I’m sorry I’ve been MIA. Lots of changes requiring my attention these days and the Muse took a bit of a beating. Let’s get the story rolling again, shall we?
This is a work of creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.
I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues…
Season 5 Episode 33—Planning to Go Abroad
My husband and I can’t keep our hands off each other on Saturday afternoon and it’s quite obvious. We’re not mauling each other to death or having inappropriate PDA’s since we have a yard full of people, but we are very touchy-feely, sitting close to each other and stealing little kisses as often as possible.
Why do we have a house full of people?
It’s a partly-sunny spring day topping off around the mid-60’s, and we’ve decided to have a family barbeque for Christian’s 32nd birthday. It’s late April and we feel that it’s high time to make an announcement to the family.
“So, as some of you know, I purchased a villa in Italy for my wife a couple of years ago and we have yet to visit it. We planned on going last year, but circumstances made that impossible. With everything that has happened and all the drama in our lives, we have decided that we’re going to take a second honeymoon trip to Italy this year.”
“Oh, how romantic!” Grace exclaims. “You’ve always loved Rome. Now, you get to show Ana it’s beauty and history.”
“I’m very excited to go,” I tell her. “Italy is one of the places that I’ve always wanted to see.”
“I’m telling you all this because we plan on leaving in early June and we’ll be gone for no less than six weeks. We plan to end the trip on Lake Como at the villa, and we want to invite our family to join us,” Christian says. The patio is silent now as everyone looks at everyone else.
“Seriously?” Mia is the first to speak. “Lake Como? That’s where your villa is?”
“Yes,” Christian replies, “Sala Comacina, to be exact.”
“Excellent!” Mia exclaims. “When do we leave?” Christian chuckles.
“We plan to be there no later than the 5th of July and we’ll be staying until the 18th,” he replies. Mia looks at Ethan.
“Can we go?” she asks.
“As if I would ever say ‘no’ to you,” Ethan says, kissing Mia’s nose. I can’t help but wonder if he accommodates Mia a bit too much. Hey, what can I say about it? I’m married to a billionaire.
Jason is busy turning the meat on the outside barbeque while Gail and Ms. Solomon complete the side dishes and Sophie helps by preparing the homemade coleslaw and several hors d’oeuvres.
“So, I don’t mean to put you on the spot, Bro,” Christian says, “but the villa is on a really beautiful piece of land on the lake. You and Valerie had a very touching ceremony here, but Lake Como would be the perfect place to renew your vows and take some scenic pictures.” Elliot makes a face like he’s pondering the idea.
“What do you think, Angel?” he asks Val, and her eyes light up.
“A wedding on Lake Como are you kidding?” she asks all in one breath. “Do you really have to ask?” Elliot laughs.
“I guess that’s a yes,” he says. “I don’t know anything about putting together a wedding, though.”
“Oh, please, let me,” Grace beseeches, “I promise I won’t go overboard, and I won’t do anything that you guys don’t want. Please?”
I know Elliot won’t be able to say no, so he volleys that ball over into Val’s court.
“Yes,” Val says with a smile. “I would love that.” Grace claps her hands happily.
“Good! How many people are we expecting? Just the family?” Grace asks.
“I would say yes. Just the usual people we’re accustomed to seeing, unless the happy couple wants something bigger.”
“No, no,” Val chimes in. “The usual is just fine by me.”
“Quaint and elegant,” Grace says. “Excellent! I’ll put together some ideas and touch bases with you later in the week. Is that okay, Valerie?”
“Yes, that’s fine,” Val replies, then looks over at me. “I’m excited already!” she adds with a giggle.
“These are really good. What are they?” Mandy says.
“I’m not sure,” I reply, tasting the crostino that Mandy is eating. “I can taste olives and mushrooms in the spread, but I can’t place everything else.”
“And who thought to put a smoked salmon salad on top of cucumber slices?” Val says. “This is really delicious.”
“Thank you,” Sophie says as she comes out to the patio with more hors d’oeuvres. “That’s actually trout and capers, Aunt Val,” she says as she places another tray of hors d’oeuvres on the table in front of us. “And the bruschetta has two different toppings—one mushroom with garlic and the other olives with herbs. They might have mixed a bit in the blender. I have to be more careful next time.” She looks slightly disappointed.
“You made these?” Val says, eating the entire cucumber slice. “Thith ith deliciouth!” Sophie smiles.
“What’s this one, Sophie?” I ask, taking one of the small delights she just set on the table.
“This is an easy one. This is kind of a cheat. This is crab and avocado toast. It’s seasoned with a little cayenne pepper, chopped mint and lime juice on thin, toasted white bread rings.”
“Easy?” Mandy says after finishing her hors d’oeuvre. “I bet you I could mess it up. These are great, Sophie.”
“Thank you,” Sophie says as she heads back to the house.
“How old is she again?” Mandy asks.
“She’s about to be 14,” I reply.
“Does she always help out in the kitchen?” Mandy asks. I know what she’s getting at, and I know why.
“Only when she wants to,” I reply with no malice. “She’s fascinated with cooking, and she’s pretty damn good at it, which reminds me… Everybody?” I look over my shoulder to make sure Sophie’s not coming back out of the house.
“If you’re coming with us this summer, you’re going to want to get started applying for passports for yourself and your children if you don’t already have them,” I say when I have everyone’s attention.
“What on earth made you think about that just then?” Mandy asks. I look over at Jason.
“Because we’re having a hard time getting Sophie’s passport,” he says solemnly. Mandy’s brow furrows in horror.
“Is something wrong?” she asks.
“Yeah, her mother’s a bi… witch,” he corrects himself, noting all of the young ears around that can hear him. “I need her to sign a notarized document for Sophie to get a passport since she can’t physically come with me to apply for the passport and she’s giving me a hard time.” Daddy scoffs.
“Does Sophie know?” he asks.
“Unfortunately, she does,” he says. “I couldn’t keep it from her. I’m supposed to go to the prison this week to get her to sign it, but I know this woman. She’s selfish and manipulative and if she doesn’t sign the paper soon, Sophie won’t be able to go.”
“Well, that sucks,” Daddy says.
“You say both parents,” Luma says. “The girls…”
“You are their only guardian,” Christian says, “so you can sign alone.” Luma sighs heavily and nods.
“What about Harry?” Daddy asks. “He’s a baby. Will he need one?”
“Every United States citizen needs one to travel to another country and get back into the US,” I tell him. “Do you have one, Daddy?” He shakes his head.
“No,” he says. “I’ve never had a reason to leave the country… except when I was active duty.”
“Make that two of us,” Mandy says.
“Well, then you can all go together,” I say. “You’ve got enough time, but you don’t want to wait much longer.”
“Much longer for what?”
I hear the voice that is always welcome in our house, but I’m beginning to dread hearing it.
“Hey, Marlow,” Christian says, rising from his seat and shaking his hand. “We were just talking about passports. The family is going to Italy this summer, so everyone’s passports need to be in order. Do you have one?” He shrugs.
“I have to ask my mom,” he says. “We went to Jamaica once before my father lost his mind, so I might have one, but it’s probably expired.”
“Then, you just have to get it renewed…” Christian continues to talk to Marlow about the trip and needed a passport for him, Marcia, and Maggie, and I’m keeping an eye on the patio door to the kitchen looking for Sophie, noting that Marlow has brought yet another flavor of the month to our home. I don’t want to be rude, but these girls don’t last even to the next holiday. So, I’m not sure why he brings them around.
This one, today… dear God. If Sophie wants to poke at her, she’ll be spoiled for choice. She looks like Buffy the Vampire Slayer with way too much makeup on and not enough clothes. She’s wearing this spaghetti-string corset thing and it’s nowhere near warm enough for something like that. Her skirt is only long enough to cover her unmentionables and she’s wearing sky-high-heeled shoes… to a barbeque!
She’s hanging on Christian’s every word as he’s telling Marlow about the trip and I so desperately want to tell her that my husband isn’t interested in toddlers. I throw a look over at Val and she looks just as bemused back at me. I try very hard not to judge a book by its cover, but this girl has sure thing written all over her and I feel like I should be having the condom conversation again with Marlow right here and right now.
“I, uh, think I’m going to go check on the rest of the meat,” Jason says, rising from his perch next to Christian’s empty seat. “It should be about done, now.”
He heads off to the outdoor kitchen and Val scoots a little closer to Elliot. Grace makes a face like she needs to put something in her mouth before the wrong thing flies out of it and quickly takes a sip of her wine. This is ridiculous. This child is making the adults uncomfortable.
“Ana, this is Rochelle.” Why are you introducing me? It’s not like she’s ever coming back… and she has to know how she looks.
“Hi,” I say, half-heartedly.
“Hi,” she says with a small wave. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Thank you,” I say with a nod. “Have a seat…” before your ass pops out of that dress. She smiles and takes a seat at the table.
Oh, shit, not at the table.
Marlow takes a seat next to her, smiling in her face the whole time. A few minutes later, my fears are confirmed when Sophie walks out of the house. I can feel the animosity radiating off of her as she walks towards the table. She doesn’t speak to anyone or acknowledges anyone’s presence. She just let it rip.
“Aren’t you cold?” Sophie asks. Oh, dear God, here it comes.
“No,” Rochelle replies. “In fact, I’m quite hot.” She throws a look over at Marlow.
“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Sophie says, her voice low as she puts the coleslaw on the table, but not low enough. Rochelle scoffs a condescending laugh and turns back to Marlow, who is only too happy to give her the attention she’s seeking. He’s nearly falling all over the girl as Sophie goes back into the house. Several minutes later, she comes back out with a tray and just can’t help herself.
“It probably takes forever for some girls to get dressed,” she says to no one in particular, putting the tray on the table, “and they probably don’t even look like their real selves when they’re done.”
Rochelle sits up in her seat and glares at Sophie, and I’m certain the battle is about to begin…
But Marlow’s going to end it.
“Is she the help?” Rochelle asks in the snottiest, most irritating voice I’ve ever heard. Oh, shit… that was… ouch.
“No,” Marlow says, his voice disgusted. “She’s my bratty little sister and she doesn’t know how to behave around company.”
I can almost feel the knife slowly searing into Sophie’s skin and piercing her little heart.
“Si…” she says, almost inaudibly.
“I thought you said your sister’s name was Marty,” Rochelle says.
“Maggie,” Marlow corrects, “but Sophia is kinda like a sister, too. She’s just a whole lot brattier than Maggie. Just ignore her. Don’t listen to anything she says and don’t feed into any of her little snide comments. Maybe she’ll go away!”
Marlow stands, takes Rochelle’s hand, and moves to the other side of the patio. To say that Sophie is crestfallen is an understatement. She looks like she’s been hit by an 18-wheeler.
“I… have to use the bathroom,” she says, and darts back into the house before I can stop her. As she’s clearing the door, Val comes over to me.
“So, this is how teenagers are dressing now?” she says, quickly glancing over at Rochelle before looking back to me.
“I certainly hope not,” I reply, sipping my Cabernet. “If it is, we’re screwed.”
“Why would he bring someone around the family dressed like that?” she presses.
“I don’t know,” I tell her. “It’s a different girl every time. I don’t even bother remembering their names because I know I’ll never see them again. I told Christian to talk to him about it, but I think Christian just has that boys will be boys thing going on, and if I say anything to him, it’s just like I’m busting his chops, so…” Val shakes her head.
“It’s no mistake she’s a good time,” she says, looking over at them again. “This is what he wants to bring around the people he considers family?” I shrug.
“He’s young,” I reply.
“He’s almost 18,” Val removes the excuse. “He should know better.”
“I guess he should, but are you going to tell him?” I ask, sipping my wine again. She twists her lips and sips her own.
“She pulls at that skirt every time she moves,” Val says. “If she doesn’t, she’s going to have a wardrobe malfunction.”
Val goes back over to Elliot and doesn’t leave his side for the rest of the party. Christian makes his way back to me and eventually, everyone is having a good time at the barbeque again.
Everyone, that is, except Sophie.
She’s got that green look that she had at Mia’s wedding when the first “Marlow Girl” made a comment about taking her clothes off is he didn’t like them. She truly looks like she’s going to hurl, and she subjects herself to this torture all afternoon while everyone else is conversing, eating, and enjoying the barbeque. I glance over at her often throughout the day and she’s often looking over at Marlow and his trashy dime-store date. They, however, don’t look in her direction once.
She’s crushed. It’s written all over her face.
As the party winds down and the sun is beginning to set, I begin to help Gail clear the dishes and the leftover food. I’ve lost track of Sophie, Marlow, and his dime-store date as I help to move the food back into the kitchen. None of them are on the patio when I make the next trip out to help clean up.
Just as I’m about to head back to the kitchen again, I see Sophie hastily walking across the back yard towards the jungle patio. I just watch her for a moment, and even with the darkening sky, I can see that she’s pale as a ghost. As she gets closer to the jungle patio, I can see her face… and the tears.
She quickens her pace and stays in the shadows where she thinks no one can see her. At the last moment, she veers left and dashes into her apartment, closing the door behind her.
What the hell happened?
I dare not ask. If she’s crying, it had to be pretty bad. I don’t see Marlow running behind her or storming up to me to angrily tell me that he and his date are leaving. So, I have no idea what’s happened.
Christian’s voice brings me out of my thoughts.
“You okay?” he asks. I wave him off.
“I was just daydreaming,” I say as I continue to clear the table.
“I’ve got that, Ana,” Gail says, taking the remaining and trays and trash from me.
“You’re sure?” I ask.
“I’m sure. Go on,” she says. I turn to Christian and we walk into the house.
“Has Marlow left?” I ask, trying to get a feel of what’s going on. Christian shrugs.
“He didn’t say anything to me,” he says. “He’s probably wandering around somewhere.” I purse my lips and nod.
“What is it, Butterfly?” he says, and I look up at him.
“Seriously, Christian?” I say finally. “This one? Seriously?” He furrows his brow.
“What one? What are you talking about?” I fold my arms and glare at him.
“Christian, he fucking brought a Wild Thing to my house! I’m surprised she didn’t hump him right there on the sofa and start giving all the guys lap dances!”
“You’re exaggerating,” he says. My head jerks back and I give him such a look…
“Okay, okay,” he says, putting his hands up in surrender. “I’ll talk to him.”
“You always say that!” I accuse, my hands flailing. “He keeps bringing these girls here—a new on every time—and this one? Oh, she’s a real keeper!” I say sarcastically.
“You’re taking this a bit personally,” he says. I shift my weight on my heels. He’s right, I am taking it personally. I want to know what’s wrong with Sophie, but this part is different.
“This girl came to my house with no consideration of the fact that she was going to be sitting in the company of other men—married men. None of the men at this gathering were single except the one that brought her, my baby brother, and my son. My father was here, your father was here, and I found myself looking across the patio most of the afternoon making sure that she didn’t have a slip of the snatch! What’s worse is that he brought her here looking like that. She completely looked like she was about to get on the pole…”
My husband begins making this shushing tsking sound to get my attention. I look in the direction that he’s looking, and I see Marlow and Barbarella approach the patio and head towards the door. Where the hell have they been?
They walk up to me and Christian quite casually and that’s when I notice that Babs’ way-to-heavy lipstick has been haphazardly freshened up and Marlow is loose as a noodle. I look knowingly—and displeased—over at Christian and back to the lovely couple.
“We’re going to head on out,” Marlow says with a contented smile. “I need to get Rochelle home.”
“Okay, well, thanks for coming,” Christian says, shaking Marlow’s hand. Marlow smiles and nods. I must be glaring at him because he would normally try to hug me, but this time he doesn’t.
“It was nice meeting you,” Babs says.
“Mmm,” I say pasting the phoniest smile on my face that I can muster. It’s not even a full smile. I don’t want this girl to feel like she’s welcome in my house ever again, dressed like she should be standing on the corner. She and Marlow both look at Christian, then make a hasty getaway. Once they’re out of my house, I turn to Christian.
You know what the hell they were doing, I say with my eyes.
“Okay—I will talk to him,” he promises again.
“Mm-hmm,” I say, turning on my heels and marching away from him.
“What the hell was that you brought to my house this weekend?” I confront Marlow a couple of days later.
“Who, Rochelle?” he asks bemused.
“Yeah, Superhead!” I accuse. His eyes widen.
“How did you…”
“Are you serious?” I accuse. “Besides the fact that she had dick on her breath and no common sense to have a damn mint in her purse? Her lipstick was all fucked up and you didn’t have a smear of it on you, so I know where she must’ve left it.” He chuckles.
“She was gagging for it, man,” he brags.
“She almost got gagged,” I retort, “by several angry females! What the fuck is wrong with you bringing someone dressed and behaving like Janet Jack-Me around a house full of married men and women?”
“I… I’m sorry. I didn’t think it was that bad,” he excuses. I look at him like he’s lost his mind, because at this moment, he has!
“Okay, okay. She looked a little sexy…”
“A little sexy?” I accuse. He sighs heavily.
“Look,” I begin, “I usually don’t have a problem with you bringing girls around. Ana has asked me more than once to talk to you about it because it’s a different one every time. But this time, man… I should’ve put you out the minute you showed up with her, but I was giving you—and her—the benefit of the doubt. Not only did she have her goods on display for you and everybody at the party, but she gave you a blowjob in the woods. Are you that comfortable at my home that you feel like you can disrespect it that way?” His eyes widen.
“No!” he exclaims. “No, it was nothing like that…”
“It was just like that and don’t try to clean it up,” I tell him. “I’m not going to tell you who to fuck, but I’m definitely going to tell you to be more mindful of who you’re bringing to my house. I don’t know if you’re on a marathon to get all the ass you can or what. I don’t know what the purpose of the parade of twats is through my house, but if you ever pull something like that again, I’m going to throw you and your latest plaything off my property and then you won’t be able to bring any dates to my home. Knowing Ana the way you do, I have no idea what made you think that would be okay, but I will cut you off completely before I have to deal with an angry Anastasia Grey. Have I made myself clear?” He swallows hard.
“Ye… yes, sir,” he chokes. I shake my head.
“Get to school. I got things to do.” I end the conversation abruptly and look down at my desk. I have other things to be concerned about today. Jason and I are heading to the prison to see if this wretched piece of flesh is going to sign the paperwork for Sophie’s passport. Apparently, when you go to jail, they take your ID from you. So, they need a credible witness to identify you as you in order to have the necessary documents notarized. I don’t know that Marlow has left my office until I hear Jason’s voice.
“What did Marlow do wrong?” he asks. I raise my gaze.
“Why do you ask?” I say.
“His face looks like one of your department heads after you or Her Highness has chewed them out at one of those meetings,” he replies.
“That’s just about right,” I say, standing and locking my laptop. “Did you see that specimen he brought to my house this weekend?”
“Kind of hard to miss,” he replies. “Is this the stuff these kids are made of now? Is this what I have to look forward to with Sophie?”
“I would say not,” I reply, making sure that my wallet, keys, and phone are all in my pocket. “Sophie has a good head on her shoulders. You won’t be seeing that from her.” Jason shakes his head.
“I know you’re right, but damn, man. What was she—16, 17? She looked like she was ready to work Aurora Avenue!” I put my finger to my lips to silence him as we leave the office.
“I’ve got my cell, Andrea,” I tell her. “Emergencies only.”
“Yes, sir. Have a good day Mr. Grey, Mr. Taylor.” Jason nods.
“You, too. Bye, Luma,” I call out to my aunt.
“Bye, Christian. Have a good day.”
We board the elevator, and the conversation about Marlow’s sex doll resumes.
“I had to tell him that shit was unacceptable,” I say. “He’s being a bit careless as it is, and I had to remind him of all the things that could happen when you have that many sex partners. Hell, he’s ahead of me right now in volume, and we both know that I’m far from chaste!” Jason nearly chokes on his laughter.
“Yeah, it’s funny until he catches something,” I say, “or worse yet, he brings someone into the house that should have been vetted.”
Jason’s laughter fades.
“Butterfly’s been giving me hell about it for the last few days. I was trying to find the words to say to him. Hell if I know what to say to a teenager about sex—look at my track record.” Jason twists his lips. The elevator opens and we’re silent until we get to the Audi and get on our way.
“That’s why we had to come to the office first,” he says, once we’ve cleared the parking structure.
“That’s why we had to come to the office first,” I confirm. “She asked me more than once to talk to him about the number of girls he brings to the house. I’ll admit, I blew it off. He’s a young, attractive guy. As long as he’s using protection and not leading any of these girls on, why can’t he taste the flavors of the rainbow? But this one? This weekend? We all knew that flavor whether we wanted to or not! Butterfly was not pleased.”
“You don’t have to tell me. You almost didn’t get your meat! Gail took one look at that child with all her goods on display and banned me from the patio.” I chuckle.
“I wondered where you had gotten off to… and why Gail brought out the spareribs,” I say.
“Well, now you know,” he says. “I gladly had my wife bring me food and beer, and me, Ray, and Carrick watched the Mariners game.” I raise my brow.
“I didn’t know Ray and Dad disappeared, too.” Jason scoffs.
“I’m surprised you noticed anybody disappeared,” he says. “Did you even see what that girl was wearing before Ana told you?”
I try to remember if I noticed her apparel before Butterfly gave her the cold shoulder in the family room.
“I don’t know,” I shrug.
“You had your wife in your lap for most of the day,” he says, “and you were sporting the biggest sex grin I’ve ever seen. That’s why Ray came to watch the game. That’s still his little girl, you know.” I frown.
“Oh, please,” I say, a bit affronted. “We’re married, she has two of my children, and we’ve had the BDSM conversation with this man. That couldn’t be why he left. That’s what he told you.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Jason laughs, “but you still didn’t see the girl until your wife brought her to your attention.”
“Okay, you’re right,” I cede, “but now you know why he was looking blue when he left this room. She literally served herself up at a family barbeque. A family barbeque! Notwithstanding all the husbands and fathers that were present, there were children in attendance! Even if this girl was completely oblivious to where she was coming, Marlow knew!”
“Well, I can pretty much guarantee that he won’t make that mistake again,” Jason says.
“He better not,” I reply. “Butterfly’s already not pleased with the number of girls that he brings to the house. If the quality deteriorates, she might ban him completely!” I roll my eyes and decide to change the subject.
“Wasn’t this the weekend you were supposed to take Sophie to see Shalane?” I ask. He nods.
“Supposed to,” he says, “but she gets two weekends a month. I can choose which two. I know Sophie’s not speaking to her until she signs those papers, so I decided that we wouldn’t go until after her appointment to sign. This way, when I take her up there this weekend, if Shalane decides to pull one of her tricks today, she can tell Sophie why she didn’t sign the papers.”
“I wouldn’t put it past her,” I say, “tell you that she’s going to sign the papers just to get Sophie to speak to her, then renege when the time comes.” Jason nods.
“That’s why I didn’t take her up there this weekend,” he says. “After everything she’s put that child through, it’s beyond me why she’s not bending over backwards for that kid now. She’s in jail. Even though it’s minimum security and she’s not doing hard time, she’s alone. She has no friends unless she has made some on the inside, nothing to look forward to when she gets out of there—no significant other; wherever her family is, they’re not coming around, no nothing. All she has to look forward to is Sophie’s visits every two weeks and when Sophie comes, she’s totally silent.
“This is torture for Sophie even if she doesn’t say so. The last time we visited, Sophie turned her back on her—for the whole visit! We’ve both just had enough. That’s why she said she’ll believe it when she sees it.’ She’s resolved. She expects her mother to disappoint her before she does anything kind.”
“So, what if we go through all of this and she still says that Sophie can’t go?” I ask.
“I’ll get notarized permission to take her to Italy just like I’ll get the notarized permission for the passport, but honestly, it’s just like when I took her to Vegas. Once I get the passport, as long as I let the court know where I’m taking her, it won’t be a problem,” he says.
“Well, here’s hoping,” I say. “That woman has been such a wretched mother to that child, this is the very least that she can do.”
“You would think,” he concurs, “but remember who we’re talking about her. The best thing that ever happened to my daughter was that drug bust or she could’ve ended up in a child sex ring. Can you even fucking imagine?”
A quick and deliberate flash of heat and rage runs through me, and I have to fight not to react. Imagine saying that the best thing that could happen to your 12-year-old daughter was a drug bust!
“No,” I say, summoning as much calm as I can, “no, I can’t.”
After being stripped of everything except our ID’s for the purposes of the meeting, we head to the security door to be taken in to see Jason’s ex-wife. I had forgotten what the inside of these facilities looked like. I could’ve gone my whole life without that little piece of knowledge. Geez, you deck one drunk driver…
Jason and I enter the meeting room and take a seat at the table. Neither of us says anything as Jason is convinced that every single room in a prison has recording devices—except the cells. A few minutes later, the prison notary comes into the room with a prison guard. He introduces himself and explains what the process will be to get the documents notarized, after which he takes my license and Jason’s license and records some information into a logbook that he brought with him. Not long after, another guard leads Shalane into the meeting room. She grimaces a bit when she sees me.
“Christian,” she says through her teeth.
“Shalane,” I respond with no malice. Her fight isn’t with me.
“Why is he here?” she seethes.
“Not happy to see me?” I reply. “Strange. You would have jumped my bones in front of my family and my pregnant wife on Thanksgiving Day two years ago.”
“Temporary insanity,” she hisses has she takes her seat. I turn to the prison notary.
“Is that enough for you?” I ask.
“That’s enough for me,” he says. “Do you swear or affirm that this person, Shalane Deleroy, is who she claims to be, so help you God?”
“I do,” I reply.
“Why did you need him to tell you that?” she says
“Because the documents have to be notarized and you’re a criminal with no ID,” Jason replies. She turns a hateful eye to him.
“Any of this lovely prison staff could’ve attested to my identity,” she sneers. “Well, now we’ve got it, so let’s get this over,” she adds. “I’m being blackmailed into doing this, so let’s get it done.”
“Blackmailed?” the notary says. Oh, shit… “What does she mean ‘blackmailed?’”
“I don’t know,” Jason says, his anger brewing. “What do you mean?”
“He’s turned my daughter against me,” she announces. “He won’t let her speak to me until I sign these papers.” Jason rolls his eyes.
“Is that true, Mr. Taylor?” the notary asks. This bitch…
“That most certainly is not!” he replies. “Sophia knows that she can’t go to Italy this summer without these papers. She also knows that her mother is refusing to sign them. For that reason, probably among many others, she will not speak to her mother.”
“That’s a lie,” Shalane retorts. “You told her not to speak to me until I sign the papers.” Jason drops his head in frustration.
“I can’t believe we’re going through this again,” he mumbles. The notary and I hear it and the notary looks at me. I shake my head in frustration as well.
“You have no idea what this man has been through with this woman,” I say. “He gained custody of his daughter when he had to pick her up from the police station to prevent her being taken by child services because this woman took her daughter on a drug drop where she was trying to trade her daughter for meth.”
“That is not true!” Shalane outbursts. “I was not trying to sell my daughter to that guy and there’s no proof of that!”
“That’s not what Sophie remembers,” I reply calmly.
“She was scared,” Shalane excuses. “She didn’t understand what was going on.”
“As well she should have been,” I retort. “She shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”
“You know what?” Jason says, straightening his back. “I’m done with you. I’m done with this whole thing, and I’m done with you. You don’t need to convince me, Christian, the court or anybody else that you didn’t try to sell your daughter to a meth dealer. You know who you do need to convince? Your daughter! To this day, she maintains that you tried to give her to that guy, and she was only 12 years old!”
The notary gasps.
“There wasn’t enough proof to charge you with it but she has convicted you,” Jason continues. “Her opinion of you is the only one that counts. When are you going to understand that? You used her against me for years, and now she sees it. She sees it all, Shalane! Nobody’s turning Sophia against you but you and your selfish and insidious behavior!
“If you’ve never listened to me before, listen to me now. There’s nothing that I can’t give her, and I’m going to give her everything that she deserves, everything that you kept me from doing for her for the last several years. She’s a good kid, and she’s smart, and she’s talented, and she doesn’t give me or Gail a moment’s trouble. Everybody who ever meets her loves her. She’s wise beyond her years—way too much wisdom for her age, thanks to you. And by the way, I now know that horrible scar on her hand did not come from falling off a bike.”
Shalane gasps audibly and her eyes widen as the prison guards and notary watch the story unfold in silent disdain.
“She’ll be 14 in a few days,” he adds. “In two years, she’ll be 16 and able to say that she never wants to see you again. In four years, she’ll be 18 and able to jet set to anywhere any time her heart so desires and my wallet will allow. If we have to wait until then, we will, but you remember this. You’re preventing her from having the experience of a lifetime because you’re pissed at me, and you’re pissed that you’re in a situation of your own making and you’re taking it out on your daughter.
“You want to call me names and cast me into hell, fine. I can take it. But rest assured that your daughter will never forget this, among the many other things that your daughter will never forget, for the rest of her life. If you want to sign the papers, then sign the damn papers. If you don’t want to sign them, then don’t. She won’t be surprised if you don’t sign them. She’s expecting you to be the same selfish, manipulating, lying… female you’ve been all these years! If you want to surprise her, sign the papers. If not, we’re leaving, and this conversation is over.”
He steps back and allows the notary to step in front of him. Jason has taken “the stance” and I know that his end of this conversation is indeed over. Shalane looks at him, her expression unreadable, and I think she sees the same thing that I see when I look back at Jason. He’s not looking at her anymore. He’s looking through her. He doesn’t even see her. She could most likely rattle off a line of curses and condemnations right now and he would most likely not even remember the conversation. Shalane sighs, takes the pen from the notary, and signs the documents.
Fuck, yes! I almost want to dance a fucking jig in the middle of the room.
“Take me back to my cell,” she says quietly. She stands and the guard leads her out of the room. I turn around to Jason when the door closes and he visibly releases the breath that he was holding, closing his eyes in obvious relief.
“I didn’t think she would do it,” he says. “You know how she operates…”
“I know only too well,” I reply.
“I was prepared to go home and tell Baby Boo it was a false alarm, that she wasn’t going to be able to go to Italy until she was 18. She’s been so sad over the last couple of days and I don’t know why. I didn’t want to have to tell her that.” He opens his eyes, moist with tears, and looks at me.
“She can go,” he says, wistfully. “She can go to Italy… what did I say to that woman?” he says, his brow furrows.
“You don’t remember?” I ask. He shakes his head.
“Not all of it,” he admits. I nod.
“You told her to be a decent human being for once in her life—to stop thinking about herself, or even about you, and to only think about Sophie,” I tell him.
“I said that?” he asks, his voice cracking.
“Not in those exact words, but yeah,” I say, looking over at the notary who has finished signing and stamping the documents before placing them in an envelope and handing them to Jason.
“Yeah,” he says with a nod. Jason takes the envelope and purses his lips.
“Thank you, sir,” he says to the notary.
“You’re welcome,” he says, giving Jason’s shoulder a squeeze. “Have a good trip.” Jason nods without raising his head.
“Now, you probably want to pull yourself together because you wouldn’t want to walk through this place with tears in your eyes,” I tell him. He nods quickly, then retrieves his handkerchief and dries his eyes thoroughly. He squares his shoulders and pops his neck.
“I’m ready, sir,” he says. And he is.
The guard escorts the three of us from the room.
I spent the day going through the finances for Helping Hands. We had been spending quite a bit on the new staff and programs, and I needed to know exactly where we were in terms of cashflow and expenditures. As it turned out, we’ve been spending more than I thought we were—not much more, but more. However, our sources of cashflow have increased tremendously since we started.
The full story about the trial in Las Vegas has now been told, and it has strategically been leaked that I became part of the mental health field as a result of my own experiences as a child. It was also leaked that I and Grace provide our services for free as we donate our salaries back to the Center. That was better than another PSA in terms of boosting independent contributions. We even secured a couple of corporate contributions as well as a small percentage of wage-match contributions. I’m considering some kind of fundraiser or bizarre for next year as this summer is pretty much booked for the Grey family, but we really don’t need one with all of the sources we have right now.
We had been using money faster than we were bringing it in, so we didn’t have an opportunity to notice that we had a steady influx of cash from Miana’s. It was small at first, for several months, and that’s why we didn’t see it. However, just after Liamgate, the amounts from the salon chain became quite substantial. I don’t know what made the difference, because I slightly remember Christian saying just after he had seized the salons from Elena that his share of the profits would go to Helping Hands in hopes of helping other victims of abuse. I’ll make it a point to ask Mia what changed.
Along with our usual fund-raising activities and the continuous contributions and pledges that stemmed from my public appearances, we’re waiting to hear about our grant approvals, and we’ve got a tidy little sum from Tina’s jewelry auction. Seeing the entry from the auction prompted me to call Carl and see how he was coming along. He’s partially retired now as he’s only disposing of and assisting with the estates of his remaining clients before he completely closes up shop. He told me that Tina’s children have tried to get in touch with him on more than one occasion, but after he divided Tina’s assets among them, he threatened them with restraining orders if they didn’t stop contacting him—all except Harmony, of course.
I’ve been meaning to ask Harmony what ever happened with her siblings breaking and entering on the property and if any formal charges have been brought against them. I don’t know that I’ll ask until and if she brings it up to me. It might be a sore spot and we don’t want that.
When I get home, I have pictures and videos of Aaron’s progress so far with the villa. Not having to paint or renovate means that the decorating is moving along even more quickly than either of us thought it would, which is good as we are about six weeks away from leaving. It’s also costing a pretty tidy sum as all of the items must either be purchased locally in Rome, Milan, or the surrounding areas, or purchased online and shipped in. I’ve decided not to tell Christian about the amount I’m spending unless he asks. We’re rich anyway, and it serves him right. What would you expect for a 14-bedroom house? I’m extremely grateful, of course, but 14 bedrooms? Whoever heard of such a thing?
I call Sophie to my office so that we can see some of the results of our hard work. She seems a bit under-enthusiastic when she gets there.
“Hey, you okay?” I ask, concerned about her melancholy. She shrugs.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she replies, blandly. It then occurs to me that Jason and Christian were supposed to go to the prison today to get the papers for her passport signed. Maybe it was a bust, but I won’t ask.
“Would you… rather not look at the pictures?” I ask cautiously. “I’ll understand.” She comes to attention a bit.
“Oh! Oh, no, I’d really like to see the pictures,” she says. “It’s not you or… this or anything, Aunt Ana. I just… I’m not in a really good mood, that’s all. Maybe seeing the villa will help.”
I can’t help but wonder if something happened in school. Then, I remember this weekend and Marlow’s eager and underdressed date. She can’t still be sulking about that… well, actually, she can. Nonetheless, I greet her with a smile and get back to the matter at hand.
“Well, then, roll your chair on over here and let’s see what our decorator extraordinaire has for us.”
Sophie and I take several minutes to review the pictures that Aaron sent us. It appears that he felt no reason to wait on the bedrooms since they were the easiest to do. The children’s room was the simplest since we had sent him the exact beds that we wanted, but the rest of the bedrooms are a delicious and eclectic mix of old-world with a touch of modern mixed with the baroque and rococo styles.
One room has a large, overbearing deep chestnut platform bed—a mix of modern and vintage—paneled with dark marble inlays that look almost like leopard print and what appears to be bronze cherubs mounted on the footboard facing out to the room. It takes up nearly the entire room. I never would have thought to put a bed this big in a room this small, but its commanding presence makes a statement that it should be alone in this space.
The next picture that we see is a total contrast from the first! Dark wood ceiling in uneven cuts and tones… but walls covered in a floral cloth. It’s not a “oh-dear-Lord-gag-me-I-can’t-stand-this” type of floral pattern. It’s white with single flowers in even symmetrical lines. Again, not something that I would have chosen, but the wall covering is in such contrast to the dark wood ceiling that it actually works to capture the natural light and set the ceiling off as an accent. Now, I know that he didn’t alter any walls, so I’m assuming this is how it looked when he got there but tell me how he found a perfect match to that pattern in bedding and chair covers. I can’t say I’m really feeling this one, but maybe it’ll grow on me.
The rest of the bedrooms are all simple or elegant or both, and overall, Sophie and I are pleased with our work and Aaron’s interpretation. He has told us that he will now work on the sitting and common areas and apprise us of his progress in a week. Sophie seems in a better mood after we’ve looked at the pictures and we head upstairs to dinner.
Dinner conversation seems perfectly dull and I can’t help but wonder—again—if things didn’t go as planned with Shalane. I would have thought that if it were good news, Jason would be chomping at the bit to tell Sophie when he got back, but now we’re down to dessert and still nothing. Not able to stand the elephant in the room, I turn the attention to Sophie without mentioning Italy.
“Sophie tells me that her birthday is on the 5th,” I say. “I hope I’m not spoiling anything by asking if there’s something planned. It’ll should be a beautiful day and a great chance for a party.” Sophie frowns at the thought.
“Well, we hadn’t planned anything special,” Gail says. “We thought we’d leave it up to Sophie.”
“So, Baby Boo, did you want a party?” Jason asks. “You know it doesn’t take long to get the festivities planned,” he adds happily. Sophie shakes her head.
No, Dad, I don’t want a party,” Sophie protests. “No offense, Aunt Ana, but I really don’t want a party.” Jason frowns and I’m a bit taken aback. Since when does a teenage girl not want a party for her birthday.
“Why don’t you want a party, Pumpkin?” Gail asks, deflated.
“I just… I don’t remember ever having one and I really don’t want one now. Can we just go to Mexicantown like we did last year? Please?”
“Are you sure Baby Boo?” Jason asks. She nods.
“Yes, I’m sure. We had fun and that’s good enough for me. Momma Gail, you can come, too… and Aunt Ana and Uncle Christian, but that’s all. That would be great.”
She sounds sincere and I can’t figure out for the life of me why she wouldn’t want a party with all the trimmings. We could throw her a great party, one that she wouldn’t soon forget. She could invite her friends and…
That’s when it dawns on me.
A party means the gathering of people—family and friends, and that usually means Marlow and one of his girls, and I would venture to say that Sophie doesn’t want her party to be attended by Marlow and one of his girls, but how do you say that?
By declining a party altogether, she can avoid that eventuality… and suddenly, I’m angry with Marlow again. Did Christian ever talk to him about that little twat he brought to my house on Saturday?
“I think that sounds like a lot of fun,” I concur with Sophie, “but I reserve the right to buy you a present. You’ve worked so hard on the decorating with me. If I had to do it all by myself, it would have been a nightmare.” Sophie smiles widely.
“It’s fun,” Sophie says. “It makes me feel like a grown-up.”
“Well, look out, Jason, because I’m telling you now that your daughter has exquisite taste. I’ll have you know that she chose the beds for the twins’ room.”
“You don’t say,” Christian says. I nod
“I do say, and they’re perfect,” I add.
“Speaking of presents, Baby Boo, can I give you one of your birthday presents early?” Jason asks. Sophie stops chewing for a moment, then puts her fork down.
“Sure, Dad,” she says after swallowing her food. “Who doesn’t like early presents?” she adds with a smile.
Jason reaches into his pocket and pulls out an envelope, then hands it to Sophie. She wipes her hands and dabs her lips with her napkin and takes the envelope. She withdraws the contents and unfolds the documents inside. Her eyes widen as she reads through them.
“No way!” she exclaims turning to her father. He nods.
“Yep,” he replies.
“Get outta town she signed ‘em!?” Sophie squeals all in one breath. I turn to Christian in amazement and he nods.
“She signed them,” Jason confirms. “We’re going to Italy, Baby Boo.”
Oh, thank God! This is fabulous news! Absolutely fabulous!
Sophie screams joyously, leaps from her seat and runs to her father’s arms. He catches her midleap and laughs a contagious laugh along with her.
“Aunt Ana, I’m gonna see the villa! And I’m going to cook in Italy!” She says the last part while shaking her hair wildly.
“That, you are, Ms. Sophia!” I confirm, gleefully.
Gail and Jason make plans to take Sophie to the post office tomorrow to get things moving on her passport. Christian and I had gotten the twins squared away back when we first decided that we would be taking the trip this summer. I’m hoping that all the other parents will have the passports ready for the other minors when the time comes. Once dinner is over, I pull Sophie aside to have a private chat with her before she turns in.
“So, you’re going to Italy. What do you think about that?” I ask.
“I think it’s great!” she says gleefully. “I really didn’t think I was going to be able to go. I’m so excited!”
“I just wanted to talk to you for a minute, because I don’t want a potentially wonderful trip to be completely spoiled for you,” I say. Her face falls.
“How?” she asks. I sigh heavily.
“Marlow,” I say, without hesitation. She rolls her eyes and sighs heavily.
“Oh, that,” she says, deflated.
“Yes, that,” I reply. “You know he’s going to be there, and I haven’t seen an encounter between the two of you in months that I would even consider civil. We’re going to be staying in the same villa—all of us—for two weeks. It’s a big villa, but you’re going to run into each other at some point. I want us all to have a good time, you and Marlow included, but if we need to set some ground rules for that to happen, maybe we can work something out.”
“Aunt Ana, I’m so happy that I get to go to Italy that I can’t even think about anything else. I’m going to go on the internet and see what things I can see while we’re there and then I’ll ask Dad or Momma Gail to take me. I’m going to study some authentic Italian dishes and then see if I can learn to cook them while I’m there. I’m going to be doing other things—lots of other things—and I won’t even be thinking about Marlow.”
Translation—she’s going to chock her time full of Italy stuff so that she won’t have to be concerned with Marlow. It sounds a lot like evading to me, but she’s young and she’s doing what she can not to concentrate on her little crush on him. Who am I kidding? Adults do that often. She’s way ahead of her time.
“Let’s talk about last Saturday,” I say, causing her to sigh again and roll her eyes in that petulant teenage girl way.
“Do we have to?” she whines.
“Yes, we have to,” I say. “It’s part of the problem. I usually feel like you should behave yourself better when company comes to the house… but this one!” My eyes widen and I shake my head. “She really was a character, wasn’t she?”
Sophie loosens up a bit, but only a bit.
“Yeah… she was,” she agrees. “Her skirt was so short…”
“And all that makeup!” I say, remember her comment about how long it takes for certain girls to get dressed and how the finished product almost always doesn’t look like the original person. Sophie sighs again.
“I thought that much makeup wasn’t good for your skin,” she says. “How does it even come off?” I chuckle.
“One day, you’ll find out,” I say. “You’ll be wearing makeup, too.”
“Not like that,” she says, pointedly. “You wear makeup. So does Momma Gail. And Auntie Val, Miss Grace, Miss Mandy… you guys don’t look like that!”
“Well, sweetheart, sometimes some people feel like more is better…” Case and point, my husband and the 14-bedroom villa!
“Sophie, you’re such a mature young lady. You baffle us all the time with your knowledge and your ability and sometimes, your ambition. Even though you were hurt about your mother and what she was doing—or not doing—you handled it in a such a mature way even though you were hurting and we all knew it. We were… are all very impressed, and we’re probably just as happy as you are that you’re going to Italy. But sweety, even things that are right there in our faces sometimes have to be ignored.”
Sophie’s wide blue eyes fix on mine.
“She was… extremely inappropriate. Val and I even had a few words between us when they went to the other side of the patio, but those words were between us. No one else heard what we were talking about. That’s not to say that it’s okay to talk about people behind their backs, but it’s even worse to outright insult them in front of everyone, even when they have it coming.”
“I know,” she says, almost a mumble.
“I know you do,” I reply, my voice understanding, “so can you tell me why you do that?”
“I don’t know,” she fibs. She knows, she just doesn’t want to tell me. “Whenever I see them, it just flies out! I just wonder why they show up for Christmas or something at somebody’s house they don’t even know.” She’s searching.
“Because they were invited,” I say. “Would you want someone to make you feel unwelcome where you were invited?”
“No,” she says, and she sounds a bit scolded.
“I’m only saying that even though someone may show up dressed like a thot, or is twirling her hair, or may be a little on the heavier side, that doesn’t give any of us the right to publicly point out their faults. It’s borders on bullying and honestly, Sophie, it’s unattractive. You’re so smart and mature most of the time. It’s not a good look at all for you to tear into his girlfriends every time they show up,” I tell her. She drops her head and sighs heavily.
“Don’t worry, Aunt Ana,” she says, her voice sad. “It won’t happen again.”
“I don’t want you to tell me that because you think it’s what I want to hear. I really want you to think about how it makes you appear…”
“No, Aunt Ana,” she says, looking up at me with glassy eyes and shaking her head. “It won’t happen again.” Well, this is the last thing I wanted to do.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
“You didn’t,” she says, trying to hide her sniffles. “He did. He called me a brat… and he’s right. And you are, too. If I can’t say anything nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all, so I won’t… and it won’t happen again.”
A tear falls from her eye and she wipes it from her cheek. God, that first crush hurts so much, and I know she’ll get over it, but she doesn’t know it yet. I pull her into my arms and hug her close.
“Well, I certainly didn’t want this,” I say, hugging her tightly. She allows herself to cry for just a moment, but quickly composes herself.
“We’re going to have such fun in Italy,” I tell her. “I want to taste all the things that you learn to cook, and I want to take you to some of the places on Lake Como and see things through your eyes…” and that’s the truth. “We’re going to have such a good time.”
“I’m so glad I get to go,” she says, squeezing me hard around my waist, her voice cracking a bit. I gently stroke her soft blonde hair as she pulls herself together. As if their timing couldn’t be any worse, Jason and Christian come through the hallway near the mudroom and into the family room where Sophie and I are talking.
“There you are. It’s bedti…” Jason trails off as he sees his daughter crying in my arms. “Baby Boo… what’s wrong?” Christian looks at me with a furrowed brow as they both await my explanation. So, I give them one.
“We were just talking about Italy and Lake Como,” I say. “She’s a bit emotional.” I won’t tell them why. I stroke her hair once more and then pull her back from me, pushing her hair of her tearstained face.
“Cooking… and sightseeing… and shopping… and all the fun Lake Como has to offer… okay?” I say to her pained blue eyes. She nods and unceremoniously wipes her cheeks. She turns and takes a few steps towards Jason, but then turns back and runs into my arms once more. I stroke her hair to comfort her just a bit before she leaves.
“Thank you, Aunt Ana,” she says. I’m not really sure why she’s thanking me, but now isn’t the time to ask.
“You’re welcome, Sophie,” I say. She releases me and walks to her father, never raising her head. He looks up at me puzzled one last time before he guides Sophie down to her apartment. Christian walks over to me, his expression as puzzled as Jason’s.
“What was that all about?” he asks, his brow furrowed.
“She’s very emotional about this whole situation, and that’s all I can tell you,” I reply. He purses his lips.
“Okay, I get that,” he says, clasping his hands in front of him. “You and I need to talk. I call downtime.”
Downtime? Why is he calling downtime?
“Why are you so horrified?” he asks.
“I’m not,” I reply. “I’m… just surprised.” He nods.
“I understand. It’s been a while,” he pulls himself up to his height and gives me his final command.
“Wait five minutes and come to our bedroom.”
I swallow hard at the sound of his Dominus voice, and find my feet planted firmly in place as he leaves me standing in our family room.
A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-misadventuresseason-v/
Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/
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