Raising Grey: Chapter 75—Ship Shenanigans

Here comes some more of that horrible Australian accent, and a LOT of it, so…

ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: 

Please do not beat me over the head too badly for my bad imitation of an Australian accent. I’m doing the best I can.

I’ve seen a lot of death these past two weeks—a lot of friends losing friends and family. Please be kind to one another and don’t fail to let the ones you love know that you love them. 

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

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

Chapter 75—Ship Shenanigans

ANASTASIA

“Do you get people lashing out at you that way when Chuck is with you?” Christian asks as we dutifully follow Jason through the terminal. I shrug.

“I don’t know. Sometimes, I guess. There’s always a smart-ass somewhere,” I point out. “Then again, you’re not that prone to carrying me on your back.”

“It’s not that,” he says, looking around before pulling me closer to him. “When I’m with Jason or Jason is with us, people don’t fuck with us. From what I understand, when you’re with Chuck, people generally don’t fuck with you.” He looks around again then leans down to me. “But with Lawrence, it’s like he’s not even here. At the Opera House when that woman heckled you and just now with those guys standing behind us…”

“So, I did miss something,” I observe aloud.

“Not much,” he continues, “just a couple of jerks talking about your ass. But that’s the thing. They shouldn’t have even felt comfortable enough to say that shit—none of them! Granted, I’m not expecting Lawrence to clothesline somebody for talking about your ass, but I can guarantee that had Chuck or Jason been standing there, those fuckers would have kept their mouth shut, as would have that ‘tosser’ at Sydney Opera House. His presence should mean something, but apparently, it doesn’t.”

“Well, that’s the key word, Christian,” I say looking around to take note of Ben’s position and making sure that he can’t hear me. “Presence. Jason and Chuck have a presence all their own—even more so when they’re around us. Jason is the boss and he knows he is. He’s been running around Australia all day exchanging your money and arranging your shit…”

“Our money,” he corrects me.

“Whatever,” I reply. “The point is that he’s a mover and a shaker and he doesn’t need anybody to tell him that. Your power is transmitted through him through association and he knows that. Chuck has a power all his own. He’s responsible for me and he knows that there’s nowhere in the world—in heaven or hell or any dimension imaginable—that he can hide if something happens to me on his watch. He makes it no secret that I am his charge.

“Whatever combat experience Ben has, he hasn’t had Grey combat experience. I’m certain that he’s good at what he does and if Jason trusts him, I trust him. But Jason took a bullet for you; Chuck took a missile for me; what combat experience has Ben had?”

Christian twists his lips and looks over at Ben, who’s examining his surroundings very carefully and keeping people out of our general area while Jason leads the way. Christian rolls his eyes.

“Well, excuse me for saying it, but I’m glad he’s just backup,” Christian points out. “I’m just going to have to be on my toes a little more during this trip.”

“You most certainly will not!” I snap, louder than I intend. Jason and Ben both look at me. “As you were,” I say calmly, and after a short pause, we proceed down the corridor. I turn my attention back to my husband. “You’re going to relax, have fun, and enjoy yourself on this cruise, and let these men do their jobs, or we can summon the jet and go home now.”

My husband doesn’t respond. I give him a few more moments to acknowledge my statement. When there’s still no response, I stop in my tracks—right there in the middle of the priority boarding terminal. I don’t care if we’re in Sydney, the outback, or Death fucking Valley. I’ll summon that goddamn plane. He turns around and looks at me with a frown on his face.

“What?” he says. Jason and Ben have both stopped walking, too. I fold my arms and purse my lips. Don’t test me, Grey. My phone is already in my hand. He rolls his eyes a takes a step back to me.

“Okay, okay, you win, fine,” he says, grabbing my hand and pulling me along the terminal.

“I’m not kidding,” I threaten, walking double-steps to keep up with his long strides. “I’ll do it.”

“I know you will,” he says without stopping.

*-*

Now, I’ve never been on a cruise ship before, but I’ve seen them on television. This ain’t your average cruise ship. I have no idea where to start.

The moment we cross the gangplank and embark the ship, we’re greeted with a glass of pink champagne. Looking at all this opulence and grandeur, I have no idea how to behave. I’m a billionairess with money to burn who owns half of a billion-dollar company and got married in a castle, and I still don’t know how to act right now. The promenade deck looks like what I would expect the inside of an exclusive, high-end, multilevel shopping mall to look like. I definitely want to get lost in the beautiful splendor of this luxury cruise ship, but first, nature calls… in more ways than one.

With the threat of another milktastrophe, Jason hurries us to our cabins. We have to go to the upper deck and aaaaaaaaaaallllllll the way to the back of the ship to get to our staterooms. We have ginormous cabins that are next to each other, each cabin able to sleep five people. Maybe cabin is the wrong word. The correct word is suite. However, this suite is bigger than my first three apartments. It’s more than 1500 square feet—living room, dining room, study, two bedrooms with king-sized beds and two full bathrooms with marble tubs and Jacuzzis, one of which has been set up as a milking station.

Jason thought of everything.

Christian goes to the suite next door to talk to Jason and Ben, and I immediately take to emptying the food factory. You never know how full they are until you start to empty them—or until they start leaking.

Unable to leave the regular world behind for too long, I open my email to see what’s happening in the life I left behind for a week. Everyone tried to find Gary, but he’s quite incommunicado. Al used GEH’s resources to ascertain that he’s at least still alive and still in Seattle, still working at City of Lights and staying in a small studio near his job. What I hate the most is not being able to talk to him and see if he’s okay. He’s going through something, too, and he’s not talking to any of his closest friends. So, he’s effectively going through it alone. I tell Al to pop up on him at that little studio he’s living in and tell me how he’s doing. I realize that it’s a terrible invasion of privacy, but you can’t just cut your closest friends—your family—off like that without a word when we know that you’re hurting.

There’s nothing else from Marilyn, either. I can’t imagine the emotional torment she’s suffering right now. I know that she’s in love with Gary and that this is tearing her apart inside, but to be forced to endure this unbearable heartache coupled with the religious bullying of her parents… that’s more than anyone should be subjected to.

Courtney and Vickie had lunch with Addie and Fred yesterday. She admitted that it was awkward as she’s getting to know her grandparents all over again… and they’re getting to know her. She points out that Addie was astounded by her dedication to her career choice and seemed very interested in what she plans on doing with the future. Fred, on the other hand, still seemed quite skeptical and Courtney couldn’t blame him. I can only imagine how Christian would react to anyone putting me through the emotional warfare that Courtney inflicted on her grandmother. For that reason, she’s not sure if the rift between her and her grandfather will ever be completely mended, but she’s resolved to deal with whatever happens.

“I just don’t have the energy for the fight anymore,” she writes. “I just want to live my life and play whatever hand I’ve been dealt, but I’m not going to allow anybody to beat me over the head for past mistakes, not even my grandfather. Forgive me or don’t, but either way, move on. I certainly am.”

Very well said, Ms. Courtney.

Harmony’s mum right now and I respond to Courtney to make sure she checks on her. I change the pump to my other breast and check the time—2:30pm. I don’t know what time it is in Seattle, but I miss my babies.

“I know why you’re calling,” Gail says when she sees my face on the screen. “You’re right on time. We’ve just finished their baths and they’re getting ready for bed.” She flips the screen, and my chubby-cheeked baby girl is smiling back at me.

“Hi, Minnie Mouse!” I squeal, my heart warming immediately. She bounces happily at the sound of my voice. “Hey, baby girl. Do you miss Mommy? Mommy misses you!” I blow several kisses into the screen and coo at my baby, my milk flowing much easier out of my breast at the sight of her. We coo for several more moments before Keri brings my little prince to the screen.

“Hey, there Mikey!” I exclaim in the same sing-songy voice. “How’s my little man? Are you taking good care of the ladies? I love you, Mikey!” I blow more kisses into the phone at my little boy, my heart swelling with love, almost to the point of bursting at the sight of my beautiful babies.

“Hey!” Christian says, bursting into the bathroom. “You’re stealing baby time without me!” He crouches down next to me and looks at the screen. “Hey, Mikey,” he says in a sing-songy voice. “How’s my big guy? Daddy misses you!”

Mikey coos and laughs at the screen, reaching for the phone and babbling something inaudible.

“I don’t know how to take that,” I say, and Christian turns a bemused look at me. “He’s seems happier to see you than he was to see me.”

“It’s a guy thing, baby,” he says before turning back to the screen… and he’s completely serious! What the hell do you mean it’s a guy thing? I’m his mother! I carried him in my body for nine months! I’m the source of his food and life! What’s this guy thing bullshit?

Then, I realize that he’s probably right, because as much as Minnie loves her Daddy, she coddles and coos when he’s on video chat with her, but she went nuts when she saw me… so that must be a girl thing.

Still… I’m the food factory. Show me some respect.

We say goodbye to our children and I feel a bit melancholy with the parting.

“I know you love our babies,” Christian says. “I love them, too, but if you’re going to go into that mood each time you talk to them, I’m going to limit your talk time to only one more time this week. So, if you want to keep your ‘every day’ privileges…” He trails off and cocks his head at me. He’s right, of course.

“I know,” I say, only a bit heart-hurt. “Just give me a minute.” He raises his brow at me, but leaves me in the restroom. It’s just the separation anxiety, that’s all. I hate being without my babies… and for a whole damn week!

I remove the breast pump from my now-empty boob. Pouring the milk down the sink doesn’t do much to help my current state of mind. I let the tears fall as I clean and sanitize the pump and leave the parts out to dry. I splash some cold water on my face, then use a cool washcloth to minimize the swollen, puffy eyes. I apply some tinted moisturizer, a tiny bit of blusher and a hint of bronzer with a fresh coat of deep pink lip gloss before I exit the bathroom. Christian raises his gaze from his phone, takes one look at me and raises a brow at me.

“Yes, I cried,” I say unapologetically. “Leave me alone.”

He sighs and twists his lips. Rising from the bed, he takes me in his arms and folds me into a warm embrace.

“What am I going to do with you?” he asks.

“This helps,” I swallow and sigh. I miss my babies so much, but I want to have a good time, too.

“We’re going to have to start calling each other ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy,’” he says. I raise my gaze to his and frown.

“What? Why?”

“The babies are recognizing words, making little sounds. If we don’t change soon, they’ll be calling us ‘Christian’ and ‘Ana…’ or ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Sir…’ or ‘Boss’ and ‘Her Highness…’”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” I interject, “but I’m not having the staff call me ‘Mommy,’ and I’m certain that you don’t want Jason to slip up and call you ‘Daddy’ in the boardroom.”

“Well, we’ll have to work something out there, but my children won’t be calling me ‘Christian,’” he reinforces.

Okay, it’s time to explore this floating resort.

We still have an hour or so before we shove off and quite frankly, I’m starving. Breakfast was quite early and has long since been burned off through the Sydney Tower Eye, the Opera House, and the walks to get to both locations. One thing I would definitely suggest before you get on a cruise ship—decide what you want to eat before you go strolling around the ship, especially one this large with this many choices.

Buffet…
Steakhouse…
Italian…
Mexican…
Thai…
Pizza…
Burgers…
Chinese…
Sandwiches and wraps…
Gluten-free…
Vegetarian…
Vegan…
Sushi…

Hmm, sushi… we have a winner.

Somewhere during our walk, we wander upon a restaurant called Do You Like What Sushi. Apparently, this little joint has collected recipes for Sushi from all over the damn world and herded them in this one little place. I start with fresh oysters and a sashimi platter of tuna, salmon, and sturgeon caviar with fresh shredded and sliced cucumber and avocado slices.

And then the sushi roll parade begins!

No rice sushi, salmon roe battleship sushi, snow crab sushi, king crab battleship sushi, salmon dreams sushi, Alaskan avocado roll sushi, yo sushi wrapped in tobiko, tiger rolls, rainbow colored tempura rolls, California rolls, various assortments of nigiri, tamagoyaki, unagi, saba… I had to tap out, because it just kept coming! Oh, but wait…

What’s a good Beluga caviar without an accompanying Stoli? Two healthy double-shots of a sharp charcoal-filtered premium vodka with some of the finest caviar in the world and I’m floating before the ship sets sail.

We begin to float around the ship and take in what will be our home away from home. It’s a really big ship with lots to see, but damn near around every corner is somewhere else to eat! I’m full of vodka and caviar, and the buffet has so many damn food choices that it’s making me want to eat again! We walk through a tunnel that I’m sure I haven’t traveled before because it looks like it’s full of golden sculptures—I shall name it the Academy Award Hall—but somehow, we end up back in a part of the ship I somewhat remember, which is good because it’s now time for the muster drill.

Our meeting place was in one of the main dining rooms. There are a lot of people in the room and we’re just sitting where we can fit—not necessarily at the tables even though there are lots of people at tables, but more people are sitting on the benches, on the floors, on stairs, wherever we can fit. We watch this corny video explaining the safety procedures, the life jackets, the do’s and don’ts of emergency evacuation, and then we have to sit through a message from the captain before we can leave.

The boat whistles are blowing by the time we’ve heard the message from the captain, which—quite frankly—we could have heard from anywhere on the ship. Now, Christian and I are scrambling to get back to the Lido deck so that we don’t miss the sail away.

When we get there, it’s already an insane party underway. There’s a live band playing and there are people lined up around the banisters of the boat waving and watching as we pull out of Sydney Harbor. So, there are a few things that I discover up here in the sunlight while at the “sail away” party…

There’s a giant butterfly sculpture at the end of the pool. I’ll have to take a picture with that before we disembark.

Apparently, it’s an insult and a cardinal sin to be walking around this floating resort and not have a drink in your hand—and our tickets have alcohol included. So, even though I’m still buzzing from vodka and champagne, I now have the Drink of the Day in my hand, which is some fruit frozen cocktail in a souvenir glass. Bottoms up to me.

The operators of the ferries and some of the smaller boats in the harbor are very confident in the mechanical abilities and maneuverability of their vessels. The cruise ship is huge and it’s backing out of the harbor. It doesn’t stop. Once that monster starts moving, it can slow down to a float if it needs to or has to turn around or something, but there’s no “hit the brakes and the boat go screech.” No, ma’am! If you get clipped or caught behind, too close to, or underneath this monster, your little boat is toothpicks.

And yet… these smaller boats on the harbor will still play chicken with this cruise ship.

They cut around the back while the ship is turning; they race the ship and jump in front of it trying to get around it while the ship is picking up speed. It’s like watching a Vespa racing to cut off a 22-wheeler tractor-trailer! That mishap would surely be the swift and speedy end of this vacation. So, instead of focusing on the idiots playing chicken with the big boat, I turn my attention to a more pleasant view.

It’s not quite sunset, but Sydney has a bit of twilight glow right now. With the Opera House and the glorious Harbor Bridge plastered on this beautiful backdrop, I find myself mesmerized by the sight while looking over the railing with my husband’s arms firmly around my waist. I’m overcome with an immense feeling of gratefulness that I get to see this view right at this time from this particular vantage point as we pull out of Sydney Harbor. It’s stunning.

I can’t help but think about my many blessings—the fact that I’m seeing a view that many people will never get to see; that I enjoy the best of everything in life simply because I fell in love with a guy who sometimes has more money than sense; that I’ve gained a beautiful family, wonderful friends, and a fabulous life from marrying this man—and that I could never see myself without him.

It could be that the alcohol has me a bit maudlin or it could be the thoughts of my beautiful babies resurfacing, but I feel tears welling up in my eyes again and one escapes down my cheek as I enjoy the final views of the harbor. Christian doesn’t scold me. I think he knows that I’m overwhelmed with the view, and he simply snuggles me closer into him and presses a gentle kiss on my neck.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

I look over at the woman a few feet away from me. Her companion has one arm around her enjoying the view and she’s looking at me with a soft smile.

“I feel silly,” I say, wiping the tears from my cheek. Those are the only words I can form.

“Don’t,” she says. “It’s enchanting. I live here, and I never tire of that view.”

I look at her and try to hide my bemusement. I’ll admit that in the small time that I’ve been here, I’ve noticed that Australian accents cover an extremely wide range—from nearly indecipherable to almost no accent at all. She’s on the no accent at all end of the spectrum.

“My name’s Laura. Not a native Sydneysider. I’m American,” she says reading my thoughts. “Found the love of my life on the internet and moved here ten years ago. I never looked back.”

“On the internet…” I say, and my words trail off. Her companion looks over her shoulder and smiles at me, waving with his free hand. He has a kind and friendly face, someone you could easily strike up a conversation with if you saw him in a crowded bar or at a party…

… Or on a cruise.

“It’s true,” he says, his accent heavily Australian. “OI found Lahra hehr on a dayting soite. OI was thehr as a joke. Mah mates put me up to it. But one dahy OI was foolin’ around with the thing and OI saw Lahra. She had such sad oyes, but she was enchanting. OI was stricken immehdiately.”

“We talked online and on the phone for a few months, but I knew,” Laura continues. “I wasn’t happy in the states. My son was killed in a car accident a few years earlier and my husband never recovered from the loss. He blamed anybody and anything for the loss including me, and we ended up getting a divorce. It was two whole years before I even considered dating, then I get on this website. There were a lot of encounters with frogs before my prince showed up.”

I sip my delicious frozen drink while Laura and her beau tell us how she became a Sydneysider.

“When she agreed to meeyt, OI was on the fihrst bihrd headed east to Saynt Louis to see my guhl. OI stayed foh two weeks and didn’t want ta leeyve. OI came back and was without her for three months before OI lost ma moind. OI ahsked her and promised to move to the Staytes if she didn’t want ta live hehr.”

“So, let’s think,” she says. “Live in the States with all the heartache and the memories of my lost life and family or move to Sydney with a man that I adore and who adores me and start a new life… hmmm. Guess which one I chose.”

“Wow,” I say, “you seem really nice…” I pause and wait for him to give his name.

“Jaxon, with an ‘ehx’,” he replies. I nod.

“I’m Ana and this is my husband, Christian,” I say. He and Christian shake hands and exchange pleasantries.

“You seem really nice, Jaxon, but with all the crazies out here, I just can’t imagine flying back and forth across the world and then eventually moving to another country to be with someone you barely know. How could you be sure? I mean, what would you have done had this been… a scam… or something worse?” I address the question to them both.

“OI don’t know,” Jaxon answers honestly. “To tell yeh the truth, OI loved her from neahrly the vehry beginning. OI loved her so much, OI just knew OI couldn’t be without her. Nothin’ else mattehred.”

“Laura, you felt the same way?” my husband asks.

“Even more so,” Laura replies. “I hadn’t felt alive in years—I mean, literally dead inside. And then, Jaxon…” she trails off and looks at him. “He came back to the States and we were married almost immediately. Then we flew back here, and we were married here, too. My friends thought I was crazy, that I was just doing it because I was lonely—that I missed Devon and I wanted my husband Tom back, but that wasn’t it. I was not happy, and I found someone who made me happy. It was that simple. Live in misery or live in happiness. Where’s the dilemma there?” I nod and look over my shoulder at Christian.

“I’m curious,” I say, “what made you tell me your story? You had no idea who I was.” She smiles.

“You were crying at a sunset, dear,” she says. “And no offense, but you’re on an exclusive cruise line where even the inner cabins are more than the average person can afford. So, unless you’re wealthy serial killers, I don’t think we have too much to worry about. Not to mention that the way he’s holding you, either you’re newlyweds or you’ve got a similar story.”

“Well, we’re not exactly newlyweds,” I say. “I guess it depends on whose calendar you’re looking at. We’ve been married for 18 months and we have a set of twins at home. We’ve been together for two and a half years and it seems like a lifetime…”

“And our story is similar,” Christian says. I turn to him, bemused.

“In what way?” I asked. They fell in love at first sight—over the internet! I hated his ass… in person!

“In that way that when you know, you know,” he says finitely… and shut me right up.

“Aaah, thehr’s a story thehr, too,” Jaxon observes, pulling his wife closer to him. We share the short version of our story—meeting and hating each other, the accidental kiss, the longing from a distance, the denial, the crashed date and eventual consummation. We leave out the parts about the kidnapping, the pedophile, the BDSM lifestyle—you know, all the stuff that makes people run away screaming.

Christian and I talk to Laura and Jaxon a little while longer, then the live band starts to sing Pink Let’s Get This Party Started.

I’d love to chat, but I must dance!

“Come, Laura,” I say, grabbing her hand. “Let’s go dance!”

“What about me?” Christian asks in mock horror.

“You can watch,” I say with a wink before dragging Laura onto the floor. I need to dance the melancholy away. I still have residual feelings of all the shit going on at home and I don’t want any of it right now…

Feeling homesick for my babies…
Grace not respecting my opinion or concerns at Helping Hands…
Harmony’s current circumstance trying to wrap things up with her mom’s estate…
Marilyn and Gary’s breakup…
Val is pregnant… Good grief, Val is pregnant!
What the hell am I going to do if Marilyn doesn’t come back?
What the hell am I going to do if I don’t go back… to Helping Hands, that is?

I dance like a wild woman for three songs until my drink is empty, then we sit down with Laura and Jaxon and shoot the shit some more while Christian gets me another drink.

“You dance like a woman trying to escape,” Laura points out as we sip our drinks in a cabana off the main pool. I shake my head.

“I’m determined to have a good time,” I tell her. “There’s a lot going on at home and I miss my babies something awful.

“You mentioned twins. How old?” she asks.

“Ten months,” I confess and her mouth falls.

“You’re kidding,” she says. “If I may be so bold, have you had any work done?” I laugh.

“Everybody thinks that,” I say. “No, just clean living and a lot of exercise… oh, and belly binding right after the twins were born… and breast feeding.”

“You’ve done belly binding?” she asks. I nod.

“I also did very moderate, low grade yoga until my doctor gave me the ‘all clear’ to go back to exercising like I normally do.” She nods.

“Natural childbirth?” she asks. I nod. “Were you off work long?” I twist my lips.

“Not so much,” I tell her. “My job isn’t that strenuous. I decided to leave my practice to focus more on my family, and my job—such as it is—is more community service than anything.” She raises a brow.

“Practice? You’re a doctor?”

“I’m a shrink,” I inform her. She’s clearly surprised.

“I never would have placed you as a shrink,” she says. “I know therapy has its place, but all the shrinks I’ve met are very self-important and judgmental.”

“I know the type,” I say. “I never understood how anybody in a field that’s based on helping people could have that high-nosed attitude. In one way or another, someone’s life is in your hands. How can you consider that and be so callous about it?

“I guess it all depends on why you got into the field,” I continue. “If you got into it for the money, well then a God complex isn’t very far behind. If you’re good at what you do and you know the craft, then that haughty attitude is sure to follow if you’re already stuck on yourself. However, if you got into it to help people, then you can’t help but to be humble. You can’t empathize without humility.”

“You’re definitely not the typical shrink,” she says, taking a sip of her drink. “By the way, you look fantastic,” she adds. “I would never know you’re the mother of twins… and breastfeeding?” I nod. “Some of my members have expressed an interest in belly binding, but I had no real knowledge of it, so I couldn’t recommend or discourage it.”

“Members?” I ask, curious.

“For lack of a better description, I’m a Wisdom Woman,” she says. “I’m something like a guru in my community. We focus on holistic healing and spiritual enlightenment. I realize that might be a bit hokey to you, but it’s what I do.” I wave her off.

“Yes, we’re champions for the validity and effectiveness of modern medicine, but any doctor who doesn’t understand and recognize the power of spiritual health and stability is a quack,” I say finitely. I’ve surprised her again.

“There are many doctors in many fields who would say that you’re wrong and that I’m the quack,” she laughs mirthlessly. “I believe that the earth, nature, and the spirit can heal anything that ails you. However, I believe that the connection that would heal or erase fatal diseases is much more than most people would ever be able to achieve. To that end, I don’t expect people to sit there and chant their way through cancer. I do, however, expect for them to utilize a combination of holistic methods and remedies, spiritual and emotional balance, and chemotherapy or radiation or whatever modern medical advances they need to fight the disease. If you leave out any one of those elements, your body will not be able to overcome the ailment and it will win.

“I don’t appreciate that my methods and those of many other practitioners, spiritual guides, medicine men and women, shaman, gurus, whatever you choose to call them, are dismissed because they’re not practiced in a hospital and you can’t put several zeros on the end of the treatment and send someone into outrageous debt just for trying to live. Seriously, what do you charge per hour for a session?” I clear my throat. I made out like a bandit when I was practicing.

“I’d rather not say,” I admit, “but these days, my sessions are all free.”

“Free?” she asks bemused. “How do you manage that?”

“I’m the assistant director of a shelter and help center for at-risk women and children,” I tell her. “I offer counseling services to the residents and donate the salary that they pay me back to the Center. I married into a lot of those aforementioned zeros, and I did get into this to help people, so it was the right thing to do.”

“Jesus,” she says, sinking into her seat a bit, “you’re completely not what I expected when I first saw you.”

“What did you expect?” I ask, as if I don’t already know.

“Gorgeous, young, tiny little woman—size four on your worst day—hanging on the arm of an equally gorgeous man with two rugged bodyguards following you… not one, two. They’re both trying to look inconspicuous and not doing a good job of it. You’re happily and carelessly bouncing around on a ship where the cheapest suite is 300 square feet and costs about $1000 a night. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re screaming trophy wife.” I laugh.

“Oh, Laura, you’re not breaking anything to me,” I tell her. “I did have zeros in my hourly rate, and I lived a very good life before I met my wealthy husband—not $1000-a-night good, but I did well enough… better than most. You have no idea the names that I’ve been called and the things I’ve been accused of since we fell in love…”

“Oh, I can imagine,” she says. “I don’t know your story, but Jaxon has more than a few pennies to rub together as you can imagine.” She gestures at the opulence around us. “He flies to America and a few months later, he brings home an American bride who has no money and practices ‘witchcraft…’” She waves her fingers in that way when she says the word.

“I met his family,” she continues. “They didn’t know anything about me. They didn’t know that I had suddenly lost my son in that horrible accident. They didn’t know that my husband had left me because he was a selfish bastard unable to face and deal with his feelings, so he blamed me. They didn’t know that damn near every day for years, it took every bit of my molecular will to get out of bed, put on my clothes, and go through my day—minute by minute—and resist the urge to swallow a little too much of one of my remedies and end it all.”

She shakes her head as if she’s said too much, but she hasn’t revealed anything more than how I was feeling right after I broke up with Edward… except that I didn’t have the horrible experience of losing a child.

“Jaxon saved me,” she continues, “not with his money, but with his love. I thought I was infatuated—just so lonely that I needed somebody, but that wasn’t it. He rescued me. He’d tell you differently. He’d tell you that I rescued him. Maybe I did, I don’t know, but I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t have made it without him. I couldn’t see… I couldn’t see anything but darkness, death, hatred and pain. At the risk of sounding cliché, he came through the darkness like a candle in the midst, and suddenly, I could see again.

“When he left the states after his visit, I tried to go on without him. I was stronger, and I knew the world wouldn’t end, but I was so much happier when I was with him. He asked me to marry him, and I thought there was a catch. I thought he wanted American citizenship or something. I didn’t care. All I knew was that being with him made me happy, and that if the whole thing turned out to be a fluke, then I would be happy with him for as long as I could—to give me a little strength to go a little further in life.”

“It wasn’t a fluke, I take it,” I say. She smiles contentedly.

“Not in the least,” she replies. “I had no idea that he was rich until after we were married. He kept that part from me. I think he wanted to know—like I did—if it was real. It was very real for us… It was really fucked up for his family. They were awful. They were horrible and awful to me. One year at Christmas, he found out that they referred to me as the ‘fat American hippy witch.’ It was a private joke that the entire family shared. We discovered it because one of the children let the cat out of the bag.” She sighs heavily as she recalls the story.

“Could it have just been the family member of that kid?” I ask, trying to smooth things over like I always do. She shakes her head.

“It was all of them,” she says. “They admitted it. They weren’t ashamed of it. We left that Christmas. We left his mum’s house and we went back to our home. We packed our things, we called movers; he put the house on the market and a week later, we moved to Sydney. He hasn’t really spoken to them since.”

“Not even his mom?” I say with a frown. She drops her gaze and shakes her head.

“She was the worst. She called me horrible names to my face and never let him hear them, but he knew. He knew for sure that last year, and he just wasn’t going to take it anymore. They’ve tried to call a few times, but…” She shakes her head again.

“Three years later, his mum died,” she says. “The family never called him. He found out from a friend. We went to her viewing when none of them were there. He kissed her, he said ‘goodbye,’ he signed the guestbook and he left. He was sad, but he had said that he knew she lived a good life and that now she was at peace. He used that knowledge to help him get through his loss. He’s become quite the spiritual guide himself.”

We turn to look at Jaxon and Christian deep in conversation at the bar. I’m dying to be a fly on the wall for that tête-à-tête.

“His friends talk about how much he’s changed over the years—how much happier he seems. They keep asking me what I’ve done to him, what’s my secret…”

I look at her and Jaxon and I see a version of me and Christian in ten years, only we’ll no doubt still have the love and concern of our families.

“What about your family?” I ask. “Your siblings?”

“I still talk to them,” she says. “They thought I had lost every bit of my marbles to pull up and leave everything I’d ever loved and move to a foreign country with a man that I barely knew. Even my ex-husband found out and dared to try to tell me how crazy I was. How the hell did he think he was trying to tell me anything? He left me. He fucking left me to die…”

That’s the first time she’s cursed since we’ve been talking.

“I’m sorry,” she says, taking a deep breath and rubbing her chest. “I don’t normally curse anymore. It interferes with the flow of prana. Apparently, talking about my ex brings out the worst in me.”

I know the feeling.

“Then maybe we should stop talking about him,” I suggest. “Do you still see your family?” She nods.

“I bring them out here once a year—my brothers and sisters and my mom. If their families want to come, they have to make their own way. But it’s always so good to see them, and they love it here when they visit.” I smile.

“Aren’t we cruising through Melbourne?” I ask. “That’s one of our ports of call.” She nods.

“He’ll put flowers on his mum’s grave and get swiftly back on the boat.”

“How do you feel about that?” I ask. “Does it ever… bother you? I mean…” I trail off.

“You mean that he doesn’t have contact with his family because of me?” she finishes.

Yeah, that’s my question—I just didn’t want to say it aloud.

“At first, it bothered me a lot,” she admits. “I could see that he was hurt, and he had to work through the pain. I knew that there was nothing that I could do to rectify it. We decided that we wanted to be together and we couldn’t force them to accept me, but he wasn’t going to sit around while they treated me worse than they treated their dogs. He wouldn’t subject me to that and I definitely wouldn’t allow myself to be subjected to it. The only other option was to remove the unwanted element, which was me. So, what now—I leave, we’re both miserable, but his family is happy? Definitely not an option.

“So, he made the difficult choice between me and his family. I didn’t want him to make that choice, but they were unyielding in their insults and prejudices. The way Jax explains it to me is that he had found true and genuine happiness, but it came at a cost, and it was a price that he was willing to pay because he wasn’t going to let it go.”

“Maybe one day they’ll come around and see how foolish they were,” I encourage.

“Maybe,” she says, “but after nearly a decade, I would say not. They’re waiting and hoping for me to become ‘part of his past,’ and that’s not going to happen.” She sighs heavily then smiles.

Although the conversation only slightly veered in that direction, talking to Laura made me realize that I can’t leave Helping Hands just yet. There are too many people there who need me—who depend on me. I can’t stay, however, as long as Grace totally doesn’t respect me professionally, but I can’t leave right now. It would be irresponsible and selfish. I’ll have to wait at least until after the school year starts and learning programs are in place, after which I’ll help find a replacement for me. This talk has helped me to see what’s important—to put my personal feelings aside for the moment and not shirk my responsibilities, but it’s also shown me that life’s too damn short to be sniffin’ somebody’s bullshit.


CHRISTIAN

Butterfly has headed to the dance floor and subsequently to one of the cabanas on the deck to talk to Laura while Jaxon and I chat at the bar. He gets extremely comfortable extremely quickly in the conversation.

“Are ya swingahs?” Jaxon asks and I glare at him with a murderous stare. Is that what his wife is doing—grooming my wife for this shit? “OI’ll tayke that ahs a ‘no,’” he says, his voice full of mirth, and I don’t find the situation the least bit funny.

“Don’t tayke it tha wrong wy, mate,” he adds. “Tha woife and OI ahrn’t swingahs. She’s jest vehry spiritual and it’s rubbed off on meh. OI sense somethin’ from yah—taboo, unconventional. OI jest thought that was it.”

“You sensed that, huh?” I say sarcastically while taking a large swallow of my beer.

“Yeh,” he replies, ignoring my sarcasm. “She’s got a bit of it in ‘er, too,” he says, gesturing to my wife before turning back to me. “This is how OI knew Lahra was fa meh. When OI fihst met ‘er in the Staytes in pehrson, she introduced meh to moy spirit goide. I realoize it’s a bunch o’ mumbo-jumbo tah someone who doesn’t practice this koinda thing, but the spiritual awykening was ahll OI needed to know that OI had been wahking aroun’ in the dahk fah yeahs!” He takes a gulp of his beer before continuing.

“When OI cayme back to Australia without ‘er, it was loike somebody had cut mah ahm off. OI couldn’t function; OI couldn’t think… OI had to have ‘er with meh. When I cahlled ‘er bahk and ahsked ‘er tah marry meh, she thought OI had lost mah mahbles! Quoite frankly, OI thought OI had lost mah mahbles. The truth wahs… OI could jest see tha wohrld moh clearly. OI could see whaht wahs missing in mah loife… ehv’rythin’! Big, gayping holes of misery and emptiness. It wahs the sceriest thing OI’ve ehveh fayced in mah loife! Yah ehveh wayke up one daye an’ yah jest strugglin’ ta mayke sense of it ahll?” he asks, his voice betraying a slight desperation.

“As a matter of fact, I have,” I respond, looking at Butterfly and remembering how she bewitched me when absolutely no one else was able to reach me.

“When it’s roight, it’s jest roight, mate. Yah don’t ahsk, yah jest fahllow—especially when yah spihrit tells yah to. My spihrit led me to mah Lahrie. It’s been ten yeahs. OI haven’t regretted a moment of it.”

“Are you trying to tell me something, Jaxon?” I ask. He swallows his beer.

“Whahteveh yah into, yah kindred spihrits already know yah thehre. Yah weahr it loike a smock. OI maye not know whaht it is, but OI know it’s thehre. Don’t be suhproised if yah foind loike-moinded individuals on the ship. Don’t get offended—jest let ‘em know yah not int’rested… if yah not int’rested. Weh’re ahll here to have a good time, aye?” He shrugs.

He’s right. I can usually pick a Dominant or a submissive out of a crowd, but I haven’t had my “BDSM eye” out lately to be able to spot them. It hasn’t been a priority for quite some time. Now, a veritable civilian who appears to just be a really good profiler has been able to call me out and let me know that he can see it in me and my wife, even though he’s not sure exactly what it is.

“Thanks, Jaxon,” I cede. “That’s good information and I’ll keep it in mind.”

“Don’t mention it, mate,” he says, drinking more of his beer and turning to where the women are sitting. “She doesn’t have many femayle friends, does she?” I raise my brow.

“She has enough,” I say. He nods. “Why would you ask that?”

“She’s an alpha femayle,” he says. “Not a bully, but she can handle ‘erself. She doesn’t bahk down frahm a foight, bot she won’t foight whehre it’s not necessary. She doesn’t tayke shite from anyone, ahnd ‘er heart is biggah than that toiny little body of ‘ers. People undahestahmayte ‘er often ahnd she suhprises the foock out of ‘em. Let me know when OI’m wrong.”

So far, he’s dead on, so I let him continue.

“The only women around ‘er ahre family, fohllowehs, neutrals, or women who’ve known ‘er for a long time. Alpha femayles or wanna-be alpha femayles—they bump heads like bulls.

“She’s afrayd of somethin’, though,” he says. “OI’m not sure whaht it is, but it’s one thing—one little thing—and it’s scerin’ the shite out of ‘er. Whahtevah it is, she’ll get hold of it soon, but she’s gonna hafta look outside of ‘erself to do it. That’s whehre the ansah is, an’ befoh yah ahsk, yah cahn’t help ‘er, mate.”

“Where the hell did you come from?” I ask, perturbed that he’s reading me… us this well. He chuckles as he finishes his beer and gestures to the bartender.

“Give us a refill,” he says to the bartender who nods and goes off to get another draft beer. “Mayke that two!” Jaxon calls out to the bartender, and I realize that when he said, “Give us a refill,” he wasn’t talking about both of us.

“I shouldn’t drink too much,” I caution. I don’t like not having control.

“Ahnd yah won’t,” he says, pushing the empty glass away from him. “Even if yah did, yah got yah two bodygahrds ovah thehre… you’ll be foine.”

And once again, I forgot we had security.

“Do they stick out like sore thumbs?” I ask.

“Not anymoh than anyone else’s,” he says. “OI’ve seen about foive couples jest ahn this deck with security. Don’t give it a second thot.”

I nod at the bartender when he brings our drinks to us and look over at Butterfly who has escaped to one of the cabanas with Laura, still in my line of sight and that of our security.

“She fohlows the rules, but noht ahll the toime,” he deduces correctly. “It’s given you and the boys a bit of a run for yah money.”

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” I concur, drinking my beer.

“OI don’t need ta know yah secret,” he says. “Yah don’t hahve tah tell meh whaht it is, mate. It’s not that impohtant. Jest know thehre’s an energy that comes from yah both—stronger when yah tagetheh. It has a lotta power. If yah use it propahley, no one’ll be able ta come against yah.”

I don’t know why, but I’ve got a feeling that we’re going to need that in the coming months.

*-*

After dinner and more drinks at a premier steakhouse on board, I find that my lady is pickled once again when I carry her to our cabin, and I take full advantage of her inebriated, playful state. She gives my dick the sucking of its life and I give her the fucking of hers before we fall off into a contented sleep.

Tuesday is a day at sea. My wife has a bit of a hangover—again, so we order breakfast in the suite with a Bloody Mary on the side for a bit of the “hair of the dog.” I warn her to pace herself, because I can see that it’s very easy to get drunk very quickly on a cruise since the drinks flow so freely.

Since you hardly see anyone without a drink of some kind in their hand, particularly on the party decks, I suggest that she keeps some of her umbrellas and drink toys and put them in the glass with a soda, spritzer, or sparkling water if she wants to look like one of the cool kids without being three sheets to the wind for the entire trip. I also have to let the cat out of the bag that we’ll be spending the weekend in wine country, which won’t be as much fun if her insides are pickled throughout the week.

Our suite has direct access to the exclusive Bliss sundeck, pool, and bar as well as to the exclusive Bliss lounge. So, we have the option to mingle with the rest of the passengers, or keep it intimate with only other suite cruisers who have access to this area. Butterfly wants to mingle with the rest of the passengers, but I can see her spending some solitary time on this ship at some point. That’s just who she is.

She does a little detox in the Jacuzzi tub for a while before emerging from the closet in a stunning royal blue maxi dress. It’s sheer with a lining only long enough to hit her mid-thigh, and I’m convinced that she and Vickie are trying to kill me with this wardrobe. Of course, she completes the outfit with a sexy pair of stiletto slides.

“Baby, we’re on a cruise. We’re going to be here for another four days. Are you going to wear heels the entire time?” She raises a brow at me.

“Have we met?” she says before donning her Jackie-O’s and heading to the door.

We have indeed.

The ship is really impressive. Our exploration yesterday was mostly to find something to eat, so today, we’re paying more attention to what’s on deck on each floor. On the main deck in the middle of the ship is the Grand Plaza. It’s decked out with an extremely large Christmas tree and a white baby grand. Across from the baby grand is a martini bar. Having had breakfast and a bit of a detox, Butterfly indulges in one of the unusual martinis on the menu—a Blue Jean Martini. It’s a combination of vanilla vodka, chocolate liqueur, blue curaçao and smooth cream—and it’s very sweet. I have the Black-Tie Martini—made with gin, vodka and white wine—and guide her to the seats in the Grand Plaza area.

“I talked to Allen about setting up a will,” I begin after we’ve settled in our seats. She frowns.

“Where did this conversation come from?” she asks bemused. I twist my lips at her.

“You really have to ask?” I reply.

“No, obviously I know where it came from, just why right at this moment?” Yeah, I guess I did spring it on her a bit out of the blue.

“I don’t really know,” I say, my brow furrowed. “It just dawned on me, I guess. If we must have a conversation like this, we should be relaxed while we’re having it.” She purses her lips.

“Well, that’s true,” she says. “So, where do we start?” I sigh.

“I don’t even know,” I admit. “Of course, you know that you and the twins are my only heirs. So, the only reason I would really need a will is if something happened to us both at the same time. Of course, we would set up trust funds for the children, no matter what.”

“Well, I’ve only been to one will reading,” she points out, “and from what I saw, you need to itemize your assets. All I have is my condo.”

“God, woman, when are you going to get it through your brain that you’ve got more than that?”

“Okay, fine, let me rephrase,” she says after taking a sip of her martini. “My condo is all that I have in my name. You didn’t press for me to put your name on my condo, so it’s still in my name alone. Is that better, Mr. Grey?” She rolls her eyes at me.

“Keep it up, Mrs. Grey,” I warn.

“I thought we already established whose job that was,” she retorts. Oh, she’s testing me.

“Do you want to see Australia?” I caution firmly. Don’t push me, woman. I’ve fucked you every day since we left Seattle—twice! I’ll throw you over my shoulder, take you to that stateroom and they won’t see us again until this boat is back in Sydney. Fuck wine country!

Her skin flushes bright pink and she looks around to see if anyone has caught on to our conversation. Personally, I could care less. I only asked one question. I didn’t tell her what I was thinking, but she knew. I raise a single brow at her when she brings her gaze back to mine. I’m doing everything I can to be a good boy on this boat while you’re wearing transparent dresses and stiletto heels. Tempt me… please!

She swallows hard before taking a large gulp of her martini.

“Remember what I said,” my voice low, but still firm. “Pace yourself.”

She places her half-finished martini on the table and folds her hands in her lap. It’s clear that she feels scolded.

“That wasn’t my intention,” I say, immediately spotting the submission.

“No… it’s fine,” she says, still looking at her folded hands. “It’s sweeter than I like. I really don’t want anymore.”

“Do you want to try mine?” I ask, offering an olive branch. She shakes her head.

“Yours is most likely stronger. I think I’ll have some water instead. Excuse me for a minute.”

She stands without making eye contact with me and walks quickly back to the bar. Jeez, what just happened? Did I let the Dom out and didn’t know it? I watch my wife crack the bottle open and down half of it, refusing the glass of ice the bartender has prepared for her. I watch her pause for a moment and I wonder if she’s coming back to the seat. She finishes the bottle and asks for another one, this time taking the glass of ice. She strolls back to her seat with the glass in one hand and the bottle in the other.

“So, you were saying?” she says. “About the assets?”

I suddenly feel a bit uncomfortable, but I keep talking.

“You don’t have to put my name on your condo,” I tell her. “That’s not necessary. Just will it to me if something happens to you. We need to decide how our assets—including your condo—will be distributed if something happens to us both.”

“I always assumed that whomever took the twins would be the benefactors of yo… our fortune.” Nice catch, Mrs. Grey.

“You assume correctly, but who would take the twins?” I ask. “My parents are up in age and would definitely be pinch hitters if needed. Your dad and Mandy may be an option if that’s what he wants, but he already has Little Harry to think about. Their godparents are both married and either would provide stable homes for the twins, but there’s also the consideration that Valerie and Elliot have a child on the way. Have we talked to any of them about this?”

“I vaguely recall having some kind of conversation with somebody about this, but I don’t totally remember how it came out, so I think we should have the conversation again,” she admits.

“I think you’re right,” I concur. “Allen is looking into cataloging my assets for me so that we can know what we’re working with.” If I had been thinking about it, I would have told him to get with my accountant. Between the two of them, I’m certain they can lock this up.

“We’ll have a meeting with the godparents first when we get home,” I tell her. “I think they’ll most likely be the best candidates since we’re all around the same age. Then, we’ll talk to our parents and let them know what the plan is so that there’s no misunderstanding.”

“Okay,” she says. “That’s fine.” She’s looking at me momentarily, then diverts her gaze to her water, concentrating on the task of filling her glass as if she’s performing surgery.

Yeah, I let the Dom out.

“Come on,” I say, standing and taking her hand after she has emptied the bottle into the glass. “Let’s walk some more.” I take my martini and she takes her bottle of water and stands. I tuck her under my arm and we walk around to explore the ship some more.

The sun is bright in the sky and glistening off the water as we stroll along the promenade. There are portholes in the floor of the deck so that you can look down and see blue water. I don’t know how sturdy that is, but it’s pretty. Butterfly avoids them. She loves the view of the water, but she says they make her nervous. She would much rather deal with the view over the railing, particularly of the “white bubbly trail” left by the boat as we cut through the ocean. She has loosened up a bit as we stroll through the ship and make a mental note of the things we plan to do and the places we intend to eat. Looking to get some uninhibited sunshine, we head up to the Lido deck to see what’s afoot.

The party has truly started up here on the Lido deck. The drinks are flowing freely at the pool bar as usual and we’re just in time to claim two of the remaining in-pool loungers. As we strip down to our swimwear, my wife nearly causes me a heart attack again with a blue and orange two-piece—a bandana-type top and boy-short-type bottoms with drawstrings down the side. The material wraps so well around her ample breasts and juicy ass that I actually lament her getting into the pool.

Calm yourself, Grey. She could wear a burlap sack and you’d get a hard-on. Get over it.

Sure enough, she steps out of her shoes, retrieves a towel, and after placing her items on the in-pool chaise, she dives into the deep end. I make myself comfortable on the lounger next to hers and wait for her to emerge. As expected, when she does, she smooths her hair down and looks like a goddamn mermaid.

Consider yourself lucky, Grey. She’s all yours.

A reggae band is playing on the stage as I watch my wife do laps in the pool. I mentally tap my feet to the beat of the music as I let my mind wander. What brought the Dom out? I’ve almost always had him under control, only allowing him to emerge when I wanted him to. However, a little while ago, there he was—not in full force, but he was there. I’m pretty certain he’s been here for at least the last day and maybe more. I’m not sure which of many events lit the initial match.

Her smart mouth yesterday at the hotel and me vowing to fuck her senseless for the entire trip?
Her calling me her billionaire lover night before last in that hip-hop bar?
The animal fucking we did for nearly the entire 14-hour flight from the States?
Could it have been sparked by events completely outside, like those fuckers salivating over her ass at the Overseas Passenger Terminal?

Or Jaxon noticing the tendency and asking me if we were swingers? No, it was alive and well and showing by then. Whatever the cause, I have to be mindful that the Dom is present and try to keep him under control. My wife and I will have to address it though. We agreed to learn more about the dynamics of the Dom/sub relationship as it applies to marriage months ago, but of course, that was before the bottom nearly fell out from under our lives…

“’Ey, Christian!”

I open my eyes to see Jaxon waving at me from across the pool in a T-shirt and a pair of black shorts. His wife is standing next to him in a paisley halter maxi-dress. They both look more tanned than I remember, but it was sunset and evening when I last saw them. I wave them over to me and they begin to walk around the pool, hand in hand. After ten years, it’s still very clear that they love each other. Jaxon is a slender man, not very tall, with his hair cut short almost to the scalp. Laura is what today’s society would consider plus sized, but knowing what I know about women’s bodies, I would say that she’s somewhere between a size 10 and a size 12, very attractive with sun-bleached blonde hair.

“Whehe’s the woife?” he asks when they reach me. I point to the pool and the blue and orange mermaid gliding through the water.

“Ah, gettin’ ‘er exehcoise in, OI see,” Jaxon says as he squints at the water. “Now’s the best toime. A few blokes an’ sheilas out, but not too crohded.”

I find myself listening very carefully to understand what he’s saying. It’s no doubt that he was born and raised in the “Land Down Undah.” Butterfly comes to the edge of the pool and sees them standing by the loungers. She waves and lifts herself out of the pool just as I hear something that makes me cringe.


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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

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

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

It happens.
Don’t worry.
We survived.

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

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

Chapter 64—For Everything, There is A Season

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

“How do you take it?” she asks.

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you…” I pause for her name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you wear when you went running?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Last night or this morning?” she inquires.

“Both.” She sighs.

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

“What’s it?” I ask.

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

“It’s not that bad,” I protest.

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

Well, that smarts.

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

“God, he saw that?” she says.

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

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

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

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

She saw that, too, huh?

“What’s his name?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

“Journaling,” she says, and I frown.

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

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

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

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

“Mrs. Grey, can I get you anything?” she asks my wife.

“That coffee looks good,” Butterfly says. “I’ll wait for brunch to eat.”

I drink my consommé and eat my crackers in relative silence. Butterfly stares at the fire as she drinks her coffee, occasionally looking over at me. I let the warmth envelop me from the inside out. The chill is finally dropping and I’m starting to feel cozy…

“Wake up, sleepyhead,” I hear Butterfly say. “Jason is here.”

I open my eyes and my head feels like lead. I’m wrapped tight in a throw and I feel like it’s 150 degrees in here. Sure the hell beats freezing.

“It’s time to go home,” she says. “I’m putting you in quarantine.”

“It’s just a cold,” I complain, my throat scratchy.

“You don’t know that,” Butterfly replies matter-of-factly. “You’re weak and shivering. You go from hot to cold to hot, and you slept through brunch.”

“I slept through brunch?” I lament. I wanted some of whatever Mrs. Evans was making. “Why didn’t you wake me?” I ask as I struggle to sit up.

“I tried. You just grunted and curled into a ball. Oh, and you owe Val a throw pillow. You’ve drooled all over that one.”

I look down where I was sleeping and sure enough, the pillow is half-covered with slime.

“Destroy that thing,” I say, grossed out by the sight.

“I intend to,” she replies. “That’s a $500 pillow, by the way.” I reach into my pocket and pull out a handful of bills. Val reaches for them, but Elliot heads her off.

“Naw, bro,” he says, catching his wife’s hand. “Put the infected currency away. I’ll get another pillow.” I shrug and put the money back in my pocket. I’m too weak to get offended.

“But I’m hungry,” I whine.

“And it begins,” Val laughs.

“I know, right?” Butterfly concurs.

“What begins?” I huff.

“Don’t worry about it. Val, what’s left that he can take to go?”

“I’ve got you, Mrs. Grey,” Mrs. Evans says, and starts scurrying around the kitchen. Jason walks in with my coat.

“I’ve got the bags in the car and the heat is on, so he’ll be good and warm,” he says, holding my coat open. I stand, and the room starts spinning.

“Whoa!” I hear Jason say, but he’s not the one who catches me. I open my eyes and my tiny wife has her arms around me.

“Just a cold my eye,” she says, looking at me with concern. Jesus, I hope she doesn’t catch whatever this is that I have.

My knees are weak, but thankfully, they’re still holding me up… somewhat. This is a good thing as I have no idea how this little woman—literally—is supporting 185 pounds of mostly muscle.

“Your Highness let me…” Jason protests.

“I’ve got him,” she says effortlessly. “Get his coat on him.”

They’re dressing me like a helpless toddler. Stand up, Grey! You’re stronger than this!

I try to stand upright while Jason helps me on with my coat. It’s taking every bit of strength that I have not to crumble over. Jesus, the air is thin up here…

“Come on, Superman,” Butterfly jests as she reaches for me again.

“Really, Ana,” Jason says. “Let me. The rain froze over and it’s slippery out there.” Butterfly throws an accusing gaze at me.

“You ran in the freezing rain?” she scolds.

“It wasn’t raining when I ran,” I excuse. Was it…? “You were out there journaling. You know it wasn’t raining,” I add, more to convince myself than her. She shakes her head.

“Get him to the car, please, Jason,” she says.

“Here, Mrs. Grey.” Mrs. Evans gives my wife a thermo bag. “A breakfast bagel and some soup. And here’s more coffee.” She hands her a travel mug.

“Thank you, Mrs. Evans. You’ve been too kind.” Mrs. Evans smiles.

“Get him to bed, dear,” she says. “They think they’re invincible at that age.”

“Until they get sick,” Butterfly counters, “then they turn into babies.”

Not me…

*-*

I feel miserable.

The soup didn’t help. The coffee didn’t help. Even my warm bed and these horrible flannel pajamas aren’t helping. Where did she find these things? I don’t even own a pair of flannel pajamas.

“I wanna take these off,” I whine. “They’re not comfortable.”

“But they’ll keep you warm,” Butterfly retorts. “Still not feeling any better?”

“No, and this wretched grandpa sleepwear isn’t helping!” She laughs at me. And I don’t like it.

“Well, you’re going to have to deal with it for a while,” she says. No, I won’t. As soon as I can move, I’m coming out of these things. “Would you like for me to turn on the television?”

“No. I want my laptop and my phone,” I say. She shakes her head.

“Nope. No work. Television, sleep, and food. Those are your options.” I frown at her.

“You gotta be kiddin’!” I hiss. “I have three deals set to close tomorrow; the team is going to be back in Detroit in…” I look at my arm and my watch is gone. “Where the fuck is my watch?” Butterfly folds her arms.

“Television, sleep, and food,” she repeats. “You wanna try me?”

“Butterfly, you can’t do this,” I complain. “I’ve got a multi-billion-dollar company to run…” and I’m miserable as fuck, but I’ll be even more miserable if I don’t know what’s happening at my company. She sighs.

“It’s Sunday, Christian,” she says. “Nothing is happening at your multi-billion-dollar company today.”

“Something is always happening at my company,” I protest. “If I don’t leave those people instructions, there’s no telling what’s going to happen!”

“What did you do when we were in Paris? And Greece? The company didn’t explode!”

“Because I left instructions! And I checked in! You know that!” I defend. She sighs.

“Christian Grey, if you’re sick longer than you have to be because you won’t rest and recuperate, I swear I’m moving out of this room and someone else can take care of your ass.”

“I won’t be sick longer, but I’ll be irritable and crabby as fuck if I don’t get my computer and my phone!” She raises her brow at me.

“Is that a threat?” she inquires.

“No, that’s a statement of pure, unmitigated fact! And a definite promise. And if you want to test that theory, keep them away from me. I won’t be responsible at all for my actions.” I don’t blink when I say the words. I know I’ll be crazy and untamable if she doesn’t get me my electronics and soon. So, what will it be, Mrs. Grey?

“You’re insufferable,” she says as she leaves the room. I hope that means that she’s going to get my phone and laptop or I’m going to harass everybody in this house until I get them.


ANASTASIA

So, he goes out in the rain and makes himself sick and apparently, I’m the one who has to pay for it.

I just want him to get one day of total rest—one day, and he’s giving me hell about his tethers. That place will do just fine without him, but he’s trying to convince me that the one day—a Sunday—that he doesn’t communicate with them, a meteor is going to fall out of the sky and obliterate Grey House.

“You have one hour,” I say as I hand him his phone and computer.

“One hour?” he laments.

“Make the best of it,” I say as I walk out of the room, miffed that I capitulated to his demands. I can’t cut him completely off. He’d probably die, but if I give him too much corporate rope, he’ll hang himself.

I look across the hall at the nursery. I need some baby time in the worst way. I reach for the doorknob and just as I’m about to turn it, common sense prevails. My husband is sick with I don’t know what and I’ve been around him all day. All I need to do is give cooties to my two little ones and my heart would officially be broken.

I move my hand away from the door and almost on cue, the two way comes to life.

“Ana,” I say sadly, and my babies begin to coo through the speakers. My heart is already breaking from not being able to hold them. I stand there and listen to them for a while. It’s like they’re having a conversation with each other. I stand there against the wall and sigh. God, I want my babies…

“Ana?”

Gail’s voice interrupts my baby time. She and Keri are standing in the hallway staring at me. I clear my throat and try to pull myself together.

“You and Keri will have to do your best to stay away from me, or to have as little contact with me as possible,” I warn. “The babies and Christian will be on quarantine. They all have to stay in their rooms until this thing with Christian blows over.” Gail and Keri look at each other and back at me.

“There’s no need to put the babies on quarantine, Ana,” Gail says. “As long as Christian stays in the room, the risk of infection is minimal at best.

“But I’m not on quarantine,” I say, “and I’m going to be in contact with Christian. I’m not taking any chances with my 10-month old babies. If they were older, I’d consider this cruel and unusual and we’d find a different solution. Right now, they’re just getting started. Make the room fun for them…” I want to cry. The thought of not seeing my babies until Christian is better…

“Ana,” Gail says, rubbing my arm and sensing my angst, “why don’t you call the pediatrician? Or Dr. Grey? See what the best course of action is before you deprive yourself of seeing your babies.” I nod and quickly wipe a tear away. I don’t know how she hit that nail on the head, but she did.

“Until I talk to them, please keep my babies in the nursery,” I say, my voice cracking. Gail nods, and she and Keri walk into Nirvana to care for my two little angels.

I take out my phone and sit down at the top of the stairs. I had planned to spend the day with the twins until Christian got sick. Now, of course, those plans have changed. I open my Journey app and start journaling.

November 14, 2014

Second entry of the day. No sign of the Boogeyman but I’m feeling shitty anyway. My brilliant husband went running in the rain this morning and has caught some kind of mutant cold that has knocked him on his ass in a matter of hours. Now, I have to tend to him and his whining—which has already begun—and I can’t hold my babies. I want to sock him in the nose for being so careless and at the same time, I want to cuddle him until he feels better. I didn’t prepare myself to be away from my babies, so my heart is heavy and I’m trying not to break down into a useless ball of mush…

I keep writing until I feel a little better and before I know it, Gail and Keri are coming out of the nursery. I raise my head to get a report on how the twins are doing.

“They’re sleeping,” Gail says with a sympathetic smile. “Have you been sitting here this entire time?”

“Yes,” I reply, maudlin. “I lost track of time.” I close my Journey app and notice that two hours have passed… and not a peep from my bedroom.

“Have you talked to Mrs. Grey yet?” she asks. I shake my head.

“No, but no matter what she says, I still need to know how serious this thing is with Christian before I come into contact with the babies.”

“Anah, if Ah meh,” Keri interjects, “bebbies catch cold all de time. Deh be fine if yah wan ta hold dem. Trest meh, Ah know.” I smile at her.

“Thank you, Keri. I’ll talk to Grace and… we’ll see.” I won’t risk infecting my babies. I walk pass them to the bedroom to relieve my husband of his electronics. When I open the door, I see that there’s no need. The phone is lying uselessly next to his hand, the screen black. The computer screen is asleep from no activity for several minutes.

And my husband is snoring like a trucker. I put his phone on the nightstand. He stirs when I move his laptop from his lap.

“That wasn’t an hour,” he grumbles.

“I gave you two,” I correct him. “Lie down.” He adjusts himself so that he’s not sitting up anymore, and I tuck the covers under his neck. “You know, if you wanted sympathy, you didn’t have to catch your death of cold to get it.”

“Shut up,” he replies in utter misery. “You’re the one who slept outside—how did I catch the cold?”

“I don’t know,” I say, “but stay away from the babies.”

“I can’t even get out of bed. I doubt that I’ll be messing with the babies.”

“Good, because if they get sick, I’ll murder you.” I blow a kiss across the room to him before leaving.

*-*

“It’s positive.”

Of course, I’ve decided to work from home on Monday. I’m certain that no one will be able to handle my husband if I leave, so I’m grounded until he’s better. I didn’t get much sleep last night worrying about him and missing my twins, so even though I’m taking zinc drops, vitamin c, and loading my body with immunity boosters and Airborne to prevent catching Christian’s bug, I’m still a bit groggy and see a nap in my near future. All these preventive measures will be futile if I’m exhausted.

And now a weeping Marilyn has just dropped another bomb on me.

“The pregnancy test?” I ask. “You took it?”

She nods, barely able to respond. This is not good news, no matter how happy Gary might be.

Gary!

“Have you told Gary yet?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“I just took the test this morning,” she sobs. “I don’t know what to do!”

“Well, the first thing you need to do is see a doctor. You need to know how far along you are,” I say. I sit on the ottoman facing her and take her hands. “Breathe, Mare,” I say trying to get her to calm herself. “You’re going to hyperventilate if you don’t calm down.” She tries to breathe slowly. It helps only a little.

“It’s not the end of the world, Mare,” I say gently. “You’ve got decisions that you have to make, but I promise, the sun will still rise tomorrow.”

“This is a disaster,” she says. “We’re always careful! How did this happen?” I shrug.

“Nothing is 100%,” I tell her. “There’s always a chance no matter what you do.” She sighs and sniffles. “Do you have an OB/GYN?” I ask. She nods. “Well, you need to call them… now. You’ve stalled in taking your test. You can’t afford to stall anymore, whatever you decide.” Still sniffling, she takes out her phone and swipes the screen. I go back over to my desk to give her some privacy. When I look at my phone, there’s a text from Harmony.

**The quit deed is final. That’s one less thing to worry about. **

I breathe a sigh of relief. At least she doesn’t have to worry about her “brothers and sisters” overrunning the house or trying to put her out once Tina is gone. I had no idea how soon that theory was going to be put to the test.

The next day, Marilyn goes to the OB/GYN… and Tina passes away. Harmony calls me hysterical and I can only make out that Tina is gone.

“Shit!” Christian says, throwing the covers off himself and swinging his legs out of bed.

“Christian!” I scold, and he turns to me after he stands.

“Baby, I love you. I feel worlds better than I did two days ago, but I can’t stay in this bed anymore, especially not now.”

I examine him carefully. His color has come back, and I’ve been pumping him full of immunity boosters, fruits and vegetables, and antioxidants. He’s not wobbly or groggy and he doesn’t have a stuffy nose or fever. Without waiting for my approval, he walks around the bed and heads for his dressing room. I hope he doesn’t think I’m going to allow him to leave this house! When he comes out of the dressing room in jeans and a sweatshirt, I stand in front of him with my lips pursed and my arms folded.

I’ll put you down, Mr. Grey.

“I know that look,” he says firmly. “One of us has to go to the Franklin mansion. It can be you or it can be me, but one of us has to go!”

“I’ll go,” I reply just as firmly. “Don’t go spreading your germs all over the house. This room, your office, your den, bathrooms. I’m not certain you’re not contagious and I meant what I said about my babies.”

“Dammit, Ana,” he complains.

“I haven’t seen my babies in three days trying to keep from transferring your germs to them!” I say pointing my finger at him. I’m crabby and irritable without them and I will cut you! He stares at me for a moment.

“Fine. Office, bathroom, bedroom, den. Now, get out of here.”

*-*

“She’s as we expected she would be, ma’am,” Windsor says after he lets me in. “She hasn’t left Ms. Tina’s room.”

“Was Harmony with her when she died?” I ask, removing my coat and handing it to him. He shakes his head.

“Ms. Tina passed very peacefully in her sleep,” he says. “Harmony found her this morning.” Oh, dear God. Windsor takes me to Tina’s door and I can hear Harmony weeping inside. I open the door slowly and it’s like I’ve stepped into a time warp—large, old, beautiful pieces of vintage furniture from a time long gone… and a small woman face down strewn across a very large bed, mourning. I walk over to the bed, sit on the edge and put my hand on her back.

“I’m so sorry, Harmony,” I say to her shaking, weeping form.

“She’s gone,” she sobs. “She was the only person in my whole life who loved me… who truly loved me… and now she’s gone. What am I going to do?” she wails. I sigh.

“She’d want you to move on and live a good life,” I say. “She’d want you to find happiness and love. She’d want to look down on you and know that she did a good job raising you. I know this is an unbearable pain, and you’re going to be really sad for a while… but don’t be sad for too long.”

“That’s just what she said,” she sobs. “Did you guys get this stuff from a book?” she adds with tearful mirth.

“In my case, probably… I’m a shrink, remember?” She forces a tearful snort. “In Tina’s case, she was no stranger to loss. She lost her husband, one of her children… She knew what it meant to have to carry on. But I’m sure that you gave her as much peace and serenity as she could have in her last days, Harmony. And she made sure that you would be okay when she was gone.”

“I know what you’re trying to do,” she says, “but my momma is gone. She left me. She didn’t have a choice, but she left me. I’m all alone. There’s nobody left who loves me, and pretty soon, her wretched offspring are going to be knocking on my damn door with their hands out. Do you know those assholes have accused me of colluding with Carl to get my hands on her house? Like I fucking care about this house? My momma’s gone, for God’s sake!” She buries her face in the covers, which no doubt still carry Tina’s fragrance, and weeps bitterly. I step out into the hallway and call Christian.

“How is she?” he asks.

“It’s bad,” I tell him. “It’s really bad. How airtight is a quit claim? I’ve never done one.”

“It’s filed with the Register of Deeds. It’s final—Harmony owns that house. Why do you ask?”

“Her siblings twice removed are accusing her of colluding with the attorney to finagle the house from Tina before she died.”

“Well, unfortunately for them, even if she had done that, it’s still final. That’s how cults end up so wealthy. They get people to sign over their assets and there’s nothing that can be done once the signature is on the paper. They’re just pissed that they couldn’t get to Tina before the documents were all signed. I talked to Dad and Carl was filing the will with probate as soon as he heard time of death had been established. He had only just gotten finalized copies of the deed. Jason has more security details on the way to the mansion if they aren’t there already. Her siblings won’t be able to get within a mile of her unless she wants them to. I suggest that you have Windsor or one of the other staff screen her phone calls for a while. I know she’s a mess.”

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” I lament. “She thinks there’s no one else in the world that loves her.” I sigh. Christian falls silent. “Baby, are you there?”

“I need to tell you something,” he says, “and I’m only telling you because I think it’ll help Harmony.”

“What is it?”

“After we swept the house of all the bugs and got rid of Roger, Harmony came on to me…”

“What??” I exclaim. Why the hell didn’t he tell me this sooner? All that we’ve done for her…

“Listen to me, Butterfly, before you get upset,” he says. “She has a problem. She didn’t overtly come on to me. She just turned on the flirt a little heavily. When I assured her that it would go absolutely nowhere, she was humiliated—not because I turned her down, but because she immediately recognized what she was doing. With me, it was hero worship, but with other men, it’s the quest for the love and attention that she never got. To my knowledge, she started seeing a therapist about it last week, and she made me swear not to tell you, not only because she didn’t want to jeopardize the relationship that she was building with you, but also because she knows that she has a problem and she’s getting help for it. I agreed not to tell you on the condition that she never did that shit again, but in this case, I think you need to know because she might need our help.

The jealous wife in me is clawing angrily at the walls, but the psychiatrist in me sees exactly what’s going on. And quite frankly, with the Boogeyman having the hold on me that he has… had…? Whatever… with the Boogeyman looming, I can partially understand why he didn’t want to tell me. The truth is that I can see why she’s not a threat… and why she’s really going to need our help.

“Butterfly?” Christian says when I don’t respond.

“Rationalizing,” I admit aloud. “Bottom line, she’s in really bad shape and from what you just said, it can only get worse. She feels like she’s totally alone in this and I feel like someone needs to be here with her 24/7, but she doesn’t have any friends like that. She wasn’t able to forge any relationships, and before you suggest it, it won’t be me. I care about her… I really do and what you told me doesn’t change that, but we don’t have that kind of relationship, either.”

“I’ll talk to Mom—maybe she knows someone. Can… you talk to Harmony?”

“Of course, I can!” I snap. “I told you what you said doesn’t make a difference. It’s classic transference, and if she’s seeing someone about it, then she’s recognizing the problem. The trick is going to be making sure that she keeps seeing someone about it because now, she’s had this huge loss and she’s very likely to slip into a black hole!”

“Okay, okay, I just… with everything that happened with Westwick… and the aftermath…”

“I know, I know,” I interrupt. “That was a… somewhat different situation, but please, let’s not rehash that.” I’m waving my hand at no one to try to shoo away the memories of Liam and that entire situation.

“Well, I found out that Tina already made her final arrangements, so that’s one less thing she has to worry about,” he says, quickly changing the subject. Good tact, Mr. Grey.

“I’ll try to discuss that with her, but it may be too much for today,” I acknowledge. “I’m going to get back in here and check on her.” He’s silent again. “Is there something else you have to tell me?”

“No… no there’s nothing else,” he confirms.

“I’m not mad, Christian,” I confirm. “I wish you had told me sooner, but I understand why you didn’t.”

“I’m feeling kinda shitty,” he admits.

“Why, because you didn’t tell me?” I told you that I understand…

“That, and… I’m kind of understanding why you didn’t tell me about Westwick right away.” I sigh heavily.

“Please let’s not do this,” I beseech, rubbing my scar and begging him to drop it.

“Okay, okay, I won’t dwell on it…”

“Thank you,” I say, cutting him off before he even finishes his sentence. “I’m hanging up now. I gotta go…”

“I love you,” he says, cutting me off this time.

“I love you, too,” I say before ending the call. I go back into the room, and Harmony has clearly cried herself into exhaustion and is asleep on her mother’s bed. I leave the room and close the door.

I’ve never felt so helpless in my life. She has no one—absolutely no one to help her through this. In all the times that I’ve done grief counseling, they’ve always had some kind of support system. It’s obvious that Harmony has no one. Nothing.

“Windsor, please keep an eye on her,” I tell him as Chuck helps me on with my coat. “I’ll be back tomorrow to check on her but call me if she appears to be spiraling at all.”

“I will, Mrs. Grey,” he says as he closes the door behind us. Walking to the car, I realize that I’m going to be Harmony’s support system. I trust Christian with her and her with Christian. I would just feel better not waving that carrot in her face when she’s this vulnerable… and the jealous wife is still peaking around the corner just a bit even though the shrink is knocking her upside the head every time she tries to get the upper hand.

I can’t help it. I’m human.

I take out my phone and dial a number. I’m going to need some help with this task.

“Hey, Ana, what’s up?”

“Hey, Courtney, are you busy?

*-*

I spend some time at the Center powwowing with Courtney and coming up with a schedule where she and I will be the foundation of Harmony’s support system. She and Harmony are both studying social work, so it’s actually workable experience for them both. I don’t want to say good experience, because it’s definitely not a good experience for Harmony.

Later that afternoon, I have a short and not-so-sweet talk with Marilyn.

“A little over ten weeks, we estimate,” she says of her visit to the OB/GYN. I sigh.

“Well, at least you know for sure now,” I say.

“I knew for sure before,” she says. “I was in denial hoping that some great solution was going to fall out of the sky even though I knew better.”

“So… what does Gary say?”

“I haven’t told Gary yet,” she confesses. I’m sure that a look of pure horror “graces” my face. “I just got back from the doctor, for Christ’s sake…”

“But you took your test yesterday!” I point out. “Why haven’t you told him yet?”

“Because I need it to sink in, okay?” she nearly squeals at me, and I realize that I’m drilling the poor girl.

“Okay,” I say, skeptically, but agreeing to drop the subject. “I don’t think I’ll be in the office much this week.”

“Why not?” she asks.

“Christian caught some kind of bug this weekend, so I need to keep an eye on him and also, Tina Franklin passed away.”

“Oh, God, really?” Marilyn says, deflated. “How’s Harmony doing?”

“Not well at all,” I confirm. “She has no support system and I expect for Tina’s children who have been completely MIA to this point to descend upon her any second. I’m going to have to be her support system, and she and Courtney have built a bit of a rapport, so I’m enlisting her services as well. I’ll most likely be there for most of the week as needed. To that end, you can choose to come here or go there or even to work remotely from home if you like. It’s up to you, just let me know.”

“Sure,” she says. “Is there anything I can do?” I shrug.

“I don’t even know what I can do right now,” I admit. “I’ve never dealt with anyone who didn’t have any support system. I mean, I can draw on my own experiences when I was a kid after the Green Valley attack, but this is so much different. Just… keep your phone handy. Whenever I need some magic, I always call you, so… do the same thing you always do.” She smiles.

“Sure thing, Bosslady.”

I’m completely drained and slightly more than depressed when I get home. The day has completely sapped all my energy and almost my will to live. I’ve checked in with Windsor and Harmony has stayed in her mother’s room crying and sleeping all day. I figure I’ll let her do that for today, but tomorrow, she’s going to have to start coming out of that shell and prepare for her mother’s final arrangements—and for her great-aunts and uncles/siblings to make their appearance.

It gets dark so early and I’m so tired. Actually, I’m not tired. It’s just that nothing has happened today to give me any energy. I normally go to the kitchen to get something to eat or drink, but right now, I’m drawn to my bedroom. To check on Christian? Maybe a hot bath? I don’t know. I wander aimlessly to the stairs and after ascending half-way, I see my husband on the second-floor landing.

“You’re looking fit,” I say and touch his forehead.

“I’m fine,” he says, softly. “No fever. I even got a little cardio in today.” I frown.

“Take it easy, Christian…” I warn.

“Cardio is good to build the immune system and help sweat out some of the toxins. Trust me, I’m fine.” He leads me to my bedroom door. “Now, I want you to go and take a hot shower, put on some clean, comfortable clothes, and go. See. Your children.”

“Christian, I can’t,” I protest. “You’re probably very contagious and I don’t want to make the babies sick.”

“This is why you’re taking a hot shower to be safe,” he says. “There’s hand sanitizer everywhere and if it makes you feel better, wear a mask, but I know what kind of day you’ve had, and I know that you need to see your children. I talked to Mom and she says that as long as you don’t feel anything coming on, the twins should be fine.”

“I don’t want to take any chances,” I whine.

“And in the meantime, you’re miserable,” he points out. “I thought you were going to kill me when I got out of bed this morning, and now I know why.” He takes my hands.

“Baby, our children are going to catch colds, and flu, and chicken pox, and heaven only knows what other childhood diseases, ailments, and injuries. So, let’s not make ourselves suffer when there’s nothing to worry about. Yes, I may transmit some germs to them, so I’m going to stay out of the nursery until I know that I’m well. You’re not sick. Go shower, clean clothes, sanitize your hands, and go spend some time with your babies. Remember, if you haven’t seen them in three days, they haven’t seen you either.”

God, I’ve been so concerned about not infecting them, it hadn’t occurred to me that we all may be suffering from a bit of separation anxiety. I sigh heavily.

“Go,” he says. “Hot shower—now.”

I don’t argue anymore. I go into my bathroom and step out of my clothes. I set my shower for as hot as I can stand it and get inside, scrubbing my body down like I’m about to perform surgery. I scrub my hair, my ears, under my nails… I even gargle with antiseptic mouthwash, just in case. After I don fresh clothes from my dressing room, I sanitize my hands all the way up to my elbows, then approach the nursery door. I’m still not certain about this, but I’m going to do it anyway.

I open the door and my nannies are playing with my children. Gail sees me enter and smiles widely.

“Well, hello,” she says, and looks down at Mikey. “Look who’s here. It’s Mommy!”

Mikey garbles some intelligible babbling sound, but I can’t tell what it is, nor do I care, because when he holds his arms out to me, all is right in the world.

“How’s Mommy’s precious boy?” I say, taking my son in my arms. He puts his hands on my face and gnaws on my jaw, baby slobber now dripping down my cheek. It’s the most wonderful feeling in the world.

“Oh!” Keri says, holding a wiggling Minnie. “Leettle Mees is nawt lahking da fack dat she nawt gettin’ de attention. We gonnah hat ta rectify da situation, Mah!” I giggle at the idea that my children are already exhibiting a bit of sibling rivalry. I take Mikey with me and sit in the window seat.

“Bring her to me,” I say. Keri comes over to the window seat and sits with me to assist in wrangling my children. Minnie is crawling across the seat and pulling herself up on my shoulder while Mikey continues with the baby-slobber-kisses. Christian was right—I may have needed some baby time in the worst way, but my babies need Mommy time, too.

The children are finally asleep after about an hour of playtime and I’m headed back to the bedroom to change my baby-drool shirt when I notice that there’s ambient lighting in the room. I open the door and find candles lit on every safe surface.

“What is this?” I say to myself, since Christian is nowhere in the room. I walk in and see my favorite vintage nightshirt lying on the bed. I want to eat… I don’t want to go to bed. I’m starving.

Almost in response to my complaints, my husband comes into the bedroom with a tray of food.

“I thought I was going to have to rescue you from the children,” he says, placing the tray on the nightstand. “Don’t worry, I was prepared to use the two-way. You’re still dressed,” he says examining me. “Get comfortable, your dinner’s getting cold.” He leaves out of the room and I’m a bit stunned.

Hey, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Change clothes!

I strip naked out of my comfort wear and slide into my nightshirt. I go into my en suite and run a brush through my hair a few times, dabbing a bit of citrus essential oil behind my ears. When I get back to the bedroom, Christian has returned with a bottle of wine and two glasses.

“What’s the occasion?” I ask, turning off the light to the en suite. I notice that he has a bottle of the yummy red we found in Napa.

“Nothing special,” he says, his pupils dilating as he examines me. “Well, besides you.” He reaches out to me and leads me to the bed. I climb on and he reveals a perfectly cooked filet mignon in mushroom sauce, asparagus spears with butter and garlic and fluffy, whipped mashed potatoes. The steak is so tender, I can cut it with my fork.

“Oh, God, this is delicious,” I say, savoring the flavor of the best cut of beef I think I’ve ever tasted in my life.

“Get comfortable,” he says. “I know it’s been a shitty day. How’s Harmony holding up?”

That’s when it hits me. He’s feeling guilty about what happened with Harmony, maybe even about not telling me. There’s really no need, but I’ve discovered that when Christian kicks himself about something, he really kicks himself. Me trying to reassure him that everything is okay would only make things worse. Besides, I’m getting the benefit of his guilty conscience.

“As badly as can be expected,” I answer honestly. “She’s going to need a close eye, so I’m coming up with some solutions for that.”

“Solutions like what?” he asks, filling a glass and handing it to me.

“Well, she’s going to have to mourn, but there’s too much to handle for her to wallow too deeply in the depths of despair.” I sip the wine and close my eyes. Dear God, that’s good.

“I did tell you that Tina made all of her own arrangements, didn’t I?” he asks, filling his own glass. I nod while taking a bite of an asparagus spear.

“Yes, but the siblings, the house, notifying people…”

We discuss Harmony situation for several more minutes while I finish my dinner. Christian tells me about talking to his father and Carl and trying to get Tina’s affairs as much in order as possible without disturbing the distraught Harmony. He also talks about what’s happening in Detroit—beginning to distribute Burt and Ruby’s things among the family. He tells me that he emailed me a list of the things that hadn’t been claimed yet with instructions to look at the stuff and let me know if there’s anything that I wanted.

“You gave me enough rubies to open a jewelry store!” I exclaim. “What else could I possibly want?”

“Just take a look at the inventory,” he says. “There’s a lot of stuff—plenty to go around. Anything that the family doesn’t claim may very well rot in storage here in one of my warehouses.” I sigh.

“Well, that would be very sad,” I say, finishing my meal and savoring my wine. “Let the family decide what they want first. I’ll see what’s left.”

“You are the family, Butterfly,” he says firmly.

“Okay, duly noted, but I can guarantee that the rest of them didn’t get a priceless treasure trove of rubies.” He raises his brow.

“Good point. Look at the stuff anyway, okay?” he says, softly. I roll my eyes.

“Okay,” I cede.

“You better be glad I don’t spank you for that,” he warns.

“You’re not well. You can’t spank me,” I say.

“Mom came over and checked me out,” he retorts. “She says I should be right as rain by tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” I ask. “That’s only a couple of days. You were damn near dead on Sunday.”

“The average cold is only supposed to hang on for a few days, Butterfly,” he says. “The only reason it would hang around longer is if you don’t take care of yourself or you overdo it. You damn near chained me to the bed for two days and you shoved nearly every green, fibrous thing in my face that you could find. I thought I would sprout leaves! I got better care from you than I would have gotten had I gone to the hospital. Besides, Mom says I never held on to a cold more than three days in my whole life, even as a child, and this time is no different. I’m giving it the three days as usual, and Mom has agreed to check on me again tomorrow morning, but I’m up and Adam once she gives me the all clear—no back talk.”

I know I’d be wasting my time even if I tried, so I don’t bother. I also deduce from his description that his current doting may be partially due to the fact that I was so attentive to him and adamant about his care over the last two days.

“Did you cook?” I jest, sipping my wine.

“Not this time,” he smiles, “but in the interest of keeping my promise to you, I ate in my den and had your dinner delivered to the elevator so as not to spread my germs to the rest of the household. I did, however, spend some time in the gym after which the disinfecting squad damn near-cleaned the whole damn thing. That place is more sterile than an operating room!”

I scoff a laugh. I can only assume that Gail must have said something to the staff about my concern for the babies and everyone has gone into anti-germ mode.

“Dinner was delicious. Thank you,” I say sweetly. His “You’re welcome” and the gaze that accompanies it is full of desire and promise, but I’m still not sure about our faces being that close together. He moves closer to me and his hand travels across the skin of my calf, up my leg, behind my knee, up my inner thigh… I feel goosebumps rising on my flesh and my nipples are getting stiff under my nightshirt, which doesn’t get past my husband.

“Oh, that’s so pretty,” he croons, using his free hand to fondle a nipple outside of my nightshirt. Oh, dear God in heaven, it’s driving me crazy.

He abandons my aching nipple and takes the nearly empty wine glass from my hand. He continues to torment the sensitive skin between my thighs as he places the glass on the nightstand. He adjusts two pillows on the headboard behind me without moving his hands from my legs.

“Lie back,” he instructs me, his voice barely above a whisper. I instinctively do what he says, moving down on the bed, my body propped up only slightly.

Jesus, if he brings his face anywhere near mine, I’m definitely not going anywhere near my twins, but right now, I don’t think I care. My entire body is alight with need, fueled by the fact that this has been a fucking emotionally taxing day!

His hands move higher between my thighs and his fingers ghost over my outer lips. His mouth closes over my nightshirt and nipple, his teeth gently nipping the tender flesh. Ecstasy shoots up my spine straight to my scalp giving me a head rush. Dear God, I want this man so badly.

His finger slides inside me, circling in my inner walls while his mouth moves to the other nipple, teasing and tormenting it like he did the first.

“Ah!” I breathe as I close my eyes. I’m so hot that it’s painful. His lips move down my body outside of the nightshirt. I swear with the heat coming from his mouth, the damn thing might as well not be there, and I’m so wet that I can hear the moisture as his finger moves inside me. It’s almost embarrassing… if it wasn’t so damn hot.

“You are so fucking ready,” he groans. “I want to fuck you. I want to taste your tongue and kiss you until our mouths are both numb, but I know the recovery time is when a patient is the most contagious and you’ve been lucky enough not to catch my germs even though you’ve been the only person within 10 feet of me for the past 48 hours, so I won’t push my luck. But I will taste you. So, if you’re going to catch a cold in your pussy, so be it, but I’m about to eat you until I’ve had my fill.”

Good God, I’m about to explode.

He slides down my body and nestles himself between my legs. He has me positioned so that I can watch him while he feasts on me, and it’s driving me out of my fucking mind. Throwing one last hungry look at me, his head dips between my spread legs. He kisses my outer lips gently and runs his tongue over my hot clit before taking it into his mouth. My back arches to give him more access and his hands reach up and cup my breasts.

“Christian…” I purr sensually, thrusting my hands into his hair and losing myself in passion.

*-*

“I tried to prepare myself for it,” she says. “I knew it would be hard, but I kept telling myself to stay strong and I would be okay, but when it happened…”

I’m back at the Franklin mansion on Wednesday morning to check on Harmony. Of course, she’s not doing much better than she was yesterday—it’s too soon—but she has some business to take care of that no one else can do, decisions that have to be made. So, unfortunately, she has to get herself in gear.

The girl is completely waterlogged. I don’t know how I’m going to convince her to get it together to start taking care of her business. Not only that, but if Tina’s biological children show up and she’s looking like this, they’re going to roll over her like an 18-wheeler.

“Harmony,” I begin, trying to find my words, “I know that you want to mourn, and that’s okay, but there’s so much that has to be done.”

“My mother just died!” she snaps.

“I know,” I remind her. “Is she still at the morgue? Has the funeral home picked her up? When do you plan to have the service?” She lifts her head from her mother’s bed and gazes at me.

“Oh… yeah…” she says sadly. “I guess that does all fall on me, doesn’t it?” I nod as I rub her arm.

“Yes, dear, it does… but I’m here for you, and Courtney’s going to come and help out, too. We need to get you some food, though. I’m sure you haven’t eaten. Why don’t you go take a shower, freshen up, and we’ll come up with a game plan, okay.” She nods sadly.

“Thank you, Ana,” she says. She drags herself off the bed and goes through a door that connects the rooms. I sigh heavily. This is going to be a long and tedious process.

While Harmony is in the shower, I summon Windsor to make her something to eat then go downstairs to talk to the security team.

“Who’s in charge here?” I ask.

“Mr. Taylor, ma’am,” one of the guards says.

“Who does he have in charge when he’s not around?” I prod.

“The supervising guard on shift,” he says. “It’s different for each shift, but right now, it’s Filmore.”

“How can I get in touch with Mr. Filmore?” He holds up one finger.

“One moment, ma’am.” He puts his wrist to his mouth. “Seager to Filmore… Mrs. Grey wants to talk to you, sir. She’s in the foyer… 10-4.” He moves his hand from his face. “He’ll be here in just a moment, ma’am.”

“Thank you,” I say, going back to the dining room to wait for Filmore. We’ll need a plan of action for when Tina’s children show up. Death turns human beings into horrible monsters and from what I’ve seen, they were horrible before Tina died.

“Mrs. Grey,” I hear from the foyer behind me. “I’m Stacey Filmore,” he introduces himself as he enters the dining room.

“Yes, Mr. Filmore, everything’s fine. I’m sure you know by now that Tina Franklin has passed away. We expect to be overrun any second by her greedy children.”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m aware of that,” he says.

“We can’t very well keep them from speaking to Harmony unless she requests it, but we can keep them from picking the house dry. Is there some kind of protocol that Jason has in place for when they show up?”

“Pretty much just to keep them out of the house and to take our cues from Ms. Franklin,” he says.

“Well, we’re going to need a little more than that…”

By the time we’re done, I’m wired with my own head and earpiece to call for assistance and Harmony will be, too. There are simple signals, codewords, and separate marching orders in case of extreme emergency. Jason will be briefed on the changes made to protocol and any adjustments that he suggests to the plan of action will of course, be welcome.

Courtney shows up just after Harmony has finished her shower, and I’m pleased to know that the two girls have previously formed a bond while working together at the Center. This is a welcome surprise as Harmony is going to need all the support that she can get right now.

“You look a whole lot better,” I tell her once she has freshened herself. “You’re going to be fitted with an earpiece so that you can summon security in case of emergency… while…”

“While the vultures are near,” she finishes. I nod.

“We’re on the same page,” I say.

“I guess I’ll have to make arrangements for my own security soon,” she sighs.

“Don’t worry about that right now,” I comfort. “Baby steps. Courtney, take her to the kitchen and see if Windsor has had anything prepared for her to eat.” Courtney nods and puts her arm around Harmony’s shoulders.

“C’mon, Money,” she says, “let’s see if we can fatten you up a bit.”

“We’ve had this conversation, Court,” Harmony says.

“Eh, we’ll still try,” Courtney says, and they disappear through the foyer.

What conversation?

That’s a fire for a later time. I wonder if Christian has flown the coup yet? My clit begins to throb thinking about how he licked and sucked and fingered me to two insanely cosmic orgasms last night. Focus, Grey, focus!

I pull out my cell and dial Marilyn’s number.

“How are things?” I ask. “Any fires, floods, or hurricanes that I need to tend to?”

“No, nothing,” she says, blandly. “I’ve been going through your family tree trying to check things out, but there are no hits on anything. I hate to tell you, but I think your bio-dad’s family may have written you off when you became a Steele.” I twist my lips.

“Don’t spend too much more time on it,” I tell her. “If they want to get in touch, they now know that I’m alive. It’s not like I need any of them anyway.” This whole situation with Harmony has shown me one very important thing if nothing else. Blood does not make family. Love does.

“Will do,” she says. “I don’t really have the strength to deal with rejection.”

“How goes your other situation?” I ask. She sighs.

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” she says.

“Have you at least told Gary?” I pry.

“Yes, I told Gary,” she says, impatiently. “I mentioned terminating the pregnancy—not even that I was making that decision, just that it was one of the options—and he went ballistic!” she exclaims. “He won’t even discuss it. It’s like he’s completely taking my options away. This is my body.”

“Remember that conversation we had about how many people this decision would affect?” I remind her. “Ultimately, you’re right. It’s your body and it’s your decision, but I’m sorry to tell you that you’re not going to come out of this unscathed.

“Obviously,” she says. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I respect that,” I tell her, “but you do need to make a decision…”

“Ana, I’m only going to say this once, so I need you to hear me,” she says. “I know the clock is ticking and that I have to make a decision soon so that I can make whatever preparations that need to be made. However, I reserve the right not to talk about this and talk about this and talk about this. All concerned and respected parties will be notified once I make my decision, okay?” I twist my lips.

“You won’t hear another word about it from me,” I vow.


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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 60—Warfare

A while back, I posted on Facebook that I had written a scene that I never thought I could or would write. The scene from chapter 15 of Fifty Shades Golden is that scene. There are a lot of reasons why I thought I couldn’t write that scene, but it came out pretty good under the circumstances.

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

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

Chapter 60—Warfare

CHRISTIAN

For you! I do it all for you! Everything I do, I do for you! You’ve made me crazy!

I’m grinding deep in hard into my wife. We’ve been at it for hours, but no matter how long I’ve been fucking her, my dick can’t seem to get enough.

I need to go deeper, harder, I want to feel the burn in my balls.

“Christian,” she breathes, “please…”

She’s holding on to the part of the headboard that she can reach, and I roll my hips hard and deep and thrust into her again… and again… and again…

I can’t seem to find my satisfaction.

I can’t believe what happened today. I can’t believe I let it happen. I wanted to protect my wife… and myself… but if I’m honest, more my wife than myself. I couldn’t risk something getting back to her that would throw her into a dark place. I was a kinky, cold asshole back then, and one day, I know that’s going to be revealed to the world, but not today… God, not today.

I felt completely powerless when I got home. I went straight to the gym and ran on the treadmill until I felt like my legs were going to explode. I did sit-ups, push-ups, bench presses, curls, everything—and nothing seem to tame me. I knew that I needed her. I needed to be inside her to forget what happened today.

After I showered as much of the day and the sweat off me that I could, she came into the bedroom and I just attacked. I couldn’t get her clothes off fast enough and I was glad that I was already naked…

And we’ve been fucking ever since.

Her hair is now as wet as mine, though mine was wet from the shower and hers is soaked with sweat. I was holding her hips at first and watching her body push violently up the bed with each stroke, but it seems like my dick wasn’t getting deep enough. So now I have one hand on the headboard and the other holding her leg up and open while I push my cock into her so hard that the bed is shaking. Her tits are bouncing up and down and her nipples are shiny, either from sweat or from milk. Either way, it’s urging me on. I’m wild while I’m chasing this orgasm, and she’s already had two… or three… I’ve lost count.

“Christian… Christian…” she pants, and I continue to drive into her. I’m mindlessly fucking, my dick is in control, driving deeper and deeper into that canal that brings me this pleasure. Her voice is soft, weak, surrendering, and her vulnerability makes me thrust even deeper.

“Christian!” she cries, and when I raise my head to look at her face. She throws her head back and yells out her third—or fourth—orgasm, this time a few tears come with it.

I pause for a moment at the sight. It’s so fucking beautiful. She’s so fucking beautiful. And as she trembles through her climax I push into her a few more times and finally explode powerfully deep inside her. My muscles tighten and my body trembles painfully as my dick thumps inside her pussy. God… It’s insane.

My body is stiff with pleasure while she mewls in exhaustion, and when my orgasm finally releases me, I fall exhausted on top of her, panting wildly.

It only takes a moment for me to catch my breath and realize that we’re not done yet. I roll her over on top of me still inside of her, my cock still thumping and ready.

“Christian… please…” she weeps.

“Ssssshhh,” I comfort her as I stroke gently up and into her. I lay her head on my chest, close my eyes, and wrap my arms around her so that each hand is grasping the opposite butt cheek as I slowly stroke inside her. Her gentle weeping gradually becomes rhythmic breathing and I grind myself slowly and gently inside of her, allowing my cock to rub her clit with every stroke. Her hands are on my shoulders and she squeezes them gently each time I thrust into her.

That’s it, baby, feel it. Feel that cock getting hard and stiff for you. Feel how hot I am for you… only you.

“God,” I groan as my balls start to tighten. She digs her nails into my shoulder and mewls in pleasure and I feel her legs falling slightly open.

“Fuck!” I growl at the pain and I’m trying not to lose my stroke. I grip her ass tighter and push her harder down onto my cock.

“Fuck!” I say again as the heat in her core envelops me and threatens to unman me in seconds. I move one of my hands from her ass to the back of her neck and bring her face to face with me so that I can gaze into her blue eyes, thick with passion and teetering on the edge. She whimpers with each stroke as my angry, veiny, dick pushes deep inside of her core, withdraws, and pushes again, ringing indescribable pleasure from us both.

“Oh, God, baby,” I groan as the heat and the friction are almost becoming too much for me to bear. I can’t help but to stroke faster, deeper, harder, holding her against me. The headboard is banging behind me again as I fasten my hand behind her nape pulling her down deliciously onto my anxious, heated shaft. My face is close to hers, almost forehead to forehead, and I’m breathing like a bear.

I see surrender in her eyes as her pupils dilate and turn that unmistakable shade of blue. Dear God, I’m going to blow inside her any second.

“Give it to me,” I growl, rolling my hips so that my dick hits all her walls while the shaft burns her pebbling clit. I move my mouth to her ear and move my hand to the very top of her ass crack holding her hard against me.

“Come on, give it up. You know that pretty little pussy wants to pop,” I breathe sensuously in her ear. She tries to move but I’ve got her locked, top and bottom.

Her body stiffens, her muscles lock, and she groans deep in her chest as her orgasm rips through her. Merciful God in heaven! She’s got that pussy locked so hard on my dick that I can barely move. I close my eyes and manage to pull out to the head and allow it to edge inside of her pulsing pussy. Good God, the pleasure is blinding, and I haven’t even come yet.

“Shit! Shit!” I whisper almost inaudibly as she violently flexes and contracts as she continues to ride out a massive climax. I hold her against me and push in and pull out only slightly, continuing to edge inside this violently vibrating pussy. Before I have the chance to prepare for it, my cock is springing and gushing hard. I push in a little deeper to get a little more stimulation through orgasm, and I feel like my head is going to pop off… Both of them!

“Uuuuuggghhh! Oh, Gooooood!” I groan mournfully as my dick painfully empties all that it has to offer. I’m still edging inside of her and I can feel my cum sliding out of her and down my dick to my balls. It’s the hottest, sexiest thing ever.

“Oh, fuck,” I mourn as I attempt to stay still and ride out an orgasm hours in the making. The first one was just practice. This was the Megatron!

My wife is silently trembling on top of me, drenched in sweat and exhausted when my dick finally gives up the fight. I have to catch my breath before I can think or move or anything. With my cock now flaccid and still wrapped inside of her, I wrap us both in the blankets, wrap my arms around her, and finally fall asleep.

Morning comes quickly—too quickly—and I know that I owe my wife an explanation. I slide quietly out of bed and go to her bathroom. I start a bath and fill it with her Desert Bambu Lemongrass Citrus bath soap. She hasn’t used it in a while and I’ve always loved the way it smells. It reminds me of simpler times.

I go back to the bedroom and sit on the bed next to her sleeping form. Her hair is a stringy, matted mess and she is shamelessly drooling on her pillow.

“Butterfly,” I rouse her gently and she doesn’t move.

“Mmmm,” she groans. “Please, my pussy aches.” I stifle a laugh.

“I…” I begin. “Come get in the bath.”

She moans again, then turns over to face me. She gazes at me sleepily for a moment before her gaze becomes questioning.

I know.

“Bath first,” I tell her, “then talk.”

She doesn’t protest, so I pull the covers back, pick her up bridal style and carry her to her en suite.

The tub is nearly full and the space smells heavily of lemongrass citrus. She takes a deep breath and fills her lungs, closing her eyes and no doubt, savoring the scent.

The lemongrass was the right choice. I lower her into the bubbles and retrieve the shampoo and a comb and brush.

“Too hot?” I ask. She adjusts herself in the tub after grimacing.

“Sore pussy,” she says, looking up at me. I won’t live this down anytime soon.

I climb in the water and kneel over her. Using her freshwater sponge, I gently scrub every inch of her, after which I massage key points of her body that I know would be aching the most—her shoulders, her back, her legs, and I throw in a foot massage for good measure. When she’s totally relaxed, I take to the task of tackling her hair.

And what a task it is!

I thought she cut it a while back. It’s still at least three feet long! At least it seems that long.

I don’t let on that I think the task is a bit daunting. I get out of the tub so that I can maneuver around her more easily and lather her hair with a generous amount of soap. I work the sweat-tangled portions through my fingers first. Then, using the comb, I start at the ends and work my way up, combing through the kinks and laying her mahogany mane down on her back. When I’ve worked all the kinks out, I rinse it with fresh water and add a generous amount of her conditioner.

“You soak for a moment,” I tell her. “I’ll be back.”

I look at the clock on the nightstand and see that it’s nearly noon. Any plans that either of us had of going into the office are a wash now. I slip on a pair of sweats and step out of the bedroom into the hallway.

“Activate two-way communications.” The system comes alive. “Locate Gail Taylor.”

“I’m right behind you.”

I nearly jump out of my skin.

“What are you doing creeping around like that?” I snap.

“Ssshh!” she scolds. What the…? “Jumpy much?” she hisses quietly. “End two-way communications.” When the system disconnects, she turns her attention back to me. “I just put Mikey back to bed. Now, what can I do for you?” I frown.

“Is he okay?” I ask. She raises a brow to me.

“He’s a baby,” she says matter-of-factly. “Babies sleep.”

“Well, where’s Minnie?” I ask.

“Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Keri has her,” she informs me. “Sometimes, babies don’t sleep.” I roll my eyes at her.

“What’s quick to eat?” I ask her.

“I’ll put something together,” she says as she heads for the stairs.

“Tell Jason to call the office and tell them I won’t be in today.”

“I’m sure they figured as much, but I’ll tell him,” she says as she descends the stairs. I go back to our bedroom and retrieve one of my wife’s vintage night shirts. She can get dressed later if she wants, but I want her in this right now. When I get back to the en suite, she has fallen asleep in the tub.

Geez, I really wore her out last night. If I’m honest, I could use a little more rest myself.

Using more fresh water, I rinse the lemongrass conditioner from her hair. It smells divine. She wakes as I’m squeezing the last of the water from her hair. I retrieve a bath blanket and extend my hand to her. She stands and takes my outstretched hand, ascends the stairs in the tub and walks into the open bath blanket. I dry her skin and hair before sitting her in front of her vanity. I painstakingly dry her hair, combing it through so that it doesn’t tangle again before braiding it into a long braid down her back. I slip on her night shirt and let the water out of the tub before taking her hand and leading her to the sitting room.

Gail has prepared a pastry tray with a few cheeses, some coffee and orange juice and a note to summons her if we wanted more. This would do me just fine. Butterfly takes a seat on the loveseat and I roll the tray over to her.

“We fucked through dinner,” I say, handing her a croissant from the pastry tray.

“That we did,” she says, taking a bite from it. She’s not rushing me to say anything. I pour her a glass of orange juice from the carafe before sitting on the ottoman across from her.

“One of my ex-submissives contacted me yesterday…” I begin. She stops chewing. “If you stop eating, I stop talking.”

“So, it begins,” she says as she begins to chew again.

“Natasha Gaines,” I continued. “Our contract ended when I discovered that she wasn’t a natural brunette.” Her brow furrows.

“Hmm,” she says.

“What?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I don’t know, it seems a little harsh, I guess,” she says taking another bite of the croissant.

“Yeah, she agrees with you,” I say sarcastically, pouring myself a cup of coffee. She raises her brow at me and I sigh. “I put her through a very… grueling orgasm-denial session the night that I found out that she lied, and then I dismissed her without letting her come.”

“How long ago was this?” she asks.

Years,” I tell her, “years before I even met you.”

“So, if she came back after all this time, she was pretty bitter…”

“You could say that,” I say. “She came back for what I owed her.” Butterfly frowns again.

“She wanted you to fuck her?” she asks.

“No, but she did want me to make her come.”

“What?” Butterfly hisses angrily.

“I didn’t touch her, Anastasia,” I excuse quickly.

“Well, what exactly happened?” she says, placing her half-eaten croissant back on the tray.

“You’re not eating…”

“Fuck this food! What happened?” she barks, and I know I had better spit it out fast.

“She threatened me with a flash drive,” I begin. “I didn’t know what was on it. She told me if I didn’t meet her, she would release it to the press. She kept taunting me with how you would feel if you saw what was on it. I couldn’t take that chance.”

“So, basically, once again, somebody used me to get to you,” she says angrily. I sigh.

“Yes. She did,” I confess.

“And what happened next, Christian?” she says impatiently.

“She told me that she was at the club—my club downtown, a public place—and that she wanted me to meet her there. So, I did.”

She doesn’t say anything. She just waits for me to continue my tale. I just fucking spit it out.

“She popped a couple of Ben-Wa balls into her twat and she wanted me to sext with her, Ana, right there at the goddamn table so she could cum while we were doing it.”

“And did you do it?”

“Not willingly,” I mumble.

“And what the fuck does that mean, Christian?” she barks. “Did you sext with the bitch or didn’t you?”

“As far as she’s concerned, I did!” I bark back. “She wanted me to recount that night, so I did. She pissed me off to no end and I let her know in no uncertain terms what a horrible fucking sub she was. I called her names and berated her, told her that she was conniving and deceitful. I disparaged her in every way imaginable, and you know what? That fucking cunt came—right there at the goddamn table like she was possessed! I was sitting as far away from her as possible and several other diners looked at her like she had lost her mind. And then the trick thanked me, gave me the flash drive, and left. She says it was her final step of becoming a Domme.” My wife folds her arms.

“And that’s all that happened.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Isn’t that e-fucking-nough?” I snap. “Here I am thinking I’m giving her what for and I’m giving the bitch exactly what she wanted. She wanted the asshole. She wanted to come in my presence because I didn’t let her come all those years ago and I gave her exactly what she wanted! And there was nothing on the fucking drive! Nothing but her taunting me because she used my arrogance against me. Fucking cunt!”

I’m getting angry again and my wife is sitting there glaring at me with her arms folded. What? She doesn’t believe me?

“So, in essence, I got Natasha’s punishment fuck.” I’m too ashamed to respond. “Did you see her while you were fucking me?”

“Good God, no!” I exclaim. Fuck no! “If anything, quite the opposite. I was definitely trying not to have that bitch taking up any of my mind space whatsoever.” She rolls her eyes at me.

“I don’t know how to feel about this,” she admits. “I’m definitely not thrilled in any way, shape, or form of having any other woman be the reason why you come home and fuck my brains out, but at least it was me and not somebody else.” I run my hands through my hair in frustration.

“So, we’ve had our first test and we failed,” she says, standing from the loveseat and pacing around the room. “Why did we do this whole ‘we ain’t hidin’ come get us’ exposé if we’re going to buckle when someone comes for us? There was no one being held at gunpoint; no bomb threats; no death threats. Just some desperate bitch who wanted to prove that you didn’t have a hold on her anymore—which is a crock of bullshit, because she sure wouldn’t have come across the country if that were true.”

Damn, I didn’t even think about that.

“Did you enjoy it?” she asks frankly. I scoff.

“About as much as a Dominant would enjoy fucking a submissive he never wanted to touch in the first place!” I growl, remembering the sickening feeling I got watching that cunt come at the table. My wife falls silent.

“You were psychologically raped, Christian,” my wife says softly. “You were forced to perform a sexual act that you didn’t want to perform under duress.”

What the hell? What kind of psychological mumbo-jumbo is this?

“I’m not a victim!” I hiss.

“But you were used, and that’s what’s pissing you off!” she accuses. “That’s what made you come back home and exert control over me in the only way that you could—and that’s okay. That’s one of the terms of our relationship that we set from the very beginning… but did it work? Do you feel in control?”

I ponder her words. I think about what that bitch took from me at that table in the club. She took more than an orgasm and she knows it. She knew exactly what she was doing to me. She was stripping me of my power. She had to in order to move on from that last night with me. She’s sitting knowing this is happening right now. She knew exactly what she was doing… exactly what she was doing…

“No,” I confess, almost inaudibly. “No… it didn’t work. I don’t feel control.”

“No, you don’t,” she confirms, returning to her perch on the loveseat, “and you could fuck me all night and all day and you still wouldn’t feel it. You won’t get it from me. You won’t get it from this.” I raise my eyes to her.

“What am I supposed to do?” I ask her. She sighs.

“You have to do what she did,” she says. “She took what she needed, and it had to come from you because of what you withheld from her all those years ago. Now, she’s robbed you of something, too… and it wasn’t an orgasm. It was something else. Either you have to get it back or you have to let it go. You need to figure out which.”

Jesus. Psychologically raped… Christian fucking Grey. Don’t that beat all?

“In light of this new revelation, would it bother you terribly if I discussed this with my shrink instead of…” I trail off. The idea of discussing any kind of rape with my wife… She smiles softly, leans over and kisses me on the forehead.

“Of course, not,” she says, sweetly.

*-*

“How do you always manage to make time for me on such short notice?” I say to Dr. Baker as I take a seat on her sofa.

“I always leave a slot or two open for emergency sessions,” she says after closing her office door. “You’re not my only patient, Christian, and emergencies arise all the time.”

“Yeah,” I lament.

“So, what’s your emergency today?” she asks. “You sounded a bit anxious on the phone.”

“My wife seems to think that I’ve been psychologically raped,” I say flatly. She raises a brow at me.

“And what do you think?” she asks.

“I’d like your opinion on it,” I reply. “It’s not an easy topic to discuss with your wife, even though she’s a mental health professional.”

“And how does she feel about that,” Dr. Baker asks, “I mean about you wanting to talk to me and not her?”

“She’s fine with it,” I say. “You’re my shrink, and she knows that.” Dr. Baker twists her lips.

“How open-minded of her,” she says, but for some reason I don’t hear reverence in that statement. Nonetheless…

“Tell me what happened to bring Dr. Grey to this conclusion,” she says as she settles back in her chair.

I recount the story of Natasha and how she finagled me into doing what she wanted and the subsequent fuck-fest with my wife last night, as well as the conversation we had before I found myself here in Dr. Baker’s office. She listens attentively, occasionally taking notes on her notepad, before turning her attention back to me.

“Psychologically raped,” she says as if testing the phrase, “I’m not sure I agree with that diagnosis, but I think I know what she’s getting at.” I sigh. She’s taking little shots at my wife—tiny, almost indecipherable shots…

Almost.

“Dr. Baker, it’s obvious that you and my wife will never see eye-to-eye,” I begin. “I don’t know if your techniques are vastly different or you come from different schools of thought, but right now, I’m having a problem with a situation that needs to be solved. What my wife said sounds like it makes a lot of sense. Spend less time disparaging her opinion and more time trying to help me figure out what’s going on with me here. Is that okay with you?”

“I assure you, Christian, that I wasn’t disparaging your wife’s opinion,” she says. “I was just saying that I don’t necessarily agree with it.”

“Well then, what is your professional opinion, doctor?” I seethe. I’m starting to get a little pissed off. Noting my agitation, either she decides to change tact, or she realizes that she’s being unprofessional.

“Are you the same man that you were before, Christian?” she asks. “That’s who Natasha needed, and she manipulated you until she thought she got that man… or maybe she did get that man. But whatever she got, she got from him. Does he want it back? Does he want that life… what she stole?

“Don’t answer for me, or even for Ana. Don’t think about what anybody wants to hear. Think about yourself. Think about how you feel and what you want. You left your wife and family, you went to Madrid and you didn’t look back. You turned into that guy again even though you didn’t have sex with any women. The only thing that even made you blink was the thought of your wife dying. Her suffering didn’t mean anything to you, but the thought of her dying and being totally taken away from you—that tipped the scales. So, who is Christian Grey today, and what does he want?

“She stole a power from you that you had over women—over her—at that time. You don’t have that power over women anymore, not even over Ana, and you know it. So… what? Do you want it back? What do you want?”

I honestly have to think about the question, not because I’m indecisive, but because I really need to examine the answer. Instead of thinking of Natasha, my mind goes to my wife.

My beautiful wife, the very reason for my existence.

What I did to my wife—deserting her without a word and flying halfway across the world where she had no hope of finding me—after all the promises we made, was sadistic. It was selfish, beyond egotistical, beyond narcissistic. It was the worst thing I ever could have done to her second only maybe to cheating on her. I rocked her to her very soul—on purpose. Now, when I watch her trying to recoil from it, it makes me ill. All I want to do is take it back, make it all go away, but I can’t. One of the biggest reasons I can’t make it better is because I didn’t do it.

That old Christian Grey did it.

And he did it with no remorse. Nobody I know in the world can hurt and destroy a person like that guy can, and I set that guy loose on my wife. Yes, I was hurt and confused, and I felt betrayed, but that was no reason to unleash that asshole on my wife the way that I did. I think Natasha knew that I wasn’t that guy anymore, and her ultimate victory was in bringing him back… and defeating him.

“Hell, no,” I say definitely. “Hell, no, I don’t want that guy back. I don’t want anything to do with that guy.”

“This isn’t the last sub that’s going to try you. What are you going to do?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I tell her. “I’ll talk to my wife, but that guy is gone…”

“Hello, Mr. Grey!” The doorman says. “It’s been a long time. It’s good to see you.”

“Thank you, yes, it has…” Been a long time. And that’s why I have no idea what your name is anymore. Jason and I walk to the elevator and I press the call button. When the doors open, I enter my express code and it takes me straight to the penthouse.

I barely recognize the place when I get there. I remember picking out everything in this apartment. It looks exactly how I wanted it to look. Now, it looks like a cave… Somewhere that someone would hide when they wanted to get away from the world. It’s dank and dark and there’s no warmth in here… no family, no love…

It’s all still furnished exactly like it was before. Nothing but our personal belongings went to the new house. I ascend the stairs and go right to the playroom.

It’s still a beautiful room. Luscious deep, red color, high-end furnishings, my Chesterfield sofa & chair, my Baroque bed. I look up at the ceiling at the carabiners and the chains hanging there, my St Andrew’s cross…

This is where I often found my solace, my peace. But every time I left this room, the same monsters were still waiting for me on the other side of the door.

Many women found themselves in this room; other women lost themselves in this room. Some of them even lost their minds.

I take one of the canes from the wall and swing it into the air. It makes a satisfying swish sound, and I imagine it falling onto the back of one of my prior submissives. The moment I see it make contact with her skin in my mind’s eye, I drop it.

Like scenes from a horror movie, the faces of different subs in this room flash before my eyes. The faces of the same subs as they were being dismissed also flash before my eyes. That man, that monster, that asshole…

Not that man anymore.

I back out of the room as if I may be snatch backed in by some unknown specter if I turn my back on the implements. I quickly descend the same stairs I ascended moments ago and note Jason standing at the breakfast bar.

“Let’s go,” I say quickly rushing to the door … to my freedom…

“Christian,” the heavy Greek voice greets me over the phone. “Good to hear from you again. You need something new?”

“No, Artemis,” I say into the phone. “In fact, I have another favor to ask of you.”

“Anything, Christian,” he says, “you are one of my best customers.”

“Thank you,” I say. “How soon can you dismantle the playroom at Escala?”

*-*

I feel like I’ve been through a prize fight when I walk into the house. I’ve got yet another monster to battle.

Myself.

Nobody can help me this time—not Dr. Baker, not my wife, nobody. I have to fight this battle all on my own.

I go in search of my wife and find her in her office. I can tell that she’s taking care of business because she has that take-no-prisoners tone to her voice.

“Yes, we’ll have you get started next Monday. You can start getting the lay of the land, so to speak. We’ve never had maintenance full-time, just the odd handyman repair here and there. So, we’ll be expecting you to educate us about a few things about the facility as well as keep things running smoothly. Any assistants as well as the cleaning staff will be reporting directly to you.”

It sounds like she’s found her new head of maintenance. I wish she would have let me send someone over from GEH to check things out before she hired a stranger.

“I hope so, too, Mr. Collier,” she says. “I look for excellence in my employees no matter their station, and I have no problem letting someone go who can’t toe the line. I trust you won’t let me down.”

Hmm, stranger or not, she seems to have this under control. I come around the opening and into the door, causing her to raise her head at me.

“I’ll have to go now, Mr. Collier. Something’s just come up. I’ll see you on Monday…? Good. Have a good weekend.” She ends the call and gazes at me.

“New maintenance staff?” I ask, sitting in the chair in front of her desk.

“Head of maintenance,” she says. “We’ll see how he works out, then build a staff around him.” I nod. The silence between us is deafening, so I break it.

“Whenever I’ve thrown down the gauntlet, I’ve never had to worry about anybody but myself. Nobody counted but me, nobody mattered but me… I didn’t have to worry about anybody’s feelings because no one else’s feelings mattered. It was so easy to be cold and aloof and obtuse because, hell, I was the king and everyone else were peasants.

“Even when I met you,” I say, raising my gaze to her eyes, “you were just someone else to bend to my will and when you didn’t, it pissed me the fuck off. There’s not a woman alive who could resist me, who could defy me… until there was.” I drop my head to my hands.

“All those women,” I say, thinking back on the sea of brunettes that have trailed through my life. “They meant nothing to me. They could have all been blow-up dolls for all I cared as long as they had brown hair. I felt nothing—nothing at all for any of them and to think, they all revered me. Some of them lost their fucking minds. Some of them lost their lives and of the ones that are left, some of them are still out to get me, and I’m only just now understanding why.”

“Christian,” my wife pushes her chair away from the desk and stands up, “you were a real asshole. I know that from experience. I met the guy. This is what I don’t understand.” She walks around her desk and comes around to where I’m sitting.

“I’d like to know what it is about these submissives that they think they’re on some other level, or some pedestal, or they’re playing by some different set of rules where they’re not supposed to get hurt,” she says.

“Unconventional? Yes. Taboo? Of course, but it’s a relationship nonetheless! So the fuck what, there’s a goddamn contract? There’s a contract involved in marriage and people get divorced all the time. People get hurt all the time in relationships. It’s part of life. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. But for some reason, your submissives act like they’re some kind of extraterrestrial beings that aren’t supposed to be crossed, or dumped, or hurt. Where did I miss the memo that these women are not supposed to feel like the rest of us do?

“I gave my heart to an asshole, and guess what happened? I got hurt. That shit happens in real life. What the fuck is wrong with these women that they can’t just walk away from a fallen relationship and move on with their lives? Why are we constantly under some kind of microscope or living in some kind of bubble because one of these nutjobs may be waiting around the corner for us with a gun or a car or a flash drive?

“We did this exposé, and now we need to let these creatures know that we meant what we said in that exposé. If there are other lovesick, forlorn submissives out there that want to come at us, let them come! But don’t you ever put yourself in a position where you’re stuck and cannot get out like you did with Natasha. If they want to blackmail you and back you into a corner, then they need to deal with both of us because that shit is not going to happen again!”

Okay, my wife is pissed. Release the Tiger!

“So, what do we do if somebody shows up and say they have this kind of information again?” I ask. “I mean this kind of thing can be damaging to our whole family. What if they have something like that on me and threaten to go public?”

“Call her bluff,” she tells me. “Let her go public.”

“What about our kids?” I ask. “Something like this could destroy any chance they have at a normal life.”

“What’s normal?” she asks. “Was your childhood normal? Was mine? We live in a castle and we can’t go out alone. What. Is. Normal? We’ll fucking make our own goddamn normal, but the whole idea of doing that exposé was to tell people that we weren’t going to be afraid anymore. You had to know some vermin were going to crawl from under the rocks. Let the fuckers crawl! You’re a powerful billionaire and a respected businessman. Nobody can ruin you. They can make it uncomfortable, but that’s it. What that woman did—holding your psyche hostage—you can’t let that happen again. We can live anywhere in the world we want, do anything we want, but we’ll find our fucking normal. As a matter of fact, call that bitch.”

“What bitch?” I ask. “Natasha?”

“Yes,” she hisses. Oh, hell.

“Baby, I have nothing to say to that woman…”

“But I do,” she snaps. “She used me to get you to do what she wanted, and I am fucking sick of this shit. I am going to be heard! Now you can call her, or I will!”

“You can call her. I’m not doing it.”

“Then give me the goddamn number.” He pulls out his phone.

“Call her Myshka. She hates that shit…”


ANASTASIA

The days of the delicate fucking flower are gone. I opened this door and a motherfucker walked in. If this is the Boogeyman, so be it. Let’s dance, asshole… show me what you got!

“Hello, Natasha,” I say when she answers the phone.

“Who is this?” she asks after a short pause.

“Seattle area code. Can’t you guess?”

“I’d much rather you tell me,” she says cockily.

“Gladly,” I oblige. “This is Anastasia Grey.” The line is momentarily silent.

“And what can I do for you, Mrs. Grey?” she says, and I can tell that she’s smiling on the other line.

“You can stay the fuck away from my family, including my husband,” I reply. I can hear her laugh.

“He must have told you about our little meeting,” I can hear her smiling. “He still has great skills.”

“Nice try, Myshka, but I know everything.” I can taste the animosity oozing through the phone when I say that name. He’s right… she clearly hates that shit.

“I got what I wanted from him,” she says. “He made me come right there in his restaurant. That’s all I needed. Now you figure out how it happened.”

“How it happened?” I laugh loudly. “Sweetheart, should I be upset with the fact you’re so fascinated with the mere thought of my man that you nutted on a seat in a public place in his presence? Are you really proud of that? He had you chained to the ceiling, cuffed to a cross, or tied to the bed and wouldn’t let you come, and you found closure in creaming on a bench like a dog in heat? You could have saved yourself the plane fare and did that over the phone.”

“Oh, no, that would never do,” she taunts. “Then I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of seeing his beautiful face… being reminded of how those hands feel on me… and that mouth…” Oh, this is good. This is really good.

“Oh my God, that is so amateur!” I laugh. “Try again, you desperate cunt. He tells me fucking everything, you little bitch, and I would have to be out of my rabbit-ass mind to believe anything that you have to say about that meeting except that he sat there looking at you and you came on the seat like a common slut. Congratulations. Consider this.

“Years ago… years ago…” I stress the years so that she can see just how ridiculous this is, “… he called you to his penthouse at which time, he used and humiliated you, then turned you away and threw you out of his mind. Years later, you lure him to his club with blackmail where he proceeds to degrade you again, and you cream all over yourself like a teenager. Then, you and your wet, stinky panties—assuming you were wearing any—walk out of the club all satisfied and fulfilled, and you call that closure? It seems to me that all this proved is that you’re still his puppet!”

“I am not under his control!” she hisses. Ooo, I’ve hit a nerve.

“If you say so, but the fact that you flew all the way across the country just to sit in his presence and nut contradicts your claims,” I say sweetly. “Like I said, stay the fuck away from my husband and don’t even consider letting the Grey name escape your lips after this conversation or I’ll make you regret the fucking day that you were born.” It’s her turn to laugh.

“What makes you think that if I wasn’t afraid of him that I’m going to be afraid of you?” she asks incredulously.

“Because you haven’t met my kind of crazy,” I say a little too calmly. “I’ve been through a hell that would make your brown hair stand up by its blonde roots—or whatever color it is today—and if you think for one second that I’m going to stand by and allow you to jeopardize my peace and happiness, you got another fucking think coming. Try me… I’ll make you wish you never met Christian Grey.”

“Oh, this is good,” she taunts. “Master has a little Fireball on his hands. You’ll give him a good run for his money.”

“You shouldn’t worry about the run for his money that he’s going to get, you should be more concerned about yours.” I seethe. “Don’t think that I can’t find out every little thing there is to know about you, crawl into every little aspect of your pathetic little life and make every bit of it a living fucking hell and have a great time while I’m doing it.”

“You’re sounding more and more like him,” she says, a bit of her confidence slipping.

“That’s the difference, Ms. Gaines. I ain’t him. He’s accustomed to his power. So, he can control it. I’m just getting a taste of it, so I’m drunk with it… Absolutely fucking insane from it. And I can’t wait to unleash it and just get all this frustration out about stupid little ex-submissives who seem to think they have power over our existence. He hurt your wittle feewings and you couldn’t get over it. Instead of being a woman and moving on with your life, you fly clean across the country and decide you want to disturb the peace.”

“Seems like I did a pretty good job, too. I got what I wanted from him and now you’re calling me,” she says haughtily. “You sound so high-and-mighty, but if it didn’t bother you, why are you calling me?” she continues to taunt.

“Oh, no,” I chuckle. “You didn’t bother me, you worthless little sow. You pissed me the fuck off. That’s why we’re having this conversation—but the more I talk to you, the more pissed I get. The more I feel the need to do something about this. I don’t give a fuck that you nutted on a leather seat in public. What I do give a fuck about is that you exploited my husband and you got off while you were doing it. Yeah, you won that round—good for you, but now I’m feeling the need to step into the ring. Maybe your conniving little ass needs to know what another woman’s touch can do.”

“That’s big talk for a bitch who doesn’t know what I’m even capable of,” she hisses. And now she’s pissed, too. Good, I broke that little façade of hers.

“Oh, where does that confidence come from, your Domme training?” I tease. “Make you feel all big and strong, does it?” She’s silent for a moment. “What are you gonna do… whip me?” I taunt. “You’re right,” I concede, “I don’t know what you’re capable of. And that’s why you should be very afraid, because I don’t fucking care.”

“Afraid of what?” she snaps. “For all you know I could have you begging for your fucking life.”

“Oh, please, Mistress, I beg you… try it!” I hiss. “Go ahead, be my guest. Do your worst! I guarantee that I can top it exponentially. If you need to be my first public example to the world that I mean fucking business, then so be it. Give it your best shot, Natasha, and I’ll make damn sure that I hit everything you hold dear. I don’t even have to see you coming to cut you down at the knees and have you groveling for mercy. If you think Master had you whimpering, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I’ll rip your heart out and eat it in the Marketplace. So, come and get me, subby… you know where to find me.”

The line is silent for a long time and I finally realize that she has nothing else to say. What could she say? What exactly is the comeback for someone who says that they’ll physically rip your heart out of your body?

She was ready for Christian because she knows who he is, but she doesn’t know me. She just thought she did. I put my phone on speaker for my last message.

“Say goodbye, Christian,” I say loud enough for her to hear and wait for Christian to speak.

“Goodbye Natasha,” he says and nothing else. I hold the line long enough to hear her gasp before I disconnect the call.

Neither of us says anything for what feels like several minutes. He’s the first to break the silence.

“I don’t think you know what you’ve done,” he says.

“I know exactly what I did, Christian,” I say. “I’m a psychiatrist. That power that she took from you, I just took it back. She and bitches like her need to know that they’re not going to weasel their way into our lives and expect us to bend. They want a fight, they’ll get one. As far as I’m concerned, this is a test, and I plan on passing with flying colors.

“She can make a move if she wants to, and if she’s brave enough to make it, I’m brave enough to take her down. I know from experience that you may never get closure from something that someone did to you. My advice is that if you ever come for closure like she came for you, just make sure you really are the biggest dog in the yard. She came at you like a pit bull and came face to face with the rottweiler standing behind you.

“I’m all for getting closure if someone has wronged you, and what you did to her was more than a little harsh, but she came at you threatening your reputation—to expose some horrible thing to the world and your family—all because you hurt her little feelings! Who does that? This isn’t her confronting the bully who taunted her and tortured her in high school! She signed up for this! She knew what she signed up for and she knew what you wanted. She knows the rules! I’m not even that deep in the lifestyle and I know the rules!

“If a counterfeit would have sufficed, you could have hired a prostitute and put her in a wig! But you had detailed specifications and she didn’t meet them. She may have wanted to be what you wanted, but the fact of the matter was that she wasn’t. So, she wanted you to be all gentle when you called her out for breaking the rules when she knew better than that.

“She needed closure from her little humiliation all those years ago, and she got it too… But it was short-lived. Because your wife just came in and showed her just who she really isn’t when she finally thought she was somebody. Now let her come at me. I’ll rip her apart and feed her to the rats.

“So, now, all the vermin are going to crawl out of the woodwork because of that exposé. We didn’t scare anybody, we taunted them. Well, let them come! I’m tired of sitting back waiting for Armageddon! If it’s coming, bring it on. I’ve got some hell that I need to unleash.”

“But Butterfly,” he protests, “you made it look like you were already coming for her.”

“Who says I’m not?” I seethe. His head snaps back and he’s silent for several moments. I’m pacing around the room, full of anger and aggression and no way to tame it.

“I want you to tie me up and fuck me like there’s no tomorrow,” I say. He raises a brow at me.

“That won’t be a problem,” he says. “That was fucking hot… and you’re topping from the bottom.”

“No,” I correct him, my voice firm, “I’m topping from the top.” I want you to fuck me until your dick doesn’t work anymore and if you don’t tie me down, I might hurt you. He glares at me and I glare right back.

“Yes… Mistress,” he says after a pause.

*-*

I awake the next morning with some pretty brutal bruising on my wrists from trying to get out of the binds my husband put me in. He did the classic four-corner bondage and fucked me until I was insane… again, and I fought to get out of my bounds. I didn’t know until this morning just how hard I fought. It’ll be long pants and exaggerated cuffs for a while for me.

BW...precioso detalle

For some reason, I feel like my husband and I have traded places. He’s all introspective about the man he used to be and I woke up with two things on my mind…

Destroying Natasha Gaines and fucking.

No, I didn’t jump his bones again—we were both too tired from last night… but I can still fuck.

“Butterfly!” Christian seems surprised to see me this morning. He examines my attire, paying special attention to the exaggerated cuffs of my blouse. “I… thought you would sleep in today.” I chuckle softly.

“No, Tarzan,” I jest. “I’m fully able to walk.” I hear the toaster and correctly assume that Ms. Solomon is preparing my jam and cream cheese bagel. I turn to look in that direction and Ms. Solomon is concentrating on that bagel like it’s the most interesting thing she’s ever seen.

“Well, yes, but…” He trails off.

“But, what?” I ask.

“But… nothing. I just thought you may have wanted to stay home.” He looks towards my sleeve again before sipping his coffee and turning his attention back to his phone, and I deduce that he probably doesn’t want anyone to see my wrists. I chuckle and pour my own cup of coffee.

“There’s nothing to fear, Mr. Grey,” I say, “I’m thoroughly garbed,” I add softly. He raises a brow to me.

“So, I see,” he says, “almost too garbed.”

“I can put on a mini skirt and a tank top if you like,” I jest, raising my own brow.

“No, that won’t be necessary,” he backpedals, placing his phone on the breakfast bar. “You usually stay home for the first part of the day and go to the Center for the afternoon. Why the change today?”

“It’s Friday,” I reply. “I’m going in this morning, so I can see Ace this afternoon.” He nods, and I take a healthy bite of the cream cheese and jam bagel. “Oh, God, that’s good,” I say with my mouth full.

“Since you seem to be enjoying yourself so much, I won’t harass you too much about not having a real breakfast.”

“This is a real breakfast, Christian,” I quip. “A continental breakfast.” I take another bite of the delicious bagel. “Mm.”

“If you say so,” he says finishing his coffee.  “Is everything okay with Garrett?” I glare at him. What does he know about the Garrett situation? He wasn’t here.

“No, they’re not telling me your every move,” he clarifies, trying to read my expression. “A guard was kicked off the premises yesterday, and my head of security thought I should know. Is that okay with you, Dr. Grey?”

“Don’t be a smart ass,” I tell him. “I had every reason to believe someone was reporting on me and you know it.” He doesn’t respond. “And Gary is fine. By the way, when will I be getting my butler back? I miss him.”

“He’s only been gone a week, baby,” Christian scolds.

“And I still miss him,” I point out. “Admit it. You miss him, too.”

“I’ll admit no such thing,” he says indignantly.

“But you’re not denying it, so I know what that means.” He shakes his head. “Oh! I never told you. Harmony’s ex signed the papers.” He raises his gaze to me.

“He did? When?” he asks.

“I think it was Tuesday,” I tell him. “I told you he would be signing those papers by Tuesday,” I say triumphantly before finishing my bagel.

“That you did,” he says. “Now if we could just find something on him and Roger for what they were doing to Harmony and Tina…”

I thought you said you had footage,” I point out.

“We thought we did,” he counters. “It turns out that this was just a bunch of cheap recording equipment and no evidence. Wherever that stuff went, it was temporary storage and it’s most likely destroyed by now.”

“Well, that fucking sucks… nonetheless, Harmony was happy as a lark to be rid of him. Now, it’s just for Carrick to go and file the documents with the court, if he hasn’t already.”

“Well, good riddance!” Christian says. “Asshole.” He stands and kisses me on the cheek. “I’ve got word that the cars are supposed to be in town today. They’re dropping the Fairlane and the Coup at Dad’s before they head to California with the T-Bird. I promised Uncle Herman I would help him sort out the situation of the items in the storage units, so I’ll actually be working from Dad’s today. I plan on stopping by Tina’s, too. Any sweet nothings you want me to whisper to your butler while I’m there?” He raises an eyebrow at me.

“Don’t tease me, Christian,” I scold.

“You were the one who said you missed him,” he defends.

“Fuck you,” I retort.

“Don’t worry, you will,” he says shamelessly. “Jason,” he beckons without breaking his gaze from mine. Jason appears from I don’t know where and falls in step behind his boss, who turns away confidently and strides cockily out of the kitchen.

“Cocky sonofabitch,” I mumble before finishing my coffee. I know I can’t summon Chuck the way His Highness just summoned Jason, which only irks me even more about his over-confidence.

Who am I fooling? He’s not over-confident. He has just enough confidence for his station. Asshole.

“Activate two-way communications.” The system comes alive. “Locate Charles Davenport.”

“Davenport,” his disembodied voice says.

“Any day now, Davenport,” I respond, already headed to the garage.

“On my way…”

I’m still a little irritated when I get to Helping Hands. There’s no word on Ebony Carson’s background check. We got information on Harmony’s no-good husband in less than a day. Less than a week later, he was signing those divorce papers…

“Now, I have one girl with a common name, no criminal history that we know of, and maybe a gangland boyfriend in prison and we can’t find anything concrete on her. What’s the deal?” I fuss on the phone at Alex.

“Sometimes, it’s harder to find something on people that are clean than it is on people who are dirty,” Alex replies. “Take your stepmother, for instance. I think she had a traffic ticket or something, so we had something to go on, but had she been squeaky clean, we might still be looking for a definite background check on her. Even you—you had that fiasco in Green Valley that caused you to change names when you were 15… 15! Do you know how hard it is to find something on a minor? But you had something, so we had information on you in about two weeks.”

“Well maybe that’s it,” I defend. “Maybe she’s just squeaky clean.”

“Nobody’s squeaky clean,” he says. “In fact, if you find nothing on someone, you should keep digging. They’re probably more dangerous that someone with an open criminal background.” I sigh heavily.

“Are you saying that I should just let this goldmine go?” I ask defeated. “Someone who could need our help and could also be a great asset to Helping Hands at the same time, I should let her slip through my fingers because we can’t find anything on her?”

“I can’t tell you what to do,” he replies. “I can only say that I tend to err on the side of caution due to my experience. You have to make your own decision. And for the record, I never said that I can’t find anything. I said I’m not finding anything concrete. Like you said, ‘Ebony’ is a common name and so is ‘Carson.’ So, I might find one thing on Ebony Carson that doesn’t match up with something else on Ebony Carson and I have to decipher if this is a mistake or if this is two different people. Her social security number even goes to two different people with two different names, but I’ve seen these kinds of mistakes before, too. None of the Ebonys that I’ve found have any known affiliations with anybody in prison, but again, that doesn’t mean anything either. There’s a lot of information to comb through and then not enough information at the same time. Like I said, I can’t tell you what to do, but if you’re going to make your decision based on a background check, you’re going to have to wait a little longer until I can nail down something more concrete.”

I can’t afford to sidestep when it comes to the Center. There’s too much at stake, but Ebony is just so perfect for us. She’s just what we need, and she can do so much more than the glorified babysitting position that she applied for. I don’t doubt that she’s been turned down for many other positions for this same reason—that two and two just don’t equal four and she’s too afraid to be any more forthcoming with information for fear that her past may physically catch up with her one day. Nonetheless…

“Just… keep me posted on what you find,” I cede. “Look very hard, Alex, because if you don’t find anything solidly adverse on this girl, I’m going to hire her. She could have just been living in the shadows and that’s why we can’t find anything, but at the same time,I don’t want to take any chances.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I end the call and drop my head on my desk in frustration. It’s obvious that Ebony has a history—some kind of story—but don’t we all? I just don’t want her story to somehow come back and bite the Center in the ass. I also don’t want to let the opportunity to acquire a great asset slip through my fingers. This could be her chance to turn her life around and excel—conquer or overcome whatever ghosts are chasing her or holding her back. Good grief, this is a tough decision.

“Bosslady?” Marilyn’s voice brings me out of my musings.

“Yeah?” I say, raising my head from my desk.

“You alright?” she asks.

“Yeah, just pondering a conundrum,” I say, rubbing my forehead.

“What are you doing here?” she asks. Huh?

“Um, I work here?” I declare, the statement sounding more like a question. At that moment, Grace sticks her head into the doorway and glares at me like an exotic animal.

“Oh, Ana! Hi,” she says in surprise while stepping into the room. I raise my brow.

“Hi,” I say, and it almost sounds like a question, too. “Is… something wrong?” She and Marilyn look at each other,

“No… nothing’s wrong. I’m just… surprised to see you here today.” I frown.

“Why wouldn’t I be here today?” I ask, and why is everybody surprised that I’m here?

“Well, because of what today is,” she says. Today is Friday. What am I missing?

“You’ve lost me,” I say, awaiting the punchline. She and Marilyn look at each other again and now, I’m getting irritated.

“Will someone please tell me what I’m supposed to know that I obviously don’t?” I ask impatiently.

“Ana,” Grace begins, “today is the one-year anniversary of your accident.”


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

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 56—Back In The Saddle

This is my five-year anniversary on WordPress. That means that five years ago today, I decided to take my readers and get the hell off FanFiction and leave all their haterade behind. I lost a few readers since then, but I’ve gained more. Thank you all for hanging on for this wild ride with me.

There most likely will not be a chapter next week as I’m splitting my time between preparing to publish and updating, and I have to work next Saturday. We’ll have to play those working weekends by ear.

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

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

Chapter 56—Back In The Saddle

CHRISTIAN

“It came this morning,” Alex says, placing a bottle of 1964 Glinlivet Winchester single malt scotch on my desk. I’m just getting into the office on Friday morning and this is what greets me.

“It’s been scanned, and the bottle has been chemical-tested and tamper-inspected. It’s clean and intact.”

“Who’s it from?” I ask. He twists his lips.

“You should probably read the note. It’s been tested, too.” He hands me the note and I’m remiss to take it. He lays it out on my desk so that I can read it.

Mr. Grey,

I am not a man of apologies and I hope you can understand and respect that. I will concede, however, that my employee ghastly misspoke when he met with you earlier this week. You and I want the same thing—to rid ourselves of a certain pebble in our respective shoes. To that end, we are not rivals with nor subordinates to one another in any way.

What my employee was intended to relay is that it would be appreciated if my organization knew when you plan to visit the area. As you know, this problem has escaped solution to date on more than one occasion. As such, an unexpected visit may tend to flush out certain attempts at contact and possibly make an agreeable solution to our shared problem more viable. The notification is only a means to a mutual end, nothing more.

Please accept the enclosed token as a gesture of goodwill along with the sworn promise that, no matter what the prior implications, no harm will come to you or your family at the hands of my organization. You have my word. 

Russo

“Get the fuck outta here,” I say out loud. “So, how good is the word of a gangster?” I say, looking up at Alex. He shrugs.

“I don’t know, but I will say this. Aragon is his gopher—his messenger boy. Maybe a bit more than that, but I think you get the idea. He’s not going to make a move without his boss’ approval and when he left here, he was pissed. If Sunset had given him the go to take you out, he would have come back here and done it himself. I’ll also tell you this. With his organization and ability, he can’t afford attention. He’s got enough of that already. A hit on Christian Grey, billionaire and international businessman?” He whistles. “That’s way more attention that he wants. What’s more?” He picks up the bottle of liquor partially wrapped in high-end paper that previously came in a high-end box, “he’s certainly not going to try to wipe you out with a $25,000 bottle of single malt scotch made 50 years ago, sent with a letter with his signature on it, which can most likely be traced by its purchase. Take it how you want but, in my experience, he definitely means this as a peace offering.” I look at the bottle in Alex’s hand.

“Well, I ain’t drinkin’ it,” I say, looking at the note on my desk again.

“What should I do with it?” he asks. I really don’t know.

“Put it in the safe with the note,” I tell him. “Seal them both in plastic. I don’t know what else to do with it right now.” He nods and takes the bottle and the note with him before leaving my office. I mean really—what are you supposed to do with a $25,000 bottle of whiskey and an apology note from a gangster? What’s the protocol here? I’m not fucking versed on Mafia Etiquette 101.

I suddenly feel the need to watch Goodfellas or The Godfather or Casino or something.

“You got a love note from a gangster?” Jason says walking into my office.

“It appears that way,” I reply. Jason shakes his head.

“You pretty much tell his consigliere to fuck off and get lost and in response, he sends you a prized bottle of whiskey and a letter he personally signed.” He whistles.

“Should that mean something to me?” I ask.

“Yeah, it means that we should keep security tight,” he responds, “not crazy, but tight.” He takes a seat. “You were never in any danger of Sunset. I knew that. His messenger boy, I wasn’t so sure… until now. The way that he spoke to you on Tuesday, he didn’t have any fear of you, but he was upset that you didn’t have any reverence for him. That hothead could’ve taken you down in a minute. That was my concern. Now, Sunset is guaranteeing your safety. You’re not now, nor were you ever, in any danger from his organization. But make no mistake—you’re still in danger.”

“Why?” I ask. “From whom?”

“You’re bait, Boss. That’s what you’ve always been. You took down that asshole’s son. Russo is hoping that he comes for revenge himself. And when he does—when he rises from his hiding place—that’s when they plan to get him. But he knows that Myrick isn’t coming anywhere near you if you’re 50 guards deep. So, he wants you to do what you’ve been doing all along in the hopes of luring Myrick in. You’re in no more danger than you were before, but you are still in the same danger.”

“That’s why I want to find this fucker,” I tell him. “I need this to be over in the worst way. I need this man and everybody associated with him out of my life and I swear to God, the minute I see him coming, I’m going to put one right between his eyes.” Jason examines me.

“I believe you will.”

“Believe it!” I confirm. “He’s a dead man if he comes anywhere near me or my family, so he had better shoot first. Keep security as it is and find that asshole. You military geniuses come up with some way to smoke this bitch out. I’ve had enough of this shit. I don’t care what laws we break just find his ass!”

I knock something off my desk in my anger and begin to count. Jason has left the office by the time I’ve calmed down enough to get my day started.

*-*

I’ve wrapped up a meeting with my M&A team and decide to head down to the cafeteria for a late lunch. I order a grilled chicken sandwich and an endive salad and cranberry juice. When my food is ready, I plan to head back up to my office, but I spot Marlow toiling over some papers.

“What’s got you so perplexed?” I ask as I approach the table and put my tray down.

“The future,” he laments. I frown as I take a seat.

“Care to elaborate?” I say as I take a welcome bite of my chicken sandwich. He shrugs and sighs.

“Truth?” he says. “I’ve finally started getting some kind of social life, but this is my last year of high school, and I really have to start planning what I’m going to be doing. I really wanted to go away to college, but I want to stay close to GEH…”

“GEH can follow you wherever you go,” I tell him after I swallow my food. “We’re worldwide remember?”

“It’s not the same. You know that,” he says. “You’re my mentor. I’ve learned a lot from you and there’s more that I have to learn. I can’t get that hands-on experience that I want and need if I’m at school in Georgia or New England or upstate New York somewhere, but I must admit. Having GEH on your resume makes you look really good to the ivy league schools.”

At least he’s thinking big.

“But I’m finally making some friends… people that don’t look at me funny or treat me funny or try to meet you.” He rolls his eyes. “People who don’t think I’m not black enough… or too black. Girlfriends…”

“Girlfriends?” I ask. “Plural?” He shrugs.

“Nobody steady, just people I see. That’s why it’s plural. I haven’t settled in on anybody being a girlfriend and they know that. I’m no Tiger Woods, don’t get me wrong, but I have a few.”

“I hope you’re using protection,” I say, tucking in to my endive salad. Marlow twists his lips.

“Have we met?” he asks. “Do you really need to ask that question?” I didn’t, but nonetheless…

“Then there’s Mom and Maggie. I’m the man of the house and I’m just not comfortable leaving them alone yet…”

“Scratch that off your list,” I say. “You told me that your mom was seeing someone, and you can’t stay home and be the man of the house for the rest of your life. You’re going to have to be the man of your own home one day. Besides, your mom still has security details since that crazy ex-husband of hers isn’t dead yet.” I take another bite of my sandwich.

“That’s easier said than done,” he says. “Mags is still so young…”

“Stop making excuses,” I interrupt, my mouth full. “Choose the college that’s best for you. Remember this, though,” I swallow my food. “Washington has some good local colleges if you just want to stay in the state. You’ve got U-Dub, Washington State, the directional colleges, Seattle Pacific…” He nods.

“Yeah… I really think that’s what I want to do, for a lot of reasons. I’ll have plenty of time to travel. Now’s just not the time for me.” I raise a brow at him.

“Don’t get too attached,” I tell him. “You’re young, and life is going to take you in a lot of different directions. Working for me is going to take you in a lot of different directions. Your roots aren’t set yet—you have no idea where you want to go. Don’t cling to one thing too much until it’s time… and it ain’t time yet.”

I finish my lunch and talk to Marlow a bit longer about his plans. He knows that he has an ongoing internship here with me, and I’m priming him to do big things in GEH someday, but he’s going to have to decide exactly what he wants to do with his future. He may decide that he doesn’t want to work for me, and that’s fine—as long as he’s successful and doesn’t take any of my trade secrets to other companies.

I’m just getting back to the office when Andrea informs me that Smalls is on line two. I had completely forgotten about Pops’ storage bins until this moment as I was totally preoccupied with getting Windsor over to Aunt Tina’s, making sure that the covert watches were on Kenneth Carter and Roger Servant—yes, I discover that is really his last name—and pondering the “make-up” gift sent to me by one “solar” gangster in the Detroit area. I point to my office, indicating that I’ll take it at my desk.

“What do you have for me, Smalls?” I ask.

“We’ve identified the cars and gotten them all started. I’ve taken better pictures of them and sent them to your uncle at his request. He says that he wants to do a little research on them before sending the deets to you and his brothers. We were able to catalogue the items that were in the storage units with the cars and we’re working on the other two. We’re trying to put the cars in units by themselves, but it may require securing another unit for the extra items that were stored with the cars.”

“Talk to Herman about that,” I advise. “See if that’s something that can be done. How soon before we get the rest of the items catalogued? This is going on much longer than I expected.”

“End of the day, maybe,” he says. “It may go into Monday, unless you want us to work on Saturday.”

“I had no intention of you being here this long as it is. Wrap this up as soon as possible and let us know what’s in those units so my father and brothers can dispose of it how they want.” Money isn’t an issue, but it’s beginning to cost me more than this trip is worth for that crew to be there cataloguing items that should have been done in a couple of days. Now, he’s saying they may be there over the weekend.

“Yes, sir,” he says, noting my agitation. “I’ll get it done.”

“Thank you,” I reply before abruptly ending the call. This shouldn’t be taking this long. One storage bin, then two, then riddles, then four, then cars that won’t start, then six. Now, we have to work through the weekend. Geez, this is ridiculous. Do I have to fly back to that hellhole and get this done myself?

*-*

I’m at my dad’s house looking over his shoulder at his computer monitor. Uncle Stanley asked that we all be together when he called with details about the cars, so I came straight here after work. Williams brought me out to the Manor while Jason went back to the Crossing to have the past due conversation with my wife that he and I had discussed last week. I wanted to go home with him, but he assured me that my presence wouldn’t really help the situation right now and told me to go to my father’s but come home immediately after. He thinks that Butterfly will understand. I’m not so sure based on the report that she’s currently decimating a heavy bag and has been for a couple of hours now. However, remembering a black eye from my first encounter with that delicate little flower and a heavy bag, I take Jason’s advice and go to my father’s.

“He’s being dramatic,” Dad says about Uncle Stan as we wait for his email. “Just send the damn email and let’s get this going.”

“You know Stan,” Uncle Herman says, “Not many opportunities for the spotlight. He’s going to take advantage of this one…”

The brothers continue to rib their youngest sibling when Uncle Herman’s phone rings.

“Stan, come on, man. We don’t have all night,” Uncle Herman answers. Simultaneously, Dad’s email shows an incoming message. He opens it and they begin to examine the contents as Uncle Herman puts Uncle Stan on speaker. Dad opens the email and clicks on the attachment. It’s a PowerPoint presentation.

“PowerPoint, Stan?” Uncle Herman scolds. “This is what took you so damn long?”

“Trust me, brother, you’ll see that it’s worth it,” Uncle Stan says. They start the presentation and pictures of the first car begin to scroll over the screen. The first one is the Mustang—1969 Mach Fastback, cherry red with a white stripe with black leather interior.

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“God,” Uncle Herman says, “that’s even prettier than I thought it would be.”

Picture after picture scrolls over the screen of this classic automobile, completely refurbished. The stats for the Mustang appear on the screen once 16 or so pictures from every angle stop scrolling—4-speed transmission, 4-barrel carb, clean like it was brand new—even the engine. Current value, $28,500.

“Shit,” Dad says. “And there’s four of them?”

“I take it you guys just saw the Mustang,” Uncle Stan says.

“You take it correctly,” I reply.

“Well, sit back, gentlemen. There’s three more.

“Excellent presentation, Uncle Stan,” I say, knowing that his brothers are a bit too dumbfounded to speak.

“Thank you, nephew,” Uncle Stan replies. “I’m glad somebody appreciates my work.”

“Shit!” Dad exclaims. “It can’t be!”

We look back at the screen to see what has Dad all a-flutter. A black cherry classic comes across the screen and I can’t tell you anything about it except that it’s really old.

“Is that a Coup?” Dad says in awe while pointing at the car on the screen. “That’s not a Coup, is it? Is that a five-window Coup?” Uncle Herman looks at the screen and examines the vehicle.

“We have to wait until the end and see,” Uncle Herman says.

“Yeah, Rick, that’s a Coup,” Uncle Stan confirms. Dad puts his hand over is mouth. About nine pictures of this classic vehicle with shiny chrome accessories and black leather scroll across the screen and my dad doesn’t even blink.

1932 Ford Five-Window Coup,” Uncle Herman reads when the pictures are done. “Yeah, that’s what it is.” Automatic transmission in the floorboard, 350-crate engine with a dual carb 671 blower and estimated 600 horsepower. Current value, $78,000.

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“Shit,” Dad hisses and he’s silent for several moments. “That’s the first model car me and Dad ever put together.”

“Really?” Uncle Herman says in awe. “Then it’s yours. Any objections, Stan?”

“None here,” Uncle Stan replies.

Dad looks over at Uncle Herman and simply covers his mouth again. His eyes are glassy, and he’s struck dumb for a moment.

“Thank you,” he whispers when he finds his words. “Thank you so much.”

“I’m certain Dad would have wanted you to have it,” Uncle Herman says. “It’s too much of a coincidence.”

Dad just nods, hiding his face from me and Uncle Herman. It’s no doubt that he’s crying.

“Give us just a minute, Stan,” Uncle Herman says, reaching over to the computer and pausing the PowerPoint. It takes a little more than a moment for Dad to pull it together, but he does, and I can tell that he’s still fighting with his emotions.

“You’re a pussy, Rick,” Stan teases, trying to lighten the mood when Dad stops crying.

“Fuck off, Stan,” Dad jibes back, reaching for the mouse and clicking to continue the slideshow. Next, we see a blue and white, square convertible straight out of American Graffiti.

“What is that?” Uncle Herman asks. “’57 Chevy?”

“Chevy, Herm? Seriously?” Dad chastises. “Dad’s rolling over in his grave.” Uncle Herman raises his brow. I know he wants to comment that Pops isn’t in a grave—I can see it all over his face—but he gets the idea. Technically, he is, he’s just been cremated before he was interred.

“Blasphemy, Herm, it’s a Fairlane!” Uncle Stan chides.

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“A Fairlane?” Uncle Herman laughs. “Do you know I actually thought those cars were jokes?” he adds.

“You’re kidding, right?” Uncle Stan says mirthlessly.

“No. You remember the movie The Adventures of Ford Fairlane? I thought that was just the guy’s name. I didn’t think the car was real.”

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“And you call yourself a Ford man,” Uncle Stan retorts. “Dad really is rolling over in his grave now.”

“Okay, it’s a car, Stan. It’s not the solution to world peace or the cure for cancer. Lighten up…”

As my uncles argue the attributes of the Ford Fairlane, I continue to watch the slideshow until the specs sheet pops up. It’s not as cherry as the other cars, but it’s in amazingly good condition. It’s a colonial white 1959 Ford Fairlane/Galaxy 500 Skyliner with a retractable hard top, original police interceptor 352ci V8 engine with 300 horsepower, and a 3-speed automatic transmission. It has blue tuck and roll seats and comes complete with a white leather steering wheel; red, white, and blue aluminum hub caps, and wide whitewall tires. Current value, $39,000.

Uncle Herman finally cedes the argument to Uncle Stan, informing him that he wasn’t bad-mouthing the car. He just didn’t know that it was a real car. As it turns out, Uncle Herman likes this car more than the other two cars he’s already seen. He says it reminds him of making out in the back seat at the park.

TMI, Uncle Herman.

“Now, that’s pretty,” Dad says. Our attention is drawn back to the computer screen and the final car.

“That’s a T-Bird,” Dad says. “I’d know that car anywhere. That was my first car.” Uncle Herman looks at Dad.

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“Do you think Dad meant for you to have this one?” he asks. Dad twists his lips.

“I don’t think so,” he says. “Look at that car. That’s a kid’s car. Besides, I prefer the Coup.” I look at the pictures of the truly pimped-out Thunderbird scrolling across the screen.

“What makes you think that’s a kid’s car?” I ask Dad, curious.

“I’m not saying a 16-year-old kid, but a responsible twenty-something. Look at it,” Dad says, pointing to the screen. “It’s probably in better condition than when it first rolled off the showroom floor—black exterior so black, it looks like it has six clear-coats on it. Purple lighting kit—purple, gentlemen! White leather interior with purple piping. This car would scream overcompensation for anybody over 40 years old.”

“I have to agree with Dad,” I interject. “I’m a young billionaire, and that would scream overcompensation for me, and not in the penile sense that I’m sure my father means it.

The gentlemen all laugh as we continue to observe the 21 pictures that Uncle Stan compiled of the Thunderbird. Pops must have really liked purple—purple suspension, purple-accented engine, purple trim, and when Dad said purple light kit, I don’t think he knew the light kit is inside and outside the car. To me, this car would scream overcompensation at any age.

“It’s a beautiful car…” Dad says, trailing off, his voice having that but tone to it.

“Yeah,” Uncle Herman says, his voice carrying the same tone.

The specs sheet is way too much to read on this one, but skimming through it, I catch that it’s a 1964 Thunderbird convertible retractable with a 5.0 coyote 430 horsepower upgradeable engine and a 6R80 transmission. There are too many upgrades in this car to even mention and Dad’s right—it most likely looks much better than it did when it rolled off the showroom floor. It’s a classic car, but it’s been completely modernized without losing its classic appeal. Current value, $95,000.

“Hmm…” Uncle Herman says and trails off.

“What is it?” Dad says, examining my uncle’s expression.

“Four cars,” Uncle Herman says. “Four sons.” Uncle Stan makes a disbelieving “pst” sound in the phone. Nobody says anything for several seconds as Uncle Herman drops his head in contemplation.

“I’m not giving him one of those cars,” Uncle Herman says finally. The other brothers know who he’s talking about and they both remain silent as Herman raises his head. “Call me a terrible person, but I’m not giving him a car. That may have been Dad’s original intention, but I don’t think he’d want me to do that now.”

“What do you plan to do, keep the extra car?” Uncle Stan asks. Uncle Herman shakes his head.

“What am I going to do with two classic cars?” He scratches his beard in contemplation.

“Sell it?” Dad suggests.

“No way in hell I’m selling Dad’s car.” He continues contemplation. “If Freeman were to pick one of those cars, which one do you think he would pick?”

“He’d want that T-Bird, hands down,” Dad says. “The other cars are nice in their own right, but that T-Bird—he’d physically fight us to get that car.” Herman nods.

“Then the T-Bird goes to Burtie,” he says. “Any objections?”

“Yeah, Burtie,” Dad says in that “Eureka!” kind of way. “Freeman’s going to piss tar. That’s gonna eat him up! Yeah, no objections here.”

“You got my vote,” Stan says, “but can I keep the Mustang?”

The brothers laugh.

Dad, Uncle Stan, and Uncle Herman wrap up the call and I make a mental note to call Lanie and talk to her about Burt getting Pops’ T-Bird. Once I’ve sent myself reminders to arrange the shipment of the three cars to their respective locations—two to Seattle and one to California—I notice that my father has disappeared. I wander the house looking for him a bit, then find him outside in the backyard on the infamous advice bench. I exit the French doors and begin walking over to him. Even in the dark, I can tell that he’s crying—weeping in fact, as his body is shaking pretty violently.

“Dad?” I say, concerned as I approach cautiously.

“I miss him,” Dad chokes. “I miss him so much. I never thought anything could hurt this badly. God, it hurts so much.” His body shakes with sobs as he mourns.

I sit down next to my father. I don’t know what to say to comfort him because although I’ve filled my time with so many other crises and issues to the degree that I haven’t thought much about Pops, I miss him, too—especially in quiet time. I wipe a tear that has escaped from my eye and sit next to my father.

“I know, Dad,” I say, trying to steady my voice. I hate to see my father cry. His breakdowns have been huge—deep, heart-wrenching weeping and mournful sobbing fits. I saw him cry once before like this—at my breakfast bar at Escala when the full realization of what the pedophile had done to me finally sunk in and he hadn’t done anything to prevent it, not that he could have. He was broken just like he is now; just like he is anytime he has to handle something that deals with Pops. I can imagine that this is how I would be if something happened to him.

I put my arms around his shoulders and try to comfort him. It has the opposite effect. He crumbles into a ball and nearly falls off the bench, his sobs more woeful than before. He’s utterly grief-stricken and I have to catch him before he hits the ground. I sit there, holding and crying with my father on a chilly fall night, as he weeps the cries of the truly broken.

*-*

I’m exhausted when I get back to the Crossing. I don’t know how Butterfly deals with everyone’s emotions all the time like this. Just dealing with Dad has completely wiped me out. Then again, I can imagine that my wife doesn’t fall into crying fits when she deals with people either.

I can tell the house has just shut down. The sink is still damp—Ms. Solomon’s last wipe-down before bed. I wonder how Windsor is doing at Tina’s. I must say that his absence was felt when I came in the door tonight.

I go to the kitchen and retrieve a cranberry-apple juice from the refrigerator. Brandy has been my go-to drink on hard nights and I think I need to lay off for a while. I take several large swallows of the refreshing drink before walking into the dark family room and falling onto the sofa like a sack of potatoes. I’m so tired. Crying is exhausting.

I fire off an email to Lanie with a picture of the Thunderbird, telling her to show it to Burtie and ask if he wants it. She’ll see it in the morning.

I’m just laying my head back on the sofa when the lights come on. I look around the room to find Butterfly in her recliner with the remote to the lights in her hand. Why in the hell is she sitting here in the dark?

“I couldn’t sleep,” she says as if in answer to my question. “You’re late.” She stands from her chair and walks over to me, her face falling as she approaches. “And your eyes are swollen. You’ve been crying! Why have you been crying?” She stands protectively over me, and I simply evade the question.

“I’ve convinced my father to get grief counseling,” I say, “He hasn’t really dealt with Pops’ death completely and it’s becoming too much for him to handle.” She frowns, but quickly recovers.

“I imagine so,” she says. “With Grace’s breakdown so soon after Burt’s funeral, he hasn’t had time to grieve the loss or recoil from it. That has to be pretty rough on him… and you.”

I raise my gaze to her and the light hurts my eyes, so I deflect my gaze and she sits next to me. The truth is… I’m just tired. I’m tired of being the know-all businessman. I’m tired of being the problem-solver. I’m tired of being the rescuer, the righter of wrongs, the “make-it-all-better” guy. I’m tired in so many ways that I can’t even explain how many ways that I’m tired. I’m the fix-it man, the “find-the-bad-guy” man, the “chase-away-the-Boogey” man—and when my Dad started crying, all I could do was cry with him. I feel the pain of loss like he does… but not. I miss Pops… a lot, but my dad is still alive. The great Christian Grey can’t pull out his trusty Amex Black and fix this one. I’m just tired. Some days, this fucking superman cape is hard to wear, and today, I’m just tired.


ANASTASIA

How do you deal with your own crises when everyone else’s crises seem so prevalent? Marilyn, Harmony, Christian, the world… is this innate in my nature or a result of being a shrink? I came home in speechless tears yesterday, wailing on a heavy bag until every part of my body ached, and finally accepted the fact that I’m suffering from PTSD brought on by the shock and pain of Christian’s disappearing act but most likely aggravated by all the bad things that have happened to me—who wouldn’t have PTSD after living with Carla and all the subsequent bad shit that has happened to me? After a long soak in a very hot jacuzzi tub, I go to the family room to wait for my MIA husband and to ponder my situation and course of action in darkness and silence. When he gets home, he looks like shit, and he’s been crying.

Who can ignore that?

Suddenly, my problems which had been consuming all my thoughts seconds before didn’t seem so prevalent anymore. Get him undressed, get him to bed, massage his scalp until he falls asleep. We’ll tackle whatever this is in the morning. It’s too late to deal with it now… though his fingers were tapping madly on his screen in the dark and I’d like to know what that was about. Nonetheless, not two minutes after the scalp massage begins, he’s fast asleep—hard—on my stomach. I fall asleep shortly thereafter.

He’s snoring hard when I climb out of bed and come to check on the children. Keri and Gail are preparing them for their morning bath, and I decide that today is probably another good day to spend with the twins. Jason let the contractor in to get started on the shelves and painting of my office, and I almost instinctively call Marilyn to discuss… whatever, until I remember that she’s off until Monday on a mission to check her attitude. I’ve decided that if she ever gets her shit together, I’ll put her on the task of finding out who’s real and who’s fraud on my family tree. If she doesn’t, well, who the fuck knows what’s going to happen.

I forgot to tell Christian that the contractor was coming to do my office today. It’s just a matter of revamping the shelves behind my desk and doing a little paint. Maybe he’ll be finished before too long. In the meantime, I go to the kitchen and prepare breakfast for us—pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs, buttery and cheesy grits, coffee, juice, and toast. I load it onto the food cart and go to the elevator.

He seems to be stirring a bit when I open the door. That’s good. I really didn’t want to have to wake him for breakfast. He says that he had planned to go for a run, but upon seeing breakfast, admits that a change of plan never hurt. He’s in better spirits this morning as we eat in bed, telling me about the contents of Burt’s storage units, including four very expensive classic cars, one of which prompted another seriously emotional breakdown from Carrick.

During the course of the conversation, he tells me that he sent an email to Lanie last night about one of the cars, which answers my question about the typing in the dark. He also informs me of the olive branch he received from a certain Detroit gangster. Jason’s theory of the situation, as explained by Christian, put a few of my fears to rest, but still makes me feel quite uneasy about the situation at hand—a situation that really hasn’t changed from a week ago.

“I agree to the current security situation,” I tell him, “but shouldn’t I know what this asshole looks like? In case he approaches me to get to you?”

A visible chill goes through my husband as he agrees that I should be able to identify Myrick.

“I’ll get you information on him before the end of the day,” he says. We finish our breakfast, then indulge in a shower and a midmorning quickie before we go and get our children.

“Jason told me that I have PTSD,” I tell him as Minnie plays with a plush toy in my lap and Christian entertains Mikey on the playmat.

“How do you feel about that?” he asks, raising his eyes to me. I sigh.

“In light of my reactions to certain events and the trauma that I experienced through all this, I tend to think he may be right,” I admit, avoiding eye-contact with my husband. I can feel the air suddenly become a bit thick.

“So… what now?” he asks.

“Right now, we’re going the talking route,” I reply.

“To Jason?” he asks. “Jason’s going to be your shrink now?”

“To anybody,” I tell him, “to whomever will listen when I hear the voice of doom. And I wonder why my shrink didn’t think of this… PTSD, I mean. We could have formulated a treatment plan by now.”

“You know very well why he didn’t approach you with that,” he replies. “You became borderline violent the last time someone suggested that you were suffering from it, and I’m sure you told him about it.”

“Yes, but if that really is what I’m suffering from, avoiding the diagnosis isn’t going to help anything,” I protest.

“So, now, you do realize that the man is ‘damned if he do and damned if he don’t,’ right?” Christian points out. God, I hate when he’s this fucking logical.

“Maybe he did tell me,” I admit, “in so many words, just not outright. He sure didn’t hesitate in calling me suicidal.”

“What?” Christian says sharply enough to make the babies jump. Minnie’s looking at him like, “What the hell, Dad?” while Mikey gives him a “Dude, seriously?” stare.

“Okay, he didn’t say that I was going to kill myself. He just called me a shark’s tooth.” Christian squints his eyes and furrows his brow in confusion. “You had to be there; I can’t explain it. He’s trying tough love on me, but as a professional, I really don’t think it’s working.”

“Is that why you destroyed the heavy bag yesterday?” he asks, pulling his wandering son closer to him on the playmat. I nod.

“I’m not sure if what he was saying really helped me, but it pissed me off. I’m beating myself up enough for not being able to snap my fingers and overcome this situation without also being beat up by my shrink.” He nods.

“So… now you just talk.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Well, there are two professional treatments for PTSD—psychotherapy and medication. Hopefully, I’m not so bad off that I need medication…”

“Do you think you are?” he asks. “I mean, you are a professional.”

“I’m also not objective. This isn’t happening to someone close to me, this is happening to me. So, I’m not really the one to ask about that, but I’m a huge proponent of psychotherapy, as you already know. So, I’m going to go with cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure.”

“Okay, and those are…?” he asks.

“CPT is going to help me understand and deal with exactly how events changed my way of thinking and my feelings. ‘Something bad happened and the Boogeyman is coming to get me’ is not a logical thought process. That’s where prolonged exposure—or talking to whomever will listen—comes in. That’s where I keep talking about situation and about my thoughts and my feelings so that I can gain some control over them and they’re no longer upsetting. I’m going to start journaling again, too, for those times when no one is there to listen.”

“Butterfly, I’ll always be there to listen,” he says somberly.

“No, you won’t,” I say. “What if it’s 11 o’clock in the morning and you’re in a meeting? Or it’s the dead of night and I wake from a bad dream? There are going to be those times when I have to have my journal, and the people around me who claim to love me are going to have to understand that they might be mini-therapist throughout this time. It’s that simple.” He nods.

“You got all this from your conversation with Jason?” he asks.

“I got some of this from my conversation with Jason. The rest I had to get on my own.” He nods but says nothing. “What is it?” I prod.

“I want…” he starts but trails off, sighing and shaking his head. “I want to say or do something that’ll make this all go away. I know I’ve apologized numerous times, but had I known… had I had any idea that this…” He trails off again unable to finish his sentence. He doesn’t look at me while he’s talking. He looks at Mikey, and I’m afraid that he’s going to start crying again. The funny-not-so-funny thing about crying is that once the damn bursts, it’s hard if not impossible to plug it again.

“One thing that useless shrink of mine did make me swallow,” I say softly while stroking Minnie’s hair. “Once something has happened, it’s happened. You can’t undo it and you can’t take it back, but it’s important not to live in it. You have to move on—promise to do better and not make the same mistakes. There’s really nothing else you can do. It’s a tough commitment as memories are hard and sometimes impossible to erase, but sometimes, what’s done is done, and we just have to find a way to let go and move on. And I’m trying… I’m doing my best… You should, too.”

He raises his eyes to me and they’re glassy, but no tears fall.

“I’m sorry, Butterfly,” he squeaks, dropping his gaze again.

“I know,” I say. “I forgive you. Forgive me, too… and yourself.” He doesn’t respond.

Forgetting is the problem, not forgiving.

*-*

I never realized how large my office was until it was empty. It’s pretty ginormous. Apparently, I must have felt the need to fill every bit of space in here when we first moved in, because you would never know that there was so much room in here until it was empty. It could also be that the imposing wood shelves are gone, replaced by a stylish and delicate glass shelving system on a greenish-gray backdrop. The space is brighter and lighter, and I’m glad that Luma and I chose natural textures and fibers to outfit the room.

We spend Saturday with our babies, but Sunday, I spend putting my office together. Between the house staff and some of the security personnel, the furniture is organized in a couple of hours and the boxes are unpacked. I meticulously decide what stays and what goes in terms of décor, books, and accessories. It’s time to get rid of the large, chunky pieces and the books that I never read that can also be donated to the Center.

My office at home is a bit sleeker than the office at work. Although the chunky, space-hogging furniture has been replaced with natural straw rugs, a wicker coffee table and ottoman combination, natural fiber light fixtures and lamps, and a woven basket or box here or there, the glass shelves have been filled with contemporary metal, steel, and glass décor as well as strategically placed books with white or bright earth-tone colors—including my new set of journals. Soft, textured curtains with stylish drawbacks line the bookshelves while Antigua Froth rolling shades allow the light to bathe the room from the floor-to-ceiling windows.

The once almost-mission-style seating area has been transformed with the round wicker coffee table that holds four white incognito triangular ottomans, flanked by two white tufted chairs with a matching chaise across from them. The chairs and the chaise are arguably the bulkiest pieces in the room and would normally look out of place as they are made for a more formal setting. However, the wicker coffee table with the white ottoman cushions help to tie the tufted furniture, straw rugs, and other natural fibers together. The combination is eclectic and amazingly compatible at the same time.

I take a moment or two to admire my work once everything is in its place, and I’m loving the fact that I can have my retractable shades open to half-mast and watch the sun setting over the lake. When it appears that my work is done, I take some time to break in my new set of journals. Meditation and yoga are still on the menu to help keep me grounded, but when I’m floundering, it’s going to take the journals and talking.

I start my first entry by describing how I felt the day I realized that my husband had left me. Even now, I’m not really sure when that happened. I know that he left on that Wednesday night after he found me with Liam in the community room, but I don’t know if I knew that he left me that Friday when he wouldn’t answer my calls after two days of trying or that Sunday when I realized he had blocked my cell number. They were both harrowing days for me. I remember feeling like the bottom was falling out from under my world that Friday, and then actually feeling that bottom fall away that Sunday. So, I elaborate on both days.

I move from my desk onto the floor of the sitting area and use the coffee table to write on. Before I know it, I’m pouring my heart out about the bridge and the window seat in the nursery. I wipe away a tear or two when I remember how I felt sitting in that window and waiting—and hoping—for an Audi. I remember giving up hope and trying to focus on the twins… but not, because I still sat in that window. I still sit in it now sometimes, only I have no idea what I’m looking for when I’m looking out that window, watching and waiting.

I remember losing my senses and driving to that lookout point with a bottle of whiskey. That was truly a dumb thing to do. So many other bad things could have happened and I’m only just now realizing how tragic that whole thing really could have been. Then the whole disaster at the hospital and nearly ending up in the psyche ward. Geez, that would have been a stellar gossip-rag headline! I still don’t know how we managed to keep my fall out of the press.

I keep writing, because I can’t seem to find the appropriate words to describe the pain that I felt during that time—seething, burning, agonizing, unbearable, abysmal, like someone was slowly cutting off my limbs with a dull butter knife—nothing seems to adequately capture the way that I was feeling. It was one of the darkest times of my life. It seems so long ago and yet, it feels like yesterday. That’s why it’s so hard to let go… because it hurt so badly.

A gentle knock on my open office door causes me to raise my head. My husband is looking around the room in awe, and I’d forgotten that he didn’t know what kind of transformation had taken place in this room.

“You did all this in one day?” he asks incredulously.

“It was more like four days,” I say, closing my journal and deciding that there were no more synonyms for excruciating that I would find tonight. “I, um, took a page from Grace’s book… picked my colors, picked a look, and ordered the furniture. It wasn’t as hard as planning my office at work.”

“Your office used to look so… full. Now, it doesn’t. It looks more open and… airy.”

“You’re struggling to be PC. Let me help you. My office was sophisticated—neat, professional—but it was cluttered… chock full of stuff. Now, it looks more relaxing, more inviting.”

“Yeah,” Christian says, still looking around the room in awe. “It’s… brighter in here…”

“Less encumbering,” I assist.

“Yeah,” he replies before bringing his gaze to me. “You missed dinner.”

I figured it was kind of late, but not that late.

“I was journaling,” I admit. “The first entry, it… sets the tone, so to speak.” I arise from the floor and close my journal. Walking behind my desk, I put it on the bookshelf with the others.

“What did you do with all your books?” he asks. Not about the furniture, not about the huge makeover of the bookshelves, the books. He’s searching for conversation.

“I’m donating them to start a library at Helping Hands,” I say, turning around to face him. He nods, still looking around the room.

“Can you do my office?” he asks. My eyes widen. What?

“You want your office to look like this?” I ask, amazed.

“Yeah,” he says. “Well, no,” he retracts, shaking his head quickly like he’s shaking off a bad thought. “My office at work has various colors and a lot of white—sleek lines… it doesn’t look like the space is closing in on you, but that’s because of the corner office and the glass walls. The only windows in my office are behind me, and I can’t really see them. You’ve made it look like Sunday morning in here, literally, and that’s a lot to say after nightfall. My office has all the Oxford-ness—the heavy woods and dark atmosphere…”

Jesus, I don’t think he understands what must be done to lighten that room and still stay in sync with Christian Grey. The room is all dark. The natural lighting is almost nonexistent. He has a large, dark marble fireplace sitting between the only two medium-sized windows in the room. We would either have to rip out the fireplace or cover it with lighter marble. Does he ever even use that fireplace? If we decide that we’re not going to use it, we have to cap off the gas line. Demo, capping, too much trouble.

The fireplace stays.

We would need to get rid of the chunky furniture and the big, imposing chunks of architecture. Keep some of the bookshelves and lose some? The window coverings would have to be pale or non-existent. The bookshelves would have to be painted or completely rebuilt, just like mine. We’re definitely not ripping up that flooring, but there would need to be some area rugs to break up that dark marble.

And light! He needs more light. It would need to be track lighting or recessed lighting, and track lighting tends to look so damn tacky.

Recessed lighting with solar bulbs…

“That’s a massive undertaking, Christian,” I warn. “Your office is completely dark, and to lighten it, the space would end up totally different than it is now. Lighting changes, textures and materials, we still want it to look masculine…”

“You had an idea in mind for how you wanted your space to look. I don’t expect for my transformation to take a week. It’s okay if it takes a month or two—although I’d like to be able to use my space…”

“Which means that no work can begin in there until we have a solid idea…” which is what I did in my office. We could utilize the French Doors between the den and the office to take advantage of the natural light from the den…

“Let me give it some thought,” I tell him. “I’m sure I can come up with something that you like… as long as you give me time.” He smiles.

Take all the time you need.”

That’s exactly what I intend to do.

*-*

“Dad is coming to my office today with Harmony,” Christian says at breakfast on Monday morning. “We’re having a powwow today about the divorce and whatnot.” I raise my brow.

“Do you have some kind of plan in mind for her loser husband?” I ask, chomping away on eggs benedict.

“We’ve got plans, but I don’t know how they’re going to play out just yet,” he says. “This entire thing made me consider all the people who have something to lose—or gain, from Tina’s death. Windsor called me yesterday and apprised me of how the house was run before Roger left. It was… not a happy place to work. He’s finding proof that Roger was skimming off Tina’s money when it came time to pay bills or buy groceries or necessities for the mansion, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. His cash cow is completely dead, and if she so chooses, Tina can totally sue for embezzlement.

“Not only that, but the moment the doctors announce time of death, Tina’s children that currently have no time for her, along with nieces, nephews, and any other relatives who come up out of the woodwork, are going to swoop in and try to clean her house out, if they don’t try to put Harmony out of the house completely. So, we need to do something about that. To that end, Allen will sit in on our meeting and we’re going to Skype with Tina and her lawyer at Tina’s house to come up with possible solutions.” I shake my head.

“Shouldn’t her will take care of all of this?” I ask. “I mean they can’t just come in and start laying claim to her shit if she has a will.”

“Yes, they can,” Christian corrects me. “If they show up at that house and push Harmony out of the way, who’s to stop them from physically taking whatever the fuck they want? They’re Tina’s children, too. So, we’re trying to make sure that there’s a way that we can legally prevent them from doing something like that. Once we get that in place, my security team will take care of the physical part.”

“Geez, what a mess,” I comment. “If our children behave this way when we’re gone, I’m going to come back and haunt them for eternity.” I finish my breakfast and take a drink of my coffee. “I’m going down to my office now, and don’t worry. I’ll be going into Helping Hands a little later today. We have some new volunteers and some interviews that need to be conducted for key positions to get ready for the new semester next spring.” I give him a kiss.

“Since I’ve been deemed your new interior decorator, I want you to think about colors and textures that make you comfortable—or uncomfortable. I’m going to do this how I think you’ll like it, but a bit of your input might help.”

“Do whatever you want, Butter…” he begins.

“Oh, no, Grey,” I interrupt. “You’re not going to put all this off on me. Colors or textures that you definitely don’t want in the office. That’s all I need since the task seems so daunting.” I kiss him again, on his forehead this time, and head down to my office. “Have a good day, Dear.”

Courtney emails me that she and the staff are getting the volunteers sorted while Grace is preparing for the interviews that we have this afternoon. We’re still waiting for background checks on two of the applicants, but we see no harm in getting the interviews out of the way since the preliminary background checks are already done. Security will, of course, be a little beefed up, but not so that those who aren’t in the know would see anything different than usual.

We’ve decided that an inhouse maintenance team is definitely the way to go. So, we’ll be doing a hiring campaign for that. Our cleaning contract with Clean It Up for You is up for renewal in January and we’ll look to be filling positions for a handyman and staff around that time. To that end, we’ll need to review the proposals soon submitted for insurances by the various benefits coordinators that Grace and Harmony spoke with last week.

I must admit that I’m almost excited to let that Sherwood cow know that her days are numbered. As far as I’m concerned, her company never did come up to the expectations they should have after they dropped the ball charging us for areas that they never cleaned. Handing them their walking papers will be one of life’s little joys for me.

Our special airs tonight, so we’re having Vee and Josh over to view it along with Al and James, Val and Elliot, Grace and Carrick, and our usual household suspects. Mia took a pass on the whole “gathering” thing, opting to watch it from home as did Dad and Mandy.

I review the refreshment menu with Ms. Solomon, which will include gourmet chicken tenders, a loaded-potato-wedge bar, a nacho bar, a variety of popcorns, concession stand candies and treats, and a drink bar—alcoholic and non-alcoholic. We’ll be viewing it in the movie room, of course. I watched with such a critical eye the first time that I’m somewhat looking forward to seeing the finished product this time with a more relaxed mindset.

At about 11am, shortly before I’m preparing to head to Helping Hands, there’s a knock at my open office door. I raise my eyes to see Marilyn standing there awaiting permission to enter.

“Come in,” I say, clasping my hands on the desk in front of me. Her stance and demeanor show that I’m not dealing with the haughty woman that was kicked out of my office on Thursday.

“You finished it,” she says, looking around the office in awe. “The whole thing… in one weekend.”

“Yes, I did,” I confirm, with no malice.

“Without me,” she adds softly. “I thought you’d be kind of rudderless without me.” Her voice has a tinge of regret.

“I am rudderless without you, Mare,” I admit, then sigh heavily, “but life has to continue.”

“I don’t know what was going on last week,” she begins. I do—you’re pregnant. “It just felt like the world was closing in on me.”

“Did you take a test?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No… not yet.” So, you still choose to put it off—not my business. I will address the part that is my business, though.

“You have sick time,” I remind her. “You’ve probably accumulated at least a year at this point. I don’t keep up because you never take time off. Take it when you need it.” I pause, and she says nothing. “There’s also this thing called the Family Medical Leave Act. It assures that if you need an extended period of time off for a medical purpose that your job will still be waiting for you when you return…”

“I was a bitch,” she interjects without raising her head. “I know that you would never fire me unless I did some really crazy shit. You promised me job security and I believe you. I was just being a bitch last week… and I’m sorry.”

That’s all that needs to be said.

“And now,” I continue, “you can see that I won’t disintegrate if you have to leave for a while.” We both chuckle. “It’ll be hard without you, but not impossible, as long as I know you’re coming back.”

“‘Only death could keep me from it,’” she jests, quoting Nettie from The Color Purple. Death or motherhood, I think to myself. “Right now, I really need to work.”

“Good, because we’ve got interviews today and new volunteers coming in at Helping Hands. I also have a project for you that could take some time.”

“I could use the distraction,” she says, pulling out her iPad. I really want to lecture her on the dangers of waiting to get medical attention while she’s pregnant no matter what her decision will be. Nonetheless, I decide that it’s still early and we can put it off a little while longer, but not too long.


A/N:I have noticed that on my last three chapters, there was no link to my Pinterest page. I have rectified that situation. My apologies…

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

For those of you who are also muscle-car-heads like me, there is another Pinterest link so that you can get a closer look at those beautiful classic cars. https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/classic-cars-for-raising-grey-chapter-56/

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 52—Just In Case…

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

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

Chapter 52—Just In Case…

CHRISTIAN

“You told me not to talk about it anymore, so I’m not talking about it. However, I am a professional, and my concerns are real, tangible, and valid. That asshole got way too close last night, and you got way too comfortable. You may not see urgency in this situation and you may be right, but I’m not going to take any chances.”

Just as I’m finishing my coffee, my head of security informs me that we’ll have another detail following us today. So, instead of just me and Jason, it’s going to be me, Jason, and two other guards in a separate vehicle. I understand urgency—I felt it last night, but I fucked it out with my wife and I’m fine now. Apparently, Mr. Professional here didn’t fuck it out with Gail, and now I have an entourage.

“Don’t you think this is a bit drastic, Jason?” I ask. “I’m all for increasing security. I totally get it, but three guards in one car for one man?”

“You told a hired killer that you were getting your affairs in order last night. You’re inviting him to do something. You’re testing his hand, basically telling him, ‘Come and get me.’ It’s like you want to die.”

“I don’t want to die,” I seethe, “I’m just not afraid of death.”

“I’m not afraid of death either, Christian, but I’m not gunning to meet my Maker anytime soon. I have a wife, and I have a child, and I’d like to see her go to college, get married, maybe punch out a couple of grandkids for me. I know that my job comes with certain hazards, but I’m not jumping in front of bullets that don’t have to be aimed at you. So, as many times as you warn your wife to be careful, you need to do the same thing because last I checked, you got a couple of nuggets that you’d like to see get through college, too!”

“Does my wife know about this?” I demand.

“She’ll know that security has been increased when she leaves for Helping Hands, but she won’t know why. I thought I’d let you tell her, or if you prefer, I’ll have Chuck do it.” I look in his eyes and I realize that he’s not backing down on this.

“Shit,” I hiss. I stand from the breakfast bar to go find my wife.

I dread having to tell her this, but whenever I try to keep something from her, it causes so much angst between us and ultimately turns out to be a disaster. When I find her, she’s helping to pack up the twins.

“Hey, beautiful,” I say, when I walk into the room. Mikey is already buckled into his carrier and Butterfly is buckling Minnie into her seat.

“Hey, yourself,” she says after she gets my squirming daughter securely into her seat. “I thought you were already gone.”

“About to,” I say. “I need to talk to you about something before I go.”

“Oh?” she asks. “Is everything alright?” I look at Keri and Gail.

“Can you two excuse us for a moment?” I ask. Gail puts a diaper bag on her shoulder and lifts Mikey’s carrier. Keri does the same with Minnie.

“Ah’ll see ya downstehs,” Keri says as she’s the one who always goes to the Center with Butterfly and the twins. Butterfly was talking about getting Keri her own car. We may have to revamp that decision for a while. In fact…

“What’s wrong, Christian?” Butterfly asks.

“Chuck may have to drive you into town for a while… in your car, of course.”

“Why?” she asks. “What’s happened?” I sigh.

“Do you remember me telling you that Myrick made some enemies in Detroit which is why he’s in witness protection?” She tilts her head.

“Vaguely… really bad guys, that I remember.”

“Well, one of those really bad guys came to see me yesterday,” I confess. “He found out that I was in Detroit and decided to fly out here to tell me to get his boss’s permission the next time I decide to travel to Detroit.” Butterfly raises her brow.

“I see… and you said?” she inquires.

“I told him to kiss my ass,” I reply. “I feel like it was nothing more than a dramatic show of bravado for him to fly all the way across the country to try to get me to bow to his will. I was in Detroit for 24 hours. They found out that I was there, but never confronted me while I was there—probably because I was never alone. They would have had to barge into my uncle’s home, an attorney’s office, or a PI’s office to talk to me. Instead, he shows up at Grey House in a black car, his goon opens the door and tells me to get in… fuck you!” I say that last part more to myself than to Butterfly.

“So… did he threaten your life?” she asks.

“Not overtly, but it was easily implied,” I admit.

“Ah… hence the fuck me like it was the last time fuck last night,” she says, a little perturbed. Why is she perturbed? Didn’t she enjoy it? “And that confused look on your face says you don’t have a clue why I’m irritated.”

“Um… no,” I admit.

“What if it was the last time, Christian?” she scolds. “You don’t think I deserved to know something was up?”

So… um… now I don’t dare tell her that I was afraid of her being taken away from me as opposed to being afraid of me leaving her.

“I can only say that I’m sorry, Butterfly, but there’s a condition to that. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you immediately, but I couldn’t—not because the time wasn’t right, but because I was physically unable to talk about it. It was on me so hard that I couldn’t even think to talk about it. I was too stressed out and I had to release it before I could even approach it. I was going to go to work and talk to our security team and come up with a plan of action. Then, I planned on talking to you about it. Jason beat me to it and beefed up security.”

“So, if Jason hadn’t beefed up security…” she begins.

“I would have told you after we had a plan of action,” I interrupt her.

“What if something had happened before you had a plan of action?” she snaps. I don’t have an answer for her, and I’m getting drawn and tense again.

“I was wound tighter than a dollar store watch when I came into this house last night,” I say, forcing my voice to be calm. “I simply cannot regurgitate everything that’s going on with me when I’m wound that tight. You have to give me time. My options were to fuck you or avoid you, and I needed you so badly…” I trail off and clench my fists, trying to relax and not lose my temper. “I wasn’t fucking you like it was the last time. I was loving you until I could think again, until I could breathe again. And the burden was so heavy that when I finally released it, I could do nothing else but sleep. I would have told you. I just. Needed. To think. I thought after being with me all this time and knowing me and knowing how I handle things…”

“You’re right,” she says, her hands moving quickly to cup my cheeks. She kisses me firmly on my lips. “You’re right. I’m sorry,” she says, rubbing my arms and furrowing her brow. “Boogeyman.”

Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?

“I’m sorry, too,” I say. “This is not the Boogeyman, baby. We’re just being careful, okay? With all my heart, I think this man is all hot air or he would have done something by now. He even said as much.” She sighs heavily and drops her head.

“What do you mean he said as much?” she asks, somewhat resigned.

“He told me that if he meant me harm, it would have been done by now.” She sighs again.

“Well, that’s comforting,” she says sarcastically.

“That’s why Jason has added extra security,” I tell her. “We’re being cautious, not taking any chances.” She nods.

“Okay… what about Marilyn?” I roll my eyes. I forgot about Marilyn.

“We probably want to get another guy on her, too,” I say. “You’ll let her know or do you want me to do it?” She shakes her head.

“I’ll tell her,” she says. “Now, I’m having second thoughts about the exposé.”

“Not that I’m trying to scare you, but you have to know… there’s nothing that the exposé will show that these people didn’t already know. The biggest trump card that I have in my pocket right now is that we have a mutual enemy and quite frankly, that’s all we have in common…” which makes me even more fucking anxious to find Myrick wherever the hell he’s hiding.

“Okay, so… yeah, I better get to the office. I guess the sky is falling for all of us.” She mumbles the last part. I don’t bother asking what she means.

“I need to get going, too, baby,” I tell her leaning down and kissing her on the cheek. “Are we okay?” She touches my cheek again.

“Yes, we’re okay,” she says, but I’m not convinced. “I’m working on chasing away the demons. They don’t leave overnight, you know.” She smiles weakly.

“Yes, Butterfly,” I say, cupping her face. “I know.” I kiss her lips gently, then leave to join Jason. I can’t help but notice what looks like a convention of black suits in the garage. I don’t even bother asking.

“Let’s go,” I say, listlessly while climbing into the back seat and closing the door behind me.

My mind wanders to everything happening right now that requires my attention. The implications of Aragon’s visit and the subsequent need for two men in the car with me; whatever the hell is going on with the storage bins in Detroit—I have to call Smalls. He didn’t call me back yesterday and I can only assume that either Uncle Herman was able to get all the authorizations needed or it was just too late to do anything once and if clearance was given. So, that will be the first thing I deal with when I get to the office. While I’m pondering what other dilemmas will most likely confront me, Jason answers his phone through his earpiece.

“Taylor… fuck!” He snatches his earpiece from his ear and swerves a bit to regain control of the car.

“What the hell, Jason?” I demand, our passenger holding on to the door handle and glaring at Jason as well.

“My apologies, sir,” Jason says through his teeth, his fingers rubbing feverishly at his ear. “It’s your wife.” Well, shit, he doesn’t sound happy. I turn to the other guard.

“Put his phone in the cradle. Put her on speaker.” He really didn’t need to because the moment he picks up Jason’s phone, I can hear Butterfly screaming.

“Shit,” I whisper before Butterfly’s screaming voice is piping through the car speakers.

“Ana,” I say, trying to get her attention. She’s still screaming.

“Ana.” Still no acknowledgement from my screaming wife.

“ANASTASIA!”

“WHAT?” she shoots back at me.

“You know Jason is driving, Anastasia. What the fuck are you doing calling him screaming in his ear?”

“So, he hands the phone to you so that I can scream at you?” she asks sarcastically.

“No, your voice is piping through the whole damn car. Jason nearly killed us getting his earbud out of his ear!” There’s sweet silence, but only for a moment.

“There’s a goddamn caravan following me to work, Christian,” Butterfly complains. “What the hell is that? Is all of this really necessary?”

“There’s no need to be dramatic, Butterfly…”

“Don’t patronize me and I’m not being dramatic! I work at a fucking shelter, for Christ’s sake! You know, sanctuary? The press is going to be all over me!” I throw a look at Jason, who looks everywhere but at me. “What aren’t you telling me, Christian?” my wife demands.

“I’ve told you everything. There’s nothing else,” I say. I see Jason’s posture shift. He knows I haven’t told her everything, but there’s no way in hell I’m telling her that man said that he would come to my house.

“There’s apparently something you missed!” she declares. “I look like the French delegation driving across the bridge. The only thing that’s missing are the damn flags. What’s going on!”

“I’ve told you what’s going on,” I reinforce. “Jason just feels that we should have more protection for a while since that guy came to Grey House last night.” Jason’s shoulders relax a bit. I’m certain he thought I gave her some sugar-coated version of what happened. I told her exactly what happened… except that I told the guy that I wasn’t afraid of death, and that he threatened to come to my house.

“What the hell happened, Christian?” she barks. “There are eight people following me! In the other vehicles!”

“What?” I exclaim, my eyes widening. She’s not exaggerating. That’s fucking ridiculous. “Jason…!”

“It’s because there’s four of you,” Jason interjects impassively. “We’re just trying to keep you all safe, Your Highness.”

“This is bullshit and you both know it!” she says, most likely convinced that I knew the entire Delta Force was going to be following her this morning. I kinda did know. The MIB convention in the garage somewhat gave it away. I just chose to ignore it.

“Jason is just being extra cautious,” I hiss through my teeth, mostly at Jason.

“Well, guess what? I don’t give a fuck how cautious Jason is right now. This is fucking ludicrous! Every time you make some kind of change to security, I go along with it. There are eight fucking people following me! This is outrageous!”

She’s right. It is outrageous, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now. They’re headed across the bridge. It’s not like I can tell them to go away. I guess I was pondering the situation a little too long because the next thing I hear is…

“You know what? Never mind.” She ends the call abruptly. She. Is. Pissed.

“Fuck!” I hiss loudly. I look over at Jason who refuses to make eye-contact with me and we ride silently to Grey House.

*-*

“Fix this. Now,” I say to Jason once I’ve had a macchiato and a glazed apple fritter and calmed my nerves. “What the hell, sticking eight guards behind her? She’s more of a target with all these people behind her than she was before. You must see that.”

Jason and Alex are sitting across from me in my office, a unified front against my demands about this insane increase in security, I suppose.

“She’s got some of our best men around her, sir,” Alex replies. “Nobody’s getting near her and those babies…”

“At this point, I couldn’t get near her and those babies!” I retort angrily. “Don’t you see the problem with that?”

“Sir, Russo is mafia. There’s no other way to put that. This is big time. If he wants you dead, you’re dead. Your family’s dead. Your friends are dead…”

“And if that’s the case, eight guys surrounding my wife and drawing attention to her isn’t going to stop him, now is it?” I interrupt. “I’m not highly impressed with his techniques or intimidated by his reach and ability. He hasn’t presented me Myrick’s head on a platter, yet.”

“Myrick’s in hiding. You’re not,” Jason points out.

“Which further proves that he’s not as omnipotent as both of you seem to think he is!” I snap. “When I had a message for Myrick, I went to Ionia—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Elena, I went to the Washington State Prison—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Courtney after she threatened my wife, I trapped her in the ladies’ room—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Loverboy Investigator, I went to the State building—I didn’t send Jason. Hell, when Butterfly had a message for David before he offed himself, she went to the prison—she didn’t send Chuck. She went to some hick hole trailer park in California to personally confront the bitch that was responsible for her beating in Vegas. She had security, but she went, and I’m supposed to be shaking in my boots from some motherfucker that doesn’t even have the guts that my wife has?

“He keeps sending his consigliere every time he wants to make a point. Big fucking deal! I’m not talking to that guy anymore and I mean that! If Russo wants a war, he can do it, and I can’t win it, but these scare tactics are not fucking going to work with me!”

I’ve had enough of this shit. I’ve had enough of all of it. I know that these men sitting before me can do more than what they’re doing without sending the fucking A-Team around with my wife.

“I want my wife and family secure as much as you do, but this? No. If those bozos in the FBI can keep Myrick hidden and safe, you can keep my wife safe without drawing this much attention to her. You’re doing a fan dance for this fucker and you know it, and I’m not going to play his game. I’ll accept reasonable security enhancements, but this is overkill. Whatever point you’re trying to make, you’ve made it. You’re pissing me off and you’re scaring the fuck out of my wife. Call them off.” Jason finally decides to speak.

“With all due respect, sir, the threat that’s facing us is a real and present danger. I’m not trying to make a point; I’m trying to keep you safe!”

“I don’t think you heard me,” I say crisply. “Call. Them. Off. This is not a request.”

Jason glares at me and I don’t back down. He’s going overboard, and my wife is right. This is ridiculous.

“If imminent danger comes at my wife or our children, there can be ten men coming at her and as long as someone’s got her six, two to five of them will fall at her hand from her bullets. She doesn’t need eight people and you know this. Call them off.” Jason’s lips purse as he visibly prepares his retort.

“Two extra guards, one extra vehicle when the children are with her. That’s it. Make it happen or call them all off besides the regulars. Your choice,” I say.

“Less vehicles means a lower tactical advantage,” he warns.

“It’s all chance, Jason,” I inform him. “You and I both know that tactical advantage won’t mean shit if they really want her.” My words are grave, but true. Everything we do is a precaution. My home is a fortress, but if anyone is willing to risk their life to get to her, they can do it. Jason shakes his head.

“What’s going on with you?” he asks. “You’re usually the most cautious guy I know. Now it’s like you’re staring death in the face like you really don’t care.”

“Oh, make no mistake, I care. If anything happens to my wife, I will personally find whoever’s responsible, shoot them in every extremity several times and watch them bleed out. I can’t very well do that if I’m dead, so yes. I care very much about life. But my wife is teetering on the edge of a proverbial cliff every damn day. We’ve had this discussion. I don’t have time to be meek. And after she and I have both confided in you about her fears and how she’s feeling, I can’t for the life of me fathom how you thought it was a solid idea to trail her with three vehicles and eight damn guards!”

The military man in Jason suddenly slips away and his expression is now unreadable. I have no idea what’s going through his head, but just like that…

“I’ll take care of it,” he says. I know you will. You were bordering on insubordination and I was about to suspend your ass.

“Thank you,” I nearly hiss before turning to Alex. “What’s the word on Myrick? Anything?” He shakes his head.

“The trail is cold, sir. No new leads at all,” Alex replies.

“Well, heat it up!” I say firmly. “Put some pressure on whoever you need to put some pressure on—the ex-wife, the offspring, that kid in the service, the FBI, the CIA, the fucking President, I don’t care! I want this motherfucker out of my hair! Start turning over some goddamn rocks and I guarantee you’ll see some bugs start running! And I never want to fucking see Aragon again!”

Alex’s eyes widen, and Jason sits up straight.

“That’s what I said,” I reinforce. “I never fucking want to see his ass again. Put his mug on facial recognition so that if he shows up within ten feet of my building, this place lights up like a fucking Christmas tree! I will wear my harness and that gun that he seems to think is useless every damn day and I’ll make sure that my wife stays strapped like Calamity fucking Jane, but he gets nowhere near any of us and you don’t need eight extra guards to make that happen. He’s starts shooting, you shoot back! And aim for his fucking head!”

I am totally beyond reason. I want blood, and I want it now. This situation has gone on for way too long and I’m tired of it taking over my goddamn life.

I don’t even think I hear them when they leave my office. I’m seeing red. I know that my station puts me and my family in a position of danger on a regular basis, which is why I want that exposé to air. That’s only a small message to the somewhat little fish that we won’t sit around and be fucked with anymore, but what about the big fish? How do you get that message to them?

Every time Russo sends that fucker out here, he’s acting like a cat playing with a mouse.

“Mr. Grey, if I was looking to cause you any harm, the deed would have been done by now…”

Well, fucking do it, then, you pussy ass bastard, because I’m not running, hiding, or cowering from you anymore.


ANASTASIA

“Turn this fucking car around.” Chuck looks at me in the rearview mirror, bemused.

“What?” he asks, his eyes wide. That’s when I realize that we’re still on the bridge.

“As soon as you can, turn this fucking car around and take me back home. There’s no way in hell I’m taking all this attention to Helping Hands.” He’s silent for a minute.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, and I’m not even pissed that he’s calling me ma’am. I am pissed, however, that half of GEH security appears to be following me to work. Where are they supposed to stay while I’m working and meeting with residents—on the goddamn bleachers?

I’m fuming. Something’s going on and he’s not telling me what it is. I call Grace and try not to sound too agitated.

“Grace, I’m working from home today. There seems to be some kind of development that I need to get sorted with my husband.” There’s silence.

“I’m not prying but is everything okay?” she asks.

“I’m not sure, but it’s nothing you should be worried about. I’m certain we can figure out what’s going on with the situation. Is Marilyn there yet?”

“I don’t think so. If she is, I haven’t seen her.”

We get to the end of the bridge and Chuck takes the exit and makes to get back on the bridge headed home.

“If you see her, tell her to come to my house,” I say. “I’ve been thinking about something since I had to recruit members of security to help move office furniture yesterday. What do you think about having a full-time custodial crew instead of a contracted cleaning service? I know we would need consider the financial implications like benefits and whatnot, but I think the benefits of having someone in-house would outweigh those of having a service. You know, building maintenance, per se.” There’s a pause.

“I hadn’t considered it,” she says. “Have you done any research on it?”

“Well, no,” I say, “but I was thinking that with the problems that we had a couple of years ago with the cleaning service not covering certain areas of the building and having to inspect their work all the time and renegotiate the contracts, it’s worth looking into for several reasons. There are going to be more people in the building that are not just residents. The classrooms are now going to be utilized. There’s obviously going to be a need to have someone around that can fix things in a pinch—be a handyman, a janitor… Not only that, but having a staff makes people more accountable for the work that needs to be done.”

“Yes,” she says. “I can see where you’re going with that. And we’re going to have to look into offering benefits for staff anyway because we’re expanding. We’re going to be eligible for federal funding and grants now with our accreditation and we’re not as slim as we were before on our donations with the publicity we’ve been getting from your appearances and from the PSA that I’ve learned is still airing in some areas. We should probably put together a PSA of our own once we have the foundation of our programs in place.”

“Oh, that’s a fantastic idea, Grace,” I tell her. “It’s great that we have the Faces of Abuse campaign still airing, but now we’re going to be offering many more services, and we definitely need to get that word out there.”

“When is your segment with Christian supposed to run again?” she asks. “Cary and I don’t watch much television and I don’t want to miss it.”

“It runs on Monday night,” I tell her. “I thought about a little viewing party, but not on a Monday night.”

“Why not?” Grace says. “With a few minor exceptions, we basically write our own schedules. I think a viewing party is a great idea.” I shrug.

“I’ll talk to Christian about it. See what he thinks.” I was so critical in my viewing of the segment before that I didn’t really see it. I was just watching for “bloopers,” so to speak. Our conversation has gotten our caravan back across the bridge and onto Mercer Island.

“Marilyn and I will start researching the pros and cons of a service versus in-house custodial staff and see if we can come up with the numbers for you. Keri’s looking into her teaching credentials in the states, by the way. She informs me that she should have some solid information by the end of the week.” I look to Keri for confirmation and she nods.

“Okay. I’m going to start looking into some benefit packages for the employees of the center. Who was putting together the grant paperwork and request for funding?”

“That would be Courtney,” I tell her. “She’s also supposed to be getting us some kind of presentation by week’s end. She’s been pretty diligent with it and her studies.”

“Speaking of studies, Harmony is here today. I saw that she was here yesterday, too.” I told her to spend time with her mother. She doesn’t have much time left.

“Did she tell you about Tina?” I ask.

“Yes, and her unfortunate situation with that wretched husband of hers,” she adds. “Unfortunately, this is the way the divorce game is played, my dear. I don’t know anything about divorce law, but I know that divorces have held up lives for decades from people who don’t want the divorce and won’t sign the papers. A lot of cases have been won—or lost, depending on which side you’re on—because one party is just tired of fighting and simply gives up and gives in. I’m not sure there’s much that she can do but let him wait it out and give him want he wants short of paying him off to hurry up and sign the papers so that Tina can die in peace.”

“I have Al on it,” I reply. If all that needs to be done is he sign the papers and this is over, I’m not beyond paying this bastard off to go away. Maybe I’m getting too involved, but to me, this is just another way that the Boogeyman is bearing his teeth, even though he’s not bearing them at me. “What’s Harmony doing there anyway? I told her to spend some time with her mom.”

“Tina shooed her away and she doesn’t know how to deal with it. She’s young and going through some things herself right now. Handling two major life changes is taking its toll.”

“What about her classes?” I ask.

“Not until this afternoon.” I shake my head.

“Where is she now?”

“She’s helping Michelle out in the dorms—busy work for the most part.” We drive into the gate at the Crossing.

“Well, keep her busy until it’s time to go to school. I’m sure something’s going to give. Maybe have her help you with researching benefit packages.”

“Oh, yes, that’s a good idea,” she concurs.

“I’m going to touch bases with my husband and have him get in touch with the guy who did the Faces PSA—see if we can get a meeting.”

“Excellent, and I’ll get to work on Project Harmony and the benefits research.”

“Indeed, you know where to find me.” I end the call and text Marilyn to meet me at the mansion before I exit the car.

“Is everything okay?” A frowning Gail is walking quickly through the portico to help get the twins from the car. I gesture to the train of vehicles behind me.

“Imagine this driving up to Helping Hands,” I say. “We’d have news helicopters hovering over the Center!” She looks back at the Caravan of Love while I try not to slam the door after Keri has removed Mikey from the car. Chuck has already unbuckled Minnie’s seat and hands the carrier to Gail.

“Oh,” she says with a frown, looking at the line of Audis. “Why the entourage?” she asks. I shake my head.

“Ask His Highness,” I say, waving my hand disgustedly while breezing past her into the house.

*-*

“I don’t know if I’ve told you, but I’m redoing my office here, too,” I say to Marilyn as she types away on her MacBook while sitting in one of the seats across from my desk. She raises her eyes to me.

“Why?” she asks. “It’s so comfy and pretty.”

21d54a5af21611b9705d7f44ebc4c980

“It served the original purpose, but now, it looks too executive. It’s not Zen enough.”

“Oh… the Zen,” she says, tapping at her MacBook again. “How’s that working for you?”

“Some days it helps. Others, I’m struggling,” I admit.

“Well, you just started. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.” Yeah, I know. I just wish the Boogeyman would stop rearing his ugly head at me. I’m fighting him. I’ve decided not to take his abuse lying down anymore. But damn, it’s exhausting! I’m trying not to internalize Harmony’s issue; Christian has the entire Intergalactic Force following me; and I haven’t even bothered to ask Marilyn if she’s taken a pregnancy test. She seems in better spirits, but who knows what that means. I need to talk to Ace in the worst way and I’m trying to wait until my appointment on Friday, but it’s hard as hell. I need some damn guidance.

For some reason, my need for guidance leads me to call my husband instead of my shrink.

“Butterfly… are you okay?” he answers frantically, another reason for me to believe that something more is going on than he’s letting on.

“Why wouldn’t I be okay, Christian?” I ask, keeping my voice even. He sighs.

“Don’t read anything into it,” he cautions. “I just got the word the you went back to the house instead of going in to work and just as I was about to call you, you called me. It startled me, that’s all.” I raise my eyebrow in disbelief.

“Well, I couldn’t take the Observation Committee to the Center,” I say stoically. “It would be counterproductive.”

“Yeah, about that,” he says. “Jason went all commando-special-ops on me and pulled that shit, but I straightened it out. You’ll have a couple of extra details with you, but that caravan shit is a wash. I’m sorry if it scared you.”

It didn’t scare me, it pissed me off.

“We’ll keep the detail to your car and one additional with the usual guards and maybe two others, and Butterfly, it’s just a precaution. You know me—I’d rather be safe than sorry any day, but even I know when too much is too much.”

I try not to react, but I can’t help the sigh of relief I release knowing that Jason was just going overboard and that there was no sniper or something waiting to pick me off at the Center.

“You do still carry your firearm with you, don’t you?” And just when I was starting to relax…

“Yes,” I reply.

“Good, because I had to remind him that you’re a proficient shot and that you stay armed so that he would back off a bit. Hell, you’d probably pick off somebody coming at you faster than any of them would… I’m reminded of a certain Monster Bitch.”

I can’t help but laugh, and the tension is broken again, which I’m sure was his intent.

“I have a purpose for my call,” I say, not noticing that Marilyn has left the room. Where did she go?

“What is it?”

“Well, first, I want to see if you can set a meeting with that guy who did the Faces of Abuse PSA. We’re thinking of doing one for the new services at Helping Hands and we need direction.”

“I’ll give him a call,” Christian says. “And second?”

“I don’t know if you’ve been informed, but Tina Franklin has taken a turn for the worst.” I hear him sigh.

“Really?” he says, his voice deflated.

“Unfortunately, yes. She’s at home on hospice. Harmony’s not doing very well, so this portion kind of has a two and a three.” He pauses.

“I’m listening.”

I tell him about how Tina is pushing Harmony away in her last days. I’m certain she thinks it’s an attempt to spare Harmony the pain of watching her fade away. The problem is that she’s going to need these last moments to cling to when her mother is gone, and Tina is unintentionally taking those away from her. I beseech Christian to go and see her, maybe see if he can talk to her since he knows Tina so much better than I do. When he hesitates, I ask him how he would feel if this were Grace and he was in this position. He sighs.

“I’ll stop by after work,” he says, surrendering.

“There’s more,” I tell him.

“More than this? Sweet Jesus, what else?”

“Harmony’s divorce isn’t final. She had an attorney, but it turns out that the asshole was a spy for her husband. I’ve talked to Al about helping but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. Her husband is stalling the proceedings waiting for Tina to die. He knows that Harmony is going to get an inheritance and if she gets it before they’re divorced…”

“He may be entitled to half,” Christian finishes. “Yes, the dirty business of divorce. Dad always talked about hating to see two people who once loved each other rip one another apart in court.”

“Isn’t there something that can be done?” I ask. “Can’t the court force that asshole to sign the papers? If not, Tina’s going to die or Harmony’s going to give in and—either way—he’s going to get what he wants.

“Short of busting the guys kneecaps and making him sign the papers, there’s no way around this.”

“Can we bust his kneecaps?” I ask, only half-serious.

“Butterfly…” my husband scolds.

“I know, I know,” I say, “it’s just that this guy has been dirt from the very beginning…”

I tell him the whole story about how the marriage was a farce from day one, the whole time the soon-to-be-ex-husband hoping to get his hands-on Harmony’s money not knowing that the money wasn’t Harmony’s. I explain that Harmony is not a trust fund kid like Tina’s other children may have been; that Harmony is the adopted great-granddaughter that her parents didn’t want and how Tina kept her money out of the snake’s hands when she saw through him. I told him about the guy’s philandering and how horribly he treated Harmony once he realized he wasn’t getting a hold of her money, forcing her to leave to avoid the terrible treatment and infidelity.

“Now, it looks like he’s going to get what he was after all along,” I conclude.

“Well, that explains a lot,” Christian says. “I was wondering how Tina could have a daughter so young. I’m also wondering if all of her children are going to come home now that she’s in hospice, or if they’re all still too busy with their lives.”

I don’t say what I’m thinking… that they’ll all show up after she’s dead looking for their cut.

“So, we have a parasite on our hands,” Christian says, “and short of going the old-school route and giving him the beating that he so richly deserves or making him an offer he can’t refuse, he’s going to get off Scott free with half of Harmony’s inheritance. I’m not buying that. There’s a way around that somehow.”

“I don’t see that there is, Christian, except for Harmony not to get the money… and that’s punishing Harmony for her asshole ex-husband’s actions.”

“I’m a businessman. There’s always a way,” he says confidently. “I don’t mean to rush you, baby, but there’s a ton of shit that I have to get to today and you just gave me a couple of additional projects to add to the pile. Was there anything else you needed?”

“No, that was it. I’ll call you if I think of anything else.”

“Okay… now I’m going to see Tina after work. Unless I can get out of here early, that means I’ll be home late today.” His voice is placating, like he thinks I’ll break—not that I can blame him.

“Okay, that’s fine. I won’t wait up,” I say.

“Not that damn late!” he adds.

“I get it, Christian. You’ll be home later. I’ll see you when you get here.” We exchange I love you’d and end the call. So, the threat’s not so bad that I need eight people following me, but he wants to make sure that I’m carrying my gun. Like he said, Ana, don’t read anything into it.

The whole thing with the adoption has made me think about my biological family—or the lack thereof—and I go to that website I logged into last year. The damn thing’s been charging my account every month for a year and I haven’t even been paying attention to it. I think I remember Mare saying something about it right before the twins were born and I said that I would get to it, but nothing since then.

Nothing from Marilyn anyway.

When I log into the website, it’s full of hits and notifications. Holy cow, Batman! Are these all people who are related to me? Shit, it’s going to take me months to get through all this data and all these people!

I log out of the site. My brain can’t even absorb that shit right now. Is this a box that I really want to open? After nearly 30 years, here comes cousin Ana? And are these people legit or are they just people on the site who may know who I am and are trying to get a piece of the rock?

“Dear Jesus, not now,” I say, opening my email program instead. I see the email from Mia that I’ve been avoiding, the one with the link to her wedding site. I roll my eyes and sigh.

“Might as well look,” I say aloud and click on the link.

The site opens to a background of Mia and Ethan on their wedding day, all smiles and gleefully posing as Mr. and Mrs. Kavanaugh. There are so many links and features that I don’t know where to begin. My first destination is the guest list. I have no idea who put this together, but each person who signed the guest book is featured in this section—pictures with their scribbled names underneath and their relation to the bride and groom, if any. I quickly find the picture of me and Christian. Someone caught us walking into the ballroom together, I have no idea when. We’re very casual and he’s holding my hand. It’s a simple picture of us and I like it—not posed or phony, just me and Christian as we are… well, most of the time.

Most of the other pictures of the guests were either pictures from the photo booths or candid shots like me and Christian. I don’t know if Adelaide will peruse Mia’s website, but if she does, the guestlist will alert her that her granddaughter is still in town, or at least was for the wedding. Her photo is with Vickie, protectively holding her around the waist. Her smile is large and genuine. She looks radiant, and Vickie’s adoration of her clearly shows through the photograph. I won’t alert her that the picture is here. I think it’ll only cause her undue anxiety. She travels in some of the same circles as her grandparents. If it’s meant to be that they bump into each other, then they will.

I get lost in the website, reliving the night through many of the photographs and enjoying the journey. I even get a little miffed watching Marlow dance with his little walking-fart-dress-wearing date. Geez, I hope she’s not a girlfriend. Then there’s the picture of Carrick holding Grace close to him on the dancefloor and planting a tender kiss on her cheek. Elliot and Val didn’t escape the smooch-cam either. And of course, me and Christian. There’s even a picture of Christian placing a tender kiss on Tina’s cheek when she and Harmony were about to leave the reception.

A kinder, gentler Christian Grey…

I didn’t, however, expect to see a video clip of us singing for Mia. I guess somebody couldn’t resist.


CHRISTIAN

I hope I’ve convinced my wife to resume going into the office. I haven’t had a cooking lesson from Gail in over a week and I’m certain that I’ve completely forgotten how to crack an egg… which is ridiculous. I proceed with what I was about to do when my wife called me and interrupted my thought process.

“Terry Smalls here.”

“Smalls, Grey. I’ve been waiting for an update on my grandfather’s storage bins. What’s the news?”

“We’re still sorting, sir,” he says. “It’s like one of those boxes where you open it and there’s another box and you open it and there’s another box and you open it and there’s another box. I think you or your uncle should look at these manifests…”

“Why don’t you just tell me what’s in there?” I ask impatiently.

“Where do I start?” he laments. “We’ve got about five bins full of antique furniture—real quality stuff. We’ve got at least two and maybe three bins of knick knacks, and when I say ‘knick knacks,’ I don’t mean ‘whatnots.’ I mean old fashioned baby clothes, bronzed baby shoes, somebody’s wedding dress—According to the manifest, there’s a collection of Waterford Crystal somewhere in one of these bins. You know they don’t make that anymore, right?”

“Yes, I’m aware,” I say.

“Oh! Yeah, and three more cars.” I nearly drop the phone.

More cars?” I ask.

“Yeah, three,” he confirms. “We haven’t located them yet.”

“Then how do you know they’re there?” I inquire.

“They’re on the manifests,” he says.

“Classics? Restored, like the Mustang?”

“I don’t know, sir. We haven’t found them yet…”

“Goddammit, drop everything and find the cars first! My grandfather was sick well before he died. Those things might have been sitting there for years!”

“Will do, sir.” I end the call and push my hands through my hair. My grandfather was fucking rich, or he spent his money in such a way as to accumulate an array of valuable things that he must have horded for his sons—four classic cars, four brothers. That’s got to be what that is.

I must shake the thought from my head about the cars because there’s nothing I can do about this until I know what the cars are and what kind of shape they’re in.

I spend the morning and part of the afternoon pretending to concentrate on the business of mergers and acquisitions, but it’s no use. I want to know what the fuck is taking Smalls so long to unearth those damn vehicles. Then, I get the news that one of my safe havens is about to fall prey to the worst type of vermin and, like I said, short of breaking his kneecaps, I don’t know that there’s much I can do to help her.

Short of breaking his kneecaps… I’m not beyond breaking his kneecaps, but let’s see what we can get done legally first.

“Well, truth be told, Chris,” Al says once I summon him to my office, “I know about assets and I love a good juicy fight, but I never really got into divorce law.”

“It’s a contract,” I tell him. “It’s the same thing. Think about a merger that’s about to happen. We’ve got assets that we want to hide without tipping off the buyer or the SEC.”

“I didn’t say that I didn’t know what to do. I said that basically, this isn’t my area of expertise.”

“Okay, so get to the point. What does this all mean?” I ask, impatiently.

“Nothing. He can’t touch her inheritance. If they were still in love and planning to be married for life, he still couldn’t touch her inheritance. The only way that he could touch her inheritance is if she intermingled the money together with the marital assets somehow, like if she put the money in a joint account or if it was property and he paid to repair it. Other than that, he can hold the divorce up until hell freezes over. He’ll never get that money.” I just stare at him.

“I thought all money that came into the marriage after the vows was automatically community property,” I protest.

“Nope,” he says. “Even in community property states, inheritances are not ‘his, hers, and ours.’ If that money is deposited into an account that belongs only to Ms. Harmony, Mr. Harmony can’t fuck with it.” Well, I’ll be damned.

“Have you told Harmony yet?” I ask.

“I haven’t had the chance.”

“Let me do it,” I say. “I’m going to see Aunt Tina this evening and I’d love to be able to put both their fears to rest simultaneously.”

“Be my guest,” he says.

That fucker better be glad I’ve discovered that he can’t get any of Harmony’s money. I’m not the vigilante-save-every-damsel-in-distress-that-crosses-my-path guy, but any discomfort I’ve ever inflicted on any woman with few exceptions has been consensual. I hate for men to take advantage of women, especially emotionally and even more so financially, but I hate it even more when a jerk or a crook gets over on the good guy, and that seems to happen a lot.

Hearing the news about Harmony and Tina helps me to relax a bit and I get a little more done during the afternoon than I do during the morning. I decide to leave the office early to go see about Aunt Tina, but not before I touch bases with Smalls. How fucking hard can it be to find four whole ass vehicles?

Just when I’m about to lose my complete patience with Smalls and send someone else to Detroit to get the job done, my intercom comes alive.

“Mr. Grey, I have Terry Smalls on line 2.”

Without even answering her, I pick up line 2.

“It’s late afternoon here, so I know it’s after dark there. What took so long?” I bark into the phone. “They’re cars. What took hours to find cars?”

“Well, sir, all the cars are parked behind packed boxes like the first one was. Knowing that at least one of them has fine crystal in it, I’m sure you didn’t want us to go tearing through them like a bull in a china shop.” His voice is crisper than I would like, but he has been rummaging through storage bins all day. I bite back the urge to reprimand him.

“Oh, you found the damn cars?” I ask.

“Oh, we found the cars. Your grandfather apparently has a wonderful sense of humor,” he says mirthlessly. Watch it, Skippy.

“Meaning?” I say, nearly growling.

“Meaning,” he begins, softening his tone, “finding the cars meant going through riddles on the manifest. We unpacked at least two rows in four bins before we found the last car. One of my guys apparently likes logic problems, so he was quickly able to figure out the last two saving us a massive amount of time.”

“Riddles?” I ask incredulously. “Like what?”

“Oh, God, sir, please don’t put me through that again,” he laments, but continues anyway. “Things like two farmers go to the market to buy wheat one buys 45 bags the other buys 75 bags when they get home they split it evenly between three farmers but only one farmer paid for it and… you get the idea.” He says the entire thing without stopping. “When you solve the riddle, you get the number of a manifest or a storage bin, only we didn’t figure it out until after we found the second car. We’ll be here all night putting these boxes away.”

“You’ve got the boxes out already. Why not work in shifts getting some of that stuff sorted instead of shoving it back into the bins? I only suggest that because it’s got to be a better use of time than to shove it all back in there just to pull it back out again.”

“My guys are tired. I’ll run it by them, but I’m worried about accuracy with an exhausted crew.”

“You’re right. Not a smart idea. What can you tell me about the cars?”

“Well, we can see the cars, but we can’t move them. They’re open, but the keys and the titles are all hidden in RiddleLand again, and I have a feeling these are personal.” Oh, dear Lord.

“Please, explain,” I sigh.

“Well, in the glove box of each car, there’s a riddle. After each riddle, it says, ‘Ask the boys.’” I wish I had more patience for this. I’m not flying back out to Detroit. I don’t care if he finds gold bullion in one of those bins.

“Can you give me an example?” I ask.

“’What has four fingers and a thumb but is not living?’ That one was easy enough, a glove. But what does that mean to me? At first, we thought it meant look in the glove box of the other cars, but there were just more riddles. That’s when we saw the words, ‘Ask the boys.’ So, like I said. I think these are more personal.” Now, I’m exhausted and I haven’t even done any of the work.

“Send me pictures of the cars and the riddles, please. I’ll talk to my uncle. By the way, what kind of condition are the other cars in?”

“Cherry,” he says. “You have to see them. There’s no way I can explain it.” Cherry… that’s pretty ripe.

“Email them, pack up the boxes. Go have dinner and get some rest. I’ll be waiting for your call tomorrow.” My way of telling him that I won’t bother him since I know it’s going to take forever to get the boxes back into the bins.

“Yes, sir.”

*-*

It’s about five thirty when we arrive at Aunt Tina’s. The butler doesn’t recognize me when he opens the door, not that he has any reason to, but at first, he denies me entry or access to see her.

“I know what condition she’s in and she’s a very dear friend of mine. I’d like to see her please. Tell her it’s Christian,” I insist.

“I’m afraid that’s impossible,” he says, his nose in the air. “Mrs. Franklin is not seeing visitors.”

“She’ll see me,” I persist. He doesn’t relent. “Is Harmony here?” His face distorts in distaste. What the fuck is that all about?

“No, she’s not,” he announces. As if in answer to his question, a late model Jetta drives up the round drive. One of the other staff opens the driver side door and Harmony steps out.

“Christian,” she says, recognition setting in as she approaches the door. “How are you? It’s good to see you.”

“I wish I could say the same,” I complain. “I mean to say that it’s good to see you, but I can’t seem to get in to see Tina.” Harmony frowns.

“She’s not doing very well,” she says.

“Yes, I know. My wife told me. She explained her condition to me at Mia’s wedding and she asked me to come by and see her. Here I am, but I can’t get in.” She looks at the butler.

“Roger, what’s the meaning of this?” Harmony says. Roger looks at her but doesn’t acknowledge her. “Let Christian in. What’s wrong with you?”

“Ms. Tina is not in any condition to see guests,” he says snootily.

“That’s not for you to decide!” Harmony retorts. “Are you her doctor, now? Move.”

He says nothing but refuses to grant me access.

“Roger, I know you’ve worked for my mother for many years and you know the lay of this property like the back of your hand, but this. Is not. Your. House!” she hisses. Roger’s lips form a straight line. “Now, step aside, and please allow multibillionaire and mega-entrepreneur Christian Trevelyan Grey into my home!”

She’s glaring at him and he glares right back at her like she’s nobody. I’ve had enough. I shove this fucker aside and step into the house.

“Harmony, where’s Aunt Tina?” I ask, ignoring Roger’s appalled gasps and scoldings.

“She’s upstairs in her room,” she says. I take the spiral stairs two at a time. I don’t know why I feel such a sense of urgency, but I need to get to her to tell her what I’ve discovered and to let her know not to push Harmony away.

“Which room?” I ask Harmony when we get to the top of the stairs.

“Third door on the right,” she says.

“You can’t just go barging in on someone like this!” Roger protests. I whirl around on him in an instant.

“I’ve had all I’m going to take from you!” I hiss. “Now, if you don’t shut up…” I let the words hang in the air. Jason comes casually up the stairs behind me and stands behind Roger. He deflates at the sight of Jason and shrinks back a bit.

“How do you get anything done with him around?” I ask.

“It’s a trial,” Harmony admits.

“Let me guess. He knows more than you do and won’t listen to anything you say because he’ll only take orders from Tina. What’s more is that he walks around with a haughty ass entitled attitude looking down on everybody even though he’s nothing more than the help.” I’m staring at him waiting for a response or reaction from him. I get none.

“You’ve hit that nail right on the head,” Harmony says. Yes, I said the help. Gail, Jason, Chuck—that’s my family that happen to be my employees. They don’t act entitled and they certainly don’t treat my guests like vermin. So, yes, he’s nothing more than the help.

“Does he have any idea that everything he gazes upon and holds dear is going to you when your mother dies?” Roger’s eyes widen and his face pales. Harmony’s eyes widen as well.

“How do you know that?” she asks, surprised.

“I’m Christian Grey. I have my ways.” I say, never taking my eyes off Roger. I don’t know that, but he doesn’t know that I don’t know. “The very reason for my visit is to let you know that I’ve discovered some information about your inheritance and your asshole husband that should put your and Tina’s fears to rest.”

“I… I thought Ana had her friend Allen working on it,” Harmony says. I finally break my gaze with Roger and look at Harmony.

“She did,” I tell her. “Allen’s my head of legal. He’s a specialist in asset law, but he’s not a divorce attorney. No worries, though. I spoke to my father, too. He’ll be representing you in your divorce. But, first, I need to share some news with you and Aunt Tina.” I gesture to her to lead the way. She steps in front of me and walks to Tina’s door. As we’re about to enter, Roger makes to enter with us. I hold my hand up at his chest.

“We won’t need you, Roger,” I say. “Jason?” Jason steps in front of Roger as Harmony and I step into the bedroom.

“Sir!” Jason stops me somewhat urgently. He leans in to me.

“Sir, I’m getting feedback on my earpiece,” he says lowly. My brow furrows and I shake my head. What does that mean?

“This room is bugged,” he informs me. I’m instantly horrified.

“You’re sure?”

“I’m positive,” he confirms.

“There’s no way to scramble the signal?”

“Don’t dawdle there at the door! Come in!” Tina demands, her back to us. I look to Jason.

“I can call Alex. It’ll probably fuck up your cell signal, too.” I nod and put my hand in the small of Harmony’s back.

“Careful what you say,” I whisper to her as we walk across the room to Aunt Tina.

“Mom?” Harmony says softly. Tina takes her hand.

“You just don’t listen, do you, child?” she says sweetly. Harmony can’t control her emotions.

“It’s my fault, Aunt Tina,” I say, emerging from behind the chair. Her face is worn and tired but lights up when she sees me.

“Christian!” she says with excitement. “Are you being a bad influence on my Harmony?” Harmony kneels at her mother’s feet and lays her head in Tina’s lap. She weeps quietly, and Tina gently strokes her hair.

“This is why I don’t want you here,” she says, trying to comfort Harmony.

“This is exactly why she needs to be here, Aunt Tina,” I say softly touching her shoulder. “These will be her last moments with you. She needs every one of them.” Aunt Tina looks up at me and nods, still stroking Harmony’s hair.

“At least do your mom a solid and don’t cry every time you see me,” Aunt Tina says to Harmony, who tries to control her sniffles.

“Yes, ma’am,” she says, her voice soft. Tina shifts a bit in her chair.

“See? I’m not gone yet,” Aunt Tina says. “I just saw a commercial that you’re going to be on that program next Monday—you and your wife. What’s that about?” I look at my phone and I still have a very clear signal.

“We did a segment somewhat introducing ourselves to the world.” Aunt Tina tsk’s.

“You don’t need to be introduced to the world,” she says. “They all know who you are.”

“No, they don’t,” I smile. “They just think they do. Your butler certainly doesn’t know me. And he doesn’t like me either.”

“He’s just protective,” she says. “He’s been with me for a long time.”

“Is that why he doesn’t respect Harmony either?” I ask. Harmony raises her head from her mother’s lap.

“Christian…” She shakes her head.

“My dear, if Tina is the only one he’ll listen to, then Tina is the one that has to let him know he can’t treat you that way,” I inform her. Tina’s frail hand lifts Harmony’s chin.

“Is this true?” she asks. “Is he disrespectful to you?”

“He just doesn’t know me, Momma,” she says sweetly.

“Nonsense!” Tina says, pressing a button on the table next to her bed. Roger bursts through the door almost immediately, pushing past Jason and appearing before Tina.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, making eye-contact only with Tina.

“Roger are you being a pompous asshole again?” she says. His brows furrow.

“Ma’am?” he says.

“You treat my daughter as if she were me, today and from now on, or you can pack your things and leave this house tonight! Are we clear?” His eyes widen.

“Ma’am!” he says shocked. “Ma’am, I assure you…”

“I’m not looking for any of your English butler-school-taught bullshit right now, Roger. I am looking for a yes or no answer. Are. We. Clear?” He straightens.

“Yes…” he says. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Now, apologize to my daughter for how you’ve apparently been treating her when my back is turned.” He turns to Harmony.

“Ms. Harmony, I’m deeply sorry for my behavior…”

“Your insolence!” Tina demands. Roger clears his throat.

“For my insolence,” he corrects. “I humbly beg your forgiveness and assure you that it will never happen again.” Harmony turns away from him and rests her chin on her mother’s lap.

“It’s my understanding that you were rude to my guest as well,” Aunt Tina says. “I’m appalled, not only because he’s a dear friend of my family but also because you felt you have the right to treat anyone who visits my home that way. I’m dying, Roger, but I’m not dead yet! You should be glad I don’t fire you right now. I’m waiting.” Roger raises his gaze to me and I raise my hand to stop him.

“I don’t want his apology,” I say. Aunt Tina looks up at me.

“Christian, is that the behavior of a gentleman?” she scolds.

“No, ma’am,” I say, “and I don’t feel the need to be a gentleman in his presence.” I turn back to Aunt Tina while he continues to glare at me. “Forgive me, Aunt Tina.” She covers my hand and nods.

“You can go now,” she says to Roger. When he leaves, she opens her mouth as if to yawn. “Ah,” she says.

“What is it, Mom?” Harmony asks.

“There’s almost always a constant humming in my ears,” she says. “It’s gone.” I look at my phone. There’s no signal. Jason has found a way to scramble the signal in the room. I examine Aunt Tina.

“Aunt Tina, do you have a hearing aid?” I ask. I can’t see one, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have one. Sure enough, she pulls a device out of her ear that’s no bigger than a fingertip.

“I’ve had it calibrated a hundred times, but it doesn’t help.” I sigh.

“Both ears?” I ask. She nods. “Aunt Tina, I have some things to tell you.”


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

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

 

Raising Grey: RunTellAna!

RunTellAna!

I actually had to do a post about this because there was just no addressing it any other way. I really love when people get into conversations about what they think is going to happen and what direction the story is going in, but this is one that I had to address really quick. Now, don’t think I’m mad at anybody! This is informational purposes only. 😉

John and Christian—John is Christian’s friend. Christian had a conversation with his friend about his situation. John joked about “not starting the clock,” but John stopped being Christian’s psychiatrist two stories ago. When I have a conversation with my friends, I don’t run and tell my husband every time I have a conversation with my friends, nor am I required to, just like he doesn’t do that for me.

“But Lynn, John’s interference caused them a whole lot of problems back in Paging and Mending. Should Christian be talking to him at all? And shouldn’t he tell Ana before she finds out some other way?”

How? Who’s going to tell her? John’s in England for at least a year and Ana and John don’t talk. How is she going to find out? Also, if it was that big a problem, don’t you think it would have been an even bigger problem at their wedding? Ana doesn’t hate the man or else she never would have told Christian to call him. She would have left that to Grace.

“But Lynn, you didn’t answer the first question—interference? Problems? Ana going nuts?

Ana never told Christian to fire John. Christian came at Ana with what he interpreted John said. That’s what pissed her off (Granted, John left a lot to the interpretation). Their vastly varying methods of psychiatric practice left a hugely bitter taste in her mouth, but Christian fired John because he didn’t like how John left the conversation open for a wide interpretation, not because Ana said that he had to. If Christian had decided to continue to see John as his psychiatrist, Ana couldn’t do anything about that. That was his choice.

I’m going to answer a question that I see often. Every time Christian talks to someone that makes people think, “Hmm, should he be talking to that person?” I see, “Is he going to tell Ana? He better tell Ana! Is he going to tell her?”

The answer is, “No.”

Christian is not going to “runtellAna” every little thing that happens, because the success of their marriage is not dependent on her knowing every single solitary detail of his life. If I knew every single tiny detail of my husband’s life, who he talks to, about what, yada yada yada, I wouldn’t have enough time to live my own life! Who has that kind of mental real estate? I’d lose my marbles!

When things are important and Ana needs to know, Christian makes sure that she knows—in his own time. Anybody remember the hacker situation? She was clueless—and pissed—and what did he tell her? “You just have to trust me.” He didn’t tell her a thing until he was ready, and even then, he still didn’t tell her everything.

I’m kind of going on a tangent, but what I’m trying to say is that everything that happens in the story is not a “Secrets and Lies” plot and everything that happens to them doesn’t originate from a “Secrets and Lies” plot, because it always seems to come back to that. Some things, they need to communicate and tell each other (i.e. Liam). Everything? NO! They don’t need to tell each other everything unless something is going to be detrimental to their life, health, family, relationship, etc. “I had a two-hour conversation with my friend about his life and my life” is not detrimental unless John told him to leave his wife and we’re assuming that he didn’t do that.

My husband and I have been together for nearly 20 years. He knows what to keep to himself, as do I. Every little thing, every little conversation does not need to be discussed. Couples who have been together for years and years know that I’m right.

And please, don’t post comments that tell that universal lie:

“My husband (wife/significant other) and I have absolutely no secrets! We tell each everything!” (Yes, I’m making the “snooty face” and “snooty voice” while I type that)

Yeah… no.

No matter how hard you try to convince me of that, know in advance that I’m not going to respond—but I am going to sit here laughing at you while secretly judging you and calling you a liar, or I’m just going to assume that you don’t have enough life/relationship experience yet to know that sometimes, unless it’s detrimental, you keep your mouth shut to keep the peace. I do, however, reserve the right to post a hilariously laughing gif as a response if I feel the need to do so.

Every time some little bug gets up my butt, I don’t need to “runtellDaddy.” It’ll crawl out eventually and I usually discover that it’s not worth the effort.

My husband’s an attractive man. Every time somebody gets a little flirty with him, as long as he puts them in their place, he doesn’t have to “runtellme.” I don’t “runtellDaddy” every time somebody says something or shows interest in me. I tell them that I’m married and send them on their way.

So, just to answer the question—no, Christian ain’t gonna “runtellAna” and Ana ain’t gonna “runtellChristian” every time something happens.

Raising Grey: Chapter 45—Doing What Must Be Done

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

Chapter 45—Doing What Must Be Done

ANASTASIA

True to his word—and probably out of a sense of duty—Christian comes to the connection room with me in the morning and tries to meditate, which is probably the reason that it doesn’t work.

“It’s no use, Butterfly,” he says, interrupting me ten minutes into my meditation. “It’s not helping.” I sigh.

He’s sitting cross-legged lotus style in front of me. I move to sit in front of him in the same position.

“Are you comfortable?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says, almost sarcastically.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Work and us and the twins and…”

“That’s your problem,” I tell him. “That’s not meditating.”

“It’s so quiet!” he says, somewhat whiney. “When I try to clear my mind, a million thoughts pop up. Our trip to Detroit, having to deal with Freeman, what color is the sky…” I think he threw that last one in there to be sarcastic. “It’s the same as when I was trying to do it before. The only difference was that then, the quiet let the monsters in.” I move closer to him until our knees touch.

“Give me your hands,” I instruct him. He dutifully gives me his hands. “Now breathe with me… slowly. Slow deep breath in, fill your lungs completely…” I take in a deep breath. “Now count slowly to yourself as you exhale through your mouth.” He blows his breath out a little fast, so I have to instruct him a little more.

“Make an ‘o’ with your lips and exhale soft and slow, like you’re blowing on a dandelion. Count at least three seconds.”

“I’ve never blown a dandelion,” he protests.

“Okay, pretend like you’re blowing something else,” I say. I thought of gently blowing out a candle. I can tell by his facial expression where his mind goes.

Figures.

“In through your nose, deep breath,” I coach again. “Out through your mouth…”

Of course, it’s perfect this time, and I have to fight the visual of him blowing on my clit.

“In through your nose, out through your mouth… In… Out…” Once I see that he’s gotten the hang of the breathing, I move to the next step.

“Now, close your eyes and calm your breathing,” I tell him. “Breathe normally, but still feel the good air coming in, and the bad air going out. Concentrate on that serene feeling of cleansing and freedom.”

I can see when the serenity hits him. His face softens, and his shoulders relax. His breath becomes more and more even and a few moments later, he sinks into a complete sense of calm.

I don’t release his hands. I just sit there with him, close my eyes and finish my meditation.

Several minutes later, I stretch my neck and come out of my meditation. I open my eyes to see Christian still sitting across from me, still breathing, still relaxing. I gently stroke his hand with my thumb so as not to startle him too much. He slowly opens his lids, and cool, gray irises look back at me.

“How was that?” I ask. His eyes shift for a moment, then he breathes again and nods.

“Good, actually,” he replies. “Better than the last time. My mind still wandered every now and then, though.”

“That’s okay,” I tell him. “Meditation is about focus, but the silence tends to make you focus on the wrong things. We’ll try this a bit and see if it works for you, then we’ll try some more advanced techniques. Tell me, how do you feel?”

“More… relaxed,” he says as if searching for the word, “like thinking isn’t such a trial. Maybe ‘trial’ is the wrong word…” He trails off.

“I think you’re getting it,” I say, rewarding him with a sweet smile. His expression is soft, though he doesn’t smile. I gaze into his eyes and see a myriad of emotions there, things that I know he can’t verbalize. Last night at the lake was the first time I’ve ever seen my husband so sadly and desperately passionate about anything. If there was another time, it’s been erased by the accident. Even Montana didn’t have him this passionate or openly maudlin, that he showed me. The Elliot misunderstanding was certainly maudlin, but not this passionate. This time…

God, we’ve been through so much in such a brief period of time, and goddammit, we’re both amateurs! My only gauge is a psychopathic cheating ex who eventually hanged himself in a jail cell. Christian has no prior gauge at all. Some days, I wonder how we make it out alive.

At first, I think it’s my imagination, but I realize the space is closing between us… like in slow motion. The emotions prevalent in his eyes now are longing and, I think, hope.

Kiss me…

He doesn’t say it, but I hear it. I release his hands and take his face gently in mine. Closing the space between us, I press tender kisses on his lips, closing my eyes and feeling the softness. I slant my mouth over his and deepen the kiss only slightly, and he slides his hands around my waist. I push my hands into his hair and massage his scalp with my fingertips. He pulls me to my knees while rising to his own and envelops me in his arms, pulling me closer to his body.

We taste one another, slowly and gently, and I feel our connection—like it was before Madrid… and Liam. I feel my Christian, my lover and my protector, and I chance the moment of feeling safe and loved in his arms, like we used to be. He pulls slightly away from me and looks into my eyes.

“We… should get our day started,” he says, his voice soft, but raspy. “There’s a lot we need to do.”

“Yeah,” I say, gently brushing his uncut hair off his forehead. We share another gaze before he rubs his nose against mine and I reciprocate with another gentle kiss to his lips.

Crawling…

He lifts me effortlessly from the floor and places me gently on my feet. He takes my hand and leads me out of the connection room.

“I’m going to work from home today,” he says as he closes the secret door, “get some things settled for the trip to Detroit. Leave the twins here. I’d like to spend some time with them.” I smile. He’s been quite the doting father since his return. He was attentive before. I mean, he never neglected them except for his momentary check-out after Burt died and then this time—going off to Madrid and not seeing or speaking to them for weeks. I’m sure that he wants to make up for lost time, but he has his whole life to do that, as long as he doesn’t continue to do that check out thing when times get tough.

Try to think positive, Dr. Grey. It’s all you’ve got right now.

“I need to go to the Center, but I won’t be gone long,” I tell him. “I’d like to spend some time with them, too.” He smiles at me and releases my hand before going off to his bathroom. There’s still a small rift between us, but we’re working on it. I just want things to be the way that they were before Liam darkened our door.

Liam…

I swear to God, if I ever see that guy again, I’ll nail him square in the balls!

*-*

“No, we’re not going, dear,” Grace says to me while were sitting in my makeshift office. My office is being painted for my self-funded remodel. “Unfortunately, it’s too short notice. The Center will once again be without administration and I also have my shifts at the hospital. I couldn’t go if I tried. And Luma has a job, too, though I’m sure her generous boss would be willing to give her time off for this,” she says playfully. I often forget that Luma works for Christian. I just see her as family.

“Nonetheless,” Gail continues, “she has the girls to tend to. She needs to get them off to school in the morning and such. I do wish we could go, but to be honest, Christian is the one that’s going to need the moral support. Detroit was home to Carrick and Herman. Their worst memories are probably of Freeman, and they can handle that. Christian, on the other hand…”

She doesn’t finish her sentence, but she doesn’t have to. The monsters of Motown are often still chasing my husband during his darkest hours.

“I sincerely wonder what made him agree to go to Detroit in the first place,” she continues. “I certainly know that Carrick wouldn’t have asked him. We’re both only too aware of the horrible impact that place has had on him.”

“If I know my husband like I think I do, he just wants to be there to support his father,” I reply. “Don’t worry, Grace. He’ll be okay. I’ll keep my eye on him.” She sighs and shakes her head.

“You know how it is, dear,” she says, looking at her feet, “or at least you will. You never stop worrying about them no matter how old they get or how successful they become.” I squeeze her hand.

“Let’s go look at my office space,” I say, changing the subject. “I hear the painting is just about done and I can tell you what I’ve got planned…”

I’m delighted to find that the painting is completely finished, but unfortunately, it’s not dry yet. No matter, the furniture isn’t set to be delivered until Monday anyway as I was certain that the painting wouldn’t be done until then. Once we moved the furniture out, I realized that there was much more space in there than I thought. So, I’ve decided to make the office into two distinct spaces—a sitting area and the office area. The “office” portion is painted two tones of yellow, both muted, and the “Zen” sitting area is covered in a textured gray wallpaper. I wouldn’t have thought the two would go together, but when I looked at the furnishings that I chose, they were both the perfect choices to blend and separate the offices at the same time. Tongue and groove wood flooring will be laid over the weekend to finish things off.

“It’s going to be pretty minimalist,” I tell Grace as she’s eying the two separate colors of the room. “The need for change is prominent in my life right now… for obvious reasons.”

“Mmm,” Grace says in contemplation looking around the office. Does she not like the colors?

“What is it?” I ask.

“Oh, nothing, it just… This made me realize how long it’s been since I’ve changed my office,” she says. “It’s never been a priority. I came here, I did what I did, and I left. I’m only just realizing how much time I spend in that room.” She looks at me. “My office at the hospital is pretty cozy—warm and inviting. My space here looks like the principal’s office! I was so dead set against using any outside funds for the Center that I didn’t think about using my own funds for my personal space.” She turns to me. “Even though I’m only here on a part-time basis, it’s still something like 20 – 25% of my life.” I gesture around my empty office.

“You don’t have to convince me,” I point out. “I’m here more than you are, but then, I don’t have a full-time job either. How long has it been since you’ve updated the space?” She folds her arms and leans against the outside door jam.

“Like… never.” I just look at her. “Yes, I think it’s definitely time for a change,” and I can see the wheels turning.

“Grace, have you spoken to John?” I ask. He’s been MIA and mute for months now, even before Pops died. Exactly what’s going on with his son?

“Yes, I did,” she says, and her voice turns somber. “I’m not sure he’ll be coming back, dear.” My eyes widen.

“Why not?” I ask. “What happened?”

“His son is very sick,” she says. “I told you that he contracted something when they went home a while back. Well, the doctors here were no good in diagnosing what it was. They kept treating the flu and he kept getting worse—knocking on death’s door, in fact. So, they took him to a doctor overseas. They began treating him and he began to show improvement. What’s more is that they were able to isolate the virus. It’s a coronavirus that behaves a lot like SARS…”

“Were they treating him for SARS?” I ask.

“They weren’t treating him for anything because they thought it was the flu,” she replies. “You don’t treat the flu. You treat the symptoms and wait until it passes. When it didn’t pass, they started treating him for pneumonia. He was getting marginally better, but you’re looking at a virus, not an infection. That’s when John and Rhian decided to take him overseas. Too much time had gone by and he wasn’t showing enough improvement. Long story short, after lots and lots of brutal testing and agonizingly long nights, he’s been diagnosed with MERS.” I frown.

“What the hell is MERS?” I ask. I may need to do some continuing education for this one.

“Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome,” she says. My frown deepens. It’s sounds just like SARS.

“Is this something somebody made up?” I ask. “I swear, this sounds like somebody trying to get into a medical journal or something, and they’re using this kid to do it.”

“Well, he’s not the first case. In fact, several people have died from it over the last two years.”

“But you said he went to England,” I protest. “How can a kid who went to England contract something from the Middle East? Did they visit Iran, too? And why do they name illnesses after regions? It makes it sound like the entire area is infected.”

60662cdbb617d5bbbfb4c15950e146c6The West Nile Virus and the German Measles immediately come to mind. I’m seeing the old pictures in my head of children singing Ring Around the Rosie during the time of the Black Death. I know those origins are questionable, but the impact is just as strong as the uncertainty around this MERS thing.

“There were cases if it across parts of Britain as well,” she says. “It’s not unheard of that John’s son could have contracted it.”

“Well, what’s different about MERS? Why not just call it what it is? It’s SARS.”

“I’m not completely versed on this, dear, but the virus is a different mutation. It doesn’t spread as quickly as SARS, but it can be deadly nonetheless.” I sigh. It frustrates me when I can’t clearly understand things.

“Okay, so, that still doesn’t tell me why John’s not coming back,” I say.

“Well, the government won’t let his son back into the country until he’s well.” Now, I’m appalled.

“What?!” I nearly roar. “He’s an American citizen! Wasn’t he born here?”

“Yes, but he has a very aggressive strain of a disease that we’re not really schooled on yet, and if they have advanced knowledge and feel like he’s going to infect other ‘citizens,’ the government and the CDC can deny him re-entry. As a result, John is discontent with the United States right now and is questioning his intent to return.” I shake my head in disgust.

“I’d be discontent, too, if I were him,” I say. It’s not that John is one of my favorite people, but we’re talking about watching your son suffer, then being told that you can’t return to the land of the free and the home of the brave because someone slapped a label on what he has and they’re still discovering what’s under this label. I still think it’s SARS, but I’m not qualified enough to say.

“Have you told Christian?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“I only just found out… this morning, in fact. I was going to tell you, but you asked me first, so…” She trails off.

“I’ll tell him,” I say. “I won’t spring it on him yet with the lovely trip that we have ahead of us, but I’ll find the right time.” He considers John a friend, so he would definitely want to know.

*-*

“Help!” I hear Christian declare. “I’m being baby-mangled!”

I follow Minnie’s maniacal giggles to find my family. Christian is on the floor on his back, dramatically pretending to struggle to get free of a smiling and drooling Mikey, who’s on his hands and knees on top of Christian, pounding his flat hands on his father’s chest. Minnie is sitting up on a blanket nearby surrounded by pillows, bouncing and laughing hysterically at her brother and her father. I quietly take out my phone and begin recording.

“This looks like the end for King Christian,” my husband says in a narrating voice. “The Incredible Mikey has him subdued with no hope of escape!”

“No! No!” he continues, changing his voice to remain in character. “I’ll never yield!”

“Try though he might…” the narrator is back, “King Christian cannot defeat the Incredible Mikey. He tries one last tactic—the Terror Tickle!” Christian tickles his son and Mikey bursts into joyous laughter, his sister following suit for no particular reason whatsoever as she launches a plush toy across the pillow fort that connects with Christian’s tickle hand. Christian throws a mock-horrified look at his daughter.

“Hey!” he protests. “That’s outside interference! Whose side are you on?”

I have to cover my mouth to keep from bursting into laughter. Mikey’s hard guffaws result in a healthy amount of drool leaking onto Christian’s shirt.

“Uuuuugghh!” he exclaims. “The Toxic Droll Attack! I’m done for!”

I’m nearly choking on air over here. I can barely hold my phone straight.

“That’s it, ladies and gentlemen,” the narrator says, “King Christian is throwing in the towel, which he needs now for the toxic baby drool…”

Oh, dear Lord, help me.

My husband uses a burping cloth to clean the drool from Mikey’s mouth and as much of it as he can from his shirt before declaring the Incredible Mikey the new babyweight world champion. He stands to his feet, lifting his son in the air and presenting him as the new champion, spinning around and imitating crowd cheering sounds…

And then he sees me and stops in his tracks.

I’m finally able to release the laughter I’d been choking on ever since I started recording. My husband twists his lips.

“How long have you been standing there?” he asks, acting perturbed.

“Ever since you cried about being baby-mangled,” I tease. His expression doesn’t do anything to curb my laughter. “Do you realize how hard it is to take that stern look seriously while you have drool on your shirt and that adorable baby in your hands?”

He looks at his shirt, then at Mikey.

“She doesn’t understand how hard this Daddy thing can be,” he says to Mikey, “but that’s okay. You get me, don’t you?” I chuckle as I stop recording.

“It can’t be any harder than being the milk-producing snack bitch for two little people,” I laugh. Christian frowns.

“Oh, Butterfly, that sounds terrible,” he laments. I laugh it off.

“Well, it’s true,” I say, grabbing my swollen boobs. “Have they eaten?”

“They have, in fact,” he says, “maybe about an hour ago.”

“In that case, I have a date with a breast pump… and you might want to stop swinging the babyweight champion around or he might give you back his lunch.” Christian looks at Mikey who only laughs at his father.

“That might be a good idea,” he says, securing his son in his arms.

“Ms. Solomon is there anything ready that I can eat?” I ask as I’m passing through the kitchen. “I skipped lunch and just came home.”

“What are you in the mood for?” she asks, opening the Sub-Zero.

“Anything quick and dead,” I tell her. When I’m hungry, I’ll inhale whatever’s in that refrigerator. Ms. Solomon laughs.

“Give me fifteen minutes,” she says. “I’ll put something together for you.”

It only takes a few minutes this time to empty my pounding tits and change into some genie pants and a wrap shirt. I take a few moments to myself to meditate and re-center before I go back downstairs to join my family.

A heavenly smell greets me as I bend the corner from the hallway to the dining room, causing me to nearly sprint to the kitchen.

“My God, what did you do?” I ask when I see the spread on the breakfast bar.

“Nothing,” Ms. Solomon says, “Glorified grilled cheese and tomato soup.” She has a place set at the breakfast bar with a steaming bowl of creamy tomato soup. I sit at the breakfast bar and she sets a plate next to the bowl with the grilled cheese sandwich that she made—thick slices of bread with oregano and parsley grilled with Canadian bacon, Monterey Jack cheese… and something yellow. I bite into the heavenly creation and realize that it’s a slice of pineapple. I never would have thought to put that combination together, but it’s absolutely delicious!

“What made you think of this combination?” I say, rudely talking with my mouth full as she puts a cranberry spritzer down next to me.

“My stepmother was Samoan,” she says. “She used to make them for me and my brothers all the time.” I nod and take another healthy bite of my sandwich.

“Damn, what smells so good?” Christian comes into the kitchen and sees my sandwich. “Can I have a bite?”

“Touch my food and you’ll pull back a nub!” I exclaim, still chomping on Canadian bacon and pineapple. Holy cow, Batman, this is delicious. Christian actually looks at me in surprised horror. Ms. Solomon laughs.

“Sit down, Mr. Grey,” she chuckles. “Five minutes.” She turns around and gets to work on his sandwich.

“What happened to what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine?” he says while taking a seat next to me at the breakfast bar. I swallow the bite of heaven that I’m chewing.

“She’s fixing yours,” I say, as I take a spoonful of the creamiest tomato soup I’ve ever tasted. I groan in satisfaction and he tries to take my sandwich again. I smack his hand so fast and so hard that he snatches it back swiftly.

“Ow!” he exclaims. “Okay! I believe you!”

“You better,” I say, taking another spoonful of my soup and groaning again in satisfaction.

“Here, sir,” Ms. Solomon says, sitting a bowl of soup in front of him. “Work on that while I finish your sandwich. I don’t want to be responsible for any death or dismemberment.” I chuckle as Christian picks up his spoon and tastes the soup.

“This is delicious!” he says taking another spoonful. “Tomato bisque?” Ms. Solomon shrugs.

“I guess you could call it bisque,” she says. “I use different ingredients, though.”

“Another recipe from your stepmom?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No, from my mom, before she passed away.” I get quiet. I don’t know anything about hers or Windsor’s family, but I just didn’t think to assume that her mother was dead.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“Don’t be,” she replies, waving me off as she flips Christian’s sandwich. “It was a long time ago.” Christian tastes some more of his soup.

“This is so good,” he croons, taking spoonful after spoonful of the soup. I’m glad he likes it, so he can leave my damn sandwich alone.

“I’m glad you like it,” Ms. Solomon says, plating and slicing his sandwich before putting it in front of him. “What would you like to drink?” He looks over at my spritzer.

“I’ll have what she’s having,” he says before taking a huge bite of his sandwich. “Mmm… mm, mm, mm…” He chews the sandwich hungrily like a savage, so much so that I have to stop eating to observe the spectacle. He pays me no attention as he devours his food.

“I knew it would taste good,” he says, taking another monstrous bite that annihilates half of the half of sandwich that he had in his hand. I shake my head and tuck back into my food. It’s silent in the kitchen for about three minutes and then it dawns on me.

“Where are the twins?” I ask between bites of food.

“Still in the family room,” he says. “They’re safe in their Pack-n-Plays watching television. Keri’s in there with them.” He has already gobbled down half his sandwich—in three bites! And he wanted a piece of mine. I don’t think so, Hungry Jack!

“Is it safe to approach?”

Christian and I both stop eating and turn our heads to the voice coming from nowhere. Elliot is hiding behind one of the marble columns and all we see is his arm and a white handkerchief waving in the air.

“You tattled on me to my father, you fucking snitch,” Christian scolds. “I should kick your ass, you pussy.”

“Hey, I just wanted to make sure everything was okay,” he excuses. “You weren’t giving me any information and you looked like shit. No offense, but so did you, Montana.”

“Thanks,” I say sarcastically as I’m finishing off my soup.

“And now, you insult my wife. Don’t you have a home, now? Hell, for that matter, don’t you have a fucking job?” Christian snaps.

“I could say the same thing to you,” he says coming over to the breakfast bar and looking at what’s left of my sandwich. Without making eye-contact with him, I quickly grab what’s left of my sandwich and gobble down the last bite.

“You’re in my house,” Christian retorts. “Don’t ask me why I’m in my house. Why are you here?”

“I was in the neighborhood,” he admits, taking a seat next to Christian and now eying the other half of his sandwich.

“Elliot, so help me, if you touch my sandwich, you’ll leave this house in a body bag.” I look horrified at my husband.

“Damn,” I protest. “I only threatened to maim you.”

“Well, can I have one?” Elliot says. “I’m starving… and you know I’d never take your food.” He rolls his eyes at his brother.

“Well, then, you should have eaten before you got here…” The entire time that they’re sparring, Ms. Solomon has already put another sandwich in the frying pan and started the microwave to rewarm the tomato bisque. I shake my head and take my dishes to the sink.

“I could have done that, Mrs. Grey,” Ms. Solomon says.

“It’s alright,” I say, wiping my hands on a dishtowel.

“Go find lunch somewhere else, you moocher,” Christian says, still antagonizing his brother.

“So, Elliot, you said you were in the neighborhood,” I say, breaking the sparring match. “What were you doing in these parts?”

“Oh, the Miller place,” he says. “Mrs. Miller hasn’t changed anything since her husband died. It’s been ten years and she’s ready for a redo.” Christian finishes his lunch just as Ms. Solomon is putting the soup in front of Elliot.

“Careful, it’s hot,” she says as she takes Christian’s dishes and put them in the sink.

“You’re doing less building and more remodels now, bro?” Christian says.

“No, still doing builds,” he says, blowing a spoonful of soup to cool it. “Gia called me on this one. Said Mrs. Miller saw the pictures of your house on a preview of that show that supposed to be coming on, where you guys did the interview…” I look at Christian.

“I thought we were supposed to approve the showing before they aired it,” I say.

“We are,” he says, pulling out his phone. “Mac… call that woman, Sanchez… we’re hearing through the grapevine that people are seeing previews of our interview and we haven’t approved anything… yeah, my brother’s getting remodel requests because someone’s already seen the inside of my house… I’ll wait for your call.” He ends the call with Vee. “She hasn’t heard anything either. I hope we haven’t made a mistake letting this woman into our lives.”

“I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding,” I say, afraid to let on that I’m thinking the same thing. By now, Ms. Solomon has set yet another of her delectable sandwiches in front of Elliot. He has already dug into it and opted for apple juice. “So, Elliot, who’s Gia?” I ask, trying to change the subject until we hear from Maria.

Elliot was thoroughly enjoying his sandwich but stops mid-chew at the mention of this woman’s name. He looks over at Christian, then back at me.

“She doesn’t know about Gia?” he asks, his mouth full. What’s in this damn sandwich that makes us all forget our manners? Christian shrugs like, “No big deal.”

“Why should I know about Gia?” I ask.

“Elliot used to fuck her,” Christian blurts out before finishing his cranberry spritzer. Elliot quickly swallows his food.

“More importantly,” he retorts, “she did your boat.

Aah, the plot thickens. This is the woman’s touch that I saw all over the Slayer.

“I see,” I say, taking my husband’s glass and walking over to the sink.

“Thanks, Lelliot,” I hear him hiss. “I think I’d like for you to leave now!”

“I just started eating!” Elliot protests quietly. “Besides, you’re the one that blurted out that we used to fuck.”

“Oh, but the fact that Gia did my boat—that needed to be known, right? I don’t talk to the woman anymore, but you’re doing remodeling jobs with her…”

I know exactly what Elliot’s doing. He’s trying to take the focus off himself by casting it on Christian. I know how to deflate that agenda.

“So, Elliot,” I turn back to the bickering brothers, “Gia’s a decorator?” He nods. “And how does Val feel about you working with an ex-girlfriend?” He stops mid-chew again and raises his eyes to me.

“She doesn’t know,” he says after swallowing his food, “and she wasn’t a girlfriend.”

“Do you think it’s a good idea for you to be working with someone whom you’ve previously bedded, and your wife doesn’t know?” I press.

“I’m not screwing the woman now,” he protests. “It’s just a lead. A lead is a lead.”

“So, she’s not working on the remodel with you.” It’s a question formed as a statement.

“Well, yeah, she’s working on the design plans but… I’m not messing around with her…”

“But you used to,” I press. Elliot gets quiet. “Trust me, Elliot, secrets in a relationship can be disastrous.” I look over at Christian, who raises his gaze to me. I know only too well of what I speak. I could have lost my marriage because I didn’t come to my husband when I knew Liam was attracted to me and I still had to work with him.

“Tell her before she finds out from somebody else, like some gossip rag that may see the two of you together at the Miller mansion.”

Before he has the chance to respond, I leave the kitchen and go into the family room with my babies. The topic is a bit too much for me to stomach right now. My mood immediately turns sour and I need little bundles of pink and blue to reverse its affects.


CHRISTIAN

“Nice fucking going, Elliot!” I hiss. “Did you intentionally come over here to upset my wife or do you have a purpose?”

“You know I wasn’t trying to upset her…” His excuse is weak.

“What the fuck were you doing, then?” I counter. “More importantly, she did your boat.” I mock his voice in a very unflattering manner. “I realize that you were in the Caribbean enjoying the sun and surf, but I’m certain that Valerie told you what we just went through.” He slaps his forehead.

“Shit, man, I forgot all about that,” he laments.

“I. Haven’t!” I bark. “I’m still fucking living it! You wanna know why we looked like shit last night? It’s because we were out on the lawn crying over whether we should even continue being married or not!” Elliot’s eyes widen.

“Dude… I’m sorry. I just panicked. The spotlight shined on me and I just… panicked.”

“So, you thought you’d get the heat off you by throwing me under the bus? How’d that work out for you?” I glare at my brother.

“It was a fucked-up thing to do, man,” he admits. “I’m really sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” I twist my lip.

“Yeah, whatever.” I stand from the stool. “She’s right. Tell your wife that you used to fuck Gia and that you’re working together. Now, finish your fucking lunch and get the hell out of my house.” I brush past him.

“Christian, really, I’m sorry, man. It was a bonehead…”

“I agree,” I say, interrupting his apology. “I heard you the first time, and I accept your apology, but I can’t talk to you right now. Finish your lunch and leave.”

I turn away from my brother and walk into the family room. My wife is sitting on the floor with a baby on each shoulder. She’s humming softly while simultaneously and masterfully rocking them to sleep. I sit on the sofa next to where she’s sitting on the floor and watch my children contentedly falling asleep on her shoulder as she sings to them. I can’t make out the tune, but they’re slipping comfortably into slumber. I take out my phone and snap a few pictures of my son and daughter lying peacefully on their mother’s shoulder. When she’s certain that they’re asleep, she asks me to help her put them down. We put each of them in their Pack-n-Play. They’ve gotten too big for the nappers. We stand there for a moment, silently looking down into the Pack-n-Plays.

“I… slept with Victoria once,” I blurt out. She turns her gaze to me.

“Victoria who?” she says, and then it hits her. “Vickie?” she asks incredulously. “Courtney’s Vickie? She’s gay!”

“She… was indecisive at the time,” I say.

“Indecisive,” she says in the same incredulous voice, low enough not to wake the twins. “So, you made her realize she was gay?” I roll my eyes.

“No,” I say defensively, “I mean, she was already gay, but I was her last hurrah,” I clarify. I sigh. “I was still Elena’s submissive and I didn’t want a girlfriend, but I was away at college and I wanted to fuck. She wanted one last round. It was a means to and end for us both.” She raises her brow at me but says nothing.

“Elena beat the hell out of me when she found out,” I continue. “I think that was the last real punishment she ever gave me. I resented it. I was young and horny, and she was always there to fulfill that need when I had it. Yet, at college, she wasn’t—so what was I supposed to do?” I sit on the sofa as I recall my short stint at college. Two years. Two agonizing years, the first year I was completely celibate. It was torture.

“She wanted me to be all hot for her when I came home on vacations, and believe me, I was, but this time…”

I recall the not-so-fond memory of telling my Mistress that I had been with someone else…

“What’s going on?” she asks while were having dinner at her estate. “Something’s different.”

“No, Mistress,” I say, trying to hide the truth from her.

“Don’t lie to me, pet,” she purrs… more like growls. “What’s going on?” I sigh. I can’t keep if from her. I couldn’t if I tried.

“I’ve… been with someone… else,” I choke, unable to raise my gaze to my Mistress. There’s a long pause before she responds.

“I see,” she says, putting her wine on the table. “So, I assume you’ll be wanting to end our arrangement.”

“No!” I retort, quickly, raising my eyes to hers but dropping them just as quickly. “No, Mistress, I don’t.”

“You can’t mean that!” she barks. “You’ve been with someone else. You touched someone else without my permission, and you let her touch you! Surely, that means this is not what you want anymore.”

“That’s not true, Mistress,” I say, nearly begging. “I was counting the days to get back to you…”

“While in the arms of another woman!” she scolds viciously. “Then, I had to pull the truth out of you. Would you have even told me?” I nod.

“I would have,” I choke, “eventually. I just… didn’t know how.”

“I’m sure you didn’t!” she hisses, tossing her napkin on the table before standing. I stand as well, just like she taught me. “Go to the playroom. Strip, and wait for me there.”

I listen to her heels click angrily across the marble floor. Son of a motherfucking bitch…

I’m in for it now…

I remember some pretty bad beatings at the end of the Pedophile’s tools, but that was one of the worst. It was awful. Then while my skin was bruised and on fire—broken in some places—she made me fuck her and fuck her until she had enough, commanding me not to come. Then she sent me away, horny and in pain. She didn’t see me for the rest of spring break.

I remember coming home that summer and announcing that I wouldn’t be returning to school. It was a two-fold reason, the main one being that I could do what I needed to do without a Harvard education. The second was her. I was back at school afraid to even look at another girl for fear that Mistress had a bird on a wire somewhere that would fly back to her and tell her what I was doing. I was miserable. I wanted to be back in Seattle with my Mistress, where I could fuck. And I wanted to start my own business.

“How did she end up in Seattle?” Butterfly asks, breaking the silence between us. “Did she follow you?” I shake my head.

“No,” I tell her. “That’s how we connected. We were both from here. She finished her degree and with her business knowledge and her design savvy…” I flourish my hands to demonstrate that Victoria is now exactly where she wants to be.

“Well,” she says, walking over to where I’m sitting and stands in front of me. “You should be more worried about her with me at this point than I should be about her with you.” I shrug. “You told me because of what I said to Elliot?” I raise my eyes to her, then drop them again with a nod.

“It would have come out at one time or another,” I say. “It really didn’t mean anything… to either of us. It was just sex, but it’s better that you hear it from me than you hear it from anyone else.” There’s a short silence.

“And Gia?” she says. I raise my eyes to her. “You were a bachelor before you met me,” she says. “There was no reason for Jack and Jill bathrooms in the master suite. There was no reason for his and hers parlors/saloons when it was just you. The whole place should have been decked out like a bachelor pad, yet there were areas specifically designed with a woman in mind. You’re saying that there was no reason for Gia to think that woman was her?”

“Absolutely not!” I say definitely. “I was under no misconception that she was hopeful of wanting more, but that was by no encouragement from me. With the exception of Victoria in my college years, my only sexual relationships before you were with submissives… and one Domme.” God, I’m glad that part of my life is over.

“Fine,” she says, leaning down taking my hand. “That’s all that needs to be said about this issue. Let’s go get packed for Detroit.” She gives my hand a pull and I rise from the sofa. I look back at our children once more to make sure that they’re asleep and fall in line behind my wife.

Butterfly removes a garment bag and puts three outfits in it with lingerie, accessories, and toiletries. We’re only going to be there overnight—why is she packing so much?

“Is that, like, a rule with women or something? Pack enough clothes for a long weekend when we’re only staying for a day?” She looks at me.

“I have something casual, something business, something semi-formal. You never know what’s going to happen.”

“I know that we’re not going to be there long enough for you to need all those clothes,” I say, packing a single suit, linen shirt, shoes, and accessories in my garment bag, along with my toiletries pouch.

“Then if we don’t, no harm done,” she says as she begins to brush her hair. I don’t harp on it because I know she’s been having this doomsday mentality about everything lately. This could be another one of those things.

I’m heading to my bathroom when I hear my phone buzzing on the nightstand. I go back to the bed and pick it up. I don’t recognize the number.

“Grey,” I answer.

“Christian, I am so sorry!” I don’t recognize the voice immediately. “It’s Maria. Sanchez. I swear to God, I don’t know who dropped the ball, but those promos were not supposed to run until I spoke to you.” Indeed. I just bet.

“One minute.” I get my wife’s attention when she comes back out of her dressing room.

“It’s Maria Sanchez,” I say, waving at her and changing my phone to speaker. “You’re on speaker, and my wife is here.” She clears her throat.

“I was just telling Christian that I don’t know how the promos started without my knowledge. We’re still trying to find out who dropped the ball on this one, but I was going to call you tomorrow to see if your weekend was free. I was going to bring the footage to Seattle and we could all view it together in that beautiful theater of yours—promos and all—and you could tell me what you think.”

“Before we discuss that,” my wife interjects, “I’d like to know how footage of our interview—promo or not—made it on the air without our permission and apparently, also without your knowledge. Isn’t there some kind of order about things, some kind of clearances that have to be in place and some programming manager that has to organize what’s being shown and approve the lineup or something before it’s aired? Or is there some buffoon like grip boy grabbing things and handing them to someone and they just put it on a reel?”

Bravo, Butterfly! I couldn’t have said it better myself! I’m having flashbacks of the conversation that I had with Maria about Butterfly being the real firecracker between the two of us, and my beautiful wife is showing that it doesn’t do to fuck with her.

“Ana, I assure you, this doesn’t happen often. I’ve had all your footage placed under lock and key—the clips, the finished product, the promos, everything. The only thing that I can say as an explanation is that we’re planning for you guys to lead Sweeps Week, and this is the time that we start showing the promos for that week. Someone may have seen the schedule and pulled the promo not knowing that we didn’t get clearance from you yet. I’m so sorry about that. I know that this incident along with the incident with Reggie doesn’t really give you a feeling of security and faith in my network right now, but please, this was my fault for not being clear in my communication and handling of the promos. I take full responsibility for this and I beg your forgiveness for my carelessness.”

At least she owned the mistake. That counts for something and restores some of my faith in her. Butterfly, I’m not so sure.

“What’s next, Maria?” I ask impatiently. She sighs.

“We need you to view the footage as soon as possible,” she says. “Like I said, I can fly out to Seattle on Friday…”

“We won’t be here,” I interrupt. “We have urgent business in Detroit and we’re flying out tomorrow.”

“Will you be there all weekend?” she pries. “I can meet you in Detroit if you like…” Oh, hell, no!

“No, that won’t be necessary,” I tell her. “Plan to meet us Sunday morning back here in Seattle. We should be done with our business by Friday evening and that gives us a day to get back home and settle down.”

“Good, I’ll do that. And again, I’m really sorry.” I nod as if she could hear me and end the call. I raise my gaze to Butterfly.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” she reinforces.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say as I go back to my closet for casual wear and another suit to pack for our trip.

*-*

I hate this place.

I sincerely hate this place.

The last time I came anywhere near this hellhole, I discovered that the man who tormented me as a child and haunted my dreams for decades thereafter was indeed not tucked away in a jail cell somewhere but is somewhere wandering the world right now free as a fucking bird. Then I returned home to find that my wife was nearly killed by one of my crazy ass ex-subs. This place has absolutely no good memories for me—coming or going.

The minute we enter the airspace for DTW, my stomach starts churning and my spirit drops. My only comfort is that I’m holding the hand of my beautiful wife as we descend into Dante’s hell. My father doesn’t think I see him eyeing me out of his peripheral, and I think he’s more concerned about me than he is about the purpose of this trip. That’s exactly the opposite of what I want. I want to be moral support for him. It’s counterproductive if he must worry about me while we’re here.

“Are you okay?” my wife asks as I gaze out the window at the view beneath us while we descend into the airport. I nod.

“I’m fine,” I fib, “but I wouldn’t be lying if I said that I’ll be glad when this trip is over.” She squeezes my hand and smiles at me. She’s probably thinking the same thing that I am—It’s too late to back out now, so I might as well be useful.

We land at Detroit Metro at a little after 5:00pm local time. Jason has secured two vehicles for us while we’re here–one for Dad and Uncle Herman, and one for the three of us. Dad will be going to the private investigator’s office to see if there’s any information that he can get from them. He knows that legally, they don’t have to tell him anything, but armed with the fact that he’s an attorney and that his and Uncle Herman’s notices of the will reading mysteriously disappeared from the US Mail, he’s hoping that he can get someone to break under pressure. There’s no confidentiality between the agency and Freeman; they’re just not under any obligation to tell my father anything.

“No Audis, huh?” I ask when I see the generic SUV that my best friend has procured… maybe not generic, but generic to me. He raises his eyebrow at me.

“You’re kidding, right?” he asks. “In the land of the Big 3? You’re lucky if you find a Volkswagen.” I shake my head and help my wife into the large Lincoln Navigator. Thank God this is only for one day.

The attorney, who used to have an office in downtown Detroit, has now moved his practice to Troy. Thank God! We reserved a hotel room in Birmingham, halfway between Troy and Uncle Stan’s place in Farmington. Since Detroit Metro Airport is in the southeastern portion of the Mitten, and Farmington, Birmingham, and Troy are all in the northern metropolitan suburbs, the drawback is that unless we want to take some insanely crazy and unnecessary detour, we have to drive through the west side of Detroit.

The good news is that we don’t have to stop.

Dad drives the Navigator with me, Uncle Herman, and my wife inside to Uncle Stan’s house, while Jason takes the MKS to the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham to get me and my wife checked in. He’ll meet us later at Uncle Stan’s house to take us back to the hotel.

I’m in contemplation as we travel down the I-94 headed for the Southfield freeway that will take us to the northern suburbs. I fucking hate being here. I fucking hate it. I see nothing that rings any bells or causes any feelings of déjà vu, but I hate being here anyway. I hate what this place represents. I hate everything about it.

There’s a giant ass fucking tire on the side of the road. A giant ass fucking tire. It’s great advertising, but whose fucking idea was that? Uniroyal… yeah, while I’m driving down the fucking freeway, I’m going to remember Uniroyal.com, right? Shit, I’ll remember it if I have a blowout right there by the damn giant tire.

We turn onto Southfield Road and there are more residential areas—nice ones, and I realize that we must not be in Detroit yet. Even at night, I can tell that we’re in a nicer area.

“Remember the Glass House, Rick?” Uncle Herman’s voice breaks my train of thought and I see him pointing to a ten or twelve-story glass building to the right of the freeway.

“How can I forget?” Dad says as we pass the building. “Dad used to take us to every event that ever happened at that place,” he says to me in the mirror, “like he owned the place.” He turns his attention back to the road. “He was really proud to be a Ford employee. It meant something back then.”

“It doesn’t anymore?” I ask, turning my attention to my father. He half shrugs.

“I don’t know, son,” he says, his voice nostalgic. “Back in those days, everybody wanted to work at Ford or one of the Big Three. It meant that you made it in Motown, because even though it was hard work, it was really good money. For a lot of people, the factories made the American Dream come true. It… just doesn’t seem that way anymore.” He falls silent and that’s when I see the sign.

Joy Rd, 1 mile…

We’re in Detroit.

I take a deep breath and look around at my surroundings. Again, even in the dark, you can tell by the change of scenery that we’re in the city. It doesn’t look run-down that I can tell, except for certain patches of it, but it’s not as vibrant-looking as the neighborhoods and areas surrounding the airport. Sensing my tension, Butterfly squeezes my hand. I squeeze back but continue to look out the window at the city. Large, vacant fields can be seen by the sides of the freeway—lots where buildings once stood. The landscaping is splotchy and some of the grass that lines the inclines has died. Even the freeway itself is unkept—badly patched tar jobs that look like someone just spilled the compound over the road; brown stains dripping down the concrete of bridges and overpasses from badly rusted fences. I’m sure this is not the only city in America that looks like this, but right now, I’m only seeing Detroit.

Plymouth Rd, Schoolcraft Ave, 1 mile…

There are orange construction cones on this part of the freeway, but I swear that I can’t see any work being done—just the right lane of the freeway being blocked off and slowing our commute out of this God-forsaken city. I think Dad says something to me, but I’m not sure. I see a few more houses on the edge of the freeway, and then we pass another main street.

I feel like I’m holding my breath. I feel like my bio-mom’s decomposing body is going to jump in front of the car at any moment… or one of the fucking Myricks… or somebody—another crackhead or a john or…

96, Downtown Detroit, Lansing, 1 ¼ mile…

Trash discarded from cars or from God knows where collects in masse at the base of fences where the wind has carried it as far as it can go and the metal acts like a net gathering the debris. Graffiti lines the concrete walls and even some of the overpasses and medians. How the hell do you vandalize a median on a busy freeway?

5, Grand River, Fenkell Ave, 3/4 mile…

More small houses line the side of the freeway and even though they don’t look as bad as some of the prior houses, the neighborhood is still run down. I hold my breath as we drive under an overpass that’s so rusted and corroded that I’m afraid it’s going to collapse on our car!

McNichols Rd, 1 mile…

I can see more trees. The houses are getting larger. A church with a steeple… but still quite a bit of debris and dead shrubbery on the freeway.

More trees, more houses. The grass is greener down here, but the road and the medians and walls are still very unkempt.

7 Mile Rd, ¾ mile…

Another church. Damn, how many churches are on this road? With this many churches around, there shouldn’t be a junkie, a pimp, or a crack whore in sight, and yet…

The walls are tall in this part of the freeway. It makes me feel… trapped. I take a deep breath, but I don’t think I release it.

102, 8 Mile Rd, ¾ mile…

Eight Mile. Eight Mile Road. Eight Mile marks the end of Wayne county and the beginning of Oakland county. This far west, that means Southfield and Oak Park, three-quarters of a mile away.

As if the grass and the trees know that we’re about to leave Detroit, they begin to show beautiful autumn colors and the lush fullness of green that precedes a long winter’s sleep. There’s very little—if any—debris in the road and the overpass we just went under actually looks ornate, with fresh, black wrought iron fences lining the banister. Even the road itself looks newer.

102, 8 Mile Rd, ½ mile…

Now the signs are taunting me. None of the other signs had any ½-mile markers, just ¾ and 1 mile. Come on, Oakland county…

The walls get tall again, like prison walls, and as the road rises towards the 8-Mile exit, there are more houses—a lot more—and another ornate overpass with wrought iron fencing. And then we cross 8 Mile, and that breath that I took in a mile or so back comes rushing from my chest with so much force that I nearly choke on air.

North 10 to West 696, Lansing, ¾ mile…

39, Freeway ends, ¾ mile…

Southfield Rd…

I’m still choking on air and my wife is squeezing my hand and rubbing my back. Dad says something about pulling over and Uncle Herman is asking if I’m okay.

“I’m fine,” I gasp, “Keep going. Keep driving.” For God’s sake, please don’t stop.

Smooth roads, beautiful lush trees and grass, quaint houses and impressive businesses and office buildings… Not the crème de la crème of the area, but we’ve definitely left Detroit.

I made it.

*-*

“God, am I glad to see you guys,” Uncle Stan greets us when he opens the door. “I hadn’t heard anything, so I thought you just decided not to come.”

He gives Uncle Herman a robust hug before looking at his brother with sincere adoration in his eyes. They say a few words about missing each other and such before Uncle Stan takes Dad in his arms and hugs him just as robustly. I somewhat usher my wife in front of me to give myself more time to prepare for my hug. I’m still very uncomfortable with people hugging me, and even though Uncle Stan is family, he’s still a virtual stranger for the most part. I don’t want to offend him, though, by shunning his hug or stiffening up when he embraces me. Dad whispers in his brother’s ear, squeezes his forearms and smiles widely. Uncle Stan returns the smile and nods before turning to my wife.

“May I?” he says, opening his arms to Butterfly.

“Of course, you may,” she says sweetly, opening her arms to welcome him. “It’s so good to see you again,” she says as they embrace. I plaster a half-smile on my face and wait for their exchange to end, steeling myself for my turn. When they part, Stan’s smile widens, and he grabs my hand, shaking it vigorously and jovially with the other hand clasped on top.

“It’s wonderful to see you again, Christian,” he says cheerfully. “I don’t know if I thanked you properly but thank you… thank you for everything!”

His smile is bright like sunshine, like a naïve child. If I had to categorize the brothers, I would say that my dad is the intellectual, Herman is the caretaker, Freeman’s the asshole, and Stanley is the sensitive one.

“Anytime, Uncle Stan,” I reply, still waiting for the death grip hug.

“Welcome! Welcome to my home.” He releases my hand, but only touches my arm. “Please,” he says, flourishing his other hand in front of us to usher me inside, “come in. Make yourself comfortable.”

“What smells so delicious?” Butterfly asks, as we enter the living room. I realize that Dad must have quickly said something to Stan about my haphephobia. I try not to sigh audibly when I realize that he’s not going to hug me, but he still managed to make me feel as welcome and loved as everyone else.

A/N: DTW—the airport code for Detroit Metro Airport. It stands for Detroit/Wayne.

Christian references “the Mitten.” For those who may not already know, the lower peninsula of Michigan looks like a mitten.

~~love and handcuffs