Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 12

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

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

Season 5 Episode 12

CHRISTIAN

“Yeah, get mad because I left you there and made you walk home, but rape? Please!”

Is this fucker actually saying that he didn’t rape my wife? That she made all this shit up? Is he seriously sitting there on the stand spouting this shit? I’m so angry that I feel the bench shaking. It takes a moment to realize that it’s not me.

“Boss?”

Jason’s earnest whisper causes me to look over at him, and I see my wife… shaking so violently that she’s causing the entire bench to shake.

“Ana?” I reach over and put my hand over her clenched fist, but she doesn’t respond.

“Ana?” I say louder. She raises her gaze to me. Her blue eyes are pale, paler than I’ve ever seen, and the whites are becoming more and more bloodshot by the second.

“Mrs. Grey?” I hear a voice calling her and I think it’s the judge, but I’m too busy trying to figure out what’s going on.

“Jesus, Ana, what’s wrong?” I ask. I’m flailing. Now, Ray has made his way over to us and he’s trying to assess the situation.

“Annie?” he says. “Sunflower, talk to me.”

“Mrs. Grey, you’re disrupting these proceedings!” the judge says.

“With all due respect, your honor, I don’t think she can help it!” I snap at him before I know it. When I look back at Butterfly, Jason is examining her eyes and Ray is still trying to get her attention. She’s shaking more violently now and still hasn’t uttered a sound.

“Is she epileptic?” the judge asks. I can’t think to answer.

“No, sir, your honor,” I hear Al say, “but she suffered a severe head injury in a car accident a little over a year ago.”

“It appears bad luck seems to follow her everywhere.”

That was Whitmore’s voice, the only thing that could cause me to take my eye off my wife. I see the devil when I see this man. I see Edward David multiplied exponentially because what he did, he did to a 15-year-old girl. At this moment, I’m wondering if it’s as easy to get to a fucker in prison in Nevada as it is in Seattle.

“You need to shut up,” the judge says in an uncharacteristic moment while pointing his gavel at Whitmore. “Bailiffs, clear the courtroom. Fifteen-minute recess.” He pounds his gavel and everyone except our party has left the courtroom in 60 seconds. Whitmore slow-steps pass us in the shackles, smiling down at my convulsing wife who probably doesn’t even know he’s walking by.

She’s shaking even more violently now, and I don’t know what to do. My first instinct is to lay her down, so I ask for help getting her into a prostrate position. When I do that, her heels click madly on the wooden bench and I realize that her head is going to do that, too. Jason removes his jacket and tries to make a pillow for her with it, but that doesn’t help. I kneel next to her and hold her head in my hands.

“Baby, can you hear me?” I ask, helplessly. She doesn’t respond. Her eyes are tight, and she’s shaking violently.

“Get paramedics in here,” the judge says. I can’t do anything but hold her close to me and let her shake.

*-*

It’s been forever since we got here. I mean, truly, forever. We’re at the University Medical Center waiting to hear the verdict on my wife. Since we came in through the emergency room, there’s nothing we can do but sit here and wait. Since they had no idea what was wrong with her and she doesn’t have epilepsy coupled with the fact that she has a previous serious brain injury, they did a quick evaluation, gave her muscle relaxers and immediately took her to get an MRI and a CAT scan.

And now, we wait. For hours and hours and hours, it seems, we wait.

Court has long since adjourned for the day and the entire entourage is now here in the waiting room. I tried to convince Ray to stay in court, to be my eyes and ears, but he was having none of it. No matter how I pleaded, he just said,

“Give it up, Grey. I’m going with my baby girl.”

Allen reluctantly agreed to stay in the courtroom along with James, Marilyn, and a few members of our security staff. However, Jason, Chuck, Mandy, Ray, and I have been painstakingly waiting all afternoon and evening for some word on Butterfly. Every time that door opens from the back, I’m waiting for some doctor to come out and tell me what’s going on with my wife. It’s agony, because that door opens a whole fucking lot. When I feel like I’m finally going to lose my mind…

“Family of Anastasia Grey…”

We all stand at once until everybody realizes that we can’t all bum rush the doctor.

“Ray?” I say, gesturing for him to come with me to see what the doctor has to say. We walk over to him and I almost can’t bear to hear what he might say.

“She’s fine,” he says, and I feel like my chest is going to cave in. Most doctors introduce themselves first, but I’m glad he led with, “She’s fine.”

“I’m Dr. Carver, I’m the head of neurology. We’ve run several tests on Mrs. Grey. We always want to eliminate the worst-case scenarios and we were able to do that quickly. It appears that she had a severe panic attack, honestly one of the worst I’d ever seen, but considering her neurological history and what you’re telling me that she’s going through right now, I’m not at all surprised.”

“Is she… is she awake or… what’s happening now?” I don’t know what to ask.

“She pretty much slept all afternoon,” he says. “She may be awake all night, but right now, the only thing wrong with her is that she’s hungry as a bear… her words, not mine.” I sigh heavily and thrust my hands into my hair, trying desperately not to collapse onto the floor in relief.

“When… can I see her?” I say, trying to remain calm.

“Right now,” he says, “Come with me.”

He leads me and Ray through the big doors that I had been watching all evening and down the magic hallway where all of the doctors and nurses had disappeared for hours during my agonizing wait. A turn here and a turn there and we’re in a big community room with beds separated by curtains. My wife is in the last bed on the end.

Well, I don’t like this at all.

The television is playing, and she has it set on the news channel, no doubt looking for some news about the trial.

“It’s limited coverage,” she says. “Either not much happened in the case today or nobody got a picture of me being carried or wheeled from the courthouse… or however you got me out of there.” It bothers me that she doesn’t remember.

“Nobody got pictures,” I tell her. “Unless someone in the courtroom said something, no one even knows.” She nods and mutes the television.

“Can I go now?” she asks the doctor. “No offense to you, doc, but the very last place I want to be right now is in a Las Vegas hospital.”

“It’s hard not to take offense to that, Mrs. Grey,” he admits.

“Do you know why I’m here?” she says flatly. “I spent weeks in a Las Vegas hospital when I was a kid. Nobody came to see me. Nobody cared. I don’t want to be here.” Dr. Carver smacks his lips.

“Oookay,” he says. “I’ll get your discharge papers ready. Make sure that you see your own doctor about this when you get back to Seattle.”

“Will do,” she says and throws the covers off.

“Do you need help, Sunflower?” Ray asks as she retrieves the plastic hospital bag with her things in it and Dr. Carver leaves the room.

“Thanks, Daddy,” she says. “I’ve got it.” Ray nods in that helpless but accepting way that I feel right now.

“Do you want to talk about this?” I ask.

“Not here,” she says as she shamelessly steps into her panties while Ray and I watch.

“I’m going to step out and give you some privacy,” he says, kissing her on the forehead.

“You changed my diapers, Daddy,” Butterfly protests.

“That was almost 30 years ago, Sunflower. You’re a grown woman now. I’m going to step out and give you some privacy.” And he leaves. I turn back to Butterfly.

“He told me that you were hungry. What would you like to eat?” She pauses as she pulls on her skirt.

“Roberto’s,” she says, pulling it up and zipping it in the back. My brow furrows.

“What’s Roberto’s?” I ask.

“Greasy Mexican food. I want carne asada fries with everything, two fish tacos, two California burritos, and two chicken quesadillas.” She snaps her bra in the back and proceeds to stuff it with tissues. At first, I’m wondering what the hell she’s doing and then I realize that she has no breast pads. I pull out my phone.

“Sir?” Jason answers.

“Butterfly is being discharged. I need you to find a place called Roberto’s and place an order for pick-up…”

“It’s 24-hours. He can have it delivered to the hotel,” Butterfly interrupts stoically, still getting dressed.

“I’d rather someone pick it up to make sure that it’s right,” I tell her. She shrugs as she buttons her shirt.

“Whatever works,” she says, searching the bag for her shoes.

“I’ll text you what she wants,” I tell him and quickly compose the text while he’s still on the line.

“Mexican food,” he says as he reads my text. “Does she want Corona, too?” Hell, she might. I turn to ask her just in time to hear her shoes clicking out of the little curtain pod. She has finished dressing just enough to be presentable with her shirt hanging out of her skirt, has taken her things in the plastic bag and is now headed for the nurse’s station. Shit.

“We’ll get something from the minibar,” I say, ending the call and rushing behind my wife who is walking with purpose.

“Excuse me,” she says when she gets to the counter.

“Yes?” the nurse behind the desk answers.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but I have to get out of here. Dr. Carver is discharging me, and I just need the papers. I’d like to have them now, please, or I’m leaving AMA.” The nurse is a bit taken aback.

“It… wouldn’t be AMA, ma’am. You just wouldn’t have your discharge papers.” She shakes her head.

“Fax them to the Waldorf,” she says, throwing her free hand up and proceeding towards the exit.

“Ana!” I call out to her, but she keeps walking. I turn to the bemused nurse, just as bemused as she is.

“Can you do that?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“Not without a written release from her,” she replies cautiously.

“Butterfly, they need you to sign something!” I call out. She waves her hand again and disappears around the corner.

“We’ll figure it out later,” I say to the nurse. “Thank you.” Once again, I shuffle to catch my wife who simply follows the exit signs and finds herself in the waiting room.

“Ana, are you okay?”
“Jesus, you scared us!”
“Jewel, you’re going to give me a stroke.”

“I’m fine,” she says coolly as she’s putting her coat on. “I didn’t mean to scare you all, but I need to get the hell out of here.”

Our party falls silent, most likely seeing her earnest and waiting for instruction. Jason isn’t here and I’m assuming he went to get the food. While I’m trying to see what the transport plan is, Butterfly and I make a startling realization at the same time.

Paparazzi. Just outside the door.

Butterfly gets a determined look on her face and I know that it’s showtime.

“Shit!” I hiss as she takes off towards the exit.

The automatic doors open, the flashes go off, the questions are flying at her and she does not stop. Anybody who gets in her way is going to get bowled over and I think they know it.

She is hauling down that sidewalk towards the parking lot. It’s like she doesn’t even hear or see these people around her. And if anybody gets in her way, may God have mercy on their souls.

She doesn’t need protection. She’s got a force field around her right now that says if you come near her, she’s going to kick you in the balls. Even her hair is bouncing with purpose, and the way that she’s striding in those stilettos, they might as well be track shoes.

“Butterfly, do you even know where you’re going?” I ask, taking long strides to keep up with her.

“I’m walking towards cars,” she replies. “I’m assuming my chariot is somewhere in there.” I sigh again and take out my phone.

“I see the flashes, sir,” Jason answers.

“Good. Be quick before she runs out here and jumps on a bus,” I warn.

“Don’t tempt me,” she replies.

“Jason?” I plead.

“To your left, sir,” he says. Like a ray of light from heaven, the black SUV pulls up in front of us. Butterfly doesn’t wait for me. She opens the front door, climbs inside and closes the door behind her. I’m surprised, as is Chuck, so he and I and Mandy and Ray just scramble into the back.

“Who’s going to get my food?” she asks.

“We’ll pick it up on the way,” Jason replies.

*-*

I don’t ever think I’ve seen my wife eat that much food. I’ve heard a reference to it—Chuck talked about the mountain of food that she ate in Anguilla when we had that fight, followed by the looting of the candy store, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen her eat this much. She doesn’t eat too fast, but she does eat it all, finishing her meal with a 32-ounce Dr. Pepper.

I just order salmon from room service and eat at a safe distance.

When she has finished her mound of Mexicana, I finally approach with caution.

“Do you want to talk now?” I ask. She shrugs.

“What is there to talk about?” she asks. “That fool raped me, and all this time, I just thought he wasn’t admitting it. I had no idea this is what was going on.”

Okay, I have to admit I’m a little lost.

“He still didn’t admit it, Butterfly,” I say, nonplussed. I don’t know what she’s getting at.

“And he’s not going to,” she shoots, angrily. “He’s never going to, not even to himself. When he came to GEH all cocky and shit, I thought he was just being an asshole… which he was of course. I had no fucking idea this is what was going on the whole time! Fifteen-year-old me didn’t get it at all, but damn near 30-year-old me—the one with the degree and the specialization in human mentality—yeah, I get that shit loud and clear now!”

I’m glad we’re in the penthouse, because she is having a fucking meltdown.

“Please forgive my ignorance,” I say calmly. “I need you to let me in on it. He’s a rapist. We know it. What am I missing?”

“You don’t understand, Christian,” she says, her voice laced with some unknown emotion—dread, fear, I don’t know, “Cody. Whitmore. Really. Doesn’t. Think. He raped me,” she says slowly. “He really felt like he had a right to do what he did to me, and when Stephen and I confronted him, he really felt like I was lying. Don’t you see what this means? There’s no telling how many other girls he did this to, and I know there were more by Carly’s reaction when I confronted her and Pamela Whitmore’s reaction on the phone. Jesus, how many times has he done this after he became an adult? He probably used what they did to me to keep girls quiet! The man is a serial rapist! He has to be! Thank God he’s locked up, but what’s going to happen once he’s free?”

She leaps from her seat at the table and the carnage of empty Mexican take-out trays so swiftly that her chair falls hard to the floor behind her with a thud.

“What the fuck is wrong with these people?” she seethes. “His father knew! He knew! He paid to shut me up! Was I the first? Was I the last? Was I somewhere in the middle? How could he walk around all cocky and shit knowing that his son was this fucked up? And Pamela fucking Whitmore—is she fucking clueless or delusional? And she had the nerve to call and threaten my children with that monster that she raised?”

She’s coming totally unglued, and justifiably so. How in God’s name can that fucker believe he didn’t rape her? Of course, he raped her! Is he suffering from that same shit that Lincoln claimed she had?

“He really thinks I lied on him,” she shrieks. “He really thinks he’s the victim here, and that’s why all this shit happened! Take one sexually depraved, mentally unstable, teenage lunatic and add one blindly obsessed, entitled, radically misguided, boneheaded bitch and you’ve got the teenage version of Natural Born Killers! And she’s procreated! Dear God in heaven!”

She falls on her knees with her fists clenched in front of her, cursing at the floor.

“He’s a sexual deviant! A fucking psychopath!” she wails. “Even his Daddy knew! That’s why he paid to shut me up. I can’t stand the fact that he’s breathing the same air that I breathe. It’s bad enough thinking that he lied about the rape all these years, but to know that he actually thought it was okay! He thought he was entitled! They almost killed me, fucking killed my baby, because he thought he was entitled. Fucking hell! You fucking miserable bastard!!!!”

She screams her dismay to anything or anyone that can hear her, and now I have to stop it. I can’t stand it anymore.

I fall down on my knees in front of her and gather her firmly in my arms. She fights me violently at first, but I have a strong grip on her and I’m not letting her go.

“No! No! It’s not fair!” she shrieks as she uselessly struggles in my arms. “It’s not fair. I hate him! He deserves to die! I hate him! It’s not fair! It’s not faaaaaaiiiiiiiiiirrrrr!”

Realizing that she’s not going to get away from my grasp, she screams and cries before her head falls limp on my chest. She’s mumbling something through her tears, but I just hold her there for an eternity, my head resting on hers as she weeps bitterly.

*-*

I didn’t get much sleep last night. I knelt on the floor with Butterfly until my knees were numb. She wailed for so long that I thought she would have another panic attack, but she didn’t. She just cried until her voice was gone, then she whimpered for several more minutes until she was exhausted, and I gladly carried her to bed, holding her and watching her as she slept.

I would gladly spare her all this pain and the realizations that we’re making as the trial proceeds. It was pretty damn dirty for Larson not to tell us that Whitmore had gotten a plea, too. Springing that shit on us at the trial wasn’t cool at all. I can only assume that he thought that Butterfly may not show up if she knew that Whitmore would be testifying. She had already confronted Madison-Perry, so it wouldn’t have been a big deal for her to have seen that witch on the stand, but Whitmore? Maybe he was going for shock value. If that was the case, that shit fucking worked in spades.

Maybe that’s what he was referring to when he said, “Expect anything.” Asshole.

I spent most of the night at the piano once Butterfly fell asleep. It was too late to call Seattle once we got back to the hotel, so we didn’t get a chance to speak to the twins. I can’t help but wonder how Ray feels watching all this. He tried to rescue her, but Carla wouldn’t let him do it. Now, she has to relive all this stuff in front of an audience and even make new discoveries like the shit she just discovered about Whitmore.

He’s not going to be rehabilitated in prison, because he hasn’t accepted what he’s done, and quite frankly, no one else knows. He’s just going to be punished for his part in the beating, and that’s all. I need to see if there’s anything else that can be done about his punishment while he’s in the custody of the Nevada Department of Corrections…

I got a little sleep on the sofa, but I’m awake again a couple of hours later to give instructions to the rest of the entourage, as we are so lovingly referred to in the press. I won’t subject Butterfly to anything she can’t deal with and I think going to court today after yesterday’s episode may be a bit much.

I’m still in a T-shirt and sweats when I sit down at the table with Ray, Allen, and Jason that morning. We’ve had breakfast brought to the room and we’re discussing what may happen in court today.

“It’s getting on time for us to get going,” Ray says. “Don’t you think you should wake Annie so she can get dressed and get some breakfast?” I sigh.

“Yesterday was really bad, Ray,” I inform him. “She came home and had another breakdown. I don’t think she’s going to make it to court today…”

“Oh, yes, she is.”

My thought is interrupted by Butterfly’s voice. I turn around and she’s fully dressed and ready to go.

“And you had better hurry and get dressed, or you’re going to be left behind,” she adds.

“Baby,” I protest. “I don’t think it’s a good idea after what happened yesterday.”

“I’m not going to let them win, Christian,” she says. “I have to see this through. I can’t stop now.” I put my hands on my hip, drop my head and sigh.

“Butterfly, in all honesty, you and courtrooms just don’t get along,” I say in frustration. She rolls her eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah—Fainting, Regurgitating, Convulsing Grey. I get it, but I’m still going. Are you going with me?” I look at Jason and Ray, roll my eyes and shake my head.

“Give me ten,” I say, before going back to the bedroom.

*-*

My wife is beyond untouchable this morning. She hasn’t shut me out, but it’s crystal clear that today, she’s facing this mess with her beautiful rack stuck straight out and taking this shit head on. She’s wearing a three-piece gray tweed pants suit with black leather gloves, a small black clutch, and black Louboutin suede stilettos. I briefly protested about her wearing no overcoat and she informed me that we weren’t in Seattle and her tweed suit jacket was heavy enough.

When the Audis pull up to the courthouse stairs, she sees that the police already have the press restrained. So, she leaps out of the car and begins her sprint up the stairs, surprising everyone—including the press.

“Shit, go!” I bark at Jason and Chuck, who dash out of the Audi behind her. I sigh heavily and prepare for my ascent.

“What’s that about?” Ray asks when we get out of the car.

“She’s had enough of this,” I tell him. “I hope this doesn’t go on much longer.”

“I hope not either,” Al says, joining us. “She’s rebelling. There’s going to be no controlling her shortly.”

There’s no controlling her now.

As we begin to ascend the stairs, I hear various cracks from the press:

“Jesus, how the hell can she run like that in those damn shoes?”

“I’d be a track star if I could move that fast.”

“What is Anastasia Grey running from today?”

“She’s running from you!” I say to the person who asked the last question. “It’s one of the worst times of her life and she still can’t get any peace. What do you expect?”

I just couldn’t take it anymore. We’ve got a damn reporter in the courtroom. They know what’s going on. What more do they fucking want?

“Christian?” It’s Mac. She’s right behind me with a firm grip on my elbow. My first inclination is to snatch my arm from her, but no need to give these fuckers a show. I turn away from the assholes and finish my ascent to the courtroom, taking the stairs two at a time.

We’ve apparently missed the rest of Whitmore’s testimony while we were at the hospital. I don’t think we would have wanted to hear it anyway. However, when we get into that courtroom, I’ve got a fucking earful for Larson.

“Exactly when did you plan to tell us that Cody Whitmore got a deal, too?”

“It was a last-minute decision, Mr. Grey,” Larson says. “It turns out that Carly Madison-Perry had no idea who Vincent Sullivan was, so she couldn’t testify to his presence, intent, or state of mind. We needed someone who could. He’s arguing diminished capacity. We needed someone that was present at the beating that could tear that defense apart. He had a viable defense just by the violence of the act alone…”

“Except that he was the first one that burned her!” I retort. Larson sighs and drops his head, then raises it again.

“You missed the second half of Whitmore’s testimony,” he says. “He destroyed that defense that Sullivan was a terrified participant. Whatever Sullivan says today is going to be highly overshadowed by the picture Whitmore painted. He had several character witnesses yesterday, but none of them chipped away at the picture of this kid who was willing to do anything to be one of the cool kids. I’m telling you, Whitmore was our star witness.”

“I thought she was your star witness!” I accuse, pointing at my wife. Larson deflates again and doesn’t respond.

“You said it was a last-minute decision. How last-minute?” I demand. He swallows.

“Monday morning… right before trial,” he confesses.

“It’s Friday,” I point out. “You had time to warn us. We might have avoided what my wife went through yesterday. How can we possibly trust you now?”

“I don’t trust anybody in this place,” my wife says impassively while gazing at Larson. “Let’s get this done.”

She takes a seat without another word. I glare at Larson before moving to sit next to my wife.

“Mr. Grey,” he calls out. I turn to face him again.

“I know the system has failed you in the past, but that’s because no one did anything. I’m doing something now, sir. Please, trust me. Trust the system to work this time.” I pause for a moment.

“I’m not the one you have to convince… counselor.” I glare at him for a few more moments, allowing my words to sink in before taking a seat next to my wife.

The prosecution concluded its case yesterday with Whitmore’s testimony and the defense began its presentation with the character witnesses for Sullivan that Larson mentioned. Today, the witnesses continue to stream in, one of which is a current girlfriend who testified that Sullivan still has nightmares about what happened that day. Her testimony was deflated when it was discovered that she and Sullivan broke up six months before his arrest, so she couldn’t really attest to the possibility that he still has nightmares.

Larson is going at the character witnesses with extreme gusto now, apparently more determined than ever to convince Butterfly that he’s really on her side and doing what’s best to win the case. I don’t doubt that he is. I just want to see it done with as little pain and inconvenience to my wife as possible. After three witnesses and two hours of listening to Sullivan’s accolades, Butterfly stands and leaves the courtroom before the fourth witness is called. I stand and walk out behind her.

“Butterfly!” I catch her as she’s walking towards the lounge area looking at her phone. She stops and raises her gaze to me. “Are you okay?”

“No!” she says firmly. “That asshole was the first to burn me! The pain was so bad that I passed out and didn’t wake up for three weeks! He scarred me for life! The hell if I’m going to sit there and listen to the whole of Nevada talk about how fucking great of a guy he is!”

“Baby, I understand,” I say, keeping my voice calm, “but the way that you left looks bad to the jury. You have to go back in there.”

“I told you, Christian, I don’t trust anybody in this place anymore,” she says. “I can’t fathom how anybody who has any idea what’s in that video can sit there on that stand and talk about how fabulous he is; how he’s such an asset to the community; how great a friend he is; how kind he is… I can’t stand it anymore. This great fucking guy left me with two grotesque burns on my back and only stopped because he thought I was dead! No! I’m not listening to this shit anymore. I can go to the bathroom, or to the lounge, or outside to the fucking car and talk to my children or read emails or scroll through Facebook—anything but listen to any more of this shit!”

“They didn’t see the video, baby, but the jury did…”

“And now the jury is being inundated with all these testimonials about how wonderful he is, everything he’s done for the poor and the sick…” She says the last part in a mocking tone. As she’s ranting, the courtroom doors fling open and out runs Larson, Ray, and Al, followed by a few others headed towards the bathrooms and lounge. I look at Al questioning and he mouths the word “recess.”

“Annie, are you okay?” Ray says, approaching us quickly. Butterfly just stares at her father without answering. After waiting for a response, Larson chimes in.

“Dr. Grey, it’s almost done. Please, come back into the courtroom.”

“No!” she barks. “I trusted you and you let me get ambushed in there! You facilitated it! I had no preparation whatsoever for that bastard being in the courtroom much less finding out that he got a deal. And now I have to sit and listen to people praise the man who could have killed me?”

“You’re a miserable bitch! You should be ashamed of what you’re putting Vince through!”

It only takes a second for everyone in our group to look to the left at some woman who’s throwing this insult at my wife. I didn’t even get a good look at her, but I thank the heavens for fast reflexes because I literally have to catch my wife in midair as she lunges at this unknown female with both hands. Jason is a second too late, but right on time to hear me growl,

“Get this woman away from my wife now!”

The entire ordeal probably didn’t last twenty seconds as the horrified instigator is being ushered away from us by our security.

“Watch the video, you stupid bitch!” Butterfly yells after her. “It’ll probably be on YouTube next week! Then you can see what Vince put me through!” I roll my eyes and shake my head as I hold my flailing wife hurling harsh words after the woman.

“Anastasia, have you lost your mind?” I ask forcefully, and out of nowhere, she stops flailing.

“Put me down,” she says calmly.

“No, Anastasia, you’re acting crazy,” I say.

“You’re going to see just how crazy I can get if you don’t put me down,” she says, still eerily calm.

“Put her down,” Mac says, coming out of the courtroom. I look at her and then at the back of my wife’s head before I slowly put her down. She straightens her jacket and puts her Jackie O’s on as she marches to the stairwell. I move to follow her, but Mac stops me.

“Let her go,” Mac warns. I look at Chuck.

“Go!” I hiss and he runs behind my wife. Ray is right behind them before I get the chance to say anything.

“She’s done,” I hear Mac say and I turn to her and the questioning glances of Marilyn and Amanda.

“She’s just pissed, as well she should be,” I reply.

“No, she’s done,” Mac says, then turns to Larson. “Whatever you have to do to win this trial, you have to do it without her. She’s done.”

“I don’t understand,” I say, pushing my hands through my hair. “She was lights and sirens to get in here this morning, and now she’s done?”

“Christian, yesterday she was confronted by her rapist in a surprise attack and now today, she gets to hear about how the guy who disfigured her back, left her in a coma, and contributed to the death of her unborn child is being treated unfairly by her and the court,” she says flatly. “I’ll come up with a press release for what just happened, but we need to decide what we’re going to do now because she’s quite possibly not coming back.”

I sigh heavily. We’ve turned our entire lives upside down to see this thing through. One of us has to. Chuck and Ray are with her now. I have to represent her in this courtroom. I have to. I look at Larson.

“You have to do what you have to do without her, but you better do it, because this damage is going to be irreparable if you don’t.” I say nothing else to him and walk back into the courtroom.

*-*

The longer I sit here listening to the Vincent Sullivan Parade of Good Deeds, the more I want to leap across this half-wall and choke the bastard. I can understand why Butterfly couldn’t listen to this anymore. It’s enough to make you gag! However, the final character witness before lunch gives me—and the jury—something more to chew on.

His name is Owen Carey. He went to school with Vincent Sullivan. He knows a lot about Sullivan, and the defense thought that Owen was going to sing all the accolades of the witnesses before him. However, once he took the stand and started talking, his tune changed, and Drake had to treat him as a hostile witness.

Owen, as it turns out, is Sullivan‘s on-again-off-again gay lover. The girl who testified earlier—Regan—wasn’t his girlfriend. Regan was his beard.

Owen had been waiting for his in with Sullivan since high school. They weren’t dating back then, but they hung around the same people. They and their gay friends would rate the guys in high school by who was the most “fuckable.” Even though Owen wanted Sullivan, Sullivan had his sights set on someone else.

“Vince wasn’t afraid of Cody Whitmore. Vince was in love with him,” Owen said. “He would’ve done anything Cody asked as long as it meant that he could be near him.”

Now, this could have gone either way, had the next thing not happened.

“Oh my God, Owen how could you!”

The court has to be brought to order as Vincent Sullivan cries out in despair of his gay lover’s betrayal.

Now, if anybody in this courtroom is like me, none of us cares that he’s batting for the same team. What’s more important is that his entire defense is based on the fact that he participated in this ritual because he was afraid for his life. If there’s any truth to what Owen says, how can you be deathly afraid of someone that you secretly covet?

Once Drake saw that his defense was heading south and ceased questioning, Larson goes in for the kill, drawing out all the juicy details of Sullivan and his sexual tendencies. I wouldn’t know why he was doing it until later.

“You show up as a character witness just to destroy his character and defense. As much as I would love to believe you, why should I? How do we know that you’re just not another scorned lover looking for revenge?” Larson asks as he wraps questioning.

“I don’t know. Maybe I am,” Owen replies. “Most likely I am, but that doesn’t change the fact that Vince was in love with Cody Whitmore. He probably still is. He could have testified against Cody and put Cody away. Instead, he let Cody do it to him. That’s love. And if you don’t believe me, check out my Facebook. I’ve got an album called Throwback Thursday with all kinds of pictures from GV High back in the day. You’re sure to find a couple of candid shots of Vince making googly eyes at Cody when he wasn’t looking.

“I don’t know anything about this Anastasia girl, and I didn’t pay any attention to what happened to her. I can’t give you any info on that because I didn’t keep up with it and it didn’t affect me… sorry, but shit happens, excuse my language. But I can tell you about Vincent Sullivan, and he followed Cody Whitmore around like a sick puppy. I don’t know exactly when this burning thing happened, but the closer to the end of the school year it got, the more he followed Cody around until Cody’s friends had to tell him to back up.”

Jesus, this fucker had female and male admirers. My girl didn’t stand a chance.

The last person to testify before lunch was Sullivan’s psychiatrist who painted the case of how someone can be coerced to violent and even deadly acts if they feel that their own life is in jeopardy. I noted how he painted this picture very vividly and clearly, but I’m not sure from his testimony that he’s convinced that Sullivan was afraid for his life. Even in cross examination, he kept referring to a “deep-seated fear,” but to me, he never confirmed that Sullivan committed this act because he was afraid for his life.

I attempt to call my wife at lunch to ascertain where she is and if she’s okay, but her phone is going straight to voice mail. Shit! Jason informs me that Chuck checked in shortly after they left, indicating that he has taken her and Ray to the interactive aquarium somewhere on the east side of town and will soon be taking them to lunch somewhere. She is not answering her phone, and besides texting his wife to tell her that he was okay, Ray isn’t either.

God, I want to talk to her so badly, to tell her about the surprise witness and the fact that the shrink didn’t fully uphold Sullivan’s claims. I would normally check my emails and see if anything is afoot at GEH, but I can’t even do that right now. I really want to talk to my girl…

**I love you. I’ll tell you what happened when I see you. I hope you feel better. **

As it turns out, Sullivan’s entire defense was his character witnesses—one of whom turned on him—his shrink who really didn’t solidify his defense, and his own testimony, which we’re about to hear now.

“Vincent, there’s no denying that you took part in this horrible act. You’re on the recording assaulting this young woman in a most violent way. Can you tell us how you came to be a part of this ritual?” Sullivan drops his head.

“I knew the girl from one of my classes,” he says. “She… was nobody. She wasn’t that attractive. She wore cheap clothes. She didn’t have any friends. She didn’t stand out at all—just some poor Plain Jane in the wrong place.

“I hung around with all of ‘em—Kevin, Brian, Rich, Will—we weren’t best buds, but we hung out. I got wind that they were going to a bonfire over at one of the ranches on Wigwam. Of course, I wanted to go.”

“So, you’re saying that you didn’t find out about the bonfire until the day that it occurred?” Drake asks.

“No, I knew about it sooner, earlier that week, and so did Owen! There were a lot of people talking about it, how Carly had a surprise show planned and it was supposed to be such a big night. Her family was swimming in money; I thought she was going to have a rock band there or something.”

“When did you learn differently?” Drake presses.

“Two days before it happened,” he says, his voice low. “I still didn’t know the whole story, but I knew that they were planning to punish somebody for something. Carly was known for doing shit like that… but Owen was right, and since our relationship is over, I guess I don’t have to keep it a secret anymore.” He throws a glare at Owen.

“I did want to be around Cody,” he admits. “I knew he was with Carly, but I just wanted time alone with him. I knew I could’ve turned him if I had the chance.” Drake clears his throat.

“What made you think you even had a chance with Cody Whitmore?”

“How do you think half of them figure out that they’re gay?” he says. “Do you have any idea how easy it is to turn a straight boy gay? Yeah, some of them realize that they were born that way, but the other half has to be introduced. They don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘I want dick.’ Just like there are gateway drugs, there’s a gateway here. We don’t all follow the same path to get here, but some of us were led through that gate.

“There’s a whole lot of ‘straight’ men out here that are closet gays and you don’t even know it. If Owen hadn’t opened his big mouth, you wouldn’t have known about my sexual preference. And I’m not gay, I’m Bi!”

“So, what does any of this have to do with the evening in question, besides the fact that you wanted to be around Cody Whitmore?” Drake asks.

“The day before the bonfire, we were all hanging out at lunch…”

“We?” Drake asked.

“A bunch of us. I couldn’t tell you who all they were. I can tell you that it was me and a few others that I’m not going to name, girls and guys, and Cody and Carly. That’s when she told us what she had planned. She mentioned the brands, but I had seen college guys get brands from their frats. My brother has one, so I thought it was no big deal. I thought it was going to be one brand on her ass or something. I didn’t find out until I got there that it was going to be more.”

“You knew the day before. Why didn’t you warn Anastasia or tell the police? Your brother?” Drake says.

“Carly singled me out,” he says. “Either she could tell that I liked him, or she already knew. I believe she thought I was competition, and since I knew what they were going to do, she deemed me her handler. I told her I didn’t want to do it; I didn’t want to be part of that shit, but she started taunting me—saying that I would go tell my brother, that if I wasn’t there and I didn’t do it and somebody found out, she would know who told.”

“She threatened you?” Drake asks.

“Not in so many words, but she was planning a bonfire where she was going to brand a girl in front of a crowd! What more would she do to me if I didn’t do what she told me?”

“And what about Cody? Did he threaten you?” Sullivan shakes his head.

“Cody was cozying up to me and I really thought he was feeling me. Carly saw that; I know she did. What better way to make sure that I wasn’t a threat than to make me part of the crime? Cody kind of smoothed things over, told me that it wasn’t going to be a big deal, that it would just be a little mark for her to remember her place. He made me feel at ease, so I agreed. But Owen was right about something else. I wasn’t afraid of Cody, but I was scared shitless of Carly Madison.”

There are several more minutes of talking about Carly and her plan, how things transpired that day, claims that Cody and Carly never let him out of their site because they thought he would tell somebody what they had planned. He paints this whole good-cop-bad-cop picture of the teenage Bonnie and Clyde all the way until they got to the branding.

He claims that he didn’t know that they had hit her over the head and kidnapped her. How did he expect for her to arrive, in Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage wearing glass slippers? He maintains that he was afraid for his life, even though he can be seen as one of the boys viciously—and sometimes gleefully—kicking, beating, and pissing on my wife, and when it came time to brand her, he didn’t hesitate until she wasn’t moving anymore.

His scared shitless performance is pretty good, but I never bought it from the beginning. Knowing what I know now, it doesn’t jibe at all with his account of his state of mind.


 ANASTASIA

Daddy, Chuck, and I return to the courtroom and slip back in unnoticed, taking seats in the back instead of on the front row. I catch a portion of Vincent Sullivan’s defense testimony that he was afraid of Carly and, as it turns out, in love with Whitshit. I guess Amber Whitmore was right. He is gay. Part of me can understand being afraid of Carly. I was terrified of her for years after what she did to me. The other part of me is screaming that his ass is full of shit.

Figures that he would be in love with Whitshit. I never saw that coming.

“What were the brands, Vincent?” Larson asks when he moves to cross-examine.

“Excuse me?” he says, a little taken aback.

“Let me rephrase, what did you brand into that young girl’s back?” Sullivan swallows.

“Cody told you…”

“And now I’m asking you,” Larson interrupts. “What did you brand into Anastasia Steele’s back?”

“It was… letters,” he says finally.

“Letters?” Larson says. “Just letters? What were they, your initials?” Vincent clears his throat.

“No,” he says.

“Let me help you.” Larson says. He retrieves a remote and pushes a button. A large screen monitor comes alive with side-by-side pictures of my back, one at 15 with fresh, oozing brands, and one from a couple of years ago where the scars are incorporated into the garden. They must have introduced these into evidence while we were at the hospital and Whitmore was testifying.

“Do you remember now, Vincent?” he asks. “Do you remember the letters now?” He walks back over to the table and retrieves a long, metal object. Oh, fuck, is that what I think it is? Did somebody keep those fuckers all these years?

“Do you remember taking a white-hot branding iron like this one…”

Like this one… thank God. That’s not the original weapon.

“… From a burning bonfire and pressing it into that young girl’s flesh? How about this one?” He retrieves a second iron and I can only assume that he has a replica of the “W” and the “H” that Sullivan burned into my back. “Do you remember now…?”

“Yes, I remember,” Sullivan says through his teeth. Now isn’t the time to get froggy, dude. You’re on trial.

“What were the letters?” Larson asks again.

“W and H,” he replies.

“And what were they supposed to spell?” Larson asks, but Sullivan doesn’t answer. “We’ve got three of the letters right here in our face on her back, Vincent. What were they supposed to spell?”

“Whore!” he spits out. The room is silent for a moment.

“Did you think Anastasia Steele was a whore?” Larson asks calmly.

“I didn’t know her,” he replies.

“You didn’t know her,” Larson says, “but you personally executed the first two letters of the brand. Were you going to do the entire brand before you thought she was dead?”

“Objection, relevance,” Drake says.

“How is this not relevant?” Larson asks.

“He didn’t do the rest of the brand,” Drake says. “He’s not on trial for what he would have done.”

“It speaks to state of mind and intent,” Larson asks, “but the answer probably is irrelevant now!” He’s pissed.

“Objection is overruled. Continue, Mr. Larson.” He turns back to Sullivan.

“Were you going to do the entire brand before you thought she was dead?” he repeats.

“I don’t know,” Sullivan replies.

“Let’s try it this way. Were you the one assigned to do the entire brand or was someone else going to take over after your first two letters?” Sullivan just shakes his head uncertainly.

“You stood there holding the second brand after someone said that they thought she was dead. Were you going to do the third brand before Carly Madison pushed you out of the way?”

“I… no… I… no, I wasn’t,” Sullivan stutters.

“I see. So, you were afraid for your life… afraid enough to brand her twice, but not enough to finish the job,” he taunts. “You really thought that she could kill you, but not this helpless and bound young woman that you all had beaten the hell out of, is that it? Just a little ‘mark’ on her butt, you said? Only you didn’t burn her butt, did you? And it wasn’t a little mark, was it?” Larson pauses.

“No…”

“It was supposed to be five!” Larson declares firmly. “Five brutal, vicious, and permanent burns… on her back! Your brother’s fraternity brand is permanent. What did you expect?”

“I don’t know…”

“You never intended to leave ‘a little mark’ on that woman! You leaned into that brand! You pressed that hot metal on her back while she screamed in agony, her skin searing the entire time until she passed out!

“You were with your friends; they were all going to the bonfire, even after they knew what was going to happen; and Cody smoothed things over when Carly scared you so badly. So, what you’re basically saying is that you were peer pressured into kicking, spitting on, urinating on, and burning a young girl—an act that would land her in a coma for three weeks and result in the death of her unborn baby. Is that what you’re saying?”

“I was scared!” Sullivan retorts firmly. “I was scared for my life! Everybody knew who they were—who their parents were. Everybody knows the power they had. Yeah, here’s a little nobody they wanted to make an example of, but they were ruthless, and we all knew it! They owned that school. They made an example of anybody they wanted, and nobody stopped them.  I was scared shitless that if I didn’t go along with them, I was gonna be next.” Larson’s eyes narrow, and now it’s them again. Didn’t he say a minute ago that he wasn’t afraid of Cody?

“You were scared,” he says. It’s a statement, not a question. He walks over to the evidence table and retrieves a picture.

“Imagine how terrified she was,” he says, shoving a picture in his face. I can only imagine that it’s one of the pictures of me, 15-years-old and black and blue. Vincent doesn’t even look at the picture. He sits there silently glaring at Larson for several moments.

“What’s the matter?” Larson says. “Can’t look at her? Weak stomach? Too gruesome? It’s your handiwork—don’t you want to see your masterpiece?”

“Objection, your honor,” Drake says.

“To what?” Larson says, whirling around to Drake. “Did he deny what he did? We all have to look at pictures of this nearly dead beaten and broken 15-year-old girl why doesn’t he?” He says the last part all in one breath. He seems to be getting a little emotional.

“I’m going to overrule your objection, Mr. Drake, but Mr. Larson, get on with it,” the judge cautions.

“No worries, your honor,” Larson says, shooting a glance back over to Sullivan. “I’m done with show-and-tell for now.” He puts the picture back on the evidence table and walks over to Sullivan.

“You said they made an example of anyone they wanted. You’ve seen them do this before?” Larson asks.

“Objection,” Drake declares. “The parties he’s referring to are not on trial here, and it’s hearsay.”

“No, but Mr. Sullivan is, and he says he was afraid for his life, so let him tell us why,” Larson retorts.

“I’ll allow it,” the judge says. “Proceed, Mr. Larson.” He nods and turns back to Sullivan.

“Mr. Sullivan, do you need me to repeat the question?” Larson asks.

“Carly had a different target every week,” Sullivan says. “Slip a mick in somebody’s Coke and then watch ‘em trip out through fourth hour; running a scavenger hunt with somebody’s car parts on the football field; taking pictures of girls naked in the locker room and posting ‘em around the school—stupid shit like Carrie at the prom! But this? This was the first time I had seen anything like this in my life! If I hadn’t already pissed, I would have pissed my pants.”

“Oh, we’re weeping for you,” Larson cracks. Surprisingly, there’s no objection or chastisement.

“Do you know why Cody Whitmore appeared in court yesterday? Because, as you recall, he knew who you were. He testified that you almost begged him to be a part of ‘the little party.’ But you know who didn’t testify? Carly Madison-Perry. She was supposed to, but she had no clue who you were. Cody was only too happy to fill in the blanks, and from your own testimony, you were very fond of Cody, but scared to death of Carly. So, now, you expect for the court to believe that you were in mortal fear of a girl who had no earthly idea who you were?”

“She does know who I am,” Sullivan seethes. “She knows exactly who I am!”

“’She was nobody,’” Larson continues, reciting Sullivan’s description of me. “’She wasn’t that attractive. She wore cheap clothes. She didn’t have any friends. She didn’t stand out at all—just some poor Plain Jane in the wrong place.’ Your description sounds very personal for someone that you didn’t really know. What made you analyze her in such detail?”

“That’s just how she appeared to me,” Sullivan says, “nobody special, nothing much.”

“Nobody special,” Larson repeats. “Nothing much… yet Whitmore wanted her, and not you.”

Whaaaaaat the fuck…

“Who did she think she was, wandering into the school with her nothingness and her nobodyness and sleeping with the guy that you had been lusting after for so long? How dare she get a piece of Cody before you did, right?”

Fucking hell! Could it be? Could this be true?

“Why did you have to burn her in the back? Of all the people there, why did it have to be you?”

“Carly told me to,” he says, his voice cracking.

“Did she?” Larson accuses.Did she really… or did you want to show Cody that you could do it? Did you want to get her back because she had Cody first? You didn’t know this girl—you said it yourself. How could you do something so personally vile to someone you claim you didn’t even know? That’s the worst kind of criminal, someone who could viciously attack another person they don’t even know. Is that who you are?”

“Stop! Stop!” Sullivan cries, ripping at his hair and weeping. “I was scared! I was scared!” He buries his face in his hands and cries. Larson just looks at him.

“I don’t believe you, Vincent,” Larson says calmly, while shaking his head. “Not because I’m here seeking justice for this crime, but because there are too many inconsistencies—with your witnesses, with your account of the events leading up to the attack, with everything. It’s not adding up. The only thing we have that’s telling the 100% truth is that video and those pictures. Somebody in this room is lying, Vincent… and I think it’s you. No further questions.”

Damn, that was a slam dunk. Whether he wins or not, that was a three-pointer from behind the foul line and nothing but net.


A/N: Natural Born Killers was a Quentin Tarantino/Oliver Stone movie made in 1994 about a Bonnie and Clyde couple that went across the country committing mass murders and leaving only one witness alive to tell the tale of the massacre. If you are familiar with Quentin Tarantino’s work, you know this was some pretty intense and sick stuff. So, I can only say that if you never seen it before, you just have to watch it understand Ana’s reference.

For those who may not know, “nothing but net” is a phrase coined by the NBA maaaaaaaaaaaaaaany years ago—like waaaaaay back in the nineties (lol). It actually came from a McDonald’s commercial where Larry Bird and Michael Jordan are having a shooting contest for a Big Mac and fries. The food has long since gone cold by the time the ridiculous and impossible contest is over, but the term “nothing but net” lived on to describe a “swish,” which is when a player scores and the ball goes through the net without touching the rim, making that satisfying “swish” sound because the ball touches nothing but the net.  

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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 11

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

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

Season 5 Episode 11

CHRISTIAN

She doesn’t fool me one bit.

Neither of them does.

Carla is delivering a reformed, make-amends performance worthy of sainthood and Butterfly is falling for it hook, line, and sinker. Once Carla’s testimony is over, we adjourn for the day and Butterfly needs a nap. I send her back to the hotel with Chuck, telling her that I want to quickly check on one of my local interests. I don’t know if she bought it, but she doesn’t argue. I don’t want to go to Las Vegas, then go all the way to Summerlin for the stop I need to make just to have to come all the way back to Las Vegas.

The houses in the area are modest, but tidy. It’s certainly a far cry from the sprawling homes in Green Valley. Jason rings the doorbell. When there’s no answer, he knocks persistently.

“No comment. Go away,” she yells through the door.

“Open the door, Carla,” I demand. There’s silence for a moment, then I hear a chain lock and a deadbolt. She opens the door and she looks even smaller than I remember—even smaller than Butterfly. Is that possible? Her eyes rise to my face and her expression is bemused at first, right before all the color leaves her face.

“Why… Is she…?” She appears to be holding her breath and first, I just stare at her. It takes a moment for me to realize what she couldn’t ask.

“Anastasia’s fine,” I say flatly. Carla gasps in a breath, stumbling forward a bit as her knees appear to give out from underneath her. Jason’s innate sense of chivalry kicks in and he catches her as she stumbles out the door. She appears disoriented for a moment, but quickly recovers and straightens, somewhat pushing Jason away.

“I’m fine… I’m fine,” she says, the color returning to her face. If I didn’t know better, I would swear she was embarrassed. “Would you like to come inside, or do you just want to give it to me from there?”

Is this woman crazy? Does she think we’re here to pay her more money? Does she think she did us a favor by throwing herself in front of the bus?

“Give you what?” I nearly hiss, trying not to lunge at her.

“Whatever verbal or physical lashing you have for me,” she says, matter-of-factly.

“Oh, you’re very good at playing the victim,” I retort, not falling for this reformed Carla act for one second. She rolls her eyes, but not in irritation. If I had to guess, I would say that it was more in resignation.

“Okay, I see you’re going to give it to me here,” she says with no malice, shifting her weight as her shoulders fall in a gesture of defeat as she looks at me expecting. I shake my head.

“What’s your game, Carla?” I demand. “Ana’s been hurt by this shit enough. I won’t stand by and allow you to victimize her any further. So, tell me what the hell you want.” She sighs again.

“I would say, ‘nothing,’ Christian, but I already know that you won’t believe me.”

“You’re right, so what do you want?” I hiss.

“Nothing,” she says, and nothing more.

“Carla, I don’t know why you’re dragging this out. Let’s just get this done and over. How much?” She sighs and folds her arms across her body. With her head cocked to the side, she remains silent.

“Out with it, Carla. How much… or are you holding out for Anastasia?” She sighs again, and is now leaning against the door frame, still in silence. She looks at me, unblinking, unaffected. I can’t help but wonder how practiced that look is—not because I think she’s up to something right now… just because it’s so fucking perfect. I look at Jason.

“Give it to her,” I tell him. He reaches into his jacket and pulls out the check I had drafted, now in a sealed envelope. She doesn’t move to take it.

“What’s that?” she asks, her arms still folded.

“A check with a lot of zeroes on it. Take the money and don’t bother Anastasia.” She shakes her head and glares at me, now in what looks like disgust. She stands up straight, putting her hand on the door.

“Are we done?” she asks, looking at me and not Jason or the check.

“Take the money and go away, Carla,” I seethe. “You’ve had your moment of fame. There’s no way in hell I’m going to allow you to use this as an opportunity to weasel your way back into Ana’s life just so that you can hurt her again. Take the money and stay away from my wife.” She drops her gaze to the floor.

“Christian,” she says, before raising her eyes to mine. “You’re trespassing. Please, get off my porch.” With that, she closes the door quietly, and I hear the chain and the deadbolt engage.

To say that I’m stunned is an understatement. She turned down the money without even knowing how much it was. There was no fight in her—none of the arrogant little sawed-off opportunist that visited Seattle a couple of years ago and left my wife a weeping mess. I still can’t help but wonder what her angle is.

“Sir?” Jason interrupts my contemplation. “Could it be that she really doesn’t want anything?” Hell, no. This bitch is up to something.

“For her sake, I hope so, because if she does anything to hurt my wife, I’ll bury her ass right next to her husband.”

“You won’t have to,” her muffled voice says from the other side of the closed door. Jason raises his eyebrows at me. I turn and walk down the stairs and off her porch.

“Keep an eye on her while we’re here. I don’t trust her,” I tell him before we get into the car.

*-*

“How was your visit?” Butterfly asks when I get back to the hotel about an hour and a half after we left the courthouse. It looks like she fell asleep right on the sofa, still in her clothes from court. I drop my coat in a nearby chair.

“You know, don’t you?” I ask examining her expression.

“Of course, I know,” she says matter-of-factly. “Did she take the money?” I pause before I sit.

“No, she didn’t,” I say taking the seat where I put my coat. She nods.

“I had a feeling she wouldn’t,” Butterfly says, sitting up.

“Don’t be fooled, Butterfly,” I warn. “She’s up to something.”

“Maybe she is, and maybe she’s not,” she says. “If she’s not, then we’ll get done with this trial, we’ll go home, and she’ll leave us alone. If she is, taking that money wouldn’t have served her purposes. Money runs out, and if she needs more money, it would serve her better to be in my good graces. Taking that check from you would have been the opposite of productive if that’s what she’s trying to do.”

“Are you thinking about letting her into your good graces?” I ask honestly.

“I don’t know what I’m thinking,” she says, folding her arms. Oh, shit. “I do know this, though. That’s not the same woman I grew up with—either time. She’s not that good an actress. Whatever she was, whether it was the wholesome mother who loved me and put me first in her life, or it was the selfish bitch who ignored, fed on, or profited from my pain, she was that person 100%. She never half-steps—she’s all in. Neither of those people were on the stand today. Nonetheless, one flawless testimony of the absolute, pure, and unmitigated truth is not going to redeem what she put me through.

“Notwithstanding all the crap that I endured; I needed my mother. I needed her love, I needed her care, I needed her attention. I just needed her to see me, to really know me, and she didn’t. She didn’t know anything about me. She didn’t know my favorite color, my worst fears, my hearts desires… she didn’t even know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Most of all, I just wanted her to hug me… just hug me and show me that I’m still a person. Do you have any idea how it feels not to be hugged for years?”

I maintain a passive expression, but the inner me raises a brow at her as if to say, “Seriously?”

“I’m sorry,” she says immediately. “That was selfish of me.” She sighs heavily. “Life is gonna be hell for her now in Green Valley.”

“She doesn’t live in Green Valley anymore,” I say. Butterfly’s brow furrows.

“She doesn’t?” she asks. I shake my head.

“She lives in Summerlin now,” I inform her. “It’s an affluent neighborhood—not as affluent as Green Valley, but affluent.”

“Did she sell the house in Green Valley?” Butterfly asks.

“Most likely. She’s working as a CNA. The property taxes alone on that place was probably more than she made in a year.” Butterfly thinks for a moment.

“Summerlin,” she says. “That’s west, right?” I nod.

“Yes,” I reply, “very west.”

“Doesn’t she work in Boulder City? Or is she working somewhere else now?” she asks.

“You’re assuming I know,” I say, testing her knowledge.

“I know you know,” she replies, expecting. I raise my brow at her.

“Yes, and yes,” I reply. “Yes, she’s working somewhere else and yes, it’s still in Boulder City. She was at a nursing home before. Now, she’s at a rehab and hospice facility.” Her brow furrows again.

“Jesus, they have those together?” she asks. I nod.

“Apparently,” I reply.

“So, either you walk out of there or your carried out,” she mumbles. “I don’t remember this place much, but it’s a bit of a stretch from Summerlin to Boulder City, isn’t it? If I remember right, Summerlin is like northwest Vegas, and Boulder City is southeast on the other side of Henderson. Did I get that right?”

“Yeah, you’ve got that right,” I say. “It’s about the distance between Seattle and Tacoma,” I tell her.

“What the hell did she do that for?” Butterfly asks.

“She probably wanted to get as far away from Green Valley as possible,” I reply.

“There are other places that she could have moved to on the other side of Henderson. All she had to do was cross the freeway—it’s like a whole other world, but without knowing her motives, it’s a moot point.” Butterfly falls silent for a moment, and I’m pondering my approach, but I’m halted by her next words.

“Don’t lie to me again,” she accuses. I freeze and consider my response.

“I didn’t lie to you, Anastasia,” I correct her. “Carla is local, and she is totally and completely in the very center of my interest right now.”

“Yes, but you know as well as I do that you made it appear that you were going to check out a business interest. I knew the moment we left the courtroom that you were going to see Carla. So, label it whatever deception you want, just don’t do it again.”

Busted. She’s right.

“I’m sorry,” I say, with no additional retort. “The last thing you need from me is dishonesty, especially now.”

“Very true,” she replies, running her hands across her forehead once, then resting her chin on her palms. I stand and walk over to her, waiting for permission to sit next to her. When she doesn’t protest, I sit and put my arm around her.

“Your favorite color is blue,” I begin, and she looks over to me. “Your worst fears have to do with this place—that these monsters would come for you, or that they would raise children that would turn out like them and then exist in a world with your children.

“Your heart’s desires when you were young were to travel to exotic places one day and to see the world. When you got older, they changed. You wanted to help people. You wanted to make sure they didn’t go through the same thing that you went through and if they did, you wanted to make sure that they knew that they weren’t alone… that someone cared, and someone was there to help them.

“You didn’t know what you wanted to be when you grew up. You didn’t find that out until later when your guidance counselor suggested psychiatry, and you saw that that would be the way to realize your second heart’s desire.

“I can’t take the place that she should’ve filled, but I can love you with everything, and I can show you that you are more than a person—that you are life to at least three people and very likely more than that. And even though I do know how it feels not to be hugged for years, I can’t imagine being deprived of that feeling now… especially from you. You have the opportunity to give that love that you didn’t get in your teenage years to two beautiful little humans, to nurture two little lives and turn them into great people, and you’re off to a damn good start.”

She stares at me for a moment with those guileless blue eyes before crawling to her knees and planting a warm, deep kiss on my lips. I wrap my arms around her and feel her pushing me backwards, so I lie down on the sofa, taking her with me and allow her to do what she wants with me.

*-*

“What did she do last night?” I ask Jason over coffee in the morning, curious about Carla’s activities.

“According to surveillance, she sat on her back deck all night and cried. She went inside a few times to refresh a warm drink, but she sat on her patio for the entire night.” I twist my lips. It’s going to take a lot more sad nights to match the tears you’ve ripped from my Butterfly, you worthless cunt.

“I had two more guys fly in this morning,” Jason says, “to replace the guys that watched Morton last night. They’ll rotate for twelve hour shifts so that everyone is sharp.”

“Good man,” I say finishing my coffee. “Let’s round everyone up and get to the courthouse.

Our entourage is getting better. We’ve learned how to pace ourselves to keep up with Butterfly as she’s sprinting up the stairs to the courthouse. The press no longer tries to get pictures of her. They’re lucky if they can even get a video of her.

She seems a bit more amiable when she enters the courtroom today. We take our seats and the regular pomp and circumstance ensues while the defendant, judge and jury arrive. Then the prosecution calls its next witness.

As it turns out, there were other officers that asked questions about the case in the beginning, but all trails ran cold since George Sullivan was the lead officer on the case. So, even though the other officers testified about working the case, none of them ever had any concrete evidence or leads to follow. I often wondered how George Sullivan was able to bury everything so thoroughly, or if he had a partner at the time. How was it possible that even other officers couldn’t find any evidence? Hell, I didn’t even know that there were other officers involved. Even Sullivan himself said that he was the only officer on the case, but that’s probably because there was no one else assigned to the case and no one else had any evidence. I guess it’s pretty easy to bury a case when there’s an entire community involved in the cover-up.

As Sullivan is claiming diminished capacity, he had to be examined by the state’s psychiatrist as well as his own. It’s not to establish that he was crazy at the time of the attack, but that he felt that he was in imminent danger or fear of his life when the incident occurred.

While the state’s psychiatrist doesn’t dismiss that Sullivan was afraid of some type of retaliation, he doesn’t appear to have been afraid for his life. It was more likely that he was trying to fit in, which he admitted to in relation to his participation in unrelated events.

After lunch, court is back in session and…

“The state calls Amber Whitmore to the stand.”

Butterfly’s eyebrow rises, but she shows no other emotion. No doubt she, like many other onlookers, would wonder why the state is calling Amber Whitmore to the stand before Madison Perry or why she’s been called to the stand at all. A while back, when I knew we would be going to trial, I let Larson I was aware that she knew something about the attack and that’s why she left. I told him about the conversation that we had when I talked to her a couple of years ago and she responded to tell her brother and father that their secret was “safe” with her and to leave her alone. I told him to do what he wanted with the information. Apparently, he subpoenaed her.

“Permission to treat this witness as hostile,” Mr. Larson asks.

“Granted,” the judge says.

“That won’t be necessary,” Amber says matter-of-factly. “You’ve got me here now; I’ll tell you what I know.”

“That’s good to know, Ms. Whitmore,” Mr. Larson says, and Amber nods once. “Why are you here today?”

“Because you served me with a subpoena,” she replies.

“You’re not here to share what you know about this case?” he asks.

“At the risk of sounding callous, Mr. Larson, I could have gone my entire life hearing nothing else about this case or this place. I’ll tell you what I know because you’ve threatened me with contempt of court if I don’t. So, let’s get on with this so I can go home.” She folds her arms.

“Very well, then. How was your relationship with your father and your brothers?”

“My relationship with Landon was just fine. With Cody and my father, it was strained at best,” she replies.

“Who is Landon?” Mr. Larson asks.

“My oldest brother,” she replies. “He was rarely home throughout his senior year.”

“And why do you say that your relationship with Cody and Franklin Whitmore was strained?”

“Cody was an entitled jerk,” Amber reveals, “and he was my father’s favorite child.”

“Objection, your honor, speculation,” Drake interjects.

“The witness is only explaining the relationship as she saw it,” Mr. Larson retorts.

“Then she must make it clear that she’s stating opinion and not declarations of fact,” the judge says. “Sustained. Continue.” Mr. Larson rolls his eye.

“Ms. Whitmore, why did you say that Cody was your father’s favorite child?”

“Because from what I could see, Cody could do no wrong. Cody was caught out after curfew and brought home by the police more times than I could count. Anybody else caught out that many times would have been taken in for repeated violations, but not Cody. I don’t know what happened with the arrest records or the tickets that he was supposed to get, but the next thing I knew, he got that Jeep. No more arrests, because he was in a car instead of out loitering somewhere with his friends.

“What did that say to me? Get caught out after curfew, get a car—but only Cody, because the first time I got caught out after curfew, I was grounded for a month.”

“I see,” Mr. Larson says. “Is there anything else that made you feel like Cody was the favorite?”

“Too much to name—what do you want to know?” Amber asks.

“Let’s talk about the day you knew anything about Anastasia Steele,” Mr. Larson says. Amber scoffs.

“Well,” Amber begins. “Let’s see. I’ll have to start that with Carly Madison…”

“Objection, your…”

“I’m only talking about their relationship I’m not accusing her of anything I can’t even mention her name?” Amber blurts out all in one breath.

“Counselor,” the judge says, “give the witness an opportunity to respond before you object to it.”

Chastised, Drake takes his seat.

“Continue, Ms. Whitmore,” Mr. Larson says. Amber rolls her eyes.

“If I were to speculate,” she begins, throwing a glare at Drake, “I would say that Carly was at our house more than she was at home. Sometimes, she would just be hanging out at our house just waiting for Cody to get home, and my mother and father let her do it. If Cody was considered entitled, Carly was much worse. There were even times that my mom would call her parents to tell them that Carly was spending the night. I don’t even know what the context was. How do you possibly get away with spending the night at your boyfriend’s house at least twice a week when you’re 15 or 16?

“What’s more, she slept in his room! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what was going on, but apparently, her parents—and mine—were okay with this kind of behavior.”

“What does that have to do with Anastasia Steele?” Mr. Larson asks.

“When Anastasia and her father showed up accusing him of raping her, that was the first time I had any idea who she was and even I thought it was a bunch of bull. Girls all over the school were drooling all over him, and he had ready and willing pus… coochie delivered right to his doorstep. Why would he need to go and rape some girl?”

“Did something happen to change your mind?” Mr. Larson asks.

“A whole lot happened,” she says. “I remember one night a bunch of kids showed up at our house. I thought they were going to some kind of party because they were all wearing dark clothes. Carly laughed when she saw me, thinking I wanted to tag along—which I didn’t. My brother told me that it was way out of my league anyway. I recognized the flunkies that usually hung around my brother and his girlfriend, but Vincent stood out to me that night.”

Vincent Sullivan raises his gaze to her, looking at someone else in the courtroom for only the second time—the first one being his brother. Drake is at the ready with his objection, I’m sure.

“Why?” Mr. Larson asks.

“Because it was unusual,” she says. “He never hung out with this crowd that I knew of, and I would have known… because I liked him.”

“You liked him how?”

“He’s very attractive,” she replies, “and for a while, I thought he was gay, but I found out that he wasn’t. He had a girlfriend. That made him off limits, but I still liked him, and I could pick him out of a crowd. I started having second thoughts that night because if he was one of the people who hung around my brother…” She trails off.

“You didn’t like your brother’s friends?” Mr. Larson asks. Amber shrugs.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t like his friends. I didn’t want to be around anybody who hung around my brother. It’s like I told you, my brother was a jerk. I don’t know if he’s still a jerk because I haven’t talked to him in several years, but he was a real jerk then. You know what they say—birds of a feather flock together, and I had no desire to be in that flock.

“When Cody got home that night, he was wearing a cape over his clothes, and he smelled like he had gone camping. My brother never went camping a day in his life. The next day, it was all over the news about the girl that was found beaten and burned damn near dead, and that Monday, it was all over the school. A little while later, we found out that it was Anastasia Steele and I never put the two together until…” She trails off again.

“Until what?” Mr. Larson presses.

“Summer sucked,” she says after a short pause. “Landon and Cody could come and go as they pleased, but I spent the entire summer on lockdown because of what happened to ‘that Steele girl.’” She uses the finger quotes to illustrate that I was a topic of conversation related to her shut-in. “As a result, I was home when the money transaction took place.”

“What money transaction?” he asks.

“My father handed $750,000 to Anastasia’s father to ‘keep her quiet.’ About what, I never really found out, but I had my suspicions. It was either about the ‘supposed rape’ that I thought was impossible, or it was about the attack. We had heard nothing else about the supposed rape that I knew of and it had happened months before. She had bigger fish to fry with the attack. So, I assumed that it had something to do with the attack.”

“Why didn’t you say anything before?” Larson asks.

“Because I was afraid,” she admits. “I was afraid of my father, but he’s dead now. So, I can tell what I know. I couldn’t wait to get out of Green Valley—to run away from a truth I couldn’t tell. My father wouldn’t pay for my college, so I just left. I got a job and paid my own way through school. I moved to New York, got married, started my own business, and never looked back. None of them attended my wedding when I got married, and I didn’t attend his funeral when he died. I had no intention of ever coming back to Nevada until I got the subpoena and threatened with jail time if I refused.

“I moved away, and I was just glad to be away from it, but it was like it never happened. Nothing happened, nobody said anything—not even Anastasia—I was wondering if the entire thing was in my imagination. Not even the cops said anything. How could the cops not say anything? This was a horrible beating of a young girl in a small upscale part of Las Vegas, and nobody said anything, not even the police. At the time, the only thing that assured me that it wasn’t in my imagination was that the whole town was running scared because nobody knew what happened—or at least, nobody said so. We had crazy curfews. We had to travel in packs, like wolves. The entire thing was surreal.

“When I heard what happened to the girl, I thought her family would go nuts—demanding answers and seeking justice… but nothing… not a peep. There’s no amount of money that you could pay me to be silent if somebody did to my kid what they did to her.

“But you did have a price, Ms. Whitmore. What was it?” Mr. Larson asks.

“He threatened me to shut the hell up, so I did. I paid it, and now I’m speaking. My father was a cold, wicked, heartless man, and I don’t doubt for one second that he was aware of my brother’s involvement before the incident occurred. Or maybe he wasn’t, but he knew that Cody was going to do something. That’s just how they were. The amount of money that exchanged hands that night… I already knew they had paid for that girl’s silence. Now, I know why.”

“No further questions.”

“Your witness, Mr. Drake,” the judge says.

“Ms. Whitmore, weren’t you always jealous of your brother?” Drake asks.

“Yes, I was. I was jealous that he was the apple of Daddy’s eye and that he could never do anything wrong, but more so, I was jealous because my father never abused, mistreated, or ignored him. He saved that for me.”

“Well, if you were jealous of your brother and you have that much contempt for him, why should we believe you today? Isn’t this just another way for you to get back at him for how you felt about him all these years?” Drake continues. Amber laughs.

“That’s brilliant the way you brushed right over that part where I was abused, mistreated, and ignored so that you could focus on the fact that I was jealous, but that’s okay. I really don’t care if you believe me or not. I came to tell my story and I did. Now if you let that little weasel go—you let that little criminal walk—that’s on you, not me.”

“Objection, your honor. Cody Whitmore is not on trial here.”

“Sustained.”

“You’re assuming that I’m talking about my brother,” she says. “I’m talking about anybody that had anything to do with this event—my father, my brother, my mother, any of the people who beat her, the people who watched, the cop who ‘investigated’ the crime, the prosecutors who didn’t dive deeper and demand more evidence and investigation, the parents who were willfully blind to the possibility that their children could have something to do with this: ‘Not my little Johnny, no…’” she says in a mocking voice.

“… Her parents for not being proactive and trying to seek justice on her behalf; the community for not demanding answers to what happened to this little girl in their neighborhood on their watch… Everybody failed her! Everybody’s a criminal as far as I’m concerned. That’s why I don’t live here anymore!” Amber is passionate with her response.

“Since you’re feeling like the neighborhood and everyone else had such a civic duty, why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you say anything?” Drake accuses.

“To whom?” she asks animated, raising her hands to the defense attorney. “To the ‘investigating’ officer? To some other police officer? To my parents who—as far as I knew—were in on the whole cover-up? Everything I had was hearsay. Who was going to corroborate it—the people who were busy sweeping that shit under the rug?”

“Ms. Whitmore…” the judge warns.

“My mom knew,” she continues, gesturing across the courtroom to a woman about Carla’s age with dark hair, staring at Amber. “I’m sure that my father didn’t let her in on everything, but she heard things just like I did. She knew and she covered it up, too. What was I supposed to do, go to her? I sure as hell couldn’t go to my father!”

“But even as an adult, you didn’t do or say anything. You just left…”

“You’re damn straight I left!” she confirms. “An entire community cover-up and now the kids that did this to a 15-year-old girl are all adults and I’m going to stick around? Hell, no! Lil ole me and my single voice crying out for justice in a sea of piranhas? Who was going to protect me… you?” He pauses for a moment before asking his next question.

“Maybe everyone else in the community was as scared as you to come forward, feeling like something would happen to them, too.” Amber purses her lips and shakes her head.

“Maybe you’re right, but everybody’s hands weren’t tied, sir,” she says finitely. “I was in a bad situation because my family was right in the middle of it, and I was afraid of my father, but no matter how you try to paint that picture, everybody’s hands weren’t tied, and you know that. That’s why we’re here now.”

Drake glares at her, no doubt trying to discredit her testimony, but throws in the towel once he realizes that his crusade is futile.

“No more questions, but I do have an objection, your honor.”

“And that is?” the judge asks.

“I fail to see what this witness’s testimony has to do with this particular case,” he says.

“Mr. Larson?” the judge asks.

“It places the defendant in Mr. Whitmore’s company, very possibly on the date of the attack hours before it occurred—which lends to the level of premeditation and intent as well as to the degree that the defendant also benefited from the alleged cover-up.”

The courtroom is quiet as the explanation sinks in. I was wondering what good Amber’s testimony was going to do myself… until now.

“Do you have any objection to that reasoning, Mr. Drake?” the judge asks.

“No, your honor,” he replies.

“Based on that information, do you have any further questions for this witness?”

“No, your honor.”

“Mr. Larson is this witness excused?” the judge asks.

“Yes, your honor,” he says.

Upon getting official confirmation from the judge that she is excused, Amber Whitmore bolts from the stand and out of the courtroom. No doubt, she’s got her luggage in a rental in the parking lot and is headed straight to the airport. I would if I were her.

There are a couple more testimonies from miscellaneous witnesses, including the dispatcher that took the call from Sullivan and the owners of the property where Butterfly was beaten… Carly Madison Perry’s parents. The state couldn’t charge them with anything because the property had public access and without George Sullivan’s cooperation on the evidence found there, the Madisons couldn’t be charged with anything. Additionally, they didn’t find out until much later that the incident occurred on their property.

Butterfly isn’t so worn out this time when we get back to the hotel, but I hate it that she feels this place is such a prison.

“So, I have an idea,” I say, taking her hand when we get back to the suite. “The days are going to be awful, we know that, but we’ve got to do everything we can to make it through however long we have to stay in this place. So, let’s make the evenings and nights as fun and relaxing as we can.” She scoffs a bit.

“I don’t know how fun we can make this place, Christian,” she says. “I mean, I realize that it’s Vegas and all, but it’s just hell to me.”

“Can I ask you a question?” I say. She shrugs and nods. “Besides the trial, has it really been hell here?”

“You mean besides the Paparazzi and the Twitterpated bitch?” she asks.

“In all honesty, baby, that could happen anywhere,” I remind her. She shrugs.

“So… if you had a bad day back at home, where would you want to go?” She sighs.

“Does this place have a treadmill?”


ANASTASIA

Honestly, that’s all I wanted last night—to exhaust myself on some kind of workout machine. I would have preferred a heavy bag, but that wasn’t an option. So, the treadmill it was. I couldn’t quite recall the workout that I was doing on our six-week-weekend after I had the twins, or I would have done that, but I’m sure I ran a marathon on the treadmill before I showered and quickly talked to my babies before I passed out in bed without dinner.

Knowing that I went to sleep last night with my hair wet—which is an absolute no-no—my inner alarm wakes me to flat iron it with steam. While I’m sitting there toiling with my hair, I’m watching some morning show on television… more like listening to it. Some show called LV CawfieTyme is playing in the background as I straighten my hair. Two female hosts are talking about local news.

There’s a kind of funny story about a guy who just moved into a Las Vegas valley home and decided to test and see if there are thieves in his area. His surveillance camera captured footage of a guy stealing a package off his porch. He shared the footage with the morning show in hopes that someone might recognize him, but only to expose the guy for being a thief. There’s no need to apprehend the guy or the package as the box is filled with dog poop.

The Clarion Hotel and Casino is going to be demolished next week. There’s a detailed diatribe about when it opened and how many people owned it. Apparently, it’s a big thing when one of the casinos is demolished, I suppose.

“Everybody knows, though, that the hottest topic is that Green Valley assault case,” one of the hosts says. I try not to drop my damn flat iron since I know they’re talking about my case, unless there’s another Green Valley assault case in progress right now.

“Yeah,” the other host says. “As I’m told, a Seattle socialite has come back to Vegas seeking ‘justice’ on a group of kids who jumped her 15 years ago.” This bitch actually did the finger quotes around the word “justice.” I have to stop straightening my hair and put the flatiron down before I burn myself.

“What’s with the finger quotes?” the first host—a blonde—asks. “If somebody beat the snot outta you, wouldn’t you want justice, too?”

“There are fights in high school every day,” the second host—a redhead—replies. “I just think this one’s been sensationalized a bit.” The blonde’s eyes widen, and she clasps her hands together.

“How so?” she asks the redhead.

“Well, this happened in 2001—14 years ago. It got a lot of press for a minute, because nobody really knows what happened, but then it died. Then, two years ago, she marries a billionaire and suddenly, it’s front page news again. That’s 2013. What happened for 12 years that it wasn’t so important, and now it is?

“I completely think it’s sensationalized,” the redhead continues. “She’s staying at the Waldorf right now with something like 50 people and she had some woman thrown out because she tried to say, ‘Hi.’ Careful, Vegas. If you bring her an espresso with too little froth or her caviar is room temperature, she might have your restaurant closed down.”

That’s not what the fuck happened, and I should call that station and expose that bitch for slander, but I’m sure it would only make matters worse.

“Um, Peggy, I’m not one to dispute you, but I really want to avoid a lawsuit here,” the blonde retorts before looking down at some papers on the table in front of her. “First of all, the Seattle ‘socialite’ is Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey, business-woman and psychiatrist…”

“There’s a combination,” Peggy comments sarcastically. The blonde raises her eyes from her papers for a moment.

“Yes, it is, isn’t it? And impressive at that,” she says before looking back down at her papers. “Although all of the members of her party have not been identified, who has been identified are her husband, her father, and her personal assistant, and the party numbers 16, not 50…”

“Well, she…”

“Let me finish, Peggy, and then you can have your comments,” the blonde says. I still haven’t gotten her name yet.

“Well! Excuse me! I thought we were hosting a morning talk show!” Peggy retorts.

“We are, and I’m talking. You’ve given your opinion and what you think are the facts and I didn’t interrupt you. Show me the same courtesy while I give the facts that I’ve found.”

There’s silence for about five seconds before the blonde continues.

“As I said, her party numbers 16, which includes friends, family members, and various members of her security. Concerning the woman who was thrown out of the Waldorf, you’re correct that she tried to speak to Anastasia Grey, but that’s not why she was thrown out of the hotel. The woman who we’ll just refer to by her Twitter handle—Sassyvelmalou—tweeted a derogatory statement about Anastasia complete with a picture because Anastasia’s security asked Velma not to bother her…”

And there’s that picture of me again looking like hell warmed over sitting in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria while the host is still talking.

“Now, the Waldorf has guaranteed Anastasia’s privacy during her stay for the duration of this ordeal and this woman violated that policy. What’s more, I’ve since learned that Anastasia wasn’t feeling well, which is why her security asked this stranger to step back. The Waldorf has since issued a statement to that exact fact, so I just don’t want to see the show get sued because you may have gotten your facts mixed up.”

Peggy tries to interject, but the blonde holds up a finger to indicate that she’s not finished.

“According to the information I was able to ascertain from public records, Anastasia Grey—then Anastasia Steele—was attacked and brutalized by a mob of teenagers, both male and female, badly burned, and left unconscious and naked in a field. The beating left her comatose and she lost her baby.” She lays the paper on the table and continues to speak as various members of the audience gasp.

“Now, whatever you may think of her, that was brutal and unnecessary. Where I come from, ‘getting jumped’ means three or four girls are angry with you, so they fight you after school. And then somebody gets suspended, may get expelled, and if it was really bad, somebody might be arrested. In all my years on earth, I have never seen anyone get beaten, tormented, and left for dead, and that’s considered getting ‘jumped.’ I’ve reported on supposed gang initiations that were less brutal.

“What was done to that poor girl was vicious, evil, and criminal, and anyone who thinks it was less than that needs their head examined. Oh, and by the way, if I didn’t have the resources to go after the people who wronged me and killed my baby at the age of 15, but after 12 years, I did, I’d go after them, too.”

The studio audience applauds once she’s finished with her information and Peggy sits there looking a bit sheepish.

“I’m not saying that what happened to her wasn’t horrible,” Peggy back-peddles once the applause dies down. “I was just pointing out that as horrible as it may be, it wasn’t pursued until she became a billionaire.”

“Well, there’s an explanation for that, too,” the blonde says. “But I won’t debate it on air. You may want to Google the name George Sullivan.” She clasps her hands over her papers. “You went to Green Valley High, didn’t you Peggy?”

Peggy suddenly falls silent while the first host awaits her answer. Getting none, the blonde continues.

“It was right around the same time Anastasia Steele was there, wasn’t it?” the blonde presses. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you say that you were the class of ’03?” There’s more silence before Peggy responds.

“I don’t know anything about that beating,” Peggy says coolly. Oh, now it’s a beating! “I didn’t hang out with any of those people. My family had just moved to Green Valley the year that happened.”

“I wasn’t insinuating that you knew anything,” the blonde says, matter-of-factly. “I was just wondering what the social environment was like during that time. You see from most of the on-the-street interviews that we’ve done, most people thought it was just urban legend, and now we discover that it’s true. A police cover-up, a girl beaten nearly to death, an entire community and no one has a clue what happened… what was it like being on the inside of that community?”

Peggy throws a hateful glare at her co-host and narrows her eyes. If she doesn’t have anything to hide, why is she so defensive? She was so verbal a moment ago about the temperature of my fucking caviar, and now she’s all mum and I don’t know anything about that beating. She probably knows something. I couldn’t pick her out of a crowd, but she probably knows something, if only by hearsay.

“All I know is that we had strict curfews and our parents wouldn’t let us out after a certain time for months. That entire situation totally ruined my entire school year,” she says haughtily.

“Hmm, is that right?” the blonde says. “I can’t even imagine what it did to Anastasia Steele’s school year.”

The silence in that studio could be heard in space.

“We’ll be back after these messages,” the blonde says before the screen fades to black.

Peggy… her name doesn’t ring a bell, her face isn’t familiar, and I really don’t give a fuck who she is right now. If she’s involved at all, somebody will roll on her ass in hopes of a lighter sentence. She was probably just another one of those entitled cunts at that school who felt like I got what I deserved, or she just didn’t care.

I turn the television to a jazz music station and finish straightening my hair.

*-*

Every day, I’m becoming more and more weary of the dance that occurs as we’re trying to get up these stairs. Today, I nearly pass Jason in my mad dash to the front door. I’m on the morning news shows. They’re using whatever pictures they can find of me. Who cares what they get today?

It’s Thursday, and I’m told the prosecution is calling its last witness today, which is most likely Carly Madison Perry. That’s going to be four days—or three and a half—of nothing but prosecution testimony. Is the defense going to be just as long?

As usual, we take our seats and, Vincent Sullivan is led in, then the judge and the jury and once the movement has stopped, the prosecution calls their final witness.

“The state calls Cody Whitmore to the stand.”

What? What the fuck? What?

Whitshit is escorted into the courtroom in a suit and tie—and shackles!

It does my heart good to see him ushered in like the common criminal that he is, taking the small steps that the shackles allow with the clanging of the chains announcing his arrival.

But why is he here? I thought Carly was testifying against everyone.

He quickly scans the room and does a double take. His eyes dart around to several locations and his face immediately blanches pale. He stops in his tracks as he looks around the room and his two uniformed escorts have to urge him forward to the stand. When he takes his seat, he immediately locks his gaze with mine and his eyes narrow. I glare right back at him.

How’s that tooth, Whitshit?

“State your name for the record,” he’s told once he’s sworn in.

“Cody Elvin Whitmore,” he says stoically.

“Son of a bitch,” Christian whispers. When I look over at him, he’s glaring at Whitshit. I elbow him to let me in on the secret. He leans over.

“He got a deal, too,” he whispers. “He had to if he’s here.” I look back at Whitshit and I can feel my blood beginning to boil.

Son of a bitch. This is what he meant when he said, “Expect anything.”

“Cody, do you remember the events of the afternoon and evening of March 10, 2001?”

“Vividly,” he responds.

“You went to school that day like any other day, correct?”

“Yep,” Whitshit says.

“And tell the court what happened after school.”

“We were going to do a BB that night…”

“What’s a BB?” Mr. Larson asks. Cody turns to me and smiles.

“A bitch branding,” he says, coolly. I feel a chill as I look into his dark eyes. I remember seeing them that night, through the hood and mask, just like I saw hers. They looked right at me, stared into my terrified eyes, laughed at my tears, and tormented me. And now, he’s sitting in the witness stand, jeering at me and taunting me as he tells the story.

I open my mouth and tap my front tooth, the one of his that I know I knocked out and raise my brow at him. That smug smirk falls from his face.

“And how did you know what a bitch branding was, Cody?” Mr. Larson asks.

“I’d heard about them,” he answers.

“Heard about them?” Mr. Larson asks. “From whom?”

“Objection, your honor. Relevance?” The defense pipes in.

“Sustained,” the judge says. “Get to the point, counselor.”

“I’m only trying to establish if this was a regular occurrence in the community, your honor.”

“Careful, Mr. Larson,” the judge says and Mr. Larson nods before turning back to my rapist.

“Cody…” Mr. Larson begins.

“Mr. Whitmore,” Whitshit corrects him.

Mr. Whitmore,” Mr. Larson says sarcastically, “You said that you heard about the bitch brandings—how did you hear about them?” Whitshit smiles and looks at me again.

“People talk,” he says. “You just hear it… around.

“I see. Had you ever been to a bitch branding before this?” Mr. Larson presses.

“Objection! Your Honor, really?” the defense protests.

“Mr. Larson, you’ve been warned,” the judge cautions.

“I didn’t ask if he had ever participated in one. I asked if he had attended one. His presence today already confirms that he participated in one!” Mr. Larson turns an angry glare to Whitshit’s defense attorney.

“You’re treading thin ice, counselor.” Good grief, how many warnings does this guy need? Is he trying to throw the damn case? He better fucking not, or I swear I’ll lose all morals I’ve ever had and hunt him down like a damn dog! He turns back to Whitshit.

“I refuse to answer to prevent self-incrimination,” Whitshit responds with a smile, and the courtroom erupts in murmurs. Sonofabitch! Is this asshole saying that he’s done this shit before? Was it here in Green Valley? Who else is walking around with fucking brands? What the fuck?

“Order!” The judge says as he bangs his gavel. “Order in the court or I’ll have the room cleared.” The courtroom silences after a few moments.

“Does that answer your questions, counselor?” Whitshit says with a smirk.

“Yes, it does,” Mr. Larson says. “And some. Thank you.” Whitshit’s smirk falls again.

“I didn’t give you anything,” he says cockily. “You and I both know that.” Mr. Larson cocks his head at Whitshit.

Mr. Whitmore…” Mr. Larson says his name in that sing-songy way that Mr. Smith says Mr. Anderson in The Matrix, and it makes your skin crawl. I’m sure that Whitshit now wishes he had just let the man call him Cody. “Have you ever heard the term ‘pattern of behavior?’” Whitshit shrugs.

“Why should that mean anything to me?” he says clasping his hands.

“Because you just confirmed one,” Mr. Larson says. Whitshit scoffs.

“How?” he retorts. Mr. Larson turns to the judge.

“He asked,” the judge says, gesturing for Mr. Larson to continue. He turns back to Whitshit.

“You pled your right to silence to prevent self-incrimination when directly asked about bitch brandings. You just implied in a room full of people, including the jury, that you may have…” He turns to the jury and opens his hands in a shrugging manner.

“… Or may not have…” He turns back to Whitshit, “… taken part in a prior bitch branding, a brutal act that now has a name, like hazing. I don’t know how many people in this room have ever heard of that term. I know that in all my years as attorney general, I haven’t. It even has a clever little abbreviation…” He turns to the jury again. “BB,” he says to the jury before turning back to Whitshit.

“So, now, we see that a group of teenagers possibly premeditated an attack on an innocent young girl using an abbreviation that many if not all of you knew. And you just pled the fifth against self-incrimination. Pattern of behavior, Mr. Whitmore,” Mr. Larson finishes. Whitshit turns red with fury.

“I don’t want to testify anymore!” he barks.

“That’s fine,” Mr. Larson says. “You can go back to your cell, but you’ll be forfeiting your plea deal and you’ll have to stand trial. Bailiffs?” Mr. Larson heads back to the table. As the bailiffs move toward Whitshit, he rolls his eyes and sighs.

“Fine! What do you want to know?” he hisses, causing the bailiffs to halt their approach.

“First, I want you to remember that you’re under oath,” Mr. Larson warns, “and just like we found this dirty little secret, I won’t stop until we find every little thing you choose to lie about. Do we understand one another?”

“Objection, your honor, he’s intimidating the witness!”

“Mr. Larson,” the judge warns.

“I’m simply informing him that I will do my job to the best of my abilities should this office discover that he has perjured himself. Do we not warn every witness who sits on this stand against perjury?” he asks. The judge sighs.

“He’s right, Mr. Drake,” the judge cedes, “but get on with it. The witness is already incarcerated for his role in this matter. Can we please get to this case?” Mr. Larson nods.

“You said that you were talking to a group of friends about doing a BB that night,” Mr. Larson says. “What happened next?” Whitshit purses his lips.

“They asked who the candidate was and why,” he says. “I told them it was some little bitch who lied on me about raping her.”

“And who was the candidate?” Mr. Larson asks.

“You mean the bitch?” Whitmore says, stressing the word so hard that it appears to hurt to say it. “Anastasia Steele.”

“Let the record show that Anastasia Steele is now Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey,” Mr. Larson says, and Whitshit scoffs. I shake my head almost infinitesimally.

I’m a doctor. Despite everything that happened, I’m a doctor. When they picked your ass up, when I knocked your tooth out in my husband’s building, you were still nobody. You didn’t even take advantage of your daddy’s name and the family business, crooked though it may have been. You were nothing and you’re less than nothing now, and you have the nerve to sit on the stand like you’re still running shit?

It’s at that moment that I realize just how small he really is. I mean I knew that he was a small man, but I think this is the smallest I’ve ever seen him—that I’ve ever seen anyone. And this is the man who raped me, who helped to orchestrate one of the most horrific events of my entire life and not only am I much, much more than he is all on my own, but also if he wasn’t in those shackles, I could beat him within an inch of his life.

He’s nothing… absolutely nothing, and it took me this long to see it.

I cock my head and look at him like a strange animal. When I was fifteen, he was Satan. He was all powerful and I just wanted to get away from him and this place. Look at me now and look at him. His life is ruined… totally ruined.

I involuntarily scoff a laugh and the room falls silent with many people looking over at me. I clear my throat and pretend to cough.

“I’m sorry,” I say just below a whisper, covering my mouth to conceal my inner smile that has burst through to my lips. I realize when I refocus that I’ve missed some of the testimony.

“Carly couldn’t wait to get her hands on her,” Whitshit says. “All she wanted was for her to shut the hell up.”

Shut the hell up about what? I wasn’t talking to anybody! Nobody would even listen.

“So, you told your girlfriend that you and Ms. Steele had sex, and your girlfriend forgave you, but wanted revenge against Ms. Steele?”

“Looks that way,” Whitshit says.

“Why?” Mr. Larson asks.

“Objection,” Drake says. “The witness can’t testify to what someone else was thinking.”

“Sustained,” the judge says.

“I’m sorry, I’m just trying to figure out the logic here. You were the one who owed Carly Madison loyalty at the time, not Anastasia Steele. If it were true that, as you and the defense would like for us to believe, Anastasia Steele slept with you willingly, it totally escapes me why any woman—even a teenager—would want to beat and torture the girl who slept with her loser boyfriend but completely forgive her loser boyfriend for cheating on her!”

“Objection! Your honor!” Drake nearly yells.

“What?” Mr. Larson says in actual surprise. “I’m just making an observation.”

“You’re stating an opinion, counselor. Get on with the questioning,” the judge says. I feel a chill go down my spine.

“First of all,” Whitshit says, leaning forward in his seat, “Carly was crazy, and crazy in love with me. The combination turned out to be toxic. That’s why I dumped the bitch…”

“At the altar, I’m told,” Mr. Larson says.

“No better place to drive my point home,” Whitshit says proudly. “And second, it was true.”

“What was true?” Mr. Larson says, his brow furrowed.

“That we had sex. I picked up that little troublemaker at school one day and offered to give her a ride home. Yeah, she was a hot little thing and I could tell nobody else had hit it, so I decided to make my move…”

I can feel my chest tighten. Is he really going to tell this story?

“She got in my jeep and we’re driving around, laughing and talking. She’s giggling and giving me all the signs. I drive to a place where we can have some privacy. We climb in the back seat and we’re getting all hot and heavy, and we finally get into it. Yeah, it was rough breakin’ in a virgin, but it wasn’t my first time. I knew what I was doing.”

Oh, God, is he serious? He must be talking about somebody else, because he’s sure as hell not talking about me.

“Next thing I know, she’s in the back seat cryin’. Probably freaked out because she saw I popped her cherry. Now, I got this poser, white trash wannabe cryin’ and bleedin’ all over my seats when a few minutes earlier, everything was all good! So, I told her to get outta my Jeep. I threw her damn bookbag out behind her and left her standing there. I didn’t want anybody to see us together, and nobody would believe I fucked her anyway…”

He’s starting to blur a bit, but I can still hear him loud and clear.

“Yeah, we had sex, but the next thing I know, she and her father or stepfather or whoever the hell he was are at my house telling my dad I raped her!” He throws his hands up and scoffs in disbelief. “Why would I take from her what I could get from anybody? All the girls wanted me. I was the biggest ticket in school! I was already dating the head cheerleader!”

My muscles are tightening, and my body is starting to betray me. If I wasn’t there experiencing that rape first-hand, I would believe everything that’s coming out of his mouth right now. As if I haven’t suffered enough at the hands of this fucker, he turns to me when he drives his point home.

“Yeah, get mad because I left you there and made you walk home, but rape? Please!”

Oh, dear God in heaven. If I have any more epiphanies in this room, my head is going to burst. He was actually pissed at me for crying in his jeep. Does this fucker really believe he didn’t rape me… that he was fucking entitled to do what he did to me? Jesus, I think I’m going to vomit again.

I see the room shaking and I can’t breathe. Christian is in my line of sight, but I can’t hear anything. His mouth is moving, but I can’t hear the words coming out of his mouth. People are moving towards me, but I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe…


A/N: Of course, the writer would know that Cody was getting a plea before the episode was written. However, the reader wasn’t supposed to know until this episode. I mentioned something in chapter 89 of Becoming at Ana’s last session with Ace about Cody’s plea. If you go back and read, it’s not there anymore. You’re not crazy. I jumped the gun when I put it there. I wasn’t supposed to, so I removed it. Sorry for the confusion.

Twitterpated is a phrase that Owl used in “Bambi” to explain to the young men that the birds were in love. I borrowed the phrase in this episode to talk about the Waldorf guest that besmirched Ana on Twitter. 

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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 8

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

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

Season 5 Episode 8

CHRISTIAN

The trip to the District Court is… interesting. The I-15 freeway is nerve-wracking to say the least. Traveling down that stretch of road, you just want to close your eyes and pray that you don’t get killed. A six-mile journey takes all of 30 – 45 minutes in rush hour traffic, and we have to hit it coming and going for the next several days at least. I’m silently praying for safe passage. My wife, on the other hand, is sitting next to me silent and stoic.

The courthouse is clean and professional enough, but the distance in between once you exit the freeway reminds me of Detroit. Where Detroit has liquor stores every few blocks, here there are bail bondsmen everywhere you look. Downtown is full of apartments in desperate need of repair and no-tell-motels all over the place—or at least that’s what they look like to me.

At a certain point, you reach the business district that looks like it totally shouldn’t be here—clean lines, high rises, well-maintained streets… which they very well should be with all the construction we kept hitting on the way out here.

The parking is atrocious down here and we can’t afford to get out of town tickets in three rental SUVS, or worse, towed. As such, we have a plan for pickup and drop off at the courthouse. All non-security staff will form a perimeter around me and Butterfly with Ray and Allen in front, James and Mandy on either side, and Vee and Marilyn bringing up the rear. The five members of my security team that won’t be parking the cars will form a five-point star around the eight of us with Jason at the lead, two guards at the rear, and a guard on either side. Butterfly will be duly buried in the middle of several people…

… Which is a good thing.

We can barely get the cars to the curb for fear of running over the Paparazzi’s toes as we pull up.

“Fucking vultures,” I mumble. This is insane and I have no idea how we’re even going to get out of the car.

“Where were all these people when this shit happened to me?” Butterfly blurts out, breaking her silence. “Why weren’t they this fucking hungry for a headline then?”

Oh, shit. She’s already losing it.

Several members of the press have cameras pressed against the glass of the SUV’s, and we can’t even exit the vehicle.

“Baby,” I say, taking her hand and trying to put out the fire before it starts, “remember what we said about the press egging you on.”

“Oh, don’t patronize me, Christian!” she barks snatching her hand from mine. “I’m not out of the car yet! And it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon either! These people have no fucking respect whatsoever. We’re trying to get to court, not walking the fucking red carpet!”

Dear God, somebody save me. I’m in a little metal box with a woman who’s getting more and more irritated by the second and my attempts at reason are only making it worse. What’s more, we can’t get out of the little metal box.

Unbeknownst to me, the city of Las Vegas has foreseen this little problem and has prepared accordingly. I can hear someone on a megaphone saying something, but I can’t quite make it out over the throng of people. As the cameras move away from the tinted glass, I crack the window slightly to hear what’s happening.

“Step away from the vehicle. Move away, or you will be arrested for obstruction of justice. This is your final warning.”

That’s right. Butterfly is a key witness in a criminal case. If they don’t allow her to get out of the car, they’re obstructing justice. I look back at my wife who looks through the crack in the window with stunned awe as the press is pushed away from the car. A few moments later, Chuck and Jason exit the car and another security detail takes the driver’s seat.

The door opens and we see Chuck, Al, James and Jason standing there.

“Are you ready?” Jason asks. I look at Butterfly, whose previous anger has completely deflated. She nods, and Ray exits the car first, then Mandy. It’s everyone else’s responsibility to fall in line once Butterfly exits the car, because she’s running to the door the minute she’s out of the car.

I never understood the concept of the courthouse having fifty stairs that you have to climb to get to the door. What’s the purpose of that?

When I step out of the car, I scan this situation before I let Butterfly out. Every fucking local newspaper in the state must be here. We’ve never had this much pomp and circumstance in Washington, and we’ve been to two trials where each of us was a key witness.

The press is neatly pushed away from either side of the car with Las Vegas Metro Police officers in tan uniforms with batons drawn holding them back from blocking our path to the door.

Now that’s what I call protecting and serving!

The cameras are still flashing, but I expect that much. We can’t stop them from taking pictures, but they have to let us through. I lean down into the car and take my wife’s hand.

“Ready?” I ask. She sighs heavily and nods.

She swings her legs out of the car and her Louboutin stilettos are probably the only picture of her that the press gets this morning. She stealthily stands to her feet and everyone quickly falls into formation as those sky highs take the stairs like Rocky. She doesn’t fall; she doesn’t stumble; she doesn’t trip; and she’s shorter than everyone on the peripheral. So, I’m certain that no one got a picture of her.

When we enter the doors of the courthouse, she doesn’t even look like she broke a sweat.

The police keep the press at bay until we all pass the metal detectors and enter the main hallway. Mac has informed me that only one station—KTNV Las Vegas—will have access to the trial. Because the case is so sensational, several media outlets filed for courtroom media access, but only one was granted. Thank God for small favors.

I’m busy checking on my wife to see how she’s holding up when I’m greeted with the last fucking thing I expected to see at this moment. I prepared myself for everything… every possible eventuality. I didn’t prepare myself for this.

Cholometes! Brian fucking Cholometes!

He’s sitting in the waiting area near the elevators looking straight at us. I glance down at Butterfly and she hasn’t spotted him yet. She’s too busy girding herself for the experience ahead. When he sees us, he rises from his seat and begins his approach. I put myself in my wife’s line of sight and I look down at her.

“Prepare yourself, baby,” I say. “We’ve got company.” Her expression hardens.

“Whitshit?” she spits. I shake my head.

“Cholometes,” I reply. An instant look of horror mars her face.

“What?”

The response comes from Ray. Apparently, my voice wasn’t as low as I thought it was. I look over at him and he’s scanning the room.

“What are you doing here, Brian?” he says before Cholometes even reaches us. He slows his approach at Ray’s tone.

“You’re my friend,” Cholometes replies. “I came to support you… and the family.”

By the family, you mean my wife. She has all the support she can get, Colostomy, she doesn’t need you!

“You didn’t have to come,” Ray says firmly. Cholometes ignores the implication.

“It’s the least I could do,” Cholometes replies, “especially after the events of our last encounter.” His words hang in the air. I take Butterfly’s hand. You mean when you outed our lifestyle in front of all her family and friends? Is that the encounter of which you speak?

“My little girl’s got a rough time ahead of her, Brian. If you’re bringing any drama with you, you can take it right back where you came from,” Ray scolds.

“I’m only here for support,” he responds before looking down at Butterfly. “You have my word.” Butterfly scoffs and rolls her eyes.

“Let’s go,” she says to me. I quickly lead her away from the scene without a word to Cholometes. My main concern right now is protecting her as much as I can.

“He doesn’t get within five feet of my wife,” I say to Jason and Chuck as we walk away.

“If he does, I’ll kick him in the fucking balls,” Butterfly growls under her breath as we walk deliberately towards the elevators. The bell rings that the elevator arrives and when the doors open, our group all stream in in formation—except one.

Sorry, Colostomy, no room.

There’s actually plenty of room, but the glare of at least seven angry men may have persuaded him to catch the next car.

The floor is surprisingly quiet when we exit the elevator. There are a few people in corners chatting quietly about… whatever. Butterfly never raises her head. She quietly watches her feet as we walk directly to courtroom 8A.

And now we discover why no one is in the hallway.

There are several people in the courtroom, spread out on different benches. The two benches behind the prosecutor are conspicuously empty. We all file in, and Butterfly still hasn’t raised her head or removed her sunglasses. Upon hearing us enter, Larson and his colleague turn around. Butterfly takes her seat, but I remain standing.

“Mr. Grey,” he says as he approaches the balustrade between us.

“Mr. Larson,” I greet just as stoically. He turns to Butterfly.

“Mrs. Grey, are you ready?” he asks. She removes her glasses finally.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she replies.

“Please, be prepared,” he says. “Sullivan is claiming diminished capacity—not that he was insane, but that he was coerced and intimidated… basically that he was too young to understand or unaware of the full impact of his actions.” She twists her lips.

“Why does that not surprise me?” she says a little too calmly.

“They’re going to show the video, and the pictures of your back. Things are going to get very graphic and pretty brutal…”

“Nothing they say or do is going to be as brutal as what they already put me through, so it doesn’t matter, does it?” she replies matter-of-factly. Larson sighs, no doubt noting the same hostility that I experienced in the car.

“They’re going to make you out to be the villain,” he warns.

“What else is new?” she replies.

“I just want you to be prepared for anything. Expect anything. Remember, we can’t mention the rape unless they do,” he cautions. She sighs.

“Mr. Larson, nothing could prepare me for this, but I’ll do my best.”

“That’s all I ask,” he says, finitely. He glances at me again, then returns to his seat.

We sit in the courtroom waiting for an eternity for the proceedings to start, but it’s clearly only about twenty minutes. We hear more people come into the courtroom, but we don’t turn around to see who they are. There’s a guy sitting at the defense table looking at a notebook in a ledger. Clearly, he’s the defense attorney. After a few minutes, a door opens on the side of the courtroom and in walks some guy in a suit and handcuffs. This is obviously Vincent Sullivan, but I didn’t commit his face to memory. I can’t even remember what his brother looks like at the moment.

Butterfly glares at him, but he doesn’t look our way once. Sullivan is escorted to the defense table where the bailiff removes his cuffs. In both of the other cases we attended, both defendants scanned the room, made eye-contact with us and either sneered or jeered at us, but not Sullivan. He’s been coached. He doesn’t look left or right. He looks down or at his attorney—nowhere else.

“All rise. The criminal session of the Las Vegas Justice Court, Clark county is now in session, the honorable Wilson Bates presiding.”

The court stands to their feet as Judge Bates takes the bench.

“You may be seated.”

Judge Bates looks at the file in front of him and sighs.

“I’m not looking forward to this,” he mumbles, almost to himself. I think he forgot he was mic’ ed. What did he mean by that?

“Docket number 807154C-0404, the State of Nevada vs. Vincent Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan you stand charged with assault accompanied with acts of extreme cruelty and substantial bodily harm, battery with a deadly weapon with substantial bodily harm, battery without a weapon with substantial bodily harm, conspiracy to kidnap in the first degree, kidnapping in the first degree, manslaughter for fetal homicide, and attempted murder. You have entered a plea of ‘Not guilty due to diminished mental capacity.’ Do you wish to change your plea at this time?”

“No, your honor,” Sullivan says after a brief conference with his attorney.

“Is the state ready to proceed?” he asks.

“We are, your honor,” Larson replies.

“Is the defense ready to proceed?”

“Yes, your honor, we are,” the defense attorney replies.

“Very well. Bring in the jury.”

The bailiff leads 18 people into the courtroom and the judge has them sworn in. He begins the somewhat tedious task of jury instruction, and it’s at this moment that we discover that the jury will be sequestered, as well they should be. I expected as much. This case is way too publicized already to have them exposed to outside forces while they’re listening to it. I feel badly for them because this is going to go on for a while.

Once he has completed his instructions to the jury, he announces that Mr. Larson will be presenting opening statements on behalf of the State.

“Thank you, your honor, if it pleases the court,” Larson says.

“Yes, sir,” the judge replies.

“Counsel,” he says to the defense attorney, who nods. Then he turns to face the jury.

“Anastasia Steele was a loner,” he began. “She was a good student, but a stranger in a strange land. She was implanted into the affluent neighborhood of Green Valley at 14, but she wasn’t wealthy or even well-off like the other residents of the community. She had come from humble beginnings—not impoverished or even unpleasant, but humble. She was raised for most of her life in the home of her mother and father in Montesano, Washington. However, as fate would have it, her parents split up, and Anastasia would come to Henderson with her mother to reside in the home of her mother’s future husband.

“The following years would not be kind to Anastasia, and one year in particular, she found herself knocked unconscious, kidnapped, bound, and subjected to one of the most brutal and violent hazing rituals in history—the degradation and branding of another human being.”

Larson handles the opening arguments like a seasoned professional. He paints a vivid picture of a young misfit with good grades in an unhappy home. He makes reference to the rape without calling it that, labelling it as the “incident” that sparked the attack.

He gives a chilling recount of how Butterfly was kidnapped while walking home from school, thrown in the trunk of a car, dragged to the bonfire, and then tortured by a group of teenagers.

He outlines a gruesome picture of a vicious mob and a brutal hazing ritual that left a 15-year-old girl in a coma for three weeks while her attackers went home to their beds and slept peacefully with no concern about the young girl they left for dead.

“That night, an officer happened upon the scene of the hazing, causing the participants and observers to scramble, leaving Anastasia Steele naked, burned, beaten, unconscious, bleeding, and left for dead on the ground. Her unborn child was inside of her, his or her little heart beating its final beats, if it hadn’t stopped beating already.”

Butterfly doesn’t react to the description, but various members of the jury are visibly affected by it.

“Anastasia was rushed to the hospital, underwent several procedures—one of which was to remove the remnants of the dead fetus from her uterus—and she spent three weeks in a coma. Meanwhile, the defendant and their co-conspirators who had executed this horrendous event and even recorded the whole thing on video, all went home to their fashionable houses and their comfortable beds, laid their heads on their pillows and slept, night after night. Anastasia was living the nightmare, but her vicious and brutal attack was reduced to nothing more than locker-room talk and urban legend.

“She was rescued from the hell that Henderson was to her, Green Valley, and taken back to Montesano by her father. She was enrolled in school and ready to rebuild her life until the father of one of the defendants paid off her mother and stepfather to bring her back to Las Vegas, where they could keep an eye on her and make sure that she didn’t spill their secret.

“Their secret stayed buried until a few years ago, when a routine background check unearthed a second name for Mrs. Grey—Anastasia Lambert, and that name led to a second set of school records, prompting an in-depth background check which uncovered the police reports and the horrific pictures you will see today of Anastasia’s broken body.

“Anastasia’s husband-then-boyfriend came to investigate the matter, setting off a chain of events that has led us here today. Simultaneously, Mrs. Grey—then Dr. Anastasia Steele—had begun seeing a patient for dignity therapy who, as it turns out, had recorded the video that you’re going to see today. This young lady was dying of a terminal illness and had sought out Dr. Steele to confess her involvement in Anastasia’s attack before she died.

“The video you’ll be seeing is 37-minutes long. It’s quite graphic and very brutal. It plays out like a horror movie. You must sit through the entire thing. We ask that you please prepare yourselves for the gruesome scene that you’re about to see. If any of you have weak constitutions, we will pause the playback while you compose yourself. However, we will resume playback because the video is evidence and you must see it in its entirety.

“As you are watching the video, ask yourself how it makes you feel. How it feels knowing that this is not a movie—this is not a re-enactment–that this really happened to a 15-year-old girl. Ask yourself how it feels knowing that no one felt that anyone should be brought to justice for this—not even the police. Ask yourself how it feels knowing that this could have been your child. Not one of them felt any remorse for what they did, and they don’t feel any remorse now. In fact, they’re trying to get away with it. How does that make you feel that something like that could happen in this day and time in the United States and no one is called to justice for it for nearly 15 years?

“That’s thirty-seven minutes… thirty-seven live minutes of the most vicious attack on a young girl that you may ever see in your life. Remember that Anastasia Steele’s terror and pain lasted more than that thirty-seven minutes. Remember that no matter what you hear in this courtroom, no matter what pictures the defense may want to paint of Mrs. Grey, of her family, and of the alleged assailants, remember what you see with your own eyes. Remember what the video tells you—what you saw.

“You’ll hear testimony from others that may seem circumstantial, but I ask that you consider it in context with everything else that you’ll see and hear during this trial. Let’s give Anastasia the justice that she finally deserves. Thank you.”

Larson takes his seat. The judge then announces that the defense, Mr. Drake, will present opening statements.

“Thank you, your honor, if it pleases the court,” Drake says.

“Yes, sir,” the judge replies.

“Opposing counsel,” Drake says, and Larson nods.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I remind you of your instructions, that you must weigh this case on the facts. Although you may find yourself empathizing with the victim, although you must watch the cruelty of the action, you cannot decide this case on emotion. You must decide it on the facts. You must decide if Vincent Sullivan willingly and maliciously injured a young girl and caused the death of her unborn child. That’s going to be hard to do once you see the evidence.

“You’re going to be tempted to sympathize with the plight of a young girl who was victimized by a group of vicious teenagers, because that’s exactly what you’re going to see. No one is disputing that. What has brought us here today is Mr. Sullivan’s role in this act. And this is where it’s imperative that your personal prejudices and biases do not come into play.

“For one thing, we get a vivid picture of a poor young girl just trying to survive in the affluent neighborhoods of Henderson. They want you to believe that this poor little waif was an unsuspecting victim of an unnecessary violent act. While I won’t deny that this act was brutal and unfortunate…”

Unfortunate? What the ever-loving fuck? She was raped by a motherfucker who wouldn’t take no for an answer, and then beaten because she was raped! And he calls that shit unfortunate?

“… Don’t be cajoled into believing the ‘victimized nerd’ persona that’s being presented to you. This girl was a promiscuous opportunist looking to trap a young man simply because his family was well-to-do. This was no innocent that we’re dealing with. This was a young harlot who seduced the son of one of Green Valley’s most prominent citizens, lied on him about it and provoked him and his young girlfriend until a group of unidentified people saw through her scheme and put a stop to it. Did she deserve what happened to her? Did she bring it on herself? I can’t say, but I can tell you this. The prosecution has given you his version—his opinion—of what he thinks happened that night. As jurors, it’s your job to apply the law to this situation to determine Vincent Sullivan’s guilt or innocence.”

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight. You don’t want them to look at her as a poor little waif or a victimized nerd because that would be biased, but you want them to look at her as a promiscuous opportunist and that’s not? I’m confused.

“The boy that she targeted was a popular young man, a well-known athlete… and she was a misfit. She wanted to belong, to fit in by any means necessary, even if it meant trying to trap or blackmail one of the most popular boys in school, and she just played the wrong cards. I’m not saying that she deserved what happened to her, but I am saying that when you play a dangerous game, something dangerous is bound to happen.

“The video you’re going to see is dark. Forensics have verified its authenticity, but most of the assailants are hooded; and the key witness and videographer—God rest her soul—is conveniently deceased. Yet, the prosecution would have you believe that this powerful multibillionairess…” He’s pointing at Butterfly, “… just happened on this information—that an ailing woman with a terminal disease wandered into her office after 15 years with a key piece of evidence to put away several prominent members of our community; that we should now look at this suffering soul whose net worth is probably more than all of us combined and say, ‘Isn’t that so sad and tragic. Poor little rich girl.’”

His voice is so condescending that you can hardly believe that he’s talking about this brutally senseless act of violence that occurred to a 15-year-old girl. Yes, she’s a billionairess now, but this act didn’t happen to a billionairess. This happened to a nerdy teenager—an “A” student who wanted nothing but to graduate and get away from the hell that was an uncaring mother and an emotionally cruel stepfather and happened to be unlucky enough to get raped by the most popular boy in school.

Drake is trying to make Whitmore look like the victim. How can he be the victim when she’s the one who was raped and attacked? She’s the one who was beaten damn near to death. Her baby was beaten to death. How is he the victim?

“’People say believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.’ Those are the words to a song that my mother used to play all the time. What you see… You’re going to see a lengthy video of some kids doing some horrible thing to some other kid. And as that video is playing, some of you may become ill. Why? Because this was your first time seeing it and you were not prepared. This isn’t her first time seeing it…” He’s pointing at Butterfly. “But I can guarantee you she’ll vomit, and I’ll tell you why. It’s called practiced regurgitation. It’s what bulimic women do when they want to expel their food after a binge. They can barf on command. Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”

He can’t be serious! His opening statement is to discredit her possible vomiting? I look over at Butterfly and she’s looking at him in utter horror. Is this really where he’s going with this? He’s not talking about Sullivan at all or his defense, only that the jury will have to review the evidence and determine if his acts were willful or malicious. The rest—and remainder—of his opening statement involved downplaying the content of the video, making Whitmore out to be the victim, and painting my wife as a wanton harlot out to snag a rich kid.

One of his final statements is to paint our marriage as her ultimate triumph in doing just that and using her newfound wealth to punish the good citizens of Henderson. For the love of God!

We painfully sit through several more minutes of this bullshit before the state’s case finally begins.

“The state calls Anastasia Grey,” Larson announces clearly. Butterfly takes a deep breath and walks to the witness stand. She’s sworn in and asked to state her name.

“Dr. Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey,” she replies and is told to be seated.

“Dr. Grey, what’s your specialty?” Larson asks.

“I’m a psychiatrist. I’m also the assistant director of the Helping Hands charity in Seattle, and I’m the executive director of Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.”

Yes, sir, that’s my baby.

“I’m sure you’d like to get this over with as soon as possible, so let’s just get to it, okay?” Larson asks. Butterfly nods.

“I’ve called you first, Dr. Grey, because I want to set the scene for what the jurors are going to be seeing. I’ll be asking you several questions about the incident. I need you to be as detailed as possible and as succinct as possible. I know that’s going to be hard, but we must get to the facts. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” she nods.

“Tell us, when did you first arrive in Green Valley?”

“In 2000. I was 14.”

“Where were you before you moved to Green Valley?” Larson asks.

“We lived in Montesano, Washington.”

“How would you characterize your childhood, Dr. Grey?”

“It started out really good when we were in Washington. We had a great relationship, but once we moved to Vegas, everything changed.”

“Changed in what way?” Larson asks. Butterfly shrugs.

“It felt like my mother hated me,” she says. “I don’t know any other way to say it. She told my daddy that she was leaving because he couldn’t provide the type of life that I deserved, but when we left, she treated me like I was an imposition the entire time, like all of her problems were because of me. She was unhappy with my dad during the last year or so of their life together, so I thought that if she moved to a new life, maybe she would be happy, and things would change… but she wasn’t. At least she wasn’t happy with me.”

“So, what did you do?”

“I studied hard. That’s all I could do. My clothes were plain; I was poor. I obviously didn’t belong, and Green Valley made sure that I understood that. I resented it. I was happy in Montesano with my simple clothes and my simple life and my travel books. She said I needed to have more, and she brought me here—and gave me nothing but misery.”

“How was school?” he asks. She scoffs.

“School was school,” she says. “Study, do my work, get my grades, go home. I was teased for not having the things that everyone else had, but I tried to ignore it. Home life was much worse, so school and friends weren’t a big deal.”

“Were you abused at home?” Larson asks. She shakes her head.

“Not immediately,” she replies. “They never hit me, but the mental warfare was brutal. Even now, as a mental health professional looking back on it, I don’t know how I survived it.”

“What about your father?”

“We talked when we could, but she did everything in her power to keep us apart. She even had me saying cruel things to him when he called. She’s a miserable soul. To this day, I still don’t know what was going on.”

“Okay, so we’ve established that your home life was pretty miserable, and school life wasn’t much better. Did you have a plan of escape?”

“I was only 14 when we got here. Escape hadn’t even occurred to me. I was waiting for my mother to get what she wanted and stop treating me like crap. Eighteen was four years away. It was obvious that the only way I was going to college was through scholarships, so school it was. I liked school. I liked learning. It was the people that I didn’t care for.”

“So… at the beginning of 2001, you met one of the popular students in school, is that correct?”

“That’s correct.”

“Tell us what happened,” he says.

“Cody Whitmore offered me a ride home from school.”

“Did he take you home?” Larson asks. Butterfly shakes her head.

“After a… harrowing encounter, for lack of a better word, he left me stranded in the middle of the desert to find my own way home.”

“And after that encounter, what happened?”

“I went home and told my mother and stepfather what happened.”

“And?” Larson presses.

“My stepfather and I went to Cody Whitmore’s house to confront him and his father. My stepfather took one look at that house—all that money—and his whole tone changed. We went inside. Whitmore’s girlfriend was there and denied everything. His father wouldn’t hear anything after Whitmore denied everything, and my stepfather didn’t even raise his voice to fight for me. He apologized for disturbing them and we left. He berated me the entire way home.”

“Why do you think your stepfather didn’t fight for you?”

“Because he didn’t believe me,” Butterfly replies.

“And why do you think that was?”

“I can’t speak for Stephen Morton and he’s no longer with us to speak for himself—not that I believe he would—but I can tell you this. I already told you that my mother couldn’t stand me. He liked me even less. He took one look at that house, all that money, Whitmore’s gorgeous blonde girlfriend, and all I heard all the way home was that there was no way in hell that Cody Whitmore would want my ass. It was awful. I wish I had just kept the entire thing to myself or ran away from home… something.”

“I can imagine,” Larson says. “So, let’s get to that fateful day in March of 2001. Can you set the scene for us?” Butterfly’s expression hardens.

“From the time we had confronted the Whitmores all the way to that day, my life was hell. I was an open target for everybody. They were already teasing me, so I thought it wouldn’t make a difference if they were teasing me some more. I was wrong. If I left early from class, someone was waiting to antagonize me. If I stayed over and waited until the halls were cleared, someone was still waiting for me. It’s like they had assignments to get me and they didn’t even go to class until they got me.

“It was little simple stuff at first like gum in my hair, kicking or pushing me on the way down the hall, knocking my books out of my hand, flipping my lunch tray over… just bullying stuff. So, when they were following me home taunting me that day, I didn’t think anything different of it. I wanted them to stop, but what could I do?” Larson nods.

“What happened next, Anastasia?” he says softly. Butterfly closes her eyes.

“I remember feeling something in the back of my head. It was fast—it was like fire… like a hot knife jabbing into my skull. Then I saw… stars or flashes of light or something. I heard ringing… and then, nothing.”

“And what do you remember next?” he asks. She sighs.

“I opened my eyes and it was cold… and dark. I didn’t know where I was at first, but then… I saw the taillights shine in my eyes, and I felt the movement. I knew I was in the trunk of a car.”

She still has her eyes closed. Is she… regressing? Right there on the stand?

“What were you thinking?” Larson asks.

“I was horrified,” she says calmly, a single tear falling down her cheek. “I didn’t know what was going on.” She opens her eyes and looks at Larson. I’m relieved to see that she didn’t regress, but she’s pale as a ghost and she doesn’t look well.

“There’s only one reason to put a live human being in the trunk of a car, and it never ends well. Here I am—a live 15-year-old girl, bound, cold, and in the trunk of a car.”

Her voice is cold and even as another tear streams down her cheek. She wipes the tears away immediately as Larson continued.

“When did you realize what was going on?”

“Not for a while,” she says, her voice failing a bit. “When the trunk opened, all I saw was hoods. I thought I was about to be a human sacrifice in a Satanic ritual. But when they reached into the trunk and pulled me out, I could see that they were… my age—kids. All I could think was, ‘What the hell is happening?’

“Nobody talked to me. They just grabbed me out of the trunk and started dragging me across the grass. My head was still banging from whoever hit me and I couldn’t see anybody. I had tears in my eyes. I was still seeing spots from when they shined the light in my face. I could see the bonfire, though, and I knew it couldn’t be good.” She drops her head.

“I saw some of their faces because they were all wearing hoods, but they weren’t all wearing masks. The two that were wearing masks—I heard their voices. I knew exactly who they were. I begged for my life; I pleaded for them to tell me what I had done wrong…” She grabs the railing of the witness stand. She’s looking for strength, I can tell…

I’ve got you, Butterfly. I’m here. Be strong, baby.

She takes a deep breath and raises her head again. She already looks spent.

“Go on,” Larson says. She begins to worry her scar.

Come on, baby. You can do this.

She clears her throat.

“She got in my face. She said something to me…” Butterfly says.

“Who did?” Larson asks. Butterfly looks up as if to pull strength.

“The one he calls Carly Babe,” she says. She was searching for her words. “She taunted me, she called me a bitch, and then she slapped me. That must have been the ‘go’ signal, because they all came at me after that. The hits were coming from everywhere. They hit me everywhere… everywhere! I don’t know how long this went on. It just seemed like it wouldn’t stop.

There was nowhere to go,” she says, her voice cracking. “My legs and wrists were tied… I tried to roll away… I couldn’t get away. No matter where I tried to roll, a foot or a fist came at me, and they were peeing on me and spitting on me… oh, God…” She whispers the last two words before thrusting her hands into her hair.

“I couldn’t cover my face or my head or my mouth… I just wanted it to stop; I wanted somebody to help me… I called for my mother, but she wasn’t there…” Her words trail off, and she stops for a moment.

“Dr. Grey…?”

“After a while, one hit just ran into the other,” she says. “I was still screaming when the urinating and spitting started, but after a while, I just stopped. I was exhausted and I couldn’t scream anymore. Nobody was listening anyway. Nobody could really hear me. The smell of piss permeated my senses, and I just prayed to hurry up and die. When I felt that first burn, I was surprised that anything could cause more pain than I was already feeling, but I was certain that I was about to get my death wish.”

She’s never explained things to me like this… ever. My stomach is churning, thinking about this ordeal. I know what happened, but I imagined how horrible it must have been from what I’ve learned, heard, and saw. Even now, it’s worse than anything I ever imagine. Larson purses his lips and nods at her.

“Your honor, I like to introduce into evidence state’s exhibit one.” The judge nods and Larson turns to the jury.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to see the video of the night in question. You will first see the taped confession of Melanie Coleman, a terminally ill woman who confesses to recording the video live. Please prepare yourselves.”

I’m not ready to see this again. I’ll never be ready to see this again.

“Please remember that deathbed confessions are admissible and not considered hearsay,” Larson says. “These confessions often occur because a dying person wants to live their final days free of secrets they have been concealing throughout their lives. Know that Ms. Coleman died days after she recorded this confession.”

Larson somberly takes his seat as the video begins to play. A frail woman connected to oxygen declares her name and that she recorded the video on March 10, 2001. She introduces some of the people in the video, including her cousin—Carly Madison—but admits that she doesn’t know most of the assailants.

Today is the day. Today is the day that we send a message to everybody that doesn’t know just how we take care of things in our town. Today is the day that we show that little broke bitch that she can’t fuck with me or my man and get away with it!”

I watch with clenched fists as Carly Madison-Perry and her piece of shit boyfriend, Cody Whitmore, set the scene for the horror that will change my Butterfly’s life forever. I watch the petite young brunette being knocked unconscious and thrown into the back seat of a car.

Ray clears his throat. Amanda gasps.

They were still at the school. Students were everywhere! Nobody did a goddamn thing! Nobody said a thing! Even after the attack… nobody said shit!

There’s a conversation going on like these girls are headed to a slumber party right before the screen goes black… a fucking slumber party!

When the screen comes back, there are about five girls in the frame looking like witches in black on Halloween. They each say some Fuck with us and die type of bullshit before they take my Butterfly out of the trunk of the car. The camera zooms in on her. She’s been crying and she’s absolutely terrified.

I look over at my wife and she’s not paying attention. She’s holding her head down, even turns it away as the video plays, most likely trying to tune it out as much as she can. She leans her head on her hand, blocking her view of the screen. No one looks at her—they’re concentrating, horrified, on the events happening on the screen.

She can’t watch the video. The last time she watched it, she ended up catatonic for several days—but she lived this horror, and she knows exactly what she’s hearing.

The first time I saw this video, I didn’t hear it, but now I do. It’s faint, but it’s heart wrenching. You can barely hear it over the commotion of the vicious crowd—kicking, beating, and desecrating this poor girl—but when you hear it once, it becomes clear, almost like you can’t hear anything else over it…

“Moooommmiiiiiiieeeee!”

“Moommmmmiiiiieeeeeeeee!”

Moooooooooommmmiiiiiiieeeeeee!”

Jesus, my heart is breaking, and Ray looks as if he could leap out of his seat right now.

The video is nearing the end, getting into the worst part of the attack. Women have begun to cry as they hear her screaming for her “mommy.” I’m getting more and more enraged watching the callous, cold, and unbelievably cruel behavior of these monsters as they torture my Butterfly.

When the searing of her skin can be heard in stereo throughout the courtroom, and her wails of agony rip through my ears and heart, that’s when the vomiting begins, and my Butterfly is not immune. Even after having lived through it, her stomach still can’t take it once the video is played again. I want to rush to her on the stand, but I know that I can’t, and the court has actually supplied barf bags for just such an emergency. Five people lose their breakfast and several others are green in the face watching this display.

It seems like it takes forever for the video to finally end, but it was only a few minutes from the branding to the end of the video. Several of the jurors, the onlookers, and my wife are unable to compose themselves once the video is complete. Sullivan is looking down at the desk and Drake is simply examining the condition of the attendees in the courtroom with a bit of concern.

Yeah, asshole. Just because you can watch that shit without blinking doesn’t mean that every other human being can.

It’s music to my ears when the judge calls a brief recess and the jury is quickly led out of the courtroom.

Butterfly collapses in tears on the stand, having fought to hold herself together as the jury is led away. Why is she trying to be strong now? No one—except that fucking defense attorney—would blame her for falling apart during this time. She leans forward on the railing of the stand and weeps until her body shakes. She did the same thing when she had to identify the people in the video last year. I sprint around the balustrade to get to her taking long strides to get to the witness stand.

“No!” she shrieks, jerking away when I touch her without lifting her head. I’m shocked that she won’t let me touch her, but pretty certain that she wouldn’t let anybody touch her right now. Nonetheless, I turn my gaze—and my rage—towards the defense table. Sullivan still hasn’t raised his head, but when Drake catches my gaze, he immediately turns and begins to confer with his client. You despicable, reprehensible…

“Sir,” Jason says, breaking my gaze from the defense table. He needed to, and I think he knows that.

“Get Alex on the phone,” I say, my voice only loud enough for him to hear me. “I want everything he can get on this guy. This is going to be his swan song.” Jason nods, but doesn’t move. Don’t worry, I won’t kill him. I’m more concerned about Butterfly right now.

“My wife needs ice water,” I say, a little louder, my voice still rugged as Satan, “and a salt packet if you can find it.”

“I’m on it, sir,” he says, and turns to leave.

“I knew this would happen,” the judge says and produces a salt shaker from under his lectern, placing it on the side of his podium. “There’s a vending machine down the hall with water in it.”

“Thank you, your honor,” Jason says and dashes from the courtroom.

“Thank you, sir,” I say. “It’s much appreciated.” He nods and leaves the bench, going to his chambers. I take the salt and wait the eternity for Jason to return with the water. I glare at the defense while my wife weeps in the stand.

“Practiced enough for you?” I hiss at Drake. His brow furrows deeply.

“You’re not supposed to talk to me,” he says finitely.

“Why not?” I seethe. “Court’s not in session. There’s nobody here for your performance now!” No matter what he tries to get the jury to believe, he doesn’t believe that she practiced this reaction any more than I do. There’s no fear in his eyes, but he’s a bit dumbstruck. Sullivan continues to stare at the table in front of him like a good little puppy.

“Chris!” Al is in my line of sight almost immediately. “No,” he says, and that’s all he says.

“Come on, son,” Ray says, walking up next to him. “Let’s check on Annie.”

I’m seeing red. I’m seeing death and carnage and mayhem. I’m so sick of this shit. I’m so sick of my wife going through unnecessary stress and pain, and I’m really sick of Nevada and I’ve only been here for less than a day!

But I have to see about my wife.

I tear my gaze away from the not-so-cocky asshole at the defense table and go over to my wife. I move to the opening on the side of the witness stand to get closer to her, to speak to her before I try to touch her again.

“Baby?” I say, gently. “Baby, it’s me.” She throws her arms around me without looking, sobbing on my shoulder.

“I know, Baby,” I say, gently stroking her back. “I know.” She still says nothing but continues to weep.

“We can ask for a recess until tomorrow…” Larson says approaching us, his voice concerned. I’m just about to agree when my little waif squeaks in my ear.

“No… no… I have to do this… I can’t put it off anymore…” and she continues to weep. I blink the tears back in my eyes and look at Larson.

“She’s going to do it,” I say, just above a whisper. “I don’t know what’s going to happen if I get her out of this courtroom and she doesn’t do this today.”

That’s the truth. I really don’t know what’s going to happen. Larson examines me for a while, then nods.

“If you think that’s best,” he says, and he says it to me. I’m a little shocked. I lean in to my wife’s ear.

“Butterfly?” I say softly. She nods feverishly on my shoulder.

“She says, ‘yes,’” I tell him, doing everything I can not to fall apart myself. He nods and walks back to the prosecutor’s table. Jason comes back into the courtroom with two large bottles of water.

“Baby?” I say to my weeping wife. “We gotta pull it together now, okay?” I say. She nods, still sobbing. I pull her back from my shoulder and give her the water. She looks like hell. Her eyes are all puffy; her face looks like it’s going to explode.

Marilyn and Mandy return to the courtroom clinging to each other with Ray right behind them. They look like they’ve been through the wringer, too. I didn’t even know they had left. Ray was just standing next to me a minute ago… wasn’t he? Al looks like he may have shed a few tears himself, but James is clinging tightly to his hand. None of them have seen this video that I know of, and today, they got to see it on a wide screen.

“Ana?” Jason says softly, handing her the salt shaker. She shakes some in her palm and licks it out, letting it sit on her tongue for a while. Her crying has become sniffles, and I hand her my handkerchief to wipe her face. She dries the tears and her face is very red and swollen. Her eyes are so bloodshot that the whites don’t look like they’re there anymore. Jason removes his handkerchief from his pocket and douses it in water, some of it spilling onto the floor, and hands it to Butterfly. She covers her face in the cold, wet cloth and takes several deep breaths to compose herself.

The bailiffs come through with a garbage can and remove all the barf bags, including my wife’s, while she slowly and shakily pulls herself together. When she removes the handkerchief, some of her color has returned, but her eyes are still red, and she still looks like a train wreck.

“Do you want your purse?” I ask. “Your lip gloss?”

“I don’t care how I look,” she says, tying her long hair in a single knot behind her back, the shorter part falling over her shoulders. I stay at the stand with her while people begin to file back into the courtroom.

“Remember, if you feel like you can’t do this…”

“I can do it,” she interrupts me and clears her throat. “I can do it.” I nod and kiss her hand firmly.

“I love you,” I say, cupping her cheek. She swallows.

“I love you, too,” she replies, looking at me with bloodshot eyes. I wet the handkerchief again and wring it dry before giving it back to her with a fresh, dry one from my other pocket. I’m all out of handkerchiefs now. That’s a first.

I stay with her at the stand until the last possible minute when the bailiff tells me that I need to take a seat. I tear myself away from my wife and take my seat behind the prosecution. The same bailiff walks over to my wife and says something. She nods, and the bailiff walks to the door of the judge’s quarters. A few moments later…

“All rise…”

… And court is back in session.

“Mr. Larson, would you like to continue with this witness?” The judge says.

“Yes, your honor,” he says, and he walks over to Butterfly.

“The video says it all,” he says, with sympathy. She nods.

“That it does,” she replies.

“Can you tell the court which of the gentlemen in the video is Vincent Sullivan?”

“Objection, your honor,” Drake says. “With all due respect, the witness has no way of knowing which assailant is Vincent Sullivan if she’s face down on the ground.”

“If it please the court, your honor, I’m getting to how she can tell us which assailant is Vincent Sullivan,” Larson protests.

“I’ll allow it for now. Proceed, Mr. Larson.” He nods.

“Dr. Grey, did you know Vincent Sullivan?” Larson asks.

“I knew of him,” she says.

“How?”

“He was in my biology class. I saw him every day. He didn’t stand out or anything, but I saw him, so I knew who he was. He’s also right next to me in the yearbook. I’m Steele; he’s Sullivan.”

“The defense is right,” he says. “You were face down. How do you know who the people were who are behind you?”

“I watched that video more times than I would like, mostly because even though it happened to me, I still can’t believe it’s real. I still can’t believe that a bunch of kids who aren’t old enough to purchase cigarettes are capable of doing something this cruel.  Unless someone has given us another video of this event, I’ve watched that boy abuse me more times than I care to discuss.”

“So, once again, I ask you, can you tell the court which of the gentlemen in the video is Vincent Sullivan?”

“Vincent Sullivan is the guy that branded me the first two times,” she says clearly. “He’s the one that backed away when he heard that I might be dead.”

“Your honor, the state is entering into evidence exhibits 2 – 54.” Larson retrieves a folder and reveals several pictures of Vincent Sullivan on the night of the attack—stills pulled from the video along with his yearbook picture from 2001 and his current mugshots. Like Butterfly, the images haven’t changed much.

Larson also introduces pictures of a broken and battered Butterfly along with pictures of her grotesquely and freshly burned back, accompanied by pictures of the current scarring incorporated into the garden tattoo.

“Dr. Grey, I have to ask. These are some pretty graphic pictures. I can’t even see how someone could survive something like this and yet, you’ve indicated to me that you haven’t had any work done. I think we’d all like to know just to be able to effectively link you to this incident, how can this person that we see so brutally beaten turn out to be this person that we see today?” She sighs heavily, looks down, then raises her gaze back to Larson.

“I’m carrying permanent scars on my back, in my mind, and on my heart. I guess God saw fit not to have me wear them on my face, too.”


A/N: Criminal cases in Clark County normally initiate in the Las Vegas Justice Center and then move to the District Court. For aesthetic and creative reasons, I mention the District Court, but the descriptions of the courthouse and courtroom are the LVJC.

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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 54—Poking an Angry Bear

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 54—Poking an Angry Bear

ANASTASIA

You could hear a rat piss on cotton right now. The whole world has gone silent and I see nothing but this Amazon bitch who just slapped the blood into my mouth. At least I think she slapped me. She could have hit me with a sledge hammer for all I know, it happened so fast. It fucking feels like it could have been a sledge hammer. That’s gonna leave a mark.

“Shit just got reeeeal,” Marilyn sings.

“I may be short, but this piece of steel makes me ten feet tall,” I say.

“That’s so…” she begins.

“I didn’t say you could speak!” I growl, and when I say growl, I mean literally growl. A demon’s voice comes out of my mouth. Her eyes sharpen. “I told you to leave and you didn’t, so you’re mine now, ‘cause you just bullied the wrong bitch.”

“Shoot her,” I hear Jack Jr., whisper.

“You hear that?” I tell her. “He’s the only reason your brains aren’t splattered all over that wall behind you and he wants me to shoot you. Sit down.”

“And if I don’t?” she taunts. As the “t” leaves her lips, I hit her in the head with the butt of the gun. She grunts loudly.

“Now we’re even! The next time it’ll be a bullet. Now sit down!” There goes the possessed voice again. “On the floor, on your hands, and don’t move!”

She can’t believe I’ve hit her. She first put her hand over her bruising temple then raises angry eyes to me.

“Don’t make me say it again,” I hiss menacingly.

“You might miss,” she hisses back.

“I don’t miss,” I retort. “Marine’s daughter, shooting since 12. Wanna try me?” I press the steel to her forehead again. She narrows her eyes and slowly glides to the floor. She’s graceful for an eight-foot, 400-pound bear. “Cross your legs, hands under your ass.” She crosses her legs and puts her hands under her thighs. Oh, no, bitch. I know that trick.

“I said under your ass. It’s as big as a fucking semi; I’m sure you can find it.” Her eyes narrow further and she moves her hands under her ass.

“Restrain him,” I tell the guards. “I know somebody has cuffs or something.”

“Zip ties, ma’am,” somebody says.

“Make it happen,” I say without taking my eyes off Le Amazon.

“Mrs. Grey, please stand down,” I hear some unfamiliar voice say. “We can subdue her.”

“You’re too late. She’s already subdued,” I say impassively. Get the fuck away from me. She never should have had the opportunity to hit me.

“Ana…” I hear Grace’s voice now.

“Grace, get the police back here and get Jack and his son to the dorms so that they can get a good night’s sleep… for a change,” I instruct her. Jack rises from the sofa and walks with his son towards Grace.

“See ya ‘round, Jack,” she says, spitting his name in a condescending manner.

“No, you won’t,” he says. She turns her gaze to him.

“You brave all of a sudden, Jack?” she jeers. Jack actually laughs.

“Look at you!” he chuckles. “She’s all of 5’4” and she’s got you sitting on the ground like a dog!” I’m actually 5’2”.

“She’s got a gun,” she says with disdain.

“And after this, so will I,” he says definitively. “You’re nothing but a walking, talking slab of meat and you’ve been bullying me and my son for years. Take your goddamn gorilla and get the fuck out of my life. I’m getting a restraining order against you tomorrow and if you come within 100 feet of me or my son, I’m going to fill you full o’ lead.”

I’m still looking at her and I don’t see Jack talking to her.

“Good night, Glenda,” I hear Jack Jr., say in a mocking tone. Glenda? Like the good witch, Glenda? Well, if that don’t beat all.

“Somebody get me a goddamn chair; I’m pregnant.”

*-*

It’s about 8pm when I get home. Marilyn wants to come in with me because she pretty much knows what’s in store for me and she doesn’t want me to face it alone. I send her home and tell her to meet me here tomorrow as I have a feeling we will be redoing my schedule.

“Grace, you’re going to have to do without me,” I say after the police cart Glenda Hyde and her driver away. She frowns.

“You mean for a while?” she asks. I shake my head.

“I mean, do without me,” I say. “Christian’s going to blow a gasket when he sees me. I’m certain he’s going to demand that I don’t deal with this anymore. I know him and I can’t blame him. I don’t necessarily agree with him, but I don’t blame him. If one thing—any one thing—had gone differently tonight, my babies could have been hurt; I could have been in jail… That woman had no fear. My daddy taught me to never pull my gun unless I intend to pull the trigger. Tonight, I actually thought that at some point, I was going to have to. She hit me so fast, I didn’t even see it coming! I don’t even know how she hit me. Was it open-handed or a fist? Was it a punch or a slap? Was it backhanded or front-handed? I have no idea. If this goes to court, all I’m going to be able to say is that she hit me. And she hit me hard enough to turn me from east to west!”

“That’s no reason to quit, Ana,” she says almost pleading.

“I know that and I’m not quitting, but my face hurts so badly that I don’t even want to see it. When he sees it, he’s going to make me sit down, and I’m not going to fight him.” She sighs.

“I need you, Ana,” she says. “We’re about to get our accreditation and licenses. The fact that we had a licensed mental health care professional in an executive position…  You can’t leave me.”

“John is going to have to come in more often and pick up some of the slack. He was going to have to do it anyway. I’ll do what I can from home. I won’t leave you high and dry—I promise, but after this, I’m getting grounded. We both already know it.”

“Are you ready to go, Mrs. Grey?” One of the unknown guards asks. I nod.

“Has anyone called Mr. Grey?” I ask. They all look at each other. “I’ll take that as a ‘no.’ Has anyone reported to Taylor?” The same blank looks. I sigh. “Well, that works out well for me. I’ll at least be able to get into the house and tell him what happened. Not so well for you guys though, because somebody’s getting fired.”

“Excuse me, Ma’am?” one of the guards say to me. Tread carefully, Ana.

“You guys did everything you could,” I tell them. “There were minimal casualties except for the face…” I gesture to my sore, swollen cheek. “Nobody left in a body bag. I say that’s a good night. But the boss’s wife is coming home with a shiner or close to it, and nobody told him. Do you see how this could be a problem?” They look at each other and then back at me.

“I’ll explain what happened,” I continue. “I’ll do my best. Everything moved so fast, but you guys know him… somebody’s going to pay. When he pulls you guys in, make sure your stories correlate. I’m already in trouble, so don’t try to spare me, but don’t make me the scapegoat either, because that’s going to piss him off more.” I sigh and they all look like they know they’re headed to the gallows. “Thank you all, really. I’ll make sure he knows you were on your game as much as you could be.” I turn to leave. Please don’t let there be any Robert Harrises in this group.

“Mrs. Grey?” I turn around and several of them are suddenly standing in a group. “It’s been a blast.” My heart hurts suddenly and my eyes burn. No Robert Harrises.

“I won’t let him fire you,” I say, “any of you. I’ll beg if I have to…”

So now, I’m walking in to face the firing squad. The shit that happens to me just doesn’t happen in real life. Nobody in the world goes through the shit that I go through. If I’m honest, I want to be quarantined for a while. Today was too much for my psyche. All I could think the entire time I was waving my gun at that bitch was that something was going to happen to my babies.

Windsor looks at me like an alien when I get in but says nothing, ultimate professional that he is. Yeah, I know it looks bad. I take a deep breath and go to the kitchen. Jason is there with his wife and she’s helping the staff get dinner ready. His eyes swell to the size of saucers.

“Fuck! What happened to your face?” he barks. I’m actually afraid to answer him. I’m stunned into silence. “Fuck! Fuck!” He starts pacing the floor.

“Ana, what happened?” Gail asks next while Ms. Solomon silently retrieves a chemical ice pack from the pantry and pops the center to activate it. I’m trying to tell them what’s going on but the words aren’t coming out of my mouth.

“Goddammit!” Jason pulls out his blackberry. “Where the fuck is Ben?” Oh shit, I forgot.

“He’s at the hospital with Thelma and Jimmy,” I tell him. “This wasn’t his fault.”

“Oh, I got an answer!” he shoots. “So can you tell me how this happened?” I try to say something again, but nothing comes out. I don’t know where to start. “Great—that means ‘long story.’ That means I should fucking know and I don’t! Fuck! Fuck!” He starts dialing his phone,

“Stop yelling at her, Jason!” Gail scolds.

“Oh, I’m just the warm-up!” Jason informs her. “The main event is down in his office, battling with his own monsters from today!” He turns back to his phone. “’Hi Jason.’ Don’t fucking ‘Hi Jason’ me! What the hell happened to her face?” He is mad. That means Christian is going to be furious and I’m not going to be able to save anybody’s job. I’ll be too busy trying to save my own ass.

“I gathered as much. Gimme the short version!” Jason is silent for about 30 seconds, then slowly turns incredulous eyes to me. A few seconds later, he covers his face with his hand before it pushes back to his hairline.

“Debrief tomorrow, 0800 at GEH Security Central. All of you need to be there. Prepare to grovel for your fucking jobs.” He ends the call. By now, I’ve broken eye-contact with him and put the ice pack on my face. I hear him sigh.

“Come on,” he says. “I’m not talking to him by myself.”

“Why do I feel like I’m talking to my father?”

“I don’t know how else to handle this right now,” he says, “but we need to go downstairs because the longer we wait, the worse it’ll be.” I sigh and follow Jason to the firing squad.

Christian’s face turns stark white and his eyes are slate gray and accusing… angry? I don’t know, but I feel like I’m twelve.

“What in God’s name happened to your face?” he asks. He turns to Jason.

“Disgruntled spouse,” he says. Christian glares at him, then back at me.

“Somebody hit you?” he asks, appalled. I nod. I think she hit me. I didn’t see it coming.

“I need some answers. They’re not coming fast enough,” Christian demands. “Some abusive husband hit my wife. I need to know what’s going on.”

“It was a woman,” I say meekly.

They’re both stunned into silence and turn slowly to look at me.

“A woman did this?” Jason asks.

“No, a man with a pussy did this!” I hiss. “She was seven fucking feet tall! I feel like she hit me with a sack of rocks!”

“How many times did she hit you?” Christian asks.

“Once! That was enough. She spun me around on my feet.”

“What the fuck was security doing?” he asks.

“Subduing her seven-foot boyfriend,” I declare. Christian scoffs.

“This is a goddamn horror movie!” he says, flailing his hands in the air. “This shit doesn’t happen in real life!” My sentiments exactly. “Wait a minute. I thought you said this was a disgruntled spouse…”

“It was,” I say.

“So how could she be there with her boyfriend?”

“Hell if I know!” I retort. “Glenda Hyde. She comes from money somewhere and she’s a fucking bully. Beats her husband and stepson. Stepson—13—shows up this morning, beaten all to hell and dirty from living on the street since I don’t remember how long. The  father shows up after a hit on Missing Persons with a burn straight across his body like a sash. I swear to God; it looks like my brand—oozing and festering.” I shiver at the thought of it. “We call the police. We make a report. As soon as they leave, she shows up with her boyfriend. The semantics of their relationship are irrelevant here. All you need to know is when we told her to leave, she hit me. It was lightning fast—nobody saw it coming or had time to react. She didn’t escalate or anything. She just laughed and hit me. By the time it was all over, security had restrained her boyfriend and she was about to eat my Beretta!”

“What?” Christian barks. “Did you shoot her?”

“No,” I reply.

“Too bad,” Jason says. I roll my eyes at him.

“So why didn’t you tell me about this?” Christian asks Jason.

“Because I just found out,” he replies.

“How is that possible? I thought you guys had a protocol when something happens to her.”

“We do, but Ben is still at the hospital with Ms. Radcliff.”

“Who was second on the communication tree?” Christian asks.

“I don’t know. I’d have to ask Ben.”

“Ben probably didn’t tell anybody,” I tell them. “I made him chase Thelma so that she wouldn’t get on the bus with the baby. I emailed this to you,” I say to Christian.

“So this is Ben’s fault…” Jason says.

“No, this is nobody’s fault!” I snap. “It’s my fault, okay? I should have left the Amazon woman alone! I should have let the police handle it.” I drop the ice pack on the desk in my frustration and realize a moment too late that it was the wrong thing to do because Christian now gets a good look at my face. He just stares at me for a minute.

What? Are there little people running out of my face?

I put the ice pack back on my cheek. It turns out the hit got nowhere near my eye, but she blew my cheek the fuck out.

“You said she came from money. Where do they live?” Just like that, Christian has slipped into business mode. Not sure I like how easily it came just then.

“Um… Redmond.”

“Okay, not that much money, but money. What was her name again?”

“Glenda Hyde.” He shakes his head.

“Not ringing any bells.” I pull out my phone.

“Marilyn got a picture of her and her henchman. We knew you’d want to put them on the ‘list.’” I open the gallery and show him the picture. He examines it for a moment.

“Somebody married her?” he exclaims. Well, that’s a bit unkind. “That’s Glenda Shetland. We used to call her Monster Bitch. You got into it with Monster Bitch?”

“More like Glenda Clydesdale. You know her?”

“Everybody knows her. She was constantly victimizing kids smaller than her. Now she’s taken it into adulthood, huh?”

“In the most brutal way,” I say. Christian hands me back my phone.

“I need to talk to my wife alone,” he tells Jason. Here it comes.

“Debrief at 0800 tomorrow,” Jason says.

“Yeah, okay.” Jason leaves and closes the door behind him. Christian walks back to the front of his desk and sits down in front of me. He touches all five fingertips to the other hands and ponders for a minute or two… too long. I don’t speak while he thinks. I need to let him come to whatever conclusion he’s going to come to without my input. An eternity later, he looks up at me.

“I’ve made an executive decision,” he says.

“I figured you would,” I reply. He looks at me and there’s a glint of displeasure in his eyes.

“You are officially on maternity leave,” he says. I raise my eyes to him.

“Maternity leave?”

“Yes. You have disgruntled spouses, abusive fathers coming in there that you have to deal with. You’re the first point of contact and you have to deal with this shit head on. You’re putting yourself at imminent physical risk as well as our babies. I try not to be unreasonable because I know that you can take care of yourself, but you are a month from your due date which means that those babies can come any day now and you have to watch your blood pressure. I don’t see how shoving a gun down Monster Bitch’s throat facilitates that, Anastasia.”

He’s firm on what he’s saying and his biggest bargaining chip are the babies, which I knew it would because it has to be.

“I’m officially taking you off of your duties as assistant director of Helping Hands until after the babies are born and you are released by your doctor to return to work. If you fight me on this, Ana, I’m going to call Dr. Culley. We just got back from a goddamn babymoon. All that rest and relaxation undone in one afternoon.” I sigh.

“I won’t fight you on it, Christian,” I say softly. His brow furrows.

“You won’t?” he asks. “You agree?”

“I didn’t say I agree. I said I won’t fight you on it.” He sighs infinitesimally.

“Good, because I was dealing with one of those disgruntled spouses today, which is how I found out about Radcliff’s house. But I have to tell you about it later, because I have to process all this stuff.” He falls back into his chair and says nothing else. I’m assuming I’m dismissed. I stand up, take my ice pack, and walk silently out of Christian’s office.

It didn’t go as badly as I thought it would. I thought he would tell me that I can’t work at Helping Hands at all. He just put me on mandatory maternity leave.

Mandatory maternity leave.

It’s kind of what I wanted, so why do I want to cry?

I take the elevator upstairs to the second floor and go to our bedroom. I don’t turn on any lights. I just lay in the bed with my ice pack. I’m sick of this thing now. Nobody’s going to see me anyway. I take it off my face and put it on the nightstand. I put my arms around my babies and imagine that I can feel the henna on my stomach. Once I’m comfortable, I can feel the tears burning in my eyes and I just let them fall. These are cleansing tears. I’m crying because Christian forced me into maternity leave, because I wanted him to force me into maternity leave and because I didn’t want him to force me into maternity leave. I’m crying because of what happened to Jack and his son, and because I was scared shitless when I was pointing that gun at that Amazon cow. I just cry and cry and cry, rubbing my henna until I fall asleep.

*-*

My head hurts.

My scar is throbbing; my face is throbbing; my head is killing me.

I went to bed without dinner last night. I slept straight through. I have no idea what time it is, but the sun shining through windows that normally don’t allow light in lets me know that it’s definitely after 8:00 and I definitely slept more that twelve hours. I feel like I’ve got a hangover.

Yeah, that would probably be because an Amazon bitch tried to kill us yesterday and we went to sleep without eating anything.
Do you have anything constructive to say? Anything?
Go take a shower and get some food. There may be some pain killers in your future, too.

Yeah, that’s productive, I guess.

My head weighs a ton. My head weighs a ton. My head weighs a ton. Did I mention that my head weighs a ton? I’m barely able to roll over and see a small tray on the nightstand.

Fruit salad, cottage cheese, orange juice, two Tylenol, what appears to be Gail’s famous tea bags… and a single red rose.

Did he come to bed last night?

I eat the fruit and cheese offering and take the Tylenol with the orange juice. Hopefully, they’ll kick in by the time I get out of the shower…

Somewhere around ten o’clock or so, I make it down to my office. Marilyn has to be here by now. I drag my ass into my office and it’s empty. No Marilyn. Oh, well. I don’t know what was on the agenda for today anyway. I sit down at my desk and lay my head down, the tea flat on the side of my face. I’m lying there for a few minutes when I hear a familiar voice.

“Wow, you look like you’ve had a rough night.”

She’s here after all. Did she just get here?

“Thanks,” I say with no malice. “How long have you been here?”

“A while,” she says, setting her laptop on my desk and pulling a chair up across from me. She just sits there expecting.

“What?” I ask a bit sluggishly. I think I got too much sleep.

“I know that the last few days have been pretty harrowing for you, and by no means am I trying to make it any worse, but I need to talk to you about something.”

“What’s up?” I lift my head.

“Have you found occasion to call Andrea and make a request of her?” My brow furrows.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I say.

“You know, like giving Christian a message or locate Christian for you or maybe even to remind him of the appointment or pencil something in on his calendar… Any little thing that you requested of her or maybe of Luma.” I pause.

“I’ve rarely had occasion to request anything from Andrea or Luma,” I tell her. “Maybe to locate Christian or give him a message, yeah, I’ve probably done that.”

“But you’ve never outright ordered them to do something or not to do something…” I frown.

“Of course not!” I declare. “Why would I do something like that?”

“Then would it be too much to ask for you to tell your husband to extend the same courtesy to me?” she beseeches. “I realize that he’s got a lot on his plate ruling the world and everything, but I’m never rude or belligerent to him, and I would appreciate if he would extend that same respect to me that I extend to him!”

Oh, hell.

“What did he say?” I lament. I wait for her response, but none comes. Apparently what I said or how I said it causes her to rethink her tactic. After a long silence, I look up at her and see sympathy in her eyes. It almost makes me cry.

“What did he say?” I repeat, trying to overcome the pitiful look she has in her eyes towards me right now.

“He was just really rude, Ana,” she says. “I knew there would be some kind of laying down of the law after what happened yesterday, but he had no right to speak to me the way that he did when I walked into the house this morning. He barked orders at me like I was the janitor at GEH, telling me not to bother you and to leave you alone until you woke up; telling me not to give you any kind of tasks that required you to go to Helping Hands; demanding that I change your schedule and remove any appointments that involve going to the Center. It was like I work for him, not you. If that’s the case, then I think I should tender my resignation, because I can’t work for him.”

I shake my head. I can barely fight my own battles with Christian. I can’t fight anybody else’s.

“You don’t work for Christian. You work for me. And when he gets like that with you, you have my full permission to give it right back to him. I don’t condone him treating everybody like they’re at his beck and call, like they’re peons in his little world, and I won’t stand by and let him treat you that way either. But to be honest with you, I don’t have the strength to fight him. If he treats you like less than a human being, give it right back!” Her eyes widen.

“Really?” she says surprised. “You won’t be mad?”

“Honestly, I’d welcome it,” I tell her. “I have no problem whatsoever with Christian exercising his authority where his authority should reach. I do have a problem with him thinking his authority should reach everywhere! That’s just not the case, and I just can’t clean up the mess every time he does something like this. So yes, if he disrespects you, give it right back. Let him know you’re not going to accept it. I don’t have a problem with it.” She sighs.

“Thank you, Ana,” she says. “The only reason he treats me that way is because I won’t say anything back. And the only reason I won’t say anything back is because of you. You know I won’t go overboard, but I just want the right to defend myself. You’re sure it won’t cause you any problems?”

“If he says anything to me about it, I’m going to tell him to take it up with you and he can’t fire you because you don’t work for him, just like I can’t fire Andrea.”

“He was all haughty, saying that you wouldn’t be going into the Center for a while and that you would confirm that when you woke up.” She opens her laptop.

“Well, he’s right about that,” I tell her. “I’ve been placed on early maternity leave until after the babies are born.” She frowns. “What?”

“I guess I’m a little confused,” she says.

“About what?”

“His orders were specific… no Helping Hands—well, at least no going to Helping Hands…”

“Yes?”

“So, this is the referendum until after the babies are born,” she continues.

“Until after Dr. Culley releases me to return to work, yes,” I confirm. She shakes her head, still frowning. “What is it?”

“It’s going to cause a problem if I say it, Ana,” she warns.

“It’s going to cause a problem if you don’t,” I retort. She folds her hands.

“What’s going to be different after Dr. Culley releases you than right now? What’s so different with the situation right now that won’t be so in two months?”

“I won’t be pregnant!” I state obviously.

“Exactly!” she declares. “Did he say why he didn’t want you going to the Center? Was it because Goon Girl hit you? Was it because of the danger? Was it because of the stress?”

“I would think it was because of the stress,” I say.

“But he didn’t say specifically,” she retorts. She’s right, he didn’t say. “Remember that you told me to tell you this. I wanted to keep it to myself.”

“Go ahead,” I say, anxious to see where she’s going.

“We all know that your husband is the ultimate control freak. I expected some kind of demand to be handed down in terms of this situation, but not this. I expected maybe for him to tell you cut back, but I didn’t expect for him to tell you to stop altogether, and I certainly didn’t expect you to agree to it. People depend on you, Grace most of all! The Center is about to get its accreditation. You implemented most of the programs and put the plans in place to make that happen. You did all the work; you know all the moving parts and now, you’re just going to drop it and run—right when it’s about to come to fruition.” Her voice is drenched with stunned awe and disappointment.

“I think my biggest confusion lies in the fact that whatever dangers are facing you now will still be facing you after you have the babies. So what’s the thrust here?” I narrow my eyes.

“What are you getting at?” I demand.

“Do you really need me to say it?” she asks.

“Yes, I need you to say it!” She shakes her head.

“No,” she says. “No, you talk to your husband. You find why he says you can’t finish what you started at Helping Hands. You already know what I’m thinking and I’m not going to verbalize it because you mean too much to me and I’m not going to risk this relationship. If he has your best interests at heart, then so be it, because in the end, that’s really all I care about. But that’s going to be a discussion that the two of you have, not the two of us! If you’re going to accept his demands, no questions asked, then it’s none of my business—which is what I implied in the first place—and all I need you to do is tell me what my next instructions are. A lot of your life revolved around Helping Hands, but not all of it, so we’ve got other things we can talk about.” I sigh. That was a Marilyn Caldwell dismissal. When and if she’s ever ready to tell me exactly what she was getting at, she will. In the meantime, it’s a closed subject.

“Okay, so what’s next?” I say, almost dreading the question.

“Well, as far as I know, His Majesty was doing the background checks on the potential Broadmoor sponsors. I don’t know how that has turned out yet, so I’m sure he’ll talk to you about it. With your permission, they’ve narrowed the choices down to two couples. I guess we’ll have to wait to see what comes up.” She hands me her iPad and I review the information on the two couples. Nothing stands out immediately about either of them. The names don’t ring any bells. I shrug.

“I guess I’ll just have to wait until Christian tells me if there’s anything to be concerned about.”

“Speaking of which, what’s the verdict with the rest of the goods for the Radcliffs?” she asks. I frown.

“The verdict?” I ask. “In what sense?”

“I’ve done the inventory,” she says. “What do we plan to do with the rest of the stuff?”

“Why did you do an inventory?”

“Christian…” She trails off. “You don’t know what I’m talking about.” I shake my head. “Oh, hell. This day just keeps getting better and better. Yesterday, Christian asked me to do an inventory of the things that you two had planned to give the Radcliffs—whatever you hadn’t given to Thelma yet. He said he was going to talk to you about it and apparently, he hasn’t talked to you, yet.” I twist my lips. He did mention it, but we never finished talking about it.

“Probably sidetracked by the events at the Center,” I say non-committal. “I’ll ask him about it if he doesn’t bring it up… If I remember.”

“And what should I tell the three news outlets who have contacted me this morning about a statement concerning your holding an unarmed woman at gunpoint last night?” she asks matter-of-factly. I am remarkably unmoved by her revelation.

“Turn that over to His Highness and Vee at GEH and let them handle it,” I say.


CHRISTIAN

Have you ever had one of those days where no matter what you do, your thoughts are determined to run completely amuck and no matter how hard you try, you can’t string two of them together to save your life? That’s what’s happening to me today. I’ve got a business to run, but I’d do better to put a sign on my door that says “gone fishing.”

Where do I start?

Talking to Marilyn was a stellar moment this morning. I can just hear her now whining to Ana about professional courtesy and talking to her like a subordinate. I guess she’s forgotten who bought her that shiny new car she’s driving. I know I haven’t heard the last of that conversation.

Fast forward to the debriefing with the stooges this morning on my so-called security staff. I won’t begin to describe my horror as I listened to the details surrounding the assault on my very pregnant wife. It turns out Butterfly slugged her back with the butt of her gun and held her there until the police arrived. She could have been arrested for assault herself, but the previous police report, her badly swollen face, and the commanding size of Gorilla Girl over her all constituted self-defense along with the many eyewitnesses to the incident.

All of these idiots have been temporarily suspended with pay for being such incompetent idiots and allowing this beast to get to my wife in the first place, except for Bronson. It turns out that he really can’t cut it and I had to let him go. Lawrence has been placed on disciplinary probation for not following protocol and passing the communications torch when he took Thelma and Jimmy to the hospital. I don’t care if it was an emergency and he was in a hurry. The moment there was a crisis, Helping Hands should have been swarming with GEH security detail, and I certainly should have known that my wife was assaulted before she showed up at home with a purple face.

I simultaneously get hit with the information that news outlets are circulating that Butterfly pulled her Beretta on Shetland last night and that the Fairlanes are in the lobby kicking up enough dust to cause a sandstorm. I decide to let the Father and Son Fairlane stew for a moment while I handle the media mess that is Shetland.

“I assume you already have contact information for one Mrs. Glenda Shetland-Hyde?” I say to my head of PR.

“Have we met?” she says, handing me a document across my desk and crossing her legs. I open my phone and dial her number. “Christian! You’re calling her?” I just glare at her.

“Glenda Shetland, please.” I say when there’s an answer on the other line.

“May I say who’s calling?”

“Vince Fields from Seattle Sez. I was wondering if she wants to make a statement about the domestic abuse charges against her.”

“One moment…” and there’s silence.

“Christian, this is not a good idea!” McIntyre hisses. I ignore her and wait for this Neanderthal cunt to get on the phone.

“This is Glenda Shetland,” she says on the other line.

“Is this really how you want to play this, Monster Bitch?” More silence.

“Who the fuck is this?” she barks.

“Christian Grey,” I respond.

“Christian Grey… what the hell do… Grey… Grey!”

“Yeah, Grey! That sawed-off doll that you viciously slapped last night and now claims that she pulled her gun on you for no reason was my very pregnant wife!” I hiss.

“Oh, really?” she says. “Well, she did pull her gun on me and I was unarmed.”

“You’re also twice her size and had just beaten your husband and stepson to the point where you were wanted for several counts of domestic assault and one count of assault with intent to maim, you Cro-Magnon cavebitch!” She gasps.

“You are so crass!” she seethes.

“Oh, you can’t be serious!” I shoot. “You’ve been a bully ever since we were kids and you still haven’t grown out of it. You’ve just gotten older and bigger, and now, you’ve picked the wrong one to fuck with.”

“Oh, I’m not worried,” she retorts. “My father will deal with you.”

“Your father,” I nearly laugh in her ear. “Tell your father to call me directly as soon as possible and let me know personally how he plans to deal with me. Make sure you leave nothing out. I’ll be waiting for his call.” I end the call.

“Her father,” McIntyre says.

“That’s what she said.”

“What about her father?”

“Her father’s going to deal with me,” I reply, folding my hands on my desk.

“Her father,” McIntyre repeats, “her father as in Mark Shetland? As in Shetland Rubber Mark Shetland?”

“One and the same,” I respond.

“Oh, this should be good,” she chuckles.

“Still think it wasn’t a good idea?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“You enjoy this shit entirely too much,” she says. “What about Fairlane? That’s going to be a PR nightmare.”

“Do what you can. You know what happened at the Meet-and-Greet. Since the word is obviously out, start spreading our own poison-pill damage control.”

“You got it,” she says, standing and walking to the door. I pick up the phone and dial the extension to Legal.

“Allen Forsythe.”

“The Fairlanes are here,” I tell him.

“I’ll be right there.”

*-*

“What the fuck is this, Grey!?” Fairlane Jr., has burst into my office with Jason hot on his heels and his father following meekly not far behind. He is fuming, breathing like a bull. Al sits silently to my immediate right and my eyes are pinned to the computer like I’m engrossed in the most interesting thing I’ve ever seen.

“To what are you referring, George?” I say calmly, without lifting my eyes from the computer screen.

“You know what I’m talking about you piece of shit!” he shoots. “Fairlane Electronics sold to Rosedale, Inc; Fairlane Shipping sold to Aarland Freight; Fairlane Manufacturing sold to Lansing LTD; There’s nothing left but Fairlane Communications, and only a fraction of that! Our people are being laid off left and right! You promised only one-third staff reduction by the end of the first quarter—Fairlane has lost more than 75% of its original staff in less than two weeks! You broke our deal, Grey! We’re going to sue those designer pants right off your ass!” I look up at him unmoved, then at his father, who has stayed decidedly quiet all this time.

“Nothing to say, Fairlane?” I ask Fairlane, Sr., noting that he won’t make eye-contact. This only throws fuel on Junior’s fire.

“Don’t you fucking ignore me, you scheming son of a bitch!” he spits.

“Scheming,” I say, turning my gaze back to Junior and folding my hands. “Now there’s a good word. Tell me, George, how was my behavior scheming? I legitimately bought a company and I legitimately sold it, which I never said I wouldn’t do.”

“Stop calling me George, you slimy bastard! This wasn’t part of the deal and you know it!”

“Deal,” I say as if testing the word out. I type the word into Google and read back the definition. “’An agreement entered into by two or more parties for their mutual benefit.’ Mutual benefit… you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you, Georgie?”

“I didn’t come here for a goddamn English lesson, you fucking snake! You broke your word! Your breached your contract! I’m going to sue you until Grey Enterprises is nothing but a goddamn memory!”

“You can’t sue me, because I was never dealing with you in the sale of the company in the first place. You advised your father, but when it came to signing, you only signed that you would come along for the ride as the president.”

“I’m told I’m not the president anymore!” he barks. “So that contract has been breached all by itself.” I shake my head and turn to Fairlane.

“You had this man as the president of your company and he doesn’t know anything about business?” and clearly, neither do you. He stands silent. I turn to George.

“Any idea why your father’s so quiet, George?” I ask flatly. I already know the answer.

“It’s Mr. Fairlane, you fucking asshole! And I’m doing all the goddamn talking!” He slams his hand hard down on my desk. Jason and Williams are hot on him with that show of aggression. Jason not-so-gingerly pushes George back from my desk. George glares at him with death in his eyes.

“You might not want to provoke that bear too much, Fairlane,” I warn, putting mocking emphasis on the name. “He took a bullet for me last year… in this very room. Any signs of aggression towards me or him are seen as overt threats and will be met with as much force as necessary.” Fairlane breaks his glare with Jason and turns narrowed eyes to me.

“Someone tried to kill me in this office last March,” I say, standing up. “Walked right in with a group of workmen and lay in wait until I was alone. Aimed a stolen gun at me and fired. That man dove in front of me, knocking me out of harm’s way and taking the bullet himself. My wife—that beautiful woman that was ridiculed and ostracized all night by your wives, dates, and female employees at the Meet-and-Greet—witnessed the whole damn thing.”

His eyes widen and Fairlane Sr., finally makes eye contact with me. I don’t know if their surprise is because Butterfly witnessed the whole ordeal or because I’ve let the cat out of the bag that I know what their women were doing. My expression remains impassive.

“That speech she gave about scars? You can inform your coven that although they tried to leave her with another one, they were unsuccessful. As you all can imagine, I took very good care of her, but I can guarantee that a lot of them are nursing wounds that aren’t going to heal anytime soon.”

“You did all this because someone at a party hurt the little woman’s feelings?” Now he’s just egging me, but it’s too late for that.

“No,” I say coolly. “You did this to yourselves. I’m doing what I’m doing because you and your father are ignorant assholes. I’m doing what I’m doing because what you two attempted was really stupid; more than that, it was disrespectful. It was bad business in every way, shape, and form. You sold me an apple—plucked from the tree with maybe a bruise here and there, but still functional. Then the moment you signed the papers, you shot that bitch full of infectious bacteria and then handed it to me like it was some sort of prize. When I took it, maggots crawled out all over me and my wife, and you expected me to take that shit lying down. But you didn’t know that you were dealing with a bigger cutthroat than you. I’ve got proof, Fairlane, including but not limited to that memo you sent out to your department heads the day you signed the deal.”

Both men pale and George isn’t standing so tall against Jason anymore. I tell security to stand by and they move to the side.

“Sit down,” I order. Fairlane sits, but George remains defiant.

“I don’t work for you,” he growls. “I’m not president of the company anymore, remember?” I fold my arms and smile.

“You’re right, you’re not, but you do still work for me. You’re an employee of GEH as an executive of Fairlane LTD—a company that doesn’t exist anymore. I sold the company, but you didn’t go along with the package. You should have read your contract, Georgie. You signed separately with GEH, because I knew you were going to be a problem. If you decide to break your contract, I could sue you for a penny and still break you on punitive damages—especially after I prove what you and your father did to the company you sold me after you sold it to me. You tainted the assets after I bought it.

“So go ahead and try to go nose to nose with me on this and see if any judge in the country would see it your way, but know that I will sue you for every dime GEH gave you—your expense accounts, your salary, and that hefty signing bonus. That’s a lot of money to have accumulated in such a short period of time, and don’t think I haven’t kept an eye on your spending. And once again, if you look closely at your contract, Georgie, once your position becomes obsolete—which it has—I can put you in any available position for any pay I so choose. Oh, yes, you would still have to be at an executive-type level, but I can find many ways to make that unattractive and uncomfortable, the least of which is money. I and my wife are the only officers of this company, so I can’t even be voted out.

“Your ass is mine, kid, and you are beyond being on ‘tenterhooks’ right now. So if I were you, I would tread really lightly with me at this moment and sit. The fuck. Down.”

Georgie glares at me and slowly—very slowly—sits down in the seat next to his father. I walk around and stand in front of my desk.

“Since day one, I’ve been trying to warn you that you’re in the big leagues, now—that you have no idea who you’re dealing with. You still had to show me that your bat was bigger. You rebutted me and fought me every chance you got. You two employed some of the most elementary tactics I’ve ever seen the entire time I’ve been in the business. Never mind that you were trying to pull several over on me. It was insulting that you would employ such amateur techniques with any hope of getting away with them. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so goddamn pathetic. Now, you come marching into my office like you still have a bone to pick with me when you never realized in the first place that you may have carried a big stick, but you were too small to swing it.”

Both gentlemen sit quietly in front of me, Fairlane with his legs and hands crossed, looking anywhere but at me, and Georgie breathing fire and no doubt plotting my demise.

“You want to know the real reason why your father’s so quiet, Georgie? The real reason? Because he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He knows that I can sue you and your family for what you did to me and get every dime of my purchase price back either in judgements, damages, and legal fees, or in just keeping you in litigation for the rest of your life. I haven’t completely disregarded that option, but I’ve made so much money off the garage sale that was your life’s work that the sting isn’t so bad anymore. I nearly made my purchase price back on your electronics division alone.

“What’s so sad is that I had every intention of rebuilding your company. That’s what I do… I take sick companies and I make them well again. The only ones that I sell are the ones that are dying… Or the ones where the chief officers really piss me off. But you know what? If you really sit down and talk to your father and he really tells you the truth, he would tell you that he got exactly what he wanted, didn’t you, Mr. Fairlane?” He looks up at me with a panicked look in his eye. I’m about to reveal something to his son that he doesn’t want him to know.

“Something wrong, Mr. Fairlane,” I ask. “You suddenly don’t look well.”

“Um… no… um…” he stutters. I continue.

“You see, his only concern was that he never wanted his company in the hands of GEH, but I was giving you the best deal. So when he convinced you and the rest of your lemmings to make the company as unattractive to me as possible the day that he sold it to me, he wasn’t banking on the fact that I’d chop it up and sell it off like pieces of the Berlin Wall. He wasn’t expecting that each division would lose 75% of their workforce in a matter of weeks, because your retention agreement was with me, not with those companies that bought the divisions from me.

“I had no demands, just a purchase price, and no company like redundancies or unnecessary staff.  I went to the highest offering the best prices in the industry, many of them known for massive staff reductions upon acquisition—companies, in fact, that I saw you purposefully avoided—and unlike you, I made full disclosure of the staff that they were getting when they purchased the divisions.

“Most of all, Georgie, your father didn’t expect to find you out of work. He was hoping I would ship you off with the company. So, yes, he got exactly what he wanted. He’s sitting on a nice mountain of Grey money, and his once-failing, now-defunct company is not in the hands of Grey Enterprises. But now, he has to look at and live with all the casualties and opportunity costs of his decisions. I got that about right, Fairlane? Did I leave anything out?”

Fairlane is looking a little pale and breaking into a sweat now , but his son is too busy blaming me for their current state of affairs to see it.

“Don’t try to turn this around on my father, Grey,” he says with vicious coolness. “You dealt dirty business; just own up to it.”

“Dirty business,” I say, shaking my head. “Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black? I guess you can swing that big stick after all, because you’re batting a thousand, but it’s all bullshit. Exactly how much of the purchase price did you get, Georgie?”

George suddenly falls quiet. And in that moment, it hits me, like a freight train. Suddenly, I am overwhelmed with delight that I must contain until I confirm what I just discovered.

“You didn’t get any of it, did you?” I say incredulously. His stone expression tells me all I need to know. “Oh my God. This is classic. You have no idea, do you? You’re just a natural born asshole. You weren’t part of the plan at all!” The glee bubbles up in me and I can’t contain it. In all the years I’ve been in business, I’ve never seen anything like this before. “Gentlemen,” I gesture to my security. “You might want to flank this man, because he’s about to get pissed.”

“Grey…” And that’s the only voluntary word Fairlane Sr., has spoken since he walked into my office.

“Oh, no, you played your cards, and now it’s my turn.” I turn back to George. “Your father isn’t protesting enough because once he saw that his company was failing, he set it up for martyrdom and you were the virgin sacrifice.”

“What!?” George barks. “What kind of fucking bullshit are you spitting now?”

“Earlier, when I mentioned your coven and that memo… On the day of the sale, your father sent a detailed memo to every department head, manager, and executive in the company to be communicated to the employees—except you, it appears. They all had a mission—make Fairlane LTD look as undesirable as possible, up to and including destroying my wife at the Meet-and-Greet. You didn’t need the memo because you’re an asshole anyway, so he was just counting on you being yourself.

“They almost succeeded, but they didn’t expect for my wife to be as strong as she is or for me to put her happiness before the dollar and negate their attempts. Nonetheless, overall, his tactic worked—too well. He didn’t expect me to sell off the pieces. He expected me to see what a lemon I bought and unload it as soon as possible. Had I done that and kept the company intact, then he would have had some small hope of maintaining a piece of the original contract with the new buyers, including securing a place for you. What he didn’t know was that after that very well-positioned display by you and your cohorts, my rummage was underway before the ink was even dry registering Fairlane LTD as a GEH subsidiary.”

At that moment, I burst out in hearty laughter. I can’t even contain myself anymore.

“My God, this couldn’t have gone better had I planned it this way!” I exclaim jovially. “You assholes stepped knee-deep down into your own shit, and you come barging into my office further making a fool of yourself because you had no idea what he was doing,” I tell Georgie, gesturing to his father. “You wonder why I was giving you English lessons; it’s because I was sure that you were being facetious… sarcastic at best. No, you were clueless, which is way better,” I snicker. “So every time you mention dirty dealing and breach of contract and slimy business practices, you better look in the mirror… or better yet, look over at Daddy!”

I can hear his teeth grinding a few feet in front of me and being able to judge body language like I can, the moment his fists clench, I know what’s coming. I don’t have the chance to say anything, I only have time to react—right cross. I swerve just in time to miss his swing and come back with a solid left to his gut. He doubles over in pain and his father leaps from his seat to his son’s aid. I sort of feel a little remiss about suspending the guards over last night’s incident now, especially if Monster Bitch moved half as fast as this asshole did just now.

Jason and Williams are on top of him immediately, but it’s too late. He can’t even breathe.

“What was that for, Georgie?” I hiss. “Can’t stand the truth?”

“D—Dad,” he coughs, “tell ‘im… tell ‘im… it’s a lie.”

“George, I’m… I’m sorry,” Fairlane says. “Junior lifts horrified eyes to his father, still doubled over in pain.

“D—Dad…” he says, his voice broken, “no…”

“I thought I could fix it, George,” Fairlane says. “Even after the price cut, he had the best deal… the best!”

“Dad!” Junior says, finally finding his breath! “You sold everything! You sold Mom’s tears! All those years! You sold me!

“I didn’t know!” Fairlane beseeches his son’s understanding. “I didn’t mean to!” he says, clinging to Junior’s arm. Junior snatches his arm away and glares at his father in disgust. After several moments, he proceeds to the door, his hand over his still-aching stomach.

“I’ll expect you at work tomorrow, Fairlane,” I say to his retreating form. He slowly turns around and makes eye-contact with me.

“I don’t care what you do to me, Grey, but I won’t work for you.” He turns around and leaves my office, closing the door behind him.

“Well, I’d say that’s game, set, match. How’d that work out for you, Mr. Fairlane?” I say. Fairlane Sr., glares at me, then turns and leaves through the same door his son just exited.

“Well, that was quite the show,” Al says, having not said anything throughout the entire meeting.

“Tell me about it,” I respond. “Get the three-day voluntary resignation letter ready for Georgie. Get with Payroll and Accounting. Tally up his expense accounts. I want every dime of GEH money he’s spent recuperated including the gas in that company car he’s driving.”

“Will do,” he says, rising from his seat and exiting after the Fairlanes. Jason and Williams look warily at me.

“Lawrence’s probation stands. He should have followed protocol. So does Bronson’s termination. He can’t cut it. Bring the others back and wipe their records clean,” I say.

*-*

The house is dead quiet when I get back. Windsor takes my coat when I get into the house and informs me that he hasn’t seen Mrs. Grey all day. I noticed Marilyn’s car is gone so I know that she’s not working. I check our bedroom first. Nothing. I take the elevator to the family room—nothing there either. Gail is in the kitchen with Ms. Solomon and other members of the staff. She informs me that Butterfly did stop in for more tea earlier, but has long since gone to parts unknown. I check her office, the aquarium, the spa, her parlor, the theater, even the gym and still nothing. It turns out that the person with information on her whereabouts is Keri, who informs me that she is in the backyard.

The backyard??

It’s dark and cold! What the fuck is she doing in the backyard?

I fetch a coat from the mudroom and trek out to the backyard to retrieve my wife. I find her in a warm coat, scarf, earmuff and gloves, wrapped in a heavy tartan blanket around her legs sitting in a chaise with a large fire roaring in a fire pit off in the grass that I didn’t even know we had near the boat house. I sit in a nearby chaise that I can only assume was previously occupied by Keri.

“You should have some tea on your cheek,” I say softly.

“I had it on all day,” she says, wrapping her blanket tighter around her legs. “Nobody’s gonna see me anyway.” She adds the last part as a murmur that I’m not sure I was supposed to hear.

“Have you heard about Glenda Ste… Hyde?”

“Yes,” she replies.

“I talked to her father.”

“And?”

“She’ll leave Jack and the boy alone. She’ll retract her statements about you and most likely take a plea.” She nods.

“I’ll tell Grace,” she says, turning her gaze back to the fire. She’s going to be a tough nut to crack.

“I… um… fired the guards from last night, but I ended up hiring them back. I can see how something could happen so fast that they had no time to react.”

“Oh?” She turns a questioning eye to me.

“The Fairlanes came to my office today. Junior almost got one in on me, but I was too fast for him,” I chuckle.

“Really?” She’s not amused. “So, you didn’t get hit.” It’s a statement not a question.

“Almost, but no. He did, though.”

“By you?” she asks. I nod.

“Yes. Once. Gut punch.”

“Hmm, so are you going to take time off now… because you had to defend yourself?”

“I’m not pregnant,” I say. She nods.

“Hmm… of course not.” She turns her gaze back to the fire.

“Butterfly, why are you being like this?” I sigh. She turns her gaze back to me.

“You hand down the law and I take it,” she says impassively. “Whether I want to or not, I take it. Whether I agree with it or not, I take it. What more do you want me to do?”

“I just want you to understand why I feel this way,” I reply. “These conditions are just not good for you…”

“For me, or for me and the babies?” she asks. What kind of question is that?

“Both!” I say, obviously.

“But conditions will be better once the babies are born?”

“Well, yes. It’ll be less stress on your body, less risk of complications, high blood pressure…” She turns her eyes back to the fire before I’m done with my statement. “What the hell am I missing?” She looks back at me.

“Tell me this,” she says, her voice still portraying this eerie calm. “How is it okay for me to carry my gun, stay locked and loaded with intent to shoot to kill, and be on the lookout for mob henchmen or this monster that terrorized you as a child, yet when I get struck by an abusive spouse at my job, the idea that I had to pull my gun to defend myself is unthinkable? Now, all bets are off and I’m grounded from the one thing that I put everything else aside to do. If you can help me reconcile those two things, then I’ll be fine with this. If not, then don’t ask me to understand. I’ll comply, but I won’t understand.”

I just stare at her. I don’t have an answer. All I know is that her being at Helping Hands puts her directly in the line of fire of angry spouses who are abusive to women and in this case, men also, who seek refuge in this place. Some of them will go through whomever they have to go through to get to those spouses, and that includes my wife. It’s a regular hazard of her job. Coming face to face with Anton Myrick is a possibility, not a definite hazard.

“Myrick is not an imminent danger…”

“Neither is anyone at the Center!” she protests.

“The danger is more imminent than Myrick!”

“So what about after the children are born?” she asks. “The Center will have child care and I’m going to have the twins there with me some days. What then?”

Yes, what then indeed.

“It’s just not good for you right now. Can’t you see that?”

“No, Christian, I can’t,” she says with no malice. “I completely understand that you’re upset about what happened. I don’t understand why you pulled the plug on me. I knew that you would, but I don’t understand why. I closed my practice for Helping Hands and now I have no Helping Hands. So I guess for the next month, I’ll just concentrate on waiting until my babies are born and then see what happens next.”

“Ana, you make it sound like you have nothing else.” She frowns at me like I’m completely missing the point then turns back to the fire.

“Christian, I really want to be alone right now,” she says, and now I feel like I just took a gut punch. I stand up and walk back to the house. Raking my hands through my hair, I go down to my office. I’m only trying to keep her and the babies safe. Why can’t she see that? I know that the Center is important to her and I didn’t tell her to stop completely. I just asked her to hold off until after the babies are born. Without taking off my coat, I pull out my blackberry and dial a number.

“Hello, Christian.”

“Hello, Dr. Baker. I hope it’s not too late.”

“No, it’s not. Is everything alright?”

“Do you have a moment? I really need to talk,” I say.

“Okay, what’s going on?” she asks.

“Doctor/patient privilege, right?” I ask before I say anything.

“Of course,” Dr. Baker says.

“My wife was at the Center yesterday. As I’m sure you’ve heard because it’s all over the damn news, she had to pull her firearm on an abusive spouse. It was a woman—but not just any woman. This woman is nearly seven feet tall and proportionately wide and was abusing her husband and stepson currently in hiding at the Center. My wife is 5’2”. This woman hit my wife so hard with one blow that the entire left side of my wife’s face is swollen and bruised from temple to chin. So yes, my wife subdued her with her Beretta and held her there until the police arrived. I, of course, didn’t learn about any of this until I saw my wife’s face.”

“Ooohheeewww,” she says.

“Yeah,” I reply. “My reaction was definite. No more Helping Hands until after the babies are born and the doctor clears her to return to work. She’s pregnant with twins; it’s already a high risk pregnancy; we’re trying to watch her blood pressure and keep an eye out for pre-eclampsia. Between her losing her memory and nearly dying, the cyber-attack on my company, her batty-ass friend who’s acting like a reprogrammed fembot, the interruption of our honeymoon, figuring out we were pregnant when she blew chunks all over the defense attorney at the trial of that bastard who kidnapped her which had resulted in yet another brutal beating, nearly seeing me shot to death by that psycho blonde pedophile, the complete and utter alienation of her mother, running to the hills of Montana before our wedding, having to relive this Green Valley shit all over again—it’s been one hell of a fucking year!! And that’s not even everything!” I finally take a breath and Dr. Baker is completely silent on the line.

“I’ve met a lot of damn ‘Ana’s’ since we’ve been together,” I continue. “I’ve met Tiger Ana, Mistress Ana, Marine’s Daughter Ana, Submissive Ana, Passive-Aggressive Ana, Sensual Ana, Caretaker Ana, Take-No-Prisoners Ana… but I think the Ana that I’m dealing with now is the one that I dislike the most.”

“And who is that?” she asks.

“Complacent Ana,” I tell her. “This is the same Ana I met after that last punishment—somewhat resigned to her fate, but neither here nor there when I try to get her to talk about it. That ‘yes, Master’ undertone in her conversation, but she pretty much allows me to draw my own conclusions by stating the obvious—by taking that ‘Yes, Sir, you’re right, Sir’ mentality and she knows I hate that shit!”

“I don’t understand,” she says. “If you lay down the law, one would expect for you to expect compliance…”

“But not because I’m barking an order at her,” I clarify. “I want her to understand why I feel this way, but when I try to talk to her about it—about how I feel about her health and her safety—it sounds to me like…” I don’t even want to say it.

“Like what?” Dr. Baker presses.

“Like she thinks I’m trying to draw some kind of distinction between her and the babies.” There. I’ve said it. It was clearly implied in her conversation and if I confront her with it, it’s another fight that I don’t want to have. I fall down in a nearby seat and thrust my hand in my hair, resting my elbow on my knee. Why can’t I act irrational and emotional without everybody thinking I’m selfish or I’ve lost my mind? I want to stomp and yell and say how unfair it is for me to be treated this way when all I’m doing is acting out of concern for my family, but somehow or another, I’ll be the bad guy if I do. Suddenly, I feel very self-conscious.

“I’m sorry I called, Dr. Baker. I wanted to say these things out loud, but really, there’s nothing you can do to help me with this.”

“What are you going to do?” she asks.

“I don’t know, but if you come up with some good ideas, feel free to text me. Goodnight, Doctor.” I end the call and toss my phone on the floor.


A/N: Just in case it’s not obvious, Shetlands and Clydesdales are both equine breeds (horses). Glenda’s maiden name is Shetland, which is a pony that officially only gets to be about 3.5 feet tall (about 107 cm). Ana’s statement about Glenda “Clydesdale” would be a reference to a breed of one of the largest horses in the world, getting to average 6 feet tall, but the largest of which stood 19.3 hands or nearly 6.5 feet tall—which is pretty damn huge for a horse.

You can find the songs along with pictures of places, things, and fashions on my Pinterest page at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-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 🙂 
Lynn X

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 53—So Much For Decompressing…

Happy Birthday to my baby girl, Ember. You guys may know her as Bria and someone called her Baby Goddess or Little Goddess or something like that… my memory sucks. Nonetheless, she’ll be 22 tomorrow, so this chapter is dedicated to her… and to any mom or dad who had to do something scary to protect their child from hurt, harm, or danger. 

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 53—So Much For Decompressing…

CHRISTIAN

Jason and I are in my office after the department head meeting Tuesday morning. Many people were surprised to hear that we would not be absorbing Fairlane as planned, but chalked it up to another of Christian Grey’s idiosyncrasies. They will surely find out the reasoning from those department heads who did attend the Meet-And-Greet a few weeks ago. Personally, I don’t intend to spend any more time on the topic than necessary.

We’re reviewing the background checks of our potential sponsors from Broadmoor. With the exception of a few facts that may cause some red faces should they become public, we’ve found nothing criminal or particularly scandalous. We’re laughing among ourselves about a slightly unusual fetish of one Mr. Rollins when Jason is interrupted by a call on his cell.

“Taylor.” He listens for a moment and frowns. “What does he want?” Oh hell, what now? “One second.” He raises his eyes to me. “James Radcliff is in the lobby.” I sigh.

“And?” I hiss.

“He wants to talk to you,” he says. “He’s not causing any trouble and front desk says he looks pretty bad.” I frown.

“What the hell does he want?” Jason shrugs.

“I don’t know, but he wants to talk to you. They say he’ll leave if you ask him to, but he’s saying ‘please,’—his words, not theirs.” I twist my lips and roll my eyes. I don’t want to talk to this fucker. His starving wife and child said all he could say to me. I sigh, irritated.

“First floor conference room,” I tell him. “I don’t want that fucker in my office. I want him as close to the front door as possible.”

*-*

He looks pretty bad was an understatement. This man looks like total fucking hell. I’d almost feel sorry for him if his family didn’t look worse when we visited them at that hovel he called a home.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Radcliff?” I ask gruffly when I enter the conference room with Jason and two other members of my security team. He raises his head from the table where it was buried in his arms. He’s been crying and he looks like he hasn’t eaten in several days. Did he lose his job after all? He’s dressed in that same uniform he was wearing when I last saw him—worn, but not dirty or unkempt.

“Mr. Grey,” he says, his voice cracking. He clears his throat and starts again. “Mr. Grey, thank you for seeing me.” I furrow my brow and come further into the room.

“I’m a very busy man, Mr. Radcliff. What can I do for you?” He looks down.

“I don’t blame you,” he says. “I was a real asshole the last time we met, so I deserve how you’re treating me right now. I deserve everything.” He clears his throat again. “I won’t take up much of your time and I know I don’t have a right to ask you for anything but… can you tell me how my boy is doing… and my Thelma?”

I frown harder. Your boy? Your Thelma? If you had your way, they’d both be dead! Now, you have the nerve to come here asking about them? My expression must be of total disgust, because he drops his head again.

“I knew this was a bad idea,” he says, his voice broken. “It’s just… I got nowhere else to go. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I think about ‘em all the time. It’s only been a week or so, but it seems like forever. I go to work and I come back to that cold, empty house… and I realize what I put ‘em through. I’m ashamed and I got no right to ask… but I love her. I really do. I know you wouldn’t know it ‘cause I let my pride be more important than their safety, but I love her… and I feel like I’ll die without ‘em.”

Okay, so what the fuck do you want me to do?

“I don’t know how your wife and child are doing,” I tell him. “I work here, not at the Center. You would have to go there to find out.”

“I can’t go there,” he says. “I got nothin’. I’m no better off than when she left. I can’t give her anything… a warm safe home, food, clothes…”

“I thought you said you were still working,” I accuse.

“I haven’t been paid, yet,” he says. “My first paycheck is Friday. Even with one paycheck, I can’t put things together like they need. And no, I didn’t come here looking for money. I just wanna know how my family’s doin’.” I roll my eyes.

“I can call my wife if you want and find out how they’re doing,” I offer. He shakes his head.

“No… I don’t want her to know. I don’t want her to think… that I’ll come…” He shakes his head. “She’s… they’re better off where they are.” His voice cracks again.

“I’m not sure what else you want from me,” I tell him. “There’s not much more I can do than that.” I still have a hard time mustering up sympathy for this guy after seeing the condition of his wife and child.

“I was just hopin’,” he says, standing to his feet. “I won’t take up any more of your time.” He walks to the door and security steps aside to let him pass. “You can do one thing for me.”

“And what’s that?” I ask.

“Just get a message to her.” I thought he said he didn’t want her to know he was looking for her. “Tell her that I’m sorry and that if she don’t see me no more, I really do love her.” He leaves the conference room with his skull cap in his hand.

I know that tone. I know it well. I felt it when Butterfly left. I wanted to die. I really wanted to die. If I didn’t have my staff watching me like a hawk and my company to keep me occupied, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have resorted to more drastic measures. He doesn’t have anything—just that job that he should be at right now because it’s business hours. He didn’t ask me anything but how she was doing and to give her a message…

“If she don’t see me no more…”

He’s saying goodbye.

“Stop him,” I say.

“What?” I turn around to face a frowning Jason.

“Stop him,” I repeat. “Bring him back. Now!”

Confused, Jason walks out of the conference room and has to go outside to catch Radcliff before he leaves. A few moments later, the two men walk back into the conference room, bringing the cold in with them.

“Have a seat, Mr. Radcliff,” I say, gesturing to the chair.

“Jim,” he says, taking the seat and not raising his head. Yes, this is definitely a different man than the one I met a few days before Christmas.

“Get Jim some coffee and some food from the cafeteria,” I tell Jason.

“I ain’t hungry,” he says.

“You need to eat. You look like shit,” I tell him before turning back to Jason. “They can wait outside. Close the door.” Jason frowns. “I assume your very capable security staff searched him before setting him in my conference room.”

“I ain’t got nothin’!” Jim retorts. I turn back to Jason.

“Coffee? Food?” I repeat. He looks at me uncertainly.

“Yes, sir,” he says before reluctantly leaving the room with the other two security detail. I turn my attention back to Jim.

“I don’t like you,” I say, taking the seat across from him. “I think it’s a horrible thing you did making your wife and newborn child live in filth, famine, and squalor—and for what? I have a very hard time getting past that and you have to tell me why I should.”

“I don’t know why you should,” he says, firmly, confused. “You called me back…”

“But you came here first!” I retort. “You expected something from me. I want to know what and why!”

“I don’t know what I expected,” he hisses as he pushes away from the table and stands, pacing to nowhere. “You’re my only connection to Thelma. I need to see her… I don’t know… I need to…” He wrings the skull cap in his hands. “I don’t know what to do without her, man,” he confesses, near tears again. “I don’t have no direction. I’m lost. I don’t know what’s going on with my boy. I rather be dead than live like this.”

I know.

“So what do you plan to do?” I ask. “You sure as hell can’t bring her back to the same conditions she left. She’s probably sharing a suite with four other families right now if she hasn’t already found a place of her own. Whatever the case may be, I can guarantee that it’s the Taj Mahal compared to where you had her.”

“Did you bring me back here to beat me over the head, ‘cause I already know all this shit!” he barks.

“No! I brought you back here to make you look for a reason to live, because right now, you don’t have one!” I bark back. His face falls and he sinks back into the seat and says nothing. “I used to be you. Don’t let the money fool you,” I say. “No, my wife wasn’t living in famine and squalor, but my pride almost cost me everything. I thought I knew it all; I was making all the decisions… even decisions that we should have been making together. One of those decisions was more than she could take and she left me. Yes, I thought I would die, but I had my company to run and I had people around me that wouldn’t let me fall completely into the abyss. I did the same thing you’re doing… I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I just worked. I worked and I refused to think about her. I wouldn’t let anybody talk about her. I became this evil phantom, floating around bringing dismay with me everywhere I went. I was a horrible shell of a man, worse than before I met her.”

“You’re married now, what happened?” he asks.

“She came back to me,” I tell him.

“What did you do to make her come back?”

“I didn’t do anything,” I tell him. “I later found out that her best friend and my head of Legal told her what I had become and she felt sorry for me. That’s not going to happen with you. Thelma’s not going to look at your sad, pathetic state and fall at your feet. Why aren’t you at work?”

“I was,” he confesses. “The boss said I looked like shit and told me to go home and get some rest.”

“So that’s a day’s pay you’ll be missing,” I say. He shrugs.

“What does it matter?” he laments.

“It matters if you hope to get your wife back,” I retort. “That is why you’re here, right?” He raises sad eyes to me and begins to cry.

“I don’t know why I’m here, man,” he weeps, “I just miss my Thelma.” Oh, fuck. This is just what I need. Jason comes back into the room at just this moment. Thank God! I gesture at this blubbering idiot with disgust and Jason looks from him to me, confused. He walks over and places the food on the table next to Jim and proceeds to the door. He throws a look back at me for approval and I shoo him out of the room.

“Okay, dry up. I can’t deal with this shit from people I do like,” I say once Jason is out of the room. How the mighty have fallen. This once prideful, bullying bastard is sitting at my conference table drying his tears with napkins from my company cafeteria.  “Eat,” I command him. He removes the top from the plate and tears into the sandwich. I can smell the soup from here—clam chowder. He tucks into like a man on death row. “Not hungry, huh?” He raises his eyes to me and swallows the bite he was chewing.

“I guess I am,” he admits before taking more of the soup. Mmm-hmm.

“So what are you going to do now?” I tell him. “You obviously want your wife back, so what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” he admits. “Can you teach an old dog new tricks?”

“For your sake, you better hope so,” I say. “Let’s start by identifying the problem. What’s the problem?”

“I had my wife and son living in a shack with no food or heat.”

“That’s a result from one of the symptoms. What’s the problem?” He frowns.

“Well, that’s why she left me,” he says.

“No, that’s not why she left you,” I say. “If the two of you were doing the best that you could and all you had in the end was that shack with no heat, she would have found a way to make it work. She loves you. That’s not why she left you. Try again.” He puts his spoon down and takes a sip of his coffee before closing his eyes.

“It was cold. They were hungry. We didn’t have any food… no clothes… no furniture…”

“All symptoms,” I repeat.

“Would you let me work through this, please?” he snaps. I cross my hands on the table and remain silent. “She woulda stayed… she did try. She called the welfare office. She called the utility helpline… she called your wife…”

You’re getting warmer.

“I wouldn’t let her try. I didn’t want their help. I wanted to do it myself. I wanted to take care of my family, myself.”

“But you couldn’t do it,” I interject, “so you allowed them to suffer and nearly die as long as you could feel better about not accepting a handout.”

“What’s a man got if he can’t provide for his family?” he retorts, desperately.

“Apparently, nothing,” I say. “Even less if he doesn’t accept the help of someone else who’s attempting to provide for his family while he’s down on his luck. No one was trying to strip you of your manhood, Jim. That’s why these agencies are here. Yeah, there are those who live off of them for life, but you obviously weren’t going to be that guy. Hell, you got a job. You just needed something to help you make it to your first couple of checks. How did you expect for your wife and child to survive that long in those conditions?”

“I wasn’t thinkin’,” he says.

“That’s a cop out,” I accuse. “You were thinking. You were thinking about yourself! You had the wherewithal to come off of your job at lunchtime and drive all the way back to your house to make sure that my wife and I were not going to bring any goods to your house or provide any assistance to your family and you’re going to try to pull that bullshit on me?” He sits there, chastised. “You need to take responsibility for your actions and your selfishness and find a way to fix what you’ve broken. Stop copping out with this I don’t know bullshit and stand up and be that man you tried to be when you bullied your wife… and tried to bully mine! Otherwise, you can finish your soup and sandwich, take your coffee and get the hell out of here because I’m wasting my time with you!”

“No… no, please help me. I’ll do anything to make this right,” he begs.

“Well, first of all, you need to examine yourself, because if you don’t see the problem, you’re going to be right back where you started from in a week, a month or a year. Give it time, but you will be right back there, and nobody’s going to help you, then. Nobody wants to help you now! Thelma’s got all the help she needs. You’ve got a job. You can move into a one-room studio or boarding house and no one would care. Pay your child support, get your bi-weekly supervised visitation and call it a day!”

“Oh, God,” he laments, burying his head in his arms on the table again. “I’m a selfish asshole,” he says, his voice muffled. “I didn’t want to be one of those welfare families depending on the state, so every time she tried to get some help, I headed ‘em off. When they called, I told ‘em we didn’t need ‘em. When they sent letters, I threw ‘em away. When they showed up, I sent ‘em away…”

“Don’t I know it,” I remark.

“… But it’s true, Mr. Grey,” he wails. “I wasn’t thinkin’. I wasn’t thinkin’ about how they would survive. I just knew that if we held on a little while longer, I would be able to take care of ‘em. They seemed like they were doing alright. I didn’t know she took food from the hospital or begged from the neighbors. I didn’t know they were starving until they were starving…”

“How could you not know? What were you eating?” I accuse.

“I got a meal here and there, but I could go longer without food than she could. I’m a big man…” Not anymore.

“Have you looked at yourself lately?” I ask. “You’re considerably smaller than the first time I saw you just before Christmas.” He looks down at himself and shrugs.

“Explains why the boss sent me for a drug test,” he says, his voice defeated. I roll my eyes.

“You’ve got to accept some fucking help. You can’t even take care of yourself. Yes, you need to be self-sustaining and be able to take care of your family, but you have to build something first and you can’t even do that right now. You look like utter shit. You need to get your health back and maintain your job while you’re doing it. How do you plan on accomplishing that?”

“Well, I was going to get my gas turned back on Friday when I got paid,” he says. That’s a start. I nod.

“You need to see a doctor. You look sick, like something else is wrong…”

“Well, maybe the drug test will show something,” he says.

“A drug test only tests for narcotics. Are you on any narcotics?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“Where would I even get the money for some shit like that?” he says, hopelessly. I sigh again. I’m going to help this fucker against my will. I feel like I have to.

“We adopted your family this past Christmas—not just your wife and child, your entire family. You’re going to accept some help because you need it. You’re not going to make it without it. We still have most of the shit we intended to give to you including the gift cards if Butte… Mrs. Grey hasn’t given them to Thelma, yet. At this point, would you have a problem accepting those things?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Grey,” he says. “It’s not my pride this time… well, maybe it is a little. It’s just that… I don’t know if I’m worthy this time. And that house… that house isn’t worthy of the rats that live in it.”

“Well, that’ll never do,” I say. “You can’t hope to bring a baby back to those kinds of conditions, but remember, this isn’t about you. This is about your family.” He nods. “Are they worthy?”

“More than anything,” he whispers. He’d better be glad I believe him.

“Jim, I’m going to give you a purpose. I’m going to make you earn your family back. You have to show me that you are worth my time and effort and then you have to show them that you’re worth their love and trust. You drop the ball this time and you can take a leap into the deepest part of the Pacific is far as I’m concerned. Thelma has already shown you that she’s not putting up with your shit and she loves you. I’m even less tolerant than she is.”

“I’ll do whatever I have to,” he says. “I let ‘em down once… I can’t do it again.”

*-*

Butterfly is rubbing off on me. I heard her say that the ideal situation would be for the family to be reunited and I didn’t want to hear it. Now this fucker has showed up at my building again… this time, in desperate need of my help. The Alpha Male in me wants to kick his ass and send him on his way for what he did to Thelma and little Jimmy. The husband and father in me knows how lost, lonely, and sick I would be if my Butterfly took my beans and left me.

Like I said, Butterfly is rubbing off on me.

I call my doctor and ask if he could see a new patient on short notice, cash pay, of course. I let him know that the man is somewhat emaciated and I’m concerned about his health. He agreed to run whatever tests Jim would consent to and charge it to my credit card. Can’t send him back to Thelma a piece of a man.

My next call is to Marilyn to find out how much of the merchandise for the Radcliffs we still have in our possession or waiting to be delivered. She’s going to get back to me later with an inventory, but indicates that she may need to talk to Butterfly about what may have already been given to Thelma. I ask her to try to hold off talking to Butterfly if she can as I want to talk to her, first. I need to explain my motives in case she wants to chew me out like I did her about Courtney.

My final call is to Elliot. I grovel a bit to get him to go over and inspect the Radcliffs’ house. Rats can be taken care of with an exterminator, but I need to know if this is an undertaking worth pursuing or if we should just start over. I don’t give him much detail except the address and that the key is under the mat—not that he’ll need one. The walls are so thin that the big bad wolf could probably blow the house down. He agrees to go on over since I sound so desperate. I’m not desperate. Maybe a little eager, but not desperate.

Around mid-afternoon, I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to approach this topic with Butterfly when I get a call from the front desk.

“Mr. Grey, your brother is on his way up and he is breathing fire.”

“Why?” I ask, my brow furrowed.

“We didn’t get a chance to ask him. He whizzed by us and said, ‘If you have to call the cops, call them, but I’m going up to see my brother.’” What the hell is wrong with Elliot? I hear the ring of the elevator and Elliot’s gruff voice talking to Andrea.

“Is he in there?” he asks.

“Yes, but please let me announce you,” she says. I know the request has fallen on deaf ears because he walked right past security.

“Thank you, he’s here,” I say before ending the call. My office door slams open loudly and Elliot is standing there breathing like a bull.

“Christian, somebody lives there??” he asks, storming into my office.

“Hello, Elliot, what the fuck?” I retort.

“Have you been inside that place?” he nearly shouts.

“What place?”

“That cesspool you sent me to!” he barks angrily.

“No, I haven’t. That’s why I asked you to check it out!” Elliot rubs the back of his neck. Oh, this is bad.

“You better be glad you haven’t been in there, because I was ready to chew you a new asshole!” he scolds, pointing at me from across the room. “Algae, fungus, and mold visible all over the house; loose asbestos in the attic; paper thin walls with holes so big you can see the studs—which, by the way, are suffering from massive decay. Corrosion all over the kitchen and bathroom. There’s no running water, probably because the pipes are frozen.

“We had to wear gas masks because—on a whim—I brought the carbon monoxide detector in with me and it went nuts! It’s no wonder since the furnace and the hot water heater are under four feet of ice. We couldn’t even get to the basement—it’s a frozen swimming pool down there! Rodents and roaches everywhere and that’s the least of your problems. I’m surprised he still has a pest problem in there as cold as it is.

“The foundation is destroyed, which I could tell just walking up to the place because it’s actually leaning! That place should be condemned! I’ve already reported it unsafe and irreparable to the city, and it’s going to take a HazMat team to remove the debris once it’s demolished, if not before! They may find the fucking Loch Ness Monster in that goddamn basement once they thaw that fucking petri dish—grown ass men running out of the house because rats are frozen on the surface!”

“You’re fucking kidding me!” I say, thrusting both hands into my hair. Elliot’s ire is immediately extinguished by my reaction.

“What’s going on here, Christian?” he asks. I close my eyes and shake my head, sighing heavily.

“I can’t tell you,” I say. “I’ll be betraying a confidence if I do. How soon can the city get rid of that house?” He shrugs.

“I don’t know how long it usually takes. I turn it over to the city and I don’t look back. Is somebody living in that house, Christian?”

“Elliot, what part of I can’t tell you is unclear?” He’s angry again.

“Mmm-hmm. Well, tell whoever you can’t tell me about to get the hell out of that house now and go see a goddamn doctor! It’s a wonder they’re not dead already—and make sure they burn anything they may have taken from that house, including the clothes they’re wearing! They’re probably a walking mold incubator. And kindly warn me the next time you intend to send me and my guys into hazardous conditions that could possibly cost us our lives or health!”

And with that, he storms out of my office. He has a right to be mad, but I didn’t know what he was walking into or I wouldn’t have sent him over there. I pull out my blackberry and call Jason.

“Sir?”

“Send two out guys to locate James Radcliff and tell him not to go back to his house. Put him up at the Fairmount for the week and settle the bill in advance. Give him a few hundred dollars and tell him to call me on my cell as soon as he gets settled in.” There’s silence on the line for a moment.

“Yes, sir,” he says before ending the call. I sit at my desk, staring out the window. How can I feel sorry for this fucker? Doesn’t he deserve whatever he gets? He had his wife and son living in this mess and now he’s stuck in it. Shouldn’t I let him stew in his own brew?

Shouldn’t I?

“Shit!” I dial Butterfly’s number.

“Hey, handsome,” she answers the phone. I want to take solace in her voice, but I have to tell her…

“Hey, baby. You busy?”

“Never too busy for you and what’s wrong?” I’ll never be able to hide anything from this woman.

“What makes you think something’s wrong?”

“Cut the shit, Christian,” she says. Okay…

“Thelma and Jimmy Radcliff… how is their health?” There’s a pause.

“As well as can be expected for living in a cold house with no food. Where is this coming from?”

“Just go with me for a moment, okay?” I reply. “Have they seen a doctor for a thorough examination?”

“Have you forgotten your mother works here?” she asks.

“No, but Mom can’t run tests in the center cafeteria.” I retort. She sighs.

“I don’t know. I don’t think so,” she replies. “They’ve only been here for about two weeks. Grace did a preliminary examination of Jimmy and nothing seemed amiss. Please tell me what’s going on.”

“I will, but you have to let me finish,” I tell her. “Have they shown any strange symptoms? Has Thelma complained to you about anything out of the ordinary—or too often about anything ordinary?”

“No,” she replies.

“Headaches, dizziness, nausea, trouble breathing?” She sighs.

“The baby had a cold or something that he couldn’t shake for a minute, but he seems fine now.” I shake my head. Better safe than sorry.

“Radcliff’s house is unsafe,” I tell her. “Not just unsafe like just too cold for the baby; unsafe like hazardous toxins and they could have all died in there.”

“What?” she gasps. “How do you know this?”

“I can’t tell you right now. I’ll tell you everything later. Just make sure they get to the doctor as soon as possible and get a full work-up—blood work, lab tests, oxygen saturations, everything.”

“What are we looking for, Christian?” she asks, desperately.

“Exposure to mold, asbestos, common household toxins, carbon monoxide poisoning…”

“Oh my God,” she mumbles. “As if this woman hasn’t been through enough. That bastard really would have let them die in there!” Yeah, she’s not going to be real happy to know that I’m helping that bastard. How does this woman function being everything to everybody? I’m exhausted with just this one guy and now, I feel like I’m responsible for him. I almost want to defend him right now. What the fuck is this? “Christian, you’re quiet.”

“Yeah, I’ll talk to you later, baby. I’ll tell you everything, I promise. Just get the Radcliffs to a doctor… today, please.” There’s another pause.

“Okay… I love you.”

“I love you, too, Butterfly.” I end the call and walk over to the window. My mind wanders to a hundred different scenarios of what could have happened to me or who I could be if one thing had turned out differently in my life. What if my mother hadn’t been a crack whore? And my deadbeat father—wherever his ass is and whoever he may be—had stuck around to take care of us. Would I have had a more normal early life? Or would my crack whore mother have been Thelma Radcliff? What if she had never met the pimp or got on drugs? We would have been poor, but I wouldn’t have been abused—burned at the age of four, probably before that. I wouldn’t remember. That’s why I detest smokers right now. It’s not even allowed in my building, not even on the roof.

My mind wanders to a million more what ifs before it’s all said and done. What if I had never been discovered in there with my mother? What if I had never been adopted? What if I had never met Elena? Or Ana? The list goes on and on…

“Sir?”

I whirl around to see Jason standing in my office. He startled the shit out of me. When did he get here?

“I have Haskins on the line. He’s with Radcliff. He wants to talk to you… and it’s nearly six o’clock, sir.” Six o’clock? Fucking hell. I take his cell from his hands as I go to the desk to gather my things.

“Hello.”

“Mr. Grey, I have Mr. Radcliff.”

“Put him on.”

“Mr. Grey, what’s going on? These guys are telling me that I can’t go home.” I sigh.

“Jim, I think it’s about time you call me Christian,” I say. There’s a pause.

“Okay, Christian. Why can’t I go home?” he asks again.

“I had my brother inspect your house. He has reported it to the city as uninhabitable for humans.”

“Unin… what… that’s my house! I come to you for help and you take away my house? The only thing I have left?” he accuses.

“Jim, you said it yourself, you can’t bring your family back to that house and now we know why!” I retort, trying to keep my anger in check. “That house is leaning—visibly. I noticed it when I came there with my wife. Ever wonder why?”

“No, but I’m sure you’ll tell me,” he says, irritated.

“There’s no foundation!” I reveal. “The studs and support beams are decaying! Once that frozen rat pool you have in the basement thaws in the spring, that house is going to crumble like the Twin Towers—excuse the morbid comparison!” It is pretty damn morbid, but he needs to know how serious this is.

“What?” Now, he’s paying attention.

“Any really bad cold symptoms that won’t go away?” I ask. “Sniffling? Wheezing? Difficulty breathing? Really bad headaches that don’t let up? Unable to get out of bed in the morning?” His prolonged silence tells me that he’s had at least one of the symptoms I’ve named.

“Your house is infested with mold and fungus and there is a carbon monoxide leak. It’s not worth the cleanup or repair. It would be cheaper to demolish the place.”

“That house is all I have left,” he protests. “I coulda sold it to developers or something for the land…”

“My brother assures me that a HazMat team will have to remove the debris once the structure is demolished. The land is worthless, Jim. No one would buy it.” I hear him sigh on the other end. “You need to burn those clothes that you’re wearing and get new ones. And I hope there was nothing too important in that house to you, because everything is contaminated now and has to be destroyed.”

“No,” he says in slight dismay, “nothing of any real value. The only things of value to me is… well, never mind.” He sounds even more defeated than he was before.

“I’ll see if there’s any value in the land and grant you something for it. I’m calling it a grant, Jim, because I don’t expect the funds back, but I do fully expect you to use the funds to secure residence suitable for you and your family. I don’t expect it to be much, so if you need to use it as a down payment for another place or as a security deposit to rent a place is up to you, but I don’t expect for you to spend it frivolously.”

“I understand,” he says, his voice low. “Much obliged.”

“You may want to inform the doctor about the condition of the house,” I tell him. “It may affect the outcome of any lab tests he may have run.”

“No need,” he says. “He warned me when I told him about the basement. He’s already testing for a lot o’ stuff. We’ll see what hap…” Then he gasps.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Thelma! Jimmy!” he exclaims, terror in his voice.

“I’ve already informed my wife,” I tell him. “Jimmy had some symptoms early on. He’s doing better now. They’ll get to the doctor to make sure there’s no permanent damage, but the fact that they’ve been removed from the conditions fares well for them, I assure you.” I hear him sigh heavily on the other end, then he starts to weep bitterly. Oh, fuck, not again…

“Dear God, forgive me,” he keens. “Please forgive me…”

And now I feel like a heel.

“Jim…”

“I’m a fool!” he yells. “I’m a goddamn fool! How could I be so fuckin’ blind? Goddammit!!” He’s falling apart. “I could have lost them! Forever!”

“But you haven’t,” I try to convince him. “You still have a chance. They’re still here, but you’ve got work to do.” I hear him sniffling and weeping. “Pull yourself together, Jim. They’ll be fine.” He whimpers a bit more.

“I… I have to go,” he says.

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know!” he snaps. “To the store, to my room, to church… I don’t know. Just let me go, man.” I have to hope he’s not going to do anything stupid, but I can’t keep him on the phone.

“You’ll contact me tomorrow.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Yeah, yeah,” he says and hands the phone back to Haskins.

“Covert surveillance on him,” I tell Haskins. “Report to Taylor for further instructions. Just make sure he doesn’t do anything drastic.”

“Yes, sir. Goodnight, sir.” I end the call and take a few frantic paces before turning to face an expecting Jason.

“What was I supposed to do?” I ask, throwing my hands in the air. “Exactly what am I supposed to do?” His expression changes and he twists his lips a bit.

“Exactly what you’re doing, sir,” he says, his voice resigned.


ANASTASIA

Thelma almost took Jimmy out of here on foot to get him to the hospital for testing. She wasn’t waiting for a doctor’s appointment and I had to send Ben after her to take her to the emergency room. We have plenty of security here if anything happens and I’ll just stay here until he gets back. Hopefully, it won’t be too late and if it is, I’ll have Bronson and Marilyn take me home. Speaking of which…

To: Christian Grey
Subject: An Apple A Day
Date: January 7, 2014, 15:17:16
From: Anastasia Grey

My Love,

Thelma has taken Jimmy and they are off to the ER at Seattle Gen. Upon hearing of the conditions of the house, she refused to wait for a doctor’s appointment and almost took the baby on the bus. I sent Ben to take them to the hospital and wait with them until they are done. There is plenty of GEH security here, so I didn’t see a problem in that course or action. I hope you agree. If they haven’t returned by the time I’m ready to go home, I’ll have Marilyn and her guard take me home.

At first, I took our conversation last night with a grain of salt and made a note to talk to Marilyn. However, after an extensive talk this morning and a brief breakdown of her duties and responsibilities, I think you should actually consider replacing her security detail. If he truly feels that she’s a handful, then he’s not the man for the job. I don’t intend to get anyone in trouble, but as you well know, not everyone is cut out for every kind of work. It appears that Marilyn shares his opinion that he’s unable to keep up with her. She compares him to Charles Bronson and calls him “Chuckie” behind his back. That’s not a healthy relationship. She needs someone with more energy who can change gears at a moment’s notice. Imagine Andrea having to do everything that she has to do for you from a mobile office with no assistant. She needs someone who can keep with that.

Just keeping you abreast. I’ll see you when I get home.

Yours Always,
Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

I no sooner press send on my computer when Marilyn and Courtney come running into my office like the place is on fire.

“Ana! Come quick!” Marilyn pants. “There was a hit on Jack… in Missing Persons… his father is here!” I get out of my seat faster than I moved before I was pregnant.

“Where is he?”

“In the community room,” Courtney says. She sounds panicked.

“Where’s Jack?”

“Upstairs in the dorms.” I sigh heavily.

“Courtney, got get Jack. Bring him down. Make sure that he knows he doesn’t have to leave if he doesn’t want to.”

“He’ll come,” she says. “It’s not his father that he’s afraid of.” I nod.

“That’s right. Bring him down. Marilyn, get security in there just in case. Is he alone?” She nods.

“No sign of the Wicked Witch of The North Pacific.” I nod.

“I’ll go talk to him.” I reach into my purse and pull out my Beretta. I load the magazine without putting a round in the chamber. I hope I won’t need it, but I can’t be too careful, especially since I sent Ben with Thelma and Jimmy. I put the gun in the waistband of my maternity pants. One of the children protest with a kick—I have a feeling it’s Mikey.

“Settle down, killer,” I tell him. “I’ll get some kind of holster after this.” Marilyn frowns at me.

“Do you really think you need it, Ana?” she asks.

“Ben’s not here…”

“But so many other people are,” she protests. I shake my head.

“Unknown element. No Ben. No Chuck. The gun comes with me.” I brush past her and into the hallway.

We walk to the community room and security is already there. There’s a man—not really short, but he still looks very small for some reason. I walk in and start toward him. He removes his hat and gets to his feet—about 5’10”, red hair… he looks really frail.

“Ma’am, is my boy okay?” he asks without introducing himself. He’s wringing his hat nervously and he looks worried sick.

“Yes, sir, he’s fine,” I reply. He sighs heavily and drops his head. He looks like he shrinks at least a foot, like he was carrying boulders on his back. “Please, have a seat, Mr….”

“Hyde. Jack Hyde,” he says proffering his hand. I shake it.

“Anastasia Grey. Please.” I gesture to the seat he just vacated and sit next to him.

“There’s a lot of security in this place,” he says. “They wouldn’t let me in until I told them who I was.”

“As you can imagine, there are a lot of abused families here, Mr. Hyde. We have to take precautions.”

“I get it. Please call me Jack. Everybody calls me Jack.”

Okay, Jack. Call me Ana. Your son was in bad shape when he got here. We’ve had to contact Child Services.” He drops his head.

“Am I going to jail?” he says. I frown.

“Well, I don’t know. Did you do that to him?”

“Dad!” Jack Jr., sees his father and runs full tilt towards his father. Jack stands to his feet and pushes his hands out in front of him to halt his son.

“Jack, no!” he warns. Jack Jr., stops in his tracks, crestfallen. Then his dismay transforms immediately to anger.

“What did she do to you now?” Jack Jr., demands.

“Nothing, son. I just had a little accident,” Jack replies.

“Bullshit!” Jack retorts. “What did she do to you?” he screams, angry tears burning a trek down his face.

“Jack!” his father scolds.

“What did she do to you?” he screams again. Courtney comes up behind him and he throws his arms around her, weeping. Courtney embraces the young boy and looks at me questioning, her eyes begging me to make the situation right. I turn back to Jack Sr.

“Jack, you asked me if you were going to jail. Why?”

“Because I didn’t protect him,” he says. “Isn’t that just as bad?”

“Somewhat… but not if you’re being abused, too.”

“I’m… I’m not being abused,” he says. “If you have to take me to jail, I understand, but… what’ll happen to my boy?”

“If for some reason, you were unable to take care of him, he would go to foster care until it could be determined what would happen to him.” He shakes his head.

“We have to go back,” he says with terror in his voice. “She’s knows where he is. She said if I didn’t come and get him that she would.”

“No!” Jack Jr., cries. “No! I’m not going back and you can’t make me!”

“I’ve made it clear to your son that he doesn’t have to go back,” I tell him. “He’s in danger of imminent harm, and he doesn’t have to return. He’s told me that these bruises come from his stepmother and that she’s doing the same thing to you. All we need is for you to confirm it.” He looks at me in utter terror and back to his son.

“We have to go, Jack,” he says, his voice shaking. “We have to go.”

“I’m not going back, Dad,” Jack Jr., says.

“We have to go back,” Jack says, swallowing hard. “We have to go back before she comes up here. It’ll just be worse if she comes up here!”

“I’m not going back, Dad,” Jack Jr., says. “I’ll go to foster care. I’ll go to the police. I’ll run away. I’ll do whatever I have to do… but I’m not going back! I don’t have to go back! I’m not going!”

“We have to go back!” Jack Sr., says frantically. “She’ll find you and take you away from me if we don’t go back!”

“She can’t do that,” I interject. My voice is an intrusion into his thoughts. It’s like he forgot I was in the room. “If she takes your son away from you without cause or permission, that’s kidnapping and that’s a federal crime.” His eyes are full of terror.

“What?” he asks incredulously.

“She can’t take your son from you without your permission or without cause, but if you make him go back, the State can and will take him away from both of you.” He looks from me to Jack Jr., to Grace and back to me again.

“She can’t take him away?” I don’t think he heard anything else I said.

“Not unless she wants the police on her tail for the rest of her life,” I tell him, “and I have a feeling that young Jack is not going to keep quiet for her anymore.”

He looks at me like I just hit him and falls back down in his seat, panting like he’s out of breath.

“She… she…” He really is panting. I look to his son.

“Dad?” He breaks from Courtney’s hold. “Dad?”

“Careful, Jack!” I say, remembering his father’s reaction when Jack Jr., ran towards him. Jack Jr., falls to his knees in front of his father who, as I can now see, is hyperventilating.

“Go get a paper bag from the cafeteria,” I say to Marilyn.

“I’ll get it!” Courtney says, and she’s gone in a flash. I turn back to the father and son.

“Dad. Listen to me. Breathe. Please breathe.” That’s not going to help him. He’s going to pass out soon. His son has no idea what’s happening and this is all he knows to do. Courtney must have been moving like Mercury, because she’s back in a flash with a paper bag, opening it quickly and handing it to me. I crinkle the opening around my hand.

“Hold this over your nose and mouth, like this.” I demonstrate for him and he weakly puts the paper bag over his nose and mouth. “Now breathe in and out, into the bag.” He follows directions and it takes a while, but after several moments, he’s breathing normally. When he gets the air back into his lungs, he collapses in tears.

“We can’t go back, Dad,” Jack Jr., tells his father.

“She can’t take him away from me?” he asks and I shake my head. “She always said she could take him away. I was trying to find some kind of way to fight her, but she’s got the money and I don’t. And she’s a strong woman… she’s like Nurse Ratchet or something! She wasn’t always like that. It’s like one day she just turned into the Jolly Green Giant, only not jolly—more like a big, angry, Amazon! Nothing I did was right. It was like she hated the sight of me. Then she started hitting me. Then she started hitting my boy…

“I tried to leave her once. She headed us off before we even got on the bus—her and her driver.

“Her driver?” I ask.

“He’s her lover,” he says, wiping his tears. “I’m no fool. She’s angry with me for not being him.”

“I don’t understand,” I say, looking precariously at Jack Jr., now sitting on the floor, not the least bit surprised by anything he’s hearing. “If she’s in love with someone else, why doesn’t she just divorce you instead of putting you and your son through this?”

“She has too much to lose,” his voice is still cracking. “There’s no prenup. She thinks I’ll take her money. I’ve told her many times that I would sign anything she wanted and to just let me go. She doesn’t believe me. So she torments me… and now she’s tormenting my son. But… you’re saying… she can’t take my son?”

“No, Jack, she can’t take your son. Even if you died tomorrow, no court in the country would give him to her,” I assure him. He shakes his head, presses his chin to his chest, and begins to weep again, bitterly.

“I’m sorry, Jack,” he sobs, clinging to his son’s hands. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I’m so sorry, Jack… I’m so sorry.” His body shakes with his anguish.

“Dad…” His son’s eyes fill with tears. “I didn’t know either. Please, Dad…” He watches his father sob uncontrollably and I see anger behind this young man’s tears. He raises his eyes to me, determined.

“I see men go to jail for beating women!” he declares. “Can’t she go to jail for what she did to us?” His voice is firm and strong—determined, more commanding than I would expect from a 13-year-old boy.

“Yes,” I tell him. “Yes, she can.” He turns back to his father.

“We need to put her in jail, Dad,” he says. “She needs to go to jail. She needs to pay for this!” His father’s weeping subsides, but he doesn’t raise his head. Jack Jr., turns back to me.

“She’s horrible!” Jack Jr., says. “She does terrible things to me and my dad. She doesn’t deserve to be free.” He rolls up his sleeves to reveal multiple bruises, both old and more recent. I nearly gag. He looks like he’s been whipped repeatedly—with a fucking bullwhip or something! What kind of monster does this to a child?

“I’ll do whatever I need to do. I’ll tell whoever I need to tell, but she has to pay!” He looks over at his father. “Show her, Dad.” I look over at Jack Sr., is still holding his head down. “Show her!”

Jack Sr., nearly jumps out of his skin, the poor, timid little man. He sighs heavily, then opens his coat and lifts his shirt, flinching painfully. He has the worst burn across his chest and part of his stomach that I’ve ever seen. It’s bubbling and festering and very new—today or yesterday new. I don’t even know how he’s sitting here. I gasp loudly, shaking hands flying to cover my mouth to prevent me from vomiting. A tear escapes before I can stop it. I feel the burning of the brands again.

“Ana?” Marilyn is by my side in moments. With one hand over my mouth and one on my chest attempting to fend off the imminent return of my partially digested lunch, I fight to control my breathing.

“Ana?” Marilyn’s concerned voice does nothing to calm my churning stomach.

“Get Grace… Call the police,” I choke. “Call the police, now!” I dash out of the community room and make it to the bathroom in just enough time to lose my lunch. Everything that was in my stomach, including water ends up in the commode and nearly on the floor.

“Ana!” Courtney’s voice is behind me. I feel my hair being gathered to the back of my head and I continue to empty the contents of my stomach into the toilet and cry miserably between the horrible wrenching and regurgitations. I hear some things going on around me, people coming in and out, but I just lay my head on the toilet seat and cry. My stomach finally appears to have stopped its violent contractions and dry-heaving and I just lean against the wall out of breath. I feel a cold cloth across my face. I open my eyes and I’m surprised to see Courtney tending to me.

I’m completely out of breath and wondering if I’m also delirious.

“Yeah, I know,” she says, rinsing the cloth and coming back to me on the floor of the stall. “I’d think I was hallucinating, too.” She wipes my face again—all over this time. She cracks open a bottle of water and hands it to me. “Rinse,” she says. I take a healthy mouthful of water and rinse the awful bile residue out of my mouth. I try to repeat, but the taste is still there.

“Do it again,” she says. Good fuck, is she reading my mind? “Really good this time. Skip that ladylike crap. Your makeup’s already shit.” Well, hell. I rinse this crappy warm water through my mouth really good and spit. Rinse one more time, not as thoroughly, and spit. Okay, basically gone—not completely, but basically. I turn around to her and she’s holding a salt shaker.

What are we going to do, make a wish?

“Hold your hand out,” she says. Oh. The Amazing Dr. Grey forgot about the magic of salt. I hold out my hand and she shakes a little less than a dime-sized amount of salt into my hand. I lick it out of my palm.

Taste gone.

I look over at her.

“Trying to get on my good side?” I say, sarcastically. She shrugs noncommittal.

“Maybe,” she says. “I just know about hangovers. The vomiting is still the same,” she says, throwing the water bottle away. “We should get back out there. The police are most likely here by now.” I nod and look at my reflection in the mirror. I look like hell. I tie my hair in a knot and forget it.

“You’re still hot,” she says, matter-of-factly. I turn to look at her like, “Seriously? You’re saying that? Now?”

“Hey, I know what got me here. Nothing’s changed. I’m still bi-sexual. You were hot that night and you’re hot today. Love the henna. You ready?”

She said that shit almost in one breath. I roll my eyes.

“Yes,” I snap like a petulant child. She nods once and holds the door open for me. When I get out there, I realize that more time has passed than I thought. The sun has gone down, the police are already here, and Grace is dressing Jack’s burn because he refuses to go to the hospital.

“Jack,” I say sitting next to him while Grace finishes up, “you should really go to the hospital. It may set up infection and you might need antibiotics.” He shakes his head.

“I can’t,” he says. “I can’t risk running into her right now.” He’s scared shitless.

“Your safety is guaranteed at the hospital, Mr. Hyde,” one of the policemen says. He shakes his head.

“No,” he says. “I have to get out of here. I have to find someplace safe for me and Jack.” I look at Grace.

“We’ll take care of you, Jack,” Grace says. “I’ll be honest and tell you that there’s nothing to stop her from getting in here, but if she does, she’s going to regret it.” She sits on the other side of him.

“I won’t press you right now, but if you start to run a fever, I’m going to take you to the hospital myself.” She crosses her legs facing him. “Marilyn has taken pictures of your bruises and we’ve recorded little Jack’s bruises earlier. We’re going to get restraining order against your wife tomorrow. In the meantime, you two will stay here tonight.”

“What about school for Jack?” he says.

“We’ll have to work that out, too,” Grace says.

“I think we’ve got what we need, Mr. Hyde. We’ll issue a warrant for her arrest and have someone pick her up. I’m going to tell you though, sir. She’ll make bail and she’ll be back out. I agree that you should stay here until you come up with a game plan. These are good people.” Jack Sr., nods and with a few more exchanges, the police leave.

We’re all talking about what needs to be done next and where Jack and his son can escape to and we’re all stunned to silence by the fact that Jack Jr., has turned white as a sheet. I follow his gaze and see someone looking in the window from the parking lot.

Okay.

I send three of the guards out to see who it is.

“Jack, is that her?” I ask him. He nods. “Tell her to come in,” I yell at the detail. They nod and go outside. Jack and Jack Jr., both look like they want to escape.

“Don’t run,” I say. “Jack, sit here next to your father.” A trembling Jack Jr., sits next to a trembling Jack Sr., and we wait for his abusive wife. In walks two of the biggest people I’ve ever seen in my life. This skyscraper bitch has to be 6’8” and her “driver” is just as tall, easily 350-380 pounds each. What the fuck? She’s a good foot taller than this man. How the hell did he fall in love with this?

“You called the police, you piece of shit?” she barks when she walks in, cursing at Jack like nobody else is standing in the room. “Get up and let’s get going!”

“He’s not going anywhere with you,” I tell her.

Jack, some bitch is talking to me telling me you’re not going anywhere. Is that so, Jack?” she asks matter-of-factly. “Is that so, Jack? This little bitch telling you what to do now, Jack?” She says his name with such disdain. Stay calm, Ana. This witch is nothing but a bully.

“Yes,” he says, slowly. “That’s so. I’m not leaving.”

“Really now?” she laughs. “You’re just making it harder on yourself, Jack. You know you can’t go anywhere. I’ll always find you, Jack. So you might as well get your ass up and let’s go.”

“I said we’re not leaving,” Jack says and nothing else.

“You fucking piece of shit! Stop wasting my goddamn time and get your fucking ass outta that chair before I snatch you a new asshole!” There’s the magic words.

“He says he’s not going with you and you’re trespassing, so you need to leave,” I say calmly. She turns a threatening glare to me.

“I’m not talking to you, doll!” she hisses.

“I’m not your doll, and I’m talking to you. You’re trespassing and you need to leave!” I retort. She turns a smirk to me which turns into an all-out guffaw.

“Is she for real?” she says to her seven-foot boyfriend. “She can’t be for real,” she laughs. “I’m trespassing, huh? That’s what I’m doing, huh?” She looks over her shoulder at her boyfriend and they share a condescending laugh. When she turns back to me, I’m not really sure what happens. All I know is that I feel like I got hit in the face with a bag of sand.

Sonofabitch, that hurt!

I’m a full 180 degrees in the opposite direction of where I was facing waiting for the stars to dissipate. This bitch just hit me! This huge Amazon She-Ra bitch just hit me! A few second later, the stars dissipate, I hear scrapping, voices, and laughter around me, and I taste my own blood. Somewhere in the confusion, I hear, “Am I still trespassin’, doll?” followed by that hideously condescending laughter. I look over my shoulder and she’s actually bending over laughing at me. It takes about three seconds to see that while she’s laughing at me, three guards have her boyfriend subdued to the ground and two more are making their way to her.

Oh, no. This bitch is mine.

I make that 180 degree turn right back around to face her and her laughter stops immediately. It could have something to do with cold steel pressed against her forehead, one in the chamber, and my finger on a hairpin trigger, pissed the fuck off because I don’t like the taste of blood.

“Yeah, bitch… still trespassin’.”


A/N:  You can find the songs along with pictures of places, things, and fashions on my Pinterest page at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-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 🙂 
Lynn X

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 35—Broken Fences, Faces, and People

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 35—Broken Fences, Faces, and People

CHRISTIAN

I don’t think anyone particularly wanted to face the day on Sunday after the emotionally taxing day that was Saturday. Nonetheless, we all gather for breakfast to make sure that everyone is still alive and well. Chuck surprises us all by asking Jason to get in touch with his parents for him. As he and Joseph are officially no longer speaking and Chuck now knows that his parents are still alive, someone will have to be listed as his next of kin. He informs Jason to tell his parents what happened and what’s going on just like he told Joseph. Chuck can’t go through the whole thing again that he went through with Joseph. The disappointment and rejection were too much for him and he can’t take it anymore. He just wants them to know that they will be notified to dispose of Chuck’s remains if something happens to him. Jason solemnly accepts the task.

Jason and I later collaborate on blueprints for Butterfly so that she can decide where to place Gail’s office. Gail has ceded the task to Butterfly after having discussed that the most functional location would be somewhere near the kitchen, yet close to stairs and elevators so that she can get to the children quickly once her job duties change. I call Butterfly down to my office after she has indulged in a nice long nap and bring her into the collaboration.

We can’t seem to agree on what would be a suitable space for a home manager’s office. To me, anything less than 500 square feet would be stifling. According to Gail’s instructions, anything more than 250 square feet is extravagant. Two hundred and fifty square feet! What the fuck can you put in two hundred square feet?

“I was willing to work at the kitchen counter,” she had said. “The office was Ana’s idea.”

And there you have it. My wife thinks like me and feels that an office is necessary… Gail doesn’t. There has to be a compromise, so 200 square feet it is.

Luckily, we discover a large enough hollow between the pantry and the laundry room that would serve as an office for Gail. I’m concerned about the lack of ventilation and natural light, so I’ll get with Elliot and see what can be done about that. As the babies will be here in less than two months, we don’t want remodeling going on when they arrive. So this has to be done quickly.

Everyone pretty much goes to their corners for the rest of Sunday afternoon, except for Jason who collaborates with Welch to find Chuck’s parents. I have to say that I don’t envy him that task. If Chuck’s parents are anything like his brother, I don’t even want to meet these people.

“Mom told me you looked like you’d been in one of those brawls you used to get into when you were a teenager. Aren’t you a little old for that, Bro?” Elliot scolds when I call him on Monday morning to discuss the office.

“Not for this,” I tell him, still fighting a bit to hide my lisp. My lip isn’t swollen anymore thanks to Gail’s tea, but my face is still a fright with the bruising and my teeth are still a bit loose. I actually have an appointment with the dentist this afternoon to see if there’s any permanent damage. Thank God he didn’t hear me when I had the lisp or I would have never lived it down. I really don’t want to go through the whole thing again. I didn’t even explain to Mom why I look like this.

“You know you got to tell me what happened…”

“No, I don’t,” I interrupt him. “I don’t want to have this conversation. I was fighting for my wife and that’s all I’m going to tell you. Now about this office…”

“Did somebody say something about her ass?” he presses.

“Elliot!” I yell into the phone.

“Alright, alright. You don’t have to yell,” he finally concedes. “Where do you want this office?”

“Thank you,” I hiss. “Near the kitchen. We’ve found a space between the pantry and laundry room. Gail and Butterfly say it’s big enough, but it looks pretty small to me, so you would have to come and look at it.”

“Near the kitchen—any load-bearing walls?”

“Now how the hell would I know that?” I ask him.

“I know. My bad. I’ll come over and look at the blueprints. As a matter of fact…” I hear him shuffling around a bit, then more shuffling, then more shuffling and he’s back on the phone again. “Are you talking about that space that starts behind the wall in Q-17?” I scan the blueprints on my desk.

“No, it’s M-21,” I correct him.

“Shit, I know that, I was just testing you, Dude. You brought the blueprints to work?”

“I’m not at work.”

“You’re not at work.” It’s a statement, not a question. “On a Monday morning…”

“I look like hell, so I’m working from home. Don’t ask me anymore questions.” The skin around my eye is actually starting to look this yellow-greenish sort of black bruising color. I’d scare old ladies and children if they saw me. As it is, I don’t know how I’ll get to the dentist without making a scene.

“This office is for Gail?” he asks. I think he’s being an asshole because I said don’t ask any more questions.

“Yes,” I nearly hiss.

“What’s she going to be doing in it?”

“She’s going to be the home manager and the nanny.” Elliot whistles.

“How is she going to do both of those?” he asks.

“Less home manager, more nanny,” I say. “That’s why we have a staff.”

“As you should,” he says. “That’s a lotta house!”

“I know, Elliot. That’s why we have the staff.”

“And she’s going to manage them… and be your nanny.” When he puts it like that, it does seem like a lot. Gail hasn’t indicated that she couldn’t handle it, but we’ll just have to see.

“Is the office going to present a problem?” I ask.

“Not that I can see,” he says. “There are no load bearing walls, which is a miracle in that Greek temple you live in! Man, all those damn columns were a fucking nightmare during the remodel! There are no windows in that area, though. It’s going to be stuffy as fuck if we don’t pipe the ventilation system through there.”

“Yeah, we were concerned about that, too. Can you do it?”

“Yeah, I can do it,” he says.

“How long will it take?”

“About three weeks.” That’s cutting it kind of close.

“How soon can you start?” I ask. “The babies are due in exactly eight weeks and you know they’ll most likely come early. Even if you start this week, I know you won’t be doing anything next week because it’s Christmas, which most likely puts us right in danger of bumping into B-day,” I point out.

“I’ll send Felix and Irv over this afternoon to start taking some measurements and see if we can get the wall knocked out if that’s okay with you. Getting that wall knocked out and getting the spaced taped off is going to be the biggest part of it. Then we have to get the electricians in there to get it wired. Ana’s already got some of my guys coming in on Wednesday to look at one of your downstairs libraries to rewire for her PA.” Yeah, she mentioned something about that to me yesterday. “We’ll see how many birds we can kill with one stone. I’ll see if Ray can get in tomorrow to look at the ventilation system and see how big a job that’s going to be.”

“Ray?” I ask, surprised. “Ray Ray? You mean my father-in-law Ray?” The line is quiet.

“Yes,” Elliot says in a sing-songy voice, like this is something I’m supposed to know. “Ray and I work on a lot of projects together, ever since he got that project with the city last year,” he informs me. “Quiet as it’s kept, I knew Ray before I knew Ana… not long before I knew Ana, but before I knew Ana.” Well, what do you know?

“How did I not know this?” I say, frowning.

“You didn’t ask,” Elliot answers. “We were actually bidding on some of the same contracts. When I beat him out of a few and he beat me out of a few, we discovered that we have complimenting skills. He only has the basic construction skills while I have the advanced—master builder. He, on the other hand, has the masonry and carpentry specialties and he’s certified in HVAC, which is why I’m going to have him come by tomorrow and see how hard it’s going to be to get some heat and air into that little cubbyhole.”

“Cubbyhole is right,” I concur. “Why didn’t you guys ever tell the family that you were working together? We never would have thought to ask. How long have you known you were working with Ana’s father?”

“Since last Thanksgiving,” he says, “we just didn’t think it was a big deal. It’s not, is it?”

“No,” I reply, “probably more of a novelty if anything. So listen, I have an appointment this afternoon, so I won’t be here from about two until maybe three thirty. If you’re not coming with the guys that are supposed to be knocking walls out, make sure security knows who they are. You’ve been here enough times to know the drill.”

“Yeah, I know what to do,” he confirms. “I’ll talk to you after the guys give me some numbers.”

“Will do.” I end the call with him just as I see Butterfly and Marilyn come into her office through the aquarium. I never get enough of watching her move. I gaze on her for a few moments before she disappears out of sight of the aquarium. I call Andrea on my desk phone.

“Who do I have on the books today, Andrea?”

“Nothing critical, sir,” she responds. “You have the department heads and the two status meetings. There is that Meet-And-Greet later in the week with the Fairlanes…” I could care less about the Fairlanes right now, but skipping out on a Meet-And-Greet is bad form.

“Have all non-essential meetings proceed without me this week and cc me on all meeting minutes within 24 hours. I look like I’ve been hit by a fucking bus,” I inform her.

“Yes, sir.”

“Reschedule all critical meetings for next week or ASAP thereafter, including that damn Meet-And-Greet. I’ll see if I can coerce my pregnant wife to come along for added effect.”

“That should work in your favor, sir,” she chirps. “It actually gives new companies a sense of security knowing that the new owner is a family man.”

“Sometimes,” I tell her, “other times, they see right through it… that I’m parading my hot, pregnant wife around like a trophy. That hothead Georgie Jr is sure to think that’s exactly what I’m doing.” She clears her throat.

“I’ll reschedule them for next week, sir.” I can see through that change of topic.

“What is it, Andrea?”

“Well, no offense, sir, but… isn’t that what you’re doing? I mean, sort of using Ana to gain an emotional advantage?”

“Well… yeah, maybe a little, but he works for me now, so he’s not allowed to say that, and if he does, I’ll put him out on his ear.”

“Sir, you can’t do that…” I’m silent for a moment.

“Have we met?” and now she’s silent for a moment.

“I stand corrected,” she says. “Ros has asked for an hour.”

“Tell her to call the house conference line as soon as she’s ready.”

“Understood.”

“Anything else?”

“If anyone insists that they must meet with you today or this week and can’t reschedule? You know they’ll be at least one.”

“Let me know who they are and I’ll determine if that’s the case. Then we’ll do a conference call if necessary.”

“Will do. I think that’s all for now, sir. Conference phone or blackberry for emergencies?”

“Blackberry.”

“Yes, sir. Called away, unavailable until next week?”

“Good enough. No additional information. Everyone who needs additional details already has them.”

“Very well, sir.” I end the call and look over the projections for Fairlane again. I make a special note of these frivolous employees that were hidden under maintenance expense and wonder to myself if any of them will have the nerve to show up at the Meet-And-Greet. I think I’ll have Andrea come along as well and shadow me with a list of the employees so that she can subtly alert me to the people who may be trying to secure a position that will most likely be eliminated after the new year.

I click on another file that I don’t think I’ve had to open in months—Project Free Butterfly. I don’t think I’ve actively been in this file since I left Green Valley, right before the kidnapping. The information flow and flow of events happened so quickly that I never had time to examine the file. I was always updated by word of mouth from Allen or that asshole AG or even the press. I set out to ruin the people that hurt my Butterfly, but these people have truly been their own worst enemy.  Once Whitmore’s house of cards came tumbling down, a good measure of Green Valley’s elite and some surrounding areas came tumbling with it. He was really small-time in the big scheme of things, thank God. He very well could have had some attachments to organized crime. As it turns out, he was a celebrity only in his own mind. He was only puffed up to his own delusions—no bigger or more important than any other businessman in Green Valley. He just spent his money like he was super-important and presented himself as such. In terms of real influence, he was nobody.

Once the dominoes began to fall, he was nothing more than the hustler. He was the money mover—the one everybody came to. In the end, he was the one who brought everybody down. From my computer, I can watch as small fortunes and life savings of people who had dealings with Whitmore are frozen, dwindled away or investigated—people who may or may not have even had anything to do with what happened to Butterfly. I feel bad for those who got caught in the crossfire, but not if they were involved in illegal activity. This is what it gains you. Speaking of which…

“So, I got the information that you wanted on those foreign officials,” Ros says when she calls me on the conference line.

“What do you have?”

“Check your email. As you can see, you’re looking at some mid-level officials in these countries. These are not really the people that can make or break you in terms of power, but legally and publicity…”

“I get it,” I say as I open the file that she’s sent me. She’s right. If the information had gotten any higher than this in any of these governments, they wouldn’t be contacting me. They would already have legal proceedings initiated to prosecute me. These are most likely the crooked politicians who watch manifests and make passports disappear so that it’s easier to traffic more prime candidates as opposed to immigrants or refugees seeking political asylum. If you ever heard of Americans getting lost in foreign countries or being arrested then coming up missing in the system somewhere, these are usually the culprits that are responsible for them ending up as part of some crooked, amoral rich asshole’s harem in some obscure corner of the world… much like that movie Taken.

“Did Welch help you with this?” I ask.

“Somewhat. He didn’t know why I was asking.”

“Why didn’t you tell him?”

“I didn’t know if you wanted me to,” she responds. “You told me to find out who the squeaky wheels were. You didn’t tell me to ask Alex.” I guess I did, didn’t I?

“You do know that Alex knows everything there is to know about me and my company, don’t you?” I confess. “He even knows some things that you don’t.”

Ouch,” she says, and I don’t know if she’s really bruised or just kidding.

“That’s his job, Ros. It’s the nature of the beast,” I tell her. “You know that you’re irreplaceable in your own way, but so is he.”

“Yeah, yeah, tell me anything,” Ros says, now mocking injury. “So now what?”

“Well, this is where it gets tricky,” I tell her. “This is where the boys are separated from the men…”

“… And the girls from the women.” She’s always been a bit of a feminist.

“Do you see any women on this list, Ros?” Silence. “There’s a specific reason for that. Women often have a hard time exploiting and objectifying people…” A vision of the Pedophile immediately comes to mind. “Well, at least to this kind of extreme,” I correct myself. “The brothels, massage parlors, sweat houses—you may have found some women in those kinds of things. The hard core trafficking—sexual slavery, hard labor—you’re not going to find many women, if any.”

“Well, Sir, I know you’re about to go on your fact-finding mission. Don’t be surprised if you find a few vaginas when you turn over those rocks,” she says matter-of-factly. I think she’s a bit slighted.

“Ros, surely you’re not taking this personally,” I say a bit bemused.

“No, should I be?” she responds flatly, and that’s my cue to end this topic. The last thing I have time for right now is to stroke her ego about whether a woman can be as ruthless as a man when I already know the answer. There’s a crazy blonde bitch in jail right now that’s proof positive that a woman can be more dangerous than a man any day, but in this instance, I doubt I’ll find too many women.

“Well, I’d love to continue this lovely conversation, but you’ve given me another project that needs my attention.”

“And now, I’m being dismissed.” And a bit catty.

“Yes, Ros, you are. Thank you for the information. Have a good day.” I end the call. I appreciate that she’s one of the people that won’t take my shit. However, she does need to remember which of us is the boss. I email the list over to Welch and call him.

“How much information can you get me on foreign officials?” I ask him.

“Depends on what you need,” he says.

“I need weak spots, good weak spots, and I need them fast—preferably before my children are born,” I say. “I have a few low level and a couple of mid to possibly high level government officials in countries where those mysterious subsidiaries were carrying on questionable practices. Apparently, in some areas, they get a cut of the traffic. In other areas, you have to grease their palms to keep their mouths shut. Either way, when the traffic stops, you have to grease it some more to keep them from blowing the whistle on you.”

“Oh, that,” he says with little concern.

“Oh, that?” I say, appalled. “You knew about this all along?”

“I hate to tell you this, sir, but this kind of thing happens all the time. I just didn’t know GEH was involved in any of it.”

“Yeah, neither did I!” I exclaim.

“There’s a very easy way to take care of this, sir, but it may cost you…”

“I’m not paying these people anything!” I declare. “They’re the worst kinds of criminals and if I could turn them all in without destroying my company, I’d do it in a minute!”

“No, you’re not going to be paying them anything, but you’re going to be paying somebody to help clean this up,” he informs me.

“Oh. Well, that I can pay,” I concede.

“And I can guarantee you that whatever you know, it goes deeper. So, give me what you know and I’ll get back to you…”

“I’ve already emailed you a list. What do you mean you’ll get back to me?” I ask.

“You don’t get your hands in this, sir. You let other people take care of this. This is why you hired me. Now, you have to let me do my job. Do you trust me?”

“Of course, I do.” I trust him with my life, much like I trust Jason. I just don’t like being left out of the loop.

“Then, you have to let me handle this. Know that it’s going to cost you, but it’ll go away soon enough.”

“You may need to talk to Ros,” I say.

“Why?”

“I didn’t know how to handle this, so I put her on finding out who we needed to speak to. Like you said, I didn’t know how deep this goes.” I hear him sigh. “Is she in danger, Welch?”

“I don’t think so, but she is your second in command, so we’ll just have to play it by ear and see whose cage she’s rattled getting her information. I’ll let you know what I find out. I was wondering why she was asking me questions about Bosnian government. Now I know.”

“Apparently, someone approached her in some way and she brought it to me. So technically, she was involved before I was.”

“So whoever it was already knows that she’s your second in command. I’ll talk to her.”

“You… might want to wait until after lunch.” There’s a pause.

“Why?”

“Because I pissed her off. Her panties are all in a wad because I said that we most likely won’t find too many women at the head of these rings.” He sighs again.

“Why would you purposely antagonize a liberal femme? Are you deliberately trying to make this hard for me? You’re right, of course. You’re not going to find any women at the head of the ring, but not for the reasons that you most likely told her. You won’t find them at the head because of the glass ceiling—because the men won’t let them in. The women in most of these countries have bigger hairier ones than some of these men, so you better watch your mouth, Mr. CEO.”

“Not you, too,” I lament. “Can we please just get down to business.  My teeth are starting to hurt.”

“Your teeth are hurting?” he says, surprised.

“Yeah, I’ve got to see the dentist today about these loose teeth.”

“Oh, that.” Yes, that. If I ever see Cholometes again, I swear to God, I’m going to hit him in the mouth with a fucking hammer. “Well, you’re going to be a bear, so I’m going to let you go.”

“Good idea. Keep me posted.”

Sure thing.” I end the call and run my hands through my hair. I don’t often get the feeling like I just want to go back to bed, but right now. I could just snuggle up with my Butterfly and stay in bed all day. I go over to the aquarium and look through to see what she’s up to. There’s a woman in the office with her. She’s not one of our staff. At first, they’re just talking. Then, she applies a blood pressure cuff and I realize that this is the home nurse that has come to check on my wife. It’s everything that I can do to keep from rushing in there and asking her how Butterfly is doing, but I stay put.

I watch their movements intently, attempting to garner what information I can about the visit from their body language. I know that Butterfly will tell me if there are any problems, but I’m still impatient to know that everything is okay. I realize that my cover is blown when the nurse removes the cuff from Ana’s arm and turns her head sharply in my direction, meeting my gray gaze head on. I’m under no misconception that my beautiful wife alerted her to my presence and she had to turn and see for herself. A man glaring through an aquarium? That’s preposterous! Except that it’s not. Butterfly gestures to me to come into the office, and I gladly oblige.

“Why didn’t you just come in?” She teases when I enter the door that adjoins our offices.

“I didn’t want to interrupt,” I say, honestly. “I didn’t want you to think I was hovering…”

“So you just gaze longingly through the aquarium.” It’s a statement, not a question. I twist my lips.

Yep, pretty much…

She just shakes her head and starts talking to the nurse again.

“Brandy, will you please tell my husband that I’m fine?” she says to the nurse. The young black nurse looks up at me then back down at her watch.

“He’s very distracting, I’ll tell you that,” she says after obviously taking Butterfly’s pulse and entering something into her iPad, most likely my wife’s vital statistics. “You’re surrounded by pretty men. You know that, right?” Brandy says to my wife.

“They never let me forget,” my wife says with mirth.

“Hey!” I protest. “I don’t know about these other pretty men, but I don’t walk around boasting my good looks.”

“You don’t have to boast them, Christian. They boast themselves.”

Mm-hmm,” Brandy says, without looking away from her iPad. At Butterfly’s silence, she responds, “Don’t look at me. You said it.” She raises her eyes defiantly to meet Butterfly’s glare. “How’s Winkin’ and Blinkin’?” she continues, not allowing the glare and uncomfortable silence to phase her.

“Active,” Butterfly tells her, “It’s like a wrestling match in there. I think the soccer players are changing sports.”

“That’s normal,” she says, still tapping on her iPad before raising her eyes to Butterfly again. “It’s cramped quarters in there and getting tighter by the day. You might feel less precise kicking and more ‘rumble jumble’ the closer you get to delivery.”

“Does that mean everything is okay?” I ask as she still hasn’t confirmed what Butterfly said when I walked into the room.

“Yes, everything’s fine,” she says with a deliberately over-exaggerated flutter of her eyelashes. I just roll my eyes.

“You know, I don’t know how you see any pretty under all this black, yellow, purple, and green that is my face.”

“That’s just bruising. It doesn’t hide the pretty,” she says, matter-of-factly. Frank little thing, isn’t she? “Looks like you got the bad end of a fight, though.”

“You could say that,” I reply, observing Butterfly’s hardening expression.

“Let me listen to your heart and lungs and we’ll be all done. Do you mind raising your shirt? It’s easier if I do this on your back.”

“Sure,” Butterfly says, never moving her gaze from mine and lifting her shirt. Brandy puts her stethoscope back in her ears and moves behind Butterfly.

“Wow!” she exclaims. Butterfly and I are both alarmed. What the hell? “I’m sorry,” she says, “I was just… I didn’t… that’s beautiful!” Butterfly frowns and looks over her shoulder at the nurse.

“What?” she asks, puzzled.

“Your art! It’s gorgeous. Did you get it all done at once or in stages?” Brandy asks. Butterfly looks at me bemused.

“The garden,” I say softly. She thinks for a moment before realization dawns.

“Oh!” she says, finally. “All at once… more or less…” I know she’s thinking about the first three letters of the gothic word on her back, and I so want to ask Brandy to just drop it. However, I can tell by her closely examining the work that she finally sees what Butterfly means by “more or less.”

“I see,” she says, softly. “Well, it’s very beautiful,” she reinforces, then changes the subject quickly. “Deep breaths for me, please…”

And just like that we’re out of the danger zone.

“So, everything looks fine so far,” Brandy says after her examination is over. “Your blood pressure is slightly elevated, but no higher than your average eight-month-pregnant woman, so I wouldn’t be too concerned. Just avoid anything too stressful.” She’s tapping away at her iPad again. “You’ve got an appointment with Dr. Culley on Thursday, right?”

“Yes,” Butterfly responds.

“So I won’t come on Wednesday. It seems a bit redundant. Has she already talked to you about expressing colostrum?”

“Briefly. She was going to go into detail on my next visit.”

“Good. She’ll let you know when it’s the ideal time to start.” She’s quiet again for a moment, tapping at her iPad. “I think that’s about it for us today, Ana—pretty routine, as you can see.” Butterfly nods and straightens her clothes. “Any questions for me?”

“Nope. As you said, it’s pretty routine. Thanks, Brandy,” she says, extending her hand. Brandy shakes gently.

“No problem. Now I get to check out the scenery while I leave.” She winks conspiratorially at Butterfly, eliciting a small giggle from her. “Take it easy, Ana.”

“You too, now, and thanks again.” Brandy nods and follows Windsor out of Butterfly’s office. Butterfly sighs and immediately turns her attention to some papers on her desk. I walk to the front of her desk and wait in vain for her to raise her eyes to me.

“You forgot about the garden, didn’t you?” I ask gently when she doesn’t look at me.

“Briefly, yes,” she admits. “That’s just how it is sometimes.” She shrugs puts a few items in her briefcase. Lately, she looks so much more businesslike when she leaves the house. I take notice of her attire, including the high-heeled shoes.

“Isn’t it about time to retire the sexy stilettos, baby?” I protest. “It’s not that I don’t love to see your mile-long legs in them; it’s just that the further along you get, I’m worried about possible spills and swelling and such.”

“Christian,” she says, “I was basically born in stilettos. Don’t worry about me. Besides, I always carry a pair of flats just in case my feet suddenly become the size of bowling balls—not to mention, it’s winter in Seattle. I always have a pair of boots to handle the snow. Is that okay with Sir?” she asks, sarcastically fluttering her eyebrows.

“Don’t test me, woman,” I warn. “The doctor said no strenuous activity, but that doesn’t mean I won’t get creative.” She twists her lips at me, then gives me a gentle peck.

“Goodbye, Christian. I’ll be home for dinner,” she says with a wave. Now, that’s a change. She’s going off to work and I’m staying home… figures.


 

ANASTASIA

Marilyn and I meet at the Apple store so that I can pick up my new iPad and she can choose her MacBook and docking station. I’m partial to a regular Windows laptop, but Mare prefers all things Apple, so MacBook it is. We arrange to have them delivered and installed at Grey Crossing. The staff is already moving the existing furniture out of the library as there won’t be much change except for a desk and some storage and seating and some additional wiring requirements.

We get to Helping Hands with plenty of time to spare and Addie and Courtney arrive promptly at 1:00pm as planned. Addie gives her rebellious little granddaughter instructions to do whatever I instruct her to do and she promptly begins to protest.

“Grandmother, this is so unnecessary. I don’t see the purpose of this exercise. I’m an adult. I really don’t need this.”

“Yes,” Addie says, “you are an adult with no direction and no purpose but to wait around and collect your trust fund. One day, that money is going to run out, and then what? What will you do—pray that someone else will take care of you? No, you need more than that out of life. You need to understand that life is more than just a dollar sign and I think this is just the experience for you.” Courtney drops her head and clasps her hands in front of her.

“Yes, Grandmother,” she says, with fake contrition. I shake my head infinitesimally because I already know what kind of day this is going to be, but I’m already armed and ready. So, bring me your best, little Ms. Debutante.

“Ana, dear,” she leans in and kisses me on the cheek, “I’ll see you later.”

“Addie,” I give her a cordial hug, “drive carefully.” She walks out of my office and the mood shifts immediately. Even though I advised sensible clothing, Ms. Courtney shows up in a pair of 7 For All Mankind contour crackle leather-like skinny jeans, a white angora sweater, and a pair of gray Jimmy Choo pebble Mendez high-heeled ankle boots.

“I see you didn’t take my advice about dressing sensibly,” I say, examining Courtney’s choice of attire. The little trick actually scoffs at me.

“I don’t know about you, Mrs. Grey, but where I come from, this is sensible,” she sneers. I fold my arms. So you’re going to be rebellious. You have no idea who you’re dealing with, little girl.

“Very well,” I say with a smirk. “Follow me.” I stand up and walk pass her towards the kitchen. She just stands there. “Are you waiting for a taxi?” She folds her arms defiantly. “Should I just call your grandmother back and tell her to come and get you?” At the threat of calling her grandmother, she rolls her eyes and falls in line behind me. Lunchtime is just wrapping up and it’s time to clean down the kitchen and start preparing for dinner. Perfect timing for an extra set of hands.

“Jessie, I’ve brought you some help,” I call to the kitchen supervisor. She’s a hard worker and a no-nonsense kind of woman, just the person I need to help keep an eye on this little pampered brat. She looks over at Courtney and raises an eyebrow at her as if to say, “What do you expect me to do with that?”

“Oh, you must be kidding?” Courtney scoffs.

“No, I’m not,” I say, impassively.

“I won’t cook in this outfit,” she protests.

“You were the one who said it was sensible,” I retort, shoving an apron in her chest, “and don’t worry. You won’t be cooking.”

“I don’t do manual labor either.”

“Everybody here does manual labor, including me. Get used to it.” I turn my attention back to Jessie. “Use her in whatever capacity you need her. She’s all yours until I come back to get her.” I look at Courtney. “You do exactly what she tells you to do. She reports directly to me and I report to Addie. Any questions?”

“Are you usually such a bitch?” she snarls.

“No, most of the time, I’m worse, aren’t I, Jessie?”

“Hideous,” Jessie pipes in without missing a beat.

“Well, I’d hate to meet her, because you’re a real fucking pill right now,” she retorts.

“Keep it up and you will, Sunshine,” I hiss. “Would you like to see just how miserable I can make your life?” I glare into her eyes and wait for her rebuttal. She thinks better of retaliation and takes a few steps away from me. “Give her hell,” I say in a low voice to Jessie. “I want that outfit completely unwearable by the end of the day. I’ll throw in a day at Dreamclinic for the whole kitchen staff if one of those shoes loses a heel.”

“Consider it done,” Jessie says.

Unfortunately, Jessie and I both realize that it’s not as easy as we thought it would be to break in Little Ms. Debutante as she successfully manages to avoid any work for the first thirty minutes of the afternoon. She’s lazy and refuses to do anything that she’s told. Only immediate threats of calling her grandmother seem to work, but the moment she’s out of your sight and comfortable, she’s just as uncooperative and rebellious as ever. According to Jessie, she is doing less than nothing and when she is doing something, she’s breaking dishes on purpose, she’s smart-mouthed, sitting around looking at the other workers, more in the way than anything. I’m not going to fight with this girl, nor will I play cat-and-mouse with her. I meant what I said at the country club. She disgusts me, and I will not allow her to waste my time.

“It begins,” I tell Addie after I dial her number.

“That was fast. What’s happening?”

“Absolutely nothing. She’s mouthing off at the staff. She’s more in the way than anything. I’ve got her in the kitchen—she’s probably rinsing glasses and chopping potatoes and she can’t even do that. I made sure that the staff knows that this is her first time doing anything, so I know that they’re not making her do anything strenuous, especially since she’s in there dressed like Lady Diana!” I hear Addie sigh.

“I knew this would happen. Okay, give me a few minutes.” She ends the call and I go back to work. A few minutes later, Courtney storms into my office.

“You called my grandmother?” she spits. “’Ana’s telling me you’re not doing what you’re told. Don’t make me have to come up there,’” she reads her grandmother’s text to me. “What am I, twelve?”

“I don’t know, are you?” I spit back at her. “Adults know how to act in public. Adults know how to take direction and do what they’re told. The staff is telling me that you’re belligerent and you’re having a problem with simple directions. So you tell me, are you twelve? Do I need to call your Dwanmaw because you’re going to have a hissy-fit every time someone tells you to do something? Do I need to sit a potty chair next to you, too? Trust me, I can treat you like a toddler if that’s what you want!”

“I don’t want to be here anyway!” she hisses. “This was your idea to get close to my grandmother—take me on like I’m some fucking charity case.”

“Fine, then call your grandmother and tell her to come and get you. I’ve already told you that I think you’re a lost cause and you’re not worth my damn time.”

“Do I present too much of a challenge for you, Mrs. Grey?” she sneers. “Afraid I might rub off on your little battered mommies?” And now I’m pissed.

“You’re not a challenge to me at all, little girl. I could give a fuck less if you gain anything from this very valuable experience that could change your life, but one thing is for damn sure. You will respect me and you will respect everyone in this place while you’re here. So you watch your tongue, you mindless, foul-mouthed little wretch, because if you think I can’t make your life a living fucking hell, you go ahead and try me!”

I have closed the space between us and before I know it, my animal instincts have kicked in and I’m ready to pounce on this uncouth little rogue—ironically calling her foul-mouthed while I cursing at her like a sailor. I suddenly remember that there are three of me and I can’t become vigilante all over this entitled, ignorant reprobate, so I return to my seat with a final warning.

“I’m not going to sit here and try to make you do what you need to do. This is going to be a learning experience for you whether you cooperate or not and you. Will. Learn!” I hiss.

“What exactly is your problem with me?” she asks, examining me through narrowed eyes. “I would have thought that you would have been flattered an attractive young woman found you desirable, but you act like I committed some kind of crime. I know I’m not the first person who has ever come on to you. Is it because I’m gay?” She can’t be serious.

“Oh, no, I have no problem at all with you being gay. What I do have a problem with is you not understanding what boundaries are. What I have a problem with is you expecting me to be so stupid that I would believe that you drank so much champagne at a red carpet charity event that it actually affected your judgment. I don’t know what you may know about me, but what you should know is that I’ve had a hard and fucked up life. What life didn’t teach me, school did. I’m a shrink—not much gets past me, especially about human nature. You are too old to be acting so flippantly in public—especially in the circles in which your grandparents circulate. You don’t understand how lucky you are, so this little exercise is to try to help you understand that.

“You’re no better than any of these people around you. The only difference is that you were born into money, and you have grandparents that take care of you. You’re not that much younger than I am, yet look at you and look at me. I had my degree and was a year into my internship by the time I was your age. Nobody gave me anything; I worked for it. You’ve got a big, fat trust fund waiting for you. So as far as you’re concerned, you don’t have to do anything. You can just sit and wait until it matures and then collect the money and live happily ever after, right? My guess is with the way that you’re acting now, you won’t see a penny of that money.” I turn away from her and I can just feel her scowling at me.

“So until you inherit your millions, or however much it may be, you will be a student at the Seattle School of Mrs. Grey.” Her eyes grow wide. “Hopefully, during your tenure, you’ll learn how to behave in a manner that will not embarrass your grandparents once you inherit your trust fund. You stand to inherit in about a year and a half?” She glares at me. “That’s not a rhetorical question!” I hiss. She nods, her gaze defiant. “One word from me and that year and a half can become two… or four… or never!” Her eyes grow large again.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” she exclaims.

“Don’t you wish,” I reply calmly. “That total amount can lose a couple of zeroes. I’ve already suggested that the lump sum becomes a monthly stipend.”

“A monthly stipend?” she asks horrified.

“Yes, a monthly stipend. You see, when your livelihood is in the hands of someone else, then your demeanor should reflect that. You shouldn’t be rewarded for bad behavior. So each month, you should have to earn your trust fund. You should be grateful for what you’re being given, instead of acting like a spoiled, entitled, little brat who can behave in any inappropriate manner she wishes.”

“Says the pampered billionaire’s wife!” she hisses. I just smile.

“I had my own before I met Christian and if he leaves, I’ll still have my own. You want to be able to say that, too—not because Grandma and Grandpa are lining your pockets, but because you made something of yourself. So, you can be mad at me all you want, but I’m not the one whose future is in the palm of someone else’s hands. Now, shall we begin again, or do you want to make another smarmy comment so that I can call Adelaide and tell her to add another six months to your due date?” Her face falls and she purses her lips. “I bet you wish you had never come on to me now, don’t you?” She narrows her eyes.

“I thought you would be nice. I guess looks can be deceiving,” she says sardonically.

“No, you thought I would be easy, and you’re right. Looks can be very deceiving. At first glance, you look like a very cultured young lady, so I guess we were both fooled.” I stand and walk pass her to the door. “You’ve wasted enough of my time and dinner needs to be served. Now bring your ass or get the fuck out. The choice is yours.”

“You really don’t…”

“I didn’t say speak!” I snap loudly, causing Ben to stick his head around the corner and survey the situation. “I said ‘bring your ass or get the fuck out…’ now!” I’m counting and if I get to ten, the twins and I are dragging this irritating little bitch out by her hair. I glare at her motionless through to seven before she finally finds the will to put one foot in front of the other. To the door or to the kitchen—it doesn’t matter to me, but I’m done playing with this little poodle.

“Pick up the damn apron,” I nearly growl through my teeth when we get to the kitchen.

“You don’t have to talk to me that way,” she says a bit subdued.

“You’re speaking again,” I warn. She glares at me and the room falls silent. “You can leave at any time,” I reinforce, “but I’m done playing these power games because I don’t have shit to prove to you.” I give her the same narrowed-eye look she gave me earlier and wait for her to retrieve her apron. All eyes are on us now, waiting to see if she will follow directions. She slowly takes the apron and slides it over her head. I wait while she ties it around her waist.

“Now, get over there and do what Jessie tells you to do and don’t let me have to come down here again.” She walks indignantly over to where Jessie is standing. I nod at Jessie and she nods back.

“You can’t work with your arms folded,” I hear Jessie say. I look over my shoulder and see Little Miss Melon drop her arms and await instruction before I walk out of the kitchen. Ben looks at me waiting for the sign that everything is okay. I nod, and he returns to whatever post he has chosen for the afternoon.

I’m back in my office reading my emails when I stumble across one from my loving husband labeled “Quality Items.”

What has he done?

I pull out my iPhone and open my email program.

To: Anastasia Grey
Re: Quality Items
Date: Monday, December 16, 2013, 15:21
From: Christian Grey

My Beloved Wife,

I couldn’t get you and those sexy shoes off my mind when you left, so I thought I would occupy it with more thoughts of something pleasing. Tell me what you think.

Your devoted husband,
Christian Grey, CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

 I click on the attachment he has sent. He has sent three ideas for quietly trickling water effects—fountains and water walls for the Connection Room. Each one would be perfect for the space. I smile while thinking about connecting with him again in our finished room, not that much more needs to go into the space. I think of something else that I would like to see in that space and in the adjoining room.

To: Christian Grey
Re: Quality Items Indeed
Date: Monday, December 16, 2013, 15:30
From: Anastasia Grey

My Darling Husband,

What a wonderful break from my day. The idea of the water is quite comforting and would make an excellent addition to our space. I look forward to the moments we will share in that room. In fact, I have an idea of my own that I would like to share with you. Your opinion is highly appreciated.

Anxiously anticipating your response,
Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey, Assistant Director, Helping Hands

wm-bi-47-backlit-lvngrm-2I attach a picture of a fire element that I found online a few days ago and await his response.

To: Anastasia Grey
Re: Concerned…?
Date: Monday, December 16, 2013, 15:42
From: Christian Grey

Dearest,

While I love the idea of a fireplace in our space, don’t you think that may be unwise? There’s no natural ventilation in the room, which means a possible fire hazard with no oxygen control or ability to air out a smoky area.

Concerned for his lovely wife’s well-being (and his own),
Christian Grey, CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

 I have to chuckle to myself a bit. I can’t believe that he didn’t think I already knew that. I also can’t believe that I knew about some new technology before he did. It tickles me a bit.

To: Christian Grey
Re: I Thought You Knew Me Better
Date: Monday, December 16, 2013, 15:54
From: Anastasia Grey

Christian Grey!

I was certain that you knew that surely I wouldn’t put either of our lives in jeopardy! This is the newest technology in electric fireplaces, my love—LED lighting, in fact, that produces lifelike fire effects over logs or even crystals. It must have been better than I thought to have fooled the great Christian Grey. That model has the amber and yellow cast flames. I was thinking of something more appropriate for our other intimate area. I’d like your opinion on these items, please.

Again, awaiting your response and hoping you have a more open mind,
Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey, Assistant Director, Helping Hands

maxresdefaultI send him a YouTube video of the description of the electric fireplace—this one has a base of crystals and I chose it specifically because the crystals and the “flames” can turn completely blue… like the new walls in the playroom. I’ve also attached a picture of deeper blue crystals showcased in an electric fireplace in an attempt to capture the blue of the walls. More importantly, I attached a picture of a bondage frame that could be attached to the ceiling and pulled down at will by a handle to mimic the carabiners in the old room. The frame even has a leather cross embedded in it to double as our St. Andrews Cross, but much less bulky and imposing.

I wait for several minutes for his response once I send the email to him. He’s had plenty of time to watch the video. It was only four minutes long and at least fifteen have passed. Just as I’m about to type another email, Grace knocks on my open door, startling me to death and causing me to scramble and close my email program. I don’t know why. I really don’t have anything to hide. Besides, I’m talking to my husband… or was.

“I’m sorry, Dear. I didn’t mean to startle you,” she apologizes.

“Oh, it’s no big deal,” I tell her. “I’m a bundle of baby nerves these days.”

“I hope I wasn’t interrupting anything.”

“Nope. Just bouncing some ideas off Christian,” I tell her.

“How is my pugnacious son?” she asks, a bit of an edge in her voice.

“Apparently busy. He hasn’t responded to me yet,” I lament refreshing the screen and hoping for a new email. Nothing.

“Is it something I could help you with?” she asks. Oh, Grace, you’d probably faint dead out if you knew what we were discussing… or not discussing, now.

“No,” I answer. “This little thing requires my husband’s expertise, and apparently, something else has his attention at this moment.” I minimize my email program.

“Well, I didn’t really want anything. I was just coming to ask you—is that Courtney Wilson in the kitchen?” Oh, shit, I had forgotten all about Courtney. I look at my watch. It’s after 4:30. Yes, they’re setting up for dinner soon.

“Yes, it is,” I reply. “Addie and I had lunch last week, and we both feel that Courtney would benefit from being here at the Center and working around people who don’t have it as easy as she does. She’s basically had everything handed to her thus far and she doesn’t really understand just how lucky she is. She has this horrible sense of entitlement, and it’s going to be her demise if it’s not reigned in very soon.” Grace grimaces.

“Well, good luck with that, because she’s been that way for at least as long as I can remember knowing her,” she says. I frown.

“What is she, like, 24? That couldn’t have been very long, could it?”

“She’s something like that and it’s been at least 10 years,” she replies. “She’s been a bad seed ever since she was a child. That’s why her parents sent her here in the first place. They thought she was misbehaving because she was around a bad element. It turns out that she was the bad element.”

“Well, I can see how that would be so, but how did you find out?” Grace comes in and takes a seat.

“Mia is the embodiment of a social butterfly—the good time girl, but in a fun way. There’s never a dull moment around her. Everybody knows her, and everybody knows what to expect from her. So imagine my surprise when I got a call from Nordstrom’s that Mia had been shoplifting.”

I frown. Mia? Shoplifting?  I can’t imagine that Mia I couldn’t have anything her heart desired, so why would she be shoplifting?

“I was asking the same questions your eyes are asking right now. Rather than jump to conclusions, Carrick and I just went down to the department store to hear what was going on and to retrieve our daughter. We were regulars there—on a first name basis with security. When we got there, we found Addie and Fred and a crying Courtney vehemently trying to convince her grandparents that this gaudy silver shirt, retrieved from Mia’s backpack, was something that Mia had squirreled away and not something that Courtney had slightly slipped into her backpack. Mia was standing there, basically silent and observing the entire display. Now I know my daughter. Her father is an attorney and she wasn’t going to say a word until he got there. When we arrived, she proceeded to tell us how this shirt was something that Courtney wanted, not something that she wanted and she was not going to admit to taking the shirt because she had no idea that it was in her backpack.”

“How old was she when this happened?” Grace ponders the incident for a while.

“Fifteen, maybe,” she says. “Courtney had just gotten here; hadn’t been here a week.”

“What happened next?”

“Carrick spoke to Mia very officially. He told her that shoplifting was a very serious crime and that she could be arrested, but that she does have the right not to incriminate herself. I’ll never forget my daughter’s response. She said, ‘I know, Daddy, but I didn’t do anything wrong and I’m not going to confess to a crime that I didn’t commit.’  Courtney is in the corner wailing, trying to get her grandparents to take her home because she claimed that she had nothing to do with this. Fred almost insisted that they leave until the guard informed us that he had requested the security tapes from the afternoon.” I raise my eyebrows.

“Really?” I say.

“Yes, really. One of the clerks vaguely remembered Courtney admiring the shirt. However, the shirt was found in Mia’s backpack. This puts both girls in question. If they were required to review the tapes, it would have become a police investigation and both girls would have been required to be held in custody until the tapes had been viewed. Courtney turned white.” I lean back in my seat and fold my arms.

“Cary asked if Courtney had something that she wanted to tell us and she just fell quiet. He looked back at Mia who said, ‘If I have to go to jail, then I have to go to jail, but I didn’t do this, and I won’t confess to something that I didn’t do.’ She never looked at Courtney once. She knew Courtney had put the shirt in her backpack and she wasn’t going to say it. I had had enough of it. I wasn’t going to stand by and allow this little delinquent to expose my daughter to an experience that she clearly did not need. I let Addie, Fred, and Courtney know in no uncertain terms that if my daughter spent one moment inside of a jail cell for something that she didn’t do that the moment Ms. Courtney got out of kiddie jail, they would do best to send her back to whatever hick town she came from.

“It was almost the end of our friendship, because they were intent on protecting Courtney and I was intent on protecting Mia. The difference is that they were trying to give Courtney the benefit of the doubt, but they didn’t really know her. I had raised Mia from a baby. I knew her quite well, and if she wanted that horrid looking piece of material, she would have bought it. Cary further drove that point home by asking Mia where her Amex was. She reached into her backpack—the same backpack carrying the horrid shirt, I might add—and pulled out her Amex. When Courtney was asked to produce her money, she didn’t have any. She had spent it all.

“Cary told Fred that he was going to have some big problems on his hands if our teenage daughter had to go to holding cell because his granddaughter tried to frame her for shoplifting. Fred turned to Courtney and told her that he was only asking her one time if she did this and she fessed up.”

“That’s all it took?” I ask. Grace snickers.

“Don’t be fooled, Ana, she’s very smart. She’s manipulative and conniving. I don’t know if she plays ignorant because I don’t spend any time around her, but there’s nothing stupid about that girl—arrogant, but not stupid. She knows exactly what she’s doing at every moment, and the walls were closing in on her. She didn’t have any other choice. Mia had her Amex; Courtney had no money; there was a clerk that saw her admiring the shirt. The security tapes were on the way; we were threatening her grandparents; and they were both likely headed to a holding cell. Her objective was to get out of that building, but that was out of the question now. If she got out, she was scot free, and that’s why she was wailing like she was in physical pain. We were a lot of people in a very small room, and she was hoping that the sound of her cries would have irritated us so much that we would have just let her go. Had we been dealing with anybody but my daughter, she might have won that battle, but this was my Mia we were talking about. She could have screamed until her voice was gone and my ears were bleeding. She wasn’t leaving that room until we got to the bottom of things.” She sighs heavily.

“So that was the end of that?” I ask.

original_gemstone-friendship-bracelets“Pretty much,” she says. “We didn’t speak to them for a while, but we pretty much buried the hatchet on that one. We just took Mia home—I don’t even know what happened to that girl, but Mia had one last message for Ms. Courtney. Mia had to pass her as we were walking out of the room. Well, Mia’s was wearing this cute little bracelet. It was gold-toned with pink and burgundy beads and three charms on it. Mia grabs the thing and snatches it off her wrist. Beads go flying everywhere. She has a handful of beads along with the charms and she launches them dramatically at Courtney!”

“No!” I gasp, wondering if any of the trinkets hit Addie or Fred or if they all struck their intended target.

“Yes! Oh, she was all dramatic about her crying, like the things had hit her in the eye or something. I don’t know if they really did. It turns out that it was some sort of friendship bracelet. Mia just stood there scowling at her for a moment before we left them there.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Her first impression on the Greys and she almost gets their youngest child thrown in jail. This is classic, truly classic.

“So… would you like to go with me to check on her?” I ask. She smiles conspiratorially.

“Sure,” she says rising from her seat. We walk down the long hallway and around to the kitchen. The transformation to dinner service is well underway and I can’t find Courtney for the life of me. I see Mare on a stool in the corner, comfortably sitting with her legs crossed and tapping into her iPad. She raises he her head when she sees me and smiles and waves at me. I shrug in an attempt to ask where the hell Courtney is. She points to a figure that I wouldn’t have pegged for Courtney if you paid me. Although she’s still sporting her apron, she looks like she’s wearing a wife-beater, and her hair on top of her head in some kind of messy bun. Grace and I walk over to where Marilyn is sitting to get the debriefing on this particular situation.

“What’s going on?” I say, unable to hide my mirth.

“Well,” Mare begins, keeping her voice low, “apparently fuzzy angora and dish water don’t mix very well. I’m not certain where the sweater is now.”

crocs-verdes-png“Is she wearing Crocs?” Grace asks. I look down at her feet.

“Yes, she is,” Mare says. She points to the Jimmy Choos on the floor next to her stool. “They left the plates that she broke earlier for her to clean up. Jessie’s a real piece of work. She actually hid some of the pieces—under the sinks, behind the stoves—it was a not so fun game of Where’s Waldo. I’m not 100% sure what happened to the shoes. I just know that she was on her knees at some point and when she got back to her feet, a few seconds later she was on her butt. Jimmy Choos went flying into the air, shoes went this way, heels went that way, and that’s all she wrote. Enter Crocs, and there you have it. Those pants are no good either.”

“Really?” I say, with a little too much enthusiasm. Mare looks over at me.

“Cheer down, Bosslady,” she teases, and I realize that I am taking a bit too much joy in this your woman’s calamity. “Apparently that sateen, crackle, pleather, skinny-shit changes color in water, so it looks really bad right now.” I chuckle to myself. I have to say that I’m pleased. Even Grace has that she who laughs last look on her face.

“Oh, and don’t worry. I heard you earlier. I’ve already ordered those complimentary massages at Dreamclinic.” She smiles at me.

And that’s why I keep her around.


 

A/N: She (he) who laughs last laughs best.

The bondage cross that I described earlier is the one from the FSOG movie. I couldn’t find a good picture of the cross by itself, so you just have to picture it in your head. 

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-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!
Lynn x

 

 

Paging Dr. Steele: Chapter 39: Good News/Bad News

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

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

Chapter 39—Good News/Bad News

STEELE

Dinner smells delicious when I get back to Escala after the seemingly never-ending day I had. He hasn’t been gone for 12 hours yet and I feel dysfunctional already. It’ll be a good exercise for me—to be accustomed to his having to go on business trips and learning to cope with his absence—but this is different. He’s in that place—the place I swore to never cross again, turn away from it and never look back. That place that nearly killed me physically and almost destroyed me mentally. He’s there among the very people that shook the foundation of my world.

He has most likely spoken to them by now, shook hands with them, smiled and conversed over drinks while they try to romance him for his business. No doubt, he’ll be having dinner with Senior Whitmore—probably at some fancy casino on The Strip; or worse yet, in Whitmore’s dining room while the little wifey serves them and acts as the perfect hostess. They may even try to thrust Amber down Christian’s throat, assuming she hasn’t already found her fortune attached to some other little rich boy’s pocket.

The whole scene makes me physically ill and I don’t know if I’ll even be able to stomach my dinner. I can’t be a hypocrite, though. I’ve threatened Christian with severe punishment if he doesn’t eat properly or causes himself harm like last week ever again, so I won’t foolishly skip a meal either.

I go to the guest room to find a sundress and slides for dinner. I hate changing in here. I feel so separated every time I come in here to get my clothes. Would Christian mind if I put just a few of my pieces in his closet? I mean, I won’t take over his space, but right now more than ever I feel the need to be close to him. I gather a few pieces, as much as I can carry, and take them to the bedroom that I share with Christian.

When I get to his closet, I discover that looks are quite deceiving. I commandeer what appears to be a corner of the closet. As I begin to arrange my clothing there, the corner is like a clown car—the more I hang there, the more space I seem to have. I decide to retrieve a few more pieces and bring them in here as well. By the time I’ve retrieved enough “pieces” to fill the space without crowding it, nearly all of the clothes Al brought for me have been transferred to Christian’s closet—minus my shoes and my lingerie. Let’s see if I can find some space for those things.

I was easily able to find spots here and there for the shoes Al brought over for me. However, I discover that all of Christian’s dresser and chest of drawer space is occupied. Hmmm… I guess undies and lingerie will have to stay in the guest room. After my little closet escapade, I realize that I only have 10 minutes before Maxie is supposed to be here. I quickly change my clothes and go back to the great room.

We enjoy a delicious beef stroganoff for dinner. I insist that Gail join us since Jason is away with Christian, which means that she would be eating alone. She assures me that it’ll get easier as time passes—being without your man for these necessary business trips—but that you never get completely used to it. Give me hope then snatch it back, why don’t you! She mentions that Jason informed her there was extra security with them on this trip. I asked if that was normal.

“You never know with Mr. Grey,” Gail says. “There’s really no such thing as normal with him. One day, he fine riding in one of his sports cars with an escort. The next day, he has four guards in an SUV.” We laugh. Yes, that’s my beloved Christian… always keep you guessing.

Gail excuses herself after dinner while Maxie and I enjoy a La Ricolma Tuscan Merlot near a fire in the great room.

“So… what’s going on, Steele?” Maxie begins as she sips her wine. I sigh.

“Well, as you know, Christian had to leave town for business. He left this morning and he’ll be back on Friday.” I sit my wine glass on a coaster on the coffee table and fold my hands.

“You’re having a hard time with the separation?” she asks, being more of a friend with that question than a therapist.

“Yes, I am, for a lot of reasons,” I put my hand on my forehead, “not the smallest of which is that I’m in love with him.” Maxie gasps.

“Ana! So soon?” Maxie leans in closer to me.

“I know, Maxie, but I’ve been in love before. I know what it feels like… this is better!” I say with certainty, looking into her eyes. She examines me for a moment.

“You are in love,” she says, softly. I nod.

“Yeah. It’s a little rough on me. These feelings that I didn’t expect to feel again… I mean, I didn’t dismiss them forever. You know, like, running around the house, stopping the clocks and wasting away in a wedding dress… but, I just wasn’t really expecting them.” I take another drink of my wine. “It knocks the wind out of you when it finally settles in that it’s true, that you love another person this way. You can’t wait to wake up in the morning or finish your workday so that you can see him again. You need their closeness to survive, to feel whole. And let’s not even discuss the sex…!”

“No, let’s!” Maxie encourages, laughing.

“No, let’s not!” I reinforce with a giggle. “Anyway, it’s not even about that.” I tuck my hair behind my ear. “He has affected me down to my soul, Maxie. He’s startling and frightening and still so vulnerable. He’s an oxymoron in and of himself.” How do explain that this magnificent man is both my obedient and adoring submissive as well as my powerful and superior Dominant? “I can’t see myself without him, Maxie. It’s not that ‘he’s so dreamy, I can’t live without him’ kind of thing… I really can’t see myself without him.” She examines me even more carefully.

“Is it unhealthy, Ana? Are you obsessed?” she asks. Am I? No, I can recognize obsession all the way down to the clinical definition. This is not obsession.

“No, I’m not obsessed, but I can say that I recognize the development of defining myself in terms of Christianafter two and a half weeks! I know it’s unhealthy, but it’s there. I know that I’m still Dr. Anastasia Steele. I haven’t lost my identity, nor do I think I ever will, but…” I sigh and look at Maxie, defeated. “Maxie, he’s all I think about. I can barely function. I want to sell my condo and move in here with him and never leave. I love my condo… you know that… but if it meant that I could be with him every minute of every day, I’d sell it in a heartbeat!” I confess.

“Oh, Ana,” she says, mockingly, “falling apart at the seams for a man…” she teases.

“Oh, not just any man. Christian fucking Grey… the source of wet dreams for women of all ages across the greater Seattle area! And beyond! Hot, rich, worldly, brilliant, sex-on-a-stick Christian Grey!” I’m squirming in my damn seat just thinking about him.

“Settle down, killer. You’re going to combust any second!” Maxie says, handing me my wine glass and I finish it off.

“He only has to look at me and I’ll do anything he asks. His eyes are so powerful and haunting. Have you seen that man’s eyes?” I say, breathily.

“Yes, I’ve seen them. Have you seen that man’s ass?” she declares.

“Maxie!” I exclaim, slapping her quickly on the arm. “That’s my man you’re talking about and you have a boyfriend!”

“Ow! Cut it out! Look, I’m not dead. I’m just recognizing and appreciating some serious man meat here, okay? And I don’t know if you noticed, but… Phil’s not my boyfriend anymore.” My head snaps to Maxie and I look at her in horror. How could this have gotten past me? Two of my best friends break up and I don’t know? Where have I been?

“What?” I exclaim. “What the hell?” Those two are inseparable! How could this be! I want to cry! And now she’s smiling. Why the hell are you smiling? Maxie produces her left hand and shows me a Petite Trellis solitaire princess cut white gold engagement ring. I gasp long and loud, then scream as my hands fly to my chest.

“Maxine Elaine Saunders, how could you to do that to me!?” I yell, nearly in tears.

“I’m sorry!” she lies through her laughter.

“How did I not see this all night?” We’re yelling like we are not sitting directly in front of each other.

“I just put it on. I wanted to surprise you! I wanted you to be the first to know!” she squeals.

“Oh Maxie!” I crush her in an embrace. “It’s wonderful! I’m so happy for you! Don’t you ever scare me like that again!” I wail.

“Oh, Ana, please forgive me! I need you to be my maid of honor!”

“Of course, I will, you cow!” I say as we cackle with laughter-tears. I release her and take her hand in mine, examining her ring as I wipe my tears. “Oh, Max, it’s beauuuuutiful,” I say in a soft, singy voice.

“Thank you, Ana,” she says, wiping away her own tears. “We were sitting on the deck and he just took my hand and put the ring on my finger. When I looked up at him, he just said, ‘I’m not asking because I’m not taking no for an answer…’ as if I could possibly deny him anyway!”

“Oh, this is wonderful,” I say softly. “Who would have guessed that two of the Awesome Threesome would be getting married when we met a few years ago?” I say smiling.

“You know,” she says, looking down. “We often wondered if our relationship would affect our friendship. We were so afraid you would pull away from us…” Her voice cracks a bit.

“Are you kidding? I could never be without you guys. I was thrilled that the two of you got together. Now all is perfect with the world because I’m in love—seriously in love—and my best-couple-friends are getting married! I couldn’t be more pleased.” I look adoringly into the eyes of one of the two women that I consider a sister, and she returns my gaze with matching affection.

“I love you, Ana,” She says, tears forming in her eyes again. I squeeze her hands.

“I love you, too, Maxie.”

Once we’re able to compose ourselves, Maxie apologizes for hijacking the conversation and get us back on track with the necessary content at hand.

“So, I can see how this level of affection can be scary right now, but I really wouldn’t worry about it. As your doctor, I can tell you that it’s really normal for you to feel like this—especially right out of the gate, and most certainly after the nightmare that was Edward David. As your friend, I can tell you that that hot, powerful, sexy, whatever the rest of the words were that you used to describe him, hunk of man meat is madly in love with you. It’s written all over his face… a blind man could see it. So, have fun, Ana. Live a little. Hell,” she gestures to our surroundings, “live a lot!” I laugh at her last statement.

“I know, Maxie. The biggest reason that I needed to talk to you tonight is because of where Christian is right now.” I fall back into the sofa. “He’s in Nevada… more specifically, he’s in Green Valley.”

“Whoa… shit!” she responds. “What the hell is he doing in Green Valley?”

“Yeah, that’s the worst part. He’s meeting with Cody Whitmore’s fucking father.” I spit. Maxie gasps.

“What?” she screeches. “What in the blue hell…?”

“Apparently, he needs this special insurance that reimburses the company if he or one of the higher-level executives are kidnapped or if their employees or executives are kidnapped in volatile countries or something…” I try to explain.

“K&R,” she says. I frown deeply.

“Am I the only person that didn’t know what that was?” I snap.

“Probably not, but what does this have to do with Whitmore?” Maxie asks.

“Whitmore sells insurance. He’s very, very, very high up in one of the largest independent insurance firms in the Pacific time zone. That’s probably how he acquired GEH’s attention.”

“You don’t think it has anything to do with you, do you?” she asks. “Maybe Whitmore found out that you’re with Christian somehow. Some sort of shakedown maybe?” I shake my head.

“I don’t see how. Our relationship isn’t public. I mean, it’s not private, but it’s not like we’re in the news or anything. I don’t speak to anybody from Green Valley, not even my prior guardians. I spoke briefly to George, but he doesn’t know that I’m with Christian. Even so, what could they possibly hope to gain from Christian?” I shrug.

“Does Christian know this is the father of the guy that raped you?” she asks, horrified.

“No, I never told him. He would kill Cody with his bare hands, I just know it. I almost let the cat out of the bag on Monday, though. He told me where he was going and he mentioned Cody’s name and I went into some kind of subconscious conniption fit. It was horrible.”

“Oh, Ana,” she says, sympathetically.

“Yeah, it was awful. He was looking at me—so helpless—like he desperately wanted to erase all the bad in my life. I wanted to tell him so badly, so badly Maxie, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t risk him going after Cody and then I lose him.” I bury my face in my hands.

“But he does know about…” She trailed off and I knew what she was asking me.

“He knows,” I say, my voice muffled. “He’s knows the what just not the who. Do you remember when I told you that Edward had seen it, and I told him not to ask me about it and he didn’t…?

“But you secretly wanted him to ask because it would have meant that he cared.” She finishes my sentence. I nod and raise my face from my hands, involuntary tears starting to fall.

“Christian asked…” I squeak and Maxie smiles at me, taking my hands.

“He did?” she asks softly and I nod.

“Repeatedly. He begged. He wouldn’t let me hide.” I drop my head. “He kissed my brand when he thought I was asleep,” I say just above a whisper. “He stroked the scars and called me ‘Beautiful.’ He’s my Prince Charming,” I choke, wiping my tears.

“Wow,” she says in a dreamy voice. I sigh.

“And now, he’s fraternizing with the enemy—not just any enemy, the ultimate enemy. I should have told him…” I say, mentally kicking myself for not informing him who he was going into business with. “Of all the insurance companies he could have used… get a piece of the rock, the good hands people, the good neighbor folks, even the little fucking lizard! But no, he had to go to Daddy Whitmore—’we raise rapists’ Daddy Whitmore. I should have told him.” I bury my face in my hands again.

“Are you certain that he would have gone after Cody if you had told him about this?” Maxie asks.

“Yeah, I’d bet the ranch that he would have gone after him… or had someone else go after him,” I reply. She sighs.

“Ana, I’m never one to promote deception or cover-up of any kind. You know as well as I do that it always comes out in the end.” Don’t I know it. “But I have to say that I think you did the right thing this time by not telling him.” I look up at her, surprised. “You found out… whattwo days before he was leaving? How could you possibly drop a bomb like that with your knowledge of how he would respond and expect to be able to do any kind of damage control in that small amount of time?” She sounds logical, but I don’t feel any better.

“I could have told him not to go, and he would have stayed,” I inform her. “But I’m sure that I couldn’t do that without telling him why. It’s such a mess. Every moment that he’s down there, I’m just sick to my stomach,” I say, determined not to have a repeat of Monday night and the amazing reappearing dinner.

“How did you justify letting him go?” she asks.

“By telling myself that I couldn’t run his life or his business and telling myself that it was for the best that he didn’t know about Cody,” I respond.

“Well, you’ve got that half right,” I say. “You can’t run his life or his business. He has to make those decisions and he’s been doing very well up until now. Unfortunately, you do have to tell him about Cody.” A look of horror must have spread across my face because she quickly adds, “You don’t have to tell him right now, especially not while he’s down there within arm’s reach of the bastard, but you are going to have to tell him eventually,” she says, putting her hand on my knee.

“Well, what do I do in the meantime, Maxie? I’m going crazy,” I beg.

“Well, in the meantime, you take comfort in knowing that you did the right thing for the immediate future. You should definitely stop worrying about it because there’s nothing you can do about it right now… not to mention that worrying is bad for your complexion. Finally, you help me get some ideas for my wedding because I don’t know where it’s going to be, when it’s going to be, what my color scheme will be, how many people will be there… all I know is that I love this man and want to marry him as soon as possible. And he has left it all up to me,” she says, more than a little flustered. I smile at one half of my best-couple-friends.

“Those sound like fabulous suggestions, Max,” I say grasping her hand on my knee.

*-*

I shower and change for bed, deciding on one of Christian’s T-shirts since he’s not here. I need as much of him near me as possible. I haven’t heard from him since he landed in Vegas. I hope those wolves haven’t killed him and dumped his body somewhere. I wouldn’t put it pass them. I’m sitting on the bed blankly looking at my laptop when my iPhone sings that I have a text.

**Skype? **

It’s Christian. Thank God. The wolves haven’t disposed of him yet. I open my Skype and text him back.

**Doctorlady206 **

Moments later, I get a friend request on Skype from CEO1920. I snicker to myself as I add him to my friends list, then almost immediately get a call from him. My hands tremble as I click the mouse to answer the call.

“Hello, Beautiful.” His voice soothes me immediately. He looks deliciously wonderful propped up bed in a T-shirt and pajama pants.

“I miss you,” I say before I can get anything else out of my mouth. He sighs.

“I miss you, too, Butterfly,” he says, somberly. “You’ve been crying,” he adds, after a pause. Shit, how can he tell? That was at least an hour ago.

“Oh, don’t pay me any attention,” I say with a nervous laugh. “Maxie came by for dinner and announced that she and Phil are engaged,” I say as a reason for my tears. It was almost true.

“Really?” he says, sounding just as pleased as I am.

“Yes. She played a terrible trick on me. She told me that she and Phil weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend anymore, and I flipped the hell out,” I add.

“You cried because you thought they broke up?” he asks, bemused.

“Noooo,” I said, rolling my eyes. “She showed me the ring, then I cried,” I answer. Christian shakes his head.

“Sappy girls,” he teases.

“Don’t tease me, I’m having a hard time here by myself,” I caution gently. His expression softens.

“I’m sorry, baby,” he says. I shrug.

“It’s okay. So, how are things going down there?” Do I really want to know? He shifts a bit on the bed.

“I’ve got a lot of information,” he says. “Waiting for more to be sent over by Welch. I don’t think I like this guy, Whitmore.” Oh, good Lord, that’s music to my ears.

“Do I even want to know why?” I actually should have thought that statement instead of saying it aloud.

“He’s a poser. His son is even worse,” he says, disdainfully.

“His son?” I ask. Did you meet that bastard? Please tell me you hated him.

“Cody,” Christian says after an uncomfortable pause.

“Are you okay, Christian?” I ask. He shakes his head as if to release a bad thought.

“Yeah, I’m fine. First impressions are quite important to me and the Whitmores were less than presentable in my book,” he responds.

“Did you meet any other members of his family?” Like Amber?

“No, just Junior and Senior Whitmore. If these two are any indication of the rest of their family, I don’t think I could stomach any more time with them.” He shakes his head.

“So, why not just cut your losses and come home?” Please?

“Because I still haven’t finished gathering information on the company. Granted, he’s not my first choice for someone that I would put out front to represent my business, but I always want my decision to be educated… even if I decide to say ‘no.'” And that’s why he’s the brilliant businessman.

“Okay, that makes sense to me.” He relaxes a little at my statement. You don’t have to explain your business choices to me, Christian. I just don’t want you anywhere near those snakes, that’s all.

“So, what brought Maxine by today?” he asks. I can tell he’s concerned.

“I asked her to come over. I was lonely,” I say honestly, well, mostly honestly.

“How was your day?”

“Long,” I admit. “I’ll be fine, Christian. I just have to get used to those times when I have to be without you,” I say trying to quell his obvious concern. Hopefully, I’ll never have to worry about you talking to the fucking Whitmores again. That’ll make it a whole lot easier!

“I thought our experience yesterday would have made the separation a little easier,” he says, seductively. I giggle.

“If anything, it made it worse,” I say, laying down on the bed. His breath catches a bit.

“I know what you mean,” he says, and I can see his hand moving a bit. I know what he’s doing.

“Let me see…” I say. He pulls the laptop back and adjusts the webcam so that I can see him stroking his erection over his pajama pants. Fuck, that’s hot. I bite my lip and my hand immediately goes to my nipple. I tease it gently over my shirt and gasp when a jolt of pleasure shoots straight to my core.

“Take off your shirt, baby,” he says, his voice deep and hungry. I slowly remove his T-shirt and I’m naked underneath. “Oh shit. You look so good.” He’s reaching into his pants now.

“Your turn,” I breathe as I continue to stimulate my nipples. He accommodates me by removing his T-shirt to reveal his sexy, muscular chest. I let one of my hands wander to my stomach, then tell him, “your bottoms, Mr. Grey.” My voice reveals the ache inside. He groans before he raises his hips to remove his pajama pants, releasing his erection into the webcam. I whimper involuntarily as he springs forth. My mouth actually waters for him. I immediately slide my hand down to my clitoris. I don’t think I can take one more second without satisfaction. I’m so hungry for his closeness and his touch, I could just burst.

“You’re a little anxious, aren’t you, baby?” he says, his voice a mixture of mirth and arousal as he fists his shaft.

“Very,” I breathe and I open my legs to reveal my hot, wet pussy to the webcam. “Talk to me,” I prompt him as I stroke my folds. He moans loudly and his dick seems to stand taller with each stroke. God, he looks so good.

“You’re so wet, baby,” he moans. “I can see you dripping for me. Stick your finger in it, baby. Spread that wetness around.” I do as I’m told and plunge my finger into my hot core.

“Ah!” I gasp as I pull the wetness out and spread it around my core.

“Yes… yesthat’s it… massage that clit, baby,” he says, his voice labored and sexy. I feverishly stimulate my clitoris and my nipple as I watch his hand stroke mercilessly over his throbbing dick.

“Oooooo, you like that, baby?” I purr as I feel my release coming.

“Yes, baby,” he chokes, “I… like that a lot.”

“Show me,” I say, plunging my fingers into my pussy again. “Ah! Show me how much you like it.”

“Oh fuck!” he hisses as he quickens his stroke, keeping his eyes glued to the screen, his breath quickening.

“Tell me how it feels…” I mewl… any second now…

“Oh, baby… so good… it feels… sogood,” he croaks.

“Yes… yes, Baby… it feels… aaaaahhh!” I throw my head back as my orgasm takes over me. I’m squirming wildly on the bed, pinching my nipple and riding out my release, unable to keep my eyes open. “Christian!” I croak.

“Look at me!” he growls, causing my eyes to fly open and my head to dart to the screen. He has moved closer to the computer and he is pulling ferociously at his dick. The sight causes another small wave of pleasure to flow through me—a mini-gasm, I like to call them… Delicious aftershocks that prolong the pleasure.

“Ah! Christian!” I whimper again, breathless.

“Gah! Ana… baby… fuck!” I love to watch him make himself come, or even watch me make him come. He has pushed himself back against the headboard and his seed squirts up and back down over his dick as he squeezes and holds it up to jerk out his release.

“Yes, baby, spread it for me. Spread it over your cock like I would,” I tell him. He spreads his cum up and down his dick and over the head, writhing with each stroke and grunting as I know the tenderness is almost too much to bear. “Oh, yes, baby, that looks so good.” I coo. Once he stops jerking and grunting, I know that he has worked out every bit of his release. His breathing is starting to slow and he begins to relax.

“Damn, Ana. Even from 1100 miles away, you still make me come hard as fuck!” he says between his calming breaths.

“Ditto, Mr. Grey,” I say, my body still tingling from its release. He raises his head and looks at me adoringly.

“I think we both may need a trip to the bathroom to clean ourselves up.” He smiles.

“I think you may be right,” I coo.

“Back in five?” He bargains.

“See you then…”

I was able to sleep okay through the night only because Christian stayed on Slype with me until I fell asleep. I wake this morning to a Skype picture waiting for me—a still of Christian holding a hand-written sign that says, “I love you, Butterfly.” Now I can make it through my day.

Today, I have an appointment with Melanie again, the one patient that I have for dignity therapy. Some days are better than others for her, and today seems to be one of her weaker days.

“So, why are we here today, Melanie? You seem like you’re so tired, we could have done this next week,” I say sympathetically.

“That’s the problem, Ana. I never know when there may not be a next week for me,” Melanie says, her breathing labored.

“Okay, I understand that. I’m not your doctor in that sense, but I’m sure that in this type of discomfort, rest will be better for you.” I try to reason with her.

“No offense, Ana, but I’m dying. I’ll rest when I’m dead,” she says, smiling weakly. I nod. It’s her decision if she wants to continue.

“So, where did we leave off last time?” I ask.

“No regrets. Number 7, marrying my first husband…”

Melanie and I laugh through her session this time. She discusses how marrying her first love seemed like a good idea at the time, but that they were too young and neither of them had done any living. They have a child who is now living with her father since Melanie is too sick to care for her anymore. It seems that every time she talks about her teenage years, she gets a feeling of remorse and regret—which is strange since the dignity therapy is primarily to help her release those feelings. Every time our session is over, I just want to run to Christian’s arms and hold him and thank him for being a part of my life. Unfortunately, he’s not here right now.

After lunch, I go over to Helping Hands headquarters to see the facility and meet with some of the families as scheduled. Of course, I see John there and resist the urge to call him a quack. He seems to work well with the families, though, so I guess he can’t be all bad. As Grace takes me around introducing me to various staff members and families, I keep getting a glimpse of a teenage boy who stares blankly out the window. Anger is emanating from this kid and everyone seems to avoid him, including the staff.

“What’s his story?” I ask Grace, pointing to him. Grace sighs.

“He’s a very angry young man. His father abused him, his mother, and his little sister. His mother ended up in the hospital—she nearly died. That’s when they finally decided to leave. He feels like he should have been able to protect her, but he couldn’t even protect himself. So now, he’s dealing with the fallout from abuse as well as the guilt from not being able to rescue the women in his family. Like I said, very angry young man,” she explains.

“No one’s trying to help him?” I ask.

Everyone has tried to help him,” she exclaims. “He’s belligerent, uncooperative, and sometimes violent. We’ve found it best to just leave him alone while his mother and sister are able to get assistance.” I look at her bemused and she puts her hand on my shoulder. “I think sometimes the company is enough for him, even though he doesn’t say anything, but you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.” I look over at this very angry young man about to be unleashed on society one day.

“Do you mind if I try?” I ask. She eyes me suspiciously.

“He hasn’t struck anyone recently, Ana, but that’s not to say that he won’t strike you,” she warns. I laugh. Oh, trust me, Grace, he wants none of this.

“I’ll take my chances,” I say and she nods. I walk over to Little Mr. Angry and sit on the window-seat next to him.

“Hi,” I say. He turns to look at me and every angry and hurtful emotion imaginable is hiding behind his shocking green eyes.

“Who the fuck are you?” he says, coolly. Oh… okay. This is how you want to play it? Fine by me.

“I’m Ana. Who the fuck are you?” I respond flatly. There’s an emotion I didn’t see behind those green eyes… surprise.

“You work here, don’t you? You’re not allowed to speak to people that way,” he says, matter-of-factly.

“But you are?” I ask. He just stares at me. “You get what you give, buddy.” He turns his head and looks out the window again. “See anything interesting?” I ask. He turns to me again.

“Why don’t you just leave me the hell alone?” he snaps. I shrug.

“Fine. Fuck it.” I stand and proceed to leave.

“Are you supposed to do that?” I hear Little Mr. Angry ask from behind me.

“Do what?” I ask in the snottiest, high school voice I can muster.

“Walk away,” he says like he’s scolding me. I fold my arms

“You said ‘leave you alone,’ I was leaving you alone,” I reply, snapping my head on every word and glaring at him. He stares at me like I have two heads. “What?” I snap, the snotty high-schooler returns.

“Nothing! It’s just… everybody else tries to get me to talk.” He drops his head. I walk back over to the window seat.

“Well, it’s kind of clear that you don’t want to talk. I just want to know why you’re sitting here, looking out at… nothing.” I turn to the window and look for something to catch my eye. “Pretty fucking boring.” He looks over at me again.

“You’re strange,” he says. I turn and meet his eyes, not so angry anymore.

I’m strange? Hey, I’m not the one sitting here looking out the window at nothing,” I throw back and roll my eyes. He snickers. Holy cow, we’re getting through.

“You must be new,” he says, turning back to viewing nothing out the window.

“Well, besides the fact that you obviously haven’t seen me before, why do you say that?” I ask.

“Because nobody here talks to me. They’re afraid I’m going to go all ragey and scratch their eyes out or something,” he says without looking back at me.

“I’m not worried about that,” I say, flatly.

“Why not?” he snaps, looking at me again. “What makes you so damn special?”

“Oh, because if you go all ragey on me, I’ll beat your little ass.” I say, doing the finger quotes around the word “ragey.”

“You will not!” he says, incredulously.

“Oh, yes, I will!” I retort, snapping my head again. “I train with a 6th degree black belt martial arts master and I have had him on the ground begging for mercy. I will beat. Your little. Ass!” I say definitely. He laughs aloud and the few people in the room fall silent. I turn around and look at them, afraid they are going to undo all the work I just did.

“What!?” I yell, irritated at the gawkers. They look at me surprised. I’ll apologize later. Right now, I’m on a mission. They go back to conversation or whatever they were doing.

“They’re not going to like you very much here.” I turn and look at him, my gaze dripping with sarcasm.

“And this should bother me because…?” I spit. “This ain’t my day job!” He laughs again.

“So, what are you doing here anyway?” he asks.

“Right now, trying to find out who the fuck you are,” I say glaring at him again. He pauses.

“Marlow. My name is Marlow,” he finally confesses.

“Well, I’d say ‘nice to meet you, Marlow,’ but it wasn’t that nice. So, what’s your deal? Who pissed in your Cheerios?” I ask.

“It’s just the way I am,” he says, looking out at nothing again. Okay…

“So, Marlow, do you prefer ‘black’ or ‘African American?'” His head snaps at me.

“What!?” he shoots.

“I’ve got a question for you, but before I ask, I need to know. Do you prefer ‘black’ or ‘African American?'” He looks at me like he completely doesn’t understand what I’m asking him. “It’s not rocket science, dude,” I shrug. “‘Black’ or ‘African American?'”

“Black,” he spits at me after a pause. “I prefer black. I ain’t no fucking African American. I was born here. I ain’t never been to Africa in my damn life.”

“Yeah, that’s been my experience with most black people.” He glares at me again. “Look, I don’t know where the fuck my people came from, so I have no idea what kind of hyphenated-American I would be!” I shoot.

“They wouldn’t hyphenate you. You’re white,” he says, a little disdainful.

“Yeah, but as far as I know, the only people that really come from here are the ‘na-tive‘ Americans,” I do the finger quotes again with the word “native” and deliberately split the syllables. “The rest of us landed on somebody’s shore, voluntarily or involuntarily.”

“So, what was the question?” he asks.

“Oh, yeah. I’ve never seen a black person with green eyes,” I say, leaning in like his eyes are the most interesting thing in the room—which right now, they are. “How does that happen?” He leans back a bit and takes a deep breath.

“My mom is white, and my dad is black. My mom has green eyes…” he says, his voice low. I stare in his eyes.

“You don’t like them,” I say, tilting my head.

“I don’t know,” he answers. “They cause me problems,” he says, still looking at me. I snap my head back.

“Problems?” How can your eye color cause you problems?

“Yeah.” He looks back out at nothing. “The kids at school used to say that I was trying to be white. They thought I was wearing contacts—like every other bitch in school wasn’t wearing them already. And then my dad…” He trails off. I wait for a moment before I ask, “What about him?” Marlow sighs.

“He used to beat me… because he was mad I got my mom’s eyes and not his… like that was my fucking fault!” he spits.

“Damn,” I say, shaking my head. “That’s fucked up.” I turn back to look at nothing with him.

“They teach you a class in this shit?” he says, turning to me.

“What shit?” I say, looking at him.

“Relating to somebody. Getting on their level,” he answers sarcastically. Oh shit, you got me. I shake my head.

“I don’t think you can teach something like that. Either you relate or you don’t. It is what it is,” I say with a shrug. I relate, because I could have very well been Marlow if I had decided to stay angry for what happened to me.

“It’s just that… every time they send somebody to talk to me, they send some fucking phony…”

“Okay, who are ‘they’ and why are they sending people?” I ask, mimicking confusion. He laughs again.

“You really are strange, Ana,” he says.

“Look who’s talking,” I reply. He smiles and rolls his eyes.

“I’m just tired of people trying to ‘fix’ me,” he says.

“Why? Are you broken?” I say with one raised eyebrow. He narrows his eyes. He can’t figure me out.

“They think I am!” he says, waving his hands and pointing at nobody. I catch a glimpse of Grace out of the corner of my eye standing just outside the door with another woman. Oh, forgive me, Grace.

“There you go with ‘they’ again. Who the fuck are ‘they?'” I say with my hands open, looking flustered. And he’s still trying to figure me out. “Do you think you’re broken?”

“No, I’m not broken!” he declares.

“Fine, so you’re not broken. What’s the damn problem?” I say, hands still open, flustered.

“I want people to treat me like a person, not a fucking charity case,” he yells.

“So why don’t you just say that?” I yell back, and now he’s shocked. “Is there something wrong with your mouth that you can’t tell people ‘I’m a fucking person?'” I stare into his green eyes, now guileless and somewhat confused. I hold my hands out wide and stare. “Feel better now?” I snap. His whole body relaxes. I put my hands down.

“People will only treat you the way you allow them to treat you,” I say definitely. “‘They’ have been trying to help you, but ‘they’ can’t because they don’t know how. They don’t know what you need and apparently, they don’t know how to treat you. But Marlow, you can’t make them feel bad for trying to help you. We’ve all got a story, believe me, and none of us really wants to tell it. Hell, I wish I could bury mine forever and never fucking say it again.” I say, doing a patented Christian-Grey-fingers-in-my-hair gesture. “You don’t have to constantly tell your story to get past your story, but you do have to get past your story!” He drops his head at this statement.

“Maybe I can help you get past your story, get a little peace in your life, stop being so damn mad all the time. But I won’t shove anything down your throat. I don’t know what the hell ‘normal’ is,” air quotes again, “and if there a such thing as fixed and broken, then I’m somewhere in between!” I say making illustrative gestures with my hands.

“No, you’re strange.” He laughs.

“Whatever,” I say, leaning in to him. I put my arms on my knees and fold my hands in front between them. “I’m going to leave here tonight, go home, eat my dinner, watch some TV, and everything will be everything. I’ll help you if you want me to, and if you don’t, I’ll get up and carry my happy ass outta here. I won’t lose any sleep if you decide you want me to get the fuck out of your face. The choice is yours.” I sit there waiting for Marlow to make a decision.

“Lady, the minute I feel like you are trying to run some kind of game on me, I’m done,” he says.

“That is always your choice, Marlow. I just want to see you not be so damn pissed. Can we work on that?” He nods.

“Yeah, we can work on it. Will you be here next week?” he asks.

“I’ll be here next week.” I nod and proffer my hand to him. He shakes my hand just as Grace and the other woman enter the room. Marlow shoots up and puts his hands in the air.

“I wasn’t doing anything!” he nearly shouts. I stand up and turn to him smacking my lips.

“At ease, soldier,” I say sarcastically snapping my head again. He looks at me and then at Grace, then puts his hands in his pockets and drops his head. I notice he’s a lot taller than I thought, maybe about 5′ 8″ or so, but stress can make you look and feel very small.

“Ana, this is Marcia, Marlow’s mother,” Grace introduces the green-eyed brunette to me and I shake her hand.

“He’s right, he does have your eyes,” I say.

“It’s nice to meet you, Ana,” she says sweetly.

“Same here,” I respond. Marcia is about the same height as Marlow, with healing bruises on her face. Her last encounter must not have been that long ago.

“I see you’ve met my son,” she says, cautiously.

“Oh, yes, he’s just a bundle of joy and laughter,” I say, sarcastically looking at Marlow, who chuckles again.

“Yeah, and you’re short,” he says with mirth.

“Whatever. I’ll still kick your little ass,” I say, playfully punching his arm while he continues to laugh at me. “Next week? Same place?” I ask. He nods.

“Next week,” he says and he walks out with his mother. Grace watches them leave and turns to me once they have cleared the door.

“He hasn’t spoken to anyone in months! What did you do?” she asks in wonder. I shrug.

“You do whatever you have to do—within reason—to get through to them. He’s a very angry child, and none of that psycho-babble-mumbo-jumbo was going to work with him. He needs to be seen. He needs for people to see him, and that just hasn’t been happening.” She looks at me, her eyes still full of wonder.

“He doesn’t see me as a threat. I’m not shoving anything down his throat, I don’t have anything to sell, and the door is open for him to leave any time he wants,” I say to Grace. “It’s like you said, you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. They have to make the decisions. We can’t do it for them.” She shakes her head.

“You’ve been here, what, two hours? Maybe? Do you know how many people have tried to help that young man?” I shrug.

“I can imagine,” I reply.

“I was coming in here to investigate since one of the workers said the new girl yelled at her.” My hand flies to my mouth.

“Oh, my God! Please apologize for me, I’m so sorry! I had to get on his level and it required that I get a little brusque,” I squeak on the last word. “I didn’t mean to offend anybody,” I say shaking my head.

“I wouldn’t worry about it, dear,” she says. “If you can turn that one into a success story, everyone here will be eternally grateful.”

“Do you have prior files on him? I want to find out as much about him as I can, but I don’t want to push him to talk about anything that he doesn’t want to discuss,” I say. Grace nods and I follow her to her office.


GREY

I spend most of the day trying to weave together the information that I already have from Billings as well as the unspoken information I’ve gotten from Sullivan and the Whitmores. While sitting at the desk in the penthouse of the Bellagio, I’ve made a list of the people who are definitely responsible:

Cody Whitmore and his asshole father, Franklin
Kevin Van Dyke—identified by Billings

There are some strong possibles that need to be examined:

Carly Madison—Whitmore’s high school girlfriend
Mary Wiseman, Rhonda Yick, and Lana Milligan—most likely guilty by association; flunkies that hung around Madison.
Michael Underwood—Identified by Billings as “Michael and them guys”
Brian Moleham, Richard Swanson, William Wood, and Justin Roundy-“them guys”

Strong evidence points to Madison because although Whitmore claimed that Butterfly lied on him and that the sex was consensual, that would not instigate the need for him to brand her a whore… literally or figuratively. He may have assisted in pegging her as a liar, but not a whore. That particular label is personal and would have been granted by someone who felt particularly slighted by the situation—hence, the woman scorned.

If that’s the case, Madison would not have carried this out without her closest partners in crime—again, literally and figuratively. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that, among other possibilities, those partners would certainly have been Wiseman, Yick, and Milligan. Madison was photographed over 20 times in the 2001 yearbook—not even her year of graduation. Whomever else may have been in the shots with her, these three were always there.

I only have Billings’ information to follow Michael and his crew, but something still doesn’t sit well with me with Sullivan. I can’t figure where he would fit with this puzzle. There’s no payoff according to Welch, so we know that Whitmore didn’t get to him—unless he used some untraceable assets and nothing at all even points in that direction. I think it’s pretty safe to say that he wasn’t paid off. He was the cop at that time, so he certainly wasn’t one of the students that took part in the attack. There’s absolutely no evidence that he knew the Steeles/Mortons before any of this happened. So, what is he hiding? He has covered every track possible that could lead to that ranch or that night, and nobody questioned him. He clearly doesn’t want anybody to see the evidence. Why would a cop want evidence to be covered?

I look at the picture of my Butterfly again. The beautiful, fresh-faced, bright-eyed girl reminds me why I’m doing this. They stole her innocence and put her through hell when she should have been going on dates and to movies, picking a dress for the prom. No, she was working crazy hours at odd jobs, saving her pennies and planning an escape from her own personal hell. You would never know what she went through by looking at this beautiful picture. You would also never know that, quite possibly, anybody on this page could have taken part in her attack—a page full of shiny-eyed, pimply-faced teenagers. I look at the different expressions and make a game out of trying to figure out what they could be doing now.

Kevin Schau—he probably went to Hollywood and became a movie star.
Danielle Titus—probably the president of the PTA after punching out a couple of kids.
Robert Sol—oh, he is so gay.

I see one picture that has an air of familiarity and I have to do a double-take. Right there on the same page—as a matter of fact, right next to Butterfly… how did I not see that?

“No fucking way!” I exclaim aloud, causing Taylor to appear in the doorway from the bedroom on the other side of the penthouse.

“Sir?” he greets cautiously, but I’m feverishly opening the folders to access the background checks and information on the Green Valley suspects. I open a file and read carefully, and there it is. There’s no mistaking it. The resemblance is uncanny and it’s right there in black and white. I’m glad it only took me a day to see it and I don’t know if I would have ever made the connection if I hadn’t been staring at Butterfly.

“Fuck!” I exclaim again as I stand quickly from my seat, knocking the chair back onto the floor behind me. This discovery is completely infuriating me! I walk away from the desk, cursing and ready to kill someone with my bare hands. I pour myself a bourbon from the wet bar and immediately throw back the double-shot. Taylor approaches cautiously.

“Boss… what is it?” he says, his voice forceful. We cross a certain line when I go from “Sir” to “Boss.” The latter is more of a term of endearment… if you can call it that. When he needs to get my attention for something—or bring me back from the cliff—he calls me “Boss.”

I look over my shoulder at Taylor, trying to gather my thoughts to explain what I have just figured out. “Pick up the chair and have a seat, Taylor.” Bemused, he places the chair in front of my laptop and looks at me expecting. I come back to the desk and move the mouse. The picture that I was studying pops up. “In the yearbook, the kid next to Anastasia—hold it up to the screen.” It only takes a few moments for Taylor to see the resemblance.

“Ssssssssshit!” he hisses viciously, looking up at me.

“I’d bet my next acquisition that little fucker was at that bonfire,” I spit.

“I’d bet my pension that you’re right,” he confirms. I launch my glass at the nearest wall and it disintegrates into dust.

“She never had a chance for justice here, not a fucking chance! There was never a hope or a prayer that anybody would be brought to justice for this shit. Yet this asshole calls her anytime there’s a hit or an inquiry on her case. What the fuck is that about!?” I’m beyond all levels of livid that I have ever reached in my fucking life! I’m so pissed, you could fry an egg on my head right now.

“What do you want to do, boss?” Taylor asks, his anger levels evident in his voice as well. I’m so angry that I’m shaking.

“I have dinner with Crestwood in three hours. I’m going to the hotel fitness center for a while to try to curb my current need to kill someone!” I bark the last two words through my teeth. “Find that bastard. I want to know every fucking thing about him and I want to know what he knows. I want to know where he is tonight! If he’s dead, I will exhume his body, hold a fucking séance and question his goddamn ghost!” I say as I pick up the vase of flowers from a nearby table and launch it at the wall as well, the vase meeting the same fate as the bourbon glass, before I retreat to the bedroom in search of gym attire.

At 4:50pm, I’m showered, changed, decked out in Paul Stuart gray and black lightweight tweed and Crockett & Jones black leather shoes, and seated in Jasmine facing the door and sipping on a cranberry spritzer prepared to Butterfly’s specifications. I’m early, because I hate being late. At five minutes to the hour, I watch as the hostess points a woman to my table. Cynthia Crestwood is in her mid-forties and very fit. Her hair is a very light brown with obvious natural blonde highlights. She’s very attractive and wears very little make-up. Her dress is modest and tasteful. I stand as she extends a well-manicured dainty hand to me.

“Mr. Grey? I’m Cynthia Crestwood.” I kiss her hand.

“A pleasure to meet you Mrs. Crestwood. Please have a seat. Would you like a drink?” I offer.

“A lemon breeze with mint, please,” she says to the server.

“Cubed or crushed ice, ma’am?” the server asks.

“Crushed, pleased.” The server nods and retreats to prepare her drink. “So, Mr. Grey, I’m anxious to hear about your organization. I will confess that I Googled you last night and I’m aware of your philanthropic endeavors. So, the fact I’m being honored by this charitable organization supported by such a prestigious company is a bit of a surprise to me. I’ll admit that I’ve helped more than a few troubled children in my time, but none that I would think would gain any acclaim outside of my little community.”

“Well, this is nothing like the Nobel Peace Prize, granted,” I begin. “It’s something that we do that recognizes smaller contributions that would otherwise go unnoticed. You come highly recommended by one of our psychiatrists.” This has piqued her interest.

“All the way in Seattle?” She smiles. “Who is this psychiatrist?” Showtime.

“Her name is Anastasia Steele,” I answer casually, taking a sip of my spritzer.

“Really?” she says, her voice showing particular interest now. “How do you know Anastasia Steele?” I guess it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. After a pause, I answer,

“She’s my girlfriend.” Crestwood’s expression changes and she looks as if she will make a mad dash for the door any second, ready to run just like the rest of them and wanting to do anything in the world but talk to me right now.

“Before you clam up on me and run away, Helping Hands is a real organization. My mother Dr. Grace Trevelyan Grey is really the director—this is her baby. Anastasia really is a psychiatrist that works with the families there. She’s really quite remarkable with people in light of what has happened to her.”

A myriad of emotions cross Ms. Crestwood’s face. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?” she asks with conviction. I nod.

“Yes, ma’am, it is. No one was ever brought to justice for what happened to her. She doesn’t know that I’m here, but with my resources, I’m sure that I can bring her some kind of closure.” Ms. Crestwood is no doubt weighing the pros and cons of talking to me. Will she run like everyone else? Someone has got to be willing to give me some answers. I’m good, but I don’t think I’m going to just stumble on to too many more leads like the one that presented itself earlier this afternoon.

“Seattle? A psychiatrist, huh?” she asks.

“Yes. She has helped quite a few people through some pretty rough times. She even helped me and my family. I can tell you with all honesty that she has a profound effect on everyone that she meets,” I answer. She smiles and nods. The look on her face can only be described as pride.

We pause for a moment while the server brings her drink and we place our order for dinner. Once she leaves, Ms. Crestwood starts talking.

“That same year, Stephen got a large sum of money from one of the kids’ father—Whitmore. I’m pretty certain the culprit there was Cody. He’s always been a problem—spoiled, entitled little brat. And his girlfriend Carly was even worse. Her father owns horse ranches in the area…” That ties right in to what happened to Butterfly. Ms. Crestwood notices the change in my posture. “You know exactly what happened to her don’t you?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say, “I do.”

She sighs. “The only person that I can give you with any certainty is Cody. From talking to my brother-in-law and to Ana, he’s your prime suspect.” She has just told me that Cody is the one that raped Butterfly but she doesn’t want to say the words—and she doesn’t know that I already know this, but I’m glad to have someone confirm it. “His girlfriend was quite malicious. I would bet my retirement that she had something to do with Ana’s attack, if she wasn’t the ring-leader. From there, you want to focus on her ‘crew.’ They were the typical snobby, arrogant bunch that picked on the not-so-wealthy kids. I see it all the time.” She holds her head down and toys with her flatware.

Throughout dinner, she gives me several names as a starting place of who could have been involved. “I’m not 100% sure about this. I do know that if there was trouble in this area, these kids were usually involved. They’re notorious for stirring things up and getting away with it because their parents have money and could always buy them out of it, or Daddy knew someone that knew someone that knew someone that could fix it. I’m sure you’re aware of this sort of thing, Mr. Grey,” she says with some contempt.

“Yes, Mrs. Crestwood, I’m aware of this sort of thing. The difference is that I always try to operate within the letter of the law,” I state flatly.

“Try?” she questions. I fold my hands on the table.

“The law hasn’t been very kind to Anastasia in this matter. I’m going to gather as much information as I can and I’m going to do my best to operate within the letter of the law. However, someone that I love has been grossly mistreated and badly hurt. Although she has overcome what occurred, I will spend every dime of my fortune if I have to in order to see every person involved in this incident pay for what happened to her,” I say sternly. She nods.

The server has cleared our dinner dishes and is now serving after-dinner coffee before Mrs. Crestwood starts to tell me about her brother-in-law.

“Stephen and I were never that close. I was married to his brother Justin. Justin was very good to me, but he died in 2000.” She takes another sip of her coffee. “The house is a family house—Justin and Stephen’s parents. I didn’t want to live there alone without my Justin. So, I took the money from his life insurance and, after I paid all of Justin’s medical bills and burial costs, I bought a condo in Las Vegas. That’s the address that Ana used to attend Chaparral.” She looks out of the window of the restaurant.

“I was very angry with Stephen for bringing her back here after everything that had happened to her, poor girl. I don’t know how she survived living in that city after that. I’m not sure how she avoided running into anyone that had attacked her. I got her lots of little odd jobs with my friends—babysitting, cleaning, running errands. Many times, I brought her back home—if you could call it that—at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning… on school nights. I didn’t want her catching the bus that late and she was determined to do whatever she needed to do get away from those people.

“I knew there was money involved. Justin was the salt of the earth, God rest his soul, but Stephen is one of the most unscrupulous men I have ever met. He never did anything to me personally, but the way he treated Ana. And Carla—his wife, Ana’s mother—I don’t know, she just seemed… detached from the whole thing. If that had been my daughter, I would have been screaming from the mountaintops for justice, but not Carla. She was content to sit by and watch whatever was going to happen just… happen.” She sighs.

“Anyway, little Ana left the minute she graduated from high school… and I do mean the very minute that she graduated. She told me that she was leaving, but she never told me where she was going, and I haven’t seen her since. I haven’t talked to her folks since then either. I married my husband Larry a few years later and never looked back at that part of my ‘family.’ I’ve often wondered how little Ana fared.” She looks at me. “Looks like she’s doing pretty well,” she says before finishing her coffee.

After dabbing her lips with her napkin, Mrs. Crestwood says, “I’m not sure that there’s anything else that I can tell you, Mr. Grey. I think I’ve covered everything that I know about the situation. I know that you should probably talk to the officer that discovered Ana that night because if anybody is hiding anything, he would know what’s hiding. He would certainly be remiss to tell you, but he would know.”

“You’ve been more than helpful, Mrs. Crestwood. I do thank you very much for the information,” I say extending my hand to her. She shakes it before standing to leave. When I stand with her, she asks, “Where were you raised, Mr. Grey?”

“In Bellevue, a suburb outside of Seattle.” She nods.

“I’m sorry, I just don’t see a lot of chivalry anymore. It’s very refreshing—especially from one so young,” she says, with a matronly smile. I return her smile.

“Thank you, ma’am,” I say with a small nod. She takes a few steps, then turns around.

“When you get to a point where you can talk to her about this, will you please tell Anastasia I said ‘hello’ and that I think of her often?” she asks. I smile.

“I will,” I assure her. She returns my smile and leaves the restaurant.


A/N:

Ana talks about running around the house, stopping clocks and wasting away in a wedding dress. This comes from a character in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Miss Havisham was jilted on her wedding day and basically stopped time, never left her mansion and never changed her clothes—a wedding dress and one shoe—because she was so heartbroken.

Ana broke into insurance company slogans in case that was confusing to anyone:
“Get a piece of the rock”—Prudential Insurance
“The good hands people”—Allstate Insurance
“The good neighbor folks”—State Farm Insurance
“Even the little fucking lizard”—the Geico gecko… they are mostly known for car insurance, so she was just being sarcastic here.

A lemon breeze is basically lemonade made like Ana’s spritzer—Lemon juice, simple syrup made with soda water (soda water and sugar) and mint leaves over cubed or crushed ice. You can use concentrated lemon juice or real lemons, whichever you prefer.

As always, pictures can be found on Pinterest including Maxie’s engagement ring at http://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/paging-dr-steele/

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