Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 19

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 19

ANASTASIA

It’s kind of hard to maneuver a field trip when one of the occupants of your party is all about gourmet food while another is barely eating.

Sophie is excited to go to the gourmet restaurants and food sites and even just to taste whatever local fares that Vegas has to offer, while Marilyn only sits at various tables picking at the smallest servings of the simplest foods, if she ventures to eat anything at all. She doesn’t look as sickly as she did when the trip began. Her coloring isn’t so pale, but her hair still looks very brittle and she hasn’t gained a pound. She hasn’t lost anymore that I can tell, thank God, but she’s downright skinny now, and she’s never been that way.

I don’t want to send her back to Seattle because the last thing I want is for her to be alone and that far away. However, whenever we go on some kind of food excursion, she escapes to her room anyway. I wonder what she does in there all alone for hours. I know that she’s been meditating and doing some yoga, but that doesn’t take up an entire day. Does she just sit around and mope about Gary day in and day out?

“Have you checked on Gary at all?” I discreetly ask Al at brunch on Sunday. He shakes his head.

“I’ve been a bit distracted, Jewel,” he admits.

“I’m sorry,” I reply, “it’s just that since he responded to you faster than he spoke to anyone else, I thought…” I trail off. “If he’s doing half as badly as Marilyn, I’d be concerned.” Al looks across the room at Marilyn typing away on her phone.

“She’s still not eating?” he asks. I shake my head.

“Her shakes and supplements are packed full of nutrients,” I tell him. “She’s worked herself up to maybe a course per day, but it’s nowhere near enough. She supposed to be slowly introducing food back into her system, but I think she’s going too slowly.” Al shakes his head.

“I think you’re right. You might want to have one of your Jewel talks with her,” he says.

“I have been,” I say. “I’ve been keeping an eye on her as much as I can, but I know as well as anybody that when you’re in love with someone, it can take years to get over them.”

“She’s not going to survive for years at the rate that she’s going,” he says, pointing discretely at Marilyn.

“I know,” I lament. “I’ll call Philip and see if he can check in on Gary. I’d hate to know that he’s suffering a similar fate.”

“He looked fine when I saw him at Christmas, Jewel,” Al says, “just heartbroken.” I shrug.

“Heartbreak hits different people in different ways, I suppose,” I reply.

*-*

Dinner this evening is at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant, Hell’s Kitchen, in Caesar’s Palace, where you’re greeted with Satan’s flaming pitchforks at the door… I mean literally in flames! Burning! Unfortunately, Gordon’s not here, but there’s a video of him right at the door chastising someone for posting a picture of some unpalatable dish online. Further inside the restaurant, there is Gordon Ramsey and Hell’s Kitchen merchandise—cookbooks, mugs, T-shirts, etc.—and then there’s the restaurant consisting of a large bar and a huge dining room.

The chefs all cook in an open kitchen behind a large bar that’s marked red on one side and blue on the other. I don’t watch the cooking show itself, but Sophie tells me that this looks just like the set where the teams compete, and she is absolutely mesmerized. There are several screens around the restaurant displaying active flames. It’s different, but kind of exotic. The sun has gone down and the view out of the window is spectacular. We’re looking at the three lighted fountains in the courtyard and it’s absolutely gorgeous.

Needless to say, my husband has ordered everything on the menu, and with the size of our party—minus Mare, unfortunately—there won’t be a problem with the volume of food. Knowing that Sophie is our little aspiring chef, he wants to make sure she gets to taste everything that the restaurant has to offer and give her critique.

Sophie shies away from the raw seafood dishes and leaves them for the adults—mainly the adult men as Christian and Jason decimated the oysters on a half-shell while Daddy, Al, James, and Chuck all tear into the Hell’s Kitchen grand shellfish tower, shrimp cocktail, and caviar. I manage to snag some of the tuna tartare before they destroyed it.

Sophie is more attuned to the hot appetizers when they arrive and even more enthralled with the entrees. I scold the gentlemen, reminding them that this is Sophie’s experience as they can have it at any time, and they need to stop being barbarians and allow her to taste the food first. True, she didn’t want the raw fish, but of course, she’s going to want the other dishes. Christian raises his brow at me, and I raise my brow right back, while Jason puts his fork down and Daddy, James, and Al all snicker at the other end of the joined tables.

I take each dish and present it to Sophie. She smiles and takes a small serving of each, tasting each one like a seasoned professional food critic. She identifies the various flavors in each dish, mostly by watching the shows on the various food channels and paying attention to each texture as she allows the food to tantalize her tongue. The way that she describes the food, she has a table full of adults hanging on her every word the way that she did at the wedding…

“I didn’t expect for that combination of flavors to work so well together. The scallops aren’t seared too hard—just enough of a crust to compliment the puree and the apples…”

“I didn’t expect to like pumpkin soup, but the texture is so creamy, and the flavor coats your tongue…”

“I have to admit that I expected more from the Wagyu meatballs, but the polenta is delicious…”

Gail watches proudly as the adults wait for Sophie’s critique, then taste each dish, searching for the flavors and textures that she highlighted. Jason beams, showing all 32 of his pearly whites, his chest sticking out like a prized stallion, boasting that his Baby Boo is one day going to be a 5-star chef.

I have no idea why, but I can never say “no” to a Quinoa salad. However, it can be a bit filling, so I only eat a small bit of it and share with anyone at the table who wants some. When it came to the table, I almost didn’t share it. It’s red quinoa mixed with honeycrisp apples, dried apricots, goat cheese, toasted hazelnuts, and a honey vinaigrette dressing. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a quinoa salad this delicious, and Sophie concurs.

We had to order four of Gordon Ramsay’s famous Beef Wellingtons. The adults, again, allow Sophie to taste the signature dish first, and upon reading the food orgasm on her face before she praises the tenderness of the beef filet and the flakiness of the pastry, they tear into the dish leaving nearly clean plates behind in the melee.

The desserts are utterly divine. The salted caramel apple sponge cake and ice cream creation is delicious—smooth and creamy and indulgent. I’m not a fan of the peanut butter cheesecake, but Keri loves it! James and Daddy think it’s the bee’s knees, too. However, Sophie’s favorite—and mine—is the pineapple carpaccio… shaved pineapple, citrus foam, coconut sorbet, coriander, and passion fruit. It’s served in a large, clear-glass bowl with a plate-like rim and the server comes to your table and pours liquid nitrogen into the bowl in the center. If you’ve ever seen liquid nitrogen, it causes this smokiness to rise from the bowl and swirl in between the little pineapple and sorbet mountains and across the table. It makes the dessert not only delicious, but also visually aesthetically pleasing… and fun!

It’s still early when we leave Hell’s Kitchen and begin to head back to the Waldorf, but once we get to the valet at the hotel, Jason pulls me aside from the rest of the group.

“I thought you should know that Carol just left me a message,” he says. Carol… that’s Marilyn’s security detail. “She’s at the fountains at the Bellagio with Marilyn. She decided to take a walk and now she’s just sitting there by the water. She figured you might want to know.”

“She figured correctly,” I say, looking over at Christian. “I’m going to the Bellagio. Marilyn is there at the fountains. I just want to go check on her.” Christian’s brow furrows.

“You don’t think…” He trails off.

“I don’t think,” I say firmly, “but I don’t want her to be alone either.” I look at Chuck. “We’re going for a walk.”

“You’re walking?” Christian says, aghast.

“Yes, Christian, we’re walking,” I tell him. “Trust me, I’ll be more camouflaged in the crowd on the strip than I was with the entourage surrounding me on the courthouse steps.” He shakes his head.

“Chuck, take the car,” he says. Chuck gets into the driver’s seat of the car and waits for me.

“Christian, can you see the mall right there?” I ask, pointing to the Shops at Crystals. “The Bellagio is literally on the other side.”

“That’s great, and this is Vegas. There’s a whole fucking lot of people on the street and a whole lot of shit can happen. There’s the car. Take it or leave it. I mean it, Anastasia!”

I want to be mad, but Christian never really orders me to do anything. I’ll get a chiding, a gentle warning, his Dom voice… or something, but he never outright orders me to do anything. If he’s doing it now, he’s extremely concerned… and he’ll have Metro block the street off in five minutes.

I glare at him for a moment, kiss him on the cheek, and dutifully get in the car.

Chuck has to track Marilyn’s phone for us to find her by the fountain. She’s just standing there by the balustrade staring out at the water. Carol is nearby, but not too close—an attempt to give her some privacy, no doubt. I walk behind her and announce my presence so as not to startle her.

“Hey,” I say softly.

“Hey,” she responds without turning around. “Don’t worry, Bosslady, I’m not going to jump.”

“I didn’t think you would,” I say. She looks over at me.

“You didn’t?” she says with a mirthless smile. I shake my head.

“No,” I say. “I know you’re smarter than that. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” She turns back to the water.

“No,” she says with a heavy sigh, “I’m definitely not okay.” Her voice cracks with sadness and the hint of unshed tears. “I can’t see or feel anything but darkness and sadness and gloom and despair, and while I don’t want to die, I definitely want this to end.” And now she begins to cry.

“I miss him, Ana,” she says, looking out at the water, a steady stream of tears running down her cheeks. “I miss him so much that I can’t even breathe sometimes. It’s the worst at night. I still haven’t learned how to sleep without him. I’m lucky if I get an hour or two of sleep at a time and even when I do, I just dream about him. Then, I wake up alone and cry because he’s not there or because I’ve dreamed about him leaving me again.

“I got one of those weighted blankets to help with sleeping and when I wake up under the blanket, it’s painful—emotionally and physically. I think it’s too heavy for my body, because the part of my body that it’s laying on hurts like I’ve been working out all night… but even more so, it feels like he’s holding me. So, I turn around to hold him back and it’s this damn blanket, so it hurts even more.

“I can’t eat oatmeal,” she continues. “I can’t even see oatmeal. He ate it every day without fail except Sunday. We ate anything else for breakfast on Sunday—eggs benedict was his breakfast of choice on that day, but we ate whatever… but every other day, it was oatmeal. I would put butter and sugar and cinnamon in mine; he would put syrup in his.

“I can’t eat Chinese,” she says, “orange chicken to be exact. My Gary is a creature of habit. Every Wednesday, it was orange chicken…” She pauses. “Is… was… is… I don’t know anymore.

“That’s why it’s hard for me to eat, Ana,” she confesses. “Food makes me sick. Particular foods make me think of him, and then they turn my stomach, and no matter how hard I try to keep them down, I can’t. I want to vomit now just talking about food. You, of all people, should know that the mind is a powerful thing, and right now, mind over matter is working in his favor.” I frown.

“Why would you say this is in his favor?” I ask. “Do you think he would really want to see you this way?” She scoffs weakly.

“Ana, do you even think he cares?” she asks with disdain. “I know he doesn’t wish me dead—he’s not a horrible person, but I’d bet everything I have that he wouldn’t care that I’m going through this. He’d probably wish I’d suffer more for killing his baby.”

That statement makes her weep. She briefly cries into her hands a soulful, mournful sob, and then she stops just as quickly as she started. A few people stop to look at her and her horribly tear-stained face, but she just blankly stares in front of her and they eventually just move on.

“I wake up every morning filled with dread,” she says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just putter along during the day—second by second. I don’t see any relief. Yoga and meditation fill some of the many seconds of the day, and then somewhat help me get to the next second, but I can’t see beyond the next second.

“I can’t see my future. I don’t know where I’m going. Everything I saw had him in it. Even though I didn’t see kids immediately, I still saw him. I’ve never loved anybody in my life the way that I love him. I know women—and men—have often said that they’ll never love again, but I can truly say that I can’t see ever loving anybody else in my life the way that I love him. I can’t fathom how I’ll ever love anybody ever again. And I can truly say that had I known I would end up like this, I would have kept the baby.” I look over at her.

“That is so unhealthy, Mare,” I tell her. “Whatever you do, never have a child just to save your relationship. It’ll never work…”

“Tell it to my heart, Ana,” she says, turning her gaze to me, “I can’t hear you.” She turns back to the water. “Having a baby and loving and caring for Gary’s child would be worlds better than what I’m feeling right now, even if I had to care for it alone. I would have a purpose, a reason for living, for waking up every morning. Hindsight is 20/20 and I would have loved that baby with my whole soul had I known that this was the abyss I would be plunged into by giving it up.

“I know what I look like, I’m not blind or stupid—and I know what people think, but I don’t care. If they can’t help me get to the next second, I don’t care what they think. It doesn’t even bother me; it doesn’t hurt. Nothing hurts more than what I’m feeling right now.”

I want to say something so badly to make her feel better, to tell her that this pain won’t last forever, to convince her not to regret her decision because it cost her relationship, but I know that I can’t. I know that losing Edward made me want to curl up in a ball and die many nights; had me shying away from men and relationships for a long time; had me sobbing in the parking lot of my condo years after we were history because the rest of my friends had significant others and I didn’t—I was too afraid to step out and give someone else a chance because losing Edward hurt too much.

I link my arm in hers in a show of solidarity, just so that she knows that she’s not alone. We stand there for several minutes, leaning against the balustrade and saying nothing. After a while, we hear music, and the water comes alive. I had forgotten about the water shows at the Bellagio fountains. It’s some medley of some upbeat rock or pop song, and we watch the water and lights respond to the music and the beat, Marilyn silently wishing for “her Gary,” and me silently wishing I could somehow stop her pain.

*-*

I’m back at the hospital on Monday morning, being subjected to the cold, but professional demeanors of the nurses. My aloofness towards my possibly dying mother is now known among all of the nursing staff and they treat me with enough professionalism to grant all of my requests and make sure that my mother’s needs are tended to, but they don’t show me any warmth or concern that you would normally show to the family member of a patient.

I put on my armor and try not to let it bother me, but it does. It does bother me. I could do what she did and just not show up, just not come at all. I could hire someone to come in here and make sure that she’s okay, not even come back in here until the thirtieth day of her fucking directive to pull the plug, or just wait until she kicks the damn bucket to claim the body.

But no, I come in here nearly every day, asking about her condition and if there’s been any change, having the dying flowers cleared from her room and making sure that the fresh ones stay, even talking to some of her visitors and hearing from them about how much she loves me and how she regrets what she did to me as a teenager and what a wonderful person she is now.

Today, when I get here, she’s in a cozy tartan nightgown. Someone has washed and combed her hair and she actually looks a bit more content. I know the staff is waiting for me to storm out of the room, demanding to know who changed my mother’s clothes, but I’m not. Someone—maybe Wendy—brought her something that they felt she would be more comfortable in. I can’t deny her that.

I sit silently next to her bed and text Laura about how I’m feeling; about how unfair I think it is that she’s being looked upon as the poor little victim and I’m basically being pegged as the bad guy because I’m not all broken up about her condition. Laura gives it to me straight.

She tells me that as long as I’m on my mother’s turf, that’s how it’s going to be, and I just have to deal with it. She’s made a life for herself where she is and those who know her love her because of what they know about her. Those who don’t know can only go by what they see, and what they see is a stand-offish daughter who only does what’s necessary to keep her mother alive.

“They don’t care about your story,” she tells me in a chat. “Your details are not what’s important to them—hers are. Her well-being and waking up, her friends and those who love her, that’s what’s important. You need to get her squared away, whatever that means—physical therapy, the best home care, burying her, whatever it is—and then you need to go home! You’re not going to find any peace until you get out of that place. Some of our monsters, we don’t need to face. We just need to leave them buried. Get the sentencing, get your mom squared away, and get the hell out of Vegas. That’s it and that’s all.”

She’s right and I know she is. It’s just that getting to that point is hell. Most people here treat me like vermin, and I have to stay here until I get everything squared away. How do deal with that? How does anybody deal with that?

I’ve taken a little time to look at Sophie’s Facebook page. It’s highly monitored, so she’s very careful about what she posts, but she did post the meals that we ate at Hell’s Kitchen and that she’s having fun in Vegas. I know for certain that the Adventure Dome is Saturday, but Jason and Gail took her to the Shark’s Reef at the Mandalay Bay today and lunch at Border’s Grill. Her friends have commented on and liked her photos of the Beef Wellington and pineapple carpaccio, and I smile remembering how much we enjoyed the dessert.

I’ve lost track of time quietly surfing through Facebook videos and feeds and I hear someone enter the room.

“Oh! I’m sorry,” Wendy says. “I didn’t know you were visiting. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

I look at my watch. It’s much later than I intended to stay. I might as well let someone keep watch that wants to be here.

“No,” I say, rising from the seat.  “I really need to get going. I need to check on my children.” She raises a brow but says nothing.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Wendy says, removing some things from her bag and placing them around my mother’s room. “I brought some of her things from her home. I’m hoping the familiar might help to bring her out of this. I… was the one who brought her the gown.”

“I thought it might have been you,” I reply. “I’m sure that if she could speak right now, she would say ‘thank you.’ Those hospital gowns are awful.” I speak from experience.

“I’m sure she would,” Wendy replies, her voice cracking. She turns away from me and goes to the restroom. I think she’s going to compose herself, but she returns quickly with a small cup of water. She pours the water into a diffuser and adds a little oil to it—eucalyptus, I think. It’s not overbearing, so I think it should be fine. She looks adoringly, but sadly, at her best friend.

“I’m going to go and let you visit,” I tell her. “Thank you again for the gown.” She smiles softly at me.

“It was my pleasure,” Wendy says and turns back to my mother. “Hey there, old girl,” she says, taking the seat that I vacated next to my mother. “Shall we continue book three of Gideon Cross?” She pulls a book out of her purse and begins to read to my mother. I quietly leave the room and close the door behind me.

There’s no way to get to the elevators without passing the nurses’ station. I nod at Chuck, don my Jackie O’s, and walk past the judgmental cows at the station without looking left or right, headed for the elevator.

*-*

I spend the rest of the evening with my young friend Sophie and my babies. Christian is happily left to tend to all matters GEH while I tend to my mother, then he later joins us in the Romper Room/Disney suite where I completely escape from reality and play childish games and watch cartoons and Disney movies and eat finger foods with my babies… until I have to get up in the morning and adult again.

But not today.

It’s Tuesday, and the boys are on baby duty while Gail, Keri, and I take Sophie on the food tour. I couldn’t convince Marilyn to go, so she’s staying behind to help the guys with the twins. I beg Al to try to get in touch with Gary again. Marilyn has her good days and her bad days, and I can only imagine what Gary’s going through.

We decide to do a small group tour with just the four of us since the tour is mainly for Sophie and we want her to be the center of attention and not have to worry about what others are thinking about her as she proceeds through the various restaurants and sites.

We start at Mercato Della Pescheria, an Italian restaurant located in the Grand Canal Shoppes in the Venetian and Palazzo hotels in a portion of the combined locations called St. Mark’s Square. The tour includes a chef’s choice tasting of House-made Italian specialties. It’s set up like an outdoor Italian restaurant with the wrought iron tables and red and white tablecloths, and the ceiling of the Grand Canal Shoppes is painted to look like the sky while the hallways look like the streets of Italy complete with building-façade storefronts.

“This is good practice,” I say. “We’ll be going to Italy this summer for a few weeks.”

“You will?” Sophie asks. “You guys go a lot of places.” I nod.

“Christian bought me a house there,” I tell her. “I have to decorate it before we get there. Maybe you can help me.” Her brows rise.

“Really?” she asks, her excitement palpable. “I have no idea what to choose.”

“Really,” I reply with a laugh. “We’ll be learning together, because I have no idea what to choose, either.”

“I’d like to go to Italy one day,” she says. “I want to learn to make authentic Italian cuisine.”

“Well, I don’t know what the plan is for the summer, but maybe with your Dad and Gail’s permission, we may be able to work something out.” Her eyes widen further, but then drop.

“Now, you’re teasing,” she says.

“No, I’m not,” I reply. “You know I can’t make any promises because there’s a lot involved in being able to travel overseas, but it’s not impossible and I can at least see if it’s something that we can do. So, keep realistic expectations and since we can’t do spring break, we’ll see what we can do for summer vacation. Deal?” She makes the pondering face and nods.

“Sounds reasonable,” she says. “The idea that you’d like for me to go is really cool… even if it doesn’t get to happen.”

I keep forgetting that Sophie is so young sometimes with the things that come out of her mouth. She’s had quite the life to just barely be a teenager—she’s seen way too much in her young little life.

Let’s not forget the things you saw in your young little life.
This is nothing like that and we’re not going to compare them. So, if you don’t have anything constructive to say, shut the hell up!

The last person I need to hear from right now in this place in my fragile state of mind is the Bitch. She can only do more harm than good at this point.

Our tasting at Mercato Della Pescheria includes a Burrata board with aged balsamic, grilled bread and marinated vegetables, along with gnocchi pomodoro with fresh mozzarella and cacio e pepe alla ruota. I usually have a very scrutinizing tongue, but Sophie had me beat this time. All I tasted was spaghetti with Parmesan cheese, but not our little aspiring chef.

Let’s start with the fact that she had to explain to us how it was going to be served. They roll this huge wheel of cheese over to you on a cart where they’ve cut a bowl into the center of it. Then they place the hot pasta right from the pan into the “bowl.” They scrape the cheese from the inside of the bowl and mix it into the pasta, which Sophie informs me has already been tossed with olive oil and fresh cracked pepper. When they plate it for us, Sophie has a bit more pepper ground over her serving.

She tastes the pasta with every bit of the attitude of a food critic. She takes a small serving of the dish and puts it in her mouth. She chews purposefully, like she’s weighing the textures and flavors in her mouth. You can see her rolling the mixture around on her tongue and everyone at the table—including the server—is silent.

“Is the Bucatini domestic or imported?” she asks the server. He’s rightfully a bit taken aback.

“Imported, miss,” he says. “How did you know?”

“I didn’t,” she says. “I just want to be able to tell the difference.” Gail and I look at each other, obviously impressed. Our guide, Justine, not so much. She actually looks like she’s tasting something bad.

“Do you know the cheese, miss?” the server asks.

“Hmm,” she says, taking another forkful. “It’s either Parmesan or pecorino. I’ve never tasted pecorino before, but I know it’s close to Parmesan and this is close to Parmesan, not quite Parmesan.” He smiles.

“Very good, miss,” he says, almost proudly. “It’s pecorino.” Sophie smiles and claps her fingers together quickly, also proud that she identified the cheese. I had already said Parmesan.

“What’s Bucatini?” I ask anyone who’s listening. Sophie begins to answer.

“It’s…”

“It’s a heavy pasta like thick spaghetti, but it has a hole in the center,” Justine interrupts. I assume that she didn’t hear Sophie begin to explain the pasta to us. Sophie doesn’t pay her any attention. She just shrugs and finishes her pasta. I nod at Justine and wait for her to get distracted.

“What does she mean by ‘holes?’” I lean over and ask Sophie. “It just looks like spaghetti. I don’t see any ‘holes.’”

“Regular spaghetti is a solid noodle,” Sophie says conspiratorially, “Bucatini’s a long tube. Think ziti noodle, but long and skinny.” I open my mouth in realization, then look closer at the noodle and see exactly what she’s talking about.

“I don’t know why I was expecting to see holes straight down the noodle.” I shake my head at my ignorance and take a forkful of the pasta. Sophie giggles and continues with her tasting.

Our next stop is Royce Chocolates for truffles. As it turns out, Sophie’s no stranger to Royce’s Chocolates even though Justine tries to make it appear that these are the most exclusive chocolates in the world. The store looks a bit like a confectioner’s booth that just popped up and snagged the last little corner spot in the Canal Shoppes. No offense to Royce’s; the truffles are divine, but our tour guide is just droning on and on and on about the chocolates, and while the adults in the group are trying not to take the wind out of the poor girl’s sails, Sophie’s young truth filter is in full effect.

“They’re delicious,” she says, enjoying a chocolate and creamed caramel truffle, “I just expected them to be different, I guess.”

“Different than what?” Justine inquires.

“Than the ones at the store in Seattle,” she says. “It’s the same manufacturer, so I guess they would be the same.”

“There’s a store in Seattle?” Justine asks, and Sophie’s brow furrows.

“Bellevue,” the clerk says, nodding as we turn to look at her. Feeling a bit sheepish about her lack of knowledge, our tour guide quickly gestures us out of the chocolatier. I don’t mind that she likes her job; I just think she needs to be a bit more informed about the stops on the tour, or at the very least, curb her enthusiasm a bit.

We wander through St. Mark’s Square a little more, and we stop to watch as another server in another area makes a tiramisu tableside. Sophie watches in awe as the espresso-soaked ladyfingers are layered into the pan. I don’t know if the people at the table can actually eat the confection when it’s complete as the cream portion usually needs to chill overnight.

“She can’t have any of that on this tour,” Justine says haughtily. “The espresso mixture contains alcohol.” I just glare at her.

“And if the mascarpone cream mixture is done correctly, it has rum in it,” Sophie interjects like it’s obvious. “I know that!”

Sophie is clearly becoming irritated with Justine’s behavior, but she’s refined enough not to respond in kind. Although upon leaving the impromptu tiramisu presentation, she did ask, “What’s wrong with that lady?”

Our next stop is Cañonita, a location that prides itself on Mexico City soul food. Sophie is a bit reserved as the tour continues and I don’t like that. The foodie tour is for her enjoyment and I’m rather enjoying the benefit of her knowledge of the different ingredients even though I was well aware of the inclusion of Grand Marnier in the espresso mixture and rum in the mascarpone cream.

“Sophie, are you okay?” Gail asks, noticing her reservation.

“Am I allowed to say anything?” she asks matter-of-factly. I frown.

“Of course, you are,” I reply. “You can say whatever you like.” She rolls her eyes and sighs.

“Well, I was born on Cinco de Mayo,” she begins, “so every year that I can remember since I’ve been alive, I’ve had a Mexican meal on my birthday. Since we’re on this tour, I was wondering are we just going to eat the standard Mexican foods, or can I taste something different?”

“You can have what you like,” Gail says. “If you want something different, we’ll pay for it.” Sophie twists her lips.

“I’d really like to try the Pátzcuaro Duck Relleno,” she says. “I’ve never had it and I think it would be good.”

“We don’t have time for that,” Justine interjects.

“Wee’ll. Mek. Tyme!” Keri says slowly and deliberately, waiting for Justine to respond. I think her irritation is rubbing off on Keri. When Justine says nothing, Keri turns to Sophie.

“Come, Miss Sopheh,” she says, putting her arm around Sophie’s shoulder, “tell uhs aboht de duck.”

The corners of Sophie’s mouth rise in a small smile and she begins to tell us about Pátzcuaro Duck Relleno while it’s being prepared in the back. Justine sits at a separate table close by with her arms folded and her legs crossed. I have no idea what her problem is.

“The menu says that the Pátzcuaro Duck Relleno begins with duck confit, which is a French dish,” Sophie continues. “So, I wanted to see how a French dish could become a Mexican dish. I know the manchamantel sauce is clearly Mexican. I think the combined flavors would be very interesting.”

Sophie always amazes me talking about food, because the 13-year-old girl disappears, and we have this connoisseur in front of us.

“Hah do yah knoh so much abot fuud, Sopheh?” Keri asks. Sophie shrugs.

“I just really like learning about food,” she says, “where different dishes come from, what they mean, what spices they use, how it’s supposed to taste. I’m going to be a chef one day. I don’t know what my specialty will be, but I want to know about foods from all over the world.”

“Well, you’re off to a very good start,” I tell her. “Did she tell you that Ms. Solomon showed her how to make that delightful ham and pineapple sandwich and she got it right on the first try?” Gail turns to Sophie in honest surprise.

“No, she didn’t!” Gail says, with pride. “You should have told me. I’m proud of you.”

“It’s just a sandwich,” Justine says under her breath. No one else heard her, but I did. I’m trying not to feed into it. It’s beyond me why she feels threatened by this 13-year-old girl.

“Okay, what’s next?” I ask once we finished the delightful duck dish while Justine deliberately and slowly ate the crab cakes, enchiladas, and ceviche that was intended for the tour. She took more time to eat her food than we took to eat ours, but she said that we didn’t have time for the duck. Then she haughtily tells us…

“Well, we’ve only got an hour left and there are four more stops on the food tour, so we won’t make them all.” I try not to let loose on this woman, because I’m always letting loose on someone, and it could just be me being sensitive. Instead, I just ask, “What are the four remaining stops?”

“Well, first, there’s the Honolulu Cookie Company, where they have the exotic Hawaiian goodie bag that most likely has the best shortbread cookies you’ve ever tasted in your life. Then, there’s the William Carr Photo Gallery—he’s a well-known artist acclaimed for his ability to capture the beauty and perfection of creation…”

She sounds like she’s reading from a pamphlet. I look over at Sophie.

“I had truffles,” she says. “I don’t really have a taste for cookies.”

“These aren’t just any cookies,” Justine retorts. “These are Hawaiian shortbread…”

“No, thank you,” Sophie says calmly. “You said there’s an art gallery. Are there pictures of food or something?” Justine’s brow furrows.

“Why would you ask that?” she says.

“I’m just wondering what an art gallery has to do with a foodie tour,” Sophie replies. “I can understand if it was a museum tour, but…” Sophie shrugs.

“I was thinking that myself,” I say, my voice low.

“Well, generally, the more mature patrons appreciate the art, but if you don’t want to go…” Her tone is condescending.

“Well, you clearly said that we don’t have time for the other four stops, so what are the last two?” I shoot, trying not to bite this bitch’s head off. Noting my irritation, she quickly tells us that the last two stops are a bookstore and a Peruvian restaurant called Once, pronounced On-seh. We opt to skip to Once and see what Peru has to offer.

I’m so frustrated when we get to Once that I ask for a table for five. Justine proceeds to tell the host that we’re with the foodie tour. I quickly correct her.

She’s the foodie tour,” I tell the host. “We want a table for five.” I gesture at Gail, Sophie, Keri, Chuck, and myself. When the host nods, I turn to Justine. “You said we have an hour—we’re going to order.”

Justine’s eyes narrow at me, but I don’t watch her long enough to formulate a response. When we are seated, I ask Sophie which appetizers she thinks we should try and if she’s familiar with the cuisine.

“Some of it,” she says. “Ceviche is universal, but if you are going to get it, I would get it here since the dish is originally Peruvian. I think the braised fennel would be good, and I’d definitely like to try the Chicharron Karaage and the scallop and shrimp dumplings.” I nod.

“I’m going to eat whatever she’s eating,” Gail laughs, and I concur. Keri orders the oxtail Bibimbap and Chuck orders the prime New York Steak Anticucho. Justine is seething that no one is talking to her or paying any attention to her as we enjoy the last meal on the tour—not a tasting, a meal. She keeps looking at her watch and sighing impatiently.

When we finish our meal, I charge it separately to my Amex and we leave the restaurant. Justine is trying to wrap up the tour. I don’t know what she’s expecting—it was a bad experience for me. Sophie seems unmoved. She finally announces that the tour is at its end and turns to Sophie.

“How old are you, may I ask?” Justine asks Sophie.

“Thirteen,” she replies. “I’ll be 14 in June.”

“Mm,” Justine remarks unimpressed before turning to me. “You may want to introduce the concept of humility into her life a little more,” Justine says, then turns to walk away. I gasp, at a complete loss for words. Sophie is looking aghast, and Gail is furious.

“You hold it right there!” Gail announces in a voice that makes us all freeze. “How old are you?” Justine folds her arms again.

“I’m 26,” she says, matter-of-factly.

“Well, you have a lot of growing up to do!” Gail retorts. “That young lady is the picture of decorum. She was never rude to you once and you’re just upset that she knows more about your tour than you do! I saw your face when she told us about the tableside service at Mercato, and it’s not her fault that she knows that Royce has several locations and you didn’t.

“You announced that she couldn’t have the tiramisu when all she was doing was watching. I thought you were going to have a stroke over the duck. Then you tell us that we don’t have enough time to finish the tour, but you have a coronary when we ask to skip to the end! Is this your first day? Because you’re utterly terrible at this!”

Justine gasps, but doesn’t have a comeback for Gail’s chastisement.

“You remember that name, young lady—Sophia Taylor—because if you stay in the food industry at all and even if you don’t, I guarantee you’ll hear it again. Now, you get your act together or I’ll have your neck and your job, and that’s a guarantee!” Gail shoots.

Justine’s hand shoots to her chest in that clutches pearls way. She’s shocked that after no one really checked her on her attitude, she thought that she could take liberties with us and Gail let her have it.

“I… I’m sorry!” Justine says, aghast.

“Don’t apologize to me!” Gail says. “Apologize to her! You nearly ruined her day!” Justine turns to Sophie, but Sophie turns to Gail.

“She didn’t ruin my day, Momma Gail,” Sophie says succinctly. “The guy at Mercato was nice to me; I got to eat French duck made Mexican, and really good chicken, scallops, and shrimp. And we still have Sur La Table tomorrow. I’m fine, she doesn’t have to apologize. Can we please go now?”

Chuck stands a few feet away like he has all day, smiling widely as Sophie delivers her speech.

“Are you sure, Pumpkin?” Gail says. “She owes you an apology.”

“I’m sure, Momma Gail,” she says. “Let’s just go and find some gelato. I’d like that.” Gail smiles.

“I’d like that, too,” she says, turning to Justine. “You could learn a thing or two from that little girl, but I’m sure that you won’t.” She turns back to Sophie. “I love gelato,” she says. “Let’s go find some.”

I didn’t have to lift a finger.

I fall in step with Gail and Sophie. We walk all the way back to the other end of the Grand Canal Shoppes to a gelato stand called Cocolino. We each order our flavor, then take a seat and enjoy our treat. While we’re eating the gelato, I must ask the question that’s burning in my head.

“Sophie,” I ask, “she did owe you an apology. It’s not okay for anybody to treat someone that way, especially when she was being paid. Why didn’t you want her apology?”

“Because she didn’t want to apologize,” she says, matter-of-factly. “Do you remember when Marlow snitched on me at Christmas?” I glance over at Gail quickly. She raises her gaze to me, but turns back to her ice cream.

“Yes,” I say.

“If I had apologized to them, it would have been because they made me do it, not because I wanted to or because I was sorry, because I wasn’t… and that’s why I didn’t do it. This was kinda the same thing. She wasn’t sorry, and to be honest, what she was doing didn’t hurt me. She just looked kinda dumb. And Momma Gail was right. She was just mad ‘cuz I knew more than she did. They don’t pay me to know this stuff; I just like food channels. That makes her look real bad.”

I just had a 13-year-old girl explain a very adult philosophy in the most simplified terms I’ve ever seen.

If your apology is not sincere, I don’t want it—that’s one of my biggest mantras.
If my apology is not sincere, I’m not going to give it—see the first mantra.
I’m not going to let the fact that you don’t know what you’re saying or doing ruin my good time—in other words, “Sucks to be you… I’m bigger than this.”

I can’t remember the last time I was prouder to be Aunt Ana.

CHRISTIAN

“Dude, she left that woman’s face cracked and on the ground.”

Chuck is telling us about the ladies’ day out on the foodie tour. I was sure that it would be something harmless and fun, but it appears that the tour guide had a bug up her butt.

“Are you telling me that the person in charge of the tour got into it with Sophie?” I ask.

“No, Prince Gallant with your flaming sword, that’s not what I’m saying,” Chuck says. “Sophie knows a lot about food, more than I even think we know she knows…”

“That’s because Food Network and the Cooking Channel were her companions while her mother was binging,” Jason says. “She still watches them now. If we stocked her kitchen, she could make her own meals.”

“That might be a good idea, so that she can get some practice… but I digress,” Chuck says, getting himself back on track. “She knew what kind of cheese they were putting in the pasta. She knew the origin of a Mexican dish that really came from France. She knows the alcoholic content of tiramisu. She could have done a better job as a tour guide than the tour guide. Little Miss Raven Hair didn’t like that very much.”

“Did she insult my daughter?” Jason asks. Chuck twists his lips. “What did she say?” Chuck clears his throat.

“At first, she was just making little cracks about the food,” Chuck says, “talking over Sophie when she was trying to talk. In the end, the tour ended at Once, and the women all ignored her completely. That pissed her off. I think she thought Ana was Sophie’s mother, so she tells Ana that she needs to teach Sophie some humility. I could see the hairs rise on Gail’s neck from across the room.”

Jason immediately scoffs a laugh. I can imagine that he’s seen the hairs rise on Gail’s neck from across the room, too.

“Have you seen the Karate Kid?” he asks, doing the pose that Daniel does before his finishing move.

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“I have,” Jason says, still laughing.

“The minute her mouth opened, I could see Gail doing it in my mind’s eye. I thought that would be the end for that girl, but the finishing move came from Sophie. Gail demanded that the lady apologize to Sophie, but Sophie told Gail that she didn’t want the lady’s apology, that the lady didn’t ruin her day, and asked to go get gelato. Imagine having a 13-year-old girl tell you that your apology is beneath her.”

I hiss at the implication. That had to be painful. I’m convinced that Sophia Taylor is not of this world. Second only to my wife, she’s one of the most rounded people I’ve met for what her mother has put her through.

“Classic,” Jason says, “fucking classic. When you guys go to Sur La Table tomorrow, make sure she gets everything she wants.” Chuck laughs.

“Make sure you tell her that,” he says.

“No matter where we go, there’s always one,” I hear Butterfly say as she enters the Romper Room suite.

“Hello, dear,” I call out to her. She stops in her tracks and examines me for a moment.

“He already told you,” she says, coming further into the room.

“He did,” I say. She shakes her head.

“Well, for once I wasn’t the object of ire… but a child? Seriously?” she says, taking a seat among all the playthings.

“There’s just no accounting for taste, I guess,” I comment.

“Indeed!” Gail says, nearly storming into the suite. “The nerve of that child! Twenty-six indeed! She behaved like a toddler. Teach her some humility… teach yourself, you wretched little heathen! How dare she insult my stepdaughter that way! She doesn’t even know her. She’s guiding the tour and didn’t even know there was a Royce Chocolates in Seattle! She’s guiding the tour! Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?”

“We heard,” I reply. Why did I do that? Right at that moment, Sophie enters the room with an expression I can’t quite read.

“You okay, Baby Boo?” Jason asks.

“Mm-hmm,” she says in a manner that indicates that she’s not saying another word.

“I’m calling her boss!” Gail continues to rant. “We paid for that tour! We paid for Sophie to be treated that way. A grown woman—angry with a child on her tour. The very nerve! I’m going to go and call that place right now!” and out of the room she goes, off to make some tour guide’s life a little more difficult. Keri looks cautiously around the room before speaking.

“Wheh ah da tweens?” she says.

“They’re napping,” I reply. “They should probably wake soon.”

“Ah’ll goh chek on dem.” She kisses Chuck on the cheek and heads off towards the bedroom. We all look at Sophie, who purses her lips, then finally speaks.

“Momma Gail is mad!” she says, her eyes a little large and her face full of ill-suppressed mirth. “I thought she was going to rip that lady’s throat out!”

“What did she say?” Jason inquires.

“She didn’t say anything bad, it’s just how she said it,” Sophie says. “It was like… she wasn’t Momma Gail—she was somebody else.”

“Daniel-san,” Chuck says under his breath, and Butterfly looks at him bemused.

“She told the lady that she was terrible at her job and not to forget my name because she was going to hear it again someday. We were in the middle of the mall! People were staring at her; the lady was really embarrassed… it was awesome!”

Normally, I would advise a youngster that it’s not necessarily a good thing to take joy in someone else’s calamity, but I think the young lady had this one coming.

“Here’s the best part,” Butterfly says, turning to Sophie. “Why didn’t you want her to apologize to you?”

“Because she didn’t mean it,” Sophie replies. “She wasn’t sorry for what she said to me. She was sorry because Momma Gail got in her butt about it. If we had just huffed and puffed and left, she would have been fine. She reminds me of my mom… mad because Daddy did something for me or gave me something.” She scoffs in that irritated teenage way, rolls her eyes, and waves the situation off. “I just wanted to go have ice cream.”

Jason is quiet for a moment, but Butterfly correctly thinks to fill the dead air.

“Well, they had better not behave that way at Sur La Table tomorrow or that franchise is going to be Sophie La Table by the time we leave,” she says. Sophie giggles.

“That reminds me,” Jason says. “You have your own kitchen, and I think you’re old enough and responsible enough to start practicing your own dishes. So, when you go to Sur La Table tomorrow, you can get anything you want to outfit your kitchen.” Sophie’s eyes widen.

“Really?” she says in a high whisper. “Dad, are you serious?”

“I’m completely serious,” he says. “You can have whatever you want, and if it needs to be shipped, just have them ship it… and we’ll get a couple of extra fire extinguishers, too.”

“Daa-aa-aad,” Sophie whines, “I used to cook when I lived with Mom, just not gourmet stuff.” Jason’s face hardens.

“You did?” he asks. Sophie shrugs.

“Yeah,” she says. “If I didn’t, I’d starve… or I’d have to eat Pop-Tarts for life.”

“How long have you been cooking?” Jason asks. Sophie ponders her answers as Gail and Keri re-enter the room with the twins.

“About…” she ponders a moment more, “three or four years.”

That would fucking make her nine years old.

“What do you know how to cook, Sophie?” Butterfly asks, trying to get information and diffuse the situation at the same time.

“A lot of stuff,” she says. “I haven’t cooked all the stuff, but watching the TV shows and things on YouTube, I can probably follow any recipe you give me.”

“What have you already cooked?” Butterfly probes.

“I can cook breakfast,” she says. “I can make hamburgers and fried chicken. I tried to bake a chicken once, but it came out kinda dry. Then I learned I needed to take the innards out and turn the temperature down… and baste, so…” She ponders a little more. “I can do lots of Asian food—stir fry, pepper steak, shrimp fried rice… I know how to make sweet and sour sauce, too.”

“What’s the first thing you remember cooking by yourself?” Jason asks.

“Oh, that’s easy. Grilled cheese… I burned my hand,” she replies matter-of-factly.

“You burned your hand?” Butterfly interjects. “Badly?”

“Real bad,” she says. “I still got the scar. See?” She turns her hand over and shows us a straight scar from the bottom of her palm across the top of her wrist. It almost looks like the scar tissue from a knife slash. Jason frowns deeply.

“Shalane told me you fell off your bike and cut yourself on a piece of glass,” Jason counters. Sophie shakes her head.

“Nope. Grilled cheese,” she says, looking at her hand again and shrugging like it’s no big deal. I can see the steam rising from Jason’s head. “Don’t worry, Dad, I know how to make a great sandwich now. Ms. Solomon taught me.” Jason smiles tightly.

“She did?” he asks, trying to control his voice.

“Yeah, it’s ham and cheese and pineapple and it’s really good,” she boasts.

“Will you make one for me when we get home?” he asks. Sophie beams.

“Sure, Dad,” she says, proudly. “I’ll make you anything you want.”

“Pumpkin?” Gail says. “Will you please take Mikey for me and help Keri get them ready for snack time? I want to talk to your dad for a minute.”

“Sure, Momma Gail. C’mon Mikey, let’s go get treats.” Gail puts Mikey on the floor and he immediately takes Sophie’s hand and allows her to lead him to parts unknown.

“Jason, are you okay?” Gail asks once Sophie has left the room.

“Anything she wants,” he says to his wife. “I mean it. Anything that will allow her to create anything she wants…” He trails off.

“You’ll get no argument from me,” Gail says. “If anybody’s worth it, she is. And I really think we’ll be cultivating her dream, so why not get her started as soon as possible with the best utensils money can buy?”

“I don’t mean to get giddy over what is apparently a serious and very solemn moment, but this is going to be so much fun!!!” Butterfly declares gleefully while shaking her fists, adding the needed levity to the situation and causing Gail and Jason to snicker.

And just like that, crisis averted.

*-*

“Does Sophie have a passport?” Butterfly asks as we’re getting ready for bed.

“I don’t know,” I reply, nonplussed. “I don’t think there was ever a reason for her to have one before now, but I would have to ask Jason. Why do you ask?”

“I think it would be great if our trip to Italy was a family vacation,” she suggests, climbing into bed. “Not the entire trip, but maybe the last leg or so of it. I’d like for my babies to be there for a bit, and that would mean Keri and Gail, which would also mean Sophie. What do you think?” He shrugs.

“I don’t see why not,” he says. “It would definitely be a really good experience for her, and I’m certain that having the twins there for part of the trip would help you to relax. I’ll talk to Jason and see how he feels. This wouldn’t have anything to do with the whole Bad Taste Italian experience, would it?”

“It has everything to do with it,” she says shamelessly. “While we were at one of the restaurants, Sophie mentioned that she would like to go to Italy one day and taste authentic Italian cuisine. I told her that we would be going this summer and said that I would run it past you, Gail, and Jason to see how you all felt about it. I didn’t make any promises, though, because I don’t know if there’s any bureaucracy involved with her being able to leave the country or even if Jason would want that.” I chuckle.

“At this point, Jason would gift her the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and if there’s any bureaucracy involved with her being able to leave the country, he’ll get past that, too,” I say climbing into bed next to her. I turn the light off as she snuggles under the cover. I wrap my arm around her waist and pull her against me, pressing two kisses on her shoulder.

“You’re a really good Aunt Ana,” I say, as she snuggles into me and falls off to sleep.

A/N: 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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 18

@Sweet Peach75, I have no idea why, but I happened to go to my website spam folder and there were like three posts in there from you! I’ve put them back on the site, but you guys, if you post a comment and you don’t see it after a day or so, hit me on that “contact me” link so I can check my spam. I’m going to check it more often just in case. I’m so sorry about that, Peach!!!

Thanks to all of you who like and retweet my links. Twitter and I just don’t seem to agree with one another. I get on there as often as I can and I try to follow it. If it weren’t for the sites (this one included) that automatically tweet my shit, I wouldn’t be there. So, again, I thank you! 

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 18

CHRISTIAN

“I haven’t eaten anything yet, and I’m starving. Can you please order something from room service?”

“Of course, baby. How far away are you?” I hear her ask Chuck.

“About twenty minutes,” she says, her voice defeated.

“Will you need a drink?” I ask. She sighs.

“Just wine… and a cranberry spritzer.”

“I’m on it,” I tell her. “Come on back to the hotel and everything will be right as rain.”

“Yeah, sure,” she remarks. “Love you.”

“Love you, too,” I reply, and end the call. I dial Keri’s number.

“Yes, Chtistian?”

“Are the twins still asleep?” I ask.

“Noh, dey jess weke up,” she replies.

“Good. Butterfly is on her way. She’ll be here in twenty minutes. I’m having room service delivered down there for her.”

“Okeh, wee’ll be wehtin,” she says, and ends the call.

I order room service to the “baby suite,” then sit impatiently, waiting for my wife to return. I’m concerned about how she’ll feel about the babies being in Las Vegas. Will she be happy they’re here, like Allen said, or will she be pissed that I brought her children to this forbidden place—and without asking her first? Maybe she’ll be both—happy at first and then pissed, or vice-versa.

Well, I wanted to see them, too, and we probably won’t be going back to Seattle until her mother wakes or kicks the bucket—whichever comes first. So, there.

I get that nervous sinking feeling in my stomach when I hear her enter the suite. It turns to concern when I see her face.

“I thought Chuck was with you,” I say.

“He nearly bolted from the elevator saying he had to pee and took off in the other direction,” she says. No, he’s trying to get a few moments with his girl before we descend.

“You look like it’s been a rough day,” I say. She tosses her coat onto the big chair and sighs.

“Not so much,” she says. “I just… I don’t know how you can see someone in such a vulnerable position and not be concerned. I look at her and right, now, she’s completely at my mercy. I want to make sure that she’s taken care of, that she gets everything that she needs, but any time I think of feeling any emotion for her, it’s nothing but anger. I think about me being in that bed—no one caring about me—and her room is full of flowers. I think about no one coming into that room to see me, not even her, but her best friend came today and just sat with her for a long time. She even knew who I was.

“It seems so petty to compare her situation now with mine back then. It seems childish to say, ‘Well, you didn’t care about me, so I shouldn’t care about you.’ It seems so ridiculous to be jealous of her flowers and envious of her visitors and hateful that so many people appear to care for her, but I couldn’t get that! Not even from her!”

She puts one hand on her forehead and one on her hip, turning away from me and taking several deep breaths. I move in closer to her and gently grasp her arms.

“This hate is heavy,” she says, her voice thick and low. “I can’t keep carrying it, but I don’t know what else to feel. I feel like she doesn’t deserve the kindness that she’s getting, but that’s crazy.” She shakes her head. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“You’re human, Butterfly,” I tell her. “She hurt you. She left you all alone. You were just a kid. You can no sooner get over those feelings of helplessness and desertion than I can get over these burns on my chest and where they came from.”

She stiffens, but it’s true. We were both traumatized in our childhood, and the scars are a lot deeper than the ones left on our skin.

“My mother is dead,” I tell her. “I don’t have to worry about forgiving her or wondering why she did what she did, because she’s gone. Your mother is alive—she’s still able to account for her sins against you and deep down, that’s what you want. You want her to feel the loneliness and the seclusion that you felt at your weakest moment, but whether she wakes up or not, she’s not going to feel that. She has accumulated a support system here, and they’re concerned about her, and you have the right to feel the way that you feel, because you didn’t have that support system when you needed it the most. We’ve both healed the best we can from those scars, but they still run deep.”  She shakes her head.

“I have to deal with this somehow,” she says. “I can’t shed any more tears over this. I can’t let it take over my life. In a couple of weeks, one way or the other, this ordeal is going to be over for me. I’ll have some therapy with Ace or Laura in the meantime and deal with it however I must.”

“Laura?” I ask. “You’ve been having therapy with Laura?”

“The few conversations I’ve had with Laura have been more fruitful than the two years I’ve spent with Ace. Her conversations are not really therapy, they’re more organic. They’re geared more to helping you get well and deal with your issues than to keep you coming back for more sessions. I think I like her methods better. I’m going to have a talk with her about studying her methods and incorporating them into my practice with the families at Helping Hands.” I twist my lips and nod.

“That’s probably a good idea, Butterfly,” I say, “especially if you see the good in what they’re doing for you. I just don’t want you to discount the good that Ace did, too. His methods really helped you out in some of your hardest times.”

“Yes, he was very helpful in a lot of ways,” she says. “I think I’m just put off by the fact that he couldn’t seem to actively help me with the Boogeyman, and that seemed pretty important to me.” I nod. I understand where she’s coming from. However…

“Well, for now, I want you to put all of this stuff in a little box and come with me. I have a surprise for you.” I take her hand and lead her to the door.

“Christian, I really don’t feel like being around people right now,” she protests, “and where’s my food?”

“Humor me,” I say, retrieving the key from the sofa table as we head out the door.

 “Where are we going?” she asks as we pass the elevator.

“A few more steps, my love,” I tell her, and she sighs impatiently. When I knock on the door of the suite, Chuck opens it with a smile.

“I smell food,” she says. “The food is in here…?”

When Chuck clears the doorway, it looks like we’ve walked right into Romper Room. The entire suite has been transformed into a toddler-friendly play area, complete with wall decals, oversized blocks, playhouses, floor tiles with letters and numbers, the whole nine yards. Percy really went over the top making a home away from home for my children.

“What in the world?” Butterfly says as we step into the suite. “What is this? You want to play with toys?”

“No, but I figure you might want to play with those,” I say, pointing to the living room area. There Keri sits with a fidgety Minnie and Mikey standing next to her. Butterfly’s hands fly to her mouth and she gasps loudly, tears immediately springing to her eyes.

Keri says something to the twins, no doubt along the lines of “Go to Mommy” or something like that. Having gotten his land legs sooner than his sister, Mikey darts to his mother and she drops to her knees in just enough time to scoop him into her arms. A few moments later, Minnie joins the hugfest, and my wife is on her knees, holding her babies and sobbing. It’s a sight that would bring the toughest of us to tears.

Allen, Ray, and Marilyn have come to the suite while my wife is blubbering in the middle of the floor to her babies. When she pulls them back to say something to them that I can’t decipher through her tears, Minnie replies with something equally indecipherable while patting both hands on Butterfly’s cheeks and Mikey makes a vain attempt to wipe her tears from her eyes.

A protector even at one year old.

I kneel down next to her and rub her back, trying to calm her crying a bit. She releases the children and they immediately head to the colorful little table and the toys it carries.

“How could you bring my babies to this horrible place?” she sobs, turning to me while still on the floor.

Uh oh.

I turn to Allen, whose eyes have widened, his mouth falling open. She rises up on her knees and catches me in a fierce embrace.

“Thank you,” she sobs in my neck. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you…”

I slowly wrap my arms around her, still stunned by her earlier chastisement, but happy that we’ve averted a crisis. While we’re wrapped in our embrace, I catch my daughter out the corner of my eye standing next to her mother. When I look down, I see her patting Butterfly on the leg.

“Methinks the Lady Mackenzie wants your attention,” I say. She releases my neck and tries to compose herself. I hand her my handkerchief, and she wipes away what tears she can manage before turning her attention to Minnie.

“Yes, Minnie Mouse?” she says, her voice still shaking. Minnie points to something on the other side of the room and uses her usual indecipherable speech, to which my wife answers, “Show me.”

Minnie takes her hand and Butterfly doesn’t rise from her knees. She crawls behind Minnie in white slacks and Louboutin red-bottoms to whatever thing has captured my daughter’s attention. I sigh heavily and look over at Allen, who stretches his lips in that way that confirms, “Yes, we dodged a bullet!”

Butterfly spends the rest of the afternoon playing games with her children and completely forgetting about the late lunch I had ordered. After a couple of hours, we order dinner to the twins’ suite and everyone comes down again to have a family meal, which consists of cold smoked ahi tuna poke, lamb chops, beef tenderloin, rotisserie chicken, cedar plank salmon, day boat scallops, whipped mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, steamed broccoli, and foraged mushrooms with red velvet cake, vanilla bean crème brûlée, and lemon mousse cheesecake for dessert. Unfortunately, tiramisu is not on the menu, so my beloved wife settles for red velvet cake.

Our children enjoy chicken fingers and French fries with finger fruit for dessert. My picky daughter bypasses the finger fruit and opts for the broccoli instead… strange kid.

The children have had a very big day with their first trip in an airplane, walking into a toddler wonderland, and the excitement of seeing their parents again. The adrenaline of the day crashes down on them very quickly after they’ve had dinner and they both fall into a food-induced slumber, Minnie in her mother’s arms and Mikey in the highchair next to me. Allen and Ray have gone back to their rooms for the night and Marilyn is sitting next to Butterfly. They’re chatting about… whatever. Marilyn is sipping on her smoothie as usual, but I didn’t see her eat anything today at dinner.

I look at her carefully, and her hair is dull and stringy. She keeps it in a small bun most of the time, but right now, it’s in a ponytail. There’s no bounce to it. It looks like hair when it’s oily and limp, but it’s dry and visibly brittle. Her skin looks pale and her face is unhealthily narrow. Her clothes are hanging from her frame and even her eyes look dull. I remember clearly when her face was fuller and her skin had a glow, when she looked healthy and athletic instead of frail and sickly. It’s not that I watched her, but I saw her nearly every day. I wish I could say that she’s looking better, but she’s not.

“Did you invite Marilyn to the spa with you yesterday?” I ask discreetly.

“Yes, but she didn’t want to go,” Butterfly replies. Maybe a massage and a treatment will help Marilyn begin to feel like herself again.

“What’s the plan for tomorrow?” I ask, loud enough for the room to hear me.

“Well, I’m not going to see my mother tomorrow because I’ll be spending the entire day with my babies.” She kisses a sleeping Minnie on the forehead. “When I was carrying them in my belly, they gave me strength when I felt like I couldn’t make it. Now, I barely know how to function when I’m away from them. Isn’t that a sad state of affairs?”

“What about you, Marilyn?” I say. “Why don’t you and Keri kick back and take advantage of the free spa packages that come with these rooms?”

“Thank you, Christian,” Marilyn says. “Maybe I will some other time, but Keri, you and Gail can go, and I’ll stay here with Bosslady.” I nod and drop it, allowing Keri and Gail to coo over going to the spa. I really wish Marilyn would go. This situation actually appears to be aging her.

“Ana, I don’t mean to talk business with you, but I haven’t gotten a chance to see you alone all day. Carl sent the figures for the proceeds from Tina’s jewelry auction. It was quite the haul.”

“Really?” Butterfly asks with interest. “Did you see how much?”

“After auctioneer’s fees, 1.7 million,” she replies.

“Whoa! Really?” Butterfly exclaims. “Have you told Grace?”

“Not yet. I just saw the email before dinner,” Marilyn says.

“Do me a favor and forward it to Grace. She’s going to be thrilled. She was just telling me about the grant proposals that she and Courtney are working on.”

“Oh, yeah, speaking of Courtney,” Marilyn says, sitting back in her seat, “I talked to her today, too. Things seem to be going well overall. Her and Vick are doing great. She got her grades and she’s ecstatic…” She trails off.

“There’s a but in there, I hear it,” Butterfly says. I hear it, too. Marilyn sighs.

“She’s a bit depressed… and pissed,” Marilyn continues. “It appears that even though her relationship with Addie is flourishing, her grandfather committed a major faux pas. Just after we came to Nevada for the trial, he offered her $1 million in cash. He wasn’t convinced that she had turned her life around and he wanted her out of Addie’s life to spare Addie the heartbreak of discovering that her granddaughter was still the conniving little brat that she had previously proven to be.

“Courtney. Was. Livid. She told him that if her grandmother did give her something at this point, she would give it to Helping Hands because you guys were the only ones who gave her a chance and believed in her when she really was worthless. She told him that she completely understands how he feels and why he feels that way, but that she’s not going to allow him to torment her anymore, that she didn’t want his money, and that she never wants to see him again.”

Whoa! That’s severe.

“She really shouldn’t cut her grandfather off,” I interject. “He has a lot of contacts—in the business world, in society… He could really be helpful to her in the future.”

“He’s already cut her off, Christian,” Butterfly says. “Courtney’s right. I totally get why Fred feels the way that he does. Courtney was insufferable and incorrigible, but she didn’t come to them asking for forgiveness, to be accepted into the family, or for any money or support from them. In fact, she shunned it. She avoided all contact with them. Addie came to her. Even then, she had the condition that if they felt the same way that they felt when they sent her back to Hukatucky or whatever the name of that place was that she didn’t want to be bothered—she was fine without them.

“I don’t know what Fred is expecting from her, but if he feels that she’s still irredeemable, then he needs to separate himself from her. Stop being around her and stop antagonizing the girl.”

“He’s only doing the same thing I did with Carla, Butterfly,” I say. “I tried to hand her money to get out of your life and leave you alone if she was coming back into your life to cause you grief and she turned it down, too.”

“It’s completely different, Christian,” Butterfly says. “Courtney was a self-centered, irresponsible little brat and that hurt Addie and Fred a lot. My mother watched me be tormented—physically and emotionally—and then she contributed to that torment. Addie and Fred discovered over the course of a few months that Courtney was a seemingly unsalvageable bad apple. I suffered for years at the hands of my mother.

“Courtney turned her life around on her own terms and decided that what she did, she would do it while no one was looking. My mother gave a moving performance about how horrible she and Green Valley were to me, about how she wishes she could take it all back and that the money I gave her is in a trust fund for the children, but she had an audience—a very large one at that. She cut her own deal to give her testimony, and even if she was totally sincere about her change of heart, I am nearly 30 fucking years old. The pain that she put me through is completely immeasurable and its effects spanned decades. One courtroom testimony—though quite stirring—won’t make up for what she put me through.

“Courtney did nothing like that to Addie and Fred, nor has she tried to come back and get in their good graces. They came to her.”

I can’t argue with her. She’s right about all of it. I just can’t help but feel like…

“I wish there was some way that everybody could come out of this not so hurt,” I admit. “We all know that Courtney was a real piece of work, but she appears to have turned her life around. And Adelaide and Fred are old and dear friends of our family. I just wish it could be easier for everybody.”

“You’re sweet,” my wife says softly, “but sometimes, this is just the way it is, baby.”

“Yeah, I know. I just don’t like it.”

*-*

My wife is happily spending the entire day in Romper Room watching various Disney movies and playing with toys like she’s a toddler herself. She awoke this morning, took the fastest shower known to man, donned a pair of yoga pants and a sweatshirt, scoffed down her breakfast way too quickly to digest, and announced that she will be spending the day in the babies suite if I wanted to find her. With her permission, I take a few hours to catch up on all things GEH.

I’ve discovered that with the new system of employee reviews, we’ve had a few resignations—some of the workers in the trenches and a couple of people in middle management, nothing to be concerned about. When asked why they were resigning, many of them gave some form of the same answer—they felt like they shouldn’t have to justify why they deserved their raises.

My company is scraping its ass on the ground like an ailing dog, being dragged down by incompetent assholes, some of whom don’t have the leadership skills of a gerbil, and I’ve got people who feel they shouldn’t have to tell me that they deserve their raises simply because they’ve done everything they were told to do… no initiative, no latent leadership skills, no problem-solving, no nothing, not even speaking up to say, “I had an idea, but my opinion wasn’t respected.”

Well, if that’s how you feel, then goodbye—and good luck on your next STAR behavioral-based interview where you’ll have to explain why you quit your last job with a very lucrative company with endless opportunities for advancement and when and if you proved at any point that you could be a valuable member of the team.

My status report has come in on the Pedophile as well. I look over the pictures that were forwarded to Alex. They’re glorious! She’s sitting in a wheelchair and her skin is hanging off of what you can see of her face. Her blonde hair is once again growing out to its brown and gray roots, and she truly looks like she’s got one foot in the grave. It truly warms my heart.

After an email or twelve to various departments and my executive team, I head down to the Romper Room suite to see my babies… all of them.

*-*

“They’re playing all your songs tonight, Al,” Butterfly laughs.

“Looks that way,” Allen concurs.

James flew down to be with Allen for the weekend and a few of us take a chance again to get out of the hotel. Butterfly found a place online called Oddfellows. It’s north, just on the outside of the Freemont Street Experience near the courthouse. It’s an alternative-type dance club where I would suspect no one would know who we are or at least they wouldn’t expect us to be here. Each night has a theme, and tonight is 80’s night, apparently right up Butterfly’s and Al’s alley.

The order of the day is jeans and casual clothes, so I didn’t have to worry about my girl wearing some skimpy dress that would be the envy of all the women and the desire of all the men. There’s a skimpy dress here and there on the dancefloor—which has a small stage and a huge, wall-sized video screen as its backdrop—but not Butterfly. No, she wants to dance and gyrate, and that silk shirt, black jeans, and Louboutin stilettos are still enough to showcase that beautiful body and cause a few women to sneer and more than a few men to salivate.

My girl has had a Cosmo or two and is bouncing happily in her seat to the music, an eclectic mix of artists from what sounds like the 80’s and maybe a touch of the early 90’s.

“So, how do you distinguish between Allen’s songs and your songs?” I ask. “You’re both singing them all.”

“Well, Al was the quintessential white boy, so he introduced me to Billy Joel, Duran Duran, the B-52’s, A-ha, and Wham, to name a few. I was the reverse Oreo, so to speak, so I introduced him to Motown, Kool and the Gang, Bobby Brown, and Salt-n-Pepa. It appears that they are tapping into the 80’s white boy tonight.”

Just as she finishes that statement, the familiar twang of the beginning of Take On Me fills the air and my girl deliberately begins to wildly bob her head like a hand-banger, after which she leaps to her feet and begins to do that dance where the girls bounce back and forth on their toes from one foot to the other, her hands doing a calmer version of the swim, and all I can think to myself as she and Al pipe out the lyrics is, “Who is this girl?”

She went to the hospital briefly this afternoon and when she returned, I was informed that we were going out tonight. She disappeared into the bedroom for an hour or two and when she emerged, she was wearing the ensemble that she’s wearing now, quickly putting the kibosh on my more formal garb and instructing me to go and change. We’ve had a seafood dinner and my wife and her gay boyfriend are feasting on a dessert of Cosmos and 80’s music.

Once A-Ha has finished singing the last bars of the song and the lead singer bursts out of the cartoon world and into live color on the life-sized screen, Allen and Butterfly return to the table with me and James to quench their parched throats with a swallow or three of their Cosmos. Just as they’re catching their breath and reminiscing over yet another 80’s tune, an unfamiliar intro of horns begins to play. Butterfly looks up at Allen in acknowledgement and Allen raises a brow at her.

“Do you remember it?” Allen asks her.

“Of course, I remember it!” Butterfly replies.

“Well, what’re we waitin’ for?” Allen says, sliding out of the booth. Butterfly giggles as he takes her hand and they head off to the dancefloor. I look at Jason, who just shrugs. A few moments later, we watch as Allen and Butterfly break into a perfectly choreographed routine of what looks like a mixture between a foxtrot and a jive, and with all the spins and perfect steps they’re doing, you can’t really tell who’s leading. I look over at James, who’s as stunned as I am to see them dancing together like that. They actually look like they can compete professionally.

What’s more, I don’t think I’ve seen my wife smile this widely in weeks.

“Do you ever feel left out of their little club?” I ask James honestly. He shakes his head as he swallows his beer.

“No,” he says, “Allie makes sure that doesn’t happen. We have our own little club and everybody can’t be a part of that one.” He raises his brow and takes another drink of his beer. I remember Butterfly mentioning to me once that they dabbled a bit in the lifestyle. I don’t know if they’re still in it or how deeply they’ve gone, and I dare not ask without invitation, but he’s right—no one should be privy to the “marriage” club relationship unless you’re practicing Polyamory, and that’s a huge no-no for me and Butterfly. I don’t want anyone else’s hands—male or female—on my woman!

“I’ve never seen a friendship like theirs,” James continues. “Never. If I wasn’t certain of Allie’s love for me, I’d feel threatened. I’m a little jealous that I never had a friendship like that in my entire life.”

“I think we’re both lucky to have found them,” I tell him. “They’re in love with each other as much as two people can be in love and not share a sexual relationship. For her to have the capacity to love him unconditionally and then love me, too… yeah, I’m the luckiest man alive.”

“I might have to dispute you on that one, Chris,” he says, watching his husband finish a flawless dance with my wife. They were clearly in their own world and appear a bit surprised to discover that the dancers cleared a small hole in the dance floor for them to finish their routines while the spectators looked on, and they’re a bit taken aback when the room erupts into applause for them.

I discover later that the song that gave them dancing feet is called Mambo #5.

My girl returns to her seat and a Cosmo and a bottle of water later, she’s back on the dance floor, perfectly mimicking the steps—and adding a few of her own—to the Salt-n-Pepa, Push It and Janet Jackson Control videos.  

And now I know how my girl learned to dance. She probably spent quite a bit of time mimicking music videos.

I have to admit that concept behind the Tainted Love video, I can’t get with that. It looks too creepy to me. I’m surprised that I’ve never seen it before now. He’s singing to a little girl—he looks like a fucking pedophile. Jason notices my expression and leans over to me.

“You okay, Boss?” he asks.

“This song was popular back in the day, I remember it,” I tell him. “This was the concept behind it the whole time?” He looks at the video, then looks back at me.

“I… I don’t know,” he says. “But you know the eighties, Boss. There was a lot of artistic expression that didn’t necessarily make sense.”

“There’s nothing confusing about that,” I retort. “He’s singing to a child about tainted love. That’s disgusting! Who approved this message?”

“I wouldn’t get too upset about it, Boss,” Jason says. “The song is 35 years old and the guy singing it is probably twice as old…” and probably out molesting children if his video is any indication!

I purse my lips and shake my head. How jaded must my mind be to get this angry over a 35-year-old video whose director obviously adopted a very fucked up sense of creative license?

“You’re not off the mark on this one, Chris,” James says, bringing my attention back to him. “I think it’s weird, too, and that’s putting it nicely. It’s making me pretty fucking uncomfortable. That song was originally done in the 60’s by an artist named Gloria Jones—this is a cover. She made it very clear that it’s about a relationship gone sour and she’s singing to her lover about how she feels their love is one-sided and now putrid. Where the concept falls that he’s singing to a little girl is beyond me.”

“Thank you!” I say, throwing my hand in the air. “I’m not crazy! I still like the song, but that video sucks!” I bottom out my bear and search for the waitress to get another one. While I’m searching the room, my eyes land on Butterfly and her lifetime dance partner now dominating the floor to Paula Abdul’s Straight Up.

I’m mesmerized once again watching her mimic the moves in the music video with Allen as the perfectly in-sync backup dancer. I completely forget what I was bitching about watching her flawlessly execute that Butterfly thing that Paula Abdul does with her legs. She’s graceful and beautiful and if there’s conversation going on around me, I can’t even hear it anymore. I could watch her all day.

Next, another Paula Abdul song comes on accompanied by a video that would disturb me as much as the Tainted Love video… if it wasn’t so cute. It’s the video for Opposites Attract, and Paula’s love interest is—of all things—a cartoon cat. The entire video is a dance video and she and Allen never miss a step. They use whatever room the other dancers give them, whether it’s a few feet or the entire stage area of the dance floor. After watching her execute some of the rubber-band moves of Paula Abdul, many people usually just move out of the way. I’m totally blown away when she and Allen mimic the tap dancing scene near the end of the video.

Fuck, is there anything this woman can’t do?

They stroll back to the table like Paula and ScatCat strolls off the screen at the end of the video, smiling so hard that their faces should break. Amidst the thunderous applause and cheers, they’re cut off by one of the women that was dancing just before they get to the table.

“Are you guys a couple?” she asks. “You look great together!”

“Thank you,” Butterfly says sincerely. “No, we’re not. Actually, we’re both married. He’s my gay boyfriend.” She squeezes his hand and lays her head on his shoulder.

“And she’s my fag hag,” Allen replies, laying his head on hers.

“Wow, really?” the girl says, somewhat wistfully. “You’re kind of hot.” James reaches up and takes his husband’s free hand, guiding him to the seat next to him.

“I think so, too,” James says protectively.

“Wow,” she says, looking at Allen and his husband, “two hot guys. You can’t go anywhere in public, can you?”

James chuckles loudly and Allen laughs as the young lady’s eyes travel around the table and land—widely—on me. Butterfly slides into the booth next to me and latches onto my arm, smiling at the girl.

“Please tell me that’s another one of your gay boyfriends cuz I’ll turn him straight,” she says without taking her eyes off me. Butterfly shakes her head and flashes her rings.

“Nope. Husband,” she says with a smile.

“Shit!” she says. “Sorry,” she says to Butterfly, repentant and with pouty lips, then she rolls her eyes. “Three hot guys.” Her eyes wander to a lone Jason sitting on the opposite side of the table in a chair he commandeered and brought to the table. Before she can question, he holds up his finger and flashes his ring.

“Fuck!” she exclaims. “Four hot pieces of man-candy and they’re all taken! Figures!” She throws her hands up and marches, frustrated, away from the table, causing us to burst out in laughter while Jason just shakes his head.

“I had no idea you guys could tap dance!” I point out once our admirer has left.

“She can’t, I can,” Allen says, proudly.

“Well, she was doing a pretty good job up there,” James says.

“Only because he taught me that routine,” Butterfly says before taking a healthy chug of what must be room-temperature water.

“And she scares the shit outta me doing it in stilettos!” Allen chimes in. “The entire time, I was afraid that she would tweak her damn ankle!”

“But I didn’t, so keep your shirt on,” she says, waving down a waitress.

“My girl can do anything in stilettos,” I say, remembering what she said to me after our first night together. James’ brow furrows.

“Anything?” he asks, puzzled.

“Anything,” Butterfly confirms.

“Can you rock climb?” Jason asks, with a smirk.

“If it’s me or the rock, I’ll figure it out,” she replies.

The waitress has made her way to the table and Butterfly gets another round of drinks, lots of water, and soda for Jason. Once the waitress returns, I hand her a $100 bill and thank her for the drinks.

“I’m hungry again,” Butterfly announces after chugging an entire bottle of water.

“I can see why,” I say. “You’ve done a workout up there that would put Zumba to shame.”

“And I’m sweating like a pig,” she says, pulling the material of her shirt from her body repeatedly, using it to fan herself. “Give me your blazer,” she says.

“Why? Are you cold?” I ask.

“I will be in a minute if you don’t give me your blazer,” she says, and snatches her drenched silk shirt right over her head… in the middle of the damn club. I’m stunned just looking at those beautiful mounds held up by a stylish black sports bra.

“Shit!” Jason says, ripping off his suit jacket to cover Butterfly while she uses her 100% silk shirt to dry her sweat to a background of whooping onlookers.

“Your Highness!” Jason scolds over the music.

“Heeeeey! We agreed!” Butterfly protests.

“Your. Highness!” Jason reinforces, saying the second word so hard that Butterfly jumps in her seat. “Please! Don’t ever do that again!”

She stares at him like a child being scolded by her father. His words are a request. His tone is, “If you pull that shit again, you’re grounded for a month.”

“Okay, okay, sorry,” she says in a whiny, petulant, teenager voice. She buttons the suit jacket which is at least three sizes too big for her, her sports bra still peeking out from the neckline. She rolls the sleeves up to accommodate her hands, never raising her gaze to any of us while she’s doing it. I’m certain that she’s feeling chastised and a bit embarrassed. She had better be glad I was hypnotized by her tits or my reaction may have been a bit more… animated.

“Okay,” I say when she has fiddled with the sleeves a bit too long. “Back to the dancefloor.”

I push her out of the booth and slide out behind her. I’m dragging her to the dancefloor by her hand and she’s somewhat stomping behind me with her head down like I just told her to go to her room.

Geez, Butterfly, spoiled much?

I dance a little with her and she’s not into it at all, doing the obligatory two-step with minimal movements of her arms.

Well, this will never do.

“Okay. Fine. You don’t want to dance with me? I’ll dance by myself.”

I turn away from my wife and begin a series of crazy gyrations reminiscent of the final scene of Footloose. It’s not really bad, except if you take away the weird dresses and prom decorations, you’ve got one guy on the floor looking like he’s having a seizure.

When I turn back to my wife, she’s got one arm crossed over her chest and one hand covering her mouth, stifling a smile that she’s trying not to let show.

“No?” I say, shaking my head. “Okay, how about this?” For my next rendition, ladies and gentlemen…

I begin a really bad… and I do mean really bad rendition of Austin Powers’ fembots dance. Seriously, the dance was already bad on its own, but I made it worse. Now, both my wife’s hands are covering her mouth. And for my finale, folks…

I break into a flawless rendition of Napoleon Dynamite’s “Vote for Pedro” dance to Canned Heat… only I’m dancing to Break My Stride. And, well, flawless may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I must admit that Napoleon Dynamite was one of my guilty pleasures, so I know that routine very well. If it’s not flawless, it’s pretty damn close.

“Okay, okay, you’re making a fool of yourself!” my wife says, halting my exquisite execution through her laughter by putting her arms around my waist.

“Yeah, but I made you laugh, didn’t I?” I say victoriously.

“Heartily,” she says as I pull her against me and kiss her quickly.

“And he’s right,” I say, holding her over Jason’s way too big suit jacket. “What you did was worthy of a punishment. If you ever do it again, you’re going to get one, and you’re not going to like it. Understand?”

My voice is sober, but not harsh. It’s matter-of-fact. If you’re a bad little Pussycat, you’re going to get spanked. She nods and drops her head like a good little soumise.

“Yes, Sir,” she replies softly, and I hear it loud and clear as if she were speaking through a bullhorn. I put my finger under her chin and lift her head.

“Good girl,” I say, kissing her softly again on the lips. “Now, let’s go find something to eat.” I take her by the hand and lead her from the dancefloor.


ANASTASIA

Last night’s workout has turned out to be murder on my joints. I’m exhausted and sore, but not too tired to have breakfast with my children. I’m able to convince Marilyn to have a few pieces of fruit, but I’m certain that we’re going to have to graduate to more real food for her very soon. While Pedialyte, Ensure, and smoothies offer sufficient nutrition for her, she can’t survive off of those things indefinitely.

“Daddy, why do you call me ‘Sunflower?’” I ask when we are the last two people at the table. He raises his brow.

“I’ve… called you that almost since you were born,” he says. “Why do you ask?” I drop my gaze.

“My mother’s favorite flower is a sunflower,” I say. “It took me nearly 30 years to find that out and I found out from a stranger.” Daddy gasps.

“Oh,” he says, sadly. “I forgot all about that. Yeah, that might have been where it came from, come to think of it. I did love that woman once upon a time… very much. It wouldn’t have been too far fetched. I’ll stop if it bothers you…”

“Absolutely not!” I scold. “’Sunflower’ is something special between us that just happens to be her favorite flower.” Daddy nods and drops his head.

“I know why you didn’t tell me everything, but it hurts that you didn’t tell me everything.” I sigh heavily.

“I didn’t have the heart, Daddy,” I reply. “Those details are even hard for me to watch right now, and I remember everything vividly, like it happened yesterday. It was selfish of me not to prepare you guys for what was coming, but what could I do?”

“Nothing, Sunflower,” he says, his eyes filling with tears. “You couldn’t do anything. You couldn’t do anything then and you couldn’t do anything now.” He throws his gaze to the ceiling, trying to fight his tears.

“The only times I’ve ever cried was over you,” he admits. “I was broken when I lost Carla. I was destroyed when I lost you. It was the worst pain I had ever felt when you left me.” I cover my mouth and choke back a sob.

“I know, Daddy,” I say once I’m able to speak. “I felt the same way about you. All those horrible things she made me say to you…”

“I knew it wasn’t you, Annie,” he says. “The words weren’t yours and I could tell right away…” He trails off. “When I showed up at that hospital and you were all frail and weak, dear God, I wanted to burn this city down to find out what had happened to you. I was so angry with Carla. She couldn’t even tell me what was going on! She didn’t have any answers. She blamed you the entire time I talked to her, saying that she had no idea what you had gotten into. Your bruises were mostly healed, but you still looked broken. The pictures that I saw… I had seen men tortured in POW camps that didn’t look that bad.

“All these years, she just walked around like, ‘Shit happens,’” he says, his voice cracking. “Then, she had the nerve to show up at the hospital after you were kidnapped; all that shit she said in the press… Who the hell does she think she is?”

Daddy is getting angry and he’s crying freely now. Daddy’s right—I don’t remember ever seeing him cry. Marines don’t cry, but he’s crying now.

“How could she birth someone into the world and then treat her that way?” he sobs. “I wouldn’t treat a dog the way she treated you. And dear God in heaven, when she called me and told me that you were missing again…!”

Daddy is weeping now. His body is shaking violently with his sobs. I hold his hands tightly as he cries, my own dam bursting along with his. He’s been holding this in for a lot of years. He needs to get it out.

“I did everything I could to keep you,” he sobs. “This never would have happened if she had just let me keep you. I would have protected you… spared you all this agony…”

“I know, Daddy,” I weep. “I know you would.”

“Your capacity for kindness never ceases to amaze me, Annie,” my father says with tears streaming down his cheeks. “I’m not ashamed to say that after hearing her version of what happened, and what she felt, and knowing what you went through, I would have immediately pulled the plug on that woman!” He says the last part through gritted teeth.

“I’m angry and hurt for everything that she did to me,” I admit, “everything that she allowed to happen to me—from ripping me away from you to allowing her monster of a husband to mistreat me to the entire ordeal with Green Valley. I’m hurt and disappointed and enraged down to my very soul… but if I just let her die, then I’m no better than she is.

“At the end of the day, I have to live with my decision. That’s why I’m making sure that she’s getting the best care, but it’s not out of love or devotion. It’s out of human obligation. I’m her next of kin, and I will see her through to the end of her advanced directive or until she awakes, whichever comes first. Then, I’ll put her in a nursing home or the grave, whichever is necessary.”

“That’s still more kindness than she deserves as far as I’m concerned,” Daddy says, wiping his eyes. “I would either be donating her body to science or walking away and leaving her right where she lay! I guess the Man Upstairs has to work on my heart. I don’t think I’ve ever forgiven her for what she put you through.” I squeeze his hands.

“Forgive her, Daddy,” I say, through my sniffles. “I have. I can’t hold onto it anymore. I forgave her years ago when I gave her that money and told her to get out of my life. It still frustrates me that she did the things that she did, and that she was so heartless and cruel, hence my recent meltdown. That’s what happens when I dwell on it. That’s why I don’t dwell on it. You shouldn’t either.” He sighs heavily.

“You’re so wise, Annie, that it scares me sometimes,” he admits.

“Trust me, it can be a very heavy cross to bear,” I lament, wrapping my arms around my Daddy and hugging him with all my might.

Later that afternoon, I stop in at the hospital to collect more cards from more flowers and have some of the older arrangements removed. I told the nurse that she could decide what to do with them since some of them look like they may have been dying. I can still see the disapproval in her eyes when I give her instructions even though she doesn’t say anything to me about how she feels. It’s none of her business anyway. Henry, my mother’s guard today, shows me her visitors’ log.

Fourteen people have been here to see her since I said she could have visitors. What was that, like a couple of days ago?

I push down the anger, envy, and resentment that I feel each time I think about the number of visitors that this selfish adult grandmother has received in just the past few days that a 15-year-old girl wasn’t afforded in several weeks.

“Neti, neti,” I repeat to myself, standing in my mother’s room. “Neti, neti…”

Studying with Marilyn about meditation and restorative yoga, I came upon this simple Sanskrit chant. Neti, neti which simply means not this, not this. It’s used to push away bad omens, bad thoughts, bad situations. I use it to try to cleanse myself of the hateful feelings and energy that consume me when it comes to dealing with this woman. My negative energy can’t be conducive to her healing, and it’s certainly not conducive to mine.

“Neti, neti… neti, neti… neti, neti…”

I recite the damn thing all the way back to the hotel.

*-*

“Aunt Ana!”

Sophie gives me a big hug once she and Gail get to the hotel Saturday evening. She appears to be very happy to be here.

“Sophie!” I say, returning her embrace. “So… Vegas. How many of your friends can say this is where they’re spending their semester break?”

“None,” she giggles. “Most of them are talking about going to some exotic place for spring break, but I’m in Vegas now!” I laugh with her. There’s no use in spreading my hatred for this place. A lot of people like it here; I just don’t.

“I know that Gail and Jason have some things planned, but I’ve got a thing or two planned as well,” I tell her.

“It’s not all kiddie things, is it?” she laments. “I want to do some kiddie things, like I want to go to the Adventure Dome, but I don’t want to do all kiddie things. I want to do some grown-up things, too.”

“Like a Las Vegas food tour?” I ask, “Or dinner at one of the world-renowned chef’s restaurants?”

“Yeah!” she replies, starry-eyed.

“Well, that’s what I’ve got planned,” I tell her, and she hops in place and claps.

“Oh, yay!” she says. “When do we go?”

“The restaurant is tomorrow night, and the food tour is Tuesday. Is there anything else besides Adventure Dome that you want to do while we’re here?”

“I want to go to Sur La Table,” she says. “I’ve been to the one in Pike’s Place and I wasn’t really impressed. I want to see what the one here looks like.” I nod.

“Your wish is my command,” I tell her. “I’ll talk to Gail and Jason and see what they’ve got planned and we’ll fit it in among their plans, okay?” Sophie nods happily.

“Okay,” she says. I type into my phone memos to check out Sur La Table. The moment Google sees the name, it suggests the cooking classes that they have at the store in Summerlin. That would be fantastic! I’m glad my phone is on silent or Google would have blown my entire plan!

“Aunt Ana… I know why you’re here,” she says solemnly. I raise my gaze to her. I don’t really know how to respond. “It’s all over the news at home.”

I swallow hard. How do you explain something like this to a 13-year-old girl?

“I know about your mom, too,” she says, looking at her hands. “I just wanted to get that out.”

“Okay,” I reply.

“I don’t really understand this whole thing,” she says, her brow furrowed. “I really thought the police were supposed to help you.” I sigh heavily.

“Most of the time, they are,” I reply. “This guy… had a brother he wanted to protect more than me.”

“Well, that’s just… crappy,” she says. I know what she really wants to say, and crappy wasn’t it. “Everybody has somebody they want to protect. Does that mean that I have to worry about if the police are going to put somebody else’s well-being before me?”

I shake my head. I can’t tell her that this won’t happen. They very well might put someone else’s well-being before her for many reasons, including but not limited to protecting their own family.

“Let’s hope that’s not the case, Sophie,” I tell her. “I would think that overall, the police would want to do the right thing, which is to protect and serve the public. I feel that even though there may be a few bad apples, overall, the police are good people.”

“I hope you’re right,” she says, “but I still think I want Daddy to teach me how to shoot when I’m old enough.”

“Well, it’s not a bad skill to have,” I concur. She’s quiet for a moment.

“What they did to you,” she says, looking down at her hands, “it was horrible. It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever heard… even more horrible than my mom doing drugs… even more horrible than here trying to sell me to that guy…”

“That was pretty horrible,” I interrupt her with a furrowed brow.

“This was worse,” she said. “Somebody saved me… the police saved me. Nobody saved you… and I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

I’m doing my best not to get choked up. I know what she means, but that’s a huge responsibility for a little girl to take on about something that happened before she was even born.

“There’s nothing for you to be sorry about, baby,” I tell her, taking her hands. “These were horrible people and they did a horrible thing, and now they’re being punished.”

“I’m still sorry,” she says, now looking in my eyes, “I’m sorry that someone came to save me, and no one came to save you.” Oh, dear God.

I know what she’s feeling, and I can’t explain it away. I just take her in my arms and give her a really big hug.

“Thank you, Sophie,” I say, trying to keep my voice from cracking. “I think that’s the nicest thing anybody has ever said to me.”

*-*

Dinner tonight is at the Buffet at Aria, and poor Sophie wants to try everything on the menu. The food is spectacular, the dessert divine, and my honorary niece is eating herself into a stupor. Even my normally picky eater Mackenzie is shoveling different fruits and vegetables into her mouth.

Marilyn didn’t even bother to succumb to the pressure of a buffet, so she’s sitting this one out.

“We’re in Vegas,” Christian says to Chuck while Keri and Gail are off at the food stations. “Have you asked her?”

“Of course, I have,” Chuck replies. “I didn’t expect her to be here, so I left the ring at home, but I was prepared to buy another one if she had said, ‘yes.’”

“So, I take it that it was a ‘no,’” Christian replies. Chuck sighs.

“She’s afraid of something, but I don’t know what it is,” Chuck replies. “I adore her, and I’m certain that she loves me. I just don’t know why she won’t marry me.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want to be beholden to you,” I say. “I love Christian very much, but I wouldn’t want that either.”

“Well, first of all, I wouldn’t do that to her,” Chuck says, slightly affronted. “And second of all, she wouldn’t be. She’s here on her own visa and her job is with you, just like mine is. Granted, she got it because of her affiliation to me, but let’s face it. As much as I love her, if she was shit, you guys wouldn’t let her tend to your children. And now, she’s got her teaching certification, so she really doesn’t need me that way. I don’t think that’s it.”

I think it is. I think she doesn’t want to lose her independence and that she’s afraid that if she marries an American and she’s Anguillan, that’s just what might happen.

“I see those wheels spinning,” Chuck accuses. “You know something I don’t.”

“You’re right,” I confess. “I know how it feels as a woman making my own way and not wanting to lose that feeling. As much as I’ve become accustomed to the lifestyle that I enjoy with my husband, if something happened and I lost it all tomorrow…”

“Which is impossible,” Christian interjects.

“But if it did,” I retort, “I could still go out into the big, wide world and fend for myself. I’m just saying. I don’t know if that’s the problem, but maybe you should ask her what she needs in order to make that step. It may not be that she doesn’t want to spend her life with you. It may just be that you’re asking the wrong question.” He rolls his eyes.

“No offense, Ana, but I can’t hear the shrink right now. I love that girl, and if asking her to marry me is not the right question, then I don’t know what is. Excuse me.”

He stands and heads for the door, and I think he’s going to the restroom. I watch him leave, then crack my neck and finish my wine.

“I’m sorry I asked,” Christian says. I shake my head.

“It’s not your fault,” I reply. “I’m always trying to shrink someone else and I can’t even shrink myself. I’m all tied in knots in this place. I’m barely hanging on from day to day. You all had to bring my children down here to keep me grounded. Who am I to try to give someone advice on how to live?”

“A licensed psychiatrist and a damn good one,” he says, putting his arm around the back of my chair. “You do know what you’re talking about, and you’re right. He just doesn’t want to hear it. He’s raw from another let-down. And baby? When a doctor is ill, she doesn’t diagnose herself without tests. Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t have all the answers for all this crazy shit that’s going on in your life.”

I will not cry…
I will not cry…

“I thought I was supposed to be the shrink,” I say, laughing to fight my tears. He smiles widely and kisses me on the cheek.

“We both know I’m no shrink,” he replies. “I just love you and I want you to be happy.”

I smile and lean on his shoulder. I love Chuck and Keri, too, and I want them to be happy. I just wish I knew what was really holding up Keri’s decision


A/N: Freeds opened in Vegas—Henderson to be exact—in 2017, not 2015. Creative license.

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.

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 17

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 17

CHRISTIAN

“Oh, absolutely, Mr. Grey.”

I don’t want Butterfly to know what I’m doing, so I’ve come down to the concierge’s office to make all of the arrangements. Percy informs me that he will do whatever is necessary to make my children comfortable for our stay. He has a second desk in his office, and he has allowed me to use it to make calls to get the children here without Butterfly knowing. She’s going to see her mother today out of duty, but she’s in bed this morning. She said she didn’t feel like getting up after that horrible crying spell she had last night. I told her that I was going to have a meeting with security—which I did—but now, I’m handling getting the children here.

“I’ve ordered two new cribs and baby linens from Buttercup Baby,” Percy says. “They’ll be here by noon and they assemble them for us as well.”

“Outstanding,” I tell him. “I’m surprising my wife and I’m sure that she wouldn’t be comfortable with the babies sleeping in cribs that have been used by others. You know new mothers…”

“Yes, sir, I do,” he says with a smile. “My youngest is four.” He winks. “We’re childproofing the Presidential Suite down the hall from your security suites. We’ll remove one of the beds from the two-bed room and it should accommodate the cribs nicely. We’ll also remove unnecessary furnishings from the suite to make room for any other equipment, playthings, etc. that we’ll be moving into the room. The childproofing should take about an hour and should be done by the time the cribs arrive.”

“Can you order supplies from that baby store, too? Diapers and such… I’ll have our nanny prepare a list for you. I don’t want them to have to pack the entire house on the jet. The refrigerator will need to be stocked, too. I’ll just have her call you. Her name is Gail Taylor.” He raises his brow.

“Taylor… any relation to Mr. Taylor?” he asks. I nod.

“She’s his wife,” I reply with a smile. “Long story.”

“No doubt,” Percy says with a smile. “When do you want the suite to be complete?”

“No later than tomorrow morning if you can pull that off. I’ll be eternally grateful,” I reply. “You have my Amex on file. Use it however you need and give me itemized documentation of what’s spent. Even a billionaire knows a write-off when he sees one.” Percy nods.

“I can pull it off. Leave it to me, Mr. Grey,” he assures me and leaves the office. I call Gail and give her Percy’s direct number, then inform her to have the children ready to travel in the morning. I’ve recruited Marilyn to help us with baby care duties for the rest of the week as Keri will be coming alone with the twins and their security details. Gail and Sophie will come on the weekend and stay the next week as Sophie will be on winter break next week and the stay won’t interfere with school. She and Gail can stay the week and then go back to Seattle while we sit in this holding pattern.

Everything has to be done covertly so as not to tip Butterfly off. I’m certain that if I suggest bringing the twins here, she’s going to disagree and try to kibosh the idea, but once they’re here, she’s going to be really happy.

I go back to the suite and find Butterfly in the living room, lounging across the big chair in one of the terrycloth robes.

“Is everything okay?” she asks when I enter the living room.

“As well as can be expected. Nothing’s burning down,” I say, feigning disinterest. “What’re you doing?”

“Talking to Laura and being amazed by how news from America gets to her faster than it gets to me,” she replies. Oh, dear Lord, what now?

“Well, she’s active on social media, darling, and you’re not,” I remind her.

“Maybe I should be more active, then,” she replies. I immediately panic.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Butterfly,” I warn. “We could very easily become targets of some crazed lunatic. You know there are people who stalk social media to find out your habits, your comings and goings, any weaknesses that they can exploit.”

“Oh, keep your shirt on,” she says. “I’m not talking about exposing trade secrets or the combination to the family safe. I’m just talking about paying more attention to certain topics. I’ve already set up a Twitter account with Laura’s help.” I frown.

“Another account?” I lament. “Butterfly, if you share even the slightest opinion, someone may be able to decipher who you are.” She turns her gaze to me.

“Christian, even the POTUS has a Twitter account. You really need to lighten up,” she says before turning her gaze back to the phone.

“Yeah, but he has a much better security force than we do,” I comment. She looks at me and rolls her eyes. “You’re asking for it,” I add.

“Sure, I am,” she says, still scrolling through her phone. “Relax, Christian. There’s so many Anastasia Greys and Christian Greys that if I were to put my name, rank, and serial number on here, they still wouldn’t know it was me.”

“You don’t have a rank and serial number,” I reply. She glares at me.

“Okay, this portion of the conversation is over or you’re going to frustrate the fuck out of me.” Well, I’m not trying to do that. I just want her to be careful.

“What’s your handle?” I ask. She raises a brow at me.

“Why? Are you going to send me a friend’s request?” she says sarcastically. I give her a knowing look. “Oh, gosh, seriously, Christian?” she whines.

“Anastasia?” I warn. She sighs heavily and rolls her eyes again.

“I’ve told you before, I’m sure, but it’s Mercer Doctor Lady. And quite frankly, Christian, there’s nothing to stop me from making as many IDs as I want,” she retorts.

“Except that you won’t because you know that I won’t be pleased,” I reply, sending off a text to Mac about my wife’s new hobby and her username.

“Keep fucking with me,” she mumbles, and I’m sure that I wasn’t supposed to hear it. I raise my gaze to her and she’s looking back at her phone.

“So, what’s the word on the Greys in Cyberland?” I ask.

“Nothing new,” she says. “Just that my mother is dying in the hospital and a bit of buzz about my purple silk suit, that’s all.”

“Your mother is dying?” I ask, my brow furrows.

“Not that I know of,” she replies, “but with that advanced directive, who knows?” Her thumbs are typing away on her phone. “Jax says, ‘G’day.’” I chuckle aloud imagining Jaxon’s accent saying that very thing.

“Tell him, ‘G’day,’” I reply mocking a very bad Australian accent.

“They’re talking about maybe coming to the States sometime this year since they have new friends in Seattle,” she adds.

“That would be great,” I reply enthusiastically. “Tell them to let us know for sure since we’re planning to do Rome this summer.”

“Do we have dates yet?” she asks as she types into her phone.

“No, but we should probably work on that soon,” I reply. “Are you going to the hospital today?

“I haven’t decided yet,” she says. She drops her hands into her lap with her phone. “Christian, is it wrong that I resent her flowers?” I pause.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I say. “Why do you resent her flowers?”

“Because nobody sent any to me,” she says, gazing in front of her at nothing. “I don’t remember how long I was in that hospital and no one sent me anything—no ‘get well’ wishes, no flowers or stuffed toys, nothing. She’s got so many flowers in her room that if she gets any more, I’m going to have to have some of them taken away. I didn’t get a damn thing. The only present I got was Daddy coming to get me out of there. I’m jealous and I’m angry and I don’t think she deserves it. What the hell is wrong with me?”

“Not a damn thing,” I chime in quickly, and she turns her gaze to me. “The only thing that I see wrong is that you’re asking if you’re wrong. The woman who was supposed to love you over everything else left you to die. You awoke alone in that cold and sterile room and you were only 15 years old. Notwithstanding anything that happened before or after that moment, no human being—let alone a young girl—can be expected to walk away from that unscathed. As far as I’m concerned, you have every right to resent the human kindness that’s being shown to her, apparently by several people, when this one person who should have extended a mother’s love to you didn’t do it. And that’s my professional opinion.”

“Your professional opinion?” she says with a strained smirk.

“Yes,” I say, moving over to sit on the floor next to her chair and taking her hand. “I think what you’re doing right now is nothing short of amazing, and that anyone else in your position who has been through what you’ve been through would let that woman rot… and rightfully so.” She looks at the ceiling and sighs.

“Inside,” she says, “deep inside where I’m hurting and I don’t let anybody in, that’s really what I want to do. I want to walk away from this whole thing and let all of her flower bearers take care of her, but I can’t. I can’t bring myself to do it. For so many reasons that I can’t verbalize, I can’t bring myself to do it.”

“Butterfly, take comfort in the fact that you’re a good person with a conscious. You’re a better person to your mother than your mother ever was to you, and if the only drawback that you have is that you resent those damn flowers, then resent those damn flowers. I recommend that you start getting rid of them when you get back to the hospital if there’s that many…”

“I’m not trying to be petty, Christian,” she protests.

“You’re not being petty,” I retort. “Getting rid of all of them, that’s petty. Getting rid of some of them, that’s not. You’re just thinning them out.” She sighs.

“I could send them to rooms with people who don’t have any flowers… like I was.” She drops her gaze into her lap. She’s reliving this whole thing over again and it hurts like hell to watch it. I rise to my knees, cup her cheeks in my hands, and kiss her gently.

“I think that would be a wonderful idea,” I tell her, rubbing my nose against hers. “Guess what I found out?”

“What?” she asks.

“That place with the crazy cakes on television—Vegas Cakes?”

“Yes,” she says expecting.

“It’s called Freed’s Bakery and they’re just down the road a bit. What do you say we order some sweets and get lost in a mountain of German Chocolate and fruit tarts? They deliver.” A wide smile spreads across her face.

“Oh, Christian, that would be divine!”

*-*

We spend what’s left of the morning and a good part of the afternoon in sugar-induced giddiness, after which my wife decides to let Mini-Morton sleep in peace for the day and she and Allen head to the spa for the rest of the afternoon. Now, I don’t know how appropriate it is, but I feel like we need to get back to ourselves. What always helps me get back to myself is a good scene.

We haven’t been in the playroom since we started seeing Artemis and Savvina, which means we haven’t had full-on playtime while exploring our new rules and dynamic. I know that we need to be mindful of what we’ve learned, but making too many advanced plans for a scene somewhat defeats the purpose. It’s more like an appointment instead of playtime, and who needs that?

I take the time that my wife is in the spa to do a little shopping. I haven’t been BDSM shopping in a while, not for travel toys, anyway. That trip in Australia was quick and dirty. This one will be slightly different—travel toys that can go home with us if we like. She had a wonderful reaction to that paintbrush on her clit. I never would have thought of that had the girl in the store not told me about it.

I’ve found some divine toys and bondage items at this store called Lovers Lane. I’m taking a chance coming here, but I don’t want to get any substandard products and my research tells me that this place is the best.

A blindfold, a leather crop, a butt plug, some oils, lube, sanitizer…

Thigh-high black stockings with the thick lace, elastic trim—no garter required…

BDSM wax play candles…

I pick out a few items that I need, the old faithful implements as well as a few new ones. I buy more things than I plan to use, but I’m going to try to use as many of them as I can, even if our escapade has to pick up on another night.

I’m a little aroused already thinking of the things I plan to do to my Pussycat. I’ll have to ease her into the new stuff and gauge her reactions to them. Hopefully, she’ll remember what she’s learned about her limits, but it’ll give me great pleasure to watch her carefully and see for myself what things she can and cannot take. I remember my training, and I’m going to take it slow, but I think we both need a scene right now—a pretty intense one at that.

I can hardly wait to get my hands on my little Pussycat

*-*

“Christian?”

I hear her call my name when she gets back to the suite. She stopped for Chinese with Allen, giving me more time to prepare myself and the suite for playtime. We won’t play in the bedroom. That’s too predictable. The en suites are not practical with all the hard surfaces, but we’ll be utilizing the rest of the suite as needed.

I emerge from the bedroom in my Dom uniform—black slacks, white linen shirt, and socks and shoes. I’m careful to never present myself to her in only this simple garb… unless I’m ready for action. She’s removing her coat and stops, stuck in suspended animation when she sees me. I slowly close the space between us, and finish removing her coat, tossing it onto a nearby chair.

“Would you like to play, Pussycat?” I ask in my Dom voice. She swallows hard and her pupils dilate.

“Yes, Sir,” she breathes, dropping her gaze immediately. I put my finger under her chin and raise her gaze to mine. Then I take a few steps back.

“Take off your clothes,” I say. “Don’t take your eyes off mine.”

She steps out of her shoes as she undoes her slacks, not slowly or sensually, but at a leisurely pace… not hurried, just comfortable, careful to keep her gaze on mine.

She slides out of her slacks and tosses them on the chair with her coat. Next, she undoes the buttons of her shirt, removes it and tosses it onto the chair as well. She’s standing there in her bra, panties, and pantyhose awaiting instruction.

“Everything,” I command. She slides carefully out of her pantyhose and panties simultaneously before reaching behind her and undoing her bra, all of her underthings joining her other garments on the chair.

I stand there and soak her in for a while—her full, round breasts, her curvy hips and luscious thighs, her shaved core hiding from me…

You’ll fuck her soon enough, Grey. Draw it out… make it worth it.

I reach in my pocket and retrieve the stockings.

“Put these on,” I say, handing them to her. She takes them from my hand and proceeds to gather the first one to put it on. I walk behind her to observe that glorious ass when she bends down to put the stocking on her foot. I groan audibly when she does, and she remains in the bent position while gently pulling the stocking in place to her upper thigh.

Oh, Pussycat, I plan to torment you as much as you’re tormenting me right now.

Mentoring with Artemis and Savvina exposes us to enough BDSM—with the occasional bondage fuck are slight impact play in between—but we haven’t had a full scene in months! We’ve learned new parameters since we’ve been seeing Artemis and Savvina, but we haven’t put them to use yet in a full scene. I plan to do so this evening.

I produce a butt plug from my other pocket and put it in my mouth. As she’s about to stand upright, I grab her ass firmly which signals her to stop. Her legs are still slightly spread from donning her stockings… Perfect. I push my hands in between her legs and thrust my middle finger into her pussy, my third finger rubbing her clit.

She gasps, but she’s wet as fuck! She’s even tighter than she is wet. I circle my finger inside of her, gathering the wetness inside of her warm walls while the finger on her clit aids to increase the lubrication. Her breathing picks up a bit, and she puts her hands on her thighs to support her weight. I crouch behind her so that the display is right in my face. My cock is hardening to solid steel as I watch my finger disappearing into her core, her juices spilling out into my hand. I feel the warmth and meatiness of her inner walls and it’s almost unbearable imagining being inside of her.

I hear her breathing increase and one of her legs begins to tremble. She’s getting close. My Pussycat is such a sexual being that even the slightest manipulation with the right rhythm and pressure can cause her to explode. I have to stop or it’s game over for her.

I drag my wet hand from her core and her clit, causing her to gasp and moan again. Fuck, she’s such a nymph! I spread the wetness I’ve gathered from her pussy to her inviting little rosette, staring at me and begging for my attention.

Here I come, baby. I’ve hardly forgotten you.

Her pink little asshole puckers when I anoint it. I fucking love that shit. I coat her ass with all the moisture that I’ve gathered from her cunt, then slowly breach the rosette with the wet finger. I reach around her body this time and use my other hand to finger her clit, rhythmically, while pushing my finger into her ass. She groans, panting while I fuck her with my hands, and when her legs begin to tremble again, I cease the manipulation of her clit, but continue with my finger in her ass.

She’s breathing heavily again, and I remove the finger from her ass. Making sure that the butt plug is thoroughly lubricated, I pull it from my mouth and slowly begin to push it inside of her. She gasps, and visibly relaxes her asshole, allowing the butt plug to slide effortlessly inside. I literally drool when her asshole swallows the butt plug, leaving nothing visible but the large blue jewel.

“Fuck,” I hiss quietly, wondering if I’m going to be able to complete the scene before I dive into her and fuck her senseless.

“Stand,” I tell her, rising upright behind her. She obeys, panting sensuously.

“Go over to the dining table.”

Yes, Pussycat. I don’t have any of my benches here, so the dining table will have to do.

Greystone is angrily pulsing against my pants as I watch the rolling-hip-wobble-ass-butt-plug-walk across the room and over to the dining table. There’s no use in even attempting to hide this erection. I can see the prominent outline of my hard cock straining to get out of these clothes. If I didn’t have my shirt tucked in over it, the head would be sticking out of my pants right now.

I walk over to the dining table and move in front of her. She gasps when she sees my cock through my pants and licks and bites her lips. Fuck, fuck, fuck!

“What are your safewords, Pussycat?” I ask.

“Bells, whistles, and…” She pauses and I nod. “Ladybug, Sir.”

That’s right, Pussycat. You can’t come without permission.

“I can trust you to use your safewords when needed, Pussycat?” I ask.

“Yes, Sir,” she replies. I take a deep breath and hand her a ponytail holder.

“Good girl. Now, while I love your hair, I don’t want it to get in the way,” I say. She takes the ponytail holder and quickly fashions her hair in some kind of ponytail-bun assuring that it will stay out of the way for the rest of the scene.

“Up with you now,” I say, holding my hand out to her. She takes my hand and, using one of the chairs as a step, she climbs onto the table on her knees.

“Come down here to the end,” I coax, and she brings her knees almost to the end of the table. Perfect. I take a blindfold—the final item in my pocket—and close the space between us.

“Lights out,” I say, softly, and tie the blindfold over her eyes. Her breathing quickens immediately.

“Spread your thighs a little wider,” I command, and she obeys. Her thighs are spread just so, and her clit is peeking playfully out of her waxed lips.

Control, Grey, control.

I move to the small table to the side where I’ve had all my other implements covered and retrieve the fur and leather cuffs. I take my time attaching the cuffs to her wrists before connecting them to each other behind her back. One of my favorite parts of BSDM has always been the binding, second only to impact play. I light one of the candles—blue of course—and turn back to my Pussycat.

There she is, kneeling on the table, blindfolded with her breast pushed out in front of her due to the wrist restraints.

Fuck!

I walk over to her and wait patiently as the wax begins to melt, ready to note her reaction from the first drop. Her chest is rising and falling in anticipation, and the blue wax finally turns to liquid, a single drop falling onto the top of her breast. She jumps from the sensation and gasps in surprise. Her knees fall open a little wider and her clit is now prominently protruding from her lips.

I wait, wait for her breath to calm, wait for the sensation to settle, wait for her safeword. She calms, and she doesn’t safeword.

“More?” I ask.

“Yes,” she breathes. “Yes… Sir…”

I allow another drop to fall on her breast and she gasps again, leaning back to expose more of her body. I let another drop fall, then another, and another… her abs, her chest, her neck, her shoulders. She writhes from the sensation, each drop causing a reaction. The candle is almost to the end and I have to light another. This one burns a little faster, the liquid running down her skin this time, turning her chest and abdomen into a beautiful blue sculpture.

When I light the third candle, I don’t know if I’m lighting it for her or for me. She’s loving this; her reactions are sexual and provocative, and she looks fucking divine. All this time, I haven’t spilled a drop directly onto one of her nipples…

Until just now.

Her gasp is audible—shrill, and she’s panting like a marathon runner. She doesn’t safeword, and I nearly come in my pants. I drop another drop on her other nipple and she gives me the same shrill gasp.

Caught lightning in a bottle twice. What’s more, that drop rolls down to the tip of her nipple until it’s hanging off in suspension and dries that way.

~~~Las Vegas Scene

Fuck, that is so fucking hot.

I finish the rest of the third candle on her thighs, then pull out my phone. I take several pictures of my beautiful blue nymph and our first experience of candle play. Her ecstatic poses and facial expressions captured in the pictures look like she’s posing professionally. I may need to put these in the playroom.

I put the phone away and quickly turn my attention back to my Pussycat. That clit is protruding so far, I simply can’t help it…

I pull a chair to the end of the table, have a seat, and run my tongue over the inviting clit. She cries out, leaning back onto her hands to support her weight. Looking at her this way, I already know that I’m going to fuck her in this position.

I lick her again, tasting her juices and wondering if these are new from the wax play, or the ones from when I finger fucked her earlier. No matter—they taste the same and still make me want to fuck the shit outta her!

I indulge in the pussy for a few more moments, tasting her and watching her chest rise and fall covered in the blue wax. It’s now that I realize that the wax most likely serves the same purpose as a gently flogging—to heighten the sensation and to bring the blood to the surface of the skin. That shit really turns me on!

I give her clit a reprieve and retrieve the harness from the table. I help her get back to an upright position and have her turn around so that her ass is to me. I kiss the cheek and give the butt plug a little turn and pull, enjoying her reaction to the sensation. I get a pillow from the sofa and instruct her to lay on the pillow with her ass in the air.

Yes, that’s it.

I attach the harness around her waist and then pull the leather strap between her legs and tighten it behind her. She whimpers, no doubt feeling the strap against her tender clit and feeling it push the butt plug into her ass.

Hold tight, Pussycat.

I finish the visual by binding her ankles together in a pair of cuffs to match her wrist cuffs. If she could only see how fucking beautiful she looks—bound, harnessed, and blindfolded on the dining table and served up like Thanksgiving dinner. I take a few more pictures of her for my collection.

“Okay, Pussycat?” I say, leaning down to her face.

“Yes, Sir,” she says, her voice relaxed but Nirvanic. I stand behind her and introduce her to a little surprise in the harness. The thick strap between her legs has a slit in the middle—not completely open, but with a nylon covering over it. I manipulate the slit so that the thin nylon covering is right over her cunt, so that I can play with her clit and feel her wetness slipping through at will. I don’t think she realizes it yet, but she will…

I retrieve my crop and give her a solid whack with the tip of it on her ass. She jumps from the first sensation but settles again. The second and third whacks cause her to gasp, but the fourth strike is a gentle flicking of her clit.

She squeals, then pants, whimpering and trembling. I flick it again, and she’s whimpering again. I flick it repeatedly and I see her body stiffen, as much as it can.

I return to pinkening her beautiful ass cheeks—a gentle spanking to pull the blood to the surface and then a bit of tormenting of the pussy.

I run the braided stem of the crop between her legs, over her opening and her clit. She groans deep in pleasure, almost unable to withstand the sensation. I watch her bite her lip to stifle the sound of the enjoyment, the only part of her body able to move is her hands in the cuffs. Her fists clench and she jerks when I strike her cheek with the crop, absorbing the impact of the blow. Her fingers flutter open and wiggle helplessly with any pleasurable sensation—flicking her clit with the tip of the crop; running the braided portion over the nylon slit in the leather.

Next, I torment her with the Plume feather tickler—her back, her ass, her clit, the bottom of her feet… I stop when she’s mindless with sensation.

I’m ready to fuck now.

She gets a reprieve while I strip. It’s a wonder my dick didn’t rip straight through my boxer briefs! It’s ready for a goddamn jousting match when I finally free it from my clothing.

Now, how will I take her?

Remembering that I want to fuck her in that position she was sitting in when I “waxed” her, I go to the Lovers Lane bag and retrieve the thigh cuffs that I planned to use on her attached to those ankle cuffs that she’s wearing.

Maybe later, but I’ve got other plans for them right now.

I attach the restraints to my own thighs and go get my Pussycat.

“Come on, Pussycat,” I say as I remove the harness from her. I release the clamp holding the ankle cuffs together, and Pussycat rolls to a sitting position, wincing a bit as her cropped ass meets the hard table. I help her to the floor and lead her to the living room. I take a seat on the large chair and guide her to my lap.

“Straddle me,” I instruct her, and she throws her legs over my thighs. Just as she’s about the descend on me, I straighten my cock and guide it right into her wet pussy. She freezes when the head breaches her core.

“That’s it,” I hiss, Greystone begging her not to get up. “Keep going.”

She’s still so tight that she has to ease down onto my eager dick, but when she has taken all of me, I have to take a deep breath to compose myself. I just sit there for a moment before I move.

“Lean back,” I command, my voice throaty as fuck. “Put your hands on my knees.”

When she leans on my knees, I put my arms around her and attach each of her wrist cuffs to my thigh cuffs. Then I sit back and observe her—spread out straddling me with blue wax over her breast, torso, and thighs… and her pussy wrapped around my cock.

“Okay?” I ask.

“Yes, Sir,” she purrs.

“Good… now ride me… slowly.”

She rises off my cock, slowly, then drops back down onto me… again… and again… and again. She licks her lips as her wetness coats me, making that delicious creamy sound as she fucks me. I scratch my nails over her body, removing the wax from her skins.

She moans, then whimpers, closing her eyes as she rides me.

When her skin is clean enough, I produce the battery-operated wand from just behind me. She leaps when I touch it to her clit.

“Ah!” she yelps, unable to keep quiet from the sensation. She continues to ride me, and I touch it to her clit again.

“Ah!” she yelps again. “Sir! I… I…”

“I know,” I reply, nearly growling. She’s tormenting me as much as I’m tormenting her. I feel my cock thickening inside her and I can’t help but touch the wand to my aching dick as she rides it.

“Fuck!” I hiss, throwing my head back in ecstasy. The damn thing isn’t even on its highest setting! Maybe somewhere in the middle. I touch it to her clit again… and again.

“Uuuuuuuggggghhhhh!” she laments, throwing her head back and quickening her pace on my cock. Her breath is getting heavier. Her tits are falling to the side just a bit and they look fucking divine. I open my legs a bit to get a deeper thrust as I wand her clit once more, a little longer this time.

“Aahhh, God!” she mewls, now rocking her hips forward a bit as she fucks me. Shit, I’m going to come like this. I raise my pelvis with each of her hip rolls, meeting her deeply as I wand her at the same time. She’s increasing her pace and as my dick gets harder, I pinch and rub her nipple with my free hand… and she’s still wearing that butt plug, too… and the blindfold.

She nearly sobs when I tease her nipple. She’s fucking me hard, fast and deep, dropping down on me with fire and fervor, her head back, her body bowed, and her hair falling out of the bun behind her and caressing my inner thigh with each wild and hard bounce. She’s whimpering and my dick is throbbing—hard! Fuck, I press the wand to her clit and feel the vibrations all the way inside of her. She freezes…

“Ladybug! Ladybug!” she pants!

I stop fucking her and move the wand. Her body is sweat-coated, flushed, and beautiful. Her chest rises and falls in such sensuality that I bite my lip to keep from thrusting into her again and pushing her over the edge. I stroke her body with my flat hand hard from her torso up and between her breasts. She looks positively delicious! She’s heaving as she slowly comes down from her near orgasm and my primal instincts are nearly eating me inside out. I watch her writhe from desire and need for several more moments, the Neanderthal inside beating his chest in arousal and frustration.  I can’t touch her sexually anymore without a check in.

“How’re you doing, Pussycat?” I say, and the tone of my voice surprises me—pure, primal Dominance seeded with just a touch of concern. She pants a bit.

“Good… Sir…” she breathes.

“Good girl,” I reply. When I’m certain that she’s not going to explode with the next movement, I reach around and release the clip from her wrist cuffs to my thighs. I attach the wrist cuffs together again in front of her and take her in my arms. Standing from the chair, I carry her back to the dining table and lay her down on her back.

“Hands over your head,” I instruct her, and she obeys. Fuck, she’s beautiful.

“Wrap your legs around me!” I say eagerly, almost unable to control myself. She wraps her legs around my waist, and I begin to thrust into her. I can’t help it. I can’t fucking control it. She feels so fucking good.

I grab her ass to hold her hips up for better penetration and my fingers brush against the jewel of the butt plug. Remembering that it’s there does nothing for my stamina and causes me to fuck her harder. She’s keening with every deep stroke and her body curls towards me.

Fuck, I’m going to come. She looks so goddamn good.

I thrust into her several more times, my cock searing in pleasure, my balls tightening almost to the point of pain. Her mouth is hanging open for several moments and she clamps her hands together in the cuffs, a familiar sheen forming her body.

“Ladybug! Ladybug! Lady…”

“Come for me, Pussycat…”

I barely get the words out of my mouth and she is exploding in orgasm around me. The feeling is so fucking phenomenal that I cry out shamelessly when my climax strikes, throwing my head back and yowling almost like a wolf to the full moon.

My Pussycat covers her face with her forearms, flinching from her massive release. I can tell she almost can’t stand the intense sensation. I’m not quite done with you yet, Pussycat. I have one more surprise for you.

I withdraw from my soumise and she closes her knees and draws them close to her, rolling onto her side. You’ll have a moment to recuperate, Pussycat.

I go over to the sofa and set up my final scene—pillows to prop up her hips, and my final two sex aids. I won’t torment her too badly. Her next orgasm will most likely be quicker than she expects and more powerful than the first. I watch her for a few minutes, examining her breathing and gauging when she has come down from her last orgasm. After a while, I walk over to the table and lean down to her ear.

“Are you ready, Pussycat?” I whisper. She swallows hard.

“Yes, Sir,” she says. I take her hands and help her to get off the dining table, then lead her to the large sofa.

“Bend over,” I instruct her. She obeys and I slowly pull the butt plug out of her ass. She hisses, then moans as it’s removed. I lead her back to the sofa and I take a seat. I lubricate my dick and instruct her to take a seat.

“Just sit right down, Pussycat,” I tell her. She sits on my lap, and I situate my cock between her ass cheeks. Her breathing is picking up again, and no doubt, she’s wondering what I have planned.

“Open your legs and lean back.” When she opens her legs, I begin to massage her with a lubricated pussy cup. She gasps at first. The lube starts off kind of cold, but it’ll warm pretty soon. The pussy cup has several little tickler fingers inside that’s going to drive her wild once I get it sealed on. It has a small, but powerful, rabbit vibrator attached to it, and… it’s a pump. So, it attaches with suction and doesn’t let go until I release it.

I’m shamelessly rubbing my lubed dick between her ass cheeks, taking pleasure in the friction and stimulation. If I don’t take my pleasure however I can get it, she’s going to come a whole lot sooner than I will, even with that valium-laced ass.

I manipulate that pussy cup until it feels like it’s in the right position—lips covered, but open a bit and exposed to the lubed fingers, then I squeeze the pump until it has a nice tight seal. She gasps a bit, but then bites her lip.

Yeah, I’ve got the right suction.

“Stand up, Pussycat.” She stands and I release her cuffs, leading her to the part of the sofa that has the pillows stacked.

“Feel your way,” I instruct her, while fisting my hard dick. “Lay face down with your hips on the pillows.”

Still blindfolded, she awkwardly feels her way to the sofa and the pillows with the pussy cup attached and lies with her ass perfectly sticking up in the air, her chest and head on the sofa and the pump hanging onto the sofa between her legs.

Shit, don’t come yet, Grey.

“Put your hands behind your back.”

She does, and I reattach her cuffs behind her.

Oh, hell. This is gonna be quick.

I position myself behind her and prepare myself. Do I turn on the pussy cup first and then enter her or enter her first and then turn on the pussy cup? Shit, with those controls located between her legs, I won’t even be able to reach the pussy cup once I’m inside her!

I set the vibration to two out of five and turn it on. She gasps loudly and jumps.

“You okay, Pussycat?” I ask.

“Aah… aahh… yes!” she breathes. “Yes… Sir!” Good. I open her cheeks to expose her rosette and slowly push my lubricated cock in. My lubrication has already begun to warm with the earlier manipulation of her ass cheeks and my hand. It takes a moment, but once I’m inside her, she feels like hot butter.

“Aaahh… oh God…” she moans. I haven’t even started fucking her yet, so I know it’s the pussy cup. I straddle her with my legs over hers, take both her hands in one of mine and stabilize myself on the back of the sofa with the other hand.

“You can come, Pussycat,” I say, my voice deep with passion.

“Thank you… Sir…” she breathes. I’m thrusting into her slow and deep and she’s moaning loudly with each thrust. Oh, fuck, her ass feels good. I’ve got this heating lube on my dick and she’s already tight as fuck and I love her ass so fucking much. It’s bouncing hard on my pelvis and caressing every fucking inch of my cock… and she keeps pushing it harder against me trying to get that deep anal stimulation that she likes. Not only that, but each thrust is pushing that sucking and vibrating pussy cup onto her clit.

Her moans are so loud that they’d almost be embarrassing if they weren’t so fucking hot. I fuck her harder, deeper and faster, opening my legs a little for deeper penetration and using her bound hands to pull her back against me with each thrust. I’m riding this ass like you would the mechanical bull and my dick is digging deeper and deeper with each thrust. Shit, I’m fucking blind and dizzy with pleasure. The heat is making this shit so intense, I don’t think I’m going to be able to fucking stand it when I come.

Pussycat’s hips have totally taken on a life of their own. I think she has forgotten that she’s even in a scene anymore. She’s fucking with purpose when her ass rises and rides with me.

“Fuck!” I hiss as I feel my cock burning inside and outside. “Fuck! Shit!”

My hips pump hard and fast into her and I feel a hard, burning stream of fiery cum rise through my dick causing me to kneel and grab my wife’s ass so hard that I’m certain I’ll leave fingerprints behind. I’m thrusting and pumping and coming in that ass so hard that I’m trying to be conscious of hurting her, but I can’t. This shit has total control of me.

After a few moments of hard coming and wild thrusting, I realize that I had absolutely nothing to worry about.

She buries her face in the sofa cushion and screams out a violent release, pushing her ass high and hard into me. She stays that way for several moments, squirming and coming and screaming. I’m coming down from my heated and crazy orgasm and she’s still going. However, she did start after I did. I knew it would be bigger… I didn’t know it would be that much bigger!

“Sir! Please! Take it off! Please, Sir, take it off!”

Shit, I forgot about that fucking vibrating cup!

Remiss to leave the valium ass, I slide quickly and carefully out of her and locate the switch to stop the vibration. Her ass is still in the air, but probably because she’s not going to drop her pelvis until I get that thing off of her. I release the pump and it falls into my hands, and her hips fall onto the pillows. She breathes a huge sigh of release but is still panting and trying to catch her breath.

My dick is still hot, but it has tapped out, too.

I release her cuffs from her wrists and kiss up her spine to her neck, then remove her blindfold. I stand from the sofa and lift her into my arms, situating her so that her exhausted body is cradled in my arms and her head is on my chest.

“Very well done, Pussycat,” I say as I carry her to the en suite, “very well done.”


ANASTASIA

I decide to go to the hospital and see about my mother on Wednesday morning. Christian’s been on the phone since the early hours, no doubt tending to his first love, and I truly need to see if there’s any change in Carla’s condition.

As I suspected, there are more flowers in her room. It looks like they brought more hospital tables in here to accommodate them all. I just shake my head and go to the nurses’ station.

“Is Dr. Lee in today?” I ask.

“Not yet,” the nurse tells me. “I don’t think he’s due to come in until the afternoon.”

“Is there any change in my mother’s condition?” I press. “Has there been any improvement? Any signals at all?” Her face falls slightly.

“I’m afraid not, Mrs. Grey,” she says. “Not to my knowledge anyway. The doctor would be able to better answer that question for you, though.” I nod, feeling a bit helpless.

“Her room is turning into a bit of a greenhouse,” I say. “Is it possible to remove some of the flowers and take them to patients who don’t have visitors… or no flowers in their rooms?” I realize that my situation was a bit of an anomaly. It’s rare that someone is admitted to the hospital and has no visitors, but I’m certain that some of the rooms can be brightened with an arrangement or two.

“That’s very kind of you, Mrs. Grey,” she says. “I’ll get a cart and get to it.”

“Thank you,” I say with a soft smile before returning to my mother’s room.

“Um, Mrs. Grey?” the nurse calls behind me, and I stop. “In her condition… it’s not usual, but…” She’s having a hard time saying what she needs to say. Oh, for Christ’s sake, spit it out.

“Is Mrs. Morton allowed to have any visitors?” she asks finally. “A few people have come to see her and… we didn’t have your permission.”

I twist my lips. She is my mother. Anastasia Grey’s mother. Unmonitored visitors could pose a huge problem.

“While I’m here, yes,” I tell her. “I’ll have to make arrangements for a member of my security to be here around the clock. Once that’s settled, then she can have visitors in my absence.” The nurse frowns.

“Mrs. Grey I can assure you that she’ll be safe,” the nurse says. I shake my head.

“It’s way too much for me to explain, ma’am,” I tell her. “I’ll arrange for security as soon as possible so that well-wishers can come and see her freely.” She purses her lips, shrugs, and nods.

“Yes, Mrs. Grey,” she says and turns her attention back to whatever is on the counter in front of her.

Once I’m back in her room, I begin removing the cards from the arrangements, intent on sending thank you notes if my mother doesn’t come out of this alive or giving the cards to her and letting her do it if she does. I count the cards and make note of who sent which flowers since some of them will be leaving the room.

Twenty-two.

Twenty-two separate arrangements, and I didn’t even get one… not even a get-well bear from Mommy.

I’ve got to stop comparing this situation to mine. It’s my responsibility to make sure that she gets the care that she needs. If I continue to feel hateful towards her, I can’t do that. Maybe she did deserve these flowers from the people who sent them. Maybe she’s worthy of the love and concern they’re giving to her. I shouldn’t besmirch her getting that from them, because she sure as hell won’t get it from me.

As I’m putting the cards in my purse, the first of Carla’s well-wishers taps lightly on the door before entering.

“Yes?” I say, cautiously. She’s not wearing scrubs or a lab coat, so I know she’s not staff.

“Ana…” she says, her voice somewhat wistful as she proffers her hand. “Anastasia, hi. It’s… good to see you.” I take her hand out of courtesy.

“Do I know you?” I ask.

“Oh, I’m sorry. No, you wouldn’t know me, but I’d know you anywhere. I’ve seen pictures of you and Carla speaks fondly of you. I’m Wendy. Carla is my best friend.”

Best friend? Shit, you don’t have a lot of friends, do you?

“It’s… nice to meet you, Wendy,” I say, trying not to sound too strained. She smiles.

“I’m not surprised that you don’t know me,” she says. “I know that you and Carla don’t speak. It’s one of her biggest regrets.” Oh hell, I can’t hear this.

Like an angel from heaven, the nurse comes in with a cart and begins to remove the flowers.

“You’re taking her flowers?” Wendy asks, her voice a bit horrified.

“Not all of them,” I reply casually. “The room is exploding in flora and if this is any indication, there’ll be more to come. I’m just sharing some of them with people in the hospital who don’t have flowers.” Her expression softens.

“Oh,” she says. “That’s actually… a very good idea. Carla would like that.” She turns back to my mother and takes her hand.

“Hey, old girl,” she says softly. “You stood me up for Hallmark and ginger this weekend. I’m expecting you to make it up to me.”

She takes a seat next to my mother’s bed and just sits there rubbing her hand. I look around and the nurse has filled the cart. The arrangement with the bear is on the cart and I suddenly get a small twinge.

“Don’t take that one,” I tell her, pointing to the bear. “I just… have a feeling she might want to keep that one.”

“Leave the sunflowers, too, please,” Wendy says without turning around. “Those are from me and… they’re her favorite.”

They’re her favorite? Sunflowers? How did I not know that?

I nod to the nurse and she removes the teddy bear arrangement and the sunflowers from the cart, replacing them with two other arrangements before leaving the room. I turn back to Wendy and Carla and I suddenly feel like and intruder on their visit.

“I’m going to leave you alone for a while,” I say, leaving the room before she has a chance to stop me. Chuck turns to me when I exit the room.

“Nobody except staff gets in that room without my permission,” I say. He nods once, then I turn and I walk down the hall to the family waiting room. There are a few people in here, so I go to the far corner and make a call.

“Your Highness! Is everything okay?” I roll my eyes.

“Can you please answer the phone and say, ‘Hello’ or ‘Taylor’ or ‘Jason’ or something instead of answering the phone like there’s a fire every time I call you?” I chide quietly.

“I’m sorry, Your Highness, it’s just that…”

“I know. I don’t call you that often, but if something is wrong, doesn’t Chuck usually call you? How many times have I called you with a fire?” There’s silence on the other end.

“None that I can think of immediately,” he replies.

“Exactly, so turn off the lights and sirens when you see my name unless I tell you that something is wrong.”

“So, I take it that nothing is wrong,” he says.

“Are you speaking to Chuck?” I retort.

“Duly noted. To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“I know that you had people watching my mother,” I tell him. “I need her to have an active security detail while she’s in the hospital.” He silent for a moment.

“You mean no more covert?” he asks.

“You can have covert if you need it, but I need someone posted at her door. She’s been having visitors and I don’t want any unscrupulous assholes to have access to her. All visitors will be required to show identification and sign in on a personal log. I don’t want to take any chances.”

“Understood,” he says. “I’ll get right on it.”

“And stop calling me ‘Your Highness’ or I’ll fire you,” I threaten.

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

“Asshole.” I scroll through my phone and try to reach Keri, but her phone goes straight to voicemail. I call Gail and her phone rings twice, then goes to voicemail. What the fuck? I want to talk to my babies. Once I leave Gail a message to call me, my phone buzzes with a text. It’s from Gail.

**Knee-deep in household tasks. I’ll call you later. The babies are fine. **

That’s an odd text, but she must’ve known I was trying to get in touch with my babies. I call Jason back.

“Hello, Ana,he says, stressing my name.

“Good, now let’s see how long you can keep it up,” I reply.

“Don’t count on it,” he says. “Carla’s first detail should be there in about 20 minutes.”

“Good. Have you talked to Gail today?” There’s silence on the line.

“Earlier, yes. Should I be concerned?” he asks.

“Probably not,” I say. “I called to talk to my babies and the phone went to voicemail after two rings. Keri’s phone went straight to voicemail. I’m probably being paranoid, but that’s never happened before.” Jason chuckles.

“Never happened to you before, you mean,” he replies. “If she’s in her beloved pantry, you won’t hear from her for another hour or so, if you’re lucky.”

“She did say that she was knee-deep in household tasks…”

“Yep, pantry. Did she mention the twins that you’re concerned?”

“She said the babies were fine, but I can’t get a hold of Keri, either,” I whine.

“Well, I can’t help you on that one, but if she says the babies are fine, I wouldn’t worry.” I’m half-tempted to ask Chuck if he has spoken to Keri, but there’s no use in getting him alarmed.

“Who’s coming to guard my mother?”

Jason gives me information on the three guards who will be taking eight-hour shifts outside my mother’s door while she’s in a coma. They’ll set up some way to have visitors log in with us before they see her. He mentions his concern about them feeling like this is an invasion of their privacy.

“They’ll do it if they want to see her,” I tell him. “If they don’t, so be it.”

I finish the call with Jason, and briefly check in with Grace.

“How are you doing, dear?” she asks. “I can only imagine that it must be quite tumultuous in your life at the moment.”

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” I confide. “It’s way too much to explain right now, but I’m emotionally exhausted with what’s happening with my mother.”

“I can’t even imagine what you must be going through with that situation. I’m definitely keeping you in my thoughts.”

“Thank you, Grace. She has a visitor right now, and I want to give them some privacy. So, I just wanted to check in and get an update on what’s happening at the center.”

“Oh! May I ask if she’s conscious?” Grace inquires.

“No, but people are still coming to see her, so…” I trail off.

“I see,” she says. “It may be good for her. It may help her out of the coma.”

“Yeah, maybe,” I say, brushing it off. “So, what’s happening with Helping Hands? How are things going?”

Grace gets me caught up on the early learning classes and the tutoring sessions. We’ve hired someone that can teach the classes for adult education and GED, so that’s fantastic. Keri is now certified to teach in the United States, so that’s good news for the early learning classes. Donations have slowed a bit since Christmas, but that’s the usual annual cycle. She’s hoping that the grant proposals that she and Courtney are working on—some of which have already been submitted—will bring another stream of funds into the center. We’re not pressed for cash or anything, but no need in waiting until we are to secure funding for the future.

I end my call with Grace and go back to my mother’s room to find that Wendy is still there. I turn to leave again, not wanting to force her to cut her visit short.

“Ana?” Wendy says. I pause and turn around.

“Carla told me about… your childhood, that horrible thing that happened to you. She told me about how she treated you. If it’s any consolation, she feels overwhelming remorse for not being there for you, and for the horrible way she behaved. She needs you now, more than ever… she needs you to forgive her…”

“Wendy,” I interrupt her, coming fully into the room, “I appreciate that you care very much for my mother. I’m sure that means a lot to her, but with all due respect, we are not having this conversation. I can’t begin to tell you what this woman put me through, nor do I care to rehash it. And no matter what she has shared with you, she can’t begin to tell you either. And contrary to whatever you may believe or whatever she’s told you, I have forgiven her. I forgave her years ago. I’ve already informed the staff to spare no expense to be sure that she gets the best care imaginable, and that’s more than she did for me. I don’t mean to be rude, I really don’t…”

“I understand,” she says softly before turning back to Carla and gently touching her hand. “I’m sure she appreciates you assuring she has the best care.” She squeezes Carla’s hand.

“Get better,” Wendy says to her. “We’re all waiting for you.” She squeezes her hand again, then turns to leave.

We’re all waiting for you… geez.

“If there’s anything she needs,” she says with concern, “please let me know. I’m sure you can handle everything, but there are people who would be happy to help if there’s any way that we can.”

“That’s very kind of you. Thank you,” I reply. She smiles, nods, and leaves the room.

I already know that I look like the villain to her new group of friends, but it doesn’t matter. Everywhere I’ve gone so far, somebody has treated me like shit. Why should this be any different?

I look over at my mother’s unconscious form. I want to berate her for doing it again—for bringing me back to a place where I’m obviously an outcast; where somehow, she has told her story so that she comes out smelling like roses and I come out smelling like garbage. God, I’m in hell. I want to scream at her and yell and say cruel things, but instead, I keep them to myself. What good would it do?

She looks helpless, nearly dead. I wonder if this is how I looked to her when she came to the hospital… when she left me there alone…

“Goodnight, Carla,” I say instead, and quietly leave the room. It’s nowhere near nighttime yet, but I won’t be back today.

Should I even try to be there when she wakes up? Why even bother? Is this how she felt about me when I was in that coma? Why did she feel that way? What did I possibly do—or represent—that was so horrible to her? She said she didn’t think about me; she only thought of herself. But if I don’t think of someone, they won’t feel like I hate them—they’ll just feel like I don’t care. I felt like she hated me.


A/N: 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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 3

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 03

ANASTASIA

Like any relationship, the BDSM journey is just that—a journey. If you ever think that you have arrived at the place you need to be in that relationship, it’s time to re-evaluate. You are constantly changing and growing, constantly becoming more and exploring more. You don’t sprint through the lifestyle; you stroll, tasting the flavors of what you enjoy and enjoying the process of evolution through the experience.

One thing I’ve discovered in our sessions with Artemis and Savvina and from the soumises at the Munch is that there is no one way to practice the lifestyle. Now, even in my inexperience, I already knew that. However, more than once, I’ve seen or heard people—even at the Munch—who seemed to think that there was only one way to practice, and that if you didn’t follow a certain set of rules, then you were doing it all wrong. Your way of practicing the lifestyle was incorrect because they “would never do anything like that” to their sub, or their Dom “would never do anything like that” to them.

I was happy to hear the majority of the soumises form a consensus about the few elitists—their word, not mine—who seemed to think that they knew everything there was to know about BDSM:

“If you ever meet someone who tells you that the way that you choose to practice is wrong, or that there is only one set of rules and that if you don’t follow those rules, then you’re not practicing the right way, get as far away from them as you can. That’s not someone that you want to emulate. No one has the right to tell you what you or your Dominus wants in your relationship. You dictate that. It’s okay for someone to guide you, but feel free to ignore their guidance, especially if they’re trying to tell you that you’re wrong. Run, dear. Run far away.”

That bit of advice came from Emelda. I’m not sure if that’s her real name. Some people used aliases—as did Christian and I—and some people used their real names—as did Artemis and Savvina. Emelda was once in an S&M relationship where a coven of submissives told her that she not only had to accept whatever her sadistic Dom dished out, but also that she was not allowed to have her own desires, she wasn’t allowed to voice her opinion, and that what her Dominant says goes, no matter what. She was in a very unhappy S&M relationship and she felt that she had to stay there because this was the only way to go. It wasn’t until she ended her relationship with her dictatorial Dominant and ventured out on her own that she realized how many different variations of the lifestyle there really are.

Shantille was on the opposite end of the spectrum. She was afraid to explore what she really wanted in a Dominant because too many times, she was told that the intense play that she liked was abuse and the Dominants shouldn’t treat their submissives that way. Shantille likes extreme punishments; she feels that if there’s no bruising, it’s not kinky enough for her. Pain to the point of tears is cleansing and erotic to her and that’s what she wants. Once again, the elitists tried to tell her that she was being abused; that her Dominant wasn’t a real Dominant—he just wanted to beat her; that she should probably seek some therapy if that’s what she really wanted.

All and all, my sessions with my mentors and with like-minded individuals over the past weeks have taught me that BDSM is a buffet. There’s literally something at the table for everyone, from the very tame to what some would consider the grossly extreme. What one couple or group or person may get off on, another might find disgusting or abusive—or boring. To be welcomed into the various circles, as it were, you must be careful not to degrade someone else’s relationship or practice. That’s a quick way to get blackballed from certain clubs and parties.

Another thing I’ve learned is to respect the balance—or imbalance—of power. While the soumise has the power and control to halt play with a safeword, his or her Dominant will always be the Dominant, until—if—they switch. As such, there is going to be an imbalance of power, and for this reason, you must constantly communicate—in and out of Downtime.

This is very new to me because I always felt that as Christian is the Dominant, his word during playtime was law and I had to follow or be punished. We set the guidelines where as soumise, I must follow the rules. However, in a healthy BDSM relationship a soumise has needs, too, and must be able to communicate those needs.

When we’ve completed our mentoring session on Saturday, we’re always in the mood to play a bit. We only venture into kink so far, as we still feel that we have a lot to learn about the D/s relationship as it relates to us and our marriage. However, we don’t want to deprive ourselves of what we enjoy, either. So, I get to enjoy a light flogging—ten firm lashes with a cat—and a thorough fucking from behind while chained to the playroom bed… nothing too intense, but just something to take the edge off.

Bright and early Sunday morning, we arranged for a crew to meet us at the apartment that Gary and Marilyn once shared, and my PA tearfully tackled the task of packing her things and sorting through what she had brought from her apartment and what belonged to Gary in terms of furniture. There were things that I knew were touches of Marilyn in the apartment, but since she and Gary bought several of the things together, she refused to take them.

For good measure, she cleaned out the refrigerator, removed and tossed out expired food from the cabinets, and meticulously cleaned and vacuumed each room after she was certain that she had removed all her things from that room. The apartment was eerie when she was done—not empty, but a bit hollow. She took the door key and the mailbox key off her ring and left them both on the counter before walking out of the apartment without looking back. I couldn’t help taking a last look at the space that had once represented the love den for one of my closest friends and the woman who took his virginity—also my friend. I locked the doorknob and closed the door behind me.

I didn’t drive to the apartment, thinking that Marilyn might be too upset to drive her car back to the Crossing. I was right. She only had one request when we got into her car, that I call Gary as soon as possible to let him know that she had moved out so that he could go back and do whatever he planned to do with the apartment. Then she sat in stoic silence, tears burning a trek down her cheek for the entire ride back to Mercer.

She didn’t eat that night, and I didn’t force her to. I know Christian was just chomping at the bit to get her to eat something, but once I told him what our day entailed, he let it go for one night.

Val and Elliot are doing a little better. They’re still a bit sad about the loss, but not as melancholy as they were in the very beginning. They appear to be clinging to each other and loving each other through it, which is a good thing. I’ve sometimes seen with the loss of a baby that one spouse may tend to blame the other, causing a rift between them that is sometimes never mended. Marilyn and Gary are one such cautionary tale, although their situation was the result of a deliberate action.

This past week, Christian seemed to try to lighten up a bit when he came home from GEH, but now instead of being the big bad bear, he’s just exhausted when he gets home. He whined a bit about Claude beating his ass again on Saturday but took a little victory in the fact that Claude didn’t beat his ass as quickly and easily as he had before.

But he’s still really tired.

My husband doesn’t look like he’s finding any peace, except when we’re talking to our mentors or when we’re fucking. He’s been auditing and restructuring and re-evaluating the company for about a month now. He should definitely be seeing more progress than he has been. What the fuck is actually going on in that company?

There’s no way to begin to describe the amount of crap that he has on his plate. He put faith in me as 50% owner… and I backed away. I haven’t even been in the office again since Ros’ remark about Al and the nonchalant way the department heads behaved towards me. I own half of that company, and I let them chase me away…

… Because Daddy couldn’t get me the respect that I deserved…

… And I subsequently left my husband to handle things all on his own.

He has an executive team. What the fuck are they doing? What the fuck is anybody doing?

I ponder my situation only a few more moments before I make a decision. He’s trying to get to the bottom of things, but only a few heads have rolled… not enough, apparently. Moreover, apparently not the right ones. I screw up my resolve and open the folder that contains the GEH emails forwarded to me.

The first fifty or so are all useless drivel that followed Christian’s command that I be CC’ed on executive emails. Garbage. I get through those rather quickly. Very shortly thereafter, I get to some real meat and potatoes…

Requisition requests, memos, executive orders from the boss, status reports…

Executive orders from the boss…

I decide to filter out the messages that all came from Christian. Hundreds of them… in a very short period of time. How does he keep up with all this?

Just for shits and giggles, I filter out the messages from Ros and Finney. Exponentially less. Does Christian just have more to say? I read a handful of his emails and find that they’re not just the typical Christian Grey “What the fuck, get this shit done” emails that I thought I would see. There’s critical thinking, probing questions, analysis, detailed directives—yeah, there’s some commands and “get this shit done” in the emails, but there’s some serious meat in here, too. I see a bit of meat and vegetables here and there from Ros and Finney, but for the most part, I’m seeing the equivalent of electronic “uh-huh’s” and “okay’s.”

 As I scan through the emails, I see several emails going from Finney to Ros and Christian, from Christian to Ros and Finney, and from Ros to Finney and Christian. I see even more emails from Christian to departments and department heads asking about projects and deadlines and metrics and what have you. I see the emails coming back to me, to Finney, to Ros, and to Christian. But the responses coming from Ros and Finney to the department heads are very few and far between.

Am I missing something?

Do they not take part in the general operation of the corporation? Is there some kind of delegation of duties in the hierarchy that I just don’t see? Why does it appear that Christian’s doing all the damn work?

The more emails that I read, the more I get the feeling that I’m right. Christian’s pretty much holding the reins of this Clydesdale powerhouse all by himself, guiding it down the necessary paths and trying to keep it from swaying left or right or veering off in the wrong direction while Ros and Finney are pretty much riding along in the coach.

Well, they’re not that useless, but from what I’m seeing here, they might as well be.

So, in light of everything that’s been going on in our home, with our relationship and discussions, and the fact that I am, in fact, 50% owner of that company, I’ve decided that I do need to know what he’s dealing with in more detail in order to be a better wife, Domme, soumise, and partner—and to allow these fuckers who are under my employ to run me away from my company is not the way to do it. I can draw the line between Ana, Butterfly, Dr. Steele-Grey, That Bitch You Don’t Want to Fuck With, and anybody else that I need to be… but if you need That Bitch, then here she comes.

I spend the rest of the evening going through the remainder of the emails, categorizing them and making rules for various ones so that they go to specific folders as I need them to and getting a better idea of what I’m dealing with in terms of the framework and infrastructure of the company. Once I’ve gotten a pretty good idea, I bang out an outline of some key points that are causes for concern. That part takes a little longer than I expected since I didn’t want to burden Marilyn with working on the weekend so soon after her return. Things will become perfectly unbearable soon enough. I might as well allow her to get her bearings again.

Once I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of the direction that I would like to take, I scan Christian’s emails to me for a group that I know he had created, then copy it into my contacts:

I’ll find out soon enough what’s the difference between the members of the Management Team and the Department Heads and Executive Team, but no matter. I want them all in this meeting. I discover that the Executive Team is Ros, Finney, and me. I remove myself from the Executive Team group and compose my email.

To:      GEH Department Heads
GEH Management Team
GEH Executive Team
Bcc:   Christian Grey
Re:      Emergency Mandatory Leadership Meeting
Date: January 11, 2015 20:21
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

High Priority High Priority CommunicationHigh Priority

Good Morning Team,

This is your other boss, Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey.

Let me begin by saying that I appreciate being included in the emails. It has given me some very valuable insight on the inner workings of the organization—its strengths as well as its flaws.

In an effort to continue the mission and vision of GEH, I will be holding a mandatory meeting tomorrow at 1:00pm in the Executive Conference Room. The location is subject to change based on availability, so please keep an eye on your emails as you will be responsible for any information communicated and attendance is required unless you get specific permission from me not to attend.

Sincerely,
Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey…

Hmmm… I don’t really have a title with GEH and this is my company email.

Assistant Director was easy with Helping Hands.

We actually have executive and Senior VP’s and quite frankly, I’m not a VP.

Co-CEO? Abso-fucking-lutely not!

What is the hierarchy in this situation? Fuck it, never mind. I know what I’ll call myself.

Sincerely,
Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Executive Director, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

I’ll hear something about it if it’s the wrong title. I send an email to what I now call my Power Assistants Team, Marilyn and Andrea, to make sure that the room is available and to secure certain items needed for the meeting, including a podium and a preprinted sign-in sheet. I call up to Ms. Solomon to bring me an antipasto tray and a pitcher of cranberry spritzer and settle in to prepare my meeting.

Things are really sloppy and can be corrected with just the slightest push in the right direction, a little change in protocol and requirements, and a sledgehammer upside someone’s head. I understand why my husband had to become the iron fist. People had stopped taking him seriously.

What I don’t understand is why it looks like he’s doing it on his own. Not once do I see Ros or Finney drop the anvil on someone who has clearly dropped the ball or has shown mediocre effort in rectifying any errors or bringing a viable solution to fruition. My husband’s voice is the shot heard ‘round the company. However, even with all his power, he can only handle so many direct situations at once. Bearing this in mind, it’s time to shake things up, but I don’t want to show up and come off as a mom having a temper tantrum.

As such, I will need to call on The Bitch.
You rang?
I sure as hell did. We’ve got a job to do, sistah.
Bring it on.

“Good evening.”

I raise my head to see my husband standing in the doorway of my office wearing his glasses. I rarely see him wear them, but here he is.

“Busy?” he asks. He knows I am. I remove my glasses.

“I’m working on something,” I tell him, putting my glasses down and clasping my hands on the desk in front of me.

“You don’t usually work on Sunday,” he says, slowly breaching the doorway and approaching my desk. Sorry, not today, Sir.

“It’s time-sensitive and pretty detailed,” I tell him, not breaking my gaze with him. “Did you need something?” I ask. I need to get back to work. He raises a brow at me as he halts behind the chair in front of my desk.

“What are you working on?” And there it is. He’s never asked me that before. Very droll, Mr. Grey.

“I think you know,” I respond, still holding his gaze. He’s silent for a moment before he finally takes one of the seats in front of my desk.

“I was perusing my email and I’ve just discovered that there will be a meeting of the department heads tomorrow afternoon with the Executive Director,” he points out. I don’t respond. “Non-profit organizations have Executive Directors. We’re not a non-profit.”

“And Chief Executive Officers normally answer to the Chairman of the Board,” I point out. “We don’t have a board.” He purses his lips in thought.

“Duly noted,” he cedes. “We’ll leave it for now.”

“How kind of you,” I say sarcastically, especially since I didn’t ask your permission.

“There’s a problem though,” he says. “I have another meeting at that time, so you may have to reschedule.”

“No,” I say matter-of-factly, “that works out just fine, because this is not your meeting—it’s mine. And if Ros or Finney were going to be in the meeting with you, I need them, too.” He raises a brow at me.

“I like to know what’s going on in my company, Anastasia…” Anastasia. Perfect.

Our company,” I say, firmly, folding my arms. “And you will know. I wouldn’t dream of keeping anything from you. But this meeting is mine, and your presence is not required. In fact, it’ll be more effective if you weren’t there.” He purses his lips again.

“Very well,” he says, and I’m sure that he’s thinking that he’s going to have to undo whatever mess I may create tomorrow, but I’ve got news for you, Grey. You won’t be able to unfurl this one. And if you try, I’m going to walk away and leave it to you—50% and all… and you’re going to leave that damn asshole bear at the door when you come home or you’re going to have a much bigger problem to deal with.

*-*

I don’t go into Helping Hands in the morning. Instead, I work remotely with Keri, and we confer with the learning coordinator about the last things needed to put the curriculum in place for tutoring. We’ve already gotten our Head Start program going and two of the children in the daycare will be attending. Keri and Ebony are very excited about that. Courtney’s doing well with her teen support group—not counseling, just building on the idea of peer support. Our cleaning crew is moving right along with the transition from Clean It Up For You, and Mrs. Sherwood is unsuccessfully attempting to prove to us just how much we really need her. I’m aware that having an in-house staff is more expensive than having a service do the cleaning for us. However, the accountability of an in-house staff is worth the extra money.

After sitting with curlers in my hair all day, I fashion it in big, billowing curls and don a red sweater dress that falls sleekly over my body and ends mid-calf with an insanely long matching knit wrap that I wear backwards so that it falls nearly to the floor like a cape behind me. I finish the ensemble with a pair of sky-high black patent leather Louboutin classic red-bottom stilettos and an oversized black patent leather clutch bag. Light make-up and moisturizer assure that there’s no overkill, and I’m ready to make some waves.

“You mean business, huh, Bosslady?” Marilyn asks when I enter the kitchen.

“Kickin’ ass and taking names,” I reply. “You ready?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she says.

“Then let’s rock and roll.”

Marilyn carries my coat for me in case I need it, but I won’t. I go straight from the mudroom to the garage to the Audi, and from the Audi to the elevator in the parking structure on GEH’s ground floor straight to the top floor. I expect to see Christian holding a meeting in his office, but he’s not there. He better not be in this department head meeting. I specifically told him not to come and if he’s testing me…

I walk into the meeting with Alex, Chuck, Ben, and Marilyn behind me. I’m overjoyed to see that my husband has honored my request and stayed away from my meeting as I stroll in with purpose and head straight to the sign-in sheet. I see that several people that are probably in this room haven’t signed the sheet like I asked. So, I call them out.

“Pa Nou Yi?” I read out, knowing that I’ve pronounced her name perfectly. A pretty Asian woman raises her head and acknowledges her name.

“Did you forget to sign in?” I ask. She clears her throat.

“We never use sign-in sheets with Mr. Grey,” she announces matter-of-factly, other members of the management team cosigning her statement. I nod.

“I see.” I retrieve the ledger containing the sign-in sheet and deliberately snatch the attached pen with so much force that I break the ball chain holding it to the lectern. I stride purposefully over to Ms. Yi and place the sign-in sheet and pen in front of her.

“Do I look like Mr. Grey to you?” I ask, glaring at her. She purses her lips, then picks up the pen with the piece of ball chain still dangling from it and signs next to her name.

“Thank you,” I say. “Has anyone else forgotten to sign in?”

“I have,” someone says, raising her hand, and a few other people raise their hand as well.

“Pass that around, Ms. Yi,” I say, “so that the rest of your colleagues can sign it.” She doesn’t make eye-contact with me as she slides the sign-in sheet to the next person.

“Now we have to take attendance like toddlers?” someone comments from across the table. I slam my hands on the table with just enough force to get his attention, lean over it and glare into his face.

“If you’re going to behave like toddlers, yes, you do,” I retort sharply. He’s a bit taken aback, evidenced by his expression. “And the next time you have something to share, say it loud enough so that we can all hear you.” I glare at him next and he stares back at me. Like I said, I’m not Christian Grey. I don’t have time for the stare game. I’ve made my point.

I march purposefully to the head of the table and slam my large, patent-leather clutch down on the table, startling several of the meeting’s participants. I remove my backwards wrap and drape it over the back of the seat while I wait patiently for the sign-in sheet to make its way around the table.

“Thank you,” I say to the last person who hands the sign-in sheet back to me. I see that there are people who still haven’t signed in after the sheet has made its round. 

“Alex, let the four people who haven’t signed in on this list know that they have five minutes to get to this meeting that started ten minutes ago, or they can be escorted out of the building immediately.” I hand him the list.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says without pausing and pulls out his cell. I pull a Christian Grey move and pull out my cell phone while standing at the head of the conference table, making a note of the names that were blank on the sign in sheet.

“Mrs. Batma?” Alex says from across the room. “This is Alex Welch from GEH security. You received a memo that there would be a department head meeting at 10am today with Dr. Anastasia Grey. She indicates that you have five minutes to get to the meeting, which started ten minutes ago, or I’ll send my staff down to escort you from the building.”

He doesn’t pause. He ends the call and calls the next person on the list.

“Chuck, Ben, please pull the remaining four chairs over by the window.” You fuckers want attention, you’re going to get it. Once they get the chairs lined up, I tell Chuck to go outside and wait for them. Finney and Ros keep looking at each other, no doubt wondering what the hell I’m doing. Yeah, you guys are generally in the inner sanctum, but not today. Today, you’re in the same category with these fuckers who don’t know who the hell I am.

A few minutes later, Chuck escorts our four stragglers into the conference room.

“So nice of you to join us. The next time one of your employers calls a meeting, try not to be late!” I say sharply. “Alex has the sign-in sheet.” The ladies and one gentleman murmur apologies.

“Now, we can get down to business,” I say once they’ve signed in and taken a sheet.

“Shouldn’t we wait for Mr. Grey?” Ros asks.

“Mr. Grey didn’t call this meeting. I did. Do you have a problem with that?” Her eyes widen as she glares at me, but she quickly remembers where she is.

“None at all, Dr. Grey,” she replies.

“Good. Now, as I was about to say before I was interrupted, I know you haven’t seen me around for a few weeks and why should you? You hadn’t seen me around before then either. Well, that’s about to change. I realized that I’m sitting in my lovely home enjoying a wonderful life made possible by the fruits of the labors of this company. And now, for some reasons, the efforts have appeared to stray from the common goal, and the labors are all beginning to fall by the wayside. Now, I can’t just sit back on my laurels and watch that happen, especially since—like it or not—I own half of this company.”

I pause for a moment to let that sink in.

“I’ve given some serious thought to this situation before I called this meeting… how I was going to deal with the fact that I’m part owner of a multi-billion-dollar company, but I can’t even get the management staff to respect me as such. My first instinct was to just leave this alone and allow Christian to run his business. Then, I remembered a conversation that he had a while back when he told me that I would be half-owner of this company. He said he trusted me. He said that he knew that his company would be in good hands if anything happened to him—that whatever I didn’t know, he had an executive staff and a management staff that would assist me to help keep the company thriving.

“He had that talk with me before he knew that I had any business education whatsoever. I thought he was out of his mind, but the fact remains that he did entrust me with fifty percent of his company while he’s alive, the whole of it upon his demise. So, hate it or love it, boys and girls, I’m here to stay.

“Who are you?” I ask, pointing at the guy who made the toddler comment.

“Theodore Mosele,” he says after a pause, “head of…”

“I don’t need to know what you’re head of; I just need to know your name,” I cut him off, holding my hand up to halt his introduction. “Mr. Mosele brought up a very good point. Why do we have to take attendance like toddlers?” I look at the list. “Mr. Reiter, would you like to tell us why?”

I look around the room and a gentleman raises his gaze to me along with his brow as several other department heads in the room turn to him.

“Um… to make sure that we’re all here?” he says—a question, not a statement.

“Excellent!” I reply. “The four people who decided to join us fifteen minutes after the meeting started are evidence that the sign-in sheet is needed, at least until I get to know who you all are… and I will get to know who you all are.” I turn to the four stragglers.

“The fact that you were up here within five minutes upon the threat of unemployment proves to me that you weren’t doing anything that was so important that you couldn’t have your asses in here at one!” I glare at them all and allow those words to sink in.

“Consider this your only warning,” I caution the attendees of the meeting. “The next time any of you decide that you have something better to do than to attend an owner’s meeting—or you conveniently forget how to sign your name when you enter—you will be subject to immediate disciplinary action.” I hear a few gasps, but no one speaks.

“I now understand why my husband feels the need to go back to running his business with as little leniency and leeway as possible. It appears that if he gives an inch that people will take ten damn miles.” I bark.

“I was going to back away and let him handle GEH like he always has, and then I realized… We’re a team. We’re going to remain a team. And in order for us to be effective, I have to back him up and we must work together.

“I’m no Christian Grey. I’m never going to be Christian Grey, nor do I want to be Christian Grey. However, like it or not, I am still fifty percent owner of this company. Anybody who doesn’t like that or can’t respect that can get the fuck out right now!”

The room is silent for a moment, then various murmurings begin.

“I don’t recall giving anybody else the goddamn floor!” I say, looking directly into the eyes of every person that I see has begun to speak out of turn, glaring at them and waiting for them to see that I’m plotting their demise if they don’t shut the fuck up. The murmurings quickly dissipate.

“I don’t care if you see me as an extension of Christian Grey, because when it comes to me, he’s not your biggest concern—I am. From this point on, any one of you who has a problem treating me with the same respect that you would treat anyone else who signs your paychecks and can bounce you out of here on your high-paid asses will find out just how quickly I can do the latter.

“The sudden random fifty-percent drug testing? That was me, to weed out any initial weak links. The mid-year and year-end self-evaluations followed by subsequent leadership evaluations—that was me, too. This tells the company what you think you’re worth to the company and what you can offer. Then it requires that your leaders cosign those conclusions, and add some thoughts of their own. This way, we can see what talent we have available in our pool, but we can also see who’s not making the mark. This also puts responsibility on your supervisor to dispel or justify your analysis of your performance.

“If you say you’re doing great and your supervisor says that you’re doing great, then you better be doing great. If you say that you’re doing great and your supervisor says, ‘Not so much,’ then it might be time for a counseling. Automatic raises are a thing of the past—that includes cost-of-living raises. All GEH employees must prove through these mandatory evaluations that they are worth their raises. If you are still employed here when the fiscal year begins, you will get a raise. However, your evaluations will determine how much. GEH will no longer be paying for mediocre or substandard work. From now on, you earn your money here, or you can get out.

“I’ve only brought these points to light to show that some of the things that you have seen implemented at GEH have come directly from me. You don’t have to see me to know that I’m affecting your lives already. Having said that, let me make this clear.

“I will not, I repeat, I will not accept disrespect, side-eyed glances, push-back, second-guessing, or any other little passive-aggressive tactics that anyone wants to try to push off on me. You don’t need my husband’s go-ahead or second opinion to carry out a command that I give you and I don’t need my husband’s permission to fire your ass and have you ceremoniously escorted off my goddamn property. If you want to see how far I can go to prove what I can do, please try me—I welcome the challenge. I can be an ally, or I can be an enemy—it’s all up to you. What I won’t be is an afterthought. I’ll be, ‘Oh, shit, Dr. Grey,’ before I’ll ever be, ‘Oh, yeah, Dr. Grey.’ Is that understood?”

The room is silent.

“That is not a rhetorical question!” I shoot. Various yes, ma’am’s fill the room. This is the first time that ma’am doesn’t make my skin crawl. None of these people are my fucking friends with the exception of a handful. I’m not dealing with this bullshit from these people anymore.

“Excellent. Now, let’s go over some particulars that I saw in some of the emails that I read last night.” I gesture to Chuck who brings my briefcase. I open it and remove my iPad and a few documents.

“This is how this is going to go,” I begin. “I’m going to call on many of you as needed by department to expound upon various projects and initiatives that should be in progress or nearing completion. You are going to give me as much useful information as possible without withholding key components and without drowning me in a bunch of useless drivel in an attempt to lose me in lingo. I won’t pretend to know what each of you are talking about. However, I have enough knowledge and a solid level of intelligence to grasp a general synopsis of the information that I’m asking for. Is there anyone unclear about what I’m about to do?”

Various No ma’ams fill the room and I’m certain that if they were unclear, they would fake it until they knew exactly what I wanted. Ros and Finney do this thing that I often see Christian and Jason do—the look that says a thousand words—and they do it often. To me, it honestly feels like a “put a pin in what she just said, and we’ll discuss later.” Why the fuck do you need to discuss later? Why can’t you discuss it now? But I digress. Other things to handle at the moment.

“Good. The first thing I’d like to talk about is…”

I go through the outline that I made from the email last night, making notes on each initiative and alerting various department heads that I would like to revisit the directives they’ve been working on, gesturing to Marilyn to make note of those departments as I plan to visit them later in the week or next week, as I get the time. Helping Hands is truly running itself with Keri, Courtney, Grace, and the learning coordinator—although I can’t completely disappear, I don’t need to be around as much.

During the meeting, I make various demands of Chuck and Marilyn, sometimes Ben and Alex as well, addressing them all just as informal as I always have.

“As you can see,” I say once I’ve gotten all the information that I want from each department head, “I call many of the staff by their first names. That’s because I’ve developed a rapport with them. I can develop a rapport with anyone in this room, but you’re going to determine what that rapport is going to be—friendly, strictly business, you can’t stand my fucking ass, I don’t care. As long as you do your damn job and respect my position.

“And make no mistake, I don’t care what you want to call me behind my back—really, I don’t. Call me a ballbuster, call me a bitch, call me a wannabe, call me whatever the fuck you want. Just don’t let it get back to me and do what the fuck I say when I give you a command or send you an email. I most likely have some personal opinions about and colorful names for many of you, simply due to the fact that I had to rearrange my life to get to the bottom of what was going on here before the life that I’m enjoying falls out from under me.”

I place my iPad on the conference table and stand, spreading my fingers out so that my fingertips are the only part of my hands touching the table.

“This meeting is adjourned,” I say. “Those of you who will have appointments to discuss your directives with me, look for an email from my personal assistant, Marilyn Caldwell.” Everyone stands with as little murmurings or fanfare as possible, including my executive team.

“Ros, Lorenz, wait, please,” I say. Another 10,000-word glance passes between them and they sit.

“Alex, is there a smaller room where I can meet with Ros and Finney?” I ask. He looks at his phone before responding.

“Mr. Grey isn’t done with his meeting yet,” he says. “You can use his office.” Perfect. I nod.

“Chuck, please gather my things together here and you and Ben wait for me outside of Christian’s office. Marilyn, my notes should have synced with yours, so hopefully if gives you an idea of what I need and what to send to each department head about what I need and include meetings that won’t conflict with anything that I have scheduled now. Hopefully, Andrea can find a spot for you…”

“No problem, Bosslady, I’m on it.” I nod and turn to my executive staff.

“Ros, Finney,” I say marching past them with my shawl and clutch in hand.

Christian’s office is perfect for this task. His chairs are far enough away from the front of his desk to make sure you know that he knows he’s the boss. I sit my gorgeous ass in his seat of power as Ros and Finney initially hover over me for a moment or two before they finally take their seats. I pause for a moment before I begin, then I jump right in with no prelim.

“Are you concerned about your jobs at all?” I ask them. Ros’ eyes pierce.

“Excuse me?” she asks.

“I realize that you can leave this place today and have a job tomorrow, but my question is, and I’ll repeat it… Are you concerned about your jobs at all?” Ros stands and puts her hand on her hip.

“Are you threatening us, Ana?” she accuses, affronted. Bitch, what the fuck…?

“Well, I don’t know, Ros. Do you feel threatened?” I reply, taking the exact same tone that she’s taking with me. Ros is a powerful woman and she knows that she is, but I’m not going to back down to her or anybody else if I feel like they’re a hindrance to my husband. So, it behooves them to answer the goddamn question.

“Okay, ladies, please,” Finney says, standing as well and attempting to be the voice of reason. “We’re all on the same team here. Of course, we value our jobs, Ana,” he replies. I glare at Ros again and she glares right back. She’s testing me, I know, but I’ve got bigger fish to fry. I turn back to Finney.

“That’s not what I asked,” I tell him. “I asked if you’re concerned about your jobs at all. Is there some hierarchy here that I’m not aware of?” I inquire. “Some distribution of work that I’m just not privy to? I don’t pretend to know everything.” Finney frowns.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Finney says.

“Neither do I,” Ros shoots, folding her arms. I glare at her.

“Watch your tone with me, Ros, I’m not in the mood,” I caution.

“And you think I am?” she retorts. I suck my teeth trying not to lose my temper.

“Rosalind…” I begin.

“Anastasia?” she retorts, interrupting me.

That’s it.

I slam my hands so hard on Christian’s desk that it rattles, pushing myself out of his chair. She and Finney both leap back a step, and her stance has moved from offensive to how-close-is-the-nearest-door. I’m glaring at her, ready to fucking pounce if this is what she wants.

“You’ve got one more time,” I seethe, pointing and glaring at her from behind Christian’s desk, “just one more time to pull that passive-aggressive disrespectful bullshit on me, and you’re going to find out just who the head bitch in charge really is!”

She’s standing there gape-mouthed staring at me like she can’t believe what I just said and did. She’s been the high petticoat all these years and I understand that she feels like her toes are being stepped on right now, because dammit, they are!

Try me, cookie!

“Ros,” Finney says, his voice very low, “she’s right. You’re being insubordinate.” She throws a glare at him, then at my strawberry-red raging face. I can see in her eyes that she has a three-second funnel of her own and either she thinks better of what she says or what Finney said got through to her. Her stance changes again, and she’s immediately more approachable… and receptive.

I take three deep breaths to calm my anger… no, my rage and repeat myself.

“Is there some hierarchy here that I’m not aware of?” I repeat, “or some distribution of work that I’m just not privy to? Like I said, I don’t pretend to know everything. What I mean…” I say immediately, “… is that I took some time this weekend to review the emails that have been floating around the department heads and the executive team for the last several weeks, and it appears that all initiatives, directives, questions, answers, and guidance come from my husband.

“Now, maybe I’m just seeing things, or maybe I’m biased in my view of the emails. Maybe there are some emails that just aren’t getting to me, but from what I can see, there’s an uneven distribution of work among the executive team and it looks like one person is taking all the responsibility on himself. I would just like to know how the work is distributed so that one person doesn’t carry all the burden. It’s my understanding that Finney was hired because he didn’t want you to carry the burden all by yourself, but now, he appears to carry the lion’s share on his back. Am I mistaken? Did I miss something?”

“We all have different roles, Ana,” Finney says, and Ros still hasn’t found the words to address me yet.

“And does his role entail carrying the lion’s share of the work?” I ask again, since they seem not to be able to answer the question. I turn back to Ros.

“I’m not here to fight with you,” I say firmly. “I’m not even here to cunt-strut with you. I don’t have the business savvy that you do, the knowledge that you do or even the tenure that you do, but if my green, inexperienced ass can look at this setup and tell you that something’s wrong then dammit, something’s wrong—and it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in business management to see it.

“He’s got shit flying in every direction and it’s all coming from him. Now either you two are not following directions and are not CC’ing me on all executive email or for the umpteenth time, he’s doing the lion’s share of the work! Which one is it?”

Ros purses her lips, folds her arms, and drops her gaze—and I’m about three seconds from sending her ass on an administrative leave, but I won’t because I need answers.

“If GEH has a top-drawer, Grade-A executive team, why is he carrying this all by himself? And don’t tell me that he’s not! I live with that man. I have to watch him every day. He’s wound even tighter than he was when he was dealing with those fucking hackers. He has to gird up the asshole hours before he even leaves the house and he usually doesn’t shed it for hours after he gets home. Does Gwen have to deal with that?” I shoot at Ros. Her face softens infinitesimally.

“Does Mrs. Finney?” I say, turning to Finney. Their silence tells me everything I need to know.

“This is his baby,” I nearly seethe. “He suffers many sleepless nights wondering what’s going to happen with his creation—his life’s fucking work. He needs unwavering support, from you, from me, from everybody that values their job here, but he needs it most of all from the people who are closest to him! He and I are not the only ones who need to put up a unified front! You do, too. He doesn’t just need great minds pushing pencils, making calculations, and giving great ideas. He. Needs. Your. Support!

“You are not figureheads. You are each one-third of an executive team, but it looks like he’s carrying all the weight. You’re worried about drug tests and if my best friend’s department is going to be audited. Does legal fucking need to be audited? Because if it does, fucking audit it! Do it because there’s something going wrong in that department, but don’t do it to make a fucking bunch of sycophants happy who can’t even keep an eye on their own goddamn departments.

“That same silence that you observe when he walks through the hallways, they need to observe that same silence when you walk through the hallways—not because they’re afraid of you or because you’re being an asshole, but because you wield the same power that he does and they know it. And people should know that if they’re not doing what they need to do that the same hammer that he can bring down on them can come from you.

“If there needs to be a change of accountability around here, that’s fine. That’s why I came up with the mid-year and year-end evaluations. You didn’t need them before because everybody was scared shitless. Slowly but surely, that situation has faded, and now my husband has taken it totally upon himself to become the long arm of the law and get this place back in shape. But I refuse to believe that he has to take on the role of Big Angry Growling Daddy Bear 20 out of 24 hours a day while you’re fussing about drug tests and whether legal is going to be audited or not. He’s walking around barking at everybody he talks to and every time I see you two, you’re cool as a cucumber. What’s wrong with this picture?” They throw knowing glances at each other.

“And that,” I say, pointing to them, “if I see that, he does, too. That is a total indicator that you’re a team and he’s the odd man out. I’m a psychiatrist—I dare you to tell me that I’m wrong.”

I fold my arms and wait for a response. I feel like I’m talking to the enemy now. How many times has Christian had to justify something to them? How many battles has he had to fight where they’ve had these secret conversations with their eyes? Whose side are they on anyway? If they’ve built some kind of alliance that has my husband on the outside, what does that mean for GEH?

Ros wants to retort, but her facial expressions indicate that she doesn’t really know what to say. Finney, once again, speaks for them both.

“We’re definitely not against Christian, Ana,” Finney says. “We may not agree with every decision that he makes, but we’re not against him…”

“And it’s okay that you don’t agree with every decision,” I retort. “My husband can be very high-handed, but agree or disagree, he shouldn’t have to carry every burden on his back. And right now, he is.”

They turn to each other for one of those secret-eye conversations again, but quickly divert their gaze. Hmm, something’s getting through.

“The reason I asked if you were concerned about your jobs is not because I was threatening you. It’s because GEH is at a precipice. The mistakes and the dismal performance that we’re seeing in some of our departments is dreadful. No, we’re not losing money, but we’re trying not to get there. And the safety and quality issues; the inventory mishap; the fact that I, a civilian, walked in here and found the flaw with the XRC90 transmitter and the responsibility subsequently still fell on Daddy Bear to get them to run some simple tests; the fact that SEEKNID, a software that basically saved this company from potentially losing millions and millions of dollars, didn’t get launched last year—those are all indications that too many balls are being dropped and we’re headed downhill. That’s a huge concern for my husband, and if it’s not a concern for you, the hell if I’m going to let him take that shit on all by himself. And if we can’t patch the holes in the framework, then I’m going to discuss with him taking this company public.”

“Public?” Ros has suddenly found her words.

“Yes, public,” I say. “Maybe a board of directors can have better luck than we are, and if they can’t, then we’re screwed anyway, aren’t we?”

“Ana…” and I’m Ana again, “… taking this company public could be the worst possible decision…”

“But having your CEO die from a stress-induced heart attack sounds like a better plan to you?” I ask, my arms folded. They involuntarily have one of those silent eye-conversations, then look back at me.

“At the risk of overstepping my boundaries,” Ros begins with no malice, “you said it yourself—this is Christian’s baby. He’s worked hard at it. He’s said many times that he already knows that a board will come in here and tear it apart. They would do everything for the profit and not for the company, the community, or the greater good, and he doesn’t want that. It would break his heart to do something like that. He’ll never take this company public. It’ll be like giving his baby up for adoption, then selling it to the devil. He’ll die at the helm before he does that.”

“That’s a very interesting analogy you just used,” I inform her. “I know very well that this is Christian’s baby, but guess what? Christian now has two very alive, very breathing children—not metaphorical babies… babies who are walking and breathing and growing and learning to call him ‘Daddy.’ GEH was his only baby, but it’s not anymore.

“Christian Grey never thought that he would be a husband and a father, but now he is. He never thought he would give away half his company to a woman, but he has. I birthed Minnie and Mikey and he birthed GEH. He trusts me to help raise his children, and I am. He trusted you to help cultivate GEH. Are you doing that? We have employees at the house just like we have employees here. If I drop the ball and everything has to go through Daddy Bear, why does he need me? I serve as wife, mother, confidant, partner, lover—if I can’t do those things, what good am I? If an outsider can walk in and see that I’m not doing those things, if they can’t see or feel my presence in my home… my children don’t reach for me when I walk in the door, nobody cares whether I’m there or not… what purpose am I serving?”

“I think you’re being a bit harsh, Ana,” she inserts, “no disrespect intended.”

“Am I, Ros?” I say. “How many times have you been to dinner at my home lately?” I ask. “How many times have you seen my husband not make it to the dinner table before his children have to be put to bed because he’s in the workout room working off the day? How many nights have you gone to bed early so that you can be awake in the wee hours of the morning because that’s the only time that you can have a normal conversation with your spouse? How much of GEH goes home on your backs and gets dumped on your families? How much time does it take for you to wind down from the pressures of the day and let go of the business so that you can have some kind of semblance of a normal life?

“I don’t see the same stress on you and Finney that I see on my husband, and when I went into those emails, I see why. My whole intention was to come in here, claim my half of the company, and start really putting my foot down on some shit so that he doesn’t have to take it all on himself, but he has an executive team. Why should I have to do that?

“You walk in first thing in the morning looking like a million bucks and you leave without a smudge on your lipstick, but he’s pulling his hair out.” I turn to Finney “You emit knowledge and power in your stride. You’re confident and it’s evident. He’s wearing a perpetual grimace. He’s constantly pondering something, and I know that he doesn’t smile here because he doesn’t smile at home.” I turn back to Ros.

“You’re always entitled to a vacation—anytime you need it and anytime it’s available—but you don’t think we know that you took a vacation at a very crucial time for this company because you had a bug up your butt?” I accuse. She stares at me, her expression a mixture of surprise and chastised.

“We drop what we’re doing, and we take international vacations at will,” I admit. “So, the very last thing I’m going to do is give you a hard time about taking some time off, but I won’t hesitate to call you out on your bullshit reason and timing. You made a statement and we heard it loud and clear and I don’t like it. He’ll never call you on it, because he can take the reins by himself… but he can’t do both. He can’t be the 24/7, ball-busting leader and still be a family man.

“He has changed,” I point out. “He’s my husband now. He’s the father of my children, and I am not going to lose him to this business… and that’s not a threat. That’s a bona-fide, genuine, signed, sealed, and delivered promise!”

There’s nothing else for me to say. I retrieve my wrap and my clutch and walk out of the office.

Chuck, Ben, and Marilyn silently and quickly fall in step behind me as I stride to the elevator. Chuck inserts a key into the panel and pushes the button for the first floor.

“I need one of those,” I tell him. Without blinking, he gets on his phone.

“Alex… please secure an express key for Her Highness.” He ends the call and looks straight ahead.

When we exit the elevator, I begin my stroll across GEH’s marble floors, commanding the silence that I said should befall the room when Ros and Finney enter as well as a glare here and there. I meet one of them head on since she doesn’t feel the need to break it… today’s sacrificial lamb, so to speak.

“Take a picture it lasts longer!” I shoot in one breath as I approach her. My firm voice cuts through the silence of the lobby, causing everyoneincluding those who weren’t even looking at meto turn their attention to the glaring bitch, who quickly drops her head and her gaze all before I even past her.

The car has been parked in the front of the building for my exit and although I’m dreading the cold without my coat, the statement being made as I march through the lobby with my entourage is much more effective and is bound to cause a buzz once I leave…

One that will ring loudly through the hallowed halls of GEH and, no doubt, directly to the ears of my husband.

CHRISTIAN

That red dress is screaming business and “fuck me” at the same time, demurely covering everything from her neck to her mid-calf with the exception of her dainty little hands. I’m more than a bit taken aback when she snatches that pen from the podium and slams it down in front of the head of procurement along with the sign-in sheet she got from God only knows where.

I see her getting a bit of kickback from some of the boys on the management team, but she’s giving it right back to them. I’m glad I was able to finish my meeting in time and now, I’m tucked in Jason’s office as he and I watch her meeting through the various eyes in the sky. Every time somebody tries to give her some shit, she chews them up, swallows them, and shits them out. Before anyone attempts to be insubordinate, she lets them know that she doesn’t need my permission to kick them out on their asses, and she’s right.

She reminds me of a female version of myself, and I can’t help but wonder what brought this on.

“She can really command a meeting,” Jason says, watching as she fires off detailed questions at members of the Boys’ Club that a few of them have a hard time answering. I would berate them for not having answers that I need, but not Madame Butterfly. Oh, no. She politely lets them know that they will be getting memos for later meetings in a few days or so where she expects to get the answers that she’s seeking without excuses.

Shit, the Butterfly Sword looks to be about as effective as the Iron Fist, if not more so in some cases.

She must have spent hours researching what these departments should be doing! I know that I know some of these projects off the top of my head and others I’m very familiar with…

And somebody tell me why Ros and Lorenz are looking at each other like deer caught in headlights!

I watch the management team and department heads scatter like rats when she dismisses the meeting, several of them crowding the stairwells and not even waiting for the elevator. She has struck the fear of God into these people and they’re off to do whatever is necessary to save their souls! And now, it’s time for the showdown with Ros and Lorenz. I only say showdown because the last time Butterfly was in the office at one of the department head meetings—when she swore that she would never be back—she had a bit of a head-to-head with Ros, who never apologized for her behavior, accusations, or disrespect, by the way. Now, she’s locked in the room with the Butterfly Sword and I’m anxious to see who’ll emerge victorious.

Butterfly doesn’t pull any punches. She goes straight for the jugular. Lorenz is confused, but Ros is ready to fight, and the dukes are raised.

“Oh, shit,” Jason hisses, covering his chin and mouth while shaking his head. He knows what’s coming. No sooner than Ros girds up her armor and prepares to show her weapon, Butterfly slams her hands on my desk shattering the silence and any expectation in the room as well as Ros’ resolve. Her next words and much of the conversation thereafter demonstrates who’s clearly in charge in this meeting.

She’s brought a few things to light that I never considered. I don’t care that I’m doing things on my own as long as they get done, but she’s right. If I have an executive team, why am I doing things on my own? My wife is trying to get a school started. We have to go to Green Valley in a few weeks and I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to go with her with things in the current condition they are, and she’s turning her focus from things that she should be focusing on to the inner workings of GEH and why things aren’t getting done here.

Maybe I should be coming down on Lorenz and Ros a little more. Why the hell did I hire him in the first place? Oh, yeah… I hired him to help take the load off Ros whenever I pulled up and left town and to allow her to take time off without it handicapping the company. Apparently, something got lost in translation with their duties. And I love that she points out that look that they give each other. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear to God that they were planning a mutiny.

And I love my wife dearly, but she knows that I’m never going to take my company public. I don’t even know why she mentioned that. Then again, I guess if there was an ultimatum on the table, we’d need to have a serious discussion about it—about what it would mean to take my company public and why she would think it was a last resort or even a resort at all. Then her final words play in my head as I watch her walk across the lobby…

“He has changed. He’s my husband now. He’s the father of my children, and I am not going to lose him to this business… and that’s not a threat. That’s a bona-fide, genuine, signed, sealed, and delivered promise!”

What makes her think she’s losing me to my business? For fuck’s sake, I’ve got a lot of thinking to do about all this myself. I turn my gaze back to my office and Ros and Lorenz are still standing there.

“Why are they still standing there?” I ask, pointing at the screen.

“They’re talking,” Jason says. I purse my lips.

“Turn it up,” I say, focusing on the screen again.

“Calm down, Ros,” Lorenz says, “Christian knows more than anybody what a disaster it would be to take this company public if for no other reason than that there are assholes out there who would love to take it on just to run it into the ground.”

“But she doesn’t know that,” Ros hisses. “She’s running around here throwing orders like she’s got a new toy, and she’s going to destroy the business in the process.” That’s not what I see at all.

“And may I ask where that theory is coming from?” Lorenz challenges. “What did she do in that meeting that leads you to believe that she didn’t have complete control over everything that she was doing? I would have had to be studying for months to get the kind of detailed intel she had on these departments and what they should be doing. She reviewed emails for a weekend and walked in here and rightfully handed a bunch of executives their asses. Then she turned around and held the departments responsible for not having the information that she needed. I don’t see anybody running around ‘with a new toy’ at all. I see somebody with a vested interest in this company wanting to know what the fuck is going on.”

“Oh, God, don’t tell me you’re under that spell, too,” Ros laments. “Christian I can understand. He’s married to her and he’s in love with her. Now, your vision is all clouded, too?” Careful, Ros.

“My vision is not clouded,” Lorenz says firmly but slowly, “and I don’t like the implication of what you’re trying to say.”

“Oh, keep your shirt on. I’m not trying to say anything. I’m just pointing out the fact that she has absolutely no business experience whatsoever besides her little minor degree…” She waves her hand around dismissively as she describes my wife’s education, “and she’s coming in here throwing orders around to the people who have been doing this for years. They’re not going to like it and we’re probably going to see quite a bit of pushback from it.”

“And whatever they’ve been doing for years, Ros, they haven’t been doing it right. That’s why she’s here. This is her company, too, and she has a right to call ‘bullshit’ when she sees it. Now, I see where you’re coming from, and had this been any other pampered wife running in here waving the ‘I’ve got the power’ flag without the correct information or intention, I would be the first person going to Christian and telling him that shit needs to stop. However, I can clearly see, that’s not what’s going on here and so could those other people in that room. What exactly is your problem?”

“My only problem is with someone who has no idea what the hell is going on marching in here trying to run things!” she snaps, folding her arms. Lorenz falls silent and just looks at her. Noting the silence, she raises her gaze to his.

“What?” she demands.

“You know what? I hope you’ve got your asbestos pantyhose on because whether you like it or not, that little ball of fire is going to fly through here and make some changes and if you don’t watch your attitude and stay on your toes, you’re going to get your ass seared. So, what I suggest you do is pack up that little green-eyed monster and put it back in your pocket, because whether you agree or not, there’s nothing that she said in that room or this one that was. Not. True.

“If she has to deal with half the hellion at home that he is when he’s here, it’s a wonder she hasn’t packed up her babies and run to the hills. You and I both know that we don’t carry the burden that he does, and we definitely don’t take it home to our wives. That woman that walked into that meeting this morning was pissed! She was about the business of getting down to business and whether you want to admit it or not, that’s exactly what she did.

“I’ve watched you make little snide, dismissive comments around and about her like you don’t understand what side your bread is buttered on. Get used to it, Tootsie—she is the head bitch in charge. She could be sitting at home eating bonbons and watching soap operas and she would still be the head bitch in charge. You should be happy that he has a woman that’ll look at all this and see that something’s not right and try to find a solution for it instead of sitting back, spending all his money, and giving him a hard time about having to work so much!”

Damn, I never thought of any of that. Whatever Butterfly wants, I just make sure that she gets it, even if it’s a private meeting with my department heads… well, not so private since I watched from Jason’s office. I just didn’t interfere.

“I’ve worked for this company for years,” Ros says. “I have just as much blood, sweat, and tears in it as Christian. I’ve helped to build it up from a baby just like he did. I just don’t want to see all my hard work—our ­hard work—dismantled by a housewife, no matter how smart she is!”

Damn, Ros, petty much? I agree that she worked hard to get GEH where it is today and her contributions are invaluable, but why must she besmirch my wife so badly?

“Well, forgive me for not noticing,” Lorenz quips, “but what you just saw was goddamn intervention, or did you miss that whole thing? And if what you say is true, then tell me this—are you bleeding, sweating, and crying as much as he is right now? Will we see Gwen marching into the building any second telling us that this shit has got to change?”

Ros falls silent for a moment as if pondering Lorenz’s words, basically the same words that Butterfly said to them not twenty minutes ago.

“Make no mistake, she’s going to have a talk with Christian, and I can guarantee you that there’s going to be some ‘Come to Jesus’ in there. She looked at something somewhere that said that we’re not pulling the weight Christian is when we’re supposed to be a three-man team, and she’s about to make it a four-man team like it or not.”

“Christian likes to do things himself. You know how hands on he is,” she excuses.

“I know that’s bullshit and so do you,” he counters. “We do what we’re told. We do what’s needed. We’ve gotten comfortable in sitting back and not getting our hands too dirty because it’s easy to stay back and let him do that. What building do you need to fall on your head to realize that all of our jobs are in jeopardy right now? A month ago, she couldn’t tell you what the process was for SEEKNID from idea to completion, and now she can tell you that we can probably shave a day off our inefficient shipping processes just by streamlining and combining some of the tasks. Isn’t this the same woman who found a flaw in a product that was supposed to be one of the major selling points of one of our deals last year just by looking at the acquisition reports?

“You’re selling her short, and I have no idea why and I really don’t care, but you better get off that horse, because you’re on it by yourself, and we both better get our asses in gear or we may just find ourselves in the unemployment line!” He glares at her for a moment before he walks out of the office.


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

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.

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 1

I don’t want to start the season with a huge chapter note, but thank you guys for being there for me when my Mommy died. It really means a lot. It’s strange how life imitates art (and vice versa). I had this entire chapter written weeks ago—parts of it, months ago. Without giving spoilers, yes, some sad things happen, but they weren’t just added in when Mommy died. 

I also want to add my condolences to our beloved Falala. She lost her other fur baby this week. Please send her some love and support in comments here or on her post in “Do You Need To Talk” and let her know that we love her and we’re thinking of her. 

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 1

ANASTASIA

The year 2015 came in like a lion, not a lamb.

“You don’t have to be strong for everybody Val. And you certainly don’t have to be strong for me.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Val says, somberly. “I’m not. I’ve just cried so much that I don’t think I have any water left.”

Val left the Crossing looking a little gray in the face. We awoke this morning to the most dreadful news. She had lost the baby.

“The doctor says that these things happen, especially after the strain my body had been through last year. She told me that there’s nothing wrong with trying again after a little while… but I don’t know.” Her voice cracks on the last word. I stroke her hand.

“When you’re ready,” I say softly.

“I don’t know that I ever will be,” she sobs, finding those tears that she didn’t think she had. “I was so excited! El was excited. Our lives had started anew in every way! Meg is gone; we have a new house; a new baby was on the way… and now this!” She covers her face and sobs into her hands.

“And it’s not over.”

I’m about to hug my sister and best friend when Elliot’s voice stops my progression. He comes over to the other side of the hospital bed and cradles her weeping body in his arms.

“You cry as much as you need to, Angel, but it’s not over. Your body is remarkable. It looked death in the face and flipped it the bird. And when your heart was ready to give more love, it was determined to produce new life. But, Angel…” He sits on the bed and puts his hand under her chin to lift her gaze to his.

“I’ve got you,” he says. “This beautiful body needs some more rest—some more time to heal from that prize fight that it won last year. Our hearts were eager and so was your body, but it just wasn’t time yet. It’s. Not. Over… and when you’re ready, it’ll happen, and not a moment sooner. I’ve got you, and you’ve got me. I’m not going anywhere, and if you decide that this experience was too much and it’s not for you, I’ll still be here—standing by your side and loving you through it. Okay?”

Val falls into his chest and weeps for a moment before composing herself.

“Isn’t he the most wonderful man in the world?” she says, gazing into Elliot’s eyes. I turn my head to the doorway to see my husband standing there with his hands shoved in his pocket. He looks forlorn as he watches his brother and sister-in-law working through the loss of their unborn child. He won’t admit it, but his empathy has come a long way since he’s met and married me and had children of his own. The pain in his face says it all.

“Second most wonderful,” I say softly.

*-*

The drive back to the Crossing is silent. Christian had leaped from the bed and sprang into action when he got the call, leaving Jason behind and almost leaving me as he leapt into the car and sped out the gate and across the bridge to the hospital. Now, he looks blankly in front of him as he concentrates on getting us and the car back to Mercer Island. Everything happened so fast that there was no time for the paparazzi to get wind of anything.

He’s still silent when we get back to the Crossing. He seems to be moving on autopilot. He drives into the garage, turns the car off, then exits. He walks mechanically to my side of the car and opens the door for me.

“Thank you,” I say softly as I exit, and he nods once. He closes the door behind me and places his hand in the small of my back, guiding me to the mudroom door. We both shed our outerwear and boots right there in the mudroom, and my husband releases a heavy sigh as both hands rake through his hair.

“Can I get something for you?” I ask, concerned. “Some coffee or something to eat? Neither of us had any breakfast.” He shakes his head.

“I…” He holds his head down for a moment as if to collect his thoughts. “I’m going to take a shower, first… just to try to…” he trails off. I put my hand on his back and he raises his gaze to mine.

“Okay,” I say, nodding. No need to explain, Mr. Grey. This is pretty big. He nods at me again and heads for the elevator. I sigh heavily and walk to the kitchen.

“Hey,” Gail says, coming from her office space in what used to be the small dining room. “How’s Valerie?” I sigh again.

“I don’t know,” I say, reaching into the refrigerator for sparkling water and cranberry juice. “As well as can be expected, I guess.” I fill a glass with ice from the dispenser and make a cranberry spritzer. I put the bottles away and drink my glass nearly half down.

“She was so excited,” I say, shaking my head. “She didn’t think she’d be able to conceive after Chemo. The good news is that she can conceive… but can she carry?” I cover my eyes and fight my own tears, my sadness for my best friend and sister.

“What did the doctor say?” Gail presses, concerned. “Did they tell her that she wouldn’t be able to?” I shake my head.

“No,” I say after drinking more of my spritzer. “From what they say, it was just too soon. Her body needs to get a little stronger before she tries to have a baby.”

“Well, that’s encouraging news,” Gail says, “although I know from experience that it does nothing for the current loss.” I raise my eyes to hers, vaguely remembering her telling me about miscarrying.

“Christian’s not taking it well,” I tell her. “When tragedy strikes his family…” I search for my words. “He’s a lot more empathetic than he used to be.”

“Did you all eat?” she asks. “Would you like for me to fix you something?” I should be hungry, but to be honest, I’m not… not in the slightest.

“Let me see what Christian wants to do and I’ll let you know,” I say, finishing my spritzer. She takes my glass and puts it in the sink, and I head to the elevator.

I lost a kid once, too, but I didn’t know that the kid was there, so I never had a chance to miss it… or want it… or not want it. I sometimes wonder what that kid would have been like had it lived. Would it have been a monster like my mother or its father, or would I have been able to show it enough love not to be a terrible person? Would I have been able to love it at all? Would I have kept it? Carla and Stephen probably would have made me give it up. I know one thing’s for sure—my life certainly wouldn’t be where it is now.

As the elevator opens, I think about Minnie and Mikey, my two little miracle babies. They were determined that nothing was going to stop them from getting here alive and healthy, not even a missile that put me in a coma for nearly two weeks and almost cost me my memories. I can’t even imagine how I would feel if something had happened to my precious angels before they were born. I’m stepping double-time to get to the nursery as I desperately need to see them.

I open the door quietly to find that I’m not the only one who needs some immediate baby time. Christian is standing over our daughter’s crib, gazing silently down at her sleeping body. He so transfixed on her tiny little form that he doesn’t even move when I open the door. I pull the door closed a little, just enough to watch him with our daughter. He stands there for several more moments before he kisses his fingers and gently taps Minnie’s head.

“I love you,” he whispers, stroking her red tresses gently for a few moments. He walks over to Mikey’s crib and Mikey stirs a bit, but falls back into slumber. Christian silently watches him for several moments.

“And I love you,” he whispers to his son, repeating the gestures that he just did with his daughter. I step away and close the door, leaving him to his moments with his children. Suddenly, a shower sounds like a very good idea.

I try not to cry in the shower. I’m overcome with sadness for Val and Elliot, but also with impending doom for the fate of my own children. They’re growing so quickly. I’ve been practicing helping Minnie stand and take steps on her own every day since Christmas. I don’t want to rush her, but I don’t want her to be developmentally too far behind her brother, either. They both have the chubby baby cheeks and thighs that just make you want to pinch them all day, and they’re eating more solid food than breast milk these days. I’m a little melancholy about having to wean them soon, which doesn’t help with my attempt not to cry.

I let a few tears fall as I wash, condition, and rinse my hair. I’ve composed myself once the shower is over, and I take the time to dry my hair and put it in a ponytail. I pull on a comfortable off-the-shoulder cable-knit sweater dress that I grabbed from the dressing room before my shower and I come out into our suite. Christian is lying on the bed on his back in sweatpants and a T-shirt, his hair still wet.

He’s staring at the ceiling and saying nothing. I climb in bed beside him. During these times, he usually tells me that he needs me. Making love when he’s feeling this forlorn often grounds him, helps him to remember that he’s not alone. This time, he seems different.

“Do you want to talk?” I ask as I lay on the pillow next to him. He shakes his head.

“I’m tired,” he says. “I’m really tired. I don’t remember being this tired in a long time.”

“You didn’t get much sleep,” I say, “and we got the call really early.”

“I’m exhausted,” he says, and sighs heavily. I don’t doubt that he is. He’s been going like a machine since Christmas, and this isn’t the first emotional overload-type thing that we’ve had in the last few days…

New Years’ Eve…

The festivities are no different than any other New Years’ Eve—good food, good friends, family, drinks… and fireworks. We, of course, have an excellent view of the fireworks at the Space Needle right from our backyard, and when midnight strikes, we kiss and toast the New Year in just like every other year. We’re all looking at the fireworks when we hear Chuck’s angered voice.

“Shit!” he hisses. We all turn to face him and he’s bolting into the house.

“Choonks, wah’s wong?” Keri calls after him.

“That’s not ginger ale!” he yells as he disappears into the French doors.

“Shit!” Jason says, abandoning the group and dashing into the house behind Chuck. Keri, Maddie, and Nelson all run in behind him while the rest of our guests just look on in confusion. Christian picks up the glass, sniffs it, and looks at me.

“It’s champagne,” he says gravely.

“Shit!” I hiss like Jason and Chuck before me and run into the house. I hear Christian excusing us as I dash through the entertainment room. It’s empty. There’s no one in the community area either. That’s when I hear agonizing noises like someone is being punched in the stomach.

I know what that is.

I follow the sounds through the community space and into Chuck and Keri’s apartment. Maddie and Nelson are standing horrified in the living room while Chuck and Jason are in the bathroom. Keri’s standing outside the door with tears in her eyes. Chuck is on his knees paying homage to the porcelain gods while Jason stands over him. I can hear his throat and stomach wrenching as he vomits everything he ate at the party… probably everything he’s eaten all day.

When he stops for a moment and breathes heavily, I think it’s over, but he starts again. I don’t hear that horrible sound of his insides splashing against porcelain this time. He’s still breathing like a bear though. There’s another pause and then I hear Jason’s voice.

“Stop, man! There’s nothing left!” he commands. “You’re dry-heaving now, it’s gone!”

They sound like they might be scuffling, and Jason repeats his command.

“Stop!” he says again. “There’s nothing left, Chuck!”

“I gotta make sure!” Chuck protests. Jesus, he’s determined not to let even the slightest bit of alcohol into his system.

“You got it, man, it’s gone,” Jason said. “You barely took a sip and you’re vomiting bile now. You’re dry heaving, there’s nothing left. I wouldn’t lie to you.” There’s silence for a moment. “Goddammit!”

I hear scuffling again and now Keri turns away from the bathroom and is fully weeping. I put my arms around her, and I can see into the bathroom. Chuck is sticking his finger down his throat trying to make himself vomit more, and he has already discharged everything he has in his stomach.

“Help him!” I mouth to Christian as Keri cries on my shoulder. Christian enters the bathroom and tries to help Jason restrain Chuck.

“Come on, Chuck,” Christian says. “It’s over. It’s gone, trust me.”

“You don’t understand!” Chuck wails, sounding almost like a child. “I can’t be that guy again! I can’t! I can’t be that guy…!”

We know what he’s talking about, and Maddie and Nelson know all too well. Maddie moves past all the big men and kneels next to her son, taking his face in her hands.

“You’re not that guy, Chuckie,” she says. “We can all see it, and we know it. We knew that guy. We knew him well, and even though we loved him, we didn’t like him very much. You’re not that guy anymore, Chuckie. We know you’re not that guy.”

“I’m sorry, Mom,” he weeps. “I didn’t mean to drink it…”

“I know Chuckie,” she says, softly with a smile. “Give yourself a break. There’s a difference between accidentally sipping what you thought was ginger ale and finishing off an entire bottle of gin. That Chuck is gone, and I’ve got my Chuckie back. You didn’t slip—you picked up the wrong glass. It was a mistake. So, please, stop hurting yourself.”

He looks his mom in the eyes and nods. Jason and Christian help him up and his legs are a little wobbly. He reaches for Maddie and she helps him to the sofa.

“Salt-water, please,” she says as Chuck falls down onto the sofa. Keri breaks our embrace to go to the kitchen. She quickly mixes salt and water and brings it to Chuck along with the kitchen garbage can. As he rinses the flavor of bile from his mouth and spits into the garbage can, Keri retrieves a bottle of water from the fridge.

“Dtink itahl, Choonks,” she says softly, having cleaned the tears from her face. He looks at her and effortlessly bottoms out the bottle. She nods her approval as he tosses the bottle in the trash. She sits on the sofa next to him and turns to face him. She pulls his head into her bosom, wraps her legs around him and cradles him in her arms.

“Easy nuh,” she says as she gently strokes his hair. She doesn’t care who’s in the room; she needs to comfort her Choonks. He lays on her breast and closes his eyes, wrapping his arms around her and settling in obvious contentment.

“We should go,” I say to all the onlookers, as Keri and Chuck are in their own world now. Jason puts the waste basket back in the kitchen and we head for the door.

“From now on, I fix my own drinks,” Chuck says as we’re leaving.

Present Day…

I had a session with him and his sponsor later that day. He said that sipping that champagne felt like the past burning a trek down his throat and all he could think of was to get it out. He knew he was going to vomit before he made it to the apartment, and he was trying not to do it in one of the sinks along the way.

Thoughts of everything that Joe had said about him in court was haunting him, and he could only see the alcohol as a devil inside of him—a parasite—and even the slightest drop of it would grow inside of him and consume him. I could tell by his intensity that if he could, he would have had his stomach surgically removed if it meant that there was no chance that there was any alcohol left in his system.

He never has to worry about relapsing. He’s dipsophobic now. I can’t say that’s any healthier than being an alcoholic as any kind of obsessive behavior is not good, but in the big scheme of things, this ain’t too bad of a phobia to have.

Turning my attention back to my nearly catatonic husband, I can’t help but feel rudderless at the moment, not quite knowing how to help him. It’s late afternoon now, and there’s no likelihood that he’ll be going into the office at all. In fact, he was so distracted by trying to get to Elliot and Val as quickly as he could that he had forgotten to call the office to tell them that he wouldn’t be there.

When Ros called, I answered the phone to inform her that he wouldn’t be in. She actually seemed a bit put off that I was telling her that he wasn’t going to be in. Not that I owed her an explanation, but I felt it was a professional courtesy to tell her why, and I took great pleasure in passively making her feel like shit when I told her the reason. Somebody’s going to have to put that trick in her place really soon because she’s really pushing the envelope.

That’s probably why my husband is exhausted right now. He hasn’t allowed any emotion to creep in, so to speak, since he’s been so busy busting balls at GEH. The fuck-ups are slowly beginning to turn around and the supposed lawsuits are falling as fast as they were filed, once the plaintiffs were told what their real chances of winning were and my husband made it clear that it would be a cold day in hell before—and I quote—“those goddamn drug addicts got another fucking dime from me to support their fucking habits.”

Now, he just needs to rest, for however long he needs it.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” I ask, looking at the side of his head as he gazes at the ceiling. He turns his head to me, his eyes glassy, tired, and sad, and I’m sure that he’s going to tell me that he needs me… and he does, but not in the way that I’m thinking.

“Can we just…” He sighs. He’s having a hard time finding his words. “Can I just hold you for a while?”

I look over into his beseeching gray eyes and my heart melts at his sadness. I move closer to him and situate myself comfortably on his chest with my arm around his waist, one leg bent over his. He embraces me firmly with both arms, then kisses my hair. I think of the lullaby that I sing to the kids when they’re feeling fussy, the French one about the eggs, and I hum it to him while I’m laying on his chest. He holds me close and tight as I hum the tune to him, and a few minutes later, I feel his chest begin to rise and fall as his breathing evens. I know I can’t move or he’ll wake, so I keep humming the tune until I fall asleep.



CHRISTIAN

My wife is amazing.

I know that Valerie is her best friend and like a sister to her, but she was more concerned with how I was feeling than anything else during this time. How am I feeling? I’m feeling very shitty. I feel shitty for lots of reasons and in no particular order.

I feel shitty because my brother was so excited to be starting his family and now, he’s had it ripped from him for no good reason.

I feel shitty because he has to watch his wife and the woman he loves suffer physically and emotionally through this, and there’s nothing worse in the world than not being able to stop the pain of the woman you love…

… except for not being able to stop the pain of your children.

Seeing him lose his child made me feel the most intense and powerful possessiveness that I’ve ever felt in my life! My babies, my heart and soul besides my beautiful wife… Jesus, if anything happened to my kids…

I feel shitty because I just want to make everything right again… everything… and I can’t.

Butterfly and I decide not to see our mentors on Saturday night under the circumstances. There’s no way that we would be able to concentrate on any of the tasks at hand.

We attended the Munch with Artemis and Savvina the weekend after Christmas, just to be introduced to other Domini and their matrimonial submissives, who refer to themselves as soumises, As I speak French, I know this is the French plural for submissive, but this is the adjective. I’m not sure that there is an appropriate noun. Nonetheless, I like it.

This group of people is almost like a club of their own, not that they separate themselves from the others, but that they share a common bond and tend to gravitate more towards those with like interests—as is usually the case in any BDSM circle.

I’m quickly learning that being a married Dominus, or just Dominus as Artemis prefers, is nothing like what I’ve been before. I’m learning to be a Dom all over again. I have to deprogram myself from what I used to be, what I’ve always known, and reprogram myself to a new way of being; a new way of responding; a whole new behavior. I can’t operate the way that I used to because I’m not the same person. BDSM served a specific purpose for me. It was a direct means to a particular end, and there were no emotions involved.

I was a sadist, but I’m not that man anymore.

As a result, everything has to be retaught. There was no way that I could bring Anastasia into my world with the theories, techniques, and mindset that I always utilized. It never would have worked, and that’s why we never found our balance.

Had I married a submissive who had been previously conditioned in the method that I practiced, the old way would have been fine, but that’s not who I married. What’s more is that none of the submissives who had been conditioned in that way ever lasted, because that’s not what I really needed.

If I’m honest, I used those women like old rags. Once they were dirty, I laundered them in showers and baths and sent them to be plucked and primed to my specifications only to use them again. I made it clear that I didn’t want these women, and if the old rags became too comfortable, I threw them out.

How could I possibly expect for this same mentality to work with my wife?

Artemis is bringing so many things to light for me. My entire method of operation was based on punishments and rewards. For a sadist who has plans to beat the hell out of you every Friday night, that’s a perfect formula…

I need to cause you pain to release mine and regain control, and if you’re a good girl, I’ll let you come.

If you misbehave, I’ll beat you some more, and after I’ve tormented you sexually in every way imaginable and had my fill of you—literally, then I’ll make you go to bed without an orgasm.

I want unequivocal, unquestioned loyalty and obedience and if I don’t get it, I’ll make you pay.

If I do get it, I’ll make your body scream in ways that you never thought possible.

I’ll take you from extreme to extreme. I’ll ruin you for all other men. You’ll learn to love it; you’ll yearn for it… ache for it… the pleasure and the pain.

You’ll learn to love it. You’ll discover that you can’t do without it… and the moment that you do, I’ll cut you off and end your contract.

I began our relationship with every move I knew. I pulled every masculine wile on her that I could—and then I released the demon. It was so powerful that neither of us could control it, and yet, we tried. We tried so hard that at some points, it almost destroyed us. And now…

Here we are, where we should have started in the first place. We’re both starting from scratch. Anastasia had no idea what she should and should not be doing, how she should or should not be behaving, what she should or should not expect as a submissive. Her entire concept was take as much as you can and when you’ve reached your limit, take a little more. Why?

Because her husband is a sadist.

I could—and would—give her whatever she could take. There was no measurement of “Maybe this is going too far.” It was just, “More? Okay!”

So, now, I have embarked upon the intricate journey of shedding the title and persona of the typical sadistic Dominant—talented though I may be—and completing the task of becoming the exquisite Dominus. As such, my wife is completing the task of becoming the soumise. At some point, our roles will switch again, but right now, we’re concentrating on this particular dynamic as it fits into our lives.

I don’t know whose journey is harder—hers, having to dispel the misconceptions that she’s had for the last few years during her escapades with me; or mine, having to deprogram most of the things that I learned from Lincoln and in Dom training all those years, or at least re-purpose them—for lack of a better description—to fulfill our current needs.

Anastasia is a strong and independent woman. It’s not in her to be a 24/7 submissive, nor would I want her to be. However, this new dynamic means exploring new territories and desires, both physical and mental, and there will be some sacrifices and compromises on both our parts. I’m going to have to sacrifice my old methods of relating the inflicting of pain, total surrender, and unconditional obedience to my pleasure and maintenance of control. These things must be balanced, and there’s a time and a place for all of them.

TPE requires complete surrender and unconditional obedience. However, while some relationships may be built upon that, ours is not. There’s a time and a place.

While inflicting pain can be quite liberating and erotic, it can’t always be the go-to technique in a relationship like ours. There must be a give-and-take on several levels when implements are used to inflict pain, induce pleasure, or administer punishment.

I was always hyper-aware of a submissive’s feelings and physical reactions, but only to the degree that their responses fulfilled my needs…

If I whipped you until you cried, so what? I fucked you until you came; now, go take a bath and get over it.

If you were twitching and jerking uncontrollably at the end of the scene, it’s probably because your orgasm was so intense that your pussy or your asshole was gripping and squeezing my dick endless until you drained my balls of every single drop of fluid I had to give.

I knew how to time torment and ecstasy perfectly so that I was certain to get everything I needed exactly at the moment that you got what you wanted. And if you didn’t get what you wanted, it was deliberate, and that’s usually what I wanted.

It’s all different now…

The Munch we attended was held at a local venue called “10 Degrees.” It clearly wasn’t what my wife expected and certainly nothing like the impromptu munch we attended at the BDSM club a few years ago. Although my wife chose to don a very sexy black bandage dress of a respectable length, she could have worn one of my grandmother’s vintage Lindy bop dresses and still fit in with this crowd at this location. On more than one occasion, my wife was swept away to a semi-private cluster of conversation with a group of submissive wives while I took the opportunity to converse and pick the brains of Artemis and some other attending Domini. It was during several such powwows that I discovered that my way of thinking was going to have to take a serious detour if this relationship was going to be functional and enjoyable for us.

Today was to be the day that we were going to explore our intimacy a bit more. One of those ways was going to be to choose a nickname for my wife when she was in the role of soumise. Baby came too easily, Butterfly is an everyday name, and Anastasia is clearly what I call her when I’m angry. Ana is what everyone else calls her, and Mrs. Grey is out of the question because I called all of my previous submissives by their last names and we’re trying to separate the old Dom from the Dominus. So, we have to come up with something else. I say “we” because even though I may be using the name, she has to respond to it. I think I’ll talk to her about that later when we’re alone. It shouldn’t be hard for us to come up with something without the assistance of our mentors.

Quite a bit happened in the past two weeks. I awoke the day after Christmas and realized that I had been a Grade-A ass all week to my wife and family, and while it was still imperative that I whip my company back into shape, something had to give… and soon! I took that Friday off and spent it with my wife and children like I should have done on Christmas Eve.

We exchanged our gifts and although we got each other plenty of those gifts that you purchase for the husband or wife who has everything, my biggest gift to Butterfly was the task of decorating our Italian villa as we will be spending six weeks there this summer even if Armageddon befalls us. She was absolutely thrilled. Concerned about leaving our children behind, she was even more delighted to discover that the family will be spending a portion of the summer with us as well, including our children.

Her most precious gift to me was a leather-bound album with various pictures of her and our children throughout the year—in color and black and white, various settings, some candid and some professional. She knows this kind of shit turns me into a big sap, and that’s why she usually waits to give these personal gifts on Christmas Eve. Of course, it took my breath away and I felt like the luckiest bastard on earth.

We also gave gifts to our staff, including the car that we had been promising Keri with the built-in car seats for the kids—a 2015 Chrysler Town and Country. I would have preferred an Audi, of course, but my wife previously informed me that not everyone wanted to drive an Audi, and Chuck informed me that Keri previously admired the Town and Country. As long as it had the safety features that I wanted, it was fine with me. So, Keri is now the proud owner of a metallic silver Chrysler minivan.

December 26 held one more surprise for the Grey family. Pops’ attorney from Detroit, Nathan Wu, called to tell us that Freeman had given up on the protest of the life insurance policy. Freeman was, quite frankly, eager to get his hands on his father’s house. We knew that this had to mean that he had signed the divorce papers as well, because he wasn’t going to allow any proceeds from Pops’ will to get caught up in his divorce. Little did he know that any of his inheritance was most likely protected property from the divorce, but honestly, none of us cared. Our biggest controversy now was trying to get Dad to accept his share of the policy as well as the money that he gave to Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman.

That beautiful Apollo showed up, refurbished and playing beautifully this past Tuesday, and it has pride of place downstairs in the den with my baby grand. My father and my uncle came over to see it once it had been delivered, after which they called Uncle Stan and the three of them drank a toast to Ichabod while it played one of several preprogrammed songs in its new repertoire, Down by the Old Mill Stream.

Valerie is being released from the hospital today and, once again, we insist that they come and stay with us for a while as Valerie’s body recuperates—just for a few days, or a week, until she’s back on her feet. It’s a good thing we decided against the mentoring sessions tonight. We were needed at the Crossing much more.

My brother is clearly more concerned about Val in the loss of the baby than he is about himself. I can see through the façade, though. He’s been my brother longer that he’s been her husband. He’s crushed, but with everything that she’s been through, he can’t let Valerie know how he feels. He doesn’t want to stress her out and possibly send her into a relapse with her cancer and he’s very concerned about her health and getting her back to 100%. However, once she’s released from the hospital and they get to the Crossing, the truth all comes out.

“How are you holding up?” Butterfly asks Valerie once they release their embrace. Valerie nods.

“I’m doing okay,” she says with a sad, unconvincing smile. “One day at a time.” Butterfly takes her hands.

“I know,” she says. “Come on, let’s talk…” She takes Valerie’s hand and leads her through the dining room. Elliot gazes at her until they disappear into the family room.

“Do you want to talk?” I ask, and I’m certain that my voice startles him. “You look tired.” He twists his lips.

“I’m fine,” he says, his voice clipped as he walks towards the formal living room.

“You don’t look fine,” I say, falling in step behind him. He whirls around on me after he steps down into the living room.

“Oh, so you’re the psychiatrist now.” It’s a statement, not a question. “Montana, how you’ve changed.”

Definitely not fine.

“I’m not trying to piss you off, Elliot,” I say as I close the space between us. “I just want to make sure that you’re really okay. I know if this was Butterfly, I definitely would need some help… or a drink… or I would want someone to pay or tell me why this happened.” Elliot laughs sarcastically.

“Oh, the great Christian Grey and all his millions!” he quips angrily. “If he found out that his little wifey was allergic to water, he’d stop the rain from falling!” I purse my lips.

“I know you’re upset, Elliot,” I say, ignoring his ill-placed ire, “you have every right to be…”

“This isn’t about me!” he hisses. “This is about her! All the shit that’s happened to her! When no one else was there for her, I was there for her! I took care of her; I watched over her; I stood by her when everybody else went MIA—everybody! I did everything in my power to protect her… and I couldn’t!” he bites out. I frown.

“There are some things that you can’t protect her from…” I try to interject.

“Says the man who rescued his woman from kidnappers in a helicopter,” he retorts sarcastically. “Basically brought her back to life after she was nearly killed in a car accident, spent 12 days in a coma, and woke up not even knowing who you were!”

“But I couldn’t prevent those things from happening to her!” I counter. “I may have retrieved her from Vashon Island, but she was still taken and brutally beaten. And yeah, I sat next to her bed and cried and prayed while she was in a coma, but I couldn’t prevent the accident that put her there!”

“Don’t you dare!” he hisses angrily. “Don’t you dare for one moment pretend that you know what I’m feeling right now! You have no fucking idea—no goddamn idea in the world how this feels!”

His eyes are a veiny red and he’s furious, ready to charge. If I don’t pick my words carefully, we’ll be rolling around grappling on the floor—and I will not fight him right now. I take a deep breath through my nose and let it out, never taking my eyes off my brother who is standing in front of me poised like a gladiator, ready for battle.

“You’re right,” I reply. I pause for several moments and watch him deflate infinitesimally. “I have no idea what you’re feeling right now. I couldn’t even begin to imagine, nor would I want to. I know pain, and I know that you’re hurting, but I can’t empathize with the pain you’re feeling right now. I do know this much,” I say, closing the space between us. “You’re taking care of Valerie. Who’s taking care of you?”

His face changes. The fury mask fades in an instant and is replaced with the most mournful, drooping, angst-filled expression I’ve ever seen. My brother chokes out a sob, and then another before crumpling in despair. I catch him in my arms and lower the dead weight to the floor as he sobs uncontrollably.

“I tried… I tried… I did… everything… I could…” he weeps bitterly, unable to catch his breath. “She… needs me… she needs me… to be strong… but this… hurts… God… it hurts… so bad…”

His weeps quickly turn to uncontrollable heaves as he chokes out his grief for his loss. His body is shaking, and his muscles are flexing like he wants to fight, but he’s tight… tight in a ball… still holding it in…

“Let it out, bro,” I encourage. “Let it out. It’s okay to hurt. I’ve got you.”

I can tell he doesn’t want to weep too loudly for fear that Valerie will hear him. Even now, at one of his darkest moments, he’s thinking of Valerie. I let him cry and text my wife.

**Where are you? **

A few moments later, she texts me back.

**In the parlor. **

I reply quickly…

**Can you please keep Valerie down there for a while? My brother needs to vent. **

It takes her a minute to respond.

**I understand. Sure thing. **

Thank God I didn’t have to explain that. Having a psychiatrist for a wife certainly has its benefits. I put my phone back in my pocket and lean in to my brother.

“Let it out, Lelliot,” I tell him. “I swear she won’t hear you.”

He raises tear-filled eyes to me, and I nod at him, giving him permission to grieve properly. He closes his eyes and releases a heart-wrenching wail that tears me down to my very soul. The sound is so painful that it’s everything I can do not to grab him and shake him and tell him to stop screaming like this; that everything is going to be okay and this is not the end of the world, but he’s been holding this in. He’s been the tower—the strong front for his extremely fragile wife. He hid his feelings so well that no one knew what he was going through. It’s a wonder he didn’t have a psychotic breakdown through all of this.

I can’t grab him and shake him, but I can grab him.

He curls into a ball, covers his face with his hands and sobs openly, finally crying without a care about who may be listening. I can hear his pain… and it’s killing me. It’s killing me that I can’t take it away from him. He was right not to let Valerie see this. She wouldn’t be able to take it.

I curl my body over his, quickly wiping away the selfish tears that fall from my own eyes onto the back of his shirt.

“That’s good, Lelliot,” I say, hiding the tears in my voice. “Let it all out…”


ANASTASIA

Elliot tried, but he wasn’t able to hide the fact that he was broken when Val and I finally came from the parlor. They both have the same questions…

Why did this happen?
How did this happen?
Was there something they could have done to prevent it?
How will they keep it from happening again?

The truth is that there’s no right answer to those questions. The immediate answer is that Val’s weakened state could have contributed to this, but truthfully, perfectly healthy women have miscarriages all the time. There’s no explanation for it and at some point, you heal from the pain and try again.

However, there’s no telling that to a woman—or a man—who has just lost a child.

They spend time blaming themselves until they’re just not blaming themselves anymore. Sometimes, it’s quick and sometimes, not so much. The further along the pregnancy is, the harder it is to deal with the loss. Val was heading into her fourth month and she had begun to feel the quickening of the baby, so that made it all very real. Then, to have something happen like this, after you’ve felt the baby move inside you and you’ve started making plans for the new life… we should definitely be having a funeral right now.

After Val said that she couldn’t cry anymore, the floodgates opened like Niagara Falls once we got to my parlor. She polished off a bottle and a half of wine all by herself, and I let her. She cried and cried about how she’s a failure as a woman and a mother and I spent the better part of an hour trying to convince her that this was not true; that there was nothing that she or anybody could have done differently that could have prevented this; that these things just happen and as painful as they may be, sometimes, they just can’t be prevented.

My words did very little to comfort her.

Little did I know that Elliot was on the first floor having a breakdown of his own, and when he and Val were reunited, they could do nothing more than crawl upstairs and go to bed.

Christian and I sit down to dinner alone. He concentrates on finishing his meal, and I know it’s because he’s fighting with his emotions. He’s forcing himself to eat so that he doesn’t starve himself being overcome by his feelings. I don’t attempt to engage. We simply eat in silence and I let him finish his meal. Maddie and Nelson are still here until Monday, but they’ve been having more intimate meals with Keri and Chuck in their apartment since Chuck’s episode.

“The other soumises were telling me that communication is paramount in any healthy relationship,” I break the silence once we’ve finished our dinner and we’re having coffee, “especially a BDSM relationship.” He raises his gaze to me, his expression almost as if he forgot that I was sitting there next to him. He bottoms out his coffee and stands from his seat. Then he moves to the back of mine, signaling for me to stand and he pulls my chair out. He takes my hand and tucks it into his elbow. I feel a little flush come over me.

“Where would you like to chat?” he says. I’m taken aback. Anywhere will do. I would have been just fine sitting here at the table.

“The library,” I reply. We have two libraries and one of them became Marilyn’s office. We never use the other one.

He leads me to the elevator, and we take a silent ride to the lower level. I stop at the aquarium to say “hi” to Marty, who’s swimming obliviously in and out of her castles and reefs. As I take a moment to admire my fish, Christian retrieves a bottle of brandy and two snifters from the bar. We walk quietly to the library and I take a seat on the sofa. Christian turns on the fireplace and takes a seat next to me.

“Do you have anything in particular that you want to talk about?” he asks as he pours us each a brandy.

“Anything but Elliot and Val,” I say softly. He stops pouring for a moment, still looking at the brandy snifter.

“Agreed,” he says, and finishes pouring the drinks. He hands me one of the glasses and takes one for himself. We each take a large sip of the brandy before the conversation begins.

“We were supposed to come up with names tonight,” Christian begins. “I was thinking that I don’t know why we can’t do that activity on our own. It shouldn’t be hard.” I shrug.

“Yes, I can’t see why we couldn’t do that,” I reply.

“Mine should be easy,” he says. “I’ve only ever been referred to as Sir, Mr. Grey, or Master. Mr. Grey and Grey has definite connotations for us. Master feels like footprints from a past life. I don’t want to bring that into our relationship.”

“I agree,” I say, sipping my brandy.

“There are other options—Lord, Captain, Mister, Boss. The Latin Dominus is used as my title, as soumise is used for yours. It’s nice, but it seems a bit pretentious for you to address me that way. The rest of those seem over the top, except for Boss, and Jason sometimes calls me that. So, if you’re comfortable, I say we keep it simple and continue to use Sir.”

“I think that’s best,” I concur. “I did a little research on appropriate names for a submissive. They all sounded ridiculous.” Christian furrows his brow.

“Such as?” he asks, before sipping his brandy.

Baby girl, princess, kitten, honey bear, buttercup…” I rattle them off.

“None of those would fit for you because those are generally all names for littles. You’re not a little and I’m not a Daddy Dom, so those definitely wouldn’t work for us.”

“What’s a little?” I ask.

“That’s a whole other Dominant/submissive dynamic,” he replies. “It often involves age play where the submissive behaves at an age suitable for his or her Dominant, or at whatever age the submissive chooses.”

“Like adult babies?” I say with distaste.

“Yes, adult babies can be a type of a little,” he confesses. I shiver a bit.

“There are other types of littles?” I ask. He nods.

“They can be any age,” he says. “It depends on the preference of the couple.” I shake my head.

“That… sounds like someone who fantasizes about children,” I admit. “It doesn’t seem healthy. What place could that possibly have in a BDSM relationship?”

“Please don’t try to get me to explain that,” he beseeches. “I’m aware that the dynamic exists, but I couldn’t describe the fascination or attraction to it. I don’t have enough information on it, so I can’t defend or criticize it… and we’re getting off topic,” he chides gently. “Your name? Remember?”

“I like pet, but for some reason, I feel as though I should have a deep abhorrence for that word.”

“You should!” he says, nearly cutting me off before the words are out of my mouth. I lean back from him a bit as his tone is clipped and his eyes are sharp. Then, he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.

“This may be one of those things that slipped your mind,” he begins, “but Lincoln called me ‘pet.’” I nearly choke on my brandy.

“Oh… yeah… no,” I say, finishing off the amber liquid. He pours me another drink.

“I liked love and kitten,” I say,but Jason calls Gail Love…”

“And Ethan calls Mia kitten,” Christian says.

“Oh, yeah, that’s right,” I say, twisting my lips. “How about kitty? I like that one, too.”

“Too close to kitten,” he says. He moves the glass to his lips and stops.

“What is it?” I ask. He smiles widely before taking a sip of his drink.

“I’ve got it,” he says, placing his glass on the coffee table. “You like kitten and kitty, two variations of a feline, but we can’t use them because I don’t want to feel like I’m Domming my kid sister.”

“Your point?” I say. He leans in close to me, his face mere inches from mine.

Pussycat,” he breathes in his Dom voice… and my panties are instantly wet. I swallow hard.

“I… I like that,” I choke out, abandoning any bit of “cool” I may have previously had.

“I thought you would,” he says, retrieving his glass. “I like it, too.” He leans back on the sofa, swirling the brandy around in his glass and looking salaciously at me with a confident half smirk on his face. I clear my throat.

“We’re supposed to be talking,” I say, trying not to gulp down the rest of my brandy.

“I thought we were,” he says, raising an eyebrow at me.

“I… suddenly don’t know what else to say,” I pant, trying to remain calm, but failing miserably as I mindlessly swallow the rest of my second brandy and flinch as the spirits shock my throat and burn their way down my chest. Christian bottoms out his first brandy and puts the snifter on the table. He takes my glass from my hand and places it on the table next to his. Moving closer to me on the sofa, he leans in to me until I can only focus on his eyes through my hormone-and-brandy-induced haze.

“Weekdays have been a real bitch for me lately, Anastasia,” he says, his voice low and his face mere breaths away from mine. “Seeing that it’s Saturday night and the past two days have been just as shitty, what I’d like to do now is to take you upstairs to our room, tie you to our bed, and fuck you within an inch of your sanity. Or…” He leans in even closer, “I can bind your wrists and fuck you right here. It really doesn’t matter either way to me, as long as I get to fuck you. What do you say to that?” I swallow hard again.

“I’d say that I’d like that very much,” I squeak. His lips brush mine and he speaks the next words against my mouth.

“Upstairs… or here?” he breathes. The word is barely a whisper.

“Here.”

*-*

Christian is asleep and I’m wide awake, lying on the floor in the library. He’s wrapped around me and a blanket is wrapped around us both, the light from the moon and from the fire illuminating the room. This is only the second or third time in weeks that I’ve seen him sleeping so peacefully, which is a shame since two of those times were most likely aided by sheer exhaustion from concern for his brother.

Lying on my back and looking at the ceiling, I can’t help but go over the events of the holiday season…

Chuck tried to rip out his esophagus from swallowing a taste of champagne.

Mikey got up and just started walking out of nowhere, and Minnie’s not far behind him. We’re going to have to start childproofing the house very soon.

I got word that the bitch Deanna Carson who threatened to attempt to seduce my husband and then made good on her threat was one of the employees that was fired for failing the drug test and is now part of a class action suit against GEH. I plan to put a stop to that shit.

My husband is working long ass hours trying to save his company from going down the toilet and I can’t shake the feeling that he’s the only one who seems to care about it.

Carrick’s brother Freeman looks like he’s not going to be a problem for the brothers for a while. I don’t know what’s happening with the harassment charges that Christian brought against him and the assault charges from Burtie, but he dropped that ridiculous case protesting the legitimacy of the life insurance policy, and Lanie told me that he has signed the divorce papers and agreed to Nell’s demands. It would have left him in the hole a bit, but he got their house in Farmington and the proceeds from Burt’s life insurance as well as Burt’s house in Detroit. I don’t know the value of everything, but apparently, he got what he wanted.

I accused my husband of longing for a submissive from his prior life, which sent us into nearly a week of silence and avoidance and caused me to turn my home into the Land That Christmas Fucking Well Wouldn’t Forget in an attempt to escape the situation. I had to have the house professionally un-decorated to remove all that stuff… but I have it all stored away, just in case!

Marilyn flies back in today, and I can barely wait to see her! I asked if she needed a ride home from the airport, but she said that she would just like the evening to herself to regroup and acclimate to being back in Seattle. So, I’ll see her at the office tomorrow.

Harmony will be moving into Escala at the end of the week once the closing is final. I feel a bit melancholy about that, almost like I did when Daddy said that he was leaving the house in Montesano. Yes, that was where Christian gained his Dom legs and beat and fucked 15 brown haired submissives, but that’s also where we built our lives, where we cut our teeth on many firsts. The place holds some fond memories for us, and some not so fond ones as well, but it’s where we officially became The Greys.

And, of course, my sister and best friend lost her baby.

I think that about sums it up.

Feeling a combination of sorrow, nostalgia, and melancholy from reviewing the major events of the past few weeks, I feel a tear slide down my temple and into my ear.

Pussycat. We decided on Pussycat. Never in a million years would I have expected him to come up with that name, but surprisingly, I really like it. My mind immediately wanders to the conversations that I had with clusters of other soumises. Listening to them speak so freely about their relationships and their roles, being able to slip into a submissive state of mind so quickly and easily, being able to be everything my Dominus needs at a moment’s notice… I try very hard not to think about how far I have to go and how much I need to learn. I try to only focus on the journey and making this a rewarding experience for us both.

My mind then floats to my conversation with Savvina and how she basically told me that I had no idea what I was doing or feeling…

“No, you don’t. You don’t find Nirvana, peace, or even subspace until it’s over and he makes you come. This. Is. Not. Just. For. Him. As his wife, this is for you, too. Until you fully understand that, you’re in a dangerous place.”

I’m afraid. I’ll admit it. I’ve sat wondering more than once if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. This isn’t a game anymore. This isn’t “dabbling” as our mentors referred to it. This is the real thing—a real-life, full-on, BDSM relationship. We said that we wouldn’t be 24/7, but I don’t know how we can’t be. I’ve immersed myself in research and websites and blog pages, chats with trusted soumises, and everything that I’m reading and seeing and hearing says that you will submerge yourself in this lifestyle in one way or another.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you have to walk around in spandex and leather 25/8… or 24/7, but it does mean that you have to always be mindful of your Dominus just as he has to always be mindful of you—and there’s a lot involved in being mindful.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the onslaught of information that just popped into my head as I lie here in the dark in my husband’s arms, I squeeze my eyes shut tight, and another tear slides down my temple. On cue, my husband pulls me closer to him, and kisses the tear from my temple.

“Sleep,” he says, softly, and with surprisingly little effort, I close my eyes, and fall asleep.


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

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

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Introduction to Seasons…

Someone made a really good point to me quite a while back in a comment in an attempt to make me stop writing. They told me that the story was really good, but that I should have stopped at Book III because that’s where the story stopped.

They were right.

Don’t panic; I’m not going to stop writing, but I just want to point something out and make an announcement to those of you who have seen a significant change in the writing from Book I to Book IV.

For a story to continue, characters must change, people must die, situations and dramas must develop—things don’t stay the same. As a result, you may lose readers. People may lose interest. They may not be happy with the direction of the tale.

And you know what? That’s okay.

I stopped watching TV because it just wasn’t holding my interest anymore, but I was still diehard on some series just because I was… until they didn’t hold my interest anymore either.

I fussed and I screamed and I jumped up and down and had a temper tantrum when Grey’s Anatomy killed off McDreamy, but people still watch Grey’s Anatomy.

There was an episode of Scandal where some young black kid was killed and Olivia Pope came to the rescue and some black activist looking for his fifteen minutes of fame starts bashing her right there on the scene loosely referring to her as a tool used by the white man to get the black folks to shut up (not his exact words), all I could see was some flighty-ass “brother” looking for attention and bringing separatism to the black community instead of relief to the family. As a result, I watched the first few minutes of that episode and never watched Scandal again, but other people watched Scandal all the way to the end.

And guess what? Shondaland didn’t die because I stopped watching and my story won’t die because certain people stopped reading and lost or lose interest. But Shondaland and my broken love affair with Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal (when it was on) made me realize something…

The “Christian and Ana Show” did end with Book III. That’s where they got married, had their kids, and their “happily ever after” began. Once you get to Book IV, you are now in the series—the soap opera. You are now in the Downton Abbey, the Days of Our Lives, the Game of Thrones (before it ended), General Hospital of the Christian and Ana saga and how they interact with other people and the other dramas that occur from those interactions.

As a result, Book IV will be renamed Season IV, and the chapters renamed Episodes. This way, there will be no confusion for those of the mind that the particular Christian and Ana story stopped at Book III. You’re right. The rest of the series is now called

The Misadventures of Christian and Ana and Their Crazy Friends

It will be named Misadventures for short, and each season will most likely still have a title of its own. Enjoy. Or don’t. But don’t ever suggest that I stop writing. I won’t 😊

Smoochies!

~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 92—Getting Ready for Christmas

Two more chapters after this one…

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

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 92—Getting Ready for Christmas

ANASTASIA

I’m awakened by small slaps on my face… very small. What the hell?

I open my eyes to my daughter’s chubby little face. It takes me a moment to get my bearings. I’m not quite sure what has happened.

I stretch to find that I’m in my bed, still fully dressed, and Minnie is in her PJ’s. How did we get in this predicament?

Once I’m able to focus a bit more, I realize that my daughter is sealed inside of a three-walled pillow fort, of which my body is the fourth wall. And it suddenly makes sense. Christian put us here. I fell asleep in the window seat with Minnie in my arms. I just didn’t want to sleep alone again, even if it meant being crunched in the dreaded window seat. But I slept like the dead, and awoke to my daughter, not Christian. So, I still don’t know if I slept alone.

“Come on, Minnie Mouse,” I say, getting out of bed and retrieving my babbling baby. “It’s bathtime…”

After a short stint at Helping Hands to make sure the place wasn’t going to crumble to the ground, I let the troops know that I’ll be working from home for the rest of the week and head out. I’ve got to get the house and the meal ready for Christmas in three damn days and I still have a little Christmas shopping left to do. I’m back at home by two and decide that I need a partner in crime. It would usually be Marilyn, but…

“Hey, what are you doing this afternoon?”

“Nothing. I don’t have any appointments until tomorrow. What’s up?”

“I need to do some shopping. Are you up to come with?”

“Sure. Sounds like fun. Where do you want to meet?”

“I’m looking for some particular decorations for the house and the table. Meet me at the Marketplace…”

So, I find myself running around the Marketplace with Maxie in the afternoon, picking out some of the corniest decorations and tchotchkes to turn my house and kitchen and tables into a winter wonderland. It’s Minnie and Mikey’s first Christmas, and I want it to be special.

“Good Lord, Steele, I know you have a mansion, but do you really have room for all this crap you’re buying?” Maxie scolds.

“Actually, I don’t think I have enough,” I reply. “I won’t know until I start putting things together and there’s a hole somewhere.” She stares at me for a moment. “What?”

“Are you okay?” she asks. Oh, no, we’re not having this conversation.

“No, I’m not okay,” I reply. “I found out this weekend that Christmas is going to be at my house. I put off doing decorations because there always seemed to be something more important going on. Now, I’m going to have a house full of guests—some of them from out of town, by the way—and I don’t have a single bulb, light, or piece of garland anywhere. I have no idea how many guests are actually going to be there, and I don’t have the help of my P.A. Quite frankly, I’m a bit panic stricken, but I’m just going to grab some shit, order some groceries, and make it do what it do. You’re invited, by the way.” She raises her brow.

“Ew, when you put it that way, I can see why you’re losing your mind. Thanks for the invite, but Phil and I will be with family. Speaking of P.A., have you heard from Gary yet? I twist my lips.

“Kinda,” I say, handing poinsettias to Chuck and Ben. “I sent the ‘hey bitch’ email to him and I get ‘hey bitch’ back.”

“Ow,” she says.

“Tell me about it,” I say, handing my Amex Black to the vendor. “I’m really starting to resent it. I didn’t do anything wrong and I don’t understand why I’m being ignored and treated this way. The psychiatrist in me can’t be logical right now. We’ve been friends for way too long for this shit.” I sign the receipt and retrieve my copy along with my card. The guys take turns running to the car while I continue shopping.

“You know these things take time,” Maxie says. “I don’t have all the details, but I’m assuming there’s a real hurtin’ put on him since we haven’t heard anything from him in weeks…”

“Max!” I hear a woman’s voice call out to my friend and I turn my head to see who it is.

“Jade, hey,” Maxie says in a friendly voice. Very friendly… familiar. “I thought you had class today.”

“Cancelled, last minute,” Jade says as she closes in on Maxie and they give each other those cheek hugs—the sincere ones, not the air kisses. What’s this? “Now, I’m scrambling to get a meal together for RJ and the boys. You know they’re hopeless without me.” She laughs and Maxie nods before turning to me.

“Ana, this is my friend, Jade. Jade, this is…”

“Ana Grey, of course. Everyone knows Ana Grey.” She smiles widely and extends her hand to me. “Max told me she knows you and I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been just dying to meet you.”

Strange. Max hasn’t told me a thing about you.

“Jade,” I say, returning her smile and accepting her proffered hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“At the risk of sounding forward,” she begins, leaning in to me conspiratorially. And here we go. Am I going to get some inappropriate question about my husband’s dick size? “Can we all hang out sometimes? Your fashion sense is insane, and I’d love some tips. I need to come out of the Mom-jean-mu-mu look!”

And I feel like shit.

“Sure,” I say, faking the biggest smile I can.

“Yeah, I’ll set up a lunch or a girl’s day or something,” Maxie intervenes, noting my discomfort.

“You know the rules,” Jade says cheerfully, “plenty of notice please!” She and Maxie laugh sincerely, and I so feel like the outsider. “Wow, Ana Grey shops at the Marketplace like the rest of us mere mortals! I feel so privileged!”

I know it was meant to be a compliment… or I think it was meant to be a compliment, but I still feel a little slighted.

“Well, I’d love to stay and chat,” she says, “but like I said, hungry men at my house. See ya Saturday, Max?” she adds, waving as she’s walking off, thank God.

“I’ll be there,” Maxie says, waving back. When she’s out of sight, Max turns to me.

“I’m sorry, Ana,” Maxie apologizes. For what, not telling me about your new friend sooner? “I didn’t mean to put you on the spot like that. I can fend her off if you don’t want to ‘hang out.’” She makes the finger quotes and I know she’s trying to let me off the hook.

“No, it’s okay,” I tell her. “Whatever is convenient for you guys. At least she didn’t ask me one of those terribly indiscreet sexual questions,” I say rolling my eyes. Maxie’s expression is horrified.

“What?” she inquires.

“Oh, yes,” I say, picking at something in a booth that I’m not even slightly interested in. “Any woman who suddenly feels ‘friendly’ with me will immediately ask me about my husband’s bedroom skills… or his dick size.” Maxie swallows hard.

“Oh, my God, you’re kidding!” she gasps. “I mean, I’m a woman. I can understand the curiosity… but that’s so crass and rude!” I nod.

“Oh, my friend,” I sigh, “you don’t know the half of it. It’s a tragic cross to bear.”

“Well, Jade’s not like that. I promise you,” she says, examining a nearby jewelry box. We’re silent for a moment, then I approach the elephant in the Marketplace.

“So, how did you guys meet?” I ask her, trying not to put too much emphasis on the topic although I’m chomping at the bit to know.

“She’s in my ‘Mommy and Me’ group,” Maxie says, examining the jewelry box more closely, considering the purchase. “She has four boys and her youngest, Blaine, is the same age as Mindy.” She hands the jewelry box to the vendor to be wrapped, finally deciding to purchase it.

“I didn’t know you were in a ‘Mommy and Me’ group,” I say, still trying not to pry, but really wanting to. Who is this Jade person? Why haven’t we met? Why hasn’t Maxie said anything to me about her? And what’s this Max shit? Her name’s not Max—it’s Maxie!

Suddenly, I realize the animated conversation in my head is one-sided and Maxie is looking at me questioning.

“What?” I ask, defensively.

“You got a new beau?” she asks. I frown. Did she hear about the Liam Alienation? I didn’t think that shit was public! Has he been talking to people??

“Why would you ask me that?” I ask, horrified. God, please, don’t let Liam be spreading untruths.

“You have a handful of tightie-whities. Christian doesn’t strike me as the type.” She points to my hands and I look down and realize that in an attempt to appear nonchalant, I’ve fisted two handfuls of briefs. Shit!

“No,” I say, trying to stack the underwear neatly the way I found them. I don’t have an answer for why I’m groping men’s underwear, so I don’t bother to offer one. It’s not like I have to, though. Maxie used to be my therapist. There’s no hiding shit from her.

“Out with it, Steele,” she says, reverting to my maiden name again.

“Out with what?” I say, still organizing the underwear. When I look over at her, she simply raises a brow at me. “I just… didn’t know you made a new friend, that’s all. No big deal.” I shrug, trying to downplay the situation. Maxie smiles at me as she hands the vendor her credit card.

“Ana,” she says, shifting her weight on her feet, “you’re right. It’s not a big deal. We get it, and we don’t hold any ill will, but the Scooby Gang isn’t really the Scooby Gang anymore. Phil and I have had a child. Gary is branching out on love with Marilyn—even though it’s not looking so great these days…” I roll my eyes and nod. “And no offense, but you, Val and Al have pretty much trio’ed off, for good reason. You and Al have always been the closest and now, he’s your corporate attorney—and Val married your brother-in-law, not to mention that whole cancer thing.

“Nobody’s pointing any fingers or complaining about being left out, but… we kinda were. You still include us in celebrations and things, and we know that you still love us, but we just don’t… hang out like we used to, and that’s okay. We’re growing up, but it leaves time and space to make new friends. Those things just happen. As long as you don’t just completely ditch us and leave us in the dust, we’re grown-ups and we know how real life goes. And face it, Steele… you have a new friend or three that hasn’t been introduced to me, and if you don’t, you should get out more.”

She winks at me, causing me to smile and push her with my shoulder. It’s strange seeing my friend make friends that I’m not privy to, or that we didn’t meet together, but she’s right. Things change, people change, and that’s okay, but during the course of those changes, it’s important not to let your valuable friendships fall by the wayside.

I really need to get in touch with Gary…

*-*

Sophie has quite the bit of decorating sense along with her extensive knowledge of food to be so young. She admits that it comes from things like watching Martha Stewart and such, so I’ve enlisted her help in decorating the house for as long as she feels like doing it, along with the unlucky members of the staff. I appear to be spending more time with Sophie than I am with my husband, but it’s also part of making sure that she’s not too bored for her Christmas vacation. It’s going to take all the way until Christmas to get the house finished, and this is a chore that I can’t delegate. We’re down in my parlor with the door closed, all of my wares from the Marketplace along with last year’s Christmas decorations strewn all over the room, trying to decide which decorations should go where.

There’s an insane wreath for the front door, and the “formal” Christmas tree will be in the grand entry with empty wrapped boxes underneath, but how many of the windows should have wreaths… and which ones?

How many lights is too many lights?

Is a life-sized nutcracker soldier at the guard booth a bit too much?

To tinsel or not to tinsel? That is the question…

Wait a minute… crawling babies that like to put everything in their mouths… not to tinsel! Definitely not to tinsel!

Where’s that blueprint of the house Jason showed me once?

Yep, this is going to be an epic undertaking, and I’ve got two days to make it happen… while Scrooge is at work, because I don’t want him kiboshing any of my ideas. I’ll do all the behind-the-scenes things tonight and tomorrow, like decorating the trees that are not in the “in-your-face” places, putting the lights and garland out and creating centerpieces and décor for flat surfaces. Then on Wednesday, we’ll tackle the big stuff, like the Nutcracker soldier, the lighted snowballs for the lawn, and the ice globe lanterns and snowball tree for the backyard. I would literally fight him on any of this if he tried to fight me, but hell, he may not even notice.

At the last minute, I find a nativity scene large enough to go on the lawn next to the drive outside of the gate that wasn’t one of those horrible cut-out scenes. I paid the fortune it costs for overnight shipping so that it’ll be here by Christmas Eve. Then I plot out how many people will be here for Christmas dinner. I lost count at the possibility of 20 – 30, so I just did a menu and grocery list for 40. I thought about having it catered, but that would mean people in my house that I really don’t know at Christmas. So, it looks like I’ll be breaking out the chef’s apron with Ms. Solomon and the staff.

It won’t matter. I’ve decided that since my marriage seems like it’s going through a bit of the for worse parts of our vows, I’m going to start taking joy in some of the things that I did when I was just Ana Steele—like cooking. For the first time, I’m regretting having someone staying in my condo. I wish I could go there and escape like I normally do, but it’s just location. Christian doesn’t spend a lot of time in the common places of the house, so if I plan a kitchen takeover a couple of times a week, he wouldn’t notice either way. Luckily, with the Christmas meal, I can definitely stretch my chef legs as long as I want.

We were able to get so much more done than I thought we would…

Beautiful, lush, green evergreen garland accented with plush red bows and delicate lighting line several doorways and nearly every balustrade except for the main staircase—that has to be done on Christmas Eve.

We managed to get the three trees on the sublevel decorated.

I’ve got a jillion centerpieces and table decorations, from silk flowers with candles and evergreen garland to wine glasses and hurricanes filled with lights, various color bulbs, acorns, and fake snow. They’ll be going on just about every surface that can accommodate them.

There are various wreaths—bulb wreaths, garland wreaths, flower wreaths, etc., on the windows and doors at the back of the house.

By early evening, I’m all tuckered out. My parlor—or workspace—looks like Tropical Storm Shaniqua hit it, but I’ll have to tidy up tomorrow when I get back to decorating.

It’s past dinner time and I’m just not in the mood for a large meal, so I ask Ms. Solomon if she wouldn’t mind making me one of her Hawaiian ham sandwiches. Curious, Sophie asks if she can have one, too. So, Ms. Solomon whips up two of the delicious creations along with a winter drink that makes my head spin.

“What is this?” I ask when I sip the sweet beverage.

“Cranberry-apple cider. I thought you might like a tiny bit of variety from your usual spritzer.”

“It’s delicious!” I exclaim. I look over at Sophie for confirmation, and half her drink is already gone.

“I think it’s a hit. We have to add this to the holiday menu. I’ll get a large drink dispenser tomorrow for easy service,” I say.

“No need, we already have one,” Ms. Solomon says.

“Will it be too much trouble?” I ask. She scoffs and waves me off.

“Not at all. Besides, I’m accustomed to the work that goes into making the holidays special,” she replies.

“It’s going to be a lot of work,” I warn. “I don’t even know how many people are going to be here.”

“More than fifty?” she asks. I shake my head.

“I lost my count somewhere between 20 and 30, and there’s usually a do-drop or three, so I’m preparing for 40.” Ms. Solomon’s brow furrows.

“Do-drop?” she asks. I nod.

“Random people who do tend to drop in… ‘do-drops.’” Realization dawns on her face.

“Okay, that makes sense,” she replies.

“Don’t worry,” I say, “I’ll be right here getting my hands dirty with you.”

“That’s not necessary,” Ms. Solomon scolds. “The staff and I will be able to handle it.”

“Oh, I welcome the task, believe me,” I say, taking another bite of the delectable sandwich.

“May I have another?” Sophie asks. I look over at her plate and there’s nothing left but crumbs. I can’t help but laugh.

“Of course, you can, sweet girl,” Ms. Solomon says as she begins to make another sandwich.

“Good, huh?” I say with a smile. Sophie nods.

“Really good!” she says. “Can you teach me how to make them?” Ms. Solomon raises her eyes to Sophie and it almost looks like she’s about to cry. I await her response, knowing the history of the sandwich.

“Of course,” she says, smiling sadly and hiding the crack in her voice. Her sadness doesn’t get past the very perceptive Sophie.

“I’m sorry,” Sophie says. “I didn’t mean to upset you.” Ms. Solomon shakes her head.

“It’s nothing, child,” she replies. “It’s just that… all these years, people have only asked me to make the sandwiches. They’re so quick and easy to do, but no one has ever asked me to show them how. It’s a good thing, don’t worry. I’m glad to give the recipe to someone new. Come. Get your apron. I’ll show you now.”

I watch with a strange sense of pride while Ms. Solomon shows Sophie how to make the delicious sandwich. Sophie catches on right away and makes a second sandwich for which I must be the guinea pig. She plates it perfectly and sets it in front of me.

“It’s delicious,” I say when I take a bite.

“Tell me the truth,” Sophie says. “Is it different than Ms. Solomon’s? Does it taste like I missed anything or heated the pineapple for too long?” She surprises me with her knowledge of food. She knows that if she heats the pineapple for too  long, it changes the texture and usually the flavor.

“Sophie, it’s perfect,” I say, taking another bite. “May I have some more cider?” I ask with a full mouth of delicious ham, cheese, and pineapple. Ms. Solomon and Sophie laugh at me, and Sophie sits to eat her own sandwich while Ms. Solomon gets me another cider. The sandwich really is very good, and I happily sit there and eat the rest of it while Sophie and I discuss the plans for tomorrow.

We’re both pretty tuckered out after “dinner” and Sophie thanks me for including her in the decorating.

“I remember decorating stuff when Dad was home,” she says. “Me and Mom just… didn’t. I got some gifts and stuff, but the first real anything I remember since Mom and Dad split up was last Thanksgiving with you guys.” I feel sad for her knowing that.

“How do you feel this Christmas?” I ask. “I mean, you know…”

“With Mom being in jail?” she asks. “I don’t know. I don’t even think about it. If she wasn’t in jail, she’d be somewhere getting high, so what’s the difference? When I think about her and everything that happened, it really makes me mad, so I don’t think about it. I try to focus on things that make me happy. Does that make me selfish?”

It’s so sad that this 13-year-old girl has to ask herself questions like this—if it’s selfish for her not to think about her drug-addict mother who tried to sell her for a fix so that she can be happy.

“You’ll have to deal with it one day, but for right now, I think you’re doing just fine,” I reply. She hugs me around my waist and squeezes tight. The gesture catches me off guard and nearly takes my breath away.

“Thank you, Aunt Ana,” she says, her voice angelic. I embrace her warmly and kiss her hair.

“You’re welcome, Sophie,” I say, softly. “Now, get some sleep. We’ve got a lot to do, and I really can’t do it without my helper.” She pushes away from me and looks up at me with a smile.

“Yes, you can,” she says, sweetly, “but you won’t have to.” She smiles, then turns and walks through the family room towards her apartment.

“No… I can’t,” I whisper to her retreating form.

The children have been put to bed and I find myself tired, but still quite awake. I wander down to the movie room and sit in one of the luxurious chairs. They’re large and comfortable and they recline almost to a horizontal position. I scroll through the available movies with the remote and settle on The Lake House with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves.

Yeah, this is perfect—two lovers separated by time that will never be together, it seems.

I get all the way to the part when Keanu’s character, Alex shows up at Kate’s birthday party—played by Sandra, of course—which she clearly didn’t want to have. As many times as I have watched this movie, I’ve always wondered how appropriate it is to invite people that neither of you knew to a birthday party for your girlfriend. She was doing her internship and she looked exhausted, but then she comes home to a house full of people, some of them strangers.

That kind of happened to me when Daddy adopted me, but I didn’t mind the party and the only stranger present was Brian’s doppelganger girlfriend, Ana, Jr. I wonder what ever happened to her and if she and Brian are still together.

I lean back in the chair and get comfortable watching one of my favorite scenes in the movie, when Alex and Kate are dancing outside while her birthday party is going on inside—two unlikely lovers falling in love at a very inopportune time. I remember that they kiss at the end of this scene.

How can someone who has committed themselves to someone even wrap their heads around the concept of kissing someone else? It’s something that I never could understand. Even when Liam was leaning in to kiss me, I knew it was wrong and all I could think was, “No, this ain’t Christian.”

I watch as they embrace each other passionately as Paul McCartney sings that song, This Is the Way It Should Be. I don’t remember the last time I heard that song, but I remember clearly the last time I thought of it. It was when Christian and I made love on the hood of his RS7 after our very first visit to a BDSM club. I remember thinking that nothing could go wrong as long as we were together—nothing…

The song ends as Alex and Kate get lost in their kiss.

*-*

I awake right where I fell asleep. There are no windows in the movie room, so I can’t tell if it’s morning. When I reach for the remote, I discover that I’m wrapped in a velour throw and I’m lying on a pillow.

Shit, these chairs are almost as comfortable as my bed!

I push the status button on the remote, waking the movie screen, and the time pops up in life-sized numbers… 8:53am. Whatever I’m going to do, it’s time to get up from here. I stand and stretch before grabbing my wayward hair and tying it in a knot behind me. The hair of the “short part” falls out and brushes my shoulder. Of course, I’m not bald over there anymore, but it’s still nowhere near as long as the rest of my hair. I’m used to that side doing its own thing, though.

I fold the throw and place it and the pillow neatly in the seat, then stumble my way to the kitchen. No one is in the kitchen when I arrive which is odd, but there’s still coffee in the coffee pot. I pour myself a large mug of black coffee and make my way back downstairs. I look at my parlor as I pass and it’s a tsunami of Christmas rubble. I groan when I see it and proceed to my office.

I check my calendar to see if anything important is happening today. If it is, it’s not in my calendar. Chuck informed me yesterday that Maddie and Nelson have opted to stay here over the Christmas holiday. That makes me happy. I know they would have slightly more privacy at the Bainbridge house, but Chuck does need to be on call, and having them that far away means that he has to schedule visits to see them. That kind of defeats the purpose of them coming to Seattle, doesn’t it? I type out a text to Gail that they’ll be staying with us until just after the new year and to prepare one of the guest rooms for their stay.

I open my email to touch bases with the world again. Carl has emailed me again about the auction for Tina’s jewelry. It’s going to be the day after Christmas. I can’t help but think how bad that marketing strategy is—well, maybe not. People are always looking for good deals at after Christmas sales, but that’s not the type of money that you would hope to pull in from a charity auction, is it?

Carl’s probably not even concerned about that. After having to deal with Tina’s brood of misfit children, he’s probably only concerned about getting everything taken care of and closing up shop. No doubt, at this time of year, that’s the soonest that he could get into the auction house and he simply didn’t want to wait.

To be honest, I can’t even imagine going to a jewelry auction right now. There’s just too much going on in the immediate to make plans for it even in the future. I send him an email and politely decline.

I spent part of yesterday sending out emails and texts to everyone that Christmas would be at the Crossing this year and asking that they RSVP that they’re aware that Christmas festivities will start somewhere around 2pm. And as I’m counting, I was right to prepare for 40 people. As I’m going through my emails, my phone rings with a text. It’s Grace.

**Are you coming in today? **

Uh, oh… is something wrong?

Ana: I hadn’t planned to. I’m getting the house and meal situated for Christmas. Do you need me? Is everything okay? **

Grace: Dammit, I forgot I dumped that on you at the last minute! I’m sorry. No, I was just waiting to see if there were any special plans for Christmas besides the holiday meal. **

Ana: Do you think it’s too late to arrange for Santa Claus to come by? I think it would be nice and I know we have the money in the budget. **

Grace: That’s a great idea! Why didn’t I think of that? I’ll arrange it. The kids will love it and so will the parents. I’ll put Helen and Ebony in charge of it on Christmas. Helen asked to work and Ebony loves kids. **

Ana: That sounds great, and don’t worry about me and Christmas. The task turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I’m stretching my long-dormant domestic legs. It’s great! You’re really going to love it. **

Grace: I’m so glad to hear that. When my mind is clear, I feel like I’m taking advantage of your talents and kindness. I’m sorry if I’ve made you feel that way. **

You have, but that statement is the best Christmas present you’ve ever given me.

Ana: Thank you, Grace. That means a lot to me. ❤ **

Grace: You mean a lot to me, Ana dear. Please don’t forget that even though I may behave like a horse’s ass sometimes. **

I literally laugh out loud.

Her final text is to tell me that she’s seeing her doctor this afternoon like I suggested and that she’s emailing me the confirmed final choices for tutors and teachers for my approval. That bump we faced was a pretty big one, but she is my mother-in-law after all, and hopefully, we’ve gotten past it and the future will look a little smoother.

I go through my emails and my heart leaps a bit when I see one from Christian. It falls like a block of lead when I realize that it’s work-related. I click on the email, knowing that he really wouldn’t send it to me unless it was important, knowing how I feel about GEH right now.

And it is.

It’s actually good news for me. The mandatory drug tests are nearly complete and out of all the people tested, so far only eight have returned with positive drug tests for various controlled substances. In a zero-tolerance company, this is grounds for immediate dismissal. The violators have indicated that they’ll sue, and even I with my limited knowledge of law and business know that they don’t stand even the slightest chance. The drugs are varied, even in a small group—marijuana, cocaine, meth, heroine—and the name at the top of the list? Deanna Carson!

Merry fucking Christmas, bitch!

I close the email and smile. This won’t be the last she hears from me, even though she doesn’t know that she’s hearing from me now, but it’s a really good start.

I look at my phone and decide that I need to bust a bit of a mission myself. I do a bit of Googling, dial some numbers, get stuck in a phone tree and after a bit of finagling, I get Gary’s number at his desk at City of Lights. He’s so busy at that place and I know that he won’t answer, but I have to try.

“Hello, you’ve reached the voice mail of Garrett Pope. I’m not available to take your call right now but leave me a message and I’ll call you back. Bye.”

“No, you won’t,” I say sadly before the phone beeps. “Hi, Gary. I know you told me to leave you alone… and that you couldn’t talk right now. I… I’ve just never known a time when we couldn’t talk, not since the first day we met.”

I clear my throat and realize that I’m getting choked up.

“Christmas is just a few days away… and no one should be alone on Christmas…”

I swallow my tears and keep talking.

“If you’re worried about running into her, she won’t be here,” I add with a sniff. “Just… call me… please…”

I end the call before bursting into tears. I’m emotional anyway trying to deal with Christian’s ire and the fucking holidays and the fact that I agreed to have Christmas at my house with only three days’ notice. I quickly dry my tears and turn my focus to something more constructive than the fact that two of the men in my life are rejecting me right now.

I need to take a shower and get my day started since there’s still so much to do. I take the elevator straight upstairs and make a B-line to my room. I really don’t want to explain tears to anyone this early in the morning. I strip out of my clothes and turn the shower on as hot as I can stand it. Then I get in, let the water run over my head, and cry.

It’s a cleansing cry, just to get out all the pent-up frustration—over nothing and everything, so that I’m not talking to Sophie about some random thing and it suddenly turns into a nostalgic tear-fest over some specific color of red.

Motown music will be piping through the communication system today.

I don a pair of yoga pants and an oversize cable-knit sweater—which suddenly gives me a great idea for the cookie bake. It’s actually going to spread over two days now since I have more ideas for cookies, and I’ll most likely be in the kitchen for three days. The grocery delivery will be coming today, and things have to start being prepared, like cooking three turkeys. There’s a science to cooking three turkeys for Christmas so that all the meat is hot for Christmas day. Two will be cooked and carved on Christmas Eve and the third will be cooked on Christmas day.

Then there are the many side dishes that will be prepared, the cookie tins I’m going to make, the desserts, the beverages, etc…

I walk across the hall to my babies room and open the door. There’s Keri fixing Minnie’s outfit, and Gail is on the floor playing with Mikey. When he sees me at the door, he pushes himself to his feet and just toddles right across the room to me.

Three women are staring gape-mouthed at my son. I look up at Gail and point to my son who is now holding onto my legs and looking up at me with a four-toothed drooling grin.

“Wha… ho… di… e… when di…?” I can’t even get a full sentence out. What I’m trying to ask is had he shown any progress towards walking besides the one or two steps we had seen him take. Gail just shakes her head and looks at me, wide-eyed.

“He just got up and started walking!” she says in amazement and turns to Keri. “Did you see that? He just got up and started walking!”

“Ah see! Ah see!” Keri says. “Whut a wanhduhful Chtissmas ptesant!”

“It is indeed!” I say, bending down to retrieve my son. “Mikey’s walking!” I beam. “Such a good boy. Are you going to teach your sister now?”

“Bah bah bah bah!” he says, patting both my cheeks with his hands. I’m all warm and happy inside to see my baby boy get up and walk on his own. I only wish I could have caught the moment on video, but I’m not too soon to forget it.

With the help of the staff and lots of additional labor that Gail had the foresight to hire, we’ve gotten all the decorating done before 3pm—all the trees, including the giant bulb tree in the backyard and the ice globe lanterns that can be seen from the lake. The big boat house and the boat house at the end of the dock are covered in lights along with some of the surrounding trees. The back balconies have been decorated with lights and giant illuminated candy canes. Giant bulbs grace the front lawn before you get to the portico and a large wreath greets you at the front door.

Sophie and I have started my extra Christmas cookie bake, which are additional batches of gingerbread and sugar cookies to be decorated in various ways. I’ve also got a million empty cookie tins to fill and give away. Even with four professional ovens, there’s going to be way too much going on to be hogging any stoves with cookies besides the traditional Christmas Eve cookie bake.

We’re just finishing the tree and stairs in the grand entry when Chuck arrives with Maddie and Nelson. I’m so glad they decided to stay with us this year. I give them warm hugs and introduce them to my gorgeous babies.

“Oh, that’s right!” Maddie says. “You were pregnant when we last saw you! My gosh, babies grow so fast!”

Knowing that he’s the topic of conversation, Mikey stands again and walks over to Maddie. Chuck’s eyes widen.

“When did that happen?” he asks, pointing at Mikey. I shrug.

“He just got up this morning and started walking,” I inform him. “He’s been running around ever since.”

“Well, what do ya know about that?” Chuck says in amazement. He doesn’t have any of his own children, so he’s experiencing everything first-hand through mine.

“Maddie, Nelson, I know you must be tired from your trip. Are you hungry? Would you like to eat something, or would you rather settle in first?”

Phase one of the Pre-Christmas Eve Cookie Cookoff continue with Maddie helping to shape the sweater cookies that came to mind this morning as well as the cutouts for gingerbread men, Christmas trees, and various other merry shapes to be decorated with icing and candy, including Mickey and Minnie Mice to celebrate my babies’ first Christmas.

Maddie and Nelson tell us their side of the legal battle with Joe over dinner, for which Christian still hasn’t joined us. I haven’t seen him since Sunday afternoon. Were it not for the little hints of his presence, I wouldn’t even know he still lived here. However, with the smell of fresh Christmas cookies filling the air, the sound of my favorite music piping through the sound system, and the fact that my baby boy is up and running around like he’s in a marathon, I find it difficult to be down in the mouth about anything right now.

I take a hot bubble bath to soothe my muscles as I know I have a very busy day ahead of me tomorrow—the rest of the Christmas cookies; the cooking for Christmas combined with entertaining Chuck’s parents when they get back from the festivities he has planned for them; making sure that Mikey who is now walking doesn’t get into any mischief… Jesus, I’m going to have to childproof the house now!

I nearly fall asleep in the bathtub, but I don’t. I climb out and slip into a warm nightshirt, crawl into bed, and say hello to the sandman.

Morning comes so much faster than I expect, but I’m greeted with something that I’ve come not to expect. Christian’s gone, but his side of the bed has been slept in. Maybe that’s why I slept so hard.

If he’s up this early, he’s obviously gone to work. I’m not surprised that he’s working on Christmas Eve. We both worked last year. I just took the day off to host Christmas.

Since I took a bath right before bed, I forego the shower and don yet another pair of yoga pants and a sweater—a Christmas sweater, to be exact. It’s a cute red and white off-the-shoulder oversized sweater with Santa heads lining the top and a winter wonderland lining the bottom. I peek in to check my babies and they’re both asleep, so I head downstairs.

To my delight, Sophie, Gail, and Maddie are all donning aprons and getting the kitchen ready for the mayhem that will be Christmas Eve. Ms. Solomon has agreed to allow us to invade “her” kitchen for the traditional Christmas Eve Cookie Bake as well as whatever dishes I choose to “help” with today with the condition that whatever remains to be done on Christmas that I allow her and the staff to complete it.

“The lady of the house shouldn’t be cooking on Christmas,” she scolds. “That’s why you hired me!” I smile and agree to her conditions. The only things that will be cooked today are two of the three turkeys and things that won’t degrade when you reheat them.

Our Christmas is going to be far from traditional. We’re going to have eight vegetable dishes, four pasta dishes, traditional dressing and my cheesy potatoes, turkey and ham, three different salads and an assortment of crudité, antipasto, hors d’oeuvres  breads, pastries and desserts as well as a variety of beverages.

One of our pasta dishes will be a divine macaroni and cheese that Maddie makes. Everyone who has had it swears to it, including Keri.

Also, to my delight, Nelson and Chuck bond over long conversations out at the smoker. So, one of our turkeys and one of our hams will be slow smoked over Applewood.

Not to be excluded, Sophie has asked permission to prepare an ambrosia salad, while Keri has requested to be able to contribute Jamaican rice and peas. It will be quite the eclectic Christmas indeed.

By mid-afternoon, the house is alive with delicious aromas, laughter and Christmas carols when Windsor announces that Val and Elliot have arrived. I come into the grand entrance to greet my sister and brother just as they’re entering the portico.

“Hey!” I say cheerfully, opening my arms to Valerie. “I’m glad you’re here! The cookie bake is still going on.”

“Oh, dear God, I forgot all about the cookie bake!” she says as she removes her coat. “I heard it was quite the family affair last year. I missed it because of Meg.”

“Well, there’ll be none of that this year,” I say, handing her coat to Windsor while Elliot does the same with his coat. “I’ve probably tripled all my recipes, so there’s plenty more to cook.”

“Tripled?” she asks. “Why?”

“I’m filling cookie tins,” I say. “I’m going to give more away. Plus, you know Christmas was kind of sprung on me this year, so I’m cooking enough food to feed all of Seattle!” I add with a laugh.

“I’m kidding,” I say as my sister and brother laugh with me, “but I anticipate that there will be way too many leftovers for my family, even with guests staying over. So, we’ll be packing up some food for the homeless. I thought cookies would be nice, too, you know?”

“Jesus, Montana, this place looks like Santa’s workshop!” Elliot says, looking around at the explosion of decorations. I look around, too, and roll my eyes.

“Yeah,” I sigh. “I think I may have gotten a little carried away…”

“A little?” Val says. “There are ginormous Christmas bulbs on your lawn and a life-sized Mary and Joseph cradling a six-pound-seven-ounce baby Jesus before we even get in the gate!”

“Oh, wonderful!” I exclaim. “The nativity scene arrived! They didn’t even tell me. How does it look?”

“Like Bethlehem!” Val informs me. I’m giddy with excitement.

“Oh, I have to go see it!” I say, turning to retrieve my coat.

“No need,” Val says. “I took pictures.” She pulls out her phone and opens her gallery. I scroll through picture after picture of various angles of the nativity in the snow outside of my gates complete with an illuminated star above it.

The three wise men, various barn and field animals, angels, the star of Bethlehem, and of course, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. She even has pictures of the house with the lights and the giant bulbs as you approach.

“Oh, Gosh, it’s beautiful,” I say wistfully.

“Steele, it’s insane. What brought this on?” I sigh and twist my lips at her.

 “Oh, come on,” I say, “I know it’s over-the-top, but isn’t it great? I feel like Buddy in that movie Elf. It makes you feel like a kid again, and my babies love it! Come on in. Wait until you see how happy everybody is.”

“Where’s Christian?” Elliot asks as they fall in step behind me.

“At work,” I reply. He and Val look at each other.

“It’s Christmas Eve,” Val says.

“Yep,” I say dismissively. He’ll probably be working tomorrow, too. “Come on, I don’t think you’ve met Chuck’s parents.” I lead the way into the family room where Maddie and Nelson have settled in. Once Elliot and Val catch up to me, I introduce them to Maddie.

“Oh, geez, you guys are cooking and baking cookies. What’s a guy to do?” I hand Val an apron.

“Well, you can help out, or you can go get your coat and go to the barbeque kitchen. Chuck and Nelson are back there smoking meat.”

“I’ll take the barbeque kitchen, thank you,” he says, going to retrieve his coat.

“Okay, Steele, seriously, what are these?” I turn around and see Val looking at the assortment of new cookies on the counters.

“The sugar-cookie-and-icing Christmas tree stacks are Sophie’s creation.” I gesture to Sophie and she curtsies. Val smiles and nods at her.

“Those big, bulky looking sweaters with the white icing—I kind of shaped those by hand. I got the idea from a cable-knit sweater that I was wearing yesterday.”

“You shaped those by hand, Steele?” she asks, and I nod. “That’s pretty good.”

“Thanks,” I reply. “The shapes got a little better when Ms. Solomon informs me that we have cookie cutters, and that’s where these Christmas sweaters came from.” I gesture to the sweaters with different color icing and designs on them.

“Then, of course, she introduced me to the rest of the cookie cutters, and that’s where all the shaped gingerbread cookies came from.”

“What about those?” she asks, pointing to larger gingerbread men and women holding candy canes. “They’re darker. They’re not burnt, are they?”

“No,” I say with a giggle. “That creation is credited to Maddie. That’s a chocolate gingerbread cookie. It’s moist and very tasty, and you get a second treat with it.”

“Oh! Okay, but how are they holding onto the candy canes? Wouldn’t they have melted in the oven?” Val presses.

“Probably,” I tell her, “but Maddie wrapped the dough around chopsticks, then stuck the hands together and baked them that way. Once they were done, we had to carefully remove the chopstick and insert the candy canes. There were more than a few casualties.”

“We ate the evidence,” Maddie interjects, and we laugh. Our laughter is interrupted by Jason walking into the room.

“Hello, ladies,” he says announcing his presence, and various women reply as he walks over to Gail. “Hello, love,” he says quietly while kissing her on the cheek. She blushes a bit and I feel a twinge of envy… just a twinge.

“Maddie, it’s good to see you,” he says to Maddie. “Was your flight okay?”

“As well as can be expected for flying,” she says warmly, giving him a hug.

“You’re here, so that must mean that Christian is present,” Val says. “Where is he, parking the car?” she jests.

“You’ve got jokes,” Jason says with a chuckle, then turns to me.

“He’s in the gym,” he says. “GEH was a bit of a shi… boo-boo storm today, especially with Ros gone.” I furrow my brow.

“I’m an old lady, Jason, but you certainly don’t have to censor yourself for me,” Maddie says. “I’ve heard worse, I assure you.” He smiles at her.

“No offense, lovely lady, but it’s for the babies,” Jason says. “Her Highness insists that we use no profanity around the prince and princess.”

“Her Highness?” Maddie repeats and looks at me. I scoff and Val laughs.

“Did you have to say that?” I lament.

“Never knew what you were getting yourself into when you started that, did you?” he chuckles.

“You started that?” Maddie says with a laugh.

“It was a joooooooooke!” I whine. “When he first met me, he kept calling me ma’am and it was driving me nuts. I told him to call me ‘Ana’ and he just wouldn’t. I made several suggestions—Doctor Lady, Pookie… I would have preferred he called me Pookie than this!”

I wouldn’t,” Gail says matter-of-factly while removing a tray of freshly baked sugar cookies from the oven.

“I wouldn’t mind it so much, but he calls me Her Highness all the time. He only calls me Ana when it slips or when he’s really serious about something. Even the security staff at GEH knows me as Her Highness!” I complain.

“Well, you get what you ask for,” he retorts.

“I asked for Ana!” I counter.

“Too late. It’s Your Highness now,” he says with a smile as he steals a warm sugar cookie. Gail slaps his hand, but she’s too slow.

“Ros is gone?” I ask, bringing the conversation back around. “Gone where?”

“Not gone gone,” Jason clarifies, swallowing the cookie. “She’s on vacation.” My frown deepens.

“Wait a minute… Ros is on vacation while all this shi—… crap is going on?” I ask incredulously.

“I don’t know all the details. You’ll have to ask him, but yeah, she’s gone until after the new year.” Hmmm, so on top of all the GEH bullshit, he’s now dealing with this crap one man… woman short, and every cell in my being is telling me that she did this shit on purpose.

“I know that look, and I’m shamelessly making my getaway,” Jason says. “Where are the men hiding?”

“In the outdoor barbeque kitchen,” Gail says, opening the refrigerator and retrieving a bottle of beer. “Nelson and Chuck are smoking meat and Elliot is out there with them.”

“Hey! Christmas festivities without me?” Harmony says making an entrance from the front of the house.

“Another woman. I’m out,” Jason says, escaping towards the back of the house and the barbeque kitchen.

“Hey, Harmony,” Gail says. “Grab an apron and a potholder. We could certainly use an extra set of hands…” I’m rolling out crust for one of the apple pies and Val walks over to me.

“You didn’t know about that?” she asks. “Ros is like his second in command, right?” I nod, trying to concentrate on rolling the crust out evenly.

“I don’t know much about what’s going on at GEH lately,” I say, perfectly rolling the dough to place into the pie pan.

“You’re half-owner of the company. How do you not know?” she asks, moving the pie pan closer to me. I carefully place the crust into the pan and begin to form it into the crevices.

“That’s not how they treat me,” I say, lowering my voice and brushing the crust with butter. “They tolerate me when I’m there. If I speak, someone could lose their job, and that’s all they really care about. The last time I was there, Christian said that he was doing an audit of the departments to find out why things aren’t being done. Ros asked him right in front of me if legal was going to be audited, too.” Val’s brow furrows.

“Al’s department?” she asks. “Is he fucking up, too?” I glare at her and realize that her voice is too low for the twins to hear her in the next room.

“No,” I reply matter-of-factly. “She illuminated the nepotism and made a point that the other departments would clearly see the favoritism if legal wasn’t audited, too. The bitch didn’t even have the guts to look me in the eye when she was saying that shit!” I hiss quietly as I add the homemade apple mixture into the pie crust.

“Hm,” Val says, “and now she conveniently takes a vacation right in the middle of a shitstorm.”

Right in the middle!” I snap quietly. “He comes in every day and goes straight to the workout room, and she figures that now is a good time to go see Bermuda!” I nearly growl as quietly as I can so as not to draw attention to myself. I’m fighting not to get angry, but I really want to throw something right now. Val looks knowingly at me.

“What?” I ask, besides the fucking obvious.

“Is that why this place looks like the North Pole?” she asks, pointing around herself at the overload of decorations. Looking at them, I’m quickly feeling a bit Christmasy again.

“I just want to be happy, Val,” I tell her. “It’s Christmas. It’s time for eggnog… and cookies… and outrageous decorations… and family… and I just want to be happy.” I shrug and she smiles softly.

“Then let’s be happy,” she says. “You want to do the lattice on that pie, or should I?”

My sister… my friend…

*-*

I still haven’t seen Christian once I’ve put my children down to sleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads.

I’m almost certain that in addition to what may be going on at GEH, he’s avoiding me. It might be a good idea that he’s avoiding me, because I don’t know what to say to him and he clearly doesn’t know what to say to me.

But tomorrow’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake.

We normally exchange a gift on Christmas Eve, but I haven’t seen him in four days. He probably didn’t even buy a gift for me! We didn’t even adopt a family this year because we had the Family Reunion instead of the Family Affair, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise since I’m fighting to make sure that this particular Christmas season doesn’t turn out to be a dud.

I spend another evening in my marble tub to make sure that I don’t awake stiff as a board. Tomorrow’s Christmas. I’ll have a house full of people and no matter how I feel, I’ve got to entertain. Ms. Solomon has banned me from the kitchen and although I won’t be cooking, I hate to tell her that there are going to be some moments when I’m going to be in there.

Harmony, Val and Elliot, and Maddie and Nelson are all tucked away in the guest rooms as well

I’ve laid out Minnie and Mikey’s Christmas attire, complete with two additional Christmas wardrobe changes should they ruin their first outfits. I’ve even carefully chosen my own clothing and this house is going to be drowning in Yuletide joy if I have to shit it out of my own ass!

I climb into bed in a flannel nightshirt, all warm and snuggly, and it doesn’t take long for me to fall off to sleep.

I awake to an empty bed… again. He was here; I can tell. There’s a fire going in the fireplace and his side of the bed has been slept in, but had it not been for those signs, I never would have known he was here.

There’s no warmth around me like he held me at all. I don’t feel any love or hate or anything from him. Four days and not a fucking word. It’s almost like he doesn’t exist… like I don’t exist.

He leaves before I wake.

He works until the very late hours of the evening or if he does come home, he makes sure he doesn’t encounter me until I’m asleep.

The only thing that lets me know that the man isn’t dead is that there’s no APB out on him.

The only communication that he’s had with me over the last several days is an email that he sent to the entire executive staff about the drug tests.

Maddie and Nelson arrived two days ago, and I don’t even know if he has spoken to them.

Any other time he hasn’t seen me, he would call me or text me or something. Although I know this goes both ways, I haven’t heard a thing out of him—not a peep.

He clearly wants to be left alone. He’s either still licking his wounds, his work has him all tied up and I’m very much the second thought, or he’s trying to teach me a lesson. Is he still in an internal uproar about what I said this weekend? Is this his way of lashing out at me… or punishing me?

Well, at least he didn’t fly to fucking Madrid!

I throw the covers off and get out of bed.


A/N: NEW CHRISTMAS PINTEREST PAGE 
https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-a-grey-christmas/

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs