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 
https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-a-grey-christmas/

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

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

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

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

Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 25

There are three more chapters 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.

Explicit details of sex and BDSM scenes from here on out. Some may be hot while others may not be to your taste… and not necessary CG with Ana together. Proceed at your own discretion, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

This ain’t your everyday Christian and Ana story. Don’t expect anything. Just read it as it goes along or go away. 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 new saga continues…

CHAPTER 25

Trey Chapter 25

TREY

It’s Valentine’s Day…

And where I wish I were spending it with Ronnie, as a friend of course, she’s got a new beau in her life. It’s some guy that she met from one of the dating sites and this is their first date. She promises to give me all the details at our next lunch—whether he’s a dud or a stud—and I…

Well, I’m at the club taking advantage of one of the many single submissives available this evening. Tonight, it’s a gorgeous fucking redhead with an Olympic ass. I plan to oil that thing down and fuck her blind. No exhibition room for me tonight—I don’t want the distraction. I just want to fuck.

I begin the night with her squatting in front of me, my hands pinning her up-stretched arms against the wall by her wrists. I’m standing in front of her, deeply and slowly fucking her mouth and throat. Her safeword is to look up at me and blink, especially since her mouth is full and I’m almost drooling looking down at her lips wrapped around my cock while it’s disappearing into her mouth and throat. She doesn’t safeword, though. She can take it and take it she does. She’s so fucking talented that when she licks my balls with my dick still in her throat, I give her the first of many seminal salutes right down her goddamn throat.

Next, she’s in stocks with a spreader bar on her ankles, her stilettos causing her ass to toot straight up in the air, and my dick is jutting angrily right in her direction. She’s helpless and she can’t move, and I want to fuck—and fuck and fuck and fuck. I don’t care if she comes. I’m going to fuck her until I get Golden out of my head… at least for the night.

Her pussy is dripping wet in anticipation of my cock, and I’m going to give it to her, hard and deep, but first…

I oil that ass so that it’s nice and shiny, then lube her asshole thoroughly and retrieve the large glass butt plug. With no preparation, I shove it into her ass to the hilt. She gasps and her leg trembles. She likes it rough. She better, because there will be nothing tender about tonight’s fucking.

I position my head at her opening, grab her hips, and shove my cock in hard. She cries out in a high-pitched squeal. Fuck, that’s tight! And wet! And fucking hot as a goddamn sauna.

I don’t make a sound. I just concentrate on my dick—pulling it out and shoving it back in hard, deep, hot… fuck! God, it’s so fucking good. I pull out and slam into her again… and again… and again… the fucking pleasure shooting all the way to my goddamn feet. It’s hard to keep quiet, but I do, so I can pay attention to my throbbing, burning cock buried inside this eager, hot pussy.

I look down at her ass, swallowing that butt plug and rising and falling with each stroke. That shit is erotic as fuck. I grab the bottom of her ass cheeks and lift and spread, revealing my dick all wet and shiny, veiny and coated with her juices, the skin of her pussy wrapping around it and pulling as I pull out from her and resisting as I push back inside. Fuck, the sight is almost better than the feeling… which makes the feeling burn hotter.

I grit my teeth and stifle a groan as I plunge into her—deeper and harder with each stroke. I feel her start to tremor inside and my cock hardens. I throw my head back and thrust deeper and deeper, again, again, again…

I want to pull out when I feel her orgasm beginning, make her suffer, but I can’t. When she tightens around me, I look down at her ass and the butt plug is pulsing with her, every throb causing it to move. Her orgasm is so massive that although I hear her whimpering, I can only feel her pulling my dick deeper and deeper inside of her quaking pussy. I open my mouth and cum, violently, massively, and silently—the ejaculation causing my knees to buckle and my thighs to tighten. My tongue hangs far and hard out of my mouth in silent ecstasy and I’m dizzy when I’ve finally finished.

I grit my teeth and catch my breath as my cock pulses inside of her, my orgasm finally waning. I take a moment or three to get my bearings, my cock sliding out of her and my cum dripping on the floor from her open legs. That shit causes a twitch and I know I’ll be ready again in no time.

The butt plug’s gotta go, because that ass is next.

As my aching cock is getting a little air, she’s panting and still recovering from her climax. I put the spanking horse underneath her, because that body has to stay still for this ass fuck. Once she’s positioned on the spanking horse, I release her from the spreader bar. That asshole is puckering and pulsing and begging for my cock. Who am I to deny it?

I breach her rosette with the head of my cock and it slides in easily. I go further and further until I reach some resistance and she gasps. Then I take it slower until she takes all of my dick and then I thrust harder… and harder… and harder. She groans.

“Quiet!” I order, and she’s immediately silent.

Completely immobilized, she takes every deep thrust, her oily ass swallowing my cock over and over again. The site is fucking delicious. This is a perfect way to spend Valentine’s Day.

I grab her hips and slam her ass against my pelvis every time I thrust, her cheeks bouncing and wobbling from the impact and making that satisfying noise each time we make contact…

Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap!

My cock is burning from the tight friction and the vision is causing my balls to tighten. She whimpers with each thrust and I grab the frame of the stocks to get more leverage.

Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap!

Faster and harder I go, chasing this intense tightening in and below my balls. She cries a shrill cry and unless she was tightening her Kegels and had an orgasm in her pussy, she’s riding through an anal orgasm. No matter, because that ass is tightening either way.

Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap!

Thwap!

What the fuck!

I get a sting in my back that causes me to drive hard and fast into this nameless redhead with the big ass. She’s back! She’s fucking back! I’ve been trying to exorcise this shit for months. I even have a failed fucking relationship to chalk up to this shit and she’s still fucking here.

Thwap!

“Aahhh!” I cry out involuntarily, the sting going straight to my dick and causing it to swell and thicken. Still holding on to the stocks, I’m fucking her hard while I drill and grind into her ass, and in my lust and pleasure-filled haze, her flaxen red hair turns brown and whimpers are replaced with a voice more familiar.

Trey… fuck me, Trey…

Thwap!

I’m sweating like a racehorse, pounding like a jackhammer and a few moments later…

Thwap!

“Fuuuuuuuck!” I grunt in agony as the dam bursts and I’m spraying uncontrollably into her ass. My dick is thumping painfully inside her and I’m momentarily blinded by the dizzying pleasure. I don’t know what to do except stand here as the pain in my balls intensifies from the incredibly, indescribably powerful orgasm ripping through my body right now. I’m stiff and shaking at the same time as I dare to whisper her name…

“Ana…”

*-*

I’m awakened from an intensely deep sleep by my phone buzzing on the nightstand. It’s 3am. I came home and fell into an orgasm-induced sleep, angry that thoughts of Golden/Ana still haunt me during intense orgasms. I can’t seem to separate the pleasure and the pain. My first thought is that Ronnie’s date took a terrible turn and she needs me to come and get her, but when I clear the dust from my sleepy eyes…

“Mom?” I answer in a crackly sleepy voice.

“Christian…” She’s crying. What’s wrong?

“Mom, what is it?” I ask. “Is it Dad?”

“No… No… It’s… your sister,” Mom weeps into the phone, “she’s… not doing well.” I feel the blood rushing from my face.

“What do you mean she’s not doing well, Mom?” I ask. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“Mia’s… Mia’s kidneys are shutting down,” she says.

“What?” I whisper.

“It happened so fast,” she breathes. “She was on dialysis for a short while, but then… out of nowhere…” My mother breaks down into sobs.

This doesn’t happen out of nowhere. Not this. Mia either didn’t know what was going on with her body or she didn’t care, and now my Mom is crying her eyes out, afraid that she’s about to lose her daughter. Was this what Dad was talking about months ago? What’s with the cryptic shit he was saying? Why didn’t he just come straight out and tell me what was going on?

“Where are you?” I ask.

“Se… Seattle Gen,” she chokes out.

“I’m on my way, Mom,” I say, unsuccessfully attempting to mask my anger.

I blindly slide into the first clothes I get my hands on. For all I know, I could be wearing red pants, a purple shirt, and green sneakers. I text Taylor that I’m going to Seattle Gen to see about Mia and rush down to the car. I think I get it in gear and moving before I even get the door closed.

I’m talking aloud to no one the entire way wondering what the hell happened to my sister. Our fights have been some real doozies, but nothing ever bad enough that I would wish something like this on her… and I’ve got a few choice fucking words for my father when I see him, too.

My mother runs to my arms the minute I enter the waiting room for the Intensive Care Unit. I throw a hateful glare over her shoulder at my father as she cries in my chest.

“Mom, tell me what’s going on,” I say.

“I’m not totally sure,” she says, weeping bitterly. “She told me that she was going to have some simple procedure done. I knew something was wrong when I saw the shunt…”

The shunt? I never saw a shunt. Where was the damn thing?

“I asked her about it, and she confessed that she had been on dialysis for a few weeks or a few months, I don’t remember which, but she assured me that everything was okay—that they were only doing dialysis to help strengthen her kidneys…”

They generally don’t do dialysis to strengthen your kidneys that I know of. They do dialysis when your kidneys are starting to fail. I look up at my father again and I can tell by his expression that there’s more. He’s got that “Don’t say anything or we’re all toast” look on his face.

“Her creatinine levels are crazy, and none of this sounds right to me—none of it does,” Mom weeps. “Mia has given strict instructions that we only get limited information on her condition and I don’t know what to do right now.”

“How did she end up here?” I ask. “Was she here for dialysis and they just kept her?”

“She was out with friends and she passed out,” Dad says. “She has a medic alert bracelet and they brought her here.” I shake my head.

“Mom you need to calm down,” I tell her. “I know you’re upset, but we should find out what’s going on before we think the absolute worst…”

“This is the absolute worst!” she shrieks. “My baby girl is sick! She’s been on dialysis and I didn’t know! I don’t know what’s going to happen to her! This is the worst!” she sobs.

I hold her for several moments until she calms, my thoughts going in a million different directions. I have to go talk to Mia, and…

“Where’s Elliot?” I ask.

“I left him a message, but he hasn’t responded,” Dad says. I twist my lips. Do you really expect him to respond to you?

“Mom, have you tried to call him?” I ask.

“No,” she says, her voice weary.

“Can I see your phone?” I ask. She doesn’t question. She just gives me her phone. I kiss her forehead and walk into the hallway and head to the nurses station.

“Where is Mia Grey’s room?” I ask.

“Room 517, down the hall, third room on your left.” I nod my “Thank you’s” and leave. I scroll through the contacts on Mom’s phone as I head to Mia’s room and swipe the screen when I get to Elliot’s number.

“Hey, Mom,” he answers sleepily.

“You’ve taken to not checking your messages, Asswipe?” I say.

“Wha…? Christian?” he says groggily. “Why are you calling from Mom’s phone?”

“Your sister’s in the hospital and she’s doing pretty fucking bad, so you need to get your ass in gear.”

“Who…? What…?” he says.

“You heard me. Get your ass to Seattle Gen, now!” I disconnect the call.

I look in the window of room 517 and see Mia sitting up in the bed. She doesn’t look good at all. Her skin looks a mix of grayish-yellow. I quietly open the door and slowly enter the room.

“Oh, great, this is just what I need,” she says when she sees me, “the angel of sunshine.”

I don’t respond to her sarcasm. Instead, I walk over to the chair on the side of her bed and sit down. At first, I don’t say anything. I look down at my hands for a minute or two, trying to find my words, occasionally looking back up at her to make sure she’s still alive. At minute three, I finally find the words that I want to say.

“You’re dying, Mia,” I say finitely. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“I’m not dying, Dr. Grey,” she shoots back. “My levels are just off.”

“You’re in intensive care, Mia. You levels are not off!

“Don’t try to tell me about my illness!” she hisses. “I’ve been living with this my whole life! I know what’s going on!”

“Then give it to me straight!” I retort sharply. She’s silent for a moment, so I softly add, “Please.”

I don’t know what that one soft Christian moment does for her, but she totally crumbles and begins to cry.

“I need a kidney,” she weeps. “I won’t make it if I don’t get one.” Her shoulders are shaking with genuine sobs. I can’t watch her like this. Whatever our differences, I can’t watch her like this.

I stand and sit on the edge of her bed. I embrace her and let her cry in my arms. She’s scared and I can see that she is. She cries for quite some time as I hold her and rub her back.

“How long?” I say when she finally starts to calm.

“I’ve been on dialysis for years,” she says. “That’s all you get.”

Years? Fucking years? Mom thinks it’s only been a couple of months or something.

“Mia why didn’t you say anything?” I chide gently. “This is very serious stuff.”

“I told Dad,” she says, “when I first started dialysis.” I stiffen.

“Dad knows?” I ask.

“I had to tell one of them,” she says. “I couldn’t tell Mom. She had already been through too much. I regretted telling him from the very beginning. He held it over my head like a juicy piece of gossip.”

So, this is the big juice Dad had on Mia. That’s pretty fucking cruel.

“Jesus, Mia,” I say feeling somewhat helpless. “You need a kidney. How long have you known?”

“About a year,” she says. “I thought I would have one by now. I was doing everything the doctor told me to, to the letter—taking my meds, never missed dialysis. I don’t know what went wrong. My GFR is out of whack, all of my levels are crazy…”

“That’s because dialysis is a temporary fix, even if you can do it for years. It’s not a long term or permanent solution, Mia.” She nods and wipes her nose.

“I know,” she says, her voice shaking, “I was trying to buy some time.” I shake my head and squeeze her hand.

“It’s going to be okay, pest,” I say. “We’re going to find a kidney for you, okay?” She raises wide eyes at me. “And it won’t come from any of my underground connections that’ll snatch some poor sucker off the corner that’ll miraculously be a match.” She wipes her nose again and rolls her eyes.

“I deserved that,” she says wearily.

“Yes, you did,” I say, kissing her on the cheek. “I’m going to give Mom back her phone, and you need to get some rest.” She wearily nods and snuggles down into her pillow. I pull her covers over her shoulder like I did before we became mortal enemies… well, not mortal enemies.

I leave her room quietly and close the door. Who’s standing off to the side but dear old fucking Dad.

“You. Are a real fucking piece of work,” I hiss shamelessly at him. He has the nerve to look affronted.

“Don’t blame me,” he chides. “I told you…”

When did you tell me?” I bark, trying to keep my voice low. “You told me no such damn thing! You told me that she was having episodes!”

“I told you in that conversation when you asked me what her doctor said,” he replies. I take a moment to recall the conversation. What did he say…?

What does her doctor say?
The same thing he’s been saying…

I look at my father with disdain.

“You’re a real fucking asshole, you know that?” I say calmly.

“If you had been speaking to your sister…”

“I. Asked. You!” I hiss. “I asked you outright was she dying; what did the doctor say; I asked you, plain and simple, and you did that same game-playing sneaky, sheisty shit you always do. You know damn well you made it seem like nothing was seriously wrong. ‘The same thing he’s been saying,’” I say in a mocking voice.

He makes to respond, but I’ve heard enough. I have no idea why, but my mother loves him. That’s the only reason that I won’t deck him right now.

“I know somebody like you,” I say, thinking of my golden tormentor, the ache still fresh after all these months. “They get off on other people’s pain, on watching them squirm. You know the type, don’t you, Dad?” I add, glaring at him and he glares right back. I know he was a Dominant in the lifestyle, but was he a sadist? I never asked.

“You lost the love of your life once because of your selfishness and shadiness,” I warn calmly. “Keep it up, Dad, and you’re going to lose everything you hold dear.”

I stare him down for a moment to see if he has any shots that he wants to add—this’ll be his last chance. When he has none, I go in search of a doctor or nurse.

“Excuse me,” I say, capturing the first one that I see in the hallway. “You have a patient here that needs a kidney. How do I find out about possibly becoming a donor?”

*-*

I call Daisy Evans during business hours. She’s the living donor coordinator on staff as well as the main coordinator at the transplant coordination center. I tell her that I don’t want my identity revealed yet. I’ll decide if I want to do that once we find out if I’m a match for Mia. She takes the time to get me registered with UNOS—The United Network for Organ Sharing—and then she starts the process of seeing if I’m a viable donor. There’s so much information I need to know about this process:

Mia has a 5-15% chance of dying each year she’s on dialysis. I know that she’s been on there for longer than she’s telling us. I just don’t know how much longer.

It’s a fairly simple surgery to remove the kidney as most of it is done through a laparoscope. Mia’s part is going to be more difficult.

My recovery, should I be a match, will also be pretty simple—a 2 to 3-day recovery in the hospital followed by a 6-week recovery at home, then life is back to normal.

There’s a whole lot more shit to know and learn, but Daisy tells me that I’ll have plenty of time to get and review all the information I need before the procedure. That doesn’t make me feel good since I know that my sister is pretty much on borrowed time.

The next few weeks are kind of crazy. I start with a questionnaire that’s about a hundred questions long. Then, there’s the blood test, the urine test, the ultrasound, a psychological evaluation, a financial evaluation, an overall health evaluation… My head is spinning by the time I’m done with all these fucking evaluations! The entire time, I’m worrying if my sister’s going to die by the time I find out if I’m a good match for her.

I would go by the hospital to see her at least twice a week. Then when she moved back home with Mom and Dad, my visits changed to once a week. I know that Elliot and I are both being tested since Mom and Dad have already been tested and are, crazily, not compatible to give her a kidney. After sitting on pins and needles for weeks, I’m finally called into the transplant coordination center one day to talk to Daisy Evans.

“Mr. Grey, I want to start by saying that I have some good news for you,” she says. “You and your brother are both ABO and crossmatch compatible. You’re both ideal matches to donate a kidney to your sister.” Well, this is good news.

“There’s a but,” I say.

“Your brother’s health and… extra-curricular activities would most likely exclude him from being permitted to give her a kidney.” I frown.

“Wait, are you telling me that my brother is going to need a kidney soon, too?” I ask horrified. I only have two kidneys!

“I’m not saying that,” she says. “I am, however, strongly suggesting that you be the one to donate the kidney. Mia is a very young woman and she has a better chance of survival and extended life with one of your kidneys than she would with one of Elliot Grey’s. That’s all I can say without breaking the law and I’ve already insinuated more than I should.”

So, basically something is wrong with Elliot or he’s done something to his body or kidneys that makes him less than ideal. If he were sick, we’d be having a different conversation. So, my guess is recreational drugs or alcohol. Obviously, if I want my sister to live, I’m going to have to be the one to give her the kidney. She’s a real pain in my ass, but I don’t want her to die.

“Remember when I requested to remain anonymous?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says.

“I need it to stay that way,” I say. “No one can know that it’s me, not even my parents until I’m ready.” She frowns.

“That’s highly unusual,” she says. “This is your sister…”

“You do deceased donors all the time,” I point out, “and the person on the table or their family doesn’t know whose kidney, heart, or liver they’re getting. They just know that they or their loved one is getting a second chance at life. The donation has to be anonymous.” She sighs.

“This affects your support system,” she says.

“You’ve seen my evaluation,” I counter. “You know that I have a very capable support system outside of my family.” She nods.

“As you wish, Mr. Grey,” she says.

“So, what do we do next, doc?” I ask.

So, after all this time, it turns out that my evaluations are still not over. I now have to meet with everyone who will possibly be touching my body, including the coordinator, who won’t be touching my body—the nephrologist, the surgeon, another social worker, and the anesthesiologist—severally and collectively, and the entire time, they’re reminding me that I have the option not to do this.

“I have a question,” I say. “How many people have gone through this entire process and then decided—right at this point—that they don’t want to do it?” The social worker sits back in her seat.

“Um, maybe about five to eight percent,” she says.

“Do you want to know why?” I ask, “Why that five to eight percent change their minds?”

I have a captive audience now.

“Because when this process started, I was given a detailed evaluation. I was asked every question on that thing down to if I rode a horse when I was three years old. I gave you samples of everything in my body except my kidneys—and I’m sure I’ve somehow given you that, too—to show that I’m capable of donating a kidney. I’ve been instructed to do my own research, which I have done. I’ve talked ad nauseum with the transplant coordinator for months. I’ve done everything short of cut my side open, rip out my own kidney and hand it to you to prove that want to give this kidney to my sister.

“When I’ve finally passed the physical, psychological, and financial testing for this process, I’m finally able to meet the actual team that’s going to be doing the process, which from what I understand is a couple of tiny cuts, a few snips, a larger cut and sloop! It’s out.”

The coordinator and the nephrologist both jump when I say, “sloop,” which is an indication that the kidney is being slid out through this two-inch incision at my “bikini line.”

“I’ve read up on and been repeatedly informed of the recovery time, the possible risks, and the restrictions. I could have changed my mind anytime during this grueling process, but I get to this point and I have five people constantly informing me, ‘You don’t have to do this,’ ‘You know you don’t have to do this,’ ‘You can change your mind at any time,’ ‘You haven’t been coerced into doing this, have you?’ ‘You can walk away at any time.’

“You know what that does—having it repeatedly hammered into your head that you don’t have to do this? It makes the listener feel like either one or more of you is not confident in their abilities or that there’s something you’re not telling us.”

“That’s not the case at all, Mr. Grey,” Daisy says. “We just want to make sure that the person that is about to make this sacrifice is completely sure, that they’re in the right state of mind to proceed.”

“And I totally understand that, but the constant questioning at some point becomes badgering the witness. And people who were completely ready before suddenly feel like, ‘Well, maybe I shouldn’t do this’ because of you. How many of those five to eight percent have gone through all the evaluations, all the research, all the testing, and backed out at this point?”

“All of them,” the surgeon says. “They don’t get to this point unless they pass the preliminary evaluations.”

“What does that say to you?” I ask. “You have someone who has proven to be perfectly healthy, perfectly ready to go under the knife and give the gift of life and then decide, ‘Eh, no thanks.’ They go through all of this and then they get to the Inquisition, and they don’t want to go through this anymore. If they didn’t have doubts before, they do now.”

“Which is why we ask if they’re ready. We just want to make sure that the donor doesn’t have any doubts or major concerns…” Daisy says.

“And that’s why only two of you need to ask that question at this point—maybe three if you’re still not 100% sure. And those three only need to ask the question once. There are five of you, and each of you asked me twice. You don’t think that’s enough to plant a seed of doubt in anybody’s mind?”

They all fall silent for a moment, probably counting how many out of that five to eight percent could have actually been successful transplants. They’re so busy trying to cover their asses that they’re less concerned about good medicine.

“The only doubts and major concerns I have about this process is that it’s taking so long that my sister might die before she actually gets my kidney. So, let’s lay this to rest in case anybody is going to ask me this question again.” I look at the nephrologist. “Are you confident in your abilities?” He frowns.

“Yes, sir, I am,” he says, taken aback by the fact that I would ask him that. I ignore his offense and move on to the surgeon.

“Are you confident in your abilities?” I ask.

“Yes, I am,” she says, flatly. I move on to the anesthesiologist.

“Are you confident in your abilities?” I ask,

“Yes, sir,” he says without malice. I nod.

“Are you confident in your abilities?” I ask the social worker.

“I am,” she says impassively. I look at Daisy.

“And how about you?” I ask. “Are you confident in your abilities?”

“Yes, Mr. Grey, I’m confident in my abilities.” I nod and look at the group as a whole.

“Is there anything in this process that you have left out, omitted, failed to tell me, or are hiding that I need to know before I lay on that table?” They look at one another, shaking their heads as if to say, “Not me, did you leave something out?”

“No, Mr. Grey,” Daisy says, “we’ve told you everything.”

“Well then, if you have any other relevant questions, please ask them. Otherwise, let’s cut the bullshit and get this scheduled. I’m afraid my sister doesn’t have much time left. “

*-*

“That’s really great news, Mom,” I say when she calls me to tell me that Mia’s surgery is scheduled for two weeks. They wanted to wait for three, but I made them move it up since there was no reason to wait. I wanted to go next week, but they said, “no.”

I know why they want to wait—to give me time to back out. They don’t understand that I’m counting the days. I’m watching my sister get sicker and sicker.

“I appreciate you being able to bury the hatchet and be there for your sister during this time,” she says. You have no idea, Mom.

“You never know how much time you have left with someone,” I tell her. “Recent events have shown me that you have to fight the battles worth fighting and leave the others alone. When does she check in?” I ask, pretending not to know.

“Two weeks from Monday,” she says, sounding like she’s talking about Christmas, which for her, she probably is.

“I’ll be there, Mom,” I promise.


Golden Chapter 25

GOLDEN

Yep, I still love what I do. All I needed to get back to myself was to get a hold of two or three of my pain whores, beat the Trey out of me, then make them come like fountains.

I even kicked the shit out of Desmond’s case—the first pro-bono case I’ve had in a long time that actually went to trial. Once the barracuda was back, the D.A. didn’t stand a chance. Golden is back on her square.

I go to the clubs with no worry of Trey since he has a girlfriend now. Truth is, I don’t think I would care if he showed up at all—single or attached. I still wouldn’t let him near me with a ten-foot pole.

I do, however, take the chance to go and see my father’s family, though. I waited longer than I should, but I show up for Easter dinner based on an invite from Tracy. Everyone’s going to be meeting at Sheila’s and bringing a dish. So, to prove I haven’t lost my roots, I bring the greens. Of course, they all look at my pot of greens with a healthy dose of skepticism. I call them all out and tell them to at least taste my greens before they write me off. After all, Aunt Sheila is the one who taught me how to cook.

There are no greens left in the pot when dinner is over.

The family sits down to a game of Spades and Tracy graciously asks me if I want to “P-up.”

“Hell, no,” I say emphatically. “I’ve watched enough Spades games to know that the only white girl in the room does not need to be playing. She needs to be watching!”

The room lights up with laughter as the adults play several hands of Spades…

And the white girl watches.

I know from way back when I used to watch Daddy play that Spades is part of the culture. It’s not just some game of playing the highest card and taking the most books. No. There’s a whole lotta smack-talkin’ involved, and if you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, you stay the hell outta the game!

Guess what the hell Ana does?

The beer and Hennessey is flowing and I start to get to know the family better. Tracy and Lance actually have four children—two together, which were the two that I saw in the grocery store—and one each from prior partners. Junior has two little girls, but he’s divorced. My understanding is that the split is amicable, and that the girls spent the first part of the day at church with their mother, then came to Sheila’s for dinner with their dad. While the adults are talking, Junior’s oldest, Felicia, walks over to the group.

“Who is that lady, Aunt Tracy?” she asks, pointing to me.

“This is your Aunt Ana,” Tracy says. Felicia looks at her.

“I thought you were my Aunt,” she says.

“I am,” she says, “but Ana’s your aunt, too.” She looks at me then back at Tracy.

“She’s white,” Felicia whispers. Tracy chuckles.

“Yes, she is,” Tracy says with mirth. Felicia looks right at me and firmly asks:

“How did you get white?” Her little hand flies up to her mouth and her eyes widen. Immediately realizing her mistake, she begins to back-peddle.

“I mean… um… I…” Her eyes fill with regret and I spring into action.

“It’s okay,” I say, crouching down to her. “I know what you mean.” Relief instantly replaces her relief. I know that she meant to ask how she can have a white aunt when her family is black.

“Your grandpa had a brother that died when he was younger,” Tracy tells Felicia. “His name was Raymond. He adopted Auntie Ana, but when he died, Ana came to live with us.” Felicia frowns.

“Oh,” she says slowly. “Is that like Regina?” she asks. Tracy frowns.

“Who’s Regina?” she asks.

“A girl at my school,” she says. “She has two mommies. She said one mommy is her real mommy and the other mommy adomded her and now she’s her mommy, too.” Tracy and I both laugh.

“Yes,” Tracy says, “adopted,” she corrects.

“Adopted,” Felicia repeats.

“That’s exactly what this is,” Tracy says.

“Okay,” Felicia says. “See you later, Aunt Ana. I wanna go play.” She smiles widely and waves before she goes off to play with the other children.

“I wish the whole world could be that accepting,” I lament. Tracy puts her hand on my shoulder as I rise.

“Unfortunately, I think the world will end before that happens,” she says sadly.

I stand and go relieve myself and I can tell that a pow-wow of the adults has occurred since I was gone. Junior takes the initiative to ask the question that’s burning in everyone’s minds.

“Ana, we heard Dad’s version of what happened—which was apparently wrong. Do you mind telling us what happened to you when you left… or you didn’t come back?” he asks. I can tell he has no idea of the truth. I sigh. “If it’s too painful…”

“No,” I say, “it doesn’t sting as much anymore, so I can tell you. Let me start by saying that I have no intention of speaking ill of the dead,” I add. “I’ve already forgiven my uncle, so I’m going to make this as neat and clean as possible.

“I was dating Jake at the time… I honestly don’t even know his last name…”

“Fuckboy Jake?” Tracy asks, then looks over at Sheila. “Sorry, Mom.” Sheila waves her off. I know immediately from the description that we’re talking about the same person.

“Yes,” I say without hesitating. “You all remember—how many white people were there in the neighborhood?”

“About as many as there are now,” Tracy says. “There was only you.”

“Exactly,” I say. “So, when Fu…” I stop and look at Sheila. “When F-Boy Jake chooses me over all the black queens, who do you think gets the whisperings, the murmurings, and the side-eye?”

“I didn’t know you were dating Jake,” Junior says.

“I know,” I say. “He wasn’t F-Boy Jake at the time. I think he was F-Boy in training.” I roll my eyes. “Anyway, you know he always rode that yellow bike and he always wore those yellow jumpsuits…”

“I was wondering why you started wearing those jumpsuits,” Tracy says. “I thought it was just a fashion statement.” I nod.

“Well, now you know,” I say. “So, one night, I was riding his bike and the neighborhood girls saw me and started to give me a hard time. They started calling me names and wanted to know if Jake knew that I had his bike. You know his parents had that party store over on 161st…”

They nod.

“Well, I knew how to get in so that I could put Jake’s bike back. Ask me how these girls got there before me, I have no idea, but when I got there to put his bike back in the storage room, they were tearing up the store and they tore up his bike, too. The only thing that I could deduce was that these girls were mad that Paleface was the flavor of the month and wanted him to know it. So, here are my options…

“Defend little Jakey—or try to run away—and risk getting my butt kicked by a mob of mad black girls, or somewhat look like I’m going to join in and try to walk out of this alive. So, what did I do? I stole a candy bar.” The group pauses, waiting for additional information.

“And then what?” Tracy asks.

“And then nothing,” I say. “I stole a candy bar—that was it. And I only did that because I was afraid that if I didn’t do something, they were going to beat the hell out of me.” Aunt Sheila frowns deeply and sits forward in her chair.

“Go on,” she says, a little too calmly.

“The cops picked up everybody that they saw on surveillance. When Uncle Richard got there and found out that the whole thing happened on a Sunday morning, and not one day where he could prove I was in school, he wrote me off. He left me cold with no lawyer, no parent, no nothing. I didn’t even get a chance to talk to him; I never got a chance to explain. He looked at me like I had shot his puppy and left me there. I got to court and there was nobody there for me but the public defender. I don’t even know what happened… I just know they let me go.”

“And that’s why you take a lot of cases pro bono,” Sheila says, her expression unreadable. I pause for a moment and gaze at them.

“I just want them to know that somebody’s listening,” I says. “Black kids—particularly black boys—often get fingered for just walking down the street. I just want to make sure they don’t get thrown in jail simply for ‘walking while black.;”

Junior clears his throat while Tracy looks down and Sheila is looking dead at me.

“It’s the same thing that happened to me,” I continue. “Granted, I’m white, but I was accused of something I didn’t do. I did one dumb little thing, but even if I had done the ultimate worst, I was convicted by the one person that I needed to be in my corner without even having the chance to explain myself.

“When they asked me if they could take me somewhere, I knew they couldn’t bring me back here. I knew Uncle Richard wasn’t going to welcome me with open arms after he had deserted me at juvie without even hearing my side. I knew that if he had left me there on the mercy of the court that he wasn’t going to welcome me with open arms. I knew I was on my own, because if I wasn’t, he would have come for me; he would have looked for me; he would have sent Tracy and Junior to bring me home from school; something. Instead, he told you all not to talk to me. I know there’s nothing that can be done about this now, but I have to say this. You guys have no idea how many times I wished you guys would walk into school one day, look at me, and say, ‘Ana, come home,’ but you would barely even look at me.”

Now, Junior’s head is down, but Sheila is still looking at me.

“I lived on the streets,” I say with a shrug, “in vacant houses. I lied about my age and got a job for a while, but then I had to quit so I could focus on school. I still had to get scholarships or else I wasn’t going to college. So, I pinched pennies and I entered writing contests. That’s how I survived. As soon as I graduated and U-Dub said I could come to the dorm in August, I went straight to the dorm. I’ll never forget it. I left everything I had in that vacant house. When I moved in, I had bought a new duffle bag, I filled it with new clothes, one pair of pajamas, toiletries, and a towel. The first thing I did was take a shower.

“I slept with no blankets for three weeks until my roommates felt sorry for me and gave me some bedding. I didn’t have a computer, so I was in the library until it closed. School was a dream for me because I had spent a year and a half in hell, but it all paid off in the end.”

“Excuse me,” Sheila breathes and scurries from the room. I watch her run from the room and look back at Junior.

“I had to ask,” he laments, shaking his head. I look at Tracy.

“Your version of things is completely different than Dad’s version of things,” she says. “According to Dad, you had gotten involved in some kind of gang and that’s why you were in juvie. They were removing you from our home since Dad was technically just a guardian and not your parent or adopted parent, and they were making you a ward of the state because of your activities. If we looked at you funny, it’s because we couldn’t put together what Dad was saying with what we were seeing, but he told us not to talk to you, and the fact that you never came back to the house only served to reinforce what he was saying.” She looks at the door her mother exited.

“Mom’s going to start grieving again,” she says. “She’s been finding out all kinds of things she didn’t know about Dad—not things like he’s got another family across town or anything like that. Just things she didn’t know… like this. If she finds out too much more, it’s going to rip her apart.”

Now, I look at the door Sheila just exited.

“May I?” I ask, gesturing to the door. Tracy nods.

“Be my guest,” she says. I get up and follow Sheila through the door. I begin to walk down the hall, and the layout of the house is coming back to me. I know where she is. She’s in her spaffice.

A spaffice is just what it sounds like—it’s a cross between a spa and an office, and it’s the opposite of a man cave. Now, it’s not a spa in the sense that there’s a Jacuzzi or a set-up to get your nails done and things like that, but it was always Sheila’s escape and you couldn’t bother her when she was in her office. I remember the few transformations it took on while I lived here. Now, it’s got a jungle-like look, with lots of flourishing live plants and a Zen-like setting. There’s even a hammock in the room. Right now, Sheila’s at the window seat looking out of her bay window.

“Aunt Sheila?” I say, cautiously entering the room.

“I was against you coming to live with us at first,” she says without turning around, her voice soft. “It’s because of the neighborhood that we lived in… and you were white. I foolishly worried about what people would think, but I also worried that we wouldn’t be able to keep you safe.”

A single tear falls down her cheek and she quickly wipes it away.

“I quickly learned that my brother-in-law… or your mother… or both, had taught you a thing or three, and I had nothing to worry about. People still talked, and it bothered me at first, but after a while, I didn’t care. Richard was your advocate. He always wanted the best for you, just like he wanted the best for Tracy and Junior… and so did I.

“I have no idea what happened that day, Ana,” she says turning to me. “Richard left to get you, and he came back without you. He simply said that you had gotten into trouble and you would most likely end up in foster care. I asked him what happened. I asked him why they would put you in foster care when you had us. You had been with us for years. He refused to talk about it. He simply said that you weren’t coming back and that I didn’t have to worry about the white girl in the house anymore. I was appalled that he said that. After all these years, he still thought I felt that way?” She shakes her head.

“I wanted to know what happened. I wanted the information that he wouldn’t give me. I tried to call the juvenile center, but they had no record of you, and now I know why. I didn’t know who else to call. That day, Tracy and Junior came home and said they saw you at school. I looked at Richard, and he forbade everybody to talk to you. He said that you would be a bad influence on the children and that you would use my emotions against me. He made it sound like you had gone out and joined a gang or something… and now…”

She sighs heavily and looks out the window again. I walk over to her and take her hand.

“He didn’t even tell us he had gotten in touch with you again. For all we knew, you were dead or in jail or somewhere with a slew of babies… we had no clue. Once the kids graduated from high school, there was no more talk about you. And now, here you are… almost twenty years later…” She begins to weep again.

“I’m sorry, Ana,” she sobs, her shoulders shaking. “I don’t know how you can possibly forgive us…”

“I can forgive you because you were misled,” I say, squeezing my hand. “You went by what Uncle Richard said, and that is… was your husband after all. I didn’t even know you tried to look for me.”

“I didn’t try hard enough,” she scolds herself through her tears. “You went to school with my kids, for God’s sake!”

“And your husband and the man of your house told you that I was a bad influence. I’m the adopted daughter of his biological brother. If you really thought he felt that way, what could you do? I wouldn’t want a bad influence around my kids… if I had any.”

“How can you forgive him?” she says through her sniffles. “How can you forgive him for lying on you and deserting you like that? For everything you went through…?” I drop my head and think about my words before I speak.

“I was so angry for so many years,” I say. “I was hurt; I felt betrayed. I lost my Daddy and Mommy all back over again. I used those emotions to thrive. I thought about Daddy and Mommy looking down on me. I never once thought about what they would think of Uncle Richard and what he was doing. I didn’t even know the whole story about what Uncle Richard was doing and I still don’t know, because he’s not here to tell us. So… what do I do now? Do I just sit here angry and spiteful at a dead man?

“I can’t live like that, Aunt Sheila,” I tell her. “I forgave Uncle Richard for me… because there’s just nothing else to do.” She twists her lips.

“Where did you get this fortitude and character?” she asks, “because I doubt that you got it from us.” I shrug.

“I think I may have picked up a bit of it from you guys,” I admit, “some of it from my Daddy and Mommy, and… some of it from life.” I sigh. “Everything happens for a reason, and I still know how to cook.” We laugh.

“You sure do!” she says surprised. “You didn’t forget one single thing in those greens. I can’t get Tracy to cook greens like that!” I chuckle.

“That’s because when everything is taken away from you, you hold on to what you can with both hands,” I say. She looks down at my hand over hers and covers it with hers with her other one.

“I’ll never let you get away again,” she says, a tear or two dropping on our joined hands. I put mine over hers.

“I’m not going anywhere, Aunt Sheila,” I promise.


A/N: Never saw this coming, did you? 

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~~love and handcuffs

Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 24

My CE testing is next week. I have theory oozing out of my ears! I feel more confident, but I’m hoping I can retain the information for the three days of testing. In the meantime, this was my break from studying and now, I’m going back into the rabbit whole. Wish me luck!

We’re coming to the end, campers. There are four more chapters 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.

Explicit details of sex and BDSM scenes from here on out. Some may be hot while others may not be to your taste… and not necessary CG with Ana together. Proceed at your own discretion, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

This ain’t your everyday Christian and Ana story. Don’t expect anything. Just read it as it goes along or go away. 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 new saga continues…

CHAPTER 24

briana_evigan_1289148201

GOLDEN

Sampson got the beating of his life last night, and he loved every minute of it. I, on the other hand, didn’t enjoy it as much. Why? Because of him—Trey.

Why did he have to come to the club last night? Wasn’t it bad enough that I saw him at the fundraiser? With his beautiful, model-like Brazilian date? I could tell by the way that he was carrying himself when they were leaving that they were going to fuck. That’s information I really didn’t need.

“Slow down, you’re walking faster than me in those damn things!” Jesse said as I’m hurrying out of the ballroom and away from Trey. Shit! Shit! Shit! What is he doing here?

“I had to get out of there,” I admitted.

“I noticed,” he retorted. “What the hell is going on? Did Grey do something to you?”

“No… yes…” I sighed. “No.”

“Which is it, Ana?” Jesse asked. “Is there something I need to know about this guy? Does it have to do with Lincoln?”

“No,” I said, “and no,” and yes. I put my hand on my forehead to gain my wits about myself, then I pulled him away from the ballroom entrance.

“We had sex, Jesse,” I confessed breathlessly, like I’ve been holding it in for years.

“Okay, and?” he asked.

“And I haven’t had sex with anyone in years!” At least not voluntarily. His eyes widened.

“What?” he hissed. “What do you mean? You… you don’t…”

“No!” I cut him off. “I’m not a hooker, Jesse. There’s no penetrative sex involved.”

“Except with Grey,” he pointed out. “No wonder he couldn’t look you in the eye.”

Yeah, I noticed that, too.

“So, what now?” Jesse said.

“What do you mean ‘what now?’ What nothing!” I declared. Jesse scoffs at me.

“You’re different,” he said. “I couldn’t put my finger on it before, but now it all makes sense. When did this happen, about two and a half, three months ago?”

Shit!

“Yes!” I hissed, angry that he could damn near date it.

“If I didn’t have sex in several years, the first person I had sex with, I’d fall in love with. Are you falling in love?”

“For fuck’s sake, Jesse, no!” I denied vehemently. I’m not falling in love. I’m just… confused.

“Well, you two definitely have unfinished business,” he said. “He can’t look you in the eye and you can’t stay in his presence for more than ten minutes. What does that say to you?”

“That I need to check the fucking guest list before I come to fundraisers from now on!” I hissed quietly.

“You guys both live in Seattle. You travel in some of the same circles. You know damn well that’s not the only place you can see him. And that’s not what I was getting at.”

“I know what you were getting at and it means nothing, Jesse,” I scold. “He’s some guy that I fucked and that’s it.” Jesse folded his arms.

“And you’re not speaking now.” I didn’t answer. “Let me guess—you cut him off.” I raised my gaze to him.

“Yeah, so?” I replied.

“So, you used him for sex,” he declared. I glared at him.

“That is not what I did!” I hissed, looking around to be sure that we didn’t have a listening audience.

“Didn’t you?” Jesse accused. “You got him all primed with the Golden treatment, on and off for a whole year. You’ve been giving him little tastes of the meal month after month, and then when he’s groomed and ready, you give him the whole enchilada, then you cut him off at the knees. That poor guy has been sitting somewhere wondering what the fuck happened for three months. What—do you think his money makes him impenetrable? I wouldn’t be able to look at you either!” I narrowed my eyes at him.

“Careful, Jesse. You’re treading thin ice!” I warned.

“Well, forgive me,” he retorted. “I’m just telling you how this looks from another guy’s point of view. And with all due respect, that’s a pretty shitty thing to do to somebody.”

“Guys do it to women all the time!” I excused firmly.

“Yeah, but did he do that to you?”

The words just hung in the air. Jesse talked to me like I’m supposed to have a conscience about sex—and I don’t. It’s simply not part of the equation. It’s an unknown that needs to be thrown out completely, like it never happened.

“He’ll get over it,” I dismissed. “After some time, he won’t even remember me.” Jesse shook his head.

“I hope you’re right,” he said, “but be careful, Ana. Karma has a way of coming back to bite you in the butt when you least expect it, and it’s never convenient.” I rubbed my neck to try to relieve the tension there when Jesse speaks again.

“Senator, 10:00.”

I look up and see the Senator exit the ballroom and look around. It’s showtime. I massaged my head and came out of my hiding place straight over to him.

“I see you’ve missed me,” I said, stepping behind the Senator. He turns around to face me and smiles widely.

“Always,” he said, extending an elbow to me.

We re-entered the ballroom and head over to the bar. We both got refills of champagne and began discussing the evening.

“I have to say that Christian Grey was extremely interested in what we’re doing in the Battery District,” he said sipping his champagne.

“Is that right?” I said, feigning disinterest.

“Yes,” he continued, “even more interested than our Jesse. He was hanging on my every word.”

“How nice,” I said, scanning the room and finding him on the dancefloor with his Brazilian bombshell. Of course, you would know he wasn’t gay, Gisela. You’ve had some of the magnificent dick!

“Indeed,” he said, “he didn’t look at anyone else in the group. Not even his date. I know I’m captivating, but I’m certain I’m not that captivating.” I watched as Christian made a call and he and the Brazilian princess walked out the door. She had that satisfied little smirk on her face of a woman definitely about to be fucked.

“Not one other person in the group,” the Senator continued. I finished my champagne and took another glass from the bar, tucking my hand into his elbow.

“Let it go, Senator,” I warned with a smile. He raised his brow.

“Yes, Mistress,” he complied, and we rejoined the party.

Then I go home and have a dream about Trey—but not fucking me, fucking her!

As if that’s not bad enough he shows up at Crimson. That’s when I see and hear the truth. He looked strong at the party—confident and unmoved, but that was just a façade. When I saw him at the club, I saw that he had changed. He’s not broken, but he’s not the confident man that I previously knew him to be. He’s defeated, but not broken.

*-*

Monday morning, I’m back in court for another pro-bono case. Just as I clear the metal detectors and head to the courtrooms, I swear that I see someone down the large corridor.

Is that Aunt Sheila?

It’s strange that I refer to her as Aunt Sheila when I refuse to refer to Richard as Uncle. I must have gazed at her for too long, because once I come back to myself, she’s walking over to me.

“Anastasia!” she says surprised. “What are you doing here?”

Shit.

“I have a case,” is all I can say.

“You do?” she inquires. “For what?”

“A young man wrongly accused of robbery.” Sound familiar, Aunt Sheila?

“Are you a social worker?” What the fuck? Am I the world’s best-kept secret? Richard has only been chasing me down for over a year.

“No, I’m an attorney,” I retort, “and I’m late.” I cut the conversation and go into the courtroom.

This time, things didn’t go as well as I would have hoped. My client is out on bail, but the case is being bound over for trial. The evidence is very weak—a grainy video and a shaky witness. My client even has an alibi. Nonetheless, the judge wants to see all the evidence and hear the case, so we’re going to trial.

When I walk out of the courtroom an hour or so after I walked in, Sheila is sitting outside on the bench still waiting for me.

Oh, for the love of God. I turn to my client.

“Don’t worry, Desmond,” I comfort him. “This is a very weak case. We’ll beat it. You be sure to keep your grades up and stay out of trouble in the meantime, okay?”

“Okay, Ms. Olivet,” he says sadly and heads down the hall with his mother. Sheila waits until they’re safe distance and approaches me again.

“The word around this place is that you take those cases pro-bono,” she says. I sigh.

“I do,” I say. “I believe everyone deserves a chance to say their piece and they don’t deserve to be railroaded by people and a system that doesn’t care about them.”

“That’s very admirable,” she says, ignoring my implications. “Ray would be proud. Richard would be, too.”

“Richard already knows,” I say sharply. She stares at me for a moment.

“He did?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say sharply. Then I realize… I’ve never seen Sheila at the courthouse, and she’s talking about Richard in the past tense.

“Sheila, where’s Richard?” I ask frankly. She sighs heavily.

“Well, that’s why I’m here,” she says, “to… tell his coworkers and colleagues that… Richard passed away Friday night.”

I don’t know how to react. I don’t feel any loss for his passing, but a woman has lost her husband. I can’t muster any sympathy because she, too, deserted me when I had nowhere else to go. So, I just go the professional route.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” I say, impassively. She nods and scrunches her face in that way that fights back tears.

“He’s with his brother now,” she whispers. I hope the hell not.

“I don’t mean to be rude, Sheila, but I really need to go,” I say and try to leave.

“Ana, wait,” she says, causing me to stop and turn around. “I’m sorry.”

The words hit me square in the chest and nearly knock me off my feet.

“What?” I breathe, with emphasis on the “h.”

“I’m sorry,” she repeats. “We shouldn’t have left you.”

I’m stunned. Eighteen years of pain and hatred have boiled down to “I’m sorry, we shouldn’t have left you.” There was a time when I would have given anything to hear those words, but now, they mean absolutely nothing. I roll my eyes.

“But you did,” I say, turning to leave again.

“Ana!” her call sounds desperate, pleading. “I would have come for you, but Richard expressly prohibited it. He’s my husband… was my husband. I had no choice.” Her voice is cracking, but I don’t feel her pain.

“If…” she pauses, “if there’s any time that we should remember we’re family, it’s now.”

“Now?” I ask in horror. “Now? When your husband dies? Not when my mother and father died? Not when I was a teenager and I needed you? You were all I had… and you left me! You left me cold with nothing and no one, and you want to blame a dead man? If he had ordered you to desert one of your own children, would you? Would you have turned your back on your own children, knowing they had no one else? Or was it because I wasn’t your child? Or was it because I was white?”

All of the anger and the feelings that I’ve held in for years are coming out on this woman right now, in a totally inappropriate place at the worst time ever—three days after she’s lost her husband.

“Richard assured us that you would be okay…”

“But he told you not to speak to me, because Tracy and Junior never did—not once! For two years, they pretended like I didn’t even exist. I don’t know what he hated in me, but he passed that hatred down to you and you took it!” I hear my own voice, loud and echoing through the corridors, cracking with pain and repressed anger, but I can’t stop now.

“You were the only. Mother. I had left,” I say, shaking my head. “I had no one to guide me, no one to love me. I had nothing… nothing but you… and Uncle Richard, and you left me… you left me to fend for myself.”

“It wasn’t like that,” she protests. “Richard convinced me that you would be better off in foster care with a family that was able to deal with a troubled child.”

“When was I ever a troubled child?” I nearly shriek. “The only trouble I had was losing my parents, and then losing you! My grades were flawless, and then I went to college on a free-ride scholarship. When did I give you any trouble…?”

Then suddenly, her words play back to me.

“Wait a minute… did you… did you say foster care?” I ask in disbelief. She swallows.

“Richard said… he told us…” I glare at her for a few moments, then I cackle a tragic laugh that silences the corridor for several moments.

“I wasn’t in foster care,” I say with an ironic smile. “I lived on the streets.”

Confusion clouds her face for a moment.

“No,” she says in disbelief. “Richard… he… he said…”

“He lied,” I interrupt her, “Or he was wrong. It doesn’t matter which,” I add firmly, my tragic smile falling. “They let me go. I lived on the streets.” Horror mars her expression.

“No…” she breathes in that way that sounds like she’s seen a ghost.

“Yeah,” I say, matter-of-factly, “I lived in vacant houses for two years, which weren’t hard to find in our neighborhood, you know. I survived any way that I could—part-time jobs, sometimes eating from garbage cans. It. Was. Hell.” I put my free hand on my hip and examine her horrified expression. “You know, looking at you now, I don’t know which one is worse—thinking that you didn’t care about me and you left me out there to die, or knowing that I went to the same school with your kids for two years and you had no idea what I was going through.”

She puts her hands over her mouth, tears flowing freely down her cheeks, her eyes never leaving mine.

“Ana,” she whispers through her sobs, “my God!”

Yeah, that’s how I felt, Aunt Sheila.

Suddenly, all the anger and hatred that I felt for her, Richard, and their family flows from my body and onto the floor in a puddle around me. Nothing’s holding me up but the pain. I have to get out of here.

“My condolences to your family,” I spit before I turn around and walk down the hall in front of a wide-eyed audience. I don’t care that they know about my past. Look what I became.

The closer I get to the door and the further away from Aunt Sheila, my knees get weaker. My stride quickens, then turns into a skipping trot. Before I know it, I’m sprinting towards the door, desperate to get some air. The moment the cool air hits me, I crumble to the ground, sobbing uncontrollably on the courthouse steps.

*-*

The incident with Aunt Sheila broke me down to nothing. I’m completely raw and I can’t function. For two days, I stayed in my room in mourning… mourning what, I don’t know, but I couldn’t even face the sunlight.

Blake tended to me carefully and didn’t ask what was wrong. He waited for me to tell him. On day three when I finally emerged, I told him about my meeting with Sheila in the courthouse; about how they never had any idea that I was sleeping in the cold on the ground or in dirty, germ and rat-infested vacant houses even though I’m sure I told Richard at some point; how I would give anything right now for Reynard to really be Daddy’s son so that I could connect to my father in some way… just not so much of an asshole.

Blake tells me that Richard’s funeral was announced on television since he’s with a public office. Against my better judgement—I’ve been doing a lot of that lately—I decide to go.

His funeral is held at the First United Methodist Church of Seattle. The sanctuary is huge and nearly packed to the walls, including the balcony. Either a lot of people loved Richard, or a lot of people were glad to see him go. All races are in attendance, so at least I’m not like the only white girl in the church.

I walk to the front of the church to view his remains. I look down into the casket, looking for any resemblance of my father. Unfortunately, his health deteriorated so badly that he just looks like a dead man, an expression of peace on his face that says his suffering is over.

I cry at his casket… I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because the feeling of death is surrounding me, I don’t know. The last time I stood at a casket was Daddy and Mommy, so this is another part of Daddy dying, no matter how much I don’t want to admit it. I didn’t bring a handkerchief with me because I didn’t expect to cry. I have to get away from this casket as I’m turning into a slobbering mess with nothing to clean my face.

I turn and walk quickly away from the casket and down the aisle of the church. I slide into the first available seat that I see, hold my head down, cover my face, and cry. Why am I crying over this man? Why can’t I stop? He wasn’t my daddy. He didn’t even make a good uncle, but for some reason I can’t stop.

I feel a hand on my back, and I raise my head. A hand is holding a handkerchief out to me. I take it without looking and clean my face, then my eyes before raising my gaze to the face of the person handing it to me. It’s a younger version of Richard… and my daddy.

“Come sit with the family, Ana,” Junior says softly. I look sadly at him, then shake my head.

“Please… Ana… please come and sit with us,” Junior says, his eyes bloodshot and pleading as much as his words. “Please…”

I’m not going to be a bitch. I bite back my feelings and stand. He takes my hand, and I let him. He leads me to the front row and gestures for me to sit between him and Tracy. At first, I hesitate, but Tracy holds her hand up for me to take it. I sigh, accept her hand, and take a seat between them. I sit quietly on the row with the family, listening to the choir sing, listening to the expressions of sympathy and the kind words about my uncle, the eulogy, crying the entire time.

I feel like I’ve lost my Daddy all back over again.

Not that I feel like Richard was my father, just that I’m consumed by the same hopelessness that I felt at Daddy’s funeral.

I’m thoroughly waterlogged when the service is over, and the closed casket is wheeled down the center aisle of the church. Junior and Tracy cling to my hands and Junior holds his mother as we walk out of the church. I look up and catch the sympathetic gaze of Judge Grey and I nearly break down again. I behaved so badly in his courtroom the last time I saw Richard there. I’m suddenly so ashamed… and how I talked to Sheila in the courthouse. My behavior was atrocious.

We stand outside and watch them load Richard’s casket into the hearse and as the cars begin to line up to go to the cemetery, various people come and give their condolences to Sheila. Tracy is holding hands with her husband now and Junior is still holding mine as Sheila accepts hugs and kind words. As the visitors stream by, Junior beseeches me to ride in the family car to the cemetery to lay Richard to rest. I weakly oblige because I have no strength left to protest.

We begin to walk to the family car and just outside the entrance stands Reynard. I know he’s not looking for a showdown today of all days! I hesitate, but Junior squeezes my hand and the entire family walk straight for him. He looks at me with disgust, then turns his gaze to Junior.

“So, why wasn’t I invited to sit with the family?” Reynard asks snidely.

“Maybe because we don’t know who you are,” Junior retorts.

“You’ll accept her,” he gestures to me with disdain, “but not me?” Junior makes to speak, but Sheila stops him.

“Maybe if you had presented yourself to us with a little more decorum and kindness, we may have been more willing to accept you into our family. Right now, you just need to give us time.” She herds us all together and pushes us in front of her to walk away. She looks back at Reynard and adds one more thing…

“… And proof.”

I know he doesn’t have proof. Richard could have helped him because he and my dad share DNA. Richard’s kids are a long shot, but they’re not going to help him.

So long, Reynard.

We ride silently in the family car to the cemetery, the same place where Daddy and Mommy are buried. His plot, in fact, is one half of a double plot right next to Daddy and Mommy. I sit quietly thinking of my father and mother while the minister says the final words over Richard’s casket. Once the final words are spoken, the mourners all file to their cars, leaving the family behind to say goodbye. Sheila kisses the casket and declares her never-ending love for her husband. Junior and Tracy say similar words to their father.

“Can I have a minute?” I ask and the family leaves. I walk over to Richard’s casket. I look at the dark brown finish as if I were looking at Richard.

“This is it,” I tell him. “This is the end of the road. I bet it’s been one hell of a journey.” I take three flowers from the blanket on the casket, then I lean down to it.

“I forgive you,” I whisper. “Goodbye Uncle Richard.”

I take one last look at his casket before I walk over to Mommy’s and Daddy’s plots. I look at the headstone and my heart breaks. I fall down on my knees on the cold ground and begin to weep.

“I miss you so much, Daddy,” I say. “It never gets easier.” I cry for a minute, my heart feeling like it’s being ripped from my chest.

I’m proud of you, baby…

I raise my head. There’s no one there. I look around… nobody. I know I heard it. I know I did! But there’s no one there. I look back down at the headstone and smile. I kiss my fingers, then touch the picture of his face.

“I love you, Daddy,” I whisper, “bunches and bunches, from this life to the next.” I hold my head down and finish his reply, “And the next… and the next…”

And the next.

I sigh heavily, then I kiss my fingers and touch the picture of her face.

“I love you, Mommy… and I miss you, too. I need you so much right now…” I place two of the flowers on their headstone. My only consolation is that they’re together. Even though I couldn’t have them here with me, one of them didn’t have to face the agony of being without the other.

I take one last look before I rise and turn to walk back to the car. As I’m walking towards the limo, I see Reynard standing next to another car. He just stares at me before he gets into the car and drives away. I sigh and walk back to the limo.

More silence surrounds our ride back to the church to get my Range Rover.

“We’d like very much for you to come back to the house to the repast, Ana,” Sheila offers. I swallow hard.

“I’m sorry, I…” I can’t form my words. “I’m not ready yet.” I pull out my business card and hand it to Sheila. “I’ll be in touch… I promise.” She hugs me and I return her embrace.

“You know where to find us,” she says, “when you’re ready.” She smiles at me and I return the smile. I hug Junior and Tracy.

“Sheila has my number,” I say to them both. “My private cell is on the back.” They smile and I head to my Range Rover.

I cry all the way home.

I don’t know how to process what happened today.

I forgave Uncle Richard. I really forgave him. It just doesn’t make any sense to hold a grudge against him anymore.

My father’s family welcomed me back. It took 18 years, but they welcomed me. I don’t know what Richard was doing, but I wish he had just taken the simple route when he was alive and apologized, then gave me some time to heal, but it’s water under the bridge now.

My father’s family stood up against my supposed brother. It was a silent, unified front and I appreciate it.

My Uncle Richard is gone… and my daddy spoke to me. I’m sure of it.

And I’m weeping so badly that I can barely get home.

Once again, Blake tends to me without asking any questions. Golden is on hiatus once more, just for a week or so until I get my emotions in check. I can’t be an effective Domme while I’m all caught in my emotions.


000fwskk

TREY

“Merry late Christmas,” Ronnie says, handing me a small box. I take it with a smile.

“Thank you,” I say.

“It’s okay that you didn’t get me anything,” she says. “We didn’t agree to exchange gifts.” I smile inwardly and take the ribbon off the box. We’ve moved to having our lunches in small cafés and eateries since the cold weather set in.

“Ronnie,” I say, looking at the gold monogrammed cuff links, “they’re beautiful.”

“I don’t know if you have a pair,” she says, “monogrammed, anyway. They’re not fancy like the once you’re used to, but…” I put my finger on her lips to silence her.

“They’re beautiful… thank you,” I repeat. She swallows.

“You’re welcome,” she says softly.

“And actually…” I reach into my pocket and pull out a small box from Tiffany’s. She gasps.

“You sly dog,” she says, punching my shoulder and taking the box. She pulls off the ribbon to reveal a delicate platinum locket on a platinum chain.

“Christian,” she breathes, and it’s the first time she’s used my full first name and not my initials, “it’s stunning. You shouldn’t have…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say, trying to make the situation a little lighter, “that’s what they all say.”

“I just bet they do,” she says with a wide smile. “Would you?” She hands me the necklace and lifts her hair. I fasten the locket on her neck and resist the urge to caress her skin. She touches it with admiration.

“It’s beautiful, Christian,” she says. We sit silently for a moment.

“So, what are you doing for New Year’s Eve?” I ask.

“Watching the ball drop in Times Square and the Space Needle display… from my living room,” she says. “What about you?”

“I usually go to one of my nightclubs,” I tell her, “but I’m not really feeling it this year.” She twists her lips. “What do you say we watch the ball drop together?” She raises her brow.

“Hmm… I don’t know, can I trust you?” she jests.

“Can you?” I laugh. She sighs.

“Okay, fine, you twisted my arm.”

“Your place or mine?” I ask.

“Mine, I guess. I’m ordering out. Unlike you, Mr. Grey, I don’t like to cook. Chinese okay?”

“Chinese is fine by me,” I say. “About eight?” She nods.

“You bring the cocktails.”

“Deal.”

*-*

At 8:00pm, I arrive at Ronnie’s downtown condo with two bottles of champagne, a bottle of wine, and a bottle of tequila.

“You didn’t specify what cocktails to bring, so…” I say, holding up the wine satchels.

“Good grief, CG, did you rob a liquor store?” she says, stepping aside to let me in. “And even in casual clothes, you always make me feel like a troll.”

Funny, I was just thinking the same thing about you.

“Does anything need to be chilled?” she asks.

“The champagne,” I say, handing her the satchel with the champagne in it. She puts the bag on the counter and removes the bottles.

“Oooo, the good stuff,” she says, taking the bottles to the refrigerator. “The food should be here any minute. I didn’t want it to be cold.”

“Good thinking,” I say. “Boy, the Rocking Eve is really rocking, huh?” I say looking at the television.

“Yep, they’re having quite the party. I set a little picnic setting in front of the TV. That’s how I do my New Year’s. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Nope, that’s fine. Should I take off my shoes?” I ask.

“Of course, make yourself at home.” She brings a tray with wine glasses and champagne flutes into the living room and places them on the coffee table next to our picnic setup.

“Are we drinking tequila from wine glasses?” I ask. She raises her brow at me.

“You didn’t tell me we had tequila,” she says. “Food first, caveman, or we’ll be loopy as fuck by the time the fireworks start.” As she’s scolding me, the doorbell rings. “Would you get that please?”

I stand up and answer the door. The poor delivery guy is carrying two hot and cold bags with enough food to feed an army.

“Oh, dear God,” I say, taking one of the bags. “Come in, man.” He follows me to the kitchen counter.

“What are you trying to do, feed the homeless?” I ask as he and I begin to take the items from the bags and place them on the counter.

“I didn’t ask what you liked,” she excuses, “and I eat a lot.”

“You couldn’t eat all this in a week!” I exclaim, still removing container after container from the bag.

“I’ll do my best,” she says, “and tonight I have help.”

We finally get all of the food out of the bag, and the delivery guy sighs a sigh of relief.

“Thanks, Dan,” she says once he’s finished and hands him a tip. “See ya next time.” He nods and moves to leave.

“Wait a minute, Dan,” I say, reaching into my pocket. Whatever she gave him, it wasn’t enough. I hand him a hundred-dollar bill.

“Wow! Thanks, man!” he says happily,

“Happy New Year, Dan,” I say.

“Happy New Year!” he says, nodding and smiling widely. “See ya, Ronnie.”

“Bye,” she laughs as Dan leaves and I close the door behind him. “What did you give him?”

“I’m not telling you,” I say. “I gave him enough to make up for having to deliver the freaking Chinese buffet on New Year’s Eve. Now let’s eat.”

We toast the New Year in on all three of the other time zones, laughing and eating and talking about the events of the year, namely Elena’s death, Ronnie’s promotion, my not-quite breakup with Golden, a few of her disastrous dates, etc., etc., etc.

It’s nearly midnight and we’ve finished one bottle of champagne, the bottle of wine, and two tequila shots apiece. I’m filling the glasses for our midnight toast.

“Can I crash on the floor?” I ask. “I don’t feel like going home this late, or this liquored.”

“I thought that was a given,” she says, taking the flute from me. “If you’re not at the club, wherever you are at midnight, that’s where you stay.”

“I never heard that,” I say my brow furrowed.

“Well, now you have,” she says dismissively. “Are you okay? Do you feel sick?” I frown.

“I’m not that liquored,” I chastise. As we’re talking, the countdown begins.

“Ten… nine… eight…” We join in with the countdown and when we get to midnight, we yell, “Happy New Year,” and blow our noisemakers. The fireworks begin out the large window of her living room at the Space Needle, and we instinctively lean in and kiss each other.

Wait! Whoa…

What we thought would be a harmless peck becomes a soft but passionate lip lock of melding mouths and caressing tongues. I don’t know if the fireworks are hotter outside or in here. When our lips part, I look into the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen.

“We’re missing the fireworks,” I say softly.

“Are we?” she breathes, her lips kiss-swollen. Damn, they look tasty.

“Yeah,” I reply, my voice huskier than I intend. We stare at each other for a few moments.

“You know, this is the perfect setting to get into trouble,” she says, looking into my eyes.

“Yes, it is,” I agree.

“Have I ever told you that you’re pretty hot?” she says.

“You call me handsome all the time.” She nods.

“It could just be the alcohol talking,” she confesses.

“Do you regret it?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“Will you regret it in the morning?” I add. She shakes her head.

“It is morning,” she says softly. I kiss her again softly.

“So… why don’t you show me some of that kink?” she says. I raise a brow at her.

“You sure about that?” I ask, suggestively.

“You said that if I don’t like anything you do, all I have to do is tell you to stop. Did you lie?” I shake my head.

“Nope,” I reply, “that’s exactly how it works.”

“Now, what if I’m not into that whippee/chainie shit?” she says, cocking her head and repeating her statement when we first talked about BDSM. I move closer to her.

“There’s a lot more to the kink than just the whippee/chainie shit,” I say. We’re very close to each other—breaths away, in fact—and she looks at my lips and chuckles slightly.

“What?” I ask, my voice low and watching her eyelashes closely.

“When we first met, I distinctly remember saying, ‘It was just a “good afternoon,” handsome.’” My turn to chuckle.

“That you did,” I say, now looking at her lips.

“What is it now?” she asks, her voice soft.

“It’s ‘good morning, gorgeous,’” I say, and she raises her eyes to mine.

“Show me what you got,” she coaxes. You asked for it.

I close my lips over hers, put my arms around her waist and pull her close to me. She opens her mouth, giving purchase to my tongue and wraps her arms around my neck. Her body smells great and feels magnificent…

I awake in the middle of the night, naked on the floor with Ronnie in my arms. It doesn’t feel right to sleep around while I’m sleeping with Ronnie, so I guess it’ll just be us. I didn’t do anything particularly kinky with her the first time besides some human bondage…

I pinned her hands down and while I ate her pussy until she came.

I held her hands over her head in one of mine and fucked her until we both came.

There was some gentle choking and some basic orgasm denial to extend our pleasure, but nothing more than that. I would say that she thoroughly enjoyed herself, as did I.

And I’m still thinking about Golden.

*-*

Linc is fading fast.

As it turns out, Elena came to an agreement with Ana and the participants of the class action suit. The amount is undisclosed, but with a class action, it’s easily in the millions. Elena and Linc were both trying to lock down whatever assets they could with a possible divorce pending, so although Elena had some pretty good liquid cash on hand, she didn’t have the millions needed to settle a multi-million-dollar lawsuit. So, she did the next best thing.

She liquidated several of their joint holdings in their portfolio to cover the settlement.

A lot of the holdings were shares in Lincoln Timber. Since I had been following the company for my growing timber interest, I gobbled up the shares moments after they became available. That really pissed Linc off because I’m cashing in on him from both angles.

In addition, she couldn’t liquify enough assets to cover the remainder of the settlement, so she took out a secured loan, using others of their joint assets as collateral. She had no source of income when she died, so who’s going to have to repay that loan?

A week after the settlement was paid and final, she ends up dead. With this new information, guess what this situation and all of its little tentacles create?

Motive.

So, now, Linc is the primary person of interest because no one else had any motive to kill her. Ana had already gotten her payoff and I had a lawsuit pending, so…

Ana…

Six weeks since I’ve seen her; four and a half months since I’ve felt her, tasted her… and I still can’t get her out of my mind.

Ronnie is very understanding. I haven’t done anything like call out Golden’s name at that crucial moment or some shit like that, but she’s very astute and can tell that I’m sometimes a bit distracted, for lack of a better word. She’s perfect for me in my currently fucked up state… and too good for me at the same time.

I even swore that I saw her Range Rover in traffic one day while Ronnie and I were having lunch. I heard a horn and turned to see where it was coming from. A Range Rover was at the light that looked just like hers, but I dismissed it as wishful thinking and never told Ronnie. I’m like a dog chasing a bone that I’ll never get.

Hell if I know how this will play out.


Briana Evigan 14

GOLDEN

I haven’t been back to any of the clubs since Richard died. I’ve just been meditating, working, doing the yoga and trying to find myself. Kevin contacted me wondering what the hell was going on, so I met him for lunch and spilled my fucking guts… about Richard, about not going to the clubs, about Christian… though I called him Trey in Kevin’s presence.

He reiterated that his hat was still in the ring should I decide that I want to wander in that direction, although he informed me that he’s certain that Trey will get “first dibs” and he holds no ill will about it. I only tell him that I don’t think that day will come anytime soon.

And then I see something that literally rocks my world.

I’m downtown just after the New Year closing on a deal with one of my corporate clients—another ridiculous payday, by the way—and I stop at a light on 4th. I scan my surroundings and what do I see right in the window of a quaint little café?

Christian! And he’s holding some girl’s hand close to his lips while he’s speaking to her and looking into her eyes, and it’s not fucking Gazelle or Glenda or whatever the fuck her damn name is. This girl is blonde, attractive. She’s giggling and engaging him in that familiar way that couples do.

Couples.

Fuck, is that what this is? I’m tossing and turning in 15 different emotions ranging from anger to grief to dreaming about this asshole and he’s moved on in a vanilla relationship? Because that’s what that is—totally vanilla. He was all confused and shit, stuck between Dom and masochist, and all I had to do was dump him—for lack of a better word—and now, he’s the perfect boyfriend? What the fuck, man?

The car behind me honks his horn and even with my windows closed, I can hear him saying something about the light not getting any greener. Fuck this shit. Any confusion I may have had over Christian Grey/Trey/Chopper has now been resolved.

I put my feet on the gas and speed away from this touching display of affection. It’s time to get back to myself and stop this touchy-feely bullshit… or so I thought.

I get back to my office to find that Aunt Sheila has sent me several packages—some of them quite large. I have no idea what they could be, but whatever they are, I know that it’s better that I don’t open them in the office, so I have Jesse load them into my Range Rover so that I can look at them when I get home.

It was the right decision.

I’m surrounded by the packages—four in total—in my parlor. I take a box cutter and open them…

And come face to face with my childhood.

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Daddy’s badge and ribbons…
Daddy standing in front of his patrol car…
His certificate for graduating from the academy…
My parent’s wedding certificate…
Lots and lots of pictures, including baby pictures of me, pictures of me and Daddy, of Daddy and Mommy, of the three of us, even some with Richard and his family as the kids were all growing up…
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My christening dress…
Mommy’s wedding dress…
Mommy in her wedding dress…
012421e0610090f614d87874cb05a44a
The flag from Daddy’s casket…
61gcs9lft9l._sx425_I remember them giving me that flag. I never knew what happened to it.

Memory after memory come flying at me out of this box and I still have three more boxes to go. Mommy and Daddy’s things, and my things, kept from me all these years. I deduce that Richard must have been a miserable soul in the course of his life and even now, I’m still not angry with him anymore. But now, the onslaught of the emotions is back and because I’ve never dealt with anything like this in my adult life, I just let them happen. Letting them out at Daddy and Mommy’s—and Richard’s—grave help me to move on a bit, and that’s what I need to do…

Including what I’m feeling for Trey. I haven’t put a name to it yet…

Oh, who am I kidding?

I wanted him to still be pining for me; to be thinking about me and that night that we shared; to be dreaming about me like I’m involuntarily dreaming about him. He’s moved on, but dammit, I haven’t! Yes, I still love what I do. I’m still a sadist, but for the first time since I’ve been in the lifestyle this way, something is missing. What am I feeling? Anger and frustration… and hurt.

Let’s deal with one onslaught of emotions at a time… Trey will have to wait.

“Blaaaaaake!”


man-in-shadows-hiddleston

TREY

Friday night, I go to Crimson for old time’s sake. I’m not looking to get laid though I might be secretly hoping to catch a glimpse of Golden.

Of course, I don’t.

I sit at the bar for hours sipping on a Jack and Coke before I finally tell the bartender to let Max know that Trey is here and requests an audience. I gaze at the pole for a few moments like I did the last time I was here, then finish my drink.

“Come with me, sir,” one of the dungeon monitors disrupts my inner musings. I follow him to a back elevator, and he presses a security code that takes us to the second floor. He hangs back when the door opens, and I exit into Max’s private lair. It’s not what you would expect from the owner of one of Seattle’s most successful underground BDSM clubs. It’s homey—high-end, but cozy.

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I have a seat on one of the sofas, and Max comes strolling out and casually sits on the sofa across from me. She’s in full-on Domme garb for just such an occasion.

“I was wondering when you were going to come and see me,” she says, crossing her legs. “You’re all over the news with everything that’s going on with Petra. Then you become scarce and people have no idea what to think unless you clarify things for them.”

“You know I don’t care what people think, Max,” I say.

“Not even me?” she asks with a raised brow. I twist my lips.

“Of course, I care what you think,” I correct her. “You hear anything from Golden these days?”

“Not since our last conversation when she made that request about you,” she admits. “I haven’t heard from her since then.”

“I know for certain that she was in the club since then,” because I saw her myself.

“You asked if I had heard from her,” she points out. “I haven’t. I don’t keep tabs on every time someone comes into the club unless they’re a problem, Trey. I know that you haven’t been here much only because some of the regular girls have been asking for you. I know that she and Petra had a falling-out right around the time that you and Petra had a falling out. And of course, Petra was banned after she brutalized one of her submissives—I didn’t want that stigma attached to my club. Now of course, someone offed Petra, so that’s a moot point.”

“It is, indeed” I confirm.

“What’s the story there, Trey?” she asks. “First, the three of you are frequenting the club two or three times a week, then suddenly, no Golden. Shortly thereafter, no you. And of course, no Petra. You guys have come and gone every now and then that I’ve heard, but not like before. What gives?”

“Petra was a lying, conniving, and violent bitch. And Golden…” What the hell? I don’t know what’s going on with Golden either. “I’m… trying my hand at a relationship,” I say, changing the subject. Her brow furrows.

“With Golden?” she asks, surprised.

“No!” I say, more forcefully than I intend. “A… civilian, for lack of a better word.” She twists her lips.

“How’s that working out for you?” she inquires.

“We’ll see,” I say, leaning forward on my elbows. She leans forward, too.

“Completely vanilla?” she asks. My turn to twist my lips.

“As vanilla as I can get,” I reply. “I need my kink, but I discovered that I didn’t need the sadism stuff.”

“Then… why are you here?” she asks. I don’t make eye contact with her. Yeah… why am I here? Can I really do this relationship stuff with Ronnie? Or am I just fooling myself to get Golden and her whips out of my head?

And her mouth…
And her body…
Her ass…
Her smell…
Fuck!

I stand from the sofa and grab my jacket.

“A pleasure as always, Max,” I say, donning my jacket.

“You know you’re always welcome,” she says with a smile, about as confident as I am that this relationship shit is going to work out.

“See ya ‘round.”

*-*

“We need to talk,” Ronnie says, showing up at my apartment after work midweek. I don’t mind. I told her that she could come by anytime she wants, but something’s different today.

“Sure, come on in.” I close the door after her and follow her into the great room. “What’s up?” She walks over to the fireplace, then turns to face me.

“I think this is where I should get off, handsome,” she says with a small smile. I frown.

“What do you mean?” I ask. “Get off what?”

“This ride,” she says with no malice. “It was really fun, but it’s not going any further.” I sigh.

“You’re breaking up with me,” I say. It’s a statement, not a question. She chuckles.

“If you can call it that,” she says. “You’re still hung up on that girl.” I shake my head.

“I never had that girl,” I reply.

“Yes, you did,” she retorts in her way. “You had her once, and it fucked you up. And as much as you’ve tried to move on, you can’t. You care about her and you’ve got unfinished business.”

That’s the same fucking thing she said.

“And the fact that you knew exactly who I was talking about without me being specific is proving my point. You either have to make things right with her or you’ve got to move on, but you’re not going to be able to get past it until you do.” I fall onto the sofa.

“This is really depressing,” I declare. “I’m not good at relationships at all, BDSM or vanilla.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” Veronica says, sitting down next to me. “I think you just haven’t found the right girl.”

“I thought you were the right girl,” I protest.

“Tell me you don’t see her when you close your eyes,” she says, softly. I hold my head down. “I’ve felt that before, too, Christian. It means that you’re human, but you’ve got to get past it, and I can’t be the rebound girl.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” I say honestly.

“Hey,” she says, putting her hand on my cheek so that I raise my eyes to hers. “I’m not hurt,” she says with a smile. “You’ve got some great moves and we had a great time, but neither of us are in love.” She cups my face with both hands.

“You didn’t lie to me, Christian,” she says. “You didn’t deceive me or lead me on. You gave it to me straight and I appreciate that. But because I was your friend first, I know that you’re broken in here, or at least bruised.” She points to my chest. “You have to fix that before you can move on—with me, with her, with anybody. Maybe I could have been the right girl, just not right now.”

“Fuck, I hate this,” I groan. She’s perfect for me. She’s funny, she’s sarcastic, she’s beautiful—not the huge ass, but I could deal with that… but she’s right. This isn’t meant to be.

“I… still want us to be friends,” I say, taking her hands, “not in that tragic cliché way, but… like we were before. Can we do that? Is it possible?” She looks into my eyes.

“Do you love me?” she asks and raises her brow waiting for an answer. I nod.

“Yeah,” I say, “I think I do… but as a friend.” She smiles a wide smile.

“Then I’ll see you at lunch tomorrow,” she says. I sigh and wrap my arms around her. She returns my embrace and we sit there for a moment. When we release, she kisses my forehead.

“Don’t act all strange on me, okay?” she says. I nod.

“I won’t,” I promise. She walks to the door and we hold hands until the last possible moment. She turns around and looks back at me.

“Tomorrow,” she says.

“Lunch is on me,” I say. “Corned beef on rye, 11:00.”

“I’ll see you then,” she smiles and closes the door behind her.

How the fuck do I feel relieved and shitty at the same time?

Max was right.

That shit with Ronnie didn’t last a month. She’s beautiful and willing, but she wasn’t enough… and she wasn’t what I wanted. As it turns out, I wasn’t what she wanted either. I’m glad she ended it first. I really didn’t want to hurt her.

So, what the hell do I want? Do I want a relationship? Do I want a Domme? Do I want to be a Dom? Do I just want mindless sex with several women until my eyes pop out? What the hell do I really want?

I walk over to the bar and pour myself a shot of Jack and throw it back. I pour a second one throwing it back just as quickly before I slam the glass down on the counter and head to bed.


A/N:  So, vanilla didn’t really work for Trey. Then again, we knew that it wouldn’t… and Golden is a slobbering mess. Both characters have come way out of their comfort zones. What will the next few chapters hold?  

The Pinterest board for this story can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/fifty-shades-golden/.

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~~love and handcuffs

Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 21

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

Explicit details of sex and BDSM scenes from here on out. Some may be hot while others may not be to your taste… and not necessary CG with Ana together. Proceed at your own discretion, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

This ain’t your everyday Christian and Ana story. Don’t expect anything. Just read it as it goes along or go away. 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 new saga continues…

 Chapter 21

Briana Evigan 22 2

GOLDEN

I soon get the answers to the questions I have about Reynard. He’s looking for a windfall of money because his childhood home is in arrears on its taxes. He doesn’t have long before his mother’s house—the house he lived in his entire life except when he was married—will be auctioned off for back taxes.

What’s so sad is that had he come to me and told me that he thought he may have been Daddy’s son, I would have sat down and talked to him, found out why he felt that way, and I may have even helped him with the taxes. Now, he can kiss my ass and live on the streets for all I care.

His mom died eight months ago from cervical cancer. All of their funds went to her hospital bills, which is why there was nothing left to pay the property taxes. In fact, she still has bills remaining that need to be paid—something else that I could have helped his selfish ass with had he approached me the right way.

He’s an only child, unless you consider the fact that he thinks I’m his sister. There was no one there to help him take care of his dying mother; no assistance with the bills or the hospital care; and I almost feel sorry for him having to sit there and watch her rot. I guess it’s better in a way that my parents were ripped away quickly as opposed to watching them suffer and die.

Then again, he did at least get to say goodbye, so I don’t know which situation is worse.

His children are 7, 9 and 12. His marriage broke up a few short years after it began. His first child, his son, was born out of wedlock and the middle boy and youngest girl were a result of his short marriage. He and his wife don’t speak, and she didn’t help with his mother’s care even though they still live in Tacoma. She did, however, bring the children to their grandmother’s funeral.

The only thing that he has that he can use to identify my father as his father are some old pictures of Daddy and his mother together. They were clearly intimate, but that doesn’t mean that this man is my father’s son. I don’t know what his mother told him or what secret she may have taken to her grave, but that man looks nothing like my father, not even like my horrible uncle. I don’t know what to tell him besides to go the hell away.

So, that brings us to today. I’ve heard nothing from brother dear, nothing from Blondie or her sheisty lawyer trying to get a settlement…

And nothing from Trey.

I’ve tried not to count the weeks, thinking that he would get over the last scene and would have come back by now, or at least would have texted or called demanding an explanation, but… nothing. It’s been over two months and I haven’t seen him at any of the clubs, he hasn’t called…

Why am I so concerned about this? Clients come and they go. I’ve gone through more than two months doing what I do and getting my Golden back—and enjoying myself in the process—but in the back of my mind, I still expect him to call or text eventually looking for a scene and he just doesn’t.

Clients have left before. The splendor wore off for them or they found something new… or someone new… and they went on their way. It’s no big deal… right?

“Blake,” I call as I’m sitting in my parlor after a night at one of the clubs.

“Yes, Mistress?” he says, coming into the parlor.

“That last night that Trey was here, do you remember?”

“Yes, Mistress, I remember,” he says without hesitating.

“What did he say to you when he left?” I ask. Blake shakes his head, bemused.

“He… didn’t say anything, Mistress.” I frown.

“What do you mean he didn’t say anything? He didn’t excuse himself?” Blake shakes his head again.

“Nothing, Mistress,” he reinforces. “He didn’t even look at me.”

He didn’t even look at him. He didn’t excuse himself; he didn’t say anything; and now he’s radio fucking silent. I should go over to his apartment and barge in on him like he did me.

No, that will never do.

“Thank you, Blake,” I say. He nods once and leaves.

I really haven’t had a client just leave, not without a word. Either they met someone or decided to become Doms themselves or some other lifestyle change caused them to not want to continue our arrangement. Either way, they always gave me an explanation, always terminated the arrangement cordially, always said goodbye…

None of them ever just disappeared.

I think I’m more perturbed that it appears he doesn’t need me anymore and he doesn’t even have the decency to say so. What kind of asshole just disappears without a word?

The kind of asshole that doesn’t want what you’re dishing out anymore.

This isn’t how this is supposed to go. This is why they only get a taste once a month. Once they got a taste of me, they couldn’t get enough. They crave me. They always have to have more. They could never stay away. But Trey is different…

He could stay away, and he is.

I’ve lost control… control of myself and my situation. I let him affect me too much. I got all loopy because of a stupid kiss brought on by my dick-mesmerized brain. I didn’t even really kiss him—I kissed his dick… just through his lips. Now, I’m fucking letting my feelings of anger along with my loss of control interfere with the situation and it caused me to forget my fucking mantra.

Make. Them. Want. You.

He’s not wanting me now. I sent him away twitching and horny and needy and now, he’s associating me with the lack of pleasure. Before, he was pulled to his wits end and then he came like a fountain. Now, he was pulled to his wits end and then, in my anger, I left him hanging.

Make them dream about you when you’re not there; crave you when you’re not around.
Tease them with a promise… deliver satisfaction, but don’t give them all of you…

I didn’t deliver satisfaction. I delivered sexual frustration, and then I let him leave that way. By doing that, I unwittingly gave him power by tormenting him with no reward, then telling him, “take it or leave it,” and it appears that he’s left it. No tribute, not a text, not a call, nothing for nearly three months.

This will never do.

**My house. Tomorrow 8pm. We have unfinished business. **


eric-dane-wallpaper Trey chapter 9

TREY

Quite a bit has been transpiring all at once.

I’ve discovered that all this time the Lincolns have been together, they don’t have a damn prenup. They’ve both been freely fucking anybody they want—except each other—without the luxury of a divorce because it would most likely cost them both too much money. That’s kind of funny.

To that end, Linc has been living at the Four Seasons while out on bail for battering his wife and Mrs. Linc has been residing in their home in Kirkland. The Kirkland police officially brought her up on charges of filing a false report against me. The crime carries a possible sentence of 364 days in jail and a $5000 fine. I hear that she’ll likely get off on those charges since she got some quack to say that she made her statement under diminished capacity. Personally, I’d like to be able to see or hear the statement that she made fingering me as her attacker. If she was all loopy and shit, I’ll give her this one. But if she was cognizant and lucid, the bitch set me up, and the court will see that, too.

My court date for the assault in my office is November 13. It’s about damn time. It only took a whole fucking year! Even though my arm is about at 90%, it never completely healed without pain and I truly want that bitch to pay. If I really think about it, Elena has been the root of everything wrong in my life for more than a year.

She assaulted me in my office, causing me injury and continuing pain.

She had me wrongfully arrested and detained.

My once somewhat private life has been smeared all over the tabloids and media, requiring friends and colleagues to come to my defense.

Her fucking shenanigans let the dredges of society that are my father and brother see right into my business and situations, and both of them tried to hem me up somehow.

And Golden… let’s fucking not forget Golden.

I could have seen her, maybe lusted after her a bit, and then went on my merry little way. But no, this blonde cunt had to taunt me with what I couldn’t have. And my dumb ass fell for it. It was all a game to me at first. Get a pretty piece of ass and win the prize—that’s all I really wanted—but Elena, and Golden, had to make it out to be more.

I watched scenes before with no problem, even had some sub somewhere sucking my dick while I watched some Dom or Domme work over some willing participant in one of the exhibition rooms. Then here comes this Sunshine Sadist and she rewrites everything I thought I knew about BDSM. I thought I wanted to beat and torment women when all I really wanted to do was come—hard and often. I just needed some kink to get there.

That’s why pain whores always turned me off. I wasn’t really into inflicting pain, but I still like the control of being a Dominant, of making a woman my sex toy, making her bend to my will—to my every command. I like the bondage, the Dominance, and the submission. I never needed the discipline—unless it specifically had to do with fucking—or the sadism. But it appears that I have a hidden masochist in there.

Now, I’m beginning to feel like it’s an addiction, but it’s only half the high. I don’t just get off on the pain and I don’t just want to hurt. The pain was always immediately followed by the pleasure and the two blended together, creating some insane orgasms. Whenever I fucked later, I recalled the pain at specific points and the pleasure that followed. With this last scene, she took that away from me.

I didn’t realize how much I was under her control. I thought that even though I wasn’t fucking her and would most likely never fuck her that our relationship was still a give and take. She has a skill that opens new horizons for me—pushes me the mental and physical distance and when I’ve gone as far as I can go, she takes me over the edge in a spectacular fashion. It was magnificent. I ached for it. I craved it. I would have done anything she asked. I commissioned two sculptures for Christ’s sake.

And then came that kiss. That fucking kiss ruined it all. It blew my mind and whether she wants to admit it or not, it blew hers, too. She always does things to blow my mind. Why would I think this was any different?

All I wanted to know was why… why did she kiss me? She had never kissed me before. Like Vivian Ward said, “It’s too personal.” At least it was for us. So, why did she do it? Then she sends back my tribute, telling me that the kiss was a mistake. The only gift she ever returned was the gold collar, and I gave that back. She even wore it for a scene. If it was just a pair of lips and the kiss meant nothing, why send the lips back?

And let’s not talk about the fact that she wouldn’t return my calls or texts, so I go out to her house to see if she was okay. Who am I fooling? I went out to her house to confront her. But when I get there, I find her all hugged up with some black guy all cozy with him declaring that he’s in the running for more when she made it very clear that she wasn’t even remotely interested in that kind of relationship.

Was I pissed? Yes. Maybe even a little jealous? Maybe a little. Did I want that kind of relationship with her? Hell if I know. My last relationship was a flaming failure and that’s not an experience that I’m rushing to repeat, but I would have at least liked to have the chance if that was an option—even if I might have just turned it down.

We had the perfect arrangement for us before that damn kiss. Then, it all went south.

Feelings are messy. Relationships are messy. At the first sign of any connection, we should run for the hills, but the truth is that I don’t want to be this guy forever. I certainly don’t want to be like my father. Hell, I don’t know what the hell I want.

I’d like very much to stop feeling shitty, and to stop thinking about this woman and this situation every waking moment, please and thank you.

Before all this shit happened, I had memories of those hot ass scenes that more than assisted in my subsequent sexual escapades. Assisted in fact is an understatement. But this last time, this last bullshit, I have nothing but sexual frustration to recollect. I don’t need that shit.

*-*

“You’ve got that look again,” Veronica says as I sit next to her on our usual bench.

“What look?” I say, handing her a corned beef on rye and a soda from the carrier.

“That ‘I lost the big account’ look that you had when we first met, only you’re the boss, so I know that’s not it.” She takes a bite of her sandwich. We’ve been meeting for lunch at least twice a week since we met. We’ve had nothing but lunchtime conversations. I walked her back to her building once when it started raining. She shared her lunch with me earlier in the week when I didn’t bring anything, so I promised to bring her lunch today to pay her back.

“This is good,” she says. “Where did you get it?”

“The cafeteria at my building,” I say, biting into a pastrami and swiss on a Keiser roll.

“I should make you bring me lunch more often,” she says, taking another bite of her sandwich. We’re both silent while we eat for a few moments.

“So, who’s the girl?” she asks. I raise my gaze to her.

“You’ve been less than stellar for at least the last month and a half, CG. Maybe more. You don’t want to tell me who the girl is, you don’t have to. Just know that I know there’s a girl.” I look at my sandwich.

“It’s complicated,” I say before taking a bite.

“Don’t I know it,” she says, sipping on her soda. What the hell does that mean?

“Don’t look at me like that,” she defends. “you’re complicated. Everything about you is complicated. Even the way you dress is complicated. I’ve seen you sport Dolce and Gabbana, Anderson & Sheppard, Cesar Paciotti, and Tom Ford all in the same week. You own a glass building in the middle of the concrete jungle. Yeah, I’d say it’s complicated.” I shake my head.

“You have no idea, Veronica,” I say, eating more of my sandwich.

“Well, tell me,” she says. “How bad can it be? Is she a devil worshipper or something?” she pokes.

“Sometimes I wonder,” I say before I even think about it. She raises a brow.

“I see. So, we’re talking weird.” She takes a drink of her soda. “Is she a sister wife? Is that what you’re into—a different wife and family every night?”

“Um, no,” I say firmly.

“Okay, weird, but not sister-wives. You’re not in a cult, are you?” Oh, for God’s sake.

“No, my tastes just tend toward the very kinky.”

Fuck, did I just say that out loud??

“Oh, we’re all into some kind of kink,” she says without missing a beat. “What are you doing, whips and chains?”

“Sometimes,” I reply unfazed. She stops chewing and swallows her food.

“I was joking,” she says. I shrug. It’s out there now.

“Sometimes,” I reinforce. She shakes her head.

“You are one strange bird, CG,” she says, taking a bite of her sandwich. “So, what, this girl didn’t want to do the whips and chains anymore?”

“Something like that,” I tell her without giving her too much information. “This kind of arrangement, it’s a give and take, as with any arrangement, relationship, situationship, fill in the blank. The difference is that you give yourself to someone in this kind of arrangement on a higher level than you would in a normal relationship. The level of trust that you must have in this kind of relationship is exponentially higher than that of a regular relationship. You’re trusting someone totally with your body, and it’s more than sex and more than having an orgasm. It’s trusting someone to know your limits and respect them, and when that trust is broken, it usually can’t be restored.”

“Wow,” she says after sipping her soda and finishing her sandwich. “I’m a bit intrigued… and frightened,” she says sarcastically. “I never pegged you for the whole Disturbia type. So, do you, like, wrap yourself in latex or walk around in assless pants or something like that?”

I nearly spray my soda. I love this girl’s sense of humor.

“No, no,” I say once I’ve composed myself, “but I have seen it.”

“So…” she looks around conspiratorially, “is it as weird as everybody says it is? I’ve seen some pretty creepy shit on the internet.” I shake my head.

“Don’t believe everything you see on the internet,” I chide. “There are some really sick fucks out there. I haven’t seen half the things I’ve seen on the internet.”

“So, most of that stuff that we see on the web is sensational then,” she deduces.

“Well, not necessarily,” I say. “There are as many aspects to this lifestyle as there are nationalities in the world, if not more. It’s pretty ala carte depending on your flavor. There are people who are, like you said, just into a little kink and then there are people who are into some really creepy shit. I’m more towards the kink side.”

“So, the whips and chains… are you the whipper or the whippee?” and I want to laugh again, but it’s a valid question.

“I’ve been both,” I admit.

“And… which do you prefer?” she prods.

“They both have their benefits,” I say. Although I’m trying to forget it, lately, I’ve preferred being the whippee. “Like I said, for the most part as of late, it’s just been the kink.”

“Wow, you just never know by looking at somebody,” she says. “So, did some girl break… oh, shit!” She looks at her watch and scrambles to gather her trash.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“I’m late!” she says. “My boss isn’t a ball-buster, but still…” She throws her trash into the receptacle. “Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow, CG,” she says as she begins to hurry down the lane.

“Wait,” I say, catching up with her as she begins to speed walk. “Why don’t you have dinner with me?” She raises her brow.

“CG, I didn’t know you cared,” she says, fluttering her eyelashes dramatically. I chuckle again.

“You’re good company, okay?” I admit. “If we’re going to share a meal together, I’d like for it to be more than just an hour.”

“I don’t know,” she says. “I’m not into all that whippee/chainie shit,” she adds in her usual playful manner.

“I’m not trying to fuck you, Veronica,” but I’d be remiss to say the thought hadn’t crossed my mind once or twice, “I’d just like to have a meal with you. I’ll tell you what. Don’t decide now. If you’d like to have dinner with me, meet me in the lobby of my building at 5:30 tomorrow evening. If you decide you’d rather not, no hard feelings, I’ll see you at lunch. Deal?” I proffer my hand to her. She twists her lips.

“Deal,” she says, shaking my hand. “Now, unless you’re going to give me a job, I have to leave. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow,” she says again and takes off down the lane again.

Oh, boy. Dinner with a real girl. I haven’t done this since Juliet, but I did tell her that I’m not trying to fuck her… which I’m not. I don’t think she could handle me. I just didn’t want her to leave thinking I’m some kind of weirdo. I just practice a non-conventional lifestyle, that’s all.

What the hell am I getting myself into?

*-*

I’ve taken a shower and changed into jeans and a linen shirt for dinner with a comfortable pair of deck shoes. I don’t want Veronica to feel uncomfortable during our dinner. She’s nice and I just want to get to know her a little better. I don’t have any friends, to speak of. Maybe this will expand my horizons to new relationships. I’m a little old to be an island.

She showed up at 5:30pm at Grey House as I requested, but she insisted on being able to go home and change into more comfortable clothing, adding that, “No self-respecting woman would go to a man’s house for the first time and not have her car available.” I get that. We’ve had a lot of lunches, but nothing as intimate as dinner at the other’s house.

I open the door when she arrives and she’s a bit stunned.

“Wow,” she says. “You dress down nicely.”

“So do you,” I say, taking a moment to admire her figure in tight skinny jeans, a T-shirt, and a light jacket. However, I don’t stare too long. “Come in,” I add, stepping aside to allow her in.

“I should have known you’d have a set-up like this,” she says, taking off her jacket and revealing a very nice-looking rack—not too big and not too small. She doesn’t have the big ass I’ve come to like, but her curves leave nothing lacking.

Dammit, Grey. Stop checking her out! That’s not the purpose of this visit.

“You can just put your jacket and purse there on the sofa if you like,” I say, going into the kitchen. “There’s no one else here but my staff and they’re tucked away unless I call them.”

“Staff?” she asks, placing her jacket and purse on the sofa.

“My security and housekeeper,” I say, taking a bottle from the refrigerator and retrieving two glasses. “I’m a wine drinker with dinner, but knowing that you were driving, I opted for sparkling grape. Is that okay?”

“Perfect,” she replies. I place the two glasses on the counter and open the grape juice.

“Please, have a seat,” I say, gesturing to the stool at the breakfast bar. She sits and I fill our glasses, uncovering a tray of antipasto and crudité to share before dinner.

“I was feeling like I was underdressed coming to this place,” she says. “I’m glad to see that you’re comfortably casual, too. How do you live here, CG? I’d be afraid I’d break something.” And her wit begins immediately.

“You get used to it,” I say, eating some of the antipasto and sipping my drink.

“Oh, yeah, I bet it was agony,” she quips, and our light lunchtime banter starts anew.

Throughout hors d’oeuvres and part of dinner, I find out that Veronica is from Seattle and her parents still live here. She’s the youngest of five with two brothers and two sisters, and the only one with a college degree. She’s still very close to one of her brothers and cordial, for lack of a better word, with one brother and one sister. She lost the other sister in a drug deal gone wrong.

She has no children as, even though she dates, she hasn’t met the right guy yet. All of her other brothers and sisters have married and had children, including the one that passed away, and her parents constantly ask when she’s going to give them some grandchildren.

“I always tell them, ‘Mom, Dad, you have 14 grandchildren. Lighten up.’ Anyway, I don’t think it’s in the stars for me.”

She talks about how she doesn’t see falling in love anytime soon and without that very special someone, kids aren’t an option—especially since she’s hoping to make partner sometime very soon.

“The boss didn’t give me any flack for being late from lunch the other day,” she says. “I’ve never been any kind of late since the day I started working for the company. He didn’t even notice until I apologized. This is really good,” she says of the roast chicken and spaghetti carbonara. “Did you cook it yourself?” she teases. I twist my lips at her.

“I can,” I retort, sticking my tongue out at her, “but no, my housekeeper cooked for us tonight.”

“So, CG, you haven’t told me what’s had you in a mood,” she says. “You started telling me about your lifestyle, but I want to know what has your face dragging the ground. And since I’ve seen that hound-dog-jowls look before, I know it’s a girl, so don’t bother trying to deny it.” She eats more of her pasta. I roll my eyes.

“It’s not what you think it is,” I tell her. “I’m not in any kind of relationship, but I had an arrangement—for lack of a better word—with this… girl,” although Golden is anything but simply a girl. “The lifestyle is discreet and hard to explain to someone unfamiliar with it, but the best way I can explain it is that I feel like she broke our deal.” Veronica twists her lips.

“I see,” she says. “It’s this secret-Red-Door-type of thing, so you can’t be too specific. There’s obviously nothing illegal going on, or you wouldn’t be talking to me about it. This arrangement you had with this girl, was it exclusive?”

“Not at all,” I reply, “but the way that we practice in the lifestyle, the rules are very strict, and everything is very safe. Certain clubs require a doctor’s clearance every six months. Certain relationships are even structured with contracts and non-disclosure agreements. The BDSM lifestyle is a lot more prevalent than a lot of people think.” She nods.

“Sooooooo…” she says, dragging the word out, “what happened? She put the pussy on you, and it blew your mind?” I chuckle at her candor.

“What’s tragic is that we haven’t had any kind of penetrative sex, unless you include oral,” I admit. “It’s just not in our agreement.”

“You two have one of those contracts?” she inquires. I shake my head.

“Not a written one,” maybe that was my mistake. “It’s mostly non-verbal. Apparently, however, I assumed some unspoken rules that I shouldn’t have.”

“You stepped wrong, CG?” she asks, drinking some of her grape juice.

“No,” I say regretfully, “she did… twice.” I stand and gather our plates. “Would you like seconds? Be sure to leave room for dessert.”

“Well, if there’s dessert, I better not take seconds,” she says, wiping her lips with her napkin. I clear the dishes from the breakfast bar, scrape the scraps into the garbage disposal and load the used dishes into the dishwasher.

“You’re quite domestic,” she teases with a chuckle. I scoff.

“Not even,” I say, retrieving two more glasses and two dessert plates from the cupboard. “I just know how to clean up after myself.” I retrieve dessert and a bottle of wine from the refrigerator. “I hope you like key lime pie.”

“I love key lime pie,” she says as I place it on the breakfast bar in front of us. “Ironically, I once had a boyfriend who would eat no other dessert, but key lime pie.”

“Wow,” I say plating the pie for each of us. “That’s a very narrow choice.”

“He was very narrow-minded,” she replies. “That relationship didn’t last long.” I raise a brow as I uncork the wine.

“Care to elaborate, or is it a tender topic?” I ask, as I pour the wine.

“It’s not tender at all, and I thought you said ‘no wine,’” she accuses.

“Except with dessert,” I reply, putting the bottle on the counter. “This is a Sauvignon Blanc. I didn’t even pour you a full serving since I know that you’re driving, but you’re going to want to sip this as you’re eating your key lime pie. It should be an experience. It should not be forced or rushed.”

“Oh, I get it,” she says, putting a small serving on her fork. “Archie used to take huge clumps of it like it would run away if he didn’t eat it quickly.” I laugh.

“Taste the forkful,” I coax, and she puts the fork in her mouth. “Now, don’t just chew and swallow. Let it coat your tongue a little.” I can tell that she’s moving the pie around in her mouth so that each section is coated before she swallows.

“That’s very good,” she says. I nod.

“Now, take a small sip of your wine—not too much, just enough to compliment the flavor of the pie.” She sips the wine and lets it flow down her throat.

“That’s delicious!” she says.

“See?” I say. “The correct wine paring with dessert can be the perfect conclusion of a great meal.” I cut a piece of the pie with my fork. “Tell me you’ve tried other desserts besides key lime.” I eat the forkful and chase it with the wine.

“I have but he hasn’t,” she says, eating more of her pie.

“You were elaborating before you chided me about the wine.” She nods as she swallows another sip of the wine.

“Basically, his parents were staunch fundamentalists, and that’s how they raised him. If it was fun or different, it was wrong in their eyes, and a lot of that training syphoned through to him.”

“So, of course, no premarital sex, no secular music…” I begin.

“Oh, it was much more than that,” she says. “He couldn’t go to or watch movies at all. School functions like dances or festivals were out of the question. He couldn’t do any social things like arcades, the Space Needle, hang out with his friends, nothing like that. So, when he grew up and he moved out on his own, he took all that with him.

“He admitted that he couldn’t wait to be free of his parents because they were so strict, and he felt like he couldn’t breathe. He wanted to be out in the world and experience things on his own, but once he got out there, he couldn’t break away from his old traditions. I was afraid I was going to end up somewhere churning butter and sewing aprons with the other womenfolk!” I burst out laughing.

“Oh, God, that was bad,” I say finishing my pie and refilling my wine.

Very bad,” she confirms. “The key lime pie, it’s just all she ever made, so that’s all he ever ate. Getting him to try a different dessert was impossible. So, you know sex was completely out of the question. That was a deal breaker. Who wants to date a guy that’ll barely even kiss them?” she shakes her head but doesn’t finish her wine.

“Would you like something else to drink?” I ask. “More grape juice or some water?”

“Water’s a good idea,” she says. “Dinner was delicious and despite my prior experience, that pie was superb.” I nod as I get a bottle of water from the refrigerator. “So,” she continues as she opens the bottle, “tell me your story. All I know is that you practice some kinky lifestyle and you’re hung up on some girl that you shouldn’t be hung up on.” I roll my eyes.

“I’m not hung up on her,” I protest. Veronica waves her hand.

“Semantics,” she says. “There’s some girl in some kinky lifestyle. What else is there to know about CG?” I twist my brow.

“Honestly, not much really,” I say. “I was raised in Washington, too. I grew up in Bellevue.”

“Ooo, fancy,” she teases.

“Not so much,” I say. “We were fairly well off, but not like the other families in Bellevue. We weren’t really wealthy until later.” She nods.

“Okay.”

“Nothing really dramatic about my childhood,” I admit. “I was dating this girl, Juliet…”

“That’s her real name?” she asks with twisted lips.

“That’s her real name, and I really shouldn’t have told you.” I take a drink of my wine. “Anyway, we weren’t compatible. So, we broke up—nothing so dramatic as key lime pie or fear of becoming a puritan.” She chuckles. “A little while after that, I literally stumbled on some information about BDSM and someone close to me introduced me to it.”

“You don’t have one of those rooms here, do you?” she asks.

“Excuse me?” I’m caught off guard by the question. When we last talked, she didn’t know anything about BDSM.

“I did a little research after we talked,” she admits. “I was coming to your house. I didn’t want any surprises.”

“Did you think you were going to walk into a big BDSM sanctum?” I ask, shocked.

“I didn’t know what I was going to walk into,” she says. “I didn’t think I had anything to worry about, but I still didn’t know.” I cross my arms.

“Is that why you insisted on driving? Tell the truth.” She shrugs.

“Yes, and no,” she confesses. “I’m the type of girl who feels like she should always be able to pay for her own meal on her first date and she should always be able to get home on her own. That’s why I wanted to drive. And plus, I didn’t know what to think.”

“But we agreed this isn’t a date,” I point out.

“But I did come to your house,” she retorts. I shake my head.

“Well,” I say, gesturing around the apartment, “as you can see, no BDSM sanctum. And I don’t have a dungeon,” I stress. “I have a room where I ‘entertain,’ and there may be a toy or two in there, but not dungeon.” She nods.

“Okay, so you got into BDSM because some girl broke your heart?”

“You must think I’m a real sap,” I reply.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because, yes, I have a girl—a woman—on my mind, and yes, I feel slighted by her. So, the situation has me a bit preoccupied, but you’ve got me ‘pining’ over her. I’m not pining. Then, I tell you that I broke up with a girl because we were incompatible, and you’ve got me in whips and chains because I’m heartbroken. Did you stop eating key lime pie or going to movies because of Puritan Boy?” I ask.

“No!” she says, somewhat affronted.

“Well, then, stop trying to make me a sociology project,” I state. “You want to know some things, I’m glad to share, but I’m not broken, Veronica.”

“Sheesh, sensitive much?” she comments. “And call me Ronnie, for goodness sake. Only my dad calls me Veronica. It makes me feel like I’m in trouble.” I shake my head again.

“You’re a nut, you know that?” I declare. She shrugs.

“Tell me something I don’t know.” I roll my eyes again.

“I got into BDSM because I wanted to try something different,” I say. “I wanted to see if it would spice up my sex life, and it did.”

“How?” she asks.

“Well, imagine having your pick of partners—clean partners—who are willing to do whatever you want depending on your flavor. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. They don’t do anything they don’t want to do, but you both get to explore your level of kink in a safe, sane, and consensual environment. You can be as extreme as you want or you can be as tame as you want, but whatever you do, you write your own rules.

“Some people may decide that they want multiple partners while others may want just one. It can be experimental, where each of you are playing and deciding what you do and do not like, or it can be very structured, like the contracts.”

“Is there swinging involved?” she asks, “Like wife sharing?”

“There could be, yeah,” I tell her, “but again, only on a consensual basis.” She nods.

“I don’t know if that’s for me,” she says.

“It’s definitely not for everybody,” I say. “If you ever are interested, or even just want to watch, I can take you some places where folks won’t jump your bones or harass you. It’s not as scary as it looks or sounds on the internet, but again, it’s not for everybody.”

“So,” she continues. “How did CG become the Christian Grey?”

I get a feeling that she wants to change the subject. I tell her the story about how I got into Harvard but realized that I didn’t need a college education to open my business. So, I dropped out, got a small business loan, and the business ain’t so small no more. That, of course, led to the eternal feud that my sister and I are having because she couldn’t go to Harvard and I dropped out. We talk a little more about disastrous relationships, family tithes, and the financial and business hopes of the future before we agree that it’s getting late and she should get home. We agree to do dinner again soon and lunch as usual and I tell her to please call or text me to let me know that she has gotten home safely.

I pour myself another glass of wine, turn off the lights and head for my bedroom. I have to admit, it’s good to have someone to talk to. I can talk about Golden without using her name; talk about my lifestyle without somebody running for the fucking hills; I can even talk about my crazy ass family.

Once in my bedroom, I change into some pajama pants and a T-shirt and climb into bed. I take out my phone to review a few emails before I go to sleep, and I see that I have a text.

Is Ronnie home already? That was fast. She must live in the neighborhood. I swipe the screen and discover that the text is not from Ronnie:

**My house. Tomorrow 8pm. We have unfinished business. **

Is she insane? Does she think I want more of that submissive treatment? She’s out of her fucking mind if she thinks I want to be subjected to that again. What the hell else do we have to say to each other if she thinks she can subject me to that? She knows what she did, and there’s no mistaking how I feel about it, so what use is there for me to drive out to her house?

She summoned me.

She’s never summoned me before.

What the fuck is this all about? I’m not dumb enough to expect an apology, but my curiosity is killing me.

I don’t care what she says or what she does, how good she looks or what she’s wearing. I’m not going to let her get me in that dungeon again and work me up just to leave me hanging. I’m a client, and she’s turning me into a submissive. She knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s stringing me out thinking I’m going to come back begging for more. Not going to happen, Golden.


Briana Evigan 16

GOLDEN

It’s a brisk September Saturday, and I wake up with a mission. I’ve more than gotten my swagger back and I’m ready to face the world…

And one insolent client.

But before I do that, there are a few matters that require the attention of Anastasia Olivet, Esq.

I’m very pleased to give Blake the news that his divorce was signed, sealed, and delivered yesterday. It’s now time for him to move on with his life. I’m surprised to find that he has things that are still stored at the home that he has now left to his wife.

“Blake, why didn’t you tell me this before?” I ask. She could have done anything with those things by now.”

“I was more concerned with getting out of the house and away from her, Mistress,” he confesses. “They are things that I would like to retrieve if I can, but if I can’t…” he trails off.

I’ve met this woman. She’s scorned on many levels, whether she deserves to be or not.

“Did you leave anything valuable in the home?” I ask. “Any keepsakes?”

“There may have been a few things of significant value,” he says. “Keepsakes? I’m not sure. I won’t know unless I see them.” I sigh.

“Blake, I highly advise against going back to that house,” I warn. “At best, you’re going to find your things completely destroyed if you find them at all.” He nods.

“I’m aware of this, Mistress,” he says, “but I need to make sure that there’s nothing there that belongs to me.”

I’ve never been to Blake’s home. It’s a beautiful estate on the sound with the long, private driveway and a multi-car garage. The lawn is finely manicured, and the overall landscaping is impeccable. We’re soon to find out why.

A real estate sign shows that the house is already for sale.

We had hired a moving crew to help him retrieve his things, only to discover when we arrive that his ex-wife had cleaned the house out—all of his things and hers, including every picture of their daughter. We walk around the outside of the house to see if anything had been left.

It had.

In the back of the house is a large storage shed. Inside were several boxes with colorful descriptions on them that had to be translated for me:

Bastard…
Asshole…
Loser…
Murderer…

The list is endless. Inside of each box were fragments of clothing, personal items, books, random pieces of furniture… The boxes were stacked pretty high and at least six rows deep in the back of the shed. Blake calmly opened three boxes and examined their contents before stepping away and deciding not to open any more. I give the moving crew the task of opening and examining each box to see if anything is left still intact.

It takes several hours, but later in the day, we’re informed that everything in the boxes have been destroyed beyond recognition. I tell the crew to leave the boxes in the shed as is and promise them a handsome bonus for their trouble.

During the time that the crew was investigating the boxes, Blake and I go to the garage to ascertain the conditions of the vehicles he had left behind—a late-model Benz, an older Beamer, and a Lexus that was only a few years old. All three vehicles had been stripped down to the frames, and that’s all that remained. Blake is completely emotionless as he stands there, quietly examining his worthless vehicles.

“Blake?” I try to get his attention.

“She wasn’t always like this,” he says, still looking at the frames. “She was once a beautiful, docile woman… a superb wife and an excellent mother. She loved me and our life and our family. She changed when I killed our daughter.

“I don’t know this woman. I never will. I took something precious from her and she’s been broken ever since, and she’s been trying to break me. She succeeded in the beginning, and now her revenge is complete.” I swallow hard. These cars meant something to him even if he doesn’t say so.

“Blake, the cars…” I trail off.

“Trinkets,” he says, “except the BMW. It belonged to mi madre… the last vehicle she drove before she died.” He sighs heavily.

Oh, hell.

“You could sue her, you know,” I tell him, “for the value of the cars and of the things that she destroyed. We have all the proof right here.” He shakes his head.

“It’s no use, Mistress,” he says. “She has the $4 million, the value of the car, the value of the house. She can’t repay me for what she’s done. She can’t repay me for what she’s taken from me, just like I can’t repay her. We are both broken human beings trying to put our lives back together.

“I have made peace with what I did to my Danielle. I hope she finds her peace as well. It’s easier to start over and never have to speak to her again that it would be to chase down those trinkets she took. I won’t remember the monster she has become. I will only ever remember the times when she was still mi alma.

With those words, Blake leaves the garage and pulls out his cell. He does a quick search, then calls a salvage yard to come and retrieve the frames of the cars. Once the frames are removed, we quietly leave the estate.

As for my other situation, I wish I could say that I was cool as a cucumber today. I sent a text to Trey to meet me at my house this evening and I’m not completely sure that I’m ready for that or that he’ll even come. I know that he hasn’t forgotten me, and if I know him correctly, he’s stewing a bit. I didn’t expect him to send me tribute after that last session, but I also didn’t expect him to go completely radio silent on me.

I’ve reviewed the consequences of leaving a client unsatisfied. Just like any situation, they can choose not to deal with you anymore. But what did he expect? He showed up at my house unannounced and then he left all belligerent and shit. He couldn’t expect not to have any repercussions for that.

But he’s a client, not a submissive…

Be that as it may, I’m still his Mistress, and he didn’t show me that respect. If he doesn’t show me the respect of Mistress, he’s not going to get what Mistress gives, and I don’t care how many hissy fits he has. And dammit, from the very beginning, I told him that I choose. I choose who to engage and when to engage, and I choose when to dismiss. So, he doesn’t get the luxury of being able to just disappear on me like that without a word. You leave that behavior for the Madame Petra’s of the world, I’m not the one.

I head to Gene Juarez for a day of beauty. I do my own Brazilian waxing, but I needed everything else to be buffed, threaded, waxed, trimmed, and curled. If he’s going to be dismissed, let him see what he’s going to be missing. Otherwise, he’ll have to beg for me to take him back as a client.

I’m getting my avocado mask when I hear two other patrons talking about none other than Madame Petra herself.

“I heard that he beat her again,” one woman says.

“It’d serve her right, sleeping with other people’s husbands!” another says. Oh, hell, who did she sleep with.

“I don’t think that’s what it was,” the first girl says. “I think it’s because he wants a divorce and she won’t give him one.”

“Well, that’s what it said in Seattle Snoop,” the first woman counters. “It says right here that Caldwell Lincoln is suspected of battering Elena Lincoln a second time, and that reliable sources reveal that he found her in bed with another man—married—but they won’t reveal his identity.”

Oh, it’s a gossip rag. They got the beating wrong. They’re probably making up the rest. And that was a long time ago. They’re just now breaking that story… or did she get beaten again?

“Think about it, Lisa,” the second girl says. “We’re talking about Seattle Snoop here. Not the best source of information. And as much as they like to splatter people’s names all over their rag, they suddenly won’t reveal the name of the unfaithful husband? They got it from a reliable source, but they can’t reveal his name?”

“Well, I’m just saying,” Lisa says, “there’s probably some truth to what they’re saying. She was in hiding in that house for nearly two months. As much as that woman loves attention, something was going on to keep her locked away in her little cottage.”

“Her Kirkland home is hardly a cottage,” the second woman says. “She’ll be sitting pretty if she gets that in the divorce.”

“Are they really getting divorced?” Lisa asks.

“Wouldn’t you?” the second says. “Think about it. He beats her all to hell the first time and we still don’t know why, then he takes off for the Bahamas. They find him there with other women—they still don’t know who. When he gets back, they’re both cleaning out bank accounts…”

I didn’t know that part.

“… And they’re both accusing each other of assault. The Misses is being sued by some of the ladies that come here because of that fiasco of being bitten by rats or something in her shop…”

Boy, that rumor mill is still as ugly as hell… a whole year later!

“… And she’s being sued by Christian Grey because she fingered him as the person that beat her that night… and I think she’s got some charges against her for something that she did to him.”

“That man’s like a quadrillionaire. What does he expect to get from Elena Lincoln?”

“My guess is that he’s just trying to give her a hard time,” the second lady replies. “I have to look it up, but whatever criminal case against her or whatever it is that involves him is coming up in a couple of months.”

Well, this is valuable information. We need to look into a settlement soon or there may be nothing left to sue for.

“How do you know all this?” Lisa asks.

“Because I do follow the reliable news sources,” the second says, “and speaking of reliable sources, The Seattle Journal had the same questions we do about the divorce. Is it happening? What’s at stake? Blah, blah, blah, and guess what?”

What? What?

“There’s probably no divorce underway that we know of because the Lincolns don’t have a prenup.”

Get the fuck outta here! How did I not know this? It’s time to settle this lawsuit ASAP! Depending on how the wind blows, this could go either way. Blondie could end up with half of a huge estate or she could end up with nothing! Then, she’s got Trey’s lawsuit to contend with and she’s got defenses that she’s going to have to pay for in the near future.

I listen to the ladies talk about Blondie’s woes a little longer. Just about everything they’re saying is way off the mark, although they are giving me some good information, at least a bit here and a bit there that I wasn’t aware of. Linc is apparently living in a hotel and fighting tooth and nail to keep Trey from muscling in on the lumber business. That used to be tribute to me. Now it appears to be more personal, not that I blame the man.

When my day of beauty is over, my eyebrows are threaded, I’ve had a flawless facial, and my hair is a full, gleaming halo of brunette waves. Every inch of my body is as smooth and soft as a baby’s bottom, and my nails and toes are clipped, filed and polished to perfection.

Before dressing to deal with one errant client, I sit down in my study and compose an email to send to the participants of the lawsuit against Blondie. I inform them of the importance of coming to a settlement soon since Lincoln will soon be facing her comeuppance on some very serious legal woes and we may get nothing at all from her even if we win the case. I recommend a non-negotiable $10 million to be split between them once my legal fee has been paid. I won’t take my portion as a participant of the lawsuit since my fee will be one-third of the settlement. They may agree, they may not, but we’ll just have to see.

My chosen attire this evening is more champagne than gold, but it’s sexy as fuck. It’s a spaghetti-string silk dress with a hidden zipper in the back, a plunging neckline, and a mock-wrap waist with a thigh split that comes past my bikini line. It’s full and flowing and beautiful, the skirt a little long so that it can drag behind me when I walk. I’m wearing strappy stiletto sandals that fasten around my ankles with no stockings since my legs are as smooth as ice and my toes are freshly done. A thong would have been overkill, but you can’t go wrong with the nude seamless French-cut panties. A bra is out of the question with the spaghetti straps and the plunging neckline, so I know my nipples are prominent through the dress. My jewelry is very understated—a pair of simple gold earrings and a gold bracelet pushed up to my bicep.

Try to walk away from this, Chopper, I dare you.

I go to the parlor and pour a double-shot of vodka and await my prey. He’s about to learn a very valuable lesson this evening.


A/N: Vivian Ward is Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman.

The Pinterest board for this story can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/fifty-shades-golden/.

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

 

Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 18

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.

Explicit details of sex and BDSM scenes from here on out. Some may be hot while others may not be to your taste… and not necessary CG with Ana together. Proceed at your own discretion, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

This ain’t your everyday Christian and Ana story. Don’t expect anything. Just read it as it goes along or go away. 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 new saga continues…

Chapter 18

Eric Dane 18

TREY

“We think it was Linc, but was it really him?” Wester asks, reviewing the article about Linc being extradited back to the states and now in custody of the Kirkland Police.

“It was him,” I reply. “I’d bet my fucking fortune on it. Elena is beat all to hell not two hours after he leaves GEH with a bloody nose, and come morning, he’s gone.”

“That’s my concern,” Wester says, folding the paper and putting it back on my desk. “You’ve been cleared of beating Elena Lincoln. Is there any possible way that you can be pinned for his face looking that way? That would clear him for beating Elena and pin you for beating him.” I hadn’t even thought of that.

“Wouldn’t he need some kind of proof that I hit him?” I ask. “A witness, or DNA, which he certainly doesn’t have? Besides, I hit him in the nose and that was it. That man looks like he’s been through Saigon!” Wester nods.

“This is true,” he says. “There’re all kinds of holes in the story that Linc won’t be able to fill. First, his wife falsely accuses you. If he tries to accuse you, too, it’s likely that no one would believe him even though you knocked the stuffing out of his ass. It’s obvious that he exhibits all the benchmarks of a guilty man, but I look beyond the obvious, sir. I look for all the loopholes that some sleazy DA or some gung-ho cop can use to make the big pin and do the famous televised perp-walk. That’s why I’m asking if there’s anything at all that can link you to assaulting that man?”

I twist my lips and ponder the situation. I like the way he thinks. He’s three steps ahead of everything and he’s got raw killer instincts. Once we got him out of here, I didn’t think twice about Linc or anything that he thought he might have been able to do to me. I had shown him who’s boss and he dare not cross me.

Until…

“There’s nothing I can think of besides the fact that he left here with a bloody nose,” I say. “If someone saw him leave, or his exit was caught on someone’s exterior security camera somewhere…” Wester nods.

“We’ll prepare for that eventuality,” he says, typing into his phone. Fuck, I’m glad he’s on my side.

“Could this whole thing be a scheme or plot of some kind between him and his wife? To nail me for this so that I can become a non-factor in his lumber interests while negating the cases that I have against his wife?” Wester nodded.

“It would be quite the coup, but it could. From what I know about Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, I don’t think they collaborate that way.”

“Don’t put it past them,” I say, typing into my computer. “A common enemy can create an alliance between the Hatfields and the McCoys.” He purses his lips.

“You’re thinking like me,” he says, with raised eyebrows.

“How do you know you’re not thinking like me?” I ask. He laughs and shakes his head.

“I’ll cede this one to you this time, Mr. Grey, because you’re the boss… but I think you know better.” Asshole. He’s a straight shooter and a straight cutter. He’s just what I need for my team.

“I want my mugshots back,” I inform him. “I never should have been booked and I don’t want those in the system.”

“I’ll get on it,” he says. I bring up my email and see that the piece that I’ve commissioned is ready to be shipped. Fucking hell, it took long enough. I asked for the damn thing nearly a week ago. She’s going to think I completely forgot my tribute. I pay the fortune it costs to have it shipped overnight and order another case of the gold-infused vodka to accompany it.

I’ve been resisting the urge to touch my lips all day, her kissed still bruised in my skin like it was yesterday. It’s my turn to leave an impression.


Briana Evigan 18

GOLDEN

Just when I thought I was in the clear for that temporary slip of the lips, it comes back to bite me in the ass. A week after I absent-mindedly kissed Trey after a scene, I get two pretty fucking remarkable gifts…

Another case of the gold-infused vodka, as if he knew that I had run out…

And a golden sculpture of lips—a very large sculpture of golden lips. They’re like two-feet wide.

“He seems infatuated with the anatomy,” Blake says, eyeing the lips.

“This is gaudy,” I say, pointing to the horrid thing. “This is something I would expect to see in someone’s psychedelic 1970’s bachelor pad along with horrible shag carpet, beaded curtains, and lava lamps. How dare he send me something like this!” Blake examines the sculpture carefully.

“If I can be so bold, Mistress,” he says, “this is certainly not some gaudy piece worthy of a 1970’s bachelor pad.” He lifts the sculpture. “This—like the statue—was commissioned. Even though there may be others out there like it, this is a custom piece. It’s not mass-produced, it’s made of gold fiberglass, and it was created by an international artist. That writing on the bottom is German. As you well know, the States doesn’t have many mass imports from Germany.”

“It’s still gaudy,” I maintain.

“It’s not gaudy, Mistress,” Blake retorts. “It may not be to your taste, but it’s not gaudy. Like the statue, Mr. Grey wants you to know that your body has left a lasting impression on him. This time, it was your lips.” I shake my head. This can’t happen.

“How do you know so much?” I ask him.

“It didn’t come easily,” he says. “What would you like to do with it?”

“Ship it to his home address,” I say without hesitating. “I’ll keep the vodka, but not the lips. Please make it clear that I don’t want it returned.”

“Very well, Mistress,” he says, and he takes the ugly thing and the packing that came with it and leaves the room. This is not part of the plan, Trey. If you want this to continue, you have to get your head out of the clouds. In fact…

I pull out my phone and fire off a text to him.

**The kiss was a mistake. It won’t happen again. **

*-*

“So, you kissed him,” Kevin says as we eat lunch after our yoga session later that week.

“Yeah. Temporary insanity,” I admit.

“Or could you just like the guy?” He raises a brow at me.

“I like his dick,” I say finitely, eating some of my fried zucchini. He scoffs.

“And you’ve never seen a dick you’ve liked before,” he says, his voice low, “because it’s obvious that you’ve never voluntarily kissed some guy… at least not in the current context.” He takes a big bite of his burger.

“I’ve seen other dicks that I’ve liked,” I say after swallowing my food. “And actually, I choose one person a month to kiss. So, yes, I have voluntarily kissed someone else before.”

“So, what’s so different about this one?” This one wasn’t the one I chose to be this month. In fact, I hadn’t chosen anyone to be this month…

“I just got carried away. It happens,” I say dismissively.

“Really?” he says, his mouth full of burger. “And how often has that happened to you?” he confronts.

“That’s not the point…”

“It’s exactly the point!” Kevin laughs. “You may be starting to feel something and it’s scaring the shit out of you. Is it the fact that you’re feeling something or the fact that you’re feeling something for him?”

“I’m feeling something for his dick!” I clarify, louder this time. A few people in the café turn and look at us.

“I’m sorry to be the one to burst your little bubble, Annie, but there’s a body attached to that dick!” he says, just as loudly as I do. “You can’t just cut it off and pretend that it doesn’t exist.”

“I may not be able to cut it off,” I say, lowering my tone, “but I have absolutely no problem pretending the body doesn’t exist. You wouldn’t understand, because you don’t adore the penis like I do.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t kiss his penis,” Kevin says, taking a bite from a fry.

Yeah, there is that.

“What I’m so miffed about,” he says, wiping ketchup from his mouth, “is that I didn’t think you were even slightly interested in that kind of relationship at all, so I didn’t even try.”

“I’m still not interested,” I clarify. “Like I said, it was temporary insanity and it won’t happen again. God, I wish I hadn’t even brought it up now.”

“You brought it up because you needed to tell somebody. You needed to tell somebody because it was eating at you and you couldn’t handle it on your own. That’s probably the case because you like this guy more than you’re willing to admit and denying it to me—even though I wanted you first—to him, or to yourself is not going to make it any less true.”

“Wanted me?” I say, pretending to be slighted. “You don’t want me anymore?”

“What does it matter? We’re friends now,” he says, chomping on another fry. I roll my eyes and move to take another bite of my sandwich when I catch an unpleasant sight over Kevin’s shoulder.

“Oh, what the fuck is this?” I hiss, dreading the next few seconds. Kevin frowns and looks over his shoulder just in time to catch Jake strolling in our direction.

“What the hell?” I groan. “Do I have a fucking tracking device attached to me?” I don’t see or hear anything from this guy in 17 years and now, he just seems to pop up where I am. I understood him popping up at the restaurant because I was in his neighborhood, but the grocery downtown? And now here? Am I releasing dog pheromones or something?

“Fancy meeting you here,” he says with a suggestive smile.

“Yeah, fancy that,” Kevin says, a near-scowl affixed to his face. Jake turns to Kevin.

“Yeah, you, too Kev, but…” he turns that creepy ass smile back to me, “I was addressing the lady.” I fold my arms and glare at him.

“Well, the lady is clearly not addressing you,” Kevin replies. Jake doesn’t tear his eyes away from me.

“I don’t know why I was so… driven… to get a Mickey’s patty melt—this place is so far out of my way—but now I see. When I want something, I just do whatever I have to do to get it.” He bites his bottom lip and I just want to hurl. I’m in a public café, not one of the clubs. I can’t floor him like I normally would. I have a few choice words bubbling up in my stomach, but I’m certain that it would just egg him on. Instead, I turn back to my lunch and continue to eat.

“Look, man, you’ve come to speak. You got your sandwich. Now, if you don’t mind, you are interrupting our lunch, which is pretty rude,” Kevin warns. I know just from his strength and his size alone that unless Jake has been working out or doing some MMA fighting that I’m not aware of, Kevin can most likely squash him. Hell, I can most likely squash him, but there would be some police intervention involved with either of those options. Even though I don’t make eye contact, I can feel his gaze boring into me.

“The lady hasn’t expressed an interest in my leaving, and even if she did, I would do my very best to dissuade her.” Dear God, if he only knew how much his sad attempt at seduction is making my stomach turn. He really is ruining my lunch.

“My mom always told me that if you ignore a pest, they eventually go away,” I say, taking another bite of my sandwich.

“Except flies,” Kevin says to me before turning a searing glare back to Jake. “Those bitches don’t go away til you swat ‘em.” I raise my eyes just in time to see the gentlemen glaring at each other about to square off.

“You wanna catch this fade, mothafucka, let’s go!” Jake taunts. Oh, I’ve had enough of this shit.

“And exactly what would you be fighting for?” I say loudly, now standing to face Jake and deliberately raising my voice. “When I wanted you, you didn’t want me. Now, you precariously pop up everywhere I’m trying to get something to eat, often muscling in on my meal, and now you want to fight because I won’t pay you any attention? It’s my understanding that you can—and already did—have any piece of pussy in town that you wanted. What’s the problem? Go find one that wants you, too. Just leave!”

I’ve had enough! I want this asshole to leave me the hell alone. He won’t take the cold shoulder; he won’t take rejection; let’s try humiliation.

“What the fuck you say?” he says, surprised that I had the nerve to call him out. “This mothafucka disrespected me. What makes you think I would fight over you, hoe, you ain’t shit!” I violently wave him off.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever the fuck you say! You made that shit very clear several years ago—until you fuckin’ started stalkin’ me again. Now, say that shit while you walkin’!”

Jake eyes me with serious distaste and raises one nostril like he’s smelling something bad.

“You think you hot shit ‘cause you white?” he spits.

“What I think is that we were trying to enjoy our lunch before you brought your ass over here fuckin’ with us. You said I ain’t shit, so why are you still here? Get the hell away from our table!” He’s so busy trying to humiliate me like I just humiliated him that he doesn’t see Jesse come up behind him.

“Shut the fuck up, puppy, and sit yo’ ass down,” he retorts.

“The lady said leave,” Jesse says from behind him. “You’re disturbing her lunch.”

Jake turns around and whirls right into a wall of angry, buff security guard about five inches taller than him. Not to be outmatched, he aggressively looks up and down Jesse’s form.

“What? You fuckin’ her, too, white boy?” he accuses.

Oh, little boy, if you only knew that nobody in this room right now is fucking me, least of all, you.

“No, but I may have to restrain you and kick you out for insulting the lady and disturbing her lunch. You are now in her personal space which makes you a threat, and I won’t be responsible if your face meets a little road rash on the way down.” Jake scoffs.

“You think I’m scared o’ you?” Jake asks incredulously, his voice rising two octaves. “Nigga, where I come from, the bigger they are, the harder they fall!”

“Please… oh, please test that theory,” Jesse invites and stands there, waiting for Jake to make a move. Jake glares at Jesse but doesn’t dare to make a move. “Air and opportunity, young’un,” Jesse adds.

Now, where Jake comes from, “air and opportunity” is short for “Stop yappin’ and make your move. Ain’t nothin’ between us but air and opportunity,” So, now Jake has to shut the fuck up and make his move or get the fuck on. He takes the latter option. My guess is that he has assessed the situation, weighed his options, analyzed the likelihood of actually leaving the building with a face full of road rash, and decided that outcome would not be favorable for him. He’s going to leave… but not quietly.

“Please,” he says, disdainfully, “ain’t none o’ y’all worth none of this shit.” He moves around Jesse to leave and calls out “bitch” just as he’s getting to the door.

“Yo’ momma’s a bitch,” I retort before the door even opens. He doesn’t pause. He brushes right out the door.

And I’m pretty sure that’s the last I’ll see of him.

“God, what is it with that guy?” Kevin asks. I nod at Jesse thanking him for coming to my rescue and he nods and goes back to his table and his sandwich.

“Is it usually volatile when you guys get together?” I ask. “Does he have something to prove?”

“Yes,” Kevin says. “He sees me with you and you’re the only one in the neighborhood that he hasn’t fucked. So, he has to prove he can fuck you, too. Ain’t shit with me and him. I’ve seen him around here and there, but I haven’t seen him this much in years. It’s like your pussy starts moving in his general vicinity and he can smell you coming.”

“That can’t be it, because I’ve been back in Seattle for a while. So, if he was smellin’ my pussy, he would have smelled it long before now.” I pause. “He does realize he called Jesse the ‘N’ word,” I point out. Kevin twists his lips.

“You said you come from the hood,” Kevin says. “You know that’s not what he did. He used the ‘gga’ not the ‘gger.’”

“But if Jesse had said that to him…” I begin my protest.

“Yes, I know,” Kevin interrupts. “The entire café would have been in an uproar. At the risk of defending that asshole, you know we throw that word around a little more than we should and in different ways.” I twist my lips and don’t touch the rest of my unfinished lunch.

“I don’t approve of black people disparaging white people any more than I approve of white people disparaging black people—and he does that pretty freely. Jesse was the ‘gga’ and ‘white boy’ and I supposedly thought I was all that because I’m white, but had I made even the slightest reference to his race, that would have been an entirely different conversation.” Kevin puts his hands up.

“Hey, I’m on your side, remember?” he says, surrender evident in his tone. I roll my eyes and shake my head. I’m going to start carrying a police whistle and blow the shit out of that bitch when I see him coming!

“Well, I’d say lunch is sufficiently ruined,” he says, pushing away the rest of his burger. I raise my eyes to him and his disgusted expression.

“So… since we’re friends and all, I guess I can make this up to you. That asshole wouldn’t have come to the table had I not been sitting here. Dinner at my house on Friday?” He raises surprised eyes to me. “That is if you don’t mind crossing the bridge.

“Uh… no, I don’t mind,” he stutters. “I got a car.”

Yeah, I surprised the shit out of him.

“Well, then, I’ll text you my address, and don’t be surprised when my butler answers the door.”

“Ooooo, a butler! Fancy,” he teases, and it adds some levity to our ruined lunch.

*-*

I invited Kevin to dinner. Why the hell did I do that? I still have a few days where I can cancel, but I’m not going to. I’m sadistic, not selfish, and I do feel that Jake ruined a perfectly good lunch because of me.

My phone has been ringing and buzzing with texts… from Trey. I’m sure he has received those ghastly ass lips back and wants to know why. I would rather not see or speak to him right now. I’m not totally certain why I succumbed to kissing him and right now, I’d prefer not to make that mistake again. In fact, Golden has other plans this evening…

**I would be eternally grateful if Mistress could find it in her schedule to fit me in tonight. Or even tomorrow, or whenever you have available. **

The text came right after lunch and right before Trey’s. I would like nothing more than to get my hands a little dirty at one of the clubs. I need to beat the image of Jake out of my fucking head…

And the taste of Trey off my goddamn lips.

**Club Syndrome. 8:00. Tonight. Don’t be late. **

I do a quick gold-chrome nail cover before I don my attire for the evening.

Tonight, it’s the vintage boned gold corset with the mock alligator texturing over high-waisted gold panties. I have to tape my boobs and the corset down so that they don’t fall out during my new routine. Adorning my chest is the Majestic Gold Filigree Indian Wedding choker with matching jhumka earrings—tribute from another satisfied client valued at over $12,000. I have to double-side-tape this piece as well as the necklace falls elegantly over my chest and will droop over my chin while I’m performing unless I secure it.

Wonder WomanThe best wigs that money can buy will ensure that my raven hair won’t end up on the floor somewhere. Gold contacts reminiscent to sunsets and gold eyeshadow on my lid and under my eye lend a dramatic contrast to the black lashes and brows with just a dusting of gold at the end of the brows. I slide into a decadent pair of gold thigh-high stiletto boots and slide two gold arm bracelets on my arms. They almost look like the “Wonder Woman” symbol.

When I’m satisfied with the look, I descend the stairs to find Blake waiting for me. He doesn’t react to my attire, but then again, he never does.

“Which wrap, Mistress?” he asks unfazed.

“Gold leather,” I reply. I check my reflection in the mirror at the foot of the stairs. My lips are done in matte, non-smearing lipsticks—gold and black in a fierce design. I’m extremely proud of my creation. I look every bit the sexy, golden nightmare and I’m beginning to feel more like myself again.

Blake assists me into my gold leather trench just as the doorbell rings. As I fasten my belt, I see my driver and my bodyguard waiting on the other side of the door for me. Right on time, as usual…

“Thornton will be meeting me this evening. Set him up and let me know when he arrives,” I say to Zane, the head dungeon monitor, when I arrive at Syndrome. “And cue the new music.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I remove my coat and walk right to the stage to my usual theme song. This will be my first time doing my new routine, but I’m not concerned. As usual, I just want to show the amateurs how it’s done.

Moments after I mount the stage, the music changes and a dangerous, sultry beat begins as I circle the pole. The crowd goes from a gentle roar to a tiny murmur as I bend one leg and wrap it around the pole behind me.

Sometimes I feel I’ve got to run away…

As Claire Guerreso begins to sing, I reach behind my head, grasp the pole, and begin to climb it backwards.

The murmur falls to silence.

Half-way up the pole, my body bends in half, then fully extends with my stiletto heels pointing perfectly to the ceiling and my raven wig hanging dramatically towards the floor,

It’s nothing but me and the music now.

I’ve lost my light for I toss and turn I can’t sleep at night…

Like hell. Maybe you, but not me.

a2ca8bf11648826dc78841c9918824c9I reproduce the incredible move where my body is bent but not touching the pole. I saw this move in the mirror at the studio, so I’m well aware of how sexy it looks now.

Once I ran to you, now I’ll run from you…

The idea behind a good pole dance is to look sensual and sexy and desirable without looking raunchy. If I wanted to be a stripper, that’s what I would do, but that’s not what I do here. My routines have the same effect whether I’m wearing a pair of lamé panties, thigh high boots, and a corset, or if I’m wearing a catsuit and strappy stiletto. It makes you wonder what’s underneath, not just want to fuck.

My moves display incredible control over my body and muscles—unbelievable leg extensions, midair ab and hip rolls, and insane upper body strength that allows me to sensually animate my body while my hands or arms are the only things touching the pole. My attitude sends a message to men and to women not to come at me with bullshit, because I’m not the one and I won’t have it.

The crowd is once again silently mesmerized as that one line is sung that reminds me that I’m Golden…

You need someone to hold you tight and you’ll think love is to pray,
But I’m sorry, I don’t pray that way…

Nope, not I. Find somebody else to love you.

I writhe down the pole in an awesome finishing move that has my knees bent and my body lying backwards with one arm over my head and my hair splayed on the floor—not even having broken a sweat. When the music dies, I rise to my knees and then to my feet before sauntering to the stairs. There is no applause, but I can clearly hear the murmurings of the crowd—some talking about how sultry the dance was while others asked who I am. They must not be the regulars.

“That’s Golden,” I hear someone say. “She’s a Domme and she damn near owns the place.”

“Well, I never heard of her,” another says.

“You must be new, then,” the first guy says. “She’s extremely exclusive. They’ll blackball you if you do something to piss her off.”

“Your client is ready in room three, ma’am,” Zane says to me as he helps me off the stage. I can’t hear the conversation anymore as I descend the stairs and thank him, but I hear the end of it.

“If she’s here, she’s going to be in one of the exhibition rooms. Come on, get ready for the show of your life.”

That’s right, boys. Golden is here in full effect and now, I have fresh meat to impress. It’s not that I’m looking for any more clients, but I just adore performing for Golden virgins.

Thornton is into humiliation. That’s just what I need tonight. It’s like somebody somewhere knew that I needed to remember who Golden is and what she does. I open the door to the exhibition room and there he is, standing in the corner with his back to me. He’s only wearing his pants, and he’s not allowed to look at me without my permission.

I remove my corded whip from the wall and, dragging it on the ground behind me, skillfully approach my subject.

“Hello, Thornton…

*-*

Last night was perfect. I stretched my Golden legs—and my Golden whip—and I am back! Not that I went anywhere in the first place, I just needed to remind myself who I was. All this kinda touchy-feely shit had me out of touch for a moment.

I don’t answer any of Trey’s calls or texts, which aren’t as frequent as they were at the beginning of the week when I first returned those garish gold lips that he sent me. Those things were horrendous. What the hell did he expect me to do with those?

What’s more, he knows that I know exactly what they were all about. He had as many questions about the kiss as Kevin did… as I did… and I answered them. It was a mistake. It was temporary insanity and it won’t happen again. I told him that and when I feel like he finally understands that, then I’ll answer his fucking texts.

I made sure to tell my clients in the Lincoln lawsuit that she came by in an attempt to settle, but that she wasn’t apologetic, which means that her offer would have been laughable had I listened. They agreed with me that we should take it to court if she doesn’t admit fault and try to make it right.

Make it right. That’s hilarious to me. Each of these women knows that they’re taking this woman for a ride. Maybe one or two of them might have suffered the real heebie-jeebies. The rest are just on the bandwagon for the buck. I’m usually not the slimy lawyer, but in this case, I don’t care. Blondie took the gloves off on me a long time ago, and since I’m so damn ethical in everything else that I do, I don’t mind being the corrupt attorney this time. Not one bit.

It’s just what she deserves.

True to my word, I agree to fix dinner for Kevin on Friday. I get the feeling that I may have to squash his hopes for l’amour as he’s convinced that Trey is breaking me down. Dinner may not be the best idea under the circumstances, but as a friend, I promised. And as a woman and a Domme, I know that if I back out, I’ll be feeding his idea that I’ve been weakened and I’m afraid to be alone with him.

As usual, I can’t find what I need in my area, so I visit the grocery in my old neighborhood and hope to God that the Jake-radar isn’t alerted that I’m in the area. I manage to avoid seeing Jake, but I should have known that I wouldn’t leave this area unscathed.

“Ana?”

I turn to the voice that called my name. It had to happen. At some point, it had to happen. First, Richard in the courthouse; then Jake at the restaurant… and the grocery… and the café. Now, this.

I sigh heavily as I look into the face of my cousin, Tracy. Of course. It had to happen. I raise my eyebrow at her as if to ask, “What the fuck do you want?” but she totally ignores the gesture.

“Wow,” she says as she closes the space between us. “You look really good. You haven’t changed one bit.” I’m a little taken aback by the compliment.

“Thank you,” I reply, trying to appear unmoved.

“I haven’t seen you in years. Have you moved back to these parts?” she asks.

“No,” I reply. “I… needed some ingredients that I can’t find in my neighborhood.” She twists her lips.

“Well, I know what you mean about that,” she says, looking over her shoulder as if looking for someone. “I’m not living around here either anymore, but Mom needs a few things, so…” She trails off. Figures. Why couldn’t Sheila’s lazy ass husband come and get what she needed? He can track me down and chase me around the city. How about you tend to your ailing wife and leave me the hell alone! God, I want to be a total bitch, but…

“I heard about Sheila,” I say. “I’m sorry.” Tracy frowns a bit and just as she’s about to speak…

“Baby, they’re out of cumin. We may have to see if we can find it somewhere else. I know the exotic spice stand at the Mar… Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

The gentleman who joins us is a handsome, older man, distinguished looking and well-built. He’s pushing a grocery cart with a child in the seat, maybe two or three years old. Another little girl is latched to his hand, six or seven years old.

“Ana, this is my husband, Lance. Lance, this is Ana, my cousin.”

Lance’s eyebrow rises in obvious surprise. Yeah, yeah, I’m white, so what?

“Ana, yes,” he says with a sincere smile. “Tracy has mentioned you. I’m glad you reconnected.”

Reconnected? Mentioned me? What the hell?

Not in a public grocery, Ana. Don’t make a goddamn scene, and definitely not in front of children.

“It’s nice to meet you, Lance,” I say, trying not to sound stiff. Noticing my discomfort, Lance turns back to his wife.

“I’ll go pay for these and meet you outside, okay?” he says. Tracy smiles and nods as he leans down and kisses her on the cheek. He turns a half-smile to me. “Ana, hope to see you around.”

“Thank you, Lance. Take care,” I say, trying not to be rude. When he’s out of earshot, Tracy turns her attention back to me.

“Ana, what did you mean by that,” she asks, “when you said you’re sorry about Mom? What did you hear about Mom?” I try not to frown at her. Is she in denial? What the hell?

“That she has cancer and she’s dying,” I reply, stating the obvious. Tracy frowns at me like I have no idea what I’m talking about. I soon find out that I don’t.

“Mom’s not dying,” she says, her frown burrowed deeply. “Dad is.”

I know I must look like I’ve seen aliens. Richard’s dying, not Sheila. Why would he say it was the other way around? What would be the purpose of that?

“I…” I’m at a loss for words, something that doesn’t happen often. I quickly find myself and lean on my attorney instincts instead of the diplomacy I can’t seem to locate when I’m dealing with this family. “I… was misinformed,” I excuse. “I was told that Sheila was the one who had cancer—stage four, in fact.”

“Well, someone must have gotten their facts confused,” Tracy retorts, a slight bit of anger hidden in her words. “My father’s dying, not my mother. We’re not quite sure how much time he has left.” I sigh a bit inwardly. I hate being made to look like a fool and I won’t apologize because Richard lied to me.

“I should be going, Tracy,” I say turning to leave. “Take care of yourself, okay?” I can’t tell her that I’m sorry to hear about Richard, because I’m not. As cold as it sounds, I’m not sorry in the least that he’s dying.

“Ana, wait,” she says as she falls in step behind me. “If losing someone shows us anything, it shows us that we should hold on to who we have left. Don’t be a stranger.”

Oh, God, I almost want to gag. Give me a fucking break. This is your first experience with loss, girlie, and you’re an adult. I lost my Mommy and Daddy almost 23 years ago and I was a child—an innocent, forsaken, isolated child with nothing and no one. Who the fuck held on to me? As long as I wasn’t a burden or a disgrace, I could stay tucked away in the corner, but as soon as I brought any attention to myself—even slight attention—I got abandoned, so I’d rather not hear about holding on to who we have left, because nobody bothered holding on to me!

“You take care, Tracy,” I say, my voice cold, before leaving her and my groceries in the store.

I walk to my car as quickly as I can. I don’t have Jesse with me as I sent him home already. I kind of wish he had been with me. Maybe Her Fucking Majesty wouldn’t have approached me. Fuck! I left my groceries in the store. I’ll just wait until I see her leave, then I’ll go back and get them.

I wait almost forever before she finally leaves, then I run back in and retrieve my basket, grateful that all my things are still there. As I’m paying for my items at the cashier, my phone rings.

“Yes, Blake,” I answer.

“Ma’am, you have a visitor.” He’s calling me ma’am. That means someone is in his face.

“Kevin? He’s extremely early,” I say, looking at my watch.

“His name isn’t Kevin, ma’am,” he says coolly. I frown as I place my bags back in my basket.

“Is it Trey?” I reply, my voice just as cold.

“No, ma’am,” he replies, “but he refuses to leave without speaking to you. I can remove him if you like.”

“Who the hell is it, Blake?” I ask, irritated.

“He says his name is Steele, ma’am.” Steele. Did that fucker come to my house? Did Tracy say something to him? “His name isn’t Richard, ma’am, but it is Steele.”

Steele. Not Richard. Who the hell is at my house?

“I’m on my way home,” I say as I load the groceries into my Range Rover, “but I’m quite a ways away.”

“Would you like for us to wait for you, ma’am?” he asks.

“I want to know who the fuck this guy is,” I exclaim, climbing into the car.

“We will wait for you,” he says flatly.

“It could take me quite some time…”

“We. Will. Wait. For you,” he says finitely. I pause for a moment.

“Very well,” I say as I start the car and end the call. Now, this is what that statement really means:

Some guy shows up at my front door and got my “butler,” who informs him that I’m not there. From the way Blake is speaking, this guy has pushed himself into my house, at which time, he made some kind of demand that Blake get me back home, stating that he’s not leaving until I’m there. Blake can easily, and legally, put this man out on my doorstep—in pieces, if necessary—but he won’t do it without my permission. He won’t even touch the guy.

When Blake came to call me, this fucker followed him to the phone, which means he took great liberties walking through my house. In my mind’s eye, I can see Blake’s scalp boiling during this encounter, but he won’t let it be seen. When he first spoke to me, he indicated that someone was at the house, and let me guide the conversation from there.

Someone’s there.
Not Kevin.
Not Trey.
He won’t leave. Blake offers to remove him.

I have another idea. I want to know who the fuck he is.

Steele. Not Richard, but Steele. Now I really want to know who the fuck he is.

At this point, the rules have changed because Blake can’t afford to let him leave. We both need to know who this fucker is. This means that if Blake has to break his legs and tie him to a chair, they’re going to wait for me.

I drive home as quickly as I can, from several miles away, in rush hour traffic… which means it’s still taking a long time to get home. It could be my other cousin—Tracy’s brother—I can’t even remember his fucking name right now. He wouldn’t come to my house like that… would he?

I leave all my groceries in the car and dash to the stairs to find out what’s going on. I burst through my front door and I see a stranger—a black man—standing there playing “slaps” with Blake… or at least that’s what it looks like. He keeps trying to get a hit in—a shove, a slap, something—and Blake just keeps forcibly pushing his hand away. Blake is clearly blocking his escape, so I’m assuming that sometime during the wait, our guest decided that he didn’t want to stay, probably once he realized that he wasn’t going to get the free reign of the house that he enjoyed while Blake was calling me.

“What the hell is this?” I ask, bemused.

“Well, it’s about time you got here!” the stranger says, no longer sparring with Blake. I’m taken aback by his boldness.

“I was unaware that I was on a clock,” I retort, folding my arms.

“Well, I’ve been waiting for you for a while,” he shoots, moving to close the space between us. Blake steps in front of him and he huffs impatiently. “Dammit, she’s here now! Can you move outta my way now?”

“You said you wanted me,” I say folding my arms. “You wanted me to drop what I was doing and come all the way home from clean on the other side of the bridge. You’re lucky I was on my way home or you might be standing here playing “slaps” for another couple of hours. Now, here I am. What do you want?”

“I want you to call off your damn dog!” he says, unsuccessfully trying to get around Blake.

“Well, you see, we don’t know who you are or why you’re here, so it’s not very likely that he’s going to heel,” I informed our visitor.

“He’s holding me against my will,” he says. I scoff.

“You show up at my home, demanding to see me and refusing to leave until you do. I’m sure my butler didn’t invite you in because he asked me if he could remove your ass. I’m also sure that you followed him around my house without permission because I could tell by the way he was talking when he called me. Now, you want to say that he held you against your will? Make up your fucking mind!”

He’s shocked that I most likely called him on exactly what happened in my home before I got there. He’s nervous at first, but he recovers very quickly.

He has ammo.

“You’re gonna want to hear what I have to say,” he says cockily. I put my hand on Blake’s shoulder, signaling him to stand down.

“Don’t go anywhere,” I request. He nods and takes a step back. “Make it quick,” I say to my now unwanted visitor. He smirks and looks around.

“Nice digs,” he says. “Nice house in an affluent neighborhood, butler, late model Range Rover. Seems my dad’s money set you up real nice.” I frown.

“Your dad’s money?” I say, shaking my head. Is he the son of one of my clients? I only have two black clients, and I would have fucking remembered if either of them was named Steele. He smiles fiendishly.

“I should say our dad,” he oozes, “even though he really wasn’t your dad.”

Our dad? What the hell? Dad? Dad? Daddy?

“What the fuck are you talking about?” I nearly growl.

“I’m talking about Raymond Steele!” he hisses. “The asshole who got my mother pregnant and left us to rot!”

I sincerely feel like somebody hit me in the chest with a sledgehammer. Nobody has ever said a harsh word to me about my father. My defenses are down, and I don’t know how to react.

“How… did you find out about me… where I live?” I stutter. He scoffs disbelieving.

“I just told you that your so-called father—even though he’s not really your father—deserted me and my mother and all you want to know if how I found out where you live? Are you for real?”

I don’t respond. I don’t know how. I don’t know who this man is or even if he’s who the fuck he says he is, but I don’t have shit to say to him until he tells me how…

Uncle Richard told me where you were,” he says disdainfully, and I can easily tell that he has about as much love for Richard as I do.

“Richard?” I hiss, finding my words. “Richard told you where to find me?”

“Don’t worry your pretty little head, Buffy,” he sneers. “He didn’t know anything about me either. Seems Dear Old Dad just hoped I would disappear.”

I narrow my eyes at this fucker. I’m beginning to hate him more and more. He doesn’t look anything like my father, and I don’t believe a word he’s saying.

“How do I know you’re even who you claim to be?” I seethe angrily. “You don’t look like any of the Steeles to me and my father is not here to defend himself.”

“Well, I have plenty of pictures of my father and my mother together before you were even born! So, even though you may not know who your daddy is, I know who mine is.”

He has no idea how much of a gift he just gave me. The fact that his mother and my father may have been together before I was born means that Daddy didn’t cheat on Mommy.

“Well, whatever your name is…”

Reynard,” he hisses, “but you can call me Ray,” he adds with a sinister smile. The hell I am.

“Well, Reynard,” I spit with all the venom I can muster, “I know who my daddy is because his name is on my birth certificate and my maiden name is Steele.”

“The fuck you say!” he barks. “Richard told me you were adopted!”

“I gives a fuck what Richard told you!” I bark back. “Check vital records, mothafucka, you’ll see my name is Steele. Now, why the fuck are you in my house?”

“I came to claim my share of my father’s money—whatever he left you. I’m entitled to half of it, because he was my father, too.” Now, I laugh loudly.

“Is that what this is about?” I cackle. “Money? Boy, did you come to the wrong place. Daddy was a great man. He was known and loved by many people, but he certainly wasn’t rich.”

“You’re living awfully comfortably, Ana, so Daddums must’ve left you something!” he accuses.

“Well, whatever you think Daddy left me, you better go harass Uncle Richard before he kicks the bucket. Whatever I may have had, Richard took for those couple of years he took care of me—right before he abandoned me. Everything you see here is mine! I worked for it; I paid for it; I own it. So, if you came here looking for a payout, you came to the wrong place, asshole, cuz I have nothing for you.”

He needs to recoil a bit. He sees how Richard lives, and he sees how I live. In his mind, with all the wealth that he’s seeing, there’s no way that after all this time, Daddy didn’t have something that he left behind that this jerk could lay claim to.

“I’m going to drag him through the mud,” he says calmly. “I can see that you love him very much, and I’m going to soil his name so badly that there’ll be no recovering from it. I’m going to tell everybody who’ll listen that Ray Steele had a little Steele that he left to die because his mother wasn’t white and the black baby that he made wasn’t good enough to have a decent life!”

Does it always come down to this? Does it always come down to the black world hating me because a black man wanted me as a daughter? Because a black boy wanted me as a girlfriend? Because another black man is attracted to me? Because I’m white? Is that why Richard deserted me? I’m, once again, extremely angry.

“You slime-sucking piece of shit!” I declare. “You haven’t asked how he died or even where he’s buried. You just show up on my doorstep looking for a damn handout from a man who’s been dead for over twenty years, and you have no fucking idea who he even was!”

“I may not know, but according to you, quite a few people do,” he taunts. I scoff.

“Who do you think he was, the fucking mayor?” I ask. “My father was a Seattle cop. He was loved by everybody who knew him, but he was still just a Seattle cop. You’re just another illegitimate child from somebody’s past, buddy. Nobody’s going to give a fuck about you. I knew my father. I’m sorry for you that you didn’t get a chance to, but I knew my father and he was a wonderful, kind, and generous man. And believe me when I say that nothing you can say now or ever will change that in my eyes or in the eyes of anybody who ever knew him. And you may want to be careful who you go spouting your bullshit to, because you don’t have any proof, and if you go spouting it to the wrong people, they may just squash like the insignificant little bug that you are!”

“I thought you said he was nobody,” he nearly growls.

“I didn’t say he was nobody,” I say. “I said he was a Seattle cop. I also said that he was loved by everybody who knew—in so many words. So, go ahead, do your worst, Reynard, because you’re not going to get a fucking dime from me. Now, get the fuck out of my house.”

“Oh,” he says, folding his arms. “When I wanted to leave, this fucker wouldn’t let me go. Now, I’m supposed to leave because you said so?”

“Yes, sir,” Blake says, stepping between me and Reynard. “Allow me to show you out.”

Reynard stands there looking at him for a moment, a bit incredulously.

“Man, get the fuck outta my way,” he says, moving to brush Blake aside. In less than three seconds, this asshole is pressed against the wall, his arms pinned in a mummy-like pose in one of Blake’s hands with Blake’s other forearm under his chin and precariously close to his neck.

“We’ve played this game already, sir,” Blake says calmly. “Would you like to move to level two?” Reynard struggles a bit against Blake.

“Get the fuck off me, man!” he threatens.

“I’m taking that as a yes, sir,” he says, and I can see him press his arm further against Reynard’s throat. “So that there’s no misunderstanding, I’ll ask again, sir. Would you like to continue this game, or would you like to leave?”

Blake hasn’t broken a sweat, hasn’t raised his voice. Reynard, on the other hand is looking a little pale.

Is he choking him to death?

“I’ll leave,” he squeaks out. Yeah, he was choking him to death!

Blake releases Reynard and shoves him in the direction of the door.

“You haven’t seen the last of me, cracker bitch!” he seethes rubbing his neck.

“For your sake, you better hope I have, you fucking bastard!” I retort. “I’m strapped and I’ll pop a cap in ya ass if you show up at my door again. Then, I’ll give what’s left of you to him and my bodyguard. They’ll need dental records to identify you.”

Reynard’s eyes pierce and he looks at me like a Martian. Blake forcefully shoves him out the door that he opened behind Reynard, who stumbles onto the porch and nearly down the stairs.

“Have a good night, sir,” he says, slamming the door behind him and immediately turning to me.

“Mistress?”

“Another… child,” I pant, putting my hand on my forehead, my adrenaline immediately dropping. “A brother… Daddy… couldn’t have known. He… never would have left…” I crumble to my knees and Blake catches me.

“Mistress…”

“I need… I need to speak to him…” He owes me an explanation. He doesn’t owe me any fucking thing else, but he owes me an explanation.

“Maybe you should rest first, Mistress…”

“I need to talk to him!” I shriek. Blake pauses for a moment, then helps me to the parlor and sits me on the sofa. I’m nearly hyperventilating when several moments later, I hear him dial the phone.

“Is this Richard Steele?” he pauses. “One moment please, sir.” He hands me the phone.

“How!?” I scream. “How could you send that fucker to my home?”

“Anastasia?” he asks, surprised.

“You know who the fuck this is!” I shriek through my tears. “How the fuck could you send that sonofabitch to my home?!” I hear him sigh.

“I’m sorry about this, Ana…”

“Is he my brother?” I scream. “Dammit, is he my father’s son?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “I know Ray was seeing his mother years before he met Carla, but I never knew or heard anything about a child.”

“His name is Steele!” I accuse. “How could you not know?”

“What? His name is not Steele. It’s Stamper.” Well, he knows that much.

“How the fuck do you know?” I say through my tears. I hear him sigh.

“Ana, must you curse in every statement you make to me?”

“How the fuck do you know?!” I scream. He pauses, then begins to speak again.

“He came to me a little while back. I had him checked out.” Wha…?

“A little while back,” I squeak incredulously. “A little while…” How long ago? It doesn’t matter. It was long enough to have him checked out.

“I tried to tell you,” he says calmly.

“Like hell, you tried!” I shoot. “You came to me with bullshit, each time trying to get me to bow or give in and listen to your sob stories about why I should forgive you for deserting me. You remember how you callously blurted out that lie that Aunt Sheila was dying, hoping to get a reaction out of me? Well, you should have blurted out the truth instead—that I possibly have a psychotic half-brother looking for me trying to get some of my dead dad’s non-existent money!”

“I wasn’t sure…” he interjects.

“But you knew!” I interrupt, sobbing. “You knew he was vindictive and spiteful. That’s why you had him checked out! You knew Dad didn’t have anything, and if he did, I never got it. You knew that! Why didn’t you tell him that instead of leading him right to my front door? You couldn’t do right by me if your fucking life depended on it! You ditched me when I was 15 and now, I’m 32 and given the second chance, you still threw me to the dogs. And you have the nerve to say that my father would be ashamed of me? Old man, if Daddy was here right now, he’d have you bound, gagged, and publicly flogged in the middle of the Marketplace. Then, he’d shoot you in the knees with his service revolver!”

“Don’t say that about my brother!” he says, threatening.

“I’m not saying that about your brother! I’m saying that about you, you miserable fuck!” I scream. “You’re a wretched excuse for a human being, and I hope you die a miserable fucking death!” I hiss.

“Well, apparently, God agrees with you,” he laments, “because it’s not your Aunt Sheila that’s dying from cancer. It’s me. Stage four metastatic melanoma—the baldness isn’t a fashion statement.”

“You’re late with that news, too, Unc! I already knew. You’re coming into court looking like hell and ill-prepared, having the judge question my ethics and motives—you need to go the fuck home and die!” I curse him.

“Do you really hate me?” he asks, and he sounds a little remorseful. “Do you really hate me that much, Anastasia?”

“With the disdain of a thousand plagues,” I growl. “My only regret at this point was that I wasn’t able to watch you rot! I did everything in my power to forget that you abandoned me! That you left me to die or to be a statistic and I was determined not to let that happen. And I survived! I survived and I succeeded despite what you did to me! And you have a hissy fit because I won’t run into your arms for a warm embrace after seventeen years? And we only met by accident? After all the pain and disappointment you’ve already caused me, you unleash that vermin on me? Lead him right to my fucking door? You are the worst form of subhuman I’ve ever known in my life and I have no idea how a kind, gentle, noble and loving man like Raymond Steele could have ever been related to you. I hope your last days are agonizingly, painfully miserable and I can only hope and pray that on your way to your eternal afterlife, you get one last glimpse of my father so that he can tell you just what a rotten, miserable asshole you really are right before he throws your ass off a cliff to rot in hell!”

I slam the receiver down onto the carriage, heaving with sobs so uncontrollable that I can barely breathe.

“Ana?”

I whizz around to see Kevin standing in the door of my parlor staring at me. Shit. I forgot about our dinner.

“I… I don’t think… I…” My sobbing is so heavy that I can’t get my words out. Nothing on this earth ever upsets me like things that have to do with my parents. Nothing! Now this asshole shows up opening old wounds, looking for money that Daddy never even had. I sink to the floor, my knees unable to hold me up anymore. What is it about the Steele bloodline? Had it just produced a bunch of leeches and monsters with my daddy being the only good egg? Was Daddy like this and I just didn’t know it?

Of course not!

Daddy loved Mommy endlessly, and he showed it all the time. He was a wonderful father to me, and I have nothing but good memories of him. He adopted me and gave me his name. He didn’t have to do that. He married Mommy—that would have been enough for me, but no. He went all the way. He loved me. And he was a good man… a really good man, and I’m not going to let some possible hateful offspring from a relationship—probably even a one-night stand—before he met my mother or some judgmental, heartless asshole of an uncle change my opinion of him.

But to have them spit on his memory like this hurt so badly that I can barely think or breathe. I feel Kevin lift me off the floor and I’m back on the sofa again, weeping in his arms. When did he get here? Did Blake let him in? Where’s Blake?

“Ssshh, ssshh, shh,” he says, rubbing my arms. “Calm down. You’re going to pass out.”

Blake comes in with a glass of water, but I can’t drink anything right now. I can’t even think…

*-*

“So, do you think he’s really… your father’s son?” Kevin says, still sitting on the sofa with me and stroking my arm once I’ve finally calmed down. Blake has retrieved the groceries from the car and prepared some hors d’oeuvres since I was in no condition to cook.

“I don’t know,” I say, my head swimming. “My wretched uncle says he did some kind of background check on him. I’ll do one, too. His name isn’t Steele. I don’t know if he’s really an illegitimate child or just an extortionist.”

“What if he is your dad’s child?” he asks.

“What if he is?” I repeat. “He better go get to know Aunt Sheila and their crew, because he doesn’t mean a damn thing to me. He comes barging in here, asking for money, not even asking about Daddy…”

“Okay, okay,” he says. “I don’t want you to get upset again.” He rubs my arms and I sigh.

“Kevin, what do you think this means?” I ask.

“What what means?” he says.

“This,” I say, gesturing around us. “All this. What do you think this means?” He sighs.

“It means that we’re friends,” he says. “You told me that we’re friends, and I’m okay with us being friends. But I saw you at two very vulnerable moments, which lets me know that you’re not as untouchable and unmovable as you always pretended to be.”

“Kevin…” I protest.

“Do I expect you to change? No,” he interrupts. “What does this mean? It doesn’t mean anything. As long as you are who you are and you gotta do what you gotta do, I’m okay being your friend—but if things ever change, and you need something different in your life… just know that my hat is in the ring.”

“There is no ring, Kevin,” I tell him, slightly frustrated.

“And yet, I’m here,” he says, gently caressing my arm. “If there ever is a ring, my hat is in it.” I shake my head. Give it up, Sheardon. It’s never going to happen.

“This is going to change things between us, Kevin,” I say, sadly.

“I’m a big boy, Ana,” he says. “This changes nothing between us… unless you can’t deal with it.”

I shake my head and pop some cheese into my mouth. A few moments later, Blake comes into the parlor.

“Mistress, I really hate to disturb you, but you have another guest.”

What is this, Grand fucking Central Station?


A/N: The Pinterest board for this story can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/fifty-shades-golden/.

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 69—Big, Huge “Guess What Happened’s”

Thanks, you guys for your encouraging words to me… and thank you more for your encouraging words to each other. It makes me happy to see us lifting each other up when we’re down. I’m so proud of you guys!

Send healing vibes, prayers, and positive thoughts out to my reader and Facebook friend Alyson. She just had a stint in the hospital and by the Grace of God, she’s home and hopefully doing better. Smoochies, Alyson!!!

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

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

Chapter 69—Big, Huge “Guess What Happened’s”

CHRISTIAN

“She did what?” I ask my wife when she calls home to see who’s here for Girl’s Night.

“She shaved her head,” she confirms. “It really looks good on her, but Christian, she shaved her goddamn head!”

“Where is she now?” I ask. “Can she hear you?”

“No, she’s in the back getting the rest of her stuff. Oh, God, I’m so sorry, Tina,” she mumbles.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Butterfly,” I comfort.

“I want to fucking fire somebody, but she’s a grown woman! I can’t tell her not to shave her head!” she rants.

“Don’t fire anybody,” I coax. “Women do this all the time nowadays. It’s not a strange thing.”

“So, if Minnie came home with her head shaved, you wouldn’t have a problem with it,” she states matter-of-factly. My blood actually curdles when she says that.

“We’re not talking about Minnie,” I divert. “We’re talking about a grown woman who has just lost her mother, went through a nasty divorce, and has had to contend with horrible siblings who have now broken into her house.”

“Well, it feels the same to me,” Butterfly says. “I feel like Tina trusted me with her daughter and I took her out and got her scalped.”

“Believe me, my mom is laughing right now,” I hear Harmony say, and I know that she’s caught us in the middle of our conversation.

“You scared the shit out of me!” Butterfly scolds.

“You shouldn’t be talking about me,” Harmony teases, and it’s good to hear the humor in her voice. “Hi, Christian!” she yells.

“Hi, Harmony,” I reply, and Butterfly relays my sentiment. “Just so that I can prepare the staff, are we talking Bruce Willis bald or Demi-Moore-G-I-Jane cut?”

“Demi,” she says, a bit reserved. “I just… wish she had warned me.”

“You were the one talking about detoxing and cleansing. This is very cleansing. I love it. It feels clean and free and I look great. I think I’m going to leave it this way for a while.”

“It’s not like you have a choice!” Butterfly points out.

“I do have a choice,” Harmony says. “I could let it grow back. I’m thinking not.”

“Well, it’s your head,” Butterfly says.

“Yes, and let’s stop talking about it. I’m starving.”

“Good, ‘cause we’ve got Girls Night. On our way babe,” she says into the phone. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you what happened at your house…” and the line goes dead.

Harmony shaved her head. Good grief.

I don’t know what my wife meant by Girls Night, but as it turns out, only Victoria and Courtney show up. Gail and Ms. Solomon keep them well stocked with food and snacks while one of us guys plays bartender from the bar in the entertaining room. We offer to spare Chuck the trouble of transporting drinks, considering that he’s a recovering alcoholic, but he assures us that he’s not even tempted. I have no doubt, considering that we couldn’t even get him to take ibuprofen when he was suffering from broken bones.

The women retreat to the movie room and burrow in for the night, watching a plethora of movies from different genres. We’ve each been unlucky enough to walk in during some scene or conversation that has the entire group weeping like fools and are quick to make a hasty getaway. Somewhere around three or so, all four women are kicked back in the luxury chairs, calling the sandman.

In the morning, they all pile into the big SUV and head to breakfast—somewhere—with two of the guards and I’m ceremoniously summoned to my father’s house.

“Elliot finished the room on Thursday right in time for delivery,” he says as he leads me to a newly renovated room in the house. I’m by no means prepared for what I see when I open the door.

“Jesus Christ, Dad,” I breathe when I step inside, “Freeman was teasing you for getting this?”

“Remember, son, we’re clearly talking about an asshole here,” he reminds me. Oh, yeah, how could I forget.

I walk around the room completely stunned. Every wall is covered with display cases, and there are more of them lined up in the middle like library shelves. Case after case after case of model, wood, and Diecast cars—antiques, roadsters, sedans, trucks, you name it. The higher portions of the walls have been decorated with old pictures of Dad and his brothers, Pops and Granma Ruby, Mom and Dad when they were younger, and even old pictures of me, Elliot, and Mia. Atop the display cases are my old rowing trophies from the boathouse, Elliot’s judo trophies, and awards and accolades that Mia has received throughout the years. There are also some older trophies that I don’t recognize, and I assume that they’re from years gone by of Dad and his brothers.

“With real cars, Dad may have been a Ford man, but when it came to his models, he didn’t discriminate.” He leads me to one display case that’s full of Chevys and I’m amazed at how realistic they look.

“I tried to get the room as close as I could remember to how Dad kept it,” my father says, touching the display lovingly. “Look at this…” He gently opens one of the cases and pulls out one of the model cars. The doors actually open and you can see the detail inside the car.

“Dad painted those seats himself,” he says as he holds the car up to eye level. “The paint’s faded a bit over time…”

“… But I can tell,” I say, examining the car closely in my father’s hand. “Wow…” The amazement in my voice brings a warm smile to my father’s face.

“We spent hours in here,” he reminisces as he closes the doors to the model in his hand and replaces it on the shelf, “or I should say in a room that looked just like this one. The other brothers never really got into it but me…” He put his hand on my shoulder and leads me to a table in the corner, clearly built as its own showcase, and there it is. I gasp a bit when I see it.

“The Coupe!” I exclaim quietly in wonder. On the small table is a perfect replica—almost—of the classic ’32 Ford Coupe that we had shipped here for Dad. The purple isn’t as deep as the real car, and the model has racing flames on it. But other than that, this car is Dad’s Coupe.

“Uncle Herman was right,” I say, looking at the model then at Dad. “Pops meant for you to have that car. He built it damn near just like the model.” Dad nods.

“That was my dad,” he says. “He always paid attention to the small stuff, and it made all the difference in the world.” He chokes up for a moment but quickly recovers. “I hope that one day your son will be able to enjoy this room with me… or with you…”

I don’t like the ominous undertone of his suggestion.

“He’ll get to enjoy it with you first, Dad,” I say, putting my hand on his shoulder. “You’ll tell him the history of the cars and how they made it to the collection. I’m sure that you remember each one.” Dad smiles.

“That I do, son,” he says.

As predicted, Dad and I spend hours in his model car room, talking about each car and how it became part of the collection. We don’t have time to review each and every car, but each car that we talked about had its own story attached to it. Freeman is a real asshole if he can’t see how priceless a gift this really is.

“This is really incredible, Dad,” I say, trying to absorb everything he’s told me about each car. “This is a car enthusiast’s dream.”

“Or the fairytale-land of a little boy who really looked up to his dad,” he says, gazing over the room fondly.

“Where’s Uncle Herman?” I ask when I realize that I haven’t seen him since I got here.

“He and Luma have gone out of town, I think,” Dad says. I frown.

“You think?” I ask. He shrugs.

“I think seeing Mom’s things made him a bit melancholy. So, he asked me and Grace to keep an eye on the girls and he whisked his woman away for the weekend. You can’t deny they need some time to themselves. Herman’s been dealing nonstop with the disposition of Dad’s estate. Luma has the girls and although I’m sure that you’re a very nice boss, she works 40 hours a week. She and Herman don’t really get much alone time together.” I nod.

“Maybe she should consider going part-time,” I suggest.

“I didn’t tell you that so that you could cut her hours, Christian,” Dad informs me. “I get the feeling that Luma really likes her job, and she hasn’t complained about it once. Had I not told you that she was away with Herm, you wouldn’t have known. Did she ask for any time off?”

“Well, no…”

“Then leave it be,” Dad instructs. “She likes going to work and she’s not the least bit unhappy. And even though Andrea is her superior, Luma’s very fond of her. She talks about Andrea like she’s her daughter and she respects her—and you—immensely. So, if you suggest that she shorten her workweek, she’s going to do it even if she doesn’t want to. Catch my drift?” I sigh.

“Yeah, Dad, I hear you,” I say, sounding like a scolded child.

“Good. Now come and have a scotch with me and let’s celebrate my fabulous Dad and this incredible car collection.” I smile.

“You got it, Dad.”

*-*

“You’re not going to believe whose about to lose their shirt,” Lorenz says coming into my office Monday morning. He’s piqued my attention.

“Who?” I ask.

“William Kavanaugh,” I raise my brow.

“Kavanaugh?” I say in surprise. “What the hell is going on with Kavanaugh?”

“It appears that Willie Boy has another heir to the Kavanaugh fortune on the way, and Mrs. K has had enough. She’s got herself a cutthroat attorney and Kavanaugh will be lucky if he escapes with his shirt!” I whistle.

“So, the chickens have come home to roost on Kavanaugh, huh?” I say.

“Looks that way,” Lorenz confirms taking his seat.

“How much time before he’s ripe for the picking?” I ask.

“Now,” Ros says, striding into my office and joining into the conversation like she had been there the whole time. She’s got the latest Financial News in her hand and she drops it on my desk, open to the page announcing that Kavanaugh Media is officially on the block. “You heard, too?” she says to Lorenz, who nods.

“This must have been going on for quite some time,” I observe while reading the announcement.

“Their marriage has been falling at least since Kavanaugh became a grandpa.” That long! Geez, that’s back when Kate tried to pin her kid on Elliot. I wasn’t even married yet.

“And the newest heir to Kavanaugh Media?” I press.

“Due any day now,” Lorenz says. “The misses filed for divorce nearly a year ago. He’s selling Kavanaugh Media because the selling price is worth more than the company would yield in its current state and he knows he can get it.”

“That’s because he doesn’t have time to hold out,” I say, finishing skimming the article. “I’m not interested in the media but selling that bitch off piece by piece could turn quite the hefty profit no matter what we pay for it.”

“You were reading my mind,” Lorenz say. I raise my eyes to Ros.

“You think we could put a decent bid up for it?” I ask. “We all know I’m the last person that fucker wants to sell to.”

“I’ll see what we can do,” Ros says, standing. “You never know, Christian. People do strange things when they’re desperate.”

“That they do,” I concur as she leaves my office.

“Lorenz, how did you guys land on this before I did?” I ask after Ros leaves.

“It’s my job to keep my ear to the ground,” he tells me. “I know a lot of people; I go to social events. One person’s rumor is another person’s truth… That’s pretty much how. Kavanaugh’s next love child was no more than water-cooler talk at the champagne fountain of some fundraiser somewhere. It snowballed into divorce and the sale of Kavanaugh Media because the guy is about as discreet as a Tyrannosaurus Rex stomping down 4th Street. He was able to keep it out of the press for most of the year because—face it, he is the press. But once that media giant went on the block, all the rumors and speculations became leads and…” He makes an exploding sound and motion with his hands.

“So, basically, getting him to sell could be as simple as the right approach,” I reply, because Kavanaugh truly is going to be desperate after child support and alimony hits his ass, but still maybe not desperate enough to sell to GEH.

“That’s possible,” Lorenz replies. I twist my lips.

“Any word on his daughter, Kate, these days?” I ask. The last I had heard of Kate was when she crashed Mia’s bridal shower.

“She’s been under the radar,” he replies. “You smellin’ something?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe not. Just see if you can scare her up. Use Alex if you have to.”

“Will do.”

So, Kavanaugh’s in the proverbial hot seat. Jesus, he’s older than I am—old enough to be my father—and still making babies… outside of his marriage, no less. Not that I condone infidelity of any kind, but if you’re going to stray outside of your marriage, why the hell wouldn’t you at least use a condom?

And Kate—is that why she showed up at Mia’s shower? Was she hoping to get back into the family’s good graces because she knew that Dad was headed down the tubes? And where is she now? She was aching for publicity a while back—why the silence? And where, pray tell, is the not-the-father baby? That kid just disappeared into thin air!

Now I really want to know what’s going on with the Kavanaughs. As I’m pondering what might be going on with Daddy Kavanaugh and his ice-queen daughter, I get a distressing text from my wife.

**Dealing with a crisis. I may be late. **

Harmony’s at our house, so what crisis is this?

**Something at the Center? **

I wait for a moment for a response to put my fears at ease.

**More personal. It’s not me, but still important. I can’t talk about it right now. **

You can’t drop an ominous fucking text on me and then tell me that you can’t talk about it.

**You know me better than that. **

I love you, Butterfly, but you know I can track your phone. As if she’s reading my mind, she replies:

**Keep your damn shirt on! I’m fine, but I can’t talk to you right now. I was just letting you know I’ll be late. Would you rather I not in the future? **

And that’s a threat.

**Sorry. See you when you get home. **

Now, I’m fucking dying to know what’s going on.

I stay a little later at the office finishing some things up since I know that Butterfly’s going to be late. While I’m trying to wrap up the days reports and some year-end tasks, my phone buzzes. I look at the display and it’s Dad.

“Ethan called today,” he says once I answer. “Says he wants to reimburse me for some of the expenses of the wedding.”

“He did?” I ask.

“You put him up to that, didn’t you?”

“Why would I put that man up to anything?” I ask. “The only thing I put him up to was giving me the guest list to his bachelor party so that I could vet those fuckers.”

“He just knew all the right things to say,” Dad accuses. “He sounded a lot like the conversations that you and I have.”

“He talked to me, yeah, but I didn’t put him up to shit. He’s a grown man. He came to me for advice and I gave it to him. There’s a difference, Dad…”

“Okay, okay, settle down,” Dad scolds, and it’s not until now that I realize my voice is rising and I sound defensive.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to raise my voice, but when you said that, it made it sound like I was being manipulative, and I wasn’t. He wants to contribute to the expenses of the wedding, and he didn’t know how to tell you. In fact, I want to contribute, too.”

“The wedding’s all paid for, son,” he says.

“I figured as much, Dad, but did you have to cash in yours and Mom’s retirement for that shindig?” I ask. He sighs.

“Christian, a month ago, I gave each of my brothers $750,000. Do you think I would have been able to do that if I had been strapped for cash?”

“I’m quite aware that you have a dime or three to rub together, Dad, but so does Ethan and he wants to contribute to this wedding.”

“He doesn’t need to contribute,” Dad says. “There’s nothing left to pay for.”

“That may be the case, but that tens of thousands of dollar bakery bill came to his house.”

“What?” Dad exclaims into the phone.

“Yeah,” I tell him. “And you should know that right before they got in their helicopter and left for the night, Ethan cornered me and Butterfly and lamented about the largess of those cakes—just the cakes! He had a few other things to say about the over-the-topness of the entire production, but the cakes had him in dismay, much like they did for me at first, and you know what I mean.”

“Yes, I know what you mean,” he cedes.

“Well, my fears were put to rest when I discovered that the food was going to the homeless and to shelters. His concerns were multiplied exponentially when he saw that bill—paid or not. It’s going to emasculate him if you don’t allow him to give you something on that wedding.”

“What about me?” Dad asks. “What about emasculating me? That’s my only daughter and I gave her the wedding she wanted. Isn’t that a father’s responsibility?”

“Yeah, Dad. And you did it. Everything was beautiful—though a bit crazy—and Mia loved it. You did good. Now, let Ethan give you something towards your expense. I’m aware that you don’t need it, but he needs to give it to you. That may be your only daughter, and having a daughter now I get it, but that’s his wife.” Dad sighs again.

Fine,” he relents, “but I’m not taking a damn dime from you. Got it?”

“Okay,” I give in. I can deal with that if it means that he’ll allow Ethan’s pride to remain intact by contributing to what I now know had to be more than a million-dollar wedding. I got married in a damn castle. Wayne Brady sang to my wife walking down the aisle. We rode away in a classic Bentley, had a shopping spree in Paris, and were supposed to stay abroad for a month and I can still guarantee that my sister’s nuptials cost more than mine.

“How did you end things with Ethan?” I ask.

“I told him that I would give some thought to his request and get back to him,” Dad says.

“God, Dad, that sounds so formal. He’s family now, you know…”

“Yes, I know, but I had to see what his intentions were when he was suggesting helping out with the financial portion of the wedding,” he says. I frown.

“Now, I’m not catching your drift… what do you mean by that?” I ask.

“I’m old-fashioned, son,” he says. “I think a father should pay for his daughter’s wedding unless she specifically asks him not to—like with you and Ana. You wanted something specific and you got what you wanted. I’m sure there was no hard feelings with Ray on that…”

“Right,” I concur, coaxing.

“Well, with two money families, I’m ashamed to say it, but I didn’t know if Ethan was trying to make the statement that he could pay for this wedding and was just throwing money at me like, ‘I got it, old man…’”

“Dad,” I interject scolding, “did he give you that impression?”

“That’s why I asked if you had spoken to him,” he says. “I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t being handled.”

“Jesus, Dad, you have to stop being so suspicious.”

“Says the man who will vet the pizza delivery guy if he can,” Dad retorts. Touché.

“Okay, okay, I get it. But still, the man married your daughter. If we really thought he was up to anything, it’s a bit late, now, isn’t it?”

“It’s never too late,” Dad says, “but you’re right. I should have given him the benefit of the doubt.”

We talk a little longer and I feel that I’ve killed enough time in the office trying not to worry about what’s happened in Butterfly’s day that’s going to cause her to be late. Should I go to the Center and check on her? Hell, no! We know how badly that turned out the last time. It’s not that I don’t trust her, but… no. Just, no.

My eye catches one more email as I’m about to shut down for the evening. It’s from Ted Friedson informing me that he received the Apollo and that it arrived in better condition than expected. Although he admits that it’s still pretty worn, it’s in pretty awesome shape for a 100-year-old piano. He promises to have it in tip-top condition in a few weeks. I take a little comfort in that and think about where in the house I’m going to put it as I pack away my laptop and head to the elevator.


ANASTASIA

If she’s afraid of this guy, he must have been talking a really good game,” Alex informs me when I speak to him on Monday. “He’s a small-time hood—drug dealer, never more than a street runner. He’s got no connections—none. The only people he has fled a drug bust, left him to take the rap, and haven’t been in contact with him since. I still can’t tell you why she’s moving from place to place, but I’ve got a good theory.

“She’s obviously a battered ex—there’s a little proof of that… questionable injuries and hospital visits with no police report filed, leaving against medical advice and things of that sort. For whatever reason her family is non-existent, she’s on her own and he knows it. He must’ve preyed on it while they were together, I’ve seen it before, but to have her so petrified that she’s moving from place to place…? He had his own delusions of grandeur, no doubt, but he must’ve fed them to her, leading her to believe that he has power that he doesn’t have. So, in her mind, a few months, a half year or so is a safe amount of time to stay put, then it’s time to move on.

“I can’t swear to it, but in my eyes, this is one of those ‘if it looks like a duck’ situations. If she’s as spooked as you say she is, she had a co-dependent relationship with him where he filled her head with stories, threats, and the usual ‘you’re nothing without me,’ and he’s just got her scared shitless and she’s not sure what to do. Unless he’s got some power that I haven’t seen, he’s nobody—just some punk who preyed on a weak young woman.”

“Well, this is really good news,” I tell him, “not that he preyed on her and has her so afraid, but that he’s not this big bad person that she thought he was. She’s got skills and education that I really want to put to some use, and now I can… if I can just convince her that this Ge guy isn’t a threat to her.”

“I don’t know how to tell you to do that,” he says. “You can tell her that our investigation shows that he still incarcerated and that there’s actually no way that he could find out where she is unless he has the type of resources that we have—which he doesn’t. Besides, we’re swimming in security. How the hell is he going to get to her?”

“She’s not with us 24/7, Alex,” I remind him. “I think the best thing right now is for me to keep it simple—just tell her that as far as we’re concerned, everything looks good and she’s got a job, and then extend the services of the Center to her if she feels that she needs sanctuary. Fear is a powerful thing and unfortunately, other people can’t make you not be afraid.”

Ebony is thrilled to learn that we’re willing to give her a shot to see how things work out. She insists on working in the daycare to get the feel of things and maybe venture out into some of the areas that I think she’ll be a better fit for.

“Right now, I’m just really desperate for a paycheck,” she admits. “My emergency fund is nearly gone, and I need to have income soon. I’d love to see where else I can go and what else I can do, but… let’s start off small, if you don’t mind.” I nod.

“Not a problem,” I tell her, “whatever makes you comfortable. Welcome aboard.” I proffer my hand to her and she shakes it, sighing heavily.

“Thank you,” she breathes, as if the weight of the world has been lifted off her shoulder. I summon Courtney to show her around and get her started as Marilyn took the day off today.

I’m very soon to find out why.

“Hello?” I answer my phone shortly after having a late lunch.

“Yes, is this… Anastasia Grey?” the female voice asks.

“It is. To whom am I speaking?”

“This is Sylvie Cooper. I’m calling from Seattle Women’s Services and Family Planning.” Okay, maybe this is something to do with the Center.

“Yes, Ms. Cooper, what can I do for you?”

“I’m calling because one of our patients has you listed as the emergency contact. She’s had an outpatient procedure performed and… she came alone. She shouldn’t be driving, so she asked us to call you.”

This is strange. Outpatient procedure, Seattle Women’s Serv… oh, shit.

“Who is the patient?” I ask, as if I didn’t already know.

“Marilyn Caldwell.”

*-*

Marilyn looks like hell when I get to the clinic. I’m sure she’s had an abortion. I’m only hoping that she and Gary talked about this before she did it. I have a sinking suspicion that either they didn’t or that he’s vehemently against it, because he’s not here with her.

“Hey,” I say to her downcast face. “You ready to go?” She nods without saying anything and allows me to lead her out of the clinic. The ride back to the apartment that she shares with Gary is mostly silent. I simply concentrate on getting her to where she needs to be. I won’t give her the third degree and I won’t badger…

“Don’t you want to ask what happened?” she says, breaking my inner coaching.

“Only if you want to tell me,” I reply after a pause, even though I can pretty much tell.

“I was eight and a half weeks pregnant,” she says. “I terminated the pregnancy.” I nod.

“Considering the facility, I figured as much,” I reply. It’s quiet for a few more moments.

“Gary wanted to keep it,” she says. “I tried to explain to him that I wasn’t ready to have a baby right now and I wasn’t going to be forced into the decision to have one. He totally stopped speaking to me.”

“Does he know that you were terminating the pregnancy?” I ask. She doesn’t respond. Did she tell him or not? What does she plan to do—just present herself to him and say, “Hey, baby’s gone?” I pull into the parking lot of their apartment complex and put the car in park.

“Will you come up with me?” she asks. Is she serious? What does she want me to do, stand between her and Gary while she tells him that she terminated the pregnancy? Gary wouldn’t hurt her… at least I think he wouldn’t hurt her. He loves her… but she’s about to tell him that he’s not going to be a father if he doesn’t already know. I sigh heavily and turn the car off.

“Let’s go,” I say.

The apartment is bone quiet when we get there. I figured it’s because Gary’s not here, but she goes to the back where the bedroom is, and I can hear her talking.

“What are you doing?” I hear her ask. There’s a long pause.

“I…” It’s Gary’s voice. “I need some time,” he says, and I hear shuffling. Oh, shit. Should I leave?

“What do you mean?” Marilyn squeaks.

“I can’t be here,” Gary says. “I need… I just can’t.”

“So, you’re just going to leave?” she accuses.

“You had to know this would happen!” Gary shoots. “You killed my baby! You had to know I wouldn’t stay! I couldn’t! I can’t even look at you right now!”

He is pissed! I don’t know how to react to this because it’s Marilyn’s body. She would have had to carry that child for nine months. If she and Gary broke up, most often, the man has the option to walk away faster than a woman—although in this case, I have a feeling Gary would have stuck around—but he’s right. It was his baby, too, and she aborted it. I hate seeing them in this position because there’s nothing I can do. There’s no right or wrong, but it’s all bad.

They scream at each other for another minute or two, and just as I’m deciding I should leave, I hear Marilyn begging him not to go and Gary telling her that she can have the apartment since she left hers to move in with him. The bedroom door opens to an angry Gary storming out with a duffle bag and the sound of Marilyn’s weeping, still begging him not to leave. When he raises his head and sees me, he stops in his tracks and glares at me.

“Did you take her there?” he seethes. I’ve never seen him this angry in my life. I’m frozen for a moment, but then I shake my head.

“No,” I say, finally finding my words. “She… drove herself. The clinic called and asked me to pick her up. I couldn’t just leave her.” I don’t tell him that had she asked me to go with her, I would have gone. Although the thought of terminating my own pregnancy never crossed my mind, I agree with a woman’s right to choose.

His eyes soften, and I can see that he’s been crying, most likely for more than one reason. His lips form a thin line.

“Take care of her,” he chokes angrily. “She’s gonna need you.”

“Gary…”

He storms past me without another word and out the door, slamming it behind him. Marilyn hasn’t emerged from the room yet, so I approach with caution. When I breach the doorway, I see her crumpled on the ground weeping.

He left her like this?

I go over to her and kneel on the floor next to her. Her cries are so mournful, like someone cut off one of her limbs. She sounds like Luma when she was mourning the death of her son-in-law. I put my hand on her arms, and she starts to wail. She knows that my being there means that Gary is gone, and you can hear her anguish sinking all the way down to her feet. I just sit there with her, and let her wail…

I’m wrung down to my soul when I get home that night. It’s well after midnight and I’m so emotionally drained that I just go to the kitchen and sit at the breakfast bar. The house is dark, and I lay my head on my arms on the countertop. I have such an unreal headache that it feels like my brain is going to explode out of my head.

I’m not startled, nor do I raise my head when the lights in the kitchen come on. It’s tomorrow—of course, he’ll be waiting up and expecting to know where I’ve been. I don’t say anything as I feel rather than hear him cross the span of the kitchen in his bare feet.

“Do you want something to drink?” he asks, his voice controlled as he opens the refrigerator.

“Vodka,” I say from under my arms. I hear movement stop, then the cupboard open. I know he’s mad—or at least not pleased with me for coming home this late, and I don’t have the strength to justify my tardiness, for lack of a better word.

“Baby, what’s wrong?” he says, and I can feel him stroking my hair. I raise weary eyes to him wondering what I should and shouldn’t tell him. His eyes change, and he rubs my forearm.

“Tell me what’s wrong, Butterfly,” he says, his voice heavy with concern. Fuck it, I can’t carry this shit.

“I just put Marilyn on a plane to Spokane,” I tell him while worrying my horribly throbbing scar. “She’s going to spend some time with her parents, I don’t know for how long.” He raises his brow.

“You can’t be this upset about Marilyn taking a vacation,” he says.

“You’re right, I’m not… and it’s not a vacation.” He places a tumbler in front of me with a shot of vodka in it. I throw it back immediately and gesture for another. He fills it to a double-shot this time and I throw that back just as quickly.

“She’s escaping,” I say, after the double-shot burns its way down my chest. “She was pregnant.” His eyes sharpen.

“Okay, wait. I’m confused. She’s escaping because she’s pregnant?” he asks. “Is Garrett pissed? Did he threaten her?” I gesture to my glass again and he fills it with another double-shot. I just take a sip this time.

“No, yes, and no,” I reply, answering his questions as I replace the glass on the counter. “I’m telling you more than I should, but I wasn’t acting in a medical capacity today, so…” I take a deep breath. “No, she’s not escaping because she’s pregnant as she is no longer pregnant. She had a termination today. Yes, Gary is extremely pissed. He wanted this and one of the first things I heard him say when we got back to the apartment is, ‘You killed my baby.’ And no, he didn’t threaten her, but he did leave her and from the looks of it, he ain’t comin’ back.” I take another swallow of my drink.

“Oh, God,” he says, his brow furrowed, “that’s fucked up all around.”

“Tell me about it,” I lament, rubbing my forehead for the first time in forever. I have no idea what to do. Gary and Marilyn are both my friends and Marilyn’s my employee. They’ve both talked to me about how they felt about this situation and I’ve done the best that I can to give them both objective opinions without betraying the trust of the other. I can’t take sides, but I may be forced to, depending on how this plays out.

“I can only imagine what it must feel like being caught in the middle of this,” he says sympathetically.

“It was awful, Christian,” I bemoan. “Gary was so hurt, and Marilyn was devastated. I don’t know what to do. Her parents are in Spokane and with Thanksgiving coming up, she couldn’t stand to stay in that apartment alone. So, I helped her pack some things and she was on the redeye across the state.”

“So, no one’s in the apartment now?” he asks. I shake my head.

“I tried to call Gary, but he’s not answering. He probably thinks I’m going to ream him a new one for leaving Mare, but he has a right to his feelings, too.”

“So… any idea what now?” he asks. “I mean, whose apartment is it?”

“It’s Gary’s. He paid the lease for a year and near as I can tell, the only way out of it is to sublet or have someone buy out the lease. She gave up her apartment to move in with him, so he left and said she could stay. That makes me think that he might come back, because he only took a duffel bag, but…” I shrug and rub my head again, then my scar.

“Jesus Christ, what a mess,” he says as he retrieves another tumbler and fills it with ice and water from the refrigerator door.

“I can’t even fathom what to say to either of them right now. I can’t villainize either of them because they both have a right to feel what they’re feeling. What do you think?” My husband raises a brow and twist his lips before he places the tumbler of water in front of me. Yeah, I know—two double-shots and a single. Chug, chug.

“I can’t answer that question, Butterfly,” he says. “For obvious reasons, I avoid this particular topic of conversation at all costs.” I raise my eyes to his.

“What if it had been us?” I ask.

“But it wasn’t,” he says.

“But what if it had?” I press. He leans forward and takes my hands in his, then kisses both sets of knuckles before looking me in the eye.

“At all. Costs,” he repeats, letting me know that no matter how I press, we won’t be having this discussion. I sigh and drop my head.

“Dear, God, help me,” I groan. This can only get worse before it gets any better.

*-*

I receive a text from Marilyn when she lands in Spokane, then she—like Gary—falls into radio silence. Only two days without her this week and I feel as if I’m falling into oblivion. My calendar looks like hieroglyphics and when I suggested nabbing Luma again, Christian informed me that she had just returned to town herself and was needed at Grey House. No matter—Thanksgiving is here, and I plan to relax with my family for the next few days.

Harmony was not keen on coming to Thanksgiving dinner with our family, but Courtney and Vickie invited her to the condo and she gladly accepted—nothing as formal as a family gathering, but still with people she likes to be around… and she’s not alone on the first Thanksgiving without her mom.

I try to reach Marilyn and Gary on Thanksgiving, but neither of them answers or responds to my texts. I decide to leave them alone until and if they reach out to me.

Chuck reminds me that he and Keri will be going back to South Dakota for his and his mother’s case against his brother. I can’t believe he’s actually going to sue his brother. I mean, I can believe it… the bastard deserves it, but I guess I just can’t believe that it’s really happening.

Thanksgiving—a time of giving thanks, being around family, watching football and eating way too much food. Yet, all around me, I see sorrow and heartbreak and disappointment… people just trying to cope…

Harmony just buried her mother and her siblings are conspiring against her and treating her like the enemy.

Marilyn terminated her pregnancy and is now mourning the loss of the man that she loves.

Gary is mourning the loss of a baby and the dashed hopes of having a family.

No doubt, Carrick and his brothers are feeling the loss of their father right now. Even though Burt passed away months ago, going through the family heirlooms must have opened some of those old wounds, and like Harmony, they’re spending their first Thanksgiving without him.

And Freeman’s family—Lanie may feel no love lost, but Burtie and Nell loved that man and are no doubt having their own regrets today about the total breakdown of the family.

And of course, Chuck and his mom—having to sue his hateful brother for keeping the family apart with his lies.

And here I sit, journaling before I go to Val and Elliot’s for Thanksgiving, once again nothing on the pages about myself—just everyone else and their problems.

Thanksgiving… yeah.

*-*

“We’re not going to have a repeat of you two acting like children and Christian catching the plague, are we?” Val says when she opens the door.

“No,” I promise her, “we’re fine and we’re not bickering about the… sunshine yellow stucco!” I say with too much enthusiasm.

“Butterfly…” my husband scolds, coming in behind me and carrying our overnight bags.

“Yes, dear,” I say sweetly and obediently. He leans over and kisses me while Val and Elliot’s usual staff takes the bags from Christian.

“Are they permanent?” I ask, noting the same woman in the kitchen that was here for the housewarming.

“No, we just asked for them back,” she says, hooking her arm into mine. “Come sit with me in the living room.”

Val is positively giddy having the family over for Thanksgiving, much giddier than she was at her housewarming. Elliot sees to everyone getting their things settled in their various rooms before we all sit down for our various fall-spiced beverages.

Christian is dead set and determined to make sure that I don’t feel the ostracization that I experienced at the housewarming. He’s all snuggly with me and we’re playing with the babies in front of the fireplace. Val and Elliot already have their Christmas tree trimmed, so all of the babies—including my little brother Harry—are spellbound by the sparkling lights.

Sophia is playing with Mariah and Celida—more like keeping them occupied while her father and stepmother watches over them all. Herman, Grace, Carrick, and Luma all seem to be having a very interesting conversation of some sort. Val is bending Mandy’s ear about something while Mia and Ethan listen attentively, and Elliot and Daddy are probably talking shop. Just as I’m taking in my surroundings, I see Harry with Mikey, and they appear to be having a conversation. I watch them more closely and see Harry pulling Mikey’s arms. Is he…?

“Phone… phone…” I say, trying to be as calm as I can. Nobody’s listening to me, so I reach for Christian, who is cooing at his daughter, and tug on his pants. He raises his eyes to me and follows my gaze to my brother and my son.

“Son of a gun!” he says, fumbling in his pocket and finding his phone. People start looking to see what the commotion is, and before we know it, at least four phones are recording now.

Harry appears to be giving Mikey instructions in whatever gobbledygook he’s speaking, and Mikey follows instruction by grabbing both of his uncle’s arms with his grubby little hands. Harry’s unsteady little gait pulls Mikey forward until he’s standing, but Harry can’t comprehend why Mikey doesn’t start walking immediately after he stands. As a result, Harry pulls him forward again and Mikey stands only for a moment before tumbling over onto his little hands.

Harry’s getting a little frustrated with Mikey’s lack of pedestrian progress, but this entire thing is just a game to Mikey who, after each tumble, breaks into fits of baby giggles. Being on the same mental wavelength, his sister breaks into giggles as well and, let’s face it—who can’t laugh after hearing an infectious baby giggle? Soon, there’s an entire room of giggling adults and children, and the whole thing has been caught on video.

“Wow, what did we miss?”

I turn around to see Marcia and Maggie walking into the dining room from the vestibule. Maggie is getting so big. I remember when she just disappeared behind her mom.

“Hi, Marcia,” I say, rising from my seat on the floor. “It’s good to see you.” I hug her and compliment her on how good she’s looking these days while Maggie joins the other girls in the dining room. “Where’s Marlow?” I ask. I catch Sophie perk up in my peripheral vision.

“Oh, he’s here. They should be in shortly.” They? Who’s they? Did Marcia finally decide to bring her “plus-one” along? I find out shortly that there’s definitely a “plus-one,” but it’s not Marcia’s “plus-one.”

“Hi everybody,” Marlow greets as he enters the foyer. Behind him—and attached to his hand—is a tiny girl who looks a bit like a pre-teen. I try not to stare, but what’s more, I can feel Sophie glaring at them from behind me. I plaster a smile on my face and walk over to them.

“Hi, Marlow,” I say, kissing him on the cheek. “Who’s this?”

“This is Britney,” he says, pulling the girl closer so that she’s not lagging behind him. “She’s a sophomore at my school.”

Well, thanks for telling me that! The child doesn’t look more than twelve! Seriously, I’m petite, but she’s… thin, like really thin… like “Calista-Flockhart-when-everybody-thought-she-was-anorexic” thin, only thinner.

“Britney, this is Anastasia Grey. I told you about my mentor, Christian. This is his wife.” Britney smiles a smile that looks bigger than her face.

“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Grey,” she says politely.

“It’s nice to meet you, too, Britney,” I reply with a smile. “Come on in and meet everyone…”

Britney is quite affable as Marlow introduces her around, and everyone returns her warm greeting—everyone, that is, except Sophie. Sophie’s polite, but cool, and either Britney doesn’t notice it, or she ignores it. Two points for Britney…

As the day moves along, things seem to be going okay. Sophie doesn’t appear to be sneering at Marlow’s date, but she also seems careful to keep her distance. Being shunned by one of Marlow’s dates was probably enough for her.

I’ll have to remember in the future that my children have graduated to cereals, baby food, and some solid foods along with my breastmilk, which means that we may need some form of portable high chairs for them. Otherwise, we’ll be stuck with them in our laps while we try to eat… like now. Gail helps out, of course, and Val is eager to get her hands on her niece and nephew, so they allow me and Christian some time to eat.

Once we move on to dessert, the twins have eaten and have had their bottles and are on their way to sleep in their playpens when Herman stands to his feet.

“I’d like to have everyone’s attention please,” he says, and the room falls silent. Herman takes a deep breath.

“This has been a pretty eventful year for the Grey family,” he begins. “We lost our dad… effectively lost a brother…” He and Carrick exchange looks before he continues. “But we’ve grown. We’ve been blessed with a son and a daughter—in my case, a niece and a nephew—Ethan and Valerie. And even though we were already graced with Ana, we were able to add Mackenzie and Michael to village.”

We laugh at his expression, but truthfully, that’s exactly what we are.

“But in my loss, and in our flourishing, God has blessed me with those two sweet little girls right there…” He gestures to Mariah and Celida, who both smile fondly at him, “… and this loving and beautiful woman right here.” He turns to his side and takes Luma’s hand. Pulling her to her feet, he kisses her fingers softly and gives her a loving smile, which she returns.

“I don’t know where I would have been without her,” he says, still gazing into her eyes, “if I would have made it without her. Taking care of Dad’s things and going through his and Mom’s memories, it was like he was talking to me, telling me to live, telling me to grab life by the horns and live! And I realized then that I couldn’t be without this woman—that my mom and dad had a wonderful, beautiful life while they had each other and now, they have it again. I realized that I screwed up big the first time, but God is giving me a second chance… and dammit, I’m taking it.” He’s gazing into Luma’s eyes and I’m only too certain—as I’m sure the rest of us are—that he’s about to propose.

“So,” he turns back to the inquiring eyes, “I’m proud to announce that on November 22, 2014 at 3:17pm, this beautiful goddess officially became Mrs. Herman Grey.”

“Get outta here!” Carrick rises to his feet. “You sly dog! I shoulda known!” He gives his brother’s hand a vigorous shake as he claps him on the back. “Congratulations! Congratulations, man! I shoulda known you were up to something!”

Grace hugs Luma warmly and Mia follows. Warm smiles and congratulations fill the table.

“Not to fret, ladies,” Herman says once the revelry is calming a bit, “you can do your planning and parties and whatever it is that ladies do for weddings and such if my Luma says that’s what she wants. I just couldn’t wait to make her mine.”

There’s a collective swooning coo from the ladies at the table. Luma shows us pictures on their phones of Herman in a suit her in a beautiful vintage wedding dress. She looks twenty years younger.

“Is that…” Carrick looks at the picture again. “Is that… Mom’s dress?” he asks. Herman nods.

“Yeah,” he says, after a pause, “and… one of Mom’s rings,” he says. Carrick looks over at Luma who looks like she wants to hide her hand, but it’s too late.

Carrick looks at the picture again and his eyes clearly moisten. He takes Luma’s hand with the ring on it and kisses it gently before kissing Luma just as gently on the cheek.

“You made a beautiful bride,” he says, his voice cracking slightly. “I wish I could have been there.”

Luma smiles widely and Grace puts her hands on Luma’s shoulders. The cooing begins anew as Luma recounts the story of their nuptials—sweet and romantic. Elliot cuddles Valerie in his arms and she beams as the family enjoy themselves around the table. Once the conversation—and cooing—falls to a gently roar, Elliot stands to his feet.

“I’d like to say something, too,” he says. Val raises a brow and a small smile at him.

“I want to thank you all for agreeing to have Thanksgiving at my house, even though my house is the smallest of them all at the moment.” There’s a laugh following his statement. “But I’m really, really grateful for you all being here because… well, as you all know, my wife is a brain cancer survivor. For those of you who didn’t know already, she named her tumor Meg. It’s a long story but just know that she named it Meg. Well, she’s been suffering from these random dizzy spells, and even though my wife is strong, I could see it in her eyes that she was concerned that Meg was making another appearance.”

The room falls completely silent, even more quiet than when Herman asked for our attention.

“I did my best not to panic… I wasn’t very good,” he says, his voice cracking. Val takes his hand and gives it a squeeze. “But we didn’t dawdle. We went to the doctor and they proceeded to run the regular tests. I’m happy to say that Meg is definitely not making another appearance.”

The room is filled with sighs of relief and thanks to God and such, but Elliot’s not finished.

“We did learn however,” he looks down at Val, “that my angel is having a baby.”

“Get the fuck outta here!” My husband springs to his feet and reaches right across the table to his brother. “You’re going to be the goofiest dad ever!” he says, shaking Elliot’s hand.

“That’s the plan,” he says before turning to Herman. “Sorry, Uncle Herman.”

“Don’t worry about it, son,” he says, shaking Elliot’s hand as well. “There’s plenty of joy and happiness to go around.”

Most of us have forgotten our food and are clustered around either the newly-married couple or the newly-expecting couple cooing over the antique ring that Herman gave Luma or the fact that Val will be having a baby soon. Herman presented his bride with a 13.93ctw smoky-quartz ring set in 14kt yellow gold with leaf accents—another piece from his mother’s priceless collection. Elliot hasn’t presented Val with anything—besides a house, but he indicates that he plans to repurpose one of the rooms into a nursery that would rival ours.

With the attention centered on Val, Elliot, Herman, and Luma, no one sees the small commotion taking place in the corner of the living room. I inconspicuously examine Britney having a harsh word or two in hushed tones with Marlow before she ceremoniously turns away from him and proceeds towards the front door. Marlow rolls his eyes, then throws a glance at Sophie before following his date outside. They still haven’t garnered the attention of anyone else in the house, but I watch as Sophie twists her lips, rolls her eyes, then falls petulantly on the sofa, folding her arms and staring at the fire.

And here we go again.

I wait for a moment before I sneak away from the crowd and go to the foyer. I locate my coat and gloves and step outside in search of Marlow. He’s pacing on the pavement in front of the house like he’s trying to control his temper.

“Marlow?” I call out to him. He whirls around in my direction and upon spotting me, visibly tries to control his ire. “What’s wrong?” I ask as I approach.

“Forgive me for my lack of consideration,” he says in a voice that I’ve never heard before, “but is Sophia Taylor on the rag again?”

Oookay. There will be no scolding of Marlow Johnson today. He. Is. Livid.

“Um… okay, what happened?” I ask cautiously.

“She was awful to my date!” Marlow says, perturbed. “For no good damn reason, she was awful!” He sits down on the retainer wall. Oh, dear.

“In what way?” I ask, sitting down next to him.

“She said some flighty crap about her being skinny… something about needing a gravy sandwich or something like that.” I raise my eyebrows to him.

“Um… well… um… that’s not… horrible,” I try to excuse.

“My date heard her!” he snaps. I cringe.

“Ooo, that’s bad,” I retract. “Any idea why she said that?”

“Because she’s a brat!” he retorts, very angry about his seemingly ruined Thanksgiving. I try to come up with an explanation. I know she has a crush on him even though she hasn’t told me. This lashing out at his dates isn’t going to stop if he keeps bringing them around. Which reminds me…

“It could be attack as a form of defense,” I tell him. He raises a brow at me. “Have you forgotten the little twat who chased her away from Mia’s wedding? What was her name—Maya?”

“Maya didn’t chase her away!” He frowns.

“She most certainly did!” I retort. “That crack about her kid sister having Sophie’s dress; and then that whole ‘I’ll just have to take it off’ thing, as if everybody at the table didn’t know what the hell that meant. Sophie had just spent the entire dinner impressing a table full of adults with her cuisine expertise and here comes this insecure little twit acting like a jealous toddler and cutting her down in front of everybody. If Sophie acts like a brat in front of your dates, blame your first date—or at least the one that you brought to the wedding. That’s why I told you to talk to your women about how they act around us. And what happened to Maya anyway? It wasn’t two months ago, she was hanging all over you!”

“Um…” He rubs the back of his neck. “Yeah, well, she wasn’t really comfortable after the incident either.”

“Um-hmm,” I say, folding my arms. “I bet she wasn’t. I’m not trying to sabotage your dates, but I won’t stand by while they treat someone I love like crap. I’m really sorry about Britney. I’m sure she didn’t deserve what happened, but when it comes to your girls, Sophie may be lashing out before they get the chance to lash out at her. And don’t be surprised if she’s got an entire armory ready. You might want to try and talk to her, get her to understand how her actions are affecting you—and I’m not saying this happened with Britney, but make sure your dates aren’t doing anything to antagonize her. She’s only 13, for Christ’s sake. You, her, and Maggie are the only teenagers we have at family gatherings, so…” I trail off and shrug.

“I may just have to stop bringing dates around altogether,” he laments. “Jeez, at this rate, I may never get laid again,” he adds, his voice low.

I don’t think I was supposed to hear that last part, so I just ignore it.

“Well, I don’t want you to feel like your dates aren’t welcome. You’re always welcome to bring them to family gatherings… as long as they know how to behave themselves, but Maya laid the groundwork for how Sophie’s going to act around your women, so you really need to talk to her.”

She’s got a crush on you, you idiot. Are you truly that dense? Smooth things over and let her know that you at least care about her feelings, even though it can never go any further.

Of course, telling her that he knows would just humiliate her to no end. So, of course, I can’t share my theory with him, but geez… it’s as plain as the nose on my face.

“I think I’m just going to take off,” he says, “try to smooth things over with Britney…”

“But not with Sophie?” I chastise.

“She’s the one who insulted Britney!” Marlow retorts.

“And I just told you why!” I counter. “You don’t think that needs addressing?”

“If I address that with her right now, Ana, I’m going to be pissed. I don’t even know where Britney is. I need to go find her. I’ll talk to Sophia some other time.” He stands. “Tell my mom to text me when she’s ready to go if I’m not back by then.” He marches down the driveway towards his car.

That’s right, Marlow. Run away.

It’s hard to remember that he’s still a child… but not. He’s 17, so his life should be shaping into manhood now, but he disappoints me when it comes down to how he’s handling the complexities of relationships right now. I guess this is when he’s learning.

And poor Sophie. She’s acting like the stereotypical catty jealous spurned female, but at 13, she’s coming off as the bratty ass little sister. Their age difference is wide enough that they most likely will never have any romantic relationship—not to mention the fact that Marlow simply does not see her that way—but at this rate, she’ll not only destroy any hint of a chance of a romance. She’ll also destroy their friendship.


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

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 ~~love and handcuffs