Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 1

I don’t want to start the season with a huge chapter note, but thank you guys for being there for me when my Mommy died. It really means a lot. It’s strange how life imitates art (and vice versa). I had this entire chapter written weeks ago—parts of it, months ago. Without giving spoilers, yes, some sad things happen, but they weren’t just added in when Mommy died. 

I also want to add my condolences to our beloved Falala. She lost her other fur baby this week. Please send her some love and support in comments here or on her post in “Do You Need To Talk” and let her know that we love her and we’re thinking of her. 

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

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

Season 5, Episode 1

ANASTASIA

The year 2015 came in like a lion, not a lamb.

“You don’t have to be strong for everybody Val. And you certainly don’t have to be strong for me.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Val says, somberly. “I’m not. I’ve just cried so much that I don’t think I have any water left.”

Val left the Crossing looking a little gray in the face. We awoke this morning to the most dreadful news. She had lost the baby.

“The doctor says that these things happen, especially after the strain my body had been through last year. She told me that there’s nothing wrong with trying again after a little while… but I don’t know.” Her voice cracks on the last word. I stroke her hand.

“When you’re ready,” I say softly.

“I don’t know that I ever will be,” she sobs, finding those tears that she didn’t think she had. “I was so excited! El was excited. Our lives had started anew in every way! Meg is gone; we have a new house; a new baby was on the way… and now this!” She covers her face and sobs into her hands.

“And it’s not over.”

I’m about to hug my sister and best friend when Elliot’s voice stops my progression. He comes over to the other side of the hospital bed and cradles her weeping body in his arms.

“You cry as much as you need to, Angel, but it’s not over. Your body is remarkable. It looked death in the face and flipped it the bird. And when your heart was ready to give more love, it was determined to produce new life. But, Angel…” He sits on the bed and puts his hand under her chin to lift her gaze to his.

“I’ve got you,” he says. “This beautiful body needs some more rest—some more time to heal from that prize fight that it won last year. Our hearts were eager and so was your body, but it just wasn’t time yet. It’s. Not. Over… and when you’re ready, it’ll happen, and not a moment sooner. I’ve got you, and you’ve got me. I’m not going anywhere, and if you decide that this experience was too much and it’s not for you, I’ll still be here—standing by your side and loving you through it. Okay?”

Val falls into his chest and weeps for a moment before composing herself.

“Isn’t he the most wonderful man in the world?” she says, gazing into Elliot’s eyes. I turn my head to the doorway to see my husband standing there with his hands shoved in his pocket. He looks forlorn as he watches his brother and sister-in-law working through the loss of their unborn child. He won’t admit it, but his empathy has come a long way since he’s met and married me and had children of his own. The pain in his face says it all.

“Second most wonderful,” I say softly.

*-*

The drive back to the Crossing is silent. Christian had leaped from the bed and sprang into action when he got the call, leaving Jason behind and almost leaving me as he leapt into the car and sped out the gate and across the bridge to the hospital. Now, he looks blankly in front of him as he concentrates on getting us and the car back to Mercer Island. Everything happened so fast that there was no time for the paparazzi to get wind of anything.

He’s still silent when we get back to the Crossing. He seems to be moving on autopilot. He drives into the garage, turns the car off, then exits. He walks mechanically to my side of the car and opens the door for me.

“Thank you,” I say softly as I exit, and he nods once. He closes the door behind me and places his hand in the small of my back, guiding me to the mudroom door. We both shed our outerwear and boots right there in the mudroom, and my husband releases a heavy sigh as both hands rake through his hair.

“Can I get something for you?” I ask, concerned. “Some coffee or something to eat? Neither of us had any breakfast.” He shakes his head.

“I…” He holds his head down for a moment as if to collect his thoughts. “I’m going to take a shower, first… just to try to…” he trails off. I put my hand on his back and he raises his gaze to mine.

“Okay,” I say, nodding. No need to explain, Mr. Grey. This is pretty big. He nods at me again and heads for the elevator. I sigh heavily and walk to the kitchen.

“Hey,” Gail says, coming from her office space in what used to be the small dining room. “How’s Valerie?” I sigh again.

“I don’t know,” I say, reaching into the refrigerator for sparkling water and cranberry juice. “As well as can be expected, I guess.” I fill a glass with ice from the dispenser and make a cranberry spritzer. I put the bottles away and drink my glass nearly half down.

“She was so excited,” I say, shaking my head. “She didn’t think she’d be able to conceive after Chemo. The good news is that she can conceive… but can she carry?” I cover my eyes and fight my own tears, my sadness for my best friend and sister.

“What did the doctor say?” Gail presses, concerned. “Did they tell her that she wouldn’t be able to?” I shake my head.

“No,” I say after drinking more of my spritzer. “From what they say, it was just too soon. Her body needs to get a little stronger before she tries to have a baby.”

“Well, that’s encouraging news,” Gail says, “although I know from experience that it does nothing for the current loss.” I raise my eyes to hers, vaguely remembering her telling me about miscarrying.

“Christian’s not taking it well,” I tell her. “When tragedy strikes his family…” I search for my words. “He’s a lot more empathetic than he used to be.”

“Did you all eat?” she asks. “Would you like for me to fix you something?” I should be hungry, but to be honest, I’m not… not in the slightest.

“Let me see what Christian wants to do and I’ll let you know,” I say, finishing my spritzer. She takes my glass and puts it in the sink, and I head to the elevator.

I lost a kid once, too, but I didn’t know that the kid was there, so I never had a chance to miss it… or want it… or not want it. I sometimes wonder what that kid would have been like had it lived. Would it have been a monster like my mother or its father, or would I have been able to show it enough love not to be a terrible person? Would I have been able to love it at all? Would I have kept it? Carla and Stephen probably would have made me give it up. I know one thing’s for sure—my life certainly wouldn’t be where it is now.

As the elevator opens, I think about Minnie and Mikey, my two little miracle babies. They were determined that nothing was going to stop them from getting here alive and healthy, not even a missile that put me in a coma for nearly two weeks and almost cost me my memories. I can’t even imagine how I would feel if something had happened to my precious angels before they were born. I’m stepping double-time to get to the nursery as I desperately need to see them.

I open the door quietly to find that I’m not the only one who needs some immediate baby time. Christian is standing over our daughter’s crib, gazing silently down at her sleeping body. He so transfixed on her tiny little form that he doesn’t even move when I open the door. I pull the door closed a little, just enough to watch him with our daughter. He stands there for several more moments before he kisses his fingers and gently taps Minnie’s head.

“I love you,” he whispers, stroking her red tresses gently for a few moments. He walks over to Mikey’s crib and Mikey stirs a bit, but falls back into slumber. Christian silently watches him for several moments.

“And I love you,” he whispers to his son, repeating the gestures that he just did with his daughter. I step away and close the door, leaving him to his moments with his children. Suddenly, a shower sounds like a very good idea.

I try not to cry in the shower. I’m overcome with sadness for Val and Elliot, but also with impending doom for the fate of my own children. They’re growing so quickly. I’ve been practicing helping Minnie stand and take steps on her own every day since Christmas. I don’t want to rush her, but I don’t want her to be developmentally too far behind her brother, either. They both have the chubby baby cheeks and thighs that just make you want to pinch them all day, and they’re eating more solid food than breast milk these days. I’m a little melancholy about having to wean them soon, which doesn’t help with my attempt not to cry.

I let a few tears fall as I wash, condition, and rinse my hair. I’ve composed myself once the shower is over, and I take the time to dry my hair and put it in a ponytail. I pull on a comfortable off-the-shoulder cable-knit sweater dress that I grabbed from the dressing room before my shower and I come out into our suite. Christian is lying on the bed on his back in sweatpants and a T-shirt, his hair still wet.

He’s staring at the ceiling and saying nothing. I climb in bed beside him. During these times, he usually tells me that he needs me. Making love when he’s feeling this forlorn often grounds him, helps him to remember that he’s not alone. This time, he seems different.

“Do you want to talk?” I ask as I lay on the pillow next to him. He shakes his head.

“I’m tired,” he says. “I’m really tired. I don’t remember being this tired in a long time.”

“You didn’t get much sleep,” I say, “and we got the call really early.”

“I’m exhausted,” he says, and sighs heavily. I don’t doubt that he is. He’s been going like a machine since Christmas, and this isn’t the first emotional overload-type thing that we’ve had in the last few days…

New Years’ Eve…

The festivities are no different than any other New Years’ Eve—good food, good friends, family, drinks… and fireworks. We, of course, have an excellent view of the fireworks at the Space Needle right from our backyard, and when midnight strikes, we kiss and toast the New Year in just like every other year. We’re all looking at the fireworks when we hear Chuck’s angered voice.

“Shit!” he hisses. We all turn to face him and he’s bolting into the house.

“Choonks, wah’s wong?” Keri calls after him.

“That’s not ginger ale!” he yells as he disappears into the French doors.

“Shit!” Jason says, abandoning the group and dashing into the house behind Chuck. Keri, Maddie, and Nelson all run in behind him while the rest of our guests just look on in confusion. Christian picks up the glass, sniffs it, and looks at me.

“It’s champagne,” he says gravely.

“Shit!” I hiss like Jason and Chuck before me and run into the house. I hear Christian excusing us as I dash through the entertainment room. It’s empty. There’s no one in the community area either. That’s when I hear agonizing noises like someone is being punched in the stomach.

I know what that is.

I follow the sounds through the community space and into Chuck and Keri’s apartment. Maddie and Nelson are standing horrified in the living room while Chuck and Jason are in the bathroom. Keri’s standing outside the door with tears in her eyes. Chuck is on his knees paying homage to the porcelain gods while Jason stands over him. I can hear his throat and stomach wrenching as he vomits everything he ate at the party… probably everything he’s eaten all day.

When he stops for a moment and breathes heavily, I think it’s over, but he starts again. I don’t hear that horrible sound of his insides splashing against porcelain this time. He’s still breathing like a bear though. There’s another pause and then I hear Jason’s voice.

“Stop, man! There’s nothing left!” he commands. “You’re dry-heaving now, it’s gone!”

They sound like they might be scuffling, and Jason repeats his command.

“Stop!” he says again. “There’s nothing left, Chuck!”

“I gotta make sure!” Chuck protests. Jesus, he’s determined not to let even the slightest bit of alcohol into his system.

“You got it, man, it’s gone,” Jason said. “You barely took a sip and you’re vomiting bile now. You’re dry heaving, there’s nothing left. I wouldn’t lie to you.” There’s silence for a moment. “Goddammit!”

I hear scuffling again and now Keri turns away from the bathroom and is fully weeping. I put my arms around her, and I can see into the bathroom. Chuck is sticking his finger down his throat trying to make himself vomit more, and he has already discharged everything he has in his stomach.

“Help him!” I mouth to Christian as Keri cries on my shoulder. Christian enters the bathroom and tries to help Jason restrain Chuck.

“Come on, Chuck,” Christian says. “It’s over. It’s gone, trust me.”

“You don’t understand!” Chuck wails, sounding almost like a child. “I can’t be that guy again! I can’t! I can’t be that guy…!”

We know what he’s talking about, and Maddie and Nelson know all too well. Maddie moves past all the big men and kneels next to her son, taking his face in her hands.

“You’re not that guy, Chuckie,” she says. “We can all see it, and we know it. We knew that guy. We knew him well, and even though we loved him, we didn’t like him very much. You’re not that guy anymore, Chuckie. We know you’re not that guy.”

“I’m sorry, Mom,” he weeps. “I didn’t mean to drink it…”

“I know Chuckie,” she says, softly with a smile. “Give yourself a break. There’s a difference between accidentally sipping what you thought was ginger ale and finishing off an entire bottle of gin. That Chuck is gone, and I’ve got my Chuckie back. You didn’t slip—you picked up the wrong glass. It was a mistake. So, please, stop hurting yourself.”

He looks his mom in the eyes and nods. Jason and Christian help him up and his legs are a little wobbly. He reaches for Maddie and she helps him to the sofa.

“Salt-water, please,” she says as Chuck falls down onto the sofa. Keri breaks our embrace to go to the kitchen. She quickly mixes salt and water and brings it to Chuck along with the kitchen garbage can. As he rinses the flavor of bile from his mouth and spits into the garbage can, Keri retrieves a bottle of water from the fridge.

“Dtink itahl, Choonks,” she says softly, having cleaned the tears from her face. He looks at her and effortlessly bottoms out the bottle. She nods her approval as he tosses the bottle in the trash. She sits on the sofa next to him and turns to face him. She pulls his head into her bosom, wraps her legs around him and cradles him in her arms.

“Easy nuh,” she says as she gently strokes his hair. She doesn’t care who’s in the room; she needs to comfort her Choonks. He lays on her breast and closes his eyes, wrapping his arms around her and settling in obvious contentment.

“We should go,” I say to all the onlookers, as Keri and Chuck are in their own world now. Jason puts the waste basket back in the kitchen and we head for the door.

“From now on, I fix my own drinks,” Chuck says as we’re leaving.

Present Day…

I had a session with him and his sponsor later that day. He said that sipping that champagne felt like the past burning a trek down his throat and all he could think of was to get it out. He knew he was going to vomit before he made it to the apartment, and he was trying not to do it in one of the sinks along the way.

Thoughts of everything that Joe had said about him in court was haunting him, and he could only see the alcohol as a devil inside of him—a parasite—and even the slightest drop of it would grow inside of him and consume him. I could tell by his intensity that if he could, he would have had his stomach surgically removed if it meant that there was no chance that there was any alcohol left in his system.

He never has to worry about relapsing. He’s dipsophobic now. I can’t say that’s any healthier than being an alcoholic as any kind of obsessive behavior is not good, but in the big scheme of things, this ain’t too bad of a phobia to have.

Turning my attention back to my nearly catatonic husband, I can’t help but feel rudderless at the moment, not quite knowing how to help him. It’s late afternoon now, and there’s no likelihood that he’ll be going into the office at all. In fact, he was so distracted by trying to get to Elliot and Val as quickly as he could that he had forgotten to call the office to tell them that he wouldn’t be there.

When Ros called, I answered the phone to inform her that he wouldn’t be in. She actually seemed a bit put off that I was telling her that he wasn’t going to be in. Not that I owed her an explanation, but I felt it was a professional courtesy to tell her why, and I took great pleasure in passively making her feel like shit when I told her the reason. Somebody’s going to have to put that trick in her place really soon because she’s really pushing the envelope.

That’s probably why my husband is exhausted right now. He hasn’t allowed any emotion to creep in, so to speak, since he’s been so busy busting balls at GEH. The fuck-ups are slowly beginning to turn around and the supposed lawsuits are falling as fast as they were filed, once the plaintiffs were told what their real chances of winning were and my husband made it clear that it would be a cold day in hell before—and I quote—“those goddamn drug addicts got another fucking dime from me to support their fucking habits.”

Now, he just needs to rest, for however long he needs it.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” I ask, looking at the side of his head as he gazes at the ceiling. He turns his head to me, his eyes glassy, tired, and sad, and I’m sure that he’s going to tell me that he needs me… and he does, but not in the way that I’m thinking.

“Can we just…” He sighs. He’s having a hard time finding his words. “Can I just hold you for a while?”

I look over into his beseeching gray eyes and my heart melts at his sadness. I move closer to him and situate myself comfortably on his chest with my arm around his waist, one leg bent over his. He embraces me firmly with both arms, then kisses my hair. I think of the lullaby that I sing to the kids when they’re feeling fussy, the French one about the eggs, and I hum it to him while I’m laying on his chest. He holds me close and tight as I hum the tune to him, and a few minutes later, I feel his chest begin to rise and fall as his breathing evens. I know I can’t move or he’ll wake, so I keep humming the tune until I fall asleep.



CHRISTIAN

My wife is amazing.

I know that Valerie is her best friend and like a sister to her, but she was more concerned with how I was feeling than anything else during this time. How am I feeling? I’m feeling very shitty. I feel shitty for lots of reasons and in no particular order.

I feel shitty because my brother was so excited to be starting his family and now, he’s had it ripped from him for no good reason.

I feel shitty because he has to watch his wife and the woman he loves suffer physically and emotionally through this, and there’s nothing worse in the world than not being able to stop the pain of the woman you love…

… except for not being able to stop the pain of your children.

Seeing him lose his child made me feel the most intense and powerful possessiveness that I’ve ever felt in my life! My babies, my heart and soul besides my beautiful wife… Jesus, if anything happened to my kids…

I feel shitty because I just want to make everything right again… everything… and I can’t.

Butterfly and I decide not to see our mentors on Saturday night under the circumstances. There’s no way that we would be able to concentrate on any of the tasks at hand.

We attended the Munch with Artemis and Savvina the weekend after Christmas, just to be introduced to other Domini and their matrimonial submissives, who refer to themselves as soumises, As I speak French, I know this is the French plural for submissive, but this is the adjective. I’m not sure that there is an appropriate noun. Nonetheless, I like it.

This group of people is almost like a club of their own, not that they separate themselves from the others, but that they share a common bond and tend to gravitate more towards those with like interests—as is usually the case in any BDSM circle.

I’m quickly learning that being a married Dominus, or just Dominus as Artemis prefers, is nothing like what I’ve been before. I’m learning to be a Dom all over again. I have to deprogram myself from what I used to be, what I’ve always known, and reprogram myself to a new way of being; a new way of responding; a whole new behavior. I can’t operate the way that I used to because I’m not the same person. BDSM served a specific purpose for me. It was a direct means to a particular end, and there were no emotions involved.

I was a sadist, but I’m not that man anymore.

As a result, everything has to be retaught. There was no way that I could bring Anastasia into my world with the theories, techniques, and mindset that I always utilized. It never would have worked, and that’s why we never found our balance.

Had I married a submissive who had been previously conditioned in the method that I practiced, the old way would have been fine, but that’s not who I married. What’s more is that none of the submissives who had been conditioned in that way ever lasted, because that’s not what I really needed.

If I’m honest, I used those women like old rags. Once they were dirty, I laundered them in showers and baths and sent them to be plucked and primed to my specifications only to use them again. I made it clear that I didn’t want these women, and if the old rags became too comfortable, I threw them out.

How could I possibly expect for this same mentality to work with my wife?

Artemis is bringing so many things to light for me. My entire method of operation was based on punishments and rewards. For a sadist who has plans to beat the hell out of you every Friday night, that’s a perfect formula…

I need to cause you pain to release mine and regain control, and if you’re a good girl, I’ll let you come.

If you misbehave, I’ll beat you some more, and after I’ve tormented you sexually in every way imaginable and had my fill of you—literally, then I’ll make you go to bed without an orgasm.

I want unequivocal, unquestioned loyalty and obedience and if I don’t get it, I’ll make you pay.

If I do get it, I’ll make your body scream in ways that you never thought possible.

I’ll take you from extreme to extreme. I’ll ruin you for all other men. You’ll learn to love it; you’ll yearn for it… ache for it… the pleasure and the pain.

You’ll learn to love it. You’ll discover that you can’t do without it… and the moment that you do, I’ll cut you off and end your contract.

I began our relationship with every move I knew. I pulled every masculine wile on her that I could—and then I released the demon. It was so powerful that neither of us could control it, and yet, we tried. We tried so hard that at some points, it almost destroyed us. And now…

Here we are, where we should have started in the first place. We’re both starting from scratch. Anastasia had no idea what she should and should not be doing, how she should or should not be behaving, what she should or should not expect as a submissive. Her entire concept was take as much as you can and when you’ve reached your limit, take a little more. Why?

Because her husband is a sadist.

I could—and would—give her whatever she could take. There was no measurement of “Maybe this is going too far.” It was just, “More? Okay!”

So, now, I have embarked upon the intricate journey of shedding the title and persona of the typical sadistic Dominant—talented though I may be—and completing the task of becoming the exquisite Dominus. As such, my wife is completing the task of becoming the soumise. At some point, our roles will switch again, but right now, we’re concentrating on this particular dynamic as it fits into our lives.

I don’t know whose journey is harder—hers, having to dispel the misconceptions that she’s had for the last few years during her escapades with me; or mine, having to deprogram most of the things that I learned from Lincoln and in Dom training all those years, or at least re-purpose them—for lack of a better description—to fulfill our current needs.

Anastasia is a strong and independent woman. It’s not in her to be a 24/7 submissive, nor would I want her to be. However, this new dynamic means exploring new territories and desires, both physical and mental, and there will be some sacrifices and compromises on both our parts. I’m going to have to sacrifice my old methods of relating the inflicting of pain, total surrender, and unconditional obedience to my pleasure and maintenance of control. These things must be balanced, and there’s a time and a place for all of them.

TPE requires complete surrender and unconditional obedience. However, while some relationships may be built upon that, ours is not. There’s a time and a place.

While inflicting pain can be quite liberating and erotic, it can’t always be the go-to technique in a relationship like ours. There must be a give-and-take on several levels when implements are used to inflict pain, induce pleasure, or administer punishment.

I was always hyper-aware of a submissive’s feelings and physical reactions, but only to the degree that their responses fulfilled my needs…

If I whipped you until you cried, so what? I fucked you until you came; now, go take a bath and get over it.

If you were twitching and jerking uncontrollably at the end of the scene, it’s probably because your orgasm was so intense that your pussy or your asshole was gripping and squeezing my dick endless until you drained my balls of every single drop of fluid I had to give.

I knew how to time torment and ecstasy perfectly so that I was certain to get everything I needed exactly at the moment that you got what you wanted. And if you didn’t get what you wanted, it was deliberate, and that’s usually what I wanted.

It’s all different now…

The Munch we attended was held at a local venue called “10 Degrees.” It clearly wasn’t what my wife expected and certainly nothing like the impromptu munch we attended at the BDSM club a few years ago. Although my wife chose to don a very sexy black bandage dress of a respectable length, she could have worn one of my grandmother’s vintage Lindy bop dresses and still fit in with this crowd at this location. On more than one occasion, my wife was swept away to a semi-private cluster of conversation with a group of submissive wives while I took the opportunity to converse and pick the brains of Artemis and some other attending Domini. It was during several such powwows that I discovered that my way of thinking was going to have to take a serious detour if this relationship was going to be functional and enjoyable for us.

Today was to be the day that we were going to explore our intimacy a bit more. One of those ways was going to be to choose a nickname for my wife when she was in the role of soumise. Baby came too easily, Butterfly is an everyday name, and Anastasia is clearly what I call her when I’m angry. Ana is what everyone else calls her, and Mrs. Grey is out of the question because I called all of my previous submissives by their last names and we’re trying to separate the old Dom from the Dominus. So, we have to come up with something else. I say “we” because even though I may be using the name, she has to respond to it. I think I’ll talk to her about that later when we’re alone. It shouldn’t be hard for us to come up with something without the assistance of our mentors.

Quite a bit happened in the past two weeks. I awoke the day after Christmas and realized that I had been a Grade-A ass all week to my wife and family, and while it was still imperative that I whip my company back into shape, something had to give… and soon! I took that Friday off and spent it with my wife and children like I should have done on Christmas Eve.

We exchanged our gifts and although we got each other plenty of those gifts that you purchase for the husband or wife who has everything, my biggest gift to Butterfly was the task of decorating our Italian villa as we will be spending six weeks there this summer even if Armageddon befalls us. She was absolutely thrilled. Concerned about leaving our children behind, she was even more delighted to discover that the family will be spending a portion of the summer with us as well, including our children.

Her most precious gift to me was a leather-bound album with various pictures of her and our children throughout the year—in color and black and white, various settings, some candid and some professional. She knows this kind of shit turns me into a big sap, and that’s why she usually waits to give these personal gifts on Christmas Eve. Of course, it took my breath away and I felt like the luckiest bastard on earth.

We also gave gifts to our staff, including the car that we had been promising Keri with the built-in car seats for the kids—a 2015 Chrysler Town and Country. I would have preferred an Audi, of course, but my wife previously informed me that not everyone wanted to drive an Audi, and Chuck informed me that Keri previously admired the Town and Country. As long as it had the safety features that I wanted, it was fine with me. So, Keri is now the proud owner of a metallic silver Chrysler minivan.

December 26 held one more surprise for the Grey family. Pops’ attorney from Detroit, Nathan Wu, called to tell us that Freeman had given up on the protest of the life insurance policy. Freeman was, quite frankly, eager to get his hands on his father’s house. We knew that this had to mean that he had signed the divorce papers as well, because he wasn’t going to allow any proceeds from Pops’ will to get caught up in his divorce. Little did he know that any of his inheritance was most likely protected property from the divorce, but honestly, none of us cared. Our biggest controversy now was trying to get Dad to accept his share of the policy as well as the money that he gave to Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman.

That beautiful Apollo showed up, refurbished and playing beautifully this past Tuesday, and it has pride of place downstairs in the den with my baby grand. My father and my uncle came over to see it once it had been delivered, after which they called Uncle Stan and the three of them drank a toast to Ichabod while it played one of several preprogrammed songs in its new repertoire, Down by the Old Mill Stream.

Valerie is being released from the hospital today and, once again, we insist that they come and stay with us for a while as Valerie’s body recuperates—just for a few days, or a week, until she’s back on her feet. It’s a good thing we decided against the mentoring sessions tonight. We were needed at the Crossing much more.

My brother is clearly more concerned about Val in the loss of the baby than he is about himself. I can see through the façade, though. He’s been my brother longer that he’s been her husband. He’s crushed, but with everything that she’s been through, he can’t let Valerie know how he feels. He doesn’t want to stress her out and possibly send her into a relapse with her cancer and he’s very concerned about her health and getting her back to 100%. However, once she’s released from the hospital and they get to the Crossing, the truth all comes out.

“How are you holding up?” Butterfly asks Valerie once they release their embrace. Valerie nods.

“I’m doing okay,” she says with a sad, unconvincing smile. “One day at a time.” Butterfly takes her hands.

“I know,” she says. “Come on, let’s talk…” She takes Valerie’s hand and leads her through the dining room. Elliot gazes at her until they disappear into the family room.

“Do you want to talk?” I ask, and I’m certain that my voice startles him. “You look tired.” He twists his lips.

“I’m fine,” he says, his voice clipped as he walks towards the formal living room.

“You don’t look fine,” I say, falling in step behind him. He whirls around on me after he steps down into the living room.

“Oh, so you’re the psychiatrist now.” It’s a statement, not a question. “Montana, how you’ve changed.”

Definitely not fine.

“I’m not trying to piss you off, Elliot,” I say as I close the space between us. “I just want to make sure that you’re really okay. I know if this was Butterfly, I definitely would need some help… or a drink… or I would want someone to pay or tell me why this happened.” Elliot laughs sarcastically.

“Oh, the great Christian Grey and all his millions!” he quips angrily. “If he found out that his little wifey was allergic to water, he’d stop the rain from falling!” I purse my lips.

“I know you’re upset, Elliot,” I say, ignoring his ill-placed ire, “you have every right to be…”

“This isn’t about me!” he hisses. “This is about her! All the shit that’s happened to her! When no one else was there for her, I was there for her! I took care of her; I watched over her; I stood by her when everybody else went MIA—everybody! I did everything in my power to protect her… and I couldn’t!” he bites out. I frown.

“There are some things that you can’t protect her from…” I try to interject.

“Says the man who rescued his woman from kidnappers in a helicopter,” he retorts sarcastically. “Basically brought her back to life after she was nearly killed in a car accident, spent 12 days in a coma, and woke up not even knowing who you were!”

“But I couldn’t prevent those things from happening to her!” I counter. “I may have retrieved her from Vashon Island, but she was still taken and brutally beaten. And yeah, I sat next to her bed and cried and prayed while she was in a coma, but I couldn’t prevent the accident that put her there!”

“Don’t you dare!” he hisses angrily. “Don’t you dare for one moment pretend that you know what I’m feeling right now! You have no fucking idea—no goddamn idea in the world how this feels!”

His eyes are a veiny red and he’s furious, ready to charge. If I don’t pick my words carefully, we’ll be rolling around grappling on the floor—and I will not fight him right now. I take a deep breath through my nose and let it out, never taking my eyes off my brother who is standing in front of me poised like a gladiator, ready for battle.

“You’re right,” I reply. I pause for several moments and watch him deflate infinitesimally. “I have no idea what you’re feeling right now. I couldn’t even begin to imagine, nor would I want to. I know pain, and I know that you’re hurting, but I can’t empathize with the pain you’re feeling right now. I do know this much,” I say, closing the space between us. “You’re taking care of Valerie. Who’s taking care of you?”

His face changes. The fury mask fades in an instant and is replaced with the most mournful, drooping, angst-filled expression I’ve ever seen. My brother chokes out a sob, and then another before crumpling in despair. I catch him in my arms and lower the dead weight to the floor as he sobs uncontrollably.

“I tried… I tried… I did… everything… I could…” he weeps bitterly, unable to catch his breath. “She… needs me… she needs me… to be strong… but this… hurts… God… it hurts… so bad…”

His weeps quickly turn to uncontrollable heaves as he chokes out his grief for his loss. His body is shaking, and his muscles are flexing like he wants to fight, but he’s tight… tight in a ball… still holding it in…

“Let it out, bro,” I encourage. “Let it out. It’s okay to hurt. I’ve got you.”

I can tell he doesn’t want to weep too loudly for fear that Valerie will hear him. Even now, at one of his darkest moments, he’s thinking of Valerie. I let him cry and text my wife.

**Where are you? **

A few moments later, she texts me back.

**In the parlor. **

I reply quickly…

**Can you please keep Valerie down there for a while? My brother needs to vent. **

It takes her a minute to respond.

**I understand. Sure thing. **

Thank God I didn’t have to explain that. Having a psychiatrist for a wife certainly has its benefits. I put my phone back in my pocket and lean in to my brother.

“Let it out, Lelliot,” I tell him. “I swear she won’t hear you.”

He raises tear-filled eyes to me, and I nod at him, giving him permission to grieve properly. He closes his eyes and releases a heart-wrenching wail that tears me down to my very soul. The sound is so painful that it’s everything I can do not to grab him and shake him and tell him to stop screaming like this; that everything is going to be okay and this is not the end of the world, but he’s been holding this in. He’s been the tower—the strong front for his extremely fragile wife. He hid his feelings so well that no one knew what he was going through. It’s a wonder he didn’t have a psychotic breakdown through all of this.

I can’t grab him and shake him, but I can grab him.

He curls into a ball, covers his face with his hands and sobs openly, finally crying without a care about who may be listening. I can hear his pain… and it’s killing me. It’s killing me that I can’t take it away from him. He was right not to let Valerie see this. She wouldn’t be able to take it.

I curl my body over his, quickly wiping away the selfish tears that fall from my own eyes onto the back of his shirt.

“That’s good, Lelliot,” I say, hiding the tears in my voice. “Let it all out…”


ANASTASIA

Elliot tried, but he wasn’t able to hide the fact that he was broken when Val and I finally came from the parlor. They both have the same questions…

Why did this happen?
How did this happen?
Was there something they could have done to prevent it?
How will they keep it from happening again?

The truth is that there’s no right answer to those questions. The immediate answer is that Val’s weakened state could have contributed to this, but truthfully, perfectly healthy women have miscarriages all the time. There’s no explanation for it and at some point, you heal from the pain and try again.

However, there’s no telling that to a woman—or a man—who has just lost a child.

They spend time blaming themselves until they’re just not blaming themselves anymore. Sometimes, it’s quick and sometimes, not so much. The further along the pregnancy is, the harder it is to deal with the loss. Val was heading into her fourth month and she had begun to feel the quickening of the baby, so that made it all very real. Then, to have something happen like this, after you’ve felt the baby move inside you and you’ve started making plans for the new life… we should definitely be having a funeral right now.

After Val said that she couldn’t cry anymore, the floodgates opened like Niagara Falls once we got to my parlor. She polished off a bottle and a half of wine all by herself, and I let her. She cried and cried about how she’s a failure as a woman and a mother and I spent the better part of an hour trying to convince her that this was not true; that there was nothing that she or anybody could have done differently that could have prevented this; that these things just happen and as painful as they may be, sometimes, they just can’t be prevented.

My words did very little to comfort her.

Little did I know that Elliot was on the first floor having a breakdown of his own, and when he and Val were reunited, they could do nothing more than crawl upstairs and go to bed.

Christian and I sit down to dinner alone. He concentrates on finishing his meal, and I know it’s because he’s fighting with his emotions. He’s forcing himself to eat so that he doesn’t starve himself being overcome by his feelings. I don’t attempt to engage. We simply eat in silence and I let him finish his meal. Maddie and Nelson are still here until Monday, but they’ve been having more intimate meals with Keri and Chuck in their apartment since Chuck’s episode.

“The other soumises were telling me that communication is paramount in any healthy relationship,” I break the silence once we’ve finished our dinner and we’re having coffee, “especially a BDSM relationship.” He raises his gaze to me, his expression almost as if he forgot that I was sitting there next to him. He bottoms out his coffee and stands from his seat. Then he moves to the back of mine, signaling for me to stand and he pulls my chair out. He takes my hand and tucks it into his elbow. I feel a little flush come over me.

“Where would you like to chat?” he says. I’m taken aback. Anywhere will do. I would have been just fine sitting here at the table.

“The library,” I reply. We have two libraries and one of them became Marilyn’s office. We never use the other one.

He leads me to the elevator, and we take a silent ride to the lower level. I stop at the aquarium to say “hi” to Marty, who’s swimming obliviously in and out of her castles and reefs. As I take a moment to admire my fish, Christian retrieves a bottle of brandy and two snifters from the bar. We walk quietly to the library and I take a seat on the sofa. Christian turns on the fireplace and takes a seat next to me.

“Do you have anything in particular that you want to talk about?” he asks as he pours us each a brandy.

“Anything but Elliot and Val,” I say softly. He stops pouring for a moment, still looking at the brandy snifter.

“Agreed,” he says, and finishes pouring the drinks. He hands me one of the glasses and takes one for himself. We each take a large sip of the brandy before the conversation begins.

“We were supposed to come up with names tonight,” Christian begins. “I was thinking that I don’t know why we can’t do that activity on our own. It shouldn’t be hard.” I shrug.

“Yes, I can’t see why we couldn’t do that,” I reply.

“Mine should be easy,” he says. “I’ve only ever been referred to as Sir, Mr. Grey, or Master. Mr. Grey and Grey has definite connotations for us. Master feels like footprints from a past life. I don’t want to bring that into our relationship.”

“I agree,” I say, sipping my brandy.

“There are other options—Lord, Captain, Mister, Boss. The Latin Dominus is used as my title, as soumise is used for yours. It’s nice, but it seems a bit pretentious for you to address me that way. The rest of those seem over the top, except for Boss, and Jason sometimes calls me that. So, if you’re comfortable, I say we keep it simple and continue to use Sir.”

“I think that’s best,” I concur. “I did a little research on appropriate names for a submissive. They all sounded ridiculous.” Christian furrows his brow.

“Such as?” he asks, before sipping his brandy.

Baby girl, princess, kitten, honey bear, buttercup…” I rattle them off.

“None of those would fit for you because those are generally all names for littles. You’re not a little and I’m not a Daddy Dom, so those definitely wouldn’t work for us.”

“What’s a little?” I ask.

“That’s a whole other Dominant/submissive dynamic,” he replies. “It often involves age play where the submissive behaves at an age suitable for his or her Dominant, or at whatever age the submissive chooses.”

“Like adult babies?” I say with distaste.

“Yes, adult babies can be a type of a little,” he confesses. I shiver a bit.

“There are other types of littles?” I ask. He nods.

“They can be any age,” he says. “It depends on the preference of the couple.” I shake my head.

“That… sounds like someone who fantasizes about children,” I admit. “It doesn’t seem healthy. What place could that possibly have in a BDSM relationship?”

“Please don’t try to get me to explain that,” he beseeches. “I’m aware that the dynamic exists, but I couldn’t describe the fascination or attraction to it. I don’t have enough information on it, so I can’t defend or criticize it… and we’re getting off topic,” he chides gently. “Your name? Remember?”

“I like pet, but for some reason, I feel as though I should have a deep abhorrence for that word.”

“You should!” he says, nearly cutting me off before the words are out of my mouth. I lean back from him a bit as his tone is clipped and his eyes are sharp. Then, he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.

“This may be one of those things that slipped your mind,” he begins, “but Lincoln called me ‘pet.’” I nearly choke on my brandy.

“Oh… yeah… no,” I say, finishing off the amber liquid. He pours me another drink.

“I liked love and kitten,” I say,but Jason calls Gail Love…”

“And Ethan calls Mia kitten,” Christian says.

“Oh, yeah, that’s right,” I say, twisting my lips. “How about kitty? I like that one, too.”

“Too close to kitten,” he says. He moves the glass to his lips and stops.

“What is it?” I ask. He smiles widely before taking a sip of his drink.

“I’ve got it,” he says, placing his glass on the coffee table. “You like kitten and kitty, two variations of a feline, but we can’t use them because I don’t want to feel like I’m Domming my kid sister.”

“Your point?” I say. He leans in close to me, his face mere inches from mine.

Pussycat,” he breathes in his Dom voice… and my panties are instantly wet. I swallow hard.

“I… I like that,” I choke out, abandoning any bit of “cool” I may have previously had.

“I thought you would,” he says, retrieving his glass. “I like it, too.” He leans back on the sofa, swirling the brandy around in his glass and looking salaciously at me with a confident half smirk on his face. I clear my throat.

“We’re supposed to be talking,” I say, trying not to gulp down the rest of my brandy.

“I thought we were,” he says, raising an eyebrow at me.

“I… suddenly don’t know what else to say,” I pant, trying to remain calm, but failing miserably as I mindlessly swallow the rest of my second brandy and flinch as the spirits shock my throat and burn their way down my chest. Christian bottoms out his first brandy and puts the snifter on the table. He takes my glass from my hand and places it on the table next to his. Moving closer to me on the sofa, he leans in to me until I can only focus on his eyes through my hormone-and-brandy-induced haze.

“Weekdays have been a real bitch for me lately, Anastasia,” he says, his voice low and his face mere breaths away from mine. “Seeing that it’s Saturday night and the past two days have been just as shitty, what I’d like to do now is to take you upstairs to our room, tie you to our bed, and fuck you within an inch of your sanity. Or…” He leans in even closer, “I can bind your wrists and fuck you right here. It really doesn’t matter either way to me, as long as I get to fuck you. What do you say to that?” I swallow hard again.

“I’d say that I’d like that very much,” I squeak. His lips brush mine and he speaks the next words against my mouth.

“Upstairs… or here?” he breathes. The word is barely a whisper.

“Here.”

*-*

Christian is asleep and I’m wide awake, lying on the floor in the library. He’s wrapped around me and a blanket is wrapped around us both, the light from the moon and from the fire illuminating the room. This is only the second or third time in weeks that I’ve seen him sleeping so peacefully, which is a shame since two of those times were most likely aided by sheer exhaustion from concern for his brother.

Lying on my back and looking at the ceiling, I can’t help but go over the events of the holiday season…

Chuck tried to rip out his esophagus from swallowing a taste of champagne.

Mikey got up and just started walking out of nowhere, and Minnie’s not far behind him. We’re going to have to start childproofing the house very soon.

I got word that the bitch Deanna Carson who threatened to attempt to seduce my husband and then made good on her threat was one of the employees that was fired for failing the drug test and is now part of a class action suit against GEH. I plan to put a stop to that shit.

My husband is working long ass hours trying to save his company from going down the toilet and I can’t shake the feeling that he’s the only one who seems to care about it.

Carrick’s brother Freeman looks like he’s not going to be a problem for the brothers for a while. I don’t know what’s happening with the harassment charges that Christian brought against him and the assault charges from Burtie, but he dropped that ridiculous case protesting the legitimacy of the life insurance policy, and Lanie told me that he has signed the divorce papers and agreed to Nell’s demands. It would have left him in the hole a bit, but he got their house in Farmington and the proceeds from Burt’s life insurance as well as Burt’s house in Detroit. I don’t know the value of everything, but apparently, he got what he wanted.

I accused my husband of longing for a submissive from his prior life, which sent us into nearly a week of silence and avoidance and caused me to turn my home into the Land That Christmas Fucking Well Wouldn’t Forget in an attempt to escape the situation. I had to have the house professionally un-decorated to remove all that stuff… but I have it all stored away, just in case!

Marilyn flies back in today, and I can barely wait to see her! I asked if she needed a ride home from the airport, but she said that she would just like the evening to herself to regroup and acclimate to being back in Seattle. So, I’ll see her at the office tomorrow.

Harmony will be moving into Escala at the end of the week once the closing is final. I feel a bit melancholy about that, almost like I did when Daddy said that he was leaving the house in Montesano. Yes, that was where Christian gained his Dom legs and beat and fucked 15 brown haired submissives, but that’s also where we built our lives, where we cut our teeth on many firsts. The place holds some fond memories for us, and some not so fond ones as well, but it’s where we officially became The Greys.

And, of course, my sister and best friend lost her baby.

I think that about sums it up.

Feeling a combination of sorrow, nostalgia, and melancholy from reviewing the major events of the past few weeks, I feel a tear slide down my temple and into my ear.

Pussycat. We decided on Pussycat. Never in a million years would I have expected him to come up with that name, but surprisingly, I really like it. My mind immediately wanders to the conversations that I had with clusters of other soumises. Listening to them speak so freely about their relationships and their roles, being able to slip into a submissive state of mind so quickly and easily, being able to be everything my Dominus needs at a moment’s notice… I try very hard not to think about how far I have to go and how much I need to learn. I try to only focus on the journey and making this a rewarding experience for us both.

My mind then floats to my conversation with Savvina and how she basically told me that I had no idea what I was doing or feeling…

“No, you don’t. You don’t find Nirvana, peace, or even subspace until it’s over and he makes you come. This. Is. Not. Just. For. Him. As his wife, this is for you, too. Until you fully understand that, you’re in a dangerous place.”

I’m afraid. I’ll admit it. I’ve sat wondering more than once if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. This isn’t a game anymore. This isn’t “dabbling” as our mentors referred to it. This is the real thing—a real-life, full-on, BDSM relationship. We said that we wouldn’t be 24/7, but I don’t know how we can’t be. I’ve immersed myself in research and websites and blog pages, chats with trusted soumises, and everything that I’m reading and seeing and hearing says that you will submerge yourself in this lifestyle in one way or another.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you have to walk around in spandex and leather 25/8… or 24/7, but it does mean that you have to always be mindful of your Dominus just as he has to always be mindful of you—and there’s a lot involved in being mindful.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the onslaught of information that just popped into my head as I lie here in the dark in my husband’s arms, I squeeze my eyes shut tight, and another tear slides down my temple. On cue, my husband pulls me closer to him, and kisses the tear from my temple.

“Sleep,” he says, softly, and with surprisingly little effort, I close my eyes, and fall asleep.


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

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

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 83—Basking in Barossa Valley

FUN, FUN, FUN!!!

I enjoyed writing and editing this chapter so much that there will be no warnings besides that the previous disclaimers apply. Travelling through the Barossa Valley was so much fun, and I adored the experience more than anything that I’ve written in Book IV so far, and that says a lot. Please, please, please try to follow the pictures on the Pinterest page for this chapter as you read. I guarantee it will enhance your experience immensely. They can be found at THIS LINK and there are eight Barossa Valley subheadings. If you’re a visual person like me, you won’t regret it!

Thank you all for going on this journey with me and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Chapter 83—Basking in Barossa Valley

ANASTASIA

St. Hugo’s was a divine experience. It was almost spoiled by two uncouth cows who pointed me out, once again, as Christian’s bracelet, but he quickly put them in their place without saying a word directly to either of them while at the same time making me feel every bit the beautiful princess.

I still don’t understand what strikes people’s ire so much about us. I guess it’s okay to be young, rich, beautiful, or happy, but not all four. I’m not saying that my husband is a bad person, but in his business dealings, I’m certain that he has pissed off a person or three. I haven’t done anything to anybody! Yet, they come at me with their claws bared for no reason whatsoever…

Because I’m married to Christian…
Because I’m pretty…
Because we’re rich…

I don’t even know anymore. I’m working on my pledge to not let what people say about me bother me so much, but I have to admit that I’m not doing such a great job. I’ve never been able to embrace the concept of not liking someone simply for the cause of not liking them. They either think I’m a gold-digger or a trophy wife. Do they think I’m not good enough? And if not me, then who would’ve been?

What would satisfy the criteria of marrying the great Christian Grey—another billionairess? Then they would have been angry with her for being too damn ambitious and wanting too much.

He’s beautiful and he married a beautiful woman. What if he had married a dog? They would be talking about his taste and her looks.

He’s young and I’m young. What if he had married a cougar? That May-December “romance” would have gotten quite the un-rave reviews!

And God only knows what major shit they would be talking if we had marital problems splattered all over the tabloids.

You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t, so I’m back to the way of thinking that I need to let this shit roll off of me. I just didn’t think I would be subjected to that jealous type of scrutiny in a foreign country where no one knows who we are or anything about us. I guess people are just naturally catty and there’s really nothing you can do about that.

Bearing this in mind, I have every intention of eating way too much food and drinking way too much of the delicious offerings of the region, and anybody who doesn’t like it or me can kiss the darkest, wettest part of my lily-white ass!

Jacob’s Creek is our next stop and it’s so close that we could walk. Nonetheless, I have no arguments with taking the short jaunt in this beautiful classic Chrysler. We’re adding the delicious St. Hugo’s Cabernet to our wine cellar, and we’ve decided to keep one bottle of the Screaming Eagle and one of the St. Hugo for our collection. However, I believe in living and enjoying life and I plan on drinking the rest.

Just like at St. Hugo, we enjoy four tastings from the winery’s cellar door exclusive Heritage wine collection paired with four delicious courses matched perfectly with the wine. I remember the steps involved in the tastings and what to look for—techniques taught to me by my husband on our honeymoon. I’m proud and a bit astonished that I remember these things since these are very specific details and our honeymoon was before the accident that has subdued a lot of my memories.

I combine the knowledge I received from Christian with a bit of my own knowledge and repeat the steps from the tasting at St. Hugo’s…

Hold the glass by the stem so as not to affect the temperature of the wine.
Examine the color and body of the wine. Is it dark and rich or easy to see through like colored glass?

I remember my husband speaking of the dress of the wine—the color. He taught me that that darker the color, the older the vintage. So, while some of our reds are ruby and a bit transparent, the older wines are darker, richer, and more of a brick color.

I swirl the glass and examine the legs. They’re thick and a bit heavy on some, not so much on others.

Cover my nose with the glass and absorb the smell to pick up certain notes in each vintage before I take a sip and aerate the wine to give my tongue the chance to ponder the flavor.

I make the most of the experience. Jacob’s Creek boasts fine wines and delicious dishes to tempt the palate. However, I must say that St. Hugo’s felt more personable where Jacob’s Creek seemed a bit more mass-production-commercial to me. There was even the option to have a picnic lunch on site, but even that seemed more like, “Here’s your box—now go down past the old fig tree to the creek… with all the other people who bought a box lunch.”

John’s keen senses zero in on the fact that I’m not enjoying this experience as much as St. Hugo. I don’t hate it—it just seems like a bit of a downgrade. We don’t dawdle at Jacob’s Creek for too long before we’re back on another picturesque journey to our next winery.

The Charles Melton Vineyard is a bit more my taste. This winery is quaint—the quaintness of St. Hugo, but not such a large scale. At the risk of being considered a snob, I feel that if you’re going to spend the day in wine country riding around in a vintage luxury car and spending $1000 on a single bottle of wine, none of the wineries that you visit should feel like you’re walking into a liquor store.

Charles Melton definitely meets the mark.

This winery is mainly known for its delectable shirazes and grenaches, two vintages that were somewhat unfashionable when the winery was founded in 1984 but have grown majorly in popularity since then, especially in this region. These wines aren’t as pricey as the St. Hugo, but they’re surprisingly delicious. The winery specializes in only a few blends and you get to sample them all. I’m happy to order a case of the La Belle Mere Grenache Shiraz Mataro and the Grains of Paradise Shiraz. The Grains of Paradise boast a complex sweetness reminiscent of sitting in a swing or in the grass in the meadow on a cool spring or slightly cooler summer Sunday afternoon while the Grenache begs to mature for a few years in the cellar to richen the Barossa ripeness and the boldness of the smoky, dark, sweet fruits.

We don’t get the pairing experience at Charles Melton without actually ordering a meal. However, we’re able to indulge in tastings of olive oil and cheeses, and smoked meats from the local butcher between cellar door visits.

I’m beginning to feel the effects of some of the wines by the time we reach the Yalumba Winery, but that doesn’t stop me from indulging in the Winemaker’s Lunch on the Yalumba Signature Lawn. Now, I’m already a sheet or two to the wind, not completely over the edge but feeling mighty fine. This apparently means absolutely nothing to the sommeliers at Yalumba, who for whatever reason feel that you should taste as many wines as your body can possibly hold.

I have officially lost count of how many wines we’ve tasted before we even get to lunch. You taste three to four wines—maybe five—at each winery that you visit. This place has something like 15! Just to taste! This doesn’t include the pairings with lunch. And the wines at Yalumba are devilishly delicious! There are four different heavenly Rieslings in the tasting, and I even like the Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc… and Chardonnay is definitely not my thing unless it’s part of a pairing. I’m very pleasantly surprised by the Eden Valley Virgilius Viognier and the Grenache of Rosé, but I have a feeling that my prior libations may have contributed to my enjoyment of these elixirs.

We sample a concoction called Running with the Bulls Tempranillo—and not even my previous inebriation helped with that experience. That’s a definite no.

The Cabernet/Shiraz mixes make up for that experience, however—the Signature blend as well as The Scribbler blend. I can see some of these making their way back to the States with us.

Somewhere in between the seventh, eighth, tenth tasting, I don’t know, it’s time for us to have our Winemaker’s Lunch. I inform Christian that I’d like a case of the Signature and Scribbler blends. He subsequently decides that he wants the Eden Vineyard Shiraz Viognier and Eden Valley Sauvignon Blanc. So, he arranges for the wines to be shipped. No sooner than he put his Amex Black back in his wallet that I turn around and come face-to-face with the same two cows that we saw at St. Hugo’s walking into the cellar door.

Now, I’m not toasted, but I’ve been officially dipped, and the filter is off.

“Oh, look, there’s second place! Or third… or tenth… or whatever,” I blurt out with a giggle while pointing at them and leaning on my husband who tries and fails to stifle a laugh. I’m sure that if they didn’t get my meaning, he did.

If I’m a trophy wife, they’re way down on the placement list!

“Come, my inebriated Butterfly,” he says, putting his arm around my waist to stable me as we leave the cellar door.

“Bye!” I say cheerfully looking over my shoulder while waving at the cows who were talking about me earlier.

“I love it when you’re like this,” he says, scooping me into his arms once we’re outside, “not too drunk but pickled just enough.”

Live acoustic music is playing on the lawn while we enjoy the sunshine, great food, and yet more wine pairings from Yalumba—Old Bush Vine Grenache and The Guardian Shiraz Viognier blend, both from Samuel’s Garden. Lunch consists of decadent courses ranging from prosciutto-wrapped scallops to lamb, Scotch fillets, and smoked salmon. Tarts, cannolis, and souffles with vanilla bean ice-cream complete our meal and we sit in the sunshine allowing it to digest a bit. After a tall, cold glass of water and a trip or two to the ladies’ room, my high has worn off a bit—not completely, but a bit, and I’m ready to hit the valley again.

I’m sitting happily snuggled in the arms of my husband in the back seat of the vintage Chrysler, smiling widely on the inside and probably on the outside as well, as we once again travel down picturesque streets with rolling green hills lined with beautiful trees. As we approach the more populated areas, we see cozy little houses and then a church, followed by more commercial-type buildings—still a bit of a small-town feel, but more business and commerce in this area… the grocery store, the cheese shop, the post office, the beauty salon.

Once again, it could be all the wine, but I’m beginning to think of John as a personal friend of ours. He has proven to be a wealth of knowledge throughout our excursion, providing entertaining commentary on the history and culture of the Barossa, the amazing wines, local characters that we’ve seen or met along the way, and the culture, architecture, and terrain of the region. It was he who suggested that we sample the cheeses, meats, and wares of the area in between our tastings to accommodate our alcohol intake from the wineries that provided tastings without parings. We quickly learn that our wine-tasting experience is bespoke, and I’m more and more pleased that John is our guide through the enchanting valley.

Our next stop is Penfolds.

We pull up at a tan stucco building in the middle of the city. I frown a bit because I’m expecting more experiences like St. Hugo’s and less like Jacob’s Creek, but even Jacob’s Creek wasn’t this commercial—full asphalt parking lot and the building looks like it could be anything… a factory, a storage facility, a hardware store. There are no vineyards, fields, or trees anywhere, and I just don’t have a good feeling about it.

Apparently, my face said that out loud.

John informs us that the Penfolds Magill Estate Winery and Cellar Door is more than an hour away, and he didn’t want us to leave Barossa Valley without having tried their flagship Grange.

“Give it a chahnce, sheila,” John says. “OI’m cehtain you won’t be disappointed.”

Well, if John says so…

We enter the well-too-lit cellar door and I feel like I’m in a liquor store again. It’s worse than Jacob’s Creek… at least they had the creek!

John tells the vintner where we’ve traveled most of the day and informs her that he thinks we’d like the “A Taste of Grange” and the “Laboratory” experience.

Though the location is missing the ambience and the je ne sais quoi of the other on-site cellar doors, the experience is still wonderful. The staff is unbelievably accommodating, and I think I tasted more wine than I did at Yalumba… and just as tasty! The Taste of Grange experience is fabulous, and our host is just as engaging as John is. We get the opportunity to taste a number of delicious luxury granges from various years. He was right and I feel a little guilty about judging the book by its stucco cover.

Oh, but the experience isn’t over yet. The “Laboratory” experience that John spoke of refers to the Winemaker’s Laboratory, where you get to create your own blend of Penfold’s to take home. I noticed that other wineries have the option available, but John never suggested it and I was too busy tasting the wines to ask about it. We each got our own lab jacket and begin the process of blending the wines to create our own custom vintage. Of course, my husband wants the perfect white blend while I aim for the perfect mixture of dark fruits and full-bodied richness characteristic of my favorite Cabernets.

More blending, more tasting, and we leave this blessed establishment with two bottles each of our custom blend—going in the Chrysler with us and they may make it onto the jet—with a personalized label on each bottle that boasts Christian and me as “Assistant Winemaker” on our respective bottles.

Of course, we can’t leave without the world-renowned Granges of Penfolds. Yes, they boast a hefty price-tag, but they’re worth every penny! We get a mixed case of the Granges including the 2012 Grange St. Louis with crystal decanter, and a second case of the Cabernet. I had to include the 2010 Bin 707, one of the darkest and richest blends I’ve tasted with hints of blueberry and mulberry in a dense black core.

We depart our glorious experience at Penfolds and head to Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop for afternoon tea. I’m more than pleased to see that as we drive toward Maggie Beer’s, the roads are looking more rural and rustic like before. Not to besmirch Penfolds by all means, but this is more what I expected when travelling through Barossa Valley.

How do I describe Maggie Beer’s?

Maggie Beer’s is a produce shop, wine shop, cookery, eatery and pheasant farm tucked back off the road just outside of the city not four miles—or six kilometers—from Penfolds. The entrance looks very rustic, but inside is a gorgeous country-kitchen-type feel on a much larger scale exuding a general store vibe with the extensive line of fresh jams and products.

Birds are roaming free on the grounds—large birds with babies. I think they’re pheasants, but I’m not sure since this is also a pheasant farm… where the pheasants are cooked and eaten. There is, however, an aviary of native birds on the grounds, one of which is a beautiful peacock with a royal blue neck and a fabulous green plume of feathers behind him. At one point, he also finds his way out of the cage and struts around for us, showing off his long, colorful feathers.

Maggie Beer and her husband Colin started the pheasant farm in the 1970’s and became the first breeders of quail and pheasant in Australia. From there, they opened the farm shop and the restaurant and became quite famous in the area. With the success of the restaurant, they started to make pate to sell to the public. They came full circle to sell the pate in the farm shop and the operation just kept growing and growing. Now the restaurant and farm shop are favorites in the neighborhood, and Maggie is famous for her seasonal recipes, condiments, pastes, and marmalades. Many of her cookbooks are sold in the farm shop and I’ve procured a wicker basket which is filled with several of those books right now.

Although we could if we wanted to, this is the one place where we didn’t have any wine. There were too many other things to see and taste. The Eatery is a bustling dining area with yellow chairs that leads to an outside eating area—a brick patio that connects to a wooden deck over the Blue Lake. There are no demonstrations occurring at the time, but Maggie Beer’s has an open kitchen with chairs in front like a small theater as well as a full kitchen with multiple cooking stations for demonstrations and classes.

Christian and I browse the various wares of the shop, tasting homemade jams on gourmet crackers—raspberry pomegranate, Seville marmalade, fig and fennel paste, and salted brandy caramel just to name a few. I’m completely lamenting the fact that there’s nothing like this place that I know of in Seattle, but I’m certain that with the Marketplace there, I can find something somewhere locally that has all the fresh produce, jams, and exotic flavors that I see here… or at least something similar.

As I sip a delicious cappuccino, I’ve passed my basket on to Ben to carry while I look at the various “hampers” for sale. “Hampers” are selections of various jams, flavors, marmalades, etc., combined in a seasonal or flavor group and sold as a package. I choose the Favourites List Hamper, the Maggie’s Favourites Hamper, and the Fine Spread Hamper, making sure that my selections include the delightful marmalades and jams that I tasted today as well as a variety of cooking wines, chutneys, sauces, and verjuice.

We’ve now moved from coffee to pear cider—an indescribably tasty experience—and I continue with my shopping and browsing, being sure to choose gift sets for Gail, Keri, and Ms. Solomon. I’m not sure that the pastes, pates, and jams would be to Keri’s taste, but there’s one way to find out.

As we relax on the wood deck, we watch the turtles swimming in the Blue Lake. While sipping another coffee along with a tall glass of cool water, we enjoy small servings of three decadent desserts—orange ricotta cake, Meyer lemon pie with apricot jam, and dried pear and glace ginger Eccles cakes. As the dreamy confections melt on my tongue followed by the smoothest coffee I’ve ever tasted, I can’t help but ponder how troubled my spirit was not so long ago. This experience seems worlds away from where we were just two days ago—the tragedies and suffering at Port Arthur and the tormented spirits still stuck in that place. How the two places and experiences can be in the same trip, but be so hugely different is totally beyond me.

I don’t linger on it too long as I enjoy my burnt fig, honeycomb, and caramel ice cream. Yes… I must find something like this in Seattle!

I feel very good about my haul from Maggie Beer’s and I’m ready to move on to our next experience. It’s late afternoon and my buzz is dying a bit, which means I need more wine! John tells us that we have one more stop before returning to St. Hugo’s for dinner and then taking our ride back to Adelaide to conclude our trip to wine country.

“You’re playful when you’re tipsy,” Christian says when we get back into the car.

“No, I’m not,” I say, my high from earlier nearly totally abated after the rehydration, coffee, and small amount of exercise at Maggie Beer’s. “I’m logical when I’m tipsy. My mind clears, my thoughts are logical, and my filter’s off.”

“And apparently, that makes you playful,” he counters with a laugh. I chuckle.

“Maybe… under the right circumstances, but you’ve never seen me wine drunk. Usually, if I’m wine drunk, I’m angry.”

“I have seen you drunk,” he protests, his brow furrowed. “On the Slasher.”

“I was Cosmo drunk on the Slasher,” I correct him. “I was not wine drunk. You’ve never seen me wine drunk. I’ve only been wine drunk one time that I can remember during our relationship and that was…” I trail off. No, now is not a good time to bring that up.

“That was when?” he presses.

“Early,” I say, “very early in the relationship.” I still don’t want to talk about it.

“I don’t reme…”

“Let’s… let’s not, okay?” I say beseechingly. “I shouldn’t have brought it up. We’ve been having a great day. Let’s not ruin it with unnecessary and unpleasant memories.” He twists his lips.

“I can’t argue with that,” he says, tightening his grip around my waist.

“Excyuse the intrusion,” John says from the front seat, “but my OI sy thaht from what OI’ve seen, yew two hahve the roight fohmula foh a long and happy marriage.” I smile.

“We’re still working on it, John,” I admit, “but I certainly hope you’re right.”

“I know he’s right,” Christian says softly before kissing my temple. “

Our final stop before dinner is the Seppeltsfield Tasting Room. According to John, this is one of the most distinguished wineries in the Barossa Valley. We had originally intended to stop at the Torbreck Winery, but then discovered that some of the blends from that winery originate from Seppeltsfield. So, why not just go to the source?

Seppeltsfield Winery prides itself on delivering history in a bottle. That’s quite an ambitious goal, to say the very least. In light of this, patrons and connoisseurs frequent the establishment expecting absolutely nothing but the very best. As such, Seppeltsfield strives not to disappoint.

The Seppeltsfield tour isn’t a short one, and certainly not boring. John and our Seppeltsfield host keep us engaged and entertained as we learn about the impressive 163-year history of the winery. The grounds of the winery combine old-world charm in the 18th and 19th century architecture with modern landscaping that ties the old with the new and presents a fabulous backdrop. While wandering around the grounds of this estate, you awe at the glorious modern fountains and endless date palm trees while simultaneously feeling as though you’ve stepped back in time.

Throughout the tour, we see the original 1851 Seppelt Homestead where the Seppelts lived as well as the fully-restored Seppeltsfield cottage, both available for lodging with a reservation. Christian comments about how small the quarters are. Our host informs us that these lodgings were actually indicative of the wealthy in that time, especially since the Seppelts had the bigger picture in mind—farming, winery, village, the whole kit and caboodle.

We also see the Elm Walk, which is a favorite for weddings, and the 1860’s blending cellars. Some of the original equipment used to create and barrel the wines and can still be seen on-site.

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Strolling through the beautifully restored grounds and admiring the gardens and the exquisite landscape, we also see the Dining Hall that was used until 1890, Winemakers Terrace & Chimney, better known as the distillery, used until 1877, and the Laboratory used until 1945. The 19th Century Clydesdale Stables have been redeveloped into the JamFactory Art & Design Studios while the Bottling Hall last used in 1900 is now the home of the Seppeltsfield Cellar Door.

I don’t know that any of the other wineries have one of these as it wasn’t pointed out to us throughout our tour, but the Seppeltsfield has a Gravity Cellar. The Gravity Cellar is built into the hillside on descending terraces consisting of 120 big open top tanks that allow gravity’s natural pull to direct the course and flow of the fruit through the winery, which means less handling of the fruit and a purer fermentation process.

We tasted some of the wares of the cellar door after our initial overall tour of the grounds. Our tasting consisted of a flight of four wines from the Paramount Collection—two styles of Apera, a Tokay, and a Muscat. It’s very easy to see why this is one of the oldest and most distinguished wineries in the Barossa, having an entire village built around and named after it. However, our hosts were strategically saving the best for last.

Our final trip is to the Centennial Cellar. Mere words won’t do justice to our experience in this place. A barrel of the best crops of Tawny from each year dating back to 1878 is housed in this cellar with instructions that it was not to be bottled for at least another 100 years from the date it was barreled. As such, there are several tours with different historical themes that are based on tastings from this cellar. But make no mistake—as this is the crown jewel of the Seppeltsfield Winery, it’s gonna cost ya!

Our tour of the Centennial Cellar includes a combination of the Moments in History experience and the Centenary Experience. For the Moments in History, we taste wine from various times through history—from 1969 and the year of the Moon Landing; from D-Day in 1944; from 1939 and the end of the Great Depression; from 1972, the year the Watergate scandal began; from 1997 and the death of Lady Di; and of course, 1985… the year a Butterfly was born. Oh, and of course, from 1983—the year of the birth of my favorite mogul.

There’s seems to be a strange reminiscent connection to tasting wines from those years, not that you were magically transported to the event because of the year of the wine, but I do feel a bit of connection to the time and year of the occurrences and it does make you think. It seems somewhat… symmetric how different the wines differ from our birth years, even though we’re only two years apart. The most current wine we tasted is the 1997, and there’s no mistaking that the older the wines are, the more powerful the flavor and more distinct the vintage.

I have to say that none were as profound as the Centenary Tasting, where we’re able to taste a 100-year old Para Vintage Tawny. Still in the bowels of the winery where the aromas hypnotize almost as much as the flavors—who am I kidding? I’m tipsy again, but not too tipsy to appreciate this experience.

Our host dips a wine thief into the barrel of 1914 Tawny—much like he did with the many other barrels that we’ve tasted, but a new wine thief each time draws out a sample and fills a small tasting glass. These are not the wine glasses that we’ve been using. These are small, crystal verres à vin—something like a tiny sherry glass.

We watch in awe as the fluid seeps slowly into the glass, oozing down the side before filling the triangular bottom of the glass and rising up the angles. Our host hands us each a glass and I attempt follow the wine-tasting techniques that I’ve learned…

No.

It’s difficult to follow the traditional tasting rules when you experience a 100-year-old wine. The elixir flows out of the wine thief like heavy olive oil. The slowness with which it fills the glass is not theatrical. The wine is thick… rich, dark in color like fresh molasses and clinging to the sides of the glass like a thin syrup.

No smelling…
No swirling…
No aerating…

Just taste.

“That’s remarkable,” Christian nearly purrs as he sips the wine.

“Incredible,” I whisper as the most indescribably rich, full-bodied flavor coats my mouth. I close my eyes and savor the taste of an insanely decadent and delicious wine that I’ll probably never taste again. When I open my eyes, my husband is staring at me… in that way.

“Warren,” he says to our host. “Is there any way that I can get some of this shipped back to America?” Warren already has that I’m so sorry look on his face.

“We don’t reahlly sell the Centennial Collection, sir,” Warren says, “not in volume anywy. We have collectible oitems that ahr avaylable to be ohdehed and pehsonalized. However, thy tayke some toime to bottle, and thy can be vehry expensive and in small quawntities.”

Now, I’m expecting my I-want-it-and-I-want-it-now husband to start waving around his Amex Black, demanding immediate satisfaction. I’m surprised when the suave and reserved Christian Grey appears.

“I see,” he says. “So, can you tell me my options?”

Wow. I try not to let my expression betray my astonishment at my husband’s diplomacy. Granted, he’s not always a bull in a China shop, but when he wants something, he wants it and there’s no negotiating… and I can tell he wants this. I take another sip of the elixir. Dear God, it’s divine.

“Mmm,” I say, letting the flavors coat my tongue again and momentarily floating off to an ethereal experience. When I open my eyes this time, John, Warren, and Christian are all looking at me. I swallow hard.

“Sorry,” I murmur, shrinking a bit. Warren clears his throat and turns back to Christian, garnering his attention.

“The Collection can be ohdehed in 100ml ohr 375ml collectible bottles…”

I stand by quietly and demurely as Warren explains how the Centennial Collection is sold—bottles smaller that an American soda can for nearly $3000 American each… and they take about a month to ship to the States… after they’re bottled. So, it could be six to eight weeks before we even see this stuff.

Noting that Christian hasn’t lost interest at the mention of the quantity or the price of the 1914 blend, Warren continues to explain that the Tawny will be bottled by hand and presented in a Jarrah timber box with a serial number and a certificate of authenticity. I hate to tell you this, Warren, but if I know my husband, that pretty box and that pretty bottle won’t mean anything because my husband plans to sit and watch me drink it. I’m careful not to take the last swallow of the vintage left in my glass until we’re about to leave.

I quickly calculate in my head that 375ml is about a cup and a half. Considering that I’ve taken two sips of the tasting already in my hand and there remains one more healthy swallow, we could get five to six good tastings out of that bottle considering that my tasting may have been about ¼ of a cup—and assuming we can preserve the wine somehow once we’ve opened it…

“Is it at all possible that I could get three bottles?” Christian asks.

Three bottles?? Is he insane? That’s nearly $10,000 for just over a quart of wine! It’s good, but it’s not that good.

“Three bottles?” Warren asks incredibly. “Of the…” he trails off.

“The 1914 Centennial Para Vintage Tawny blend—the 375ml… $2750 each you said, right?”

“Um, yes sir, plus shipping.” Warren appears to be nearly dumbstruck.

“Good,” Christian says. “If we order them now, I may have them by Valentine’s Day.” He looks over at me and winks.

“Capital tour, Warren, capital tour,” Christian says, turning his attention back to Warren. “Lead the way, sir.”

Warren’s face takes on an almost ethereal glow as he collects the tools of his trade, and I finish my last sip of the extra-terrestrial elixir.

*-*

The sun has made its way across the sky and we have arranged for several bottles from the Seppeltsfield Winery to be shipped to Grey Crossing in Seattle—including three bottles of the Centennial Collection—by the time we make our way to dinner. At first, we had planned to return to St. Hugo’s, which would have been nice, but we had already been there—and apparently, John read my expression and deduced that I would much rather go somewhere new as our last stop in Barossa Valley, so he makes the executive decision that our final stop will be on the way back to swap the Chrysler for the Mercedes before we return to Adelaide, but it won’t be St. Hugo’s.

Our drive is only about nine minutes and we arrive at another winery called Artisans at Barossa. I wonder if one of the ways that the Barossa stays in business is by keeping its guests drunk—my buzz from Seppeltsfield hasn’t worn off at all by the time we get to Artisans.

The car has barely stopped when I see the door opening and a gentleman that isn’t my husband standing there holding the door for me.

“Ma’am,” I hear him say in an Australian accent. At the same time, I hear another accent refer to Christian as “sir” as he exits the Daimler. I smile at the gentleman and take his proffered hand to help me out of the car.

He nods once and Christian is by my side almost immediately. I didn’t want to be rude to the guy, but I knew Christian would be bumping him out of the way in moments. Of course, my husband wraps my hand around his forearm and begins to lead me away. I look over my shoulder at the guy still holding the door of the Chrysler, looking a bit crestfallen.

“Thank you,” I say while he’s still in earshot. He raises his head to me, smiles, and nods again. I fall in step with my husband and he raises a brow at me.

“What?” I say. “You swooped in like a lion claiming a piece of raw meat. I just didn’t want to be rude.”

“Forever charming the locals,” he chides gently.

“I haven’t been charming the locals!” I retort quietly… at least not intentionally. Christian scoffs a laugh.

“Yeah, and I didn’t just spend $10,000 on just over a liter of wine because you looked and sounded like you were coming while you were drinking it,” he declares before leading me into the winery.


CHRISTIAN

Three thousand dollars a bottle on 100-year-old wine.

Yes, one of those bottles will be a collectors item, but at least one of those bottles will be part of a Butterfly fuck-fest. I could have fucked her right there on the cellar floor with the sounds that she was making sipping that stuff!

And then this valet or whatever he is comes flying to the door to let her out before the car even stops. Did he fucking smell her arriving? I know she’s sexy, but damn. And I’m sure he nutted himself when she turned around and said, “Thank you.”

So, John has brought us to another location called Artisans since Butterfly hinted that she didn’t want to go back to St. Hugo’s. I’m surprised, because St. Hugo’s was very nice and I wouldn’t have minded having dinner there, but my lady wants to see something else, so it’s something else we’re seeing.

The Artisans of Barossa has a restaurant called the Harvest Kitchen. Apparently, they feed you and feed you—all the fruits of the field and the meat of the land, whatever’s in season—until you don’t want any more all while they’re pickling you in various wines. It’s one flat cost per person for the experience, although I’m not really concerned about the cost. I’m more concerned about my wife. I just want her to enjoy herself.

We are seated at a table for four next to the window with a beautiful view of the deck and the vineyards. The tables are somewhat close, so the other diners in the restaurant are nearly sitting in your lap. I’m not sure that I like that, but I don’t get time to protest as the parade of food and wine begins almost immediately.

There are several bottles—not just glasses, bottles of wine placed on our table. We try to inform the staff that our security detail will not be drinking, but apparently, word travels fast in the Barossa, and I hear a whisper or two about the couple doing the Daimler tour and purchasing cases of wine at every winery, including $10,000 worth from Seppeltsfield. I have a feeling that John may have had something to do with how fast word is traveling, but again, as long as my girl has a good time…

I’ve come to discover that Artisans of Barossa carries several different varieties of wines from several different labels… or sublabels, I’m not sure—such as John Duval and Sons of Eden. In addition to the endless flow of food, we indulge in several John Duval reds and whites, as well as a variety of Sons of Eden Grenaches, Shirazes, Rosés, and Rieslings. The other Artisans include Schwarz Wine Company, Hobbs of Barossa Ranges, Massena, and Spinifex Wines, and the staff is intent that we taste them all!

The food begins and it, along with the wine, just keeps coming and coming. The menu begins with charcuterie and cheese with Schwarz Wine Company Meta Grenache; anchovy on grilled sourdough with basil and tomato; a separate cheese, fig, date, and prosciutto tray with some vintage of Red Muscat that fails me at the moment; and Tweedvale labneh with Ras el Hanout and nigella with two sourdough “croutons” shaped like a butterfly… and Spinifex Muscat a Petit Grains—a delicate and somewhat sweet white wine which, surprisingly, we both like.

My wife begins to draw attention to our table as the food and wine parade continues. She repeatedly asks the staff for information on what she’s eating and drinking, which they’re only too happy to provide since her aura is infectious—so infectious in fact, that other diners nearby somehow find it appropriate to join in our conversation and meal, explaining to Butterfly what wines have been paired with which foods and why. One couple, we learn, is also here from the United States, vacationing from North Carolina. Another is from Vancouver while a third joins us from Hawaii. Butterfly engages everyone like we’ve all arrived together.

Our food and wine parade continues with Sons of Eden Freya Riesling and crispy fried Barossa free-range chicken; fig and stout beef empanadas and Hobbs of Barossa Ranges Tin Lids Shiraz Aria Secca; fried gnocchi with truffle & Parmesan mousse; smoked fish brandade with more sourdough “croutons”; Hutton Vale Farm Merquez sausage with fennel; ancient grain salad with vache curd and pomegranate molasses dressing; and Hutton Vale lamb pide with yogurt, fresh herb salad and pomegranate molasses and two Rosés and more wine—I have long since lost track of the vintages.

For dessert, we have vanilla ice cream with salted caramel and popcorn—the strangest combination I’ve ever seen and surprisingly compatible. I’m quite surprised when my wife—who prefers a Cabernet over any libation in the world—partakes in what one of the staff calls Artisans Riesling Spritzer, made with Freya Riesling with ginger, verjuice and ice. My wife’s a red drinker and she had two of these in addition to all the wine we’re drinking!

The wine and conversation keep flowing and we have now attracted the attention of an older, graying gentleman who was sitting alone at a table near the window at the other end of the room. He asks if he can join us, and the couple next to us—from North Carolina—invites him to pull up a chair. I can see that he has zeroed in on my Butterfly, but I won’t behave like a Neanderthal, at least not yet and especially after all the wine I’ve had… not as much as Butterfly, but I’ve had my fair share.

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I watch his interaction with the group—or lack thereof—and each time my lady speaks, his interest is piqued. He’s good at making it appear that he’s conversing with the group when he’s clearly only engaging Butterfly. Jason and Lawrence are now on alert, but not DEFCON, just alert enough to keep an eye on the situation, as am I.

He’s well-traveled, divorced or never married—my guess is never married—probably in his early to mid-fifties, sophisticated and refined… and he’s French. He’s also no fool. He’s waiting for my reaction to him and I won’t show my hand. Butterfly is sitting across from me and I haven’t done anything to show possession or piss on my territory. He knows she’s mine and he’s setting the table—nothing overt, but sly little signals and subliminal messages, waiting for the gauche American to emerge so that he can come off all suave and sophisticated and show my wife what she’s missing.

I’ve devoured bigger fish than you in the boardroom, Gaston.

In the meantime, she who claims that she’s not charming the locals appears to be making friends left and right with her witty banter even with her limited knowledge of wine. Her ignorance appears to enamor her with the staff and the other patrons of the restaurants, with our uninvited dining companions getting a kick out of telling her what notes she may be tasting in certain wines as she admits that she has had so many that the flavors are all running together. Gaston, whom I discover is named Maxime, decides to test her on that fact, declaring that there is a hint of boysenberry in the John Duval Grenache.

“Hmm,” Butterfly says, aerating the wine before swallowing, even though she had already tasted the vintage several times before during the evening, along with several other wines. She’s still bubbly and smiling, but she’s quite drunk as she tests the spirits on her tongue.

“It could be my pickled brain, Maxime,” she says to her quizzer, “but I don’t taste any boysenberry. Cranberry… or maybe raspberry… but no boysenberry.”

“That is because you are correct, madam,” our French dinner-mate declares. “There is no boysenberry in this blend.” My wife fakes a scoff.

“Maxime, you cad!” she declares, pretending to be affronted, “why would you lie to me?”

“Not a lie, Mrs. Grey,” he clarifies. “A test, and you passed.” He wipes his lips with his napkin and stands. He knows he’s been whipped. I’m not falling into his trap, but that doesn’t stop him from pulling one last trick.

“It has been a pleasure,” he says in his smooth French accent. “You have made what would have been a boring dinner alone quite delightful.” He takes her hand and leans down to kiss it, but pauses before his lips touch her skin and looks at me. I want to tell him to get his paws off my wife, but… I just nod once. He presses his lips gently to her hand before raising only his gaze to make eye-contact with her.

“Au revoir, madam,” he says, his voice low and a bit suggestive.

“Enchanté, monsieur,” my wife replies softly. Maxime places his free hand over his heart before releasing her and stepping next to me.

“She’s exquisite,” he says in my ear before walking past me and leaving the restaurant. Yes, Gaston, I know… believe me, I know. My wife carries on with the tables around her once Maxime is gone like she and this fucker didn’t just share a tender moment—in his eyes, anyway. Right now, she’s floating on spirits and having a good time, holding court with a bunch of strangers with six watchful eyes on her. She knows she’s safe, and she’s glowing with enjoyment. Women and men alike are captivated by her conversation and company at the moment. Who am I to interfere?

The sun is setting over the horizon and although my Butterfly is still having a good time as the Belle of the Ball—even though her Gaston has vacated the premises—she yawns, and I know that it’s time for us to leave. Jason and I leave Lawrence with her as we go to relieve ourselves. We head to the restroom to refresh ourselves before we leave, and I see something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anywhere ever…

A line at the men’s room!

It’s short, but it’s a line, nonetheless. I look over at Jason, who shrugs and we just wait. There are four guys in front of us and the first two at the door are having a conversation that I can’t help but overhear:

“Aye, ya get a load o’tha brunette in tha puhple dress?” one says to the other. You mean the brunette in the purple dress with the husband that’s standing two people behind you?

“Yeh,” the other concurs. “She’s a real lookah!”

“OI’ll say… gohgeous and sweet. Whehr d’ya get one a’those, mate?” the first one continues.

“OI dunno. She’s gotta be one of a koind. Most Amehricans OI’ve met ahr real arseholes,” the second observes. Jason looks over at me and I shake my head, signaling him not to engage. She’s not here and she can’t hear them.

“Cehful thehr, that bloke she’s been haynging on’ll prob’ly lop ya balls off!” The first cautions. Damn straight.

“No shite!” the second says. “OI would, too. It‘s a real gem he’s got thehr. Whut’s he cahl ‘er… Butterfloy?”

“Yeh. He’s a real goneh, but wouldn’t you be?” the first says.

“In a minute, mate. In a minute…” and the conversation moves on to something else before they head into the restroom a few moments later. I don’t need to be told, but yes, my hot wife is an international sensation.

Once we get inside, I see why there’s a line. Everybody’s wine kicked in at the same time and there’s limited “facilities” inside. Bloke #1 and Bloke #2 quickly wash their hands and leave once Jason and I enter the restroom, the two men before us apparently having run in and run out in record time. As we’re washing our hands once we handled our business, I decide to quickly pick Jason’s brain.

“Jason, by any chance, do you recall the situation Butterfly was alluding earlier?” I ask.

“Which situation, sir?” he questions while drying his hands.

“About her being wine-drunk earlier in our relationship?” His brow furrows for a moment, then his frown is replaced with recognition.

“Oh, yeah, I remember,” he says, tossing his paper towel in the trash. I stand there expecting, drying my own hands and it takes him a second or two to catch on.

“The demise of one Anderson Sheppard tie?” he hints. Tie… tie… oh, the tie! It’s unbelievable to me that that particular thought has occurred to us twice during this trip. Well, once for me and now once for her.

“Yeah,” I say disposing of my paper towel, “I can see why she wouldn’t want to rehash that. Not one of my prouder moments.”

“Indeed, sir,” he says as we exit the restroom.

By the time we’re leaving Artisans, we have eaten way too much food, drank way too much wine, and made good on our reputation to have a few cases of their best vintages shipped to Seattle, including Paul Duval’s Grenache to remind her of her “test” with Maxime, and two of the Eligo Master Class Set from the same vintner. Butterfly is just fine to walk to the Daimler. However, once we get back to our original destination to swap into the Mercedes, she’s out like a light.

She’s going to hate that she’s missing such a beautiful sunset in wine country, but the pictures will have to do as I must carry her from one vehicle to the other so that we can return to Adelaide. The trees and the sunset make you feel like singing the theme to the Lion King.

I thank John for a splendid day and ask him if it’s customary—or impolite—to tip him for a job well done. He declines and assures me that I’ve purchased enough wine to ensure that he’ll be able to maintain his priority standing with the local wineries, and only ask that I give him and the tour a good review on social media.

Social media… hmm.

I shake his hand after I’ve deposited my inebriated wife into the Mercedes, and we’re on our way back to the hotel.

An hour later, we arrive at Peppers and my pickled princess pops up like she wasn’t asleep for the entire ride. She exits the vehicle and strolls carefully into the hotel and to the elevator, then to our suite where she removes her shoes at the door and heads straight for the bathroom. Hoping that she’s not in there paying homage to the porcelain gods, I go to the other bathroom to get ready for bed.

Once I’ve taken care of my incidentals, I come back to the bedroom still in my jeans and I fully expect to see her face down on the bed sleeping off the alcohol—but no. She’s still in the bathroom adjacent to the bedroom, only now the shade is open so that I can see her. She’s gloriously naked and I immediately have to talk my dick down. She’s cleaning her breast pump, signaling me that she has emptied her breasts before coming to bed. Now, she picks up a brush and meticulously begins brushing her incredibly long hair.

Hmm, she doesn’t look like she’s stumbling drunk. She even does that thing where she holds her head forward to brush the back of her hair and she’s not toppling into walls or anything. And I’m just sitting here watching her… watching that glorious naked body preparing for bed, preparing to lay next to me and torment me while she sleeps off the alcohol and I talk my raging, thumping dick down. I’m so mesmerized by her that I don’t notice that she’s staring at me through the glass, still brushing her beautiful hair. I take a deep breath to control myself and stand as she finishes her nighttime grooming before turning off the lights and coming into the room.

“Why are you still wearing those?” she asks when she looks at my jeans.

“I was distracted,” I say. “I’m just getting ready for bed.”

“Well, take them off. I want to suck your dick,” she says matter-of-factly.

Wha…?

My dick reacts, but my brain is slow on the pickup.

“Baby, I’d love to be inside you—especially inside your mouth—but… you’re drunk. That’s something I don’t do. It always has to be consensual…”

“Do I look drunk to you?” she asks. “Do I really look like I can’t give consent to fuck my husband?”

“Uh…” I’m speechless at the moment. I’m standing here with a rock-hard cock disputing my beautiful, naked, horny wife about why she can’t suck my dick.

“I am not drunk,” she protests. “I’m a little pickled, but I’m not drunk. I’m completely sentient, and I said I wanna suck your dick. Now, are you really going to deny me?”

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear she’s stone cold sober when she says that.

“Absolutely not, Mrs. Grey,” I reply.

“Good. Now, shut the fuck up and drop your pants.”

You don’t have to tell me twice. I’m unbuckling and unzipping before she even gets the words out of her mouth. In moments, my jeans are in a mound at my ankles. She pushes me gently and I fall backwards onto the bed. She quickly removes my pants from my ankles, pushes my thighs apart and situates herself on her knees between my legs. She wraps her lips gently around the head of my cock and I already know, she plans to tease me incessantly tonight.

Fuck! Get ready, Grey.

I lick my lips and prepare myself for the orgasm refusal ride of a lifetime, especially after all the orgasms I refused her last night before I finally let her come.

“Damn, baby, you look so good,” I breathe as she looks up at me with beautiful, blue come-hither eyes, her hands at the base of my throbbing cock and her lips and tongue softly and deliciously teasing the head. I have to lean up on my elbows to watch her, which means that I can’t touch her unless I want to lay flat or balance myself on one of the most insane ab workouts I’ve ever done.

She licks and licks and licks, never taking her eyes off mine, until my dick is hot and hard and thumping. The friction from her tongue is insane and I’m fucking losing my mind with need. I drop my head back, unable to hold it up anymore through this damn torment, and I feel my cock slide into her mouth, but then out again, her lips teasing my shaft gently. The fire I was feeling a moment ago is slowly subsiding, being replaced by a different pleasure that slowly rising on the skin of my cock.

What is she doing to me? I lament inwardly. I swear if she had kept up that small amount of friction, she would have gotten a big fountain, but she changed up the rhythm on me and now…

While I’m contemplating my situation, I feel her mouth cover my cock again, but she doesn’t pull back. What is she doing? I try to look down at her, but her hair is covering her head a bit—not completely, but enough to obstruct my view.

But not enough to obstruct the feeling!

“Ah! Shit!” I exclaim as I feel tightening and a little friction on the head of my cock—just the head. What the fuck? I focus my pleasure-blinded eyes and see that she’s deep-throating me, but her mouth is not on my cock—just her throat.

Holy mother of God, this woman is inhuman!

“God! How do you do that!” I hiss, trying not to thrust into her throat. She throats my cock so that I feel the heat from her mouth on my shaft, but not the friction, but I can feel that throat wrapping around that head!

“Jesus! Fuck! Jesus!” I choke, my cock burning and thickening with pleasure. She has never done this shit to me before! I know my wife’s a freak, but she’s a fucking superfreak when she’s had a few drinks in her.

“God! Ana! Fuck!” I groan, and I can’t help it. I grab her hair and lift it away from her face, holding it in the back of her head like a ponytail. I have to see this. I won’t push her head down on me, but I fucking have to see this.

She lets me watch for a few moments—my impressive cock balls deep in her mouth and the feeling of her throat hot and squeezing the head of my dick. I groan, my hand and thigh shaking from trying not to thrust.

Either she needed air, or she knew that I was breaths away from coming, because she slides my cock out of her throat, almost igniting an orgasm. She pauses for a few moments and I find myself anxiously sliding to the edge of the bed so that I can sit up. After a brief break, my shaft is in her mouth again. This time, she’s giving a blowjob. Her head is bobbing wildly on my cock and shaft and her fist is pumping where her mouth is not, following her mouth with every stroke.

“Sweet Jesus!” I hiss, holding her hair as her head bobs on my cock. I have no idea if I’m pushing her head down onto me, but my hand is clenched in her hair, holding on for dear life. My cock is being worked mercilessly and I feel myself rising yet again from the new stimulation. I hold my head back, panting and choking and trying to get air in. Fuck! It’s so good… I’m gonna come…

Her mouth releases my cock with a pop, and I swear my whole body shakes in dismay. Fuck, that was fucking more than my cock could take. I can feel the sweat forming on my chest and back. It hasn’t even been that long, has it? A few minutes, she’s been doing this? I don’t even know.

She pushes me back onto the bed and makes me move all the way to the top so that she can get on the bed with me. She nestles herself comfortably between my legs and takes my shiny, aching, pink cock in her hand again. Now I can see her ass, and her hips, and delicious mouth and tongue teasing my dick, and her eyes daring me to come… and she starts over, massaging that little bundle of nerves as she holds my cock.

Dear God, not again…

I fist the sheets next to me because I can’t be responsible for my actions this time when she denies me this orgasm. It’s rising… slowly… hot, hard, and intense. She licks with purpose, that same bundle of nerves, over and over again. I groan in my chest. If she’s going to stop, I want her to stop before it gets too intense… too painful. I don’t think I can take it this time.

I groan again and grip the sheets. I feel it. My balls are tightening, and the ache of release is coming. Stop, for God’s sake!

I begin to pant. I can’t stop it! My thighs are tightening, and my knees and legs are weak—and she keeps going and going, that delicious stimulation that goes right to the pleasure nerves. I’m gazing at her, beautiful and intent in her purpose.

Please…

Did I say that out loud? Did I think that? What did I do? Whatever happens, she has pushed me to the point where I don’t have control of my body anymore. All my muscles are tightening and I’m about to blow. If she stops at this point, it’ll be for nothing because…

“Fuck! Fuck! Aw, shit!”

As she licks that sensitive bundle on the underside of my cock, cum squirts gloriously out of the head and runs down over my dick and her hand. My shaft is so fucking red and hard that it looks almost painful and I can’t even identify the sounds coming from my chest and throat, but she keeps licking and licking, a new spurt flowing with every stroke of her tongue. I’m gripping the sheets nearly in agony—she made me wait for so long… didn’t she? Or did she just turn me on so much that it felt like an eternity?

I watched her sashay her naked ass around that bathroom until I was hypnotized, and my cock was thumping out of my pants.

Then I watched her do things that made me want to come so badly that I could cry, but I was already there.

It hasn’t been that long. She just fucking made me want her really bad, then she tormented me intensely to make it seem like it was longer than it was. Now, I’m coming so fucking hard and my balls are so full and heavy that I’m certain that even after this cosmic blast, I’ll still be ready to go again in a very short period of time.

When my cock has given all the initial offering that it’s going to give, I fall helpless onto the bed, twitching with every touch knowing full well what’s next before she even speaks…

“I’m not through with you yet…”


A/N: Christian keeps referring to Maxime as “Gaston,” who is the male antagonist from Beauty and the Beast

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 81—More Melbourne Mischief

Happy Mother’s Day!

So, I simply delete smart-ass, snarky-ass, or disrespectful comments. I was addressing them at first, but with all that has gone on in my real life and the people I’ve lost—particularly as of late—and the things that I’ve gone through, this place over here is going to be completely drama-free for me. So, if I read the first three words, the first sentence, or whatever place where your comment looks like it’s going downhill, I stop reading and delete it. So, if you want to write an insult or something horrible or harmful just to see that shit on your own screen because you’re going to be the only one who sees it, then be my guest, because it’s immediate trash to me. I don’t read them anymore. The only drama on this page will be between the characters. Have a nice day! 😀 

Falala will like this chapter. 😉

Danger—Aussie accent ahead. Turn away now.

All other previous disclaimers still apply.

Chapter 81—More Melbourne Mischief

ANASTASIA

After we spend a good two hours or more in the aquarium, my husband has the great idea to go to an indoor market for lunch and to look around. He knows that I hate shopping and if I’m aching for an indoor market, I have the Marketplace on Pike Street. Another market in Australia isn’t going to impress me.

Oh, dear God, was I wrong!

Now, I’m not besmirching my beloved Pike Place, but when you see wares from different places that aren’t what you’re accustomed to, you can’t help but get lost in the splendor.

Although I skip past the sport shops and vitamin stores, I wander into this clothing and accessory shop called Pussycat Black. They have a lot of wonderful handmade and local wares, most of it with a vintage flare. I’m not sure what the concept is in the store, but a lot of the items appear to be grossly overpriced. Now, apparently, these prices shouldn’t mean anything to me because I have money to burn. However, just because I can burn it doesn’t mean that I want to. Nonetheless, I wander around with my husband and my bodyguard in tow, seeing if there’s anything that catches my eye to entice me to part with my money.

I see this one dress on the wall that I think is really cute. When I approach to get a closer look at it, I see a picture of the dress on a model and the damn thing is horrendous.

I find a couple of pairs of handmade resin earrings and a bracelet that I like, and I decide to get them even though they’re overpriced, too. I decide that there’s nothing else in the store that I want and head for the cashier to pay for my earrings.

“That’s all you’re getting?” Christian asks. “I would have thought this would definitely be your type of store.” I shake my head.

$129 striped T-shirt“They have some very quaint items in here—things I might even be tempted to wear, but there’s no way in hell you’re going to get me to pay $129 for a striped T-shirt.” I point to the white T-shirt with horizontal stripes. “Who came up with that idea?” He raises a brow.

“Well, maybe they’re catering to a certain type of clientele, baby,” he says.

“Yes, I can see that,” I say, “the type of clientele who just spend money for the sake of spending it.” He shrugs and I turn to the cashier who’s looking at me a bit distastefully. I can’t be angry with her. I am talking about her job after all.

“That’ll be $167,” she says a bit impatiently. Christian frowns.

“I thought you just got earrings and a bracelet,” he says.

“I did,” I say, twisting my lips at him before turning back to the cashier. I pull out my Amex Black and hand it to her with a smile. Her expression is originally a bit put off… until I hand her the card. They never see the name on the card, they just see the card. Black has a name all its own.

Yeah, bitch, I can buy your entire inventory. I just don’t want it.

“Thank you, ma’am. Have a good day,” she says, handing me my card and my wares once they’ve been paid for and bagged.

“Thank you—you, too,” I reply with no malice before leaving.

A short while later, I’m in this trading post called Acanthus and it’s reminding me of that simpler time again, when I had just signed the papers on my condo and the kitchen was in the process of being redone. I only had the quirky, mismatched dishes from my college years and planned for the time when I would buy all new kitchenware, flatware, glassware, and cooking utensils and pans for my new gourmet kitchen. I see beautiful ceramic chargers and vintage glassware and hurricanes from Portugal, jewelry from Spain and Italy. However, the thing that has me spellbound with nostalgia is a set of ceramic dishes in a watermelon motif. They are the gaudiest things I’ve ever seen, and I buy the whole set—two platters, two bowls, three pitchers, everything… the entire awful thing.

As the vendor wraps my dishes and puts them in shopping bags for Ben to carry, I spot Christian coming out of a bookstore, but not just any bookstore… a cookbook store! I can’t help but wonder what the hell made him go in there. Then I remember that lovely dinner he made for me. I’m sure he had help, but all parties involved swear he did all the work. It doesn’t matter, though—the thought and the effort were delightful, and the dinner was delicious.

“What did you get?” I say, walking over to him and his shopping bag. He shamelessly reaches into his bag.

“They had a copy of the original Joy of Cooking from the 50’s. I thought Gail would get a real kick out of trying to teach me some of these,” he says with a laugh. “And I got these so that I wouldn’t be a total failure in the kitchen.” He shows me another book called Quick Easy Recipes Cookbook and a third one, Cooking Basic for Dummies. He’s really serious about this cooking thing.

“I could show you a recipe or two,” I offer coyly with a small shrug, “if you like.” He smiles.

“I think I’d like that a lot,” he says sincerely before planting a tender kiss on my forehead and taking my hand.

We walk by a shop called Lollie Lovers and I’m almost tempted to go inside—candy as far as the eye can see! Then, I suddenly have another flashback…

The Great Candy Caper of Anguilla.

Needless to say, I decide against going into Lollie Lovers.

Further into the marketplace, we stumble on a shop called Pompous Paws. It’s full of the cutest outfits for pets and I suddenly get the strangest urge.

“I want a pet, Christian,” I say, still looking inside the store, “besides the fish.”

“A pet?” he says in horror. “You want a pet? You mean something that has to be cleaned and chased and shits all over the house?” I turn and look at him.

“Yes,” I say firmly. “I want a pet. It’ll be good for the kids, too. We don’t have to decide on anything immediately, but keep it in mind—I want a pet.”

I walk ahead and look at the other shops. I’ve planted the seed, Mr. Grey, I’m not going to change my mind. The only questions to be answered here are what and when.

After I locate three lovely V-neck sweaters for Christian in The Cozy Possum, I realize that my wares will soon be more than I can carry, and I pop into a little store called By Avalon and purchase two shopping bags that serendipitously read, “Hooray!!! I remembered to bring my shopping bag.” I can’t decide if I like the black canvas with the white writing or the gray canvas with the black writing, so I buy one of each and continue with my shopping.

Hooray Bag Gray

Apparently, they tease you with the shops near the door and their “quirky” resin jewelry and $130 T-shirts when the real gold mine is clearly further inside the marketplace. Allepo Style and Fabric Fever have silk and cashmere scarves and soft and luxurious textiles that go on and on for miles and will have me in beautiful wraps, wraparounds, and custom-made genie pants for a year! I’m trying not to go overboard as I choose meter after meter of gorgeous fabric and scarves and then wonder how I’m going to get it back… to wherever we’re going to take it. Just as I’m pondering my dilemma, I see Jason walking in my direction, but no Christian.

“Where’s Christian?” I ask when he closes the space between us.

“He’s in one of the shops over there,” he says. “Do… you need me to take something?”

“Yes, but where the hell are you going to take it?” I point to the pile of fabric building up at the cash register along with the scarves, sweaters, and dishes in poor Ben’s arms.

“Whoa,” Jason says under his voice. “Wait here… and carry on.”

Carry on what? I’ve got enough fabric here to—ooo, that’s pretty…!

A few minutes… and several more meters of fabric later, Jason and Christian return, each with a piece of rolling luggage.

“Jesus, what did you buy?” I ask. Christian holds up his shopping bag from the bookstore and one other shopping bag almost the same size, but I can’t tell what’s in it. I frown.

“Why the luggage, then?” I ask.

“These are for you,” he says.

“Oh, you’re not serious!” I say, affronted. “Are you being sarcastic right now?”

“Really?” Christian says in disbelief. “Let me think.” He pretends to ponder the situation, then points to the mountain of fabrics—that has actually grown since I spoke to Jason.

“Yeah, no,” he says firmly. I twist my lips at him.

“Asshole,” I say, turning away from him.

“Have you paid for these yet?” Jason asks, looking at the stack of fabrics.

“No,” I reply petulantly.

“Give her your card,” Christian says. I glare at him. Reading my expression appropriately, he adds, “I didn’t say you had to stop shopping.  I said, ‘give her your card.’” I twist my lips again and hand the cashier my card who smiles at me accommodating. I think I’ve bought enough anyway.

“So, you’re just going to drag all this stuff around?” I ask as the cashier begins the tedious process of ringing me up and folding the fabric.

“No,” Jason says, “As soon as the boss told me where you were, I secured a car.” Okay, now I am perturbed.

“So, you were just so positive that I would go overboard?” All three men raise bemused glares to me. Jason grabs the first stack of folded fabrics.

“Was I wrong?” he asks with sarcastic blinks.

He’s got me fucking dead to rights and I hate it! I’m standing there pouting for a while until my eyes catch the most beautiful and brilliant flashes of blue. It’s almost as if the world falls away and I’m floating across the marketplace to the magnificent creations that make these really cute and expensive resin pieces that I bought earlier look like cheap pieces of plastic.

This ungodly beautiful creation called opals.

Dear God, I’ve died and gone to jewelry heaven. I don’t remember seeing anything this exquisite since I first saw the Chanel collection. How much of this will Christian let me buy?

I have no idea how long I’m in this booth talking to this vendor about the different kinds of opals—black opals, white opals, fire opals, boulder opals, crystal opals; solid opals vs doublets or triplets. Before the conversation is over, I’ve fallen in love with three sets of earrings, six pendants, four rings, and a bracelet… but I’m a bit stunned that everything is labelled “simple and classic,” yet priced upwards of $3,200 each!

Christian and Jason have taken the luggage with my latest acquisitions out to the car while Ben stands nearby as I shop. Christian most likely has my Amex and I’m going to have to justify this purchase when he gets back. The stones are all the same, but different, and I don’t know which ones I want. The thought of putting any of them back is sheer torment!

I’m trying to make my choices before the men come back to the booth, but it’s agonizing. The opal ring with the red in it is the hardest to find and most sought-after, but the cuts that have the combination deep-blue with iridescent green stones are so stunning. And the pendant with the sunshine yellow burst—I haven’t seen another piece like that in the entire booth! Then I have so many rings and earrings… one bracelet, I think, so I can probably keep that one. I’m toiling over which ones to reject when I see my husband’s arm extending over my shoulder handing a credit card to the vendor.

“Which ones, sir?” the vendor asks.

“All of them,” he says without flinching. I’m certain that I’m standing there with the deer-caught-in-headlights look right now. Christian turns his attention to me.

“You were right about the resin jewelry and the T-shirt. This?” he says, gesturing to the exquisitely beautiful array of jewelry laid out over the counter. “You want this.” He turns back to the vendor.

“Ring ‘em up. Nice boxes, too, please,” he says.

“Yes, sir, of course,” the vendor says gladly. Christian turns back to me.

“Sometimes, you remember who we are, and sometimes I think you forget,” he says. “There’s nothing that you want that you can’t have as long as we don’t have to kill someone or overthrow governments to get it… even stinky pets.”

At first, I feel very contrite, and then I feel warm all over.

“How do I say, ‘thank you’ without turning into a sappy, overexuberant pile of goo?” I ask.

“You just did,” he smiles before leaning down and placing a soft kiss on my lips. “Now, we’ve got a choice. We can go down to that last street down there and see what other things we can spend our money on, or I’ve just learned that there’s a food tour that’s about to begin. I’ve bribed one of the guides to let us slip in and tastes the sensations of the Market, or there’s probably a café or something…”

“Food tour!” I exclaim before he finishes his sentence. He laughs and leads me over to the food area… one of them anyway.

Where to begin?

The booths in the food court and meat alley are so unassuming, but dear God—so much food and the majority of it is produced locally! Let’s start with what I call the “Pesto Bar…” Every variety of olive—pitted, sliced or stuffed—in creation and “pestos” of any kind that you can imagine and even some that you can’t!

Beetroot, tzatziki, olive and eggplant, smoked salmon, something with feta, regular hummus, spinach and pine nuts…

Some of the combinations are like, “why would you do this?” But they were delicious!

We pass by a tea hut and the fragrances are divine. The tea is sold in bulk and I see apple pie tea, Eva’s organic yummy-tummy tea, velvety vanilla chai tea, sleepy slumber tea, and cold and flu tea—complete with a warning to seek medical advice for colds. I take notes as we were passing the bulk spices to see which ones may be available at the Marketplace in Seattle and which ones I may want to have imported. I’m thinking that I might want to start doing some cooking again. I’m missing F&L Ana and I need to get her back.

This of course has me looking at the various fancy cookware available, but I won’t look to that until I know exactly what we have at the Crossing first.

Over to Dianne’s Delights we wander and the apparent “queen” of the antipasto. Oh, dear Lord, the taste sensations here! More marinated olives, fresh falafel and tabouli, Tasmanian smoked salmon, marinated bocconcini, and peppers and deli meats stuffed with the creamiest and most delicious cheeses.

Next, we have a lobster ravioli tasting at the Pasta Shop, then on to the French Shop for tastings of exotic cheeses, including Saint Angel Triple Cream and Truffle Brie.

Truffle Brie… $120 per kilogram! Who the fuck are they feeding???

Nonetheless, I get to taste this heavenly cow’s milk from the gods during the tour along with divine marinated artichokes and amaretto figs before we head over to the Polish Deli for more delicious deli meats coupled with some French Ciabatta from Andrew’s Specialty Gourmet Breads. Now, I don’t know who my husband bribed, but I get the feeling that we’re getting a bit more than what’s normally on the tour because I’m getting healthy pieces of meat and large chunks of bread, and I didn’t see anybody else get any of that truffle Brie.

But who am I to complain?

Until…

We make our way down the meat and fish hall where all the fresh food is butchered. I could have gone my whole life without seeing the giant head of a raw salmon freshly butchered. While I appreciate the work that goes into providing these fresh foods from local growers and farms, I’m not that keen on seeing the preparation process in that much detail. It’s a good thing I’m not particularly squeamish, a point that was put to the test when I saw the fresh lamb brains.

Yum.

Once we get past the indoor slaughterhouse… okay, I’m being dramatic, but still… we get to chomp on some fresh fruits and nuts.

Outside, we get fresh, hot doughnuts from the doughnut truck before we all sit down to a lovely board of fresh cut cheese, exotic fruits, and delicious wine at the outdoor picnic area where the organic fruits are sold. And thus ends our tour.

“That was utterly delightful,” I say as I finish my wine. I lean in to my husband. “I’m not crazy, am I?” I say. “We got a little extra on this tour, didn’t we?” He does that back-and-forth kind of nod.

“The coordinator might have recognized me,” he admits. I frown.

“American?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“Australian, but he knows who I am.” He finishes his wine. I sit for a moment and enjoy the sunshine, doing a little people watching. When I look back at Christian, he’s staring at me… maybe through me, I’m not sure. His mind is definitely somewhere else.

“Christian?” I say his name trying to get his attention. A slight eye movement indicates that I’ve broken his daydream.

“Are you having a good time?” he asks. That’s a strange question to come out of nowhere.

“Yes,” I say. “I went a little crazy in the marketplace, but yes, I’m enjoying myself immensely.”

“A little crazy?” he chuckles. “I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do with all those fabrics.”

“Fabrics,” I say incredulously as if testing the word.

“Yes, fabrics,” he repeats. “When Jason pointed you out and I saw the stack before you were even half-done, I knew that we’d be checking some more luggage.”

“Fabrics!” I repeat. “I easily bought nearly $50,000 in opals and you’re more impressed by the fabrics?” He twists his lips.

“We spent more than that on one piece at Chanel in Paris,” he points out. “You could’ve bought the whole damn store for all I was concerned.”

“Wow,” I say, shaking my head. “More money than sense.”

“It had nothing to do with the money,” he says, moving closer to me and putting his arm around my waist so that no one can hear our conversation. “It’s your eyes.” I examine him curiously.

“My eyes?” I question. He nods.

“When you were paying for your fabrics, you completely floated over to that booth and forgot all about your current purchase and your card—don’t do that again, by the way.”

What was the harm? I knew he and Jason were still there putting the fabrics and scarves in the suitcases, and the cashier wasn’t going to let them walk away without ringing me up. It was a simultaneous process, and he would have to sign the receipt, so I knew he would see the card. Nonetheless…

“Then, I was walking over to you at the booth, you were looking at those pieces with a longing and admiration that I can’t explain, and I knew that you were trying to decide which ones you were going to put back. But most of all…”

He slides over so that our hips are touching, and I suddenly feel very warm… again.

“Those stones were stunning,” he says, his mouth so close to my face that I can feel his warm breath on my neck and the shell of my ear. “The blues in some of those pieces… they’re perfect! Like your eyes… right at that moment…”

His lips gently brush the skin of my neck before his tongue burns a trail up to my ear. I shiver as he licks around the shell of my ear, then whimper at the feeling of his mouth closing gently over my lobe. A jolt shoots through me when he sucks it into his mouth and gives it a sensual nip.

“Stop,” I whisper helplessly. I don’t have a spare pair of panties with me, Mr. Grey.

“I will,” he says, giving my earlobe one final suck and kiss, “for now, but tonight… you’re all mine!”

I take in a deep breath and release, his promise hanging in the air between us.

“Now, Mrs. Grey,” he says, putting only a little space between us. “What would you like to do next?”

“Well, I know Jaxon and the girl at the market both said something about ‘Fed Square,’ so let’s give that a shot.” He nods and stands from the table.

“Fed Square it is,” he says, taking my hand and helping me up from my seat. The parking lot isn’t very far away, and Jason leads us to a black Cadillac SRX parked there.

Well, that’s not pretentious at all.

Anyway, we climb inside and about 15 minutes later, he drops us at Federation Square. When I step out of the SUV, I’m captivated by a beautiful church literally right across the street.

“Is that St. Paul’s Cathedral?” I ask, pointing at the church.

“Yeh, sheila,” a passerby says without stopping.

“We may not have enough time to do both,” Christian warns. “Our flight to Adelaide leaves in a few hours.” Hmm…

“If we only have time for one, I think I’d rather see the cathedral,” I tell him. I can imagine just more shopping, photo ops, and site-seeing in Fed Square. I’d rather have the photo ops in St. Paul’s.

There are no services going on right now, so the photo ops are endless. There are people just chilling outside on the balustrades like college kids milling around the student center having lunch. Even though I’m about to enter what is clearly a very majestic temple, you know that you’re visiting a place that truly belongs to the citizens of the city.

The plaque just outside the door proudly boasts that the stonework of the church was restored between 1963 and 1967 and the undertaking was made possible by “gifts of the churchpeople and other citizens.” Yeah, it belongs to the people.

So, let’s start with the 15-foot-tall stained-glass doors. Honestly, I don’t know how tall they are, but the guy standing in front of the door wasn’t even half as tall as the door and he’s an easy six feet. You can easily make out the depiction of the four books of the Gospel in the beautiful stained glass, which casts a welcome light into the large sanctuary.

There are all kinds of historical bits and pieces to be seen here and heard there, but with a limited amount of time ahead of me, I’m more interested in the features and the stunning architecture.

There are amazing stained-glass windows throughout with intricate dedication plaques detailing to whom the windows are dedicated. There are numerous other plaques commemorating the lives and contributions of several other citizens, not only to the church, but to the commonwealth as well, including but not limited to the lives lost in wars throughout the years. One such plaque honors the shipmates of the H.M.A.S Australia who were killed in action during World War II, all of the plaques marked with the profound words, “Lest we forget.”

The detail in the architecture is a thing of wonder—the stories in the glass windows and the Narthex screen; the eight-point Persian tile that boasts eight titles for the Messiah; the majestic columns of the nave and the intricate carvings in the pulpit and the archbishop’s throne. The floors are made of imported granite, marble, and alabaster tiles and the lectern at the altar is an impressive brass eagle that holds a large bible on its back. Even the large baptism immersion font off to the right is a sunken pool of luxurious marble.

The Chapel of the Ascension is marked for quiet prayer and spiritual meditation. As I enter this seemingly sacred space, I can’t help but think of that scene from that movie from the 50’s with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember, when he visits his grandmother and Kerr’s character takes a moment to pray in the chapel.

I finally tire of looking at the collection of plates and cushions utilized by different Australian dignitaries and decide to take a seat in the main sanctuary to rest my feet. The pews are much more comfortable than I expected them to be.

Ben informs us that Jason has procured something for them to eat since they didn’t partake in the foodie tour with us and asked if we were going to be leaving the sanctuary anytime soon. Christian assures him that we will stay here and rest until they have finished their meal, which they will be eating just outside the door on the balustrades where I noticed others sitting when we entered. We won’t have enough time to see Federation Square before we have to go to the airport, so we just relax here in the sanctuary.

My mind wanders to the conversations that Laura and I had and the many things I want to change when I get home—my way of thinking and handling things; the press and all the horrible things they say about me and my family; all the preconceived notions which, contrary to what we had hoped, had truly not been dispelled by the exposé we did a while back.

We put our children and our lives in the spotlight for nothing as far as I’m concerned. Yes, a few people have called and requested to become part of the complaint and investigation that I hope to lodge on the licensing board, and I don’t know the extent of the donations and such that can measurably be attributed to the interview, but overall, it seems to just have brought more vermin out of the woodwork. I’ll have to do what I can to combat its effects while trying to decide what other steps I need to take in my screwed-up life. It all seems pretty clear now—the path and steps that I need to take—when just a few days before, it seemed so mottled…

“There’s a reason why Jason has to be so detached when we’re out of the country.”

Whe… wha… huh? Where did that come from?

I look over at my husband who’s gazing ahead at the altar… at least I think he’s looking at the altar.

“What?” I ask bemused.

“There’s a reason why Jason has to be so detached when we’re out of the country,” he repeats. “You never know what’s lurking around the corner, especially when you’re in a foreign country. When you start exchanging the type of money that I do, you’re either very talented or you’re corrupt. I’ve run into both—the latter more than I’d like to admit.”

I don’t say anything. It’s not like I really know how to respond to that.

“I sprung it on him last minute… going to Madrid. He had no time to prepare. I don’t even know how he was able to get the plane cleared and in the air so quickly for an overseas flight.”

I’m not sure I want to hear this right now, but for some reason, he needs to tell me.

“We didn’t know what we were walking into, and I didn’t care. I was reckless and foolhardy, feeling the old Christian Grey that didn’t need anything or anybody—at least that’s what I was trying to get myself to believe. It’s very hard to explain what was going through my mind… or wasn’t going through my mind. Thoughts of my life in Seattle, my babies, you… they were physically painful, so I just… didn’t.”

I fight the tears burning in my eyes. I’ve cried enough over this situation, and I’m resolved not to cry over it anymore.

“I was so hard and cold, I didn’t recognize myself, but I focused on that feeling, that demeanor, and it turned out that I needed it. Capito is a crook, and I may have found it out eventually, but I certainly wouldn’t have found it out had I not surprised him in Madrid.”

So… what’s the thrust—I’m supposed to be grateful that you ran out on your family, your wife and children, because it saved you from a bad business deal?

“I requested to see the factory that he was holding out on. He took us on a wild goose chase to keep us from getting to the factory. He was leading us outside of the cellular signal area and we had to think fast or possibly end up out in the fields somewhere cut off from civilization.”

Uh-oh… I’m not liking the sound of that.

“Jason’s fast thinking and incredible bluffing skills got us out of that situation, but we still weren’t out of the woods yet…”

He stares straight ahead the entire time he tells me about the trip to the tiny little sweat shop this guy Capito took him to and I’m still waiting for the reason Jason couldn’t at least let me in on where they were and that everything was okay…

And that’s because everything was not okay.

“We’re on our way back to the hotel when Jason notices that we’re being followed. Once again, he has to think quickly to keep us from ending up in a ditch somewhere…”

A ditch somewhere…?

“We had no backup, it was just me and Jason as backup was at the factory waiting for us to arrive, which we never did. It was like something out of a spy movie. We’re flying down these narrow streets, swerving and curving at breakneck speeds, coming up with an immediate plan while flying through the streets of Madrid. We didn’t know who was in that car and we didn’t know what they wanted. We only knew that they didn’t care that we were aware that they were following us. We put enough distance between ourselves and the car to dash into an alley and jump out, armed with our Glocks…”

Oh, dear God!

“We had seconds to duck into a couple of nearby doorways before they were right behind us jumping out of their car. I was trying to remember everything Ray taught me in a split second because it was coming down to this moment.”

Even though it’s in the past and he’s alright, sitting here in front of me whole and well, my heart is racing as I anxiously await the outcome of the confrontation.

“I wasn’t taking any chances,” he says. “The guy on my side the of alley saw my Glock before he saw me. I had the fu—…” He pauses, no doubt remembering that he’s in a church. “I had that thing aimed right between his eyes. He could probably look down the barrel and tell you the brand name of the bullet in the chamber. Had he sneezed wrong, his brains would have been splattered all over that alley.”

I’m trying so hard not to lose my cool as he recounts this story to me. He’s right—this is one really bad cops-and-robbers tale.

His eyes are still transfixed in front of him as he recalls that day in Madrid.

“I guess the other guy was too focused on me because Jason had time to come out of his hiding place and plant his Glock right in the guy’s skull. It turns out that they weren’t armed, thank God, or if they were, they never had time to pull their weapons.

“Jason speaks Spanish and he said something to the other guy—I have no idea what. The only word I recognized was amigo. The guy says something about Capito wanted them to make sure that we got to our hotel. Of course, he did. He didn’t want us to take any detours because we knew where the real factory was. We just didn’t know what the real factory was.”

I already know this is bad news.

“Once we ‘convinced’ our escorts that we were okay to find our way back on our own, we made plans to meet Cox and Williams at the factory that night. When we got there…”

He stops talking and I turn to him, waiting for him to continue the tale. He doesn’t.

“What, Christian?” I ask, urging him to finish the story.

“I’d like to know why nearly every major operation or successful venture that I’ve seen over the past couple of years has some kind of ties to human cargo,” he says, his voice low. Oh, dear God, what did he see?

“Human…?”

“Young girls,” he says. “They were loading young girls into trucks. The building was outfitted just for this. When we saw the plans, we thought they were barracks for sleeping between shifts. They were dorms… storage dorms…” He trails off again.

“Oh, my God,” I breathe. He swallows hard.

“There were four of us, each with a Glock. There were at least four guys on that loading dock. We’re certain there were more in the truck and definitely more inside the warehouse for the number of girls they were moving. Best case scenario, we’re outnumbered, and we get into a shoot-out with several guys who have guns just like ours and we all end up dead. Worst case scenario, they have semi-automatic assault rifles and we all end up dead along with several young girls. There was nothing we could do.”

He shakes his head and continues the story without turning left or right.

“We hauled ass out of there before we were discovered, and I helplessly turned the information over to Alex to contact the proper authorities. I thought about the families of these poor girls and just for a brief moment…”

He pauses again.

“That was the first time I thought of you, even for a second… but I was an asshole, and it was only for a second. I refocused back on the situation at hand—on Capito and the hotel and what was right in front of me right at the moment… as did Jason. Our sanctuary was that hotel suite. That’s when he could talk to his wife and his daughter, let his guard down and find out what was going on back home… back home…”

His voice trails off for a moment, then he clears his throat.

“I detached,” he admits. “I couldn’t feel or think about feeling while I was there. There was too much anger—too much rage, and even though I didn’t know it at the time, so much danger. I didn’t really feel anything else until my mother called wanting to know what was going on and told me about your fall. That’s when I demanded that Jason tell me everything.

“And he did.

“He knew every single detail from your first, teary-eyed phone call to the hours you spent in the window seat in the twins’ room to the very moment you moved to the guest room. He knew that I left, but he never knew why. He managed to compartmentalize all this information, but still stayed laser-focused to keep me safe as I went blindly chasing after danger. He knew everything that was going on with you every second from the other side of the world and when I asked for it, he gave me every detail. He’s a professional. He had to remain professional. He had to keep his mind clear, or any one of those situations could have very well ended in our demise.

“I just wanted you to know that he wasn’t ignoring you,” he continues. “He didn’t disregard your feelings or what you were going through back in Seattle. He had to protect me—really protect me, and his task required incredible focus and skill. Under the circumstances, he had to trust the staff in Seattle to take care of you and the twins. He couldn’t protect us both, or I may not have come back alive.” He turns to look at me for the first time in the entire conversation. “I just wanted you to know.”

I swallow hard at the thought that Jason had to be Christian’s veritable eyes and ears in an unknown situation that turned out to be quite dangerous and could have been worse had he stumbled into that warehouse.

“Thank you for telling me,” I say, my voice cracking. He entwines his fingers with mine and kisses the back of my hand. I quickly wipe a tear from my cheek with the other one.


CHRISTIAN

“Sir?”

Butterfly and I have been sitting in silence in the sanctuary of St. Paul’s Cathedral for quite some time now—I’m not really sure how long. She didn’t ask me any questions about the details of Madrid. She never has, really, and this time was no different. I have no idea why I told her this story, especially after Laura explained her version of the Boogeyman to me. God, I hope I haven’t inadvertently opened a proverbial can of worms.

I look over my shoulder and see Jason and Lawrence standing a few pews behind us in the middle aisle of the church—close enough for us to hear them, but far enough to give us some privacy.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, sir, but we really should be getting to the airport,” he says. I nod and look over at Butterfly, who’s staring ahead at the same altar I used to give me strength to tell her that terrible story.

“Are you okay?” I ask. She takes a shuddering breath and releases it before she nods and stands. She put her bag on her shoulder and proceeds a few steps down the aisle until she’s face-to-face with Jason. Looking up into his eyes, she stands on her toes and plants a kiss on his cheek. My friend and head of security is quite nonplussed as his brow furrows and he looks over at me.

“Just say ‘thank you,’” I instruct him. Jason touches his cheek and raises one brow.

“Thank you,” he says to Butterfly, his voice rising at the end as if he’s asking a question.

“Thank you,” she says softly, wrapping her arms around his waist and pulling him close to her. He looks at me puzzled and I simply gesture to him to return the hug. He shrugs and returns the hug.

“Whatever it is, you’re welcome, Your Highness.”

*-*

We land in Adelaide at just before 10pm. We didn’t bother eating on the plane because I have plans for us when we get to the hotel.

We check into the penthouse suites of the Peppers Waymouth Hotel with our weekend luggage and the items that I retrieved from the shops in Melbourne. Butterfly is a bit more introspective than I like and I’m hoping I haven’t completely soured her mood with my tale of the events of Madrid.

I dismiss Jason and Lawrence to their suite and head to the bathroom. It’s too late to call Seattle and talk to the twins, so I call down to the front desk to prepare the meal I ordered for our arrival and begin to set up the en suite.

I begin a bath in the large sunken tub with essential lemongrass oil and chamomile bubble bath I acquired from the Marketplace. I set various candles on the ridge of the tub and once the water begins to rise and the aroma fills the bathroom, I raise the shade that separates the bedroom from the bathtub to reveal the ambient light through the glass between the rooms. Butterfly stands frozen gazing through the glass at me as I finish the preparations in the en suite. I watch her sit on the bed facing the glass and place her hands daintily in her lap. When the steam from the bath causes the window to fog, I lean forward and wipe the condensation from the glass and smile at her. She graces me with a coy smile of her own.

I leave the bathroom and as I’m about to proceed to her, the bell rings for the door.

“Stay put,” I say. She smiles and I leave the bedroom, go through the living room and answer the front door. The bellhop brings in a chilled local champagne with strawberries and two glasses and informs me that our special meal will be ready in about twenty minutes. That’s plenty of time to bathe my Butterfly and set up the bedroom.

Leaving the champagne on the dining table, I go back to the bedroom and help my Butterfly off the bed.

“How do you feel?” I ask. She nods.

“I feel fine,” she says softly. I nod back. Hopefully, her melancholy has passed, but I’m going to do my best to make her feel good.

I unzip her dress and allow it to drop down her hips. She pushes it off and it falls to the floor. I pick it up and lay it across the chair, then turn my attention to her strapless bra. The pads are a bit moist inside when I undo it, so I know that her breasts are heavy with milk and need to be relieved. I instruct her to walk to the en suite, which she does, still clad in her blue denim wedges and a pair of white, lacy French cut panties. I watch her walk for a few steps, then follow her into the bathroom.

Butterfly Hair Clip Chapter 81Simple Twisted Bun Chapter 81“Have a seat,” I instruct, and she sits on the side of the bathtub. I crouch down and undo her shoes, removing them one by one. She doesn’t take her eyes off me and her lips part as her breath quickens and her hair falls over her shoulders. I don’t want it to get wet, so I reach into my bag of wares from the Marketplace and pull out an expandable butterfly clip. It wasn’t what I had in mind when I asked the cashier for a butterfly clip, but she assured me that with the length of Butterfly’s hair, this one would work better.

She was right.

I fashion my wife’s hair into a simple bun like the cashier told me and gently secure the teeth of one comb on each side of the bundled mass of hair, capturing the bun in the elastic bands between each comb. I’m proud of my accomplishment, especially since this is my first time doing it.

“Come,” I beckon, and she stands for me. I push her tiny panties down her legs and take her hand as she steps into the bath.

“Too hot?” I ask as she appears to flinch when her feet touch the water. She shakes her head.

“No,” she purrs, “it’s perfect.” She takes the sides of the tub and slides that luscious body down into the water, moaning the entire time, and I have to coax my cock to behave. I didn’t think to get any kind of bath pillow for her, so I roll one of the bath towels into a bolster and position it behind her head.

“Comfortable?” I ask. She nods.

“Yes, but my milk is going to start expressing on its own in a minute…”

“That’s okay,” I tell her. “It’s good for the bath and I’m sure you need relief.” Not that I’m complaining, but her breasts literally spilled from that bra when I released them. She nods.

“I do,” she concurs, sinking into the tub. I smile.

“I’ll be right back.” I leave the room and go to the dining room. I retrieve the champagne and glasses first, taking them to the en suite before going back for the strawberries. I pour a glass for my lady and proceed to feed her a few strawberries while she relaxes in the tub. With my free hand, I gently stroke each of her breasts, allowing the tender caress and the hot water to coax the milk from her heavy glands. The bubbles dissipate a little as they mix with the milk, but Butterfly doesn’t seem to mind. I know I don’t.

After a few minutes of fondling my wife’s breasts and feeding her strawberries, I refill her champagne glass and take to the task of cleaning that beautiful body. I remove my pants and shirt, but remain in my boxer briefs and sit on the edge of the tub, my feet in the water with her. I start with her feet and begin to scrub the grit of the day away with a bath sponge. I move up her legs to her calves, her knees, her thighs. I skip to her shoulders, her arms, her chest and breasts, her back…

Once she has finished her second glass of champagne, I help her stand and gently scrub the rest of her back, her beautiful ass, that luscious peach at the junction of her thighs. She’s thoroughly aroused as I use the sponge to rinse her clean, squeezing the water over her skin to rinse away the rest of the bubbles. I step out of the tub first, then help her out and wrap her in a bath blanket, pleased that I managed not to get her hair wet.

“Do you need your breast pump, or are you okay?” I ask as I dry her body. She reaches up and takes one of her breasts in her hand and gives it a gentle squeeze. A few drops of milk gather on the nipple and drip down to the floor…

And my mouth waters.

I can’t help but lean down and take the soft, pink thing in my mouth, licking the sweet nectar from her skin. She moans involuntarily and I realize that I don’t want to take her all the way to the edge just yet. I pop her nipple out of my mouth and kiss it gently before bringing my eyes to hers.

“Breast pump, I think,” she breathes, “just for a bit, they’re… kind of light… just not empty.”

Okay… I have to get this woman set up on her breast pump right this second or my plans for seduction are going to be shot down the tubes by the instant need to fuck! I instruct her to have a seat on the banquette bench and I help her get the breast pump attached before I kiss her and leave the en suite. I take a deep breath to compose myself once I’m on the other side of the door, then I proceed to the closet with the extra linens to get another bath blanket.

It’s a good thing, too, because while I’m standing there, the doorbell to the suite rings again. It’s most likely our dinner and I’m standing here in my skivvies. I reach into the linen closet to get a towel and find a terrycloth robe folded in there.

Thank God.

I retrieve another bath blanket before donning the robe and answering the door.

“Your meal, sir,” the bellhop says, standing at the door and awaiting instructions. “Where would you like it?”

“You can just bring it inside,” I say, walking away from the door and going to the bedroom to retrieve my wallet. I get a glance of my wife through the glass in the bathroom. She has switched the breast pump to the other breast.

Don’t stand here too long, Grey. There’s a hot meal waiting in the next room…

The other hot meal… in the other next room.

I pull the door shut and return to the living room.

“Thanks,” I say, handing him a bill out of my wallet.

“Thank you, sir!” he says, happily, and I assume I gave him a hundred. Once he’s gone, I put the bath blanket on the rolling table carrying the food and roll it into the bedroom.

Let’s see if we can catch lightning in a bottle twice.

I lay the bath blanket over the bed and place my other essential oils on the nightstand— muscle and joint oil for her shoulders, back, and feet; unscented body and massage oil for those delicate places; and jasmine for some aroma therapy. I go to the bathroom to retrieve her and she’s just rinsing her breast pump.

“There wasn’t much milk in them, but I just wanted to be sure not to make a mess,” she says. I take her face in my hands.

“It’s never a mess, baby,” I say. “You nourish our children with those two miracles, and when we’re alone, I think it’s very sexy.” I kiss her gently and pick up her champagne glass. “Your glass is empty,” I say filling it again.

“Are you trying to get me drunk, Mr. Grey?” she says.

“No, just relaxed,” I say, taking her hand and leading her to the bedroom. If I can get her into half the amorous state she was in when we were in Napa, I will have achieved my goal. Here’s hoping.

I sit her down on the bed and retrieve the candles from the bathroom, placing them strategically around the bedroom before lighting two sticks of lotus incense in burners. When I look over at her, she has finished what’s left of her champagne and the candlelight flickers off her face while casting yet another ambient glow around the room. She looks ethereal, but this time, I’m going to feed her before I ravish her. I remove my robe and join her on the bed.

I uncover the plates and trays for dinner and I’m very pleased with what I find—cracked lobster claws and split lobster tails with mushroom quinoa risotto, prosciutto-wrapped green beans, Brussels sprouts tossed with pomegranate, and fresh herb Italian bread with sweet cream butter, all accompanied by a local Moet. I pour her a glass of Moet and hand it to her. Then, I begin feeding us both from the healthily-stacked plates of lobster.

“Mmm,” she purrs, “That’s superb.”

“I’m very glad you like it,” I reply. I taste the lobster myself and I must agree, it’s very good. “I hope the day was enjoyable for you.”

“It was,” she agrees. “I had a wonderful time at the aquarium and tasting the food in the Marketplace was a real treat.” I feed her more of the lobster and Brussels sprouts with pomegranate. “I never would have thought to combine those two, but that’s a very tasty combination,” she declares. I taste the combination.

“Hmm,” I say, “I’m not really a pomegranate man, but the way they seasoned and combined it, it’s really delicious.”

I continue to feed her and myself from all the dishes as we talk about everything and nothing. Some of our topics are humorous while others lean to the serious side. Nothing has soured my lady’s mood, thank God. We finish dinner and the bottle of Moet and move on to dessert. I chose two local favorites each for a separate taste sensation. First, we indulge in a tipsy cake, a pudding-like scone topped with caramelized fruit and brandy sauce and accompanied by a slice of roasted pineapple. In the words of my Butterfly, it’s divine.

The second confection—or combination of confections—is called sticks and stones. It consists of a mixture of chocolate bark, charcoal passionfruit pebbles, chocolate “soil,” crunchy chocolate twigs, and hazelnut custard.

“Lie down,” I instruct once we’ve finished our desserts. I help her get comfortable on her stomach and remove the butterfly clip from her hair, fanning it over the pillow and away from her body.

To my delight, there are more adult toy stores around Queen Victoria Market than I ever would have known. I didn’t find any in the market, but there were a couple that were just a few blocks away, so I was able to procure a few items to assist with tonight’s activities. I retrieve my goody bag from its hiding place along with a couple of hand towels from the en suite and remove the blindfold inside. We really didn’t need a blindfold—we could use just about anything, but I wanted one anyway… blue, like her eyes. I slide it over her head and adjust it on her eyes, telling her to relax.

Of course, we can’t have a massage without music, but I didn’t think about that until this moment. I retrieve my phone and open Pandora and type in the words “baby making music.” Some kid starts singing about his girl going to the club and I’m not sure that’s what I want until I listen for a minute and the song slows down talking about dancing in slow motion.

New music—hmm. I need to plan better next time, but I’ll just let this station play and hope for the best. I swear to God, I’ll throw that damn phone against the wall if it fucks up our mood.

I won’t deny myself the pleasure of feeling her hot soft skin against my cock, so I quickly remove my boxer briefs before I straddle her thighs.

I rub a mixture of the joint oil and the jasmine oil between my hands and begin a deep soothing massage on her shoulders and back. She moans her approval as I work my way down her spine to the small of her back, outlining little flowers and shapes on her tattoo while gently kneading and massaging away any lingering stresses from the day.

I masterfully use my fingertips and knuckles up and down the muscles of her back until she’s putty and mush on top of the bath blanket. I re-oil my hands and bring them down to her ass cheeks, massaging and kneading and coating her glorious derrière in the lightly scented oil. My God, her ass looks heavenly. I spread the oil into the crease and between her cheeks. I stay away from her core—for now—as I don’t want the scented oil to irritate that luscious pearl, but I thoroughly anoint her inner cheeks and rosette and watch her lick her lips as I stimulate the bundle of nerves.

I move off her thighs and kneel next to her, spreading the oil over her legs and thighs moving quickly to her feet. She sounds almost orgasmic as I apply pressure to the balls and heels, then sensually run my nail up the arch. She nearly leaps off the bed with that move.

So far, the music is cooperating with me as another sultrier tune begins and I strategically travel back up her legs, kneading and massaging the oil into the front and backs of her calves, then just the backs of her knees and the backs and insides of her thighs, paying a little extra attention to that one spot behind her knee that’s attached to her pleasure center. I push her legs apart just a bit, just enough, then continue my massage up the back of her thighs, cupping the crease right under her cheeks for my own enjoyment before teasing the top of her ass crack once more.

Once I’m satisfied that the oil is massaged well enough into her skin, I retrieve more items from the goodie bag—intimate wipes to clean my hands and to clean the items I want to use. I retrieve the next surprise from my goodie bag, clean it with the wipes and dry my hands, anointing both with the unscented oil before I move back to that beautiful ass.

I open her ass cheeks and circle her rosette with my oily finger. She gasps and it clenches ever so slightly, so I massage it again in sensual circles. Her hands clench on the pillows, then release as her back arches and her ass rises only slightly toward me.

Fuck, I’m getting hard.

As her ass rises towards me, I slide my hand between her legs so that my oily fingers run across her clit. She gasps loudly and mewls as I tease her gently, long slides with my oily hand. I feel her clit hardening and I don’t want her to come yet, so I slow my strokes and soften the pressure. I move my hand to her inner thigh so that my oily fingertips gently massage the aroused skin of her clit. Her breath is heavy and so sensual. I see gooseflesh rise on her back when I press my thumb between her cheeks and breach the opening of her rosette.

She moans quick and quietly, and I know that she’s enjoying herself. I am, too… watching her beautiful body respond to my ministrations and massages. I press my oily thumb a little deeper into her asshole and move my fingertips to the opening of her core. My fingers circle at both openings, preparing them for what I have planned next, and she squirms with pleasure, trying to control herself at the same time.

No need to control yourself, baby. I’m going to make you come—several times.

When her breathing has become panting, I take the oiled butt plug lying next to us and gently begin to push it inside of her. She takes a deep breath and I pause with the entry, pushing my middle fingers deeper into her pussy while massaging her clit with my index finger.

“You okay?” I breathe, almost unable to control myself.

“Yes!” she pants. “Keep going.”

Music to my ears.

I push the butt plug in a little further, and a little further, and a little further still, until her sexy ass swallows it and the blue jewel sits out over her rosette.

Fuck, I’m going to make you come so hard.

I push my whole hand between her legs from behind so that the middle finger runs back and forth over her clit while the index and third fingers massage her lips and the sides of her clit. She’s writhing and moaning in so much pleasure and her skin begins to flush. Too soon, but I continue the stroke bringing her right to the edge before I stop the stimulation.

“Please,” she mewls.

“Ssshhh,” I soothe, rubbing her inner thighs. “Don’t worry, baby… I’ll take care of you.” She takes a deep breath and relaxes into the bed. She was so close, it was cruel to pull her back like that. I’ll give her the first orgasm.

I open her legs a little more and straddle one of her legs so that she can’t close them, and it gives me such a beautiful bird’s eye view of her oily and wet, hot pink and ready pussy. I stick my hand into that hot, delicious mess and plunge my thumb into her core.

“Ah! Oh, God!” she cries out as she nearly leaps off the bed. The fingers of that same hand focus on that hot clit, around and around, over and under, massaging ever surface and side of the sensitive skin. Her panting is feverish as she raises her ass to me, affording me full and unfettered access to her pulsing core.

Her ass… mmmm…

I turn the butt plug in her ass, and she cries out again, unable to control her screams. Fuck, that shit is hot! I continue finger-fucking her, massaging that clit, and I gently start to pull the butt plug from her ass—not all the way, just enough to apply pressure to the rosette.

“Christian!” she pants. “God!”

I know, baby. Give it to me.

I pull the butt plug a little more, continue fucking with my thumb, and massaging with my fingers, over and over…

When I see the sheen through the oil and feel her body stiffening, her clit becoming firm, and her leg starts to tremble, I push the butt plug back into her ass hard…

And she detonates.

“Christian!” she screams as her body begins to convulse and her leg shakes uncontrollably. I keep massaging until she stops shaking, stops pulsing, and begs me to stop.

“Please… pleeeeaase…” she’s beseeching me, and I pause.

Pause…


A/N: Every time Falala said, “Opals! Opals!” I was like, “Falala, wait, it’s coming!” LOL.

Trey Songz—Slow Motion
Kelly Rowland—Motivation
Trey Songz—Love Faces
August Alsina—Kissin’ On My Tattoos
Bando Jonez—Sex You
Chris Brown—Poppin
Drake—Hold On, We’re Going Home
Jeremih—I Like ft. Ludacris

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

The Australia Picture Board can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-the-trip-to-australia/ and the pictures from today’s chapter are in the “Melborne” sections, and there are a lot of them!!

And of course, the regular Pinterest board is here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

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

~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 80—Melbourne Mischief

For those who didn’t know, I recently lost my brother. That’s why I’ve been a bit MIA.

I received this beautiful picture (Dot Art from Australia) from one of my favorite people and readers in the whole world. She has always supported me from the day that I knew of her existence, even if she didn’t understand or agree with what I was writing. Last year, she sent me snowflakes (with words inside) when we didn’t get any snow. This year, we got snow, lol. I can’t tell you how much this means to me. I will put it near my desk where I can see it every day (and where all the literal “magic” happens) to make sure that I remember why I love doing what I do. Thank you so much, Falala. I hope you don’t mind me sharing. My Muse is alight with love and gratitude. ❤

I also heard that the royal baby shares a birthday with our Falala. Happy birthday, darling!

Danger—Aussie accent ahead. Turn away now.

Oh, song lyrics in here, too. So, for those who don’t like song lyrics, you might want to skip that part, too.

All other previous disclaimers still apply.

Chapter 80—Melbourne Mischief 

ANASTASIA

“You should get a social media page,” Laura says as the four of us are enjoying dinner at the Paradise Restaurant. I look at her like she’s grown five heads.

“I can’t do that,” I reply.

“Why not?”

“Because Christian likes his privacy…” I look over at Christian.

“I didn’t say Christian should get a social media page,” she interjects. “I didn’t even say you and Christian should get a social media page. I said you should get a social media page. No offense, Christian.” To my surprise, my husband doesn’t protest.

“I’m an extension of Christian,” I tell her. “We’re in the public eye a lot—the press, the tabloids… If I sneeze, the gossip rags are printing that I have the flu before someone can say ‘bless you.’” She shakes her head.

“Ana, President Obama has a Twitter page. You need to be on social media. Everything that you’ve told me that you’re trying to do—exposure for your center, your battle with the medical licensing board—you can reach exponentially more people with a social media page.” I shake my head.

“I don’t know,” I tell her, still looking to Christian for backup and getting none. “We need to consult our public relations people.” She frowns again.

“You have to ask your public relations people if you can start an Instagram?” she asks bemused.

“Yes,” I say. “The simplest things can become wildfires if they’re not contained properly.”

“And there’s those monsters again…” she mumbles.

“No, no,” I tell her. “Those aren’t monsters. Those are harsh realities. Just before we came on this trip, we had just put a lawsuit to bed for an idiot who flashed me an offensive tattoo on live radio.”

“Ana,” Laura begins in disbelief, “are you honestly telling me that you two sued someone for having a bad tattoo?”

“No,” Christian finally interjects. “We sued him for being an asshole.”

“Oh, they’re doing that now in the states?” she says. “Maybe I need to go back for a while. There’s a few I’d like to drag through litigation—one in particular…”

“Ovah moi dedd body!” Jaxon says, drawing a chuckle from me and Christian.

“We didn’t sue him because of the tattoo,” I say, bringing the story back around, “But the tattoo started it. I was doing live radio shows for a while—just local stuff, but talking about the Center and my situation with the medical board. This jerk was on one of the highest rated radio shows in Seattle…”

I share the unflattering story of Rossiter flashing me on the air and subsequently assaulting my dad, the “mysterious” beating that led to the defamation suit, and Rossiter finally agreeing to leave town, all without using his name. Laura now frowns deeply and stares at me.

“Who exactly are you guys?” she asks. I sigh. Here we go…

“Take out your phone and Google ‘Christian Grey’ with an ‘e’ and ‘GEH Enterprises.’” She raises a brow.

“Google?” she says incredulously.

“Google,” I reinforce. She shrugs and takes out her phone. After swiping the screen, she taps some words into her phone… and then she’s silent for a solid three minutes.

“I take it you found him,” I say. She raises wide eyes to me.

“Jesus, Ana, this is you?” she asks. I shrug, not quite sure what she’s looking at. “He’s worth more than Jaxon’s whole fucking family! And they’re worth a lot!”

“Yeah, he’s got a penny or two to rub together,” I say.

“A penny?” she says incredulously. “Seriously, Ana?” She turns to Christian. “Industry giant with interests, even here in Australia. How do I not know who he is?”

“Well, I don’t know, but everybody else does,” I lament. “It was actually quite refreshing to be around people who didn’t know who we were.” She whistles and shuts the screen down.

“Well, at least you’re not the mob,” she says as she puts her phone away. Thank God! I didn’t want anything to get weird between us because of who we are.

Our dining experience in Paradise turns out to be just that… an experience, that is. To begin, the restaurant is themed like a garden… the Garden of Eden, if I were to guess. There are people—hosts and hostesses of sorts—interacting with the diners. They’re running around like water sprites or flower children or something, communing with the earth while they engage you in their folly. They have names like Blossom, Idalia, and Apollo, and they greet you at the door or they walk along with the server as he’s bringing you some spacy drink.

Blossom comes along with our first drink, a Frozen Paradise Daiquiri Fishbowl… and yes, it’s really served in a goldfish bowl—with four metal straws. In her spacy little way, she tells us about Paradise. She tells us about the water sprite in the swing hanging from the ceiling that’s about a whole story above us with a train from her dress that hangs all the way down to the floor. She then tells us the plight of the acrobatic fairies dangling from the cage-like crescent moon also hanging precariously from the ceiling. In addition to the servers, I’d say there’s about seven to ten performers that engage diners in conversation and interactive garden play.

The food leaves nothing to be desired. Beautiful, colorful dishes in natural and garden themes are as tasty as they are creative, and the four of us feast and fill on beautifully artistic presentations of exotic and delicious foods that we would never think to order if we weren’t on a luxury cruise, including exquisite cheeses, truffles, and delicacies that I can’t even pronounce, let alone recognize.

Our food has been consumed and our first drink devoured when Apollo follows the second server over to our table with yet another frozen drink. This one is inside of four separate globes with straws inside. It’s some kind of rainbow drink made with multicolor jellybean vodka and lemonade. When the server leaves, I take a sip of my drink while Apollo decides to “mime” out each of our names. He did a mini-dance representing the King of Pop for Jaxon. He crossed his body for Christian, which I thought was strange since Catholics—and not Christians—are known for crossing their body.

Not to be confused with an eagle or a seagull, I scissor my hands at the thumbs and gently flutter my fingers. Apollo immediately guesses a butterfly. Laura just makes a universal sign for the sun, so he calls her Solari. I have no idea why she did that, and I have no idea what physical representation he would have come up with for her name.

The entire establishment is multileveled, and you can explore it from a ramp that spirals around the edge and connects to each level. Once the meal is complete, I decide to stroll up the ramp and observe the goings-on of the establishment. Christian declines the invitation, deciding instead to “watch me walk.” I shrug, take my globe, and begin my stroll around the restaurant and lounge.

“He’s been attentive this evening,” Laura observes when we get to the second level. He’s always attentive, but she’s right… tonight more than usual.

“He has,” I acknowledge while observing the activities on the main floor. “What did you say to him?” I ask before sipping my drink.

“Nothing much,” she says, unfazed. “I think I may have just given him a different perspective of a situation he already knew.” I nod.

“Like you did for me,” I say, raising my eyes to her. She leans on the rail and faces me.

“It’s like I said, Ana,” she says, “same… but different.” She takes a sip of her drink. “Knowing what I know about the two of you now, I understand why he reacted how he did to our conversation. I wish I had known before, but I’m certain that I wouldn’t have handled it differently if I had.”

I’m not sure I’m at all comfortable with her digging into my husband’s brain that way. If you think my monsters are something, you aint seen nothin’ yet!

“Christian is… a strong personality, unwilling to show any weakness, but not incapable of feeling it,” I warn, a little more firmly than I intend.

“I know that, and so does he,” she says, again unfazed. “What I find so remarkable about this relationship is how protective the two of you are of each other. You fight hard, but you love harder. It makes for a very intense relationship, but if you’re not careful, it can also make for a very short lifespan.” I frown deeply.

“Are you talking about us or our relationship?” I ask, somewhat appalled.

“Both,” she says. “Your fires burn hot for each other, but if either or both of you dump all of yourselves into it at the beginning, there’s nothing of you left. Eventually, if you can’t always have that spark—that fire—that you feel right now, you’ll begin to resent each other for not being that person that lit that spark in the first place, and you’ll hate the fact that you lost yourself in the process. And let’s face it—that’s not good for your health, and neither is constantly worrying about the well-being of the other; not trusting their instincts to do and be the right thing, make the right decisions, or know what’s good for them and what’s not. You’re both protectors—even to your own detriment. You need to know when to protect and when to allow yourself to be protected.

“You must find a medium where you settle into happy contentment—where he looks at you the way that he’s looking at you right now not because you’ve detoxed and decompressed and you’re glowing from the spa and you’re wearing a knockout dress, but simply because the atmosphere of the room changed because you’re in it now.

“I don’t know why we met, Ana,” she says, turning back to view the activities below. “I don’t know what brought us together, but you already know that I’m a firm believer in fate and destiny and all things mystical. You meet me and a few days later, you’re highly unnerved by a spiritual disturbance and here I am… and you haven’t seen your shrink in weeks. Coincidence?”

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” I say, never looking at her.

“Let him be him,” she says, her voice comforting, “and you be you. Let life happen and take every advantage or opportunity to be happy. Prepare for the unexpected, but when the bad comes, work your way through it, and when you’re done, rejoice in overcoming it. And Ana, by no means am I telling you to love your husband less. I’m only stressing that you don’t forget to love you in the process. Am I making any sense?” I sigh.

“More than I would like to admit,” I say, moving away from the rail and walking up the ramp a little more. I’m the shrink. I should have known these answers long ago, and it took someone who has no fucking clue whatsoever to help me see the light and get through one of the biggest obstacles I’ve ever had to face. It makes be feel… different… about my profession and how things are handled… how people handle me…

“He adores you,” she says. And I him, I think to myself. “And he knows that we’re talking about him.” I look down at him and see his eyes fixed on me. I lean on the rail again and gaze at him—his sexy new haircut and how good he looks in his slacks and blazer, his shirt open just a bit at the collar… a button or two, I think.

He looks scrumptious, and my mouth waters just looking at him. I run my tongue over my straw, take a drink, then suggestively wipe the corners of my mouth.

“You two could fuck without even touching each other,” Laura observes. Her voice intrudes my thoughts and I look over at her.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” I lie, finishing my drink and placing it on the bar-ledge of the railing before beginning my trek back down the ramp.

“I’m sure you do,” she laughs, “and I’m sure you’ve done it more than once.” She falls in step behind me. “Don’t be ashamed of your passion, enjoy it! Most people live their entire lives never once feeling what the two of you feel for each other.”

“You confuse me,” I say when we get to the bottom of the ramp. “In one breath, you warn me about allowing my passion to burn too hard and in the next breath, you tell me not to be ashamed of it and to enjoy it. Which one is it?” She raises a brow at me.

“Don’t you know, doctor?” she asks, and I suddenly feel like I’m talking to Ace’s Smartastic ass again. I turn and begin to walk briskly away from her.

“Ana,” she calls firmly, and I stop, folding my arms and looking at her. I’m a little tipsy from the alcohol… maybe more than a little, but I’m still pissed.

“You don’t like that,” she says, closing the space between us. “Why?”

“I get tired of people assuming that because I’m a psychiatrist that I have all the mental answers. I don’t! If I did, I’d be on a mountain in Tibet somewhere, handing out valuable tidbits of knowledge while people came from all over the world just to hear my wisdom! I certainly wouldn’t be running away from dead people on an island and I certainly wouldn’t be seeing a shrink myself!”

There, I’ve said it. I don’t have all the answers. I never even claimed to have all the answers. Why do people assume that just because I have a Ph.D. and M.D. behind my name that I automatically have all the answers—even to my own problems? It’s infuriating!

“I see,” Laura says coolly. “That was presumptuous of me and I apologize.”

Suddenly, I’m taken aback by that statement. No one who ever expected me to know it all ever apologized to me. They just continued to argue that I should know… even Ace. Now, I’m wishing I had some of my drink left.

“What I should have said is that we’re human and we have to find happiness wherever we can. You and Christian find extreme happiness in your passion. Go with that, but in the process, please remember who Ana is. Go ahead and get lost in the passion… just don’t lose yourself completely. Does that make sense?”

That’s the same thing Michelangelo said to me when I talked to him about the whole submissive thing a while back. Now, Laura’s saying it, too… and Christian said something the other night about our scene, but my head is too cloudy to remember it right now.

“Can we please stop with the serious talk I need to have some fun,” I say almost in one breath. Laura smiles and as if on cue, Apollo meets us at the bottom of the ramp.

“Butterfly, Solaris, come.” I frown at first as he takes our hands and leads us through the clouds.

“Fly, Butterfly,” he says as he mimics the gesture I did earlier to denote my name, so I fly. He leads me and Laura to the stage and instructs her to “shine” because the flowers need sunlight to grow and the birds and butterflies need sunlight to flourish. On the other side of the stage is the girl who said something yesterday about my hickeys. She’s some kind of bird.

I won’t fuck with your flight if you don’t fuck with mine.

Luckily, we all have fun fluttering around the Garden of Eden in Paradise and there’s no need for a butterfly to take a bite out of a bird’s ass because she stays on her side of the garden.

It’s late when we emerge from Paradise, and it’s clear that Laura and Jaxon are feeling a bit amorous.

“Whadya sy we call it a noight, love?” Jaxon says suggestively to his wife.

“I’d say you lead, and I’ll follow,” she replies coquettishly. They turn their attention to us.

“Whaht’s tha plan foh tomorrow?” Jaxon asks. “OI see ya didn’t book any excuhrsions.”

“Well,” Christian says, “we’re just going to see what sites we can in the city. You know we’ll be debarking in Melbourne.”

“Yeah,” Laura whines with a frown and her shoulders fall. “That makes me sad. It was really great sailing with you guys, Ana,” she adds trying to hide her disappointment. “Do you know what time you’ll be leaving the ship?” Christian and I look at each other and he shrugs.

“Not really sure,” he says. “I guess we’ll wake whenever the sun wakes us, then have breakfast and leave after that.”

“Whoi don’t we meet fah brekky?” Jaxon says. “Have one lahst meal befoh ya shove off?”

“Oh, that sounds so depressing,” Laura says, “but let’s. I’ll help you set up a Facebook and Twitter page so that we can keep in touch.” I raise my brow at her. “You don’t have to use your real name. Just let me know if you decide to change it.” I nod.

“Okay, that sounds like a plan. Christian?” I say.

“How’s 10:00?” he asks.

Pehrfect!” Jaxon says. “We’ll see yah in tha mohrnin’.”

Once a slightly distressed Laura heads off to be comforted by her husband, Christian takes my hand and leads me through the deck and outside.

“We should think about planning a trip to Italy,” he says softly. “You know I wanted to go this summer, but with Pops’ passing…”

“It couldn’t be avoided,” I interrupt. “The family had to be together.” He looks at me and nods.

“You’re so beautiful, Butterfly,” he says just above a whisper. “Do you have any idea what you mean to me?”

“Yes, Christian, I do,” I reply just as softly. His brow furrows as he pushes his fingers into my hair and cups the side of my face.

“Do you really?” he asks a bit more earnestly. “Do you really know that I wouldn’t know what to do with myself without you? That I’m not just saying that?”

Laura’s words choose this moment to come back to me, about losing yourself in the other person. We’ll have to talk about that… but now isn’t the time.

“Yes, my darling,” I say softly, “I do know.” I cup his opposite cheek with my hand. “I know.” He presses his forehead to mine and closes his eyes. I feel his fear and uncertainty. I don’t know what Laura said to him, but I need him to know that this is where I want to be.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for us, Christian,” I say softly, “for our family.” He raises his gaze to mine. “The future doesn’t seem so scary anymore…”

And it really doesn’t.

“No?” he says, somewhat surprised. I shake my head.

“No,” I reinforce. “I mean the unknown will always be a little frightening, but it’s not terrifying. I know I can handle it… and I know that we can conquer anything as long as we work together.” His lips form a flat line.

“Yes,” he breathes, pressing his forehead to mine again, “as long as we work together.”

I feel his caution, but I don’t know what’s causing it. I’m wondering what Laura said to him and if that’s why he’s feeling so rudderless. I pull back from him and meet his gaze again, giving him a reassuring smile.

“I like this look,” I say, running my fingers through the extremely short but soft waves in his hair. “I think you should keep it.”

“I thought you might not like it,” he says, running his own hand over his cut. “I know how you like to play with my hair.” I tighten my fingers in the short strands and he stifles a gasp.

“I still can,” I point out, “but I may have to get used to not seeing the JBF look you have when you grab at it yourself.”

“If you can grab it, I can grab it,” he proclaims. Our gazes lock and he leans down and presses a soft and sensual kiss to my lips, his tongue caressing mine just once and sparking a small fire inside of me.

“Come,” he breathes. “Let’s go gaze at the stars for our last night aboard.”

He leads me to the very top deck—the “adults only” deck. There’s no one up here, but there are chaises around for lounging and enjoying the view. I haven’t seen many children on this cruise, but apparently, they’re not allowed on this deck.

Christian removes his blazer and reclines on the chaise, gesturing for me to come to him. I sit on his lap and after a bit of adjustment, nestle myself sideways between his legs, after which he drapes his jacket around my body. I settle into the warmth and look at the sky. It’s amazing to me how the Australia night sky looks so much different than the Seattle night sky. It’s all connected… isn’t it the same sky after all?

 

Then I put that Ph.D. mind to work. Even though it’s the same sky, the constellations that Seattle sees at midnight in December are definitely going to be different than the constellations that Australia sees at midnight in December. Same sky, different constellations.

“Same, but different,” I say softly.

“Hmm?” Christian says, his voice content. Well, I can’t leave that hanging out there, especially not knowing what Laura said to him.

“I was just admiring the clear sky and thinking that it looks so much different than the Seattle sky at night. I’m not into astronomy, but I wonder if we ever get this sky during the course of the year.”

“Hmm,’ he says again. “That’s a good question. Without a bunch of charts and diagrams, that’s something we’ll probably never know. For all we know, this particular sky may not show up on our side of the world until noon.” I twist my lips.

“You’re right…” hence the comment, same, but different… like you and me.

“What made you think of that?” he asks.

“Just the fact that the sky looks so different, but it’s the same sky,” I tell him. “This may sound silly, but it reminds me of that song from An American Tail.” I look up at him and see absolutely no recognition in his eyes. Okay, I forgot. This is the man who hasn’t met many fairytales or cartoons—none at all, in fact, before me.

An American Tail is about a family of Russian mice who travel to America for a better life…”

“Oh, a Disney movie,” he says, some realization in his voice. Close enough.

“A cartoon, yes,” I say. “During the ride, Fievel—one of the mice—gets thrown from the ship. He manages to make it to New York, but now he’s separated from his family. The entire story is about Fievel trying to reunite with his family, but while his mother and father think he’s dead, his sister is convinced that he’s still alive. At some point in the movie, Fievel and his sister Tanya are both looking at the night sky and singing the song, Somewhere Out There…”

“Wait,” he interrupts. “That song came from a cartoon?” he asks. I chuckle.

“Yes,” I tell him. “Fievel and Tanya are looking at the night sky in different parts of New York saying that even though they’re apart, they might be wishing on the same bright star and…”

“Sleeping underneath the same big sky,” he finishes. I look up at him and smile.

“Yeah,” I say.

“Wow,” he says incredulously. “I wonder how many other songs came from cartoons that I never knew about.”

“Well, let me think,” I say, trying to scan through my brain and think of the songs that I know. “Colors of the Wind by Vanessa Williams…”

“Which one did that come from?”

Pocahontas,” I reply. “Remember Grandmother Willow, the tree behind the door in the twins’ room that creeped you out when you first saw it?”

“Yeah… oh, yeah, Pocahontas,” he says.

A Whole New World by um… Regina Belle and Peabo Bryson,” I continue. He frowns and shakes his head. “I can show you the world shining, shimmering splendid…”

Still no recognition comes across my husband’s face, so I sing the chorus…

“A whole new world, a dazzling place I never knew…”

“Oh, yeah. I’ve heard that,” he says finally.

“That’s from Alladin, the cartoon with the big blue genie. You’ll definitely have to see that one now that Robin Williams is gone.” He frowns.

“What does Alladin have to do with Robin Williams?” he asks.

“He was the voice of the big, blue genie,” I say. My husband’s mouth forms an “o.”

Circle of Life, Elton John,” I continue, attempting to get away from the morbid, “The Lion King.”

“Geez, I feel so out of touch,” he says.

“Don’t,” I comfort him. “There’s no way for you to know this at this point until you had children. Wait until you get to the really old stuff, like Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” He twists his lips.

“Oh, come on,” he jibes. “That’s just some word kids made up.” I release a high-pitched scoff.

“No, it’s not! It’s a song from Mary Poppins!” I correct him.

“Mary… I don’t believe you!” he protests. “Sing it!” I immediately break into song.

“It’s Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious. If you say it loud enough, you’ll always sound precocious. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Um-dittle-ittl-ittl-um-dittle-I, Um-dittle-ittl-ittl-um-dittle-I…”

“Okay! Okay! I believe you!” he stops me. I can’t help but laugh, because if you’ve never heard the song before, it goes so fast that it can be kind of shocking. I lay my head on his lap and look up at the stars again once I’ve contained my laughter.

“You’re a great mom,” he says softly. “Our children are so lucky.” I put my hand on his chest and push off of him so that I can look in his eyes.

“They have a great dad, too, Christian,” I say. “You’re kind, generous, protective to a fault… and you love them…”

“But I left them…” he interjects, “and you.” I swallow hard and take in a deep breath.

“And hopefully, you’ve seen the err of your ways and you’ll never do it again,” I reply. He gazes at me for a long moment.

“I’ll never do it again,” he whispers. Here’s hoping…

“Good,” I say, and lean up and kiss him softly. Our gazes lock when I pull away, and he pulls me to him and kisses me earnestly.

Remember that spark that I referenced earlier? Yeah, it’s a full-blown blaze now! He’s grabbing my ass and groping my breast; his tongue is plunging into my mouth, exploring every crevice as he holds me captive against his body. I can barely breathe as he devours me like a starving man and I’m powerless to his will.

We neck on the upper deck for what feels like hours until I’m so aflame that I could fuck him right out here in the open. Then, he tells me that he just needs to hold me—like he did that night in Anguilla. Part of me wants to stomp and pout—why didn’t he tell me this before he got me all worked up? And then I think about it. We’ve fucked for like half the trip. I can keep my hormones in check for at least a night.

Alright, Mr. Grey. I’ll behave myself and snuggle.


CHRISTIAN

My wife is looking flawless in a black and white fitted striped maxi-dress as we head to breakfast on Friday morning. Her original hickeys have faded a bit, but she has a new, smaller one on the other side. She displays them like badges of honor with her back and shoulders bare. I think she looks simply scrumptious.

So as not to look like a total toad next to my exquisite wife, I go with a Beckham-esque look with black jeans and a black button-up. I leave Jason to get our bags off the ship and to the jet, which should already be at Tullamarine Airport, and Lawrence will accompany us for the day. He has decided to wear a suit today, and I assume that Jason may have had a talk with him about his effectiveness in Sydney.

We meet Jaxon and Laura at the Bistro for breakfast since Butterfly liked it the last time we ate here.

“You two are a really handsome couple,” Laura says when we enter the restaurant. “Your security looks really sharp today. What’s the plan?”

“So far, we’ve only made plans to see the Melbourne Aquarium,” Butterfly says. “Not sure where to go from there.”

“Don’t be afryed to ahsk the locals what’s poppin’ ta’dy,” Jaxon says. “OI can sy check out Fed Square. Lots ta do and see thehre. St. Paul’s Cathedral is a soite, or the Austraylian Centah of the Moving Image. And thehre’s lots of street aht if yah touh the city on foot. Ohr you cahn tayke a look around Queen Victohria Mahrket or Luna Pahrk.”

I got most of that… I think.

Laura helps Butterfly set up a Facebook and Instagram page under and assumed name with the option to change it once we talk to Mac about the implications of a social media presence.

“It can be really helpful to you,” Laura says. “It’s a great way to connect if it’s done correctly… like us.”

“Here, take my email and my cell number,” Butterfly says. Laura nods.

“I’m so accustomed to social media, I forgot those were options,” she laughs, pulling out her cell phone.

We feast on a breakfast of gourmet French toast made with cinnamon-brown-sugar brioche and served with syrup and fresh fruit; apple-cinnamon crepes topped with apple compote and vanilla yogurt; seafood crepes made with baby shrimp, fish, surimi, and mushrooms in a velouté sauce; flat iron steak with tarragon-Hollandaise sauce; corned beef hash and eggs; sweet potato French fries, Café Mocha, and Mimosas.

Jaxon tells us about going to Melbourne strictly to visit his mom’s grave. He doesn’t tour the city at all to avoid running into his overly snobby relatives.

“OI’d love foh them ta meet you,” he says before taking a bite of his steak. “Thaht wood cuhrtainly tyke the wind outta thehr sayls!”

“I wouldn’t mind making the trip with you,” I tell him once I swallow some of my seafood crepe. He shakes his head.

“OI think it’d be an exsahcoise in futility,” he says. “Some people ahre jes too fahr gone.” I nod and devour more of this delicious seafood crepe. Jesus, Gail or Ms. Solomon may have to find a recipe for this.

We dawdle as long as we can before we finish our breakfast and move to debark the ship. Jason has taken care of packing our things and double-checking the cabin to be sure everything is leaving the ship with us. I had to pull a lot of strings for us to be able to debark in Melbourne. First, I was supposed to get the request to the cruise line a week before we took our trip… in writing! I hit the antiquated fax machine the day before we flew out to Sidney. I needed—and received—a response the same day.

Getting off the ship in Melbourne instead of sailing back to Sidney was a little costly and a bit of a trial. We had four people who had to “check out” of the cruise much like you check out of a hotel. If I hadn’t, they would have listed the four of us as missing passengers. Luckily, when we flew out of the states and into Australia, our passports were already stamped. So, we didn’t have the hassle of having the cruise line vouch for us and handle our immigration issues because we were already stamped in.

I did, however, have to pay for the entire cruise for four people as well as an additional fine for each of us to get off the boat even though we didn’t cruise for the last two days of the trip. It’s not that the money is any big issue, but I am a bit miffed at our travel agent who insisted that Barossa Valley was an absolute must to see wine country…

The entire goddamn continent is wine country!

For the reaction that Butterfly had to Port Arthur, we could have skipped that part of the trip and toured the Tamar Valley or any of the numerous other locations that boast wine tours. I’m sure that my wife would have much rather been traipsing through rows of fresh grapes, tasting delicious wines, cheeses, and truffles, and enjoying an education on Shirazes, Cabernets, and Rieslings than trying to shake off the burdensome spirits of the dead!

The trip and itinerary through the Barossa Valley are the only part of the trip that was actually planned for us. I believe the agent is getting some kind of kickback for booking it. It better be a-fucking-mazing or I’m reaming her a fucking new one when we get back to Seattle. I’m already going to take a bite out of her ass for what is clearly a set-up. I’m sure that there are other ports we could have visited besides Port Arthur, and I’m not happy about that at all.

When I’ve signed every possible form and nodded a hundred times that I understood that we had to make our own way back to Sydney—or in our case, home—I send Jason on his way to the airport to secure the jet and to get us and our luggage to Adelaide later this evening. Once again, Lawrence stays with me and Butterfly. Once we’re on Melbourne soil, Jaxon and I bid one another a heartfelt and fond farewell with promises and intentions of seeing each other again. Tearing Laura and Butterfly apart, however, is proving to be a Herculean feat!

“I feel like I’m saying goodbye to one of my sisters,” Laura sniffs. Butterfly smiles.

“Then we’ll just have to make sure that we see each other again, won’t we?” my wife says. Laura nods, still in Butterfly’s arms.

“You take care of yourself,” she says, her voice cracking, “and don’t forget our talk.”

“I won’t forget,” Butterfly says, “not a word.” They hug again before they release and Butterfly hugs Jaxon goodbye. I wrap my arms around Laura.

“I won’t forget either,” I say quietly in her ear. She scoffs a sob.

“Take care of her,” she whispers. “She adores you, and she’ll do anything for you. Treasure that and make sure she knows that you do.” I pull away from her and look into her tear-filled eyes.

“Excellent advice that I intend to take,” I say softly before placing a gentle kiss on her tear-stained cheek.

“Ay!” Jaxon barks. “Don’t ya be givin’ ahll ma smooches awy!” He moves closer to us. “Goh grope yah own woife!” Laura chuckles.

“He wasn’t groping me,” she protests.

“OI saw the mate with a handful o’ me Lahrie!” Jaxon jibes. “Thaht’s gropin’ as far as OI’m concuhned! And the kissies on yah cheek! Whaht wass’at?”

Laura raises her brow and shakes her head. That’s when I realize that this performance is strictly the stop his “Laurie’s” crying.

“My apologies, sir,” I say, placing my hand on my chest and mocking extreme contrition.

“OI’ll let ya sloide this toime,” Jaxon says, pointing a finger at me, “but don’t let it happen again!”

We quickly part ways to keep Laura from weeping again and flag a taxi to our first destination, the Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium. Butterfly doesn’t get to the aquarium anymore, and it used to be one of her favorite pastimes. I knew for certain that we would visit this place the moment I knew that Melbourne would be one of our ports of call.

Once we pass the admissions counter, we go down this colorful hallway to a darkened room and a large round glass tank—very large, like nearly the size of the room. It’s called the Bay of Rays—as in sting rays—and it’s a 360-degree tank that looks almost like the bottom of the ocean and you can walk around it and see the different fish inside. I’m more than a little squeamish of sting rays.

“Be careful, baby,” I say as she leans over into the tank to get a closer look. She looks up at me.

“They’re very gentle, Christian,” she consoles, but I’m not convinced.

“Isn’t… didn’t… Isn’t that what killed the Crocodile Hunter?” I say quietly, so that the nearby children don’t hear my question. Butterfly stands.

“Well, yes, but that was different,” she says softly, also aware of the children around her. “First, he was in the wild submerged in the water with the thing. Second, from nose to barb, that stingray was longer than you are tall, and it felt threatened. I’m sure these specimens are accustomed to people. And third, I don’t want to be that close to a stingray. So, keep your shirt on, Mr. Grey.”

I guess I shouldn’t be too afraid of these specimens. They’re coexisting just fine with several other fish in the large, circular tank. The children don’t seem to be intimidated at all, but I can’t help it. We’re talking about my beautiful Butterfly here. I can’t discount the fact that a beloved conservationist and zoologist was killed by one of these things.

They look like they actually have fins instead of barbs, though, and when they swim to the side of the tank, they look like they’re smiling at you. As long as she doesn’t get into the tank with the damn things and they stay on that side of the glass, I guess I’ll be okay.

Our next stop is the Rockpools. Now, even though there is no deadly sea life in this area, it’s interactive, which means that you can stick your hand in the tank. Butterfly quickly takes advantage of this opportunity, seizing the moment to touch “sea stars” and shark eggs. No thank you.

“What’s the difference between a sea star and a star fish?” I ask the young guy on the other side of the exhibit.

“There’s no difference,” he tells me. “A sea star has a calcified skin that protects them from most predators, but they’re often called starfish when they’re not fish at all. They’re simply invertebrates with no backbones, like sea urchins and sponges. Would you like to hold one, sir?” I put my hand up and shake my head.

“Oh, no thank you,” I tell him. “I’ll just take pictures of the beautiful nature lover here,” I say, as I snap a picture of Butterfly closely examining a red and yellow star fish, er… I mean, sea star.

The Ancient Ocean provides information on prehistoric sea life, including some specimens that are still around, like the mudskippers and the pig-nosed turtles. My wife is totally immersed in the display, awed by the large teeth on the outside of the tank, said to be the actual size of the prehistoric Megladon. I’m not as enraptured by the whole experience as she is. However, I take great joy in watching her have so much fun, so we could spend the entire day here for all I care.

We take an escalator to the lower level, where we find the Coral Caves and the Art Aquarium. Now, the Coral Caves were nice to see, with all the nemo fish painted on the wall, but the shining moment for me is the Art Aquarium. My very adult wife with two twin children at home sits down at the child-sized table and colors a picture of a fish. I take several pictures in case she wants to later deny this moment… but it gets better. You scan this picture into some high-tech projector video whatever thingy and you wait for a minute and what happens?

Your fish appears on the screen—a simulated fish tank with fish on it that other “kids” have colored—and your fish is alive and swimming in the tank! I thought my wife was going to lose her mind.

There’s even one portion of the aquarium that talks about crabs. Here, we find a large crab shell—the ones the hermit crab carries on its back. There are several facts about crabs all over the wall, including crabs in tanks and the unforgettable fact that a crab can grow a limb back if it loses one. What’s more unforgettable is Butterfly’s interaction with the crab shells on the floor. One is pretty large—about three feet or so—with a glass crab inside, strictly for show. The other is larger, maybe four or four and a half feet round and empty.

My wife crawls inside of the damn thing.

I take several pictures of her crouched inside that thing… just in case she gets stuck, so that I can show our children. No such luck—my wife is a rubber band.

“Now, that’s probably the ugliest thing I’ve seen today,” Butterfly says when she sees the Japanese Spider Crab.

“The day is young, my dear,” I reply, and she swats my arm.

Down a flight of stairs we go to yet another sublevel where we find the Shipwreck Explorer and its guardians, the lionfish. Butterfly is once again mesmerized by this unique fish that I find somewhat unattractive.

“You like that thing?” I ask surprised.

“It’s interesting,” she says. I raise a brow.

“Maybe you’ve found a new favorite fish.” She rubbernecks to me and frowns.

“And replace Marty? Never!” she declares. I laugh.

“I’m sure Marty appreciates your loyalty.” I say as we proceed over to the Mermaid Garden.

Here’s where I discover that the stingrays in the Bay of Rays were not the ones to be concerned about. The ones with the killer barbs are more contained—in large tanks not accessible to the public like the open tank in the first room. However, they’re in this gigantor panoramic Oceanarium with harmless statues of mermaids in various poses as well as not-so-harmless massive sharks and huge stingrays, one of them so large that it basically takes up the entire ceiling above us.

Oh, by the way, idiots—er, I mean, people can choose to scuba dive with the sharks, which is exactly what one idiot is doing along with a guide or something while we watch. I don’t care how tame they are in captivity. You’ve got to be three eggs short a dozen to choose to swim with Jaws, much less pay to do it.

Did I mention that these things are in a very dark room that’s pretty much a 360-degree tank that leads to a tunnel where these things are floating all around us and swimming over our heads?

“Well, I’m thoroughly creeped out,” I say. My wife looks over at me.

“Christian, you really need to chill out,” she says in a soft, scolding voice. “The fish in the open stingray tank were more likely to get us than these are.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” I say as I hurry through the tunnel. My wife, on the other hand, dawdles inside the death tube, communing with the fish and gazing into the “ocean” depths as if she would sink into it and become one with it if she could. I take a picture of her looking so ethereal with her hands pressed against the glass and mesmerized by the fish inside. Then I have to think of something playful to say to snap her out of this faraway look that she often gets when she stares at the water… because it scares me.

“I’m going to change your nickname from Butterfly to Ariel,” I say. She turns to me.

“You remembered,” she says, dreamily and somewhat surprised. Yes, I remembered. I don’t know how I remembered, but I did. It’s a little factoid that was probably stashed back into the recesses of my mind along with the fate of the Gingerbread Man that my mind dug out when I needed a quick and relatable distraction.

“Wonders never cease,” I say, having drawn her daydreaming away from the blue depths. “Just don’t expect me to remember the words to Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” Come out of there now, please, I think to myself as I hold my hand out to her.

“Well, it wouldn’t suit me,” she says, taking my hand. “In theory, a mermaid is a beautiful creature, but she has dragged many men to their deaths. Not only that, but as much as it soothes me, I can’t breathe underwater.”

Exactly my point.

“So at least I don’t have to worry about you leaving me to become King Triton’s mistress,” I jest. She chuckles.

“No, dear,” she says mirthfully, “I’ll keep my feet planted firmly on dry land.”

So, back up the ramp we go to the Crocodile Lair and the Coral Atoll. The Croc Lair… yeah. For starters, there’s a pretty big replica of a fossilized crocodile in the lobby. Upon closer examination, I can’t help but wonder if this thing isn’t some kind of distant cousin to the big ass fucker in the lair! This monster is so big that you’re wondering how the hell did they get him in there and who the fuck feeds him. Fucking hell, while we’re talking, what the fuck do they feed him?

“What the fuck is that?” I murmur to my wife without moving my lips.

“Um, dear, you’re in a crocodile’s lair,” my wife says. “That would be a crocodile.”

“I know what it is!” I quietly snap at her, affronted. “I mean, what the fuck is it?” My wife facepalms herself.

“Come on,” she says, leading me over to the information wall on the beast.

His name is Pinjarra and supposedly, his body is ten times the size of his head. If that’s the case, that thing has a pretty big head! I think somebody miscalculated. He’s about 16 feet long, weighs nearly 1700 pounds, and he’s older than I am. Yeah, what the fuck does he eat? That’s probably why he’s in there by himself… he ate all the other crocodiles!

Oh, and when they’re sitting around with their mouths open like they’re about to chow down on dinner but nothing’s in their mouths, they’re panting like dogs to cool themselves down. How cute… not!

The Coral Atoll is harmless enough. It’s a giant circular and concave tank full of extremely colorful and diverse variations of coral and a variety of fish and sea life, including a green moray eel and several blue fish that my wife keeps referring to as Dory.

Up we go again to yet another level of this never-ending expedition, where we’re able to look down into the lair of the 16-foot monstrosity that we left on the floor below. No thanks, I’ve seen enough of you, buddy.

More to my liking was the Rainforest Adventure. This is a huge tank something like the Bay of Rays, only bigger… and it looks more natural because there are rocks and plants inside, trees with vines draping and extending to one another, and tanks in the walls that either look like caves or are painted with tropical backdrops that mimic the forest

This room is much more calming than just about any room in the aquarium… for me, anyway, except maybe the coral exhibits.

Butterfly wanders around the exhibit leaving me to my own vices. I guess she figures there’s nothing to really creep me out in here.

She figures correctly.

I enjoy being in here and seeing the different harmless species of fauna of this portion of the rainforest, not to mention that it’s very colorful and inviting in here. There’s a very harmless-looking sea turtle or three in the large tank, accompanied by lungfish—so named, I discover, because they’re the only species of fish that can actually breathe air. One school of thought is that the lungfish, which actually has lungs and can live to be 50 years old, is the missing link between humans and fish.

I’ve never dug into or studied evolution as such, and I honestly couldn’t say which school of thought I’m more particular to—that of evolution vs. Creation, that is. I have to say that I ultimately believe that there’s a greater power in the universe, I’m just not really sure how to identify it. I’ve never been particularly religious, but if I had to answer the question, “Is there a God,” I would have to say that my answer would be, “Yes.”

As far as evolution is concerned and the ideas that dinosaurs once roamed the earth and that man was once a water-dwelling being who decided to crawl out of the water, mysteriously grow bones, and become land creatures, I don’t know about all that. I know what the science books say and all that, but I guess if I had to put my theories into words that I would say that life and man came from a combination of both evolution and creation.

It’s too much for me to ponder on a trip to the aquarium. Why does vacation always send me on some kind of introspective spiral? Greece, Anguilla, the MONA, Port Arthur… well, Port Arthur did a number on us both. I guess I can ponder the relationship between man and a prehistoric fish without any problem after that experience!

There’s so much to see in the Rainforest exhibit—frogs, crabs, turtles, and large green snakes that my wife avoids like the plague. Probably the most menacing little guy in the entire display was Boyd’s Forest Dragon, menacing only because he gave Butterfly a little fright. He’s a reptile—very colorful—but he was perched on a branch inside one of the caves and gave her the willies.

There appeared to be fishing poles of some kind attached to the outside of the large circle exhibit, but we never found out what they were for.

We take the escalator back down to the ground floor and I discover that we’re finally on our last leg of our journey. It was educational and informative, even a bit interesting, but it seemed to take forever! I wouldn’t be surprised to find that it’s time to board the plane once we leave this place.

At the foot of the escalator is the Seahorse Pier. Now this is a bit of an extraordinary experience. I’ve always known that seahorses were a thing, but I didn’t know that there were other variations of them. I also never knew that there are these things called sea dragons.

“Butterfly! C’mere, look at this!” I exclaim with the excitement of a third grader. She comes over and examines the new world with me.

The sea horses are easily distinguishable by their familiar shape, but they come in so many sizes and colors. I find myself particularly drawn to a dramatic orange sea horse, just because I’ve never seen them in that color before.

But the sea dragons! Some of them are just long, slender little creatures of different colors that vary in length—some may have a small hump, like a beginning sea horse; others may have a slightly fatter body. The really remarkable ones are the leafy ones! They look like random, stray, leafy pieces of flora in the water. It’s fascinating!

Also in this exhibit is the chameleon of the sea, the giant cuttlefish. He’s a bit of an ugly guy, but he can change the color and texture of his skin to match his surroundings even though he can’t see color. I find that kind of curious. How does he change if he can’t see colors? As it turns out, the tiny nerves and cells in its body can “see” the environment and change colors.

To the left of us is a doorway that leads to the Bay of Rays, so I know we’re back where we started from. However, to the right of us is a movie theater that’s showing a 4D version of a movie called Ice Age.

4D… what the hell does that look like.

“I’ve heard of this. Is this one of the movies I need to see?” I ask my wife. She twists her lips.

“Well, first, it’s a series,” she says. “There’s about four of them out right now. Second, I’m not really sure if this feature is part of the series as I personally haven’t seen them all. And third, nah, you don’t really need to see it if you don’t want to. It’s cute, but not really a classic.”

I nod. No Ice Age for me. I’ve got enough to keep up with.

Speaking of the Ice Age, our last exhibit before we see daylight is the Penguin Playground. Nothing really special here—we just get to watch the penguins frolic and play in a recreation of their natural habitat. We watch the King Penguins with their yellow beaks and chest and impressive size. The King Penguins are smart because if you put something colorful up to the glass, they’ll follow it through the water. Not to be outdone, the gentoo penguins who are known to be the champion swimmers of the two species will follow the colors with even more balletic precision. Though we don’t see any at the aquarium, we’ve come to discover that there are places here in Melbourne, too, where the fairy penguins come in to nest after sunset.

“Jesus, it’s bright as hell out here!” Butterfly says, searching through her bag. I happened to ask one of the cashiers in the gift shop which direction would be best for us to go once we left the aquarium, as I’ve completely forgotten everything Jaxon suggested at breakfast.

“Well, ya got a coupla choices,” she had said. “Ya can take tha 30 strayte down ta Fed Squeh ohr ya can take Weeliams down to Queen Vic.”

She pulls out what looks like a tourist map and shows me in a “you-are-here” type of way where we are and where she’s suggesting that we go.

“Fed Squeh is nice and all—thehr’s lots to see, but you moight want to wayte til dahk, unless ya got tickets to an event or something…” which I don’t. “I prefer Queen Vic duhring this time of day.”

“Queen Vic” is Queen Victoria Market. Both destinations are extremely close, and her description makes me think that there’s not necessarily anything we’d want to see at Federation Square before sundown. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but that’s the impression I got. So, when Butterfly finally locates and dons her Jackie-O’s, I look down at my little map and make a decision.

“Where to now?” she says.

Queen Vic it is.


A/N: If, for some reason, you live under a proverbial rock, the Crocodile Hunter was Steve Irwin, world-renowned Australian Zookeeper and conservationist. He had a televised nature program; he owned a zoo in Australia; and I’m told that he was in Dr. Doolittle and Happy Feet. I had seen clips of what I called his crazy antics with animals and he had a lot of close calls. I hope I didn’t offend anyone with that “under a rock” comment, but I didn’t really keep up with the guy and even I knew the day he died. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Irwin#Death

For anyone who may not know, Ariel is of course the main character in The Little Mermaid.

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

The Australia Picture Board can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-the-trip-to-australia/ and the pictures from today’s chapter are in the “Luxury Cruise Ship” and “Melborne” sections.

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~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 75—Ship Shenanigans

Here comes some more of that horrible Australian accent, and a LOT of it, so…

ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: 

Please do not beat me over the head too badly for my bad imitation of an Australian accent. I’m doing the best I can.

I’ve seen a lot of death these past two weeks—a lot of friends losing friends and family. Please be kind to one another and don’t fail to let the ones you love know that you love them. 

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 75—Ship Shenanigans

ANASTASIA

“Do you get people lashing out at you that way when Chuck is with you?” Christian asks as we dutifully follow Jason through the terminal. I shrug.

“I don’t know. Sometimes, I guess. There’s always a smart-ass somewhere,” I point out. “Then again, you’re not that prone to carrying me on your back.”

“It’s not that,” he says, looking around before pulling me closer to him. “When I’m with Jason or Jason is with us, people don’t fuck with us. From what I understand, when you’re with Chuck, people generally don’t fuck with you.” He looks around again then leans down to me. “But with Lawrence, it’s like he’s not even here. At the Opera House when that woman heckled you and just now with those guys standing behind us…”

“So, I did miss something,” I observe aloud.

“Not much,” he continues, “just a couple of jerks talking about your ass. But that’s the thing. They shouldn’t have even felt comfortable enough to say that shit—none of them! Granted, I’m not expecting Lawrence to clothesline somebody for talking about your ass, but I can guarantee that had Chuck or Jason been standing there, those fuckers would have kept their mouth shut, as would have that ‘tosser’ at Sydney Opera House. His presence should mean something, but apparently, it doesn’t.”

“Well, that’s the key word, Christian,” I say looking around to take note of Ben’s position and making sure that he can’t hear me. “Presence. Jason and Chuck have a presence all their own—even more so when they’re around us. Jason is the boss and he knows he is. He’s been running around Australia all day exchanging your money and arranging your shit…”

“Our money,” he corrects me.

“Whatever,” I reply. “The point is that he’s a mover and a shaker and he doesn’t need anybody to tell him that. Your power is transmitted through him through association and he knows that. Chuck has a power all his own. He’s responsible for me and he knows that there’s nowhere in the world—in heaven or hell or any dimension imaginable—that he can hide if something happens to me on his watch. He makes it no secret that I am his charge.

“Whatever combat experience Ben has, he hasn’t had Grey combat experience. I’m certain that he’s good at what he does and if Jason trusts him, I trust him. But Jason took a bullet for you; Chuck took a missile for me; what combat experience has Ben had?”

Christian twists his lips and looks over at Ben, who’s examining his surroundings very carefully and keeping people out of our general area while Jason leads the way. Christian rolls his eyes.

“Well, excuse me for saying it, but I’m glad he’s just backup,” Christian points out. “I’m just going to have to be on my toes a little more during this trip.”

“You most certainly will not!” I snap, louder than I intend. Jason and Ben both look at me. “As you were,” I say calmly, and after a short pause, we proceed down the corridor. I turn my attention back to my husband. “You’re going to relax, have fun, and enjoy yourself on this cruise, and let these men do their jobs, or we can summon the jet and go home now.”

My husband doesn’t respond. I give him a few more moments to acknowledge my statement. When there’s still no response, I stop in my tracks—right there in the middle of the priority boarding terminal. I don’t care if we’re in Sydney, the outback, or Death fucking Valley. I’ll summon that goddamn plane. He turns around and looks at me with a frown on his face.

“What?” he says. Jason and Ben have both stopped walking, too. I fold my arms and purse my lips. Don’t test me, Grey. My phone is already in my hand. He rolls his eyes a takes a step back to me.

“Okay, okay, you win, fine,” he says, grabbing my hand and pulling me along the terminal.

“I’m not kidding,” I threaten, walking double-steps to keep up with his long strides. “I’ll do it.”

“I know you will,” he says without stopping.

*-*

Now, I’ve never been on a cruise ship before, but I’ve seen them on television. This ain’t your average cruise ship. I have no idea where to start.

The moment we cross the gangplank and embark the ship, we’re greeted with a glass of pink champagne. Looking at all this opulence and grandeur, I have no idea how to behave. I’m a billionairess with money to burn who owns half of a billion-dollar company and got married in a castle, and I still don’t know how to act right now. The promenade deck looks like what I would expect the inside of an exclusive, high-end, multilevel shopping mall to look like. I definitely want to get lost in the beautiful splendor of this luxury cruise ship, but first, nature calls… in more ways than one.

With the threat of another milktastrophe, Jason hurries us to our cabins. We have to go to the upper deck and aaaaaaaaaaallllllll the way to the back of the ship to get to our staterooms. We have ginormous cabins that are next to each other, each cabin able to sleep five people. Maybe cabin is the wrong word. The correct word is suite. However, this suite is bigger than my first three apartments. It’s more than 1500 square feet—living room, dining room, study, two bedrooms with king-sized beds and two full bathrooms with marble tubs and Jacuzzis, one of which has been set up as a milking station.

Jason thought of everything.

Christian goes to the suite next door to talk to Jason and Ben, and I immediately take to emptying the food factory. You never know how full they are until you start to empty them—or until they start leaking.

Unable to leave the regular world behind for too long, I open my email to see what’s happening in the life I left behind for a week. Everyone tried to find Gary, but he’s quite incommunicado. Al used GEH’s resources to ascertain that he’s at least still alive and still in Seattle, still working at City of Lights and staying in a small studio near his job. What I hate the most is not being able to talk to him and see if he’s okay. He’s going through something, too, and he’s not talking to any of his closest friends. So, he’s effectively going through it alone. I tell Al to pop up on him at that little studio he’s living in and tell me how he’s doing. I realize that it’s a terrible invasion of privacy, but you can’t just cut your closest friends—your family—off like that without a word when we know that you’re hurting.

There’s nothing else from Marilyn, either. I can’t imagine the emotional torment she’s suffering right now. I know that she’s in love with Gary and that this is tearing her apart inside, but to be forced to endure this unbearable heartache coupled with the religious bullying of her parents… that’s more than anyone should be subjected to.

Courtney and Vickie had lunch with Addie and Fred yesterday. She admitted that it was awkward as she’s getting to know her grandparents all over again… and they’re getting to know her. She points out that Addie was astounded by her dedication to her career choice and seemed very interested in what she plans on doing with the future. Fred, on the other hand, still seemed quite skeptical and Courtney couldn’t blame him. I can only imagine how Christian would react to anyone putting me through the emotional warfare that Courtney inflicted on her grandmother. For that reason, she’s not sure if the rift between her and her grandfather will ever be completely mended, but she’s resolved to deal with whatever happens.

“I just don’t have the energy for the fight anymore,” she writes. “I just want to live my life and play whatever hand I’ve been dealt, but I’m not going to allow anybody to beat me over the head for past mistakes, not even my grandfather. Forgive me or don’t, but either way, move on. I certainly am.”

Very well said, Ms. Courtney.

Harmony’s mum right now and I respond to Courtney to make sure she checks on her. I change the pump to my other breast and check the time—2:30pm. I don’t know what time it is in Seattle, but I miss my babies.

“I know why you’re calling,” Gail says when she sees my face on the screen. “You’re right on time. We’ve just finished their baths and they’re getting ready for bed.” She flips the screen, and my chubby-cheeked baby girl is smiling back at me.

“Hi, Minnie Mouse!” I squeal, my heart warming immediately. She bounces happily at the sound of my voice. “Hey, baby girl. Do you miss Mommy? Mommy misses you!” I blow several kisses into the screen and coo at my baby, my milk flowing much easier out of my breast at the sight of her. We coo for several more moments before Keri brings my little prince to the screen.

“Hey, there Mikey!” I exclaim in the same sing-songy voice. “How’s my little man? Are you taking good care of the ladies? I love you, Mikey!” I blow more kisses into the phone at my little boy, my heart swelling with love, almost to the point of bursting at the sight of my beautiful babies.

“Hey!” Christian says, bursting into the bathroom. “You’re stealing baby time without me!” He crouches down next to me and looks at the screen. “Hey, Mikey,” he says in a sing-songy voice. “How’s my big guy? Daddy misses you!”

Mikey coos and laughs at the screen, reaching for the phone and babbling something inaudible.

“I don’t know how to take that,” I say, and Christian turns a bemused look at me. “He’s seems happier to see you than he was to see me.”

“It’s a guy thing, baby,” he says before turning back to the screen… and he’s completely serious! What the hell do you mean it’s a guy thing? I’m his mother! I carried him in my body for nine months! I’m the source of his food and life! What’s this guy thing bullshit?

Then, I realize that he’s probably right, because as much as Minnie loves her Daddy, she coddles and coos when he’s on video chat with her, but she went nuts when she saw me… so that must be a girl thing.

Still… I’m the food factory. Show me some respect.

We say goodbye to our children and I feel a bit melancholy with the parting.

“I know you love our babies,” Christian says. “I love them, too, but if you’re going to go into that mood each time you talk to them, I’m going to limit your talk time to only one more time this week. So, if you want to keep your ‘every day’ privileges…” He trails off and cocks his head at me. He’s right, of course.

“I know,” I say, only a bit heart-hurt. “Just give me a minute.” He raises his brow at me, but leaves me in the restroom. It’s just the separation anxiety, that’s all. I hate being without my babies… and for a whole damn week!

I remove the breast pump from my now-empty boob. Pouring the milk down the sink doesn’t do much to help my current state of mind. I let the tears fall as I clean and sanitize the pump and leave the parts out to dry. I splash some cold water on my face, then use a cool washcloth to minimize the swollen, puffy eyes. I apply some tinted moisturizer, a tiny bit of blusher and a hint of bronzer with a fresh coat of deep pink lip gloss before I exit the bathroom. Christian raises his gaze from his phone, takes one look at me and raises a brow at me.

“Yes, I cried,” I say unapologetically. “Leave me alone.”

He sighs and twists his lips. Rising from the bed, he takes me in his arms and folds me into a warm embrace.

“What am I going to do with you?” he asks.

“This helps,” I swallow and sigh. I miss my babies so much, but I want to have a good time, too.

“We’re going to have to start calling each other ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy,’” he says. I raise my gaze to his and frown.

“What? Why?”

“The babies are recognizing words, making little sounds. If we don’t change soon, they’ll be calling us ‘Christian’ and ‘Ana…’ or ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Sir…’ or ‘Boss’ and ‘Her Highness…’”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” I interject, “but I’m not having the staff call me ‘Mommy,’ and I’m certain that you don’t want Jason to slip up and call you ‘Daddy’ in the boardroom.”

“Well, we’ll have to work something out there, but my children won’t be calling me ‘Christian,’” he reinforces.

Okay, it’s time to explore this floating resort.

We still have an hour or so before we shove off and quite frankly, I’m starving. Breakfast was quite early and has long since been burned off through the Sydney Tower Eye, the Opera House, and the walks to get to both locations. One thing I would definitely suggest before you get on a cruise ship—decide what you want to eat before you go strolling around the ship, especially one this large with this many choices.

Buffet…
Steakhouse…
Italian…
Mexican…
Thai…
Pizza…
Burgers…
Chinese…
Sandwiches and wraps…
Gluten-free…
Vegetarian…
Vegan…
Sushi…

Hmm, sushi… we have a winner.

Somewhere during our walk, we wander upon a restaurant called Do You Like What Sushi. Apparently, this little joint has collected recipes for Sushi from all over the damn world and herded them in this one little place. I start with fresh oysters and a sashimi platter of tuna, salmon, and sturgeon caviar with fresh shredded and sliced cucumber and avocado slices.

And then the sushi roll parade begins!

No rice sushi, salmon roe battleship sushi, snow crab sushi, king crab battleship sushi, salmon dreams sushi, Alaskan avocado roll sushi, yo sushi wrapped in tobiko, tiger rolls, rainbow colored tempura rolls, California rolls, various assortments of nigiri, tamagoyaki, unagi, saba… I had to tap out, because it just kept coming! Oh, but wait…

What’s a good Beluga caviar without an accompanying Stoli? Two healthy double-shots of a sharp charcoal-filtered premium vodka with some of the finest caviar in the world and I’m floating before the ship sets sail.

We begin to float around the ship and take in what will be our home away from home. It’s a really big ship with lots to see, but damn near around every corner is somewhere else to eat! I’m full of vodka and caviar, and the buffet has so many damn food choices that it’s making me want to eat again! We walk through a tunnel that I’m sure I haven’t traveled before because it looks like it’s full of golden sculptures—I shall name it the Academy Award Hall—but somehow, we end up back in a part of the ship I somewhat remember, which is good because it’s now time for the muster drill.

Our meeting place was in one of the main dining rooms. There are a lot of people in the room and we’re just sitting where we can fit—not necessarily at the tables even though there are lots of people at tables, but more people are sitting on the benches, on the floors, on stairs, wherever we can fit. We watch this corny video explaining the safety procedures, the life jackets, the do’s and don’ts of emergency evacuation, and then we have to sit through a message from the captain before we can leave.

The boat whistles are blowing by the time we’ve heard the message from the captain, which—quite frankly—we could have heard from anywhere on the ship. Now, Christian and I are scrambling to get back to the Lido deck so that we don’t miss the sail away.

When we get there, it’s already an insane party underway. There’s a live band playing and there are people lined up around the banisters of the boat waving and watching as we pull out of Sydney Harbor. So, there are a few things that I discover up here in the sunlight while at the “sail away” party…

There’s a giant butterfly sculpture at the end of the pool. I’ll have to take a picture with that before we disembark.

Apparently, it’s an insult and a cardinal sin to be walking around this floating resort and not have a drink in your hand—and our tickets have alcohol included. So, even though I’m still buzzing from vodka and champagne, I now have the Drink of the Day in my hand, which is some fruit frozen cocktail in a souvenir glass. Bottoms up to me.

The operators of the ferries and some of the smaller boats in the harbor are very confident in the mechanical abilities and maneuverability of their vessels. The cruise ship is huge and it’s backing out of the harbor. It doesn’t stop. Once that monster starts moving, it can slow down to a float if it needs to or has to turn around or something, but there’s no “hit the brakes and the boat go screech.” No, ma’am! If you get clipped or caught behind, too close to, or underneath this monster, your little boat is toothpicks.

And yet… these smaller boats on the harbor will still play chicken with this cruise ship.

They cut around the back while the ship is turning; they race the ship and jump in front of it trying to get around it while the ship is picking up speed. It’s like watching a Vespa racing to cut off a 22-wheeler tractor-trailer! That mishap would surely be the swift and speedy end of this vacation. So, instead of focusing on the idiots playing chicken with the big boat, I turn my attention to a more pleasant view.

It’s not quite sunset, but Sydney has a bit of twilight glow right now. With the Opera House and the glorious Harbor Bridge plastered on this beautiful backdrop, I find myself mesmerized by the sight while looking over the railing with my husband’s arms firmly around my waist. I’m overcome with an immense feeling of gratefulness that I get to see this view right at this time from this particular vantage point as we pull out of Sydney Harbor. It’s stunning.

I can’t help but think about my many blessings—the fact that I’m seeing a view that many people will never get to see; that I enjoy the best of everything in life simply because I fell in love with a guy who sometimes has more money than sense; that I’ve gained a beautiful family, wonderful friends, and a fabulous life from marrying this man—and that I could never see myself without him.

It could be that the alcohol has me a bit maudlin or it could be the thoughts of my beautiful babies resurfacing, but I feel tears welling up in my eyes again and one escapes down my cheek as I enjoy the final views of the harbor. Christian doesn’t scold me. I think he knows that I’m overwhelmed with the view, and he simply snuggles me closer into him and presses a gentle kiss on my neck.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

I look over at the woman a few feet away from me. Her companion has one arm around her enjoying the view and she’s looking at me with a soft smile.

“I feel silly,” I say, wiping the tears from my cheek. Those are the only words I can form.

“Don’t,” she says. “It’s enchanting. I live here, and I never tire of that view.”

I look at her and try to hide my bemusement. I’ll admit that in the small time that I’ve been here, I’ve noticed that Australian accents cover an extremely wide range—from nearly indecipherable to almost no accent at all. She’s on the no accent at all end of the spectrum.

“My name’s Laura. Not a native Sydneysider. I’m American,” she says reading my thoughts. “Found the love of my life on the internet and moved here ten years ago. I never looked back.”

“On the internet…” I say, and my words trail off. Her companion looks over her shoulder and smiles at me, waving with his free hand. He has a kind and friendly face, someone you could easily strike up a conversation with if you saw him in a crowded bar or at a party…

… Or on a cruise.

“It’s true,” he says, his accent heavily Australian. “OI found Lahra hehr on a dayting soite. OI was thehr as a joke. Mah mates put me up to it. But one dahy OI was foolin’ around with the thing and OI saw Lahra. She had such sad oyes, but she was enchanting. OI was stricken immehdiately.”

“We talked online and on the phone for a few months, but I knew,” Laura continues. “I wasn’t happy in the states. My son was killed in a car accident a few years earlier and my husband never recovered from the loss. He blamed anybody and anything for the loss including me, and we ended up getting a divorce. It was two whole years before I even considered dating, then I get on this website. There were a lot of encounters with frogs before my prince showed up.”

I sip my delicious frozen drink while Laura and her beau tell us how she became a Sydneysider.

“When she agreed to meeyt, OI was on the fihrst bihrd headed east to Saynt Louis to see my guhl. OI stayed foh two weeks and didn’t want ta leeyve. OI came back and was without her for three months before OI lost ma moind. OI ahsked her and promised to move to the Staytes if she didn’t want ta live hehr.”

“So, let’s think,” she says. “Live in the States with all the heartache and the memories of my lost life and family or move to Sydney with a man that I adore and who adores me and start a new life… hmmm. Guess which one I chose.”

“Wow,” I say, “you seem really nice…” I pause and wait for him to give his name.

“Jaxon, with an ‘ehx’,” he replies. I nod.

“I’m Ana and this is my husband, Christian,” I say. He and Christian shake hands and exchange pleasantries.

“You seem really nice, Jaxon, but with all the crazies out here, I just can’t imagine flying back and forth across the world and then eventually moving to another country to be with someone you barely know. How could you be sure? I mean, what would you have done had this been… a scam… or something worse?” I address the question to them both.

“OI don’t know,” Jaxon answers honestly. “To tell yeh the truth, OI loved her from neahrly the vehry beginning. OI loved her so much, OI just knew OI couldn’t be without her. Nothin’ else mattehred.”

“Laura, you felt the same way?” my husband asks.

“Even more so,” Laura replies. “I hadn’t felt alive in years—I mean, literally dead inside. And then, Jaxon…” she trails off and looks at him. “He came back to the States and we were married almost immediately. Then we flew back here, and we were married here, too. My friends thought I was crazy, that I was just doing it because I was lonely—that I missed Devon and I wanted my husband Tom back, but that wasn’t it. I was not happy, and I found someone who made me happy. It was that simple. Live in misery or live in happiness. Where’s the dilemma there?” I nod and look over my shoulder at Christian.

“I’m curious,” I say, “what made you tell me your story? You had no idea who I was.” She smiles.

“You were crying at a sunset, dear,” she says. “And no offense, but you’re on an exclusive cruise line where even the inner cabins are more than the average person can afford. So, unless you’re wealthy serial killers, I don’t think we have too much to worry about. Not to mention that the way he’s holding you, either you’re newlyweds or you’ve got a similar story.”

“Well, we’re not exactly newlyweds,” I say. “I guess it depends on whose calendar you’re looking at. We’ve been married for 18 months and we have a set of twins at home. We’ve been together for two and a half years and it seems like a lifetime…”

“And our story is similar,” Christian says. I turn to him, bemused.

“In what way?” I asked. They fell in love at first sight—over the internet! I hated his ass… in person!

“In that way that when you know, you know,” he says finitely… and shut me right up.

“Aaah, thehr’s a story thehr, too,” Jaxon observes, pulling his wife closer to him. We share the short version of our story—meeting and hating each other, the accidental kiss, the longing from a distance, the denial, the crashed date and eventual consummation. We leave out the parts about the kidnapping, the pedophile, the BDSM lifestyle—you know, all the stuff that makes people run away screaming.

Christian and I talk to Laura and Jaxon a little while longer, then the live band starts to sing Pink Let’s Get This Party Started.

I’d love to chat, but I must dance!

“Come, Laura,” I say, grabbing her hand. “Let’s go dance!”

“What about me?” Christian asks in mock horror.

“You can watch,” I say with a wink before dragging Laura onto the floor. I need to dance the melancholy away. I still have residual feelings of all the shit going on at home and I don’t want any of it right now…

Feeling homesick for my babies…
Grace not respecting my opinion or concerns at Helping Hands…
Harmony’s current circumstance trying to wrap things up with her mom’s estate…
Marilyn and Gary’s breakup…
Val is pregnant… Good grief, Val is pregnant!
What the hell am I going to do if Marilyn doesn’t come back?
What the hell am I going to do if I don’t go back… to Helping Hands, that is?

I dance like a wild woman for three songs until my drink is empty, then we sit down with Laura and Jaxon and shoot the shit some more while Christian gets me another drink.

“You dance like a woman trying to escape,” Laura points out as we sip our drinks in a cabana off the main pool. I shake my head.

“I’m determined to have a good time,” I tell her. “There’s a lot going on at home and I miss my babies something awful.

“You mentioned twins. How old?” she asks.

“Ten months,” I confess and her mouth falls.

“You’re kidding,” she says. “If I may be so bold, have you had any work done?” I laugh.

“Everybody thinks that,” I say. “No, just clean living and a lot of exercise… oh, and belly binding right after the twins were born… and breast feeding.”

“You’ve done belly binding?” she asks. I nod.

“I also did very moderate, low grade yoga until my doctor gave me the ‘all clear’ to go back to exercising like I normally do.” She nods.

“Natural childbirth?” she asks. I nod. “Were you off work long?” I twist my lips.

“Not so much,” I tell her. “My job isn’t that strenuous. I decided to leave my practice to focus more on my family, and my job—such as it is—is more community service than anything.” She raises a brow.

“Practice? You’re a doctor?”

“I’m a shrink,” I inform her. She’s clearly surprised.

“I never would have placed you as a shrink,” she says. “I know therapy has its place, but all the shrinks I’ve met are very self-important and judgmental.”

“I know the type,” I say. “I never understood how anybody in a field that’s based on helping people could have that high-nosed attitude. In one way or another, someone’s life is in your hands. How can you consider that and be so callous about it?

“I guess it all depends on why you got into the field,” I continue. “If you got into it for the money, well then a God complex isn’t very far behind. If you’re good at what you do and you know the craft, then that haughty attitude is sure to follow if you’re already stuck on yourself. However, if you got into it to help people, then you can’t help but to be humble. You can’t empathize without humility.”

“You’re definitely not the typical shrink,” she says, taking a sip of her drink. “By the way, you look fantastic,” she adds. “I would never know you’re the mother of twins… and breastfeeding?” I nod. “Some of my members have expressed an interest in belly binding, but I had no real knowledge of it, so I couldn’t recommend or discourage it.”

“Members?” I ask, curious.

“For lack of a better description, I’m a Wisdom Woman,” she says. “I’m something like a guru in my community. We focus on holistic healing and spiritual enlightenment. I realize that might be a bit hokey to you, but it’s what I do.” I wave her off.

“Yes, we’re champions for the validity and effectiveness of modern medicine, but any doctor who doesn’t understand and recognize the power of spiritual health and stability is a quack,” I say finitely. I’ve surprised her again.

“There are many doctors in many fields who would say that you’re wrong and that I’m the quack,” she laughs mirthlessly. “I believe that the earth, nature, and the spirit can heal anything that ails you. However, I believe that the connection that would heal or erase fatal diseases is much more than most people would ever be able to achieve. To that end, I don’t expect people to sit there and chant their way through cancer. I do, however, expect for them to utilize a combination of holistic methods and remedies, spiritual and emotional balance, and chemotherapy or radiation or whatever modern medical advances they need to fight the disease. If you leave out any one of those elements, your body will not be able to overcome the ailment and it will win.

“I don’t appreciate that my methods and those of many other practitioners, spiritual guides, medicine men and women, shaman, gurus, whatever you choose to call them, are dismissed because they’re not practiced in a hospital and you can’t put several zeros on the end of the treatment and send someone into outrageous debt just for trying to live. Seriously, what do you charge per hour for a session?” I clear my throat. I made out like a bandit when I was practicing.

“I’d rather not say,” I admit, “but these days, my sessions are all free.”

“Free?” she asks bemused. “How do you manage that?”

“I’m the assistant director of a shelter and help center for at-risk women and children,” I tell her. “I offer counseling services to the residents and donate the salary that they pay me back to the Center. I married into a lot of those aforementioned zeros, and I did get into this to help people, so it was the right thing to do.”

“Jesus,” she says, sinking into her seat a bit, “you’re completely not what I expected when I first saw you.”

“What did you expect?” I ask, as if I don’t already know.

“Gorgeous, young, tiny little woman—size four on your worst day—hanging on the arm of an equally gorgeous man with two rugged bodyguards following you… not one, two. They’re both trying to look inconspicuous and not doing a good job of it. You’re happily and carelessly bouncing around on a ship where the cheapest suite is 300 square feet and costs about $1000 a night. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re screaming trophy wife.” I laugh.

“Oh, Laura, you’re not breaking anything to me,” I tell her. “I did have zeros in my hourly rate, and I lived a very good life before I met my wealthy husband—not $1000-a-night good, but I did well enough… better than most. You have no idea the names that I’ve been called and the things I’ve been accused of since we fell in love…”

“Oh, I can imagine,” she says. “I don’t know your story, but Jaxon has more than a few pennies to rub together as you can imagine.” She gestures at the opulence around us. “He flies to America and a few months later, he brings home an American bride who has no money and practices ‘witchcraft…’” She waves her fingers in that way when she says the word.

“I met his family,” she continues. “They didn’t know anything about me. They didn’t know that I had suddenly lost my son in that horrible accident. They didn’t know that my husband had left me because he was a selfish bastard unable to face and deal with his feelings, so he blamed me. They didn’t know that damn near every day for years, it took every bit of my molecular will to get out of bed, put on my clothes, and go through my day—minute by minute—and resist the urge to swallow a little too much of one of my remedies and end it all.”

She shakes her head as if she’s said too much, but she hasn’t revealed anything more than how I was feeling right after I broke up with Edward… except that I didn’t have the horrible experience of losing a child.

“Jaxon saved me,” she continues, “not with his money, but with his love. I thought I was infatuated—just so lonely that I needed somebody, but that wasn’t it. He rescued me. He’d tell you differently. He’d tell you that I rescued him. Maybe I did, I don’t know, but I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t have made it without him. I couldn’t see… I couldn’t see anything but darkness, death, hatred and pain. At the risk of sounding cliché, he came through the darkness like a candle in the midst, and suddenly, I could see again.

“When he left the states after his visit, I tried to go on without him. I was stronger, and I knew the world wouldn’t end, but I was so much happier when I was with him. He asked me to marry him, and I thought there was a catch. I thought he wanted American citizenship or something. I didn’t care. All I knew was that being with him made me happy, and that if the whole thing turned out to be a fluke, then I would be happy with him for as long as I could—to give me a little strength to go a little further in life.”

“It wasn’t a fluke, I take it,” I say. She smiles contentedly.

“Not in the least,” she replies. “I had no idea that he was rich until after we were married. He kept that part from me. I think he wanted to know—like I did—if it was real. It was very real for us… It was really fucked up for his family. They were awful. They were horrible and awful to me. One year at Christmas, he found out that they referred to me as the ‘fat American hippy witch.’ It was a private joke that the entire family shared. We discovered it because one of the children let the cat out of the bag.” She sighs heavily as she recalls the story.

“Could it have just been the family member of that kid?” I ask, trying to smooth things over like I always do. She shakes her head.

“It was all of them,” she says. “They admitted it. They weren’t ashamed of it. We left that Christmas. We left his mum’s house and we went back to our home. We packed our things, we called movers; he put the house on the market and a week later, we moved to Sydney. He hasn’t really spoken to them since.”

“Not even his mom?” I say with a frown. She drops her gaze and shakes her head.

“She was the worst. She called me horrible names to my face and never let him hear them, but he knew. He knew for sure that last year, and he just wasn’t going to take it anymore. They’ve tried to call a few times, but…” She shakes her head again.

“Three years later, his mum died,” she says. “The family never called him. He found out from a friend. We went to her viewing when none of them were there. He kissed her, he said ‘goodbye,’ he signed the guestbook and he left. He was sad, but he had said that he knew she lived a good life and that now she was at peace. He used that knowledge to help him get through his loss. He’s become quite the spiritual guide himself.”

We turn to look at Jaxon and Christian deep in conversation at the bar. I’m dying to be a fly on the wall for that tête-à-tête.

“His friends talk about how much he’s changed over the years—how much happier he seems. They keep asking me what I’ve done to him, what’s my secret…”

I look at her and Jaxon and I see a version of me and Christian in ten years, only we’ll no doubt still have the love and concern of our families.

“What about your family?” I ask. “Your siblings?”

“I still talk to them,” she says. “They thought I had lost every bit of my marbles to pull up and leave everything I’d ever loved and move to a foreign country with a man that I barely knew. Even my ex-husband found out and dared to try to tell me how crazy I was. How the hell did he think he was trying to tell me anything? He left me. He fucking left me to die…”

That’s the first time she’s cursed since we’ve been talking.

“I’m sorry,” she says, taking a deep breath and rubbing her chest. “I don’t normally curse anymore. It interferes with the flow of prana. Apparently, talking about my ex brings out the worst in me.”

I know the feeling.

“Then maybe we should stop talking about him,” I suggest. “Do you still see your family?” She nods.

“I bring them out here once a year—my brothers and sisters and my mom. If their families want to come, they have to make their own way. But it’s always so good to see them, and they love it here when they visit.” I smile.

“Aren’t we cruising through Melbourne?” I ask. “That’s one of our ports of call.” She nods.

“He’ll put flowers on his mum’s grave and get swiftly back on the boat.”

“How do you feel about that?” I ask. “Does it ever… bother you? I mean…” I trail off.

“You mean that he doesn’t have contact with his family because of me?” she finishes.

Yeah, that’s my question—I just didn’t want to say it aloud.

“At first, it bothered me a lot,” she admits. “I could see that he was hurt, and he had to work through the pain. I knew that there was nothing that I could do to rectify it. We decided that we wanted to be together and we couldn’t force them to accept me, but he wasn’t going to sit around while they treated me worse than they treated their dogs. He wouldn’t subject me to that and I definitely wouldn’t allow myself to be subjected to it. The only other option was to remove the unwanted element, which was me. So, what now—I leave, we’re both miserable, but his family is happy? Definitely not an option.

“So, he made the difficult choice between me and his family. I didn’t want him to make that choice, but they were unyielding in their insults and prejudices. The way Jax explains it to me is that he had found true and genuine happiness, but it came at a cost, and it was a price that he was willing to pay because he wasn’t going to let it go.”

“Maybe one day they’ll come around and see how foolish they were,” I encourage.

“Maybe,” she says, “but after nearly a decade, I would say not. They’re waiting and hoping for me to become ‘part of his past,’ and that’s not going to happen.” She sighs heavily then smiles.

Although the conversation only slightly veered in that direction, talking to Laura made me realize that I can’t leave Helping Hands just yet. There are too many people there who need me—who depend on me. I can’t stay, however, as long as Grace totally doesn’t respect me professionally, but I can’t leave right now. It would be irresponsible and selfish. I’ll have to wait at least until after the school year starts and learning programs are in place, after which I’ll help find a replacement for me. This talk has helped me to see what’s important—to put my personal feelings aside for the moment and not shirk my responsibilities, but it’s also shown me that life’s too damn short to be sniffin’ somebody’s bullshit.


CHRISTIAN

Butterfly has headed to the dance floor and subsequently to one of the cabanas on the deck to talk to Laura while Jaxon and I chat at the bar. He gets extremely comfortable extremely quickly in the conversation.

“Are ya swingahs?” Jaxon asks and I glare at him with a murderous stare. Is that what his wife is doing—grooming my wife for this shit? “OI’ll tayke that ahs a ‘no,’” he says, his voice full of mirth, and I don’t find the situation the least bit funny.

“Don’t tayke it tha wrong wy, mate,” he adds. “Tha woife and OI ahrn’t swingahs. She’s jest vehry spiritual and it’s rubbed off on meh. OI sense somethin’ from yah—taboo, unconventional. OI jest thought that was it.”

“You sensed that, huh?” I say sarcastically while taking a large swallow of my beer.

“Yeh,” he replies, ignoring my sarcasm. “She’s got a bit of it in ‘er, too,” he says, gesturing to my wife before turning back to me. “This is how OI knew Lahra was fa meh. When OI fihst met ‘er in the Staytes in pehrson, she introduced meh to moy spirit goide. I realoize it’s a bunch o’ mumbo-jumbo tah someone who doesn’t practice this koinda thing, but the spiritual awykening was ahll OI needed to know that OI had been wahking aroun’ in the dahk fah yeahs!” He takes a gulp of his beer before continuing.

“When OI cayme back to Australia without ‘er, it was loike somebody had cut mah ahm off. OI couldn’t function; OI couldn’t think… OI had to have ‘er with meh. When I cahlled ‘er bahk and ahsked ‘er tah marry meh, she thought OI had lost mah mahbles! Quoite frankly, OI thought OI had lost mah mahbles. The truth wahs… OI could jest see tha wohrld moh clearly. OI could see whaht wahs missing in mah loife… ehv’rythin’! Big, gayping holes of misery and emptiness. It wahs the sceriest thing OI’ve ehveh fayced in mah loife! Yah ehveh wayke up one daye an’ yah jest strugglin’ ta mayke sense of it ahll?” he asks, his voice betraying a slight desperation.

“As a matter of fact, I have,” I respond, looking at Butterfly and remembering how she bewitched me when absolutely no one else was able to reach me.

“When it’s roight, it’s jest roight, mate. Yah don’t ahsk, yah jest fahllow—especially when yah spihrit tells yah to. My spihrit led me to mah Lahrie. It’s been ten yeahs. OI haven’t regretted a moment of it.”

“Are you trying to tell me something, Jaxon?” I ask. He swallows his beer.

“Whahteveh yah into, yah kindred spihrits already know yah thehre. Yah weahr it loike a smock. OI maye not know whaht it is, but OI know it’s thehre. Don’t be suhproised if yah foind loike-moinded individuals on the ship. Don’t get offended—jest let ‘em know yah not int’rested… if yah not int’rested. Weh’re ahll here to have a good time, aye?” He shrugs.

He’s right. I can usually pick a Dominant or a submissive out of a crowd, but I haven’t had my “BDSM eye” out lately to be able to spot them. It hasn’t been a priority for quite some time. Now, a veritable civilian who appears to just be a really good profiler has been able to call me out and let me know that he can see it in me and my wife, even though he’s not sure exactly what it is.

“Thanks, Jaxon,” I cede. “That’s good information and I’ll keep it in mind.”

“Don’t mention it, mate,” he says, drinking more of his beer and turning to where the women are sitting. “She doesn’t have many femayle friends, does she?” I raise my brow.

“She has enough,” I say. He nods. “Why would you ask that?”

“She’s an alpha femayle,” he says. “Not a bully, but she can handle ‘erself. She doesn’t bahk down frahm a foight, bot she won’t foight whehre it’s not necessary. She doesn’t tayke shite from anyone, ahnd ‘er heart is biggah than that toiny little body of ‘ers. People undahestahmayte ‘er often ahnd she suhprises the foock out of ‘em. Let me know when OI’m wrong.”

So far, he’s dead on, so I let him continue.

“The only women around ‘er ahre family, fohllowehs, neutrals, or women who’ve known ‘er for a long time. Alpha femayles or wanna-be alpha femayles—they bump heads like bulls.

“She’s afrayd of somethin’, though,” he says. “OI’m not sure whaht it is, but it’s one thing—one little thing—and it’s scerin’ the shite out of ‘er. Whahtevah it is, she’ll get hold of it soon, but she’s gonna hafta look outside of ‘erself to do it. That’s whehre the ansah is, an’ befoh yah ahsk, yah cahn’t help ‘er, mate.”

“Where the hell did you come from?” I ask, perturbed that he’s reading me… us this well. He chuckles as he finishes his beer and gestures to the bartender.

“Give us a refill,” he says to the bartender who nods and goes off to get another draft beer. “Mayke that two!” Jaxon calls out to the bartender, and I realize that when he said, “Give us a refill,” he wasn’t talking about both of us.

“I shouldn’t drink too much,” I caution. I don’t like not having control.

“Ahnd yah won’t,” he says, pushing the empty glass away from him. “Even if yah did, yah got yah two bodygahrds ovah thehre… you’ll be foine.”

And once again, I forgot we had security.

“Do they stick out like sore thumbs?” I ask.

“Not anymoh than anyone else’s,” he says. “OI’ve seen about foive couples jest ahn this deck with security. Don’t give it a second thot.”

I nod at the bartender when he brings our drinks to us and look over at Butterfly who has escaped to one of the cabanas with Laura, still in my line of sight and that of our security.

“She fohlows the rules, but noht ahll the toime,” he deduces correctly. “It’s given you and the boys a bit of a run for yah money.”

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” I concur, drinking my beer.

“OI don’t need ta know yah secret,” he says. “Yah don’t hahve tah tell meh whaht it is, mate. It’s not that impohtant. Jest know thehre’s an energy that comes from yah both—stronger when yah tagetheh. It has a lotta power. If yah use it propahley, no one’ll be able ta come against yah.”

I don’t know why, but I’ve got a feeling that we’re going to need that in the coming months.

*-*

After dinner and more drinks at a premier steakhouse on board, I find that my lady is pickled once again when I carry her to our cabin, and I take full advantage of her inebriated, playful state. She gives my dick the sucking of its life and I give her the fucking of hers before we fall off into a contented sleep.

Tuesday is a day at sea. My wife has a bit of a hangover—again, so we order breakfast in the suite with a Bloody Mary on the side for a bit of the “hair of the dog.” I warn her to pace herself, because I can see that it’s very easy to get drunk very quickly on a cruise since the drinks flow so freely.

Since you hardly see anyone without a drink of some kind in their hand, particularly on the party decks, I suggest that she keeps some of her umbrellas and drink toys and put them in the glass with a soda, spritzer, or sparkling water if she wants to look like one of the cool kids without being three sheets to the wind for the entire trip. I also have to let the cat out of the bag that we’ll be spending the weekend in wine country, which won’t be as much fun if her insides are pickled throughout the week.

Our suite has direct access to the exclusive Bliss sundeck, pool, and bar as well as to the exclusive Bliss lounge. So, we have the option to mingle with the rest of the passengers, or keep it intimate with only other suite cruisers who have access to this area. Butterfly wants to mingle with the rest of the passengers, but I can see her spending some solitary time on this ship at some point. That’s just who she is.

She does a little detox in the Jacuzzi tub for a while before emerging from the closet in a stunning royal blue maxi dress. It’s sheer with a lining only long enough to hit her mid-thigh, and I’m convinced that she and Vickie are trying to kill me with this wardrobe. Of course, she completes the outfit with a sexy pair of stiletto slides.

“Baby, we’re on a cruise. We’re going to be here for another four days. Are you going to wear heels the entire time?” She raises a brow at me.

“Have we met?” she says before donning her Jackie-O’s and heading to the door.

We have indeed.

The ship is really impressive. Our exploration yesterday was mostly to find something to eat, so today, we’re paying more attention to what’s on deck on each floor. On the main deck in the middle of the ship is the Grand Plaza. It’s decked out with an extremely large Christmas tree and a white baby grand. Across from the baby grand is a martini bar. Having had breakfast and a bit of a detox, Butterfly indulges in one of the unusual martinis on the menu—a Blue Jean Martini. It’s a combination of vanilla vodka, chocolate liqueur, blue curaçao and smooth cream—and it’s very sweet. I have the Black-Tie Martini—made with gin, vodka and white wine—and guide her to the seats in the Grand Plaza area.

“I talked to Allen about setting up a will,” I begin after we’ve settled in our seats. She frowns.

“Where did this conversation come from?” she asks bemused. I twist my lips at her.

“You really have to ask?” I reply.

“No, obviously I know where it came from, just why right at this moment?” Yeah, I guess I did spring it on her a bit out of the blue.

“I don’t really know,” I say, my brow furrowed. “It just dawned on me, I guess. If we must have a conversation like this, we should be relaxed while we’re having it.” She purses her lips.

“Well, that’s true,” she says. “So, where do we start?” I sigh.

“I don’t even know,” I admit. “Of course, you know that you and the twins are my only heirs. So, the only reason I would really need a will is if something happened to us both at the same time. Of course, we would set up trust funds for the children, no matter what.”

“Well, I’ve only been to one will reading,” she points out, “and from what I saw, you need to itemize your assets. All I have is my condo.”

“God, woman, when are you going to get it through your brain that you’ve got more than that?”

“Okay, fine, let me rephrase,” she says after taking a sip of her martini. “My condo is all that I have in my name. You didn’t press for me to put your name on my condo, so it’s still in my name alone. Is that better, Mr. Grey?” She rolls her eyes at me.

“Keep it up, Mrs. Grey,” I warn.

“I thought we already established whose job that was,” she retorts. Oh, she’s testing me.

“Do you want to see Australia?” I caution firmly. Don’t push me, woman. I’ve fucked you every day since we left Seattle—twice! I’ll throw you over my shoulder, take you to that stateroom and they won’t see us again until this boat is back in Sydney. Fuck wine country!

Her skin flushes bright pink and she looks around to see if anyone has caught on to our conversation. Personally, I could care less. I only asked one question. I didn’t tell her what I was thinking, but she knew. I raise a single brow at her when she brings her gaze back to mine. I’m doing everything I can to be a good boy on this boat while you’re wearing transparent dresses and stiletto heels. Tempt me… please!

She swallows hard before taking a large gulp of her martini.

“Remember what I said,” my voice low, but still firm. “Pace yourself.”

She places her half-finished martini on the table and folds her hands in her lap. It’s clear that she feels scolded.

“That wasn’t my intention,” I say, immediately spotting the submission.

“No… it’s fine,” she says, still looking at her folded hands. “It’s sweeter than I like. I really don’t want anymore.”

“Do you want to try mine?” I ask, offering an olive branch. She shakes her head.

“Yours is most likely stronger. I think I’ll have some water instead. Excuse me for a minute.”

She stands without making eye contact with me and walks quickly back to the bar. Jeez, what just happened? Did I let the Dom out and didn’t know it? I watch my wife crack the bottle open and down half of it, refusing the glass of ice the bartender has prepared for her. I watch her pause for a moment and I wonder if she’s coming back to the seat. She finishes the bottle and asks for another one, this time taking the glass of ice. She strolls back to her seat with the glass in one hand and the bottle in the other.

“So, you were saying?” she says. “About the assets?”

I suddenly feel a bit uncomfortable, but I keep talking.

“You don’t have to put my name on your condo,” I tell her. “That’s not necessary. Just will it to me if something happens to you. We need to decide how our assets—including your condo—will be distributed if something happens to us both.”

“I always assumed that whomever took the twins would be the benefactors of yo… our fortune.” Nice catch, Mrs. Grey.

“You assume correctly, but who would take the twins?” I ask. “My parents are up in age and would definitely be pinch hitters if needed. Your dad and Mandy may be an option if that’s what he wants, but he already has Little Harry to think about. Their godparents are both married and either would provide stable homes for the twins, but there’s also the consideration that Valerie and Elliot have a child on the way. Have we talked to any of them about this?”

“I vaguely recall having some kind of conversation with somebody about this, but I don’t totally remember how it came out, so I think we should have the conversation again,” she admits.

“I think you’re right,” I concur. “Allen is looking into cataloging my assets for me so that we can know what we’re working with.” If I had been thinking about it, I would have told him to get with my accountant. Between the two of them, I’m certain they can lock this up.

“We’ll have a meeting with the godparents first when we get home,” I tell her. “I think they’ll most likely be the best candidates since we’re all around the same age. Then, we’ll talk to our parents and let them know what the plan is so that there’s no misunderstanding.”

“Okay,” she says. “That’s fine.” She’s looking at me momentarily, then diverts her gaze to her water, concentrating on the task of filling her glass as if she’s performing surgery.

Yeah, I let the Dom out.

“Come on,” I say, standing and taking her hand after she has emptied the bottle into the glass. “Let’s walk some more.” I take my martini and she takes her bottle of water and stands. I tuck her under my arm and we walk around to explore the ship some more.

The sun is bright in the sky and glistening off the water as we stroll along the promenade. There are portholes in the floor of the deck so that you can look down and see blue water. I don’t know how sturdy that is, but it’s pretty. Butterfly avoids them. She loves the view of the water, but she says they make her nervous. She would much rather deal with the view over the railing, particularly of the “white bubbly trail” left by the boat as we cut through the ocean. She has loosened up a bit as we stroll through the ship and make a mental note of the things we plan to do and the places we intend to eat. Looking to get some uninhibited sunshine, we head up to the Lido deck to see what’s afoot.

The party has truly started up here on the Lido deck. The drinks are flowing freely at the pool bar as usual and we’re just in time to claim two of the remaining in-pool loungers. As we strip down to our swimwear, my wife nearly causes me a heart attack again with a blue and orange two-piece—a bandana-type top and boy-short-type bottoms with drawstrings down the side. The material wraps so well around her ample breasts and juicy ass that I actually lament her getting into the pool.

Calm yourself, Grey. She could wear a burlap sack and you’d get a hard-on. Get over it.

Sure enough, she steps out of her shoes, retrieves a towel, and after placing her items on the in-pool chaise, she dives into the deep end. I make myself comfortable on the lounger next to hers and wait for her to emerge. As expected, when she does, she smooths her hair down and looks like a goddamn mermaid.

Consider yourself lucky, Grey. She’s all yours.

A reggae band is playing on the stage as I watch my wife do laps in the pool. I mentally tap my feet to the beat of the music as I let my mind wander. What brought the Dom out? I’ve almost always had him under control, only allowing him to emerge when I wanted him to. However, a little while ago, there he was—not in full force, but he was there. I’m pretty certain he’s been here for at least the last day and maybe more. I’m not sure which of many events lit the initial match.

Her smart mouth yesterday at the hotel and me vowing to fuck her senseless for the entire trip?
Her calling me her billionaire lover night before last in that hip-hop bar?
The animal fucking we did for nearly the entire 14-hour flight from the States?
Could it have been sparked by events completely outside, like those fuckers salivating over her ass at the Overseas Passenger Terminal?

Or Jaxon noticing the tendency and asking me if we were swingers? No, it was alive and well and showing by then. Whatever the cause, I have to be mindful that the Dom is present and try to keep him under control. My wife and I will have to address it though. We agreed to learn more about the dynamics of the Dom/sub relationship as it applies to marriage months ago, but of course, that was before the bottom nearly fell out from under our lives…

“’Ey, Christian!”

I open my eyes to see Jaxon waving at me from across the pool in a T-shirt and a pair of black shorts. His wife is standing next to him in a paisley halter maxi-dress. They both look more tanned than I remember, but it was sunset and evening when I last saw them. I wave them over to me and they begin to walk around the pool, hand in hand. After ten years, it’s still very clear that they love each other. Jaxon is a slender man, not very tall, with his hair cut short almost to the scalp. Laura is what today’s society would consider plus sized, but knowing what I know about women’s bodies, I would say that she’s somewhere between a size 10 and a size 12, very attractive with sun-bleached blonde hair.

“Whehe’s the woife?” he asks when they reach me. I point to the pool and the blue and orange mermaid gliding through the water.

“Ah, gettin’ ‘er exehcoise in, OI see,” Jaxon says as he squints at the water. “Now’s the best toime. A few blokes an’ sheilas out, but not too crohded.”

I find myself listening very carefully to understand what he’s saying. It’s no doubt that he was born and raised in the “Land Down Undah.” Butterfly comes to the edge of the pool and sees them standing by the loungers. She waves and lifts herself out of the pool just as I hear something that makes me cringe.


A/N: 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 69—Big, Huge “Guess What Happened’s”

Thanks, you guys for your encouraging words to me… and thank you more for your encouraging words to each other. It makes me happy to see us lifting each other up when we’re down. I’m so proud of you guys!

Send healing vibes, prayers, and positive thoughts out to my reader and Facebook friend Alyson. She just had a stint in the hospital and by the Grace of God, she’s home and hopefully doing better. Smoochies, Alyson!!!

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 69—Big, Huge “Guess What Happened’s”

CHRISTIAN

“She did what?” I ask my wife when she calls home to see who’s here for Girl’s Night.

“She shaved her head,” she confirms. “It really looks good on her, but Christian, she shaved her goddamn head!”

“Where is she now?” I ask. “Can she hear you?”

“No, she’s in the back getting the rest of her stuff. Oh, God, I’m so sorry, Tina,” she mumbles.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Butterfly,” I comfort.

“I want to fucking fire somebody, but she’s a grown woman! I can’t tell her not to shave her head!” she rants.

“Don’t fire anybody,” I coax. “Women do this all the time nowadays. It’s not a strange thing.”

“So, if Minnie came home with her head shaved, you wouldn’t have a problem with it,” she states matter-of-factly. My blood actually curdles when she says that.

“We’re not talking about Minnie,” I divert. “We’re talking about a grown woman who has just lost her mother, went through a nasty divorce, and has had to contend with horrible siblings who have now broken into her house.”

“Well, it feels the same to me,” Butterfly says. “I feel like Tina trusted me with her daughter and I took her out and got her scalped.”

“Believe me, my mom is laughing right now,” I hear Harmony say, and I know that she’s caught us in the middle of our conversation.

“You scared the shit out of me!” Butterfly scolds.

“You shouldn’t be talking about me,” Harmony teases, and it’s good to hear the humor in her voice. “Hi, Christian!” she yells.

“Hi, Harmony,” I reply, and Butterfly relays my sentiment. “Just so that I can prepare the staff, are we talking Bruce Willis bald or Demi-Moore-G-I-Jane cut?”

“Demi,” she says, a bit reserved. “I just… wish she had warned me.”

“You were the one talking about detoxing and cleansing. This is very cleansing. I love it. It feels clean and free and I look great. I think I’m going to leave it this way for a while.”

“It’s not like you have a choice!” Butterfly points out.

“I do have a choice,” Harmony says. “I could let it grow back. I’m thinking not.”

“Well, it’s your head,” Butterfly says.

“Yes, and let’s stop talking about it. I’m starving.”

“Good, ‘cause we’ve got Girls Night. On our way babe,” she says into the phone. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you what happened at your house…” and the line goes dead.

Harmony shaved her head. Good grief.

I don’t know what my wife meant by Girls Night, but as it turns out, only Victoria and Courtney show up. Gail and Ms. Solomon keep them well stocked with food and snacks while one of us guys plays bartender from the bar in the entertaining room. We offer to spare Chuck the trouble of transporting drinks, considering that he’s a recovering alcoholic, but he assures us that he’s not even tempted. I have no doubt, considering that we couldn’t even get him to take ibuprofen when he was suffering from broken bones.

The women retreat to the movie room and burrow in for the night, watching a plethora of movies from different genres. We’ve each been unlucky enough to walk in during some scene or conversation that has the entire group weeping like fools and are quick to make a hasty getaway. Somewhere around three or so, all four women are kicked back in the luxury chairs, calling the sandman.

In the morning, they all pile into the big SUV and head to breakfast—somewhere—with two of the guards and I’m ceremoniously summoned to my father’s house.

“Elliot finished the room on Thursday right in time for delivery,” he says as he leads me to a newly renovated room in the house. I’m by no means prepared for what I see when I open the door.

“Jesus Christ, Dad,” I breathe when I step inside, “Freeman was teasing you for getting this?”

“Remember, son, we’re clearly talking about an asshole here,” he reminds me. Oh, yeah, how could I forget.

I walk around the room completely stunned. Every wall is covered with display cases, and there are more of them lined up in the middle like library shelves. Case after case after case of model, wood, and Diecast cars—antiques, roadsters, sedans, trucks, you name it. The higher portions of the walls have been decorated with old pictures of Dad and his brothers, Pops and Granma Ruby, Mom and Dad when they were younger, and even old pictures of me, Elliot, and Mia. Atop the display cases are my old rowing trophies from the boathouse, Elliot’s judo trophies, and awards and accolades that Mia has received throughout the years. There are also some older trophies that I don’t recognize, and I assume that they’re from years gone by of Dad and his brothers.

“With real cars, Dad may have been a Ford man, but when it came to his models, he didn’t discriminate.” He leads me to one display case that’s full of Chevys and I’m amazed at how realistic they look.

“I tried to get the room as close as I could remember to how Dad kept it,” my father says, touching the display lovingly. “Look at this…” He gently opens one of the cases and pulls out one of the model cars. The doors actually open and you can see the detail inside the car.

“Dad painted those seats himself,” he says as he holds the car up to eye level. “The paint’s faded a bit over time…”

“… But I can tell,” I say, examining the car closely in my father’s hand. “Wow…” The amazement in my voice brings a warm smile to my father’s face.

“We spent hours in here,” he reminisces as he closes the doors to the model in his hand and replaces it on the shelf, “or I should say in a room that looked just like this one. The other brothers never really got into it but me…” He put his hand on my shoulder and leads me to a table in the corner, clearly built as its own showcase, and there it is. I gasp a bit when I see it.

“The Coupe!” I exclaim quietly in wonder. On the small table is a perfect replica—almost—of the classic ’32 Ford Coupe that we had shipped here for Dad. The purple isn’t as deep as the real car, and the model has racing flames on it. But other than that, this car is Dad’s Coupe.

“Uncle Herman was right,” I say, looking at the model then at Dad. “Pops meant for you to have that car. He built it damn near just like the model.” Dad nods.

“That was my dad,” he says. “He always paid attention to the small stuff, and it made all the difference in the world.” He chokes up for a moment but quickly recovers. “I hope that one day your son will be able to enjoy this room with me… or with you…”

I don’t like the ominous undertone of his suggestion.

“He’ll get to enjoy it with you first, Dad,” I say, putting my hand on his shoulder. “You’ll tell him the history of the cars and how they made it to the collection. I’m sure that you remember each one.” Dad smiles.

“That I do, son,” he says.

As predicted, Dad and I spend hours in his model car room, talking about each car and how it became part of the collection. We don’t have time to review each and every car, but each car that we talked about had its own story attached to it. Freeman is a real asshole if he can’t see how priceless a gift this really is.

“This is really incredible, Dad,” I say, trying to absorb everything he’s told me about each car. “This is a car enthusiast’s dream.”

“Or the fairytale-land of a little boy who really looked up to his dad,” he says, gazing over the room fondly.

“Where’s Uncle Herman?” I ask when I realize that I haven’t seen him since I got here.

“He and Luma have gone out of town, I think,” Dad says. I frown.

“You think?” I ask. He shrugs.

“I think seeing Mom’s things made him a bit melancholy. So, he asked me and Grace to keep an eye on the girls and he whisked his woman away for the weekend. You can’t deny they need some time to themselves. Herman’s been dealing nonstop with the disposition of Dad’s estate. Luma has the girls and although I’m sure that you’re a very nice boss, she works 40 hours a week. She and Herman don’t really get much alone time together.” I nod.

“Maybe she should consider going part-time,” I suggest.

“I didn’t tell you that so that you could cut her hours, Christian,” Dad informs me. “I get the feeling that Luma really likes her job, and she hasn’t complained about it once. Had I not told you that she was away with Herm, you wouldn’t have known. Did she ask for any time off?”

“Well, no…”

“Then leave it be,” Dad instructs. “She likes going to work and she’s not the least bit unhappy. And even though Andrea is her superior, Luma’s very fond of her. She talks about Andrea like she’s her daughter and she respects her—and you—immensely. So, if you suggest that she shorten her workweek, she’s going to do it even if she doesn’t want to. Catch my drift?” I sigh.

“Yeah, Dad, I hear you,” I say, sounding like a scolded child.

“Good. Now come and have a scotch with me and let’s celebrate my fabulous Dad and this incredible car collection.” I smile.

“You got it, Dad.”

*-*

“You’re not going to believe whose about to lose their shirt,” Lorenz says coming into my office Monday morning. He’s piqued my attention.

“Who?” I ask.

“William Kavanaugh,” I raise my brow.

“Kavanaugh?” I say in surprise. “What the hell is going on with Kavanaugh?”

“It appears that Willie Boy has another heir to the Kavanaugh fortune on the way, and Mrs. K has had enough. She’s got herself a cutthroat attorney and Kavanaugh will be lucky if he escapes with his shirt!” I whistle.

“So, the chickens have come home to roost on Kavanaugh, huh?” I say.

“Looks that way,” Lorenz confirms taking his seat.

“How much time before he’s ripe for the picking?” I ask.

“Now,” Ros says, striding into my office and joining into the conversation like she had been there the whole time. She’s got the latest Financial News in her hand and she drops it on my desk, open to the page announcing that Kavanaugh Media is officially on the block. “You heard, too?” she says to Lorenz, who nods.

“This must have been going on for quite some time,” I observe while reading the announcement.

“Their marriage has been falling at least since Kavanaugh became a grandpa.” That long! Geez, that’s back when Kate tried to pin her kid on Elliot. I wasn’t even married yet.

“And the newest heir to Kavanaugh Media?” I press.

“Due any day now,” Lorenz says. “The misses filed for divorce nearly a year ago. He’s selling Kavanaugh Media because the selling price is worth more than the company would yield in its current state and he knows he can get it.”

“That’s because he doesn’t have time to hold out,” I say, finishing skimming the article. “I’m not interested in the media but selling that bitch off piece by piece could turn quite the hefty profit no matter what we pay for it.”

“You were reading my mind,” Lorenz say. I raise my eyes to Ros.

“You think we could put a decent bid up for it?” I ask. “We all know I’m the last person that fucker wants to sell to.”

“I’ll see what we can do,” Ros says, standing. “You never know, Christian. People do strange things when they’re desperate.”

“That they do,” I concur as she leaves my office.

“Lorenz, how did you guys land on this before I did?” I ask after Ros leaves.

“It’s my job to keep my ear to the ground,” he tells me. “I know a lot of people; I go to social events. One person’s rumor is another person’s truth… That’s pretty much how. Kavanaugh’s next love child was no more than water-cooler talk at the champagne fountain of some fundraiser somewhere. It snowballed into divorce and the sale of Kavanaugh Media because the guy is about as discreet as a Tyrannosaurus Rex stomping down 4th Street. He was able to keep it out of the press for most of the year because—face it, he is the press. But once that media giant went on the block, all the rumors and speculations became leads and…” He makes an exploding sound and motion with his hands.

“So, basically, getting him to sell could be as simple as the right approach,” I reply, because Kavanaugh truly is going to be desperate after child support and alimony hits his ass, but still maybe not desperate enough to sell to GEH.

“That’s possible,” Lorenz replies. I twist my lips.

“Any word on his daughter, Kate, these days?” I ask. The last I had heard of Kate was when she crashed Mia’s bridal shower.

“She’s been under the radar,” he replies. “You smellin’ something?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe not. Just see if you can scare her up. Use Alex if you have to.”

“Will do.”

So, Kavanaugh’s in the proverbial hot seat. Jesus, he’s older than I am—old enough to be my father—and still making babies… outside of his marriage, no less. Not that I condone infidelity of any kind, but if you’re going to stray outside of your marriage, why the hell wouldn’t you at least use a condom?

And Kate—is that why she showed up at Mia’s shower? Was she hoping to get back into the family’s good graces because she knew that Dad was headed down the tubes? And where is she now? She was aching for publicity a while back—why the silence? And where, pray tell, is the not-the-father baby? That kid just disappeared into thin air!

Now I really want to know what’s going on with the Kavanaughs. As I’m pondering what might be going on with Daddy Kavanaugh and his ice-queen daughter, I get a distressing text from my wife.

**Dealing with a crisis. I may be late. **

Harmony’s at our house, so what crisis is this?

**Something at the Center? **

I wait for a moment for a response to put my fears at ease.

**More personal. It’s not me, but still important. I can’t talk about it right now. **

You can’t drop an ominous fucking text on me and then tell me that you can’t talk about it.

**You know me better than that. **

I love you, Butterfly, but you know I can track your phone. As if she’s reading my mind, she replies:

**Keep your damn shirt on! I’m fine, but I can’t talk to you right now. I was just letting you know I’ll be late. Would you rather I not in the future? **

And that’s a threat.

**Sorry. See you when you get home. **

Now, I’m fucking dying to know what’s going on.

I stay a little later at the office finishing some things up since I know that Butterfly’s going to be late. While I’m trying to wrap up the days reports and some year-end tasks, my phone buzzes. I look at the display and it’s Dad.

“Ethan called today,” he says once I answer. “Says he wants to reimburse me for some of the expenses of the wedding.”

“He did?” I ask.

“You put him up to that, didn’t you?”

“Why would I put that man up to anything?” I ask. “The only thing I put him up to was giving me the guest list to his bachelor party so that I could vet those fuckers.”

“He just knew all the right things to say,” Dad accuses. “He sounded a lot like the conversations that you and I have.”

“He talked to me, yeah, but I didn’t put him up to shit. He’s a grown man. He came to me for advice and I gave it to him. There’s a difference, Dad…”

“Okay, okay, settle down,” Dad scolds, and it’s not until now that I realize my voice is rising and I sound defensive.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to raise my voice, but when you said that, it made it sound like I was being manipulative, and I wasn’t. He wants to contribute to the expenses of the wedding, and he didn’t know how to tell you. In fact, I want to contribute, too.”

“The wedding’s all paid for, son,” he says.

“I figured as much, Dad, but did you have to cash in yours and Mom’s retirement for that shindig?” I ask. He sighs.

“Christian, a month ago, I gave each of my brothers $750,000. Do you think I would have been able to do that if I had been strapped for cash?”

“I’m quite aware that you have a dime or three to rub together, Dad, but so does Ethan and he wants to contribute to this wedding.”

“He doesn’t need to contribute,” Dad says. “There’s nothing left to pay for.”

“That may be the case, but that tens of thousands of dollar bakery bill came to his house.”

“What?” Dad exclaims into the phone.

“Yeah,” I tell him. “And you should know that right before they got in their helicopter and left for the night, Ethan cornered me and Butterfly and lamented about the largess of those cakes—just the cakes! He had a few other things to say about the over-the-topness of the entire production, but the cakes had him in dismay, much like they did for me at first, and you know what I mean.”

“Yes, I know what you mean,” he cedes.

“Well, my fears were put to rest when I discovered that the food was going to the homeless and to shelters. His concerns were multiplied exponentially when he saw that bill—paid or not. It’s going to emasculate him if you don’t allow him to give you something on that wedding.”

“What about me?” Dad asks. “What about emasculating me? That’s my only daughter and I gave her the wedding she wanted. Isn’t that a father’s responsibility?”

“Yeah, Dad. And you did it. Everything was beautiful—though a bit crazy—and Mia loved it. You did good. Now, let Ethan give you something towards your expense. I’m aware that you don’t need it, but he needs to give it to you. That may be your only daughter, and having a daughter now I get it, but that’s his wife.” Dad sighs again.

Fine,” he relents, “but I’m not taking a damn dime from you. Got it?”

“Okay,” I give in. I can deal with that if it means that he’ll allow Ethan’s pride to remain intact by contributing to what I now know had to be more than a million-dollar wedding. I got married in a damn castle. Wayne Brady sang to my wife walking down the aisle. We rode away in a classic Bentley, had a shopping spree in Paris, and were supposed to stay abroad for a month and I can still guarantee that my sister’s nuptials cost more than mine.

“How did you end things with Ethan?” I ask.

“I told him that I would give some thought to his request and get back to him,” Dad says.

“God, Dad, that sounds so formal. He’s family now, you know…”

“Yes, I know, but I had to see what his intentions were when he was suggesting helping out with the financial portion of the wedding,” he says. I frown.

“Now, I’m not catching your drift… what do you mean by that?” I ask.

“I’m old-fashioned, son,” he says. “I think a father should pay for his daughter’s wedding unless she specifically asks him not to—like with you and Ana. You wanted something specific and you got what you wanted. I’m sure there was no hard feelings with Ray on that…”

“Right,” I concur, coaxing.

“Well, with two money families, I’m ashamed to say it, but I didn’t know if Ethan was trying to make the statement that he could pay for this wedding and was just throwing money at me like, ‘I got it, old man…’”

“Dad,” I interject scolding, “did he give you that impression?”

“That’s why I asked if you had spoken to him,” he says. “I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t being handled.”

“Jesus, Dad, you have to stop being so suspicious.”

“Says the man who will vet the pizza delivery guy if he can,” Dad retorts. Touché.

“Okay, okay, I get it. But still, the man married your daughter. If we really thought he was up to anything, it’s a bit late, now, isn’t it?”

“It’s never too late,” Dad says, “but you’re right. I should have given him the benefit of the doubt.”

We talk a little longer and I feel that I’ve killed enough time in the office trying not to worry about what’s happened in Butterfly’s day that’s going to cause her to be late. Should I go to the Center and check on her? Hell, no! We know how badly that turned out the last time. It’s not that I don’t trust her, but… no. Just, no.

My eye catches one more email as I’m about to shut down for the evening. It’s from Ted Friedson informing me that he received the Apollo and that it arrived in better condition than expected. Although he admits that it’s still pretty worn, it’s in pretty awesome shape for a 100-year-old piano. He promises to have it in tip-top condition in a few weeks. I take a little comfort in that and think about where in the house I’m going to put it as I pack away my laptop and head to the elevator.


ANASTASIA

If she’s afraid of this guy, he must have been talking a really good game,” Alex informs me when I speak to him on Monday. “He’s a small-time hood—drug dealer, never more than a street runner. He’s got no connections—none. The only people he has fled a drug bust, left him to take the rap, and haven’t been in contact with him since. I still can’t tell you why she’s moving from place to place, but I’ve got a good theory.

“She’s obviously a battered ex—there’s a little proof of that… questionable injuries and hospital visits with no police report filed, leaving against medical advice and things of that sort. For whatever reason her family is non-existent, she’s on her own and he knows it. He must’ve preyed on it while they were together, I’ve seen it before, but to have her so petrified that she’s moving from place to place…? He had his own delusions of grandeur, no doubt, but he must’ve fed them to her, leading her to believe that he has power that he doesn’t have. So, in her mind, a few months, a half year or so is a safe amount of time to stay put, then it’s time to move on.

“I can’t swear to it, but in my eyes, this is one of those ‘if it looks like a duck’ situations. If she’s as spooked as you say she is, she had a co-dependent relationship with him where he filled her head with stories, threats, and the usual ‘you’re nothing without me,’ and he’s just got her scared shitless and she’s not sure what to do. Unless he’s got some power that I haven’t seen, he’s nobody—just some punk who preyed on a weak young woman.”

“Well, this is really good news,” I tell him, “not that he preyed on her and has her so afraid, but that he’s not this big bad person that she thought he was. She’s got skills and education that I really want to put to some use, and now I can… if I can just convince her that this Ge guy isn’t a threat to her.”

“I don’t know how to tell you to do that,” he says. “You can tell her that our investigation shows that he still incarcerated and that there’s actually no way that he could find out where she is unless he has the type of resources that we have—which he doesn’t. Besides, we’re swimming in security. How the hell is he going to get to her?”

“She’s not with us 24/7, Alex,” I remind him. “I think the best thing right now is for me to keep it simple—just tell her that as far as we’re concerned, everything looks good and she’s got a job, and then extend the services of the Center to her if she feels that she needs sanctuary. Fear is a powerful thing and unfortunately, other people can’t make you not be afraid.”

Ebony is thrilled to learn that we’re willing to give her a shot to see how things work out. She insists on working in the daycare to get the feel of things and maybe venture out into some of the areas that I think she’ll be a better fit for.

“Right now, I’m just really desperate for a paycheck,” she admits. “My emergency fund is nearly gone, and I need to have income soon. I’d love to see where else I can go and what else I can do, but… let’s start off small, if you don’t mind.” I nod.

“Not a problem,” I tell her, “whatever makes you comfortable. Welcome aboard.” I proffer my hand to her and she shakes it, sighing heavily.

“Thank you,” she breathes, as if the weight of the world has been lifted off her shoulder. I summon Courtney to show her around and get her started as Marilyn took the day off today.

I’m very soon to find out why.

“Hello?” I answer my phone shortly after having a late lunch.

“Yes, is this… Anastasia Grey?” the female voice asks.

“It is. To whom am I speaking?”

“This is Sylvie Cooper. I’m calling from Seattle Women’s Services and Family Planning.” Okay, maybe this is something to do with the Center.

“Yes, Ms. Cooper, what can I do for you?”

“I’m calling because one of our patients has you listed as the emergency contact. She’s had an outpatient procedure performed and… she came alone. She shouldn’t be driving, so she asked us to call you.”

This is strange. Outpatient procedure, Seattle Women’s Serv… oh, shit.

“Who is the patient?” I ask, as if I didn’t already know.

“Marilyn Caldwell.”

*-*

Marilyn looks like hell when I get to the clinic. I’m sure she’s had an abortion. I’m only hoping that she and Gary talked about this before she did it. I have a sinking suspicion that either they didn’t or that he’s vehemently against it, because he’s not here with her.

“Hey,” I say to her downcast face. “You ready to go?” She nods without saying anything and allows me to lead her out of the clinic. The ride back to the apartment that she shares with Gary is mostly silent. I simply concentrate on getting her to where she needs to be. I won’t give her the third degree and I won’t badger…

“Don’t you want to ask what happened?” she says, breaking my inner coaching.

“Only if you want to tell me,” I reply after a pause, even though I can pretty much tell.

“I was eight and a half weeks pregnant,” she says. “I terminated the pregnancy.” I nod.

“Considering the facility, I figured as much,” I reply. It’s quiet for a few more moments.

“Gary wanted to keep it,” she says. “I tried to explain to him that I wasn’t ready to have a baby right now and I wasn’t going to be forced into the decision to have one. He totally stopped speaking to me.”

“Does he know that you were terminating the pregnancy?” I ask. She doesn’t respond. Did she tell him or not? What does she plan to do—just present herself to him and say, “Hey, baby’s gone?” I pull into the parking lot of their apartment complex and put the car in park.

“Will you come up with me?” she asks. Is she serious? What does she want me to do, stand between her and Gary while she tells him that she terminated the pregnancy? Gary wouldn’t hurt her… at least I think he wouldn’t hurt her. He loves her… but she’s about to tell him that he’s not going to be a father if he doesn’t already know. I sigh heavily and turn the car off.

“Let’s go,” I say.

The apartment is bone quiet when we get there. I figured it’s because Gary’s not here, but she goes to the back where the bedroom is, and I can hear her talking.

“What are you doing?” I hear her ask. There’s a long pause.

“I…” It’s Gary’s voice. “I need some time,” he says, and I hear shuffling. Oh, shit. Should I leave?

“What do you mean?” Marilyn squeaks.

“I can’t be here,” Gary says. “I need… I just can’t.”

“So, you’re just going to leave?” she accuses.

“You had to know this would happen!” Gary shoots. “You killed my baby! You had to know I wouldn’t stay! I couldn’t! I can’t even look at you right now!”

He is pissed! I don’t know how to react to this because it’s Marilyn’s body. She would have had to carry that child for nine months. If she and Gary broke up, most often, the man has the option to walk away faster than a woman—although in this case, I have a feeling Gary would have stuck around—but he’s right. It was his baby, too, and she aborted it. I hate seeing them in this position because there’s nothing I can do. There’s no right or wrong, but it’s all bad.

They scream at each other for another minute or two, and just as I’m deciding I should leave, I hear Marilyn begging him not to go and Gary telling her that she can have the apartment since she left hers to move in with him. The bedroom door opens to an angry Gary storming out with a duffle bag and the sound of Marilyn’s weeping, still begging him not to leave. When he raises his head and sees me, he stops in his tracks and glares at me.

“Did you take her there?” he seethes. I’ve never seen him this angry in my life. I’m frozen for a moment, but then I shake my head.

“No,” I say, finally finding my words. “She… drove herself. The clinic called and asked me to pick her up. I couldn’t just leave her.” I don’t tell him that had she asked me to go with her, I would have gone. Although the thought of terminating my own pregnancy never crossed my mind, I agree with a woman’s right to choose.

His eyes soften, and I can see that he’s been crying, most likely for more than one reason. His lips form a thin line.

“Take care of her,” he chokes angrily. “She’s gonna need you.”

“Gary…”

He storms past me without another word and out the door, slamming it behind him. Marilyn hasn’t emerged from the room yet, so I approach with caution. When I breach the doorway, I see her crumpled on the ground weeping.

He left her like this?

I go over to her and kneel on the floor next to her. Her cries are so mournful, like someone cut off one of her limbs. She sounds like Luma when she was mourning the death of her son-in-law. I put my hand on her arms, and she starts to wail. She knows that my being there means that Gary is gone, and you can hear her anguish sinking all the way down to her feet. I just sit there with her, and let her wail…

I’m wrung down to my soul when I get home that night. It’s well after midnight and I’m so emotionally drained that I just go to the kitchen and sit at the breakfast bar. The house is dark, and I lay my head on my arms on the countertop. I have such an unreal headache that it feels like my brain is going to explode out of my head.

I’m not startled, nor do I raise my head when the lights in the kitchen come on. It’s tomorrow—of course, he’ll be waiting up and expecting to know where I’ve been. I don’t say anything as I feel rather than hear him cross the span of the kitchen in his bare feet.

“Do you want something to drink?” he asks, his voice controlled as he opens the refrigerator.

“Vodka,” I say from under my arms. I hear movement stop, then the cupboard open. I know he’s mad—or at least not pleased with me for coming home this late, and I don’t have the strength to justify my tardiness, for lack of a better word.

“Baby, what’s wrong?” he says, and I can feel him stroking my hair. I raise weary eyes to him wondering what I should and shouldn’t tell him. His eyes change, and he rubs my forearm.

“Tell me what’s wrong, Butterfly,” he says, his voice heavy with concern. Fuck it, I can’t carry this shit.

“I just put Marilyn on a plane to Spokane,” I tell him while worrying my horribly throbbing scar. “She’s going to spend some time with her parents, I don’t know for how long.” He raises his brow.

“You can’t be this upset about Marilyn taking a vacation,” he says.

“You’re right, I’m not… and it’s not a vacation.” He places a tumbler in front of me with a shot of vodka in it. I throw it back immediately and gesture for another. He fills it to a double-shot this time and I throw that back just as quickly.

“She’s escaping,” I say, after the double-shot burns its way down my chest. “She was pregnant.” His eyes sharpen.

“Okay, wait. I’m confused. She’s escaping because she’s pregnant?” he asks. “Is Garrett pissed? Did he threaten her?” I gesture to my glass again and he fills it with another double-shot. I just take a sip this time.

“No, yes, and no,” I reply, answering his questions as I replace the glass on the counter. “I’m telling you more than I should, but I wasn’t acting in a medical capacity today, so…” I take a deep breath. “No, she’s not escaping because she’s pregnant as she is no longer pregnant. She had a termination today. Yes, Gary is extremely pissed. He wanted this and one of the first things I heard him say when we got back to the apartment is, ‘You killed my baby.’ And no, he didn’t threaten her, but he did leave her and from the looks of it, he ain’t comin’ back.” I take another swallow of my drink.

“Oh, God,” he says, his brow furrowed, “that’s fucked up all around.”

“Tell me about it,” I lament, rubbing my forehead for the first time in forever. I have no idea what to do. Gary and Marilyn are both my friends and Marilyn’s my employee. They’ve both talked to me about how they felt about this situation and I’ve done the best that I can to give them both objective opinions without betraying the trust of the other. I can’t take sides, but I may be forced to, depending on how this plays out.

“I can only imagine what it must feel like being caught in the middle of this,” he says sympathetically.

“It was awful, Christian,” I bemoan. “Gary was so hurt, and Marilyn was devastated. I don’t know what to do. Her parents are in Spokane and with Thanksgiving coming up, she couldn’t stand to stay in that apartment alone. So, I helped her pack some things and she was on the redeye across the state.”

“So, no one’s in the apartment now?” he asks. I shake my head.

“I tried to call Gary, but he’s not answering. He probably thinks I’m going to ream him a new one for leaving Mare, but he has a right to his feelings, too.”

“So… any idea what now?” he asks. “I mean, whose apartment is it?”

“It’s Gary’s. He paid the lease for a year and near as I can tell, the only way out of it is to sublet or have someone buy out the lease. She gave up her apartment to move in with him, so he left and said she could stay. That makes me think that he might come back, because he only took a duffel bag, but…” I shrug and rub my head again, then my scar.

“Jesus Christ, what a mess,” he says as he retrieves another tumbler and fills it with ice and water from the refrigerator door.

“I can’t even fathom what to say to either of them right now. I can’t villainize either of them because they both have a right to feel what they’re feeling. What do you think?” My husband raises a brow and twist his lips before he places the tumbler of water in front of me. Yeah, I know—two double-shots and a single. Chug, chug.

“I can’t answer that question, Butterfly,” he says. “For obvious reasons, I avoid this particular topic of conversation at all costs.” I raise my eyes to his.

“What if it had been us?” I ask.

“But it wasn’t,” he says.

“But what if it had?” I press. He leans forward and takes my hands in his, then kisses both sets of knuckles before looking me in the eye.

“At all. Costs,” he repeats, letting me know that no matter how I press, we won’t be having this discussion. I sigh and drop my head.

“Dear, God, help me,” I groan. This can only get worse before it gets any better.

*-*

I receive a text from Marilyn when she lands in Spokane, then she—like Gary—falls into radio silence. Only two days without her this week and I feel as if I’m falling into oblivion. My calendar looks like hieroglyphics and when I suggested nabbing Luma again, Christian informed me that she had just returned to town herself and was needed at Grey House. No matter—Thanksgiving is here, and I plan to relax with my family for the next few days.

Harmony was not keen on coming to Thanksgiving dinner with our family, but Courtney and Vickie invited her to the condo and she gladly accepted—nothing as formal as a family gathering, but still with people she likes to be around… and she’s not alone on the first Thanksgiving without her mom.

I try to reach Marilyn and Gary on Thanksgiving, but neither of them answers or responds to my texts. I decide to leave them alone until and if they reach out to me.

Chuck reminds me that he and Keri will be going back to South Dakota for his and his mother’s case against his brother. I can’t believe he’s actually going to sue his brother. I mean, I can believe it… the bastard deserves it, but I guess I just can’t believe that it’s really happening.

Thanksgiving—a time of giving thanks, being around family, watching football and eating way too much food. Yet, all around me, I see sorrow and heartbreak and disappointment… people just trying to cope…

Harmony just buried her mother and her siblings are conspiring against her and treating her like the enemy.

Marilyn terminated her pregnancy and is now mourning the loss of the man that she loves.

Gary is mourning the loss of a baby and the dashed hopes of having a family.

No doubt, Carrick and his brothers are feeling the loss of their father right now. Even though Burt passed away months ago, going through the family heirlooms must have opened some of those old wounds, and like Harmony, they’re spending their first Thanksgiving without him.

And Freeman’s family—Lanie may feel no love lost, but Burtie and Nell loved that man and are no doubt having their own regrets today about the total breakdown of the family.

And of course, Chuck and his mom—having to sue his hateful brother for keeping the family apart with his lies.

And here I sit, journaling before I go to Val and Elliot’s for Thanksgiving, once again nothing on the pages about myself—just everyone else and their problems.

Thanksgiving… yeah.

*-*

“We’re not going to have a repeat of you two acting like children and Christian catching the plague, are we?” Val says when she opens the door.

“No,” I promise her, “we’re fine and we’re not bickering about the… sunshine yellow stucco!” I say with too much enthusiasm.

“Butterfly…” my husband scolds, coming in behind me and carrying our overnight bags.

“Yes, dear,” I say sweetly and obediently. He leans over and kisses me while Val and Elliot’s usual staff takes the bags from Christian.

“Are they permanent?” I ask, noting the same woman in the kitchen that was here for the housewarming.

“No, we just asked for them back,” she says, hooking her arm into mine. “Come sit with me in the living room.”

Val is positively giddy having the family over for Thanksgiving, much giddier than she was at her housewarming. Elliot sees to everyone getting their things settled in their various rooms before we all sit down for our various fall-spiced beverages.

Christian is dead set and determined to make sure that I don’t feel the ostracization that I experienced at the housewarming. He’s all snuggly with me and we’re playing with the babies in front of the fireplace. Val and Elliot already have their Christmas tree trimmed, so all of the babies—including my little brother Harry—are spellbound by the sparkling lights.

Sophia is playing with Mariah and Celida—more like keeping them occupied while her father and stepmother watches over them all. Herman, Grace, Carrick, and Luma all seem to be having a very interesting conversation of some sort. Val is bending Mandy’s ear about something while Mia and Ethan listen attentively, and Elliot and Daddy are probably talking shop. Just as I’m taking in my surroundings, I see Harry with Mikey, and they appear to be having a conversation. I watch them more closely and see Harry pulling Mikey’s arms. Is he…?

“Phone… phone…” I say, trying to be as calm as I can. Nobody’s listening to me, so I reach for Christian, who is cooing at his daughter, and tug on his pants. He raises his eyes to me and follows my gaze to my brother and my son.

“Son of a gun!” he says, fumbling in his pocket and finding his phone. People start looking to see what the commotion is, and before we know it, at least four phones are recording now.

Harry appears to be giving Mikey instructions in whatever gobbledygook he’s speaking, and Mikey follows instruction by grabbing both of his uncle’s arms with his grubby little hands. Harry’s unsteady little gait pulls Mikey forward until he’s standing, but Harry can’t comprehend why Mikey doesn’t start walking immediately after he stands. As a result, Harry pulls him forward again and Mikey stands only for a moment before tumbling over onto his little hands.

Harry’s getting a little frustrated with Mikey’s lack of pedestrian progress, but this entire thing is just a game to Mikey who, after each tumble, breaks into fits of baby giggles. Being on the same mental wavelength, his sister breaks into giggles as well and, let’s face it—who can’t laugh after hearing an infectious baby giggle? Soon, there’s an entire room of giggling adults and children, and the whole thing has been caught on video.

“Wow, what did we miss?”

I turn around to see Marcia and Maggie walking into the dining room from the vestibule. Maggie is getting so big. I remember when she just disappeared behind her mom.

“Hi, Marcia,” I say, rising from my seat on the floor. “It’s good to see you.” I hug her and compliment her on how good she’s looking these days while Maggie joins the other girls in the dining room. “Where’s Marlow?” I ask. I catch Sophie perk up in my peripheral vision.

“Oh, he’s here. They should be in shortly.” They? Who’s they? Did Marcia finally decide to bring her “plus-one” along? I find out shortly that there’s definitely a “plus-one,” but it’s not Marcia’s “plus-one.”

“Hi everybody,” Marlow greets as he enters the foyer. Behind him—and attached to his hand—is a tiny girl who looks a bit like a pre-teen. I try not to stare, but what’s more, I can feel Sophie glaring at them from behind me. I plaster a smile on my face and walk over to them.

“Hi, Marlow,” I say, kissing him on the cheek. “Who’s this?”

“This is Britney,” he says, pulling the girl closer so that she’s not lagging behind him. “She’s a sophomore at my school.”

Well, thanks for telling me that! The child doesn’t look more than twelve! Seriously, I’m petite, but she’s… thin, like really thin… like “Calista-Flockhart-when-everybody-thought-she-was-anorexic” thin, only thinner.

“Britney, this is Anastasia Grey. I told you about my mentor, Christian. This is his wife.” Britney smiles a smile that looks bigger than her face.

“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Grey,” she says politely.

“It’s nice to meet you, too, Britney,” I reply with a smile. “Come on in and meet everyone…”

Britney is quite affable as Marlow introduces her around, and everyone returns her warm greeting—everyone, that is, except Sophie. Sophie’s polite, but cool, and either Britney doesn’t notice it, or she ignores it. Two points for Britney…

As the day moves along, things seem to be going okay. Sophie doesn’t appear to be sneering at Marlow’s date, but she also seems careful to keep her distance. Being shunned by one of Marlow’s dates was probably enough for her.

I’ll have to remember in the future that my children have graduated to cereals, baby food, and some solid foods along with my breastmilk, which means that we may need some form of portable high chairs for them. Otherwise, we’ll be stuck with them in our laps while we try to eat… like now. Gail helps out, of course, and Val is eager to get her hands on her niece and nephew, so they allow me and Christian some time to eat.

Once we move on to dessert, the twins have eaten and have had their bottles and are on their way to sleep in their playpens when Herman stands to his feet.

“I’d like to have everyone’s attention please,” he says, and the room falls silent. Herman takes a deep breath.

“This has been a pretty eventful year for the Grey family,” he begins. “We lost our dad… effectively lost a brother…” He and Carrick exchange looks before he continues. “But we’ve grown. We’ve been blessed with a son and a daughter—in my case, a niece and a nephew—Ethan and Valerie. And even though we were already graced with Ana, we were able to add Mackenzie and Michael to village.”

We laugh at his expression, but truthfully, that’s exactly what we are.

“But in my loss, and in our flourishing, God has blessed me with those two sweet little girls right there…” He gestures to Mariah and Celida, who both smile fondly at him, “… and this loving and beautiful woman right here.” He turns to his side and takes Luma’s hand. Pulling her to her feet, he kisses her fingers softly and gives her a loving smile, which she returns.

“I don’t know where I would have been without her,” he says, still gazing into her eyes, “if I would have made it without her. Taking care of Dad’s things and going through his and Mom’s memories, it was like he was talking to me, telling me to live, telling me to grab life by the horns and live! And I realized then that I couldn’t be without this woman—that my mom and dad had a wonderful, beautiful life while they had each other and now, they have it again. I realized that I screwed up big the first time, but God is giving me a second chance… and dammit, I’m taking it.” He’s gazing into Luma’s eyes and I’m only too certain—as I’m sure the rest of us are—that he’s about to propose.

“So,” he turns back to the inquiring eyes, “I’m proud to announce that on November 22, 2014 at 3:17pm, this beautiful goddess officially became Mrs. Herman Grey.”

“Get outta here!” Carrick rises to his feet. “You sly dog! I shoulda known!” He gives his brother’s hand a vigorous shake as he claps him on the back. “Congratulations! Congratulations, man! I shoulda known you were up to something!”

Grace hugs Luma warmly and Mia follows. Warm smiles and congratulations fill the table.

“Not to fret, ladies,” Herman says once the revelry is calming a bit, “you can do your planning and parties and whatever it is that ladies do for weddings and such if my Luma says that’s what she wants. I just couldn’t wait to make her mine.”

There’s a collective swooning coo from the ladies at the table. Luma shows us pictures on their phones of Herman in a suit her in a beautiful vintage wedding dress. She looks twenty years younger.

“Is that…” Carrick looks at the picture again. “Is that… Mom’s dress?” he asks. Herman nods.

“Yeah,” he says, after a pause, “and… one of Mom’s rings,” he says. Carrick looks over at Luma who looks like she wants to hide her hand, but it’s too late.

Carrick looks at the picture again and his eyes clearly moisten. He takes Luma’s hand with the ring on it and kisses it gently before kissing Luma just as gently on the cheek.

“You made a beautiful bride,” he says, his voice cracking slightly. “I wish I could have been there.”

Luma smiles widely and Grace puts her hands on Luma’s shoulders. The cooing begins anew as Luma recounts the story of their nuptials—sweet and romantic. Elliot cuddles Valerie in his arms and she beams as the family enjoy themselves around the table. Once the conversation—and cooing—falls to a gently roar, Elliot stands to his feet.

“I’d like to say something, too,” he says. Val raises a brow and a small smile at him.

“I want to thank you all for agreeing to have Thanksgiving at my house, even though my house is the smallest of them all at the moment.” There’s a laugh following his statement. “But I’m really, really grateful for you all being here because… well, as you all know, my wife is a brain cancer survivor. For those of you who didn’t know already, she named her tumor Meg. It’s a long story but just know that she named it Meg. Well, she’s been suffering from these random dizzy spells, and even though my wife is strong, I could see it in her eyes that she was concerned that Meg was making another appearance.”

The room falls completely silent, even more quiet than when Herman asked for our attention.

“I did my best not to panic… I wasn’t very good,” he says, his voice cracking. Val takes his hand and gives it a squeeze. “But we didn’t dawdle. We went to the doctor and they proceeded to run the regular tests. I’m happy to say that Meg is definitely not making another appearance.”

The room is filled with sighs of relief and thanks to God and such, but Elliot’s not finished.

“We did learn however,” he looks down at Val, “that my angel is having a baby.”

“Get the fuck outta here!” My husband springs to his feet and reaches right across the table to his brother. “You’re going to be the goofiest dad ever!” he says, shaking Elliot’s hand.

“That’s the plan,” he says before turning to Herman. “Sorry, Uncle Herman.”

“Don’t worry about it, son,” he says, shaking Elliot’s hand as well. “There’s plenty of joy and happiness to go around.”

Most of us have forgotten our food and are clustered around either the newly-married couple or the newly-expecting couple cooing over the antique ring that Herman gave Luma or the fact that Val will be having a baby soon. Herman presented his bride with a 13.93ctw smoky-quartz ring set in 14kt yellow gold with leaf accents—another piece from his mother’s priceless collection. Elliot hasn’t presented Val with anything—besides a house, but he indicates that he plans to repurpose one of the rooms into a nursery that would rival ours.

With the attention centered on Val, Elliot, Herman, and Luma, no one sees the small commotion taking place in the corner of the living room. I inconspicuously examine Britney having a harsh word or two in hushed tones with Marlow before she ceremoniously turns away from him and proceeds towards the front door. Marlow rolls his eyes, then throws a glance at Sophie before following his date outside. They still haven’t garnered the attention of anyone else in the house, but I watch as Sophie twists her lips, rolls her eyes, then falls petulantly on the sofa, folding her arms and staring at the fire.

And here we go again.

I wait for a moment before I sneak away from the crowd and go to the foyer. I locate my coat and gloves and step outside in search of Marlow. He’s pacing on the pavement in front of the house like he’s trying to control his temper.

“Marlow?” I call out to him. He whirls around in my direction and upon spotting me, visibly tries to control his ire. “What’s wrong?” I ask as I approach.

“Forgive me for my lack of consideration,” he says in a voice that I’ve never heard before, “but is Sophia Taylor on the rag again?”

Oookay. There will be no scolding of Marlow Johnson today. He. Is. Livid.

“Um… okay, what happened?” I ask cautiously.

“She was awful to my date!” Marlow says, perturbed. “For no good damn reason, she was awful!” He sits down on the retainer wall. Oh, dear.

“In what way?” I ask, sitting down next to him.

“She said some flighty crap about her being skinny… something about needing a gravy sandwich or something like that.” I raise my eyebrows to him.

“Um… well… um… that’s not… horrible,” I try to excuse.

“My date heard her!” he snaps. I cringe.

“Ooo, that’s bad,” I retract. “Any idea why she said that?”

“Because she’s a brat!” he retorts, very angry about his seemingly ruined Thanksgiving. I try to come up with an explanation. I know she has a crush on him even though she hasn’t told me. This lashing out at his dates isn’t going to stop if he keeps bringing them around. Which reminds me…

“It could be attack as a form of defense,” I tell him. He raises a brow at me. “Have you forgotten the little twat who chased her away from Mia’s wedding? What was her name—Maya?”

“Maya didn’t chase her away!” He frowns.

“She most certainly did!” I retort. “That crack about her kid sister having Sophie’s dress; and then that whole ‘I’ll just have to take it off’ thing, as if everybody at the table didn’t know what the hell that meant. Sophie had just spent the entire dinner impressing a table full of adults with her cuisine expertise and here comes this insecure little twit acting like a jealous toddler and cutting her down in front of everybody. If Sophie acts like a brat in front of your dates, blame your first date—or at least the one that you brought to the wedding. That’s why I told you to talk to your women about how they act around us. And what happened to Maya anyway? It wasn’t two months ago, she was hanging all over you!”

“Um…” He rubs the back of his neck. “Yeah, well, she wasn’t really comfortable after the incident either.”

“Um-hmm,” I say, folding my arms. “I bet she wasn’t. I’m not trying to sabotage your dates, but I won’t stand by while they treat someone I love like crap. I’m really sorry about Britney. I’m sure she didn’t deserve what happened, but when it comes to your girls, Sophie may be lashing out before they get the chance to lash out at her. And don’t be surprised if she’s got an entire armory ready. You might want to try and talk to her, get her to understand how her actions are affecting you—and I’m not saying this happened with Britney, but make sure your dates aren’t doing anything to antagonize her. She’s only 13, for Christ’s sake. You, her, and Maggie are the only teenagers we have at family gatherings, so…” I trail off and shrug.

“I may just have to stop bringing dates around altogether,” he laments. “Jeez, at this rate, I may never get laid again,” he adds, his voice low.

I don’t think I was supposed to hear that last part, so I just ignore it.

“Well, I don’t want you to feel like your dates aren’t welcome. You’re always welcome to bring them to family gatherings… as long as they know how to behave themselves, but Maya laid the groundwork for how Sophie’s going to act around your women, so you really need to talk to her.”

She’s got a crush on you, you idiot. Are you truly that dense? Smooth things over and let her know that you at least care about her feelings, even though it can never go any further.

Of course, telling her that he knows would just humiliate her to no end. So, of course, I can’t share my theory with him, but geez… it’s as plain as the nose on my face.

“I think I’m just going to take off,” he says, “try to smooth things over with Britney…”

“But not with Sophie?” I chastise.

“She’s the one who insulted Britney!” Marlow retorts.

“And I just told you why!” I counter. “You don’t think that needs addressing?”

“If I address that with her right now, Ana, I’m going to be pissed. I don’t even know where Britney is. I need to go find her. I’ll talk to Sophia some other time.” He stands. “Tell my mom to text me when she’s ready to go if I’m not back by then.” He marches down the driveway towards his car.

That’s right, Marlow. Run away.

It’s hard to remember that he’s still a child… but not. He’s 17, so his life should be shaping into manhood now, but he disappoints me when it comes down to how he’s handling the complexities of relationships right now. I guess this is when he’s learning.

And poor Sophie. She’s acting like the stereotypical catty jealous spurned female, but at 13, she’s coming off as the bratty ass little sister. Their age difference is wide enough that they most likely will never have any romantic relationship—not to mention the fact that Marlow simply does not see her that way—but at this rate, she’ll not only destroy any hint of a chance of a romance. She’ll also destroy their friendship.


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 65—The Glue That Holds Family Together

Please say a prayer for my friend Yanique. She lost her mom recently after a long and diligent struggle with her health. Send her positive vibes, love, and light. I know that is a very rough time for her.

Tiny little chat here…

My last post was November 30—that was 16 days ago. In that time, I’ve gotten about 35 or so emails and messages that were not automated. Only one of them asked, “Are you okay?” There were other emails and comments (two or three) that had the tone, “How are you doing? How are things going?” I have seen them. Forgive me if I haven’t responded yet.  

The rest of them were all, “Where’s the next chapter?” “When are you going to post the next chapter?” “Why are you making us wait so long for a chapter?” One such comment was immediately after the last chapter was posted. I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on how that made me feel.

I’ve probably said this 99 times, and I’ll probably say it 99 more until and if I ever decide to just stop writing. I appreciate that people are so invested in my stories more than you all know, but please stop treating me like “just the next chapter.” I’m well aware that not everybody does that, so you all know that I’m not talking to everyone—but those of you who do, you know who you are. For the record, when you do that, it just causes me to lose my motivation and I wait longer to post.

I may come in on a Tuesday night and say, “Hey, I’ve got a little energy. Let me edit a chapter,” then wake up on Wednesday morning, do my tags, upload it, make my links, and get it posted before I start working. If, however, I come in to “Hurry up with the chapter,” I’ll just go do something else. I don’t want anybody to feel like they can say, “Chop, chop! Give us a chapter,” and I’m going to “chop chop.” It has the opposite effect—it slows me right down. Please don’t “out” yourself by saying, “I didn’t mean it that way” because please don’t be offended, but I’m not going to respond if you do. You’re just going to be “outing” yourself. Just put a pin in this and realize that this is how it makes me feel.

So, for those who asked, yes, I’m okay. I’m doing fine, thank you so much for asking. All is well. I’ve been very busy and I’m dealing with a little seasonal depression, but the winter solstice is five days away and then it’s only up from there, so that’s a good thing. Working from home has been fabulous, my beloved Falala, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I had to go into the office for a day last week and I’ll have to go in a few days in the future, but for the most part, I love, love, love being at home.

Now, here’s the next chapter. Each subsequent chapter will be posted as time and opportunity—and motivation—allows. Thank you for your continued support.

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 65—The Glue That Holds The Family Together

CHRISTIAN

“Dad had a T-Bird? A fucking ’64 T-Bird? And you gave it to Burt?” Freeman roars through the phone.

Mom gave me the “all clear” this morning, so I came over to Dad’s house to meet with Uncle Herman and see how much of the items from the storage units had been shipped to family. Smalls located the model car collection that was willed to Dad and warned that he would need more than a display case for it before he shipped it out on Monday. Apparently, Dad already knew that and has had Elliot working on redoing another whole room in the house to prepare for their arrival. Another whole room… I have got to see this collection.

Other various items are making their way to different parts of the country. Herman wanted Grandma Ruby’s Waterford crystal and her wedding dress since no one laid claim to them. He said that the younger family members couldn’t see the value in the crystal and that grandma’s wedding dress just sitting in a storage facility somewhere didn’t seem right to him. So, those things are on the way to Washington along with Dad’s model car collection, and my Apollo will be shipped to a restorer on the east coast.

Lanie sent me a picture of Burtie smiling brightly and posing with his boyfriend—Leo’s cousin—next to his new, incredibly pimped out 1964 T-Bird with the ocean in the background. These are apparently Burtie’s engagement photos as he and his new love plan to tie the knot after Burtie’s surgeries. He insisted on waiting because he doesn’t want his scars to be in the wedding pictures.

Word got to Freeman because Lanie posted the pictures on social media. So, either Freeman’s trolling her page, or someone told him about it, and now he’s on Uncle Herman’s speaker phone stomping like Rumpelstiltskin.

“No, Freeman,” Uncle Herman says calmly. “I had a fucking ’64 T-Bird and I gave it to Burt.”

“That was Dad’s car! I’m his son, too, and you can’t pretend I don’t exist no matter how much you want to. As his son, I’m entitled to his possessions just like you are, and I want my share of that stuff!” Freeman demands. A satisfied look comes over Herman’s face.

“Didn’t you hear what Wu said at the reading?” Uncle Herman says. “Dad left all of this stuff to me to distribute as I see fit. You don’t have a share.”

He left you whatever was in that safe deposit box, not what he had in storage!”

“And the key and the instructions to the storage bin were in the safe deposit box. So, dear brother, that means that all that stuff belongs to me, too. Is that why you tried to keep me from the reading of the will? Because you knew that Dad left the disposition of his estate to me? Is that why you wanted to get him back to Detroit before he died—so that you could coerce him to change trustees? Maybe give you power of attorney so you could sell his house before he even died? You tried to screw me and Rick and it backfired on you. How does that feel?”

“You’re just as paranoid as he is,” Freeman shoots. “You can’t prove I did anything!”

“I don’t have to,” Uncle Herman replies. “It still backfired. You lied and you schemed and you went behind our backs and it backfired—in an even bigger way than you think because you’re even cheating yourself out of $500,000 that belongs to you because you’re too busy trying to hurt somebody else. Rick doesn’t need that money, and he proved it to you by giving me and Stan $750,000 each while you watched! Then he told us that we could keep whatever is left of our share when you’re done with your shenanigans. Who’s being hurt here, because it’s certainly not any of us!”

“You’re not going to get away with this, Herman…” Freeman begins.

“Stop right there,” Uncle Herman interrupts. “Before you start getting one of your stupid, dark ideas, don’t forget—if you protest the will, you lose your rights to everything, including that dilapidated house you inherited.” Freeman is silent for several moments.

“The joke’s going to be on you,” he says, finally. “I’m selling this house, and I’m using the money to rebuild Dad’s, and when I’m done, it’s going to be worth far more than those trinkets you all are playing with!”

“Trinkets!” Uncle Herman laughs. “That trinket that I gave your son has been rebuilt, refurbished and it’s currently worth nearly $100,000. How’s that for a trinket?”

Freeman is silent again.

“And you’re selling your house—a perfectly good house with a very high market value so that you can try to repair a money pit in the middle of Detroit where the market values are dropping and the joke’s on us? Didn’t you buy that house while you and Nell were married? That makes it community property. What does she say about that?”

“She moved out. She has no claim to this house anymore!” Not that simple, Freem. “Besides, I’m signing the divorce papers. I’m giving that witch what she wants and getting her out of my hair once and for all.”

“You mean that witch that bore your children and dealt with your bullshit for more than twenty years? Is that the witch you’re speaking of?” Herman retorts.

“They’re all dead to me!” he snaps. “Burt’s pressing charges on me for a little tough love and his pathetic, weak mother is falling in step right behind him. And Nollie—or whatever the fuck her name is now—yeah, it can easily be said that she’s to blame for this entire fucking fiasco!”

“Kind of like Rick has been the root of all evil for all of your problems, but never you, right, Freem?

“You were never to blame for smashing Burt’s face in the middle of a crowded airport.

“You were never to blame for alienating the entire family from Rick because you were pissed that he married a rich woman.

“You were never to blame for cheating on your faithful wife who stuck with you through all of your bullshit and garbage until she just couldn’t take it anymore.

“You were never to blame for treating your daughter like the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life from the day she was born!

“You were never to blame for making Dad feel like a burden from the day he got sick and couldn’t take care of himself anymore. A week before he died, he pretty much called you a selfish bastard, and he repeated those words from the grave in his will. His final thought for you was that he knew that he never meant anything to you, that you were pretty much waiting for him to die so that you could get that house and you didn’t feel a bit of conviction about it.

“You’re rotten through and through, Freeman, and you don’t have the conscience to feel bad about it. You’re going to die old, lonely, and miserable, and you’re not entitled to a goddamn thing but that house that you got. There’s no hope for you! I wash my hands of you! So, go rebuild your money pit and leave us the fuck alone. Don’t call me again!” Uncle Herman swipes the screen and ends the call and sighs heavily.

“I want to feel bad about it, but I don’t,” Uncle Herman says to me and Dad. “There’s really no hope for him! That man is like Satan, walking through the earth and ‘seeking whom he may devour.’”

“He’s adamant about that house,” Dad says. “He’s an unfeeling, delusional asshole, but he’s not an idiot. You all stayed in Detroit and the surrounding areas all these years. Before you and Dad moved out here, you were there. It’s no secret that Detroit is deteriorating. Schools are closing, families are leaving, neighborhoods are falling to ruin… he has to know that house is worthless! So, what is it? What’s so important?”

“He thought all Dad had was that house. Hell, we all thought all Dad had was that house! He was just the only one who was willing to risk everything to get it—including Dad!”

“There’s got to be something else more important about that house,” Dad says. “It can’t just be sentimental value.”

“He thinks it’s worth something,” I say with a shrug. “Maybe there’s gold in the basement.”

“Well, I hope he finds it,” Uncle Herman says waving his hands. “Jesus, I don’t want to hear from him ever again. I can’t take this anymore.”

“We may have a bigger problem, Uncle Herman,” I say. “He’ll more than likely head down to the storage units and cause some trouble. You might want to call the management office and give them a heads up. I’m going to call my guy and have him ship everything that’s been claimed to those members of the family who claimed it and ship everything else here. We need to wrap this up and everything needs to be on the road no later than Friday. That’s still two days and enough time for him to wreak havoc.”

“Over my dead body,” Uncle Herman says while dialing a number on his phone. I also pull out my cell phone. I call Smalls and explain what’s going on and what needs to be done. That operation needs to be shut down and on the move from Detroit to Seattle in two days.

“That’s impossible, sir,” Smalls declares. “We don’t have the resources here to ship this stuff across the country in two days. It took longer than that just to get a company to secure those cars. And it took even longer to get them prepared to be shipped to you. The way that it was packed in these facilities, it was packed to be stored—not to be shipped. That’s going to take time and care unless you want these things to be damaged when they arrive, and do you want anybody but Grey Shipping to transport these items? Antique furniture? Fragile glassware? Keepsakes? Quite candidly, sir, I don’t want to be held responsible for a botched-up job and you and your family receiving a bunch of pretty pieces of things that obviously have some pretty significant sentimental value.” I sigh heavily.

“Well, what do you suggest, Smalls?” I say, almost through my teeth.

“Well, Mr. Grey, shipping these things piece by piece isn’t a really difficult task, but shipping fragile and valuable items all in bulk, that’s a little out of my realm. I know it’ll take time, but I’d need to consult the experts on the best way to proceed.” I roll my eyes. Was I naïve for thinking that he would do that in the first place?

The truth is that shipping the items quickly isn’t necessarily the priority. Keeping Freeman away from the items is what’s most important. I put Smalls on hold and conference Alex into the call.

“Welch, I have Smalls on the line, the team leader over the project in Detroit. Smalls, how many units do we have out there again?”

Four,” he replies.

“Welch, my uncle in Detroit has gotten wind that my grandfather’s things are being divvied out to the family and he has made it clear that he ‘wants his share.’ We both know that he’s an unreasonable, delusional hothead and very unpredictable. I think you can see where I’m going with this.”

“Yes, sir,” Alex replies.

“So, we need to get a detail out there—something like five guys that can work shifts, more at night than during the daytime. The management team has already been informed that Freeman is to have no access to the units, so that pretty much takes care of business hours even though I would want at least one guy out there during the day just to keep the peace and allow the team to do their job…”

Hm,” Alex says into the phone. Hm? What’s the hm?

“Something I’m missing, Mr. Welch?” I ask.

“Well, no, sir. It’s just that the team is on a few different projects right now, including securing the Franklin mansion. We’re just spread kind of thin at the moment.”

I’m not hearing that. Did I just hear that? Did I just hear my head of security tell me that we don’t have the staff to do something that I need done? I have a large force of elite motherfuckers that rivals the CIA. In fact, some of them came from the CIA—and this fucker is insinuating that I don’t have the security staff to do what I need? We had a guy just sitting at Pops’ house while I was on my honeymoon! I own several security companies! And this fucker is telling me that the staff is “spread kind of thin” right after this other fucker is complaining about shipping four storage units—and not even four anymore—full of stuff from Detroit to Seattle when I control shipping modes on land, at sea, and in the air?

Has married life made me a pussy… or just made me look like one?

“Mr. Grey?” My pondering has caused me to fall silent.

“Okay, so here’s the thing,” I say, rubbing my brow and trying to keep my anger in check. “I am a fucking billionaire, so I’m not very accustomed to the word ‘no.’ Today, I have effectively heard it twice from two different people in my employ…”

“I didn’t say ‘no,’ sir…”

“Are you interrupting me?” I ask whoever it was that dared to speak. The line falls silent. “Now, as I was saying, in just the past few minutes, I have grown fucking tired of hearing what we can’t fucking do, no matter how you try to phrase it. I have an entire shipping department that sends things worldwide—including foodstuffs to third world countries—and my guy in Detroit is telling me that he can’t get my grandfather’s belongings here in a timely manner without busting them all to pieces. So, to alleviate the possibility of my crazy ass uncle coming down to the storage facility and starting any shit while we’re trying to sort this out, I ask for a security detail to be dispatched to the location in case he starts feeling froggy and now, my head of security is telling me how thinly spread they are even though in addition to being able to send a banana to Antarctica and have it arrive intact, I own more security subsidiaries across the country than I can count. Money can do just about anything these days except bring the dead back to life and I’m richer than Midas. So, right now, I need the two of you to act like you have an endless money pot and fix these fucking problems!

“Yes, sir,” they say almost simultaneously. I end the call without another word and thrust my hand into my hair. I’m asking for shit to be shipped and I’m asking for a security detail. How hard can this fucking be?

I turn around to see my father and uncle staring at me.

“It’s not all that important, Christian,” Uncle Herman says. “I’ve talked to the management, and Freeman won’t get off the lot with anything.”

“There’s a couple of problems with that thinking,” I tell him. “The storage facility may be private property, but anybody can get in there—wire cutters, climb a fence, whatever. The management team aren’t going to be there 24/7 and quite frankly, neither are my guys. Freeman is already irrational and delusional. He’s harassed me to the point of having to get a restraining order and he’s beaten his son to the degree that he needs plastic surgery. I don’t put it past him for a second that he’ll go down there and bust in every door until he finds Pops’ stuff, or that he’ll find where they’re working and just start breaking Pops’ shit for the hell of it, or worse yet, hurt one of my guys. Can you guarantee me that he won’t do that?” I ask.

Uncle Herman just looks at me for a few moments. Freeman started a fight with and assaulted my father in his own house, then provoked me to the point of nearly choking him to death. Then he came back with the police and said that we started the fight. He’s a loose fucking cannon and right now, nobody’s there to keep him in check.

“No, son,” Uncle Herman says. “I can’t guarantee that.”

“I didn’t expect you would, but here’s the bigger issue. I run an international company with nearly bottomless resources. If I ask for fresh snow from the highest peak of Mt. Everest, intact and on my desk, I expect to get it—however they have to get it to me, but that’s not what I’m asking for. I’m asking for items—and yes, a lot of items and some of them very fragile—to be shipped across the country as soon as possible and for a security team to be present at the storage facility to make sure everything runs smoothly. Yet, twice in the last few minutes, I have the two HMIC’s telling me what they can’t do. I’m going to assume that they conveniently forgot who they were speaking to, and that they’ll have a game plan for me by the end of business.”

Uncle Herman and Dad look at each other and then back at me.

“You’re the boss,” Uncle Herman says. “I just don’t want you putting yourself or your company out for this.”

“Pops’ preserved all that stuff for his family,” I begin. “I know that he intended for Freeman to have some of it, but if Freeman had his way, he’d sell everything and run off with the money! This way, Pops’ legacy is being spread among all of his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren. The jewelry that you gave me for my wife— Butterfly cried when I gave her those things! And they will most likely one day end up in my daughter’s hands. How do you think Pops’ and Grandma Ruby feel looking down on that right now?” Herman smiles a warm smile.

“Pretty damn good,” he says contentedly. I nod.

“Damn straight! So, if the one selfish bastard who would ruin it for the whole family is the one person that gets cut out of the process, I can live with that, and I’m sure that my grandparents understand. Now, these people that I have in charge of these things are getting paid well enough to lick their wounds later, and if they want to keep getting paid those handsome salaries, they’ll stop dragging their asses, kill the excuses, and find a way to make this happen. So, don’t worry about it one more moment. The only thing you should be concerned about is who gets what and then we’ll make sure that it gets to be where it needs to be.”

“Like I said,” Uncle Herman says, still smiling, “You’re the boss… speaking of which, Ana emailed me about Mom’s wardrobe.” My brow furrows.

“Her wardrobe?” I ask. He nods.

“Yeah. I noticed that Ana wasn’t on the mailing list for Mom and Dad’s things. I thought it might have been an oversight, so I asked for her email address and sent her this list. I hope I didn’t overstep…”

“Oh, no, no, not at all, Uncle Herman. It actually was an oversight on my part. I didn’t even think to add my wife to the list. You know, the whole ‘we have everything we need thing,’” I excuse. I hope Butterfly won’t be too warm with me for not adding her to the list. It really was an accident. “So, what’s this about the wardrobe?”

“Apparently, your wife is a vintage clothing connoisseur,” my uncle says. “Mom’s heyday was the fifties and sixties, and even though she bought new things in the later decades, she kept all of her clothes and had many of them preserved in cedar chests and things like that. Georgie thought to send some pictures with the email of some of Mom’s things. I wouldn’t have thought the kids would be interested in any of those things, but your wife went nuts! As long as I get Mom’s wedding dress, I’ve agreed to send everything else to Ana. She’s going to keep what she wants and consign the rest with the proceeds going to Helping Hands.”

Butterfly in true vintage Lindy-bop dresses. I’m having a separate conversation with Greystone right now to keep him in check.

“Oh, yes, Butterfly loves that era of clothing. Her closet at her condo is nothing but vintage replicas. She’s going to have a field day with this. Thanks, Uncle Herman.” He smiles.

“A very small token, Christian,” he says. “If we didn’t have you, I have no idea how we’d get through this.”

“It’s the very least I could do,” I say


ANASTASIA

Marilyn may not want to discuss her situation with me, but as her employer, she’s going to have to tell me something sooner or later. Nonetheless, I’ve promised to stay out of her business and allow her to sort this out on her own. I won’t approach her about it unless she asks—or if she starts showing, whichever comes first.

“Courtney,” I ask when she comes out of the kitchen after I hang up from Marilyn, “I don’t mean to pry, but what conversation have you had?” She frowns.

“What?” she asks, bemused.

“With Harmony,” I say. “When you mentioned fattening her up, she said you had already had that conversation.”

“Oh, that… she can’t keep anything down when she’s really upset,” Courtney informs me.

“Oh,” I nod. “Could she be pregnant?” Courtney shakes her head.

“I asked the same thing. She’s been celibate for nearly a year now. It’s just her nerves. They’re really bad.”

“I can only imagine,” I say. “And this experience is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.” I rub my scar and sigh heavily.

“What’s wrong, Ana?” Courtney asks. I shake my head.

“I never understood the concept of death bringing out the worst in people. She’s barely hanging on, now she’s going to have to go head to head with these people who are supposed to be her siblings, so to speak.”

“Well,” she says, putting her arm around my shoulder, “That’s why she has us. I told Vick that I’ll be staying here with her tonight, so she might drop by. Should I let somebody know?”

“Yeah, just tell security. It’ll be fine,” I inform her.

I’m not as worn out when I get home as I was yesterday thanks to Courtney’s presence, but I remember that I need to call Val to find out the results of her doctor’s appointment. I’m anxious to know if Meg has returned and I’ll be front and center for her this time if she has.

“What did the doctor say?” I ask immediately after greeting her when she answers the phone.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” she says. “Meg has not reared her ugly head. Like I told you, there was a perfectly logical reason for the dizzy spells, so everyone can breathe now.”

“Did he say how often you’ll have them?” I press. “Or how long? Are they like the throbbing in my scar where you just have to deal with them whenever they show up?”

“Something like that,” she says. “We don’t know yet how often I’ll have them or for how long, but we’re pretty certain that they’re not permanent. What’s important is that my healing is still on track—more than on track, in fact—and we don’t have to prepare for any surgeries or radiation, thank God!”

“Were you worried, Val?” I ask, my voice softening. She sighs.

“I try to keep a positive outlook, Steele,” she says. “Life’s too short and you can’t spend it worrying, but… the unknown… that shit is scary as fuck.”

“I know,” I tell her. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t more supportive last weekend. I know you really could have used the encouragement.”

“Honestly, don’t trouble yourself. Just like you were finding your way last week, I had to find mine. There are some journeys that we must travel alone, as you well know.” I nod as if she can see me.

“I well know,” I confirm.

“So, what’s on your agenda for the rest of the week?” she asks, affectively changing the subject. I sigh.

“Tina died,” I say, sadly. “I’m at Harmony’s disposal. I know she needs me.”

“Oh, Ana. That poor girl. I know her pain. Give her my condolences, please.”

“I will. Luckily, there’s not too much that needs to be done. Tina made her own arrangements before she died. She knew that Harmony wouldn’t be able to handle it. And their attorney—he’s cordial and accommodating. He cares more about them than her own children.”

“Could it be the money?” she asks.

“It could be, but I sense a loyalty to the family—or at least, to Tina—that goes far deeper than money. After the mess of Harmony’s divorce and already having to deal with losing a loving mother…” I trail off. I’m grateful for Carl and how he’s handling things, even though I’m not the one who has to deal with all this. “He was at the county office the moment he learned that the quit deed had been registered getting copies of it for Harmony. I have a feeling that Tina was waiting for the deed to be finalized before she let go.”

“Oh, dear, that’s so sad,” Val says. “Those kids of hers must be some gruesome lot.”

“They’ve proven to be just that, but Christian and I are ready for them. It looks like we’ve adopted yet another family member.”

“You seem to do that a lot,” she laughs. “Marlow and his family, Luma and the girls… what about that other lady? Thelma and… what was that guy’s name?”

“James,” I remind her. She wasn’t around for that drama, but I filled her in later. “You should get to meet them at the gala on Thanksgiving weekend. It’s been decided that the Adopt-A-Family Affair is going to be the Adopt-A-Family Reunion. So, invitations have gone out to all of the families who had been listed to be adopted over the last five years.”

“That’s kinda cool,” she says. “Will they still be adopting families this year, or will it all be the Reunion?”

“No, things will still be going as planned,” I tell her. “We’ll just have more guests at the party this year than usual. So, have you had a cooking lesson this week?”

“A small one,” she says. “Chicken alfredo. It was simple, and I caught on pretty quickly…”

I continue my conversation with Val with her reminding me that Thanksgiving dinner will be at her house this year. Jason, Gail, and Sophie will be joining us as will Marlow, Maggie, and Marcia, so I’ll at least have one of my nannies with me. Chuck and Keri will be visiting some of Chuck’s extended “family”—people who have somewhat adopted him like we did. He wants to introduce Keri to them.

Val’s house is large, but unfortunately can’t accommodate a Grey family sleepover, so the Grey siblings as well as Jason and Gail will be staying the night at Val and Elliot’s while the parents—including Dad and Mandy—and Herman and Luma will be at Grey Manor.

Friday, the ladies will meet for Black Friday shopping as usual, then go to Miana’s for our Black Friday spa day. Keri will join us for Black Friday, and Minnie will spend the day with the ladies along with Celida, Mariah, and Sophie while Mikey and Harry hang out with the guys. The family will then all converge on Grey Manor for dinner and be spending Friday night there to have brunch on Saturday, then go to the Adopt-A-Family Reunion from there. Keri and Gail will get the twins home and Jason and Chuck will, of course, be on duty with me and Christian.

After the gala, we’ll all return to Grey Crossing, where the family will spend the night, have their final weekend brunch, and disperse to their homes. This way, all three homes will have hosted part of the Thanksgiving weekend… except for Mia who promises to maybe look for a bigger place and host a holiday next year.

Val is telling me about the Thanksgiving meal that will be catered and served by staff when my husband’s voice breaks into our conversation.

“I hear you’re going to have a sexy new wardrobe soon.”

I look up at him and shake my head.

“I gotta go, Val,” I tell her. “My husband has just arrived and, of course, requires my attention.”

“Of course,” she laughs. “I’ll talk to you soon.” We end the call.

“What sexy new wardrobe are you talking about?” I ask. “Ruby’s things?”

“Yeah,” he says, going into his dressing room. “I hear her entire vintage wardrobe is being shipped here.”

“Yeah, no thanks to you!” I yell into the dressing room. “Herman told me that list was supposed to go to all the children and grand-children. How did I not make the cut? I am your wife.”

“That was a terrible oversight on my part,” he says coming out of the dressing room while unbuttoning his shirt. “I’ll be honest—we already have so much that I wasn’t even thinking about us getting anything on that list. I’m sorry, baby.”

“You’re forgiven,” I say. “And what made you say that the wardrobe is sexy?”

“Lindy-bop dresses?” he says going back to his dressing room. “I’ve seen you in those—all demure and shit. They drive me crazy. And Uncle Herman says that the fifties and sixties were Grandma Ruby’s heyday, so I know she’s probably got some hot stuff in there.” He comes back out in a T-shirt and sweats.

“I don’t know how you fit all your junk in there,” I say. He looks behind him.

“In where? In there?” he says pointing to his dressing room.

“No, in there?” I say pointing to his sweatpants. “That’s a lot of meat and I’ve seen lesser men hang and wobble in those.” He looks down at his sweats.

“Why do you think I wear boxer briefs?” he says. “Jock straps are out of the question, as are tighty-whities, and even soft, I peek out of regular boxers. These were the only option.” I shake my head.

“I guess I should be happy I didn’t fall in love with an itty-bity. That would have been a disaster.” Christian laughs loudly.

“I guess so,” he says, through his laughter. “So, what’s on the agenda for tonight?”

“Food, then sleep, my love,” I say. “I’ve got some things to do at the Center tomorrow and then, I’m going to Harmony’s to finalize things for Tina’s service. It’s going to be Saturday, so we have to wrap things up.”

“No word from the siblings yet?” he asks.

“Not a peep,” I say. “It’s been quiet. Too quiet.”

“Jesus! Won’t they even help with the final arrangements?” I shrug.

“If they don’t get it in gear by tomorrow, they won’t have any input, so…” I trail off.

“Jeez, what a brood,” he says, shaking his head. “Let’s go eat.”

*-*

I discover that I spoke too soon about no word from the siblings. I get a text from Harmony at about 10am that she has to go to the funeral home for the final viewing of her mother before they present her for public viewing. I ask if she wants me or Courtney to go with her, but she assures me that she’ll be fine.

“This is the easy part,” she says. “Making sure a pretty woman in life is still pretty in death.”

She’s livid when I get to her house.

“That was not my mother!” she fumes. “The idea is to make sure that the dead don’t look dead,” she says. She pulls out her phone.

“I gave them this picture!” She scrolls through her phone and shows me a picture of Tina when she was alive.

“This is what they did.” I wasn’t prepared for her to show me a picture of Tina’s corpse, but that’s exactly what it was—a corpse… not in a casket, on a slab. It was clean and neat and presentable… and flaxen white. We know the deceased isn’t with us anymore, but we don’t want them to look that way! And what’s with that fucking hair? That’s not a bouffant, is it? It looks horrendous!

82920f4c350d65dc46d4b246afcc86f3

BOUFFANT 

“Was someone practicing?” I ask before I realize the words are out of my mouth, still gazing at the picture in dismay.

“That’s what I asked!” she seethes and scrolls through her phone again.

“That’s how she looks now!” she nearly hisses. Tina has been redone and is now lying in her casket with an ethereal glow. Her hair is how I remembered her wearing it at Mia’s wedding. Her coloring is perfect and she’s wearing a beautiful blue dress with long sleeves and a high Victorian-style collar. She looks stately and beautiful, and completely at rest.

“Well, at least they got it right the second time,” I say, examining the picture.

“They didn’t,” she says, swiping her phone and clearing the screen. “I did.”

My eyes must look like bowling balls. I can’t believe what I’m hearing.

“What?” I ask in disbelief.

“That’s what took four hours,” she says as she put her phone away. “I came back here, got my mother’s makeup and redid it. Then I had to give her a dry shampoo to get all that horrible hair spray out of her hair—something that I’ve never seen her use…” Harmony is furious and covers her face as she shakes her head.

“I must be delusional or insane with grief, because I swear I saw her smile at me when I had finished.” She raises angry eyes to me. “And it brought me peace—for a minute. In my head, I went on this insane rant, this ‘Who the fuck is this woman’ rant when I saw this stranger lying on a slab posing as my mother, but my anger just wouldn’t come out. I wanted it to, but it wouldn’t.”

She walks away from me and starts pacing around the room.

“I tried to tell them that wasn’t my mother, and they tried to tell me that death changes the face. I know that death changes the face, but that wasn’t even close. I asked if they even looked at the picture when they did my mother’s hair and makeup, and they just did this blank stare thing. I told them not to touch my mother and that I would be back, and that’s when I came home and got the supplies. Maybe it’s just the quality of the makeup…”

“No, it’s not just the quality,” I tell her, recalling the first picture of Tina. “She looked like a Halloween costume, and a bad one at that. They could have done much better.” I put my hand on her shoulder. “You did an excellent job.”

“Thank you,” she says, still angry. “I’m so pissed, I just want to hit something.”

As if from Harmony’s mouth to God’s ears, one of the security detail announces that she has visitors demanding entrance to her home. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who it is.

“Let ‘em in!” she says combatively, folding her arms and facing the entrance to the dining room.

Showtime!

I’m standing behind the sofa when they enter. None of them look their age. They look late forties at the latest, but I know from the intel that Christian gave me that the youngest of them—Paige—is 60 years old. The wonders of modern medicine.

They all walk in, stepping in sync, and one of the women folds her arms and adjusts her weight like she’s ready to face off.

I can’t fucking believe this. They all showed up together—unannounced, like a posse. They remind me of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad coming to wipe everybody out, only they didn’t expect to find her fifty guards deep. They expected her to be alone.

I lift my wrist to my mouth, clear my throat, and whisper a single word into the mouthpiece there.

“Backup.”

This is the signal that I want at least five other people in this room right now. I got seven.

“Harmony,” one of the women greet.

“Paige,” Harmony acknowledges with the same indifference.

“What’s with the goon squad?” one of the men jeer.

“You tell me,” Harmony says, folding her arms. “My ringer must be malfunctioning, because Mom’s been dead for two days and I don’t recall a call from any of you.”

“We didn’t get a call from you, either,” the same man retorts.

“Why would I call you, Theo?” she counters. “You never answered any other time I called, or when Mom called. Why would now be any different?” She looks from face to face.

“You got the call that you were waiting for—from her attorney. You comin’ to collect? Well, I hope he told you that you’re going to have to wait until the reading of the will.” The other woman, whom I deduce is Ilsa, scoffs.

“You look awful,” Paige says. “Are you on drugs?” Harmony’s eyes narrow.

“No,” she hisses, “I’m mourning the loss of my mother. You look great, by the way, for having just lost yours!” Paige is taken aback by her frankness. “Did you come to help with Mom’s arrangements?” she asks sarcastically.

“Well,” Ilsa says, “we were coming to help you clean up, get things in order, so to speak.”

“Well, as you can see,” Harmony says gesturing around the house, “everything looks like a shiny new penny, so I don’t need any help cleaning up.

“We mean like packing up Mom’s things,” Theodore interjects.

“You mean like picking through Mom’s things,” Harmony corrects him. “She’s not even cold yet, Theo. Can’t you even wait until she’s laid to rest before you start picking her bones dry?”

“That’s my mother you’re talking about!” he barks.

“Yeah, you might want to remember that!” Harmony retorts. “Mom’s dead. She’s gone! She’s not coming back, and there’s not a tear between you, but you want to ask me if I’m on drugs because I’ve cried a river in three days and I can’t keep anything down because I lost my mom. So, to answer your question, no—I don’t need your help cleaning up. We have a staff here who can help me with that. Anything else?” Paige sighs impatiently.

“I gave Mom a set of diamond earrings,” she huffs. “Unless she’s being buried in them, I want them back. I gave them to her for her 50th birthday. They’re 4-carats each. You can’t miss them.”

“No,” Harmony says firmly. “The stipulation states that nothing will be distributed from Mom’s estate until the will is read and that’s how it’s going to be.”

“So, what’s to stop you from taking her stuff?” Jason says.

“Well, you’ll just have to trust me, now, won’t you?” Harmony retorts, folding her arms. “Mom certainly did.”

“We don’t know that,” Theodore hisses.

“And you never will,” Harmony hisses back, “because you weren’t here to help take care of her, now, were you? You couldn’t be bothered to leave your oh-so-important lives to come and see about your dying mother! I sat here and took care of her for months and watched her slip away and now you want to come and throw darts at me?”

Harmony is drawing on some much-needed anger to fend off her selfish and greedy siblings. None of them have a response for not being there for Tina, so they resort back to accusing Harmony of manipulating her.

“I see you didn’t wait for the stipulation to take the house,” Ilsa says.

“That was Mom’s doing,” Harmony counters. “She put the house in my name before she died so you couldn’t come and put me out, which I fully know was your plan until you found out that Mom made it legal.”

“And stop calling her ‘Mom!’ She’s not your mom!” Theodore huffs.

“She is my mom!” Harmony roars, shocking us all. “And your hateful, belittling, treacherous, greedy, selfish attitudes and behavior is not going to change that. Now, get the hell out of my house!”

Your house!” Paige scoffs. “Couldn’t wait to say that, could you?”

“Damn straight!” Harmony says. “Get these people out of my house please,” she says to the security staff. The security detail begins to move forward toward the unwanted visitors.

“You can’t throw us out of Mom’s house!” Jonah protests.

“It’s my house now, and I can throw you out,” Harmony says definitively.

“If you put your hands on me, I’ll scream,” Paige tells one of the guards.

“And I’ll sue you,” Theodore tells another, “and you, too,” he adds to Harmony.

“Scream your little heart out!” Harmony says to Paige before turning to Theodore. “Sue away if you’ve got money to burn. I told you to leave my house. As of this moment, you’re trespassing. According to Washington law, I and my staff can legally remove you by any means necessary if you refuse to leave. Look it up—it’s public information.” She turns back to the security detail. “Get them out of my house.” The security detail create a half circle around the siblings.

“Ladies, gentlemen?” one of them says to the group while gesturing to the vestibule area. If looks could kill, there would be daggers flying across the room at Harmony, but I’m certain that her determined anger is forming a force field that renders their daggers ineffective, causing them to drop uselessly to the floor. Jonah whispers something to Ilsa, who nods before they turn to leave.

“Oh,” Harmony adds, “and you can forget about the secret doors. They’re locked, alarmed, and guarded… all of them.” Jonah whirls around as does Ilsa, revealing that this was the content of their whispered tête-à-tête.

“I’ll blow this whole house up with you in it,” Jonah threatens. Oh, he’s gone too far now.

“You try it,” Harmony seethes. “I’ll hunt your old ass down to the end of the earth. My trust kicked in after the divorce, so I’ve got the money for it.”

I can’t keep silent anymore.

“And friends in high places who just heard you threaten to commit murder,” I add. He pales a bit when I speak. “You should take her advice and leave now. I’m sure you’ll all get your piece of the pie at the reading of the will, which is all you really want, right?”

“You…” Jonah begins to me.

“Don’t,” I say, holding up one well-manicured finger. “Let me save you the headache and the lifetime of misery because this…” I point to myself with both index fingers, “… is a battle that you don’t want. If you’re slightly concerned about her, then you should be terrified of me because all of these people…” the same two fingers scan the whole room, “… work for me. And if you think her money is power, my money makes hers look like a piggy bank. Do you really want this?”

I’m picking a fight that I know he won’t follow through with. In fact, none of them will. They came to bully Harmony and didn’t expect her to be carrying a baseball bat. Then he turned on me—or thought he was going to turn on me—and got confronted with a wrecking ball.

“Gentlemen,” I say to my security staff, “show these people out by any means necessary.”

The staff moves in and the siblings once again head towards the door. Theodore, determined to destroy something on his way out, kicks over a table in the foyer causing the vase full of flowers to shatter all over the foyer floor. Within a moment, one of the guys from the security detail lifts him into the air by the back of his coat. His feet are flailing and he’s shouting obscenities while the others look on in total shock. The detail gets him to the porch and literally throws him off like that kid from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

200

It takes everything in me to keep from laughing when I see that man fly through the air and land on the lawn with a thud. Harmony isn’t as tactful.

“If you come back here again, I’m going to shoot first and ask questions later,” my security says. “You are all a threat to the lady of the house, and I will treat you as such.” He turns around and glares at Jonah, who doesn’t hesitate the scurry out of the house. Harmony goes to the door, laughing hysterically.

“I’ll send you the bill, Theo!” she yells into the night.

“Good luck collectin’!” he yells back.

“Never mind, then,” she retorts. “I’ll just submit it to the estate and have it taken from your share of the inheritance!”

“Fuck you, bitch!” he yells back while limping to his car.

“No thanks, Unc!” she yells. “I’m afraid your equipment is out of commission!” She turns back to Ilsa and Paige.

“Do you ladies need directions?” Harmony asks, all mirth gone from her voice. “I’m sure this gentleman would be only too happy to assist you!”

The ejection guard moves over to stand next to Harmony, prompting Ilsa to give Paige a little push before both women leave without another word. We watch as the gruesome foursome get into various cars and screech down the circle drive and off the premises.

“God! That felt good!” Harmony says as she walks back to the dining room.

“You haven’t seen the last of them, Harmony,” I warn as I follow her into the dining room and the detail secures the house.

243b0453c83e3f27031b22d2e7c3aa07“Good! Let ‘em bring it. I have a lot of pent-up anger and frustration from being ignored, being mistreated, being abandoned, taken for granted, and now losing the only person in the world that meant anything to me and having the funeral home make her up like the goddamn crypt keeper. This rage needs to be fed and they’re the perfect fucking food!”

She paces angrily around the dining room, her emotions cementing a snarl on her face that could scare the devil.

“I’m fucked up, Ana,” she hisses, pacing around the entire circumference of the dining room. “I’m seeing someone about it, but I’m fucked up. I’ve been fucked-up for as long as I could remember. As a kid, I couldn’t understand why people couldn’t love me—only my Mom. My sisters and brothers had kids that were older than me, and I didn’t get it. Then one day, dear old Dad lets me know why. I’m adopted—Franklin blood, yes, but two generations down adopted. I didn’t even know he was my father, and God only knows where my bio-mom is. That’s why they treated me so distant, why they were so ugly to me. But not once—not once—did my mother treat me like an outsider. Not once did she make me feel like I was not her child.

“I put her through hell,” she continues. “I wasn’t as bad as some kids, but she was too old to be dealing with my shit. I started having sex at 12, trying to find that love—that acceptance and attention that I was missing. I was a goddamn train wreck, and she didn’t deserve that. But you know what? She still made me feel like I was the most valued, most precious treasure in the world.

“When I got older and I met Ken, and he treated me like the sun, the moon, and the stars… an older guy—more mature, right? He knew things about the world and he made me feel good, and…” She shakes her head and continues to pace.

“I thought he was a great guy. I thought he was in love with me. When Mom said that I wouldn’t get my trust if I married him, I thought, ‘Fine, we’re in love. We’ll make it on our own.’ That’s when his true colors came out. He’s a dog and only wanted my money. All the others before him only wanted sex… and I only wanted to be loved.” She sighs heavily.

“So here I am now, all fucked up and trying to get out of the marriage, and I didn’t want to come back home to Mom, because I didn’t want to hear ‘I told you so…’ which she never said, by the way. But then she called me, and she told me what was going on, and I came home as quick as I could. I expected to walk in and find her bio-kids all camped out and clustered around her…” She trails off and shows the first sign of sadness. “And when I got here, she was all alone. She was dying, and she was all alone. I assumed that she hadn’t called them—that she called me first. But she had called us all, and I’m the only one who came. I didn’t know what I could do for her—I just knew I had to be here.”

“You did it, Harmony,” I say, making her pause in her trek. “You were here for her. You were the only one of her children that was here for her. That’s what she needed. She had doctors and nurses to care for her physically as much as they could. She had Carl to take care of her property, her legal issues. Roger was supposed to take care of her home, but he fell through and we came in, so she had someone for that. But she needed you to love her through her final days and her transition, and that’s what you did. That’s why she called you all, and where those losers never even showed up to the game, you were the pinch hitter and you hit that ball right out of the park. Don’t you see that?”

Harmony is breathing through angry tears as she fights to formulate her words.

“It was the least I could do,” she chokes. “She was… is… my angel. My guardian, my savior… she’s everything to me. It was the least… the very least…” She shakes her head and wipes her tears. “So, let them fucking come. I’ll unleash a level of hell on them that they’ve never seen in their entire lives!”

And there’s that fire again.

“Ana, I’m really very fucked up… and I need you to know that I made googly eyes at Christian,” she spits out. She doesn’t look at me as she confesses. “I didn’t want to fuck him… really. He’s a good-lookin’ guy, but… it wasn’t that. It’s that he had done this really great thing for my mom and he’s male and…” She rolls her eyes and continues. “I was grateful, not attracted and it was just… He didn’t give me the time of day. He didn’t even entertain the idea.”

Those last two sentences are the only two full sentences she’s actually formed, I think.

“I understand if you’re mad at me and don’t want to deal with me anymore…”

“Harmony,” I say, halting her rant, “I already know. It’s fine, I get it.”

She freezes again and stares at me.

“Oh, dear God, he swore that he wouldn’t tell you!” she says horrified. “I swore it wouldn’t happen again and he swore that he would never tell you!”

“And he kept his promise initially,” I tell her, “but when I told him how bad off you were after finding Tina had passed and he thought it best that I knew…” I trail off.

“To keep me from running into the arms of the nearest loser,” she completes my sentence. Well, I wouldn’t have put it that way, but… pretty much.

“You’re golden, Ana,” she says finitely. “If I were you, I would’ve kicked my ass.” I scoff a laugh.

“Only because I understand,” I inform her, “and if you do it again, I will.”

“Understood,” she replies, wiping her tears, “and don’t worry, I won’t.”


CHRISTIAN

It’s well after dinner, and my wife still isn’t home yet. She hasn’t texted me or called to say that she’ll be late, and I’m trying not to panic. Honestly, I’m not panicking. I’m just trying not to let my imagination run away with me. Although mine aren’t as prominent, Butterfly wasn’t the only one left with remnants of the Boogeyman after the whole Westwick situation.

To this day, I don’t know how I could have thought my wife would ever be unfaithful. She had already told me long ago that infidelity was a deal breaker for her. Yet, I believed that she would risk our home, our life, and our happiness for a stranger that she had only known for a few weeks.

Striking blue eyes… asshole!

I ascend the stairs and knock on the door of the nursery. When there’s no answer, I open the door and peak inside. It’s quiet—no nannies. My children must be asleep. I haven’t spent any time with them the entire week, but Mom says that I’m okay now, so I’m coming to see my children.

I step in quietly and close the door. Minnie’s crib is closest to the door, so I peak in at her. She’s fast asleep. I kiss my fingers and gently pat her cheek before I look in on my son. He’s awake, but fitful. He’s not crying and he actually looks sleepy, but he can’t seem to find his slumber.

I take him out of the bed and he immediately lands on my shoulder like a sack of potatoes. I sit in the rocker and rub his little back.

“You havin’ a rough time without her, too?” I ask. He raises gray eyes to me that look like mine. Then he puts his two fingers in his mouth and starts to suck as he lays his head on my shoulder.

I love you, kid, but we’re going to have to break that habit.

I’m concerned about him needing dental work, but their pediatrician actually says that if he must suck a finger or two, these are the best ones. Thumbs push against your upper mouth and teeth and interfere with the formation of bone structure, resulting in overbites and crooked teeth—and the need for ugly and expensive braces. The other prominent fingers push down on the tongue. So as long as they stop sucking before their permanent teeth come in, they should be fine.

I’m not buying it. My son will not be going to the first grade sucking his fingers… but for right now, it’s okay.

“I don’t think I ever sucked my fingers, Mikey,” I say as I rock back and forth. “At least, I don’t remember doing it. There’s a lot I don’t remember, though.”

I look out the window and I can see the light of the moon through the curtains even though I can’t see the moon itself.

“I remember…” I begin, and my thoughts go back to the very recess of my mind. Did the crack whore ever hold me like this? Did she ever rock me to sleep and give me gentle pecks on the cheek? When did she fall into the clutches of the pimp? How could she let that happen to us? Did she ever love me? At all?

“You don’t have to worry about that, Mikey,” I say as I rock him. “You have the most beautiful, kindest, caring mother in the whole world… well, your grandma’s pretty great, too, but you mom… she’s one of a kind.

“I didn’t think about that, you know, when I first met her… what kind of mother she’d be. No, son, I had much more unsavory thoughts which you may never learn about. I don’t imagine any man thinks about that kind of thing when he first meets a woman—unless he’s specifically looking for a wife. Who knows what any man thinks? I’m sure a normal man wouldn’t look at a woman and think about how badly he wants to chain her to a cross and be—”

I stop abruptly, remembering my audience. TMI, Grey. I look down at my son and his eyes are closed. He’s not completely lost to the sandman as he’s still sucking his fingers quite rhythmically.

“I know you do that as a means of comfort,” I say. “Is it because it reminds you of the nipple?”

I almost expect him to answer.

“Yeah, I get it, kid. Nothing tastes like that nipple… well, maybe one other thing for me.” I chuckle quietly as I have once again given my son too much information, even though he doesn’t know it.

“You’ll never have my life, Mikey,” I promise him. “You’ll never see the horrors that I saw or be abused or mistreated. There are so many people who love you if something were to happen to me and your mom, and I thank God for that. You and your sister will be set for the rest of your lives. But make no mistake, young man, I’ll expect you to work hard, follow your dreams and make something of yourself—just like I did.”

Just like I did…

I fell… no—I walked into the clutches of that horrible woman and my life changed forever. I will admit that had it not been for her money, I wouldn’t have been able to start my business. Well, that’s not necessarily true. With a good business plan, I probably would have been able to get a small business loan on the reputation of my last name alone, but I wasn’t thinking about that back then. I was thinking about the fact that my father had turned me down and was nearly ready to kick me out of the house for dropping out of college… and about fucking… fucking her. Right now, I can hardly believe how badly I wanted her. She was all I thought about most of the time. Everything I did was a means to an end to get back to her.

Do well in school. Get back to her…
Don’t get into fights. Get back to her…
Don’t date girls. Get back to her…
Get into college. Get back to her…
Behave myself. Get back to her…
Follow instructions. Get back to her…
Do whatever was necessary to get back to her…

Would she have even lent me the money if she wasn’t fucking and beating me? Probably not. I look back down at my sleeping son. He’s not suckling his fingers anymore.

“Promise me you’ll come talk to me first, champ… about anything,” I beseech him. “I swear, I’ll listen. I’ll even back your dreams, and if I don’t agree with them, we’ll talk about it—to see how sound and feasible they are. We’ll come to a compromise, or something, but I’ll never shut you down, kid. I’ll never feed you to the wolves.”

That’s not what my parents did, but the wolf got me anyway.


A/N: I Peter 5:8—”Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. 

HMIC—there are many connotations, one in particular for those in the UK, but in this instance, “HMIC” is “Head Man In Charge.”

The “Deadly Viper Assassination Squad” are the four other characters that tried to kill “The Bride” (Uma Thurman’s character, Beatrice Kiddo aka Black Mamba) in Kill Bill, hence prompting the stories Kill Bill, Vol I and II, where Kiddo sets out to kill all four members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, plus Bill.  

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