Raising Grey: Chapter 88—Coming Around the Stretch  

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 88—Coming Around the Stretch  

ANASTASIA

Of course, something about me would send him into a rage. Was it the tight ass comment, the fact that they said I was holding out on him, or the fact that they were talking about me at all? Either way, Iron Fist Grey was able to flex his iron muscles.

“Excuse me,” I say, deciding to go to the kitchen to see what’s holding dinner up now that His Highness has finally joined us.

“Ana, what are you doing in here?” Gail says, pausing from feeding Mikey his dinner.

“Just coming to see if you all need any help,” I say. “I know that waiting for Christian threw our clock off a bit.”

“Ya fehd Minneh,” Keri says. “We gawt the bebbies. I hep wit da dinnah ef dey need…”

“She’s escaping, Keri,” Gail says, wiping her hands and handing Mikey’s spoon and bowl to a confused Keri. “Come with me,” she says, guiding me into the family room where Jason and Chuck are watching television. They look up at me and no doubt wonder why I’m being led into the family room when we have guests in the dining room.

“You’re going to need to be a tough soldier for the next few days,” Gail says with her hands on my arms near my shoulders. “He’s going to take at least that long to find his center. If it’s too much for you, nobody will blame you for being scarce or hiding out. It’ll be easier for him—and for you—if you can help him ride it out, though. No matter how he tries, he’ll never be able to be the asshole that he once was, but he’s going to give it the old college try, and it’s going to be rough until he finds the formula that works for him. You may need a moment or three to yourself throughout this time, just don’t run away. Remember the Vampire Lestat you found when you returned from Montana?”

I shiver when I recall how dead he looked walking into the penthouse that day. It was the creepiest thing I had ever seen… well, second only to that room where I was chained to the bed for four days. Why the fuck did that come to mind? I quickly shake off the memory.

“That’s who he’ll become if you disappear,” she warns. I shake my head.

“Let’s… just get dinner started,” I say. The dinner guests have opened the floor to Lestat and I don’t think I can take much more of hearing about his day tonight.

By the time we get the chicken cordon bleu and sides plated, the conversation has thankfully shifted to something else. I place his plate in front of him and take my seat to his right.

“You okay?” he asks quietly while everyone else is being distracted by dinner.

“Mm-hmm,” I say quickly, placing my napkin on my lap and preparing to eat my dinner. “Elliot, has Grace said anything about Christmas?” I ask. Elliot shakes his head.

“I assumed that we were all going over there like we normally do,” he says. “Did something happen?” I shake my head.

“I just hadn’t heard anything,” I say, trying not to open a can of worms.

“Are you guys still fighting?” he asks. “Since Thanksgiving?”

“No,” I reply. “We’re not fighting anymore.”

“You made up?” he asks. I twist my lips.

“More like called a truce,” I say. His brow rises.

“Oh,” he says. “That’s why you wanted to know if anything had changed.” I nod.

“Yeah… I wasn’t so sure,” I admit.

“If I know my mom, she expects everyone to be there for Christmas,” he says softly.

“Yeah,” Val chimes in. “She even welcomed me when Meg had control of my brain. I’m sure she expects you to be there.”

I don’t say anything. I get the feeling that Grace is just tolerating me right now because I’m what’s good for the Center. It seems like every time something goes wrong, it has to do with me and her. With everything that’s been going on in my life, it’s a battle that I just don’t have the strength to fight. I’m looking for simple, not more complicated.

“So did Al tell you guys the news?” I say, and I have everyone’s attention. “I’m going to trial in February. I’ll finally be able to tell my story against those Green Valley bastards.”

“Really?” Christian says, looking over at Al. “How did I miss this information?”

“You were a bit distracted today,” Al says unapologetically. “Besides, I knew that we were coming over today and that you would find out about it tonight.” Christian nods and tucks into his chicken. I keep the conversation going on the upcoming trial.

“One of the defendants took a plea last year—or whenever it was—to keep from having to go to trial. Two others—the main ring leaders—took pleas as well to turn state’s evidence against anyone else who comes to trial. So, now, someone’s coming to trial and these assholes get to testify, making good on their plea deal.” I take a bite of my chicken. Mmm, it’s really delicious.

“So, who’s going to trial?” Elliot asks. I look over at Al.

“Vincent Sullivan,” he replies. “He’s…” He clears his throat. “He’s one of the guys who… branded her.”

I don’t stop chewing even though the Bitch is fighting not to hurl. I have to face these people in court. I’m not going to let them see me sweat, so I might as well start practicing now.

“When are you going to Vegas?” Val asks. “When is the trial?”

“February 2nd,” Al replies. “The papers in Vegas are already on fire with the story… and some not-so-flattering assumptions about my girl.” My head pops up. I didn’t know that.

“Assumptions like what?” I ask. Al’s ears turn red. He thought I knew.

“Just people talking shit, Jewel. Don’t pay it any attention,” he says, trying to downplay it.

“You just said Vegas is on fire with the story and now you’re telling me not to pay it any attention?” I ask.

“What kind of shit?” Christian says firmly. Al rolls his eyes.

“The same shit they’re always talking,” he says, “that she’s a pampered princess that’s just trying to get attention and now that she has money, she just wants to get revenge on a group of kids for some harmless teasing.”

Don’t blow your top, Ana. Keep cool.

“Harmless teasing?” Christian nearly roars. “They call what they did to her ‘harmless teasing?’ Are they out of their fucking minds?”

“Oh, good grief,” I say, after swallowing my food. “The evidence is horrendously graphic, and it’ll speak for itself. Let them say whatever the hell they want.” I’m sipping this cranberry spritzer and it’s pissing me off. I want a shot of vodka!

“Okay, so, that’s enough of that,” Val says, quickly sensing my tension. “We came over to talk about my godchildren. Why the hell you two think you’ll kick the bucket at the same time is beyond me, but let’s get on with it.”

“It’s not that we think we’ll die at the same time,” Christian says. “It’s just that we’ve realized that we didn’t have provisions for our children in case something happens to us. We’re certain that no one would fight over the kids, but in the unlikely event that we both depart, we just want things to be… in order.”

“What brought this on, Bro?” Elliot asks.

“Watching Tina’s children act like savages after she died and realizing that we didn’t have a will,” I answer, and I’ve had enough of this damn spritzer. “Gail!” I yell. She comes scrambling into the dining room.

“What? What is it?” she asks, frantically.

“I’m sorry,” I say immediately. “That was a bit dramatic. Please forgive me. Would you uncork a Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc?” She raises a knowing brow at me.

“Coming right up,” she says and walks out of the kitchen.

“Continue,” I say, turning back to my meal and ignoring the gawking faces at the table.

“So, are you saying that whomever gets the kids will suddenly become billionaires?” Elliot asks.

“That’s a possibility,” Christian says. “As you know, our children will be very well provided for, and even though our entire fortune wouldn’t pass down to them upon our demise, whomever takes them on will be pretty much set as their caregivers. There will, of course, be large trusts for when they become adults. But let’s face it, if I were to retire right now and travel the world every day of my life, I would still have money to burn for decades to come. So, of course, I want my children to be cared for if something happens to me.”

“So, what’s the idea?” Val asks. “The children’s care will be written into your will?”

“Definitely,” he replies. “If something happens to me and Butterfly before they reach 18,  definite provisions will be made for their care and custody. And that’s where you guys come in.”

“Well, there’s two kids and two couples, but… there’s no way I would want to split them up,” Val says.

“Ditto,” Al replies. “If something that horrible was to happen, they would already be traumatized enough with losing their mom and dad. They would never recover.”

“So, what do you suggest we do?” Elliot says. Val and Al ponder the situation, and I’m sure that neither of them wants to raise their hand to be first in line for fear of hurting the other. Val comes up with the tiebreaker.

“El and I will have our own bundle of joy soon. I think it would just be greedy for us to ask for first-standing with Minnie and Mikey if something happens to you guys, heaven forbid.” Elliot twists his lips and nods.

“I have to agree,” he says. “It’s not like you’re going to take my niece and nephew and skip town.”

“Are you kiddin’?” Al exclaims. “If something happens to Chris and Jewel, I’m gonna have a little girl on my hands. I’m going to have your ass on speed dial!” he says to Val.

“Well, then that settles it,” Val says. “If something happens to you guys—and by the way, nothing’s going to happen to you guys—Al and James become daddies and El and I will be happy back-ups. Is everybody cool with that?” James and Al look at each other and James nods. Elliot is nodding, too.

“Good,” I say. “I know this is the whole reason we called this tête-à-tête, but I would very much like to stop talking about my demise now… and where’s my wine?”

“It’s here,” Gail says, entering the room with Windsor behind her. “I was just letting it breathe.”

“Good,” I say, noting the large-bowl wine glasses. “Sorry, Val, but I need this.”

“Don’t mind me,” she says, holding up her cranberry spritzer, Windsor pours me a respectable amount in my glass and I almost want to hit him.

“Um, you might want to keep pouring, Benson,” Al says.

“His name is Windsor,” I correct him. “Don’t be a queen, Al.” I turn to Windsor. “Please?” I say holding up my glass. Windsor fills it to nearly 75% and I thank him. He goes to fill the other glasses and Al informs him that only he and I would be drinking the red. The gentlemen would most likely want the white.

“I’m sorry if I offended you,” he says to Windsor. “I can be a jerk, but I’m not an asshole.”

“No offense taken, sir,” Windsor says. I don’t know if he’s offended or not, but he wouldn’t show it if he was, consummate professional that he is.

My glass is empty in no time and Windsor is refilling it before I even ask. Iron Fist Grey, the Green Valley nightmare, and my imminent demise all in one conversation… It’s a bit much for one evening.

“You okay, Ana?” Val asks. I nod without looking at anyone.

“Mmhmm,” I say, swallowing more of my wine. Cabernet is the answer to all the world’s problems and I’m going to sit here and drink until I have answers to mine.

Once the evening winds down, I’ve killed three large-bowl glasses of Cabernet and I notice that people are careful what they say to me if they venture to say anything at all. I say my goodnights to everyone once they’ve had coffee and Christian heads to the door to show everyone out. I head upstairs and don some exercise gear. Before he has the chance to get away from the door, I’m across the house and in the elevator. When I get down to the exercise room, I murder the elliptical until my arms and legs ache and I’m swimming in sweat. I just want to fall into a coma-like sleep and forget this day. Tomorrow is a do-over and I’m hoping that it’s going to be much better than this.

My husband, the asshole—who can’t shed the asshole before he gets home. I know that I’ve understood and labeled the Boogieman, but are we ready for this kind of test?

Once I’ve beaten myself all to hell and my muscles all feel like rubber, I abandon the elliptical and go to my room. I run a bath in my marble tub and climb in quickly so that my muscles won’t lock. It feels really good and I’m hoping to fall asleep the moment I get out of the tub…

“Butterfly… wake up.”

I open my eyes, still in the tub. The bubbles have dissipated, and the water is cold. I look up at my husband, my eyes questioning.

“It’s about 3am,” he says. “You fell asleep. I assume you were pretty tired after you climbed Mt. Rushmore, but had I thought you’d be napping in the tub, I would have come to check on you sooner.”

Wouldn’t you know it? At three in the morning, my docile Christian finally returns after still being a bear at nine at night. So, now what? He’ll go to sleep and wake at six to gradually go into bear mode again? To be that cold soul I had breakfast with yesterday? What should I do—swap my schedule so that I’m awake in the middle of the night to spend some time with the man I’ve come to know?

“What are you thinking?” he asks. Do I tell him? Do I say that I don’t know how to be married to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and that, by the way, I spent my entire college tenure wondering which one was really the crazy one and which one was sane?

“That this water is cold, and I feel like a saturated, useless sponge at the moment.” It’s true. He retrieves a bath towel and opens it. Tossing it over his arm, he extends his hand to help me out of the tub. I drag my waterlogged ass out of the tub, and he wraps me in the bath towel. My hair is wet even though I didn’t wash it and I don’t feel like dealing with it in any capacity right now.

He carries me to the bedroom wrapped in the bath towel, sits me on the bed, and begins to dry my skin. I try to accommodate him, but I’m just too tired to sit up. I lay down on the pillow, wet hair and all, and allow him to finish drying my body. I must have drifted off to sleep because I awake with him gently sucking my nipple. It feels so good, but I’m so tired.

“Christian…” I protest.

“I need you,” he replies, his intense gray eyes meeting my sleepy blues. I surrender and allow him to do what he wants. It’s not like I have the strength to protest anyway.

Mr. Grey works his usual magic, working my body into a fevered frenzy with his hands and mouth before mounting me.

And, dear Lord, does he mount me!

He pushes my legs open and thrusts into me—hard! My upper body rises off the bed and he grabs both my wrists and pins them down on the sides of my head to prevent my escape. He’s grinding and stroking into me mercilessly, with force and purpose. I can’t move anything. My hips are pinned down by his forceful motion and his hands are clasped to my wrists, fastening them to the bed. His eyes are silver fire, staring down at me as he thrusts into me, my ladyparts completely open and at his mercy. I see torment and passion in his eyes at the same time and my entire body rolls with each thrust. I’m helpless to fight him when he says…

“Don’t come yet.”

Yeah, sure.

“I… I can’t… Christian!”

I detonate in orgasm, my entire pelvis flexing painfully. I cry out from the intense pressure and vibration, but he just keeps pounding.

“Christian… please…” but he’s gone. He sees me… but I think his mind is somewhere else. He grinds and rolls his hips and begins to stimulate me again. I groan in my chest, knowing what’s coming.

“Christian…” I breathe.

“Feel it!” he nearly growls.

And feel it, I do. His dick is wide and demanding, and he’s thrusting deep, rhythmic strokes as if he’s digging for buried treasure—forceful and intensive, still holding my hands down and still looking in my eyes. Shit, I feel it in my chest.

“Oh, God,” I groan, the ecstasy and agony almost too much to bear. I feel the force of his weight on my wrists, but he’s using his knees for leverage, occasionally stretching his lips and making primal noises in his throat and chest. His pecks are flexed, and I can see the top of his eight-pack abs, both sets of muscles beginning to glisten with sweat.

I’m wrung out, only able to lie there and take what he’s dishing out. My body is on fire and after several minutes of intense manipulation, the heat reaches into my core again. I think I hear him say something, but the resulting orgasm is ringing in my ears and blocking out all light and sound. I feel myself struggling under his grasp, but not to get away, just from the intensity of the climax.

I’m wheezing when the second one wanes, but the fucking nymph in me just won’t tap out. My body is shattered, wracked from exhaustion and intense orgasms, but the little inner whore is naked, squatting on the bed salivating and cheering me on.

No, hoe, I’m tired!

But neither she nor my husband can hear me. He’s still stroking like this marathon has just begun, and the inner whore is squatting behind him encouraging like a coxswain…

“Stroke! Stroke! Stroke! Stroke…”

Cunt!

“Christian…” I whimper.

“You can do it,” he hisses.

No, I can’t!

The inner whore is nodding feverishly and if I could move, I’d throw something at her head and knock her ass unconscious. Christian must be hearing her.

“Please…” I beg.

“One more!” he commands and keeps stroking into my core. I’m certain that no matter what he and my inner whore says, I don’t have one more in me.

Somebody forgot to tell my pussy.

A few minutes later, my crotch it on fire again. He feels different inside me—not wide, but his ministrations are leaving no area untouched. Dear God, his cock is so hard… so hard and stroking every wall inside me, every secret spot…

“That’s it… give me one more! I need one more!”

He needs it? Why does he need it? It doesn’t matter, because my body obeys his command and gives him the third orgasm he demands. I’m covered in both our sweat as my core vibrates angrily in a final crippling showdown. I can’t scream as the pleasure—and exhaustion—has snatched my voice away, and I can’t move as most of my muscles are locked in the orgasm.

My husband grunts and thrusts and I feel his legs stiffen, but he continues to grind into me a few more times until I hear an inhuman sound rip from his chest. I open my eyes to see him just as he expresses his climax. He stretches his body backward and straightens, his chest and head up like a wolf howling at the moon. My core is still pulsing around him and he jerks with each flex, his entire body stiff, sweating, and trembling.

If I wasn’t so fucking tired, the sight would turn me on again.

My body falls completely limp as he finally drops his head, sweat dripping from his hair and face, panting and gasping to catch his breath, his arms straight, his muscles bulging, his hands still clasped at my wrists.

I’m wiped out while he’s catching his breath, I can’t even keep my eyes open anymore…

When I’m semi-conscious again, he’s coiled around me, spooning me and kissing my back over and over again. I fall back into a deep sleep.

*-*

I didn’t hear him leave. I was worn out from the morning’s exertions and quite frankly, I’d rather not be greeted by the morning bear anyway. I roll over and stretch, trying to pop the kinks out of my muscles. I had a double workout last night—first the elliptical, and then Christian and his trifecta of orgasms. I can barely get out of bed.

I take a quick shower since I smell like sweat and sex and quickly get dressed in something simple—a white button-down shirt with black pants and Chanel suspenders with black and white stilettos. When I look in the mirror, my hair looks like toddlers have been playing in it.

No amount of combing and brushing is helping it, so I put it in two wild and sad looking braids and put a hat on it for the day, Odd for me, but I just don’t have the strength to fight with it.

Strange… I actually look ten years younger.

I stop by the nursery to see that my children are asleep and decide that I’ll let them stay home today. I stop by the kitchen to make myself a strawberry and cream cheese bagel and to grab a black coffee to go.

“Are you in a hurry?” Gail asks. I’m chewing my bagel and looking at my phone.

“I slept longer than I intended,” I say, looking at my watch and noting the time. “I need to get going and make sure everything is moving along for the new semester. Plus, I have some calls to make and some interviews to do this afternoon.”

“Busy day, huh?” she asks.

“Yes,” I reply, eating the last of my bagel, “that’s why I didn’t intend to sleep in so late.” I text Chuck to meet me at the car so that we can get going.

“The twins are staying,” I add as I’m leaving. “I can’t breastfeed for 24 hours anyway. Call me if you need me!” I wave behind me and head out to the mudroom.

“New look?” Courtney asks when I get to the Center.

“Bad hair day,” I admit. “I must have been insane to wear stilettos today. My feet are freezing.”

“Uh, yeah,” Courtney comments. “It’s all wet and slushy. You’re going to ruin your shoes and freeze your toes.” I shake my head.

“What’s on my calendar today?” I ask, stomping my feet to warm my toes.

“You’ve got the interviews for housekeeping this afternoon, and you told me to remind you to call Ms. Sherwood from the cleaning company. Are you going to have her train the new employees?”

“Hell, no,” I say, taking a seat at my desk. “I had to watch that woman like a hawk the entire time her company was here. There’s no way in hell I’d let her train new staff to do the same thing they were doing. Besides, they’re contracted so they most likely wouldn’t do it anyway.” Courtney twists her lips.

“Yeah, there is that,” she says.

“How are classes going?” I ask.

“Pretty good,” she says, “except that there was a pop-quiz in Psych 101 yesterday. Who gives a pop quiz right before Christmas?” She shakes her head and I laugh.

“Welcome to the wonderful world of higher education,” I tease. She shakes her head again.

“Gimme a break,” she retorts. “I’m regurgitating psychology vocabulary in my sleep. My girlfriend’s going to leave me if I don’t stop talking shop when I get out of school.” She changes her voice to mimic a female announcer.

Behaviorism, inhibition, suppression, configurationism, Galton and Freud and Gestalt and dear God in heaven how did you even remember your name when you were in school?” I chuckle.

“Do you regret your decision?” I ask.

“No,” she says, going over to the Zen area to retrieve her laptop from its case. “It’s rough, but I want to help kids, and this is what I need to be able to do that, so…” She trails off after she pulls her laptop from the case.

“That’s a very noble undertaking.”

We’re both caught off-guard by a voice from the doorway.

“Grandmother,” Courtney greets Addie. “H… Hi.” I can tell she’s still trepid about seeing her grandmother.

“Courtney… you look lovely, darling,” Addie says.

“Thank you,” Courtney replies.

“Hello, Ana. You’re looking beautiful as ever,” Addie greets me. I smile warmly.

“Thank you, Addie, and so are you. Won’t you come in and have a seat?”

“Well, I really didn’t intend to stay long. I just came to ask Courtney what her plans were for the afternoon.” She turns to Courtney.

“Um, Ana’s assistant is off sick, so I’ve been helping her. We have to interview some candidates for the cleaning staff this afternoon,” Courtney replies.

“Oh, that’s too bad. We were hoping you would be able to join us for lunch,” she says softly.

We?” Courtney asks. After a short pause, Fred enters the office and stands next to his wife. Courtney’s mouth falls open and she’s stunned pretty speechless.

“Hello, Courtney,” Fred says.

“G… Grandfather,” Courtney says, clearing her throat to find her words, but still finding none.

“Courtney, I can do the interviews alone or have Mr. Collier or Grace sit in with me if you want to go to lunch with your grandparents.” She turns uncertain eyes to me.

“You’re sure?” she says. There’s hope in her voice.

“I’m sure,” I say. “I’ll be fine.”

“Can I leave my school stuff here?” she asks.

“Of course, you can. Go, have lunch with your grandparents.” She raises her brow and sigh.

“I’m… I’ll be right back,” she says to Addie and Fred. “I have to go get my coat and purse.” She smiles and leaves the office. I turn to Addie and Fred.

“Fred wanted to see it for himself,” Addie tells me turning to Fred. “I think he got more than he bargained for.”

“Not really,” Fred replies. “She looks like she’s doing well and she’s trying to turn over a new leaf, but she was always a good actress… a very good actress.” I drop my head and scratch the nape of my scalp. If he gives her that attitude at lunch, she won’t go to lunch with them again because she’s come to learn that she doesn’t need discouragement in her life.

“Ana, what is it?” Addie inquires, noting my change of expression.

“Nothing,” I say, not making eye contact with Fred.

“That means it’s me,” Fred says. I frown and look at him.

“How would you know it was you?” I ask incredulously.

“Because I’m an old dog with a wife, dear,” he replies. “I’ve been married for 43 years and I’ve been around a female or three in my day. Trust me, I’ve been in the doghouse more than a few times and I fully know the meaning of ‘Nothing,’ ‘Fine,’ and ‘Never mind.’” He looks at me knowingly and cocks his head. I sigh and put my hands on my hips.

“I’m not going to try to sell you on your granddaughter,” I say. “To me, her progress speaks for itself. I will tell you this, though, and I’m only saying it as a friend. If you’re taking that attitude to lunch with you, it’s not going to fly. She will Uber her way out of that meal. She knows who she was and that she put you through a lot, but she’s been through some things, too, and she’s not going to allow herself to be berated anymore. I only said it because you pressed, Fred.”

“That, I did,” he says with a sigh.

“And she’s right.”

We all turn to see Courtney standing at the door in her coat with her purse on her shoulder. There’s no sign of her prior shyness.

“I don’t have anything to prove to anybody else anymore but myself,” she says. “I’m a horrible person and I know it… or at least I was. I was so wretched that I don’t expect anybody to believe that I’m not that person anymore, but you know who does have to believe it? Me! So, I love you, Grandmother, and I love you, too, Grandfather, but if this luncheon is to put me under the microscope, I respectfully decline the invitation.”

I can’t remember being prouder of Courtney than I am at this moment—well, maybe when she told me that she was going to school. Now, she stands here before her grandparents with her shoulders squared and her head held high pretty much telling them that if they don’t want to accept her, she’s fine with that. Before, she was self-centered and didn’t care about other people, only for what she could get from them. Now, she’s self-driven, and she has a purpose. She’s more concerned about what she sees in herself when she looks in the mirror than what other people see when they see her.

Addie walks over to her and smiles.

“I want to have lunch with my granddaughter,” she says, “and you will be under the microscope with me, but only because I want to catch up with everything going on in your life and with school. If your grandfather doesn’t want to behave, then he’s uninvited.”

Courtney is nearly pushed to tears, but instead she straightens her back and extends her neck, blinking the tears away. Then she turns to Fred.

“The Uber app is almost instantaneous, Grandfather,” she says. “The moment I feel that either of us is causing the other discomfort, I’ll leave. I can always study or come back and help Ana with the interviews. And if you think I’m acting, then this is going to be an Oscar-worthy performance.” She awaits acknowledgement from her Grandfather, who reluctantly nods. Addie sighs and puts her hands on Courtney’s shoulders.

“So, would you like to go to the club?” Addie asks.

“We can, if you want,” Courtney says, “but there’s a little restaurant not far from here that has the best Mediterranean food… and quiet tables.” Addie tilts her head at Courtney.

“Well, then,” she says, “that’s sounds nice. Lead the way.” The corners of Courtney’s lips rise slightly, and she nods before she leaves with Addie in step behind her. Fred turns to look at me and I raise my brown and tip my head in a gesture that clearly says, “Balls in your court.” His lips form a thin line and he leaves to join his wife and granddaughter. I smile to myself, knowing that Courtney has effectively exercised her independence to her grandfather. I go back to my desk and make the call that needs to be made before month’s end.

Clean It Up for You, what can I do for you?” the receptionist answers.

“Good morning, Anastasia Grey calling for Sonia Sherwood…”


CHRISTIAN

I’ve barely gotten any sleep, which is something that hasn’t happened in quite some time. There’s been a sleepless night here and there, but none of the 2-hours of sleep nights since I stopped having the nightmares. When I left this morning, Butterfly was still in an exercise, wine, and sex-induced coma.

When I saw that Butterfly was on the elliptical after dinner and three large glasses of wine, I thought it best to leave her alone and go to my study and get some work done. I approved the initiation of the random drug testing on 50% of Grey House staff to be done in three waves tomorrow, Friday, and Monday. The results will begin to come in on Tuesday, but I couldn’t get a guarantee that I would have them all for the sake of accuracy.

Ros has taken immediate advantage of her impromptu vacation, which means that Lorenz and I must weed through the findings and analysis of the audit teams while she’s away. There’s quite a bit in a short time—red flags that I asked to be notified of immediately instead of waiting for preliminary or final reports. To be quite honest, my company is a mess. We’re not on the brink of collapse, failure, or bankruptcy, but I was right. Complacency is running rampant through the departments and the ship is nowhere near as tight as it used to be.

That’s my fault.

When I shut the system down somewhere around three o’clock and came upstairs and she was still in the tub, I knew that I had to get her out of there. She was exhausted and shattered and I had every intention of drying her off, braiding her hair, and putting her to bed. Then, she passed out face up on the bed and I knew I would never be able to get that hair braided. I straightened her body and kissed her lips goodnight and the animal in me just suddenly came alive.

I didn’t intend to fuck her. I really didn’t, but when I kissed her neck, the valley of her breasts, and then her nipple just to tame the beast a bit, the taste of her skin sent me into blind passion and I just had to have her. Determined not to fuck her while she’s asleep, I fix my mind to back away… and then she spoke.

And I pounced.

It was like something else completely had taken over me and I was going to turn into a werewolf or the Hulk or something if I didn’t have her! I feasted on her body, touching her in all the right places to get her ready, but when I entered her, the beast was back.

I know what it was. I just didn’t want to admit it.

Dominant Christian was alive and kicking in the early morning hours. Fucking her was not enough, but even in my primal state of mind, I knew I couldn’t dominate her when she was so exhausted, so I had to improvise.

I imagined her shackled to the bed, blindfolded and completely immobilized after a good flogging, with a pair of clamps biting into her nipples. Her breasts were wobbling wildly, dripping with water, sweat, or milk—I didn’t know which—and she couldn’t move, so it wasn’t a far stretch. I fucked her and fucked her and fucked her until my cock burned, forcing three orgasms from that exhausted body until I was paralyzed in ecstasy myself.

Once I came down from my climactic high, I saw that the third orgasm had wrung my wife unconscious and, to be honest, I felt guilty. I wrapped her in my arms, kissing her back and neck while silently begging her forgiveness for being so thoughtless and selfish. I only got a couple of hours of sleep and then quietly got dressed and left the house before she woke.

Now, I’m here in the office, still feeling as aggressive as ever as I continue to comb through my emails and examine the notes of the auditing teams. Word is definitely out that Grey is on the warpath. The elevator was completely silent when I got on it this morning and some people even got off once I boarded. Others refused to get on when they saw that I was in the car.

I don’t care if you like me. Just do your fucking jobs, and do them right or I’ll have you out on your asses before you get the chance to gasp.

I’m a bit irritated when I’m interrupted mid-morning by a knock on my door.

“Sir, a word?” I look up and see Jason standing in the doorway. I gesture him in and remove my glasses. My eyes are getting tired more often. It might be time for another trip to the eye doctor.

“I know this is short notice and I apologize, but I need Monday off,” Jason says. I frown. It sure is short notice, short as fuck.

“May I ask why?” I inquire, coolly

“Well, it won’t be the entire day, sir, just enough time to go to Shalane’s sentencing.” I raise my brow.

“Shalane’s… as in your ex-wife Shalane?” I ask. Why would he want to be there for her?

“Yes,” he says. “I’m not letting Sophie go, but someone has to be there to speak on my daughter’s behalf if they ask.”

I see. I guess that would have an impact on her sentence… if they ask.

“What time is it?” I ask him.

“Ten A.M.,” he replies. I nod.

“Then we’ll both be there.” His eyes widen.

“Sir, you don’t have to… it’s Monday morning,” he protests.

“And you’re my best friend, so yes, I do have to.” If I’m trying to find a balance between asshole and nice guy, I better start somewhere.

“So, it looks like she’s going to be spending Christmas in jail, huh?” I add. Jason nods.

“Yeah, looks that way,” he says.

“How do you feel about that?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“I hate the things Shalane has done, but I don’t hate Shalane. It’s hard to feel any sympathy for anyone that has just proven to be rotten to the core, but I’m not a bad guy. So, I think I’ll just keep my answer to myself on that one.”

I nod. I can understand that. I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum. If I can’t stand you, you’re going to know about it. If I wish you would burn in hell, you’re going to know about that, too.

“Mr. Grey, Lorenz is here to see you,” Andrea’s voice says through the intercom. Did we have a meeting this morning?

“Send him in,” I tell her. “What time is the sentencing again?” I say, turning my attention back to Jason.

“Ten AM,” he repeats as Lorenz enters.

“We’ll be there, then,” I say. He nods, then nods at Lorenz and leaves.

“Something I need to know?” Lorenz asks.

“No,” I respond, “except that you’ll be holding the fort down alone for a few hours on Monday morning. I have an appointment.” He nods noncommittal.

“So, we found out what the big ruckus is about Kavanaugh,” Lorenz says. He has my attention, but only slightly. I have my own fish to fry.

“And what’s that?” I ask.

“The next heir apparent? ‘Baby Momma’ is one of Katherine’s friends.” My eyes widen.

“You’re shitting me!” I respond. This is fucking juicy.

“I’m not,” he says. “The wife found out through a damn text!” he adds. “He’s taking a paternity test, but whether it’s his or not, Mama Kavanaugh has had enough and is taking him to the cleaners.”

“Fuuuuck, really?” I say, sitting back in his chair. “Does Ethan know?”

“I don’t know that he does unless he’s been keeping up with the gossip rags or the specific financial news that deals with his father, but I don’t think he cares. He’s been completely mum about the whole thing.” He probably doesn’t. From what I’ve heard, he got his trust right after he married Mia and hasn’t spoken to his father since. If he doesn’t know, I’m sure as hell not going to tell him.

“What about Katherine?” I ask. It’s more out of curiosity than anything. I don’t plan to do anything with the information.

“Well, she was in Martha’s Vineyard for a while, but now word has it that she and young Kevin are now living in Paris…”

“Paris? How could Kavanaugh afford that?” I ask.

“Well, he can’t that I know of, but she secured employment there with one of the fashion magazines, so… she’s officially a Parisian now.” I shake my head.

“If I were her, I’d get as far away from this shit as possible, too,” I say. “That man has a tribe of illegitimate children now. How many is this?”

“I’m sorry, sir, I’ve lost count. Can I get back to you on that one?” he jests, and I chuckle.

“Have you seen the latest emails from the auditing team?” I ask. He sighs and crosses his legs.

“I have,” he says.

“It’s only been a couple of days. You still think I’m being paranoid?” He shakes his head.

“No, sir, I don’t,” he replies. “I never did, I just thought you might have needed to rethink your approach a bit, but now…” He trails off.

“Yeah, now,” I say, putting my glasses back on and looking at the screen. “I just basically had a meltdown yesterday about our customer satisfaction and retention processes and our internal process quality and then I see these findings? I’m certain that I’m not the only one that sees the drastic change in three years in these areas.”

“No, sir, you’re not alone,” Lorenz replies.

“The only reason we’re not bleeding from the jugular right now is because we have other divisions and operations that’s taking up the slack. I shudder to think what would have happened had I not thought to do something about this now!” I shoot. “So, are there any answers to any of the questions I had yesterday?” He nods.

“Yes, sir,” Lorenz begins. “The drugs from the pharmaceutical mishap have obviously been recalled. This sort of thing happens all the time and we’re looking into the ramifications of it now. Concerning the fire, thankfully, representatives from the EAP were on that as soon as it happened, so we’ve already got damage control and assistance in place for that.”

“And what about the late shipments?” I ask.

“I think client services is putting that fire out now,” he says.

“Don’t think. Know! Find out how often this has happened and if this is a one-off or a regular occurrence. Get some impromptu surveys going to see what the customers are feeling right now. See how many we get back. Get on this! Now that I know for sure that I’m not Chicken Little running around exclaiming that the sky is falling, I want this ship tight as soon as possible, and spare no fucking expense!”

“Will do, sir,” he says, and he stands and leaves my office. Sometimes, I hate that he’s so goddamn cool, but if I’m the hothead, and Ros is getting all sensitive and running off when there’s controversy, I need someone to be the voice of reason.

*-*

“Mr. Holstein is still trying to contact you, sir, and there’s a Herbert Larson on line three for you.” Larson… why the hell is he calling me instead of Al?

“Grey,” I answer.

“Mr. Grey, Herbert Larson here…” he begins.

“I know who it is. What can I do for you?” He pauses.

“You obviously know why I’m calling,” he says, coolly.

“Honestly, I don’t. I thought all of your contact went through our attorney or if not him, through my wife if utterly necessary. You have no reason to be contacting me,” I point out.

“I’m calling because harassment is a serious offense in the state of Nevada, Mr. Grey,” Larson says.

“And I’m not in the state of Nevada, so your point?” I retort.

“Mrs. Pamela Whitmore contacted the police this morning,” he says. “Apparently, several gentlemen have been following her around.”

Good, she knows that she’s being tailed.

“And you’re telling me this because?” I ask.

The gentleman that she described follows closely to the description of the gentleman that accompanied you and Mrs. Grey during your visit and they have Washington driver’s licenses.” I laugh loudly in his ear.

“Well, don’t this just beat all?” I say, with pretend mirth. “It took less than a day for you to finger who you might think is harassing Pamela Whitmore, but it only took the great state of Nevada more than a decade to pinpoint who brutalized my wife.”

The line is silent for several minutes.

“That woman called my wife at her place of business and insulted and threatened her and my family, and you’re calling me about some random men following her because they live in my state? If they’re breaking the law, then I suggest you arrest them, but don’t you dare interrupt my life with any nonsense that you have no actual basis for. You all didn’t follow any hunches to find my wife’s attacker before she came to you with a damn video. Don’t come to me with any half-baked, unfounded accusation. Yes, I will do whatever’s necessary to protect my family, but you do know that we have a restraining order against her, right?”

“I’m just letting you know that Mrs. Whitmore…”

“You don’t need to let me know shit about Mrs. Whitmore unless you’re telling me that you’ve arrested her for harassing my wife,” I say, cutting him off. “Nevada seems to be quite prevalent with going easy on and protecting violent criminals and offering no protection for the victim… that is, until you think those criminals are the victims.”

“You need to know that following Mrs. Whitmore could be considered obstruction of justice,” he points out, ignoring my prior statement.

“Oh, you mean like what that Henderson officer Sullivan did?” I counter. “Both when the incident happened by hiding evidence to protect his brother and by seizing the police report I presented to him two years ago without knowing that I had several copies? Yes, Mr. Larson, I’m very aware of the laws concerning obstruction of justice—that is, when your state deems it necessary to enforce them. By the way, what was the fate of Officer Sullivan? The victim here still hasn’t gotten any word that he’s come upon his just deserts, yet.”

The line falls silent again, and I know that he’s searching for a retort.

“I’m not saying that I’m following anybody and I’m not saying that I’m not,” I continue. “I will say that when you try to accuse someone of something, you better fucking well have enough evidence to do it instead of calling someone and trying to sniff them out. I play chess with multi-billion-dollar companies and more money than you’ll ever see in your life. I don’t have time to bluff.”

“So, you’re saying that you’re not having her followed?” he prods.

“I’m not saying anything,” I reply. “I will say, however, that if she comes anywhere near Seattle and my wife and children, I’ll know before you do.” I can feel his frustration through the phone.

“You’re preventing me from doing my job,” he says, his voice low. “Ever since this started, I’ve been doing my best to bring justice to this situation, and the only thing I’ve seen from you at all is this vigilante attitude like you’re running things, and nobody can tell you anything. Now, I’m warning you, Mr. Grey, if you interfere with this case or its participants in any way, I will have a warrant issued for your arrest!” Wrong move, Skippy.

“Save your goddamn threats for those assholes who beat my wife!” I seethe.

“Mr. Grey, that language is totally unnecessary,” he retorts.

“It’s completely fucking necessary, and if you fucking don’t want to fucking hear it, then you can fucking hang up the fucking phone!”

I’m so pissed at the audacity of this fucker that if I could teleport to Vegas right now and personally beat his ass, I would! I think he gets the hint.

“Good day, Mr. Grey,” he says.

“Fuck you!” I retort before slamming the receiver into the carriage.

One… two… three… four…

*-*

Butterfly isn’t home when I get there. I’m still fuming over Larson’s nerve. The fuck with that guy! I’m watching the cunt who birthed the fucker who raped my wife then had the nerve to call her and threaten her because she knows the trial is coming up, and this sonofabitch has the nerve to call me and tell me that I’m breaking the law by making sure that I know if this hoe crosses state lines. That place has the most backwards system of justice I’ve ever seen in my life, and the people who live there must be as fucked up as their sense of justice.

My wife is raped as a teenager and nobody blinks, not even her damn guardians.

She’s beaten within an inch of her life and her baby is killed, and nobody blinks.

The mother of the fucking rapist and baby killer calls and threatens my wife and our children, and nobody blinks… but then they call me and tell me that I’m breaking the law by following that cunt.

I hate to think I and my wife are flying all the way to Vegas to find out that the entire justice system is so fucked up that the whole lot of those fuckers are still going to get off easy after they’re convicted—if they’re convicted!

I run a punishing rhythm on the treadmill for quite some time before I take to Butterfly’s heavy bag to burn the rest of the aggression from the day. I’m finally starting to cool down—and tire—around 8pm, and I take a quick shower and change into a pair of sweats and a T-shirt.

I look for my wife in the nursery, but find that my children are fast asleep. I check the yoga room, the dining room, the family room—no Butterfly. Where is she?

“Did Ana come home?” I ask Gail. She frowns.

“Yeah,” she says. “She spent some time with the babies and then she went downstairs.” Downstairs… her office or her parlor. “Should I hold dinner or just put something away for you two to eat?” You two?

“She hasn’t eaten yet?” I ask. Gail shakes her head. I go to the elevator and take it to the ground floor. Chuck and Keri are on the patio sitting on the sofa. He has his arm around her and they’re gazing across the lake.

I need to find my wife.

I glance in the parlor as I pass and confirm that she’s not in there, then I go to her office. I’m about to walk in when I hear her talking on the phone.

“I really can’t wait to see you. It’s been a long time.”

Now, I trust my wife implicitly, but walking in on that statement would send a lesser man into terrible suspicion. I stay back and listen a little longer.

“I’m in no hurry to come, but at least there’s one bright side to it.”

That sounds a little crazy.

“No, I haven’t heard anything at all, but who knows what’s going to happen on that front.”

I should really just walk into the room instead of trying to decipher who she’s talking to, not to mention, it’s not polite to eavesdrop.

“No, I’m not going to any of those places. I might see some of the casinos with my best friend and his husband because they’ve never been there, but that’s all. I have no interest in the whole ‘Vegas experience.’ I’ve already had it.”

So, she’s talking to someone in Vegas. I know it can’t be Carla…

“So, I’ll let you know when we finalize our travel arrangements and where we’ll be staying. Hopefully, I’ll get to meet your husband this time.”

This time. That’s her aunt. What’s her name? Cynthia, that was it.

“That would be very nice. I’m sure Christian would like that.”

I walk into the office as she’s finishing her call with her aunt. She looks like a kid! She’s wearing suspenders… and a hat! Over pigtails! I walk over to her after she has ended her call and begins typing into her laptop.

“Fashion statement?” I ask. She looks up at me.

“My hair wouldn’t cooperate,” she says and stretches. “My dad wants to come to Vegas when we go for the trial.” I raise my brow.

“He does?” I ask. She nods.

“I suppose he needs some kind of closure, too,” she says. “This whole thing was so traumatic for us both—going through hell, finding peace, then having it ripped away from us again. I’d say he definitely needs some closure.”

“Well, you’ll get no argument from me. I’ll get a block of rooms so we don’t have to worry about it.” I sit down in front of her desk. “How was your day?” She raises her head again, somewhat in surprise.

“Busy,” she replies still looking at me. “We hired a couple of people for the in-house cleaning staff. They start shadowing Mr. Collier on Monday. I fired our cleaning crew as of the end of January. The head bitch in charge wasn’t happy to hear that, so now we have to keep an eye on them until the contract ends.”

“Were they slacking?” he asks. I shake my head.

“Not since the first time, but we weighed what we were paying them compared to the cost of having a cleaning crew of our own. The costs were comparable, but having someone on staff makes them more accountable to us than having an outside company come in. Plus, we’ll need people available at a moment’s notice instead of just at a certain time.”

“I see you’ve thought about this,” I say, sitting back and crossing my legs. “You’re still working?” She twists her lips.

“No Marilyn,” she says. “Courtney helps as much as she can, but she’s still no Marilyn… and she took the afternoon off to spend with her grandparents.”

She did?

“Really?” I ask. She nods. “Last I spoke to Fred, he wasn’t sold.”

“He’s still not sold,” Butterfly says, “and Courtney’s okay with that. She told him that she knows that she was a horrible person and that if he didn’t want to be bothered to not waste her time.” I raise my brow again. She has changed.

“Larson called me today,” I say. She stops typing and looks at me.

“Why did he call you?” she asks.

“To tell me to call off my security team that’s watching Whitmore.”

“You have a team watching Pamela Whitmore?” she asks. I nod.

“And I want her to know that she’s being watched.” She goes back to typing.

“Figures,” she says. “Serves her right… that backwards ass town. It’s okay to harass the victim, but not the victimizers.” She shakes her head.

“That’s what I said,” I reply, standing. “Come. We need to eat.” I hold my hand out to her. I know that she wants to work more, but I’m hungry and she needs to eat, too. She closes her laptop and takes my hand.


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

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

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Raising Grey:Chapter 85—Business As Usual? 

FThis 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 85—Business As Usual? 

CHRISTIAN

“I still think you overacted about the snake,” I say coming out of my dressing room while straightening my tie.

“Whatever,” she replies, “be glad I don’t cut you off,” she threatens.

“I’d find a way to make you give in,” I say confidently

“You think so, huh?” she challenges. I raise an eyebrow.

“You want to test the theory?” I retort just as haughtily, daring her to try me and begging her to do it at the same time. I’ll have your pretty little ass clawing at the walls. She ponders the theory for the moment, then turns and leaves the bedroom.

“I thought not,” I say under my breath as I follow her out of the room.

“You’re going back to the Center?” I inquire, noticing that she’s dressed for work as we descend the stairs. She sighs.

“Yes,” she says, “for now. I have responsibilities, but I don’t know what the future holds yet. I still don’t appreciate being disregarded that way, so we’ll just have to see.”

“What will you do if you leave the Center?” I ask. “Stay at home?”

“We both know I’d lose my mind,” she replies. “I haven’t gotten that far yet. I gave some thought to starting my own cause, but… that seems so catty and that’s certainly not my M-O. I just wish she could truly see what she did. It’s unacceptable and I just can’t tolerate it… and I won’t keep talking about it with you because I don’t want you to feel like I’m trying to make you take sides against your mother.”

“I don’t think that,” I say, placing my hand in the small of her back and leading her to the kitchen.

*-*

“Ronald Holstein on the line, sir,” Andrea says through the intercom. “I’ve been telling him all week that you were out of the country and expected back today. He’s been calling every day nonetheless.”

“Whenever he calls, tell him that I’m in meetings until further notice,” I reply. Let his ass stew for a while until I decide what I want to do with him… and we won’t be doing some simple shit like kidnapping his fucking dog, either.

“Yes, sir,” Andrea says.

“I know you’ve got a hundred meetings today, but you’re going to want to hear this,” Josh calls in my office from the reception area before I close the door. I gesture him in, and he closes the door behind him.

“Sir, let me start by saying that it’s not my business what you do in your private life, but I’m sure that you hired me because I’ve always got my ear to the ground and because I’m more insightful than most.” I already don’t like the sound of this.

“I’m listening,” I say as I gesture to the chair in front of my desk.

“Well, the puzzle is falling together, sir,” he says taking the seat. “Elena Lincoln is still talking to whomever will listen, but now she’s starting to say a little more.” I frown.

“A little more like what?” I ask.

“She’s saying things like people in high places are going to fall when her book is published,” he says. “She insinuated these things before, but she didn’t come out and say them. Now, she’s saying them—to other reporters and it’s filtering back down to me. I was going to make another trip back up there to see her, but I really don’t think I need to. Her diarrhea of the lips along with Ron Holstein’s foot-in-mouth syndrome has pretty much given me all I need.

“I should tell you that her conversation is not nearly as cloaked as she thinks it is. I only say that because it wouldn’t be wise to give away her story before publishing, or her book would be worthless. Bearing that in mind, I can only assume that she’s not fully aware of how much information she’s leaking and, sir, anybody with even the slightest inside hook would have no problem finding you in her code speak. What’s more is that they would probably find a few others, too… I did.”

Oh, fuck, this just keeps getting worse and worse.

“Okay, Josh, I need you to give it to me straight,” I say. “I can’t follow any more riddles.”

“Nineteen out of 20 journalists don’t have the background information or resources that I have,” he begins. “They could get it, but it would take a lot of work and even more time. By then, the story would be blown wide open. She didn’t give me the name of her ghostwriter, but she gave me her pen-name—BD Simmons. There’s no risk in giving me that because there’s nothing else published in that name. However, these ladies aren’t as savvy as they pride themselves to be.

“I don’t know what they’re expecting, but I can almost guarantee that Lincoln is counting on the safety of the prison walls, as ironic as that sounds. Her ghostwriter has anonymity on her side. For whatever reason, they’re both underestimating the danger of the situation. Knowing what I know about Lincoln—the public information and the inside information, you should know that it doesn’t take too much ingenuity to figure out what BD Simmons is an acronym for.”

No, it doesn’t. I figured it out the minute he said the name. BDSM.

“So, of course, the first thing I did was check her old haunts, her old sources, her submissives…” Jesus, this is so much more of this conversation than I really want to have with Josh. “The logical paths lead to three of her girls—two still studying journalism and one with a degree in literature. They all have other… interests at this time, according to Alex, but one has been visiting her at the prison, quite freely I might add.”

“And who is that?” I ask.

“That would be one named Greta Ellison. It didn’t take much more than context clues to figure out that she was BD Simmons.”

“Fucking hell!” I hiss, trying not to curse too loudly or crash something against the nearest wall. Why the fuck do I keep letting these people get away and the minute I let them out of my sight, they bite me?

“Get Welch in here!” I bark into the intercom.

“Yes, sir,” Andrea replies.

“You’re sure that Ellison might not be just filtering the information through to her? Like being a liaison between Lincoln and the ghostwriter?” I ask, not wanting to believe that I was gullible enough to set this bitch free instead of crushing her when I had the chance.

“Sir, to be able to stand in a court of law and tell you that Greta Ellison is Lincoln’s ghostwriter, I can’t. To look you in the eye and tell you with at least 95% certainty that Ellison is her ghostwriter, that I can do. No matter what your content, you can’t get a decent feel for the story—for what the real author wants to portray—without a face-to-face meeting. Even with every fact airtight and recited to you, you wouldn’t be able to relay a successful story without meeting personally with the subject, and Ms. Ellison does that a lot.”

She has no other reason to meet with Lincoln. There’s nothing for her to gain from the acquaintance, and I threatened her the last time we met. I let her ass go, but I threatened her…

And she threatened me.

 “You think you’re so much. You’re not untouchable, Mr. Grey, and I’m just the one to prove it!”

This should come as no surprise to me. I remember our first meeting. She wasn’t just an airhead when I interviewed her. She was brilliant. She was perfect. She knew all the right things to say and do to get me where she wanted me and that can’t be taught. She’s wily, cunning, sly, and conniving… and she’s smart. Now, she seems dead set to destroy me and my family by any means necessary. I’ve got to destroy her first.

The gloves are off… all the way off.

“I won’t say, ‘Good Morning,’” Alex says as he opens my office door. “I can already tell it’s well past fucked up.”

“That’s an understatement,” I say coolly, my mind travelling more miles per hour than I can clock. “Close the door and have a seat.” Alex enters and closes the door behind him.

“This thorn is never going to go away,” I say, standing from my chair and walking to the window. “She’s on the watch list. How was it that she was seeing Lincoln and we didn’t know?”

“The same way that she stole Her Highness’s gun, sir,” Alex says. He scrolls through his tablet and hands it to me.

“She’s like Ethan fucking Hunt, sir. She can physically turn herself into anyone, male or female. There’s no way to tell who she is when she leaves her home. We didn’t even know that she was visiting Lincoln until we worked our way backwards and reviewed Lincoln’s visitor logs…”

Do I even want to know how he got access to Lincoln’s visitor logs without Holstein’s cooperation?

“Then we coordinated the people leaving the apartment with the people returning. She hasn’t gotten smart enough to change disguises before she gets home. Then again, she doesn’t need to.”

I scroll through the pictures and see men and women of every nationality identified as Greta Ellison. I even had to turn the tablet around to confirm the person was her a few times. Height and build don’t change. Shape can be masked by clothing, but she’s definitely different people.

“A few times, she logged in to see Ron Holstein, so he’s definitely in on it,” Josh adds.

“Yeah, I figured as much,” I say, still swiping through the many faces of Greta. She’s dangerous—extremely dangerous—and she must be stopped.

“Josh, who have you deduced could also be in this book?” I ask. He twists his lips. He doesn’t want to tell me.

“High-profile officials,” he says. “Some politicians, philanthropists, businessmen like yourself…” That’s all I need.

“Any way to get word to them without totally letting the cat out of the bag?” I ask. “You know, they don’t need to know where the information is coming from and I don’t even need to know who they are… it’s better that I don’t. Just a little tip-off that they may soon be in a tell-all book about their dirty laundry that may make it look even dirtier than it really is.” His brow rises.

“I see what you mean. I may need your help, Alex,” he says.

“I’m at your disposal,” Alex says.

“Then, get on it,” I tell Josh. “I’ll have more questions for you once I sort my rambling thoughts.”

“I’ll keep you posted,” he says as he stands to leave.

“Alex, you stay. I need more information from you.” Josh pauses, but only briefly before he leaves the room. I go over to the desk and flip the switch that scrambles recording signals in my office, even my own.

“She’s a chameleon,” I say, once I know that I’m no longer being recorded. “She’s a fucking dangerous, pestilence ass chameleon that’s not going to fucking go away.” I walk to the window.

“Do you know that I presented her with proof that I knew she was the one that stole my wife’s gun?” I continue. “I had her pinned in a BDSM club between three people that could have killed her with our bare hands, confronted her, threatened her, and let her go and she still came back?” I hiss angrily.

“Yes, sir, I do,” he says. Of course, you do. It’s your job to know. It only takes a minute to ponder what needs to be done.

“Ellison is smart. She’s cunning and she’s brilliant. She gave that gun to a woman that she knew was unstable, delusional, desperate, and had a bone to pick with me. She knew what that woman was going to do with that damn gun, and she gave it to her anyway.”

“Yes, sir,” Alex concurs.

“That woman tried to kill me with that gun,” I say, handing him the tablet, “and had it not been for Jason, she would have succeeded. As an accessory, Ellison tried to kill me.” Alex cocks his head and ponders.

“With the right evidence, a court of law would say that you’re absolutely correct…”

“Fuck the court of law!” I bark. “Because of those two conniving, murderous cunts, my bodyguard and best friend took a bullet for me and that’s the only thing that saved my life and nearly cost him his!” Alex examines me.

“What do you propose?” he asks.

“Get started with Josh to alert the other officials that they’re technically in the hot seat. Between my world-class security team and my extremely savvy PR department, I’m sure innuendo can be circulated to the press without upheaval or suspicion.” Alex casts a knowing gaze upon me.

“You’re creating a smokescreen,” he says.

“I wouldn’t call it a smokescreen,” I reply, “just more people of interest. I was the center of her last trial. The spotlight is already going to be on me. I want to see how many other people we can cast center stage.”

“I know we’re not being recorded,” he says. “I need to know what you have in mind.”

“You know what I have in mind!” I retort sharply. “She’s a thorn, a deadly thorn in my side and she needs to be extracted… and her little dog, too.”

“Are we talking Lincoln or Ellison…”

“We’re talking both!” I say before the words are completely out of his mouth. “But we can’t be sloppy. The minute that smokescreen starts, I need shit to get rolling on the lot of them… Lincoln, Ellison, Holstein, and his haughty ass secretary, too.

“Why the secretar…?”

“Because she pissed me off!” I hiss… and she doesn’t know who she’s fucking dealing with. Alex straightens his back.

“What are we talking here, and in what order?” he asks.

“Punishments for Lincoln begin immediately—subtle at first, but by the time it’s over, she’ll know who it is.” I’ll come up with something creative for her at the end so that she won’t be willing or able to fuck with me ever again. “Save the secretary for last. I just want her seriously inconvenienced, extremely uncomfortable, and if I forget while pursuing the bigger fish, it’ll be your responsibility to make sure those wishes get carried out.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Holstein? Thorough retaliation—annihilation, if possible. My only requirement for him is that he gets to live,” I growl. “His begins the moment the signals start to rise from the smokescreen, so get that going now.”

“And Ellison?” he asks. I only glare at him. Ellison… big, little bitch with too much power, real and assumed. She’s become more than an inconvenience! I don’t know if she’s chasing money, fame, or revenge, but whichever it is, it’s going to cost her dearly. She has no idea how far this woman has taken her down the rabbit hole, if for no other reason but the information that she’s given her, let alone how she plans to use it.

My silence answers his question.

“Duly noted,” he says, rising from his seat. “Anything else?

“I want to be there for every step of what happens to Ellison until I tell you that I don’t,” I say.

“Yes, sir,” he says coolly before opening the door to leave the room. I know that I’ve already missed a meeting and Andrea didn’t inform me. She knows me so well that she probably knew to reschedule with me in a meeting with Josh and growling for Alex. Just as Alex reaches the elevator, I hear something I don’t think I’ve heard in all the years that she has worked for me.

Andrea raises her voice.

“Mr. Holstein, I don’t care who you are or who you think you are, but I am a professional, and unless you can conduct your calls to this office with a little professionalism and decorum in the future, I will disconnect your calls every time I hear your voice. How’s that for a short-skirted, pencil pushing answering machine… sir?

Whoa! Holstein said the wrong thing to the wrong person and Andrea’s giving him what-for on this end of the line.

“Well, if you think you haven’t gotten through to him before, let’s see how successful you are now!” She slams the receiver down and closes her eyes, taking a deep breath. Alex and I make eye-contact before he nods and boards the elevator. When Andrea opens her eyes, I’m peeking around the door jam at her.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey, but you don’t pay me enough to put up with the names he just called me.” My face falls.

“More than a ‘short-skirted, pencil-pushing answering machine?” I ask, as if that wasn’t bad enough.

“Much more,” she says, her voice low.

“The next time he calls, put him on hold,” I say. It’s time to put my plans into action for this fucker as soon as possible. I don’t disrespect Andrea and I won’t allow anyone else to do it, either. His dick has gotten way too big for his pants, and I’m about to whack it down a couple of inches.

*-*

Al was two steps ahead of me and conferred with my accounting department about the best way to itemize and categorize my assets for a will. He’s slowly working his way through the process, setting up a trust for each of the children and placing other items in a revocable living trust, and several other terms of mumbo-jumbo that I trust he’ll handle and explain to us when it’s time to sign the final documents. I inform him that we’ll plan to have dinner with him and Valerie and their significant others sometime this week to discuss some of the particulars and to get some things in writing should I and my Butterfly meet an untimely simultaneous demise. We set aside Wednesday for the meeting, pending Valerie and Elliot’s acceptance of the invitation and, of course, Butterfly’s approval.

It’s later than usual when I get home and all I can think is that I can’t wait to be in my wife’s arms. Today was packed full of catching up with whatever work and catastrophes that simply couldn’t be solved without my presence not to mention plotting revenge on my enemies. I didn’t even eat lunch, so I’m hungry in more ways than one. Just as we’re pulling into the garage, my cell rings.

“Grey,” I say without looking at the phone.

“Hello, Christian,” my mother’s voice says. I try not to sigh loudly into the phone. My last conversation with my mother involved her trying to get the inside scoop on what my wife’s plans are in terms of the Center. Now, she has spent an entire day with my wife… and she’s calling me. What is it now?

“Hey, Mom,” I say, trying to sound casual. “What’s up?”

“Is Anastasia home yet?” Why would she call me and ask me that? Why wouldn’t she call Butterfly? And yet…

“No…” I say, slow and uncertain, as I look over at the bin where her vehicle usually is and it’s empty. “Is everything okay?”

“She’s probably just still at the Center,” Mom says. “You may want to go down there and get her. It’s been a long day.” I’m noticing that my mother’s tone is a bit labored, like she’s extremely tired.

“What happened, Mom?” I ask. “Did you two have a fight?”

“No, we didn’t have a fight,” she says, slightly exasperated, “and you said that you were going to stay out of it, so that’s what you should do.”

Well!

“I didn’t call you for that reason, anyway,” she continues. “I called you because, like I said, it’s been a long day and she was still closed in her office when I left, so it might be a good idea for you to go and get her.”

Jesus Christ. This day has already been horrific. The last time I popped up on my wife at the Center unannounced… no, I won’t think that way. Mom says I should probably go and get her, so I’m going to get her.

“Okay, Mom, I’m on my way now,” I say, and Jason looks over the seat at me.

“Okay. Goodbye now.” And just like that, she ends the call. What the hell happened at the Center today? I’m just looking at my phone wondering what’s going to be waiting for me when I get to Butterfly.

“Sir?” Jason says, reminding me that we’re still sitting in the car.

“We’re going to the Center,” I inform him.

“What’s wrong?” he says with concern.

“Nothing that I know of, but Butterfly isn’t here and she most likely still has the children with her. I’d like to go and bring them home.” He twists his lips at me. “While we’re on our way, you can call Chuck and make sure that everything is okay, but my mother just called and told me to go get my wife, so I’d like to see her, okay?”

There. I’m not trying to catch her in anything, nor do I think I would. I just want to go get her.

“Very well, sir,” he says, and starts the car again. As we’re crossing the bridge, he put Chuck on the speaker.

“As far as I know, she’s fine,” Chuck says through the speakers. As far as he knows…?

“Why wouldn’t you know?” I ask.

‘Because she’s been holed up in her office all afternoon,” he says. “She hasn’t come out and when I went to check on her, she called through the door, ‘Leave me alone! I’m busy!’ So, knowing that she’s okay, I did what she asked and left her alone. I do know—through the grapevine—that she and Grace had an intense conversation today and Grace didn’t look happy when she left. She stayed all day, but she was less than pleased.”

“Why are you telling us this?” Jason asks.

“Because I think that’s why she’s still in the office,” he said. I sigh.

“She fought with Mom,” I say. Mom said they didn’t fight. Jesus, the day was at least as hard for her as it was for me and now, she’s hiding out. “Thanks, Chuck,” I say.

“You’re welcome, sir,” he says and ends the call. Jason looks at me, questioning.

“The mission hasn’t changed. Get me to my wife.” I wonder if she’s hiding from me thinking her argument with my mother is going to cause us a problem? I’m even more eager to get to her now than I was before.

Hurry up, Jason. She needs me…


ANASTASIA

“She hasn’t given you any idea when she’s coming back? Or if she’s coming back?” Courtney asks.

“Neither,” I tell her. “She’s never taken a day off in her life that I can remember, not even for doctor’s appointments…” which makes me question when she ever went before the whole pregnancy scare. “Then she takes them all at once. I’m still depositing her check into her account because she has nearly a lifetime in sick time accrued and she only ever used vacation time when I did so…” I trail off.

“Well, I’m certain that I won’t be as efficient as Mare was, but I’ll be happy to fill in for her the best that I can.” I sigh.

“Thank you, Courtney. Every little bit helps. I know that you have your own set of responsibilities here and I won’t interfere with your work, but of course I’ll pay you extra for helping me out. If Marilyn hasn’t decided what she plans to do at least by the new year, I’ll look into hiring someone more permanent.” It hurts to say that.

“I hope everything is okay with her. This is so out of her character. It had to be something really bad, and no, I’m not pumping you for information.” She looks down at her notepad and writes something on it.

“How are things with you and Addie?” I ask. Courtney raises her gaze to me.

“Still a little tense, but we’re talking,” she says. “Grandfather has made it clear that I’m still not getting any money from them and I’ve made it clear that I never intended to see them again, so the last thing I expect from them at this point is money. I don’t think I would want it even if they offered it to me. It reminds me too much of who I was and what I was doing… and how I felt when Grandmother disowned me. No… I think I’ll be happier earning my own way and making a life with Vick, whatever that life may be.”

“I’m glad that the two of you are talking, but you know I had nothing to do with this, right?” She rubs my forearm.

“Yes, Ana… I know,” she says. “Grandmother says you only talked about it after she confronted you. I know you would never betray my trust.”

“That’s what’s most important to me,” I tell her. “I’m all for a happy ending, but I won’t take credit for a victory that means you think I betrayed your confidence.”

“I know better,” she says with a smile. “I knew from the very beginning that it wasn’t you. I knew when I saw your face when I walked into your office. I may have been focused on Grandmother, but you were clearly horrified,” she adds matter-of-factly. “We’ve… got a long way to go. I don’t know if it’ll ever be back the way it was. Maybe it’s better if it’s not. Scratch that—it’s definitely better if it’s not.” She folds her arms around her body. “I… don’t like that Courtney. I don’t know how I lived with her for so long. No matter what happens, I don’t think I could ever go back to being her. For one thing, I’m sure I’d lose Vick. She won’t take any of my crap. She calls me on my shit any and every time I try to pull it, and she supports me in everything I do. What’s more, she knew me when I was that other crazy bitch, and she still loves me. Can you imagine?”

“Your grandmother knew and loved you, too,” I point out.

“No, she didn’t,” Courtney corrects. “She may have loved me, but she didn’t know me. She thought she knew me. She knew the façade. When she saw the real me, she thought that was the façade. When she found out that it wasn’t, she couldn’t take it. That’s why she sent me away.” She sighs and stands.

“I’m going to find something to do now,” she says. “I’ll be at your beck and call of course, but as you know, there’s lots that need my special attention… and I do better when I’m moving around.” She goes to the door, opens it and steps out. I follow her to the door.

“You’re sure this isn’t going to be too much for you,” I reinforce.

“Nah,” she says, hugging her laptop. “Outlook isn’t a foreign language for me. We use it in school for the syllabi and to keep up with our classes. I just have to spend a little time deciphering Mare’s hieroglyphics and we’ll be fine. Plus, I get an up close and personal look into the super-secret life of Anastasia Grey.”

She does a spooky little wiggle of her fingers and smiles before walking away down the hallway. I turn to go back into my office, but a shadow catches my eye. She doesn’t move or speak, but I can see her standing in her doorway, or at least her shadow cast on the floor of the hallway. I say nothing. I just go into my office and close the door.

Now, she’s lurking. She won’t even face me. Yet another reason why I feel this is no longer the place for me. There was a job that needed to be done here—some things that needed to be fixed. I fixed them. I did my job, but the job isn’t completely finished. So, I’m going to finish my job here and then I’m going to find something else to do.

What, I have absolutely no idea. Maybe I’ll get in touch with Josephine Kennedy, our sponsor for Broadmoor. She’ll probably have some suggestions. I don’t need to be in any kind of executive position. I just want to be somewhere that I can do some good and my opinion is valued.

Knowing that I don’t have much time to implement the learning programs needed before the school year starts, I immediately get to work researching the necessary requirements for a learning coordinator. I fire off a text to Keri to meet me in the office as soon as she has a moment.

Every time someone knocks at my office door, I get the willies. I don’t want to talk to Grace at all, to have her confront me about my absence or to rehash why I feel like she should treat me with more respect and consideration. These things should be understood. You hired me to do a job; then let me do it and don’t interfere with it. If you’re going to interfere and do things your way, what do you need me for?

Anyway, this time, it’s Keri at my door.

“Ya wanted ta seh meh, Annah?” she asks cautiously when she enters the room.

“Yes, please, come in,” I say. She slowly walks in and takes a seat. I can tell that she’s nervous, so I get straight to the point. “I need your help.” She looks shocked.

“You do?” she says, her surprise evident. I nod.

“First, I need to ask how the process is going with getting your teaching certificate here in the states. Were you still planning to do that, or had you changed your mind?”

“Noh! I mean, yes! I mean…” She’s terribly nervous. I’ve never called her into my office in an official capacity, ever, and she’s not quite sure how to handle it.

“Keri,” I say, rising from my seat and walking over to her. “Relax. You’re not in any trouble or anything like that. I just… I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone. I need some information and I just want to know what your immediate plans are.” Keri sighs heavily and rolls her eyes a bit.

“Ah’m sawtty, Annah,” she says. “Ah jus feel lak Ah’m bein’ cawled to da ptincipal’s awfice!” She laughs. In effect, she is, but only because the principal needs her help.

“I understand,” I say.

“Yes, I steel plan on gettin’ mah teachin’ cehtificate heyah. Ah cahl de school bohd ahnd dey sey Ah got ta tek de necesetty exams foh residency. Ah alreaty apply foh the exams since mah degtee is enough foh da requyment. So, Ah’m wehtin’ foh dem ta tell meh when da test gwine be and Ah should be okay.”

“They didn’t say anything about your citizenship or anything like that?” I ask.

“Ah’m heh on a work visa. Ah can keep dah sem visa or get a new one if I choose to teach. Ah wold luv to teach, Annah. I miss me bebbies.” I know that she’s talking about her students in Anguilla.

“Have you thought about becoming a resident?” I ask. She shrugs.

“Anguilla ask de sem ding when I cawled for mah recohds an cehtifications. Dey say, ‘ahe ya gwine stey dere in da states or ya come back to Anguilla?’ I tell dem it not my immediate plan ta stey, but don know what happen in de furtah.” I frown.

“You may go back to Anguilla?” I ask sadly.

“Me don know,” she says honestly. “Anguilla me home. I could nevah leave hah forevah. But me heart wit me Choonks. Das wheh Ah mus be.” That’s an enigmatic response.

“Does Chuck know that you’re somewhat on the fence about returning to Anguilla?” I ask. She nods. “How does he feel about it? He can’t be happy.”

“He not,” she says. “He tinks me run out da doh anyday wit mah bags. I tell him, ‘Choonks, don tek it dat weh. Ah jes not wannah lose meh woots, das all. Jes like yah not wannah stey in Anguilla becuz yah home heyah, I no wannah be in Anguilla witout yah, but Anguilla me home, too. Meh woots deyah. I don wanna lose dat.’”

“So, we’re not talking about packing your bags and moving back to Anguilla when your visa is over. We’re just talking about being able to go back to Anguilla as you please so that you don’t forget your roots.”

“Yeh,” she says, confidently. “I noh move back to Anguilla. Lek I seh, mah heart wit me Choonks. Ah havta be wheh he is.” I sigh heavily. It would be a devastating day all around if we lose Keri.

“Well, that’s good to hear,” I admit. “My second question is more detailed. You worked with small children in Anguilla, right?”

“Yeh, all me bebbies primery school, some younga,” she says. I nod.

“I’m trying to come up with a plan of action to get started with our early-learning program when the school year starts. I have some good solid ideas that we presented to get our licensing and accreditation, but now we need to tweak it and get it ready to roll out. I could really use some help.”

I confer with Keri about what direction we should take in terms of curriculums. I know that the subjects in Anguilla will most likely probably vary from the subjects in America, only because of the difference in culture and the direction of the curriculum as it relates to the region, but I’m certain that the basis is the same. I’ve done a little research to get a basic framework, but I’m definitely going to need some help in nailing down the particulars.

Keri turns out to be invaluable. We’re at it for hours fine-tuning our curriculum and learning plans. We’ve already done some interviewing for teachers and tutors, and we’ll have to make some decisions this week, which means that whether I want to or not, I’ll have to meet with Grace.

There’s no use putting it off.

Once I’ve finished with the basic curriculum, I ask Keri to look it over and see if there’s anything else that we may need. I don’t want to present this outline and framework to the teachers and tutors that I plan to hire, and it turns out to be total garbage. Then I send a text to Grace that we need to chat about the teaching staff and to let me know when she’s available to do so.

It was like carving my tooth out with a chisel just to send the text.

Not half an hour after I hit send, Grace is at my door.

“May I come in?” she asks. I sigh inwardly.

“Please,” I say, standing and gesturing to the seat in front of me. She enters and sits down, and I close the door behind her. I jump right in.

“The school year is starting in a few weeks and I don’t want to be caught unprepared like we have these last terms,” I say, picking up the papers showing the progress that Keri and I made and handing it to her. “We already conducted several interviews and with where we plan to start, I would think we don’t need too much staff right now—a few teachers and a tutor or two and someone to act as principal or superintendent just over the scholastic portion of the program…”

I continue discussing what I think would be the best direction for the preschool and tutoring program—afterschool classes, playgroups, and eventually, a possible part-time homeschool, particularly for at-risk families, namely residents in the dorms while Grace looks over the proposals and plans that Keri and I have collaborated on so far.

“You’ve been quite busy,” she says raising her eyes to me. “I’m glad the Center won’t suffer because of our disagreement.”

I wouldn’t say that just yet, Grace.

I continue the conversation as if nothing had been said about our disagreement and make suggestions as well as request input on who would be the best candidates for the positions we would like to fill as we really need to get the ball rolling like right now. Grace gives her opinions on who she thinks will fit the immediate bill and luckily, except for one, they were the same people that I think will work best. I cede to her judgment for the last person, selfishly thinking that if they didn’t work out, I wouldn’t have to be the one to contend with it. She would.

It’s a bit late in the afternoon when we bang out our initial steps and final choices, and I’m more than ready to discontinue the conversation. I’m not, however, ready to pick up the conversation that she wants to have.

“I really feel I did the right thing,” she says with conviction.

“Grace, this conversation is moot,” I say matter-of-factly. The time for us to have this conversation has passed.

“You won’t even discuss it with me?” she asks, her voice rising an octave in disbelief.

“No,” I say finitely. “I don’t want to fight with you or dispute this with you anymore. What you did could have had disastrous results, and if you can’t understand that, there’s nothing for us to discuss.” She sighs.

“Fine. I was wrong,” she says, almost like a petulant child. I shake my head.

“You don’t get it,” I say. “I’m not looking for capitulation. I don’t need you to admit that you were wrong. I need you to see that you were wrong. Courtney had come miles from where she started. Her progress was fucking immeasurable. Addie barely recognized her as the hell that she sent back to her hellhole hometown. What you did could have set her back far beyond her starting point, and what would you have to say had that happened? What could you have possibly said to me—to Courtney—had you, in your self-proclaimed omnipotence, destroyed all the work that she put in to achieve what she achieved?”

“Can’t you see that sometimes, everything isn’t answered by theory and book-smarts? Sometimes—oftentimes—there’s emotion involved, and you just have to go with your gut?” Her voice is beseeching.

“I can see that, Grace, but can you?” I retort. “Logic dictates that the strides made by Courtney should have had her running back to Addie to present her new self—to show her grandmother that she was nothing like the person Addie last saw. The fact that her grandmother felt that she was nothing, she had to prove her wrong—for herself, but in the process, she made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with the source of her uncertainty. When they parted ways, Addie pretty much told her that she was better off dead. She cremated and buried Courtney’s mother this past summer with no pomp and circumstance, and you just take it upon yourself to say, ‘Oh, it’s a good idea to shove these two into each other’s faces!’ If you can’t see what’s wrong with that, just how fucked up a judgment call that was, then you’ll do it again and I can’t tolerate seeing all my hard work destroyed that way. I might as well go back to my practice.”

“I… I… I didn’t know…” she stammers.

“Of course, you didn’t know!” I bark. “There’s a lot you didn’t know! I’m the psychiatrist! I have all the inside scoops on what’s going on in these people’s minds because that’s what I do! And you had the audacity to be offended because I pointed that out! I don’t diagnose the intricate illness of children—that’s your specialty, not mine! But they share their deepest, darkest secrets with me because of my station and I act accordingly! She trusted me! She trusted me with her secrets and her feelings, with her life! And you exploited that! Can’t you see that? Can’t you see that you orchestrated a train wreck that could have destroyed them both and they just got lucky and walked away?”

“I… was just… following my instincts,” she says, resigned.

“Well, congratulations, doctor,” I say, clasping my hands on the table. “This time, your instincts were correct, and in the process, you undermined everything I do. The very basis of my profession is privacy and trust—respecting the rights of the patient. You know the Hippocratic Oath, and you totally disregarded mine, then haughtily walked away smiling when you did it. I can’t work like that. I can’t have someone’s mental well-being in my hands and in the back of my head, constantly fearing that you’re going to make a decision that’s going to unravel the intricate tapestry that I’ve taken months… or years… to create with one of my patients based on your instincts.” I silently shake my head, indicating that this is definitely a no-go for me.

Grace bites her lip and takes a seat, humbly clasping her hands in her lap.

“Can you, for just a moment, see where I’m coming from?” she says, her voice shaking slightly.

“No…” I begin.

“Please… let me finish,” she beseeches without raising her eyes. It’s my turn to be petulant, but I just defiantly fold my arms and sit mute.

“Addie… is my friend,” she begins. “She’s been my friend for a long, long time—even longer than that crazy bitch who victimized my son.”

That kind of stings… and causes me to let my guard down a little.

“You may have known how Courtney felt, but I knew how Addie felt. She felt hurt and betrayed, and that’s what made her say the things she said to Courtney, but most of all, she was heartbroken. She felt that she would die and have nothing to show for her bloodline. She had such high hopes for Courtney, and when she saw those hopes dashed to the rocks…” She stops and swallows.

“I’m not saying that you wouldn’t understand,” she says. “You’re a mother, so you have to know that we only want what’s best for our children. Courtney’s mother was such a disappointment and Addie had her hopes in Courtney even when everybody told her that it would be a lost cause. When she finally accepted that those hopes were destroyed, it was the most traumatizing thing that had ever happened to her. She tried to move on, but she was crushed.

“That’s the reason I advocated for Courtney in the first place,” she adds. “After everything that she had done and all the problems she had caused, I just wanted to help my friend. It was wonderful seeing the progress that she was making, but Addie was still hurting… deeply hurt. We didn’t hear anything about her daughter because she couldn’t mourn her daughter. To her, it was all a lost cause.

“I found out about Adele—that’s her daughter’s name—at Mia’s wedding. I had been trying to indirectly arrange a meeting ever since. I knew Courtney was at the wedding, but by the time I had heard about Adele, Courtney had already left.

“When I say that I was trusting my instincts, Ana, I’m not just saying that I thought it was a good idea. My friend was suffering, and I just didn’t want to see her suffering anymore… and I knew that seeing Courtney—how beautiful she is and how far she’s come—would do her some good.” I roll my eyes nearly to the point of agony.

“Why. Didn’t you. Explain that to me?” I nearly seethe. “Why didn’t you come and talk to me?”

“Because just like you had confidences, I had confidences…” she begins.

“But it was okay for you to disregard mine!” I nearly shout, causing Grace to jump a bit in her seat.

Settle down, Grey.

I take a deep breath and address the situation again.

“The progress that I made with Courtney in eleven short months is more than I’ve done with a lot of people in years, and you could have undone all of that. That’s what I need you to see. This situation is the epitome of that old saying about the road to hell and good intentions. I can appreciate that you saw your friend suffering and you wanted that suffering to stop, but your. Methods. Were wrong. You threw a blowtorch into a vat of gasoline and prayed that it wouldn’t explode, and instead of alienating one person, you could have alienated three—one of which was your very close friend.

“As much as I want to say that the biggest betrayal here was to Courtney’s right to privacy and to Addie’s suffering, I can’t even say that,” I say, and she raises glassy eyes to me. Yeah, this is going to sting, Dr. Grace, so get ready for it. “The biggest betrayal is that you dismissed me. You dismissed my expertise and my feelings. It caused friction in my marriage and discord in my professional life. But you know what’s even worse, Grace? What you probably never even considered even up to this very moment? You. Destroyed. My trust! Did you think about that? Did you think about the fact that I have to trust the person that I work with and I don’t trust you anymore?

“I can’t be effective under those conditions, and I can’t just wave that off. When you’re dealing with the human mind, at any given moment someone’s sanity can be hanging in a delicate balance. One wrong word, one wrong action, can be the difference between a breakthrough and suicide—and I’m not exaggerating.” I immediately think of Ace’s shark’s tooth.

“I should have come and talked to you,” she says just above a whisper, her voice cracking.

“Yes,” I say softly, but firmly. “You should have…” and now, it’s probably too late. Grace takes a deep, shuddering breath and stands.

“Let me know what you decide to do,” she says without raising her eyes to me. “I’ll understand either way.” She turns and quickly walks out of my office. I hear her heels clicking at a quick pace down the hall and just before she closes the door to her office, I hear her begin to weep.

Dear God in heaven, I think to myself as my face falls on my arms on my desk, my hair splayed wildly over my hands and arms like a blanket. What am I going to do now…?

*-*

“Hey…”

My head feels like lead and my eyes hurt from crying. I can only imagine that I look like pure hell from having cried myself to sleep at my desk and when I turn towards the soft, melodic voice, my husband is looking lovingly at me while stroking my hair out of my face.

“Hey,” I barely squeak out. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s late… and Mom called me,” he says. “She told me that you were still in your office when she left and that it might be a good idea if I came to get you.”

“I don’t know what to do, Christian,” I lament, on the brink of tears again.

“Well, you won’t think about it tonight,” he says cupping my cheek. “Right now, I’m going to take you home, bathe you, feed you, and make love to you. Then, you can conquer this in the morning.”

I don’t have the will or desire to fight him. I’m tired of thinking, dreaming, fretting about this whole thing. It’s getting on my nerves. I stand and proceed to leave the building and had it not been for Chuck, I might have left without my children. Mom of the year.

My husband keeps his promise, making sure that I was fed, bathed, and loved. Nonetheless, at 2:49 in the morning, I find myself staring at the ceiling while he’s sleeping comfortably next to me. I don’t know how long I’ve been lying here, but I decide that I don’t want to lie here anymore. I quietly roll out of bed and retrieve the first shirt that I can find. It’s the linen shirt that Christian wore to work, and it smells like him. It’s comforting. I put it on and button it before leaving our suite.

The children are sound asleep and I don’t want to disturb them, so I go to the kitchen to get something to drink. After I fix a spritzer, I sit at the breakfast bar, trying to think of something to do. I look at my phone and begin to scroll through it. Some time between the time I got home and now, my contacts, calendar, and apps had all been moved to the new phone.

When did he find time to do that?

I had already forwarded my calls to the new phone, but it’s probably time to leave the new number on the old message so that I can retire my 4S soon. I decide to take a look at my emails. I had cleared most of them at work, but I hadn’t looked at the junk mail to see if anything had been misrouted.

Sure enough, something had.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Web Presence
Date: Saturday, December 13, 2014, 14:14
From: Laura Kelly

Hey there, Sheila!

Just a little nudge from down under to remind you to finish setting up your social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—but start with Facebook. It’s probably best for social media virgins. I know you said you had to talk to your PR people before you could pull the trigger. Remember what I showed ya!

Jax was a little depressed after visiting his mum’s grave, even more depressed when we got back to the ship and there was no Chris to shoot the shit with. You’ll have to come back and see us sometimes, or we’ll look you up next time we’re in the States.

Look for LauraLee Kelly on Facebook. You can’t miss me!

Missing you guys already!
Laura

Laura showed me the basics while we were on the cruise and we ran around her social media accounts a bit, but we never actually set up an account for me.

Social media. Facebook. Hmmm…

Screw PR. I’ll just create an alias.

I go to iTunes and download the Facebook app. Sign up with an email.

Back up.

I go to Gmail and create an alias email just for this purpose. You can’t be too careful.

First name… Anastasia

Last name… hmmm.

Lambert.

There’s no taboo attached to that name for me anymore. It’s a name that I used to escape, and I escaped, so…

Welcome to Gmail!

Back to Facebook.

Sign up. What’s your name?

Anastasia Lambert.

Hmm… it still feels too obvious.

Mercer Mistress… Hell, no!

Mercer Doctor Lady.

Good enough for now.

Upload a profile picture…

Butterflies!

I do a quick internet search and find a picture of a black and white butterfly that reminds me of Marty.

Perfect!

I download it to my phone, then upload it as my profile picture.

Invite your friends… well, I only have one that I know of on social media…

LauraLee Kelly. I need her email. Nah, I’ll look her up and invite her to be my friend. It’s faster.

I have access!

LauraLee Kelly.

She’s right. I find her quickly and send a friend request. I create the same account with Twitter, then I make the mistake of going to Facebook and Twitter and doing a search for my name.

There are a million of me!

I could make a page with my real name and no one would be any wiser, but no. I’ll hide behind Mercer Doctor Lady. Not very creative or catchy, I know, but it’ll fit the bill. I answer a few questions about books and hobbies.

There’s nothing on my timeline since I don’t have any friends, so I see what Facebook has to offer.

Videos… relationship advice… reality TV snippets… groups that might interest me… comedy…

I like comedy.

I watch several comedy videos and share many of them to my timeline.

I’m dying laughing over Steve Harvey and Family Feud…

Ellen Degeneres, well, I love her. I follow her and Steve on Facebook.

The Real Housewives of what? Where? What real housewives behave this way? And you’re still married? These women need to get a damn life!

“What are you doing down here?”

I’m startled by Christian coming to the kitchen in his pajama pants. I’m even more startled by something else…

Daylight.

“I was just… I couldn’t sleep,” I say. Hell if I’m telling him I spent all night on Facebook. His gaze softens.

“I didn’t do my job, then,” he says, closing the space between us. I put my phone down and sigh.

“It’s not you,” he says, “and I don’t want to pull you into the middle of what’s happening between me and your mother.”

“She said you didn’t fight, but I have a feeling you did,” he says. I look up at him.

“You thought I fought with your mother and you still brought me home and took care of me?” he shrugs.

“She’s my mother and I love her very much, but she went home to her husband. You’re my responsibility.” I wrap my arms around his waist and lean on his chest.

“I love you,” I say, breathing in his scent.

“I love you, too,” he says. I sigh. “You’re holding it in. You have to tell somebody.” I lean back and look up at him, twisting my lips.

“She looked like a broken puppy when she left my office, and I heard her crying,” I say. “She broke us… plain and simple. She broke us as a team. I have to trust who I’m working with. That’s it. I don’t expect you to take sides here, I really don’t, but I have to say it out loud. She broke us. She broke the team, and I don’t know if it can be fixed.”

“Any idea what it would take to be fixed?” he asks.

“Time, for one,” I admit, “and I’m not sure I’m willing to put it in.” She begged me last year to give Courtney a chance and I did, and we built something, and then she tossed it out like trash. Fuck how Courtney was feeling; fuck what Courtney wanted; Addie was more important.

“You’re taking it really personal, baby. Can you tell me why?” he asks.

“Because this could be anybody,” she says. “This could be a scared and battered wife and mother hiding from her abusive husband. I put in the work and get to the core of this girl’s deepest, darkest secrets—get her to where she’s not afraid to fall asleep at night; to where she finally sees that she’s out from under the oppression of her abusive husband and can do something with her life… move forward like Marlow’s mother did. And then Grace somehow brings the abusive father back into the picture. All that work I’ve done for nothing, and her only excuse and reasoning is that she’s following her instincts.

“Yes, that’s more graphic. Addie wasn’t abusive, but Courtney was crushed, crushed enough to never want to see her grandmother again, and Grace disregarded that… disregarded her feelings, disregarded her wishes, disregarded my work as a person and a professional. It’s very personal, Christian. How can I work with someone like that?”

“Then… why were you crying?” he asks.

“Because I obviously hurt her, and I didn’t mean to. We didn’t fight, but I was merciless in my explanations. She put her friend’s feelings over all professionalism and trust, the very basis of my profession. If she’s going to make decisions over my head without any consideration for my wishes, opinions, or input, then why am I there? I feel strongly about that, but I didn’t mean to hurt her—and I don’t know if she was hurt over understanding what she did to me or the concept of losing me.” He hugs me again.

“You’ll figure it out, baby. I know you will,” he encourages, “but doesn’t it feel better to get it out?”

“A little,” I say, sinking into his embrace.

“What have you been doing down here all night?” he asks. I twist my lips and look up at him, then push my phone over to him.

“Facebook?” he says, mirthfully. “You’ve been on Facebook all night?”

“Watching videos,” I say. “I don’t have any friends online.”

“You’ve got one, Mercer Doctor Lady,” he says and hands my phone back to me.

Laura accepted my friend’s request.


A/N: Ethan Hunt is Tom Cruise’s character in Mission Impossible. He was a master of disguise and could make himself or anyone else look like anyone anywhere.

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

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. Be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last 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, you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu entitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 84—Adelaide Antics

More Aussie—get over it.

All other previous disclaimers still apply.

Dedicating this one to Alexis, who sends me a “thank you” email every time she gets a chapter. I may not always respond, but I see every one of them, my friend. You’re welcome, and thank you for sticking it out with me.

Chapter 84—Adelaide Antics

CHRISTIAN

I’m lying on the bed trying to catch my breath and she’s still playing with my cock. She has made it clear that she’s not done with me yet, so I better get my ass and gear and get ready for round two.

I take a few deep breaths to regain control of my body and try to draw my focus away from my aching dick. My wife playing with it before it’s ready is not necessarily a good thing, but I’m not going to tell her that.

It’s time for mind over matter, Grey. You’ve been here before—being tormented after an orgasm. You can overcome this.

My wife is in tune with me, though, even in this pickled state, and she adjusts her stimulation… gently stroking my balls and playing with my perineum like only she’s allowed to do. It gives my tender head and cock a moment of sweet reprieve, but still adds the sweet stimulation of her gentle hands. I close my eyes and absorb the feeling of my wife touching me as my cock recuperates. A few moments later, I sink into the feeling of her hands on me, stimulating my prostate from the outside.

She looks up at me, demanding, opens her mouth wide and descends upon my balls. I take a deep breath and she sucks them into her mouth. My dick twitches a little, but hasn’t yet revived. She rolls her tongue around the skin, tasting it and never taking her lust-filled blue eyes off of me.

Lick, lick, lick, suck… she’s tasting them, savoring them like candy, and after a minute or two, we have liftoff. When she sees my cock respond to the stimulation, she sucks my balls into her mouth, manipulating them like she’s giving them a blowjob.

“Sssss,” I hiss as she sucks them into her mouth, fellating my testicles like two delicious gumballs right before you devour them. It looks insane and feels even better, and it’s not long before Greystone it staring up at me at attention. He seeps a very tiny bit of grateful moisture from the head and settles back into pleasure, occasionally bobbing his applause at her masterful skills.

I gaze into her commanding blue eyes as I push my pelvis down against the hand still massaging my perineum while she gobbles my balls. Without warning, she takes my cock in her mouth again and I hiss in surprise. She bobs down on it and I can’t help but thrust. Then, she’s up on her knees, nothing touching me but her lips and tongue.

“Good God,” I hiss as I thrust slowly and evenly into her mouth, rolling my hips to keep up with her rhythm. She angles her head at just the right moment in just the right way with each thrust to accommodate the mouth fuck. Her mouth is wet and hot and as I stroke into it, saliva falls amply and provocatively from her lips. I swear if she keeps this up, this show will be over a whole lot sooner than we want.

Fucking hell! What was in that wine?

She grants me reprieve and releases my dick momentarily only to zero in on the head once more. Fucking hell.

She licks the head gently, then purses her lips in the most delicious way and sucks it into her mouth. The skin is still a little pliable and oh, so sensitive and it feels so good. Her puckered lips suck the head, the tightness and pressure never relenting, and now I want to crawl up the bed away from her. Her lips never breach the rim and she’s driving me crazy. When she loosens her lips a bit to allow saliva to run over the head of my dick only to suck it into her mouth and clean the skin again, I nearly break into convulsions.

“I want to make you come like this again,” she says, “but I can’t wait anymore…”

She scurries on top of me and drops down on my rock-hard dick, thrusting it so deep inside of her that I think I feel the opening of her uterus. I’m in elated shock as she just sits atop me, her head back and her eyes closed, her hands flat on my chest.

“Yes!” she breathes, as she flexes and contracts her pussy. “Oh, yes…”

Oh, yes is right! I can’t say it because I’m frozen in pleasure, my hands once again gripping the sheet and my mouth open, looking up at this enchantress and panting like a dog. Do what you wish to me… I’m yours… I don’t care…

She rocks her hips infinitesimally, but she may as well be wobbling like she’s working a hula-hoop! Greystone reaches out in every direction to feel her walls and I can barely function. I watch her lick and bite her lip as she widens the stance of her knees for traction and I’m mesmerized. Her mouth is moving but no words are coming out and she looks ethereal, almost like she’s praying—and this feeling in my cock is heavenly. Her walls are squeezing and grinding against my shaft ever so slightly causing this deliciously infernal burn. The light from behind her is causing a “halo” effect around her and it’s either the remnants of the wine or an extreme pleasure-induced haze, but I swear that God has sent an angel to ride me tonight…

Yeah, it’s the wine, but who the fuck cares?

Her grind intensifies just a bit, a tiny bit of roll and a tiny bit of thrust, and I know that she’s finding the angle that’s hitting that spot. I’m not even here anymore. I’m just that body that’s attached to that dick that’s bringing her to her plateau.

Use me, baby. Fucking use me til you scream…

Her hip roll becomes a steady thrust, short and intense, and her nails dig into my chest. The pain ignites my pleasure center, my balls tighten, and I almost lose it. I grunt loudly, grabbing her knees as she continues to ride me.

Yes… touch me…

I don’t know if she said it out loud, but I heard it. My hands travel up the front of her thighs to her hips, pistoning against mine and working Greystone into a fired frenzy.

“Yes!” she breathes, and I squeeze her hips. Fuck that dick, baby. Ride that cock until you’re dripping all over it.

My hands move up her alabaster skin to her breast. I squeeze her mounds and thumb her taut nipples until they pebble.

“Oh, God,” she keens, her thrusts quickening. She moves her hands from my chest and positions them on the bed on either side of my head.

I can’t play with her breasts anymore. I can’t concentrate… too good… too good…

My hands move to her thighs and clench. I have no choice but to hold on for this masterful ride. She drops her head so that her hair falls forward over my face, reminding me of the very first time she caressed me with her hair. It’s longer now, thicker, and it smells divine, and I swear that I’m slipping into a level of subspace where I’m transcending a bit, my shaft and balls being beaten within an inch of their lives as she’s now thrusting with speed and purpose, fucking me…

Fucking me like a man… like a man would fuck his woman, driving into her balls deep with sweet abandon, feeling her wrap around him over and over again as he pursues sweet release. I’m that man, only I have nothing to do with the fucking. I’m being fucked—ridden like a wild animal.

Her breaths are ragged, driven. Her rhythm is fast and smooth. She doesn’t pump and rock me with each thrust, although the bed rocks violently with our movement. No, her motion is smooth, a groove on and off my dick, the only parts of her moving are her hips as she fucks me and her knees as they open and close on either side of me with each thrust, her feet secure under my thighs anchoring her to my body.

Fuck… oh fuck…

She’s primal as she rides me—fucking feral. I can’t see her face through the mask of her hair over mine, but I know that her eyes are closed, her mind and body concentrating on nothing but riding that dick, nothing but feeling it fill her pussy over and over and over…

I grind my teeth and take in a breath as I feel the orgasm quickly rising in my balls again. She’s not ready, and I can’t go until she does.

With her hands flat on the bed, she moves her hips up and down on my cock with a very controlled and rhythmic bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce. With each silent drop, my cock threatens to blow, but I hold that painful nut, waiting… waiting…

She whimpers. Fuck, she whimpers. The sound of her voice turns me on so much. Don’t come, Grey. Fucking hold it…

I squeeze her thighs harder, trying to hold back my climax banging at my balls and demanding to be released.

She whimpers again.
Fuck, she’s killing me here!

She’s bouncing harder, faster, with purpose, her breathing intentional and ragged… Fuck, I’m not going to make it…

“Come! Come!” she hisses heavily. Shit, I hope she was talking to me, because I squeeze her thighs tight and begin to blow fantastically inside of her. Seconds later, she shrieks and begins to tremble on top of me. I grab her breasts as I’m blasting out my insides, pumping all my hopes and dreams inside of my happy place. Her legs tighten on either side of me, her hands clasp over mine on her breasts, and her head falls back, releasing cries of passion as we both ride out our orgasms.

*-*

Sunday has no particular schedule except to be at the airport at 4:30pm to fly back to Seattle. Even though the session last night was hot as fuck, we managed to get to sleep at a reasonable hour. Butterfly awakes with only a slight hangover—fortunate, but surprising, considering that she probably consumed her body weight in wine yesterday and enamored several people in the process. However, after a steaming hot shower, another round with the breast pump, and lots of water and some ibuprofen for my libation princess, she’s ready to face the day.

We start with some Facetime with our babies with a promise that they will see us tomorrow night. Minnie’s separation anxiety seems to have gotten a little worse and I must say that I’m glad we’ll be home soon. I shudder to think how badly my babies suffered while I was away from them in Madrid. True, they had their mother, but I wasn’t there… and she was suffering, too. God, I can’t believe I was such an insensitive asshole.

Intent on forgetting about the huge fuck-up I made a few months ago after leaving my wife and children with no word if or when I was coming back home, I aim to have fun with my wife for our last day in Australia. So, we have a hearty breakfast and plan to spend our last day at the Adelaide Zoo. However, after talking to the front desk staff, we decide to go to the Cleland Wildlife Park instead. According to the locals, the Adelaide Zoo is nice, but you’re going to spend most of your day seeing more of the common animals that you would see in any zoo. Cleland is a bit more interactive and entertaining on short notice. We’ll get a chance to connect with and observe the indigenous species of the land in their natural habitat.

Once again, Lawrence shadows us while Jason gets us checked out of the hotel and our bags checked at the airport. He’ll meet us at Cleland with a picnic lunch we secured from a local café and then it’s to the airport with us all to return home.

My wife is looking adorably casual in another pair of skinny blue jeans and a cute T-shirt that’s tied in a knot behind her with a caption that says, “Baked in Seattle.” She’s wearing another pair of sneakers today and says that she just wants to be comfortable walking around the zoo and traveling home. I pretty much mimic her outfit in a T-shirt and jeans, although my shirt doesn’t have a caption.

We enter the park through the gift shop and past the café before we exit out the back of the building and we’re on our way to see the animals.

There are a lot of exhibits, but for the most part, many of the animals roam pretty freely so as to maintain the aspects of their natural habitat. So, it’s very easy to just walk up to them and start feeding them. However, there are some enclosures, and what’s the first one that we see?

You guessed it—the reptile enclosure.

“I don’t want to go in there,” Butterfly protests.

“Don’t be a chicken,” I say. “We don’t even know if we’ll see the same things we saw at the zoo. We’ll probably see something more interesting and exotic.”

“I see snakes on the display, Christian. We will see the same things.”

“Well, then, you know that they’re in cages, and I want to see the snakes.” I enter the reptile enclosure to see what types of exotic animals are on display. Lawrence stays with my wife outside as I take a look around.

It’s probably a good idea that Butterfly stayed outside, because some of the snakes are contained in the displays and some of them are not. Granted, they’re not crawling all over the floor, but they are on displays outside of the glass. I don’t know why I’ve always been a bit fascinated by snakes. Maybe it’s because I’ve always considered myself a bit of an unsavory character—unkind, undeserving of love, maybe even a little wicked—and snakes have historically been associated with evil, like the serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden.

There are a few keepers in the reptile enclosure, all near one of the reptiles who aren’t contained. I’m fascinated by the one with this huge greenish snake wrapped around his body. I see that a small child is actually stroking the body of the snake and I walk over to get a closer look.

When I say this damn thing is huge, I mean it’s huge! I have no idea how long it is, but I’m fairly certain that it’s non-venomous if they’re allowing a child to pet it while it’s wrapped around another human being. I’ve only seen two other snakes this big. One is an anaconda and I’m pretty certain this ain’t one of those.

“Is that a Burmese python?” I ask the trainer. That’s the snake that accompanies Selma Hayak’s dance at the strip club in From Dusk Till Dawn.

“Thaht’s a good guess, mayte, but no. This is an olive poython. She can get ta be fordeen feet long and up to 20 kilos in body weight…”

Here’s another example of the varying accents in Australia. He hardly has an accent at all, and not only that, but I also note that he used a metric weight and a standard measure of length.

“Theyse ahr warm weathah poythons that eat really big pry—kangaroos, wallabays, things of thaht soht. This guhl here was actually a breedah for a while, but now she’s here with us.”

She looks strangely majestic wrapped around this guy and I reach out to caress her smooth skin…

“Would ya loike to hold hah?” he asks. I’m taken aback by the question and frown, but I find myself agreeing to hold the ginormous olive python. The keeper shows me how to cradle the snake as he helps her wrap her coils around my body. If you don’t cradle or hold them correctly, they can get hurt, which strangely means that in captivity, we’re more dangerous to them than they are to us.

I’m a tiny bit nervous holding the snake, admiring her texture and how gentle she is, and hearing more facts and statistics about how she came to be in the Adelaide preserve when olive pythons mostly inhabit northern Australia. I’m sort of wishing Butterfly was here with me to take a picture of this, but I’m certain that she’d probably have a coronary if she saw me like this. I don’t know why because it kind of feels like a big hug…

“Christian Trevelyan Grey, what the hell are you doing!?”

Is my mother here?

I raise my gaze to see a tiny and enraged Butterfly glaring at me with her hands on her hips, and the entire reptile enclosure falls silent.

“You have infant twins at home, and you come to Australia and suddenly become Steve Irwin! Have you lost your mind?” she scolds.

“It’s not dangerous, baby,” I say, and I feel like I’m twelve.

“Not dangerous??” she shrieks. “It’s a snake! A very big snake! And I can guarantee that it didn’t get that big by eating mice!”

“Thehr hahmless, ma’am,” the keeper says. “She’s not venomous and she’s gentle as a lamb.” Butterfly throws a glare at the keeper that chills my soul, and I simultaneously throw a glare at Lawrence, who simply shrugs. The shrug says a lot—he couldn’t stop her from coming in, but I’m still miffed at him.

“I thought you were staying outside,” I retort, trying to regain control of the situation.

“You’ve been in here forever,” she counters. “I would like to see the park!”

I haven’t been in here that long… have I?

“Sir,” she says, turning to the keeper, “would you please remove the huge, man-eating reptile from my husband?”

“Yes, ma’am. C’mon, guhl,” the keeper says as he gently begins to uncoil the python from my body and wrap her around his. I can see that he’s unsuccessfully trying to hide his mirth as he retrieves the snake. There’s no use in trying to reason with her right now. She might as well have walked in on me with another woman.

Actually, she did.

She does a military turn to leave and marches towards the door. Just before she gets there, we see a group of children gathered around another keeper. I’m sure we have the exact same thought. What in this room could have children gathered around like that?

She approaches cautiously and stands there, easily able to see over the children and somewhat mesmerized, I must say, by whatever has their attention. I look over her shoulder and the keeper is handling a bearded dragon. I don’t know what has Butterfly so mesmerized, but she is completely entranced. When the keeper asks if she wants to hold it, she extends her hand without even speaking. The keeper places the dragon in her flat palm, and she examines it carefully while the keeper gives us little factoids about it, like the fact that its beard does indeed look like unshaved whiskers and extends fully when he feels threatened.

I snicker at my wife’s obvious double standard and lean in to get a laugh at her expense.

“Mommy, can we keep it?” I whine like one of the children watching my wife, causing them to snicker. It breaks her trance and she looks over her shoulder at me. “You can hold a dragon, but I can’t hold a python.” She sticks her tongue out at me and hands the dragon back to the keeper with a “Thank you.”

“I told you at the zoo that I don’t have problems with lizards. It’s snakes that are my issue,” she says once we clear the door. “And how can you even compare the two? That dragon was twelve inches tops from nose to tail. That snake was ten feet long easily.”

“Fourteen, but who’s counting?” I say, walking past her and looking at the full-sized map since she has the small one.

“You are such an a—ah! Oh, God!” I turn around to see my wife leaping backwards and looking at something on the ground. A large ball of fur is running towards her, and she yelps. And then another. I look at the map and discover that these furry little not-so-adorable creatures are potoroos. Butterfly doesn’t like them too much. As a matter of fact, she could very much do without them.

Potoroos have really long tails and are about the size of a young housecat. When they stand, they resemble very small kangaroos. However, when they run on all fours—which they do more often—they look like very large, really fat rats. They scamper right across the trail as you’re walking by, causing my wife to nearly jump out of her skin when she sees the first one. I’m certain she would have scurried up the nearest tree if she could. Once she sees the first one, she has the displeasure of seeing them scamper all over the park in herds looking for food like giant rats in the sewers of New York. She opts not to feed them, although Lawrence gets a kick out of letting one of them eat from his hand.

A tiny bit of fun never hurt anybody.

A wallaby walks up to us on the trail and Butterfly leans down to feed it. However, a potoroo runs over to partake in the feast and Butterfly is having none of that. So, the poor wallaby has to wait until the next person comes with a treat. No worries, Butterfly. We’ll get a chance to see more wallabies deeper in the park.

Our next stop is the rainbow Lorikeet display. Two of the birds are huddled on the fence together and I swear, they look like their snuggling and making out. The minute one walks down the fence for some room, the other walks right back up to it and continues to rub against the first bird’s feathers.

“Is that how they mate?” I ask Butterfly, who has downloaded the Cleland app to help us identify the animals and get more information on them.

“Maybe,” she says, scrolling through her phone. “They’re mostly monogamous and most of them mate for life. So… these two could be a couple.”

Could be? It looks like one is going to mount the other right here on the fence!

After a quick left turn past the Lorikeets, we arrive at one of three kangaroo habitats—the Kangaroo Island kangaroos. You can walk right up to them and feed them right from your hand. From there we see the swamp wallabies, confirming what I said earlier—that we would get another chance to feed the wallabies without being swamped by what Butterfly so lovingly refers to as “wildlife rats.”

She’ll hold a fancy lizard, but she won’t go near the potoroos… My wife is strange.

Next, we walk through one of the aviaries in the park where we see various species of native birds, water birds, and forest birds and on the other end outside of the aviary, we see the cape barren geese and the emu. I think I remember seeing the emu and some kind of kangaroo at the Seattle Zoo, but I’m not sure. I have to say that I’m getting a kick out of not just seeing the usual suspects as I’m certain we would have had we gone to the Adelaide Zoo instead.

We spend a little time looking at the wombats, but unfortunately, they like to hide in their little dens or holes or whatever you call them. So, they’re not really interested in putting on a show for us. However, it’s a warm day, so the echidnas are out and about on display. They’re these tiny little things that favor miniature porcupines, but when I see them, I swear they remind me of powder puffs—maybe not so puffy, but they still look like powder puffs.

Further into the park are the western grey kangaroos and the yellow-footed flock wallabies. We see the wallabies first, and I mistake them for just more kangaroos, but the locals inform us that wallabies have shorter legs than kangaroos. I only see the difference after they point it out.

A western grey kangaroo with a baby in her pouch comes to eat from my wife’s hand, which is somewhat unusual, we’re told, since kangaroos are extremely protective of their babies. She actually holds onto Butterfly’s hands with one of hers while she eats the feed from her palm. Of course, I must capture that for posterity.

Jason calls us to inform us that he has arrived with our lunch, so we head to the picnic area, intent on saving the Tasmanian Devils and the Koala display for last. More time has passed than we thought as it’s easy to lose yourself in the various species of animals in the park, especially watching them thrive in their own habitat.

“Is it me or does is seem like we haven’t really had any alone time on this trip?” I begin as we tuck into a delicious picnic lunch of Thai salad with beef strips; chicken, avocado, and pesto rolls; a stocked deli and Mediterranean antipasto tray; fruit salad, croissants, sparkling mineral water, bottled water and of course, a bottle of white wine. My wife raises her head slowly and cocks it to the side, gazing at me like a strange animal.

“Well, yes, of course there’s been a lot of fucking,” I acknowledge, “but I just mean out and about.” She begins to load her fork with Thai salad.

“Well, we are in a foreign country,” she replies. “We have to have our security. It’s the nature of the beast—you pointed that out to me. And we’re in a very touristy part of the world. It’s not like we went to a retreat.” She takes the forkful of her salad.

“I know. I guess I kind of expected more ‘gazing at sunsets’ and that sort of thing. Speaking of sunsets…” I pull out the camera and scroll back to the pictures of the sunset that I took at Barossa Valley.

“Christian, these are beautiful,” she says as she scrolls through the pictures, temporarily abandoning her lunch. “Where did you take these?”

“Wine country,” I tell her. “Near the end as we were leaving.” She looks at me and frowns.

“Where was I?” she asks. “How could I have possibly missed this?”

“You were asleep, darling,” I inform her with a smile. The fruits of the land had you knocked out completely. She twists her lips.

“You’re going to rub that in,” she complains, handing me back the camera.

“Not as much as you did last night,” I say before taking a bite of my chicken wrap. The words are out of my mouth before I know it, and I don’t regret it. It’s true. She raises a brow to me and helps herself to some antipasto.

“I made a call a few days ago,” I say. “Remember when I said that I wanted us to have some kind of training when we got back to Seattle?” She nods. “Well, a couple of old, trusted acquaintances got back in touch with me and are willing to set something up for next weekend.” She swallows her food.

“That soon,” she says, picking at her salad. I place my fork on the plate and take her hand.

“Is there any reason why we should wait?” I ask. “We need some formal training.”

“What… exactly is involved in ‘formal training?’” she asks.

“We learn from people with experience how the lifestyle fits into our relationship,” I say, trying not to be too obvious to possible prying ears.

“Hmmm,” she says before turning back to her lunch.

“What?” I ask.

“I’m not sure how I feel about ‘formal training,’” she says. “It brings the Pedo-bitch She-thing to mind.” I twist my lips. I hadn’t thought about that.

“It’s going to be necessary, baby,” I tell her. “We’re going about this the wrong way. We jumped into it with both feet, but we never really knew what the other needed from the relationship. I’m feeling around in the dark for your needs and you’re pushing yourself beyond your limits for mine. That’s totally unacceptable.”

“But… strangers,” she says, trepid, “I realize the importance of assistance, believe me, but the thought of training for something so intimate with outsiders…” She’s shaking her head.

“When you needed guidance, you went to your friend, Michelangelo,” I point out. “This is going to be no different.”

“This is going to be world’s different,” she says, firmly but softly. “Someone’s going to be teaching me how to be a submissive. I remember the BDSM club, Christian, I don’t know if I want anybody to see me like that!”

See her like wha…?

“Whoa! Whoa! Wait a minute. I remember the BDSM club, too. I don’t want anybody to see you like that, either! Is that the kind of training you think I mean?”

Her expression softens, a mixture of relief and confusion.

“I tho… well… well, what other kind of training is there?”

I slump back in the chair a bit, my own emotions a bit of relief and amusement.

“Baby, you’re a psychiatrist,” I say softly, leaning in her direction. “You took human sexuality as part of your required studies. You must know that the biggest percentage of the lifestyle is psychological—what you mentally gain from the experience. The physical is an aid; it’s a means to an end. It’s not the meat of the relationship or the lifestyle. You must know that.”

“Well, yes, but…” Just as she begins her protest, I can see one of those three-second-funnels run through her head with a myriad of scenarios and questions and situations and realizations and in just as much time, she says, “You’re right. My mind is totally blowing past that part because it’s wrapped around the physical portion of it. I don’t know how I could have missed it.”

“Because you’re in it,” I point out, stroking the skin on the back of her hand. “It’s the same thing as being able to help someone else face and conquer their fears, but not being as successful about facing your own. It’s a normal human flaw. But now that I understand more clearly, I can tell you. Our training will be all instructional, informational, and verbal. We may take part in an activity or two if it’s required or we desire it, but I don’t want anybody else seeing or touching that beautiful body any more than you do.”

I stroke her cheek with the back of my hand and she physically relaxes. Geez, if she thought for one second that I would want anyone but me exercising any dominance of any kind on her, I’m extremely glad to dispel that theory. Touch my Butterfly? In a pig’s eye! And some other horny Dom watching me spank or flog her so that he can go impose his will on some pain whore somewhere with images of my Butterfly in his head? I think not!

“Yes,” she says, “yes, I think I would like to pursue this… to see… what we need to do to enhance our relationship and… to meet each other’s needs.” She’s choosing her words carefully. I can tell.

“I want to be a good husband, and a good Dom to you,” I say without hesitation or careful choosing of my words. “I want us to come to an agreement of what works for us instead of you feeling like my will must be imposed upon you. When I’ve lost control, I do want you to help me back to where I need to be, but only to the extent of what you can take, not what you think I need. You’re the perfect Domme for me when the time comes—and with very little training—but I’m definitely not the perfect Dom for you… yet.”

“That’s what we’re aiming for?” she asks uncertain. “Perfection?”

“As fucking close as we can get,” I say, bringing her hand to my lips and pressing a gentle kiss on her fingers. She gives me a faint, coy smile.

“I can deal with close,” she says softly.

We finish our lunch talking lightly about the things we plan to do when we get back home, but I can tell that she’s still distracted by the previous content of our conversation. I’ll just have to show her that everything will be better throughout the course of our training. She’s not some mindless, meaningless submissive. She’s my wife, and it’s important that she knows what she means to me—even in that submissive role… especially in that submissive role.

We’re back on the trail to commune with the rest of the animals in the park before we must head to the airport. Our first stop is the red kangaroo area. The kangaroos stick around in groups of two or three—one, occasionally—especially babies with parents. All of the animals are pretty docile and accustomed to human interaction, and the red kangaroo is no exception. I lean down to feed one of them while Butterfly is feeding another. He lies down on the grass in the shade and gets comfortable, forcing me to walk over to him and squat. While he’s chilling under the tree, I extend my open hand with the feed and he just chomps away. I reach up and rub his head, giving him a scratch behind his ear. The freaking diva raises his chin like a dog as if to say, “You missed a spot.” I hear a little giggle and look over at my wife, who’s videotaping my interaction with my latest friend on the digital camera. I give her a good show and scratch him under his neck, since he so obligingly raised his head to give me a better angle.

We continue through the preserve and arrive at the dingoes den. They have a beautiful coat, and amongst themselves, they’re very playful. However, they’re considered “pests” and as an old tale goes, they like to eat babies in Australia. I don’t know how true that is, but according to one of the locals also attending the park, there is a story from the 80’s that a woman named Lindy Chamberlain’s baby mysteriously disappeared while on a camping trip.

Dingoes, like any other animal in the wild, are opportunistic and mostly eat small animals like rabbits and rodents. At the time, the ranger was touting that dingoes in the area were becoming quite aggressive and due to the eating habits and reputation of the dingo, Chamberlain declared that a dingo had eaten her baby. The story is apparently pretty controversial because some people say that dingoes don’t really eat babies. Yet, she lost her baby and blamed a dingo.

Though the infant’s clothing was discovered mangled and bloody about two and a half miles away from the campsite, the child was never found.

The dingo is a carnivorous canine, likened to a reddish-brown wild dog, with a longer snout and sharper teeth. Whether they attack babies or just eat rabbits remains to be seen. However, the pure dingo is an endangered species because of crossbreeding with domestic dogs, so pest or not, the pure dingoes in this habitat are protected.

We finally get to see some real, live Tasmanian devils. The little buggers are tiny little black things that scurry around looking for food or whatever it is they’re looking for. This being my first time ever seeing a live Tasmanian devil, I try to compare it to the cartoon.

“No resemblance,” I say. Butterfly frowns.

“To what?” she asks.

“To the cartoon,” I reply. She pauses for a moment, then laughs loudly.

“Besides the ears, have you ever seen a rabbit that looks like Bugs Bunny?” she asks mirthfully.

She’s got a point.

Many of these devils are very small, but they’ll only get to be just over two feet long at their longest only about 18 pounds. I would say that all of these are less than ten pounds. They can run pretty fast—about 8 miles/hour—and although he’s not leaving utter destruction in his path, this little guy in the enclosure looks like he’s trying to reach that speed as he runs around and around and around in circles while his friends just sit on a rock watching him. I guess the cartoon Tassy is more of a caricature of what the Tasmanian devil should look like, because I see little to no resemblance whatsoever.

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Now, of course, Butterfly has to have the experience of holding a koala. They’re cute and lovable and right up her alley, and they’re actually very strong. My wife adores them. Had I jokingly asked if we could take one home like I did the bearded dragon, I’m certain she would have agreed and demanded that I find a way for us to have a Koala transported to the Crossing. I could see myself trying to convince her that we are not the Neverland Ranch and a koala is not Bubbles. Oh, the arguing with PETA and animal control and the zoning board for keeping an exotic animal in the area…

And I quickly bring my mind back from the tangent.

We pet them for a while and learn about their upbringing and temperament from the keeper while they feed on sprigs with eucalyptus leaves. Finally, Butterfly gets her much-anticipated opportunity to hold the koala. The keeper instructs us to don a smock that’s very soft like velvet or something, almost like the koala’s fir and the same color. We each get the opportunity to hold the koala in our arms and Butterfly is completely stricken. She gets her picture taken with the little guy and I think he’s as stricken with her as she is with him—he won’t release her when it’s my turn to hold him.

We finally come to a compromise and Butterfly pets him while I hold him. That’s the only way that he would settle in my arms! When he finally does, though, he cuddles into me and continues to eat his eucalyptus leaves. Butterfly stays by my side while I take a picture with it to keep the little guy from squirming. It’s like holding a small child—well, not my kids. My kids are cuter, but this little guy is pretty cute, too. We have to be careful while we’re handling them as they have powerful claws and can scratch you pretty badly. That’s why we wore the smocks.

Butterfly is sad to leave the wildlife park, particularly the koala area, but we stop at the gift shop where we buy lots of trinkets and souvenirs as well as copies of our pictures from the Koala experience. Oh, and she purchased several stuffed koalas, too.


ANASTASIA

Traveling to and from Australia means that you can literally be traveling for about 48 hours to three days, if you count swapping planes and layovers. What I can’t understand is if we could fly from Sydney straight to Seattle after a 1 ½-hour layover—which is what we did—why couldn’t we fly from Seattle straight to Sydney? Since I’m not the pilot, it’s a rhetorical question. And since the flight is already done, it’s also a moot point.

There’s a bit of fanfare at the airport when we arrive—not much, but more than I expected since no one knew that we had left the country. I assume that someone else must have been flying out or arriving at SeaTac, and they just got a bonus capturing the Greys.

Boy, was I wrong!

I’m sad to leave Australia and my fuzzy koala friends, but I’m very happy to be home with my bed and my babies, though I can honestly admit that I didn’t miss the snow. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on those two little pink bundles when we arrive on Sunday evening, and Gail is right on top of it, handing me Minnie the moment I remove my coat and settle in the family room. Once that order of business is complete, she dives right into the next one.

“Did I correctly see you with a giant snake wrapped around your body?”

Christian and I look at each other and back at her.

“What?” he asks incredulously.

“Either someone has some very good photoshopping skills or there’s a picture circulating around the internet of you with a Burmese python wrapped around your body… in those clothes!” she confirms pointing at him.

“Are you serious?” he asks. “That couldn’t have been a day ago! Did you see any paps around?” he inquires of Jason.

“Um, I was retrieving lunch at the time,” Jason replies, “but Ben didn’t notify me of any press when I got back.”

“Then who took the picture?” I ask.

“It says Renee Schuller took the picture,” Gail says, scrolling through her phone. “She was another visitor at the zoo when she heard someone yell your name. Knowing who you were, she snapped the picture and posted it on her Facebook. It went viral in a matter of an hour.” My husband slowly turns his head to me, and I shrink a bit.

“Well, what did you expect?” I defend. “I walk into a reptile enclosure that I didn’t want to go inside in the first place to find my wayward husband who had spent so much time in there, I thought one of the reptiles had eaten him, and when I get in there, he’s got a god… gosh darn snake wrapped around his body that I discover is over twice as long as he is tall! Yes, I flipped the f… freak out.”

“You called out his name?” Jason asks.

“Yes, I was horrified! He had a frag-nabbit python wrapped around his body!”

“And someone recognized him just because you called out his name?” Gail protests.

“She called out my full name—all three of them—loudly, and somebody knew who I was. I was expecting to turn around and see Grace standing there! Instead, I’m standing there being scolded by my wife trying to convince her that the snake is harmless. Even the keeper was laughing at me. Oh! But not five minutes later, she’s holding a dragon!” All eyes snap to me.

“God, you are so dramatic,” I chastise.

“You were holding a Komodo dragon?” Gail asks surprised.

“No!” I reply, a bit perturbed with my husband. “I was holding a bearded dragon, not a Komodo dragon. Komodo dragons are much bigger than bearded dragons…”

“Yeah, like a hundred and eighty pounds,” Jason points out.

“Exactly!” I say. “I was holding a lizard that was about 10 inches long. He was holding a 14-foot python!”

“And it was an olive python, not a Burmese python,” Christian defends.

“What’s the difference?” I retort.

“About ten feet,” Jason interjects. Christian makes that one-up kind of face, and I just want to punch him.

“Fourteen feet, Christian!” I announce. “Fourteen feet of man-eating reptile wrapped around your body! Exactly how did you expect me to react?”

“I didn’t expect you to be there!” he counters.

“Then you should’ve brought your as… butt out of the reptile cage!” I retort sharply.

“What is this thing you’re doing?” Jason points at me with an open hand. “Gosh darn butt freaking frag-nabbit—what is this?”

“My children are almost a year old which means they’re going to be forming more words which means I don’t want any cursing around my babies.” I announce.

“Yet, you’re cursing me out about a flipping snake,” Christian mumbles, deliberately loud enough for me to hear him. Did I curse once? Did I say even one curse word? One?

“I’m going to hit him,” I say calmly to Jason while pointing to my husband. I’m going to hit him really hard and he may need medical attention.

“Remember, boss,” Jason says, “you have to sleep with her.”

Christian twists his lips but quickly gets the point and goes to the refrigerator.

“Hey! You guys are back!” Chuck comes from the area of the elevator, acknowledging our presence. “It’s been dead here without you,” he says, coming over to the sofa and giving me a kiss on the cheek. “How was Australia?”

“It was an adventure,” I say, somewhat dryly. Chuck sits on the arm of the sofa next to Keri.

“You didn’t have a good time?” he asks, curious. I sigh and kiss my yawning baby girl.

“No, we really had a great time—a couple of adventures here and there, but nothing to write home about… except when someone gets a picture of you and posts it on Facebook.” I twist my lips as Christian comes back into the family room with a Budvar, drinking it straight from the bottle.

“Oh, you saw the picture,” Chuck says. “What did you think?”

“I didn’t see it,” I reply. “I was there!” He turns to Christian.

“What did you think?” Chuck asks.

“I didn’t see it either, but I will,” he says dryly, before taking a drink of his beer.

“Ooookay, so, that’s my cue to shut the hell up,” Chuck says.

“Good idea,” Jason advises, “and watch your language.”

“What did I say?” Chuck says, shrugging.

“Hades,” Jason replies. “Her Highness doesn’t want any cursing around the children since they’ll be picking up words soon.” Chuck nods.

“Will you ever stop calling me Her Highness?” I ask.

“Old habits die hard and you started it, so live with it,” he replies matter-of-factly. I twist my lips and turn to Chuck.

“So, Chuck, tell us about your trip, first. How did things go?” I ask. Chuck sighs.

“Well, I got to see Mom and Dad’s house… not new, but new to me. It’s in Rapid City and it’s really beautiful—four bedrooms and three baths. Mom and Dad don’t need that much room, but they wanted to have room when Sunny and the kids came to visit. It’s a beautiful place and I would have loved to share some of those missed years with them, but…” He trails off and clears his throat.

“You know that we spent the days in court,” he continues, entwining his fingers with Keri’s. “Most of the nights we spent in front of the fireplace with good old-fashioned hot cocoa and marshmallows, going through albums and pictures of old times… and things that I missed—birthday parties, Christmases, Thanksgivings. We had good, home-cooked meals. I mean our meals here are pretty great, but there’s nothing like Mom’s cooking. She made this cabbage soup that she used to make when I was at home. I haven’t had it in forever! And the pan cornbread! Keri had three helpings!” he laughs.

“Eet wahs deleshush!” Keri exclaims, her eyes large. “It wahm an wholesome. ‘S like a huhg from de inside!”

We all laugh, and Chuck continues to tell us how his parents connected with him in their home and in their town, how they saw the sights of the city and even visited Mt. Rushmore. We don’t rush him to talk about the trial. We just let him ramble on for a while about reconnecting with his parents and wanting to go back home to visit more often, now that he actually has a home.

“Joe is a miserable bastard,” he says finally, as if he were saving the worst for last. “He sees what he’s done, and he knows what he’s done. He just doesn’t care. He found a way to make himself the victim the entire time. He told the court about my drinking, my terrible behavior—you know, destroying his wedding and stuff—and how he was desperately trying to protect his parents from my toxicity. It was like he had a catalog of every terrible thing I had ever done when I was drunk. If I were on the outside looking in, I would have taken his side, too.”

“So… what happened? Did he win?” Jason asks. Chuck purses his lips.

“We had an uphill battle, me and mom,” Chuck says. “We had to prove that we had lost something besides time in order for it to be an actionable case. Joe spent months preparing for this case. Every bit of my dirty laundry has been aired in South Dakota… the cars I wrecked, the wedding I destroyed, the break-ups I’ve had—if I stole a pack of gum, it’s now on the court record. At first, everybody was looking at me like I was a criminal, but when we got a chance to speak…”

He clears his throat again and has to regain his countenance a bit. It’s obviously hard for him to talk about it, and now I can see why he waited to discuss it.

“Joe talked for the whole first day, which I thought was strange since he was the defendant. He had all kinds of convincing evidence as to why he felt like I shouldn’t be allowed contact with my parents. He looked like the perfect, simple little country boy just trying to protect his ‘maw and paw’ while I went off to the city to live a fast life and get drunk. He even used our accident against me,” Chuck says, looking at me, “claiming that he came to Seattle to see me last year only to find me laid up, busted, and broken after having an accident from driving while drunk. I looked like Satan when he was done. I didn’t even want to take the stand. We went to a restaurant that night for dinner, and they wouldn’t even serve us!”

He shakes his head while Christian and I exchange a glance. He tried to use my accident to gain ground for his selfish actions—that unfeeling asshole!

“I came back to the house that night, and I told Mom that I didn’t think it was worth it. I would be coming back to Seattle at the end of the week and I would never have to see that town or him again if I didn’t want to, but they have to live there. Mom wouldn’t let me quit. She told me that he stole something very valuable from us and that if we didn’t see this through, win or lose, that he would automatically win. Then Keri gave me a pep talk and pretty much said the same thing Mom said. All I had was the truth—I didn’t have a mountain of memories and journal entries to spill in front of the court. I didn’t know how effective I would be.

“We went to court the next day and got the surprise of our lives. With a town full of angry ass people staring at me, I took the stand. Mom’s lawyer asked me questions, and I told my side. I didn’t deny anything he said. I owned up to everything that I did, except I wouldn’t let him use that accident against me. I told the court about the car that T-boned us and that anyone who wanted to know what happened in that accident could Google my name, the date, and that accident in Seattle and get the truth.”

“Did they do that?” I ask.

“Most of the court was on the phone while I was still testifying,” he responds. “That’s when the tide changed.”

Jesus, I’m glad to hear that! I’m sitting on the edge of my seat—literally—waiting to hear the rest of what happened.

“With one statement and in a matter of about a minute, I had established Joe as a liar and even worse, an opportunist. He not only lied about me and the accident, but he tried to use it against me to his advantage in a court of law, which is perjury. To keep him out of jail, his lawyer recalled him to the stand where he testified that he didn’t intentionally lie on me; he just didn’t have all the facts. With my history and seeing me laid up from a car accident, of course he assumed I was driving drunk. The judge opted not to charge him with perjury, but the damage was already done.

“I told the court about my time in rehab and AA; the years of trying to get in touch with my parents and how he destroyed all my letters; thinking that they hated me and never wanted to see me again; doing my tours of duty and coming back and joining a private security force; getting into that terrible accident that almost killed me; only being able to reach my parents because I had a wealthy boss who tracked them down after Joe came to see me asking for money for them and told me that they still wanted nothing to do with me; having an entire family all across the country that didn’t even know I was alive… I’d say the tide shifted pretty strongly.

“Mom had a plan… a big one. Never try to pull one over on your mother. She’ll get you every time.” He chuckles and shakes his head.

“My family came from everywhere!” he says, “not all of them, but a lot of them. They all talked about watching my mother suffer, about the years she spent researching and following dry trails and trying to track me down, waiting for a phone call or something in the mail to tell her something, anything, any tiny bit of hope. Mom had been searching for years trying to find me—trying to get me some help if that’s what I needed—and all the time, I was okay. I was in full recovery and living a healthy life. What Joe did wasn’t just selfish. It was cruel.

“Three days of nothing but solid testimony against my brother—hours and hours of recounting all the stories he told and the lengths he went to in order to ensure that I wouldn’t be able to get in touch with anybody and that nobody would be able to get in touch with me. Christian, as horrible as it was, had that car not nearly killed me, I never would have found my family, and they never would have found me.

“The parade of people that came through that courtroom talking about how my mother suffered, what she went through and what she did—they laid a foundation for her, and she got on that stand and cinched the deal.

“Mom had records—money that she paid for internet searches and background checks—nothing that panned out because she was using amateur resources and by the time she was searching for me, I was already in the service. After I didn’t hear anything from them, I moved on with my life. Jay called me about this great opportunity, I came to Seattle, and that was that… but Mom, she now had to deal with what she accepted as the death of her son and was going through therapy… money trail.”

I see where he’s going with this. They’re suing for slander and defamation of character, but he didn’t want money—he never did. He just wanted somebody to tell Joe that he was wrong, but you don’t get that kind of satisfaction in civil court. There has to be something lost—like I lost wages when David kidnapped me, and I lost money when that Keystone Cop took my credit cards—that can result in a need for restitution and possibly be a catalyst for punitive damages. Maddie produced that loss. Now, they had a real case.

“Joe had tried to make the therapy seem like it was my fault for disappearing. It didn’t float. Even his ex-wife showed up in court talking about how obsessed he was with keeping me and my parents apart even before she left him. In the end, he lost.”

Those were the words I was waiting for.

“He lost the case?” I confirm. “You won?” Chuck nods.

“Mom showed a monetary loss and had records and witnesses to prove it. I didn’t really show a monetary loss except for the stamps on the letters he destroyed. But when I mentioned the wealthy boss who tracked my parents down, there’s an expense that can be tracked… and it was enough.”

“So, what happened?” I ask, anxious to hear Joe’s fate.

“The jury found in our favor,” he says. “They awarded us one of the weirdest settlements I’ve ever seen in my life. Joe has to pay me and my mom a dollar a week… every week… for life!”

“What?” I ask, a bit surprised as well as a bit appalled.

“Yep, and if he misses a payment, he’ll be held in contempt of court and arrested.”

“You’re kidding,” Christian says.

“I’m not,” Chuck replies. “He can’t file bankruptcy to discharge it, because it’s something that he can pay. There’s no hardship. Even if he had other debts that he couldn’t pay, this one still couldn’t be discharged. He is locked in. If he doesn’t make the payments, he’ll be held in contempt of court and then have to do jail time. Then he’ll have to pay fines when he gets out and he’ll still have to pay our restitution. The only way that he can get out of this is to leave the state, but even that has its repercussions. He would still have to make the payments wherever he goes and if he doesn’t and the court finds out, there’ll be a warrant issued for his arrest and he’ll be a fugitive. He’s locked in.”

“How did things end?” Jason asks. “I mean, I know you had to have something to say.”

“I told him to never darken my door again and forget that I’m alive except when he has to write my check. Then I let him know that every penny that he gives me is going to a local alcohol rehab program so that more people can be success stories like me.”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Fifty-two dollars a year—that hardly seems like compensation for what you lost.”

“Can you really put a price on what he did to me?” Chuck says. “To my family? They thought I was dead… my mom thought I was dead. He knew I was alive… and well. He knew I had gone through rehab. He knew I was in the military. He knew, but he was holding this anger for what I did at his wedding, and subsequently somehow blamed me for ruining his life. My mother can’t stand not to speak to him because that’s her son, and I wouldn’t expect it to be any other way, but what he did to us is immeasurable.

“I think the judge did the right thing, because assigning a specific dollar amount would have been an insult. Yet, by saying, ‘Send them a dollar a week every week for life…’ you don’t know when that’s going to end, so there’s no set dollar amount on that. Plus, he’ll never forget. He’ll never forget what he did to us and why he has to pay for it, even if it’s just a dollar. He was wrong. He was very wrong, and somebody in authority confirmed that. Somebody told him he was wrong, and he can’t take out a loan or hock his drawers and pay off the debt and call it even. It’ll never be even. What he did to us will never be even! Yeah, I think the judge did the right thing.”

He takes a deep breath and lets it out while Keri rubs his back.

“Mom surprised me, though,” he says once he’s calm again. “She kissed him in the middle of the courtroom right after the verdict in front of everybody. She told him that she loved him, but that she must have failed somewhere as a mother. She told him that if he doesn’t pay that dollar every week to me and to her like the judge ordered that contempt of court wouldn’t be his only problem. She said that $2 a week was the very least that he could do after what he put his family through, and that if he couldn’t do that, she would never speak to him again. She said that she has unconditionally given the last fifteen years to him and that she was giving the rest to me, and he could be a part of it, or he doesn’t have to. It’s his choice. And then we left.”

“Wow… talk about courtroom drama,” I say.

“I feel so bad for Joe,” Chuck says. I almost hurt myself rubbernecking over to him.

“Why in the he… heck do you feel bad for Joe?” Christian asks

“Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying he didn’t deserve what he got, but I do feel sorry for him. I don’t know if he has any friends, but he’s alienated his family to the degree that I don’t think it can ever be fixed. I’m his brother. No matter what happened in our lives, I’m still his brother, and look what he did to me. Look what he did to my mom and dad. Nobody’s ever going to trust him again.

“I was under the influence of a controlling drug that I let go of and never touched again. He did this with sound mind and body. He has no excuse. I can forgive him for what he did to me. I really can. I can’t forgive what he did to my mom and dad.”

He shakes his head again and the room falls silent.

“So, on another note, my parents are going to spend an early Christmas with Sunny and the kids, and then, they’re coming here and staying through the New Year. I had a feeling you wouldn’t mind if they stayed here, but they can stay at my place in Bainbridge if it’s an imposition.” His face is alight again with joy, talking about his parents coming for Christmas.

“Now you know better than that,” Christian scolds. “Find out what would make them more comfortable. I’m fine with whatever they want to do.”

“When will they arrive?” I ask.

“I don’t know yet, but I’ll have to get the Bainbridge house cleaned for their arrival just in case,” he says. “Now, enough about me. I want to hear about the trip. I’ve never been to Australia. Jason, what do you think of Sophie’s new look?”

Jason frowns and Gail drops her head.

“Dammit, Chuck, thanks a lot!” she exclaims. I look down at Minnie and she’s asleep in my arms. Mikey is out cold in the Pack-n-Play. Crisis averted. Gail didn’t even notice.

“What new look?” Jason asks. Gail shakes her head and takes out her phone. She swipes the screen and enters something into it. Jason reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone.

“What the fuck!?” he yells.

And two babies are startled and crying.

“God! Thanks, Jason!” I declare and try to get Minnie to settle while Christian retrieves Mikey and gently begins to sooth him. Jason is unfazed, at least by my scolding.

“Gail, what the hell?” he hisses quietly through his teeth.

“She wanted to try something different,” Gail defends. Did she shave her head? Oh, dear God…

“What’s wrong? What is it?” I ask, praying that she didn’t follow Harmony’s lead and scalp herself.

“Purple!” he barks at me. “Her hair is purple! She looks like one of those rainbow horses you used to see in those cartoons! Who’s idea was this?”

0c92ef8bcafa0f5da9440b78ed459cb6And now I’m trying to suppress a laugh. The hormonal, emotional teenage girl dyed her hair purple. Worse things have happened.

“Calm down, Jason. It’s a rinse,” Gail chastises. “It’ll be gone in about three shampoos and then she’ll probably be green.”

“Oh, God,” Jason laments. “Please don’t let child services see her. They’ll probably take her away from me.”

“Um, Jason,” I say, “child services removes a child from abusive and dangerous situations, not because she dyed her hair purple.” He sighs heavily and rolls his eyes.

“This is just a phase, right? Tell me this is a phase. I hope this is a phase…”

“Oh, for God’s sake, man, stop being so dramatic. What are you going to do when she brings home a boyfriend?” Gail chides. I raise a brow and turn to Jason.

“Ugh,” he groans, puts his hand on his forehead, and turns away. Gail and I chuckle quietly, and I just shake my head. She’s already in that stage, Jay. You better prepare yourself.


A/N: The way that this picture was previously labeled in Pinterest made me think I might have made young Sophie’s hair purple before. I don’t think I did, but just in case, someone let me know if I did.

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

 

 

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

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

It happens.
Don’t worry.
We survived.

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

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

Chapter 64—For Everything, There is A Season

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

“How do you take it?” she asks.

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you…” I pause for her name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you wear when you went running?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Last night or this morning?” she inquires.

“Both.” She sighs.

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

“What’s it?” I ask.

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

“It’s not that bad,” I protest.

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

Well, that smarts.

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

“God, he saw that?” she says.

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

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

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

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

She saw that, too, huh?

“What’s his name?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

“Journaling,” she says, and I frown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But I’m hungry,” I whine.

“And it begins,” Val laughs.

“I know, right?” Butterfly concurs.

“What begins?” I huff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your Highness let me…” Jason protests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not me…

*-*

I feel miserable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that a threat?” she inquires.

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

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


ANASTASIA

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

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

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

“One hour?” he laments.

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

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

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

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

“Ana?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That wasn’t an hour,” he grumbles.

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

“It’s positive.”

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

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

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

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

Gary!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll put you down, Mr. Grey.

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

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

“Dammit, Ana,” he complains.

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How is she?” he asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay, okay, I won’t dwell on it…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t help it. I’m human.

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

“Hey, Ana, what’s up?”

“Hey, Courtney, are you busy?

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

“So… what does Gary say?”

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

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

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

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

“Why not?” she asks.

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure thing, Bosslady.”

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

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

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

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

“Take it easy, Christian…” I warn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go,” he says. “Hot shower—now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay,” I cede.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good God, I’m about to explode.

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

“My mother just died!” she snaps.

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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s in charge here?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re on the same page,” I say.

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

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

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

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

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

What conversation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you at least told Gary?” I pry.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 57—A Whole Lotta Doors Openin’

Many of you may not know this, but I lost the use of my right hand for about a week. It was a terrifying experience, but believe it or not, my biggest concern (not the only concern, but the biggest) was that I wouldn’t be able to write anymore. I soon found out that wouldn’t be an issue even without the use of my right hand, but thank God, 95% of the function has come back. Thank you to those of you who knew and expressed concern. I really appreciate it.

So, I may have been a bit unclear in the last chapter. Christian wants Ana to redo his office at home, not at GEH. He was using his office at GEH as an example, because it has glass walls and is mostly white and there’s a lot of light in there. His office at home is very dark, very oxford, and very cave-like, and he wants her to brighten it up like she did hers—but maybe not as bright.

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 57—A Whole Lotta Doors Openin’

CHRISTIAN

“Have you heard anything from your ex?” I ask Harmony, knowing but not revealing that Butterfly paid him a visit last week.

“No,” she admits, “which is a good thing. We would only fight since we have nothing else to discuss. I’ve got enough on my plate these days. The housekeeper and the cook said that Roger tried to call and get some information on what was going on.”

“What did they tell him?” I inquire.

“Nothing,” she says. “They don’t like him either.” I nod.

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” I say. My phone buzzes and it’s a text from Lanie.

**Burtie’s stoked about the car. Sweet ride! Where did you find it and how much? **

“Lanie’s texting me about the T-bird,” I tell Dad. He frowns.

Lanie?” I raise my head.

“Nollie.” His mouth forms the “ah” word.

“I keep forgetting.” I turn my attention back to my phone.

“Excuse me for a moment,” I say as I shoot a text back to her.

**It’s free. It was Pops’ car and Uncle Herman and the brothers want to give it to Burtie. **

I’ve already excused myself, so I step out of the conference room and dial Lanie’s number.

“Does it run?” she asks when she answers the phone.

“Look at it!” I reply. “What do you think?”

“Who’s going to drive it out here?”

“I don’t want to put cross-country mileage on a car like that. He can if he wants to, but we won’t. We’ll have it shipped with the others.”

“Others?” she asks.

“There are three more—all classics. Dad’s getting one and Uncle Herman, so we’re shipping those two out here. The Mustang is staying in Detroit with Uncle Stan.” After a pause, she asks,

“So, they each got a car. I take it this was supposed to be my sperm-donor’s car.” I almost choke on air hearing her call Freeman her “sperm donor.”

“The brothers decided that this was the car that Freeman would have wanted the most,” I confirm.

“Stellar!” she exclaims “This is going to burn his butt so badly. Burtie will love that!”

“How is he doing?” I ask. She sighs.

“He’s better… still dealing with some anger and disappointment, and the scars don’t help. He’s scheduled to have the first of three reconstructive surgeries just after Thanksgiving. I suggested that he wait until after Christmas, but he just wants to get it done.”

“His father deserves to rot for that,” I seethe.

“On that, we agree, cousin,” she concurs.

“How’s Leo?” her tone changes immediately. I can almost see the sparkles in her eyes through the phone.

“Wonderful as always,” she exalts. “I don’t know how I ended up with such a wonderful man, but I’m glad I did. He’s looking out for Mom so well, and you know she’s still dealing with her feelings for my lecherous, no good, vicious, cheating father. I mean, really, it’s bad enough that he’s a horrible person all around and that he looked down on her, but to cheat on her, too? It’s probably best that I never see him again because I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

“Well, just stay out of Detroit. God knows I do,” I add. I see Al step off the elevator and I know it’s time to get back to Harmony.

“I’ve got a meeting to get back to. I’ll make arrangements for the shipping right away. Text me an address.”

“You got it.” We end the call as Al approaches.

“Chris,” he greets. “Let’s get this party started.”

“Do you know you’re the only person who regularly calls me Chris?” I say as we walk to the conference room.

Aunt Tina and her attorney are on Skype on a large monitor on the wall when we enter the room and Harmony is talking about the way the house is being run—how much more peaceful things are now that Roger is gone and how even the staff seems happier with Windsor.

“You can’t keep my butler,” I interject, and everyone chuckles a bit.

“Harmony will be making the decisions on the staff from now on,” Aunt Tina says. She looks at ease, more at ease than I’ve seen her in the last few days—probably because that dreadful buzzing isn’t in her ears anymore. “Christian, this is my attorney and old friend, Carl Richardson. Carl, this is a very close friend of my family, Christian Grey.”

“Mr. Grey, a real pleasure,” Richardson says. He’s a much older gentleman, obviously an Oxford blueblood or some other Ivy league type who only has clients like Aunt Tina, and not because he needs the money.

“The pleasure is mine, Mr. Richardson,” I reply. “You know Harmony, and if you haven’t met, this is my father Carrick Grey. He’ll be representing Harmony in the divorce.

“We’ve met,” Richardson replies. “In court… kicked my ass once or twice,” he jests.

“You’ve given me a run for my money, Carl,” Dad responds mirthfully. Whew! At least that relationship is cordial.

“And this is my friend and the head of my legal department, Allen Forsythe-Flemings.”

“Ah, new blood,” Richardson says. “Very nice to meet you, Mr. Forsythe-Flemings. I dabbled here and there in the law of the concrete jungle. How’s the corporate world these days?”

“Cutthroat as ever, Mr. Richardson,” Al replies, with a nod.

“I see no harm in dropping the formalities,” Richardson says. “We’re all on the same team. Is that okay with you gentlemen?” Al nods and I concur.

“Yes, sir, I think that would be just fine,” I reply.

“Good. Now, let’s get to the business at hand. I hope you all don’t mind, but I don’t mince words and Tina’s well aware of that. We’ve got quite a bit of ground to cover and not a lot of time to do it. Tina has five living children, including Harmony, 17 grand-children, and innumerable great-grandchildren because she hasn’t even met them all. Her parents and siblings have all passed on. She was diagnosed with cancer years ago and it became aggressive within the last 18 months. Since the diagnosis, she has seen each child once except for Harmony who kept in touch when she left home and eventually became her caretaker and Ilsa, who visited her twice, once to request a loan that she yet to repay.

“Tina doesn’t have much time left now. None of us know exactly how much, but she has made it clear that she wants to live these last days in comfort without having to worry about her assets.”

Harmony wipes a tear from her eye from the reference to Aunt Tina’s death and Tina nods gently, signaling Carl to continue.

“Her will is complete and will be filed with probate court after this meeting. Through a court injunction that will be served in the next three business days on each living sibling, none of Tina’s assets—money, jewelry, personal belongings, automobiles, etcetera—can be commandeered or claimed until the reading of the will, which will outline the proper distribution of the assets.”

“Smart move,” Allen interjects. Dad is nodding, too.

“What exactly does that mean… in laymen’s terms?” Harmony asks.

 meme“It means that once Tina passes, your sisters and brothers won’t be able to show up at the door and say, ‘I want my daddy’s records.’” Dad says. Harmony frowns.

“No, Dad,” I shake my head at him. Harmony would have absolutely no idea what that means.

“It means,” Allen says, stifling a laugh, “your brothers and sisters won’t be able to lay claim to any of your mother’s assets until the will tells them exactly what they’re getting without being held in contempt of court. It also means that you won’t be able to dispose of or claim anything that doesn’t have your name on it.”

“I’m… not really concerned about the stuff,” she says, her head down.

“But you will be once she’s gone,” Dad says. “Certain things will have significant sentimental value.” Harmony sighs and nods, never lifting her gaze. It’s clear that the very last thing she wants to discuss is where her mother’s material possessions will go once she passes away. This is the very reason she needs protection right now, because she’s clearly not going to protect herself.

“To expedite that process, the reading will be scheduled for two weeks after her passing since all affairs are already in order except one… the house.”

Tina made reference to the house being left to Harmony, so I don’t know how that could be considered a loose end at this point.

“The house is one of her assets, and by strict interpretation, Harmony would have to leave until after the will was read. Tina has already expressed that the house will go to Harmony. As such, I will be filing a quitclaim deed today, turning the house over to Harmony immediately.” Now, Harmony raises her head.

“What?” she asks, stunned. “Mom?”

“Don’t argue with me, child,” Aunt Tina says softly. “The house is going to be yours when I’m gone. If you take it now, they can’t come and put you out.”

“But Mom…” Harmony protests weakly, “… your house…”

Your house,” Aunt Tina corrects her. “Are you gonna put me out, Baby?”

“Moooom!” Harmony says, appalled.

“Then it’s still my house as long as I’m living. When I’m gone, what use do I have for it? Can you tell me with total certainty that your beloved siblings won’t try to come and put you out?”

Of course, she can’t. And just like that, the fight is over.

“How long does it take for a quitclaim deed to file with the county?” I ask.

“Usually about a week,” Allen announces. “If there’s no other claim to the property like a lien or a mortgage…” He looks at Carl who shakes his head.

“No one else has any claim to my home but my dearly departed husband, who paid for that house with his blood, sweat, and tears, for me… and my ungrateful lot,” Aunt Tina laments.

“Well, then, you should be able to go get a copy of your deed in about a week,” Allen tells Harmony. She nods in resignation. It’s going to be necessary, or her siblings will steamroll her.

“What if her sisters and brothers try to bully their way in anyway?” I ask. “They can claim that they don’t know…”

“I can almost guarantee that Tina’s children will all be calling me within the next 4 – 5 days,” Carl says. “Those court orders that each of them will be receiving will direct them to contact me. They all know who I am, so they’ll know this is legitimate. When they call, I’ll substantiate what the court orders say and simultaneously inform them that Harmony is now the owner of the house. I can’t guarantee they won’t show up on the doorstep, though.”

“I’ll take care of that,” I say.

“Also,” Carl continues, “Tina will be prosecuting Roger for embezzlement and misappropriation of funds as well as a civil suit for invasion of privacy. We’re hoping that your team can determine if the audio/visual equipment that you located lead to recordings that can be used in court.”

“If they haven’t been destroyed, we’ll find them,” I assure Carl.

“Can I get in on that? He invaded my privacy, too,” Harmony asks.

“Well, the prosecution will definitely need you,” Carl says. “We’ll be taking Tina’s deposition as soon as possible as these things have a way of getting stuck in the legal system for a while, and her testimony…” he trails off. Aunt Tina will most likely be dead by the time this thing gets to court.

“Bearing that in mind,” I ask, “won’t the civil trial have to wait until after the criminal trial?” Please, understand what I’m asking without me having to spell it out for you.

“The estate will continue with the suit,” he says, and nothing more. Thank you!

“Where is Roger now?” Dad asks.

“I have my team keeping an eye on him,” I reply. “He lived in the house, so he’s just holed up at a hotel right now.” Dad purses his lips.

“Didn’t you tell me that he was in cahoots with the husband?” Dad asks.

“That’s what he said,” I confirm.

“But we need proof,” Dad concludes.

“Roger’s word won’t be enough, but it might get a warrant to search the guy’s house,” Carl says.

“That’s a slippery slope, fellas,” Allen interrupts. “Invasion of privacy is tort law, not criminal. We can’t get a search warrant for something like that.”

“We can if we can convince a judge that we think they were in this whole thing together,” Carl says. “If we can get proof that he knew that house was bugged, you leave it to the court to determine the level of guilt. We just get the evidence. It’s like raiding someone’s house for drugs and finding illegal firearms or some other illegal activity. You don’t ignore the evidence for one case because it doesn’t point to the other.” Good point. Another pin to put in my day.

Get the cars to the west coast.
Talk to Jason about full security for the Franklin house.
Find out where the footage is for the surveillance Roger was doing.
Find some way to tie Kenneth into the gig.

“Harmony, when is your next court date if Kenneth doesn’t sign the papers?” Carl asks.

“Just after Christmas,” she says, and she sounds utterly exhausted. It’s not even lunchtime yet.

“That would definitely be a load off if he would just grow some balls and let go,” Dad says. Harmony shakes her head.

“Not likely,” she laments. “I’ll probably be stuck with this fucker in one way or another for the rest of my life! Sorry, Mom.”

“No apologies necessary,” Aunt Tina says. “He’s an asshole. I knew something was wrong when you brought him home.”

“I really should’ve listened to you,” Harmony says.

“Don’t worry about it, baby,” Aunt Tina says. “You live, and you learn. Learn from this, baby… please.” Harmony nods, wiping another tear.

We bang out a few more issues that must be sorted before Aunt Tina and Carl disconnect to put this operation into effect. I have Andrea summon Jason, Alex, and Barney to the conference room once that part of the meeting is over. Harmony still looks a bit stunned.

“You okay, Harmony?” Dad asks. She shakes her head as if shaking off a thought, then nods with her eyes closed.

“I’m not dense,” Harmony says. “I knew Mom was going to leave me some money—we all knew. I was just going to buy a little house somewhere and just be happy. I had no idea… the Big House… Jesus. What am I going to do with all that room?”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” I tell her. “Something that will make you happy and that will make Tina proud.” She doesn’t look convinced. “Why don’t I order us some lunch?” I add, pressing the button to summon Andrea once more.

“I can’t stay,” Harmony says, rising from her seat. “I have an appointment in about twenty minutes and then, I have class this afternoon.”

“Appointment?” I ask concerned. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, everything’s fine,” she assures. “I’m starting therapy today.” She raises her eyebrow and twists her lips in a knowing manner at me. I immediately remember our conversation about her overly amorous behavior with me and the need to talk to someone about her somewhat automated responses to attention.

“Ah, good on you. I won’t keep you, then, but I will tell you that security is going to be increased at your house and it may include a thorough inspection of the grounds, so I’ll have Taylor get in touch with you.” She nods as she puts her purse on her shoulder.

“Thanks again, for everything,” she says as she turns to my father. “Carrick, I’ll of course be in touch.”

“Drive carefully,” Dad says as Harmony leaves the conference room.

“I just talked to Lanie before the meeting,” I tell Dad. “Burtie’s really excited about the car, so we’ll arrange for them to be transported within the next few days.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Dad says, rising from his seat as well. “I have to be going, too. I have a lunch date with my wife and then I have court this afternoon.”

“Will you guys be coming by to watch the special with us tonight?” I ask.

“I think we’re going to sit this one out, son,” my father says. “I think I want to spend some time alone with my lady this evening.” I nod.

“Duly noted, Dad. I’m sure Butterfly will understand.” I shake his hand and he leaves just as Jason, Alex, and Andrea are entering.

“Andrea, can you order us a lunch spread from the deli? A tray or two and an assortment of sandwiches—any preferences, guys?” I ask the other gentlemen in the room.

“I’m not picky,” Alex says.

“I can do anything from the deli,” Allen pipes in.

“Me, too,” Jason concurs. “Make sure they throw some corned beef in there.” I nod at Andrea and she leaves.

“So, we’ve got some marching orders, gentlemen,” I say, swiping my phone. “Tina’s attorney is securing injunctions to serve on her children to keep them from picking the house clean after she dies. She’s also deeding the house to Harmony with a quitclaim… like immediately.” I fire off a text to Smalls to get the Coup, Fairlane, and T-Bird moving out west to Seattle and California respectively. Uncle Herman will have to handle the titles once they get here.

“We’re going to need to get a lay of the land as soon as possible,” I continue. “Once those vultures get a whiff of what’s happening, they’re going to descend on Washington like fighter jets. Alex, if you can do some kind of quick family tree for me, that’ll be great. I mean, quick and dirty. We’ll do background checks later and only if needed.” Alex is nodding and typing into the phone. “And Alex, I need that family tree to go as far as possible—any adults, including great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews, whatever you can find quickly.”

“When you say quickly, how quickly do you mean?” he asks.

“I’d like an initial report in 24 hours,” I say. He nods.

“That won’t be much, but it’ll be a start,” he replies.

“Lay of the land,” Jason says. “We’re doing full house security coverage?” I nod.

“Nobody in or out without permission, just like Grey Crossing,” I confirm.

“Do they have any kind of monitored security system?” he asks. “We didn’t check for that when we were there.”

“I would say, ‘No,’ but you’re going to find out what they have and tell me what you can do within a few days and then within a longer span of time, but we need to get some tighter protection over there soon.” He sighs and looks at Alex.

“Any chance you can get me a floorplan of that house?” he asks. Alex sighs heavily.

God to the rescue,” he says and starts typing into his phone. I wouldn’t go that far, Alex. On cue, Barney and his second come strolling into the room.

“Good, just who I wanted to see,” I say, turning my attention to Barney. “What information have you gotten on the devices that we retrieved from the Franklin home?”

“Not much, sir,” he says. “Short-range stuff that looks like the data may have been going to a cell phone or somewhere in the Cloud. I would say the Cloud with the number of devices that we found, but to where, that’s harder to say since the signals aren’t active anymore.” Shit! We won’t be able to get any information without getting it directly from the source.

“There’s nothing we can find out?” I ask.

“The feed is gone, sir,” he says. “And this stuff is so low tech, there’s no guarantee we could have traced the feed even before we killed it.” I sigh.

“This guy is going to get away with it,” I lament.

“Not if we shake him down,” Jason says. I shake my head.

“That information can’t be used in court,” I say. He frowns.

“What are you trying to do?” he asks.

“Criminal prosecution for embezzlement and misappropriation of funds, civil for invasion of privacy,” I reply.

“Then yes you can,” he says. “The rules for chain of evidence for civil court are much less stringent than those for criminal court. Ask him,” he says, pointing to Allen. I look up at Allen.

“What?” he asks when the room falls silent.

“Pay attention, oh head of legal,” I say sarcastically. “Chain of evidence for civil court? Shakedown Roger for information—do we have to go through all this again?”

“I’m sorry… Christian… I…” Something’s wrong. I just noted that he only calls me Chris, and now Christian?

“What is it?” I ask.

“I just got a text from Chocolate…” Yeah, something’s wrong. I know who Chocolate is, but he doesn’t call him that in public. “He… somebody’s died. I don’t… I can’t… I need to call him…”

“Go! Go! Use my office,” I say, shooing him out of the room. He won’t move. I stand to my feet and walk over to him, nearly lifting him out of the chair.

“Go, now,” I say, my voice softer. “Find out what’s wrong.” I gently usher him to the door. “Andrea!” I call as I open the door. She comes around the corner and I gesture to Allen who’s walking slowly not taking his eyes off his phone. I close the door behind them once he gets to Andrea and turn back to Jason.

“I guess I’ll have to take your word for that one,” I tell him.

We come up with a plan for security for Tina’s house and I call Windsor to get Tina prepared for the invasion. Jason will have the team do a thorough sweep of the entire house based on the plans that Alex was able to secure and identify rooms that we didn’t hit when we were looking for bugs. It’s a big house and we’re hoping that we may have missed some that might still have an active signal, but the team is fairly certain that we got them all.

“Where’s that asshole now?” I ask, chomping on olives, coleslaw and deli sandwiches.

“He’s been at the Fairmont all this time,” Jason says. “Living with Mrs. Franklin, he hasn’t had any expenses. So, he can certainly afford it.”

“Not to mention he’s been skimming off her money all this time,” I add.

“Uh, yeah, there is that,” he says.

“We need to arrange a conversation with him, but it needs to be private.”

“I don’t know how we can,” he says. “He’s not in the house anymore, so we don’t have that kind of control over him. Short of kidnapping him, I’m not sure what we can do.”

“We need to see if we can get some more information from him,” I say. “There has to be a way and we need to find it.” There’s a knock at the door and Andrea sticks her head in.

“A message for you, sir,” she says.

“Is it private?” I ask.

“No, sir. It’s from Mr. Forsythe,” she says stepping into the room. “He said that he had to leave due to a family emergency and he’ll touch bases with you later.” I nod.

“Thanks, Andrea,” I say. She nods and leaves the room.

“Who do you think passed away?” Jason asks, and Barney’s interest is piqued.

“I can’t even begin to speculate,” I reply. I should probably let Butterfly know that there will be some news from Allen soon, but I don’t know what exactly.


ANASTASIA

“My husband has given me the daunting task of redoing his office,” I say to Marilyn after we’ve looked in on the volunteers and how they’re doing with Courtney.

“You’re probably the best candidate,” she says. “Nobody knows him better than you.”

“Have you seen his office?” I complain. “It’s like the Oxford Black Hole!” Marilyn tries to suppress her giggle.

“No,” she snickers, “I can’t say that I have.”

“Dark brown marble flooring, huge oak desk with black leather chairs, imposing bookshelves all around the room with wood darker than mine, dark wood ornate deep tray ceilings and a huge marble fireplace—also dark—sitting between the only two small windows in the room… small compared to mine. He even has black-out glass on the French doors that lead to his den!”

“Yikes,” she replies. “Was he trying to hide?”

“I don’t know, but he looks in my office, sees the ‘light,’ and suddenly, he wants to see it in his office, too.” Marilyn frowns.

“He wants his office to go from ‘Oxford dark’ to yours?” she asks, astonished. My sentiments exactly.

“No, he claims he doesn’t want it as bright as mine but not as dark as it is. Then, he tells me I have carte blanche. That means, ‘You do all the work and then if I don’t like it, I’ll keep it for a while because you did it, then change it when I’m ready.’ Bullshit. Tell me what you want in that room. And if you can’t tell me what you want, tell me what you don’t want, or I’m not touching a thing in that space. It can stay Oxford Black from now on.” Marilyn laughs.

“Are you sure you’re not pregnant?” she jibes. I look over at her.

“Don’t start, Mare,” I warn. “It’s a tender topic for you, so I haven’t approached it, but I haven’t forgotten about it.” She purses her lips.

“Point taken,” she says, with no malice. “You have Ebony Carson arriving in about fifteen minutes, and Jewel Lawson later this afternoon…” she says, drawing our attention to the interviews this afternoon and quickly changing the subject. I look at Ebony’s resume. She’s way too qualified for a job babysitting preschoolers and babies, but you never know what someone’s story is. This is why I agreed to interview her. I want to get in her head, see what the deal is and why she’s looking for a job beneath her skill set. Depending on the circumstance, we may be able to put her knowledge and abilities to use elsewhere.

Grace walks into my office as Marilyn and I are preparing for the interview. We agreed to have them here since my office is bigger. She falls onto one of the sofas.

“You look tired,” I say. “It’s barely past lunchtime.

“Just weary today,” she says. “It could be the whole menopausal thing… you know symptoms come and go at will.” I raise my brow.

“You can call it a day if you want,” I tell her. “Marilyn, Courtney, and I can handle the interviews and you can go home and have a bubble bath and a glass of wine, try to relax… maybe that’ll help?” I suggest. She sighs heavily.

“I’ll do the first interview and see how I feel,” she says. “Maybe this will pass. If it doesn’t, I think I’ll take that bubble bath.” I smile and put my hand on her shoulder.

“Your health is most important, Grace,” I remind her.

Ebony is delightful. She’s bubbly, knowledgeable, resourceful, and admits that she’s hiding from an abusive ex-boyfriend in prison back east. She blanches when we mention the background check. I tell her that it’s customary for all volunteers and potential employees, and she expresses her concern that it may tip her ex off to where she is.

“If he’s in prison, how can he hurt you?” I ask.

He’s in prison,” she says. “His… colleagues aren’t. I don’t know who’s watching and waiting for something to show up and tell them where I am.” I sigh.

“We deal with this kind of thing all the time,” I tell her. “If anything happens, just let us know. That is why we’re here in the first place.”

She sighs heavily and agrees to the background check, but I can tell that she’s not totally convinced. I ask for the name of her ex so that we can be on the lookout, but she doesn’t want to reveal it.

“It’s going to be difficult looking for potential threats if we don’t know what we’re looking for,” I tell her. She shrugs uncertainly.

“Can I think about that?” she asks. “That’s just… a can of worms that I so don’t want to open.” She drops her head. “This happens every time I apply for a job somewhere. I try to tell the truth because I want people to be careful in their checks. The moment they hear that I may have trouble following me, they suddenly lose interest. I have a degree in child psychology that I can’t use because I have a psycho ex in prison in New York who may or may not have someone following me. It’s doubly hard because I’m black, so I’ve already got something to prove. I could be a school teacher, a guidance counselor—there’s so many things that I could do, but people are afraid to hire me when they find out about Ge… my ex-boyfriend.”

That was enough of a slip and I hope Marilyn caught it and wrote it down, because I may not remember. Ge-something in her background—I’ll have to ask Christian the best way to handle this.

“We are a center for at-risk families, Ebony. Give me a chance to see what we can do.” She smiles, but I can tell that it’s forced.

“Yeah… sure,” she says, and I can’t tell what’s hiding in her tone. Disbelief? Defeat? Frustration? I have no idea. Nonetheless, we end the interview and shake hands before she leaves.

“What do you think is behind all that?” I ask.

“I don’t know, but she certainly has a past,” Grace says. “What’s exactly with this ex-boyfriend that she came all the way across the country to get away from him? And what colleagues would be looking for her? Is he in a gang? Drug affiliated? The mob?” I shrug.

“I hope that’s what the background check will tell us,” I say. “Did you catch the slip of the boyfriend’s name?” I ask Marilyn.

“All I caught was ‘Ge,’” she confirms. “That could be anything, Bosslady.” I sigh.

“I don’t know how to proceed with this,” I admit. “Is it too complicated for us to get into? I mean, isn’t this what we do—help at-risk women and families make a fresh start? We’d take her on if she showed up running from said boyfriend as a resident… why not as an applicant for a job?”

“Why does it sound like you’re trying to convince yourself?” Grace asks.

“Because I am,” I admit quietly. “I’m not ashamed to say that I’m not as fearless as I once was. I’m battling some new insecurities—not about myself, but about situations and circumstances. This thing could have two many outcomes to name, ranging from nothing at all to complete and total disaster. Do I step out on faith and react like the fearless woman I was before my life took a serious left turn, or do I err on the side of caution and run away from this situation admitting that we may be biting off more than we can chew with a psychotic boyfriend hiding in the wings?” Grace sighs.

“You’ve got a point there,” she says. “We haven’t taken an oath to help every wayward soul that crosses our doorstep, you know.”

“Okay, but she came to us for a job. Would we react this way if she came to us for help?”

“Probably not, but we would limit how deeply we got involved in her situation. Hiding someone out and providing them a safe haven until we can help get them to a better place is one thing. Digging into their past and possibly opening Pandora’s box is something else entirely.”

I seriously don’t know what to do. My instincts are going in all sorts of directions.

Help this poor girl—at least give her a chance.
Avoid this situation—you have no idea where it’s going to lead.
Could helping her lead danger to the Center?
Who is Ge and why won’t she at least give us a name?
Is this some small-time drug dealer or neighborhood gangster that just has her scared to death or was this some kind of high-profile case?

I immediately type her name into Google to see if anything comes up.

Ebony Carson.

LinkedIn profiles, Facebook profiles, Instagram profiles—more than I can count, but nothing that comes up that could probably be attached to some large gang case or mob case. I don’t know what I expected to find typing a name that common into Google.

“I’ll have to see what Christian can find on her. Then I’ll decide if we should dig deeper, run with what we have and hire her, or leave well enough alone and drop the whole thing. It’s too… open to make a decision right now. Fair enough?” Grace nods.

“It seems logical. I can’t give a definitive answer right now myself with so many unanswered questions.” She stands. “Can you handle the other interviews? This one was a bit more than I was prepared for and I think I’m going to take you up on that bubble-bath suggestion.”

“Yes, by all means, go take care of yourself,” I encourage her. She nods.

“I’m afraid that means we probably won’t be at the house for the viewing party. I know I was the one who suggested it in the first place…”

“Think nothing of it,” I tell her. “It was a good idea and I’m glad you did suggest it. I’m sorry you won’t be able to join us, but I understand. Go home. Rest.” She nods and leaves without another word. Before I can catch my breath from the huge indecision set before me, my phone comes alive with Love All the Hurt Away. It’s melancholy when I hear that song now. I waited so long to hear it while he was in Madrid that I almost didn’t assign it to him again when I got the new phone. I’m considering changing the ringtone to something else, then I realize that I’ve pondered the situation for too long and I better answer before he hangs up.

“Hello?”

“Butterfly are you busy?” he sounds in earnest.

“Between interviews. What’s up?”

“I just thought you should know. Allen left here about half an hour or so ago, I’m not sure. He was very distracted during a meeting and said that he got a text from James about somebody dying.”

“Somebody dying?” I ask, sitting straight up. “Who died?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “He went to my office for some privacy and then he left. We were still wrapping up details about Tina and Harmony’s situation and he wasn’t even paying attention.”

“Well, I don’t have any missed calls, so he hasn’t called me yet. He didn’t give you any clue who had passed away?”

“No, he just said that James said someone died.” I don’t know what to do here. If he hasn’t called me yet, he’s either deep in whatever he has found out, or he hasn’t found out anything yet. Should I call him and find out what’s going on?

“I just told you so that you wouldn’t be blindsided when he calls you. I think you should wait for his call. He’s probably trying to get details as we speak,” he says as if reading my mind.

“He has until I’m done with this next interview and then I’m calling him. That’s what friends do, Christian,” I inform him. He’s silent for a moment.

“Okay.” And that’s all he says.

“While I have you on the line, I need some guidance.”

“Really?” I can almost see him perking up on the other end of the phone.

“Yes. I’ve sent over some information on candidates to Alex for background checks. One of them is for a young lady named Ebony Carson…”

“Ouch. That’s a somewhat common name. He’s going to get a thousand hits on that name.”

“Well, he’s got a date of birth and a social security number. Here’s my dilemma. She’s hiding from a psycho boyfriend in jail in New York. She’s afraid for us to proceed too deeply into her past as our prying may tip off her ex and his ‘colleagues,’ as she put it, as to her current location. I tried to get some information on the ex, but all I got was that he’s currently incarcerated and his name starts with ‘Ge’ like ‘G,’ ‘E,” and I only got that because she nearly slipped and said his name. She doesn’t want us to have that information, either.”

Well, she’s going to get a thorough background check and this guy may come up as a person of interest anyway.”

“I hope so,” I admit. “I don’t want to bring any trouble down on the Center, but neither Grace nor I am sure where to go with this one. Of course, we’re a Center to assist at risk women and families, but we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew by inadvertently welcoming in a gangland snitch or something and end up bringing down the wrath of Al Capone or some shit.”

“Don’t take any unnecessary chances, Butterfly,” he warns. “I know you want to do good, but you can’t save the world.”

“I’m not trying to save the world, Christian. I just want to make sure that I’m not turning away someone that needs our help who can really be a great asset to us at the same time. I also don’t want to invite danger into our little safe haven here.”

“I understand both of those… the latter more than the former. I say err on the side of caution—that’s always my motto.”

“But… once again, I don’t want to see the Boogeyman where he’s not there.” Christian falls silent.

“Yes, there is that,” he concurs. “Why don’t we wait and see what Alex comes up with. The guy could just be some small-time hood that has her scared shitless and she just doesn’t want him to know where she is.” I nod as if he can see me.

“I hope you’re right. I’ll wait and see what Alex says. By the way, we’ll probably be two short for the viewing party. Your mom left a few minutes ago. She wasn’t feeling very well.”

“Hmm… Dad already told me that they weren’t going to be there, but he said so much earlier. He said he just wanted to spend some quality time with his wife.”

“Well, I hope she feels better by the time he’s looking for that special moment. She was kind of worn down when she left.”

“Are you sure she wasn’t just setting you up to ditch tonight so that she wouldn’t feel bad about it?” he asks.

“I don’t think so,” I respond. “It’s not impossible, but she was looking a little worse for wear and I suggested that she leave. She insisted on sitting in on Ebony’s interview to see if the feeling passed, but it didn’t. She said that the interview was more than she thought it would be and went home. I’m not going to dwell on it because I really don’t care. They can spend time alone if they want—it’s no big deal.”

“We may not have Al and James either. We don’t know how serious their situation is,” he reminds me.

“Well, then everyone will just have to tell us what they think of the segment when we hound them tomorrow,” I say with a shrug. I’m really looking forward to watching the segment as a spectator instead of with that watchful “Where’s the Boogeyman” eye, and I won’t let anything spoil it for me. I don’t care if it’s just me and Christian in the viewing room—I really want to see it in a relaxed state of mind this time.

“Well, good, then. There are quite a few things I need to put into motion before I can leave the office, but I promise I won’t overstay. Don’t be late coming home.”

“I won’t. I love you.”

“Love you, too.” I end the call and look over at Marilyn. She’s daydreaming.

“Earth to Mare,” I say. She looks over at me and snaps out of her trance. “What’s up?”

“Same thing,” she admits. “I’m going to have to face this soon, I’m just…” She trails off. “Not today… just, not today.”

I twist my lips but say nothing. I also agreed not to give her shit about it… today.

“So, who’s next on the interview circuit today?” I say, looking down at the resumes in my hand.

*-*

“He was more rudderless than anything, Jewel,” Al says to me. We’ve both made it back to the Crossing, and James is having a beer and conversation with Chuck, who’s sipping on a soda. I’m in the kitchen being utterly useless and picking at the fruit salad that I didn’t know would be part of tonight’s spread.

“When he sent me the text, I couldn’t even read it,” he says. “I knew I had to get to him because he wasn’t going to be able to tell me what was going on. He got a message from some guy in Arizona, but the message was cryptic.”

“Isn’t that where his mother lives?” I ask, popping a strawberry slice into my mouth.

“His entire family is down there. We weren’t even sure who called him, and we certainly weren’t sure why. But, Lord, when we found out…” We both look over at James who is continuing a more than civil conversation with Chuck.

“He looks pretty calm,” I point out.

Now,” Al stresses. “He was fit to be tied earlier. I had to put that magic touch on him to calm him down.” I giggle at his terminology.

“Why would he be so distraught about that news?” I ask. “Not to suggest that anyone should be glad that someone died, but…” says the woman who popped champagne when I heard that Edward David had hanged himself.

“It wasn’t that,” Al says. “I’m sure had this news been presented to him differently and the aftermath not been what it was, we would have seen quite the alternate reaction. First off, family didn’t call him—some stranger did. When they spoke to him, they initially made it seem like he had lost a loved one. Here he is preparing himself for the news that his mother or another immediate family member had died only to find that the one who did kick the bucket was the woman who had abused and raped him for years.”

Around five o’clock this evening, Al finally touched bases with me to tell me that he and James would definitely be at the viewing party as the “somebody who died” was none other than Debra Perkins—the live-in babysitter and not-so-honorary “aunt” who had a penchant towards young boys and molested James and other lads for several years in the basement of his mother’s home.

“Did anybody ever find out what that woman did?” I ask.

“His mother knew,” Al says in a deep, accusing voice. “She knew all along. I could tell when we went down there. I could see it in the way Debra avoided Chocolate and his mother pretended not to notice. I could tell in the way his mother snarled at me and tried to treat me like shit, but I wouldn’t let her. I could see it in the way that she looked at Jimmy…” He says the word with disdain, and I’m certain that someone else called him that while they were there. “She wouldn’t acknowledge that I was there as James’ companion and she kept referring to Debra like she was some old flame. That woman… Jesus, she just… I can’t even talk about her. That is still his mother.

“When he finally discovered who died, he was livid. He asked his mother who the fuck called him to tell him about that bitch’s death—his exact words. She started going on about his language and some shit about having more respect for the only woman he ever loved that way. James. Lost it. When I tell you he lost it, I mean he completely lost his shit. He blasted his mother out so badly about never believing him when he told her that Debra raped him. He accused her of feeding little boys to her like you feed ‘Puppy Chow’ to a dog. He let her have it for never accepting him for who and what he was and proudly informed her that he and I are now married. I could hear parts of her conversation and I heard her say that our marriage wasn’t real, and God doesn’t recognize it.”

I sigh. I’m surprised to find that a mother who would turn a blind eye to children being raped in her home would also turn out to be a homophobe. I know what the Bible says about homosexuality and as a Bible believer, I’m a firm proponent of “To Each His Own.” I just don’t get how you can clearly see and openly criticize homosexuality but turn a blind eye to pedophilia and rape, especially if one of the victims is your own child. She’s lucky James didn’t turn out to be a fucking serial killer!

“What did he say to that?” I ask.

“He said that it didn’t matter if God recognized it. We recognize it, the people who love us recognize it and now, so does the state, and that’s all that matters. He asked her how many boys she fed to Debra before Debra finally died. He asked her why she played blind to what Debra was doing and why she let the witch do it for so many years and in her own house. He told her that she may not have touched a single boy but that she’s just as guilty as Debra because not only did she do nothing to stop it, she facilitated it. He asked her how it felt to rape her own son for several years, and the conversation stopped right there.

“He was so upset that he cursed her as a woman and a mother and told her to never call him again. He had been carrying that for years and years and years and she knew it and never even acknowledged it. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I don’t know if he’ll ever recant what he said to her, but I know that he meant every word.”

He takes in a deep breath and lets it out like he’s trying to control himself.

“Boys didn’t tell. Most boys still don’t. They hide in that shame and try to pretend it never happened, but it follows them for the rest of their lives. They caught her… they caught her red-handed and still pretended it never happened, that James was just in the basement fucking his adult babysitter. And this… bitch… has the nerve to talk to him like he wasn’t there. Like this never happened to him.” Al shakes his head and closes his eyes. “He’ll be healing from that for life, and now all these years later, she calls him with news acting like his first love died. ‘Your rapist keeled over. Come back to Hell and honor her.’”

Al is so angry that he’s trembling. I grab his hands and try to help douse his fury. He holds his head down in a vain attempt to calm himself, but his curls are shaking terribly. I’m so focused on my best friend and brother that I don’t see James walking up beside him. He slides his arms protectively around his husband’s waist and gently kisses his temple several times. Al doesn’t release my hands but leans slightly into the kisses of his love.

“It’s over now, Allie,” James says softly. “It’s really over. She can’t hurt any more boys now. She’s walking hot coals in hell as we speak paying for the pain she caused on Earth several times over.”

Al lays his head on James’ chest. James gently cups his head and kisses his hair, and Al’s grip loosens. Christian chooses that moment to come barreling into the house like a freight train but stops cold when he sees the display at the breakfast bar. Al and James don’t react to his arrival, and Al is still gripping both my hands.

Christian pauses for a moment, then holds both hands up and open nodding at me, signaling that he’ll be ten minutes. I nod, and he goes back the way he came, most likely to the elevator to go to our room and freshen up.

Al finally loosens his grip and wraps his arms around himself so that one arm covers James’ arm around his waist. Silent tears stain his face as he appears to disappear into his husband’s embrace. We sit there for several minutes before Val and Keri appear in the family room with my babies.

My babies.

I rise from my perch at the breakfast bar, leaving James to comfort his husband. I know some may think it should be the other way around, but I know how Al feels. I know the feeling of wanting to wrap my fingers around the neck of the selfish and disgusting bitch that hurt my man and watch her die slowly and the anguish of knowing the pain that he must have felt at the times when he felt his most helpless.

Luckily, I don’t have to share the pain of him having to deal with a heartless mother through it all. I’ve got Carla, but that’s a whole different story.

“Give him to me,” I gently coax Keri. I need my son… my boy…

“Boys didn’t tell. Most boys still don’t…”

Keri puts my son in my arms and I look at his sweet face. Dear God, please don’t let that kind of harm come to my babies. I’ll kill a bitch that ever tries to harm my babies… ever!

I kiss Mikey solidly on his forehead and coo at his sweet, cherubic smile. I don’t know how much time I spend lost in my baby, but Christian has joined us, and Al has become his usual jovial self again.

“So, my Jewel is about to be a star,” he says. Let’s get this party started. Boss, I don’t pull punches, so I’ll tell you now. I feel a sick day coming on tomorrow. I’m in need of libations tonight.” Christian laughs.

“Will you also be needing your usual accommodations, sir?” Christian jests, referring to the guest room that’s always prepared for him. Al pauses.

“The night is young. I’ll keep you posted.” This means that unless James objects, we’ll be having additional house guests tonight.

“Okay, people,” Gail says garnering everyone’s attention. “Food and entertainment await. Let’s make our way to the theater room. The show will be starting in a few minutes.” We all start to file toward the theater room and Christian puts his hand in the small of my back.

“Is everything alright?” he asks. “Who died?”

“Debra,” I whisper. “The woman who…” I gesture my head towards James and Christian’s mouth forms an “o.”

“Al was busted up about that?” he asks, bemused.

“There’s a lot more that I have to tell you about it… after the party, okay?” He nods.

“Okay, baby.” He kisses my forehead, then kisses Mikey and we walk into the theater room.



UNKNOWN

Grey Crossing. That goddamn place is a fortress. That fucker doesn’t deserve all that money and comfort. What the fuck did he do—have a few garage sales with other people’s hard work and suddenly he’s the fucking bee’s knees. Bullshit. He’s nothing. He’ll find out soon enough just how worthless he really is.

Grey House. What kind of pretentious, over-compensating bullshit is this? Big, powerful man has a big glass building in downtown Seattle named after him. How fucking cliché can you get? None of this is nothing I didn’t already know, but seeing it spread out live and in living color shows just how much of a fucking joke he and his family really are—like the rest of the world really cares about this shit. Look at my mansion. Look at my really big building. Look at my money and power. You are truly a sad little man.

Now, we’re getting to the meat of things. That’s a pretty little wife you’ve got there. She’s fucking beautiful. Hmmm, half owner of Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc—that must be some dynamic pussy. I guess it must be. She fucked his weak ass and pulled out twins.

“I was Christian Grey. I was the orphan from the streets from Detroit who was granted a silver spoon—and there’s the rags to riches story I was trying to avoid.”

Orphan from the streets of Detroit—you pretentious little fuck. I took something from nothing and clawed my way to the top… Is that the story, Grey? Like fuck you did. You had shit handed to you and you took what you wanted. If your going to be a thief, at least be an honest thief.

One-hundred percent self-made billionaire… Kiss my ass! You’re hiding behind those fucking dollar signs, but you can’t hide forever.

giphyI drag off my cigarette and take a swig from my bottle, watching this asshole parade his money and woman and his presumed power all over the screen. He doesn’t even have the common sense to appear humble. He’s taunting his enemies and challenging his adversaries to try something. Why? Because he thinks his money will protect him. He’s fucking laughable!

And that hot wife with that big ass—she must’ve been chasing the money. Everything else in his fucking life is so ostentatiously overexaggerated and huge, his dick must be the size of a baby carrot. No way in hell he can land all that ass with a carrot dick.

“They actually have security, so I feel safe bringing my kids here. Dr. Ana started a self-defense class after she had her babies. I can’t do all the stuff that she does, but I can handle myself pretty well after taking her classes, such that I’m not afraid anymore.”

Aw, the sexy little bitch can throw a fist or two. Isn’t that special? And why am I not surprised that she’s the stereotypical charity wife? Nothing else to do but spend hubby’s money and pretend like she cares about worthy causes. Figures. I was surprised when that accident didn’t take her out last year, though. I was sure Grey was about to lose the supposed “jewel of his crown” when that car was T-boned. I swear, she must have fucking magic surrounding her. She was beat all to hell when she was a kid; she was kidnapped; her car was nearly split the fuck in two with her in it, and she’s still walking around like a fucking bug landed on her shoulder and she just brushed it off. I want to be mad at her, too, but every time I look at her, all I want to do it fuck her.

Hmm, she’s got her own place. Sublet my ass—she’s got a real dick squirreled away in there for when she feels the need to really be fucked. I’ll be your real dick, baby, show you how it’s really done.

This whole pretentious display is getting on my fucking nerves and I don’t even want to watch it anymore. I turn off the television and open my file on his ass—information that I’ve been gathering for years.

Yeah, I know about his adoption and his rich family, but I don’t give a fuck about them.

Every time I turn around, it’s Christian Grey bought this; Christian Grey did that; Christian Grey donated this; Christian Grey, philanthropist; Christian Grey, husband and father; Christian Grey, entrepreneur and billionaire; Christian Grey, most eligible bachelor lands girl next door, Christian Grey, Christian Grey, Christian fucking Grey!

Christian Grey, liar!
Christian Grey, coward!
Christian Grey, thief!
Christian Grey, fucking no good piece of shit!

His last adversaries disappeared without a trace—except for one. My guess is that they “sleep with the fishes,” and the one, he didn’t make out too well, either. That won’t be me, though. You thought you had problems before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I’m going to bring you to your knees, you little shit!


A/N: “I want my daddy’s records.”—It’s a black pop culture reference to an old episode of Sandford and Son. Fred donated some records to a music society of some kind, but when the artist died, the records became valuable and Fred wanted them back. The music society wouldn’t give them back, so he had to find a way to get them. Younger people may or may not know the reference, but it became a catchphrase with some of us old fogeys. I’ve included the clip on my Pinterest page.

FYI, the person talking at the end of this chapter is not the same person who was talking at the end of “Becoming Dr. Grey.”

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

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 52—Just In Case…

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 52—Just In Case…

CHRISTIAN

“You told me not to talk about it anymore, so I’m not talking about it. However, I am a professional, and my concerns are real, tangible, and valid. That asshole got way too close last night, and you got way too comfortable. You may not see urgency in this situation and you may be right, but I’m not going to take any chances.”

Just as I’m finishing my coffee, my head of security informs me that we’ll have another detail following us today. So, instead of just me and Jason, it’s going to be me, Jason, and two other guards in a separate vehicle. I understand urgency—I felt it last night, but I fucked it out with my wife and I’m fine now. Apparently, Mr. Professional here didn’t fuck it out with Gail, and now I have an entourage.

“Don’t you think this is a bit drastic, Jason?” I ask. “I’m all for increasing security. I totally get it, but three guards in one car for one man?”

“You told a hired killer that you were getting your affairs in order last night. You’re inviting him to do something. You’re testing his hand, basically telling him, ‘Come and get me.’ It’s like you want to die.”

“I don’t want to die,” I seethe, “I’m just not afraid of death.”

“I’m not afraid of death either, Christian, but I’m not gunning to meet my Maker anytime soon. I have a wife, and I have a child, and I’d like to see her go to college, get married, maybe punch out a couple of grandkids for me. I know that my job comes with certain hazards, but I’m not jumping in front of bullets that don’t have to be aimed at you. So, as many times as you warn your wife to be careful, you need to do the same thing because last I checked, you got a couple of nuggets that you’d like to see get through college, too!”

“Does my wife know about this?” I demand.

“She’ll know that security has been increased when she leaves for Helping Hands, but she won’t know why. I thought I’d let you tell her, or if you prefer, I’ll have Chuck do it.” I look in his eyes and I realize that he’s not backing down on this.

“Shit,” I hiss. I stand from the breakfast bar to go find my wife.

I dread having to tell her this, but whenever I try to keep something from her, it causes so much angst between us and ultimately turns out to be a disaster. When I find her, she’s helping to pack up the twins.

“Hey, beautiful,” I say, when I walk into the room. Mikey is already buckled into his carrier and Butterfly is buckling Minnie into her seat.

“Hey, yourself,” she says after she gets my squirming daughter securely into her seat. “I thought you were already gone.”

“About to,” I say. “I need to talk to you about something before I go.”

“Oh?” she asks. “Is everything alright?” I look at Keri and Gail.

“Can you two excuse us for a moment?” I ask. Gail puts a diaper bag on her shoulder and lifts Mikey’s carrier. Keri does the same with Minnie.

“Ah’ll see ya downstehs,” Keri says as she’s the one who always goes to the Center with Butterfly and the twins. Butterfly was talking about getting Keri her own car. We may have to revamp that decision for a while. In fact…

“What’s wrong, Christian?” Butterfly asks.

“Chuck may have to drive you into town for a while… in your car, of course.”

“Why?” she asks. “What’s happened?” I sigh.

“Do you remember me telling you that Myrick made some enemies in Detroit which is why he’s in witness protection?” She tilts her head.

“Vaguely… really bad guys, that I remember.”

“Well, one of those really bad guys came to see me yesterday,” I confess. “He found out that I was in Detroit and decided to fly out here to tell me to get his boss’s permission the next time I decide to travel to Detroit.” Butterfly raises her brow.

“I see… and you said?” she inquires.

“I told him to kiss my ass,” I reply. “I feel like it was nothing more than a dramatic show of bravado for him to fly all the way across the country to try to get me to bow to his will. I was in Detroit for 24 hours. They found out that I was there, but never confronted me while I was there—probably because I was never alone. They would have had to barge into my uncle’s home, an attorney’s office, or a PI’s office to talk to me. Instead, he shows up at Grey House in a black car, his goon opens the door and tells me to get in… fuck you!” I say that last part more to myself than to Butterfly.

“So… did he threaten your life?” she asks.

“Not overtly, but it was easily implied,” I admit.

“Ah… hence the fuck me like it was the last time fuck last night,” she says, a little perturbed. Why is she perturbed? Didn’t she enjoy it? “And that confused look on your face says you don’t have a clue why I’m irritated.”

“Um… no,” I admit.

“What if it was the last time, Christian?” she scolds. “You don’t think I deserved to know something was up?”

So… um… now I don’t dare tell her that I was afraid of her being taken away from me as opposed to being afraid of me leaving her.

“I can only say that I’m sorry, Butterfly, but there’s a condition to that. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you immediately, but I couldn’t—not because the time wasn’t right, but because I was physically unable to talk about it. It was on me so hard that I couldn’t even think to talk about it. I was too stressed out and I had to release it before I could even approach it. I was going to go to work and talk to our security team and come up with a plan of action. Then, I planned on talking to you about it. Jason beat me to it and beefed up security.”

“So, if Jason hadn’t beefed up security…” she begins.

“I would have told you after we had a plan of action,” I interrupt her.

“What if something had happened before you had a plan of action?” she snaps. I don’t have an answer for her, and I’m getting drawn and tense again.

“I was wound tighter than a dollar store watch when I came into this house last night,” I say, forcing my voice to be calm. “I simply cannot regurgitate everything that’s going on with me when I’m wound that tight. You have to give me time. My options were to fuck you or avoid you, and I needed you so badly…” I trail off and clench my fists, trying to relax and not lose my temper. “I wasn’t fucking you like it was the last time. I was loving you until I could think again, until I could breathe again. And the burden was so heavy that when I finally released it, I could do nothing else but sleep. I would have told you. I just. Needed. To think. I thought after being with me all this time and knowing me and knowing how I handle things…”

“You’re right,” she says, her hands moving quickly to cup my cheeks. She kisses me firmly on my lips. “You’re right. I’m sorry,” she says, rubbing my arms and furrowing her brow. “Boogeyman.”

Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?

“I’m sorry, too,” I say. “This is not the Boogeyman, baby. We’re just being careful, okay? With all my heart, I think this man is all hot air or he would have done something by now. He even said as much.” She sighs heavily and drops her head.

“What do you mean he said as much?” she asks, somewhat resigned.

“He told me that if he meant me harm, it would have been done by now.” She sighs again.

“Well, that’s comforting,” she says sarcastically.

“That’s why Jason has added extra security,” I tell her. “We’re being cautious, not taking any chances.” She nods.

“Okay… what about Marilyn?” I roll my eyes. I forgot about Marilyn.

“We probably want to get another guy on her, too,” I say. “You’ll let her know or do you want me to do it?” She shakes her head.

“I’ll tell her,” she says. “Now, I’m having second thoughts about the exposé.”

“Not that I’m trying to scare you, but you have to know… there’s nothing that the exposé will show that these people didn’t already know. The biggest trump card that I have in my pocket right now is that we have a mutual enemy and quite frankly, that’s all we have in common…” which makes me even more fucking anxious to find Myrick wherever the hell he’s hiding.

“Okay, so… yeah, I better get to the office. I guess the sky is falling for all of us.” She mumbles the last part. I don’t bother asking what she means.

“I need to get going, too, baby,” I tell her leaning down and kissing her on the cheek. “Are we okay?” She touches my cheek again.

“Yes, we’re okay,” she says, but I’m not convinced. “I’m working on chasing away the demons. They don’t leave overnight, you know.” She smiles weakly.

“Yes, Butterfly,” I say, cupping her face. “I know.” I kiss her lips gently, then leave to join Jason. I can’t help but notice what looks like a convention of black suits in the garage. I don’t even bother asking.

“Let’s go,” I say, listlessly while climbing into the back seat and closing the door behind me.

My mind wanders to everything happening right now that requires my attention. The implications of Aragon’s visit and the subsequent need for two men in the car with me; whatever the hell is going on with the storage bins in Detroit—I have to call Smalls. He didn’t call me back yesterday and I can only assume that either Uncle Herman was able to get all the authorizations needed or it was just too late to do anything once and if clearance was given. So, that will be the first thing I deal with when I get to the office. While I’m pondering what other dilemmas will most likely confront me, Jason answers his phone through his earpiece.

“Taylor… fuck!” He snatches his earpiece from his ear and swerves a bit to regain control of the car.

“What the hell, Jason?” I demand, our passenger holding on to the door handle and glaring at Jason as well.

“My apologies, sir,” Jason says through his teeth, his fingers rubbing feverishly at his ear. “It’s your wife.” Well, shit, he doesn’t sound happy. I turn to the other guard.

“Put his phone in the cradle. Put her on speaker.” He really didn’t need to because the moment he picks up Jason’s phone, I can hear Butterfly screaming.

“Shit,” I whisper before Butterfly’s screaming voice is piping through the car speakers.

“Ana,” I say, trying to get her attention. She’s still screaming.

“Ana.” Still no acknowledgement from my screaming wife.

“ANASTASIA!”

“WHAT?” she shoots back at me.

“You know Jason is driving, Anastasia. What the fuck are you doing calling him screaming in his ear?”

“So, he hands the phone to you so that I can scream at you?” she asks sarcastically.

“No, your voice is piping through the whole damn car. Jason nearly killed us getting his earbud out of his ear!” There’s sweet silence, but only for a moment.

“There’s a goddamn caravan following me to work, Christian,” Butterfly complains. “What the hell is that? Is all of this really necessary?”

“There’s no need to be dramatic, Butterfly…”

“Don’t patronize me and I’m not being dramatic! I work at a fucking shelter, for Christ’s sake! You know, sanctuary? The press is going to be all over me!” I throw a look at Jason, who looks everywhere but at me. “What aren’t you telling me, Christian?” my wife demands.

“I’ve told you everything. There’s nothing else,” I say. I see Jason’s posture shift. He knows I haven’t told her everything, but there’s no way in hell I’m telling her that man said that he would come to my house.

“There’s apparently something you missed!” she declares. “I look like the French delegation driving across the bridge. The only thing that’s missing are the damn flags. What’s going on!”

“I’ve told you what’s going on,” I reinforce. “Jason just feels that we should have more protection for a while since that guy came to Grey House last night.” Jason’s shoulders relax a bit. I’m certain he thought I gave her some sugar-coated version of what happened. I told her exactly what happened… except that I told the guy that I wasn’t afraid of death, and that he threatened to come to my house.

“What the hell happened, Christian?” she barks. “There are eight people following me! In the other vehicles!”

“What?” I exclaim, my eyes widening. She’s not exaggerating. That’s fucking ridiculous. “Jason…!”

“It’s because there’s four of you,” Jason interjects impassively. “We’re just trying to keep you all safe, Your Highness.”

“This is bullshit and you both know it!” she says, most likely convinced that I knew the entire Delta Force was going to be following her this morning. I kinda did know. The MIB convention in the garage somewhat gave it away. I just chose to ignore it.

“Jason is just being extra cautious,” I hiss through my teeth, mostly at Jason.

“Well, guess what? I don’t give a fuck how cautious Jason is right now. This is fucking ludicrous! Every time you make some kind of change to security, I go along with it. There are eight fucking people following me! This is outrageous!”

She’s right. It is outrageous, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now. They’re headed across the bridge. It’s not like I can tell them to go away. I guess I was pondering the situation a little too long because the next thing I hear is…

“You know what? Never mind.” She ends the call abruptly. She. Is. Pissed.

“Fuck!” I hiss loudly. I look over at Jason who refuses to make eye-contact with me and we ride silently to Grey House.

*-*

“Fix this. Now,” I say to Jason once I’ve had a macchiato and a glazed apple fritter and calmed my nerves. “What the hell, sticking eight guards behind her? She’s more of a target with all these people behind her than she was before. You must see that.”

Jason and Alex are sitting across from me in my office, a unified front against my demands about this insane increase in security, I suppose.

“She’s got some of our best men around her, sir,” Alex replies. “Nobody’s getting near her and those babies…”

“At this point, I couldn’t get near her and those babies!” I retort angrily. “Don’t you see the problem with that?”

“Sir, Russo is mafia. There’s no other way to put that. This is big time. If he wants you dead, you’re dead. Your family’s dead. Your friends are dead…”

“And if that’s the case, eight guys surrounding my wife and drawing attention to her isn’t going to stop him, now is it?” I interrupt. “I’m not highly impressed with his techniques or intimidated by his reach and ability. He hasn’t presented me Myrick’s head on a platter, yet.”

“Myrick’s in hiding. You’re not,” Jason points out.

“Which further proves that he’s not as omnipotent as both of you seem to think he is!” I snap. “When I had a message for Myrick, I went to Ionia—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Elena, I went to the Washington State Prison—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Courtney after she threatened my wife, I trapped her in the ladies’ room—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Loverboy Investigator, I went to the State building—I didn’t send Jason. Hell, when Butterfly had a message for David before he offed himself, she went to the prison—she didn’t send Chuck. She went to some hick hole trailer park in California to personally confront the bitch that was responsible for her beating in Vegas. She had security, but she went, and I’m supposed to be shaking in my boots from some motherfucker that doesn’t even have the guts that my wife has?

“He keeps sending his consigliere every time he wants to make a point. Big fucking deal! I’m not talking to that guy anymore and I mean that! If Russo wants a war, he can do it, and I can’t win it, but these scare tactics are not fucking going to work with me!”

I’ve had enough of this shit. I’ve had enough of all of it. I know that these men sitting before me can do more than what they’re doing without sending the fucking A-Team around with my wife.

“I want my wife and family secure as much as you do, but this? No. If those bozos in the FBI can keep Myrick hidden and safe, you can keep my wife safe without drawing this much attention to her. You’re doing a fan dance for this fucker and you know it, and I’m not going to play his game. I’ll accept reasonable security enhancements, but this is overkill. Whatever point you’re trying to make, you’ve made it. You’re pissing me off and you’re scaring the fuck out of my wife. Call them off.” Jason finally decides to speak.

“With all due respect, sir, the threat that’s facing us is a real and present danger. I’m not trying to make a point; I’m trying to keep you safe!”

“I don’t think you heard me,” I say crisply. “Call. Them. Off. This is not a request.”

Jason glares at me and I don’t back down. He’s going overboard, and my wife is right. This is ridiculous.

“If imminent danger comes at my wife or our children, there can be ten men coming at her and as long as someone’s got her six, two to five of them will fall at her hand from her bullets. She doesn’t need eight people and you know this. Call them off.” Jason’s lips purse as he visibly prepares his retort.

“Two extra guards, one extra vehicle when the children are with her. That’s it. Make it happen or call them all off besides the regulars. Your choice,” I say.

“Less vehicles means a lower tactical advantage,” he warns.

“It’s all chance, Jason,” I inform him. “You and I both know that tactical advantage won’t mean shit if they really want her.” My words are grave, but true. Everything we do is a precaution. My home is a fortress, but if anyone is willing to risk their life to get to her, they can do it. Jason shakes his head.

“What’s going on with you?” he asks. “You’re usually the most cautious guy I know. Now it’s like you’re staring death in the face like you really don’t care.”

“Oh, make no mistake, I care. If anything happens to my wife, I will personally find whoever’s responsible, shoot them in every extremity several times and watch them bleed out. I can’t very well do that if I’m dead, so yes. I care very much about life. But my wife is teetering on the edge of a proverbial cliff every damn day. We’ve had this discussion. I don’t have time to be meek. And after she and I have both confided in you about her fears and how she’s feeling, I can’t for the life of me fathom how you thought it was a solid idea to trail her with three vehicles and eight damn guards!”

The military man in Jason suddenly slips away and his expression is now unreadable. I have no idea what’s going through his head, but just like that…

“I’ll take care of it,” he says. I know you will. You were bordering on insubordination and I was about to suspend your ass.

“Thank you,” I nearly hiss before turning to Alex. “What’s the word on Myrick? Anything?” He shakes his head.

“The trail is cold, sir. No new leads at all,” Alex replies.

“Well, heat it up!” I say firmly. “Put some pressure on whoever you need to put some pressure on—the ex-wife, the offspring, that kid in the service, the FBI, the CIA, the fucking President, I don’t care! I want this motherfucker out of my hair! Start turning over some goddamn rocks and I guarantee you’ll see some bugs start running! And I never want to fucking see Aragon again!”

Alex’s eyes widen, and Jason sits up straight.

“That’s what I said,” I reinforce. “I never fucking want to see his ass again. Put his mug on facial recognition so that if he shows up within ten feet of my building, this place lights up like a fucking Christmas tree! I will wear my harness and that gun that he seems to think is useless every damn day and I’ll make sure that my wife stays strapped like Calamity fucking Jane, but he gets nowhere near any of us and you don’t need eight extra guards to make that happen. He’s starts shooting, you shoot back! And aim for his fucking head!”

I am totally beyond reason. I want blood, and I want it now. This situation has gone on for way too long and I’m tired of it taking over my goddamn life.

I don’t even think I hear them when they leave my office. I’m seeing red. I know that my station puts me and my family in a position of danger on a regular basis, which is why I want that exposé to air. That’s only a small message to the somewhat little fish that we won’t sit around and be fucked with anymore, but what about the big fish? How do you get that message to them?

Every time Russo sends that fucker out here, he’s acting like a cat playing with a mouse.

“Mr. Grey, if I was looking to cause you any harm, the deed would have been done by now…”

Well, fucking do it, then, you pussy ass bastard, because I’m not running, hiding, or cowering from you anymore.


ANASTASIA

“Turn this fucking car around.” Chuck looks at me in the rearview mirror, bemused.

“What?” he asks, his eyes wide. That’s when I realize that we’re still on the bridge.

“As soon as you can, turn this fucking car around and take me back home. There’s no way in hell I’m taking all this attention to Helping Hands.” He’s silent for a minute.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, and I’m not even pissed that he’s calling me ma’am. I am pissed, however, that half of GEH security appears to be following me to work. Where are they supposed to stay while I’m working and meeting with residents—on the goddamn bleachers?

I’m fuming. Something’s going on and he’s not telling me what it is. I call Grace and try not to sound too agitated.

“Grace, I’m working from home today. There seems to be some kind of development that I need to get sorted with my husband.” There’s silence.

“I’m not prying but is everything okay?” she asks.

“I’m not sure, but it’s nothing you should be worried about. I’m certain we can figure out what’s going on with the situation. Is Marilyn there yet?”

“I don’t think so. If she is, I haven’t seen her.”

We get to the end of the bridge and Chuck takes the exit and makes to get back on the bridge headed home.

“If you see her, tell her to come to my house,” I say. “I’ve been thinking about something since I had to recruit members of security to help move office furniture yesterday. What do you think about having a full-time custodial crew instead of a contracted cleaning service? I know we would need consider the financial implications like benefits and whatnot, but I think the benefits of having someone in-house would outweigh those of having a service. You know, building maintenance, per se.” There’s a pause.

“I hadn’t considered it,” she says. “Have you done any research on it?”

“Well, no,” I say, “but I was thinking that with the problems that we had a couple of years ago with the cleaning service not covering certain areas of the building and having to inspect their work all the time and renegotiate the contracts, it’s worth looking into for several reasons. There are going to be more people in the building that are not just residents. The classrooms are now going to be utilized. There’s obviously going to be a need to have someone around that can fix things in a pinch—be a handyman, a janitor… Not only that, but having a staff makes people more accountable for the work that needs to be done.”

“Yes,” she says. “I can see where you’re going with that. And we’re going to have to look into offering benefits for staff anyway because we’re expanding. We’re going to be eligible for federal funding and grants now with our accreditation and we’re not as slim as we were before on our donations with the publicity we’ve been getting from your appearances and from the PSA that I’ve learned is still airing in some areas. We should probably put together a PSA of our own once we have the foundation of our programs in place.”

“Oh, that’s a fantastic idea, Grace,” I tell her. “It’s great that we have the Faces of Abuse campaign still airing, but now we’re going to be offering many more services, and we definitely need to get that word out there.”

“When is your segment with Christian supposed to run again?” she asks. “Cary and I don’t watch much television and I don’t want to miss it.”

“It runs on Monday night,” I tell her. “I thought about a little viewing party, but not on a Monday night.”

“Why not?” Grace says. “With a few minor exceptions, we basically write our own schedules. I think a viewing party is a great idea.” I shrug.

“I’ll talk to Christian about it. See what he thinks.” I was so critical in my viewing of the segment before that I didn’t really see it. I was just watching for “bloopers,” so to speak. Our conversation has gotten our caravan back across the bridge and onto Mercer Island.

“Marilyn and I will start researching the pros and cons of a service versus in-house custodial staff and see if we can come up with the numbers for you. Keri’s looking into her teaching credentials in the states, by the way. She informs me that she should have some solid information by the end of the week.” I look to Keri for confirmation and she nods.

“Okay. I’m going to start looking into some benefit packages for the employees of the center. Who was putting together the grant paperwork and request for funding?”

“That would be Courtney,” I tell her. “She’s also supposed to be getting us some kind of presentation by week’s end. She’s been pretty diligent with it and her studies.”

“Speaking of studies, Harmony is here today. I saw that she was here yesterday, too.” I told her to spend time with her mother. She doesn’t have much time left.

“Did she tell you about Tina?” I ask.

“Yes, and her unfortunate situation with that wretched husband of hers,” she adds. “Unfortunately, this is the way the divorce game is played, my dear. I don’t know anything about divorce law, but I know that divorces have held up lives for decades from people who don’t want the divorce and won’t sign the papers. A lot of cases have been won—or lost, depending on which side you’re on—because one party is just tired of fighting and simply gives up and gives in. I’m not sure there’s much that she can do but let him wait it out and give him want he wants short of paying him off to hurry up and sign the papers so that Tina can die in peace.”

“I have Al on it,” I reply. If all that needs to be done is he sign the papers and this is over, I’m not beyond paying this bastard off to go away. Maybe I’m getting too involved, but to me, this is just another way that the Boogeyman is bearing his teeth, even though he’s not bearing them at me. “What’s Harmony doing there anyway? I told her to spend some time with her mom.”

“Tina shooed her away and she doesn’t know how to deal with it. She’s young and going through some things herself right now. Handling two major life changes is taking its toll.”

“What about her classes?” I ask.

“Not until this afternoon.” I shake my head.

“Where is she now?”

“She’s helping Michelle out in the dorms—busy work for the most part.” We drive into the gate at the Crossing.

“Well, keep her busy until it’s time to go to school. I’m sure something’s going to give. Maybe have her help you with researching benefit packages.”

“Oh, yes, that’s a good idea,” she concurs.

“I’m going to touch bases with my husband and have him get in touch with the guy who did the Faces PSA—see if we can get a meeting.”

“Excellent, and I’ll get to work on Project Harmony and the benefits research.”

“Indeed, you know where to find me.” I end the call and text Marilyn to meet me at the mansion before I exit the car.

“Is everything okay?” A frowning Gail is walking quickly through the portico to help get the twins from the car. I gesture to the train of vehicles behind me.

“Imagine this driving up to Helping Hands,” I say. “We’d have news helicopters hovering over the Center!” She looks back at the Caravan of Love while I try not to slam the door after Keri has removed Mikey from the car. Chuck has already unbuckled Minnie’s seat and hands the carrier to Gail.

“Oh,” she says with a frown, looking at the line of Audis. “Why the entourage?” she asks. I shake my head.

“Ask His Highness,” I say, waving my hand disgustedly while breezing past her into the house.

*-*

“I don’t know if I’ve told you, but I’m redoing my office here, too,” I say to Marilyn as she types away on her MacBook while sitting in one of the seats across from my desk. She raises her eyes to me.

“Why?” she asks. “It’s so comfy and pretty.”

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“It served the original purpose, but now, it looks too executive. It’s not Zen enough.”

“Oh… the Zen,” she says, tapping at her MacBook again. “How’s that working for you?”

“Some days it helps. Others, I’m struggling,” I admit.

“Well, you just started. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.” Yeah, I know. I just wish the Boogeyman would stop rearing his ugly head at me. I’m fighting him. I’ve decided not to take his abuse lying down anymore. But damn, it’s exhausting! I’m trying not to internalize Harmony’s issue; Christian has the entire Intergalactic Force following me; and I haven’t even bothered to ask Marilyn if she’s taken a pregnancy test. She seems in better spirits, but who knows what that means. I need to talk to Ace in the worst way and I’m trying to wait until my appointment on Friday, but it’s hard as hell. I need some damn guidance.

For some reason, my need for guidance leads me to call my husband instead of my shrink.

“Butterfly… are you okay?” he answers frantically, another reason for me to believe that something more is going on than he’s letting on.

“Why wouldn’t I be okay, Christian?” I ask, keeping my voice even. He sighs.

“Don’t read anything into it,” he cautions. “I just got the word the you went back to the house instead of going in to work and just as I was about to call you, you called me. It startled me, that’s all.” I raise my eyebrow in disbelief.

“Well, I couldn’t take the Observation Committee to the Center,” I say stoically. “It would be counterproductive.”

“Yeah, about that,” he says. “Jason went all commando-special-ops on me and pulled that shit, but I straightened it out. You’ll have a couple of extra details with you, but that caravan shit is a wash. I’m sorry if it scared you.”

It didn’t scare me, it pissed me off.

“We’ll keep the detail to your car and one additional with the usual guards and maybe two others, and Butterfly, it’s just a precaution. You know me—I’d rather be safe than sorry any day, but even I know when too much is too much.”

I try not to react, but I can’t help the sigh of relief I release knowing that Jason was just going overboard and that there was no sniper or something waiting to pick me off at the Center.

“You do still carry your firearm with you, don’t you?” And just when I was starting to relax…

“Yes,” I reply.

“Good, because I had to remind him that you’re a proficient shot and that you stay armed so that he would back off a bit. Hell, you’d probably pick off somebody coming at you faster than any of them would… I’m reminded of a certain Monster Bitch.”

I can’t help but laugh, and the tension is broken again, which I’m sure was his intent.

“I have a purpose for my call,” I say, not noticing that Marilyn has left the room. Where did she go?

“What is it?”

“Well, first, I want to see if you can set a meeting with that guy who did the Faces of Abuse PSA. We’re thinking of doing one for the new services at Helping Hands and we need direction.”

“I’ll give him a call,” Christian says. “And second?”

“I don’t know if you’ve been informed, but Tina Franklin has taken a turn for the worst.” I hear him sigh.

“Really?” he says, his voice deflated.

“Unfortunately, yes. She’s at home on hospice. Harmony’s not doing very well, so this portion kind of has a two and a three.” He pauses.

“I’m listening.”

I tell him about how Tina is pushing Harmony away in her last days. I’m certain she thinks it’s an attempt to spare Harmony the pain of watching her fade away. The problem is that she’s going to need these last moments to cling to when her mother is gone, and Tina is unintentionally taking those away from her. I beseech Christian to go and see her, maybe see if he can talk to her since he knows Tina so much better than I do. When he hesitates, I ask him how he would feel if this were Grace and he was in this position. He sighs.

“I’ll stop by after work,” he says, surrendering.

“There’s more,” I tell him.

“More than this? Sweet Jesus, what else?”

“Harmony’s divorce isn’t final. She had an attorney, but it turns out that the asshole was a spy for her husband. I’ve talked to Al about helping but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. Her husband is stalling the proceedings waiting for Tina to die. He knows that Harmony is going to get an inheritance and if she gets it before they’re divorced…”

“He may be entitled to half,” Christian finishes. “Yes, the dirty business of divorce. Dad always talked about hating to see two people who once loved each other rip one another apart in court.”

“Isn’t there something that can be done?” I ask. “Can’t the court force that asshole to sign the papers? If not, Tina’s going to die or Harmony’s going to give in and—either way—he’s going to get what he wants.

“Short of busting the guys kneecaps and making him sign the papers, there’s no way around this.”

“Can we bust his kneecaps?” I ask, only half-serious.

“Butterfly…” my husband scolds.

“I know, I know,” I say, “it’s just that this guy has been dirt from the very beginning…”

I tell him the whole story about how the marriage was a farce from day one, the whole time the soon-to-be-ex-husband hoping to get his hands-on Harmony’s money not knowing that the money wasn’t Harmony’s. I explain that Harmony is not a trust fund kid like Tina’s other children may have been; that Harmony is the adopted great-granddaughter that her parents didn’t want and how Tina kept her money out of the snake’s hands when she saw through him. I told him about the guy’s philandering and how horribly he treated Harmony once he realized he wasn’t getting a hold of her money, forcing her to leave to avoid the terrible treatment and infidelity.

“Now, it looks like he’s going to get what he was after all along,” I conclude.

“Well, that explains a lot,” Christian says. “I was wondering how Tina could have a daughter so young. I’m also wondering if all of her children are going to come home now that she’s in hospice, or if they’re all still too busy with their lives.”

I don’t say what I’m thinking… that they’ll all show up after she’s dead looking for their cut.

“So, we have a parasite on our hands,” Christian says, “and short of going the old-school route and giving him the beating that he so richly deserves or making him an offer he can’t refuse, he’s going to get off Scott free with half of Harmony’s inheritance. I’m not buying that. There’s a way around that somehow.”

“I don’t see that there is, Christian, except for Harmony not to get the money… and that’s punishing Harmony for her asshole ex-husband’s actions.”

“I’m a businessman. There’s always a way,” he says confidently. “I don’t mean to rush you, baby, but there’s a ton of shit that I have to get to today and you just gave me a couple of additional projects to add to the pile. Was there anything else you needed?”

“No, that was it. I’ll call you if I think of anything else.”

“Okay… now I’m going to see Tina after work. Unless I can get out of here early, that means I’ll be home late today.” His voice is placating, like he thinks I’ll break—not that I can blame him.

“Okay, that’s fine. I won’t wait up,” I say.

“Not that damn late!” he adds.

“I get it, Christian. You’ll be home later. I’ll see you when you get here.” We exchange I love you’d and end the call. So, the threat’s not so bad that I need eight people following me, but he wants to make sure that I’m carrying my gun. Like he said, Ana, don’t read anything into it.

The whole thing with the adoption has made me think about my biological family—or the lack thereof—and I go to that website I logged into last year. The damn thing’s been charging my account every month for a year and I haven’t even been paying attention to it. I think I remember Mare saying something about it right before the twins were born and I said that I would get to it, but nothing since then.

Nothing from Marilyn anyway.

When I log into the website, it’s full of hits and notifications. Holy cow, Batman! Are these all people who are related to me? Shit, it’s going to take me months to get through all this data and all these people!

I log out of the site. My brain can’t even absorb that shit right now. Is this a box that I really want to open? After nearly 30 years, here comes cousin Ana? And are these people legit or are they just people on the site who may know who I am and are trying to get a piece of the rock?

“Dear Jesus, not now,” I say, opening my email program instead. I see the email from Mia that I’ve been avoiding, the one with the link to her wedding site. I roll my eyes and sigh.

“Might as well look,” I say aloud and click on the link.

The site opens to a background of Mia and Ethan on their wedding day, all smiles and gleefully posing as Mr. and Mrs. Kavanaugh. There are so many links and features that I don’t know where to begin. My first destination is the guest list. I have no idea who put this together, but each person who signed the guest book is featured in this section—pictures with their scribbled names underneath and their relation to the bride and groom, if any. I quickly find the picture of me and Christian. Someone caught us walking into the ballroom together, I have no idea when. We’re very casual and he’s holding my hand. It’s a simple picture of us and I like it—not posed or phony, just me and Christian as we are… well, most of the time.

Most of the other pictures of the guests were either pictures from the photo booths or candid shots like me and Christian. I don’t know if Adelaide will peruse Mia’s website, but if she does, the guestlist will alert her that her granddaughter is still in town, or at least was for the wedding. Her photo is with Vickie, protectively holding her around the waist. Her smile is large and genuine. She looks radiant, and Vickie’s adoration of her clearly shows through the photograph. I won’t alert her that the picture is here. I think it’ll only cause her undue anxiety. She travels in some of the same circles as her grandparents. If it’s meant to be that they bump into each other, then they will.

I get lost in the website, reliving the night through many of the photographs and enjoying the journey. I even get a little miffed watching Marlow dance with his little walking-fart-dress-wearing date. Geez, I hope she’s not a girlfriend. Then there’s the picture of Carrick holding Grace close to him on the dancefloor and planting a tender kiss on her cheek. Elliot and Val didn’t escape the smooch-cam either. And of course, me and Christian. There’s even a picture of Christian placing a tender kiss on Tina’s cheek when she and Harmony were about to leave the reception.

A kinder, gentler Christian Grey…

I didn’t, however, expect to see a video clip of us singing for Mia. I guess somebody couldn’t resist.


CHRISTIAN

I hope I’ve convinced my wife to resume going into the office. I haven’t had a cooking lesson from Gail in over a week and I’m certain that I’ve completely forgotten how to crack an egg… which is ridiculous. I proceed with what I was about to do when my wife called me and interrupted my thought process.

“Terry Smalls here.”

“Smalls, Grey. I’ve been waiting for an update on my grandfather’s storage bins. What’s the news?”

“We’re still sorting, sir,” he says. “It’s like one of those boxes where you open it and there’s another box and you open it and there’s another box and you open it and there’s another box. I think you or your uncle should look at these manifests…”

“Why don’t you just tell me what’s in there?” I ask impatiently.

“Where do I start?” he laments. “We’ve got about five bins full of antique furniture—real quality stuff. We’ve got at least two and maybe three bins of knick knacks, and when I say ‘knick knacks,’ I don’t mean ‘whatnots.’ I mean old fashioned baby clothes, bronzed baby shoes, somebody’s wedding dress—According to the manifest, there’s a collection of Waterford Crystal somewhere in one of these bins. You know they don’t make that anymore, right?”

“Yes, I’m aware,” I say.

“Oh! Yeah, and three more cars.” I nearly drop the phone.

More cars?” I ask.

“Yeah, three,” he confirms. “We haven’t located them yet.”

“Then how do you know they’re there?” I inquire.

“They’re on the manifests,” he says.

“Classics? Restored, like the Mustang?”

“I don’t know, sir. We haven’t found them yet…”

“Goddammit, drop everything and find the cars first! My grandfather was sick well before he died. Those things might have been sitting there for years!”

“Will do, sir.” I end the call and push my hands through my hair. My grandfather was fucking rich, or he spent his money in such a way as to accumulate an array of valuable things that he must have horded for his sons—four classic cars, four brothers. That’s got to be what that is.

I must shake the thought from my head about the cars because there’s nothing I can do about this until I know what the cars are and what kind of shape they’re in.

I spend the morning and part of the afternoon pretending to concentrate on the business of mergers and acquisitions, but it’s no use. I want to know what the fuck is taking Smalls so long to unearth those damn vehicles. Then, I get the news that one of my safe havens is about to fall prey to the worst type of vermin and, like I said, short of breaking his kneecaps, I don’t know that there’s much I can do to help her.

Short of breaking his kneecaps… I’m not beyond breaking his kneecaps, but let’s see what we can get done legally first.

“Well, truth be told, Chris,” Al says once I summon him to my office, “I know about assets and I love a good juicy fight, but I never really got into divorce law.”

“It’s a contract,” I tell him. “It’s the same thing. Think about a merger that’s about to happen. We’ve got assets that we want to hide without tipping off the buyer or the SEC.”

“I didn’t say that I didn’t know what to do. I said that basically, this isn’t my area of expertise.”

“Okay, so get to the point. What does this all mean?” I ask, impatiently.

“Nothing. He can’t touch her inheritance. If they were still in love and planning to be married for life, he still couldn’t touch her inheritance. The only way that he could touch her inheritance is if she intermingled the money together with the marital assets somehow, like if she put the money in a joint account or if it was property and he paid to repair it. Other than that, he can hold the divorce up until hell freezes over. He’ll never get that money.” I just stare at him.

“I thought all money that came into the marriage after the vows was automatically community property,” I protest.

“Nope,” he says. “Even in community property states, inheritances are not ‘his, hers, and ours.’ If that money is deposited into an account that belongs only to Ms. Harmony, Mr. Harmony can’t fuck with it.” Well, I’ll be damned.

“Have you told Harmony yet?” I ask.

“I haven’t had the chance.”

“Let me do it,” I say. “I’m going to see Aunt Tina this evening and I’d love to be able to put both their fears to rest simultaneously.”

“Be my guest,” he says.

That fucker better be glad I’ve discovered that he can’t get any of Harmony’s money. I’m not the vigilante-save-every-damsel-in-distress-that-crosses-my-path guy, but any discomfort I’ve ever inflicted on any woman with few exceptions has been consensual. I hate for men to take advantage of women, especially emotionally and even more so financially, but I hate it even more when a jerk or a crook gets over on the good guy, and that seems to happen a lot.

Hearing the news about Harmony and Tina helps me to relax a bit and I get a little more done during the afternoon than I do during the morning. I decide to leave the office early to go see about Aunt Tina, but not before I touch bases with Smalls. How fucking hard can it be to find four whole ass vehicles?

Just when I’m about to lose my complete patience with Smalls and send someone else to Detroit to get the job done, my intercom comes alive.

“Mr. Grey, I have Terry Smalls on line 2.”

Without even answering her, I pick up line 2.

“It’s late afternoon here, so I know it’s after dark there. What took so long?” I bark into the phone. “They’re cars. What took hours to find cars?”

“Well, sir, all the cars are parked behind packed boxes like the first one was. Knowing that at least one of them has fine crystal in it, I’m sure you didn’t want us to go tearing through them like a bull in a china shop.” His voice is crisper than I would like, but he has been rummaging through storage bins all day. I bite back the urge to reprimand him.

“Oh, you found the damn cars?” I ask.

“Oh, we found the cars. Your grandfather apparently has a wonderful sense of humor,” he says mirthlessly. Watch it, Skippy.

“Meaning?” I say, nearly growling.

“Meaning,” he begins, softening his tone, “finding the cars meant going through riddles on the manifest. We unpacked at least two rows in four bins before we found the last car. One of my guys apparently likes logic problems, so he was quickly able to figure out the last two saving us a massive amount of time.”

“Riddles?” I ask incredulously. “Like what?”

“Oh, God, sir, please don’t put me through that again,” he laments, but continues anyway. “Things like two farmers go to the market to buy wheat one buys 45 bags the other buys 75 bags when they get home they split it evenly between three farmers but only one farmer paid for it and… you get the idea.” He says the entire thing without stopping. “When you solve the riddle, you get the number of a manifest or a storage bin, only we didn’t figure it out until after we found the second car. We’ll be here all night putting these boxes away.”

“You’ve got the boxes out already. Why not work in shifts getting some of that stuff sorted instead of shoving it back into the bins? I only suggest that because it’s got to be a better use of time than to shove it all back in there just to pull it back out again.”

“My guys are tired. I’ll run it by them, but I’m worried about accuracy with an exhausted crew.”

“You’re right. Not a smart idea. What can you tell me about the cars?”

“Well, we can see the cars, but we can’t move them. They’re open, but the keys and the titles are all hidden in RiddleLand again, and I have a feeling these are personal.” Oh, dear Lord.

“Please, explain,” I sigh.

“Well, in the glove box of each car, there’s a riddle. After each riddle, it says, ‘Ask the boys.’” I wish I had more patience for this. I’m not flying back out to Detroit. I don’t care if he finds gold bullion in one of those bins.

“Can you give me an example?” I ask.

“’What has four fingers and a thumb but is not living?’ That one was easy enough, a glove. But what does that mean to me? At first, we thought it meant look in the glove box of the other cars, but there were just more riddles. That’s when we saw the words, ‘Ask the boys.’ So, like I said. I think these are more personal.” Now, I’m exhausted and I haven’t even done any of the work.

“Send me pictures of the cars and the riddles, please. I’ll talk to my uncle. By the way, what kind of condition are the other cars in?”

“Cherry,” he says. “You have to see them. There’s no way I can explain it.” Cherry… that’s pretty ripe.

“Email them, pack up the boxes. Go have dinner and get some rest. I’ll be waiting for your call tomorrow.” My way of telling him that I won’t bother him since I know it’s going to take forever to get the boxes back into the bins.

“Yes, sir.”

*-*

It’s about five thirty when we arrive at Aunt Tina’s. The butler doesn’t recognize me when he opens the door, not that he has any reason to, but at first, he denies me entry or access to see her.

“I know what condition she’s in and she’s a very dear friend of mine. I’d like to see her please. Tell her it’s Christian,” I insist.

“I’m afraid that’s impossible,” he says, his nose in the air. “Mrs. Franklin is not seeing visitors.”

“She’ll see me,” I persist. He doesn’t relent. “Is Harmony here?” His face distorts in distaste. What the fuck is that all about?

“No, she’s not,” he announces. As if in answer to his question, a late model Jetta drives up the round drive. One of the other staff opens the driver side door and Harmony steps out.

“Christian,” she says, recognition setting in as she approaches the door. “How are you? It’s good to see you.”

“I wish I could say the same,” I complain. “I mean to say that it’s good to see you, but I can’t seem to get in to see Tina.” Harmony frowns.

“She’s not doing very well,” she says.

“Yes, I know. My wife told me. She explained her condition to me at Mia’s wedding and she asked me to come by and see her. Here I am, but I can’t get in.” She looks at the butler.

“Roger, what’s the meaning of this?” Harmony says. Roger looks at her but doesn’t acknowledge her. “Let Christian in. What’s wrong with you?”

“Ms. Tina is not in any condition to see guests,” he says snootily.

“That’s not for you to decide!” Harmony retorts. “Are you her doctor, now? Move.”

He says nothing but refuses to grant me access.

“Roger, I know you’ve worked for my mother for many years and you know the lay of this property like the back of your hand, but this. Is not. Your. House!” she hisses. Roger’s lips form a straight line. “Now, step aside, and please allow multibillionaire and mega-entrepreneur Christian Trevelyan Grey into my home!”

She’s glaring at him and he glares right back at her like she’s nobody. I’ve had enough. I shove this fucker aside and step into the house.

“Harmony, where’s Aunt Tina?” I ask, ignoring Roger’s appalled gasps and scoldings.

“She’s upstairs in her room,” she says. I take the spiral stairs two at a time. I don’t know why I feel such a sense of urgency, but I need to get to her to tell her what I’ve discovered and to let her know not to push Harmony away.

“Which room?” I ask Harmony when we get to the top of the stairs.

“Third door on the right,” she says.

“You can’t just go barging in on someone like this!” Roger protests. I whirl around on him in an instant.

“I’ve had all I’m going to take from you!” I hiss. “Now, if you don’t shut up…” I let the words hang in the air. Jason comes casually up the stairs behind me and stands behind Roger. He deflates at the sight of Jason and shrinks back a bit.

“How do you get anything done with him around?” I ask.

“It’s a trial,” Harmony admits.

“Let me guess. He knows more than you do and won’t listen to anything you say because he’ll only take orders from Tina. What’s more is that he walks around with a haughty ass entitled attitude looking down on everybody even though he’s nothing more than the help.” I’m staring at him waiting for a response or reaction from him. I get none.

“You’ve hit that nail right on the head,” Harmony says. Yes, I said the help. Gail, Jason, Chuck—that’s my family that happen to be my employees. They don’t act entitled and they certainly don’t treat my guests like vermin. So, yes, he’s nothing more than the help.

“Does he have any idea that everything he gazes upon and holds dear is going to you when your mother dies?” Roger’s eyes widen and his face pales. Harmony’s eyes widen as well.

“How do you know that?” she asks, surprised.

“I’m Christian Grey. I have my ways.” I say, never taking my eyes off Roger. I don’t know that, but he doesn’t know that I don’t know. “The very reason for my visit is to let you know that I’ve discovered some information about your inheritance and your asshole husband that should put your and Tina’s fears to rest.”

“I… I thought Ana had her friend Allen working on it,” Harmony says. I finally break my gaze with Roger and look at Harmony.

“She did,” I tell her. “Allen’s my head of legal. He’s a specialist in asset law, but he’s not a divorce attorney. No worries, though. I spoke to my father, too. He’ll be representing you in your divorce. But, first, I need to share some news with you and Aunt Tina.” I gesture to her to lead the way. She steps in front of me and walks to Tina’s door. As we’re about to enter, Roger makes to enter with us. I hold my hand up at his chest.

“We won’t need you, Roger,” I say. “Jason?” Jason steps in front of Roger as Harmony and I step into the bedroom.

“Sir!” Jason stops me somewhat urgently. He leans in to me.

“Sir, I’m getting feedback on my earpiece,” he says lowly. My brow furrows and I shake my head. What does that mean?

“This room is bugged,” he informs me. I’m instantly horrified.

“You’re sure?”

“I’m positive,” he confirms.

“There’s no way to scramble the signal?”

“Don’t dawdle there at the door! Come in!” Tina demands, her back to us. I look to Jason.

“I can call Alex. It’ll probably fuck up your cell signal, too.” I nod and put my hand in the small of Harmony’s back.

“Careful what you say,” I whisper to her as we walk across the room to Aunt Tina.

“Mom?” Harmony says softly. Tina takes her hand.

“You just don’t listen, do you, child?” she says sweetly. Harmony can’t control her emotions.

“It’s my fault, Aunt Tina,” I say, emerging from behind the chair. Her face is worn and tired but lights up when she sees me.

“Christian!” she says with excitement. “Are you being a bad influence on my Harmony?” Harmony kneels at her mother’s feet and lays her head in Tina’s lap. She weeps quietly, and Tina gently strokes her hair.

“This is why I don’t want you here,” she says, trying to comfort Harmony.

“This is exactly why she needs to be here, Aunt Tina,” I say softly touching her shoulder. “These will be her last moments with you. She needs every one of them.” Aunt Tina looks up at me and nods, still stroking Harmony’s hair.

“At least do your mom a solid and don’t cry every time you see me,” Aunt Tina says to Harmony, who tries to control her sniffles.

“Yes, ma’am,” she says, her voice soft. Tina shifts a bit in her chair.

“See? I’m not gone yet,” Aunt Tina says. “I just saw a commercial that you’re going to be on that program next Monday—you and your wife. What’s that about?” I look at my phone and I still have a very clear signal.

“We did a segment somewhat introducing ourselves to the world.” Aunt Tina tsk’s.

“You don’t need to be introduced to the world,” she says. “They all know who you are.”

“No, they don’t,” I smile. “They just think they do. Your butler certainly doesn’t know me. And he doesn’t like me either.”

“He’s just protective,” she says. “He’s been with me for a long time.”

“Is that why he doesn’t respect Harmony either?” I ask. Harmony raises her head from her mother’s lap.

“Christian…” She shakes her head.

“My dear, if Tina is the only one he’ll listen to, then Tina is the one that has to let him know he can’t treat you that way,” I inform her. Tina’s frail hand lifts Harmony’s chin.

“Is this true?” she asks. “Is he disrespectful to you?”

“He just doesn’t know me, Momma,” she says sweetly.

“Nonsense!” Tina says, pressing a button on the table next to her bed. Roger bursts through the door almost immediately, pushing past Jason and appearing before Tina.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, making eye-contact only with Tina.

“Roger are you being a pompous asshole again?” she says. His brows furrow.

“Ma’am?” he says.

“You treat my daughter as if she were me, today and from now on, or you can pack your things and leave this house tonight! Are we clear?” His eyes widen.

“Ma’am!” he says shocked. “Ma’am, I assure you…”

“I’m not looking for any of your English butler-school-taught bullshit right now, Roger. I am looking for a yes or no answer. Are. We. Clear?” He straightens.

“Yes…” he says. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Now, apologize to my daughter for how you’ve apparently been treating her when my back is turned.” He turns to Harmony.

“Ms. Harmony, I’m deeply sorry for my behavior…”

“Your insolence!” Tina demands. Roger clears his throat.

“For my insolence,” he corrects. “I humbly beg your forgiveness and assure you that it will never happen again.” Harmony turns away from him and rests her chin on her mother’s lap.

“It’s my understanding that you were rude to my guest as well,” Aunt Tina says. “I’m appalled, not only because he’s a dear friend of my family but also because you felt you have the right to treat anyone who visits my home that way. I’m dying, Roger, but I’m not dead yet! You should be glad I don’t fire you right now. I’m waiting.” Roger raises his gaze to me and I raise my hand to stop him.

“I don’t want his apology,” I say. Aunt Tina looks up at me.

“Christian, is that the behavior of a gentleman?” she scolds.

“No, ma’am,” I say, “and I don’t feel the need to be a gentleman in his presence.” I turn back to Aunt Tina while he continues to glare at me. “Forgive me, Aunt Tina.” She covers my hand and nods.

“You can go now,” she says to Roger. When he leaves, she opens her mouth as if to yawn. “Ah,” she says.

“What is it, Mom?” Harmony asks.

“There’s almost always a constant humming in my ears,” she says. “It’s gone.” I look at my phone. There’s no signal. Jason has found a way to scramble the signal in the room. I examine Aunt Tina.

“Aunt Tina, do you have a hearing aid?” I ask. I can’t see one, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have one. Sure enough, she pulls a device out of her ear that’s no bigger than a fingertip.

“I’ve had it calibrated a hundred times, but it doesn’t help.” I sigh.

“Both ears?” I ask. She nods. “Aunt Tina, I have some things to tell you.”


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

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

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Raising Grey: Chapter 49—Finding Anastasia

My twelfth wedding anniversary was this past weekend, so posting was kind of the furthest thing from my mind.

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 49—Finding Anastasia

CHRISTIAN

My wife is walking to the theater room like a man walking to the gallows. I know that it’s going to take some time for her to overcome this whole impending doom thing, and she’s doing a great job of grabbing the bull by the horns with her meditation, yoga, dancing, and whatever else she’s doing to take control of it. But when that insecurity rears its ugly head, it’s really ugly… not in the sense that it’s unattractive, but in the sense that it makes my larger-than-life Butterfly appear weak, helpless, and powerless, and I don’t like that at all.

Gail and Ms. Solomon arrange refreshments while Maria attempts to explain what we’re going to see. She’s even gone so far as to have a program that outlines the order of the interview and what we can expect. She’s gone all out with full disclosure, even insuring that we’ll be left with a copy of what we see today, which is what the network plans to air—notwithstanding any changes that we request after the viewing.

Butterfly sits quietly in one of the luxury reclining theater seats, sipping a glass of cabernet sauvignon and daintily munching on popcorn, finger sandwiches, and crudité. She’s paying attention to everything that Maria is saying; she’s just not responding.

“So, things aren’t necessarily in chronological order,” Maria explains. “If you remember, the footage at the gun range was one of the last things we recorded, but it won’t be the very last thing in the segment, although it’s pretty close to chronological. I feel that I’ve put the segment together in a manner that represents both of you and presents you in the light that you wanted to be presented. In spite of what has occurred up to this point, I hope I haven’t let you down.”

Butterfly acknowledges her with an almost indistinct nod and turns her attention to the large screen. I can feel it emanating from her skin.

Shut up and let’s get on with it already.

The lights go down and the segment starts.

“By the way…” Oh, for Christ’s sake, lady, will you shut up before my wife bites your head off? “… We were approved for two hours.”

We both rubberneck over to her.

“We were?” I ask. “But I thought you said nobody got two hours… not even Obama or Bono.” She shrugs.

“The station manager loved the material. He couldn’t decide what to keep and what to cut, so… we got two hours.”

I’m impressed. Butterfly, not so much. I can’t imagine what’s going through her head right now.

The introduction starts with the gates opening at Grey Crossing, like some episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and I already don’t like it, but the interview quickly recovers by moving almost instantly away from the mansion to an upward pan of Grey House followed by a shot of my wife strolling through the halls like the boss that she is.

GEH looks magnificent on film. The headquarters has never gotten much airtime. Press conferences or news releases were always carefully planned and released on our terms, leaving most of the whole of the company out of the proverbial limelight—except for the numbers part of it all. People have often wondered why, with all my success, I haven’t gone public. This is why. I have total control of my company. Why would I hand that control over to someone else for money that I don’t need?

My beautiful wife looks just like a female mogul, roaming the halls, offices, and departments of our company. I’ve never seen her as majestic as she looks with the power of the House behind her. No wonder women are so jealous of her—and men are intimidated by her.

I’m extremely impressed with how the one-on-one interview with me and Maria turned out. It’s just what I was hoping for—the ruthless, but shrew businessman coupled with the papa-bear that would stop at nothing to protect his family.

I watch my wife’s expressions through various parts of the interview, especially when she describes who she was before me, how she changed when we got together, me being her ultimate protector. I feel pretty shitty having dropped the ball on that duty, leaving her in the uncertainty that she feels now.

I’m quite pleased with where they placed that asshole’s footage of my wife breastfeeding our children. She’s talking about the mothering instinct that’s not so natural to some women and how her main priority is and was to protect our children inside and outside the womb. You would have thought the filming was intentional just for this moment, instead of some grip boy pervert trying to get a shot of a nip-slip.

We both look pretty bad ass on the shooting range, and we all got a little chuckle out of Maria’s obvious inexperience with a firearm…

We all, that is, except Butterfly.

Her face is stone throughout most of the segment. Even portions that brought small chuckles and reactions from Mac. She’s watching this entire thing with a highly critical eye, and she’s not even enjoying it.

When the segment is over, I feel a collective sigh release in the theater room. I don’t hear it, but I feel it.

“I secured releases from everyone who was filmed when we were last here except from your nanny… Keri, I think is her name. Forgive me if I got that wrong,” Maria informs us.

“No, you got it right,” I say. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”

“So, what did you think?” Maria asks nervously. I turn to my wife; whose face still looks like marble.

“Butterfly?” I urge.

“The segment was good,” she says, her face stoic. “Concise, honest, thought-provoking. The placement of that idiot’s footage was quite timely. I was afraid of how that would be incorporated into the segment, but I’m satisfied. Nothing was overdone, which is something that I was afraid of. I would have liked to see more of the children, but I guess there’s only so much you can fit into a two-hour segment, and that was a lot of material. Overall, I’m satisfied with the ultimate outcome.”

Timely… concise… satisfied. My wife is choosing her words carefully, not at all saying that she liked or disliked anything in the interview apart from the fact that Minnie and Mikey didn’t get more screen time. This point doesn’t get by Maria, and her uncertainty is transparent.

“Is there anything that you didn’t like, Ana?” she asks. “Anything you want to remove or change? I can get some more footage of the children added if you want. I just didn’t want to overdo it…”

“No, it’s fine,” my wife interrupts. “The overall focus was Christian and me and that’s how it should be. Too much information about the children could be dangerous.” Maria nods in resignation.

“What about you, Christian?” she says, slightly crestfallen but trying not to show it, and for once, I have to be the diplomat in the situation. I’m not sure that I can do it, but here goes.

“I liked it,” I begin. “I think it portrays just what we wanted—Christian and Anastasia Grey as a whole and not just the crap that the press or the gossip rags want to show. It had that ‘here’s what it is, take it or leave it’ vibe, and I like that. I was afraid that it was going to be some plastered-over, painted and spit-shined depiction of us and I wouldn’t have liked that at all. When the segment started with the gates opening, I was worried, but you recovered very quickly…”

“I did that intentionally,” Maria interjects. “I know that people are expecting some ‘Robin Leach, Ana descending the stairs in a diamond-encrusted robe’ presentation. So, I had a little fun and let them think that’s what they’re getting.”

Of course, they did get some of that, but it was appropriately placed and not overused, so, I can’t complain.

“I had a feeling,” I say. “I’m just glad that wasn’t the entire focus of the interview. Yes, we have a beautiful home and yes, we have money, but the hope was to focus on the people and not necessarily the situation. I think you did that well. I particularly loved the parenting segment and where you put the forbidden footage.” Maria sighs.

“I was hoping that you would be happy with that… both of you,” she says. We look over at Butterfly who simply takes another sip of her Cabernet. Maria deflates a little. “When you gave me permission to use it, I had no idea where to put it at first. My questions were, ‘where do you insert a woman breastfeeding?’ Then I thought about it being the original natural process, second only to sex, and realized that it could have fit just about anywhere that we were talking about the woman that Ana is, but best fit when we were discussing motherhood.”

“Well good for you. It looks good,” I encourage. “I’ll have to admit that I see quite a bit of me but more of Ana.”

“That’s also intentional,” Maria says. “The camera loves Ana and the press and the public gobble up every little tidbit of her that they can get. It’s been that way ever since she’s been in the limelight. That’s not to say that the camera doesn’t love you, too, but public Christian Grey is a new flavor. The viewing audience has a delicate palate. If you dump it on them all at once, they quickly lose the taste for it. Even in what appears to be a relaxed setting, you’re a force of dominance…”

Quite the appropriate description.

“You can’t push that in somebody’s face too much. It comes off like an arrogant pissing dog. So, instead, I gave you that one power segment, then introduced a segment of Ana before bringing you both together again. From there, you were still very present, but she did most of the talking. Finally, you came in as the anchor. So, I started and ended with you, but Ana was the cream filling, so to speak. As a result, hopefully, a little more Ana and a little less Christian actually gives the segment just the right amount of balance.”

Mac is nodding introspectively, and I can see that she agrees with what Maria is saying.

“Well, I agree with my wife; it’s very precise, and I feel that it’s a good representation of us—a bit of a bite at some moments as well as the softer, human side of the Greys. I’m quite satisfied.” I look over at Butterfly who finally succumbs to compliment.

“Yes, Maria, it’s a good presentation. I like it,” she says. Maria’s face finally lifts a bit and she signals for the film operator—whoever is up there with Jason—to play the promos. If this is what Mrs. Miller saw, it truly wasn’t much. There are two separate promos and in either of them, you only see a fraction of the house—pieces of the grand entry, dining room, family room, and backyard. I guess that was enough for her to call Elliot… or call Gia who called Elliot. Anyway, the promos weren’t revealing at all—some pictures of Grey House and the two of us showing Maria around, no pictures of our children at all, and that was it. I can still understand why my wife wasn’t happy that the footage was shown before we consented, though. It could have been much worse.

Maria indicates that she has to get back to New York for shooting of portions of her show that will be this week and that she will call ahead to approve the immediate airing of the promos we approved. This was the warning that if we watch television, we’ll most likely see some of our promos as soon as today as the program will air in primetime a week from tomorrow. Butterfly rises from her chair, shakes Maria’s hand and thanks her for coming and for her good work before sitting back in her seat and drinking her Cabernet. I walk a bit with Maria and Mac to the theater room door.

“Don’t take it personally,” I tell Maria in a low voice. “My wife has recently been through something and it’s taking a bit of a toll on her. Hearing about the promos before we had approved the segment didn’t help.”

“Again, I am so sorry about that,” Maria grovels. “I have no excuse for it, but I hope it didn’t completely ruin the experience.”

“If she could find her words right now, she would tell you how much she liked it. I know that because I liked it and I’m very hard to please.” I finally get the wide smile from Maria that she’s been holding back.

“Thank you, Christian. I appreciate that. The last thing I want is for the two of you to be disappointed.”

“Come on, Maria. We’ll find Keri and get that last release signed for you,” Mac says. I gesture to Chuck sitting in the back of the theater and when he meets us in the middle of the aisle, I explain that the ladies need to find Keri and that Mac will most likely want to come back here when all is said and done.

“You’re feeling better?” I ask my wife when I take my seat next to her.

“A little,” she says. “The sky didn’t fall.” I know that’s a reference to her constant feeling of impending doom as well as the theory of Chicken Little that nothing’s really wrong, but she still expected the end of the world. I simply put my arm around her and sigh.

“When I found out that I was pregnant,” she begins, “I was afraid that I was carrying two little lives inside of me—two little blessings from God—that I would nurture inside of my body and bring into this realm just so that the world could gobble them up and destroy them. As time went on, I managed to fight those demons back even though it was hard, and things were still happening to prove my point rather than dispel it. Now, they’re here—they’ve made it into the world and they’re okay. And as time goes on, I see more and more that I was right the first time.

“People are untrustworthy and as a result, horrible things happen to other people. Even when you think you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do, somehow you slip up and do something wrong—you make the wrong decision, or you don’t take an action you should have or you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time and because of it, hell falls down on you like burning hot lava and sears your very soul.

“You go to one of your favorite places in the world to calm down and think things through and just as you’re leaving, your psycho ex-boyfriend shoots you full of drugs that should only be available to doctors and handcuffs you to a bed for four days.

“You take a left turn instead of a right which takes you a different route than you normally take, and a neurotically delusional ex-submissive T-bones your car most likely gunning for the Dom whom she felt scorned her… or maybe she was gunning for me, who knows?

“And instead of running to my husband and telling him about a situation that I erroneously thought I had under control or simply avoiding the situation altogether, he walks in and sees a man that I don’t want at all about to kiss me, and he leaves me for three weeks with no word—put an ocean, a few seas, and a continent between us.”

Shit… that hurt.

“And this,” she says, gesturing to the screen. “Grip boy records me without my permission hoping to see some tits, and then we hear through word of mouth that the promos were released before we approved them. I couldn’t even enjoy the premier because I sat here the entire time waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Jesus, I don’t know what to say. I want to come up with something that will make this all better, but I can’t. I see a single tear fall down her cheek, quickly followed by another.

“Butterfly…”

“You were my safe place,” she says, her voice squeaking. “Everything was okay in your arms, under your protection, and suddenly…” She trails off. What’s more alarming is that she’s speaking in past tense. I am your safe place, Butterfly.

“You’re only human,” she continues, her tears dictating her voice. “You’re not perfect, immortal, or impervious to pain or mistakes, but somehow… somehow…” Her voice trails off again. She raises her eyes to the ceiling and sighs heavily before quickly wiping her face with both her whole hands to remove as many tears as possible.

“It’s an uphill battle,” she says, “fighting the Boogeyman and trying not to let fear overtake me and become a complete recluse, but I’m fighting it. I see things more differently than I’ve ever seen them before in my life, and I just have to incorporate this new knowledge into my life without crumbling to the hand of doom. That’s the hard part. Wisdom is a terrible burden to bear.”

That sounds horrible. She’s slipping into the doom again. This is exactly what we don’t want. She’s moving backwards, away from progress.

“Baby, what can I do?” I ask, feeling completely rudderless. She shakes her head.

“I’ll be alright,” she says in that flat voice that I hate. It’s that quiet acceptance of hell. “I just… need a few moments to regroup. I’ll do some yoga and meditate.” She stands from the seat and heads to the door.

“Do you want me to come and meditate with you?” I ask. We haven’t meditated together in a couple of days. It might help. She turns sad eyes to me.

“Sometimes, you have to face your demons alone,” she replies. She looks at me for a moment, then walks out of the theater room.

Jesus, I feel like a stone has been tied around my neck and I just have to carry it around until she comes out of this. If that’s how I feel, I can only imagine what she’s feeling.

“I just saw Ana.” Mac’s voice startles the shit out of me. “She’s not doing very well.” I shake my head.

“My impromptu trip to Madrid did more damage that I ever thought possible,” I say, scrubbing my hands over my face. “I’ll be honest, even looking back on my anger, had I ever thought it would cause this much injury, I would have made a different decision.” Mac frowns.

“I thought you went to Madrid on a hunch,” she says, “that you got a bad feeling about something and had to go immediately. There’s more?”

“Yes, there’s more, but I’m not going to tell you about it because it’s irrelevant and won’t do any good. I will tell you that you’re right, though. I did get a bad feeling about something and I did go on a hunch—and I was right, which is why I pulled out of the deal. But I didn’t need to go as suddenly as I went, and that’s all I’ll say about that.”

I straighten in my seat, raising to my full height and changing the subject, indicating to Mac that this topic of conversation is closed.

“What about what Stanton said?” I ask. “Did I give enough to prove that she missed a golden opportunity?”

“Oh, dear God, do you have to ask?” Mac replies. “You gave just enough of the interview that she was looking for not to bore the audience, plus you gave crisp and valuable insight into your personal life that wasn’t syrupy sweet, overly ostentatious, or Desperate Housewives. She’s going to be sick when she sees this.”

“How do you know she’ll watch it?” I ask.

“It’s primetime Monday night Sweeps Week—of course, she’s going to watch it. She’s hoping to see it flop, so she’s going to watch it the entire way through, looking for exactly what she’s expecting to see, and trust me. You guys nailed it. Maria asked the tough questions and you two came back without flinching. You got the point across that you wanted to relay as well as giving a good, solid 10-15 minutes as to exactly why you are the brilliant entrepreneur, businessman, mastermind, savant, and guru that she claimed you were. Those statistics that you threw out there in a moment’s notice—28 industries, 419 subindustries, 165 countries… that shit was brilliant. Raynell fucked up and when she sees this interview, she’s going to know it. You got the grit that she was looking for plus the fantastic human-interest piece that you wanted… Stories like this—and on Sweeps Week—are the stuff that Barbara Walters is made of. She’s going to shit herself when this airs. She pissed on the golden ticket and she’s going to know it!”

Well, I take some small amount of comfort in that. Mac and I talk for a few minutes longer about the publicity that will be generated over the next week and how to handle it, including a “no comment” press release until after the segment airs. Jason and Chuck return to the theater room after showing Maria and her reel operator to the door.

“I have the copies of the interview and the promos, sir,” Jason says, handing me a very fancy looking silver flash drive. “It really was a good segment.” I nod, hardly pacified from my angst about my wife.

“Well, I’ll be going now,” Mac says, rising from her seat. “Thanks for the great grub and… call me if you guys need me.”

“Thanks, Mac,” I say without raising my head.

“I’ll show you out,” Chuck says as he escorts Mac from the theater room. I run my fingers through my hair and drop my head. There’s that stone around my neck again.

“Do you want to be left alone?” I forgot that Jason was still here. Now, he’s standing in front of me.

“I don’t know what to do,” I admit. “It’s like she’s bipolar. Just about anything could set her off. She was my rock in Detroit, Jason,” I say, turning my gaze to him as he takes a seat next to me. “She never complained about that cold room. She was right there when I needed her. She held me together when I thought I was going to fall apart. She was everything I needed and then some. She was supportive, passionate, even playful… but the moment the slightest bit of adversity comes her way, she loses her footing. True, she did everything throughout this viewing to hold it together, so she didn’t fall apart completely, but she was so withdrawn and detached… so aloof. If was hard to watch. It was a good segment…”

“Very good, boss,” Jason says. “She depicted you guys extremely well. She even turned a bad situation into a good one.” I nod.

“Exactly, but my wife was sitting there waiting for some horrible thing to come across the screen and never absorbed how great we looked—as a couple and a family… as a team. It was just what I wanted, and she still looks like the world is ending.” I drop my head into my hands.

“God, why didn’t I see this before?” I say, still holding my head while I’m shaking it. “My wife is and always has been mostly emotion and I… I, who can’t identify what I’m feeling half the time without help from my shrink or from her or from you… had to go all mega-Dom on her and disappear for three weeks without telling her where I was. This damage may be irreparable.” Jason sighs.

“Well, you got one thing right,” he says. “You did go mega-Dom on her.” I raise my eyes to him. “I may not be in the lifestyle, boss, but I had to learn something about it working for you, and that trip to Madrid wasn’t about you at all. It was about her. Somewhere during the course of that trip, you may have gotten all caught up in your feelings and decided that you felt betrayed or hurt or used or whatever feeling you want to put in there. But the entire time that you were downing shots at the bar, vomiting on the plane, wearing a toga during the descent, and running around Madrid in sweatpants, you were pissed. You convinced yourself that she was a villain and she deserved to be punished—and that’s what you did. You went mega-Dom and gave her the biggest punishment that you’ve ever given her. Emotional warfare is far more damaging than physical, and you punished her so badly that she punished herself.

“I’m not saying that she’s blameless in this. I know that’s not true and so does she. I’m just saying that this could have definitely been handled in a better way and now, she’s paying for it. What you did was the equivalent of ‘two wrongs don’t make a right;’ they only result in an even bigger wrong and in this case, it’s astronomical. She’s suffering a form of PTSD…”

“Oh, she’s not going to like the sound of that,” I protest. “She won’t even talk to Dr. Baker without coaxing because she said the same thing.”

“Well, she may not have been suffering it at that time, but this time, she is. She emotionally or physically separates herself from any situation that may cause her discomfort; then she sits in the corner and waits for Armageddon. That’s the same as a combat soldier who can’t tolerate fireworks, who’s set off by a ceiling fan thinking it’s a chopper blade; who wakes up in the middle of the night screaming and fighting ghosts who aren’t there; a victim of a serious accident who’s afraid to drive a car; a victim of sexual abuse who doesn’t trust the opposite sex. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. She can deny it all she wants, but that’s what she’s suffering.

“Is it irreparable? I don’t know. I’ve seen some victims of PTSD that never come out of it. I’ve seen some that just learn to live with it—that can function and control their triggers. Her behavior in Detroit gives me the idea that she has hope. It just depends on how deep her despair is and if she can control those feelings of doom. She’s going to have to find out exactly what triggers it and control those triggers. That’s the hard part, but you have to be patient and give her time… and space, when she needs it.” Did he hear her tell me that there was nothing I could do for her right now?

“Are you a part-time shrink, too?” I try to jest.

“No,” Jason says, “I’m a combat veteran. I suffer a bit of the old post-trauma myself. I just… know how to handle it.”  I gaze at him.

“I never knew that,” I reply soberly.

“I don’t publicize it,” he retorts. “If Her Highness denies that she’s suffering from the effects of post-traumatic stress, she’s never going to be able to find an effective treatment plan. She knows that.”

“Well, Jason, I can’t tell her. When I tell you that it was disastrous the last time we approached that topic with Dr. Baker, I’m saying that the silent passive-aggressive blows in that room could have caused physical carnage in a different setting.” He sighs.

“I’ll try to find a decent time to talk to her about it, but it won’t be today. She’s already triggered, so she can’t hear me right now.” I twist my lips.

“You did some shrinking somewhere, Jason. Admit it.”

“Nope,” he denies, shaking his head. “Any intelligent person will learn everything they can about their illness, particularly mental illnesses. They can be deadlier than any physical illness around. I educated myself on triggers, coping techniques, symptoms, medications, things like that. I’m not a shrink, Christian. I’m just informed.”

“Quite,” I cede. “I’ll let you decide when the best time is to broach this topic with Her Highness. In the meantime, I need your help with another situation.”


ANASTASIA

I’ve lost it. I’ve completely lost hold on everything that I’ve been working on—all my Zen, all my chi, all my fucking self-control… right out the goddamn window.

Get it together, Grey. Get it the fuck together.

For the first time in my life, the Bitch sounds like me. I shudder and try to compose myself. I can’t lose it. I have to maintain control and balance.

I’m walking around the house aimlessly, not sure where I’m headed or what I’m trying to do. The meditation room won’t do it right now. I need more than meditation to shake this feeling. I need meditation on steroids!

Nothing happened. Nothing even happened. It was just the fact that Maria Sanchez seemed a bit careless with our footage and suddenly, the sky is falling again. I can’t function like this. I can’t constantly walk around being afraid to think or move or breathe.

Nothing actually went wrong. It just took the hint of something possibly not being quite right for me to slip into the anticipation of Armageddon.

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Who is this wimpy bitch before me and what has she done with the fearless Anastasia Steele?

Anastasia Steele… why did I go all the way back to her?

I know why… because I’m trying to find that independence that I once had, that ability to call my own shots and tell it like it is without pulling punches or holding back. That same woman who told David the he would never have a chance and subsequently pulled a gun on him in the parking lot. Yeah, he kidnapped me, but when I was free, I kicked his motherfucking ass with the last bit of strength I had left.

That’s the girl I’m looking for—the same girl that faced off with the Pedophile and won every time, even after she stole my gun. Yeah, she shot Jason with it, but I beat her within an inch of her life after that.

And then there’s the girl who really let Grey have it—showed him just how displeased I was with his staring and his fucking, “Google me.” Yeah, I’d love for her to make an appearance.

How did I become so weak? How did I become so dependent that I couldn’t define myself without him? Made him everything in my life so that once he was gone, I was rudderless and had no identity?

It’s my fault. I made him “perfect.” I made him the answer to all my questions, prayers, and problems. I made him invincible and incapable of disappointment, so that when it happened, I nearly crumbled.

It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.

Michel’s words come back to me…

“You two are going to be together for 100 years and sometime during that hundred years, you’re going to have a big breakup. It won’t be the end of the world. It’ll just feel like it. Don’t let it destroy you.” 

God, I hope this was the big breakup. I don’t think I can survive anything bigger than this.

All my wandering finds me in the spa room. I don’t know how I got here, but yes, this is the perfect place for me at the moment. I turn the lights on and the room looks like a haven, a nice, quiet haven. I immediately start the water running in the sunken spa. I sit on the bench in front of the wall aquarium, which easily holds twenty to thirty fish… or more. The only thing my mind can conjure right now is… who’s responsible for feeding these fish? I immediately think of that aquarium I bought with Edward… and how I couldn’t wait to get rid of that fucker once he was gone.

That of course leads me to my visit to the aquarium where he and his ex-security flunky kidnapped me.

“You’re a dirty fucking bastard, Edward,” I say aloud. “You were a wretched excuse for a human being. I’m glad you’re dead and I hope you burn in hell.”

The honesty of those statements is incredibly liberating. Fuck political correctness. For much of the time that I knew that man, he made my life a living hell even through the moments where I foolishly loved him. Now, when I find myself in my darkest moments, he comes back to taunt me—make me feel like I’m nothing or worse yet, make me feel afraid of the future. How the hell do you give a dead man that kind of power over you?

I stand from the bench and move to the shelf of bath salts. Sandalwood—yes. Evocative and soothing at the same time.

“Fuck you, Edward David,” I say as I sprinkle bath salts into the slightly steaming water, “and your little dog, too.”

That fucking keystone cop… No, not a keystone cop. I won’t insult keystone cops by comparing them to him. He was even more worthless than Edward—pissed off because he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do his job and then blames his termination on me. And manhandling me while I was cuffed and helpless—that was really fucking macho. Your plans for success were based on Edward needing to get me alone and when that didn’t pan out for you, you raid my credit cards. Brilliant, fucking brilliant.

And you have the nerve to haunt me, too.

“Fuck you, too, you miserable asshole,” I say aloud. “I hope Satan is fucking you in the ass with a red, hot dick every night.”

Jesus! That sounds horrible.

But I don’t care. It serves him right.

I swirl my hands around in the hot, aromatic water. It’s perfect. I strip, dropping my clothes on the floor next to the spa and descend the stairs into the hot water. It feels heavenly. As I settle into the water, I practice a meditation technique I saw in one of my studies.

I wiggle my toes, stretching them wide and feeling the tension release in each knuckle as the hot water caresses them. Once my toes feel loose and light, I stretch my feet like I’m doing one of my interpretive dances. I feel the release all the way to my ankles. I close my eyes and stretch further, flexing my calf muscles—first the right and then the left. It’s like tiny fingers working the stress out of my muscles, releasing all the tension and darkness into the water and washing it away from me.

Next, I flex my feet hard, causing my thigh and hamstring muscles to stretch. I imagine all the fear and anxiety rising to the top and dissipating in the continuous bubbles, floating off in the air to somehow return to the depths of hell from whence they came. My body is beginning to feel physically lighter. I tighten and flex my glutes, feeling the release all the way in my lower back.

I control my breathing the entire time, bringing good, healthy air in and releasing the bad, burdened air that had previously invaded my lungs. Fuck this silent reservation. If the Boogeyman wants me, come at me! I got something for you, and I’m not going out without a fight.

I roll my abs, flexing and tightening, imagining more of the darkness sliding out of my soul and off my body, imagining the fear releasing its death grip on my heart and mind, clearly seeing a shiny newness that leaves no room for doubt, anguish, painful uncertainty.

The pop of each vertebra is a celebration of the releasing of the weight of doom and when the final vertebra pops and I end the dance with a long roll of my shoulders, I feel the final monkey jump off my back. I stretch my arms and wiggle my fingers, basking in the feeling of being able to roll my neck around and from side to side without the hinderance of, “What the hell is coming at me now” following me or lurking on my left or my right, making me afraid to turn my head and look around me, to walk confidently into my future whatever it may hold.

The bubbles massage my sensitive breasts and I reach up to my nipples to protect them from the flow of the jets. Good God, they’re taut! I cover them, allowing them to still feel the heat of the water without the constant pressure and stimulation of the jets. Jesus, I can’t remember the last time they felt like this—dark pink and hard like little pebbles. I’m so fascinated by how they look that I start to massage them. No wonder Christian likes them so much… they’re beautiful.

Before I know it, the stimulation sends jolts of pleasure right down to my core. I’m suddenly very aroused by my own nipple play and the water is caressing me into comfort and seduction like you wouldn’t believe. I want to find Christian, but this caress… this massive release of trouble and anguish… the embrace of the warm, aromatic water…

Do you need him to come, too?

My hand slides from my breast and locates that sensitive bundle of nerves between my legs and I stroke… again… and again… and again. I pinch my nipple to remind myself of the sensation the brought me to this point.

“Ah,” I purr as pleasure shoots back and forth between the two manipulated points. I stroke myself harder, deeper, spreading my legs wider, the warm water adding to the sensation of my building orgasm.

“Ah… ah…” I croon, pinching my nipple and stroking my clit, over and over until…

I bite my lip and groan through my climax, feeling the final weight of uncertainty fall from my body. I take more deep, cleansing breaths as my body trembles through aftershocks and slowly melts into the comfort of satiation.

Why did I do that? I don’t regret it, but I can’t remember the last time I touched myself just for the sake of touching myself. At my condo? After Christian’s first kiss… or sometime around there. I touched myself after I had the babies, then Christian interrupted me and made me feel like shit without saying a word. True, he made me come so hard that night that I could barely say my name, but the way he looked at me… I remember never wanting to touch myself again.

So, I didn’t.

But this is my body. Yes, it’s his, too, but it’s mine first. Why do I need an excuse to make myself feel good? Why should I be ashamed? It’s not like I’m letting someone else touch me—I’m doing it myself. Jesus, have I completely lost all definition of Anastasia in the definition of AnaChris?

No matter. I’m on my way to finding myself again, to finding that tiger that he fell in love with and that I admired so much. She’s not gone, she’s just suppressed, and she needs to come back. I can still be Christian’s wife without totally losing myself and who I was in the process. No wonder I’m a fucking basket case. Yes, bad things are going to happen. They happen all the time. They’ve happened to me since I was a child… but I didn’t die. Shit, somebody tried to kill me—killed the baby that I was carrying—and I still didn’t die.

I still carry my guns in my purse and in my glovebox, and I walk around afraid that someone from Green Valley is going to sneak up behind me again. Please, walk up on me… please! I will take great joy in filling their asses full of lead.

David did some horrible shit to me and to other women, and he ultimately paid with his life. Why the hell am I still holding onto that one?

And Christian, my lover and my tormentor. One day—heaven forbid—he may just decide that I’m not enough for him anymore. Am I going to roll over and die if that happens? At the rate I’m going now, yes, I will. I’m going to curl up and shrivel away into nothingness without him.

No, I don’t want to lose him. Yes, I’ll be crushed if he leaves me. But right here, right now in this space and time, who am I? Who is Anastasia besides being Mrs. Christian Grey?

The question floats around in my head as I allow the comfort of afterglow, release, and liberation to soothe me as the warm water continues to caress my body.

*-*

“Baby wake up.”

Christian’s voice is cutting through my solace. Maybe cutting is the wrong word, but I was visioning… dreaming maybe… about clouds and flying and dancing, flowers and soft spring dresses… and twirling…

“Hmm?” I say groggily. He pushes the wet hair from my face.

“How long have you been in here?” he asks, his voice concerned. I shrug. I’m still in the spa… with the warm water.

“Uhuhuh,” I make the I don’t know sound while shrugging my shoulders, because I really don’t know how long I’ve been in the water, but long enough for the heat and massage to coax milk from my breast. Sure enough, when I sit up, they’re empty and light…

Just like the rest of me.

“Are you okay?” he asks, reaching his hand out to me to help me out of the spa. I take his hand and drag myself from the comfort of the warm bath. My body is a little heavier now, but it’s no doubt from the loss of that weightless feeling from the water, and from the fact that I’m totally pruney, which means…

“I’m fine, just a little waterlogged apparently.” I step out of the spa and walk over to the closet. Retrieving one of the terrycloth robes, I wrap myself in its warmth.

“You seem to be feeling a little better,” Christian says, handing me a towel. I take it and begin to dry my hair.

“I’m working on it,” I say, wrapping the towel around my head turban-style. “I’m working through some things. I guess we’ll see how it goes.”

“Is there anything I can do?” Oh, Christian. I love you so much, but therein lies the problem. Ace has been right all along. I have to start over from the beginning… finding me. And now that I have an idea what I’m looking for, the journey doesn’t seem so scary anymore… but it’s my journey. And no, he can’t be there every step of the way because he can’t take this journey for me. What’s more is that I need to know who I am outside of him. I need to exist in my own space and my own skin… and learn to coexist with him as well, not just exist because of him or for him.

None of this gloom and doom would have befallen me had I not fallen completely apart when he went to Madrid. Yes, it was tragic, and it was going to be painful no matter how balanced or together I was, but it wasn’t the end of the world and I fell completely apart. Just like we have to find our way back to us together, I have to find my way back to me on my own.

“Just be supportive and love me. That’s all I ask.” That’s all I really can ask.

“Now, why does that sound like a massive blow-off to me?” he laments.

“Well, because when the person you’re talking to doesn’t have a cut-and-dried answer for you, they can only give you what they know, and that’s what I know. I need you to love me and be supportive. Can you do that?”

“You know I can,” he says, closing the space between us and pulling me into his arms. “You know I do.”

“I feel like having a party,” I say later that evening as I lie on my back on the sofa in the family room. Minnie is lying on my chest, breathing evenly in her slumber and occasionally suckling her binky while I play in her copper curls. Christian’s brow furrows.

“What kind of party?” he asks while rubbing Mikey’s back and attempting to gently coax him to sleep. “Food and Libations?”

“I don’t know,” I say, because I really don’t know. “I’m just in the mood for a party.” I know it’s a ridiculous thing to blurt out of nowhere. In fact, I don’t even know where that came from.

“I… guess we’ll have to see what we can do, then,” he says, squeezing my foot and smiling.

*-*

“Rosie…”

I don’t know where I am. It’s gray, not necessarily gloomy, but maybe a bit maudlin… and I hear his voice.

“Rosie…”

I focus a bit and out of the rolling gray midst comes Edward… young and beautiful, like he was when I first met him. His expression is sad—nothing like the young, confident man with the GQ model looks that I met back in college. My heart leaps and a myriad of emotions run through me, some good and some bad. They all flow into the three second funnel and produce a single thought, as always. I pull myself up to my full height, square my shoulders and ask…

“Why are you here now? What do you want?”

As if it could, his face falls even more and he appears to get shorter—shorter than me, even.

“I’m sorry, Rosie,” he says, without making eye-contact with me. “I’m so sorry for the horrible way that I treated you…”

Why the hell is he coming to me now? Is it because I thought of him today? That has to be it. I fold my arms and twist my lips.

“You’re dead. There’s nothing you can do about it now. And I know that I’m dreaming, so why don’t you go back to wherever the hell you came from.” He sighs, and his clothes become more and more tattered by the second. Is that evil bastard that confronted me while Christian was gone about to present himself to me? Well, I’m ready for you, asshole. Bring it on!

“Hell is right,” he says, sadly. “I know it’s not you, but I see you every day. You torment me every day. You and Camilla and…” He trails off. “Mostly you. I don’t know why it’s mostly you. I didn’t do to you what I did to the others.

“It was worse,” I reply. I’m not minimizing the fact that he brutally beat those women, but I get the feeling that they got the beatings because they didn’t stay around for the emotional and mental warfare that he put me through for years. And even after we broke up, there was more warfare when he kidnapped me.

“You tormented me, mentally and emotionally, but Harris took care of the beating for you.”

Edward winces, the shirt and pants he was wearing now disintegrating from his body leaving something that looks somewhat like a tattered loincloth… more like a diaper.

“I don’t expect you to forgive me…”

“Ha!” I scoff. “Forgiveness! That’s a laugh! You’re a monster, Edward. I’m glad your dead. I once said I don’t know how I ever loved you, but I do. You tricked me. You tricked me just like you tried to trick me a minute ago, walking in here all beautiful and seemingly untarnished. You did your song and dance and you sold me this performance and this lie, and when the monster came out, it was too late. I was already in love—helpless and fooled into believing that this horrible creature had taken over my man and praying that one day, he would go away and bring my ‘Eddie’ back to me. But that was never going to happen, because my ‘Eddie’ was the façade and the monster was the real you all along. You did a bait and switch on me, only the version of you that you were offering was nothing like the version of you that you originally presented—nowhere near it. You sold me swampland and passed it off as resort property, and I didn’t know it until I was sinking and dying. No, I don’t forgive you. I’m glad you’re dead and you’re obviously rotting in hell, so I know that karma really does exist. Now, go back to eternal damnation and never darken my mind again. I bind you or I cast you out or whatever it is that I have to do or say to let you know that you are not welcome! Do not come back!”

Edward’s face becomes pale… no, not pale, blue… death blue. His skin sags on his bones and the sadness he emits is nearly unbearable. That sheet is around his neck again, the one he foolishly thought would end his suffering, and darkness begins to swallow him. I hear a horrible rumbling, like a growl, but I can’t make out any words.

“Yes, Master,” Edward’s voice says, now gravelly, like he’s drowning, and the darkness envelops him. Moments later, a vision appears like a movie floating inside the black clouds. It’s a room—like the Red Room, but morbid and dark, very uninviting. Edward appears before me, on his knees, not facing me, Thank God. His hands are bound behind him and his cuffs look like hot lava circulating around his wrists. His head is down and his ‘Master’ is nothing more that a darker-than-black midst in front of him. The horrible, rumbling, growling sound comes from the midst and it chills my very soul.

“Yes, Master,” Edward’s voice says again, and I see a long, narrow flame whip out and across his back. He cries out in pain as another flame reaches out and lifts his chin. He’s weeping like a child as he looks up at the past-midnight black midst, and I look around the room that he’s in…

What looks like a spanking bench is in the corner, but there are spikes all over the portion where you’re supposed to sit…

Another device looks like a helmet inside of a vice, no doubt meant to crush your skull…

Yet another gruesome looking device consists of two large chunks of wood with large spikes on the inside and an apparatus made to squeeze them together. I shudder to think what’s supposed to go in between them…

The more I examine the room, the more horrible torture devices I see.

Some kind of rolling device with a long handle fashioned with nails or barbs or something—it looks like a homemade gardening tool. There’s even a medieval rack and an iron maiden. This is a fucking torture chamber!

Another lick of fire down his back causes Edward to scream and brings my attention back to him. The rumbling grumble that comes from the horrible mist this time is clearly a laugh, and Edward crumbles to the ground in tormented tears.

Torture chamber… Red Room… licks of fire, like a whip… could it be?

Edward is Satan’s submissive!

As the meaning of this ghostly vision dawns on me, a horrible dog with snarling, bloody fangs comes from the black mist and starts viciously biting the bound and helpless Edward. Just as I’m about to turn away from the grisly display, the dog turns to me…

And I see Harris’s face.

He growls at me, then falls to the ground, gnawing angrily at his own paws, mangling them and yowling in pain the entire time. Jesus, what was I watching before I fell asleep? What kind of craziness is this?

“Forgive me, Rosie! Please, forgive me!”

And somehow, I get the feeling that my forgiveness is directly linked to the level of torment this asshole is suffering. I don’t know how, but I think I’m right. The very thought of it rips a cackling laughter from my chest.

The sound of my laughter is still echoing in my ears when I open my eyes. Apparently, the sound wasn’t enough to wake my husband. Thank God for that—I don’t even want to begin to try to explain that dream to him. I roll over and snuggle under the covers.

“I forgive you, Edward,” I say softly with a chuckle. “You can’t do anything else to me anymore, so I really don’t care what happens to you, but I’m not holding onto this shit anymore. Now, stay the fuck out of my dreams or I’ll come in there and get you myself, and Satan’s red-hot dick will be the least of your worries.”

Within moments, I’m asleep again, dreaming about clouds and music and flying…

*-*

“I have to say that this is a pretty remarkable case. I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never had one.”

Judge Purdy looks over our petition as she reviews our case. Al is as calm as ever, as am I, but Daddy looks like he’s about to burst.

“You seem nervous, Mr. Steele,” the judge says. Daddy shrugs.

“Maybe… just a bit. I’m… excited I guess. I’ve been waiting for this for a while. It’s just… way past time we did this, that’s all.” Daddy’s words tumble out completely unrehearsed, like he’s going through the supermarket and picking the words off the shelf as he sees them. I reach over and squeeze his hand, trying to calm him.

“Better late than never, right?” the judge says with a smile and Daddy calms right down. “Tell me, because it’s not part of the petition. Why did you wait so long? It won’t affect the decision. I’m just curious.” I look at Daddy and he nods, ceding to me to answer the judge’s question.

“My mother,” I say without hesitation. “It was a rocky and unstable relationship, to say the very least. My mother legally changed my name to Steele very shortly after I was born, but never gave my Daddy parental rights. Once she decided that she didn’t want to be married to him anymore, she went about the business of ripping away from him the daughter that she gave him and had built a relationship with him for over ten years. The decade that followed was torturous—for both of us. We kept in touch as we could, saw each other whenever we could, kept our relationship going the best we could. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I was able to come to him and fully rebuild our relationship. Even though we have the love and don’t really need the piece of paper to define our relationship, different things that have happened to me over the past few years have led to the conclusion that Daddy and I do need legal documentation to solidify our relationship to the rest of the world. It’s not about what people think; it’s just what’s necessary.” The judge nods.

“Very astute explanation, Mrs. Grey,” she says. You’ve answered my question and any follow-up I was thinking of. So, if no one objects, let’s get on with it.”

“In the Superior Court of the State of Washington and in the County of King; in the matter of the adoption of Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey by the petitioner, Raymond Steele, this cause coming on to be heard and being heard before myself, the Court, and from all the evidence presented in this proceeding, makes the following findings of fact and law:

“That all necessary parties are properly before the court and that notice of the adoption petition has been served on any person entitled to receive notice of this proceeding.

“That the adoptee is eighteen years of age or older and proper consent to the adoption has been given by her in writing and has been filed with this proceeding.

“That any other necessary consent has been obtained and any other necessary documents or judicial orders have been obtained and filed with the Court.

“That the adoptee was born in the State of Washington on the 18th day of October 1986.

“That this adoption is entered into freely and without duress or undue influence for the purpose of creating the relation of parent and child between the petitioner and the adoptee, and that the petitioner and the adoptee understand the consequences of the adoption.

“That the Decree of Adoption establishes the relationship of parent and child between the petitioner and the person being adopted. From the date of the signing of the Decree, the adoptee is entitled to inherit real and personal property by, through, and from the adoptive parent in accordance with the statutes on interstate succession and has the same legal status, including all legal rights and obligations of any kind whatsoever, as a child born the legitimate child of the adoptive parent.

“Please note that this Decree for Adoption does not terminate the parental rights of any living biological parents or sever the relationship of parent and child between the individual and the individual’s biological mother as you have requested not to do so.

“Now therefore, upon the foregoing finding as a matter of law, it is hereby ordered, adjudged and decreed: that from the date of entry of this Decree, the adult is declared adopted for life by the petitioner and that said adult will continue to be known by the name of Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey in accordance with the provisions of the General Statutes.”

I think Daddy and I both hold our breath until she gets to the bottom of that document. She’s still reading, and I don’t hear a thing except “adopted for life.”

Daddy is officially my daddy!

“Congratulations to you both,” the judge adds. Daddy beams with immeasurable pride when Judge Purdy hands him the final adoption order.

“Thank you,” he exclaims. “Thank you, Your Honor. Thank you so much.” Daddy gathers me in his arms and I can feel him shaking. He’s not an emotional man, so I know he’s a bit overwhelmed right now. I squeeze him hard and sink into his chest, that strong man who has always been there for me—when circumstances allowed. No matter what came between us, my daddy never turned his back on me. We may have been kept apart by circumstances beyond our control, but he never deserted me. He came to get me after I was attacked and was prepared to finish raising me on his own until that woman and her walking moonshine still came and got me and ripped us apart again.

“I love you, Daddy,” I whisper, my voice cracking.

“I love you, too, Sunflower,” Daddy says, his voice thick with unshed tears.

“Okay, happy smiles, happy smiles. It’s picture time,” Judge Purdy says. It’s customary for new families to take a picture with the judge, so Daddy and I buck up and put on our best smiles for the camera. Al snaps a few pictures with his phone and with the judge’s phone as she wanted one for her wall. When he’s done, he’s thumbing through his phone and frowning again. I thank the judge for her services and we proceed to leave the courtroom.

“Is everything okay?” I ask. He twists his lips.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Check your phone, did you get a text from Christian?” I reach in my pocket and swipe my screen. Sure enough…

**Don’t be alarmed. I need you to come to your father’s house with Ray when the adoption is complete. **

And nothing else.

“Annie, I know we were supposed to do lunch, but Mandy just texted me. She’s says there’s nothing wrong, but that I need to come home,” Daddy says.

“I got a similar text, and I’m thinking Al did, too,” I respond and Al nods. “Meet at Dad’s?”

“Pretty much,” Al says, and I sigh.

“Let’s go see what’s going on.” Another catastrophe, no doubt… today of all days! I stiffen my back and prepare to face whatever it is.

I will not let this bring me down.
I will not let this bring me down.

I spend the time in the car meditating and trying to steel myself for whatever is about to happen at Daddy’s house. When Chuck turns the corner to my father’s street, I quickly realize that my fears are unfounded.

“He didn’t!” I laugh as we approach the house.

“Is that what I think it is?” Daddy exclaims while Chuck hides his chuckles and Al breaks out in shameless laughter.

“You should know,” I tease, a reference to an earlier time.

It's a girlOn my father’s lawn is the biggest pink stork announcement I’ve ever seen, even bigger than Harry’s! It has to be at least eight feet tall, wearing a pink cape with a pink Superman symbol on his chest. The sign simply says “Anastasia Rose” and it has today’s date on it.

“My husband is insane!” I declare. “When did he order that damn thing and how did he get it here so quickly?” Daddy is now laughing as we pull into the driveway behind Christian’s Audi—one of them, anyway. Mandy is in the door waving when we arrive, and I wonder just how long she’s been standing there. The porch is decorated with pink balloons and a banner that reads, “It’s a girl.”

“You guys are too much,” I say as I exit the car. I walk into Mandy’s arms and return her embrace

“I love you, dearly,” she says, “but still don’t call me ‘Mom.’” We laugh at the throwback to our first meeting.

“Maybe just once or twice,” I tease, pinching my fingers together in front of my eye. Mandy twists her lips in a half-smirk.

“Maybe… we’ll see,” she retorts. She releases me to kiss Daddy and I go to Christian’s arms.

“You’re too much,” I say to him, greeting him with a gentle kiss.

“What my girl wants, my girl gets,” he says. I furrow my brow. I didn’t want a pink stork. I like it and it’s cute, but I didn’t request it. He just smiles and ushers me into the house behind Mandy and Daddy.

“Surprise!”

The house is full. The salutation startles me so badly that I actually turn to run back out the house and I’m greeted by an equally stunned Al. He catches me in his arms—and against his chest—looking over my head at the crowd of people assembled.

The Scooby Gang, Gail and Keri with my precious babies, Grace and Carrick, Mia and Ethan, Marilyn, Elliot, a person or two from Helping Hands…

And Brian.

Brian was here with Christian? For how long? The house isn’t in a state of disarray—so I guess there was no brawling, but how did that happen?

Brian moves forward and grabs my father’s hand. They embrace for a long time, and Daddy closes his eyes. He has missed his friend. I feel a little guilty. Their relationship is strained because of me and I wish that I could change things…

And then I see her.


A/N: Don’t ask me where the hell “Satan’s Playroom” came from. I don’t know what kind of dark place I was in when I came up with that one. I even researched torture devices! I think somebody pissed me off that day…

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 ~~love and handcuffs