Introduction to Seasons…

Someone made a really good point to me quite a while back in a comment in an attempt to make me stop writing. They told me that the story was really good, but that I should have stopped at Book III because that’s where the story stopped.

They were right.

Don’t panic; I’m not going to stop writing, but I just want to point something out and make an announcement to those of you who have seen a significant change in the writing from Book I to Book IV.

For a story to continue, characters must change, people must die, situations and dramas must develop—things don’t stay the same. As a result, you may lose readers. People may lose interest. They may not be happy with the direction of the tale.

And you know what? That’s okay.

I stopped watching TV because it just wasn’t holding my interest anymore, but I was still diehard on some series just because I was… until they didn’t hold my interest anymore either.

I fussed and I screamed and I jumped up and down and had a temper tantrum when Grey’s Anatomy killed off McDreamy, but people still watch Grey’s Anatomy.

There was an episode of Scandal where some young black kid was killed and Olivia Pope came to the rescue and some black activist looking for his fifteen minutes of fame starts bashing her right there on the scene loosely referring to her as a tool used by the white man to get the black folks to shut up (not his exact words), all I could see was some flighty-ass “brother” looking for attention and bringing separatism to the black community instead of relief to the family. As a result, I watched the first few minutes of that episode and never watched Scandal again, but other people watched Scandal all the way to the end.

And guess what? Shondaland didn’t die because I stopped watching and my story won’t die because certain people stopped reading and lost or lose interest. But Shondaland and my broken love affair with Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal (when it was on) made me realize something…

The “Christian and Ana Show” did end with Book III. That’s where they got married, had their kids, and their “happily ever after” began. Once you get to Book IV, you are now in the series—the soap opera. You are now in the Downton Abbey, the Days of Our Lives, the Game of Thrones (before it ended), General Hospital of the Christian and Ana saga and how they interact with other people and the other dramas that occur from those interactions.

As a result, Book IV will be renamed Season IV, and the chapters renamed Episodes. This way, there will be no confusion for those of the mind that the particular Christian and Ana story stopped at Book III. You’re right. The rest of the series is now called

The Misadventures of Christian and Ana and Their Crazy Friends

It will be named Misadventures for short, and each season will most likely still have a title of its own. Enjoy. Or don’t. But don’t ever suggest that I stop writing. I won’t 😊

Smoochies!

~~love and handcuffs

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Raising Grey: Chapter 93—Holy Yuletide, Batman!

One more chapter after this one…

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

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

Chapter 93—Holy Yuletide, Batman!

CHRISTIAN

The last few days have been a damn nightmare.

Try though I might, I couldn’t get out of the office before 7pm because there was always a fire to put out.

Four of my department heads will bring in the New Year unemployed because, as I have discovered, two of them failed the drug tests and the other two are completely incompetent. The latter were part of the dismal audits that I conducted this week and I hadn’t even gotten to the former two departments yet. After having to move assistant department heads up to department heads, I now have to give them some time to figure out what’s happening in the department before I can rake anyone across the coals. The problem is, do I focus on them now while I have the chance to influence the progress and performance of the new department heads or do I give them an opportunity to acclimate?

Lorenz and I are up to our fucking nostrils in year-end bullshit and these inadequate, incapable ass leaders I’m supposed to have, and Rosalind has decided to teach me a fucking lesson by leaving me hanging right at the fucking holidays! Wait until her haughty ass comes back and finds out that 12 of our employees—two of them, department heads—had to be dismissed for testing positive for controlled substances. I don’t know how yet, but I’m going to find some way to make her pay for her actions.

My entire body felt like a taut rubber band at the end of the day. I had only planned to work until about noon since it was Christmas Eve, but catastrophe after catastrophe kept landing in my lap. The only good news I got involved another Elena Lincoln mishap, and the story about Holstein being rushed to the hospital with bubble gut after consuming our delivery of champagne. I’m so ready for the serenity of my sanctuary, but the moment we approach the driveway, the only thing I can think is…

What the fuck is this?

I was certain that we had the wrong address. I know that no other houses on the street look like mine, but this is crazy. This can’t be my house! I know that I’ve been preoccupied with what’s been happening at GEH, but I couldn’t have been this obtuse to what was going on in my own home.

When I finally get a good look at everything that has happened in this place, I don’t recognize my own home. It’s like Santa’s elves came in and vomited all over the joint. Sparkles and lights and bulbs and garlands and candy canes and pinecones everywhere! When the fuck did she ever find time to do all this??

When she said she was preparing the house for Christmas, I had no idea it was going to come out looking like this! And she had to do it all before Maddie and Nelson got here! When exactly did Maddie and Nelson get here?

Jesus, Mary and Joseph! And I had better be careful with that exclamation, because they all appear to be on my front lawn!

It’s late once I finished a grueling workout to both work off the day and try to whip my ass into shape before seeing Claude this weekend. I go to my office and finish up the last of some work before the holiday, then I head towards the elevator.

“I thought you would already be in bed,” Chuck says as I run into him and his father in the community area on the sofa.

“I’m on my way up now,” I say walking over to them. “Nelson, it’s good to see you again,” I say extending my hand.

“Likewise, young man,” he says, giving my hand a firm shake. “Long day?”

“Extremely long,” I lament, and he chuckles a bit.

“Don’t work too hard, son,” he cautions. “It’s worth nothing if you forget what you’re working for.” I hear ya, but this company ain’t gonna run itself.

“You two smell like… food,” I say, Chuck laughs.

“Your wife had us smoking meat in the barbeque kitchen,” he says, and I frown.

“You’re a guest!” I say to Nelson. He laughs heartily.

“When Momma says we’re helping with the meal, we’re helping with the meal. The only other option was bakin’. I aint no baker, Christian,” Nelson says with mirth.

“But smoked meat can be eaten any day of the week,” Chuck adds. “And with three turkeys and two hams, something had to be smoked.”

“Three turkeys?” I exclaim. “Who all is coming to my house?”

“From what I understand, the guest list is somewhere between 30 and 50,” he says calmly.

“You gotta be kiddin’,” I say. He shakes his head. “Is the party going to be down here?” I ask, observing all the decorations.

“I would venture to say that the party is going to be all over the house,” Chuck informs me. I frown.

“The rest of the house looks like this?” I say, pointing to the elaborately decorated Christmas tree. Chuck does this strange, knowing laugh.

“I’ll just say this,” he begins, “when she first said, ‘seven Christmas trees,’ I thought was a joke.”

“Seven!?” I exclaim, my eyes wide. “Seven fucking trees??” Nelson snickers again.

“Oh, boy, are you in for a surprise,” he says. “Go over to the French doors and just take a look into the backyard.”

I go over to the French doors and motherfucking hell… my backyard looks like daylight. They can probably see this shit from outer space.

“Oh, God,” I lament. Nelson sighs.

“You have been working too hard if you haven’t seen this, son,” he says. “Go take a walk around your house.”

“The walk is going to have to wait until tomorrow. I’m exhausted,” I confess. “Goodnight, gentlemen.”

They say goodnight and they fall back into their conversation. Afraid of what I may see on the first floor, I take the elevator straight upstairs like I do most nights and go straight to our bedroom.

Butterfly has fallen into what I can clearly see is one of the deepest sleeps ever. I’m sure to be right behind her, but…

This room is cold!

I get a fire going in the fireplace and quickly change into my pajamas. Did she know it was this cold when she came to bed? Is that why she’s wearing flannel?

I climb into bed next to her and I don’t even remember my head hitting the pillow.

It’s daylight when I open my eyes again. This is the first time I remember it being daylight when I awoke in several days. I’m in the same position that I was when I fell asleep. I look over at Butterfly, and she looks like she hasn’t moved either—maybe adjusted her head, because her hair has fallen over her face now. I brush the strands behind her ears and just gaze at her for a moment.

She looks unbelievably peaceful—absolutely no clue of the hell breaking loose at our empire, and apparently going absolutely crazy with decorations around the Crossing. I’ll take a look at them, but for right now, I need to stretch my legs and get my blood pumping.

“Nice of you to join us, Bro,” Elliot says as I program the treadmill next to him. “Didn’t you work out last night?”

“Yeah, but I always do a short one in the morning, too,” I say as I find my pace. “My trainer beat my ass last week and now he’s giving me shit.”

“Does that mean that I don’t have to arm-wrestle you for those pecan goodies this year?” he asks, bringing the treadmill into a cooldown pace.

“Dream on,” I chuckle. “I’m hoping my wife put some away for me.” Elliot laughs.

“You’ve got jokes,” he says. I pound on the treadmill for 15 minutes, just enough to get the blood pumping, then I go into my own cooldown.

“What did you mean by that?” I ask as I walk at a brisk pace.

“By what?” he says, drying his face and stepping off the machine.

“By that crack, you’ve got jokes. Did you eat all the damn cookies?” He laughs again.

“Cut it out, man,” he says as he cracks open a cold water and takes several large swallows. “Honestly, bro, there was just too much joy to the world going on in this house yesterday. I’ve never seen a giddier group of women in my entire life! I had to come out to the smoke session just to get a healthy dose of testosterone and cynicism!”

“Including Montana?” I ask, trying to gauge my wife’s mood.

Especially Montana!” he exclaims. “She was running around wearing a shirt with Santa Clauses all over it, literally barefoot in the kitchen. They nabbed my wife the minute she bent the corner and almost tried to recruit me until I escaped. I went to sleep and had nightmares about gingerbread men with all the cookies she baked.”

“She always bakes a lot of cookies at Christmas,” I point out. It means that I get those chocolate-pecan delights that I had to choke him for last year.

“No!” Elliot says, shaking his head. “No. No! You have no fucking idea, man!” I frown as I step off the treadmill.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I ask. He just glares at me as I dry the sweat from my brow. He grabs a cold water and tosses it to me.

“Hydrate, and come with me,” he says.

We walk to the elevator and I now notice cookies on surfaces that I don’t remember seeing them the night before. Those are my pecan goodies! How did I miss them? Is that what Chuck and Nelson were sitting there eating last night? Greedy bastards. I hope Butterfly put some away for me.

When the elevator gets to the first floor, I see that nearly every surface in the family room has a plate of cookies, and of course, there’s another Christmas tree, and more pine garland and bulbs and lights and bows and…

“Behold,” Elliot says, gesturing to the kitchen. The bar to the patio is covered with pastry boxes stacked high like bricks. There are cookie tins on a nearby table also stacked in a staggering pattern…

“Wha…” I can’t even get the words out of my mouth.

“Those are all full of cookies,” he says. “There are cookies in the pantry, and there are cookies all over the house. There are even cookies in the guestrooms—at least there were in mine and Val’s bedroom, so I’m only assuming they’re everywhere else.”

“Jesus!” I exclaim, looking around my kitchen.

“Oh, He’s here, too. He’s on the front lawn,” Elliot announces.

“I know,” I quip sarcastically. What the hell, she did all this in three fucking days! I walk through my Christmas Village kitchen into my even more Christmas Village dining room that now looks strikingly like a holiday banquet hall. Tables are already set for a Christmas feast so I’m not really sure what the plan for breakfast is supposed to be.

An individual Christmas stocking containing flatware graces each plate on the dining table and the accompanying tables that have been commandeered for our apparent Christmas feast. A huge platter big enough to hold a turkey sits in the center adorned with gingerbread people creatively holding candy canes.

How the hell do you bake a gingerbread man holding a damn candy cane? And do I see actual Christmas sweater cookies??

“There’s no way she did all this on her own,” I say.

“Oh, she had lots of help, but she was the ringleader,” Elliot assures me. “Dude, I checked on Angel several times throughout the afternoon and evening yesterday just to make sure that she and the baby were doing okay. I can personally guarantee you that nothing you consume today will be store-bought. Be not surprised if everything you sink your teeth into, Montana had a hand in it.”

“Even these?” I ask, picking up one of the gingerbread men.

“Even those,” he says. “I got to devour some of the pieces that didn’t make it… they’re fantastic, even better than Mom’s. They got chocolate in ‘em!”

Better than Mom’s? I love my Butterfly, but nobody makes gingerbread cookies better than Mom’s.

“Taste it,” he says, noting my skepticism. I bite the little guy’s leg and the flavor is delectable. It’s crunchy and airy and delicious!

“Those are the ones that have been sitting out to get what Montana calls the ginger ‘snap.’ Wait until you try one of the ones that have been sealed and are still moist. They’re fucking insane!”

Good Lord. I don’t know whether to be impressed or worried. I’m looking at this gingerbread man like he’s going to give me the answers and all I can hear him saying is, “Ouch!”

“I… take it from your silence that you weren’t in on all of this,” Elliot observes. I shake my head.

“No,” I say, flatly, still savoring the flavor of yet another confection my wife will have now introduced me to. Elliot is too silent for too long and I raise my gaze to him

“What?” I ask.

“Christian… I’m going to say something, and if it’s none of my business, you tell me to shut up and I’ll back off.” I nod and wait for him to finish.

“Is everything okay between you and Montana?” I sigh.

“I… I think so…” I don’t know that anything is particularly wrong.

“You think so?” he asks.

“Well, we had a disagreement this weekend, but…” I trail off.

“You squashed it?” Elliot asks. “Everything’s square now?”

Shit. I don’t think so.

“Well,” I say, “we didn’t see eye to eye on something, but we didn’t fight. It was just a difference of opinion. We said how we felt about it and then we dropped it, but… well, I’ve been working. There’s all kinds of crazy shit going on at GEH and… I haven’t really talked to her all week.” Elliot frowns.

“How can that be?” Elliot asks. “You still sleep together, don’t you?”

“Of course, we do!” I snap. “Every fucking night!”

“Then how is it that you…” He trails off. A look of realization dawns on his face.

“Out with it, Elliot,” I spit.

“I saw Jason last night, but I didn’t see you,” he observes. “I didn’t even see you at dinner and it was Christmas Eve. I didn’t see you until you came to the gym this morning, and I’m guessing that Montana doesn’t spend a lot of mornings in the gym.”

The accusing tone of his words make me feel defensive at first. I told him that my company is having problems. Butterfly knows that. What does he expect me to do right now?

His next words, however, are very sobering.

“Do you remember Mom’s episode?” he asks. “When Montana had to rush her to the hospital? Do you remember how she was acting before that happened—how irrational she was? Do you remember how insane Mia’s wedding was, and how more insane it would have been had she not cancelled half the shit Mom was doing?”

“Elliot, are you trying to tell me that my very youthful wife is perimenopausal?” I inquire.

“No,” he says, his tone serious. “But I am saying that if you can look at all of this and say that everything is okay, you got blinders on. This house looks fucking fantastic—for a woman who’s been planning for Christmas since Labor Day. Has she been?”

I bite the inside of my jaw but don’t answer.

“I don’t know how long it took her to do this, but we came to see you guys last week, this house didn’t look this way—not a bulb, not a light, not a piece of garland, not even a bare Christmas tree. What do you have, like five of them fully trimmed now?”

“Chuck says there’s seven,” I correct him. He twists his lips.

“Let me let you in on a little secret,” he says putting his arm around my shoulder. “If you knew exactly how many cookies she has in this house, you’d own stock in sugar right now…”

I probably do, but I’ll let him make his point.

“She made so many damn cookies that she could probably pass them out all over the greater Seattle area and you would still have enough of those pecan cluster things to last you until spring.”

Well, that’s comforting… and frightening.

“She pulled off something better than Martha Stewart and worthy of Architectural Digest and the Better Homes and Gardens Holiday Issue in less than a week and you didn’t even know it, so I’m venturing to say that she did it in just a few days. Can you really look at this—all of this—and say that this is normal? Because if you can, I’ll throw my tongue over my shoulder and shut the fuck up right now.”

I sigh heavily still looking at the gingerbread man with no foot.

“Have you seen these?” he asks, presenting another plate of cookies. My brow furrows.

“Mickey Mouse?” I say, looking at the spread of elaborate decorated mouse cookies. “I kind of get the Christmas sweaters, but why Mickey Mouse?”

“Um, maybe because you have two little Mouseketeers, and this is their first Christmas?” Elliot points out. “You do know that you have a candy-themed Christmas tree with a red polka-dot tree skirt that screams Minnie Mouse, right?”

Shit! Can I be that much of an asshole? It’s now that I realize that I did all of my Christmas shopping really early, but none of my gifts have been wrapped.

“Look, Bro, I’m not going to lecture you about how to be a husband. I’m still learning myself, and you’ve had more time at this than I have. But I am going to caution you to pull your head a little out of GEH and stick it a bit more into your family. There’s a whole lot going on here and you completely missed it. You love that company, but it’s not going to love you back, and it sure as hell ain’t gonna keep you warm at night or raise your children.” He pats me on my shoulder.

“Think about it,” he says. “I’m going to go shower and wake my Angel.” He brushes past me and heads towards the large staircase. Shit, I’ve got to go and wrap my gifts for my family and take a damn shower myself, and Elliot has given me quite a bit to think about, and I just realized…

There are cookies all over this damn house and none in my office or den.

I head to the elevator to my den to wrap my presents before everyone wakes, snagging a plate of those pecan clusters along the way.

*-*

I soon discover why the tables were set for dinner instead of breakfast. No one immerged until noon! What kind of festivities were going on in this house while my back was turned?

I’m able to get my presents wrapped before anyone sees me, but I don’t know which tree to put them under, so I just put them under the one in the family room. I hear activity in the kitchen and Christmas carols piping softly through the sound system, so I think it’s safe to say that the house is coming alive. I take the elevator up to the second floor and there’s still no activity. As I duck into my room, I hear laughing women in the nursery. I want to stick my head in, but I’m almost certain that the laughter will stop if I do, so I just go into my room.

Butterfly’s not here and she’s not in her shower, so I assume that she’s in the nursery with the twins. I fell in the bed too tired—and cold—to shower last night, so I start my shower and strip out of my workout clothes. When I step in, the water feels good beating on my head and back. I just stand there for a while and let it massage my scalp.

Jason was trying to tell me that something wasn’t right a few days ago. Now Elliot is telling me that Christmas Village is a blaring sign that something is wrong. I can’t confirm or deny either one because I haven’t really seen or spoken to my wife all week—not because I didn’t want to, but because there was so much on my mind that I didn’t want to dump it all on her. But now that I think about it, the last words that we really had was about her thinking I wanted another woman. We… haven’t talked since then.

I towel-dry my hair thoroughly when I get out of the shower. Something tells me that casual isn’t going to cut it today, but hell if I’m wearing a suit. So, I find a crisp pair of burgundy slacks and a two-textured black shirt with a pair of bespoke shoes. This will have to do. I’ll admit that the vigorous workouts must be doing me some good. My biceps and pecks look amazing! Then again, it could just be the shirt.

My family and various guests are mulling around eating hors d’oeuvres and sipping various beverages. Everybody’s not here yet, but those who have arrived have the same idea I do—no red-carpet garb, but don’t be a damn slouch. I walk over to Elliot and fill my glass with whatever red drink is in the punch bowl next to him. It’s really delicious. Cider? Cranberry? Both? I don’t know, but it’s good.

“The dead has arisen,” Valerie jests. “I thought you were going to miss Christmas completely, which would have been a real tragedy, because look!” She gestures around the house. “Isn’t this just the most? The very most?” She sounds downright giddy talking about the décor. Elliot raises his brow and takes a sip of his Christmas punch to avoid having to say anything.

“Yeah, it’s something,” I respond. “What do you say, there, Elliot?” I say, putting him in the spot. The corner of his lip rises along with one of his brows.

“Yes! It is quite the display!” he says enthusiastically. “Angel and I were just talking yesterday about how we couldn’t figure out for the life of us how Montano found the time, energy, or motivation to pull this off. What do you think, bro?” he says conspicuously, and volleys that ball right back into my court.

Asshole.

“The stars of the hour have arrived!”

My wife’s sing-songy voice rescues me from having to banter with my brother and when I turn around, a sight greets me that nearly knocks the damn wind out of me. Butterfly is walking into the room in this layered mock-wrap burgundy rock-a-billy cocktail dress—it’s gorgeous! I can tell that it’s one of my grandmother’s dresses and if she dressed like this all the time, it’s a wonder she and my grandfather didn’t have 15 kids!

She’s wearing a pair of burgundy Louboutin sky-high peeptoe platform stilettos that fade to black at the toes and her hair is in this swoopy kind of multidirectional chignon. She looks fucking scrumptious! She’s got my children with her and I swear to God, she looks like a sexy ass Mrs. Claus with two gorgeous little Christmas elves!

“Where’s your Santa outfit, Bro?” Elliot says quietly in my ear.

“I didn’t get the memo,” I say, a little more wistful than I intended. Minnie’s wearing a little red dress with Minnie Mouse on it and a Santa hat with little mouse ears. Mikey’s wearing a red jogging suit with one Mickey Mouse on the shirt and the pants.

“Where’s Mikey’s hat?” Val asks. Butterfly looks down at Mikey.

“He kept taking it off, so…” she shrugs. She’s got something attached to her arm and to Mikey’s arm, it almost looks like a leash!

And Mikey’s walking! When the fuck did Mikey start walking?

“When did that happen?” I ask aloud, pointing to my son. My wife looks down at Mikey again and then looks back up at me.

“Yesterday,” she says calmly. “He just got up and started walking.”

“Actually,” Gail interrupts, “he just got up and started walking to Momma. We were playing just fine on the floor in the nursery until Ana walked in. Then he just got to his feet and ran to his mother.” Ana looks down and smiles sweetly at our son.

That kind of stings. A somewhat knew that I may not be here to see my children’s first steps just because of the nature of my life, but when it really happened… That hurts a little bit.

“Steele!” Valerie says, closing in on my wife. “Are you wearing Mickey Mouse earrings?”

“Mickey and Minnie,” she says, turning her head so that Valerie can see.

“Where on earth did you find those?” she asks. “They look custom made.”

“At the Marketplace aren’t they adorable?” she beams all in one breath.

My wife looks like a million bucks and I look like a troll—I should probably change clothes, but into what? Nothing in my closet can make me look that good.

She hands Minnie off to Valerie and lifts Mikey in her arms. They head off to the kitchen towards Maddie talking about… whatever, and I kind of feel like the odd man out in my own house.


ANASTASIA

Everything turned out wonderfully!

Everyone loves the decorations. Since dinner is going to be quite early, we decided to forego breakfast and lunch for hors d’oeuvres, finger foods, cookies and drinks. Our family and friends are slowly beginning to file in and I’m surprised that Al isn’t one of the first people in attendance. That’s not like him.

“Oh my gosh, Ana, you look adorable!” Grace says as she and Carrick arrive with Luma, Herman, and the girls. “And the Nutcracker soldier at the guard’s booth is priceless. How on earth did you manage to pull this off?”

“Sheer will and determination,” I reply with a laugh, “and a whole lot of Christmas spirit. It was really a lot of fun. I had Sophie to help and the staff was magnificent… and look what I got for Christmas!” I say. I put Mikey down on the floor and he walks right over to his grandma. She gasps and scoops him up in her arms.

“Oh, wow, he’s walking!” Grace beams. “Who’s a big boy!” she exclaims happily, and he rewards her with infectious baby giggle.

“Well, would you look at that!” Carrick says, his smile wide and sincere.

“Who wouldn’t be just full of excitement and joy with something like that?” I say.

“Christian looks a bit subdued,” she points out and looks at me. I twist my lips and shrug.

“It’s GEH,” I say, furrowing my brow a bit. “It’s got him really distracted. I’m hoping he loosens up and gets into the holiday spirit as the day goes on.”

“I can’t see how he wouldn’t!” Grace says, looking around the room. “I saw the formal living room and that gorgeous display in the grand entry and now this. Does the entire house look like this or just the main floor?”

“Well, I didn’t disturb the work areas downstairs—the offices and such—but besides those rooms, the sub levels and the main floor look like this,” I tell her. “Except for the outside balconies, I didn’t bother the second floor either. You see that Gulliver dropped some of his decorations on our lawn, and the backyard turns into Santa’s landing strip at nightfall,” I say a little sarcastically.

“I tried to control myself,” I excuse, “but every time I did one thing, my brain said, ‘do that, too!’ and then I… this is what happened.” I gesture flippantly around the room. “I’ll be the first to tell you that I got carried away, but I don’t regret a moment of it.”

“Well, it looks fabulous, let me tell you. I’m going to be taking a tour of the grounds to get some pointers,” Grace compliments.

“Well, let me know when you want to wander. I’ll be glad to wander with you,” I say.

“Oh. My God. This is too much! Too much!” Mia says, bursting into our conversation with two different Mickey Mouse Christmas cookies in her hands. “How did you come up with these?”

“Those were a collaboration,” I admit. “Sophie came up with a really great idea and the theme fit in perfectly with my little mice and their first Christmas.”

“Genius. Sheer genius,” she says as she bites into one and hands one to Ethan. “And they’re delithous!” she says with a mouthful of cookie. Ethan bites into his cookie and nods.

“Yeah, these are really good, Ana,” he says.

“Thank you,” I reply. “Try the gingerbread men on the dining table. They have chocolate in them.”

“Oh, dear God, I’m going to be in the gym for a week straight,” Mia says.

“Yes,” I say unapologetically. “Yes, you are.” She and Ethan head off to maim a gingerbread man or three and Grace garners my attention again.

“You were right, by the way,” she says. “My doctor said that sometimes we do need to change up the HRT, and she prescribed me a different med and dosage. It’ll take a while to see if it works, but at least there’s hope, right?” I smile.

“Excellent. You just never know; you know what I mean? I’m just glad my hunch was right. Just, don’t wait so long next time if you feel like something is kind of off, okay? If you’re wrong about it, at least you can eliminate that issue, right?”

“Vah vah vah voom!” I hear Al’s announcement as he walks into the kitchen. “Mrs. Claus never looked like that in any of the pictures I’ve seen.” I laugh.

“I’m not Mrs. Claus,” I chide.

“You coulda fooled me!” he says, putting his hands up and gesturing around the room. “The only thing missing is Rudolph and Dasher on the roof and Santa’s legs hanging out of the chimney.” My eyes widen.

“Aw, that would’ve been cool!” I whisper loudly, Al shakes his head.

“I’m done,” he says. “You’re hopeless. Give me kisses.”

I hug my best friend and kiss him on the cheek. As I greet James, Grace and Carrick excuse themselves and take my little prince off to parts unknown.

“The place looks incredible, Ana,” James says. “You did this in a week?”

“Try three days,” I say with a tight smile. Al raises a knowing look at me.

“You’re shitting me,” he says.

“I had a lot of help,” I excuse. “Gail even called in a team of extras.” James laughs but Al is less amused.

“Well, no offense, but I’m ravenous, so I’m going to attack some treats. Allie?” James says.

“I’ll be right along,” Al says. “I need to chat with Jewel a bit.” James nods and kisses his husband on the cheek before leaving us to our conversation. Al’s gaze turns accusing.

“Three days?” he says. “Even if you didn’t physically do all this work on your own, it doesn’t take a shrink to know that something’s not quite right about this setup.” I roll my eyes trying not to be transparent.

“It’s Christmas, Al,” I whine heavily.

“Aaaand what’s wrong?” he says, folding his arms and calling me on my bullshit.

“What’s right?” I hiss. “My PA is totally MIA, which is driving me fucking crazy, one of my best friends won’t even speak to me…”

“Chris is chained to a computer at GEH,” he interjects. I huff and roll my eyes again.

“Don’t even get me started on that place,” I seethe.

“Or that man,” Al points out, once again not allowing me to evade.

“Allen, it’s Christmas,” I say deliberately. “Enjoy my over-the-top decorations and my fabulous food and shut the hell up about real life, okay?” I warn. He raises an eyebrow at me.

“This conversation’s not over, Jewel,” he says.

“It is for now,” I caution. “Go find your godson, and good luck keeping up. He’s walking now.” His eyes widen.

“For real?” he says, abandoning the previous conversation.

“For real,” I say, trying to walk away.

“Don’t you want to know why I was late?” he asks.

“Not really, no,” I say, refusing to take the bait.

“Well, I’ll tell you anyway. I went to see Gary.”

That gets my attention.

“And?” I ask, my eyes trained on his face, which is a bit more solemn now.

“He’s okay,” he says, soberly. “He looks well… not happy, but well. He’s staying in a studio closer to his job, nothing special, not homey at all. He’s actually living out of his luggage.”

“Did you tell him anything about Marilyn?” I ask.

“I didn’t tell him anything about Marilyn because I don’t know anything about Marilyn,” Al says.

“So, what did he say?” I press. “What is he doing?”

“Nothing much, and nothing much—sitting at his little studio apartment watching television.” My eyes widen.

“On Christmas?” I ask appalled.

“Yep,” Al nods. “He said that he would rather eat pizza and binge-watch Game of Thrones than to be around people right now.”

“Well, that’s just ridiculous,” I say, folding my arms.

“Maybe so, but honestly, Jewel, he wouldn’t be happy here right now. It’s cute and all, don’t get me wrong, but yuletide threw up in this place! The depressed and broken hearted are not looking to have a ‘holly jolly Christmas.’” I sigh heavily. I wouldn’t be so sure, best friend.

“At least he’s speaking to you,” I say, and I turn and march away from him with my arms still folded, trying not to admit how slighted I feel. I do my best to shake off the feeling that one of my best friends would rather watch reruns of pale medieval women training dragons than spend the day with me. It’s incredibly selfish, I know, but I still feel that way.

“Isn’t this great?” Sophie says bounding over to me in a Christmas T-shirt and jeans. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more Christmasy house, ever!” She’s smiling widely and eating cookies, her purple hair pulled back into a ponytail.

“Mia really loved the Mickey Mouse cookies,” I inform her.

“She did?” she beams, and I nod. “Well, I think Uncle Elliot and Uncle Christian like them all,” she adds. “Uncle Christian had a handful of the pecan cookies and he was elbowing Uncle Elliot away from the gingerbread men. Ms. Grace had to make them stop.”

I laugh heartily at Grace scolding her sons about cookies.

“Hey.”

I turn around and look into the face of my husband. I haven’t seen him all week and quite frankly, he looks different. His chest looks wider… broader. Is that a new shirt?

He looks damn good, probably from all that working out.

“Hey,” I respond.

“You’ve been pretty busy, huh?” he says. I shrug.

“A bit,” I admit. “I had to do a lot in a little bit of time.” He nods.

“You certainly did a lot,” he says matter-of-factly. “I see that you pretty much created a cookie factory. You tried some new flavors?”

“Not really.” Does he really want to talk about cookies? “New shapes, yes. Icing on the sweaters and the mice. Chocolate in the big gingerbread men…”

Those are really good,” he admits.

“That’s Maddie’s recipe,” I tell him. “Are those going to replace the chocolate pecan as your favorites?”

“Not in a million years,” he says, and kisses me gently on the cheek. I smile a small smile at him before he goes to converse with Carrick and Herman.

God, those pants really look good on him…

“Ana…”

I break my gaze from my husband’s ass and turn around to greet Marcia… and a very tall and very handsome black man.

“Hey,” I say, pulling her into a hug. “I’m glad you could make it.”

“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss it,” she replies. “You really outdid yourself!”

“I may have gotten a little carried away, but it’s the babies’ first Christmas, so…” I shrug and trail off.

“Ana, this is Zachary,” she says, introducing me to her companion.

“It’s nice to meet you, Zachary” I say extending my hand. He takes my proffered hand.

“Zach, please,” he says, looking at me strangely. “Wait a minute… Ana… Anastasia Grey?” I raise my brows.

“Yes?” I reply cautiously.

“All this time, you’ve been telling me about Ana… it was Anastasia Grey?” he says to Marcia. Marcia nods.

“Yeah,” she says in an expecting tone.

“And when Marlow talks about Christian… Christian Grey?” he says. Marcia nods again.

“That would be correct,” she says. He scoffs a laugh.

“Is something wrong?” I ask.

“No, I’m sorry,” Zach says. “She talks about you all the time and I just never put the two together. I feel kinda like a dope.” I sigh inwardly. No trouble allowed on Christmas.

“Don’t,” I say. “I kinda prefer that people don’t know who we are. They don’t know how to act around us. By the way, I saw Maggie, but where’s Marlow?”

“Oh, he’ll be along any minute,” Marcia says. “He stopped to pick up his date first.”

“Who is it this time?” I ask. “Is it the young lady from Thanksgiving?”

“I don’t know, I can’t keep up,” Marcia admits. “When it comes to girls, my son has the attention span of a goldfish!”

“Jesus, I hope that’s just a phase,” I lament.

“Trust me, it usually is,” Zach chimes in. “He’s a good-looking young man with a bright future. He can have his pick of young ladies right now and that’s what he’s doing. He’ll grow out of it or settle down when he finds the right one. He doesn’t strike me as the mindless, ‘play-the-field’ type of kid.”

“Well, I hope he’s at least practicing safe sex,” I add, thinking of the crack his date made at Mia’s wedding about taking off something Marlow didn’t like… or something to that effect.

“He is,” Marcia chimes in. “I keep him supplied with condoms even though he begged me to stop buying them. No way. Nope! I’m going to buy them until he’s grown and out of my house and even then, I can’t guarantee that I’ll stop.” I laugh heartily.

“That’s good to know,” I say. “He’s got a really bright future ahead of him. I’d really hate to see that ruined by unplanned events.

“Or some opportunistic little trick out there trying to make a fast buck,” Marcia emphasizes.

“Hear, hear,” Zach cosigns.

“Well, come on in,” I say, gesturing them further into the house. “There’s quite a bit to see and do.”

“I see,” Marcia says. “My goodness, you’ve really outdone yourself.”

“I blame the babies,” I laugh, leading Marcia and Zach over to some of the cookies.

“I hope I’m not too late,” I hear Marlow saying, walking into the room with an extremely attractive—and voluptuous—brunette. Jesus, what are they putting in the water? These teenagers now and their curves… they’re giving us adults a real run for our money.

“Nope, you’re right on time,” I say, gathering him into a hug. “Dinner should be starting pretty soon, but there are plenty of hors d’oeuvres to tame your tummy. And who do we have here?”

“This is Emily. Emily, this is Anastasia Grey,” Marlow says presenting his date to me.

“Emily! That’s it!” Marcia says almost inaudibly. I stifle a laugh.

“It’s nice to meet you, Emily,” I say with a smile and extend my hand.

“Likewise, Mrs. Grey. Thank you,” she says, taking my hand and giving it a shake. “Your house is fantastic!”

“Thank you, and call me Ana,” I reply. She smiles.

“Ana,” she repeats. “My mom would love this place. I grew up in a house where the Christmas tree was already trimmed for Thanksgiving and my mom makes her own fruitcakes. She has Santas from all over the world that she’s been collecting before I was born. She would never leave this place.”

“Well, by all means, make sure you take her some of my homemade Christmas cookies,” I say. “I’ve got a million of them.”

“Oh, you and my mom are gonna be best friends,” she laughs. “I’m so glad you’re normal.”

“Excuse me?” I say in confused laughter.

“When Marlow told me that we were going to Christmas dinner at the Greys, I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, I knew you were beautiful, but in person, you’re gorgeous!” I try not to blush. “And then, we’re driving up to this big mansion and I’m totally expecting to see everyone sitting around with their legs crossed, drinking tea with their pinkies up, talking about the stock market or the weather or something appropriate. I’m so glad to see everybody walking around just being friends and being… normal. I didn’t even know what to wear.” I smile widely and put my arm around her shoulder.

“I think that’s the nicest thing anybody’s ever said to me,” I tell her, and she smiles widely. “And you look just fine.”

“I’m not kidding, Ana, you’re gorgeous. What’s your secret? I’ve been trying to drop this pesky fifteen pounds since freshmen year.”

“Why?” I ask. “You have impressive curves… I’m hope I’m not being to forward.”

“I’ve told her the same thing,” Marlow says. His mother gazes at him and he just shrugs.

“My hips and my butt are kinda big,” she says, her voice low and conspiratorial. I laugh.

“I don’t know if I can help you much there,” I say, with mirth. “This ain’t a petticoat that’s making this dress flair out.”

We laugh heartily and I can hardly believe that I’m having this refreshing conversation with a girl who can’t be older than seventeen.

“But I’ll tell you this,” I add. “I don’t count calories and I eat what I want, but I happen to like fresh and wholesome foods—kabobs, fajitas, anything Mediterranean, that’s my thing. I do yoga regularly. I know Krav Maga, although I haven’t done that in a while…” Mental note—find another trainer, “… and I have a gym in my basement—sparring and weights are my favorite.”

“No wonder you look so great,” she says a little wistfully. “You have natural discipline. I’m so excited that Ana Grey gave me her regimen!!” I curtsy.

“Glad to be of service!” I say. “Start the regimen tomorrow! Diets are a no-no today. There are treats and cookies abound, and the menu is fabulous, so make sure you save room.” I gesture towards the kitchen and the family. Emily smiles and walks in the direction I’m gesturing.

“Thank you,” Marlow mouths as he passes me, and I wink at him.

“She seems nice,” I say as Marcia closes in the space between us.

“She is,” Marcia says. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say she went to finishing school. She’s extremely well-groomed.”

“I think she’s too hard on herself about her weight,” I say as she walks away. She’s not a particularly small-framed girl, but she’s not overweight by any means. She has what I would call an impressive resume in the rear.

“I have to agree with you, but you know how high school is. She’s probably been teased for being two pounds too round.” I twist my lips. Yeah, I know only too well how high school is.

Marcia and Zach work their way into the crowd as Marcia introduces him to Christian. I can see “background check” in my husband’s eyes all the way from here. Sometime while I was being preoccupied, Harmony has joined the party and is talking to Mia and Ethan, and my dad, Mandy, and Harry have all slipped in, too. Harry is entertaining his nephew Mikey who is now running around like a madman. I have to hurry and get him some more sneakers now—with the hard soles.

Minnie has her own audience of women who are adoring her dress and trying to get her to stand so that her brother doesn’t leave her behind. Val helps her to walk a few steps, then releases her, and she walks a few steps on her own before falling on her little butt. The ladies all clap for her achievement, causing her to clap as well and burst into fits of giggles.

Christmas is looking mighty fine at the Greys.

“Hey,” I hear from behind me. I turn around to see Courtney and Vickie.

“Hey!” I say my face lighting up and reaching for a hug. “I’m glad to see you. Come in.” I kiss Courtney on the cheek, then Vickie.

“I hope you don’t mind us showing up like this,” Vickie says.

“Are you kidding?” I reply. “This is why I plan for ‘do-drops,’ because people do tend to drop in. Come on, the more the merrier. Look at this place, what do you think?” I say, proudly gesturing around the house.

“It’s definitely merry,” Vickie says with a laugh.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I cede with a smile. “Looks like Leavenworth, doesn’t it?”

“More like Whoville!” Vickie says. “The only thing you don’t have is the Grinch.”

“Yeah, he’s over there,” I say pointing in Christian’s direction. When I look at him, he’s laughing and apparently having a great time with Jason, Chuck, and Nelson.

“He doesn’t look too Grinchy to me,” Vickie points out.

“Maybe he’s had some of the spiked eggnog,” I say with a laugh.

“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go over and have some of what he’s having,” Vickie says before kissing Courtney on the cheek and heading off towards Christian.

“She’s good for you,” I say to Courtney as we watch Vickie walk away. She puts her hand on Christian’s arm to get his attention and he greets her warmly with a hug. He hasn’t even hugged me today.

“She’s very good for me,” Courtney replies, gazing at her girlfriend. “The fucking best.” I turn my gaze to her.

“I would have thought you would be spending the holiday with family,” I say, trying to gently approach the topic.

“No,” Courtney says, looking down at her hands. “I gave Grandmother the things that I bought for her and Grandfather yesterday. I don’t think Grandfather will ever trust me again—that bridge is burned. I don’t like it but I’m okay with it. Vick’s family… well, they’re not very keen on this set up.”

“That you’re a girl, you mean?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No, that I’m white.” My head does the bobble-thing.

“What?” I ask incredulously. Courtney nods matter-of-factly.

“Oh, yeah,” she says, looking back at Vickie once more. “Apparently they can deal with her eating pussy. They just can’t deal with her eating pink pussy.” I blink several times.

“You can’t be serious!” I say. “That’s one of the most medieval things I’ve ever heard!” And there’s that word again.

“Tell me about it,” she says. “I’ve already had to fight the whole bi battle—and quite frankly, after finding Vick, I’m pretty sure that I’m not bi, I’m gay—but now I have to fight the race battle, too? I mean this is ridiculous. Why can’t I just freaking love who I want to love, and they love me back without having to pass some damn test?”

“You can.”

We turn around to the deep voice that interrupted us right into gorgeous brown eyes and caramel skin.

“Forgive me for intruding, but I couldn’t help overhearing,” he says. “You can love whoever the hell you want. It’s nobody’s business but yours. You don’t have anything to prove to anybody, as long as the two of you are happy. Whoever else doesn’t like it can go to hell. It’s that simple.” Courtney’s eyebrows rise.

“Who… are you?” she asks.

“Oh,” I say, “I forgot you guys probably haven’t met. This gorgeous and insightful black man is James… Al’s husband.”

“Get the fu—…” She stops and covers her mouth. “Get outta here! Are you serious?”

“I’m serious,” I say. She extends her hand.

“It’s very nice to meet you! I had no idea,” she says.

“That I was black?” he says, taking her hand with a smile.

“No, that you were hot,” she admits without apology.

“I should warn you, she’s very frank,” I say to James.

“That’s not a problem,” James says with mirth. “I have the same problem with my family. I don’t know if it’s as bad for you as it is for me, but let’s just say that I and my husband won’t be going back to my hometown in the foreseeable future.”

“Boy, I need you to talk to my girlfriend. She’s feeling pretty bad about it…” and off they go toward Vickie.

I’m making my way around the house, preparing everyone to head into the dining room as dinner is going to be served soon when I see—and hear—Sophie in yet another sparring match with Marlow and his date.

“What? I didn’t say anything,” I hear Sophie say, and I can tell that this not-so-cordial conversation has been going on for at least a few volleys.

“Marlow, I heard Ana say that dinner is about to be served. Can we just go sit down?” Emily says, obviously trying to extinguish whatever’s going on.

“Yes, dinner,” Sophie says, “we have a lovely menu. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.” I hiss quietly to myself. Maggie’s mouth falls open with a gasp and her eyes widen like saucers. Sophie’s meaning didn’t get past anybody.

“Sophie!” Marlow exclaims in horror. Emily is clearly affronted and folds her arms.

“Little girl, what is your problem?” she asks pointedly. Little girl… oh, no. Sophie just shrugs her off.

“I don’t have a problem. Sorry if you think so,” she says. “Nice skirt, by the way. They’re making everything in plus sizes these days, huh?”

Oh. God. Shots. Fired.

Emily puts her hands on her hips and her expression says that if she were anywhere else, she and Sophie would be fighting right now.

“Those are pretty tall words coming from someone who looks like one of Rainbow Brite’s little friends,” Emily seethes, looking Sophie up and down before flipping her hair dramatically and walking away from the conversation. I want to rush in and save Sophie and scold Marlow for one of his girlfriends being rude to her once again… but Sophie started this one, so I can’t.

“Geez, Sophie,” Marlow says, clearly exacerbated. “What is wrong with you?” It’s a rhetorical question and he doesn’t wait around for an answer, walking quickly behind his date and catching her arm to smooth things over. After a short exchange of words, she flips her hair again and smiles coyly, hooking arms with Marlow and heading towards the dining room with him.

Crisis averted—for Marlow anyway. Sophie, on the other hand, looks like she’s going to hurl. I can’t even intervene this time because she brought it on herself.

Just when one catastrophe plays out in front of me, another is possibly calling me on my phone. There’s no quiet space in the immediate vicinity and I have to find one quickly before my phone stops ringing. I run to the mudroom, grab a coat—I think it’s Christian’s—and dash out into the garage. I swipe the screen and catch the call just before it goes to voicemail.

“Gary?” I say into the phone.

“Hey,” he says. He sounds so depressed.

“Hey!” I respond. It’s so good to hear his voice.

“Merry Christmas,” he says.

“Merry Christmas,” I reply. “How are you?”

“Shitty, but alive,” he says. I pause.

“Well, I’m glad to hear that you’re alive,” I reply. It’s quiet for a while.

“I don’t want to talk to her,” he says. “I don’t want to talk about her or see her… but I miss her.” I sigh.

“Yeah, that’s usually the way it is,” I say, “especially today.”

“Today sucks,” he says. “I gotta go,” he adds after a pause.

“Gary!” I say, desperately trying to catch him before he hangs up. “If you need me, Gary…” I trail off. He’s silent again, and for a moment, I think he hung up.

“I know,” he says. “Merry Christmas.” And he ends the call.

I feel worse now than before he called. I’m glad he thought of me and I’m happy to hear his voice, but he sounds positively miserable. I hate to hear the hurt in his voice and hate even more that I can’t take it away.

I don’t want to see her, but I miss her. What a conundrum to be in.

I look down at my phone to swipe it closed and see that I have another notification. It’s email. I almost ignore it, but it’s Christmas, so I decide to at least see who it is.

Shit! It’s Marilyn. What are the fucking odds?

She sent the email just after midnight. How did I miss it? I open my email app and go to her email.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: I’m Alive
Date: Thursday, December 25, 2014, 00:15
From: Marilyn Caldwell

Merry Christmas Bosslady,

I hope today finds you well. I can’t say the same for myself—a little better, maybe, but not well.

I was glad to get the email from you. It’s good to know that there’s someone who hasn’t forgotten about me.

I’m depressed, Bosslady. Really depressed. There’s no use in beating around the bush when your boss is a shrink. I’m not in a good place at all and being here with my parents has been nothing but emotional and spiritual torture. My mother is a goddamn gospel bully. If there is a place in heaven for her, I’d be surprised. Jesus is probably embarrassed at the way she wields His name like a weapon throwing everyone into hell like she’s the final judge and jury!

I did manage to get out a bit. It was my only saving grace—the library, mostly. The movies, wherever I could go to get away from my mother’s swinging sword. Dad’s waving the blood-stained banner, too, but not nearly as badly as my mother. The way she talks about me, you would think my bed was just going to ignite any second with fire and brimstone with me in it.

The truth is, Ana, I couldn’t be alone. I didn’t trust myself. I wasn’t actively thinking suicide or self-harm or anything like that, but I couldn’t think from one moment to the next when Gary walked out. I certainly couldn’t sleep in our bed or live in our house, smell his smell… I probably would have done something drastic had I stayed. I’m only telling you this because I didn’t want you to think I was crazy coming to my parents knowing what was waiting for me when I got here. I needed some place to go. I couldn’t stay in Seattle and I knew that they would watch over me even if it meant that they were throwing me in hell every 15 minutes.

I’ve accepted that it’s over between me and Gary. I’m still not happy with it and I don’t know when or if I’ll ever get over it. I know the shrink in you would tell me that time heals all wounds, but this one is gaping and oozing, and rips open every night when I’m in bed alone. If it does heal, I’m afraid that it’s going to take a lifetime.

Having said that, I want to say that you’ve been the best damn boss a girl could have—paying me all this time even though you hadn’t heard from me and didn’t even know if I would be coming back. I thought about leaving and starting all over somewhere else—somewhere that there was no chance of running into the man that I love with all my heart, but who can’t stand the sight of me. You’ll forgive me if I’m not around for any of the Grey family functions if he’s expected to be in attendance, but it’s time for me to get on with my life and stop hiding out. It’s not healthy for me and whatever I’m going to do, I can’t do it hiding in my old childhood bedroom and enduring 16 – 18 hours of constant persecution.

So, Bosslady, I’ll be back in Seattle and back to work the first Monday of next month. I’m a little stronger now, but not strong enough to come back just yet. By giving myself a deadline, I have something to work towards, and by promising you that I’ll be there, I know I can’t back out.

I won’t ask if Gary has asked about me. He hasn’t tried to call, and he hasn’t reached out to me by text or any social media, so I’m sure he just wishes that I were dead. I will most likely forever be known as the woman who killed his baby. We weren’t ready for a baby. No matter how much he wanted it, we weren’t ready. I thought we were being so careful, but apparently not careful enough. Now, I’ve lost everything. I couldn’t win with this one, Ana. I just couldn’t win.

So, I’m going to have a little “me” time and be a tourist in my own city for the next 10 days to break the funk of what life is before I come back and put my big girl panties on. I’ll admit that I wanted to be hurtful, so I waited until my parents went to sleep, then I packed my things and moved out of the Hellbound Hotel and now I’m at the Doubletree. They won’t care anyway. Their only concern will be that I’m not there for them to torture me anymore.

Thanks for caring about me, Ana. Really. I’ll see you on the fourth.

Marilyn Caldwell
Personal Assistant to Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey

I’ll be the first to admit that her changed signature gives me hope. I almost want to jump through hoops that she’s coming back on the fourth, but I’m happier that she got out of the toxicity of her parents’ house. I wish she and Gary could see past this hurt and realize that they love each other very much. Honestly, she can see past it. He can’t.

I take a deep breath and let it out, then I check my face for tears or smudged mascara and go back into the house.


A/N: Ana mentions “Gulliver’s” decorations on the front lawn. She’s referencing Gulliver’s Travels and his visit to Lilliput.

Leavenworth is “Christmastown” Washington.

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

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 63—Out of Alignment

So, you’re getting two chapters because neither of these could really stand alone without an interruption in flow. For those who celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving.

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 63—Alignment Shift

ANASTASIA

We’ve both come fantastically, but my husband’s hard dick is bobbing in my face right now, and if I can get a repeat of what I just got, I’m all for it! I gently wrap my lips around the head of his cock and lick. He hisses loudly.

“I haven’t picked a card yet,” he protests.

“Then hurry up and pick one,” I chastise. I can feel him frantically reaching over to get a card.

“Slide down and ride that dick,” he says, his voice raspy. “Reverse cowgirl.”

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He puts the card face-up on the floor near his hip so that I can see it. I slide down his body and take his dick in my hand. I guide his head to my opening, still tender and pulsing a bit from my orgasm, and slide down onto him.

“Ssssssssssss! Aw, shit!” he hisses as his fingers caress my hips. I begin to move back and forth over his dick and his fingers never tighten. They only slide with my hips.

“That’s it, baby,” he says, his voice a harsh whisper. “Just like that… ride that dick… fuck that cock…”

He doesn’t move. He just lets me ride and I can feel him getting harder and fatter inside of me as he exclaims several expletives throughout the five minutes. When the timer goes off, he doesn’t make a move.

“Pick a card,” I taunt, still fucking his growing dick.

“Fuck!” he hisses and reaches for another card.

“Stop… stop for a minute,” he begs, “I need to think.” I stop rolling my hips and he’s damn near breathless on the floor. “I don’t know how we’re going to do this one.” He shows me the card and it’s The Sitting V. You normally need a counter or table to pull this one off. I look over at the loveseat and see the highest point in the room that won’t leave me with a bruised or impaled ass.

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“The arm of the loveseat?” I say.

“We’ll give it a try,” he says, slapping my ass, signaling me to get up.

Yeah… no.

We tried everything to get that position right. What’s supposed to happen is that my but is on the edge of a counter, my legs over his shoulders and my hands behind his neck. He supports my back and he just fucks me that way. We tried. We really tried, but he’s too tall to stand and too short to kneel to get the position right. We even tried crouching, but he couldn’t get an angle where his knees didn’t hit the side of the sofa. By the time we try every unsuccessful variation of this position, we’re caught in fits of uncontrollable giggles and realize that we had never set the timer. We throw in the towel on The Sitting V and pick another card.

The T-Position

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“Now we’re talking,” Christian croons as he pulls me from the loveseat back onto the floor. “Lie back,” he instructs me. When I do, he slides between my legs on his side—perpendicular—and lifts my leg over his hip. While I’m trying to figure out how this is going to work, he pushes my other leg away from him so that they’re spread open wider but he’s not lying on my leg. Then he slides into me.

Holy. Cow. Batman.

“There it is,” he says as he begins that masterful stroke that has me rising in a matter of seconds. “Now, we’re back on track.”

He bends his knee so that my leg drapes over his thigh and now, he’s not only free to move his hips, but his hand is also free to caress me as he’s doing this perfect sideways thrust into my core. He’s caressing my thighs and my stomach, kissing my skin wherever his lips and tongue can reach, and I nearly can’t stand it.

I can’t even think of a French exclamation, and I really need one right now.

I open my mouth to get some fair into my lungs and look down at my husband. He’s gazing at me all victoriously, a half-smirk on his face as his body rolls into mine over and over in a perfect water wave, his dick sliding so deliciously in and out of me causing the perfect amount of friction. I reach up and grab my breasts and close my eyes, lost in the perfection of this position that we’ve never tried before. When I open them again, my husband’s expression has changed. He’s still gazing at me, but he’s licking and biting his lips and grasping my leg hard.

“You look so fucking hot,” he says as he plunges into me, his stroke now deeper and seeking his own pleasure while fueling mine.

“Christian!” I breathe, “please…”

“Please, what?” he hisses, grinding and rolling and thrusting his hips into mine, the task seeming harder and harder for him. Yeah, please, what? I don’t know. I groan and fall back onto the floor, welcoming the delicious burn in my core and allowing him to push me higher and higher as he grunts with each thrust.

DING!

I blindly reach for the scattered cards and pull one. I can’t even see it through my passion-induced haze, so I just shove it in Christian’s face. He reaches over and grabs a handful of cards then, wrapping his arms around me, he rises effortlessly from the floor and carries me to the loveseat—with his dick still inside of me. He sits down with me on top, straddling him and just begins to fuck me. I wrap my arms around his neck and ride along with him. His hands are all over me—my back, my ass, my hair—he’s kissing me passionately and loving me deeply. I try to give him back what he’s giving me, running my fingers through his hair, caressing his cheek and chest, kissing him deeply. When his arms slide around my waist, I know that we’re both in passion and chasing the orgasm again. We both groan when the timer goes off and Christian pulls a card from the small stack next to us.

“We’ll change the timer to ten minutes, okay?” he breathes, his voice thick with arousal. I nod and wait anxiously for him to show me the next card.

“Somebody somewhere likes us,” he says, showing me the card. It’s Standing Sex. And again, he lifts me effortlessly and stands to his feet, continuing his stroke right where he left off. Now, we’re both fighting an orgasm and this round has to last ten minutes. I wrap my arms around him and just enjoy the ride.

“Don’t come. Feel the pleasure,” I coach myself inwardly. My body is bursting with sensation all over and I want to come so badly, but I simply can’t let it end yet. It feels too damn good. I know my husband is having the same thoughts and his stamina is much stronger than mine, but he feels so good inside of me that I release a mournful groan that has his knees wobbling and causes him to nearly lose the fight.

“Damn, baby, you’re too fucking sexy!” he exclaims, his face buried in my neck as he pounds into me.

“So are you,” I breathe. “You’re so big and you feel so good…”

“Fuuuuuuuck!” he groans loudly, and I feel him still and pulsing inside me. I thought he came, but he only stops momentarily and starts to thrust again, harder and deeper. The inner coach is somewhere taking a break and I feel myself rising higher and higher…

DING!

“Fuck, that shit was close,” Christian confesses breathily. He sits back on the loveseat with me on his lap and pulls another card.

“And it’s about to get closer,” he says as he shows me another card.

Doggy style.

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Fuck!

I rise off of him and get into position on my knees over the loveseat.

“Fuck, baby,” he says, looking down at me, “I think this is about to be a wrap.”

“I tend to agree with you,” I say.

He falls into position behind me and slides easily inside me.

“Fucking hell!” he says, grabbing my hips and thrusting hard into me three or four times. Oh, shit! I’m startled when he stops, takes a few deep breaths, then begins to move in a long, slow stroke.

Oh, hell. Mr. Grey is going to draw this out.

I try to get my mind ready for the onslaught of pleasure that’s about to come over me, but nothing could have prepared me. His slow stroke intensifies when his grip tightens on my hip and one hand flattens on my back. I open my mouth again to get air in, but I can feel the dew forming on my skin. It won’t be long now.

“Baby, fuck,” he groans, and his whole body is over mine, his hips thrusting his cock deliciously into me. My labored breathing becomes whimpers with each thrust and my body is aching to come now. I don’t want to fight it anymore, but my stubborn brain won’t let go. He licks the dew off my back and his hand grasps my shoulder while the other is flat on the loveseat next to mine, supporting his weight.

“Oh, God,” I protest when he licks my skin again, finishing with an open-mouthed kiss on my back. I shiver and release a breath, begging my sweating body to let go so that I can come.

“Fuck, I need you,” he growls. “I need you so much.” His hand dives into my hair and he roughly twists my head to the side. I cry out from the surprise more than the pain and he slams a bruising kiss onto my lips, his tongue plunging into my mouth. I almost collapse on my arms as my body shivers and aches. He begins to moan shamelessly into my mouth and my body signals that if he releases, I can let go.

“Oh, fuck, no, no, not yet!” he chastises aloud as his dick pulses inside of me. Again, I think he comes, but much to my dismay, he doesn’t. There’s no insane wetness to indicate his ejaculation and only moments later, he’s thrusting into me again. “Fuck, so close… so fucking close.”

“If you let go, I’ll let go,” I breathe, not willing to tap out yet.

“No… no… not yet… too fucking good…” he pants as he continues to thrust into me. I moan inwardly. I want to come so badly, I could cry, but my stubborn brain won’t let my body release before he does, and his body is fighting the feeling because it’s too good.

“Fuck, baby, my dick is burning,” he confesses as he reaches around and pulls my nipple, still drilling into me.

“Oh, God, Christian!’ I protest as I fight to hold myself up against him. I close my eyes as his teeth sink gently into the meat of my shoulder. I shiver with delight, feeling my breast fall into and fill his large hand. He alternates between cupping it and gently caressing it to pulling my nipple until it’s taut and aroused.

DING!

Goddammit to hell, that was the longest ten minutes ever fucking known to man, and I don’t protest when he doesn’t stop fucking me. I can’t take it anymore. I need to come again… seriously!

“This is the last one,” he groans. “I need to come inside you.”

“Okay,” I pant, breathlessly.

“You pull,” he commands, still fucking me and pulling on my nipple. I nod and reach for the cards on the loveseat. When I pull the card for the next position, I know it’s going to be a problem…

Yab-yum.

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That’s our connection position, and this has the potential to be dynamic… or disastrous. I’m spent and aching for an orgasm and can’t be responsible for what comes of attempting this feat, but nonetheless, we agree to try it.

I thought the position would be awkward sexually, but my husband has a goddamn Olympic-length dick. So, when he sits lotus-style with his back against the loveseat, I sit in his lap facing him with my arms and legs around him. He guides his cock to my core and they have no problem finding their counterpart. It’s not the deepest penetration that we’ve had, but it feels good… really good… in more ways than one.

The intimacy that I feel is amazing! Yes, my core is still on fire and in a secondary kind of way, I can still feel the pleasure of my husband inside of me… loving me, but something else is going on.

His fingertips caress my arm very softly, then my neck. Silver-gray eyes never leave mine. My hands slowly slide from his shoulders to his chest, my fingers spread far apart. I feel like that’s where they need to be. His arms slide around me, and his hands move to my upper back. He holds me close to him… not too close, but close… close enough to look into my eyes, close enough to breathe the same air…

And we begin to rock.

We rock and rock until we become acutely aware of the physical as well as the spiritual friction between us. The room fades away. Everything fades away for a moment except the sound of his voice…

You’re beautiful. You’re my life. I couldn’t survive without you.

You’re in my soul… in my blood… everything in me is you…

I live and breathe for you, only for you, my love…

I will take care of you…

I will love you for the rest of my days…

I don’t know where I am, and I only feel heat. I only see light. Heat and light. Well, more like warmth… warmth all over. I feel like some of my life’s energy is leaving me, and it’s scaring me.

Christian… please… help me…

I’ve got you, baby.

I want to wail, but I can’t, and I don’t know why—why I want to or why I can’t. I’m frozen somewhere outside myself and it’s scaring me to death.

Christian…

Butterfly… I’ve got you…

The explosion is cosmic—in my chest, in my head, all over me. Light blinds me completely, and I can even see it behind my closed eyelids. My body is trembling wildly, painfully, and I can’t stop it. Dear God, please make it stop…

This burst of… I don’t know, energy, maybe… is wracking my body. I feel like I’m in a room of nothing but blinding light, but I’m not alone. There’s a warmth wrapped around me, loving me, consoling me, and I don’t want to leave. I don’t know how long it lasts, but it seems like eternity. Slowly, very slowly, the light starts to fade. I can barely make out where I am. I hear crying.

I don’t open my eyes, but I’m now conscious of where I am. I’m sitting in my husband’s lap with my legs wrapped around him. My arms are pressed against his chest, my head back. We’re both drenched in sweat, hair dripping, sitting in the middle of the sitting room floor. My breathing is wild and gaspy and tears are streaming down my face, but the only sound I’m making are the gasps from taking in large amounts of air. My husband’s arms are clasped tight around me like a vice and his face is lying on my chest. He’s weeping. It’s his cries that I hear. I feel his sex pulsing inside of mine and the feeling is magical. I don’t want to move. I don’t want it to end. But the crying…

It’s obvious that we connected while we were having sex… or making love, I should say. Didn’t we do this once before? I don’t remember, but if we did, it was nothing like this. To say that it was powerful would be an understatement. To say that it was earth-shattering would be too cliché. There are no words for what just happened, no words at all.

*-*

“I heard you talking,” he says. “You were saying such… wonderful things… Everything you said, I feel about you.”

“I heard you talking,” I confess. “You were saying…” I swallow hard as I fight to focus. “I wasn’t talking,” I breathe.

“Neither was I,” he says. I’m afraid, but I can tell that he feels no fear. “What’s wrong?”

“What’s going on with us?” I say, my voice shaking.

“Only the best and most intense love known to man,” he says, brushing my hair from my face. “I never thought anything like this was possible in my life, definitely not for me.”

“I’ve never felt or known anything like this… ever,” I admit. “I’m afraid that…” I trail off.

“That what, baby?” he asks.

“That if one of us dies, the other won’t survive,” I finish.

“I already know that,” he admits, “so don’t die.”

We sleep in very late the next morning, saving our appetites for the housewarming party that was sprung on us somewhat last minute. Unlike many gatherings before, this will not merely be family and close friends. Many of Val’s former co-workers will be there as well as some of Elliot’s staff—along with their significant others. Val says that many people asked about her and just wanted to check on her, so she thought showing off her new home was a good way for them to see just how well she’s doing—friends and haters alike. Elliot proclaimed that he wanted a few of the slackers to see “how it’s really done” and he and only the best of the best did the work on his house.

I don’t know anybody there except the family and I’m certainly not trying to impress anyone, so I just don my Freddy jeans and a black oversized cashmere turtleneck sweater. Me being me, I anchor the simple ensemble with Valentino black leather stiletto boots with bow embellishments up the back. No fancy jewelry needed—just my wedding and engagement rings, and my hair is in a messy loosened side braid. Christian is similarly dressed in a pair of black jeans, a white cashmere sweater and black suede ankle boots. I’m going to be helping Val as much as she’ll let me, so we pack an overnight bag with plans to stay until tomorrow.

When we get to my sister and brother-in-law’s home, I admit that I expected the outside to be grander than it is. It looks like a big yellow box and I’m thinking to myself, “Why didn’t they do something more to this?” Elliot is an architect, so… why the massive understatement?

949942852ac3d3397dc9295fe5d61cf9“It’s yellow,” I say to Christian a bit dismayed as we drive up the driveway.

“Yep, that it is,” he says matter-of-factly.

“And it’s stucco,” I continue, my distaste evident. My husband’s extended silence causes me to look over at him.

“You might want to get it all out now,” he says. I frown.

“Get all what out?” I ask.

“Your criticisms,” he states.

“I’m not criticizing!” I declare.

“You don’t have to convince me,” he says, “but if you go into this woman’s house with that tone, she’s likely to put you out. I would.” My mouth falls open.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask affronted.

“No offense, Butterfly, but did I stutter?” he asks. “You haven’t even gotten out of the car yet; you haven’t rang the doorbell or greeted anybody, and the first two things you say about the house are critical.”

“I wasn’t being critical,” I excuse. “I was just making observations.” He twists his lips and stares at me.

“Okay,” he says and proceeds to open the door.

“Don’t placate me, Christian…” I begin, and he turns around and cuts me off with a finger pointed at me.

“I’m not going to fight with you,” he says flatly with no malice, “least of all, about this. We’re here for a housewarming party at my brother’s house—your sister’s house. We’re going to go inside, eat some food, hang out with our family and friends and enjoy ourselves. And we’re not going to argue about the yellow house. Comprende?”

I narrow my eyes at him and say nothing. He opens the door and exits the car.

“I speak French, not Spanish,” I say when he turns back to me.

“And yet, you understood what I said,” he points out as he extends his hand to help me out of the car. I glare up at him and scramble out of the car without accepting his hand. The pause behind me can be heard across Lake Washington. After hearing nothing but my heels clicking on the concrete for several seconds, I hear the door slam behind me.

He’s mad.

Can you blame him? He called you out for acting like the quintessential snob and you get all pissy about it.

I don’t need this shit from you… or him. I didn’t do anything wrong.

“How’d I know you’d be the first one here?” Val says when she opens the door. “You even beat the Queen.”

“Well, I’m closer than he is,” I say, breezing into the room and undoing my coat while kissing her on the cheek.

“Wow, chilly,” she says.

“It’s not that cold,” I say, handing my outerwear to a gentleman standing there waiting for it. “You’ve got staff,” I smile.

“Besides a temporary cook, just for today,” she replies, “and I wasn’t talking about the weather.” My brow furrows and hers rises expectantly. We have an entire wordless conversation where I ask what the hell she’s talking about, then she asks what’s with the chilly attitude, what’s going on. I end the conversation by waving her off.

“Show me the house,” I say. She raises her brow again.

“Don’t you want to wait for Christian? We can show it to you both at the same time,” she points out. I shrug.

“Doesn’t matter,” I say as I walk into the house.

“You drinking?” she asks, and I nod. She uncorks a bottle of Cabernet from the kitchen wine rack. We talk a bit about the portion of the house that I can see from here. The vestibule opens right into the kitchen and dining room with the living room actually facing the back of the house and Lake Washington, much like ours. The living room and dining room are all glass walls and doors. Three sets of double doors make up the far wall that faces Lake Washington, and two more sets make up the westward facing wall along with large plate glass panes. A large patio wraps around the back and side of the house showcased by the glass walls.

The kitchen is a chef’s kitchen with stained oak cabinets and high-end appliances, including a five-burner stove in the island of the breakfast bar. Of course, the living room has a gorgeous natural gas fireplace and I’m already drawn to sit in one of the comfy oversized chairs and stare out at the lake for hours, forgetting my troubles like snippy husbands who become all sensitive about yellow stucco houses.

“I’m taking gourmet cooking classes,” Val says, interrupting my thoughts and placing a glass of wine in front of me. “Maybe you can help me out with some pointers and recipes.”

“Absolutely!” I beam. “Did you cook anything for the party today?” She shakes her head.

“No, I wanted the food to actually be edible,” she jests. “Besides, I haven’t been feeling well. I’ve been a little dizzy lately, but that’s to be expected after brain surgery.” I frown.

“You don’t think…” I trail off. If there’s any possibility that her cancer is returning, I want her to get a jump on it the moment it rears its ugly head. I will not lose my sister.

“I don’t know,” she laments, “but I don’t think so. There’s been no hint of Meg in any of my cat scans…”

Meg?” I say, bemused.

“My tumor,” she says. My face is the picture of horror.

“You named your tumor?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says. “I gave it an identity—a dark intruder that needed to be kicked out of my body. She’s an unwanted passenger and I’m kicking her off the bus. It’s a way of taking control of an uncontrollable situation. You diminish the power of the tumor by giving it a name. You’re the doctor, here, Steele. You should read up on this. It’s a very common practice.” I shake my head.

“I’ll take your word for it,” I say. “There are too many facets of medicine for me to be able to cover them all. Oncology and the philosophies that surround it are way too much for me, but if there’s anything that I need to know to be supportive to you, please tell me.”

“Just ask me every so often how Meg is doing,” she says. “If I tell you that she’s still on vacation, we’re good. If I ever say that she’s making an appearance, then it’s time to put our war clothes on.” I nod.

“So… what now? What about Elliot?”

“Oh, dear God, he was ready to take me to the ER,” she replies. “It’s just a little dizziness. It comes with the territory, but I totally understand his concern, especially since I unconsciously hid Meg for something like six months or so. To that end, I’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday.”

“Do you really want to wait that long?” I ask. “What if Meg really has made another appearance?”

“Then a couple of days really won’t matter, Sis,” she replies. “I need to see my neurologist first, tell him what’s going on, and take the proper steps. If it turns out that Meg is rearing her ugly head, then I’ll go back to the oncologist and we’ll come up with a plan of action. It’s that simple. Now, please, let’s not dwell on it. I want you to tell me how lovely my house is—don’t make me fish for compliments, and if you don’t like it, lie.” She concludes that portion of the conversation with a smile. Just as the conversation changes, Elliot comes into the kitchen.

“I heard the doorbell,” he begins. “Where’s Christian?” Before I could formulate a lie as to why I’m present without my loving husband, Christian comes into the house with our overnight bags. Geez, there were just two bags and his laptop. What took so damn long?

“Dude, what were you doing out there? Did you guys come in separate cars?” Elliot asks the question for me.

“Nope,” my husband quips. “Just separate minds.” He drops our bags on the floor

What the hell is that supposed to mean?

“Oookay,” Elliot says. “Well, I’ve got just the thing for you,” he adds, taking Christian’s coat and handing it to one of the staff. “My very own man-cave stocked with food and refreshments—even beer for those who want to partake. Martin, can you take those bags to the big guest room, please?” He says to the same gentleman who took Christian’s coat. “Come, brother, let the woman fawn over the house whilst we go grunt and scratch ourselves.”

“Lead the way, Bro,” Christian responds, putting his arm around Elliot’s shoulder and, without even looking in my direction, disappears to parts unknown with him. I twist my lips. It’s going to be like that for the evening, is it? I turn to Val

“Well, I guess you can show me the house now.”

*-*

Five bedrooms and five bathrooms in two separate living quarters; nearly 4000 square feet and the lakeside of the house on all floor boasts glass walls or large windows.

In addition to the open great-room-living area, there are three bedrooms on the first floor—the third has been converted to a small home office—a laundry room, and a wine closet. The master bedroom has a view of the lake and the other two rooms are on the east side of the house and only slightly more modest. The master bedroom and second bedroom both have en suites and walk-in closets. There’s also a powder room on the main floor.

It’s listed as a two-story home, because the front of the house is two stories. However, there are three floors as the back of the house reveals that the main story is actually a sublevel.

The second floor is a mother-in-law apartment boasting two terraces on the lakeside of the house and one larger terrace on the east side of the house. It has a separate entrance from outside that opens into another great room—living room, dining room, and kitchen—with more modest furnishings than the main floor. You can access one of the terraces from the dining area of this room, which also boasts a glass wall, as well as a powder room with a shower. Both the upstairs and downstairs kitchens have granite countertops.

The two upstairs bedrooms are connected by a Jack-and-Jill bathroom. The larger terrace can be accessed from one bedroom while the smaller can be accessed from the other.

The third floor is the man cave, Elliot’s workout space, and a small area for storage. It also accesses the full party terrace. We didn’t go up there.

From the front of the house, you can see the 800-square-foot garage and six-car parking spaces inside the security gate. A trail to the right leads to a jungle patio much like ours and a cement water fountain. The trail continues through beautiful landscaping and concludes at a 60-foot dock and a whole lot of private waterfront, which will most likely just be for viewing and swimming since Elliot has no desire to own a boat.

The house is really beautiful and quite spacious on the inside—nothing like my house of course. Then again, not everybody can, nor do they want to, live in the obscenely ginormous brick house with the swinging wrought iron gates that is Grey Crossing. It’s hard not to compare other houses to the magnificent edifice that I call home, but I guess I better stop doing that.

Val tells me that the house is condo, so they only purchased the house from the studs in. The Home Owners’ Association is responsible for the outside and the grounds. I didn’t even know that you could buy houses that way—I thought you could only buy condos that way… you know, apartments. I ask why she didn’t just buy a house, and she says that they want to build their own, so until they can do that, this location will do nicely.

Just as I’m singing the praises of Val and Elliot’s home and its amenities, careful to leave out the yellow stucco, her guests begin to arrive. Of course, Allen and James arrive first after Christian and me. Grace and Carrick aren’t too far behind. After them, many of Val’s former coworkers join the party followed by some of Elliot’s employees. When Maxie and Phil show up followed by Mia and Ethan, Val gives me the unpleasant task of going to the man cave to retrieve our husbands, her excuse being that this is the only part of the house that I haven’t seen. I roll my eyes and do as I’m told.

I make my way to the third-floor man cave—indeed! What a space this is. What happens if Val needs him and she’s all the way on the first floor? Does she send a messenger pigeon?

56238bd948e82c525d10a559c1148b31The first thing I see is a sign declaring the rules of the man cave, referring to things like scratching, belching, farting, and bacon—which are all allowed in the man cave. I enter the room and see my husband and his brother yelling at a large-screen television, and I know they’ve found a football game.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” I say, and they both rubberneck to me like they’ve been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

“Val sent me to retrieve you,” I add. “Most of your guests have arrived.” Elliot stands and frowns.

“Why did she send you all the way up here?” he asks. “She could have used the intercom.”

Interco…? I know why her sneaky ass sent me up here, but I don’t let on.

“She said she wanted me to see the man cave,” I confess, knowing that wasn’t her real motive. “It’s quite impressive, Elliot.”

“Thanks, Montana,” he says, smiling as he walks by me. “Stay put, bro. I’ll see if I can rescue any other unfortunate fellows. If I don’t come back, you’ll know that I was unsuccessful in my mission.” And away he goes. Christian sits on the sofa still watching the game without acknowledging my presence at all.

“So, you’re just going to ignore me?” I bark. He turns to me.

“Oh! Now, you’re speaking to me?” he asks incredulously.

“I was never not speaking to you, Christian,” I snap impatiently.

“You coulda fooled me,” he says, standing from the sofa. “Just like you, I don’t like being ignored, Anastasia, but you’re the one who threw down that gauntlet. I don’t know what’s wrong, but whatever it is, you need to get it in order.”

“There is no ‘right or wrong’ here…” I begin.

“Yes, there is, and you know it,” he says matter-of-factly, and then he glares at me as if he’s waiting for something. When I don’t respond, he turns away from me and starts to leave.

Say something, you twit! You’re acting like a spoiled, entitled, socialite bitch and I don’t like you very much right now.

“Christian I’m sorry!” I call out before he gets to the door. He stops and turns around.

“For what?” he asks. Oh, geez.

“For talking about the house that way and acting like a snob,” I reply. He twists his lips and shakes his head before turning to leave again. What? I said I was sorry!

“Christian!” I call out to him again. He spins around and closes the space between us in a few long strides.

“I don’t give a fuck what you said about this house!” he hisses quietly in my face. “The yellow stucco is ugly, but we don’t have to live here. What pissed me off is the way you treated me. You attacked me for simply telling you not to offend them in their own home. Then you snubbed me when you got out of the car like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. When your feelings of anger or displeasure are justified against me, I deal with them—that’s all I can do, but when you act like this…” He looks at me and points at various parts of me with disdain. “… This catty little thing that I can’t even find the words to describe, you can do this by yourself, because I’ll have no part of it.”

He doesn’t wait for me to respond. He marches out of the room and quietly closes the door behind him.

What am I supposed to do with that? I didn’t deliberately… but… shit.

And now, the Bitch is quiet. No sassy comments, no gloating, no unwanted advice… I guess she’s having no part of it either.

I go back down to the party, certain that Elliot was unsuccessful in “rescuing other unfortunate fellows.” I won’t be a stick in the mud. I’ll help Val entertain and I’ll have a good time. Hopefully, Christian will too.

Her friends seem nice for the most part. More than one of them have made comments about my husband or even tried to put the moves on him, but I keep the green-eyed monster at bay, determined not to make a fool of myself or to march over into a crowd of mixed strangers and “piss” all over my man—especially since it appears that he doesn’t want me to. I don’t know if, at this point, he’s ignoring me or I’m ignoring him. I know I’m avoiding him… I’m giving him his space.

After a while, I get my answer. I hadn’t noticed, but one or two of the single guys have been eyeing me all night. When one blatantly makes his move, I inform him that I’m married and that my husband is in attendance. When he asks who my husband is, I point to Christian who still isn’t making eye-contact with me.

“That’s your husband?” he asks incredulously. “He hasn’t said one word to you all night!”

“How would you know?” I ask affronted.

“I been watchin’, baby,” he says. “I been waitin’ for somebody to make a move or stake a claim and nobody did, so…” He shrugs. “I don’t mean to offend you, but with an ass like that and those sky-high fuck-me boots, I wouldn’t let you out of my sight.” He shrugs again and walks away.

I look over at my husband again who appears to be holding court with about six attentive listeners, male and female, and not even throwing a glance at me. He normally goes Neanderthal when somebody approaches me or tries to put the moves on me. This time, he didn’t even blink. I don’t even think he noticed.

I go to the kitchen and pour myself another glass of wine. I empty the glass just as quickly as I filled it, then pour another and empty that one, too. And suddenly, I’m exhausted. I’ve been smiling and laughing and conversing and being hostess #2 so that my beloved sister doesn’t overdo it, and now, I want to collapse somewhere and rest—alone. All by myself. In peace.

I look around and no one notices that I’ve left the party. Even my beloved sister is occupied with her previous coworkers. She looks very happy. Good. I quietly open the door to the patio and slip outside.

I welcome the cool air, and the silence. With the lights inside, nobody’s likely to see me out here. Solitude. I have to say that I’m glad to have it. I don’t know how long I’ve been smiling at people and making merry, but I’ve had enough. I sit on the chaise which luckily has an afghan thrown over it and snuggle in looking out at the water—the only thing that has never let me down. If I didn’t want to ruin my heels or freeze to death in the water, I’d walk across the grass, take off my boots, and put my feet in it. My blue savior…

A stranger noticed that my husband was ignoring me, but only because he was watching me all night waiting for his chance to make a move. Nonetheless, a stranger noticed that my husband was ignoring me. When I realized that, I suddenly felt like everyone in the room knew that he was ignoring me. I know that’s not true, but that could be why those who felt so brave as to approach him did so. They thought he was unattached.

A chill runs through me. I’m so fucking tired of feeling this way in some way or another—like something in my life always has to fucking be fixed! Give me a goddamn break!

But this does have to be fixed. I’m just too damn tired to fix it now.

Looking at the water now makes me think of Anguilla, the good and the bad. The promises we made to each other; the passionate love we made; me feeling like I wouldn’t be able to handle intense scenes; the first appearance of the nightmares; Christian screaming at me for answering his phone; all that goddamn candy; standing in the water and feeling it cleanse me…

Somehow, my mind drifts all the way back to when we met. God, I hated that guy, he was the most arrogant, spiteful, conceited son-of-a-bitch I’d ever met in my life. God, what an asshole! How someone could be so cold and unfeeling…

“You planning to jump in?”

Val’s voice jolts me out of my inner musings.

“Jesus, Val, you scared the shit outta me!” I scold.

“You didn’t hear me come outside?” she asks. I look behind me into the house, and it’s almost empty. How long have I been out here?

“You’re trying to kill yourself out here, huh?” she says, holding my coat out to me.

“I’m wrapped in an afghan,” I defend, taking my coat. “I’m not completely unprotected.”

“True, but I bet the coat feels better,” she says, and I have to agree with her when I wrap myself in its warmth. I pull my gloves out of the pockets and cover my hands, thankful for that warmth as well.

“Don’t forget your scarf,” she says handing it to me and I wrap it around my neck. We’re interrupted by one of her serving staff coming onto the patio with warm drinks—spiced lattes. They’re delicious, and very welcome.

“Now, tell me what’s going on,” she says. I raise my gaze to her, nearly begging her not to make me reveal the cause of my absconding, but she’s not going to relent.

“Sometimes, I just need a few moments to myself, that’s all,” I tell her, and it’s the truth. “I told you that Jason helped me realize that I’m suffering from PTSD…” She nods. “Well, there are moments when I need to talk it out, and then there are moments when I just need to sit in a quiet place.”

“So, is that what’s going on?” she prods. “You’re having a bout of your PTSD?”

“No,” the word is out of my mouth before I even have the chance to formulate a lie. “Your house is gorgeous. It really is, but that yellow stucco is horrendous. And when we drove up to the house and I saw that yellow stucco, my mouth and brain disconnected. I swear, I didn’t say anything horrible about the house, but my tone was enough to let Christian know that I was not pleased with the yellow stucco.”

“Is that what this is about?” Val says, unable to hide her mirth. “You two are bickering over the ugly yellow stucco?”

“Well, yes and no,” I reply. “He told me not to come in here insulting your house because you might throw me out. Then he said that if it were him, he’d throw me out, too—and I took offense to that. I can’t remember what all happened after that, but the situation just went south and… here I am. I’m just hoping that the situation will blow over and tomorrow, we’ll just be back to normal.

“It seems like I spend so much time exploring my feelings and looking out for everybody else’s. I filled the pages of three journals already—do you have any idea how much writing that is? And when I start to feel the angst of my situation, I’ll talk to anyone who’ll listen…”

Yes, I know,” she interjects, somewhat absent-mindedly. I raise my gaze to her again.

“Does it bother you?” I ask, disheartened. She’s probably heard the lion’s share of my troubles over the last week.

“Are you kidding?” she exclaims. “No! Of course not! Seriously, Steele?” and I think I may have offended her just now. Great… but I can’t focus on it at this moment.

“Day after day after day of rolling over my feelings, trying to be mindful of others so that I don’t say or do the wrong thing, and then nine times out of ten, the wrong thing flies out my mouth anyway. My shrink threw me out of his office yesterday. Did I tell you that?”

“No!” she says in horror. “Why did he do that?”

“Because I probably did the same thing to him that I just did to Christian,” I admit. “If my feelings are all a-scramble, apparently I mindlessly say and do things that alienate people from me.” I sigh and take a sip of the warming coffee, the only inner warmth I’ll probably feel for the rest of the night.

“Well, I only knew something was wrong because I know you,” she says. “You were the picture of decorum at the party tonight. Everybody really liked you.”

“I don’t think they would let on if they didn’t,” I say with a sad smile.

“I would know if they didn’t,” she reassures me. “I know these people.” I sip my coffee again.

“Wait a minute… You called it ‘ugly yellow stucco.’ You think it’s ugly, too?” I ask bemused.

“Well… it wouldn’t have been my first choice,” she replies. I roll my eyes.

“Then why don’t you change it?” I ask in horror. “You live here now!”

“Because like I told you, it’s condo!” she replies, restating the obvious. “I have full reign of the inside of the house, but the outside—nope. I can’t change the stucco, and the HOA requires that the houses all be some kind of uniform related color. The only other options I have are white, tan, or some other dreadful neutral color, so I’ll spare myself the expense and spend my money on the inside. Besides, yellow is the color of sunshine and I’ve psyched myself out to believe that it’s a beautiful blend with the trees when they’re green and with the blue water all year long.”

“Isn’t it exhausting looking on the bright side of the street all the time?” I accuse wearily.

“I have to, Steele. I’m a cancer survivor. I coulda been dead. For me, being alive, living and loving El, having all my family and friends over today to view my beautiful house… that is the bright side of the street.”


CHRISTIAN

The party is over. I’ve surprisingly made a few connections with people at Val’s job. I had no intention of networking, but when they found out who I was, it was inevitable—and surprisingly productive.

I lost track of my wife early in the evening, which is a bit of a good thing. I simply did not have time or energy for her childish behavior. When the party starts to thin, and Elliot suggests going back to the man cave, I jump at the opportunity.

“Well, this was an interesting night,” Elliot says, drinking his soda.

“Besides the obvious, how so?” I ask.

“Well, it depends on what you’re considering ‘obvious,’” he says. “For instance, when you say ‘obvious,’ do you mean the fact that you and Montana didn’t stay in the same area for 30 seconds? Or are you referring to the fact that when the company whore was hitting on you, she didn’t climb over furniture to scratch her eyes out? Or was it more obvious that you didn’t turn into Tarzan when that guy was hitting on her?” My brow furrows. Some guy was hitting on my wife? “And I take it by that expression that the last bit of information wasn’t so obvious.”

“Who was hitting on her?” I ask. Elliot shakes his head.

“What should concern you more is that I was entertaining and watching approximately 50 people today and I knew that you weren’t speaking to your wife. She was so friendly to everybody except you that you would have thought this was her housewarming. What the fuck, man? Is the honeymoon over.” I roll my eyes.

“The honeymoon’s been over for a long time, Elliot, but it doesn’t mean that I love her any less.”

“Then what gives, man?” he confronts again. “You two are generally inseparable at things like this, so much that only an idiot—like Lily—would dare hit on either of you, let alone someone approach both of you. So, what’s up with that?”

I’m still miffed that someone hit on my wife and I didn’t know about it. Why didn’t he tell me when it happened? How many people hit on her tonight that Elliot didn’t see? I know the felines were in rare form clawing at me tonight. I damn near had to beat one off with a stick. That must have been the company whore that Elliot was talking about. How many hounds were sniffing after my wife?

“Look, man,” Elliot says after I pause for a little too long. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. In all honesty, it’s really none of my business anyway. But if your Butterfly means as much to you as my Angel does to me, you better get to the bottom of this instead of letting it fester and hoping that it goes away… just like that fucking tumor.” I rubberneck over to him.

“What?” I ask. “Is the tumor back.”

“No,” he snaps vehemently, “not that we know of, now stop trying to change the subject.”

He clearly doesn’t want to talk about that subject and I hope he was just speaking in retrospect and Valerie’s tumor isn’t coming back. That was a hard time for all of us.

“Tell me, man. Who was hitting on my wife?” I ask.

“I don’t know the guy,” he says. “He either works at Angel’s old job or he was somebody’s plus one. Whatever he said to Montana, he was dismissed pretty quickly, and then I didn’t see her for the rest of the night.” The rest of the night.

“What? Did she go off with the guy?” I ask before my brain can catch up to my mouth.

“What the fuck do you think?” Elliot barks angrily. “Do you think that your wife and the mother of your two children went off somewhere with a strange man at a party that she never met before? Because if you do, then there’s a whole lot more amiss than you’re letting on. And the fact that you had to ask that question means that this conversation is over, and you need to get up, go downstairs and find your fucking wife!”

Geez, and he’s mad. And he’s right. I don’t know what even made me consider the possibility that Butterfly would do something like that. I really feel like shit for thinking that. She’s still beating herself up for letting that Liam fucker get too close.

“What are you waiting for?” Elliot snaps. “Directions?”

“Keep your shirt on,” I retort. “I don’t think my wife went off with somebody else. I’m just pissed that someone approached my wife and it wasn’t brought to my attention sooner.”

“Yeah, save that anger for yourself, because if you had been paying attention, nobody would have had to tell you. You were heading that guy Brian off at her adoption party faster than he could get the words out his mouth. Now this guy makes a move, moves on, and your wife disappears, and you want to blame somebody else for that? Shut up talking to me and go find your wife.”

“I’m not blaming…”

“Shut up talking to me and go find your wife!” he snaps. God! Okay! Damn! I stand up and walk to the door heading downstairs.

When I get to the main floor, Valerie is in the kitchen with one of the remaining staff, and there’s no Butterfly.

“So, where’s my wife?” I ask somewhat impassively.

“Sulking,” Valerie says with a shrug. My brow furrows as I await elaboration, and she points to the glass wall on the other side of the living room. There on a chaise just outside the glass is a mop of mahogany hair. I can’t see anything else. I roll my eyes, shake my head and sigh.

Why does this woman always seem to escape to the coldest part of the world when she needs to be alone? It’s November, in Washington, at two in the morning. Why the fuck is she on the patio? And ten will get you twenty that she’s asleep out there. Elliot appears just at that moment.

“Our lodgings for the night, good sir and madam?” I request.

“Through there and at the end of the hallway,” Elliot says. “It’s the biggest room besides mine and Val’s.” I nod and head for one of the sets of double doors. When I step out onto the patio, I take in the sight of my tiny wife. She’s snuggled in her coat and scarf and wrapped in another blanket so tight and so small that I can barely make out a body under there. Either she’s fighting the cold with a vengeance…

Or she’s shrinking.

“What am I going to do with you?” I lament aloud. I lean down to the chaise and gather her in my arms, blanket and all. She doesn’t even stir—and she’s warm, so it’s not the cold. When I cross the threshold back into the house, Elliot is waiting to close the door behind me.

“Thanks for a great party, you guys,” I tell them. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

“Not too early,” Elliot says with a nod and a smile. I acknowledge his request and carry my shrinking wife to our temporary boudoir. When I lay her in the bed, she shrinks again—so small and so tight that I can’t get her coat off. I can either wake her to get her coat off or just let her sleep. So, I remove her boots and let her stay there before taking my duffel to the en suite for a shower.

Gentle sunrays wake me in the morning and I immediately know that I’m not in my own bed—and that I’m alone. I dress in my workout gear and sneakers and take off for a run. She’s somewhere in the house, I’m sure, and I’ll talk to her when I get back.

I run through all the things I need to be doing today as my feet pound the cold pavement. For me, Sunday is just a day to prepare for the week ahead—meetings to be had tomorrow and mergers to discuss; acquisitions to finalize…

Smalls and his team will be on their way back to Detroit today and everything in the storage units will have a home or a destination by end of business, Friday. Anything that remains will be shipped back here by my shipping department and housed in one of our numerous warehouses. If anyone wants something after it’s been shipped here to be stored, they may have to pay some kind of fee for waiting so long to claim it unless there’s a really good reason for it. There’s nearly two weeks to decide if they want something on the list, and it’s all free!

The bed was empty when I awoke, so that means that Butterfly was already up and about. I didn’t see her anywhere when I left the house, and Elliot and Valerie were still asleep—or at least they hadn’t emerged yet. I don’t know how far I ran, but when my chest starts to burn, I turn around and start the trip back. Good Lord, it feels like my heart is going to explode. It’s most likely from the exertion and the cold air pumping through my chest. When I get back to the house, I take a deep breath and that aforementioned cold air stabs me in the throat. Shit, I need to warm up.

Imagine my dismay when I discover that the house has automatic locking doors.

I walk through the jungle garden to the back of the house to see if one of the patio doors are open and there I find my wife—in the same place I retrieved her from last night. If I couldn’t tell by the change of clothes, I would have thought she slept out here. She looks calm and serene and her eyes are closed. I then realize that she’s meditating. I won’t disturb her.

I go back to the front of the house and knock, hoping that someone besides Butterfly will hear me. Luckily, the woman from the kitchen the night before opens the door and looks at me expecting.

“Yes?” she says.

“I’m… Christian Grey. Elliot’s brother… I locked myself out when I went for a run.”

Her brow furrows, the realization dawns.

“Oh, yes! I’m sorry. Please come in.” She steps aside and lets me in. I have to say, warmth has never felt so good.

“Thank you,” I say. I peek out onto the patio. Butterfly wasn’t disturbed. That’s good. I have time to go take a shower and put on some clean clothes before I talk to her.


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

Pictures of Val and Elliot’s house can be seen at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/val-and-elliots-house-in-kirkland/

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 48—’Round and ‘Round… and ‘Round

THE MUSE HAS GONE CRAZY!!!!

So, unless the layout and the flow of the story as I see it changes somehow, you can expect for “Raising” to be longer than the typical 80 chapters. I may find a place where I can break the story and start a new book, but if it’s flowing well and there’s nowhere for a cohesive time break, I’ll just keep it going.

HOWEVER…

Golden is currently on hold because Lynn is overwhelmed. I still know where I want it to go, and it’s definitely going to be a shorter story than the Butterfly Saga, but if I can’t give my best, I’m not giving anything at all, and the nuances of the story aren’t flowing as well as I would like with all that I have on my plate. So, Golden fans, I apologize for not updating as much as I should, but I can only do so much at once.

My darling Falala, you are the only one who has indicated that they’ve had that problem with having to re-follow the blog. I hope that’s not a trend and I hope you haven’t had further problems. Anybody else having any issues? I got two emails that said, “falalax is now following your blog.” I was like, “Huh? I thought she was already following my blog. Gotta love the world wide web…

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 48—’Round and ‘Round

ANASTASIA

I take a quick shower and change into something more suitable for travel. When I exit the bathroom, I’m headed towards the living room area when I hear Christian’s voice.

“Hi, little man. Daddy loves you. Take care of the house until I get back, okay?”

I back away from the doorway so as not to interrupt his cooing time with the Prince of Grey Crossing.

“I miss you, Mikey. I miss you so much and I love you. Take care of your sister for me…”

I can imagine that seeing his father and brothers in such turmoil is causing his emotions to flip like crazy. I hear silence for a moment, then I hear,

“Hey Lelliot… yeah, it’s done. It was brutal, man… Listen, you know when I’m giving you shit, I’m just giving you shit, right? I don’t mean anything by it… Yeah, it’s just…” He sighs. “This place, man—this place fucks with me, and watching Freeman and Dad… Just know that I love you, man. I’ll always be there for you even when you act like a fucking jerk, but don’t act like a fucking jerk, okay?… Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s the whole married thing, I guess.”

I’d love to know what Elliot said that elicited that response.

“I’m ready to get out of here. Nothing is jogging any memories with me, but this place seems to bring out the worst in my family and I’m ready to shake it off… She didn’t go to the reading with us, which I’m glad that she didn’t. If Freeman had said anything to my wife…” He trails off. “Having her here has been a tremendous comfort for me though. She dropped everything just to be here and sit in a hotel room while the Grey brothers battled it out… Dad’s at Uncle Stanley’s with Uncle Herman. They’re going through the contents of a safe deposit box that Pops had at Chase Bank. Apparently, Uncle Herman’s name was on it, too, but he didn’t know until we went to the bank today. It was a big fucker with another big box inside, and they decided that they didn’t want to go through it in the bank in case—you know—there’s sentimental shit in there. Dad broke down in the car after the reading…”

He didn’t tell me that part.

“Well, I’m just waiting for the go-ahead from Jason that the jet is ready, and from Dad that he’s ready, and we’ll be the fuck out of here.”

I begin making noise and moving around because my entrance right when he ends the call will look very suspicious. I make sure that we haven’t left anything—toiletries in the bathroom, things in the drawers or nightstand. I wonder if Jason and Christian got everything from the first room.

“Okay, man, I’ll see you when I get back… I love you, Lelliot.” Christian ends his call when he sees me puttering around the room.

“How’s Elliot?” I ask. “Is everything okay?” I reach in my purse for pink lipstick and apply it to my lips.

“Yeah, everything’s fine,” he says, coming into the bedroom. “I just wanted to touch bases with him, you know, after our last conversation.” I put my lipstick away and raise my eyes to him.

“This has been hard for you, hasn’t it?” I ask, my brow furrowed.

“In more ways than one,” he admits, his hand pushing through his hair. “Pops is gone. He’s not coming back. Why wouldn’t the brothers pull together during this time? Bury the hatchet and kill all the ill feelings? Yeah, Uncle Stan and Dad and Uncle Herman are clinging to each other like glue, but Freeman…” He raises his head. “Freeman is a monster. On my worst days—back when I didn’t give a fuck about anything or anybody—I could never treat Elliot that way… never!” I gently touch his cheek.

“Of course, you wouldn’t,” I say softly. “Freeman is a broken man. He’s miserable inside and there’s no telling how long he’s been that way, so he makes it his business to make everyone else as miserable as he is.” Christian shakes his head.

“That sounds a lot like you’re making excuses for his behavior, baby,” he says. I twist my lips.

“No,” I reply matter-of-factly. “I’m a psychiatrist. I’m just shrinking him. All I’m saying is that hurt people hurt people, and he never got over his hurt. It just festered and festered until it made him the miserable human being that he is now.”

“Yeah, that sounds more like Freeman. Rotten ass bastard.”

Christian and I sit in the room for several more minutes. We’ve got the room reserved for two nights, just in case something happens, and we need to stay another day, even though we both—no doubt—silently hope that won’t be the case. Just after Christian gets word that the jet and pilot will be all set and on standby in the next thirty minutes he gets a call from his father. His voice is accommodating, but his facial expression shows deep displeasure.

“What is it?” I ask when he ends the call. He doesn’t respond. He just calls Jason.

“Meet us downstairs,” he says. So, we’re leaving. “There was a key to a storage facility among the things in the safe deposit box. Dad asked that we bring the truck in case there’s a lot of shit in there.”

What? It’s nearly nightfall! So… we’re not leaving.

I sigh heavily. This is not what I was hoping to hear. Not only is Maria supposed to be coming into town this weekend so that we can view the interview, but I miss my babies and I want to go home. This place is fucking with my goddamn chi!

“Come on, baby,” my husband says as he ends the call. “I don’t care what’s in that storage bin. We’ll be on that plane tonight.”

Music to my ears.

*-*

The storage facility is in a city called Oak Park, just on this side of Detroit. A code activates the large sliding gate and we drive to Burt’s storage bin.

It’s huge. We’ll be here all night.

Christian tells me to stay warm in the car, but I refuse. I want to see what’s in there, too. I get out of the car and follow my unhappy husband to the rolling door of the storage bin. Herman removes the lock and rolls the door up. We all stare at the contents in dismay.

Boxes. Lots and lots of boxes. This is going to take days to go through, not hours. Maybe even weeks. Herman sighs.

“My father’s whole life is probably in this thing,” he laments. “He probably had the monthly rents coming off a credit card or something. It’s still not closed.”

“Jesus, I forgot all about this,” Stan says. Herman and Carrick look at him. “When you guys went to Washington, Dad had the house packed up. I saw some of what was happening, but I didn’t see everything. I didn’t even stick around for most of it. I never even knew what happened to the key. When Dad died…” Stan gestures to the stuffed storage unit, “… this was the last thing on my mind. I’m sorry, guys.”

“No need for that, Stan,” Carrick says, squeezing his brother’s shoulder. “We were all a bit rudderless when Dad died. It would have come out eventually… and it did. I assume Freeman didn’t know anything about it or it would be empty by now.” Stan shrugs.

“I don’t know… I guess not. I didn’t keep it a secret from him or anything. You know how either you’re involved in the action or you’re not and if you’re not, you don’t have any information?”

Carrick and Herman nod.

“So, what do you want to do?” Stan asks. “The office is closed, so we can’t talk to anybody right now.”

“It wouldn’t matter,” Herman says. “I didn’t think to bring Dad’s death certificate with me or my executor documents. I thought we were just reading the will.” He rubs the back of his neck.

“It’s your call, Herm,” Carrick says. “Dad says you disperse the stuff as you see fit.”

“That was the safe deposit box,” Herman says.

“And the key to the storage facility was in the safe deposit box,” Carrick points out. “By extension, that means the storage facility, too.”

“We’ll support whatever you want to do, Herm,” Stan says, looking at Carrick, and Carrick nods. Herman sighs again.

“Mom’s jewelry was in the safe deposit box. Those model cars are most likely in there,” he says, pointing to the wall of boxes. Now Carrick sighs.

“What do you want to do?” he says, his voice soft, and I can tell that whatever “those model cars” are, they mean a lot to him.

“We have to go through this stuff, guys,” Herman says. “This is Dad’s stuff. We can’t just dispose of it, but I can’t do this now. I need to regroup in the worst way, and I know you guys do, too.” He looks at the boxes in front of him. “These boxes are sealed well, and I didn’t bring anything to cut them open.” He rubs his face.

“I’ll call the storage facility in the morning,” he continues, “find out what kind of arrangement my dad had with them and get them a copy of the death certificate and such,” he sighs. “But right now, I need my Luma.”

I know what that means. We’re going home.

“You go home, Herm,” Stan says, putting his hand on Herman’s shoulder. “I know exactly how you feel.”

“Yeah,” Carrick chokes, rubbing the back of his neck. “Me, too.” Christian reaches over and takes my hand in his, bringing his lips to my temple.

“Me, three,” he says against my forehead. Herman closes and locks the storage facility and we all head back to the cars. Stanley says his goodbyes and gets into his car while the rest of us get into the two rentals. Jason and Carrick have a quick conversation before we take off for the airport.

Now, I don’t know Michigan very well, but I know enough to know that we are driving back in the direction that we came from… away from the airport. My husband realizes it, too.

“Jason, where are we going?” Christian asks.

“Mr. Grey asked me to follow him. I thought he had already spoken to you,” Jason says, occasionally glancing into the rear mirror. I look over at Christian who doesn’t look pleased.

“My dad wouldn’t lead us into danger,” he says, “but next time, consult with me first.” Jason’s ears pinken.

“Yes, sir,” he says. “My apologies, sir. I, um, took the liberty of arranging for dinner options to be served on the flight, sir,” he adds. Christian nods, somewhat appeased by the gesture.

“Good man,” he says, and sits back in his seat. “I just don’t want anything to delay us getting the hell out of here,” he adds, more to himself than to anyone else.

We turn down an expressway labelled “I-696” and head west. I know we’re not headed back to Stanley’s house, because his house is further north. Christian squeezes my hand a bit as we drive down 696 for a few minutes, not comfortable at all not knowing where we’re going. After a few more minutes, we connect to another expressway called “I-275” and head south. I know that the airport is south, but we had to go through Detroit to get there. Now, I’m curious.

I gently nudge my hand from Christian’s and pull out my phone. Opening Google maps, I enter our current location—696 and 275, Michigan. It’s a spaghetti bowl of freeways, but I can make out what direction we’re headed. I’m seeing a lot of the streets on the map that I saw when we were headed to Stanley’s house, but we’re in the suburbs now where before, we clearly were not. From the scenery and my husband’s reaction, we were in Detroit.

Further satisfying my curiosity, I enter our destination—DTW.

Google maps shows me that we should be at the airport in thirty minutes. It’s a straight shot down the I-275 to the I-94 and we’re there. It also showed me the route Carrick drove before… I-94 east to the 39—Southfield Freeway—and right through Detroit.

Carrick found another way to the airport that didn’t take us through Detroit. I sigh.

“What is it?” Christian asks. I hand him my phone. He examines it carefully and his shoulders fall. The tension he was carrying moments earlier has slid off his shoulders and back and he almost looks like a totally different man.

“I’m… sorry, Jason,” he says, surprising both me and Jason.

“Sir?” he says, his eyes darting from the road to the mirror and back.

“My father…” Christian trails off. “We’re taking a detour to the airport—one that avoids Detroit.” Realization dawns on Jason’s face.

“Oh,” he says, softly. “No apology necessary, Boss. You were right, I still should have said something to you.” Christian nods and lays his head back on the seat. I take his hand and we ride in silence—and comfort—to the airport.

*-*

“After you talk to the management at the storage facility, I can arrange for the things in storage to be shipped to Seattle,” Christian says to Herman during dinner on the flight. “We can put the things in storage here and you can go through it at your leisure. I can even arrange for my shipping staff to go through the boxes and catalog everything in my warehouse if you like. It’s such a daunting task and if that storage facility is filled to the ceiling with boxes, you can be guaranteed that Pops had someone doing something like that.”

“He did,” Herman says after swallowing a mouthful of steak. “I had forgotten that right after we moved to Seattle, Dad had the house packed up. It didn’t even occur to me.” Christian frowns.

“You two stayed in that house before you moved to Seattle?” he asks. Herman nods.

“It wasn’t as bad as you think,” he says. “The house doesn’t look like much now, but Dad kept it up the best he could. Seriously, Christian, it seems like the minute we left, the house deteriorated. It was like it was holding on for Dad and when he left, it just gave up and died.”

Wow, that’s somewhat profound.

“Well, what do you say?” Christian presses. “I can have a crew in there probably as early as Tuesday. Depending on what’s in there, they can probably have that stuff cleaned up, packed up, and on its way back here by day’s end.” Herman pauses then looks at Carrick. “I would only trust staff who have seen me personally. So, I would send a crew directly from here.”  Dad nods at Herman.

“I think I may have to take you up on that, Christian,” he says. “Let me talk to Stan and see how he feels about it and I’ll let you know, okay?” Christian nods and tucks into his food. We all eat in relative silence until the meal is over, after which, the flight attendant brings us all drinks. A few minutes later, Jason is quietly reading, and Herman has reclined his seat and fallen quickly into a nap. Christian excuses himself and heads to the back of the plane. I assume he’s going to the restroom. Carrick has moved to a lone seat on the other side up the plane and is staring out the window at the black night sky. He doesn’t even notice when I take the seat across from him.

“How are you holding up?” I ask, breaking his solace. In my professional opinion, it’s not a very good idea for him to be sitting here mulling over the day’s events alone, especially since Christian said he broke down earlier.

“Isn’t it a terrible weight on your shoulders to be the ear for the entire family?” he says, his smile soft. I shrug.

“It’s what I do,” I reply, “and I’d rather do it for my family than some of the losers I’ve had to listen to over the years.”

“That’s not very professional,” he says, raising a brow at me.

“No, it’s not,” I admit, “but it’s true. I’ve had some real losers over the years.” My mind immediately goes to those attention whores at the community center who pretended to need help, but only wanted someone to whine to. “It’s why I stopped doing volunteer work at the community center. Those people didn’t need help—true, they needed therapy, but not the type that I was offering.” I shrug.

“I thought you left the community center for an entirely different reason altogether,” he confronts, and I know he’s talking about my initial battle with his son.

“That, too,” I confess, “but that wasn’t the reason. That was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.” I sigh. “So, as you can see, listening to family is not as daunting as you think.” He nods and looks out the window again.

“I feel like I’ve cremated my father again,” he says. Whoa, that serious. “I went through all these feelings and the hatred that Freeman feels for me, being back in the city where we grew up, seeing the places where my father worked—he was so proud. He was proud to be a Ford man, and he passed that down to our family, but I didn’t want to be a Ford man. I wanted to be a lawyer. More than anything, I wanted to be an attorney and throw around that word ‘Esquire.’” He laughs mirthlessly.

“Dad never gave me a hard time—not once. He paid for me to go to college. He mostly paid for law school. Then, I met Grace. She insisted on paying for the rest, telling me that she was investing in our future together. Dad had a problem with it at first, but once we were married, he understood.

“Our lives took several turns, and Dad was there the whole time. We always held each other together, all of us. Freeman wasn’t always a miserable bastard. He was always miserable and selfish, but he wasn’t always a bastard. Even he was there to help hold us together, especially when Mom died. But after that girl left him…” He shakes his head.

“Now, I’m here again. I hated going back to that place and I hated the reason I was there. If Christian hadn’t convinced me to come, I wouldn’t have. Now, I’m glad that I did, because if I hadn’t, Freeman would have gotten over again, and Herm and Stan wouldn’t have their money.”

He’s correctly assuming that Christian has told me about the life insurance. I want to keep him talking until he gets as much of this anger and pain off his shoulders as he can.

“Is it true that he can hold the money up for a long time and affect everyone’s share?” I ask. Carrick does a half-nod, half wobble of his head.

“The only thing that’s going to effect everyone’s share of the money is Dad’s final arrangements,” he says. “Once that’s dispersed, then it’s the waiting game to see how far Freeman wants to take this. But he’s not holding anybody up but himself, because my brothers got their money already… from me. Once he loses this fight, which he will, the remainder of the money after Dad’s affairs are settled will be dispersed to the sons, and Freeman will have gotten the short end of the stick.”

“How so?” I ask. “If all the sons are getting the same amount, even after Burt’s final arrangements and whatnot, that’s still going to be a hefty sum for each of you.”

“This is what that idiot doesn’t understand, and this is why I let him go ahead and do this. I’m one of my father’s four sons and all his sons got a portion of this policy. Now, if he was contesting that Herman and I were the only beneficiaries, I could get where he was coming from and halfway understand him contesting that—but we all got an equal portion of it. This was clearly Dad’s wish. Now, here he is contesting my portion knowing but not knowing that he’s actually contesting the entire policy.

“So, let’s say that he loses the contest, which I’m sure that he will. He will have spent time and money on an attorney to contest the beneficiaries of this policy. Let’s say that he only spends $200,000 in attorney, court, and probate fees and five years contesting the will…”

Only?

“He has now wasted five years of his life, done irreparable damage to the relationships that he had left with his family, and now, he gets to replace the $200,000 that he spent on a worthless fight out of his share of the money. Only, $200,000 in five years is not going to be worth what $200,000 is worth now. So, while my brothers can invest my portion of the inheritance and double their money if they choose the right investments, Freeman’s share is dwindling away to nothing… and speaking of nothing…

“If he gets his way and he wins this contest, he foolishly thinks that he’s going to walk away with a larger share and I—or Herm and I—are going to walk away with nothing. No, if he wins, he’s contesting the validity of the entire policy. He said so at the reading. He first declared that I didn’t deserve anything, then he paints a picture to Stan and tries to get the attorney to cosign that Herm and I brought Dad out to Seattle to die and got a life insurance policy in his name. I don’t know how long my father had that policy, so if he’s right and that policy popped up right about the time that Dad was about to die, it’s going to look suspect. He can’t protest me being a beneficiary because all four of us are beneficiaries, so he’s going to resort to that.

“Well, dear brother,” he says sarcastically, “if you win that fight, you’re not going to walk away with any of the money… none of us are!”

Shit, really?

“So, if he can convince a judge or whoever that you all bought the policy and waited for Burt to die, then nobody gets anything?” Carrick shakes his head.

“Not a nickel,” he confirms. “It’s fraud. The good news is that they would have to actively prove that we did that in order to press criminal charges, but I’m certain that the minute this goes before anybody with an ounce of common sense, they’re going to see right through it, and some unscrupulous attorney somewhere is going to take the case and let the fees mount up knowing that not only is this an unwinnable situation, but also that Freeman is going to get his share of that money. And when he does, he’s going to have to pay up if he hasn’t already.

“So, when I saw what he was doing, I immediately had the money transferred to my brothers’ accounts. I wanted Freeman to see what I was doing. I wanted him to see that I wasn’t going to allow him to ruin my brothers’ lives and what’s more, I don’t even need the money. One point five million dollars just flying around the room in a matter of minutes. What better way to foil your plans than with the very thing that makes your stomach turn?”

I’m making an observation that I’m not sure Carrick has made, but I can see it clearly.

“You refer to Herman and Stanley as your brothers,” I tell him, “but when you talk about Freeman, you don’t, unless you’re doing it sarcastically. You do realize that he’s still your brother, don’t you?” Carrick shakes his head sadly.

“Make no mistake, dear girl,” Carrick begins, “I know that man was born my brother, but my brother’s been gone for a really long time, and I miss him terribly. I’ve missed him ever since he left, even more so now that my father’s gone. When I cried in Seattle after our fight, it was because I knew that my brother was gone for good and he was never coming back. He came to my home and insulted my entire family—my wife, my children, you…” He trails off and shakes his head. “No, that man is truly dead to me. He was already a non-entity as far as I was concerned, but after today, after this…” He wipes away a tear. “I cremated my father again today, and I buried my brother.”

And now he’s broken again.

I sit there with Carrick for a long while as he weeps silently and mourns the loss of his family once again. When Christian finally emerges from the rear of the plane, he’s changed and freshly showered, no doubt washing the visit off him once and for all. He frowns questioning when he sees his father crying. Not willing to subject Carrick to Christian’s endless “What’s wrong” questions, I squeeze his hand to get his attention.

“Carrick, why don’t you go on into the back room and rest?” I suggest. “We’ll wake you when it’s time to land.” Carrick nods and stands from his seat. He walks to the back of the plane, nearly bumping into Christian on the way. Christian just grabs his arm to steady him, then squeezes his shoulder as he passes by.

“What’s wrong with Dad?” he asks once Carrick has left the room. “Is he okay?” I sigh heavily.

“It’s a good thing we’re leaving Detroit,” I say. “That place was taxing on all of you.”


CHRISTIAN

I spend the night buried in my wife again, so glad to be home in my own bed in my own city where I somewhat feel like myself again. I had intended on maybe getting some mile-high loving when I was finished with my shower on the plane, but Dad looked like shit and definitely needed some sleep. He didn’t wake until it was time to land.

We all seemed to have gotten back to ourselves once the jet landed at SeaTac. I didn’t expect to see the women there, but there they were. Dad wrapped himself around Mom and Uncle Herman just folded over Luma. My uncle is so in love with that woman. I don’t know why he won’t just marry her already.

I felt like I was falling asleep in the car on the way back to the Crossing. Chuck and Jason were whispering about something and I didn’t bother trying to eavesdrop. I was so relaxed being back in Seattle, back in one of my own cars, back home…

When we drove up the driveway into the Crossing, it was like someone hit me with a shot of adrenaline and all I wanted to do was fuck—not necessarily rabbit fucking or hard fucking… just fuck. So, fuck we did.

And I slept like a damn baby until noon.

When I wake, my wife is gone—well, not gone, just not in bed. It’s noon, why would she still be in bed? I sincerely stretch like a cat and lie eagle-spread on my bed—my bed. I can’t believe how content I am to be home… just to be here. My body relaxes into the mattress and I could truly just lay here all day. My solace is interrupted by one of the best interruptions ever. My wife unceremoniously enters the room with a wiggly pink bundle in her arms. They were asleep when we got home, so we didn’t wake them.

“Oh, please… give me that,” I say, sitting up and reaching for my daughter. My wife pauses.

“Are you dressed under there?” she asks.

“No, I’m totally commando, and she’s nine months old!” I protest.

“Yes, but Keri and Gail are not,” she retorts, raising her brow. I grunt and get out of bed. So much for lying in. I go to the dressing room and quickly slide into a pair of sweat pants.

“There!” I say, emerging from the dressing room. “Now give me my child!” I hold my hands out again and Minnie squirms in her mother’s arms, smiling widely and reaching for me. Butterfly laughs and places her in my hands. Good Lord, it’s like salve on a terribly stinging and painful burn.

“How’s Daddy’s girl?” I say, kissing her repeatedly and climbing back into bed. She coos and giggles as Keri enters with Mikey and Gail enters with a tray of food.

“I thought I would have to wake you, so I thought the twins might ease the ache a bit,” Butterfly says, placing Mikey on the bed next to me.

“I just woke, but you were right about the ache,” I say, adoring the smiling faces of my children.

“Let me know if you need anything else,” Gail says as she and Keri excuse themselves. I’m starving, but I don’t want to put my daughter down. I need her. I need to be close to my children. As if reading my thoughts, my wife begins feeding me the omelet and toast on my plate.

“You’ve already eaten?” I ask after swallowing, noting that there’s no food for her.

“Hours ago,” she says. “The trip sucked, but it wasn’t as taxing on me as it was on you.” I nod.

“I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t there,” I admit. She puts another large forkful of eggs in my mouth.

“Jack off?” she teases and I almost choke. She hands me a glass of orange juice and I take a couple of healthy swallows.

“Not just the sex,” I say with mirth. “Going to sleep with you and waking up with you; eating breakfast with you and just know that you were there.”

“I know what you meant. I was just teasing you.” She gives me more omelet and toast. “That place is draining—or maybe it was just seeing the effect that it had on you and Carrick and his brothers, but I’m glad we’re home.”

“Me, too,” I say, swallowing the delicious eggs. It immediately makes me think of the egg massacre incident that was my first cooking lesson. I need to get back in the kitchen soon if I want to cook something for my wife anytime soon. “What’s the plan for today?”

“Not a thing on the agenda until tomorrow,” she says. Yeah, Maria Sanchez is coming into town so that we can view the interview. For some reason, I’m not looking forward to this even though it was my idea in the first place, but what’s done is done now.

“Well, I think I want to spend time with these two today.” Minnie is laying on my chest, wide awake, but just lounging there. Mikey has pulled himself into a standing position, supporting himself on my leg. He appears to be babbling something to Minnie, no more than “ba-ba-ba” or “na-na-na” or something like that, but she is unfazed and just watching her brother’s performance. Mikey is not to be ignored. He continues his babbling, now bouncing and becoming more animated.

Minnie still doesn’t respond.

Mikey is getting louder with his babbling and bouncing even harder. His sister finally gives him the attention he’s seeking. She pulls her little grubby hand back and brings it down right on top of his head.

Smack!

“Oh!” I exclaim. “They’re doing that now.”

“No!” Butterfly scolds, pointing her finger at Minnie. Mikey is silent for three seconds, just long enough for the sensation to set in, before he falls down on his butt and releases a yowl. Minnie sticks her bottom lip out, gazing at her mother, then her yowling begins a second after Mikey’s.

“Oh, there, there, now,” I say, patting her on the back.

Don’t do that, Christian!” my wife scolds. I’m a bit stunned. Don’t do what?

“Put her down,” she says, her face stern and her voice firm.

“What? Why? She’s crying,” I point out as if it’s not obvious.

“Yes, that’s because I scolded her. Now, put her down.” Okay, fine, don’t scold me. I put my daughter on the bed and her cries become more urgent. “Do not hit your brother!” Butterfly says to a wailing Minnie before turning to me. “If you coddle her after I scold her, she’s going to run to you every time I try to punish her. She’ll be impossible, and then I have to kill you!” I put my hands up.

“Okay, okay, I get it!” I say. “But what about Mikey? Clearly he was yelling at her…”

“And clearly, she slapped the shit out of him, and now, he’s crying, too. That’s why I’m not picking him up, either.” She’s got a point there. I sit there helplessly watching my children cry as they learn a lesson, also learning a lesson myself. This is hard. I hate to see them cry. Butterfly allows them to cry for what feels like forever, but I’m certain that it’s only a couple of minutes.

“Are you two ready to behave?” she says to our children, and almost like they understood what she said, their cries subside a bit, but don’t cease. She folds her arms and looks from Minnie to Mikey.

“I can wait as long as you can,” she says. Minnie calms a bit, her plump tearstained face gazing at her mother as she begins her after-crying sniffles. Mikey calms a little thereafter, but only after he shoves his two middle fingers into his mouth. My brow furrows.

“When did he start doing that?” I say, pointing at my son.

“Since about three months,” Butterfly responds. “He just doesn’t do it all the time.” Both children have calmed now, and Butterfly turns to Minnie. “Are you going to behave now?” she asks. Minnie just looks at her. She holds her hands out and Minnie scurries to her arms, laying on her chest like she was laying on mine a moment ago.

“Get your son,” she says as she rubs Minnie’s back. I hold my arms out to Mikey and he stretches his hands out to me, trying to come to me without the aid of his arms to help him stand or roll. He’s quickly getting frustrated and I don’t want him to start crying again, so I pick him up and sit him on my leg. Using my fingers, I gently wipe the tears from his face.

“Don’t use your hands,” she says, softly, leaning over to the rolling tray and retrieving a burping cloth. She hands it to me and I begin to wipe my son’s face.

“She’s a real tyrant,” I tell him, low enough for only him to hear. “If you ever cross her, you’re on your own… but don’t cross her. I don’t like it when you cry.” I clean his face and put him on my chest where his sister was moments before. They look at each other as if challenging each other. They can’t be fighting this early. And they’re twins! I thought twins were inseparable!

“And this from the man who’s a proponent of spanking,” she says with a smirk while patting Minnie on the back. I look up at her and she raises her brow at me. Oh, yeah, I did say something like that, didn’t I?

Hmm, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do that.

“We… may have to come up with alternative methods of discipline,” I say without making eye-contact with my wife.

*-*

The thought of spanking my two little bundles had me clinging to them all day. Watching them cry and being unable to stop them was a bit more than I was willing to accept. Maybe once they’re older and ornerier, I might feel differently about the concept, but right now, I can’t even fathom it.

My clinginess doesn’t get past my wife. She even makes a papoose for me from one of her belly wraps so that one of the babies could be close to me the entire day. I think I needed it. Detroit took a lot out of me. Sure, I didn’t fall apart except for the mini-meltdown during the trip from the airport. I even did okay going to the private-eye’s office, which was in a city that was in the middle of Detroit. But the entire experience was just taxing as hell.

Seeing Dad and his brother snarling at each other like dogs…

The emotional strain of being in a city that broke me completely at an early age and could have broken me forever…

Watching my father break down all over again from the loss of his father and the total decimation of his relationship with Freeman…

No matter how much he may hate what that man is doing, he’s still Dad’s brother and this is truly taking a toll on him. How can anybody be so hateful towards their own family?

My mind immediately goes to Chuck’s brother, Joe, and a trip he has to make to his hometown for a lawsuit against his own flesh and blood merely for being an asshole.

Good God, are people really this unbelievably asinine? Was I ever this way? I may have been aloof, a bit obtuse at times, but I was never deliberately vicious to my family… never intentionally hurtful. For the love of God, who does that? I pull my phone out of my pocket and press speed dial.

“Hey, Bro, what’s up?” Elliot answers.

“Hey, what are you and Valerie doing for dinner?” I ask.

“Nothing,” he says. “We were probably going to order something in. We’ve gotten spoiled to having a cook,” he jests.

“Well, why don’t you come on over and get spoiled some more?” I say.

“You guys just got back. I thought you might have wanted to unwind and relax a bit. We didn’t want to be underfoot… I know how you feel about Detroit and all.”

How do I tell my brother that I need to see him without sounding like a pussy?

“Yeah, well, the familiar is kind of necessary right now.” That was it. Perfect. He pauses again.

“What time should we be there?” he asks. I sigh quietly.

“Six is good, and can you call Mia for me and see if she and Ethan can make it? I’ve kinda got my hands full with the babies.” He pauses again.

“Sure thing, Bro. We’ll be there.”

My brother and sister arrive promptly at 5:45, and I can’t help but wonder what Elliot said to Mia to get her to dinner on time. We sit down to a dinner of baked pork chops, Brussel sprouts and tomato-bacon linguini. I can’t bring myself to remove my papoose just yet, so Mikey sleeps comfortably on my chest throughout the meal while Minnie “purrs” nearby in her Pack-n-Play.

“Oh, everyone,” Mia begins, “our wedding website went live this morning.”

“Wedding website?” Butterfly asks. Mia nods.

“Yes. I wanted to approve everything that went onto the site, so they had to wait until we got back from the honeymoon to make it active.”

Oh, dear God.

“Mia…” I begin.

“Keep your shirt on, Big Brother,” she says. “The only media that is posted of you and Her Highness…” she says Butterfly’s nickname in a playful manner, “… are pictures and videos of you dancing, a bit of canoodling, her speech, and the two of you singing. Do you want me to take any of those down?” I look over at Butterfly who shrugs.

“Send me the link and I’ll let you know,” I say. Mia laughs.

“I sent you the link this morning,” she says. “You never go a day without checking your email. What gives?”

“I was spending time with my family,” I reply. “I’ll check it later.”

“I’m sure it’s fine, Christian,” Butterfly says. “We have an exposé airing soon. It can’t be any more intrusive than that.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. When is that supposed to be aired?” Elliot asks.

“The journalist who interviewed us is coming tomorrow morning so that we can see the final viewing, and we’re supposed to be part of Sweeps Week,” I say.

“Sweeps Week?” Valerie says. “That starts a week from Monday. Isn’t that cutting it kind of close?”

“Kind of?” Butterfly says. “Don’t get me started. If I see something that I don’t like tomorrow, they’ll have to scrap the whole damn thing!”

“You seem a bit intense about this, Steele,” Valerie says. Why does she still call her that?

“Well, that would be due to the faux pas that have already occurred, and the damn thing hasn’t even aired yet!”

Oh, hell. Butterfly isn’t very happy about this viewing, it appears. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a good idea. Should I tell Maria to send us a digital copy to review instead?

“What kind of faux pas, Montana?” Elliot asks. Butterfly begins to explain our experience with the grip boy and the “preview that got away,” when Valerie turns her attention to me.

“Elliot tells me that you convinced him to tell me about Gia,” Valerie says while Butterfly occupies Elliot with her tale.

“It… was a collaborative effort between me and my wife,” I admit.

“Well… thank you,” she says. “That would have been something terrible to hear through the society grapevine or on a gossip rag or something.” I raise a brow.

“Have you met Gia?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No,” she admits, “but I’ve heard of her. Her reputation precedes her. I don’t know what her general M-O is—there usually is one for appearing to be a scathing whore who will fuck anything with a dollar sign attached to it—but hell, she could just be mindlessly sleeping around, I don’t know. Whatever the case may be, I’m aware of Ms. Mateo’s character.” She sips whatever is in her glass.

“Are you… concerned about her?” I ask. “Because Elliot loves you more than life.”

“I know that,” she smiles. “It’s why he thought there was no need to tell me about her. I have no doubt the she’s old news as far as he’s concerned, but there are some things that you just need to hear from your man and not from some gossiping cows at the beauty shop or out in the grocery store somewhere or heaven forbid, at some social function where you have to smile and pretend it doesn’t bother you. It’s the Miller mansion, for Christ’s sake. Somebody somewhere is going to say something. Hell, they may end up in Architectural Digest or something. Then what?”

“Alright, Bro, my wife’s face is not looking too pleased over there. What are you talking about?” I raise an eyebrow at Valerie who shrugs.

Architectural Digest,” I reply. Well, we were. Elliot frowns.

Architectural Digest?” he repeats. “Your face is all frowned up about Architectural Digest?” She nods.

“I was just telling Christian that your work on the Miller mansion may end up in Architectural Digest,” she says with no malice. Elliot’s face falls and he turns to me. I hold my hands up in surrender, shaking my hands to signal that I didn’t start this conversation. He closes his eyes and nods.

“Yeah, it could,” he admits. “Does it bother you, Angel?”

“No,” Valerie replies. “It doesn’t. I think you’ll do great.” She reaches for his hand and he entwines his fingers with hers.

“I’m sorry,” Mia says, “but if I may ask, why would Val have a problem with you being in Architectural Digest? Isn’t that an esteemed honor?”

“Yes, it is,” Elliot replies, “but the designer on the project is Gia Mateo.” Mia looks at him as if she’s waiting for the punchline. Then the penny drops.

“Oh,” she says almost inaudibly. “Oh… o-okay.” And she doesn’t say anything else. Ethan leans in and no doubt, asks about the punchline, and she hushes him quickly.

“It’s fine,” Valerie says. “I’m just glad that I heard about their prior relationship from Elliot and not some third party. That’s all I was telling Christian.”

“Well, I’m glad she didn’t really get her claws into my brother,” Mia nearly hisses. “She’s an A-1 skank and she’s lucky some jealous wife hasn’t plugged her one by now!” Butterfly looks over at me and raises her brow.

“Okay, I’m all for changing the subject now,” I say. Mia looks at me and realization dawns.

“Oh!” she says, pointing at me. “Oh, yeah! That’s right!”

“What?” Valerie says. “Please tell me not you, too. That’s just trashy!” Oh, good grief.

“No, not him, too,” Butterfly interjects. “But that lovely parlor and the his and hers bathrooms and those beautiful women’s touches that you see all over the Slayer? Courtesy of one Gia Mateo.”

“Oh, I see,” says Valerie. “Well, that explains a lot. I was wondering why a floating bachelor pad had a fully pimped-out she-cave on the main deck. No offense, El, but I was wondering how she managed to bed you and not capture the attention of my billionaire brother-in-law.” Elliot puts his hand on his chest in mock insult.

“Whatever are you trying to imply?” he asks. “I’m just as good a catch as my loaded little brother.” Valerie smiles.

“Better, baby,” she says, snuggling up to his arm.

“Balderdash!” Butterfly chimes in. “She has to say that! She’s your wife!”

“And you have to disagree, because you’re his,” Elliot taunts. “Nice papoose, bro,” he teases, causing an outburst of laughter and instantly breaking the tension in the room.

Thank God!


ANASTASIA

As I’m getting ready for bed, I’m mentally cataloging all the things that I’ll have to do in the next few days when I realize that I’ve forgotten to disclose one detrimental piece of information to my husband.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” I say as I climb into bed with him. He raises his gaze from the phone to meet mine. “I found out last week, but with the Detroit trip coming up, I knew you needed to focus.”

“What is it?” he says, placing his phone on the nightstand.

“It’s about John.” Christian’s brow furrows.

“John Flynn?” he asks. I nod. “What about John?”

“He and his family are in England, and they may not be returning to the States.”

“What?” he responds, clearly displeased. “Why?”

I explain to him what Grace told me about MERS and the CDC and the government not wanting his son to return until he has a clean bill of health.

“Well, then, I’ll give him a call. We’ll get him the best doctors and get him well so that he and his family can come home.”

“I don’t think it’s the money, Christian,” I tell him. “I think it’s the principal. John may have become a citizen from marrying Rhian, but his sons are all American-born citizens and one of them is being denied re-entry. He’s quite disenchanted with that.” Christian’s expression softens, and he nods.

“I guess I would be, too,” he says. “I’ll call him anyway and see if there’s anything that I can do, but from what you’re saying, America may have lost a few citizens.” I nod.

“Yeah, it looks that way.”

Christian and I make love again a few times that night, and I know that we’re not only making up for lost time, but my husband is also trying to regain some of the control that has slipped away from him over the past couple of weeks. Pretty soon, I’m going to have to tap out. I don’t think my coochie can take much more.

“I don’t think the promo has gotten to many outlets,” Vee says on Sunday morning. We asked her to join us for breakfast so that we could be prepared for when Maria shows up with the footage of our interview. “We’re usually alerted when something airs about you guys for purposes of damage control. This thing must have truly only aired once and then it was pulled. We can’t even get a lead on where it aired.”

“And it’s not like I can go knocking on Old Lady Miller’s door and ask her where she saw it,” Christian points out.

“It’s kind of a moot point,” I add. “With sweeps being next week, whatever we approve will be splashed all over the network in promos. If there’s anyone in America who didn’t know who we were before now, they’ll know soon.” Christian finishes his eggs and bacon.

“Well,” he says, after swallowing his last bite, “how do we handle this? I already know that there’s no way that she’s going to show us a final cut that we’re going to be completely satisfied with. I almost want Allen to be present for the meeting, but I’m not trying to intimidate her to the point of pulling the segment.” Vee nods.

“No, we don’t want to do that, but we do want her to know that we mean business. We need to get a copy of what she shows us and what she plans to air. They have to be the same thing. Once something makes it to the airwaves, it’s immortalized. At one time, it wasn’t that way, but with technology being what it is today, your most embarrassing, humiliating, or painful moment could be trending on Twitter or Instagram tomorrow.” I sigh.

“Well, why trust anybody, then?” I ask. God knows I’ve had my own run-ins with reputable members of the press—the ex-submissive cable girl and the Pussy DJ, just to name a couple.

“Because you have to trust someone or remain in obscurity. That’s the name of the game,” Vee says. “Anyway, it’s like I said, I really think the leak was just somebody jumping the gun for Sweeps Week promotion and remember—she didn’t have to bring that shit to you that Roger, or whatever his name was, did. She could have swept that mess under the rug and you never would have been the wiser. It’s a testament to her integrity.”

“Or she could have been covering her ass,” I retort, skeptically. “If that footage had somehow gotten out later, she would have to account for how it was acquired.”

“She could claim ignorance,” Vee counters.

“It’s her production. Responsibility is assumed. I know that much,” I conclude. Vee twists her lips and nods her head.

“Ana, would you prefer this doesn’t air?” she asks. I turn my gaze to her.

“What?” I ask, bemused. Vee sighs.

“I understand a healthy dose of skepticism,” she begins. “In fact, when it comes to an exposé of the most intimate parts of your life—your home, your family, your children, what you do in your private time—I would be concerned if you didn’t show some level of trepidation. But you have disputed nearly every point I’ve tried to make so far when it comes to this viewing and anything that I’ve said in any possible defense of Maria and her actions. I’ve been in this business for a long time and I’d like to believe that my instincts aren’t dull or untrustworthy when it comes to people. I haven’t steered you wrong yet, but I can’t ignore your level of mistrust and discomfort the closer we get to the time to meet with Sanchez. I won’t try to force or influence you to do anything that you feel uncomfortable with no matter how good my instincts may be. So, I’m asking you honestly before this woman gets here. Would you prefer this doesn’t air?”

Christian and Vee examine me closely like they’re expecting and alien to pop out of my chest or something. I don’t want to pull the plug on the production this close to airing, but there’s something that I can’t sweep under the rug.

“I. Have had a bad time. Trusting people,” I say, looking only at Vee. “My instincts are not as sharp as I once thought they were. When I look back on all the things that I thought I was certain of that turned out to be something completely different, I have nothing left in the end but, ‘Shit, I wish I had seen that coming.’ People seem one way  when you meet them, when you deal with them, when you interact with them, and when you put your fate in their hands—on a large or a small scale—one way or another, you end up getting burned.

“I’m just trying not to get burned,” I tell her. “I’m trying to see the fire before it explodes through the forest and consumes my home. Twice, somebody has dropped the ball—grip boy and now this. We should have seen this footage weeks ago…” although that might have been a bit difficult with my husband hiding out in Madrid. My scar starts thumping a bit and I stick my hand in my hair and drop my head.

“I just don’t want to get burned again, okay?” I say without raising my gaze to anyone. “One more incident, and you can put an apple in my mouth and serve me up at a luau.”

There’s a long moment of silence.

“Ana, do you trust me?” Vee says, and now, the spotlight is on me. I sigh.

“Yes, Vee, I trust you,” I say, honestly, deflated and still not raising my head.

“Good. Then let’s see the viewing and see how we feel. I won’t pull any punches if I think something’s not right. I swear that to you.” I nod.

“Okay,” I cede. I don’t want to debate it anymore. I guess I won’t be able to shake the feeling until I see the viewing and in what light Maria has presented us. There’s another long moment of silence.

“Mac, can you excuse us for a moment? I need to talk to my wife,” Christian says softly.

“Sure,” I hear her say, and I don’t know where she goes, but I know that she leaves the dining room.

“Butterfly look at me.” I finally find the strength to raise my eyes to him though my head hurts so badly that I just want to lie down.

“Was that speech for me?” he asks. What? What is he talking about?

“Huh?” It’s the only thought I can formulate.

“You’ve been burned. You don’t trust anybody. Things you thought you were certain of; putting your fate in someone else’s hands—that’s more than just a couple of bad media experiences. Was that speech for me?”

I play the words over in my head, then review my feelings about them. Had this happened before the whole Liam/Madrid Mayhem—when the footage was recorded—I would feel differently. I was bad-ass when I discovered Grip Boy had filmed me in the nursery. I was ready to put him on the platter and serve him at the luau. Now, I’m fucking afraid of shit that goes “bump” in the night when I wasn’t before. I was able to deal with adversity and handle myself in tough situations and now, I kind of prefer to just hide in the corner until the adversity passes. That’s not me. That’s never been me… except when someone talked about or uncovered something about Green Valley.

Scary, vicious teenage mobs that attack you from behind, torture you, and leave you for dead…

Uncertainty of where in America—or the world—these bastards have landed…

The Boogeyman…
The Boogeyman…
Fuck, the Boogeyman…

I gaze at Christian and I’m unable to answer him. In all my pondering and wondering and trying to figure out an answer for him, all the fear and uncertainty and pain and anguish and the Boogeyman all go into the three-second funnel and come out with one word.

Yes.

I don’t have to say it. He reaches over to me and gathers me in his arms, holding me close to him and kissing my hair.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispers. “I’m so, so sorry…”

I want to respond that it’s not all his fault, that my actions—or lack thereof—were the catalyst for his behavior; that we’re both human and we make mistakes and that’s okay, but none of that will chase the Boogeyman away.

We sit there for several minutes with Christian kissing my hair and trying to reassure me that everything will be alright. As sweet and sincere as his gestures are, I know that I and the Boogeyman have several more rounds to spar, and I’m under no misconception that I’m not going to win them all. I’m just terrified at the concept of how many of them that I could lose.

I hear Vee clear her throat from the hallway before Christian releases me and allows me to sit upright in my seat. I drink the rest of my orange juice and try a few calming breaths as Vee enters the room with Maria close behind her.

“I’m sorry,” Vee says. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“It’s fine,” Christian excuses her. I still feel like shit. “Maria, I must inform you that my wife is quite concerned with how this matter has been handled thus far. Things have been sloppy; there has been no show of any kind of level of care when it comes down to the footage of our personal lives. We found out through word of mouth that footage of our home had already been aired. We should have heard that from you. You should have been contacting us with reassurances that this situation was a one-off and well in hand. We don’t feel that way now, and my wife is more uneasy than I can describe. I don’t like that… not one bit!”

I hear the protector coming out. I can see that he’s ready to battle for me, but I need more than that. What, I don’t know, but more.

“Ana,” Maria’s voice begins. I don’t make eye contact with her, “no amount of apology that I can offer can possibly restore your faith in me. All I can say is let me show you. Let me show you the promos and what I’ve done—even the promo that was accidentally shown last week. Even though you didn’t approve it beforehand, I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed with the presentation. We’ve gotten off to a rocky start and I and my network didn’t handle things like we should have, but please, give me a chance to make this up to you… to show you that you didn’t make the wrong choice.

“A story like this could make or break someone in this business, but I swear to you—getting a big story and shock value is not worth a lawsuit or losing my credibility or my career. I swear to you on my honor and my integrity, I won’t let anything be aired that you don’t approve. I give you my word. I’ll sleep with the reels if I need to if that will convince you.”

I almost want to demand her ass to sleep with the reels, but right now, I just need to see what’s on them.

“You need to understand that I’m not the only one that’ll be affected by what’s on that film,” I tell her, trying to steady my shaking voice. “My father, his wife, my brother… my children… our friends and family…”

I’m getting choked up by the magnitude of what could happen if this interview material is abused or misconstrued in any way.

“Ana, I know this hasn’t been the most reliable situation that you’ve dealt with so far, but I have the entire network’s attention on this one. There will be no more mistakes, I swear to you.” I hope the fuck you’re right.

“Maria,” I say, my voice shaking and unable to mask my fear and uncertainty any longer, “those are powerful words, but if you betray me, so help me…”

My sentence trails off, but that’s only because there are no words to explain the extent of hell that I would unleash on this woman if she does anything deceptive whatsoever. And these little faux pas that her network keeps doing, I will fucking own my own media outlet after this.

“Anastasia, you have my word,” she says, never breaking eye contact with me. I don’t acquiesce in any way. I don’t want her to think she has won me over other that I am even giving her the slightest chance to fuck me. It’s exactly the opposite. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the fucking enemy until this show airs.

“Let’s see what’s on these damn reels,” I say, standing up and heading for the theater room.


A/N: So that no one will be disappointed or say that I led them on, the next chapter will not reveal the interview. They will discuss what will and will not stay, but the full interview will not be posted/shared until the day it is aired, and everyone sees it at the same time.

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 37—In Other News…

I’ve been going through and “liking” posts and for some reason, I’ll go back, and WordPress is removing some of my likes. I may have to look for blog hosting elsewhere. This thing is getting on my nerves!

Also, in going through my mailing list, I’ve noticed that a lot of people with “me.com” or “icloud.com” emails have been bouncing a lot. These mediums may have something in place to prevent you from getting a lot of unwanted or junk email and mine may be getting caught in that. I’ve had about five people so far with those extensions tell me that they haven’t gotten emails from me since 01/04/18. With only a few exceptions, I’ve been sending out emails for every chapter. I’ve counted, and that’s five emails that you’ve missed, and my emailer is saying that they’re bouncing. Once again, be sure to add my contact emails—bg.holmes@butterflysaga.com AND bronzegoddess@butterflysaga.com—to your contacts list. It may help in curtailing the misdirection of the emails. 

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 37—In Other News…

ANASTASIA

Souvinier Bouquet

Christian is antsy as hell trying to get Mia alone and find out what she’s going to do with the leftover food. In the meantime, there was nearly a barroom brawl over the bouquet when she tossed it, wine-colored bridesmaids elbowing guests left and right to get their hands on that souvenir bouquet. Sure enough, one of those cows emerged with it, and I’m almost positive that she wrenched it from someone’s hands.

The garter toss wasn’t quite so brutal. In fact, it was very tame and moved along quite quickly. Marlow’s little fart-dress-wearing girlfriend appeared to be a bit perturbed that he didn’t take part in the ritual. Had I been her, I would have been relieved as she’s no more that 16 years old and wasn’t the one who caught the bouquet.

I’m still looking for my husband and wondering if he has cornered his sister yet when an extremely pale-faced Courtney catches my attention.

“I know it’s bad form to leave before the bride and groom, but I have to go. Will you please make my apologies to Mia?” She looks like she’s just seen a ghost and Vickie is ready and set to get her out of here. I grasp her arm and she panics. What has her so shaken?

“Wait. What’s wrong? What happened?” I ask concerned. “Whatever it is, we can take care of it.” Her shoulders fall and she looks as if she’s going to cry.

“My grandparents are here,” she says, resigned. “I don’t think they saw me. It’s a big place and they wouldn’t expect me to be here.” Her voice cracks on the last word. I put my hand on her shoulder.

“You really should at least let them know that you’re still in town,” I tell her. “You’ve come so far. You’re about to start school. You work so hard at the Center. We’re actually friends. You’re nothing like the person you used to be.” She shakes her head quickly as tears escape down her cheeks.

“We’ve hurt each other enough,” she says, just above a whisper. “It’s better to just leave it be.” Vickie puts her arm protectively around Courtney’s waist.

“I’ve told her the same things,” Vickie says. “She’s become a remarkable young lady. Mia even smiled at her in the receiving line.” The corner of Courtney’s mouth rises, her gaze fixed to the floor.

“It’s the joy of the wedding,” Courtney excuses. “She’ll come to her senses tomorrow.”

“It’s you,” I say, rubbing her arm trying to comfort her. “You’ve changed and we all see it.” She sniffles.

“You’re all really sweet,” she says, crossing her arm over her body and grasping Vickie’s hand. “I don’t… I don’t want a scene. If there ever will be a time for reconciliation—and I’m not saying that there will be—this isn’t that time. I’m just going to go. Please… just tell Mia everything was really beautiful…” She’s breaking down again and Vickie goes into protection mode. She’s very feminine, but she becomes quite the stud when it comes down to Courtney.

“I’m going to get her home. Please, make our apologies,” Vickie beseeches. I smile.

“Mia’s so enthralled, she won’t even notice, but I’m sure she’s happy that you came.” Vickie smiles and turns her attention to Courtney.

“Come on, baby,” she says, as she guides Courtney towards the exit. I watch them leave, then scan the room for Addie. I promised that I wouldn’t tell her that Courtney was still in town and I won’t. It wouldn’t matter. I don’t see her anywhere.

“Hey, you,” my husband’s voice breaks my concentration. He looks like an entirely different man!

“You look a lot better!” I observe. “Did you work something out with Mia?”

“I didn’t have to,” he says, handing me a copy of the program and pointing to something on the bottom of one of the pages. It’s a very long list of charities where the food from the reception is going to be sent.

“See?” I sing. “You were worried for nothing. She had it taken care of all along.”

“Yeah,” he says. “My whole family knew about my food issues and I had no idea. I feel kind of stupid.”

“Don’t,” I tell him, wrapping my arms around his waist. “You’re still trying to open yourself to people. It’s going to take some time.”

“Yeah.” He looks just past me as he kisses my forehead. “So, um, either he has to pee really bad or Marlow is itching to talk to you,” he says. I raise my gaze and sweep the room, my eyes falling on a twitchy Marlow. He’s not looking this way right now. He’s talking to his twitchy date.

“How do you know he wants to talk to me?” I ask.

“Because his eyes have been darting over here for the last few minutes,” he says. I sigh.

“Well, he’s your protégé. He could want some of your time,” I retort.

“Ten will get you twenty he wants you,” Christian counters. I frown.

“He doesn’t want to talk to me!” I retort. “Not after that ‘time of the month’ comment.”

“Well, he’s been talking to me all night. I think he wants you.”

“Ugh!” I kiss his lips and sit in my seat. “Okay, the doctor is in.”

“I don’t think it’s the doctor he wants. It’s Ana,” Christian says, taking his seat and raising his gaze to Marlow, who is now making his way towards us. “Five, four, three, two…”

“Hey… Ana… you wanna dance?” Marlow asks quietly. Christian leans in to me.

“Not the doctor.” I roll my eyes at him.

“Sure, Marlow,” I say as I follow him to the dancefloor. I don’t even pay attention to what song is playing. I hold my arms up for him to take me in hold and he looks at me, puzzled.

Oh, dear God.

I put his hands in the proper position and we begin to sway in that terrible two-step that everyone does who can’t dance. He can’t lead. He can’t even do a box step.

“So, the wedding was nice,” he begins.

“Yes, it was beautiful,” I agree.

“I didn’t know you and Christian could sing,” he adds.

“It’s not something we do often,” I say lightly. “The vocalist bailed. It was an emergency.”

“You guys sounded great together.”

“Thank you.” There’s silence for a moment or two.

“Maya seems to think you hate her,” he blurts out. Ah, the plot thickens.

She’s flattering herself,” I retort, without hesitation. “I’d have to care about her to hate her.” Marlow’s eyes roll around.

“Okay, she was right,” he says. “What did she do?”

“She didn’t do anything,” I tell him. “I don’t like her air of entitlement. Everyone here is here because they were invited. Sophie was invited. You were invited. Even she was invited. The only two people entitled to be here are the bride and groom. The rest of us are privileged to be allowed to share their day because in some way, we are a part of their circle. But look around you, Marlow. That’s circle’s pretty damn large. And the larger that circle becomes, the further the people in that circle get from the core and your date is about as far from the center of that circle as anybody can get. So, I just think she has a lot to learn about guest etiquette and I truly hope she plans on taking a lesson or three if you plan on bringing her to any family gatherings at my home.”

Translation: train your dog or leave that bitch in her cage.

“Okay,” Marlow says after a swallow. “I’ll… talk to her,” he says, uncomfortably.

“You do that,” I say, “and while you’re at it, you should probably use a little more discretion when you speak as well, young man,” I scold. Sweat sheens on his forehead and I know he’s even more nervous than before. He should be.

“Um, yeah, about that…” he begins.

“Yeah, about that…” I say, mocking him, “how can you be so evolved about everything else and be so archaic about that? You bend my husband’s ear about everything else—you had better bend it about women. You’ve got the best source in the world for it. I swear, that was the most insensitive thing I’ve ever heard you say. I was being flippant about that time of the month because I knew that most guys understand that’s when we’re wacky, but I never would have said that if I thought you’d blow it off that way.”

“I wasn’t blowing it off,” he protests, weakly.

“Don’t give me that, Marlow, that’s exactly what you were doing. And okay, you don’t have any knowledge yet on how to handle these things, but I’m telling you—get some! You’re coming into manhood, quickly! Time out for games. Be the person that I know you can be. You’ve come a very long way, and I’m proud of you even though you pissed me off today, but you still have a long way to go. Go ahead, be young, have some fun, live your life, but there are times when you have to develop and let go of some of that stuff—and let me tell you something. Introducing a young lady to your mentor and his wife is a time when you and she should know that she should be representative of you. If she’s not, don’t introduce her. If she is, and she acts like that, then you need a lot of work. Do you get where I’m coming from with all of this or do you think I’m just giving you a hard time?”

“No, no, I get where you’re coming from,” he says, his voice a bit defeated.

“Good, because I can understand a diamond in the rough and if that’s what she is, she needs a hell of a lot more polishing, and if she’s not, throw that lump of coal back.” I’m almost relieved when the song is over because I’m tired of the back-and-forth swaying, and I’m sure that Marlow can do without any further berating. I take a step back out of his grasp.

“And take some dance classes,” I say, and his expression is horrified. “You’re going into the business world. You don’t know what situation you’re going to find yourself in or when, but I can guarantee you that dealing with him…” I point at my husband, “… you’re going to find yourself at more than one black tie affair. You may even find yourself trying to seal a deal in a setting like this. I can guarantee you that Soul Train one-step-two-step is not going to cut it. You need to learn a proper ballroom, a foxtrot, and waltz… at least.”

I glance over at Maya, who’s sitting at their table examining us on the dancefloor with her hands clasped in her lap. I look back at Marlow.

“You want to play around with these flighty little high school girls, fine. You’re young. You’ve got time, but prioritize.”

I’m actually transmitting Sophie’s frustration and I know this, but I can’t help it. I detest girls like Maya. She’s Mia’s catty bridesmaids in training, and I hate being around them. I hope either she gets a clue or Marlow does. Christian’s expression is bemused when I get back to the table.

“You don’t look particularly happy,” he says. I shake my head.

“Mold him, Christian,” I demand. My husband frowns.

“I… thought I was,” he says.

“You’re molding the mind,” I tell him. “Mold the man,” I say, folding my arms.

“Um, okay. Elaborate.”

“Men like you and my father have me spoiled,” I admit. “You’re chivalrous; you’re gentlemen; you’re considerate; you know how to dance!” He frowns.

“That last one was kind of random,” he points out.

“It may have been random, but it’s still true,” I tell him. “Can you imagine going to one of your acquisition meet-and-greets, holding one of your new colleagues around the waist and doing a two-step?” He grimaces.

“Duly noted.”

“And that comment about not being concerned about a woman’s time of the month? Really? He’s how old?”

“He’s only seventeen, Butterfly,” he protests.

“And what were you doing at seventeen, Christian?” His face hardens.

“My story is so different than his,” he points out.

“All of our stories are different,” I tell him. “What was I doing at seventeen?” He’s silent for a moment. I was hiding in a woman’s shelter trying to go to college. “It’s never too soon to break bad habits, to teach him more productive ones. And if I’m giving bad advice, then I’ll shut up. Let him do what he wants.” I clam up, suddenly feeling like I shouldn’t be having this conversation.

“Don’t be like that,” my husband says, pulling me closer to him. “I’m only saying let him be a kid for a little while longer. We’ve both had experience with having our childhood snatched away from us a bit too soon. Adulthood will creep upon him soon enough, and when it does, he’ll have all the guidance he needs to make sure that he goes in the right direction and does the right things. In the meantime, let him have a little fun. There’s still time, baby. He’s not a bad kid. You know that.”

I do know that. I’m just pissed because Sophie was slighted.

“Yes, I do,” I sigh. “I made him feel a little shitty.”

“He’ll get over it,” he says. “His girl was kind of frosty to Sophia. I’d say they’re even.”

“You saw that, too,” I say, making eye-contact with him.

“Sophie is 13,” Christian points out. “The comments that girl made to her had obvious sexual overtones. Even I heard them. Why? Just why?” I shrug.

“I have no idea why, but Sophie’s presence threatened her. And if the presence of a 13-year-old girl threatens you, you’ve got some serious problems.”

“No kiddin’… uh oh.” My husband’s conversation is cut short when his gaze is drawn to something just across the room. I follow his eyes and see Ethan looking a bit lost in the sea of guest and wandering around the room.

“That doesn’t look like a happy groom,” Christian observes.

“No, it doesn’t,” I concur, “and don’t look now, but I think he’s headed this way.”

His head still darting from side to side, Ethan is indeed headed towards us. He doesn’t stop scanning the room until he gets to our table.

“I seem to have misplaced my bride,” he says, his face a bit verklempt.

“Excuse me?” I say, perplexed. That’s physically impossible.

“I know, right?” he says, catching my obvious meaning. “You’d think with all that dress and those damn sparkly things, I’d never miss her. She’s the brightest thing in the room.” I can’t help but note a slight bit of ire in Ethan’s voice, but I do my best to stamp down Dr. Grey. Nobody asked for her right now. Ethan falls into a nearby chair and scrubs his face.

“You alright there, Ethan?” Christian asks, examining him.

“Yeah,” Ethan says from under his hands. “It’s just been a helluva day, man. No way in hell Carrick could foot the bill for all this by himself. He must’ve hocked the family jewels for this. I have to give him something. Did you see those cakes?” He raises wide eyes to us. “I fully expected people to pop out of there! Or for the damn things to open and reveal the real cakes! I didn’t even know they could make cakes that big! And a castle? A damn castle? With lights!” His eyes are a bit wild now. “We cut the cake with a sword,” he adds incredulously. “Where have you ever seen that? A sword!” he repeats as if he’s waiting for it to make sense.

“A groom’s cake… that’s a castle… big enough for me to walk into… that we can cut with a sword. What, no knights to stand guard? No moat? No drawbridge?” He really doesn’t sound pleased about the cakes at all. This may have been a bit too much. He’s shaking his head when he reaches into his pocket and retrieves his phone. He powers it on and waits for a moment or two, saying nothing.

“You didn’t know about the cakes?” Christian asks Ethan, breaking the silence between the three of us.

“I knew they would be big,” he says without raising his head. “She told me that hers would be seven layers, so I was thinking, you know, the seven-layer cakes that would be like, you know…” and he’s trying to gesture his hands in a fashion to demonstrate a normal to somewhat large wedding cake. “We went to the bakery together,” he says finally, giving up on attempting to describe what he expected to see. “We chose the flavors—Nutella, pink champagne, and amaretto—and I chose Italian cream for the groom’s cake. And yeah, I chose the castle. I thought it would be kind of cool, but the model in the bakery was about 14 inches by 12 inches and it stood about a foot and a half tall. I didn’t expect that!”

The moment he turns his body to gesture over his shoulder at what’s left of the colossal castle cake, our attention is drawn to Mia “holding court” in the middle of a small crowd of guests heading in our direction. She’s beaming as the center of attention, like she always does, and Ethan shifts gears immediately like he hadn’t been bitching moments earlier about the sheer enormity of a cake he really didn’t expect.

“Oh, shit,” he quietly hisses as he slides his phone back into his pocket, straightens his hair, and rises from his seat to face Mia. Christian and I stand with him.

“E,” Mia chirps, closing in on her husband, who now has the brightest smile plastered on his face for her benefit. “What’s the name of that restaurant that you took me too that had the great food and the sake drinking contest…?”

“Umi,” Ethan answers, his voice subdued.

“That’s it!” Mia declares. “I couldn’t remember it for anything. C’mon, Nae wants to hear the story, but I don’t tell it nearly as well as you do.” She takes Ethan’s hand and moves to walk back to her crowd of guests, but Ethan hesitates, his head rolling around in frustration until his chin lands in his chest. Mia stops and turns back to Ethan.

“Hey,” she says, her voice concerned. “You okay?” Ethan sighs.

“You go on and talk to your friends. I’m going to go and get a drink,” he replies. Mia frowns.

“E… what’s wrong?” Mia presses. I can see in his face that Ethan doesn’t want to have this conversation right now, but he sees that he doesn’t have a choice.

“This,” he says, his eyes rolling around the theater. “I can’t take anymore. It’s a lot. I need a break. There’s a whole bunch going on and this is quite a bit to drink in. I don’t know what else is going to pop out at me next.”

“There’s nothing else, Ethan,” Mia says softly.

“Good, because I don’t think I could take anything else,” he says, the words rushing out of his mouth. Mia’s eyes are on the floor now. Ethan puts his hand under her chin and lifts her face so that their eyes meet.

“Mia,” Ethan says soberly. “I love you very much, and I don’t want you to be unhappy on our wedding day. I agreed to any and everything you wanted because you wanted it. All I want is you, and I have to be honest. I’ve had enough of all of this, and if you want to stick around for this production any longer, I’m going to go get a drink and find a quiet corner somewhere to be alone. My head is spinning from all this. I feel like a debutante being presented to society and not in a good way.”

He leans in and kisses her gently on the cheek, holding her there for a long moment, then he reaches in his pocket and retrieves his phone again. He turns the phone around to her so that she can see her smiling face—his screen saver.

“My phone is on, now, if you need to find me. Go. Mingle with your friends.”

There’s no malice, anger, or resentment in his voice when he speaks. He’s just… tired of all this. He’s going to let her have what she wants, but he’s played along for hours and he doesn’t want to play anymore. He kisses her on the cheek again, releases her hand, and walks away. Christian looks at me, then falls in step behind Ethan. As they head towards the bar, I look over at Mia and can’t quite read her expression.

Is she hurt?
Embarrassed?
Upset?
Angry?
Ashamed?

She wordlessly watches her new husband walk away from her and a single tear escapes from the corner or her eye.

“Mia?” I say softly. She sniffs and sighs heavily.

“I need to make my final rounds,” she says, her voice cracking. “It’s time to say ‘goodnight.’” She laughs tragically. “My maid of honor was kicked out—can you help me?” I know what she means. She needs to put on the happy face and try not to fall apart. There will also be the unending question of, “Where’s Ethan” as she’s making her way around the room. I take her hand and nod.

“C’mon, sis. Have you lost those shoes yet? Because if you haven’t, now would be the time.” She nods and reaches under her yards of skirt to remove the insanely embellished shoes… still the sharpest pair of shoes I’ve ever seen in my life.

“Let’s make it happen,” she says, carrying the magnificent creations in her hand as she screws up the courage to face her guests.

The ordeal takes 45 minutes… and I really don’t think she enjoys a second of it. She’s the quintessential lady, smiling and thanking everyone for coming. Half the people she’s speaking to, she’s never met in her life.

When she has spoken to the last guest she plans to greet, Mia finally makes her way out of the main ballroom

“Can someone call my husband, please?” she asks, her voice exhausted and—if I’m honest—a bit defeated. I pull my phone out of my clutch and quick dial my husband.

“Hey, Butterfly,” he answers.

“Are you still with the groom?” I ask.

“I am.”

“Is he sober?”

“Quite. He only had one drink. He’s not maudlin, he just wanted to get away from the crap… and to vent,” he says.

“Good, because his wife has made her rounds and is ready to go.” I hear him saying something, probably to Ethan, then he’s back on the line.

“They have a helicopter,” he says.

“Seriously?” I ask.

“Can you see them getting out of here any other way?” he asks. Actually, I can’t.

“Good point.” I turn to Mia. “You have a helicopter?” She nods.

“It’s just taking us to the plaza. We have a limo waiting there for us.”

“How do you get to the helipad?” Like magic, her wedding planner—who I now know as Skye—appears with Ethan, and my husband who is still on the phone with me. I end the call since the proximity is now giving me feedback.

“How did you we were out here?” I ask.

“Low background noise,” he says. “It was either here or the restroom.” He moves next to me as Ethan closes in on his wife.

“You look exhausted,” he says softly.

“I’m fine,” she replies, raising doe-like eyes to his.

“I just bet,” he says, sliding his arms around her waist and placing a soft, sensual kiss on her lips. Mia visually melts into his arms and closes her eyes at his touch, her sigh signaling that she wishes to be any place but here at this moment.

“Soooo… it’s a wrap,” Skye says. “Let’s get you kids airbound.”

Ethan gives Mia another squeeze before they turn to face us. Christian hugs his sister and I give Ethan a hug and congratulate him again. When they switch, Christian and Ethan shake hands and Mia takes me into a firm hug.

“Thank you… for everything. God couldn’t have blessed me with a better sister.”

I have to fight back the tears.

“You’re welcome… for everything. Enjoy your honeymoon and your new life, Mrs. Kavanaugh.”

“I know, right?” she giggles happily. We share one last hug before she releases me and turns back to her husband. Ethan scoops his wife up in his arms—sparkly dress and all—and falls in step behind Skye to wherever they will board the helicopter. I turn to my husband and release a sigh.

“They survived!” I exclaim.

We survived!” he corrects. He takes my hand and leads me back to our table.

“I envy them being able to take the helicopter and escape,” I admit. “This is one of those times I wish we could employ Charlie Tango.”

“Yes, the old boy would be quite handy right now, wouldn’t he?” Christian agrees.

“Ethan seemed much better,” I observe. “He was nearly fit to be tied when you guys left us.”

“Yeah,” he says. “He took his share of responsibility for enabling Mia—for giving her a free hand in the wedding planning and allowing her and Mom free reign in whatever they wanted to do, but he admits that this was nothing like what he expected. This was exactly what I expected. He turned a little green when I reminded him that the belly-dancers and pink flamingos had been nixed and we have no idea what else got the axe.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right!” I say in horrified realization. “There was a lot more on the menu, so to speak.”

“Indeed,” he replies. I shiver to think what else was planned that didn’t make it to the ceremony and how poor Ethan would have reacted to that.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the bride and groom have left the building,” is announced over the loudspeaker. I look up at Christian and we share the same incredulous, disbelieving look before bursting into laughter.

“I’m ready to go,” I say. “I’ve had enough of this for one day.”

“It’ll be at least an hour before Jason can get the car around to get us,” Christian laments.

“I don’t care how we get out of here. Let’s just get out of here,” I whine. He nods and takes my hand. He pulls me through the crowd, through the dressing room area in the back and to one of the back exits.

“You might set off the alarm!” I warn.

“Who the fuck cares? The reception’s over.” He pushes the door and to our delight, no alarm. “Service entrance,” he says, with a wink. There are several members of the staff wandering around, smoking cigarettes and chatting.

“Don’t mind us,” Christian says, and I giggle as he weaves me through the inquiring faces in the alley. He pulls out his phone and dials a number.

“Jason, bring the car around to the front. Call me when you’re there.” He ends the call and I frown at him.

“I thought you said it’ll take an hour for Jason to get the car around,” I protest.

“I might have exaggerated. It’ll probably take about 25 minutes, but while he’s moving, he’s drawing the Paparazzi’s attention. And, where are we?” He talks while he’s rushing me along. I giggle again.

“Escaping down a back alley, like fugitives,” I chuckle as my heels click against the concrete. We get to the end of the alley and I find myself scurrying behind my husband down the street adjacent to the freeway to evade the Paps. It’s not an easy escape as there is a fence and a curb that we must negotiate. However, once we clear the perils that are the alley and Convention Place, we cruise easily down Pike Street, where Christian effortlessly hails a taxi. He helps me into the back seat and climbs in behind me.

“Slater Park, Mercer Island,” he says to the cabbie. No sooner he turns around and starts driving, Christian descends upon me, covering my lips with hungry kisses. I ignite immediately, thrusting my hands into his hair. My husband is hot anyway, but when he’s clawing hungrily at me like this, he sets my soul on fire. I’m trying to be satisfied with just the kisses, but I’m burning as his hands wander over my body and ignite me in all the right ways and places. My euphoria is interrupted when we feel the taxi jerk suddenly, and our attention is brought to the darting eyes of the cabbie in the rearview mirror as well as his dangerous proximity to the car in front of us.

“Sorry,” he says, meekly. Christian reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet. He takes out a few bills which I’m sure are hundreds because that’s all he carries, and throws them into the front seat.

“I know you’ve seen more than this, so keep your eyes on the road and try not to fucking kill us all!” he snaps. The cabbie’s eyes grow large as he retrieves the cash.

“Yes, sir!” he says obediently and pins his eyes firmly in front of him.

And my husband descends upon me again.

His kisses become more intense, more purposeful, and I melt in his arms. I whimper into his mouth as his hand wanders down to my breast and pinches my nipple. Oh, God, I’m going to lose it.

Just then, he groans and pulls his lips from mine, fishing his phone out of his pocket.

“Yeah,” he grunts, then listens. “Get out of the car and wait for about twenty minutes, then pick us up at Slater Park.” He ends the call, shoves his phone back into his pocket, and turns his attention back to me.

“Where were we?” he growls as his mouth covers mine again.

By the time we get to the bridge, I’m trying for all I’m worth not to wrap my leg around him while he continues to deliciously devour my flesh. I’m so hot that I could combust at any moment. Noting my dilemma, he puts my leg around his hip and continues to grope and kiss me.

“Stay calm,” he breathes into my mouth as his hand travels up my dress and between my thighs. Oh, shit. “Don’t let on…”

His hand slides effortlessly into my panties and he begins to gently stroke my burning clit.

“Don’t come yet,” he whispers as he licks the corner of my mouth. “Hold on… let it build…”

I bite my lip and try to close my legs a bit more to fend off the building intensity.

“Ah, ah, ah,” he scolds. “If you do that, I’m going to make you scream in the back of this car.” I gasp as his finger strokes meticulously, rhythmically, over and over, building and burning until…

“We’re here, sir.”

The cabbie’s voice pulls me back from the edge of my orgasm as I only just now remember that we aren’t alone, despite Christian’s prior threat.

“Thanks,” my husband barks before opening the door and leaping from the taxi, nearly dragging me behind him. We stand there in silence and wait until the cabbie pulls away and is out of sight. Then, my husband drags me behind him again, looking for something. He finds what he’s looking for in a nearby cluster of trees.

I have to run on my tiptoes to keep up with him, my spiked heels occasionally sinking into the grass. He pins me against a large tree and kisses me hungrily again. I’m still hot from the fondling in the taxi. He pulls his lips from mine and slowly descends to his knees. He kisses my exposed inner thigh through my split and I almost lose my balance. His hands travel under my dress, pushing it up just enough for him to inhale deeply and smell his prize. He closes his eyes as if in ecstasy and licks the outside of my panties. I gasp at the feeling of his tongue against my outer lips. He probes deeper and his tongue is licking and massaging my clit through my panties. My head falls back against the tree trunk as the fire he was igniting in the back of the taxi burns once more. I feel him grab my panties and pull them down, just past my hips to reveal my pussy, and his head is buried again between my legs.

“Oohh,” I whimper as his hungry, hot tongue makes contact with my clit. He tastes me over and over, moaning each time his tongue runs across the sensitive bundle of nerves. It feels so good and I have to lean on his shoulders to keep from sliding down the damn tree. My legs start to tremble and he lifts one, throwing it over his shoulder to help me stay upright… and opening my pussy wider to his talented tongue. His hands reach up and cup my breast roughly, kneading them sensually as he continues to feast delectably on my aching clit.

His hungry licks turn into determined sucks and devouring mouthfuls and I know it won’t be long now. He reaches up and caresses my lips with his fingers. I realize this is the hand he used to finger me in the car, and I suck his fingers into my mouth, fellating them hungrily as his technique on my clit becomes more determined. I’m panting wildly, his fingers deep in my mouth and his hand firm on my tit when it happens.

“God! Christian!” I nearly scream when the climax hits me. He groans into my pussy and squeezes my tit a little harder, sucks my clit a little deeper and I explode magnificently, clutching his hair while he holds me up against that tree. His wet fingers move from my mouth across my face, down, and to my neck as I whimper and pant through this intense pulsing and burning. Once the orgasm has waned to a gentle throb, he kisses my clit gently and replaces my panties. He rises to his feet and thrusts his tongue into my mouth. I’m high and still aroused, tasting my juices on his tongue. I move my hands to his belt and try to unbuckle it, intent on returning the favor, but he halts my progress.

“No,” he says firmly. “Jason will be here any minute.”

Shit, I forgot about Jason.

Christian helps me put myself back together and leads me from the bunch of trees. I’m nearly composed when we get back out to the lighted area and a stretch of road where Jason will be able to see us. He puts his hand on the small of my back and pulls me over to him.

“You taste mighty fine, Mrs. Grey,” he mumbles, the scent of my arousal on his breath. Don’t get in Jason’s face, I think to myself, or he’s going to get a whole lot more than he bargains for.

“You bring that out in me, Mr. Grey,” I say, carefully watching his lips as he licks them, knowing I can smell myself on his breath. For the second time, I move to reach for his crotch and I see headlights shine at the end of the road.

Fuck! Jason. Dammit.

When the Audi approaches, Christian moves quickly to open the door for me so that Jason doesn’t exit the car.

*-*

He’s out of his jacket before we even cross the threshold. I instinctively leap into his arms and he catches me, as usual, with two handfuls of ass. Squeezing tightly while devouring my lips, he carries me up the stairs to our bedroom. I can feel the tip of his erection protruding through his pants and I try to grind down on it, but he’s holding me firmly.

“Anxious?” he growls.

“Yes!” I pant over his lips. He bursts into the doors and slides me to the ground, kicking the doors closed behind him.

“So am I,” he groans, his lips never leaving mine as he unclips the hook-and-eye at the back of my neck and unzips my zipper. I make quick work of the buttons on his shirt, ripping it out of his pants while he pushes my dress from my shoulders. I quickly remove the dress and let it fall to the floor while he unbuckles his belt and unzips his pants. He removes his shirt and I push my hands inside the back of his pants and boxers and squeeze his tight, firm ass. He does the same thing to my ass while his tongue plays seductively with mine. He grinds me against his erection and I don’t want to wait any longer. I push his pants and boxers past his hips, reach between us and grab his cock.

“Ugh!” he groans loudly as I squeeze it hard in my fist. He toes out of his shoes and pushes his pants and boxers to the floor, removing them and his socks at the same time. He quickly removes his T-shirt and pushes me down on the bed. Climbing over me, naked, he grinds his hips into my panty-clad clit and I groan loudly.

“Christian! Please!” I protest, trying and failing to remove my shoes.

“Leave them on!” he commands, his voice throaty and full of lust. He pulls my panties aside and positions his head at my opening. Before I can say anything, he pushes inside me, his cock burning my walls and making me dizzy.

“Yes! Oh, yes!” I exclaim as he penetrates me and his hips immediately begin to move with purpose. He grabs both breasts, still in my bra, and kneads them roughly as he plunges into me.

“Shit, you feel so good,” he groans, his hips rolling and thrusting and pushing me quickly to my second orgasm. I don’t speak. I just enjoy. He’s lost in his own passion right now and he’s taking me with him… and I fucking love it! He undoes my bra and nearly rips it from my chest, concentrating his gaze on my tits as he plunders into me over and over. It’s so hot, that hungry, lustful look in his eye as he watches my breasts wobble while he fucks me.

“Fuck!” he hisses as he drops his body over mine, his hips pushing my legs open wider. His hands travel to mine and his fingers entwine with my fingers. He holds my hands down and buries his face in my neck as his hips and dick grind deliciously into me. He groans louder and louder into my neck as I feel him getting thicker and harder, his thrust more intense. I can barely breath as the orgasm attacks, ripping a scream from my throat and a tear or two from my eyes as my husband holds me down and punishes me with his dick.

“Fuck! So tight! Too… tight… fuck! Fuck!” he gasps as I feel him begin to pulse and throb inside me while I ride out this wild orgasm.

I’m coughing and gasping for air when he cups the side of my face and peppers the opposite cheek with tender kisses… while he’s still fucking me! I know he came. I know he did! But he’s still fucking. He raises his eyes to mine and yes, I can even see in his eyes that he came… but he wants more.

He pushes off my body—still inside me—and rips those useless, soaked panties off me. Lifting my hips off the bed, be begins to plunder me again, methodically—hitting that magic spot even though he knows I’ve just come.

“Don’t move your hands!” he commands in a harsh whisper. “I don’t want to stop to tie you up, so stay. Right. There.”

And I don’t fucking move.

He hits that spot over… and over… and over… and in about ten minutes, I’m back at the mountaintop, ready to blow. When he senses the change in my body, he puts his arms under my knees, holding my legs wide and pummeling my poor little pussy.

“Oh, God,” I protest again, arching my back and keeping my wrists plastered to the bed.

“That’s it, Baby,” he growls. “Feel it. Show me that you like it. You look so fucking good… so fucking beautiful…”

That’s all it takes to start the ascent again, and it’s burning deep, so much so that at first, I didn’t know that I wasn’t actually having an orgasm… until the real orgasm hit.

“Oh, Go-o-o-od!” I weep as my body starts the tremble. Christian fights to hold me in the position so that I can finish… but he loses the battle.

“Fuuuuck!” he exclaims as one stiletto-clad foot flies to his shoulder, the other still suspended from the knee in his hand, and he thrusts hard into me… several times… causing the explosive orgasm that I was already having to go on and on and on.

“Oh, God! Please! Stop!” I cry as the intensity becomes too much for me, but my husband is gone, his body violently chasing his orgasm. I don’t think I can hold out much longer and several strokes later when I’m at my wits end…

“Fuuuuu-uuu-uuu-uuuuck fuck-ing hell fuuuck!” I don’t recognize his voice as he appears to be crying for mercy, his body stiffening and trembling wildly at the same time. He’s weak with pleasure and unable to hold his body up, only the unforgiving stiffening of his muscles holding him in place as his head hangs helplessly from his neck, sweat dripping from the ends of his curls and his body jerking impulsively with each throb of his finally emptying dick.

Thank God!

I prepare myself for the inevitable, for him to fall helplessly on top of me once nirvana releases him and allows his muscles to relax… it takes a long, long, time. I’m worried for a moment, but then he collapses—helpless, spent, and breathless, still inside of me and unable to move. I reach down and stroke his wet hair, bringing him slowly back to earth. Several minutes later, I think he’s fallen asleep on me when he says,

“That was incredible.”

“Yes, it was,” I concur. “What got into you?”

“I don’t know,” he admits. “The playfulness of running down that alley, being in the back of that taxi… I just… felt free… and I wanted to get into you!” He growls the last word.

“I’m glad you did,” I say, still stroking his hair.

*-*

Liam didn’t come looking for me Monday morning. He went straight to Grace. That left me able to get some real work done instead of this babysitting shit. Granted, he has gorgeous blue eyes and he’s really nice to look at, but I resent his presence here and really want him gone as soon as possible. Not only that, I’ve felt the need more than once to remind him that I’m taken. It’s been nothing particularly forward, but he tried to get me to go to lunch with him again and he even went so far as to ask me out for a drink once.

“It’s a harmless drink,” he had said, “just to unwind from all this damn work we’ve been doing.”

Since he insisted on diverting the conversation away from any romantic interest, I did the same when I declined, noting that I’m breastfeeding. It doesn’t help that we slip into a relaxed comfort and sometimes even a playful banter when we work together. I have to concentrate when I talk to him—on looking into his eyes just long enough to get my point across, but not staring as it’s very easy to get lost in those lipid pools on any human being. I also have to avoid gazing at the bridge of his nose, because that offends him. So, I’m a little more relieved than I should be when Tuesday comes around and he goes straight to Grace again.

“Come on, Friday… come on, Friday…” I think to myself.

Ever the hopeful optimist, I forget that forces beyond my control are constantly at work to destroy my little world and crumble my happiness and very existence. One such force that I erroneously failed to acknowledge at the moment got its modern identification in 1949 when a development engineer at Edwards Air Force Base named Captain John Murphy became frustrated with a malfunctioning electrical component. About the lab technician would had wired the component, he remarked “If there is any way to do it wrong, he will.” Although there is more evidence that the concept was born well before this time, supposedly, this was the first assignment of Murphy’s Law…

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

Still praying for Friday, but once again lulled into a false sense of comfort, I’m dismayed—for good reason—when Liam approaches me on Wednesday morning while I’m working in one of the classrooms.

“I see you’ve been meeting with Grace for the earlier part of the week. What’s the order of business this time?” I ask when I see him. He scratches his cheek.

“You,” he answers. I’m taken aback.

“Me?” I ask, bemused. He nods. Why the fuck…?

“Besides that first week, I’d like to know when exactly she plans on you investigating the Center,” I say with distaste. “Exactly why am I the focus of the investigation now?” He sighs.

“The financial report was just as flawless as the first week,” he says. “It shows consistent growth in the Center and no reason or cause for concern for future stability. When the board didn’t see a problem there, they shifted focus.”

The Board,” I say incredulously, “I’ll just bet the board saw me as a potential problem!” He sighs again and drops the pretenses.

“She let it slip that there’s some bad blood between her and the Center,” he admits. “When I waited for an explanation, she hinted at cutting corners and shabby qualifications—detrimental positions that could affect the outcome of the investigation being filled due to nepotism instead of choosing a qualified candidate for the job.” And now we get to the crust of things. She opened the door, so…

“She had her eye on this position for several years and I showed up and stole it from her,” I say with no remorse. “There had to be a reason why Grace hadn’t filled it all that time. She was overwhelmed with work, unable to pay attention to any of the smaller duties necessary to keep the Center running. There were areas of the Center knee-deep in dust and I just started cleaning them—yet, we had a cleaning crew. The first day I started working here, there was an angry young man who wouldn’t speak to anybody. Most of the staff here treated him like he was contagious. I got through to him, took him on, and now, he’s at Seattle Prep, getting great grades and making a huge difference in the area he grew up in.

“I have more success stories of families that have been mended and reunited or moved from dangerous situations and able to move on with their lives than you have time to hear, yet because she didn’t get the job, she feels that I wasn’t qualified? It’s sour grapes and nothing more. I’m a doctor with a medical degree; I spent my internship working with broken families. What has she done? What are her qualifications? Does she have experience or education in social work or administrative management that I’m not aware of?”

“Social work, no. Management, yes,” he says.

“Well, congratulations for her, but it doesn’t give her the right to besmirch my qualifications.” I slam my pen down on the table, angry that this woman has found a way to control us because she didn’t get a job all those months ago. God, how much time has passed? She probably combed through every application since she got that job, waiting for something with our name on it.

“Well,” he’s sounding a little nervous now, “it’s just that accreditation is a huge responsibility. We can’t afford to let anything slip through the cracks, that’s all.” I stare at him, my mouth agape.

“Slip through the cracks?” I repeat, my voice several octaves higher than normal. “There are several schools in Washington State that don’t even deserve to be considered schools—federally accredited schools who don’t make the mark on local scoreboards. Do you investigate those schools, too, or is this a privilege reserved only for those people on Ms. Felton’s radar?” He shifts uncomfortably in his seat and if this were a fight, I would have him on the proverbial ropes right now.

“It’s just my understanding that with you being the assistant director and with new twins and your husband that there may have been some cutting corners in the licensing process and she says that she just wants to make sure everything has been completed properly.” I gasp, and he immediately knows that he has said something wrong.

“It’s…” he stumbles. “You know how people may look for fulfillment in things other than their home life and may throw efforts into outside projects… and the importance of the success of those tasks may overshadow proper protocol—skipping important steps and using connections, as it were, to push different initiatives through the system…” Well, that didn’t make matters any better. Careful, Liam, you’re choking on that foot.

“I like. My life. Just fine,” I say, succinctly. “And tell your boss that she would do well to keep my personal life out of this professional matter. Make no mistake, Mr. Grey does have the power to make this whole thing go away—push things through the system, as you so delicately put it—but I don’t want that and neither does Grace. We want this whole thing to be legit and on the up and up, and Christian’s intervention would only take away from our credibility. This is a place for people to get help, to get education, to feel safe, and if they see that a dollar can sway our opinion one way or the other, they won’t feel that way.” Liam’s eyes sharpen and he’s a bit taken aback.

“I’m… sorry,” he begins, “I didn’t mean to demean or discredit you in any way, and I certainly didn’t mean to offend you.” He’s sincere, I can tell, but for now the damage is done.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Westwick, your boss doesn’t share your sentiment,” I state, gathering my things. “Her entire intention in this exercise in futility is to hold up our goal, discredit us and find fault with us. She has used every single tactic that she could to keep us from getting our final stamp of approval, and I personally don’t feel like playing her game anymore.” I stand, stacking my papers and files, while closing my laptop.

“I swear that I’m doing everything that I can to make sure that this isn’t a personal attack,” he says. I raise my eyes to him again, this time, in scrutiny.

“Have you seen anything in the time that you’ve been here that indicates that we need an in-depth investigation as to whether or not we were following the rules?” I accuse. “Does anything look rushed, unnatural, or staged to you? Does anything here look like we haven’t been working for years to get to where we are now? Has anybody had anything contrary to say about the Center except your boss? Have you had cause to question my qualifications anytime during any of our conversations? You come here armed with information about my personal life that has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the Center and you don’t see this tactic for what it really is? You really think this is just somebody doing their job?”

Again, he’s stunned to silence, examining me. I gather the rest of my things in my arms.

“You let your own eyes and ears tell you what you need to know. Talk to whomever you need to talk to; draw whatever conclusions are necessary. Then, you tell the boss whatever the hell you want, because I’m done with this charade.” I march indignantly out of the room and towards my office to find some lunch.

I’m back in my office, going over our paperwork for the hundredth time looking for any loopholes we might have taken, any ammunition that Gloria would have to use against us to justify the charade of jumping through hoops that she’s putting us through. Knowing that I’m not going to find one and that this will never end if I don’t take action, I push the reports, my laptop, and my iPod away from me and make the call that I said I would wait until the end of the investigation to make.

“Al, I need you to file a formal complaint against Gloria Felton of the Washington State Licensing Board. I also want a complaint lodged with the Department of Early Learning, Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the US Department of Education.”

“Whoa! Jewel, wait… what’s going on?” Al protests.

“This woman has done everything that she can to discredit the Center and to hinder our progress for becoming a fully-accredited learning facility and day-care center because of her own personal conflicts and I’ve had enough! She’s still holding a grudge because she volunteered with the Center years ago when I first got here, and Grace chose me over her as the assistant director because she wanted another licensed doctor on the administrative staff! Gloria has never gotten over it; she threatened us way back then and now, she’s making good on that threat. She’s even gone so far as to send an inspector down here armed with details about my private life. This is personal—stemming from when she was released from the Center years ago, and she shouldn’t be in charge of this!”

“Okay, okay, I get it. It’s crystal clear. I’ll file whatever you need with whatever agency you choose, but you know that with an open investigation, it’s going to set back your accreditation.”

“We’re not going to get it anyway!” I yell the painful truth into the phone. “We’ve followed every rule, every regulation, every tiny little bullshit request she’s given us and every time we pass with flying colors, she finds something else!” The adrenaline tears begin and I can’t stop them. I’m so angry and disappointed that I could hit something right now. “A chip in the wall paint; a crack in a floor tile; a teacher with a less-than-perfect grade-point average… There’s always going to be something that she can pick at—some small thing that she can scrutinize use to hold us up! She wants us to give up, but I’m not going down without a fight! I’m kicking and screaming until there’s nothing left!”

The adrenaline tears turn into angry wrenching sobs as I go over to the window and unsuccessfully attempt to compose myself. “All this work,” I weep, “all this time, these years we’ve invested… I can’t believe all our efforts can be shot to hell by some spiteful bitch with a bug up her ass!” I sob into the phone in the most unladylike fashion.

“Jewel, I really need you to calm down,” Al pleads. “I’ll get right on it, okay?” I nod as if he can see me and end the call, weeping into my hands. A few moments later, Grace and Chuck come barreling into my office.

“Ana! What’s wrong?” Grace asks.

“We’re not going to get it!” I sob. “He could go back to that office shitting rainbows out his ass about how great we are and we’re still not going to get our accreditation.” God, I’m so frustrated that I feel like I’m just going to explode—literally explode! “I’ve already called Al. I know what this is. She’s the boss! She can keep us tied up in bureaucracy for years! She has no intention of giving us accreditation because I got this job and she didn’t! And when it’s conveniently leaked to the news that we were denied accreditation and some puffed-up story as to why, what do you think that’s going to do to us? To our reputation? To our credibility? All this fucking work!”

I’m screaming now and attracting an audience of people not afraid to approach the mayhem—security, Jesse, Marilyn…

Liam.

I fall into Chuck’s arms, weeping for the demise of the dream Grace and I had for a full-functioning help and educational center. This investigation is going to take forever—years, maybe. Any decision for or against our accreditation will be withheld pending the outcome of the investigation. Great, just fucking great!

*-*

I’ve sent the twins home with Keri and Marilyn so that I can strategize about restructuring what the Center has to offer since our accreditation will be indefinitely tied up in the complaint process. So much was riding on our being accredited—continued education, the day care and preschool, a form of home schooling so that children of families in hiding would still be able to learn without falling behind. We can still run the day care center, we just can’t do anything related to early learning in the process. It makes me so mad that one woman’s vendetta can so easily ruin something that could have been so useful and helpful to the community.

I guess it’s back to the drawing board.

Intent on working a few more hours on formulating a whole new game plan that didn’t stray too far from the one we had been working on for the last year and a half, I go to the community room to see if there are any sandwiches left in the vending machine.

“You’re still here,” I hear a voice say from behind me. I turn around to see Liam sitting on one of the sofas in the community room, his tie undone and his shirt open to the top two buttons.

“So are you,” I say, turning back to the vending machine. After finding a turkey sandwich, I make my purchase along with some green tea.

“Why are you working so late?” he asks. Why do you care?

“I’m trying to revamp our plans for the community center since it looks like we won’t be getting our accreditation anytime soon.”

“Oh, ye of little faith,” he says, and I’m not amused. “Don’t you want to know why I’m still here?”

Not particularly, I think to myself.

“Well, I was trying to save my investigation and your accreditation,” he says. “After witnessing what I did today, I did a little research on your accusations, which turned up quite a bit that I’m not at liberty to dispose right now, but I can say that I think you were right.” I glare at him.

“You doubted?” I ask, turning now to face him. “You thought I was making this all up?”

‘You’d be surprised what I’ve come across, so I had to be sure.” He leans forward, clasping his fingers together with his elbows on his knees. “You’re very passionate about your work.”

You have no idea.

“The thought of someone needing help and not being able to get it is unacceptable to me,” I say, taking a seat next to him on the sofa. “In particular, children in bad situations is a real sore spot. Why should a child be held back or fall behind in their class because Mom is afraid to let them go to school for fear that their abusive husband will get to them? Why should someone who was dealt a bad hand or has made a bad decision not be able to pursue their high school diploma or GED? These women—and, yes, men, too—may be running from horrible, or even life-threatening situations. They come here for sanctuary, for help to start over, to find shelter, maybe a job and a new life and they may need daycare.  There are so many opportunities I wanted to bring to the community, but this selfish cow has decided that’s not a good idea because she has a bone to pick with us. It’s my understanding that she volunteered here for years and she knows what we do. How she could deny these services to people that need them in good conscience is beyond me.”

I open my sandwich and the accompanying mayo packet and spread a healthy amount on the bread. I just realize that I’m starving and take a healthy bite. God, it tastes like filet mignon.

“Well, I wouldn’t give up hope just yet,” he says. “You never know what may happen.” I scoff before taking another large bite of my sandwich, chewing hungrily before I swallow it. He’s strangely silent while watching me eat.

“I’m no stranger to bureaucracy, Liam,” I tell him. “And I know a hopeless situation when I see one. I’m not one to easily admit defeat, but I am realistic. We’re just going to have to rethink our strategy and find another way to help people in the forever-time it takes the licensing board to address our complaint. It hurts, terribly, but it’s not the end of the world.” I continue eating, lost in thought for a moment and thinking that one of the things we could provide is an after-school program—something besides tutoring—some kind of latchkey program or something where kids can just chill out and unwind after school. We don’t have that, and I was so concerned with the accreditation portion of things that I wasn’t thinking about the simple community services that we could provide.

I’m pondering the new idea for so long that I’ve finished my sandwich and most of my tea. I raise my eyes to see Liam staring at me.

“What?” I ask. He points at me.

“You, um…” he stutters, then points. “You… have a little…” He reaches to my face and brushes what I assume are crumbs off my cheeks. The touch is soft… intimate… and in a moment, I’m caught in his gaze—those otherworldly blue eyes that capture me with an emotion that I can’t identify. They change and they look like cool water, clear and refreshing. My lips part slightly as I’m caught, trapped, motionless, waiting… I feel him coming closer, see him coming closer, his warm hand on my cheek, and I relax. A familiar warmth settles through me as I gaze into his deep, blue eyes.

Blue… blue… no… something’s wrong here. Something’s very wrong here.

I press my hand to his chest to halt his progression. He’s going to kiss me.

“Liam, no,” I stop him. “I’ve told you. I’m married.”

He pauses inches from my face, from his goal, and it’s only now that I hear the determined progressing thud of expensive, Italian leather shoes. I turn my gaze towards the sound and right into the steely, blazing eyes of my angrily charging husband.


A/N: She did it again… another juicy cliffy. Don’t kill me… but hold on to your seats. It’s about to get bumpy.

The Paramount Theater doesn’t have a helipad, but for the sake of the story, we’re pretending that it does.

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 36—Kavanaugh Celebrations 

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 36—Kavanaugh Celebrations 

ANASTASIA

Boys can be such doodyheads!

Geez, did I just say doodyheads?

Well, I didn’t say it, but I thought it…

Have I been drinking?

After last night? Hell, no!

I’m just pissed as fuck at one Marlow Johnson. How could he be so damn insensitive? Well, he really wasn’t insensitive. He has no idea how Sophie feels about him. It’s just a childhood crush, and it’ll pass, but what he said about periods. I know teenage boys don’t give a fuck about things like that and they’d like to think it’s none of their concern, but damn, I guess I just wanted to think that Marlow might be different from other teenage boys in that aspect. I mean, he is different from other teenage boys in a lot of ways, but… well, nobody’s perfect.

“Permission to engage,” I hear my husband’s voice say from behind me. I turn around to see him waving a gray napkin in surrender.

“Wrong color,” I say, crossing my arms.

“What was that all about?” he asks. I shake my head.

“Reverse hero worship,” I admit. “I have high hopes for your young protégé. Sometimes, I forget that he’s still a bonehead kid with raging hormones.” I look down at my phone and close Jason’s text.

“Sophie get going okay?” he asks. I nod.

“Yeah. Chance took her home.” I raise my eyes to him.

“I didn’t think Marlow would bring a date,” he says. “He told me he was escorting his mom.”

“Where is Marcia?” I ask. I noticed that Marlow and Maggie are present, but no Marcia.

“She wasn’t feeling well, so she stayed home. Marlow secured a date at the last minute. He said he didn’t want to bring anybody because girls get kind of clingy at weddings.” I shake my head.

“And apparently, guys get kind of stupid,” I retort. Christian raises an eyebrow.

“It appears that girls are a bit more out of character,” he recounters. I look at him expecting. “Well, look at Sophie. I’ll have to admit, she was darling in her dress. I’m glad there weren’t more boys her age here or we may have had to beat Jason off with a stick. Her knowledge of food is phenomenal, and her dinner conversation was extraordinary—well beyond her years. But the banter between her and Maya… where did that come from?” I raise my eyebrow at him.

“Where indeed,” I say, as I see the little tart just over his shoulder emerge from the ladies’ room. Pretending not to see her, I continue the conversation with my husband just loud enough for her to hear.

“Why that high-school girl took a veiled cheap shot at a tween’s dress in front of people who consider her family, I have no clue. However, why Sophie sliced that horrendous fart of a dress that she was wearing from two seasons back, I get that. I realize that she’s young and inexperienced, but she should probably remember her place when she’s a guest at someone’s wedding around people that she clearly doesn’t know.” I glare at my husband and see the little cow shift uncomfortably in my peripheral before she scurries back into the ballroom.

“And… you weren’t talking to me just then,” he observes.

“I certainly was not,” I confirm. He shakes his head and puts his arm around my waist, ushering me back into the reception.

“Come. Champagne and dancing for you…”

A glass or two of champagne later, and I’ve loosened up a bit. After last night, I steer clear of the hard stuff. Couples are canoodling here and there all over the room waiting for the bride and groom’s first dance, Christian and I included, when we’re interrupted by some guy trying to talk shop over Christian’s shoulder.

“Not talking business at my sister’s wedding reception,” Christian says flatly.

“Oh, come on, Grey. Everybody talks a little business at social functions,” the guy coerces.

“Not talking business at my sister’s wedding reception,” my husband repeats, never changing his facial expression or even making eye contact with the guy. The guy glares at Christian. Then he turns to me and his gaze softens.

“You should get him to loosen up,” he says, with a smile. “He’s far too intense.”

“Oh, he loosens up just fine,” I retort. “He just didn’t come to his sister’s nuptials with intentions of turning them into a business meeting.” I smile softly at the asshole, who adjusts his tie, raises his drink, and walks away.

“Nice comeback, Mrs. Grey,” Christian says, nuzzling me behind my ear.

“I learned from the best,” I coo with a wink. “I need the restroom, dear.” I kiss him on the cheek and he reluctantly releases me. I quickly relieve myself and return to the floor as I don’t want to miss any of the festivities—and I do mean quickly—I’m not gone ten whole minutes, and yet…

I turn my back for an iota of a second, just long enough to piss and wash my hands, and this Lily bitch is all up in my husband’s face. She must think I won’t stomp a mudhole in her ass because we’re at Mia’s wedding. If you’re bad enough to try me, bitch, I’m bad enough to fuck you up. I make a B-line over to where this cunt is trying to put the moves on my man.

“Christian,” I hear her purrs as I approach, “it’s been so long since we’ve talked.” She closes in on my husband with outstretched arms, her dress only a breath away from a nip slip. Christian steps away from her grasp.

“We never talk, Lily,” he says coolly, avoiding her embrace. She pouts seductively.

“Just one hug, Christian,” she says, nearly rushing him and about to catch him in a bosom hug.

Oh, enough of this shit.

“Oh, no, I don’t fucking think so,” I say, putting first my arm, then my entire body between her and my husband.

“Excuse you!” she hisses at me.

“No, excuse you,” I retort. “You have clearly lost your mind if you expect me to stand here while you attempt to put those sacks of silicone all over my man! You might want to put those things away because he clearly doesn’t want you,” I say to the scandalous tramp standing before me offering herself to my man like free leftovers.

“She’s right,” Christian says. “I clearly don’t want you, so you might want to cover yourself up.” She giggles. She actually giggles.

“Don’t be coy, Christian,” she says in a sultry voice. Christian just shakes his head and pulls me close to him.

“Let it go, baby,” he says softly in my ear. “You won’t have to see her ever again after this.” Just as I’m nodding my acknowledgement, she retorts,

“But you will.”

“He’s married, you sow!” I whip around on Lily, finally having had enough of her blatant disrespect and overt flirting with my husband. She almost doesn’t acknowledge my outburst until Christian looks over at me. Then she turns affronted attention to me.

“Excuse me?” she says, as if I have no right to say anything to her at all.

“There is no excuse for you!” I seethe, no longer able to restrain myself. I won’t yell. I won’t make a scene, but I’ll beat her fucking ass if she doesn’t get away from this table. “He has a wife… and children! You desperate cunt!”

“How dare you!” she says, doe-eyed and surprised.

“How dare you, you indiscreet guttersnipe!” I feel my blood pressure rising. Someone should intervene before I get to the tears.

“Steele?” Val’s voice floats to my ears. “You okay?”

“Someone needs to remove this piece of trash from my presence before I do it myself!” I say through my teeth. I can feel Christian’s arms tighten around my waist. He’s preparing for the inevitable. Lily scoffs and Val decides now is a good time to intervene.

“I really think you should go away,” she says to Lily. Lily’s hands rest defiantly on her hips.

“I’m part of the wedding party. You can’t make me leave,” she says, rolling her neck on every word.

“I’m part of the family and yes, I can,” Val says, closing the space between them. Now, I’m chomping at the bit to get closer to this girl, but Christian is holding me tighter and tighter. Just as she’s about to rebut, big brother Elliot steps in.

“Look here, girlie,” he says to Lily, “you need to be anywhere but right here at this moment, because if you touch this one, I’ll fuck you up.” He pulls Val to his side. “And if you touch that one…” He points to Christian, “… she’ll fuck you up.” He points to me. Lily laughs loudly.

“Oh, please. Whatever,” she says incredulously. Now it’s Christian’s turn to speak.

“Lily, I don’t want to embarrass you, but what’s more, I don’t want to ruin my sister’s wedding. So, I’m going to grace you with my conversation by saying this to you one time.” She smirks victoriously at me and turns her attention to Christian. He leans in close to her and says,

“Get. The fuck. Out of my face. I don’t want you. I never have. If you come near me again… ever… I’m going to have my security remove you from my presence and then, I’ll get a restraining order against your ass. Your unwanted romantic overtures are bordering on harassment.”

Her face falls immediately and the smirk she wore moments before is now plastered on my face.

“You are worse and more persistent than any stalker I’ve ever had, and my stalkers have tried to kill my family. That makes you a danger to me, my wife, and my children. I never gave you the slightest bit of encouragement, and I don’t know what ever gave you the idea that you ever had a chance with me, much less that I would leave my wife for you. I’m not even attracted to you. I never have been and even if I ever was, what makes you think I would leave my wife and family for you? Now do yourself a favor and tuck your tits and what’s left of your dignity back into your bra and get the hell away from me!”

And there’s that look again… My God, she has that hideous look perfectly.

“You’re just saying that because she’s here,” Lily responds. Father in heaven, help us. Another delusional bitch. What the fuck, do they grow on trees?

“I’ve always said that, Lily,” he reinforces. “I don’t have to put on a show for my wife. Name one timeone time—when I gave you the slightest hint that I ever wanted you. Go ahead, I’ll wait.”

Lily knows that she can’t name any times because she would have to call Christian a liar to his face. I’ve seen her be forward at Grace’s house, on Christian’s boatbut I can’t believe that she would do this at Mia’s wedding reception. Isn’t she supposed to be, like, Mia’s best friend or something?

“Christian, if you would just give me a chance…” Her voice is haughty. She’s not even embarrassed enough to sound humble in her indiscreet and unbecoming begging.

“Oh, God, somebody make it go away,” Christian says mocking despair. I will! I will! If you just let me go…

“Lily, what are you doing?” Mia says, making her way over to us.

“Shamelessly coming on to my husband while I’m damn-near sitting in his lap,” I say before I can stop myself… and regret it immediately. Mia reacts, but not like I expected.

“You said you wouldn’t,” she says flatly to Lily. “You promised you would behave.” Lily stands mute. Mia sighs. “I should have known,” she says, shaking her head. “You weren’t even speaking to me for a while, then all of a sudden, we were best friends again. I should have known it was all about Christian. And what did you do to the maid of honor dress? You look like a stripper!” she exclaims. Finally, she just shakes her head and waves to someone. “You need to leave,” she says. Lily frowns.

“What?”

“You need to leave, Lily!” Mia reinforces. “I want you to leave now before you embarrass me more than you already have.”

“Mia, please,” Lily beseeches. “I was just talking, I swear…”

“Is that why my sister-in-law looks like she’s ready to crawl out of my brother’s arms and scratch your eyes out? Because you were just talking? What the fuck did you say?” Lily falls guiltily silent this time.

“Just about any inappropriate thing that popped into her head,” I add, “while offering her fake double-D boobs plated and served to my husband while I’m standing here. She didn’t even acknowledge my presence until I called her a cunt. She’d fuck him right here on the floor while I and the reception watched if he let her!”

Okay, my mouth needs a leash and my anger has already gotten loose and is running around the room. Mia’s reaction is swift. Her arm is up in the air, gesturing to someone to come over to us. Two suited members of someone’s security come over to our table.

“She’s leaving… now!” Mia gestures to Lily. “Please show her out.” Lily’s mouth falls open.

“You said you would give me a chance,” she says. “I was just talking.” I’m about to say something when Mia puts her hand up to silence me.

Yeah, it’s probably best that I keep my mouth shut come to think of it.

“We will talk about this later, but right now, you’re ruining my reception and I want you to leave. People are looking at you!”

Sure enough, I look around the room and we now have the attention of more than a few party-goers.

“We’ll talk once I’m back from my honeymoon, but please… just leave now, please.” Lily frowns deeply, then moves to hug Mia. Mia is a statue.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I really was just talking to him.”

“He’s married, Lily,” she says flatly. “They’re in love, in case you’re the only person in the world who’s blind to that. This isn’t news. You’re making a fool of yourself throwing yourself at my brother. He’s not being cruel or playing hard to get. He just doesn’t want you.” She holds her head down. “And I was a fool to think you really wanted to mend fences with me.” Lily now looks terrified. Why, I’m not really sure.

“Mia, I did…” she protests. “I do, I really do.”

“Why?” Mia asks, “so that you can have the opportunity to get closer to my brother?” She shakes her head before continuing. “Just leave, Lily. Leave now. We’ll talk about this later.” Mia won’t make eye-contact with her and Lily finally turns to leave.

“And Lily,” Mia calls out. She turns around. “There are a lot of people outside waiting for a story. The story is me leaving on my honeymoon with my husband. If you give them anything else besides you’re leaving because you don’t feel well, not only will I shun you for the rest of your life, but I’ll also make sure that you’re quite persona non-grata. Not a social circle on the west coast will come anywhere near you. And if you say anything adverse about my family including my sister-in-law, I’m sure my brother could make that nationwide and more than just social circles.”

Worldwide,” Christian throws in, to Lily’s dismay. She looks at him with the most crestfallen look I’ve ever seen, except for maybe the one on the Pedophile right before they took her away. “I told you to leave me alone. You should have listened.”

That’s when she turns that horrible sour face to me.

“And stop looking at my wife that way!” Christian snaps, startling everyone in the general vicinity. “You look like that ugly rock fish.”

“Stonefish,” I correct him. I was trying to place what that face looked like and that’s it!

“Whatever. It’s ugly.” Christian gestures to Jason, who walks over to us. “Keep an eye on her,” he says. “She keeps throwing stinkfaces at my wife.” Lily gasps.

“I’m not going to do anything to your precious Anastasia!” She knows my name! Who knew? All this time, she acted like I didn’t exist.

“I know,” Christian retorts. “I’m just making sure you know, too,” he hisses. Lily and I both glare at him.

“How much money do you spend just watching people?” I blurt out before I think about it, but Christian and Jason are unfazed.

“Apparently, not enough,” he replies, “and I’m going to start giving the order to shoot first and ask questions later if the wrong person comes near you,” he adds without taking his eyes off Lily. Now he gets the stink face.

“You’re not all that, Christian,” she says. “I was just talking.”

“Yeah, well, my sister said she doesn’t want you here anymore, so talk while you’re walking.” She huffs indignantly and heads toward the entrance to the ballroom.

“You’re giving her more credit than I would,” I say to Mia, noting that she said she would talk to Lily later.

“I’m not giving her shit,” Mia says. “I just want her out with the least amount of drama possible. I never plan to see her again. We fell out because she was mad that I didn’t hook her up with Christian in the first place. She fell back in when she found out I was getting married. I should have known what she was really up to, that trifling skank.” Mia drops her head. “Now, I have no one to do my damn maid of honor toast.”

She stomps back towards the bride’s table and I feel totally responsible for this since I’m sort of the reason the tramp was kicked out of the reception.

“Mia!” I call after her. Mia stops midstride and turns to face me. “I’ll do it.” Her brow furrows, then her gaze softens.

“I can’t put you on the spot like that,” Mia says. “You already had to fill in for a vocalist who will never get another job again if I have anything to say about it!” she hisses. “Thank you for that, by the way. You guys were wonderful. You sounded better than the people we hired.”

So we were told.

“It’s no trouble, Mia,” I say softly, closing the space between us. “It’ll be something short and impromptu, but it’ll be sincere. Can you even imagine what Lily might’ve said if what you said about her is true?” Mia thinks for only a moment.

“Yeah, you’re right,” she says. “I have no idea what I would’ve have done without you today,” she says with a sigh. “I’ll let Skye know there’s a change in plans.” She smiles at me and heads to her wedding planner. I watch her walk away and roll my eyes. God, this day just keeps getting better and better.


CHRISTIAN

Well, once we rid ourselves of one Lily in heat, my wife then volunteered herself to do the maid of honor toast. I don’t know why they couldn’t just let the best man do his toast and call it a day, but far be it from me to piss on somebody’s wedding. My baby had an idea to fix what was broken, and that’s fine by me.

As it turns out, Mia had come looking for Lily because it was time for the toast, so my wife is whisked away to charm the guests once more.

“For those of you who have been living under a rock and have not seen the tragedy that is my life unfolding for the last two years, I am Anastasia Grey.”

A huge round of applause and laughter fill the room at Butterfly’s not-so-flattering self-introduction and she curtsies on the stage.

“Thank you, you’re too kind. As you know, Mia is my sister-in-law through my husband, Christian. And it appears that I’m going to be pulling double duty tonight as the maid of honor unfortunately had to leave. I’ll apologize in advance because I was not prepared for this, so I’m just shooting from the hip, so please bear with me.

“First, I will, of course, begin by thanking our wonderful waitstaff who kept the food coming and the drinks flowing, our band, our wedding party, the wedding planners, the staff and security of Paramount Theater and of course, of Grey Enterprises Holdings for stepping up in a pinch, and certainly and not least of all, Carrick, for the bottomless checkbook!”

Another rousing round of applause and laughter as Dad stands and takes a dramatic bow while Mom and Mia laugh hysterically.

“The first time I met Mia, it was just over two years ago,” Butterfly begins, as the laugher dies down. “We bonded over the French language and Jimmy Choos.” Mia smiles at her. “Her brother called her ‘Meelo’ and she called him ‘Cwis’ and I thought it was the cutest thing I had ever heard. It made me long for a sibling, but more so, it helped me see that true love could never be tarnished.

“Mia likes to play. She’s a fun-lover, but make no mistake. She’s loyal to the point of murder.” More laughter fills the room. “I wish I was kidding about that. I’ve seen this little kitten turn into a wildcat when it comes to the people that she loves. I’m just glad to be one of the people that she loves.” Butterfly turns to Mia, who is clearly fighting back tears.

“I remember the night of their engagement,” Butterfly says. “Mia was doubting Ethan’s feelings for her and Ethan had planned to propose all along. The entire family was there. Mia screamed and we came running into the house like it was on fire…”

More laughter.

“Even then, Ethan proved that nothing was more important to him than Mia’s happiness and everything that I’ve seen since then has shown me more and more of the same. So, ladies and gentlemen, raise your glasses to Ethan and Mia. We wish you all the love and happiness your hands and hearts can hold, and Ethan, she’s a real handful… and she’s all yours now!” There’s even more laughter as the theater raises their glasses and spouts various congratulations to my sister and her husband. Her speech was short and sweet and to the point. I’m sure whatever Lily had planned was going to be nothing like that.

My wife makes her way back to our table—and my arms—and I kiss her gently on the lips.

“You were eloquent and gracious as always, my love,” I tell her.

“Thank you, darling,” she says, sweetly. As I kiss my wife, the lights go down and there’s an announcement that the bride and groom will now have their first dance. A fog machine begins to fill the room with fog and an image of a night sky is projected over the floor and fog. It gives the room a blue, ethereal hue. A soft female voice begins to sing Mary Lambert’s version of “She Keeps Me Warm” and we see Rita Oro emerge onto the stage with the band as Mia and Ethan take their place on dancefloor and glide effortlessly through the fog.

I coax my beautiful wife from her seat and bring her to my lap, cuddling her in my arms and holding her close to me while pressing gentle kisses to her neck as we watch my sister and her new husband share their first dance. I think about our first dance in our castle and I’m filled with that same love all over again, that same newness I felt when she first became Mrs. Christian Grey.

“And I can’t change, even if it I tried…” I whisper in her ear, repeating the words to the song that I feel in my heart, that I couldn’t stop loving her no matter what happened in this life; that she would always mean the world to me and losing her would break me down to nothing. She melts in my arms and I feel so much love and warmth that I could just burst. She wraps her arms around my neck and snuggles into me, swaying with me in our seat as Mia and her husband—and now her wedding party—dance to Rita Oro’s serenade. I love her so much. I can’t see my life before or without her. Rita stops singing and I can’t seem to untangle myself from my wife.

“I won’t bother with the wisecracks. I’d be wasting my breath,” I hear Elliot’s voice.

“I think you would,” I retort. She uncurls herself from me and kisses me softly on the cheek.

“I love you,” she whispers.

“I love you more,” I reply.

“Not likely,” she says, and I smile.

“We’d be debating that one all night,” I say, stroking her cheek. she laughs, too.

“Yes, we would.” She strokes my hair. I kiss her on the cheek.

“Alright,” Mia says, breaking our lovefest, “enough of the sucky-kissy. Get on the floor and dance.”

“With. Pleasure,” I say, taking my wife’s hand and leading her to the dancefloor as yet another love song begins to play.

Dancing with my wife is one of my most favorite things to do—for several reasons. For one thing, I love to watch her move. It doesn’t matter if she’s gyrating that little body to a funky pop beat, or grinding to a sultry love song against me, I adore seeing her sway her hips back and forth and swirl those dainty hands in the air, and fling her hair to and fro. And when she touches me, when she pushes her hands up my chest under my jacket to the thump of some tribal beat, her when her fingertips caress my nape as I’m holding her close and we’re dancing to a slow song, I’m gazing in her eyes and seeing my future and every good thing that every has and could happen to me…

And one stupid fucker after another comes wandering up to me trying to get my attention. One after another, I ignore them until I just can’t take it anymore.

“Grey, how are you, man?” McFarley says, yet one more interruption while I’m trying to dance with Butterfly, and I continue to sway with my wife without acknowledging his presence.

“I say, Grey, how ya doin’ there?” He’s fucking not going to go away. Did he think I didn’t hear him? I’m looking at my wife like I’m starving and she’s lunch. Does he really think I prefer to look at him instead of her? I lift my gaze from my wife and turn my head to him.

“I’d be doing much better if you’d leave me the fuck alone,” I inform him. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m dancing with my wife. I’m not deaf, I’m ignoring you. Now, will you please take your rude ass to another part of the dancefloor and intrude on someone else’s space?”

I turn a fierce glare to him that silences him immediately and he almost scampers away from us. I turn my attention back to my wife.

“You know it’s just going to continue all night,” she says. “If they could have gotten away with interrupting you at dinner, they would have.” She gently strokes my nape to comfort me. I have to admit, it’s working.

“I know,” I reply, “and I know that I may end up talking business with someone before the night is over, but I choose that discussion. They’re not going to swarm in on me like I’m Don Corleone and this is Minnie’s wedding.” I tighten my arms around her waist and deliberately rest my hands on the top of that luscious ass. “And they certainly aren’t going to interrupt me while I’ve got this body in my arms.”

And I’m a man of my word. Dance after dance after dance I spend on the floor ignoring probably dozens of interruptions until my wife declares that her feet hurt and she can no longer trip the light fantastic. We walk gingerly back to our table and I put her feet in my lap. I remove those delicious sandals from those dainty little feet and begin to massage those dainty little toes. My poor wife is doing her best not to make sounds of ecstasy in the seat next to me, but she’s not doing a very good job. So, she just closes her eyes and lets the chips fall where they may. It’s a good thing Herman and Luma have taken the girls home, because these sounds are a bit obscene, and I can’t help the smile that creeps over my lips at the looks we’re getting from other people who aren’t dancing.

“I see you’re a little too big to fit under my porch.”

I look over my shoulder and see the kindly old face of the woman that used to leave me lemonade and cookies, that is, before I took up with the Pedophile.

“Aunt Tina,” I say, with fond affection. She laboriously bends and kisses me on the cheek. “I would stand, but…” I gesture to the feet of my nearly catatonic wife.

“Oh, don’t you dare,” she says, making her way to the chair next to me. “What I wouldn’t give to have Samuel around to massage my feet, God rest his soul. She’s a pretty little thing,” she says, gesturing to Butterfly.

“She’s my whole world,” I say, gazing at my wife, “her, and my children, that is,” I correct, looking back at my childhood confidante. “How are the kids? I know they’re not kids anymore.”

“Hardly,” she says. “Have kids of their own, and some of them have kids of their own,” she laughs. “It’s been a good life for me, Christian. These old bones are tired.” My brow furrows.

“Why are you talking like that, Aunt Tina?” I ask. “You’re not well?” She shakes her head.

“Doctors give me six months, maybe a year if I do chemo, but my body’s just too weak for it. Look at me, I can barely stand. My children want me to do the chemo, but what kind of quality of life would that be for me if I’m going anyway?” I sigh, my heart suddenly heavy.

“Oh, Tina,” I lament.

“Now, none of that!” she scolds gently. “I’m 91 years old. I’ve had a wonderful life. I couldn’t have asked for more. I have beautiful children and grandchildren and even some great-grandchildren. None of my babies died before me. Yes, my Samuel went home, but it was his time to go, and he had a good life, too. We built a home and a good life; he left me comfortable. We’re leaving our children and their children comfortable. I have no regrets, not one! So, don’t you be frettin’ me and feelin’ sorry for me and makin’ me feel sorry for myself, okay?” she scolds. Aunt Tina always had a way of putting me in my place. If I had continued to come to her porch more often, maybe I wouldn’t have fallen into the clutches of a child molester, but then there’s a string of what if’s in my life.

“So… are any of the kids back home with you right now?” She nods.

“Harmony came home,” she says. “She and her husband separated last year. Things just didn’t work out. She was on the fence about what she wanted to do anyway. She finished school and the divorce still isn’t final, yet, so there’s that. She’s doing some work-at-home thing so that she can be close in case I need her. She doesn’t need to work—she just wants to stay busy, I think.”

“What is her degree in?” I ask.

“She’s got a BS in social work.” I look over at Butterfly, who appears to have drifted off into a massage-induced nap. I reach into my jacket and pull out my phone. Swiping the screen, I open my contacts.

“Can you put her information in there?” I ask. “Helping Hands may be able to use her services, if she’s interested. I’ll pass her information onto my wife and mother and they can give her a call.” Tina smiles and takes my phone, enters Harmony’s information, and hands it back to me.

“Your commercial still runs sporadically,” Tina says, handing the phone back to me. I examine the information to familiarize myself with it before saving it. “She saw it once and mentioned that she’d like to get involved in something like that. She’ll be glad to know that you offered to have Ana and Grace give her a call.” Almost on cue, Mom and Dad return to the table.

“Tina, you look lovely,” Mom says, bending to kiss Aunt Tina on the cheek. “I’m so glad you could make it. How are you feeling, dear?”

“This is one of my better days,” Tina smiles. “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. I would have had Harmony roll me in her if I hadn’t been up to it,” she adds with a laugh.

“Where is Harmony?” Mom asks.

“She’s around,” Tina says, scanning the room for her daughter.

“Oh, she’s here,” I ask, in surprise. Mom looks at me, bemused. “Tina was telling me that Harmony has finished her bachelor studies in social work. I have her phone number and was going to pass it on to you or Butterfly to talk to her about possibly being of some use at Helping Hands.”

“Being of some use? Are you serious?” Butterfly is awake as if she’s been taking part in the entire conversation the whole time. “Who are we talking about? A bachelor’s degree in social work? Where?” She’s as bright as bunny like she wasn’t out cold just seconds earlier. I can’t help the laugh that escapes me.

“Butterfly, I don’t think you’ve formally met Tina Franklin. She’s a dear friend of the family.” Aunt Tina extends a shaky hand to my wife. Butterfly removes her feet from my lap and reaches the distance across me to ease Tina’s difficulty.

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, dear,” Tina says.

“The pleasure in mine, Ms. Franklin,” Butterfly smiles.

“Tina, dear, please,” she says.

“You may remember that I told you I used to sneak under Tina’s porch and she would give me lemonade and cookies,” I say. No realization comes across Butterfly’s face.

“Did you tell me this before or after…?” She trails off. I take her hand.

“Before,” I say softly. She nods and smiles sadly at Tina.

“He’s probably told me the story,” she says. “Unfortunately, as you most likely already know, I had a terrible accident last year and I’ve lost a lot of my memories.”

“Don’t you worry your sweet little heart about it, dear,” Aunt Tina says. “We hold on to the important stuff.” She winks at Butterfly. “We were talking about my daughter, Harmony. She’s back home now to take care of me and may soon be looking for some way to put her degree to use. I’ve already given Christian her number in case you or Grace want to contact her…” My wife glances over at me.

“I asked for it,” I tell her, fearing that she may be having flashbacks of “the mothers and the daughters.”

“I didn’t say anything,” she says with a laugh. Tina chuckles.

“With a face and bod like that, I’d watch him like a hawk, too, dear,” Tina says impassively. Mom and Butterfly burst into laughter. Dad just shakes his head.

“I’m so glad that you two are having such fun at my expense.” My wife turns a scrutinizing eye to me, still laughing.

“I have one word for you,” she says, crossing her arms. “Lily.”

Point. Taken.

“Oh, that’s why she’s not here,” Dad says.

“Yeah, that’s why she’s not here,” Butterfly confirms.

“Lily,” Tina chuckles. “There’s a piece of work… and did I see Courtney here?”

“You… may have,” Butterfly says nervously.

“I thought Addie sent her home,” Tina says.

“She did,” Butterfly says. “Courtney decided to stay and make it on her own. She’s asked that I don’t inform her grandparents.”

“That may be a moot point if they bump into each other,” Tina points out. I look at Butterfly, who shrugs.

“I won’t engineer a meeting, but I’ve told her several times that I think she needs to talk to her grandparents,” Butterfly begins.

“As have I,” Mom chimes in. “She’s quite a different woman from who she was a year ago.”

“Yes,” Tina says, “anyone can see that just from looking at her.” Butterfly looks at her in amazement.

“You can?” Butterfly asks. Several surprised eyes turn to my wife. “Well, think about it. I’m with her all the time. I know there’s an emotional and a character change, but if there’s a physical change, it’s been gradual, so I wouldn’t notice it.”

Courtney

Courtney

“Well, there has,” Tina says. “I only observed her for a few minutes with her companion, but she carries herself much differently. She looks, behaves, and speaks like a lady. I’ve watched her for years and I’ve never seen this Courtney…” She turns to me. “… Just like I’ve never seen this Christian.” She looks at my wife. “You have an amazing effect on people, dear. My Harmony doesn’t need any fixing, but if you have this kind of effect on the people who do, I’d love for you to meet her.” Butterfly smiles shyly.

The Butterfly effect… I keep telling people just how powerful it is.

“Tell me, why doesn’t she want to talk to Addie and Fred? I won’t say anything—it’s not my place, but I’m just curious.”

“I’m not at liberty to say,” Butterfly responds. “When people talk to me, a lot of what they say falls under doctor/patient privilege. It’s hard for me to draw a line, so to be safe, I’m mum on all of it.”

“Well, there’s no privilege here,” Mom says. “I’ll still be discreet, though. I’d hate to betray her confidence. Short version, there was some very hurtful things said and Courtney thinks it’s just better to let sleeping dogs lie than to open old wounds.” Tina shakes her head.

“She couldn’t be more wrong,” she says. “Life is too short, too precious. You never know which day is going to be your last. She’s going to have to rectify this or she’s going to regret it for the rest of her life.”

“Hear, hear,” Mom says.

“I couldn’t agree more,” Butterfly says.

“There you are.” Our attention is drawn to an attractive, young brunette with a very short haircut who has made her way to our table. “I was talking to Greg and Lisa, and I turned around and you were gone.” Tina smiles an accommodating smile.

“And now I know how she felt when she was six years old,” Tina jests, eliciting a laugh from us. “This is may daughter, Harmony, everyone. Harmony, you remember Grace and Carrick…” Harmony extends her hand.

“Yes, I do. It’s good to see you again,” she says, greeting them both with handshakes and cheek kisses.

“And I don’t know if you met Christian,” Tina says. Harmony extends her hand to me.

“A little out of my age rank, but of course, I’ve heard of you. It’s nice to meet you, Christian,” she says, shaking my hand. She’s considerably younger than me, maybe early twenties at best, and already separated… that’s sad.

“Likewise,” I reply, politely.

“And this is his wife, Anastasia,” Tina completes the introductions.

“The other half of the famous AnaChris,” Harmony says, extending her hand. “You’re even more beautiful in person,” she adds sincerely.

“Brownie points for you!” Butterfly exclaims, accepting her hand while everyone chuckles. “We were just talking about you. Your mom informs us that you’ve recently completed your bachelors studies in social work.” Harmony throws a loving glance at her mother.

“Mom’s very proud of that,” she says, and I can imagine that Tina has probably mentioned it to anyone who will listen. “Yes, I just finished my studies in June. It was… difficult, but I got through.”

“So, what are your plans from here?” Butterfly asks.

“Well, I need my master’s before I can be licensed, so I start those classes next week. Luckily, since I’ve already secured my bachelors, I can complete my master’s in a year instead of two.”

“Tina says you’re working,” I ask. “You’re going to do them both?” And take care of your mother.

“No,” she admits. “I was only working to fill the time. An idle mind and all that,” she says, waving off the topic. Butterfly and Harmony are off on the topic at hand and I scan the room looking for Courtney. I admit that I can’t find her anywhere. Granted, the venue is huge, but I know what she looks like and I should be able to pick her out of the crowd. Tina puts her hand over mine on the table.

“Elena has been writing to me from prison,” she says. My chest immediately tightens at the mention of that woman’s name. “She’s talking about being reformed and such. She’s quite destitute.”

I don’t react. I don’t really want to know how Elena’s doing at all.

“She asks about you often,” Tina says. “I put together that years ago, you were one of her boys.” My eyes widen.

“You did?” I ask in horror. She nods.

“Yes,” she says. “I don’t blame you. Teenage boys think with their dicks. As a man though…” She trails off.

“I know,” I say, pushing my hands through my hair. “I know, Aunt Tina. I want you to know that as soon as I figured it out, I went on a mission to bring her down. I’m the reason she was caught. I found the boys that she was molesting.” Tina nods.

“I know, and I think she knows, too. She’s not certain, but you know that she never takes responsibility for anything that she does. I truly believe that she’s no threat up there in prison, and her letters are the rantings of a crazy woman, but I don’t know who else she’s writing to.”

I hear her warning loud and clear. Elena’s reach from prison is what caused Butterfly to be called before the licensing board on trumped-up charges of sexual misconduct. I may need to find out just who she’s been talking to in the weeks since our last visit.

“Thanks for the heads up, Aunt Tina,” I tell her.

“Anytime,” she says with a smile. “And now, I think it’s time my chaperone got me home. It’s getting to be past my bedtime. And if you get a chance, come on by and have some lemonade and some cookies for old times sake, okay? I’ve always got ‘em. And I’ll understand if you don’t, but always remember that Aunt Tina loves you… and I’m so proud of you.”

She leans forward and places a tender kiss on my cheek. I close my hand over hers.

“I’ll never forget you, Aunt Tina, and you’ll always have a place in my heart.” She cups my face and smiles. I help her out of her seat and Harmony is by her side in a moment.

“We’ll talk. You have my card,” Butterfly says.

“Sure thing,” Harmony nods. “Come on, Mom, let’s get you home.” I put my arm around my wife’s waist and watch Harmony lead Aunt Tina out of the theater, knowing that this may be the last time I see her.

“Why is it that the only time family and friends really come together is for events like this?” I ask. “Weddings and the like?” I never take my eyes off Tina’s retreating back.

“We get caught up in the mundane tasks of life,” Butterfly says after a pause. “We keep meaning to call someone, meaning to catch up with someone or go have lunch, drop by or say ‘hi…’ and then we get that call.” I turn my gaze to her. “That call that there’s bad news or the doctors don’t have any hope…”

I turn back to the exit and Aunt Tina and Harmony have left.

“… That there’s been an accident,” I say, my voice cracking, “or they need a kidney… or there’s cancer…” I feel my wife’s hand on my chest and I turn back to look at her, her beautiful blue eyes full of sympathy. I wrap my arms around her and bask in her love, so glad that I didn’t lose her last year when that crazy submissive T-boned her car.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the bride and groom to cut the cake!”

Good Lord, I thought they had already cut the cake. It’s late! Let’s just get this over and done.

So… now, I see that two of the huge things hiding in the corners behind these huge drapes are cakes—not just any cakes, the bride’s and groom’s cakes. Now, I’m one of the most ostentatious fuckers that ever lived. I am the epitome of go big or go home, but these cakes are the most extreme displays of largess and waste that I’ve ever seen in my life. Whoever created these monstrosities should be ashamed of the man-hours and materials invested in their manufacture with the level of starvation going on in the world right now. These two monstrosities are unveiled from the corners and the crowd rightfully gasps in amazement.

The cakes are on platforms that are rolled to the center of the floor in front of the stage on cranes. The cakes are nearly impossible to describe. Ethan’s WTF expression says it all.

Mia’s cake is a seven-layer intricate creation of flowers, columns, and tiers. The base of the cake is at least five to six feet in diameter and the first layer is quite possibly two feet thick. Each additional layer gets thinner until the top layer is about a foot thick—maybe the thickness of an average cake. All in all, the cake itself without the platform, is probably about ten feet tall, with realistic flowers and columns and bridges and balustrades and intricate details that are probably all edible. I don’t even know how they assembled the damn thing.

The groom’s cake is worse. It’s a castle—a fucking castle, complete with blue towers… several towers, something like twelve or fifteen of them! The castle is white with bricks and windows and doors and battlements and stairs and more flowers at a base that’s wider than Mia’s. Oh, and there are lights inside.

The cakes are so large that Mia and Ethan complete disappear behind them and must make their way around to the front of the bride’s cake in order to cut it. And what utensil is presented to them to cut the cake?

A sword… a fucking sword. Nothing else is long enough to reach the cake.

I shake my head in pure disgust. If every guest on Mia’s insane guest list took home a serving of cake equal to an entire normal cake, there would still more cake left over than anybody knew what to do with. There still must be enough filet mignon and duck confit prepared in the kitchen to feed a fucking army because I sure as hell didn’t order lobster until I got here, so there had to be enough food on hand to handle contingencies. This level of waste is abhorrent, and I have to find out what they’re going to do with the leftovers from this wedding.

“You don’t look happy at all,” my wife observes. I shake my head.

“Look at those cakes, Anastasia,” I say, my face hurting from frowning. “I spent the first four years of my life in squalor—starving, in agony—and somewhere, right now, in this city, there’s another child feeling that same pain and she’s got those.” I point in dismay at the ridiculous cakes. “I understand wanting the best—I really, really do, but this…” I gesture at the monstrous creations again. “There’s no explanation or excuse whatsoever for that.”

My brain immediately starts running through the calculations of what the pounds and pounds of flour it took to make those cakes could have done for the homeless—bread for sandwiches and pasta for entire meals. It’s probably a ridiculous concept right now, but with all the philanthropic causes that I support behind the scenes, this is exactly where my mind goes when I see something so utterly wasteful. Yes, I spend extravagant money on things for myself and my wife and children, but I am equally generous in my humanitarian endeavors, because they’re just that important to me.

“Maybe we should step outside,” my wife says, turning around in my arms, her expression serious, “or out in the lobby and take a picture or three—get away from this scene for a while.” I shake my head, more to shake off the figures of what I know those insane cakes costs and how that money could have been put to such better use.

“No, I’ll be fine. I’m fine,” I say, attempting to appear normal.

“No, Christian, you’re not,” my wife says firmly. I look down into her eyes and she stares at me. “You just called me Anastasia.

Shit, did I? I try to review my words in my head, but I can’t remember. I just… I can’t believe those fucking cakes. I look back at my sister and her husband and they’re beaming, laughing and feeding each other hunks of what had better be the most luscious and delicious cake ever made by human hands!

“I’m sorry, baby,” I say, running my hands through my hair, “I expected a three-ring circus, but as God is my witness, I didn’t expect this.”

“Don’t apologize,” she says, gently rubbing my chest. “Shots were fired for the goddamn wedding kiss, for fuck’s sake. When the minister said, ‘You may salute your bride,’ she was literally fucking saluted!” That makes me chuckle a bit, but did little to comfort my unease about the level of excess I’m witnessing tonight. I hold my wife close to me and sigh into her hair. I wonder how often shit like this was going on when I was hungry, hiding under the kitchen table or in the closet, praying that fucker wasn’t lighting another cigarette…?

“Bro, you okay? You look sick.” Elliot’s voice brings me back to the here and now, and I have to say that I’m glad it did. I had no idea I had slipped back into the squalor of the lost boy because of a fucking wedding cake.

“I’m fine,” I lie. I’m anything but fine. I have to find out what she’s doing with this leftover food. I will personally spend the night having this shit sent to a GEH facility for storage and distributed to the homeless and hungry tomorrow if I have to.

“He’s not, but there’s nothing that can be done about it, so don’t ask,” my wife says, her tone serious as she wraps her arms protectively around my waist and lays her head on my chest. It’s comforting, and it keeps the monsters away.

“That’s some cake, huh?” Elliot says, holding Val close to him.

“Yeah,” I sigh, “that’s some cake.” Elliot turns to look at me.

“She always was over-the-top, bro,” he says, and I hear the sympathy in his voice. “You couldn’t expect this to be any different.” I look over and meet his gaze.

“Yeah, I know.” I look back at the ridiculous cake and watch as it appears that they are setting up for some other performance or something in the middle of the room.

“It’s the food thing… isn’t it?” he asks. I look at him again and he doesn’t break his gaze. “You used to take food from the table and shove it in your pockets. You hid it in your room. You hid it in the treehouse. You hid it places and forgot about it. Mom would find it all the time. I didn’t know what was wrong with you, so I asked Mom. She told me that before you came to live with us, you didn’t have enough to eat, that you were often hungry, and that you were afraid that you were going to be hungry again. It explained why every single time at every single meal you ate every single thing on your plate. That’s why I always slipped you my Brussel sprouts when Mom wasn’t looking.”

I remember that.

“You never took more than you could eat; you never left anything behind; and you often got irritated with anybody who did. Even now, you still clean your plate. You don’t leave a morsel behind.”

I never knew my brother paid that close attention to me. I didn’t know that I still exercised those practices, either. I have serious issues with wasted food, but I try not to impose my issues on others, and I try not to be anal about them in my eating habits, but apparently…

“And now…” He gestures at the two obscenely large edifices that pose as cakes behind Mia and Ethan, and I’m just realizing that in our back-flashing of my food issues, we’ve missed the bouquet toss. No matter—I wouldn’t have been able to watch it with the lavish wasteful confections as a backdrop anyway.

“Well, that’s our cue, bro,” Elliot says. “The Caribbean is calling our names. If we wait any longer, we’re going to miss our flight.”

I almost forgot that he’s going to be leaving on his honeymoon as well tonight. All of our lives were put on hold when we got word that Pops didn’t have long left to live. I was planning to take my wife to Rome this summer for our first anniversary. That was a big no-go.

“You guys have a great time and a safe trip,” I tell him, shaking his hand.

“Tell her we stayed as long as we could, but it was either sneak out or crash the garter ritual.” He shrugs.

“I’ll tell her. Get going.” I pat him on the back in a bro-hug. Butterfly is hugging Valerie and wishing her a safe trip, making her promise to take lots of pictures. We send them off to say goodbye to Mom and Dad as we turn out attention back to floorshow of the girl who caught the bouquet and the guy who caught the garter. Apparently, I missed them both. How, I have no idea.

My wife attempts to comfort me throughout the minutiae of other things occurring in the next several minutes of the reception or so—bubbles appear from somewhere and there’s a dance line of some sort. I’m glad to see that those monstrous cakes are wacked up all to hell, but there’s still a whole lot of them left, and I do get to see those solid gold inscribed boxes Elliot referred to earlier. I’m waiting for an opportunity to get my sister alone, just a moment or two, and it’s like the girls on the sidewalk when I was a kid waiting for a chance to jump in on jump-rope. As soon as I get my chance though…

“Mia, a minute?” She examines me.

“I know that face, big brother. What did I do?’ Geez. I don’t want to scold her on her wedding day. How do I approach this? I suddenly feel like a kid about to ask his mother for a forbidden lollipop.

“I… um… if you don’t have prior arrangements… there’s… quite a few leftovers and… well… that’s a lot of cake, and…” I sigh. She chuckles.

“This is about the food thing, isn’t it?” she asks, and now I’m gape-mouthed.

“You know about the food thing?” I ask, amazed.

“Of course, I know about the food thing,” she says, obviously. “We all know about the food thing, Cwis, we love you.”

I’m standing here literally scratching my head. How did I not know they knew?
Because I never let them in.

Mia puts her hand on my arm.

“Did you think Mom didn’t know you were eating Elliot’s Brussel sprouts?” she asks, raising her eyebrows. I just shake my head and scratch my eyebrows.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what are you going to do with all the leftover food?” I ask. She smiles.

“Find a program,” she says. “Page ten, bottom left.” She kisses me on the cheek and walks away into a crowd of guests.

I nearly have to scour the entire theater to find a program that hasn’t been claimed by someone. I quickly flip to the back of the book and go to page ten and scan to the bottom left.

**Remaining food and confections from today’s festivities will be donated and distributed among the following charities:
Operation Nightwatch
Compass Housing Alliance
Pioneer Square’s Union Gospel Mission
St. Martin De Porres
Mary’s Place
Sacred Heart Shelter
Helping Hands…

The list is so long that I don’t have time to read all the names. I fall into a large seat nearby, a huge weight having been lifted off my shoulders. I felt like it was my responsibility and mine alone to be sure this food didn’t go to waste. It’s. So. Much. Food. And somebody somewhere is painfully hungry like that little boy under the kitchen table while all this food is sitting here going God only knows where.

But it’s not going God only knows where. She’s going to make sure that it goes to someone who needs it. It won’t go to waste.

I breathe.
I breathe again.
I feel light.
I feel so much better.
Thank you, Mia.
Good God, thank you.


A/N: Christian references Don Corleone because in movie The Godfather, the Don is required to receive anyone who requests an audience on the day of his daughter’s wedding.

Part II of the wedding is complete. On to part III! 

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 ~~love and handcuffs