like a decent enough guy—nothing like his brother, Freeman. He just needs additional means to get here and at this point, there’s no time to waste.

The second is to welcome the third in command that we hired when I discovered that Pops was dying and I knew that I would need to spend more time with my family. His name is Lorenz Fineman, and according to his background check, he has held three high-level executive positions in the last 15 years. Each company has recognized vast net profits while he was on the board and he has never been asked to leave an organization. He only moves on when he feels like he’s given the company all that he can really give them.

He has a wife and three children in private schools and a home in The Highlands, so he’s a stable family man. He’s in his mid-thirties—not much older than me. Even though GEH is well-established and needs no help in the growth department, he understands the concept of needing more capable hands in executive leadership so that each member is able to invest in family life without leaving the company teetering on one leg. He interviewed well with all of us and Ros feels like he’ll be a good fit. Butterfly profiled him a bit from a personality point of view and decided he appears to be truthful and solid in all that he says and that if he is hiding something, we’ll have to wait him out.

I haven’t told Butterfly yet, but Joshua Shaler accepted the position as Mac’s assistant in the PR department with a few stipulations. Of course, he had to sign an NDA, but he’s somewhat working undercover. He’ll be behind the scenes, pulling the levers and working things out for us while Mac will be the front man… er, woman that presents GEH to the press as usual. He wants to remain freelance and we’ve been able to work that out. Without the appearance of not being biased, he would lose some of his connections and the ability to obtain information.

Joshua is one of those unconventional people with hidden talents and resources that you want to have on your team. He’s rare to find—like Allen—and when you have an opportunity to acquire that type of asset, you don’t let it slip through your fingers. He’s already proven to be worth his weight in platinum. Hell if I’m going to pretend that he’s not exactly what GEH needs.

I’m finalizing the plans for this evening when my phone buzzes in my pocket. I slide my finger across the screen to reveal a picture of my girl in that tight ass “Om Nom” shirt with schoolgirl pigtails in her hair and her luscious red lips wrapped around a fucking lollipop. My dick gets so hard so fast that I literally have to unzip my jeans to free it in an effort to relieve the ache. I’m fucking going to kill Allen Michael Fleming Forsythe and Valerie Whatever-Her-Middle-Name-Is Grey for putting me through this! That short set she wore when she left earlier was clinging to her ass like a second skin, just barely covering her ass cheeks—sexy enough to cover the goods and still leave a little to the imagination. I wanted to ravish her right there and then, and now, they torment me by sending me this and I can’t get my hands on her all day. Fucking hell!

Elliot is only too happy to assist with hijacking our women for a night on the town, complete with limousine service. I begged Mom and Mia to keep the twins for the night so that I can celebrate with my wife. Besides, if Pops died today, I wouldn’t want to be here for it and I wouldn’t want my wife to remember our anniversary as the day my grandfather died… nor would I. We need a break from this if just for a moment. Elliot agreed that he would take Valerie away from the situation for a day as well since she had gone through so much with her treatment right after they married and they never got a honeymoon. So, when I gave him my plans for a “normal people” evening to complete the “normal people” day that my girl was having, he was all in on surprising our girls for the night.

Well, maybe not-so-normal since we’ll be riding around in an Audi Q7 Limousine.

I called Butterfly’s stylist and my friend Victoria Stewart and promised to pay her at a premium to come up with something last minute for both our wives, which she did, thank God. When I explained to her what was going on and why it was so important for our wives to decompress, she was only too happy to help. She produced simple but stunning dresses and shoes for both women while Elliot and I made quick trips to Cartier to find appropriate accessories.

I’ve become fond of Valerie in the past few months. It’s quite obvious that she’s totally and completely smitten with my brother, but she’s a wonderful friend to my wife, too. I didn’t totally understand why Butterfly fell apart so violently after their “break-up” last October, but seeing her since the removal of her tumor—seeing the real Valerie shine through—I have to say that she’s one of the kindest, most selfless people that I know. This is the Valerie that held my hand last February when my then fiancée left me and escaped to Montana without a word. I only got a brief glimpse of her then, but I’ve seen her in full glory over the past several weeks.

Ever since she awoke from just after her surgery, she’s been more concerned with other people than she has with herself. Yes, she concentrated on her treatment and healing, but she’s been the empathetic ear, the solution finder, the shoulder to lean on—her outlook on life is carefree and happy and she’s been an amazing friend and sister-support-system to my wife when Valerie is the one that really needed the support in the first place. Had it not been for Valerie, I wouldn’t have known that Butterfly was feeling the way that she was about our anniversary. So, I’m only too happy for her and my brother to spend our special evening with us.

I’ve always appreciated the impact of a well-fitting black suit while my brother is usually a bit understated. So, while I don the black on black shirt and slacks and a black suit jacket with iridescent specks, Elliot sports a purple shirt that matches his wife’s dress along with some black slacks and a gray textured tie.

“I want to take her away,” Elliot says to me as we cruise down the I-5 headed for Miana’s. Elliot drove his truck to the Fairmont Olympic where he and Valerie will be spending the night and I had the limo pick him up to retrieve our wives. “We didn’t get a chance to take any kind of honeymoon because she was sick. Now, that she’s so much better, Pops is not doing too well. It seems insensitive to just say, ‘Hey, let’s take a trip after my grandfather dies.’” He takes a sip of sparkling apple cider out of crystal stemware from the bar.

“But in actuality, isn’t that what you’re doing?” I ask him. “And what’s so wrong about that? You want to take your wife on a well-deserved vacation and you don’t want to do it while Pops is on his death bed. I mean of course I don’t expect you to be pulling out to board a plane right after ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust,’ but life goes on, man. It’s okay to live it after someone passes on.” He shakes his head.

“I know, but it seems so wrong… like I’m just waiting for him to kick,” he says with a frown.

“I hate to tell you this, Lelliot, but we’re all waiting for him to kick,” I say solemnly. “It’s not because we want him to die. It’s because we’ve all uprooted our lives from what they were before in preparation for the inevitable. We’ll all go back to what was normal once he’s made his transition, as much as normal can be after you’ve lost someone that you love. It’s not because this is what we want. It’s because it’s inevitable.” I sit back in the plush leather seat of the limo and watch the scenery go by outside the window in front of me.

We’ve never had to deal with death this close to us… on this level. I immediately think about the crack whore and those feelings of helplessness when she lay cold and dead on the floor in the kitchen when the sun rose and set once… twice… three times… four times…

“What are you thinking about, Bro?” Elliot says, bringing me out of my daydream.

“I was going to say that we’ve never had to prepare for death this way… then I thought of your parents dying at the same time in that car accident…”

“Or your mom dying when you were four,” he adds. I nod.

“We still didn’t have an opportunity to prepare for death,” I say. “My mother OD’ed and your parents were snatched from you in a very untimely manner.” I throw back the rest of my champagne. “I was only saying that to say this. You can’t live in grief and Pops wouldn’t want you to. Once we make sure Dad is okay and Mom will have a handle on things—and Luma is comforting Uncle Herman—plan that trip. You and Valerie both need it.” He nods and sits back in his seat. Things were silent for a while before he started speaking again.

“You know, we’ve done some hiking and things—family trips and such, but we never really just hung out before,” he says. “Yeah, I’ve been a tagalong, like when you wanted to check out that club you bought a while back, but for us to hang out like we’re doing tonight, or for us just to hang out as bros, we don’t do that.”

“Maybe that needs to change,” I say to my brother, he smiles widely at me then nods.

A few minutes later, I call Franco to let him know that we’re arriving at Miana’s and that I and my brother are in a limo outside waiting for our wives. He promises me five more minutes before our wives will ascend from the salon, so Elliot and I step out of the limo to greet them when they exit the building. True to his word, Franco had our wives exiting the building in five minutes.

Have you ever had that moment where time stops and everything moves in slow motion… like the Baywatch babes running on the beach? Yeah… that happened.

dgspvm

 I saw a flash of purple out the corner of my eye, but my sites were set on this vision in red floating towards me. Sleek and sexy, classy and demure with flirty, sexy sandals wrapped around those ankles… fuck, I chose the apparel and my mouth is watering as she walks toward me. I feel like I’m in a damn dream watching her walk toward me, her hair riding the wind behind her—total movie star quality. I have to take deep breaths, breathing shamelessly through my mouth while trying not to pant like a dog. Her beauty is leaving me light-headed and breathless.

maxim-lovesadriana-limas-wind-blown-hair

She strides right up to me and pushes her hands under my jacket, flattening them on my chest. I’m startled by the contact, almost in disbelief that this gorgeous creature is real and now touching me, cherry-red lips beckoning me to kiss her.

“One day, Christian Grey,” she breathes dangerously close to my lips, “I’m going to find a way to match how indulging you are to me.”

“You’re doing a really good job already,” I croak, my throat constricted and my voice raspy while my fingertips sink into her hips.

“What is this jewelry?” she asks. “A hundred, a hundred twenty thousand?”

“I don’t know,” I say, lost in her beautiful blue eyes, and it’s the truth. “I just know what I like.” I know that she’s wearing the Etincelle De Cartier classic diamond cuff bracelet and the High Jewelry diamond earrings set in platinum, but ask me what they cost and I couldn’t tell you exactly—somewhere in the one-fifty to one-seventy-five area, I think. My hand travels from her hip to her long, slender neck. She tips her head back slightly to allow my gentle but firm caress.

“I wanted you to wear a collar, but then I wouldn’t be able to kiss your neck.”

“Yes, you could,” she breathes, her voice denying her arousal.

“I could, but it would be hindered. I like this better.” I lick her neck from the collar of her dress all the way up to her ear. She closes her eyes and her breath catches in her throat. I can’t help but sample those juicy, moist, cherry-red lips, which I do. She matches my kiss, her tongue caressing mine as her fingers flex on my chest. God, she’s delectable. I pull my lips from her and look into her bottomless blue eyes. I could devour her right here, but it’s probably not a good idea to do that on the sidewalk right before dusk.

“I hope you brought some back-up lipstick, because I plan to kiss that off of you in the next few minutes,” I warn.

“It’ll keep,” she says sweetly, breathlessly, “but I have.”

I fully expected some kind of “get a room” comment from my brother, but I look over at him and a similar scene is playing out about five feet away from us. Valerie has him pushed against the limo—decked in a purple number with gold Cartier accessories. Her hands are thrust in his hair and he has her trapped in a passionate embrace, their lips locked in an R-rated kiss while he pulls her body against him like he hasn’t seen her in weeks.

I know how you feel, Bro.

“We better go,” I choke, walking my wife towards the back door of the limo. I open it and she climbs inside, the motion jolting Valerie and Elliot from their kiss. Their faces only breaths from each other, they stare into the other’s eyes, still locked in their embrace and breathless.

“I missed you,” Elliot breathes.

“I missed you… too…” Valerie pants before gently kissing her husband again. She takes another deep breath and turns to me. I’m still standing here, holding the door for her. “Hi, Christian,” she says with a grin. I return her smile.

“Hi, Val,” I say. She pauses for a moment before getting into the Limo. Yes, I know, Val. She smiles widely and steps inside, Elliot right behind her. I get in with my family and we’re off to enjoy the evening.


A/N: Kwame Kilpatrick—this is a difficult story to tell, so I’ll just give the Reader’s Digest version. Kilpatrick was the mayor of Detroit. Right after I left Detroit in 2008, he was involved in several huge scandals—one of which dated back to 2003 and involved the murder of a 27-year-old stripper. Without recounting details with which I’m not completely familiar, he was charged with all kinds of criminal crap, pled to some of it, ended up losing his position as mayor of Detroit, yada, yada, yada. Needless to say, this brought all kinds of bad publicity to Detroit and I subsequently heard that families were leaving the city and that it was almost, if not completely, bankrupt. I got word that schools were closing and everything, and we all know that once schools start closing, the city is dying. I don’t know if one had anything to do with the other, but it happened.

While there are some big, beautiful houses still in Detroit’s historic Boston-Edison district, there are some that are really very run down as well. In addition, it’s a beautiful place, but it’s not the safest area to live. It’s like a suburb right in the middle of “not the safest place to live.” What Herman is alluding to is that while the historical district is still considered one of the premier areas of the city, that Kwame’s actions and the national negative publicity he brought to the city may have even affected the property values of that respected and coveted area.

THE PINTEREST LINK IS CORRECTED NOW. IT GOES TO THE NEW PAGE AND IT OPENS IN A NEW WINDOW BY ITSELF… SORRY ABOUT THAT!!

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

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 2—Beginnings and Conclusions

Okay, so, before all the medical practitioners and professionals that ever read my story decide to jump down my throat, PLEASE HEAR THIS! I’ve never been part of a medical investigation. However, in order to try to get this as close to real as possible, I researched the protocol and procedures of several states as well as talked to a few medical professionals—one of which actually took part in these kinds of investigations and admitted to me that the task was very stressful.

Having said that, please recognize that this is not only NOT going to be a by-the-book rendition of what may happen during one of these investigations, but also, I took a lot of creative license to develop this story line for reasons of my own. The last time I showed a doctor—ONE DOCTOR, not every doctor in my story, JUST ONE—in a bad light, I had a reader jumping down my throat, pretty much telling me that I was persecuting the medical profession by simply pointing out A PAINFUL REALITY that is unfortunately true with some doctors… SOME doctors!

I ask that you please put the torches and pitchforks away as you read this part of the story, because quite frankly, I don’t want to hear “That’s not how it happens!” I hate to tell you this, but research and discussion shows that part of this is EXACTLY how it happens while the other part is that great thing that we call FICTION! Speaking of fiction, Ana is now a 28-year-old psychiatrist. Explain it however it suits you. 😉

One more thing… Be sure that I have the email address that you want me to use on my mailing list. Also, be sure that you are checking that email regularly and that it doesn’t get too full. I sent my email out to the entire list last week and fifty-five emails BOUNCED! 

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 2—Beginnings and Conclusions

CHRISTIAN

“Talk to me,” I say to my father as Butterfly joins my side.

“He’s on oxygen, of course—he can barely breathe,” Dad says. “He’s becoming confused more often and he has awful muscle spasms. His skin is powdery…” Dad trails off. He holds his head down to try to rein in his emotions. “It… won’t be too much longer now.” I frown.

Pops’ condition deteriorated significantly not long after Valerie and Elliot’s wedding. Valerie finished radiation a couple of weeks later and Butterfly and I were planning our trip to Italy. Just when Valerie began to show significant signs of improvement, Pops’ health started to decline very quickly and he had to be rushed to the hospital. There wasn’t much that could be done for him. Without a kidney transplant, he doesn’t have much of a chance. To be painfully honest, it’s too late for a kidney even now. The hospital kept him for two weeks or so, but he has asked to come home. He has no unrealistic expectations. He’s certain that God still has miracles stored up there, but unfortunately, none of them are for him this time around.

“How long?” I ask. “Any idea?” Dad shakes his head.

“Weeks, maybe,” Dad says sadly, “but… I’d… put my money on days.” He squeezes the last words out. “That’s why we called everyone here. We’re most likely going to bring him home and let him live out the rest of his days in peace and comfort instead of alone in the hospital… and we just want everyone’s input.” I nod and squeeze his shoulder.

“Whatever you think is best, Dad,” I say softly. He nods and purses his lips. He looks over at Butterfly like he’s only just noticing that she’s there. She hands me the other baby carrier and hugs my dad. I’m glad she has so much faith in me carrying two of these things… not that I can’t do it.

“I’m so sorry, Carrick,” she says sweetly. “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Dad nods while Butterfly cups his face. His strong façade almost cracks at her touch.

“Being here is enough right now. Thank you, dear girl,” he says. My wife kisses my father on the cheek before she relieves me of one of my children and we all walk inside.

Elliot and Valerie are already here talking to Mom in the great room, along with Mia and Ethan. I look up the stairs just in time to see Luma disappear around a corner. She has become quite at home here since Pops and Uncle Herman arrived. It’s one of those situations where you understand that everything happens for a reason—even the really bad stuff. She lost her family and we welcomed her into ours. Now, she’s helping us through a difficult time. Mom rises when I enter and I kiss her on the cheek.

“How are you?” I ask. She smiles tightly.

“As well as can be expected,” she says. “Cary is so tired; the whole thing is really taking its toll on him. Herman puts up a brave front, but…” Mom shrugs. “You know we just have to be pillars for our men.” I raise an eyebrow.

Our men?” I ask suspiciously. “So, have Luma and Uncle Herman finally made it official?” My mom smiles a knowing smile.

“I knew it,” she declares. “I told them the only ones that they were fooling were themselves. Who all knows? Everybody?” I nod.

“Yeah, I think that’s a safe assumption,” I say. “I mean there hasn’t been any family powwows or anything like that, but the way they look at each other and the way they sneak away for stolen moments…” I gesture around the room. “… Like now.” Mom nods.

“He’s going to need someone… when Burt is gone,” she says sadly. “The last several years of his life have been centered around taking care of his father and that’s going to change soon. He’ll need a diversion—someone to care for him, and maybe someone else to care for.”

I look over at my wife who has settled in next to Valerie and Elliot, talking in hushed tones about who knows what while she situates the baby carrier at her feet. I still have one of my children in the carrier in my hand, I don’t know which one yet.

“She’s been so good for you, Christian,” my mother says. “I never thought I would ever see you shed your anger. I hoped, but I never thought…” She chokes up before she can finish her sentence and I rub her arm. “But look at you now,” she says, sniffling and fighting her tears. “A family man with a wife and two beautiful children.” I reach in my pocket and hand her my handkerchief when she loses the fight. “I’m sorry. It’s just that… times like these make you realize how important family really is.”

I hug my mother with my free arm, which only makes her cry harder. This is something else she didn’t think she would ever see, but being with Butterfly has changed me in ways that no one ever thought possible… not even me. The little bundle in my carrier begins to fuss and Butterfly’s attention immediately turns to me.

“Oh, please, please, let me,” my mother beseeches quickly drying her eyes and reaching for the baby seat. I look to Butterfly who nods once with a kind smile. I remove the blanket off the carrier to reveal which child I have been carrying. It’s Minnie.

“There’s grandma’s precious little Minnie Mouse,” my mother says, taking a fussing Minnie out of her carrier. Mikey must have heard the cue and starts to fuss as well.

“That means that this must be my godson,” Valerie says, removing the receiving blanket from the carrier before my wife has a chance to protest. “Hello, Sir Michael. Come and give Tee Tee Val kisses!” My little boy is quite the ladies’ man, because the moment Valerie retrieves him from the carrier, he gives her the biggest toothless grin. Speaking of teeth, Minnie has already started teething and has been quite irritable over the last couple of weeks. Butterfly is nearly at her wits end with Minnie’s relentless unwillingness to settle. The baby’s constant crying upsets her because she doesn’t like hearing Minnie cry. Noting her obvious distress, my mother comforts her.

“Don’t worry, dear. It’s just one of the growing pains they’ll have. Let me take care of her for you,” Mom says. Butterfly nods, and soon Minnie’s cries are off in the distance somewhere after Mom takes her from the great room. It’s obvious that my mother needs a distraction and quite frankly, Butterfly needs a break. Even with the two nannies at home, Butterfly is extremely active in caring for our children. Mikey has gotten to where he can sleep through the night if he’s not disturbed, but once Minnie started teething, her unrest would disturb him and now, he’s awake at night again when she stirs. Knowing that her daughter is in pain, my wife can’t sleep through the night either, so her latest sleeping habits have somewhat matched Minnie’s and, although I won’t tell her so, she looks exhausted.

She keeps telling me that something is holding up the accreditation at Helping Hands, but no one can seem to tell her or my mother what it is. So, of course, that’s very frustrating. Then there’s the hearing before the medical board looming over us and now, the family is gathering to discuss Pops’ deteriorating condition. We were planning a vacation on our anniversary at the end of the month. I intended to take Butterfly to the Italian villa that I bought for her, but with everything going on with work and licenses and Pops and the twins, it doesn’t look like we’ll be making that trip this year.

I sit on the sofa opposite Elliot and Valerie. Butterfly comes to join me and snuggles under my arm. I watch as my brother and his wife coo over my son who is hungrily taking a bottle offered by Valerie. I lean down and kiss my wife on the forehead.

“You okay?” I ask. She nods.

“I can’t stand to hear her cry that way,” she says, her voice sounding defeated. “It’s so shrill and I know that she’s hurting and I can’t do anything about it. It pierces me right in the heart—like a rusty knife!” I rub her arm and kiss her again, sinking into the silence.

“Listen,” I say and pause. She listens, realization dawning only moments later.

“She’s not crying anymore,” Butterfly says. “I wonder what Grace did.” I shrug. I don’t know what my Mom did, but I’m very happy that Minnie is settled, even if only for a moment.

“Are you guys planning to have kids of your own someday?” I ask Valerie and Elliot. “You’re a natural with babies.” Valerie smiles.

“Someday, but it won’t be for a while,” she says. “The radiation needs to work its way out of my system and then we need to know for sure that I have healthy ovaries.” Obviously, they’ve talked about this. “Once I have the ‘all clear’ from all pertinent doctors, we’ll most likely start trying sometime after that.” Elliot smiles and I nod.

“That’s a good idea. I’m feeling the need to keep our family line going,” I say. “We’re losing one of the foundations of the family and I’m just feeling that need to keep the legacy alive.”

“Tell me about it,” Elliot says before tenderly kissing his wife. Soon thereafter, Mom comes back into the great room with a cooing Minnie.

“Is she asleep?” Butterfly asks. Mom shakes her head.

“Just content,” Mom says. “I put something on her gums to soothe the ache.” Mom reaches into her pocket and pulls out a vial. “It’s a lavender oil dilution with just a touch of clove oil—not too much as clove oil can cause irritation in some infants.” She gives a vial to Butterfly. “A little bit on your finger—just enough to coat it—and rub it on her gums. She should get relief fairly quickly. When you run out, let me know and I’ll make more. I know the right concentration and you can’t be too careful with infants and clove oil. In a pinch, you can also use German Chamomile hydrosol. You’ll probably have to get it online, but you can put it right on her gums.” Butterfly nods and rises to put the vial in the diaper bag… but she doesn’t quite make it off the sofa.

“Butterfly!” I exclaim, catching her just as she falls back down on the sofa. She puts her hand on her forehead.

“I’m okay,” she says softly. “Just a little light-headed.” My brown furrows.

“Exhausted, you mean,” I accuse, taking the vial from her hands and putting it in the side pocket of the diaper bag. I turn around to the questioning faces of my family and the convicted downcast gaze of my wife. I sit next to her again and cuddle her close to me, nearly pulling her into my lap.

“Why are you exhausted, Anakins?” Mia asks. When Butterfly doesn’t respond, I speak instead.

“There’s a lot going on and it’s happening all at once,” I say without being specific. “Some things that can’t be helped and some things that certainly can, and I swear, Butterfly—if you don’t get a handle on those things that can be handled, I’m going to do it for you.”

“You can’t rescue me, Christian,” she protests.

“No, I can’t,” I agree, “but I can assure that all this stuff you’re taking on doesn’t kill you. It’s going to be your choice or mine, baby, but I won’t lose you.” She drops her eyes again.

“I’m afraid he’s right, Steele,” Valerie says and Butterfly raises her head. Valerie starts to count on her fingers.

“You were there for me, and I needed 24-hour care. You’re there for two babies and you never faltered. You’re there for the help center. You do the radio spots. You went from the six-week check-up to that crazy woman’s trial to caring for me and planning my spur-of-the-moment wedding. And this is just the stuff I know about. That doesn’t include if something else is going on…”

“There’s a whole lotta ‘something else’ going on,” I interject and Valerie nods.

“You’re not looking well, Ana, and the moisturizer that you’re wearing does not cover the bags under your eyes. You’re spread about as thin as you can be. Do you need to pass out before you take a break?”

“Fuck, no,” I answer emphatically, until I hear my mother hiss softly. “Sorry, Mom, but fuck no.” This time I mouth the word fuck. Butterfly’s shoulders sag her defeat. I cuddle her close to me. I don’t want her to feel like we’re ganging up on her, but I’m glad Valerie chimed in and told her that her overworking herself is not invisible to those around her. She would have taken it as me being overprotective.

“We’ll work this out,” I tell her, “together, but baby, the twins and I need you healthy, fit, and happy, so something’s got to give. At your current pace…” I trail off. She raises sad blue eyes to me in surrender and nods, curling into my chest and allowing me to hold her. I think there might be a bit of shrinking involved, but I allow it this time.

I gently stroke her hair as conversation carries on around us about babies and life and Mia’s upcoming wedding—anything but the elephant in the room and the reason that we’re all here… Pops’ condition. A few minutes later, Dad, Uncle Herman, and Luma all come from different parts of the house and join us in the great room. Dad and Uncle Herman look as run down as my wife if not more. Valerie and Mom have gotten the twins settled and back in their carriers and my father and uncle find a seat. Luma has already taken a seat with Mia and Ethan.

“Well,” Dad begins, “Dad’s not doing well at all. He’s very weak and very frail. The number of symptoms piling up is more than we can even describe. He’s irritable, upset… quickly deteriorating and currently alone in a hospital bed. Dialysis really can’t do much more to help him at this stage. The disease is so advanced and with his advanced age and no new kidney on the horizon…” Dad trails off. After several moments of silence, Uncle Herman continues.

“We called my brothers back in Detroit for input. You can just about imagine how well that went,” he says, rubbing his forehead. “Anyway, we don’t have time for the bickering. We have to make a decision. Dad doesn’t have long left and he’s refusing dialysis because he knows this. He wants his last days to be as comfortable as possible. We’re considering bringing him home on hospice instead of leaving him at the hospital, but it’s certain that if we do that, he’s going to die here and not too far down the road. We want his family to be around him when that happens, maybe even to hear and see his great-grandchildren on his last day… Is she alright?”

Uncle Herman had turned his attention to me to weigh in on the great-grandchildren suggestion, but is now referring to my wife. I was so engrossed in what he was saying that I wasn’t paying attention to Butterfly. She’s in the most awkward position on my chest with her mouth hanging open—fast asleep. She wasn’t shrinking, she was cuddling and trying to get comfortable. I adjust her so that she’s laying on my lap and she doesn’t even stir. If it weren’t for the rise and fall in her chest, I’d be concerned about her.

“She’s overworked,” I answer Uncle Herman. Dad looks at Mom with a furrowed brow. “It’s more than that, Dad,” I counter, anticipating his thoughts. “There’s a lot going on.”

“I’m sorry, son. I didn’t mean to dump this on you while you two while you’re going through something…”

“Trust me, Dad, it’s okay. This is family. It’s just that everything is happening at once and I have to help my wife delegate some things. She’s not going to be happy about that, but she can’t continue the pace that she’s keeping.” I stroke her hair again while she’s lying on my lap. “Please, Uncle Herman, continue.”

“I… feel a little guilty asking what I want to ask now,” he says, looking over at Dad, who sighs heavily. “We’ve decided… to bring him home and let him go in peace. We’ve talked about it and… we’d like for anyone who can to move into the Manor for a while. Dad’s become accustomed to having the family around and if everyone stays away while he’s dying… well…” Herman trails off this time. This is very hard for my father and his brother. I’m certain that Butterfly won’t mind moving in with my parents for a little while. It’ll give me a chance to pull her away from the situation she’s in for a while, too. Not so much a vacation, unfortunately, but at least a breather from some of the things she has to handle. I’ll cut down on my work, too, so that I can keep an eye on her and help out with the babies while this is all going on.

“Um… we have nannies that help with our children. I’m sure security can probably set up in the pool house or the pool house, but the nannies…”

“Give them a vacation,” Mom says. “We’ll help you care for the children.”

“Yes,” Luma says. “I am certain that my boss will allow me a revised schedule for a family emergency,” she says with a wink, causing me to chuckle. “I will be happy to help out with the children.”

“Me, too, when I’m not forced to work,” Mia chimes in. “You know how I love babies.”

“More time with my godchildren? Count me in,” Valerie also says. “Besides, Steele needs a break in the worst way. We’re going to have to pry her away from those babies, because that’s where most of her energy is going and life in general is zapping the rest. Even with the nannies, she’s right there every time one of the children cries. She’s going to have to let go just a bit. That’s why she has nannies—to allow her the time to do the other things she wants to do, not to try to be a stay-at-home mom and carry a full-time schedule. They’re both full-time jobs. Geez, she even takes the babies to work with her.”

“You’re preaching to the choir here,” I tell her. “I’ll appreciate your back-up when it’s time to convince her.”

“You got it,” Valerie confirms.

“Does that mean that you all are willing to move in for a while?” Uncle Herman says. “We don’t know how long it will be… we just know that it won’t be long.”

Various affirmations around the room confirm that Grey Manor will soon become Grey Compound for however long it takes for Pops to make his transition. More conversation reveals that one brother in Detroit is on the fence about what to do while the other is adamant about leaving Pops in the hospital. His suggestion is to have Pops deemed incompetent and unable to make his own decision and forcing him to take the dialysis to extend his life. Yeah, that’s the kind of fucker I want to make my end-of-life decisions… not!

Luckily, for lack of a better word, even if Pops’ capacity may be slightly diminished, he’s not completely gone and still able to make his own decisions. Not only that, he has advanced directives that were put in place before his health deteriorated and the person able to legally make decisions about his care is already here—Uncle Herman has power of attorney and is already trustee for Pops’ estate.

Once we sort out what’s going to be happening over the next several days or weeks—however long this process takes—I take my wife to my childhood bedroom and put her to bed. She still hasn’t stirred. One good thing about being here instead of home… no two-way communications, so she can’t be disturbed by the babies crying.

I get to work immediately on what needs to be done for our stay, as does Elliot and Ethan. The women are left to coo over the babies and make sure all the refrigerators are stocked. Jason will set up Security Central in the pool house and have a of staff rotation working shifts while we’re here. Gail and Keri will be on-call and brought to the Manor only if needed as the place will already be overrun with people. I arrange for cribs and baby furniture to be delivered to the Manor to set up nurseries in two parts of the house as Mom and Dad don’t have the staff or accommodations that we have. Gail and Keri are packing the things that we’ll need for a possible month-long stay with my parents—including clothes for me and Butterfly.

Work schedules will be severely cut as well as appearance schedules for my wife. Marilyn will also be on call to handle most of Butterfly’s tasks so that she can finally get a little rest. We can’t avoid the hearing coming up next week and I’m hoping that my deposition in all of this will put this shit to rest. Sexual misconduct… what a fucking crock. Although, something that Valerie said earlier stuck with me…

“You went from the six-week check-up to that crazy woman’s trial to caring for me and planning my spur-of-the-moment wedding.”

In two years—two years—of being with my lover, my fiancée, and my wife, there were only three people with intimate knowledge who really questioned our relationship…

Ronald Carlisle, the director of the community center where I attended the group sessions. I’m sure he did so for professional reasons and we never heard from him again after the sessions were complete.

Brian Cholometes, Ray’s best friend and a serious suitor for Butterfly. Could his jealousy and need for revenge have caused him to want to harm Butterfly after ultimately losing her to me?

And of course, the crazy woman to whom Valerie is referring—one Elena Lincoln. She knew the circumstances under which I met Butterfly. She could very well be the one who’s trying to ruin Butterfly’s reputation.

There could be any other number of people who could have made this false report, including someone that was in the initial group sessions, but I’d like to focus on these three first—eliminate them and then move on to possible other suspects. It’s time to shake the tree and see if anything falls out.

“Welch.”

“I appreciate more than anyone that I can pick up this phone at just about any hour of any day and reach you, but damn, man, you need a life,” I proclaim into the phone.

“This coming from my boss,” he retorts. “Should I hang up and go find one right now?”

“Don’t be a smart-ass,” I warn.

“Don’t tell me to get a life. I’ve got a life—the life I want. Now what do you need?” I stop egging him on and get to the point.

“I know that we can’t really pinpoint who contacted the licensing board about me and my wife since the complaint was anonymous, but if you know who to look at, could you find out if they contacted the licensing board at all?” The line is quiet.

“It’s a place to start,” he says. “If someone was trying to cover their tracks, you may never find out. But if they were using their cell or office phones or home phones, it should be easy enough. If it was in writing, that’s trickier.” I shake my head as if he can see me.

“It was a phone call,” I tell him. “Allen got that much from the review board, but they wouldn’t give any further information.”

“What do you have?” I give him the names. “Has Ana tried talking to Carlisle to see if he had suspicions? Or you? Didn’t you see him separately for a while?”

“He had suspicions,” I say. “He openly asked us if something was going on. Separately, but he asked us.”

“Then why wait two years?” he asks, the same question I was considering.

“Whoever made the complaint waited two years,” I point out. “I’m just going through a process of elimination. Besides our family and close friends, there’s only a handful of people who even knew that Butterfly and I met in those sessions. I’d like to start with the obvious.”

“Brian… you like to give me impossible tasks, don’t you?” he says.

“Only because I know you can do them,” I retort.

“Lincoln will be the easiest one. I’ll start with her.”

“Good man. Let me know what you come up with.”

“Will do.” I end the call and go in search of my mother.


ANASTASIA

I slept like the dead. When I open my eyes, it’s still daylight, but I can tell that it’s somewhat late in the day. I can’t remember the last time I had that content of a sleep. I’m in Christian’s bedroom with no idea how I got here. I throw my legs over the edge of the bed, stand up, and go to the bathroom. After relieving myself, I wash my face and try to tame my bed-head hair. Once I’m satisfied, I go in search of my family.

There’s no one in the great room and I didn’t want to just start opening bedroom doors and maybe walk in on something I really don’t want to see. I head for the dining room and discover my husband talking to his mother. I hear my name and decide to hang back at the door for a while. I’m sure that quite a bit has been discussed while I was sleeping.

“You just wouldn’t believe the headache we’re having,” I hear Grace say. “I don’t want to dump it all on Ana, and I swear that I haven’t, but she takes it on anyway. She has all the plans for the school and the day care center—it was her baby from day one. She feels like it’s her responsibility to see it through to the end. That’s partially my fault for freaking out when she announced her maternity leave.”

“That’s water under the bridge now, Mom,” I hear Christian say. “What’s important now is that she doesn’t work herself to death. You saw her this afternoon. She’s running on fumes! She even has the communications system in the house wired so that if one of the babies makes the slightest sound and she’s not in the room with them, she’s notified even if she’s on the toilet!”

“Good God,” Grace says. “That’s a bit extreme.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. We have two nannies and two children. At first, it was Gail and Ana. But when Sophie came to live with us, we didn’t want Gail spread too thin, so we hired Keri. There are three women in that house that can care for those children, but Ana cares for them the most. I think that may partially be my fault for telling her that I didn’t want my children raised by nannies.”

That’s not his fault. We agreed that the babies wouldn’t be raised by nannies. I want my children to know who I am. They can know who the nanny’s are, but this is called being “Mom.”

“That’s Mom for you, son,” Grace says, verbalizing my thoughts. “Mom is going to be the one to kiss boo-boos. Mom is going to be there for birthdays and holidays and to tuck them in at night. Mom is going to parent-teacher conference and to hug Minnie through her first heartbreak and give Mikey advice on girls that you may not be able to give him. Moms care; nannies help.”

“I know,” he says, and I can see him in my mind’s eye running his hands through his hair, “but she’s killing herself, Mom. She’s exhausted. She’s going to make herself sick. She can’t do both full-time and everything else that she’s trying to squeeze in. Something’s got to give. She’s going to have to cut down to part-time on both or let one go or something… There’s no way in hell she can keep up this pace. I just need to know that you’re on the same page with me.”

I lean against the wall as I listen to Grace agree with my husband. His voice sounds… distressed, and this is one of those times when even though I may feel like Wonder Woman, my husband needs to care for me. It’s not the control freak in him—well, maybe it is,  just a little bit, but not really. No, this is genuine concern for my welfare and the fact that the slightest thing is causing me to snap or fall apart lately. Although I wouldn’t call discovering that someone is accusing me of sexual misconduct a slight thing, it took the staff three days to get my office back to par after that revelation.

“Our biggest problem is getting the accreditation approved.” Grace’s conversation brings me back from my wanderings. “Now, I’ve discovered what’s holding it up.”

She did? Why didn’t she tell me?

“I only found out late yesterday. With what I knew was coming with Burt and the hearing on Monday, I was going to wait until after to say anything to her about it,” she says, once again reading my mind.

“Well, what is it?” Christian asks.

“The director of the licensing board,” Grace says. “She’s been putting us through the paces for months, continuously holding up our license for one thing or another and we couldn’t figure out why. I researched the process to have an appeal or an investigation conducted to see why we’re being subjected to such scrutiny and if this is the usual process for organizations seeking accreditation. Every time we pass one test or another review and we’re led to believe that we’re going to get our accreditation, something else has to be submitted or reviewed. I think the steps are unnecessary, so my research led me to the head of the board. You won’t believe what I found.”

“What did you find?”

“Gloria Felton,” Grace says. The name sounds slightly familiar, but there are no alarm bells going off.

“Should I know this person?” Christian asks.

“No, you wouldn’t,” the response came, “but Ana and I would. I passed Gloria Felton up as Assistant Director for the Center and gave the job to Ana. Ana was overwhelmingly more qualified for the job, but Gloria was convinced that I only did it because she was dating you at the time. She was spewing threats on her way out the door and now, it appears she’s making good on them.” I burst into the dining room.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I ask in a shrill voice. “Gloria fucking Felton? Really?”

Grace and Christian are both beyond shocked at my entrance.

“Ana! Were you eavesdropping at the door?” she asks.

“Yes, I was,” I admit openly. “I heard my name when I approached and I didn’t want the conversation to drop the moment I walked into the room. Gloria Felton? Is this a joke?”

“I’m afraid not,” she says.

“Was she the director back when she was trying to socially climb through the charity?” I ask. “How could she expect to do them both?” Christian raises an eyebrow at me.

“I don’t know,” Grace replies. “I don’t think so.” My scar starts to throb. Gloria fucking Felton. I only knew her as Gloria, which is why she didn’t ring any bells. All that work we’ve done can be just shot to hell because of somebody’s personal vendetta. Give me a fucking break. I notice the room has fallen silent and raise my eyes to see Christian and Grace both staring at me.

“I heard you,” I say, looking over at my husband. “You’re right. I’m exhausted. I can’t keep up this pace. I’ll talk to Marilyn about my schedule and work some things out, and I’ll utilize my nannies more…” I turn to Grace. “… But Grace, if something must suffer in this, it’s going to have to be the Center, because it’s not going to be my babies.” Grace’s face breaks into a sincere smile.

“I would expect nothing less, dear,” she says. Before I know it, Christian has gathered me in his arms and is holding me so close to him that I can’t move. He buries his nose in my hair and inhales.

“Thank you,” he whispers softly. “Thank you thank you thank you…”

I can only imagine that this is hard for him, what’s going on with Pops and watching Herman and Carrick fall apart before his very eyes, and now me—barely able to stay awake for a very important conversation. When he releases me, I open my eyes to see that Grace has left us alone in the dining room.

“It’s getting late,” I say. “Are we staying for dinner or shouldn’t we be getting home soon?” His lips form a thin line.

“Yeah, about that.” He returns to his seat, pulling me with him. I sit down in the chair next to him. “I’ve somewhat made an executive decision and I hope you don’t mind… you were asleep.”

“What’s going on?” I ask. Christian tells me about the conversation the family had while I was fast asleep on his lap; how all the siblings, their significant others, and Luma with her girls have all agreed to move into Grey Manor as a unified support system until Pops passes on; how Mia, Luma, Grace, and even Val have all agreed to become part-time nannies for the girls and for the twins while we’re here; how everyone wants to be present to support Carrick and Herman through this and help ease Pops’ mind knowing that family is around him during his final days.

“And I slept through this?” I ask horrified. “Christian, you let me sleep through this?”

“I couldn’t stop you, baby,” he states matter-of-factly. “I didn’t even know you were asleep until Uncle Herman asked if you were okay.”

“Why didn’t you wake me?” I protest. This was an important meeting and I slept through it like a toddler at naptime. He twists his lips.

“Baby, I moved you several times and you didn’t even stir.” He’s right. He got me off the sofa, upstairs and into the bed and I didn’t even know I was there. “Everyone understood, Butterfly. You tried, but you couldn’t hide it… you looked you were going to pass out.” I roll my eyes, admitting defeat.

“So… where are the babies going to sleep?” I ask.

“Well, we now have two nurseries—one in the guest room next to Mom and Dad’s room and Mom’s library has been converted to a nursery, too.” My eyes widen.

“How long was I asleep?” I ask.

“Several hours, baby.” I shake my head and stop arguing.

“Is there a space somewhere that I can commandeer as a makeshift office while I’m here?” I ask. “I’m going to have to meet with Marilyn—cancel some appearances, rework my schedule… I think Grace and I will have to alternate at Helping Hands for a while, and some days, they’ll just have to do without us both.” Christian smiles.

“I’ll see what Mom says about commandeering a room. I haven’t lived here in a long time, remember?”

*-*

Marilyn and I comb through my schedule on Sunday morning and cancel all my immediately upcoming appearances until further notice due to a family emergency. I know that this will lead to speculation, but right now, I can’t be concerned with that. As Christian and I prepare to give our depositions at the hearing tomorrow, he gets a call and decides to take it in another room. That makes me feel a little uneasy since it’s late Sunday evening, but I don’t squawk about it.

Mia and Grace take the rounds on baby watch so that Christian and I wouldn’t be late to the preliminary hearing for my license review in the morning. It’s an informal hearing, so I don’t necessarily need Al, yet, but the moment I enter the building, I begin to feel like I should have brought him with me.

I can’t even begin to express how ridiculous I think this exercise is. Just like in a real courtroom, Christian isn’t allowed hear my testimony and I’m not allowed to hear his. However, I’m quite surprised to see some of the participants of that same group that Christian was in as well as Ronald Carlisle in the waiting room, waiting to give their testimony. When I check in, I have to turn in my purse, my phone, and my watch before I’m led to a separate room where I sit all by myself… with an escort who’s not allowed to leave the room.

Why the hell did they take my watch?

I sit in that room with nothing but a table and no windows, and I slowly begin to lose hope. There’s no clock, there’s nothing to let me know how much time has passed. I sit and sit and sit in silence, and I feel like it’s been hours. I already know that I’ve been escorted to this room to make sure that I speak to none of the witnesses and I’m also certain that with the way that I’ve been treated—like a nobody, and I’m a licensed medical professional—that unlike a criminal trial where I’m innocent until proven guilty, I’ve pretty much been convicted, and it’s up to me to prove my innocence. I’m feeling more and more helpless the longer I sit here and I finally settle on a plan of attack, if you can call it that.

“Excuse me, why did they take my watch?” I ask the escort/attendant/guard or whatever the fuck she is.

“It’s protocol, ma’am,” she says in a clipped voice.

“But why my watch? What can I possibly do with my watch?” They didn’t take my wedding rings or my earrings or any of my other jewelry. What could I do with my watch?

“It’s protocol, ma’am,” she says again, and it’s obvious that she has no other words for me. I shake my head and sigh.

Just like I said, a nobody.

I close my eyes and meditate while I wait. I focus on my children, on my wedding day, my honeymoon, all of my best friend’s weddings; on Food & Libations and on holding my little brother for the first time; on dancing with my father and Christian’s proposal; on realizing that he loved me and I loved him even when I didn’t know who he was after coming out of the coma; on building a High School Musical bear with Sophie at Thanksgiving and on Keri’s return from Anguilla; on…

“Dr. Steele-Grey, the board is ready for you now.”

I look up at the escort who has been sitting silently in the cell with me all this time. That’s what this room is. It’s a cell, and after being stripped of my dignity this way, I’m resigned to accept whatever they say.

“It has come to the attention of the board that there has been an accusation of sexual misconduct against you, Dr. Steele-Grey.”

There’s some kind of introduction about this not being a formal disciplinary proceeding blah blah blah. I’ve already tuned them out. I was forced to walk about 100 feet from the door to a single chair sitting in front of a long Oxford wood table with four people on the other side facing me. They give me their names, but I don’t commit any of them to memory—two men, both over the age of fifty, a younger man and a woman… I can’t place her age. Christian’s got their names. I know he does. No matter, I already know what I’m going to say.

“You mean a conviction, don’t you?” I say, my voice controlled. All four of the people who sit in judgment of me raise their eyes to me.

“Excuse me?” one of them says.

“You said an ‘accusation.’ You meant a conviction, didn’t you?” I repeat. “I sit before this board accused by a ghost! Someone who can’t be bothered to come before this panel, show their face and proudly proclaim they openly accuse me of wrongdoing. No, I’m called before a disciplinary board and treated like a common criminal from the moment I entered this building based on opinion and conjecture. I’ve been sitting in a cell for four hours with no contact with anybody. I couldn’t even check on my children!”

“It’s not a cell, Mrs. Grey…”

“It’s Dr. Steele-Grey you haven’t stripped me of my license yet and have you been in that room?” I say all in one breath. They all fall silent. “If that’s not a cell, why did they take my watch? My watch! What can I possibly do with a watch?” I exclaim. “I remember a psychological experiment when I was in college where they put people in a cell with no window for days and deprived them of the ability to tell time. The subjects lost their minds. Is that what this was? Some kind of mind-freak experiment to break down my resistance? Stick me in a cell for four hours and hope I’ll confess to anything?”

“Mrs. Grey, that is not a cell,” he repeats, his voice sounding impatient.

“Excuse me, but is something wrong with your hearing?” I ask.

“I beg your pardon?” he scoffs.

“I repeat, is there something wrong with your hearing?” I ask, folding my arms. “Is your hearing okay?” I am pointing to my ears this time.

“There’s nothing wrong with my hearing!” he shoots.

“Eyesight good, too?” I ask. “I wear glasses, too, and I know things can tend to get a little fuzzy.” He’s really getting heating now.

“My eyesight is fine,” he replies as if he can barely maintain control.

“Well, I’m only asking because you keep addressing my sister-in-law. You see, she’s Mrs. Grey. I’m Dr. Steele-Grey, and when you called me in here and addressed me for the first time, that’s what you said. And when you look at that documentation in front of your face, that’s who you’re trying. And since you’re so sure that the description of that room is a matter of my own perception, I’ll tell you what, sir. You have one of these fine employees take you to that room, take your watch, and sit there with you for four hours without saying a word and then come back and tell me that it’s not a cell.”

He clears his throat and looks at his notes.

“We’re getting off the mark, here,” he says, bringing the conversation back to the cause of the hearing. “You know that you’re here because accusations of sexual misconduct have been levied against you.”

“By whom?” I ask.

“Christian Grey,” he says. I now notice that he must be the mouthpiece while the others just observe and take notes as he’s the only one who speaks.

“Would you like to rephrase that now or would you like to wait until I turn this over to my attorney for slander?” I say, impassively. He glares at me when the other older gentleman leans over and whispers something in his ear. He clears his throat again.

“What I mean to say is that the victim is Christian Grey,” he corrects himself.

“And again, I ask, accusations have been levied against me by whom? Christian Grey will tell or has already told you that there has been no sexual misconduct on my part while he was in my group session. So, what are we basing further hearings on? Who is my accuser and what is their evidence?”

“Mrs. Grey, you’re hardly in a position to make demands right now with the delicate nature of these proceedings.”

“It’s Dr. Steele-Grey, for the third time. And sir, if you’re not required to answer my questions, I’m not required to answer yours, nor will I defend someone’s opinion to this board.” They look at each other as I cross my arms and legs. That’s when the totally inappropriate questions begin.

“Did you wear provocative clothing to the group sessions you facilitated?”

“Did you ever act inappropriately around your patients or participants?”

“Did you and Mr. Grey have a lover’s quarrel during which time you outed him in front of the other members of the group for ‘mommy issues?’”

More and more questions exactly like this one are fired off at me. I shake my head at the line of questioning and laugh. I don’t answer a single question. When he’s done with his barrage, he asks one last question.

“You don’t have anything to say for yourself, Mrs. Grey?” I laugh again. Mrs. Grey. Okay.

“Yes, I do,” I say, rising and standing behind my chair. “Not one of those questions that you asked had anything to do with possible sexual misconduct except possibly when you incorrectly described a disagreement that I had with Mr. Grey as a ‘lover’s quarrel.’ So, since you have a problem wording your questions, I’m going to guide you in the right direction.”

“Mrs. Grey…” he begins.

“Mr. Grey’s first group session with me as a facilitator was June 11, 2012,” I begin without regard for this ass’s interruption. “Three days later, I learned that I would not be the right person to facilitate his anger management sessions because he—like you—did not respect me as a doctor at the time.”

I pause to allow that last statement to sink in for a moment. Old Boy #1 narrows his eyes at me and I continue.

“The following Monday, June 18, 2012, I had every intention of informing the court of Mr. Grey’s complete and total lack of respect for me as a doctor since he—like you—insisted on calling me Ms. Steele instead of Dr. Steele. At the time, he was trying to make me feel inferior, much like you’re trying right now by not correctly addressing me. However, I was going to use his unwillingness to participate in the group sessions as a reason for possible reassignment for him.”

“We really don’t…”

“Later that week,” I continue over his interruption, “I find out that he performed a background check on me, which caused me to fear for my safety. So, I had one performed on him as well, strictly on a personal level. This is where I learned about the unfortunate incidents of his childhood, including something to do with his mother. The argument that ensued the following Monday on June 25, 2012 had absolutely nothing to do with a lover’s quarrel, sir!” I hiss. “It had everything to do with the fact that I was tired of being antagonized by Mr. Grey for the prior two weeks when I was only trying to do my job, and I had had enough of attempting to help people who did not want my help. ‘Mommy issues’ was an unfortunate outburst that was subsequently followed by my resignation on the same day. If Mr. Carlisle told you correctly, I turned in a blank report for Mr. Grey so that someone else could evaluate his situation.

“I had no impact on Mr. Grey’s report or treatment for the anger management sessions. In fact, our romantic relationship didn’t begin until four days later when he interrupted a disastrous date that I was having that Friday night. That’s all I have to say. Draw what conclusions you need from that narration. Unless you have questions for me based on factual evidence, I’ve told you all that I’m going to tell you. And allow me to add that I’ve never been treated more unprofessionally by a supposed group of professionals in my life. If this is the governing body over my profession, I’m thinking that maybe I made the wrong career choice.” I turn away from them and begin the 100-foot walk towards the door.

“Mrs. Grey, this hearing is not over yet.” I stop and turn around.

“Yes, it is,” I say. “First of all, you keep calling me Mrs. Grey, so you’ve already made your decision. Second, and more importantly, this entire proceeding has been based on nothing but opinion. You haven’t presented one single fact—not one, and that’s not something that I think! That’s something that I know. The reason that I know is because none exist. There’s not one fact in existence that indicates that I have been sexually inappropriate with any of my patients. That is a fact! Your deliberations and decisions will be based on nothing but opinions, so what does mine matter? I’m the condemned…” I put my hand on my chest mocking contrition. “Oh, I’m sorry. I meant I’m the accused,” I correct myself sarcastically. “So, when you’re all done mixing all of your opinions in your cauldron and you come up with a decision about the fate of my impeccable record, I’m sure you’ll notify me if I’m deemed worthy to continue to practice psychiatry in these great United States!” I turn around march out of the room.

Christian is waiting for me outside of the hearing room when I come whooshing out the door. He stands immediately, his concerned gaze fixed on me.

“Butterfly?” he says, cautiously.

“Take. Me. To. My. Children.” I say. He nods once, puts his hand in the small of my back and leads me out of the building.


CHRISTIAN

I’m stepping off the GEH jet making the same trip my wife made a few months ago for pretty much the same reason. I’m about to ruin someone’s life more than it’s already been ruined.

Sunday, while we were planning our attack and testimony for her hearing, I received a call from Welch. Butterfly looked at me questioningly when I took it in the other room, but luckily, she didn’t ask anything.

Sunday…

“What do you have for me?”

“Lincoln,” he says. “She made a call to the licensing board a couple of months ago. As it stands, she saved up whatever credits she earned over the last year and used them to make that call. It’s hard as hell to save up those credits in prison because it’s basically a barter system. So, I can guarantee you that she’s been planning this for a long time.”

“Is there any way that we can legally get a recording of that call?” I ask.

“We can, but it would take more time than Ana has. You want to pull some strings on this one if you can, especially if you plan on using it to get her off the hook.” I run my hands through my hair.

“See what you can do to get it anyway,” I say. “And start working on getting me into that damn prison as early on Tuesday as possible. Get Holstein directly. I’ll need to meet with him personally.”

“On it,” Welch says before ending the call.

Today…

You would have thought the President was coming to Walla Walla with the cavalcade that met us on the tarmac. A caravan of police cars and motorcycles escort us to the prison as I remember the look on my wife’s face when she came out of that room.

“Take. Me. To. My. Children.”

She didn’t say a word about her testimony and she didn’t ask me about mine. She spent the rest of the evening basking in the love of our children and the support of our family and we didn’t mention anything about it, but once my testimony in front of those buffoons was complete hours earlier, I knew there would be a shakedown. Although I didn’t think it wise to tell Butterfly about Lincoln’s involvement in the whole thing just yet, I was bound and determined to bring everyone down that had anything to do with this farce, including that kangaroo-court panel of high-nosed assholes, and I made sure that they knew it.

Monday at the hearing…

“Why didn’t you tell me that Ana was inappropriate with you during her sessions?” 

I was surprised when Carlisle caught me at the fucking urinal and confronted me about the accusation. I already knew that it wasn’t him, but if I hadn’t, this would have driven it home. 

“It wasn’t me,” I assured him, “and we shouldn’t be talking about this here. It could hurt her case…”

I had answered all their ridiculous questions about my relationship with my wife when she was facilitating the group sessions, which was nothing but angry and tumultuous. I even answered questions about her demeanor and her style of dress—things that had absolutely nothing to do with the matter at hand. There was no romantic relationship until after she quit the sessions. The more they talked, the more I smelled a witch hunt, and that’s when I threw all decorum out the window because they weren’t looking for the truth.

“If an anonymous tip—and a fabricated one at that—is able to cause this much upheaval in the life of a respected doctor without first speaking to the supposed victim as well as considering the source before continuing with any formal or informal proceedings, then I feel sorry for all of the licensed professionals in the state of Washington and across the country for that matter who can be subjected to this kind of scrutiny based on something not even as reliable as a high school lavatory whisper. Even accused murderers are allowed to confront witnesses and accusers and yet my wife sits here fighting an apparition. She didn’t pursue me. I pursued her and I did so after she quit the center. That’s what you need to know. Those are the facts. We never even had a kind word for one another while she was my facilitator, much less a sexual relationship. She didn’t even know who I was and when she found out, she didn’t like me. After I kissed her for the first time, she fled my office. I literally had to crash her date and convince her that I wanted to be with her before she would have anything to do with me. There never was any sexual misconduct on Dr. Steele-Grey’s part towards me. Me towards her, that might be a different story.”

“What do you mean by that?” Carter asked. He appears to be the head man in charge of the board, because he’s the only one who speaks.

“I used every tactic I could think of besides whipping it out right in front of her to break down her defenses. At first, I thought it was because I wanted her to do what I wanted her to do. After a while, I realize that I just wanted her… and I’m an asshole.”

“Mr. Grey, profanity is not necessary,” Carter protests.

“What are you going to do—hold me in contempt of the board?” I say sarcastically.

“No, but we can have your testimony withheld from the proceedings.” No, he can’t. He’s being a jerk, but I’ll roll with it.

“You do that,” I say. “I’ll just give my testimony to the media. I’m sure they would love to hear how you ignored the statement of the supposed victim in a case of sexual misconduct.” His eyes grow large.

“I’m sure Mrs. Grey wouldn’t like that kind of publicity,” he retorts. I lean back in my seat.

“Let’s examine the facts,” I say, counting off on my fingers. “You’re disrupting her life right now and holding her license over her head not six months after she’s given birth to twins while our family is going through a major crisis. Your inquisition is based on accusations from a faceless, nameless person that she’s not allowed to confront. The victim is not some random patient that she treated with a possible ax to grind—it’s me! Her husband and the father of her children and I’m standing here telling that your claims are bullshit and you won’t even listen to me—the supposed wrong party! You’re dragging her away from running her charity and helping people for this nonsense and you think she would be averse to shining public light on this travesty? This three-ring circus? This unjust witch hunt? And with my resources, you don’t think I’ll find out where that anonymous tip came from and make that public as well?

“Have you not heard the radio spots that she’s been doing to drum up donations for the Help Center? If you seriously think that she wouldn’t jump on the opportunity to expose the injustice of attempting to defame her character and put her license and reputation at risk with absolutely no concrete evidence, then you have no idea who you’re dealing with. She’ll be on a radio spot or a television show before the ink is dry on the paper you sign.”

I’m sure there’s some kind of agency that polices the board, even if I don’t know who or what it is. If they pull Butterfly’s license or impose any disciplinary action on her without true just cause and evidence, somebody’s going to be investigated. To bring a public light to that situation is the last thing Carter wants, and I see it in his eyes.

“I can already tell that you’re not interested in the truth; only in tearing a young doctor apart and ruining her career for whatever reason. I can’t stop you, but I can tell you this. I won’t stop until I’ve turned over every rock and searched every crevice and I’ve gotten to the bottom of this. Whoever is under those rocks better beware. I don’t care how high I have to go and you know I have the resources to do it.”

So now, I’m being searched and allowed into the prison where Edward David drew his last breath… well, technically, it was at the hospital, but this is where it all started. I’m led straight into the restricted area and up into the superintendent’s office.

“Mr. Grey,” he greets. “Welcome. What can I do for you?” Ronald Holstein ensured Butterfly’s safety when she came to visit David that last time.

“I appreciate you seeing me on such short notice. I’ve imposed upon your kindness before and I was hoping that I might be able to impose upon it again,” I tell him.

“If it’s within my power, I’ll be glad to help you,” he assures me.

Twenty minutes later, I not only have the recording of the bitch’s phone call sent to Welch and to my phone, but also on a small recording device lent to me by Holstein so that I can play it for the Pedophile in case she tries to deny her involvement.

When I enter the small room, she’s sitting at a table with her head down. I swear I barely recognize her until she raises her head to look at me. Those cold, empty eyes begin to sparkle at the sight of me. I almost feel sorry for her for the hope evident in her irises.

“You just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?”

I’m sure that she was certain that she would never see me again except for the Faces of Abuse PSA, but here I am, live and in living color. I’m sure she wants to count this as a victory on her part. She’ll feel differently once this visit it over.

“Christian,” she breathes, relief and longing evident on her face. Mine remains impassive.

“I won’t bother with formalities or even the usual insults that I normally throw your way, because you won’t hear it. I will tell you this, though. I know what you tried to do to my wife.”

Her facial expression changes just for a moment before she dons her Domme mask, entwining her fingers like she did when she spoke to me as her pet.

And that just pisses me off more.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she says impassively.

“That’s fine. Just know that I know. I’ll make this quick because I don’t want to be in your presence any longer than I have to, but you need to hear this from me. You failed. I’m going to use my connections to have Ana’s record cleaned of these accusations. Not only that, but before my testimony was even complete, one of the board members declared that the entire hearing a waste of taxpayer’s time and money.

“I’m not sure what you thought accusing my wife of sexual misconduct against me was going to accomplish. Yes, an accusation normally could stay on her record for months, maybe even years… if I didn’t have friends in high places. I have the governor’s private cell phone number on speed dial, for God’s sake!

“To top it all off, you used prison resources to file a fraudulent claim against my wife that caused emotional distress and possible loss of income had these allegations become public. So, to start, we now have a restraining and gag order against you—again! You can’t even breathe my or my wife’s name without consequences.” She cackles loudly.

Consequences?” she asks in a disbelieving tone. She gestures around her. “Take a good look, Christian,” she says sarcastically. “Consequences? Seriously?” I match her cackling laughter with a sinister, deep, throaty laughter of my own—a sound that silences her immediately.

“Wait a minute,” I say through my laughter. “Are you seriously under the impression that… it can’t get worse?”

Her face falls again and fear materializes in her eyes, although she won’t cower. I lean over the table, towering over her.

“Listen carefully, Mistress!” I hiss. “You. Have. Nobody. Even your rich aunt has opted for self-preservation and abandoned you. If you were free, we would sue you for what you did to my wife. Since you’re not, we can sue the prison for allowing these actions occur since all your calls are supposed to be monitored. Guess how the warden felt about hearing that possibility?”

She sits solemnly listening to what I’m saying. She knows what I’m getting at.

“So, who exactly do you think would give a flying fuck if some unfortunate thing were to happen to you every day at 3:00? Death is too good for your ass, so I… we… would definitely want you to live through it.”

She begins to tremble a bit as her pupils constrict, her resolve breaking into nothing.

“Take your fucking sentence and don’t bother us anymore,” I hiss. “If you do, there will be no rest for you. There will be a steady flow of padded pockets to insure your unending pain and suffering—a lifetime of misery and unhappiness just like I wished for you in court. And to give you just a little taste of what’s in store, this is what you get for trying to ruin my wife’s reputation. When you leave this room, you’ll be taken straight to solitary confinement where you’ll stay for fourteen days. Let’s see how you like that tiny room with no light and no running water. Once your stint in solitary it complete, you’ll spend fourteen more days with a new cell mate. My understanding is that her name is Roberta Coleman.”

“Ber…” she breathes. “Bert!” She’s horrified. I smile.

“Ah, you’re already acquainted. Good. I suggest that you use the next twenty-eight days to ponder your situation… to think about if you want to face these or other consequences again if you cross me or my wife. And a piece of information, you sick, sadistic bitch, there are 206 bones in the human body. That’s 206 separate opportunities to break something on your worthless ass. Fuck with me again. The jury may not have believed you, but I do. You are a narcissistic, pathological, screwed-up cunt, and if you fuck with my family again, I will treat you with no regard. And by the way, since you so readily see the afterlife as an escape, you’re on suicide watch. The last time a Grey visited this hellhole, someone ended up dead. You won’t be so lucky. Enjoy your 28 days.”

I turn around and walk out of the room, half wishing that she—like David—would do the world a favor and off herself, but knowing that she’s too self-centered to try it.


A/N: So, the sigh heard ‘round the world—“It was Elena… that’s so predictable!” Well, maybe it was, but for me, that story was still left open-ended and I didn’t like it. Here’s why…

Elena went to jail still delusional, still thinking that Christian loved her, but was under a spell that Ana put on him. Make no mistake—every time Elena said that Ana had Christian under a spell, she really believed it. There was no possible way that Christian could want Ana over her after all these years and all the beautiful subs that were perfect for him that he turned away when they wanted more except that he had to be under the influence of something. She was completely convinced that if she could get him away from Ana, she could get him back. That’s why she wanted to kill him—to have him in the afterlife.

Now, why—after everything—did she do what she did? Well, she’s behind bars for life! What worse can happen to her? In her little mind, prison gives her some amount of protection from Christian’s reach. The prisoners already make her life hell, so if she can watch Ana be dragged through the mud and publicly humiliated, then that’s one bright spot… one thing to look forward to in her dismal little life. If there was no “Yes, I can reach you even in here,” she could always come back nibbling at them like a mouse. And what do mice do? They leave shit droppings, they gnaw into your bags of food and leave signs that they’ve been there. Then they get away before you catch them, and you have to set traps and bait for them or call the exterminator and hope that you get them all.

Nasty bastards!

So, Christian called the exterminator.

So, now here’s something that I don’t normally do. I’m giving three spoilers… listen carefully.

1—The person in the epilogue was NOT Elena.

2—A storyline will develop where Elena might have the potential to reach out and strike again. “Might” being the operative word.

3—I needed this to happen to Ana to lay the groundwork for a different storyline.

That is all.

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

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