Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 23

As promised, a little bit of salve for this corona quarantine…

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 23

ANASTASIA

“If it’s not too much trouble, would you please meet me at the hospital?”

I’ve happily spent Saturday with me and Sophie happily introducing my babies to my love of aquariums, then taking pictures with the Wax figures at Madame Tussauds before coming home and having a junk food/romcom night with all the girls since Gail and Sophie will be leaving tomorrow. I thought about sending the twins back, too, but decided against it since I’d rather have my babies here with me.

I had decided to take a trip to the chocolate factory this morning, but I have Dr. Lee on the line smugly requesting my presence at Summerlin. You wanna go that route, Doc? Fine by me.

“Save the sarcasm, Dr. Lee,” I retort, “and you can shove that judgmental attitude right up your ass. I’ve taken all I’m going to take from you and that self-righteous gaggle of nurses you have up there.” He’s silent for a moment, then he clears his throat.

“I apologize,” he says stoically. Save it.

“What have you decided?” Get to the point. I’m not making a trip out to Summerlin for you to throw more bullshit at me. He pauses again.

“Will you please come to the hospital and sign the documents giving us permission for Mrs. Morton’s psychiatric evaluation?” he replies. It’s about fucking time.

“I’ll be there as soon as is convenient,” I reply. “And Dr. Lee?”

“Yes?” he replies, his voice sounding a bit petulant.

“Anastasia Rose Steele, date of birth 10/18/85. You have my permission to obtain my medical records from UMC from March 2001, and I know that you can. Take a good look at what happened to me. Share it with those sanctimonious, critical nurses that keep giving me the side-eye and disrespecting me when I show up on the ICU. And as you’re reading that stuff, calculate how old I was when this occurred. Consider the fact that I was a straight-A student who did nothing at all to deserve what happened to me except allow myself to get raped by the most popular boy in school. Maybe that’ll answer some of your questions, if it’s not too much trouble!” I disconnect the call.

When I raise my head, Christian is standing in front of me.

“Do you need me to go with you?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say. The hell if I’m going into the enemy camp alone. He nods.

“So, what’s the verdict?” he probes.

“He’s going to request the psychiatric evaluation,” I reply. “He needs me to sign some papers.”

“That’s what we wanted, right?” he asks.

“Yep, that’s what I wanted.”

It’s sometime in the afternoon when I get to the hospital. I don’t go to my mother’s room. Instead, I go to the nurses’ station on the main floor and have them page Dr. Lee. My hope is to have this meeting in his office and avoid as much confrontation as possible. However, he sends word back to have me meet him at the nurses’ station on the second floor. I give Christian a knowing look.

“It’s gonna be that type of day, I see,” he says. He places his hand in the small of my back and leads me to the elevator.

I’m still hoping that he’s going to escort me from the nurses’ station to the second floor. He does not. He doesn’t even suggest that we go to a private area in the hospital—the corner of a waiting room or even into my mother’s room, which I really didn’t want, but it would have been better than being out here in front of the whole world. No, he just starts rattling away right there at the nurses’ station. The only privacy that I’m afforded is that if someone even approaches who is not medical personnel, he stops talking.

“I talked to Mrs. Morton yesterday. She was extremely detached, which I would expect under the circumstances. When I tried to discuss the details of the accident with her, she was very evasive, to say the least. This could have been a result of her injuries and the brain’s protective measures to forget the trauma, but I don’t think that’s what this is.”

He stops speaking for a moment to allow someone to pass.

“It wasn’t like she didn’t remember. It was as if she was deliberately avoiding answering the question. When I mentioned speaking to someone, a therapist, perhaps while she’s in the hospital, she didn’t respond. I went further to tell her that we wanted to be sure that she wasn’t a danger to herself and she just shrugged and looked out of the window.”

Another pause.

“I’m still not completely convinced that she’s not a danger to herself. However, she didn’t protest enough when I alluded to the possibility of being committed. So, what we’re going to do is called a Legal 2000. Because she was first admitted to the hospital for medical treatment, we will have her evaluated and observed by a psychiatrist over the next 72 hours. If the psychiatrist finds that there is no underlying psychiatric condition, the…”

Another pause. This is ridiculous.

“… The mental health hold will be discontinued after that time and a safe discharge plan will be developed. It may turn out that Mrs. Morton was overwhelmed by sadness and depression at the time and just made a hasty but drastic decision. As a mental health professional, I’m sure you know that there are ways to deal with that as opposed to committing her long term for fear that she’s a constant threat to herself.”

“I do,” I acknowledge coolly.

“She won’t be able to have any visitors during that time. She will be on restrictive care. This means that your guard won’t be necessary…”

“My security is not leaving that door,” I interrupt him. “We live a life where our privacy is constantly invaded and violated and her relationship to me exposes her to the same inconvenience, not to mention that since she’s in a public hospital, she’s even more vulnerable than she would be if she were at home. She could be exploited for a headline simply by someone walking past her window and snapping a phone pic. My security detail has specific instructions that no one gets into that room without permission, so you should actually be glad that they’re posted there to be sure that no one breaches the perimeter.” He sighs heavily.

“Very well, Dr. Grey. She could have agreed to the treatment herself, but she was too impassive and didn’t consent, so we contacted you…”  which means he wouldn’t have called me had she consented to treatment on her own. He’s going to be a thorn in my side

He hands me the forms and I read them over quickly, noting all the wherefores and whatnots before I sign them.

“We’ll give you some time to talk to her before she’s on restrictive care. ‘No visitors for the next three days’ means you as well,” he says.

“Is there anything else?” I ask.

“Not at this time,” he says. I nod. Since you want a fucking audience, you got one, Doc.

“I won’t bother asking why we didn’t have this conversation behind closed doors, but I will say this. If I have to encounter that high-handed attitude of yours one more time because you don’t approve of my behavior because I’m not falling all over the floor in tears, I’m going to have my mother moved, and there’s nothing you can do about that without a court order proving that I’m abusive or negligent, and we both know that I’m neither.” I glare at him and await his response.

“Understood,” he replies.

“I can’t help but wonder if the hospitals treated her this way when I was in a coma and she clearly didn’t care,” I shoot. I watch his face blanch a bit. “I’m assuming you read my medical file.”

“I… did, yes,” he responds.

“Good,” I say, turning to the nurses. “Since you’re all so hell-bent on treating me like crap because I’m not falling out in dismay over my mother’s condition, I want all of you who have children to imagine that was your 15-year-old daughter lying in that bed in a coma mutilated that way. And if you don’t have children, do what you’ve been doing all this time and imagine that it’s your mother.” I turn back to Dr. Lee.

“My mother treated me like vermin for years—the worst when I was in that hospital bed. I’m giving her a whole hell of a lot more than she ever afforded me!”

Without another word, I turn around and walk back to my mother’s room with Christian behind me. Abe is standing outside her door when I get there.

“You’re committing her?” Abe accuses, his eyes like fire. “Are you punishing her for what she did to you as a child? Is that what this is?”

“Not at all,” I respond. “What my mother did to me when I was a child is over and done. We can’t go back and change it. And she’s not being committed; she’s being evaluated. And she’s not being evaluated because she sucked as a mother when I was 15. She’s being evaluated because she possibly drove her car off an overpass. When I talk to her, she still wants to die. She sees no reason for living, nobody that she’s useful to, and now, she can’t walk. She’s even more useless in her own eyes than she was before.

“She may have tried to kill herself, Abe. If she gets the chance again, she’s going to succeed. She needs to heal from her guilt; she needs to heal from loving a man that she’ll never have again; and she needs to come to grips with her new way of life. She’s worth nothing to you, herself, or anybody else in the condition she’s in now. She needs help. I have to make sure that she gets it.”

“Is it me?” he asks, desperation in his voice. “Is this a test for me? I love her, Ana. I truly do. I’m not going anywhere. I swear I’ll stay by her side until she’s over that man, until she’s over this. She has a beautiful heart and she doesn’t know it. I don’t know what’s happened to her in her life. I don’t know your terror besides what she’s told me and what came out in court. I just know that right now… right here, right now… she has a big beautiful heart, and I want it. I want to fill it with all the love it can hold. Please… if this is a test for me…”

“It’s not,” I interrupt his shaking voice. “Abe… Carla. Needs. Help. If you love her like you say you do, be there for her. She’s going to try to send you away. Don’t let her. She’s going to need someone once this is over, but this is not going to be a quick or easy process. If you have any other intentions besides the pure and unadulterated love of that woman, walk away now. Spare yourself and her any further frustration and heartache. If this is going to be too much for you, walk away. Carla is nearly 50 years old and we’re literally going to be trying to teach an old dog new tricks. This may not be what you want, and no one will hold it against you if…”

“I’m not. Going. Anywhere,” he says firmly. “I refuse to leave her. Do what you must, but I’ll be here.” His eyes pin me, implore me, but demand that I hear what he’s saying.

“How long… have you been seeing my mother?” I ask. He swallows.

“I’ve known her since before my daughter died, of course, but I’ve been seeing her intimately for about a year.” Intimately…

“Have you…?” How do you ask a grown man that you don’t know about your mother’s sex life?

“Only a handful of times,” he admits, without me having to ask the question. “She’s a very… private person. Our relationship, as it were, is not public knowledge.” I touch his arm.

“My life is not here,” I tell him. “My life is in Seattle. I’m going to need some eyes and ears here in Nevada, and some backup to help with her care and recovery. If you’re really serious…”

“I’m dead serious,” he interrupts.

“Let me finish,” I say. “If you’re really serious about wanting to be with my mother and wanting to help her through this, then I can really use you on my team. But understand this, Abe. I don’t hate that woman. I only want the best care for her, and I’m not trying to make or watch her suffer. She’s extremely vulnerable to the degree of being helpless. Know for a fact that I will not stand by and allow her to be mistreated or misused, especially right now when she really can’t fight for herself.” I pull out my business card and hand it to him.

“If you’re serious, you’re going to have dinner with me and my husband tonight. If you’re not, walk away. If you want to help with her recovery, we welcome your assistance. However, if your intention is to take advantage of her or abuse her in any way, there’s nowhere on earth you’ll be able to hide from me, and that is a promise.” He examines me carefully.

“You’re serious,” he says.

“I’m very serious,” I reply frankly without taking my eyes off him. He takes the business card.

“We’re staying at the Waldorf,” I add. “Six o’clock.”

He takes my hand with both of his and kisses it for a long moment, a tear falling on my skin.

“Thank you,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper. I nod once and he releases my hand and walks to the elevator. Christian has said nothing during this entire exchange. I look at the door to my mother’s room for a moment. Then I drop my head back, looking at the ceiling, and take a deep breath. I let it out, dropping my head and my shoulders dramatically, and closing my eyes. This is starting to become way too much, and I’m ready to wrap things up.

I raise my gaze and straighten my back. I look to my right at my husband standing next to me. I look to my left and do a double take when I see Dr. Lee still standing at the nurse’s station looking at me. His expression is unreadable, and I don’t know if he’s close enough to have heard my conversation with Abe, but so be it. I turn and go into my mother’s room.

*-*

Dinner has been delivered to our suite at the Waldorf. I thought we would meet in the restaurant downstairs, but Christian thought it would be better to meet in the suite where we could have privacy. Alex did a rush preliminary background check on Wendy and Abe for us in preparation for this meeting. I considered having Wendy present as well, but I think it best that we meet with them separately.

My husband has done most of the talking for us. I only interject if I have specific questions. Abe has been accommodating so far, declaring that his life is an open book and nothing spectacular. Christian has not let up on him, though, and Abe appears to be getting a bit defensive.

“I can’t imagine what you must think of me,” Abe says. “Yes, Carla is older than I am, but she’s very beautiful… a trait she has obviously passed down to her daughter.” He looks at me, but his gaze doesn’t linger. He immediately goes back to talking about my mother.

“There was concern that my affections for her were… displaced—transference or infatuation. I assure you, that’s not it. Yes, it’s very admirable how much of herself she chooses to give to others. She’s the reason I decided to become a caregiver myself.”

“Yes, I see that you decided to become a hospice caregiver shortly after your daughter died,” I say. “That must have been a very tough decision.”

“Losing my little girl was the hard part,” he says, “harder than you’ll ever imagine, but Carla was there to make her transition as smooth as possible. She was kind and caring and very attentive to my Amalia. She sat with her when I could not. She talked with her and put her heart at ease about death. She did not speak of heaven, but she spoke of peace and an end to her pain. I appreciated that more.

“She did not desert me when my Amalia died,” he continues. “She contacted me often to make sure that I was okay, that I would not slip into despair. One day, I asked her out for coffee. Then she allowed me to take her to dinner. I always thought that the responsibility was met once the patient healed… or died. Carla showed me that I was wrong.” He raises tear-filled eyes to me.

“I miss my Amalia,” he says, “every day. I miss my Amelda, too. She was my wife. Cancer took her from me just after Amalia was born… the same cancer that took my Amalia.”

He catches a tear that falls down his cheek.

“I know that Carla loves her Stephen,” he continues. “I know how that feels. It will never go away. I still love my Amelda, and I always will. This is why I am willing to wait. I know that the love will never leave, and I would never disgrace his memory that way… but I also thought I would never love anyone besides my Amelda and look what happened.

“She lost her husband… and her daughter, even though her circumstances are much different from mine, but same. We are two pilgrims on a journey to find purpose after losing everything. She has taken me on a journey for which I will always be eternally grateful—that of being able to care for others and give of myself, to provide the comfort to them that was given to me during one of the most difficult times in their lives, and mine. Now, her journey begins, to find love when you think there is none, to see that she is not useless even in the depths of her despair when she thinks she has nothing else to give.

“So, you see, Anastasia, I know that you and your husband are very powerful, but as long as I’m alive, I’m going to be here, and I’m not going away. You said that she would send me away. She’s done that many times before. She hasn’t been very successful. I don’t know or care what you can do to me, but know that you won’t be successful either if that’s your intention.”

“Our intention is to make sure that she’s taken care of and not advantage of,” Christian interjects firmly.

“Is that what you think I’m doing?” he asks.

“I don’t know you, Mr. Cicci, that’s why you’re here,” Christian retorts.

“That’s strange, I thought I was here in the best interest of Carla, not to be put under your microscope or to seek your approval,” Abe retorts fearlessly. Christian straightens in his chair.

“My biggest concern right now is this woman right here,” Christian warns. “Her concern at the moment is her mother, so by extension, she’s my concern as well.”

“Well, Mr. Grey, let me assure you that my biggest concern right now is not Anastasia. My biggest concern is Carla. My presence here tonight is only to assure her daughter that my intentions are pure and that I will not desert her in her time of need. I’m not here to interview for a position to be subjected to your scrutiny. I love that woman. I’m going to see her through this. I’m going to be there for that woman, and I’m not going to let anybody stop me.” He looks from Christian to me and back to Christian.

“And if you try to hide her from me, I’ll find her. That’s what you do when you love someone—you never give up. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve suddenly lost my appetite.”

He pushes back from the table and strides out of the suite without another word.

“Christian, I really think you were picking a fight with the wrong person,” I say.

“Well, we’ll find out, won’t we?” he says. “The last thing you need to be worried about is someone coming in exploiting your mother’s weaknesses. No matter how much you distance yourself from the situation, that’s still not going to make things any easier for you.”

No, it won’t.

“While I appreciate his situation, game time is fucking over. If he’s in it for the long haul, great. Nothing I said tonight will make any difference whatsoever. But if he’s bullshitting around, the sooner he gets his ass off this boat, the better!”

I sigh heavily. He’s right. Abe doesn’t have to love or even like us, but he does have to be there unendingly for Carla even when we’re not. So, if he’s full of shit, it’s better that he gets pissed and walks away now. And if he’s the real deal, it’s better that he gets pissed and digs his heels in now.

My conversation the next day with Wendy was nothing like the conversation with Abe. She gave me a little more insight on the relationship, that she knows that my mother is very fond of Abe, but she clearly feels guilty for having feelings for someone else besides Stephen. Maybe this is something they can help her overcome during her therapy.

Wendy cried often during our talk. She has three children and she’s divorced, a little older than my mother. They met on the job and hit it off immediately. Wendy’s phone is full of pictures of her and my mother throughout their friendship. My mother appears to be genuinely happy in several of the pictures. It’s clear that over a short period of time, they have formed quite the bond.

She even has a picture that she took of her and Abe. The adoration in his eyes towards her can’t be faked.

Wendy and I exchange numbers, addresses, and emails, and we discuss a lot of what will be needed for my mother’s care. This is what Wendy does for a living, so it’s quite fortuitous that she happens to be my mother’s best friend. I let her know that we will set it up so that she receives compensation for helping to take care of my mother. Though she assures me that it’s not necessary, I tell her that it is, because we would be paying someone else if we weren’t paying her. This way, she can give the best care possible to her best friend without having to worry about her livelihood.

She cries again.

Both Wendy’s and Abe’s preliminary background checks are unremarkable. Alex assures me that when it comes up with the basic stuff—credit reports, traffic tickets, education—it’s usually a good sign and a safe bet that they won’t find anything else. For me, that’s one less thing to worry about.

The next few days fly by with no Sophie to talk to and not having to go back and forth to the hospital to check on my mother. I spend the days recuperating from everything Las Vegas by spending every possible waking moment with my children and giving Keri and Chuck some time to enjoy Las Vegas before we leave.

It’s Wednesday now. Two big things happening today. First, I finally hear the sentence for Vincent Sullivan, and I can put that one thing behind me. One down, 15 or so to go. Second, I get the results of my mother’s psych evaluation and I can finally make some decisions about her care.

And then I can go home!

For now, it’s time to head to the battleground. I’ve known from the moment I knew that I was coming back to this place what I would be wearing should this day arrive. I’ve won now. I don’t know what kind of sentence Vincent Sullivan is going to get for his role in what happened to me, but someone has officially said that what he did was wrong. Someone convicted him, and I’ve won!

I’m wearing a plain tan mock neck cut-out fitted dress that hugs all of my curves from my Anastasia Steele days and a pair of nude Louboutins from my Anastasia Grey collection. I’ve accessorized with earrings, a necklace, a ring, and a bracelet from my Australian opal and white gold collection. A tan wool office lady style cloak with Batwing sleeves and faux fox fur collar and cuffs protects me from the elements. My hair is set in beautiful curls flowing down my back and I look every bit the Seattle socialite.

When I step out of the car with Christian, I hold my posture like I’m walking the red carpet. Donning my Jackie O’s, I take the stairs slowly and deliberately.

Print this, you bastards.

I don’t feel so defeated when I step into the courtroom. I see Larson do a double take when he sees me. I don’t know why because with his shenanigans during this trial. He could have been one of them instead of one of us as far as I’m concerned. Some of the courtroom murmuring ceases when I step in, and I’m tempted to stop in the middle of the aisle and take a bow. I immediately lock eyes with the bitch who asked how I could “do this” to Vincent in the hallway that day. I don’t stare. I just make note of where she’s sitting, intent on adding a little salt to my statement. I take my seat, my gaze fixed coolly on the bench and nowhere else as I wait for the proceedings to begin.

A few minutes later, the court is called to order and the defendant is led into the courtroom in shackles and his DOC navy blue scrubs… at least that’s what they look like. He’s not polished and cleaned up like he was during his trial. No, he looks like he’s resigned to his fate. Today, he marches in and takes a seat at the defense table, no remorse or anguish in his face and no anger—just another day in the life, it seems. He rests his hands in his lap and does the same thing that I do, concentrate on the bench.

The judge says a few words and explains what’s going to happen during the proceedings. When he opens the opportunity to make a statement, Larson first rises to illuminate the reasons why Vincent Sullivan should receive the maximum sentence allowable on all counts.

Having lost his case almost completely, Blake stands to ask for leniency as the defendant has had several years to ponder his actions and has become a valuable and productive member of society.

How fortunate that he has become a productive member of the society to which he has yet to repay his debt!

But that’s not all…

In lieu of Vincent making his own statement to the court, the defense presents a video. A video! This is Blake’s last trump card to try to get his client off.

The video is heart-wrenching. It looks to be professionally done. There are pictures of Vincent when he was a kid; him with his ailing mother before she passed away; current pictures of him doing volunteer work in the community, all set to the narration of several members of the community asking for leniency for this outstanding citizen who made a “horrible mistake” when he was a kid. There are tears and expressions of complete disbelief that Vincent will be required to do any jail time. There are even some people begging that the judge has mercy on the actions of a misguided teenager who has since seen the err of his ways. There’s even sad, emotional music playing in some portions of the video.

In his portion of the video, Vincent denies any personal vendetta when he participated in the incident, painting himself as a frightened and misguided child at the time. He still refuses to take responsibility for any wrong that he did during the attack, stating repeatedly that he maintains that he was afraid for his life and safety.

I didn’t even know that they were allowed to present videos like this, but apparently, they are. It doesn’t sway me, though. Whether it sways the judge or not, we’ll have to see, but I’ve got my statement ready.

When the judge asks if I want to make a statement, I nod and move to the podium. I’ve made some notes so that I don’t go off on a tangent, but I know exactly what I want to say…

“Had I known I could’ve done this by video, I would have saved myself the airfare,” I begin. “However, I believe my point will be driven home more adequately by speaking to you face to face, your honor.

“I’ve waited for this day for nearly fifteen years. I never thought it would come. I never thought I would see anything that even resembled justice for what happened to me… a young life destroyed, an innocent life ended before it even began… and a group of self-important, pumped-up, lethally-entitled rich kids running around like nothing happened, certain—just like I was—that they would never pay for their crimes. And now, here I am finally able to address the situation openly.

“I’ve lived with the horror of what happened to me for over a decade. I’ve lived with the dismay that these monsters not only got away with what they did to me, but also that they are now raising children with the same sense of entitlement and disregard for human suffering in the same world where I’m now raising my twins. I’m living with the disillusionment that one crime can go unpunished forever while another goes unsolved for what feels like a lifetime… against a child… an honor student, a good kid who didn’t bother anybody, whose only crime was that she was a poor girl trying to survive in a rich world, put upon by one, lied on by another, and attacked by many.” I shake my head. “What am I supposed to tell my children about being good people when this is what happened to me?

“Most of all, I’m still horrified that such atrocities can come from children the same age that I was at the time. What kind of breeding must there have been for these kids to feel like this act was in any way justifiable? These were teenagers… teenagers who planned one of the worst hazing and assault rituals that I have ever seen in my personal and professional life, fact or fiction… and for a mental health MD to say something like that, believe me, it means a lot.

“I’ve had to study some of the most horrific things in my plight to understand the human mind and to this day, I still can’t fathom how teenagers could choose to utilize a method so unthinkable and inhumane that even though it was used as punishment for high crimes in the dark ages, it was banned in the early 19th Century as cruel and unusual.

“What must this child have been thinking?” I continue as I gesture to Vincent Sullivan. “He sits here before you now as an adult—they’re all adults now—parents and respected members of the community, mingling with you in your country clubs and PTA meetings, their children attending the same schools that yours attend, the same social functions, blending in just as cool as you please… monsters hiding in plain sight. What must they have been thinking all those years ago when they planned this whole thing—a simple hazing ritual that got out of hand, right? No—a premeditated assault on someone just because they were different. Premeditated… think about that. How premeditated must this act have been for someone to order custom brands and wait for delivery to spell out a word on another human being’s skin?”

There are audible gasps and murmurings in the courtroom when I bring this point of premeditation to the forefront. I’m hoping to give the prosecution a bit more firepower the next time they have to bring one of these monsters to trial.

“How much time did they have before their weapons of torture arrived in the mail—making UPS or FedEx an unwitting accessory to murder—to allow them to change their minds and rethink their plans? I mean, seriously think about that… did they wait for standard three-day shipping or did someone pay special express delivery so that the brands could get there sooner?”

I really want to drive home the extent of the atrocity that these people are getting away with. An entire community basically turned their heads on what happened to me, because I refuse to believe—even now—that someone else didn’t know what was going on. Melanie kept a recording for twelve years, revealing what happened during a death-bed confession. Sullivan knew the entire time that his brother was involved and no matter how well he hid the incident, there was forensic evidence, the location where I was found, the fact that the baby’s DNA could have been traced… There was too much stuff to hide; someone had to help him.

“Even now—today—there are people in this very room who accosted me in the hallway of this building and after seeing the vicious, brutal, stomach churning violence that he inflicted on me still accused me of ruining the defendant’s life.”

I turn around and look the woman in the eye who confronted me in the hallway the day that I fled the courtroom after the “Vincent’s So Great” parade. She shrinks a bit under my stare, but I don’t linger. Instead, I return to my statement.

“But I thank God that justice has prevailed and that this ungodly act will no longer go unacknowledged and unpunished. I thank God that someone looked at this behavior and said, ‘No, this is unacceptable, and something has to be done about it’ even though some people would have you think I deserved it. Nobody deserved what happened to me… nobody—not then, not now, not ever… not even the monsters who did it to me.

“These starry-eyed teenagers who should have been practicing for the big game, doing their homework, and planning for the Sadie Hawkins dance gathered somewhere and thought out this plan of torture—pondered it, waited for it, savored it, anticipated it, then put it into action. We’re going to cause irreparable physical and emotional damage on another person just as soon as our brands arrive. Those same someones accepted a plea for pointing out the other participants in their sadistic little ritual—rewarded with a lighter sentence for being tattletales when they were the ones who orchestrated the entire thing in the first place! And now he’s sitting here hoping that he’s not going to get the book thrown at him for executing two of the three horrific scars that I must live with for the rest of my life.” I sigh.

“Rest assured that I’ll be present at every trial for every one of these monsters who robbed me of my peace and innocence for several years. I’ll celebrate triumphs and I’ll lament defeats, and I’ll probably regurgitate every time I have to watch that damn video, but I won’t stop. I won’t rest until every person involved in my torture and the death of my unborn child is called to task for their actions.

“I’ll be honest and say that I’m glad that something will happen so that they won’t be walking the streets anymore, but I’ll also say that I hope the future is not so merciful on someone who premeditates a violent crime so thoroughly that they mail-order a murder weapon!”

When I’m finished with my dissertation, even the judge is taken aback by my explanation of the extent of the premeditation. I take my notes, turn from the lectern and return to my seat.

The silence is so thick that it sounds like white noise.

“Thank you all for your statements,” the judge says. “I must say that I have never seen anything so heinous before in my life as I have seen in this trial. To exercise objectivity throughout this case was a feat fit for Mr. Universe. And while I commend myself for being able to stick to my duty and maintain order throughout these proceedings, I must admit that I take great satisfaction in being able to now speak my mind freely as a human being, a father, a man, and a member of the judicial system.

“In my opinion, this is one of those times where the justice system worked exactly how it should have, even if nearly 15 years later. The bad guy was caught—one of them, anyway—and is now required to stand here and atone for his actions.

“However, this is a lose-lose situation as far as I’m concerned, because although Dr. Grey was able to pick up the remnants of her life, move on and become a successful doctor and businessperson, without doubt, her life was never the same after what happened to her. Her innocence was ripped from her; her peace was stolen. No one, and I mean no one came to her rescue. Simply as a member of the human race, that horrifies me. As a member of the judicial system, that befuddles me beyond belief. As a man and a father, that enrages me more than words can say.

“In addition to that, we have a young man here who has not yet reached the age of thirty and who is apparently a respected and productive member of society whose actions 15 years ago will forevermore shape what the rest of his life will look like. No just man can blindly swing a sword and not feel the cut of his blade on another man, and yet that’s what I must do today.

“Emotional evidence has a way of swaying a case, but not nearly as much as factual evidence and the facts speak for themselves. The sheer magnitude of the details of this case sends chills down my spine to consider that a group of adults could do something like this. It’s nearly unimaginable that a group of children did it. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and I’m still having a problem absorbing the fact that a group of teenagers committed this crime.

“Dr. Grey, let me begin by offering you a long overdue and heartfelt apology. The system failed you—miserably. For that, I am deeply, deeply sorry. There are no words that can express how appalled and disappointed I am that it took this long for you to see any kind of justice. It happens that some cases may slip through the cracks, but that’s not what happened here. I may not be able to speak on other open cases, but the right against self-incrimination does not excuse any of us from obeying, and in some cases, enforcing the law. This was a blatant disregard for the law—it’s malfeasance and mishandling in almost its worst form, second only in my eyes to law enforcement unjustly shooting or harming an unarmed person. To that end, hopefully, today, I can bring you some small, miniscule measure of closure for the injustices done to you.”

“Thank you, Your Honor,” I say quietly.

“I’m of the firm belief that shaking my finger at or scolding attorneys usually comes to no avail, but I will say this. Mr. Drake, I hope you don’t have any daughters, because the sins of the father have a way of coming back to bite the children. What’s more is that one day, you may find yourself in a position where you have to explain to them how you villainized a young girl who had already been victimized beyond reproach in one of the worst ways humanly imaginable. For that, I do not envy you, sir.

“I’ve often heard it said that with great power comes great responsibility. To me, that means that it’s important that someone in my position does not get so caught up in their power that they forget their duty and responsibility. Bearing that in mind, I have the responsibility to pass sentence on a situation here that will have a great impact on future cases similar to this one. That’s a mighty burden to bear and a heavy load to carry, knowing that if I make the wrong decision today, that it could impact similar cases in the future. Having said that, I thought long and hard on the facts involved in the case and the circumstances surrounding it as I pondered my decision.

“I must be mindful that not only is this man at my mercy, that I hold someone’s life in my hand, but also that nearly 15 years ago, he held someone’s life in his. He was responsible for what happened to her, and now I’m responsible for what happens to him.

“Mr. Sullivan, I, like the jury, do not feel that you were afraid for your life at all. There are many other motives that can be attached to why you did what you did to that 15-year-old girl, but your team failed to prove mortal fear in any way, shape, or form. Even with the bad lighting, I could see malice and intent in your expression and I’m certain the jury saw it, too, in the four times that they viewed the video. In you, I saw one of the kids on the edge—on the very edge—of the popular crowd. Your brother was working to take care of the home, but you had just enough to fit in with the affluent kids. Is that why you tortured a young girl for sport? To fit in? Only you know the answer to that, Mr. Sullivan, but know that I have no problem sending a message loud and clear that that type of behavior will not be tolerated in this jurisdiction.

“In addition, I feel that you would have grounds for appeal based on that production that your attorney just presented to the court in your defense. I saw nothing in that video that would sway me to be lenient on you in any way. All I saw was a theatrical production for the purpose of taking the court’s time. There was nothing in that video that hasn’t already been said during the proceedings by many of the same people. The only thing that video was missing was a walk off into the sunset and closing credits. The case against you is so strong that as far as I’m concerned, Mr. Blake’s coup was actually a Coup de grâce, and you would have done better to make a statement on your own.

“As such, having been found guilty by a jury of your peers, your sentence stands as follows.

“On count one, assault accompanied with acts of extreme cruelty and substantial bodily harm, I hereby sentence you to serve the maximum term of 10 years with a possibility of parole after seven years served.

“On count two, battery with a deadly weapon with substantial bodily harm, I hereby sentence you to serve the maximum term of 15 years with no possibility of parole, and a fine of $10,000.

“On count three, battery without a weapon with substantial bodily harm, I hereby sentence you to serve the maximum term of 5 years with a possibility of parole after 3 years served, and a fine of $10,000.

“On count six, manslaughter for fetal homicide, I hereby sentence you to serve the maximum term of 10 years with no possibility of parole, and a fine of $10,000.

“On count seven, attempted murder, I hereby sentence you to serve the term of 20 years with no possibility of parole. As indicated in the Nevada Revised Statutes, I am imposing an additional 10 years on this count for the use of a deadly weapon, also with no possibility of parole.

“These sentences are to be run consecutively and are to be executed forthwith.

“In case there’s any doubt about my judgments, let me make them clear. I’m sending a message to any defendant in this matter, any attorney who chooses to defend them, and any judge who sits on the bench. Take heed that when the justice system works the way that it should, no one group of people anywhere, anytime, or at any age is allowed to become judge, jury, and executioner. It doesn’t matter to me that we’re talking about a group of 15 and 16-year-old kids. What they did to this girl is reminiscent of the lynchings of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

“Anyone who can look at that video and see what happened to that girl and listen to her scream and somehow say that’s okay by any means or for any reason needs their head examined. And anyone who can participate in that kind of barbaric display deserves the highest sentence that can be imposed by law. So, Mr. Sullivan, be glad that you have been granted opportunities for parole on some of those sentences, because that means that you didn’t get the maximum. I doubt that you’ll ever see parole, however, considering that your sentences are to be served consecutively.

“At the end of sentencing, by rote I often say, ‘I wish you luck,’ or if it’s a death sentence, ‘May God have mercy on your soul.’ I do not wish you luck, Mr. Sullivan, not because I’m a bad person or because I wish any ill will upon you, but because I know that luck won’t help you. You have no hope of seeing daylight outside of prison walls for 65 years. Luck isn’t going to do a thing for you.

“I won’t say, ‘May God have mercy on your soul, because unless you acquire some horrible disease or some serious unfortunate event befalls you in prison, you’re very likely not to meet your maker for a very long time. I will, however, combine those two and wish you mercy.

“You’re going to a place where friendship has a cost, Mr. Sullivan, where if there is a smiling face, there’s a price behind it. You find opportunities for education and rehabilitation, but you’ll never find the friendships and freedoms that you’ve enjoyed on the outside. For that reason, I wish you the mercy that you did not grant Anastasia Steele. I hope it was worth it. This court is adjourned.”

I can only say that I’m glad that each time I’ve been in the courtroom that even though I felt that the trials were harrowing and the defense attorneys were rude, unfeeling, and utterly insane for thinking that they would be able to get their clients off, the court always came back with sentences that I felt these bastards deserved. Even though Vincent Sullivan wasn’t found guilty on all counts, they got him on most of them, and he’s going away for a long time.

His attorney is leaning over whispering something to him and he turns mournful eyes to me. We stare at each other for several moments as his attorney chatters away, and I’m waiting for whatever hateful gesture he’s going to hurl at me because of the situation that I put him in. His mouth forms the words…

“I’m sorry.”

His tearstained face is now full of remorse and regret—for his fate? For what he did to me? I don’t know which. I close my eyes briefly and take a deep breath. When I open them, he’s still looking at me. I nod once to acknowledge that I heard him, and moments later, he’s led away out a door on the side of the courtroom to serve his sentence.


CHRISTIAN

“Sir, I need to take a few days off.”

Shortly after we hear the sentencing for Vincent Sullivan, we’re in the car headed back to the hotel when I get a call from Alex.

“This is new,” I say.

“No, sir, it’s not,” he says. “You’ve just never known when I’ve done it before. I need to go to DC to secure a couple of my clearances.”

“When?” I ask.

“Immediately, sir.”

“Why so last minute?” I inquire.

“It’s not really last minute,” he replies. “I knew that the clearances had to be secured… again, but there are some details that I didn’t expect that I need to tend to personally and as soon as possible.”

“What type of details?” I ask.

“I think you already know that’s classified,” he replies. Of course, it is. What was I thinking?

“Do you need the jet?” I ask. He pauses.

“No, I’ll go commercial,” he replies. “It draws less attention.” He’s right about that, too.

“Will the fort be secure while you’re gone?” I ask.

“I’m never really gone, sir. I think you know that.”

“Jason knows?”

“Yes, he’s aware. I should have everything wrapped up by the weekend.” Why do I suddenly feel a wave of panic that my head of corporate security and one of the most important people on my team won’t be at the helm?

“Very well, safe journey,” I reply.

“Thank you, sir. Oh! And I’ve forwarded the background checks to you and Ana for Abramio Cicci and Wendy Scorcio. Easily traceable. Very much your average Joe and Jane,” he says.

“That’s good to know,” I reply. “I’m sure that Butterfly will be happy to hear that.” She raises her gaze to me from the seat next to me.

“I’ll let you know as soon as I return, sir,” and he ends the call.

“Glad to hear what?” Butterfly asks.

“That Alex has forwarded the background checks for Wendy and Carla’s beloved Abe to both our emails.” She examines me.

“You don’t like him,” she says.

“It’s not that I don’t like him, Butterfly. I just have a natural distrust of people that I’m not going to apologize for, and I don’t care who doesn’t like it. If he proves to be on the up and up, which Alex thinks they both will, then all is well. Like he said, he doesn’t have to satisfy me, but if he turned out to be a swindler, for your sanity, I would have made sure he didn’t get near Carla.”

My wife smiles and shakes her head. She looks at her phone and swipes the screen, opening windows and scrolling.

“He’s right,” she says, scrolling slowly through her screen. “Absolutely nothing remarkable—pretty boring except that he lost his wife and daughter. He got a payout from his wife’s life insurance policy, but he only paid for her final expenses from it. He’s pretty well off—not wealthy, but well off, enough to not have to work at that rehab center. So, that must be a total labor of love. He’s a Mason, but that’s about it.”

“Masons… wow, I haven’t heard of them in a while,” I observe.

“That’s because you don’t associate with any, honey,” my wife says, still scrolling through her phone. While she’s scrolling it vibrates. She swipes it again.

“Hello… This is she… Yes… oh… Okay, well, I’m just leaving the justice court, so I’ll be there as soon as I can… Thank you.” She ends the call.

“Dr. Lee?” I ask.

“No, a Dr. Hamlin,” she says. “He’s a psychiatrist. He examined my mother and oversaw her observation. He wants me to come to the hospital to meet with him.”

“Any indication on Carla’s diagnosis?” I ask.

“He wouldn’t tell me that over the phone, Christian. You know that.” She’s right. I forgot.

“Did you want to go now?” I ask.

“Food first,” she says. “I’m not going to deal with this on an empty stomach.”

*-*

“Dr. Grey?”

“Yes?” A gray-haired man is in Carla’s room when we get there. He proffers his hand to my wife when she enters.

“I’m Dr. Hamlin, ma’am. We spoke on the phone.” She shakes his hand.

“Dr. Hamlin, a pleasure to meet you, sir.” He turns to me.

“Mr. Grey?” he says, proffering his hand to me as well.

“Yes, doctor,” I reply, shaking his hand.

“Mrs. Morton, I’ll be discussing our meetings and my findings as I indicated to you. Who would you like to be present?” he asks.

“Just my daughter,” she says without raising her gaze. That’s my cue. I put my hand on my wife’s waist.

“I’ll be outside,” I say. She nods. I kiss her on the cheek and leave the room.

“Has she had any visitors?” I ask the detail at the door. “I know that no one can get in, but has anybody come?”

“A few have come from her job. They signed in, but of course, they couldn’t see her. Her two friends come every day and just sit in the waiting area over there for an hour or so.”

“Which two friends?” I ask.

“Wendy Scorcio and Abramio Cicci,” he says. I raise a brow.

“You know them by name without looking at the log?” I ask.

“They’re here every day,” he replies. “I think I should.” I nod. He’s right, he should. I take a seat in the waiting area and start going through my emails. After I’ve deleted more than a few, my phone rings.

“Hey, Elliot, what’s up?” I answer.

“Nothing much,” he answers matter-of-factly. “Did I call at a bad time?”

“No, we just got to the hospital and I got kicked out of the room so that Butterfly and the doctor and the mother could talk.”

“Yeah, that’s one of the reasons I called,” he says, “just checking up on Montana.”

“She’s doing as well as can be expected. This whole thing with her mother has been more of a trial than the trial, I think.”

“Well, that’s got to be pretty big, because that dude’s sentence has already made it to the Pacific Northwest.”

“It has?” I ask.

“Yeppers. Sixty-five years, Jesus! I bet he regrets the day he ever laid eyes—or brand—on Montana.”

“No shit,” I confirm. “He looked sick as fuck being led out of the courtroom, and he wasn’t even found guilty on all charges. The two that pled to all of the charges got less time than he did.”

“Speaking of which,” Elliot says, “the predictions on the court and news channels is that a lot of the people in custody are going to start taking pleas. The word is that they’re reviewing the evidence to see what they can be charged with and possibly convicted of, then they’re going to start taking pleas so that they don’t end up doing 65 like your boy.”

“I don’t know how Butterfly’s going to feel about that,” I say, looking at the door to Carla’s room.

“Honestly, if I were you, I would tell her so that she’s not blindsided. They’re expecting some pleas to be accepted by Friday.”

“Shit, that soon?” I lament. “Jesus, I don’t even know what they’re going to tell her about her mother! This shit never fucking ends.”

“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Bro,” he apologizes.

“It’s not your fault,” I tell him. “Inconvenience is never timely. That’s why it’s called inconvenience.”

“Well, let’s talk about something not so serious. You’re not going to believe this,” he says.

“Believe what?” I ask.

“I got a dog,” he says.

“No shit,” I say.

“Yep. Our therapist suggested it. She said that a pet will help us heal from losing the little nugget. Dogs are used like this all the time. It won’t replace a baby, of course, but it’s helping already. Angel loves him.”

“And you?” I ask.

“I like him, too,” he says. “He’s a rescue… a mutt, but he’s so damn lovable. I take him running with me on his leash in the mornings, and then he spends his days with Angel.”

“Wait a minute—how did you get a dog and you’re still living at my house?” Elliot laughs loudly.

“We went home, Christian,” he says. “Why would I bring a dog into your house with all the columns and marble?” My turn to laugh.

“It sounds like a good idea for you guys, and speaking of which, you’re not going to believe this.” There’s silence on the line.

“You got a dog, too?” he asks, and I think he’s being facetious. I shake my head as if he can see me.

“No, but we’re getting one,” I say, “with all the columns and marble.”

“A rescue?” he asks. I shake my head again.

“Butterfly has requested a pit bull puppy.” Silence again.

“A pit?” he says. “Those are dangerous dogs, Bro. Are you sure about that?”

“I felt the same way you do. I didn’t want any vicious dogs around my babies, but she assured me that they’re family dogs and only dangerous if they’re bred and raised that way. So, I agreed, but I did my research and she’s right. Pits have really gotten a bad rap. There are some really pretty ones in fact, and if you train them properly, they really are excellent family dogs. That’s why we’re getting a pup—thorough-bred—and we’re all going to be trained.”

“You’re all going to be trained?” he repeats.

“Yeah. I want to make sure that we know the right commands and that he respects us and the family, because if he steps wrong and attacks one of my kids or my wife, I’ll have to shoot him.”

“Thorough-bred? So, you’re buying one? Aren’t you concerned about getting flack for buying a dog instead of adopting one from the shelter?” he asks.

“Not at all,” I reply. “I’m not trying to be politically correct when it comes to a pit bull that’s going to be around my family. My wife says she wants a pit, so we’re getting one. But in all honesty, you’re right about the fact that pits can be vicious dogs—if they’re not raised properly. A rescue pit? Around my kids? I don’t know what that dog has been through, how he’s been raised, or who its parents are. And if it mauls one of my children, well then, I’m going to have to put it down. Nope, not taking that chance.”

“That’s a chance you’re taking with any dog, Bro,” he says.

“Well, then, maybe you should keep an eye on your dog,” I say. Silence.

“Point taken.”

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

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 21

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 21

CHRISTIAN

I’m about six years old. Lelliot is nine. I’m barely talking and he’s trying to see what makes me tick. I’m playing with my Legos in the family room and Lelliot is playing with his Gameboy. I‘m trying to build a replica of the treehouse, but it’s not going very well. My six-year-old mind can’t comprehend why the treehouse platform—which looks nothing like a treehouse platform, by the way—won’t balance on my Lego tree trunk.

We’re playing in relative harmony until Lelliot tells me that my treehouse is never going to work because the trunk is too skinny to hold it up. I ignore him. If the tree in the backyard can hold up the treehouse, then my tree trunk should be able to hold up this treehouse. So, I just keep building, and just when I start building the platform…

Crash!

Multi-colored Legos scatter all over the floor and under some of the furniture. Frustrated, I gather all the Legos I can find and start over, and just like before, as soon as I start building the platform…

Crash!

Becoming angrier, I gather the scattered Legos again and try a different way. I build the tree trunk first, and then I build the platform separately. There! That should do it. I put together a badly constructed house on one side of the platform, and what I think a picnic table made of Legos should look like on the other side of the platform. I stand back and look at my creation, very pleased with the finished product… well, almost finished.

I take my finished platform, house, and picnic table, and attach it to my tree. A few seconds later…

Crash!

I’m furious now and Lelliot is still laughing.

“God, you’re such a dork,” he teases. “I told you, the tree isn’t going to hold up the house. You’re doing it all wrong.” He shakes his head and goes back to his Gameboy.

Still angry, but determined to make the treehouse work, I build the tree again, and then the platform, house, and table. Then I put them together.

Crash!

I build them again…

Crash!

And again…

Crash!

And again…

Crash!
Crash!
Crash!

Defeated, I fold my arms and pout really hard. Lelliot just laughs at me and keeps playing with his Legos. I want to push him really hard like I did before and he bumped his head on the wall. Then, he’ll stop laughing at me.

“What’s going on in here?”

Angel Lady, Momma Grace, comes in with the baby in her arms.

Meelo…

If the man with the boots ever comes back, I’m taking Baby Meelo and we’re running away forever.

“Christian, what are you doing?” she asks. I look at the Legos all over the floor, then point out the window to where the treehouse is.

“You’re trying to make a tree?” she asks, and I nod.

“He’s trying to make the treehouse,” Lelliot says, still laughing, “but he’s doing it all wrong.”

“Well, did you try to help him?” Momma Grace says. Lelliot shrugs.

“I told him he was doing it wrong,” he says, “that the tree was too skinny.”

“Did you show him what he was doing wrong?” Momma Grace says.

“No,” Lelliot replies. “I don’t wanna play with Legos. Besides, he might hit me.”

“Hold your sister while I try to help him,” she says. Lelliot’s face frowns.

“I don’t wanna play with babies, either, Mom,” he says, and leaves the room with his Gameboy. Momma Grace rolls her eyes like she does when Lelliot makes her mad, then she puts Baby Meelo on the sofa. She puts a bunch of pillows around her, like a fort, then she gets on the floor with me.

“So,” she says, “let’s see how you build your treehouse.”

Momma Grace watches as I build the tree, then the platform, then the house, then the picnic table.

“Hmm,” she says, looking at the pieces. “Why don’t we do a platform for the tree, too?” she says. I frown and shake my head. The tree isn’t on a platform. The house and the table are on the platform.

“Well,” she says, “we’ll make it green… like the grass.”

I twist my lips. The tree is on the green grass. Okay, I nod. Momma Grace plays with my Legos with me and we find a lot of green ones and make grass.

“Okay, now, let’s put the tree on the grass.”

I put the tree on the grass, and I like it.

“Now, let’s look at the tree.” Momma Grace puts her hand on her chin and looks like she’s thinking.

“Christian, I want you to close your eyes and think about the treehouse.” I close my eyes like she tells me to.

“Think about the big brown part at the bottom of the treehouse.” I think about the big brown part. It’s a tree trunk, Momma Grace, I think to myself. It’s rough and it looks like it would hurt if you tried to slide down it.

“Now, open your eyes and look at your tree.”

I open my eyes and frown.

“Does that look like the tree from the treehouse?” No, it doesn’t. It’s skinny and tall, and the tree trunk on the treehouse is fat and short. Lelliot was right. I hate it when Lelliot is right. I shake my head.

“What do you think we need to do to fix it?” she asks. I take half of the Legos off the top of the tree and put them next to the tree to make it fatter.

Still not fat enough.

I build another tower next to the two.

Still not fat enough.

Just as I’m about to build another tower, Momma Grace speaks.

“Can I show you something, Christian?” she says, and I turn to look at her. She puts her fingers on top of one of my towers and wiggles it.

“You see that?” she says, and I nod. “That’s why the treehouse falls down. The trunk isn’t strong enough.” She puts her fingers on top of two of my towers and wiggles them both.

“Two won’t be strong enough either because they both wiggle. Three will wiggle, too. Can I show you something else?” I twist my lips and look at her, then nod.

She takes down my towers, but leaves them intact so that I’m not too traumatized by their destruction. Then she starts building a base for the tree trunk—something like a circle, but not. She puts some Legos in the middle of the circle, and then she puts another layer of Legos on top, and another…

“Do you see what I’m doing, Christian?” she asks, and I nod. She’s building them up—not separate towers, but kinda like bricks on a house.

“When you do them like this, it makes the trunk stronger, so that maybe it won’t fall. Now you try.”

I build and build and build, just like Momma Grace showed me, until I have a fat, round, rough tree trunk just like the one outside. I smile. I’m happy with the tree trunk.

“Very good, Christian. Now, let’s look at the treehouse.” She puts her hand on her chin like she’s thinking again, and I do the same thing.

Hmmm…

“The platform looks a little big for the tree trunk,” she says. “Maybe you should make it smaller…”

I can’t make it smaller! If I do, the house and the picnic table won’t fit!

“Let’s move the picnic table closer to the house. Then we can make the platform smaller and it will fit on the tree trunk.”

I twist my lips. They are kinda far away. I take the Legos off the platform that I used to build the picnic table, then put it together close to the house. That means that we have to take the platform apart a little bit to make it smaller…

There! The platform is smaller now.

“Okay, now put the platform on the trunk.”

I test the platform like Momma Grace did my towers, and it doesn’t wiggle at all! I connect the platform to the tree trunk and…

No crash.
It doesn’t fall.
It’s fixed!

“You did it, Christian!” Momma Grace says happily. I smile wide and clap my hands. She goes over to the fireplace and gets the camera.

“Look at me and smile, Christian,” she says. “I want to get a picture of you and your treehouse.”

I look at her and smile wide while she takes the picture. My treehouse looks great! And it didn’t crash. I look over at the fort on the sofa and the baby sleeping inside it.

I did it, Baby Meelo…

It’s morning now, and I’ve been sitting on the sofa all night thinking of my mother and all the things she did to help me along while I was growing up. I didn’t speak for years, but she knew how to communicate with me. She taught me to play the piano until I began to take professional lessons. She was as patient as she could be through my troubled teenage years. Even when she turned me over to the hands of the Pedophile, she was at the end of her rope and thought that she was getting help from a trusted and treasured friend.

When I dropped out of school and Dad essentially disowned me, Mom quietly supported me no matter what. She would still encourage me and give me that Mom smile that no one else had. When I completed my first successful venture and started making some real money, she boasted to Dad about how well I was doing. He still didn’t warm to the idea, though. He needed more proof.

It wasn’t until I was a certified millionaire two years later that Dad admitted that he may have been wrong about me and Harvard.

May have been…

I didn’t speak to him for a while after that. It served him right because he barely spoke to me for those two years after I dropped out of college, but we later buried the hatchet. I understood why he felt the way he did about me dropping out. I just thought he would never have any faith in me, and that hurt.

Mom, though, she never gave up on me. Even when she wasn’t sure about my decisions or I was driving her crazy with my behavior, she always did her best to understand, and even though I didn’t know how to properly express it, I’ve always loved her for that.

“Christian! Hello, son. How is everyone doing?” Mom asks.

“As well as can be expected, Mom,” I reply. “How are you? How are things back there?”

“Thankfully, very quiet,” she replies. “Things are running smoothly at the Center and for the most part, we’re all doing just fine. How’s Ana? Any change in her mother’s condition?”

“As a matter of fact, there is,” I say. “Carla regained consciousness yesterday.”

“She did?” I can tell that my mother doesn’t quite know how to respond to this news. “How does Ana feel about that? I know their relationship is… strained, for lack of a more appropriate word.”

“I don’t really know, Mom,” I tell her. “It’s a roller coaster ride to say the least. One minute, she’s stoic and strictly professional, only concerned with making sure that Carla gets the appropriate care. The next minute, she’s weeping and hurt that she didn’t get the consideration that Carla is getting, and the next minute, she’s livid about the entire situation. Sometimes, I think she doesn’t know how to feel.”

“Well, it’s obviously a confusing and frustrating time for her. She’s in a place she obviously hates, she already has to deal with that horrible trial and all the emotional turmoil it no doubt brings about, and then this thing with her mother. I’m certain that her emotions are just a big ball of mess right now.”

“Yes, but…” I thrust my hands into my hair. “I’m no psychiatrist, we know this, but I believe my wife’s confusion is much more than that. It’s like she wants to feel compassion for her mom’s condition, but she can’t because of all this anger and hatred. There’s this deep-seated betrayal that she feels and justifiably so, but it’s compounded by the fact that her mother has a huge support system down here.”

“She does?” my mother asks, surprised. “I was under the impression that she wasn’t particularly liked in that circle.”

“She’s not in that circle anymore,” I reply. “She moved out of that community; she changed jobs; she’s a completely different woman from the person I knew. This should be a good thing, but it’s causing Butterfly grief because Carla has the support system that Butterfly wished she had when she was in this situation. To be honest, Butterfly would have even been happy to have just her mom without the additional support system, but she didn’t even have that. Now, she’s feeling resentful that Carla has an entire tribe, so to speak.”

“Oh, that’s bad,” my mother says.

“Oh, it’s worse,” I tell her. “Either the staff there doesn’t know about my wife’s past with her mother or they don’t care about it, and they’ve been treating her badly.”

“What do you mean, treating her badly?” Mom asks. “Unless Carla is incapacitated and Ana has been abusing her, they have no right to treat her with anything else but respect! In fact, they’re obligated!”

“Well, let’s begin by saying that Carla is incapacitated,” I tell her. “She’s paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the accident.”

“Oh, dear God,” my mother says.

“Yeah. Anytime Butterfly has spoken to any of the staff, she has only been professional—not compassionate, but professional.”

“I get it, but that’s not abuse,” my mother points out.

“You know that, and I know that, but apparently, the staff—particularly the nurses from what I’ve seen—feels that she should be licking the feces straight from her mother’s ass, if you’ll forgive the expression.”

“Ew… oh, gosh, Christian,” my mother replies disgusted. “Well, she should report them to their superiors. They shouldn’t be treating anybody that way.”

“It wouldn’t help,” I tell her. “I imagine that the doctors don’t treat her much better. They’re not rude to her, Mom, they’re just cold and callous and when they think her back is turned, they’re very judgmental. And what’s worse, we don’t know if this was an accident or if Carla really threw her car off the overpass. We can’t get a straight answer out of her.” There’s a pause.

“Well, what does she say when you ask?” my mother says.

“She evades,” I say. “She talked about how my conspiracy theories have me paranoid and that there was no secret plot to kill her—it was just her and the car on that bridge.”

“How old is she?” my mother asks.

“Late forties,” I say. “She was a young military wife and mother when she had Anastasia.”

“Well, it’s not impossible,” she says. “She could be going through the same thing I am, Christian…”

Or she could’ve just thrown her damn car off that bridge.

“I’ll tell Butterfly,” I reply.

“You don’t think so,” she calls me out.

“I don’t know what to think, Mom,” I admit. “She was so calculating when I first met her. She and her pickled husband showed up in Seattle when Butterfly was in the hospital after the kidnapping. It was a disaster. You already know about the payoff that they took to keep Butterfly quiet after the beating. Then, when her husband dies, we come to Vegas for last rites. Butterfly dropped her purse and the woman tried to steal it! She took advantage of camera time when our engagement was announced to call my then-fiancée out for living in the lap of luxury while she struggled on a CNA’s salary. My wife brings her to Seattle for the final showdown at which time she tells my wife that she only ripped Butterfly from Ray in the first place because she was a tax deduction.”

“Oh, my,” my mother says.

“Yes!” I respond. “I gave her a piece of my mind and she came back and tried to make amends with Butterfly, but Butterfly wasn’t having it by that time. So, now she shows up at the trial, purging and pouring her heart out and I don’t trust her. I went to her house with another check and told her to go away and she didn’t take the check. She kicked me off her property—check and all—and a week later, she goes over an overpass.

“Could this be perimenopause? Could be. Did she try to kill herself? I don’t know. Are there bats in the belfry? I’d bet my fortune on it. What does all of this mean? I’m clueless. With all the friends that it appears that she has now, it would seem that she’s turned over a new leaf and she has a lot to live for. So, what gives?”

“Well, it still is a possibility, Christian, but of course only the professionals can say for sure. Impress upon your wife the importance of a possible evaluation in that direction. If this is the case, she’ll only hurt herself further without the proper care… and if she really did try to kill herself either way…” She trails off.

“I know, Mom,” I say, running my hands through my hair again. “And Mom?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you,” I say. “Thank you for rescuing me… for having enough love in your heart to take in a troubled child and try to make him whole. Thank you for seeing the best in me even when I couldn’t see it in myself… when everybody else was pointing out all of my faults.” I drop my head.

“Thanks for never giving up on me. Thanks for sticking up for me, for fighting for me. Thanks for letting me know that I was never alone, even when I felt like nobody cared. I was a horrible kid…”

“Christian, you weren’t…”

“Let me finish, Mom, please,” I interrupt her. “I know it wasn’t my fault. I’m still fighting with some things, but I was a horrible kid. I couldn’t let anybody touch me; I wouldn’t let anybody in; I wasn’t receptive to anything but the inappropriate behavior that crazy witch exposed me to. Do you remember that last real fight I had in high school?”

“You’ll have to refresh my memory,” she admits.

“I came home beat all to hell and you immediately tore into me. I had recorded the fight, but my phone was destroyed in the process, but I saved my SIM card and gave it to you. You called the police because you saw that the boys had beaten me trying to get me to fight back like I normally did, but that time I didn’t.”

“Yes!” she says. “Yes, I remember that. You didn’t have any fights after that.”

“Right. Well… it wasn’t because of you that I did that. It was because of her.” That’s a painful thing to admit. “She punished me when I had the last fight before that. She beat me and she wouldn’t see me. I could take her beating me but I couldn’t take her not seeing me… so, I made up in my mind that the next time a fight happened, I would just let it happen, because apparently, I was damned if I fought back and I was damned if I didn’t. I didn’t expect for it to be that bad, though.” I sigh.

“I didn’t expect to get the support from you—or her—that I did. I just knew that I couldn’t go back to school if my only option was to allow them to beat me that way. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew that I wasn’t going back to school. When the police showed up, I thought they were coming to get me and all I thought was, ‘Great. I don’t have to go back to school.’ When they convinced me to go to the hospital, I didn’t want them to see my back because they would have seen where she beat me, and the gig would have been up.

“I never thought I would ever tell you that story, but through everything I am and everything I was, you stood by me. Right or wrong, you always stood by me, even when you were chewing my ass out… and I’m grateful for that, Mom. From the moment you first saw me, you never left me to float in this crazy and cruel world on my own. You loved me through it all. And even though Butterfly opened the door for me to give love back, you were my first love, Mom. You were the one that showed me what true love meant from the very beginning, even though I couldn’t understand it.

“Even though I feel horrible for my wife and what she’s going through with her mother, I’m shamefully and selfishly glad that it’s not me. I’m glad that I got you instead of a woman like Carla. Even with the hard start with the crack wh… with my birth mother, it all brought me to you… and I thank you… and I love you.”

“Oh, Christian,” my mother weeps into the phone. “I love you, too, baby.” I allow her to cry for a few more moments.

“Don’t cry, Angel Lady,” I say softly. “I don’t want Dad flying to Las Vegas to give me what-for for reducing his beautiful wife to tears.” She chuckles through her sobs.

“You know I’ve always loved you,” she weeps softly.

“And I’ve always loved you… even before I could express it properly. Now, buck up. No more crying.”

“Okay,” she says, “but these are happy tears. Christian. And Cary wouldn’t come after you right now because I’m at the Center and he can’t see me.” We both laugh softly.

“I gotta go now, Mom,” I say, trying to hide the crack in my voice. “I love you.”

“And I love you, son.”

When we end the call, I drop my head and allow the tears to fall quietly down my cheeks. I hate that Butterfly has to go through this. It’s cruel. I want to get her out of this place as soon as possible. The thought of her spending night after night after night singing Disney songs and nursery rhymes just to get through the miserable years of her childhood. Jesus, her life must have been agony. It’s almost too much to bear.

I feel soft hands on my shoulders that slide down to my chest to comfort me. How much did she hear? Did she hear me compare myself to her? Of course, she did. That was one of the last things I said.

“My Mom <sniff> said that…”

“Ssshh,” she says, moving one of her hands to my hair. “Not now.”

My shoulders drop in relief and anguish, but luckily, I don’t collapse in sobs. I may not be able to stop. She pulls me closer to her and I cover her hand on my chest with my own, finally able to compose myself after a while.

“My mom says that Carla could be perimenopausal,” I finally tell her. “That she could have done this to herself because of that.”

“She does seem a bit angry,” Butterfly admits, still caressing my hair, “but she seems a bit too angry at the situation for her to have done this to herself. I’ll keep it in mind, though. Until we know exactly what happened, anything is possible.”

She’s still caressing my hair. I haven’t gotten any sleep and if she keeps this up, I’m going to fall asleep… on her stomach… sitting up.

“Emotions are very powerful… and draining,” I admit.

“Yes,” she concurs. “They can be quite the challenge. They drive some people insane.”

“I can see how,” I say, lamenting everything that she has been through in the past weeks. I clear my throat. “What’s the plan for the day? Are you going to the hospital?”

“Only briefly,” she says. “I want to get an update on my mother and find out what’s next. She did throw me out yesterday. Even though she never had any consideration for my feelings during this time, I’ll still respect her wishes if she doesn’t want me there. I’m going to call her best friend if she hasn’t already. I’ll let Wendy make the call to arms for the rest of her support system. I’ll let them take care of her for a day because I’m giving Gail and Jason a day in Vegas and I’m taking Sophie to see ‘O.’”

Still thinking of others throughout this entire ordeal. Dear God, give me strength to possess half the goodness that my wife does.

“I’ll shower and get dressed. You want the en suite in the main bathroom?” I ask.

“Christian, I know you didn’t come to bed. You haven’t had any rest,” she protests.

“I’ll be fine,” I assure her. “I’ll get some rest later, but you’re not going to the hospital alone anymore unless something at GEH needs my dire and immediate attention. Now, which bathroom do you want to use?”

*-*

I can see the hidden sneer on the nurse’s face the moment we exit the elevator—you know, that look like she’s smelling something bad, but she doesn’t want to change her expression. The three nurses that we’re at the station when we left yesterday are all there today along with three others, and the head nurse—or at least she looks like the head nurse—is the one sneering at my wife.

“How is my mother?” Butterfly says, getting straight to the point. The nurse raises a brow at her as if to say, “Oh, are you really concerned?” My wife cocks her head and glares at the woman until she finally decides to speak.

“Not very well,” the nurse says, matter-of-factly, “emotionally, that is. She won’t eat, she won’t say anything beyond what’s utterly necessary, and she’s staring out the window. Medically, her condition hasn’t changed. It’s no better and no worse. However, I would say that she’s in desperate need of some moral support right now.”

Her tone is professional—not rude, but cold as fuck. Butterfly picks up on it.

“Is Dr. Lee on duty today?” Butterfly asks.

“Yes, Mrs. Grey,” the nurse says. Mrs?

“Please page him for me,” my wife says.

“Yes, Mrs. Grey,” she replies coolly and picks up the phone. My wife turns and begins to walk towards Carla’s room, and the nurse’s sneer becomes visible and disdainful as she walks away. The other nurses do a little chuckle like they’re sharing an inside joke.

What am I, chopped liver? Don’t they see me standing here looking at them?

“Excuse me,” I say to the nurse at the desk, breaking her sarcastic glare at my wife’s retreating back.

“Yes, sir?” she smiles at me.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“Lindsay,” she says, sweetly, “McCallan.”

“Well, Nurse McGillicutty…” I begin.

“McCallan,” she corrects, with no malice.

“McCollough?” I say.

“McCallan,” she says, a little more perturbed.

“McCauley?” I continue.

“Mick-Allen… McCallan,” she says, now very angry.

“McCallan…”

“Yes! McCallan,” she declares.

“Nurse McCallan… you didn’t like that, did you?”

“No!” she answers immediately, before she could catch herself, “but… it’s fine. It’s not a common name.”

“Well, Nurse McCallan, Doctor is,” I reply. Her brows furrow and she looks at me nonplussed.

“Yes,” I continue, “you use the term every day, several times a day, so I’m certain that you have no problem formulating the word in your mouth. So that I’m clear…” I lean on the counter closer to her. “Her name. Is Doctor Grey. Not. Mrs. Grey!” McCallan clears her throat.

Dr. Grey never corrected us on her title…” she begins.

“Does any other doctor in the hospital have to correct you on that?” I ask. “You know she’s a doctor, I’m certain of it, so she shouldn’t have to. Did she give you her express permission to drop her proper title?”

McCallan looks to my left and I don’t have to look over to know that Butterfly has returned to the nurses’ station.

“No, she did not,” McCallan says, chastised but reluctant.

“Good. I’m glad we established that,” I reply, standing up straight. “She attended college two to four times longer than any of you did and she passed state board exams that none of you took to earn that title, and you will give her the respect that she deserves by addressing her properly! She may not correct you on her proper title, but I sure as hell will!”

I lean on the counter once more when I don’t get a response from any of them.

“And by the way, you and your catty little colleagues can take your snotty little judgmental attitudes and shove ‘em back in your scrubs, or I can take this to your superiors. Are we clear?”

“Sir!” I turn to my right to the voice that is apparently trying to get my attention. I stand to my full height to face the gentleman walking towards me. “Can you tell me why you’re standing here harassing my nurses?”

Oh-ho-ho, wrong move, doc. I turn to my wife.

“Do you know him?” I ask. She shakes her head. I turn to the doctor who now has his hands on his hips over his scrubs but under his lab coat like he’s about to put me in my place.

“I was just giving your nurses a refresher course on the proper etiquette when they’re addressing a doctor! They seem to have forgotten that particular piece of protocol for the last 11 days that my wife has been coming to this hospital to see to the care of her mother!I point my thumb behind me to my wife and the doctor’s face falls just a bit.

“Nurse McCallahaster here gets her clipboard all in a wad when I butcher her name, yet she can’t form the word doctor when she sees my wife! What’s more, we’re not even from this God-forsaken place! We’re here on very delicate business notwithstanding the condition of her mother, and more times than I care to recount, my wife has come back to our hotel room sobbing and reduced to tears over the behavior of this supercilious coven of banshees!”

The nurses gasp and the doctor is now gape-mouthed staring at me as I apprise him of the behavior of his nurses.

“My wife’s mother just awoke from a coma yesterday,” I continue. “I come to the hospital to find out the prognosis and I find my wife standing in the hallway weeping and barely able to talk. I come to find out that she was reduced to that state because of some cruel comments these women made when they didn’t know that she was listening, and she was on duty at the time!”

I point to one of the nurses near the back of the nurses’ station that I remember from yesterday.

“Sir… I’m… I…” The doctor is tripping over his tongue now.

“Mr. Grey,” I say firmly before pulling my wife next to me and putting my arm protectively around her. “And this is Dr. Grey. My wife said she didn’t want to pursue this issue—she would rather just let it die. However, once I noticed them refer to her as Mrs. Grey once more and this toddler…” I point to McCallan, “… giving her a disdainful look as she was walking away, I realized that it’s not going to die.

“This place is full of the most judgmental people I’ve ever seen on earth—and that says a lot, because I’ve been a lot of places—but the hospital?? This is how you treat the family members of your patients simply because they’re not contrite enough for your taste? Are you serious? We have the Paparazzi following us around and begging for a story. Should we give them this one?”

“No! Mr. Grey, no, I assure you, we will take care of this matter!” the doctor kowtows, and I still don’t know who he is, nor do I need to. “I apologize to you and to your wife—Dr. Grey—for any inconvenience or discomfort you’ve felt during your encounter with us…”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I think I may need to speak to the members of the board about this.”

“I think we should,” I hear my wife say, and I turn to her. “You said that this one gave me a disdainful look?” she asks, and I nod. “Her, that one, and that one were at the nurses’ station yesterday. Right before you walked up and interrupted their little confab, one of them declared that I was in a loveless marriage and I looked like I was miserable. They also called me the perfect example of ‘money can’t buy happiness.’ You’re right—they do know that I’m a doctor because one of them said that I must not be a real doctor since I didn’t correct them on skipping my title. And the most flattering thing they had to say about me was that one of them called me a cold broad and suggested that they contact a patient advocate since I’m clearly incapable of making sure that my mother has the proper care.” My eyes narrow.

“You didn’t tell me all that,” I tell her.

“I told you, I didn’t want to pursue it, but then you told me that Broomhilda here gave me the evil eye and I realize that you’re right… it’s not going to die.”

“Dr. Greer, we weren’t serious when we said those things…” one of the nurses protests and the doctor raises his hand to silence her. I just shake my head.

“You ever heard of movers and shakers?” I ask. “Believe me when I tell you that I’m both, but I’m not looking for special treatment. I’m looking for the same common courtesy that you would give anybody else in this position! And if these women can’t do it, then you need to hire some people who can!”

The doctor begins sniveling again, but I ignore him, put my hand in the small of my wife’s back, and lead her to her mother’s room. I’ll admit that sometimes, I’m looking for special treatment. I’m looking for someone to treat me like a king.

This is not one of those times.

I can deal with the usual disdainful, catty, jealous women that see my wife and hate her immediately just because of who she is, how she looks, what she has, and who she’s with—and I can only deal with that marginally. However, this behavior is completely unacceptable, and I will not let it slide.


ANASTASIA

I’m not sure, but I think my mother rolled her eyes when I entered the room. Her bed is in the upright position and she’s looking out the window now.

I don’t need this either, Mother.

“I won’t stay long,” I say when I enter. “I know you don’t want me here and I just want to get some information on your condition and your progress.”

“I never said that I didn’t want you here, Anastasia,” my mother corrects me. “I’m very emotional about this, and I would think that’s something that you would understand.”

“Oh, I understand perfectly, Mother. Trust me,” I reply flatly. My mother sighs and looks out the window. Christian takes a seat and I pull out my phone.

“Hello?” the voice answers uncertainly.

“Hi, Wendy?”

“Yes?”

“This is Anastasia Grey.” There’s a pause.

“Is she…?” Everybody asks that partial question first. I guess it’s to be expected.

“No, I’m calling to tell you that she’s awake,” I say quickly. I see my mother look over at me and I’m sure she doesn’t want to face Wendy at this time for whatever reason. Tough.

“She is?” Wendy says, gleefully. “Oh, dear God, she is? I’m on my way! Can I come now?”

“Yes, please,” I tell her. She ends the call without even saying goodbye. I can tell that she doesn’t want to waste a moment getting here.

“I really wish you hadn’t done that,” she says.

“Well, Mother, you need your friend,” I reply. “She cares deeply for you and she’s been here reading to you nearly every day.”

“I know,” she replies, turning back to the window. “I heard her… sometimes.”

“Why wouldn’t you want her here now?” I ask. “She clearly cares for you and she’s suffering not knowing what’s going to happen to you!” She sighs.

“Yes,” she says without looking at me, “I guess it’s good that she’s coming.”

I shake my head. I don’t know what’s going through this woman’s mind. Why wouldn’t you want people around you who care about you when you really don’t want me here and I don’t really feel that way about you?

For them to love her so much, I see that they haven’t tended to some of the older plants in the room. I move the dying plants closer to the door to be removed, then retrieve her pitcher from her tray table.

Empty.

I go to the en suite and fill it with water. When I return to the room, Christian is typing away on his phone. I press the call button, then proceed to water the plants that are still thriving. A few moments later, one of the nurses enter that I’m not familiar with.

“Hello, Mrs. Morton. What can I do for you?” she asks.

“She called you,” my mother says, pointing to me.

“Yes, ma’am?” she says, turning to me. She obviously doesn’t know who I am… or she’s been briefed.

“Can we please have a fresh pitcher of ice water?” I ask. She nods.

“Anything else for you?” I look over at my mother who is still not responding.

“Some ice cream or some pudding,” I say. “I’m told she hasn’t been eating.”

“I’ll bring some Ensure,” the nurse says. “That’s a good meal replacement.”

“Thank you,” I say, and she leaves.

“Are you going to force feed me?” she says softly.

“I’m not going to force you to do anything, Mother,” I say. “Your recovery is going to depend on you. I’m going to make sure that you have the things in place to facilitate that recovery, but you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.” She sighs again but says nothing.

“I need to go to the administrative office to… take care of some things,” Christian says, standing to his feet. “You’ll be okay?” I nod, and he kisses me gently on the forehead and cups my cheek.

“Text me if you need me,” he says. “I’m only a few floors away and I’ll be right back.” I smile and nod, and he leaves the room.

“He loves you very much,” my mother says. I turn back to her and she’s still looking out the window.

“Not according to the nurses,” I say, watering another plant.

“I don’t think I want to know why you say that,” she says.

“No, you don’t,” I reply without looking at her. “Let’s just say that Vegas is your town, not mine.” I finish watering her plants and begin to clean away the dead leaves from the counter and window sill. “It never has been.”

“Vegas isn’t my town,” she corrects me.

“Green Valley Henderson Vegas Summerlin it’s all the same to me,” I say in one breath as I dispose of the leaves. She takes another tissue from the box, dabs her eyes and blows her nose.

“Wendy must’ve brought this gown,” she says, looking down at her garb. “She knew it was the only way she’d get me in it. She probably put it on me so that I could wake up and tell her to get it the hell off of me,” she adds with a chuckle. I raise my brow, but I don’t respond. “I’d text her to tell her to bring me something else… but I don’t have my phone anymore.”

Note to self… get her another phone. I’d be lost without mine.

The nurse comes back in with ice water and Ensure and smiles at my mother.

“Here you are, Mrs. Morton,” she says, situating the tray table over her and placing the picture and bottle on top of it.

“I totally understand that you don’t feel like eating right now,” the nurse says, “but please, drink the Ensure. It’s going to be good for you.”

“Thank you, dear,” my mother says, putting a straw in the bottle and drinking some of the supplement.

“Anything else for you?” the nurse says, looking from me to my mother. Mother shakes her head.

“Can you see if Dr. Lee has been paged?” I ask. She nods.

“I think he has, but I’ll double-check,” she says before leaving the room. Just as she leaves, Wendy comes barreling into the room. What did she do, fly?

“Carla!” she says, her voice breathy.

“Window! What the hell is with this gown!” Window?

Wendy crosses the room in a few steps and embraces my mother warmly, tears quietly falling down her cheeks.

“I thought I lost you,” Wendy whispers.

“The fates said otherwise,” my mother replies softly. Wendy releases her and sits on the edge of the bed. I quietly slide into the chair that Christian vacated.

“How long have you been awake?” she asks.

“Since yesterday,” my mother replies.

“You sow, why didn’t you call me,” Wendy chastises.

“I… wasn’t ready,” my mother says. “Besides, there was this funny thing that happened with the car and… well, I don’t have a phone anymore.” Wendy shakes her head.

“Not funny, Carla,” she says. “You could’ve died.”

“Yeah, well, I lived,” my mother says, “I just can’t walk,” her voice cracks. Wendy rubs her arm.

“Who did you have? T-Mobile? Quest?” she asks.

“Sprint,” my mother says, pulling herself together a bit.

“We’ll get you another phone,” Wendy says, “something better than that old dinosaur you’ve been carrying around since the stone age.”

“I like my dinosaur,” my mother replies. “It’s easy to use and it does what I need it to do.”

“Well… my friend,” Wendy says with a heavy sigh, “you’re going to have a lot of time on your hands. You’re going to learn to use a new phone.” Mother drops her head and purses her lips, fighting what is most likely the millionth wave of tears today. Wendy covers my mother’s hands with her own.

“You know I’ve never been one to mince words, old girl,” Wendy says, sympathetically. “You’ve got me, you know,” she says. “I’ll move in if you need me to.”

“You just want to get out of that crappy apartment you live in,” my mother says with melancholy.

“That would be a bonus, yes,” Wendy laughs, then becomes serious again, “but you’re going to need me. You know you are.”

“Window…” Mother protests.

“Carla, you’re my best friend. This is going to be a long road with a lot of obstacles. Your daughter’s life is in Seattle, and you’re going to need someone around the clock. That’s going to be me. I’m going to make sure you get the hands-on care that you need and that no one is taking advantage of you.”

“You have your own life,” my mother says, “your job…”

“And this is what I’m trained to do, so I’ll just do it for you,” Wendy says.

“So, then we both won’t be working,” my mother says, lowering her voice to just above a whisper. “Money doesn’t grow on trees, Wen.”

“You’ve got savings and I’ve got savings, and there are many programs that help people like you—programs that will replace my income for being your full-time caregiver. We’ll exhaust every resource and we’ll manage,” Wendy says.

“Window, this is insane,” my mother says softly.

“Give it up, Morton,” Wendy says, squeezing her hand. “You’re stuck with me. I’m not going anywhere.” My mother breaks down in sobs again.

“So, when do they say you’re getting out of here?” Wendy asks. Just as the words are out of her mouth, Dr. Lee enters the room.

“I won’t ask how you’re feeling,” he says to my mother, “and I won’t try to minimize the seriousness of the situation by telling you how lucky you are, but Mrs. Morton, you’re very lucky.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she says, waving him off.

“I thought Dr. Grey was here,” he says.

“I am,” I say, finally speaking up from my perch near the door.

“Oh! Anastasia! I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were there,” Wendy apologizes.

“It’s okay, Wendy,” I reply. “Thank you for getting here so quickly.” Dr. Lee takes a position where he can look at all of us. Luckily, Christian comes back into the room before he starts talking and stands next to me.

“Is it okay to discuss the situation with all parties present?” Dr. Lee says.

“Yes, it’s fine,” Carla says.

“Then, we’ll start from the beginning and go down the line. Hopefully, your breathing is easier than it was yesterday. Like I told you, that discomfort is going to be gone really soon if it isn’t already.

“The totality of your broken bones are your pelvis, your legs, your skull, and your neck. Your neck should be healed in about a month, but we’ll keep an eye on that. The bones in the legs should heal in a few weeks, but the pelvis is going to take longer. It could take up to three months to heal and we won’t be able to begin physical therapy until it’s healed. Your skull fracture will have to be monitored constantly because even though you’re not feeling any pain, it’s going to take the longest.

“And now for the elephant in the room,” he says solemnly. “You need to prepare for your paralysis to be permanent. I have personally never seen anyone recover the use of the bottom half of their body from this type of injury. It’s not impossible—anything is possible—but I’ve never seen or heard of it personally. The chances of gaining your ability to walk from this type of injury are exponentially miniscule. Though I’m not trying to be cruel, I’d rather give it to you straight than to fill you with false hope.”

“I appreciate your candor, Dr. Lee,” my mother says softly. “May I ask a question?”

“Anything,” Dr. Lee replies.

“Why go through physical therapy if I’m not going to be able to use my legs?” she asks. “And if it’s necessary, why wait until the very end if I can’t feel anything anyway?”

“You’re going to need physical therapy to get your life back to as close to normal as possible. Your upper body is going to have to compensate for some of the things that your legs can’t do anymore. Your entire life is going to change, not just your mobility, but also your recreational activities, how you think, even how you eat and defecate. There’s going to be a lot of work in your future, Mrs. Morton, and physical therapy is going to be vital.

“The reason we can’t begin too soon is because you can’t feel any pain, so you can’t tell us about your limits. We’re going to have to gauge your progress and limits sheerly through outside stimuli. That means that your bones must be completely healed before we begin.” My mother purses her lips and nods.

“Still think you don’t need me, old girl?” Wendy says. Dr. Lee looks at me, then back at my mother and Wendy.

“You’re going to be with us for a while,” he says, “so that we can monitor your progress and get you set up on specific schedules as needed. We’ll start getting some literature together so that you can begin to prepare for the changes that are going to take place in your life and your home, transportation, how you work…”

“I won’t be working anymore,” she interrupts. “I’m a caregiver. I can’t take care of anybody anymore, not even myself!”

“And for all of those people that you’ve taken care of, now it’s your turn,” Wendy says. Dr. Lee sighs.

“I know how hard this can be to digest,” he says. “I’m going to leave you now, but I’ll be back to discuss the next steps.” My mother nods without speaking and the doctor leaves the room.

“Dr. Lee,” I say after following him out of the room. “Some of the things you were talking about—transportation, using the restroom…”

“Everything she knows is going to change,” he says. “If she has even the slightest hope of regaining the use of her lower regions, there’s immeasurable work that she has to do, and like I said, I’ve never seen it happen. Her home is going to have to be fitted with all kinds of equipment to accommodate her disability, and she’s going to have to learn to use it. Everything that she has ever learned is most likely going to be relearned to fit her new lifestyle.”

“Her home will have to be fitted for her disability,” I say. “We’re not just talking about shower chairs here.” He folds his arms.

“Medical lifts, hospital beds, furniture created to accommodate her disability… depending on her home, she may have to do some serious construction or she may even have to move.”

She and Wendy can only possibly have a couple of hundred thousand saved between them. That won’t be nearly enough for everything she’s most likely going to need.

“Thank you, Dr. Lee,” I say. “If you could, I’d like to get as much information as you can put your hands on for what kind of changes are going to need to be made in her home. I’m sure she’d be more comfortable in her own home, having to recuperate and reacclimate as opposed to having to move to somewhere more accessible. I would like to weigh all of our options and see what needs to be done.” Dr. Lee nods and leaves.

I drop my head back and take a deep breath, filling my lungs to full capacity. I release the breath and let my shoulders fall, trying to release some of the tension that this short day has already dumped on me. When I open my eyes, the three nurses at the nurses’ station are examining me, but divert their gaze quickly when they see me looking at them. I pop my neck and go back into the room.

“It’s not going to happen, Window!” my mother says forcefully as I’m entering the room. “I won’t have you using your life savings for me. I’ll figure something else out.”

“You don’t have a choice,” Wendy says. “I don’t have any children and you’re my dearest friend, so this must be what I was saving for.”

“You were saving for your retirement!” my mother protests. “To relax and see the world, remember that? I’ll give in on your moving in with me, but I will not take your life savings. Like you said, there are programs and resources—we’ll figure it out, but I won’t take your money and that’s final!”

Oh, Jesus Christ, give me strength.

“You won’t have to,” I say, interrupting the exchange and looking at Christian. “Dr. Lee is going to give me information on what you’re going to need and how the house will need to be retrofitted. We’ll take care of it.”

I look at my husband, willing him to understand that this is not a request. He nods to me infinitesimally. When I turn to my mother, she’s completely pale.

“I…” she’s stumbling over her words. “I… you…” she closes her eyes and takes a breath, grimacing when she feels the pain in her chest and letting the breath out.

“I appreciate your help, but I am not asking for it,” she says, firmly. “I’m not even expecting it. Whatever you do, it’ll be because you want to. You heard Wendy. We will manage somehow if we have to. There are resources available that will get me what I need. We’ll exhaust them all. I’m not asking for anything…”

“Carla,” Christian interrupts, “we understand.”

All of her resolve leaves her when Christian speaks and she falls back onto the bed, sobbing. Neither Christian nor I know what to do for her right now, and neither of us really wants to comfort her. I gesture to Wendy that we’re leaving and she nods. We quietly leave the room and head for the elevators.

*-*

Not wanting to discuss this day or its implications any further at all, Chuck and I drop Christian back at the hotel to get some sleep and retrieve an excited Sophie to go and catch the Cirque de Soleil show, “O” at the Bellagio. Al said it was spectacular and I’ve wanted to see it ever since. We quickly get to our seats and the music begins.

The lights rise to give a view of the large circular stage with the big orange curtain surrounding it. Characters come from the stairs in the stand—men dressed in French costumes and powdered wigs, a scantily-clad organ grinder playing a street organ, and a ballerina. The ballerina has a “trainer” behind her cracking a whip and forcing her to walk down the stairs in the audience.

As she works her way through, an aerialist doing her twists and turns from a steel contraption that’s slowly being lowered from the ceiling captivates the audience, but not all of us. Some of us are following the spotlight on the ballerina, certain that she’s the real show and the aerialist may just be a distraction.

As the French men in costume scurry up and down the stairs to their various positions and the organ grinder keeps grinding, the ballerina finds one audience member who is entranced by the aerialist doing the spins—a plain-looking guy in a polo, jeans, and a baseball cap. She claps her hands to get his attention and, startled, he turns around and smiles at her.

She bows to him and he nods. She gestures for him to stand, and he declines. She impresses on him to stand again and he finally does, and off they go into the stands. They all congregate beneath the spinning aerialist who completes her act, then kisses and drops a large red scarf, which the guy catches. I’m immediately reminded of that show on the cruise in the — lounge where the actors all chose someone from the audience—myself included—to participate in the show.

During this time, we’re all looking at the characters and the aerialist in the stands and none of us notice that there’s a hand sticking out of the big orange curtain, pointing at the aerial contraption. The contraption begins to rise, and Baseball Cap Guy is silently directed to walk back down the stairs towards the cage. The closer he gets to the stage, the pushier the French guys become. They shove him up the stairs to the stage and scurry off, and it’s now that I begin to suspect that he’s part of the act.

The hand in the curtain beckons him—several times—to come closer. The entire time, he’s sporting this big, goofy grin, slowly approaching the beckoning hand. He offers the hand the scarf that he’s still carrying, and the hand swats it away. Instead, the hand points up, Baseball Cap Guy looks up, and the hand grabs his nose and drags him behind the curtain.

Yeah, he’s part of the show.

Next, some lanky Lurch-looking fellow in mime-face creepily spider-walks out of the curtains and examines the crowd. You can tell by his suit that he was the arm behind the curtain. He opens a small portion of the curtain and Baseball Cap Guy comes back out, holding his tweaked nose. He gestures to the edge of the stage, asking if he can leave now. Lurch-Mime instead hands him a piece of paper and puts a mic to his mouth—upside down.

Baseball Cap Guy begins to read, but of course you can’t hear him because the mic is upside down. Lurch-Mime—we shall call him our Master of Ceremonies—turns it around, and Baseball Cap Guy taps it three times to make sure that it’s on. Lurch-Mime MC taps the mic on Baseball Cap Guy’s head three times, eliciting a laugh from the audience.

Baseball Cap Guy reads the paper—with a heavy French accent—which basically says there will be harmless smoke effects, but no smoking is allowed, no flash pictures, and turn off your cell phones, after which he is snatched into the air up and into the curtains. The curtains are then drawn into the back of the stage somehow. Another set of the same curtains are drawn back from the floor to reveal the large pool that is the stage, and the show begins.

A beautiful combination of silent character acting, music, ballet, and synchronized swimming ensues, and then Baseball Cap Guy is back… hanging from a ladder over the pool. As he tries to climb, he falls into the water and disappears as the synchronized swimming continues.

The ballerina and the Frenchmen return as Baseball Cap Guy emerges in some sort of peasant-style jester-like outfit and watches the beautiful and amazing aerial and water aerobics before him. Although there’s a lot going on, the two women on the trapeze are stealing the show because their stunts are graceful and amazing!

The characters move effortlessly in and out of the water. I can only imagine the kind of breath control you must have to perform these dances and contortions, but to do this in the water, too? And showing no signs of breathlessness? It’s incredible!

The performers center stage are on a platform. They perform various contortions, dances, and flips, then they have to leap into the water, leap while they’re in there, and then leap back out. One of them just leapt out of the pool over the head of another performer and back into the water like a trick dolphin!

Next, there’s a cute skit where two dorks are floating on a house and trying to keep it from sinking, all in the name of trying to fall asleep while our MC hovers in the background.

Another beautiful aerial and water ballet ensues guided by our MC, the aerial acrobatic ballet taking place on what looks like the frame of a large ship. The acrobats force the ship to swing back and forth while they continue to perform amazing feats in the air as Baseball Cap Guy/Peasant Boy looks on…

And Sophie is mesmerized.

Probably to facilitate a wardrobe change, and maybe to give the other performers a chance to breathe, a male fan-dancer comes out and does a short solo skit as a platform closes over the pool, allowing for a fire dance. We watch as a hobo sits in a chair reading a newspaper, and the fire dancer systematically sets him on fire…

And he just sits there… until it’s his turn to perform.

Fire and all, he does a little skit, then carries his chair offstage while the fire show continues. He’s still on fire the entire time, as is his chair.

I thought I would die laughing when the two goofy sailors come back and pick people out of the audience to dance with and they both pick guys—not part of the show this time. They pull people out of the audience a lot. Some of them are planted and some are not. How do you know if they’re planted? If they get strapped to something or they end up in the water, you know they’re planted.

The pool returns for a portion of the fire show and the only person who appears to be showing any exertion getting out of the pool is Peasant Boy—and that appears to be deliberate. He and the MC keep popping up in various parts of the show as if to say, “don’t forget us!” However, whatever the scene, the MC always appears to get the girl. The ballerina from the beginning occasionally attempts to get the attention of the Peasant Boy and vice versa, and for an hour and a half, I watch the most amazing dancing, swinging, and aerial and water acrobatics show I’ve ever seen.


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

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 20

So, I’ve been a bit incommunicado because my birthday was this week. It was super hard without my mom, but I made it through and was able to do some celebrating this weekend.

As a result, the Muse has taken a bit of a hiatus. It happens sometimes, and I have some chapters that just need editing, so hopefully there won’t be any breaks from posting. Nonetheless, here’s the next chapter.

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 20

CHRISTIAN

I sit at the desk in the office portion of the suite trying to process the information that was just relayed to me a few seconds ago by a member of my security team. I don’t know if this is good news or bad news.

“How long?” I ask.

“About twenty minutes,” Lawrence says. “I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t just looked in the room.”

“What’s going on now?” I ask.

“Well, right now, she’s freaking out because she can’t walk,” he replies. “I don’t know if anybody called Her Highness yet or not, because nobody bothered to stop and tell me, knowing that I’m here for her safety.”

I don’t know what the atmosphere is at the hospital because I don’t go up there to see Carla. As many times as Butterfly has come home in tears, I imagine that it’s somewhat hostile. I run my hands through my hair. I have to make an executive decision here.

“Anastasia is on a field trip right now with Sophia Taylor,” I tell Lawrence. “She’s been looking forward to it and I’m not inclined to disturb her with this right now. I would say that if the hospital doesn’t contact her immediately to wait until they’re finished.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll keep you posted as much as I can,” he says, and we end the call.

Fuck. Carla’s awake.

Will Butterfly think this is good news or bad news? How will she take it? Should I tell Ray and Allen, or should I wait until she knows first? Fuck it, I think I’m going to need backup. I text Allen.

**Can you please grab Ray and come to my suite? I’m in need of your assistance. **

When they get to the door, I’m pacing around the suite trying to figure out what to do. I open the door and I must look a fright. Ray frowns deeply.

“What’s wrong, son?” he asks before he even enters. “Is Annie okay?”

“Yes, yes, sir, she’s fine. Please come in,” I reply, walking away from the door and allowing them to let themselves in. “Sit… or stand, whatever you prefer, but I’m going to stand.”

“What’s this about, Chris?” Allen asks, impatiently.

“Carla’s awake,” I blurt out. Both gentlemen’s brows rise.

“Oh,” Allen says ominously.

“Yeah,” I reply.

“Ooo,” Ray remarks just as ominously.

“Mm-hmm,” I counter.

“Does Annie know?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I don’t think so. The guard outside of Carla’s door told me that she was awake. He didn’t even call Jason. He said he wouldn’t have even known had he not looked in the room and seen Carla freaking out about not being able to walk. We don’t even know if they’ve called Butterfly yet.”

“Well, don’t you think we should?” Ray asks.

“Actually, no,” I reply, and he frowns at me. “She’s on a field trip with Sophie that she’s really been looking forward to. Waiting until they’re done is not going to change Carla’s condition, but it will definitely interrupt her day.” Ray twists his lips but says nothing. I look at Allen.

“You want us to know first in case she flips her lid when she gets back here,” he deduces.

“You are correct,” I admit. “I also want to know your honest opinion about not telling her yet.” Ray clears his throat.

“She stayed all this time to see what was going on with her mother. I think she should know,” he says.

“I don’t know, Ray,” Allen says. “I think Christian’s right with this one. Jewel’s been walking on the points of needles ever since she’s been here. She needs to decompress in the worst way every chance that she gets. I say let her have the day before she has to deal with this.”

“Too late.”

We all turn to see Jason coming into the suite.

“What happened?” I ask.

“Dr. Whatever His Name Is called her while she was in the cooking class. She knows.”

“Shit!” I hiss, thrusting my hands in my hair again. “Is she on her way to the hospital?”

“No,” Jason replies. I raise a puzzled gaze to him.

“No?” I ask. Jason shakes his head.

“No,” he confirms. “The way I understand it, she got the call, looked at her phone, and immediately looked at Chuck, who did this…” He puts his hands next to his eyes and opens them wide. “She gathered that not only that her mother was awake, but also that Chuck knew before she did, which means that the doctor took his time calling her. Bearing that in mind, she’s now continuing her class with Sophie and my wife on Florentine chicken.” I look over at Ray.

“I guess the decision was made for me,” I say.

“Why did it take so long for the doctor to call her?” Ray asks.

“I have no doubt that she’s going to ask when she sees him,” I say. “I get the feeling that she’s not a favorite at the hospital.”

“Not a favorite?” Ray says. “What the hell?”

“We all know how Butterfly feels about Carla,” I tell him. “If she shows that same compassion at the hospital and they have no idea why, she’s actually the bad guy. That’s why she comes in here crying a lot of the time. Carla has built up a support system in her time of need that Butterfly never had in hers, and she’s very bitter about that. What’s more is that I don’t think the hospital staff is warm to her at all.”

“Well, why the hell don’t they pick up a newspaper or watch the news?” he asks angrily. “They would totally know why she’s behaving the way that she is.” I shake my head.

“I don’t think it would matter,” I tell him. “If you’ve had your mother with you all the time, you can’t imagine her being in this kind of state and you not caring about it. I certainly can’t imagine that with Grace.”

Ray must have had a fleeting thought of his own mother, because he deflates immediately. I’ve never heard either of them speak of his mother, so I’m assuming that she has passed on.

“Well, they’re all assholes, then,” he says dismissively. “Making assumptions is one of the worst things you can do when you’re dealing with a situation like this. It’s already hard for all parties involved. Annie doesn’t need to have to deal with their judgmental attitudes on top of everything else!” He’s becoming angry.

“I’m right there with you, Ray,” I say, “but cooler heads must prevail in this setting. We’ve been here waiting for the outcome of this saga and here it is. What’s important now is being here for Butterfly during the difficult decisions she has to make in the coming weeks and months.”

“What’s difficult?” Allen says. “Put her ass in a nursing home.”

“Those are our feelings, Allen,” I reply. “They may not be Butterfly’s.” Ray cracks his neck and shakes his head.

“Now I know why my Sunflower hates this place,” he says. “No matter how I try to relax, get comfortable, or let loose here, I haven’t been able to do it. I’ve heard about people who move here with big dreams, gamble it all away and end up homeless. I’ve heard about people who come here on vacation and leave not even having enough money to get a taxi back to the airport. Even though it’s not my money, everything here is still expensive as hell. How can you possibly raise a family in this environment or hold down a job unless you’re a stripper or a blackjack dealer? I shudder to think what the housing market looks like.

“Everything here is brown. There’re no trees except those blasted palm trees, and they look phony. Their downtown is in the middle of a slum, their police look like they’re wearing boy scout uniforms, and my first and most significant encounter with this God-forsaken place was finding out that my daughter was damn near dead. I can’t wait to get out of here!”

I should explain to Ray how he’s only half-right about the many observations he has illustrated about Las Vegas, but why bother? I had a similar reaction during my first visit to this desert cesspool.

Arid, barren, lonely, dusty…

“We don’t have much longer to wait to wrap things up, Ray,” I tell him.

“I hate to tell you this, son, but there’s less time than even you think where I’m concerned.” He does a near-military about-face and leaves the suite. Allen rolls his eyes.

“It’s too much, Chris,” he says. “I don’t know how Jewel is doing it. This place is physically and emotionally draining. We come from a place where it rains or snows 90% of the time, and here we are in a city where there’s no precipitation and the humidity is minus twelve. It’s a wonder we’re not face down in our bed 16 hours a day. With all the crying poor Marilyn does, she should have just dried up by now.

“Then, the only moral support we get is from our group! Jewel is accosted in the lobby before she even gets to her room; she’s attacked in court; bombshell after bombshell falls in that damn trial. While she may have brought the Karaoke Confrontation on herself, she goes to a Japanese restaurant and is splashed with Haterade in the bathroom. The hospital is obviously treating her like shit. And poor Sophie goes on a food tour and gets hated on by the guide. A 13-year-old girl—who does that?

“Ray is right—this place is worse than Egypt for the slaves in the time of the Pharaohs. It’s fucking time to go!”

He turns around and storms out of the room the way Ray did. I thrust my hands into my hair again and sigh a huge frustrated sigh.

“Boss?” Jason says. I shake my head.

“Get the jet down here,” I tell him. “Make sure the pilot knows that he’s here for the duration and needs to be ready to fly at as short a notice as possible. We’re coming apart here; a few more days and we’ll be clawing at each other.”

“Will do, sir.”


ANASTASIA

We’ve entered Sur La Table and as far as Sophie is concerned, we might as well be in Wonderland! Her eyes are sparkling and she’s more than ready to peruse the wares of the store. We’ve intentionally come very early before our cooking class is to start so that Sophie can outfit her beginner’s chef kitchen. I’ve asked for the manager and requested one of his best kitchen techs to help Sophie choose what she wants.

“While we’re looking for quality items,” I tell him, “we don’t want to be sold on the most expensive items in the store that are going to draw the highest commission and be completely useless to our little aspiring chef or we will swiftly be returning them to the store in Kirkland, WA.” The manager nods.

“We only want your experience to be pleasant and memorable. Let me get Anaé for you. I believe she will be best suited to assist you today.”

Off he goes to retrieve Anaé and Gail also looks longingly at some of the kitchen utensils.

“You’re also going to be making some purchases for yourself, Mrs. Taylor?” I tease. Gail sighs and turns back to me.

“No,” she says firmly. “This is Sophie’s experience. I want her to get the most of it, especially after that cow we had to deal with yesterday.”

“Ladies, this is Anaé. She’s going to assist you with your purchases today.” The manager smiles and bows before leaving Anaé with us.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms…” She extends her hand to me. She’s young, like Justine. Let’s see if she’s just as stupid.

“Grey,” I say. “Mrs. Grey.” I take her proffered hand and she smiles widely, then turns to Gail.

“And Mrs.?” she says, proffering her hand to Gail.

“Taylor,” Gail says, flatly, taking her hand. Anaé pauses for a moment.

“You have chef’s hands,” Anaé observes. “You cook?” Gail raises her brow.

“I do,” she replies, a bit taken aback.

“Good. Then, you’ll be able to help with our choices,” Anaé replies and turns to Sophie. “So, you must be our aspiring chef. What’s your name?”

“Sophia,” she responds.

“Is it okay if I call you Chef Sophia?” Anaé asks. “If I’m honest, it makes me feel important while I’m doing my job.” A sincere smile spreads across Anaé’s face and is matched by Sophie’s.

“Sure,” Sophie says, fighting to retain her glee.

This is what I was looking for. Chef Sophia, I like the sound of that.

“If it’s okay, sometimes I’ll call you ‘Chef’ for short. Is that cool with you?” Sophie’s smile grows wider.

“That would be awesome!” Sophie exclaims in an excited whisper.

“Excellent! So, let’s get started. The first tool you should look for when you’re ready to build your kitchen is a chef’s knife.” Anaé tilts her head. “May I see your hands, Chef?”

Sophie gives both hands to Anaé and she examines them carefully.

“For an adult, I would say an 8-inch knife would be best. Your hands are smaller, so I think a 6-inch would be better for you to start with. We’ll have you hold a couple of them and see how you like the weight. I recommend the Wüsthof classic.” She looks over at Gail for approval and Gail nods. So, it’s off to the chef’s knives we go.

Anaé is really good at her job. She tells Sophie about the weight of the knife and how it should feel in her hand. She also shows her the proper way to hold a chef’s knife and, watching her, I realize I’ve been holding it wrong for years. When she shows Sophie how to follow through and cut with the knife, I’m actually glad I decided to come along to see everything I’ve been doing wrong.

Next, we move to the All-Clad stainless steel 3-quart sauté pan and saucepan, both with lids, and the 10-inch skillet. Sophie immediately begins to balk about things sticking to the stainless steel and wanting to lean more to the non-stick options. Anaé assures her that non-stick has its place and that we’ll be moving to the T-Fal non-stick pans next, but that any kitchen would be incomplete without stainless steel, which is ideal for glazing to make sauces and gravies. Gail also suggests the stainless-steel stock pot and the Dutch oven, confirming Anaé’s information.

“We normally don’t carry T-Fal,” Anaé says, “but we just started stocking the T-Fal professional frying pans. This is really a great pan because you can use it in the oven up to 400 degrees. It’s a wonderful non-stick option, Chef, as I’m certain Mrs. Taylor can attest to. It has one of the most slippery cook surfaces on the market. You can probably cook eggs in it without oil.

“It also has this thermal spot indicator in the center that turns solid red when it’s preheated properly. Since stoves are different, this is a great tool for beginners to know when to adjust settings based on what you’re cooking. You don’t have a 12-inch in your arsenal yet, so I suggest that size in the T-Fal.”

Gail watches carefully and makes notes as Anaé suggests different items for Sophie’s kitchen, including a top-of-the-line meat thermometer, dishwasher-safe mixing bowls with pouring spouts, and a utility board.

Now, the utility board really got my attention. I can’t say how many times I’ve been unwaveringly frustrated with my cute little cutting boards that match my kitchen and are only big enough to cut a damn onion—and only barely! Anaé recommends a large cutting surface—15×21, to be exact. It’s an OXO Cool Grips utility and cutting board. Now, that’s a cutting board!

We’ll go shopping for spices and a proper spice rack when we get back to Seattle. Anaé recommends a proper pepper grinder and a pinch bowl for kosher salt. To be sure that she has her needed kitchen utensils—whisk, grater, spatulas, tongs, slotted spoons and the like—we’ve also secured the OXO kitchen utensils and essentials sets. Gail also picks out a set of bakeware, casserole dishes, and a roaster for when Sophie is ready to graduate to those items.

I personally think no kitchen is complete without a blender and a mixer—even a small one of each—and this leads Gail to also add a simple food processor. Sophie’s sole special request at this point is a waffle maker. Who are we to deny her that? And let’s not forget good potholders, cooling mats, and oven mitts.

Two hours and one extremely happy Chef Sophie later, we go to the rear of the store to the communal kitchen and our cooking class. Today’s lesson is homemade pasta, Florentine chicken under a brick, butternut squash ravioli with hazelnut and pecorino, and Modena flourless balsamic chocolate cake. The three of us and a fourth person who took the class alone break off into a group and begin to mix the pasta as instructed—sifted all-purpose flour and a pinch of salt on a butcher block counter. We make a well in the middle of the stack of dry ingredients, then pour six eggs and some olive oil into the well. We begin to whisk the eggs and olive oil together, mixing in the dry ingredients a little at a time until it’s time to knead the dough with our hands.

I’m elbow-deep in sticky pasta dough when my phone rings. I decide to ignore it, knowing that if it was anything important, like my children, my husband or Jason would call Chuck or even Gail. Neither of them reacts to a phone ringing, so I continue kneading my pasta dough. We get to the part where we’re pressing the dough to the thinness that we want before we cut it into pasta when my phone rings again.

“Dammit,” I say under my breath. No longer elbow deep in pasta dough, I dry my hands a bit with a nearby hand-towel and I look over at Chuck.

He’s on his phone. Shit.

I reach into my pocket and check Gail and Sophie. Neither has been alarmed, so I fish my phone out of my pocket.

702-233… Summerlin Hospital.

I raise my gaze to Chuck, who’s looking dead at me now, his expression unreadable. The phone is still ringing in my hand, and I know he knows something.

What the fuck is going on, Davenport?

His phone is now back in his pocket and I can’t read his expression. Next, he puts his fists on either side of his face and opens his hands and is eyes wide…

My mother is awake.

I look at the phone in my hand which has now started to ring a third time, send the call to voice mail, and go back to my pasta.

I never knew that chicken under a brick is actually cooked under a brick…

*-*

My mother looks like shit when I walk into the room. At first, her gaze is down and she’s still in the neck brace. She looks like she’s been crying for a month. When she raises her gaze to see me walk into the room, there’s no emotion in her face—nothing like glee or relief that the daughter you kicked by the wayside when she needed you stayed here and endured massive bullshit to stay near you when you needed her.

“I didn’t mean for this to happen,” she says the moment she raises her gaze to the door and sees me.

“Obviously,” I say, allowing the door to close behind me.

“I have health insurance,” she says, “and I’m awake now, so you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.”

I glare at her. Is she trying to be the fucking martyr? For Christ’s sake, cut it out! Apparently, everyone loves you except me, so I plan on getting you squared away and turning you over to the hands of your fan club as soon as I possibly can.

“Well, Mother, unlike you, I am a human being with a human heart, and I’m not going to leave you here to rot. Although I would be completely within my rights to do so, I won’t do to you what you did to me. So, let’s cut the crap, okay?”

She falls silent.

“You’re right about one thing. You’re awake, so you can tell me what happened.” She raises a questioning eye to me then turns her gaze away.

“Isn’t it obvious?” she replies. “My car went over a damn overpass and I didn’t die!”

She sounds angry.

“Are you angry about the overpass or angry that you didn’t die?” I ask sarcastically. She scoffs tragically and rolls her eyes.

“I know I was horrible to you,” she says, her voice low. “There’s obviously nothing I can do to fix that. It hurts, I hate it, but I’ve accepted it. Now, I’m awake, and I’m going to make the point to you that I tried to make to your husband before the accident. If you’re only here to hurt me back, I’ve got that covered for us both. You can go now, and you can take that sentinel at the door with you.”

I’m actually appalled. How dare she talk to me that way! She should be thanking God that I’m here seeing to her care. What are you going to do, kick me out? You can’t even walk!

“And in case I’m reading your expression correctly,” she says, “I’ll call the nurse and tell her to tell the doctor that you’re not allowed to come back here. I’ll have them call Wendy and I’ll manage, one way or another!” My eyes widen.

“Well,” I say matter-of-factly, “I see you’ve found a reason to grow a backbone.” I fold my arms.

“Listen to me carefully, Mother. I have no will or desire to listen to your grandstanding or your ‘I’ve paid my debt to society’ type of conversation. I am not my husband. I’m the girl who sat there for years–part of that time in much of the same situation that you’re in right now—while you fucked me over… big time! I’ve been back and forth to this hospital waiting for you to wake up, making sure that you have the best care, following your prognosis, and finding out that you have an advanced directive, which is a whole lot more than you did for me by your own admission. So, cut. The fucking. Crap!”

She finally gets that appalled expression on her face that I’m accustomed to seeing.

“As a human being and your last living relative, I’m going to make sure that you have everything you need before I leave this God-forsaken place and make no mistake. This is not going to be a warm reunion where I suddenly have some epiphany that life is short and we have to cherish one another…” I mock a sympathetic voice on the last part. “I realized life was short nearly 15 years ago when I saw mine flash before my eyes, and you turned your back on me.

“This is no more than a transaction for which I am responsible, and I’m going to see it through like any of my other responsibilities. And unlike when I was laying in that bed, you know why I feel this way. And let me make something else clear. You don’t have to tell the doctors, the nurses, or anyone else that you don’t want me to be here. You don’t want my help? Fine. You just say the word and I will walk out that door, take my damn sentinel with me, and never look back!”

She’s hurt and shocked. I can see the tears forming in her eyes… and I really don’t care. When she takes too long to answer, I turn to the door to leave. I need this like I need another hole in my head.

“Ana!” she says, her voice cracking and I halt my exit without turning around.

“I would…” She clears her throat as her words are barely coming out. “I would really like your help, please,” she says. “I would appreciate it more than you know.”

I don’t respond to her sentiment. I simply come back into the room.

“You should call Wendy anyway,” I tell her. “She was here. She would want to know that you’re awake.”

“I will,” she says. “I’m just… not ready.” I raise my brow.

“You’re not ready to talk to your best friend?” I question. She shakes her head.

“No,” she says, “not yet.” I take a deep breath and remember what I just said… nothing more than a transaction for which I am responsible.

“What has the doctor told you?” I ask.

“About what?” Oh, dear God, give me strength.

“About your condition,” I say, my voice choppy.

“What? That I can’t walk? I didn’t need him to tell me that,” she retorts. “Something about a spinal injury, of course, and that the situation may or may not be permanent—there’s no way to tell. This lovely neck gear is due to the broken neck, which is probably going to take another month or so to heal completely. The remaining bruising on my body should be gone in a couple of weeks. I have a skull fracture, so I probably shouldn’t operate any heavy machinery.

“I’ve had a surgery on my pelvis that’s basically the same as a hip replacement, which is a bit of a waste since I can’t walk, but hey…” She trails off and shrugs.

“The slight discomfort I feel while I’m breathing is because of the collapsed lungs, but they should be back to normal in a day or two. That’s the least of my worries. I think I’ve covered it all now.”

She’s being extremely sarcastic, and I’m trying to find sympathy for her, but I can’t. I feel even more resentful with her being awake than I did when she was in a coma.

“Are you in any pain?” I ask in a purely professional tone.

“No,” she says, “not that I can tell.”

“Are you hungry at all?” I prod.

“No,” she says, flatly. I roll my eyes and leave the room, headed to the nurses’ station.

“I’m out of my element here,” I say to the nurse. The last time I had someone wake from a coma, it was Val, and Elliot took care of absolutely everything. “She’s not very forthcoming right now with her needs or feelings, so please provide her with whatever she needs to be comfortable.”

It’s obvious to anyone that we’re not the best of friends, but I’m not trying to see her suffer. The nurse stares at me for a moment.

“Yes, Mrs. Grey,” she says in a professional tone. I’ve never bothered to try to correct her that I’m Dr. Grey. In this setting, I don’t think it would matter.

I take a moment to get some coffee and check my emails. As quickly as I’ve been thrust into the Mother’s awake situation, I want to be snatched right back out of it. Waiting for sentencing for this asshole is the last thing I must do in Las Vegas and whatever my mother is going to need will be done from a distance. I’ll have her beloved Wendy be my liaison and she can bump me out of it completely if she wants to. I have too much animosity to give her the emotional care that she needs, so I might as well be removed from making any lifelong decisions for her if she can find someone that she trusts to do it for her—especially since she has such a fucking fan club here that hasn’t heard nor do they care about my suffering or my side of the story.

As I’m coming around the corner from the family pantry, I can just hear the nurses at the station talking about my mother’s condition. While everything else appears to be progressing quite nicely, her prognosis isn’t promising in terms of her being able to walk again. They’re talking about the physical therapy she’ll still have to endure to make sure that her bones heal correctly, but that it looks like she’s not going to be able to walk on her own.

And then the conversation swings over to me.

“She’s the perfect example of ‘money can’t buy happiness,’” one of the nurses says. “She’s always here alone—I don’t think I’ve seen her husband once. She’s cold and unfeeling to her mother. She’s so stylish, but she looks like she’s utterly miserable. God, if that’s what money does to you, I’ll work ‘til I’m dead.”

“Didn’t Dr. Lee say that she’s a doctor, too?” another one asks. “Shouldn’t she know how serious her mother’s condition is?”

“I don’t know, I think it must be honorary or something,” the first one says. “I’ve called her Mrs. Grey every time I’ve seen her, and real doctors correct you on that fast!

“Well, I think we should call the patient advocate or something for Mrs. Morton,” the second one says. “I can’t see that cold broad doing what’s in her best interest no matter how much money she’s throwing around.”

Why do I put up with this? Why should I have to put on the happy face and pretend that I’m okay with all of this in order for people to treat me with some modicum of respect? If it’s not the nurses, it’s the doctor. If it’s not the doctor, it’s my mother’s fan club. What the fuck do these people want from me?

The tears are flowing—quietly but hard—while I stand behind the wall and listen to the continuing conversation about how horrible I am to my now-crippled mother. It goes on for a while, but for some reason, I’m unable to move. As if the Star Trek teleportation gods heard what they were saying, their conversation halts to the sound of approaching footsteps and a honey-smooth voice.

“Hello,” I hear one of the nurses say sweetly. “How can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m looking for room 2117. I’m going in circles.”

It’s Christian! That’s Christian’s voice!

I come barreling from behind the wall full speed as if I were already in motion instead of standing there and listening to these bitches talk about me, and nearly run smack into my husband.

“Whoa! Where’s the fire?” he says almost in jest before noticing that I’m sobbing.

“Butterfly!” he exclaims in concern as I take a step back. “What’s wrong?”

“I… I’m trying…” I stutter, “I’m trying…”

“Baby, c’mere, what is it?” He has that floundering tone in his voice as he moves to close the distance between us. I nearly run to his arms and he envelops me completely, squeezing my arms between our bodies as I cover my face and sob.

“Butterfly… what is it? Is she…?” I shake my head as much as I can.

“No… no…” I say from under my hands. I raise my gaze to him, and I know I look a fright.

“I want to… leave this place,” I tell him. “I want to… leave this place… and never come back… Nobody understands… what I went through… Nobody knows… what she put me through… and they don’t care!” I sob on his shoulder.

“You don’t have anything to prove to anybody, Butterfly,” he says, soothing. “Everyone who counts knows what you went through. We know she left you to die and we’ve all told you that you’re a very big person for even bothering to come here and see about her. You’ve got to stop breaking down like this, Baby. You’re going to frustrate yourself into an early grave and I won’t have it. I’ll set her up with the best home care money can buy and whisk you out of this place so fast, it’ll make your head spin! Is that what you want? Because I’ll get on it right now.”

This couldn’t have gone better if I had planned it. This entire conversation is transpiring not three feet from the nurses’ station with those same gossipy nurses listening in.

“Your Highness!”

I look up and Jason is walking quickly towards us. I roll my eyes.

“I thought… we agreed… that you weren’t going to call me that,” I say in a stuttering, whining voice. He sighs and cocks his head at me.

“Ana,” he corrects himself. “What’s wrong? Is she…?”

“No, she’s not dead,” Christian says, “My wife is just having another one of her ‘why-do-I-have-to-be-nice-to-mommy-when-mommy-wasn’t-nice-to-me’ breakdowns. I’m ready to get her out of here.”

“No… no…” I say, my voice still stuttering. “I’m going… to see this through… I’m going… to make sure… that she’s okay… and then… we’ll get her… the best care money can buy… and we’ll get out of here.”

“Good… okay. Come on, now, stop this,” he says, taking his handkerchief from inside his coat and dabbing my face while still holding me around my waist. “You know I hate to see this.”

I’m sniffling like a blubbering baby, trying to compose myself.

“Haven’t you shed enough tears over this, baby?” he says. “Fifteen years…”

I look up at him and throw my arms around his neck.

“I love you more than you’ll ever know,” I sob. He embraces me warmly.

“I love you, too, Butterfly. You know that…” He pulls me back, looks me in the eyes, and takes my face in his hands. “And I do know.”

I close my eyes and he presses his forehead to mine. His words and gestures calm me right down, and I’m able to take a deep breath. He kisses my tearstained cheek gently, and then my lips just as softly.

“Come on, now,” he says. “Let’s go see about Carla.”

He tucks me protectively under his arm and we walk towards my mother’s room. I can see the nurses in my mind’s eye staring at us as he guides me, sniffling, down the hallway, and choking on the words that made me cry.


CHRISTIAN

I don’t recall how bad Carla looked when I last saw her in this hospital room, but she looks horrendous now. Except for the places that still bear a bit of the bruising from the accident, her face is pale and peaked. Her torso is elevated, but both legs are in traction—why, I’m not sure. It’s not like she’s tempted to move them. She’s wearing a neck brace and she looks completely helpless.

Butterfly has pulled her hair back in a ponytail and washed the runny makeup from her face, so she looks a bit of a fright when she enters the room as evidenced by the obvious concern on Carla’s face when she first sees her—concern that immediately morphs into irritation when she sees me enter behind her. She sighs heavily and audibly and rolls her eyes as she can’t do much else.

“Carla,” I say as a means of greeting. She doesn’t respond. I raise a brow at her, and her expression doesn’t change. This is definitely not the same woman I encountered in Seattle a few years ago.

“We’d like to get to the bottom of the situation,” I say, moving to the foot of her bed.

“What situation?” she says, with her brow furrowed.

“Of the accident,” I reply in a professional tone, “of what happened.”

“What do you mean, ‘what happened?’” she asks confused. “Car, bridge, boom. What am I missing?” I resist the urge to roll my eyes this time. “If you think I did this to get my daughter’s attention, I’ve already told her that while I appreciate what she’s doing for me that she can leave whenever she wants.”

That possibility never occurred to me, but there’s no way she could have expected to survive a crash like that, so it’s highly unlikely… and I’m sure that Butterfly doesn’t need her permission to leave.

“That’s not what I meant,” I retort coolly. “We were just trying to find out if anything suspicious happened that you can remember. Did your brakes go out when you were heading towards the guardrail? Did you feel a bump or anything like someone hit you? What were you doing immediately before you got behind the wheel of the car? Did you feel woozy or dizzy?”

Carla looks even more confused than she did before. It’s like everything I’m saying is completely Greek to her. After a few moments, her brow rises as if she finally gets it.

“Does every event in your life involve a conspiracy theory?” she inquires with a frown.

“Most often, yes,” I reply. “Conspiracies are everywhere. I wouldn’t be alive without a healthy dose of skepticism and mistrust, and I certainly wouldn’t be a billionaire.” Carla twists her lips.

“That explains why you’re so paranoid,” she says. “That must be a terrible way to live.”

“So far, I haven’t been wrong. And if it keeps me alive, then it’s the only way to live,” I retort. She shakes her head.

“Well, I can assure you that there’s no conspiracy this time, Christian. Nobody hit me, nobody forced me off the road, nobody drugged me, and that I know of, my brakes didn’t malfunction. Unfortunately for your conspiracy theories, it was just me and the damn car, okay?”

“We’re not your enemies, here, Carla,” I chastise. “We’re only trying to get to the bottom of what happened and make sure that you’re not in any danger.”

“That’s not the impression you gave me,” she counters. “You made me feel like nothing would make you happier than if I just disappeared… died, even. I think your exact words were that you’ll bury my ass right next to my husband. I know how you feel about me and I know why. I’m not making any excuses for it anymore, but I didn’t seek you out. I didn’t present myself to you like, ‘Look what I did.’ I gave my testimony and I went home. You came to my house, shoving your money in my face and treating me like shit. So, you’ll just have to excuse me while I exercise my right to ‘a healthy dose of skepticism and mistrust!’”

Well, she hit that nail on the head, but fuck if I’m going to apologize to her. I meant what I said on her porch that day, every word of it. Any modicum of civility or kindness that I extend to her at this point is only to accommodate my wife.

She rolls her eyes and turns her gaze back to the tissue in her hand that she has now worried to sodden and crumpled shreds of useless tatters. I’m fighting to subdue the urge to present her with my handkerchief, but she relieves me of the responsibility by tossing the shredded mass into a small plastic bag on the tray table next to her and retrieving another handful of tissue to blow her nose.

“Okay, so you’re saying that no one sabotaged you or forced you off the road. You just somehow lost control of the car,” Butterfly concludes. “It’s not like we could find any evidence anyway. Your car was totaled. You’re lucky you’re alive.”

“Yeah, well,” Carla responds without lifting her head. “It’s not like I could drive it anyway. I’m perfectly fucking useless.” She says the last sentence under her breath, more to herself than anybody else. I can’t help but think about that old saying… how does it go?

The toes you step on today could be connected to the ass you will have to kiss tomorrow…

Or something like that.

“So, what’s the next step? What do you want to do?” Butterfly asks.

“Oh, I get a vote in this?” Carla retorts.

“Please cut it out with that ‘woe-me-my-life-is-over-and-I-don’t-have-anything-left-to-live-for’ shit. I don’t have time for it,” Butterfly chastises. “You have a long road of recovery and rehabilitation ahead of you whether you learn to walk again or not. You’re going to need to be strong and determined to overcome your limitations, but this doesn’t have to be the end for you.” Carla shakes her head and laughs tragically.

“You know what?” she says. “I think I want you to leave.” Butterfly’s brow rises as does mine.

“Oh?” Butterfly says.

“Yes, oh,” Carla retorts sarcastically. “Are you surprised? You asked what I wanted and I’m telling you. You can come back tomorrow… or don’t, but right now, I want you to leave.”

Butterfly is stunned into silence for a moment, but quickly recovers. She gathers her things and wordlessly walks out of the room. I don’t say a word. I simply stand and leave the room behind her. We head toward the elevator and we stop just as she gets to the nurses’ station.

“Do your homework!” she hisses to the two nurses behind the counter. “Google Anastasia Steele Green Valley. Find out why I’m so cold towards that woman before you attempt to judge me!”

She storms away from the counter and off towards the elevator. I watch her push the call button before I turn back to the nurses.

“I can only assume that you said or did something you probably shouldn’t have,” I say coolly. They both look at me gape-mouthed, eyes wide open like deer caught in headlights as I leave the station and join my wife.

*-*

I’m caressing her arm and she’s lying against me on the sofa as we sit in silence and watch the fire. I got the feeling that she just needed to sit and do nothing when we got back to the suite, so that’s what we’ve been doing for the last half hour. I’m sure that she’ll want to get up and go to the Romper Room suite soon to sit with the children, but right now, it’s just me, her, and the fire.

“Did you know that you can sing 99 Bottles of Beer from beginning to end almost 22 times from midnight to 6am if you repeat the last number without running right into the next one?” I frown. Where did that come from.

“What do you mean if you repeat the last number without running right into the next one?” I ask. She begins to sing.

“Some people say, ’99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer; you take one down and pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall, 98 bottles of beer; you take one down and pass it around, 97 bottles of beer on the wall, 97 bottles of beer…’ That way, the numbers just run right into the next one. I sing it where you start the verse over again when you get to the next number…

“99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer, you take one down and pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall…

“98 bottles of beer on the wall, 98 bottles of beer, you take one down and pass it around, 97 bottles of beer on the wall…

“97 bottles of beer on the wall, 97 bottles of beer…”

Where is she going with this?

“Okay,” I say, “I get it. How did you know that?”

“That’s what I used to do instead of counting sheep when I lived in Green Valley with my mother and Stephen,” she says flatly. I freeze for a moment, but then catch myself and continue to caress her arm.

“It never worked,” she continues. “That’s how I know how many times you can sing it in six hours. Some nights, I was afraid to close my eyes. Other nights, I wanted to close my eyes and not wake up. There were times when I would close my eyes and Cody was raping me, or that gang was beating me. Then there were times when I couldn’t wait to close my eyes to get rid of the day.

“You can sing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt 1,440 times,” she says. “You can sing the original version of Shortenin’ Bread with all the verses 144 times. You can sing When You Wish Upon a Star 230 times…”

I sit there and listen to my wife recount the songs that she had to sing to help her get through the night those years that she lived with her mother and her stepfather. She was 15… and 16… and even 17 for a few months, and she survived by singing childhood songs over and over again until she could get out…

Somewhere Over the Rainbow—166 times…
My Favorite Things—360 times…
Under the Sea—117 times…
Bare Necessities—149 times…
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious—120 times…

By the time my wife got through about 17 songs, I had heard enough. It’s no wonder she knows everything about Disney that there is to know.

“I want to know how you planned your escape,” I interrupt her. “You were only 17.” She closes her eyes and sighs.

“I was the only girl who wore jeans to graduation,” she said. “We had a dress code for graduation and at first, they weren’t going to let me walk across the stage. I convinced them that I was too poor to buy clothes, even told them that my parents weren’t there, but that I had a pair of dress shoes and I could hide my jeans, and no one would know. They felt sorry for me.

“I had taken some of my savings and bought a pair of stilettos. It was the first pair I had ever worn. I had never walked in high heels before and these were four inches. I rolled up my pant legs and walked in those heels like I had been wearing them my whole life. I walked up on that stage, got my diploma ledger, and walked back to my seat. I would have left then, but there was protocol and all.

“When we got back to the assembly room after the ceremony, I grabbed my duffel bag from its hiding place, changed back into my sneakers, stashed my cap and shoes into it and walked out of the auditorium. I took the Tropicana bus to Las Vegas Blvd and jumped on the Deuce one last time down the strip to the Greyhound bus station.

“There wasn’t a single bus that day going straight to Seattle. I had to catch the bus to L.A. first and connect from there to Seattle. The whole trip was 35 hours long, and I had never felt freer in my whole life. I had one of those pay-by-the-minute cell phones. I didn’t use it, but I only had one number in it—Daddy’s, and only in case of extreme emergency. Luckily, there were no extreme emergencies.

“I did my homework and started out at Sacred Heart. I told them my story, that I was abused in Las Vegas and couldn’t go back. I showed them my brands and they helped me apply for financial aid and… you know the rest.” I sigh and continue to caress her arm.

“They just took your word for who you were?” I ask.

“No, they took the word of my brands,” she replies. “They spoke for themselves and they were even more gruesome than they are now before they fully calloused over, which took about three years.”

“I can only imagine,” I reply.

“And then those catty bitches at the nurses station had the nerve to be talking about me,” she hisses softly.

“I knew it,” I say. “I knew that’s what it was. What did they say?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she replies. “I’m going to report them to their superiors if they say anything else about me, but God, do I get tired of being Mrs. I-Want-to-Speak-to-Your-Manager. It’s fucking exhausting! Why is it so hard for people to treat you with respect and common courtesy? It doesn’t matter that they don’t know my story! It’s none of their goddamn business! They have no right whatsoever to play judge and jury over my life.”

“I completely agree,” I tell her. “What would you like to do?”

“Oh, Christian, fucking nothing,” she says. “Get this wrapped up and go. Home. That’s what I’d like to do.”

We sit in silence for several more minutes until we’re interrupted by the doorbell of the suite.

“Hey, Jewel, how are you feeling?” Allen says, coming into the living area of the suite. Butterfly walks into his arms and sinks into his embrace. Ray is right behind him.

“I’m as well as can be expected,” she says, “trying to get things wrapped up as fast as I can and get the hell outta here.”

“That’s kinda why I’m here, Annie,” Ray interjects. “I’m heading on back to Seattle. I stayed to help you deal with things in case she died. She didn’t die, so I’m going home to my wife and son. I’m losing my mind without them and this place isn’t helping. I hope you understand.”

“Of course, I do, Daddy,” she says, moving from Allen’s arms to her father, standing on her toes and hugging him. “Thank you for staying this long. You really didn’t have to, but I’m so glad you did. I’ll tell Christian to get the jet ready.”

“I’m already ahead of you,” I tell her, “but the jet won’t be ready until tomorrow morning. The pilot just got in and he needs some rest.”

“That’s fine,” Ray says. “I can wait another night. This place is just so draining. I have no idea how anybody lives here.”

“I think I’m going to have to hop that plane, too, Jewel,” Allen says. “We’re all in a bit of a holding pattern right now waiting for the sentencing and I, like Ray, wanted to be here for you in case your mother kicked the bucket… or in case you asked me if you should pull the plug.” She gasps and Ray raises a brow at him.

“It’s true,” he says unrepentant. “Ask Christian. Had you asked me from a legal standpoint about pulling the plug on that woman, I would have told you to do it. I offer no apologies. I have no love lost for that woman and I’m not evolved enough to be a bigger person when it comes to her. Hope you’ll forgive me.”

“I love you to pieces,” Butterfly says, giving him the same big hug that she gave her father. “I’ve got my babies here now to help me hold myself together. I have Mare and my husband and our wonderful staff who are more family than staff, but I couldn’t have made it this far without you guys, so thank you.”

They share a three-way hug and I watch my wife relax into the arms of her father and her best friend. I only hope I can hold her together this next week without them.

*-*

We spent the rest of the evening eating finger foods that, quite frankly, adults should not be eating, and if I had to hear Ilsa singing Let It Go one more time, I would have committed hari-kari. Thank God somewhere around the 150th time—yes, I’m exaggerating—my wife fell asleep on the floor with the twins. I left Gail and Keri to contend with our children and I carried my wife back to our suite and put her to bed.

It’s about 2am as I’m reading emails and working, and I see the email from Alex regarding Stoney Blake, Esquire… Vincent Sullivan’s attorney.

Jason’s words come to mind and I think about what he said about Blake only doing his job. As a businessman, I understand completely. However, as a loving and protective husband, I don’t give a fuck. He came after my wife with his claws bared and this is what happened.

He made Anastasia look like a 15-year-old harlot who deserved what those monsters did to her. And while Jason is correct and he did his job to the best of his ability, he didn’t put his effort into defending a young man whom he thought was in fear for his life, or in pointing the finger at the culprits of whom he was supposed to be afraid. Cody Whitmore came out spotless in his defense while my wife had to defend why she was vomiting. He needed reasonable doubt by any means necessary, and he got it on two of seven charges.

Now, he has to deal with the consequences of the means.

I begin combing through the information that Alex sent me. Typical lawyer information at first glance until I look at his financials. He has more than one offshore account with his name on it. That’s nothing suspicious for anyone who has more than a few coins to rub together, except that the sources of the funds to these accounts appear questionable, though not to the naked eye.

Money going into an offshore account, or any account for that matter, can come from anywhere. However, after a couple of hours of working my way backwards through the information Alex provided, I’ve discovered that the cash streams into these accounts are all coming from various other accounts all under three different holding companies of some Blakestone variety—Blakestone Holdings, Blakestone LTD, and Blakestone LLC.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with an attorney having holding companies as an umbrella for his money, but he’s moving some significant amounts. Is he the attorney to the rich and famous? Does he charge obscene amounts for his retainers? If it’s that innocent, why move the money through 10 separate banks for three different holding companies into three larger offshore accounts?

Because small amounts moving through random bank accounts don’t raise suspicion.

“For the love of God, must the crooked and wicked be so fucking obvious?” I ask aloud to no one.

Think about it… Robin Myrick played with me like a cat plays with a mouse, moving money around from account to account just to prove that he could before he started syphoning it out of my company. I nabbed his ass at the airport.

Holstein ends up getting pinned for cocaine and meth and all we were trying to get him for was the gun, and all because he was helping the Pedophile with that fucking book.

We won’t even discuss the Pedophile.

And Greta Ellison. For fuck’s sake, BD Simmons? Seriously? Could you be any more obvious? I let you go after I discovered that you were the one who stole the gun that could’ve killed me and my best friend and you decide to cross me again? Jesus H. Christ!

And now Blake. Unless my corporate, finance, billionaire mind is mistaken, this stinks of either money laundering or gross misappropriation of funds. The further back I go, I find no beginning trail for these funds. They just show up, and then they get split up, and then they come together again. Doesn’t he know that money in offshore accounts is not protected from the IRS or the feds? He’s an attorney—he has to know that.

“Do you ever sleep?” I ask Alex when he answers the phone.

“Apparently not when you need me,” he replies.

“I’m looking at Blake’s financials here,” I tell him. “Am I mistaken, or did you just give me a late Christmas gift?”

“You’re not mistaken,” he says. “Our young attorney is moving lots and lots of money from unknown sources. Either he’s creating a rainy-day fund for a whole lot of rich folks, or I’d say he’s washing some dollars. And if he’s laundering for the rich, they’re not going to own up to it. If I were to estimate, out of every 100 transactions, 80 – 95 of them are cash deposits. Nobody carries that type of cash around… nobody, not even you and your pocket full of C-notes.”

“So, how do we shine light on this little operation?” I ask.

“You have to ask? The IRS,” he replies, “with a little help from the feds. All I need from you is the word…”

“The word,” I say, before he even finishes his sentence.


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

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 19

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

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

Season 5 Episode 19

ANASTASIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You don’t think…” He trails off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey,” I say softly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

But not today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Now, you’re teasing,” she says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Different than what?” Justine inquires.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why would you ask that?” she says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m 26,” she says, matter-of-factly.

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

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

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

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

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

“I… I’m sorry!” Justine says, aghast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t have to lift a finger.

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

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

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

“Yes,” I say.

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

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

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

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

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1ced433fc3e064e5d12646bd71f2bd84

“I have,” Jason says, still laughing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He did,” I say. She shakes her head.

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

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

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

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

“You okay, Baby Boo?” Jason asks.

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

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

“Wheh ah da tweens?” she says.

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

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

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

“What did she say?” Jason inquires.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You did?” he asks. Sophie shrugs.

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

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

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

That would fucking make her nine years old.

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

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

“What have you already cooked?” Butterfly probes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And just like that, crisis averted.

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 18

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

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

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

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

Season 5 Episode 18

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

“Just wine… and a cranberry spritzer.”

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

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

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

“Yes, Chtistian?”

“Are the twins still asleep?” I ask.

“Noh, dey jess weke up,” she replies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A protector even at one year old.

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

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

Uh oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoa! That’s severe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, I know. I just don’t like it.”

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

“Looks that way,” Allen concurs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you remember it?” Allen asks her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You okay, Boss?” he asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anything?” he asks, puzzled.

“Anything,” Butterfly confirms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why? Are you cold?” I ask.

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

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

“Your Highness!” Jason scolds over the music.

“Heeeeey! We agreed!” Butterfly protests.

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

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

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

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

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

Geez, Butterfly, spoiled much?

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

Well, this will never do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ANASTASIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Neti, neti… neti, neti… neti, neti…”

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

*-*

“Aunt Ana!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah!” she replies, starry-eyed.

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

“Oh, yay!” she says. “When do we go?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay,” I reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which is impossible,” Christian interjects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will not cry…
I will not cry…

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 17

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

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

Season 5 Episode 17

CHRISTIAN

“Oh, absolutely, Mr. Grey.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” she asks.

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

“Yes,” she says expecting.

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

“Oh, Christian, that would be divine!”

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

BDSM wax play candles…

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

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

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

*-*

“Christian?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I reach in my pocket and retrieve the stockings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go over to the dining table.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Control, Grey, control.

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

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

Fuck!

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

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

“More?” I ask.

“Yes,” she breathes. “Yes… Sir…”

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

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

Until just now.

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

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

~~~Las Vegas Scene

Fuck, that is so fucking hot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, that’s it.

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

Hold tight, Pussycat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m ready to fuck now.

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

Now, how will I take her?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay?” I ask.

“Yes, Sir,” she purrs.

“Good… now ride me… slowly.”

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

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

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

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

“Ah!” she yelps again. “Sir! I… I…”

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

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

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

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

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

“Ladybug! Ladybug!” she pants!

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

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

“Good… Sir…” she breathes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ladybug! Ladybug! Lady…”

“Come for me, Pussycat…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, I’ve got the right suction.

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

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

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

Shit, don’t come yet, Grey.

“Put your hands behind your back.”

She does, and I reattach her cuffs behind her.

Oh, hell. This is gonna be quick.

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

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

“You okay, Pussycat?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shit, I forgot about that fucking vibrating cup!

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

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

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

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


ANASTASIA

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

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

“Is Dr. Lee in today?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twenty-two.

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

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

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

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

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

“Do I know you?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you speaking to Chuck?” I retort.

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

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

“You mean no more covert?” he asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s coming to guard my mother?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re all waiting for you… geez.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 16

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 16

ANASTASIA

“Shit! Are you serious?” I hear my husband bark into the phone. “She drove off? It wasn’t an accident?” He’s silent for a moment. Who drove off what? What the hell is he talking about?

“Is she dead?” he asks a few moments later and I really want to know what the hell is going on now.

“Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck! What the fuck else can happen? I’ve got to tell Butterfly…”

“Tell. Me. What?” I say, and a horrified gaze turns to me. That’s when I realize that he forgot I was in the room.

“Get the car ready,” he says into the phone. “Tell all the details we’ll meet everybody at SeaTac.” He swipes his phone and puts it back in his pocket. “Baby,” he says, taking my hands and leading me to the bed to sit me down. “There’s been an accident… we don’t really know if it’s an accident…”

“Who, Christian?” I ask. I know it’s a she, I just need to know who.

“Carla,” he says quickly. My brow furrows.

“Carla?” I ask. “Carla drove off of something?” “An overpass,” he says. “She’s on her way to the hospital. It doesn’t look good.”

It doesn’t look good. How do I feel about that? She’s my mother… I never said that I wanted her to die, but I was prepared not to see her again until I was burying her. How do I feel about this?

“Butterfly?” Christian asks, squeezing my hands. “Are you alright?” I shake my head.

“Yeah,” I say, still shaking my head. “Yeah, we gotta go. Let’s go.” I heard him tell Jason to get the car ready. We should really get moving. I stand and Christian stands with me. We move to the door and the moment we open it, Marilyn is standing there about to knock. I look at the solemn look on her face and she no doubt examines the solemn look on ours, or at least on Christian’s.

“You know,” she says.

“How do you know?” Christian asks.

“Christian,” she shows us her phone. “It’s on the news.”

“Fuuuuuuuck!” he yells, thrusting his hands into his hair. “Couldn’t they give her daughter a chance to be notified before the fuckers zeroed in for the kill?”

“They’re reporting that your security team contacted the police, so they’re probably assuming that she already knows.”

I’m eerily calm while my husband is pulling his hair out, putting his hand in the smalls of both our backs and guiding us quickly towards the stairs. I don’t really hear anything around me. I’m trying to process the information that I just got.

Carla threw her car over an overpass… at least they think she did, they’re not sure. She could have lost control of the car, or fell asleep at the wheel or…

“Ana?”

Christian and Mare both call my name at the same time, bringing me back from my mental wanderings.

“Do you have everything you need?” Christian asks. “Your purse, your phone…?”

“Oh,” I say, coming back to the here and now and thinking to retrieve the things that I need before I leave. I go back upstairs and grab my essentials, then take a detour to the twins’ room. Mikey is sleeping in his crib, but Minnie’s not there.

“I love you so much, little prince,” I say, brushing his hair with my fingers. “You’ll never, ever know the feeling of thinking that Mommy doesn’t love you… ever.”

I kiss my fingertips and touch his head before going in search of my daughter. I find her in the family room with Keri. When I hold my hands out to her, she reaches out to me in a gesture that warms my aching and confused heart.

“I love you, Minnie Mouse,” I say, hugging her close to my body. “You’re going to grow up to be a beautiful woman and Mommy will be there every step of the way.”

I kiss her little chubby cheeks and she pats mine in return, blissfully oblivious to the fact that I’m telling her that I’ll never put her through what Carla put me through. I quickly hand her back to Keri and fight the tears that are threatening to fall. I go back to the grand entry and Marilyn is standing there with Windsor. She’s buttoning her coat and Windsor is holding mine.

“Mrs. Grey?” he says as he holds my coat open. I allow him to help me into it and note that Christian has disappeared. As I’m tying my belt, I see him at the top of the stairs coming from the direction of our bedroom and the nursery and I realize that he was saying his goodbyes to Mikey. As he’s descending the stairs, Jason comes bursting into the front door and catches my gaze. His eyes are immediately sympathetic, and I think he’s about to tell me that my mother is dead.

“Any more news?” I ask as flatly as I can, my voice still cracking from saying goodbye to my daughter.

“No, Ana,” he says, softly. “No news yet.” I nod and put my gloves on. I want to yell that I’m not at the brink of tears because of Carla, but I just skip it and head out to the car.

I have no idea how quiet, loud, bumpy, harrowing, or otherwise uncomfortable or distracting that three-hour flight was because I spend the entire thing lost in thought. Flashbacks of my childhood play in my mind over and over again like a movie, as clear as if it all happened yesterday…

Daddy and Mommy dancing in the living room…

German chocolate cake for my fifth birthday… and sixth… and seventh… and eighth…

My books and all the many places I traveled to, telling Mommy and Daddy about the adventures when I returned…

The things me and Mommy used to make—crafts and dresses and maps to go on the walls…

Dancing with Daddy in the living room and getting to love the Motown sound…

We’re all back at the Waldorf Astoria and back in the rooms that we kept reserved for the trial. Christian wants to eat first, but I have no appetite. I really want to get to the hospital and see the extent of the damage. Christian instead gives the task to Jason to find us something to eat, which he no doubt delegates to someone else since he’s going to be driving us to Summerlin Hospital where my mother has currently been admitted.

“I’ll be here for you for as long as I can, Sunflower,” Daddy tells me, “but I’m not going to the hospital. I’m sure you can understand why.”

“I understand, Daddy,” I tell him, returning his embrace as he hugs me. “I’ve got a feeling this is something I’m going to need to do alone anyway.” I don’t look at Christian when I say that because I can feel the hey-what-about-me gaze boring into my back.

Twenty minutes later, we’re at the administration desk trying to get information on Carla. My name is Grey, previously Steele, and my mother’s name is Morton. So, trying to prove that I’m next of kin is like pulling teeth. They finally locate my mother’s medical records and see that Anastasia Steele is listed as next of kin, and I’m able to go to the intensive care unit to see my mother.

Dear God, she looks awful.

She’s in a private room, which is some comfort since I didn’t want to deal with anyone taking pictures or anything. It was hard enough to get in with the paparazzi newly fired up and trying to get a story. Christian is right, those people are vultures. Had I discovered that my mother was dead and had to come and identify the body, some asshole would be outside shoving a mic in my face asking, “How do you feel about that?”

No sooner I get into the room and ascertain that it actually is my mother lying in the bed post-op, her surgeon comes into the room with her chart.

“Mrs. Grey, hello,” he says, “I’m Dr. Lei Jianhong…”

Huh?

“Just call me Dr. Lee. It makes life easier for all parties involved.” I nod and turn my gaze back to my mother.

“I won’t lie to you, Mrs. Grey. There’s a lot going on here. Mrs. Morton’s vehicle had airbags, which offered her some protection, but she wasn’t wearing her seatbelt. As a result, she was ejected from the car during the accident. Now, that’s an awful thing when you consider a vehicle going over a bridge onto the road below and into oncoming traffic. However, it turned out to probably be a blessing in disguise—as much as a nearly fatal car accident can be considered a blessing—since your mother’s car exploded on impact and she was ejected from the car most likely as part of the explosion. However, the airbags didn’t prevent her from being ejected when the car hit the ground below.”

Was anyone else hurt?” I ask, noting that he mentioned the car possibly falling into oncoming traffic.

“Thankfully, no,” Dr. Lee says. “No other vehicles were involved in the accident, even on impact with the road below.”

In short, I listen to Dr. Lee tell me that my mother was thrown around like a rag doll—battered to and fro by the air bags, violently ejected from the car on impact or when it exploded, jettisoned into the air God only knows how far, then took one of the worst tumble-and-rolls the human body could have possibly taken before her body finally came to rest several hundred feet away basically at the bottom of a concrete basin.

She has two broken legs, a fractured skull, several broken ribs, a broken neck, a severe pelvic fracture and internal bleeding that required surgery, multiple contusions—obviously—both of her lungs are collapsed, and she’s currently in a coma. It’s a wonder she’s alive.

Oh, and she’s most likely paralyzed.

“Your mother has visibly suffered a spinal injury, most likely a form of anterior cord syndrome. Without all the complicated doctor speak, it means that she’s probably going to be paralyzed from the waist down.”

Great. Fucking great. So, if she does wake up from this, she won’t be able to walk.

“Is the condition permanent?” I ask flatly, still looking at my mother.

“There’s no way to tell right now,” the doctor says, and I continue to stare silently at Carla.

“Mrs. Grey?” I turn my gaze to him. “It’s been my experience that coma patients can sometimes hear what you say, feel the energy that you’re giving them… and that if she wakes up, her recovery can depend totally on her support system.”

In a nanosecond, in my peripheral I see my husband loading the rounds about to fire with both barrels. I put my hand up to silence him without taking my eyes off the doctor.

“Dr. Lee, do you know who I am?” I ask. “Do you know my story at all?” He purses his lips.

“I’m afraid I don’t,” he says. “I’ve heard some murmurings around the hospital, but I’m afraid I don’t.” Okay, so that means he gets the short version.

“My full name is Dr. Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey,” I tell him, my voice even and controlled. “So, had you decided to use that ‘complicated doctor speak’ that you referred to earlier, my husband wouldn’t have been able to follow you, but I probably would.

“I don’t live here, Dr. Lee. I live in Seattle, WA. I’m only here because the verdict in my case will be read tomorrow—the case in Green Valley where the teenager was branded and beaten. I was that teenager. I spent three weeks in a coma at the age of 15 as a result of that beating, not to mention the coma that I experienced 1 ½ years ago that lasted 12 days and resulted in temporary short-term amnesia. Long story short, I’m fully aware of the dynamics and the aftermath of a coma—medically and personally.”

“Dr. Grey, I’m sorry, I didn’t…”

“But most of all,” I interrupt, my voice still controlled, “you should know that my relationship with this woman is hostile at best, nonexistent in most cases. When I was in that coma for three weeks at 15, she wouldn’t stay in the hospital with me because of what people were saying about us. I could’ve died and she may not have even known. She was aloof and detached from the entire situation. My mending and recovery had absolutely nothing at all to do with her. It was my father and my sheer will and determination to survive.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with my mother when and if she wakes up from this, but I’m going to thank you in advance not to judge me or lecture me on my reactions or my behavior, because any care and concern that I choose to extend to this woman, I will be doing it out of the kindness of my heart and because my conscience has led me to do so, not because she deserves it from me at all.”

I stop talking and allow the words—and the silence—to settle in the room for a while.

“I understand, Dr. Grey,” he says. I nod.

“Good. Now, does my mother have health insurance?” I ask.

“She does.”

“Is it the good kind?” I ask. “Will it cover everything that she needs?”

“It’s adequate,” he responds.

“Adequate isn’t good enough,” I say, reaching into my purse and retrieving my Amex Black. “Any human being deserves the best care that you can give them. You make sure this woman gets just that.” I hand him my Amex Black.

“Um, I wouldn’t handle that, Dr. Grey,” he says, refusing the card. “You would handle that with administration.” I look over at Christian and he leaves the room without a word.

“Whatever she needs,” I tell him. “The best possible care. If it’s not covered, that Amex will be on file. If it needs approval, I’m sure my husband will make sure our contact numbers are available.”

“We’ll make sure she gets the best care, Dr. Grey,” he assures me.

“Good. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like some privacy, please.” I turn back to Carla and Dr. Lee leaves, closing the door behind him.

“Well, well, well,” I say, putting my hands on my hips, “would you lookie here. My, how the tables have turned.” I shake my head at her frail body, tubes and IV’s everywhere, those awful compression stockings on her legs.

“I wonder if you can hear me,” I continue. “Did you do this on purpose? Was this a call for attention? Because you got it, but at what cost?

“It would serve you right if I just let you lay here and die,” I say, “if I just walked away and didn’t look back until they called me and told me that you had taken your last breath. But I won’t do that, Mother, because I’m a better human being than that. I’m going to give you what you didn’t give me. I’m going to give you the best care and I’m going to make sure that you’re comfortable. I’ll contact your job and let them know what happened to you. I’ll make sure that all of your affairs are in order, because that’s what family is supposed to do. They’re supposed to take care of you. But, hear this, Mother, and hear it good.

“This changes nothing. Beyond the concern and sympathy that I would feel for any human being in this situation, I feel absolutely nothing for you, and I’m not ashamed of it. You caused me so much suffering and so much pain, and it took me years to get over it, but I did. I got past it and healed, and I learned not to let it run my life, but it was hard. It was almost impossible. When I finally let you go, you found a way to keep poking your head into my life. I thought I would never be rid of you.

“Now, here you are, completely helpless. You need me and I know you do, but I can’t even find it in my heart to care. And I hate you for doing that to me. I hate you for ripping my mommy away from me and replacing her with this cold, unfeeling, unkind, horrible human being that watched me suffer—that contributed to that suffering. It’s an awful, gut-wrenching, agonizing feeling to let go of your mommy, but I did. And now, I don’t have anything left for you.

“So, don’t worry, Mother. I won’t let you die, and I do feel bad for you that this happened. I’ll make sure that you get the best care, and hopefully, you’ll make a full recovery, but that’s all I’ve got for you.”

I twist my lips and take another look at her before I leave her room to go find some coffee and some food.

*-*

“Canyon Meadows rehabilitation, this is Lana, how can I help you?”

“Yes, I need to speak to someone about one of your employees,” I reply

“Well, you would most likely want human resources, but they’re not open right now. Will this person not be able to make it to work? Were you looking to report an absence?” Lana asks.

“Well, yes, but… it’s going to be more than just an absence.” There’s a momentary pause.

“Is this about Carla?” she asks. I’m a bit stunned, more stunned that she knew about my mother by name.

“Yes… yes, it is,” I reply.

“Oh, God… she’s not…” Lana trails off.

“No, no, she’s still alive,” I say. “I just wanted to touch bases with her job to let you know that she’s severely incapacitated at the time.”

“Yes, we know,” Lana says. “We saw it on the news. May I ask to whom I’m speaking?”

“This is Anastasia Grey.” The line is silent.

“Ana… her daughter?” she asks. I nod as if she can see me.

“Yes,” I say. Of course, she’s been talking about me.

“May I ask what hospital she’s in, Mrs. Grey,” Lana asks.

“She’s at Summerlin Medical Center,” I reply.

“I’m so sorry about this, Mrs. Grey,” she says. “I’m certain that you have this under control, but if there’s anything that we can do… anything, please let us know.”

“I will, thank you,” I tell her.

“Carla is a vital member of our staff and she’s very important to us,” she continues. “The patients love her and… we all love her…” Her voice is cracking a bit. I have to fight to keep from saying the incredulous, “Really?” When I don’t respond, she adds, “Just know that we’re praying for her. Please, tell her that we’re praying for her.” I purse my lips before answering.

“I will,” I respond. “Thank you again, Lana.”

I end the call and look over at my mother. To say that I’m at a loss for words would be an understatement. I don’t know what to make of this at all. I know that my mother has had the capacity for kindness in her life. She was the best mom in the world when I was a kid, before she decided that our life with Daddy wasn’t enough for her. I don’t know what happened, what snapped in her mind to make her the heartless, selfish bitch she became when she got with Stephen, but I know that she was once a very loving and caring human being. It appears that person has resurfaced, only… not for me… too late for me…

“Your coworkers are praying for you,” I tell her. “Lana sounds pretty broken up about your accident, so if you did this on purpose, it was a selfish thing to do since it appears that there are people who really care about you. So, you need to hurry up and wake up and get better so that you can get back to those people.”

Why am I so detached from this? I feel like I’m talking to a stranger, not the woman who birthed me into the world. I’m taking about as much responsibility and concern for her as I would a stray cat that I discovered was hit by a car and took it to the hospital. Hell, I’d probably have more concern for the cat.

“Hey,” I hear my husband enter the room. “You haven’t eaten much. Do you need anything?” I sigh.

“Yes,” I say. “I need to get out of here. There’s nothing more I can do right now, and I really want a bath. Were you able to get everything squared away with the hospital and her care?

“As much as I could,” he says. “Your mother has advanced directives.” My brow furrows.

“Advan… why didn’t the doctor tell me that? What kind of advanced directives?” I ask appalled.

“I don’t know, they wouldn’t tell me, but they’ll probably tell you…” I’m out of the room and headed for the nurses’ station before the words are out of his mouth.

“Excuse me,” I get the nurse’s attention at the desk.

“Yes, ma’am?” she replies.

“I’m Anastasia Grey. Carla Morton is my mother. I was just told that she has advanced directives, and nobody told me. What are they?”

The nurse’s eyebrows rise in surprise and she immediately picks up the phone in front of her.

“I’m paging Dr. Lee right now, Mrs. Grey,” she says.

“Would it be in her chart?” I ask.

“Yes, but Dr. Lee most likely has it. The chart on her bed only has her vitals.” I nod and I suddenly feel helpless. The phone at the nurses’ station rings and she answers it. She explains that I’m standing at the station and I have questions about my mother.

“He’ll be right up, ma’am,” she says, and I nod again, deflating a bit. I take a seat in the waiting area just beyond the nurses’ station and wait for Dr. Lee. Christian sits next to me and takes my hand in his. I’m pretty certain that he thinks I’m broken up about my mother, but I’m not. I somewhat resent the thought that people think I should be… if that’s what he’s thinking. I just want to get the hell out of here and get into a bath!

“Dr. Grey…” I hear Dr. Lee off to my right. I’m on my feet walking towards him in moments.

“My mother has advanced directives?” I ask without greeting him.

“Yes,” he says, his brow furrowed.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I inquire. He pauses.

“I’m sorry… Dr. Grey, you are her next of kin. I thought you knew,” he excuses. I’m frustrated now. He’s right. He had every reason to believe that I would be aware of my mother’s wishes. I put my hand on my forehead.

“Can you tell me what they are, please?” I ask. He opens the only chart that he has in his hand.

“It’s simple,” he says. “Do not resuscitate if her heart stops and 30 days assisted if she’s comatose.” I roll my eyes and drop my head. If she had the wherewithal to plan and sign a DNR, she’s going to have a cow if she wakes up from this thing and she can’t walk.

“Is there anything else I may need to know?” I ask calmly. He shakes his head.

“No,” he says. “Her prognosis is the same as it was when she arrived… not really good, I’m afraid.” I nod.

“I’ve got a really rough day ahead of me tomorrow, so I’m going to go back to my hotel. Please call me if anything changes,” I say.

“I will, Dr. Grey.”

“Thank you for everything, Dr. Lee,” I say before heading down the hall towards the elevator.

*-*

“All rise.”

I’m not necessarily dressed for court this morning. I’m deliberately garbed in a violet silk pants suit with flashy buttons, a matching belt, and a black bustier with my signature black sky-high stilettos. Am I making a statement?

Yes.

I’m not hiding anymore, and I don’t mind being seen. I don’t care what these assholes in this town think about me anymore. No matter what I do, they’re going to find something wrong, so fuck ‘em. Chew on this for a while.

Whatever the verdict, I’m going to strut out of here with my head held high, because if 18 people can look at what happened to me—repeatedly, I’m told—and find this man not guilty, then the justice system is shit, and I’ll find my own fucking justice.

The jury is led into the courtroom once again after the judge has taken his seat. I have to admit that of all the defendants in the cases I’ve been a part of—and there’s only been two others—Vincent Sullivan looks the most solemn. There’s no cockiness in him at all. He’s clearly terrified because he doesn’t know what’s about to happen to him.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached verdicts?” the judge asks.

“Yes, your honor, we have,” the foreperson replies.

“Bailiff, would you please retrieve the verdicts from the foreperson.”

The bailiff retrieves a stack of papers from the foreperson and hands them to the judge, who reviews them for several moments, and there’s a long silence in the courtroom before he speaks again.

“So, the verdicts appear to be in proper order. This is in the Las Vegas Justice Court, Clark county, state of Nevada, case number 807154C-0404, the State of Nevada vs. Vincent Sullivan. The jury having reached verdicts, Mr. Sullivan and your counsel, would you please stand?”

There’s no hope in Vincent Sullivan’s face whatsoever and when the judge tells him to stand, he almost can’t raise his head. The judge begins to read the verdicts.

“We the jury duly impaneled and sworn in the above entitled action upon our oath, do unanimously find the following verdicts in the counts as charged in the indictments.

“Count one, assault accompanied with acts of extreme cruelty and substantial bodily harm, we find the defendant guilty as charged in the indictments.

“Count two, battery with a deadly weapon with substantial bodily harm, we find the defendant guilty as charged in the indictments.

“Count three, battery without a weapon with substantial bodily harm, we find the defendant guilty as charged in the indictments.

“Count four, conspiracy to kidnap in the first degree, we find the defendant not guilty.

“Count five, kidnapping in the first degree, we find the defendant not guilty.

“Count six, manslaughter for fetal homicide, we find the defendant guilty as charged in the indictments.

“Count seven, attempted murder, we find the defendant guilty as charged in the indictments.”

Five out of seven—excellent!

“Is this your true verdict, so say you one and all?” The judge asks and the jury concurs. The judge then instructs the jury that they will each be questioned concerning the verdict.

“Juror number one, is this your true verdict…?”

Vincent Sullivan sits with his head face down on the table, his body shaking with sobs as each juror is surveyed for their verdict, and they each answer in the affirmative. I always wonder what’s going through a defendant’s head as they sit there crying once convicted for something they actually did. I can fully understand someone crying if they’re wrongly accused and wrongly convicted of a crime, but I was there for this one, and I’ve got the scars to prove it. So, while he sits there racked with grief and distress, all I can think is, “What the fuck are you crying for?”

The verdicts are so entered into the record, and sentencing is set for March 4th. That’s like two and a half weeks that I’m still tethered to this place. As Vincent Sullivan is lead weeping from the courtroom, the judge gives the jury some additional instructions and after what seems like an eternity later, court is adjourned. I realize that the verdict isn’t the only reason I’ll be here in Las Vegas. I would be somewhat stuck here anyway because of Carla. A 30-day directive… one way or another, I’ll know what’s going on with her by mid-March.

I don’t have to wonder why she decided to have a DNR. She works with hospice patients. She has probably watched people helpless, suffering, and dying slowly and decided that she didn’t want that for herself. I always thought a DNR meant no heroic measures at all, but apparently, there are different degrees of it.

Larson makes a B-line to us once the court is dismissed. I think I hear him saying something about justice, and I vaguely hear him say that I’ll be able to speak at the sentencing, which I already knew. I don’t really care right now. I still think that ambush that he pulled with Whitshit was pretty fucked up and he’s not my favorite person at the moment. I stand from my seat and don my Jackie O’s before leaving the courtroom.

“Annie, are you okay with that?” Daddy asks. I look up at him.

“I’m fine with that, Daddy,” I tell him. “Somebody else finally got to see what these people did to me, and they said it was wrong. That’s what I needed. I didn’t need to watch them copping pleas and getting lighter sentences for squealing on each other. I needed somebody to see it. It’s been buried all these years, and somebody finally saw it. Whatever they decide to do to him, they saw it, and they can’t unsee it. That’s what matters.”

The verdict made it outside before we did, if that’s even possible. It’s a tad chilly in just my silk suit, but I still stroll leisurely down the stairs of the court as I put my black leather gloves on and head to the car. The press is still clamoring for a statement, and Vee didn’t return with us this time.

“Anastasia, how do you feel about the verdict?” one of the reporters calls out. I stop on the stairs and turn to the flashing and live cameras.

“I feel that the jury did the best they could do under the circumstances, and I’m satisfied with that,” I reply.

“What about the fact that they came back ‘not guilty’ on the kidnapping charges?” another one asks.

“You can’t win ‘em all,” I say with a slight shrug, then I turn and proceed down the stairs to the car.


CHRISTIAN

“You’re sure she drove her car off that overpass?” I ask Jason.

“No, sir, I’m not,” he says, “but there were two witnesses driving behind her who pulled over when her car went through the guardrail. They called the police—not the security detail—and according to Alex, they have somewhat conflicting accounts of the accident, but both descriptions indicate that she drove off that overpass.”

“Is there any other possible explanation for this?” I press. Jason shrugs.

“There could be,” he says. “She could’ve fallen asleep at the wheel or lost control of the car…”

“Or someone could have hit her… one of the cars that stopped,” I say.

“It’s not impossible, but why would they stop?” he asks.

“To make sure the job was done,” I reply.

“Then why call the police?” he asks. “They were on the freeway. They could have just kept going.”

“They had already stopped. No doubt, the fire and two cars stopped on the freeway drew attention. Once they were in it, there was no backing out.”

“I don’t know, boss,” he says. “It sounds a little far-fetched to me. If other cars were stopping, let someone else call the police. Why put their name on the report?”

“The car’s on fire on the road underneath an underpass. There goes any evidence. The body is lying there in a concrete basin. The victim most likely didn’t see it coming. They could make up any story they want,” I say.

“Are you smelling something, boss?” he asks, “Or are you exercising your Constitutional right to create conspiracy theories?”

“I’m always smelling something, Jason,” I reply. “Ever since I realized I’m not untouchable, there’s always something on the grill.”

“Well, that’s a healthy dose of realism,” he counters, “but I have to say, I still think it’s a bit far-fetched.”

“Well, we won’t know until she’s awake,” I say. “You’ve checked her financials?” he nods.

“She’s got a couple of bank accounts. She’s got one account, though, that verifies what she said in court.” I frown.

“Remind me,” I say.

“That the money that she got from Anastasia has been put into a separate account and she hasn’t touched it. It started at about 90 grand a couple of years ago. It’s back up to just over a hundred now.”

“She sold a house in Green Valley,” I remind him. “That could have come from that.”

“It could,” he says, “but you should know that property values are about the same in Summerlin as they are in Henderson. Her everyday accounts have some padding that would account for selling her four-bedroom, two-and-a-half story, 3500-square-foot house in Henderson, paying off the remaining mortgage and property taxes, and purchasing a two-bedroom, two-bath, 1200-square-foot house in Summerlin with no mortgage.”

I twist my lips. I can’t help but smell a rat when it comes down to this woman. She just testified in a case where one of Henderson’s wonderful citizens was convicted on five of seven counts and will most likely be in jail for a really long time… although her car went over the bridge before we got the verdict.

“Make sure we have as detailed a breakdown as possible of her income, assets, and expenses,” I say. “Butterfly may need that information. Have we heard anything from Alex about this Drake fucker? I want his head on a platter and it’s never taken Alex this long to get me the information I need.”

“He’s still looking,” Jason says. “From what he’s found so far, the guy is clean. He’s looking for other creative ways that you can possibly get to him.”

“I don’t care if the guy is clean or not. I want his ass for what he tried to do to Butterfly,” I say.

“In his defense…”

Defense?” I interrupt him. “You’re really going to defend this guy?”

“In this case, yes,” Jason says. “And I need you to hear me out.”

“I don’t want to hear anything that’s going to defend the man that tried to turn the 15-year-old version of my wife into a gold-digging little bitch trying to get her big come-up when she was branded like a fucking animal!” I bark.

“Well, this time, you’re going to have to listen to me, Boss, because any other time when somebody has done some shady shit, I’m right there with you. This time, you’re about to punish a guy just for doing his job.”

I’m ready to deck him. I’m fucking ready to deck my head of security and best friend.

“What did Drake do that Lincoln’s lawyer didn’t do? That David’s lawyer didn’t do?” he asks. “Right or wrong, whether their defenses were half-cocked—like Lincoln’s—or totally founded, they were just doing their jobs. They were defending their clients. You can’t expect them to come to court and do any less. Now, I don’t know what unicorn birdie from another planet made Lincoln’s lawyer believe that they could get away with that cock-and-bull defense, but hate it or love it, Boss, David’s defense and Sullivan’s defense had grounds.”

“You’re bullshitting me, aren’t you?” I ask flatly.

“You can’t see it,” he continues. “You’re too close and this is your Butterfly. We all know what that guy said about her was bullshit, but the jury didn’t. The only way to save his client was to take Her Highness out of the victim’s seat and put his client in it. If he could paint your wife as the wanton slut and these other vicious teenagers as people who would stop at nothing to make her pay for her heinous behavior, well then, it’s easier to paint Sullivan as a victim afraid for his life.

“You may not like it, but that’s what the defense saw when it came to Her Highness. That’s what her attackers saw. You heard yourself that Whitmore is either in complete denial that he raped her or he’s a really good fucking actor. So, if all parties involved are going by his word, what the hell do you think they’re going to believe?

“Then we find out that Sullivan is really in love with the guy, so if Larson’s theory is correct and he’s just a spurned lover, then we’re back to the impression of Anastasia—that she’s a gold-digging bitch, according to the man he loved, and she got to Whitmore before Sullivan did. Either way, it’s all open for interpretation from the outside looking in, and the job of the defense is to make sure that the jury interprets it his way.

“I’m not saying that you don’t have a right to be upset about what he said. Fuck, we’re all upset about the shit he said. I am saying that you’re trying to destroy a man for just doing his job. It’s like trying to get a cop fired for pulling you over for speeding, and the radar says that you really were speeding. I want you to think about that as you go after this guy.”

In reality, he’s right, but I don’t want to hear his logic right now. I want the man to suffer that caused my wife this undue pain. I’m not trying to do the right thing, dammit. I just fucking want somebody to suffer!

And going after his ass wouldn’t make me any better than the fuckers who branded my wife… because somebody had to suffer…

Dammit.

“Get out,” I say defeated, turning away from Jason.

“Call me when you need me,” he says behind me.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah…”

I now have to kybosh my thoughts of seeing Drake on a stake, which ain’t gonna be easy, so I turn my attention back to the time we have to be in Vegas and how to handle it. At least now, we have a somewhat definite time span of when we’re going to be leaving this place. Sentencing in Vincent Sullivan’s case will be on March 4th, and by the 15th or 16th, we’ll know what’s going to happen with Carla Morton.

So, how do I make this place bearable for my wife until then?

“I want to stand by Jewel in this,” Allen says when I approach him for assistance, “but as far as I’m concerned, that woman doesn’t deserve an ounce of sympathy. All I think about when I think about this entire situation is that I could have lost my best friend, and that fucking cunt didn’t care one little bit, not one little bit. I’m full of concern for the human condition, but that woman… she could die tomorrow and the only thing I would be concerned about is how it’s affecting Jewel.”

“And in the meantime, Jewel is in this hellhole trying to figure out what needs to be done for her,” I remind him. “What are you going to do if she comes to you for advice?”

“Tell her to pull the plug,” he says flatly.

“I’m serious,” I tell him.

“I am, too,” he replies. I look at him and realize…

“You are serious!” I say.

“Yes, I am,” he says flatly. “If Carla Morton has a DNR, she clearly doesn’t want to live in a vegetative state. Right now, that’s exactly where she is. The machines aren’t keeping her heart beating, but they are keeping her functioning, and when she comes out of that coma—assuming she can even remember who she is—she’s not going to be able to walk. Jewel now not only has to break that to her, but if she lives, Jewel has to be attached to her some kind of way for the rest of her fucking life when all she’s been trying to do since she was 15 years old was get the fuck away from her.

“Legally, she can pull the plug on that woman, and the fact that she has a DNR totally suggests if she knew that she would wake up in the state she’s in now, she’d probably want it that way. And we’re not going to mention the thing that no one seems to want to say out loud—that maybe Carla Morton really did drive off that overpass, that she really did try to kill herself, which is a whole new set of problems that Jewel doesn’t need.

“All the evidence suggests that Carla Morton did not want to live and does not want to live this way. If she wakes up from this, she’s going to require 24-hour surveillance not to do this again. Based on her DNR alone, Jewel could pull the plug and she would be within her legal rights. So, if she asks me, know in advance that that’s going to be my legal advice.”

“Allen,” I say, calmly. “We need another plan of action. You and I both know that Butterfly won’t be able to live with that.”

“Then she better not ask me,” he says. I roll my eyes.

“She’s here,” I say again. “We’re here, and we have to be here for a while. Besides pulling the plug on her mother, what can we do to make this pill easier to swallow?” Allen thinks for a minute.

“Bring her babies,” he replies. I turn a horrified gaze to him.

“What?” I ask, aghast.

“Bring the twins,” he repeats. “That would make this pill much easier for her to swallow.”

“She’s not going to let me bring the twins down here!” I say finitely. “The last thing she wants to do is expose her children to this place. And besides, there’s nothing for them to do down here.”

“There’s plenty for them to do down here,” he counters. “And all you have to do is get in touch with the concierge you’ve got in your pocket that can pull Cirque de Soleil tickets out of his ass and he’ll turn one of these suites into Disneyland, and you know it.”

Well, he’s right about that. I just don’t know how I feel about the twins being here. They’re safe in Seattle. They have a whole fleet of people looking after them there…

“Hey, you asked, that’s what I think,” he says. He’s not really the fountain of knowledge right now telling me that he’s going to tell my wife to pull the plug on her mother.

“I’ll think about it,” I say.

“Think about what?”

Our conversation is interrupted by Butterfly. She’s been at the hospital all afternoon since we left the courthouse and she’s just getting back to the hotel.

“Well, you’re a surprise,” I say calmly, willing Allen not to mention the conversation that we were just having. “How’s Carla?”

“The same,” she says as she gets a bottle of water from the minibar. “Her room is full of flowers.” I turn a surprised furrowed brow to my wife.

“What?” I exclaim as she cracks the seal on the top and takes a healthy drink of water.

“Her room is full of flowers,” she repeats. “When I say full, Christian, I mean bursting out the fucking door.” I look over at Allen and raise a brow at him.

“Why would you do something like that?” Allen asks.

“I didn’t. None of those flowers are from me,” she says, coolly, coming back into the living room and taking a seat in one of the large chairs facing me and Allen. “From what I can tell from the ones that had cards, they’re from her job, from coworkers, and from patients. As I was leaving, more were coming from places like Three Square, Goodwill, Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada. There’s even a teddy bear there from the family of an 8-year-old girl who died of Leukemia. I found out that my mother did hospice care for her out of her home.” Allen twists his lips.

“How does that make you feel, Jewel, about your mother?” he asks. Jewel rolls her eyes.

“A whole lotta fucked up,” she admits. “Here’s this woman who was everything in the world to me until I was about 13 years old. Then, I slowly cease to exist to her except as a tool to hurt my father. I have what still is to this day the worst experience of my entire fucking life, and she left me alone and wrote me off through the entire fucking thing. Even then, I was nothing more to her than a fucking payoff.

“She pops up after I’m kidnapped, pretending that she cares when the entire time, I know she was just trying to get back in my good graces so that she could get some money. Even her pickled husband was playing ambulance chaser—for lack of a better term—trying to get security to beat him up so that he could get a lawsuit.

“She starts talking shit about me when she finds out that Christian and I are getting married—more press time, woo woo!” She twirls one finger in the air, and I can tell she’s getting angrier and angrier by the second.

“When I bring her to Seattle to find out where the fuck her mind really is, and she shows me, I give her what she wants and send her on her way. Then, she shows up at my home the next day acting all reformed and remorseful and shit, trying to give the money back and putting on this huge fucking performance about how she just wants me in her life and she doesn’t need the money and wah, wah, wah…”

Her voice mimics a crying woman when she discusses Carla’s performance.

“For four years, that woman and her husband were the very bane of my existence. And to a teenager, four years is a lifetime, especially when you spent a portion of one of those years in a coma and recovering from a beating that most people wouldn’t have survived, and one person didn’t!”

Oh, yeah, she’s mad.

“Why did she testify?” she demands. “What did her testimony do? Why did we even need it? The only thing I could see was another opportunity for her to get into the limelight. It didn’t help the case at all!”

“It corroborated the story that Whitmore’s father paid them off,” I say.

“He wasn’t on trial here,” Butterfly retorts. “He’ll never be on trial. He took a plea; he can’t even appeal. Her testimony was useless. The only thing it corroborated was how horrible a mother she was. Why would anybody want to announce that?”

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I now believe it was her final attempt to show Butterfly that she had changed her ways. When the only response she got from it was me and Jason showing up on her doorstep telling her to leave Anastasia the hell alone, that may have been the final blow for her. Jason told me that many of the following nights were spent with her on her patio drinking something out of a cup and crying. Maybe she really did throw her car off that overpass.

“Butterfly, did I ever tell you that I went to see your mother the night before she left Seattle?” I ask. She raises her gaze to me. “We had a very harsh heart-to-heart, if you can call it that. I believe that’s why she came to see you the next morning to really try to make amends. It’s possible that she was telling the truth—that our conversation sunk in and she saw the err of her ways.”

“I don’t remember if you told me or not, but it doesn’t matter Christian,” she replies, flatly. “Either you love somebody, or you don’t. Either you’re concerned about them or you’re not. She didn’t care about me. She didn’t love me. What you said to her shouldn’t have made a difference to her at all. Those feelings that she was professing, that conviction that she was feeling, she should have felt that all on her own the minute I brought her to Seattle. This changes nothing.

“And now, she has a room full of flowers like she’s Mother fucking Theresa!” she says, launching herself from her seat and pacing the floor. “And the cards… they love her. She’s a wonderful human being. She’s the most valuable employee they’ve ever had. She’s a devoted volunteer or a treasured friend. She’s all these wonderful fucking things that she couldn’t be for me!

“I’m her flesh and blood,” she cries, angry tears burning a trek down her face. “She birthed me into this world. I have children now—I know what that’s like. Carrying life in your body for nearly a year, nurturing and loving them inside of you and never knowing that you could love someone so much that you’ve never met until they put that baby in your arms. How can you even allow a speck of dust to fall on their little heads let alone behave stoically while a group of vicious people beat them damn near to death?”

Is she talking about herself or the twins?

“We were happy!” she wails. “We were happy and then suddenly… she wasn’t! She turned everybody’s life upside down. She destroyed our happiness, our love, our lives, our contentment… because suddenly, she wasn’t happy! She wasn’t happy, so we all deserved not to be happy.

“Sometimes, my daddy wanted to kill himself!” she sobs. “Many times, I just wished I was dead! She didn’t care! She didn’t care at all! And now, she’s a fucking guardian angel! She’s the end-all-be-all wrapped up in human form! She’s all that and a bag of chips to a bunch of fucking strangers and she couldn’t be that to me! I needed her! I needed her more than anything in the world! I needed her love and care and concern, and she could give it to me! God, what did I do to deserve that?”

She’s screaming now, having a full-on meltdown. I want to grab her, to hold her and tell her that it’s not her fault that Carla was a horrible woman and mother when she needed her, but she has turned her back to me and is now facing the darkness out the window and the lights of the strip.

There’s a knock at the door of the suite and I look at Allen. He leaves the room to answer it and Butterfly doesn’t even respond. She’s standing at the window sobbing, still spewing all the ways that Carla neglected her and allowed Stephen to emotionally abuse her. Even now, I want to dig that fucker up, beat his ass and kill him again for what he put her through. Thank God, he didn’t procreate.

“I can hear her down the hall! What’s going on?” I hear Ray’s voice from the foyer. Allen is trying to explain what’s happening, but Ray comes barreling into the living room with Allen and Jason on his tail. He stops in the doorway and examines the situation. I’m near the entrance, looking at Butterfly who is across the room looking out the window, sobbing, and still berating her comatose mother.

Ray and Jason just stand there in awe and confusion.

“I don’t get it!” she wails. “I don’t get it! Why couldn’t I just stay with Daddy? We were happy! We would have lost her, but I still would have been better off! She hated me before we left Seattle, I knew it! I knew it in the way that she treated me! I knew it before we even got to Nevada! She fucking hated me! How can you hate your child? How can you put your body through those changes and agony and mental and physical trials and bring a life into this world only to hate it? How is that possible?”

She sobs some more and now there are four men in the room who have no idea how to handle what’s going on with her. We’re all looking at each other and back to Butterfly in befuddled helplessness.

“I would have sent her the money,” she says, and I’m wondering what the hell she’s talking about. What money?

“I would have gotten a job after school, or Daddy would have sent it. I know he would have. Had we known any of this would happen, any of it at all, we would have done everything in our power so that I wouldn’t have to go with that woman!”

“Butterfly, what are you talking about?” I finally ask. What money—the $750,000 they got from Whitmore? Ray didn’t have that kind of money and even she knows she wouldn’t have been able to make that with an after-school job.

“She called me a tax deduction!” she screams. What? What did she say?

“Huh?”

“I asked her… w… why,” she sobs. “I asked h… her why… she didn’t… let me stay… with Daddy. She said because he would get the tax deduction!” She spit the last part out. “It’s always been about money with her! That’s all it’s ever been! I’m her daughter! I suffered! And she called me a tax deduc…”

She whirls around to see a group of men standing there, stunned and helpless. She takes note of the looks on our faces and her gaze rests on Ray’s. I turn to look at him and he looks totally broken and sad, like there’s something he could have done to prevent what happened to her. He has to know that he did everything in his power and that there was nothing else that he could do.

Butterfly can’t face any of us right now. She breaks down in mournful sobs and runs to the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.

We all just stand there looking at each other for a moment.

“I’ll… I’ll call and check on her later,” Ray says, his eyes glassy and red with unshed tears. “Call me if she needs me.”

“I will, Ray,” I say, sympathetically. He’s the first to leave.

Jason just looks at me, his expression unreadable. It looks like a combination of questioning and that helplessness that we all feel right now. Finally, no doubt feeling like there’s nothing else that he can do at the moment, he leaves the suite behind Ray. I look over at Allen and he’s looking at the door that Butterfly slammed behind her. You can hear her weeping.

“She wasn’t talking about herself, Chris,” he says before turning his gaze to me. “She was talking about her children. The circumstances may have been about her, but the anger, the hurt, and the disbelief that anyone could be this cruel to their own child, that’s about the twins.”

I know this. I know what he’s saying is true, and yet…

“Bring her babies,” Allen reiterates. “They won’t only brighten her days and make this easier to bear, but she needs them. Get them here as soon as possible.”

“Allen…” I try to protest.

“Chris. Bring. Her. Babies.”

A/N: It’s funny that Darcy’s comments at the end of episode 13 suggested that we bring the kids to Vegas and I had written this episode in the previous weeks and had just finished writing the following episodes when I posted episode 13.

I know I threw you all a curve ball… so far. The comments from the last chapter were saying things like, “Ding, dong, the witch is dead,” and “OMG, Carla killed herself,” and all I could say while I was reading them was, “But is Carla dead… yet?”

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

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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs